Over the past week, I’ve pondered many things, but none of them long enough— or originally enough— for them to merit entire posts. Because I’m too lazy to expand them, here are a series of partial posts that will hopefully all make sense on their own. Feel free to comment on one, comment on all three, or bring up something completely different. They are yours to expound upon or ignore as you will. I hope you get something out of each.
Humor is important, as I’ve said many times. In fact, this last week, I used humor as a tool more than I ever have. I made more people like me in that week than in months in other places. Correctly placed, it is a tool. Incorrectly placed, it destroys just about everything you work to build. But I’ve posted on that before, so I’ll let that lie.
Brandon Sanderson believes humor can be cultivated into the tool I mentioned, every time you need it. Many others believe humor is spontaneous, a gift for those lucky enough to have an edge. More and more, I’m finding Sanderson’s opinion correct. He’s not a funny fellow, all by himself and spontaneous. But when you give him the time, he writes killingly funny quips. He’s admitted to purposefully raising his humor level in books, especially Warbreaker. While he isn’t quick on his feet as, say, Howard Tayler, he knows the system of humor and uses it as a tool.
Moral of the story: humor is a tool, not something you’re born with. Practice it, perfect it, and use it.
No, not profanity. Foreign languages. Iron Man wrote an awesome post about this on the YAvengers blog a while ago, and that post (and going to a non-English-speaking country) jump-started my desire to learn a language. I’m learning German, and goodness, it’s fun. For one thing, different sounds. You think English uses up all the sounds anyone can have, until you realize that other languages have different sounds for the same letters, or new letters altogether, each with a different inflection. It’s amazing.
Not only that, but as Iron Man mentioned, genders. In German, cheese is a he. A cat is a she. Salt has no gender, although sugar is masculine. Even if you don’t like writing sentient inanimate objects, there are ideas everywhere. And all the idioms, or the odd words in the language, help you see the nature of the culture from which it was born. You might not be a fantasy writer, to embark on the creation of your own language, but it still gives you an insight into people.
Moral of the story: learn a language. It’s fun (especially with Duolingo— although it only has European languages at the moment). It will also help you with your native language, which cannot fail to help your writing.
I’ve always been a fan of the saying, “Every character is the hero of their own story.” Unfortunately, I’ve taken it too far recently. I know from experience that I can’t reliably create a lot of really deep characters all at once for a novel— in an effort to reduce flat characters, therefore, I’ve taken to reducing my cast to about six people and leaving all the walk-ons nameless and story-less. It’s not good. Thus, at this point in my Gifts of Rith edit, I’m going through and creating characters (each of whom have a story), and putting them in place of cardboard cutouts I used in the first draft.
That said, that doesn’t mean I have to reveal everything within that novel. Perhaps, in a longer novel, I would do more to unearth each character’s backstory, but for now, all I have to do is create it behind the scenes and hint. It’s a pain to force myself to leave out perfectly good material, but it’s necessary. That, I think, is the difficulty of being a plotter; you create a world, you create characters and motivations, and you create an incredibly twisted plan for the villain— and the reader only sees the tip of the iceberg in all of it. Knowing what to leave out is as important as knowing what to put in. A pantser puts it all in, then has to either remove stuff or make it all work out. A plotter has to create more than they need, then carve it down into a workable form.
Moral of the story: side characters are important, but they don’t have to be in the spotlight. Show enough that people think you’ve done your homework, but not so much that they get bored, or more interested in that character than in the main character. (Also, if you have an army, you have a host of cardboard cutouts just waiting for miniature characterization. Make use of it instead of just calling everyone “soldier” or “officer”.)
Make jokes. Learn incomprehensibility. Create real people. I hope parts of this, or all of it combined, will help you in your writings. These ideas have certainly helped me recently, and I hope I’ll be able to continue learning about each. If you have anything to add, go for it. I don’t have anything more to say, so I’ll gladly listen to what you’ve got.