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
“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
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.
“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.
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.
Some sausage is made with –as Sir Terry Pratchett put it ‘named meat’. Um. I’d take that with a pinch of salt. And ketchup or the sauce-of-disguise of your choice. Like meat pies (especially the infamous floater (as in surrounded by pea-gravy) either eaten with gusto (another kind of sauce) at 2 AM… or approached with some caution, because even the names of the named bits can be… dodgy. The effects of the dodgier ones — as I can testify — can be catastrophic.
Which is why the fact that I always think of writing a novel and making sausage as remarkably alike should alarm you. I make sausages (mostly with ‘named meat’, I promise. Mostly.) The whole process is pretty gross – but at least mine are good eating. And here is the important part – they’re better eating than the various raw ingredients cooked separately. And they’re different (to the barely recognizable extent in some cases) from the original materials. Read more
Character stories seem to be some of the easiest for me to write, at least until the characters flip me the Hawaiian Peace Sign and head off into parts unknown-to-author.
What is a character story? Oh boy, I’ve found three different definitions, and I don’t entirely agree with any of them. One, Orson Scot Card, says that character stories are driven by the character’s desire or need to change something about herself or her situation. An English textbook says it is any time an individual is the main plot driver, and an academic paper went so post-modern that I gave up trying to understand what the author meant once I got past “the main character is also the protagonist.” Read more