Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Random Writing Tips – Beware Frankenstein characters


Several years ago, I was designing a character and I kept adding traits: she had an interest in gladiators, a bit of a mischievous streak, a love of old movies and TV shows, etc., etc.  It got to the point where I started to wonder if a real person could have all these traits, or if I was just stitching different people together like Dr. Frankenstein.  It’s a problem that often comes up in TV shows, especially scifi or fantasy ones.  Like in the pilot episode we’ll meet a character who seems like an average person, but after five or six seasons we’ll find out they speak nine languages, are an expert in five forms of martial arts, can hack a computer with only a few keystrokes, and so on.  The vast majority of these talents only show up in one episode.  Like, maybe the bad guy needs some Mayan artifact to finish their doomsday weapon, and this character instantly knows what it is and what museum it’s in because, “Oh, you mean I’ve never mentioned my interest in Mayans?  How odd.” The good guys go to the museum, but the bad guy’s goons are already there so the character grabs a sword because, “I’m an expert swordsperson too.”

Real people do have wide and varied interests and talents: I’m interested in World War II, some people like the science fiction stories I write, I have some gardening projects I’m slowly working on, etc., etc.  Some characters feel like real people, while others are just plot devices.  There’s no clear dividing line between them, so it’s very easy to cross from one to the other. 

I think the main reason this happens is that it is easier for the reader to understand – and also easier to write – if we have basic characters.  Basic characters like the competent hero who can repair any mechanical problem with a paper clip and some duct tape, and the bumbling buffoon we can laugh at because they never do anything right.  Until right at the end when the buffoon somehow flies a helicopter and saves the hero.   

In reality, people are probably closer to the buffoon than the hero, but people read to escape reality.  But this can lead to people just expecting some hero to come save them from their problems.  So maybe next time you’re stitching together your hero, throw in some buffoon to make them more realistic and less the uber-hero.


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Interact with your audience

I am not a talkative person.  Even at family gatherings I’ll just sit and listen to other conversations.  The reason I’m bringing this up in a writing blog, is that my quiet nature also applies to social media.  If someone leaves a comment on a tweet, I’ll probably spend a few minutes debating if I should reply.  And the vast majority of the time I don’t.  This can be an issue since one of the common pieces of advice given to writers on how to sell more books is to “interact with your audience.”

Even if I did interact with people, I don’t know where to begin interacting with my audience.  Over the years I’ve gone to several forums and I’ll find a topic like, “Science fiction authors looking for readers.” That’s perfect, I’ll think, and then I’ll see that there are 14,000 comments stretching back six years.  I’ll read the last thirty and see that there are just four people having a conversation about some random topic.  Well, I’ll start my own thread, I’ll think.  That way I’ll be in the conversation from the beginning.  So I’ll start a “Science fiction authors looking for readers,” and nobody comments on it.

Writing a compelling, coherent story is hard enough, but then you have to talk to people to sell it?  Argh.  Isn’t there an easier way?  I know there are “services” that will promote books, I just wish they had $5 Test Package to see if it would be worth it to get the $100 Basic Package.