How do you like your characters cooked?

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Diziet Sma, Mar 19, 2017.

  1. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    I think its best to characterize things through the perspective of the characters. If you meet someone, the things you'd note about them during the first conversation would depend on a lot of variables. Are you attracted to this person? Are you preoccupied? Are you angry when you meet? Are the clothes/hairstyle/etc. familiar to you? It would make sense for a tailor to note the intricacies of clothing, or for an experienced tracker to notice minor details in a forest, or for an artist to be captivated by the way something glimmers in the sunlight.

    I read somewhere an interview by Abercrombie about The First Law audiobooks. He was basically asked what it was like to revisit these books, as the author, years later during the production of the audiobooks. Would he have changed anything, and were there places he thought he could have done better? He mentioned that he didn't like the way he introduced the Agriont as Jezal ran through it during his fencing training lessons. The character wouldn't have been taking in the sights and thinking about the architecture and history of the Agriont as he ran through.
  2. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    See, a lot of the books I grew up on, they didn't necessarily give character through the perspective of the other characters. A lot of the time its coming straight from the narrator. I've just finished re-reading Ravenheart and a lot of characters are introduced by the narrator talking about them. I loved it, I've forgotten how much I love getting these little pen portraits of exactly how a person is. It might be unfashionable but you can create some really strong characters that way and I can't get on board with the *best* way to characterise things being through the perspective of the characters. A really good way, yeah. But not the best.

    When a character is introduced, I want there to be something memorable about them. It doesn't have to be physical - Apothecary Ramus being able to measure all his weights by sight alone for example - but physical quirks work really well. Obviously though, you don't need a full physical description to give the quirk. In fact... arguably the fuller the description, the less memorable the quirk. But it doesn't have to work that way, as my own childhood shows.

    I'd add that physical mannerisms work. They do also lead to the net taking the piss out of you but, know what, if your book is so well known and read that people are still taking the piss out of braid-tugging and sniffing and the rest of it, you've won. They key is not to overdo it.
  3. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I understand what you mean. I have now this image of the swirl of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon that would fit rather well your characters’ drafts.:)
  4. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I shouldn't "like" this. But I'm glad I'm not the only one...;)
  5. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I suppose in this way the reader would get exposed to a multi-perspective characterization, however many characters would contribute towards it. This can definitely be a more enriching and colorful process, but perhaps a bit more limited in its reach? After all, the narrator omniscient knows all, no matter how dark and hidden the character’s personalities and traits can be...

    I like that very much: the concept of quirk. How wonderful but difficult to deliver.

    By the way, do you authors like resorting to flashbacks. If so, do you think of it as an element to contribute towards the characterisation process or more of a resource to develop the plot, both?
  6. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    I've yet to play with flashbacks, but I think the answer has to be "Both". But then I think everything has to be a resource for developing the plot, because readers tend to assume everything is related to the plot, and everything should be considered a chance to develop the characters.
  7. Maark Abbott

    Maark Abbott Journeyed there and back again

    Not really. Kaenna is drawn from my repressed anger issues. Herik is drawn from my regret and need to do better and Anderas is drawn from my adolescent uncertainty. I have enough facets to my own personality that I've been able to keep it pretty varied.
  8. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    My choice of frame for my books precludes outright flashbacks (because they're chronicles detailing the history of various realms chronologically). However, I get around this a bit when I finish one chronicle and start another, because the starting point of the new chronicle can take place before the finishing point of the previous chronicle; so technically I move backwards in chronology, it just doesn't seem like it because the new story is set elsewhere with independent chain of events. It just happens to take place earlier.

    I don't use this to develop characters though, because they usually are only present in one of these chronicles anyway; when I use it for anything, it's for plot. Either in the sense that the reader knows what will happen when the characters don't (that this or that event in realm A will take place next month, thus ruining their current plans), or to create tension; story A ends with character One going somewhere, and both character and reader think this will be great. Jump to next chronicle and a few weeks backwards to other characters planning a trap, and only now does the reader realise that character One is walking into a trap.

    I have cheated a bit though and used the old device of having one character tell another a story about a third. This is more or less a flashback, just woven into the narrative rather than appearing as a flashback. I generally like this better, because it has more layers. Apart from the flashback being presented, you also get the presentation of the characters telling and listening to the story (which can say as much about these characters as the one being 'flashbacked').

    Having considered your excellent question, I think I will try and utilise this skewed chronology of my chronicles more, though. I love playing with omitted or delayed information, both for my characters and for my readers; it just tends to make for a better reading experience, if done right.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2017
  9. Alucard

    Alucard In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge! Staff Member

    It's no joking matter, but I wonder how good would someone be in writing characters if they used that method but also had split personality disorder. I think they would probably have a well of inspiration to draw from.
  10. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    Important aspects, (be them physical mental or emotional, including behaviors ticks and idiosyncrasies) need to be revealed. Unimportant aspects (she had blue eyes..."who cares, why is it important") leave out please.

    Once small important features, that need not be physical, are rounded out the reader can fill in the rest. One reader might read a "lanky handsome gentleman in a dated brown pinstriped suit repeatedly checking his pocket watch" and think of a tall blonde with a curled mustache, while another reader might think of a tan black haired man with thick eyebrows.

    Without describing the specific physical features the author (IMHO) has effectively given the reader leave to design the character to fit her ideal impression perfectly without alienation

  11. Maark Abbott

    Maark Abbott Journeyed there and back again

    I could always ask a mate (or a few, as they might joke!) - I think they'd probably take the same angle that you have.
  12. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Well, no risk of reiteration there. You seem to have a wealth to tap into… ;)
  13. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    Best is clearly a matter of personal preference, and my statement was based on the characters I like the most. Abercrombie and Jordan did this really well in all of their work. They were both able to make nearly insufferable characters...enjoyable? Nynaeve, Elaine, Jezal, Bremer dan Gorst, Castor Morveer, Ferro, Monza, Temple, Cosca, etc. Abercrombie's list is longer because he seems to like these types of characters more :p It's hard for me to imagine liking these characters very much from less personalized point of views.

    I'm not saying it hasn't been done well in other ways, nor am I saying that authors should necessarily stick to tried and true methods. Abercrombie and Jordan both wrote with limited third person PoVs tailored to individual characters. In Heroes Die, Matthew Woodring Stover manages the same sort of personal touch with a first person perspective, though the PoV character for most chapters is narrating his story to an audience as he lives it. I'm sure the same touch is also possible via an omniscient third person PoV, but I can't think of any examples of this calibur off the top of my head.
  14. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Sorry I'm so late to the party, but I've been avoiding the social media in favor of writing. But being specifically mentioned in the initial post did draw me out of hiding. Kind of in a "speak of the devil..." sort of way.

    I obviously come from a screenwriter's angle to character description, which is basically give the audience the minimum amount of pertinent info as to the character so the audience can picture them, but not enough specific details that it will limit casting (blue eyes, for example). So vague is the way to go, and, interestingly enough, I've read somewhere that one of the reasons so many girls identify with the protagonist from Twilight is because she's so poorly defined physically. She is told she's pretty but doesn't believe it, and therefor all teen girls can paint themselves upon her blank character canvass.

    But back to screenwriting, we also employ "limp and an eyepatch," which is basically giving secondary characters a single defining trait so they audience will remember them. This is a sort of mental character epithet that I've certainly employed in my prose (if you take a shot every time I mention Luca's grin or Marta's stony face, I think you'd die).

    That said, in my prose I'm a lot more detailed as to physical descriptions than in screenwriting. It might be because I have new toys to play with, but I think it's because if I'm supposed to know my characters so well that I can speak for them, I better know what they look like as well. So why not share that with the audience?
  15. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I use flashbacks in only two of the series I am working on right now( I usually work on half a dozen series at once, actually writing in one or two, but activelly worldbuilding, plotting, developing characters and such on all of them as the time goes). I use flashbacks in those series, because for the first one I need a tool that would help with both characterisation and plot set-up. However, I use that to divert the readers' attention with the aim of hiding an "aha!" moment right in front of them, so all the information I reveal in those flashbacks chapters while essential and true, and playing a big part in characterisation, is there in order to serve a more important purpose for me, the author.

    In the second series I use to make the readers familiar with one of my protagonists, who doesn't get POV chapters the present/now time frame of the story, and his actions are revealed to us through the other main characters, but he gets like 80% of the POVs in the flashbacks, which gives the reader his whys and hows gradually thorough the book. I am using his flashbacks to introduce two future POV characters as well, who are bound to show up and play a part in book two and three of the trilogy, so bascially I am using this one character in a very unconventional way, which makes more sense the further you go into the story.

    Those are the two purposes for which I am currently using flashbacks in those two series. But I use them for my other series too - but there I use flashbacks for my, not for the readers' sake, because I have the habbit of writing past events as flashback chapters while I am trying to get to know some character of mine. Think "Moaraine and Lan meet for the first time" and "Lilly and James Potter 20 years back" kind of chapters. Those are usually very helpful of giving me a foundation for a character and while the character ends up being in a different spot in his/her life when my present days story starts, I know some of his/her past and that helps me to keep the character out of the two-dimensional "I need a wizard here" path. So far it's working quite well. :)

    And I also have the option to publish those flashback chapters as prequel short stories for marketing purposes later on. So there's that.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
  16. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Ah, I wanted to stay away, but this one pulled me back. Flashbacks used to explain a specific character trait or skill at the exact moment it needs to be explained is a good sign you're dealing with a young screenwriter (as is opening with the scene that kicks off your act III then immediately flashing back to the real beginning of the story). Mainly because these types of flashbacks are a crutch rather than offering context to your characters. Because it's lazy writing/ deus ex machina in which the author goes "the audience may wonder why my character can crack this safe at this plot-pertinent moment though I've never mentioned it before... better explain it in a flashback!"

    I thought Lies of Locke Lemora was pretty bad about this (Prince of Thorns too now that I think about it) in that the protag would do something cool, and then the next chapter was a flashback entirely dedicated to how/ why he was able to do this in the first place. Or perhaps why his decision was so emotional for him (after the fact at that!).

    Not wanting to do out and out flashbacks yet still needing to explain the reason Marta (and later Luca) are the way they are is the whole reason I did two distinct, alternating timeline chapters in my series. The past timeline is to explain/ offer context to Marta and why she can do the special things she can in the present. It's sort of disruptive to the present day storyline, but I think it's less intrusive to the scenes themselves when she displays a cool ability and I have to immediately stop the action to explain what it is and how she learned it. Plus, the alternating timeline instead of flashbacks allows me to craft two distinct arcs for the same protagonist in each book.

    I will note that a lot of movies start off with a seminal moment in the protag's young life; Wallace finding all the hung Scots in Braveheart, for instance, rather than jumping right into the story. This sort of character exposition is less onerous to me for some reason, and I would choose it ten times out of ten opposed to a flashback.
  17. Maark Abbott

    Maark Abbott Journeyed there and back again

    I've used flashbacks myself, mainly for Herik. His come in the form of recurring, lucent dreams drawn from his PTSD. He effectively relives one moment in his life over and over every single night, and it's caused him to become a bitter, cynical alcoholic with a hearty distrust of those who outrank him.
  18. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Happy to read this!

    Then alternating a timeline is not considered to be a flashback? I'm confused about this. What's the difference? The fact it runs systematically every other chapter and is not a random, brief flash into the past?
  19. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Flashbacks are a break in the main timeline to revisit an event from a previous timeline (hence the "back" in flashback). I start the story with Marta as a child then jump forward to the present day timeline in the next chapter, alternating between both timelines chronologically. So, though it's terribly pedantic, I consider the alternating past chapters to be a somewhat distinct story running parallel rather than flashbacks because I started with them rather than in the present and then jumped back to the past.

    Basically it boils down to the fact I hate flashbacks but still used them, and am therefore going through all sorts of mental gymnastics to get over my cognitive dissonance.

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