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
Posts tagged ‘characters’
I see in today’s paper that Australian research identifies me as a ‘slogger’ – a bloke who would like to work less but needs the money. And there I thought I was just a lazy beggar who would like to fish a bit more often.
The interesting part to their whole schpiel – which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because I am not a pigeon and they have a desperate need to put everyone in pigeon-holes – was that it seemed to hinge aspiration and reward… and that it was plainly very, very viewpoint orientated.
According to them, I would be less well socially connected, and less adept at it than any other group. Now I’m no Kim Kardashian (just in case you failed to notice the beard) and I’m a failure at twittering my every moment and movement (including bowel, or, after alphabet soup, vowel). But I have if anything too good an actual social life and chat to too many people the book-of-faces.
I’m a writer, I like to watch, to listen, to study people, to think about what they say, and why they say it. This means I can better grasp what a character – who is vastly different to me in every imaginable way, and possibly some I would rather not imagine – would plausibly react in the bloody awful mess I put them in my books. I am kind like that. I mean, here I am playing god, I could at least have them win the Lotto, meet Mr or Miss Right, and live happily ever after with a large library and enough Chateau Lar Feet (as this is Dave Freer writing, not something common like Chateau Lafite) and Magret de Canard with a black cherry reduction, to at least die happy. Nooo, instead I put them in awful positions (some not even in Kama Sutra) facing certain death, usually sober and before dinner. Yes, I am a miserable bastard. Being one is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Of course, tough jobs are supposed to pay well (which would put me on the wrong side of the pigeon-hole margin). Sadly, no one else seems to think it a tough job (one of these point-of-view things I alluded to). In terms of aspiration, however, I’ve never come across an author who didn’t aspire to being rich and successful. I’ve met an awful lot who aspire to be Castle on TV – rich famous and living the good life without all the tedium of actually writing. I’ve met others – and I’d put myself among them, who would do the job if they didn’t get to write, and fair number who could certainly have been richer than an author is likely to be, if they’d chosen a different path. Some of them even realized that before they went down the writer’s path.
Now, sloggers (according to pigeon-holers) work because they must, and don’t earn much, or ever hope to earn much. Yet… all novelists, for at least for a substantive part of their job are literally sloggers. Producing a book (let alone a career as an author) is a long-haul process. And part of any long haul process is sheer dogged determination – or plain old-fashioned slog (unless you are Castle, and that only happens on TV.) Even if somehow you do make every ounce of writing your twentieth novel a thing of joy (and yes, I manage to end up loving my books, even those I wished I had never agreed to write), there is still editing and proofs, and then inserting the proof corrections.
And even those of us who love the writing itself are faced with horrible parts of it. For me the most difficult is writing the ‘links’ between the scenes which I have to make sure maintain continuity – usually complex – and yet must be short, clean… and the reader is barely aware of. There is always a resentful part of my mind that says ‘I am working my butt off to make this slick, clear… and virtually invisible. You would only know it existed at all (if I have done it well) if it wasn’t there. Like the servant who actually did the cleaning in the society hostess’s home (and listens to her being praised for it), there is a degree of resentment that my hardest and, IMO some of my best work is something that is only good if no one knows I’ve done it.
The times of sheer dogged slogging is an unavoidable fact of life for 99.99998% of any author who makes a career out of it. You just can’t let it show in your writing, because your readers are paying you for tedious attention to detail in your work, not for tedium in their entertainment.
Like my laziness… it’s a question of perspective and perception. I’m not much good at just sit-and-do nothing. Hell for me would be sunbathing. I do work long hours, but I have slowed down from 5 hours sleep a night – which is when I wasn’t being lazy. I’ve actually got a rigid system of self-bribery and corruption worked into a structured calendar, word counts – which have timed ‘rewards’ of checking facebook, or working in the garden, or going fishing – yes, I really do book the hours, and even try to enforce some reading, research and even free time. I’m not very good at the latter, but there is a point where you’re either staring at the screen or writing crap you will delete. It is, compared to most office workers, terribly regimented and disciplined – and the boss watches every damn thing I do.
Of course to the reader who is waiting for the next book I’m also a useless, lazy scut who never gets around to it.
So: as usual this is all about writing and technique. And as usual I have been trying to do what I am informed is wicked colonial imperialism – showing not telling. If that’s wicked imperialism, bring it on, I reckon, because it works for readers. ‘Wicked’ is a point of view issue too. What I was trying to explain is a layer of complexity that many writers never quite grasp.
At the bottom end characters are WYSIYG (what you see is what you get) which is lovely when translating e-books, but a bit weak as a character. The character is as they are portrayed – both in how they see themselves, and, identically as they are seen by anyone else. IE. Joe is a hard-working, clever, kind man. That’s how Joe sees himself, and how other characters see Joe. That is also how the readers see Joe. And oddly, comments like ‘unrealistic/ dull/poor/one-dimensional characters’ will creep into the reviews. That may be true, but I have often found this really is an inability to express something the reader is aware of without grasping quite what causes the disconnect.
The disconnect is of course, that what the character perceives themselves as – from their own point of view – is never what others see them as. Many writers manage this reasonably well. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary (another character) sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling.
This is real life. Listen to any dispute and you may think that the two principals are describing a separate set of events. Divorce cases, doubly so. And when you get down to poltics… Well, looking at it from Australia, ardent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s supporters plainly live in widely separated alternate universes which branched off from each other just after there first was light.
Dispassionately, and from neither point of view… exists another real story entirely, with more or less elements from both and things which are in neither viewpoint. Just so with the story in the READER’S head. This is the stage which great authors get to. They understand that they’re working with each character’s perception of themselves, and the other (often multiple) character’s perception of themselves AND of the other characters. All of this adds up to the author carrying his or authorial perception of the character to the reader. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling. Mary sees herself as not popular, and unhappy about this, and far brighter than Joe. Joe sees Mary as happy, loving and understanding, and not too bright. Both of their actions and responses are shaped by own perceptions… and by reality (in this case, authorial reality) The clever author manages to carry through the ‘reality’ that Mary doesn’t care for Joe, but wants to be liked, and is manipulating his feelings. She’s not actually as bright as she thinks she is, or she would realize that her un-lovable-ness isn’t how Joe sees her. But she’s brighter than Joe think she is. Joe, on the hand is hard-working, none-too-bright, but is actually kind.
It’s a multi-dimensional maze, which the reader SHOULD be unaware of as they’re led through. It’s a slog, getting it right, because to do so you will have to enter (at least) three different head-spaces.
This is why head-hopping is a poor idea. It confuses most authors, and that in turn confuses most readers. That is why the discipline exists, not for its own sake.
Of course, it’s never that simple. The ‘authorial’ head-space will quite possibly be not quite the way the reader sees it. When I was writing JOY COMETH WITH THE MORNING I wrote the book from a single point of view (hers) but made it clear by the responses of the other characters to her, that her perspective was not theirs, and that they saw her quite differently – and of course, I as the author saw all of them quite differently.
What I should have been prepared for… but wasn’t, was the range of very different ways readers saw her.
It’s a complex web we weave.
But we set out to deceive.
That’s why it is called ‘fiction.’
The last couple of weeks have been busy. There’s been the writing and the editing. There’s been family stuff and medical stuff. There has also been a lot of reading, most of which was for entertainment. There has also been recharging of the creative part of my mind — as well as beating my muse into something that, at least on the surface, looks like compliance.
It is the reading for enjoyment that sparked today’s post.
Last week, with my muse demanding I put aside the current wip to make some fairly detailed plot notes for something that hit me out of nowhere, I stepped back some and read. Over the course of two and a half days, I read eight or nine novels. One of them, Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Correia and Ringo, kept me up much too late. It was a fun read and shows what happens when two talented authors who care more about story than some artificial checklist. They created a story I want to continue, characters I loved reading about and left me smiling and laughing. Oh, and there are guns and things that go boom!
I also read a multi-book series by another author and found myself scratching my head and then shaking my head and, finally, realizing that I needed to finish reading the series not because I was enjoying it but because it showed how not to do something. In other words, it became a lesson in character development or, perhaps, un-development.
Let’s face it, if our readers don’t have a reason to care about our characters, it doesn’t matter how beautiful our prose happens to be. They don’t have to love the characters but they have to feel something for them. It can be hate. It can be fear. But they have to connect with them. If they don’t, and if you are writing genre fiction, you won’t keep those readers for long. More importantly, they will remember they didn’t connect with your characters the next time they see one of your books and possibly pass on it.
What happened with this particular series is the author started off creating characters who were engaging, competent and flawed. In other words, they were human. They had their strengths and their weaknesses. They had hopes and fears. They were, in other words, interesting.
In this particular case, the books could be classified as modern fantasy or romantic fantasies. Each book had male and female main characters. There was a common set of characters between the books with the leads being supporting characters in one book and then the leads in the next. When done properly, that makes for a strong series, not only for the reader but for the writer as well. For the reader, you have that sense of family. You already know and are invested in the characters. You want to know what happens to them, not only in the book where they are the leads but in the other books as well.
As a writer, if done properly, it means you don’t have to worry about making sure readers are reminded of the backstory in each book. Each book can stand on its own but you have characters that are, even as supporting characters, fully developed and who can hook new readers into going back and reader the earlier books. But done poorly it can cost you not only new readers but those who have been fans of the series.
In this case, it was done badly. After the third book, it felt as if the author was doing nothing more than retreading the worst parts of the plots of not only their first three books but also of every bad romance out there. This isn’t anything new, especially not in the romance genre. I could name any number of best selling authors in the genre and books where all they’ve done is change the names and locations and then dropped in the same plot used in other books they’ve written.
But, in this particular case, it was worse because the author broke the characters and not in a way where they were going to grow stronger or anything else in the process.
You can, as an author, break your characters. You can put them into situations that will be more than they can handle, or close to it. It will scar them, perhaps physically or maybe psychologically. If you do it properly, you will then show them digging their way out of whatever sort of hell you have put them through. They will relapse and they will be fragile. They will have temper tantrums and want to run away. But they will struggle, often with the help of a lover or a friend, to overcome. The person they are at the end of it is someone who has learned from what happened and who has, in one way or another, grown.
But when you begin a story, or a series, and your characters are strong, self-sufficient and willing and able to stand on their own, you don’t take all that away from them without cause.
Now, I am not one of these women who are going to get all up in arms because a man saves a woman in a story — at least not if it makes sense that he does so. But I will get perturbed if a woman goes from being able to stand on her own two feet to standing back and smiling and waiting patiently as her man goes off and does what she would have a book or two earlier, especially if there is no reason for her to do so. What changed? What took her from the take charge and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her man to waiting at home to find out if he lived or died?
I swear, in this series, even the strongest — and I don’t mean physically — of the women turned into someone who sat back and waited for the macho men to do their thing. Hell, I expected the guys to start beating their chests and the women to have the vapors. With each book that passed, the women became more helpless and the men more of a macho stereotype.
And it was all for no reason. If the author had kept with the tenor set in the first book, the women would have been partners with the men. Not all of them would have necessarily stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their man as he went striding into danger but she also wouldn’t have been waiting at home, passive and weak. They would have done something that fit their particular talents.
What happened instead was the books turned into stories about the guys banding together and the women banding together and then sex scenes. Oh, and if you have a woman who has been beaten and raped and violated in other ways, know what the psychological wounds might be before you have her jumping into bed with the macho mountain man. That almost sent my kindle flying across the room.
In other words, just as the rules of your world have to make sense and if you break those rules, you need to have laid the groundwork for it or your readers will lose faith in you, you have to do the same with your characters. You will lose readers if you break the mold you cast your characters from without giving a reasonable explanation. Not every character has to be strong and capable. But, if you have a character who starts out that way and who proves himself or herself during one book, don’t make them all but incapable of helping discuss tactics or standing up for themselves in the next — unless you give a reason for it and that reason had damned well better make sense.
The overall impression I got as I read the series was that the author had gotten tired of it and of the characters. By the end, it felt as if the books were being written on autopilot. If an author doesn’t care about the characters or plot, the readers most likely won’t either. No one wins then. To be honest, the only reasons I kept reading after the fourth book was because I wanted to see if the author managed to right the course and because the author was very good at developing the third layer of characters — the shopkeepers and neighbors, etc. — and setting.
Just as it becomes boring to read a series where the main character is either a Mary Sue or someone so perfect he or she can make no mistakes, it becomes frustrating to see characters you came to care about turning into something that is nothing more than a pale shadow of what they were. As authors, we need to keep that in mind, just as we need to remember that if the writing feels like it is becoming rote, we need to step back and take a long hard look at our work and decide what has gone wrong. Yes, wrong because that sort of writing rarely has emotion in it and genre fiction demands emotion, whether it is fear or that sense of soaring to the stars. We have to engage with our words. If we don’t, we will lose the reader.
And now for some self-promo:
Now that my muse has been satisfied regarding the new plot it infected me with, I am back toworking on Dagger of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).
War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.
Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.
Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.
Like all my other books, Sword is available for purchase or for download through the Kindle Unlimited program.
Here I am still busy with Xeno’s last chapter (which has become at least one more chapter) in trying to finish TOM – the ‘quick’ light fantasy/satire novel about a semi-feral young cat who finds himself transformed into being a curmudgeonly magician’s apprentice – that I was doing as light relief from more complex books.
Laugh, you bastards (my time will come at the end of NaNoWriMo…).
Eventually the tortoise gets skewered on the arrow, and very convenient for rotisserie roasting they are like that. Humor is hard, especially on writers and tortoises. Besides, one man’s joke is another’s elected representative.
My stories evolve toward complexity and I’m a picky fellow who likes to tie off the ends, and of course the ends just don’t co-operate, as these characters have minds of their own (and they know I am pretty weak-minded and so they over-rule me and do their own thing). I have warned my characters in no uncertain terms: any more of this and I shall parcel them up and send them to Kate. Then they will learn the meaning of an iron will, blunt speech and a sharp stake… or is that Jeremy Irons, sharp speech and a blunt stake?
They still pay absolutely no attention to me…
Which, of course, is as it should be.
A story is as long as itself. Without resorting to padding, adding more characters and more dialogue and more show-not-tell can increase markedly increase the word-count, and as traditional publishing had a habit of contracting specific counts (within a range) this was quite important for an author.
Now the only ‘dictat’ is how willing readers are to pay that price for that length. Most of Traditional Publishing still seems of the opinion that that figure is ‘a lot even for e-books’. Which is, quite honestly, wishful thinking. Of course, we humans are pretty good at wishful thinking and fooling ourselves that something is a good idea. Look at half of the fine messes I get myself into… The other half just happen. Really. Like the two-possums-in-my-house-in-one-night evening I enjoyed on Saturday night – which involved me running around the house about beating one with a cake-cooling rack (reality can be much more bizarre than fiction. Fiction needs to be plausible.).
Talking of sales, it has been mildly amusing lately how the Puppy Kickers have been twisting themselves into pretzels. First we had the Puppy Kicker saying how crass we were for always being interested in money. Obviously ahrt and educating the masses in right-think was more important. Well, he or she is welcome to it, just so long as they don’t want the readers to pay for it whether they want to or not.
Silly me. It is the reader’s fault if they don’t want it, isn’t it? Bad readers. They must be shamed, isolated and intimidated out of this.
Next breath we have John Scalzi saying that those bad readers are wrong to spend their money on classics and that they should give their money to modern authors who need it if they are to keep writing.
Of course, and by that logic… Those bad readers – by the same rules — shouldn’t give it to rich authors like John Scalzi… They should give it to the poor authors.
And that, according to other Puppy Kickers, is the Sad Puppies in general, and Larry Correia in specific. We’re not complaining if John and his fans want to go ahead and do this. They can even do it anonymously… like, you know, readers buying books do. No one need know they took notice of us. We’re all – more Puppy Kicker statements — apparently so useless that we crave any notice at all, because we’re all failed authors. So… in Puppy Kicker pretzel logic we would, naturally, as failed authors, be keen on using money as a measure of success – as I gather we crass Sad Puppies do. Oh and according to twitter twit who calls himself Drave the moonrascal – Larry Correia is a failure because he doesn’t get 500 people at all his book signings… (which will make you laugh a lot if you’re an author. It’s possibly the stupidest thing a Puppy Kicker has come up with, and the competition is stiff.)
To be fair, in sales terms, I think, yes, their attacks on us have certainly done me a lot of good. I found, much to my surprise a couple of weeks ago, that I’d entered that second happy stage of a writer’s career. (I forget now who said it – but one the greats said something like this: ‘there are 3 stages to a writer’s career – 1)where he can’t sell what he can write (assuming ‘sell’ means for enough to live on, and not just ‘at all’) and must write what he can sell 2) where he can sell anything he can write 3)where he can sell far more than he will ever write. I’m still not making a fortune, but yes, living simply and cheaply, we’re seeing a little more come in than go out, and more than last year, or the year before. But it seems I can now choose what I write, and my publisher will consider it – and if not I go to Kindle and it will sell enough copies to keep us going. It’s a long way from fame and fortune, but it lets me do what I love.
A large part of this is, no doubt, due to better folk than me, and the Puppy Kickers loud attempts to denigrate and suppress us and our work. It doesn’t take a genius (not even a mad one) to look at the well documented declining traditional book sales, particularly in sf/fantasy, and the demographics of the market place, to realize that all those readers were going elsewhere for their entertainment. Enough of them came my way to make a lot of difference to my bottom line, had obviously left buying sf/fantasy because they didn’t like what was on offer, publicized to the wazoo, and in every brick-and-mortar bookstore. It seems we’re catching a lot of those – I have had a lot of ‘I’d given up on sf until…’
The Puppy Kickers of course have the problem that not only has most of traditional publishing been obedient to their dictates and narrowed their offering down to ‘extremely PC, Correct Message before story, and let’s denigrate anyone who doesn’t fit our chosen ‘progressive’ philosophy.’ There is certainly a space for this – but it is probably 5% of the market who love it, and 20% who will put up with it, at best. The same would be true of the opposite extreme… but there really isn’t a major Trad publisher pushing that line. Where the Puppy Kickers went wrong of course was that the readers – no matter if they were in the 5%, 25% or 75% — had had the very existence of anything else – or of people who liked anything else, quite effectively drummed out. There were a nucleus of Baen readers and that was it, and a lot possible customers didn’t know about Baen let alone many Indies.
So in attacking us to protect the writers of the 5%… – and the reaction to those attacks, they told many of the other 95% of readers that there are alternatives. Of course awful… I forget now Irene Gallo’s exact foolish words ‘poor to terrible’ or something. But for many readers that was the first time they knew anything else was being published.
That 5% is not just saturated with that 5%, it’s supersaturated, and yes, a lot of the smaller trad darlings are crystalizing out and falling to the bottom. I gather things are fairly dire. On the other hand the other 95% are under-saturated, and all we needed was for people to know we existed. There are many less of us in Trad publishing than the 5%.
SF/Fantasy was always ahead of the curve with giving space to the ‘odd’ people of the demographic (and yeah, I’m odd.). But the reality is that a book designed to appeal – at the expense of a large section of your populace — to say 0.25% of your population is not going to do very well, very often. I hope trad published sf opens up again, as it seems to be with Indy – not so much for my sake but because there are some great writers not made for Indy. I just hope we can let reality and reader choice sort out how much of what is being bought. I’m quite happy seeing Vox Day _AND_ Nora Jemisin offered to the public. They will appeal to different parts of that public, and some people might even enjoy both (or neither). In the end it might be about people reading more, and reading more sf/fantasy. If you’re a good writer, and entertaining you might even win some people over to the dark side (This depends on your point of view, but I am assured they have cookies).
I have to wonder what people who wish to exclude ‘badthink’ from being available think of readers. Do they assume all readers are stupid and terribly easily led?
(Looks at politicians they support…) Don’t answer that question!
Anyway, back to Tortoise Kebabs for me. Thank you for the extra sales, Puppy Kickers. If you feel in need of giving yourselves apoplexy this novella is bound to do it for you.