Sunday, April 28, 2013


Let’s talk characterisation! Characterisation is one of the elements that makes up the wonderful world of fiction. In the cauldron labelled FICTION, you put (alongside characterisation) plot, theme, setting and style. Everybody handles their dosage in different ways. I usually put a dash of theme and setting and am heavier on the amount of characterisation, style and plot. Characterisation, though, is one of my favourite ‘ingredients’ to handle. 
To me, a story can still have a plot that is lacking, but when the characters are so real I can reach the page and touch them, it makes for a gripping and good story. Sometimes that fits the story, to have the plot in the background. And sometimes it’s the other way around.
I like figuring things out, especially people. That is why I like mystery plots and deep characters. I guess as a writer, I have a preference for figuring out people instead of an actual mystery. I’m not the only one who thinks this, because 
FUN FACT: around the fifteenth century, Aristotle advocated the plot-driven narrative, but in the nineteenth century that changed and the character-driven narrative was promoted, mainly due to the advanced knowledge of psychology.

In any case, let me give you a little info on the types of characters.
-Protagonist: the main character.
-Antagonist: adversary of main character.
-Point-of-view character: the character that observes (tells) the story. Doesn’t necessarily have to be the main character. (Like in the Sherlock Holmes stories, where Watson tells the story the way he observes it to be.)
-Minor character: supports main character.
-Foil character: makes the characteristics of main character stand out. Usually has opposite characteristics of main character.
-Impact character: drives the main character forward. Forces the action much like an antagonist. In conflict with main character and uses that to help him/her, or not. Can be friend or enemy.

There is also explicit/direct characterisation, which is when the author actually tells the reader what a character is like through description by narrator/character.
Implicit/indirect characterisation is my favourite kind because that is when the reader finds out for himself what a character is like through the actions/thoughts/speech/interactions of a character. Since I’m a big fan of show, don’t tell, this is (in my eyes) the best way of describing a character. Also, as a reader I find this is the best way of getting to know a character. But again, I like figuring people out.

For me, I’ve never had much trouble putting down three-dimensional people on paper. And when I had, it was because I was linking the wrong person to the wrong story. Or the right person to the wrong story? You know what I mean.
There’s either the idea of a story which I then link with an appropriate character, or it’s the other way around. However, when I find my characters a little flat, it helps to inflate them with a secret (relating to other characters or the plot, or just themselves) that only I know. Something you might never mention or hint at in the story, but that still helps you show depth. I also like one quirky thing about my characters, especially with regard to fears. For instance, a deep-rooted fear of tennis balls.
There are writers who like to work with long lists that explore their tastes, dislikes, what shoes they wear, etc. I don’t like to think of details like that, unless they are actually mentioned in the story. I have an overall view of the character. The way you feel you know someone well, even though you don’t know many facts about them or know them that long. And based on that I know how they react to situations and characters.
There are two golden rules to remember: show, don’t tell and less is more. Hinting at things and being subtle is the best thing to do. You know how they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s something like that. One small gesture, a look or one sentence can usually say a lot about that person, just like with real people. The benefit of fake people is that you can be smart, sneaky and creative with how you introduce more about them. Also, they don't talk back.  

I suppose for everyone it is different and I’m curious to learn how other writers handle characterisation. So, grab a chair and some biscuits while I put the kettle on. ^_^

Sunday, April 21, 2013


To discover a theme in an existing book is challenging enough, but to find one for your own story, well, that’s like extinguishing a fire with a handkerchief. The theme expresses a universal message and I’ve been taught that a theme is very important. You need to know what you want to say with your story, even if a book isn’t literary fiction, or maybe especially then.

There is a difference between the subject of a book and the theme. A subject is what it’s about, while a theme is about what you want to say with your story. A subject can be: loneliness. A theme can be: loneliness is just a state of mind. You then use your story to prove your theme. That is why a theme is a good thing to have, it keeps you on track and reminds you of why you are writing your story.
That is easier with literary fiction, because that usually deals with universal dilemmas, but what if you want to write a different genre, what if you just want to write something ligh
t and fun? What if the story just dropped in your lap without a yellow post-it that tells you the theme? 

With me, usually the story comes without a clear idea of its theme and I never used to think about it. Until I learned that the theme is really important, it’s the soul of the story. And even if a story is written because it’s cool or fun, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a theme. Every story has a theme, but it doesn’t always explore it or say something about it. And that’s the difference between a fun book and a good book.

So now, when a fun story comes to me—as they so often do—I write down what the characters are struggling with and make that into a subject and then into a statement about that subject. And then I make sure I prove that statement with my story. It sounds easier than it is. Especially since most of the time, but especially with the first draft, I just want to get the story written. I follow the scent in my brain that leads me to the ending. Where my reward is cheese. Hmm, cheese. But at the end of that maze I want to be able to look back and see that I’ve written something with substance. When I wrote a lot of poetry during my teen years, I always had a message in my poems, so why not with my stories? I have plenty to say and I would love to be able to reach out to people and make them think and debate. After all, isn’t that one of the wonders of books?

With theme also comes symbolism, because symbolism is a great way of hinting at your theme. For instance, if your theme relates to freedom, you could use birds to represent freedom. Also, buildings can represent strength. Darkness can represent evil. Flames/fire can represent anger, etc. Symbolism is fun, because it’s like you’re winking at the reader. And who doesn’t like being winked at? Well, unless it’s a creepy wink, but that’s not the case here. So feel free to wink at your reader all you want and throw some symbolism in your story cauldron, along with the theme. ;) 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ninja Readers

Ah, the sweet sound of applause in your head. The euphoric feeling that settles around you like a warm, comfortable blanket. The proud grin that you can’t seem to shake, even when you walk your dog and pick up his doodoo. No, nothing can stop you from feeling on top of the world when you’ve typed THE END at the end of your story. It felt like a very long labour and you’re both sad and elated. Sad that your precious baby has to face the harsh world on its own and elated that you’ve managed to drag a whole story out of your head and onto your laptop screen.

And so you call all arms, even though you have all your arms, and request some ninja readers (beta-readers, but my term sounds cooler) to read your final version and comment. With flushed cheeks and trembling fingers you send out your story and hope for the best. Before, you thought the hard part was over, but this is the hard part. It's FREAKING scary. I always realised it would be scary, but I never thought I’d compare it to jumping out of a plane with no parachute. And I’m afraid of heights.

Still, I’ve been diligent, worked hard and have been well prepared for this battle. An MA in Creative Writing has taught me how to deal with criticism. As well as, you know, write creatively. But that was in the safety of a loving classroom as opposed to the jungle out there. Writing is art and art is personal. The rules change, you change them, or someone else. Someone will love your work, someone will hate it. We’re all different and that’s okay. All I know is that this book wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for me and that means nobody could have written it but me. Somehow, that’s comforting. It helps that so far I’ve heard good things from my ninja readers (and only one person talked to me like I was a four-year-old). No fundamental mistakes, only a few differences of opinions, but that’s why you need to sort out for yourself if what someone tells you is their opinion or a structural error on your part. I guess I just have to go for it and have a little faith in myself. A literary agent was already interested in the idea and that’s a good start, now I just have to use my fear to push me forward, instead of hold me back, even if it’s right over the edge of the cliff, without knowing how deep it is and if there is a giant bouncing house at the bottom. Just in case, I’m taking my shoes off.