Recently, a friend and fellow writer told me they felt discouraged about writing. They were upset about so many people being unable to spot the differences between a good story and a bad story. Real gems languish in dusty corners while insults to the English language fly off the shelves. And not just books, but movies too. Their question was: “If people can’t tell the difference between good and bad stories, why put forth the effort of crafting a really good story?” Thinking out the rules of the world, creating three-dimensional characters, filling plot holes to make a seamless narrative…all of that takes work. And if people don’t notice and don’t care, then why bother?
I was going to write a more serious entry this week, but decided against it. I have been at the epicenter of some of my favorite shows in the past few days, so that’s where my mind has been. Since I believe in following my literary impulses, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite male characters. (I will avoid spoilers as much as I can.)
Actor: Peter Woodward
Series: Babylon 5: Crusade
Wizard, British, wry sense of humor, and black leather coats…what more could a girl ask for? Galen is a techno-mage, part of an eclectic order that uses an ancient advanced technology to simulate the effects of magic…and is pretty odd and mysterious even by the standards of that order. He’s highly independent and powerful as well as irritating to other characters in Crusade because he “shows up when he’s least wanted and most needed,” not to mention having a habit of withholding information. I love Galen’s wry, often cynical sense of humor, his crisp, precise way of speaking, and his eyes are some of the most expressive I’ve ever seen. He’s also one of my favorite character-types, what I call “the Tortured Soul.” Characters of this type have hidden histories, often tragic, that slowly comes to light over the course of the series. Galen is one of those who tries to be completely self-sufficient, but his efforts only highlight his isolation and loneliness. Which only makes me want to give him a hug. ^_^
One of the greatest and most basic rules of thumb in the world of writing is: “Write a story you would want to read.”
The next question is, “What kinds of stories do you enjoy reading?”
Once you’ve answered these two questions, your journey into the realm of writing has begun. And yet, so many writers seem to forget these basic questions. Too many get caught up what they think other people want them to write, or what other people want to read, or what kind of story formula will guarantee sales that will make them a multi-million-dollar success. If you start coming at stories from that angle these days, you are only sabotaging your own efforts. Your readers can tell when a story has heart and when it was written with calculation designed to draw them in. To an extent, every writer is trying to pull readers in, but the difference is this: are you trying to hook them because you think you have a good story to tell? Or are you trying to hook them for the money and popularity?