Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No (Wo)Man is an Island

By Lucienne Diver

Today, author/agent Lucienne Diver joins us to talk about voice, characters, and how to make them pop.

Lucienne is a literary agent by day, a writer and journeyman jeweler by night. She started writing in her teens because talking back to the voices in her head wasn't socially acceptable—and she already had enough to deal with being a drama and AP English geek.

Her credits include short stories and a romantic comedy written under the pseudonym Kit Daniels. With her young adult novel Vamped, she's taking off the mask and stepping into the full glare of ... indirect sunlight. Because as her heroine would tell you, anything else is hazardous to your health, especially once you've been Vamped. Her new series Bad Blood releases today, so check it out.

Take it away Lucienne...

Voice can absolutely be the making or breaking of a book, but I’ve talked a lot about that already in the past (here, for example). Generally, such discussions focus on building the point of view character(s). I want to turn the spotlight today on some of the more unsung heroes—the supporting cast. See, no man or woman is an island. Unlike the goddess Athena, most of us didn’t spring fully formed out of the heads of our fathers. Even if we did, don’t you think that might leave us with certain issues? I mean, for one thing we’d have to go through life without ever baring our navels or risk having to explain the whole lack of a belly button (well, you see, I never had an umbilical cord…or a mother, for that matter). Hmm, maybe there’s a reason Athena is never seen out of full battle gear. Maybe she considers her non-navel a fatal flaw. Perhaps she’s insecure about the whole thing. Perhaps the very thing that marks her as inhuman ironically humanizes her as well. But I digress.

Whether characters are hatched, born or sprung from the heads of deities, their relationships are formative and telling. Therefore, it’s just as important to nail your supporting cast as it is your protagonist. (For those of you with dirty minds, well, hey, I’m writing for adults here, so knock yourselves out.) In my first series, Vamped, which was targeted toward teens, the reader may not know much about my heroine’s background, since the book starts with Gina’s rising from the dead and leaving her past behind, including all tanning options and her dreams of becoming a supermodel. But there are a few things the reader does know, and they’re important to Gina’s character. For instance, regarding her parental units: “My parents, if they ran true to form, had probably taken themselves off to some exotic locale right after the funeral to drink away the discomfort of my death. It wouldn’t be so much that they didn’t care as that they didn’t like caring. Emotion messed with their Botox treatments, causing unsightly wrinkles and all. Crying made you blotchy.” Gives you the warm-fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Well, in my new series, which begins with Bad Blood, my heroine Tori Karacis’s family is much more present, for better or (mostly) worse, dropping steaming nuggets of wisdom at the beginning of chapters and generally meddling in her affairs. Take, for example, Yiayia, Tori’s grandmother who runs the Goddities gossip site, which drops tasty tidbits about the doings of the Latter-Day Olympians who still walk the earth. Chapter three begins with some particularly relevant advice, “Gods, like lima beans, should be avoided at all costs—and if unavoidable, taken in very small doses.” Sadly, Tori’s never been good at heeding advice, or warning labels, red flags, caution signs, conventional wisdom…. No, Tori is a law unto herself. As a unique character, she had to have an unusual background. Trust me on this.

The solution…she’s folk. As in circus folk. Her family line may or may not hearken back to a drunken liaison between the god Pan and one of the immortal gorgons. Or it may just be a coincidence that her grandmother is the bearded lady for the Rialto Bros. Circus; her family hits the high wire like they were born with wings; and her cousin Tina has that really unfortunate underbite. Tori herself has noticed a certain propensity for stopping men in their tracks, if not actually turning them to stone. It comes in handy when Tori runs away from the circus to join her uncle (the other black sheep of the family) in his P.I. business in good old Hollyweird.

But I was going to talk about character development. Here’s the important thing. Whether you have the most social or reclusive of characters, he or she will have connections. Secondary characters can be used as foils, sounding boards, sidekicks or any number of things, but you should never waste a chance to make them count, to tell us something about the world or the culture or your main character via these interactions. Is there a caste system in your society? Does your heroine subscribe to or ignore it? What can the passing interaction with the urchin on the street reveal to the reader? Or the waiter? Or the office assistant who behaves more like a petty dictator? If a character is important enough for face-time, he or she is important enough for a personality and a point.

There we go, back to the whole point of my piece, which can be summed up in a dictatorial sentence, because that’s just the way I roll: “Make your characters pop. “ Adopt the old acting adage—there are no small parts, just small actors. If your secondary characters aren’t doing their jobs, Simon Cowell them into submission, American Idol style.

That is all.

About Bad Blood

The gods play…and mortals pay.

Latter-Day Olympians, Book 1

Tori Karacis’s family line may trace back to a drunken liaison between the god Pan and one of the immortal gorgons. Or…maybe it’s just coincidence that her glance can, literally, stop men in their tracks. While her fear of heights kept her out of the family aerobatic troupe, her extreme nosiness fits right in with her uncle’s P.I. business.

Except he’s disappeared on an Odyssean journey to find himself. Muddling through on her own, she’s reduced to hunting (not stalking, because that would just be weird) brass-bra’d Hollywood agent Circe Holland to deliver a message…only to witness her murder by what looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Suddenly, all of her family’s tall tales seem believable, especially when Apollo—the Apollo, who’s now hiding out among humans as an adult film star—appears in her office, looking to hire her. She knows the drill: canoodling with gods never works out well for humans, but she’s irresistibly drawn to him. Maybe it’s her genes. Maybe not.

Given her conflicted feelings for one hot and hardened cop, it’s a toss-up which will kill her quickest. The danger at her door…or her love life.

Product Warnings: Contains pot-boiling passion between a heroine who may—or may not—be a descendant of Medusa, and a hot god and a hunky cop with the…equipment…to handle her, even on her worst bad-hair day. Beware of killer kisses, trickster gods and bearded grandmothers Who Know Everything. 


  1. Great article and now I have to go get my hands on Bad Blood.

    Though the bit about no navels, a tv show actually used that. It came out the same time as Firefly, which is why I remember it at all. Something about a boy with no navel and trying to figure out where he came from.

  2. Amen! Great supporting characters are a must!

  3. Great post. Supporting characters are so important yet hard to get right, especially because you usually don't get into their internal thoughts. Thanks for the link on voice too. I plan to check it out. Good luck with your book.

  4. Greek gods *and* circus folk? Nice. And now I totally want to write about a god/dess's existential crisis.

  5. Jaleh: I think that was Kyle X (or something like that)

    Jewels: I think it's adult.

  6. Sorry to be late chiming in! I was away and had trouble posting comments via my Blackberry. Thank you so much everyone for swinging by and leaving a comment! Jewels, Janice is right, this one is adult. I'm still writing the Vamped series (book 3, Fangtastic, will be out in January), but it's nice to take a break every once in a while.

  7. Was good to have you Lucienne!