CHARACTERS: 3-Dimensional Beings

CHARACTERS: 3-Dimensional Beings

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It isn’t possible to do this for every single character, but the ones who are really important are owed a tangible existence by the author.  Characters with no depth may appear to readers as one or two dimensional, and this should only apply to incidental characters who may only appear once or very occasionally.  I have read an awful lot of books in which many, if not all of the characters, are nothing more than words on the pages they are written on.  Stories are nothing unless they come alive in the mind and stand out with a firm existence on those pages.

It’s no good for an author to introduce their characters simply by name and the words that come out of their mouths; I want to know what they look like, what their body language suggests about them, and I want them to have individual personalities.

There are a few people who have read something of my writing already who have told me that many of my characters represent different sides of my own personality.  This is undoubtedly true.  Authors who truly care about their writing and their characters will inject some measure of their own life experiences and emotions, and also the experiences and emotions of those they know.

If you’re one of those readers who really engages with a story and its characters on a personal and emotional level, I hope that there will be at least one character of mine that you might relate to.  For the record, a few of the aspects of me that display my values, emotions and desires in relation to my characters that have been mentioned by friends who know me well are:

·    The desire for order and respect
·    The desire to be free
·    The carefree, jovial side
·    The aloof, brooding and vengeful side
·    The desire for justice
·    The part that wishes for balance, and a peaceful existence
·    The part that harbours deep pain and sorrow.

I find it interesting that I have listed seven, but this is by no means all of them.  The point I am trying to make here is that as a reader, I am so often perplexed by the lack of empathy from some authors, and I want to express my desire to bring my characters to life.  I can’t promise that every reader will think of my characters as three-dimensional, but I can dream, and hope that many still will.  One of my favourite quotes is from the poet, Robert Frost; “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Not every story is going to touch every reader in the same way, but the effort should always be noticeable.  Characters should have a very strong, tangible presence on the page, or they will fail to touch hearts and minds, and nobody will be able to see them as anything more than a name.

But that never happened in the ??? century!

But that never happened in the ??? century!

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As an avid reader of fantasy (and also as a writer), I’ve seen comments like this pop up every now and again, and they have a tendency to raise my hackles. Why is that, you might wonder?

Well, if you’re basing your fantasy fiction on factual events and inventions that have taken place on our own planet Earth,  then anyone can criticise an author for any noticeable inaccuracies. That’s all fair and square, but for the most part we’re talking about FANTASY. Whether or not the worlds we write about are feasible and probable somewhere in the universe where physics might work differently doesn’t matter; what matters is that we as authors have invented them whether they’re purely from our imaginations or possibly ancestral memory.

So here’s the crunch; we’re talking about different worlds entirely, or perhaps parallel/alternate universes. Steam engines might have been invented two hundred years before the 1800s in another universe or alternate timeline! Or, if you’ve ever watched the TV series Fringe, you’ll know about another method of transport that took off (pardon the pun)  in the alternate universe but failed in ours.

For an entirely different world based on perhaps the 12th century or even the 17th century, you’re definitely going to need to do a lot of research and keep things as much within historical context as possible (so a 12th century setting with fighter jets probably isn’t going to work), but you actually do have room to tweak a great number of things in whatever way you choose. So, if you want to have cities with perfectly clean streets, you can if you’ve got a means to describe exactly why it’s like that, because in the 12th century on Earth, most streets would be packed full of horse manure, human waste, and rats laden with disease.

However, some of these critics just don’t pick up on the “it’s set in an entirely different world and therefore doesn’t have to follow Earth’s history to the letter” fact. An author may think it’s a different world and doesn’t warrant any explanation, and they might be right to some degree, but by explaining it you’re at least covering your own backside and ignorant critics won’t have a leg to stand on.

Is It Only Fantasy? Is It Only Fiction?

Is It Only Fantasy? Is It Only Fiction?

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The most outrageous claim in the world of literature is that the stories we authors write are nothing but fiction; that they’re only tales derived from figments of our imaginations.  I’ve lost clarity in assignments I’ve written for my degree in English Literature because I’ve dared to look upon the characters I am reading about as real people.  In one particular assignment I mentioned an occurrence that revealed the ‘truth’ about a character.  I received criticism for using that word, truth, because after all, as my tutor said something to the effect of “you shouldn’t be thinking of them as real people, because they’re not real; they’re fictional.”

Really? In every literature course I have studied, one particular point has been reiterated, and that is that the thoughts and experiences of the author are projected into their writing.  In literature courses students are expected to analyse the set novels or short stories in order to answer the assignment questions, and it has always been my understanding that fiction isn’t doing its job if the reader does not become immersed in the world or universe they are reading about.  We are always tasked with making sense of what the author is trying to say in their writing; what emotions are they trying to convey? What truths are they trying to represent? It doesn’t matter what genre an author writes in, there is always a need to connect with the world to express what otherwise cannot be expressed, and it doesn’t just affect novelists, it also affects all kinds of scriptwriters and songwriters, and even visual artists as well.  We all have some kind of message we want the world to know, and Henry James even made the statement that fiction is an author’s “personal impression of life” (in reference to his critical essay on The Art of Fiction).

Alright, so the biggest gripe about this is the belief that it’s only fiction because it “isn’t real”, supposedly.  Existence is a funny thing to talk about because everyone has a different idea on what’s real and what isn’t.  Does God exist or not? Is magic real or fake? Was the universe as we know it really created by gigantic cosmic explosion? Do you really exist? Do I really exist? Do aliens exist? Maybe we’re all living in some kind of virtual reality world like the Matrix and just don’t know it.  Is reality only about what we can literally see, hear, smell, feel and taste? If you look up videos and articles about Earth in comparison to the rest of the universe, you might just be amazed.  Maybe fiction is no more than words in a book, or maybe it’s something else entirely.  How many literary memes are there on social media that express the feeling that books are effectively portals to other worlds which give us the chance to experience life outside of one’s own ordinary existence? So what if the words I’ve written on my laptop happen to be words on a page!

What is the point in fiction of any kind if we feel nothing for the characters and stories we’re engaging with? What is the point if we don’t actually think of them as real? What is the point in studying literature; analysing not just authorial techniques but character motivations and ambitions, if you’re just going to sit back and criticise it all by saying “it’s just words on a page; none of these people are real”? Whether they are actually standing right in front of us in the flesh or not doesn’t matter.  Look up any title with a significant following and you’ll find fans constantly talking about what the characters are doing, what has happened to them, what will or might happen to them, and you’ll even find some people pairing characters up as potential lovers.  And then there are the very real killjoys who say “it’s not real, it’s only fiction”.

It’s hypocritical to study and teach literature if your true feelings are that none of it is real in any shape or form.  The author is real; and their characters may be facets of their own personalities or they may be based on people they know.  All characters, whether human or fantastical in some way, have their own agendas and emotional conflicts that stem from our own real experiences.  So irrespective of how you view fiction, reality as we know it always plays a significant part in its construction and the effect it has on readers; because readers identify with the experiences of those they are reading about – and that is a fact.