Sunday, September 12, 2010

Character Flaws

       I’ve spent the last two blogs pretty much dissing other author’s beloved characters so I thought I would fess up to my own character flaws. I’ve written many short stories and I like to experiment with character voice in those little spurts but the real challenge to achieving successful character development is in longer fiction. I confess to disillusionment in me and mine.

       I have a current heroine who is momentarily frozen in limbo at 40k so she doesn’t count in this scenario, being too raw, and too shallow at this point to mention. My two favorites from past books both lost my favor when I finished the first drafts and I don’t know if this is a regular experience for writers or my peculiar personal hell.

      Years ago, I taught a drama class where the students did character studies. In these studies they were to know everything about their character from how they brushed their teeth to what their favorite color was. The logic was that knowing the character whilst acting would allow the actor to make natural decisions on the spot. The same intimate knowledge of your character is essential when writing. A writer needs to know everything about their character, even if they never use that knowledge, but low and behold, there’s a problem.

      You, the writer, know more than your character knows about themselves. I think this is why so many authors have the irritating habit, as I’ve previously mentioned, of having clueless heroines until they suddenly wake up and save the world. The writer is trying to grow both the plot and the character at the same time. It isn’t very easy. When do you let your heroine have an insight? Will the rising action stagnate if she moves too quickly toward the discovery of her supposed superpower? The saving the world bit is at the end of most paranormal fictions. Unless, of course, it’s a series and then the reader gets strung along with a clueless heroine for too many plots. Don’t get me started.

       Anyway, I confess to my disappointments. One of my heroines is for the young adult paranormal market and the other is an adult paranormal. The adult character I wrote two, three years ago when I was regularly sharing writing with my writer’s circle called Circle of Crones. We ladies liked the titillating romance with lots of swashbuckling and this book at 75K was/is certainly that. My main character stumbles upon a nightmare heritage of Magus, werewolves and other scaries when she is accosted and turned by a werewolf. It’s called Mirror World and the premise is as with the infamous Alice, she is sucked into a parallel world that only those who are paranormal can see. Glamour keeps non members clueless. Though not original seeming, given that so many authors have used this premise, I like to think that my particular take on this classic is unique. I’ve got fallen angels and battles for supremacy along with a particularly hellish villain that makes Caligula look law abiding. My heroine goes from shocked, to angry and back again several times before she comes around. Meanwhile, the men who are more savvy and comfortable in this mirror world battle it out with her as the main prize. Oops! See my problem?

       I made my own character into a trophy for the male winner! I began to despair halfway through when I saw the error of my ways and though I changed gears and pulled out a surprise villainous puppet master and added another female to round out the menagerie with female strength, the damage was done. I knew everything from her shoe size to the name of her pet hamster when she was ten. She was weak and girlie. I couldn’t stand her in the end.

       My young adult character has another issue altogether. The supporting characters lost my interest and therefore the heroine lacked luster in their eyes and the reader’s. This heroine is not weak in the beginning, middle or end; however, she is clueless because having once lived as a faerie in Summer Land, she remembers nothing of her past, living now in the real world. Cue a big sigh from me here as I trash my own heroine. Everyone but she knows her past and the story is her discovering that she is/was the villain in her own personal melodrama. She is being redeemed by paying for her folly with her ignorance throughout the story and it really works (swear to you) except I lost my way somewhere toward the end when the other characters succumbed to being mere characterizations.

       I suppose I should give examples here but I think I’ll stop instead. I’ve blathered on again too long and I’ll give examples of characters and their flaws in my next blog. After all, this me telling tales.          

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reading Books 2 : Urban Paranormal

    Again, the reading is endless. I start school next week and I’ll be complaining about my lack of time to read or write, but until then, I read. Currently, I’ve been reading the urban paranormal genre, which is popular, and being published in droves. The central women characters are mostly cut from the same mold: Young, unaware of their potential, in love with the wrong man, chased by bad guys, and best of all, able to, at least eventually, kick butt of same bad guys with newly discovered strength, skill, and/or super powers.

    I adore super powers. It’s so freeing to read and identify with those not very perfect women who discover strength within themselves. I suppose the popularity of these books is because we all secretly feel inadequate and powerless, but I don’t really care. When a heroine finally reaches out and slaps the idiot villain around and saves the world, there’s a certain escapist thrill in that. If she also gets the best sex of her life along the way, all power to her, and the reader, for just tagging along.

    There is a point, however, when boredom sets in. I can almost predict the next three moves of a character in a paranormal story after the first few pages. Sometimes, I find myself skipping whole parts that I’ve already predicted ahead, just to get to the plot points.

    It’s an internal conversation with me, “Yada yada yada yada,” I’ll murmur, “don’t be so stupid, Girlfriend, and have more confidence, for heaven’s sake!” All while I skip over all that internal angst and obstacles that the heroine invariably sets before herself. It’s always her own weaknesses that hold her back, therefore bulking up the storyline with more pages. Obstructing the heroine with her own insecurity and lack of personal insight seems to be the plot pattern followed by most of the paranormal writers. I’d like to point out that they are almost all women writers for that matter.

    I’ve read so many of these books that even I realize it’d be boring to list them. Many of the most popular heroines such as Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake, or Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse were wonderful for the first five or ten books, but please! Quit already. There is so much dithering and indecision a reader can take. At some point, the heroine has to have a final win. Anita Blake is especially irritating because Hamilton thinks that adding lovers to Anita’s roster is the way to add books to her list. By the 15th book Blake has gone from kickass necromancer to the ever ready succubus and NOT in a good way.

    And don’t get me started on the young adult market! They’re worse, by far. I wanted to suck Twilight’s heroine to death myself if she didn’t quit with the emotional indecision. That the series ended the way it did by throwing the baby/werewolf bonding in to round out the romantic triangle neatly was, in a word, bizarre.

   Over the last year, I have finished the most popular of the series: Fallen, the Immortals (Shadowland), the Shadow Hunters (City of Glass), the Blue Bloods, and the Wicked Lovely series to name very few on the long list of young adult urban paranormals out there. My students read them, so I do. Mostly, without exception, the heroines are the same: weakened emotionally by a lack of confidence or personal tragedy, indecisive overall, and given to letting the boys smash it out whilst they stand by and watch. In short, they are clueless until finally, after much angst, they wake up and take control of their lives. The young adult market seems to want to both empower young women and funnel them into age old stereotypes of powerlessness. I haven't decided if I should encourage my students to read them or not yet.  Not that I have any say in the matter.

   I believe of all the heroines of the popular paranormal genre, either young adult or adult, the one character that I haven’t quite tired of yet is Rachel Morgan. I think, and this is me analyzing the genre here, she hasn’t become boring because she changes so much through the books. Kim Harrison, the author, is brave enough to kill off characters, even important lovers, and she has changed Rachel with each book to the point that you realize that she is growing as a character. In fact, all the characters change in this series. The villains in the early books become allies in the later ones, and it’s all done in a way that surprises the reader. Much of what happens to Rachel is a logical progression. (I’m laughing here because it’s an urban paranormal fantasy set in a post apocryphal world peopled with demons, witches and faerie folk.) My point is that a reader couldn’t possibly pick up the sixth book of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series and figure out what is going on. That’s why it isn’t predictable.


   So, how to analyze the genre and what is the basic formula to urban paranormal/romance/female heroines with superpowers genre?

    1. She must be young, the age of change for women: 16 to 30
    2. The obstacles she faces are outside villains who make her feel powerless, and/or she is powerless because the villains seem to be more aware of her potential than she is.
    3. She longs for the love of the wrong boy/man according to society standards but in truth, he is the only one for her i.e. true love. (Does TL really exist BTW?)
    4. She has a superpower, which is eventually discovered by her (usually she’s the last to know) and she saves the world, too.
    After that the stories DO vary but not by much. In the young adult books, she is soundly kissed and the reader can safely assume that there is a happily ever after. In the adult versions, the paranormal heroine enjoys the best sex of her life, but doesn’t necessarily get the happily ever after. That would mean the end of the book series,  and heaven forbid it, we can’t have that!