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Category Archives: Writing

Some Ramblings on Character

Throughout my life, I’ve been told two things about character: a) it’s whatever good you’re willing to do, and b) it’s best when there are flaws.

These are obviously two different personal definitions. Character is either the quality of a trait or an actual person. A good character has flaws, a bad character doesn’t. And yet you have bad character when you act poorly. It all makes for a wonderful contradiction when you think about it, one of those words that are just ripe for wordplay. And I like wordplay–it makes for good fun.

If you’re having trouble imagining it, just count the characters: I like this character because he has poor character and so is a good character.

Just look at it–in one sentence, there are four different definitions of the word “character,” two of which may be interpreted in more than one way. You can’t do that with every word that comes around.

Now, back to the business at hand. Characters–the people, this time–evolve. It’s important to remember that. A main character needs to be dynamic; if it isn’t dynamic, then it isn’t the main character. That means the narrator can be a secondary or even tertiary character (more on my perceived character levels later). For example, take Death in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. For those who haven’t read the book, what’s important here is that he’s an omniscient narrator, and a very good one at that.

If I were to read the book over, I could probably go through and find some minute changes in Death. But that’s the whole point of a story, right? That everyone changes? We could argue all day that Nick in The Great Gatsby changes, if only minutely.

But that’s not the point of a main character. The main character doesn’t change minutely; it evolves.

Death is not the main character of The Book Thief. Liesel is, just as Gatsby is in The Great Gatsby. Why? Because the main character evolves. And it’s not always something so significant as “he’s alive in the beginning and dead at the end.” If that were the case, all characters would be the main character.

All ranting aside, though, this isn’t the point. Oh, sure, main characters evolve during the actual story. But they also evolve during the process of creating a story. From an idea, or even just a notion, to a full-fledged character. Some characters start out as characters, and might change very little between the starting point and ending point. Others only begin as a hunch, or as thought-experiments, nothing but vaguely swirling images.

That’s all for now. This could get lengthy, so I should stop here. Up next: Character creation at its most basic (A.K.A. mostly my observations of how others create characters, because it’s different for everyone).

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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Writing

 

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Morphing Ideas

The more I write, the more I realize that there’s a lot of change going on in my ideas. From the initial prompt and planning stage, the setting and nature of the characters has shifted radically. The story isn’t even on Earth anymore, and the main character has been fleshed out far beyond the point by which I usually stop to write. It really makes me wonder what’s so different about this idea than all the others.

Here are some of the possibilities:

  1. I’ve made the existence of this story public. I don’t usually do this, out of paranoia. Even now, did you see what I did here? I hated the fact that I relied on a prompt to get this story rolling, but at the same time I got so suspicious of what others would think or do with my idea that it was all I could do to say “there are dragons.” Previous works have never been put out there, even like that, with one exception. Even then, I turned it in late.
  2. It doesn’t take place in a world I’ve worked in before. Actually, it doesn’t even have the same genre as any story I’ve worked on before. And I haven’t read very much in this genre either–just bits and pieces. Yet I’m still doubly or even triply as enthusiastic about this project compared to past projects.
  3. I’m treating it as if I know nothing. This is explanatory in and of itself. I’m trying to let the characters tell the story, but when the characters stop talking I don’t just continue blathering on as if I know what I’m talking about. Let’s face it: I really don’t know what I’m talking about. And while I go on to admit this, I might as well get it in writing, too. Let the characters correct me when they will.
  4. I’ve written the ending first. Some people might think this is an elementary tactic to try, but in truth I’ve never been able to think that way. I’ve always had to write things from the middle outward, or from the beginning outward. But never the end first.
  5. I’ve committed myself to absolutely no research whatsoever. Usually, when I find myself in the beginning stages of a project, I’ll do all this research and planning on the characters and setting that the whole story just gets bogged down with unnecessary details. Right now, however, I’m just trying to take everything one step at a time. I can establish technology and world details as I move along with the draft; a full outline would be disastrous at this stage. And it helps that I started with character-building first, and not world-building. That way, the world can develop around the characters, rather than the other way around.

I’ve started the draft already, and already it looks as if it’s going to be pretty cohesive. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even take it off to the new Camp NaNoWriMo  for extra motivation during the desert that is supposedly the middle of the draft (seeing as I’ve never really seen one of my larger works off the ground, I’ve never seen this wasteland; but the prospect is exciting nonetheless).

All in all, I’ve never had a story morph so quickly from initial idea to the beginning of the draft. I don’t know if that’s a good sign, but I certainly hope so.

For people who might (but probably aren’t) wondering about my previous work, yes, it’s changed over the years. But those ideas have taken years to come to fruition, and even then they really aren’t fully worked out yet. In this scenario, if you subtract the initial fighting with the idea, trying to get it to fit the mold I wanted it to fit, we’re talking more along the lines of three to four days. It’s a big deal for me, and I certainly hope this early enthusiasm hearkens as a good omen as I continue to write.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Writing

 

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Habits

There are lots of writers who can pound out one, two, or even three thousand words per day.

I’m not one of them.

So, in the hopes of developing a habit of writing, I’m initiating a (hopefully) habit-inducing plan.

For as long as it takes me to finish a piece, I will write three hundred words a day. That’s at least two thousand-one hundred words a week, and at least nine thousand words a month. That’s not so bad.

The trick, so I have been told, is to take each day as it is. That said, if I get behind on one day, I can’t force myself to make up the difference.

Now the only problem is to make time to read.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Writing

 

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Writing Perplexities

If you told me a year ago that I’d write a play and not be able to stop writing plays, I’d probably laugh in your face. Or maybe not—I’m not exactly a laugh-in-your-face kind of person. But either way, I’d think it impossible that one little play, less than ten minutes on-stage, would turn me on to playwriting so much that I’d lose the ability to think in terms of the novel I’d previously focused on.

When I think about it, there’s really no reason for me to write plays. I don’t read them on a regular basis. I don’t even particularly enjoy them; I have to prepare myself thoroughly for the onslaught of dialogue. Certainly, I have my favorites: The Heidi Chronicles, “Master Harold”…and the boys. But it’s not like I’m reading them constantly. That would get boring.

I don’t even watch them all that often. While I recognize that television shows and movies are at their most basic form a screenplay, I’ve never thought of them as such. Outside elementary school plays, I’ve never acted in one. I’ve only ever seen three live performances, and one of them was as a member of the pit band. But I’ve only ever thought of the show when I saw or played with them, not the script behind it.

I don’t even know what possessed me to write about the things I did in the first play. A humorist, I am not—and yet I managed to write what amounted to a five-page play on words. I went all out, taking out the serious bits and turning it into something lighthearted and fun. To those who don’t know me, I’ve never written one humorous thing in my life that didn’t turn out horribly awkward. So why now? Why is it that when I write a play, I can be as silly as I want? Why can’t I write a silly short story, or novel?

I can’t even say that if I knew the reason for writing the first play, then I must know the reason behind my current playwriting. I wrote the first one for a contest. It was a creative writing challenge, and a great learning experience.But that certainly does not go into the fact that now I can’t stop thinking in anything but plays. Now all of a sudden everything is action and dialogue. I’m not complaining—it simplifies my endless problems with description—but I want to know why. Why is it, after years of struggling with prose, am I suddenly drawn to plays?

The more I think about it, the more I think I should have seen it coming. My inability to visualize faces in an accurate manner. My consistent difficulties with description. My tendencies to write inactive scenes, in which the character contemplates life but doesn’t really do anything. Even my difficulty with character development seems to have been a precursory issue that could lead to playwriting. In prose, with the exception of a few short stories, all the characters seem flat and vague. But when I write them in plays, it’s like they come alive in seconds. It’s so much easier to write something relatively humorous than something serious. And by only placing necessary action on the page, I free up the interpretation. A play is easier to see and hear, though once in a while the short stories really pop out of nowhere.

This experience makes me wonder: why do people write plays? Do they go through the same, seemingly random transformation as I did? Or have they always done it? Are there other playwrights who have virtually no experience in theater? Or are they all writing plays because that’s the only literary form they know?

Though I have to say that in spite of my confusion, I’m glad to have found some form of writing that’s really comfortable to me. That’s the most important part, after all.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2011 in Writing

 

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