Catch-all catch-up post today while I’ve got some mental time to focus. Warning: this is longer since I’ve got so much to catch up on.
First to announce that I have finished my line edit pass on my novel and will be posting the call for beta readers within the next few days, so if you are interested, watch for that post and the instructions for getting access.
Next up, I’ve had a lot of thoughts running around in my brain about trustworthy writers and a community supporting them, so I’ll be kicking off a series on that soon.
Third – reaction posts for Writing Excuses.
13.12 – Q/A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters
I figured for the Q/A, I’d just answer the questions.
- How do you make planned power increases not seem like you’re making it up on the spot?
- Foreshadowing. With sufficient foreshadowing (this could mean as much or as little as needed), pretty much any planned power increase/superpower/level up/character change can be revealed and it not feel like you’re making things up on the spot.
- For me, the biggest way to know if I need to fix my foreshadowing is to give it to readers.
- What do you do when your villain is more interesting/engaging than your hero?
- I think this may be more a problem of a particular type of story. I tend to write character/relationship stories more than idea/plot stories. I think idea/plot stories can suffer from having boring heroes/main characters because the story isn’t about them, but about the problem they have to solve.
- This is where I think Mary’s approach of using the nested MICE quotient can solve this issue – if your villain is becoming more interesting, maybe you need to work out a character story for your hero so that there is something interesting about them that doesn’t require require them solving the plot.
- How do you know when a character is unnecessary and needs to be removed from the story, or killed off in the story?
- Do they show up in more than one scene and do they do more that just deliver exposition/news.
- I had this show up during my cut edit in Jan/Feb. I had a character I thought I could cut from the first scenes because I thought I only had her delivering exposition, but had forgotten she showed up later as a complication to be exploited by my antagonist against my other mains. Removing her early removed my ability to leverage her later when I needed her as a way to ratchet up the pressure.
- What tricks do you use when you want the reader to mistakenly believe a character is a hero, rather than a villain?
- Haven’t done this, so can’t comment.
- Which is more fun for you: creating a villain, or creating a hero?
- Neither – as I’ve mentioned before, I have a really had time thinking of my characters that way. I much prefer labels of protagonist and antagonist. And what is most fun for me is figuring out how those two will relate in their relationship – friends, enemies, family, etc.
- How many side characters can you reasonably juggle in a novel?
- Me at my current level? – 3
- What are the drawbacks to making your villain a POV character?
- Have only writing protag and side character POVs, so can’t comment.
- If your villain doesn’t show up until late in the story, how do you make their eventual appearance seem justified?
- If I reword this as “If your secondary antagonist shows up late,” then I can answer, and the answer is the same as the first – foreshadowing. In Betrayed, I have some very big consequences affecting the world that resulted from the actions of this secondary antagonist and they show very early – second scene.
- The main characters were aware of the results, but didn’t know anything about this character. When my secondary antag shows up at 2/3rds through and all those consequences get tied back to this person, my readers now have a name to go with all that stuff they’ve been reading about.
- How do you get readers to like a character who is a jerk?
- I tried this in my trunk novel The Liegiver, but I don’t think I did it well, so I don’t think I’m yet qualified to answer.
13.13 – Character Voice
I feel like this is a topic that comes up a lot on the podcast. It isn’t something I normally think about – when writing or reading – but I can see how it can be effective. One of my level-up moments came when reading Brandon’s Wax and Wayne series – Wayne has a very defined character voice and it works to set him apart, but what I really like is Brandon uses this voice to inject humor without needing to “tell jokes”. The humor comes only from how Wayne sees others.
I want to get better as this.
13.14 – Character Nuance
This podcast goes hand-in-hand with something I learned while listening to Robert McKee’s Story. I have this from my notes I took while listening to McKee:
- Character and Plot are one and the same
- function of plot structure is to provide more and more choices for the character to make under pressure
- function of character is to make choices that seem rational to their internal self within that structure.
- Character design begins with two primary aspects: characterization and true character
- characterization: sum of all observable qualities
- true character is behind this mask of characterizations – who they are really
- KEY TO TRUE CHARACTER: true character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma
What McKee said is just a restatement of what I think Amal and Mary expressed – contradiction within a character is not necessarily contradiction if you can show how that contradiction plays out within the choices that character makes within the framework of the plot.
I think a lot of what Brandon and Maurice said point towards the second main bullet – the hats we were and the way we interact are part of those characterizations. How Maurice talks with other writers versus family in Jamaica are observable characteristics. But who they actually are would come from the choices they’ve made under pressure. Example from Brandon’s life that he’s talked about on the podcast – he’d written a dozen novels before his first one sold and spent his evenings writing while working the desk at a hotel. That pressure of having failure after failure and yet choosing to continue on showed some of the true character that is Brandon Sanderson.
The other reaction I have is to the homework – and a reminder that while “personality test” are fun, Myers-Briggs/Sorting Hat/Color Code-type stuff doesn’t really hold water when studied empirically. One that does have scientific backing is the IPIP-NEO test of the Five Personality Domains. And honestly, if you could go through and at least figure out where on the spectrum in each of the five domains your character is, you’d be in good shape.