Writing stuff

Changing Characters (in genre)

Traditional writing books will tell you that your characters must grow and change over the course of a novel.

I think these are talking about Literary novels. The writing books I’ve read that say this are definitely geared towards more Literary novels.

However, I once read in a book on writing genre fiction, especially a series, that characters shouldn’t change.

I think there’s merit in this, because a character changing 20 times from novel to novel would just get tiring. Further, I know genre readers who like things the same way for a good while. How long depends on the reader, or viewer, or player, but most of the people I know who are fans of a genre series, be it book, show, game etc, tend to want the same characters in a vast array of scenarios.

I’m going to cite a few series’ close to my heart.

R A Salvatore’s Drizzt novels – there’s like 30 of them now – seem to have the main character remain the same, or mostly the same, since the 70s. He’s explored darker and more complex moral thinking of late, to be sure, but I think that’s mainly because he’s written 30 books with the same main character. Eventually, sure, Drizzt has to change. It’s inevitable. But when he changes it’s either gradually over several books or because of traumatic experience.

Harry Dresden, of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, stays mostly the same. There might be leeway, sure, but mostly? He’s still the gentlemanly, badass, charming, sincere, bookish wizard PI he’s been since book 1. Changes, as you’d expect, is a book wherein in he does something evil, or at least not good. I won’t tell you what, go read it for yourself, but it’s a new chapter in his progression as a person. But the change in Changes is fairly small in the big picture. He’s been pretty much the same level of awesome for 16 books. What changes is the scale of the threats he faces – The Dresden Files is all about escalation, and Butcher does that EXTREMELY well.

Then there’s Harry Potter. He gets darker and angrier, and guys have responded well to that. You’d change over seven books too if everyone you love and care for gets killed by your nemesis (spoiler alert). I heard that, originally, Harry was going to die, but Rowling got death threats, so she caved. I think Harry’s mood changed, but fundamentally, he didn’t. Then again it’s been decades since I read the books, so my info might be a little unreliable at this time.

So there’s some arguments for stasis, at least in the short term. Do you have any examples to add?


Dicks in scifi

I hate dicks in sci fi novels. They’re everywhere, it sometimes seems. That’s one of the two reasons I don’t really read sci fi that much, the other being a lack of interest in general, although I have enjoyed some sci fi – provided it isn’t message sci fi about gender politics or race politics or other politics in general. I don’t really like the newer stuff that’s all about politics, but what I really can’t stand, what annoys me the crap out, is when sci fi contains too many dicks.

Stories that go on about dicks annoy me. Descriptions that are basically dicks, or when dicks are described in detail, annoy me because I like to think science fiction is smart, and I don’t see stories where there’s liberal use of dicks to be all that smart, cool science stuff aside.

I mean, dick jokes are the lowest form of humour; guys who tell dick jokes tend to be amateur comedians for a reason – they haven’t grown out of dick jokes. Who likes dick jokes? Young, male piss-heads.

And when science fiction writers go on about how dick-like something looks, or how important dicks are to the character, well, I tend to think the writer has just discovered that dicks are amazing (whether they are or not – and I don’t think they are. They’re just dicks, they’re not newsworthy). It’s like, “Look at me! I can tell dick stories!” like a piss-head. Sci fi authors are probably a few rungs above teenage piss-heads, but when they go on about dicks? Shatters the illusion that they’re intelligent, at least for me. You’ve got all this sciency stuff you could be writing about, but you’re focused on dicks. You’ve got dicks on your brain. Seems like they need to get laid. Or they’re recently just gotten laid and they’re obsessing about it. Or they just have an obsession with dicks. Or something. I don’t know, I just don’t like dicks in my sci fi. Therefore I don’t really read sci fi much. It’s not because I can’t understand the science, although if the writer fails to explain it so that I can understand it, that’s a writing fail on their part, most likely. Or I’m too thick to get it. Take your pick. But keep your dicks out of my sci fi. I don’t want to read that. Cause that’s nasty.

Reading stuff

Second book woes

Do you find second books in fantasy trilogies tend to be the weakest link? Cause I’m finding that right now with Clash of Iron by Angus Watson. It’s not a BAD novel, but it lacks a bit of the page-turning that the first one, Age of Iron, had. Age sunk its hooks into me from the beginning; no matter how hard I tried to read something else, it kept pulling me back. Not so much with the sequel, though again I don’t think it’s a bad book – just misses whatever x-factor it was that made the first one glorious. It still has action, at least, and it’s still interesting, but the magic doesn’t work so well this time around. Maybe it’s just me. But I have heard of a lot of fantasy novel sequels tending to suck at least a bit. What have you found? What’s the deal?

I just realised I need to read more fantasy books; see my last post though.

Reading stuff

Writers Read

I believe practice at writing is the primary thing that makes you a better writer, not reading (so much). That said, writers tend to be, and should be, avid readers too – books are your craft, and you should know what’s out there and read it. Usually reading avidly isn’t a problem for writers anyway, as I understand it. Except for me – I get too distracted by the internet and video games to read avidly like I used to, though I do read still. The other thing is, I know most of the tricks, so I’m harder to impress. The magic isn’t gone, but it is reduced. And that makes me sad. I don’t think there’s really any cure for that, either. Maybe attacking my TBR pile aggressively, that might work.

What do you think? How’s your reading going?


Character Mortality

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about this, lately, and come to the conclusion that at least one of my characters needs to die. At some point. You know, on the pages; in the story.

They can’t live forever. They have to die some time. Everyone does. Even Jesus Christ died. (whether you believe he rose again and proved his divinity or didn’t and thus proved he wasn’t, well, that’s another thing entirely).

My characters are mortal, though I’m attached to them and wish they didn’t have to die, but die they must. And I’m thinking about, planning ahead for, their eventual demises… and one character in particular. Question is, how do they go out? Blaze of glory? Slow demise from cancer or old age? Kicking, screaming, naked and covered in someone else’s blood? (ie a Tuesday for Vikings). Maybe they just wander off into the desert when the story’s over. Who knows? I mean, I know, but I can certainly change my mind.

The thing to keep in mind is, what the reader will respond with. Sadness, hopefully. A sense of loss. A sense of finality. A reminder that these characters, who’ve battled demons and dragons and galactic threats, are still mortal. The only way they’re immortal is in the artifice of written novels.

Age is something I want to portray; my characters get older, beauty fades, the little things become important, the way they think changes from young and full of life to old and worn out. If they don’t go out in a blaze of glory, what’s left is a slower decline to old age and then death. Depending on their situation, they could starve or die of dehydration.

Thing is, as much as I would like to keep them around, eventually, yes, even they, who’ve slain giants, must eventually succumb to death’s hand. There’s no escaping that. Writing fiction, you have a tendency to want your darling characters to live forever. But nobody lives forever. All men (and women) must die. Valar Morghulis or however that’s spelt.

But character deaths have to have meaning. I finally saw Spock’s death scene. He had some fine last words, to the effect of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I am, and always will be, your friend.” Great last words; terrible reason (read: Leonard Nemoy’s contract dispute). In books, you don’t have to negotiate actor contracts, so that’s one thing you don’t need to worry about. On the other hand, you have to do it artistically or readers will call foul. You need to make it mean something, not just for shock/twist value. Well, you do if it’s a main character. The murder victim of the week, not so much. Those who survive the murder victim (those left behind) it’s a little greyer. But basically, cheap deaths are cheap, and readers don’t like that. Horror movie fans, probably a bit more forgiving, since you’ll expect a murder quota to be filled in a horror movie. That’s just part and parcel of the genre and medium. (Especially if the characters are teens or racial stereotypes!)

Basically, what it seems to boil down to, is that it should be hard for the reader and the writer. I say this because death is terribly inconvenient and it should be treated as a major plot development instead of a throwaway incident… if we’re talking a main character. I can’t give you a formula, an algorithm, for when and how to kill your character, but if you decide you want to, then maybe it should be hard for you to do it to your precious characters.

Or you can be like George R R Martin and kill someone every chapter. That seems to be working out well for him.