Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Being True to Characters and Setting

Do you "use" settings like you use characters in your stories?
Or do you respect settings like you respect your characters?

Too many writers 'use' characters: "Oh, this character has to die because ..." because the plot demands it, or poor planning leads to a difficult situation, so instead of allowing the characters to deal with difficult truths, the writer writes the character out of the story ("I must move on." "I fell in love with this other person" or usually: PLOT-TWIST! LOOK THAT CHARACTER IS DEAD BECAUSE REASONS!)

Story, too often, is bad story, because I can read who lives and dies, who falls in love with whom, who gets their happy and totally undeserved ending because the author is pushing characters around like chess pieces.

I'd prefer a Helen DeWitt, where: I don't know what's happening, even as a good reader and writer, but I know I love these characters so much, my heart is breaking, and what's happening is a mom is trying to raise her son but he wants to know who his father is? And that's the whole story? The Last Samurai (novel) Yes, it is, and it is a beautiful thing.

So that's characters.

For setting. Too often I read works where the author (mis)treats setting as something characters step through, all bland, featureless and inconsistent ('not-held-together') ... exactly like horse manure, all the same, all pointless, and all of it stinks really quickly.

I argue that if more writers treated their settings like they SHOULD treat their characters, then we would actually learn something, and actually love, Wyoming, for example, or LV-426 on ΞΆ Reticuli or Hydrobad, India (not just 'India') or, for example, Alaska is WARM! and WET! and GREEN! and BEAUTIFUL in the way a mountain LOOMS into your soul. Where is writing that respects a setting that you love it like you love the characters? (or should)

Then, of course, you get the writers who write and write and write the setting and it's just plain, bland, descriptive text that accomplishes nothing except me returning the book to the library after struggling through a few pages of onerous prose. A writer has to set the pages on fire, so that the reader burns with every sentence, and a writer has to know when to burn hard, and when to ease off.

Otherwise writing is just super-simple, as Hemmingway says: "I go to the typewriter and bleed all over it."