You will almost always get more from seeing a play performed than only reading it. The complete joy The Monster experiences as he gradually learns to move, then crawl, then stumble, then run, is probably not so well presented in stage directions as it is by either Jonny Lee Miller or Benedict Cumberbatch. The utter betrayal felt by the Prince of Danes in Hamlet or the slapstick physical comedy by everyone in Shakespeare in Hollywood are well expressed in words, but better expressed by people. And sure, the steadfast intensity of Ruth Younger is going to be more palpably felt through any of the differing characterizations of Ruby Dee, Audra MacDonald or Sophie Okonedo than they might when you are picking them up on paper.
Some of them will leave you utterly confused without someone performing them in front of you. (I’m looking at you, Martin McDonagh).
But something has to be said for reading plays, to understanding the text, to having those words performed in your own head, in your own voice, before you hear them in someone else’s.
A short while ago, I was directed to this short post regarding committing the first 90 minutes of your ‘work day’ to your passion project, for 90 days (allowing time for it to become habit, rather than a challenge to be met).
I started earlier this week doing what I need to get more ‘real job’ ducks in their proverbial row. I made it two days before I wanted to give up and cry. Because as…
Nobody likes a perfect character. Someone who is super good at everything and gets everything right is annoying.
Even the most suave secret agents or indestructible superheroes need to make mistakes in order to make the story interesting.
There are two parts to using wrongness in a story. There’s the actual mistake (which sometimes isn’t known to be a mistake at the time), and there’s the consequences of the mistake, usually forcing the character to deal with powerful feeling of guilt or regret.
The mistake the character makes is more impactful on the reader if we see it happen. In some stories a character may be dealing with something that happened a long time a go. A cop who shot the wrong guy is now a washed up private eye. That sort of backstory is fine, but it won’t have real meaning for readers if they don’t see it happen.
A mistake in and of itself won’t automatically be fascinating. Like any element of a story, it needs to be interesting. If the guy mentioned above was chasing a thief and shot and missed, killing an innocent bystander, that’s perfectly plausible, but it’s also perfectly dull.
There are many reasons for a mistake beyond an accident, and the more intentional and purposeful it is, i.e. the more the character is responsible for his own actions, the better.
Some characters are just dumb. The useless guy in a gang of robbers or in an armyunit. The girl who’s dancing with headphones on while a killer runs round the house stabbing everyone. The kid who never knows what’s going on. These sorts of characters can be very annoying, which is probably why they don’t make for good lead characters (and usually end up dying first).
It can often feel reasonable to attribute a character’s actions to their dumbness, certainly it happens in real life all the time, but you have to be careful not to use it as a convenient excuse for unlikely events. Characters like this are okay in small doses or for comic relief, but nobody wants to follow an idiot around for 300 pages.
Sometimes a character can have strongly held but completely mistaken beliefs. It can be a belief in someone or something. The thing about belief is you don’t need proof. Whether it’s a religion or a best friend, you take it for granted that what you believe is true.
While it’s hard to show that, what you can show is how the character acts because of his or her beliefs. Showing that belief being tested and how the character stands up for their beliefs establishes their position so that when they do make their mistake later on, we can see their reasons.
Unlike beliefs, some character have facts at their disposal that lead them to do terrible things. Taking clear, incontrovertible information and then logically coming to a mistaken conclusion is something that happens all the time. However, in order for the reader to be able to follow why the character does what he does, the writer needs to show that logical progression.
This can lead to long, boring exposition, or it can become very convoluted and hard to follow. But when done properly (and hopefully concisely), it can be very effective.
Sometimes a character can intentionally be given misleading information. Being manipulated by others is a powerful narrative device because it gives the character a definite next step and somewhere for them to focus their anger.
You do have to be careful that you give the misleaders a proper reason for wanting to mislead our hero. Just because they’re the bad guys isn’t going to be enough, they have to have a goal of their own.
Once the mistake has been made, at some point the character will need to realise their error. The way they find out can obviously be many and varied, but the important thing is for it to happen in front of the reader. It also helps if other characters are there to witness it, or maybe even profit by it.
The realisation that they were wrong really needs to be the focus. How a character reacts emotionally to this knowledge, whether guilt, remorse , anger or even denial, will set you up for the next stage of the story.
It can be difficult for a writer to put a favourite character through that kind of experience, but it’s the ideal time to really get the boot in. As long as you keep in mind that they will emerge from the ashes stronger than before, you should be able to convince yourself it’s worth the agony you’re putting them through.
It’s not enough to realise the error of your ways, you have to then decide what to do about it. Whatever mistakes the character made, there should be consequences and repercussions, and the character responsible shouldn’t shy away from dealing with them.
Running away and hiding from the world may seem like a reasonable reaction, and it may even suit the personality of your character, but it rarely serves the story. The whole point of putting a character in this position is to show what they do about it and how it changes them.
A change of heart where we can see the process from beginning to end, why the character thinks one way and what makes them change their mind, is an incredibly powerful narrative device in fiction, and one that requires things to get worse before they get better. But the character that emerges after facing the mistakes they made will be all the more interesting for it.
I know I’ve been a bit more lurky than participatory as of late. However, I do have a follower giveaway I’m prepping to be ready to ship out in time for NaNoWriMo. If you’re into that sort of thing, keep your eyes peeled.
whether it’s makeup, a band tshirt, your fandom pins, tattoos, jewelry, your favorite ripped pair of jeans, or something no one else can touch or see like your favorite song repeating like a mantra in your head, the sound of your own heartbeat, or the knowledge that you were brave enough to get out of bed today when everything else inside you said “no”
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”—
I feel like the story of Snape and Lily via this post needs a muggle twist so some people can get a true understanding of what that was like. And how you should never side with Snape ever and how he was not romantic and his devotion to Lilly was 5,000% icky.
Imagine you are black.
(I mean, I’m black so I don’t have to do much imagining. But if you are not black imagine you are black. Close your eyes real tight. Concentrate. Okay open them. Get ready for oppression.)
Now imagine that in maybe 5th grade you make friends with a white boy. He’s kind of shy, but you have things in common. No big deal. Whatever. Its like, the 80’s, being friends with someone of another race isn’t a huge fucking deal anymore. Especially in a big city, which is where you live. Whatever man, its 5th grade.
In your 5th grade class, there is another boy. Everyone has had this boy in their class at some point: Loud, brash, cocky, kind of really popular but in an annoying way, thinks he’s the class clown—or at least he’s good friends with the class clown. (But this is fifth grade, remember, so if you’re in high school and you have something forming in your mind, age that down to about 12 years old and yeah.) Annoying boy is white too. But hey, its America/England so, most people are white. Its not a big deal.
Annoying boy pretty much won’t leave you alone. Hair pulling, skirt flipping and the like. Its bothersome and you pretty much loathe him. Particularly because, by contrast with your sweet shy friend, annoying boy is rather beastly.
In about a year, shy boy starts getting really into reading stuff about nationalism and conservative politics. You don’t really pay much attention to it because this is 6th grade. Everyone’s going rapidly through interests and hobbies at this stage of their life. Shy boy is still nice to you and that’s all that matters really.
It’s 2089. all cops have been replaced by genetically modified dogs that let children pet them, help old ladies cross the street, chase down criminals, never eat donuts, bark at cat-callers, analyze dna, easily track down murders, pee on white collar criminals, and tear the faces off of rapists. utopia has been reached.
“Write down things that interest you. It does not matter what they are. It matters that they interest you and that you are writing them down. In this way you are participating in the history of literature. Other people will likely not be very interested. Pay them no mind.”—Daniel Handler’s tips for writing (via casualty)