Being a Better Writer: Trait Dominance

This is going to be a short one today. Two reasons. One is that I’m still sick, and don’t feel great. The second is that I’ve also got a work shift today I have to be at in a little over an hour. It’s going to be an interesting day.

So, let’s not waste time (also, I really hope my head is there enough to at least make sense with this). Last night, I watched a review of a film which noted a major flaw in a character: that they were dominated by a single, overwhelming trait.

It wasn’t that they didn’t supposedly have a character outside of that one attribute. But the problem was that the writers were so sure everyone wanted to know about that trait that it came up in every scene, in every bit of wording … crud, at the end of the film, the character was still acting on this trait and reminding everyone “Oh, by the way …”

And yeah, that ended up really jarring for all involved. As the reviewer put it, it was both pointless “character development” that was shoved at the audience and distracting from everything else that the film was supposed to be about.

Thing is, this isn’t an uncommon problem. I’ve read books where the same thing happens; where the author is so determined to show us one side of a character that it becomes the only side we get to see. After I finished that review, in fact, I spent some time thinking on how a lot of stories have fallen to this weakness and ended up making a perfectly good character weaker than they needed to otherwise be, or would have been had they not been so badly thrown off-balance.

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Being a Better Writer: The Static Character

Sorry for the lateness of today’s post, readers. It wasn’t because I had work, or because I was indisposed by some sudden surprise event or something. No it was simply because I was tired and decided to catch up on sleep. And catch up I did. I slept … crud, I’m not even sure, but it was more than eight hours by a long shot. I’ll probably do the same tomorrow.

Anyway, we’re actually venturing off the list this week with today’s post. For two reasons. The first is that there’s only one topic left on Topic List XI. The second is that this post was inspired by a book I read last week that left a strong impression on me for the exact problem we’ll be talking about today (which means I also won’t be naming the book, since it’s otherwise fairly good, and that’s my usual approach as to not turn readers off from it).

So then what is this problem? Well, you’ve seen the title. So what am I talking about when I say “The Static Character?”

Well, really quickly, let’s get out of the way what it isn’t, at least how we’re speaking of it today. Because a “static character” description can be used as a catch-all phrase for a character that doesn’t do much or doesn’t contribute, and this can include speaking of the events of the story. Different reviewers will use the phrase interchangeably for similar concepts all the time, but that’s usually what it boils down to: A character that does little and doesn’t move.

But there’s another aspect that the term can refer to, and that’s the one that I want to talk about today. The character that does stuff, is involved in the story … but never changes or shifts as a character.

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Being a Better Writer: Good Sources of Positive Interaction

Hello readers, and welcome back to another Being a Better Writer Monday usual!

Yeah, I know. I need to think of some new greetings. Regardless, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. Mine was both invigorating and enlightening. Twice a year my faith holds a church-wide, televised conference over Saturday and Sunday, and this weekend happened to be it, so I had a lovely weekend relaxing in my recliner listening to said conference and doing self-discovery and examination.

In any case, that doesn’t have too much to do with today’s topic, though if I wanted it too, I likely could find some application. Actually, now that I’ve typed that, I think I can already see some application, but it remains to be seen if they’ll come out in this post or not.

So … Good sources of positive interaction. This is kind of an interesting topic, one that has to do more with the tangential bits of writing than the straight act of putting your fingers to a keyboard (or pen to paper, if you’re that old-fashioned). You could probably write an entire book—no, you could—without ever finding a need for this particular topic. But as you write a second? Or a third? Or start to edit that first one?

Well … this topic suddenly becomes a lot more valid. As solitary as writing can be at times (which is very, just ask my friends and family, some of whom occasionally see me come up for air), it’s also an act that cannot exist in a vacuum. Not just socially (we as human beings need interaction with others) but for the good of our writing as well. We need feedback. Responses. Interaction.

So how do we find good interactions that will improve our craft? And how do we avoid those that will harm it?

Well, that is the topic according to the post title, isn’t it? So let’s dive into this.

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Character Variety

Welcome back readers! If you’re seeing this early early early Monday morning, that means that I succeeded in getting it written on Saturday before my work shift … so that I wouldn’t have to worry about not having written it during my Monday and Tuesday work shifts.

One day I’ll move into that 20% of authors that don’t need a second job. Someday …

But for today, we’re back on track with Topic List 11 and chugging right along with a particularly interesting request topic: keeping characters fresh.

Now, granted, this request came with a bit of an explanation, which I’ll give to you now (and is reflected in the title). Our intrepid seeker of knowledge wasn’t asking about keeping a character constantly “fresh” over the course of the story (that’s another topic for another day) or how much tupperware they’d need to keep them from going stale. No, what they were asking after was another kind of freshness: how to keep their new characters from simply being photocopies of prior ones?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Matters

So, last week I was browsing the web (one of my favorite pastimes for finding interesting details and acquiring knowledge) when I came across a very … shall we say, interesting post. It was on a book forum, where someone was, if I recall the context correctly, talking about a specific Sci-Fi book they tried to read. A recent award winner, again if I recall correctly, from one of those snooty ‘literary’ awards. Anyway, they mentioned that they’d tried reading it, but had given up because, as they explained, all the characters fell flat. Or rather, were flat, simply mouthpieces to explain the story’s science. They had no other character or uniqueness other than a name. They were just there as, well, robots, to drive the science forward. Other than that, they were simply flat caricatures. As a result, the reader had given up on the book, because there was no character to revolve around.

Now, this post jumped out at me for two reasons. The first, but not the foremost, was that it lined up with a news article I recall reading a few years ago about in which a major publisher, faced with the falling sales of their Sci-Fi and Fantasy, conducted a nationwide survey of their former readers (no idea how they pulled that off, but they have to have some metric for it) asking why their former readers had abandoned them. The answer? That too many of their books just didn’t have good characters anymore, or worse, had characters that were just ideological mouthpieces for the science/social angle of the book. Without strong, compelling, or real characters, their readers had abandoned them.

The second reason that this post jumped out at me was the response to it. This was on a forum that is … Well, let’s just say they’re the kind of readers that the current publishers want to have in greater number. The response was immediate and, shockingly, angry. We’re talking caps and exclamation marks about how dare this reader put down a book because the characters weren’t good. Because—and understand I’m summarizing a number of posts here—characters aren’t important. They’re just mouthpieces to present the science. You’re not supposed to care about them. Or find them interesting. If you do, that’s a bonusnot a requirement. Blah blah blah, you read the book for the message, not for the characters, who cares if they’re shallow, etc etc etc.

Reading over this led me to this post. Where I’m going to say something flat-out.

That stance? That characters don’t matter? It’s wrong. From start to finish. This isn’t even a matter of opinion. That’s why the survey sprang to mind. That survey said that people do care about characters, that people are invested in how characters act and why. And do you know why?

Because they are! Great characters make stories come to life! They sell stories. Not science or social messages. Those can be pandered anyone in a deadpan monotone and still find their audience of those already subscribed to the idea. But a story? That takes characters.

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Being a Better Writer: Writing About Injuries

Hello readers, and welcome to … Topic. List. Eleven!

Okay, so it’s probably not such a big deal for those of you who are newcomers or aren’t sitting on my end of the keyboard, but on this side knowing that I’ve made it through ten of these sheets of paper with Being a Better Writer topics on them is a little awe-inspiring. This marks the fifth year of writing these, and from the look if it, I’m not going to run out of topics anytime soon.

So then, let’s talk injuries. Specifically, writing about them, why we write about them, and some of the different ways we can use them in our writing, for good or bad.

Actually, we’re going to tackle this in not quite that order. First up, why write about injury? Why should we be concerned with keeping track of our characters pains and aches, especially if they’re not “important” to the story?

Well, as you can probably guess by the quotes around “important” in that last paragraph, I’d disagree entirely, regardless of the type of story that we’re writing. That’s right, injury and pain are just as important in a story that’s a Regency Romance as they are in a story that’s an action-adventure novel. Do you know why?

Because pain and injury, minor or major, are a part of life. They’re as much as it sounds strange to say it this way, a unique flavor that’s a part and parcel of the experience. Ask yourself how many times you’ve stubbed a toe, burned a finger or palm, or suffered a cut or scrape across your arm. In all likelihood, you probably can’t even remember a large number of those times … but you still know that they happened because they’re part of the experience of life.

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Being a Better Writer: Sex Appeal, Attractiveness, and Character Description

Could someone please get a fire extinguisher and have it standing by, please? Because this is one of those topics that, thrown before the wrong crowd, can have torches lit before the title has even finished appearing on screen.

Which, obviously, is not the goal of Being a Better Writer … but torch-lighting is the goal of others online, so there’s still a chance. Hopefully the comments on this one don’t devolve—or worse, dive—into a flame war.

Because, if I’m honest, this is a topic that I think needs to be discussed more among writers, if only to keep them from falling into what is, quite frankly, a bit of a trap-like pit that can drag multiple aspects of their story down if tackled poorly. And … let’s be fair here, a lot of works handle this poorly. Which is why I chose to write on this topic in the first place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. So let’s back up and start where these things ought to start—the beginning—and get some context out of the way. Such as “What do I mean when I say this post is about sex appeal and character description?”

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