Thursday, May 22, 2014

Luke Ahearn

Excerpt and Guest Post by Luke Ahearn

It’s been my observation that one of novice writers’ biggest mistakes is trying too hard. I don’t mean working too hard, I mean trying too hard. When trying too hard, a writer may overwrite (use too many words), use large words plucked from a thesaurus rather than simply selecting the most effective word, use excessive description, write a lengthy backstory for the character, and more. In an attempt to create a memorable character, a writer will sometimes create an over-the-top character that hits you in the face right off the bat. Instead, a character needs to be slowly unveiled. Only after responding to a trying circumstance will a character’s character be revealed. Show us; don’t tell us.


Page 1 - Jim thought Sam was a coward.

Or after the gorilla swings into the window.

Page 26 - When Jim turned to grab a chair, ready to face this new threat, Sam was gone. He heard footsteps rapidly receding down the hall. He cursed Sam; cursed himself for thinking he would behave in any other way.

When it comes to crafting a memorable character, there are two things I think are vital: be true to the character and throw him in a world of shit. There are other details that will evolve or naturally go with any given character to further cement his memorability, but those stem from the motives and goals of the writer mentioned below.

For now, let’s think about one of the most memorable characters in entertainment history, Michael Corleone. He returned from WWII with the intent of being the first of his family to go straight. He went to visit his father in the hospital and ended up getting punched in the face by a corrupt policeman, Captain McCluskey. The blow breaks his jaw. Before this incident, he was planning to essentially become a boring person. But this event changes him; he sees that there are good and bad guys on both sides. He sees how close his father came to dying first under the watch of Fredo and Sonny, his big brothers, and realizes he needs to step up for the good of his family (and was pissed he got bitch-slapped by a big Irish cop). An internal change takes place in him, a change no one notices at first. He voices a bold plan, and his desire to be the one to execute it personally, to kill McCluskey (and another dude we don’t need to worry about now). Everyone laughs at first, but then—yada, yada, yada, everyone dies and he’s the Don. So even the Michael Corleone, a very memorable character, is memorable because of the events of the story and his (the writer’s) adherence to his character. He doesn’t have big shoes, a bagpipe, and a silly quirk that draws attention wherever he goes. We aren’t told upfront that “this kid is Don material!” In fact, we are shown the opposite. His transformation to Don is all the more powerful for it.

When I create a character, I am starting with a stranger. I don’t know much more than the reader does when I first meet them. I only have a vague notion of what they are going to say and do, their personality, and maybe some strengths and weaknesses. What I do have is a clear purpose, or function, for that character. And I am very clear on my goals for the book and as a writer. More on that later.

Memorable characters often have a few things in common: a big-ass event occurs in the story, they often take a new name, nickname, or title, and their mojo changes, among other things. Michael killed a police captain (big-ass event), became the Don (new title), and his whole mojo changed. He was now the Don, not a fresh-faced soldier back from war with his god-awful girlfriend (he should have gotten himself a nice Italian girl, in my opinion).

The big ass event that happens in the fiction is usually called the first conflict. Fiction is based on increasingconflict, peaking at a crisis, then resolving in the climax. Our characters are affected by this conflict, they are challenged by all the conflicts until their big test, the crisis. The characters are changed after the climax and this is usually summed up in the denouement (or resolution). Contrasted with the introduction, the characters are changed, for better or worse, if they are still alive.

So the heroes in Euphoria Z were dealing with the apocalypse the best they knew how when all of a sudden, the first conflict happens. The shit escalates until the big crisis occurs, then the climax is played out. Banjo was a bad person before the story, but an initial conflict pushes him into an obsessed villain. He wasn’t just bad news anymore, he was a predator bent on an extreme, over-the-top response to the event.

I have gotten many reactions to Banjo, the villain in Euphoria Z. He is very memorable because everyone who reads the book really hates him. That was no accident. The highest compliment I can get is when a seemingly proper lady screws her face up in anger and says, “I just wanted to kill that bastard!” That means I created a memorable character.

When I started the book, he was just one of the gang; a minor character that really had no strong role in my mind. You might expect the leader of a group of bad guys to be the big badass, and that was my intention at first, but Banjo emerged as a real asshole from the moment I started writing him. I was true to his character and he almost wrote himself. There is a defining event in the book that creates the change of focus in him, brings him to the forefront as his obsession causes him to take a tighter control of the gang (and not as caretaker as was previous to this event, but to pursue his obsession). And his mojo changed. He was a bad dude that wanted to party the apocalypse away, but after his defining event, he then became an evil bad dude bent on revenge and getting payback ten times over. He was so strong a character as I wrote him, I decided to go back and give him scenes originally intended for the actual leader from the beginning. Their relationship is complex and explained in the novel, but he was no threat to the leader and didn’t take the title of leader, but he functioned as the leader. He had some unique things about him; he wore an old WWII helmet, he started talking to himself more and more, and he demonstrated some level of intelligence. But Banjo emerged as a strong character and I let him. He was all the stronger in my mind because he wasn’t the titled leader of the gang, but he was the one everyone looked to and feared.

To make fiction tense and entreating, you have to throw a lot of crap on your heroes, and Banjo was one big load of crap I kept throwing on them. So not only are the good guys struggling, the bad guy is having a good time dancing on their fingers as they cling to the edge of the cliff. So I just kept throwing this guy around and giving him opportunities for him to just be himself. What’s memorable are his extreme reactions to extreme events. Where most of us would do a decent thing, and a few might be less than honorable and even cowardly, Banjo would just naturally do something that was just over-the-top dick. On the playground, there’s the kid that throws the ball back to you, the kid that ignores you, the kid that might take the ball to play with it, and then there’s Banjo. If he liked you, he would carry the ball back over to you (he can be charming on rare occasion). If he didn’t really know you, he might kick it back, keep it, or ignore you, depending on his mood. But if he didn’t like you or your kind, he would pop the ball and throw it on a roof, kick your ass for crying, then steal your lunch money—and he’d enjoy the shit out of it the entire time. And if you wronged him? Forget it.

I don’t have a set of rules for creating memorable characters. Like almost every aspect of writing, character creation is a paradox. Writers need to learn and exercise a lot of rules and structures yet still write unfettered and from the heart.

So writing has a lot of rules, but no directions. You have to create your own directions. It starts with a clear motivation for writing. Your motivation helps you to define your goals, and your goals help you to define the decisions you make as you write. You develop your own directions for writing, but use the rules to connect and smooth over all the parts of the story. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all very important, but while you’re writing, they’re the last thing you need to worry about. Those things are the smoothing pass over a completed story.

My motivation is to entertain, to give the reader the gift of escaping into another world. My goals when writing depend on the piece I’m am writing. All decisions I make when I write stem from that goal. I like to leave the reader hanging in suspense, scare them, threaten them, make them laugh, etc. I will do whatever it takes—hold a gun to a puppy’s head, throw the hero into impossible circumstances, and just make the world increasingly crappy for the good guy every step of the way. I push him farther from his goals, and bring him to the brink of annihilation until … oh crap, I’m Banjo! Anyway, the last and biggest turd burger you shove down the hero’s throat is the absolute last. He’s sick of it and as his author, you know it’s time to write him some hard-earned victory. All of the tables turn, and the bad guy gets his comeuppance.

The motives and goals of the writer are usually overlooked, especially in fiction, and they are most important in my mind. If you aren’t clear on your motives and goals as a writer before you start writing, you will find yourself floundering, making poor choices, and most importantly, you will become more confused and frustrated every time you get feedback. Feedback will only drag you off-course. Feedback needs to help you obtain your goals, not change them. My goal is to entertain, so I tend to ignore any criticism about my work lacking literary value from people who are not my audience. I look for feedback from my audience that indicates they were confused, bored, rolling their eyes in disbelief, or pulled out of the story in any way. I also look for those comments that are very positive because they make me feel great and I like to know what I did right as well as what I did wrong.

As a result, when I create a character, I don’t fill out profiles and try to detail the character upfront by answering background questions, likes/dislikes, and all that. But I am not flying blind, as I have a strong feeling for the character going in. A character is there to fill a function: good guy, bad guy, comic relief, douchebag, etc. So at first the characters are strangers to me, but I know what they are up to. I can see what the readers see and will make some judgments like the reader will. Judgments are often wrong, but that’s one of those tools you use to make a memorable character later on. I know what era they’re in, a bit about how they interact with their counterparts, and I can let them be themselves and react when I drop them into situations.

My characters at first are usually just vague notions in my head. I know what effect I want them to have on the reader. I go into the story with a name or a face (whether it’s an actor or person I know or more rarely, a fully-formed face I haven’t seen anywhere before). Sometimes these aspects change, and that’s okay as long as you are mindful of how it affects the story and whether it’s logical and consistent. You may have to do some rewriting if you decide to change a name or physical aspect of a character after the story has started rolling forward.

So my character starts living in the story and, for the most part, I just “know” the character at heart. All decisions stem from that core, which is more of a feeling than a definition or profile. If someone is a macho asshole, big on intimidation and fear, that’s going to affect what he wears, how he talks, and every aspect of his character. My characters often have nicknames, especially the bad ones, because babies are usually named Carl or Jeff, not Stank Weed or Ass Kicker. I’ve watched a lot of biker documentaries, read fiction and nonfiction alike, and I have a notion of how a biker might react or respond in any given situation. I know that Banjo would not have self-deprecating humor. He wouldn’t allow himself to be seen acting in any way other than the biggest badass in the room—the only badass in the room. Fuck respect and love; he wants you to fear him. Since he’s the bad guy inEuphoria Z, he’s pretty much dancing on fingers the entire time.


The present, Monterey, California

“Fuck!” The wiry, gray-haired old man felt his eyes go wide with surprise, but he quickly got his shit together. Jasper scowled; now he was very pissed off. He might stoop and shuffle when he walked, but he didn’t take any shit.

Some big fat bastard was bear-hugging him from behind. He could see white mountains of wet flab before his eyes, and he smelled vomit. He felt a massive wet belly and man tits pressing against his back. Large folds of cold wet flesh engulfed him, and he shuddered at the sensation.

He hated hugs, especially from men, and hugs from big fat sweaty bastards were absolutely unacceptable. He carried his best spiked hammer, an old-school Craftsman from back in the day, before the gooks were making them. He was just itching to use it. The fat bastard was yelling something in his ear.

“I love you! I love you, man!”

“Ahhh, geez!” Jasper twisted out of the flabby cocoon and took a few steps back. What he saw disgusted him. It was a giant fat kid, a head taller than himself, who looked like a giant baby, all hairless and soft. The kid was smiling like an idiot, and that made Jasper even more pissed off. Food smeared the kid’s face and ran down his chins in greasy streams between his man tits and over his belly. All Jasper could think was that all that shit was all over his back. Now he would have to burn his shirt and take a long, hot shower.

The kid wore nothing but baggy white underwear soaked in sweat. Jasper shuddered at the clammy coldness on his back. His flannel shirt clung to him and felt like a cold, wet bathing suit.

“I love you, man!” The big fat kid smiled as he came at him for another hug.

“Ahhhh! Fuck you!” Despite his advanced age, Jasper moved with an efficiency and force that spoke of his many years as a carpenter. He brought the spiked hammer down on the kid’s skull, and it collapsed inward with little resistance. He liked the sensation of cracking a head but hated wasting the time to do it.

The kid dropped to the concrete like a wet sack. He was still smiling, which made cracking his skull less enjoyable. Jasper wished he could bash every asshole around with his trusty hammer. He looked around to make sure another shithead wasn’t looking for a hug.

A woman came at him, hooting so loud he could hear it over the crowd, waving her tits at him. He took her out too, with an easy smack between the eyes. He had enough of this shit. He cracked a few more skulls for fun, but he got bored. It was always the same: an easy tap to the skull and the moron dropped, still smiling.

The streets were crammed with people, and they were all acting crazy. Jasper just wanted to get home. It seemed everyone was congregating downtown, streaming in from the surrounding neighborhoods. People were walking in large groups, arm in arm, naked and clothed, dancing, running, and hugging. It all made Jasper sick, just god-awful sick.

He tried to go all the way downtown and almost got caught up in the crowd. People were pushing and jamming each other into doors until they cracked open. He heard the crash of large plate-glass windows, but no one reacted. In fact, he saw people just getting pushed through the windows in a wave. He could tell that people were getting seriously injured and killed, and he just wanted to get the hell out of there.

He left at the right time. The press of the massive crowd smashed and suffocated, ground and trampled, and killed many—and the party continued to grow. No one screamed in panic or pain. No one yelled for help or dialed 911. And no one stopped to offer assistance, an apology, or true human interaction of any kind. Everyone was bent on doing exactly what they wanted to do, and what anyone else wanted didn’t matter to them in the slightest.

In any place where people gathered for a good time, the crowds were thick. The mall was packed, but the hospital was empty. The wharf was so full that hundreds fell into the icy waters of the bay. The office parks and businesses were dark and silent. Some groups formed parties on random streets for one reason or another.

A large majority of the city was empty, devoid of people. Most left their homes and walked away, leaving doors unlocked and often wide open. They would join a group and wander away.

There were still a few souls hiding indoors who were anything but euphoric. They watched with fear and horror the goings-on outside their windows. Jasper had been one of these, but he needed his goddamned pills and had to drive through all this crazy shit to get them. Of course, when he got to the damn pharmacy it was closed. He had tried to call ahead, but no one answered the phone. He was pissed. He wanted nothing to do with this crazy shit. He didn’t want to see any of it and certainly didn’t want to walk through it. He saw quite a few people doing things he had only seen in his buddies’ dirty magazines. But there was one thing every single person was doing: smiling like a retard with a lollipop—every single one.

At first, he thought all the outlandish behavior was confined to idiots, kids, and queers. It had to be some new drug to get them this nuts, he thought. But too many people were acting bonkers, too many people who just didn’t fit the behavior.

He walked as quickly as he was able away from the crowd and back to his car. He’d seen some shit in his day, but in the last few the world had descended into pandemonium. There were reports that almost everyone around the world was walking away from their jobs, no matter how critical. Everything was grinding to a halt. Transportation, communication—private or military, trivial or critical—everything was just going belly up. Jasper had known this day was coming ever since the blacks were allowed to vote.

And the crooks in Washington didn’t know anything. They said it was an unknown virus and creatively named it Euphoria-Z. Z because they didn’t know what it was, only what it did. And their advice? Stay indoors and away from crowds, bunch of geniuses.

Jasper had never expected he would need to kill people, not since the war, but in the last few days he had been forced to. The streets were crazy, and he wouldn’t even be outside if he hadn’t needed his pills. He felt as if he were the only sane person for miles. He looked at his feet and wondered, only briefly, if something were wrong with him? No, couldn’t be, he thought. None of this was right. The world had gone crazy.

Book 1
Luke Ahearn

Genre: Thriller/Zombie Apocalypse
Publisher: Luke Ahearn

Date of Publication: May 19, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1497497382
ISBN-10: 1497497388

Number of pages: 409
Word Count: 118,099

Cover Artist: Steven J Catizone

Book Description:

Civilization shuts down as throngs of speechless hedonists fill the streets in deadly revelry. They feel only pleasure and never pain, even as they are injured, maimed, and mutilated. Few people remain in the world unaffected, left to witness the madness unaware that things are about to get unbelievably worse.

Cooper is among the few survivors of a conspiracy to depopulate the world. One week ago, college was his biggest concern. Now he is on a dangerous journey to find his sister as an ever-present threat of nightmarish proportions engulfs the world, throwing him in the path of some of the most malicious people that ever walked the earth.

About the Author:

Luke Ahearn has over 20 years of professional game development experience and has authored numerous nonfiction books on the topic. He ran his own computer game company for ten years and currently owns MasterWerxStudios, an animatronic prop shop in Monterey, CA.





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