And this is when you realize you really missed writing

I just read this and this and realized how much I missed writing over the last few months. Really, all personal stress and life-changing issues set aside, I really missed that feeling of having some room there to have my characters talk to me, to have scenes unfold in my head and to just sit down and write for the heck of it.

Sure, I’d love to get this book published some day, but even so I write, because I love it. I write because I love my story and my characters and I love to have those sudden strikes of inspiration that keep me up late at night, glued to the laptop typing away. And now it’s been coming back for the last few days and it really makes me happy. Even though I’m sick as a puppy right now and am not doing a whole lot of writing, I’m sorting through things and get back on track again.

And yes the voices are back too and they are telling me things of literary awesome 😉

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Writing Characters of Opposite Genders

I’m pretty sure we’ve all had that experience: We read an author who attempts to write about characters of the opposite gender than theirs and they horribly and often ridiculously fail. Now as a female writer who usually writes from male PoV’s I’ve always been a little paranoid of said failure to convey an authentic male voice. Honestly between the first and the second draft of Light I feel like I’ve improved a lot in this aspect, but I’m sure there is the one or other section that doesn’t come across as entirely authentic (can I get some more male readers to take a look at let’s say the first three chapters, pretty please? Volunteers, just drop me an email and I’ll be more than happy to send you some sample chapters!)

Of course there’s the question of what exactly qualifies as an authentic portrait of a male/female voice.

Personally I’m not a believer in gender-stereotypes and don’t think that they are what define gender. When I’m looking at who some authors fail or accomplish to create a realistic picture of a character obviously not of their own gender I often find that those characteristics are much more subtle than general stereotypes. It definitely isn’t easy to do and as a writer I often find it hard to know if I succeed at giving a realistic image of my male protagonists. The fact that I’m writing about gay/bisexual male protagonists who are occasionally introspective only adds to me trying to write about them in a realistic fashion. Seriously, nothing bugs me more than the fact that many people automatically associate a certain degree of femininity with gay/bisexual men and the other way around with women. Needless to say that I’m pretty much expecting the sexuality of my protagonists to put off some readers, but that’s their karma I suppose 😉

Anyway, I’m curious: What would you say is characteristic for a realistic male/female voice and what experiences did you make writing characters of the opposite gender? Comment away 😀

Protagonist Preferences

I’m wondering if that’s just me, but I personally end up preferring books featuring male protagonists. I had that discussion with a good friend who also writes a while back and she says she just finds it hard to relate to male authors and male protagonists very often, while I don’t really have a problem with either. Honestly, I don’t really care if the author is male or female, but when I went through my bookshelves recently, I realized that most of my favorite books are mixed authors, but mainly feature male protagonists.

As a writer, I also find it much easier to write from a male PoV – both Damian and Ares are male protagonists and even back when I still role-played, I preferred to write male characters.

Not that I’d think it unusual, but I wonder why it’s that we’re biased like that at time. I mean it’s not that there aren’t a bunch of totally awesome female fantasy characters out there (and writers who convey them in an awesome way), it’s just something that happens unintentionally I guess. On the other hand I also read a bunch of male and female authors who utterly fail at giving you a realistic image of protagonists of the opposite sex. Really, reading about horribly whiny and emo characters like in Lackey’s Last Herald Mage or the absolutely perfect and utterly desirable heroine in the Sword of Truth books by Goodkind just make me want to throw the book across the room.

Then again there are books like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga that make me wonder what the obviously female author was thinking when she writes about a totally naive and absolutely dependent female protagonist. Oh I can so totally identify with a character who lives for nothing but her vampire boyfriend and would give anything to be with him forever and ever. Yeah, that’s all the reason I need to believe….not.

Then again there are really cool female characters out there in fantasyland; Jacqueline Carey’s Phedre, Martin’s Cersei (gotta love the villains) etc.

I guess in the end it all depends on personal preference. I tend to write characters who I’d like to read about so I guess that goes hand in hand and gender is secondary and sort of comes along with it. I guess I just really lack any kind of rational explanation here 😉

Should characters be robots?

I recently joined a critique group over on Dragonmount and someone there started a rather interesting discussion there today regarding a blog post by Robert J. Sawyer who points out on his blog:

Psst! Wanna hear a secret? The people in most stories aren’t really humans — they’re robots!
Real people are quite accidental, the result of a random jumbling of genes and a chaotic life. But story people are made to order to do a specific job. In other words, robots!

and

And, of course, that means that you shouldn’t start with a character and then go looking about for a story; it’s a lot easier to do it the other way around. First, come up with your premise (for instance, “I want to write about a telepathic alien who can read subconscious instead of conscious thoughts”). Then you ask yourself who could most clearly dramatize the issues arising from that premise (“There’s this guy, see, who’s been suppressing terrible memories of the suicide of his wife”).

After that, head for your keyboard and build the character to your specifications, for that one specific job. (In this case, the story has already been done brilliantly; it’s Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.) Of course, you have to add subtleties and quirks to give your character depth, but if you do it right, only you will ever know that underneath the real-looking skin, your hero is actually a made-to-measure robot . . .

I guess I partly agree. Of course your character has a certain function, a specific ‘job’ as you put it. After all that’s what prompts character action and interaction.
But then again I couldn’t imagine creating a character just for the sake of their function. When I’m creating a character – or when they spontaneously pop up in my head waving and screaming PICK ME! – I’m thinking of a couple of things:

– yes, what’s the characters’ function, what do they do in the plot and how do they influence the story as a whole?
– what is their background/personality/motivation? In my experience thinking about those three can either result in something that perfectly fit into your already existing plotline or it can create something new. It can result in a new subplot or even in the general plot taking a completely new direction. This is the point where I’m not thinking about shaping my character to fit into the pre-existing story, but where I’m pretty much doing the exact opposite of what Sawyer suggests.

So with that said, I only about halfway agree with that approach. Sure, you have to model some characters to fit into your plot, but there are just as many occasions when it happens exactly the other way ’round and a character and their action or motivation lead your plot into a completely different direction.

Then again it also depends on what kind of writer you are. I suppose Robert J. Sawyer’s suggestion works very well if you are already totally set on what you want to happen in your story. If you already know exactly what your protagonist(s) and your antagonist(s) etc are going to do, then you just need to fill in placeholders so to say.

Maybe it’s because I’m not that kind of writer and usually start out knowing jack-shit about where my story is going in the end, but I hold it more with Nathan Bransford who recently pointed out in his blog  that character and plot are pretty much inseparable. It’s a little simplified, but IMO you can’t really have a detailed plot without knowing who your characters are and the other way ’round, you can’t have intriguing characters without them having a background, a personality and a motivation that drive the plot that unfolds around them.

Villain – Dahlia Laras

Name: Dahlia Laras

Age: 33

Rank: Captain of the Watch

Background: No, since you ask, Laras really isn’t too fond of her first name. It’s ordinary and girly, just as she is nothing but the ordinary third daughter of an altogether ordinary middle-class family. Not that she really has a problem with being ordinary, but Dahlia Laras never really fit into her former life – not that she ever really tried either.

She always wanted to be a Soldier and worked her way up through the ranks of the Watch rather fast, though it never ceased to frustrate her how she was never more than one of the Commander’s countless flunkies. However she finds a way to make use of that as she finds an unlikely ally in Dawnelle Nymeron and they become as close to the definition ‘friends’ as Laras has ever known. She is loyal to her and plays her part with Arturiel Valyr. Nonetheless, Laras likes to be in control and dominance along with a sadistic streak are among her most prominent character flaws and she frequently uses especially the latter as an outlet of her frustration.

Dahlia Laras in a nutshell is ambitious, loyal and cruel and all too likely to act upon her own whims, which makes her unpredictable at times.

I’ll post a scene with her later, depending on my progress with rewriting One 😉

Villain – Orion Novak: scene

NOTE: This is an excerpt of Fourteen, one of those chapters that I used to play around with multiple third person PoV’s. It’s one of those scenes that need to be rewritten, but it should serve to give you an impression of Orion, though I’m working on making him even more of a pain in the ass character 😉

The bullet didn’t quite miss him, but in the end Ares was lucky to get away with nothing but a graze. His shoulder stung fiercely with every movement, but he managed to draw his own gun fast enough to surprise Orion.

He silently thanked the Gods for whoever invented inner-pants holsters. It was only a small caliber magnum, but a good shot at the kneecap usually makes for a good distraction.

“You bastard! Light. Fuck you!”, Orion howled with pain. Apparently Ares’ aim hadn’t been off by far.

“Sorry, but the Light won’t help you with that. Speaking of which, why did they sent you here?”, Ares countered, pressing the his magnum against Orion’s temples.

“They…”, Orion hissed between clenched teeth, still trying to keep himself on his feet. Ares would have laughed if he hadn’t seethed with fury.

“They want you dead. What do you think? They’d let you go at it just under their noses? Light, how naïve-”

“This is enough. If the Watch just wanted me dead they’d have sent somebody more capable of putting a bullet through my head than you. No.” Ares’ gun wandered down just below Orion’s chin. He could see him swallow. Orion had thought he was easy meat.

“Sorry to say that, but you’re the worst liar that I’ve ever seen, Orion Novak. Why. Are you here? I already know what happened. Why still playing games?”

Orion’s mouth twitched. Only then Ares noticed that his opponent was trying not to laugh. He failed miserably.

“Oh Light, Ares”, Orion laughed. The sound made Ares want to strangle him. “You really should see your own face. Do you finally get it? Is it finally dawning on you that there’s nothing that they don’t know?”

Orion raised his hands, slimy grin still on his face. Ares hand started to quiver with anger. Orion looked at him as if he could read his very thoughts.

“Oh go ahead and shoot me if you like. It won’t bring any of them back. Too bad I couldn’t be the one who emptied his gun into Damian. Well you can’t have everything, I-”

Ares let go of him; pushing Orion away. His finger pulled the trigger almost in reflex. The shot echoed in his ears was followed by another one. Both hit him into the chest. Even with the 22 magnum it was enough to kill for sure.

Villain – Orion Novak

Name: Orion Novak

Age: 26

Family and Background: A whore’s get, Orion doesn’t particularly talk about his past, except for the occasional snarky remark aimed at Naerya and Nurya (who are both courtesans) or Ares for that matter (no, he really doesn’t like him 8) ). If Orion could have it his way, he’d altogether forget where he came from as he despises the life on the streets, even the life in the Shadows after Orpheus accepts him under his tutelage. He never makes it much of a secret that he wants to be something better than his fellow Shadows. Orion has no allegiances and will do whatever serves his purpose, which usually depends on the highest bidder. Most of the time he at least tries to remain in good standing with Orpheus and the rest of the Shadows, but his open enmity with Ares and Damian is no secret.

Orion is some sort of textbook turncoat. A recurring villain, he usually appears whenever you least expect him. In the end he’s nothing but another one of Valyr’s flunkies, though whether he’s one of his “boy toys” as Dahlia Laras refers to him remains open.

If I were to describe Orion in three words, it would probably come down to: treacherous, spiteful and arrogant.

He’s one of those characters that should be destined to die, but of course they don’t do my protagonists the favor. That would be a little too easy guys, wouldn’t it?