Tag Archives: character development

Sexiness and the Awkward Authoress

I readily admit that I am not very good at sexiness, in my writing or in real life. I steer clear of book covers with half-naked people on them (I’m lookin’ at you, Fabio), and Magic Mike or 50 Shades of Gray hold absolutely no appeal. After getting a review or two about how my characters’ relationships and interactions are not steamy enough, I began to get a little more than frustrated. What if the author didn’t want to have her characters get into sexy romps? What if she wanted to explore intimacy through non-sexual interactions?

Immediately I began venting to my best friend about the issue and then posted on a women’s writing group that I am part of on Facebook. I expected to get some responses from people who agreed with others saying to suck it up and cave into society’s demand for clandestine moments and characters exploring their “inner goddesses,” but I was shocked to find that many writers agreed with me and that the overarching message was to stay true to myself and my characters.

Before I am a writer, I am a reader, and when I write, I keep myself first and foremost in mind. What would I want to read? What turns me off as a reader? I’m not a complete prude, I like reading romantic scenes and intimate moments between characters that obviously care deeply for each other. If those scenes include sex, that’s fine. For me, as long as the emotional connection is there, I’m usually more than okay with it. What I cannot stand is gratuitous sex or violence in a work with no other purpose than to arouse or scandalize the reader. Recently I decided to read some paranormal romance in preparation for a series I intend to write in the future. I was incredibly disappointed by the series I downloaded as a bundle. Like clockwork every thirty or forty pages there was an erotic scene. Rolling my eyes, I read through plenty of moaning and groaning, but what made it awkward wasn’t the acts themselves, it was that the characters could have been anyone. It was as if the scenes were written in a vacuum with blank-faced characters. If the reader cannot connect with your characters and want to share in the intimacy, why bother writing these scenes?

I should outright say the reason I tend not to write sex scenes in my books. It isn’t because I’m a prude or think sex should never appear in novels, it just never seems to fit in what I’m writing. I enjoy writing the lead up or those tender private moments, but once your characters are in the heat of the moment, can they really express themselves enough to further plot or character development? My main thought is: sex is not the be all and end all of romance or intimacy. You can have sex without romance, so why not have romance without sex?

Some other avenues of intimacy to explore are obvious, kissing, cuddling, undressing, touching, embracing. What are your characters thinking as these things happen? Does s/he enjoy these things? Are they doing them to please their partner? How are they doing them? With urgency, slowly, passionately, coolly? How a character does something says just as much as why they are doing it. Why not play with different forms of love? There is sexual love, romantic love, and platonic love, so you aren’t limited to just couples. Friends can be intimate with one another as easily as couples. When you’re upset, does your friend wrap their arms around you or speak close and quietly to make you feel better?

Romantic moments are as much about sexuality as they are about intimacy. They don’t necessarily have to be the same thing.


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Relatable or Realistic MCs

alys party picShould main characters be a body the reader slips into or should they be their own autonomous being, free to be as eccentric and wayward as they please? I came across on article called “Five Books That Broke Sacred Writing Rules (And Yet We Love Them),” and it mentions Gail Carriger’s Soulless and how the main character is not universally relatable. While I find most of these “rules” rather dumb (please pardon my screw-the-rules mentality for literature), it made me wonder whether writers should strive to make characters universal or whether they should let them stand as complex beings–human beings.

I understand that an alien who has five limbs, breathes underwater, and can only communicate through clicks may not be the most relatable character for a modern reader, but where does universality begin and end? As a writer, my biggest fear of universal characters is the boring factor. For someone to be “universally relatable,” they would have to appeal to everyone. Are we striving for everyone or just the majority? If we are striving for the majority, why? Why must my character be relatable for everyone? Fiction is meant to allow the reader to walk in someone else’s shoes, to live their lives for a few hundred pages. If I’m living my life on the page, why should I read it?

Even in some of the oddest places, we find there is a kernel of universality in every character. In Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the graphic novel is about a little girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. To a modern audience, Marji seems like the furthest character from their own lives, yet the book is a best seller, but why? Because while Marji lives in a very different place and under very different circumstances than her Western audience, she is still a child with hopes and dreams who loves rock music and Michael Jackson. It’s this strand of universality that brings the audience to her. The same is true of Alexia in Soulless. She may appear emotionless due to her lack of a soul, but she prefers libraries to parties and struggles with her self-image and self-worth. Many girls (and guys) reading the novel immediately relate to her being an outsider.

How should we define universality with our characters? Should they be pants that the reader can slip into–blank slates that are nothing more than masks of archetypes–or should they have strains of the universal within their beings? In the same way that we make friends through discovering relatable aspects in other beings, should we do this for characters in works of fiction? In my mind, the answer is simple, characters are as human as we are, and as humans, they are complex beings with multiple facets that need to be explored. By pairing them down to make them “universal,” we destroy what makes them human and ultimately what makes them relatable.


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Elemental Characters

elemental_mandala_by_bioraka-d48t3cl

by bioraka on Deviant Art

Do you ever think of characters in terms of where they seem to naturally fall within the four elements?  It may seem odd to equate a character with earth, water, fire, or air, but it can help to maintain a theme throughout several works or to create cohesion of your character’s personality.

I’m one of those writers who tends to write, then sees the patterns forming within my writing and continues them.  In The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden, I have several characters who represent elemental powers and this influences how they interact with their world.  It may make more sense to demonstrate how this happens with concrete examples. Continue reading

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Character Preview: Immanuel Winter

im close up(Artist credit for this pic of Immanuel Winter goes to the lovely Fiammetta de Innocentis)

I put up a poll on my Facebook page asking the fans of my work what they would like to see next as a preview of The Winter Garden.  Only a few people answered (I’m not that popular and Facebook hides my posts), but it was unanimous that they wanted to see a character preview.  What I am going to reveal here will contain no spoilers and only contains information from before the events of The Winter Garden.  Down the line, I may release a few more of these along the way, but may I present to you, the leading man of The Winter Garden, Immanuel Winter.

Immanuel Winter was born February 2nd, 1870 in Berlin, Germany.  His family line can be traced back to the alchemists of Cologne, but during the time of the French Republic, his family migrated to Berlin.  This change of cities officially shifted their already changing identity from alchemists to scientists, but one remnant of their esoteric past remained in the form of a pendant: Continue reading

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Flawed Characters or Human Characters?

Amy-Bloom-You-are-imperfect-permanently-and-inevitably-flawed.-And-you-are-beautiful

As a writer who in recent months has received several reviews, I have noticed that there was mention of “flawed” characters.  Is a character flawed enough?  If a character is not irreparably flawed, are they then perfect?

 

The definition of a character flaw is: “a limitation, imperfection, problem, phobia, or deficiency present in a character who may be otherwise very functional. The flaw can be a problem that directly affects the character’s actions and abilities, such as a violent temper. Alternatively, it can be a simple foible or personality defect, which affects the character’s motives and social interactions, but little else.”

 

These flaws can then be broken down into minor, major, or tragic.  Minor flaws include things like scars, nervous habits, quirks, baldness, Major flaws are more encumbering on the character’s lives but are not always absolutely negative things.  A strict moral or ethical code that inhibits their freedom or life can be a major flaw, and of course, the typical notion of major flaws, such as anger issues, mental problems, blindness, deafness, etc. are all possibilities.  Protagonists or antagonists can often be brought down by these flaws and succumb to them, or they can struggle against them throughout the plot.  Tragic flaws, which are commonly seen in Greek tragedies and epics (such as Achilles’ pride or Oedipus’s anger and suspicion), bring the character from a place of prominence to ruin when they ultimately fall victim to these flaws.

 

When most readers discuss flaws, they automatically think of major and tragic flaws, but in real life, how many of us are plagued with life-shattering personality traits?  This leads a writer to consider whether they want their characters to be realistic or whether they want to check off the box marked “flawed”.  If they choose to be realistic, one must grapple with whether everyone considers the same thing to be a flaw.  The answer of course is no. For a character study, I will use my own character Eilian Sorrell, who ultimately lacks major or tragic flaws.

 

In terms of minor flaws, Eilian is at times irresponsible, laid back, is handsome but has burn scars across his chest, neck and arm, is missing his right arm, lacks confidence (especially around his family and formal social situations), is easily hurt and crushed by others’ comments, and is overly trusting.  One might not consider being laid back or trusting to be a flaw, but in the context of the work, does it backfire on them?  If the answer is yes, it is a flaw.

 

When working on characters, I believe that creating a realistic portrait of a human being is preferable over a character that checks off the correct boxes: neatly fits archetype, has flaws, is a “good guy” or “bad guy”, fits reader expectations.  Are humans flawed? Very much so, but is everyone so horrifically flawed that they cannot function and constantly get in their own way, no.  Create characters who are real and balanced, who could walk off the pages and into life, and who logically navigate through life with all their traits, good and bad.

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