Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taking Stock of Characters, Pt. 1

I'm currently reading "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers" (3rd Ed.) by Christopher Vogler. I've heard of this book for years and just now finally got it so I could read it.

If you aren't familiar with it, he takes a lot of the work Joseph Campbell did on myth (such as in his book "The Hero With a Thousand Faces") and applied it to writing (fiction as well as movies).

If you consider yourself a serious, professional writer and don't have a clue who Joseph Campbell is, come here. *wiggling finger at you* No, closer.

Noooo, clooooser.


Okay, that's done. Now first thing, you need to familiarize yourself with Joseph Campbell's work. Long story short, he broke down storytelling throughout the ages into commonalities that make them applicable regardless of culture, etc. (That's a very simplistic overview. Go. Read. The. Book.)

Vogler's work takes Campbell's work to a new level, using real-life examples of popular movies to show his examples of the different archetypes of characters and their journeys.

What's cool is while I was familiar with Campbell, I hadn't done a lot of research into applying his approaches to my writing. And as I'm reading Vogler's book, I can see how I have, unconsciously, used the very same archetypes. (Thus proving Campbell's point of a sort of universal unconscious in regards to storytelling. Almost a Jungian theory as well, talking about the archetypes. Please don't tell me you don't know who Jung is. Go look him up.)

For example, in my book "Love and Brimstone," I have Taz as the hero (hero is used generically in Vogler's work regardless of gender), I have Rafe as both a shapeshifter and in some ways a trickster and ally, I have Robertson as mentor and ally, Albert as a herald, mentor, and threshold guardian, and even Matthias, the love interest, is more a mix of ally and shapeshifter.

(Note: shapeshifter, by definition in this use, refers to character qualities/actions, not werewolves. *LOL*)

And as I look at my writing, I see the books that seemed to pour onto the page, almost by themselves, are the ones that seem to closely follow the "hero journey" paths. (Which are extremely flexible, not rigid, fixed lines.)

In writing romance and erotica, a lot of emphasis is placed on the hero (or heroes, in case of a menage or GLBT writing) and heroine, and if there's an Alpha or Beta or Gamma hero, etc. Newbie writers ask about, "How much sex should they have by word count?" The truth is, that's irrelevant if you don't have a good, solid story and good, solid characters to build on.

I'm going to peck out a series of blog posts over the next couple of weeks talking about this topic, especially how to avoid "cardboard" characters.

Stay tuned, and Happy Writing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who's In Third? Omnipotent Limitations.

The first "official" (meaning not a freebie, one I had to pay money for) purchase I made on our new Kindle was Stephen King's "Under the Dome." Now, I cut my writing teeth on SK in high school. He was my first "writing idol," the one I wanted to be "just like him" when my "career took off." I devoured everything he wrote back then with the voracity of Pennywise the Clown. The last SK book I read was "Cell," simply because I've been busy. I've read a lot of books since then, and we have other books of his I haven't read yet, but "Under the Dome" is the first I snagged to read.

As I sat down last night and started reading, several things immediately hit me squarely between the eyes. One, he tells "UtD" in third person omniscient point of view. Second, I'm finding it difficult to really "get into" the characters like I can with first or third person limited. Third, I see why poorly executed third-omni can lead to head-hopping and telling instead of showing (or worse, author intrusion). And fourth, while SK is a master of third-omni, he's one of few authors I've read lately who should try it, but even then (see point two) just because he can do it doesn't mean it should be done.

Now, I'm not saying I don't like the book, because so far, it's a page-turner for me. I'm loving it and reminded why I've always loved SK for a good, pulse-throbbing read. But all the while, I'm finding...something lacking. That connection I feel with characters in a limited third viewpoint, where we're inside someone's head, the ability to get to know them.

Yes, I see why "UtD" needs to be in third-omni. It would be damned hard--if not impossible--to pull it off otherwise. But I'm also seeing why in many cases, especially in romances, it should NOT be used. In a romance, you want the readers to get into the characters' heads, to feel what they feel, to be wrapped up inside the characters as much as they are the story.

In this book, I'm wrapped up in the story, yes, but...I'm just not feeling it.

And now with this knowledge in hand, I'm really interested to go back and revisit some of my favorites, like "The Shining" and "The Stand," one with a limited cast and crew, the other an epic of...epic proportions, to see if I get that same feeling NOW about his books.

What changed? Well, I've got over 20 books published or pending publication, for starters, with plenty more in my brain's queue and screaming to be written. I've read a lot of books in the romance genre which, I will admit, wasn't one of my focuses before I started writing romances.

This is why it is DESPERATELY important for a writer to READ. If you don't read, you don't learn and grow as a writer. You can't grow a vegetable garden without adding fertilizer and plant food. Reading is that fertilizer (and not just reading bullshit, either *LOL*).

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

It really did shock me last night when this realization hit me. One of those, "D'OH!" moments you have as a writer when you know you've just learned something of monumental importance for your career. I'd never really been able to vocalize the differences before, even though intellectually I KNOW the differences. I've seen LOTS of poorly executed third-omni in older romances that is nothing but head-hopping. SK doesn't head-hop in this book, it's properly executed third-omni. Something to think about.

Happy Writing!

Friday, February 12, 2010

"And then, suddenly..."

Deus ex machina. Literally, "god from the machine."

You've seen it before. It's the object that turns up exactly at the perfect time the characters need it to get out of their life-threatening fix. It's the character who suddenly remembers they studied Morse code in Boy Scouts and translates the message that sends them in the right direction. It's the tornado that swoops out of the cornfield and kills off the bad guy just as he's about to kill the hero and heroine.

It's also weak storytelling and should be avoided at all costs.

If you paint (or in this case, write) yourself into a corner, you don't resort to magic wands to fix it. (Unless, of course, it's a story about wizards.) You might, however, be forced to send your story in a different direction than you wanted.

Your other option, of course, is to stop, examine your story from the beginning, and make course corrections to avoid the problem in the first place, or set it up better so it's not a, "And, SUDDENLY...!" kind of moment.