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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fiction, Character Development, etc.

Every once in a while I get an interview request from a student. As I do, I like to post them here in case any of my readers have similar questions. Here's one about the merits (and dangers) of fiction, as well as, a bit about character development.

About ten percent of people would argue that fiction is a waste of time. What would you say to them?

I'd say for those few sad people, perhaps, it is a waste of time. Maybe they are a bit close-minded. ;-) However, I might suggest that they have not yet found the right book. I didn't like fiction until 6th grade. I could read very well (both my parents were teachers), but I never read for fun...until my cool cousin gave me a copy of The Hobbit. That changed everything. I found a deep connection between Bilbo and myself. I found a longing to visit other lands and to dare to try some important deed. That's when fiction became a friend. I've read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings 14 times since then, and I get something new from them each time.


What impact would you say that fictional books, movies and other story-telling mediums have on people?

The impact of all types of media on people is much more profound than some might believe. And like other benign entities, reading fiction can have a positive or negative influence. If a book is morally sound, readers, especially young readers, can absorb lessons about life. "Ah, that character lied and it blew up in his face, so therefore I won't make that mistake." Reading fiction can also arouse our curiosity and prompt us to dare to do great things in life. Ask any leader if there was a book that had a profound impact on them. Chances are there was. But the impact can also be very negative, esp. if the book is not morally sound. Once again, we absorb what we read and add the content to our prior knowledge banks. If the character is rude to his parents, breaks rules, and gets celebrated for it, the reader thinks, "Ah, I can achieve a kind of glory by doing those same kinds of things." There is also a fault in comparing the fictional world to the real world. A wife who constantly reads romance fiction might begin to think of her husband as quite the pudgy clod compared to the handsome beaus that populate the fiction she reads. And that's bad news.

Would you say that you can tell a lot about an author through what he writes?

No question. Any writer worth his salt will put a bit of himself into the story--many times it's unconscious. But it's still there. It can be catharctic, therapeutic, and fun to fuel a tale with a bit of you. But it can also be narcissistic. You don't want every character to be you wearing a wig. And certainly there are more activities in the world than your experiences, so you've got to branch out. When I read Tolkien, I'm quite sure that I'm getting "him" in the package. I believe he's a bit of Frodo and Gandalf rolled into one. I can tell Tolkien was fond of deep friendships, things that are green, and good food. I am too incidentally.





Some people say that detailed vivid descriptions are the way to go, but at the same time others say that you should leave things up to the reader’s imagination. That seems like a paradox to me. What’s your opinion?

I'd say that writers NEED vivid description in order to activate the reader's imagination. The sticking point is exactly how much vivid description does a writer need? And of course there's no exact answer or formula. I believe in immersing the reader without drowning him. If you've got a mountain range to describe, what really needs to be mentioned? The reader has seen mountains before, so what makes these mountain's different? Do the peaks stab up into the clouds like fangs? Are they cloaked in shrouds of mist? Are they blanketed in endless patches of purple and yellow flowers--those things might matter, depending on the mood you wish to convey. When describing a person, don't give us the police line-up description. Do we really need to know that the sweater is 30% polyester? Include the quirky details instead: he had thick eyebrows, a moustache, and goatee, and if he frowned in just the right way, he looked like Abraham Lincoln.


How do you make a main character likeable? …my novel is written in 1st person so I’d say this is an important issue.

I'd say begin with a bit of self inventory. Why do you like the people you like? Make a list of different people and why you like them. Readers like characters for many of the same reasons. And when you go to create characters, you help readers get to know these beings the same way you get to know real people: actions, words, looks, attitudes, thoughts. Show, don't tell. Bonnie was miserable. (NO). Bonnie wrung the corner of her notebook. It was all she had to strangle at the moment. The tears came fast and furious. Her throat thickened to the point that swallowing was pain. etc. etc.


18 comments:

Sword Warrior said...

Hey, first comment! =)

Anyways, I love these tips! The last one is one that I've been reminded of constantly, but forget, especially when describing emotion.

ElizabethOfMena said...

These are definitely helpful. Thanks Mr Batson!! :)

May God guide your words.

~ElizabethOfMena~

Anonymous said...

Very helpful. I will refer back to this post!!

~ queenofnarnia

Donita K. Paul said...

Hey, Sir Wayne! What wonderful questions, and answers, too, of course.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hey, Sword Warrior, Elizabeth, and Queen...glad you found the post helpful.

And Hey, Lady Donita, coming from you that is high praise, indeed. By the way all, if you haven't checked out Donita's new book, you need to:

http://www.amazon.com/Vanishing-Sculptor-Donita-K-Paul/dp/1400073391/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1234975345&sr=1-3

Galadriel said...

What if the 1st-MC is meant to be a bit nasty...but sad too?

Anonymous said...

Sir Wayne,
I just picked up the first two of your 'Door Within' books and devoured them, but I was wondering... where did you learn how to 'sword fight'? And did you make up things like the moulinet maneuver, or does it actually exist?
Thanks!

WayneThomasBatson said...

Galadriel, I need a little more context for your question. It sounds like you're asking if a main character (a villain, I presume)is evil but potentially sympathetic? If that's what you mean, here's my take. I think it's fine, and even preferable to have your villain have some sort of tragic flaw--the thing that they ought to know better than but they have it anyway. A character defect that the reader will say, "Gee that was a shame; look what that did to him." BUT, and this is critical, it should also be clear that the villain could have made choices to avoid the evil path. He must bear the responsibility of his path. And certainly don't create a villain that people will want to emulate.

Anon, thanks for the kind words about the books! I don't actually know how to sword fight. I fake it pretty well when I duel with my author friends. I had to do a lot of research on the actual techniques. I found one called a moulinet. It really wasn't an impressive move, but I liked the name, so I just combined a coupla sword moves into that one and kept the name moulinet.

Anonymous said...

Cool! So you had to be really creative?
I like it.
Your books are very exciting! ;)

ElizabethOfMena said...

Mr Batson,

Was there one certain place where you got the information on sword fighting? Or did you have to look a bunch of different places?
I want to learn how to sword fight, and I think that if I knew about some of the techniques it might help with the process. Plus, it helps a LOT when writing. :)
Thanks!!

May God guide your words.

~ElizabethOfMena~

WayneThomasBatson said...

No not just one source. I had to hunt all over the internet for stuff. I tried to stick to sites that offered actual sword combat training, rather than just historical stuff.

Galadriel said...

Well, it's complicated, but my MC has gotten abused and is very bitter. I want readers feel sorry for her but relise she's being a jerk too.

ElizabethOfMena said...

Alright, that helps narrow down what to search for. Thanks!! :)

Ness said...

I am 8 years old and in 3rd grade and my name is Ness and I liked the Door Within and the other books in the series :) my big brother read all the books to me :) in one week. he has a blog too, it is SLYGames.EpicTales.org. Oh, I forgot, hah my big brother also he read me isle of swords too. And I liked it.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hi, Ness
I'm so glad you like the books. And give your brothers for reading to you. That's very nice of them.

Never alone.

Ness said...

Um actually I only have one brother and his name is Leighton and he read the books to me.

thanks for writing back :)

Ness said...

I have A Blog now.
and I am very excited.

And we'll be reading Isle of Fire next week!

Anonymous said...

I have been writing a story just for the fun of it and I am kind of stuck. I have a good cast of charectors but they need a better personalities. My MC and his two friends have been described really well but the other charectors like, the MC's trainer, hasn't really been descibed but he is very important still. Can you give me a few suggestions on how to form my supporting charectors better?

EP