Monday, March 28, 2011

Are Your Characters Real?

To a writer, this seems like an obvious question... Duh, no, they are characters, they are not real.

Well that's not what I am talking about. What I am asking is could your character exists in real life?

The answer to this question may not be as obvious. Some writers do use characters from real life, but unless it is a biography, there is some peril in doing so. I think we've all heard the stories about writers who asked permission to use a friend as a character, yet when the character showed up on the page, and the description wasn't as glowing as the friend thought it would be, it was a source of extreme irritation.

I try not to do that.

Though I may have borrowed an interesting characteristic from a friend once in a while, (without them knowing), I don't use enough so that they would recognize themselves. I blend them together.

So if your characters are not borrowed from real people, that means they are made up. They are inventions, and that's OK.

My question is, could they be real people?

If the answer is yes, then I think you probably have a believable character, but there is a flip side to that. Do you have an interesting character?

If you model your character after a person that you might meet everyday, that could have a chilling effect on your novel. There has to be something unique about that character that makes them interesting. But unless you are writing science fiction or fantasy, it cannot be so unique that the person literally could not exist.

It's like trying to come up with a new flavor of ice cream. You can add strawberry, to mango, or chocolate to vanilla, but adding roast beef to strawberry is probably not going to work out so well. Don't try to make them so unique that it doesn't work.

For instance I think it's highly unlikely that you could have a Geisha character that was also a heavyweight body builder. The two don't mix.

Keep your characters interesting. Don't make them too bland, but don't stretch the boundaries so far that they become impossible either. It's not easy, but it is a key attribute of great writers.

How about you? How do you stretch your characters but keep them real? Do you have any examples of ones that didn't work for you?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Plot Threads

I could get really technical and describe the interaction of the characters in your plot to be like the threads of execution that occur in a computer operating system, but I'm afraid that unless you are a software engineer, that doesn't really help.

I consider the adventures of each character to be a single stream, or thread of the story. Most of the literary descriptions call them subplots. The character starts at one place, travels through the story, and ends at another location. I guess they could come back to the same place, but the character would have to go through some kind of change, or what's the point?

Every scene in which the character appears is another length of the thread for that character, and for the story to flow, the different pieces of thread had better connect. If they don't, the story can break down.

It's a tricky business to make sure not only does the thread connect along the way, but doesn't seem to come from a different direction other than the one already traveled. There had better be a logical flow or the story won't work.

If the story is only about one character, that process may not be that hard, though I'm not sure I would find the story all that interesting. Most of the truly interesting stories are those with heavy interactions between different characters.

OK, so if the story has multiple threads converging and diverging, how do you manage those interactions so that at the end of the day every thread maintains a logical flow?

It's not easy.

What works for me is to write each thread of the story separately. Keeping in mind what I think is going to happen in other threads of the story I write the current thread.

Of course along the way, I discover that a character doesn't want to behave as I expected, and things have to change. Usually I make a note of the change that needs to happen in the other thread and keep going, though sometimes it is a big enough change that I feel I have to go revisit the other thread right away to keep things consistent.

FYI, this is also the reason that I have found tools like Scrivener to be so useful for managing individual plot threads.

When I have all the threads done, I integrate them together. Unfortunately I don't think you can write each plot thread separately, then simply squish them together and call it good. That's what rewriting is for.

What I do is write the different threads, then start the process of weaving them together. I connect in the dangling pieces, reign in the threads from the wrong direction, until, at the end of the day, I have something that resembles a rope.

Even then I usually have a few revisions to go through, but at least for me, it's easier than writing separate pieces of multiple threads.

How about you? Do you write complete threads? or do you write each piece at a time?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Balancing Your Writing Time

How do you balance your writing time, with your other time? Whether it be personal time, family time, work time, game time, grandkid time, heck any time... How do you do it?

The only way that I can do it, is to pick a particular time to day to write, budget myself a specified amount of writing time, and hide from everyone else. That's the only way I can make it work.

My writing time, is lunchtime. There are days when my lunches get taken up with meetings with other co-workers, friends, or my spouse, but otherwise, it's pen to notebook or fingers on the keyboard.

I know there are some people that wake up at 0-dark-hundred, fall out of bed, and immediately start typing. I can't do that. I at least have to have my coffee first. I would also need a shower to get the brain cells warmed up before I can start flogging them.

There are other people that wait until the kids and spouse are asleep and write in the middle of the night. I can't do that either. Once it gets past 9 pm or so, my brain has already packed his bag and is headed for the door.

So that leaves me no choice. I have to carve out time during the day, and by carve I mean with the same finesse as I have when I use a chainsaw.

How about you? When are you the most efficient writer? When are you the least efficient? How do you balance your writing time?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Am I a Dinosaur?

I still write on paper, not longhand, but I print. I know to some of you that sounds like a laborious process, but it actually works well for me.

I cannot do longhand, my longhand looks like a cockroach ran through a pool of spilled ink, then dragged his belly across the page. It's pretty much unreadable.

But for some reason, when I print, it's readable, and I can do it very fast. Much faster than I can type. When I try to type, it's almost as if I have invisible constraints on my brain. It's as though I'm worried about draining the laptop battery rather than getting the words typed in. I'm just not as creative. The words don't flow.

I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I am a programmer. When I write software, I have to be very precise about every character. Even one character out of place can make the program fail to compile, or worse yet, fail to work.

I wonder if that is the issue that holds me back from typing my manuscript directly into the computer.

I am getting better. I used to write this blog the same way, on paper first, then type it in. But that's changing. I typed this one in directly.

There are definitely disadvantages to writing on paper. It's a lot harder to do a search for something. It's a lot harder to completely erase something that isn't working and start fresh. Then again, maybe that's a good thing. Sometimes that can bring back old ideas in a fresh way.

But from what I can tell, the only really good thing about writing on paper is that it works for me. I hope I can make the transition. I'm afraid if I don't, I might just become extinct.

How about you? What works for you?