5 Essentials For Genuine Characters

June 29, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Keeping it simple today. This is quick checklist for creating genuine characters:

  • Don’t shun stereotypes – While the overuse of stereotypes is definitely a no-no, but to utterly ignore every existing paradigm for character creation isn’t such a great idea either. Despite what people say, they actually do like the familiar and dragging them by the hair into totally new territory probably isn’t the best way to connect to your readers.
  • Appearance matters – You have to give your reader some idea of what your character looks like. This doesn’t mean giving the reader an info dump two pages long that ends up describing every single mole. Give them enough to form an image and then move on (and if you revisit physical appearance again be sure you are consistent).
  • Dialogue rocks – Dialogue is where the reader has the chance to hear the character speak in the words that they have chosen. Unless the book is narrated by the character the reader does not get the chance any other way. That means the dialogue should be authentic to the character and it has to be distinguished from other characters.
  • Everybody has a past – unless you sprung from the ground about a sentence before the beginning of the plot. How much of the character’s past you choose to explain or explicitly detail is up to the individual writer and plot but every character has a past, has opinions and viewpoints and ways of doing things. Characters that seem to exist only for the sake of the current plot never really feel genuine.
  • Relationships are necessary – You character is going to be interacting with others and it is important that you understand the relationship that they have with each of the other players. Is there a history? Is it a newly established connection? Are there other connections between the characters? If the relationships don’t work then the characters won’t feel right.

Did I forget any? Probably. Let me know what you think.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Continuity Errors

June 28, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Have you ever watched a movie where something is happening on a Monday and then the next day is Saturday and everyone is on their weekend? Not because time has passed that you haven’t been shown, but because they have literally jumped to Saturday without any events occurring in between, on or off screen.

Have you ever seen a character wearing one thing and then the next minute they are wearing something different? Or more importantly, they are eating something and it magically reappears, whole and untouched upon their plate in the next minute.

Continuity errors really jump out at me in films because you have to wonder with the number of screenings they do why nobody picked up on it. Of course, now that I’m writing regularly and finishing my own work, the answer has become quite apparent.

Too many details.

My brain is racing around trying to keep up with the main plot and sometimes small details slip by me without a second thought. Even on the third or fourth reading I don’t notice. Sometimes even friends read the story and don’t notice the error. Yet there it is in black and white, just waiting to be discovered and mocked.

I’m a lot nicer in my critique of stories since I’ve been writing.

The biggest problem I have had recently is in weather and the time of day. I particularly had this problem in my second MS (though I had numerous other problems with this MS, including a psychotic protagonist who refused to work as per the plan). The story takes place over six days and is divided into six parts with approximately seven chapters per part.

It all seems wonderfully structured and organised until you realise that chapter three of part one has a character watching a sunset and then in chapter five there is another sunset. Not the same sunset in a different location. Hours have passed and the sun is definitely setting again.

Part three is equally inept with a storm brewing, that never approaches. Not disappears or goes around. There is a storm brewing, everyone is worried about it and then it literally never gets mentioned again. Gone. Unimportant. Except for the reader who flicks back wondering if they missed something.

I also had a problem with directions. If you walk north from this building you end up at that one. Except when you don’t. Except when they head off north and exit the city from the same location, not passing the building they used to arrive at when heading in the same direction.

How to solve all these problems? I would say how to avoid them in the first place, except I know that is not going to happen, so now I’m just going to work on how to identify these problems and fix them.

1. Sometimes stories jump around or are not told in a linear fashion. After you’ve written the first draft, create a timeline of events and make sure that if something hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t mentioned.

2. Around the outside of your timeline, you might want to list any external phenomenon that are mentioned. Storms, tides, wars, grazing animals, etc. Anything that might give the reader a moment of confusion if it changes or disappears illogically.

3. Draw maps. I hate maps, I won’t look at them in books. If I can’t get a feel for the place from the writing, I certainly don’t want to try and decipher someone’s artistic rendering of it. However, for the sake of organising a place in my head, some sort of visual representation of the main areas (main city, main residences, main rooms) will help you sort out your location and spacing problems. Even in rooms, if the chair is against one wall, it can’t suddenly be under the window, etc.

4. As to fixing these problems, don’t do what I frequently do and change the story at one point without following the correction through. That just creates more problems in the long run.

Continuity errors – don’t think no one will notice.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Plot – Why So Complicated?

June 27, 2010 at 5:45 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Everyone will tell you a story has to have a problem. Or a complication. Or a conflict. It all amounts to the same thing. There has to be a central issue that is in some way connected to the central characters. Why? Because otherwise, what is your story about.

If someone handed me a book and said ‘read it’, my first question would be ‘what is it about?’. This isn’t me wanting the blurb read to me or someone’s review. This is me just wanting to know what is the point of the book. Boil all the fancy words down, what is the reason for the story. Read the two answers below and decide which you would read.

1. Luke and Lane are getting married.

2. Luke and Lane are getting married but Lane’s mother doesn’t approve.

The first tells me what events to expect but it doesn’t sound particularly interesting. Unless it is a biography about two people I had heard of and I was wanting to know about their wedding, I’m unlikely to read it. The second tells me there is a problem. They want to get married, but… And that but is enough to keep me interested. How does Lane’s mother react? Does she try to interfere? Stop the wedding? Why doesn’t she approve? So many questions that I instantly want answered and now I have to read the book to find out.

You have to have a complication.

And before you run off and try to think of something so intensely convoluted that even Nostradamus would have asked for directions the central complication doesn’t need to be too complex. The important thing is that there is a point to reading and the reader can expect some kind of satisfactory explanation. It is not really important to try to confuse them. If you want to make your story more complex, you can layer other complications and side plots in later, but the basic storyline should be relatively clear.

What kind of problem could there be?

Most people I’ve spoken to and most of the advice I’ve read points to four basic types of conflict that appear in books.

1. Man against society – The protagonist (for whatever reason) opposes the world and society in which he lives. The story then usually revolves around the protagonist trying to change things in some way.

2. Man against man – Two characters for whatever reason have opposing view points or goals and the clash of personalities creates the conflict. Frequently one will be villianised while the other will be set up as a hero.

3. Man against himself – Looking at internal conflict of someone trying to change who they are within.

4. Man against nature – Protagonist trying to defeat some kind of monster, natural disaster, climb a mountain, save the world, etc, etc.

While these are the basic types of conflict there are many books that use variations or combinations of these, plus if you include multiple sub-plots it will enable you to explore more than one of these within a single story.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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10 Ways to Know You Are Obsessed With Writing

June 26, 2010 at 5:40 am (Replay, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Today I would just like to share a list of ten things that indicate you’ve become obsessed by writing (not saying obsession is a bad thing):

1. You start re-reading every sentence that you write and then start re-writing every sentence, convinced that you are ‘improving’ them. I know when it’s time to stop when I have just written the same sentence ten times and I no longer even believe it to be written in English.

2. Your partner/best friend/child sends you an instant message asking if you will be eating breakfast/lunch/dinner.

3. You start arguing with your characters out loud: “No, you fool. You have to go…”

4. You have any kind of repetitive strain problem (wrist, arm, finger, neck, eyes).

5. You get home from your day job and your computer is turned on before you have put your bag down, taken your shoes off, fed your pets, or spoken to your children.

6. When you have told your friend/partner/child you will be ready to leave just after finishing one more sentence you write another couple of pages and forget you were meant to be finishing until they unplug the computer at the wall.

7. In your bag you have at least three notebooks and five pens, as well as a pencil in case all of you pens cease working on the same day.

8. Every single thing you read or watch is critiqued in terms of character, plot and setting.

9. When you meet someone for the first time you repeat their name, not to help you remember them but so that you can someday use that name in a story.

10. In conversation you directly reference events and characters you have been writing about (even though nobody else has read it yet).

Add your ‘you know you are obsessed with writing when…’

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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