Tag Archives: Questionable Minds

Not planets orbiting the sun but stars in their own right

A couple of years back I blogged here about how, contrary to standard advice, fictional antagonists do not have to see themselves as the hero. The protagonist of their story, yes, but not necessarily a hero (lots of protagonists aren’t heroes). When I mentioned this elsewhere online last month, someone informed me I was wrong (the impertinence!) and that what I’d said was meaningless — obviously they were the protagonists of their own story, what else could they be?

I didn’t have the chance to respond before comments closed, but the answer to that question is, characters don’t have to be protagonists of anyone’s story. I see lots of fiction where the characters are simply supporting characters in someone else’s story. They shouldn’t be, but they are.

As I wrote when my cousin Peter wrote The Lie That Settles about our family, I’d always envisioned my aunts and uncles as supporting players in my life. The book made me realize they had their own lives, feelings and goals, many of which had nothing to do with me. And so it should be with fictional characters. Whether they’re an antagonist or a supporting character they should usually have an existence separate from the protagonist even if it’s not part of the story.

That’s not always how it works. I’ve read stories where the high school Mean Girl’s life revolves around persecuting the protagonist. Or supporting characters who don’t have lives of their own, they just exist to admire the protagonist. Or everyone who meets the protagonist realizes she is just the most amazing person they’ve ever encountered, as in Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and its sequels. Romance writer Jude Devereaux had an article in Writer’s Digest in the early 1980s making the same point: some romance novelists write female leads who are so cosmically charming that everyone is happy to help them, except the villain who wants to rape them and the romantic rival who hates them. But they’re all fixated on her.

It’s particularly acute with female love interests, who often have no other role in the story. Tim Hanley’s Betty and Veronica makes this point about how the girls of Riverdale were often written with no reason to exist besides Archie. It’s far from the only example. By contrast, one of the things I love about the 1980s TV series Square Pegs is that the in crowd barely cares the protagonists exist. They have their own lives to live; if Patty and Lauren weren’t constantly trying to be friends with the cool kids, both groups would go their own way.

I don’t think every supporting character has to be written this way. Minor characters can be walk-ons who serve the protagonist their meals or trim their hair. Or they can have some quirky trait that makes them stand out while still being clearly supporting characters, like Moriarty’s constant bullying of his butler in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But a lot of times giving them a life of their own can add to the story, like mystery story-obsessed Hume Cronyn in Shadow of a Doubt or the occasional comic-book spotlights on super-villain henchmen.

I make a conscious effort to do this in my own writing, at least at novel length (with shorter stories sometimes everything does need to revolve around the protagonist to save space). KC’s best friend Sarah in Impossible Takes a Little Longer is getting married in a couple of weeks as the story opens. That gives her something to focus on besides KC’s problems. In Questionable Minds Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department has multiple cases to work on besides the central one. Hopefully this creates the feeling the characters have some existence outside the central story.

So I think I was right and my critic was wrong. But of course.

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The day (or two) that dropped out of time!

This week was a reminder that being tighter and more efficient about my schedule is good, but it can’t always overcome bad luck. As I know from experience, sooner or later a run of good weeks will be followed by a bad. And this was the bad.

Last Friday, Plushie took a couple of indoor poops which was really unusual. Saturday night, he woke me up at 11:30 to go out for a poop. Then again at 1 AM. And a couple more times. I spent Sunday in a stupor and never got any Alien Visitors films watched.

Tuesday night, it happened again. Wednesday day I alternated sleeping— a lot of it — with reading Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. No work. So not a productive week.

I got almost a full quota of Leaf articles and quite a bit of work done on Undead Sexist Cliches. Nothing on Questionable Minds or Alien Visitors. I wasn’t pleased by this but I won’t beat myself up over it either. Life happens.

And in a minor annoyance, the original Outer Limits, which I’d been watching on Amazon, is suddenly not available in my area. It doesn’t appear to be streaming anywhere else and the DVD set is not only pricey, the reviews saw it degrades fast.

On the plus side, after we took Plushie to the vet on Wednesday he got some meds and his poop has stabilized. Thank goodness.

#SFWApro.  Cover by Irwin Hasen, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

My instincts were, unfortunately, correct

While the rule of thumb is that we shouldn’t be visiting the doctor if it isn’t necessary my teeth need more care than they used to so I went to the dentist for a cleaning Tuesday. Turned out I was right to go: I have a cavity but we’ll be able to fill it before it decays all the way to the nerve. Phew! That said, not at all looking forward to going back in next week.

Despite the dental visit, I managed to put in a full week of work, so recalibrating my schedule is still working. A lot more of it was watching movies for Alien Visitors than I’d planned; I’ll have to watch for that in the future. But I did get other stuff done: proofing footnotes for Undead Sexist Cliches; making it halfway through the final proof of Questionable Minds, plus talking with my cover designer; Leaf articles; and writing more of the text for Alien Visitors.

I’d planned to concentrate my Alien Visitors work so that I’d be watching movies about kids and aliens in a clump, then ET superheroes, alien invasion films, etc. Unfortunately the Netflix DVDs that were supposed to arrive Monday never appeared (I’ve requested replacements) so that threw me off and my viewing was rather random. I could have viewed most of the films on Amazon but they were all for a fee so I chose to wait for Netflix. Perhaps that was an error.

Oh, and I sent in my sales tax for the previous quarter. Annoyingly, the sale of one Amazon print-on-demand copy translates into a $1.66 payment but the minimum fee for paying sales tax online is $2. I lose money. Still, I’d sooner have the sale.

One of our neighbors was out of town this week so TYG or I walked her dog at lunch (the puppy sitter has to work during the day). Wednesday I came across a vulture disputing the rights to roadkill with a couple of crows. The vulture won.

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Another productive week, woot!

So far my recalibration effort has proven successful. Not perfect, but overall much more productive.

I finished Chapter Nine of Undead Sexist Cliches and the afterword which means … holy crap, I have completed this draft. It doesn’t seem quite real to say so. I still have to check footnotes; read the manuscript aloud one final time; and index. But that’s more like mopping up than writing. This will be a cool milestone once it registers that I’ve actually done it.

I got several chapters done on Questionable Minds, but not as many as I hoped. And man, 90,000 words is a lot to proof-read! Still, the journey of a thousand miles and so on …

I didn’t get much writing done on Alien Visitors but I watched some movies and TV for the book, and began breaking down the listed movies into the various categories. The Alien Invasion chapter has a really insane long list, of course (even given most of them will be just noted at the end), while other chapters are a lot lighter. I’ve no idea what to do about that yet; as I’m focusing on only one movie a chapter, maybe it doesn’t really matter. I also read a fair amount of a book on the history of UFOs that’s turning out to be quite good.

I also got my Leaf articles done, and did an over-the-phone tryout for a radio drama (no pay, but it should be fun).

Oh and Trixie’s rehab appointment shows she’s mostly in good shape. Her surgery is holding up but there’s a slight deterioration in her knee, so we need to reduce her jumping and running up stairs for a couple of months. And she’s now over 10 pounds, which is too heavy; it’s easy to forget but because she’s so small, a little treat can add up to a significant number of calories. But she can still take good long walks so that will help get some of the weight off, I hope.

Hard to believe she was a tiny five-pound dog back when we first met my little angel.

#SFWApro.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Cuteness and work

Here’s one slice of cute. They don’t usually sit together, but Plushie kind of slid into that position after I got up and removed my lap from around him.

The other slice, while I didn’t get a photo, was that this morning when I opened the door to clean cat dishes off the deck, Wisp plopped herself down on my feet and just lay there, inviting me to scratch her belly. I’ve always been nervous about getting that close to her claws, but she seemed to want it, so I did … and she liked it! We still have to find a way to catch her, though (I suspect doing so will set her back to Suspicious, but it needs to be done).

Now, as to work, a pretty good week. Despite having the Oberlin alumni picnic last weekend, I managed to get in my three hours of Sunday writing. So it looks like I can stick with this approach for a while and quit earlier in the day on weekdays.

I have now rewritten Undead Sexist Cliches through Chapter Eight, on abortion and birth control. Now I just have to work on Chapter Nine about the concept of the “sexual marketplace,” and I can start with the next draft, which will add footnotes as well. I also forced myself to read some of antifeminist Mona Charen’s Sex Matters to get some examples of bad sexist language (among other things, Charen blames feminism for making women cry “date rape” if they have bad sex. No, it doesn’t make any more sense in the original).

Working on the book took more time than I expected, so I didn’t get as much fiction writing done as I’d hoped. But I worked on Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and it’s starting to have an ending. Not a great ending yet, but closer than it was. I keep feeling the urge to set it in the early 1980s but I’m not sure why. I suppose I could just use 1983 as a backdrop but I can’t help thinking there’s something I’m missing. Perhaps it’ll come to me.

Tuesday, I went to the writers’ group and afterwards we went out to Motorco in downtown Durham. It’s a much better place to eat than our usual after-group hangouts and as we’re eating outside, it’s much easier to hear conversations without the background babble building up as it does in enclosed rooms. But due to limited parking in the area and lack of familiarity, I opted for Lyft. This proved more expensive than I expected, and when I called for a pickup at 10:15 PM it took longer to get a ride than I’d anticipated. Perhaps I should switch to my own car next time, but then again I really hate navigating unfamiliar places in the dark.

Oh, and I began thinking seriously about a cover idea for Questionable Minds. I got several suggestions on FB from my friends; I’m thinking a Victorian street with maybe some kind of psychedelic coloring (reflecting the paranormal elements) but I’m not quite sure what people to put on it. Jack the Ripper lurking? Or maybe have an arm wielding a scalpel and Simon’s arm grappling with it, imposed on the street scene? I’ll give it some thought, but I’m on the way there. And I found some street scenes that might do the trick, like this public domain 1867 photo by Thomas Annan below (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

#SFWApro. Dog photo is mine.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing