Canned Wisdom #3

It’s Monday morning again, and it’s time for some food for thought:

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Previous week’s Canned Wisdom can be found here.

What’s a strong character? Very often the phrase comes with the word female inserted in the middle, and we get the phrase strong female character.

A lot of the time it seems that those who talk about strong female characters refer to characters who are strong in a worldly sense – strong within the world of the story. They may be rich and powerful, or they may be athletic and beautiful, or perhaps they’re extremely intelligent or have magical powers. Stuff like that.

That’s fine.

There’s nothing wrong with having characters that are powerful.

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Even a little light can remove a lot of darkness.

However, I think that from a storytelling perspective there’s more to the phrase strong character than just worldly power. A strong character is someone who moves the story forward on their own rather than someone who has the story happen to them.

 

This doesn’t require the character to be physically or mentally strong, and it doesn’t mean they need magical superpowers. What it does mean is they act and make decisions, and that these acts and decisions have an impact on the story. The character doesn’t just react to things that happen to them.

Example:

In a story I’m working on, the character Roy ends up an unwilling guest (prisoner in all but word) at a mansion up in the mountains. Naturally he wants to escape from there.

In the first draft of the story, the mansion’s cheeky old caretaker suggests that Roy could go down to the lake to fish in order to relax for a bit. That would be a great opportunity for Roy to escape, but it’s also an opportunity that gets handed to him by someone else. He doesn’t have anything to do with it at all.

In the second draft of the story, Roy asks the caretaker if there’s a fishing rod available.

The flow of the story is essentially the same in the two different versions: Roy escapes from the mansion by pretending to go fishing. The difference is that in the second draft, Roy comes up with the idea and sets it into motion himself.

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Morning coffee – and there’s more than one strong character in this picture, but that’s for me to know and for you to wonder about.

I hope this all makes some kind of sense to you, but if it doesn’t, feel free to leave a comment and ask. I’ll try my best to answer as soon as I can.

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Canned Wisdom #3

Canned Wisdom #1

Yesterday I wrote about doing a series of post with some basic writing advice.

I won’t be doing these every day, or I’ll run out of steam real soon. I figured I’d start off with the first part right away though – while I’m still excited about the idea.

Here goes:

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Yesterday, I mentioned Show, Don’t Tell as an example of catchy but overly simplified piece of writing advice. This image basically covers that rule, but it also tries to trick you into figuring out the reasoning behind the advice.

I very firmly believe that no matter how well I describe something, or how many words I use, I will never be able to communicate the exact image in my head to any of my readers. Fortunately, I do not have to.

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This morning’s sunrise. Completely unrelated?

Instead, what I want to do is give my readers the tools they need to create their own images. As long as their image matches what’s required of the story, it doesn’t matter if it’s not the same as mine.

If I give my reader the tools to build their own image they become more invested in it. By adding something of their own to the image it becomes more real to them than if I try to force my vision upon them.

Beware

There is a warning hidden in the message in the picture. It may not be obvious right away, and it’s probably worthy of a picture of its own, but I’ll mention it here anyway:

Do not mess up the reader’s own image.

What I mean here is that you need to keep track of what you have described and what you haven’t. For everything you describe, there are millions of things you do not mention. For every single one of these things, the reader has the option to imagine something other than what you are imagining.

2018-02-07 19.32.24If you return to your description at a later time and add more details, it is very likely that you will contradict what your reader imagined. This in turn has a very high probability of breaking their immersion and bringing them out of the story. I don’t want that to happen to me when I’m reading, and I don’t want it to happen to my readers.


That’s it for this time. I’ll probably do next post in the Canned Wisdom series on Wednesday or Tuesday next week. I may post something or other about my book, or about whatever else comes to mind in the meantime though.

Finally, do you have any comments or questions or opinions on what I write above? Please feel free to leave a comment below. :)

Canned Wisdom #1