Category Archives: Characters

Pull Yourself Back

This past semester, I took a fiction workshop class – some stories were all right, some pretty good, others… god-awful. (My first draft was pretty terrible, but I was able to revamp it to such a level that turned my great in the class from a C directly to an A. Huzzah!)

In any case, there were two girls in my class who tried to write true stories. Both were pretty bad. So, my professor gave them some valuable advice: If you’re going to write about true events for a fiction class, pull yourself away from the story. Make it third person point of view if you have to.

So, I decided to try this out. In my creative writing seminar, we studied Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. The main focus was on the structure of the book, but I was more interested in the narrator’s fascination with “the Swede.”

Swede Levov – isn’t that a delightfully attractive name? And I was completely captivated by the idea of “Who was the Swede?” And so I thought, “Well, hey. I know someone sort of like that.” Now, I didn’t go into depth, trying to write a three-act novel and making up the story of my own version of Swede. But, my mind immediately fell back to someone I know. Roth used the real first name and nickname of an existing person (Seymour “Swede” – He has a wikipedia article and everything). I, out of embarrassment, changed my friend’s name to Kazuya.

At first, I had such a hard time writing the story, trying to recall events that happened, things this friend and I had actually done and said, while trying to put a fictional spin on it. But, I found it became so much easier when I released myself from the main character and when I broke Kazu from the mold of my friend. Both characters were then able to transform into different people with their own personalities. It was beautiful!

The moment I realized my characters were blossoming on their own, I had a reaction not unlike this:

And wouldn’t you know? After spending a week agonizing over how I should end the story, it ended on its own. I sat there staring at the screen, thinking, “Huh. Well, that was unexpected.” But it fits.

Point is, don’t get caught up in the details of true events. Knowing exactly what happened, some writers tend to gloss things over, and the story will seem rushed and vague. However, when you take most of yourself out of the equation, you’ll be surprised at what you can create.

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Bringing Chracters to Life on the Page

Everyone knows the characters are not the only object writers need to thoroughly create, but for today, it’s what I want to talk about. A story is nothing without its characters. The plot might be amazing and the description of the cabin in the woods might be astonishing, but if you have an unbelievable character, well, then everything falls apart. A character needs to have a purpose– a point in a story that can change an entire event based on his/her action and the only way to do that is to make the character believable. They need to be real.

One way to create a believable character is to use a technique I learned from Jane Bradley called “direct experience.” For example, use language that appeals to the five senses. To clarify, take a character that bites into a sour apple. The writer should describe the bite—the juice, the flow, the taste—in a way that the reader’s taste buds activate and a sensational memory of them biting into a sour apple would trigger when they read your description. Whether people want to admit it or not, when people read good writing, a sensual clock ticks inside their head reminding them of the experience their reading and how it connects to their own. If the writer can successfully make that experience the similar, the character becomes more believable. In another words, and I’m sure everyone who writes is tired of this cliché, show don’t tell, but come on, it’s true.

The most important thing is to remember that characters are the same as people and because of that, they live in both external and internal worlds. Jane Bradley, once again, gives a great example of this. When a student, or you, sit at your desk and listen to your professor speak, do our minds not sometimes go off on a tangent wondering about what we’re doing after class, or how pretty that little “thang” is when a girl (or dude) goes walking by. Basically, your characters need “realism” and “experience” in matters. By realism I mean that all of us have memories of something – good and bad – and you should use those experiences to your advantage in order to create a more believable character. However, you can’t just simply do this. As a writer, it is your job to successfully intertwine both the external and internal worlds.

And I’ll leave the rest to C.S Lewis:

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Filed under Characters, Showing vs. Telling

My characters are haunting me!

It’s true!

For nearly a year, I’d been working on what I thought would be a horror novel but actually ended at 35,000 words – making it only a novella. Either way, the story is finished, albeit I still have to edit and polish it. It’s done.

Or so I thought. You see, National Novel Writing Month is coming up, and because I finished my novella, I need an idea. I don’t usually try to think of ideas, though. I try to let them come to me. But, none would make themselves known. My characters keep haunting my thoughts, hovering over me, saying, “Jasmine… Use us… Use us!” And then I would say, “What do you guys want, a sequel? What could you possibly want after all that hell I put you guys through?”

Let me tell you, my poor characters are bruised, battered, spooked, and screwed up beyond belief. I think I gave them a fitting end. Still, they come, except now, they don’t just demand that I use them again. They’re throwing possible continuations of the plot at me. Well, great. I guess this means I have to write that sequel. And now I have to go back to my novella and change the ending so that it’s actually open for a sequel.

Welp, guys, looks like you won. And I hope you’re happy.

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by | October 20, 2012 · 3:38 pm