Writing by Numbers

OK, so…

Yeah, alright, I get it. For anyone who actually is reading this, they will see that my posts have become so irregular, I may as well consider myself a spontaneous occasional producer rather than a regular blogger, and to improve upon that, I will have to get a better grip with what a schedule is, and find appropriate subject matter to talk about. Book reviews and opinions of writing seem to be a good start, though whether I should also get more controversial on everyone is also an interesting question, especially with all the nonsense that’s happening at the moment that I have strong opinions about…

But until then, I did want to post this, if only to have some kind of outlet for myself if nobody else will read this. Because it relates to a lot of the thought processes that go on whenever I sit down to write.

As of right now, I am still waiting for contacted agents to get back to me about my Private Tuition manuscript. I’m well aware that this is par the course for new writers, but I’m sure all those who have been in that situation would also agree that it can get quite demoralizing. Especially when you’re also looking for a job and get a whole heap of rejections or silence ad nauseum, but never mind that right now…

In waiting, I haven’t just ceased writing and am now working on the first draft of another novel, this one within the young adult contemporary genre, and I’m glad that the category it fits into is a little clearer this time. Perhaps more on that in another post at another time.

However, this particular work has been subject to intense review, as I made it the bulk of my major project for my postgraduate Creative Writing course! And as a result, it got some hefty scrutiny. As it is, I ended up passing with merit, but what was said about my earliest draft was definitely interesting, and it got me thinking, sometimes in enthusiasm about my work, other times in despair. Because, as of right now, I have no idea if what I write is remotely marketable. I can only know if people actually decide to sell it, and and people actually buy. And for all that people say about what makes a marketable read, I honestly think it might be one of the great unpredictables.

There is a ton of advice on writing out there, much of which I consume and much of which I give out myself (like, uh, right now), and most of it is well-meaning and good chunk of it is extremely useful. The problem is is that there is by no means any one-size-fits-all approach to writing anything, and this is especially true of fiction, and anyone who tells you otherwise is kidding themselves. Following every single rule you’re ever given as rigidly as possible with no allowing for wiggle room will just render you the ultimate example of someone who paints by numbers, or, as the title suggests, writes by numbers. Whilst it may be a story a lot of people want to buy, is it worth it if it’s not your story? For anyone who says yes…well, great, but if money’s all your care about, you shouldn’t have tried to make it by writing, for God’s sake. Furthermore, it never seems to be the formulaic works that find success (with exceptions, sure), rather those that actually make the imitators want to imitate it. Think of the wave of dystopian YA fiction that followed the success of The Hunger Games – how many of them really had a lasting impact?

Of course, this isn’t an absolute metric. Magical schools were very much a regular feature in children’s fantasy literature before Harry Potter came along, but nevertheless, I do feel there was something about this series in particular that it had in terms of wide appeal and storytelling that previous examples, such as Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch and Anthony Horowitz’s Groosham Grange lacked, for whatever reason. Obviously, that’s quite subjective, and discussing the successes and merits of the Harry Potter series is honestly something that deserves probably several posts. But the point stands – determining what will guarantee a work’s success is so contingent on other factors, it seems futile to put it down to a formula. There’s a quote relevant to this by the successful Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami that I found on one of my bookmarks, because, y’know, random stationery is the perfect thing to find inspiring. And, I’m going to quote it with the beautiful quote tool WordPress has that I was too much of an incompetent dork to use before:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Yeah, that didn’t go entirely according to plan, but now at least you can see where the quote is…

And I think he’s right about this, and it also stands to reason that this follows for writing advice – if you only write based on the advice people have given you, you’ll only be able to write what everyone else is writing.

Now, I exaggerated a little in this case, because actually, some advice when it comes to basic grammar, syntax and other foundational matters is pretty fundamental to follow. However, the more abstract and nuanced the subject matters become, the less fundamental the advice seems to be.

There is a lot of advice out there on hooks and inciting incidents when it comes to your story’s opening, and any normal three-act structure whatsit will tell you as much. For someone who had always enjoyed slow burn stories as much as fast-paced ones, and began to write a lot in the former category, partially because I seemed to enjoy the experience so much, this made me feel a little despondent. I couldn’t see ways for my story to serve a fast-paced plot. Now, hooking your reader early on is important, but what I eventually realized was how you do it is subject to a lot of different factors, primarily, what kind of audience you’re catering to and what they would find enticing. If you’re not sure on your audience, consider what you would consider enticing. They say you should write what you’d want to read, after all. Bear in mind that you’re already privy to the plot and will know if exciting moments occur later, but remember – the audience doesn’t know that. You will have to give them something to look forward to. Try and put yourself in their shoes. But, and this is a really important but, don’t fall into the trap of mistaking a hook or inciting incident for something massive, dramatic, action-packed, or fast-paced.

You may be tempted to make the hook or inciting incident the formerly mentioned things because you’re afraid of boring your audience. But honestly, audiences and readers are unpleasable, which I know, because I am an avid member of both categories. Besides, being bored of certain aspects of something doesn’t translate to disliking a work. As of the time of writing, the book I’m currently reading is New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I’m enjoying it, but by all accounts it’s certainly not a fast-paced read. Apart from being over 600 pages in length, so many scenes are dedicated to well-timed reflections of characters and the important conversations they have. Some people don’t enjoy people chatting for ages in a work of fiction, but I do (possibly influenced by growing up with Harry Potter, where the ends of each book are usually filled with massive info dumps that I kind of just got used to), and so for me, that’s engaging enough. That’s not to say that everything is – New York 2140 is unabashedly socialist, and whilst I definitely have sympathies with that point of view, it does mean a lot of the book is given over to talk of markets, financing, business cycles, funding and all the rest of it, and to be honest, that side of it is just straight-up boring. It doesn’t help that one of the book’s POV characters works at a hedge fund and won’t fucking talk about anything else unless he’s distracted by his sexual frustration or having to constantly rescue two boys from drowning (it makes sense in context), and he is a desperate bore of a character. That said, the rest of the book is enjoyable enough for me to get to nearly the end of it.

This point about hooks is particularly poignant for the fact that I’m writing within the young adult contemporary genre this time around. That particularly section of literary works is absolutely filled of character-driven stories, and people who enjoy reading character-driven stories, so it seems entirely sensible that any hooks of enticing incidents in the early pages of such books should be character-based – internal and emotional, rather than fast-paced and bombastic. This seemed to be the impression made with John Green’s Looking for Alaska (which I have reviewed here), where the first chapter is merely dedicated to the protagonist’s internal ponderings, where he eventually concludes he wants to go to boarding school to seek a ‘Great Perhaps’ which gives you an insight into how he views the world. For me, though, the bigger hook was the fact that the first chapter was not called ‘chapter one’, but rather ‘one hundred and thirty-six days before’. Before what? The question isn’t answered until you’re well into the novel. By many an assessment, not a great deal happens in that book, it’s mostly the day-to-day life of this particular school, but, as mentioned before, it is the characters and how they all interact that really makes the plot.

This became much clearer upon reading Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay (reviewed here), which, in my opinion, does an even better job in telling an engaging story via very little happening externally, but a whole lot happening internally with the main characters. I won’t go into too much detail here, but check out my review for fuller details.

Given that I opened this particular topic by framing it in advice and feedback I had been given at uni, I just want to affirm that this isn’t to say what the advice and feedback I had been given was basically useless. Most of it was pretty informative, and to be honest, I still feel like more has to be done regarding developing characters in a sensible way and giving enough of an impression of them at the correct moment. It’s the first draft still, so I should be fine given enough time (which, y’know, is something we can never be sure of how much we’ve got, nice and morbid for you). I guess sometimes looking at what other people were writing and being asked specific questions about certain story beats made me despair of my work, because I had too closely associated these kinds of questions with stories that followed formulaic structures. If you feel your story cannot be pigeon-holed into any specific description, relish in it. The concerns for marketing can wait, just write what you want to. First and foremost, the most important thing is getting it all down. And, as I was wisely advised, take risks. You are in complete control of this world and its characters, do whatever you want with it, until you find a solution.

And on that megalomaniacal note, I bid you farewell and thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, and I may return to this…at some point…

 

 

The Unmoving

[NOTE 1: I’m aware the title of this isn’t a real word, but I can do what I want.]

[NOTE 2: Sorry, this isn’t a Halloween related post. If you want to be scared, just look at Trump’s cabinet.]

So, here’s the real question – how do you know when you’ve finished a book?

I don’t mean reading one – obviously final pages do the job of signifying the end very well, unless you’ve got a vandalized copy where the last few pages are missing, and you have to go on a intrepid search – I mean when you’re in the process of crafting one. You may have picked an ending for your narrative and that’s all fine and good, but then you’ve got to get into drafting, and how do you know when you’ve finished that? It’s an enigma, a mystery, a riddle that I have wondered about and now I have to think carefully about.

So, hi, everyone. I’ve been editing Private Tuition for a while now, and I’ve discovered several things. Firstly, how you take to a scene is going to be different depending on a whole host of contexts. One day when looking at a scene or a conversation I wrote, I might have come back from a conversation myself, being quite elated and fairly distracted and consider it a work of art. Another time I might look at the same scene and find a whole host of problems, because perhaps I’m agitated and eager to get things done and have spent too much time in just my own company. And these thoughts can be cyclic, and they can be combined with the fact that you’re trying to focus on other works of fiction…

Yeah, since I last posted, I’ve started my postgraduate course in Creative Writing and Publishing. Seems very fitting, and it is – there have been a few teething problems which I can’t throw shade about now, but generally I’ve liked it. However, part of the course requires us to prepare a new creative work to work on throughout it. (so more or less the whole course…)

This is fine with me. I already had several different ideas in mind to work on after Private Tuition was done, and I selected one of these as part of my course.

But here lies the problem – I intended to work on these ideas after Private Tuition was done, and it’s still in its editing phase. Not only does this leave me more confused as to when the editing is done, it also leaves my next project feel somewhat premature. I’d barely made it out of the planning phase before I was required to write a scene from it. Oh, the mess that it caused…here’s to hoping I’ll get my head on straight soon enough to work on both these things separately.

Recently, I have been hoping that my editing of Private Tuition will be done soon. That’s not always easy to tell, because sometimes you think you’re done, and then discover you’re not…but I am going to shift to the formatting stage of my manuscript soon, and then work out how this whole publishing thing goes. This stage has, so far, been much harder than the writing phase, so, realistically, I should be looking forward to just getting a draft ready of my next work. It should be child’s play!

Well, let’s see…

The Undying

Just a short one, but here’s something to think about – isn’t it amazing how your perceptions of things can change?

If my last post was anything to go by, I was experiencing too many doubts at once about my writing, and wondering whether it was even worth producing a single novel if I couldn’t do it in a professional, grown-up way. Now, those thoughts are definitely still there, but yesterday, I felt a random stroke of inspiration about a nice addition that could be made. Sure, it bumps up the word count quite a bit, but, pfft, thinking how it looked before, it was practically naked without that!

I guess it’s something that just happens the more you go through your prose – you discover more about your characters, connect the dots that you probably laid out but didn’t notice, until eventually you’ve got a clearer picture. Here you have a character that’s somehow transcended their creator, and as evolved quite considerably from where they originally were. The character you originally conceived way back then isn’t quite the same as before, but somehow it feels absolutely right.

Or maybe you’re actually being subject to a hostile takeover of fictional characters, I don’t know. However, if the world does come to a premature end, a fictional character apocalypse would definitely be the best way to go. It’s a question of who’d be the most likely to bring down the final blow…

Thus, a general update about my writing has turned into me speculating in the world as we know it coming to an end thanks to fictional characters, which is always nice…

Speculations (though perhaps not those ones…) are great though, because they are providing plenty more inspiration for me, not just with this novel, but ones hopefully to come.

So, that’s about it for now. Any insights into drafting, editing, publishing and marketing that anyone else would be greatly appreciated at this stage.

The Unravelling

You know, this editing process is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I mean, sure, it’s pretty vital when you’re working on a novel, but if the mindset is right (or wrong, as the case may be) it does suck a good chunk of joy out of the crafting process.

So, updating from my last post, I have indeed being giving my first draft a read-through and making notes of what I think needs changing about it. Depending on the chapter, those lists have been quite short and vague, or long and self-deprecating. Any writer will be familiar with the process. When you’re actually doing the writing, the sparks are flying, the scenes are playing through your head in delicious detail and you’re convinced that the masterpiece is on its way. Then you read through it and you decide you were lying to yourself and you’re just the worst. THE WORST, I TELL YA.

For me, as noted, it does sort of depend on the chapter itself, and the mind-frame I’m in at the time. Right now, I’m very curious to see what it is about some chapters that I wrote in a way that I consider more bearable, and what it is about others than I’m convinced are the biggest problems ever encountered by anyone EVER. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent pattern.

One thing I have noticed is the nature of the issues I find myself agonizing over – the story itself and its main themes I still have a lot of faith in. It’s the way I tell it that’s the problem. Every writer has the bring their own tools and experience to a story, and when there’s just one person’s direct experience telling the experiences of a diverse range of people, and, indeed, the universe in general, you definitely get some translation errors. Here are just some of the thoughts that have been harrowing me as I’ve gone through this process.

“The way you portray your protagonist is racist, sexist and biphobic and you know it.”
“Nobody talks like that! Well, except you, of course. You have to use these words to make up for the fact that you can’t write.”
“Now it looks like you’re subtly pushing an agenda. Maybe you are.”
“You can’t rectify this! Now everyone’s going to think your heroes are total shits, and you are too, by extension.”
“Get out more. You don’t know what it’s like to be a normal person with an actual life.”
“Raisins are nice.”

Yeah, they’re not bad, actually. But back to the point.

I’m well aware that these concerns are normal, and, to a degree, they’re healthy. If I’m aware of the problems that might arise, I’m in a better position to avoid them as best I can, and I’m also willing to take points where I feel they’re relevant. Maybe all of this is just paranoia, maybe it isn’t. Either way, I’m confident that any mistakes I’ve made, I can rectify. So far, I’ve already dealt with a glaring continuity error, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. I’m still enormously looking forward to hearing other people give their thoughts on this work, regardless of what they are. It’ll to be great to hear an outsider’s take on what I can produce. As someone who feels I can rarely express myself in real life, this’ll be an unveiling. I hope I have an audience for it.

I guess my final point is – even if you have a firm and important story to tell, don’t be afraid to make a few changes. They may even tell your story better than you thought possible. There’s a fine line being making a few improvements, and compromising your story. The difference will become clearer the more you go on.

Anyway, should probably get back to it.

The Awakening

I might have chosen to pick a less ominous title, but to be honest, I think any more words than necessary in it would cause a lot of problems. Overly wordy titles can often seem quite corny and irritating the more they’re said, which can be an even bigger problem if the substance is anything but corny and irritating. As an example, my favourite anime series of all time, that is honestly so damn beautiful and well-crafted, with animation, storylines, music and characters that might possibly be greater than any other work of fiction I’ve ever seen, has an incredibly stupid title, which I probably don’t even pronounce properly.

But I digress. The point is, I’m here to announce something big, impressive and slightly important that will probably dominate the rest of the blog posts I make for a little while. The vast majority of the things I’ve posted on here relate to me as a writer, and so I feel it was necessary to make a post to announce…

…that after many months of blood, sweat, toil, tears and eating too much chocolate, I have finally completed the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on.

WHOO, YAY, AWESOME ETC.

Yeah, it took, it’s time, but now it’s done, I honestly feel like the most enjoyable stage has passed. Clocking in at around 110,000 words, I now need to go through that and decide if any changes should be made. And looking back over what you’ve written isn’t usually fun, as any writer will know. Even if you’ve polished off the first draft that, in your head at least, gleams like the all the great works of art that will go down in history, and there can’t possibly be that many changes to make. Then you look back through it a little later and discover that actually, you could have done a hell of a lot better there. And there. And actually, when it comes down to it, why did you even write this in the first place?

Then there comes the doubt, the attempt to fend off plotholes and problems, only to create more of them, then the overwhelming feeling of despair of disappointment, you go and cry in the corner of your room playing an unnecessarily aggressive rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before thinking you may as well give up and go and live in an orange tent in Bulgaria selling fidget spinners and second-hand novelty condoms.

OK, well, maybe don’t go that far. Nobody buys fidget spinners anymore.

Have gone through the process of re-reading, I definitely know how it feels, but I’m determined that the general crux of my story this time round is worth maintaining, even if some details need to be changed.

Of course, once you’ve developed a final draft you’re happy with, however long that might take, then there comes to process of getting it published and sold. Yes, I’m going there. And I’m kind of bricking it.

I mean, what do I know about marketing? I have the charisma of a road accident, and a sex appeal to match. Obviously, I’ll have to rely on making sure the story can be explained in a succinct and an interesting way, which is proving difficult every time I try, but maybe I can improve on it later, I don’t know. Of course, publishing is even more difficult. How do you ensure a manuscript gets accepted? Pfft, I don’t know, it just seems to be one of those mysteries that only publishers know.

Of course, I could always go the self-publishing route, although that would require I have some editing and graphic designing skills I currently lack. Well, I guess this decision can wait for now, probably…

OK, so even though I feel the author within me has been properly awakened, there’s still a lot of work to do. Fortunately, I’ve managed to surround myself with people who know about these things and can help. And maybe that will include you, dear reader, giving advice on how to make this dream a reality. And, in case this is the sort of novel you’d be interested in, I’m going to try and summarize it as best as I can now.

The working title is ‘Private Tuition,’ but may be subject to change later, depending how I feel. We follow Sasha Knight, a Religious Studies/Philosophy and Ethics teacher in her late twenties, starting a new job at a seemingly inoffensive school whilst trying to put some trickier areas of her past behind her, where she was, largely by choice, under the thumbs of other people. Many students in her A level tutor group, however, pique her interest in elements of their intrigue and cryptic behaviours, shielding a great deal of personal problems they have. Determined to help them anyway she can, she finds that the easiest way she can get them to open up to her is if she opens up to them first – sexually. Eventually, she finds herself have intimate encounters with many of her students as part of her duty of care.

OK, so for those among you are teachers or know teachers, clearly this is a massive professional faux pas, and I’m not trying to glorify adults in positions of trust having inappropriate encounters with children. But the situation being painted here is more nuanced than that. Everyone’s of age, these encounters are all mutual, and they’re something that I, as the author, am not trying to make too many heavy judgement calls either way, because certain meta-ethical matters are worth discussing, and that’s what I want this novel to do.

Sasha’s academic subject is chosen very deliberately. The meta-ethical considerations of deontology, consequentialism, virtue, cognitive vs non-cognitive and so on tend to be left to the navel-gazing philosophers, even though we draw from their ideas when it comes to important matters everyday. Studying philosophy and ethics at A level is one of the things from my time at school that I’m probably going to remember most vividly, and I guess I wanted to recreate that experience in perhaps a less conventional setting. Very good teachers, which are mostly woefully underpaid, can make a difference in such a pivotal period in one’s life, and I think a school-based setting when considered in that regard isn’t always appreciated.

In merely presenting the reader with a situation of someone who chooses to bend the rules in order to do what she thinks help, I’m leaving them to immerse themselves in the characters and plot and make decisions about who and what they really are.

Oh, and I promise it’s not all entirely navel-gazing – I’m rather pleased with the characters I’ve crafted and I know other people are too. I’ve tried to include a diverse cast, plenty of scenes of just people being people and I hope those parts of the plot are enjoyable too.

So, if you’re interested, feel free to follow my process of crafting this story, which I should hopefully be posting about regularly, and I’ll be sure to let everyone know if and when it’s finally found its way to book form.

I sincerely hope that day will come.

 

Conclusions and Associated Writing Woes

OK, so the last time I made a post here was like…Christmas, or something. I guess things really have gotten in the way. But hey, according to recent emails I’ve got, more people have started following this blog, and even fellow writers have started following me on Twitter. What are the odds? So, now I’ve got to appease them give those nice enough to take an interest in my poorly constructed blog a bit of context and a bit of news.

I’m in the final throes of the first draft of my novel, which, even though it means a lot of work in working out what I want to keep and what I want to change, is still a bit a milestone, and one I’m no doubt going to feel accomplished about when it comes. As for actually publishing the damn thing, that’s a whole different ball game, but one I’ll get to when it comes.

It’s convenient too that over the last few days I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my major script project for my university course. A feature-length (or slightly less) screenplay, the writing journey of which I do actually have to write an essay for as well. Do the examiners really want to know how near the end I actively started resenting the whole bloody story I’d been crafting for so long? Perhaps it would give me a higher mark, in which case, I’m all for it, because my script probably isn’t going to do very well…but how did it happen? How did such an idealized story of star-crossed love, existentialism and utilitarian ethics become a plotline that I just groan at and want to see out of my direct line of concern? I get the feeling it might have to do with how you get a conclusion to a story. And, given that I’m approaching the end to my novel, I think it’s an appropriate time to talk about how to conclude a story.

As if I know! Anyone who’s read or heard me read one of my short stories can attest that I actually need to mention when the conclusion has taken place because the sentences I choose that best rounds the story out aren’t always that obvious, and others think I could have ended it earlier. In all honesty, I doubt I’m the only person who has this problem, and actually, choosing a conclusion for a story is much easier than deciding exactly what you’re going to end on, which scene, which line, maybe even which characters. A weak or uncertain ending can leave an audience, who were otherwise very much invested in the characters and story arcs, feeling unfulfilled, and may retroactively put them off the entire thing. I may have spoken on this blog before about particularly endings that have felt weak in comparison to the rest of the product, but I can’t remember exactly. Feel free to search through for them yourselves – I’m not your slave, I’m not getting paid for this!

Which, given the sporadic nature of my posts, is hardly surprising.

And actually, if I were your slave, I wouldn’t be getting paid for it, so…

I find that the endings that satisfy me the most are the ones that draw reference to whatever theme the story was trying to get across, either through narration, or something the characters are doing or saying. This can often be done helpfully through an epilogue, like the one from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which talks about how, even though humanity’s future of being divided between the hopelessly naive Eloi and the cannibalistic but ultimately more intelligent Morlocks seems pretty grim, the essence of humanity, and the appreciation for things we hold dear are still there. Now, a lot of people might find such ending choices a little cheesy, and whilst I can definitely see that argument, it’s a far cry better, in my opinion, than ending a story that you’ve long been invested in abruptly stopping on a sentence that could easily be in the middle of a scene.

She let’s her head down and kisses the sand.

Those are the last words of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. For context, I’ll hopefully review that at some point in the future, but I remember feeling disappointed in the time, especially given what took place before this line. There are plenty of earlier places this book could have stopped, but instead we get this rather sporadic end-point, which in no way feels particularly narratologically significant. Apparently, ‘narratologically’ isn’t a word, but it should be, so there.

H.G. Wells? Kim Stanley Robinson? Am I becoming a science fiction buff? Well, I’ll have you know I’ve always been a science fiction buff, but for a while I was never able to find science fiction that accurately reflected my tastes. Science fiction, being as it is a genre of the future, or challenging established norms, should be postmodern by design. Instead, particularly in the field of space opera and military science fiction, we just get very modern settings and attitudes that happen to be in a setting that looks kind of different. The fact that Robinson in particular is very eager to show the social and personal affects of technological progress is what makes his science fiction a particular eye-opener for me. Again, more on that another time. I seem to be going off on a tangent here…

One way of avoiding the difficultly of ending a story is to leave a hook, a cliffhanger for a future installment, therefore avoiding the need to conclude everything in this one. Cliffhangers can be terribly effective, and, given the appropriate amount of build-up and investment, can drag you into the next installment like the gravity well of a neutron star, which works terribly well for TV writing if nothing else. Unfortunately, on the other end of the cliffhanger, you do have to resolve it in a fulfilling way, otherwise the unpleasable masses will get annoyed again. Apparently unpleasable isn’t a word either. This is getting quite upsetting.

As is perhaps appropriate for a post about the difficulty of conclusions, I’m going to conclude this post in a unsatisfying way. Basically, there’s no easy answer to endings, so just write what you want.

Oh, and I’m hoping to post more regularly from now on, but I absolutely cannot guarantee that will be the case, so…yeah.

Touching Base and Story Structure

So…

It’s actually been like…two months since I posted something? Yeah, apparently life happens sometimes and when it does, it does it in a very rude and uncompromising way, and I’m not just talking about accidental pregnancies…which isn’t something I’ve had to worry about too much, incidentally…

For the benefit of those who actually like to read this blog, I’ll be getting back to posting at a more regular rate once I have more time on my hands, so this is just to let you know that I still feel like doing something with my blog, including editing it, because it’s format is terrible…

Life is uncompromising – that’s something that’s been proved to me for a long time, but never mind that now. If anything gets better, then I might post a joyful post for once about how great life is. But in the meantime, I want to briefly talk about story structure.

Yeah, because I’m still a writer, and in the process of writing a first draft of my novel.

*Cue canned applause*

Mm, yeah. And whilst the process of writing can sometimes feel like running your supple cheek against a diamond-edged cheese grater, I do really enjoy coming up with these characters and putting them in situations.

I just sometimes wish story structure would accommodate them.

If you’re going to write something, it’s vitally important you work out how your story pans out. You get your traditional narrative structure, with an introduction, exposition, conflict, rising action, climax and denounement (fuck spelling), but other than that it’s quite open to a lot of leeway. After all, your story could be unconventional, and even when it isn’t, like most of mine are because I’m not clever enough to write something purely symbolic (AND THEN I WOULDN’T HAVE CHARACTERS 😥 ), and even if I knew the concept of structure back in the days of writing That Life, I’m still not the best at it…

One of the main reasons for this I think is that my writing’s always been very character-driven. I mean, if we go back to That Life, it was almost nothing but the characters, because the plot was completely nonsensical. And whilst I enjoy creating complex characters that steer the plot, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I think that it’s one of my strengths (I’ve vastly improved since I was 13), it does mean structure’s less easy. Why? Well, because most of the time the plot comes to me in incomplete chunks, like a DIY coffee table that you got from cheap suppliers who only sent you half of it. That analogy didn’t work quite as well as I thought, I’ll have to work on that.

I’ve got these scenes in mind, including pivotal moments for certain characters and sometimes a climax, and because I’m so desperate to include these scenes, I have to make these scenes fit together somehow. Sometimes that’s fairly easy, but other times it feels far-fetched, I have scenes that drag on for too long, and I end up with a rather forced climax. There’s a joke to be made there…

So, how do you avoid this? Well, actually I have no idea, but maybe I’ll learn more as I go through this writing process. One thing I will say for character-driven plots is that, if you’ve created quite a lot of characters for this particular story, which, again, I tend to do, make sure you know which ones are going to be vital for the climax. The protagonist, the antagonist and their nearest and dearest, right? Well, maybe, but it really depends. For example, if you have several character arcs running through a narrative, you’re going to want them all to culminate somehow, and in some cases, a decent climax (that is, the high point of the action in the story) for that to happen. But the climax you’ve got in mind might not be entirely relevant to other characters, or else having characters unrelated to it would be superfluous or unrealistic to have them there. Their own character arc may have another resolution, which may be related to this climax, but not directly involved, and furthermore, different scenes could resolve different parts of a character.

In the current book I’m writing, for example, the more I’ve thought about it, the less likely it seems that the deuteragonist (second-most important character) will be directly involved in what can be considered the climax. She is indirectly involved, and her own personal character arc will come to a conclusion with the protagonist right at the end. The reason for this seems to be my reliance on structuring the story so that the most dramatic and action-packed character arc takes place near the end, including an antagonist that isn’t the direct instigator of conflict in the plot, just a catalyst. This kind of antagonist will also appear in the next book I have planned after this. Yes, I can plan ahead. What of it?

So, in conclusion, structuring a story and getting people in the right place is very important, so make sure you know what you’re doing or else your poor characters will go unresolved. Looking at you, cast of That Life.

So, um, thanks for reading, give me your thoughts and I may post again at some point…

That Life Commentary – Chapter One

So, since my last post, a lot has happened. Most of it bad.

I’m sure you’re all now familiar with the drastic mistake the UK made on the 23rd June to leave the EU (not me though, I made sure I voted remain) and everything since then has pretty much descended into chaos. Not only is the pound dropping, the world’s single largest economy is getting annoyed with us, Scotland are threatening to leave to a brighter future, the Labour party is imploding and now we have to choose which Conservative wingnut will lead us next. It’s worrying that I’m considering Theresa May, infamous for her rather imperialistic approach to refugees, the best option at the moment, considering the other options for Tory leadership are Michael I-hate-teachers Gove, a firm Brexit supporter despite everything that’s happening, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary that believes in homeopathy and seems to be dedicated to slowly torturing our NHS to death, and Stephen Crabb, a NARTH-wannabe who claims he can cure homosexuality.

Yeah, not looking too promising.

On top of that, my own future at university is looking pretty uncertain. Everyone has told me not to worry, but I’m having nagging doubts, which is why I’m making sure different options are covered. It’s going to delay the writing of my novel too. -_-

So, I’ve decided to do a little something that might improve my mood somewhat. Take a look at a frankly terrible old story of mine.
Casting my mind back all the way to my days of Year 9, I frankly didn’t have much to complain about. OK, so I complained a lot, but at least, y’know. EU.
Anyway, in Year 9, I was very much an enthusiastic writer, and had even bonded the previous year over writing with someone whom I now consider my closest friend. Let’s call him Jack Fenton, because that’s his name. You can also follow his blog here, but that’s probably surplus to the viewer’s he got, so make sure you let everyone know that I sent you, alright…?
The kind of writing we bonded over was a little series of mine called Fred Toast, which was this zany comedy series were everyone had food as a surname. There were many wacky hi-jinks in the series, and some of the humour even actually stands up to scrutiny today. I had a lot of fun writing that, and Jack also started to write some stuff of his own, and it was around that time when our attentions turned to more serious works. As you can imagine, at the wise age of 13 (he might even have been 12 at the time), we didn’t quite get people or what made for a decent story, but unfortunately we thought we did. What was more, this was our attempt to prove the world that we actually understood and could interact with ordinary, decent people. Suffice to say, it did end up coming across as wish fulfilment a lot of the time – Jack started writing an interesting story that he named ‘This Life’ (a working title I’m sure) dedicated around the school life of a girl called Katie, and her friends, which included the two of us. Fascinated by this concept, I, with his permission, wrote a similar kind of story, but one that deviated quite considerably with what was going in Jack’s. For starters, I actually finished mine. For another thing, I think we can both agree (he can argue me on this point, I don’t mind) I was a little more focused on steering the plot, although given our pretty poor writing abilities at the time, this wasn’t saying much. Because Jack’s story was called ‘This Life,’ I, unable to think of a title (something that still haunts me to this day) jokingly christened mine, ‘That Life.’ And…the name stuck.

But looking back on this does actually give me hope – it’s so profoundly and hilariously bad that it does astound me that I was able to improve as much as I have. People keep on telling me about my talents for certain areas of my writing, something I certainly didn’t have at this age, and many more are encouraging me to keep writing. Furthermore, this story does exemplify the enormity of the loneliness I experienced at this age, incapable as I was to interact with people and make friends, which is why, in the story, me and Jack are characters who DO have friends. This is no longer such a problem, and it does make me pleased that there are many friendships and relationships I have today that far outstrip what is portrayed in this story.

So, what is the story of That Life? Well, it’s a little unfocused, due to my attempt to include a whole tonne of subplots, but on the face of it, it’s a primarily school-set teen romantic drama. Not exactly what most 13-year-old boys write about, but back then I was well on my way to embracing my inner girl. For the next few posts, if I can manage it, we will be exploring, chapter by chapter, the absolutely biblical failure that is this story. Starting with Chapter One: The States.

“Hey!” came a voice up the corridor.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is LITERALLY the first line. Oh, we’re off to a good start.

I’m the one being addressed in this by my friend Ian (already this is unrealistic). What does he want with me?

“Can I borrow some of your history notes? I’ve got an assessment on Monday.”
Toby sighed.
“Why does everyone ask me for history notes?” he asked. Ian shrugged.
“Can I borrow them?”
Toby took the notes he had written down in his last history lesson and gave them to Ian.

I should point out that this positively riveting story-line we’ve opened with is never brought up again, like quite a few things mentioned actually. And whilst we’re on the subject, shall we point out the few glaring problems in this particular scenario?

  1. Why is he telling me that he personally has got an assessment on Monday? Why don’t we both have it? Perhaps we’re in different History groups, but it’s unlikely we’d be doing different assessments, and if so…
  2. Why does he assume my history notes are going to help if we’re not even doing the same history work…? Even Ian doesn’t seem to know why people always want my history notes.
  3. Why can’t he use his own bloody history notes? If the lazy bastard does have an assessment on Monday, he shouldn’t be relying on me to get his work done for him, especially if we’re not doing the same history.
  4. Won’t I be needing my history notes from the last lesson in the next lesson?
  5. How exactly am I carrying my history notes? If this character with my name is anything like the real me, they’ll probably be in some massive messy pile somewhere in my bag, so giving him the notes would not be that damn simple. All the narration says is that I ‘took’ them. From where? The inside of my undergarments? From thin air? Did I summon them with a Summoning Charm or a Summoning Jutsu?
  6. WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT MY BLOODY HISTORY NOTES?? Maybe I really do keep them in my undergarments and everyone just wants that smell…

Actually, I think I can answer number 6. Back in year 9, my best subject was history, and it was a matter of pride, I think, considering I had little else going for me. This was just me on an ego trip.

So, Ian thanks me, but then gets distracted by the random appearance of another character by the name of Ruth. This early in, and I’ve already introduced a female character? Things must have been looking up. Ruth isn’t given any proper introduction, but I’m glad for the lack of tired exposition, and I leave the two of them to chat.

Toby went over to his locker. Caleb was there too as his locker was right next to Toby’s.

Well, thanks for that handy floor-plan, I would have been lost and disorientated in this completely featureless school if it wasn’t for the information that Caleb and I’s lockers were next to each other.

And here’s the introduction of Caleb…oh Lordy Lord.

An interesting thing that I find about That Life is that, while it’s clearly a self-insert story (name and everything!) I don’t big myself up that much. It’s all in omniscient third-person, and I’m not even the protagonist. There’s no real protagonist to this story as it happens, it jumps around a lot between the characters, but you’d think I’d give myself something distinctive, other than being good at history, which as I’ve already pointed out is never brought up again. I could be the dark and brooding character, who was very street-smart and resourceful and all the girls adored. But no – I gave that distinction to Caleb. Quite why I created this character to be hero-worshipped and why I loved him so much, I really don’t know. I’ll tell you something, I don’t like him any more…

We discuss the possibility of Ian and Ruth being an item, or at least interested in each other, to which Caleb tells me that Ian’s actually moving to California in a few weeks’ time, and that we’ll find out before then about Ian and Ruth’s feelings for each other, as either will be reluctant to leave, presumably. Well, I’m glad we’re playing this sadistic game with our friends’ love lives as supposed to making them confront their feelings…which also brings up the question as to why Ian hasn’t bothered telling the rest of us, or even why his history assessment on Monday should matter…but I don’t have time to digest the news, as it’s time for yet more character introductions! Yes, because Jack’s in this story too.

“Watch out,” he muttered. “Something wicked this way comes!” He was right. Just a few moments later, Aiden Gorse swaggered up the corridor, flanked by his crony, Russell, his younger brother in Year 10.

Just in case we were left in any doubt about who this story’s villain was. Using words such as ‘swaggered’ and ‘crony’. Although having just one crony seems a little pathetic don’t you think? Even more embarrassing when that crony’s your little brother. Draco Malfoy managed to gain two heavy-weights before he even arrived at school! One of them later did turn into a psychotic nutjob, but that’s besides the point.

Caleb, showing his incredible ability to be the more ‘edgy’ and ‘dark’ of our friends here (was I hiding some inner desires when I conceived him?) decides to piss Aiden off by calling him the ‘resident physco of Year 11’ because apparently my spelling was a little off then too, which is really rather embarrassing. But not nearly as embarrassing as calling him something so ridiculous. Aiden somehow takes offence, in the most stereotypical manner possible.

“What did you say to me runt?” he demanded, pushing Caleb up against the lockers.
“Just stated a fact,” Caleb replied, causally (or casually as you can when you’re being held up against lockers by someone two years above you) and added the worst insult he could think of.

This insult is left ambiguous, but knowing Caleb’s eloquent and armour-piercing artillery of pejoratives, it’s probably something like, ‘you git.’ Oh, and did you take note of how suave and cool Caleb is? He was so unfazed by being held against the lockers. WHAT A REBEL!

I hate this character so much.

Anyway, Aiden and Caleb get into a fight (LOOK HOW GUTSY CALEB IS) and next comes probably the most realistic scene in this chapter…

“Time we intervened methinks,” Jack whispered to Toby. He nodded and they both walked forward. But Russell wasn’t going to be left out of this. He slammed his fist into Toby’s stomach and kneed Jack in the groin.

This would be exactly what happened if Jack and I ever attempted to intervene in a fight. I’m glad I decided to utilise our uselessness. The next scene is even funnier:

“WHAT’S THIS?!” roared a voice. Mr Mothman was marching up the corridor. He stood with his hands on his hips and surveyed the scene: Aiden was standing with his fist raised, preparing to smack Caleb in the jaw. Caleb’s leg was raised to take a wild kick at Aiden, but he was sporting a bloody nose. Russell was standing guiltily near Toby and Jack, who were both doubled up in pain.

I don’t know what part of this is funnier: the fact that there’s a teacher called Mr Mothman, the fact that he’s looking at our scrap with HIS HANDS ON HIS HIPS. Is he going to give us a sassy rebuke?
“Oh, NO you DIDN’T!”
Or it might be the fact that Caleb is frozen with his leg raised to kick Aiden. Is he just standing there one leg? How soon until he topples over, perhaps into his locker to remind him that his locker is definitely right next to mine (seriously, did I have a crush on this character I created…?). Or maybe it’s just another reminder that Jack and I are COMPLETELY USELESS. And actually, why is Russell looking so guilty? “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realise you guys were made of paper, and you can’t handle even the slightest touch or else you’ll die.”

So, Mr Mothman takes us all to his office where he lets Jack and I go as all we did is get beaten up, but gives Aiden, Russell and Caleb an hour’s detention after school. At this, Caleb panics, asking if he can do it another time, but Mr Mothman refuses. To be completely fair, this was at least an early show of mildly competent writing, in that I don’t immediately Caleb’s reasons for his panicking. But trust me, come the next chapter, you’ll wish it stayed that way…

The story then cuts to Ian and Ruth walking to their next lesson, at which point Ian decides to drop the bombshell of him moving to California on her. Neither of them seem to have a clue how to react to this…just take my word for it, it’s as weird as hell, but was actually my attempt to build up romantic tension. We’ll continue with that thrilling story-line later on…

Caleb later meets up with Jack and I, very angry with being given a detention, and our reactions imply we know exactly what’s upsetting him about this. He blames Aiden for getting him into this (but really Caleb, you shouldn’t have been so suave and edgy) at which point we get yet another couple of character introductions.

“Aiden giving you grief?” came a voice behind them. They turned round to see Sean Adams, who was in Aiden’s form. 
“I wish I could dissect his spleen,” Sean muttered angrily.

Oh yes, that burning desire we all have to do to people we don’t like…? In all fairness, this does sound like something I would say. Maybe Sean just had dissection on his mind, having just had a very revealing biology lesson.

“And I saw this little Year 7 kid smoking that same stuff he does,” said Naomi, Sean’s younger sister in Year 9 who Sean was immensely protective of.

Well, that was clumsy character exposition. That being said, I obviously wanted to make sure that the audience knew the relationship between these characters – it’s just an informed trait now, but it definitely becomes more important later, as do both of these characters. How so? Well, let’s see…

Ian joins us and informs us that he told Ruth about him leaving and doesn’t know how to take her reaction because he’s a total idiot. Jack then protests that nobody told him, and then we get this…

“Did I tell you Toby?” he [Ian] asked. Toby didn’t reply. 
“Toby?” 
“Hmm…?” Toby replied who was looking in the direction Naomi had just walked in. He turned back to his friends. 
“Oh sorry. Yeah, Caleb told me.”

Oh, and so it starts! My brewing creepy obsession with Naomi Adams, and a major plot point in the story that steers my character arc. If you can call it that – how will this develop? How will Ian and Ruth’s romance develop? What will happen when Caleb has his detention? Will Rose and Rosie ever reply to my tweets? Well, that’s the end of the chapter, so we’ll have to wait until the next post to get some of those answers. My commentary of the next chapter should come tomorrow, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

I have to admit, this was a lot of fun. It’s quite enjoyable pointing out why rubbish is rubbish and being safe in the knowledge that I am not as rubbish as this anymore. I hope you enjoyed it, leave a comment with your thoughts and I hope to see you next time…?

 

Character Claptrap – Antagonists

Here’s a new blog post. Yay, woo-hoo, etc, your excitement for it knows no bounds.

Sorry, I made this right now on the assumption that I should. It’s about that time. But to be frank, I’m not really in the right frame of mind for it, so this post might be all over the place, a bit like vomit if you weren’t supplied with a basin.

Well, that was an unnecessarily disgusting analogy.

The truth is, I’ve actually been rather busy – yes, I’m going up in the world. I’ve been spending a lot of my time recently rehearsing a solo performance of ‘Out There’ from that previously mentioned on my last post Hunchback movie, for a showcase done with a Performing Arts section of my university. And to be quite honest, I was terrified at the whole prospect. But the people there are lovely, and the showcase was actually a great success. And with that done, and a reading week now, I have more time to get on with work and such things.

Though of course we all know that’s not going to happen.

But even though I’ve been pondering on the many things to make a post about, ranging from short reviews of anime series I’ve seen to something very philosophical, I thought I’d make another little thing about character design. Where it was protagonists last time, this time it’s antagonists. Yes, now it’s time to delve into the villains, anti-villains, monsters, demons and politicians of our stories!

Now, an antagonist in a work of fiction is defined as a group of characters, institutions or concepts that stands in or represents opposition against which the protagonists much contend. So, technically, the antagonist doesn’t have to be a character. As it happens, I can think of plenty of works of fiction in various forms that don’t have a character antagonist – the antagonism comes from the plot, which in many cases, can lead to very interesting and thoughtful stories. But let’s be honest, it’s the bad guys or gals we like. Because…well, evil is sexy…
5bjl_hzt

Oh, Kurumi Tokisaki, you can aim that gun at me any day…

But of course, we’re being very simplistic here when we talk about villains as traditional ‘bad guys.’ What really displays the themes and ideas behind a story with the most clarity, is, to me, often the choice of antagonist. By setting a clear divide between right and wrong (if it’s that kind of story), you are seeing, quite clearly, what the author sees as wrong and opposed to the overall message.

For example, good old Lord Voldemort, a.k.a, Tom Marvolo Riddle, a.k.a, The Dark Lord, a.k.a, You-Know-Who, a.k.a, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a.k.a, The Heir of Slytherin, a.k.a, Ralph Fiennes, the main antagonist of the Harry Potter franchise, and is painted as the complete opposite to our heroes’ values. Not only is he a total bigot who is very much a figure of hatred, but his ultimate goal is to become and immortal and all-powerful through the most selfish and inhumane ways. Here we have a very clear picture of who not to be, and many times our characters point out their struggles not to be this way to.

And I think, looking back, it makes me wonder exactly what my previous antagonists/villains said about my own values. Let’s take a look back, shall we?

OK, the attempt at romance/teen drama/school story I once wrote at about 12 featured a main antagonist who was a total delinquent. And when I say total, I mean in a pretty complete one-dimensional way. For no real reason, this character, with the charming name of Aiden Gorse, regularly beat up people, enjoyed setting fire to things, smoked loads of cannabis and kidnapped the sister of a guy who annoyed him. Well…great…in the sequel, he was demoted to a bit more of anti-hero who didn’t really do much, and the main antagonist was another drug-pusher/nutter who just happened to not be in school. Upon thinking about it, what this reflects was the knee-jerk reaction that I think many of us have when growing up and hearing about the new bogeymen of the adult world. Never mind monsters, witches, mad scientists and Sith Lords, we had to deal with thugs, criminals, knifemen, and yes…DRUGS. DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN! There was also an abusive parent in it, another such picture of reality, although I can safely say was probably not very realistically portrayed.

But the pages of this tale reveal something a little more personal about who I demonized in my mind. A minor character introduced in chapter 3 is described, unflatteringly, as an ‘extremely dull sports nut,’ who had most of the protagonistic characters dismissing him and considering him in a demeaning way. As a young whatsit growing up, I always hated sport. And hey, to some extent I still do – hate is maybe a strong word, but I certainly have no interest. And maybe I was intimidated at that stage by the rigid figure of masculinity we boys and men are meant to aspire to. Again, in many ways, I still do. Do I sometimes see muscular men with pronounced jawlines and very manly attitudes towards dealing with things and feel intimidated, resentful, and that I’d rather be in their place? Oh yeah. But at the same time I reason that I wouldn’t be happy with changing myself like that, and the way forward is to make people realise that our gender roles blatantly suck.

Other works have included antagonists who are bigots or sci-fi terrorists, which again, is kind of a reflection of waking up to the world – but at the same time, I really hate bigotry. I’m not trying to flaunt it, it’s just true. Bigots will continually show up in my stories, people who discriminate of any basis they can think of – before it was mentalist/ableist forms of discrimination, something which hits very close to home, but more recently have included sexist and homophobic kinds of bigotry too. In many ways, I feel this is a sign I’m growing more empathetic – as a heterosexual male, I’m not someone who’s experienced sexism or homophobia first-hand myself, but it’s getting to know people and reading about these kind of things that make me riled to make a stand somehow. Although the fact that a sort-of recent story I wrote once again featured an idealist masculine form as the main antagonist shows that perhaps old insecurities still linger.

My advice to anyone who’s trying to create a good villain is simple – don’t write a cardboard cut-out. Villain archetypes come in many familiar forms, and I think the importance is remembering that they are people too…unless they’re not and then it’s easy game. Even so, identifying what makes a villain think or act in certain ways is, in many ways, grounds for what your story’s primary theme is, and represents, perhaps a path similar to the protagonist;s, but going to wrong way, rather than the path that should be taken.

In my current plans for stories, the antagonists I have in mind I feel are both three-dimensional and reflect the themes quite well. I may reveal some more information by popular demand, but until then, I hope you’ve enjoyed the post, let me know and have a good day.

All images belong to their respective owners.

Character Claptrap – Protagonists

Well, hi guys! Guess who kind of gave indication that there’d be one of these a day but then stopped making them for a few days…

Yeah, if you’re looking for a blog with regular updates or at least updates that follow a pattern, you’re not going to find it here. Until my timetable is less unpredictable hectic, or indeed I can find things to post about, this is basically going to be it.

So, why haven’t I posted in a few days? Well, as I said, ideas. It’s not easy to think of regular things to talk about. It’s like when you meet up with someone and suddenly discover everything’s gone silent because you’ve literally got nothing left to talk about. Or maybe that’s just me, what can I say? I have limited life experiences.

My BFF suggested I write a review of Kiki’s Delivery Service, a film I saw for the first time (shame on my slowness) the other day which I really enjoyed. But it occurred to me I’d only be repeating what everyone else has said about the film, so I dismissed it fairly quickly.

I would have loved to tell you all about the great and progressive events that have occurred in my life, such as me getting a book deal, being cast as the lead in a local musical and me finding my soul-mate. It’s just a shame that none of that has actually happened! Most of the past few days has just been me at home, doing very little, scrounging the kitchen for something to eat, finding nothing, then returning to my room, covering myself in my duvet and staring out of the window, sipping Fanta through a straw and pondering the aimlessness of my life.

I’m joking.
Partially.

But now I’m actually going to move on to the subject of the blog. Even though I haven’t got a book deal (yet), I did visit quite a nice writing group in Christchurch, comprised of very few people. My friend went with me, and of course, he turned up the charm for everyone there far better than I ever could, but the author running it seemed very interested to see our ideas progress.

So, with regards to writing, I’m here to talk to you about my experiences. More specifically, my experiences with the creation of character. This is because I’m quite fond of character-driven works. No doubt, plots can be engaging and interesting and you can marvel at them, but if the characters aren’t much cop, you feel like you had a serious missed opportunity. Something like Kiki’s Delivery Service, of course, has very little in the way of plot, and is mainly focused on the characters involved, and because the characters are so enjoyable, this works wonderful for it. But of course, when you’re an inexperienced writer, the creation of character, is of course, not as much of a refined art. Especially where the protagonist is concerned.

The protagonist is always the most important character, by definition. But let’s be honest, they’re never our favourite. To be honest, I can’t speak for you, but if you’re like me, and I hope you’re not – but if you are, remember you’re going to AnimeCon tomorrow – but if you’re like me, your favourite character is always one of the supporting cast. I can’t think of a single franchise I’m into where the protagonist is my favourite. Does this mean I always hate the protagonist? No, of course not, and often the protagonist is very enjoyable and well-developed. Examples that spring to mind are Kodaka Hasegawa from Haganai and Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club. Actually, the more I think about it, those are kind of an interesting pair to choose, considering they’re both the protagonists of harem series (reverse harem in Haruhi’s case), and of course, with that kind of genre, the focus is always on the girls/guys in the harem. The protagonist is generally underdeveloped to allow the viewer/reader to put themselves in their shoes. This sadly often leads to protagonists who are so outrageously shallow you just want to deck them.

Keitaro_Urashima

Oh, Keitaro, how I’d love for you to die in a fire. Or at the very least, stop chasing after a girl who beats the living shit out of you at every possible opportunity!

But I guess that’s just the thing, isn’t it? Being the central character of something, we see them in every single sphere or scene (pretty much) and we see everything there is to know about them. It’s understandable we’d either get tired of them, or want to see what’s going on with our personal favourites.

Obviously the lure of the protagonist, the one who is the focus of the story, is to make them basically as yourself. Now, I’m not going to point any fingers (*cough* Gen Urobuchi, Stephenie Meyer, Tara Gilesbie *cough*), but this is probably more difficult to avoid than it seems. After all, the protagonist is meant to be the most developed character, the one that you’re supposed to know the best. And obviously, you’re the person you know the best. The protagonist may end up speaking your words, echoing your thoughts, possibly even before you know what you’re doing. Forget to make obvious and highlight the flaws of your character, and, oh no! I’ve created a horrible protagonist!

So, I’m going to share with you some of my protagonists from the past. They have been of varying quality, I’m not going to lie.

The most horrible example that first springs to mind is a kid named Dylan from a story that nowadays I just refer to as ‘the Alex Rider rip-off,’ because…that’s what it was. I wrote it when I was possibly about 11, before abandoning it pretty quickly. This guy…well, he was a Gary Stu of horrible proportions, and didn’t seem to care when a car blew up and a man got shot. He just considered it ‘odd.’ Well, our hero, ladies and gentlemen! Perfectly calculating psychotic mind. Not to mention he, at aged twelve, was a black belt in judo and karate and knew about four or five different foreign languages. And unlike Alex Rider, he didn’t have an uncle in MI6 who took it upon himself to train him up in this way. Add some political claptrap that makes less sense than Donald Trump becoming president, and, yeah, this was a pretty horrible story.

It was interesting, therefore, that my next major attempt at a serious story I remember didn’t really have a protagonist at all. And even stranger than that, I was a character. No attempt at subtlety there are at all, there was literally a character named Toby Martin in the story. There was also one named Jack Fenton, my BFF both in and out of universe. So…what was the deal? I wasn’t the protagonist, me, my friend, and a few other characters who weren’t based off real people pretty much had equal coverage in plot regards. The story itself was a horrible attempt at teen drama and romance, so all the characters themselves were ridiculous. But yeah – no real attempt to make myself protagonist. Even stranger, the sequel to that story (yes, there was one), had a protagonist, who wasn’t me. She was in fact a newcomer, by the name of Amber Knight, and yes, very rare for my 12-13 year old slightly sexist self, she was in fact…a girl.
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But anyway…

Having a female protagonist was, for me, quite a development. Before then, most females in my stories had either been purely love interests or just completely non-existent. Did this trend repeat itself? Well, never in such vast quantities. But more on that another time.

I then tried to write a science fiction/space opera novel called Operation Terraform. Did it suck? Yes it did. The protagonist, Seth, wasn’t a horrible Gary Stu, but he was SO BORING. There were plenty of other characters (including many female ones, I should point out) who were far more interesting then him. OK, they weren’t brilliant, but still more interesting.

Protagonists, have since then, been at least a bit more interesting – Oliver Bishop was an English teacher (first adult protagonist FTW!) from a novel about him returning to teaching after a manslaughter incident (always fun) and finding a lot of students at his new school to be suffering for a array of problems, which he sets up a kind of club/counselling service in order to help them out. Not a bad idea, but the student characters and plot were way too underdeveloped. Another such protagonist was Eli Peck – a cynical sixth-form student who notes down every thought he has in a journal, and joins a group of students (comprised otherwise entirely of girls) dedicated to media outlets and journalism. But I think the main problem with these protagonists is that they were too similar to me – I made sure to balance out their flaws and give them a few noticeable interests, but their sense of humour was the same as mine, their attitude to life was the same as mine – even their habit of being unable to speak when faced with pretty women and just spending a lot of narrative focusing on how hot they were was consistent. And maybe related to my own experiences…?

I promise Oliver’s love interest was a fellow teacher and not a student.

So, with my most recently finished fanfiction, I think I got my first lucky break. The protagonist of that, was, of course, an existing character, but with that I felt I could more easily developing aspects of his personality and character arc how I saw fit, whilst still mostly confined to the personality he displayed within the franchise. OK, so he had a few immodest erections too, but for the most part, it worked. With him, I felt I fulfilled a first – my first, properly and completed character arc. And it wasn’t just him – many characters in that fic, both canon and my own creation, went through the mill, and whilst it was quite plot heavy, the emphasis on character in that story was pretty clear.

So, with that gateway and prototype sorted, I hope this will be the model for my new stories. Even though I haven’t quite started writing anything yet, I’m busy working on the characters involved and how they interact. This protagonist I’m planning, which I may reveal more about in time, is probably my favourite I’ve done so far. Based very loosely on a protagonist I once made use of a while back, she fits very neatly into a character arc without being too much like me, and has very obvious flaws which drive most of the plot, as well as strengths to compliment them. Oh, and she’s female too. This is a development that has taken hold of me – now a lot of my plans for protagonists have also been female.
Not to mention she’s 100% gay. Oh yes, I can feel my progressive streak is returning.

So, when the time is right, I hope to share with you these new plans, as well as discuss more about character planning and maybe my old stories in this blog posts. When will the next post be? Nobody knows, but I hope it’s not going to be an enormous amount of time. Feel free to comment and like/favourite, as it helps support me like the columns of a building…I think. I never wanted to be an architect, forgive me.

So, thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought. Whether you’re just coming here from WordPress, or from my links on Facebook or Twitter, feel free to comment, if you’re a writer, what some of your protagonists have been like. Until next time, bye!

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