Posts Tagged ‘character dynamics’

So I’ve been working on the outline for a new novel that I plan to write for National Novel Writing Month in November (I know, it’s early for that, but I need to work on something original because I’ve been doing nonstop editing since last NaNoWriMo, and if I don’t work on something new before I work on Rose I’m going to scream). And while I’ve been working on it, building the story chapter by chapter, I had the feeling that there was something missing from the story.

About two nights ago, I hit across what was missing. It was personal problems! Good horror stories often deal with issues that the characters are dealing with both internally and in their own lives! In great horror stories like Cujo and the novel I read and reviewed the other day, the main characters are trying to keep their families alive in some state and not lose their livelihoods in addition to trying to survive rabid dogs or a haunted house. In the TV series Supernatural (which I’ve been binging on lately, it’s so good!), in addition to dealing with evil entities and the oncoming Apocalypse, the protagonists Sam and Dean Winchester have to deal with the fact that they’re brothers, with all the issues that family can have when living and working in proximity, and then some.

And I don’t do enough of that exploring–or indicate that I will be doing that sort of exploring–in the outline for this new project. Which is actually a very big issue if I think about it.

There are several reasons why this is. One is having these personal issues helps the audience identify with the characters. Everybody has problems, and seeing people with relatable issues in their life–recent loss, money troubles, relationship issues, addiction, etc.–even if they’re just characters in a story, make people feel for them. In American Horror Story: Asylum, the character of Lana Winters is thrown into Briarcliff as a patient because she’s a lesbian. We of the present day know she was born that way and there’s nothing wrong with her, but back then, the LGBT community was seen by many as immoral or insane, and faced all sorts of discrimination. This immediately makes her a lot more sympathetic to us than if she was just a regular ambitious reporter, and helps draw us into the story as well as makes us identify with the characters.

Another reason creators explore these deep, personal issues in horror fiction, even when you’ve got everything from ghosts to serial killers to aliens to vampires and everything in-between, is that it keeps the characters interesting and the audience interested. Going back to Supernatural, what would the show be like if each episode was about the Winchester brothers facing a new monster and defeating it, plus a few quips? Well sure, it’d be entertaining for a while, but with no change in that formula things would’ve gotten stale probably ten seasons ago. Part of the draw is seeing these two very-different brothers go through ups and downs in their relationships, figuring out right and wrong in a world full of grey areas and just trying to be good people and good to each other at the end of the day, in addition to stopping the end of the world and all the things that go bump in the night.

And third, we writers like to explore these characters, their problems and traumas, and how the characters deal with them over the course of the story. Some good examples of this come from my own work. If you’ve read Reborn City, you know that protgonist Zahara Bakur doesn’t really start out as heroine material. She’s as far from a Wonder Woman as you cn get. But through the story, I explore both the problems she deals with as a Muslim gangster in an environment that isn’t very nice to Muslims and Zahara’s doubts and fears. And I love doing that, I love watching characters like Zahara grow from someone whom you’d never expect to be a hero to someone whom you’d willingly follow into a tricky situation.

So yeah, exploring personal problems with our characters, whatever those problems are, is definitely something we authors do a lot of. And I need to do it more with this new project I’m working on, even if I’m not picking it up again until September or October. Actually,I’m a little surprised I’m not doing more exploration. There’s a whole big problem with the protagonist’s relationship with another character–let’s just say they shouldn’t be an item for a very good reason–and I’m so not exploiting that enough. I really have to explore how this relationship could mess with the characters while at the same time something evil is attacking the town.

In fact, I’m going to get on that right now. Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear. Hopefully by the time I’m done going over this outline, it’ll be as good as it needs to be for November.

The main fear of every fiction writer is whether or not they’re telling a good story, usually meaning they hope they have an interesting story or they’re telling it in the best way possible. After that those, there’s another fear that is just as important and just as scary: you fear your characters aren’t relatable, that they don’t feel real to the reader. The last thing any author wants to read in a review is that the characters seemed “artificial” or “their actions and words felt forced” or instead of seeming like real people, they were “more like robots.”

Unless all or most of your characters are actually robots, of course. Then those reviews might actually be compliments.

But in most other situations, you want to avoid getting these sort of reviews, and there are a number of ways to do that. One is to fill out a full character bio for each of your characters, even if you don’t plan on using everything on that bio in the story. I’m talking full educational history, childhood experiences and traumas, hobbies, likes and dislikes, dirty little secrets, all that good stuff. Having a full picture of your character can help you bring them to life. You can tell a lot about a person just by knowing the full story about them, and you can do the same by knowing everything about your characters, getting in their heads and figuring out everything from reactions to certain situations to their decision-making processes.

Some of these involve writing, which I think adds to the fun.

One of the best parts of some of these is you get to write them out. If you’re one of those types who write a certain amount of words a day, this may help fill it out on a bad day.

Another thing you can do, if you’re wondering if something your character says or does seems believable or not, is to do what I call split-mind writing. I forget where I got this (it might have been a Stephen King novel), but it’s a pretty interesting way to work out problems, if rather schizophrenic. What you do is take a piece of paper, and pretend to have a conversation with someone on that piece of paper. Basically it’s a game of question-and-answer where you bounce ideas off of the person you’re writing to, see if you can work out what’s bothering you about your character and find a solution through this process.

There’s also acting it out, which is as the name implies (and with the perfect partner, is as fun as it sounds). If you have someone to act it out with, fill the in on a scenario in the story and act it out. If you or your partner’s reactions and words are different than what you’d expect or thought might happen, examine why. There might be something in that difference that can help you in your work.

A fourth one, and one that I feel is always worth a try, is to look at your favorite characters in literature. Examine them and ask yourself why those characters feel so real to you, or what about these characters that you identified with. Often we’re inspired by these sort of characters and the stories they’re in. We want to write stories that are just as inspirational as those ones that inspired us. Going back and figuring out why can be very helpful with putting those same qualities into your stories.

And of course, there’s my favorite option: would I do that in the same situation? I find asking myself this sort of question of myself actually helps. Often our characters have a bit of ourselves in them (as they should, seeing as we created them). Asking if we would do the same thing as them, and then exploring the answer, may help you make these characters seem real. After all, if you consider yourself at least fifty-percent normal and your reactions too, then maybe those thoughts and reactions should apply to your characters as well.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of thinking and puzzling it out.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of thinking and puzzling it out.

While making characters seem real to your audience can seem daunting, it’s not impossible to do. We all start out having trouble making our characters seem real, but with time we improve, make them real not just to us, but to our readers. And part of that is just asking a question: why or why does this character not work? The answers you get can be the key to writing something–and maybe even someone–truly awesome.

Yes, you read that title right. I’ve been using drones recently. I started using them sometime this past weekend, and I’ve been using them almost every night since. Mostly I fly them around certain sections of the state of Colorado, usually near Interstate 70. I’ve fired a few missile and several bullets. The drones were fun to pilot, but they had a bad habit of getting destroyed, and it’s not really my fault. Still, I might get blamed for it, so I won’t be piloting drones for a while.

This is actually the model of drone–or a variation of it–that I used.

Now you are probably wondering variations of “What the f**k is he talking about?” and “How the hell did he get his hands on drones?” Well the answer is simple: I wrote them into the second chapter of Video Rage as part of a fun little battle sequence. I thought it’d be interesting to use drones in this chapter, especially since drones are still relatively new to us now and many people, myself included, are at the very least a little wary of drones and their use by the military, if not downright scared of them. It ended up working out very well, because the drones showed how powerless my protagonists can be even with their powers, and how hard they have to work to stay alive.

Got you, didn’t I?

The drones also allowed me to do something I planned for this novel: cause friction. Something happens to one of the characters during the drone attack, and it causes some tension in the tight-knit group of people who star in this novel of mine. Later on there will be more tension between the Hydras, and we’ll see what happens when that tension hits a boiling point. Believe me, things will get ugly as a result.

I’ll be using drones again later in VR. The drones in Chapter 2 are very similar to drones used today by the US military, but in later chapters I plan on using new drones that the military probably hasn’t dreamt of yet (or if they have, my friend Matthew Williams will know of them). It’ll be interesting to see how the use of drones will work out, both for the story and for the characters.

At the very least, it’ll make for some interesting reading.

Now I’m going to take a break, shower, and then sit down for a movie. Tomorrow I’ll try to start the next chapter of Laura Horn. Things will heat up over in that storyline as well.