Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Happy Belated Birthday to. . .



Nancy P said...

Happy birthday a few days ago, dear Kelly!

Btw, you said some interesting stuff yesterday, K. I'll use it--and things others said--as springboards for my own posts for a few days.

Apropos of nothing, may I just say that gymnasts have more courage than I do? By, like, a multiple of millions? Anybody here ever do gymnastics?

AndiF said...

Happy Birthday Kelly!!!

And Here's some ice cream to go with the cake.

Gymnastics + klutz = no

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks, Nancy!

And Andi, who tuned in as I was writing the rest of this post. Yay for ice cream.

That's thank for both the virtual birthday party and the note. I'm actually awake at 4:00 a.m. thinking about character, so I thought I'd stick my head back into the thread and babble a bit in hopes of getting my brain to shut up and let me go back to sleep. Since there's a new thread, I'll do it over here.

I realized that in many ways I was responding more to Lisa's question about adversity than to your opening about character and that's been burbling away in the back of my head. So, here goes.

I'm not a natural character writer, it's one of the things I've had to work hardest to master (though I've really enjoyed the struggle). The biggest single breakthrough I ever had on the subject was figuring out that what readers were telling me and what I was hearing were only tangentially related.

They were saying that I needed to make my characters more real. So I kept trying to do that, and the harder I tried the worse the reactions. Then one day I realized that what other people were calling "real" was something I've come to think of as "believeable" and that the two are not at all the same.

I'm an extrovert and a people person. I make friends easily and people have always made sense to me. And people and characters are two very different animals, at least for me as a writer. People are much more complex, much less consistent, and significantly more convoluted in their motivations than characters are.

Once I stopped modeling character behavior on real people behavior and started simplifying and caricaturizing, my readers at every level started reacting much more positively. When I go for a simplified model of people I have happier writers groups, happier beta readers, happier editors, happier reviewers, and happier general readers.

The real lightbulb moment came from a pretty brutal short story review where I was taken to task for throwing in several things that were totally unbelievable – all of them taken from real live conversations with real people actually in the field I was depicting. Some time later, as I was processing that, I realized that it was not an isolated event, but rather the cap on a pattern where readers had picked out the real things in stories of mine numerous times and labeled them as unbelievable, while swallowing whole many more fantastic and made-up jumps of character.

They didn't want real as I understand it. They wanted believable. And the two were not at all the same thing. Realizing that and that the problem a reader identifies with a work and the actual problem are things that are sometimes related only by the fact that they occur at the same place in the text was a huge help to my success as a writer.

I'm not sure how much sense this will make when I'm more awake, but it looks good for now, so I'm going to wander back to bed now.

Goodnight all, and good morning. I'll see you later.

Lisa Miller said...

Happy, Happy Birthday Kelly!!

I want to thank all of you that are continually giving me ideas for my lessons but also for my writing. I so love the opportunity to ponder the various facets of just about everything. This blog thing is fascinating to me. It is fun be on the edge of such diverse personalities that are so caring of each other and from all over the world at that. And the icing on the cake is HUMOR. I never fail to laugh.

In reading about character yesterday, I was reminded of the reactions I've gotten from my WIP.
I just love it when they hate my characters. I know I'm doing something right. I seem to be better at writing the dark side.
I'm also fascinated by how much of themselves my readers bring to my story when they talk about what they like or what was interesting.

Forced to do gymnastics in high school. I still have balance beam nightmares.

We've had rain for several days-woohoo.

Wonderful Wednesday to All.

Maria Lima said...

Morning, all and a Happy Belated to Kelly!!

Definitely agreeing re: real vs. believable. I find that reality is so often stranger than fiction and yes, quite unbelievable. What I feel I must do, is distill those bits of "reality" and fine tune them to something understandable/recognizable and in some ways, universal.

I was reading an interesting book last night, about how *not* to write a screenplay, and something struck so true: the author explained that when creating characters for an audience, we must make who they are and what happens to them universal enough for people to identify with them...not necessarily like them, or like what happens, but to feel. This utterly applies to all fiction, IMHO.

On that note, TTFN, as I prep for the work day.


FARfetched said...

Another year older & deeper in debt?

Kelly, you remind me of something I've gone around with some of the folks in my church: "true" and "factual" are not necessarily synonyms. I suppose it's the same for "real" and "believable."

Dina said...

Happy belated, Kelly.

Have a bit of chocolate to make the day complete! (If only I knew how to do links.)

maryb said...

Happy belated b'day (again) Kelly! I counted those candles and you are amazingly wise for being only 21. :)

Your comments about characters were very enlightening. It also reminded me of something that happened to my sister in a creative writing class. She wrote a short story and placed her characters in a location similar to the remote location in Minnesota where we vacation. For one of her characters she used quite a bit of real life detail from a very good family friend of ours named Helen who vacations with us every year. She is quite a character in real life.

My sister turned in the story and the teacher loved the plot, loved the location description, loved all the other characters but told her that the character based on Helen was completely unbelievable because in real life no one would have that many contradictions. heh.

I think what you are saying is that in real life everyone is full of contradictions and but that doesn't always translate well to the page.

This is why I like long involved novels where the character can be developed over time. Or long series of novels where our understanding of the character develops slowly through the series. Then I can assimilate what appear to be contradictions but are really just layers.

maryb said...

dina - I feel your pain and I've been taught how to do links here twice! And I never can remember the html.

But if I could remember I would put a link up for AndiF to point her to Ezra Klein's blog at the American Prospect where he links to another site that says .... a Veronica Mars movie is in the works!!!

paul lamb said...

Best wishes for your next year, Kelly!

Lisa, could you speak more about how you know you're doing it right when readers "hate" your characters? I want to understand better.

I have found that I consistently hate Hemingway's characters. Not that they are badly drawn or are evil people. More that they are the kinds of people I simply would not want to know. They are unpleasant people, but they are probably good characters.

Kelly McCullough said...

On the subject of real people vs. believable* characters I find that a lot of it comes down to motivation. Characters (mostly) need to do things for one or two easily understandable reasons. People aren't like that.

For any public action I typically have between 1-5 conscious front level motivations, plus 1-5 more secondary motivations that I can access if I drill down a bit more, plus who knows how many subconscious, unconscious, and lizard brain motivators. I suspect that, having been trained** to introspection, I'm more aware of my own multiple layers of motive than many people, but I sincerely doubt that I actually have that many more layers of motivation than most folks.

Unless you're a much better writer than I am, making that many motivations work in a story is virtually impossible, if for no other reason than writing it all out is going to take up big chunks of text space and derail the action of the story.

*Amazing how really being awake helps my ability to spell words like believable.

**First as an actor, then as a director and writer of skits, and now as a writer of shorts and novels.

Kelly McCullough said...

Farf, true dat. The older I get the more aware I become that some of the most important words in the English language are really slippery in terms what they mean to different people and in different situations.

Maryb, someone must have made a mistake on the candles, I'm not a day over nineteen. Twenty-two years over nineteen? Maybe, but not a day.

AndiF said...

No need to link, Mary, because Ezra is a regular stop for me so I'm already in a tizzy about it (oh be still my heart). w00t and double w00t

Kelly, how did it go for the woman who wanted a dog and a couch? I ask because I think I've found the perfect combination of dog, couch, and "rug" for her. [LINK]

Family Man said...

Hello Everyone!

Happy B'day Kelly and many more!

I've finally gotten my computer back. Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy........

I got a brand new motherboard and it only cost me $35.00. Out of a year that hasn't been that great, this is definitely a high point. :)

Nancy I'm sorry but I can't give you my Birth date. I've had Olivia trying to find that out for the last, I think, four years. She knows the month, Feb. and year 53, but not the day. I like to keep her on her toes. :~)

Everyone keeps talking about the gymnastics, swimming, etc. at the Olympics. I say hmumph to it all. Tiddleywinks I say - Tiddleywinks! When will the Olympic committees learn what true sports is?

Well I hope everyone is doing fine and Happy Birthday Again Kelly

maryb said...

Excellent news FM! Welcome back to virtual life :)

I think we should just pick a day in February to be FM's birthday. Maybe the 12th - Lincoln's birthday? Or the 14th - Valentine's Day? Or the 29th and we only have to do it every 4 years - he'd be very young then.

Lisa Miller said...

Kelly--Wow front level and secondary motivations. I'm impressed. I don't think my brain has that much complexity and I know I don't have that much concious capacity.
I'm just constantly worried I'm mispelling words on the blog without spell check and I'll look like a bigger ding dong than I am.

Andif--I'm ready for that dog's life.

FM--Isn't it nice to have something go right!

Paul--From readers I've gotten strong reactions to several of my characters. Many are appalled at my main character's alcoholic mother and her leacherous boyfriend. Readers have been very vocal about what a horrible mother she is, the way she treats her two daughters and lets this slime ball live in their home. When the guy gets his come uppance my readers have been cheering. I've had outraged reactions to all the characters I have do mean things. I just love when readers get passionate in talking about what needs to happen to these darker characters. I know I've connected to that emotional core.

Anonymous said...

Kelly, seems all the best wishes have been given so I'll just add some from a different point of view.

you to birthday happy
kelly dear birthday happy
you to birthday happy
you to birthday happy

Hope it was a great one!

Kelly McCullough said...

Hey Fam, great to hear you've got your computer back. Thanks for the good wishes.

Andi, I should have gotten back to you about that. She loved the pic and felt really welcomed. Thank you. Oh, and the new one is fantastic as well, so I sent it along.

Lisa, I don't know that you should sell yourself short on the complexity thing. It took me years of training with my acting to see how many layers of motive I tended to bring to things. It's not at all an obvious thing. Oh, and I worried about the spelling thing too until Firefox built a spell checker into their browser so I always composed in word and then pasted it into the browser.

Everybody, thanks for a great birthday party!

Nancy P said...

Goodnight, Boran2 on vacation, wherever you are.