Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bad boys, bad boys

Once upon a time we all knew bad guys wore black hats. The baddie rode into town and was rude and offensive and bullied everyone. He had slitty eyes and an eat-my-dirt demeanor.

Fast forward to present times, and it isn't easy to identify a bad guy. Bad guys in the news span the range of a teacher's child, hoodlums, politicians, tax authorities, insurance companies, special interest groups, corporate raiders, televangelists, and more.

With such a diverse face to baddies, how are we to stay safe? How will we recognize danger and take steps to have it corrected or avoid it?

I struggle with these questions as I write books set in contemporary times. Human nature is universal, as is human behavior. Debra Dixon's book on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict comes in handy to help writers steer through characterization.

GOAL - a villain's goal can spring from past issues/desires, present issues/desires, or a desire to control the future. The scope of the goal may vary from the villain's immediate vicinity to a global person, place or thing.

MOTIVATION - bad guys want what they want for reasons clear to them, and they will cross lines of respectable behavior to get what they want.

CONFLICT - baddies try to attain something that isn't theirs by any means possible. They will use words, weapons, intimidation, legal maneuvering, bioterrorism, and more.

Using this framework, authors can create a plausible scenario for readers to believe in the antagonist. Next, the villain's physical attributes come into question.

On television, bad guys are often bikers, scowling lawyers, gangsters, Vikings, rival gangs, Olympic athletes, vampires, aliens, or hulking muscle men, to name a few sterotypes. But writers must reflect the times in which we write.

The truth: bad guys come in every race and gender. While it's easy to write a villain who looks and acts different from your main characters, oftentimes the villain comes from their world. He or she is an associate with a sharp axe to grind.

My question for you: what do you look for in a bad guy? Do you enjoy reading about someone who appears "normal" but does heinous things? Or does your taste run more to and outsider vs an insider conflict?

Maggie Toussaint

Monday, January 14, 2013

Embarassing moments keep readers engaged

How many of you have had embarassing moments? I've had my share and more.

In my estimation, they fall into a couple of categories:

Verbal gaffes - for example, calling someone the wrong name, letting a secret slip to the wrong person, or saying something uncomplimentary about someone who overhears the remark.

Ditzy mistakes - putting the cereal box in the refrigerator, forgetting to seal the envelopes of your bills, dialing the wrong phone number twice in a row, tucking your skirt in your underpants in a public place after using the restroom, gapping button or zipper, or searching for an item that's in plain sight on your body.

Messes involving body fluids or body noises - getting dog pooh on the shoe and tracking it all over someone's house/rug/floor, not making it to the bathroom on time for an urgent matter, or talking fast and spit flying out of your mouth onto someone else.

Everyone has a reaction to embarassing moments. The culprit is embarassed, naturally, but onlookers might be horrified, amused, sympathetic, annoyed, or somewhere in between.

Characters that display oddities are memorable and add zest. In my Cleopatra Jones series, Mama is known for her culinary disasters, such as spicklefish lasagne (lasagne made with spinach, pickles and sardines). Mama's a secondary character in that series, but don't tell her.

In Death, Island Style, my main character has several crafting disasters. MaryBeth's craft class turns into a free-for-all and she ends up with glue globs in her hair. Later, she collects seashells that have hermit crabs in them and thinks, because of the bad odor, that there's a body in her shop.

In Murder in the Buff, ultra-conservative reporter Molly must go to a nudist colony to pick something up for her boss. She darn near has heart palpitations, giving readers chuckles about her dilemma and mortification.

Want to share your embarassing moment? I'd love to hear from you!

Maggie Toussaint
Coming this year: Hot Water and Dime If I Know

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Storyteller or Technician?

"The Wizard of Oz" stirred me in ways I could not have imagined prior to seeing the movie. Oh, the thrill of the colorful scenes! Oh, the adventure of faraway places! Oh, the very idea of being stranded so far from HOME!

And the agony of it all.

Being lost.

Not knowing anyone.

Causing an accident upon your arrival.

And everything you try makes the situation worse.

Did you have similiar thoughts about the movie? Did you grow up fearing flying monkeys, numbing poppy fields, and the man behind the curtain?

I did.

But I was also hooked for life on the idea of reading - and telling - a great story.

Fast forward ... some years ...  and I'm telling stories - in book format. In my mind, the difference between a good technician and a darn fine storyteller have become blurred.

Writers yearn to have the power to sweep readers away to a new Oz so engrossing that time literally stops for readers. Writers seek that misty zone where Frank Baum, writer of The Wizard of Oz lives, where readers will suspend disbelief, where they are so needing to know what happens next that they will keep turning pages.

I used to believe the difference was in how one wrote, whether it was a more organized, outlined approach or a free-flowing organic approach. But now, after reading good and not-as-good stories in both lanes, I earnestly believe it's simpler than that.

For me, the difference harkens back to the actual weaving of words. Sure, writers need to have an understanding of writing craft and a storyteller's ear for timing and drama, but the word patterns themselves are what entice readers away from reality into a land of a writer's imagining.

So how does one acquire this story perfection? Are writers born with it? Can it be taught?

My answer is ... wait for it ...

Buddy Ebsen played the Tin Man in the movie
yes! A natural aptitude shoots some writers to the front of the line, but writers that work at their craft, that learn layering and hone their editorial ears, can know great success.

What's your take on this topic?

And for fun, which Wizard of Oz character do you identify the most with? Are you a Tin Man, a Cowardly Lion, a spunky Dorothy, Toto the wandering pooch, Glinda the Good Witch, or another character?

Maggie Toussaint
mystery and romance author

ps images about The Wizard of Oz are from Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

No ifs, ands, or buts

Get motivated in 2013!

It's time to set aside the baggage of 2012, and move on. What do you want out of 2013? How badly do you want it?

The nice thing about January 1 is that you start with a clean slate. The year is fresh and clean, and you are in the driver's seat. This means the choices you make should be in your best interest.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

However, a new start comes with all the challenges of the past year and the dreams of the present year. On January 1, I like to look ahead to the entire year because if I focus day-to-day only, I lose sight of the big picture.

To stay focused, I make a list of yearly goals that are within my power to accomplish. For instance, I would have a hard time achieving world peace, but I could easily mend fences with a neighbor or colleague.

Setting reasonable goals assures greater odds of success and personal satisfaction.

My goals are related to writing and the business of publishing. Each year I want to keep the momentum going and continue to build a strong portfolio of books and enlarge my reader base.

Those goals are too broad. With limited hours in each day available for writing and marketing, I must be realistic. I must focus on what is possible.

In 2013, I will release a romantic suspense and a mystery. I will also write another book. For writers, this is the status quo. Keep writing, keep marketing, and keep doing everything else you normally do.

The same goals apply to career women and men or self-employed people or even stay-at-home moms. Doing tasks quicker, better, and faster is everyone's goal.

Except, we are all very good at making excuses. We say "if only this or that" or "I could have finished, but...". Sound familiar?

My solution is personal accountability. Because my schedule varies from day to day, I write out weekly writing goals and check them off as I get them done. If events preclude me from working on a certain day, I know I have to make it up later that week to stay on track.

Another way to be accountable is to share your goals with peers. They will encourage you to succeed and meet your goals. And it is very easy to return that favor.

Though I know someone who writes standing up, the general axiom for writing progress is to keep your butt in the chair. Easy enough for tasks you like, but harder for those that present challenges. I've been known to file papers and clean my entire desk before I write one word of a synopsis. But if I keep my butt in the chair and my mind on the task at hand, I will get it done.

My wish for myself and for you for 2013 is to set aside those if's, ands, and buts, to keep our butts in the chairs, and reach our goals.

Maggie Toussaint

ps the holiday sale on Murder in the Buff ends soon. It's available in all formats. Check it out at your favorite venue.