So Good to Be Bad: The Study of a Bond Villain

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I remember being on a panel about Character Construction and hearing the con’s distinguished Guest of Honor say something along the lines of “You want to make your villains complex and multi-layered otherwise they resemble something out of a James Bond movie

My own reply to this was “You say this as if it were a bad thing.”

Let’s face facts — no villain is more fun to watch in action than a classic James Bond Villain. I’ve heard authors mock the megalomaniacs of Bond’s world, dismissing them as forgettable, cookie-cutter caricatures. I find this argument irrevocably flawed as we all recall with delight that legendary exchange between Auric Goldfinger and James Bond as an industrial laser is slowly inching its way up to Bond’s body:

Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

The crafting behind a Bond Villain begins with [...]

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Brandy Schillace: On Character Building (One Donut Shop at a Time)

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I have a great affinity for donut shops…But not because I am especially fond of pastries.

It has more to do with the reality of such places. Here, the mundane becomes concrete and tangible: the florescent pink door handle, the flickering light of glass cases, the smell of coffee and powdered sugar (and crisping dough creations in the back-room oven). From the badly designed Styrofoam cups–with lids that never quite fit–to the faux wood shelves attempting to capture a sense of “rustique,” the donut shop is quintessential for one of my favorite fiction exercises… the character build.

Why? Why not create character in a chic Parisian cafe? Or a veranda in Venice? Or a yacht off the Caribbean coast? You could. But the goal is to create a real, live character–someone readers can identify with and believe in. Unless you spend a great deal of time traveling to or researching [...]

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On Character (Baseball Players and the Women Who Love Them)

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky

Hello folks! (::waves madly to old friends and new::)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Magical Words. A lot has been going on in my writing life, as culminated in yesterday’s launch of the Diamond Brides Series. Now bear with me. I know that, here at MW, we primarily focus on speculative fiction. And I know that Diamond Brides is a series of nine short, hot contemporary romance novels. There is not a single fantasy element in the series, and the books definitely aren’t science fiction. But over the course of the next four weeks, I look forward to explaining how my romance novels dovetail with my speculative fiction work, how the craft lessons I learned in the SF&F genres carried over to romance, and how writing is writing, no matter what labels we apply. (Yeah, that’s an ambitious goal, for four posts. We’ll see how [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part III

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5: Research

I flat-out love research, as I find it inevitably sparks new ideas for a story or novel. If you’re writing in the ‘Here & Now,’ it’s not quite as necessary, but unless you do exactly what every last one of your characters do, and you have the same background, education, and interests as all of your characters, you’re still going to need to go out and seek information. In my classes, I give my students this scenario: Your character is a upper-class woman living in New York in 1855. Your story starts with her waking up in the morning. How happens next? What’s she wearing? And from there, I give them a (brief) outline of how such a woman from that era would generally be dressing — which usually leaves them a little stunned.

As writers of speculative fiction, we generally have a lot of research to do. [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part II

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In the first installment, I covered the first two strategies: 1) the Physical Details, and 2) Show vs. Tell. We’ll pick up from there…

Strategy 3: Dialogue

I think, for me, that this may be the Big One — the strategy with the most impact on characterization for both good or ill. If you fail at getting the dialogue right, the character will also fail, but if you get it right… well, then the character will stir and come to vivid life on the page.

With dialogue, we add an entirely new sense to the character, because as soon as you enclose words inside those quotation marks, the readers begins to not only see the character, but to hear her or him. We give the character a voice — and each character should have her or his unique voice. Everyone who grew up before the time of your phone telling [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part I

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In my creative writing classes, I generally break fiction into four basic components: Character, Setting, Plot, and Theme. I spend more time on characterization than the others, honestly, since I think that no matter what genre you’re writing, the reader cares primarily about the characters. You can be a tremendous worldbuilder and create an incredibly intricate background for the novel; you can have a blazing plot with startling shifts and turns and unexpected directions (all properly foreshadowed, of course); you can lay a deep, meaningful foundational theme underneath everything to support the entire structure. That’s all fine, but if the characters are wooden and one-dimensional, it’s also all for naught. Yet if the characters are complex, real, and compelling, then the reader will forgive small defects in setting, plot, and theme… because it’s the characters we care about.

It’s the characters we remember when we close a book. We [...]

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Amy Sterling Casil on Character: Who is in the Story and Why?

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Inspired by a lifelong love of nature, endless curiosity, and a belief in wonderful things, Amy Sterling Casil is a 2002 Nebula Award nominee and recipient of other awards and recognition for her short science fiction and fantasy, which has appeared in publications ranging from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction to Zoetrope. She is the author of 26 nonfiction books, over a hundred short stories, primarily science fiction and fantasy, two fiction and poetry collections, and three novels. She lives in Aliso Viejo, California with her daughter Meredith and a Jack Russell Terrier named Gambit. Amy is the founder of Pacific Human Capital, a founding member and treasurer of Book View Café author cooperative and former treasurer of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and teaches writing and composition at Saddleback College, after receiving her MFA from Chapman University in 1999. She is currently engaged in [...]

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