Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Problem with Puppet Characters ~ Jessica Rising

Let’s just admit it: writers are megalomaniacs. It’s okay, we deserve to be. At least in our own worlds. We control everything that happens within the pages of our stories, from the last breath of a character to the turning of the stars. It feels good to have control over a whole world and every soul in it.

But sometimes we micromanage a little too much.

I have spent so many years trying to figure out how to keep a story interesting, not only in cadence but in plot. Again and again I found myself mired in a storyline knot, unable to break free in the way I’d planned. I’d build the world, focusing on every detail I could imagine from topography to history to social cues. I’d build the plot, knowing every step toward its pre-planned end and why each step mattered. I’d create my characters and give them every personality trait and flaw they needed. My world and characters were SO 3-D in the planning stage. Then I’d start to write… and it would  all go 2-D. Flat. Shallow. Lacking realism, depth, or empathy.

Then I met Squire Carroll and everything changed.

Squire is the heroine of Bight, my first Young Adult novel. At first I made her like all my other characters — molded to fit the plot. She needed to be weak so she could learn to be strong. She needed to be simplistic so she could resonate with every reader. She needed to be ignorant so she could learn to… learn.

In essence, she needed to be a puppet whose strings I could pull to my ends. There was only one problem: nobody empathizes with a puppet.

I began Blight the same as always, focusing on the concept I’d built it on instead of the story it could be. My concept was a society built on religious persecution based in past-lives. Squire was a child of the persecuted, so she would naturally be meek and ignorant. Chapter 1 was written, and it worked just fine. Chapter 2 delved more into the world around Squire… and she was buried in it. I realized then, as I searched for her in the rubble, that I’d made the same mistake I’d made a million times before: I’d turned my character into a puppet.

How could Squire shine as a heroine for all if she was a puppet to anyone,even me?

Think about all the characters you have ever loved. What do they all have in common?


None of them conformed to any of the rules of their worlds. Now imagine being the writer of those worlds. The one who created those rules. Most of us would want everyone to follow the rules we created, even if we told ourselves we didn’t. The rules are there for a reason. They’re there to keep things focused and logical. They’re there to keep the storyline exact. Think about your worlds and their rules. They’re important! Right? You’ve worked on them for months!

But they’re meant to be broken. And the one who should break them — who has to break them — is our hero.

When I realized this, finally, after two and a half decades of writing, I knew what I had to do. It was terrifying, but I had to do it.

I had to let the real Squire loose in her world.

So I let go. I allowed her personality to shine, and I learned that she’s so much stronger than I thought. So much smarter. And so much more… sarcastic. But that’s okay. She’s Squire Carroll, not Jessica Rising. She grew up in a different world than me, and she  knows that world better than I do, even if I created it.

How do you let a character you created free in a world you created? Just write what they say in your mind, ignoring the voices that tell you they’re being too knowledgeable too early, too sarcastic and cynical, too… non-hero-like according to your own perceptions. Ignore those voices, and their true voice will sing through them to tell their story.

A story not unlike yours, but so much more.

Let your character tell their story. They might take it somewhere you never dreamed, but hang on for the ride. Don’t reign them in. They’re the ones who are living it. They’re the ones your readers will follow. It’s their story, not yours. The sooner you realize you’re just taking notation for your hero, the sooner your story will become a whole world of its own, where everyone feels welcome.


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Excerpt From “Shakazhan” by Dellani Oakes

shakazhanWil VanLipsig and his wife, Matilda Dulac, dove into the depths of barely remembered space, pursuing the villainous John Riley. With the help of a creature of  legend, a Kahlea Master, John escapes capture. Capitulated into the unknown, he travels to Shakazhan. Like Avalon, in Old Earth lore, Shakazhan is a thought to be a myth, but it is very real. Unless Wil and Matilda can stop him, John Riley will release the Kahlea, bringing destruction to the universe.


Gazing out the window of her sumptuously decorated office, Telorvech Asandal reflected that the weather on her home planet was much more interesting than that here on climate controlled Committee Home Base. Granted, it was wicked weather, but there was only so much sunshine, balmy breezes and fresh air she could tolerate. A good old fashioned thunderstorm with gale force winds, that was something she could sink her teeth into.

Pacing the luxurious hand loomed, dark red, deep pile carpet, she realized she felt trapped here. She wanted to go home, but that was impossible. As Aisulov’s Vice-Chairman, she was provisional head of the Committee until his return or his death. His death was something she had dwelt on for the last two and a half years.

Though Aisulov had been gone three years, the first months had demanded her full attention. A freak accident set the galaxy in a tail spin from which it was only now recovering. Planets, moons, asteroids both populated and barren exploded, victims of an unknown force. Aisulov’s home planet was one of those lost, his wife and children with it.

After all the Committee members went on their fact finding missions, Aisulov prepared for his own trip. He was determined to find the cause of this disturbance. If he had come up with any answers, he certainly hadn’t shared them with her or anyone else. He was supposed to report to the Committee when he came out of cryo-sleep. He hadn’t. In fact, no data was transmitted from his ship to Committee Headquarters at all. This left her hopeful he was dead.

Unfortunately, the Committee needed proof. The body in an hermetically sealed box would do nicely. Even identifiable body parts—an ear, a hoof! But there continued to be no word, no sign, no whisper in the dark that he was alive.

Telorvech was a credit to her race, holding an office of power and authority. Positions of trust were not generally awarded to her people. Wil wasn’t the only person who distrusted the Leonatae, with good reason. They were greedy, arrogant, stubborn, bigoted, fairly intelligent, superstitious, and money grubbing. The creature they most resembled were Old Earth weasels. Standing nearly eight feet tall, they were ferocious, merciless and had disagreements with nearly every sentient race in the galaxy. They were represented here on the Committee because everyone wanted to keep an eye on them, not because their presence was welcome. Telorvech and her nine staff members were the only Leonatae on Committee Home base. That was ten too many for most Committee members.

Long fingers smoothed her indigo gown as she sat at her desk and made a few decisions concerning Aisulov. Perhaps she could fabricate an authentic sounding transmission? No, it would take a long time to set up. It also required too many intermediaries to forge a location. However, a bot ship coming across remains of his vessel in space, his poor body burned beyond recognition, now that had distinct possibilities. She could obtain a Vandaran corpse easily enough, having it’s records altered to match Aisulov’s. That was simplicity itself, neat and easy. Yes, the simple plans often were best.

She decided to consult her head of security. Izzatai Mabatsuou was even more blood thirsty than she and a trusted aid. Not so much trusted, she amended honestly, but each knew so many secrets about the other, it was a shared extortion. She contacted him, calling for a private conference.

Stroking her soft, mahogany fur, Telorvech looked out upon the landscape again. The clouds shifted, turning darker as the wind picked up.

Izzatai Mabatsuou bowed when he came in the room. Handsome, by Leonatae standards, his fur was darkest ebony. It had often been said that his heart was blacker than his coat. Admittedly, it was an exaggeration, but it was true that he was probably the most evil Leonatae that Telorvech knew. Because of his reputation as a conniving, villain, the job of Security Chief was perfect for him.

Waving him to a seat across the desk from her, Telorvech leered at her cohort. “Mabu, you and I are about to embark on a project to secure our positions here at Home Base. Would you like that?”

Mabatsuou chuckled. “There’s nothing I’d like better.” He plucked at the gold braid on his burgundy jacket, with long, sharp talons. His chuckle became a hideous caricature of a laugh.

She outlined her basic plans. Mabatsuou’s horrid smile widened.

“Indeed, Madame, that is excellent.”


Dellani OakesDellani Oakes doesn’t claim to be an expert on anything, but she has a lot of experience making something out of nothing. Thrown into the world of publishing five years ago, she found that trying to promote her work was the hardest part of being an author.

Dellani once told her publisher that she had enough books, finished & unfinished, to keep him busy for the next 10 years. She’s not sure he believed her, but he should. Three novels, Indian Summer, Lone Wolf and Shakazan – book two in the Lone Wolf series are published by Second Wind Publishing, but she has 43 finished romance novels and at least that many (she won’t count them) that are still in the works.

Dellani Oakes is a former A.P. English teacher, photo-journalist. She’s a published author who avidly reads & reviews the work of others.

Look for Dellani Oakes on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & Good Reads, among others.

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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 32

The time has come to face the danger head on. Armed with impeccable fashion sense and great style, Kirk and Margo brave the lion’s den of the modeling world.

 “How will you explain this?”

“I’ll think of something,” she replied. “Fanatic group targeting Wiccans or something. You don’t mind that, I hope?”

“Drea and I have been many things over the years. Wiccan, among them. No, we don’t mind. That’s actually a good cover. Thank you, Sandra.” Kirk kissed her hand.

“You’re welcome.”

“We owe you much,” Drea said. “If you can help us solve this, we’ll cater your wedding for free.”

“I’ll do my best, even without that,” she said, smiling. “It’s my job to help good people.”

They went back to their hotel with a young man who was a civilian worker in the department. He was very talkative when he found out they were caterers. He loved to cook and was working as with the police until he could afford to open his own place.

“You hiring?” He asked as he opened the car door for them.

“We might be at that,” Drea said with a smile. “We’ll let you know.”

“Thanks.” He grinned, saluting as he drove away.

“We don’t need him,” Kirk said with finality.

“If he’s any good, we do. Need I remind you when you and Margo are playing detective, Tommy and I are still fulfilling our contracts. The work is split among four. It will be hard with two, easier with three.”

“You have a point.”

“I’ll be careful, love. I promise. And Tommy can be relied upon to be discrete.”

“Also true. All right. Call him and set an audition…. or interview, whatever you want to call it.”

“I’ll conduct it. You’ll be too picky.”

He chuckled, conceding her point.

© Dellani Oakes 2010


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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 30

Sandra took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “Go ahead.”

Drea allowed her fangs to grow slowly. Her features changed slightly, becoming pale and hollow cheeked. Her eyes were no longer their normal blue, but an eerie red tinged brown.

Sandra’s eyes grew wide, her nostrils flared with fear. She backed away, her hand reaching for the door. Kirk gently touched her arm, but she flinched away. Drea changed back quickly. Dizzy, she staggered back a step. Kirk placed a capsule in her hand. Putting it under her tongue, she relaxed as the medication hit her system.

“You’re—vampires?” Sandra breathed huskily, quickly. “My God! It’s like a nightmare!”

“No,” Drea said. “Not us. Whoever is hunting us, they’re the true nightmare. Our people live on synthetic blood. We take medicine to control the blood lust and never turn anyone without their consent.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

Drea smiled benevolently. “We’ve taken you into our confidence, Sandra. We haven’t attacked you, nor do we intend to. However, that man you’ve arrested has killed at least one person and is either responsible for, or has knowledge of, the kidnapping of at least a dozen more.”

“Do you think that the others are dead?”

“I fear so,” Kirk said. “What reason would they have to kidnap them otherwise? They haven’t asked for ransom.”

“I’m confused,” Sandra admitted quietly. “You have to admit, this is a lot to absorb like this.”

“We understand completely,” Kirk said. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy for me to accept when Drea first told me.”

“He threatened to tell,” Drea added. “It wasn’t easy to keep him quiet without hurting him. It took all my persuasive power to keep him from waking the entire household.”

“She put up a very convincing argument,” Kirk replied with a sly grin. “She took off all her clothes.”

Sandra laughed loudly, the fear gone from her. “That would about do it. Most men are pretty easy to convince when you’re naked.”

Drea giggled. “Not that he got to do more than look—I wasn’t modest, but I certainly wasn’t a slattern. I had to promise to come back for visits. We talked for hours at a time and eventually, we fell in love.” She brushed Kirk’s hair from his brow.

“It was at that point she offered to turn me. How could I refuse? How often is a man given the chance to be with his soul mate forever?”

Sandra couldn’t conceal a little sigh when he kissed her. “You make it sound so romantic. Don’t you ever…? I mean, aren’t you tempted…?”

“To drink human blood?” Drea asked. “Not often, unless we skip our medicine. Then, we’re no better than the animals who prey on humans. What sets our group apart is that we found ways to live in harmony with humans rather than use them.”

“I promise to look into this,” Sandra said. “I’ll help you find them.” She squinted at them a moment, thinking. “You know, I think I might be able to help you. We can set up a surveillance team to watch you while you work undercover.”


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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 29

The face before her was unmistakable. It was the man who threatened her in the shop. Clutching Kirk’s arm, she sat slowly on a stool.

“That’s him. I know that’s him.”

“Take a closer look at the others as well.”

“Of course. But I’m sure.”

None of the others were right. Number Six was her man, Drea was positive. Sandra gave instructions to the unseen listeners once more and the men were dismissed.

“He’s been detained,” Sandra told them. “He’ll be taken back to the cell block shortly, so we’ll wait in here until that’s been done.”

Someone in the hallway yelled loudly. There was cursing, hollering and confusion. Sandra told them to stay put, picking up a nearby phone.

“What’s happening? I see. Thank you.” Frowning, she hung up. “Just confirmed his guilt, I’d say. He tried to get away. He’s been arrested for assault on an officer. I don’t think you’ll have anything more to worry about.”

Drea and Kirk exchanged a long, penetrating look. Drea cleared her throat, shrugging. Kirk nodded.

“Sandra, we have reason to believe that he may have information in the disappearance of some of our friends.”

Sandra stared at them, confused. “What friends?”

Sighing, Kirk told her the names of their vampire acquaintances.

“Have all of them been reported to the police?”

Having the assurance of Heinrich that they had, Kirk nodded. “We belong to a rather special organization. We believe this man and his compatriots may be targeting us.”

Pursing her lips, she sat on the edge of a table. “There’s more you haven’t told me. I can keep a secret. Whatever this is about, I need to know. If some organization has become the target of another in my town….”

“Thing is,” Kirk said quietly. “I don’t know if you’ll believe us. And even if you do….”

“If you do,” Drea continued. “You may not want to help us.”

“What? Are you devil worshipers or something?”

They shook their heads.

“I think the best way is to show her, darling,” Drea said. “I’ll do it.”

He nodded. Drea took several steps back from Sandra. “Whatever you see next, realize that I won’t hurt you.”

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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 28

Drea scanned the lineup carefully, looking for a familiar face. Although they all fit the basic description of the man in their shop, she didn’t think any of them were.

“Could I hear them speak?” She asked quietly.

“Certainly. What shall they say?”

“Blood pudding or Steak Tartar.”

Sandra raised an eyebrow, but leaned over the microphone. “Number One, step forward and say ‘steak tartar’.”

“Say what?” The man looked confused. He stepped forward. “Steak tartar,” he stumbled slightly over the pronunciation.

Drea shook her head. Each man stepped forward, saying the same words. Only one, Number Four, sounded close to right.

“Could Number Four say something else?” Drea said. “I’m simply not quite sure.”

“What would you like him to say?”

“I know your secret. You can no longer hide.”

Sandra gave the instructions. The man stepped forward again, saying the words rapidly.

“He has to say them like he means them,” Drea said.

“Repeat them, with feeling,” Sandra instructed.

Drea closed her eyes, listening. The man cleared his throat, then spoke in a menacing tone. Drea shook her head.

“It’s not him. It’s very close, but not him.”

“Thank you. This group can go out.” She turned to Drea. “I have another group. Would you like to see them?”

“Yes, please.”

The others filed in. Drea waited while they took their places, her eyes closed. One man tread on the heel of the fellow in front of him. The trodden upon man complained loudly, growling at the man behind him.

“Watch it, bub! Pay attention, huh?”

Drea stiffened, her eyes still closed. “Which one is that?”

“Number Six.”

“Have him say the phrase, please.” She kept her eyes closed.

Sandra gave the instructions.

He stepped forward, speaking loudly. “I know your secret. You can no longer hide.”

“That’s him. I’m sure of it.” She opened her eyes.

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Take a Bite Outta Crime – Part 6

Things are going from bad to worse for Kirk Nunne & his wife, Drea Barr. A series of bizarre occurrences have plagued them over the last couple of days. First, Kirk finds their fish supplier & friend murdered in his store. Next, when Kirk & Drea get home late one night, their apartment has been ransacked. If that weren’t bad enough, when Drea goes shopping the next day, their car gets stolen. It doesn’t seem like anything else can go wrong – but can it?

Day workers, who were heading into the store, saw Drea. Two women stopped to see what the trouble was. Sobbing, incoherent, she tried to explain. They took her back inside, leading her to the store office where the assistant manager called Kirk at their hotel.

Kirk opened his eyes groggily, frowning at the offending piece of electrical equipment. He reached for it reluctantly. “Yes?”

“Mr. Nunne?”


“Maggie Longstreet here at the Wal-Mart, sir. Hello.”

“Yeah? Sup, Maggie?”

“We have your wife here in the office. Apparently, someone stole your car while she was shopping.”

Kirk was immediately awake. “What? Our car? Drea? May I speak to her?”

“She’s pretty upset. I’ll try.”

The phone fumbled and scrabbled for a moment. Then he heard some fretful sniffling.

“Drea? Darling, what’s wrong?”

“Someone stole the car!” She wailed. “It was right there! I locked it, I swear! I got our things and it was gone. And I’m sitting in the office in dirty panties!” For some reason, that idea really set her off again.

“I need the address, honey. Did you call the police?”

“Maggie did.”

“Can I speak to her again, sweetheart?”

He heard the phone exchange hands again.

“Mr. Nunne? We’re trying to get her calmed down.”

“I’ll come get her, but it’s going to take awhile. I need a cab.”

“We’re within walking distance of your hotel, Mr. Nunne.” She gave him specific directions.

“Thanks, Maggie,” he said, scribbling them on some hotel stationary. “I’ll be there shortly.”

“The police have just arrived, sir. I need to go.”

“Thanks, Maggie.”

When Kirk arrived at the store, his pal, Officer Scott, was on the scene.

“I heard the call and thought I’d better respond. After last night, well…. Honestly, I was a little worried. This is very strange, Mr. Nunne.”

“Agreed. Who the hell would take our car?”

“Someone who’s desperate to get something they think you have,” he said quietly. “You didn’t take anything from the fish market?”

“Except some bad memories, no. Oh, by the way, about that….” He explained about seeing Jay’s van moving as he walked by.

“And that led you to believe someone was inside?”

“Wouldn’t it you? I was behind an SUV where a couple kids were tussling in the back, it shook all over. The way that was moving, I’d say there might have been two people inside. The movements were hurried, like they didn’t want to get caught. Then with that sound of the knife behind me….”

“Knife sound?”

“Sounded like someone drew a knife behind me. But when I turned around, no one was there.”

“That’s weird.”

“Yeah. Now all this? I’m honestly not sure how much more my wife can take. I keep wondering what’s going to happen next.”

His cellphone rang. It was Margo. Why was she calling?

“Kirk,” her tone was funereal.

It was a bone chilling sound. “What’s wrong, Margo?” He snapped rather loudly.

All talk around him stopped. Every eye turned to him.

“Are you sitting down?”

“No. Should I be?”

“You’re gonna wanna sit down.”

“What’s wrong? Margo, you’re scaring me.”

“I just got here to open up like you said. I walked up to the door and – Kirk…. We’ve been robbed and the whole damn place is covered in fish guts.”


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