Good traits v. Bad traits

I’ve seen in circulation a list of character personality traits, that, on one side, lists strengths – what people typically consider “good” traits – and, on the other corresponding side, faults – what people typically consider “bad” traits. The interesting thing is realizing that these traits often represent the same personality quality. For example, “decisive” was on one side, but the characteristics also identified this trait as “single-minded.” “Commanding” was on one side, while “aggressive” was on the other. “Adaptable,” and “fickle.” You get the idea.

Independence is one of those traits we usually consider good in people. But, there are times when independence manifests as stubbornness. The trait itself remains the same; it’s how we deal with that trait that affects events in a story (or in our lives).

We’re all human; we all have strengths and faults. Sometimes, our strengths manifest as faults, and sometimes it’s the other way around.

Writing a bold (headstrong) yet sensitive (flighty) young woman in Fearless has made me realize all too clearly how character traits can be good, bad, and everything in between. This is especially true as she and the people around her have to deal with the conflicts that arise.

He’d thought her pretty from the start, but she was more than that. Vibrant, audacious, exciting, and adventuresome. Girlish and petulant, too, and huffy when she didn’t get her way. But, before her, he’d never thought there could be a woman so sweet and pure and brave as people had only ever been in make-believe stories.

Having the main character make these realizations has been a great joy for me, too. Because, as I look around at the people around me – even the ones I’m with every day – I’ve come to understand a bit better that everyone has multiple sides to them.

What character traits stand out to you, with your characters? Do you consider them strengths or faults?

On NaNo: “That is One Big Pile of S***”

Wednesdays in this blog’s schedule are reserved for fiction pieces…but National Novel Writing Month is all about writing fiction, so it sort of fits.

To those writers attempting NaNo, whether for the first or fifth time: we’re going to need dedication to the story, support from families and friends, and lots of caffeine, energy drinks, or whatever your wakey-wakey consumption of choice may be.

Photo by: Andreas Gronski, 2004 [from Wikimedia]

The inspiration for HG Wells’ time machine?

We must write, write, write some more to reach that goal of 50,000 words in thirty days. NaNo buddies will smile and cheer us on, and we’ll commiserate with and congratulate each other. It’s a bonding experience we won’t soon forget.

And all along the way, we’ll be writing one big pile of crap.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JFfN5pKzFU?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

You know what, though? That’s okay. Because all first drafts are crap. (Many second and third drafts are crap, too, but that’s a post for another day.)

NaNo is about helping us see we can meet a deadline, write to (or past) a wordcount, and – in many cases – realize we can, in fact, tell a story. Most likely not a great one by November 30…but one that may just grab us by the shirtsleeves and make us keep going, to dip down into further drafts and deeper edits, and make a better story, one worth sharing with the world.

Or, maybe not. Maybe we’ll be satisfied with what we cranked out in those thirty days, and we’ll be inspired from there to take on another project, knowing now that we can do it. That’s okay, too.

So, let’s grab our pens and get comfortable behind our keyboards. We’ve got writing to do!

Are you participating in NaNo this year? Want to buddy up?

100-Word Challenge: “Let Go” [Fearless]

100 Word Challenge for Grown-UpsI’m returning to Julia’s 100-Word Challenge for Grown-Ups this week, where the prompt is:
“…it can’t be that time…”
For those of you unfamiliar with this challenge, we’re to write a 100-word story using Julia’s prompt (in this particular case, we’re allowed to go to 105 words, since we have to incorporate the specific prompt phrase). Here’s mine:

“Let Go”

Tears came, despite her willing, and a rough scratching stifled the words from her throat:

“It can’t be that time,” she told him, as her hand hovered above the faint stubble of his cheek. How round it used to be, how full, when tickled laughter had been his only language. No longer, though: his face had grown so long, so narrow, like the rest of him, the very reflection of his father long past.

Now, she had to let him go, too.

She sniffed. “I’m not ready to say goodbye!”

A quiet sigh escaped him. Then, he chuckled. “Mum, I’m going to miss the bus…!”

I recently read a post over at Itsjennythewren’s blog about researching publishers. One point Jenny mentioned was that each character should “feel like they are the main focus in the book.” I have quite a few characters to deal with, so I don’t know how successful I’ve done at that bit. But, I do like thinking about each character’s life, no matter how little page time that character might get. Hopefully, this little vignette – about Maggie, Ross’s mum – manages her perspective successfully.

What did time take away from your characters, this week?

Realism v. Drama

Part of what makes stories so much fun is the drama involved: Will the hero conquer the villain? Will the princess find her true love? Will the puppy make its way home? But, what happens when we find our characters strive more for realism than for drama?

Every story needs some kind of emotional resonance for it to have impact, whether it’s about war or heartbreak or family experience. Sometimes, though, our characters become so much their own people that they end up dictating where their own stories go. I’ve written scenes – necessary ones – for their dramatic effect…but I’ve also had to rewrite other scenes because the characters’ voices had developed so much since my initial plotting that their actions (or reactions) as I’d originally envisioned simply no longer held true to their natures.

What do you do in this situation? Do you let the character take over, possibly sacrificing the drama of the scene? Or, do you follow through with the original idea, possibly sacrificing believability for the character?

It’s okay to play Loosey Goosey in some instances: maybe the hero isn’t in his right mind at the moment and makes a snap judgment against character; maybe the heroine is torn by the conflict facing her and decides on one route over another because her values are confused. Written well, with the associating consequences, those options are totally valid. But, what do you do when your original big conflict becomes significantly less climactic than originally envisioned, because your darned MC has grown up too much over the course of the story?

I’m a big fan of sweeping epics, and last-minute, nerve-wracking climaxes where the audience is led to page after page to see what happens next. But I also believe in, well, believability in a story. The hero shouldn’t overcome the conflict just because the story needs a climax; he should do so because that’s what he has to do, to progress, grow, and change. It may make for less high drama, but it may also make for more realism.

But that’s just my opinion. Which do you prefer: realism or drama?

Living in an Immaterial World

I’m back from Japan, where I had a lovely time with both my intimate and my extended family. We ate, drank, walked the touristy route I always walk whenever I visit (the mountain trails at Arashiyama; the shopping maze at Kawaramachi dori; the delectable tempura at Yoshikawa Inn), as well as our usual visits to friends in Tsu (where, this year, we saw the Ama divers at Toba) and Sanda (where we always get treated to the most scrumptious home barbecue). While I did all this, though, in the back of my mind, I was still thinking about the men and women of Fearless.

The story takes place mostly in the fictional village of Harbram, based loosely on lovely Porthtowan, along the north Cornwall coast, where I have extended family on the other side. It’s more than a stone’s throw from Kyoto, of course, but the principles of writing it are the same ones I took for writing characters in Japan.

The cliffs at Porthtowan, inspiration for Harbram

First, there’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in the culture of your characters, especially your main character. Not everyone can indulge in a two-week vacation in their MC’s culture or experience it firsthand, but there are ways around that. Read up on your subject: history, lifestyle, idiosyncrasies; the Internet is a bountiful and endless source of information about this sort of thing (also many times erroneous, so do be certain to double-check your resources). Talk to people who live the lives of your characters, in experience, background, even outlook. With so much programming out there, it’s likely you can even find some television shows or movies about your subject! (Be mindful of artistic license with this one, though.)

All this is to say, you don’t have to rely solely on your imagination to create the world in which your characters live. Many times, you shouldn’t rely only on your own brain, because you will probably be missing out on a lot of important facts or details that can end up making or breaking your story. (I cringe every time I read a story set in Japan where characters do not take off their shoes before entering the house!)

There’s a lot of information available at your fingertips. Use it to build a full, lush, beautiful world in which your characters will play, dream, cry, and live.

Porthtowan’s Mount Hawke footpath, the inspiration for my Crow’s Point path.

What techniques do you use to create your characters’ world?