Fantastic Flaws

Everybody has a flaw… or eighty. I personally pay too much attention to details instead of taking in the big picture, I complain a lot, and I’m too competitive, just to list a few.  All of my friends are just as flawed, making bad decisions left and right, but I don’t lose faith in them, even when some errors are made repeatedly.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, can you think of a person who you view as absolutely lacking flaws? Probably not, but if you can, do you actually like them, or do you resent their perfection and struggle to suppress jealousy?

When I read a book character that always makes the right choice and that all the other characters like, I get bored very fast. Such a character is flat, not evolving, and basically useless for plot development. A perfect character is automatically a dreaded Mary-Sue.Image

Characters need to be flawed. A character who makes mistakes could be comical, or it could insert the possibility for some level of suspense to develop in the story. A flawed character allows the reader to worry that everything won’t go to plan. And sometimes, it doesn’t go to plan and deeper levels can be developed in the story.

However, a character that bears too many flaws can start to bog a story down and reduce the reader’s empathy for the character. A stubborn, rude, selfish, bigot doesn’t make for a potential hero. Those undesirable characteristics have to be mixed in with more admirable ones to create an interesting and believable character. Where flaws are concerned, it all comes down to balance.

It is balance in all aspects of a story that keeps a reader engaged, but an unbalanced personality in the main character can destroy a reader’s interest within two chapters of starting a story.

ImageIt all comes down to balance, in real life or in a story. Humans naturally seek balance. A well-rounded student is revered in school, a person with multiple skills is sought by employers. The pursuit of balanced characters is really just a reflection of the balance that we humans seek in many areas of our lives.

Where do you think balance is most important? Which flaws are most easily forgivable?

Books

What is it about books that makes so many of us humans experience an enormous range of emotions based on a mere combination of ink and dead trees?

I have encountered in equal measures people who swear they could not live without books and people who don’t understand what the big deal is.  Both sorts exist, so what is it that really separates them from each other?

Some people ask, why spend half a day on a book when you could extract the same enjoyment with less effort from a two hour movie? My answer to them is that reading the book and taking the time, involves drinking in far more detail and the length of time allows your emotions to fully expand. The time spent on a book really brings those characters to life.  Oftentimes, the fan base behind a book is far more passionate than the fanbase behind a movie. Just compare Avatar’s fans (a movie I happen to really like) with the fans of the Eragon books (the movie for the first book is basically ignorable). They enjoyed the movie, wrote rave reviews, told their family about it…. and promptly forgot about it a year later. Many fans of epic book series’ such as Eragon, read it obsessively, tell all their friends about it and then re-read it again a few years later. Why? I have two answers.

First, book fans are more enthusiastic. After spending an enormous length of time on the activity of carefully reading each word of a 400 page novel, a person feels personally invested in the book.  They have a stronger desire to see it’s success.

Second, the level of detail found in the pages of most books evokes element of what makes us human; emotions. When I read a well-written novel I find myself legitimately happy for the characters’ successes and filled with dread when the scene indicates no chance for a cheerful ending. It’s only ink on a page, but it creates very real mental images and somehow wrings emotion out of the reader. Sure, we experience those emotions in the real world as well, but within the safe parameters of a story that one can remind oneself is fiction, those emotions are more comfortable. Books provide the safety of not being real that allows an avid reader to throw him- or herself into the fictional world entirely and feel the elation of those emotions, but then return to a world where none of it has happened and the world is still a secure place.

Therefore, what it comes down to for me is that books provide an escape. What about books is it that keeps you spending hours turning pages?

Beginnings and Better

An hour or so ago, Thanksgiving feast finished and the holiday season officially began in the United States. Beginnings are sweet and exciting. Right now I can look forward to a month of christmas songs and cheerful “Happy Holidays!” greetings. A month from now… I might not be enjoying it quite so much as we work our way past the magic of the first snow storm.

Beginnings are sweet.  The first bite of a favorite dish is always the best. It’s the same ecstatic excitement as I start writing a new story or dive into any new project. A month ago, I started this blog… at the same time that I started a NaNoWriMo novel. I was very excited at that time.  I wrote a blog post every day and I was well ahead in my NaNoWriMo word count, but as you may have noticed my blog posts have decreased in frequency and unbeknownst to all but my family and closest friends, my current novel slowed to a halt and then made rapid backward progress.

Yet, the idea for the novel remains intact and the blog is still running. Beginnings are sweet and exciting, but being able to proceed after setbacks and after the buzz has decreased is far more rewarding.  Those projects that survive past the promising beginning are the ones that I know I will come to love.

It might be the perseverance that results in the degree of importance I come to place on a particular activity or project.  But I think it’s the standalone importance of the activity or project that sustains it past the initial stages. If something is important it will last without the simple joy of beginning and the ending won’t be just around the corner like the day a christmas tree becomes a January bonfire.

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Perspective

August 22, 2012: “I can’t wait to get to college! I love home and I’ll miss my friends, but there’s so much opportunity waiting for me at college!”

November 16, 2012: “I can’t wait to go home! I love college, and it will be strange not living within feet of all my new friends and floor-mates, but there are so many things I’m looking forward to at home for thanksgiving!”

It all depends on the circumstances.  On any given day, any given person might desire to be in a different location, based on any number of factors. 

Perspective and point of view in writing are not so different. Which point of view a writer uses can depend on a number of factors in the prose. It is seemingly a simple matter of how deep inside the main character’s mind you want to be.  If you want the reader to feel what the character feels it should be written in first person point of view. Yet indisputably, even though the Harry Potter novels are written in third person, the reader knows everything Harry is thinking and feels all of the emotions of the characters quite keenly. 

With the intent of letting the reader get as close to my characters as possible, I used first person point of view for a long time.  In fact, I started my current project in the first person point of view.  It’s a matter of comfort, like living at home is a matter of comfort for me.  However, I accidentally switched to third person point of view mid-chapter this week.  At first, I used the backspace key a lot to try to correct myself every time I made the same mistake.  However, when it kept happening, I decided that perhaps it’s like living at college; different and less comfortable at times, but also new and exciting and carrying a host of other benefits.

Now I’ve removed myself from the inside of my character’s head, and I watch her from the outside and write what I see in my mind’s eye. I can withhold as much or as little information as I want, creating suspense and drama.  I’ve even utilized this new perspective to write a prologue about an entirely different character.

I had to go into the move to college with an open mind and learn to adjust to a new perspective and I employed the same mind-set this week to alter my writing to best suit the story.

 

*note: this was supposed to be posted four days ago

Daydreaming

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I like to day dream.  I always have. When I was a child that tendency manifested itself in a habit of staring off into space so intently that my parents sometimes had trouble catching my attention. I can’t say I remember those day dreams, (Does anybody actually remember their childhood daydreaming?)  but I’m pretty sure my daydreams are very different now.

For example, sometimes I catch myself simply planning my afternoon when I ought to be paying attention in a lecture. So that’s just a part of growing up- keeping my head more firmly in reality.  I don’t think so, because that can’t really be a daydream if it’s too serious. The word simply denotes a more idyllic quality. Really, what is adult day dreaming?Image

Perhaps as a still-young-fiction-writer I won’t ever truly have the same understanding of what a daydream is as an engineer because my daydreams also consist of characters and creating plots and devious schemes to build drama and suspense in those stories. For example, I produced the scene of a rather promising story over the course of one set during swim practice. It took one length of the pool to craft the setting (a graveyard if anyone’s wondering) and by the time I swim four hundred yards (it takes less than ten minutes) I had a complete story in my head.  In this case the daydreaming served a purpose; it was a distraction from the sometimes boring activity of swimming in circles.

But daydreaming can be more active than a merciful distraction or a utilitarian form of musing; at times it takes over a person’s mind with longing.  Daydreaming can also be an expression of hope.  My most common daydream recently involves a place I want to be in just over a year.  I want to study abroad in Strasbourg, France. I don’t bother looking over the booklet about it anymore because all the details are committed to memory and I play them over in my head, imagining myself walking on those otherworldly seeming streets.  However, going to France is not a given for me.  There’s a strong chance I’ll go, but I have to manage my time carefully here at my home university and I have to get accepted to the program. By daydreaming, I mentally transport myself there and bring myself just the tiniest slice of happiness.  If a person can have a favorite form of daydreaming, then this is certainly my favorite.  By daydreaming about hopes a person tricks him- or herself into believing that goal is just a little bit closer to being achieved.

Everybody daydreams about different topics, at different times, and in different ways.  In fact, daydreams vary so widely, that I can’t help but wondering (is wondering daydreaming?) if daydreaming is a preoccupation that really can’t be explained.

A Rickety Bridge

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Have you ever crossed a wooden plank bridge that you fear will collapse, but you need to cross? No? Neither have I, but we’ve all seen such a scenario in movies or stepped gingerly across a balance beam, or walked across a fallen log with hands held out to either side.  You wobble as you go, trying to keep your body perfectly in-line, fearing the slightest loss of balance that could send you tumbling.  Falling might not be as disastrous on the log in the woods as it would be on the rickety bridge over the ravine, but it would still hurt.

Different situations may vary from feeling like the log to feeling like the rickety bridge. As you try to balance, make all the right decisions and keep yourself safely erect, the slightest twitch the wrong way could cause the collapse of everything.  Right now, the balance for me is between studying (wow, less than a month until finals?!), writing a NaNoWriMo novel, and that little activity called keeping friends. As my followers may have noticed, my balance has been skewed slightly to one side as my blogging decreased drastically in the past few days.  But for now, I am placing one foot in front of the other and not falling to my death in the river below because it’s just a little log a few feet above the ground.  My life certainly wouldn’t make for an interesting read though.

I think many writers strive to put their characters into situations that feel more like the rickety bridge, perhaps with a few planks missing.  A suspenseful story where the slightest loss of balance between events could cause a complete melt-down is exactly what keeps readers turning pages.

The story I’m currently working on resembles the log, sometimes it’s a log that’s held a few feet above the ground, but the lack of danger is an enormous problem. Instead I long to switch to a story with danger around every turn; an assassin organization instead of lurking fate.

However, the only way to get to the other side of the ravine is to persevere, so I’ll keep writing and maybe that log will be linking two sides of a narrow ravine.

Do you have any favorite elements of suspense in books that make you unable to sleep because of concern for fictional characters?

Character flavor?

If a person were to rifle through every character I have ever created there would be evident patterns. I think a lot of writers will find that there is a certain “flavor” of character, particularly in the main character, that they tend to develop. This flavor can express itself in different ways, but however it occurs I think it can display something of the depths of the writer’s mind.
In my characters the fist obvious similarity that arises from the data is external characteristics. Almost none of my main characters are blonde. There is a sprinkling of redheads and a substantial number with black hair, but brunettes far outnumber the rest. This wasn’t in purpose. I create a character’s personality first and then try to fit the appearance as I picture them. So the hair color should be random as long as the personalities vary. So why brunettes? Well maybe it’s an accidental projection of myself into my characters because I have brunette hair and I happen to like my own hair color.
Secondly, eye color is riddled with simple patterns as well. Blue eyes are far more common with all other eye colors being about equal amongst my characters. This time it’s definitely not a projection because my eyes are cocoa bean brown. But many of my friends have blue eyes that I have long been jealous of, so my theory is that some aspects of characters come about due to an author’s idealizing a feature.
A slightly more hot-button subject is skin color. I think I have only ever created two characters with black skin. I haven’t read many black main characters either. Could this be social indoctrination? Should I make a conscious effort to include more characters with a different ethnicity than my own? I think in the globalizing world that adding the flavor of diversity is imperative to a good story.
And most intriguing in my opinion; character personality. Most of my main characters are assertive. I am assertive as well. So maybe it’s the projection principle. But many of my main characters are brave and I’m far more likely to curl into the fetal position than stand and fight. So it could be idealization at work. It could be that they simply are the main character because they posses that alpha personality which is often found in main characters and that without it they wouldn’t fit. Does the story make the character then? I think it’s a strong mix of all three. Things I like about myself, things I wish to cast of from myself (characters with a fear of spiders), attributes that I wish were a part of my own personality, and all in the context of being appropriate for what the character has to do.
Do you believe character creation is more complex? Less? Comment and let me know how you come up with characters or which types of characters you like reading about best!