Thursday, November 29, 2007

Plunder Their Depths

Characters drive our stories. Readers will stop reading if they don’t like who they read about. Plot can take you so far but many an amazingly plotted story has fallen flat when the characters can’t shoulder it.

We’ve been talking about movies some this week. Just think of a movie that had a decent plot, but was only a so-so movie or plain outright stunk because either the characters had no depth or the actor(s) didn’t portray the character’s depth. Did anyone see The Lake House? Kind of an interesting premise, if you ignore the chronological difficulties and suspend belief a bit, but wow… Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves just stank those characters right up, worse than a bunch of smelly pirates away at sea too long with nothing but rum for bathing.

Now, I know that some of the responsibilities in movies fall on the shoulders of directors/producers etc. However, let’s keep this simple for my analogy. (Hey, I’m a pirate, what I say goes. Do I hear mutiny? Simmer down, wenches.)

Is our job as writer any different than the job of an actor? We have a person (or people technically) in mind that we have to express and if we don’t do our job correctly, the reader won’t really “know” that person. Or worse, they won’t care about them, just like we don’t care about movies with poorly acted characters.

After yesterday’s writing exercise and how much fun we had with it, I thought we could continue to stretch our writing muscles again today.

Think about a character you’re currently writing. Then answer these questions about them.
1. How does your character take their coffee? Why?
2. Name one smell that your character can't stand and why?
3. What is one object your character would never part with and why?
4. What is your character’s greatest fear? Explain.

Here’s my example….
1. Cory, my heroine, would take her coffee with no cream but a lot of sugar. She’s no nonsense, but secretly sweet.
2. Smell: Cory hates the smell of lavender. She thinks it’s a strong, fussy smelling flower.
3. Cory would never part with her manuscripts. She’s translating Pindar’s Odes from Greek.
4. Cory’s greatest fear is that love really is the most important thing in a marriage. Because if that is true, in order to be happy she will need to turn over a bit of control of her life to someone else.

Dig in! If you’re not a writer, or you don’t have the time today, or you just aren’t ready to tackle your characters’ idiosyncrasies yet, let’s talk about characters in books or movies that just fell flat and therefore made the whole experience painful. Why do you think they stunk so badly?


Lissa said...

Wow Marnee you and Sin are making us work this week!

I have a little time this morning so I'll give this a shot.

My heroine's name is Lacy.

1. Lacy hates coffee, but she's a Mountain Dew freak.

2. She hates the smell of sandlewood because it reminds her of a guy that dumped her in college.

3.She would never part with the locket she wears. It belonged to her grandmother, and inside is a picture of her grandfather. Lacy dreams of having a lasting love lke they shared.

4.Lacy is afraid of emotional vulnerability. She has been hurt in the past, and doesn't want to let down the wall she has built around her heart.

The last book I read that I was disapointed in the characters was Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich. My favorite hero~ Ranger was practically castrated by Evanovich in this book. He was completly out of character from previous books. Ranger is a stoic, more actions than words kind of guy. In this book he was a chatty Cathy. He also backed away physically from Stephanie who is the heroine. He usually pressures her sexually, and that was completly absent in this book. And I can't even begin to say how bad the plot was.

Maggie Robinson said...

1. How does your character take their coffee? Eden drinks tea. She's English and it's 1818.
2. Name one smell that your character can't stand and why? Eden doesn't like the smell of hemp rope. She's been tied up too often.
3. What is one object your character would never part with and why? Eden has a cat the hero gave her. It may be disreputable and damaged, just like she is, but she loves it.
4. What is your character’s greatest fear? Explain. Being under the control of another person---again.

Thanks. I needed this. I was too late yesterday to play and I need somebody to jog me back into my story.

terrio said...

1. How does your character take their coffee? Why?
Celi only drinks coffee with some fancy creamer in it. It’s too bitter otherwise. Irish Cream is her favorite but she’ll do Hazelnut or one of those special holiday blends they have. Celi is simple on the outside but she likes a zing underneath.
2. Name one smell that your character can't stand and why?
Celi can’t stand the smell of Old Spice because it reminds her of her father. He walked when she was four and all her memories of good times with him are triggered by the smell of Old Spice.
3. What is one object your character would never part with and why?
Celi would never part with the picture she keeps of her and her parents when she was three. She tells herself she keeps it to remember how things can be torn apart but that’s not really the reason.
4. What is your character’s greatest fear? Explain.
Celi is afraid she’s right. She would never say it out loud but she really believes she’s not lovable enough. Not good enough. She rants that all men leave but what she really means is all men leave her. She doesn’t want to be right but the fear of it keeps her from letting any one in.

This was a great exercise, Marnee. I had to think about those and for one of them I answered it then Celi said, "That's not right." I hadn't written on her story for so long who knew she was paying attention? LOL!

terrio said...

And I forgot to mention I must be the only person who like The Lake House. LOL! And I'm not a huge Keanu fan so that's saying something for me.

But that chronological thing did get crazy. I blame that on the editor/director.

Sin said...

Marnee! I'm loving this blog.

I'm working on this. I'm busy in the office this morning so I thought I'd tell you what a great job you did and I'll be back in a little while to do my excerise.

*running off before I can be accused of procrastinating... once again*

Sin said...

And I just bought The Lake House, Terr. I got it for 2.99 on Black Friday. I'm going to watch it. I've heard all kinds of things about it.

MsHellion said...

1. Adam drinks his black. He’s a man’s man with simple needs and wants. No frills. Cappuccinos are for girly men.
2. Oxen behinds. Because he farmed for over 50 years—and you’d hate the smell of them too if you had to follow them every day to eek out a living. He’s not fond of strawberry scented shampoo either. It doesn’t smell like strawberries—and it certainly doesn’t taste like it either.
3. A lock of hair. And he’s not going to tell you guys why because it’s none of your business.
4. It’s a two parter. Side A: having to live with Eve in the Garden of Eden (alone) for eternity (it’s such a long time); Side B: living without Eve, period. Can live with her and can’t shoot her.

MsHellion said...

I'm Lacy!

MsHellion said...

I was not a big Lake House fan. But I blame Keanu. *LOL* But Marnee's right. *LOL* They did rather stink up a good premise!

Lissa said...

I knew I liked you for some reason Hellion.

terrio said...

*goes back to read Lissa's post*

OMG, you are. Weird.

I'm waiting for Sin to come back. I want to learn more about Ash. That's her dude's name isn't it? The hotness?

Marnee Jo said...

I am so sorry I'm late. I had to run a couple errands this morning.

Lissa - Lacy sounds great! I love the locket bit. :) And I think I really need to read about Ranger. I've been hearing such good things.

Maggie- I'm glad we could play today. And Eden sounds provocative. I love Regencies (that's what I write too) and I'd love to see how she gets her HEA.

Ter- Celi sounds tortured and wonderful. I'm glad we woke her up! :)

Hellion - I'm with Adam. Strawberry shampoo is weird. I don't like the fruit smells. They don't translate well to hair smells, I think.

And I'm so sorry if I insulted anyone about Lake House. I just was disappointed when I watched it. I thought it sounded like a neat premise and I usually love both the actors. They just let me down on that one....

Sin said...

I didn't plan on writing Ash. But I can see I'm gonna need to. Introduction to Ash: Part One.

I'm sitting in the back of the cafe, waiting on Ash to arrive. Ash is a man I'd prefer to meet in the light of day, even in a crowded place, preferably. He's a bit of a loose cannon. I'd trust him in a National crisis but with my body and any woman between the ages of 18-50 no way.

He walks in and the chatter of the cafe hushes to a few quiet whispers. He's always been like that, larger than life. But it's his eyes that always get me. Ash is bad news. And he knows it.

He finds me, giving me just the briefest of acknowledgements before grabbing a cute little blond waitress by the waist and talking her into selling her soul to the devil. I watch as she flashes him her sultriest look- pouting lips, fluttering black eyeslashes- and he barely notices her as she hands him his coffee. Ash joins me at the table and it doesn't take us long to get down to business.

*me* How does your character take their coffee? Why?

Ash smiles, glancing over at the cute blond, "I take it black. If you walk over here with anything other than black coffee, you're not going to make me happy. And you don't want to do that to yourself."

A rude noise escapes from the back of my throat and Ash's grin only gets wider. Time to break that smile, as heartbreaking as it can be. "Name one smell that your character can't stand and why?"

He gives me a look, his eyes darkening and inwardly I flinch. I knew better than to ask and remind him, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

"Amber and vanilla," he says quietly. The weight of his eyes on me suddenly makes my mouth like the sahara. I picked my saucer up and spilled the amber liquid all over the table. Ash crosses his arms over his chest as I'm cleaning up the mess I made. "You're pushing your luck, Sin. I'm doing this interview because you asked, not because I want to."

It was my turn to give him the look. "Don't gimme that crap. You don't do anything you don't wanna do. I know you, Ash. Better than you know yourself."

We sat in silence, the cafe noise around us disappearing as we launched into the staredown of the century. Except I never win these, Ash can sit stone still for hours; whereas he could make you feel like you had ants in your pants after five seconds of his silence.

I clear my throat. "What is one object your character would never part with and why?"

"Objects don't hold my interest."

I knew what was unsaid. There was only one person who could hold his interest and with the way he'd acted toward her lately, he'd never have her.

I needed to get this interview over with before Ash put me on his hit list. "What is your character’s greatest fear? Explain."

A sudden burst of laughter startled me and I bumped my legs against the table top, spilling more of my tea.

"You're kidding, right?" He licked his lips and leaned forward, causing me to lean back. "There's nothing to fear but fear itself, Sin. You're not afraid are you?"

I blinked once. Then a second time and stood from the table. "I think we're done now, Ash."

His grin was purely preditory, "It was a pleasure as always Sin."

My face went beet red, "You are such an ass, Ashton." I made haste out of the cafe, only pausing to watch him once I made it outside and to the corner of the glass. I'd never know what made him tick if I just spoke with him but there was just something about him when I was sitting in front of him that made me squirm in my seat. I studied him for a moment longer and took off. I had the next scene to write.

Marnee Jo said...

I was thinking, the only person who came up with a story with bad characters was Lissa (way to go!) but maybe we can't think of those because they don't make an impression.

Can anyone think of characters that really worked? Why?

Like, I love the characters in English Patient. (PS, an AMAZING BOOK). But, they were so flawed, but I loved them anyway.

Anyone else?

MsHellion said...

Lissa's still holding a grudge about LMT. Who can blame her? I love to hang out with Sin and get her wound up about it, then follow it with a round of why Z is now pussy-whipped. *LOL*

I think the last book I read (or almost read) where I didn't believe the happy ending was Scandal in Spring. We had all those hints and intrigues that it would be Cam and Daisy--and suddenly, out of nowhere, with no warning, nothing...some other goober gets her. I don't like being promised a Ford Explorer, then being given a crappy Pinto instead.

Lissa said...

Sin~ I love Ash- the man you love to hate. Great job:)

terrio said...

*blinking in awe*

How does she do that?

I put down a book a little over a month ago I guess because I couldn't take it anymore. The hero had real potential but the heroine was annoying as hell and there was almost no tension between the two. When they finally got together (around page 265!) I didn't believe it and then the heroine reacted to it in a way that made me want to kick her ass.

Gah! I hate when I invest that much reading just to throw the dang thing against the wall.

Sin said...

I totally agree with Lis about LMT. The characters were totally different than they had been for the prior 12 books. It was like reading a whole new series and a bad one at that. Pissed me off really.

I really need to sit down and think about something I didn't like about the characters or plot line from either a movie or book. Hm. I read often enough, you think this wouldn't be a problem.

Sin said...

OMG! Z! And V!! How the hell did I forget that ! I must have blanked it out of my mind! OMG. Nothing pisses me off more than a whupped vampire. Especially when he was the ultimate badass beforehand.

MsHellion said...

Goldie Hawn is over 50--would you trust him with her?

Sin said...

No. Oh hell no! I thought about saying 70 but then I thought better of it. Ash might strangle me.

Not Goldie Hawn
Not Helen Murren(?)
And not Jane Seymour.

Sin said...

And thank you guys for your awesome comments. I love Ash. He's just not fond of me unless he's teasing me. Bastard.

MsHellion said...

Not fond of talking unless it's to tease me. *tapping chin* Gee, now WHO does this remind me of? Terri, any ideas who Ash might be played from?

terrio said...

Like I said, y'all need more fiction and less reality in your characters. LOL!

No wonder y'all need so much rum...

irisheyes said...

Late again, but I think I'm gonna try this one...

1. How does your character take their coffee? Kate doesn’t drink coffee. She only drinks water and an occasional white wine.
2. Name one smell that your character can't stand and why? Licorice because it reminds her of her childhood – not a happy time. The nuns that taught at her school smelled like licorice.
3. What is one object your character would never part with and why? Her worn copy of Jane Eyre. It inspires her and helps give her hope. If Jane can have a HEA maybe she can.
4. What is your character’s greatest fear? Explain. Being alone or worse being in a relationship and still being alone just like her mother!

Angela said...

Hello everyone! You may know me as angel251977 on BB just thought I'd let you know that! Anywho, here's my most recent character on my mind...
1. His name is Lorenzo, nicknamed, Lucky. And, he doesn't drink much coffee, he prefers beer instead.
2. He hates new car smell, because he's rather have a gently used pickup truck instead.
3. The one thing, or should I say person that Lucky would never give up, is his best friend, Kendall, she's his rock and a soft place to fall.
4.His greatest fear,not being able to carry on the task of taking care of his family's ranch. Therefore, not keeping his father's approval.

terrio said...

Hey there, Angela. Thanks for stopping in and welcome aboard. This Lucky sounds rather interesting. He's tall, dark and handsome isn't he? Dang, those ones get me everytime....