Characterization Tips – Part II

Here’s Part II of Don’s very valuable advice on characters

Author Don Massenzio

Yesterday, I wrote a post about characterization listing, in simple terms, some of the pitfalls that writers face as they create and develop characters. You can read it HERE. This post will revisit those pitfalls and give you some tips on how to repair them.

These are all practical lessons that I learned as I stumbled my way through seven books with two more on the way. I hope that you find them helpful. I appreciate the kind words and discussion after the first post.

Now, let’s revisit some of the issues identified in the last post with some potential solutions.

name word cloudBe consistent with what you call your characters – This one is simple. If you refer to your character as John Smith at the beginning of the book, then John, Johnnie, Jack and Smitty, simply stop doing it. Figure out the best way to refer to your character…

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Characterization Tips – What to Avoid, Where to Focus

Don’s blog brims with good advice. If you are starting out this is a go-to-place. Here are some sage words on Characters

Author Don Massenzio

This post is focused on a very important, if not the most important, aspect of your writers, your characters. Readers become invested in characters. They learn to love and/or hate characters. They sympathize and/or empathize with their flaws, quirks and events that shape them. Character development is both essential and difficult.

In this post, I hope to pull together some useful tips that I have tried to follow in my own writing or have learned from those that are respected and successful in the craft.

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  • Be consistent with what you call your characters – If you’re character’s name is John Doe, stick with calling him John or Mr. Doe or Johnny. But don’t alternate or you will confuse your readers. I actually broke this rule in my first book, Frankly Speakingand in it’s subsequent related books, I have a character named Clifford Jones, III. He is an attorney…

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7 Tips for Writing Fantasy

Here is some very useful advice if you are looking to write Fantasy

Nicholas C. Rossis

Reedsy recently published some great tips for fantasy authors–tips which can be easily applied to any fiction writing. Here is my summary of a selection of these tips.

Fantasy landscape Earth | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Image: Pixabay

1. Identify your Market

If you think it’s enough to say, “oh, I write fantasy,” think again. With so many fantasy genres, readers tend to cluster around specific subgenres which can range from Harry Potter to steampunk and Young Adult.

2. Use Short Stories

This was a great tip, reminding us of the value of short stories to flesh out our world and characters. When you write these with the specific aim of excluding them from your novels, you will find that you have more creative freedom and can discover surprising things about your universe.

3. Tie your World-building into your Plot

The best example to describe this is Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The whole fantasy premise flows…

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Writing Your Book-A Journey Barefooted and Treading on Glass under a Hot Sun- facing challenges you’d prefer to avoid

Whereas this post will be about the problem…ok MY problem… with writing sex episodes, this can also be considered as a parallel journey with other passages which are challenging or uncomfortable for the writer.

So once more, notebooks out for entries in your personal Guides to Writing, under sub-sections  (1) Oh man and I thought I made problems for myself (2). Note: Do not do this. (3) Ah, not just me then.

You don’t have to include sex episodes in a novel, personally I feel they look quite weird in some books, but since there is a great deal of sex going on around the world you cannot say the topic is irrelevant or to say in books suitable for adults there are some it cannot fit (fit?) into. When writing in the fantasy genre a portion of your readership are likely to be muttering…’Aww c’mon. Get on with it. It’s gotta happen!’. My own personal response is ‘Will you guys be patient!’

Now if you have been following this blog on and off you may remember my own surprise in ‘Of Patchwork Warriors’ at Karlyn and Arketre falling for each other in a big way. It took a few re-reads to realise this had been bubbling in the background, and well after being through danger, destruction and facing death more than once, when they’d finally found a patch of peace and quiet, feelings were bound to be made known.

‘Oh great’, said I. ‘Here I am yet again 67 year old male writer in Problem City…This time lesbian love’….’Oh sure’ says some readers ‘Of course it’s all to do with the plot and sub-text…Yeah, right!’

{Perversely I am so glad I self-publish and am terrible at marketing thus limiting my potential readership and having to explain myself to hundreds}.

Whereas part of me was saying, just lead up to a tentative kiss, close the door on them, then just step away for a day or so, another part of me was saying. ‘An’t gonna work old son; these are a pair of intense folk with their whole pack of contradictions and currently unexplained back-issues. You need to see the detail through as part of their journey. Anyway some readers will say…’Ah-cop out!’ if you don’t’

I complained a lot to myself but by now the book itself and the characters were weighing in. They used that sneaky argument. ‘Challenge yourself!’ all I could reply with was ‘But…but…but,’. They laughed and resorted to, I thought, a rather unnecessary and vulgar analogy with the American use of the word.

Fine! I mean you can research stuff for crime novels, or SF, or military, or…But…Oh my!

At this stage panic set in. What if this part of the narrative ended up contrived and forced? Suppose there were incorrect assumption made? Suppose I got into Cliché Central?

Making sure no one was looking over my shoulder I tentatively perused the ‘Erotica’ section of Amazon, somewhat uneasily selecting sub-genres and so forth. Sampled a few ‘see what’s inside’,s and thought….’Huh! And I was worried about Cliché Central?’ So I checked the reviews (yeh I know not the most reliable source, but what’s a guy to do?). It was then the ‘OK kiddo, we’ve gone this far. It’s download time!’. So checking up on reputation of authors and taking a few more reviews a few 0.99p’s were invested in downloads. I concluded that there was a flourishing market for women writers writing erotica for other women involving women with women. Wow what a relief! Not just adolescent boys and drooling sad men! I’d been overthinking the problem. (Well, be fair it was a reasonable overthink, I mean I’d spent years readings, Heroic Fantasy, history and politics, some things passed me by!)

That sorted. The next issue was, to use the old adage ‘There is a time and place for everything’. Let’s keep this rationed (to the reader I mean, what characters get up to off the page is their business), not prurient because this is a Fantasy-genre novel and let’s give context.

In the first volume, their first intense interlude happened at towards the end of the volume and seemed to introduce a certain element of closure or new horizons. Since this was not ‘just physical’ (OK, so I did listen to Tegan and Sara sometimes when writing, anyway I happen to like Tegan and Sara’s music) there could be sensitivity and romance included. This also allowed me to introduce the slightly roguish element of Arketre’s character as she, in a nice way, seduced Karlyn, who in turn showed another facet of her vulnerable side and in turn there was Arketre’s tender caring side.

Somewhat concerned I released Vol 1 with flag warnings all over the place. Although not flooded with purchases (so what?), not one came back tearing at me for some contrived, male-slavering soft-porn…. Whew!

Vol II. Obviously, this relationship was now set into the narrative. The question was now should the sex episodes continue to be written in? The first answer, well since there had been one in Vol I it followed ignoring them in Vol II might look ‘odd’ as if I’d tip-toed away. I did have some advantages here.

In the first case the two had fallen in love with each other, secondly because they were in the first flush of this relationship, ‘they couldn’t keep their hands off each other’, as the saying goes; this however was not a problem as the fact could be mentioned in asides, reflections and general banter.

Graphic and open description would be restricted to intense situations. I used two episodes both to highlight Arketre’s anxiety  when dealing with The Ethereal / Stommigheid as well as to underline the commitment they had to each other. First: when in a haunted wood just when they were getting snuggly in a tent they were attacked by ‘ghostly creatures’ Karlyn performs a powerful, emotive, exorcism (and sets fire to one), Arketre wants to get out of the wood, ‘like now’. In the dawn’s light Karlyn draws Arketre into back love-making which I tried to illustrate as two people deep in a tenderness of love; erotica with flowers if you like and showing Karlyn as not simply Arketre’s goofy side-kick. Second: the other instance followed an episode where the two had been apart for a very intense ten or so days and at the first chance Arketre positively pounces on Karlyn which is briefly described and to make way for a bit of mischief along the lines ‘Oh we were just exercising’ feeble excuse when Trelli walks in just as they have got decent. She turns this around gently teasing them later on; this also demonstrated Trelli was no longer in awe of the pair and was not the shy retiring prissy flower some may have assumed she was.

And Trelli?

I have to blame Arketre here. Being a soldier with a series of encounters to her name she was quite insistent that Trelli have her own ‘fun’ time too, after all she’d earned, it yeh? (Characters can be so pushy not just with their own parts either).

Wigran, the cause of her abilities, was out of the mix. Trelli was still angry with him, by now he was involved with another and also still a bit scared of Trelli. The poor girl was not getting much chance to hang around with men for long term relationship. What did develop was when Trelli was re-united with Arketre and Karlyn in a new place; she encountered Lord Osavus the son of a Grand Duke. Now I admit to writing in a sudden mutual attraction and ‘sparks’. There again this was taking place in a land close to war, folks emotions were heightened; Trelli was becoming more her own girl, to this young fellow she not only appeared exotic, but much than a ‘silly young thing’. He was being ‘gah-lant and respectful to her and she did like this sort of attention. The dynamic was I admit old fashioned; she in his strong manly arms, welcoming his embrace, her first experience of men, he being a measure reverential and considerate to her entranced by this mysterious woman with ‘powers’. But after all she has been through Trelli deserved a ‘nice’ time (Arketre insisted)

This interlude allowed more character development and insights. Arketre encouraging Trelli (Arketre does carry a contraceptive mix around with her for others and as a dark reminder of one consequence which can happen out rape); Karlyn being quite hostile to Osavus in her protective side of Trelli and suspicion of men’s motives with women. Interludes between any combination any combination of the four providing more depth while taking care to ensure these weaved into the ongoing main narrative.

On reflection when working the re-write and re-reading this post I have realised in taking on this challenge and settling it into the narrative allowed for more opportunities to explore the characters and their relationships to each other. These having ramifications upon other episodes within the tale.

Here therefore is something to bear in mind when quivering on the edge of a challenge or for an uncomfortable part of the narrative. Keep calm. Keep mature. You never know what else will open up.

Keep on writing folks.

Writing Your Book – The Environmental Issue.

Writing Your Book- The Plot Thing

Writing Your Book – Main Characters (You can’t avoid them)

Writing Your Book – Main Characters (You can’t avoid them)

Characters eh?

 

I swear by the blade of Dark Agnes and the pen Robert E Howard I cannot explain why the creative process of writing within me always leads to the principal characters being women. Particularly as it causes some much initial bother.

As a male to mention I find it easier to write women as principal characters in a Fantasy setting and some folk think ‘Uh-huh male in his late 60s writing about fantasy girls…yeh got it!’.

So part-time psychiatrists and psychologists form an orderly Q. Tea and biscuits will be served while you are waiting.

Now it’s no use citing other male authors who do this either in Fantasy or SF for a few commentators are bound to say ‘Yes but the characters are sssso stereo-typical’ or ‘Oh another alpha-female’ (this is often quoted by males who are secretly scared of girls and also are wont take tape measures with them on visits to the bathroom)

The whole business if fraught with difficulties. By happenstance since my work is only destined to be self-published and not as a source of income, therein lies my freedom to continue as my writing muse leads me.

Which is, truth be known, of small comfort.

So let us, dear reader, travel down one writer’s path, signposted ‘Problem With Principal Characters’ and see if by the spirits of The Parallel you can relate with your own problems getting the folk to fit into the narrative.

The first problem most authors meets is they are usually not in the same mould as the character. In my case this would be fairly flash-light- in- one’s- face- obvious, ie how does a male writer relate to a female character? Well in my case having been married to the same gal for 45 years, having two daughters and one granddaughter in her twenties is of some help; having worked in an office environment for 40+ years where the majority of staff were women was another plus. This however does not the answer to all the issues, maybe 15%’s worth in that there as many types of women as there are men, and that surprisingly women and men are different, physically and in perspectives. This as far as I dare go without being lynched (allegorically). So characters might not think as you do, you have to work outside of your own head, imaginations, experience and contemplation on the subject are necessary.

Next problem, when confronting the issue of gender-specific (sorry I’ve been itching to use that phrase, I’m sure I don’t know why) fantasy-genre figures (as opposed to ahem…fantasy figures; heck this post is tougher than was first envisaged!). Now unless we are dealing with the area of comic book novels let us try to avoid the warrior woman who for some reason finds it easier to fight in a costume more suitable to the beach or as underwear; I mean do you know any women who walk about snowy mountains in bikinis or underwear…Uh? So, girls wear clothes, and since I’m setting this in northern climes heavy duty clothes. Why are clothes important in a novel’s narrative, because they in part define the characters.

Yes ‘Characters’. Despite what was written earlier, falling into stereo-types is something to be wary of, we all do it, when it a hurry, or making a point, or…(fill in the blanks). My own solution was to bring in three central characters, each with their own jumble of features. (As I see it, we are all a ‘jumble’ of gifts, flaws, quirks, sensitivities, strengths etc). This avoided the danger of a narrative of many parts ending up revolving around one character. It also allowed me to have characters engage with each on level terms, wherein one could be ‘up’, one ‘down’ and one in the middle, or any permutation, but not always the same ones in the same order.

This is how they panned out in order of introduction:

Karlyn Nahtinee. The standard trope in Fantasy would be the mischievous acrobatic thief who has a heart of gold, a cheeky sense of humour and is a bane to authority. Karlyn’s propensity to set fire to places or folk she thought were ‘evil’ wiped out some of the trope. The principal danger though was for folk to read a few lines and yell… ‘Ha Harley Quinn!!’ or ‘Chiana-Farscape!’. Mindful of this meant a great deal of effort trying work with Karlyn to ensure she did not do things these two would do while still retaining her skewed sometimes comic viewpoint. Bringing a vague back-story that her ancestry might not be all human, explained her ability to ‘talk’ with trees, various animals, birds, insects; smell things which can’t be smelt and walk between worlds. This would evolve with in her a general air of confusion and irritation at the way others see the world. She starts a new career as the assistant to an unconventional Custodian (think inquisitor) Even so the cloud of Harley Quinn still hovers. In a way it’s good, made me concentrate. She still develops, sometimes she shifts in character to a more regal type indicating her possible heritage.

Arketre Beritt: The standard trope; woman soldier/warrior. Women soldiers in Fantasy aside from sometimes being alpha-leaders tend to be hard folk, short on humour, often taller than average and either voluptuous or plain and everyone reading the book is waiting for the ‘right man’ to come along. Arketre was thus shorter than average, pretty, the equivalent of a ‘medic’ with apparently a tender heart, but able to stand up for herself. In short, in common parlance she started out as ‘a grunt’. Initially a counterpoint to some of Karlyn’s more acerbic characteristics, but as time goes on some military truths come out. She is part of an elite organisation The LifeGuard a cross between special forces and secret police like they had an ethical streak.  As a solider she complains about the equipment, she moans about officers, she dislikes being left without orders when she has responsibility. She sometimes kills in a rather unsettlingly detached manner. She can suffer from the ‘red mist’. She was content as a ‘medic’ but embraces the role of fighter. She is volatile. She has been made suited to war. But she will not let her friends down. She is ill-at-ease with the power Karlyn and Trelli embrace or come to terms with.

Trelli, aka Trelyvana Waywanderer: The innocent abroad. A once humble housemaid who accidentally ended up with powers and became the focus of a hunt by officialdom in the form of the Arketre’s LifeGuard and Karlyn’s Custodian, which is how all three meet. This type of character can spend their time being terrified, rescued and being the recipient of long involved explanations. Yes, she was terrified, yes, she was sort of rescued by the other two, but shows an ability to grow up very quickly and have the good sense not to take her powers for granted even to be suspicious of them. She also brings a level of domestic practicality and is therefore a sometime leader of two otherwise very assertive but mule-headed folk. She can reach a ‘enough is enough’ stage and speak her mind, forcibly. Somewhere along the developing of her back-story she became an orphaned babe whose parents were of what we would call sub-Saharan Africa. Living in a modest but thriving port town in a sort of European setting fitted in to this origin. Most of the time the colour of her skin simply does not matter. In the environments she encounters it is ability which counts.

The three of them were thus learning to interact, sometimes leader, sometimes being lead, bonding, while stumbling through a web of situations which none of them had much understanding. This enabled more development of quirks, foibles, strengths and general characteristics. Thus by the second book I felt I knew the three of them quite well, although each would surprise me from time to time. Trelli is asserting herself and not to be pushed around by various authorities, Karlyn struggling with her ancestry while Arketre becomes subsumed in the aggressive side of soldiering (and we learn she had been quite the rogue when off duty).

Fantasy wouldn’t be Fantasy without romance which was another problem for me when one involved Karlyn and Arketre. Aside from trying to avoid prurient, set-piece, out of context gratuitous scenes (that’s a whole different post!), there was now the dynamic of not having Trelli as the proverbial third wheel. This was an issue, but gave me a greater opportunity to bring out Trelli’s strengths, level of compassion, friendship and maturity. In addition this gave cause for a sisterly/friendship bond between her and Karlyn; Karlyn confessing she thinks Trelli understands the relationship the ‘the power’ better than Arketre, now Karlyn’s lover.

As the second volume involved a great deal of action, the three were relying on that original bonding dynamic to keep each other and themselves alive (Actually Trelli has her own romantic ‘moments’ which also allowed for some divergence of opinions between Karlyn and Arketre and added depths to their own characters).

Thus by the time this second Volume comes to an end I felt I had three people, who all happened to be women, one of whom had black skin, one of whom might not be quite human, two of whom were involved with ‘powers’, one of whom didn’t like those powers and two of whom developed a lesbian relationship and all three relying on each other to survive.

Two books in it has been quite a journey. Another book is twitching away to start. The challenge, not to repeat the same events of the first two in different places and different times. There will probably be a large scale disturbance of the empire which should present opportunities.

I think I have avoided stock-characters in the three.

But is an author ever certain? Not when they have to read through the narrative again to look out for spelling mistokes, typos, syntax issues etc.

Hope this is of some use to compare and contrast.

Writing Your Book – The Environmental Issue.

Writing Your Book- The Plot Thing

Writing Your Book- The Plot Thing

Plots eh?

Some folk of a particular type of talent can write a books without a particular plot, as a journal of observation and experience of one or more persons. This requires a particular  type of insight, use of imagery and wide knowledge of language and its nuances. I would not attempt this, not in my current state of writing processes anyway.

Back to Plots….

Plots can be straightforward, linear A to C with a detour on B as an optional, or they can be labyrinthian and the inbetweens. At this basic level the type of genre doesn’t impact on the choice. The vital factor is not to lose sight of it. I cannot stress this too strongly, speaking as one who produced three volumes of a comic fantasy in which there were proliferations of episodes, skits and interludes against which could be heard the faint cries of the plot not to be forgotten. Eventually it gave up and went to seek rest. Then when I attempted to write Volume IV as a multi-faceted account of the various factions involved in the world, the plot simply refused to assist telling me I had ignored it previously and would not go through that experience again.

Some folk will plan out their book with a series of stages, the details of which are filled in as the narrative moves towards an already envisaged conclusion. Others have outlines but are willing to move this way and that in the journey. Some of us start out with only the faintest idea, usually along the lines of a few characters and a set of circumstances they have to navigate through, making the rest up as we go along. Then there are all the permutations on these three. Let it be so.

Plots can also be chaotic and there is a valid case for this. If you consider Life and those incidents both large and small which are ‘historic’ or ‘memorable’ you will find a great deal of the unexpected happening and those involved having to improvise, or sometimes just spin out of control under the pressure of the situation.

As evidence I cite this quote:

(No I don’t know why the font size changed WP being quirky again)

“Gentlemen do not be daunted if chaos reigns; it undoubtedly will.” said Brigadier S. James Hill, commanding officer of the British 3rd Parachute Brigade, in an address to his troops shortly before the launching of Operation Overlord—the D-Day invasion of Normandy. This proved to be prophetic.

Therefore the situation can be the plot; think of all good disaster movies (OK I know putting out a lava flow with fire hoses in ‘Volcano was’ stretching it a bit; still a good movie though). Folk thrown in at the deep end.

Since my life seemed to be based on improvisation this is where I tend to go when writing. Thus in my latest the central characters are not alpha-leaders, they take orders, they improvise (there’s that word again) and they ignore orders. The foes are not the deadly dull Perfect Plan Percy/Petunia who sit about god-like until the last chapter where due to some supreme effort they are foiled. As history shows many is the ‘great’ organisation which has floundered on its own arrogance. In this book no one is in complete control, some may have a temporary advantage but the signs are there this is only conditional.

(Annnddd changed again!)

So let there be a plot but it does not have to be tight or linear (again the word). A plot can be ‘How we survived. It is enough. And therein you can give your characters room to grow and interact. Work as you will, with whatever you are most comfortable with. This is where growth starts.

 

The Return of The Wayward Writer

Writing Your Book – The Environmental Issue.