Tag Archives: characters

Weekly Writer’s Ramble: October 24, 2014

I just finished reading Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted. She tells s a tale utilizing all sorts of familiar fairy tales, but with her own spin. Sunday Woodcutter, the heroine of the story, tells us a story of family and growing up, of magic and adventure, of love and heartbreak. She’s the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, with more power than she knows. It’s a coming of age story that readers of all ages can enjoy. Even better, the princess of the story is just as capable as the prince. Rather than write a regular old review, I shall use her book and the characters Kontis crafted to illustrate this month’s theme of characterization. Enchanted ***Spoilers*** Sunday Woodcutter comes from a large family. At the beginning of the story she tells her friend Grumble about her siblings and parents. Even so, it isn’t the stories she reads Grumble that bring each character to life.  As any good writer is told, “show, don’t tell”.  Sunday tells us that she is closest to her brother Trix, but it is her interactions with him which illustrate this. While attempting to spin wool into gold, she chats with her brother. She spins him a tale to cheer both of them up and then her fey brother rushes to prick his finger immediately after she purposely pricks hers on the spinning wheel, just in case it happens to be a cursed spinning wheel. “Why did you do that?” “If you fall asleep for a hundred years, then so will I.” That short exchange illustrates perfectly the love Trix has for his sister Sunday. When Sunday presses their two bleeding fingers together and declares they are brother and sister, no matter what, that too shows us how deeply she cares.  Later on Trix tunnels from his dreams to hers to make them better. What more could one ask from a brother? When we meet Rumbold, the hero of the story, we discover him bit by bit through his interactions with others. Through kind actions, playful jests, foolhardy choices, and selfless acts Rumbold demonstrates his character far more than any typical fairytale prince. Kontis’ tale, while filled with magic and mystery, is an excellent example of a character driven story and one I endorse as an enjoyable read for readers of all ages.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, wander over to Amazon and support my global domination fund by buying one of my books 😉

Weekly Writers’ Ramble: October 17, 2014

Today we have J. F. Lewis visiting. The author of the Void City series and the new Grudgebearer Trilogy, he’s here to discuss his characters and how they came to be.
Grudgebearer cover
People often ask me where I get my ideas, especially those for the new Grudgebearer Trilogy. My new answer is: What do Final Fantasy 7, Macbeth, Slavery, NPR, and Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson have in common?

The Grudgebearer Trilogy. Even if you’ve already read the first book, Grudgebearer, you may not immediately see how I got from Points A – E to Point F… which is the great thing about writing. Everything a writer sees, does, reads, or hears winds up in the soup. At ConCarolinas one year, Allen Wold was asked by an aspiring author whether he ever put people he knew into his stories. Allen’s answer was the best I’ve heard any writer give. He said (as best I can remember), “If I do my job well, every person I have ever met will wind up in my writing, but they will never know and neither will I.”

Ideas comes from everywhere and writers file off the serial numbers, change things around, and make them our own. Some ideas are hard to trace, but… Every now and again, the writer can figure out the trail. Barrone, the world in which Grudgebearer is set, first started to form in my head when, after playing through Final Fantasy 7, my friend Richard decided to run a role playing game. We talked about characters and as we went along, a winged assassin named Caius Vindalious began to emerge. When I first started writing in the world of the Grudgebearer Trilogy, he was the main protagonist, but the world wasn’t done cooking yet.

I’ve written numerous drafts of various novels set in this universe over the years, but they didn’t start to include the Aern, my race of nigh-immortal carnivorous former slaves, until I heard the title track to Bruce Dickinson’s Tyranny of Souls album in 2005. You may note, this was long before I wrote Staked, ReVamped, Crossed, Burned, or A Corpse of Mistaken Identity. My story mill sometimes takes a while before it is ready to start generating novels about a character.

Tyranny of Souls begins with a quote from the opening of Macbeth:

“When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.”

So… there’s your Macbeth, but the next line is:

“A tyranny of souls.”

That is where the Grand Conjunction and the concept that three races had to meet every one hundred years at a black obelisk to renew their peace popped into my head. It was an idea I jotted down and later discarded. But it was one to which I kept returning. One of the final ingredients struck when I heard a news story about reparations for slavery on NPR and it occurred to me how much worse attempting to right such an horrific injustice would be if those who had been enslaved were immortal… the same exact people, still around.

Imagine further that you didn’t just need to find a way to apologize to your victims, but to enlist their aid. Add in a holocaust denier, a dragon, and well… Once I started down that line of thought, the Aern, the Vael, and the Eldrennai began to form. It would take me nine years to sort it all out and get the world right, but I knew Caius’s story would have to wait because Kholster’s story came first. So… where do ideas comes from? Final Fantasy 7, Macbeth, Slavery, NPR, and Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson… and everywhere else. Obviously!

You can track down @jf_lewis at jflewis.net and, though the author recommends you order Grudgebearer at your friendly local bookstore, you can also order a copy at Amazon.

Weekly Writers’ Ramble: October 10, 2014

I’m kicking off this round of Weekly Writers’ Ramble with a discussion of crafting characters. Stay tuned for next week when J.F. Lewis drops in to tell us about his new book “Grudgeberer” and how he came up with the hero.

In fiction there are generally two broad classifications of stories. One is action driven stories and the other is character driven stories. While there can be overlap, usually a story falls into one camp or another. A good example of the former that comes to mind would be Ray Bradbury’s short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains”. The story is more about the atmosphere and events than any specific character. It’s one I read in middle school and since it was still the Cold War era, it left an impression that has lasted to this day.

Character driven fiction involves the growth or change of characters and how events shape that change. When it comes to my own fiction, I write primarily character driven fiction. Stuff happens, but it is the characters which make the story.

Remember, there is no one right way to create a character. There are oodles of how-to books and whatever method that works for you is fine. Some people craft their characters as rough outlines of people they know. Others follow a D&D sort of approach. Some might sketch their character, or interview them.

My approach is a bit more nebulous than that and harks back to my fondness for make-believe as a child. As I think about a story idea, more often than not a character simply starts coalescing in my mind. Tala, from Fated Bonds, marched into my head, suited up in her police uniform and with a no-nonsense attitude. She’s “Law and Order” meets urban fantasy. Her past, present, and future got worked out as I went, the same as when I played space aliens with my siblings and I was the alien queen that had to  lead my army to victory.

So for me, finding my characters involves opening that door in my mind  and stepping back to my childhood. I suppose I can credit “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” for my fondness of make-believe and for teaching me that  it was not something that was just for little kids. While the stories I write are generally adult in nature, it’s that same “let’s pretend” state of mind. As such, some characters are harder to write. The farther outside of my experience, the darker, crueler, or more twisted, it takes more effort for me to put on their persona as I write them. I’ve found that the more I write and read, the easier this becomes.

Feel free to comment on how you craft your characters, or what it is about your favorite literary or genre characters that makes them so real to you.

If you’re interested in meeting my characters, wander over to Amazon and slip between the digital (or hard copy) pages of my books.

Daughter of Destiny Cover AMAZONcover

Not Millie Approved

“Bark, bark, bark!”

Activating bark decoder:

“Marble wants in!” Millie announces repeatedly in the kitchen.

“Of course I want in,” Marble says. “Didn’t I just say that?”

Soup King opens the door and Marble trots in and Zeke goes out.

“Marble is in. I want out, but not with Zeke. He tries to jump on me while I pee.” I let Millie out the other door.

She’s gone out and come back in by the time that Zeke decides he wants in too.

Notice how none of them seem to want the same thing or if they do, not at the same time? That seems to happen a lot.

I was thinking about my writing today while pipetting a gazillion samples. Okay, only 288, but it felt like a gazillion. I continued mulling over my stories as Millie proceeded to complain about life in general. She’s a crotchety old doggie.

When each of my stories popped into my head, I didn’t intend to write anything controversial. Not all of them are, mind, but some definitely have topics and characters that people might not agree with, depending on their social mores.

I didn’t plan on it, but then again, I’m populating fictional worlds with diverse characters, much like real life is populated with many types of people of varying beliefs.

I have at times considered changing things to keep from offending people, but I always second guess those decisions. As time goes by, I’m finding that the story often tells me if the bit I’m thinking of changing really needs to be there. I worry about people’s reactions.  Will people hate it? Will they like it? What will my family think? What will my friends think?

Then I sit here and hear Millie barking, “I don’t want them play fighting in here. I want to lay down in the bedroom. Why are you sitting in here? Get up!”

You can’t please everyone. As an individual and a writer you must be true to yourself….

Even when it isn’t Millie approved.

 

Playing Favorites

I confess. I play favorites. No, not with my kids, but with my characters. Oh, I try to be fair, but sometimes it takes a great deal of effort.
 

Sometimes the wrong character keeps putting in their two cents:

“Finn, this isn’t your story. Pipe down. You play a key role, isn’t that good enough?”

“Did you just tell me to pipe down? Be glad you’re my writer. Otherwise I might have to end your measly human existence.”

~~~~

Sometimes the plot comes to a screeching halt and the character is of no help whatsoever:

“We need to get you out of this forest.”

“Don’t look at me. You’re the one who wrote me into this darn place.”

“You aren’t helping.”

“You’re welcome.”

~~~~

More than once I’ve been well into a story when someone strides onto the scene and steals the spotlight:

“Who the heck are you?”

“Gabriel, of course. Tremble in fear at my approach.”

“I wrote you, you know.”

“Yes, I know. I’m awesome, aren’t I?”

~~~~

Is it any wonder I sometimes misplace my keys?

 

From a Certain Point of View

The other day I was discussing very early memories with a friend. Here’s one of a handful of memories from when I was about two and a half years old:

My little brother was brand new and my mom had gotten him to nap at the time I was supposed to nap. She tucked me in for my nap and then went to take one herself. (Wise woman)

At the time we had a very old little dog, Pepe. My mom had gotten him when she was a teenager and he was getting up there in years. After an initial spurt of jealousy, he learned he stayed on Mama’s good side if he protected the tiny pink wiggly humans. So, he often kept an eye on my adventures in the apartment where we lived.

That particular afternoon I had no particular desire to take a nap, unlike many current afternoons. (Naps are wasted on the young.) So, quietly, as not to wake my baby brother or my mother, I tiptoed across my room and slowly turned the knob and peeked out into the living room. The coast was clear! Grand adventures without parental supervision awaited!

I stepped out into the hall and toddled into the living room. Pepe lay curled up on the carpet. He raised his head and looked at me. I froze in my steps. I had not factored Pepe into my shenanigans plan. He got up, and he did not seem pleased that I was interrupting his nap. We stood there eye to eye. I maybe had a couple of inches on him, but not much. Sure, we were buds, but suddenly I noticed he had teeth….lots more than me. He let out a low bark and I forgot all about the teeth. I raised a finger to my lips and said “Shhhh!”

He didn’t listen. He took a couple of steps down the hall toward my mother’s room, paused and looked over his shoulder, and let out another “Woof.”

“Okay. Okay! I’ll go nap!” I muttered, and ran back to my room. I waited a minute and peaked out, and the smart little bugger had parked himself in front of my door. He raised his head and I shut the door again.

I trudged back to bed; my dreams of unsupervised living room play dashed. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep minutes after crawling back into my bed.

~~~

As I relate the story, I can distinctly recall the emotions that I felt and the things I saw and did. It occurred to  me though that I have no way of telling that story without overlaying my adult interpretation. In fact, the story might sound silly and contrived if I attempted to write as my two-year old self. Some characters and points of view can broaden the reader’s perspective and give glimpses of fantastical worlds, and others can end up sounding far-fetched and trite.

In writing, deciding who is telling the story can greatly change how the reader perceives the events. Real life gives us many examples of this. Ask any two people about an argument or event and you’ll get two very different stories.

Sometimes it takes sitting down and telling a bit of the story from one point of view or another before finding the one that tells the story you wish the audience to read. Above all, don’t choose a point of view simply because you think it sells better. Always be true to the characters whose story you are writing.

Character Perceptions

When I was little I was painfully shy and took every harsh word spoken to me very much to heart. Through many self-pep talks and trials by fire I grew thicker skin and broke out of my shell. The transformation was so great that a girl I had know in jr. high, who moved away and then came back, came up to me in high school and told me that if not for the fact I looked the same, she would never have guessed I was the same girl. I had taken her perception of me and turned it on its head, which was exactly my intent. By abandoning my fear of what others thought and embracing my belief in myself I became, to her and others, a different person.

It has been a long time since the words of strangers have gotten underneath my skin. The other day I learned what a group of people thought of me, and it was so far afield, so unexpected that for a whole minute I was that pre-high school girl, stripped of her self-esteem armor. I think it hurt even more because it came from exactly the type of person I used to be, the shy and socially awkward type.  As I tried to wrap my mind around this I began to see that they didn’t see me, but a perception of me, colored by their own experiences. With that bit of insight, my self confidence returned, as did the urge to go hang around them again simply to show I don’t give a flip.

In thinking about perceptions, it occurred to me that characters in stories are two-dimensional perceptions which the reader fills in with their own personal experiences.  While the major strokes of the verbal brush paint an outline, ask any two people about the same character and they’ll each have something slightly different to say. Still, that being said, the image that you the writer has is vital to creating a realistic character with depth. Do not have the character do something because you would act in such a way, or because it moves the story along as you had planned, but rather the question to ask is: “would the character make that choice?”.  Character motivation is key to drawing the audience in on an emotional level. Know your characters and the story will tell itself.