Thursday, January 10, 2013

Writers Do Worry

Believe It or Not, writers do worry. In fact, we worry about a lot of things. I could come up with a long list of things we worry about, but then I'd be worried readers would be worried about us. And I've already got enough to worry about.

One thing I recently worried about was my favorite aunt reading my latest book, Angel Sometimes. I had every right to be worried since I sent her an autographed copy and I mentioned her in the "Author's Notes".

And a shout-out to Mattioma Roe. You inspired Angel to get her G.E.D.

I also stuck a note in the book telling her NOT to read the book. So she, of course, read Angel Sometimes. Actually, she finished it last week while she was visiting me.

Why didn't I want her to read it? Because it's got some curse words in it and nobody curses around Aunt Matti. When I asked her if she liked the book, she said, "Yes, but Angel does have a mouth on her." I then reminded Aunt Matti that Angel lived on the streets for five years. Aunt Matti smiled a closed lips smile and said, "Mmuh-huh."

Personal comment here: I don't really think Angel curses more than most young people today, but she does curse too much for my Aunt Matti.

Will my next book, Dismembering the Past, have as many curse words? Nope. Not because of Aunt Matti, but because Hallie, the protagonist of this new series, did not live on the street and cursing as part of her normal life would not fit her personality.

I believe writers have to write true characters. Some of them curse, some do not. Some characters chew tobacco, some do not. The list, of course, could go on and on. If you know the characters you're writing, you'll understand them and why they do things or don't do things.

If you're a writer, what thing does your character do that you hadn't expected? If you're a reader, is there any quirk a character has that would change your opinion of the character? Basically, I'm asking:
Does your character have

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2013.


  1. Just tell your aunt that obviously Angel didn't have an Aunt Matti in her life. hahaha

  2. I had the same thing happen to me when my sister started to read "Ben's Challenge" Some of the characters utter the exclamations of 1950s Australia - very mild nowadays, but my sister stopped reading it and I don't think she ever went back to it.

  3. I get what you mean about worrying, Helen, because so very much has to come together for a novel to work well. In my forthcoming novel I have a baker who is also a philosopher. I like it when unlikely people are the deep thinkers. I don't worry about him, though—people will love Marty Kandelbaum!

  4. I guess every book will be put down by someone. We can't please they say. One of my characters skinny-dips with her mother. Helen, I love the name of your new book.

  5. Great idea, Anna!

    My guess is that I could read "Ben's Challenge", Linda, and I'd never realize the character was using exclamations that around here we'd call curse words.

    I love the idea, Kathryn, that you have a character who is an unlikely deep thinker.

    Wow, Liza! That must have been fun to write the skinny-dipping scene!

  6. In my romantic suspense books, my characters have sex. On the page, usually. But it's right for them. My mom read my first book, and asked me if I was writing those scenes from experience. But she keeps reading. Funny you should mention curse words. One of the things I need to discover for each character is what words they use when they're stressed. I recall going around and around with an agent and an editor when the word choices I felt were appropriate to the character pushed their buttons the wrong way. In the end, though, the characters had their say. (And funny you mention this; it's one of the points I make in the post that will be here next Thursday!)
    Terry's Place

  7. Being true to a character can challenge us because we may want that character to say or do something that doesn't fit. Then we have to rethink a scene or a situation for that character to remain believable. Then we worry.

    The wife of one of the attorneys in my second novel evolved into a suspicious, accusing woman I don't particularly like. I could've mellowed her a bit, but that would have reduced the conflict between her and her husband and made her less interesting, as well as untrue to herself. To my surprise (because I hadn't intended for her to be that way), she told me who she was as the story unfolded.

    Another surprise came in the way her husband reacted to her emerging personality. I like him, but I've gotten reader feedback that indicated the wife was the more likeable character. In fact, one reader didn't care for him at all. It seems both of them remained true to their characters, but readers react to them differently.

    Now as I begin work on the sequel, I won't change her in any way, but I'm still not fond of her.

  8. My idol, James Bond, once said, "It's impossible for a man to get through the day without a battery of four-letter words." To which I responded, "You're $#@&%* right, James!"

  9. Christopher, Great quotation. :-)

    As to worrying, a comic book author friend of mine had this to say to me when I presented him with one of my worries, "Also, a writer cannot concern themselves with whether they offend one group or another. Once you start doing that you stop being true to yourself and to the story and that's not fair to anyone."

    Thanks to everyone who posts and comments on this blog, I find it very encouraging.

  10. Terry, brilliant minds think alike. And characters say whatever they want.

  11. Linda, that's so interesting. I like that you heard from readers. We often write in a bubble and don't get feedback from our readers!

    Christopher, you totally made me laugh. But, then, you usually do!

    Alison, those are words to remember -- and write down!

  12. Hi Helen, I am told by children that they love my people and when can they have a sequel, but I do worry about character portrayal. When I want more inspiration I just read more and more Dickens. :0)

  13. Excellent post, Helen. Yes, I worry about the things my characters say, their sometimes bad behavior, and their persistent flaws and failings. I worry that if they're too human, readers won't like them. You've hit the nail on the head with your question about character.

  14. That's a good idea, Carole. I tend to try to let my characters be true to themselves. Reading Dickens is probably good advice!

  15. Patricia, I've read your books. You do a good job of letting your characters show their character.

  16. I agree with you completely. I don't care for a lot of cursing in books but sometimes they belong to make the character real.

  17. Susan, I don't think there's a single curse word in my next book, Dismembering the Past. But that's because cursing didn't fit with this new character.

  18. I don't like foul-mouthed characters as a rule. It can be effective when a low-life bad guy uses them because I dislike him even more. LOL. Just so you know, Christopher. ;)

  19. I'm sort of the opposite, Dani. If it fits the character, then I'm okay with some curse words.

  20. I'm struggling with that right now as my protagonist is male and I think I'm holding him back - especially after reading Christopher's comment!

    I agree with you, Helen. The word choices have to fit the character with an essence of believability.

  21. You are going great guns, Helen! A new series already!!!

    About those swear words - The older I got, the more I used! That said, I noticed a significant decline since I don't have a day job anymore, so that must have been part of it.

    It depends on the specific words, the character, and the frequency in a book whether or not I'll keep reading it. I can swear, but I'm not keen on reading too much of it in books.

    Morgan Mandel

  22. Loved your Aunt's reaction to the curse words. When my mother read one of my first mystery books, she asked if I had saved up all the bad words she'd told me not to say and put them in the book. (smile)

    You are right about the need to be true to a character, and some of mine have quite a mouth on them. However, I have learned with later books that I can be like a parent and tell them to tone it down a bit. Some language sets a tone for a character, but too much of it can be irritating.


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