yeah, maybe, i dunno

Consistency, that’s what I originally was going to call this post, but then I was like, “Bluh, that’s so boring. Who’d want to read a post titled that?” Ironically, this post will be incredibly inconsistent. Earlier this week, I had a really great idea to cover tonight. And then I forgot it. So this one may also be a bit… meh.

After work today, I went shopping with my mom. She likes vegetables and seems hell-bent on getting me into them, too. I like vegetables fine. Just umm, not a lot of them. There’s a lot of weird ones out there. Anyway, my mom wanted to know what I was going to write about, too. I told her about consistency, but I was at a loss for how to relate this to writing. Aside from repeating what I’ve already mentioned previously about having a schedule and keeping it, I just wasn’t sure what to say.

But I think I have something now. More than once, I’ve heard about a writer’s voice. I read it in reviews, other blogs, group forums, but I was never really sure what it meant. Hell, I’m still not 100%, but today I take it to mean a writer’s style and syntax. How do they put the words on the page? How are scenes organized? How do characters develop? Almost like a pattern. If that’s the case, then most of the writers I read don’t have a distinctive voice. But there are some who I believe possess a unique storytelling voice. Steven Erikson, Frank Herbert, Tolkien… uhh. Hah. Like I said, I don’t read much. And I don’t want to bad-mouth any authors by name (particularly since they’re published and I’m not!). This isn’t a literary review blog. So yes, I know there are other really awesome, unique voices out there. Don’t rip me a new one.

Characters in a story should be consistent, from the big details to the small ones. Part of this is knowing who your characters are. Your main characters need to be as familiar to you as your own family. What they like, hate, eat, watch, wear. What they do on Saturday night, what they believe in, what sort of education they had. Can you get by without this? I guess. Probably. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But writing is a lot of work, and your characters are an essential part of the process, maybe the most important part. Don’t skimp! So let’s say that you do all this work. How does it help? It informs you on how your characters respond in situations, to people, to other words. It affects what they say and how they say it. It affects the relationships in their lives.

Syntax… well. Sometimes I think maybe I over-emphasize the importance of that. Maybe because I’m protective of my own skills in that area. I want to believe it’s important to write well. Going with the word “rancid” instead of “putrid.” (And never, ever settling for “fetid!”) Moving one pronoun over a few words, begin with the prepositional phrase, avoid semicolons at all costs. They don’t impact the story in a direct way, except maybe the way a reader experiences it, and I’ve read a lot of books that don’t seem to care how the words land on the page as long as they form a coherent sentence and cover the beats. Hm. I guess I’m making it sound like that’s terrible. But some of the stuff I’ve read lately… man. I could’ve sworn a teenager wrote it!

(If you want to check out my Goodreads to see what I’m talking about, click here.)

How do you assemble your story? Do you use first person POV? Third person omniscient? Do you devote an entire chapter to one character? Or do you scene break to other characters every few pages? And my personal favorite, do you use flashbacks? How do you use them? These are all recurring tools that authors like to use from work to work. I am a huge fan of flashbacks. They convey (ideally) crucial, eye-opening information without taking over the story or making you start the story before your story actually starts. I hate first person. Reading it is fine (though it took time for me to get to that point, too), but I just cannot write it. I can’t take myself seriously, but I tip my hat to those writers that can manage. And I love to throw multiple POVs into each chapter. And I really love to insert worldview into the description. (Umm, if you don’t know what I mean, you really should check out Erikson’s Malazan series. It’s pretty much the hallmark of the series.) Anyway, once you settle on a style for putting your story together, you should stick to it. If you do flashbacks, do them consistently. (Note I didn’t say a lot.) If you do first person, do not switch to second or third. Tonight, I watched a pretty decent episode of Arrow on my DVR. It’s an entertaining show that often makes use of flashbacks. Tonight’s set of flashbacks, though… really bugged me with their inconsistency. Were they Moira’s recollections? No… I’m pretty sure they weren’t. Were they Oliver’s? Maybe, except he wasn’t even in all of them. So were they just objective flashbacks detailing something that happened? It appears so. But I think the show does it differently, and so I was really thrown.

On the bright side, tonight’s DVR episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t confuse me once. 🙂

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On Writing: Character

This morning I had to take my mom to a doctor appointment for some sort of glandular issue. The doctor then ordered some lab work. It was a long, somewhat stressful day. But we had a very interesting conversation while we waited for this and that. We talked about one of the characters in my novel.

Even before she finished her read-through, my mom announced she seriously disliked one of the male characters. Said he wasn’t a man. Used another interesting word I’m not going to repeat on here. It left me puzzled. I liked him fine. Maybe he wasn’t my favorite, but that’s okay. We all have our most favorite and least favorite. (Parents, you know what I’m talking about.) After she finished reading my manuscript, she held firm in her opinion of this guy. I didn’t get it. He was an honest, honorable, sensitive guy. Handsome and brave and all that. Today, while we sat in the waiting room, my mom added that she much preferred one of the other guys.  Well, that didn’t surprise me too much. (My mom recently confessed a major girl-crush on the Rock. But only when he’s behaving “Rock-like.”) She likes men of action. Men of ass-kickery. Men of strong muscles and stronger jaws/brows/eyes. Sensitivity and in touch with his feminine side is a bit further down her list of likes.

We talked about the differences between the two characters, compared them to characters on other shows (Person of InterestArrow, Revenge). She expressed extreme disappointment in my guy over the trajectory of his character development. It created conflict in one of his relationships, and that bothered her. At which point, I explained that conflict is important, not just for story progression but for character progression. Anyone who’s read Campbell or McKee or Egri knows this: conflict creates story, conflict builds character. It’s the engine of change for both. I also explained to my mom that it was okay to dislike/hate a character. (Though yes, I know sometimes we can hate in a bad way. Lori/Andrea from The Walking Dead, anyone?) We hate a really great villain. (Joffrey!!!) We can even hate a really entertaining hero. (Spike–or Angel, in my mom’s case.)

As I’ve said before, characters that don’t evolve will stagnate. (God, I wish I could think of a different, better word than stagnate!) Conflict is the best, most compelling, most believable way to motivate that evolution. Success can do it, but success without conflict feels just a little emptier, a little too easy. Failure works better, in fiction and in real life. Because we learn from failure, and so do our characters.

And I happen to think it’s great if a reader/viewer has different feelings for different characters. Because I think it’s great if our characters are different from each other. I mentioned this before, too, but if you have two or three or more characters who seem eerily similar to each other and seem to meet similar needs in your story, why do you have them? Merge them into one, and make that one character really shine.

I want to add something for writers who are working on a multi-volume story, because I feel like there are some differences between that sort of piece and a one-shot sort of thing. In the one-shot (movies, mostly, that aren’t part of a series of movies), you need to start and end in that one story. Makes sense, right? Your narrative must have some sort of satisfactory resolution. Your character must have arrived at some sort of destination, physically, emotionally, or thematically. In a multi-volume work (movie franchises and almost every TV show out there), story and character are stretched over the course of the project. NashvilleSons of Anarchy, even the Law & Orders introduce characters who grow over years. The same is true in literature. (I’m still working on broadening my palette, or I’d mention several examples here outside of sci-fi/fantasy.) Your character should grow, but he/she/it doesn’t necessarily have to reach his/her/its “final” metamorphosis in this installment of the story. But they do have to go somewhere. And that’s what I ended with, when my mom and I were discussing her least favorite character. This guy had a ways to go, for the reader and for me. (Yes, I admit. Even I’m not sure where I’m taking this guy.)

I take the conversation as a sign of success, though. Sort of. We all know it’s better to write a character that people hate, than a character that people sit back and think “meh” about. I really, really hate Clay from SoA, but I love to see him do his thing onscreen. But I just plain hate Rayna from Nashville. I even hated her more than Oliver Hudson’s character, Jeff Fordham. (I know some of you may disagree and love Rayna. And bless your heart for it.) Because she bores me. I don’t sympathize with her. And I really just want to see her go offscreen and not come back. 🙂 On Person of Interest, John used to be my favorite character. He reminded so much of Jack Bauer, and well… haha… I’m gonna gush in a minute. Anyway. But John’s development on PoI has taken a slight turn (or maybe hasn’t turned much at all?), and I’m starting to wonder if I really like him as much as I used to. (Go Team Shaw!)

Here’s the bottom line, though. Love your characters, even when you hate them.