Saturday, 31 May 2014

Argen Description

On Wednesday, we went through an explanation of the character creation process, and now I'm going through it in more detail, with an example.

I used a character generator to get a basic idea, and that is the character I'll be designing.  The suggestion I got was "he's an Albino whore on the wrong side of the law".  As he's going to be an albino, he will have white hair, red eyes and translucent skin.  The fact he's broken the law suggests that he's had a harsh life, meaning he will be short, and underweight - his cheeks are hollow, and he has long eyelashes and pouty lips. 

I decided to call him Argen, from the heraldic word for white, Argent.  This far, I'd decided last time.  The only additional idea I've had about his appearance was that he was going to be wiry - he is quite small, and at risk of violence, so he's learned to be strong and to fight dirty.

What he wears would be dependent upon the world they are in - his profession implies that he might not be wearing much, or at least less than standard, but the climate that he is in will have an impact, as is what would be expected in the society.

 Now, I need to develop him more, making him into a person with his own thoughts, needs and desires.  You need to think about the reasoning behind a character’s actions and decisions, without making them a stereotype.  Think about the people that you know, how different and interesting they are - your characters can be just as varied.  There's no rules limiting what you can create, just as long as they're people that you are interested in, people that you want to write.

Looking at the description, three obvious questions stand out:
1. What is the impact of albinism on his life?
2. Why is he a whore?
3. Why is he on the wrong side of the law - because he's an albino, because he's a whore, because of the poverty he lives in, or something else?

Question number 1 ties back to the statement about the world - how an albino would be treated by the society that he is in.  If he faces discrimination and hatred that could mean he has no work other than prostitution (2) push him into lawbreaking (3), and would further make his life difficult.  If there isn't that prejudice, his job is likely to be more a case of either poverty, or choice - possibly a mixture of the two.

Having considered these, I need to make some actual decisions, and I've decided that Argen may face prejudice, but certainly no legal ramifications for his albinism.  Having been raised in poverty and poorly educated (parents cold towards him), he turned to prostitution as a reliable source of income when there was little else available. 

I have also decided that this is going to be a slightly fantasy-based world - with Argen being a human within a human settlement, but elves and other beings further from the settlements.  He may be part-elf.  This gives me some idea of Argen's clothes - probably fairly pale fabrics, that drape around his waist, with him having tight shirts.  His hair is to his mid-back, tied into a plait with a black piece of string around the end. 

Now onto Argen's personality: things like likes and dislikes, free time, intelligence, habits, family, friends, beliefs, hopes, dreams, fears, memories and secrets.  This is a lot to keep in mind, but I can build on what I already have - his relationship with his family is difficult as they were poor and he was felt to be a burden.  With a rough past and criminal life, he is afraid of being caught and punished - imprisoned, or worse, depending on the legal system of their world.  He may have a goal of luxury and certain clothes or jewelry that he longs to own, along with wanting his life to be far better than it currently is.  His lack of education means that he knows very little, but the fact he has managed to survive on the wrong side of the law implies that he has a lot of street smarts and common sense - probably also a good sense for people, regardless of whether or not he likes them.

I can build up information for him like that, developing a full person.  When I have one developed character, I need to make those to be around him.  As I tend to write romance, Argen is going to need a boyfriend.  I could use either a generator, or build someone who fits them, and I tend to go for the latter so that I can make a good match for them.  I decided to go for another heraldic term, and went past azure (blue) and vert (green) before settling on vair - a word used for a pattern based on squirrel fur, in bell shapes of blue/grey and white.  I changed the name a little to Vairel.   Then I had to decide on his personality, and his relationship with Argen - is he a client, a friend, or something else?  I continue to develop him in the same way I did Argen.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Character Design

Alright, technically this is a Writing Thursday, but we're going to pretend it's a Wednesday because that makes me look much more organised.  I got a little caught up in nerf warfare earlier in the day, but now I am blogging like I am meant to.

So, we've looked so far at getting ideas, planning a story, and programs we can use to help with the writing, but today we're going to look in detail at what is to me the most important part - characters. 

Characters are what populate your story, and bring it to life.  If your characters are terrible, then it doesn't matter how wonderful your plot is, people are going to turn away.  People care about people, and how they are affected by events, rather than the events themselves - and when you're designing characters, this has to be kept in mind.

So what is it for a character to be terrible? I'm sure you can think of characters you haven't liked.  For me, its always characters that have been one dimensional, or boring, or simply unrepeatable.  I'm drawing a distinction here between characters you don't like, and characters you dislike - you can hate a character, with them still being an interesting and well rounded character.  A character you dislike may be a villain, or an antagonist, but they're still interesting people - you want to read  more about them, just to find out what they do and see them get their comeuppance.

Now that you have some idea of what makes a bad character, you can start to think about how to make a character that isn't bad.  We don't need to list every single detail about their backstory and life, if they have allergies, their school report grades - but it's a good idea if they're alive enough to you that you have some idea of the answers to these questions for them.  If you don't know more details about a character than you're putting on the page, I'd say you probably need to develop them more.

One of the best pieces of advice I've seen is someone saying that rather than describing the color of a character's eyes, you should instead describe what they are like - are they sunken, haunted, bright, sparkling? Are they surrounded by makeup? Do they wear glasses, or is it contacts for them because their glasses got broken by a bully when they were younger and they can't face wearing them any more... See what I mean? Any of this information tells you a lot more about the person you are creating to write with than the color of their eyes.

When I start with my character, I tend to have a sentence or so in mind.  If you can't think of a sentence, how about looking at and then seeing if something there inspires you.  Just as a random selection, I got "he's an Albino whore on the wrong side of the law".

I love drawing, and I will often sketch out a quick idea of what I think a character looks like - probably including notes around it for things that the drawing isn't to capture.  I also try and think of a name early on, because it helps to get it out of the way - even if it's just a placeholder.  For my whore, I'll call him Argen, from Argent, the heraldic word for white.

Now, we have Argen - and as he's an albino I know he has white hair, red eyes, and translucent skin - and he's probably in a fantasy-based world.  The fact he's on the wrong side of the law implies that he might have been having a harsh life, and therefore I see him being short and underweight - his cheeks hollow, with long eyelashes and pouty lips. 

Next, I need to consider what Argen is like as a person - what he likes and dislikes, what he does in his free time, how intelligent he is, habits, nervous tics, relationship with family, beliefs, education - what was his childhood like? Is he in a relationship? What are his dreams, his hopes, his fears? What is his most precious memory, and his deepest secret? What would he wear?  How does he talk - and how does this vary when he's talking to different people?  What are his flaws, and his greatest points, and who inspires him?

Once I've answered all of these questions, I have a character who is ready to take his place in the world. 

To show the process in practice, I'm going to write a description of Argen, which I will post in the next few days.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Websites and Programs

This week, I thought we could take a look at programs and websites designed to help you write.  I have used all of these at one time or another, to varying extents, and hopefully at least one of them will be of use to you!

Write or Die - possibly the most famous writing tool, this website requires you to set a word goal and a number of minutes, and then start typing.  If you don't type fast enough, you will be punished with scary sounds, and even (if you select Kamikaze mode) the words starting to delete themselves.  There is also a reward mode, which gives you custom images as a reward, and you can also create a writing environment in stimulus mode.  Not all of this is available for free, but the simple fear of your words unwriting themselves is often motivation enough to keep typing.

Written Kitten - a personal favorite of mine, this free website works like the reward function on write or die.  You can set it so that for every 100, 200, 500 or 1000 words you write, you are rewarded with an adorable picture of a kitten. (Don't worry, there's a puppy version too!)  I love this website, but a note of caution - it can somewhat throw off a violent or ...physical(!) scene if you get a particularly sweet picture of a kitten.

750 Words - the idea is simple - you commit to writing 750 words a day, and are rewarded with badges for managing it.  This now requires a subscription, whilst previously it was free - however the first thirty days trial is still free, so you could give it a go.  I find this useful for committing to a set number of words, but I find my writing flags once I reach the magic 750.

Scrivener - A program for writing and arranging scenes, Scrivener sells itself as a useful tool for composing and structuring documents.  The idea is that you both plot and write in one program.  Whilst I don't doubt that it is useful for some people, I find myself wishing that I could layer plot lines more easily.  Another program with a thirty day trial (if you do Nanowrimo, and win, you often get a 50% off code!)

Writers Cafe - I am fond of this (although I'm still on the limited trial version) because it lets you view multiple plot lines at once.  I use it just for planning though - I'm quite happy writing in word.

X Mind - This is a free and very useful mind mapping program.

Habit RPG - I use this for general organisation, as it lets you set goals, and rewards you for achieving them.  It has functions for things that need to be done (projects to finish), daily goals (write x words per day) and habits (write an extra x words per day).  This really has helped me a lot, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Plus it's got a great community, quests, guilds, challenges... it's well worth a look.

Nanowrimo is a huge part of my writing life, and a fantastic writing community.  I will be saying more about it in a couple of weeks, but let me start off by saying that at it's most basic, it is challenging you to write a novel in a month.  Scary, but surprisingly achievable!

I'll finish with saying congratulations to my friend LJHamlin, for getting her first short story "Nurse Levi" published today!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Writing Wednesdays – Planning a story

Having got a fantastic idea, the next thing to consider is how to plan your story.

There are lots of different methods here, and the first thing I'll say is that different things work well for different people.  There's no right or wrong - and some of the best authors I know will just scribble down a couple of notes, then write everything out chronologically, without having a plan.  For them, this seems to work well.  However, if I try doing something like this, I get ridiculously lost.

The first thing that I would do, and that I would recommend doing, is making a mindmap.  Using a free program like x-mind can be particularly good for this, as it allows you to just add on further sheets, use different colors, and generally make everything pretty.  Alternatively, grab a whiteboard or a pen and paper, and just put down all the ideas that you have.  Neatness does not matter at all, just get the things down - you can always cross stuff out afterwards, but if you forget an idea at this point it might be gone for good.

Now that you have a scribbled page covered in notes, you need to try and turn it into an actual story.  Again, different methods work for different people, and you can decide if you want to plan things out chapter by chapter, or go for a more overall story shape.

If you have no idea of where your story is going at this point, it's worth taking a look at different story structures, which you can adapt to meet your needs.  We're all familiar with the fact that a story needs to have a beginning, middle and end, but that is often not useful for more complicated stories.  I would recommend the five point structure and the seven point structure as starting points - picture it like a roller coaster, with various raises and falls in action - a constant rate throughout will either be exhausting or boring for readers.

I would also suggest taking a look at the snowflakemethod in which you slowly built up the story, going from a single sentence, to a paragraph, and then expanding into higher level details, describing characters and a plot, creating a synopsis.  I find some of this works for me, but I don't go through all the steps, as I don't like having absolutely everything detailed before I start writing - if I know what's going to happen before I write, why would I bother to write it?

One final method I find quite helpful (if a little intimidating at first) is using a spreadsheet (or a table) to keep track of different subplots or characters - just going through chapter by chapter, and seeing what is happening in each plot/to each character.

When you've got a plan for your story, be it a several page synopsis or a half page full of scribbled notes, it's time to start writing, and that is what I will be looking at next week! See you then.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Getting Ideas

I'm hoping to do regular blogs about the writing process - on Wednesdays, hence the name.  It took a little while to pick the best topic to start with.  There were a lot of things I wanted to cover, a lot of steps in the writing process.  Finally though, I realized there was only one obvious answer. 

For the start of a blog about writing, I'd better start with something basic, the very thing I start the writing process with.  I begin with an idea, and I go from there.  So where do my ideas come from?

There are four main start points for my ideas:
* Character
* Plot
* Setting
* Prompt

Character - Generally, when I get a new idea, I wake up with a particular character in my head, or I am inspired by a friend or someone I pass in the street.  The spark of a personality, someone who interests me.  From there, it's just a matter of finding a situation that they'd suit - where do they live, who do they know, what happens to them?

Plot - This happens occassionally, but nowhere near as often as I would like.  I have a plot, or a theme, that I work with - building from that, I develop a plot, and then slot characters into the story.

Setting - A vivid world or setting, be it a fantasy castle, a cyberpunk city, or a busy town.  Once I've got an idea of a world, and the rules that govern it - treatment of different groups, weather systems, economy etc, I start developing both characters and plot to populate it.

Prompt - Looking at anthology themes often gives me a good place to start thinking, for example the Torquere Press open calls

Alternatively, random plot generators online such as this can help spark an idea.(These are useful if you like starting with a plot.  If you prefer starting with a character, try looking up random pictures online, or using online character generators.  A particular favorite of mine is "TheyFight Crime" which is pretty hilarious, and worth taking a look for entertainment value alone.  Similarly, for settings, try looking around - I find pinterest useful.

I hope this explains where I get my ideas, and hope it gives you somewhere to start with writing your own.  Where do you get yours?