29 June 2014

Top 10 Character Flaws That Don't Work For Me

I read once (or maybe more than once, but who's counting?) that characters are more likable when they are flawed, and to some extent, I believe this to be true. I have my favorite characters who are all flawed in many ways, but there are those characters who are beginning to pick at that last nerve. They're so cliched and I wonder why they are chosen over and over again as the favored protagonist or one of the main characters. I don't like them any more because I see them everywhere!

The Millionaire Philanderer

I don't understand this. Why is it that the guys who have money must be portrayed as weak when it comes to women in pursuit? Stop letting these women drape on you like a cheap suit! Sling them to the side and show some self-respect. This is similarly done with the rock stars toting around their posse and loyal groupie bangers. And why are they always extremely handsome? Ever see Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner? For real...

The Deep Dark Secret Sufferer

A great way to expose a flaw for a character who has a secret is for them to perform some odd behaviors like visit a secret grave on the 3rd of each month, or something equally odd. Stop giving them permission to be emotionally erratic toward others with no explanation whatsoever only to have character A tell character B, "Oh, his mother died in a freak accident back in 2010 and he's never really recovered from it. A year later his sister was ate up by some flesh-eating bacteria she got at summer camp."

Of course, this sort of thing might work in a comedic rendition of some reality shows I watch for pure entertainment.

The Damsel In Distress

I'm tired of distress getting rewarded just because it is the more attractive option to the male ego. What about the woman who refuses to be rescued and this causes a man to leave her side and ultimately results in his saving a bus load of children?

Yea, women understand sacrifice, too. We know other shit is going on out there other than ourselves. Some of us can save ourselves. We can also help save others as well. Go save yourself a puppy or something! Readers will LOVE you. I promise.

The Chip on the Shoulder

This dude needs to get out of his own way. Nobody likes this anymore! The bad guys are losing steam because there are too many of them. You know, the opposite of this flaw is the shy guy. I  love me a shy guy, too. Please let's do away with the wise-cracking assholes and invite the John Nash's into our stories, because you can't have enough of A Beautiful Mind.

The Jealous Woman

Jealousy has always been an ugly thing to me, especially in a woman. If you're going to make your character a jealous one, at least give them some redeeming quality like having them internalize it rather than going all out ninja on a bitch. I guess what I'm saying is that jealousy can make a character vulnerable, therefore likable, just don't let it shine in all its ugliness by having your character act upon her jealousies, because then it becomes completely unlikable.

A "like" plus an "unlike" kind of cancel each other out, so what's the point? Unless you're building a villain, in which case all out ninja would be just fine.

The Pained Drunkard/Addict

Sometimes this is done well and I feel bad for the character. Most times I think the character deserves what's coming to them. I'm unsympathetic to these characters. Yes, even though I drink beer and one might consider me an alcoholic for doing so, I still abhor such characters who cannot rise above their addictions.

I want to sympathize, but at the same time it's hard not to want to punch this character in the face and shout. Come on already! You have to get up and be at the courthouse first thing in the morning, you oaf. Put the vodka away for Christ's sake!

The "I  Lost My Entire Family" Victim

I know what it's like to lose a loved one. I lost my father in 1992, my mother in 2006, and my grandmother in 2009. Trust me, putting them all together at the same time doesn't make the pain worse; it makes you more an asshole trying to get a bigger reaction from your reader. How can it be even more painful? Kill the grandmother too!

Trust me tragedy is fine if you do it right. But, if done wrong, the author comes across as trying to make double and triple sure that the reader sympathizes with their character. The character is devastated. He didn't just lose his beloved wife. He lost his daughter, their two dogs, the cat, and their pet goldfish. How could you not feel horrible for this guy? STOP it!

The Washed Up Hero

This always happens in sequels or starts out the very first scene with the hero, washed up and ready to commit suicide. Don't worry! You'll soon find out why he was so miserable. Hello Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon. Loved the movie. Suicidal would be lost in translation in the written form, IMHO.

The visual is a different story though. The tears, red eyes, shaking hand with gun self-directed at his head. Don't do it! Aw, everything will be okay. Whatever it is bothering you, it will work out. It's the beginning of the movie and we have another hour and a half for things to get better. Plus, you're the star of this movie, so you can't die just yet. There, there, put the gun down.

The Arrogant Entrepreneur/Estate Owner

I just read a post today and found out that there is a romance novel "genre" (?) which caters to this situation. I believe it's called Regency Harlequins. I'll research it more and make an addendum here when I have the chance. But honestly, I don't see the draw to such a thing. There's nothing particularly romantic about having to deal with an estate. Been there, done it. It's a huge pain in the ass.

The Stubborn Rebel

The romance novels I've read years ago were not the same as they are today. The men in those books were men. Pure men. They were arrogant, not stubborn. They were righteous, not rebellious. They were businessmen, doctors, professors, and pilots. The romance was written for a different culture back then.

But, I've tried to read romances these days and I can't. It's too painful. The men are like boys. Stubborn, like when a mother tries to get her son to eat his veggies. Yeah, that kind of rebelliousness is not romantic to me. I want a man in this story, not a two year old. Dammit, I'm dating myself.

Are there character flaws that just don't work for you? Did I point out a character flaw here that you actually like and felt that I didn't do it the justice it deserves? Well, come yell at me about it! Or just leave a polite comment. :)

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22 June 2014

My Faux Pas While Conducting Research

I'm having an opportunity to review a thriller for a literary magazine and I so want to do a great job, an honest write up. So, what does an avid reader and fan of literary fiction do? We research anything that seems out of place. I think that's what we do.

It's my first official write up, so I wasn't quite sure what to do when I ran across a paragraph that simply did not ring true to me. I just couldn't believe that there would be 50,000 graves in a particular cemetery. Hell, Arlington National Cemetery has 300,000 (yes, I discovered this in my research) and they are the largest cemetery in the United States. Any other cemetery should pale in comparison, right?

So, what did you do, Diane?

I found the cemetery in question on the Internet and I called them!

"This is Lynn speaking, how may I help you?"

"Hi, Lynn. I'm conducting some research and would like to know how many marked graves you all have in your cemetery."


*uncomfortable pause*

"I will find someone who can help you with that. One moment please."

Great customer service skills, by the way.

"Hello, Brett here. How can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm researching some information and would like to know how many graves you all have in your cemetery."

"Well ma'am, we have approximately 38,000 folks who have been laid to rest here and within various structures throughout our grounds and facility."

Now the silence was a massive white noise in my frontal lobe, slowly replaced with the knowledge of my faux pas. In my haste to uncover what I felt to be a greatly exaggerated metric, yet a highly insignificant piece of data conveyed in a work of fiction, I'd let my better judgement go and I had approached my target as if I were some insensitive ass. This isn't me, I promise.

So, what did it matter this number? Why did that red flag go up and why did I feel a compulsion to find out if it was true? If you say it was my OCD, that's partially it. It wasn't until I pondered my inner soul that I figured out what actually triggered that need to pull out of the story and go looking for answers.

Truth be told, I would never have questioned this had it not been a well-rounded, convenient number. If it was 46,000, fine! Even 51,000 would not have phased me a bit. I would have continued on with the story without even a single bump. Now I understand auditors a little more.

So there you have it. Stay away from well-rounded numbers, even if you've done your research. It will save your readers some embarrassment, maybe. Not every reader would think to call a cemetery and ask such a thing. Or would they?

Last thing I would like to do is publicly apologize for 1. Questioning the author's integrity (after all, it is fiction) and 2. Being such an insensitive ass toward all the 38,000 folks laid to rest in that cemetery. In closing, I think I've learned a little something about social etiquette.

Question of the day: What was the oddest research you ever conducted and what was the response?

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16 June 2014

Joyland by Stephen King - A Carnival Itself

I just finished Joyland, by Stephen King. It is a Hard Case Crime book and a very different feel for a King novel, at least it was for me. Maybe he's getting older and this is the first one of his books I've read since Gerald's Game, published over twenty two years ago. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it tremendously, I did. It was just different.

The story's narrator is an old man, reminiscing about his years as a newbie carny worker at an amusement park known as, none other than, you guessed it...Joyland! It is a place filled with lots of movement, visuals, smells, sounds and it's a reminder to me how King manages to keep one in the story. With a carny killer on the loose, a story unfolds revealing lost love, binding friendships, and a summer to remember.

This novel was a page turner for me. Not from the standpoint of a King fan, but as a reader who doesn't have much time to find herself engrossed in a lengthy story. I've picked up books which are fast paced and never finished them because work, family, and other things tend to come up, whisking me away from my chosen novel.

This was not a fast paced read, but a thorough exploration of a carnival and its intricate involvement in bringing plot points together while the more intimate story unfolded. There are several reasons why Joyland kept me engrossed.

  1. The reader stays in the setting, never (for a lengthy period of time) being removed from the fictitious world that is Joyland.
  2. Who cannot relate to carnivals? Funnel cakes, cotton candy, rides, games, and the pretty girl walking away with the giant stuffed animal you could never figure out how to win for yourself. It's all there!
  3. Young love and all those things that go with it: the silly, the embarrassing, and the unforgiving. King never forgets to bring us back to these events through his characters, and very well-developed they are.
  4. The crimes never detracted from the story. They were the underlying pieces which kept me motivated to move forward, but the characters and the setting are what kept me in place, wanting to read more, never chancing to dog-ear a page unless I absolutely had to.
  5. The world is filled with a new language, clearly translated as carny talk. You'll find a new appreciation for all things carny the next time the annual fair comes to your town!

I have a renewed interest in reading again, thanks to King's Joyland. Try it out and let me know your thoughts. If you've read it already, do you agree or disagree with these key points? If you haven't read it yet, what was your favorite King novel thus far?

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11 June 2014

A Celebrity Picture Story

I know you all have been wondering where I've been for the past week. Not.

Tim and I visited Washington D.C. and met my sister and brother-in-law there along with a childhood friend and her husband. We showed up on the red carpet, under-dressed for the occasion I'm sure. But it was fun and nobody said a word about our attire. As a matter of fact, they were pretty stunned to silence. It was awfully quiet!

Firstly, we were greeted by the lovely Marilyn Monroe, just as gorgeous as ever. What do you mean she's dead? Look at her! She's literally singing Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

And by the way, after she greeted the philandering...er, President and First Lady, I made it a point to encourage the two iconic figures to enjoy our company. They could hardly refuse.

I'll try not to annoy you too much, Mr. President.

When you start mingling with the heavy duty crowds like the political figures, they get a little uppity at times and think they can run you off by making you feel like you don't belong, but Tim fixed that very quickly. You have to treat his wife (that's me) like excellency or you'll be the one high tailing it out of there. Get it?

Beware, I have a lighter in my pocket.

Anyway, egos flared, tempers culminated into a standoff, but soon enough all was well and we moved on. Why? Because, someone got Tim's attention and his man hairs settled into a nice down pelt.

So this is how you're supposed to treat them...

Julia Roberts made sure he felt at home in the star-studded atmosphere. Watch it, Missy. I can assure you he's not going without a fight. I have to warn you, I pull hair and it hurts. Plus, he doesn't like big teeth.

So now I'm forced to lure my man away from the clutches of the tooth fairy and what better way than to have Mr. Clooney propose to me!

Sorry, Amal, but I think he just got tired of your good looks and humble attitude. I promise you, I won't be signing a pre-nup. There's a price for everything, but I'm priceless. Ask Tim.

Why yes, George, but the pre-nup is a no go.

Alas, I cannot compete with these Hollywood types. They come out of nowhere! How do I show Tim that I'm the better catch? I don't have the money, the fans, the looks, the ASS. I mean look at THAT!

He DID put a ring on it!

Beyonce's got all that, plus a mean ass look on her face. Does she have to rub it in so nastily? Men will be men, I guess. A warning to you lovely ladies out there. A cheater is always a cheater. If he does it to me, he'll do it to you. You haven't won anything! You'll see. Karma's a bitch.

Mmmhmmm. Go on, girl!

So what do we do to keep our marriages going? How do we compete in a world filled with people who believe that beauty is the catch-all when it comes to mating? We put our men in the field, that's what we do!

Sharing strategy!

Keep them busy. Allow them to compete and play hard. There are plenty of sports for them to get involved in and to help blow off testosterone.

Sharing jabs!

Soon enough, they will be so busy patting themselves on the back, shaking hands with their competitors.

I thoroughly enjoyed kicking your ass at Mario Brothers.

They will encourage one another, build future bonds, and share fist bumps.

 and all the while...back at the fortress....we're helping out as best we can to make this a better place, opening lines of communication, and sharing knowledge.

You missed a comma. See, right there.

We're bringing our passions to the table and opening our worlds to younger geeks who are eager to contribute!

See that? It's an integral. Amazing stuff!

Seriously, I had no idea this would turn into a "making progress in our relationships" type of post, but there you go!

And, that's a wrap!

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04 June 2014

5 Great Customer Service Techniques

I've noticed how much customer service has slipped in the past several years. The further up north I go, it seems to get worse. However, I think we may be making a comeback in recent times. I've been paying particular attention to the way I receive information from care providers over the phone. Some are good and some are piss poor. For the most part, I've decided those things which worked for me recently might be basic techniques I'd never noticed before.

So I thought, since this blog is about making progress, why not share my thoughts on how I feel about customer service and improving the user experience over the phone. After all, I'm the user in these instances and I can tell you, I very much liked these types of experiences.

Here are 5 things to remember when you want to provide great customer service.


When you have a customer on the phone and they are obviously frustrated, sometimes the easiest way to get them on your side is to apologize for the fact they are experiencing difficulty. It may not be your fault and there may be very little you can do to assist with their frustration. The fact that you apologized will make them feel you have taken responsibility for whatever it was, it doesn't matter.

Customer: This is unacceptable. I've been waiting over 5 minutes to speak with someone!
Customer Care Provider: I'm sorry you experienced such a long wait. I'll try and help you as quickly as possible. How may I start?

Now, how can anyone argue with that? I certainly didn't.

Show gratitude

When a customer asks you for something and you are able to provide it for them, don't make them feel like you're doing them a favor. Make them feel like they just gave you an opportunity you hardly ever get. After all, not everybody has a job these days.

Customer: I need to find out what this unusual charge to my account is and where it came from. Can you help me with this?
Customer Care Provider: Absolutely! 

Answer first

Don't answer a question with a question. Give a positive answer first, then ask your question. If you ask a question before answering theirs, you're making them feel like they are not the priority. No matter how trivial the question, answer it first before requesting other information.

Customer: I need to order a new debit card. Can you help me with this?
Customer Care Provider: Absolutely! May I have your account number please?

Conserve time

When a customer provides you with information, thank them. Trust me, they do not want to have to repeat themselves and you shouldn't have to read back their information to make sure you got it right. They have to confirm other information anyway so why waste time reading back something you obviously got right? Procedure? Policy? Talk to your supervisor and get that crap changed. It's annoying as hell.

Customer: My account number is 55534566787-1.
Customer Care Provider: Perfect. I'll check that for you. Just one moment while I pull up your account. For security purposes, can you verify your mailing address?

If they don't give you the correct mailing address, there is the opportunity to explore and provide further validation. If they do provide the correct mailing address, you've just saved some time for your customer.

Circumvent transfers

Never tell someone to hold while you transfer them to the correct party. It's the same as telling them it was their fault they got the wrong number. You want them to feel like they got the right number and you're just the person to connect them with the mortgage department.

Remember, it's not called a transfer. Transfer means you're giving the task to another party. When you ask someone if you can connect them and they agree, you are now performing a task you were asked to do.

Customer: Hello, I need to check the balance on my mortgage.
Customer Care Provider: Of course! Donna will be able to access that information for you. Would you like for me to connect you?
Customer: Yes please.
Customer Care Provider: I'm happy to do so, sir. Please hold while I connect you. Have a great day.

Why am I posting my thoughts on customer service today? Because, lately I've noticed this growing trend on how I'm treated on the phone when I interface with different organizations. I didn't use to get this level of care, and now I'm really happy to see that people are starting to enjoy their jobs again.

Or maybe I've become more important suddenly?  *brief silence*    ....nah

Have you noticed any trending techniques in the field of customer service?

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