Editing Tip Tuesday yet again on Wednesday.

Your villain has to be three dimensional.

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We spend a lot of time making our protagonist(s) multi-dimensional. We give them heroic characteristics, flaws, quirks, and even pets. We assign our heroes and heroines an emotional wound that they must overcome by story’s end. (If you haven’t done any of these things for your protagonist, email me. We need to talk.)

But you need to do the same thing for your villains. Nothing is more boring than a one-dimensional bad guy or gal. A bad guy who’s bad for the sake of it. You can only see so much of that before you shut the book or turn the channel.

I’m a fan of The Walking Dead for lots of reasons, none of which are all that important for this blog post. But they’re killing me with season seven and I’m about to stop watching. There’s a new bad guy in town. His name is Negan played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. At first I thought, “wow, he must be having a blast playing this guy.” After six episodes I said, “He must get tired of doing the same thing over and over.” You see, Negan is bad for bad’s sake. Boring. We get it. He’s made his point. The first time we see Negan his level of bad (and some really good stage makeup) makes us cringe and back up from the television. Now I just want to get to the point where our heroes kick his butt. I don’t care about the stuff in the middle of that. There’s nothing sympathetic about Negan. At least not so far. There will be sixteen episodes maybe the writers will give us a little backstory on this guy, but for now, I’m not interested. He’s just a one-dimensional character walking around with a baseball bat and threatening to kill everyone if they don’t give up their belongings. He’s a bully. Boring. Did I say, boring? (This is in no way a knock on Mr. Morgan’s acting abilities. He’s doing a great job with what he’s got to work with.) Here’s a clip of Negan for your viewing pleasure.

One of the best bad guys I’ve ever seen was Joe Carroll from The Following played by James Purefoy. First off we have to give a round of applause to Mr. Purefoy’s fantastic portrayal of the sympathetic psychopath. Few actors call pull off playing such an evil person we’re willing to route for. But he couldn’t have done such a great job without some very good writing. Joe Carroll was a cold-blooded killer and he had a slew of people willing to kill for him. But, gosh darn it, we liked this guy. We didn’t want him to win really, I mean, what would that say about us, but the writers gave us a multi-dimensional character. Yes, he was a total scary guy, but he also loved his wife and son very much. Nothing was to happen to them. He wanted a family and he wanted his family safe. He wanted to be a dad to his young boy. Who doesn’t love a man trying to be a good father? It worked. I couldn’t get enough of Joe Carroll and I routed for him till the end. (Of course, I wanted Kevin Bacon to catch him. I mean, come on, it’s Kevin Bacon!) Here’s a clip of Joe Carroll for your viewing pleasure. 

Do you have a villain who is nothing more than a cardboard cut-out with a greasy mustache who throws his head back and laughs a hearty laugh? Or do you have someone whose mother tried to choke him while he slept when he was only four, whose father shot himself in the only bathroom in their apartment when our bad-guy was coming home from the second-grade? Did your bad guy trust a teacher only to find out the teacher was a psychopath in-training? Was your bad guy bullied, beaten, burned? Does he love dogs, but not people? Ask yourself, what does my bad guy want? Maybe it’s just to be loved. Make us care about this person. You’ll have us hooked from the beginning willing and ready to go for a long ride with you.

Any questions?

Why It Pays To Be a Helicopter Parent

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If you Google “are helicopter parents bad” a huge list of articles from places like Forbes, Psychology Today, and the Huffington Post (Not a fan of everything coming out of HP) saying being a helicopter parent is the worst possible thing you can do for your child. I’m about to tell you why it isn’t so bad.

Some people may describe me one of those parents who do too much for their children. I drive them to the bus stop even though they’re both in high school now. (In my defense, the bus stop is not near our house, we don’t have sidewalks or street lights and the majority of the school year the bus arrives in the dark.) I do their laundry, make their lunches, I’ve been known to bring things to school when they’ve forgotten something. I have also been involved at school; Class parent, library volunteer, Girl Scout leader, PTA volunteer, Band Parent volunteer, and probably other things I’ve long forgotten. Oh, chaperone for class trips! And I wouldn’t let Noodge 1 fly with the marching band on his first band trip at the age of 14.

Am I ruining my children’s lives? Well,the verdict is still out on that. Ask them in twenty years.

But here’s what happened. Noodge 1 forgot his marching band uniform on the bus on Friday and didn’t realize he left it on the bus until 6 pm Friday night. He needed that uniform for a performance on Sunday. A performance, if missed, that takes seven points of his grade. Yes, they get a grade and credit for being in the marching band. This isn’t your average extra-curricular activity.

I could’ve let my son sink. In fact, many of you and all those articles say let him sink. It’s how he learns. Let me tell you what, you need to know your kid before you make that decision.

Because I’m involved in my kids’ activities I’ve had the great fortune to get to know people. Nice people. Moms like me. (And a few moms nothing like me.) So I sent a text. And we were able to get him another uniform. Mom to the rescue.

I rescued him because something bigger was going on. A more important learning lesson for both of us. Just the idea of losing seven points was enough of a consequence for him. You see, he’s my rule follower. Always has been. I keep waiting for that to change. Especially as he entered the teen years. It hasn’t. Most likely it won’t. Sometimes I wish he would, but he is and always has been an old soul.

His reaction to the idea of losing seven points worried me. Leaving a uniform on the bus wasn’t the end of the world and a very fixable problem since I knew the right person to ask for help. He didn’t see it that way. He had a committed an unthinkable act being so irresponsible. And he didn’t know how to handle how he felt.

Now we were dealing with the lesson; how to handle stress. Much more important in my book. Especially since I come from a long line of Italian people swimming in stress. What can I say? We’re hot-blooded passionate people.

Allowing him to blow a simple thing out of proportion, and punish himself over it, (the rule follower thing) without the tools to change that thinking process wasn’t worth my taking a stand not to help him so he could learn a lesson. He learned it. All by himself. I just saved him extra anguish he would’ve piled on over nothing.

Mistakes happen and what I think childhood often is a time when we’re taught mistakes are bad. “Don’t forget your gym clothes or you’ll get in trouble.” We all forget things. More importantly, we need to learn not to sweat the small stuff. Do we need to learn to follow rules? Yes. Should we make kids learn to fear making a mistake? No way.

Now, if you have a kid who could care less about making mistakes, doesn’t worry about the consequences, I don’t have answers for you because I’m not an expert. I know my kids. I try my best to be the best parent I can and pray everyday I don’t screw up too badly.

I may be a helicopter parent at times, but there have been enough times I wasn’t. My kids know I’m not an open threat. That’s good enough for me. I won’t let them go down for making an honest, harmless, fixable mistake.

What I hope I showed him was be nice to people, give of your time, be helpful because someday you might be the one asking for help. Show your appreciation for their kindness. (We gave our savior a big bag of truffles.) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

And mom is always near by flying her helicopter.


It’s Editing Tip Tuesday!

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I hope everyone had a very nice Thanksgiving. I’m trying to get back into the swing of work this week, but I’m still suffering from Turkey Coma. (That’s a real thing. Ha ha.)

I’m a big believer everything happens for a reason. Probably because it lets me think there’s some sense of control in the world. Random activity is a scary thing for me.

And random activity in your novel is also a scary thing. Events cannot happen willy nilly. Everything in your novel must be there for a reason. And the reason can’t be, “But Stacey, I needed that to happen!” You might need your character to get across a lake in a boat, but if you told us the last boat on the lake was in 1920 and its 2016 a boat can’t randomly appear for your benefit.

Nope. You’ll have to explain there was an ordinance in place because a young man drowned in that lake never allowing boats to sail there again. Your main character can’t swim, and it would take too darn long to walk around the lake. If he’s going to save the maiden in time he needs a boat so he’s been planning, since the maiden’s kidnapping which is your inciting incident and happening early on in the story, on how to get a boat in the lake. The boat can’t just appear. Or, a long lost relative can’t show up on the scene with that boat. Too convenient. Your character has to fight and kick for that boat knowing if he doesn’t get it in the lake in time, that maiden is going to die. Got me?

Leave random acts for kindness. For your novel, every word counts. Say it with me, EVERY WORD COUNTS.

Any questions?

The College Tour

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We went looking at colleges recently. Noodge 1 is a junior in high school and I’m under the impression this is the time to get serious and check things out. There’s a lot of pressure to pick the right school. I have a friend whose son is also a junior and she’s been on a binge to see as many schools as possible before Christmas.

But anyway, looking at colleges is the right thing to do, so we’re at it. As long as we’ve seen every school he’s interested in by marching band camp next summer I’m good. We can skip the discussion about how ridiculously expensive school is. It is. That’s that. The Coffee King and I have made our requirements known. Though, the cost of school is a very important discussion and if you want to have one here at the blog, that’s fine, but please have one at home too.

You know for me, the most important thing was how clean the dorms were. Okay, not THE most important, but I’ll admit I elbowed a few people out of the way to make sure I took a look at the room on display. I controlled myself and stayed out of the bathroom. But I will be sending Noodge to school with bleach. Mark my words.

It isn’t easy to choose a school. (Here’s an article from The New York Times about how to pick a college. I’m not a huge fan of The Times, but how badly can they screw up this information?) For us, we’re looking at location. I want him to go to school in my backyard. He wants to go anywhere. We’re compromising. Anything withing five hours. The Coffee King had to weigh in and talk me off the ledge. I know, I know. I’m a controlling, paranoid mother. What can I say? I take my job very seriously.

Degrees offered is also important. Noodge has an idea what he wants to do. He’s changed his mind several times already, which is fine, but based on today’s desires we have a place to start.

The ugly cost is a factor. How much money the school offers in aid is important. It might be the most important component for some people. The schools seem to give financial aid information at their orientation, but if they don’t, make sure to ask. Internships and opportunities as well as activities for the students should also factor in. One big thing for Noodge is the campus itself. He likes a traditional campus more than an urban campus. That rules out plenty of schools. Oh, and size is a factor for some students. He goes to a very large high school so a larger college isn’t intimidating and a smaller one is fine too. Every kid is different. Make sure to find out what the teacher to student ratio is. Some kids will thrive in a lecture hall of three hundred and others will drown.

Helping my child to pick a college is like every other stop on this journey of motherhood. I’m leading with my heart, offering advice, and praying. The rest is up to him.

I mentioned earlier Noodge has been changing his mind about his career choices. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m learning changing his mind isn’t so easy for him. I don’t know if it’s because he’s told people what he wants to do and now that story is different, but over breakfast, while we were away, we talked. Really talked. I led with my heart and gave advice. I told him the decision was his. He didn’t have to explain his career choice to anyone.

It’s okay to change your mind. You don’t have to know what you want to do with your entire life at sixteen. Do what makes you happy because you’ll be doing it for many years, many hours of the day. Life is too short to hate what you do. And if you start doing something and you decide you don’t like it, change it. You’re going to be okay. Dad and I are proud of you.

My son looked at me and said, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For giving me advice and being so nice about me wanting to do something else.”

Since we were in a public place it took all the strength I had not to grab him and hug him. My heart swelled as I watched him taller than me, stronger than me, smarter than me, with his unshaven face, (It’s No Shave November and though NSN is an organization helping cancer awareness I think Noodge and his friends just want to compare their ability to grow a beard.) The little chubby baby I held in my arms is almost a man.

“It’s what I’m here for.” A stupid grin plastered across my face. As we left the restaurant, I gave him an aww shucks shoulder bump.

My boy is leaving the nest soon. No matter which college he chooses, I know he’ll be fine. Me on the other hand…..



Editing Tip Tuesday. On Tuesday for a Change

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Is setting a character in your story? It should be. Setting flushes out the story. It grounds us in the moment. We want to see, hear, and smell what the character does. Don’t try to be suspenseful with your setting. You won’t draw your reader in by making them wonder where the character is. Unless we’re two-thirds into a thriller novel and our heroine wakes up knowing nothing except she’s encased in a dark space that smells like freshly cut pine.

Showing setting through your character’s eyes tells us about the character. Setting can show pain, discomfort, nostalgia, joy, familiarity. Every character in the story should see the setting differently. Think about it. Do you see the world exactly the same way your best friend does? I see a tent pitched in the middle of the woods as a torture treatment and an opportunity for serial killers. My husband sees that same setting as an adventure to be experienced. Go figure.

But don’t worry about how well the setting shines in your first draft. Just put down anything. Keep it simple if setting isn’t your thing. Then go back and spend some time with it. Close your eyes and imagine how the character feels in that room or house or farm.

And if setting really escapes you and you want to pull your hair out of your head every time you have to describe a new place then find authors who do setting the way you’d like to and study them. Don’t copy. It won’t sound true to your voice. Study. And practice. Writing is a practice and a journey along a flat road where your tires kick up sand and the smell of salt thickens the air. Sea gulls squawk an early morning greeting while the sun paints the sky in pink.

Any questions?

We The People…

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Did you know in 1758 a young George Washington bought liquor for voters? I couldn’t believe it either. Elections were being swayed even back then.

We made it to Election Day. It’s been a long road for the American people. Non-stop arguing about who the right candidate is. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. As late as last night I was on social media and still people I know were shouting their hateful, annoying political opinions at the cyber world. Can I say this? Shut up, already! I mean, really, just have a seat.

It has been exhausting to read through the fighting and arguing that has gone on over these long months. Everyone thinks they’re right. What do they think they’re actually accomplishing by posting videos and articles and hateful messages? What I really wanted to see was someone tell me why their candidate was the right one and not bash the opponent. I didn’t see that. Anywhere. I did see some death threats though.

I’m going to say this too: I don’t need anyone to provide me with information. I’m smart enough to get it on my own. Those videos, articles posts and opinions were unnecessary. If I had asked for an opinion that would’ve been one thing, but I didn’t. Ever.

And truthfully, I don’t care how passionate someone felt about this election. Hurray, you found something to get excited about besides Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas. Oh wait, that’s me. Why do you think we need to read every thought in your head every time that you have one? Social media is not a political soap box. It’s supposed to be social. Fun. Entertaining.

In a few hours, we’ll have a new President. What are you going to do then if your candidate didn’t win? Will you allow the things that should matter most suffer because you can’t keep your opinions to yourself? They are opinions, by the way, and you won’t persuade someone to come to your side of the fence no matter how loud you yell. I like chocolate ice cream. I don’t care how many times you shout vanilla is better. I won’t believe you. Liking vanilla ice cream doesn’t make you wrong. Liking chocolate doesn’t make me right. And yes, the election is pretty much the same thing.

Because the honest truth is our country is in trouble. We need to stand together as the people of the United States of America. We need to remember what is important and work together to get there. Let me ask you this, while you were posting your opinions about the president did anyone research what their senators and congressmen have been doing? Do you even know who those people are? Have you voted out the ones that have made a career out of being a politician but haven’t done one thing for their districts? Are the people who promised you something, but didn’t deliver, still in office getting great health benefits and a pension that you fund?

The American citizens are what’s important. I suppose we’ll argue about which issues should take precedent and how to go about fixing things. There will always be someone who disagrees. Maybe the idea of the American dream is gone. It’s certainly lost.

I wish you luck and happiness in the days ahead. I hope your candidate wins and the things promised appear on your doorstep. I will always stand tall at the national anthem. I am proud to be an American. No matter what, this is still the best country to live in.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Weird Relatives

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Thanksgiving is only three weeks away. I can’t believe it really. I’m not sure where October went. I know I showed up everyday for the entire month, but I didn’t do anything exciting like jet off to Europe and walk the runway. (They won’t let me on the runway. One, I’m too short. Two, I’m too old, and Three, well, let’s just say I had to do a lot of fancy foot work to get the records expunged.)

I love Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite holidays. Probably because it’s the one time of year I make stuffing and everyone loves my stuffing. How that happened, I have no idea, but far be it for me to argue when I’m getting a compliment. I also love the Macy’s Parade. I have a thing for parades. Probably dates back to my baton twirling days. But I digress.

Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving. The weird relatives have to come out. We can hide them all year long and pretend Aunt Sally doesn’t exist, but on Thanksgiving we have to unlock the attic door and allow her to see the light. We can handle Aunt Sally for one day, right? Yeah right. Until she yanks the turkey leg straight from the body of the bird and starts chasing Uncle Arthur around the table spewing those chants she thinks keep turkey spirits away. Yeah, you know what I mean.

I like to think of weird relatives as characters in a play. Everyone has a role. We have the director. That’s usually me. We have the carver. The carver likes to play with knives and has a hidden fetish for Sweeney Todd. There’s the sensible one. Her food isn’t allowed to touch on the plate which means several trips back and forth into the kitchen where she carefully washes her plate before she tries the mashed potatoes and the corn. And of course there’s Aunt Sally. I try to cast her as an understudy, but there’s no stopping that woman once she gets her hands on that bird.

How boring would Thanksgiving be if we didn’t break bread with our weird relatives? I mean, come one, no one actually plays football on the front lawn while the food is cooking like normal people do they?

And what about the stragglers? Or as I lovingly refer to them, the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. There’s Bob. We love Bob. Bob has no partner, no children, no relatives anyone can identify. He belongs to no social groups and the one he tried to join asked him politely to leave. He comes to Thanksgiving dinner every year in his plaid suit jacket complete with elbow patches. He sports the infamous comb over now beginning under his ear instead of above it. What I can’t figure out is why he brings his briefcase with him. I don’t ask. I just show him to his spot next to Aunt Sally. At least he doesn’t eat with his hands. Though he does allow the gravy to touch the cranberry sauce so he can’t sit next to the sensible one. We tried that once. It ended badly.

I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving’s display of weird relatives. It’s only at Thanksgiving that I am serenaded by the constant sucking of one’s teeth. I’ll keep that relative nameless. They read the blog.

So, faithful reader, who will be sitting at your Thanksgiving table this year? And please provide pictures.