Every body has it’s natural limits.
It sounds simple but many a writer has forgotten this. Say it with me; every body has it’s natural limits. Can your character still run with a dislocated knee? I’m going to hazard a no, mainly because the dislocation of a joint destabilises it i.e your character does not have that leg to stand on.
Another uncomfortable fact for you; It takes roughly 1000lbs of pressure and the drop of the body to break the neck when hanging a person.
With that in mind ask your self this; is it realistic that my (badass) character could do such a thing with their bare hands? Just another one of those questions that will draw strange looks for others if you utter it aloud but, trust me, it’s one you should ask. Nothing will undermine the realism of your story more than characters that, while being apparently unremarkable, suddenly sprouting super powers.
Don’t get me wrong, you most definitely can have a non-hulking man do such things or, further still, a tiny woman besting such feats but you must account for it.
Consider the following;
- Is your character male or female?
- How old are they?
- Are they healthy and fit? (in this category also consider weight, previous injuries, senses and psychological factors. E.g a healthy, fit young woman who regularly weight trains and takes self defense classes would have more of a chance of fighting off an attacker than an overweight, older man who was partially blind.)
- What size are they; weird question I know but think about it; a very small man has different combat/maneuvering options compared to his larges more muscle bound compatriots.
I wont bore you with the facts about how much damage a body can take before it becomes incapacitated (though there are resources detailing this at the bottom) instead we will look at the active capabilities of the human body in practical terms. Lets stipulate, first, that for now the character in question has no superhuman abilities whatsoever; we’re taling entirely tabula rasa. No training, no powers. there will be alot of things they simply cannot do but this doesn’t mean they are not impressive.
Consider this example;
Four subjects are locked in identical rooms and need to escape; the rooms have one door (locked with old, shaky hinges), one window (not locked but high above the ground with only a rickety series of ledges to descend by), one ventilation shaft (covered) and a steel framed bed. They are all equally intelligent; what matters here is physicality.
One is a large man (perhaps six foot fours, weighing two hundred and thirty pounds) he is well muscled and extremely strong (and heavy!). he has bad knees. He cannot shimmy through the ventilation shaft to freedom as he is too physically large, neither can he exit the window as, though it has a small ledge, his size makes it unlikely it will support him. Bad knees make it unlikely that he can kick the door down, despite his strength, for he could well hurt them further. This leaves him two options; pull the door from its hinges (if it opens inward) or use the bedframe to put pressure on the hinges and pull them from the door frame.
The second character is a large woman; maybe five eleven and one hundred and eighty pounds she is also strong but less so than her neighbour. She has an old shoulder injury. The likelihood of her pulling the door open with brute force is very small; even if we discounter her shoulder injury…unless she were a veritable Goliath then this is unlikely, though possible! She might however kick the door down as the legs are often much stronger than the upper body. She too could put pressure on the hinges with the frame. However her size may prevent her from using the grate or the window.
Character three is a smaller man (five ten, one hundred and seventy pounds) missing his left hand; though still too big to fit through the grate he could also use the bedframe, kick the door or pull the door (though pulling a door off its hinges requires so much force that I would say this is unlikely, though not impossible). He could not realistically and safely, however, drop down the ledges to the ground.
The final character is a small woman (five four, one hundred and thirty pounds) relatively agile but not overly well conditioned. This character could use the grate and stands a fair change of applying enough leverage with the bedframe to escape though her chances of using brute force to break the door down are slim. She, however, stands most chance of using the shaky ledges being small, light and more agile.
All characters are capable of being formidable if put under enough pressure, they simply have different capabilities which leads me to an important point; bigger is not always better- a character need not be a powerhouse to be remarkable.
Next time - characters who do more than they are (technically) capable of.
In one sense, every story that is made up, or imaginary, is a fantasy, and a hundred years ago, if a writer were discussing fantasy, he would have used the term fantasy that way.
Today, when discussing fantasy as a literary genre, we more often are discussing a branch of literature that offers some strangeness as a primary draw, such as a strangeness in the setting for the story (such as imaginary places or magic systems), or perhaps in the characters that inhabit our own world—vampires and supermen.
Some people consider science fiction to be a subset of fantasy, though it can be quite different. Science fiction is most often a literature that deals with speculation about the future, and to some degree might even be predictive of the future in a way that fantasy is not.
The editor Donald A. Wollheim once suggested that bookstores create a section called “Wonder literature” that would include stories meant to arouse a powerful sense of wonder. Science fiction and fantasy would thus be sold together under his model. I rather prefer this. You see, we tend to categorize books nowadays by the primary emotions that they elicit—humor, romance, horror, thrillers, and so on. Wonder literature makes sense, though there are those who recognize that horror is often closely aligned to fantasy. After all, the strange is often terrifying as well as wondrous.
Some of the big players in the fantasy genre include people like Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Most of the bestselling books of all time are fantasies—things like Harry Potter, Twilight, or the The Alchemist.
In fact, I’m going to make a prediction: eight of the ten top-grossing films this year will be fantasy or science fiction. I’m pretty safe in making that bet: it’s been true every year for the past 20 years.
Yet many folks don’t recognize how important fantasy is in our lives.
I grew to love fantasy as a child, sitting on my mother’s knee, as she told me bedtime stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Hansel and Gretel.” I don’t think that I recognized that animated stories—cartoons like Bugs Bunny or movies like Peter Pan—were roughly the equivalent of those bedtime stories.
Yet fantasy permeates society and my love for it blossomed as a child—from bedtime stories to cartoon, from cartoons to comics and fables and myth, from myth to more contemporary fantasies in the form of novels.
So what is fantasy for? What good is it?
Quite simply, fantasy is what we as storytellers use to hold the attention of our audience as we prepare to tell them something important.
Whenever something strange is introduced in a story, it grabs the attention of the audience. Whether we speak of a haunted house, or bring out a ghost, or have a character sucked back in time as we introduce a strange conflict, that grabs the reader’s attention, but quite often the story carries lessons that are of more value than mere entertainment.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, we learn about the need for courage to face the future, but we also learn about the duties that soldiers owe to brothers, and the ethics of how one should entertain strangers in our own homes, and so on.
In the same way, fantasy today carries lessons for life. I have a theory about fantasy. I suspect that the human brain is incapable of storing most of the information that we need to know in order to really understand the world. So very often, ancient history gets stored under the guise of fable.
Let me see if I can explain it more clearly. Take an incident from your own family history, something far in the past, and try to examine what you really know about it. The truth is, you probably don’t know anything—just the fable.
Having trouble finding synonyms for ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘tan’, etc? Have any clear idea what tone you’re going for? Here’s some web pages for skin tone description and references:
Handy Words for Skin Tone (Includes palettes and comparisons)
More Tone Synonyms w/ Pictures
7 Offensive Mistakes Writers Make (includes more than just skin color)
Sometimes a poorly written hero or protagonist suffers from the problem of always being shown as the victim. A lot of unfortunate things will happen to your protagonist along the way, but it’s the way they handle it that makes a difference. At one point or another your protagonist or hero will want to give up, but they eventually have to pick themselves up and keep going. They have to grow on their own.
It’s important that your hero accomplishes things on their own. It’s FINE if your readers feel sympathetic toward your protagonist, that’s a good thing, but they need to feel like your hero can go beyond being the victim. They need to feel like your hero has the potential to change his or her life and become stronger.
Another problem with the victim hero is that everyone does everything for them. If they never grow out of that victim spotlight, they’ll be too afraid to do anything on their own. They need to stop feeling like a victim and start feeling like the hero at one point. You don’t want your supporting characters solving everything for your main character. You don’t want them to ALWAYS step in the last minute and fix all their problems. You main character is the protagonist for a reason, so don’t make the other characters more interesting.
Your hero doesn’t have to be strong physically to be someone people can root for. They don’t even have to be strong emotionally all the time because that’s just not realistic. They just need to find a way to work with what they have and be confident in their own abilities. We need to see them making the best of what they’ve got. We need to see them moving forward and growing in order to develop who they are. Being a strong character is all about growth.
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I didn’t have much of an understanding of character voice two years ago. I’m an English graduate, and none of my professors in college really talked about it. I think I remember learning the definition in high school and reading it briefly in a few writing tips.
In truth, I’ve probably heard the fact that “voice is one of the biggest draws for getting an agent or editor” more than I’ve actually heard tips on writing voice. Since then, I’ve gotten to the heart of what voice is. Or so I think. You’ll have to judge for yourself. Here’s what I found for anyone who might be struggling like I once was, or anyone who wants to learn more. The stuff in this post is what helped me bring that elusive voice into focus.
First, by definition, "voice" can refer to the writer’s style, the narrator’s style, or, your characters’ persona, thoughts, speech patterns, and word choice.
Sometimes when people think of character voice, they think of first-person narration, but really, all characters have a voice of their own, even if they aren’t telling the story. To illustrate, here are three lines from Harry, Ron, and Hermione:
- "Don’t go picking a row with Malfoy, don’t forget, he’s a prefect now, he could make life difficult for you…"
- "Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?"
- "I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me."
If you’ve read the books, I bet you can tell who said what.
Voice is made up of two things: What the character talks (or sometimes thinks) about, and how she says it. In other words:What the Character Talks about + How She Says it = Voice
Hermione believes in following rules and frequently tells Ron and Harry to do likewise. She’s also very logical and intelligent. In the first line above, she chooses to warn Harry, and then explains, logically, why he should heed her warning. Ron usually says those comical one-liners, and his language is usually a little coarser than the other two, so his quote is the second one. Because Harry is frequently accused of things, he often has to defend himself, “I don’t go looking for trouble.”
What Your Character Talks About
So, What does your character choose to talk about? What does he not talk about?
It’s one thing to make a world, a fantasy land or alternative place where things are different, but it’s an entirely different thing to make a World.
That sounds stupid, right?
Perhaps not so much as you think; you’ve heard the phrase “a whole new world”? (Disney counts too) which refers to a different state of being for a person or, in extreme cases, a society. The Reformation created a whole new world for the religious but not a new World. It’s the capital letter, you see, that matters… well, not just the capital letter. We’re talking a literal place; think a new planet, a new universe. An entirely new creation.
World building is one of the most complex and tricky tasks a fiction writer can take on but it’s immensely satisfying and rewarding. It opens up endless possibilities to you as an author; things can be as you wish, without question or reason. If you don’t believe me, look at the Disc-World series; a plant on the backs of five elephants riding a space turtle…
And yet Pratchetts Disc world could be the real world; it’s complexity and realism are astounding, considering it’s largely magical and mostly nonsensical (but in a way that makes so much sense). Why? Because Pratchetts Disc-World has lore, it has life (plant, animal and human… among other things), it has diversity of race, social standing and political views.
And, of course, it has history.
Things to consider when making history;
- Cultural and religious evolution/development; It’s unlikely that you’d find a world where every person hails from the same culture and religion. If they do then focus on explaining why: did one culture become bigger, badder and more aggressive? Did it spread across the world and consume all in its path until there were no distinctions only an amalgamation of all unrecognisable from the initial conquerors and conquered? You should know all your cultures and religions intimately; even if they’re not the main focus there will be the odd character who hails from here or there passing through, especially in large cities. Most of your peoples should show considerable development over large periods of time but if they don’t, consider why. Are they very traditional, with a focus on preserving past ideals and rituals?
- Different areas, principalities or countries; it might sound obvious but they probably shouldn’t be carbon copies of each other. The identity of a nation, area or people will depend upon the climate they live in and what their survival in this place requires (among other things) nomadic peoples are nomadic because they must move to find food and water. But if a group is always on the move then how will they educate? Carrying books and extra equipment for written learning as well as histories would be an avoidable burden. Perhaps, then, oral learning would take precedence?
- Social differentiation; No, not the field of academic study the actual presence of differing social positions, statuses and experiences based on income, gender, race and age. For example, in a Matriarchal society women would have more authority. In a society where oral learning and knowledge transfer is common then Elders would garner more respect than younger members of society. Differentiation is not the same as prejudice; prejudice occurs on a personal level i.e the belief that all violin players are scatty/the unreasonable mistrust of young, dark haired women. Differentiation is the product of prejudice, among other things.
- The fact that history is non-linear; this, in particular, sounds ridiculous but anyone who’s spent a lot of time studying history will know what I mean. While time moves from year to year (clearly) progress can go back and forth. Progress is often laboured and can face setbacks. Consider the Reformation in Scotland; by 1560 Scotland was a Presbyterian country but in the 1580’s there was threat of a counter reformation and a Spanish armada on the horizon. Such touches will give your world authenticity!
- History is not just war and politics; it’s also religion, foreign relations, censorship, the development (or breakdown) of moral control. The history if your world is, essentially, the stock of a soup; it needs more than two ingredients to be palatable. Of course too many will confuse its flavour.
Recording the histories;
Its important that, after building your history, you don;t forget it! Keeping it all written down, of course, will help but organisation is also key!
It would be advisable that you;
- Keep separate notebooks for different topics.
- Invest in a programme like Scrivener which will help you keep everything together but handily separated.
- OR, if you have the space, even keep a filing cabinet.
But keep it all to hand, treat your history as if it were your tax return forms!
For a general overview on world building, see :Making your world come alive
like tbh i feel like my problem with the “dark and gritty!!” trend in modern stories is this
there’s this idea in our culture that cynicism is realistic? that only children believe in happy endings, that people are ultimately selfish and greedy and seeing with clear eyes means seeing the world as an awful place
that idealism is— easy, i guess. butterflies and sunshine and love are easy things to have in your head.
but i’ve known since i was fifteen that idealism— faith in humanity— optimism— is the most difficult thing in the entire world.
i constantly struggle to have faith in humanity, because it’s really, really easy to lose it. it’s easy to look at the news and go “what were you expecting? of course humans behave this way.” it’s easy to see the world and go “ugh, there’s no hope there.” and the years when i believed that were easy. miserable— but easy.
it is hard work to see the good in people. it is hard work to hope. it is hard work to keep faith and love and joy and appreciation for beauty in my daily life.
and when moviemakers and tv producers and writers go “omg!!! all characters are selfish and act poorly and don’t love each other, nothing ever happens that is happy or good, that’s so much more realistic, that’s so much more adult”
no, it’s not
it’s the most childish thing i can imagine.
IT’S INCREDIBLY HELPFUL AND CAN FOR INSTANCE GENERATE TOPICS AND FIRST LINES, CONTAINS LOADS OF EXERCISES AND YOU CAN FIND PLENTY OF WRITING TIPS.
BLESS YOU I LOVE YOU OH MY GODS I’VE NEEDED THIS
All from Ingrid’s Notes on Wordpress, direct link here.
thank the lord oh my
Because it’s not the monsters that are the real danger (if they are even “monsters” at all), it’s the violence itself. It’s what’s required of you, psychologically, in order to commit that violence without so much as a flinch.