What Makes a Story? #1 – Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes any story (novel, film, tv series) good or bad, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on what makes a story. This week I’m going to talk about characters.

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To be completely biased, characters are the make or break of a story for me. I always think you can have the best plot in the world but if the audience don’t feel anything for the characters then you’re sunk.

The book I read most recently was horribly disappointing and the main reason for that was that I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them, I just thought they were pathetic. Now, pathetic characters are fine IF they are meant to be pathetic, if they’re meant to be protagonists then you’ve got a problem.

A good character:

  • Has solid motivation – you always know why they’re doing what they’re doing
  • Demonstrates their characteristics – it’s no good telling readers that the character is brave – you have to show them
  • Has a backstory – you don’t need to know every detail of their lives but a strong character shouldn’t feel like they’ve been plucked from thin air
  • Speaks like a real person – I mean this both in the sense of what they say and how they say it – setting and genre play a big part of this. If they’re in the Victorian times, the speaker is less likely to use contractions but if set in recent history and present day, speech feels awkward if there are not contractions (see what I did there?)
  • Makes the audience care – this is the big one. Even if they’re hit and miss with the other four things, if you care about the character, the author/creator has done their job.

Some examples of great characters:

Jaime Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire  – fantastic motivation, back story and he’s good and bad.

Don Tillman – The Rosie Project – never has a character had so much heart.

Dexter Mayhew – One Day – amazing character development over twenty years.

Becky Bloomwood – Shopaholic Novels – funny, loveable and always in a mess.

Minguillo Fasan – The Book of Human Skin – a sociopath who you’re partly in collusion with.

Poppy Shilling – A Rural Affair – funny and painstakingly honest. Someone you’ll cheer on.

Will Traynor – Me Before You – a quadriplegic patient with a broken spirit that’s brought back to life

And … Josiah Bartlet – the president in ‘The West Wing’, if only he did run the world …

These are only some of my favourite characters – who are yours? What do you think makes a great character?

 

LEIBSTER AWARD NOMINATION

I’m very chuffed to announce that my blog’s been nominated for a leibster award. Thank you so much SS Readers Corner for the nomination!

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So about the award… The Leibster award is given by bloggers to bloggers. The main aim is to help readers discover new blogs and welcome them to the blogger community.

The rules:

  • Link back to the person who nominated you
  • Post 11 facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions set by your nominator
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers with under 200 followers (you can’t nominate the person who nominated you)
  • Set 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  • Let your nominees know you’ve nominated them.

Eleven facts about myself

  1. I hate all types of bean
  2. I’m horribly scared of falling down an escalator
  3. I love mint tea
  4. I think of stories constantly
  5. Big fan of Strictly Come Dancing (I would simultaneously love and hate to be a contestant)
  6. I enjoy trivia and useless facts
  7. I had an embarrassing (true) story printed in Miranda Hart’s companion book, ‘No It’s Us Too’ … but I didn’t get an ebook until after they stopped selling the companion book, so I’ve never seen it.
  8. I have an uncle called Neale Diamond (he’s not the singer Neil Diamond but we’ve all had fun with it over the years).
  9. I love musicals and listen to the soundtracks way too much
  10. I’m completely teetotal
  11. If I was really rich I’d buy a driver instead of an expensive car. I hate to drive.

 

Eleven questions set by SS Readers Corner

1. What is your favourite book?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – it holds a special place in my heart.

2. If you have a bookshelf or bookshelves, how do you arrange your books? 

I have a small book case with three shelves. On the top shelf I have my light reading (arranged by author), on the middle shelf I have my uni lit books (ordered into Penguin Classics and Oxford World Classics) and on my bottom shelf I have textbooks and classics that don’t fit into the above two categories.

3. What do you enjoy most about blogging?

Connecting with people with similar interests that are on opposite sides of the world. It’s really multicultural and I find that fascinating.

4. If you could have lunch with any fictional character, who would you choose?

Tyrion Lannister. He’d be a riot.

5. E-books or paperback/hardcover?

Real books, I love having hardcovers on my shelf.

6. What book are you currently reading?

I’m about to begin the Seventh Shopaholic Book.

7. Do you have any book suggestion(s) for a book club? If yes, please share.

For some fun reading I’d always say ‘The Rosie Project’, the sequel’s out now too. Or ‘One Day’ I think everyone should read that book.

8. Coffee or tea?

Tea. Always Tea.

9. What is your favourite travel destination?

I’ve never actually been there but I would love to go to Peru. That’s my dream.

10. If someone wants to get you a gift, what would you pick?

Currently there’s a skirt in River Island I’d quite like …

11. If you could meet an author, who would it be?

J.K. Rowling. I don’t think she gets enough credit for what an amazing bloody writer she is.

My Questions:

1. What is your favourite place to read?

2. What is the worst book you’ve ever read? 

3. What three things would you take to a deserted island?

4. Would you rather take the photo or be in it?

5. Do you prefer a starter or desert?

6. Can you do a handstand? 

7. Would you ever want to go into space?

8. Would you prefer a beach holiday or one in the countryside? 

9. What is your favourite colour?

10. What magical power would you most like? 

11. Are you a meat eater or veggie?

Now I would like to nominate these brill bloggers for a Liebster award:

It’s Only Three

thebookiemonsters

bookmark lit

Disappear Into Reading

A Wee Bit Wordy

eatupmyfreetime

Looking forward to reading your posts!

So Much for Happily Ever After

The way I rate entertainment is based on how much I care about the characters. Whether I’m watching a film, series or reading a book, if I care about the characters I will enjoy the reading/watching process. (If the story’s good too that’s an extra bonus). Viewer/reader apathy is a sign of bad entertainment. (Well that and bad writing – but that’s a whole other topic).

With any series I’ve followed for a long time, I get irrationally attached to the characters. So much so that I had to physically stop myself from turning to the last page of Harry Potter. (I just wanted to check they were all ok!)

Two of my favourite things are coming out this month. The 7th Shopaholic book and Season 11 of Grey’s Anatomy (although I don’t actually know when that will be shown in the UK). I’ve googled Grey’s Anatomy a bit … just to break up the work day monotony, you know? Anywho. It’s all pointing to the two central characters splitting up. (Pause for shocked silence).

This news actually upset me. I love Grey’s, it’s just great escapist watching, and after ten years of loyal watching I want my two favourite characters to live happily ever after. Forget this splitting up nonsense. For me, one of the joys about escaping into light fiction of any media is the promise of a happy ending. It’s why I enjoy chick lit and rom coms so much.

I really hope this is just drumming up media attention, because if they do split up (god forbid) it’ll feel like I’ve wasted all those hours of my life caring. I could never re-watch an episode because I know that’s how it ends.

I know, I know, this doesn’t affect real day to day life. But in a way it does. Happy endings  give you hope and make you feel good. And when things don’t go how you want them to, well it’s a classic case of pinning life’s disappointments somewhere they don’t necessarily belong.

So here’s my plea to writers and creators, in a universe you can control (i.e. fiction), feel free to create a bit of dramatic conflict but let your romantic leads run off into the sunset in the end. Please?

After all, if I want upset on my screen, I can just turn on the news.

On a side note, (and a bit of good news) I’ve reached over 100 followers. I’m absolutely delighted and can’t thank you all enough for reading 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday • Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme/feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week’s theme is author’s I’ve only read one book of and need to read more. I found this week’s theme quite difficult. If I like an author I’ve normally read more than one of their books, so I’ve mixed it up a bit. My list of ten is five author’s who I want to read more of and five whom one book was enough.

Authors I want more of:

Erin Morgenstern – I’ve only read The Night Circus so far and it’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read!

Michelle Lovric – Amazing, amazing writer! If you haven’t read The Book of Human Skin pick it up immediately.

Jacqueline Winspear – Another brilliant writer. I read the third in her Maisie Dobbs series – Pardonable Lies – and I keep meaning to pick up the rest of the series.

Catherine Alliott – I read A Rural Affair this year and it was lightest and funniest book I’d read in ages. Alliott proves you don’t have to write a serious story to be a great writer.

Jojo Moyes – I think she features on almost all my TTT lists! So I’ll stop going on about her and get down to reading some more.

Authors where one book was enough:

Kate Furnivall  – I’m struggling through one of hers at the moment. I’m distracted from the story, which is actually interesting, by her clumsy writing.

Rupert Thompson – Not for me. I read half of Divided Kingdom before giving up. The story wasn’t my cup of tea and I couldn’t get along with his writing. The story felt like it was being reported rather than told.

Sarra ManningNine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend  – Not a bad writer but not a good story teller. This book looked fun but it was so dull! It was an entire book of the protagonist moaning. And these nine uses were never mentioned …

Dawn FrenchOh Dear Silvia – Oh dear Dawn! I love you as a comedienne but I could not get along with your book.

Thomas HardyThe Mayor of Casterbridge – it was a tough call between him and James Joyce but on the sheer weakness of his female protagonists it has to be Hardy. Get your pillows ready, he is a snooze.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my list! Please link to yours in the comments!

The Game of Thrones Bandwagon

You’ve hooked me George, I’m right on board. This is a series I couldn’t help but want to review.

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I accidentally started watching GOT this year. It just happened to be on while I was in the living room and I found myself asking all the ‘who’s, why’s and what’s’ that come with starting something 4 seasons in. It wasn’t a love at first sight thing. The story and the characters gradually drew me in.

If it hadn’t happened to have been on and a friend hadn’t told me how much he was enjoying the books, I probably never would have bothered with the books at all … and I would have seriously missed out.

George R R Martin is an artist. He’s created the most amazing world, filled with the most brilliant collection of characters. The sheer breadth and depth of his work deserves a round of applause and absolutely all of the acclaim it has received.

The basis for the story (if you’ve been hiding under a rock) is about the power struggles of a fictional land, ruled by a King and governed by lords. Oh and there’s a big wall protecting the realm from the wild and that’s guarded by a band of warriors (they’re a bit like fighting monks). It would take me too long to do a proper summary of all five books. So instead, I’m going to tell you what I liked about it and why you should definitely read it.

1) He is an excellent writer. This point should never be overlooked. His words flow off the page with ease, the subject matter can get heavy but the words will never weigh you down.

2) The characters are like proper people. No character is truly all bad or all good, they have both good and bad parts to their personalities. His characters are the most vital part of the story, each chapter is told by a different character and you find yourself sympathising with them. The problem is, that when you’re favourite character belongs to the wrong cause, well, you don’t know who to side with then. There are so many protagonists and antagonists that your allegiances are constantly changing.

3) He roots the story in a past. Readers enter into the story at the end of a long summer, but throughout the novels you’re taught about the background of the land and it’s history. It’s a lot like reading about Alfred the Great, Ethelred the Unready etc. It also deals with the more immediate past and you get to know the background of the characters pretty thoroughly. (And there are some pretty big mysteries there that come out sooner or later!)

4) You’re always guessing. There’s too much going on to know who’s going to end up on the throne at the end of it. Sometimes I see the twists coming and other times I don’t. Just when I think I’ve figured it out a new plot emerges. I have an inkling who will be important, but how they will be important is a complete mystery- and I love that!

5) It’s not romanticised. A lot of this story is about war. With war comes death, rape and torture. Death is bloody and gruesome with faeces, torture is toe-curdling to think about, and rape is no big deal. War isn’t heroic, it’s awful. And when the ‘good’ cause are doing all the things the ‘evil’ cause are doing, you’re left wondering if one is ever better than the other.

I could go on and on and on about how much I’ve loved this series, but what I really think you should do is read it for yourself 🙂

Judging Books by their Covers . . .

As a figure of speech, ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is a lovely sentiment, look to the inside and don’t be superficial. It’s a really great lesson. But when you’re talking about actual books, you know what, I completely judge a book by it’s cover.

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The cover is the first thing you notice, it can make you want to pick the book up or make a mental note never to touch it.

My friend Maddie refers to the chick lit section of WHSmiths as ‘the pink and purple bit’. She’s got a point. Chick lit covers are 9/10 pastel shades or varying degrees of pink. You don’t even need to read the title to know that’s their genre. The same goes for the supernatural, there’s a lot of black. In fact the more you think about it, the more you can pick out a genre and audience before actually reading the title of the book. (Also try googling these and looking what images come up: historical novels, teen novels, chick lit novels… you’ll start noticing similarities).

I’m not saying that the first impression is necessarily the right one, but I can’t help it. If the cover’s appealing, I’ll read the title, if I like that I’ll flick to the blurb, if the blurb’s good, I’ll read the book. This has backfired on me for better and worse.

CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndFor instance, Cecilia Ahern ‘Where Rainbows End’, has, in my opinion, an appalling title, 12367267-2an unappealing cover and a crap blurb – but you know what, I really enjoyed the book.

 

On the other hand, Claire Merle ‘The Glimpse’, has, an intriguing title, an interesting cover and a good blurb – yet I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages it was so bad.

So what about you? Where has your cover judgement let you down? What have you picked up that was an unexpected delight. I’d love to hear your thoughts!