Characters: Likeability Verses Interest

I have no doubt that this is just a personal preference. In fact, this is going to be a pretty one-sided argument.

Fair? Don’t know the meaning of the word.

So, whenever I see someone ask on forums whether their characters are likeable or not, I always respond by saying they should worry less about making their characters likeable, and more about making them interesting. I know this is a personal preference because in books where interesting characters do some pretty morally questionable things, I’ve seen this reflected in some people’s reviews, essentially ruining the whole book for those particular readers. One of my favourite books . . . Actually, almost every one of my favourite books have morally questionable, or just downright morally defunct characters. Let’s not look into what that says about me, and instead look at how this would have without a doubt turned some people off. Nevertheless, I still think trying to alter a character to make them likeable, just for the sake of not offending anyone, would only end up harming the book more.

At this point, I think you all know what side I’m advocating for. I’ve read books where characters were clearly written to be likeable, even in situations where it would have made more sense to strip away some of those morals and have them make decisions that wouldn’t make them out to be saints. I’ve read books with characters who were the epitome of moral behaviour, and while that would theoretically make that character likeable, not only does it make them uninteresting, but it also makes them unbelievably annoying. The most unbelievably, annoying and boring characters I have ever read.

If a character needs to lie, or steal, or even go so far as to kill, in order to progress, and it’s within character for them to do so, then let them. Rather than finding some contrived way to keep a character pure and innocent, find ways to keep them interesting and engaging. I won’t deny the importance of likeability, but I feel as if writing in order to make them likeable isn’t the way to achieve that. You wouldn’t write a book with the sole intention of making it marketable, so don’t write your characters that way, either.

Look at characters like Loki from the Thor movies. What is there to like about him? Spoiler alert: He’s betrayed his brother numerous times, tried to kill his father, if I remember correctly. If I don’t remember correctly, well, he’s still been one hell of a problem child. He tried to take over the world with an alien army, and wherever he goes, mayhem generally follows. Sounds like a complete bastard, right? And yet, for some inexplicable reason, he’s insanely popular among the Marvel fandom . . . Mostly women . . . A lot of whom have crushes on him . . . It’d probably help to make your character attractive. In all seriousness, though, he’s probably even more popular than the actual heroes of the movies. It may be the case that he was written to be a lovable jerk, but I don’t believe that to be the case.

In any case, you see my point. The best characters aren’t written to be likeable. Their likeability should be something that comes naturally as a result of all their personality traits and actions coming together. If your character is the most interesting character to have ever been written, but due to some of their less favourable traits some readers still don’t like them, then that’s a shame, but don’t alter them based on them not being likeable to a few readers. To paraphrase one of my very first blog posts, screw what other people think and just write what you want . . . although if everyone ends up hating your character, then yeah . . . I give you permission to ignore all of this.

Anyway, just let the characters speak for themselves and there will be people who enjoy them for who they are. They may be absolutely loathsome as people, but the beauty about fiction is that you can love arseholes like Loki because they’re fictional.

You can’t please everybody, especially when it comes to any sort of creative art, like writing, so don’t try.

Until the next one, everyone.

Laurence out.

Plotting, Improvising And Writing That Pesky Novel

Certain . . . “happenings” have prompted me to talk about plotting verses improvising. That “happening” being me completely disregarding the outline I rushed to “complete” during the days before November. Here’s something I just found out about myself (although, in hindsight, I should have seen this coming), I’m an improviser at heart. I love just winging it, even if I know that an outline will make it much more likely that I won’t end up somewhere I don’t want to be. Because here’s the thing, not even five hundred words into my NaNoWriMo novel I was already deviating from my outline and planning out in my head where I wanted things to go, that only very vaguely matched that of my outline.

I could say I basically just wasted my time even bothering to write an outline, but if I hadn’t tried to follow one, I wouldn’t have found out that mine is the last mind that will be restrained by a rigid, structured outline. You’re unlikely to find your ideal writing process on your first try. Although, to be fair, I was an improviser to begin with . . . and to be fair, that hasn’t gotten me very far.

So . . . Plotting and improvising. Let’s get into my ramblings about it.

I was originally going to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each, but then I realised that I can make this much more concise . . . and make less work for myself.

I don’t think it’s such a black and white topic that can be answered with one always being better than the other. Every writer is different, in many respects. What may work for one person may not work for another, and like I said, you’re unlikely to find your ideal way of writing on your first try. Sure, plotting and improvising have their advantages and disadvantages, but I suppose when choosing which way to go, it depends more on what kind of writer you are.

If you like knowing what you’re going to write, if you like structuring your novel, if you like creating elaborate diagrams of the relationships between the characters and other things of the like, then of course plotting will be right up your street. If you like only having a vague idea of where your novel is going and making the rest up as you go along, if you find knowing exactly what’s going to happen boring, if you like being able to write things as they come to you, not being restrained by an outline, then of course improvising is for you.

Some will say plotting takes the fun out of writing, and the plots are rigid and easily predictable, while others will say improvising is likely to produce a sub-par novel, ridden with plot holes, inconsistencies and underdeveloped subplots. That’s all probably true, but then again, first drafts are always going to be a pile of . . . First drafts aren’t exactly winning any literary awards, regardless of how they are written.

Me? I’m not exactly a plotter, but I always have an idea of how my stories start, some of the random crap that goes on in the middle, and how they end. Even if it’s not written down, that’s always the first thing I do . . . Only, it would be, if the first thing wasn’t getting down the main characters. I need to get the setting down, too . . . And random, needless information about the characters that will probably never make it into the novel is a must . . . All that, I do, but an outline, I do not! I’m a born improviser . . . when it comes to the plot.

As we’ve found out, even if I write an outline, it’s not as if I’ll stick to it, but whatever method works for you, go for it.

Well, I’m off to improvise the hell out of this novel.

Happy writing!

Laurence out.

Opening A Novel

I… I don’t think I really need to say that this isn’t about how to physically open a book with your hands… But to anyone who is looking for advice on how to do so, I’m sorry to disappoint. So, I was reading through a few openings of stories on the internet and I just had to make this post. You can thank the large amount of poor openings out there for the existence of what is sure to be yet another post of killer advice.

Chapter one. How the hell do you start it? This is essentially what this is going to be about. I’m sure I’m going to mention some points that came up in my prologue post, and I’m sure I’m going to mention points that some of you will think is just plain common sense, but that doesn’t stop them from occurring, so with nothing further to add, let’s just get right down to it.

Firstly, let’s get exposition out of the way. Both as a point and a feature of story openings. I would hope that we all know that it’s a poor idea to introduce your reader to your story by drowning them in a large wall of text about the world that they would not yet have any reason to care about. It’s such a basic point that I don’t think I even need to say more on it.

Going straight in with the action. The other end of the extreme. Sure, on paper… well, theoretically it sounds great starting a story with a high-octane car chase or an all out fight between two opposing parties, but it shares the same problem as just drowning the reader in exposition. Who are these people and why should I care about them? If you could apply a decent amount of context then it could become a pretty good way to open a story. Between this and exposition, if you were to pick one side I would say action is clearly the way to go, but of course a good balance between them is clearly better.

“Hi, my name’s John Smith and if you were to learn one thing from me, it’s to never subject your story to the grossness that is this opening.” Good god… This might just be a personal issue of mine, but in a first person story where the protagonist introduces themselves in the first line in any way such as my perfect example, it is a sure fire way to get me to put that book down and save my money. Find any other way to introduce your character and their name. Anything other than something so cheap as this.

Which brings me onto my next point. Now… keeping information from the reader is great and all, but there are some things that a reader does kind of need to know. There reaches a point when being mysterious becomes being ridiculous. There’s only so long you can go on referring to your POV character as “The man”, or “The woman”. For the love of God we need names! This is one thing that you should give to your reader as soon as possible without it coming across as… well… stupid, like the example in the previous point. It may not seem important but it can be frustrating reading about a character when you don’t even know their name.

Mundane conversations or actions. It goes without saying that your opening shouldn’t bore your reader, so why would they want to read about boring situations, like waking up or having breakfast? You don’t have to start the story at the start of the day when next to nothing of interest happens.

Finally–and while this isn’t exclusive to openings it’s still one that I read in far too many of them–the main character looking at themselves in the mirror and describing themselves in unnecessary, creepy, narcissistic detail. I mean really… Have you ever looked in a mirror and commented on every single feature you could see? Am I the only one who doesn’t do this? I would imagine not, so I would imagine a lot more people also find this way of describing characters (to use what is fast becoming my favourite word on this blog) ridiculous.

Thus ends another post for another week. Another week in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with weekly content. So, I may be back next week, and if I am you can be sure that it is legitimately going to be awful.

Until next week… (Don’t look forward to it)

Laurence out.

My Take On Planning

Greetings everyone! It’s been just over a week and I’m back for another one. That’s some real diligence right there. I don’t expect this to be of any real quality or use to anyone, but at least I’m not being absent for months on end.

Anywhos, you could all probably guess what this one’s going to be about. The wonderful, most bestest and funnest part of novel writing, the planning stage. But maybe I’m being a little unfair. It’s not that it isn’t fun… per se, but holy poop can planning a novel be highly frustrating! Especially if while you are planning, your mind is doing a wonderful job of trying to just keep forcing you to put more and more ideas into the story, already running rampant with ridiculousness. Well, this is going to be about what I do when planning and outlining. I repeat: this is going to be about what I do when I’m planning and outlining. I am in no way endorsing this as a guide for everyone else, because it’s probably… No. It’s definitely horrible, and I only know how to plan for myself. I guess I’ll just get right to it then. So first on the agenda:

The basic plot.

A stupid point. A stupid, stupid point. I mean, what writer goes into a story without at least a basic plot? Even a vague idea for a plot? Nevertheless, it’s still a point. A stupid point. But a valid point. And the starting point when writing or planning a novel.

The characters.

I won’t go into detail because this could probably make up an entire blog post on its own, but every story needs a cast… (I don’t know why I like point out the blindingly obvious today…) This is one of the first things that I actually start to write down in the early planning stage, but initially, most of what it would be is just the names.

The setting

I’m not going to say something stupid again, like every story needs a setting. But every story does need a place in which the events of your story unfold. Now, how you go about planning this varies from genre to genre. For example, unless you’re writing any form of speculative fiction, world building is kind of a non-issue. You would just have to do a little research on wherever your story is set and try to get things accurate.

If your story is speculative fiction, then chances are your setting isn’t going to be as easily researched… as it wouldn’t exist. At least, not as we know it. So, how you would go about creating your world or city or town would be entirely up to you, and depend on whether you’re changing an existing place or creating one of your own. What I did with my current work in progress was first decide whether I wanted to create my own city or use an existing one. Since I made my own, I then wrote down the main towns in the story and all that important stuff in them. And then, so I could visualise it better, I drew some outrageously amazing  maps that serves no other purpose than to make me wonder why I’m not a professional artist… Just…. Just don’t look at my last blog post.

The characters…

What? I already said the characters? Of course I didn’t. That would just be crazy.

After writing the setting I’d then have a better sense for the plot and thus, a better idea of my characters. While at first I’d have just listed down the names, now I’d include much more unnecessary detail. After all, I need characters to bring the plot to life to life, and I’ll start, of course, with the main characters; you know, the protagonist(s), antagonist(s), the close family and friends of those characters, the regular friends… the distant family… uh… and the random characters that don’t even get a passing mention… Look. Don’t judge me.

Relationships.

More specifically, romantic relationships. Now, I have a lot of characters, and by “a lot”, I of course mean “a crap ton”. So, I keep a record of whose involved with who, who used to be involved with who before the start of the novel, who breaks up and gets together within the series, and I split that up into either one of the characters dying and the characters just simply breaking up; I have the married characters, of course, and finally the pairs that go under the “weird, crazy drama” category. Some of this just serves backstory purposes that probably won’t get mentioned, and only a few of the couples are actually sub plots, but hey… When I plan, I freakin’ plan everything there is to plan… Don’t follow my example.

The characters… Again.

Don’t judge me… It may not be efficient, but… Alright, fine. It’s stupid.

Now, I would do the character profiles again, instead this time, only with the actually important characters, and with less fields to fill in. Because I want my first character section to be quick to flick through, I don’t include things that would take up multiple pages, like personality, or backstory, so this is where that would come in, and only for the main… and pretty important characters.

So, let’s step back and go over what we’ve learned. First, I come up with the basic plot, then list down the names of the characters I think I will need. I then go on to creating the setting, including what “important stuff” would be in my created worlds… many of which don’t get mentioned. Next is the characters again, this time in more detail… a lot of which doesn’t get mentioned. The relationships between the couples and ex-partners and whatnot, and then we’re back to the characters once more… this time to sort out personalities and backstory.

And all before I’ve even begun to write the outline…

Next! The outline.

This is what I would really need when writing. How people write without them is beyond me. I’d reach a wall, give up and start again if I didn’t have an outline. And I’d keep doing that until the point where I would consider writing to be the absolute worst way to waste my time. Henceforth, outlines exist to prevent me from hating writing with a burning passion. I’m the kind of person who outlines more or less everything… or at least as much as I can without actually ending up writing the story. Because no matter how vague I’d try to keep the outline, I’d always end up including more detail as I go along. So now I just outline by the chapter.

And that’s it. That’s how I plan my stories. Now I’d be ready to finally start the first draft of what would quite possibly be a future best seller if by some stroke of luck every other author vanished off the face of the Earth. Now it would be time to get into the real pain in the butt and write that novel.

Well… I guess I should stop procrastinating and actually finish my plan, huh?

Until my next pointless blog post.

Laurence out,

Getting Down And Dirty With Prologues

Where do I begin?

First off, let me just say that although I understand why a reader would skip a prologue, I just refuse to take the same mentality. If the author spent their time writing it and thought it would be good enough to include in the story (because prologues are legitimate parts of the story) then I’ll spend my time reading it. Just because prologues have gotten a bad press, that doesn’t mean that good ones don’t exist.

But that’s not what this post is going to be about. I could spend all day ranting about how crazy I find it that people skip the prologue, but that wouldn’t be interesting to read at all. At least, I don’t think it would. So, think of this as “Prologues 101 with Laurence” . . . Disclaimer: people will almost certainly have different opinions than me on some of my points. Also, I will probably be a horrible teacher.

If your story doesn’t need a prologue, don’t include one!

This may sound like common sense, but the number of prologues I have read in stories where they were not needed is ridiculous. When does a story need a prologue? Well, a story never really needs a prologue, but if you can manage to write one correctly, you can make it seem as if the story wouldn’t be the same without it. I’m going to use this particular book, not because I hate it with a burning passion, but because the prologue was insanely irrelevant and added little (if anything) to the rest of the story. The prologue from the international bestseller “Along Came a Spider” by my least favourite author ever (biased, anyone?) had a prologue that was so detached from the rest of the novel that I felt as if it added absolutely nothing to the story.

Key tip: If your going to set your prologue decades before the events of the rest of the novel, at least have one character that occurs in the rest of the novel. Hell, at least make it somewhat relevant to the rest of the novel. I can safely say that  if the prologue was removed from Along Came a Spider it wouldn’t harm the story any more than the story does that itself. Okay . . . I’ve got to remember this isn’t a review.

Prologues are not an invitation for exposition!

Infodumping. It’s rarely ever a good idea, and it’s practically suicidal for a story if the first thing a reader reads is paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition that really should have been skilfully spread out throughout the novel. This is probably one of the biggest offenders, when it comes to poorly written prologues (definitely with online stories, anyway). And although there are no actual rules for writing fiction, I would go as far as to saying that this should be an official rule. If your prologue is nothing but setting the scene, I’m sorry, but I’m going to say you’re doing it wrong.

You should go through your prologues and check to see if there’s anything that could or should be in the rest of the novel, instead.

The prologue should be relevant to the rest of the story!

I covered this a little in my first point. What is the point in including a prologue if it isn’t in any way relevant to the rest of your novel? It doesn’t even need to be directly connected to the plot. It could be used to show part of a character’s backstory. As much as I didn’t want to say that, my point still stands. Of course, you shouldn’t just dump endless character backstory into a prologue. I’ve already covered that. What you could do is show the character at a key or pivotal point in their lives, so we get a little insight into both the world and the character.

Keep the tone consistent!

Prologues are still part of the story, and so should still have the same tone that’s present in the rest of the story. A serious story? Write a serious prologue.

Do not start  your main plot in the prologue!

Prologues are not the start of your plot. They’re the start of the novel. Not the plot. Chapter one, as pointed out in the very name of it, is the first chapter of your novel, and so should be where the plot starts. Not in the prologue! A prologue should contain an event, or events, that happen before the start of your plot. For example, say you’re writing a story about a wizard named Harry. Your prologue wouldn’t get straight into the main plot where Harry gets a letter inviting him to a school for witchcraft and wizardry, and then leaving his horrible aunt and uncle. No. You’d want to start before any of that stuff happens. Before the journey. So, maybe you’d want to start with your character as a baby. Maybe you’d want to start with him being dropped off at his aunt’s and uncle’s house. It’s a little character backstory that’s not shoving the character’s entire life down your throat. And maybe you’d want to rename that prologue to chapter one, because of the stigma associated with prologues, even though everyone can tell it’s a blatant prologue . . .

However, you can continue chapter one off your prologue. Like I’ve said, the prologue shouldn’t be the start off your plot, however, that’s not to say that it can’t right before the start of the plot.

So, a reminder: Major plot points go in the other chapters within the novel, not the prologue.

Ask yourself this question: What is the purpose of this prologue?

If you don’t have an answer then discard it or edit it like mad. As with everything else in a novel, the prologue should have some purpose. To put it bluntly: What is the point of your prologue? Other than trying to grip the reader, which should go without saying, what does it add to the story? Is it the only part of the novel that uses a different point of view, and shows events from a different perspective? Regardless of what the purpose is, it must have one.

Don’t create excessively long prologues!

Now . . . Personally, I wouldn’t mind either way. I’d read a fifty page prologue and I wouldn’t mind. However, given their reputation, long prologues are just asking to not be read. Do yourself a favour and make it a reasonable length. The average length of your chapters should do. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.

Make it interesting!

Obviously. It doesn’t need saying. But the fact that the prologue is the introduction to your novel means it’s the first thing your readers (those who read prologues) will see. This is what they will judge you on. Whether or not they read on falls on the shoulders of your prologue, so you better make it something great.

If you’re worried that people won’t read your prologue, call it chapter one . . .

Many author’s have shamelessly done this. I would personally just call it what it is and say it’s a prologue. If people don’t want to read it, that’s their issue, not mine. But, if you’re worried about that, I guess that’s fair.

Prologues. I, for one, love them when they’re done well, but I will agree that there are a disheartening number of horrible ones out there. I could probably go on for much longer about them, but I have a strong feeling that I’d just repeat myself, with maybe only a couple of new points.

At any rate, if you’re writing a prologue and found this useful, then that’s absolutely wonderful. But if you found this utterly useless, then you’re probably absolutely right. I mean, just go back through this blog, I’ve got a pretty terrible prologue up myself . . . (Although that was over a year ago).

Well, till my next one, guys (Whenever the hell that will be).

Laurence out.

Writing Genders In Fiction

Well, I didn’t promise I’d be back soon . . .

Okay, so . . . writing genders in fiction. How do you go about doing it? What’s the right way to do it? What’s the wrong way to do it? How far into stereotypes do you go? Well, I have absolutely no idea. So, it only makes sense that I give advice on the matter, right?

Right.

So, without further ado, here’s my short list of quite possibly terrible points of what to do on the matter of writing genders . . .

1. Do not write genders.

This is my number one golden rule when writing characters and comes before any other. Write a character, not a gender. When you start delving into how you should go about trying to write a convincing male or female or whatever your opposite gender is, you may find that you just end up restricting how far you can go into developing your character. Sure, men and women have some innate differences and experiences, but in reality, every individual is different. And besides, it’s fiction. Who knows what each gender’s role is in the society you’re writing? Have a highly emotional and sensitive man. Have a tough as nails woman who keeps her emotions to herself. Have a man who loves watching sappy soap operas. Have a woman who loves drinking beer and watching sports. Conclusion? Do not get caught up in trying to write a convincing member of the opposite gender. Get caught up in trying to write a convincing character.

~~~~~

2. Stereotypes aren’t bad if they’re convincing.

In other words. Literally, everything I pointed out in point number one. Nothing further needs saying.

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3. Yes. There are actually differences in men and women.

This is a given. If you’re writing about today’s society, men and women will, in fact, have very different experiences growing up. Again, like the previous two rules, your story does not have to abide by any such social norms. But in general, each gender is essentially programmed by society into behaving as what is considered normal for their gender. And while my next point essentially contradicts my previous two points, it’s still true. Generally speaking, men are more aggressive than women. Generally speaking, women are more emotional and more open to talking about their feelings. Stereotypes. Yes. I am generalising. Biologically speaking, we are different and this does, to some extent, affect how we interact with each other. Without getting too much into such details, if you are really set on shoving it into your readers’ faces that, yes, this character is male, and yes, this character is female, then show how they behave differently from each other, in general. Show how different their daily/morning routines would be, and whatnot.

~~~~~

4. Friends?

If you have somewhat useful friends of the opposite sex and you’re having issues writing said sex, ask them for help. Not necessarily a rule, but a second opinion couldn’t hurt. They would likely be able to pick up some of the awkward parts in the writing and tell you what sounds right and what doesn’t. Though, if you’re not one for sharing your work . . . well, I’ll direct you to the other rules and rule number five.

~~~~~

5. Just write!

Don’t worry about whether your character comes across as a realistic male, female, bigender, pangender, agender, or any other other gender identity. You know why? Let’s go back to rule number one: Do not write genders and Every individual is different (Shh, I can definitely quote myself). Write a realistic character.

~~~~~

I’m just going around in circles now, it seems. I should stop here, then. Hopefully I’ve helped someone get around any issues they had, writing their characters. I probably haven’t but hey, here it is. In my opinion, if you only go by one of them, make it number one.

So . . . if you like taking advice from an eighteen-year-old who is probably one of the most unproductive writers you will come across, I’ll be back soon with more . . . “advice”.

Till next time, guys.

Laurence out.