Choices

crossroads_oldmanThis is in some ways an add-on to my post on Signs. I spent most of yesterday sitting in the emergency room with a friend and watching dozens of people’s life dramas play out under the blare of daytime television, reeking of second-hand cigarette smoke and old sweat. By the time I got home for good around 9 PM, I didn’t feel much like posting.

I’m plowing through The Truth About Fiction, which I posted a little about here. Most of the book is pretty basic, which is okay; it’s supposed to be for introductory creative writing classes — which is the ONLY way the publisher can get away with charging an arm and two legs for it, IMO.

I’m struggling with my boring old main character Becca, and I got to watch a lot of humanity yesterday. This line from the book jumped out and danced for me when I read it:

The choices the character makes should be irrevocable. If he can go back, where’s the tension?

Choices that don’t matter that much is why Becca is so boring, and and having made irrevocable choices is why so many people were hanging around the emergency room on a bright sunny day.

Thoughts?

18 comments to Choices

  • You know, I’ve been thinking about my characters alot lately, since I read (of course, in Bell’s book, big shocker), that a good protag has to have one of these 3 traits: “grit, wit or it.” I have found that I often write characters that have none of these. Which explains why I sometimes feel that my plot is pretty OK, the action is good, but the character is…eh.

    It’s hard to remember sometimes, in our effort to create genuine, realistic characters, that we need to have tension in our stories, or the reader won’t be interested. I forget that easily, when my real life is often filled with so much blah, it’s hardly worthy of a story at all.

  • Natasha

    The grit, wit or it thang is interesting. I’m having trouble with Becca because she’s kind of like me and there’s not that much story there. I’m fairly predictable, I think.

    I generally attract other people’s melodrama like buzzards to roadkill, to build on DS’s lovely analogy, though, so I can write about OTHER characters okay.

    BTW, your comment wasn’t immediately accepted, so I’m not sure what’s going on here. Maybe MY server didn’t like the fact that YOUR server tossed me into spam yesterday….

    • That’s probably it, your server hates me. Now I have another reason not to get up in the morning. LOL

      I saw that it was “sitting in moderation” so, I figured you’d find it sooner than later!

  • I discovered two separate problems that I seem to run into when I try to base a character loosely on myself.

    a. I am afraid to put the poor girl through too much and actually put her in a position where she stands to lose something.

    b. I’m afraid to expose her innermost thoughts, which makes the character believable.

    Once I discovered how to get around that fear, my writing began to open up. The fear of revealing who I am, what I think, and how I feel was crippling and that caused me to hold back in my narrative, my actions, and my dialogue.

    • Natasha

      Okay, so how DO you get around that fear? Just plow forward through it? I do find myself editing Becca’s persona more forcefully than other characters who sort of just do whatever it is they are going to do…

      • That’s exactly what I did. I plowed through and forged ahead.

        I convinced myself that people are more accepting of my mistakes than my lies. So if I am true to my nature in a character, the reader is liable to accept that I’m just a little messed up at times. That makes the character not only real, but interesting. The reader wants to see a character not only overcome a situation, but also overcome their faults.

        But if I lie to protect myself (character)…oh no….that is the unforgivable. The reader has no sympathy for falsehoods. No one is perfect. No one is completely forgiving, accepting, and emotionally stable. Your character should not only be fighting against the situation they find themselves in, but they should also be unknowingly fighting against the reason they are there. If you look at almost all situations, there has been something in the past that leads a person to be in a dilemma. Maybe it’s simply a bad choice on the surface, but what caused them to make that bad choice. You have to dig deep. Writing is discovery.

        I also agree with what Dayner said. You have to add in the overly dramatic to get the reader involved. If your character has a weakness, not only expose it, but make it grandiose by attacking it with the full force of nature, or evil, or extreme opposition. Set the stage with plausible events. As in Dayner’s case, she used the rape scene, which is highly plausible. That scene sets in motion forces that her character must now fight against and face. Some are emotion and some are physical.

        • Natasha

          It’s interesting – I did K.M. Weiland’s character interview with Becca and ended up writing about ten pages in what seemed like ten minutes since it was also an interview with myself. I felt like I’d been to a shrink. What, you say, writing is discovery?

          So both Becca and I have faults (surprise!) but they’re not very interesting faults. Yet. (I may need to confirm/nonconfirm that with those near and dear to me.:) ) But like I said above, boy oh boy I sure do attract other people’s melodrama so I ought to be able to get some ideas there.

          I think Becca needs more interesting faults, and I haven’t really written in depth yet the part where she turns into Robin Hood and starts breaking the law. I’m looking forward to that.

          I’ve finally gotten Libby and Reed to stop being so stubborn and get it together (the kiss! the kiss!) and now I can get back to work on the other part of the story.

  • A

    Just looking around while testing the reported comments/spam issue and RSS feeds.

  • Realistic is boring. I did everything I could to be realistic in DE. The more I tried, the more boring the story became. Fiction requires drama, real life (for the most part) is boring.
    That being said, Sarah is like Becca and Phoebe, she is my alter ego. Writing her story–writing my story was very liberating. Granted, I dramatize the story a lot but the bare bones of DE is about me and my life. The main dramatization is the rape plot which laces throughout the entire story. Sarah’s past and internal struggles are all pretty close to real life for me.
    Whether or not it’s exciting fiction is yet to be determined.

    BTW: It’s nice to put a face with the A!

    • Natasha

      I think the trick (one of the tricks) is to give our stories the illusion of being realistic by tying in to those universal feelings and emotions that we can all relate to — but wrapping them in a package of danger! excitement! lust! that’s enough larger than life that we can feel transported.

      That’s A, also known as Boris. And that’s the little dog — sniff, sniff — that we lost in January and still miss big time.

      A and I have been working together for several years on some online stuff and he’s responsible for tweaking (okay, not tweaking — building the whole damn thing) however and whatever it takes behind the scenes to get things working and he keeps trying to ‘teach’ me stuff and I keep not learning it. I’m too interested in getting the right nuance, the right word, the right POV and I keep trying to show him that and he keeps glazing over when I get enraptured with and by the perfect phrase. We’re actually a good team, but we are lucky to have a two-story house so we can work on separate floors.

      You’d recognize us at the beach. Everyone else is reading Nicholas Sparks. We’re the only ones with yellow highlighters. I’m reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and he’s got an 800 page book on MySQL database software.

  • I always feel like I’m intruding on a private conversation between the three of you, hope you don’t mind. I have to say, I HATE that quote you cited. I don’t even want to think about it. But then, maybe I’m taking it too literally. I mean, you can never really take back words you said, or hurt you caused. Even if two lovers reconcile, there’s always that threat one could leave again. Right? Please say yes. For my own sanity today, this week, this month, I will assume that statement applies more to action driven plots. Like Scarlet, I’ll think about that tomorrow … or sometime.

    Btw, do I have to join something to show up with my icon/avatar/gravatar/whatever in your comment section?

    • Natasha

      Hey Linda — PLEASE JUMP RIGHT IN!!!! I’m glad you’re here!! It’s a lot more interesting with you joining in the fray!

      The context for me thinking about that quote involved my spending the day in the emergency room — where a lot of what was going on truly was irrevocable. And I’m trying to figure out how to make my character Becca much less bland than she is, so the suggestion of giving her some kind of ‘do or die’ decision/choice seems like a good one.

      Other than that, the threat that a lover could leave again, the impermanence of everything — that seems to be more compelling and realistic in a lot of situations.

      As far as your icon/avatar goes, I don’t know why it doesn’t show up (and it’s such a nice one, too!) I automatically get the personalized avatars for other folks like Darksculptures and Dayner, who are also on wordpress.com as you are.

      I’ll ask A. if he has any idea — it might be something at your end? I’m NOT using wordpress.com. We’ll figure it out.

      Thanks for your comments….

  • I am learning so much from you all! It feels like this is still “class” for me as I look at how you are working with your characters and stories. I’m about to delve into my character Nate and give him a personality and story, so this is all very helpful. He may have a bit of me in him too!

    • Natasha

      I think it’s inevitable that at some point, our characters have a leetle bit of ourselves and/or our friends/enemies/families in them.

      And, yeah, it is GREAT to have a group of ‘critical friends’ around to bounce ideas around with…..

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