Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Head, shoulders, knees and toes...

[image courtesy: Flickr Creative Commons, MonkeyMyshkin - these aren't my toes!]

The joy of describing physical attributes.

Every face tells a story, as does every toe, wrist and earlobe.
Describing characters can be a lot of fun, and it's something I personally think you can never be too good at!

Generally speaking, when someone describes a character it's their expression, eyes, lips, cheekbones and hair, then a vague description of height and stature (or something in that order). This is obviously an essential part of character development, but no less important is the the random insertion of one or two 'other' physical traits. The the narrow fragility of a heroine's wrist, for example, might be a nice way to reflect her sensitive nature, or the stretched material over your hero's broad back can similarly reflect his inner strength. Good descriptions of physical traits can also help you develop an unusual aspect of the main character as well. Eyebrows are particularly good for this. For example, your heroine may have strong dark angular eyebrows that arch above hard assessing eyes.

When describing your hero/heroine it is generally the attractive characteristics that are mentioned first (especially in true romance writing - no one wants to read about a hero with stubby fingers, or hairy toes. Nor will they feel affection for a heroine with outrageous eczema or earlobes the size of lamb steaks). Romantic main characters are generally attractive - they may have quirks and oddities, or even be a bit "chubby" or "plain", but rarely are they significantly physically flawed - you can leave that for the subcharacters!

I seriously love an interesting physical flaw thrown around in a book. Whether it be front teeth that overlap like a doll crossing its legs, or square nostrils - these attributes are fascinating and utterly memorable - when in the correct context. Quirky oddities won't suit some styles of writing, unless inserted with great thought and sensitivity.

In my writing, I like to use physical characteristics that enhance the personality of the character. That's not to say just by looking at the physical characteristics of a character you can deduce their personality - because we all know that sometimes the most beautiful person on the outside can be an utter monster inside. Little physical descriptions can hint, or expand, on something you know or do not about the character, and used with care and intelligence help create a character that will live in your memory long after the book has closed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hero or Villain? What makes a baddie bad?

(image:curtesy of flickr,Creative Commons,Leo Reynolds)

As much as I love a good hero - I also love a good villain.

A villain by definition is "2.the main evil character and antagonist to the hero (in a novel or play)" [Collins Concise dictionary 2001]. According to the dictionary, the word villain is derived from the latin villanus which means worker / villager on a country estate [villa]. I find this a little ironic because most villains in modern literature are usually quite rich and powerful. Therefore, I think it more likely that the word "villain" is actually derived from the latin word vilicus means "overseer or manager of the estate" - which fits in much better with the modern use of the word.

All villain's share one particular characteristic - they all take unfair advantage of someone - repeatedly and selfishly. The person being taken advantage of is usually (but not always) subordinate in someway to the villain. They may have less money, less Magic, less freedom or less brains. The villain is usually always powerful in some way. In most Fantasy romance, the villain is wealthy and has some kind of hold over the hero or heroine.

I personally do not like truly evil villains - as I've said in previous posts I don't like writing miserable or maudlin tales. Making a villain truly evil means he/she must have done something truly unconscionable, without remorse, and those kinds of acts are not something I particularly want to write about! It seems to me that in today's day and age it's a race to have the most hideous villains and stories. The horror content in some books is absolutely grotesque, and to me - it's unreadable. So my villain's, although horrible and mean, are understandable and are (to some degree) forgivable through a harsh penitential act.

So how can you make a villain bad, if he's not going to do anything extraordinarily heinous? Well, it depends on what your hero and heroine think is heinous. To put it simply, the villain's actions have to be life threatening to the other main characters. They've got to hate and fear him.

Like most of my characters, I like my villains to also be a bit quirky and entertaining. Villains usually are a little delusional with visions of grandeur or world domination and I like them to be interesting too. Ulterior motives need to be woven through the text. Hints as to how they came to be the ubervillain will make your villain believable - if not likable.

Physically, I don't think it really matters what your villain looks like. He could be a black hearted Adonis, or a warty old man with breath to boil your eyeballs. A baddie is bad through actions not looks.

A good villain (how's that for an oxymoron?) which ever way you look at it, should be the stimulus in both breaking your hero and heroine apart and getting them back together. Your villain, whilst reeking havoc and getting his come-uppance, needs to work with the story create something with tension and intrigue - and finally create that happily ever after.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Making your man...

Creating a sexy, appealing man is an integral part of a good romance. Successfully blending character traits to create a man who is desirable to a broad demographic can pose something of a challenge to any author.

One author who I believe has perfected this art, is Karen Marie Moning (my favourite author). All her men (even the baddies) are incredibly sexy. Her character from the Fever Series, Jericho Barrons, however, is the one who takes the cake. He is, (in my eyes - and many other's I suspect) the most desirable male character of all time. It's a good job he's fictional - because my husband would be in real trouble if he weren't!

So, what makes Barrons so delicious? On the face of it, he's dark, controlling, secretive, possessive, and has no sense of humour. How could this character be attractive then? Well, apart from his incredible body and breath-taking beauty, his charm and desirability lies in the subtleties of Ms Moning's writing.
When Jericho Barrons looks at his heroine - Mac - the gesture and its meaning is much more important than what he actually says about her. The way Barrons notices small things about Mac and the way he reacts to them - is charming, beguiling and absorbing. His appeal also grows through the often understated way in which he expresses his care and concern, and the way he protects her even when she doesn't know it. All this makes for magic reading.
Additionally, the reader actually knows very little about Barrons which firmly slots him into the "tall, dark and mysterious" category. Simple questions like where is he from? What exactly is he? What exactly does he want - remain unanswered, and I, like all the other Fever Fans, wait with baited breath for the final installment in the Series.

Basically, choosing your hero's character traits and blending them with your story to create something that is engaging, desirable and believable is an absolute art, and one worth perfecting.

If you want a rollicking good read, I recommend the Fever Series (Dark Fever, Blood Fever, Fae Fever, Dream Fever and Shadow Fever coming January 2010!) by Karen Marie Moning. Also, if you're into the semi clad Scotsmen with broad accents and even broader... whatever... get into Ms Monings Highlander Series, they'll put the wind in your bagpipes for sure! ;)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Manticore - my favourite mythological beast!

(image:Manticore from The History of Four-footed Beasts (1607)

The manticore (aside from a Genie) is one of my most favourite mythological creatures.

A manticore is of Persian/Indian/ Mediterranean origin and is also called the manticora/mantichora. With the head of a man, the body of an enormous red lion, viciously spiked tail and rows of sharp teeth - it is generally considered to be a malevolent mythological beast. It is sometimes related to Sphynx, but, a Sphynx does not have the spiked tail nor the three rows of teeth and is of Greek / Egyptian origin.

Phil the Manticore is a character I created for my novel "Magical Gains". I created him because I confess, I am a little bored with the abundance of were-creatures that inevitably appear in most paranormal romances. Phil the manticore is the body guard of another character. As you can imagine, a beast with human intelligence and the body of an enormous lion would be a better choice of guard than a puny human with a gun especially when your foes are other magical beings.

To develop Phil's personality I looked at the creature as a whole. A strange, quirky looking thing. Imagine a human face stretched over the skull of a lion - its a bit gross and scary really. How would a person be able understand a manticore? Could you follow their expressions? Would they behave like a person, lion or something in between? Who knows?! So to combat this, I made Phil a slightly comical personality. He is not human, so he doesn't have human manners and this tends to make him rude. He makes inappropriate (but humourous) jibes and states things as he sees them.

As a result, the personality I gave to Phil enlivens a potentially incomprehensible mythological creature and enables the reader to like and understand what is otherwise quite unlikeable.

Yay for Manticores!

[There aren't many images of good manticores available - this one is from wikipedia and I confess, is NOTHING like I envision Phil. If you google manticore images, you'll find a lot of manticores seem to be lions with wings... which isn't a how they were originally described. Mythological and Magical Creatures tend to evolve over time depending on how they are used in literature and cinema, and I think the Manticore's sudden wing development is one of these evolutions.]

Monday, September 6, 2010

The scent of Magic - smells in books

As mentioned in my previous post, I like humour in a book - and a lot of that humour has an organic base. Which leads me to my latest topic - smells in books.

I love a good smell in a book - when an author describes something that is particularly pungent whether pleasantly so - or not, really helps create a world.

I particularly love details on breath and body odour. How good or bad that person smells will significantly dictate how your characters will react to them. So choosing to give a character a bad case of halitosis or body odour like a putrefying onion similarly evokes a reaction from the reader.

Selecting nice smells as well as bad,is also so important. I was told by friends years ago that "hay scented breath" made the hero sound like horse! What a shame! So I tried it out again with my Critique partner and she laughed out loud at the description... It just doesn't work apparently! It's a pity because hay smells so nice. Maybe it has to be a body-odour description alone. Either way, it's a nice descriptor for a Satyr or Centaur!

When choosing a smell for my Genies, I went for spicy smoke. Imran's magic smells like cinnamon and allspice (yum!). The scents are evocative, and used enough to be almost tangible when you're reading.

Odours, perfumes, aroma's and stinks - whether they hang like a rotting miasma, or whisper on a soft breeze are an integral part of story-telling, and should never be overlooked.