Thursday, March 27, 2014

Character Building - A Lost Art

Character building is an essential essential part of writing a book. Bad characters? No book. Boring characters? No book. Weak, 2D characters? Well, you get the point.

As an aspiring writer, I know this as truth but knowledge does not a good writer make :) There are a lot of scary things about building a book including plot, setting, and interest but the scariest thing by far for me are the characters from a number of aspects. Every new character I bring in brings it's own list of questions like what kind of life they live, what their ambitions are, and whether I really need them or not. For a long time, my books have been bare bones stories with only as many characters as needed to further the plot. I have this fear of creating a bunch of characters who don't advance the  plot and all feel like hurriedly jammed in characters intended to take the reader from point 'a' to point 'b'. Lately, it's been much easier to get over these blocks if I decide to mention the grouchy neighbor who annoys the main character from time to time or the her boss at her summer job.

In Only Human, Abby has two neighbors who frequently argue and are known through Rosedale for their fights. They are relevant to the story because Abby takes fights in a much more intense way than others since she can feel an exaggerated form of their emotions. Abby's boss is described as being a  picky, somewhat grouchy person but isn't further elaborated on since he isn't the focus of the story. I added these characters not with the hopes of distracting the reader but with the hope of making the town and her every day life feel a bit more 3D. Abby is very observant of the things going on around her since she has an inside view to everyone around her.

The main girl is usually easy for me though lately, I've been trying to write different temperaments and personalities instead of my own over and over again. When I first started writing OH almost three years ago, I thought Abby would be just like me, but despite the fact you as the reader are in her head, she isn't me. She is much shier than me, much less likely to get involved than me and basically, Abby instead of Anna. It's a good thing, it would bore everyone if all the characters were variations of me.

It used to be when I wrote that I made my characters with the same interests as me. I like watching Dr. Who and *poof*, my main girl likes quirky, British Sci Fi. I hate peas with a passion therefore, my main girl never goes near them. While these qualities do lead to the making of a unique character since they are real characteristics, they make for repeat upon repeat of little Anna's, only to change as I change and get better at expressing who I am.

A recent experiment of mine is giving my MC hobbies that I don't care for or a like for foods I don't like. In my novella which is hopefully slated for future release, my MC really likes vegetables. I don't know if this was a fact I elaborated on in the story (I've written waaay too much since February to remember) but I knew it when I was writing her. With Abby in Only Human, she is insecure about herself but not about the way she looks. Alex, my MC from my novella, has a lot of insecurities in the way she looks, mostly sprouting from the fact she has acne. I didn't explore this story line very much but it was mentioned, including the fact that she pulls her hair into a ponytail all the time because she's determined not to be self-conscious of her face. This came from me, always wearing my hair down because I wanted to hide my acne and the scars that came from it. I still have acne and the scars but I pull my hair back all the time now, knowing that it's just my face and the way I am. Having overcome that insecurity (mostly) myself, I'm able to write about Alex having the same feelings and working on overcoming them.

My title of this post came from the research I've been doing which pretty much means the amount of free-0.99 books I've been ingesting since December. I've kind of been reading a LOT! I took pretty much a two year break from reading while I was working on my book, the only exceptions being the first Hunger Games book and one or two random others, usually in a foreign language for Korean study. After finishing my book, my oldest sister suggested some reading so I could get a more comfortable feel for how words and a good sentence flow together and I took her up on her suggestion. I've discovered a new like for books and read pretty much one a week. With my own view on what I like and the fact I'm more critical than others because of the standard I hold myself to, I've realized just how much self-publishing has done. While it's an amazing thing for authors like me who may never be able to get published professionally, it's also opened the door to all the horrible books that really should never have been released. I can't say too much since someone reading this might consider my own two and a half years of work one of those books, but I can say I've read a lot of stuff that's left me scratching my head. So many young adult books are first person (yes, I did it too) from the point of view of a fifteen-seventeen year old girl with a somewhat dry sense of humor, bad opinion of herself, and a penchant for somehow attracting the cutest looking boys at school. Don't ask me where she lives because if I knew, I'd already be packing my bags. A place where normal, average girls with normal average lives get a minimum of two amazing looking guys chasing after them? Who wouldn't want to live there? I read one where she had seven, not just one or two but seven gorgeous looking guys who liked her. Uh huh, because that happens to me all the time *wink*

I know books are fiction and for a lot of people, an escape to a world they can only fantasize about, but for me there has to be at least some sort of realistic feel to it. Even fantasy or science fiction have to have some believable facts to anchor me to reality as I careen into the unknown that could never exist! The hardest thing for me to swallow about a lot of the books I've read is not liking the actual character who's head I'm in. The other one that gets me even more is the main guy. I might not even be able to share all my thoughts on this subject without writing another post.

Teenage guys in teenage books are unattractive. I don't mean the way they look since every teenage book seems filled with amazing looking, smart, romantic guys. I mean unattractive in the way I'm reading the book and shaking my head, wondering what kind of girl would ever date someone who acts like him. I've met a fair amount of obnoxious teenage boys and don't necessarily find author's adaptions off base but c'mon, if I'm going to read fiction, I want to read about the kind of guy I'd date. Maybe my taste is just unique or I have way to high of a standard. Either way, I don't think I could even name five books I've read with guys that I really liked.

This particular dislike of mine leads me to the other intense fear I have writing characters. I want my main guy to be totally likable, the kind of guy I would want to date. I struggle over every sentence he says, trying to picture what he's thinking that he'd say that, if he'd say that, or if as I dread so often, it just sounds like the main girl speaking. I've relaxed a little bit more and learned to let my first draft be exactly that - something that can be fixed later in editing when I have the time to look over every line and tweak it as much as I want.

After all this bashing, I would like to say there are a few male characters I found likable. Stephanie Morrill's Ellie Sweet books did a good job of making both of the male characters likable even though I did find Chase quite annoying after a while. Even though it was quite sad to me, I thought she did a good job of showing what happens when a good girl tries to date the 'bad boy' and how he does sort of change but it's more of a front than an actual change. Georgette Heyer's Cotillion also had a very likable character in Freddy who was amusing and quite lovable. And, as a cliche, I also  like Peeta from Hunger Games. No, I'm not a 'Team Gale' fan. I think choosing teams is pretty much stupid anyway :)

On a side note, I really really dislike historical books but Cotillion is a good read if you can get past all of the 'ye olden days' speak :)

Anyway, I need to get back to my story. I've found my blog to be a welcome distraction when I'd normally be surfing Pinterest and trying to push my book out of my mind. After spilling my thoughts out to an empty blog, I'm able to put my thinking cap on and get back into my writing.

Write (or most likely rant) again soon,

Anna Leigh

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