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Story Weaving on Steroids: Real People Create Real Characters

22 Oct

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Using real people to make real characters.

A question authors are often asked is “are your characters based on people you know?” most of the time the author will answer no, but let’s be honest the answer is probably yes, because if there is one thing authors are good at it’s cheating at writing.

Basing characters off real people is cheating, and it’s also genius!

Using a real person as a base for a character much like you would use white as a base for paint leads to amazing things. How so? After all, real people generally don’t have lives that are spicy enough for fiction.

Well, take a person I know. Let’s call him “John”

John’s older now, but his whole life while living in the mid-west he struggled with a drinking addiction. He’s been divorced once, and had two kids with the woman, but he has now remarried and his kids grew up with his new wife and their mother. After his remarriage he found help with his addiction and now lives happily.

Okay, that’s all well and fine, but there is no plot to John’s life. You can’t just write THAT story. But you CAN write one with someone like him. Now comes the imaginative part.

Change John’s life. Make it more tragic, more weird, or more adventurous.

For instance lets pull John out of the mid-west and stick him in England. He’s a young 23-year-old drunken Englishman in (instead of the late 1980’s) (the early 1900’s )lets say 1910. His wife didn’t leave him because of his drinking, he killed her in a fit of rage during one of his many drunken bouts. Now he can’t stand the sight of blonde women. He placed his young daughter (instead of daughters) into an orphanage to cover up the murder. He dumped his wife’s body in the river and now slogs about the bar near the river’s bridge often looking out at the water pondering suicide, until…. he meets an extraordinary woman who….

Who what?

From there you take the story where ever it may please to go.

But, just from that paragraph you have an excellent idea about who your MC is. Granted, we embellished John’s life almost to the point of  being in-recognizable, but John is still real and still very much there, and that is what makes the character seem real!

I am totally in favor of stealing people’s lives for novels. Are you?

Bitterblue Review by Kirstin Cashore

14 Oct

I just finished Bitterblue by Kirstin Cashore only five minutes ago (quite literally) and felt an overwhelming need to blog about it, and so here I am. I haven’t read a book in a good long while that compelled me the way Bitterblue did. Evidence being the fact that my last book review was posted in February… dear lord February! I didn’t realize it was that long!

NOTE: This review contains no to very minor spoilers.

Anyway, to begin this book review:

Bitterblue is the third book published by Kirstin Cashore and serves as the sequel to her first novel Graceling and a companion to her second novel Fire (confusing in text, but once you read it you understand). I’ve been following this ‘series’ if you can call it that since it came out, and absolutely ADORED it. Fire, in fact is one of my favorite novels of all time (despite what others may say) and when I found out that Bitterblue was hitting the shelves i was ecstatic!

That means it had a lot to live up to. To summarize without spoilers, Bitterblue is about Queen Bitterblue who we originally meet in Graceling as a little girl. The novel is about her reign as an emerging Queen and patching up the deranged mess her Graceling tyrant of a father left behind (Leck, who is the antagonist in both Graceling, and Fire, and whose conflicts survive even after his death into Bitterblue which is set after both Graceling in Fire{chronologically they fall: FIRE, GRACELING, BITTER BLUE. Despite their publication date of GRACELING, FIRE, BITTERBLUE})

As you can see Cashore constructs a rather confusing time line. Regardless, I found Bitterblue absolutely astounding! (but for entirely different reasons than Graceling or Fire). Both Graceling and Fire are books with a lot of political crime, adventure, and romance (Graceling most heavily romantic, followed by Fire, and Bitterblue coming last). As many of you know Cashore takes very new aged stances on romantic relationships with her almost clear opposition to marriage and a rather loose view of sexuality, while Bitterblue contained some of this it was much lighter than in Fire and Graceling.

Most of Bitterblue’s plot centered around the disturbing puzzles and qualms that Bitterblue uncovers about Leck. This book showcases the fact that the entire series really centers around Leck (and understanding his past and present). A lot of the material was rather dark, and thankfully (or perhaps unforgivingly) uncluttered with the distraction of a graced/non-human narrator or the heavy romance that was present in both of its predecessors.

And the fact that Bitterblue was 100% human made this novel that much more chilling. Bitterblue is surrounded by things and people she can’t even begin to understand, least of all her deceased, graced, and mad father Leck. Everywhere she looks she sees his influence and the influence of those who were merely pawns on his board of players. Things in her castle are confusing enough without having to deal with her top adviser’s nervous break downs at the mere mention of Leck. This leaves Bitterblue at a loss for information on what happened to her kingdom, and thus how to fix it, so she decides to take control and leaves her castle one night to head out into the city, and discover it’s secrets.

Instead she makes a run in with a graced thief and a far too trusting printer who show, unknown to them, the Queen around her own city that is in shambles and still under Leck’s deadly influence. Bitterblue discovers many secrets with the help of the thieving and irresistible Saf (AKA Sapphire) and the generous printer Teddy.

Bitterblue and Sapphire’s romance is very slow burning, and at a lot of points in the novel I almost forgot about them, not because it wasn’t a good romance I was just so enveloped in the madness that surrounds Bitterblue in her castle: suicides, drunks, murderers all of them trying to forget Leck and convince Bitterblue of their rightness is covering up the past. There were so many plot twists in this novel that I struggled to come up for air even after setting the book down.A depressing sadness and eerie curiosity will keep you turning the pages. After reading the first two books really getting a look at Leck’s madness (and at his true dealings with his subjects) was both bone-chilling and fascinating.

And that’s why I truly can’t compare this book with Fire or Graceling. They are simply TOO different. Graceling was about love , Fire was about strength, and Bitterblue is about Healing and how love and strength play into it. That honestly makes it the perfect sequel/companion to Graceling and Fire. There was so much more to Bitterblue than in Fire and Graceling. It was this giant mass of secrets and politics, and fear that wasn’t in Graceling and Fire. Maybe, as I said before, because Bitterblue is not graced and is human. She has nothing but her title and that leaves her so much more vulnerable than Katsa (who is the MC of Graceling and is graced with survival) and Fire (who is a ‘Monster’ and has countless abilities and is obviously the MC of Fire). Had Bitterblue been anything but human I feel like the novel would of lost a lot of it’s impact.

Over all Bitterblue was a very weighty novel and is a nice wrap up to Graceling’s tale and a good compliment to Fire; that left us with more questions than answers about Leck.

*next paragraph contains mild spoilers*

Bitterblue has a lot of answers, but none of them really tell us the one thing that we’ve all asked through out the series: why is Leck so deeply demented? And the true beauty of Bitterblue is that we know what he’s done. We know nearly all of it, but we must figure out for ourselves why he’s done it. Or if there is any reason at all. Just as Bitterblue must. So, we the human readers really become Bitterblue, observing these strange creatures from a distance and never really understanding the madness that compelled Leck.

*end mild spoilers*

The fact that I feel the need to read this book again to fully understand it compels me to give it 4 1/2 stars if only to be able to come back and give it 5 when I read it again and absorb it fully.

I hope you all enjoyed the review! Sorry it was so long, but the book was a hefty 5oo pages and gave me a lot to say!

 

My First True Love(s)

25 Sep

From the time I was little I was in love with stories. Movies, plays, books anything that wasn’t kindergarten napping and hopscotch I was into. I desperately wanted something exciting to happen to me, something that happened to characters in books. I wanted to sprout wings, or find out I was a missing princess like Anastasia.

Naturally then, I had my favorite stories, and my favorite characters. I had particularly bad little girl crushes on Peter Pan and Dickon from The Secret Garden.

To This day I’m not sure what the appeal of these two were as compared to the princes of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Maybe it was the fact that Peter Pan was utterly wild and incredulous, while the Princes of Disney had little else but their title.

Oh Golly! If you don’t find this adorable you’re on crack!

Peter Pan always held a special place in my heart. He was unruly and lets not forget musical (pan pipes). Not to mention an excellent leader (he could rally 12 boys under the age of 13 and that’s a tough job for anyone). Besides that he was an extraordinary fighter (beating up a  pirate 3 times his age and half his wit). And boy was he witty. Even at 7 years old I  couldn’t help but falling in love with people’s wit and Peter Pan’s was no exception.

Then there was the fact that he was utterly magically, and could freakin’ fly! If that wasn’t reason enough to want to marry him then i don’t know what is. So there is my explanation for being in love with Peter Pan. Makes sense.

Then there was Dickon. Oh Dickon, sweet, adorable, animal charmer Dickon! That should be enough to make any girl swoon right there. Let’s not even MENTION the fact that he has an accent (an adorable little scots-irishaccent)! Plus he’s all in love with animals and the wind in his hair and stuff like that and as a little suburbs

It’s like The Notebook for 10 year olds! 😀 *I’m squealing on the inside*

girl I wanted so badly to run out on the ‘Moore’ with him. Plus, he could tame a WILD PONY. Every little girl wants a pony and if a boy could tame a wild pony and give it to me I’m pretty dang sure I would marry him to this day. Nuff said.

Oh and on top of that he would Push Mary on the swing in the garden and that was just too cute! He was a perfect little gentleman, which is the complete opposite of Peter. Who in retrospect was a total player who flirted with Mermaids, and probably joked around with Wendy way too much. He will just never grow up. So immature (haha)!

What do my fictious love interests have to do with writing.

Well, just recently I realized that right there (those two characters) are excellent examples of how to make love interests interesting. They (even as children) had the makings of great men. And so I will now got pat myself on the back for discovering that I have great taste in fictitious boys. Their characters would be excellent models to form an MC or a secondary character with! Now, don’t you feel like you learned something?

Did anyone else have kiddie crushes?

Sorry this post is late… Microsoft is lame and windows live didn’t post it for me! UGH! Technology 😦

My Feelings about Matched by Allie Condie

13 Sep

Post: 3/17

So Yesterday I wrote a post about books people love that I hate/hate that  I love. In that post I brought up the book Matched by Allie Condie, who you probably know got rave reviews and bunches of hype for her Matched series. I hated it and said as much. One of my readers asked why and I began to respond in a comment and then realized that it was much too long, and so you get what you see here today.

Where to begin with this…

I’m sorry, if you loved this book because I’m going to have to rip it to shreds right now. I apologize in advance.

To start off, the whole book just ticked me off because I love Lowis Lowry to death. I have read The Giver six times and it’s amazing and she’s amazing and… yeah. You get it right? So when I read Matched I wanted to go club whoever let it out of the slush pile because I saw so much of the work being dead on The Giver. It’s a society where your job/mate is choosen for you, the fact that you have to take ‘pills’ to suppress your natural emotions and sedate your brain. Anything half way decent in that book was ripped right out of the giver and then basted in Condie’s particular brand of bland.

Besides this ,Condie decided to spice things up with a little forbidden reading/books (*ehm* also from The Giver). The MC’s only redeeming quality is that she likes poetry but the reasons behind this rebellious behavior are hidden in the soup of Allie Condie’s pacing. For some reason she throws in Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” and okay I guess I get it (its a dystopian, the poems about not submitting to authority), but… just WHY? WHY! Why did you throw a piece of (really overused in the first place) literature. It was like throwing a pretty dress in the mud because you thought it’d make the mud look better. All you’re doing is ruining the dress.

On the same note with the fact that the poetry is completely irrelevant since we have no reason other than the MC’s grandfather’s death*(if i remember correctly) for her to like it  we equally have no reason for her to like Ky over Xander. It made less than zero sense to me! The only reason she starts to like Ky anyway is because the ‘society’ has a glitch in her Match card (that tells her about her match) and so it totally defeats the purpose of her rebelling since the idea came from the society in the first place! Besides that, why would Ky’s information even have been in the same pool to match with her if he was a lowly worker? It doesn’t make sense. There’s no way that the computer/matchers (or whoever matches people ,I forget how it happens) would have those two sets of data in the same place. So, yeah, GAPING PLOT HOLE!

Then when Ky and the MC do get together I just found the romance so BLAH. I didn’t really like Ky in the first place. Xander was obviously a better choice. Neither of them had much personality, but at least Xander was kind of happy go lucky! Then Ky is banished or sent away and the MC is all: boo hoo! Then the Peace keepers (or whoever the law enforcers are) come in and are like, “take these pills now!” and so she hides her pill and doesn’t take it. OOOOHHHHH rebellion! Not really, keep reciting your poetry dear.

Anyway I just really hated it and it made me beat my head against my desk and cry wondering how she got a million dollar contract for THAT.

Now, for those of you who loved the book, feel free to yell at me and tell me why I am wrong! I love a good debate 🙂

*The euthanization of old people, yeah, that’s from The Giver too. Just saying.

Make Me Sway: Emotion on Rails

9 Aug

I think we’ve all heard it. That one piece of music, something about just gets you. A line, a melody, the ache in a singers voice. At some point or another you will find yourself swayed by the power of a song. Your body will automatically initiate a reaction. Swaying, tapping your foot, smiling, and on occasion crying.

Just like music books should sway a readers emotion. SOMETHING about the book needs to be powerful enough to intiate a physical reaction. Who hasn’t found themself laughing, sighing, kicking your feet impatiently, or crying on account of a book? Today I’d like to talk about a scene that caught me off guard and why it’s the perfect example of how to infuse emotion into a scene so deeply that your readers find themselves swaying to your current.

I’m going to be looking at the first chapter of Beth Revis’ novel Across the universe. So no spoilers! Though I do reccommend that you read the first chapter for free HERE to get the most out of his post.

Anyway if you read that or have read the book you know that the first chapter consists of Amy (the MC) getting ready to be chronologically frozen and put onto GODSPEED the spaceship with her parents. And I’m not going to lie to you I started having a minor panic attack during the FIRST CHAPTER! I actually cried a little bit, and this deeply disturbed and stunned me at once. I couldn’t understand why I had been so moved and upset without any back story. After-all, how could I possibly care enough to be crying when I’d only met Amy something like 10 pages ago?

It didn’t make sense. So I read it again. And again… and one for time just to make sure I knew what I was talking about.

And that’s when the light bulb went on.

All my writing life I’ve been told that creating emotional investment in a novel is entirely dependent upon characters. you must make characters we care about, they say. You must make them relate-able, that’s the key!

But reading this scene I realized that characters are just the train on the tracks of making emotional connection. Sure thats the part everyone pays attention to but what about the tracks themselves? The stop lights and stations?

And Beth Revis puts the tracks to the test in this first chapter.

Let me explain.The ‘tracks’ are our basic human fears and feelings. This whole chapter is so full of them that I could just

The rails are deeply grounded in all of us

choke and vomit and they all wouldn’t be able to come up at once! (sorry gross) Anyway, this chapter confronts several fears, some smaller ones being the fear of needles, cold, and small spaces. All of which Amy has  to watch her mother go through as she is put into a tiny freezing box of cryo-liquid, her blood painfully pumped out, KNOWING she will have to do this in a few moments. This anticipatory fear is also a factor in the sheer genius that Revis presents. (As anticipation of pain is often worse than the pain itself, remember shots when you were little? Kicking and screaming for a pinch!)

Basic human fear. Something we can relate to.

Amy also faces the fear on loneliness another ‘track that great emotional characters run on”. Many people are afraid to be alone.  Humans are naturally social creatures (yes even writers we are not a separate species despite some outsiders opinions! haha). Amy is forced with a decision (a stop light) of staying on earth or leaving with her parents her dad telling her before he is frozen that :

“I’m going next. Your mother wouldn’t agree to that—she thoughtyou’d still back down, decide not to come with us. Well, I’m giving youthat option. I’m going next. Then, if you’d like to walk away, not be frozen,that’s okay. I’ve told your aunt and uncle. They’re waiting outside; they’llbe there until I’ve. After they freeze me, you can just walk away. Mom andI won’t know, not for centuries, not till we wake up, and if you do decideto live instead of being frozen, then we’ll be okay.” (Revis, 6)

Not only is there a HUGE decision, but it is riding on the rails of loneliness. Amy must decided if she can live a life without her parents knowing she will die long before the realize she has left them (and live her whole life knowing this) or go with them and leave all her other family and friends behind. leave the safety and comforter of everything she is familiar with behind. She can not avoid an empty loneliness no matter which way she turns. Even if she chooses her parents she is forced to choose the icy slumber of centuries, perhaps a loneliness even worse than a life without her parents. It makes your heart sink doesn’t it?

Applying basic human fears, is the key to making emotionally strong characters.

Because we are all afraid of something and loneliness, Pain, and responsibility are all basic fears that Amy faces in just chapter one of the novel.

Learning how to use the rails of writing great characters is one of the most important tools a writer can have. What do you think? Do you know of a scene that shares rails with this one? What’s your most emotionally moving scene?

Story Weaving on Steroids: Painful Pasts

15 Jun

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Painful Pasts

Making characters interesting is your job as a writer. One way to make a character more interesting is to give them some scars. Giving a character a painful past does a couple of things it hooks the reader with empathy, gives you a better basis for their character, and can also add suspense and tension to your plot.

Characters with painful pasts, whether it be coming from a broken home or something more dramatic like being scared by the poisonous sword of an alien warrior bring automatic empathy with them. When readers discover the situation that has scarred your character it creates instant empathy (which is a key part in hooking a reader into your story). Readers may not have been in the exact situation as your character, but they understand the emotions that go with it. Everyone can relate to fear, anxiousness, and sadness.

Giving a character a terrible memory of their pasts also sets up a basis to build that character from. People who come from bad families or have gone through traumatic experiences are often deeply effected by them. A traumatic experience will shape your characters personality. For some it will make them introverted, others will become bitter,  and still others will go through their life trying to be positive despite their past. Seeing the path your character takes after their traumatic experience will tell you a lot about their personality and make them easier to write about.

Most importantly, a difficult past or experience can provide tension and conflict for you plot. Bringing out a characters past slowly, or shrouding it in mystery will give your readers something to keep reading for. This is an especially good tactic for characters whose perspective you are not writing for. Trying to discover someones past can be a very good subplot.  A persons past can also be reviled suddenly and used as a major plot point (or turning point) in a story.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I am a HUGE Avatar fan!

Granted, a painful past is useful to add interest to your story, but they shouldn’t be used ALL the time. Not every character you write needs to come from an abusive home, or have burn marks all over their faces. A couple good examples of painful pasts that I can think of are Zuko from the show Avatar: The Last airbender. Zuko was forced at the age of 13 to dual his father in an ‘Agni Kai’ (one on one) fire bending battle because he spoke up in a war meeting and insulted a general, thus insulting his father. From then on he was left with a scar on his face, and huge dishonor on his name. This shapes Zuko into a conflicted character, part loving, part loathing his father. This will lead him to make the biggest and most difficult decision of his life: should he side with his father or with the Avatar?

Another good example can been seen in Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. Sam, a werewolf, had his wrists slit by his parents in a bath tub while they held him down because when they found out what he was (at the age of 12)they believed they could ‘bleed the wolf out of him’. Ever since Sam can’t even look at a bath tub. This also shapes him into a shy, introverted person. And of course keeps him very far away from bath tubs!

Like I said there are plenty of good books without characters with Painful Pasts, Lauren Oliver’s novel ‘Before I Fall’ is a really good novel about a privileged girl named Samantha King. She’s never had anything bad at all happen to her. Oliver uses the plot to keep tension and if Sam had had a bad past it simply would have cluttered the plot and taken away from the impactfulness of Samantha having to repeat the same day over and over again. It also would have made the plot null and void because she probably wouldn’t have been so stuck up or unkind to others had she struggled as a child. This would have completely changed the novel!

All and all a painful pasts is a very useful trick, but should be used sparingly and in the right places!

Check out other Story Weaving on Steroids posts

 

Got Flat Characters?

7 Jun

Before you ask where you’re going, know where you’ve been.

Everybody has a past. Including fictional people. And that’s always easy (for me at least) to forget. You aren’t writing about a person in a single moment in time. They didn’t suddenly appear simply to exist in that one moment, or series of moments, you are writing about. Before whatever is happening in your scene other things happened.

I used to find it really difficult to construct characters. I didn’t know how to make them 3D, heck the word 3D was foreign to me. I wrote characters about as spicy as oatmeal, and much less interesting. The only reason my stores functioned at all was because I’d stolen the construction of a story from other novels. I understood what a story was supposed to look like, but not WHY it looked like that. This left me with a couple of servings of oatmeal and some were-wolves. Yeah, I wrote were-wolf novels when I was 13. I admit it. Really BAD were-wolf novels.

Anyway, as I grew as a writer I discovered something about people. At first I didn’t even connect this to writing, I just started musing about it one day. Probably in church or math class and realized that people- who they are inside and out- are created through memories, and experiences. It wasn’t until later that I connected that idea to writing.

Soon I started to realize how flat my characters were,and that’s when everything fell into place, I suddenly knew what was missing: their pasts! And that idea right there is how I build characters.

The easiest way to discover a character- for me- is to discover their past.

What I’m saying is if you had grown up in a third world country, as an orphan, wouldn’t you be different from who you are now?  Even if you maintained your personality (whom many will argue is in-part genetic) being in that situation would change your outlook on the world. It would effect EVERYTHING about you. And different people will take it differently, for some it would turn them bitter, others would only appreciate what they had more.

And that’s one of the things I love about writing. I get to look into these peoples minds and pick at them like last nights leftovers! It’s awesome! I love being able to explore the situations they were in and understand why they handled them the way they did, and how it effected them.

It’s gorgeous! I think I’m geeking out right now… let me just take a minute to calm myself.

*one minute*

Okay, I’m good now. *Ahem* As I was saying, understanding characters is about knowing where they come from, what they’ve seen, and what they’ve done about it.

For example, I’ll use my MC from my novel CARVE (whose trailer you can see in THIS POST.)

Her name is Sage Mason.

Background situation: grew up as an invalid, with a terminal disease.

So, this above situation is what’s going to shape her character. From here you just have to ask yourself what kind of person she is. Will growing up isolated make her bitter, angry, or will it make her fearful of the outside world? Will she yearn to leave her home or resign herself to die? What does she do when she sits in that house all alone? How does she react to others? Is she afraid of strangers, intrigued, or just jealous?Does she believe their will be something after her death?

Once you understand how she has reacted to the situation, and how she feels about growing up in that situation you know who she is. You understand her core character traits, and BAM! You have a person. Not a character. A freakin’ person! Awesome right?

Maybe I’m over simplifying this. How do you all build characters?