New ideas can come from anywhere, but they are often more special when they come from old routines. New writing lessons from old ideas dig deeper into your imagination. One of my joys in my long years of writing has been the opportunity to work with other writers, whether in critique groups or going to conferences and hanging out. Every time I meet new writers I always learn something. That’s one of the reasons that I started teaching writing classes many years ago.
It seemed like a good way to continue to improve my own skills, but I also quickly learned there was more I could get from the experience than just the opportunity to teach others. I almost always learned something new myself. This past month I taught a class on characters and assigned my students to interview their characters as a way of getting to know them better.
And that proved to be a big learning experience for me. Instead of questioning her hero or heroine, as I instructed the class, she chose to interview her villain. Suddenly the character questions took on a whole new meaning and a new understanding of the story. She asked him WHY he was doing such dastardly deeds. We all search for meaning of goal, motivation and conflict for our main characters, but what about those bad guys in our stories? Don’t we want to know what made them so evil?
She went on to ask him why he had singled out the heroine for his nasty deeds and how far he was willing to take the whole nasty situation. I give my classes profile sheets to fill out so she went on to ask him questions I normally only give to the main characters—things about his past, his childhood, his good and bad influences. Suddenly this evil character was taking on a whole new dimension. He was truly coming alive and I am certain her character and her book will be richer for the whole experience.
I am going to put her idea to use in my own writing. As I continue work on my next book, I am not only going work through all those exercises on my main characters, but I am planning on how to use that idea in every aspect of working with my villain. I’ve often advocated spending social time with characters, but I am going to try that with my villains too, just to see what makes them tick.
This is why I always feel that it is so important to keep in touch with other writers, even if we are working in a solitary profession where everything is normally kept in our head until we put it on the written page. Discussing ideas with other writers is always helpful, and I have learned over the years that working with beginning writers can go even beyond that. They are learning the craft so often some of the same tired routines we’ve been using can be improved or viewed in new and different ways and they can bring that out in our own work.
And became a manager, one of my duties was to work with new writers or coach young reporters to help them improve their stories. Sometimes it could be frustrating but mostly it was rewarding to see them constantly improving and to see those improvements appear on the air. That’s why it made perfect sense to me that I should want to do the same thing now that I was making writing my primary vocation. When I began teaching writing classes online and giving workshops at conferences, I looked at it as a good way to keep meeting writers too and to keep getting new ideas. And this idea of focusing on the villain is one I won’t forget. I’ll be using it!
Rebecca Grace is a former broadcast journalist who has worked in TV newsrooms around the West. After 30 years she left the newsroom for five years in public relations before turning to the world of fiction writing full time. She also teaches writing classes online and has presented writing workshops at a number of writing conferences.
Her latest book, Blues at 11, published in 2015 by The Wild Rose Press, is a humorous mystery, set in the world of a Los Angeles television journalist. Her last book was Dead Man’s Rules, also published by The Wild Rose Press in 2014. It is the first of a three book series. In addition to writing romantic suspense and mystery novels, she also writes romance novels, novellas and short stories.
Kimberly delaGarza is leading a charmed life. As a Los Angeles television anchorwoman her face is well known around the city; she wears designer clothes and lives in a beachside home. But now she has been accused of murder. Her next TV appearance may be in a mugshot, her next outfit may be an orange jumpsuit and her next home may be The Big House. And as she searches for the truth … a vicious killer is closing in.
“Someone needs to find the killer,” I said. “What if he’s after me too? Think about Lindy’s accident. She was driving my car. The hit and run driver might have been after me.”
Hank waved an impatient hand. “From what I’ve heard, she was driving too fast and may have been racing the other car.”
“She told me she was careful.”
“You think she’d tell the truth if she was racing? Look, I would appreciate it if you hired a PI and left my dad out of this.”
“All you’re worried about is looking bad for your mayor and rich people like the Brookings family. I’m sure they’ll give you a nice contribution to your next campaign for providing personal attention.”
“I am not elected,” he said through gritted teeth.
“But you are worried about your job and appearances. Isn’t that why you were making such a big deal out of my ‘security arrangement’ with your dad?” It was my turn to hold up the quote fingers.
The coldness that grew in his eyes was like an approaching glacier. “Look, I know what’s happening. You’re doing your normal Kimberly crap.”
His harsh words smacked into me like a slap of hard wind to my face. “My what?”
He unloaded on me with the force of a blizzard. “You’re a pampered princess who is so damned used to getting your own way that you can’t handle it when the real world invades your private fantasy life! Well, it’s here, lady, and it’s real. But I won’t stand by and let you hurt my father by getting him involved.”
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