Newbie Writers Podcast
Episode 14 31/12/2011
What do we love about books? What do we remember? Not what happens,
but rather, who the characters were, what they said. Why they said that.
We remember the characters we care most about. Why do we love Jane
Austen? Because of the intricate plots? Not really.
The story? Please, we know the story. What we love are the characters, the strong women who get into trouble because they blurt out what they are thinking, the handsome hero who is just misunderstood, the spunky friend from whom we wish as much happiness as we do wish for the heroine. We love a good character.
Listen to what you say when you play a movie for the ﬁfth time, it’s not
about the plot or the story — you just want to see the hero or heroine again.
“I love him.” You murmur under your breath.
Character is why there is star power in Hollywood. Do we watch Brad Pitt
because he has a reputation for starring in great plot-driven ﬁlms? No, we do
not. Some people, who will remain nameless, would be happy watching Mr.
Pitt sell laundry soap. It’s about character, charm, personality — if that sounds
like a beauty pageant, you are not too far off.
Create a great character, Sherlock Holmes, Ulysses, Beowulf, Emma,
Chewbacca, Bridget Jones and half the novel, the very important part of the novel, is done. Now, give this great character something to do.
“First, ﬁnd out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.”
There are books and books and web sites and web sites and classes and
classes on how to create great characters. There is information on how to
describe them, make an astrological chart for them, and write up their back-
ground. You can create notes on why or how your character will behave in
a certain way given a certain situation. You can control the time line of the
character’s childhood. You can know everything about your character: favorite
color, childhood trauma; when the parent’s immigrated; the name of their
favorite pet now long dead …
All of this work can be excellent exercises, and valuable as you ﬂex your
writing muscles; however, most writers will confess that their characters, the
good characters, are not so easily controlled. What many of us have discovered
is as soon as you think you know everything about your character and as
soon as you sit down and think, well today my character will drive to the store,
ﬁght a dragon, and fall in love with the prince — they will not cooperate.
Like children, ﬁctional characters are strangely resistant to The Plan. You
create the calendar of success, you’ve noted the benchmarks of development,
and you organize and strategize. You deliver the children to their piano,
trumpet, bongo lessons, you drive them to band, ballet, tumbling practices, and
you sit on the sidelines during game after game and what happens? Your child
becomes a chicken farmer, which was not on that list you created for them on
their second birthday — Careers Mom Thinks You Should Pursue.
Fictional characters will do much the same thing. Characters in your story
or novel will just blurt out comments, create their own action and in general
race away from you leaving you with very little choice except to hold on.
This is good.
The way to get a handle on the run-away character is to take notes as the
traits and details about your characters emerge on their own.
If your character tumbles out on the pages, just keep a notebook handy
and mark down the color of her eyes, size of his biceps, or kind of coffee he
drinks. That helps with the consistency as well as keeping you and your character on track. The picture will emerge. Write it down as it comes into focus.
”Find out who you are then do it on purpose.” – Dolly Parton
The idea of being only yourself is essential to YA novels, It’s the trope of the misfit child or the girl who doesn’t fit in – the classic ugly ducking story. What does this idea engender for you and for fictional opportunities? Do you have a character who does what they do on purpose? Do they have regrets? Are they huge, big personalities who don’t realize their potential until adulthood? Are you?
Bring out your dead:
Fashion Magazine Editors Apologize
We are sorry we encouraged women to blindly follow the dictates of male fashion designers whom we still aren’t completely sure like women at all.
We are sorry about the mini skirt every time we resurrect it.
We are sorry about Kate Moss.
We would be sorry about Manolo Blahnik shoes but the chiropractic association, the Loose Affiliation of Lumbar Surgeons and the Association of American Podiatrists have all taken to creating small shrines in their offices complete with bright pink Lobatron pumps. We are loath to disappoint such a strong lobby by even hinting that women would be better off hiking around in Birkenstocks, an invention of dubious fashion value. We hoped we atoned for that by running that article on the New York specialist who will, for a large fee, inject the soles of your feet with extra silicon to make that cushion of flesh at the ball of your foot thicker and more shock absorbent so your high heels can continue to be worn.
We are truly sorry about that quote from Donna Karan, “The new black is lighter,”
(Conversely, no one was sorry about The New Red).
We all know that Fashion is cyclical, even we are sorry the cycle came back to those dreary shirtwaist dresses from the seventies, recreated at a cost of $1000 a pop.
We’re sorry about that sales person from Barney’s who said, with great enthusiasm and wonder “You can get a whole outfit here for just under $1,000!” If what you usually hear, when leaving a store is “I got out of Sam’s Club for under $1,000” then you probably shouldn’t be reading our magazines in the first place.
Word of the Week:
An unnecessary or wasteful project.
This typically North American term is often applied in two specific ways, either to describe work of little or no value done merely to appear busy, or in reference to a government-funded project with no purpose other than political patronage. It can also be used for an unnecessary journey by a government official at public expense.
Part of its oddity lies in its sudden emergence into public view in an article in the New York Times on 4 April 1935. This had the headline “$3,187,000 Relief is Spent to Teach Jobless to Play … Boon Doggles Made”. The “boon doggles” of the headline turn out to be small items of leather, rope and canvas, which were being crafted by the jobless during the Great Depression as a form of make-work. The article quoted a person who taught the unemployed to create them that the word was “simply a term applied back in the pioneer days to what we call gadgets today”. He suggested that boondoggles had been small items of leatherwork which were made by cowboys on idle days as decorations for their saddles.
The word instantly became famous. It seems that Americans had been feeling the lack of a good word to describe unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent projects and leapt upon it with delight.
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