Posts Tagged ‘revising’

Hands1I like action movies, spicy food, and long walks on the beach. Sounds like a dating site mantra, right? Well, there might be something more to this.

Real people have tastes, real people have likes, dislikes, and preferences. Real people discriminate both positively and negatively. Real people are unique. Shouldn’t our characters share similar attributes?

It’s easy to get lost in our plots, interactions, world building, story structure, prose, and a million other important building blocks of storytelling. But in any great book I’ve read, characters are at the center of it all. Characters who seem like real people.

My advice, learn about your characters. In an outlined, plot-driven story, it’s easy to forget about their decisions. It’s easy to make them do something because the plot requires it. But is that decision something our characters would make if truly given the option? Do we even know?

Spend some time building your characters. Get to know their families and friends. Discover what sorts of people they hang out with, and what they like to do in their free time. What decisions have they made in their past to get them to where they are today? What are their hobbies?

In addition, I recommend truly looking at whether they play inactive or active roles in your story. In other words, are your protagonists responding only to how your antagonist set them up, or are they actively progressing and growing based on their own motivations? Commonly, protagonists play inactive roles in the beginning of stories due to the antagonist’s inciting incident, then grow based on their experiences and interactions. However, most great stories I’ve read show the characters actively making hard decisions and progressing the story themselves – and from the very beginning – instead of being pulled along by the plot.

Now, should all the characters likes, dislikes, and preferences be included in the story? I say no. But as the writer, it is important you know them. Give hints to some, and reveal others. This will make a character jump out of the page and come to life.

In short, characters are people too! Know them better than your best friend, even better than yourself. You alone know their pasts, their present, and their futures. Show us who they are, connect us to them, and we won’t be able to put that story down.

I remember that years ago, when I encountered my first writer’s group and choppy-sentence ridden passages I hated them.  My own sentences were long-winded with a tendency towards the passive. Now, I catch my stream-of-consciousness rough drafts to be choppy, halting and exactly what my younger self despised.

Yet, now, I’m defensive of the choppy sentences.

What happened?

Everyone’s style changes.  Life, reading, and our own minds conspire towards this end  Even if, somewhere, we want to hit the pause button, we really don’t have a choice.

I think that it was easier to slow down and think through things in a long-winded fashion when I was younger.  I didn’t understand that the chaos of life could cause a person’s thought patterns to come in continuous clips of phrases, to be constantly urgent and hurried.

That doesn’t fit in every scene.  When you want something to move slower, to build character rather than plot, this sort of choppiness needs to be edited out.

So while scouring my short stories for too little sentence variation, I am thinking about the pendulum swinging from one end to the other despite my desires.

I suppose we have all witnessed changes in our writing over time. Have any caught you off guard in this fashion? Have any weaknesses morphed into strengths? Or vice versa?

I have heard this so many times, and I have been determined that I do just that.  I put so much of my time and energy into crafting the societies, history, culture, and setting to my world that I knew I wrote what I loved.

I have the great privilege of working in a bookstore, now, and I love talking books with my  customers. We talked about authors and books at great length;  from Garcia to Bronte and the Illiad to McKinley. I have had some pretty awesome conversations.

I found myself talking to a person once, however, a week or so ago about my favorite fantasy novels. I told this customer that they all have a hint at mythology and folklore.  I like being in on the joke because I’m well read in legend and myth. It gives me respect for the author, and lets me know that he/she has done their research, and has the same interests I do.  I like it when authors acknowledge that that is the root of the genre.

Now, I’ve met people who disagreed and traced the genre through the literary tradition and so on and so forth.  But, to me, we are drawing from folklore. That doesn’t mean that my novel will hold a candle to the Monkey King stories or the Ulster Cycle, but I draw inspiration as much from those tales as from other fantasy and science fiction novels.

That made me think though, how much of my love of myth do I weave into my fiction?

The plots are old, drawn from a time when high fantasy and sword and sorcery held my attention.  But when I speak of why I like Tad Williams’ epics it’s because they’re fairy stories.  I like McKillip because her novels are evocative of Celtic or Medieval tales.

I like Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series because she draws on Celtic and Native American myth and weaves them with vampires and werewolves, a nod to modern trends and ancient heroes all at once.

I suppose my most recent writing has developed this flavor, but I think that while I am committing to finishing the novel this year, I should commit to changing it to reflect my aesthetic.  I have spent so much time developing the back story, the characters, but not so much on the areas I actually pick up a book for. I love a well developed world, but i have become pickier, I suppose.  So too, should I be with my writing. I need to give them life through a connection to our past.  Even if it is only a literary one.

Then I will know, without a doubt, that I am writing what I love to  read.

And we really should all write what we love to read…