Are your characters loveable?

Should we always write loveable characters? Or even likeable?

I recently received constructive feedback on a short story I entered into a competition. One of the comments “…this successfully built empathy for her situation whilst allowing one to dislike her for…” led me to wonder how many times a character I have had empathy for, or even a person I have met, I have disliked despite that empathy.’Empathy’ and ‘like’ don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Not long after this I listened to a great interview with Dutch writer Hermann Koch who has written best selling novels with distinctly unlikeable characters and was thereafter involved in an impromptu discussion about the emotions raised during and after reading the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. How cross one reader was with the protagonist despite empathy for her situation.

That really is what writing a good story is about, isn’t it? Raised emotions and reactions, for the story to remain with us after we finish reading it?

Who are likeable characters and what makes them so? Anne of Green Gables?A rascallyClark Gablerogue with a handsome face and twinkle in his eye, a smile that sweeps you off your feet? A beautiful femme fatale who takes the bullet for the hero? I seem to be channeling 50s gangster movies. Bridget Jones? How about the Artful Dodger or Nancy, from Oliver Twist? Oliver goes without saying.

Our characters ought to have some redeeming features, or we would all put the story away pretty quickly.These will be in the eye of the reader and the skill of the writer. How differently is a character seen or interpreted between the mind and words of the writer and the eyes of the reader? A lot I think. Our readers are individuals and as such react, well, individually. They may not appreciate the depth of the character we as writers have slaved over.

So, must we always write likeable characters? Obviously not as the best selling status of the above mentioned authors attest. We must write flawed characters, but how deeply do we portray these flaws? We don’t want to turn our readers away. Should the protagonist be likeable and the antagonist not, because by the meaning of the word they are there to be Harper Lee booksdisliked. In one of my favourite books, To Kill  A Mocking Bird, Atticus is a warm, loveable character. However, in the recently released Go Set A Watchman, he is the antagonist; but so cleverly written by Harper Lee I am still a big fan.

What type of characters do you prefer to read? Maybe it depends on your mood at the time. After an exhausting day you might look forward to something warm and cosy with a happy ending. Or on a bleak wintry day you might want to fire yourself up with a deeply flawed character set on saving the world the hard way.

And do we write the sort of characters we like to read? After all we are in their heads a long time; we can even become them.

Back where all this began -did I like my character in the short story, do I like her now?  I’m not going to tell you, but if you would like to find out for yourself whether you might like her, I have attached a link here.

A quick note – this story, Invisible,  was placed 34th out of 251 entries; the first 31 were published. I am happy with that, and have chosen not to rewrite that story, yet; instead to move on and use their feedback on a current WIP. So the story you may be about to read is there warts and all.

 

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To write distraction free. Bliss.

There is much to be said for having your own personal writing space. Some of us have managed to carve out a spot; a corner of the bedroom or lounge, the end of the dining table, even a room to ourselves. However, unless that space has a lock on the door or a cone of silence, chances are we still suffer the distractions of the everyday – the neighbour’s new motor bike, the sink full of dishes, the telemarketers who don’t understand your blunt voicemail message, the child who is bored – they don’t go away.

So what do we do? We might seek the ambience of a cafe or library, IMG_1965even a park on a sunny day. But what of the distractions of the other patrons; the laughter, the tinkle of spoons, the almost canned chatter? It may seem odd to choose to write in these areas of raised noise and movement. But for many of us they work. My theory is that we can ignore such distractions because they have nothing to do with us, they don’t demand our immediate attention.  And on the upside, if we are inclined to eavesdrop, the perceived lives of others in these public places may just be the basis of that next story we have been looking for.

However. There is another option for finding the peace and quiet we crave. A Writers Retreat. A chance to withdraw from the everyday. A place to spend literally hours at a time with nothing else to do but focus on writing, research, reading and coffee. Hot coffee. How do I know this?

Recently I was spoiled with the gift of two days at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre. In a very pretty setting in the  hills above Perth, they have three cabins perfectly set up for such a retreat. And the only distraction is the view. And perhaps the birdsong.

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I highly recommend this option. Hours to yourself. Nothing but words on a page. Someone deserves the Nobel Prize for the idea.

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Everything I write is s**t

I am currently going through the ‘everything I write is s**t’ phase, and that includes stories I have had published. I mean, what would they know?

This phase leads to the ‘why am I even bothering’ stage, hand in hand with the ‘I am wasting my time’ phase. Sound familiar?

What sets this in motion? Procrastination? Reading something awesome and profound by a fellow writer that we know we will never emulate? The phases of the moon? Or just a general dip in our biorhythms; a funk? If I had the answer I could probably write a book on it.

So what to do?

pexels-photo-47444For starters, get up and stop sulking. Next, move away from that computer and note book! Now, set yourself a task you know is achievable and /or short. Like doing the dishes, or going for a walk. Load the washing  machine or read a chapter of your favourite book. Weed the path. Whatever it is finish it. Achievement!

Now, tell yourself you can write. You are a writer. I. CAN’T. HEAR. YOU. That’s better. You are one of a big wonderful group of writers who go through this same phase over and over again.

Self doubt is a kicker. It sneaks up on  us when we least expect it and we let it in. And it wants to stay. Don’t let it. Kick it back. In fact, kick it out. It will come back, like the proverbial bad penny, but next time you will be prepared; you will shut the door in it’s face before it gets the whole foot in.

In a timely moment before I was ready to post this, I read Charlotte Wood’s article in The Australian, written after she was awarded the Stella Prize 2016 for her novel The Natural Way of Things. She writes of almost giving up because no one would want to read it. And why and how she didn’t give up. So glad she didn’t.

 

Kindling II – a valuable writer’s tool

I have said before that I am not a reviewer, but when I come across a work I enjoy I am compelled to share my thoughts. And I enjoyed Kindling II, an anthology produced and published by Writer’s Edit, very much.

From the blurb on the back of the book-

over 30 deeply personal and inspiring works of fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and industry advice from Australian and international literary talent.”

I could not say than any one of the stories was more powerful than another, but I will admit to being brought to tears reading Friedrich’s Goat by Rosalind Moran, and Dear Perfect Stranger by Karen Morrow caused me to emit an ‘Oh’ out loud as I finished it. And the poetry, well let me just say it left me in awe.

This is a volume of works I will return to, not only for the pleasure of reading it over, but for the valuable insider knowledge and tips, such as the piece by Kyla Bagnall – Unsolicited to Solicited, which covers topics from the value of literary agents and how to find one, competitions, pitching to networking.

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Other pages bookmarked are – The Waiting Game: Strategies for patience in the Publishing Industry by Alison Jean Lester (as in patience post-submission) and Writing a Perfect Query Letter by Benjamin Stevenson. (I loved the date analogy throughout this).

 

 

 

Kindling II is not only a valuable tool for writers but those who read for pleasure will not be disappointed. A perfect companion to Kindling I.

 

Impatient in a sped up world?

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Today’s technology presents the world at our fingertips. At the click of a mouse we are on the other side of the globe chatting with a friend we may or may not have met in person. We watch war in real time on a choice of devices wherever we are. The world has become an ‘instant’ place. Yet we seem impatient for more. More time and more convenience.

Do you wait at the microwave, impatiently watching the seconds count down, ready to grab at the contents at the first beep? We prerecord our TV favourites to fast-forward through the ads; once we would have used that time to make a cup of tea or use the facilities, even converse with our viewing companions.

bags-816948_1920We bank online, retail therapy takes the shape of looking at pictures on a screen and clicking the ‘add to cart’ button, because physically waiting in a queue has become even more of a chore, and who has the time? But if you must shop in person, now you can serve yourself saving both time and personal interaction.

In fact we can have our groceries delivered 7 days a week, and why not order those pre-prepared frozen meals while we are at it. Saves all that time in the kitchen, and we needn’t get out of our armchair for more than the 45 seconds it takes to put it in and take it out of the microwave. (oh but that microwave takes a whole 7-8 minutes out of our time to heat).

No time to go for a walk? Use the Wii and no one will know when you cheat and just wave your arms around from the sofa.

car-race-ferrari-racing-car-pirelli-50704The ‘Sunday Driver’ has gone the way of Sunday drives. He has been replaced by the road rager, and the wannabe race driver. And don’t mention those traffic lights. They must take at least 5 minutes to change. (They don’t, I have timed them.)

So what to do with the spare time we are in so much of a hurry to save? Well it seems we don’t have any spare time after all. We are time poor, busier than ever. So we devour the barrage of cooking shows and books in an endeavor to learn how to cook in half the time. And we buy all the latest gadgets to move through our tasks quicker; fan forced ovens, even faster microwaves (really?), and washing machines with a quick wash option, or the one that washes then dries so we don’t have to waste our precious time taking clothes from one machine to the other.

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I wonder what would happen if we turned off some of our technology and went out to smell the roses? Well, we might get stung by a bee, or get hayfever. Or we might just enjoy it; decide to make it a priority. We might just find a way to make time.

 

 

Written waiting for my frozen meal to heat while fast forwarding the ads.

A Guide To Berlin by Gail Jones – my thoughts

I am not a reviewer, but I like to share my thoughts when I read a good book. (I am proud to say I am currently reading some great books by Australian writers.)

A Guide To Berlin was written by one of my favourite Oz writers, Gail Jones. Don’t get me wrong, I am not biaised here; I don’t necessarily enjoy all the books written by my favourite authors.

From the beginning I was drawn into this book through excellent characterisation. I felt a real sense of them all. Cass, the reluctant Aussie; Marco, leader, real estate agent and writer, the tragic Gino, friends from Italy; Yukio and Mitsuko, writers from Japan; and the funny, high spirited Victor on sabbatical from the US.

They are connected by a shared interest in the work of Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian American  novelist. At least once a week they meet in empty apartments to share their thoughts and impression of his writing; but also they begin to share their own stories and deep memories.

It is during one of these meetings that one of them commits a violent act they did not see coming. How this impacts the rest of the group, and what happens next, makes for riveting reading.

I found this book compelling and as dark as I imagine a Berlin in winter to be. I can’t say the ending satisfied me, but any other ending would have disappointed, if that makes sense. It left me pondering and wanting more. Isn’t that the way a good book should end?

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Vladimir Nabokov

If Anthony Trollope can do it, or 117,000 words 15 mins at a time.

In my last post I told you that I was easily distracted from writing, in reality suffering from the chronic malaise of procrastination. Then how did I manage to write more than 117,000 words in eight months you ask? Glad you asked.

When I began my draft last year, I set myself a goal of 1000 words a day in order to achieve at least 80,000 words. This was also dependent on writing every day. What could possibly go wrong? Four months in and I was way behind. I was lucky to write 1000 words in 1 week at times.

Let me explain my procrastination problem. My overlying issue is that I do not put my writing before all else; before the housework, a good book, the dog, friends, family, social media, the new adult colouring fad… you get the picture. And then the guilt sets in and the self chastising and before you know it another day has gone by and no writing. (And probably no housework either, but I didn’t tell you that.)

This old dog is not good at learning new tricks, so the problem is not going to go away any time soon. What to do? By chance I came across a post about this very issue. (Surprise surprise, again with the procrastination.)

Apparently, prolific author, Anthony Trollope, managed to churn out so many books because he made himself write 250 words in 15 minute time slots for 3 hours every day. I am no Trollope and there is no way I would find 3 hours in my day. But this piqued my interest.

Anyway long story short, I said to myself, ‘Self, it is only 15 minutes, you don’t have to find an hour or more in one sitting.’ So I set the timer for 15 minutes and wrote. Or typed. For 15 minutes non stop. Of course it would need editing, it was a draft for goodness sake. BUT I always managed more than 250 words in each sitting. Sometimes I would leave it and set aside another 15 minutes later in the day, or I would immediately set the timer again and go for it.

Because I realised I would still not manage to write every day, this method was perfect and worked wonders. My self esteem, my sense of achievement, raised itself a notch as my goal of 1000 words was easily met, and often beaten, in up to four sessions on any given writing day.  And my goal of 80,000 words? See for yourself.

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If I can do it, anyone can. Enjoy and happy writing.