Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Some Assembly Required: A Whedonite's Guide to Characterisation Pt1

So a few people who attended my workshop at the RT Booklovers Convention in May asked me if I'd putup a few notes. These are just that--a few notes--since I'd like to be able to present the workshop again some day, and if you've all drunk the milk then how will I sell, wait, what?

Anyway. Here's the first couple of points:

1. Be a Sketch Artist:
Dr Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog
Tells you everything you need 
to know in the first 
3 minutes and 45 seconds.
If you're writing short-form stories, i.e. short stories, novellas, Harlequin books, you don't have a lot of time to convey character. Here's how to tell the reader what they're dealing with very quickly.

(NB, this is a transcript. You should watch it for the full effect)

Ah hahahaha! Ah ha haaaa! A haaaa!
So that’s, you know... coming along. I’m working with a vocal coach. Strengthening the “ahhaa”. A lot of guys ignore the laugh, and that’s about standards. 
I mean, if you’re going to get into the Evil League of Evil you HAVE to have a memorable laugh. I mean do you think Bad Horse didn’t work on his whinny? His terrible... death... whinny...
No response, BTW, from the League yet but my application is strong this year. A letter of condemnation from the deputy mayor. That’s gotta have some weight, so, fingers crossed.
Emails! 2SLY4U writes: “Hey genius...” Wow. Sarcasm. That’s ORIGINAL. 
“Where are the gold bars you were supposed to pull out of that bank vault with your trans-matter ray? Obviously it failed or it would be in the papers.”
Well, no, they’re not going to say anything in the press. But BEHOLD. Transported from there to here.
The molecules tend to shift in the trans-matter... um...event, but, they were transported IN BAR FORM and they clearly were...
And by the way it’s not about making money. It’s about TAKING money. Destroying the status-quo because the “status” is not “quo”. The world is a mess and I just need to...rule it. I’m gonna... that smells like cumin.
So, Trans-matter is 75% AND more importantly the Freeze-Ray is almost up. This is the one. Stops time.Freeze-ray. Tell your friends.
We have... OH! Here’s one from our good friend Johnny Snow. “Dr. Horrible. I see you are once again afraid to do battle with your nemesis. I waited at Dooley Park for 45 minutes...”
OK. Dude. You’re NOT my nemesis. My nemesis is Captain Hammer. Captain Hammer, corporate tool. He dislocated my shoulder. Again. Last week. Look, I’m just trying to change the world, OK? I don’t have time for a grudge match with every poser in a parka.
Besides, there’s kids in that park, so...
Here’s one from DeadNotSleeping. “Long time watcher, first time writing...” Blah blah blah. “You always say on your blog that you will show her the way, show her you are a true villain. Who is ‘her’ and does she even know that you’re...”
Okay, now what have we learned from that, class? How about Dr Horrible's goals, motivation, conflict, background, setting, and general character cues. We know he wants to be a supervillain but isn't very good at it, that he lives in a world of superheroes and one of them is his nemesis, and that he has a romantic interest. In under four minutes.

Oh...and we get that it's funny, too.

Here is where the reader makes assumptions about the book they've just picked up.
Use the opening scenes of your story to cue the reader in to the most important things about your character and their world.
What's important to him? What does he want, what does he hate, what's stopping him from getting it? What kind of story are you telling? Is there anything you want to plant here that you're later going to turn on its head?
Avoid the "As you know, Bob," style of exposition. Only one piece of information was delivered directly in that clip. Tune in on Wednesday and I'll tell you which one!

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