characters

The World Of The Songstress Murders: That Old Timey Religion! a.k.a. Religion, Culture, and Characters

This week’s The World Of .. focuses on fantasy gods and religions, as well as how those things can influence and inform us about the cultures and characters in those worlds, using examples from my next book, The Songstress Murders!

Remember, there’s a little less than two weeks left to get your pre-order of The Songstress Murders!

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Writing Is A Bad Habit In The World Of … : ‘Strong’ Protagonists! It’s More Than Coolness, Yo!

So demands for planing for Mobicon, work for editing clients, and other shenanigans, I regretfully inform you that I won’t have a Starving Review served up today.

However, I present as a substitute some extended thoughts on the ‘strong’ protagonist, male or female, and how to create and think about your creations, alongside examples culled from my own writing.  An extension of this Wednesday’s Writing Is A Bad Habit, the audio log takes things deeper than before.

If you enjoy this, please let me know so I can plan to do more of these podcast-style articles in the future!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: This Is Just Like Budapest a.k.a. The Noodle Incident

It’s been a while since we’ve sat back and talked about a writing trope or two.  With that in mind, let’s take a casual day today and talk about an interesting bit of trope-y-ness: the Noodle Incident.  Sometimes known as the Throwaway Backstory Event, a Noodle Incident (NI for the remainder of this article) is some piece of past history a character in a piece refers to, but never elaborates on, usually with the implication that the event was too ridiculous, unbelievable, or over the top to need to be elaborated on.  Whatever the reason for doing so, the NI remains a point of untouched history and, in a long series, may be referenced multiple times.

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Writing Is A Bad Habit: Can a Mountain Get a Close-up? a.k.a. Environment as Character

The cast of characters in a book is usually pretty obvious because, well, characters are people, right?  You get all the people in your cast together and there you go … characters!  Well, yes and no.  Characters usually are people, sure, but they can be more than that.  One of the most overlooked ‘characters’ in a creative work is the environment itself.

Yes, while the world around us is considered an inanimate object, it is often an important player in any book.  Think about it like this: the environment around you is a constant actor that influences a multitude of decisions you undertake every day.  Is it rainy?  Well, you likely aren’t going to be taking a long walk on the beach.  Is it sunny?  You might forgo the movie theater for the sports stadium.  Is there an earthquake? OMFG RUN!

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Writing Is A Bad Habit: The Eight Deadly Words a.k.a. Creating Character Investment

“I don’t care what happens to these people.”

These eight deadly words comprise the sentence you never want your readers to utter.  It is the death knell of creative character-driven media of all kinds.  If the readers don’t care about your characters, they won’t care about your narrative either.  It’s important to note that ‘caring’ about characters does not always equate to ‘liking’ them.  A reader might like a character, but not be invested in them and, to flip it around, a reader might hate a character but be totally entranced by their actions.

So how do we combat this and avoid those eight words?  The first and most obvious step is character relatability.  Again, a relatable character doesn’t have to be liked or disliked, just understandable.  We’ve talked about this quite a bit, but it never hurts to reiterate this.  Characters need to have motivations, thoughts, and feelings that make sense.  If these things make sense to your audience, they will relate to the characters and, likely, become invested in them.  It’s the classic ‘we like what we understand’ thought in action.

There are other things we should do to create this needed investment.  Another way to create that ‘caring’ from the reader is to ensure that there is sufficient risk in the plot line, that there are stakes to the conflicts involved.  Not just stakes, but stakes that fit the conflict involved.  If there is no risk or stakes or drama connecting the plot and the characters, there’s no compelling reason for the reader to become invested in the plot, no matter how they feel about the characters.  Yes, you can have a fully character-driven scene or story, with no real tension from the plot, but that won’t sustain a full-length novel very well.

I think the ‘appropriate stakes to the conflict’ part is something that is often a stumbling block.  Not that you can’t sometimes overblow the stakes, hinging lives on a stand-up comedy routine as an example, but it’s usually best to keep them under wraps.  You especially can’t understate the stakes.  The stakes to a gunfight, for example, needs to, at the least, be the lives of the protagonists, if not more, otherwise there is no tension and no investment.  Risk, sacrifice, and threat are all vital to creating that investment we all desire, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or social.

What techniques and elements do you use to ensure that your readers care?  If you’re just a reader, what do you look for in the characters that you do invest it?  Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Ain’t Nobody Speaks Better’n Me a.k.a. Character Voice and Dialogue

People have different ways of speaking.  Yes, I know this is the most shocking revelation of 2015, but bear with me a moment.  This may be an obvious statement, but it doesn’t always get translated properly to the written page.  It’s often impressed on starting writers to maintain proper grammar throughout their work.  Now, this advice is meant specifically for the non-dialogue segments but it’s very easy to take that too far and apply it to the dialogue as well.  Complicate that with the fact that sometimes we writers fall into a rut, allowing our own speech patterns to color every character in the book until, subconsciously, we’ve made them all speak with the same voice.

The problems with this should be as obvious as my opening statement.  Speech patterns and vocabulary can provide as many points of characterization as any other facet of a character, maybe more than some.  Remember, speech is our primary form of communication and it’s one of our most valuable tools for learning about our fellow man.  It’s not just the actual words we say, but how we say them, our mannerisms, and our priorities of communication.

Now, obviously, minor characters might be a bit generic in terms of dialogue and that’s acceptable (though if they speak in a dialect that is real or established in the story, they had better use it).  However, if you have, say, the protagonist and antagonist in a conversation, you had better be able to tell them apart without dialogue tags!

In fact, thinking about it, you could use that as a bit of soft test to see if you have established a proper voice for major characters.  Write a scene of them in a long conversation, then drop the dialogue tags or any clear identifiers after the first exchange.  If you or your beta readers or whoever can tell the speakers apart, then you’re fine.  If not, well, you might need to work to establish more of a voice for them.

However you decide to go about it, never stray from the importance of character voice.  It is one of the key ways you can bring your characters to life and one of the best ways to deepen the characterization of them.  If you ignore it, don’t be surprised when you loose readers as they complain about cardboard characters and hard-to-follow dialogue scenes.

What do you think?  Do you have any other tips or tests to help sort character voices?  Leave them in the comments below!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Just Lie To Me a.k.a. The Unreliable Narrator

A key element to creating intriguing fiction is to have an air of mystery and the unknown during the plot.  It works on the basic premise of human curiosity.  We want to know things, to understand things.  There are many ways to go about this, but one particular device that adds a human element to the mystery is the use of unreliable narrators.

An unreliable narrator is, if you didn’t know, a viewpoint character in a story that does not necessarily tell the whole truth.  The actual facts of any scene they are in or story they communicate to the reader may be distorted or straight out fabricated compared to the ‘true’ plot of the story.  It doesn’t matter the character’s reason for doing so or if it is intentional or not; they are still unreliable narrators.

Why bother using such a character as a mouthpiece?  After all, technically, the writer can simply misrepresent facts in the text on his/her own.  There is a problem with that though.  Readers consider words from the author, such as text that is not attributed to the viewpoint of a particular character, as being, in essence, the word of God, true facts.  If you, the author, as the voice of God, lie about the truth of any situation you describe, you build mistrust with your readers directly and they begin to question the entire narrative that you are weaving.  By putting the source of distrust into a character’s viewpoint, you avoid that intrinsic mistrust with the fictional world as a whole.  Any person can lie for whatever reason; the gods don’t.

Now, at first thought, you still might shy away from the concept of unreliable narrators.  If your Point of View character is your protagonist, for instance, and you’ve established her as scrupulously honest, you might feel it’s a breach of character to interject any kind of mistruth to their tale.  However, remember that just because someone always tells the truth doesn’t mean they always speak the absolute facts.  Maybe they don’t know all of the facts and thus have to make conjectures.  Maybe they didn’t see the whole situation and thus misrepresent it unwittingly.  Maybe their other emotions and experiences color their perceptions, turning the facts somewhat into their own personal truth.  Or maybe you just want to have a point-of-view character who is far from honest.

Even if you don’t intend to have a traditional unreliable narrator, you can still take elements of this trope to interject some uncertainty and drama into a story.  If you go with a first-person perspective or a limited third-person viewpoint, there is always room for uncertainty as the information and viewpoints that you use to transmit the story to the reader is limited.  The viewpoint characters probably don’t know everything or perceive every event, so their recollection is inherently skewed.  You can use that to your advantage to turn what the character (and reader) thought was fact into fiction.

In the end, consider using an unreliable narrator, in any permutation, from time to time.  They can add a dash of uncertainty and drama into any literary concoction!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!