Archive for Characters

Adventures in Book Promotion Day 8-ish: Innocent Villainy

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2018 by Jessica Crichton

kiddo

Day 8… ish. I was off work for a week, so… yeah.

Anyway, HI! I have good news — thanks to my wonderful friend Molly, I have the ability to write at home again! W00T! Thank you Molly for letting me borrow your iPad; I will return it as soon as I am able to buy a laptop for myself. Does this mean I will be blogging more? I certainly hope so, but knowing my scatterbrainedness (and the fact that I kinda have a book to write) let’s just wait and see, shall we?

As for today’s subject, I want to talk a little bit about villains. Namely, making them 3-D in children’s books. The norm for giving villains depth in most stories is to give them a great backstory. A hard and fast — and even sympathetic — reason for doing what they do. Who are they? Why do they do bad things? What makes them really TICK, deep down inside? But for parents, who want their children to learn that it’s NEVER okay to be a villain no matter what the reason, and for kids, who see the world in black and white, just how do you keep your villain from being a parody, a shadow, or a mask?

This is a question I have run up against many times in my writing career. I am not afraid to say that 99.9% of my bad guys have been… bland and boring. Tropey. Exactly what you’d expect a villain to be.

Blech.

But I’m not alone in this. Think about the kids’ books you have loved. From Alice in Wonderland to Coraline, from The Wizard of Oz to “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, villains in kidlit tend to just be evil for the sake of being evil. The Queen of Hearts just is a bully. No reason given. Other Mother is demonic and therefore naturally bad. The Wicked Witch*… well… need I say more? As for Count Olaf, I like to say he’s like The Joker with fewer reasons to be nuts. And I won’t even get started on any of Roald Dahl’s monstrous inventions!

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this. After all, a large part of what makes kidlit fun is the simple good vs. evil aesthetic often inherent in it. And every single example I have given is from a story (or stories) I adore. That said, can we give our young readers more in their bad guys?

As it turns out, the answer to that is a resounding YES! At least according to some contemporary authors who are doing just that.

One great example is, of course, J.K. Rowling. Is Voldemort evil? Yes. Does he do bad things? Ohhh yeah. But Rowling also delves into his past, weaving a tragic story of a boy who struggled with loss and defeat at a very young age. Does she use this to excuse his actions? Not at all! But it does show the reader that he is more than a scary mask floating on the wind. And this is even more prevalent in her “lesser” villains, especially in young Draco Malfoy, whose character development is a work of art akin to Michelangelo’s, in my humble opinion.

But I digress.

*Fangirls*

*Ahem*

Another example can be found in the “Percy Jackson” books, though to be fair Rick Riordan kind of cheated on that end, using myths and legends who already embody the rich depth that only comes from centuries of storytelling. But I digress. His villains still count.

Still, these examples are as few and far between as the list of fantasy and sci-fi children’s books on Amazon. (Hint: it’s small.) Maybe I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I’m reading young readers wrong. Or maybe — just maybe — we need more depth, more magic, more wonder, in kidlit overall. Not just in its villains, but in… everything?

I’m in danger of getting off-topic here though. Let me return to villains. (Though I’m seeing another blog topic in the near future…)

Rowling and Riordan (and maybe others I missed; add them in comments!) have shown us that yes, kidlit villains can be 3-dimensional, if we choose to focus just a little more on them. In fact, keeping with the “marketing” aspect of this blog series, making a children’s literary world deeper and richer overall has proven to be extremely successful and popular among young readers. So why don’t we do that more often? That’s the question I’ve asked myself lately, and why I plan on doing the same with my villain in “Guts and Glory.” At the moment Dr. Fixit is little more than a shadow. I’ll be changing that in book 3.

It’s time to make Nil real.

MUAAAHAHAHAAA!

 

*(I hope it goes without saying that I’m talking about the ORIGINAL CHILDREN’S book by L Frank Baum.) 

 

Advertisements

The Problem with Puppet Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , on March 11, 2015 by Jessica Crichton

Let’s just admit it: writers are megalomaniacs. It’s okay, we deserve to be. At least in our own worlds. We control everything that happens within the pages of our stories, from the last breath of a character to the turning of the stars. It feels good to have control over a whole world and every soul in it.

But sometimes we micromanage a little too much.

I have spent so many years trying to figure out how to keep a story interesting, not only in cadence but in plot. Again and again I found myself mired in a storyline knot, unable to break free in the way I’d planned. I’d build the world, focusing on every detail I could imagine from topography to history to social cues. I’d build the plot, knowing every step toward its pre-planned end and why each step mattered. I’d create my characters and give them every personality trait and flaw they needed. My world and characters were SO 3-D in the planning stage. Then I’d start to write… and it would  all go 2-D. Flat. Shallow. Lacking realism, depth, or empathy.

Then I met Squire Carroll and everything changed.

Squire is the heroine of Bight, my first Young Adult novel. At first I made her like all my other characters — molded to fit the plot. She needed to be weak so she could learn to be strong. She needed to be simplistic so she could resonate with every reader. She needed to be ignorant so she could learn to… learn.

In essence, she needed to be a puppet whose strings I could pull to my ends. There was only one problem: nobody empathizes with a puppet.

I began Blight the same as always, focusing on the concept I’d built it on instead of the story it could be. My concept was a society built on religious persecution based in past-lives. Squire was a child of the persecuted, so she would naturally be meek and ignorant. Chapter 1 was written, and it worked just fine. Chapter 2 delved more into the world around Squire… and she was buried in it. I realized then, as I searched for her in the rubble, that I’d made the same mistake I’d made a million times before: I’d turned my character into a puppet.

How could Squire shine as a heroine for all if she was a puppet to anyone, even me?

Think about all the characters you have ever loved. What do they all have in common?

Individuality.

None of them conformed to any of the rules of their worlds. Now imagine being the writer of those worlds. The one who created those rules. Most of us would want everyone to follow the rules we created, even if we told ourselves we didn’t. The rules are there for a reason. They’re there to keep things focused and logical. They’re there to keep the storyline exact. Think about your worlds and their rules. They’re important! Right? You’ve worked on them for months!

But they’re meant to be broken. And the one who should break them — who has to break them — is our hero.

When I realized this, finally, after two and a half decades of writing, I knew what I had to do. It was terrifying, but I had to do it.

I had to let the real Squire loose in her world.

So I let go. I allowed her personality to shine, and I learned that she’s so much stronger than I thought. So much smarter. And so much more… sarcastic. But that’s okay. She’s Squire Carroll, not Jessica Rising. She grew up in a different world than me, and she  knows that world better than I do, even if I created it.

How do you let a character you created free in a world you created? Just write what they say in your mind, ignoring the voices that tell you they’re being too knowledgeable too early, too sarcastic and cynical, too… non-hero-like according to your own perceptions. Ignore those voices, and their true voice will sing through them to tell their story.

A story not unlike yours, but so much more.

Let your character tell their story. They might take it somewhere you never dreamed, but hang on for the ride. Don’t reign them in. They’re the ones who are living it. They’re the ones your readers will follow. It’s their story, not yours. The sooner you realize you’re just taking notation for your hero, the sooner your story will become a whole world of its own, where everyone feels welcome.

John M. Cusick

Write. Represent.

Dreamhaven Park

Gaming Park Event Center

Richard M. Ankers - Author

Author: The Eternals Series

Mongrel Christian Mathematician

reading, 'riting, 'rithmeticking

The intangible world of the literary mind

What secrets of the mind lurk beyond the mist enshrouded bridge

Chelsea Bolt

Write? Right.

carolejhoward

Author of TALES OF A SILVER-HAIRED VOLUNTEER, DEADLY ADAGIO and ABOUT FACE

Blue Belle Books... a Blog by Author Sherrie Hansen

Night and Day... Daybreak... Golden Rod... Sweet William... Shy Violet... Blue Belle... Wild Rose... Thistle Down... (The Wildflowers of Scotland novels) Stormy Weather... Water Lily... Merry Go Round... (Maple Valley trilogy) Love Notes... Night and Day...

Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

author and publisher interviews

Jay Duret

We Shall Not Cease From Exploration

JM Hauser's Blog

A Writer's Corner on the Web

hmargulies.wordpress.com/

Harry Margulies Author

Phoenix From Ash, llc.

Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.

Treble City

Cody, the Arang-a-roo and the Omni-zoo

Indigo Sea Press Blog

Indigo Sea Press Blog

Lou Treleaven

Children's author, writing coach and playwright

Young Kwak

I am a photojournalist, sports photographer, and sometimes a commercial photographer and videographer.

Kid Lit Reviews

Honest, Thoughtful Reviews