Claire King

Author
Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

Posts Tagged ‘Characters’

That Tricky Second Novels

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by Claire - 38 Comments

I have a confession to make.

As many of you will know, after signing the contract for the publication of my first novel, I was left with a good two years before the launch date (19 months to go and counting!). What to do with all that time? Well write the next novel of course. And if it all goes well get started on the subsequent one. Keep going.

But that’s not exactly what I’m doing. Despite my best efforts, I now find myself writing two new novels at the same time. I am scrivenerally promiscuous.

I started the second one – Novel Two – fully intending to write it, edit it and finish it before moving on. But then another new story began to grow in that special place between heart and head that told me it was a good one. It came with its own momentum, seductively calling me to ‘just jot down a few notes and save them for later’ right at the moment when Novel Two was being wrangly and beligerent. I crept into a corner and wrote down the notes for Novel Three. And then I developed them. And then developed them some more while Novel Two sat in a corner looking at me sullenly. I felt bad for it, I honestly did. But wading through the mud of shaping Novel Two seemed much less fun than splashing in the waves of Novel Three.

But Novel Two has its own pull. I feel passionate about the themes, I see huge potential in the characters. It is only finding the right way to appear them that is tough. They deserve to be written. So once I had captured the immediate energy of Novel Three -several thousand words of it – I returned, abashed, to Novel Two. And Novel Two began to grow. The characters began to take on shape and momentum, as I knew they would. The themes blossomed in tiny little eureka moments sparking new scenes and greater depth. And then I had to stop writing for a week.

Towards the end of that week it was Novel Three that was calling me. At first just a whisper but then louder and louder because there were some ideas for scenes that just had to be captured before I forgot them. It Was Urgent. So I did. Maybe, I thought, Novel Three will be novel two and Novel Two will be novel three? Perhaps that will make most sense. But Novel Three needs quite a lot of research. And of course now Novel Two is calling for my attention again.

So I have decided to accept my fate and let these two novels grow side by side, not so much like twins, but more like a literary three legged race. I have the time for this luxury. But isn’t this all a little…weird?

Misery Loves Company

Posted on: February 17th, 2011 by Claire - 15 Comments

Meet Mr X.

He could easily be described as too content. He has a kind of Panglossian optimism that drives most people around him crazy. In a nutshell, he’s happy.

It’s challenging throwing decent obstacles at this guy, because he takes them in his stride, looks on the bright side and carries on as usual. Of course I plan to crack him. In the next 80,000 words I’m going to make him miserable and then pull him out of the other side. Why would I do this to him? Well, because it’s fiction, and that’s what we do to our characters. No-one likes to read about people who start happy, end happy and are happy during the middle parts too. Right?

Today I read a blog post along these lines, which asks the question ‘Are happy characters boring to read?’ Why do we feel the need to drag them through conflict situations in the name of good fiction?

1. Why do stories need conflict/unhappiness?

Because misery loves company. Our lives are not, in general, blissfully happy. Hearing stories about how others overcome problems helps us understand we are not alone, perhaps learn ways of managing difficult situations. Not only do we take vicarious pleasure in others’ suffering but it is good to hear that others face conflict and prevail. There is hope for us too. The troughs of unhappiness emphasise the peaks of success.

From a very early age, in the stories we tell to children, we introduce danger, evil and conflict and we show how it can be beaten, how even the most unlikely hero can triumph against all odds.

2. What kind of conflict?

While I was thinking about conflict I pulled out Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. If you’re not familiar with this theory you can read a summary here. My character, Mr X, has met his physiological and safety needs and he’s not particularly interested in moving higher up the pyramid. He’s content at a fairly basic level. My challenge, in introducing conflict, is either to take away some of his safety/physiological satisfaction or to make him aspire to the other elements on the pyramid. Whilst I was plotting this out, I came up with a hypothesis. It’s a great generalisation, but I’d love to know what you think:

When you read a book where the conflict in concentrated in those areas (family, sex, love, self esteem, confidence) – who tends to have written those stories? Would it be too much of a generalisation to say women writers have a strong focus in these areas?

Now, look at the top tier of the pyramid – the self-actualization – and the bottom two. Would it be fair to say that male writers tend to focus conflict in these areas?

And if we can (if we can) make those generalisations, can we follow it through to conclude that an audience of female readers enjoy books whose conflict/conflict resolution is in the ‘female’ areas? And male readers in the extremes of the pyramid? I know this is not a very politically correct hypothesis, but there it is on the table.

What do you think?

Who are you, anyway?

Posted on: January 27th, 2011 by Claire - 10 Comments

When we write fiction, we create characters that are different to us. Right? At least that’s the idea.  Sometimes though, it seems that our own personality traits can slip through onto the page, and we find our character behaving how we would behave, rather than how they ought to.

This got me to thinking about our characters’…well, their characters.

Have you ever been personality typed at work? Or completed a ‘Cosmopolitan’ style multiple choice questionnaire to see who you really are?

In my experience the results are very rarely surprising (particularly when we complete the survey ourselves). But I wondered what would happen if I completed a personality test for one of my characters.

Are her actions congruent with the personality I intended to give her?

Myers-Briggs is one of the most used and trusted tests. It divides people into one of 16 different broad ‘best-fit’ personality types. I found a synthetic online version here. There are only four choices to make so it’s pretty fast. Try it!

I answered the questions first for myself and then for my character. I’ve posted the results below. I’d be inclined to say that they’re pretty accurate for both of us.

For writing a new character, when I’m just getting to know them, I think this short, fast summary could be a useful reference for deciding how they should behave in a given situation.

Why not try it for one of your existing characters, or one you intend to create? I’d love to hear how you get on.

**************************

Claire – ENFP

Words, ideas and possibilities spew effortlessly from them. Words are their best friends. They dance around ideas, the more, the merrier. Imaginative, spontaneous, original and enthusiastic, they have a knack for seeing other possibilities, other dreams and options. The world is never as it is but as it could be, as if it were but an artists sketch begging for colour. They initiate change and often are prone to trespassing a few known boundaries to take themselves and others where no one has been before. The status quo tends to lack inspiration.

When inspired, they are fearless and tireless. Their energy will know no limits unless red tape takes over. Routine drags them down. Their faith in possibilities and belief in the benefit of change often inspire others to follow. They are challenging, ingenious and innovative. They will give their best to what appears to be an impossible challenge, a place unknown to man or beast.

They use metaphors, stories, images and analogies to make their point.They love theories and often shape their own. They see patterns emerging. Keen improvisers, they are rarely caught off guard, there is always something up their sleeve. The sky is the only limit.

They are sometimes entertainers, artists or otherwise engaged in public demonstrations that allow their ideas to bloom. Their greatest difficulty is not in initiating projects but in choosing among so many possibilities, setting realistic boundaries, establishing priorities and correctly assessing resources.

Main Character – INFJ

Without introverted intuitives, it is said that Israel would have had no prophets. Under deceptively conventional appearances lie perceptive minds that travel the breadth and depth of universal mysteries, contemplating its multilayered complexity, seeking the trends that will define the future. With time, clarity of vision comes. When it comes, they are propelled towards the vision and all their actions lead to it. They are perseverant behind a quiet exterior and will often come back with their vision long after everyone believes they have let it go.

What they see is so clear and obvious to them they are often surprised to find that others cannot see it as well. They may find it difficult to articulate the necessary steps towards implementation or to explain how each goal fits into the larger picture.

Their mind usually travels from the past to the future, seeking to fit a particular situation in a large context. It picks up patterns, symbols and images from different seemingly unrelated fields, identifies similarities and provides meaning. This can help solve problems by juxtaposing ideas, finding analogies or simply by rooting out the quintessential reality, discovering the origin in universal stories and human experiences, culling wisdom from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. Their mind naturally travels from the microcosm to the macrocosm.

They regularly have to face the difficulties of bringing dreams into reality. The time and effort it takes is always more than what their intuition initially suggested. They are determined perseverant, inspired and often see things just around the corner, into the near or far future.

Dirty Windows

Posted on: January 21st, 2011 by Claire - 5 Comments

Today’s question is: Who knows what, and when?

Sometimes concepts from my day job cross-over into my writing. This week another one cropped up – The Johari Window.

It’s often used for improving communication, team building, and personal development. I think it also has a direct application to creative writing:

The four-panes of the window map out the information that is known to an individual and/or to others. Or, in the case of fiction, what is know to a character and what is know to the reader. It is a simple square divided into four quadrants, as so:

  1. The things that known to both the reader and the character: Known as the open window
  2. Things that are known to the reader but NOT the character: I call this the secret window
  3. Things that are known by the character but not to the reader: I think of this as the mirrored window (those on the outside can’t see in)
  4. Things that are known by neither the reader nor the character: I like to think of this as the dirty window

1. The Open Window

The Open Window starts off pretty much non-existant, since when you open a book you have no information about the character. Some books immediately start trying to help you out with this:

“Jenny ran her long fingers through her blonde hair as she studied her tall, slender frame in the mirror”.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s the writer  pulling down the sash, pretty brutally. Of course, increasing what a reader knows can be done much more subtly, through dialogue, clues, the character’s actions and through a drip-feed of pertinent information. Even if you feel you know your character well, the reader’s intimacy with the character should increase gradually over time.

2. The Secret Window

In the secret window, the reader has information that the character does not. This can be simple information (Jenny is being stalked!), or can involve deep issues which the character can’t face, and yet can be seen by others. For example the reader sees Jenny’s drinking habits and realise she is an alcoholic, but Jenny has not understood this herself. Information kept in this window can be used to build tension (as with the stalker), or empathy, making the reader want to reach out and help the character…

3. The Mirrored Window

This is information that the character knows about him/herself that readers do not. Perhaps she lost her parents in an accident, perhaps she is really a man. Perhaps she likes chips for tea. Perhaps she lied when she said she loved Geoff. The writer will choose how much of this information to share with the reader throughout the story, but the information will always affect the character’s actions.

4. The Dirty Window

The reader doesn’t know, the character doesn’t know, so who does know? Ah yes, that would be you, the author. For example, Jenny is pregnant, but she has no idea. Or she is courageous but has not yet had a chance to prove it. Or, subconsciously, she still not forgiven her father for not taking her to the circus in 1975. Information in this square drives  your character’s actions and through character development and plotting, more information becomes known to the character herself.

So at the end of the story, the open window is bigger and the others have shrunk. We feel like we’ve got to know the character better, and the character has grown as a person. Critically, though, the other windows have not vanished all together. If we want to write a sequel, maybe Jenny will still be unaware she has a stalker, and unless it’s really important to the plot, we may never find out that Jenny likes chips for tea.

Keeping track of who knows what is particularly important during the editing stage of writing a novel, when whole chunks of action can get moved around. What do you think, could using this idea help?

Characters, Conflict and Psychology

Posted on: November 8th, 2010 by Claire - 1 Comment

Brad and Lolita stood side by side on the hotel balcony, looking up at the stars.

“I’m cold,” Lolita whimpered.

Brad took off his tuxedo and draped it over her shoulders.

One of the great pleasures of writing fictional characters, for me, is figuring out what makes them behave the way they do, and then developing that consistently throughout the story. So, I’ve brought you here today to talk to you about psychologist Dr Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis (1958).

From a personal point of view, Berne’s theory can help us understand why our communications with others don’t always go smoothly, and can help us ‘re-programme’ ourselves to be more conscious (and hopefully therefore more successful) in our interactions.

From a writer’s point of view, Transactional Analysis can help with both character development and motivation, as well as form the basis for conflict in their reactions with other characters.

The theory, in a nutshell, is that we all have three ‘ego states’ based on the concepts or truths that are ‘recorded’ onto our brains, as shown in the diagram below:

Parent: concepts taught to us in (roughly) the first five years of life. Learned from parents but also other adults, teachers, television etc. These can be things like ‘Always look left and right before crossing the road’ or ‘I am a lazy person’.

Adult: learned concepts from evaluating experiences or information. These responses can start around 1 year old and can include things like ‘When I tip my drink on myself I get wet’ or ‘The boss was right, carrying business cards is important’.

Child: felt concepts, emotional, experienced internally. Examples could be ‘I was scared by the barking dog’ or ‘My husband drives me nuts’.

We all play all of these ego roles during our daily interactions (stimulus/response) with others, moving between them frequently, depending on how we are feeling, who we are interacting with, the situation etc.  And so do our characters.

Character Development

When we understand (or create) a character’s Child and Parent ‘recordings’ as background to our story, we can then show/imply a lot of backstory without actually telling it. And we can show character and relationship developments as the interaction types change.

Conflict

Even more exciting are the interactions between characters. The simplest interactions are Adult talking to Adult, which may explain why in a conflict-rich narrative we don’t see very much of those. A common interaction played out in a lot of fiction (and a lot of real life relationships) is the Parent talking to Child/Child responding back to Parent.

For example, in the short scene at the top of the page. Brad is complicit in this interaction – the communication is smooth – Lolita’s Child speaks to Brad’s Parent and Brad responds with his Parent back to Lolita’s Child. So the interaction is a complimentary one. It tells us a lot about the situation but there is no conflict.

But I could have decided to have Brad decided to respond like this:

“I’m cold,” Lolita whimpered.

“Jeez. I can’t do anything to make you happy!” snapped Brad.

This is what Berne called a ‘crossed transaction': Lolita sent her communication to Brad’s Parent, but Brad’s response came back from his own Child. Et voila, conflict.

It could be that by consciously recognising and writing the stimulus and response types in our characters’ interactions, we have one more tool in our toolbox for writing authentic characters.

For more information on this, read Dr Eric Berne’s book Games People Play or see the original article here on his website.

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