Thursday, June 17, 2010

Letting Your Characters Be Themselves

I've heard most authors discuss characterization in one of two ways. Either they make it sound simple and almost boring, or they make it sound like a completely mystical experience that has little or nothing to do with the writer's own effort.

Some authors claim that all you have to do to create a character is jot down a profile, answer some questions about his or her background, and then write about the character based upon this predetermined information. This is the boring, easy answer. Other authors claim they can hear their characters' voices inside their head, almost like muses, and sometimes these characters will just "write the scene" for themselves. This is the mystical answer, implying that an author becomes some sort of empty vessel for their characters, channeling the voices of fictional creations like they're real people. (It also makes people think that writing is some sort of magical gift that you either have in abundance or inherently lack, which isn't actually true.)

As for me, my process of characterization lies somewhere in the middle. When I prepare to write a novel, I first come up with some ideas for my characters. I figure out how many I need (ex. main character, character's parents, character's best friend, etc.), and get a basic idea of what I want each character to be like, such as their general appearance and personality.

After that, I usually come up with some ideas for character names, and then I write out a profile for each one, including any information I might find useful later. I try to include all kinds of things in this profile, such as occupation, birth date, height, and eye color. Sometimes, I come up with this information before I start writing the profile. At other times, I make it up on the spot, often to change it later. Nothing is set in stone in the planning stage. When I'm finished, I have a pretty detailed concept for a character.

That's the simple part. The truth is that anyone can come up with a character profile. Most creative people do at one time or another, whether it's to write a story, draw a comic, or join in an online roleplay game. The tricky part is to take this information and use it to write a character who is not only consistent with the characteristics you assigned, but is like a real person, in that they have specific quirks, speech patterns, and motivations. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing you can list in a profile, and even if you try, it won't help you much... You still have to figure out how to convey it through the character's words and actions in the story. After all, that's the only part your audience will read, so that's the part that really counts.

So... how do you do that? Well, each writer seems to have a slightly different answer, but here are my thoughts about my own writing process.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Review: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Twilight Saga)
Warning: Book reviews contain some (mild) spoilers.

It seems appropriate that my first review on this blog is about a Twilight book. The Twilight series was my introduction to the world of Young Adult (YA) literature. (Unfortunately, I missed the whole Harry Potter phenomenon by a few years… It was most popular while I was in high school, when the only books I had time to read were school-related.)

How and why I started reading Twilight is a subject for another post, but suffice to say I’ve read all the books. And yes, I enjoyed them. The pros and cons of the series have been discussed to death on the Internet and elsewhere, so I won’t get into that here. I will say that I believe Stephenie Meyer’s strength as a writer lies in her ability to tell a page-turning story, as well as her gift for creating characters that inspire universal devotion from her fans. (And if you don’t know what I mean by “universal devotion,” I will be forced to wonder if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years.)

So while I don’t consider myself a rabid Twilight fan, I was intrigued when I heard about the release of an Eclipse novella. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is about a character that has literally ten pages of “screen-time” in Eclipse, the third book in the Twilight series. Everyone who read that book already knows what happens to Bree. (Hint: There’s a reason the title includes the word “short.”) I was curious to see what Stephenie Meyer would do with a character that not only seemed so minor, but so different from the main characters of Twilight. After all, Bree is a vampire in the more traditional sense—she’s a killer, and her ending is an unhappy one.

In my opinion, you do need to read Eclipse to understand this novella. At the very least, it will enrich your reading experience, especially in the last fourth of the book, when Bree’s experiences and those of the Cullens begin to intersect. If you only read the novella, you won’t understand some of the things Bree sees and hears (particularly Jacob’s injury). Additionally, I felt that a considerable part of the enjoyment of the book was being able to see familiar characters through a stranger’s eyes.

That said, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a compelling story in its own right. Stephenie Meyer has a gift for imagining life from each of her characters’ point of view, even the most minor characters like Bree. And as always, she manages to create intriguing characters in unexpected settings. Bree’s interactions with her fellow newborns, Diego and Fred, surprised me with their simple charm. Compared to the other Twilight books, this is an understated, subtle little story… In my opinion, Stephenie Meyer’s writing style has matured well. The romance (and yes, of course there is romance) is so subtle that if it weren’t for a brief kiss or two, you could blink and miss it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

First Post!

Well, I finally decided to get a real blog! When it gets going, Kat in Socks will be primarily about my journey as an aspiring author. (Thus far I am unpublished, with one novel manuscript under my belt and a second one currently in progress.) Other posts will include general musings about life and reviews of the books I'm reading.

Warning: This blog may also include random posts about Romantic literature, life in the Victorian era, period costumes, and frilly clothes. I am all about anachronistic frippery. I'm also a self-proclaimed geek, and I wear my glasses with pride. I frequently attend comic book conventions. I like many geeky things, like Star Trek and Harry Potter and web comics... I may have the occasional geek-out on this blog. You've been warned.

As for the title of this blog, I often go by the name Kat. (My full name is Katrina. Yes, like the hurricane. Or Katrina and the Waves. Or, you know, me.) I also collect socks. Sometimes I wear them. I may post pictures of me wearing them on this blog. Or I may just post pictures of the Magical Rainbow of Awesome (tm) that is my sock drawer... Either way, this blog WILL contain socks. I can promise that much. I can also promise that it will NOT contain smelly foot odors. Which is welcome news to all, I'm sure.

Anyway, I hope this blog will be a good outlet for the excessive amount of words I usually have stored up in my head. I also hope it will be a way to connect with other readers and writers and fun-loving nerds like me. So welcome to the blog! I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I will.