Examples of Good Book Qualities

Examples of Good Book Qualities

Whenever I do a review, those familiar with my blog know that I have a very consistent approach because I know what I like in stories, and I evaluate stories by what I like. I think the more someone works to understand what they like, they’re more likely to find books they enjoy and (if they aspire to be an author) write books they will enjoy.

What I decided to do today is provide examples on what books did particularly well in various categories.

Name of the Wind
Image of this book’s cover was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Character:  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I chose this specifically because of how divisive this book is in my opinion. I love it. I know people who hate it.  The love and hate of this book is based entirely on how people feel about Kvothe. I think Kvothe is a brilliant character. He’s sympathetic, proactive, and highly competent. Now this is actually why a lot of people don’t like the book. He’s too perfect. I don’t think he’s a Mary Sue, but some do. Still the point is, this book hangs it hat on the main character.

Exposition: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.  Every book needs exposition. Sooner or later, the author has to just tell the reader what’s going on. The trick is to make sure that writers show everything they can and lace the exposition through the story. Mistborn has an incredibly complex magic system, and the world it happens in has a deep history. This book never once beats up the reader with complicated blocks of exposition. There is one “education” scene, where Vin learns the basics of allomancy, but other than that, the book weaves what we need throughout the action.

Worldbuilding: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. If you’re wondering, yes, it was very hard to not include Sanderson here as well, but Eye of the World is another example. Great stories typically have worlds that feel real. Eye of the World establishes so much with culture, the magic system, the mythos, and the setting. It’s truly masterful worldbuilding, but it’s not just worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. There are books I feel that take worldbuilding too far. I don’t want to spend my life reading about the economic value of a whosit. This book balances intricate worldbuilding with the story to make the scene and universe believable.

Dialogue: Brother Odd by Dean Koontz.  I’ve always been a fan of the dialogue in Koontz’s books, but I think this book is a text book for how dialogue is done. The conversations in this book are crisp and relevant, and each character has a distinct voice. Also, it’s a pretty amazing book.

BetrayersBane
Image of the book’s cover was taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Description: Betrayer’s Bane by Michael G. Manning. Honestly, I’m so finicky with description, this is hard for me. I think Timothy Zahn should also get some credit here, but Manning came to mind first, so here it is. This book has a lot of action and a lot of dramatic scenes. Manning artfully places strategic adjectives that bring a story to life without beating the reader to death with huge paragraphs of description.

There are many books that do many of these well. I don’t know that I can truly place a book here that does all of them well. I think a good book only has to do a majority of these well. I’ll even go so far as to say that, for me personally, I just need good character and low exposition, and I’ll probably like it. The point is, the more of these a writer pays attention to, the better the book will be.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

Strong Female Characters

Strong Female Characters
kid-matt
I’m thinking I was six. Yes, that’s me in the center. Those three are only a few (a FEW) of my sisters.

As I write this, I’m stricken by a loss the world suffered. I won’t discuss it other than to mention the role that women can play in stories. I was basically raised in a house full of women. I had a few brothers that stayed with me on occasion, but the ratio in my house was always at least 2:1.

My mom raised me by herself for five years, and during those five years, I wasn’t very helpful to her. Because I know how strong the women in my life are, I look for female characters who are strong. There are different types of strength, and I’ll get to those, but for me, I hate any story that portrays a woman as anything other than a character who happens to be female. (For the record, I feel this way about religion, color, and ethnicity as well. Stories about race issues or religious issues are important, I’ll even write a few.) There’s a difference between a book about (in this case) women’s issues and a book that simply thinks women need men to exist.

There’s the Bechdel Test. But this only ensures the women have something to talk about. It’s a good test to put your characters through to prevent the issue I’m discussing, but I have a different challenge.

Develop your character. Determine everything you want to determine, then flip a coin to determine gender. Gender has a role in character. Men react differently in certain situations than women, but I’ve found that some stereotypes are mitigated when gender was determined after archetype and function in a story.

There are some amazing female characters in the world.  Some that come to mind right away:

buffy-the-vampire-slayer-tv-series
This image is used for critique an analysis purposes as are other images featuring these characters.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Who I may want to argue is the greatest female character of all time).

Egwene al’Vere from The Wheel of Time

Vin from Mistborn (Who may give Buffy a run for her money, but I’d still argue Buffy would win…okay…I’ll have to post a blog about that in the future).
Lessa from Dragonriders of Pern.

I could go on, but I just wanted to throw out a few things to consider.

The Bechdel Test has its limits both good and bad. Imagine a book about a woman who’s an assassin. She goes through the whole book killing bad guys and just being awesome. I’d probably love this book, but it fails the Bechdel test. There’s not even a second woman for the first to talk to.

My adaptation to this is that if you have women (or a woman) in the story, make them characters. You’ll never make everyone happy, but the first thing to do to ensure you have (we’ll call them) non-weak women in your story is to give them a role in said story.

The Next step is then to give them strength.  Now, all of the above characters are extremes.  They’re LITERALLY strong women. They could kill people, but that’s not the only type of strength.  It is one way. And if you’re working on an action fantasy story, ask yourself, “Is the only reason this character isn’t a girl because I’m a guy?” But if you’re writing science fiction and there isn’t a “magic system” of sorts, don’t worry. Other ways to make those characters strong exist.

The Mentor Archetype:  I’ve recently given Supergirl a second chance. I’m glad I did. That show’s pilot was still one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have issues with some of the on-the-nose “cause” plots. But I submit to you this:

The strongest female character in that show is Cat Grant.

MyriadSupergirl (Kara) has all these powers, but notice how heavily she relies on every other character in the show (particularly Cat) to move forward in the plot. In fact, the only time she’s “strong” is when she’s fighting. (Yes, that’s a pretty mean thing to say, but I watched the first season, and that’s true).  Now, Kara has her moments. She finds out who’s responsible for a certain death, and that scene is amazingly strong. She’s not weak, I’m just saying Cat is far stronger as a character.

Cat is who the women on that show want to be. Cat is who everyone turns to for advice. Cat is the one who gets people moving. They still deal with a lot of issues, but they’re issues that are unique to her character, not her gender.

Writers, it’s fine to make women “super” but that doesn’t actually make them strong. Strength, in my opinion, isn’t a measure of power. Power, is a measurement of physical capability. It’s my opinion that strength is demonstrated when one’s power is lacking, but one finds a way to succeed regardless. So don’t think “give them superpowers” is the answer. Instead, give them a role in the plot that isn’t “love interest.”

Cat is the mentor in this scenario.

Other non-super, but still strong, female characters include:

Kay Scarpetta

Cindy Thomas (from The Women’s Murder Club series)

Karrin Murphy (A great character study in and of herself)

Stormy Llewellyn (from Odd Thomas)

executive-511708_960_720
Stock photos from Pixabay

My point is that character should be strong regardless of their attributes. I’ve posted blogs about developing characters and evaluating their progress. In light of recent events though I felt this post might be particularly effective. No, I didn’t mention that character or the woman who played her. She, quite frankly, requires no mention. She altered generations.

 

 

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt

Sympathetic Characters

Sympathetic Characters

Under my new book review format, I talk about how much I enjoy characters.  That got me thinking about character sympathy, why it’s important and how to manipulate the reader’s sympathy for a character.

masks-701837_960_720One reference for how to adjust sympathy is Writing Excuses.  They’re more successful than I am, and they’re also better at this than I am.  The linked podcast addresses the how.  They reference another podcast that explains why you don’t have to have sympathetic characters.  That’s true.  There are reasons to have unsympathetic characters, but I’m not a fan of them.  They exist in The Journals of Bob Drifter, but that doesn’t mean I was overly happy about their existence, only aware of their necessity.

What is a sympathetic character.   There are a few differing opinions, but I’m going to selfishly hover in my realm of opinions.  While some feel sympathetic characters are those readers feel sad for, I don’t necessarily leave it at that.  When I talk about sympathetic characters, I’m speaking specifically on characters readers have a strong emotional response to.  A character my readers hate (if that’s what I wanted them to feel) is every bit as important as a character my readers love.  When I get feedback from beta readers, my worst fear is I’ll ask, “what did you think about Character X?” and the readers will respond with, “Who?”  That’s a  much bigger problem to me.

richardOne of my betas for Journals hates Richard.  When she told me why, I smiled, and said, “Sorry, but that’s exactly what I wanted you to feel.”  The degree to which readers hate Richard is one thing, but if they hate him for the same reason my beta hated him, I did my job right.  Characters can’t be completely rage worthy any more than they can be completely sympathetic.  The masters (who in my opinion are George R.R. Martin and Peter V. Brett) can make you hate a character and then a book later, make you at least understand them.  This particular ability allows you to have an extra arch with your characters.

sue411_shawn_michaels
Image of Shawn Michaels is used in reference to WWE’s effectiveness in building character sympathy.  Photo Credit unidentifiable.

A great example for how to do this?  Believe it or not, the WWE.  I haven’t watched wrestling in years, but think about it.  Shawn Michaels went from hero to villain to hero to goof to hero and all the way around again.  Readers look for growth in character, and that’s another term that might be misleading.  Sometimes failure tests a character’s metal, and it’s okay for that character to regress.  Why?

Now we come to the main purpose of this particular blog.  We’re all human. Just on the drive to my brother’s house we talked about what it is to be human.  I don’t think people are good or bad.  I think they’re people.  Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they do horrible things.  I know I have.  So the most realistic characters react to their environment.  I have a few characters who don’t change.  I like those characters.  I like those who no matter the test, they alway pass.  I like the other characters too.  I think House, M.D. was a great example here.  What kept me watching that show was the thought that, “Maybe this episode, he’ll do the decent thing.”  Nope.  Never did.  It’s the same trick Charlie Brown kept falling for.  He’ll never kick the ball and House will never be a compassionate person.  (You can argue the end of that series with me in the comments if you want.)

bobThose characters are unique, but they can get boring quickly.  I’ve failed in my life, so I look for characters who have flaws, but are generally decent folk.  One of the more common compliments I get for Journals is Bob.  He’s a good, white-hat, guy.  He has his slumps, but he’s consistently kind and compassionate, and that makes him sympathetic when he’s faced with tragedy.  Others don’t like him because he’s too nice.  I think the world is just about done with antiheroes, then again, maybe not.  I think it’s an archetype like any other.  Use tools for a reason.

You don’t need a raging alcoholic day-care sitter any more than you need an incredibly pious prostitute.  That sort of extreme can seem forced and/or contrived.  Strive instead for people who feel real.  All my favorite books have at least one character I genuinely feel some connection too.  It’s the part of me I see in those characters that makes me want to see what happens to them.  I think this is something to strive for in writing.

That makes me want to close with a few (in no particular order) characters I found very sympathetic.  They area also some of my favorite characters in fiction.  They are:

Perrin Aybara from Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

Vin from Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

John Cleaver from the John Wayne Cleaver series by Dan Wells.

51lahusmnlThe Warded Man/Arlen from The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett.

All of these characters have great emotional range.  Sometimes, they do things that make me proud, other times, I’m angry with them for how they handle a situation.  I could have gone on, but I just wanted to give you all a few characters I felt have the qualities I look for when I’m reading.  You can feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

In summary:  A sympathetic character is someone the reader feels something for.  They should be realistic by sometimes failing tests of character.  They can be “bad” or “good” as a whole, but no one is all of any one thing.  (except for a few carefully chosen characters, which I feel need to be offset by other members in the cast.)

I hope this gives you some insight into what I shoot for when I write.  If you think you’ve found something I missed, or you just have a good resource to share, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading,

Matt