Today is April 14, the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. (I know; technically, it sank on April 15, but hitting the iceberg started the whole thing.) I don’t have a commemorative post this year, but you can refer to this post if you want to do something in memoriam. I will most likely watch the film tonight.
L is for Looks.
You might not think looks are important. We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we’re told. But in truth, the first thing people notice about other people is how they look.
After all, we are mostly visual creatures. Our brains process a huge amount of information from our eyes, which are our primary sensory organs.
If you’re writing a character who is handsome, he will be treated differently by other people than if he were ugly. I had to think about this for Rose’s Hostage. I made bank robber Joshua Rose handsome because 1) it disarms Libby, his hostage, and 2) it bothers the serial killer (once they find out who he is). If I wrote him as ugly, it would have been a completely different book.
In addition to that, it complicates things. Joshua even says it himself:
“You are hot.” She blushed as she said it, and warmth spread through him.
“Thanks, beauty. I’m glad you think so.” He was teasing and she got it, grinning at him. “But people look at me the same way they would if I were deformed.” He saw her mouth open in protest and continued, talking over her objection. “See, they’re responding to something unusual about the way I look. I’m not above using it to get my way. In my line of work, it’s dangerous because people remember my face, especially women. Makes it hard to hide.”
Think about all the ways we judge by looks. Good-looking people are often treated as if they are better than they are and may become spoiled as a result. Some of them hate it; they feel their skills and ability aren’t taken seriously because of their looks. Average-looking people may resent the beautiful ones, especially if they think the person is coasting on his or her physical attributes. And they may be jealous.
This is definitely true for women. We seem to take the brunt of this stereotype—if a woman is beautiful, she doesn’t need or can’t possibly have any brains. Of course, that isn’t true, but your character could fall prey to the same notion. A female character might have to work harder to prove herself than a male one in certain professional situations. Your male character’s kryptonite could be his outdated attitude toward the gorgeous colleague who saves his bacon (or the sexy villain he thinks he can outsmart).
There’s also the danger of making a character good-looking for the sake of it, as with a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. Let’s face it; the vast majority of people don’t measure up to Hollywood standards. Most of us are average. A protagonist who is too good to be true loses something important for readers—they won’t relate to him/her.
Let’s talk now about unattractive characters. Unattractive girls are called dogs, or worse. It’s a tired old trope that the guy will always go for the hot girl, and if you have an ugly duckling character, she better transform herself before he takes her to the prom, because if not, that would be social suicide.
Guys suffer just as much, especially during adolescence. In our society, it’s on them to initiate most romantic encounters. How hard is that, even for a good-looking guy? Imagine your character trying to do it when he looks in the mirror and hates what he sees.
If the person has a deformity, or perceives himself to have one (like Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon), then that will change how he reacts to other people. We telegraph our inner thoughts about ourselves in subtle ways, and they treat us accordingly.
Think about how that happens. How can you show that a character has these thoughts, especially if you don’t get inside his head?
- Dialogue: You could have the character use straightforward, self-deprecating language, such as “Oh, nobody will go out with a lard-ass like me.”
- Mannerisms (next post!): Confident people move with authority, carry their heads high and shoulders back, and look people straight in the eye. Your self-hating character may shuffle, avoid eye contact, and have poor posture, as though he is trying to hide.
- Reactions of other characters: Think about someone you know who has a poor opinion of himself. How do you feel when you’re around that person? Do you get irritated with him when he makes remarks like the one above? Do you feel pity for him and overcompensate to help him out?
If you’re tempted to make your character resemble your dream man or woman, take time to consider why. Try to brainstorm—would it make your story more interesting if the character were average, or even unattractive?
Things are a bit crazy today, so I will have to put off my K post until tomorrow. But no worries; I’ll get it done. Today I had to clean the house because I won’t have time to do it tomorrow. And this happened:
Yeah, I actually yelled that. Had to. Not apologizing.
The sweet gum tree was dropping those evil alien gumballs on my neighbor’s driveway (and heaving it up with the roots) so it had to go. That’s a screenshot I snipped from a video I took.
Now I have a thing with some people at a place. But I will be back tomorrow with my K post. Happy Saturday!
H is for Happiness.
Most people think of happiness as an end result. However, it can actually be something that happens along the journey. Think of all the advice people give regarding happiness.
You must be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else.
Enjoy the small things.
Take time every day to be grateful.
Remember those who helped you and give back twice what you got.
Lots of good advice, but how often do people heed it? Complications wrought by the pursuit of happiness make good fodder for stories and for character development.
Is your character relatively happy with her life? If not, why not? What motivates her to be happy? Think about what a person needs to reach this state of being. It will vary between each one. If a character is not happy, and you offer her the means to be that way, to what ends will she go to achieve it? Is that the goal for this character, or will she find it on the way to something else?
A character may seek happiness by pursuing a specific thing. But maybe you could have her go after something she thinks will make her happy (like monetary success), only to find out that it is a complete lie, and she finds it by being honest with herself.
Some people enjoy being miserable all the time. How many of us have been suckered into helping a whiny friend or relative repeatedly, because nothing seems to get any better? They may use it to control others—making them miserable too, eliciting sympathy or even tangible goods and services from them.
Maybe they like the drama misery brings. Their lives are pretty good, but adversity brings attention. If they don’t have any, they manufacture some.
They may hide in misery. Fear of change, or of taking a risk at being happy and crashing to the ground in flames, they prefer to stay where they are. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, right?
The first major conflict in the story will affect your character’s happiness level. He may be pretty content at the start, but when he runs headlong into a huge change, he’ll have to choose a path. Will it be the safe one, or the dangerous one? Which will bring him closer to his goal, or help him achieve it? Will he be able to return to his previous content state, or will things change so much that he’ll have to accept a new normal?
(WARNING: Don’t click the image link if you haven’t seen Sherlock: Series 3 yet.)
If he’s miserable, try shoving something terrific at him and watch him squirm. Decide where you want your character to begin. Then you can mess with his life in all sorts of ways. Muwahaha, writing is fun!
F is for Family.
Does the character have one? How did he/she grow up? I put this under family and not children or childhood because it extends into adulthood. A character who grew up with a family who did not give a crap about her may not give a crap about anyone else. She could defend people who cared for her as a child or exhibit vengeance toward them if they did not.
If she has a child, this will change how she reacts to other people and things in the story and affect what actions she takes. Her reactions will differ from someone who doesn’t have kids, even someone who may be protective toward younglings. Most mothers would fight a ravening grizzly to the death to keep their little ones from harm. Other moms might be too high to care.
You can also have a character hook up with a surrogate family. A great number of people consider their friends their families, either because they’re too far away from blood relatives, estranged from them (or don’t know who they are), or none of them are living.
And of course, when a character forms a long-term romantic partnership, he or she creates a family. It may not contain children, but the two together are now a unit. For someone who grew up on his/her own, this could provide all kinds of readjustment for a writer to explore.
This leads me to another point. The events of your story should dictate whether your character has a family, too. In Rose’s Hostage, I deliberately chose to alienate many of the characters from this kind of relationship to increase their vulnerability. Libby, the hostage, has no family at all; all her relatives are dead. Her best friend Jade is like a sister to her and is in a serious relationship herself. Libby has tried to form a romantic attachment, only to have it blow up in her face. When we meet her, she’s bored, directionless, and ripe for the picking.
Along comes Joshua the bank robber, who has no family ties either and whose one attempt to create them ended fatally. Libby is vulnerable to the capture bonding that occurs when he kidnaps her. Despite Jade’s attempts to support her, it’s not enough to prevent what happens. (I’d love for you to find out what happens, if I ever get my manuscript back and get it published. Rawr!) Joshua becomes vulnerable to her as well, which proves a huge (and deadly) distraction.
Bonds with coworkers can affect the story too. Example: When Skye in the TV show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D first joined the group, she tended to be sneaky about stuff and fly by the seat of her pants because she was so used to being completely on her own.
Now that she’s more a part of operations and Agent Coulson (love him!) is offering her stability and guidance, she’s starting to open up and work more collaboratively with them instead of going her own way (i.e. behind their backs). She’s becoming one of the S.H.I.E.L.D family.
In turn, Skye has begun to mean something to them. If you watched the “T.A.H.I.T.I.” episode where
she gets shot and they go to the underground bunker to get the drug used to bring dead Coulson back to life,
(By the way I figured out how to do this, haha!)
you will have seen what lengths her new family will go to in order to help her. Adversity is a good tool with which to build relationships in a narrative, and so is a common goal that characters share.
We’re under a tornado watch today, so I’m charging my phone and blogging my post right now, just in case. Welcome to spring east of the Rockies!
A critical flaw is something inherent in your character that will affect the story conflict in some way. It might drive him to act, perhaps wrongly, in situations or keep him from acting when he should. There are a million examples—Harry Potter always trying to do everything himself without asking for any help, the Marquise de Merteuil’s blindness to the consequences of her mean-girl enjoyment as she toys with her lovers (and everyone else) in Les Liasons Dangereuse. I’m going to use Sherlock Holmes as an illustration, because I’m reading the stories right now.
Holmes’s insatiable curiosity and expansive intellect make him an excellent detective, because he 1) can’t resist the mystery, and 2) he’s driven to learn what he doesn’t already know. He’s also an eccentric jerk. I’m talking about Literary Holmes, not BBC Holmes, though my first impression of that version was “What an ass.”
The stories are from Watson’s point of view, so we get a bit of an exalted impression of Holmes. Watson is enamored of his intellectual friend and partner. He’ll get up out of bed in the middle of the night to go run off on an adventure with this guy, who basically treats him like an adoring and slightly annoying puppy.
Literary Holmes is a perfect example of a charismatic sociopath who is capable of occasional social niceties, though he can hardly be bothered. He’s more engaging with people than the BBC Holmes and even laughs. I don’t recall BBC Holmes ever smiling, except in the “His Last Vow” episode, and I knew in one second that was fake.
At times, I find Literary Holmes’s superior way of explaining things insufferable. I wish Watson would tell him to stuff it, but he’s far too polite. He often reminds me of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, only without the insecurity that makes Sheldon so endearing.
Sherlock Holmes has an interesting critical flaw; because he’s so intelligent, he thinks he’s one step ahead of everyone. As Irene Adler clearly showed him in A Scandal in Bohemia (1891), he isn’t. It interests me that Doyle chose to make this defeat come at the hands of “the woman,” which was ballsy for a writer in protectionist Victorian times. Despite his admiration for her smarts, Holmes neither trusts nor exhibits any apparent physical desire for any member of the female sex.
It’s a pity Doyle didn’t work this flaw to a greater extent. I’m not finished reading the stories yet (you should see the size of the collected works—oof), and I know there is one where Sherlock shows a bit of affection for Watson, who is just about his only friend. (Not like that—good cripes, get your mind out of the gutter!)
What I would like to see on the show is someone (not Irene—too easy) utterly destroy the great detective with an entire episode series story arc. Make him flail. You can’t appeal to sociopaths on an emotional level, so the only way to do it would be to frustrate him nearly to death. I want to see Sherlock Holmes LOSE HIS COOL COMPLETELY. Perhaps this could happen after they’ve worked their way through all the story adaptations.
Give your character a major flaw, and then exploit the hell out of it.
I might have done two R posts—I lost track. Whatever. On to the letter S!
S stands for silly, sentimental, sexy, and smart, all things that I am. Modest too—oh, that doesn’t begin with S? Too bad!
This may be a long list, unless I can’t find anything. S pairs with quite a few consonants.
Sacristy – a room in a church where sacred objects, candles, vestments, etc. are kept.
Salacious – lecherous, indecent. When someone leers at you in a creepy, perverted manner, they’re being salacious.
Moriarty gave Sherlock a salacious glance, licking his bottom lip.
Scintillate – to sparkle or flash, as with brilliance or charm. Or actual sparks, if you’ve just stuck a fork into a socket.
(PS: Don’t do that.)
Scarify – to make incisions or break up something, as with skin or soil. Also used to denote cutting or wounding remarks.
Professor McGonagall’s criticism of her methods scarified Dolores Umbridge. Although she laughed politely, later in her office, she broke four kitten plates in her fury.
Seine (sayne) – a vertical fishing net. Also a river in France that flows through Paris into the English Channel.
Sexton – the caretaker of a church, its grounds, and the attached graveyard, if it has one. A sexton may also ring the bells for services. These days, most modern churches have electronic carillons, but some older ones still have actual bell ringers.
Shtick – in comedy, a bit of business that draws attention to the actor or character, especially one associated with that person.
A good example would be Jack Tripper’s physical clumsiness in the old Three’s Company sitcom, though the schtick doesn’t have to be physical comedy. Another one would be Ellen DeGeneres’s verbal rambling (Bob Saget does this too).
Sic (Latin) – an adverb meaning thus, or short for sic erate scriptum, or “thus was it written.” When you see it in a document, it means that whatever text it refers to is reproduced exactly as it appeared in the original, even if there are spelling errors. You put brackets around it instead of parentheses, like this: [sic]. It does NOT mean spelling incorrect.
Skive – 1. to shave or remove the surface of something, as with leather. 2. (British) to evade or shirk work or some other responsibility.
Sluggard – lazy person.
Smirch – to smear or stain something; a stain or smudge. What a sluggard might have on his clothes if he’s too lazy to do laundry.
Snaffle – a common bit used for horses, made of a bit piece (jointed) with two rings on either side. The bit acts to guide the horse through direct pressure when the rider pulls on the reins. It does not amplify the pressure the way other bits do.
Sommelier (French) – Pronounced saw-muh-LYAY. The waiter in charge of the wine in a fancy restaurant.
Spiracle – an insect’s breathing hole.
Squalid – filthy, neglected. Often refers to living conditions resulting from extreme poverty.
Stentorian – loud, a sound with great power.
Principal Wood read the names of the misbehaving students into the microphone in stentorian tones. Buffy winced as the Scooby Gang’s monikers were announced one by one.
Suctorial – adapted for suction, an organ for sucking or producing suction (such as tentacles or the mouthparts of leeches). Leeches are harmless and don’t hurt; I’ve had one or two on me when I used to play in the creek as a kid. Doctors have been using them for various treatments even today.
Okay, I’m sorry about that; it was kind of gross. Here’s another picture of Sherlock to get that out of your head.
Mmmmm, yesssss……my preciousss…..oh sorry, where were we?
Svelte – slender.
Sward – a piece of land covered with grass. Hear the word greensward in Daffy’s song here:
Syncope (SING-kuh-pee) – the medical term for fainting.
That’s all for today, kids. Find a word you like? Use it—it’s free!
Whew! It’s been a busy time, and I’m sorry I haven’t been around much lately. Here’s what has been going on:
- Homework, homework, homework. A cliff on which I am hanging by the tips of my fingers. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to take these two classes together (healthcare writing—blargh!—and advanced tech writing, which mostly consists of document design).
- Fitting in those workouts I promised myself I would do. They take time. Why can’t humans have super speed so we can do an hour’s worth of exercise in ten minutes and call it good?
- Revising Tunerville. So far, I have done the things my reader suggested, and now I’m beginning the tedious line editing process.
Line editing is going through the book looking for stupid things like spelling and grammar errors, consistency in language, and stuff that plain doesn’t make sense.
Let me give you an example. In this post, I talked about the plot and mentioned Callahan, the Explorer from the Realm who visits Chris with a warning to set things right. This character is several hundred years old and very reserved.
His dialogue contains no contractions whatsoever. He says “do not” instead of “doesn’t,” and his speech is somewhat lofty. He would not say someone made something; he would say they constructed it.
Same with Chris. His dialogue is much simpler, as are his thought patterns. Since he is the protagonist, a lot of the book is from his point of view. When inside his head, I try not to use the same kind of language I use for Callahan. Look at the difference between this introductory text from Chris’s POV:
In the dark basement, he sat on the bottom step and picked at the splinter. Emo crawled into his lap and purred, pushing his ears against Chris’s chin. He rubbed the cat absently and wondered for the thousandth time if the house, built in 1907, could possibly be haunted. Never quite had the nerve to bring the group here; he would be too disappointed if it wasn’t. Still, what about those funny noises he used to hear at night when he stayed here as a kid, the ones his grandmother told him were mice? Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could tune ghosts in like a TV channel and see one whenever I wanted?
And this, from Callahan’s:
His pace slowed as he drew nearer. The Directorate meetings weighed on him lately. He disliked the formality, the pomp. He would much rather be in the Gardens, tending the lilies and wildflowers that were his favorites, or in the Library reading Poe or perhaps conversing with him. News of the tuner had naturally reached the Realm. No one but the Directorate seemed the slightest bit concerned. The readers read, artists painted, fishers fished, writers wrote, children played, and on the vast azure surface of the Realm’s ocean, sailboats bobbed.
The language is slightly more formal, and you won’t see any sentence fragments (yes, they have their place in fiction) in Callahan’s scenes.
Thanks to advice from Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power by William Brohaugh, I’m also searching for words like up, down, off, over, together, behind, and anything ending with –ly. With each pass through the book, I find rewriting with stronger verbs and ditching these adverbs and modifiers reduces the word count. I’ve gone from 89,300 to below 88,100.
- Another thing I’m doing is preparing for the Blogging from A-Z Challenge in April. Once again, I’ll be blogging every day except Sunday (unless I get behind, which may happen). I am NOT quitting this time!
I will discuss characterization, using the alphabet structure to illustrate different aspects of a person I think about when I build them out of nothing. I’ve already begun making notes for each post. This challenge goes easier if you have a game plan right from the beginning.
- In addition, I’m preparing to take the summer off and write a sequel to Rose’s Hostage. Enough research is in place for me to start the first draft. I might do a mini NaNoWriMo for it, so you can follow along.
- And I’m planning a trip in the autumn to England and Wales to visit family and see some Doctor Who locations (and castles) in Cardiff. Woot! I’ve been to England, long ago, but never Wales. It’s so exciting, it’s all I can think about.
Of course I’ll blog from there, never fear. I hope to snap lots of pictures to post as well, so stay tuned. It would be nice if I could spend a whole month and write, but a sabbatical is not practical for me right now, darn it.
Expect another vocabulary post soon; those are way too much fun. Once they’re finished, I’ll have to come up with another series for you. If you have any suggestions, I’m open to them; just post in comments.
A U.S. federal appellate court recently ruled that bloggers have the same First Amendment rights as traditional news media against libel suits. Read the story here.
This is a good thing; with all the changes in how we get our information, bloggers have picked up some of the slack from traditional journalism. And, as the article says, how much more free can internet posting be?
Granted, there has been a lot of flap about free speech lately, what with that duck guy (I know his name; I just don’t care to repeat it) and others tossing their opinions out like poop-throwing monkeys. Let me remind you again: the First Amendment protects people against government infringement of speech, except under certain circumstances (like in wartime).
You can absolutely be penalized or even fired by your employer for what you say and write. And you can be sued, if it is blatantly false and damaging to the other party. Libel is written; slander is spoken.
We’ve all had to be conscious of things like copyright, defamation, disclosure, and fair use. But now, we bloggers know that if we have something important to say, that anyone attacking us because they don’t like it will have to conform their accusations to the same standard as if we had published in the paper.
Happy New Year, everybody! Here’s hoping 2014 is better than 2013, which was no better than 2012 (man, that’s depressing. Blargh!).
I skipped ahead a little on my Tunerville task list. My friend James Allder agreed to do a first read for me and I emailed it to him yesterday. Go read his book Western Legend. It’s got some rootin’ tootin’ Western action in it. I liked it and I’m not even a fan of the genre. According to his blog, it’s only 99 cents right now. So get it!
Since it’s the New Year, and resolutions are a thing, I’ll share some of mine with you.
- To get my ass off the chair and go to the indoor track (I’ve already started, but the holidays, with their plethora of delicious food, have gotten in the way).
- To write more on my own work, no matter how swamped I am with school. I have a schedule. I just need to follow it.
- To not bitch about school anymore and just suck it up and deal. The Universe has led me to this for a reason, I guess. I don’t know what the hell it is, WHICH WOULD BE HELPFUL, BUT WHATEVAH.
- To finish paying off some stuff.
- To redecorate my house. I’m kind of sick of the Victorian cottage thing I have going. The walls need to be painted anyway, so I might as well go for it.
(I got the poster in their store, which I LOVE)
- To try mightily to stop eating those damn hot Lay’s Sweet Southern BBQ potato chips I love so much. They’re not good for me. They’re not good for me. They’re not—oh hell. **crunch**
- To pass my USFS Adult Bronze freeskate test. I must master the single loop jump. It’s harder than it looks. I fall down a lot. See one at this link.
I also need to get the stupid back scratch spin, an element that is threatening to throw me down and break my face every time I do it. Here’s a guy doing a counterclockwise back scratch spin (the way most skaters do it):
I do this spin the opposite way (clockwise). Clockwise skaters do regular spins on the right foot and backspins on the left; counterclockwise skaters spin on the left and do backspins on the right. I jump the regular counterclockwise way. It’s messed up, but no one ever corrected it, and it’s too late to fix it now. It makes for some creative choreography sometimes.
This is a tough spin, because you’re spinning on the foot you don’t normally spin on, and you’re on the outside edge. You can do other spins this way (you get more points, because it’s harder), but you have to master this one first.
And my coach wants my sit spin to be lower (the one at the link is clockwise—yeah!). Yeah right—tell that to my knees and back. I also need to work on Silver Moves in the Field, which have fallen by the wayside when my Moves coach went to Florida. But my new coach is awesome (and tough!), so we’ll see how I do.
If I can pass my test in time, I can compete at State Games in November at my rink. Whee!
That’s my resolution list. I’m leaving out the personal junk, some of which is not completely under my control (come on, Universe). But I will keep you updated, should there be anything worth talking about, and if I choose to reveal any of it (he he).
Many thanks to everyone who read me this year and all who follow this blog and Clerical Chick. I wish you a very happy and safe New Year!