Y is for Yelp and Other Sounds Characters Make

Y is for yelp and other sounds characters make. Other sounds include, but are not limited to: squeal, squeak, grunt, bark, snarl,

Hear Me Snarl

growl, hiss and whimper.

One of my favorite writers, Anne Bishop, is particularly prone to making her characters snarl, growl and whimper. On rare occasions it annoys me.

But other writers, ones I like less, have their characters grunt and growl their way through the page. It is beyond annoying, and may lead to me putting the book down. It’s just so irritating – no one grunts/growls/barks every sentence they say. And if they do, there is still no need to put these tags in every other bit of dialogue.

Also, sometimes even with the dialogue tag, I cannot hear the sentence as a grown/grunt/whimper.

Does this annoy you? And, whether it does or doesn’t, can you always hear the sound in the dialogue?

X is for X Placeholder

X_GI use X as a placeholder. His friend X, Uncle X, baby X, pet X, and event X and so on.

Lots of times I don’t know what the character’s name is and I don’t have time to go searching baby name websites for a good name. So the picture-placeholder-femalecharacter becomes X on the page. It’s a silent reminder to find a name later.

It’s the same thing for scenes. Sometimes I’ll be writing and I need a scene to show something somewhere in the middle of the story. I’ll insert Scene X in big bold letters wherever the scene needs to be.

As for why X and not A or – or some other symbol as a placeholder? I don’t really know. I suppose X represents the unknown to me. No doubt this is a result of spending years in the classroom being told to Find X.

How do you deal with unknown characters?

U is for Unchangeable and Unchanging Characters

Some characters are unchangeable, unchanging, and in fact, have no business changing.

This isn’t the normal thing that is taught in writing classing and it is not the normal writing advice given. But, months after watching the Skyfall, I have become convinced of the truth of it.

I blogged about Skyfall after I saw the movie. I don’t mention it in the post, but I feel like this movie hurt Bond’s icon status.

In this movie, 1) Bond grows older and 2) also has a past, complete with parents and big house.

Someone asked me how it was and I replied: emotional. Which is damn odd for a James Bond movie.

Before this movie he was the Man of Mystery. He had no past, no future, few connections to people other than a bevy of Bond Girls in each and every movie.

The only movie he ever changed in was the one where the girl he was in love with betrayed him and broke his heart. Nothing otherwise.

Every writing class, most every piece of writing advice will say that characters need to grow. Good stories have characters that grow and change.

I feel like someone tried to do exactly that to James Bond in Skyfall and it failed.

I feel like him getting shot by friendly fire, retiring in the Caribbean, and coming back vastly off his game were attempts to give him a character arc he wouldn’t have otherwise. I also feel like he doesn’t need to have a character arc necessarily.

James Bond is an icon. No need to mess with that.

Or if they insist, they ought to have done it slower. Lots slower. The character development should have been done at a snail’s pace, over a number of movies. That might have worked. As it is, I just feel like they were trying to shoehorn a past and development and all that jazz into his character.

Also, at the end of Skyfall, he says he’s ready for the next mission at the end and its business as usual. So, yeah.

I have to reconsider if I even want to see the next James Bond (comes out next year!) in theaters. If it is like Skyfall, than maybe not.

O is Opinionated Characters

Sometimes, in order to get know a character, I pose issue questions to them and figure out where they stand.

This sounds bizarre, asking questions of people who do not exist outside of my head. You would think I already know where they stand. I mean, I made them up, didn’t I? But mostly I don’t.

By issue questions, I mean controversial issues, topics on religion and politics and whatever else causes arguments. They will differ by time and place and setting. Because characters need opinions, right? Things they will do and the lines they will not cross.

And today – today I was reading a post by John Scalzi about what he calls The Four Levels of Discrimination. He makes a good argument about ambient discrimination. (You should read it.) I used to think of this as unconscious biases. But ambient discrimination is a good way to describe it, too.

Anyway, the question I have never asked my characters and now I realize would a good question to ask: what ambient discrimination affects them? Against the character or against others, it hardly matter which.

It’s a kind of world building, too – figuring out what will cause the natives to turn into rioting mobs. That’s fun also. (Causing riots!)

The challenge here, I think, is to keep the opinions from turning them into willful characters, who insist on doing something, when I want the plot to go in another direction. (I sometimes fail at this challenge.)

That sounds mad, I know, because I came up with the characters and I damn well ought to be able to tell what to do. But sometimes that does a disservice to the character.

What do you think? How do you go finding out who your character is?

Changing Character’s History

So I just realized the major I’d chosen for my character’s college years was entirely wrong. Oh, it never felt right in that bone deep where you just know something is correct. It was the Romance Language program at Harvard, in case anyone was wondering. But I thought it would suit.

I realize now that it really doesn’t. I know more about his life and his passions than when I decided that (a year ago). Now I know a degree in the fine arts will suit him much better. It won’t affect his job much. But I thinking it will be a much better match for the rest of his life. In fact, it might make his work easier (it involves a fair amount of art-ish stuff.)

This is the third time I changed his major on him (first was lit and than law). But it feels right now. Really it does. It feels right in a way it didn’t before.

Fortunately, I haven’t mention it too many places, so changing it will be easier. Working other mentions of it in the text should be relatively straightforward, too.

Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells: You Are A Writer

I was reading The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova and this quote from Ernest Hemingway jumped out at me:

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that it all happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

I think this is the best idea of what makes a writer that I have ever seen. That it comes from a writer whose works I don’t usually enjoy strikes me as odd.

I think this is the ideal. You want all that, you want the reader to feel the story so deeply that they don’t forgot, so deeply that they come back to the story over and over again.You want the reader to get lost in the story and never want to leave. You want the reader to care deeply about the character’s sorrow and joy.

I also think it’s incredibly rare and that stories that do this won’t be the same from everyone. It’s too subjective.

Even so. I think to feel that way, you need a character you really connect to. I mean, as a reader I know I do. If a book doesn’t have a character I like, it’s very hard for me to read it. (This is why Game of Thrones remains unread on my kindle.)

And by connecting, I don’t mean the reader has to see themselves in the character. I really, really don’t see myself in Eve Dallas, Jaenelle Angelline or Miles Vorkosigan – three characters I love most and series I reread frequently. But I still connect, I still sympathize with them and I still like spending time with them.

Rereading the WiP

So I came back to the WiP after not writing for a month. It was a good month, just not one meant for writing. Or blogging. Or reading, even. Well, I read more than I blogged or wrote, but even reading was minimal.

So I felt the urge to write again and opened up my file and I find I have forgotten details of my own story. Like, names. They include the names of various business and characters and so on.

Okay, yeah, the characters are minor and so are some of the business. But really!!! Does not remembering mean I should not have attempted to turn into something other than stock characters? I am not going to spend hours and hours on characters that only appear a handful of times, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get names and at least a few words of description. Does it?

Also, I didn’t expect to forget little details of the lives of the secondary characters. That’s even worse than forgetting the names of minor characters.

I realize now I have to reread the whole damn thing and resist the urge to edit while reading. I wasn’t expecting to have to do that. There are lots of pages. Thousands and thousands of words. It’s going to take a few days before I can actually start writing again.