A bunch of stuff has happened in the last eight or so months. Nothing I can (or want to) speak freely about quite yet. But there has been one matter that has been on my mind a lot, and I figure I might as well write it out.
Characters are a fun bunch. Forget the ones that come up randomly and take over our stories (I’m looking at you two, Felix and Kata!). Forget the ones that turn into obstacles to the story you want to tell, derailing it at every junction. I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill MC.
As a writer, I don’t “design” my characters. I let them become who they have to be in the story somewhat organically. Oh, I do begin with developed ideas of who they start out as, but I also welcome the surprises. More importantly, I never begin with a protagonist who HAS to be “relatable.”
- The trend nowadays is to laud protagonists who are easy to “see yourself in.”
- The protagonist has to be compelled: tragedy in his or her past, usually, or at least something that left them uniquely linked to the story problem.
- A character flaw has to render the protagonist helpless (or make him or her at least disadvantaged) against the circumstances of the story problem (a flaw that they, of course, later overcome).
If you are a writer, I can already hear you agreeing. But of course that’s what makes a great character! Who wants to read about a Mary Sue, anyway?
Well, I disagree.
First, long gone are the days I inserted myself in my stories…. Like, thirty years in the past or so. Why? Well, because I don’t want to write (or read) about myself. I want to explore the minds of those unlike me. I want them to enrich me, not reinforce me.
Second … compelled means that at no time in the duration of the story, the character makes a conscious, unaffected decision to become involved. He or she already is, by virtue of something beyond their control. Whether or not they’ve realized/admitted it yet.
Third, my favorite one. Please, do make characters as flawed as you want. I do. I’m all about flaws, because I think perfect characters are boring as hell. And flaws are extra fun to the writing process. But the big “but” — designing that striking character flaw to be the heart of the internal obstacle to resolving the external problem smacks of all kinds of contrived. Why is it the alcoholic who has to fight the monster in the beer factory? At some point, the flaw, no matter how realistic or relatable, becomes a parody of itself.
As a reader, what I want is truthful, fascinating, or admirable in some way characters, not “relatable” ones. I don’t want to see myself in the story. I want to see people with whom I can sympathize, empathize, take on a challenge, have fun — and through whom I can ultimately change my perspective, even if only for the duration of a book. I want people who make decisions because they want, or must, or think they probably should, not because they have no choice. And I don’t want to see the author inside the story, working in the final polish on that round peg in order to fit it in that round hole just perfectly so.
And someone once said, “write what you want to read.”
So, I will not be going for “relatable.” If that hurts wide audience appeal of my books … So be it.
[Someone else’s article to read: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/scourge-relatability]
Of Dragons and Swords: 188K –> 200K. La la laaaaala…. Getting closer, and closer… Still not there, though. 10K to finish. I hope I can stay within this limit. I have the two major end scenes in my head though (I’m having a bit of a Castles of Sand and Stone struggle, in that I’m about to kill characters I really like, so I’m reluctant to go into these scenes… but I’ll get there. I hope).
Of Rats in Darkest Corners: 71K –> 71K. Not much of a word count increase (there actually is, but I’m keeping these scenes out of the official WC, in case I change my mind and throw them out). But I’ve added the bit I struggled with (one of the POV characters’ introduction, which was kind of important, but I didn’t know how to originally set up so that it fit the rest of the tone of the story). So, yay!
Crossing Roads: 53K –> 56K. And yes. Halfway in, our MC isn’t invincible anymore. I’d set it up from the beginning, but I finally got to this scene. Luvya, Curse!
Castles of Sand and Stone: 78K –> 84K. Got through a very sensitive for me spot. I hope I handled it well? Readers will tell. If they ever get to reading this story.
Dancing with Demons: 30K –> 31K. Tiny addition, but this isn’t an “active” story, so I won’t complain. A step forward is a step forward.
The Journeyman: 50K –> 51K. Yup. Neckbreaking progress. Well, there was potential neckbreaking in this progress, so does that count? I’m liking how the characters are coming along, though, so, score!
Gain of a Man Less: 19K –> 19K. There’s a bunch of things going on with this story. Not making it official on the diary yet (afraid I’ll jinx it?), but there’re eyes on this, and I’ve been working a ton on edits and the story themes/plot. Just a small word count increase lost in the rounding of the WC, but that’s because I also killed a scene.
Counter Central: 6K? –> 6K?. More brainstorming on this one. I’m REALLY liking it. Kind of tempted to throw it in the “active” mix. Won’t, because of Gain of a Man Less, but tempted nonetheless.
Chasm: 0K –> 1K. The opening scene was bugging me, so I put it down. Not 100% happy with it, but it’s on “paper.” Will probably end up either re-writing it, or at least editing it a bunch. Not the time of this story yet, anyway.
Trajectory (Screenplay): 66/120 pages –> 117 pages. FINISHED. And sent to a contest. Yay! (first round of results expected second week of January)
Since August 14, 2015:
Of Dragons and Swords: 175K –> 188K. Ended up scrapping quite a bit of writing as I tried a couple of different directions for one scene, and the last attempt may also get scrapped. But it’s, well, moving, so that’s that.
Of Rats in Darkest Corners: 69K –> 71K. Tiny motion that I’m not sure I’ll keep, but I worked through a couple of things that were bothering me before. I also got a bit of an “ah-ha!” moment with one of the POV characters, so happy noodles!
Crossing Roads: 49K –> 53K. Not a huge jump, and some of it may need to get reworked. But the story’s moving forward, so I can’t complain!
Castles of Sand and Stone: 71K –> 78K. Pretty happy with the addition! Still moving slowly, especially since I’m due to kill off two notable characters and I really love one of them, and that will be tough on me again. But that’s been the theme of this story (in more ways than one), so, moving on.
Dancing with Demons: 29.5K –> 30K. Is 500 words worth recording? Well, maybe no, but it was a fun tiny segment to write (some nerdy fun with technology).
The Journeyman: 45K –> 50K. Not unhappy with the bump, and the story’s moving, but I still don’t seem to have much inspiration for it. Even if I do think it’s one of my stronger stories, both writing and concept-wise. It may need a bit of help with the storytelling, in the sense of cleaning up some of the introspection, but other than that, I really have no complaints about it. Other that I just don’t seem to get into it well enough for quicker progress.
Linking Rings: 17K –> 19K. Worked through a major snag (kinda needed to move on with the story). This one isn’t an officially “active” story, but the idea how to handle the problem did strike me, and I thought I should work it in. It’s actually a story I’m pretty happy about, and I have much plans and hopes for it, but since it’s somewhat low in current WC, I figure it should sit until I start finishing some of the stories that are further along.
Gain of a Man Less: 18K –> 19K. Another tiny step forward, but I got the characters to their next scene. Another not high priority story that I have high hopes for. Again, it’s sitting at the back of the line due to its low current WC.
The Turn of the Wilds: Bent Steel: 51K –> 53K. Added a fun action scene (well, not so fun for the POV character, and he’s still in a whole lot of trouble, but it was fun to write). The TotW series has gone through a concept revamp, and I’ll need to work quite a bit on the first book before I return to Bent Steel officially. But that scene will definitely stay, no matter what changes I make to the rest of the book, and it’s always fun writing competent characters in deep trouble, so it was a good break from everything else.
The Continent Series: Empty Spaces: 2K –> 4.5K. I know I shouldn’t be working on this story. It’s book 2 of a series that I’ve barely touched in the last several years. BUT. Oh, that “but.” I’ve thought about the story concept on and off lately, and it offered a good opportunity to scratch an itch to write technobabble for a bit. Furthermore, I’m quite happy with the addition, because it offered some world-building opportunity, and I love world-building!
The Price of Loyalty: 1.7K –> 1.9K. Yes, 200 words. I’ve shattered all world records on word count per year! I originally wasn’t even going to include this, but the truth is that I’ve been thinking about this story quite a bit too. It won’t see the light of day any time soon, but it’s a concept I’ve loved for a long time (very challenging, which is probably why it’s never seen much word count) and maybe some day I’ll have the confidence to dive into it. Until then, here’s another 200 words on this story.
Sake of the Pack: 12K –> 13K. Another story that has been sitting, waiting for me to get over reservations writing it. But I did open it back up for nostalgia’s sake, and it got a bit of a bump in word count. Pretty much finished the next scene. There’s still quite a bit I need to figure out on it, and I’m still somewhat intimidated from the scope of it. I once said I’m not a good enough plotter to tackle the concept yet. Has anything changed since then? I’m not sure. But considering how many other stories I still have to work on, I really have no reasons not to let it sit for a while longer.
Broken Circles: 112K –> 115K. Hah, I actually had to open the story to see where that progress came from. So, yeah, I actually added a very important set of scenes that I’d managed to forget about in the last few months. Surprise! Not unhappy at all, though. The scenes do push the story forward quite a bit.
Trajectory (Screenplay): 61/120 pages –> 66/120 pages. Tiny movement. (I actually have about 72 pages on it, but the rest are possible inclusions, not official ones) The main progress was in figuring out the end scene, though it’s not written yet (I had trouble visualizing how to keep the actions of the MC true to her character while making the planned ending work).
The Chasm: 0K –> 0K. I have not officially started writing it yet, but I’ve done some brainstorming. I figured I’d include it in the update, since it’s a sweeping update. It’s a YA story in an old, old secondary world of mine (Dead Men’s Stand is in the same world). I kinda knew what I wanted to do for a while (about seven years ago, I wrote something that could have been a prologue for it, if I didn’t think it was too spoilery). But the opening is now starting to take shape in my head, and if I ever get the time and inspiration, I may write it down.
Locked Land: 6K? –> 6K? Another concept update. I’ve got a major jump on the world concept and on the plot! A long time ago, when a beta reader of mine saw what I had on it, they suggested some interesting possibilities for the plot. I thought they were very cool, but took the story very close to some existing stories by other authors. The story wasn’t a priority anyway, so I let it sit. But I recently got to thinking about it. And I’m excited to report that I’ve not only figured out quite a bit about the world and the story, but I’ve stayed true to its concept and have not veered towards other people’s IP. I have not put any of my new thoughts into scenes yet, though. And I’m not sure how much of the existing writing I’ll end up using, so I’m putting the question marks at the end of the word count.
Remnants: 1K? –> 1K? I actually tried another beginning for that one, but I probably won’t keep it either. I still love the concept, so I’m not throwing it out, but it’s not this story’s time yet.
Counter Central: 6K? –> 6K? Another “sitter” I’ve thought about lately. So I made a lot of progress on the concept, which I’m VERY happy with. But I won’t bring it back into focus, even though I think some of the themes may be pretty current.
I’d love to say that about sums it up, but, no.
I’ve revived my attempts at short stories.
One is in the works, at about 2.5K. It’s a high-tech story heavy on themes, so it’s taking me a little longer to iron out the end.
Another two are in the brainstorming stage. I’m not sure if I’ll put effort into writing them anytime soon, but I like the concepts, so I don’t think I’ll let them die either.
So, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the distinction lately. (yeah, I know, I should be writing, not thinking about useless stuff — but it is what it is)
I’ve always considered myself a pantser because, well, I am, and I know that’s what works for me. But in light of my stories that are slooooowly coming to an end, I’m starting to formulate a little bit of a different definition to my approach. What I’ve written are really outlines — extremely detailed outlines, with developed scenes and all the nuances that go into stories. But as happy as I may be with some of the settings, characters, themes, or even with the voices and atmospheres, etc. etc. — what I’ve written is still an outline in its heart, because the story is still hidden in the scaffolding I’ve used to get to this rough draft.
Some of my “outlines” have flowed better than others — I have a couple that are around the halfway point, that will need very little reorganization and editing (at least for now; there’s no guarantee that I won’t decide to change the storylines as I get closer to the end). Others will need the Machete in its full capacity.
The realization has come with my creeping forward on Of Dragons and Swords. The closer I get to the end, the clearer the story becomes, with the details filling in and tying together. It’s actually a very fulfilling process, slow as it may be. And I think it’s partially been as slow as it has, because instead of treating the story as the outline it has been and simply building on it, I’ve tripped up on it not flowing quite right yet. With every little step forward, my notes on what needs to change in what’s already written grow, but so does my confidence that I can turn this into a good story. Why? Because I’m now realizing a lot of what bothered me before was only scaffolding — stuff I needed to put on the page to keep myself going in figuring out the story, that really doesn’t belong in the story itself. I’ve spoken about this concept before, but never with this clarity. I’ve only been plotting. It may have taken a very long time, but I’ve also ended up developing the majority of the bits and pieces that will end up in the finished story.
It’s only a process.
So, maybe we’re all outliners — but some of us do a large chunk of our writing while we outline?
Had a couple of good writing days — almost three thousand words!
So, yey for me?
Otherwise, I’m considering getting on Patreon. Just thought I’d officially record the occasion. Another dubious “yey” here.
But I wrote!
Did I mention I wrote?
What’s that, another few months without an update?
Yup, that’s right.
So, the last few months have been dead as far as creativity goes. I pecked on a few stories (even tried NaNoWriMo, but that ended in a couple of thousand words, so, yeah). Thought about (and did some preliminary work) on setting up future marketing endeavors. Wrote some non-fiction snippet commentaries. That’s about it.
Nothing worth an update, but I’d like to get myself moving again, so here I am. I’ve updated the Scoreboard, but I won’t bother doing a wordcount update here. It’s depressing.
Yup! Been a while.
And my awesomestest awesome friend has done his version of the rats: GO GO GO
So, I’ve decided to start generating story blurbs for all of my “serious” stuff. They will live under
“This is … WIP” “The Stories”. I’ve also decided to add my drawings (partially for archiving purposes) here, but I will for now keep them password protected, mainly because I’ve just thrown all of them in a bucket, or well, several buckets, and they still need much organizing. I may never make all of them public, but I suppose at some point, I will pick a few of them and set up an official portfolio.
That said — if someone asks nicely, and I really like them, I’m not opposed to giving out the password privately.
Since about the start of the year:
Of Dragons and Swords: 170K –> 175K.
Of Rats in Darkest Corners: 63K –> 69K.
Crossing Roads: 45K –> 49K.
Castles of Sand and Stone: 66.5K –> 71K.
Dancing with Demons: 28.5K –> 29.5K.
And … because, pineapples:
Trajectory (Screenplay): 0/120 pages –> 61/120 pages