We try, as writers, as purveyors of fictional stories, to make characters who can handle the challenges set before them. How a character responds is entirely up to the writer, and the limits of the world in which their characters are interacting. Read more
Posts from the ‘characterization’ Category
Sarah has mentioned the importance of “reader cookies” – those genre allusions and tropes, or better, tropes turned upside down, that keep the reader happy as he goes through the book.
But what happens when you get a book that’s nothing but cookies? How long does that keep you happy? In my case – not very long.
I recently came across a case in point, a comic novel written around the Norman invasion of England in 1066. You might think that’s not a great subject for comedy, but the writer pulled it off… sort of… tongue firmly planted in cheek, in the style of 1066 and All That, but applied to fiction. For the first few chapters I kept chuckling at the irreverent views and up-ending of conventional wisdom, reading specially good bits aloud to the First Reader. Read more
No, not the Evil Warlord or his minions. I’m thinking of the characters that spice up a story by being Good but Irritating, or even Morally Neutral but Obnoxious. The ones that keep you reading not just because you want to see your hero save the world, but because you want to see Obnoxious meet his comeuppance, or because you laugh every time Monumentally Tactless splashes the other characters’ social strategies in their faces, or because it looks as though Good but Irritating may frustrate the hero’s personal desires even while helping him save the world. Read more
Last month, PBS wrapped up a costume drama based on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It was very well done, although I got impatient with some of the characters for the same reason I got impatient with them when I read the novel. Hugo wrote for a different time and different readers.
But the character of Inspector Javert remained one of the most intriguing. In part, this is because he was the first antagonist I ever encountered in screen, as opposed to a villain. I was probably 6 or 7 when I first saw Les Miserables. It was on TV, on a Saturday afternoon, when they ran Dumas and Hugo dramatizations. Javert’s actions didn’t make sense, and my poor parents had a lot of difficulty trying to explain them in language a child would understand. Later, after the musical came out and I read the entire novel, he made sense.
Javert is virtue turned to vice. Which makes him such a fascinating antagonist. Read more
Last time I talked about dealing with the destructive inner critic, so I thought that today it might be worth mentioning that it’s not really a good idea to silence or ignore all the criticisms that float through your head. Some of them come from the useful critic, the one you definitely want to listen to. It’s not hard to distinguish them. The Bad Critic makes statements that are usually personal attacks, and are always designed to silence you. The Good Critic asks questions that spark ideas and help you improve the story.
There are lots of checklists of questions to ask yourself, but I don’t find these terribly useful. I prefer to take a step back from the story and see what floats into my head when I try to read it as a stranger might; when I sense a weakness in what I’ve written or recognize an old stumbling-block. A lot of them are things you might expect to hear from beta readers, but I don’t believe in counting on beta readers to fix problems I can catch for myself. Here, then, are some things I might hear from the Good Critic during the journey from initial idea to finished draft. Read more