Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

Fashion in Character Development

January 10, 2012

When creating characters, it’s important to remember that how they dress will effect how other characters treat them. Generally, the better they are dressed, the more latitude they have in conversation. With the right accessories, one can say anything.

. . .

“My word… That one there, the brunette in the middle, I’d say she is the most attractive. It’s not that she possesses any particularly striking features, or that she’s an eight and the others are sevens… I suppose what I’m trying to say, what’d be most accurate, is that she is, by far, the least ugly.”

“…That’s my daughter, Fred.”

“…Aptly named, I daresay. She looks like a Fred.”

“…”

“…Fred Flintstone.”

“…Who did you say you were again?”

“Uncle Phineas.”

“…You’re Monica’s uncle?”

“…Surely, I’m someone’s uncle. This is the, erm, Christening, is it not?”

Fred’s father glanced sideways to the giant banner, which read, Fred’s Bat-Mitzvah in huge purple letters. “Well…”

“Ah, I almost forgot,” said the man, extracting a thick envelope from his jacket. “Could you take this? I couldn’t find the proper table – there seems to have been some drinking.”

Taking the envelope, Fred’s father said, “Enjoy the party.”

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Don’t Rely on the Intangible

August 29, 2011

The other day (sometime between the quake and the hurricane), Livia Blackburne posted a blog on the anatomy of a death scene. It focused on a particular book, featuring a talking cat. She focused on the mechanics of the scene, the use of flashback, the rituals, etc. and argued they were effective at producing emotion. I thought her analysis was good, however, when I read the scene, where the cat dies, I thought it was flat. I didn’t care, and I wasn’t moved. I argued that instead of focusing on the details of the death, the author should invest his/her energies on creating love for the character, and that that love was more essential to achieving a sad death, than any other factor.

Liv agreed, in part, but suggested that she had been equally moved by death scenes she’d read as early as chapter one – how can this happen?

A fair point, really.

My guess would be transference. I’m speculating, obviously, but whenever I have a strong feeling for characters (or people I don’t know well), it’s usually transference. If I read about an old man dying, I think of my father; If I read about someone I can identify with, I think of myself… When this happens, I’m not actually feeling for the character (or the other, if you will), I’m feeling for the people who already occupy space in my heart, and projecting them into the other. When I’m sad at a strangers death, part of it is for them, granted, but most of my sadness comes from being forced to recall painful memories of deaths I’ve come to know, fear of deaths that are looming, and thoughts on my own mortality.

With writing, or any art, you can draw from the deep well of existing emotions – in fact, that may be a requirement. You can shortcut the many pages it takes to craft an amazing character, if you cleverly create a character that people will be forced (or at least likely) to relate to. It is very efficient, and extremely powerful, if you can pull it off.

As I mentioned above, the cat scene did nothing for me. It may be because I never owned a cat, or it may be that I’m just an asshole. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care, and therefore, if that alone was the story, the writer failed.

Of course that was not the entire story. There were another 90K (or so) words that I didn’t read. If the author used them effectively to build up that darn cat, with a few kind deeds, some suffering, some identifiable need, whatever, then I probably would have felt something. If I had grown to love him, or at least had sufficient opportunity to make the associations necessary for transference, I would have been moved (probably, I am a guy after all…) That is why, with my writing, I try to focus on making beloved characters – transference is too unreliable.

Inspiration Expiration

July 20, 2011

You always hear about writers who had a rough time, but made it. You hear about how J.K. spent months in a coffee shop, writing on napkins, before launching her media empire. You hear about how Steve and Kurt literally papered their walls with rejection slips, before landing their six figure deals. You hear these things, knowing full well they’re the exception not the rule, and they’re inspiring.

Then one day you wake up, and don’t have the energy to hump the dream anymore. You think, am I just wasting my time? Will it ever happen? Or maybe you don’t wake up, but your wife does, and she thinks you’ve spent enough time playing writer, and that it’s time to get a real job, like her ex, Doug, whom works at Citibank, a fact she found out at lunch with him the other day…

Unless you’re very lucky, you’re going to have that day, or more likely those days. They are the rule, not the exception. Should this not bring you comfort, know that discomfort leads to enlightenment, and enlightenment always leads to big cash payouts {see the Dalai Lama [he gets free hot dogs, with everything (or so I’ve heard)]}. So, write on, and you will get enlightenment, huge cash payouts, hot dogs, and, if nothing else, I hear the unexamined life is not worth living – Dr. Phil said that, I think.

on the state of my blog

June 10, 2011

Somewhere in the near past, my taste in prose, my palate if you will, became more sophisticated. It’s a splendiforous thing, really; I’ve learned to appreciate fine craftsmanship and clever wordplay, wherever I see it. I can be astonished by the elegance of a simple sentence, and floored by a well placed, utterly perfect word.

Unfortunately, my palate now exceeds my ability, and I’m unable to write anything up to my own standards (thank you Janet Reid and Rachelle Gardner for pointing this out). I don’t think I need to explain why this is a problem (or maybe I do). I feel like a young painter back from a tour of Italy, ready to put down my brush for fear that I’ll never measure up to the masters.

I’ve read that this is a common problem; that doesn’t comfort me. Erectile dysfunction is a common problem… I’ve also read that I need to keep writing, to work through it.

I’m trying.

My recent efforts yielded one marginal success (which I’ve saved), a few near misses, and many colossal failures. More often than not, I’ll write a line, stare at it intently for a few seconds/minutes, and delete it. Occasionally, I’ll add some histrionics: I’ll take my glasses off in disgust, curse in any number of languages, and/or rub my temples while staring at the wall.

This is why my blog is undernourished. If blogs were pets, the ASPCA would have broken down my door a while ago. I suppose I could post my efforts, to keep the numbers up, but I lack sufficient narcissism to post crap. Or maybe it’s ego; I don’t want to tarnish my non-existent reputation with sub-par writing. Whatever the case, I think Kurt Vonnegut was right, “Use the time of your reader in such a way that (s)he won’t feel it was wasted.”

To help me through this unbearable slump, I’ve been reading more. I’m probably still not reading as much as I should, but more. I suspect this is helping more than my failed attempts at writing. I figure, if I see enough elegant sentences, enough masterful word choices, I’ll be able to create some of my own. You know, monkey see, monkey sample. I think it will work, as long as I don’t snap my paintbrush… Dear god I hope that doesn’t count as a pun.

On Writing: Blog Avalanche

May 6, 2011

Up until recently, I’d spent a lot of time reading agent and writer blogs.  What I noticed is that this is counterproductive. While the advice is often good, it’s inconsistent and contradictory, which is confusing, at best.
So, I’ve taken a step away, for now.

I’ve taken that time, an extra two hours(ish) a day, and reallocated it to reading (books) and writing/editing.  This has been extremely helpful, even beyond the extra time for those very important things.  Taking a step away helped me stop being so hyper aware and self conscious of my own craft.  And once I stopped worrying so much about the prose, it got better.  Seriously.

I guess voice likes to flow organic.

The downside is that my blog is being neglected.  I will have to find time for more shorts, or whatever, in the near future.

~j