Friday, 27 January 2012

OU Creative Writing update

Just thought I'd give an update on the Open University course I'm doing. The course description says:
By the end of the course you should be able to
  • Write fiction, poetry, life writing and drama with a mature and sophisticated style and a greater awareness of elements such as repetition and analogy.
  • Understand more fully the possible relationships between fiction, drama, life writing and poetry.
  • Carry out background research for your writing, including the use of information technology.
  • Empathise with characters and fully imagine and realise different eras and imaginative worlds in creating new work.
  • Understand how dramatic writing methods might be transferable to other genres, for instance, to improve and develop prose style and voice.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of dramatic writing, including knowledge of conventional layout for at least one medium.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the strengths and limitations of writing for different dramatic media, and what might be needed to write dramatic adaptations of fiction or life writing.
  • Write with a greater awareness of formal constraints.
  • Exercise a disciplined practice including willingness to revise and redraft.
  • Present manuscripts and media scripts to a professional standard.
  • Give objective evaluations of your own and others’ work through constructive criticism.
  • Produce a piece of writing of substantial length which in its style, complexity and editorial awareness is drafted and redrafted to a high standard.
I'm really enjoying it so far, and the radio script writing was a lot of fun. The next assignment is to start planning a story which will comprise the end of course assignment. Must start thinking!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sidekicks and Secondary Characters

A sidekick is a superhero partnered with another in a lesser capacity. Used for comedy, to relate to readers, but also to move plot, and in some cases to become an integral part of the mythos.
Or so says Comic Vine, which should know about sidekicks.

Sidekicks can often be as heroic as the people they are following. Take Ron Weasley in Harry Potter, or Amy Pond in Doctor Who.

They could be a younger person learning the ropes, like Robin to Batman. Robin eventually went on to become a superhero in his own right, as Nightwing.

Or the sidekick could be an essential part of the hero's armour, like Ando in Heroes. Without him, Hiro wouldn't have been able to get anywhere, because he couldn't drive, or to understand anyone in New York, because he didn't speak English.

For some reason most of my completed longer stories seem to be ensemble casts, but there are one or two which have had secondary characters - I don't think this is one of my strengths as a writer, and it's definitely something I need to work on more!

My main problem with secondary characters is that they either don't have any character at all, or I get too attached to them and end up giving them way to much background and character, then having to cut it all back out again when I realise they've become a main character and they shouldn't be.

Sidekicks are easier in some ways. Everyone loves it when Robin sometimes steps up to save the day. Sidekicks can have a developmental arc that is more dramatic than the hero's - they could go from a shy and scared kid to a brave teenager who helps to save the world. The key is to give them a bit of depth and not let them take over the story.

Yeah, I'm still working on that...!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Heroes and Villains

Keeping with the theme of characters, today's WriYe blog is about villains and heroes.

Nobody likes a know-it-all, or a goody two shoes, and someone who appears pure evil isn't necessarily the most interesting villain.

Take Adolf Hitler, for example. I don't think I've ever seen him portrayed as anything other than a one dimensional man intent on world domination. Now I don't want to get into any political debate, but I'm sure the man must have had more to his personality than being a Nazi.

He must have had hobbies, or friends. Maybe he liked to listen to music in the evening. And surely he must have fallen in love at some point.

What if you wrote a story about Hitler making the decision to open concentration camps while looking at a picture of the woman he loves, or while carefully tending his garden? Doesn't that instantly make him a more interesting character and a more intriguing villain?

The same is true of heroes. A perfect hero is boring. Give him a fault, a flaw or an irritating habit, or load him up with lots of problems in his personal life. Then when he triumphs in spite of all his problems we can really cheer for him.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Naming Characters

Today's WriYe topic is 'How do you name your characters?'

I have two ways of naming characters. Sometimes I know what a character is going to act like and I choose a name that's appropriate for that characters, and other times I just pick a name I like and the character in part grows from that.

To give an example I'll go through my characters for Alive!

Keller Anis - Her first name just popped into my head when I was creating the character. It sounded strong but still female. I gave her a surname taken from the star anis plant, because the name was interesting and it seemed appropriate for someone who travels in space.

John Park
- John was a character before he had a name. I wanted a nice normal name to fit with his nice normal, laid back character, so settled on John. His name did influence his character a bit, because he wasn't Korean until I called him Park - which I then discovered is one of the most common Korean surnames.

Shanran Dak
- Confession time. Shanran was originally a character in a Star Trek fanfic set some time in the 26th century. He was Shanran Dax then, but obviously I couldn't keep the name Dax, so I altered it to Dak. Actually the character he became then deviated a lot from the original Dax character I'd written, so his name may have influenced the character a bit.

Dr Anna Smythe - Anna was always going to be a predictable, stable character, so I wanted a name that reflected that, but also hinted at her being a classy lady. Smythe is very similar to Smith, but sounded more upper class, so it fitted well with the idea I had of her character.

Dr Connor Rivers - I wanted a kindly name for the ship's doctor, something that sounded respectable, friendly and like someone you could trust.

Elliot Macintyre -The same with Elliott, I wanted something that sounded friendly, but that sounded a bit younger than Dr Rivers. I've never known an old Elliott, so that seemed to fit the bill nicely. Macintyre had a nice lively sound to it as well, also pointing to a younger man... or at least that's how my mind worked when I was choosing his name!

Jackson Brown - I really can't remember how I ended up naming Jackson. One thing I did try to do with the humans though was to keep their names all grounded and be quite normal. I hate sci-fi where all the humans have exotic names. Of course there would be some odd names - just like the Pixies, Summers, Lourdes' and Brooklyns we have now - but I always find it very difficult to keep track of or get involved with too many people with pretentious/made up/strange sounding names. I think I came up with Jackson's character before I named him, but I really can't remember. He actually started as a much more minor character than he ended up being.

Delta - The red-eyed cyborg saboteur needed a more interesting name. She's a bit of a mystery, so she didn't get a last name to add to that sense of her being someone we don't know much about. I liked the name Delta for her because it hinted at something robotic (ie. Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma...) and it could also be a girl's name (eg. Aussie singer Delta Goodrem).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Creating characters

Throughout the year I'm going to be doing WriYe - basically a group of people on a forum who get together and encourage each other to write a certain amount of words/projects/challenges throughout the year.

One of the challenges suggested was to write blog posts on set topics throughout the year, so I though, 'why not?'

The first topic is 'Characters'.

I find characters can be the easiest and at the same time the most difficult parts of any story. If they're not done well the whole story can fall apart - after all, is anyone interested in a hero that you can't understand, or a villain who doesn't seem to have any personality at all?

When I'm creating a story I usually start with a train of thought from my main character. Sometimes a story will even start with a character rather than a plot. I have to decide how old they are, and what gender, and then I just get them thinking about something that's going to happen in the story. Quite often what I write won't make it into the finished story, but it really helps me get to know my characters. It gives them a personality, a speech pattern, and opinions. Sometimes the character hasn't even got a name at this point, but after I've written a few paragraphs of their thoughts I've usually got a much better idea of who they are.

Another thing I use to create character is clothes. I describe my character and then try to delve a bit into why they dress the way they do. Does the woman in the red dress wear it because she likes bright colours? Or is she a hooker? Is she wearing the dress because her boyfriend has told her he likes to see her in it? Does she feel uncomfortable in it? Has she tried to hide it under a cardigan, or is she accessorising with diamonds? Is it an expensive dress, cut to flatter, or does it pinch a bit too tight and show all her lumps and bumps? Is she mutton dressed as lamb, or is she absolutely stunning?

When I'm writing descriptions I also try to think about any tics or characteristics the character has. Do they appear to be nervous? If so, how is their body language showing this? What is their hair like? Is it tidy or does it look as if they keep fiddling with it, or running their hands through it? Are they playing with something in their hands, or are they relaxed?

Here's an example of the way I create a character. (It's just train of thought typing, so please excuse any typos, etc...)
She's sitting at her desk in front of the computer, reading her emails. She keeps looking around as if she's not supposed to be doing something or she's afraid of getting caught. 'Come on, reply. I need to know the answer now. Do I have that job or am I stuck here? I hate this place. It's mind numbing. There's nothing for me to do here, I'm always tired, I go home feeling miserable. Maybe if I get this job I could get a pet. I'd have more time. I wouldn't have to drive 50 miles to work each day. I wouldn't be so tired in the evening. I think I'd like goldfish. They're relaxing. And I want time to read. I wonder if Shelley would like to catch up for lunch sometimes? I'd be able to take lunch breaks and actually get some fresh air. I'd like that. Still no email though. What will I do if I don't get this job?'

She looks up quickly as someone walks past, clicking from one window to another on her computer. She keeps tugging at a tube bandage on her right hand - the resultof RSI from her job. Her hair is pulled back untidily into an unflattering ponytail, more to keep it out of her face than for any style reasons. She's wearing a woollen dress in an odd faded mustard colour. It looks well worn. She pulled it on because it's comfortable. She has to leave the house so early in the morning to get to work on time that she doesn't pay much attention to her clothes as long as they're clean.
She's not wearing any make up - again, there's no time for it. Bags are showing under her eyes and she has a spot on her chin. She's in her thirties maybe, but she looks older and very tired. You'd feel sorry for her.
From this I could start to think more about how she acts with her colleagues, the way she acts and speaks, and why she needs the new job. I've also somehow come up with a friend for her - Shelley - although I don't really know who she is yet.

The story may be how she escapes from the horrible job she hates or it may be that she has to stay there, but either way I have a better idea now of who my character is and how she might act.