Writing With Dogs Who Slobber: The Three Secrets to Awesome Characters

So, you’re probably looking at the blog post title up there and thinking, “What?”

Stay with me a second; I’ll explain, I swear. I’m going to boil down the basic elements of crafting a good story by using my rescue dog, Gabby.

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Gabby is the sort of dog who people love or hate.

Gabby is the sort of dog that lets children climb all over her and hug her and kiss her nose.

Gabby is also the sort of dog who judges people by smell.  

If you have alcohol on your breath, she will sneeze and then bark at you. If you are male and have ever had a serious time taking cocaine and you are in my house? She’ll bark incessantly at you and never stop even if your cocaine use was over a decade ago.

So, why am I mentioning this?

Gabby is a conflicted character. You want a character like Gabby in your story.

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A conflicted character is a dog or person with a goal. There is a motivation for that goal and a conflict.

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Gabby’s goal is to keep me safe. She is super focused on making sure nothing happens to me or her dog brother Sparty or her cat sisters, Marsie, Cloud and Koko.

Her motivation? Probably because I feed her or because she’s a Great Pyrenees, and that breed’s instinct and training is to keep her charges happy and safe. We are basically her sheep.

IMG_9899Marsie insists she is nobody’s sheep, but I have seen Gabby carry her around the house. She is totally a sheep. 

And it might be because Gabby was abused as a puppy and spent her first year chained to a tree, always chained to a tree, never off a tree. She came to us small, terrified, malformed and malnourished. This is her backstory. All characters have backstories, the what happened before we meet them, the what happened that made them who they are when the story begins.

When Em and I picked up Gabby in Cambridge, Gabby was beyond terrified.

Every car was about to run her down. Every person was about to hit her. I sunk to her level and she pushed herself against me. Her ears were infected and full of pain. Everything about her was pain. But there was something else there. It was fear and want and need. She wanted to be loved so badly. She wanted to love back.1930658_10154095751489073_788625899982421964_n

The entire time we were in Cambridge she didn’t bark once.

The entire car ride back and the whole first week? She never barked.

“I have a miracle dog. It is a silent Great Pyrenees,” I told everyone.

The vet laughed.

The rescue organization people laughed.

I was so wrong.

Gabby started being able to sleep with both eyes closed. Gabby’s ears got better. We got her surgery on her knee. She took walks without being afraid that trees were going to fall on her, without thinking that every car held a monster inside of it that would hurt her.

She ate, but she would never fill out.

And she barked.

She barked at everyone who reminded her of where she used to be. She barked at dogs she didn’t know. She barked and jumped and tried to be as threatening looking as possible when she is easily the dog least likely to ever bite a human and most likely to snuggle. You know when experts say dogs hate hugs? Gabby would let you hug her all day.

Actually, Gabby’s dream day would just to be constantly hugged. 

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So, she’s got a lot of back story there?

What’s the conflict for Gabby or for your characters?

The conflict is the struggle. The conflict is how the reader engages with the character. It’s why the reader keeps reading. It’s how empathy is built. It’s how story is built.

So every character has this trifecta of things: 

Goal

Motivation

Conflict

As a writer, if you muck this up? You’re story will be flat.

As a dog friend/owner, if you don’t realize that your dog’s goal might conflict with a happy silence that comes with a life without barking? You’re going to have an unhappy dog.

So, Gabby’s trifecta of character is:

Wants to stop threats by barking (goal) because she wants to keep her happy home and the creatures within it safe (motivation we all understand), but everyone gets a headache when she thinks squirrels are threats and barks too much at them (conflict).

Meg’s in A Wrinkle in Time is:

Wants to get her dad back (goal) because who doesn’t want to get someone awesome back (motivation that is pretty understandable if your dad rocks), but dude, she has to travel through time and deal with this great darkness, basically like all the evil in the universe because why not (conflict).

But what makes a character conflicted?

Basically anything that stands in the way of her goal.

This can be herself (Gabby wonders if barking is her true calling and doubts herself – an internal conflict).

This can be others (The neighbors call the police because of Gabby’s barking – an external conflict).

This can be the environment (Gabby is in space and cannot bark because there is no sound. Horror! – a conflict caused by setting).

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Writing Tip

Make sure your  main character has that trifecta of conflict, motivation, goal.

Writing Prompts- 

Write about wanting to sing when you have to be quiet.

Write about wanting to tell a secret.

Write about being a zombie who is allergic to meat.

Do Good MONday – 

So, I wrote a lot about Gabby being a rescue dog. All my dogs have been. If you have the money, consider donating to a dog rescue. If you have the time and space and need and love, consider adopting. If you have the time, find a rescue near you and be a volunteer. I’ve done home visits and photos for rescues. If you don’t have any of these things, but have social media, share a rescue’s site or a post about a dog (or cat or gecko). You could be the step that helps bring a dog like Gabby to her forever home. Even the smallest things help.

Here are the rescues where I got Sparty the Dog and Gabby the Dog.

New England Lab Rescue

National Great Pyrenees Rescue

And this rescue is possibly my favorite one.

Big Fluffy Dog

 

Random Marketing Things

 

NEW BOOK ALERT!

I just want to let everyone know that INCHWORMS (The Dude Series Book 2) is out and having a good time as Dude competes for a full scholarship at a prestigious Southern college and getting into a bit of trouble.

Here’s what it’s about:

A fascinating must-read suspense from New York Times bestseller Carrie Jones.

A new chance visiting a small Southern college.
A potential love interest for a broken girl obsessed with psychology.
A damaged group of co-eds.
A drowning that’s no accident.
A threat that seems to have no end.

And just like that Jessica Goodfeather aka Dude’s trip away from her claustrophobic life in Maine to try to get an amazing scholarship to her dream school has suddenly turned deadly. Again.


What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

Naked Lady in the Drain and Why Authors Should Show and Not Tell

When you tell, you are blunt. When you show? You are laying out little truths that compel the reader to turn the page and read on.

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Naked Lady in the Drain and Why Authors Should Show and Not Tell
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So a lot of writers get rejections that say, “Show, don’t tell.”

And then they are left wondering, what does that even mean?

And then everyone uses the Chekov quote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

That’s because writers and editors like to quote other writers and editors because it makes us sound:

  1. Pretentious. Cough. I mean intelligent!
  2. Like we know what we’re doing.

Definitions Time

Showing is what it sounds like. You are showing what’s happening in the scene or with the character.


Telling is also what it sounds like. You are blunt and direct and are just stating things. Sometimes you’re stating and summarizing.

Here is a quick example:

Telling:

Shaun was cranky.

Showing:

Gabby the dog barked for hours at the dogs trotting by the house that morning and after a quick pause for a drink from her red water bowl in the kitchen, she’d pranced back to the living room sliding glass door and started again.

Shaun tensed. He slammed his fist against his desk and roared, “Will you just shut up already?”

So why do you want to show more and tell less?

It’s more community oriented.

It gives the reader the truth about the character by illustrating it on the page rather than laying it down like an edict.

If I tell you, Carrie is a timid person, then you’re like okay. Whatever.

But if I show you a scene where Carrie steps outside and starts crying because the grass is long and things could be hiding in it and she starts sweating and shaking because she’s so afraid of the grass? You’re going to probably have a better understanding of how timid a person Carrie actually is.

Yeah, showing takes more words, but writers are word magistrates. We are dealers in the sentence and the language. Words are our friends.

The other reason is that telling makes things dull.

It’s hard to be suspenseful when you just say everything all bluntly. When you tell, you are blunt. When you show? You are laying out little truths that compel the reader to turn the page and read on. You are giving the pieces of a meal, one bite at a time, rather than shoving a four-course dinner down their throat and making them gag.

It’s the difference between reading the episode recap for Wanda Vision and actually watching the show.

Telling kills immediacy.

Just like distancing language, telling puts a wall up between the reader and the experience of the characters.

If I write, Carrie heard the bomb explode, it’s not as gripping. You are distanced from the experience.

Compare that to if I write,

The bang rippled through the air. The cops’ radios all began squawking with orders and directives as the cops turned as one towards the source of the sound and the smoke…the smoke billowed out and up. Carrie turned with them. The plastic, the soot, the burning on her tongue made it hard to swallow.

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Show more. Tell less.

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Show it as best as you can for all the good treats.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Our random thoughts this week were about:

A stray dog at Dollar General stealing a purple unicorn. He’s okay and found his forever home! Yay! Link from People.

A woman who was allegedly stuck in Florida tunnels and a drain for three weeks. She’s okay! Link from the Miami Herald.

How Shaun announced at the Covid vaccine place that Carrie doesn’t bleed. He’s okay, too. Link from our life.

HEY!

It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.

And that one is called  THOSE WHO SURVIVED, which is the first book in the the DUDE GOODFEATHER series.  I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it!

The Dude Goodfeather Series - YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones
The Dude Goodfeather Series – YA mystery by NYT bestseller Carrie Jones

TO TELL US YOUR BRAVE STORY JUST EMAIL BELOW.

SHOUT OUT!

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.

And we have a new podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook.

Here’s the link.

almost dead book by carrie jones
almost dead book by carrie jones

HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.

On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.

Sparty Dog on a Wednesday

It’s easy to rip other people apart.


But you aren’t about easy. You’re about lifting up so we can all hit new heights, have cuddly beds, good treats.


Look at how beautiful you are. You. You sparkle. Go share that. Go be you.


Also, bring treats.


xo

Sparty Dog

Sparty Dog on a Thursday

The thing is to be in your moment

Right now.

Where are you?

Are you stuck in a car and can’t open the door? You can still smile out the window. The car will move again. You will move again. You’ve got this.

You’re so full of light.

xo

Sparty Dog (apologies for the hearts)

Link to my humans’ podcast.

Gabby and Sparty Monday Inspiration

When you find success, you might get glory or money, but when you find a way to love even when love feels impossible, even when the world feels impossible?

That’s when you’re really successful.

We hope you’re successful today and all days.

You’ve got this, humans.

xo

Gabby & Sparty Dog

Gabby the Dog’s Thursday Thoughts

A blank page, a new day? That’s bliss. 

You get to write or draw or dance all over that page, this day. Make it beautiful. Like you. 

Love,

Gabby

Gabby Dog Squinty Wisdom

When you realize that you can be loved and that you can love others

even when you’re goofy,

even though you have flaws,

even though you drool or bark a lot or make squinty faces?

That’s when the universe blossoms inside of you. 

Let it blossom!

xo

Gabby Dog

Gabby Dog Motivation and Big Thoughts for Tuesday

You don’t need to wear disinterest like a badge of honor. Celebrate the things you love. Let others celebrate their loves, too. Don’t ruin other’s joy by announcing your disdain.

Cough.


Squirrels.

Anti-Star-Wars peeps.

I’m looking at you. 

Gabby Friday Thoughts

Dog Inspiration
Dog Inspiration by Gabby the Great Pyrennes

Sometimes the only thing breaking through the darkness is you.


Stare out of it. Be the brave you want everyone else to be.


Wag your tail. Be the love you want everyone else to be.


Bark. Breathe in. Bark again.

Love. Fight for others. Love through it all.


xo

Gabby Dog

Sparty Dog Inspiration

Look at all the stories you’re seeing, the dreams you’re doing, the lives you’re living.

Breathe out. In. Out.

You are making moments and they all make you. Not one moment. ALL the moments.

Go make more.

Breathe out. Breathe in. Look up. See stars.

xo

Sparty the Dog