Archive for Shakespeare

Like ‘Em or Leave ‘Em

Posted in 2011 with tags , , , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by Kristen

I’ve decided that it’s high time for another writerly blog post. Yes, I know that’s not a word, but making up things to add to the lexicon is one of the many perks that those of us with an education in English get to partake in. Just ask Shakespeare; he’ll tell you.

So. I want to talk about a matter I’ve been pondering a lot lately. As summer has begun, I’ve been reading my nearsighted little eyes out, because that’s just what you do during the summer, and it’s been pretty great so far. However, my exploits into the world of fiction have changed somewhat after learning what I’ve learned from being an English major and just from life in general. I’m able to see the flaws in the form with a great deal more acuity than ever before, and while this makes me feel eight kinds of smug, it makes the reading experience a little bit less fun for me because I’m always noticing gaping plot holes and places in which authors tell when they should show and enough typographical errors to provide a copy editor with work for the next year (too bad I’m not getting paid for it…). Regardless of the fact that these things make it harder for me to just forget the world around me and get lost in the story, however, there is an upside to all of it – by recognizing these flaws, I learn what not to do when I write my own stuff, and I then grow as a writer. At least, that’s the hope. And I can bestow my findings upon you all! Feel privileged? You should.

While I was talking with my dad the other day, we discussed this rhetorical issue I’ve been pondering – the fact that one of the most important things that a story writer can concern themselves with is whether or not their characters are likeable.

Incidentally, I’m wondering about the spelling of the word “likable.” Is it “likable” or “likeable?” Microsoft Word accepts both, apparently. But though “likable” is more widely accepted, I prefer “likeable.” “Likable” just looks like “lick-able” to me, and that’s something else entirely.

All right. Virginia Woolf moment over. So, after thinking about the issue of likeability, I decided that if a story doesn’t have likeable characters, it’s not going to do too well, regardless of any other merits it may have. It can have a great storyline; it can be highly original; it can have the tightest of plots; but if its characters are not likeable, the story is going to be sorely lacking. I believe it was Kurt Vonnegut who said that the reader needs at least one character to root for. It’s true; otherwise, the reader’s just going to lose interest and they’ll only keep on reading (or watching, because the same goes for movies) because they don’t want to be left in the lurch without knowing how the story ends, not because they think the story is especially enjoyable.

Not convinced yet? Let’s proceed to Exhibit A: George Lucas’s second Star Wars trilogy (that is to say, the prequels). Now, these are obviously not books, but I think they prove my point quite nicely, and these films are actually what led me to some of these conclusions. I think we can all agree that these movies have some pretty sweet special effects, and that their storyline is kind of awesome. However, I’m also quite sure that we can agree upon the fact that the movies kind of suck overall, and that nobody over the age of 12 thinks that they were a great cinematic achievement. This is due in part to the fact that the dialogue in the films is abysmally bad and that there are no doubt quite a few plot holes in there. But I think the films’ biggest failing is the fact that the characters are just plain unlikeable. Think about it – Anakin is a pissy jerk who doesn’t mature from the first movie to the third even though he ages several years over the course of the trilogy. Padme is pretty to look at, but she’s a rather flat character in general and just serves as a prop for Anakin’s “character development.” Obi-Wan is cool mostly because he’s played by Ewan McGregor, rather than because of any virtue of the character itself. And Jar-Jar is just an utterly annoying moron. So who does this leave us to root for? I submit no one. Especially because we all know that—spoiler alert!—Anakin is going to become an even bigger jerk in the end by turning into Darth Vader. The movies would have been so much more compelling and the ending would have felt ten times more tragic if we had been able to like Anakin’s character for who he was. So, regardless of the fact that I may or may not have idolized Queen Amidala when I was a fresh, naive girl of 12, the truth remains that I have since lost interest in the newest Star Wars films. I don’t think I’ve even seen all of the third one yet. And why? Because the characters weren’t likeable enough to hook me into the story.

And now, on to Exhibit B: Legend of the Emerald Rose, by Linda Wichman. I know that approximately zero of you have heard of this book, but just bear with me for a moment. This is a Christian fantasy novel of the Arthurian legend variety (you’ll learn more about it later if you stay tuned for my “Books of Summer 2011” post that I’m going to put up in late August), and as such, is a pretty rare breed; it might even be the only one of its kind. We got it in my church library a number of years ago and I’ve read it at least three times since then. The storyline isn’t bad, as Arthurian legends go, but the book has some issues—the thing is riddled with typographical errors, and some parts of the story are pretty cheesy. So why on Earth did I read the thing three times? Well, I’ll tell you: I’m willing to put up with the book’s issues because the main characters are so darn great. They’re so feisty and gutsy and fun, and of course, gorgeous as well. And there’s this delicious romantic tension between them that suffuses the entire novel. All of these aspects of the book’s protagonists are what kept me coming back for more. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that I’m a relentless fantasy junkie; the merit of the characters is what makes the book good, and I think you’ll agree with me if you ever read this one.

I could go on and on with examples to illustrate what I’m talking about here—heck, I’m writing this blog post right now because I got bored with the characters in the book I’m currently reading—but this post is getting long, so I’ll wrap up by saying that I have learned without a doubt that likeable characters are essential to the enjoyment of a book. I couldn’t care less if the storyline is the most epic thing that ever was epic; if it doesn’t have good characters in it, I don’t want to read it because I know it’s going to be boring. This is something I’m going to strive to remember as I write stories of my own, and you can bet that the thing I’ll most want to know from people who read any future manuscripts of mine is whether or not they liked my little made-up people. And if any of you out there are aspiring authors like me, maybe this will help you too. Writers must remember—get some likeable characters in there! Your readers will thank you.

Don’t Beat a Dead Horse; Resurrect It.

Posted in 2010 with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2010 by Kristen

You know what makes me feel better about my writing? The fact that even Shakespeare wasn’t original.

It may seem fantastic, but it’s true – in studying Shakespeare this semester, I’ve learned that Shakespeare got his ideas from a variety of classical playwrights, as well as other authors. For the majority of his plays, he wasn’t the first to think of the plot line – he merely tweaked the other stories (which were not always themselves original), with varying degrees of extremity.

In light of this, I think I spend far too much time worrying about being original or creating something that no one else has ever heard of before. While it would be awesome to be able to do that, I would venture to say that it might not even be possible. Especially at this far-advanced point in history, I feel as though just about every possible scenario has been explored in some way or another – as Ecclesiastes 1:9 so wisely states, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun.” I think that’s quite true – human imagination may appear boundless, but it seems as though there are only so many directions in which it can go.

And so, I’m going to try not to give myself headaches in my attempt to be completely original, because it’s really not something that anyone’s requiring of me. If I can do as much as managing to breathe fresh life into old ideas using my unique perspective, I imagine that’ll be a good accomplishment, since, when it comes down to it, that’s pretty much what every writer is doing through their work. And since purposely striving for originality doesn’t seem to be the way to go, I’ll keep this C.S. Lewis quote in mind – “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”