Posts Tagged ‘ character ’

Character: My Credentials.

Or something like that…

I have a little success story to report! I have won the October competition run by The Literary Consultancy on their facebook page to describe a character in three sentences based on the Diderot painting above.

I have received an analysis of my entry by Rebecca Swift and my writing is showcased in a post atop their facebook page . I’m very thankful for the recognition.

For those interested, this is what I wrote:

“Peteris was the shy, shuffling type that walked through squares with his eyes to the cobbles but, once home, sat dreaming through dark windows. He was a stable, dependable chap that was often called upon to fix watches, sketch portraits or thread a woman-friend’s needle. He never spoke an unneeded word.”

Please tell me what you think and maybe try your hand at the premise of the competition. I’d love to see what you come up with!

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“Hello, Sir. Nice day, isn’t it?” *Character*

Character is a tricky thing to get right. If you get it spot on, it should be seamless, natural.

Dialogue is often the biggest facilitator of character.

Perhaps the first sentence is a little like this guy?

The title to this post, for instance, would imply a formal individual – the sentence uses formal language and is essentially small talk. It also leans toward implying a man over a woman – the speech is to the point. The pause before “Sir” indicated by the comma suggests something else: anger or the idea they are not quite happy deferring to the listener. It’s amazing how much you can give away casually in speech. Try reading things aloud, with punctuation, to spot things.

A girl may be more likely to phrase the sentence this way: “Hello Sir! Don’t you think it’s a lovely day?”

How about this one for a woman?

Both of these sentences are obviously high class when looking at word choice. This one seems more feminine because the world gets more layers of feeling than “good” “bad” and “crap”. Also, the exclamation point indicates an excitement or happiness about a very banal subject that most men don’t seem to have. She also asks for more validation than a man would with “don’t you think”. I’ve never heard a man phrase it that way.

Now, a lower class male may instead say: “Good day, ain’t it, eh Sir?”

Or this one for a worker?

The sentence structure here has dissolved. It’s less proper and there also seems to be no problem with the address of “Sir”.

However, there are other ways to impart character than dialogue. Narration and actions laced through it are also great ways but they are often done badly.

Many starting out writers will overload readers with information. (The colour of their shirt, eyes, hair, skin, shoes, necklace). Most of this is unnecessary: a big dollop of information all at once is normally never good. Information needs to be dispensed slowly throughout a piece of writing. The appearance of a character beyond small amounts of info (well dressed, shabby, ruffled, sporty etc) isn’t needed and is no substitute for character. Even the things I have mentioned here can be shown in setting. For instance, they may have a messy house with cheap goods littered about and no TV or they could have a treadmill and weights by the window.

If you show character well enough, a reader should be able to fill in the blanks – just give them the stuff that is unchangable, necessary or central to the plot and only if  you don’t show it elsewhere. Always, always, wonder if it is worth showing in other ways, too.

Good narrative manages this balancing act well. For example:

Thomas sat straight up in the wing back chair, a ruffle of hair over one eye. He jerked it free and took a large sip of red wine, savouring the taste before the swallow.

This is much better than, for instance:

Thomas sat in a wing back chair, old and patterned like wallpaper – the repetitive kind. He had dark mahogany, curly hair and often moved it to the side before drinking more wine. His ice blue eyes and porcelain skin made a great contrast to the drink.

This has much less character and implies less about the man. It tells us more about him, yes, but these facts aren’t all necessary. It’s pretty clunky, too. In a story, this would slow down the plot and bring a reader to a halt. Keep that story moving!

Hopefully this has given you a bit of an insight into how I do character. Please let me know what you think!

“Mummy, where’s the sky gone?” (World Creation).

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Many of us more fantasy aligned types have thought about or actually tried to create a new world in a story to varying degrees of success.

So, I will explore: What makes a strong world?

  • Rules.

Yes, yes. World creation is all about imagination, fun. There are no rules! But, there are. Sorry. A world is only chaotic to a point.

There needs to be some degree of consistency. For example, in Laurell K Hamilton’s books werecreatures, vampires and many other types of creature of the night/day and known to the general public.

This is a pretty popular idea. What makes it good is that society changes. The rules change to accommodate this change in history:

Parents don’t want their children to be taught by werecreatures in case they are infected somehow by blood to blood contact. (The usual parent overprotection).

Necromancers are employed to reanimate the dead to sort arguments over their wills or verify how they died for insurance companies.

But this isn’t all. These supernaturals aren’t gods.
– They can be killed.
– Zombies can only be raised for a day before they rot.

There are LIMITATIONS to their powers. Every character you write about needs limitations, be it inside a new world or our own.

These limitations also go toward the next condition of a good world:

  • Realism.

How many times has there been a big bad vampire who hates mankind and suddenly falls in love, seemingly at the drop of a hat, with a rather stupid (and very young) human?

Think about it. It wouldn’t happen. The years a vampire would have on the young human would make them boring, if attractive. A vampire jaded for so many years would be more likely to eat/fuck them than start a relationship.

Even if you don’t talk about vampires, or have a bad guy…humans can’t live on lava without protective systems in place. Magic doesn’t come out of nowhere. It lives in the genes or radiation or alien experiments. Or, humans have always had it perhaps but it doesn’t come out of nowhere!

Part of realism is also good description. A good world cannot be created without a good idea of what it looks like. However, one caveat: don’t go overboard! The amount of fantasy stories I’ve tried to read which start straight off the bat with new words I’ve never seen and names with too many apostrophes…it doesn’t bear thinking about.

My advice: start simple. Bring your audience into a new world slowly. Let them acclimatise. Show them one or two things at a time. Don’t use too many new words too quickly. Be kind to your reader or they’ll throw your book across the room. (Or click that big nasty red X in the top right hand corner of their screen).

Now for the next big condition.

  • Originality.

This doesn’t mean vampires, angels and fairies aren’t allowed. It means find a new angle. Talk about them in a new way. Find an aspect that hasn’t been explored. Turn stereotypes on their head.

Talk about evil angels, vampires in the circus, tamed by humans, fairies that live in parrot cages in the front room of every home. Come up with something new (but interesting)!

Novelty sells, if it’s good.

One big problem writers have with fantasy writing is…

  • Character.

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Writers get so wound up and lovingly intertwined with their new world that they forget about the people in it. Here’s what I view to be the most important thing with new worlds and fantasy: we have to relate.

It’s not as hard as it sounds. Yes, you have a new world, something never seen or heard of before. Maybe the people have two heads, eight legs or maybe they’re telepathic; it doesn’t matter. They still need elements of humanity, on the inside.

This can be many things: clumsiness, an ability to anally organise their whole life, a fear of the dark, vanity… There are so many examples!

This is important: without relateability, your readers won’t like your story. If the main character isn’t like them or their friends or their enemies, if the story in some way doesn’t help explain their world, they won’t read your story.

The last and probably most important condition I can think of is:

  • Freedom.

You have to be free as a writer to create a world. Umbrellas don’t exist, seas don’t exist, monogamous sex doesn’t exist. Don’t think about what others may think of your story or if they’ll judge you.

No matter what you write, hell even if you don’t write, people will judge you. That’s life. This is writing. Get over it.

Even big writers like Stephen King get hate mail on a weekly basis.

So what? He still sells. His books are still read. He has lots of money.

As a writer you have to be prepared to write badly (this is what edits and rewrites are for – or that very useful recycling bin). You have to be prepared to put the preposterous onto paper.
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Maybe sex gives a person the memories of their partner. Maybe sex swaps consciousnesses of people so sex must be had in sets of two? Maybe hair colour is changeable at will?

It’s for you to decide. It’s for you to come up with the consequences in your world.

And, for god’s sake, it doesn’t reflect on you (or shouldn’t). What your characters do and say should be about their personalities, not yours. That’s what a good reader would see. That’s what a good story does – it takes you on a journey through imagined lives and, perhaps, imagined worlds.

All the pictures featured here are by surrealist painters. Surrealism is your best friend.

Here are the links to the galleries of the two artists featured:
http://vladimirkush.com/
http://kukowski.pl/
Some artistic nudity is present.

Please feel free to explore their sites and enjoy their talent.

As usual, I can be found on twitter, too. Look here: Me
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The Pen’s Catalyst

Today I’ve entered the National Poetry Competition which is one large chunk of poem off of my mind. I’m now turning to short stories to fill my time and (hopefully) my repertoire.
But it’s hard. Stories have to have stronger characters, longer (or bigger) ideas.

It has taken me a while to get started so I thought I’d share some ideas for inspiration as we all have good and bad days at writing. The thing that often eludes us is a good idea. At least, that’s what I find. So where do these ideas come from?

This is my writing desk on a good day: sunny and equipped with both a pen and a notepad. It’s also clear and free of plates or rubbish, for once. The thing is, a good writing space is not a creation machine for creative ideas. It is an area free of distractions (especially the internet!) which provides a fertile ground for ideas to grow.
However, the ideas are often found in other ways…

I’ve been told to read, read and read some more if I stuck. Galleries, museums and exhibitions are always a good idea too. Or travel! I’ve often found a really atmospheric picture will spark something in my mind.

I have a huge collection of landscapes are portraits on my computer in various folders which, in some way, have sparked the imagination or caught my attention. This one, for example, did both. The photo shows almost every hue of blue. I expect some don’t even have names in English. Not only that, but the picture asks questions: what are people like that have to survive such a cold, hard environment? Do they live in tribes, families or larger communities? What is the world like without the blemish of larger civilisations?

These questions and curiosities are useful; if they captivate you, chances are, they will captivate a reader of something you’ve written about it, too.

Therefore a great place to start for story ideas is always what interests you. What are you passionate about that you haven’t written about? Think about writing a story about it. Think about some original characters, a storyline. Use your hobbies, your profession – professions of your friends even! Even a country your ancestors came from could be interesting, if you are passionate about it.

Sometimes a situation can work, too. Two people inside an elevator or lovers discovered in a field by their religious parents. It might be possible to pool locations, professions and actions in a bag and draw out one of each – see what comes up!

If all else fails – write about the people outside your window. What do they look like? How do they walk? How can you describe their exact gait to get it perfect in the reader’s mind? Write from the point of view of this character – what are they interested in, what do they like, dislike? Are they educated or dumb? Able-bodied or handicapped?

This exercise could help you find a character you’re happy with. Someone you’d want to follow for a short story or even a novel.

If these people aren’t interesting, why not search for emotive portraits on the internet or deviantart? Find something that interests you or sparks and idea and get writing!

These two, for example, are pictures of very different people that have caught my attention and made me think about their story, their lives.

One last suggestion; I’ve once been so stuck I’ve resorted to primary school tactics and picked story starters from the internet like:

“A fire started in the middle of the room….”

“My hair fell to the floor in a heap.”

“…and that’s when the window exploded.”

Any random idea for a story starter, like these, write it down – you never know when it could come in handy!

Do you have any other examples of what starts stories off for you? Let me know!
And, as usual, if you want to hear more from me, here’s my twitter page: https://twitter.com/Holly_emma_Ice

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