7 March 2015

From Dave Farland:

Of all the topics on how to write, I suspect more books have been written on how to create solid characters than on anything else. So there are a lot of great resources out there on how to create characters, and I can’t even touch on every topic that I would like in the space of an article this short.

Let me just say a few things, though. We are often told that our characters should be “round,” rather than stick-figure drawings. If you were an artist and you painted a picture with stick figures, people would say, “Well, that’s not very realistic. It is hardly recognizable as human.”

The artist tries to create characters who have the dimensions of real people. The same is true with people in stories. They have (but are not limited to) the following attributes:

1) Real people have physical bodies with inherent limitations and strengths. These bodies get hungry, hurt, and have urges all their own. They also have a history of ailments and injuries, various scars, and of course plenty of traits that we may or may not want to include in our tale—including things like foot size, ear size and shape, and so on. Trying to describe some of these traits is danged near impossible.

2) Real people have families and friends. In young adult literature, just about everyone is an orphan. That’s because editors don’t want authors to have to deal with family issues, just focus on the kids. Yet far too often, authors don’t create extended families primarily out of laziness. Similarly, each of us has various levels of friends, business colleagues, people we are attracted to, and people who are attracted to us at some level. We might include in this list of associations things like pets and plants. Does your heroine keep African violets around the house, and tenderly nurse her geraniums? A likeable character is usually one who show kindness to others, who seeks out deep and lasting commitments—even if it is just to her flowers.

. . . .

5) Real people have an internal life, invisible to the naked eye. This is a good category for a lot of things—emotional needs and phobias, ideals, and so on. These might include secret beliefs, hopes, desires. It also includes our own personal way of seeing the world, and includes how we cope with it. Sometimes our personal ideals are at odds with our public affiliations. For example, while most people profess some sort of religion, very often our personal beliefs might vary in some way from the official doctrine of the church that we espouse.

The internal life of a character is of course where we get the “meat” for our novels. A movie can easily capture the exterior of a character, but novels do a better job of capturing the internal feelings, moods, and beliefs. Yet that’s only part of the reason why novels are so popular and are often said to be better than the movies they inspire.

I’m convinced that we have an innate need to get to know one another from the inside out. You see, most people, if you look closely, seem to be rather odd and inexplicable. They act in strange ways and have crazy notions. (I, of course, am the exception!) So we learn quite early to distrust others, to fear them. As a child of four, I recall getting spanked in a grocery store by a cranky old lady. When I went to school, in the third grade I had a teacher who seemed bent on destroying the life of one little boy in our class. A couple of years later, I had a neighbor who tried to trap my little sister in his barn. I was able to stop him, and shortly afterward learned that he was the serial killer who had been haunting our town for years. In other words, people can be strange and scary.

Yet we have a biological impulse to “join the herd,” to find a mate, to interact with others, befriend them, serve them, and rely upon them. In order to do that, we have to learn to understand them, to figure out who is friend and who is foe, and the key to that is understanding why they act as they do.

So we spend a great deal of time analyzing the motives, beliefs, and actions of others. We compare ourselves to them, and sometimes we are changed by them—in ways that are rather dramatic.

Hence, the internal lives of our characters are the most fertile ground that an author may plant his story in.

Link to the rest at David Farland

Click to Tweet/Email/Share This Post

Oh No, She Didn’t: The Strong Female Character, Deconstructed

25 February 2015


There’s been a lot of talk lately in the science fiction and fantasy community about “strong” female characters, with various authors weighing in about how to write them, what they are, and why the term is flawed in the first place. There are discussions of deadly tropes and how to avoid them. This is all fine, and I agree with the points made for the most part; the last thing we need is a rehash of eyerollingly blatant male fantasies. But with all the focus on writing techniques on the one hand, and political imperatives on the other, I wonder if we’re not losing sight of the big picture.

Just as I don’t imagine most women want to be thought of as “female writers,” the idea of “female characters” as a category for discussion seems problematic. That this category continues to thrive, and to spawn essays and blog posts—including this one!—points directly to the underlying problem: we are issuing prescriptive Do’s and Don’ts about the depiction of women as if they are a separate, exotic species. There is of course good reason for this—frequently in fiction, and in genre fiction in particular, women are depicted as alien beings, even when it’s with the best of intentions.

. . . .

There is an uncomfortable feeling in online discussions about how to write “female characters” that some are squinting hard in their attempt to see women as people, while others are approaching the subject with the dutiful submission we bring to a meal of thrice-washed organic kale. One subset wants writing tips on how to take on the otherworldly she-goddess; another wants to make sure we are doing feminism properly. The first reminds me of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, where through innumerable books and sexual experiences, the male characters never cease to lament their inability to understand women. As to the second, well, I think feminism is complex, and what constitutes a feminist character should be part of an ongoing dialogue, not a set of precepts sealed in blood. It is also individual: Lisbeth Salander annoyed the hell out of me, but for others she was empowering…and I’m not out to argue someone out of their empowerment. At twenty-one I found Joss Whedon’s Buffy empowering, and I know that is not for everyone.

What I think is missing from some of these discussions is: writing a fully realized character of any gender requires one trait above all others, and that is empathy. When a female character goes off the rails, it is often because the author experienced a failure of imagination; while he could imagine all the emotions a man might feel in a similar situation—and in the case of literary fiction written by men, this is often recounted in great detail—he has neglected to understand his female characters in the same way. Instead there is a hyperawareness of her beauty and sexiness even from her own perspective, such as in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot; an inability to grasp how the character might experience life from the inside. I think when male authors make this mistake it’s because they forget we don’t see ourselves the way they see us. I don’t want to go so far as to call this a lack of empathy, but it is certainly a failure of imagination.

Link to the rest at and thanks to HN for the tip.

Why do people relate to fictional characters?

22 February 2015

From author Will Self via the BBC News Magazine:

When I began writing fiction in the late 1980s I already had a profound suspicion of the characters with which novels tend to be populated. These entities – for, as I hope to demonstrate, fictional characters are worthy of this attribution – may arouse in us many of the emotions provoked by their flesh-and-blood models, yet they are so easily spun into being out of lexical threads, we’d be wise to treat them with grave suspicion. If you’re in your home, and you now hear the front door being unlocked and opened in its characteristic way, followed by footsteps heading towards you, then should you really be surprised when the door of the room you sit in swings open, and a bent-backed old woman haltingly enters.

She’s leaning heavily on a stick with a rubber ferrule, wearing an old tweed overcoat worn shiny at cuff and elbow, and has a dirty-beige muffler wound around her scrawny neck. You receive an impression of cornflower-blue eyes set deep in wrinkly reticulation, her hair white and fine as feathers – a voice rasps: “My name’s Ethel Nairn, I’m sorry to intrude but I’ve come to speak to you about the residents’ association.” Now, if you’re capable in the ordinary way of suspending disbelief, you may have leant Ethel Nairn a degree of credibility – actually, even I believe Ethel Nairn exists, such that an entire range of hopes, desires, fears and impulses could readily be ascribed to her – and this despite the fact that I myself only conjured this figment into being minutes ago.

As it is with Ethel Nairn, so it goes with the entire community of characters we either create ourselves, or have summoned to exist on our behalf by writers, screenwriters, games designers and a host of other so-called creatives. Even the characters that people advertisements can take on many of the attributes we associate with living, breathing humans – escaping their confinement in these propagandising playlets to stalk the corridors of our mind. The more sophisticated fictional characters become, the more their similarity to us is plainly evident. By the time we encounter the Emma Bovaries and Leopold Blooms of this world, we’re altogether comfortable with the sympathy they arouse in us. Fiction offers many pleasures – we may enjoy its capacity to make the world anew for us through its descriptions, or to advance our understanding of science or philosophy through its application of ideas to examples of human behaviour, but although it does – on examination – seem so faint as to be numinous, nonetheless it’s our conviction that fictional characters’ hopes, fears and desires matter that allows fictions to become facts on the ground – a ground we sympathetically traverse alongside them as they’re subjected to the vicissitudes of plot, its sudden reversals and twists, its caprices and its terrible inexorability.

. . . .

But the people people need are not necessarily flesh and blood. People also need people who manifest all their own torturous confusions – about life, love and the pursuit of happiness – but whose own existence is quite immaterial. People need people who can show them just how difficult it is to maintain the illusion that one’s the author of one’s own life. People need people whose lives can be seen to follow a dramatic arc, so that no matter what trials they encounter, the people who survey them can be reassured that when the light begins to fade, these people – to whose frail psyches we’ve had privileged access – will at least feel it’s all meant something.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Here’s a link to Will Self’s books

Finding Marlow

3 November 2014

From The Los Angeles Times:

It was hot and I was late for lunch. I was feeling mean, like I’d been left out in the sun too long.

We were meeting at a joint on La Brea, the kind of place where the booths have curtains you can pull shut if you need a little privacy. I slid across cool leather and got my first good look at Louise Ransil, a wisp of a redhead with high cheekbones and appraising eyes.

She sat with her hands folded on the worn table, a stack of old paperbacks next to her.

Ransil had a script she’d been peddling to the studios. I’d started reading it — a detective caper set in 1930s Los Angeles — and wanted to find out about the claim on the title page.

“BASED ON A TRUE STORY: From case files of P.I. Samuel B. Marlowe.”

. . . .

Marlowe, she said, was the city’s first licensed black private detective. He shadowed lives, took care of secrets, knew his way around Tinseltown. Ransil dropped the names of some Hollywood heavies — Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Howard Hughes.

But it got better. Marlowe knew hard-boiled writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, she said.

The private eye had written them after reading their early stories in the pulp magazine Black Mask to say their fictional gumshoes were doing it all wrong. They began writing regularly, or so her story went. The authors relied on Marlowe for writing advice, and in the case of Chandler, some real-life detective work.

So his name was Samuel Marlowe … and their most famous characters were Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

That was no accident, she was sure of it.

. . . .

Chandler and Hammett created two characters that shaped the archetype of the noir detective as a world-weary white man, and she was saying they might have been named after a black private eye.

I started checking out Ransil’s story, looking up the paid obituaries in The Times and the Los Angeles Sentinel from when Marlowe died in 1991.

Marlowe was born Aug. 3, 1890, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. According to The Times obituary, he served in Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, a World War I fighting brigade that guarded the Suez Canal. After the war, Marlowe immigrated to the U.S., settling in Los Angeles, where he soon became a private detective.

. . . .

I started re-reading Chandler’s and Hammett’s novels, gulping down their stories of crooks and femmes fatales, dizzy with all that hard language coursing through my head.

Hammett’s debut novel, “Red Harvest,” was published in 1929 — the same year Marlowe wrote the author to complain about his writing, Ransil said.

The following year, Hammett released “The Maltese Falcon,” with its iconic, white private detective, Sam Spade.

Marlowe claimed that Spade’s first name was an homage to him, and that the character’s surname was Hammett’s “winking inside joke,” because “spade” was a derogatory term for a black person, Marlowe Jr. told Ransil.

. . . .

Ransil said that Marlowe’s cache of letters from Hammett included a carbon copy of a draft of “Nightshade” with an index card clipped to it suggesting the story was inspired by the private eye:

“I came across this and thought you might like to have it. You’ll see I changed a few of the details, but I think it still works.”

. . . .

The detective also started doing a little work for Chandler after the author wrote the PI asking if he could retrieve some police files, Ransil said. Marlowe’s billing files, she said, show that he was also Chandler’s guide on research expeditions to the “tough parts of town.”

Marlowe gave Chandler a bit of advice on how to think like a PI: “Believe no one, even the person hiring you — especially the person hiring you,” according to Ransil’s notes.

In 1939, Chandler released “The Big Sleep,” his first Philip Marlowe novel. It turned the writer into a literary star.

Chandler followed up “The Big Sleep” a year later with “Farewell, My Lovely,” considered by some to be his greatest work. Ransil believes that the South L.A. vignette that opens the book depicts a side of the city that Chandler would have been unfamiliar with unless he had a guide like Marlowe.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

Cultural Exchange

10 October 2014

A Seattle Author and an Icelandic Author Swap Characters as Part of a Cultural Exchange

From Paul Constant at SLOG

Tomorrow night, as part of the Taste of Iceland arts festival/cultural exchange, local author Karen Finneyfrock and Icelandic author (and founding member of the Sugarcubes) Bragi Ólafsson will read at Elliott Bay Book Company in a free event called the Reyjkavik Writing Jam. The event, which was planned by Ryan Boudinot of the Seattle: City of Literature program, is about as literal a cultural exchange as you can get: Finneyfrock and Ólafsson each created main characters to trade with the other author.

Once the trade occurred—one imagines a literary hostage-swap—they wrote new stories featuring the other author’s characters that they’ll read on Friday, an arrangement that Ólafsson describes over e-mail as “like a marriage between two people who have never met.”


Finneyfrock calls the character exchange “a little unnerving,” but it wasn’t the swap that upset her. Though she’s published two novels and written dozens of poems, she admits that “I don’t do a lot of short stories. I had to sort of talk myself into taking the risk.” Once she decided to experiment with short fiction, she immediately launched into a genre she’s never written in before. “I was reading a lot of Kelly Link over the summer and feeling pretty interested in slipstream, so I decided to allow magical elements into the story,” she says. After writing two realistic novels, she found the experience to be liberating. “I’m actually thrilled about it. I feel on fire for the genre, and I hope to continue writing in it.”


Ólafsson doesn’t have much experience with Seattle literature, although he’s enjoyed Seattle on previous visits “because it’s by the sea, has good coffee, and seems to be friendly.” He’s “excited about reading not only Finneyfrock’s books, but also Ryan Boudinot’s novels. I already have one of his books, with the wonderful title Blueprints of the Afterlife.” Finneyfrock admits to a similar lack of knowledge about Icelandic literature, and adds “I feel bad saying that, because I know Bragi’s music, and the Sugarcubes were important to me.”


Ólafsson begins with the announcement that “I should warn Seattle not to think of me as a very Icelandic writer.” (He notes that he’s written extensively about the perils of this kind of cultural representation: One of his novels, The Ambassador, is about a poet who goes to represent Iceland at a Lithuanian poetry festival, “with rather disastrous results.”) He finds it “difficult, if not futile, to attempt to give an all-encompassing description of my country´s literature,” which “comes in all sizes and designs. One defining characteristic of much Icelandic prose is that “the influence of the old Icelandic sagas, which are arguably the first novels to be written, is still very strong; we also tend to be more in favor of short sentences and compact descriptions of the inner life of characters and their appearance.” That’s where Ólafsson parts ways with his nation’s literature: “Personally, I always use two words when I can get away with just one,” he says.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall, who would love to try this sometime.

Generational Divide

21 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When I was taking classes in the craft of fiction, everyone—from established professional writers to English professors—recommended that a writer never ever say that a character looked like a famous actor. No “he resembled a young Orson Welles” or “she dressed like Claudette Colbert.”

Not only was it lazy writing—the Gurus said—but, more importantly, there was no way for your reader to know exactly what you meant.

You see, kids, back in the days when you walked uphill both ways in the snow to get to your typewriter, when manuscripts were laced with white-out, and copies were made with carbon paper, old movies were hard to find.

. . . .

 But the teachers all had a point. Not only did referencing old movies make it difficult for modern readers to “see” your characters, it also dated the work. Because so much of popular culture back then was available for such a short period of time, and then it was impossible to find without an archive nearby, a good old movie house (with a lot of money), or a lot of late-night television viewing. I often memorized TV Guide, and stayed up until the wee hours to see a censored version of a movie I’d only heard about.

. . . .

 By the early 1990s, I realized I could compare my characters to movie stars, if I wanted to, and people would understand. It’s still lazy if that’s all I say—but if I’m in the point of view of say a major movie buff, it might be a great way to characterize my narrator. The option is open to me.

. . . .

 But we haven’t given much thought to the world we’re moving into. The world that so many people who were born from about 1995 to now will inhabit.

. . . .

Brian Robbins, who runs Awesomeness TV, a provider of YouTube channels (and programming) and which attract (as far as I can tell) at least thirty-one million teens and tweens. About their attitude toward programming, he says,

The next generation, our audience and even younger, they don’t even know what live TV is. They live in an on-demand world.

An on-demand world.

Think about that for a moment. Those of us raised in that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world had a sense of urgency about everything we loved. If we didn’t schedule ourselves around a TV show, we’d miss it. If we missed the opening weekend to a film, we might not see it. If we weren’t listening to the radio during a baseball game, we might never understand the nuances—we’d have to stick with the reported coverage the next day.

That’s changed. I don’t feel any urgency at all about finding what I love. I just deleted a show to make room on my DVR, secure in the knowledge that I can pick up that series on demand when I’m ready to.

. . . .

We writers take advantage of it when we write in series. Our readers want the next book the moment they finish the previous one. E-books allow the reader to get that book at 4 a.m. on a holiday weekend in a town where there won’t be an open bookstore for another 48 hours (and even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the bookstore has the title).

But on demand has its other side.

Personally, I love it, although it does make me pickier than I used to be. Faced with the choice of programming or reading material, I can judge what I watch by mood. I need something funny tonight, or maybe I’m in the mood for a detective show, but not urban fantasy with a detective (like Grimm). Back in the day, I had to watch whatever was available on Thursday on Thursday, mood be damned.

. . . .

I think the first metric is how many people want a book within a week of its release. That doesn’t make a book an instant bestseller. It simply shows us—the writer—how many fans we’ve managed to capture.

The next metric is how many copies of the book sell over time. That time should probably be measured in year-long increments. How many copies sell in the first year? How many in the second? How many in the fifth?

Because if the book’s sales increase per year, then something is happening for that book. That something is word of mouth.

We never had a way to measure word of mouth before, because books became unavailable within weeks of their release, and went out of print within months. Now, we can see the growth as more and more people tell their friends about a title.

. . . .

The publishing industry isn’t even talking about new metrics. That idea hasn’t occurred to traditional publishing, and indie (or self) published writers are constantly seeking validation from the old system—trying to figure out ways to game the bestseller lists or to get a fantastic review from somewhere that has old-world prestige.

. . . .

The traditional publishing industry is notorious for not studying anything. What works to promote a book? Who knows. Why should they study that?

But at some point, traditional publishers are going to have to develop new ways to figure out which products sell well and which ones don’t. All of their systems—from sales figures (which measure books shipped not books sold) to bestseller lists to critical acclaim—are based on the old models.

It might take another ten years or more before traditional publishing figures out how to measure success for its various titles. What happens in ten years or more? Members of the on-demand generation will start to step into positions of power at traditional publishing companies (and everywhere else). Those future adults will want metrics that mean something to them, not things that belong to a hot autumn night accompanied by the smell of burning leaves and ancient voices on the radio.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG had a couple of thoughts while reading Kris’ latest business post.

First, he wonders if traditional publishing will stay around long enough to develop new ways to figure out which products to sell. There will probably be organizations named Penguin Random House, etc., but PG suspects that, like big record labels, they’ll be vastly shrunken and have less money to throw around than they do today. Certainly, they’ll have less influence over authors in general.

Second, he agrees with the suggestion not to say one of your characters looks like a famous actor.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a famous actor as a source of character description.

PG did some acting in college. He was competent, but that’s about it. He did, however, perform with very good actors, including some who went on to have successful professional careers in movies, TV and on stage.

One of the things the very good actors did was always look interesting. Little things were going on with their posture, their faces, their hands most of the time they were on stage. When you were in the audience, your eye was drawn to them even when they weren’t speaking. They weren’t doing big hammy things, just subtle little things that sometimes communicated with the audience on almost a subconscious level.

In movies, really good actors usually do the same kinds of things. (What they have to do on a stage that is 30 yards from some of the audience members  is different than what they do when a camera is shooting a head-and-shoulders shot, but they’re still doing interesting things that you and I wouldn’t do if the camera was pointed at us.)

So, PG’s suggestion is to watch what an actor does when playing a character that is somewhat like a character in your book and take ideas for character descriptions from them. How do they move and what does that tell you about them? What are their mouths and eyes doing? Their hands? Perhaps it might work better with the sound off, but you might also want to analyze what’s going on with the voice as well.

Just a passing thought.

What Makes Iconic or Popular Characters Unforgettable?

22 July 2013

From Writing Forward:

Luke Skywalker is the obvious hero of Star Wars, so why do Han, Leia, and Darth Vader get all the attention? When I think about the characters from Star Wars, Luke is often the last one who comes to mind. It’s not that he’s utterly forgettable, but he doesn’t stand out from the crowd of characters who surround him, despite the fact that the story centers on him. The other characters easily overshadow him, even the characters whose roles are not as critical to the story.

All of the characters from Star Wars are iconic, but some are more memorable than others. What can we learn from iconic characters and how can we create unforgettable characters in our own stories?

. . . .

We can compare The Da Vinci Code and its protagonist, Robert Langdon, to Indiana Jones, whose quests are fun but not nearly as deep or complex as Robert Langdon’s. We want to go on Indiana Jones’ adventure because we want to go with him. We take the Da Vinci Code adventure for the sake of the quest itself; any character could serve as a guide.

. . . .

Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind): People keep telling me she’s an anti-hero, that she’s wicked and unlikeable, but I adore Scarlett O’Hara. Remember, she’s only sixteen years old when the story starts. Keeping her age in mind, her envious, arrogant nature is more understandable. She goes on to do whatever she must to survive, take care of her family, and keep her land. Surrounded by war and famine, Scarlett doesn’t have much of a chance to mature but eventually, she thrives. She becomes an aggressive, independent woman who takes charge of her own destiny in a time and place when women were generally submissive, passive, and dependent on men. What makes her iconic is that she goes against the grain, and in the film, she boasts a striking wardrobe and memorable catch-phrases (fiddle-dee-dee, I’ll think about it tomorrow).

Link to the rest at Writing Forward

Sleeping Beauties vs. Gonzo Girls

9 March 2013

From The New Yorker:

When Stieg Larsson’s girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, encounters a man who regards her as “legal” prey, we quickly realize exactly what sets this skinny hacker apart from heroines of the past. Salander invites Advokat Bjurman into the bedroom and leads him to the bed, “not the other way around.” Her next move is to fire seventy-five thousand volts from a Taser into his armpit and push him down with “all her strength.” In a stark reversal of the nineteenth-century playwright Victorien Sardou’s famous formula for successful theatrics—“Torture the woman!”—Salander ties up Bjurman and tattoos a series of vivid epithets onto his torso. A sadistic sexual predator is transformed in an instant into her victim.

We’ve come a long way from what Simone de Beauvoir once found in Anglo-European entertainments: “In song and story the young man is seen departing adventurously in search of a woman; he slays the dragons and giants; she is locked in a tower, a palace, a garden, a cave, she is chained to a rock, a captive, sound asleep: she waits.” Have we kissed Sleeping Beauty goodbye at last, as feminists advised us to do not so long ago? Her younger and more energetic rival in today’s cultural productions has been working hard to depose her, but archetypes die hard and can find their way back to us in unexpected ways.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” series have given us female tricksters, women who are quick-witted, fleet-footed, and resolutely brave. Like their male counterparts—Coyote, Anansi, Raven, Rabbit, Hermes, Loki, and all those other mercurial survivors—these women are often famished (bulimic binges are their update on the mythical figure’s ravenous appetite), but also driven by mysterious cravings that make them appealingly enigmatic. Surrounded by predators, they quickly develop survival skills; they cross boundaries, challenge property rights, and outwit all who see them as easy prey. But, unlike their male analogues, they are not just cleverly resourceful and determined to survive. They’re also committed to social causes and political change.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

5 Ways “Difficult” Women Can Energize Your Writing and Make Your Fiction Memorable

4 March 2013

From Ruth Harris on Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Before there was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Lisbeth Salander, there was Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, the heroine of a novel called Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. Smilla is part Inuit and lives in Copenhagen.

According to the flap copy of the FSG edition, “she is thirty-seven, single, childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in.” She is complex, thorny, obstinate, blunt, fearless, she loves clothes and, when required, she can—and does—kick ass. Like Lisbeth—who’s a talented computer jock—Smilla has her tech side and sees the beauty in mathematics.
Thinking about these two “difficult” women—Lisbeth and Smilla—I began to realize that the “difficult,” unconventional female character, like Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, appears in fiction again and again in different guises.

. . . .

Jane Tennison, the DI in television’s Prime Suspect, played by Hellen Mirren, is a “woman of a certain age” as they say in France. Her love life is on the gritty side, she drinks too much, she can be flinty—not flirtatious. The men she works with give her a hard time and she isn’t shy about pushing back.

. . . .

Ellen Ripley. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the warrant officer inAlien, is courageous, authoritative and has no personal life that we know of. She’s a sci-fi heroine who must rely on her own guts, brains and fearlessness.

. . . .

Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper with no first name inRebecca, is dedicated to her dead employer, the first Mrs. Maxim de Winter. She is intimidating, manipulative and willing to drive the second Mrs. DeWinter to suicide.

. . . .

The “difficult” female character can—and will—do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. She is the character who doesn’t fit the mold. She is the boss (M), the beginner (Clarice Starling), the domestic employee (Mrs. Danvers).

2. The “difficult” female character will live in the “wrong” neighborhood, drink too much, have sex with the “wrong” partners—all good ways to add sizzle and wow! plot twists.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Picturing Books

4 February 2013

From Jacket Mechanical:

What do we see when we read? (Other than words on a page.) What do we picture in our minds?


. . . .

Strangely, when we remember the experience of reading a book, we imagine a continuous unfolding of images. We imagine, in essence, that the experience of reading was like that of watching a film. For instance I remember reading Anna Karenina: “I saw Oblonsky, and then I saw Oblonsky’s house, and then I saw this, and then that…”

But this is not what actually happens.

If I said to you “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty … if you were reading closely you’d mention her weight, or maybe even her little mustache (yes. It’s there). Mathew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes…” But what does Anna Karenina look like? You may feel intimate with a character (people like to say of a brilliantly limned character: “it’s like I know her) but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person. Nothing so fixed—nothing so choate.

. . . .

Most authors (wittingly, unwittingly), provide us, readers, with more behavior for their characters than character description. Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (author’s can’t tell us everything). We fill in lacunae. We shade them. We gloss over them. We elide. . . . Anna: her hair, her weight: These are facets only, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … But what does she look like? We don’t know. (Our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.)

Link to the rest at Jacket Mechanical

Next Page »