Weak Writing: Characters

watch-penny-dreadful-online-streaming

Vanessa up front, Chandler far stage left, Sir Malcolm second from stage right. Also: Vanessa’s lips are thinner, eyes larger. Also 2: Note scorpions on her neck. You can tell, from this insertion, the picture was taken from Season 2, because THERE IS NO MENTION OF THEM IN SEASON 1 OR 3.

Or, A Rosy Review of Penny Dreadful season One and a Black Review of Penny Dreadful seasons Two and Three.

This isn’t exactly a post focusing on novel writing, although everything I write about in this post can be incorporated. It’s something I find fundamental to good storytelling: character development and steadfastness.

I get a lot of recommendations for storytelling: some are books, some are movies, some are poems, TV series. Today I want to focus on television series and in some senses, movie series. Particularly the anti-hero series Penny Dreadful off Showtime, currently available on Netflix.

Spoilers ahead.

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The Importance of Proper Research (In the Age of Instant Gratification)

I've read all of these. Not really.

I’ve read all of these. Not really.

I went to college for writing, for English, and for words. I. Love. Words. I love to write. I love to read. The world is a fascinating place. There’s so much info out there it’s scary. YET I was terrible at writing a research paper because I didn’t understand how to properly research. I thought a quick scan was “good enough.” I still do. It’s an art to write good research papers.

I do not reference this idea in this blog post: MLA format, Chicago format, quotes vs. italics vs. underline, not in this post. I refer to researching for knowledge and not for publishable content (although this gives me a wonderful idea for a future blog post).

With the encapsulation of so much infotainment in the media, so much of what I call “instant research,” there’s a whole hell of a lot of information being lost in the annals of the internet.

I’ll explain why instant research is killing the writing community:

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Unexpected Mindreading in Literature.

The previous blog post ties directly into this one.

I belong to an online writing group (Critique Circle) where amateur and pro writers alike come together and share critique strategy, their work, and whatever they want to talk about.

When I post my writing there, I’m constantly being told that my characters aren’t mind readers, and I should stop letting them know what the other characters are thinking. An example would be something like this: “David saw that Victor didn’t want him running down the stairs.”

In fact, besides passive verb use (I’m terrible at this), I get this every time I post. I’m a fan of flow, and I’m a fan of forward movement in a story, and instead of spending twice as many words writing “David saw the slow frown on Victor’s face when he pointed toward the stairs, and the half-shake of his head as he sullenly closed his eyes,” I opt for the shorter story. In short, David saw Victor’s reaction as negative.

We’re social people, all of us. Maybe it’s the amateurs telling me something false (which is possible), but maybe I’m a freak accident that gets nonverbal communication on a level that most writers don’t. I didn’t write, “David saw Victor remembering when Victor’s father fell down the stairs, breaking his leg: Victor never told anyone about it…” Because, well, that’s mindreading. Giving a motive behind an observed action as fact is mindreading, but observing an action isn’t.

Until I’m published twice (I’m not even published once), I’m an amateur, so I have no place to pass judgment on others’ critiques. It’s why I’m there. But I can’t help but scratch my head over this. I see it all the time in books. In fact, it’s something I use less often than the long, drawn-out version of my POV character observing facial movements. Why? I like people, and I find interactions complex.

Yet, and I’ve had over thirty unique people–writers–telling me this, my characters read minds because they observe the nonverbal. Clearly someone isn’t doing right. Is it me? Time will tell.

~x