Thursday, August 30, 2012

Spoken Word

Creating dialogue for your characters seems like a daunting process, but in reality is an enriching process for building your skills as a writer. For most, dialogue is two-dimensional. My friend, who is an accomplished artist, illustrated this point to me over coffee once. If I look at a crowded restaurant, what I see will be much different than what he sees. My eyes will be blind to the depth, the color, the contours in shape and tone that he will recognize instantly. Just like art, people that excel at the craft of writing see dialogue as a way of giving depth, shape, form, and contour to a character when most take it for granted.

One of the best pieces of dialogue advice I ever heard was from Kurt Vonnegut  who said, "Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action."

I believe both are possible.

The first step to take is to write out the interchange between the characters that you are planning to use. From here, read over the dialogue and tailor it so that your reader can grasp and understand who the characters are without any sensory descriptions. People rely far too much on imagery to substantiate their characters. It's certainly important, but dialogue is far more memorable in my opinion. I mostly say this because people don't quote the descriptions of Westley from The Princess Bride, but the things he says. Those endearing things are what propel the character into memory.

Another good tip is asking after every line of dialogue you write, "would so-and-so say this?" Not only does this make your writing process more cerebral, but it helps you critically think and break down what the core of your character is. If your character is a vagrant who courts prostitutes and random acts of violence, then he's going to swear, be crude, and welcome conflict. Even if you are Christian (like me) the character doesn't represent your morals and ideals, so he/she shouldn't be your mouthpiece.

The last piece of advice I have is pick your unique style of dialogue presentation and stick with it for the sake of consistency. If your character speaks in an accent, he must carry it the full length of the novel. If your character stutters, he must carry the stutter the full length of the novel. If your character speaks in broken disjointed thoughts, or maintains a mystical presence, then font, punctuation, and sentence syntax must reflect this always. Neil Gaiman is king of this and I encourage all of you to consult his corpus to see what I mean. Especially his Death character in Good Omens.

Always remember that rules are made to be broken, but they need to be broken intelligently and thoughtfully.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Raygun or Bradbury?

I think the key to writing good science fiction lies in understanding the different types that are already out there, and then finding interesting ways to marry the content together. Generally there are two different kinds, Conceptual and Philosophical.

Many of us already know this but maybe aren't aware of the dichotomy between the two. The easiest way to tell the difference would be looking at something like Star Trek and Star Wars. Though they are nomitively similar, their approaches are rather distinct.

I consider myself a Star Wars fan, but until the re-releases came out in the mid-90s I had spent considerable time in the Star Trek universe watching mostly the original theatrical films from both Shatner and Stewart Era Enterprises. What I found interesting was that I immediately latched onto the Star Wars universe when it initially came out, because who doesn't like lightsabers and hyperdrives? However it never possessed the emotional and creative depth of Star Trek. This is because Star Wars is Conceptual Science Fiction.

Conceptual SciFi aims to create an interactive universe. It gives us diverse worlds, technology, sentient species, language groups, and puts the reader into a concept induced coma. While this is good for creating a rapidly growing following in readership it has no staying power, that is unless the plot advances quickly to hold the interest. It's the orange chicken of reading, which you can consume rapidly in quick succession, but you lose appetite quickly. Character development takes a curbside for immersion, and the result is that the reader has no foothold in the characters that live in the universe.

Star Trek is another animal however. In this style of SciFi we find the opposite to be true, where character development is in ready supply and each of them have a warmth and depth that the reader can relate to and understand. There is a sense of moral weight on the actions of the characters that is otherwise absent in the concept centered SciFi worlds. This is because it is Philosophical in nature. Philosophical science fiction will play down the gadgetry of the world, emphasizing the consequences of technology, usually from an ethical perspective. For instance, though Data is an android, he reflects humanity in his programming, therefore it questions what makes a human really human.

As I mentioned before, it is important to find a way to marry these two together to make good SciFi, otherwise you have an overly shallow universe if all you focus on is technology and concepts, or an overly dry and unimpressive narrative due to the lack of immersion and philosophical waxing. The best advice I can give to make your SciFi better is to take conceptual elements and infuse in them philosophical meaning. If you have ever seen Bladerunner you will understand what I mean. Because it's not enough to have a language group or a type of technology that is there for the sake of being there. However, if the language can only be spoken through tonal sounds or if the technology changes the user over time to make them consistently less and less human, your start making your narrative not only conceptually interesting, but also with depth. It will be provocative and fascinating to confront and grapple with.

If you start here, I am certain your SciFi will really jump off the page.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Team Building Exercise

Characterization is a misunderstood task in my opinion.

Often when I am creating a new character or personality in a piece of short fiction, or even constructing the mind of a non-fiction character from historical sources, my first knee jerk reaction is to start with a concept, or maybe an over-arching symbol that the character will represent. This interprets the character and his/her actions as the sum of an allegory. I tend to start here, at many times on accident, or even by mistake, but there is a "better way" I have discovered that you all might find beneficial to your character.

Characters are people, just like us. They possess feelings, emotions, and a capacity to will and decide, and it is our jobs as authors to step back and stop controlling them. Though this is a bit abstract, if this is where we start, the product is always favorable because at least now we have stopped thinking of characters as our creations, or intellectual property. Generally to facilitate this organic process, we must start at the soul of the character.

Every character must be human. This is advice I gleaned from an interview with Alan Moore that was conducted a few year back (where I read it, I've since forgotten). He said that as outrageous and fantastic a character might appear, as long as they possess a human like feelings and emotions they will be identifiable. Characters that we can relate with are the best for the reader, especially from a commercially viable standpoint, because it gives them something to grasp and hold on to.

To do this we start at three dimensions every character must have: motivation, profession, synergy.

A character's Motivation is replete with actions. Actions/behaviors, which are the observable behaviors of the character, construct agency and personality. If you consider how you act and move in this world, the only things you do are things that you find meaningful or consider important enough to act upon. Actions also help the reader participate in the story's narrative helping them to construct in their minds who the character is through their mannerisms and behaviors. Usually they will don their personal experiences to make this possible.

Often  overlooked, a character's Profession is vastly important to building a character because in many ways as I am sure you are aware of, we are what we do. Even more importantly, we are what we don't do or even what we desire to do but can't in the face of circumstance. This will help build up realistic characters and help to facilitate how the character sees and expresses himself in the world. If your character is a train operator for instance, he is a man/woman well traveled but affixed to their path, unable to deviate. They will be a slave to the routine and the mundane, etc.

Last, but certainty not least is Synergy. A character must interact with others to exist. I stress this because how a character reacts to his/her friends, co-workers, foes, and relatives, constructs their identity into a relational, multifaceted individual. Without this individuality, your character will be one dimensional. Now I am well aware of characters that are solitary in literature, like in Kafka's Metamorphoses, but be aware of what the author is doing. In this particular story, the lone protagonist is not set apart but rather courting solitude. I consider it to be playing with negative space. Your character in solitary confinement synergies with the lack of a companion.

And there you have it! I attempted to make this brief and to the point, but I hope it was helpful in your writing journey.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Word from the Author

People have always told me that I should start writing a blog.

I enjoy writing, but it's hard to write about yourself. So many people write themselves because they want to feel like they matter and they want people interested in their lives, but that's not why I wanted to start one. 

I wanted to start one to be transparent. I wanted to share with you all my hopes. I wanted to discard my masks and show you my true face.

This is what I do when I write. The hopes and dreams of my characters mingle with myself, and in essence are extensions of who I am as a person. So in a way, I write about my self; the stories are my memoirs. 

Now this may seem counter intuitive. Writing about yourself is very much the epitome of egotism. Then again, I have always been somewhat egotistical. So maybe this is just the way we write. We must appeal to the attention of others, otherwise they cease to care, and no longer desire to keep reading. 

But maybe you will be interested long enough to see that it always comes full circle. We write because we want people to care, to listen.

Will you listen?