Secondary Characters: Going Deeper into Connected Books

Almost a year ago, I wrote an essay about how connected books have arisen for me as a writer: link. Has it been that long? This has been on my mind because I have been tweeting about secondary characters recently. This essay develops my ideas further.

Main characters don’t exist in a vacuum, they have lives and friends they interact with. These secondary characters inspire me to consider writing their stories. Thus, I envisioned four books in the sweet and sensuous series, staring off with a Coast Guardsman going to college, starting over, and getting married: Rick and Annelise.

The other heroes and heroines are relatives and friends of the couple who were all members of the wedding party, like Roger and Denise.

Here, I want to consider the role of secondary characters in helping develop the main characters’ story, and their role in providing a bridge to their own stories. Because connected books have a collection of key characters, they are in an out of each other’s lives. They have a history, and it’s beautiful. These foundations provide a basis for rich and deep interactions.

How else to demonstrate what the hero or heroine is like than to show them in contexts where they interact with the people they are closest to? How else to show their growth and development, and especially as they grow from one book to the next? Who else is going to give the main characters support as they journey into their happily ever after?

I’m a pantser writer, not a plotter. So it’s impossible for me to imagine down to the tiniest detail, all the aspects of a story’s plot from beginning to end, including the subsequent stories in a series. If I took that path, I would never write, as I would get caught up in minute details that need not get hashed out so early.

If I took that path, I would have probably written all four novels then published them after years and years of work. But that isn’t me, if I work hard, I want to see the immediate results of my work!

So in Rick’s book, the secondary characters were there, I knew who they were, and I had a sense of their personalities. But they were not as well developed, and that was fine with me. It would have been too much, I think, to work at developing them to the point that they might have overshadowed the main characters. Beyond that, they weren’t talking to me, so I didn’t know much about them!

As I was finishing Rick and Annelise’s book, Roger and Denise were the ones I was hearing from. Now it was time for Rick and Annelise to become secondary characters. But they were fairly well developed. I just needed to have them around, and it happened naturally. Denise was Annelise’s younger sister, and Rick was Rogers’ good friend. Both couples were bound to meet up in different ways, visiting each other, and spending the holidays with their families.

My current work in progress, the third book, takes place right after Rick and Annelise’s wedding. Lauren was partnered with Don, but Rick and Annelise were already on their honeymoon and unavailable for conversation and support. So who else might offer that support? The secondary characters who will star in their own novels in the future.

So Roger is a key secondary character here. The fun part is that his book takes place a year or two after the wedding, so he is pretty well developed, but I’m showing him in a different way. In addition, it gives the reader a sense of what he was doing in the meantime, and especially since I alluded to it in his book. Lauren and Don had gotten married, Roger knew about it, but Denise didn’t.

What is interesting is that I get to address earlier interactions that Roger was fully a part of in his book, but from a different perspective, Don’s. I even had them say some of the same things in the current novel, giving a hint at what was going to happen in Roger’s book! In any interaction, each person will have a different perspective, remembering and emphasizing different things. So I know what Roger thought. What did Don think? What did he notice or remember?

Kim is a key secondary character as well. Through her interactions with Lauren, I’m getting  a better sense of who she is, and what her story should look like. That is important, because I will need to have a blurb about her book to put in at the end of Lauren’s book. As a matter of fact, I just had a breakthrough moment this morning, when things came together regarding her.

One crucial point is that it’s so important to know the stories, inside and out. How did I describe Don in book one? What was Kim like then? Lauren? Will my development of them in their own books and as secondary characters match that? I recently caught myself in what could have been major mistakes, some discrepancies since book one. On a developmental editing level, what I had in mind for Kim’s story in her own book didn’t match how she was presenting herself in Lauren’s book.

It’s one thing to catch mistakes, but if I’m making changes, I better have a darn good reason and explanation why.

The writers’ life: detail oriented and creative. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Third Party Retailers: Piracy and Counterfeiting on Amazon

I’ve gone down the rabbit hole this morning, reading with curiosity reports about piracy and counterfeiting by third party retailers on Amazon.

It all began when I googled “Amazon third party sellers and piracy.”

Apparently this is a major problem, involving Amazon’s sale of all types of products, and not just books. This happens, even though Amazon has an anti-counterfeiting policy.

But since I am a writer, this is what I’ll focus upon.

Book piracy can arise in numerous ways, as indicated by a recent lawsuit brought against publishers of college textbooks.

It was clear to the buyers that the third party vendors were selling counterfeits. Pages were missing, and the copying was poor. In all likelihood, someone took a copy of the book, photocopied it, and then offered it for sale.

How else might piracy happen?

An indie writer makes a book available for e-book or print purchase. Upon looking at the report for sales and royalty payments for the print books, there is a discrepancy:  more print books are available for sale than were officially sold by the authorized print book dealer. Or, some retailer claims it has e-books available for sale through some unknown outlet.

Where are these other books coming from? I would imagine they were pirated e copies that were being resold in electronic or print form. It’s possible they might not even be copies of the books themselves, but something else altogether, and definitely not what the customers ordered.

We should all be checking our books regularly to see where they are being sold, and how. Readers should only purchase from authorized sellers. Both publishers and authors should explain quite clearly who the authorized sellers are.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

A reflection: reading my assigned books for the Romance Writers Association-RITA Contest

This was my first time participating in the RWA-RITA contest.  I was surprised by this, but participants submit their books and are required to judge other contestants’ books. That wasn’t what I expected. I imagined a panel of judges would judge all submissions.

But because the RWA has elements of a peer-to-peer program of writers learning from each other and mentoring each other, it makes sense.

I looked forward to reading my assigned books, and it was great, getting exposed to new authors and new genres. I was inspired to look for other books written by the authors I liked the most, and especially if I had been thinking about writing in their genre.

However, readers can indicate up to two categories (I believe) of books they would not be able to read, for personal readings, no need to explain. I indicated one category, but in retrospect I should have submitted two, since I had too many books in a category that I tend not to read, with a few exceptions.

Submissions can be sent in by mainstream authors (those who work with traditional publishers) or those who are independent (self-published).

Ever since I began my latest writing career as an independent writer, I have sensed an unstated tension between the two groups.

Regarding stereotypes about independent authors, are they hacks who undermine the publishing industry? Are they mere amateurs not to be taken seriously? Are they failures who couldn’t make it in the mainstream?

Review any random mainstream publishers for their submissions’ web pages. Do editors lock out certain types of authors based upon their stereotypes about genres and the market? Because editors’ views set the tone for what will be considered, it is important to find the right editor/publisher/agent.

When I read books by indie authors that didn’t seem well edited or proofread, I was troubled that they were fulfilling the stereotypes about a lack of professionalism. Everyone had an editor, but was it a developmental editor or a copy editor? Were proofreaders consulted?

Publishers pay all those costs up front, and traditional authors are only paid afterwards. That might be complicated if the author had been paid an advance. Authors might not see any royalties until the advance is covered through sales.

But independent authors pay all their expenses themselves, and so I can understand a desire to minimize costs. Professionals can be expensive, and no writer can ever be sure of sales and whether expenses will be recouped.  But the investment is worth it, I would argue.

Our words matter and our writing is our legacy. Make it a good one.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

 

 

Inspiration–on a roll!

So I finished looking over my developmental editor’s track changes last night, and I finally managed to figure out how to create different headers for different sections of the manuscript.  I did it for Starting Over:  Rick, but I just couldn’t recall it.  Luckily I found a link on line.  I copied it into my notes page.

This manuscript will be longer, because it covers more time.  So I’ll single space it eventually, and put it in smaller font. I have gotten some great feedback on images for the hero–advice on which of two pictures to choose.

Now it is time to read it without the track changes on.  After that, I’ll find a copy editor and then a proofreader.  Once I have an idea of the length, then I can go to the graphics artist to design the cover.  I did it too early in the process for the first book, so I’ve learned my lesson.

This morning, I got up, and I felt inspired once I saw some NYT stories about military weddings in the vows section.

It seemed for the longest while that the characters of my next two books were just not coming together.

Maybe it was realizing that I’m closer to finishing this second book, Going Home:  Roger.  This book is about Denise and Roger’s story.

Then suddenly,  I had inspiration for the third book.  I talked about this before.  I only got inspired when I saw a book written by a friend in my RWA chapter, to write from the heroine’s perspective.  So I’ll introduce her story at the close of Denise and Roger’s book, the Wedding Bet:  Lauren.

Returning to my source of stock images, I was focusing once again, upon the hero for the fourth–Juan.  He was the one who had been chatting with me.  But he had been silent for the longest while.  Again, nothing was coming to me!  Suddenly, Kim, the heroine, began chatting about what she had been up to, and why she is the way she is.  She even told me what she needs from the hero!

I had no idea what she was like.  I get it now.  I started jotting down notes and looking for images of what she looks like.   I have a tentative title for her book:  Finding Home:  Kim.

Copyright Barbara James.  All reserved.

Silly heroines?

This has been on my mind lately, because I have been reading some book club choices through Goodreads.

Regarding one book, I posted in my review.

It took me some time to get into the book, because the heroine fit certain silly stereotypes of modern women’s empowerment. I’m sure there was a reason the author pursued this track, but the heroine’s behavior made me roll my eyes.  The heroine broke up with a boyfriend because he was “too boring and conventional,” when she wanted excitement, but that can only come from a “bad boy,” and in her binary thinking, conventional men couldn’t be exciting. She foolishly put herself in a dangerous situation, wearing skimpy clothing and six inch high heels to a sleazy bar where she hoped to find a bad boy sex partner. Instead, she was almost attacked, and had to be rescued by the hero.

With respect to the other book, a member of the group observed the heroine was “reckless, self absorbed and pushy.”

I was glad she said that, because she read further than I did.  I was only a few pages into the first chapter when I noticed that about the heroine:  “foolish and pushy in her obsessions with fossils.”

I said to myself,

I’ve read enough romances to see where this is going. It is inevitable, because of her foolishness, she will eventually do something stupid which will jeopardize her safety and others’. She won’t listen and will go somewhere she shouldn’t and confront people she shouldn’t.

Another reader posted:

I’m far enough into the story to confirm that your predictions are quite true.  While I was into ch 5, I thought of quitting because I thought that the only thing that could please me is if this dingbat got a serious comeuppance and learned a hard lesson, but alas, she is a “strong” heroine that is very much in demand.

I wondered,

What is the purpose of writers presenting us with these types of heroines? Since when does strong have to mean stupid? I suppose it is part of the current cultural perspective that I have been thinking about lately, in light of some opinion pieces and even new stories I have seen.  Women’s empowerment is to be celebrated at all costs, even when it is grounded in silliness and poor judgment? Because ideology above everything, including reality!

It might be easy to think that authors are mocking empowered women, but it seems that art is imitating life.

Someone else wondered.  Books like these made her “question what the opposite of a strong woman is. Quiet? Hidden? Non-complaining? Single?”

My reply:

That is the thing I wonder about. Do we presume that strong has to mean arrogant, obnoxious and in other people’s faces about how strong one is? That seems to be the case in our culture.  Why can’t strong be seen as something less extroverted and public in its declaration? What about strong as wise and resilient? One can embody quiet strengths, and I don’t mean stoic in hiding one’s emotions like men traditionally have been urged to do.   Being a woman of strength should be something that is so obvious, that the reader doesn’t have to be banged over the head with it.   That is the problem with these characters. It is as though they have to prove they are strong, which makes me question just how strong they are when their strength isn’t linked to the wisdom that would make me admire their strengths, because they are stubborn and foolish.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.

Advent: The Christmas season begins!

 

 

images.duckduckgo.comFor some people, and especially the retailers, the Christmas season begins directly after Thanksgiving. We already got our first card! But for me, the real Christmas season begins the first Sunday of Advent, which took place on Dec. 3. Time to break out the Advent candles, put up the Christmas tree, send out the cards, and think about the gifts. A great season for buying books!

 

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.

 

Introverted characters?

My editor noticed this, that my characters tend to socialize one-on-one, focusing the most of their energy on the private nature of their relationships, rather than going to lots of parties, bars, or clubs.  They don’t tend to double date and talk much to others about their relationships.

My introverted young women are not ones to experience life through the lens of emotional drama.  They won’t get drunk and then do crazy things, because they don’t live their lives crazily.  They think logically and are practical.  They create strategies and plan, generally thinking and processing before they talk, whether about their thoughts or feelings.

My introverted young men are like the heroes of a few of Grace Burrowes’ novels, specially my favorite, Douglas:  quiet, observant, shrewd as can be, hard-working, competent, and tough when they need to be. All of their intensity is focused upon the women in their lives.  The types of women they value are the ones who are loyal and passionate about them and their relationship, yet reserved and private, because they know that those are qualities that will bode well for a successful long term relationship.

And how does that tie into writing sweet romances, those with no explicit sex scenes?  My characters like to get busy, without question, but they are private about it, so to put it tongue in cheek, I won’t violate their privacy!

Does that seem boring, shy, or socially maladjusted?  Do characters like these seem too mature for their age, like middle aged matrons and fuddy-duddy old men?

Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet, argues that in a culture that is overwhelming extroverted, introverts tend to be seen as weird.

I suppose that is why I like writing introverted characters, because I am one:  INTJ proud!  Nothing motivates me more than sitting in my study with my thoughts, keyboard, and a window to look out of as I think.  Apparently, writing is an ideal career for INTJ types.

Even though I have written extroverted ones, the introverts are the ones that grab me, because I think they are far more interesting, with depths that many don’t realize or experience because they don’t feel the need to be “out there.”

But here is the thing, lots of introverts have developed a sufficiently extroverted persona that becomes useful in their day-to-day life, because their jobs and other activities might require it.  However, look to see what really motivates them, and you will see exactly where their hearts are.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.

Sweet romances–a new definition?

A romance blogger was inspired by me to write a whole post on defining sweet romances.  I must say I was flattered:  link.

The irony is that she was critical of me in a way that made no sense, and it was quite apparent from the comments.  The phrase “sweet romance” is a simple marketing strategy that works well enough for now.

Sweet romances with no explicit sex scenes as implying that there is something wrong with sex?  Not at all, some writers and readers just have different preferences regarding what they write and read.

So my characters are young women who go to college in the hope of getting good grades and jobs upon graduation.  They also want to get their Mrs. Degree, marriage to a serious boyfriend before graduation or immediately afterwards.

She critiqued sweet romances as indicating a political perspective packaged as a matter of personal choices.  I scratched my head upon reading that one:  “It never questions why certain women should want such things, or what role public policies and institutions might have played in shaping private, ‘personal’ decisions.”

In what universe would this be seen as something worthy of political analysis?

Most women don’t live their lives based upon a scorecard whether their personal choices developed through specific public policies and institutions.  They just live their lives in the way they believe best fits them and their needs.

I posted in her comments:  “I’m so glad I inspired you!”

She was glad to hear from me, because I make her think.  It is good to have these types of conversations, where we can critique and encourage.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.