the “secret” to good characters
I recently read a blog post about how the secrets that a characters keep makes the story much better. I began thinking about it because my first reaction was that none of m characters have any good secrets. However, I found myself proven wrong.
I realized this when I began looking at my arranged marriage plot. In the first plot, the guy looked interesting to write for, because he has the secret of his deformity. The maid would be interesting to write for, because she has her secret love and the possibility of of a child from an earlier marriage. (i’ve been toying with that idea too.) But the girl who marries him at first doesn’t have anything fun because she doesn’t have anything she’s keeping from anyone else.
Which brought me to my second plot, which involved the guy keeping the secret from his family and the girl about his disability and the girl keeping it from him about her love of his brother. (I’m trying to work on a big bang ending for that one, by the way. I think it might be interesting.)
But it isn’t just this new story that I discovered the secret thing about. In Hope, I had the whole secret that the reader didn’t know about who Hope was and who Ka’yam was, which ends up being told in due time.
Giant’s Wife had them both keeping the language from each other, and Heddwyn keeping his past from her, more or less.
Dragon Slayers has an interesting one involve Justin which I shall not tell you yet. (I promise I will edit that soon and post it.)
Kontyo had the secret, although unknown to him, that he couldn’t go back home.
In fact, when I look at it, almost all good plots focus around a bunch of very well crafted secrets while having a bunch of very interesting characters.
However, that isn’t the whole entire part of how to do it properly. The secrets can’t be told all at once in the beginning. The secrets want to be stretched across a series of chapters, preferably the whole length of the book. I don’t think the end of Hope would have been as interesting as it was if I didn’t have the reader find out the Ka’yams real background nor do I think it would have worked if the reader didn’t find out about Hope where the reader did.
Part of it does take skill figuring out where to tell the plot and where not to. Part of I think just will flow out when it should. Sometimes, I find, if it is a really big secret, I’ll have it planned out long before I write the scene. It’s exciting, both to me as a writer and hopefully to the reader.
So, when it comes down to it, the secret of having awesome characters that you want to write for is that they have secrets themselves. Sometimes, you’ll find the characters keep the secrets even from you too.
villains and antagonists
When I first began writing for real, I wrote a story called Hope. Originally, in the story, these aliens invaded earth, basically enslaved the people in the sense that they had to pay really high taxes and if they did anything wrong, they disappeared or are killed. Earth became very much of a farming community again with each community self supportive. Hope gets mixed up in a revolution between the humans and the aliens and much of it is about how that revolution starts and ends.
I posted this on an online writers group, because they said let’s post our current stories, and I got an interesting comment back. Don’t make the aliens faceless.
See, it’s really easy for aliens to walk around with much personality, evil little green creatures who are determined to bring down the doom and destruction of humans to Earth. But it is much better to know why the aliens function as they do. Why did they invade earth anyway and why do they think that they have the right to enslave humans?
Because of these comments, I created a character called Ka’yam. Ka’yam was one of the aliens who actually lived on EArth. For the reader, she was the eyes and ears of the other side, without using her to annoying build up the tension. She was awesome and easily become one of my more favorite characters in the story.
This advice that I was given years ago has been my guideline for villains since then. When I began writing something that would involve the villain taking over the government, I needed a reason why he wanted to do it and what he hoped to accomplish. He wasn’t just after it for the power or would handle things like the evil overlord list; it had be something more.
I think that this is something that a new writer needs to keep in mind. It is easy to make the villains faceless but we have a much better story if we don’t slip into the easy place of not knowing our antagonist.
The common characters that one thinks about when beginning to write are easy. We have friends and siblings and strangers and work partners. However, one character that I suspect to frequently be overlooked are parents. The question is why.
I doubt it’s based on how much your parents play a role in your life, because I have a really good relationship with my mom (not wonderful with my dad) and I hardly mention moms. In one story I was going to write, (changed my mind) it was actually the dad who she had just lost within the last six months, the mom having been dead for ten years or so.
I actually realized that none of my stories ever have major parent characters involved. in Hope (which I haven’t talked about a lot but that’s my first novel.) her mom died before the story began. In Shad, he was an orphan with unknown parents. (Father figure, yes, but no actual parents). In Kontyo, his father was never actually seen, only mentioned. In Dragon Slayers, parents are dead. In Giant’s Wife, his parents are dead and hers she has seen for three years.
So, apparently, I jut decide to kill characters parents just because.
I actually think it’s because they either aren’t an important part to the story or their death actually moves the story along. In the story that I mentioned earlier, her dad was suspected to be killed by a drunk driver but was actually assassinated. (Really important when she starts working for the guy who had him killed.) In Hope, her mom’s death was actually her fault, which she finds out later. In Giant’s Wife, his family being dead is what caused him the join the army. (Although I did give him a sister.)
Which brings me to the next point. WHy is it that siblings are okay but parents aren’t? With the exception of Shad who we really don’t know where he came from, every single one of my characters had a close relationship with a sibling. Hope always wanted to see her brother Dave again. Kontyo worked closely with Felix. Heddwyn is close with Eva and tells her some things. Dragon Slayers, Colton is practically raising Natlie.
Now this isn’t that surprising. I get along with most my siblings very well (when they aren’t being thickheaded and spockish). I think that brother/sister relationships can be some of the best in the world.
But why siblings and not parents? What makes parents so invisible? Is it just that I don’t know how to write forty and fifty year olds so I avoid it? But I do, because all I would need to do is write something like how my mom and I interact. Yes, people might not fully believe it, since we act like friends oftentimes, but that is still might be better than nothing.
I do not have an answer to this. I’m also thinking that I haven’t read too many books where the parents play a major role either, which makes me wonder about that as well. Anyone else notice such a problem?
family and writing don’t mix
I started officially writing on February 14th, 2003. I know that because we were traveling to Springfield for Valentines day, I wanted something to do in the car, so I took the computer and wrote my first sentence. After that, I just kept writing.
I don’t remember how my brother, Oliver, began reading my stories. He was eleven; I was fourteen, but I would write them and he would read them. I must have realized that I wanted to get better, because I would end by wanting feedback so badly at the end, and he would never be able to give me much.
Then began the writing contest at the library that August and soon afterwards I started one of my longest projects, along with role playing. Over the next four years, I worked on a story called Hope (I actually rewrote Hope once, because it started out so poorly and with no character.), role played with my friend and wrote ETOLT. This is when I learned a lot about characters.
But, because it took me practically four years to write Hope, Oliver grew up, I grew up, and I didn’t want Oliver to read the story, nor did he want to read them.
But Elianna did. (My sister.) She wanted to read Hope, and as soon as I printed it out and said that she could read it, she read it. I gave her my old, old stories I wrote when I was fourteen and she read those too. She even liked to read the short stories I wrote for the writing contest while I was writing them.
Elianna is, or maybe was, my plotting buddy. No, she couldn’t give me a lot of ideas but she let me tell her my ideas. She knows almost most my stories because I tell her them all before she reads them. (It doesn’t help when I want to know what does she think of X’s surprise, but… ). She jokes that when I get a book published, I need to dedicate it to her.
No one else in my family though really seemed to care that much. My mom ( who is bad with names) never could seem to follow my stories. Moreover, she’s a slow reader, so reading a book of mine would take her months. My other brother hates reading. My dad… I don’t know, I just don’t like the idea of him reading anything. And Oliver became too critical for me to want him to read anything, even if I thought he did. (It’s easier to have a stranger read it.)
The problem is I don’t know what to think of my sister anymore. Part of the reason that we could plot together is because we went to bed at the same time. However, we rarely do that now, myself going to bed an hour later than her. Also, it isn’t fair that when we talk, it’s me who does all the talking. So when it comes down to it, we don’t have much of a chance to talk anymore.
Besides that, I’ve finished a bunch of things but she wants me to print it out for her and then maybe she’ll get around to reading it. I had Shad printed for five or six months before she decided to read it. (She then read it in 3 days, and I think she liked it a lot.) When I asked her if she wanted me to print something for her to read, she changed the topic and didn’t really say anything.
I understand that she might be outgrowing the desire to look up to her big sister all the time. (Which, for those who are younger, is very scary.) But I wish that if she didn’t want to read it, she would just say, “Abigail, I don’t want to read your story.” I think she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings but it’s harder when she doesn’t say it flat out than to have her beat around the bush and pretend she wants to. (With this particular incident, I mentioned something to my mom and she said to print it and she’ll read it. Hasn’t yet but someday.)
I write because I like to write. I write because I have hundreds and hundreds of stories popping into my head constantly and I need to get them out. I write for others to read. If I could have some of my books published and not gain a penny from it, right now I think I would be happy with that. I just want people to read what I wrote and enjoy it. (That enjoying part is the key here. :) ) But I don’t have any friends to read what I wrote. I don’t have any much in my family who want to read it (including my sister). But I do wish that people would read it, enjoy, and then tell me what I do wrong so I can get better.
I swore off love stories. Not reading them, because to swear them off I suppose I have to read one first. But I swore off writing them.
This happened a long time ago when I discovered how much I failed at setting up two characters to fall in love in Hope. It didn’t work, not well enough to be convincing. So when I wrote Shad, I determined that I would never have two characters get close enough to be engaged. I might elude to the fact, but I could not write a decent story with the characters actually in love.
Why not? Well, I suppose it goes back to the fact that not only have I never been close to being in love, I’ve never been on a date. I’ve never even be asked on a date. I don’t know how romance works, (excluding those annoying people who constantly post on facebook about how they love [girlfriend/boyfriend] and how they can’t live without [girlfriend/boyfriend], or how they are so mad at [girlfriend/boyfriend].)
Now, I might be able to get enough of an idea about a good many topics with a combination of reading, watching TV, and imagining. But I don’t even want to risk imagining what it would be like to fall in love.
I broke that with Giant’s Wife. I just wrote Giant’s Wife off of a dream and never really expected much of anything to come out of it. After editing it, I realized that I had to, most certainly, swear off love stories forever, or, at least until I’m married. I just don’t know anything.
In a way, it’s hard, because I role played with a friend for five years and oftentimes, we did create love stories. Some of our favorite stories together involved setting up the most unlikely people. (I actually think Giant’s Wife would have been an awesome one for us to role play together.) So even now, I think occasionally that, “Maybe so-and-so should like so-and-so.” and I stop myself really quick because I will not go that far.
I broke that rule today. I just wrote something random and spontaneous just because I wanted to. It’s only about five pages. But I suppose eventually, we have to break our own rules. I just won’t do it for something larger.
I find myself writing a lot with male characters. I’m not sure why. Maybe in part because I do think that men are more superior in some areas, namely, the areas that I write. I don’t not have female characters; I just do a lot with male characters.
(Just to give you an idea: in Hope–Senior, and Richard. Female–Hope and maybe Agatha and Lisa. In Shad–Shad, Kontyo, plus a number of minor male characters such as Vaul, Emin, and Dr. P.. Female, Aurora and Kayla. In codename mindskill–Isaiah, Miles, Karl, Lucas, Eric. Female, VAnessa and Jessica. In Kontyo–I think I’m going to only have one brief appearance by a female. Giant’s Wife–Heddwyn and Pauldor (although I do have Jacey and Eva to offset them.))
I guess part of me figures that so long as I stay away from love stories (which I’m not doing with Eric), I should be fine with writing male characters. I think I view female and males as basically the same. Which I find strange because I was reading that Woolf found there to be very little difference between male and females.
I don’t know. But I do find this fact that I write male characters so often slightly disturbing, because maybe there is more that I don’t know about.