Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pardon the Soapbox: On Being True to Your Characters

I was recently on Twitter (yes, I know: I have a deadline the 15th!) and saw someone bemoaning the existence of "so many" "love triangles" in YA literature. Bemoaning it so much, in fact that they said it was turning readers off to YA novels altogether.

Two Quick Thoughts to Start:

A.) Make sure you first understand the definitions of both "love" and "triangle" before making assumptions.
B.) Remember (especially in a series--hint-hint) that not everything is as it first appears.

Okay, now back to the main topic (hey, I'm tired and still coming out of bronchitis!)

So, I got into a quick chat with Laina on Twitter who (as an aspiring author with complicated relationships between her characters) is concerned that people might react badly to such complicated things.

Some people react badly to fluffy kittens and rainbows--we can't (and shouldn't want to) please them all.

Anyhow, here's what I said:

"Yeah. Here's my thought on this: The main thing is to stay true to your characters. There are lots of choices I've made as a series author that will make some people wonder. My writing style for the #13toLife series (for example) is relatively simple."

[As a note: I've seen mixed reviews on my writing style and talent which crack me up. One word folks: VOICE. Writers, you already know where I'm going with this.]

"I don't get insanely flowery or lyrical. Why? Jessie's a teen. And the novels are in her voice. Having been a teen (*cough* some years ago) and having taught teens, I don't care how fancy their formal writing is--it doesn't truly (in my experience)--reflect what really goes on in their heads."

[Here's a quick exercise for you: Try to seriously listen to the thoughts rolling around in your head all day for just one day. They are probably a lot different from how you would want to come across when writing a book in YOUR supposed voice--I mean, seriously, wouldn't we rather sound smarter than we really are? But if that's not your character's voice, well--duh.]

"After you've confiscated a zillion notes you'll have a better view of what goes on internally in "real time.""

[Some of the best insight I ever got into teen's brains was when (as a teacher) I confiscated a whole nest of notes from a particular kid who wasn't being savvy in study hall. They write what's on their mind right then and there with very little filtering--unless they're trying to hook up a friend with a member of the opposite sex--then they can be a bit more coy. Teens are far from stupid, but they wear their hearts on their sleeves generally. Jessie (and many teen characters) do that. And the voice readers get as a result relates to the "psychic distance" between the character and reader as devised by the author. Yes. Clear as mud. ;-)]

"So Jessie is designed to voice her view of #13toLife like a teen would because it's true to her character."

[Think about what this really means. Regardless of what you think of any author's writing style/talent realize you're not actually succeeding in judging their overall writing capabilities, you're inadvertently judging the voice of a fictional character that they are sort of channeling (for lack of a better term). Good authors write in several different voices, though you may only see one or two per book or series. Makes sense? ]

"SO. It's cool if your characters have complicated relationships. Explore them because those relationships show us a lot about your characters overall. ;-) Be true to that."

[Plus, complications can force growth in characters because they cause conflict. Books without conflict make me bored. And very sad.]

Here's the deal overall. You're writing characters with the truest voice you can. Hopefully you're writing something that reflects your personal knowledge ("write what you know") like I wrote Jessie with a good dose of what I felt after losing my mother to cancer. Your characters may occasionally be pesky (MAX) but they won't lead you astray. Don't worry about the baggage some readers will drag with them into your story (because Lord knows some people can't let go of their personal issues long enough to read a single sentence).

YOU CAN'T PLEASE EVERYONE (and please don't waste your time trying--you deserve better). You want to write? Find the story you have to write--the story you'll tell best. Then don't let anyone stop you.

So saith the Shannon. ;-)


nymfaux said...

Great post!!!! I totally love and agree with everything you're saying--And personally, I LOVE Jess's voice---I'm getting so anxious to hear more!!!!

Lynsey Newton said...

LOVE THIS. I saw that comment on twitter as well and laughed because triangles, or love triangles to be more specific are one of my FAVOURITE things about stories and WHY I choose YA books for that very reason sometimes. I love a bit of angst and find love triangles to be one the best ways to find it. Think of some highly successful books - Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments (I believe, though I haven't read it yet) hell even 13 to life had a love triangle in it in the beginning...

And I get really offended my comments that a book "doesn't sound like a teen". Ever met the very awesome Steph Bowe, the teenage writer? She doesn't sound like a teen but SHE IS ONE! I didn't sound like a teen when I was one either. I think people make the mistake of generalising. Not all teens sound the same just as not all adults sound the same. Just deal with it and move on :)

Casse AKA Catholic Kittie said...

I am a love triangle hater, no apologies for it. lol It's just not my thing because it happens in real life and everyone calls the top point (I coin that title) names male or female.

I do try and avoid books involving them because it infuriates me especially when top point flip flops. Ugh. But when it is done right or its unique (Jess forcing her and Peter into one) I have to conceed and say "well done".

I admit my triangle hate stems from them NEVER picking who I want or me not even being able to decide who I think they should pick lol so I come out disappointed either way.

I also admit to writing a triangle that turned into a freaking pentagram lol in a Urban Fantasy but it was about a selfish heroine so it was totally in her character.

Triangles should happen if it's true to the character but being true to my character I will still bemoan it. And if the writer has an awesome story with honest characters I have been known to mumble "oh this is good" then shut up so I can read the triangle luurve. lol