Character Development Gone Wrong

In an earlier post I admitted to absolutely hating my ten-year-old main character for being the brattiest, most annoying kid I could have come up with. To be honest, though, when I started thinking out the storyline I purposefully made him that way. Since he was a huge brat, it would be easy to make him go through some character development, or so I thought. I wanted to teach him to care about people instead of bossing them around and getting them into danger. I wanted him to become less of a lazy brat and actually start doing things on his own. However, I completely failed in this. The kid started out as a horrible person, which was enough for me to just despise having to write about him. I couldn’t even get around to his character development, as I’m only three books in.
Character development is good for any story. It is great. It is perfect for fleshing out characters, as it allows the writer to make the character overcome both external and internal obstacles. However, these internal obstacles sadly can get too big to overcome. I believe that our personalities are set – we cannot change who we are at the core, we can only change what we do with it. Sure, our beliefs can be challenged – so can mine. Maybe our personalities aren’t set in stone, but that doesn’t mean that this kid can go through a 180 degree turnaround.
Now, there is a big question left: how does one make a character develop in a way that feels natural, without them needing to be horrible people from the start? We, as writers, cannot force our characters to become people they are not. However, they can learn how to be a little braver, a little nicer or a little less reckless. Sometimes they have to. Even the laziest person would want to save their loved ones, right? Let them have to fight their internal battles to overcome the external ones.

The Voice

No, this is not a post about that horrible yet way too popular talent show which I don’t want to hear a thing about. Instead it’s about voices. Not voices in the literal sense, the ones that you can hear with your ears, but the ones that you can only hear in your mind. I’m talking about character voices.
In order to be believable, every book character or actual narrator needs their own personal voice. This doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as not letting a not-so-smart character use difficult words, as simple as letting a popular character speak in popular language and as simple as giving a character a catch phrase. Things like these are what makes a character come to life. This is even more important when writing in a first-person point of view, where one voices completely dominates the entire story. That voice needs to be strong, distinct and preferably relatable or interesting in another way. The kid in Emma Donoghue’s “Room” is a great example of this, as he is the story’s narrator and it clearly shows through that he is a little child who really doesn’t understand the world. I personally loved that novel, especially because it was so dark yet cute at the same time.
Another way of giving a character a voice is by actually writing out what they say phonetically, which might work if they have an accent or a speech impedement – but please do not overdo this, as I’m one of those people who wants to be able to understand what is being said without having to read it out loud/three times. Accents can give a character colour, although they come with some other dangers, as they might come across as racist or belittling towards those from a certain area or background. Also, the accent/dialect/whatever is spoken in my area is the most annoying kind of speech I know and I really wouldn’t want to see it in a book.
Character voices can make or break a novel. They can give a story a certain freshness if the protagonist or narrator is someone with a strong personality or wit, although this also goes the other way around. If the character is dull, their voice will reflect that – and a dull voice does not make for an interesting read.
Who is your favourite voice?

Unintentional Plagiarism

I had never seen the movie E.T. when I started working on my manuscript of which the working title was “The Moon Girl”. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was about other than the friendship between a boy and an alien. It was something I never thought about until after I had already finished the manuscript. That was when I realised something horrible: my story, about an alien princess who had been send to Earth to retrieve her space ships power device, was eerily alike with Spielberg’s E.T. Of course there were differences. The most important was that my alien girl was a lot less innocent than the other extraterrestial being. In the end, she even admitted to having contemplated destroying the entire Earth. As far as I could tell from the summary, E.T. never came close to such ideas. Also, there was nothing cute about my alien girl with her big black eyes. She strongly disliked the main character, who in turn strongly disliked her – even though she only disliked him because of how horribly he treated her. If this is plagiarism, then it was completely unintentional. E.T. came out thirteen years before I was born. I wasn’t influenced by it. However, now I’m starting to feel bad. I should have known.
Another case of possible unintentional plagiarism can be found in the first manuscript in my series. I am not sure if a character’s looks can be plagiarised, though. Otherwise, the Face Stealer and Slenderman could very well be twins. Again, I didn’t intend to do this. All I was trying to do was create a faceless being with some human properties in order to make it fit in with the world. Of course I could have come up with many different kinds of faceless creatures, but a shadowy figure would stand out in a crowd. I couldn’t use that. Instead, I chose to give my demon the form of a tall, bald man with pale skin and no face (until it started stealing them). That is where the similarities ended. This creature didn’t kill or actually harm anyone. All it wanted was to find its perfect face. In the process, though, it swapped the faces of almost everyone in town. It was meant to be funny with just a little bit of scary. It wasn’t Slenderman, yet again I feel like I horribly wronged someone without even thinking about it.
Now I’m wondering if unintentional plagiarism even exists. I know you have to do something horribly wrong in order to be persecuted for it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. Being unintentionally unoriginal is not something that should happen to a writer – yet it happens to all of us, as nothing is ever really original. All stories have already been told. All kinds of characters have already been made. We just have to decide how to use them in order to make them interesting again.

It’s “Just” A Game

I do not claim to be a hard-core gamer, as that’d simply be untrue. However, I can appreciate a nice game now and for. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Age and its sequels, just like I indulged in Guild Wars 2 (about 800 hours over the course of a year and a half is not that much, though). Many people love games, as they allow them to play out a story and feel like they actually can influence what happens – others use these games to vent, rage and unleash the stress of daily life. To be honest, I do not just play fantasy games. I also adored the The Sims series, strangely for reasons close to the ones I mentioned before. I like storytelling.
One could claim that a game is just that: a game. They think video games are about nothing but aggression and killing virtual opponents. Well, while some games are like that, just as many are not. Shooters are not the only genre in the virtual world. Some games tell actual in-depth stories in the same way a book would tell them. The only difference in that case is that the player is involved.
What I’d like to say is that I think that games have become a valuable means of storytelling. While they are different from books and movies, it doesn’t mean that they are worth any less. They are a new medium – one that may be more compelling to its audience than any other one. In games like Dragon Age, the player can actually influence the outcome of the story by making choices, which is something not often seen in books – most likely never in movies. I know that books like that are out there, but they seem to be for kids only. Don’t get me wrong, I am the kind of person who loves children’s books, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. Gaming has become a hype because it is so varied. There is something out there for everyone. The fact that some of these stories allow us to change their outcome often makes them more interesting, at least to me. Just like children, adults like this ability. They like feeling powerful. Not all of us want to read about a dumb hero wandering into a deserted building, only to find out it’s a trap and get killed. We want to fight back. We want to change his fate. That is the power of games.
As the world keeps advancing, new mediums of storytelling become available. I believe we should use them to their fullest instead of bashing them. “Just” games? I don’t think so.

The Planner’s Flaw

Maybe I am overly perfectionist when it comes down to planning absolutely anything. For those who were wondering how I could write or post this while I am in Belgium without access the Internet; I can’t. In reality, I wrote this post a week before and requested WordPress to upload it for me at a certain date. I usually want everything to be perfect. My blog posts should be spread out evenly, I should write a story chapter a day, every task should be done before dinner… The list goes on and on. It might seem nice to be a planner, as you always know what you are supposed to do. However, there are many drawbacks to planning almost obssesively.

The first drawback to my excessive planning is that, once it does not go according to plan, I lose all will to continue as I regard it as failing. This is hard, especially during the holidays and vacations. I had been planning to finish the third book in my series when I went to Austria. The laptop failed and did not save the one chapter I had written… and I immediately could not do it anymore. I haven’t written a thing ever since. And just when I felt the desire to start again, the date on which I’d have to leave again was approaching. It all felt pointless. If I don’t manage to finish within the time range I’ve given myself, I feel like giving up.

The second drawback is that this amount of planning stresses me out more than it should. Planning is supposed to allow you to rest when you deserve to, right? I personally cannot feel rested when I know there is so much left to be done. At the moment, I am stuck with a terrible headache, just because I am stressing out. I actually had to leave my job early, just because this spot at the top of my skull was throbbing. As far as I know, that is a bad sign. It is not like I do that much in my free time, but just the feeling of never being actually free is enough to cause this.

Thirdly, certain things probably should not be forced, like writing. While I said before that it is a perfectly fine way of writing to just sit down and start, it does not always work. As it turned out for me, I cannot do that without stressing over it. What am I supposed to write today? What if I don’t like it and it is just pointless? What if I never finish it? I usually deal with deadlines fine, but not in this case. You cannot always force the creativity.

Sometimes the planner just needs a rest. No planning, no doing anything. Of course, that isn’t always possible. However, we should try not to overdo it. Not everything has to happen right the day we decide it has to. Not everything is as important. Pick your battles or you’ll end up sitting on the couch, almost unable to do a thing.

Why Having a Writers’ Mind Improves Your Life

Having an active life outside of writing stories definitely stimulates the creative mind, but the opposite is true as well; having a creative mind improves the quality of daily life for sure. It may be because I am still a kid at heart – from the American point of view, I still am a (college) kid, so this may be a strange thing to say. When I started going to the gym for the first time in my life a few days ago, I had been dreading the moment for ages. However, when I arrived it turned out not to be bad at all. I decided to just go for a run on the treadmill, as the other devices seemed a little threatening for someone without training. As soon as I got up there and started running, my mind went wild. Why was I running? Was I fleeing from someone or something? Who or what was it? Ignoring the fact that I actually did not move from my spot at all, it was a great method for keeping my mind busy while my body started to ache. I had to keep going, no matter what, or the enemy was going to catch up with me. I hope I didn’t say anything strange or made any weird noises, which I sometimes do when in thought, but at least my imagination made this physical torture a lot more bearable. I’ll go back there as soon as possible.

It may be a little geeky, but I doubt I am much of an ordinary person. I know everyone likes to claim that about themselves, but seeing the other people’s faces around there allowed me to deduce that most of them were not having any fun at all. I guess that is the beauty of the writers’ mind; it allows us to turn an ordinary day into something amazing, even when nothing at all happens.