Sociopath Characters

One of the biggest challenges for newer writers is to develop characters that would do all the things the writer would never do. It may be as simple as mountain climbing or sky diving. And it may be as heinous as rape, murder and pillaging.

How do you write about a character who commits acts you struggle to even imagine?

When it comes to sky diving or mountain climbing, you can interview people who’ve done those things. Or you can learn to do them yourself! What a rush, I would guess.

But when it comes to writing about characters who harm others, what is required is the ability to turn off your humanity, your reason, your moral code, and imagine the character doing things the way a predator would.

We go through phases or stages of innocence, wherein we gradually release long-held beliefs about what people are capable of doing. You hear about a Cosby or a Weinstein or a Trump allegedly touching people inappropriately, and you may still allow yourself to file these supposed events under Social Anomalies. You still believe most people would never compromise another person’s integrity like that. Maybe a Rose surprises you, but that man looks creepy, so the accusation fails to move your needle, so to speak. We prop up most celebrities in ways that can, at times, lead to excessive temptation. Some people fail to resist those temptations, and corruption occurs. Nothing new here.

Then you read about a Franken, a Takei and a Lasseter–things they are accused of doing–and you start to wonder if there really are people who would never harm another person simply for their pleasure. You start to re-classify what it means to be a decent human being. So maybe an ill-advised grope for an attempt at humor gets a lower bad guy score than, say, firing a subordinate who refuses to engage with her boss in sexual acts. Where does forcing a kiss on someone land you? How do you classify a lusty comment about someone’s figure? Where do you draw the lines?

For sociopaths, there may not be lines drawn anywhere. The rules do not apply to them. In many cases, they may not even consider rules of personal comport to exist.

So when you must write about a character who commits treachery or acts that personally or financially violate others, close your eyes and start to see the world through their eyes. To your serial killer or terrorist or rapist or spouse abuser or villainous boss character, imagine that they have an agenda–perhaps relating to money, influence or pleasure–and no code of conduct gets in the way of them pursuing their goals. See things like law, order and social norms as processes designed for lesser creatures. Institutions like businesses or government agencies are designed to keep dogs and sheep in line, to define their boundaries. Not yours. You have no boundaries.

Your fictional character is what I mean, of course. Not you. You would never grope someone or force a kiss on them, or try to copulate with them while they sleep, or drug them into stupor to take advantage, or lie to Congress, or make powerful deals behind closed doors with foreign powers that threaten your country, or hide your fortune from the IRS, or publicly say the words many people want to hear, and then act against those same people in private. You would never murder someone, or hire an assassin.

You’re a good person. We’re just talking about fiction here.

Right?

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Indie Author Services

Independent authors are a lot like baby sea turtles. I’m not saying they move slowly or that they carry a burden on their backs. But they must cross the exposed sand. They are yummy to seagulls and other predators. There are tons of them, but only a few will survive.

Yet somehow, they just know they are heading in the right direction, despite watching their sisters and brothers getting gobbled up.

Indie authors don’t have Random House or Penguin copy editing, formatting or marketing their books. So they must rely on independent author services, like developmental editors, copy editors and proofreaders, formatters, cover artists, printers and marketers, maybe even publicists, and definitely third party advertising sites for promos.

Many who provide these services do a great job, are honest, and add significant value for their writing clients.

But some are predators. And it’s not always easy to spot them in the tall grass.

In addition to writing novels, I provide a variety of editing services for indie authors. And one of my clients was recently offered a publishing deal with a small publisher. I asked what this publisher was selling her, and it wasn’t clear what they would actually do. They said they had a small store and would carry copies there. They would create a cover and help my client develop an online presence, and they indicated they would market her work.

After several months, they had provided her with a very nice book cover, but she told me the font they used for the book was too light. I ordered a copy and agreed. It was practically unreadable. She complained, and they responded by saying she was impossible to work with, and that, because of her lack of effort, not a single copy of her book had sold, other than the one I bought.

They said they would not work with her, but she could not get out of the contract with them unless she paid them more than $1000.

Be sure you know what you are getting. If you are being offered a book deal, find out who else they represent. How are their sales working out? Contact the authors they currently carry. Did they have a good experience? Make sure any contracts are clear and concise. Make sure you understand what the expectations are on either side.

If it sounds too good to be… well, you know.

Motifs and Emotions

A motif is a re-occurring image, theme or element that appears throughout your novel. A dove symbolizes peace, or a snake represents evil, or a spider represents death. Motifs add color and intrigue to your novel, but you have to be tricky, subtle, underhanded in your use of them. After a first draft is a good time to distribute motifs. Spread them out, don’t just leave them at the end and marvel at your brilliance. And for gosh sakes, don’t explain them.

When your character is experiencing emotion, don’t say: She felt grief. Don’t say grief enveloped her. Don’t say she was painted in grief. Say what she is doing in response to the grief. Say what her posture is, what her hands are doing; and if she’s distracted by the grief, don’t say she’s distracted by the grief. Jane set the letter down on the counter, her hands trembling, her breath quick. She adjusted and re-adjusted her wedding band, removing it, sliding it back onto her finger. She picked up the letter again and held it to her breast and wept.

Editing and Writing

I have been copy editing for some really talented writers. I love the work. So I have been trying to approach my own writing with the same objective eye as I have the works of others. My newest project has been less about trying to be cute or profound, and more about telling a story. It has ghosts, Alzheimer’s, romance and sex. That’s really enough.

So I have been going over yet another of my older projects, trying to see how I can make it better. Turns out it’s chock full of cute and profound, but not as much about telling a story. This one has, as it turns out, nine story lines. So today I did the logical thing. I broke it into nine stories. Edgar Lee Masters did it with Spoon River Anthology, right? Yes, I know those were poems.

This way the main story line won’t be cluttered with eight other plot lines.

Authors Promoting Authors at “Discover Authors”

Kate Policani has created a blog just for authors to cross-promote books. What a great idea! It doesn’t cost anything, but she asks that authors promote for other authors posting there. You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours. So tomorrow my book, Fugue in C Minor gets featured there.

My next post will be the promotion for the book. Have a great day!

Paperback Writer

The paperback version of my new novel Fugue in C Minor is finally available for sale! Click on this hyperlink to see it at CreateSpace.com. It’s also at Amazon.com.

Editing

I asked four people close to me to read my First Draft (really it’s the Third Draft, but don’t tell them) of Fugue in C Minor, and their feedback has been fantastic. The Fourth Draft is taking me a lot longer than I anticipated, but it’s clearing some things up nicely. I’m expecting to have the manuscript market-ready by the end of February.