Sunday, March 21, 2010

Characters, Characters, Characters

I have been reading a lot more than I’ve been writing lately and a couple of books recently really made me think about how important characters are to a story. The two particular stories I’m going to discuss feature male/male relationships, although a lot of what I want to say will apply to any story.

The first was a m/m/m shifter ménage, which should have been right up my alley. Typos in two consecutive sentences on page 6 (Chapter 1 started on page 5), though, and I was starting to get concerned. By page 12 these characters that have just been introduced are having unprotected penetrative sex on horseback, and by page 14 the reader is led to believe that Jake changed Leyland into a shifter without bothering to explain that little fact to him.

Now, as a reader I’m pretty easy. I seldom have a problem suspending my disbelief and just going along with whatever scenario a story sets forth. I had a hard time with this story, though, because the characters seemed so unbelievable. Would a human man really get further than a blow job without a condom? Would you really be able to fall in love with someone who was wiling to turn you into a shifter without telling you? (Even if you were a shapeshifter already and couldn’t be changed?)

In this case I feel like the author sacrificed her characters for the gimmick of revealing that Leyland is already a shapeshifter. Which is not to say that I think characters and plot should always be straightforward and up front. Discovering things as you go, having discrepancies between perception and reality for the characters can make for a wonderful story. All of the elements however, especially the characters, do need to be believable within whatever constructs the author initially presents. If they do not ring true in the moment of the story, they will turn the reader away, not draw them in.

In contrast, I also read a perfect example of characters that draw you ever more deeply into a story. This particular story is a m/m historical. It opens with two men in a coach getting robbed by a highwayman. This is of course an exciting bit of action, but the best part for me was how everyone’s response to the situation – what valuables did they have to lose, would they attempt to use their weapons, etc - was used to reveal their personality. Nicholas, one of the central characters, finds himself drawn to the highwayman, even attracted to him, but his genuine fury at being robbed continues to leap off the page throughout the scene. By the time chapter two starts and Nicholas is at a fencing lesson I’m completely hooked. I believe in Nicholas. I care about him. I stay up ‘til 2am to finish the book, even though I’m not usually a huge fan of historicals, because of him.

It shouldn’t really be a surprise, I suppose, but I really came away from this week realizing just how important character is to me in a story. All of the stories I read over and over again have characters that engage me, characters whose lives I want to visit again and again, regardless of genre or the gender of the partners or anything else.

I want to write characters like that. As much as I want people to think I’m good technically as a writer, what really matters to me is that my characters come alive. I always get a thrill when someone asks me to write more, but I really love it when people tell me “I love your guys,” and ask to read more of them. Not my writing, my characters.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction 3/5/2010

I have no idea where this came from, but I got an idea today involving Charlie, one of the characters in my last Friday Flash Fiction story, and the coffee cart boy Ulysses mentions. It's very rough, but I wanted to get the idea on paper, at least, so here it is.

There's nothing graphic here by any stretch of the imagination, but this story does involve homosexual men flirting with each other. If that is not your cup of tea, then you should probably quit reading now...

Here is "Three O'Clock"

Charlie knew he was bouncing with impatience while he waited for the elevator door to open, but he couldn’t force himself to stop. Three o’clock – the very best time of day. Coffee and flirting and maybe an invitation for more if he played his cards right.

The doors opened at last, revealing the coffee cart in the lobby and the handsome barista who operated it. Everything about Mark appealed to Charlie, from the dark spiky hair and lean, slender body to the eyebrow ring and sweet, almost shy smile that Charlie swore Mark saved just for him.

Mark had looked up as soon as the bell dinged the elevator’s arrival, as used to the routine as Charlie by now. Three o’clock. Early enough for Charlie to beat most of the afternoon rush of caffeine hunters, and close enough to the end of Mark’s shift that he was free to talk and play. Charlie admired the snug fit of Mark’s black button down shirt as he approached the cart, his eyes travelling slowly up and down, soaking in every detail. His grin broadened when Mark acknowledged his perusal with a light blush.

“Hey, you,” Mark greeted Charlie. “Triple soy sugar free vanilla latte?”

“Yes, please,” Charlie beamed. He ordered the same thing every day, but it still gave him a little thrill each time Mark remembered his order.

“Anything else?” Mark asked, eyes lowering so he could peek up at Charlie through his eyelashes.

Charlie opened his mouth to reply, but found he had no air to speak or breathe with. Tearing his gaze away from the heat in the sapphire gaze that Mark was careful to keep mostly turned away from him, Charlie managed a low laugh. “Don’t tempt me.”

Oh. Oh, that was a happy smile stretching Mark’s face at Charlie’s words. Damn. Charlie knew he was staring at Mark, completely ensnared by the sight of him steaming soy milk and preparing espresso shots and smiling, but he could not look away. He heard himself babbling on, covering his fascination with too many words, but Mark was used to that by now, too. Mark answered back when he could get a word in edgewise, the movement of his throat jostling the heavy chain that rested along his collar bone.

Oh, God.

There, just above the chain was the dark smudge of a hickey. How on earth had Charlie missed that before? It wasn’t all that large, but it was almost black, edged with red where teeth had worried the flesh, too.

Hot. Even as Charlie mourned the lost opportunity for more than a flirtation with Mark, his body reacted to the sight of the bruise with undeniable enthusiasm. He wanted to touch it, taste it, in the worst way. Mark might even let him, but the person who’d claimed him would almost certainly object.

“Are you going to introduce me to your friend, boy?” came a low rumble from behind Charlie.

Mark’s smile had always been bright and intimate for Charlie, but now he positively glowed. “Oh, yes, Master,” he breathed. “This is Charlie. Charlie, this is Master Byron.”


Charlie had noticed the chain around Mark’s neck, of course, but he’d never realized it was actually a collar. How had he missed that?

With a shake of his head, Charlie brought himself back to the moment and clasped the hand that Mark’s master had extended. It was huge, warm and strong. The arm attached to it was sized to match, thick muscles rippling under the skin as Charlie’s gaze travelled upwards to meet Master Byron’s eyes.

Oh boy.