Posts Tagged ‘ narration ’

Fish or Beef? Family and Taste.

We all know family changes us. There’s the big nature/nurture argument to go with it. What if our ancestry, our genes, does too?

The three pictures of forests spread throughout this post, for example, show the diversity of life even within one snapshot of forest. Place effects story and lives so much. Don’t forget if your story is based in cold climates to make it snow in winter or in wet climates to have swampy areas etc. Think about how these climates affect lifestyles, too; do they swim, canoe, ski, snowboard, travel, hitch-hike, rock climb?

Place is more important than you think. I read a book last year: Who’s your city? by Richard Florida. The idea is that certain qualities in people such as creativeness, liberalism, traditional etc will draw people to certain areas where these qualities are popular and centralised. It makes for an interesting read and some videos can be found online that talk about it. I read it as a: where should I live? Where would I like?

These qualities, if in the wrong amounts for your character, can, of course, create a lot of great tension in a piece. It’s worth experimenting with!

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Many families don’t know much of their history, at least not beyond grandparents. This can be where you find out who you really are. I’m not plugging any ancestry sites – usually the best information is on site anyway – but perhaps there are some places you can get started.

Personally, I know my grandfather was Latvian. I’ve looked into their culture, their way of life, and realised a lot of it I’d picked up without ever going there. From an incredibly young age I’ve loved anything pickled and vinegary. I thought, and still do think, that it is sweet. In Latvia dishes like sauerkraut and verrry vinegary fish are common place.

I also love potatoes and prefer chicken to beef. I also absolutely love fish. A lot of these things are popular or usual in Latvia, too.

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Perhaps it would be useful to get into your own histories to find a story. I’m thinking of writing a novel based in Latvia so perhaps there is a whole story of injustice, love or adventure hiding in your past too, whatever origin you may have.

If not, at least this might give you ideas about how to portray characters from other cultures: often they’ll pick up some, if not all, of the likes and taste, even if they never lived there.

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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!

“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!

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