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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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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.

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Characters Resembling Their Authors

Characters resemble their authors in some way.

Not so long ago I ran into a discussion about story/novel characters resembling their authors. Do they, or do they not? My first thought was that yes, of course that characters will be in some way similar to their authors, and then I remembered.
When I was eighteen, I wrote a story called The Wind of Hammal. It was about an old, senile sorceress. When the wind of Hammal, the city of sorcerers, the magical wind, blew, she could partially remember her glorious past and her punishment and her exile; as the wind lessened, so did her mind. That story was merely an experiment; I have attempted to write from a point of view of someone quite different from me, so a senile old lady seemed like a good contrast to my youth and my sharp mind.
I loved the result of the experiment. I loved creating someone so different from myself. Over the years, while some of my characters were similar to me, although more extreme (hey, it was fiction!), others were quite different. Some of them were not even human (such as a non-material being haunting a house), how’s that for different? And yet…
And yet, all of them had something of mine. The non-human, non-material being enjoyed silence. Dying twelve-year-old girl dreamed of wings. Cats were definitely like me, with their wicked sense of humor. The senile old sorceress? With the last remains of her mind, she was weaving a story.
I also remembered what the actor Alexander Skarsgard said: that he couldn’t possibly play a certain role if he couldn’t find anything of that character within himself. He wouldn’t know how to do it.
I wouldn’t know how to do it either.
So, yes, my characters, old or young, male or female, human or not, resemble me in some way. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But they always have something of mine; with all the research I could possibly do, I wouldn’t know how to create them otherwise.
Would you?