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Characters: Part 1 – Complex Individuals

It’s been much too long since my last update. Well, I got busy this week and just didn’t have the time for much of anything else, unfortunately. So, starting today, I’m going to post a continuing series on characters, how I write them and why I write them the way I do.

Part 1 – Complex Individuals

I’ve written a lot of different characters. Young characters, old characters, male and female. With every single one of them I’ve always tried to make them feel as much like real people as possible. Give them backstories, give them lives, give them goals, and give them struggles. That’s what makes a character interesting. However, there’s a tendency, especially among less experienced writers, to simply write characters who are really “cool” and strong and who dispatch every problem with ease. I had that same problem for a while, but I learned quickly that characters of that nature are simply boring.

A character who can do anything and never has any problems isn’t interesting. More than a story filled with dragons and magic, stories like that are fantasy. Readers want to see a character struggle, to wonder how they going to make it through this terrible trial, and cheer as they push their way through to the goal. Would you be interested in watching a sports movie about a quarterback who never missed a pass, never got sacked, and won ten Superbowls in a row because that’s just how great he was? Of course not, because there’s simply nothing there. But a story about a young quarterback who must overcome personal and on-the-field struggles to finally win the Superbowl for a team that’s been in the dump for years, that’s something people would be interested in. It’s interesting because the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

Another problem that can arise is when you are simply introducing characters to move the plot forward. They don’t have their own lives or personalities, they just exist to do something or say something that the main characters must respond to. Through this, the plot is moved forward. Now, it’s not always a bad idea to use the introduction of a new character to move the plot forward, but does this character exist beyond that brief appearance? The character needs to make sense within the context of the situation, the reader needs to get the feeling that this characters exists within this world and something in their life and their personality has brought them to this point where they interact with the main character. Throwing out something random just won’t do.

Think about the character and what has brought them to this point. Just because they haven’t appeared before and may only appear sparingly from then on, they are still every bit a real person as the main character, we [the reader] simply aren’t allowed a peak into the inner workings of their life. Why did they do that? Why did they sat that? Ask those questions when a character appears. Even though they may not seem important, minor characters aren’t just props that can be thrown out there as needed. Give them some life, let them breathe, and your world will be that much richer and interesting for it.

 

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Location Scouting: Deserts

In going through my written works, I’ve come across a number of general locations that appear rather often. One among those is the desert, that harsh, dry landscape where it rarely rains, the winds turns the sand into ferocious storms, and outlaws and bandits find convenient hideaways from the prying eyes of the rest of the world. Deserts are fascinating in their seeming lifelessness, their isolation and solitude, the dichotomy between the days where the sun is like a furnace and the nights that are bitterly cold, the long stretches where there’s not a drop of rain and the sudden torrent that heralds a brief resurgence of life.

The desert is a part of American history, going back to the pioneer days and the Old West. It represented a great frontier that only the hardiest could hope to venture into. It was also a region marred by lawlessness and even those regions that did have law enforcement were often no less dangerous than those without. You couldn’t depend on other people, you couldn’t depend on the State, you could only depend on yourself and what you could do with your own two hands. And when somebody tried to take away what you had, it was up to you to make sure they didn’t.

That’s one type of desert. There’s also the great Saharan desert, filled with trackless dunes that stretch from one horizon to the next and are never the same from one day to another. Those dunes hide great secrets: the lost civilizations of centuries past. Pyramids and great cities, now lost to time but waiting beneath the sand for some traveler to find, protected rooms and chambers still overflowing with gold and jewels but also hiding deadly traps.

And then there’s the desert of the future, the man-made wastes borne about by nuclear war or some other great catastrophe, where the last remnants of humanity eek out a meager existence. It is no longer the frontier, because there is no civilization waiting beyond those desert sands to run back to if things become too difficult. Ruined cities attract those who are still alive, those who can’t let go of the past and search for some piece of that past that still survives. It is a depressing existence, but hope still lingers. Some try to rebuild, to start anew. With no help from outside, and often no small number of dangers, it’s never an easy thing, but that struggle continues.

Some form of each of these has appeared at one time or another in my stories and I suspect that they will continue to do so.

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Finishing the Story: Murder at the End of the World

I could keep tweaking and fixing and adding and taking away from this story for the rest of my life, I really could. Everytime I go back and read through the story again, I notice things that I didn’t notice last time, I think of things that I didn’t think of last time. I did the best job I feel that I could do with my current level of writing skills, but it’s still hard for me to feel fully satisfied. Maybe there’s something missing, maybe there’s something that could have been worded better, maybe there’s some part of the story that could be stronger. Those are things I keep thinking about and I think about it even more when the prospect of having people read my story [and actually PAY for it] comes to mind. I don’t want to release a bad novel. I don’t want to release a novel that I feel ashamed for having written. I know Murder at the End of the World is bad or something I should feel ashamed of, but I still worry. It’s just part of my nature I guess.

So, yes, I could keep going back to it and changing things over and over and never release it. I could do that. But it would be a disservice to myself to do so. It’s true that part of why I write is because I enjoy it and I want to write things that appeal to myself first and foremost, but, ultimately, if no one reads my book, then there’s no point in having written it. I might as well just picture the story in my head and be done with it. So that brings me to today. I could go back again and fix and tweak, but I’m not going to do. I know there are things that I would fix and tweak if I did, but I can’t keep doing it forever. I want people to read and enjoy what I’ve written, I want to channel my writing talent into a writing career. I don’t want to be the guy who wrote I hundred novels and then just shoved them into the back of drawer, never to be seen again.

I want to be a writer and the only way I can be a writer is if I let everyone out there in the world see all the mistakes I’ve made.

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This will probably be the last post I make before Murder at the End of the World makes its debut at last. I know, it feels like I’ve been saying that it’s almost here for a long time [even though it’s really just been about a week!] but it’s very, very close now. Tomorrow? Could be, if everything turns out right. But it is coming and now I’ve done as much with the story as I intend to. Wish me luck, everybody!

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