Monday, February 23, 2015

When Bad Things Happen To Good People

I haven't posted anything that falls into my All Things Writing category in a while. Today, I have a wonderful guest, Dianne K. Salerni. I hope you visit her blog before this is all said and done. She's a writer who provides excellent content on her blog on a regular basis. (We all strive for it, but Dianne regularly achieves it. I admire her very much!)

If you're not familiar with Dianne (or her blog), she has several novels under her belt. She recently released the second book in her Eighth Day series, The Inquisitor's Mark, published with Harper (an imprint of Harper Collins). I wrote a review for the first book in the series and you can find it here. Today, I want to share my review of the new book before you hear from Dianne.

The Inquisitor's Mark, the second book in The Eighth Day series, hits all the right notes. Jax's liege lady, Evangeline, lives solely in the eighth day. To try and anchor her in the rest of the week, Riley ties himself to her. That plan backfires and Riley is sucked into the void Evangeline, and all the Kin, live on the other seven days. While Riley's "gone," Jax's best friend, Billy, is kidnapped by the evil Dulac clan.

Even though Riley's remaining clan members are against the idea, Jax heads to New York City to save Billy. He knows that if the Dulacs don't kill him, Riley will when he "wakes up." Jax has less than a week to get Billy and get out. Once he gets there, it's one surprise after another for Jax. The Dulacs are his family he's never met. Someone has erased Billy's memory and he doesn't want to leave. So much for an easy escape! He might, or might not, have a friend in his cousin, Dorian.

There are tunnels under the Dulacs building where time stops. Will Jax be able to use those tunnels to help Billy escape, or will they only encounter more danger there? However, all of Jax's plans could be foiled if his cousin, Sloane, erases his memory and replaces it with made-up memories. If that happens, Jax could end up hurting the people he loves and helping people he hates. The stakes have never been higher as Jax figures out precisely who he is, and what he's capable of doing, in The Inquistor's Mark. If you love Arthurian legend, you will enjoy this fast-paced magical romp through New York City (and below).

Dianne K. Salerni bats it out of the zoo in The Inquisitor's Mark!

I asked Dianne to write a post for me on the topic of her choice. I was delighted when she sent me this nugget. I think I might need to do something REALLY BAD to my MC after reading this (and buy some heartburn meds to get me through it)!

Doing Bad Things to Your Characters
by Dianne K. Salerni

In my final year of teaching (2013-14), I read aloud to my 5th grade classes my soon-to-be-released book The Eighth Day. The students were eager to keep ahead of the public, so they asked me: “What’s Book #2 about?”

“Jax discovers he has a family,” I said, referring to the orphaned main character of The Eighth Day. “An uncle, cousins, and grandparents—all wanting to give him a good home. Too bad they happen to be the same evil people who assassinated his guardian Riley’s family.”

There was a general gasp of horror, and one girl slapped her hand on her desk, exclaiming, “Mrs. Salerni! How could you do that to Jax?”

As a writer, I appreciated her empathy for Jax’s dilemma. As a teacher, I was delighted by her understanding that —as the author—I did it to him on purpose.

Before I started drafting The Inquisitor’s Mark, Book 2 in the Eighth Day series, I already had this premise, which was supposed to pose a heart-rending choice for my MC. I wrote an outline for the book, something I don’t normally do, but my editor had asked for. But I worried the plot was lacking in tension because the outcome seemed pre-ordained.  Anyone who’d read Book 1 would guess Jax’s choice – and one beta reader who looked at my outline posed another problem: “Your villains are too powerful. How will Jax ever stand against them?”

I pondered those problems at recess duty, watching the kids play basketball and kickball. Suddenly, an idea occurred to me that would address the issue of the too-strong villains and the problem of the too-easy choice. I could do something really bad to Jax.

Immediately, I rejected the idea. I couldn’t do that!

Could I? No way.  

But could I?

No. How could I maintain POV if I did it?

But could I?

I posed the idea to my husband that night. He was driving at the time, and when he flinched, the whole car lurched. “That’s awful!” he exclaimed. “You’re going to do it, right?”

I emailed a critique partner. She replied, “I hate it! It’s perfect!”

Bottom line. As the author, you have to do awful things to the characters you love.

Personally, I suffer along with my characters. When I actually wrote the chapters where I did this thing to Jax, I could have swigged Mylanta by the gallon, my stomach was churning so much. I might’ve thought I was really sick, except that by the time I wrote The Inquisitor’s Mark, I’d already learned to detect the symptoms of Climax Sickness.

Climax Sickness = When the author suffers along with her characters through the worst part of their lives.

I first noticed it when writing the climax of We Hear the Dead, where I was required to write the death of a major character (because this person really died, historically) no matter how much it stabbed my MC in the heart. I sobbed along with her. I further noticed it when I poisoned my favorite character in a (yet unpublished) manuscript. I was so distressed, I stayed up until 3 am—heart-pounding, hands shaking—until I’d written the subsequent chapter where he was saved.

I did a bad thing to Jax in The Inquisitor’s Mark. I’m sorry. It wasn’t easy, although I think it makes the book a lot better.

Awful as it was, it’s still not quite as bad as what I did to him in Book #3 … (*swigs Mylanta*)

Dianne went to the zoo (solely for the sake of accuracy:)

Have you read Dianne's blog? The Eighth Day? The Inquisitor's Mark? Have you visited a place to research your book? Do you feel ill when you do bad things to your characters?


  1. Congrats to Dianne! I hope you have continued success.

    This is a fascinating topic, and I've always subscribed to some wise words I once received from a great writer: write scared. Dare to go THERE. I think sometimes we play it safe with our MCs. We're afraid to really rock the boat.

    But I think pushing the envelope is how we make our stories and our characters more three dimensional.

  2. Since I write scifi and fantasy, I often wonder if some settings could be used in my books but there's never any place specific. The best books are those where the poor characters are challenged.

  3. This sounds like a great series. I'm going to have to check out book one. Congratulations to Dianne!

  4. I must be a sadist because I love doing terrible things to my characters. I don't even flinch. And the more screwed up, the better. Keeps things interesting for the reader.

    Congrats to Dianne. Arthurian legend in New York sounds like a damn fine time to me.

  5. Oh you are so dastardly!
    It does make the story better though. I felt bad I made people cry in my first book, but that scene had to happen for the rest to fall into place.

  6. Been there and done that - something absolutely terrible to my MC. I kind of agonized over it for a little while, but it really makes the story - oh so good.

    Now, if I can just finish up the edits and get it out there. did I ever mention how much I hate editing.

  7. Writers have such power. It's like playing God just a bit. The Inquisitor's Mark sounds like a pretty cool story.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  8. Very interesting post and I love to hear about the attacks on your poor characters. Love it.

  9. Robin ~ Thank you for hosting me at your blog today. I could have sworn I posted a thank you earlier today ... I'm beginning to doubt my sanity. Maybe I wrote it in an alternate timeline? :D

  10. Treating characters badly is one thing, but when readers relate to them it's tricky. I had a good friend who wrote a sequel to her very popular book and killed off one of the characters at the beginning of the sequel. As a her critique partner I was horrified. Then her editor jumped in and demanded she resuscitate that character or else.

    I loved "I hate it. It's perfect." Ah writing. Fun, isn't it?

  11. The way I learned it was to ask myself, what is the worst possible thing I can do to my character? I however, prefer Rolaids!

  12. I remember that awful part in The Inquisitor's Mark! It was perfect :)

    1. Marcy, You were the one who said, "I hate it. It's perfect." LOL

  13. Robin - nice review, thank you.(smile)
    Wishing Diana much success.

  14. Enjoying Dianne's book! If nothing bad happened to our characters, we would have little reason to care. Be brutal, I say. :)

  15. I've known Dianne through blogging for almost three years now! She always rocks :)

  16. Thank you for sharing this insight into how important it is to brutalize our characters, Dianne!!!

    Thank you everyone else for visiting and commenting.

  17. Great review, Robin! I'm glad Dianne always keep plenty of Mylanta on hand! Sounds like her tough choices paid off!



  19. She is terrific! Congrats, Dianne.

  20. Sounds like an awesome book, and I love the idea of Eigth Day world. Good review Robin, and wishing you much success with this sequel Dianne.


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