I’m always fascinated by the engineering of how modern technologies are designed. Thanks to sites like youtube.com, we have people showing us the secrets on video. Today and engineer disassembles one of those cheap inkjet printers so we can see how they work. Very little goes into them which is how they make them so affordable.
Excerpted from The Secrets of Writing
Aside from the choices a character makes, and their contradictions, we have a third technique for defining them. I call it Relational Characterization.
Characters are also defined by the people they associate with. Who they choose as friends and lovers, who they make their enemies, can tell you a lot about a person. But more importantly, the manner in which people inter-relate defines their relationships with each other and reveals some of their sides.
We all react to different people in a different way. Some people turn us on. Some annoy us. Some make us mad. Some make us crazy. Some make us laugh. But not all the time. You may love your mom, but she may also drive you nuts. You may hate your boss, but you had a great time with him at the company picnic. There is a standard mode we have when dealing with certain people and there are other modes depending on our mood, the nature of the conversation, and the situation.
When you ask a friend for a loan, you probably use a different manner than when you’re talking to him about a movie or asking him what you want to do for the evening. When using relational characterization it’s important to stay aware of the context.
This is something we learn as children. We learn how to use different voices to get responses from our parents. We try different things to see what works, We continue this into adulthood. We use a different voice or inflection on people depending on the situation. We might put on our sexy voice for our lover, a high-pitched cutesy voice for our pet or children. We may use a tense, guarded voice for people we don’t trust. And this defines not only our relationships with those people, but the way we feel about them.
The way certain people effect us can create impulsive emotional responses that we later regret. If someone hurt our feelings in the past, something may remind us of that in a conversation and all of a sudden we start saying mean things. These kind of responses are useful to be aware of. Such reactions can clue the Audience to important backstory elements that are revealed later.
Like I said, choice is a powerful indicator. In most cases we choose who we love and hate. And the reasons for this can speak volumes.
When you have a character talk to another character, you really need to understand the relationship they have and how it can reveal to the Audience sides of that character we don’t usually get to see. It helps make that character seem more real and rounded out.
REMEMBER: A character is defined by their contradictions, choices, and relationships.
In addition to the above, there’s a little technique you can use called Symbolic Characterization. This is mainly reserved for supporting characters. But it can be used for the Hero or the Villain, if done carefully.
Symbolic characterization is used when characters appearance and lifestyles are metaphors to enhance the premise, to set mood, or establish a theme. This is usually done through the use of archetypes in archetypal settings.
Comics love to use symbolic characterization because it’s a medium of extremes. It started out showing people as exaggerated caricatures and it never quite lost that tendency.
Batman is a symbolic character. He dresses like a bat, lives (for all intents and purposes) in a cave, and only comes out at night. The Human Torch is a hot headed young man who turns into a living firebrand. Shakespeare made Richard III a ugly hunchbacked character, despite the fact that he was nothing of the kind in real life. He’s visually symbolic of his persona.
But, it’s dangerous to do this sort of thing without first making sure your character is well rounded. Otherwise they can become cartoony and unbelievable.
This hasn’t stopped a lot of comic book writers from creating characters who looked like their personas. They are exactly what the seem. If you do this, don’t expect too many readers to be impressed. It’s been done to death.
You can also use symbolic characterization in contrast to the premise. Or to enhance some theme you’re playing with in the story. There are a lot of ways to use it beyond the obvious.
REMEMBER: Characters need to be believable, even if they look strange.
I needed to move to a faster server since the old one was way too slow for my tastes. I din’t feel like paying more in hosting fees until the traffic was there to support it, so here we are. You should find this site a lot more responsive.
There will be an issue with images on some of the older articles but I hope to get that fixed over the weekend. Thehud.com is now pointing to this site and will so from now on.
Quentin Tarantino’s latest film has the unenviable task of sharing the theaters with the new Star Wars flick, except for the Cinerama dome in L.A. where Disney had it booted in favor of its film. But I’m sure it will do fine. While not his best film, it’s still one of the best of the year. Tarantino returns to his roots making a small scale indy film with only two basic locations. In a way it’s even smaller scale that his first film Reservoir Dogs, which it also has a lot of similarities to. But unlike that film, this is more political, dealing once again with race as one of its themes. Tarantino seems to have become a social justice warrior in his middle age, but he is also a good writer and he understands that you can’t preach, you have to convince. So he sets up his characters as extreme tropes, but then reveals their sides so they become human and understandable people.
Set a few years after the Civil War, the Hateful Eight deals with eight people stranded in a trading post during a blizzard. Every one of them is unlikable in some way. Some are truly revolting. Some are semi-likable until you see they are really terrible. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are no heroes here. Samuel Jackson would appear to be the hero but he’s not even close, even while he serves as a conscience character. All the white people are more or less racists, but Tarantino manages to show that a lot of that is mostly just talk and one character you’d expect to be Jackson’s nemesis ends up being his kind of, sort of pal.
Kurt Russell plays a bounty hunter bringing in his latest catch. He seems the most lawful character, but he also brutally beats his female captive, a vile murderous killer. It’s all good non-PC fun in the Tarantino fashion.
I’ll freely admit I am a Tarantino fan. Even when I don’t agree with some of his depictions of things. His worlds are cartoons. They are sometimes surreal. But his work resonates because it’s honest, even when he’s wrong. Unlike, say Spielberg, who sugar coats his history films and avoids the ugly truth, Tarantino lays it on as thick as he can. He pushes the envelope, yet he does so while making a strong artistic point. In this film he used the Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat model, putting a bunch of disparate people in one place so that they reveal who they really are under pressure. This is the essence of good storytelling. He doesn’t pull any punches and yet, he manages to disarm the audience by being real with them. In an age where racism is an over used trope, QT manages to make unlikable characters entertaining and even human after showing their ugly sides. That’s what sets him apart from most of his peers.
He shows that even creeps are people too.
And I don’t want to forget how cool it is to see him work with Ennio Morricone, one of the last great old school film composers. This film didn’t require a 70mm panavision approach as much as some of his other films, but it’s also wonderful to see a director keep that alive, too. It has an intermission and overture.
I’ll end this by saying every single actor shines in this. Everyone brought their A game here. Walter Goggins is the stand out in my book. Jennifer Jason Lee is also winning accolades.
If you like Tarantino’s work you should like this. In some ways it’s less obnoxious than D’Jango Unchained was. But it will still push some buttons.
The dictionary defines this as a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. For example: “I’m weeping a pool of tears.” But in a story context metaphors can be a theme that you use in a story to give it substance.
The English word “metaphor” originates from the Greek metaphorá, which means “to transfer” or “to carry over.” A metaphor transfers meaning from one subject on to another so that the target subject can be understood in a new way. By defining something metaphorically, you create a powerful symbol that can be used in your story.
Here is how a metaphor can be used in a larger sense. In JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Smaug the Dragon is one of the villains of the story. But the story has a larger theme about insatiable greed. The dwarves in the story are a race in love with gems and gold from under the earth. They want their mountain full of treasure back which was stolen in the past by Smaug. But what is a dragon but a metaphor for greed. Dragons covert gold and kill for it, but it is something they have no use for since they don’t eat it and can’t spend it. All they do is hoard it. Which is basically what the dwarves did with it and intend to do with it. Once the dwarves get their hands on it again they have no plans to share it with anyone, even though many people who helped them lost their cities and lives in the process. The gold also inspires greed from the goblins who want to take it from the dwarves. In the middle of this is the main character, Bilbo Baggins, who doesn’t care about wealth and serves as a conscience for the other characters.
Greed is played out in various way as metaphors in this novel (and film) to great effect. This is something you can do in your story. Pick something you want to discuss and use metaphors so that you aren’t beating people over the head with it. They are a very handy and often powerful way to get an idea across without being obvious to your intention.
One of the greatest sins a writer can commit is to preach a message. No one likes being preached to except the converted. Your job is to convince people that your message is correct. As we will discuss later, your story will be about something. Metaphors are a tool you can use to symbolize a thing, an experience, a place, a person, a monster, etc. Using them drives home a point you want to make indirectly.
It’s important to remember that a lot of things in life can serve as perfect metaphors. As an exercise, start thinking of possible metaphors you can use in dialog, or as thematic symbols. It will make your job more fun.
You can make a whole story that’s a metaphor. It’s called an allegory. An allegory is a complete story with an extended metaphor throughout to illustrate complex ideas in a comprehensible way. Many writers have used genres like historical or science fiction to tell an allegorical story. The movie High Noon was an allegory about McCarthyism and the hero was metaphorically standing up against the injustice the outlaws were bringing to town. Here is a good example how you can tell a story using metaphors without preaching because the movie is a classic and McCarthyism is a historical footnote. The film lives on because it’s metaphor is universal and thus can be seen in different ways by future generations. You don’t want to date your work by being too literal. Metaphors and allegories can work to your advantage.
Setting a story in the past or a future society removes it from the politics of the now. You can say what you want to say without beating people over the head with a message about something that may be forgotten a few years after your story comes out. The best fiction deals with universal truths. Those kind of stories stand the test of time.
Issues and problems aren’t that diverse in reality. They always call into similar camps. The players change but song remains the same. So by changing the time and place, you can talk about issues near and dear to your heart without turning into a lecturer. The story’s demands will require you to think it out clearly and who knows, you might learn a thing or two in the process.
REMEMBER: Remove your story from the present to make the plot more universal.
Excepted from The Secrets of Writing. Available now.
I am happy to report that I will be working on a new comics series soon with artist Matt Cossin. Details and art to be revealed shortly. It will be an online web comic but it will also be available in print when enough stories are done. The series will be my take on super-humans with a bent toward commenting on the world we live in. I have no desire to play it safe. There will be a lot of axes ground, though the point of this series is, you decide who the heroes or villains are. Every side will have a compelling argument.
The image attached to this post is an inspiration for one of the character’s looks. I think it will be fun to write.
The Secrets of Writing is finally finished. The book on writing people have been asking for is finally here. It’s available digitally on all the finer book sellers.
A print version is available at Amazon.
The Secrets of Writing explains all the things you need to know to craft an excellent and powerful story that will be read through the ages. Explaining everything from story structure, dialog, pacing, characterization and many more tools you will need in your writers kit. With these tools you will be able to created that novel, screenplay, comic or story you always wanted to make but weren’t sure how to do it well. More importantly, this book answers some questions many books fail to deal with. Come and experience the power of creation.
We’ve updated the Hell’s Reward cover, added a glossary and a map. You can now down it at all better online book sellers. A print version is available on Amazon.
I’m still a long way from true mobility, but today I got to walk without supporting myself so I had to take a selfie. It’s getting easier the more I do this. It’s more exercise than normal when you have a prosthetic limb. You burn more energy. But he also get in better shape, so there’s that. I am losing weight and feeling good.