Tag: Characters

The Best Advice I Had Not Heard Yet

interesting artI sometimes surprise myself when I come across great advice from the most unlikely of sources. Case in point, while watching one of my favorite video game reviewers, Zero Punctuation,  I came across this little gem of writing advice.

“Is this the most interesting period of your character’s life and if not why aren’t you showing us that?”

Now let that sink in a little bit and if you have heard it before kudos for you. I had never heard it, but now that I have I feel silly that I hadn’t come upon it in my own way. I know as a writer I can get bogged down in trying to convey to my reader all the machinations that went on in my heard to get my characters to this point. This information can be useful, even necessary at some times but it should not come at the expense of keeping the readers’ interest meter in the red. The good news is as the writer if these periods aren’t the most interesting I can certainly make them that way. Details are not interesting. Characters and events are. A simple rule and a helpful one to keep on an index card by your computer monitor.

This also leads me to the use of prologues. A couple of my novels (currently shelved ones if that says anything) do make use of prologues, but I find myself drifting away from them. Think of it like this. How would you feel if your significant other came home from work one day and said? “I have the most interesting story about something that happened at work today, but before that, let me tell you how I got the job in the first place.” Kind of a buzz kill ain’t it. Before the comments section fills with angry protests on the right to prologue existence there are times when the prologue can be a very effective tool and fundamental part of the work, but it must be interesting. That is after all the message of that little gem of advice above.

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Image by http://www.ign.com
Image by http://www.ign.com

I am sitting in my office thinking on how busy I’ve been this summer and looking at a poster on my wall. The poster is from a video game released in 2005 for the Sony Playstation 2 called Shadow of the Colossus. The premise of the game is that you control a boy who must find and kill 16 giants the game calls Colossi to restore the life of a girl. So you spend the game wandering the vast land on horseback encountering these monstrous beings, climb up them, find their weakness and slay them. When you get all sixteen the game ends.

Now I can’t tell you what happens at the end of the game for two reasons. One, that would spoil it if you have any intention to play an eight year old game. Two I never made it to the end. About two or three Colossi into the game I came to realize what for me was a game killing fault. I am tasked with killing these beings with very little context or reason other than saving the young girl, yadda yadda yadda.  The only problem was the means of encountering them. You just come upon the first few Colossi. By the third one, lacking this story context I began to see the Colossus as a victim. At this point n the game the story has not revealed enough of the main story to give you a strong enough reason to go forward with the killings. The lack of context when you find the lumbering brute just wandering a meadow makes it even harder to scale it’s body and shove your sword into it’s unguarded flesh. Had I encountered other characters fleeing the Colossus or maybe see it ravaging a village, I would feel that I had to kill it. As it was I simply couldn’t justify the killing.

In a story the antagonist is the foil, obstacle, thing that must be scaled and defeated so that your protagonist can move onto the ending. While the reader does not have to hate the antagonist as much as your protagonist does you have to make it clear to the reader that the antagonist needs to be dealt with. The more extreme the dealing with for the more extreme the hurt, hate or adversity. After all you want the reader to root for your protagonist.

We’ve all read about the heroes you love to hate, but a bad guy you hate to love? It’s gonna take some special writing to make that happen and unless you nail it the whole thing is going to blow up in your face. Depending on the story you are crafting, there could be a whole host of activities, behaviors and traits you can bestow upon your antagonist to make the reader hate him, her, it. The only thing to be aware of is if your desire to write something that isn’t so black and white it becomes cliche. The last thing you want is to give your antagonist enough sympathetic qualities that the reader begins to see the antagonist as a victim. When the time comes for the protagonist to triumph you do not want the readers tasked with picking a side, even if they see multiple sides, they always must side with your protagonist.

In the case of my video game, the part of the story that made me want to continue with the slaying of these creatures took too long to appear. I could see the creatures were dangerous formidable opponents but that was not enough. I took this as a lesson and use it in all of my writing. My bad guys have to be bad, my obstructions have to be massive. There can be no question of motives.  This way when the time comes for the protagonist to triumph it is a victory shared by the reader as well.

Superheroes Rule

Marvel's Avengers courtesy of forevergeek.comI caught the matinee showing of The Avengers this weekend. I was glad to see the hype is well deserved and then some. Then again as a fan of Joss Whedon I had high hopes and figured I wouldn’t be let down. I don’t want to send this post going on about the movie. Instead I wanted to talk about superheroes and what we can learn about our own characters.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and we see them regularly in our day to day lives one some level or another. Is it any wonder that the superhero resonates so strongly? People have an innate sense of justice and a need to see wrongs righted. It’s just that suoerheroes do it with such flair. Whether you hang your tights in the DC or Marvel closets you can be sure your hero is always ready to dispense some justice. But there is another reason these characters entertain so much.

I often struggle with finding ways to make my characters more memorable. I do everything I can to make them appear real and human but at the same time I would like them to have that something different.  It doesn’t have to be super powers, though those can be fun. What makes for a memorable character is what also makes a great superhero; flaws. Drama is what makes characters memorable and where there is drama there are flawed characters. As you learn to use those flaws, not for the story’s sake but for your readers’, you create memorable characters. Sure most people do not become hulking green monstrosities but everyone does know what it is like to have to keep one’s temper in check.  No matter what your characters do in your story they will resonate the most with readers by their struggle to overcome their flaws. That is the lesson I have learned from superheroes.

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Vampires, it’s Because They Suck

I recently saw the trailer for the movie remake of Dark Shadows. Seeing Johnny Depp as Daytime TV’s favorite vampire Barnabas Collins had me thinking about the continued popularity of vampires in fiction.

The birth of vampire lore is easy to understand when viewed against what was understood of medicine and science in medieval times. Since the mechanics of decomposition was so little understood one can see how people let their imaginations go wild. They didn’t know about the shrinking of the skin which gave the appearance of hair and nail growth after death. Nor did they understand the natural causes of blood pooling in the eyes and mouth during early decomposition due to the work of gasses inside the body. All of these observations coupled with such a limited body of knowledge lead to one simple conclusion; the dead were leaving this graves and feasting on the living. Even the solution of the wooden stake was a very rational one. If you want to anchor something to the ground you drove a stake through it. It was thought the stake driven into the consecrated ground of the churchyard would be enough to keep these wandering undead in place whether or not it pierced the heart. A simple solution to a simple problem.

So if the myth grew from observations then where did the vampire character come from. That may be harder to answer without picking a specific character and time period. The vampire tale’s rise in Victorian England came about as a response to the sexual repression of the period. Some of which we still see in the sex appeal of vampires today. Humans are also creatures of appetite. We often eat not until satisfied but until we feel ill. We will hoard and stockpile for the future all that we deem important; our appetites insatiable. How reassuring it is to know there is a creature that surpasses even human level appetites. The hunger that drives the vampire is a reflection to absurd levels of our drives whether they are sex, drink, wealth or food (blood of course). Lastly I would be remiss if I did not mention our love of nostalgia. The good old days are just beyond our reach but an immortal being represents a crucial link to those past times. The vampire represents our shared past by having lived, or unlived, though it. We also have an innate respect built up for our elders so an immortal would command the ultimate respect. Plus think of how rich they would be, talk about old money. Though that concept certainly flies in the face of the reality of money and inflation.

For a writer, these three elements of vampire lore provide fertile material for incredible characters and drama. These are creatures we can fear, love, hate, fantasize over and laugh at. My next novel is is a vampire story and I am beginning to work on another. I look on these works as a challenge to take the familiar lore and twist it in a new way for the reader. I also enjoy reading vampire stories especially ones that have brought something new to the genre. Stephenie Myer’s Twilight was an awesome read as was The Fixer from Jon F Mertz, to name a couple of recent reads of mine. Both of these works, though they couldn’t be further apart, took the lore in new directions. That is what makes them such good reads. Vampire stories are an acquired taste, (pun intended), but one that I know I will be returning to again and again and one worthy of reading if you haven’t.

New Character

It’s funny how things happen. Last night while my wife and I trolled Facebook she came across a post that influenced me to rewrite one of the characters in my new novel. I had originally planned this character to be a love interest of the main character, Constable Darrow, but that wasn’t working out so now I had a lame character.

Not any more. I don’t want to reveal too much because this is too good. Let’s just say the name Peaches Corona kind of says it all. I love it when you’re working on something and a new piece falls on the table that just makes the rest of the pieces all click together. That’s when writing is the most exciting and rewarding. The best part is I was already heading down the path and I didn’t even know it.