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Posts from the ‘characterization’ Category

Writers and death

That I should rise and you should not.

I’m somewhat under-slept, as I had an ambulance call-out, and then spent much of the rest of the night with my littlest cat, who was in some distress.  This did not end well, which leaves me less coherent than my usual incoherence. I’m tired and somewhat emotionally drained.

It’s been a rough period of partings for me. I had to deal with death first hand as a young conscript medic back before the dinosaurs went extinct, and the older you get the more often it seems to happen. I’m as soft as goose-grease, but it had to be dealt with, and as well as you possibly could – not only because the death of any man diminishes me, but because the living need you. That’s doubly true if you’re the one either deciding they have to die or doing your best to prevent that. They don’t need you less-than-competent because of emotion. Read more

The revenge of the doorstop

I’m damned sure I’m not the only reader who has hoped there’d be just a few more pages… (if you’re a writer who doesn’t read – trust me, you’re doing wrong. Like deciding to have babies without all this DNA sharing stuff, it doesn’t really work well, unless you’re a newt. Those sort of books work well… for parthenogenetic newts.)

Of course I wanted a few more pages to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings at about 450K and to Louis L’Amour’s Flint at about 45K.

It wasn’t actually a specific length I wanted – just more of a book I had enjoyed. Read more

In the absence of Mr. Character

In the absence of Mr. Character…

Who steps in?

We all know the bloke who is most conspicuous by his or her absence. Sometimes this is an event to be celebrated, or not, but what is truly visible (even if only in retrospect) is that they’re not there.

I’m afraid it’s the classic hallmark of amateur pantser (a person who doesn’t pre-plot their books). Now there are some fantastic pantsers out there. There is nothing wrong with it as a writing technique, it can be incredibly successful… as long as you are prepared to back-fill, at need. Read more

Unreliable witnesses

“It’s all a question of point of view.”

Back in the dark ages – 1980’s in South Africa the BBC Radio News reported on a labor dispute/picket protest led by the ANC aligned organizers in a fishing town up the West Coast of the Cape. The picket line had been savagely broken up by the police with dogs (the BBC reporter of the time was a passionate promoter of the anti-apartheid cause, and as his media was not within the country could report whatever he liked without any form of censorship.) The local Afrikaans press reported on the incident too. There wasn’t a lot to report on from one horse towns on the West Coast, and the Cape Town Riot squad dispersing a protest with dogs was news, if not big news. The one set of media carried it from their point of view as a bad thing, and the other as a good thing. Read more

Planting rocks for fun and profit

One of the minor pleasures of writing is setting up your major characters to have not just rocks thrown at them, but a major rock slide. Metaphorically speaking.

And for maximum impact, you want the reader to say not “Where the hell did those rocks come from?” but, “Oh, of course that was going to happen, I should have seen it coming.”

For that, you need to keep the reader aware of these stresses and hot buttons that make your characters particularly likely to walk under that cliff, and the clues that tell them the cliff is dangerously unstable. It’s the difference between having your character knocked out by a random rock slide, and having him knocked out by a rock slide in a place clearly labeled Fallen Rock Zone. After he’s made his speech about how modern civil engineers never, ever make a road cut that leaves unstable masses above the road.

Okay, now to specifics.

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Why you shouldn’t read reviews

“I feel my very existence threatened,” the Sila said.

Mr. M. cast a sardonic eye on the space she claimed to occupy. “How is that new? You’re only a shadow of smokeless flame anyway.”

“I can manifest myself to mortals,” she snapped, rapidly flashing into view as a beautiful almost-human woman, a serpent with flames flickering along its scales, and a cloud of blue smoke. “And at least I’m not limited to one form. Don’t you ever get tired of slithering around as a metal snake attached to an ugly turtle head?”

“They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground, They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound,” Mr. M. quoted, loftily ignoring the insult.

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Trying too hard: How to lose the reader before she opens your book

I am not sure whether this is a rant about one of my personal bêtes noires or good advice about what not to put in a blurb. I guess that will depend on how many people share my jaundiced reactions to the examples.

The particular style of “trying too hard” I’m thinking of today is the supposedly humorous novel whose author beats you over the head with how funny! it all is before you even have a chance to open the book. I assume we’ve all encountered the sort of sad-sack fiction in which the author makes sure you know that a character’s dialogue is hysterically funny by having all the other characters fall over themselves laughing every time Mr. Funny says, “Good morning.” Excellent way to get a book walled before the end of the first chapter.

The recent discussion of Bob Honey reminded me of the many ways in which a writer can make sure I don’t open his book at all. And no, I’m not going to take examples from that book; it’s needlessly cruel, like nuking fish in a barrel. I trawled through Amazon’s blurbs and reviews for Fiction – Humor and found plenty of material.

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