Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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If you must return it, you can send it here

You'll probably all be relived to know that I'm almost at the end of these ruminations.:)

I'll be out most of tomorrow and have to go back to work on Friday, so I want to finish the last couple of topics today, if possible. I hope I haven't irratated too many of you but I've found this a helpful way to get my mind back into thinking about writing. I just don't seem to multi-task as well as I used to do and I have been devoting a lot of brainpower to photography recently. That's improved a lot over the last 9-10 months so it will be fine if it takes second place for a while. I'll still keep on taking photos, but I will try to spend less time hanging out in the Flickr groups and just consolidate what I've learned rather than keep on pushing to improve. The writing has been sadly neglected for a while.


Characters. That's what I'm thinking about today.

I've always said that I'm one of those "the characters just turned up fully formed" writers, but that's not really true any more. It's never been true for short stories, which tend to arise from an idea and then I have to create/find characters to suit. But as I've gradually used up (or abandoned!) my early ideas, I've found that getting the right cast of characters for novels has become harder.

I think one reason I've been having this crisis of confidence over the writing is that like matociquala, I'm having to do consciously a lot of the stuff that I just did without thinking before. Viewpoint, character and setting no longer just spontaneously arise, they're having to be deliberately created. It's all becoming more like work and less like playing.

But the Unconscious Writer Brain is already starting to chew over the ideas for the new WIP[1], so I won't give up just yet.

Meanwhile, going back at my thoughts about characters -- and do bear in mind that I'm thinking of the books I like to read here. I like likeable characters. Now for me "likeable" is pretty flexible, though I don't go for the bad boy characters that many readers seem to love. Heathcliffe, for example, or just about any vampire. Now don't get me wrong, by "likeable" I don't mean "happy and smiley and never make a mistake". As a data point I found the eponymous Ash in Mary Gentle's novel and her band of mercenaries to be totally likeable. I even sort of liked Titus in Gormenghast and a couple of the other characters too, though I soon discovered that the moment I decided I cared for anyone in that book, they promptly died a horrible death, so I could never bring myself to re-read it.

However, in terms of my own writing there does seem to be a mis-match between what I think is likeable and interesting and what my critiquers like. I liked Huw in the fantasy murder mystery, but most of my readers seemed to think he was nondescript and preferred the Elen POV. I thought Huw's very limited magical abilities were interesting whereas just about every reader (including one agent) was expecting him to blossom into a powerful mage and zap the bad guys. (I exaggerate for effect here, but you get the drift.) Elen, on the other hand, to my mind was a total Mary Sue. (The name was less of a giveaway in the first version when I was still using my first name when submitting!) Which just goes to show that Mary Sues can work, despite all the scorn heaped on them. :)

On reflection, my characters in Moving a Mountain are probably a bit pale and wan for most tastes too. I suspect that this is where I do need to push up the writerly equivalent of the saturation slider in Photoshop. Starting with a new novel, with a totally clean slate might help here.

So what do most people want from their characters? Of course people read in many different ways, but I think a lot of readers either want to be the POV character or to be their friend/acquaintance/be in their gang Or they might even want to shag them. Come on, I'm sure I'm not the only person to have had romantic attachments to fictional characters. The amount of fanfic indicates it's pretty common. Thankfully I never made the mistake of writing down any of my, er, more private fantasies.

Ahem. Moving swifly on...

There are also the characters we love to hate -- except that I don't. Love to hate people, I mean, even fictional ones. I really don't like over the top, eeeevil bad guys. Except that I suspect there's a discrepancy of I like the bad guys in my own stories. Well, at least I understand why they're behaving like they do, even if I can't condone their actions. I've never given the bad guy the POV. In the murder mystery that was for reasons of not wanting to give away the plot, of course, but I don't do bad guy POV in the One About the War either, though there's no reason I couldn't.

Am I being too kind to my bad guys? Should they be badder and horribler? Possibly need to think about that, though one of the things I was trying to do in the One About the War was to show that the "good guys" were scarcely better than the bad guys and that violence won't solve problems. Anyway, right now I can't make that novel work, so I'll leave it on the back burner. It probably need more and better writing skills that I currently possess.

So have I come to any conclusions about characters? I think so. I need to make them more "larger than life" (by my reckoning), which should mean they'll be about right for normal readers. :) (NB: This is advice very specific to me. Please do not apply to your own fiction without first consulting some experienced critiquers.)

Any other conclusions? Well, yes. One thing these ruminations have showed me -- if nothing else -- is that the Eee is going to work as a writing computer, despite the smaller than normal keyboard. (All these long rambling posts have been written on the Eee.) Also it's shown that if I resolutely ignore the desktop and the lure of the Net, then I can sit down and bash out words in a productive way. "Just checking my email" first thing leads to zilch.

[1] The idea I've promoted to front of queue is the novel that was going to be book 2 in the magic FE college trilogy/series, but is now going to be book 1. It needs some rejigging of the romance subplot because of the change in order, but otherwise it makes more sense to put the college in danger later in the series when we've had time to get to know and love the characters and therefore might care a bit more about their college being closed down.

Oooo! It's just occurred to me that I could do the same thing with the hostel series. Book 2 might also make a better introduction to the series than the current Book 1. It really must be spring, despite the rain and gloom outside, my brain is starting to think creatively again! Hurrah!
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