Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Character Development Tip – Giving Your Character Warts

Compelling plots pull readers into a book, but what most pulls me into a book and makes me want to stay, is a compelling character, one I come to care about – a character I can really believe in. I love the kinds of stories where the character’s actions and reactions ring completely true, so that you don’t feel the intrusion of an authorial hand thrusting the character in a plot direction that doesn’t ring right, that doesn’t silence the questions at the back of your mind – the questions like, Huh? Why’d she/he do that when he/she could’ve done...etc.

Part of fleshing out your character, making her/him compelling and whole is giving your character warts. Yeah, hair and all. Metaphorically speaking, not literally. Outside of fairy tales and formulaic books, you don’t really encounter characters without flaws.

Do you know anyone without a flaw?

Why should your character then, even if she/he is sympathetic, be without flaws? Without contradictions?

The flaws, of course, have to be convincing. Here’s a tip: the things we don’t like about people are often at the opposite end of the spectrum of what we do like about them. Weaknesses appear at one end of a continuum, at the opposite end of which are strengths. For example, someone who’s generous, may well want appreciation for that generosity, or resent lack of generosity in others, which, in a curious way, are ungenerous attributes.

Another example: a character who is committed and dedicated to a cause can also be stubborn and mule-headed in that very pursuit. My heroine Calantha, is one such case in my fantasy novel, THE SOWER OF TALES. Her passion for the story pods makes her ruthless in her disregard for those who don’t value them, makes her at times insensitive to all that’s peripheral to her cause. She is sensitive and empathetic about the story pods, but not always to the people around her who aren’t as invested in the story pods as she is.

So give your characters warts – more than one. Give them several. But make those warts believable. Make them such that they grow out of their strengths, that they sprout hairs naturally.

Giving your character warts makes them human, and it is that humanity that makes us, as readers, care about them. Because then they aren’t so different from us – they’re flawed, just like we are.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book Recommendation – And Finding Your Character’s VOICE

I recently finished reading Jessica Grant's wonderful novel, COME, THOU TORTOISE. I can’t remember the last time a book delighted me as much as this one, and made me laugh so much, even while it touched my heart and explored layers of thoughts/ideas on the wider scope of life. I won’t go into a detailed review of this book, but one of the things that I admired and appreciated so much about this book is the voice.

Voice. Some writers refer to voice as the voice of the writer – they speak of the need for each writer to find his or her own voice. I prefer to look at voice as the need to find your character’s voice.

I have written many books in the first person, precisely because it presents challenges, and offers opportunities, to explore and fine tune voice, the voice of your character. When you write in the first person, if you do it well, you have to crawl inside the head and heart and soul of your character, and if you are to be successful – as Jessica Grant is, in COME, THOU TORTOISE – you will create a voice that is unique and completely convincing.

Grant has created a wonderful, quirky (okay, so that is becoming a cliched term, but I mean it here in the best way possible) and completely genuine and compelling heroine in her main character, Audrey (a.k.a. Oddly) Flowers. From the start of the book, you are pulled into the viewpoint and world of Oddly, and you rejoice with her, laugh with her, grieve with her and see the world through her eyes. Oh, and you wonder with her.

I highly recommend this book – for the sheer joy of reading an accomplished and delightful book, but also for those wanting to explore concepts of voice. Read it to see how you create the voice of a character and do it superbly.

COME, THOU TORTOISE won well-deserved accolades as well as the Amazon First Novel Award. I look forward to reading Grant’s next book.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On the Shore of the Wide World -- Book Recommendations

I love the kind of book that pulls me in, that creates such a compelling atmosphere that I buy into it completely. So completely that I have to blink, dazed and disoriented when I lift my eyes from the pages and return to my world. Enchantment. Books like these inspire and nourish, the ideas burble away in your subconscious and inform and fertilize your own simmering ideas. Good writing does that.

I've always loved beaches -- especially the beaches of PEI. There is a clarity, an openness that allows you to dream. And dreaming is essential to simmering and shaping stories. One of my favourite poems is Keats' WHEN I HAVE FEARS, especially the last three lines:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
.... -- then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

The shore, that place linking land and sea, on the brink of openness, of oblivion -- where the clarity of the sky meets the dancing of the seas and the solid comfort of the earth -- is for me inspiring, cleansing and uplifting.

So it's perhaps no surprise that Helen Dunmore's wonderful book INGO, and its sequels, enchanted and delighted me. I won't go into a detailed review --I don't believe in spoilers, and besides, anyone inspired to read these books will want to form their own personal relationship with the stories. Briefly, a fantasy novel set in the Cornish coast of England, INGO speaks to and of the aching pull of the sea and creates a compelling world, the world of Ingo, the world beneath the seas. Characters, including Mer folk, are full blown and fascinating, but it is place -- the ocean -- that swells and sings. I loved the book and promptly went out to buy the rest of the books in the series -- all as fascinating as the first. THE TIDE KNOT continues the story, followed by THE DEEP and THE CROSSING OF INGO.

During the hot lazy days of summer, these books are perfect to read on the shore of the wide world, with the hush and roar of the sea in your ears. Books to set your imagination a-stir.