Choosing which inspiration to follow

Sorry about the delay, I’ve been having computer trouble.

So, you’ve been either actively trying for ideas, or have had a few pop up unexpectedly. Go you! Now, which do you actually pursue?

First, write all your ideas down. Preferably someplace that won’t be lost and that you’ll look at again. I don’t care how memorable you think that idea is, write it down. Or type it up, it doesn’t matter. The annuls of literature are full of works lost because the idea was forgotten. Besides, even if you decide not to pursue an idea right away, it might be viable for later.

Some time ago, mostly by accident, I ended up with inspiration for two very different stories in course of a few days. Both were sparked by conversation with family members. The first idea came up when I was reading a writing book called ‘Writing the Paranormal Novel’, which I highly recommend. Reading the section on vampires, it suggested adding some variety to the old cliches, including different occupations. I distinctly remember it bringing up the idea of a vampire accountant. I read the part to my brother and we brainstormed a little. He suggested a vampire surfer. I argued that vampires traditionally do very poorly with water, and salt is a universal deterrent against things that go bump in the night. Then suddenly, I had a plot. A rising star in the competitive surfer world is infected and can no longer surf. His inability to give up his dream leads for him and his friends to uncover two separate conspiracies. I’d give more details, but the book isn’t finished yet.

A day or two later, I was eating out with my mom and sister. My sister was reading fanfiction on her phone and was reading a Transformers/How to Train your Dragon crossover. I haven’t read it myself, but I believe that the dragons were actually transformers that changed into cars. I said, somewhat sarcastically, that I thought they changed into motorcycles. Bam, plot. A ‘How to Train your Dragon’ AU (Alternate Universe, for those not into fanfiction), where they are a biker gang, either motorcycles or motorbikes. Hiccup wants to join, but is considered too much of a geek. Maybe his dad says no, too. Anyway, Hiccup might not be athletic, but he has an intuitive understanding of machinery. He finds a broken Night Fury bike, probably in a junk yard, and fixes it up. Maybe the gears are stripped so he calls it Toothless. C’mon, ‘Night Fury’ would be an awesome name for a bike.

Two premises come up with rather suddenly. One I am pursuing, the other, I probably never will. Why? A number of reasons.

Interest: The vampire surfer one interests me in a way the dragon bike doesn’t. My favorite part of ‘How to Train your Dragon’ is the dragons. I have no interest in bikes.

Time: I only have so much time and creative energy. Both those premises would involve quite a bit of research as I know very little about surfing or bikes. I cannot currently put that much effort into a fanfic. I can barely put it into an original work

I’m not knocking fanfics. I’ve written them in the past and am still reading them. Some are as good or better than the works they’re based on. But that isn’t where I want to dedicate my energy at this time.

Also, while the dragon bike one is clearly going to go in a different direction than the movie, it’s still not quite mine in a way that the vampire surfer idea is.

If anyone wants to use the dragon bike premise and write it, perhaps put their own spin on it, it’s up for grabs. Just let me know. I’d like to read it.

I have a Tumblr account now. It’s still pretty new, not a whole lot on it, but feel free to check it out. Just ignore my posts about having issues, I figured most of those out by now. So far I’ve got an original poem, a little extra-canonical scene from the Hyde Chronicles (no spoilers), some cool nature and animal shots, and why my cat is not a help when trying yoga. More to come. My cat isn’t a help when writing this blog either, he kept coming and sitting on my chest so I can’t see my screen.

How do you chose what ideas to follow?

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Finding Inspiration

Or, luring out the plotbunnies.

Okay, I can’t be the only one with this issue. Some days, ideas come thick and fast, and I can barely keep them straight long enough to write them down. Other days, I can stare at a screen and… nothing. And still nothing. With a long streak of… nothing.

There are days that I want so much to write… but all my ideas have fled, leaving behind bits of fluff blowing about in my brain.

Sometimes the muse whispers in your ear.

Sometimes you have to set out a trap.

How do you find inspiration when your mind is empty? Different people have different strategies, but here’s a few that sometimes help me.

Listen to music. Words or no words? Depends on you. Maybe some of those words can give you a starting point. Or maybe a soundtrack can stir an idea into you. On a related theme, you can try looking at art.

Read previous writing. Try reading through your old brainstorming or free writing sessions. Maybe an idea that tickled your fancy once can do it again. With reinforcements. Stuck in a story? Maybe something you wrote previously can open a few new avenues. What if that offhand remark in chapter four turned out to be more important than it seemed?

Take a Wiki Walk. Type in something that interests you in Wikipedia (or some other wiki) and look for links that might prove interesting. Follow anything that sparks your interest. If you don’t care, probably no one else will either.

Take a real walk. Take a break, think about something else. Move. Active body, active mind. Get outside if you can. I’m always amazed at how much being surrounded by trees can change my very mindset.

Read a good book. No, you are not going to steal their ideas. But you can be inspired by them. Or decide that you like the basic premise but what if they changed this and did that instead? Maybe wondering what would happen if Frankenstein hadn’t abandoned his creation could have you writing a story about a necromancer who accidentally brings her dead cat back to life, and determines to do right by the cat, even if she is horrified both by her powers and her new zombie-cat.

Play. This is a fun one. Pick an idea and just see what you can do with it. Start typing and see what you get. Ask yourself ‘what if?’. We have a bag of fortune cookies in the house. Some day, I’m going to take about half a dozen of them, and see where the fortunes take me. Let yourself explore.

There are many ways of finding inspiration. And I am giving free to each of you a magic bag of plotbunny bait. Sprinkle it around and see what happens. (Before you laugh, I used to be part of a fanfiction message board. When I said I was sprinkling plotbunny bait, nine times out of ten, the author updated the story within forty-eight hours. Use yours wisely.)

My newest book, ‘The Bishop’s Decoy’ is now out in Paperback and Kindle! Today is the last day to get ‘The Pawn’s Play‘ free on Kindle! It expires at midnight Pacific time. It is currently #56 on Amazon’s Kindle list for New Adult Sci-fi and Fantasy! Couldn’t do it without you. Thank you all.

How do you find inspiration?

Worldbuilding 101: Societies

Sorry for the delay on this one. I’ve actually been trying to get this written for weeks. I’ve been incredibly busy, and that unfortunately won’t change. More details later.

So, societies. For a little background, I’ve been trying to revive an idea I had some time ago. A story, that I believe I’ve referred to here, where I wrote a book, but can’t use it. I loved the world, but the plot was unusable for the idea I had. I wanted to write a series of mysteries in a world where the human world and the magic world had collided a few years ago. My main detectives are a shadow fairy and a river dragon, who have set up shop in Philadelphia.

Currently, I’m trying to use that world to write another story, and I’m doing a lot of background notes to try to figure out where everyone is coming from. One of the first thing I decided about the fairies, is that they are a matriarchal society. Because I honestly couldn’t picture them being anything else. So what does that mean?

I didn’t want a simple reversal where women did everything that men traditionally did in most societies in our history. Nor was I trying to portray this as some utopia we should strive for.  Many pre-industrial societies had some firm demarcations on what was men’s work and what was women’s work. Though some of those were less set in stone than others. Take knitting. One of my knitting books tells how in one society (I think it was like Netherlands or Scandinavia), women knit the practical things, like sweaters and socks; men knit decorative pieces of art.

While I’m still developing things, and will probably continue, I’ve decided (for now anyway) that while male fairies are generally bigger and stronger than female fairies, the females are usually stronger at magic. The guard force is about sixty-forty male to female ratio. The main leader is almost always, if not exclusively, the fairy Queen, perhaps with her consort. Inheritance and genetics are primarily reckoned through the female. If a light fairy and a dark fairy have a child together (major taboo there), the child will primarily take after the mother with a few hints of the father’s background.

In addition, I had trouble with the idea of fairies marrying like we do. So, they don’t. Most fairies are actually from contracted meetings. Two fairies make a contract to attempt to have a child, payment and other considerations are decided upon (will the male have visitation, get credit for being the father officially, etc.) and so forth. Sometimes fairies will ‘join’ which is similar to what we consider a marriage except that it isn’t permanent. Usually for a few centuries, but then both parties are free to seek another or re-join. Re-joining again and again with no others in between is unusual, but not taboo. Joining may or may not affect contracting status.

Part of it was that fairies live so very long, and they are so tied to nature and plant life in my mind. I just couldn’t see them being interested doing the same thing forever.

Dragons, on the other hand, were different. In this series, dragons have similar lifespans to fairies, but have very different outlooks. Dragons have a more egalitarian society, and can be led by a Dragon Lord, a Dragon Lady, or both. Swift is male who inherited a river from his mother and became it’s guardian. This was neither traditional nor progressive, and no one really cared.

Dragons also bond for life, and when one dies, or as they put it, ‘returns to the mists and magic’, there’s a thirty percent chance the other will follow within a year. Slightly less chance when there’s young children around.

There’s other races that I’m going to have to come up with backgrounds for. More areas I’ll have to fill in. Just getting the various non-humans to accept human currency led to some interesting thoughts. But why should my non-humans value the same things we do? Maybe even we’re stranger than we think. I read this long but fascinating article that posited that the things we’re taught in psychology may be wrong because we’re using too small a sample, and Americans and Western Europeans are stranger than we think.

Try to stop and think about the implications that your society would include. Most of what I came up with, I hadn’t planned at all with my first tour to this world. I was more interested in how the human world adapted to having non-humans suddenly sharing their space. Something I’m still going to play with more.

So, while I was late posting it, and I’m sorry about that, I do have a Full Moon Festivity for May. On my website I have posted various links to Lunar Lore, with hopefully more to come. For June’s Full Moon Festivity, I have something special planned. Book Three of the Hyde Chronicles will be released June 28th. A few quotes will be up on Pinterest soon. More updates on Facebook. And, starting June 28th, for five days, the first book of the Hyde Chronicles, The Pawn’s Play, will be available free in Kindle format! Please check it out.

What do you consider when you build a society?

Character Development: Fears, Phobias, and Superstitions

This year’s Ravencon was their thirteenth time meeting. As such, they had a few panels on thirteen and the superstitions involved. I was on one, and did some research into triskaidekaphobia, or, fear of the number thirteen. It’s actually pretty fascinating really. Did you know that no one really knows why Friday the thirteenth is considered unlucky? Or why thirteen is considered an unlucky number at all? In some Spanish speaking countries, it’s Tuesday the thirteenth that’s a problem, while in Italy thirteen is generally considered a lucky number, but Friday the seventeenth is unlucky.

But what really struck me was the list of famous people with triskaidekaphobia, particularly Arnold Schoenberg, a prominent composer, who literally died probably because of his phobia. He became sick and depressed when an astrologer warned him that a particular year was dangerous because the digits of his age (76) added up to thirteen. As Friday the thirteenth came around (as it does at least once a year, and can up to three times in a year), he spent the day sick and depressed, dying fifteen minutes before midnight. He was also born on the thirteenth. Evidently no one told him that Friday the thirteenth was supposed to be lucky for those born that day. I read that when I was doing research on superstitions some years ago.

It got me thinking. Everyone has fears, many of us have at least one or two phobias of varying degrees, and most of us have a superstition or two. What do your characters have? Is it plot relevant?

Liska, from the Moonlit Memories series, has a phobia of dogs. For good reason, since dogs can tell her looks don’t match her scent and usually act aggressively towards her. It isn’t a paralyzing phobia, but she will definitely go out of her way to avoid them. Violet, from the Hyde Chronicles, hasn’t been given a specific phobia, but she is also of a more nervous disposition than Liska. She also might be developing a phobia of the stairs in the library, or as she refers to them, ‘the stairs of doom’. Another story involved an actress who was extremely superstitious, to the point of being easily manipulated by the belief that she had been given something for luck.

Fears don’t have to be rational. I have a phobia of cockroaches. Actually, it may be less of a phobia, and more of a deep abiding disgust. I know that roaches aren’t dangerous, but I get sick and squirmy when they are around, and have at times forced someone else to kill a particularly large one so I didn’t have to get close. Is that a rational fear? Not really. Am I going to get over it? Probably not. I don’t even like looking at a picture. Same with needles. Perhaps a slightly more rational fear. It doesn’t help that I apparently have bad veins. Last time I needed an IV, it took three times to get it right. The time before that, it took five. Ick.

Having a phobia does not actually measure courage or the absence of it. Even the bravest of people can have a phobia, perhaps of something harmless. Maybe your volunteer fireman has a phobia of birds. I get into conversations with people about their pets, and I can’t count how many people told me they don’t like cats. Most said they were too sneaky. Both my sisters are arachnophobic. I’ve been doing research into Social Anxiety Disorder, for a character that has selective mutism. That doesn’t mean that character is a coward, just that she gets easily flustered in social situations, to the point of having trouble talking.

While the character’s fear doesn’t have to be rational, there has to be some form of exposure. I can’t have a phobia of wolves if I have never seen or heard of a wolf or dog. It is possible to have a phobia of something that doesn’t exist, but they have to at least heard of it. Like zombies. They don’t exist, but there are people who take the idea very seriously. I have a problem with creepy dolls because of a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode I saw at a very young age. I know that toys don’t come alive, but generally can’t watch movies where that is part of the plot. At least, not anything scarier than ‘Toy Story’.

What does your character’s phobia mean for your character? Is it something they will have to overcome? Is it something that will last through multiple installments? For example, Indiana Jones will probably never lose his fear of snakes. Who knows about your characters fears and superstitions and is that going to be a problem for your character? Sometimes, even people trying to help can cause problems.

If your world is different from ours, than the possibilities for phobias can be different too. Is fear of dragons a phobia, or does that count as justified caution? Probably depends on how deep that fear goes. How does your character deal with their fear? Do they face it, fight it, run from it? Exposure therapy can help with a phobia, but that doesn’t mean that being thrown in the deep end is necessarily going to help. Sometimes when it’s sink or swim, you sink.

Anyone want to share their fears?

Vocabulary and Word Choices Part Two

I’m sorry I’m late with this post.

I tried, so hard to write this, and it just wouldn’t come. Getting sick didn’t help, being busy didn’t help, and inertia definitely didn’t help. Maybe the subject didn’t help either.

Regionalism, slang, jargon, and dialect. What do they all have in common? Answer, they can make your work harder to read, but add a layer of realism to your story if used properly.

Most people don’t speak as if they are being spied on by their English teacher and their conversation will be graded. Well, we do in certain circumstances, but not most. When we are applying for a job interview, when we are meeting some important person that we want to impress, etc.; then you may talk like you will be graded. And perhaps you should. But with family, with friends, during casual encounters, there is a more relaxed air.

Regionalism is word and syntax choices that that differ from one area to another. For this discussion, it’s basically the same as dialect. People do not talk the same from one part of the country to the other. It gets even more interesting when you add in other countries. Is that carbonated beverage soda, pop, or coke, regardless of what kind of drink it is? What do you call a hooded sweatshirt? Did you know that it’s actually a ‘bunny hug‘ in Saskatchewan? What is a jumper; a sweater or a sleeveless dress? Where your from influences your word choice. And it will influence your characters’ word choices. It gets really fun when you need to portray a character from an area that you aren’t from.

I’m actually going through my books and doing minor editing for reasons I’ll explain later. In the ‘Moonlit Memories’ series, the main character, Liska is British-Japanese who is trying to pass herself off as British. I am American. Which meant that I didn’t always know the right terms to use. While I’m not bothering with British spelling except once when it was something Liska wrote, I do often try to use British terms. Some of which I’ve had to change. I had her refer to her solicitor when I meant barrister as I didn’t realize that solicitors were solely for civil matters. I referred to her cell phone, not realizing that British were more likely to refer to it as a mobile. I switched most references from cell to mobile, but left a few, because, hey, she’s currently in America, she’d probably pick up a little of the vocabulary. Honestly, there are probably others I’m missing, but hopefully nothing major.

Research is absolutely essential, and if at all possible, finding someone who is actually from that area to check your work. But, how far do you go?

There isn’t a cut and dried answer, but my preference is enough for flavor, but not to the point where it is difficult to understand. If you need to include a glossary, you’ve probably gone too far. And be very careful about using phonetic spelling to illustrate an accent. It can come off as condescending or even racist depending on how you are using it. Not to mention, it can be very hard to read. Fun little quiz here should show you what I mean. (I would have done better if I could actually spell, and if my computer didn’t keep freezing up.)

That said, some things are easier to get away with than others. Even the most educated can get a little lazy with their speech and slip in a ‘gonna’ or ‘wanna’ or ‘kinda’. Which is more slang than regionalism.

So let’s move on to slang, which is closely related to jargon. Both involve a specialized vocabulary that makes sense to a select group of people and may or may not make sense to outsiders. Slang becomes dated much faster than jargon. The slang of today is not the same as the slang of twenty years ago, or even five years ago. Honestly, unless a slang term has been around for at least five years, there’s a chance that it will no longer be used by the time your story comes out. Odds are even worse if it’s a book. Don’t look to me for slang, I didn’t understand it when I was in high school. But I know it mutates and changes, sometimes even becoming the opposite of what it used to mean. Go figure. When I was in high school, we used the term ‘cool beans’ a lot. I have no idea where it came from or why beans are considered cool, but it’s something I only hear on rare occasions now, and usually only by people who are in their mid-twenties or up. That said, ‘cool’ has been in use for decades, and will likely be continued to be used for some time. But we don’t usually refer to people as being a ‘good egg’ anymore. Watch a movie that’s a few decades old, listen to the way they talk. Language evolves, and it is evolving faster than ever. How many people would have known what an emoji was ten years ago? I know I referred to them as emoticons. But now, ’emoji’ is everywhere, even becoming Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2015.

Jargon is the terms that go with any specialized knowledge. Be it a sport, a hobby, a career, or what have you, people have ways to simply and easily refer to what they need to discuss. I work for Walmart. My job is not difficult, but I still have at least half a dozen to a dozen terms of jargon I use on a daily basis. Do you know what a CSM is? How about a PLU? We are required to do zoning and red lining when we aren’t helping customers. And of course there’s the magic scanny thing. (My term. You may be more familiar with ‘hand scanner’.) When do you use jargon in your work? Ideally, when the character would, and try to make it as self-explanatory as possible. Example:

“What’s the PLU for bananas?” Avery looked up from the counter she was zoning to keep clean and clear of reshop.

“4011,” She answered. “It’s on the sticker.”

“Have you seen a CSM?” another cashier asked.

“No, I haven’t seen a manager in a while.”

Yes, the writing is boring. I wasn’t going for very exciting. And if I were trying to do this for real, I would probably try to have some explanation for reshop, and fill in that CSM stands for customer service manager. But I think the average reader could guess both of those. And while I don’t explain exactly what a PLU is, you know it is a number that refers to bananas and is on the sticker. I’m not sure exactly what PLU stands for, but it is a universal (at least in this country) code for produce. Any time you buy bananas, there is a little 4011 on the sticker somewhere. Take a look.

Remember, the same person can use different levels of vocabulary even in the same sentence. Here’s one I’ve used before. “‘Fishies’ is an inherently fun word to say.” I’ve also referred, on a regular basis to the ‘magic scan-y thing’. And I have a degree in English! (Of course, I also blame all the technical issues on gremlins, but I’m weird.)

So have some fun, consider your word choices. It’ll be fun. More importantly, it can add depth to your writing.

While I fell behind in most of my online presence, I did keep up my Full Moon Festivities. Check it out, I posted a poem, a board of moon garden pictures, and a board of moon art.

There will be news posted tomorrow. (Or in the morning, or afternoon). I need some sleep and this post and been delayed long enough.

 

Vocabulary and Word Choices

The other week at work, I heard an announcement for a Miss Ginger Lee to meet her party at a specified location. I thought about the announcement for a moment, then turned to a co-worker and told him I thought it might be a prank. After all, Ginger Lee, gingerly?

He had no idea what I was talking about. I decided fair enough, he wasn’t a native English speaker and it wasn’t a common word. So I mentioned it to another co-worker, an older woman who to the best of my knowledge is a native English speaker. She didn’t know what I was talking about either.

Is ‘gingerly’ that uncommon a word? I truly couldn’t say. I don’t think it terribly uncommon, and have actually read a story that had that word in use since. Personally, I think it’s a very useful word. I described it as ‘like how you carry eggs’. Would I hesitate to use ‘gingerly’ in my own writing? No, I wouldn’t.

What vocabulary level should you use when writing? Is it our job as writers to be clear and concise without room for error; or to teach and elevate the mind to new words and ideas? While both can be desired, at some point you have to compromise one for the other.

I read a lot. I live in a family where everyone reads a lot. My father in particular loves to use grandiose words. But large sections of my vocabulary come from reading. You can tell which sections because those are the words I don’t know how to pronounce. Does that mean that as a writer, I should be striving to teach new words?

Answer: I don’t know. I think it’s very much a careful balance. You can’t talk down to your readers, they will know and resent it. But if you try to show off by using verbal flourishes and extravagant words, they’ll resent that too. And nobody is going to sit down, reading your book with a dictionary beside them so they can look up the dozen strange words you sprinkle on every page. They will either guess, ignore them, or more likely, stop reading.

Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and lightning bug. So my suggestion is that you use what you believe to be the right word. If some people learn a new word, great. If your readers already understand, that’s great too.

An article I read years ago, can’t remember where or what the title was, said that the more advanced the text, the smaller the audience. It was specifically talking about poetry. Robert Frost has many fans (I’m one of them), because his poetry is easy to read and has themes that are understandable to many people. T. S. Eliot has many fewer fans (again, I’m one of them) because his poetry is so much harder to read and understand.

So, you want to write something that is at the pinnacle of wordplay and vocabulary? Well, why? If you want to write it because that’s what you enjoy, than go for it. Just be aware that your audience may be small. If you want to write it because it shows how smart you are? I’d avoid that.

Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to use a word that you are not absolutely sure of the definition. Ever. To paraphrase ‘How Not to Write a Novel’ (awesome writing guide, really) Ask yourself ‘do I know this word?’ If the answer is no, then you do not know the word. And someone else will know the word, and know your mistake.

Be aware of connotation and denotation. For those who haven’t used those words since high school English class; denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation is what people think about when they hear it. I see infamous and notorious used a lot. Sometimes supposed to be a good thing. But dictionary definition of infamous flat out says, known as evil. Notorious has a similar connotation, but can have a milder denotation.

How do you know if your vocabulary is unusual? After all, you’ve been using it all the time. Check with others, particularly others who are not people you associate with all the time. The people who run in the same circles as you do, probably have similar vocabularies.

How about characters? Can they have fancy vocabularies? Absolutely. But make it fit. An English Professor will speak differently than someone who dropped out of high school. Someone who uses elaborate words to show off will use different words than someone who uses elaborate words because they like the sound of them. Children will develop their vocabularies based on those around them. So even a very young child can have an extensive vocabulary if that is what they are being taught.

Next time, we’ll talk about regionalism, dialects, jargon and slang.

P.S. It turned out not to be a prank. She came through my line, and I saw her ID. Ginger-lee (Last name withheld).

Characters, Plot, Drama, and Stupidity

Thank you for the support (I’m assuming the likes are a way of being supportive instead of saying you’re glad I can’t post 😉 ). I don’t know what happened or why but the gremlins infesting my devices seem to have gone. My computer is still sluggish at times, but not nearly as bad as it was. And my phone is being less finicky about charging. So I am not currently replacing either, though I may do so in the not-so-distant future. Anyway, for now, I’m back. This week’s Pinterest, in addition to writing pins, I’m going to include a few personal ones. Be sure to check it out. Not sure what FaceBook will be yet, but hopefully that will be interesting too.

If anyone is curious, I did not win NaNoWriMo this year, only made it about half-way. It didn’t help that my work schedule increased and that two weeks in a row I spent my days off work traveling. I considered trying to push the last week, maybe even pull an all-nighter or two, but I was already sick, and it didn’t seem a wise plan. Especially since I was struggling with plot ideas. Moon Fox 3 will come, but I’m putting it on the back burner for now.

Now, the post. This is going to be interesting because I actually somewhat changed my mind on the topic I’m posting on.

I was at the gym last week, and on one of the TV’s, Supernatural was playing. I personally don’t watch the show because I have a low fright threshold, but my sister is a fan, so I was able to recognize it and the main characters. I knew that salt was used at thresholds to keep the bad things out, or in. They didn’t come up with that, salt was a universal deterrent against ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night. I’ve used it in a few works myself. Well, someone tampered with the line of salt and a red shirt * got eviscerated (I don’t have a very high gross-out threshold either, which is another reason I don’t watch the show.) When the main character came in the room and spotted the poor dead red shirt, the traitor who claimed they found him like that, and the break in the line, he confronted the traitor. They got in an argument, and the traitor started monolog-ing. And I yelled at the tv twice telling him to stop arguing and fix the salt!

He didn’t and only escaped a messy death by a contrived coincidence* that barely avoided being a deus ex machina. Now, to clarify, I am not saying that Supernatural is a dumb show or that the character is stupid. Supernatural is an extremely popular show that must be doing something right, and I’m told that character is generally pretty smart. Maybe he is, but that was a dumb move on his part. And let’s face it, if the audience is irritated with your character for making dumb choices, then they probably aren’t enjoying your story. To give the show credit, they got a viewer (me) who wasn’t familiar with the show and had no emotional investment in the characters and who couldn’t even hear the show (I was reading captions) interested enough to scold the character for being an idiot. And remember the incident almost a week later.

My original plan was to talk about how to create drama without your character making really dumb choices. But I changed my mind somewhat.

I’m a cashier as my day job. I was ringing up a woman who had two kids with her in the ten to twelve year old range. The boy was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt but only the hood part. I asked him if he was a modern day Little Red Riding Hood. He laughed and agreed. His mother and I agreed that he shouldn’t talk to wolves. I followed up with something like, “After all, if Little Red Riding Hood had run away when that wolf talked to her… then she wouldn’t have been immortalized in literature. Her sister, Little Brown Riding Hood did run away, and no one’s heard of her. Have you heard of her?” The woman agreed she hadn’t. “Neither have I. Because I made her up just now.”

Humorously enough, the woman suggested I write a book. I told her I had written several though none were about Little Red Riding Hood. Later I realized that wasn’t quite true. I had written a short story variation of Little Red Riding Hood, where I twisted everything.

But my main premise is that your story might require your character to make stupid decisions. Or at least, not the wisest choice possible. Go with what the story requires, but also go with what’s in character. And why not see if you can create the same level of drama and conflict by having the main character make smart decisions? Might be a way to avoid clichés.

Find a way to make staying in the Haunted House scary even when your main character is smart enough to avoid the basement, refuse to split the party, and strongly suggests that maybe they shouldn’t try to stay past midnight, they can come back in the daylight. Armed. Write the first contact story where the two races don’t assume that the others are necessarily like them and that their misunderstandings may be misunderstandings, not necessarily a prelude to war. Not that they shouldn’t be prepared, just in case. And once, just once, I want to see the inevitable fight in a burning building stop with the parties agreeing to a temporary truce at least until they get outside the building.

Your characters will make mistakes. Even smart people do dumb things sometimes. They’re human (or whatever race they may be). But make sure those mistakes are in character. Remember that the average reader only has so much patience for a character they consider an idiot. How much time do you think the average reader will spend on a story where they spend a significant amount of time wanting to smack some sense into the characters?

Mind you, there may be times where that happens. I wrote a scene in Nightmare’s Revenge where if I wrote it right, the readers will want to shake some sense into the characters. But it not only is required by the plot (and it is), it makes sense with the characters.

So, best of luck.

By the way, is anyone interested in reading my totally twisted mixed up version of Little Red Riding Hood?

*Site has NSFW Language.