1. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    Problems with Sentimentality

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Slade Lucas, May 7, 2014.

    I have found a little problem in my writing but I'm not sure how much of a problem it is. I seem to like to keep characters and certain aspects of my stories similar to my own life. With characters this means that every single one takes a little part of me and the person I am. I don't think this itself is a problem, as the characters are still quite diverse and it just means I can connect with them better.

    However it is when I try to use this same sentimentality in other aspects that I think I stumble. In my current story I seem to put my characters in very similar (although not exactly the same) situations that I have been in, mainly in terms of their love life. This is all very well, but the real problems started when I put my villain in a three piece suit and a top hat, a combination I am rather fond of myself (don't even ask, it's a long story).

    I'm getting paranoid that this sentimentality is causing me elements of my story which just don't work, but it could be just paranoia. So what does everyone else think - does the top hat work, or should I scrap it and go for more comfortable clothing?
     
  2. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    How can we possibly determine that? We don't have enough info to go on. Only you know the finer ins and outs. One thing I would say is to be wary of affectations that are put in the story 'just because.' They have a tendency to stand out like sore thumbs when not properly rooted to back story or characterisation. Wearing a three piece suit and a top hat might make the character seem a bit like a pantomime, moustachioed villain when that is not your intent. You have made no mention of setting; he could be wearing this ensemble while everyone else is going around in spacesuits, for all you have told us. But, then again, in a comedic piece this could be used to great effect. ;)

    And I'm not so sure what you describe amounts to sentimentality either. We all live vicariously through our characters. Sometimes, impressing our will upon them amounts to no more than that. Whatever you have them do, wear, or be, the readers need to buy into it. It's up to you to give them reason to.

    When you get the green light, (2 crits and 2 weeks of membership, done and dusted) why not post up a short excerpt in the Workshop of a section you feel isn't working, to give us a better idea of context and suchlike?
     
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  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see what character clothing has to do with anything. Murakami had, in one story, both Johnny Walker (yes, with a hat) and Colonel Saunders, and he produced a masterpiece.

    I think that you have another issue, which you spoke at length about, and that's excessive author insertion. This can kill any story, especially when it can't be controlled, but it ends up overwhelming all other elements. However, every story we write has a piece of us in it, simply because it came straight from our heads.

    The other issue is authenticity. We all, naturally, have layers and layers of denial and defences. However, the readers aren't interested in reading about them. Readers want to read the truth. Well, someone's truth at any rate. The only way a writer can produce a story that will be sufficiently authentic is to really cut the crap and look deep inside. This is paramount for writing good poetry, but also very important for prose. Not doing this will damage the authenticity of the story because the reader will feel like they are getting to know the author's hangups instead of characters and the plot. This is usually closely related with uncontrollable author insertion.

    Inability to control our writing is the biggest issue writers face. The passivity with which some writers talk about their work, as if the characters make them do something, or some fundamental thing about 'their style' forces them to keep making the same mistakes. Writing is a skill, just like everything else. Mastering it is just like getting a guitar or violin or a voice to do exactly what you want them to, not the other way around.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2014
  4. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Guilty, M'Lud. :D

    Although, I wouldn't say it's necessarily passivity on my part. If my character's didn't do something to surprise me every once in a while, well... they'd be me, wouldn't they? And that, to me, is as big a self-insertion as you can get. ;)
     
  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If it's the character's thing, of course he can wear it. If he likes it, that's cool. If all your characters like it and prefer to wear the same outfit, that might be slightly odd.

    However, if he's a soldier on a rough-and-tumble mission over the Afghan mountains, the outfit might not be all that practical. :p

    I wager we all put something of ourselves into all of our characters.
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @obsidian_cicatrix : Of course, we have to insert ourselves somewhere, and the characters are like Rorschach test, there for us to bounce our own thoughts and ideas off them, but the key is control of the way all that is put to paper. Do you surprise yourself with how well you managed to write it down?

    When I was a novice, I first went through the phase of delighting in my every word. I was so enamoured with my own writing that I could read and re-read my own stuff dozens of times, I used to crack myself up, make myself cry, all this is child-like delight, characteristic of inexperience. Then, I moved into a phase where no matter how hard I tried, my efforts to put ideas to paper were falling desperately short. This is because my standards became higher. I realised that my ability to control voice, tone, pacing, even to rely on myself to write things down in sensical order, needed serious improving. Since then, every time I notice an improvement it's a real treat.
     
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  7. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Not half as often as I'd like. ;)
     
  8. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    So that's almost fifty-fifty, that's not bad :) I'm similar, maybe made a bit of a breakthrough in the last couple of months, certainly, it feels like I need to edit less to get there, and I'm getting a bit quicker too. But still plodding along ;)
     
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  9. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    A three-piece suit and top hat can work if you make it work. Fiction is funny in that you can have this suspension of disbelief and accept the most obscure and fantastical situations and characters, but a little thing like how he's dressed might throw the whole believability of the unbelievable off...if that makes sense. You want the reader to take the villain seriously and if formal dress adds to his persona, by all means, use it.
     
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  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hehehehe you know I just had an image of an onslaught of weird men in three-piece suits and top hats flooding the wild mountain tops :D and I'm actually rather tempted to write something that would allow me to do that!

    OP - it actually sounds kinda cool. It depends on your genre. If it's meant to be a realistic novel, or historical novel, or something like that where someone wearing a 3-piece suit and top hat wouldn't really make much sense, then maybe not - unless you give a believable explanation for why the villain chose to dress this way, even if the reason is just he loves this kinda outfit and anything within that period. But if it's something like mystery, detective, adventure, something with a hint of the supernatural, that kinda outfit could really work very well I think as part of the villain's personality.

    I dunno, if you do it right, I think it'll actually be very effective.

    Do it wrong though and... well :p but that's the risk you gotta take methinks!
     
  11. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    It's sort of science-fiction\fantasy, so isn't realistic. I think\hope I am doing it right, but I think I can make it fit.
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Then give it a go. The worst that can happen is you go back and edit out the clothes. But hey, you'll probably do like 50 rewrites before the final product so it's really a fairly minor thing. You don't know till you've tried. Go for it!
     
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  13. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I'll just second what @obsidian_cicatrix, @jazzabel, and @KaTrian have said. They hit it right on the money. Be careful of author insertion. You run the risk of writing less honestly than you might with characters to whom you are less attached. They might become caricatures rather than characters. If the reader can notice the author in the story, something may be a bit "off." Make sure your characters are uniquely their own. :)
     

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