Bringing Fantasy to Life

July 21, 2010 at 6:36 am (Character, fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I was visiting Elizabeth Spann Craig’s very amazing blog when she posted a list of links that she’d posted on twitter. One of the many links that caught my eye was a link to the blog Novel Journey where Robert Liparulo was sharing his 5 tips for making fantasy fiction feel real. As an avid reader of fantasy fiction and a writer of it, I found this a fascinating read.

More importantly, his number one tip, I thought was possibly the best bit of advice that could be given on this topic. So, his number one tip for making fantasy feel real:

Characters who feel. The way to a reader’s heart is through a story’s characters. Doesn’t matter if they’re fighting dragons or stepping into the Roman Colosseum during a gladiator fight, a character has to experience fear and courage, love and heartbreak, blood, sweat and tears—all of it realistically rendered in a way the reader understands.

As I said, I’ve read a lot of fantasy and as a reader I know this to be true. The world can be beautifully structured and described but unless the characters feel real the story just isn’t going to work. And it is the way that characters react to situations that make them feel real. Stories where the characters shrug off weird thing after weird thing are really hard to connect to because you want the character to look closer at something and they don’t, and you want them to ask the right question, and they won’t. It makes it hard as a reader to really get into the story.

Thanks Elizabeth for sharing this link and thanks to Robert Liparulo for sharing some great advice with us all.

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Collecting Characters

July 14, 2010 at 6:07 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Thanks everyone for your comments and warm welcome back.  I’m still slightly jet-lagged, back at work full-time, have in-house guests and a number of other things going on at the moment so am having a wonderful time trying to settle back into a rhythm. No writing happening at the moment but I know now for sure that I’m going to be rewriting my WIP in first person. Ever since I made that decision I’ve had ideas and pieces of narration flowing through my head continuously so I know I’m on the right track.

This post I want to talk a bit about my trip but not about all the amazing things I saw. I want to talk about the characters I collected.

I am a people watcher. I can’t help it. And when I see a person my first thought is usually about what sort of character could they be. From there my head then adds details and backstories and extra physical features and the final character ends up nothing like the person that was the catalyst for their creation which is probably just as well as they are based on a five minute impression of someone I’ve probably never spoken to.

So which characters did I collect?

The Bore. This is the guy who sits behind you in the bus and tells the same boring story four times throughout the day. Everytime someone new comes along, out comes the story. And it was a boring story to begin with. This is the guy whose girlfriend starts talking over because he is that boring. Yet he insists on getting to the end of his story even if nobody is listening. Plus, he doesn’t vary the story or expand it with the retelling. It is told the same way every time with the same words and in the same monotone drone.

The Tourist.  There are people who tour and then there are tourists. The tourist is the one who actually believes that speaking louder will help people understand the words they are saying. The tourist is the one who criticises the hotel staff for not speaking English (in a non-English speaking country). The one who pokes the breakfast rolls and grimaces at the idea of eating food that they are unfamiliar with. Instead of responding with wonder and the strange and unusual, the tourist either photographs it or turns their nose up at it.

The Impatient Man. This one is the guy who does everything short of running you over to get ahead of you in a cue. Then he proceeds to try to work his way around you, gently shoving you and your belongings to the side. When that doesn’t work he starts calling out to the person at the head of the cue trying to get himself a reason to walk around you. Then, if someone else dares to push in anywhere in the line, this is the man that goes off at them and berates them. Signature of the impatient man is the rumpled, grey suit. It is always grey for some reason.

The Dreamer. This one I saw several of, mostly in London. They wander around in the parks staring at the grass or the trees and they seem to tilt in the direction the wind is blowing. These people are in serious danger of getting run over by bike riders or even running squirrels because they are not at all focused on what is happening around them. They frequently have paper backs stuffed into their back pockets.

I collected many others but what is important is that being around new people in new situations got me looking closer at the people around me. I am always watching people but this trip really helped me to focus on some of the smaller details.

One thing that amazed me was when I was in line to go to the Eiffel Tower there were a group of soldiers, with very large guns, walking around underneath and generally keeping an eye on things. That kind of freaked me out because seeing a soldier in uniform is kind of something for ANZAC day only and seeing someone with a gun that big in public is fairly uncommon in Australia. It was interesting watching how some of the other visitors responded. Some tried to photograph them and were rebuked. Others utterly ignored them, treated them as if they were part of the scenery. Others snuck covert glances at them while others stared openly. It was just interesting seeing the array of reactions.

Well, I probably won’t get to post again until the weekend but I am wishing everyone a very good week. In the meantime, I would love to hear some of the characters you have collected over the years.

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They’re Dropping Like Flies

June 23, 2010 at 7:15 am (Character) (, , , )

Actually this is true literally as well as metaphorically. They recently sprayed the flies at work (fortunately over a weekend so I didn’t have to deal with the smell).  The flies did die and for two days there were none in the room and then new ones invaded. Now we’re waging a war with them and hitting them with various books and rules and whatever else is handy and I am sad to say we’re losing. The flies just keep coming.

The title of the post was actually talking about people I know. Everyone is getting sick or tired or both. I didn’t post yesterday because of absolute and complete exhaustion. I know that if I were to go to any group of teachers in the state at the moment they would be equally exhausted and there would be a high number falling ill. It’s the end of term.

We’ve all worked ourselves ragged over the last few weeks trying to meet deadlines for this term while trying to prepare for next and now that the final report has been written our bodies are telling us, enough is enough.

It is interesting that this phenomenon of people in similar professions getting sick at the same time is fairly common.  The stresses of various jobs really have a solid impact on people.

Could I use this in a story? Coud it add depth to a character or group of characters? Possibly but I’m too tired right now to try and find the link.

What I am going to do is catch up on reading a few blogs and then I’m going to crash on the couch for a few hours because tomorrow I have to get up and be and entertaining, energetic and enthused and I need to keep that up for three more days. Or at least keep up a very good pretense.

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Heroic Failure

June 16, 2010 at 5:30 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve previously looked at heroic traits and my favourite heroes but recently I’ve been thinking about why some heroes just don’t live up to their hype.

Personally, I have never liked Superman. I know, this is a terrible thing I am saying and many of you are staring daggers at the screen but I’ve just never really connected with Superman. Why? Because the man in the red cape and blue lycra has it far too easy. The only reason he’s ever in peril is if someone manages to get hold of one particular kind of rock (which is meant to be hard to find but there seems to be prolifically spread throughout the stories) and you just can’t care about someone who is mostly invincible. I did like Tarentino’s take on the Superman story as explained in Kill Bill 2. It may be a long winded scene and the story itself has very little connection to the story of the movie (there is a very loose tie-in at the end of the tale) but it is fascinating hearing Bill’s perception of the man of steel.

So where do other heroes fail and why do they fail? And is it actually failure or is just a matter of these heroes not being directed at the right audience?

Examining movies the obvious character to pull apart would seem to be Riddick (or at least it would be obvious if you were currently inside my head). Riddick was an incredibly interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black and his characterisation and development were smoothly executed, he had some of the best lines of the movie, and while he was the hero of the story at no stage did he make you want to gag because he didn’t have that sudden epiphany of “what have I been doing with my life”. He was who he was and his essential personality did not change.

Then we move on to Chronicles of Riddick and while it might seem a pointless exercise to attack Riddick’s character when the entire movie had issues, I’m going to do it anyway. To start with, the minor developments of character that he underwent in Pitch Black are gone and we seem to be back at the beginning of Riddick’s character development. In their haste to try to develop a back-story we have info-dumps all over the place that weigh our character down and don’t really help us to understand him any better. As a hero he fails to appease the audience because at no stage do we care if he succeeds at overcoming an incomprehensible ‘evil’ army. The worst thing about his character here is that he becomes less heroic and more unlikable by the minute in this film. Heroic failure – though feel free to disagree if you found some redeeming qualities in Riddick.

If I look to books then I start to think about Janelle from Ann Bishop’s Dark Jewel’s Trilogy. I love these books and the stories. Janelle’s character is fascinating and frightening and completely mesmerizing, but as a hero she doesn’t really do much for me. Her changeable nature from passive, to fragile, to furious in the blink of a few pages makes her an interesting character, but hard to support as the hero. The characters surrounding her are more what you could call traditionally heroic, but even they are deeply flawed individuals. Great story but hard to find the hero.

Does it matter? Do we need a ‘hero’? Do we have to like the hero for the story to be effective? Clearly in the case of Ann Bishop I didn’t like the hero on reflection and can see all the flaws in the other candidates and yet I still loved the story. In the case of Pitch Black, I liked the development of the anti-hero but found the break down of Riddick’s character in the sequel to be tiresome and boring which completely undermined the little story being told.

Your thoughts?

Who are the heroes that you never liked?

What makes a hero work for you?

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Mannerisms

June 9, 2010 at 5:24 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

We all have those odd little ticks and quirks that make us who we are. Our characters should too.

I would make a terrible character. I’ll tap anything on any surface and I’ll do it continuously until someone makes me stop. When I have a pen in my hand I flick the lid off, just a little bit, and then click it back on. I do this over and over again. If I have a tic-tac packet I will rattle it and open it and close it until it drives everyone else in the room nuts. I would probably be the character in the horror story that gets shoved in the path of the monster while everyone else flees.

But those little ticks and traits are part of what make me who I am.

So you need to consider is your character:

  • a hair flicker
  • an eye-lash flutterer
  • a nervous laugher
  • a twitchy sitter
  • a toe tapper
  • a question tagger (You understand what I mean, right?)
  • a jacket straightener
  • a collar turner
  • a ring fiddler
  • a lip chewer
  • an ear tucker
  • a head turner

And I’m sure you can add many dozens of interesting traits to this list. Let’s see how many we can come up with.

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Minor Setbacks

June 5, 2010 at 5:57 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

When writing I tend to focus on the big things, the major complications and problems the characters are facing and sometimes I forget that it is the little things that can make or break a person.  Something really small can set off major turmoil for an individual.

The big things are important. Characters have goals and they go through certain challenges to reach them, and these all have an impact on our characters. But while these big, major events are going on, life keeps happening and we all know that life has a way of having the last laugh.

It might be as simple as having a friend not feeling well and so missing the usual moral support. It might be the mother who says the wrong thing at the wrong time and utterly shatters what remained of the character’s confidence. It might be that the sales assistant is not interested in assisting and it is just the last straw in bringing a character down.

Then the character reacts.  Because they are feeling pressured, instead of feeling sorry for their sick friend they might explode instead. They might fail to say something as simple as ‘hope you feel better’.  The situation escalates. The friend is now not only feeling sick but slighted and now doesn’t feel any particular need to help out. They aren’t actively hindering our character but they aren’t lifting a finger to help them.  The situation is going to deteriorate fast and now our character is in real trouble.

Minor setbacks – definitely having an impact on our characters.

What are your thoughts?

Do you find the big events interesting or do prefer to see what is going on behind the scenes?

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Is it a fashion statement?

May 22, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Setting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I usually have a lot of fun dressing my various characters.  Mostly because I have such a strong mental image of the character and few of them ever dress for what they end up doing – plus I set them in fantasy worlds and so I don’t really worry about whether people dressed like that in any particular era or not.

That said, the protagonist in my latest WIP is giving me all kinds of trouble. I have a strong mental image of her but the clothes keep changing and they are always very practical, clothes. Lots of leather and denim and most of it torn and patched, which given the hostile nature of the world I’m building makes perfect sense. But it isn’t all that fun to write about. Still, every time I try to dress her differently I just think, there is no way she’s going to wear that skirt and she certainly isn’t going to wear bright colours and try to attract a lot of attention.

I did destroy her denim jacket though. Which lead to the very touching boy lending her his brown vinyl jacket scene which wasn’t really an improvement on her look but was an interesting interaction between the two characters.

Dressing your characters? Fashion statement or practical? Or both? Love to hear your views.

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My Favourite Female Protagonist

May 20, 2010 at 8:50 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Following on from yesterday, where I sent out the call for bloggers to tell us about their favourite female protagonist, today I am sharing mine.

I went through all of my fantasy and looked longingly at old favourites and yet I knew right from the beginning who I was going to pick as my favourite.

The winner is:  Nest from the Knight of the Word Trilogy by Terry Brooks.

Nest is such an interesting protagonist. She isn’t little miss confident and she doesn’t run straight over every other character. She is quiet and thinks things through. She’s afraid and yet determined. As the series goes on she progresses from a child looking for guidance to a woman who is ready to create her own path.  Nest is definitely my favourite protagonist and she owes it to the strong character development that takes place throughout the series.

Favourite Nest moment:  Has to come from book two, when Nest is really transitioning from girl to woman and she meets with John Ross for the first time since she was a child.  The subtle shift in their relationship is so beautifully constructed.

Close runner up, Tori Alexander, just couldn’t match the development because Tori started her trilogy already fairly confident and determined and didn’t undergo as much change.  Jill from Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series is always great fun but her transition isn’t as smooth or as logical at times. I could have picked Calandra but I think I’m biased on that one.

If you haven’t added your link yet – visit yesterday’s post and add your blog.  Can’t wait to find out who your favourite female protagonist is and why.

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Favourite Female Protagonist

May 20, 2010 at 5:50 am (Character, fiction) (, , , , , , , )

I love reading books with interesting female protagonists.  Anything other than the basic damsel in distress works for me. Strong, funny, awkward, shy, as long as they feel fresh and unique. What I want to know is who are your favourite female protagonists from books or movies.

So…if you’re interested create a post sharing your favourite female protagonist and then add your link to the list.  Let’s see how many female protagonists we can list.

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Click here to enter your link and view the entire list of entered links…

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What’s Your Point of View?

May 18, 2010 at 6:52 am (Character, Death's Daughter, Thoughts on Writing, Voice) (, , , , , , , , , )

After finishing Death’s Daughter I wrote a post over on my old blog about the difficulties of writing in first person.  I made the decision at the time that I wouldn’t be using first person for the next few projects because I found it limiting in that I could only tell the story from one person’s point of view and if that person didn’t know something critical than the reader couldn’t be told that critical bit of information.

I’ve since written two complete works in third person.  One is a train wreck that I will eventually edit and rewrite and work into something usable.  I blame the protagonist, she stepped outside the action one too many times and was out-shone by the entire rest of the cast. Shame really because the concept and the world work really well and the use of third person allowed for such a broad exploration (which might be how my protagonist got lost).

The other was a less ambitious piece as it was aimed at young adults and follows the narrator essentially sits on the shoulder of the main character for most of the story with a few minor deviations. This piece has been polished, to a point, but I’m not sure what to do with at the moment. It should be the start of a series but I’m not really ready to write the next installment and I don’t know that I will be any time soon, so it is cooling its heels while I think it through.

Now I’m starting a third project and it is also in third person. I think it is time to reflect on my choice.

I still love first person. I love being inside a character’s head and feeling what they feel, learning as they learn. As a reader I enjoy it and as a writer I find it immensely satisfying. For character development.

As far as constructing a plot, I find third person much easier to work with and it provides me with more opportunities and avenues to persue. And you can still construct very interesting characters and show their feelings and reactions, though at a slight distance.

I like both. I think I might try my next project in first person again because it has been awhile but I really am enjoying writing in third person as well.

What point of view do you use?

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