Writing Class Lesson 1: The Characters World
Out first lesson in writing is about the world your character inhabits. Think of some of your favorite books, stories or movies. Where were these stories set, what era did they take place? What was the prevailing mindset or social mood? I have recently started a new novel called “A Hand For Hire” that is set in the early Greek era. It is important for my story as many of the magical elements and plot twists are based upon Greek mythology.
But not only must we think of the physical world our characters inhabit, we must also think of the psychological. A park filled with blossoming flowers, a small gentle river, some ducks and a big tree might seem beautiful to most. But to a woman who just lost her entire family in a car accident this might not be such a beautiful place to her. It might remind her of her family and make her feel the pain again, or she might have a very real fear of flowers that might send her into a rage and make her eat all the ducks raw!
Ok I took it too far but we must realize that stories happen in a “real” world and in an internal “psychological” world. When you can explain to me what that park looks like in the mood and mindset of the woman who lost her family then you have a voice, a viewpoint.
We will talk about point of view in another lesson but today I want you to remember that we want to not only get to know characters through dialogue with other characters but also through their own internal thoughts and internal compass. If you are writing a novel you have a chance to get deep and into the characters own mind, but be careful if the mind is not solid or cohesive your readers will figure it out and not engage with your novel. If you are making a movie remember that your audience can only see his mood or psychological world through how the character reacts to the world around him. In a movie we won’t hear the sad lady think about how flowers represent death to her, but when someone gives her a flower and she burns it we can get an idea of her thought process, we can see into her inner world by what she does to the outer world.
Sure you can use VOICE OVER to make all your characters thoughts heard in a film but be warned that in films people tend to judge the weight of the voice overs more harshly. If a character is thinking aloud all the time then the audience might loose interest because they are being told what to feel, not thinking and feeling themselves. It is like buying a new Ferrari but then it drives itself, not the point really.
Important to remember is that a story is supposed to show a characters growth from one point to another. The way your character sees the world around him should change as he does. In many amazing movies the physical environment actually changes, like in James Cameron’s movie AVATAR. Or in many Tim Burton films like “Beetlejuice” the house actually changes after the lead characters become ghosts. But most real world stories don’t go through as extreme changes as these films do, rather the character starts noticing more detail or starts seeing ordinary things in new and extraordinary ways. This looking at things through new eyes is expressed well in “The Ghost of Christmas past” or “Back To The Future” by Robert Zamechis. The lead character returns after meeting his adolescent mother and father and has a new appreciation for them and his life. Marty changed, he became closer to his family and his life. His ordinary world remained the same, mostly, but the way he experienced it changed.
So when you start a story make sure you have a viable world, be it in space, on mars or in Victorian England. Make sure your character has a point of view, a psychological disposition, that makes him unique. Then make sure as the character goes through his adventure he slowly develops until in the end he can see the old world in a new way or at least how to fix old problems with new actions.
Don’t get stuck in research though, it is procrastination. Give yourself 1/10 of time for research. If you write 10 hours a week one hour is allowed for research. You don’t have to be an expert, and if you get writers block because you don’t know the world your character is in don’t let it stop your writing. But on some music and start writing. Get creative and keep going. As you learn more you can fill in the blanks, or change it later. I find that basing loosely on a period is better, a kind of alternative reality. In the end make sure the world behaves in a constant natural way, even if natural means giant big blue birds poo on your lawn everyday. But the giant blue birds can’t suddenly start planting crops on your land for you if they have never done so before, or maybe they can if it is some crazy curse, but you get my point.
Get those fingers typing and those pens writing. I’m currently reading “Robin Hobb’s” “Liveship Series”. I have read 9 of her other books and love them all. Her world are ancient but have a alternative reality feel. There is magic, dragons and talking ships but it all feels real.
So remember a good writer is a good reader. And please go like my Facebook page!!!