Tag Archives: writer

Journal: on writing characters

This is pretty random. Just thinking aloud.


People are made up of opposites.

A good character, you get to be able to predict their reaction (Ed stands up for himself against anybody, no matter how imposing. He shouts at cops, throws punches at huge bouncers). Then you figure out what their opposite character trait is (Ed cannot say no to little kids. They trample him daily. He spends all his pocket money buying them ice cream).

Here’s another thing to consider: Ed is in danger of being a stereotype. Which one? The Gentle Giant. You know that one. Or if he’s smally built, he’s the juvenile delinquent who talks tough but has a soft heart. Yeah yeah. We all know those guys.

So let’s throw some wrenches in the works. Yes, Ed is brave and scrappy. Yes, Ed loves kids. Ed is also SUPER NERDY. Tiny asthmatic with an inhaler. Angry little asthmatic. An angry little asthmatic who loves death metal and babies. He gets so angry when people mistreat him it’ll spur an asthma attack, and after the fight he’ll gnaw his inhaler. The plastic end is gnawed to hell. It looks like rats got ahold of it. This is not a stereotype. It’s way too weird. And that’s what makes Ed interesting.

You can spend the rest of your spare time trying to explain why he is the way he is, giving him a backstory. Maybe he was bullied. Maybe he is the oldest of ten siblings. I don’t know.

Let’s try making another character.

Gina is a hippie. She enjoys gardening. She never mows her lawn, it’s full of tall weeds and wildflowers and snakes. She calls it wildlife habitat. Her HOA hates her and she’s always having to defend herself. She is severely freckled and never wears makeup.

Gina is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She could take anybody down. But she’s never been in a fight.

Gina is also a tech whiz. She is fluent in several computer languages and spends her workday creating webpages.

Gina has three disparate fields in her life. None of them seem to hang naturally together. But they do. I heavily based Gina’s character on a real person. (Yes, you can do that too. It’s called cheating. Just kidding.)

These hobbies are all opposites, so she’s already way out of danger of being a stereotype or cliche. But it’s not enough. What can we do with this character?

Gina needs some kind of inner conflict. We need to know about her insides.

Let’s say… she has very poor health and high anxiety. She needs her garden as a happy place but the HOA fights are giving her a stress ulcer. She needs her job for the insurance but the job makes her want to go postal. She needs her Tae Kwon Do to make her feel strong and confident, but her body is always giving out on her.

Now she’s finally getting interesting. I’ve inserted conflict into all areas of her life. Poor kid. Being one of my characters isn’t easy.

Now she needs some kind of a crisis to pull her into a character arc.

Every character has to go through an arc. They can win, or lose, learn something, or even learn nothing. But they have to face something, and near a breaking point.

There are plots which are wholly driven by character arcs. The story can be as big (e.g. dealing with the death of a loved one) or as little (e.g. worrying about the bee in the back yard) as you please. As long or short as you please. Ain’t writing grand? As Bob Ross would say, this is your world.

As an example of a character driven story, let’s try writing the small story, the bee story:

 

Gina sat in the chair on her porch, watching the bees pollinate the wildflowers in her overgrown lawn. She kept it tall just for them.

One of the bees appeared to be a little slower, a little heavier than the others. It landed near her, and she noticed its wing was deformed. It sat still in the sun, resting quietly.

What a sad thing. How did anything make it to adulthood in the wild with such a disadvantage?

It’s a social insect after all. Social creatures can afford to rely on their fellows to share the burden.

Gina shifted uncomfortably in her chair to take the weight off of her bad hip. Tae Kwon Do was getting harder these days. Where was her social support network? She considered, once again, quitting work. She could get by on disability.

The bee twitched, buzzed, and took off with visible effort, buzzing back into overgrowth. It landed on a purple nettle and explored the pockets for pollen.

Then again… even the bee was working.

If the bee could make it, she could. It was only four more years to retirement. Until then, she would have to content herself with only weekends in the garden. In four years, she could spend all her time here.

 

I don’t know, that was just a draft. But you see how pretty much nothing happened? She stared at a bee. But in her head, she made a decision about her life, and chose her pride over her health. That was her character arc.

It’s entirely possible to have a plot driven story instead. This is the kind of story where stuff happens. But it might be a bit hollow if unaccompanied by a character arc. Let’s try writing a story with no character arc.

 

Gina sat on her porch drinking tea when a van pulled up. She knew this neighbor. It was an HOA representative.

“Miss,” the man said, all beer belly and suspenders. “We’re gonna have to ask you to cut your lawn. It’s overgrown by two feet!”

Gina sipped her tea. “This lawn is a miniature nature reserve. I will not cut it.”

He grabbed his suspenders and stuck his belly out. “It’s attracting snakes and vermin!”

Her tone even, she replied, “It’s attracting endangered bees, harmless garter snakes, and monarch butterflies. It’s providing a place for native prairie plants to flourish.”

The man hiked up his pants before forming his next argument. He was turning pink with frustration. “It’s against the homeowners association code!”

Gina leaned back in her rocking chair and met the man’s eye. “If you examine the bylaws from when I moved in, there was no lawn restriction. I never signed any documentation agreeing to conform to this.”

The man huffed extravagantly and waddled back to his van, outraged but out of arguments. For now. He pulled into her driveway to turn around, squishing one corner of her grass to do it. She was sure he did it on purpose.

Gina sipped her tea. What a silly goatee. He would have looked better with a full beard.

 

Okay, so that was hard. I had to make the universe arc around her. It kind of killed me not to make her react, get angry, even smile. A smile would have denoted smugness, victory. I had to get rid of all those character flaws we just painstakingly created. It might actually be harder to not have a character arc than I’d thought.

Anyway, this story, in the end, seemed like either a bad joke (everything Gina likes is hairy) or some kind of weird morality tale (environmentalists are heroes and always right and if you’re a good person don’t cut your lawn ever).

(Side thought: fairy tales, folk tales, parables, and morality tales rarely have character arcs. These have very consistent characters, which each act in accordance to their established rules. It’s more like they’re outlining the outcome of having a specific character trait than they are telling a story.)

Now if we can blend a character arc with a plot arc, well, then you’ve got something. You go do it yourself though. Feel free to use my characters (share if you do!).

I’ve learned lots. I’m going to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

On Finding Your Voice, sort of

People keep asking my advice lately.

Lol wut.

Well, I guess it’s fine. But I’m just a pair of eyeballs posing as a human being. Keep your salt shaker handy to liberally season anything I say. I will not be held responsible for the stupid things you do with my advice.

On having a voice:

When I was in writing classes people kept asking the teacher about how to develop their voice. It confused the hell out of me. What is a “voice?” As long as you’re not trying to be anyone else, you’re yourself right?

Unfortunately, I was so confused by the question I never paid attention to the answer. Or maybe the teacher just bullshitted so I forgot what they said. Bullshit answers tend to lay pretty light in the brain. You can remember them talking but not the words they spoke…
I think, though, that I finally learned what they were asking. They were still kids. They were asking the teacher who they were. Poor kids! Poor teacher!

I don’t know much, and everybody is different. What works for me may not work for you. But lately I keep hearing people talking about their inability to be creative. Not having a voice is a similar complaint, in a way. At least, the solution is the same.

Here goes:

Empty your brain. Upend all that garbage and start fresh, empty. Nature abhors a vacuum, right? The second you empty your brain, a thought will rush in to fill it.

This is fine. Use this. Put your pen to paper and start writing.

Writing poetry, for me, is a conversation with my subconscious. I’m always a little bit curious to see what it will say next. What little monster will pop out of the deep Id? What strange conclusion will be drawn from this inauspicious little starter word?

I read once that creative people actually have a stronger link with their subconscious than non-creative people. It’s that little touch of madness… too strong a link makes you unfit to live in a society; too weak a link, you’re a robot I guess. But all you robots, do not despair. If you envy the wobbly reality on this side of things, you can work on breaking down that wall. Start by emptying your brain. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Oh, you’re done emptying your brain already? Now write, or draw. The first random word or phrase that comes to mind, or the first line you draw. Kick it around. Follow where it leads. The Rationalist inside of you will tug on your sleeve and say, “hey… this is stupid, what is this shit?” Grab that rational person and upend them, over and over. You’ve ears only for your muse and her name is Crazy.

There is a thin, thin line between controlling your verbal rabbit chasing, and pure schizophrenic word salads. It’s like controlling a lucid dream. Very fine balancing act.

However, if you can master the art of tapping into your crazy, you will never be creatively blocked. Once I learned how to do this, I wrote my novel. Every time I found myself slowing down, not knowing where to go from here, I turned off my thinking brain and let the schizophrenic lead the leash for a few seconds. She never lets me down. Sometimes she takes me on a really strange, dumb, or unexpected journey, but if I just leave her to her own devices, she’ll sniff out the truffles. I think I mixed some metaphors there… schizophrenics aren’t good at finding truffles. Who knows, maybe they are.

How does this relate to finding your own voice? Well, I’ve always been an oddball, so I’ve always drawn or written odd things. A logical person will write logical things. And a normal person writes normal things. What if you’re ordinary? If you are, guess what? Ordinary people will love you. And there are a lot of ordinary people in the world. You’ll be a hit.

Help, I don’t have a voice! The anguished writer cried aloud, with her loud voice.

Yes, you do. It’s probably not the voice you wished you had. You can’t iron the uniqueness, or the normalness, out of yourself. That’ll only make you sad. Instead, embrace what you are. Accept the flaws. I must accept that I always write free verse with small words, frequently recurring words. Blah blah darkness blah blah time blah blah wild blah blah me I myself me. I get so bored of myself. I want to write like Edgar Allen Poe or Mark Twain, but that’s not happening. I’m too lazy to try, and if I did, it’d be stilted and wrong. It’d be more like an autotuned voice, or a helium voice.

You’ve got to be who you are. You’ve got to write what comes naturally. Don’t try to impress. Stay true. Don’t fake. Don’t act. Relax your mind and find that thin line between rabbit chasing and schizophrenia, and tread the edge. Don’t let the Rationalist hook you away. If you do this when you put pen to paper, then whatever you write or draw is pure untrammeled you. The hardest part is not about finding your voice; you already have it. It can’t leave you. The hardest part is shutting that inner critic up, and accepting the voice that you have.

Edit:: Conversations with these two are what inspired the above post. Read their stuff.

Lille Sparven speaks the raw truth:

www.lillesparven.com/2019/02/censuring-mirror.html?m=1

Paul Sunstone asks the good questions:

https://cafephilos.blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Failed to write a love story

 

I don’t like romance novels. It’s the one genre I despise. I like a good romance, but not the formula Harlequin stuff. Boring. Easy.
I thought, well, if I’m so cocky, if love stories are so easy, then write one. So… I tried.

Enjoy the failure.

 


 

Daymond looked through the slats of his blinds at the neighbor across the street. She was walking around without a shirt again. Didn’t she think anyone could see her? He turned away. But even after he went to sleep, the image of her followed him into his dreams.

The doorbell rang. Ugh, it was early. He dragged himself from bed, bleary-eyed, pathetic, and answered the door in just his tattered pajama pants.
It was her.
He scooched his lower half behind the door to hide his shameful attire. He always took care in how he dressed, doubly so around her. The pants were an embarrassment.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning, and merry Christmas!” she said, her bright morning energy entering his brain through his eyeballs and burning a channel straight to the back of his skull.
She handed him a bag of cookies tied off with a bow. Cute. Distressingly colorful. Dear God what time was it. He stared at the bag and tried to remember what the etiquette was, was it even Christmas? What planet was this again?
“Ah, I’m sorry,” she said, her face falling. “Did I wake you up?”
“Huh? Oh, y…yes… no. It’s fine, I was just getting up anyway.”
“I’ll let you get dressed then. Sorry!”
She gave him another blinding smile and trotted back to her house.
Get dressed?
She thought he’d answered the door nude? She had the gall to treat him like HE was the nudist? He would burn those pants as soon as possible. They were ten times more mortifying than he’d originally thought.
He shut the door and put the cookies on the kitchen table. Cinnamon and ginger fragrance eked through the cellophane. They were so cute.
He reran the conversation in his mind… he’d forgotten to thank her. How rude he’d been!
He cleaned himself up properly, took his time. Showered, shaved, brushed, put on one of his nicer shirts. She wouldn’t think him a scruffy nudist after this.
Knocking on her door was scarier than he’d expected.
“Just a minute!” She called through the door.
When she did answer, she was dripping wet, in a towel. Just out of the shower. She smelled like coconut and jasmine. The towel was only barely big enough to cover her generous assets.
“I, uh… sorry, was this a bad time?”
“Not at all!” She replied. She looked genuinely happy to see him.
Her breasts were smashed into perfect cleavage under the weight of her arm. Her legs were so long, so long, and they ran all the way up to the edge of the towel… oh dear God. He was getting a little too happy to see her, as well. Why was she always parading like this? Wasn’t she cold? Didn’t she realize what she was doing??
“Thank you. For the cookies! I realized I’d forgotten to say thank you.”
Don’t look down, don’t draw attention to it, hold her gaze. He had to get out of here quick before she noticed. At least his pants were the loose kind. But what was that draft?
She noticed. Her jaw dropped.
The draft… he looked down. He’d neglected to zip his fly. All that care in dressing and he’d left his zipper open. Or maybe it’d come down as he walked?
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Mr. Happy had poked his head out and wanted to thank her, too.
His face bright red, he hastily tucked it all back in and down and zipped everything into place. But the damage had been done.
“That was an accident, I swear! I didn’t know…” what? That his fly was open? That she’d answer the door in full sex kitten mode?
He choked on his words. Never again could he talk to her. He couldn’t even look her in the eye. He was going to be her #MeToo story forever.
In shame he fled her front porch and hurried back to his house.
“Wait!” She called.
To his horror, she ran out of the door after him in her towel. Everything bounced.
“Wait!” She caught up to him in the middle of the street. “It’s not a big deal, really.”
She got off on it. The sexual power. What else could explain her behavior?
He still couldn’t look at her.
“Did you try the cookies?” She asked. Was she actually trying to start a new conversation?
“Um, not yet… they smelled good. Listen, you’re not dressed, don’t you want to go inside?”
She looked confused. “Oh, I have a towel on, it’s fine. I just didn’t want you to leave like that.”
“You don’t think I’m some kind of pervert?”
She beamed another one of her smiles at him. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Oookay. I’m going home now. Nice knowing you.”
“Wait?”
“What FOR?” That came out harsher than he’d intended, but this was torture.
“Come back into my house. Try a cookie.”
“Wait… you are the pervert here? You’ve been trying to seduce me all along!”
“There are cookies at my house…”
She grabbed him by his shirt front and led him back into her house. He was never heard from again.

 


 

Well, I don’t know much but I know that’s not love. A distinct lack of sweetness, haha. Awkward boners tend to overwhelm a romance. Well, I’ll just have to keep trying until I get one right. Let that be a lesson to me.

I still don’t like dime romance novels though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

The Writer

 

Touch my hand

I will transport you

No more real world

No more problems

Be someone else now

Feel what they feel

Wear

Their

Skin

Isn’t it comfortable

Living vicariously

Isn’t it soothing

To watch someone else suffer

Guilt free

To spy on them in bed

To leer at their relationships

To know all their private jokes

To feel them holding hands

To watch them hurt each other

To watch them hurt themselves

Doesn’t it feel good

To be helpless

To be God