“Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.”–Dean Koontz
I mentioned in a previous post how something seemed amiss with my writing. I called it having a case of the blues. None of us has written the perfect novel. I don’t believe that to be possible. Each reader won’t see the same words in the same light. Despite how much we may love our writing, there are most likely flaws. “How can we identify those flaws?” I hear some of you ask. Let’s take a look together.
One of the most frustrating things about being an aspiring writer, at least for me, has been not knowing if you’ve done something wrong. In order to correct a mistake, most people need to identify it first. Unfortunately, the only way to identify any writing mistakes is to hire an editor or have your manuscript critiqued. This means we have to open ourselves up to constructive criticism. A good critique partner will not only tell you when they spot a problem, but also why they see it as a problem. It is the critique receiver’s responsibility to be humble and listen. We must realize the ultimate goal of a critique should be to help make our writing better. Better writers tell better stories.
Now that we’ve identified a flaw, we need to fix it. Nobody wants crappy characters dragging their story down. Here’s the kicker, there isn’t any concrete way to fix any potential flaw. It’s up to the individual writer to find the fix. Each writer will probably come up with different ways to do the same thing. Let’s take a look at a few possible ways to fix things.
1. How-to books. Orson Scott-Card, author of the Sci-Fi classic Ender’s Game, has a book called Elements of Writing: Characters and Viewpoint. You can also find Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress. There are many different books which can help with different aspects of our writing. The only drawback with how-to books, is they cost money. Eleven bucks for advice and technique on writing better characters seems worth it to me.
2. A little help from your friends. We mentioned critiques and critique partners and most likely these people are your writer friends. Why not pick their brains and see how they craft their characters. Pick a specific scene and go over it with a writer friend to see why it didn’t work. Get as much detail as possible. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. I’m not saying we should let our friends write our story for us, but a little input never hurt anyone. The drawback for this solution would be time, on both ends. Perhaps your writer friend doesn’t have that much time to give. We may have to sweeten the deal with promises of future critiques, you know, the I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine scenario.
3. The internet. Cyberspace has many things. From viruses to viral videos about cute kittens, the internet is vast expanse of undiscovered knowledge. Go to your favorite search engine and type in what you’re looking for. Sure, we may have to sift through several different sites before we find something that appeals to us, but the information is fast and free. The drawback for this solution is time. Searching the internet takes up our precious time, but we may discover a new blog or connect with some new writers.
4. Seek out characters in other mediums. Watch a TV show, movie, or play a video game. Every form of entertainment has some kind of characters we love. Maybe you enjoy the Walking Dead and find Rick to be a fascinating character. Analyze what you love about him. Find out what makes him tick. Try to find a common pattern to the characters you love no matter where you find them and apply those findings to your writing. This again sucks up your precious time, unless you’d be watching a particular show anyway. Who cares if you’re frantically scribbling down notes in front of the television in your Oscar the Grouch pajama pants? You’re not insane, you’re a writer!
After taking a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, I’ve decided to expose my character weakness. *Stands up in front of blog audience* “Hi. My name is Brian and I have a character problem.” Instead of hiding from my weakness, I’ve chosen to shine a spot light on it. October will be all about characters on Descent Into Slushland. We’ll have other writers over to share what went into their characters and how they created them. We’ll dissect characters from popular movies to see what makes them memorable. There may even be a surprise or two. I hope everyone is as excited as I am.
Let’s kick off character month a little early with the Story Board and their discussion of characters. I find it a bit suspicious that I’ve been struggling with characters and Patrick Rothfuss decided to focus on them for his second discussion. The universe speaks to us sometimes. Here is the hour-long video with surprise special guest, legendary fantasy author, Terry Brooks. I took two pages of notes from this discussion. It’s like having a how-to book come to life. Seriously, grab a notebook and pen. You can thank me later.