By Katarina Karmazinova & Viktor Karmazin
Writing fiction is lying. Let’s be honest about that.
Specifically, fiction is a series of lies that, when arranged in a certain sequence, bring us closer to the truth.
And as my dad used to say: “The most brilliant and the most dangerous lies are the ‘half-truths’”.
Believe me, he knew what he was talking about. He used to say many ‘half-truths’ to our mother for 20 years.
She divorced him in the end, but considering he managed to pull it off for 20 years – not too bad, after all.
In his case it would mean a colorful, detailed description of mundane events and actions (eg depicting party with friends) leaving out kind of important facts (like hooking up with someone at the party).
We can create some fine fiction that way, just by accurately describing actual events or facts colouring it with your phantasy.
Fiction is a lie and everything is allowed.
A great example is George RR Martin, the creator of A Song of Ice and Fire series (ahem...The Game of Thrones), who took some historical facts, like The War of the Roses and the red wedding, and warped them into his fantasy world.
It seems so vivid and believable because it works on a real basis while it’s completely made up.
You pick and choose the things that suit your narrative, in this case: “power corrupts by making; you want more power to escape the enemies you made while attaining it.”
Sure, every character has a different theme and arc, but at the end of the day, this is what the GoT is about. When I write it out like this, suddenly it’s easy for you to spot patterns in the story.
Just as it was easy for him to maintain his story within those bounds, once he knew what his theme was. His lies served to show us how ugly the truth can be.
I know it might look clunky, but trust me; it’s a LOT of fun.
This is why the best stories resonate.
That brutal openness a writer uses when depicting the characters.
Have you let your characters lie, cheat, or kill? Were they allowed to make faulty choices and inappropriate jokes?
Think about what you enjoyed the most about your favorite protagonists and antagonists in the best stories you’ve ever read.
I love some of Kundera’s characters, because of their cynicism.
Like that guy notices the big nose of his lover realizing what a hooter it is, but telling himself at the same time she’s the best he can do... which makes him brutally cynical but brutally honest – and hence, believable. And who knows...even relatable?
Or Woody Allen’s characters that use intelligent elaborate language to make up for the fact they have poor morals. A farce is born.
A helpful exercise
Think of someone’s mundane grocery shopping.
It is just an ordinary shopping list, but with something twisted the character did, that makes your reader turn the page.
Make your character tell us why they bought lard.
You can make the reader think it’s for a cake before you show it was for lube.
It could be playful – to spicy up an inevitably failing relationship. But they could as well have someone locked up in the basement.
If it makes sense, subvert expectations. Don’t do it just for the sake of it.
Conversely, tropes are tropes for a reason – don’t hesitate to embrace it if your story is putting a new spin on a familiar picture.
Fictional characters give you the freedom to lie and exaggerate. You can make them whatever you’d never allow yourself to say or be.
It should work unless you’ve got a mind of a child molester. That might turn out somewhat disturbing.
Or highly entertaining, depending on your audience.
I mean, it’s what Lolita is about at its core…
Feel free to think about the worst, the bravest, the cheesiest, the ugliest, the most secret or the most terrifying idea that has ever entered your mind. Make your character say it.
Imagine your character is female.
Let’s have a look at who she is by answering all these questions as if you were filling out a template:
What is she good at? What is she so-so at? What is she bad at? What makes her tired? What is the most important thing in her life? Who are the most important people in her life? How much sleep does she need? What stresses her out? What relaxes her? What’s her definition of success? What type of worker is she? How does she want others to see her? What makes her sad? What makes her happy? What makes her angry? What type of person does she want to be? What type of friend does she want to be? What does she think about herself? What things does she value in life? What makes her afraid?
Then see what happens.
Remember, figuring out what you want in life is probably a never-ending process, shaped a lot by our opportunities and expectations. It keeps on changing.
Your heroes need not have a strong overarching goal in mind. It just makes for good reading – unless you’re James Joyce.
Maybe figuring out some of these questions is what your story is about.
Just remember. Without conflict, there is no drama. Without drama, there is no theater…. even if it’s just wanting something badly and having difficulties getting it.
Haruki Murakami says he enjoys when his ideas pop up and go with the flow when he writes, otherwise it would be no fun writing if he already knew how it was going to end.
This is called dynamic writing. It’s great for making natural dialogue and believable protagonists. On the con side, you might struggle to finish a story. At all.
Without a clear end in mind, you risk droning on and on and on… Unless you have one in mind when you start, a convincing plot twist or an impactful message can be hard to come by.
If you’re trying this, but the magic just won’t happen, you end up with dozens of snippets without a beginning or an end.
Instead, try to build a backbone first and then flesh it out instead. This is called architectural writing – and where filling the gaps with foresight can make for excellent arcs and lovely ideas with foreshadowing abound.
On the flip side, architects have this tendency for cardboard cutout characters that are there just to fill a role or Star Wars prequels levels of dialogue. It just doesn’t.
Natural at all
It’s still fun, trust me. Plotting out the structure and coming up with clever ways to make it happen is grand. I am sure you will keep improvising and changing things around.
Maybe start with the character building. We will keep posting more of these to help you get there.
Now, pick up a pen and write. Answer those questions and bring your stellar character to life.