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#1 User is offline   Whisperzzzzzzz 

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Posted 11 November 2017 - 08:21 PM

Source: https://www.facebook...0771301/?type=3

Quote

My academic friends often decry the general trend away from the teaching of literature in colleges and universities (well, all the humanities, in fact) as our world rushes into a new value system that surrenders nuance to polarization, veracity to opinion, and discourse to the reactionary. One of the things I see a lot of, as a writer of fiction, is a misunderstanding of characterization. Of course, even to make that claim will invite the usual umbrage, as some will no doubt argue that successful and unsuccessful characterization in a story or novel is a matter of taste and opinion.

On one, rather shallow level, sure. Why not. But from a structural point of view, no, not really. Reading is education, whether (as a reader) you’re looking for it or not. It’s not just a matter of seeing decent use of grammar, or plot construction, or scene-setting. There’s always more going on. Fiction, at its heart, is an exploration of the human condition, and accordingly, every story is character, and for that reason, characterization is an essential component for both the writer and the reader.

So why is there such disparity of opinion in what constitutes good characterization? My scholarly colleagues might suggest the sparsity of education in how to read literature, and will gleefully, if despairingly, cite examples of appalling illiteracy among their own students (don’t tell anyone, but we in the circle see a lot of that, cue Picard massaging his temples). For myself, I can’t help but be a bit more forgiving. Subtlety is easily lost when no-one’s looking for it.

Princess Lalalala was seventeen years old. Her only sibling was a brother eleven years older. She rarely saw him these days, now that he had ridden off at the head of an army destined for battle against raiders on the North Shore. That said, she’d never known him that well, with such a vast gap of years between them. Their father, King Kruell the Second, now a widower, was a remote man, ageing and disinclined to find yet another wife.

The Princess was blonde, willowy and fair-skinned. She had been tutored in needlework since she was a child and was a musician of middling talent. Somewhere ahead in her life there would be a marriage, politically arranged of course. In that marriage, her singular task would be to produce children, and given the tragic risks of childhood, as many children as possible.

This morning, she sat in the sunlight falling in through the high window of her chambers, pillow on her lap and threaded needle in hand. A gift for her father: a silk profile of his face to match that of every coin in the realm.

On the surface, this sample of writing may seem like characterization. Well, it is and it isn’t. Or rather, it is, just not very good. Yes, some essential information has been conveyed. We learn the social status of the putative protagonist; we get some physical description; we get some details as to her past, present and future. All useful in placing ourselves as readers in the story being told. And we’re invited to share in the potential bleakness of her future as brood-mare. Such are the vagaries of royalty blah blah.

Depending on the story being told, that might be enough, and indeed this opening establishes the precedent that most ‘characterization’ will be bolstered if not entirely supplied by narrative exposition. The trap, of course, should be obvious. By relying almost exclusively on circumstance, the image we acquire is a cliched one. Granted, a good writer can take this and start twisting it out of shape; can work against the precedent established by the narrative style. But the essential point is this: the above sample is not characterization. It is biography.
Let’s try again…

Princess Lalalala found the biggest needle in her sewing kit, rushed over to the half-embroidered pillow, and stabbed the needle repeatedly and savagely into the silken royal profile of her father’s face. Teeth bared, she then flung the pillow at the wall.

From the courtyard below she heard a clatter of horse hooves and, tearing at her hair, she ran to the window. There he was, the tall fair-haired commander, all resplendent in armor and sitting astride his war-horse like some hero from a fairy tale.

It didn’t matter that he was eleven years older than Lalalala. It didn’t matter that he and she had tumbled out of the same mother. She wanted to fuck him senseless. And now he was going away.

“For this, dear father,” she whispered, “for this….”

She spun round and glared at the pillow and that oh-so-perfect profile. A needle wasn’t enough. She went looking for a knife.

Okay, so both of these examples are off-the-cuff. But they serve to illuminate the distinction I want to talk about. It’s a pretty basic one: show don’t tell. And even when you do tell, hide it in other stuff. The first example, as biography, gives virtually nothing as to Lalalala’s state of mind. Its biographical details, while useful, don’t do much else. They’re pretty flat, one-dimensional. Sure, we can infer some stuff, but even that isn’t personal, merely situational. But hey, you can make a thin story pretty fat with that kind of shit, and even more astonishing, some readers will go ‘wow!’ at the characterization.

The first example is 187 words. The second example is 153. Expositional biographical narration is wordy and turgidly paced. Show-don’t-tell is active, terse and implicitly nuanced. When it comes to characterization, it does so much more work for the same word-count (or in this case, even fewer words).

But it requires some work from the reader. The nature of the relationships between daughter, father, sister, brother, are conveyed through action, some dialogue (which is offered as a sentence fragment, inviting the reader to complete her sentiment) and expositional but character-derived statements of intent (‘She wanted to fuck him senseless.”).

Other things happen with this second example, both for the writer and the reader. We’re pulled closer to our protagonist: even the narrative tone ends up complimenting her state of mind. Suddenly, our point-of-view is much closer to Lalalala. Every action, every gesture, becomes an emphatic pronouncement on her inner, tormented, enraged, landscape. But nowhere in the sample are such words used: no ‘enraged.’ No ‘tormented.’ That would be telling. Instead, we as reader see, observe, and then piece it all together.

That requires engagement from that reader, and engagement is what the writer is looking for in their reader. Each and every time, we’re in this together.

Expositional biography in fiction can come across as authoritarian, in every sense of the word. You’re being told, and you’re expected to follow. The author as Master, the reader as needy servant. This makes the story the Master’s story, and the reader’s role is merely privileged, not participatory. And the thing is, some readers want to be led, so there is nothing in that authorial stance that rejects the possibility of immense popularity. Far from it, in fact.

Do I have a judgement in that regard? Only that I wish readers were more discerning. Often, expositional biography passing off as characterization can be lazy writing. When it isn’t lazy writing, then something else is at work (often, the severe emplacement of character ‘roles’ in the story wherein they surrender their humanity to archetypal necessity, aka the evil gang leader, the haughty princess, the depraved priest, and so on. In these instances, the characters aren’t characters as such, simply representative pawns to be toppled one by one in service to some greater purpose).

At its most basic, characterization in fiction is defined as what the character says and does. Depending on the selected point-of-view, it might also include what the character thinks and feels, but to be honest, the reader should get a sense of both based entirely on what the character says and does. Now, one could indeed write a character where both external and internal landscapes are explored in vast detail, and while this may make that character understandable, it has the potential of dragging down the pace, expanding the length, and making you, the reader, want to kill that person. Right now, to put us all out of our misery. Granted, occasionally this degree of intensity and concentration on illuminating everything about a single character can achieve greatness, provided the voice is compelling, and the character is intrinsically fascinating. A lot of contemporary, ‘literary’ fiction takes this route, and a lot of modern poetry dwells entirely within that realm.

But if you were to try to do that for multiple characters in a big, complex, heavily plotted story … well, that’s akin to spending twenty pages on what somebody’s wearing. The reason I have very little hair left on my head is due to a lifetime spent tearing it out while reading that stuff.

Let’s take a step back now and look at something more general which nevertheless has a direct bearing on characterization in fiction. Nature versus nurture. Regard again the two samples I provided earlier. Both present us with the same Princess Lalalala in terms of setting, social status, familial position. Yet their internal landscapes are utterly different. If people were shaped entirely by their upbringing, then siblings would all be pretty much alike. But they aren’t, as any of you with siblings well know. We may be partly shaped by our environment, but something deeper and fundamental clearly comes with the package, and that is our respective natures. What shapes that? Who knows? Not being flippant here. No-one really knows.

What you could draw from the first sample is perhaps the standard princess: a needle-wielding paternal investment in progeny and political power; and in the scene described she comes across as pretty passive, maybe even fatalistic. The tone invites that passivity, because it’s obsessed with biographical details intended to impart Lalalala’s position in the world she lives in, as if that’s the sum total of who she is.

The second sample reveals an entirely different princess, even though the biographical stuff remains the same. Character is not biography. Biography doesn’t even come close to revealing character. It’s just backdrop, a scaffolding of facts. The author needs to know it, of course. But by itself it does not constitute characterization. If you want to understand your character, you need to plumb the depths of her internal world. You need to map that hidden landscape. You need to decide on her nature (or, in the act of writing, discover it).

Bear in mind though that even in nature we are not consistent. The man who smiles sweetly at you every morning as he buys his coffee may go home every night and assume the horrifying role of tyrant over his wife and children. Two entirely different people, but one man. His actions and words may deceive. His external expression of himself to strangers and mere acquaintances is a clever mask, a smoke-screen, hiding his tormented and tormenting inner self.

Critics will write (or say) ‘that character wasn’t consistent,’ and thereby dismiss the writing as bad, the characterization as unbelievable or shoddily done. That critic is an idiot. Memo to critic: nobody’s consistent. Even worse, we may be one way when engaged with one person and completely different with another. We are walking contradictions, implicit hypocrites (‘Evil oil companies! Where’s my car-keys?’), and changeable from one day to the next. We are masters of cognitive dissonance.

So, how does a writer convey any of that? My answer: cagily. As in, be cagey as hell. The less you reveal the more you are free to manipulate. And with each act you describe a character doing or engaged in, ask yourself: is this her true self here? Or just a convenient sham to get through the next five minutes? And it’s all situational, embedded in the scene. She can smile and wink at that handsome guard in the hall, step into her chambers and beat the shit out of her maid.
Characterization is not an isolated creation – not exclusively internal landscape. It’s also about relationships, to other characters, and to the environment and circumstances: this is what makes it so changeable, so malleable, so outwardly unpredictable. And such a blast to write.

And this brings me back to those comments from a reader regarding Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, New York, 2140 (this refers to a previous post of mine listing my favourite reads of the last couple years). Anyone who’s read this author’s previous works, or knows enough about him to realize he’s been in the game of writing for some time now, could readily assume that he knows what he’s doing, especially when it comes to characterization. You can’t get that successful otherwise (well, okay, you can, but not in this guy’s case). He’s very much of the show-don’t-tell school (and his classic Mars Trilogy, arguably the finest Mars novels ever written, is replete with that approach to characterization). More to the point, he’s a writer very much still in his prime.

But suddenly in his latest novel, according to one reader, his characterization is high school level, juvenile and (presumably) unconvincing.

Okay, so we have an opinion. I’d love to see a deconstructed analysis supporting that assertion. I certainly know that I could, if I chose to, offer up a deconstructed analysis to prove the very opposite: that in this novel there is superb characterization, deftly done, subtle and clever and above all, profoundly compassionate.

New York, 2140 is, much like Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, a love letter to New York City. And ‘love’ is the operative word here: it infuses the entire story, extending to every character in it. There is extraordinary forgiveness in the narrative voice, and from that emerges wonderful generosity of spirit. There is also a tonal, stylistic playfulness to that narrative voice (imagine, employing exclamation marks in exposition! Closely tied to certain characters, sure, but still! Utterly delightful).

As all my online portraits indicate, I’m a man of many smiles. One thing I can say, though, is that I smiled often while reading New York, 2140. In the sheer pleasure of reading, of basking in such an air of forgiveness (he even forgives us the future nightmare of climate change) and compassion, I simply didn’t not want that novel to end. Ever. In fact, if it didn’t ever end, I’d still be there right now, in that wonderful world, and screw all you guys.

But no book reaches everyone. There can be quiet quirks that suddenly derail certain readers. That’s just how it goes, and I have no interest in debating any of that, or even passing judgement on it. Had that reader said something like: ‘the tone of this novel turned me off, and accordingly, even the characterization didn’t work for me,’ I’d have nothing to say to that except: ‘fair enough.’ Or the reader could have said: ‘I’m at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Robinson, so I hated this book,’ that too would be legitimate (sort of, let’s not get too far into that). Instead, we get pronouncements without substantiation.
Sure, I get it. It’s the internet! Unsubstantiated opinion passing off as demonstrable truth is the very fertilizer heaped onto the hungry earth of online discourse, but to extend the metaphor, ye shall reap what ye shall sow. Whatever sprouts up here is fair game, and since this my site, harvest I will.

That said, I have to thank that reader. It was enough to have me take umbrage, get off my skinny butt, and write about characterization. Accordingly, high-five, bud! And for everyone else, no need to go fishing for more by riling me up. I’ve begun this process now and I’ll stay with it. Are we done with characterization? Far from it. Stay tuned.

This post has been edited by Whisperzzzzzzz: 24 November 2017 - 10:45 PM

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#2 User is online   worry 

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Posted 11 November 2017 - 08:50 PM

Also it appears he will be writing essays like this with some regularity, like he did on that blog whose name I forgot.
They came with white hands and left with red hands.
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#3 User is offline   Whisperzzzzzzz 

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Posted 11 November 2017 - 08:53 PM

Life As A Human

This post has been edited by Whisperzzzzzzz: 11 November 2017 - 09:04 PM

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#4 User is online   worry 

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Posted 11 November 2017 - 09:20 PM

That's the one!
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#5 User is offline   Puck 

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 01:09 PM

Yesss, a good one.
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Ninja Puck, Ninja Puck, really doesn't give a fuck..? - [King Lear]
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#6 User is online   Slow Ben 

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 04:11 PM

One of the few good things about Facebook. Erikson posts semi-regularly, and even interacts somewhat.

This post has been edited by Slow Ben: 12 November 2017 - 04:12 PM

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#7 User is online   Slow Ben 

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 11:28 PM

Part II is up!


Characterization - Part II

Imagine someone saying something and not meaning it. How can that be? Imagine someone lying to themselves out loud, in the company of witnesses. Who would do that? Imagine someone listening to your question … and then not answering it! Imagine someone who, instead of defending themselves to an accusation you make, just turns around and accuses you of something! What's all that about?

Characterization in fiction is what a character does and says. But neither one has to be true. Regarding all of the above, well, unless you're a saint, the answer is: we all do those things, or have done them, or will do them some time in the future.

Even generally truthful people will be circumspect and judicious in their utterances. There's usually more veracity in what people do over what they say. Those mute gestures are always more telling. Anyway, let's break down the doing and the saying and let's start with the saying. In other words, with dialogue and internal monologue. One or both of these narrative forms are crucial to creating character.

Ever read dialogue that's just a dressed-up Q&A session? What's going on with that? Well, it's two characters engaged in telling you, the reader, a whole bunch of information you should have been able to put together without it. Occasionally, you can as writer get away with it (if, say, one character has cornered another and wants the truth, dammit, and against that barrage the other character fesses up). But it can easily stretch beyond the believable or realistic, and it doesn't take much. The problem should be obvious: in that situation the character ceases to be a 'real' person and instead becomes a vehicle for the author to give you the reader a whole bunch of information (or even worse, becomes a mouthpiece for the author. Here's a fact suitable not only for fiction writing but also for the real world: not everyone thinks the way you do. Not every character in your story possesses your world view. If they do, you're not challenging yourself. At all).

"Why, here we stand! You, Constance Compagneon, green-eyed brunette in her mid-twenties, and me, the tall ripped Count de Nombre, and it's barely noon here in Hastings on the southeast coast of England, and tell me, do you see how this offshore breeze tousles my fair hair while I face the sea with stern regard and chiseled chin whilst you finish off that bottle of expensive brandy? See me, mere inches from the cliff's edge and my dear, what are you doing with that gun?"

Hopefully, she ends the scene with a bang. And let us further hope that that loud bang echoes through the editorial offices across the world, thus ensuring an end to the abomination before it ever reaches any of us. Unless of course you're writing to take the piss, in which case, let's hope a grievously wounded Count de Nombre crawls staggering onto the beach (on the French coast) to proclaim (at length) the vengeance he intends against the devilish souse, Constance Compagneon.

Characters don't owe you, the reader, anything. They don't have to explain themselves. You're just the invisible person listening in like some creepy voyeur (but as a writer, why, you're my favourite creepy voyeur!). Just as in real life, each person is a mystery to others and often to themselves, too. From your position as a writer, you build a character by inventing shit about them, including stuff even they don't know (after all, if you've done your plotting, you know what's coming to them, which makes you, the writer, like some deterministic, unspeakably cruel god. Just think of all that power in your hands! Whatever will you do with it?). You also build character by describing the things they do, which can often be at odds with what they say (does that ever happen in real life? No way!).

Got a best friend? You know, the one who tells you everything? No they don't. But wait, you say, I tell them everything! No you don't. There's whole scads of internal landscape you don't reveal to anyone. We're all like that. Apply that to creating characters in fiction: they don't tell you everything, and they're sure as hell not telling everything to the characters around them. Confession is vulnerability. Since we were kids we've learned the necessity of protecting ourselves. Accordingly, approach every character you create for a story with the acceptance that they are going to protect themselves, and the times when they don't are the ones of the greatest extremity of emotion and circumstance – the high points, the killer scenes, the instances in your story where you rip the bandage off, and then the barely healed skin underneath. And then you stick a knife in it and dig around.

A character confessing everything all the way through a story will drive you mad, and might well incite in you fanciful flights of appearing in the story for the sole purpose of rending that character limb from limb, or at least giving him a good shake. More to the point, too much revelation going on too much of the time bleeds all the impact from it, and once the life is sucked from revelation, something else happens: we no longer feel the bandage being ripped off, or the skin, or even the knife poking in. We become numbed to the experience. Enough numbness in your life will turn you into a cynic.

Numbness is what can also happen when a writer kills too many characters too often: we stop giving a shit, at which point continuing to read transforms our voyeurism into something unseemly and ghoulish.

This is why being cagey is crucial. To create cagey characters, be a cagey writer. Reveal only what you need to reveal: a beginning writer will often over-explain things. Or (more rarely) not explain enough. If, as a beginning writer, you find your fiction to be exposition-heavy, you're probably over-explaining and over-describing (I'll write about Setting at some later point). If your fiction is all dialogue, believe it or not, you're almost there. All too often among beginning writers, I see too much exposition and what seems to be an aversion to dialogue. This aversion leads us back to overly-expository, biographical characterization (it also diminishes impact and drama). See how it's all connected?

When it comes to building characters in your fiction, dialogue is your friend. And to that I'm going to add something that seems counterintuitive: when it comes to dialogue there are two kinds of people (yeah yeah, never mind the oversimplification here): terse and talkative. Favour the terse in your characters. If they're all talkative … ever sat in a café near two people at another table where one's doing all the talking? And you happen to glance over at the listener and see glazed eyes and slack mouth with drool dangling from it? Okay, I only saw that full suite once, but the glazed eyes? Plenty of times! People stop listening to blabberers. Ever listened in? I know, who would ever do that? Well, writers would. Ninety percent of what that blabberer's saying is either repetitive or pointless.

I'm not slamming blabberers here – most of them are pretty smart people. It's just that most verbal content is junk. Repeated phrases are a technique for adding emphasis; they also tie into the implicit rhythm of the monologue being delivered. Pauses are usually rhetorical ones, inviting a non-verbal or monosyllabic response from the other person. It's a performance, audience optional, and you need smarts to perform.
Now you might think I'm describing two high school girls at a table in a café, but I'm not. If they're talkative it's because they're excited, or having a good time. No, mostly, the blabberers I come across are (surprise!) men. So what is it, some biological imperative to dominate conversations?


But I digress.

This previous section (Part II) has employed a different tone in its narrative style, relative to Part I. You might have noticed. More irreverent, a bit snarky. I made the change-up to demonstrate another aspect of characterization, one often hidden in a book, and that is the character implicit in the narrative voice.


The tone you choose is important and can have a profound effect not only on the story being told, but on the reader's perception of characters portrayed in that story. Narrative tone is the master filter. It may be that the narrative tone of New York, 2140, was the principal point of turn-off for that reader who trashed the book in that previous post of mine, to such an extent that the reader couldn't see past it to the characterization going on with the various characters in the story. This is just supposition, of course. I don't know. The point I'm trying to make here is this: the master filter is powerful. Your narrative tone colours the entire story and its inner world, and everyone in it, and if one isn't careful, it can distort the reader's perception to such an extent that they can't get past it.

This is down to taste. The standard convention for narrative tone is see-through, objective and consistent and emotionally flat. It's what we're used to. My experience, when I tweak that flat objectivity, is to do it judiciously (and Robinson does just that in his novel). It's akin to a metafictional regard (turned to the reader) with brows raised in (usually) mock astonishment, inviting you to mirror the expression and the sentiment. It's a narrative tone that's having a bit of fun, one that's ceased to be so rigid and see-through and emotionless. It recognizes the false premise of objectivity and then pokes you in the ribs.

When it's well-done, it's pure magic. You sense the wryness, the shared wink. Or, if the moment is serious, there's a sharper, more poignant connection (as the narration does on occasion in my novel, Toll the Hounds). The master filter is the place where you can, if you so choose, work in irony, understatement, and the shared recognition at the absurdity of life. You can also muck-up that host of assumptions and mutual agreements that comes with telling a story in the first place (that this story reflects real life in some way, despite it being plotted and mostly self-contained: two elements that while essential to a story have very little to do with real life and real life experience).

Hopefully, what's come across in this discussion of characterization is that there's a lot you can do when you populate your fiction. Always have reasons for your decisions, and test them out to ensure that they're sound, and that they have the effect you intend. Discard the ones that end up feeling (after sufficient self-analysis) like affectation. What would be an affectation? Anything cute. Things you like for no reason.
Creating characters is a thinking game. Think hard.


The next thing I'll talk about is closely related to characterization, and that's Dialogue. In the meantime, I've got a Willful Child novel to wrap up, and you, of course, have plenty of writing and reading to do. Bon chance!

Bonus excerpt: this one is from Willful Child, The Search For Spark. When writing satire, it's amazing how many things you can take the piss out of … including overly-expositional dialogue!

Pwisson Prison Planet Rude Pimente…

"Unmitigated success and look at us! Chained to a blasted rock at the very reaches of a mining tunnel on a barren icy planet in a useless system a thousand light-years from that wonderful planet not-yet-dislodged-into-an-inimical-orbit-thus-engendering-lifelong-hatred-for-one-Captain-Hadrian, and this is what I get for my ingenious Affiliation-crashing scheme of economic destitution!"

"Actually," said Molly, "we're not exactly chained –"

"I meant metaphorically, Molly! Now then, how did I do?"

"Well, ex-Captain Betty, I think this has been a pleasantly terse summing up of our present circumstances."

"Ooh, nice addition, that ex-Captain thing."

"Thank you, sir."

"Have we covered it all, do you think?"

"Indeed, sir. Pretty much, that is."

"Oh? What else?"

"Mmm, let me think. Well, we're mining Irridiculum Crystals which are of course a necessary component to T-Drive not that anyone knows what they're supposed to do, only that they're an essential component of the T-Drive, particularly in the interface between the Origam Conductor Coils and the Oxyom Phase Insinuator. And that, despite their crucial delicacy everybody uses embittered unqualified prisoners to mine them from the porphyritic karst, or is it concatenated gneiss? Whichever."

"Very good, Molly. I think we have truly covered all the essentials now, barring the mysterious fact of our presence on this prison planet."

"Well, Captain Betty, that's a mystery even to us."

When opening a scene and re-introducing characters (Molly and Betty are two meerkat-like aliens originally appearing in the second Willful Child novel, The Wrath of Betty), sometimes all you want to do is get the background stuff out of the way. As for setting the scene, take your time! After all, there's a few more paragraphs and chunks of dialogue before we discover that both Betty and Molly are hanging upside-down….

#characterization #amwriting #Stevenerikson #willfulchild #Betty

This post has been edited by Slow Ben: 16 November 2017 - 11:29 PM

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#8 User is offline   Morgan Lefay 

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 11:24 AM

I love this. Erikson has been accused of poor characterization sometimes, and in fact he is one of the most skilled fantasy authors at characterization and psychology. Often his characters are not literal humans, but they are more human than human themselves.
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#9 User is offline   Andorion 

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 11:54 AM

View PostMorgan Lefay, on 17 November 2017 - 11:24 AM, said:

I love this. Erikson has been accused of poor characterization sometimes, and in fact he is one of the most skilled fantasy authors at characterization and psychology. Often his characters are not literal humans, but they are more human than human themselves.


It's because SE does not devote entire PoV chapters to building up a handful of characters. He uses elegant sentences and evocative dialogue so that he can have a character standing after a few lines. Its all part of his non-expository style. Since this goes against the majority of fantasy writing many don't like it.

Ultimately it is upto the reader - take what you know and use your imagination.
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#10 User is offline   Andorion 

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 03:28 PM

So SE has posted links to other articles he feels are appropriate/relevant, and is talking about writing some essays on related topics. Given his spurt of activity on FB, should we have a dedicated thread for linking new stuff and any discussion?
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#11 User is offline   Whisperzzzzzzz 

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 10:38 PM

Let's use this as the thread. I can change the name.

EDIT: changed.

This post has been edited by Whisperzzzzzzz: 24 November 2017 - 10:40 PM

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#12 User is offline   Andorion 

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Posted 25 November 2017 - 12:38 AM

View PostWhisperzzzzzzz, on 24 November 2017 - 10:38 PM, said:

Let's use this as the thread. I can change the name.

EDIT: changed.


Thanks, I will post some links when I get home tonight.
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#13 User is offline   Andorion 

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Posted 28 November 2017 - 06:06 PM

A little late to this, but here are a couple of essays SE shared recently on FB

An essay on Woody Allen regarding his history of being an abuser

An essay on dehumanisation


To be honest I did not really understand the first essay, but then again my engagement with films has always been very sporadic. The second essay is hard hitting and thought provoking.
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Posted 28 November 2017 - 07:11 PM

View PostAndorion, on 28 November 2017 - 06:06 PM, said:

A little late to this, but here are a couple of essays SE shared recently on FB

An essay on Woody Allen regarding his history of being an abuser
To be honest I did not really understand the first essay, but then again my engagement with films has always been very sporadic. The second essay is hard hitting and thought provoking.


The Allen essay is poignantly written and does essentially seem to be about our complex relationship with separating art from the artist (or not). With books, for example, I can't. OSC is a jerk who only tries to hurt others...I don't buy or read his work (in fact I have a whole list of authors whose personal issues have pushed them totally off my buy/read list: Neal Asher - Climate Change Denier, Dan Simmons - Super Righty Right-Wing madman, Kameron Hurley - blind support/apologist of known internet troll...the list goes on a bit)...but that's because to me the book is (aside from editor and publisher) a piece of media that is pretty much OF that Author and no one else. Thus I can't find it in me to separate the art from the artist. It's pretty cut and dried to me.

TV and film is a whole different kettle of fish though.

Most of the time both film and tv are not a singularly produced work of art, but the result of countless artists and creators who all spend time to assemble the final product. So you can hate (say) Michael Bay and still find aspects of his films to be great (Score, cinematography ect.) and appreciate those things. So I can know that (for example) director James Cameron is a socially stunted, emotional vampire in real life...who, with whole teams of people, has consistently created some of the most amazing movies in my lifetime. I can know the man is a jerk, and not want to support that jerkiness...but still see and enjoy his films because they are the result of a whole bunch of people who AREN'T awful in real life. That's the distinction, at least for me.

That said, Woody Allen, by dint of who he is and has always been...makes that a LOT tougher. Not because a lot of people don't also work on HIS films, but because he usually not only directs them, but writes them and stars in them...a lot of times in the lead role...which a lot of times is at least somewhat based on him IRL. As such, his films are SO intrinsically linked to him and his persona...that it's MUCH harder to separate the art from the artist. That said, I've always categorically LOATHED Woody Allen and his films (seriously, I was once kicked out of a College film theory class because the teacher showed us an Allen movie and I protested that it was garbage and she shouldn't be showing it to us...) so this isn't a problem for me. I simply don't watch.

But that's the gist of how I feel. If an artist is producing a work that I feel is the sole (or close to sole) product of them...then they ARE their brand and thus they need to be aware of that when they present themselves to the public. Which is why I feel some authors purposely avoid press. Some modern authors aren't ashamed of using their moderate fame as a soapbox...but I feel like somewhere along the line, that will backfire. Only a few authors seem to be able to walk that line well (Neil Gaiman, for example, is great and rarely runs afoul of anyone and he has a very up front personal image).

Hundreds of creatives on a film set is a totally different ballgame for me personally...

But I think a good example in the current climate is SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. It's an Oscar winning, critically acclaimed, universally beloved movie...that Harvey Weinstein and Miramax have their dirty little fingers ALL over (and I believe may even be the time where Gwyneth was assaulted by Harvey; the story that prompted Brad Pitt to get in his face at a party and threaten his fat ass). Does a movie that has so many great people in the cast and crew, and is such a beloved film....get thrown into the gutter because of how much Weinstein had to do with it existing? It's a solid question, but I'll wager the answer is no. That Weinstein's involvement can be removed from the equation to accommodate all the others who haven't done wrong. Is it worse with a Director than a Producer? That's good question, and I'm not sure if it has one answer or many. Do I dismiss the RUSH HOUR films now in light of Brett Ratner? Or can I appreciate what all the people involved in those films did to make them happen?

And I should add that going forward, removing the shitstains from prospective films (like Gal Gadot demanded of Brett Ratner and Ratjac films with DCEU going forward) in any capacity is the right way to go.
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Posted 28 November 2017 - 07:44 PM

Yah, I had the same reaction to the Woody Allen piece. It acknowledges both what's (very) simple and what's not so simple about the whole debacle.

I mean I tend to agree with arguments made elsewhere that you shouldn't waste your sympathies on "Hollywood's losses" but rather save it for all the people who were shut out by these men's behavior and all the good work that was never made. And also that the phenomenon of dudes-defending-dudes-they-like is real, and part of the problem.

But that said, it doesn't mean there aren't complicated feelings to be had, for men and women both. A good example is The Cosby Show, which was so important beyond simply giving Bill Cosby a platform. It exists with both the Woody Allen auteur effect all over it AND is clearly a collaboration with many other extremely talented creatives who have no guilt in what Bill Cosby did, not to mention what it meant for its audience, its African American audience in particular, and America/the world at large.

Seems fair to both hate Bill Cosby for what he did, in its specifics, to several dozen women (and very likely more than we know of)...and to hate him for what he did to his works' legacies. The victims should be centered, without doubt. But some of these creative losses, at least, mean more than merely betraying a pop culture fandom.

I did read the dehumanization essay too, but it was something I already agreed with for the most part, so I have less to say. It's definitely worth reading though.
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Posted 28 November 2017 - 08:11 PM

View Postworry, on 28 November 2017 - 07:44 PM, said:

A good example is The Cosby Show, which was so important beyond simply giving Bill Cosby a platform. It exists with both the Woody Allen auteur effect all over it AND is clearly a collaboration with many other extremely talented creatives who have no guilt in what Bill Cosby did, not to mention what it meant for its audience, its African American audience in particular, and America/the world at large.

Seems fair to both hate Bill Cosby for what he did, in its specifics, to several dozen women (and very likely more than we know of)...and to hate him for what he did to his works' legacies. The victims should be centered, without doubt. But some of these creative losses, at least, mean more than merely betraying a pop culture fandom.



For me, it's extra hard because THE COSBY SHOW, aside from being hilarious, and a positive family-oriented show to watch each week...gave me a window into a lot of the African American history and social subjects that I'd not have had access to otherwise. The episodes about jazz musicians, or olympic runners, or that one painting they buy for the grandparents, or any of the mentions of MLK or Malcolm X. There was frequently underlying subject matter that wasn't just important, but doubly important to show to non-POC audiences who could learn things from it. My parents made it a must-watch family show for us that we rarely missed (before my parents split mind you)...so having to now qualify it and square it with what Cosby did (seemingly WHILE he was producing this wholesome show, and hypocritically firing Lisa Bonnet for daring to star in ANGEL HEART and showing her boobs) is tough.

That said, I feel like the good the show did in general, and like you said all the others involved in making it each week, helps to show itself that it can still be considered a good thing...but I don't know how long it will be (if ever) that I might be able to watch it again...simply because I can't look at Cosby and not see what he did, so I don't know if that will colour my viewing.
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Posted 02 December 2017 - 01:40 AM

SE posts about writing dialogue - an incredible read as always

Quote

We Don't Talk Like This - Dialogue in Fiction

Imagine a stream. In places it runs shallow and fast. In other places there are eddies and deep pools where the water moves slowly if at all. Here and there you'll find boulders breaking the surface of that stream, places to cross. Some of the boulders are big and flat, making it easy to find your footing. Others are small and slippery, treacherous but manageable if one is careful. Some of these boulders are on the edge of depthless, deadly whirlpools. Others offer a quick skip across ankle-deep waters.

The flowing water of that stream represents the internal realm of your characters. In this diluvean world are the character's thoughts, ambitions, hopes, fears, desires, dreams, their loves and their hates, their motivations and their dreads. If you are a writer, know this world. For each and every character.

The up-thrust boulders comprise what the character says out loud. The behaviour of the stream at any point dictates the nature of that boulder, the surety of its purchase, and the depth of the thoughts surrounding it.

I use this analogy to emphasize the relationship between what you know of your character and what you're willing to have that character say out loud in your story. Bear in mind that at this point, I'm talking about what the character says out loud. In and of itself, that's not quite dialogue. Not yet. A character speaking out loud in a solitary fashion is engaged in a monologue. For dialogue, it takes at least two to tango.

So, as a narrative term, dialogue is simply what your characters say to each other, as indicated by the use of quotes. If one acknowledges that communication is both verbal and non-verbal, dialogue is the verbal (during which the non-verbal interacts with the verbal in myriad ways).

I could expand the original metaphor but things might get complicated in terms of visualization, since dialogue is the interaction of two or more streams, and in the act of crossing those blended streams, the reader steps on successive boulders in alternating pattern. Meaning, if one wanted to follow just one character's spoken words, they would be leapfrogging over the boulders raised up by the other character. What can make the metaphor overly complex is the fact that one character's set of boulders may bear little relation to the other's, neither in terms of distance to be leapt (by the reader), nor size, nor even frequency.

Utterly confused yet? Relax. Let's go back to the real world. I've mentioned before the devious delight that comes with listening in on a conversation at a café or bar. As a writer, you can learn scads of stuff from this innocent eavesdropping. Did I say innocent? Who am I kidding? This is the stuff we steal, far more precious than any wallet or purse (though the thief who stole my favourite fountain pen from my table all those years ago at The Black Stilt still earns my silent, pointless wrath. May the ink leak out and stain your very soul!).

Where was I? Oh, right. The wondrous dynamics of natural conversation. First off, there's all the non-verbal communication going on, and for this you need to become adept at reading body language, and if you're not adept, you need to be very good at faking it, at devising entire scenarios in your head from all the unspoken semaphores going on in any conversation you're listening in on. First off, see if you can establish who's dominant and who's submissive. This can be obvious, in one person leaning forward to occupy the other's space, or insanely subtle, as with a person indicating no affect in response to what the other person is saying, or leaning way back, legs and arms crossed, with a closed expression (hmm, not so subtle, that). And in the course of a conversation, dominance and submission can flip back and forth.

Take note also at the level of engagement, which may not always be matched between two (or more) people. Notice as well who's doing most of the talking, and if you can actually hear what's being said, well, that's when things get really interesting.

The subject matter is irrelevant. You don't know these people, after all. The first thing you'll notice is that two people in conversation don't talk to each other. They talk past each other. That's because each person is mostly in his or her own stream. That beneath-the-surface world of the inner, private self. And the current and its flow never rest. To speak out loud is to pick and choose what's going to break the surface and be revealed, and those choices are predicated by the hidden currents of thought swirling around it.

So, how to choose what to reveal? That depends on the relationship between the characters. What you say to your best friend is entirely different from what you say to your mother, or your boss, or teacher. That relationship encompasses a lot of things, too: authority, trust, familiarity (one of the most difficult relationships to parse comes when observing two long-married people: the tells are insanely subtle. More to the point, if the couple is aware of being observed, another wall is raised, the one called propriety. The times when emotions or tensions rise high enough to break through that wall can be fierce and savage, with a lot of the explosive anger, the kind that has to do with secret relationship-stuff being suddenly revealed [a potential source of shame or embarrassment]. Whoever triggered the wall's collapse between the two people in question has now committed an egregious crime: that of exposure, and there will be hell to pay).

For the writer, dialogue is carrying more than one character forward, and accordingly, the writer needs to know each one intimately. Sometimes, with very minor or one-off character appearances, the writer needs only the minimal knowledge for that character: specifically, attitude and stance on the chosen subject. You might think it doesn't need to be there and strictly speaking, you're right, it doesn't. But giving that little bit of extra thought for that throw-away character can make the narrative zing. An example? Okay.

Nimble Thumbsuck led his party of adventurers into the tavern. He looked around, trying to pierce the gloom. As his eyes adjusted, he saw a mysterious hooded figure sitting at the very back, near the dying hearth. On the battered table before this figure rested a long sword, its oily blade glistening as if sheathed in sweat.
Nimble turned to his companions. "Find us a table. I need to ask some questions."
As they meekly headed off, Nimble strode up to the counter and positioned himself opposite the barkeep. "Ale, if you please."
The barkeep quickly poured a tankard and set it before the wily thief (what, you didn't guess he was a thief? For crying out loud!).
Nimble gestured the old man closer. "Hey, friend, what can you tell me about that hooded stranger at the back with the sword on the table?"
"Oh," said the barkeep, "that's Valorous Verdant, who secretly works for the somewhat dim Wizard of Virtue, Alf Gullible. He's been here the past four nights. Must be, uh, waiting for someone!"
Smiling, Nimble collected up his tankard and ambled over to the hooded man. Taking a seat opposite with the bared blade between them, the thief smiled and said, "I hear you're waiting for someone."
Valorous Verdant said nothing for a long moment, and then he leaned forward, planting his elbows on the table (and inadvertently slicing open one of those elbows on the sword's razor-sharp edge, but that's the price of Ominous Gestures, so he bore it with nary a twitch). "That's right," he said. "I require the services of a thief and oh, five adventurous companions just like those ones sitting over there. The Eye of Zircon needs to be stolen from the skull of, uh, Zircon. Needless to say, he might notice that. Aye, 'tis perilous, but the very existence of the world depends on it – and on you too, my friend!"

Okay, now let's try it again, hunting for something (anything!) to elevate this trope-laden purgative of a scene.

Nimble Thumbsuck led his party of adventurers into the tavern. He looked around, trying to pierce the gloom. As his eyes adjusted, he saw a mysterious hooded figure sitting at the very back, near the dying hearth. On the battered table before this figure rested a long sword, its oily blade glistening as if sheathed in sweat.
Nimble turned to his companions. "Find us a table. I need to ask some questions."
As they meekly headed off, Nimble strode up to the counter and positioned himself opposite the barkeep. "Ale, if you please."
The barkeep, a frighteningly hirsute man apparently devoid of any habits of hygiene, continued polishing a tankard. At Nimble's request he blinked sleepily and then said, "See what I'm doing?"
Startled, Nimble frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Said 'see what I'm doing?'"
"Uh, well –"
"I'm polishing this tankard. And it's like this. You start something, you finish it. My old man taught me that, the night he bailed on all of us. And I gone and taught it to my brats – assuming they're even mine and I ain't making no claims here either way, and maybe I seen you around out back five years ago when my wife was hanging laundry and her latest whelp's got the same red hair as you, but maybe I ain't seen anything like that at all. Point is, what do you think I'm gonna do with this here tankard?"
"Uh … finish polishing it?"
The barkeep's grin was as green and brown as the rag he was using on the tankard. "Smart man. And when I'm done, why, then I'll pour some ale in it for ya. How's that for service?"
Recovering at last, Nimble smiled. "Sounds perfect. Now, one other thing…"
"What? Can't you see I ain't finished here yet?"
"I know. Still, that hooded man at the back there…"
"What about him?"
"Well, who is he?"
"Fucked if I know."
The tankard was finally polished to the barkeep's high standards. He filled it with ale from a cask and plunked the vessel down in front of Nimble. "If you're thinking of taking this over to that table back there, you're paying first."
"Right. Sure. Of course." Nimble set a coin down on the counter. Then, collecting up his tankard, he made his way over to the hooded man's table and sat down in the chair opposite, the bared blade between them. "Good evening, good sir," he said with a smile.
The hooded man said nothing.
Nimble tried again. "Looks like you're waiting –"
"Get the fuck out of my face."

A few things should be evident when comparing these two examples. In the first version, everybody our intrepid hero questions offers up reams of information. The barkeep's nobody, really. Just an expository robot. Then, when we get to the hooded man, again the guy just spews out all kinds of expository shit and comes across like a, well, like a fucking moron. With heroes like this, Lord Zircon's got nothing to worry about.

The other detail you might have noticed is that the second version uses minor characters as blocks and foils to knowledge. Why? Because they're more real as people: they are not enslaved by the narrator as functions of explication. These blocks and foils are both more realistic and serve to complicate the hero's quest for knowledge. In other words, the second sample tells you far less than the first sample and guess what, THAT'S A GOOD THING.

The third point has to do with character-based diction. The first sample, in employing each character as props, ultimately flattens the diction, because the two minor characters aren't fully realised by the author. They have no voice of their own, no attitude (beyond the effusive) and no stance and accordingly, nothing at stake. And if you think an old barkeep has nothing worthwhile to take a stance on, you don't know jack. No matter how small the turf, it will be defended. Also, bear in mind that Nimble is the seventh thief looking to talk to the hooded man that night. Okay, not true, but as far as the barkeep's concerned, it could be.

In the second sample, the barkeep's diction comes to life, acquires its own cadence, and all of it decided by the writer's choice to give him his moment on the stage, to acknowledge his right to exist and to have a full life. If the writer dismisses the lowly barkeep, what does that say about the writer's attitude toward his characters, and indeed, the entire story? Maybe nothing. But maybe a lot.

A bit-part does not mean a bit-life. What is the other effect of enlivening your minor characters? It deepens the world. It occupies that world with genuine people. It adds authenticity and reminds us, the reader, that the world (any world) is NOT a straight-forward narrative dictating every appearance, no matter how incidental, in the story. Sure, of course it is. But we don't want it to be so obvious. Instead, we want to create the illusion of that world's verisimilitude.

Recall my mention of how people don't talk to each other, but past each other? Well, a deeper discussion of what I mean by that will be forthcoming in Part Two of this essay. Stay tuned!

#stevenerikson #amwriting #dialogue

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#18 User is offline   Whisperzzzzzzz 

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:57 PM

Quote

"A bit-part does not mean a bit-life."


👍
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Posted 13 December 2017 - 02:12 PM

As per Whisperz's request:

View PostMadness, on 13 December 2017 - 03:36 AM, said:

Likely I've posted this inappropriately but Erikson's been doing some really interesting informal interactions on his "official author facebook page."

Most recently, he's fielding questions regarding his recent two part essay on dialogue.

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#20 User is offline   Madness 

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Posted 15 December 2017 - 08:09 PM

Quote

In the comments section regarding this last essay, I stated to a reader that I am happy to take any scene I've written and deconstruct it, to suggest that what might at first appear to be seamless to the reader still retains a consistent structure -- all the pieces necessary to give that scene impact, and that it's all a matter of training the eye.


The quote text is the link. Erikson's taking suggestions on what scenes might be interesting to deconstruct - seems like a unique opportunity for fans ;).

This post has been edited by Madness: 15 December 2017 - 08:09 PM

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