Saturday, February 7, 2009

Wow--has it been that long?

Cowboy thought the zombies ate me. He kept getting my voice mail, but persistent person (yeah--sorry, that isn't quite the right word, but it is "a" word) that he is--he kept calling. Luckily I know how to play Dead Rising, because yes--the zombies did attack. Luckily for me, I have mad skills. I can turn anything, including a frozen turkey leg, into a lethal weapon.

Outside my new career as a zombie exterminator, I've been doing a lot of thinking. Someone asked me whether I thought all stories--to an extent--were character driven, and since I have nothing but time at work I've been thinking about it on and off.

Yes--I think all stories, to an extent, are character driven. Plot rises out of personality, and the stronger the personality, the stronger the plot.

The one exception being set piece writers, and let me run that backwards so I can explain. Everyone knows about plotters and pantsers, and ihmo--the vast bulk of variations fall somewhere in one of those two groups. It took me a long time to realize there is a third category. I hate to mention erotica, because I'm not trying to be disrespectful of a field in which I know so many people, but erotica and to a certain extent, paranormals and WW2 stories, tend to have big flashy bits that feel like golf balls strung on a fishing wire.

Say for instance, rape scenes? Rape scenes were pretty common back in the late seventies and early eighties--and yes, I am dating myself--but times have changed. Unfortunately some writers haven't. Maybe they formed their perception of the field twenty years back and took awhile to start writing, or just get off on the fantasy of being forced to do something they don't like--or have some subconscious need to surrender control. Evil Nazi rapists, and seductive but sexy, dangerous Masters of the City, included.

Why bring up rape scenes?

Because when a writer starts out to write a book with a series of central pieces--say a rape scene? And a looking at the hero the second they meet only to make a horribly lengthy, overblown detailed list of exactly how hot the hero must be to make the heroine gush between her legs scene?

ie. He was tall, with arms easily the size of her waist, chiseled features, sky blue/evil black eyes, a seductive smile, and a bulge in his skin tight leather pants that looked like a Hickory Farms summer sausage. He smelled wonderful, she thought, his cologne was spicy like (insert whatever brand the author thinks is hot here). His long black/blond hair fell to his shoulders, and there was the tiniest hint of a wave in the silken tresses. She longed to run her fingers through them and lick her way up his body. He said in his masculine sounding voice...


Spare me.

It's not bad enough that the plot is flapping as thin as gray hair in a storm, but then it stops to tell the reader exactly how hot the hero is, then stops again to have the heroine raped, or the sexy, kick-ass Witch kick handsome demon ass in her Jimmy Choos.

It's like someone figured, instead of constructing their own plot, or building logical characters--if it's (insert sub genre here) then I need one from column A and two from column B. Sometimes, you want something to happen. And you want it more than you want to be true to your people because the "event" is bigger than your attachment to your characters. Like rape scenes. And I know I keep coming back to it, but it's a good illustration.

People want their set pieces to the point of having a blind spot when it comes to how their characters would react to being placed in that situation.

Even a plot driven story needs good characterization--even if the plot sometimes takes precedence and forces the characters to do things out of character. Does that make sense? Say...a strong independent heroine? If you built a Buffy, what makes you think Buffy wouldn't kick ass and take names instead of being overwhelmed and raped? I think she'd bite through the guy's nose or something.

The story arc isn't being driven by the characters or the plot, but by the "writers" internal need to get the set piece down in print. If the writer is honest with herself and her characters, then I fully believe a good story is character and plot-driven, because a plot needs to fall in line with what your character would do, UNLESS you want something so badly, you build in credible set-up and reactions, and deal with them as part of the plot.

Say Buffy is raped? IF they shoot her from behind, bleed her out, she faints, and they tie her up, including her mouth--then yes, I think you could put the rape scene in there, and it deepens the characterization of your villain because now they aren't doing the nasty for no reason other than the author wants a little forced compliance nookie or shock-value for the sake of shock-value, but because now, all characters are acting true to their internal compass.

It turns that monofilament into cable, and the golf balls become an integral part of the story. :)


Jeanna said...

Buffy would stake them or feed them to the vamps. Sorry, too late for me to think too deeply. Can I use that excuse again tmw morning?

jodi said...

see? That's what I said. She isn't a weak victim type, you'd need to lay some groundwork to get that scene in there. And my God, stay up later than I do. :)

deanna said...

That's amazingly well said, even for you (meaning you always say this stuff well). If something has to happen, it has to be driven/arranged according to the character's character. Then you might end up with Buffy biting off the vampire's nose and foregoing the rape, and that would still be a powerful scene, because it's uncomfortable Buffy at her best.

You fighting off zombies at work? At school? Did Buffy help out?

Jeanna said...

Too stressed to sleep, deadlines, no car, crazy crack head neighbor break-ins, and still need to get Marvin dressed and out the door.
Hard to read/watch any rape scene, would rather see the suggestion and end result manifested in the character.

Unhinged said...

I like how you said that plot rises out of personality. Never thought of it that way, but yes. Totally. That's why I always come up with my characters first and then try to think up a story based on them. If I'm fascinated with my characters, then surely I'll grow fascinated with their stores.

Well, that's the idea anyway.

Yours in Zombieland,

oh! my word verification is diabal...short for diabolical, methinks, heh, heh

Alice Audrey said...

Working with set pieces is a royal pain. I hate it when I get to the end of a rough draft and find the scene(s) that instigated the book no longer belong in it.

Kaige said...

Jodi's a great chunk wrapper. Big ideas in nice little easy to digest snippets.

I definitely read for the characters. I remember the characters, the plot lines? Not always so much.

I think there's a weird chicken and egg scenario going on though. You have to have certain personalities to have certain plots, but a certain plotline is necessary to pull out the personality of your characters to get them to live in their essence instead of remaining in the identity they've presented until that point. See, I'm not so good at tidy little chunks.

I'd better be careful, the zombies might mistake those chunks for braaaaiiins

jodi said...

Thank you, Deanna. :) I wish I had a Buffy, but I just have turkey legs. It's pretty sad.

See, Jeanna--that's why I'm glad I write romances. I would hate to have your deadlines.

I know what you mean about results. I'd a hundred percent rather see the result of a rape scene than go through it in a book.

Andi, I'd like you at my back when I head on out into the mall. I know you and I would kick zombie butt.

I know what you mean, Alice. Seriously. I've been there, too. I still have this great third siege of Badajoz scene in my historical regency. Why I don't know.

Kaige, you make perfect sense, as always--at least to me. Thanks for pointing that out. I agree.

My verification is gorsper. Which is pretty cool but doesn't mean anything, lol

Kaige said...

Gosper: the dispersion of gore by the zombie horde of couse. ;)

Makes more sense than "aneynci".