Posts Tagged ‘R. Garrett Wilson’

Transparent Narrative – Character Development


2011
10.14

As you may have noticed, it has been a long time since my last post. While I can’t promise my posts are going to start to become frequent, I can say that I plan on making an honest effort to post at LEAST once a month – to start. The end goal is a post a week, but we shall see!

Quick Update: My twins are now 1.5 years old, and still as time consuming as they were before… just in a different way. Right now, however, I am in the middle of move (from CA to UT), and while I started a new job in and moved right away, the family is still in California. I miss them dearly, but it has allowed me a few extra minutes to write – hence this post!

On to the goods!

First, let me say that there are many good books, posts, and articles about character development. My good friend, R. Garrett Wilson, has several posts on the subject, so I am only going to focus on how character development affects transparent narrative.

To reiterate for the newbies, transparent narrative, is in essence, a concept where the words, paragraphs, chapters, and pages become transparent, rendering a clear and unobstructed path from the story teller to the story receiver. This is the the most important goal of every writer.

An essential piece of creating that transparency is to sell the reader on the plausibility of what you are sharing. During your character’s development, it is very important to maintain believability. For example, let me introduce a character here while you pay attention to your doesn’t-feel-authentic-o-meter (DFAM for short).

Kyle, a short, overweight man, had always wanted to be a police officer. Always cautious to pay his debts and follow the local laws, Kyle was determined to have a spot-free record for his background checks – once he lost enough weight to pass his physical-exam, that is.

Early one Saturday in early summer, Kyle had decided that diet alone would not make him succeed. No, Kyle would need to do more than that. So, instead of watching the news that morning, he decided to go out jogging.

The day had already began to warm up as Kyle trotted away from his porch. He smiled despite the fact that had ran out of breath, only 15 seconds into his run. Breathing heavy, Kyle slowed to a walk and put his hands on his hips.

He continued to gasp for breath, finding he was much more out of shape than he had deluded himself to be. Lifting his arms above his head – a trick his mother had taught him to get more oxygen into his lungs – Kyle crossed the street.

A blaring honk and a screech made his heart race even more. He jerked to his left just in time to see the taxi cab slide to a stop, not two feet away.

Kyle raised his middle finger at the driver and swore. He stood there, waiting to see if the driver was going to get out to start something. Kyle was always ready for a good fight.

What struck you as out of character? Did your DFAM go off when Kyle flipped off the driver? Did that pull you out of the story? Now, what if the story went like this instead:

…A blaring honk and a screech made his heart race even more. He jerked to his left just in time to see the taxi cab slide to a stop, not two feet away.

Kyle stood in shock as the taxi driver swore at him. He put his hands up and said, “I’m so sorry! So sorry!” as he continued across the street. His heart raced fast as he realized just how close a call that had been.

He would have to pay closer attention, light-headed or not. You can’t join the police force if you’re dead, he thought.

Does that seem a little more in character? Sure it does, which makes for smooth reading. Keeping your character true to themselves is important. To do that, you need to know your character.

So if making your character contradict his own personality takes your reader out of the story, you should never do that, right? Wrong. Actually, contrary to what I had written, there are times that making your character act out of character, is actually in character. What do I mean? Well, Nathan Bransford, author and blogger-to-the-stars, has an excellent post on using contradictions to develop characters.

The takeaway from this post is that you want your characters to be well developed. If the reader doesn’t connect with your character, or if they do not believe your character is authentic, they will be removed from the story – hence, no transparency for you!

Watch for more on transparent narrative soon…ish.

Right problem, wrong fix


2010
05.21

So there you are, sitting in on your critique group as they ravage your piece. You thought it was flawless, yet they will point out this and that, have logic problems here, flow problems there, and show you how your characters are out of character. They make suggestions, and not wanting to disappoint, you rush home and start making those changes as soon as the group is over.

If you’re a writer who has a critique group (or lets ANYONE read your work for that matter), chances are you have been in that situation at least once. I know I have.

A few weeks ago, I lived through that very situation, but instead of rushing home to make the changed, something hit me.

What if they’re wrong?

Okay, so my particular group of critters and friends are all SUPER smart and talented, so they can’t be totally wrong, but what if they are partially wrong?

I pondered the large issue and the accompanying fixes that was suggested. The problem was really small, but would require a major rewrite of one of my chapters. Now I am all for rewriting if needed (trust me, I’ve done my share, and probably more), but what if the suggestions were wrong?

See, I could almost agree with the problem (two of my characters were acting way to relaxed and chummy considering the circumstances), but they didn’t understand that my characters were faking. They were clinging on to “normal” social idiosyncrasies to avoid the death and destruction around them.

I knew why my characters were acting this way… why didn’t the readers?

The more I thought, the more I realized that the situation wasn’t the problem, it was the presentation. I hadn’t sold it properly.

Instead of rewriting the scene and making them act different, I change a few words here and there, then reorganized the sequence of events. It too me all of 15 minutes.

The next week, I submitted the same chapter. Low and behold, everyone loved it! Okay, maybe not love, but they liked the changes just fine.

How could they be so wrong? Well, they weren’t… not exactly. See, this turned out to be a case of what I like to call RPWF, or, “right problem wrong fix.”

See there WAS a problem, but the fix they were offering wasn’t what I wanted, so I toyed with it and came up with a way to fix the issue in a way that I still liked.

All this to say that when you get advice, try to figure out what the root of the real problem is. Consider the advice, and if you think you can address the REAL problem better, go for it! The worst thing that can happen is that your critters still won’t like it 😉

On a completely unrelated note, Ryan and I were trying to figure out the most accurate genre for my wip, and this is what we came up with:

Survivalistic Contemporary Hard Sci-Fi, Pre-Post-Apocolyptic, Yet Still Dystopic Romance Thriller With Short Ventures Into Chick Lit

SCHSFPPAYSDRTWSVICL for short. Yep. I’m gonna claim that as a real genre.

New Chapter (episode) of the Podcast!


2010
05.14

So I was totally excited about releasing this chapter this morning… I had finished editing it late last night, uploaded it, then had my buddy Ryan proof it. Well, to my dismay, I had completely screwed it up. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I had missed a few serious items.

Anyway, I got home after work, argued with my 2 year old about why he isn’t allowed to stand in his chair at the dinner table (he’s a daredevil, and one day, he’ll be a ninja), then made my edits. Finally, it’s ready!

Head over to thewritepodcast.com and check out our third installment of the show. We have a cool interview with Author Mike Lawson (super nice guy), discussion on series vs. stand alone novels, and a rad writing prompt!

Show vs Tell! Woo hoo!


2010
04.21

Showing versus telling has been the issue of the week. I have been going back and forth in a healthy debate between two friends and writers, Ryan Wilson and Toff (check out Ryan’s post to catch up on the details).

I am going to hash out what I think telling is, and you, the reader, may watch, laugh, make fun, and eventually, agree.  🙂

See, most often show vs. tell is applied to either action or emotion. Rarely is it brought up for description. Why? Why should description get off so easy? Dialog and monologue get a free ride, because the character is actually thinking or speaking the exact text that is written, so it is out of the picture all together. Description, however, should not get away free and clear.

Look at the following example:

“He was tall.”

vs.

“He ducked through the doorway as he entered the room.”

Most would say the first is not telling. Why? Because it is description (in Ryan’s case, it is telling because it is ambiguous). I say it is telling, because the narrator is just telling the reader a fact. To show, is to have action (a point that Toff will kill me later for saying). If there is not action — even invisible action (say, blood pumping) — then you are not watching (which I would assume if you are “showing,” then I need to be “watching”).

If you just tell me, I didn’t see anything.

Let’s look at another example:

“She has blonde hair.”

vs.

“She pulled her blonde hair behind one ear and continued to study.”

In the first sentence, nothing “happens,” so there is nothing to watch (hence, nothing is being shown). In the second sentence, there is something to watch, so we are being shown.

Lastly, a more difficult example:

“I tripped over a man. He was bloody from head to toe.”

vs.

“I tripped over a man who was bloody from head to toe.”

While iffy, the second is not telling. Here’s why.

“I                    kicked         a man.              He                     was                       bloody from head to toe.”

Subject     predicate      object.            Subject      (linking verb)       prepositional phrase (as an adverb)

“I                    kicked        a man      who was bloody from head to toe.”

Subject     predicate      object      prepositional phrase (as an adverb)

In the second sentence, there is action covering the whole sentence. Big difference. That brings me to my first rule of telling: a sentence that has a linking verb, with no other verbs, is telling.

I realize that my English skills are… questionable. If anything here is incorrect (as far as how I broke apart the sentence), please let me know. Additionally, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Post up and let’s see what happens!

*P.S. I am quite aware that my opinion is just that, and as I learn, I may decide that this is completely bogus, and my friends are correct.