A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘novels’

Every Character is Their Own Hero

Writing fantasy (or any genre, but it seems especially true for fantasy) takes a lot of characters. Because I write fantasy, I’ll be talking about that and largely ignoring other genres. Sorry!

I saw a chart recently that listed the characters introduced in the first chapters of some popular books. They were all upwards of 20 characters. In fairness: that does not necessarily mean 20 named characters make an actual appearance. Some of them are mentioned by other characters, some of them are unnamed. When it comes to fantasy, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and remember. In chapter one of QFS I have 10 named characters, one unnamed character, and 3 groups of characters (“others,” “diggers,” and “healers”). I don’t think info dumping 20 characters is a necessarily good idea, but it depends on how long the chapter is. If I doubled my chapter length, 20 would, I think, be a good fit.

BUT. I’m not about to spend a whole post talking about how many characters appear when. I bring it up only to make a point about how many characters we writers must take into consideration.

In fantasy we usually have a core group surrounding our main character. Sometimes they are a single unit and any division is a big deal, as in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. In others, the MC has a group, but flits in and around them more (as in the Farseer Trilogy). And all around the MC and their core group are the Other Characters.

Those others may get a few speaking lines, a brief appearance to illustrate a point, move the plot forward, or to contribute to realism. Our MC only sees one aspect of these others – a one-dimensional snapshot that is, often, of little importance. What if we flip our point of view? What if that other character looks at our MC and sees an irritable, crabby, person, intent only on their goal with no interest in the lives of those around them?

Every character, named or not, recurrent or not, is their own hero. We hear this all this all the time. There is difficulty in accepting it our writing it out because we ourselves are limited to our own viewpoint. We can’t hop into another person’s shoes and know their lives (even though we can empathize, it is NOT the same as understanding who that person is on the inside of their mind). We are all different “I”s. When we don’t accept this “everyone’s a hero*” mentality, our supporting characters are flat. And flat is boring.

How, then, do we combat this? Back story. When we create our MC’s and secondary characters, we give them elaborate histories that elucidate their motives and actions.

Okay, step back a minute. I know I have a complex history that informs my behavior. In my life, I am the MC (we’re all the MCs of our own lives). Around me are my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my co-workers. The people I have direct contact with everyday. I know that they, too, have complex histories, even if I don’t know every aspect. There are also people I interact with at my work place that I see once or maybe a few times – but I know nothing about them. There are people on the street that I pass everyday but never speak to. All the people at the grocery store – I may recognize the cashier but I don’t know her name, even though it’s on a name tag. They all have stories too. They are all a MC. They, each and everyone, have a complex history that started before they were even born. (Yes, our ancestors’ stories directly inform our own.)

Let’s jump back in to novel-land. Every character that our MC encounters has a rich background, just like every person that we encounter does. Does that mean we have to right an in-depth back story for every single character we write? No. It does mean we should give it thought. It means that if we have a character that has more than a few lines, more than a scene, we should really think more about who they are. Because everyone really is a hero in their own eyes.

Write on,

Emily

*in their own way! Thanks, Captain Hammer

Self versus Traditional Publishing: Where I Stand and Why

I won’t try to deny that there are great books that are self published, or terrible books that are traditionally published. Both are true. The great self published books are all-too-often hard to find, and the terrible traditionals are much to easy to pick up. It’s a sad situation for an avid reader and a confusing one for a writer.

As a writer, I was raised reading traditionally published (traditional, from here on out) books. I still read mostly traditional books. This isn’t because I have anything against self-published books. Well, maybe I do, which isn’t fair. Most of those authors work just as hard (if not harder in promoting themselves) as any traditional author. But I also see too much about someone writing a book, thinking the first draft is gold, and self-publishing right away. I believe that this harms the authors who do put in the work of polishing their novel to get it ready for readers. Why? Because in the end, readers have to wade through all the “first draft books” to get to the gold. And from my own experience, it’s not something we keep at for long. (If you have found the self published gold, please let me know because I want to read it!)

I’m not sure how we combat that either, because just as many poor novels are published traditionally. And that isn’t even my Big Qualm with self-publishing – it’s my qualm with lazy writers. We have a duty to our readers, whether it is one person or one million.

My Big Qualm* with self publishing is the feeling of unfinishedness. When we as writers have the ability to go back and change the story or make additions or edits for “new editions” – how is that any different from a draft (albeit with beta readers)? How can we call it finished? I know that if I were to self publish, I would never let the story go and thus I would never write anything new. Not everyone feels this way and I am glad for that – different opinions make the world go ’round.

What are your thoughts? If you self-published could you let the story go?

-Emily

*I also have little qualms with self publishing. Like the feeling of worthiness. My brother sent me a link to Amazon self publishing when I finished my first novel. I think he was trying to be supportive, but it came across as “ha, you wrote a stupid story and you want it published, well no one will take it so here, do it yourself.” I know that this is, likely, just a me thing coming from my background, which is why I didn’t include it in the bulk of the post, but it just goes to show that lots of things influence a person’s decision, whether real or fictional! Now get back to writing! 😉

A Writer’s Strength

I would like to think that writing is one of my strengths. On some days, my writing really flops and at those times I seriously doubt that writing is something I should be doing. Lately, especially, I’ve been feeling this doubt. Not so much because my writing is bad so much as because I haven’t been doing any. A writer has to write, right? That’s why I started writing poems again. I haven’t consistently written poetry since high school, and this Poem-A-Day challenge that I put to myself is really reawakening the poet-within.

I am much more comfortable calling myself a poet than I am calling myself a writer. A lot of the time I find myself thinking that I am much better at writing poetry than I am at writing novels. Maybe that isn’t the case, maybe it is, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other because I will continue to do both.

Something that I have re-learned lately is that a person has to write a lot of bad stuff to get at the good stuff. It’s like everyone always says: a first draft is a crappy draft. We’ve got to go through and edit time and again to get at the awesome stuff beneath all the crap. It’s the same way with poetry. A person has to write a lot of crappy poems to get to the good ones. Some days I go home and just scribble out whatever is in my head and get a very broken-up, stream-of-consciousness poem. But other times (like on Wednesday of last week) I can sit down and write a poem that means something – a poem that makes someone feel.

Do I get discouraged when I can’t be an awesome poet/writer 24/7? Absolutely. Do I get frustrated at all those crappy poems and chapters that I write? Of course I do. But I keep writing. Each day I write another poem, whether it’s a two line rhyme or a six-stanza piece. Sometime soon I will go back to QFS and finish this edit.

A writer’s strength is that she/he continues to write, even when it’s hard. A writer’s strength is that she/he takes what is in their soul, what is deep down inside, and makes something beautiful with it. A writer’s strength is creation.

Take care, fellow travelers.

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