Characters Aren’t a Fling

Sherlock Holmes. Dracula. Gandalf. These–and many other–characters have outlived their creators.

Unlike their creators, these characters have no generation: people of all ages know them. Sometimes they even create an archetype (Gandalf leading the wizard archetype) or find themselves in modern settings (BBC’s recent Sherlock series) but only their original form can stand the test of time. Only their original form is immortal.

What makes a character immortal?

For one, the immortal character isn’t an archetype: it makes an archetype.

As readers, we love these characters because they’re different. They stand out. Perhaps it’s their voice. Perhaps it’s their quirky characteristics. Whatever the case, their authors have spent time getting to know them.

Gandalf, for example, was almost named Baldorthin. Holmes was nearly a Sherringford. But their authors didn’t let them stew in their names. Tolkien and Doyle took notes, wrote freewrites and pondered over their characters, leading in their decision to make a name change.

If people walk in on you writing a voice journal and don’t think you’re crazy, you aren’t doing it right.

While you will never be able to create a living person–let’s face it, authors aren’t God–hard work can help you create a peerless individual.

Characters aren’t a fling. They aren’t a one-night stand. Getting to know them takes time and hard work. It takes excessive free writes and multiple experiments.

Find that je ne sais quoi in your character.

Find it and make it a part of them.

Finding it may take a while, but how long is ‘a while’ when compared to ‘an eternity?’

God willing, of course!

 

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Hands Part 2

 

Perhaps more in this case than others a picture is worth a thousand words.

AJSHDJDDS HANDS.

As the summer draws to a close, I hold a single truth close to my heart. It’s a truth that I’ve had to fight hard for–yet one that’s been sitting right in front of me ever since I picked up my first comic book. Literature and conscious aren’t as disconnected as people like to believe they are. It’s impossible to immerse yourself in a series and leave it behind. Like it or not, what you read and watch affects your judgement near as much as “real-life” experience does.

But what does that have to do with hands? I’m getting there. Slowly.

Following shortly after this realization followed a horde of insight: I finally was able to pull apart the ideas and philosophies I had unintentionally gleaned from series I had grown up. One of the more surprising, however, was the dehumanization of people.

Humans are hardly ever in fiction anymore. Instead we fill the pages of comic books with goddesses and our video games with toy soldiers. Our men are muscular to an uncomfortable degree and our women–despite the advancements our society is supposed to have made–hardly ever wear appropriate clothing.

Batman gets a bullet-proof vest; Catwoman gets skin-tight clothes with a clear target area.
What is this nonsense.

 

A note on women really quick. I’m not advocating turtlenecks and pants that go all the way up to a girl’s neckline.

No.

But women get the sore end of the stick in almost every series ever. While the men are able to wear armour or sun-protectant clothing, women have somehow been tasked with being sex-objects in modern fiction–so they have to run around in clothes that are ill-suited for battle.

It’s almost as if writers today think boobs are bullet proof.

The sad thing is that most people don’t see anything wrong with this. Many of the woman in these series are otherwise strong and girls look up to that. They also are taught to value the romantic relationship and so this skimpy, ill-suited clothing becomes just another way to become that strong, successful women they want to be.

But you don’t need to show skin to be a successful woman, nor do you need to hook yourself a man. Not only that, but most of the women in our fiction have impossible shapes and figures. Very few girls could manage such a figure–and that’s after taking surgery into account.

Despite this, many women grow to hate themselves because they aren’t able to live up to this beauty standard.

And the men don’t get off much better.

Believe it or not, these men are both Chris Redfield from the Resident Evil Series. The first is the Chris I grew up with. His features are semi-ordinary. By anatomical standards, he would probably qualify as muscular but fairly natural, right?

The second I’m not so sure about. I’m fairly positive biceps don’t get that big. Just saying.

It seems like fiction is falling further and further away from natural anatomy, prefering to dabble in the realms of gods and goddesses rather than men and women.

I want to give natural human anatomy the spotlight in my drawings and work.

I want women to know they’re beautiful, I want men to know they’re handsome–even if their biceps aren’t the size of their head.

I want people to see the beauty in their natural form rather than praise shapes and figures that weren’t meant to exist.

And that’s fine and good–other than the fact that my drawing style is anything but realistic.

When I learned how to draw, it was with these small hipped women and hour-glass men. So I need to force my drawing style to improve.

But doing anything to improve is hard.

Not only do I need to observe real people and shapes, but I need to study anatomy. I need to analyze muscles and bones and how they move. I need to pay attention to wrinkles and hair and study when/where they are and are not prominent. I even need to keep gravity and weight in mind now.

It’s hard.

I almost cried today because I couldn’t draw a hand correctly.

A hand.

A simple little hand.

This is probably what keeps good people from becoming great: the need to improve. Good people know how to do their job decently, but great people are able to take visions and, despite pain, make them reality. It’s no wonder that great people are usually the only ones to change the world.

Going back to my old style, my old ways, would be easy. Comfortable. But to persevere,  to draw hands until my own feel as if they’ll fall off, that is the stuff that greatness is made of.

Venting has its Consequences

You know the scene. You’re more than familiar with it.

It’s a bright, crisp Monday morning and you’re walking into work. Sure you’re not ready for the day–you REALLY don’t want to be there–but you figure that you’ll make the best of things, that you’ll get through the day, go home and rest. But as you arrive at your station, a horrendous sight awaits you.

It’s the company sniveler and boy do they look seething today.

The moment you arrive at your station, they pounce on you with “I can’t believes” and “So and so is such a terrible persons.” They litter your ear with all the negative things about your workplace and about their home life.

There is no escape.

The moment you manage to fit a “I don’t want to talk about this with you, talk to so and so” in, they immediately counter with a “I’m just venting” and continue their attack with just as much fury.

No one likes a sniveler.

It’s okay to complain every once in a while–we are human, I suppose–but the problem comes when you complain about someone to another person or when you complain constantly. People, oddly enough, are attracted to optimistic people who can remain positive through the toughest ordeals.

Think about it.

Would you want to spend your Monday with someone who is going to complain about every single thing that happened (both today and over the weekend) or would you want to spend it with someone who grins at the challenge but otherwise talks with you in a way that lightens your load rather than throws more bricks on it?

The curious thing is that complaining can actually destroy a reputation. When you complain a lot, people begin to look down on you. They begin to think “THEN WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT” after everything that you tell them. People are no idiots. They know that if you’re talking bad about someone else to their face, there’s a chance that you’re talking bad about them too. Even if you aren’t, the fact that they think that can destroy your reputation quicker than the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.

Complaining doesn’t just alter other’s opinions about you, though, it also changes your judgement of the day you’re having. What one says and how one acts, researchers have found, actually dictates their feelings and judgements.

There have been experiments done where participants were forced to nod or shake their heads during an argument. Most of the people who nodded agreed with the person. Most who shook their head disagreed.

There have also been experiments where participants were forced to smile, laugh, frown or snarl–and with similar results. Those who acted happy became happy. Those who acted angry became angry.

“What upsets people,” Epictetus said around 1960 years ago, “is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.” (Handbook of Epictetus, 5)

In other words, venting doesn’t actually get rid of the anger–it solidifies it. Someone could have upset you unintentionally, but the moment you complain about it, their action becomes intentional to you and they become unreasonable in your judgement.

Venting is actually more harmful than it is helpful, with regards to both you and others.

Think about it.

Epictetus was a slave. He was beaten and dehumanized daily. If he’s able to live and let live, what possible excuse could you have otherwise?

The Problem with Piebaldery

The first problem is that I’m not 100% sure that “piebaldery” is a word. In fact, I’m almost certain it isn’t. But bear with me and overlook that for now. What I mean by “piebaldery” is the act of segregating “good” and “bad” in writing.

In other words, creating characters who are “good”, stand for what is “right” and never do anything “wrong” and pitting them against villains who have absolutely no values or beliefs but instead stand for something many people would have a hard time accepting. Something like meaningless bloodshed or power or destruction without a thought of construction.

Things like that.

Things where the black is so obviously black and the white is so obviously white.

You may be tempted to call this a morality play, but I’m not so sure I agree. In most of the successful morality plays I’ve read, the main character is actually tempted to do something wrong and they often do it. It is this act which royally screws them over in the end and lands them in an unfortunate situation.

Original faerie tales were like that too. (See stories written by the Brother’s Grimm.)

Currently, I’m unsure of where this style of writing came from or if using it could be beneficial in anyway. However, I am sure of one big gaping hole in its construction, however: adults, and sometimes even children, find this method of story-telling childish.

Let me give you an example.

My friend and I went to the Renaissance Faire last weekend. Like usual, we attended every single jousting event, out of our mutual respect for the recurring villain of the series, but, like usual, the plot was very piebald.

The “good knight” stood for truth, justice and chivalry.

The “bad knight” made snide comments and just wanted bloodshed.

The “good knight” stood for his people.

The “bad knight” just wanted blood shed.

The “good knight” earned his shield by saving an orphanage.

The “bad knight” earned his shield by burning it down.

That kind of thing.

From Pelican Pete
His caption: “The Evil Knight never wins in the end. That’s why he’s the villain.” Best ever.

The unfortunate thing is that often people react to this the opposite way you intend. Take my friend and I for example. We see a good guy who seems so upitty, so good by society’s standards that he’s not even human. We can’t relate to him.

But we can relate to the bad knight.

Sure he’s mistaken in his ideas–but so are we sometimes. Sure he loses the battle–but we often do too!

We look at this battle and remember all the times self-righteous people have pushed us around and spat on us. All the times we’ve lost to someone seemingly better.

And we root for the very knight you want us to despise.

Life isn’t perfect.

People aren’t perfect.

Dilemmas in life aren’t piebald.

The only thing you should make perfect in your story should be Jesus Christ–otherwise you are risking readers pulling away and/or joining hands with the very characters you want them to hate. Even many children’s stories understand this–and they’re some of the most successful stories to boot. Children aren’t as daft as some authors think they are.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wisely argues. Every character is capable of being a villain. Every character is capable of being a hero. The difference in how we classify them comes from what they choose to do with their potential.

To Be or Not to Be; What /does/ a writer truly do?

 

What does a writer actually do?

 

What is the difference between a writer who publishes thousands of cookie cutter books and is forgotten and a writer who publishes one book but is remembered forever because of it?

As a former roleplayer, I’m almost positive that the answer behind these has to do with the writer’s focus.

Every serious roleplayer dreads hearing the words “god-moder”, “Mary Sue” and “Anti-Sue”–among others, of course. If you’ve never picked up a D&D book or peeked into an online forum, you’re probably not familiar with these terms, so I’ll explain them quickly. Skip over the following section if you already know.

A God-moder is an incredibly annoying character to roleplay with. These characters can do everything and anything. They can use every weapon in human history, solve every riddle and they never ever lose. Ever. If you try to sneak a blow in on them in a duel, they always have an excuse for why your attack didn’t work.

“My character is 3/1500’s dragon so fire doesn’t hurt him. He’s also part elf, so he can move without you hearing him.”

“My character blocked your attack because he has super-reflexes.”

“Your character is a bad guy–he can’t hurt my character.”

Even more aggravating than the God-moder, if possible, is the Mary Sue, a character who has no flaws, can never lose, and is so amazingly beautiful that everyone loves her. Often, Mary Sues come about because the author admires a character or two and seeks their approval. Or just wants to be loved by people. Either way, the result is INCREDIBLY ANNOYING and roleplayers who can’t move past this step are often looked down upon.

Sometimes, roleplayers attempt to raise themselves from the Mary Sue stage by creating what’s known as the Anti-Sue–which can be worse since it doesn’t entirely make sense. Anti-Sues are characters who are horrifically flawed (maybe they’re ugly or poor or weak) but everyone still loves them. Even though these characters are flawed, they’re still annoying as they expect everyone to love them.

What makes a good writer, therefore, is not just writing or novel ideas or creativity, but the ability to observe life, pull insight from it and then present it in a way that wows others.

Readers love characters they can relate to or understand. Many readers also enjoy fishing philosophic themes from writing–even if they don’t do it consciously. Often, following the adventures of a perfect character who we want to be is boring. We need tension, danger, flaws, mistakes! We need improvement! We need insight!

We don’t need another world entirely, but an insight on the one we already have.

That’s not saying that writing focused on other worlds is worthless–this can often be more impactful than realistic fiction. Your new world, worlds or galaxies should have some tie back to our own, however.

The best fiction, the most memorable fiction, branches off from reality. It isn’t pure nonfiction that takes the prize, nor is it bleached imagination. Instead, it’s a mix of the two.

Observe life, therefore, and make it your own.