Can We Go Back To Good Story Telling?

It seems my rant on Strong Female Characters hit a chord with people. I was not expecting that at all. Usually, I am the minority opinion when it comes to just about everything.

I thought I’d follow that up with a game plan of where I think fiction should be going. (This may end up in multiple parts because I don’t want it to end up with a novel length blog post.)

The simple answer is we should be producing fiction that is less superficial and with more substance. We should be rediscovering the basics of good storytelling.

I have to admit, I haven’t had as much time to read as I’d like the last few years. Much of my reading has been via audiobooks while I’m cleaning or working on manual tasks. That dwindled when the variety of books took a sharp left turn. Movies aren’t any better, I’ve only watched the occasional movie when I force myself to slow down that long for a movie that looked good. Going to the theatre helped, because popcorn, with all its buttery goodness.

But, I digress.

I miss the days when I could walk into the library and walk away with a dozen books worth reading. I’m terrible with names, but I recall going through the entire section of John Saul books and hundreds of historical romance novels. Then I moved on to the fantasy genre and some science fiction. Then, somewhere along the way, popular fiction lost me. Romance became more about hot sex scenes and less about romance. Horror turned to gore. And science fiction and fantasy took too much LSD or something. Vampires became the good guys, religion became a bad thing and agendas trumped good stories.

I finally discovered good storytelling again in indie books.

Complicated Characters Make For Good Stories

There are a number of authors who do an excellent job of creating characters that could step off the page fully formed.

Mandy from Codename: Winterborn and Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn is one of my favorites. She is tough, but believable. She compensates for her size with weapons and her disadvantages are evident when in direct confrontation. Close combat is not her thing. Besides being tough, she’s also compassionate and loyal and somewhat of a daddy’s girl. Her moral code is a bit lacking in places, which helps round out her character.

Another character by Declan Finn that I’m in love with is Marco from his Love At First Bite Series. That is one very flawed character, who gets his butt handed to him a few times. It’s rare that I find a character who is the hero, who could pass for a villain. He’s got anger issues (not unlike a few people I know), but he’s also very protective of those he cares about. He also thinks that his penchant for violence makes him a monster. Instead of becoming the monster he thinks he is, Marco directs all of that hostility towards the menace that is trying to take over and trying to do what’s right.

Others authors who have great characters are Amie Gibbons, author of The Gods Defense and  Marina Fontaine, author of Chasing Freedom. In both books, I could pick out characters that reminded me of people that I know. And even though Amie’s characters wield power or shape shift, the motivations, feelings, habits and personalities of the characters are familiar and relatable.

In my recently released novel, Path of Angels, my goal was to tell a good story and to have relatable characters. I have to admit, I failed at first. My draft had my lead female character, Aadi, too weak and whiny and my male lead lacked a purpose other than to keep Aadi from getting herself killed. It made the story weak, even though I had a good deal of action and adventure. The characters brought the story down.

I had to go back in and find that purpose for Mischa. His storyline had to be something that was not all about Aadi. He had to have his own goals and ambitions. His antics and those of his other friends he kept hidden from Aadi, because she wouldn’t agree with him being so openly rebellious. His motivation for accompanying her on her quest was not as altruistic as it had been originally. It was more pragmatic. I also, ended up separating them in part of the story to give Aadi a chance to grow and learn on her own rather than being coddled the entire journey.

With this being my first novel, I know there are likely still issues that I need to work on in the next books. There are places that aren’t as strong as they could be in the story, but I have tried to follow the basic rules of storytelling and making my characters as real as possible.

It think you get the picture. So what is my point in all of this?

I propose that we go back to the basics of good writing again.

  1. Build characters that could walk off the page fully formed. Whether that is a homeless man on the streets of NYC or a superhuman with powers to move the Earth. Deep down, they all have motivations, feelings, flaws, strengths and weaknesses that make them relatable.
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  2. Give them purpose. Characters learn and grow through obstacles, so give them some. There should be the question of whether they will overcome the obstacle or not.
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  3. Make sure the story is theirs to tell. The strongest stories come from the characters with the most to gain or lose. Find that character in your story and follow them.

To be continued….

Review: Honor At Stake by Declan Finn

Enter the world of Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. It’s a world where good and evil reside. A world where vampires and other creatures of the night battle for control. A world of ninjas and mobsters. A world where personal issues interfere with relationships.

I am such a sucker for a good romance and this one delivered a sweet clean romance that left me begging for the next book to come out. Maybe beg isn’t the right word.

With Honor at StakeDeclan Finn creates a story that expertly balances action, suspense and romance that is less Twilight and more Christine Feehan’s Dark series.

Marco is a monster, or at least he thinks he is. He also happens to be a genius in his first year of studies to be a physician’s assistant, but his impatience with people and a dark secret sets him apart from everyone.

Then, along comes Amanda Colt, beautiful, smart and Russian. She peaks his interest, especially when she goes toe to toe with him while fencing. She is perfect for him, but she also has a secret.

Set in New York City, the story explores parts of Brooklyn (including a vampire bar run by an ex-cop from the 1800s), Central Park, and Manhattan. The fictional university and real Mount Olivet cemetary are the backdrops for important scenes in the story.

When bodies start turning up, the two pair up to take on the vampire hordes threatening the city. They pull together an unlikely team of gang members, Vatican ninjas and an FBI agent into the strange. But, who is pulling the strings behind the sudden surge of vampire activity and what does it have to do with the UN? That is what they have to find out in order to save humanity from the evil trying to overtake New York City … and a bigger threat that is only hinted at.

The fast-paced plot is full of explosive action. Between the fencing, fight scenes, explosions, a killer ex-girlfriend and Vatican ninjas with their 50 cal Desert Eagles, there isn’t a lot of time to rest. This alone makes it difficult to put down.

The vampire lore is consistent with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with a few modern and theological twists added to make it more complicated. Thankfully, we’re back to vampires being killed by sunlight, wooden stakes and holy water. But, unlike Stoker’s version, all vampires are not bad in Declan’s book. Salvation is still possible for these creatures of the night. How? It’s complicated, but it makes sense that he shoehorns in redemption.

Interspersed with the action are scenes of heart touching romance. Declan sets up these two flawed characters who need to overcome their inner demons in order to have a relationship. Neither thinks that anyone would love them if they knew about their secrets. This leads to some very touching moments between the characters as well as moments when you want to scream.

Declan is a master at over the top action scenes that will even make the Pulp Revolution guys happy, but he’s also amazing at the little intimate moments that make you fall in love with the characters.

The Superversives among us should be happy enough with the depth of religious and moral depth added to the vampire mythos. Hopefully, you won’t mind natural law philosophy coming to play here. And yes, he made philosophy readable.

There is little question why Honor at Stake was nominated for best Horror Novel in the Dragon Awards in 2016. And nominated for Book of the Year by the Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance. And put on the #2 spot for best novel for Sad Puppies 4.

It’s not perfect. There are a few places that are a bit heavy handed on the info dumps and Marco’s relationship with his ex is a bit confusing. There are a few scenes that come off as cheesy, but, overall, it’s a great story.

Lucky for you, though, Books 2 and 3 are already out, so you can continue right along with the next book, because you will want to. Trust me on this. The ending of Honor at Stake leaves you hanging.

You can get the first four chapters of the book free here or get the complete book in Kindle or paperback on Amazon.com.