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Posts Tagged ‘characters’

I must admit, lately it seems I am becoming somewhat of a literary snob. I don’t want to be this way, yet I have the hardest time finishing a book, either due to the actual story not fulfilling up to its glowing reviews or because the actual writing is so poor, I get frustrated with it.

Seriously, it’s been a couple of months since I last finished a book.

Perhaps it’s because of my degree in English (which has yet to prove useful in life, lol) that I find myself more critical of things. Then again, half the books that are considered classics that we were made to read really weren’t, in my opinion, “classic” at all (case in point: anything by Hemingway. I seriously cannot understand how his work has become so lauded in literary circles).

So, I was thinking about it, and I made a bit of a list of what I consider to be the foundations of a good story. It’s pretty simplistic.

  1. There must be a character the reader can identify with. This has been something that I think has been neglected in many popular books and the “classics.” Perhaps that’s why I dislike Hemingway’s stories so much–I cannot identify with his main characters–or any characters really–that he writes about. Example: Frederick Henry in Farewell to Arms. Throughout most of the story I’m pretty disgusted by him and his actions. How then am I supposed to enjoy the story if I’m reading about someone I could care less about?
  2. The story must be compelling. I may really love the character, but if the story isn’t compelling enough for me to keep reading, I won’t finish the book. For me, this is typical of some chick-lit books I’ve read (or attempted to read and just couldn’t get past the halfway point). I’ll love the character, but his/her story just doesn’t catch me enough and the book will seem neverending. This also goes hand-in-hand with #1. If the story is compelling but the characters are distant, it also falls short.
  3. Will I be able to understand the message? Perhaps I’m not a “deep” reader, but some literary fiction (I say some because I’ve read a good number of literary books that don’t fall into this category) makes my head hurt. Questions are good to have throughout a story, as long as they are not drawn out or never answered. This is what I found particularly frustrating when I took a Contemporary Lit class in college. One of the books we read was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. It was so confusing I would literally have headaches after reading it. The only reason I was able to make any sort of sense of the book was because of my lit teacher (and some of the more talented lit majors :P). Perhaps I’m just not cut out for such “deep” prose, but I do not care for books that need a doctorate to understand.
  4. Is the message too blunt? The opposite of #3 but are you being inundated with the message at every page? This is something I know as a writer I need to work on as I’m afraid I may be making things too deep for the reader to catch on to. But you have to give readers credit; they can figure things out if the message isn’t too deeply hidden.
  5. Is the story too cliche? Is it a story you can figure out the ending from the first few pages? I know nearly everything has been done before. However, a story could be the typical boy meets girl type yet be original in how it’s presented. It’s difficult, but not impossible–I’ve read a good many books that manage to present what could be a “cliche” topic yet are still successful in my opinion–at least to the point where I finished the book.

Finally:
Does the story stick with you long after you’ve finished? I believe this is one of the most important aspects of a great story. If it’s a book you’d want to pick up again and again, a story that haunts you hours, days, weeks after you’ve read it–then it’s a great book. Many stories are good but the truly great ones achieve this aspect.

I know as a writer this is everything that I need to live up to as well, at least if I want my book to be moderately successful and not one that people wonder how it was published in the first place 🙂 I think as writers, these are things we should keep in mind.

I realize that all of this probably makes me sound even more like a literary snob/elitist when it comes to reading–and perhaps I am in a way. But as a reader, I’m spending valuable time with an author and their story. It can be incredibly disappointing when the book you had great expectations for turns out to be a dud in the end. Truly good literature can be hard to come by, but when it’s found, it’s equivalent to gold 🙂

Anyway, any comments? Any suggestions of a good book are welcome too as I am always willing to try anything.

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It started with my MC Kaiyo. I always thought I understood her–her personality, nuances, motivation, etc. I thought I knew her and what made her tick, so to speak.

I found out I was wrong.

Though I didn’t actually work on any of my writing this weekend (surprise, surprise…), she accosted me. Kaiyo kept shadowing me the entire weekend, being persistent (as she is known for…), telling me more about herself than I’d ever imagined. She’s a lot more complex than I’d originally thought! She practically screamed at me when I was listening to Natalie Grant’s song I Will Not Be Moved  saying this was HER song; this was the cry of her heart. I never understood her completely until I heard it and now there’s a new understanding I have of her and her story.

Now that she’s thoroughly satisfied that I understand her completely, it seems she’s rallied all of the other characters, for now they are coming forward and letting me know that I need to examine them more. 😛

I’m especially surprised by Ryuji, who still tends to be on the mysterious side, but since Kaiyo’s little dare, he’s found himself slightly more emboldened to let me know how I’ve characterized him wrong too 😛 It seems that there’s a slightly darker past that he has that he never let me see before now. I never really knew how much pain he was really in and how brave he was. I’m understanding why he keeps his distance from people now.

And then there’s Iesada, Kaiyo’s estranged father…he too is very secretive and not really certain if I’m to be trusted with his story; however, I’ve discovered an entire backstory of his that he’s let be revealed through other characters…but with his permission of course. He likes to  be difficult with me, but it’s understandable–his rank as oyabun in the yakuza makes him this way.

And I can’t forget the antagonist, Kaemon (as much as I want to!). I know I tend to avoid him, because he’s so intimidating, but I can’t any longer. I’m afraid to see the true depth of his darkness, for I know he enjoys causing others pain and gets some sick joy out of it. I don’t really want to examine his character, but I know that I’m going to have to if I want to tell the story the way it ought to be. (I can hear him already laughing about what I’m going to discover….)

 I’m spending a great deal of time daydreaming and not being quite here in this world as their world and their lives come to the forefront. And of course, as a writer, I am obliged to sit and listen, for it would be a great injustice to ignore them (even though I don’t think I could if I tried!).

I know a great deal of writers are accosted by their characters at odd times and I’m sure that anyone who has characters and stories can understand this 🙂 Even though this entry does make me sound a bit on the crazy side!

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I find that I’m deeply affected by music when I’m writing. I don’t know about you, but I always see my story play through my brain like a movie–complete with a full orchestral soundtrack. 

Anyway, I have a “soundtrack” of sorts that I listen to when I’m writing. They help me visualize the scenes better. Most of the time, it’s instrumental in nature, though I do have a few songs with lyrics to them.

For example, one of my favorite “songs” for my book is The Chairman’s Waltz from Memoirs of a Geisha. Something about the way the violin plays so beautfully in that song just makes me envision my MC up in the Snow Country of Japan,learning to adapt to a different life. It also displays the budding romance that’s occuring in her life.

Then there’s Nara by E.S. Posthumous. It’s a song that’s normally been used in movie previews. It helps me to envision my book as a whole, as I can see the story progressing much as a preview would. I always listen to this before I start writing.

There are many others; some classical pieces like Schubert’s Ave Maria as well as the Bach/Gounod version of the same song; Pachebel’s Canon in D is another one too. Then there’s about a dozen or so various songs (like Waiting for the World to Fall by Jars of Clay and Stand in the Rain by Superchick) that I feel describe my characters. The list is ever growing!

I know I’m not the only one who does this; my younger sister is in the middle of writing a fantasy and she has certain “theme” songs for her book too. I think music helps to open the mind and stimulate those creative juices.

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