Tuesday, 17 March 2009

In which writers debate writing over brunch (part 2)

Now for a wrap up of the rest of our brunch meeting, which again had us discussing interesting topics. Unfortunately, it's been a few days and my memory is a little faded . . .

Savagely interesting characters
This was raised by P, who had the epiphany recently that all his characters in the past had been if not boring, then a little 'normal'. The trick to make a book truly memorable is to have what he termed 'savagely interesting characters'. Well, yes, I'd have to agree. No-one wants to read about dull people. But what makes a savagely interesting character? There could be a temptation to go completely over the top and have a novel full of wackos. This is of course not what we're talking about. The best characters to read about are those a reader can completely relate to, and which have such a combination of faults, ideals, habits, views that makes us want to probe deeper and get to know them. P also used the term "ruined characters", which is only one type of interesting character - although through the course of a good story, most characters you care about will usually be ruined in some way. But should you start with a ruined character? Definitely many novels do, and the story is about them overcoming it.

Whenever I think about characters I can't help but rave about Robin Hobbs' Liveship Traders (fantasy) series, because her characters in that are brilliant. There are about seven POV characters, and each one is savagely interesting, and has a poignant story.

Prologues
There's definitely a stigma about prologues in writing circles, but, despite this, fantasy novels continue to be published with prologues and the public don't seem to mind. For myself, I don't much like a prologue that blahs about backstory, just to get a reader into the world. I usually find these boring as hell. Even prologues that depict an incident from the story's past can be annoying. The trick, I think, if you must have one, is to keep it short short short. That way you don't feel as though you're wading through crap in order to reach the start of the story.

Subtlety
Yes, well this came up I think in response to my rant about MR (see here). In a lot of mass market fiction there is no room for subtlety -- the audience supposedly have short attention spans and want to be hammered over the head with fur-lined hoods. But is this really true? I guess all one can do as a writer is write what feels right to you and assume that you will find your audience -- or that it will find you. I know that I am not MR's audience, and I don't think I will ever read or attempt one of his books again. My preference is for books that imply and leave clues and you find your brain scrambling to put the pieces together -- whether it's to assemble the world, or the situation, or the details of a mystery. This is how I try to write, although maybe I haven't quite nailed it yet. Still working on it! Either I'm too subtle, and nobody picks it up, or I err in the other direction.

Anyway -- going to leave the brunch wrap there. Until next month!

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