June 24th, 2012, 01:04 PM
I think you've misunderstood the tone of that quoting. I'm not saying "you're wrong, this is the right opinion." It's more of a response to KatG, because she assumed he was talking in a completely different context. I thought that if I gave a direct quote, people would be able to see the opinion he gave in its original context, and would be able to analyze and debate it better. Maybe I should have said that earlier, but please try to understand my real intention.
Originally Posted by E_Moon
June 24th, 2012, 05:28 PM
As a reader, I've started reading, and sometimes even finished, books with characters who seemed interesting and were in interesting stories, but the books were uninteresting, and all the ideas and character traits didn't matter, because the writing wasn't up to par. The ideas and traits were just there or not fleshed out.
And yet, I've read books with fairly generic characters written so well, or the story was strong enough to carry the characters along, and the characters responded to the events to keep things going in an interesting way.
What I find interesting and another person would find interesting are likely different things. I like flawed characters, even dysfunctional. I enjoy other types, but my favorites are those who learned something about themselves, the ones who take personal journeys as well as move the outer story along.
I like it when a character isn't like every other character in a book. A character for me is built from dialogue and actions more than description. But a writer can create the ideal, multi-dimensional character and still write him or her as bland because all the elements need to come together. For me, at least.
June 24th, 2012, 06:28 PM
So by "exaggerated" he actually meant guess about their interior life, instead of just the surface, which is certainly something to think about. You do, however, get into stylistic issues. For some stories, extensive inner life of characters may be essential to stylistic preferences and story needs. To others, having more of a surface approach may be more wanted. A satire for instance will often sacrifice interior life for satiric purposes and tone. A heavy action story may use a style where we go into the characters' heads a lot, or it may use a style where that exploration is more limited. It depends on what the writer is trying to do. Sometimes, the writer is deliberately writing about dull people. (See "Being There".)
Originally Posted by The Mayan
I think that you can find a lot of useful material from Bickham's book and others, but the difficulty is that most guide books feel that they must be authoritative and so take a rules based approach. Bickham's explanation that the interior life of characters, rather than just copying surface personalities from real people, is something to look at is something to take into consideration. But Bickham doesn't precisely do this in presenting the idea. He doesn't go, oh your characters are flat to me because the lack of interior information in your text doesn't seem to be working, which allows Wally to work on those issues and skill knowledge (tools.) Instead, he starts off with "don't ever write about real people" (rules.) Wally learns nothing from this, in my opinion. He doesn't learn how to take things from real people and develop their interior life into characters he might be able to use. He's simply told not to do something because he will supposedly always do it badly. So even if it's his stylistic preference to draw from real people and that's how his brain works, he has to work against his own writer abilities because Bickham says no. In my experience, that doesn't work well for writers.
And because it is presented not as developing an interior life or even interesting conflicts for characters, but as "exaggerating" them, and because Wally is being told just a rule, a prohibition, rather than learning how to develop skills and solve story issues for himself, Wally will not probably write characters with rich interior lives. He'll probably latch on to the word "exaggerated" and write broad, weird, effusive characters who may be vibrant but may be just as boring to readers in a different direction. This is what happens a lot. Writers often try to jam themselves into story formats and techniques that fit them poorly because someone told them that is the only way you can do it. For me, it is the big difference between a rules based approach and a tools based approach -- with tools based, the writer learns to develop structure and solve problems, not just follow a formula constructed by someone else. Tools based I also advocate is more realistic of actual fiction out there and the broad spectrum of styles that are used.
But again, that doesn't mean that Bickham doesn't have useful stuff to offer. If you turn off the rules function of any guide book, they usually give you stuff to think about, and if you can find a guide book where the author's style fits your style, even better. But when they start talking about do's and don'ts, the right way to write, etc., what they are saying is "here is my stylistic preference for writing fiction. Here is how I think and like to do it." And it enormously helps writers, I find, if they regard these as a stylistic preference rather than as rules. There is no reason not to draw characters from real life if you want to and writers often do. That's not usually the main problem with developing their interior lives -- understanding how pov works usually is.
But the reality is that Elizabeth Moon and Jon Sprunk are not going to write the same, have the same sort of style, characters, structure, plot, etc. So looking at what they do that you think works and how they set that up with words is one of the most useful things I think you can do. It let's you start to play with such effects yourself and develop your skills. Just my two cents on it.
June 27th, 2012, 04:25 PM
Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
For putting me in the same sentence as Ms. Moon, bless you, Kat. You made my day.
Originally Posted by KatG
June 28th, 2012, 09:08 PM
LOL, I picked you a bit at random. I'm in the process of moving and the people who set up our old house for sale packed your book in a box somewhere and I'm still looking for it, drat it. You and Ms. Moon in fact may have some style similarities. But SFFH writers are wildly different from each other. That's the first fact that I think every writer trying to create in any type of fiction needs to understand. If I put Susannah Clarke and John Ringo in a room together, they'd have lots to talk about, lots in common -- and they probably have talked at cons -- but their writing styles are very different, what they're trying to do in stories is very different. I used to have what I called the Caleb Carr -Elmore Leonard scale because stylistically they are on opposite poles from each other. (Both have done some SFF in addition to suspense.) One has a lot of detailed description, one does not, etc. Both have been bestsellers, gotten awards, etc. They do characters differently, but often using the same suspense tools. So it's a matter of using the tools to fit you, not fitting yourself to a set of tools that might not work for you.
Every writer I know has aspects of characterization that are more important to them personally than others, and they aren't the same aspects. Some writers have elaborate character bibles. Some imagine their characters talking to them. Some change their characters every five minutes in early drafts. I've had mystery authors who changed the identity of the murderer, fantasy authors who started with one character as a protagonist and then switched to another, characters start out minor and then become major or vice versa, characters end up with elaborate backstories or simplified ones, die unexpectedly or were supposed to die and don't. When your brain is ramping it up, your characters end up with thoughts you didn't expect them to have because your brain is trying to come up with solutions to questions in your head, such as why would he do this? Because a six fingered man killed his father, that'll work. I know very few authors who don't change their minds about a lot of details about their characters over time. Writing is fluid -- unless you don't want it to be and then your process can be rigid.
So all I've really been saying is that I'm not surprised that Mayan's guidebooks all say different things about characterization, because they're coming from different writers trying to codify their own brains. And a lot of the techniques and tools they offer can be really helpful -- if they work with your own process. So it's usually a matter of trial and error, and studying how different authors do things to figure out how you want to do things.
June 29th, 2012, 08:28 AM
Shadow's Lure (June 2011)
Well put. Although we write for others to read, until you find your voice it's actually more like a written conversation with yourself. Hell, there are some days when I still feel like I'm talking to myself on the page.
Originally Posted by KatG
June 29th, 2012, 02:48 PM
I will probably pick up this book for when I decide to write up my more dramatically darker/serious fiction. But as for what I am writing now, I have had some people advise me that I should ditch the gimmick of intertwining slang with grammatically correct writing in my narration/prose and some of the dialogue. If this was serious high fantasy I understand the concern. But since I am doing it in the vein of parody/satire, I think my stylized narration/prose fits perfectly to what I'm doing, even if some readers believe I need to have it edited to meet whatever the commercial standard is. I wonder what this guide book would have to say about my style of fiction?
Originally Posted by KatG
June 29th, 2012, 09:31 PM
There is no commercial "standard."
Is there anything else Mayan wanted to discuss about characterization, specific or general?
June 30th, 2012, 01:18 PM
Yeah, actually. I just remembered another obstacle I've encountered when it comes to characters.
Originally Posted by KatG
I find it's incredibly difficult to characterize when the character is alone. I find it hard for them to seem to have any personality unless they are conversing or otherwise dealing with other characters. (And even when I have two characters interacting, sometimes their relationship seems flat unless there's a third character present.) In film, this doesn't seem to be much of a problem because character can be expressed through visual means, such a gestures and facial expressions, and other subtle ways.
I was hoping someone had a technique of characterization when the character is alone.
June 30th, 2012, 01:32 PM
Man of Ways and Means
Originally Posted by The Mayan
Well, you do the same thing, use exposition to indicate those things the film/visual would. Use their own thoughts to express character by the way they think/react to their own thoughts...
June 30th, 2012, 08:02 PM
And if you write out their thoughts in dialogue form write it out in italic. Or at least this is what I have been told to do so that the reader does not think that a character is awkwardly talking out loud.
Originally Posted by kennychaffin
July 1st, 2012, 12:00 AM
You don't have to italicize thoughts even if a person is arguing in their own head, although you can. Italics tend to be used for thoughts that you want to emphasize, or to show that a character is in a dream state, etc. -- to differentiate and call attention to those thoughts. Italics is another tool. My favorite story on italics was when I edited a horror novel called Manstopper by Douglas Borton which was about intelligence enhanced soldier dogs who get loose and start killing people. When the dog characters are pov thinking, their thoughts were in italics. This meant there were quite a lot of pieces of text in italics. The copyeditor seemed rather confused by the dogs at all and switched lots of the italic text back to regular as presumed error. We had to go through and put all the italics back in as okay.
Written fiction can be written in styles that are film-like, but it also can go in many other dimensions. The most powerful of these is internal pov. Any character is always observing, reacting, analyzing, interpreting, decision-making, etc., and with pov characters, some -- though not necessarily all -- of that is presented to the readers in whatever way works for what and how the writer wants to present. When a pov character is alone, that doesn't mean that the character stops thinking about other characters or stops observing their surroundings or stops feeling. Having a moment to reflect, even if the lone character is engaged in action, gives that pov character a chance to consider what things mean -- things they've learned, things that have happened to them, etc. Mysteries can be good novels to look at for this as the detective characters of mysteries have to analyze the mystery and think about the case -- all the clues they've learned, the people they've encountered, the things they've seen. A soldier or a person being hunted by monsters has to do this too. Everybody has to deal with their circumstances.
For instance, my cat has been transported to our new house from the old one in which he has spent nearly his whole life. He did pretty well the first day, but today, he spent most of the evening under the bed. He particularly didn't like it when my husband went up and down the stairs, even though he likes my husband to pet him. So I have to worry about the cat, figure out what's going through his furry brain at various moments, reassure the cat, ignore the cat, etc. All of this involves me observing, reacting, analyzing -- thinking, even if the cat is under the bed and I'm in another room, hanging a shower curtain. If I'm a character, then my thinking is crafted to show something about me, or develop part of the plot or show the setting, or all of those, etc. If I'm a pov character, I'm the camera, not just the actor. The word choice for those thoughts also does these things and gives the novel its sound. The rhythm of the components of those words in readers' heads effect how they perceive the story and the pov character. Your tools are all about language.
So why is the character alone? What has to happen? What does the character need to think about? How would you think about these things? Given the character's personality, how would the character think about things differently from you? What is the character scared of, obsessed with, uncertain about? What might that particular character notice of their surroundings that shows some of these things?
July 1st, 2012, 11:46 AM
I try my best to do this in my own writing. Though I feel I do need a good editor's touch to improve what I want to convey to the reader in this department.
Originally Posted by KatG
July 1st, 2012, 03:23 PM
Thinking, feeling, chatting = action also
Thinking, feeling, chatting are action. We can use them as much as physical action to reveal character. Emotional action might include restraining our emotions, or boosting them. We can have conflicting emotions within us, as when selfish and loving emotions war against each other.
Conflict between kinds of action give us more ways to show character. The head and the heart can pull us in opposite directions. What we say and what we feel, or what we think, is another big source of conflict. And thus of revealing our characters.
July 5th, 2012, 02:42 AM
I've always found the easiest way to flesh out complex characters is to start by doing psych (personality) tests "in character", and then use the results as a guide. This will also reveal how conflict occurs between characters.
As example, I had a tutor/student relationship between two characters, and I needed significant conflict. Personality tests indicated they were both very inquisitive and open, and much of their bonding hinges on this (for example the tutor using new knowledge to appease and interest his student). Meanwhile the student was highly impulsive and extroverted while the tutor was reserved and careful, and the student was highly empathetic and sociable while the tutor was more independent and calculating, and these contrasts acted as the source of most of the conflict between the characters.