Podcast Ponder 2: Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses: 9.13 Three Pronged Character Development

First let me introduce this podcast. It’s one of my favorite writing podcasts, put together by published authors Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and the creator of the hilarious comic Schlock Mercenary, Howard Taylor. Since I started listening to this podcast, the quality of my writing has skyrocketed.

This particular episode, along with its companion episodes (links at the bottom), introduced a brand new concept for me that I have since used multiple times. The Three Pronged Character Development concept is comprised of three sliding scales: 1. Sympathy Slider, 2. Competence Slider, and 3. Proactivity Slider.

Since listening to this episode, diagnosing character problems has become so much simpler and quicker. In this first episode, they introduce the concept and give a few examples of characters with varying Slider levels to start off. It helps to show why we like certain characters and not others. It’s a fun exercise to try yourself, too.

For example, they explain how Harry Potter’s Competence Slider and Proactivity Slider are both low while his Sympathy Slider is quite high and how JK Rowling accomplished that. They do the same for other well known characters as well.

When they get into moving sliders around to improve characters, it instantly helped me understand what I was doing wrong with my own characters and how I could fix it. Which brings me to another big point they make. This concept is not necessarily ideal for developing characters from the beginning, though it can help. It works best as a simple diagnosing tool and I can attest to its value and usefulness.

So if you’re having trouble figuring out your characters, or you want to make them more relatable, or you’re just curious about character developement, then I highly recommend giving this episode a listen. Then check out the companion episodes where they talk about each Slider in depth. I guarantee your characters will thank you.

Ep 9.25: Adjusting Character Sympathy
Ep 9.26: Adjusting Character Competence
Ep 9.32: Adjusting Character Proactivity

Meet Willie Handler

This week I’m introducing comedy writer Willie Handler (yes that’s his real name, so don’t ask).  He’s the author of the political satire, The Road Ahead as well as several short stories published online on CommuterLit and Show Me the Funny.

What’s my plan to get my novel published? Plan A is to contact every literary agent in the English speaking world.

If that doesn’t work? Plan B is to pull a Rupert Pupkin (King of Comedy, 1982) by kidnapping a publishing executive and holding him or her ransom until my book is published.

I finally went with Plan C, I self-published.

Rick Tompkins, a suburban Toronto insurance broker, never considered a career in politics until a good friend, who happens to be the leader of the Conservative party, asks him to run for office. He accepts the offer, with the understanding that he would probably not win, but can use the opportunity to gain some visibility for himself and his business. Jerry Switzer, a veteran party worker, is sent in to guide Rick through a campaign in a riding that hasn’t elected a Conservative in years. 

Rick fumbles his way through the election campaign and manages a surprise win but at the expense of saddling his party with an impossible commitment. What makes matters worse, Rick is anything but politically correct. He offends everyone in his path and stumbles from one political scandal to another. Still, Rick has one saving asset: a political party machine that is able to spin scandals to its advantage.

1. Tell us a little about you and what you’re working on.

I’m Willie and I got involved with creative writing less than three years ago. I had a long successful career working for the Ontario government. I left the government just over five years ago and decided what I wanted to do was take my sense of humour and put it to use doing creative writing. Last fall I released my first novel, The Road Ahead. The book is a political satire, which makes sense considering my background. As they often say, “write what you know” (some attribute the quote to Hemingway). What the quote says to me is that you use what you already know to explore new worlds and places you don’t know. I did a better job applying that while working on my second novel. It also falls under humor but takes place on Mars where a permanent colony has been established. The protagonist, Dix Jenner, is a chef in the colony and the only survivor after an explosion destroys the colony. He is picked up by two Martians, Bleeker and Seepa, who agree to shelter him because they would like to study him. I really like this story because it has allowed me to bring out my creative side. 

You As A Reader

2. When did you first fall in love with books?

I began reading at age 4 and became an avid reader. I remember going to the library on Saturdays and checking out the maximum number of books allowed and returning the next week to sign out another stack of books. I kept this up throughout school. I read fiction and bios. When I started working, I began to read less. I found I was spending so much time on reading related to my job that I had little time for pleasure reading. Later in life, I returned to reading.

3. What’s your favorite book from your childhood?

I don’t have a favorite book from my childhood but I remember I read a lot of Hardy Boys books

4. Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?

This is a difficult question to answer because I have read books for entertainment or to learn. Two very different outcomes. Looking back the book that stands out most in my mind would the The Diary of Anne Frank. My parents were both survivors of the Holocaust and I’ve read many books, both fiction and nonfiction, dealing with the Holocaust. But Anne Frank’s book speaks on many levels.

5. What’s the last book you read and your current favorite?

The last book I read was for my book club. It was Our Little Secret by Roz Nay. The book is a psychological thriller with a terrific twist at the end. There’s a review on my blog and I highly recommend. My favorite book has always been To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

6. If you could meet any author, alive or dead, who would it be?

I would love to meet Philip Roth. He is such a prolific writer and so much of his work I can relate to. I’m not even sure what I would ask him but I’m sure I would come up with questions about a some of his books.

You As A Writer

7. When did you first know you were a writer?

When I finished the first draft of The Road Ahead. I remember looking down at the 155-page  manuscript that I had just printed and told myself – I guess you are a writer. When I started writing the book it was more of a personal challenge. I never considered myself a writer. I’m still not comfortable with the label.

8. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?  If so, what was it about?

I did write some funny stories when I was young. All I remember was that they were fantasies but don’t remember any more than that.

9. What has been the most difficult part of your writing journey?  The best part?

I went into this with no experience, plans, strategy, nothing. I just sat down and wrote. I had no network of other writers. I wasn’t using social media. Consequently, while writing my first novel, I felt very isolated. I went from working in a busy office environment to sitting alone at home in from of my computer. That was a difficult transition for me.

Yet, I also really enjoyed it. In particular, starting a new project. The start is the most creative part of the process and I find it exciting and exhilarating. I have all these ideas and images in my head and you can’t get them down on paper fast enough. After several months, a fatigue begins to settle in. But the early stages of the process can be so much fun.

10. Of all the writing advice you’ve received, what helped you the most?

Me take advice? Ha! Never.

I have too much of an independent streak. The only advice I have for other writers is don’t listen to anyone. It’s your book so don’t let anyone tell you how to write it.

11. Tell us about your current project and any others you’re working on.

I mentioned earlier that I’m working on a humor novel about a chef on Mars. It’s called, Loved Mars, Hated the Food. I should point out that despite the premise, this is not a science fiction novel. I’ve nearly completed the first draft and I’m very proud of this novel. I think it’s funny and unique. I’ve let my imagination run wild on this one. I have a few projects that I’ve been thinking about and can’t decide which one I will tackle next. But it will be nothing like anything previous. I would never write a series or a sequel. I always want to try something fresh and new.

Fun Stuff About You

12. Besides writing and reading, what are some of your other interests?

I love sports. I used to play and coach hockey and other sports. I was a competitive runner. However, health issues have ended my athletic activities. I still cycle and swim to keep in shape. But I really miss running. I also enjoy gardening, preferably in the spring and summer. Cooking, eating out, crosswords, politics, making a fool out of myself, hashtag games and traveling. The summer of 2017, I went on a river boat cruise of the Danube River.

13. You’ve just won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world.  Where would you go?

It would have to be somewhere exotic. I used to say French Polynesia but two years ago I finally made it. I think I would choose South East Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia.

Final Thoughts

14. How can people connect with you?

I’m very accessible. I love connecting with other writers on my blog, williehandler.com, on Twitter, and Facebook.

15. Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Thank you for profiling me. The online community is very supportive and this is just another example of how amazing it is.

Thanks for sharing a bit about you. I look forward to reading Dix’s story!

Do his stories interest you? You can find his first novel, The Road Ahead on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

The Road Ahead

The 4 types of knitters

I learned to knit when I was about 10 and have dabbled with it off and on ever since. I’ve made wash clothes, scarves, hats, gloves. At one point I even learned to crochet (gasp!).

I also know quite a few knitters and I’ve learned that there are basically four different types.

Type 1: Pattern required, fiber snob

These knitters yarn shop in two interchangeable steps. 1. Find perfect yarn. 2. Find perfect pattern. Sometimes they find the pattern first, sometimes they find the yarn. But rest assured, they cannot leave the yarn shop without both (or at least not without plans for fulfilling the other step). There is hardly ever any free styling for these knitters. If it doesn’t have a pattern, they won’t be knitting it.

They are also yarn snobs, or as my mother says it, fiber snobs. There is nothing fake in these knitters’ projects. You’ll never catch them fingering anything acrylic, polyester, or synthetic. If it didn’t come straight from an animal or plant, they won’t even notice it. (Unless the tags are missing, but they don’t talk about those embarrassing moments.)

These are the most organized, structured knitters you’ll ever meet. Give them a pattern and they’ll find the exact yarn needed for it, then churn out a perfect sweater that looks just like the picture. (Don’t tell my mother, but fiber snobs also find the softest yarn.)

Type 2: Pattern required, fiber opportunist

These knitters need patterns as much as Type 1s. Give them a skein and tell them to knit whatever comes to mind and they’ll panic.

However, give them a pattern and they will knit with whatever is available. Oh sure, they love exploring yarn shops as much as any knitter (it’s a therapeutic experience, feeling all the delicious yarns), but they aren’t picky about what it’s made of. If they like it, they’ll take it.

These kind of knitters almost always go for the pattern books first. They love feeling the yarns, but are rarely inspired without a pattern to look at first. They’re also a lot of fun to explore yarn with since they touch first and read tags second.

Type 3: Free spirit, fiber snob

These knitters are commonly seen sitting in waiting rooms, bus stops, and coffee shops while their needles seem to have a mind of their own. They never need a pattern, and some actually find patterns too confining, but they will knit from one if they happen to like it. They also never knit with anything fake and a good chunk of their wardrobe they made themselves. (It’s not uncommon for these kind of knitters to be health foodies as well.)

They’re constantly creating and often find ways of putting discordant things together to make something surprisingly beautiful.

Type 4: free spirit, fiber opportunist

These knitters are generally hobby knitters. They find patterns confining and overwhelming and almost always prefer to knit without them. They’re less concerned with learning new stitches and techniques as simply knitting whatever they feel like.

These are the knitters you see most often in Michaels and Walmart (though they’ll wander a boutique yarn shop for fun too), and they aren’t nearly as familiar as fiber snobs with the horror of needing more of a particular yarn only to find that it’s been discontinued. Any kind of yarn will do for them and they don’t really care if what they’re making doesn’t come out just right. They simply enjoy the experience of making something with their hands.

For my part, I’m an occasionally snobby Type 4. It’s unavoidable when your mother is a brilliant Type 1. (Love you mom!)

Any other knitters out there? What type of knitter are you?