Monday, April 20, 2009

There's a Reason It's Hard to Change Your Name

For me, naming characters is a big deal. Maybe not as big of a deal as naming my kids, but it really can help or hinder my writing process. The perfect name is key for me to capture the true essence of a character. And I just know - KNOW - when I haven't quite gotten it right. It's a nag in the back of my brain that just won't be quiet no matter how hard I try to ignore it.

But there is nothing worse than going forward and doing a lot of work (as in, a ton!) and then realizing that you got the name of a key character wrong. You thought you'd finally settled on something. It worked okay. Didn't love it, but you could live with it.

And then you hear the right name. The One. The name that has just that certain je ne sais quoi that screams "This is who he is!" It's perfect. So perfect that now the old name will. not. work. At all. It sucks. Why did you ever think it was acceptable?

Which, for me, is tragic. Because now I have to go back through every piece of work I've done and change the name. Sure, I could do the old Find/Replace dance. But I'm the type of writer who does all kinds of planning in Word documents and on spreadsheets and an entire Curio project board. I'm talking some hard core hunting in not only story text but in all of the backup documentation I rely on to keep me sane.

God help me if the new name renders another character's name problematic. Which...gads, I think I'm facing. I have a headache.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Too Good To Be True Bad Boy

It's a good bit of writer's advice to give your heroes and heroines flaws. They can't be too perfect or everyone will hate them, and for good reason. I've read many-a-story wherein the heroine is too good to be true. And these are books I never reread.

Giving a hero flaws is one thing. But what do you do when you need to create an anti-hero? A person who is, on first meeting, someone you really don't like all that much? Someone who's behaviour you find offensive or wrong or annoying, but through the course of the story, you realize is actually a pretty cool person who deserves the hero designation?

What kind of flaws can you give this person that are enough to evoke that initial negative response but that aren't so bad that he or she is irredeemable?

This is where I'm at right now.

I have a hero who is not necessarily a good guy upon initial meeting. He's uncommunicative and hardened and a petty criminal. He puts people off, both intentionally and without trying. He's a jerk to the heroine and to those who would try to befriend him. Basically, he's a Bad Boy with an attitude.

But as the story progresses, you learn that he's actually quite noble. When the chips are down, he's there even though he's vowed all along that he wouldn't be there. And the heroine inspires in him a love that he never knew he was capable of feeling. He's a true hero with a heart of gold, albeit one with a very rusty exterior.

Except, I have no idea how to portray the bad boy side of him because whenever I think of an action I find anti-heroic, I can't bear to have him perform it. When I think of things that make someone not a hero, I think of liars and cheaters and people only out for themselves. I think of kicking puppies and sleazy pick up lines, and anyone who drinks and drives. I think of people who throw their cigarette butts out the car window, line jumpers, and scam artists who would take advantage of those who can't defend themselves. I think of bullies and mean girls and corrupt politicians. Stuff that makes me disgusted, stuff that if I learned a real person did, would probably put me off him or her forever despite any positive qualities he/she might have.

I don't want my guy to do any of these things. I honestly don't even know that he would. Every single time I come up with an un-heroic act, I immediately shake my head and think "he would never do that!" My guy is refusing to be bad. He's refusing to act the way he needs to act to be the character he is.

This is all so weird because I know this guy. I know that he's hard and uncommunicative and stand-offish. He hates whiners and has a mean, quick temper. He doesn't take lip and he resists authority on principle. He chases girls strictly for the pleasure he can get, doesn't think that unconditional love exists, and has no interest in helping someone just because he can.

And I have no idea how to show any of this. I'm at a complete loss.

He does smoke. And he would toss his cigarette butt out the window without thinking twice.

Oooo. He's eeevil!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Stage Director In a Previous Life

I must have been a stage director in a previous life.

My characters spend more time turning around, going to or from one spot to the next, and just generally moving through the scene. And I'm not talking cool action moving. I'm talking ho hum, who cares moving.

She went to the sink and started washing dishes.

He turned around and picked up the socket wrench.

They came in from the living room and sat down for dinner.

Clearly, I need to work on setting. That's the only thing I can think of that explains why I seem to have a constant need to position my characters in a scene like they're poseable action figures.

I'll catch it all in the revise. Because I never seem to notice it so much as when I'm rereading.