by Elle Cyre
Many thoughts on how writing has influenced my life.
|Viewing life from a writer’s perspective.|
|I've never taken a creative writing course or class. I paid attention in English class but I didn't study hard, especially when it got into participles and predicates and such. So, basically, everything I know about writing I've learned from reading and I guess that isn't a bad thing, because they advise young writers to read as much as they can.
I try to follow the rules of writing. I listened to beginners advice about avoiding adverbs and the dreaded passive voice and trying to keep your sentences the right length, etc. I've tried to keep info-dumps to a minimum and to show things about a character in dialog or action instead of listing their attributes like a resume. But for all the mechanics and rules I tried to follow, my writing just lacked something.
You know how it is when you've been told something time and time again and you just don't get it? Or you do, but you don't understand how to do it? Descriptions were that way with me. I know, when I read, I want to know where the characters are but long descriptions can bore me and then I don't really care to know what the room looks like or where the table is.
I've been reading a lot of books over this winter; a lot; like, four books a week. (I'm horrible, I know). They have all been westerns written between the years 1910-1940. To begin with, I've learned a lot about what life was like back then, even in the cities, and the strange mix of technology and cars with the old fashioned way of life with horses and buckboards. I had to learn the lingo used then, what a 'biscuit-shooter' is and 'cayuse' and what 'riding fence' means and what to ride round-up with a 'long rope' implies. And I've learned a lot about writing without even realizing it.
The western genre has been rather dramatic and romanticized over the years, especially movies. Some authors were probably to blame more than others. I have yet to read any of Louis L'Amour's books even though he is the most famous western novelist. However, I've read Zane Grey, Max Brand, William McLeod Raine, Charles Alden Seltzer, Owen Wister and B.M. Bower. I'm no expert critic, but each author has a distinct style. Some of the books have the cliche storyline, the outlaw villain, the larger-than-life hero and the damsel-in-distress sweetheart that always manages to get kidnapped or something. If you read the same author's stories and not just their more popular books, you'll see their tendencies and duplicate plotlines. Some of them describe their cowboy heroes the same way in different books so that they are essentially the same character under a different name and with a different hair or eye color.
I don't mean this to be a review on western authors, but the more books I've read, the more I've begun to appreciate B.M. Bower's works. Her stories don't have the picturesque villains or gunslingers and her characters aren't as 'larger-than-life' than some of the other novels. In fact, her characters poke fun at the dime novels and 'moving pictures' that depict such a wild, untamed west. Her plots are rather tame compared to the other authors. She wrote several books about the 'Flying U Ranch' in Montana and the 'Happy Family' of cowboys that ranged there. Each book has a plot and climax, of course, but the books are more like a collection of separate adventures and are driven by the characters and their unique personalities and adventures. Some are hilarious, like the story of the French chef hired to cook for the round-up.
Bower writes about movie-making and aspiring authors and I wonder if hints of her personal battles with the publishers bleed into her writing. She describes the West as she knew it and for what it really was like, not painted up in picturesque towns and outlaws. And that's one thing I've learned from reading her books: write what you know and what is real; don't be afraid to let your characters be themselves and not some mechanical puppets or over-emotional actors. If the reader falls in love with the characters they don't care so much how exciting the plot or action is. A dinner among friends, if written with real humor or with the awkward tension or petty disagreements of everyday life, can be an action scene.
So anyway, getting back to the problem I have with writing descriptions, reading Bower's works gave me a 'lightbulb' moment. I realized that she brought scenes and places to life for me without a laundry list of mundane words. How? By just focusing my attention on one or two key elements that allowed me to frame the rest of the scene in with my imagination.
We all know what a 'room' looks like, right? It has four walls and a floor and a ceiling so don't waste words by giving the reader a floor-plan of the house (unless it features heavily later in the plot or something). We all know what tables and chairs look like, what a carpet is and windows and curtains, etc. If you use common nouns to describe common things, you just weigh the paragraph down and lose the reader's interest. So, be specific with what you describe; go into detail about the carpet, chairs and tablecloth. However, you can't do it all at once or it is the same barrage of words that confuses the reader.
Bower does an excellent job of sneaking little descriptions along the way. For instance, while two characters are talking, one of them might fidget with his boot and pick at the frayed end of the rug. The other might run her finger over the chipped edge of the lamp on the table beside her. Those little details help frame the picture of the 'room' in your mind without loading them onto you before you even enter it.
If your POV character enters a room, are they going to notice all the intricate details and flaws in the curtain or carpet right away? Not likely. Draw their attention to them by increments along the way. Same with the description of people. At first glance they might note their height and weight but probably won't know their eye color unless the person was staring at them or something. In this way, Bower uses action or dialog to fill-in the subtle mannerisms or appearance. She'll have her lady tuck that unruly golden lock behind her ear multiple times instead of stating that she has curly blonde hair. Her cowboy will leap into the saddle without touching the stirrups instead of telling you that he is young, athletic and a little reckless.
The hardest part, of course, is using this knowledge the right way in your writing. What parts of the scene should you chose to describe and when? What will bring the right picture in mind to the reader; the gleam off the shining floor of the spaceship or the moisture clinging to the walls of the old castle dungeon or the fine lace doilies under grandma's lamp?
|Death is the most powerful element in a book. Of everything that happens to the characters, that is the one thing that they can not pick themselves up from. It seals their fate; finishes their part in the story.
It seems a modern trend to kill-off a lot of main characters--even the main protagonist. It isn't an original idea; in Shakespeare's tragedies the heroes and heroines died alongside the villains. However, of late it seems more of a crude way to 'shock' the reader, a 'bet-you-didn't-see-that-coming' sort of thing. Which is fine, I guess, but I'm not really a fan.
There are also a lot of 'return-from-the-dead' scenarios, and while I can't complain if my favorite characters didn't actually die or were resurrected somehow, the trend is disturbing. For one thing, it cheapens death. It tricks you into feeling emotional over the loss and then, surprise! they're actually fine. The next time a character dies you've got a secret hope that maybe, somehow, they'll come back too. Any off-screen death, for instance, is an instant giveaway--which then forces the characters who die and actually stay dead to die in ways that convince us beyond a doubt that they're dead (which isn't any easier to watch).
I'm no expert on writing character deaths but I have researched a few helpful articles on the subject. Why? Well, if I have to kill a character I want my readers to feel every bit as heartbroken over their death as I do. When I first started writing, years and years ago, I treated death like all the other books I read did, tossing it around without a thought about who was dying or why. Then it began to sink in; death is really important. Every character should be given a proper send-off or should just stay alive.
The heartbeat rule of writing, with peaks and lows of action, climax and aftermath, is very important to follow. If there is a mini-climax in the middle of the book, or the beginning or anywhere, it shouldn't rival the ending climax. Everything else should merely build-up to that very epic end or else the reader is disappointed and the story falls flat at the end. That's another good reason not to needlessly kill-off characters in the beginning and middle because that means the ending has to top that and you need even more death and such. It is better to use the powerful element sparingly so that it has the maximum effect when you need it to.
There are a lot of traps to fall into when killing a character. The first one is when you have no further use for them in the story so, you know, just toss them aside at first chance. Who cares, right? The second one is trying to find motivation for a character's change of heart or opinion on the matter so naturally you kill off his wife and children. Finally, there's the one when you need to make the bad-guy seem more evil and more worthy of the good-guy's hatred so you have them kill one of their friends.
I can say I'm guilty of all three in some form or another, especially the last one. (What do you do to make the villain more of a bad guy?) But there are lots of ways to steer away from these pitfalls, and if you are aware of why you feel compelled to kill someone (in your story) then you're one step closer to fixing the issue. You just need to use your imagination. If a character has grown stale, there are other ways to give rid of them that aren't as dire as death. Have them get married; leave the country; take a promotion. And if a character needs an extra jolt to get them in the fight, chose another reason other than the horrible massacre of his only family. Why do cliches happen? Because we, as writers, are sometimes lazy and just use something that has worked before without putting in the effort to create something unique.
Getting back to death. Someone dies in every story; it just wouldn't be realistic without it. Maybe all the characters who died are all in the past--parents, grandparents, old friends, acquaintances, etc.--and maybe their deaths were perfectly natural and came at the expected ages. Maybe some of them were tragic or unexpected. Maybe your story starts out with a death or maybe it ends with one. In whatever shape or form, death is going to enter your story one way or another.
There are more rules to follow to ensure a character's death makes the maximum effect on your readers; provided, of course, that you've sent the character through the 'necessary death' screening and they still must die. I'm only going to address one of them and it comes from the horror film industry; the fact that the anticipation of what will happen is worse than the actual event when it occurs.
So, in some way, you need to give the reader a clue as to that character's particular fate. It doesn't have to be obvious or taken seriously at the time; just so that later they can look back after the fact and make the connection. Maybe it is just a joke about someone not being able to swim and later they drown, or a random comment about a gun's tendency to jam and it fails them in the heat of battle. Just give the reader a hint of the danger that threatens that particular character so they are aware their life might be in peril--and if you don't want to tip your hand as to who dies, just give similar threats and clues about the other characters as well.
A sudden death can shock your readers, for sure, but if it happens too quickly, the reader doesn't have time to be anything other than surprised. In that case you have to give them time to mourn by making the other characters go through the grieving process.
Writing the actual thing is the hardest part. In film, the dramatic scenes use slow motion to help the viewer grasp what is happening and draw out the anticipation. In writing, we're told to do the opposite by 'speeding up' action; using shorter sentences and getting the point across with as few as words as possible. I know, as a reader, I always end of re-reading action scenes, sometimes three of four times, just so I know exactly what is happening. You don't want to write action in a way that tempts your reader to skip ahead to the climax, but you also don't want them having to backtrack just to figure out what is going on.
Of course saying it is one thing and writing it is another.
|I view the world from a writer's perspective.
What exactly does that mean? Well, just now outside my window is a white sky with dark, leafless tree branches swaying in the wind. It is not worth taking a picture of; in fact, it's rather an ugly sight but I had to look at it in order to describe it. So, in a way, that's what having a writer's perspective means: seeing the words that paint the picture you see.
I took a walk the other day. Again, this time of year where I live is usually cold and windy, but that day we had a spring thaw and the sun was shining. So, although my view lacked green grass, flowers, leaves on the trees and the scent of fresh cut lawns or even fluffy clouds in a bright blue sky or the colors of sunset (my favorite), it really was beautiful. I heard squirrels rustling around in the dry leaves and melting snow trickling down off the hills. I felt the mild breeze and the soft, saturated ground under the tread of my winter boots. I watched rivers of snowmelt gush down the roads and form riverbeds in the ice and sand until plunging into the drainage system. To top it all off, I heard the cry of a bird (I think it was a hawk or eagle) and saw three dark specks circling high in the prevailing winds.
There isn't much to do in winter around here so I've been reading a lot of books; like, a lot. I'm afraid it makes me rather unsocial and further removed from reality than I normally am, but it has heightened my appreciation for the simple things that I tend to miss about the world around me.
And this is just the natural, physical world that the writer's lens adds to. There is a much more important reality that writing can give us insight to, but it remains more of a mystery: human behavior. Every single person you see during your day is living a life separate from yours. They are all unique unto themselves. Everyone has a different way of smiling, of laughing or crying. Each voice sounds a little different and everyone walks a certain way. There are endless traits and mannerisms and quirks to observe and meditate upon.
I only wish my perspective was a little more accommodating of others; a little more sensitive to their pains and problems and not so far removed from it all.
|The hand of fate...
It's a tricky tool to use in a story. More than anything, it is the 'hand' of the author. If we want something to happen or two characters to meet, we just twist the narrative around until it occurs. We can invent any crazy scenario. The trouble is making it believable.
I recently read a book in which the main protagonist got lost in a blizzard way up in the remote mountains, stumbled onto a small cabin in the hills and sought shelter with the occupants, only for them to turn out to be men of disputable behavior. Her safety in jeopardy, who should come staggering out of the same blizzard, just as lost, seeking shelter? Her love interest, of course. He arrived in time to save her and handled those ruffians with a firm hand.
I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the turn of events. It was just the slim likelihood that such a thing would happen and all the different elements of chance falling into place. Obviously the author wanted the scene to unfold that way and called it fate or destiny or whatever. But if you don't want to show your 'hand' to the reader, it's best to be more subtle. Twisting the above tale to give the hero a reason for being at the cabin would have made it more believable; say he lived there, or knew the occupants, or was there on business or was looking for his friend--anything other than dropping in out of the blue.
In real life, some things happen that are out of our control. We can call it fate or fortune or luck or whatever else we want to. The fact is that it exists. Some people experience more of it than others. We only have to read the news to hear amazing stories of chance or luck; lovers that met under crazy circumstances, people stopping to help someone that turns out to be a long-lost relative, etc. As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. (But that's because we want our work to be believable, right?
Keep in mind, though, the majority of people on earth don't have wondrous things happen to them. They don't win the lottery. They don't bump into their soul-mate at an intersection. They don't score the winning touchdown by having the ball bounce their way. We live boring lives in which nothing spectacular happens.
However, that doesn't mean that the 'hand' of fate or luck leaves us alone. We just need to pay more attention because the author is being very subtle. When you write, you don't create random scenes that don't have anything to do with the story (or at least, you're not supposed to). You don't make your characters suffer or cry or laugh without a good reason. You throw them curve balls and let them whiff and whiff again because you know in the end they'll crush it out of the park. You put an obstacle in their path for a later purpose; maybe it's a locked door; maybe an accident or sudden blizzard; maybe it is the loss of a job or the death of someone close. There is always a reason for it.
Ponder the pains you put your characters through and contrast them with everything that has happened in your own life. Does it compare? What are the things that 'fate' has thrown in your path? Most of them are probably of the negative kind and not happy chance but it doesn't mean the author doesn't like you. Who would give their main character everything they ever dreamed of in the first chapter? That wouldn't make a good story! You've got to work it out over many, many, many pages and only in the end, the very end, do they find what they always been looking for. Sometimes what their ideas of true happiness changes; sometimes they realize their true love isn't the attractive person just out of their reach but the steadfast friend who has been beside them for years; sometimes, at the end of their journey, they understand just how important their modest little home is to them; sometimes they find money and power are empty pleasures and discover peace of heart is a greater treasure.
The next time something unexpected happens in your life, view it as a plot twist. And keep a close eye on the main protagonist to ensure you are learning something from it and not slipping back into the same pits and falls,
|I attended a meeting with a surprise guest speaker--a stand-up comedian/world famous juggler/motivational speaker/all-around entertaining gentleman. His message? Simple: take control of your life.
He asked us to view our daily lives as scripts to a movie or play. We have the power to determine what we do or say. Most of us repeat the same old routine, day after day, but he said those were the old scripts. Why keep returning to what doesn't work? An entertainer would never reuse a script that didn't make his audience laugh.
As writers, we can create any character and put them into any situation. It isn't so easy with our own lives. We can't wake up one morning and be rich and famous just because we'd like to be. However, we have control over how we behave toward others and ourselves. We can be nice, kind and helpful; we can smile more.
Analyze the characters you insert in your stories and think about the ones you pick as the heroes/heroines and those you chose as the villains. Think about the subtle flaws and motivations that control their decisions and what led them to become who they end up being. What are the old scripts in their lives, the past hurts and wrongs done to them that they have never let go of? Why are they who they are?
Every character is unique. Everyone has a story. That's why we write, to tell stories and journeys and struggles between our antagonists and protagonists. A villain can be anyone--or anything. Maybe it is the environment someone grew up in--or their heritage--or maybe it's the bad influence of their peers. It can even be nature--bad weather, a volcano, a flood, the ocean, etc.
Not everyone has Darth Vader for a father. Not everyone is the chosen one in some ancient prophesy. Most of us have no idea who the villain is in our story or the goal that we are striving for. We have dreams and secret wishes but we know some of them are impossible. Hard work only gets you so far. Why is it that some of us never reach the heights like others do? What makes them successful while the rest toil in vain for the same end? Are we not strong enough?
Consider all the different genres you can pick from when creating a new item on this site and then what category your piece falls into. How is it in your own life? Maybe you're not living an adventure or romance novel. Maybe your life is one of those long novels with little action and more descriptions of the daily weather. Maybe the most excitement in your life is your drive to work--who cut you off, which yellow lights you squeaked through, how many bright green cars you saw, etc. Maybe the highlight of your day is when you can finally go to bed, or those mornings when the alarm doesn't have to be set.
I don't recommend writing a book about your life; that would be boring. But keep the concept in mind and reflect on what you would write in each situation. How would you want yourself, as your main character, to act? If action isn't the driving force of your life, focus on the character aspect. Many long novels have surprisingly little plot but are enjoyable to read because the author develops the main character so well that you feel like you know him/her. You read page after page because you want to know how their story ends. You want them to be happy. In the back of your mind, regardless of however many disappointments and heartaches they go through, you trust the author to give them a satisfactory ending. Maybe it has a hint of sadness but you put the book down with an overall good feeling as to the outcome.
|I want to write a book
in which the main character is an average person with a boring life.
He has hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow,
but in reality he is stuck in a dead-end job.
I want to write a book
in which my character has let go of his hopes and dreams.
He no longer believes he will be a hero.
He thinks that he isn't meant to be famous.
I want to write a book
in which that character is plucked away from his boring routine
and summoned to do something great for his country
right after he has just excepted his mundane life.
I want to write a book
in which the hero was a famous person with a grand life
who believed he was destined for great things
but while grasping at greatness, had a terrible fall.
I want to write a book
in which the hero has hit rock bottom.
He has lost everything and anyone who ever cared about him
but has accepted the simple life of anonymity.
I want to write a book
in which the hero is yanked away from his oblivion
and thrust back into the spotlight from which he fell
and from which he now would prefer to hide.
I want to write a book
in which the main character and hero,
an unlikely pair from different walks of life,
are thrust together to save their country.
I want to write a book
that defies stereotypes and roles,
that rejects the rules society establishes
and highlights the meek and powerless.
I want to write a book
where success isn't something measurable.
Where failures and falls are common
and hide underlining meaning and purpose.
I want to write a book
that isn't filled with sunshine
nor lost in the blackest night
but lit by a often obscured moon.
I want to write a book
that paints a picture of life
of lost hopes and dreams
that are replaced by unexpected hope.
I want to write a book
about friendship and loyalty
where past wrongs are made right
and old wounds prove to be useful.
I want to write a book
to tell the lives of my characters.
They've lived through so much inside my head.
They are as real to me as a best friend.
I want to write a book
so I can share them with others
and let them enjoy their journey
and draw inspiration from them as I have.
I want so much to write a book
so the characters can live on
and their stories be read by many
so they don't die when I do.
Imagine a castle city and tall tower
built with rock and height and power
surrounded on all sides by a deep moat
without a bridge for man or moor for boat.
There, within the pillar of stone
you'll find a woman, all alone.
No chains, no locks, no dragon's lair
yet kept a prisoner of thin air.
She's not afraid; she's not unwell;
she chose the place in which she dwells;
despite its looks and loneliness
she finds it quite the homiest.
Perhaps no one can understand;
but she is queen of her own land.
She built the barricades and walls
and guards them with her own laws.
Within lies a singular treasure
to her, precious beyond measure.
She keeps it locked away inside
safe in the darkness where she hides.
No man can scale the wall
no man would dare the fall.
They ride past without a second glance
not one is willing to take a chance.
She watches them go with glee
laughing to herself as they flee
while within she dreams and waits;
for what she cannot anticipate.
Until, the treasure awoke one year
and began to look around in fear.
for you see, from the very start
that precious treasure was her heart.
Perhaps she was turning to stone
perhaps the tower wasn't her home
perhaps no one would ever care
to scale her castle in the air.
Only a man of strength might win
and break his way within
but the barricades were so high
that no one could hear her cry...
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;
Silver white winters that melt into spring;
these are a few of my favorite things:
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes:
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes:
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings;
these are a few of my favorite things;
Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels;
Doorbells and sleigh-bells and schnitzel with noodles;
Brown-paper packages tied up with strings;
these are a few of my favorite things.
Everyone has heard this song enough times to start humming the refrain, right? (Sorry if it's stuck in your head the rest of the day.) But how many times have you really thought about each "favorite thing"? Let's picture each one of them:
Sparkling raindrops balancing precariously on the edge of ruby red rose petals...
Delicate white whiskers that look far too large for the teeny tiny kitten with its short fluffy hair and pink little nose...
A shiny orange kettle of plum pudding steaming and whistling over the fire...
Soft mittens made of fuzzy green yarn...
The frozen mornings after a wintery mix when all the tree branches are coated in ice and snow...
A row of little girls with silky smooth gowns and royal blue sashes, wearing matching bows in their hair...
The gentle snow storms with the huge fluffy flakes that float down from a gray sky and linger on your face...
A midnight sky speckled with bright stars and a huge moon while a 'V' pattern of geese glide by...
The shaggy Shetland ponies with long manes and tails and their fuzzy coats the color of vanilla pudding speckled with brown flecks...
A crunchy-yet-gooey strudel filled with sweet and tangy apples, cinnamon and raisins...
The sound of an old-fashioned doorbell echoing in an old house...
The high-pitched jingling of tiny bells on a sleigh pulled by a Clydesdale horse through snowbanks resembling whipped cream...
Schnitzel...um...I think it is a type of breaded-pork dish...? fried to a crisp, smothered in blond gravy over linguine noodles...
Christmas gifts that come wrapped in the mail with exciting postmarks from far-away aunts or family friends...
Whew, that was hard! But a really good exercise for the imagination. Which brings on the next challenge: make a list of your favorite things. Think of all the images or sensations that move you deep inside and then incorporate them in your writing. Here are some of mine:
After sledding or hiking, when you're hot, to lie in the snow and feel the cold seep into your back...
The soft touch of snowflakes on your cheeks and eyelashes...(see above)...
The dancing and shifting of a fire--the yellows, oranges and blues--the shapes and brightness of the flames--the snapping, crackling and breaking of the logs as they burn...
The flight and soaring of sparks from a fire as they twinkle and die in the blue-black sky...
The steamy clouds of your breath on a cold day--how it withers and vanishes...
A tall forest of white pines with their soft yellow carpet of fallen needles...
The roar of the wind through the tops of pines...
The creaking and groaning of tree branches in the wind--the scratching of twigs against windows or siding...
Sleeping on the floor of a strange house with strange noises--clock ticking, floors creaking, furnace turning on and off in the basement...
Laying on your back in a dark room while headlights from passing cars glide and shift through the windows and curtains...
The far-away sound of semi-trucks on an interstate.
The rhythm and whine of your tires on concrete interstates.
These are just a few I can think of. Most of them I have included while writing. I intend to dream about a few more.
|My stories used to be plot-driven with cliché people in cliché roles. You have the bad guy, the good guy, the hero, the girl, etc. Then I read about character development and I realized how bland mine were. Or maybe they still are; how can I know for certain unless someone else reads my work?
I started by figuring out their personalities and working on consistency. I know from experience that when I'm reading a book, I do not like when someone acts 'out of character'. You spend half the book learning who they are--then they go and do something that doesn't fit who they are. Maybe it is breaking down into hysterics. Maybe it is getting really, really angry and hurting someone with words. Or maybe they throw a punch. Whatever it is, even if it fits into the current scene, it is more important that it matches the character's tendencies. Learn how they think, what makes them think that way and how they handle themselves in anger, grief, disappointment and boredom. Then stay true to them.
The most important element of a character are their strengths and weaknesses. They have to have them--no one is perfect and no one is completely worthless. Wherever they are on the balance of scales, heavy on strengths or heavy on weaknesses, both play a role in their journey. A character must have a story arc--they can't be the exact same person at the end of the book as the beginning. Maybe the change isn't dramatic but there should be a little growth. Unless you are writing a tragedy, your main characters should overcome one or most of their faults.
A lot of character development has to do with their past. Often times a tragic event has left a scar on their psyche. It may contribute to their flaws and weaknesses. Dig deep into their memories. However, a word of warning: 90% of what you write about a character's past should be kept off the pages. Store it in your notes--use it for reference. Provide hints and suggestions of what happened to them. Under no circumstances spell it all out. Just don't.
Why not? Why go through all the trouble of discovering who your character is and then keep all that juicy past a secret? Well, maybe it is just me, but the more mysterious a character is, the more interesting they are. Especially if they are anti-heroes or villains. I'll use Star Wars as an example: Darth Vader. The original trilogy does enough explanation of his past for me to understand and respect him. Then the prequel trilogy tells his story in great detail, getting down into his deepest fears and pain and loss. I get it--but I didn't need all of that information to like Darth Vader. In fact, I liked him more before I learned who Anakin Skywalker was. Another example is Boba Fett. I didn't need to learn who his father was or who killed him or why he became a bounty hunter. He was cool enough in Empire Strikes Back. (BTW my number one pet peeve in movies is when a mysterious villain or hero takes off their helmet. I get the idea of finally seeing the man behind the mask, but more often than not, it ruins the mystique of the character. Anyway...)
The bottom line is, when it comes to a decision of revealing more or less about a character, choose less. Leave some things up to the imagination of your reader. Sure, you can know all of the details, but painting a vague picture leaves more room for individual interpretation.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not taking about the actual appearance of the characters. If you are going to mention their height or age or hair color, do so very soon after introducing them. Nothing is worse than forming a mental picture of a girl while reading only to learn much later on that she has black hair and not blonde!
I'm talking about their past. Give the reader enough general information and hints so they can form an idea of what happened. Let them know only the bare minimum. I'm speaking from experience. I have an anti-hero in one of my stories that has a terrible past. It has left him scarred in more ways than one. When I had him tell his heart-breaking story, I noticed he lost his flavor, so to speak, and I didn't enjoy writing him as much as I had before. He spilled his secrets to the other characters--and the reader--and so he was no longer interesting.
So, when you develop characters, keep it to yourself. In a way, it is the show-not-tell, rule. Use the information to write realistic and complex personalities that your readers will fall in love with. Don't make them read a monologue or sob-story full of excuses and reasons why your bad guy or anti-hero acts the way he does.
My opinion of the Hunger Games.
Not really. I'm in no position to give an opinion because I haven't read the books and only watched the first film. But my impression of Katniss Everdeen was not a pleasant one. I'm all for strong, heroic female characters, but my issue with her was that she was too perfect. Now maybe the book goes into more detail as to her flaws, but the movie did a poor job showing them. She is talented with a bow (practically famous for it), she is brave (volunteers for her sister), and aside from the death of her father, doesn't seem to suffer from any fear.
Peeta, on the other hand, has weaknesses and strengths. He confesses some secrets and dreams. He knows he isn't a hero or brave enough to win the Games. I felt he almost should have been the main character instead of Katniss.
Anyway...something to keep in mind while you are creating your super awesome hero or heroine: don't write from their perspective. It is hard for the reader to relate to them. Most of us are average people and we like to read about average characters who go above and beyond--not above average characters with everything going for them.
|Writer's block is a broad term for many different problems author's encounter. In a general sense, it is when you get stuck and don't feel like continuing. But what is the cause? Well, it might be because the story isn't headed in the right direction or your plot isn't strong enough or your characters have lost their flavor. Or maybe you just don't feel inspired.
That is the biggest block I encounter. Inspiration is a tricky thing. It's hard to describe; like euphoria maybe. My fingers race along and the characters move naturally along from scene to scene. The only thing that slows me down is searching for the right word. When I don't have that magical feeling, I sit in front of the keyboard and nothing comes.
I've read how to overcome writer's block. Most advice tells you to just keep going; focus on writing one word after the other; fight through the sentences until they become paragraphs and pages. I've tried that. Sometimes I am just stuck between scenes. I just need to move my characters through the lull until they reach the next exciting moment. It is hard not to jump ahead to the action but the reader needs a bit of respite after a climax to let it sink in.
However, this method of ploughing on through the tough, boring stretches can be dangerous, especially if you are moving your characters from point A to point B. I'll use the Lord of the Rings as an example. In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam finally reach Mordor. They have just endured Shelob's Lair and escaped Cirtith Ungol--both very traumatic experiences. What remains for them is to cross the desolate plain, ("riddled with fire and ash and dust") and climb Mt Doom. Okay. Simple, right? Those were the hardest pages of any book for me to read--and Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books! Why were they so hard to read? Because they were pages upon pages of description and toil and weariness without any relief of conversation or action to break the monotony.
I recall reading somewhere (in Tolkien's biography maybe?) that those chapters were hard for him to write. He struggled through a mini-writer's block for whatever reason. Is that why they weren't as enjoyable as the rest of his trilogy? Maybe.
I make this argument: if inspiration makes pages and pages fly by as you write and those parts become page-turning for your reader--lack of inspiration makes every sentence a struggle and your reader will struggle just as hard to read what you wrote. Even if you are a master of literature like J.R.R. Tolkien (and I'm certainly not).
So what can we do? Edit, obviously. The point of writing through the hard parts is just to throw off writer's block and get the creative juices flowing. If what you write isn't any good, go back and re-write it. As they say, you can't edit a blank page. But what do we do if what we wrote isn't necessarily good but isn't all that bad? Sometimes it is really hard to tell if your words are boring or the scene. It is easy to hold onto some bland material just because we don't want to write it over again. But we can lose an opportunity for a lot of little details in our descriptions that could turn an average journey from point A to B into a memorable one.
I tend to focus on the scenes that I like. I'll add details and texture. I'll remember to mention subtle sounds or smells to bring the reader into the moment. However, I forget to do the same to the rest. I've written so many paragraphs that I read and just shrug afterwards:...'meh'. Not bad--but not good either. It is important to remember if you don't like what you wrote, your reader won't either.
Other advice to overcome writer's block is to shake up the scene or scenario that you are stuck at; introduce a new character, throw in an action scene or maybe put your protagonist in an awkward spot. Another way is to shift perspectives. Use a fresh pair of 'eyes' to explore other characters or places. Sometimes it is fun to explore a wild idea and see how far you can take it before backtracking to the main plot.
I find the most important thing is to not take yourself so seriously. Don't treat your work as a hallowed masterpiece all the time--mix it up. Write some outlandish fanfiction with your characters. Bring out their humorous side. Joke around with the bad guy. Pretend they made a B-movie out of it and write some cheesy dialogue. Insert your main characters in your favorite movie script and see how they do. Overall, just have fun! You might be surprised and actually keep some of the material you end up with.