I got a few reader questions about what I do before I write a book, so that’s the topic of this week’s vlog post (which is late. Oops).
We’re talking ideas, characters, plotting, and pantsing!
I got a few reader questions about what I do before I write a book, so that’s the topic of this week’s vlog post (which is late. Oops).
We’re talking ideas, characters, plotting, and pantsing!
Griselda Beaumage is a teacher at Ernis Albion’s school on Belleisle.
As we know from Torn, she’s a powerful Sorceress–an omnilinguist and an illusionist, to be precise, though she has other skills that Rowan knows nothing about. She’s tall and intimidating, and fiercely intelligent. She’s a bit of a hero for Rowan, who hasn’t really had a Sorceress to look up to. Sure, there are a few other female students at the school, but a true Sorceress is a rarity, and Griselda has had a lot longer than those students have to hone her skills.
She’s an adventurer, and has been spending significant time in Luid as the guest of the Tiernal family and as an ambassador.
She’s more than that, though.
Griselda is a scholar of magic. She’s far older than she appears (one of the benefits of strong magic), and has spent decades exploring the world outside of Serath. Her gifts with languages have allowed her to travel as she pleases, communicating with people and intelligent species the world over. She spent years among centaurs–previously a misunderstood and nearly legendary group, as far as her people were concerned. She has loved, and she has lost far more than she will ever let on in front of her students.
She’s also a character whose history I’d love to dig deeper into some day. She’s not the only one. If I were to write every story I wanted to that branched off from the Bound trilogy, I’d be looking at…
*counts on fingers*
*takes off socks, counts on toes*
A hell of a lot of work ahead of me. I’d love to follow the merfolk to their world, to explore new lands with Griselda, to seek out the Aeyer and witness their clan wars. A dragon’s story would be a challenge, but an interesting one.
And then there are the two trilogies I’m actually planning to set in this world, one historical and one set in the near future.
There was a time when I worried I’d run out of stories to tell. That was before I met my characters and realized that each one of them is the key to a door that opens up new lands, new worlds, and new adventures.
Have I mentioned that I love my job?
Quick, because I need to outline and write another scene before I start cooking supper in an hour. Totally not going to happen, still going to try!
I broke 14,000 words for NaNoWriMo this morning, which was nice. I got NO words yesterday (school event in the morning, guilt over housework in the afternoon, boot-buying mission after school, “V for Vendetta” at night), so it felt good to get two scenes in this morning that I was excited about. I met a new character, too, who was a lovely surprise. Her name is Griselda Beaumage, and she’s a blond sorceress who wears high boots and leather pants. She has a French accent and coined the word “Sorchere” this morning (combination of “sorciere” and “chere”). I don’t know where she came from, but I’m kind of in love.
I think it’s because I put lipstick on to make my muse feel special. I’ll have to keep doing that.
So there we go. We’re going away on Saturday evening, so that’ll put a dent in my productivity (and my ability to participate in the NaNoWriMo marathon). But darn it, I’m going to take my computer and write while we’re away. This book is exploding with bright, shiny things, and I’m not going to leave it alone until this draft is finished.
For more ROW80 goodness, click here!
I guess I should put something up, but there’s no time to edit. Ack. Here’s the first 6 paragraphs of the scene where Griselda introduced herself, for the 6th of October. Sorry for the first-draftiness, but I have Things of Great Importance to do…
The lights dimmed, allowing gloom to creep into the corners of the classroom. A breeze whispered past my ear, and a pale apparition appeared at the doorway. Smoke at first, nearly invisible, but solidifying into the form of a bright green dragon. Every part of it was beautiful, from the arch of its snake-like neck to the way the sunlight from the windows reflected off of its overlapping metallic scales.
The creature came closer, neck and back arched, nostrils flaring, steam rising from its mouth. Bright red eyes locked on mine. It lifted a foreleg to paw at the air, and took a few more steps, until it stood nose to nose with me where I sat frozen on the professor’s desk at the front of the room. The scaled lips rolled back, baring vicious fangs that dripped with an unfamiliar poison.
“Can I touch her?” I asked.
“Give it a try.”
I reached out, and my hand passed through the steam unharmed. The dragon snapped at me, and its teeth closed together over my wrist without resistance. The dragon’s flesh looked as real and solid as my own, but I felt nothing.
“Incredible,” I whispered.
Join the fun, or just see what those crazy WIPpeteers are up to here! Thank you, KL Schwengel, for hosting even when life is hitting you hard. ❤
And with that, I leave you. Let me know what you’re up to this week! WriMos, are you participating in the marathon on the 9th? Anyone doing word sprints on Twitter? Everyone else care to share what’s happening these days? Want to lie on the couch, talk about your mother? HMMMM?
Thanks for stopping by!
HOLY CRAP DID YOU WATCH THIS SHOW?
Well, we just started, so please, no spoilers in the comments! AJ and I are working our way through Season 2 of Breaking Bad, and we’re… is it bad form to say addicted? It’s a strange sort of show in that it has me rooting for characters who are doing Very Bad Things– and even for characters whose positions put them in conflict with each other. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure, this is a show about a brilliant, over-qualified high-school Chemistry teacher who finds out he has lung cancer. Bad. Health care in the USA being what it is, he can’t afford treatment, and doesn’t want to leave his wife (pregnant at 40-ish with a surprise baby) and his 16-year old son (who has cerebral palsy) with his debts. So he can choose to die, or to make money.
There’s money in meth, and he knows chemistry.
It’s a fascinating story on several levels, and I’ve heard it only gets better. The characters aren’t always likeable; certainly no one is perfect, and I wouldn’t want to trade places with any one of them, two things that we often hear are important in a protagonist. The thing is, though, that they all have believable goals and motivations, and we as an audience can empathize with them, whether we agree with their actions or not.
The best thing about this show, and the one that I’d like to talk about today, is CONFLICT.
Sweet thundering methamphetamines, do the writers on this show know how to create tension and conflict. I’d like to look at one episode, which AJ and I watched last night, for a few examples. There will be episode spoilers, so fair warning there, but no series spoilers for anyone who’s just starting out, like I am (Hi, Robyn!).
The episode (Season 2) is called 4 Days Out.
We start out with tension inherent in the situation. Walt (our chemistry teacher/meth cook) has managed to pay for his first round of treatments, but has very little left over to put toward his family’s upkeep if he dies. He’s had an MRI to see how things are looking, and won’t get his results for a week– but he saw a terrifying blotch in his lungs on the scan, and is certain his time is running out. He and Jesse (his former student and the guy who does the selling) head out to the desert to cook up a storm while they can.
We, the audience, know that what they’re doing is illegal, and most of us probably think that selling meth is wrong (especially after the characters we met in a previous episode. It’s a hell of a drug, guys). Still, we feel for Walt. He loves his family, but he’s lying to them to protect them, and it’s causing problems in his marriage.* He is absolutely certain he’s dying, and feels he has no choice but to do this. Back against a wall, much?
Seriously, the show is almost an ad for universal health care. That, and the awesomeness of chemistry.
So things are tense already. The questions are never stated, but they’re there. Will Walt and Jesse be able to make their product and sell it without getting caught? Is Walt going to die soon? What was that on the MRI? And Walt has been showing signs that he’s no longer the basically decent person we met in Season 1, so that’s pulling us in, too. How far will he go for his family?
Jesse brought 10 gallons of drinking water. They’re in the desert for a few days. The cooking is a great success, until the generator runs out of gas. It’s time to go back home…
And the RV’s battery is dead.
Now, here’s where the writers show their skill. Skillz? We saw a similar situation in season 1, when the RV was broken and had trouble starting. It’s since been repaired, so the dead battery is unexpected– and worse, it’s Jesse’s fault. He left the keys in the ignition for two days. He denies that it’s his fault (“the buzzer’s broken!”), but the fact remains that these two are stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Oh, did I mention that they have cell phones, but Jesse’s has no signal, and Walt won’t use his to call anyone but his wife, because she’ll check his phone records? They have a tool, and they can’t use it, even though Jesse insists that they need to. This creates more tension than we would have seen if they simply hadn’t had a phone.
I won’t give away the whole episode, but it’s a perfect example of escalating tension, and the idea that a writer’s first thought should usually be, “how can I make this situation worse for my characters?”
They hook up the generator to the battery to try to charge it, after Walt siphons gas out of the RV (EEEEWWWWW!). It bursts into flames. Walt runs in to get the fire extinguisher, but Jesse, in a panic, grabs what’s left of their water and dumps it on the flames.
Good thing: the fire is out. Terrible thing: they now have no drinking water. In the desert. 15 miles from a road.
Did you see what happened again? Situational tension has increased, but so has the conflict between the characters. This was the point where I went, “THIS IS BRILLIANT!”
It only gets worse, of course. Walt starts coughing up blood. They call for help, someone’s on his way, that someone gets lost, the phone battery dies. They’re forced into physical exertion to try to charge the RV battery, they think they’ve succeeded, they’re wrong. Those moments of hope create a roller coaster of emotion that sharpen the low points and prevent the story from becoming a mere downward spiral.
I hated it for stressing me out, and I loved it for keeping me entranced.
I said no spoilers, so I won’t tell you how it ends. I assumed all along that they were going to get out of this mess, what with there being several more seasons of the show to go, but that did nothing to dampen the tension in what was actually a very simple storyline. I will tell you that the emotional payoff at the end is amazing, and this situation changes the two characters’ relationship in a way that should be interesting.
The lesson I’m taking away from this episode (aside from “Holy crap, I will never be this good at the whole writing thing”) is that not only is tension important if you want to keep a viewer (or reader) hooked, but interpersonal conflict often trumps situational tension. If they’d run out of drinking water before they decided to head home, we still would have had a tough situation. But the fact that their thirst was Jesse’s fault made the situation tense on a deeper level and made the audience react in a different way.
Is this exact approach what we want for every story? No, but we need to remember that tension is what hooks a reader and keeps him/her reading. That’s our goal as writers. The ups and downs that keep people guessing, the interpersonal conflicts, the screw ups and the defensiveness, the desperation… all tools we can use to make our work shine. I know I’ll be looking at it from a fresh perspective, now. Who says books are the only place we can learn about good writing?
If you’re looking for more information on tension and conflict in writing, I recommend Donald Maass’ book “The Fire in Fiction,” which is on my list to re-read during this round of ROW80.
So tell me: Did you watch/are you watching Breaking Bad? NO SPOILERS, but did you enjoy the storytelling as much as I do? If not, have you ever picked apart a particularly effective movie or TV show episode to see what made it tick, and what were your conclusions?
*For the record, I think that Skylar’s motivations are just as valid as Walt’s, given what she knows about the situation at this point. Anna Gunn, who plays Skylar, has received death threats over things her character has done… I can’t wait to find out what that’s all about, but really guys. Chill.
Some of you know that Empire Records is one of my all-time favourite movies. It captures something about the nineties that other movies seem to have missed, an atmosphere that I guarantee you’ll never find in new movies when that decade becomes “retro” and a cool time period to set movies in.
And I’m not ashamed to admit it, I adore Lucas.
But as I was watching last night, I realized that there were things that I, as a writer, could learn from this movie. No, it’s not perfect, but it does a lot of things very well. The first one that struck me was character introduction.
This isn’t a movie with a small cast. It’s not Game of Thrones huge, but it’s a day in the lives of the people who work at a record store, on a day when absolutely everyone is working. So do we open on a scene with everyone running around, doing their thing?
Of course not. The introductions come quickly so we can get to the story, but each character has a moment (or a scene) where we meet them and learn the basics; depth and details come later, but we get enough to push them into our brains and stick a pin in them until we get back to it. Now, I’m talking about the fan edition; forgive me if anything doesn’t line up with the original cut.
First, there’s Lucas. We learn that he’s closing the store, and he’s been instructed not to touch Joe’s (the manager) beer, cigars, or drums. A moment later we cut to Lucas touching all of those things, drumming away on the piles of money he’s been instructed to count twice. But count it twice he does, which tells us a lot about Lucas. We also learn something when he discovers that his beloved Empire Records (an independent store) is set to be turned into a big chain store (booooo!), and he decides to take a big risk to try to save this place he loves.
Lucas may have impulse control issues and/or an odd way of respecting authority, but he wants to do the right thing. This in just a few minutes, and from him closing the store. Not the most exciting set-up, no danger or explosions or fights, but we’re thrown into character and story right away, and want to know what happens.
Boom. That’s exactly what all writers are told to aim for in the first few paragraphs, isn’t it?
Other characters trickle in the next morning. Joe, the grumpy manager. Frustrated, beaten down, but it’s quickly apparent that he cares for the kids who work for him. We get Mark, who’s obviously not all there (hi, drugs!), but he’s funny and seems like a good guy. AJ: artistic, confused, and lovesick.
Next scene, Corey and Gina on their way to work. Corey: perfect, organized, efficient and infatuated with a much-older pop star who she plans to seduce later that day…
Because it’s REX MANNING DAY, folks!
Rex is clearly a bit of a douche. This creates tension as we wonder what in the world the sweet, innocent Corey wants with him, and how that’s going to pan out. Bleh.
Gina: Corey’s polar opposite, except that they’re both pretty (of course).
Other employees filter in (Burko and Eddie are really the least-developed ones, but we still get a feel for them*), adding to the cast in little bits, allowing the audience to adjust and get to know them a little before we’re overwhelmed with more people. And while this is happening, of course, there’s a plot developing.
Several plots, actually.
And this is another thing I think is interesting. You have this plot concerning what’s going to happen to the store after Lucas screws things up. This affects everyone. But the subplots are thick in this one. AJ wanting to tell Corey he loves her. Debra tried to kill herself, and everyone’s worried about her. Rex Manning is a douche, and just makes everything worse in the store (and adding conflict is a good thing, right?). And we also have Warren the shoplifter.
Gina hates Debra, Debra hates Gina. Gina is jealous of Corey but tries to hide it; Corey seems perfect on the outside, but we all know that can’t be right. Everything is coming to a crisis point.
It could be a huge mess, but every sub-plot is tied in to the others, adding to them rather than taking screen time away from them, and everything builds toward the climax and a satisfying resolution. Subplots add depth to a story; keeping them tight and intertwined keeps them from slowing the plot down.
So there’s two things, and plenty of evidence that I can’t just sit and enjoy a movie. There are other lessons, I’m sure. Dialogue is one:
Aah, I love it.
So, what movies have you learned from? Jae, I know you always find lessons in movies (everyone else, have a look!). Anyone else have one movie you just adore and want to share with the
class rest of us? Or are there movies/books/shows you thing didn’t do character introductions well, throwing so many people at us that we can’t really tell them apart later on? Share!
*However, their hairstyles are never adequately explained. Come to think of it, everyone’s hair is pretty greasy… this may be the film’s primary downfall.
Know what sucks? Yes, besides a Hoover. Very funny. What I was going to say was that re-naming characters sucks. Hard. And not in a good way.
I knew this was coming. I’ve even mentioned it here, trying to mentally prepare myself. But it really has to be done now, both in revisions for my first book and for the character re-appearing in the second. And it’s not the character I thought it would be.
I was going to change Cassia’s name, and let Kai keep his. His name means “ocean,” he’s a watery sort of guy, and then name seemed to me to have the sort of fun-yet-laid-back vibe that he gives off. I was attached to Cassia’s name, too (I adore it, and it means “cinnamon,” which is pretty much the colour of her skin), but I thought she could survive the change. I couldn’t leave them both, not with love interests in a very popular YA series being named Cassia and Ky. My brother and sister pair would not stand for it.
So Kai’s name was going to stay. And then a friend named her dog Kai, and told me that her kids had named him after a Lego Ninjago character. Lovely. And reviews of another book that I need to read say that there’s a female character named Kai. And the name has come up a few times in reviews of other books I’ve seen recently, all male characters. Point is, it’s popular, and I don’t like that. Didn’t want to give my kids popular names, don’t want to do it for my characters. I don’t need them to be speshul-snowflake unique (or Uneeq, for that matter), but I really don’t like name trends.
But there’s also no other perfect name with a similar meaning. All evidence to the contrary, I don’t usually choose names based on what they mean; I’ve almost rejected names that gave away too much. But most of my mer folk do have water-related names. Nguh. I’ve narrowed it down a bit… I just hope this doesn’t take up as much of my day as blog renovations did yesterday. O.o
EDIT: Ugh. I liked the name Caius (it’s similar!), but I just found out that there’s one in the Twilight saga. So that’s probably a “no.”
Confession: I have a brown thumb. I admire people who can make plants grow and thrive, who have an instinct for nurturing them and whose gardens burst with blooms and edible bounty. I’m not one of those people. I feel guilty buying plants or starting seeds, because it seems unfair to them when they could have a fighting chance with someone else.
But this… this is MY YEAR!
Maybe. The tulips we planted in the fall are pushing out of the ground (much to my surprise). The pansies in the front garden have somehow managed to keep their blooms all winter, which is both amazing and somehow disturbing in a sci-fi kind of way.
And we’re working on a vegetable garden.
Not a fancy one, of course. Easy things like beans and zucchini, and the kids wanted to try pumpkins and corn and carrots. I’ve got salad mix started, because why not? It’ll work or it won’t, and we’re having fun along the way. It’s actually going well so far. The plants we chose to start indoors (because the seed packets said to) have done well in their brief lives, and last week Captain America helped me move the seedlings from their wee soil pellets to roomier accomodations.
So there we were with our tiny jungle of seedlings that we’d started as instructed: 2 or 3 seeds in each pellet. Oh, the bounty!
Now, on to the pots! One problem. It said to keep only the strongest seedling in each pellet.
WHAT? The injustice of it had me fuming. How unfair! Why shouldn’t the smaller seedlings have a chance to live and grow, to enjoy the fresh air and the sunshine, to take their chances in the “will the cats decide that this garden is a litter box” lottery? Yes, I like a good underdog story, and the smaller seedlings were just sitting there like wee green Mighty Ducks, begging for me to be their Emilio Estevez.
PLANTS, I WILL BE YOUR EMILIO.
I’m not unreasonable. The non-starters went, as did the ones that couldn’t be bothered to lift their lazy heads out of the dirt until the previous day. But a strong-looking plant that just happened to be smaller than its soil-mate? Up yours, Jiffy Pots, they get to grow on, too.
You may be wondering why I’m rambling on about these plants when Tuesday posts are usually reserved for writing. Well, here you go:
I’m allowed to do this with plants. We’re in no danger of running out of garden space; if the smaller seedlings don’t yield anything, we’ve lost nothing but a cheap paper pot. The same can’t be said for many aspects of stories. When it comes down to the edits, of course the weeds have to go: the passive phrases and “was” clusters, the “how the heck did present tense sneak in there?” moments, the unnecessary adverbs, the excessive shrugging. It’s tedious, but fairly painless. But the weak seedlings have to go, too.
Sometimes it’s not so hard. That subplot that has nothing to do with anything and never went anywhere? Sure, that can go, it’s just dragging everything down. That cameo by the main character’s boss, who’s never going to show up again*? Cut. Wasn’t attached to her, anyway. A scene walking in the woods with the guy who’s not going to be around for long? Eh, there was important information there, but things will be tighter if it’s worked in elsewhere, and he’s had his moment (and he’ll have more in the future, so I don’t feel at all sorry for him).
But that’s never enough.
Next we come to the bits that start to hurt. A touching scene between the main character and a sibling that tells us so much about that character and her family and works in a good amount of worldbuilding, but that doesn’t really move the story forward? That hurts. Re-working things so that this person never shows up in-story and is only referred to when necessary? Also kind of ouch (and cutting her obnoxious, loud kid actually hurt a lot more; I found that situation amusing).
And never mind characters and scenes; what about entire concepts that have been part of your world since you started farting around with it way back when… what happens when they’re important, but are taking up too much page space when you explain them? If they can’t be cut, maybe they can be pushed to the background until they’re needed…
That one bled a little, but it keeps the first 5 chapters flowing more smoothly and quickly.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It would be amazing if we had unlimited “garden space” in our stories, room for all of our beloved characters, story elements, scenes and subplots to live and grow, even when they’re not adding anything productive to the work.
Well, there is a place for them. But it’s not in the stories we expect the general public to enjoy.
If our work is going to bear fruit, we have to make tough decisions, identify the weak elements, and do what it takes to make the end result focused, readable, interesting, and well-paced. Pull the weeds, toss the weak sprouts, prune the dead branches.
Do we always succeed? I haven’t read many perfect books, have you? But we do our best, no matter how it hurts, because our garderns– er, stories– deserve no less.
Let’s have it in the comments: when’s the last time you cut something that really hurt? Have you ever felt like you took too much? Any great success stories? And what are you growing in your garden this year?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an underdog team of zucchini seedlings to coach and lead to a hockey championship.**
*very early draft, don’t judge me.
**Metaphors may not be my strong suit…
I’m going to be honest: I had no idea what to post today. Much as I would have liked to post pictures of something uplifting like signs of spring, I have none to show that aren’t man-made, and how depressing is that? I thought about bumping Tuesday’s post up to today, but that just seemed like cheating. Random facts about myself? Who cares, right?
But today demanded something, if only because this blog has reached 100 followers, and we need to party.
Not a huge number by most standards, no. But I didn’t expect more than about five, so this is big. And I’m blessed with some of the best blog readers around. Really. I never expected to have people commenting on my posts the way you do, and I love it. You always have something to add, or some way to make me smile, and I appreciate that. There’s no reason you all should want to be here reading my ramblings and word-vomit on a regular basis; I’m nobody special, especially when it comes to the writing stuff. I’m an amateur, a nobody, but you folks encourage and inspire me every day, here and through your own writing.
I’m going to stop before I tear up. What I’m saying is, thank you. All of you, whether you comment or lurk. I’m glad you’re here.
So, what to do today, besides get disgustingly mushy over a group of people who are mostly strangers to me?
A party needs music, right? And music is important to writing. THEME BONUS!
I know from reading your blogs that many of you have songs that in your minds represent your characters in some way. Many of you have entire play-lists devoted to each of them, a feat which requires more attention and organizational skills than I possess. There are several songs that remind me of my characters, too; I won’t go into all of that here, but I’ll share one that gave me a strange experience, and that I continue to love. It would be great if any of you wanted to share your own songs and experiences in the comments (and no judging people based on music they love, please. I hate that.)
Let’s rewind back to November. There I was, typing like mad for NaNoWriMo, trying to get a first draft of Torn out into the computer. I’d just got my iPhone back in the summer and was LOVING it. You see, I’d never had a working iPod or MP3 player, so having all of my favourite music at my fingertips was just blowing my mind. Yes, I’m easily amused. I was having fun buying songs I liked on the radio and then exploring more from those same artists.
I had a few Marianas Trench songs already, and spent some time listening to iTunes song samples for others. Hey look, there was a song called Ever After! How nice. Sample was interesting, I bought the song. Because, hello, affordable music.
I listened to it. I freaked out. Seriously. If you remember looking out your window one day late last November and seeing something weird flailing about, that was me. I was out there. Freaking.
Why? Because I could have sworn the song was about Aren. Not just about him, but about the story I’d written, the one I was working on, and (just to really melt my brain), a couple of lines that could symbolically reference something planned for book 3. The emotional tone is bang-on for the character. Not only that, but “Ever After” is one of the threads that runs through Bound and ties things together, thematically speaking.
It’s kind of a weird piece in some ways. It’s one of these songs they do that takes bits and pieces of others on the album and smooshes them together to make something that works. I kind of love that idea, but that’s not the point. The lyrics probably don’t mean much to some people, and to others they’ll mean something that, oddly enough, is not related to my effing books (I know, shut up about it already, right?)
It’ll never be a single, that’s for sure. But it opens an album that’s been getting me through a lot of writing sessions. I don’t know why I find this music so relaxing when most of my real-life stress is caused my yelling and whining, but I do. 😉
Want to hear it? You don’t have to, it’s OK. But if you’re curious, here you go. Oh, and fair warning, there’s a CUSS WORD. I have a strange and disturbing kind of love for the way Josh Ramsay says f*ck, but some of you might not appreciate it so much. 😉
There you go. Probably means nothing to you, right? That’s what I thought. I love that about music, though. It’s a different experience for every listener, and meanings change based on our own experiences, mind-sets, and emotional states. A song that makes you think of a book you’ve read or a character you’ve written might make me think of something from my childhood, or someone I knew in high school. Maybe you love it, and I get nothing out of it. There’s so much room for interpretation. Also, music is kind of a mystery to me. I appreciate it, I like what I like, but as to how it’s written or why the sounds work together? You might as well ask me about astrophysics. I have no clue. But I can still appreciate it, even if my musical preferences aren’t impressively obscure.
So there you go. One song that would have caused me great embarrassment if I’d been in public when I first heard it, and that continues to give me chills.
Your turn! One song, one character, and tell us why you make that association. Also, some good party music, if you’d like to throw that in there. Bring your best party hat, fancy cupcakes, whatever your drink of choice is, and let’s celebrate you guys. Because you’re the most bestest. 🙂
*CRAP is not the word that was in my mind, I’m just trying to keep it civil, here.
So here I am, reading “Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight into it” and having a grand old time. I like Eris a lot (maybe partly because she reminds me so much of me), and Michelle Proulx has managed to create a male… well, I don’t know what he is. He’s certainly antagonistic, but something tells me he’s not going to end up being the enemy, so… prantagonist. That’s what he is. Anyway, he might be even less likeable than mine, which pleases me greatly. Why go half-way, right?
The book is a YA sci-fi, which means lots and lots of ALIENS. Obviously an author isn’t going to spend pages describing every detail of every creature we run into; that would be boring, and to my mind unnecessary. If it’s not important to my understanding of the story, I like to be given a few details to sketch a character in my mind, and then be allowed to fill in the rest myself. Tell me a character is deadly attractive and give me a few details; let me decide the rest for myself.
This book is a good example of that approach, but it’s made me consider a question I’ve asked myself before: how do the characters in my mind match up with the ones in the author’s?
This goes for any book. It’s one of the reasons I get nervous when a favourite book is being turned into a movie or TV mini-series (hi there, Under the Dome!); there’s no way all of the actors will look like they do in my head, and it ruins it a bit for me.
I drew a sketch of one of the characters from Imminent Danger, Miguri. He’s described as humanoid, 3 feet tall, brown-skinned, with massive blue eyes and a mop of white hair, plus a huge white, furry tail. He wears a brown, knee-length, belted tunic. Also, Eris thinks he looks like a cross between a monkey and a garden gnome, which kind of tickled me. And this is what came to mind:
It’s a great description, isn’t it? But I’d be willing to bet money that Michelle Proulx’s mental image of Miguri is nothing like mine. There were still blanks to be filled in, weren’t there? Ear shape, for one. My mind made them big and pointy, I don’t know why. Face shape is another; I guess what I see in my mind came from the monkey thing. Even the shape of the milky-white gem on his belt and the way that it’s hanging are probably off; I picture a smooth, round gem, but in the author’s mind it could be cut and polished.
I like that. It’s like a collaboration between writer and reader, and something new is created every time a different person reads a story.
I also wonder what people think my characters look like, the ones I’ve created. I tend to lean toward less description; Rowan has auburn hair and grey eyes, fact. I know exactly what she looks like in my mind, but does it really matter if someone else pictures her differently? Not so much. Aren gets a bit more description as Rowan notices things about him, but again the details are up to the reader to fill in. Does it affect the story if I think Rowan has a few freckles? Not unless Aren notices them when it’s his turn to speak. Then it matters… but he generally has other things on his mind.
Likewise for creatures. I don’t have a plethora of aliens to describe, but I have critters and creatures. My horses are rather unusual, so they get a few extra lines of description, but when a dog appears and I say “brown shaggy mutt,” you guys can feel free to give him floppy ears or straight as you see fit. Heck, give him white socks and a black patch over one eye. Have fun with it.
Stephen King says a little about this in On Writing, and if you haven’t read that one, I highly recommend it. He’s an author who tends to give very little physical description of characters unless it’s important to the story (or his POV character is observing it), but I’ve never had trouble picturing his characters in my mind.
One other note, while we’re on the topic: do you guys remember when they revealed the casting for the Hunger Games movie, and there were people who were outraged that Rue was being played by a black girl? Oh, the horror. -_- How dare they use this beloved character to promote some kind of… Well, I don’t even remember what the arguments were, I tuned them out, they all sounded like assholes. Basically, people thought it was political, and were for some reason upset about racial diversity.
“She has bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin…”
The Hunger Games, chapter 7, page 98 in my edition. Quoted.
It doesn’t matter how you describe your characters, people are going to see what they want to see in their minds. If I pictured Miguri as a fluffy, pink-haired, horse-faced, 7-foot-tall thing with nifty shoes… that would be really weird, but I doubt the author would lose any sleep over it.
What do you guys think? When you’re reading, do you see characters clearly in your mind? Do you prefer more description, or less? When (and if) you’re writing, how badly do you want your readers to understand your vision of your characters, human or otherwise?
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