Saturday, April 28, 2012

getting to know your characters

I've always been in awe of how one of my favorite authors Dostoevsky orchestrates such large casts of characters whose voices are distinct and constant (except when he intends to have them break their character mold, which they often do for various motives) and whose personalities can become as real and close to you as your own familys' and friends'.  Give him just one, two or three characters to work with, and he manages to go deeper than you ever wanted into their every crevice.  Your characters were not built in a day.  Remember that they have years of experiences, aspirations, traumas, etc. behind them.  Even if they're brand new, there's history in the world they live and the generations of shoulders they're standing on.

I've heard a number of ways to get to know who it is you are writing through, and about, in your story.  Of course, there is a plethora of inspiration in the real-life characters all around us.  We can draw from our own individual characteristics in different phases of our life.  Often our characters will be a similitude or mish-mash or an extreme version of people we know in real life, or wished we knew, or wished we didn't know...

Last night, our fearless leader Paul mentioned going through a hypothetical interview with each character, asking them questions and thinking of what they would answer, to get a sense for the voice of the characters.  I wondered why I had never taken this idea to paper, as I'm always thinking more about characterization and character development than of plot. (An important side note: remember that setting can also be treated as a character in itself that changes depending on whose point of view we are seeing through.  Setting has been described as simply the opinion of a character of where he/she is.)

Admittedly, some weak points of mine (somewhat uncharted territory for me), are dialogue and showing rather than telling.  Telling is easier.  There are times when telling is appropriate and necessary.  It's also usually a lot more boring, when it comes to knowing a person.  In this, I have to challenge myself to write longer, write more, to illustrate who this person is through examples of how they respond to life, rather than omnisciently splurging their hopes/dreams/fears and attitudes right away.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Putting it to paper.

      There are many ways a person can write a story.  There is no proper way or way that it has to be done.  Writing just more or less happens.
      I've found that the style I use best is the form in which you map it out first, find out where I'm going with the story before writing too much.  I started out with the 'write by the seat of your pants' style.  I couldn't figure out how I wanted to start my book so I started somewhere in the middle and just kept writing.
It wasn't until I took History of Theater in college that I figured out that I could start my book in the middle of the story.  The professor shared that when you watch a play you are witnessing a snippet of the character's whole story.  What he meant was that you weren't watching the character's entire life ie: birth, childhood, adolescence, and so forth.  So what you are seeing is the portion of the character's life pertinent to story of the play.
      Once I learned that, I decided that I would use what I've written as the beginning of my book.  From there I realized that I wasn't sure where I wanted the story to go.  Some writers are okay with that and it's fine.  My writer's blocks tend to deal with me not writing because I don't know what is going to happen in my story.
So my method is the story boarding style.  I have several white boards that I map the whole plot line of my book out on.  These plot points are not set in stone and I have changed them as I've gotten feedback and found out some plot points are weak or irrelevant to the story or characters.  You just can't set it in stone.  That will limit you too much, especially if your story takes a turn you hadn't anticipated earlier (which happens quite often).
      When I actual go to write, I pick a plot point that I feel like I can tease out into a scene.  It might be a large scene that is several pages in length or it could end up being only half a page just so I get the plot element into the story.  Once I'm done writing it down and typing it up, I go back to my white board and update the point with a little more elaboration so that when I go back to look at the board later I can remember easier how I expanded it.
      I am very visual with my planning.  I've drawn maps of the areas my characters have gone so that I can describe them better in the book.  When creating a new world it helps to remember where all your landmarks are in relation to each other.  Or while writing the second book of my series, I realized that I had a hard time remembering where certain characters were in their own story lines, relative to each other.  So I took one of my white boards and drew out a timeline for each character.  One time line above the other so that when I plotted the points of the timeline for each character, the points then showed, in more readily available format, where each character was.
     I'm not saying this is the best way to write a story, and I'm sure it doesn't work for everyone.  This is the way I set it up though and it keeps me on track.  That being said, I'm always curious about other writer's methods and ways I can try differently to keep the creativity flowing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Ending of Mass Effect

(If you haven't finished the game I apologize there are some SPOILERS in this discussion)

There has been this huge discussion about the recently released game Mass Effect 3.  It was a huge hit with game critics and an absolute turn down for players.  The biggest reason being the ending of the game.

I have played it through once and seen the possible endings of the game afterward from people recording their choices on YouTube.  While there are a lot of holes in the endings, particularly pertaining to the scene with the Normandy flying between Mass Relays, there is something that a lot of the people who played the Mass Effect line have left out.  The fact that not every story has a completely happy ending.

I felt fine with my choice and the end of the game.  With a series so immense as the Mass Effect series is, to accommodate for all the choices a player could have chosen while playing would have been astronomical.  But the true fact of the matter is, it is the writers of the story that have planned out what ending it will ultimately be.  The fact that the writers left an Easter egg at the end of one of the choices just means that that ending was the one they had planned the whole time.    Not to mention the possibility for future games and spin offs.  

Yes, I know that the game was made to shape the galaxy into how the player wanted to, like deciding which species gets to live and which doesn't or who you want to befriend or not.  But its similar to the saying, "you can't bring money with you".  Meaning that you can't take money with you through the grave.  So whatever you do in the game will ultimately not matter at the end because the threat you have to face at the end will either destroy you or leave you limping and bleeding afterwards.  Yes, limping and bleeding is better than being dead but what I'm saying is even if you've won you still had the crap beat out of you.

As many of the players who really looked into the game, aside from playing it through to romance some alien chick or shoot up space meanies, should know from the Star Trek franchise that there is sometimes a no win situation.  So when Shepard dies at the end and strands the massive fleet he brought with him to Earth that is a no win situation.  Yeah, the threat to the galaxy is gone but sacrifices had to be made to do so.  That's what Admiral Hackett had been saying for the entire game.

You may say you hate the ending of the series but what you're not seeing is that the writers did exactly what writers are supposed to do.  Draw out your emotions and feelings so that they can be felt by you and, if they can pull it off, those around you as well.  What the players are kicking and screaming about is that they didn't get a 'Hollywood Ending'.  Not every story has a 'Hollywood Ending' and that's great. Not having happy endings is something that people remember.

All of this is not to say that writers shouldn't take into consideration what their audience feels.  If they didn't, they would get lazy.  As we've all seen with absurd amount of remakes and reboots of older movies coming out of Hollywood.  If writers didn't take their audiences' views into consideration the literary world would dissolve into too few actually creative books.  Much like what is coming out of Hollywood.  This point may not be pointed at the writers as much as producers not willing to put out movies that are original either way there has to be new ideas to promote growth.  But back to my main point.  What I'm saying is that even though a story is the work of a writer, the writer still writes the story so that other people will read it.  There has to be a trust for the writers to write something that will move the audience, whether to make them happy or sad or even angry, and an understanding that if something is written with an upsetting ending that it will still be well written and not just a cop out.