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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Larger than life Characters: A Lesson from Kirk, Spock and McCoy

With a rare weekend of peace and quiet to think and simply be, my thoughts have finally had a chance to turn back to the world of fiction and how to pump life into my stories. These thoughts inevitably turn me back to the one question I seem to puzzle over relentlessly: what is it that makes unforgettable characters and stories?

And these thoughts inevitably cause me to recall perhaps the strongest, most long-lasting characters of all time--the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock & McCoy from Star Trek the original series.  Granted, its a bit of a cheat in the sense that these characters were brought to life on screen and were not limited to the pages of a book.

Still, with Spock as my all time favorite character, and Kirk & McCoy running a close 2nd and 3rd, I asked myself:  What is it about these characters that makes me come back to them time and time again?  Here's the list that came to mind:

1.  Super smart
2.  Physically strong
3.  Loyal unto death
4.  Quick thinker--brings solutions
5.  Best friend
6.  Different from others around him
7.  The best at what he does
8.  Distinctive in look
9.  Analytical/logical
10. Feels deeply
11. Sense of humor

1.  Decisive/command abilities
2.  Best at what he does
3.  Feels deeply
4.  Fiercely loyal
5.  sense of humor

1.  Best at what he does
2.  Sense of humor
3.  Feels deeply
4.  Not afraid to challenge authority
5.  Fiercely loyal

What I thought was interesting was that while each of these three characters have traits that are unique to them, I identified four traits that they shared in common:

1.  Loyalty
2.  Best at what they do
3.  Feel deeply
4.  Sense of humor

So then I ask myself: What's my favorite novel of all time?  Zane Grey's "Forlorn River."  It's main character, known simply as Nevada, also displays all four of the above mentioned traits.

The Hardy Boys series of books that I read as a kid and young adult, also featured characters (my favorite was Frank) who exemplified these four traits.

I recently finished reading James Scott Bell and Tracie Peterson's historical fiction series based on turn of the  century female lawyer Kit Shannon. In this case, loyalty and being the best at what she does definitely applied, and to some degree depth of feeling as well, though I'm not so sure about sense of humor.

So the question is, does every standout character in fiction require all of these traits? Some combination?  Or maybe standout characters don't require these traits at all and it is simply a measure of what I tend to look for in characters personally.

What are the standout traits of your all time favorite fictional characters?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Writing Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Today I did something I haven't had a chance to do in a long time.  Get back to my novel.  The one that's been sitting in my electronic drawer for almost 4 years. 8-)

I have a trait which is both blessing and curse.  Perfectionism.  On the good side, it means I go the extra mile to be thorough.  On the bad side it means I will sit on a story for years tweaking until that elusive moment when it is finally "ready", whatever that means.

I also struggle with one particular piece of writing advice you will hear everybody and their brother repeat: "Write every day."

I have never been able to adhere to this philosophy.  I've tried to force myself to adhere to it.  I've even faked belief in it, convincing myself that there is no other way.  And in short spurts, a few months at a time every year or so, I *can* write every day.  But that is not the norm of my life.

There is not one of us who isn't extremely busy.  I lose nearly 12 hours a day either at work or trying to get to and from work.  I spend another 5+ hours a day on school as I try to shift career direction.  And on top of that I have to prepare healthy meals, run errands, attempt some small amount of exercise and small amount of sleep.  There is no room in that type of schedule for "write every day."

But I find great benefit in NOT writing every day.  My life has taken a significant shift. Being utterly desperate to change career gears, I'm switching from a lifetime business major to a science major, which requires every bit of focus and attention I can muster. When a semester of classes is in session, I can't think creatively of novels and other fiction.  I have to think of hard facts and science.  But when a semester is over, it is a relief to let my brain switch gears and go back to my novels to see what my brain has been cooking while I've been away.

I got in a nice 4.5 hour session on my novel today.  Came up with some new ideas to fix some weak spots in the novel and realized there are some parts I will have to re-write.  That kind of clarity can only come from time and distance.

While I absolutely do understand the value of "write every day", and while I realize for some people it is the method that works, a more apt mantra for me appears to be "write infrequently" or "write in spurts".  That's how I get things done.

Yes, it makes things take longer.  And no one will ever accuse me of being the most prolific writer on the planet.  But since most of life is complete and utter tedious drudgery, why would I want to use fiction writing to bludgeon myself?  I want to enjoy the process of creativity.  At my own pace.