Okay, maybe forever is a slight exaggeration but you really do have to be able to deal with having your characters in your head for a long time.
You spend so much time making them real, getting to know them, putting the through hardships and helping them overcome difficulties. You watch them grow – you help them to grow. You direct them and guide them and shape them at every turn.
Elspeth had an excellent post last week on characters when she shared her 10 Tips for Non-Perfection. It was her list to help the writers out there not view their characters through rose tinted glasses and it is a great list – well worth the read.
As a writer I’m truly cruel to my characters – particularly in drafting stages. Mostly because I want to see how my character reacts under every kind of pressure I can throw at them. In the end I usually pick the crisis that has the most interesting reaction and go with it, but when I’m still developing the character I can be really nasty to them.
But when all of that is said and done, underneath, I still really love my characters and can feel pretty caught up in their lives at times. One particular WIP that I’m still thinking about revising continues to stump me mostly because in the face of the massive danger being faced, nobody dies. Well, one character does, but we didn’t really like them and other than a brief mention in act one they really failed to have an impact.
I didn’t even intentionally write it that way.
It just turned out that after I’d finished the various minor skirmishes that were going on in the huge and dusty battle, every named character (villain or hero) tragically survived. It was a cold blooded conversation with a friend when I sat down with the draft and started systematically listing each character’s attributes and why they should die/live. I still haven’t actually rewritten it.
How do you and your characters get along?
We all know that tension and conflict are essential to an interesting plot, but sometimes stories just start to feel that little bit melodramatic. They take themselves so seriously and every little thing is a major drama for all the characters. Or a character enters the story – about a third of the way through – and their only real purpose seems to be that the middle of the story was getting boring and someone decided that they needed more tension to keep it moving. This can work if the problems caused by this character somehow link back into the central conflict, or it can feel like an add-in if the character comes, antagonizes people for awhile, and then when the story gets moving again, miraculously either has a change of heart or disappears.
There is virtually no end to the list of different ways you can add tension to a story. Sometimes those seemingly simplistic moments can become very tense (and not in an overly dramatic way when handled well). As a reader, these are my five favourite ways that authors introduce tension for their characters:
1. A secret is uncovered and the character is trying to prevent the knowledge from spreading. I always like intrigues and character dilemmas. You always wonder just how far is this character going to go to keep this a secret. And when the secret is revealed, how will they react? Admittedly, as a reader I like to be in on the secret and then the fun is seeing if the other characters in the story catch on.
2. Forced waits. I’m going to confess that I love this as a plot device because in real life this is what causes the most tension. You know what is coming, you know what you need to do, everything is progressing and then it all just stalls. You can really relate to the characters as they get frustrated and impatient and desperate to act while others use the time for further preparations and others still simply work themselves into a bundle of nerves.
3. Rivalry. It may be a cliché but I do love rivals when they are both well established characters and their both given a fair showing. The play between the two as they try to one-up the other, while not admitting that they care what the other thinks, can make for an intriguing and interesting story and can also create some really interesting tensions between the other characters as they realise what is happening.
4. RAS (Random Acts of Stupidity). Everybody is stupid at one point or another and when a character has clearly done something incredibly dumb, I like that to be addressed by the other characters, rather than simply ignored because it is convenient to the story. This can create really interesting group dynamics and the tension in the scene where someone confronts the character about their action can be excellently executed.
5. Anticipation. I remember reading a book in high-school (don’t remember which one) where a girl was having her thumb chopped off (various political reasons leading up to it). But they announced this at the beginning of the chapter. Guy has hold of the girl, blade drawn. She’s crying. Then someone else comes in and there is discussion and another speech and they keep coming back to this girl who has tears streaming down her face. The whole chapter you’re wondering – are they actually going to do this? Is she going to get away or be released? If they had made me wait to the next chapter to find out I probably would have given up reading the book because essentially nothing would have happened in the chapter, but this book was brilliantly executed. Just when you couldn’t take any more and you had to know, the answer is revealed and then the chapter ended.
What are your favourite kinds of tension to read? Or to create for the writers out there.
I’m participating in a blog hop set up by Alex J. Canauagh today. The question being – if I could only round up 12 films which 12 would I choose.
Tricky question and I had to really think about this and in the end I decided to go with the idea that I was going to be stuck in isolation for the rest of forever. Which movies did I have to take and what combination?
I decided to start with the child-hood classics.
1. The Dark Crystal – Jim Henson at his finest. An epic fantasy tale told with muppets with some of the most interesting characters I ever met as a child. I love Kira and her matter-of-fact nature as well as her ability to talk to pretty much any animal with a reasonable expectation of being answered.
2. Willow – Again, epic fantasy. This time it is a combination of Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer who are the defnitely draw though the shield bob-sled over snow we probably could have done without. Fairies, trolls, witches, prophesise, what more could a movie want?
3. The Princess Bride – Because it is awesome. Fantasy and romance and action and adventure all rolled into one very entertaining story.
Moving on some old favourites.
4. Indiana Jones (If I’m not allowed the entire trilogy I choose Temple of Doom – though many fans think that this is the weak link) – With the exception of the Crystal Skull (which I still maintain is not Indiana Jones) these movies are incredibly fun, action packed and scenic.
5. Clash of the Titans – The original. Clunky stop-go animation but that vulture is hilarious and this was my gate-way to Greek mythology. Can’t be without this one.
6. The Trouble with Harry – Hitchcock at his most amusing. I just like the twisted sense of humour.
The B-Grade Collection – I have this thing for really bad horror movies.
7. Tremors – If I can have all four of the movies I will, but otherwise I would have to choose the second one. Underground monsters that get smarter by the minute and eat anything that moves. A great laugh with one or two jumps thrown in (just so you remember it was sort of supposed to be a horror).
8. Ginger Snaps – Possibly the best werewolf movie I have ever watched and yet you end up laughing more than being scared by this coming of age movie mixed with horror. I will say that the scariest thing in this movie is Ginger’s mother (creepy).
9. Scream – This one was a toss up between The Faculty and Scream but Scream came out on top for two reasons. One – it gave us one of the best quotes from a bad villain ever: “My mum and dad are going to be so mad at me”. The second reason is that they made sure the last hurrah wasn’t dragged out. Short and sweet and done.
Finally, the feel good movies.
10. Elizabeth Town – Most people will hate this choice. Yes, it is Orlando Bloom. Yes, it does start with him trying to commit suicide. Yes, it mostly deals with a funeral. It is light and amusing and by the road trip at the end you are genuinely feeling good about yourself. This is what I want in a movie when I need cheering up.
11. 10 Things I Hate About You – An updated take on the Taming of the Shrew and my introduction to Heath Ledger, I love this movie. It is well done and uplifting.
12. Just Like Heaven – I needed at least one genuine, sickly sweet movie on this list. This is my choice.
You should head over to Alex’s blog and check out the rest of the blog hop.
The title of this post Not just a fond memory of David Bowie as the Goblin King in Labyrinth – though if you want a trip down memory lane you can watch the Goblin King himself in action and you may never eat peaches again. Though I do want to know how he did that thing with the glass balls. I know I tried this as a kid (with tennis balls) with zero success, than again, I can’t juggle either.
The title of the post is actually referring to character creation and how it is easy for characters to be strong and amazing when things are going well but would they actually cope with the situations they get thrown into.
If you read an older style action novel then the hero, stepping from mundane life to saving the world, will simply shrug off any number of attacks and set backs and continue to plow forward with reckless abandon, possibly having one touching loss of confidence scene. These characters don’t come off as realistic though they work because these stories are simply about the action and that’s all they ever claimed to be.
Far more realistic is the character that ends up catatonic after their world gets torn apart around them but that isn’t particularly interesting either and can kind of leave your story high and dry if your protagonist goes on a mental holiday for half the book.
So what does your character do as their world falls down?
Are they helping it along? Do they follow Sarah’s example (back to Labyrinth) here and smash the walls apart and give no heed to the possible consequence because it is worse to stay where you are? Do they run and hide and need someone or something to help them find their way again? Do they take advantage of the wreckage?
How does your character deal with the world falling down?
I have decided that the most evil, malicious creature in all existence is the shared photocopier at work. Admittedly, I can hand my photocopying in, neatly labelled and have someone else do it and return it in around three days but I hate asking people to do something I can easily do. Easily – if the stupid machine would actually work.
There is a writing related point at the end of this rant – I hope.
I was preparing some materials and needed approximately 60 copies of eight different sheets. Some were being done back to back, some needed stapling, some needed to be enlarged, shrunk or whatever. No problem.
Ran off the first sheet. It beeped away and hummed and did its thing and only had three paper jams during the run and only sprayed toner over four of the pages. That counts as success with this photo copier.
Next run, out of paper. Fill it up with paper and resume. No toner left. Because it sprayed it over the last run but fine (I’ll resist the urge to shake the machine and just get on with fixing it).
Walk to the main office, request toner, wait until they look up which toner goes in that photocopier, get toner, read directions, place in machine and oh, wait for it to realise it now has toner.
Three more sheets and then there is a paper jam.
Five more after that, it runs out of staples (okay,really wanting to hurt the machine at this point).
The bottom line is I ended up spending nearly forty minutes doing something that shouldn’t have taken very long and I should have accomplished easily. And I didn’t actually finish the run. I still had three sheets that I hadn’t photocopied at all.
My writing related point. Just because something sounds easy, doesn’t mean it will be. Your character can be perfectly capable of completing what should be a very easy task and yet something can happen to make it an absolute nightmare.
It’s become almost cliche now. The moments where in a story where two adversaries are facing off and they are playing mind games with one another that they each tell us their theory on the I know that they know that I know etc, etc. And it can be exciting to see the twists and turns these minds take in formulating a single move (whether to smile at a certain comment, or would that be a give away). It can also be exceedingly dull when neither of the characters are as smart as they think they are and their reasoning is both obvious and infantile.
What brought this up?
I’m rewatching Death Note – for the third time, yes, I know. I know.
I can’t help it. I love the plot. I love a lot of anime but Death Note stands, if not alone than at least a little off to the side of where most other anime stand. There are no epic fight sequences and only a few explosions. No magical transformations and gravity defying leaps into the air. Death Note is a thrilling crime story where both the killer and the detective trying to play the cat stalking the mouse and end up locked in one of the most intriguing mental play-offs I’ve ever watched (or read for that matter).
The difficulty being that the crime begin committed isn’t really a crime. Light has found a book that allows him to kill anyone if he writes their name in the book and can picture their face. The story is told mostly from his perspective though as the story progresses we begin to see more and more from L, our detective who has to catch a killer when he can’t even figure out how they are killing.
Both characters are brilliant, driven and ultimately, both are willing to die for their beliefs. Light believes he can create a better world using the note while L believes that the mysterious killer is evil and must be brought down. Both believe they serve justice (though Light strays further and further from this path as the story progresses).
As the two characters meet and begin to work together to solve the crime there are many sequences where the action halts and the internal dialogue is expressed. Both characters are desperately trying to trip the other character up. Light needs L’s real name and L needs proof that Light is the killer and he needs to know how Light has managed it.
All and all, this series works and it draws me in completely. So what makes this story work?
Clever dialogue, intelligent reasoning and very few holes in the logic behind the story. As long as you can believe that the Death Note can work, the rest of the story works perfectly. Even the rules for how the Death Note works are clearly established and maintained throughout the story. Both of the characters are complex and their development is clear. Light’s transformation as he gives in to the temptation of the Death Note is both logical and yet mesmerising.
The only complaint I would have of this series is the length and the lull in the centre of the story. This is caused when L seems to lose his way and in essence gives up. We all know that if characters sit around waiting for things to happen, the story gets dull.
Have you got a favourite television series that has taught you something about writing?
Or, why some situations are just doomed to end in tears.
I try to do yoga everyday. What that means is, I do it everyday on holidays and maybe once over the weekend once I’m back at work because I just do not find the time and when I have the time, I don’t have the energy. Occasionally I’ll manage the time during the week and I’m really glad about it because I feel so much better.
Unfortunately, my kitten seems to think that when I am stretching out on a mat that is must be an invite for her to come running over and to try to get pats. She rolls over my feet and if I’m lying down she’ll try to crawl onto my stomach and curl up and go to sleep, which doesn’t work for me when I’m about to move and try to keep the routine flowing. Clearly this is a situation where I am not going to win. Yes, I can put her in a different room and shut the door but that seems kind of mean and she is really cute and if it comes to a choice between spending time with my cat and yoga, the cat will win.
There are lots of these situations in real life where it is quite obvious that even though there are ways around a problem, it just isn’t going to happen. It is better just to concede and move on.
However, what if our protagonist was simply to concede and move on. They’ve been driven for page after page to accomplish something and finally they’ve decided to pass. How disappointing would that be?
The difference is that while I like yoga it is clearly low on my priorities (or at least lower than keeping my kitten happy). I work, I write, I spend time with family, I spend time reading, I spend time with friends, I watch television and let my brain take a break, I go for walks, I have lots of things that I do throughout the week that take priority over yoga. So, when I walk away from it, I’m still driven toward my goals.
Protagonists can walk away from things so long as they still have their main goal ahead of them. In point of fact it may make them more interesting if they are forced to make tough choices and give things away in order to achieve their other goals. It may be that they could save the world if only they didn’t try to bail their sister out of jail and left her to sort her own problems out. The protagonist may worry over this choice but in the end the choice is obvious.
In my life, yoga and kittens are not mixing well. For the protagnoist in my WIP her day job and her boyfriend are colliding and one is going to have to go. What choices do your protagonists face?
This week has been crazy busy and I know some of my posts have been pretty short. Still, it has been a great week and I am pleased to share some interesting links for the week.
Just reminding everyone about the series of guest posts I will be running from Feb 15. The title of this series is Novel Elements and I have asked writers (published or unpublished) to share what they think the most important element of a novel is and why. So far I have only been emailed a few responses but I know that other people were interested in participating. If you want to be a part of this series please email me your answer (try to keep it to about 200 words). The email is cassandra (dot) jade (dot) author (at) gmail (dot) com. Looking forward to reading some of these responses and I can’t wait to share them with my readers. Also remember to send a brief bio, a link to your blog, and a picture (the picture isn’t essential but it is nice).
I hope everyone had a great week and here are the links.
Big Beat From Badsville shares a fantastic post on how to turn something from Noir to Cosy in 12 easy stages. Well worth a read.
My posts for the week:
Following on from ‘Oh Sock’ – Response to Elspeth Antonelli’s post about missing socks.
5 Heroic Traits – what makes a hero?
Things that go thump in the night – wondering why so many characters over react to mundane noises and why the ignore things that might be important.
Best Movie Endings - What makes a great end to a movie?
A Banquet for the Characters – I sat down my latest cast and watched the chaos unfold. I still don’t know what my characters like to eat.
Old Friends or New – Do you call on the protagonists old friends or do they meet somebody new?
Other Posts on Writing:
LawrenceEz talks about using flash-backs and repressed memories.
Richard W Scott discusses why writing what you know might be a myth.
Margot Kinberg looks at characters bearing grudges and motivation.
Katie Ganshert explores using hooks at the end of chapters to keep people reading.
The Old Silly shares some advice on moron dialogue – more importantly, he gives examples on how to improve the dialogue.
Elizabeth Spann Craig discusses the bad guys and how to make your antagonist interesting.
DNBRD explores Steampunk and provides some great examples of authors from the genre.
Elspeth Antonelli recently had a post titled “Oh sock, where art thou” in which she asked why socks go missing and where do they go? She provides a number of possible theories and it got me thinking about all the things around us that we can’t explain that we could use for a story.
Now obviously I’m not about to launch a new project entitled the Slimy Socks of Saturn Strike Again. Mostly because I don’t like that much alliteration in a title and secondly, because missing socks would probably get old quickly and can you imagine trying to edit something like that. But…
Other things go missing. Not just socks. Rings, remotes, the last chocolate bar in the fridge, keys, documents, emails. These things just disappear. You can stand behind someone and watch them type in your email address (correctly), press send and it confirms that it has been sent and that email will still never appear in anyone’s inbox. It is gone. Lost in – well, who knows.
Socks by themselves may not make a story however the mystery of things disappearing has made many stories. Trolls, gremlins, brownies, and all manner of other mystical nuisance has been blamed for theft of objects and pranks on people. So have sink holes in time and space and all sorts of other things.
What if someone is making these things happen? Now we have a bad guy.
I love questions where I can’t be expected to know the real answer. It leave my mind open to come up with the most absurd. The absurd is always more fun than the logical and as neither answer can be proven or disproven, you might as well have fun.
Thanks Elspeth for such a thought provoking post and now I have to go and try to find the missing partner to my favourite pair of socks.