Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Good Guys Don't Always Wear White Hats

Thought for the day:  What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish. [Thomas Wolfe]


Howdy! It's that time again... time for the monthly post for the awesome Insecure Writer's Support Group. I'm telling ya, the amount of support this group offers beats the heck out of the most expensive underwire bra in the world... lots more comfortable, too.

Hats off to ninja writer Alex Cavanaugh, the founder of this extraordinary group, and to all of the fine folks who work so hard to make and keep it a success. If you'd like to join or would like to follow links to some other IWSG posts, please go HERE

HEY! After you read my post! (sheesh)

Man, judging by the thought for the day, that Thomas Wolfe sure knew what he was talking about, didn't he? I kid you not, while doing my current editing job, I sometimes spent days... I'm not exaggerating... DAYS...perfecting a scene until I was finally satisfied with its tone, rhythm, wording, and whatnot. Then I ended up deleting the whole darned thing. (sigh) C'est la vie. 

Okay, before answering this month's question, I'm going to share a post that first appeared in March, 2011 as Keeping it Real. I was a newbie blogger then, and it only got one lonely comment, so I figured it was safe to dust it off and pull it off the shelf again.

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Thought for the day: Howcum noses run and feet smell?

Years ago,  late-night TV carried commercials that urged viewers to grab their credit cards, pick up their phones, and order their very own genuine faux pearls NOW! NOW! NOW!

Remember those ads? Hysterical, right? But at least nobody could say the advertisers didn't tell the truth. They didn't try to pretend those pearls were anything more than they were. Pretty fakes.

Now there's another new commercial that totally cracks me up. Now you TOO can own a genuine reproduction of the ring Prince William gave his fiancee! Wow! It features a beautiful genuine fake sapphire in the middle, surrounded by beautiful genuine fake diamonds! And get this! It even comes with its very own letter of authenticity! (Ohmigod, how can we possibly pass up a deal like that?)

But, again, at least they're telling the truth about it. Nothing shady here.

                                             They didn't put together a bunch of pretty rocks
                                              And try to pass them off as priceless gems.

As writers, it's up to us to create characters that are so realistic, so genuine, that readers accept them as the true gems we intend them to be. If our characters are predictable and two-dimensional, our product becomes nothing more than those genuine faux pearls they used to hawk on TV.

Based on the kazillions of books I've read, here's my thoughts on what it takes to make a character come alive for me. The two major points are:
  • A believable bad guy is never entirely bad. Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector was one of the creepiest bad guys of all time, but he was also extremely intelligent and knew how to be quite charming. What magnifies the ick factor about a bad guy for me is when I can identify with him in some way, by either seeing something of myself, or someone I know, in him. Maybe he's a serial killer, but by God, he has to be home on Wednesday night to watch American Idol. He's a rapist, but he takes tender loving care of every stray cat in his neighborhood. He's a love 'em and leave 'em dude, but he visits his mother in the nursing home every Sunday afternoon.
  • By the same token, the good guy has to have some flaws to be believable. It's hard to sympathize with someone who comes across as perfect. Assuming we want the reader to care about the good guy, he needs to have idiosyncracies, or flaws, or simply has to screw up sometimes. It wouldn't hurt for that drop-dead gorgeous heroine with the perfect skin to get a zit every now and then. Or for the hunky guy with the abs of steel to break wind once in a while. Or to have a crooked nose, or heck! Let him pick his nose! One of my favorite heroines is Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. She certainly isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but she sure is believable. And likeable.
That's just my three cents' worth. (Inflation.) How about you? Who's your favorite villain? Your favorite hero? Are they multi-dimensional? If not, what made them memorable for you?

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[image courtesy of morguefile]
Now, then... on to the

Question of the month:  Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable with??

In a word... NO.

Wait! You didn't seriously think I was gonna stop there, did ya...?

Seriously, I'm terrible at surprising myself. (I stink at keeping secrets... I can't tickle myself, either...) However, it's equally surprising to stumble across something I wrote years ago and think, "Damn! That's pretty good!" as it is to read something I once considered terrific, only to discover it's become horrifyingly cringe-worthy.  (Surely, someone must have changed it!)

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


59 comments:

  1. An unrelentingly evil villian cannot succeed. And a perfect person fills me with nausea. So no arguments from me, characters need a mixture to be real. And if they aren't real I will often walk away without a backward glance.
    This reader is endlessly grateful to all writers who put in the very hard yards. Megathanks to all of you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. Characters (and people) need to be multi-dimensional to be "real." I'd be uncomfortable around someone in real life who came across as perfect in all ways, so why would I want to read about a character like that?

      Me, too! It takes a lot of books to keep our addiction fed, doesn't it? :)

      Delete
  2. Yes, reading about perfect characters would bore me to death. I would want to read flawed people.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The more flaws, the better. (Makes me feel better about my own shortcomings!)

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  3. I have trouble finding bad sides for my good guys. And I know I'm not working hard enough on that, but I don't have a deadline, so that's okay.

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    1. I have no doubt you'll come up with something good when you're ready. No rush!

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  4. I love the bra comparison to the IWSG :-)

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  5. I thought the bra comparison was hilarious, too. :)

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  6. Also loved the bra comparison! :D
    And I LOVE the serial killer who watches American Idol! What a fun and absolutely perfect idea.

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    1. Thanks! Or maybe he could even compete on American Idol... I mean, some of those contestants have voices capable of killing music... :)

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  7. Very true, each have to have some depth as can't just be perfectly good or perfectly bad. Yeah, that older cringe worthy stuff someone surely had to go change on us. We agree. I'll take your word on the bra thing.

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    1. Yeah, some of that cringe-worthy stuff is really BAD. The elves came in the middle of the night to finish making shoes for the shoemaker, but I think they snuck in here and rewrote some of my stuff...

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  8. Greetings. I don't read much at the moment because I don't want it to influence my writing, as I'm writing two novels as well as poetry. I like reading 'Dickens'. I haven't got a favourite 'baddy'.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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    Replies
    1. Greetings back atcha. Good for you! It sounds like you've got a lot on your writing platter, but "not reading much" would never work for me. Reading is a must-do thing for me.

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  9. I'm the same as you with my own writing. It often surprises me, in both good and bad ways. Happy September!

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  10. Yes, my old writing is always a surprise, but not always a good one. I haven't finished anything outside of my 'genre' but I've got some ideas I plan to get around to sometime.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In a way, recognizing the failings in our old writing is a good thing... it means we've gotten better!

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  11. I'll even give this post a nickel - three cents plus a tip.

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  12. Your posts are great, new or old!!

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    1. Thanks. You know how to make a gal feel good. :)

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  13. Life is so often full of flaws, we are full of flaws - it's what makes it so interesting.
    Characters in books should have flaws ...

    All the best Jan

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. I'll have to rethink myself. I don't simply have "flaws;" I'm reeeeeeally interesting. :)

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  14. It makes perfect sense to have a character be 100% human and believable, he or she can't be 100% perfect nor bad, we all know that there is only one perfect person and that is... well it's not me.

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  15. OMG, can I really get a copy of the royal ring? ;) No thanks. This is certainly an interesting post. I'm co-hosting this month, and I wanted to pop in and say, "Hey!" http://www.raimeygallant.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, "Hey!" back atcha. Thanks so much for serving as co-host this month and for stopping by to say howdy.

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  16. I'm good with the flaws. Almost too good sometimes.

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    1. No... never too good. I think you've got the formula for believable characters down pat.

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  17. So the IWSG is like a support bra? HAHA! Love that!

    Avon had sold rings that resembled the one Prince William gave Kate, and I got it for my mom because she liked how it looked. It is really pretty, and I actually really like it. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :) Sure, why not? Sometimes, our insecurities "swell," our optimism "sags," and we need some good stiff support...

      Cool. I still have a couple pieces of jewelry that my mother bought from Avon many years ago.

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  18. Hi Susan - I can't believe how people have to follow celebrities - be they royal or just plain people! Flaws we all need them ... we can grumble with others about others ... never ourselves of course!

    Now I shall need to compare things with underwire bras ... a necessity at some stage in life ... even perhaps for the guys?!

    I hardly read fiction - but have just finished "The General" by CS Forester ... seen via the We are the World Blogfest noted and inspirationally mentioned by US Navy Admiral William H McRaven - and I was going to be studying military history, which is why the book interested me - including Hitler and Churchill.

    I shall now go back into my corner with my underwired bra and cogitate the very thick damp mist that's a-coming in ... thankfully not a hurricane.

    Cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hi-ya, Hilary.

      Following celebrities is bad enough, but most of the so-called "celebrities" people are all agog over strike me as more notorious than famous. Following their self-made dramas is akin to ogling a train wreck.

      Studying military history? Good for you. Sounds pretty doggone ambitious. There's sooooo much of it to study!

      Yeah, thankfully not a hurricane for you. Irma has a lot of us over here quaking in our boots.

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  19. Glad I weaned myself off tv, friend Sue ... now all I have to do is weaning maself off smokin and i'll be perfect ... smiles ... Love, cat.

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    1. I quit smoking some years ago, but I think it would be way easier for me to give up television. I'd much rather read a book.

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  20. It is wonderful to have something or someone to hold us up at times. I prefer mine without wires or stays. I like the expandable kind that accepts me as I am. I am glad that you have this group to give you support.

    Without a good multi-dimensional antagonist, a story is boring. When I think of Shakespeare's works, very few (if any) were truly good people (even Romeo and Juliette - selfish brats, only thinking of themselves), but all were interesting.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I HATE underwires... but I love the folks with the IWSG. :)

      Very true. And Shakespeare's characterizations as so good, they still resonate with readers today.

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  21. Editing can be extremely tricky and exasperating. Over-editing can result in removing the meat and only leaving the bones (I speak from experience...).
    Your thoughts on characterization are extremely apt - - we all have many complex dimensions (mine are mostly from the Twilight Zone).

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Oy, I hope I leave enough meat on the bones to keep things interesting...

      HA! No, not Twilight Zone. More like the Outer Limits, because some of your experiences were totally "far out!"

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  22. I also bought these rings from Avon :)

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    1. With your romantic streak as wide as the Mississippi, I'm not surprised. :)

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  23. Well, I don't write, so there's nothing to look back on and think how great or cringe worthy something was, but I look back at a picture of myself in my 30's (when I was complaining about my "chunky" self) and think that this is my goal weight now. LOL.

    And if you ask me, rocks and stones are much prettier than those overhyped gems!

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    1. HA! I know what you mean about looking at old photos of yourself. I honestly had no idea I looked "so good" at the time. :)

      I agree. I'm not much for fancy gems and jewelry.

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  24. "Genuine faux" ... giggling!
    Just my 3-cents worth, there seems to be an alarming number of folks who don't/won't listen or pay attention to what they read.

    Character flaws? You've hit on one of my biggest pet peeves. For a period DH and I were hooked on a certain prolific author, whose (NYC) protagonist was so perfect, he out-Bonded James Bond. Geesch.
    I, too, love Stephanie Plum; plus, I think Lincoln Rhyme's crankiness is a bit endaring.

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    1. Your 3-cents' worth is spot on. Unfortunately, the things they DO choose to pay attention to are the "genuine faux" stories they read on Facebook and other dubious online sites.

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  25. Hi Susan, Who wouldn't jump for joy for anything that was "genuine faux?!" I agree that the best characters have flaws, and I've always enjoyed reading anything with Stephanie Plum. Of course the grandma was another priceless character!

    Sending lots of thoughts and prayers that Irma doesn't come your way. Stay safe my friend!

    Julie

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    1. Hi-ya!

      Yes, yes, yes, you've GOTTA love the grandma! (Does she remind you a teensy bit of your mom...?)

      Thanks. For the first time in history, Atlanta is under a tropical storm warning. So far, the rain and winds are "normal," but the brunt is supposed to get here later today. We're ready!

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  26. Good reminders about characters. I'll have to give my gal a tv addiction. Just for realism.

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    1. A TV addiction would work... or nowadays, a computer or tablet addiction.

      Delete
  27. Completely agree with you about heroes and villains needing flaws and shades of gray. Heroes, especially, seem to fall victim to one-dimensionality, as if some writers are afraid no one will root for 'em otherwise. It's probably why I've found myself relating more to villainous characters over the years--they're allowed to be flawed more often! XD

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    1. You're right. Writers do tend to portray more heroes in a single dimension than they do villains. If they do it because they think more readers will root for "perfect" characters, I think they're mistaken.

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  28. I write all the time, friend Sue ... Even in my dreams I think and write and think ... It's an endless cruel game ... which I don't wanna play ... but it plays me ... 2017 has not been very good to me regarding writing ... as I hate most of my writings thus am quick to kill my poems if they hurt too much ... Anyway, life goes on, hmmm? ... Love always, cat.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. You are much too hard on yourself, dear cat. Sometimes, the writing that "hurts" is the most heart-felt of all, and what you express in those poems truly touches the hearts of your readers. I really wish you wouldn't kill them. Save them, and look at them again at a later time when your perspective changes.

      Delete

  29. This is a really good idea that you have going on. manufacturing
    โคนัน

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