Cheap Wine

*Note — I’ve been helping someone move for the last couple of days. Coherence and writing are not, umm, my strong suits at the moment!

Discount wine.

Oh, for the love of God, discount wine.

There’s a reason that shit was on sale in the first place…

I’m pretty sure my recent foray away from the comfortable and familiar (beer & whiskey) may be one of the larger mistakes of my life. Right up there with being the “other man” in a neat little love triangle (hey, I was young — cut me some slack!).

Ahem.

Now, that intro got me to thinking about regrets, and about “do overs”, but that is the one topic I am going to leave (have to leave?) for Wednesday’s post.

Great, now I have to connect that thought to…err…something. Preferably something writing-oriented. Umm, okay, so it’s not like I haven’t violated that particular little blog-goal a million times lately…

Still, I claim this to be a writing blog — and writing is, in fact, my life — soooo…screw you, Roy Moore, I’m not talking about you this week! You and the rest of the creepy assholes can burn quietly in Hell for the moment. And I really do mean that: QUIETLY!!

I’m gonna talk about discount wine, and how that relates to character building! Or something!IMG_4598

Err, insert Emily Litella quote here.

Look, I had every intention of writing a serious entry today. Even if I decide to **gasp!** stray from the writing-blog thing, there is a ton of stuff out there to work with: Michael Flynn and the FBI…a tax cut package that doesn’t actually cut taxes…Angela Merkel finally showing that she is human…the joke that is the NFL…

To quote Maverick, “Sorry, Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower.”

Wait, that ain’t it…let’s try this: “It’s a target-rich environment!”

Yeah, THAT’s the one.

So, what does discount wine REALLY tell me about life and the universe?

Well, first off, it tells me that Douglas Adams was right…about pretty much everything. Especially cricket.

No politics or society, not today.  Nope, today it’s (still) writing!

So, after all that…bad wine ties back to something I have mentioned before: letting your characters make mistakes. Especially, allowing your protagonist to make mistakes.

Outside of the plot — where we all (hopefully) know his/her decisions and choices have to drive things — there is too much of a tendency to have protagonists know and do all the the right things.

Don’t fall into that trap.

Flaws, mistakes, even the occasional bout with stupidity, all serve to make your character more human, and more relatable. More real.

Don’t tell those mistakes, take a few minutes — and a few hundred words — and show your characters’ lack of perfection. What if James Bond occasionally spilled his drink on the women he was picking up? What is Aragorn dropped his sword from time to time? What if Captain Kirk got an interstellar STD?

Shit happens, and no one is perfect: neither should your characters be.

 

Back To Our Regular Programming: Characters Matter

Okay, so instead of writing, I’m busy writing a blog about, err, writing.

I think I need to switch to decaf.

Lately I’ve let myself “go political” for a few posts. That was something I swore I would never do when I started this blog. Just like I swore I would cut back on coffee in 2017.

Yeah, both of those resolutions had about the same chance of success.

At any rate, no more politics. Not today…and hopefully not for a while.

Nope, today is all about taking the title of Saturday’s “bonus post” and putting it back into writing terms: character matters. On two levels that works…and you can figure them out just as easily as can I*.

most-interesting-squirrel*Squirrel Moment of the Day: one of the hardest things to learn in writing? DON’T OVER-EXPLAIN! Trust your readers and, most of all, respect them. As readers, we all (well, I think all) hate it when writers talk down to us, when they assume we can’t connect dots on our own. So, why then, is the urge to do the same thing so strong when we write? Words are precious things — no, really, trust me on this, your word count is a precious resource: don’t waste it on unimportant details and pointless background. Give hints, sketch a few lines, then let the reader fill in the details with their own mind. Trust them, in other words, and treat them like they have brains of their own.

I know I’ve talked about that problem with wordiness and over-explaining before, but crap…that’s worth a post in and of itself.

But not today.

Not today because that topic deserves some thought and planning…neither of which I have ready at the moment.

Nope, today I’m thinking about characters. About when characters speak for themselves, and about when they help dictate the story.

I need to rephrase that title I’m re-using from Saturday: Characters Matter.

Don’t use them lightly…don’t sell them short…and, for God’s sake, don’t railroad them! If a character does, or says, something totally outside of their make-up, you’ve failed them. I don’t care if it’s necessary to advance the plot…I don’t care if it’s something that has to happen…I don’t care if the devil makes them do it*, your character has to do what’s right for them.

*Although that, arguably, could be a fun little device to play with…in the right circumstances.

Want to know why I never got into GRRM’s Fire & Ice series? Because, too often, his characters do things that are alien to who they are. He has done a masterful job of creating deep, rich and engaging characters…then betrayed them by forcing them to do things simply because the plot calls for it.

That is, I should add, one area where the TV series has, for the most part, done a great job of “cleaning up” — HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation is, I believe, only the second* instance where I’ve found the movie/show better than the original book(s).

*Jaws is the other one.

And, yes, Tyrion is still the best and most interesting character in either version…although Jaime has his worth, too. Remember my fixation with the broken and the flawed? Yep, it all goes back to the best chapter title ever: Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. I will always love GRRM for that one…both for the title, and for that first glimpse of Tyrion as a hell of a lot more complicated and interesting than the reader’s initial impressions.

In the end, if you have to force your character to do something outside of themselves — something alien to who they are — you need to go back and either rework that character, or rework your story/plot.

By now, you probably know just where I come down on that particular decision…

The Post That Once Had A Point, But Lost It

Well, that didn’t take long.

Welcome back, introverted cynicism. I’d try to throw you out, but…well…you’re the only girl at the dance right now. And you did put out the last time we dated…

I swear to all that is holy, Connor threw a party when I was writing last night. “Finally!” he yelled, then proceeded to get drunk and tell me off for basically ignoring him for the last six months.

Ahem.

The writing felt good, though. It felt very good.

At any rate, that wasn’t what I planned to talk about in this post. That whole intro was, in fact, an overly-caffeinated squirrel moment.IMG_0155

Nope, what I wanted to talk about was perception, and point of view. Not our characters’ POV; there are a million posts and articles out there on that. No, what I wanted to bring up was our own internal thoughts as writers.

The genesis for thinking about this was, strangely enough, immortal characters. Specifically, what an character means to us as writers, and what they (often) say about us. And, yes, I realize just how goddamned arrogant it is for me – of all people, ME! – to presume to speak for anyone else…but what the fuck, just go with me on this one.

Let me sketch the scene a bit: a friend was telling me about a story of hers with a character who cannot die. Now, this friend is, well, there’s only one way to put it: she’s young. No big deal – she’ll grow out of it (while, of course, I’m busily trying to regress back into that particular “sin”). Now, the heart of the discussion came about because, at the same time, I have a story floating in the back of my mind about fallen gods, and the painful weight of eternity…

That got me to thinking. Thinking about what those characters meant…and how, in my little world of character uber alles, those characters define the scope and intent of the story.

To my friend, immortality was an expression of strength, a tool to be used and valued. To her – and her character – the world was a place on which to work her will. More importantly, those people/friends/characters ‘met’ along the way were pawns & tools with which her character could play.

To me – and my own main character – it was something very different. The years, and the world, were a weight to be born. More importantly, those met along the way were memories and loss. The isolation of such a character – whether wistful nostalgia or bitter regret – cannot help but define a completely different story.

And, yes, this is how I come up with story ideas: not with intricate plot threads or impressive climaxes, but with characters…and the what/why/how that comes with fleshing them out.

*shrug*

Hey, it (sorta) works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Tolkien actually touched on the price of immortality in some of his background material: the weight of millennia wore on Galadriel more than the movies, or the main books themselves, were ever really capable of showing. That weight – the fading that was a major subtext to the elves – along with her original backstory from The Silmarillion of overwhelming pride and her fall, make her a far, far more interesting (and semi-tragic) character to me than almost any other from those stories*.

*Those that most interest me may surprise you: Luthien, who gave up glory and strength for love (and, yes, she was a complete foreshadowing of Arwen)…Saruman, who fell because he believed you could use the tools of evil without becoming corrupted yourself…but most of all, Finrod – Galadriel’s older brother, and a bad-ass in his own right: he gave up everything (including his life) to keep a promise…and, yep, all embody the themes of LotR that meant so much to Tolkien. Crap, maybe some day I’ll do an entire post – or a week – on Tolkien’s stuff. Writers for the win!

Err…back to immortality, and the subtexts and themes that drive characters like that. Nearing 700 words on this post, already, so a point (and a conclusion…yay!) may be in order:

The immortal, uber-powerful character of our youth – of comic books and movies – is, well, boring. What satisfaction can there be in writing – let alone reading – about someone for whom the inability of time and death to touch them is a triumph? No, for that character to truly be interesting (to me), immortality has to be a burden. For me, time and death have to be lovers always out of reach, always running away, not enemies long defeated.

Or, maybe I think about this shit too much…

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.