If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a character driven reader. I thrive on good character development and if characters are flat and static, I’m usually the first to complain about it. Because of that, my writing tends to be really heavy on the characters. One of the few projects I nearly finished had specialized character archs for each character (there were… five… six?). I had their entire backstories written out. I had it down to their little quirks and mannerisms.
And this was before I had even started on the plot.
Now how does this connect to theatre?
When I took acting classes a year ago, we went extensively into acting and character work. There were a few things that kind of seem like common sense, but it’s surprisingly hard to forget them. It helps us make our characters organic and helps us become the character (I know that’s the most theatre thing I can say, I think). As I began to think about writing, I realized at how much of these techniques transfer over to writing.
The book we used in my theatre class was The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbick so I’ll be pulling from the methods in that book.
1. Overall Objective
For actors this is a big thing. It’s what the character wants from the entire script.
For example, in Harry Potter Voldemort’s overall objective is to kill Harry and become the most powerful and feared wizard (mostly to kill Harry). So the entire series we have Voldemort constantly attempting to kill Harry. Harry on the other hand is trying to destroy Voldemort. I’ll be using Harry Potter for most of my examples since it’s something that almost everyone knows so I won’t risk spoiling it for anyone much.
So when you’re writing you should always keep the overall objective in mind and use that to spur your stories on. What does your protagonist want? Is what they’re doing in this scene helping that objective? This, of course, changes with each character from protagonist to antagonist to all the side characters in between. What do they want in this book/novella/series?
It’s always good to constantly track the overall objective when writing. Make a post it to stick on your computer. If you’re using Scrivner put it in your little chapter and scene breakdowns. Just keep it constantly in mind. This is what your characters want, weave your story towards that objective (or against it).
I find this to be, strangely, the hardest thing. I tend to write out of feeling. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve completely broken down a plot for a book, so it’s very easy for me to forget the overall objective.
2. Scene Objective
Now that we’ve got your overall objective for your characters, let’s focus on each scene or chapter. In a script, each scene is something that’s to further spur on the plot and the overall objective. But in the scene there’s always a separate objective. In Chamber of Secrets there’s the sparring scene between Malfoy and Harry. In that scene the scene objective is quite obvious for readers/viewers. Harry’s objective in that scene is to beat Malfoy. Malfoy’s objective in that scene is to embarrass Harry. Is Harry thinking about how people are being petrified? Yeah, maybe. But in that moment, in that scene, it’s about those two and what they want.
We’ve all been there. There’s this huge final project we have, but for an hour or two we have the objective to get something to eat. That’s a scene objective.
When writing chapters, it’s good to be clear what the objective for that scene is. What are the readers supposed to get out of it? What do the characters want in that exact scene? And then later, how does that further spur on the overall objective or plot?
3. Inner Monologues
OH HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS.
Inner monologues is one of the biggest things you can do to create a great, dynamic character. Everyone thinks differently. Everyone reacts differently. An inner monologue is pretty self explanatory, but in theatre and acting we use inner monologues to make our lines more fluid and organic than scripted. It’s all of the subtext.
When you’re writing your characters, you need to constantly be thinking about how your characters think. This solves the telling not showing problem that writers sometimes have. Thinking about the inner dialogue that the character is having is super important. It’s also really entertaining. This is how you keep your character from being a trope or an archetype. You give them their own stream of consciousness.
4. Previous Circumstances
Another thing that is rather important. What is the character’s status in society? What culture is the character from (very important)? What was the character doing before the book or chapter started?
These are really good ways to help world build, build a plot, and build great characters. You always think about what happened before. What shaped your characters to be who they are when your readers are introduced to them? This is kind of the reason why I went a little ham on backstories. It’s an exaggerated previous circumstance, but it gives me a good idea of who they are when the reader begins their journey. The only thing that’s different from stage to writing is that in writing you should probably reveal to the reader at some point what those previous circumstances are. On stage, there’s usually a lot left to the imagination.
The Other Parts:
Now I haven’t only been acting. I’ve also been on the side of directing and crew. It made me realize how sound can affect the feel of a scene or a show, how colors and lighting can influence the mood, how wardrobe can mean a thousand different things. These are great things for world building. It’s good to keep references for different things.
I personally listen to certain music to help me write my scenes and characters because it helps me get into the mood and write the right words. I look at pictures and think of how the colors affect how I feel about it and use that to transfer my ideas onto paper.
Words are a powerful instrument. They are colorful, lyrical, and emotional. I’ve started to think of books and stories like mini shows that I put on, so I go into the tiny components that make this great machine.
This has become a pretty large post haha. I kind of cut it a lot shorter than I would’ve liked, but there’s the biggest chunk of it. Of course you don’t have to follow what I say here. These are kind of my own personal takes and personal methods.
Do you agree? Disagree?
What’s your preferred method of writing?
As you may know, I’m spending a month in Taiwan to study Chinese and Chinese culture. Aside from going to class, I’ve been able to explore parts of Taipei and Taiwan. This past week I was able to go to a small town called Jiufen (九分). It’s a small town that rests on the mountainous side of Taiwan.
The group took a trip on the MRT (the local rail system) and then took the rest of the trip with a bus. It was about a two hour trip. When we got off of the bus, the weather was slightly different than that of Taipei. Taipei is really humid most of the time to the point where I’m constantly sweating and I have to take a couple of showers (gross, I know), but Jiufen was a little less and actually it was a bit colder because the clouds were gray. It was pretty foggy when we got up there.
Immediately I started to walk around the market place. I don’t know if it was the same as the Shilin Night Market ( 士林夜市) that was across the street from the hotel we were staying at, but it definitely had the same feeling. It was full of fun little shops that were selling food, tea (a LOT of tea), and souvenirs. I also hadn’t had anything to drink for a little bit so I bought myself some watermelon juice for 50 NT (a little over $1.50 USD). There were some shops that were selling seals that you can get your name engraved in with the seal font (Chinese characters or hanzi have four different writing styles. Seal style is the style that dates back to the Shang dynasty that first utilized written characters. So they’re more pictographs than anything.). I really wanted to grab one, but I don’t really know how my name would be in Seal style.
I also wanted to grab one for my grandpa, but my mom notified me that he had a fancy jade one. Sadface.
I also met a very friendly cat that was guarding one of the shops. Her name apparently was Niuniu, which is adorable.
The real reason why I was excited to go to Jiufen is that I heard it was one of the places that really inspired Spirited Away. Specifically a tea house called The Grand Teahouse. I was really keen on seeing it and going inside. It was a bit touristy and fan girly, but Miyazaki’s works have been a huge part of my childhood, I felt that I had to go see it. While on the hunt for it, it started raining. First it was pretty light, but soon it turned into a shower. I also didn’t bring an umbrella or my rain jacket. I don’t know why I didn’t, but I just didn’t. Thankfully a lot of the shops had awnings, but with the hilly terrain and the fact that we, at some point, climbed through the winding streets and stairs of Jiufen we were soaked.
We planned on eating close to The Grand Tea House, but after about an hour, we couldn’t find it. We were already hungry so we decided to go and eat at a small place that looked good in passing. Spoiler alert: it was delicious. I ordered some xiaolongbao (小笼包). Xiaolongbao is a dumpling that has soup inside of it. You bite a little corner, suck out the soup, and enjoy. I’d only had it one time in the US and wanted to try it in it’s home country. It was great. My friend had some braised pork and we all had a round of rice.
We paid and went on our way, still on the hunt for The Grand Tea House. I didn’t know when, if at all, I would be back to Taiwan so I wanted to take the opportunity to see it now. We walked around and finally found the place. The post picture is what the place looked like on the outside. I wasn’t able to take an amazing picture with all of the lanterns lit against the dark infrastructure, but the resemblance is certainly there.
Without any hesitation, I walked in. I knew it was probably going to cost a lot of money, but I really wanted to treat myself haha. The requirement was $300NT per person. Now even though that’s only about $10 USD, in NT that’s a lot. We were a bit floored, but we didn’t want to leave. We chose a really nice oolong tea with a set of desserts. My friend Ryan was the only one who could really read any of the characters, but even then he kind of just chose at random.
For clarification, I’ve only done a semester of Chinese and all of the characters I learned were in Simplified where as in Taiwan all of the characters are in Traditional. I can hardly read anything to begin with haha.
We were given a pot of hot water, tea that we could take home later (made it worth), a small clay tea pot (pictured), tea cups, and fragrance cups (those are the thinner ones in the picture). It didn’t cross my mind that they would be doing the full gongfu tea ceremony (工夫茶). It probably should’ve considering the money we were paying, but I just assumed it would be really fancy tea. Gong Fu shouldn’t be confused with Kung Fu. Gong Fu is for the tea and Kung Fu is for the martial art, sometimes they have the same romanization or pinyin, but they’re different.
I can go into detail about how the ceremony went, but it’s really something to experience. You can find a bunch of videos on YouTube.
The tea was honestly one of the best that I’ve ever had. I’m a huge tea drinker and I probably have more tea than Romona Flowers. This tea was worth the $800 NT. Yeah you read that right. I don’t even think it was an ounce, but that tea was about $25USD.
Now to the desserts.
We got three in the little set. There was this green tea… cake thing, I really wish I wrote the name down to look up later. It was compacted into these little flowers and in the middle there was a little bit of red bean. It was really great. I had two.
Then there was a small set of mochi. This mochi was a lot tougher than a lot of mochi I’ve had before, but it was still really nice. It wasn’t super sweetened, but there was a good amount of red bean in the middle and a small drizzle of caramel to sweeten it.
Finally there were these pudding like cakes that were coconut flavored. I’ve had these back home, so I wasn’t really surprised by them. They were still really good so I had two of these as well hahaha.
After nearly clearing out my pockets of any money I had for this trip (to Jiufen I should add), my friends and I decided to head back to Taipei. It was another two hour bus ride and a MRT ride back, but I had a lot of fun. Before I left, I made sure to give the cat a little goodbye pet (I mean wouldn’t you?). I regret not taking a picture of her, but maybe she’ll be there when I go back.
The weather cleared up considerably. It was actually really amazing to see how the fog transitioned throughout our visit to Jiufen. I believe I took pictures of each stage. It was first a light fog, heavy fog, and then the skies were quite clear. It let in a really nice hue from the sunset. I took a picture of a time when it was heavy fog because it really reminded me of the ink paintings from the Ming and the Song dynasty of the southern mountains.
Overall Jiufen was probably the bigger highlights of this trip. The scenery was beautiful and the difference of the town vs. Taipei was really interesting. I would love to go back before I head over home to the States, but I don’t think it’ll happen considering how difficult it is to get to. I would like to go in a less touristy time because it was rather packed.
The next trip I’m supposed to go is next week to Pingxi and Yeliu. We’re also supposed to stop by a beach on the way, which I’m really excited about. There’s also Cat Town before Pingxi and I’m determined to stop by. I need to see a town full of cats.
Thanks for reading. I know I promised to make more of these posts, but I haven’t really had the motivation until Jiufen.
Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: Feb. 9, 2016
I remember seeing this book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and looking it up on GR. It seemed really cool, but at the time I was too busy to go and read it. Now that I have I’m teetering on the edge of really, really enjoying it and completely loving it. There were such amazing things in this novel that I was really intrigued with, but at the same time there were a few things that kind of fell short for me.
What I liked:
Laia had a quite, and rather sudden, character arch in this novel. It was really interesting to see her grow from where she started at the beginning. She’s constantly feeling like she was living in her mother and father’s shadow. Laia never really thought that she had anything admirable about her, but at the end of the novel she finds the little bit of her mother that burns brightly inside her. It was really interesting to see.
Elias was even more interesting. He’s constantly battling the world he’s been raised in. He wants to be free of the harsh and violent nature of the Martials. He’s fighting with a life long friend, Helene, constantly because their views differentiate so widely. For instance, Laia is a Scholar who are treated as slaves and second class citizens. When Elias comes to her aid, he and Helene constantly have quibbles about why he cares for her. To him, the Scholars are people. To Helene the Scholars are the conquered. This dynamic that Elias is constantly fighting against, is something that I was rooting for.
With these two converging paths, the plot thickens. Elias and Laia have constant run ins with each other and while they, by themselves as Elias and Laia, have an instant connection–they’re holding hella secrets from each other. For one Laia is actively working with the Resistance spying on one of the most powerful and ruthless people in the Martial hierarchy. Elias thinks she’s this innocent slave girl, but she’s like “haha actually I’m trying to overthrow our government”. There’s also a sudden change in the story where the supernatural and magic come into play, turning this more into a sort of fantasy novel. It kind of came out of left field, but I’m digging it. I want to see where it grows.
What I kinda didn’t like:
Is it insta-love? Kind of… yeah it’s pretty much insta love with Elias and Laia. Which… I mean I do ship it, but I wish it wasn’t as… insta-lovey. Because on top of that we’ve got hella love triangles. Both Elias and Laia have love triangles. It’s funny, really. I’m supposed to feel really bad for how things end up for Helene and Elias, but it was kind of foreshadowed from the beginning if I’m being completely honest. Laia and Keenan also have this kind of insta-love thing going on, but they connect deeper than Elias and Laia does. I still ship it though. I just didn’t really like the execution.
Another thing that kind of irked me was when I started to think about what I remember from the blurb for An Ember in the Ashes. It’s supposed to be set in an ancient Rome environment right? I was totally expecting gladiator like armor and weaponry, togas… hella togas, and some of that amazing Roman architecture. I kind of got more of a…more medieval feel rather than Rome. Especially with the clothing. The Commandant wearing armor and what not is fine, but I would think that the houses would wear togas.
I really liked the book. I thought it was entertaining. It had a lot of heart wrenching moments and it had a lot of times where, if you wanted to go deep into it, there were bits about humanity and all that. A lot of things kind of happened without the needed build-up, but I was really invested in how Laia and Elias would get out of the situation that I didn’t really pay attention to it. Again, character driven reader rather than plot. I’m probably going to hop onto the sequel because I need to know answers to some questions, but I’m definitely teetering on the fence.
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V. E. Schwab
Published: Feb. 24, 2015 by Tor
Yes I am late to the Schwab train and, yes, I regret it ok? But wow.
I didn’t really know what to expect from ADSOM other than the little tidbits of squees and fangirling that I’ve heard over the book. Now I understand why people love the series so much. The novel was a relatively fast paced read filled with great characters with opposing motivations and objections, a whole bunch of world building, and–the best thing, of course–the tantalizing feeling that there’s more. Even though ADSOM was coming to a close I could smell a sequel despite knowing that the sequel has been out for some time. There’s just a way that Schwab writes that gives you a little hint through out the writing that there’s so much more to come.
It makes me want to come back to the series as soon as possible.
Kell and Lila made such an amazing, funny, and dynamic pair. Kell is all about code and ethics. He’s been raised in a life full of privilege and beauty while Lila is hardened by thieving and getting herself into rather dangerous situations. However, there’s so much more to Lila that I want to know more of and there’s so much more for Kell to learn. They have a really funny relationship where they constantly bicker and sling clever little quips at each other, but they still find themselves fighting for each other. They’re obviously drawn in some sort of way, but they don’t really know what it is. Where I end up wanting to pull back the curtain for Lila, I end up wanting to see where Kell’s journey takes him.
I have to talk about the Londons because it’s both incredibly simple and incredibly hard to world build. In a fantasy world, the world is your oyster. You’re able to literally create whatever the hell you want and it’ll work because it’s yours. Schwab has both a fantasy world and a real world mixed up. The way she differentiates the Londons is really fascinating. Not only are there color codes, but each London is very distinctly their own. They have different languages, customs, dress, and architecture. Schwab had a way to give the readers enough information to understand that these were all Londons, but didn’t over kill it to the point where we’re overwhelmed and closed off to the idea. A lot of the differentiation is in the details, which I loved even more.
Plot wise this book was pretty straight forward and it was really the world building and the characters that really amped up this story. Without them, it would be a pretty cliche boy saves the world story. By bringing in Kell and Lila and then the Londons, Schwab has really made this story her own. It was rather fast paced and adventurous (Lila would be proud).
If you’re into books with magic, adventure, and witty banter I definitely think you should give ADSOM a chance. It reminds me greatly of Six of Crows (yes, I am aware that it came out after ADSOM).
Photo Cred to Suhyeon Choi
I don’t know about you, but I think parents are incredibly important.
They raise us and, bad or good, they nurture us into the human beings we are today (this is including any form of parenting whether you have a cookie cutter, all-American family or you have a single parent). I’ll be honest and say that I’ve had some great parenting. My mother taught my sister and I the importance of hard work, self sufficiency, and when to hold your own. My father taught us about the love of a father and the discipline that comes with it. My parents have had an enormous role in who I am today along with the other stuff life throws at me.
So why are they so absent in YA?
I can’t count how many times parents have been dead, missing, or just completely absent in the lives of our most beloved YA characters. If they’re not absent, they’re merely mentioned. There aren’t enough family interactions in YA.
Okay, okay, I’ll admit I’ve only read mostly fantasy, dystopian, or sci-fi. I haven’t really dabbled in contemporary too much, but I’ve heard it’s kind of an issue (if not a running joke) in the genre.
But I digress.
Like I said, parents are so incredibly important in playing a role in how a character changes and grows. We look to our parents and parental figures for words of wise advice or some consolation when our friends just don’t understand. The phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” rings true in these kinds of situations. Whether our characters decide to become completely unlike their parents out of spite or our characters strive to become more like them–we all hold a part of our parents within ourselves.
If anything, parents are a great resource of dynamic character building that I don’t think are utilized enough. I’ve read a few novels where characters have great interactions with their parental figures and it helps them make their own path in the world whether it be good or bad. For us the reader, it makes for a more enjoyable (and sometimes heartbreaking) reading experience.
By utilizing parents in your writing, you can create so many more layers to your characters.
Why does this character act this way? Does their anxiety and stress derive from the immense pressure put on by their parents? Or do they act incredibly kind, even to those people might consider their enemies, because there was an overwhelming amount of kindness in their family dynamic or because there was a lack of it and the character wanted something better?
This gives some kind of foundation to your character. Many of our major, major issues stem from our family dynamic. Even being absent of a family can have a huge impact on you. So it makes every character different. It makes them more organic and alive. It helps us sympathize when we can see how the family acts. This isn’t to say that every character needs a tragic backstory, of course not, but I’ve definitely felt more sympathy for villains who have their issues rooted in family dynamics than anything. Then again, I’ve also loved seeing good family dynamics. Some examples I can pull up off the top of my head is the family dynamic in Emmy and Oliver and the mother-daughter dynamic in The Raven Boys. These are two great examples of how well the family and parent dynamic work with the story.
It’s also kind of fun to read child-parent interactions and seeing a bit of your favorite protagonist in each part of their parents.
I wish there would be more parent relationships and interactions in YA. It does call for a bigger cast of characters, but everything is in the details right? I don’t think it should stop at mentioning how the parents act. Writers need to show us how the parents act. When we experience it, we understand it more. It creates for more complex (and maybe even morally ambiguous) characters.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Do you think there’s a shortage of parent relationships?
Do you think that they’re important as much as I do?