Tag Archives: writing

Why do you read what you read?

My youngest step son doesn’t like fiction. It’s made school difficult since most of what he’s been assigned to read, until now, is fiction. Give him a science book or a how-to book and he’ll stay up all night. Give him a novel and he’ll volunteer to clean the litter box.

As an author, I always love to know the reasons why people read what they read. Why do you read the back of the cereal box? Why do you choose non-fiction over fiction? Why do you insist on having an explosion in your fiction? Why do you hate it when people fall in love? Why do you read this blog? Why do you read the morning paper?

So, today, my post is for all of you – why do you read what you read? (And, please, if you read the cereal box, I really want to know what’s so engrossing on there!)

Character flaws in fiction

Having started poking around the subject of flaws yesterday, I thought it worth exploring in further detail. From a writing perspective, character flaws are very important (Druid perspective tomorrow!) Real people are flawed, after all. Perfect people are dull, and predictable, so once you get beyond very simple children’s stories, flaws become very important in character creation.

A rounded character needs weak points, failings, blind spots, and things they are rubbish at. These open the way for narrative, as through them, events unfold that the character cannot quickly or easily deal with. Failings actually make a character more endearing, I’ve found. People who are too nice, too good, too kind, too reasonable can actually be hard to empathise with. They might be the sort of people we ought to like, but they aren’t quite human and are a lot harder to engage with.

So, how do you go about putting flaws into a character? You might need to consider it in light of the needs of the plot. The character may need to be blind, or agoraphobic, or clumsy for the story to work. You might grow the flaws out of their personal history – in the form of fears and anxieties, beliefs about themselves or the world, old problems that haunt them, and so forth. You might want to give your character a physical disadvantage of some sort – from injury, illness or birth. You might consider a mental disability. Then there are personality traits – anger, jealousy, paranoia, depression, and so forth. Obsessions compulsions and phobias can flaw a character in some very interesting ways, giving you all kinds of scope to play with them creatively. You could make them a bit lazy, bad at handling money, gullible. A combination of flaws can make for a very convincing person.

Of course, if you make a character too flawed, they become unsympathetic or hard to engage with. A selfish, lazy, clumsy heroine who swears compulsively and hates cats and children may be hard to engage readers with. She might however, make a very good problem ex-girlfriend to have complicating the main plot. Getting the balance right with enough flaws to make a character plausible and likable, is not entirely easy.

Acknowledging the Flaws

As a writer and a pagan, I want to write about pagan people. That creates some interesting tensions. As a writer, I know that interest and sympathy come from flaws. Overly perfect people aren’t realistic, and it’s the problems that create plots and interest. As a pagan, I want to represent paganism well. In reality, there are some problem folk in our community – as there are in all communities. There are people who are drawn by a desire for power, who claim knowledge they don’t have, who use their status for abusive or sexually predatory reasons. There are nutters, (as in any community) there are airy fairy fluffy types and hard core intolerant folk. Pagans are people, and people tend to be complicated, messy, flawed entities.

There isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, much fiction out there dealing with real life modern pagans. (If you know of anything good, please comment!) Much of it is more on the fantasy side, delving into magic and witchcraft in ways that bear no resemblance to the realities of being an ordinary pagan. I think because so many pagans have a non-conventional relationship with reality, we tend to write more ‘magical realism’ than not, but a great deal of what I’ve seen claiming to show pagan characters, looks more like full blown fantasy to me. This may be because at least some of the writers of such fiction are writing fantasy, not speaking from experience. 

I have absolutely no idea what market (if any) there might be for stories that reflect the reality of pagan life. I haven’t the faintest idea what affect it might have putting such material out there. How would other folk relate to us if they knew about the bitchcraft and witch wars, the in-fighting, the predators, the politics, and the challenges of ‘normal’ paganism. Stories about happy functional groves, hearths and covens aren’t going to make good reading. Plots require tension. Fiction that makes use of the very real and actual flaws, isn’t necessarily going to make anyone comfortable.

The writer in me rather fancies taking what I know of the pagan scene, and making a story of it. The pagan in me is horrified by the idea. So for now, my pagan work is also more on the magical realism side, and I’ve not tackled the personalities, politics, and weirdness that I know is out there. If anyone else has braved it and written honestly about modern paganism, in all its complexity, I’d be very interested to know about it.

Editing

This is more a ‘creativity’ post than a specificially druidic one, but, writing is very much part of the bard path for a lot of fellow travellers, so hopefully someone will find this helpful.

For writers, editing is an essential, but not always easy or happy process. No matter how good you are, everyone makes mistakes and a fresh eye to go over the manuscript and help with the polishing is invaluable. For the author who is protective of their work and sensitive to criticism, it can all feel very uncomfortable.

Over the last ten years or so, I’ve accumulated a fair bit of experience from both sides of the fence – writing, and editing. So, here are some thoughts on what good editing looks like, and when to dig in and demand to work with someone else. There are dreadful, inexperienced, self-important editors out there, and I’ve fallen foul of a few along the way, and heard tales of others. There are also a lot of brilliant, dedicated helpful people.

A good editor will improve your work. It might sting a bit, having the flaws pointed out, but if at the end you get a better story for the changes, then the editor is good and you just have to learn to tolerate the process. A good editor will not only pick up on typos and grammatical errors, but will flag up continuity errors, phrases that don’t make sense, flaws in the story logic, anachronisms and other weak spots. Generally, good editors will identify the problem and either make suggestions or leave you to figure it out. In the ebook world (at any rate) heavy handed editing where the changes are made for you are rare. However (putting the editor hat on) there are authors who prefer to be heavily edited rather than being left to their own devices. If you run into an editing style that doesn’t suit you, it is worth asking if the editor would be prepared to tackle your work in a different way. If you’re going to be with someone for any length of time, it’s worth negotiating to find a way of working that suits you both. Very good editors may well be flexible, or willing to pass you on to someone who better suits your style.

When should you resist the editing process? I’ve had experience of editors who were determined to change my voice into theirs. Now, I gather some big publishing houses are very keen on this. My feeling is that if you get a big publisher, that may come at a price, and you might well want to grit your teeth for the sake of higher sales and visibility. However, there are a lot of small epublishers out there, and if you find the editing process with one of them totally unacceptable, you can always try somewhere else. If the editor’s work damages your plot, or results in the manuscript being less clean, run away. I’ve had both happen, and this is not good editing. If the editor is rude or abusive about your work, contact your publisher immediately and complain. (I’ve had that one happen too.)

It is not easy, especially when you are new to writing, to judge what is unfair editing, and what is the grumbling of a bruised ego. None of us really enjoys having our mistakes flagged up. However, it is really important to determine between the two. Having a hissy fit over good editing will not help you in the slightest. Tolerating bad editing won’t help you either. The critical question to ask is, does the process make my book better, and more saleable? If you aren’t sure, ask – it may be that there are conventions you need to learn about. A good editor will help you learn. If you feel that the process is genuinely harming your book, then contact the publisher. They took your book on based on what they saw of it, after all. In my experience, a word to the publisher can result in a change of editor when needed. If all else fails, and you really aren’t happy, then walk away. Sometime it pays off in spades.

The vast majority of editing is good and helpful, but don’t be afraid to complain if the process doesn’t work for you.