Tag Archives: characterization

It Takes a Village (Full of Weirdos)

Welcome to March 13th, and the first morning of a bright Full Moon. Both of these facts should contribute to my essay, hopefully for the better.

Photo by Guy Anthony De MarcoI’ve been writing off and on since 1977. More off than on, just like my normal mental state. The first few stories I horrifically assembled were based on some dreams with the antics of some of my friends mixed in. I was still in high school and I hung out with the freaks, geeks, and weirdos. I also spent time with some of the stoner and drug using folks, even though I never partook. (No, really, I was even sorta famous for it.) On top of that, I was friendly with many of the jocks, and even tried out for the baseball team as a pitcher. I still think I didn’t get on the team because I drilled the coach with a line shot off of his cranium during a practice. Well, that or because I had a wicked fast ball that I couldn’t control. Anyways…

Over the years, I’ve made friends and lost some, drifted apart or buried others. Most of the time I admit I was just too lazy to send a letter or pick up the phone to say hello. Some folks were just acquaintances or Friends-of-Friends.

Some folks were people I once just said hello to. A good example is Fiona. My wife and I were going through the checkout line at the North Island Commissary (like a military store), and the young lady who was ringing things up was the Uber Queen of the Goths. Every bit of exposed skin was pale, like the pallor of the dead. Fiona wore all black, of course. She was also very nice and friendly. For years my wife and I would recall Fiona out of the blue. The only reason we know her name is because of her name tag. She’s appeared in two of my books in one form or another.

All of the friends, acquaintances, and random weirdos and strangers I’ve encountered in my life at one time or another are all now living as part of the DNA in the characters I write. I never try to copy them directly — it would feel like plagiarizing meatspace. I take tiny bits of personality and blend them together. The subtle half-wink as they tell a joke; the way their voice wavers as they yell in anger; the way they smell because they don’t believe in deodorant. All of these slices can come together to create a complete and believable character. In many cases, I know why they do what they do. The old friend who never used deodorant was too poor to afford the luxury. That background adds seasoning for characters. Now I know how they may act in certain situations, like finding an envelope of hundred dollar bills in a donated dresser. That pungent friend would do his best to find the rightful owner because he knows what it feels like to be destitute.

One should be careful not to make the characters recognizable. In many cases, it can cause hurt feelings. If I copied a friend down to a speech impediment and a facial birthmark, then gave it to a horrific villain who tortures small fuzzy animals for kicks, you can rest assured that my friend would be quite irate (and probably move into the ‘former friend’ category.) Always make the characters you create a collection of traits put into a blender and hit the frappe button a few times. The froth you end up with can then be used to make believable, realistic characters that seem like they’re someone you know intimately — because they are.

There are times you have to create characters that are outside of your scope of knowledge. Take a walk around and listen to strangers. Take notes, write down interesting descriptions, and even consider saying hello. You might end up with a new friend and a protagonist outline in one fell swoop.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Lee Child vs The Boring

I’m not a big fan of first person fiction despite ascertains that it gives me the most internal and personal perspective. Mostly, I don’t find that to be true. I don’t care for first person point of view because I find myself so conscious of it that I am pulled out of and distanced from the story instead. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels in both first and third person, yet even when he writes in first, I hardly notice. For me that is gold. If I can get to page three and forget the story is being told in first person, I’ll read the book. If not, I’ll give up on it. It’s very few authors who pass this test.

When I read a Jack Reacher novel I am immediately in it. I am inside Reacher’s head and understanding why he does everything he does, no matter the point of view. I am along for the ride and embracing his ethics which are not particularly the norm. That’s huge. That’s the real deal for me. If Lee Child can put me so far into Reacher’s mentality as well as the moment and empathy of the story that I am with Reacher for every action – every violent action, then that’s great writing to my mind.

I love the precision of his staccato-like dialogue. I love the imagery he shows me. I love the detail of weapons, trajectories, behaviors, thoughts, etc… that he explains to me. I love the way Reacher puts himself into the heads of others to reason out what they are doing and why. I would be hard pressed to find something I didn’t find great in any of his books. As a writer, I find so much I want to emulate in my own writing. I believe good/great writing comes from avid reading of good/great books. Lee Child and the Reacher novels are that for me.

On the other hand, there are books I find so bad. Boring. Frustrating. Bad.

I shan’t name names because this example is by a ‘legendary’ writer. It was a science fiction and truly I could not tell you what that book was about. My best friend played a guilt card to make me read it because it was “one of the best” for her. So, I read it. Every boring, pointless page (mostly – I admit I started skimming towards the end because I really couldn’t take it any more).

Why was it so bad for me? There were several factors and they apply to all writing I find bad, but generally they aren’t all in one book so predominantly. First, if there was a plot, I’m sure I don’t know what it was. That’s pretty sad when the meandering prose loses me to the point that I have no clue what the author’s point might have been. As a writer, I wondered throughout why did he write this? What story is he trying to tell? Why am I reading this? Why am I bored out of my gourd? Because there was nothing to latch on to. No inciting incident that changed things and got me curious. No beginning, middle, end. No purpose that I could find. It was sci-fi. Genre writing. I really thought it should have a plot. Plots are a good thing.

Second, there weren’t any characters I could root for or invest in. I don’t remember liking any of them or disliking them either. I was completely ambivalent about them, their lives, their problems. Nothing. Nada. Had no connection whatsoever. If I don’t have at least one character I can despise or love or care about or finding interesting, then how am I supposed to relate to the story (presupposing there is a story)? How am I supposed to connect? I don’t necessarily need to love the main character, but I do need to have some reaction besides indifference. And if not the main character, then give me a secondary character to feel something about. Anything. Antipathy for every character is bad, bad, bad.

Third – and this was specifically my friend’s reason for loving the book – the author just went on and on and on about the weather, a sunrise, the sea, the landscape, the main character’s memories of the weather, a sunrise, the sea, the landscape… blah, blah, blah. It was chapter long meanders of description that served no point that I could see except for the author to wax poetic (and not in a good way). Every other chapter seemed to be one of these strange unrelated rambles that had little or nothing to do with anything. I have no problem with loads of description and detail if, and this is a big if, it serves a purpose other than the author’s ego and romance with his own words. Lee Child gives a lot of description yet every word feels necessary and keeps me attentive.

I wish all writing could take me where Lee Child’s writing takes me and I desperately hope that I can achieve a similar quality and depth in my writing. I use the other book as a reminder of what not to do.

World of Warcraft: The Fiction Addiction

My name is Quincy Allen, and it’s been three days since my last login. Okay, okay, so that’s a lie. I logged in last night, but I won’t apologize for it.

Now that I’ve outed myself as one of those “lamentable” adults who dabble in MMOs, let me tell you why. Like a lot of writers, writing is not my only gig. I’m a tech-writer by day, operate a small but growing book design business by night, and do my writing in the wee hours as time permits. That means that I need to decompress from time to time. Slaying damn near any mob that gets in my way is a perfect way to accomplish it.

What can I say? It’s better than going Postal. Some people play golf. Some watch sports. I’m currently working my way towards the Pinnacle of Storms in order to slay Lei Shen who threatens all of Pandaria. Lei Shen’s power derives from ancient Titan technology, and the Titans were a race of elder gods who deemed the life of Azeroth unfit to breathe.

Over my dead body.

World of Warcraft has been a perfect environment to let off steam for someone who appreciates good storytelling and kilometers-thick back-story. WoW arguably has the most exhaustive canon of any game out there, and it creation goes all the way back to the game’s incept in 1994 in the form of Orcs and Humans. From those meager origins, a worlds-spanning history going back over 10,000 years has been born.

In many respects, that’s what has kept me playing WoW. There’s an almost never-ending sense of discovery as the main storyline unfolds for the players, and there are hundreds if not thousands of side-stories woven throughout the environment to keep someone like me intrigued.

There’s a lesson for all writers in what Blizzard has accomplished with their flagship product. History. If you’re writing contemporary fiction, then your history is written for you, and you can draw from that. If you’re writing alternate history, fantasy, or even future sci-fi, then you should do at least some work in creating your own canon. I can give one example that I use in the novel I just wrapped up.

It’s steampunk fantasy fiction set in the Old West. A half-clockwork gunslinger with magic-imbued mechanical limbs must protect a 15th century vampiress from being sacrificed to raise a demon army. Simple enough, but the obvious question is, where the hell did the magic come from?

That part wasn’t as simple. I wanted to make the presence of magic in the Old West at least plausible in my head, so I had to alter history. Granted, this tidbit of data isn’t explained in the series I’m referring to, but it is revealed in another series I’ve started, which takes place in the same universe. Essentially, I had to assassinate a 13th century Pope in order to have magic exist in the Victorian era.

Having done so opens up a wealth of possibilities in my writing and gives my rather critical notion of plausibility a leg up. Basically, I can believe in my own “invention” and build upon it as I see fit with cultures, characters, and histories that all have that single changed moment in history as their foundation. All roads lead to Rome, as they say.

This is a technique I recommend for all writers. While your story takes place “now,” you should have a strong understanding of “what came before.” Not only will this make your story richer, it will give you virtually limitless destinations that all have the same look and feel, because they all derive from the same point of origin.

If you’re writing the fantastic, then take some time to sketch out the timeline around your story. Know what’s going on in your world and have at least a moderate understanding of its history. Empowered with this knowledge, you’ll find that the depth of your storytelling increases by a factor of, and the creation of both sidelines and spin-offs is that much easier to write.

 

Q

 

P.S. If you run on Kil’Jaeden, keep an eye out for a DK named Moondawg.