Magical Words: If a character screams…

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

“If a character screams while off the page, does anyone hear them?” a Magical Words post by Kalayna Price from September 17, 2011 discusses secondary and tertiary characters offscreen lives. How much should a writer know about them? Are they leaving the room to pick up kids from school, from work, or burying a body and should you as a writer even care?

An interesting read, with fun comments like Lyn Nichols answering the title question: “Oh Lord, I hope not. I’d have to stop torturing them!” More useful was Daniel R. Davis saying “The rest of the world doesn’t stop because your characters do.” Which means, your character may be dealing with the craziness worthy of a novel, but people still go about their lives.

Again the URL is:

Writing Exercise: Secret, Wall, Loss, Desire

Photo by Pete Willis on Unsplash

In a Magical Words post from December 5, 2011, David B. Coe postulates that “the most effective, memorable characters” have four attributes: Secret, Wall, Loss, Desire.

Secret – The character has something they are hiding from the world, or the world has hidden from them.

Wall – There is a barrier separating them from the world. (I think this attribute is necessary for main characters to give them the focal point of the story.)

Loss – The world has taken something from them in the past or present.

Desire – They have something they desire that drives them. (The loss puts the breaks on.)

He goes out to more specification, and then gives a number of examples of works being published in 2011.

WRITING EXERCISE: Examine your present work-in-progress (WIP). Does your main character have any of these traits?

My attempt: Robyn from Mom Eyes. Her secret is her powers, especially some aspects of her powers. Yes, as a child she is sharing the information, but maybe she really shouldn’t. Wall – her powers are creating a wall, but she already had a wall because of … Loss – losing her brother and her mother impacted her teen years. She will never forget to be kind because of it. Desire – not to be alone. To prevent others from experiencing her loss if possible.

Magical Words: Blind Trust

Photo by Gun Kimm on Unsplash

On a starship, an engineer reports over the comm to the bridge. “Captain, we have a problem.” “What is it, Tools?” “I can’t describe, come down here.”

Really, what the ever-loving frig? The captain is on the bridge, that is where she should be, the center of command, gathering information from all parts of the ship. So she should drop everything and head to a DANGEROUS area by herself to eyewitness something the EXPERT in the matter cannot deal with?

Fantasy. Romance. Every single genre has the “no time to explain, just follow me.” Like parents telling children, “don’t ask questions, just do what I tell you.”

Misty Massey wrote a full blog (with the related responses from experienced published authors) on the subject for Magical Words on 10/18/2011 called “Blind Trust.”

I’m totally with her on this on how LAZY and UNREAL the lack of explanations is.  – the URL

W is for What’s Your Damage

Meme created by Erin Penn

Today is the last of the SAGA Professional Writer’s Conference memes. If any of them sparked interest in SAGA, you can find out more about the annual conference at: The next one is scheduled for Winston-Salem in July 2024.

The full list is:
1. Enter Late, Leave Early
2. Give Your Characters Trouble
3. Better Verbs Make Better Writing
4. Everything you want is on the other side of fear
5. What’s Your Damage?

These were supported by other memes I’ve made: Don’t walk through doors; You are my Favorite character, I’m going to hurt you the most; Write with Style; Don’t get it right, get it written; The secret to writing fiction is always tell the truth.

What’s your damage? is a question you need to ask your hero. What is the shard of glass, the dagger in their belly, that makes them make wrong, or at least less than optimal, decisions? What makes them not perfect?

The damage which makes a person depend only on themselves, so doesn’t ask for help even when they should, because as a child they couldn’t trust their parents. The damage of a trick knee, so they can’t run, but they insist on coming to fight the monster anyway.

In Honestly, my hero has injuries making him weaker than pictures himself, and my heroine is still living with her last (ex-) relationship in her head. I really should have played with their damages a bit more, but the novelette is my first completed work. I learned a lot writing it.

You might not need to ask the point-of-view character What’s Your Damage until the first draft is done. Then you go back and hone the story, sprinkling the emotional journey throughout. Do they learn something that will heal their Damage? Do they learn a workaround to bandage the Damage for now?

The Damage is important. It makes the hero not-perfect. It makes them real. The Damage is what makes a story of Dragons and Wizards, of Spaceships and Blasters, of Love-at-first-sight and Billionaire-loving-Waitresses real. Damage pulls genre into reality.

Meme created by Erin Penn

G is for Give Your Characters Trouble

Meme created by Erin Penn

During several of the Craft of Writing courses at the SAGA Writer’s Conference ( next one scheduled for July 2024), the Faculty describe many things to give your characters: a solid background, emotions, friends and enemies, goals. But most of all, Trouble.

When things slow down, blow up their lives. Physical and emotional bombs – mix and match appropriately to genre. “I’m pregnant.” changes everything as much as a car explosion, especially when the character saying it is male. Explosions. Obstacles. A child who is sick at school and needs to be picked up ASAP, while the hero needs to stop a vampire coven before they wake at nightfall.

Every three chapters or so stop and brainstorm five to ten things of “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Pick one or two things from the list. And give your characters a gift that keeps on giving.

Below is a previous meme I made when I was offering advice to a young writer. Since all writing is in the author’s head, making problems can be difficult for young authors. It’s like they are attacking their alter egos. Until you can distant yourself from your characters, Giving Trouble can be challenging. But Giving Trouble is absolutely necessary.

Meme created by Erin Penn