Saturday, 20 September 2014

WHO AM I? A Comment About Characterisation

First of all, and what many people have noted, I tend to give my characters ‘normal’ names such as Roger, Keith, Anna, Sam, Alicia. This was a conscious choice because when I’ve read books in the past I find it hard to get my head around weird alien names and lose track of who is who. I didn’t want my readers to have the same problem so I’d just rather keep it simple and direct. Even so a few slightly different names did creep in, like Kristof and Skylar. Again not alien names, but just a little unusual. I probably couldn’t walk down the street and meet a Kristof or Skylar, but I could probably bump into a Keith.

Names notwithstanding, once a character has a name, what do you do with them? Well in any story you have a protagonist, a character whose experiences the story is built around. Sometimes but not all the time you have an antagonist in direct opposition to the protagonist. Their conflict creates the story. Actually it’s not quite that simple, but that is a starting point. In my novels I tend to have more than one protagonist, allowing multiple points of view and multiple antagonists as well. It mixes things up more, and sometimes a protagonist can change roles and so can the antagonist. Their roles are not set, but are dictated by how each character progresses in the story.

It’s never as cut and dried as good versus evil. Good people sometimes do bad things and bad people do good things. Characters are not consistent, and may make a good decision one day and a bad the next, even when confronted with the same circumstances. Why? Is this bad writing? No, in real life people are equally inconsistent, I’m inconsistent. We live, we change, we make mistakes and sometimes we don’t. Characters follow suit.

I also believe that characters shouldn’t necessarily get on, even if they are on the same side, they have different interpretations of what that side is. For instance, the characters Keith and Roger in ‘Hunter No More’ actively despise each other. Keith sees Roger as small minded, Roger sees Keith as alien and arrogant. But that doesn’t mean they can’t work together, it doesn’t mean they can’t love the same people. But they are at odds, and that conflict helps to define who they are and make them more interesting as people. If they liked each other, and did everything without argument, that would make them the same person. Superficially the description would be different, but the characters would be duplicates of each other. People are all unique and different and no-one is exactly the same. In life we are all the stars of own shows, for the characters it’s no different. Even a minor character doesn’t know they are a minor character. In their own life they are the protagonist and they have to be written that way.

So we have names, conflict, descriptions. Someone is tall, someone is fat, someone is a man, someone is a woman. Gender stereotypes: the man should be strong, the woman should be weak. That is rubbish, a woman can be stronger than a man, both physically and mentally. A woman shows more emotion than a man? Maybe in feature films, but in a story we are interested in the inner voice. A man and woman can be equally afraid, equally grief-stricken, equally brave, and equally hysterical. Characters react and feel, man or woman, it shouldn’t matter. I’m not saying they should be written the same, but a writer should avoid being influenced by preconceptions about gender as much as possible. Why, as much as possible? Because we are all influenced by our upbringing, and every independent thought is tinged by that. I have no doubt that some stereotypes creep into my writing, but the trick is to avoid those stereotypes as much as you possibly can.

Finally it’s all about the layers; layers of behaviour, layers of reaction, layers of internal and external argument, layers of action. After injecting a character with enough layers, plot no longer dictates their actions, rather their actions dictate the plot. Keith isn’t going to say to Kristof, let’s blow up this place and go home. It’s not in his character. So plot hinges on how a character would act, and you can’t just throw in plot twists which don’t fit with a character’s actions. You have to write the character’s actions based on their developed traits and let the story play out as honestly as possible. That’s when it gets interesting for a writer, really interesting, because as you’re writing you don’t know exactly what is going to happen next.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Emon and the Emperor - Review

A book that is genuinely hard to put down until finished and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The world building is done with the barest hints and the characters are built in a slow but steady flow of action and detail. Emon himself, is a decent guy, not bright but with his heart in the right place, and as such the other characters gravitate towards him, love him and are even jealous of him. He also doesn't help himself that much, his stupidity on a par with his bravery.

His relationships with Titan and Emara are the driving force of the story as much as the electric and water super powers are. They are a strange love triangle, each dependent on the other, each giving something to the others that they lack. It is Emara's story which is just as compelling, if not more so, than Emon's and the flashes I see of her past as an 'imperfect' only leave me hungry for more.

The world of the Empire itself is only hinted at in the broadest possible terms, but this is because the reader is limited to Emon's own first person world view. There are no stats about landmasses or conditions, just a place that has to marched through and experienced. While it is hinted the Empire is another world, no detail is given as to how Emon is transported there again and again. It could exist somewhere in space, or another time or another dimension. There is no way of knowing and I like the mystery of it.

The narrative is constantly moving for the most part, putting our protagonists in danger as they discover more about the Empire they are in conflict with. The twists did catch me by surprise and the mineral that affects the people of the empire in various ways proved an original driving plot device.

A good and original book, it deserves to be read.