Sometimes characters are in tough spots.
Okay, all the time. (At least, they should be.) Characters are always in tough spots, and if they’re at all sympathetic, they’ll probably complain a bit. If characters never complained, somebody would be clamoring for their unique minority to be represented. Not all characters do complain, but many can and will. They can’t just ignore their troubles. That would make them seem unrealistic.
But when characters complain too much… That’s a different problem. People who complain are automatically less fun to be around than people who don’t complain. (That’s why I dislike “Everything Wrong with [popular movie] in # Minutes or Less” videos. Some of the flaws they find are bad writing, but the rest isn’t worth mentioning, and I don’t care.) Pessimists aren’t lovable— they’re whiny. That’s exactly the same effect produced by a complaining character.
That’s not a good thing. Usually, if things are going wrong for a character, they have something that’s supposed to make them likable. The unlikable characters can have as much going for them as they want, but the likable characters are always in trouble. And if the likable characters need to be… well, likable, they can’t be unlikable. That is to say, they can’t be whiny.
Does that mean they can’t complain? Nope, because (to quote paragraph two of this post), that would make them seem unrealistic. Sometimes a character needs to complain and be likable at exactly the same time. That requires a lot more contortions from you, the author. That said, you have a couple options. Read the full post »
Posted by Liam Wood on July 27, 2014
I have a couple stories to tell you.
Two weeks ago, I was in Europe, touring with my orchestra around Austria and the Czech Republic. At the very beginning, we drove out to a place in Austria called Gmunden. The site of our first concert, we found it nestled inside a circle of mountains, on the shores of a vibrant blue lake. The concert hall was right up against a little wall that dropped down to the water. Swans swam around looking for crumbs from us, the mountains towered over the sailboats gliding over the serene blue water, and the air was clear and cool. As for scenery, it was probably my favorite place on the trip. (The picture on the right, while also of an Austrian lake surrounded by mountains, is actually a different lake we stopped near. Apologies for pictorial inaccuracy. Picture by me.)
Now hold that thought. Last April, while I was writing Gifts of Rith, I decided I would slow down and make sure I was using the right words to tell my story. I posted my resolution here; I decided I wasn’t going to race ahead and write whatever I wanted, but make sure everything I wrote was relevant to the story. Unfortunately, I realized as I reread the novel on my trip to Europe, I had left out too much. Indeed, instead of merely taking out the fluff, I also took out some of the necessary pieces for telling a good story. I took out almost all the descriptions.
Never let it be said that I make small mistakes. Read the full post »
Posted by Liam Wood on July 20, 2014
The Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain asks a lot of hard-hitting questions, and this month’s is no different. The question is “What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?” Of course, this will be different for everyone, but one thing remains true: you can’t answer this with a very specific answer. “Don’t use passive voice” is no help to a writer who can’t master compelling characters. “Remember to use similes” doesn’t help someone struggling with plot. And my current favorite advice (just because it’s so unknown yet useful) about transitions would be useless for someone with no grasp of setting. Furthermore, advice about plot, character, or setting will be no use to someone who hasn’t yet begun to write. So when I first began writing, I think the best advice anyone could have given me was the advice I ignored over and over and over, from all my favorite authors: just write.
I first started writing in first or second grade, when I wrote a 500-word short story over the course of a couple weeks. I wrote another story of similar length in third grade. I continued to write in tiny bursts of inspiration and notebook availability over the next four years, until I started a family newsletter and came into the blogosphere. There I learned about NaNoWriMo, which I attempted for the first time three years ago. I wrote 50,000 words easily, almost casually, then left my novel alone. At that point, I would have long breaks where I wasn’t writing anything, then pound out a novel for a NaNoWriMo challenge or a novella for the blog, along with intermittent blog posts. Were they all good? No. But they got better over time. Read the full post »
Posted by Liam Wood on July 17, 2014
A while ago, I learned about the Hero’s Journey archetype for stories. I’m not going to glorify it or condemn it here, but one thing that struck me was the way things came around in a full circle. The first scene was mirrored in the last scene, contrasting what was lost and what was gained, showing the character’s growth through the story. Not only that, it made things feel resolved— everything is as it should be.
Thrilled with that concept, I used it in my 2013 NaNoNovel Stakes, mirroring the first and last scenes so they wrapped up well. I really enjoyed doing it, and I think it turned out well. I did the same in my last episode of Phil Phorce, which you can still read on the blog, with a soap fight. I had a lot of fun with that too. However, I discarded the technique for Desolation, Gifts of Rith, and Lend Me Your Ears. Desolation begins with the main character running from a giant beast, which is eventually destroyed and thus unavailable for the denouement. Similarly, Gifts and Ears begin with battles, which cannot be replicated at the end. All three began with battles and action— Phil Phorce and Stakes began with calmer scenes to introduce people, then ended with calmer scenes to wrap everything up, like bookends.
However, beginning those other three novels with action was imperative. None had plots that would benefit from a calm beginning— to get the correct feel of the story in the beginning chapters meant starting with a bang. However, that hook meant bookends wouldn’t work.
Obviously, both are viable options, and necessary for different types of stories. But what are the advantages and disadvantages? How do you make each work, and when should you use them? Read the full post »
Posted by Liam Wood on July 13, 2014
This is a short story I wrote just before my last post about mysteries. In fact, this story sparked the discussion in that post, as I tried to figure out if this would work. I’m still not quite sure, but I’d love to hear your reactions to it. It’s a little darker than I usually do— not as much humor, definitely. I don’t think it’s my best work, but it’s definitely unique for me, and I hope you enjoy it. Bonus points for unraveling the mystery.
They took my picture today.
I write this on a piece of notepaper the warden gave me. I’m allowed to write one letter home, to you; but I’m not sure if this will get to you. They will try to read it, but even if they do, it won’t be in time. The mail here is notoriously slow. And if they do read it, it will not get to you, for I will be in a different cell, possibly a different jail, pending further investigation with no contact allowed. I will disappear, and they will be victorious. But that is only if the mail is not slow. It will be.
I was captured yesterday, trying to sneak a bribe to the warden. Never mind that he took it— it was a foolish plan, ready to fall apart the moment it began. I was easily caught. I was sick, never a good thing on a job, and that slowed me down enough that they caught me before I had gone ten steps. They slapped me straight into solitary confinement, then transferred me to a shared cell with a man named Sam. Sam used to be a con artist, but turned thug the moment they put him in the slammer. No inmate goes near him now, and he’s supposed to be in solitary, except the warden thought I’d be a good cellmate. Sam’s been fine so far— we’ve met before. Read the full post »
Posted by Liam Wood on July 5, 2014
When I was younger, I read a lot of Encyclopedia Brown. In case you don’t know, those books are structured uniquely: each book contains five or six stories about Encyclopedia Brown investigating some type of mystery. At the end of each story, Encyclopedia Brown would have solved the mystery, but the question was put to readers as well— they could figure it out for themselves before finding the real answer in the back of the book. It was like a book of narrative riddles, meant to cultivate a group of miniature Poirots and Marples.
I never waited to figure out the answer myself. I always flipped to the back of the book immediately and read the answer. I enjoyed wondering, then being satisfied, more than I did solving the mystery myself. After all, if the author had already figured out the answer, why waste time on it? I was perfectly happy to let someone else do the work, as long as they got it right.
However, when I was forced one way or another to try and figure out the solution myself, I never enjoyed it. The work was already done— why did I have to repeat it? Furthermore, I read Encyclopedia Brown so I could enjoy his superior brain power, not so I could (gasp!) learn something. I wanted to see how smart he was and enjoy that. Once I was forced to unravel the mystery myself, however, it became less enjoyable and more difficult— work, not play.
To a certain point, readers feel the same way about mysteries in other areas of fiction. The mystery is there to be solved, but by the main character, not by the reader; the same way that the epic battle is there to be fought by the main character, not by the reader. The reader has no input in the story, no say in what happens. Thus, if the readers solving the mystery won’t help, why do it? It’s just extra work. Read the full post »
Posted by Liam Wood on June 29, 2014