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Doing Laundry, Getting Character Ideas, and Other Monday Ramblings

Need… More… Coffee…

SO fixed the washing machine last night (it broke last Monday), so I managed to do the laundry this morning. The only reason I mention this is because, while the machine was doing its thing, my mind was doing the writer’s thing, thinking of a way to insert doing laundry and the washing machine in a story or with a character. The character would probably be a female, but, of course, there’s a bunch of questions: when does she do the laundry? Early in the morning, to get it done as soon as possible? Late at night, when the power is cheaper? In the afternoon or in the evening, after the job is done (what job, and at what time of the day is it done?). Does she wait until there’s enough to fill the machine, or there’s a reason to do the laundry before that? What detergent does she use? What’s the smell of it, is it something she prefers, or whatever is the cheapest in the supermarket? And so on.

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but just thinking about them told me it’s possible to learn interesting stuff about the character from the way she does the laundry.

By the way, that’s a writer’s mind for you, sometimes. Or more often than that. Can’t do a routine, mundane thing without thinking about writing.

Speaking of writing, a great way to improve your writing can be a writers workshop. Unfortunately, they can also make your writing much worse than it would otherwise be. I’ve encountered both kinds of writers workshops, and this excellent text reminded me of them (you can also find links to some online — and free! — writers workshops there).

Since it’s Monday, I can’t help but think of coffee and the other ways to wake up (I think I still have too much blood in my caffeine). And when it comes to coffee, you have to drink it from something, right? This wonderful page has some hilarious coffee mugs — gotta love ’em!

Okay, enough with the ramblings, back to work! Oh, and feel free to share your Monday (Tuesday, Friday, whatever) ramblings! 

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Parents Influence Their Children

The cub will be influenced by this.

When I create my story characters, I start with the parents. I go even more in the past if necessary, but the parents are a must, whether they actually appear in the story or not. If asked how to make the story character seem real, I’d suggest: “Start with the parents.”

We all are who and what we are partly due to our parents. I’m not saying we’re just like them; in many cases, we’re not. People can become this or that in spite of their parents, not just because of them — but one way or another, their parents will have some influence on them.

What if they’re orphans? What if their grandparents or relatives brought them up? What if they were taken away from their parents because they were criminals? What if they grew up in a foster home, or an orphanage, or on the streets? The lack of the parental presence influences people just as much as the presence does — the person won’t be the same if they grew up with a loving mother and a loving father and if they grew up on the streets, looking up at their gang leader. It’s also not the same if a human brought them up, or a pack of wolves, or if it was an alien family or an elven or a dwarf family.

I usually start at the moment the characters’ parents first met. How did they meet? How old were they at the time, what were they doing, what were their hopes and dreams? How did they marry (if there was a marriage)? How did the pregnancy go, was it risky, was it difficult? Did the parents even want that child? What kind of childhood did that character have? What sort of relationship did they have with the parents? And so on, until I have the character’s entire life story in my mind, starting at the moment their parents met.

I don’t write all these things down. I often write none of them down, and most of them never even show up in the story, at least not directly — but the result is there. And the result is a character you know almost everything about, starting from the time before they were even born — and the readers will sense that, they will find your characters believable and will care about them. On top of that, you’ll find the writing easier, because the picture of the character is so clear in your head (it could also mean the character won’t always do what is convenient for the writer to do — but hey, it’s quite possible to adapt to that), and the whole thing doesn’t take too much effort, just some daydreaming about the characters who refuse to leave your head anyway, so you might as well play with them.

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The Book Characters Are Not Real Life People

Afternoon sun in the trees.

When I critique characters from someone’s story, saying that their actions make no sense, I often hear: “Well that’s what’s it like in real life.” On the other hand, people who tell me that often realize their story characters really don’t work very well, and they ask me: “How do you do that? How do you make that character believable with one sentence only?”

This time I won’t talk about making the story character believable with one sentence only; I’ll talk about book (or story) characters not being real life people. The tree pictures have nothing to do with this, I just thought they looked pretty.

I can see these trees from my window.

So, once again: the book characters are not real life characters. You might know this really interesting guy who always wears two neckties at the same time, and be clueless as to why he does that; that’s life. But if your protagonist (or any other book character) acts like that, you must state his reason for doing it, or at least acknowledge that nobody knows why he does it and nobody ever finds out. You can’t just leave it be. Otherwise that character won’t be believable, and you will appear a writer who can’t define their own characters well.

While it’s impossible to define a tree, it’s necessary to define your story character.

If book characters are not real life characters, what are they? They’re constructs. That’s why you have to make them so carefully. It can give you a lot of trouble, because if you create them well, they might refuse to do what you need them to do – they might tell you: “Wait a minute, there’s no reason for me to do that!’, and you would have to admit they were right. On the other hand, it can also give you a lot of freedom, because if you give them a good enough reason, and if that’s how you create the world you place them in, they’ll be able to do what a real life character never would. They will fly. They will move mountains. They will know when to reply with a witty comment and when to stay silent. And they will lead you, their own creator, to ideas and worlds you never thought you could come up with – because, even though they’re constructs when we look at them from our side, in their own worlds they’re real, and can guide you through them.

Once you’re done, you can just look at the pretty trees.

And when you get tired, they will take your hand and lead you to sit under a pretty tree, to daydream of the new adventures and the new worlds to come.