Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Musings: The Spiritual and more

Happy Sunday.

We've covered the emotional, mental, and physical aspects of our characters. Today we dive a little deeper and personal with the Spiritual and any other aspect I may have missed asking about.

Spiritual doesn't make your story a religious-based book. It's another depth to your character and adds to the reasons for their behaviour. Every character should have an end point, some line they won't cross...yes, even a bad guy, although they tend to fudge a lot. Your readers may not even be aware you're sharing this information with them, it's just a part of whole. You don't even have to share any of this belief/trait with your readers, it can be part of your behind the scene notes.

When a reader says a character feels real to them, it's because the author has made them real...they're just born on paper.

Let's see what our Musers have to offer:

The spiritual, faith, is apparent throughout my universes, both s-f and fantasy.  It doesn't play a major part in the stories, but it's an integral part of life.  People speak of the Spirit of Space, the Great Creator, etc.  These are different designations for one being.  Even nonTerran humans such as Varn, the Star Commandos series lead, acknowledge Him.  Some general examples would be:

All the larger Navy and Patrol vessels (fifty-class or greater) carry at least one chaplain. Those of one thousand- and five thousand-class have several.  They perform more-or-less the same duties as army chaplains do now.  During combat, they usually work in the sick bay or with the first responders.

Worship is important to the individuals.  Varn and Islaen were married before a priest of her faith.  On several occasions, characters, particularly former Commandos, expressed regret over not having been able to practice actively during the course of their missions, and they made the effort to assure themselves that the privilege would be available to them when they voluntarily relocated somewhere after the War.

As some of you know, much of my work is inspirational, religious. An important part of my stories is making faith-based lifestyles seem natural, as well as present a character growth arc to show with the story that readers have nothing to fear or scoff at. While one of my reviewers said, “It’s religious, if you like that sort of thing,” for one of my mysteries, and another reviewer gave a different book about a younger man-older woman romance two stars for having a questionable incident and a mild swear word, it’s still important to be natural without being crude. One of my methods is to have a character at some level of faith, be it deep or shallow, either teach another character what true faith and sacrifice look like, even when he stumbles, or learn that stumbling happens, but how we pick ourselves back up shows what we’re really made of. So keeping the depth or lack of spirituality different between characters who are running from God, as Grace in Healing Grace does, or simply never realize that’s there more to being a faithful Christian than sending your kids to church, as Hart’s mother does in The Map Quilt, is what makes each character unique and drives the story.

In 'Daffodil and the Thin Place', the most spiritual character is Amelia, one of the Victorian children. She has the gift of second sight and is far more in tune with the supernatural than any of the others. Her gift is an important part of the story, so I hope that I placed sufficient emphasis on it. Twenty-first century Daffodil is more down to earth and although her superior knowledge is important, it is Amelia's ability to tap into the spiritual side that is the driving force of the story.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time
by Lea Schizas

The beginning of a story needs to capture either the essence of your character or the theme of the book. In many mysteries, a scene may open up with the onslaught of a murder in progress or the detectives on the scene after the fact. This gives the reader the premise of the book.

The best tip is to start at a point where the character’s ‘problem’ comes to surface. For example:

Jane hates heights but is an avid swimmer and has taken the challenge to join the diving team. Her first attempt at the low board causes a panic attack.

This tells the reader Jane will have to face these ‘height’ demons at some point in the book. It’s fleshing out a part of her personality readers will ‘dive’ right into to understand her obstacle. In the above scene you can begin with the teacher calling out her name and then describe her inner emotions as she is walking and staring at the diving board, as she climbs the ladder looking down at the increasing level of height. Eventually, by the time she hits the board she is so overcome by emotion she might hyperventilate, throw-up, or run back down humiliated. The secondary characters around her are now tossed into the game plan as ‘ridicule culprits’ or ‘saviors’ at some point in the book. You’ve now established her obstacle to overcome.

These types of beginnings bring the character’s dilemma and the reader to a connecting factor – a sympathetic involvement to see what is going to happen. Engaging the reader like this motivates them to continue reading to find out the outcome: who might help her, who stands in her way/ridicules her, how she overcomes. You are creating ‘conflict’, the problem area in her/his life the character needs to face and conquer. The worse thing a writer can do is to have someone else solve her dilemma. This cheats a reader and reads like a ‘quick fix’ to the conflict. Imagine yourself reading a few hundred pages only to discover the main character never changes because he/she never gets the opportunity to prove they can do it. I, for one, would never pick up a book written by that author again.

However, having a secondary character involved adds extra dimension to the conflict because now we are offered more possible questions to add spark and interest to the story:

Will this character continue to support the protagonist?

Will this character place the protagonist in a face-to-face moment with her dilemma?

Will this character heighten and add to the protagonist’s obstacle?

Another interesting area with the ‘Once upon a time’ fairy tale theme is using fairy tales to come up with interesting storylines. For example, let’s take The Three Little Pigs:

3 little pigs = 3 upcoming musicians
wolf = their agent who swindles them at some point of their earnings
straw hut = their small apartment
brick house = their mansion when they make it big

You’ve now used a fairy tale to come up with your own storyline by altering the characters, their setting, and added a motive for a conflict with the antagonist-the agent. Let’s dig deeper.

The three musicians are childhood friends or brothers a la ‘three pig’ theme. They’ve been playing as a band since high school. During college an agent signs them up and takes them on a tour. The boys are inexperienced in finances and trust their agent explicitly. During the story, however, seeds are dropped that this agent is a bit on the shady side prompting the readers to wait for the bomb to drop eventually on the boys. Although the readers have an inkling what’s going to happen, the questions keeping them posted to the book are:

  • How will the boys react?
  • What will they do?
  • What’s going to happen to the agent?
  • What’s going to happen to their musical careers?
  • Will the band ever make it?

Readers love drama, action, happenings that take protagonists to a lower level of no return, especially when they can identify with a crisis relevant to their own life. That’s not to say we need to be musicians to understand the characters plight, but as general people we’ve had someone who may have disappointed us in one way or the other. When you can connect a social issue or relevant emotional event to a reader, enough so they can place themselves in your character’s shoes, then they are drawn deeper into your story world.

Using the same fairy tale above, you can come up with literally tons of good story lines to expand and use.

*-3 spinsters on a road trip to get away from the stress of work
  -1 man comes into their lives
  -1 cheap hotel fling with one of them causes a rift between the ladies
  -1 secret the man is guarding will have these women on the run

*3 lawyers defending 3 men for the same crime
 -1 lawyer bribes a witness to lie for his client
 -1 house holds the key to this crime
 -1 twist near the end will have the witness charged with the crime

As you can see from the examples above, one simple fairy tale has now the potential for three different storylines, characters, and settings.

So…Once upon a time when I had nothing to write about, I sat down and remembered my childhood fairy tales…

And my page filled with story ideas…

And my Muse lived happily ever after.

Please visit us again next week for another Muse Marquee article.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Musings: The Physical

Happy Sunday.

If you've been joining us each Sunday, you know we've talked the emotional and mental aspects of our characters. Today we want to visit the physical.

As writers we need to know everything about the characters we write about, even if we never shared all the details with you the reader. And sometimes these fictional characters still surprise us. On to our Musers...

 I have a detailed character profile of questions and answers which I use to create my main characters. I fill these in before I begin a novel. By the time I begin to write I know exactly what my hero, heroine and other important protagonists look like. However, physical appearance goes beyond the colour of hair and eyes, complexion, height and imperfections such as a scar or a birthmark. I ask myself how they walk, how they speak, if their hands are still or restless, in other words, what does their body language tell me about them?

When I write, I can see the characters and the story unfolding in my imagination as vividly as watching a film, so I know exactly what my characters look like. However, unless a character has a particular physical attribute which is relevant to the plot, I don't give long descriptions of my characters' appearances. I try to show, not tell, what they look like and so give only a vague outline which I hope readers are happy to develop in their imaginations, building an image which is 'owned' by them and not imposed by me.

One of the ways you can tell the difference between characters is their physical appearance. The two main characters of my first book If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, were very different in body type. Carolyn was a little chubby and she had brown very curly hair. Jennifer was the perfect body type. She was a gymnast and had long blonde straight hair. Even Carolyn’s friends were different from she was. Becky and Janie were totally different. They had different interests and body types. One was a dancer and the other an artist. The dancer had a lean body and the artist had a more rounded body. Their eye color was different too. As far as the guys in the book, Brad, Jennifer’s boyfriend had the body of a well-built football player in high school. While John, Carolyn’s boyfriend, is cute, but he doesn’t have the same body type. He is more the normal high school boy who is fit but not a football player.

In After, Lauren has a lean and athletic body, while her friend Joey has more of a baseball player’s body. Lauren’s sister, Diane has a normal high school girl’s body and her friend Jenny is a swimmer. So Jenny has a swimmer’s body with broader shoulders. You can tell each of these characters apart very easily. Amber, the mean girl, has the shape of a thin but curvy girl and some might think she looked sexy.

I'll deal with the men and women separately.

My male protagonists share certain physical characteristics dictated by their life situations and recent past.  Whether military or recent military, police, or civilian living on rim planets or in a situation requiring heavy physical labor, they cannot afford to be flabby.  Most are moderately tall and of slender, "whiplash" build, well although not heavily muscled.  Important secondary men can be taller and bulkier, but no one looks like a cartoon hero.  In facial appearance, they are well or pleasant looking, not movie-star types simply because this is my own preference.  There are exceptions, of course.  Gray Jack Dundee (STAND AT CORNITH and the Star Commandos series) has a stocky build. The protagonist of SURVIVOR had just recovered from a near-fatal illness and began the book as a near walking skeleton.  Complexions are quite fair given the Irish heritage of most of them.  Varn from the Star Commandos books is an Arcturian and has their light olive skin.

As is true of their male counterparts, my female leads are also usually fairly tall, slender, and nicely made, again in keeping with their ongoing strenuous lifestyles.  They are not fashion model types but are fit, active women strong in body as they are in mind and spirit.  Most are quite beautiful and have complexions reflecting their Celtic forebears.  Hair is often some shade of auburn or red.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at