DWJ in Saga

Ven vendersleighc at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 10 22:17:18 EDT 2005

Thanks for posting this link Charlie. here's a
few thoughts it inspired.

Diana writes

<Some writers try to solve this in one of two
ways: first, they have one main character who is
an observer, and have events and personalities
happen in front of this person. The result is
that the observer character becomes just a window
for the reader, with no discernible personality,
and the plot is a set of disconnected episodes.
What you get is a sort of variety show and not a
story at all.>

These are interesting comments in view of some of
the things said here about Conrad's Fate. It did
seem that Conrad might be a kind of observer
narrator, though I would certainly argue that he
is anything but a window!

<The second way is worse: here the writer decides
on a set of names (usually hard to remember) and
has these names doing what the story wants them
to do, with the reason for what they do not being
part of them at all. I think the hope is that if
you work them hard enough these cardboard figures
will turn out to be real people in some way. In
fact, it ends up with the reader puzzling about
why Ertyuiop ran off with the treasure after
trying to defend it. Or why Asdfgh suddenly
decided to go on a quest when there was no good
reason to.>

I remember reading a long ago review by Dwj
in which she described the characters as "a
collection of actions attached to a name" which I
thought was a delightful putdown.

<So how do you get it right? You have to consider
all your characters to be real people. You have
to get to know them, before the start. Look
around you, at your friends, enemies and most
irritating aunts, and apply what you learn to
whoever is in your story. Each of these people
will have a differently shaped body, for a start,
which causes them to walk, sit and gesture in a
different way to the rest. Most important of all,
each of them will talk in a different way. Every
individual has a unique speech rhythm. Once you
know the rhythm of your character’s speech the
chances are this character will strike readers as
a real person.>

What Dwj herself adds to this is the utterly
memorable way in which she describes the
characteristics of the people in her stories,
Kankredin is a bell shaped old man, Morton Leroy
has black poached egg eyes, from these few words
I seem to build an image instantly.

<Also, real people have jobs, hobbies and a life
outside the place where you usually meet them.
Nothing is less convincing than a person who only
comes alive at the moments when they take part in
the story. Make sure you know what they are doing
when you are not writing about them – what they
have for breakfast, what their outside interests
are, the kind of clothes they buy. Then, even if
you don’t actually mention much of this, the
person will have proper depth.>

See the quiz that she wrote -- I even seem to
remember Minnow telling us that even Diana
herself realised the odd new thing about a
character -- Querida's embroidery perhaps, have I
got this right? Paging a small fish to dart out
of the reeds a moment.

<Knowing what each person is like “offstage” is a
great help.> 

I have certainly read books in which the
characters just seem to freeze the moment the
lights go off them and only come back to life
when the heroes return.

<There is a lovely bonus that comes with knowing
your characters inside out. If you have got it
right, there will come a moment when they start
acting like real, independent people. They will
do and say things that even you do not expect.
Let them.>

Note that Dwj xsays they will act "like" real,
independent people. They are after all still in
Diana's head, still on the pages she is writing.
Dwj does not forget who is doing the thinking.   
It always fascinates me that some authors claim
never to let their characters escape their
control. The paradox here is that she who claims
that it's ridiculous to have characters do
anything the author doesn't want them to is
denying the emertgent ideas of her own brain, and
is, in fact, the one who believes most in the
idea that the characters truly have a life of
their own and must therefore be prevented from
living it. 

<All this applies particularly to baddies.
Villains usually have motives. They are acting
for a cause, or out of deeply held convictions.
Many writers forget this. They give the baddie
evil laughs and rejoice in this hint of
wickedness – or worse, they wriggle out of the
problem by making the villain mad. Most bad
people are not like this. It’s best to consider
them as just like other people, but nasty.>

I have had this problem, got well on the way into
writing something then had to frantically
retrofit some motivations for the villains beyond
"hating the heroes' family".

<Make your villain someone you know and dislike,
then there will be no trouble in making the
character convincing. You know them anyway.
People are often shocked when I say this. But,
since no bad person ever thinks of themselves as
bad, these live people will always fail to
recognise themselves and there is no harm done.
You must know someone bad. Use them.>

But what if the real villains in one's life are
rather paranoid and quick to search for

<And another bonus will be that the rest of your
characters, reacting to a real person, will start
behaving more like real people too.>

What an excellent point to finish on.


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