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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Character Development, A Guest Blog by Ken Johnson

By Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Today we move on to a new element in the modern storyteller's tool kit: developing a character. But I've decided to let someone else lead off; Ken Johnson is a social scientist and what once would have been called a "loremaster," and he has chosen to analyze several of my own works of fiction with an eye toward how I created and developed the characters in them. We have had several interesting chats on writing and my philosophy and techniques, and he has taken them into consideration in penning what you are about to read.



~~~
Ken:


truly think it is a honor to be asked by Stephanie Osborn to write something for her blog.  She is an accomplished lady who has done more in her lifetime than five men could.  To be even considered means that you have a voice with something to say.  Indeed, that is rather reaffirming in today’s world.  So, it should go without saying that I see this opportunity as being extremely important when she asked me to write on the topic of character development. 

As a culturalist (social scientist), I try to stay aware of how art, music, literature, and other “relics” of a culture’s “archaeology” are symbolic of their values, beliefs, social protocols, etc.  Are all of the lead characters men, women, or mixed? What is the age range of the main characters?  What is their education level?  What percentage of diversity is shown in the characters?  “What is the character’s nationality?”  Such questions must be asked and contemplated in order to best understand how the character represents a given concept and point of view. 

Being that I also do art (paintings on feathers), as well as fictional writings, I also have to appreciate the artistic and technical nuances that take place with not only how the character is created but also as to how a character develops.  “What is his back story?” “What drives her?” “Has his emotional past changed him physically?” These questions and more color what will ultimately be the characters in print. 


I remember some time back, while researching for a forthcoming book on monster allegory, asking Stephanie about how she comes up with her stories.  She explained to me that she has to envision the character both before and after the story she is actually writing.  As she told me, oft times there are entire stories that she knows about her characters which never make it to print only because she knows the character that detailed enough that she can finally write about them.   

Indeed, my research of accomplished authors has revealed this intriguing commonality as being the foremost trait of sophisticated character development.  If you do not know your characters then how can you write about them?  For instance, in a story I am wanting to write, I have pieces to a character’s story that I can see almost as if it is a movie in my mind.  However, just as I can see these scenes there are also gaping holes in the storyline that I cannot see yet.  So, I cannot write the story until I know my characters inside and out.  For the writer, this can be maddening at times because there are untold, and oft times unfinished, stories clouding the mind and yearning to be free.   

This is one reason why I often prefer short stories and novellas because they are concise and often do better justice to the overall story and the characters involved.  The writers of shorter stories are not trying to meet some ambiguous word count minimum/maximum set up by a publisher.  Instead, they only set out to tell the story that they know. 

Sadly, television has corrupted writing to the point now that most writers are trying to play “screen writer” in their books rather than as authors.  Third person omniscient is now becoming status quo.  It is the equivalent of a watercolor artist narrating a painting as to why the paint flowed a certain way, why it blended the way it did, etc.  The narration ultimately becomes the main stage element and what is being narrated now takes a back stage.  When the reader knows everything about the characters then there is little surprise.  Thus, many authors compensate with more and more absurd situations rather than focusing their attention on practicing a modicum of restraint. 

The only caveat to this is when one writes about a genius.  Here, writers often try to make the character an enigma.  I remember researching out a number of authors recently who were talking about how to develop an ingenious character.  These experts all basically noted that time is something that is on the author’s side.  In other words, the “genius” character in the book may not have time to Google “hairy bottomed frog” to give a quip but the author does.  This allows for a character that seems almost supernaturally intelligent.  So, in such a case, you may have a scene where the genius asks a colleague how (s)he is doing, and gets a response as to something like, “I am fine as a frog’s hair split three ways!” only to have the genius retort by saying, “You know, there is actually a hairy bottomed frog in Africa which, during mating season, grows projections on its rump that looks like hair.  Even cut three ways, I dare say that it is anything but ‘fine.’  I guess we shall endeavor to make your day better then.”   


Other ways may also include the author leading the reader astray, and surrounding the “genius” with more simple-minded characters, so as to make the “genius” look even more intelligent by comparison to his or her surroundings.  In television, this is done all the time.  For instance, on the show “Endgame,” an agoraphobic, Russian chess grandmaster is left in his hotel solving cases.  As he tries to figure out the puzzle, the viewers are taken down multiple wrong paths only to have the grandmaster reveal the truth at the end.   

Verily, the core of any good character is research.  However, how you develop the character with this knowledge base can be done a number of ways.  Most authors like to do a linear development of characters.  But, a few will venture out and take a static point of view.  Linear development is nothing more than having the character(s) follow a given timeline of events where they grow and morph along the way.  A static development is where the character does not change, usually because it is so complex or formidable that change is nonexistent, and so then the story becomes one of how the character got that way to begin with. 

A great example of static character development is El Vengador.  As I once wrote in a Yahoo! Voices article on werewolf allegory, Stephanie changed paradigms as to what a werewolf represented.  However, she did this by taking the often underutilized static form of character development.  Until the end, the reader does not realize that the monster is a single, cursed being.  In the end, even though the killing spree and attacks never end, the true story was in depicting how the monster came to be, where he came from, and what motivates him. 

In contrast, the Displaced Detective Omnibus gives the reader a compilation of multiple books which takes the reader along a given time line where Sherlock Holmes is taken from his time and dimension and placed in our world during our time period.  While Stephanie gives insight into some of their thoughts, she refrains enough in the story so that you have to work to see and understand the characters independently for who they are.  In other words, she does not let the narrative overshadow the characters.  What is important to note about the series is the development of Sherlock.  In the book, he goes from being a very static, Victorian gentleman to being more animated.  Her taking into account cultural and temporal norms allows for unmalleable character to become dynamic.  Where his time required men to be almost asexual, he is now allowed to show passion and tenderness openly without the author sacrificing the traits that makes Holmes such an iconic character.
~~~
Ken Johnson is an independent researcher and culturalist who typically writes on issues of culture, conflict, conservation, and literary allegory.  Starting college at the age of 16, Ken now holds a BA in Social Sciences, an MBA, and special certifications from the USDA and the Florida Supreme Court in the field of mediation.  Predominately a non-fiction writer, he has a book due out in August 2014 called Unbroken Circles SM for Schools. In 2005, he was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel for his good works by the governor of Kentucky.  He has also been nominated for the Grinnell Prize as well as two media awards given by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. 
~~~

I'd like to thank Ken for his analysis of my works and my writing style. He does indeed have my thought processes correct, and to see someone else's take on my attempts at creating other beings has been fascinating!

-Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Characterization in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, A Guest Blog by Barb Caffrey

By Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

We're getting ready to start talking about a different element of modern storytelling: character. As she has a new book out, a book with strong characters and more than a hint of romance, I asked Barb Caffrey to write an additional blog article -- not just about how characters work in telling stories, but specifically about how HER characters were designed to interact in her new book, An Elfy On The Loose. Consider this as a kind of segue from Romance to Character Development in our Elements of Modern Storytelling series.

~~~

Characterization in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE
Or, Why Bruno the Elfy Is So Much Fun to Write
By Barb Caffrey 
If you've read my novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE – or even if you've only heard about it a little – you probably are aware that my main character, Bruno the Elfy, is quite an intriguing character to wrap a book around.
Why? Well, Bruno didn't exactly start out as a hero-type. He's short: he's only three feet tall. He doesn't think he has any appreciable magical skills at the start of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, either, and this is a problem considering he comes from the magical race of Elfys – and all of them seem to have at least some magic. (Bruno doesn't realize the reason he doesn't seem to have magical talent is because he's been intentionally mistrained by the orders of the Elfy High Council.) And while he's young – the equivalent of a teenager in human terms – he thinks of himself as jaded, worldly-wise, and experienced.
Of course, many teens do the latter. And it's because of their lack of experience when teens think they already have experience that the story of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE originally came to me.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Actually, Bruno the Elfy came to me in a dream. I had just read an anthology about Elves, where the editor – whose name escapes me – said (my best paraphrase here), "These aren't your typical Elfie-welfie types of Elves. They actually do things."
And Bruno piped up with, "It's not like that!"
I noticed that Bruno was dressed all in black. And he proceeded to tell me earnestly that while the Elfys in his culture liked to rhyme (thus the nonsense term "Elfy-welfy), he, himself, did not. And while the Elfys in his culture liked loud clothing – the louder, the better – he, himself, obviously did not.
Then I found out he was trapped in a haunted house in California. He'd been sent there by the Elfy High Council, a rather mysterious bunch of people from another dimension I'd get to know (and mostly dislike). His teacher, Roberto the Wise, did not agree with the decision to maroon Bruno on our Earth, and was trying to get him back...but Bruno had met Sarah – a young, Human girl, and his eventual love interest – and Bruno didn't want to leave her behind.
Just knowing that much gave me an insight into Bruno's character. He's loyal, almost to a fault. He is a good judge of character. He doesn't know much about himself (as most teens or teen-equivalents truly don't), but he does know this: He believes in good things – love, friendship, and ideals.
And as I went on, I learned that Bruno is also a scholar – as Roberto's one of the foremost scholars in the Elfy Realm, that's no surprise. Bruno has a lot more magic than he thinks, something Roberto knew but couldn't directly tell him due to the wishes of the High Council. And there truly is a conspiracy against Bruno.
All of that helped me as I tried to figure out more about what Bruno's doing in that haunted house. Much less more about the diminutive and enigmatic Sarah, who surely must be a whole lot older than she seems – but why? And again, what's she doing there at all?
Many young men of whatever species would probably run away from Sarah, no matter how attractive she is and no matter how short she is – which has to be an attraction for Bruno, no matter how much he denies it – because there's something obviously wrong there. Sarah's parents are awful, and not just to her. They have trapped Bruno for no reason except that he's an Elfy and they apparently don't care much for Elfys. So you'd think Bruno would just want to get away from that whole situation, run to Roberto, and forget about Sarah, her dastardly parents, and that whole, strange, screwed-up house…
But Bruno doesn't do that.
Even though he's not a prototypical hero-type, Bruno believes in fairness. As Sarah has been kind to him, he judges her for what she is along with what she's done – and after Roberto's attempt to rescue him goes horribly wrong, Sarah does her best to hide Bruno from her family. That, too, works in her favor.
And as they get to know each other during this desperate crisis, they realize they have a lot in common. They both have magic. They're both a wee bit older than they thought. And they both believe in the same things – love matters. Family, no matter how screwed up, matters. (Though no one should suffer abuse. Ever.) And good can indeed win over evil, providing you're careful, smart and willing to work with others for the benefit of all.
But none of it – not one blessed thing – would work without Bruno. He is a fully realized, multidimensional character with likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and seems like someone you might just know...that is, if he weren't so short. And it's because of this that you can buy into his adventures, you can buy into his romance, and you can buy into the fact that this young Elfy just might be able to save everyone if he just can figure it out in time.
That, to my mind, is why Bruno is so much fun to write.
~~~

Interesting, every bit of that, Barb. In fact, Bruno rather reminds me of one of the main characters from a true fantasy classic -- Frodo Baggins, of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Short, diminutive male of a non-human race; not possessed of great magical powers, or really, great powers in general; trapped in a situation for which he didn't ask; yet responsible, loyal, and determined.

Folks, be sure to check out An Elfy On The Loose.

-Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Dellani Oakes

By Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Today we have another romance writer -- but Dellani Oakes writes romance/suspense/thriller/mystery crossovers! (Have you noticed a distinct trend in authors writing genre crossovers? I really think bookstores should look into this.) Dellani is an old friend and a skilled writer, blogger, book reviewer, and podcaster, with her own BlogTalkRadio show. This should be interesting.

~~~


Dellani:

I write romance. More specifically, I write romantic suspense. Why the blend? Because I like some spice to my mysteries and some mystery mixed with romance. I like the conflict in my stories to be between the main characters and an outside force. I don't like stories where the hero & heroine fight constantly. Where's the fun in that? It's much more entertaining to have the characters work together against a common foe. They grow closer to one another and find that they are better as a couple than they are on their own.
     A little romance can enhance any story. I don't mean that the plot should grind to a halt so the characters can have a hot love scene. That isn't necessary. Instead, the main characters can find their strength by way of their union. Certain action films spring to mind, such classic movies as Demolition Man, Total Recall or Commando. Although the main characters are fighting the bad guys, they fall in love. The conflict brings them closer together. They conquer the foe, accomplish their goal and go home for some hot sex—which happens off screen.
Stories needn't have graphic love scenes to be effective. Clasped hands, stolen kisses, furtive glances can all add to characterization and plot development. The main point of a
romance is having the characters fall in love. The wonderful thing about romance is that it can be an element of virtually any story, adding depth, without distracting from the the plot.
Not that there's anything wrong with having some hot sex in the story. My novel, The Ninja Tattoo, has plenty of spicy scenes. However, Indian Summer and Under the WesternSky do not. In all three stories, the main characters work together against a common enemy. They may have disagreements and misunderstandings, but they work things out—together.
Do my characters argue? Yes. Do they have misunderstandings and get their feelings hurt? Of course. That's human nature. However, they employ a technique that works well in stories and real life—they communicate. I'm sick of stories where the main characters have a huge argument, make assumptions and refuse to talk to one another for 90 percent of the book—unless it's to fight. But by some miracle, they discover they truly love one another and are miserable when they are apart. I can't help wondering how long their happily ever after lasts. I give it a year.
Whether it's a mystery, sci-fi, thriller, suspense or noir, romance enhances the story. The reader cares more deeply and becomes more invested in a character's fate if they like him. If he's a jerk to his friends and his women, no one is going to care what happens. (In my books, those guys are usually murder victims waiting to be killed.) Regardless of genre, a little romance can add depth and scope to the storyline.

~~~

I'm in firm agreement, Dellani! Well said!

Everyone be sure to check out Dellani's books on Amazon!


-Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Darcie Wilde

By Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com


Today's blog article is by another new friend, Darcie Wilde, who does not write science fiction, but romance. THIS should be interesting! [Some frank language is used; be aware, you who are easily embarrassed.]

Welcome, Darcie!



~~~

Darcie:


First of all, thanks to Stephanie for hosting this blog, and this series. 
I’m Darcie Wilde, and I write Romance.  My latest book, LORD OF THE RAKES is out now, and the sequel THE ACCIDENTAL ABDUCTION, arrives in stores and online in September. 
I’m here to talk about romance as the most potentially subversive of all storytelling elements. 
You heard me. 
First, some data points: 
Romance is the biggest of the literary genres.  Fifty-two percent of the paperbacks, and a similarly massive percentage of the ebooks sold are Romances and the majority of the readers are women.  An estimated five percent of Romance readers and writers are male.  Even with this gender disparity, there isn't another genre that matches romance for reach and diversity among the reading public.  Romance readers come from across the spectrum; young, old, middle-aged; rich, poor, middle-income; high school educated, college educated, Ph.D.  All racial and ethnic groups.  It’s one of the few genres that extends its reach every year, even without monster hits like 50 SHADES OF GRAY. 
And yet.    
What do we hear about Romance? It’s shallow.  Formulaic.  Stupid.  It’s only read by bored housewives.  It’s Mommy porn.  I’d never read that stuff.  I don’t like romance in my science fiction/fantasy/mystery. 
Why?   
Why, despite its indisputable reach, breadth, profitability and interest among the reading public, is Romance, or even the romantic element, so loudly and continuously frowned on?  To the point where some readers aren’t comfortable admitting that they do read it?    
Because Romance is subversive. 
Yes, it is.  And I can prove it. 
See, Romance is not only primarily read by women, it is primarily edited and published by women.  This is a trend that started back in the 1980s and has only grown.  Not coincidently, this is when Romance, which was already a large genre, exploded.  There’s a really clear reason for this.  It was the first time and place in history that women were able to take control of their own fantasy lives from top to bottom.   
That’s right.  Romance is women in charge of their own fantasies. 
Women are expected to control their fantasy lives as tightly as they control their physical lives.  They are expected to limit not just their real-life dreams and ambitions but they must limit how they think about those dreams and ambitions, especially when it comes to sex and relationships.  Not only are they not supposed to have sex, or enjoy sex, until they find The One (man), they are not supposed to
even think about sex.  And this is when they’re young and single.  

Once they become mothers, let alone grandmothers, they aren’t even supposed to consider sex.  Never mind the shame and humiliation of not being pretty.  There are endless movies and TV shows in which a nebishy fat guy wins true love.  When was the last time you saw a positive portrayal of a sexually active overweight woman?  
Women are also supposed to treat their marriage and family as the single most important piece of their lives.  They are expected to make any sacrifice to the needs of that marriage and that family.  But they are not supposed to think about, much less consider, what it would take for those relationships to be fulfilling and these sacrifices to be worthwhile, never mind reciprocated.   
Because that’s shallow.  That’s stupid.   You’ll only be disappointed when he’s not Mr. Darcy.  Men like that don’t really exist. 
So, love-and-marriage is the most important part of your life, but don’t think about it.  Don’t dream about it.  Don’t consider whether you might have a right to respect, friendship and frequent orgasms or what it would take to get any of these.   
Except, then there’s Romance. 
You can consider all these things in Romance, or in a romance.  You can explore types of relationship, not to mention the boundaries of friendship and respect, in terms of how people who look like you feel about them.  You can try on roles, identities and, yes, problems as freely as your men get to in every single other storytelling environment.  You can imagine winning at what you’ve always been told is most important part of your life.  You get to engage in any kind of sexual fantasy floats your boat, and a few that you’ve only kind of heard about, in an absolutely safe environment without judgement or shame.   
Nowhere else does a woman get to do this, except Romance.  In Romance a sexually active woman is not judged, she’s the heroine.  In Romance a woman who has suffered is not just the victim, she’s triumphant.  In Romance, it is men who are judged, weighed and evaluated, and the primary consideration is their conduct towards women.  In Romance, the woman is not just expected to care enough to sacrifice her time and ambitions for her family, somebody out there cares enough to make those sacrifices for her.  She is not just servant, she is served (and yes, you can take that however you want).  She’s not going to die because the monster always eats the slut first.  She’s not going to be shamed because she looks different, she’s going to be considered beautiful for it.  She’s not going to be abandoned because she slept with the wrong guy.  Her sexuality does not define or limit her.  She is guaranteed to have other female friends, family members and co-workers around her who she can and does talk to about any subject, including her love life. 
She gets to make the ultimate decision as to whether she goes or stays, and who she stays with.  She can fall in love with a monster, and it will still work out.  She chooses.  She wins.   
And she makes the money for writing about all these things, and bringing them to the reading public.  Sometimes astoundingly good money.  
And it’s not just women.  Gay men, lesbians and yes, men and women of minority ethnic groups — especially African American men — expressing the full range of sexuality, attraction and relationships in positive romantic settings, whether vanilla or kinked, and gaining happy endings, is so controversial as to be a tiny fraction of published fiction, even within Romance itself.   
This is not because there’s no interest.  When such books are published, they do well, if (and it’s a big if) they can be found.  People across the human spectrum like to try on relationships, and ideas about relationships and power and love, within the safe setting that a work of fiction provides.  They like to see people who look like them triumph in love, and sex and family without restrictions imposed from the outside. 
Because it is ultimately this range of emotion, this expression, this full, free, fair choice in life and love, that says who is fully human and who is fully powerful. 
This is massively subversive.   
It’s also insanely popular, and yet almost universally criticized. 
It's something to think about.  
~~~

Fascinating! This is an interesting take on the subject from someone who writes in the genre -- not merely uses it in another genre. It is certainly true that once upon a time women had fewer options for exploring their dreams than they do today. It is also true that such works of fiction were frowned upon in that day and age because of the perception of such things as libertine. I wonder if that's from whence comes the modern attitude of disdain for romance.

-Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Mindy Klasky

By Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

[Today is a special day for me -- it so happens that we are discussing romance on my wedding anniversary. GO US! Ahem...now on to the regular blog.]

Today's guest in our ongoing series of elements of storytelling is Mindy Klasky!

Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere through stories. As a writer, Mindy has traveled through various genres, including hot contemporary romance. In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her to-be-read shelf.


~~~



Mindy:


I've been following the various guest posts about Elements of Storytelling with great interest, especially the posts about romance.  Over the years, my own writing has transitioned from traditional fantasy to humorous paranormal romance to contemporary romance (with no magical or fantasy element.)  My writing has also become a great deal "spicier" than it was in my early books.  Therefore, I'm looking forward to chatting about an important Element of Storytelling:  The Love Scene. 

Okay.  Not everyone is going to call this subject matter a love scene.  A lot of people will say that I'm talking about sex scenes.  I used to think the difference was academic – a discussion point used by romance writers to remind the world that their work isn't just about sex; rather, we write about real emotions with real personal stakes. 

I've come to realize, though, that the nomenclature does matter.  Because when a scene-with-sex is done right, it becomes much more.  It becomes a scene about characters, a scene about emotions.   

Most readers are completely familiar with the mechanics of sex, both the basic physical function and its most common variants.  If the only purpose of a sex scene were to describe that relatively limited range of physical activity, our books would get boring almost immediately. 

But a well-written love scene does more than describe the mechanics of sex.  A proper love scene informs the readers of the emotions of the characters before, during, and after their physical interaction.  Those emotions become the engines of the scene, providing the layers that keep readers from skimming and yawning (or, occasionally, laughing uproariously at physically impossible actions). 

Imagine these scenes: 

  • An imaginative woman seducing a willing man, making love for the first time and discovering each other's preferences and reactions to assorted stimuli (for example, a key love scene in my novel PERFECT PITCH) 
  • A couple who have known each other for decades, never acting on their mutual attraction because of society's condemnation of May/December relationships (the background for CATCHING HELL) 
  • An experienced lover with extensive knowledge of sexual stimuli seducing a willing but inexperienced and partner for the first time (the setup for REACHING FIRST [coming soon]) 

The mechanics can be identical in each of these scenarios – naughty bits will rub against naughty bits.  But the weight of the scene, the meaning of the actions, will vary vastly depending on the underlying emotional gloss.  Therefore, as an author of love scenes, I need to focus on the emotional words in the scene.  I need to pay especially close attention to my action verbs, to my adjectives, to my adverbs. 

Love scenes have a lot in common with action scenes in a novel.  Sure, it's great to know my hero is the greatest broadswordsman in the history of broadswordsmen.  But a truly great fight scene will show me what it costs him to use his weapon – how he needs to harness all his strength, what it takes for him to heft the blade after his ribs are broken by his opponent, how the bones of his arm jangle after each clash.  He must be aware of each cost of every action (and inaction) in every second of his battle – his deeds may result in his own injury or death and/or in the injury or death of all his allies. 

Violence.  Sex.  When written well, they both allow an author to reveal depths of a character. 

What books have you read that have effective love scenes – scenes that divulge information about the characters, even as they advance the story with the sexual activity they present? 

~~~

Nicely done, Mindy! Yes, I must agree -- a well-done love/sex scene is a powerful way of depicting the inner lives of the characters involved!

So, Gentle Readers, care to answer her closing question in the comments? What books can you think of that have love scenes that advance the story AND tell you more about the characters?

-Stephanie Osborn
http://www.stephanie-osborn.com