Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mac 4 Point of View

Okay, I've talked about characters for a while. Another aspect of writing that's important is point of view. There are various types of point of view, but the one that's in favor just now is third person tight. That's where the writer (and therefore the reader) sees everything through one person's eyes, so to speak. If that person doesn't hear it, doesn't see it, then the reader doesn't know about it, either. The writer gets around this by changing to another character as the PoV character, someone who will hear or see the important things that the reader needs to know about.

A good writer only changes his PoV character at a point where the scene changes.

What work I've done with Mac's story has definitely taught me to do a tight PoV, and to only change PoV character at a scene change. You see, the reader never sees anything from Mac's PoV. Nothing. Each scene is told from the PoV of one of her crewmates.

Remember how I said I'd had to learn quite a bit about a number of her crewmates, and that the history of secondary characters would influence what advice they might give, how they would react? This was particularly true when working on Mac's story; the PoV character's history and personality flavored how he or she perceived everything that Mac said and did.

For instance, her 'adoptive brother' (who was her real brother's roommate when they were all at the Academy) tends to see her as a naïve girl in a woman's body, someone who doesn't quite realize what she's doing that keeps landing her into trouble. Her superior officer (who, we learn through other people, probably reminds her of her overbearing, chauvinistic father) thinks Mac doesn't have a brain in her head, since she can't answer a single question about her field. That confuses the fellow officer tasked with tutoring her, because when she asks Mac the same questions, Mac knows the answers without any hesitation.

Every person on that ship sees Mac in a different light, based on their own history. And yet, there's only one Mac.

But she is complicated. Aren't we all?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mac 3 Characters Part 2

Okay, I've talked about walk-on and background characters, so I guess it's time to take a look at 'secondary' characters. These would be the friend or sibling that the main character relies on for advice or help when he/she has a problem to solve. You need to know quite a bit of their background, because their history will shape the advice they give, the way they react. A story can have several of these, one or possibly none.

If you look at the old, original Star Trek shows, it is generally agreed that there was a triad of 'main' characters; Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy. Secondary characters were Lt Uhura, Lt Sulu, Lt Cmdr Scott and Ensign Chekov. Some people consider Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand secondary characters, also. My feeling is that, in one or two stories they were secondary characters, but for the most part, they were background characters, along with Kyle and Riley. And of course, with a crew that large, there were any number of background and walk-on characters.

Since Mac's story (at least, the first part of it) also occurs on a spaceship with a crew in the hundreds, there are several characters who are definitely secondary, and quite a few who fluctuate from being secondary to a background character, depending on the scene. Consequently, I have to have a pretty good idea who all of these characters are, from her best friend (trying so desperately to keep her out of trouble), her roommate, the officer put in charge of re-training her, once it's decided she's in the wrong field, and even the man who wins her heart (an event that nearly destroys them both). I even had to do considerable 'research' into the culture and biology of the alien officer charged with seeing that she was treated fairly, since the captain kept getting conflicting reports of her capabilities.

Knowing your characters can be time consuming. But it's worth the effort when you create 'real' people, and not cardboard puppets. Not only do your stories come alive, but you have a whole host of new friends!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mac 2; Characters Part 1

Mac is not the first character I created, but she has been with me over half my life. Maybe that's why she's my favorite. Or maybe it's because I know her so well. After all these years, I've learned a lot about her childhood, about what makes her the person she is when the story begins. She's almost as real to me as I am.

Generally speaking, characters come in various 'flavors': Main characters, secondary characters, background characters and spear-chuckers, which some people call walk-ons. A good author knows what type each of his/her characters is, and devotes the correct amount of time to discovering their background.

Spear-chuckers/walk-ons are there only to do one thing; sell a movie ticket, deliver a meal or drink, or toss spears to ward off evil fire-breathing dragons (like a jet plane or spaceship shuttle). Probably the most you need to know about them is a bit of their culture (if it's different from the culture of your main characters) and whether or not they're having a bad day. A waitress having a bad day might dump a trayful of food on a main character, which can lead to interesting consequences.

Background characters need to be known a little better. Perhaps something they say to a main character, based on the personal history of the background character, will make the main character shift their thinking. So you need to know a few basics about background characters, maybe where they grew up; are they part of a large family or an only child; a poor family or wealthy?

Think about the walk-ons and background characters in your life; the post man, bus driver, store clerk, auto mechanic. How much do you know about them? You should know at least that much about the backgrounds of your 'less seen' characters in your stories. In my opinion, walk-ons can be pretty cardboard. Background characters need a bit more depth.

To be continued…

Monday, January 10, 2011


Have I ever told you about Mac?

Mac is my favorite character. I have a soft spot in my heart for all my characters, or I can't relate to them long enough to write their story. But Mac is my favorite. When she gets angry in her story, I lash out at the world in anger; when she feels hopeless, I get depressed; when her libido is aroused, I get—Well, I'm sure you get the idea.

Mac is a complicated woman, hardly more than a little girl in some ways, but well able to defend her honor, as well as aware that it sometimes needs defended. Although friendly to most of her shipmates, there are few who manage to earn her trust. And those few reciprocate that bond, even when she completely exasperates them!

I'm not sure you'll ever read Mac's story. I think of it as a trilogy, and I've never managed to finish the first installment, even though I've worked on it – exclusively – twice now, for at least a year each time. Even what I've got done – maybe ¾ of the first installment – is huge, and every time I peek at it, I think of another scene to add to 'enhance' it.

Some authors have stories they just have to write, even if it never gets published, and they will work on that story every chance they get. I guess I'm different; I have a story I don't dare work on, because it will monopolize all my time and I wouldn't get anything else done (let alone anything else written). But there is an up side to this. If I never finish Mac's story, Mac is one 'child' who will never leave the nest.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Atlan Universe

I'll give you a glimpse of one of my universes, the planet where Atlans live. Saying it that way, it sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? Yet, most of the stories I've written (or have planned) about the Atlans are fantasies. The planet is earthlike, the native inhabitants 'human'. Atlans are descended from aliens (as well as the locals), and while they look like the natives, they have powers no natives have. But only the females.

It is a combination of the legends of Amazons and Atlantis; at one point, their original island home –a 'dormant' volcano – erupts, and the Atlans scatter in fishing boats, to find new homes as best they can. I know, it's been done. Amazons have been done, Atlantis has been done, probably the two together has been done. I've heard many times, 'There are no new stories, only new treatments of old stories.' I have to hope that MY treatment is not cliché.

The origin of this 'race' is science fiction, because the original 3 'colonists' were children of alien explorers. The crew member who was supposed to 'take care' of them left them here when the ship left. I don't have a lot of stories planned for those three original Atlans; fishermen get stranded on their island after a huge storm, and the girls find themselves pregnant. They find they have 'powers' that the natives don't, and which can only be inherited by their daughters.

I have stories planned from the time of the city-state on that island through centuries of history, and even one set in what would be considered 'modern'. Most of them would be in what we Earthlings consider pre-history. With that kind of time-frame, and the fact the Atlan powers are considered 'magic', these stories wind up being fantasy. Now if I can just make them 'fantastic'!