Randomness (A Saturday Evening Post, lol)

Hey everyone.

How are you? How was your Saturday? Anything funny happen?

The other day (for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter) I wore a shirt that had been stuffed in a backpack for four months or so. Smelled like the air freshener I keep in my car trunk, and had wrinkles in it as deep as the grand canyon.

Yesterday morning I tried to fry an egg but I failed miserably. The poor thing didn’t fry very quickly…it just sort of sat there and simmered. On top of that, it was a non-non-stick pan (read: stickable pan), and so it just kinda burned. I tried to scoop it up with a spatula and salvage what was left of my failed project, but by the time the chaos (aagh, stop the chaos!!!) was over, I was left with a pile of white & yellow abstract carnage. I didn’t let it ruin my day.

Today, I wrote a character’s backstory in non-orthodox style. I started writing a scene where he and his best friend are writing down their life stories, then I went into what he was writing. Then I switched back into the “Real” world, wrote down what was happening while they were writing, and then jumped back into his narrative. Came out with a conclusion and a potential answer to my problem.

My problem was this: My character did not have a past of suffering. I guess I felt that without trials in his past, he was a sort of boring character. (Any thoughts on this?)

I ended my backstory with the phrase: “It wasn’t trials that made a person, it was the fact that you were a person that made you a person.” I know, I know, it’s bad writing…

Is it true? Sure, suffering refines somebody, but if somebody hasn’t suffered in life, does that make them any less a person than the next? Just thought I’d share that.

Have a nice weekend!
— – — SEPH («^_^»)

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18 thoughts on “Randomness (A Saturday Evening Post, lol)

  1. Haha, I love your shirt and frying egg stories. As for a character needing a past full of suffering in order to be interesting…I’m going to say that there are a lot of different ways someone can suffer. It doesn’t have to necessarily be something particularly horrible. Little incidents that stuck with you make a character just as interesting.

    Have a nice weekend too!

  2. What I have to say about the character thing is that the only way for a person to truly understand happiness is if they understand sadness. In this way a person (And a reader) needs suffering. If you give your characters and your audience a taste of misfortune, then they can really savor the good stuff. So you don’t need bucketloads and bucketloads of unwonted (yeah that’s a word not a typo) suffering, just something simple, and easy to relate to, like the loss of a loved one (or even a beloved pet) or the divorce of parents. Honestly any kind of conflict can be suffering. They don’t have to suffer a lot, they just have to suffer enough that they are able to truly understand the joy of their lives.

    I don’t know. I’m an amateur. This is my opinion. Also this has to be the longest comment in the history of comments. Just sayin’.

    • I get what you’re saying about happiness/sadness, yes. But if I can start a little convo…

      Do we have to make our character suffer? Is there some lawbook out there on what to do to our characters? My point…Would it be fair & honest to change my character’s history, just to satisfy the whims of common knowledge? Not everyone has a painful past. But does that make some people less than people?

      Just thinking out loud.

      BTW, you’re probably right…I’m thinking of putting a little discomfort into my character’s past (i.e. through loss of loved one, this actually fits in quite nicely).

      Top that comment length!!!

      (Another BTW, once somebody commented by cut-and-pasting a WHOLE article, so you’re doing pretty good length-wise. :D)

      • I see what you’re saying. There are a lot of books where the character has had a good life, but then the actual story is the suffering needed. It isn’t so much that your character has to suffer, but there has to be conflict in order for the story to be interesting. We write stories about AMAZING people (our characters) who have pulled through tough times and are still going strong, and that is interesting to our audience. So the question isn’t really does your character suffer, but rather is there conflict? Usually the conflict comes from the character’s past. When the conflict is character vs. self, especially. I think that not suffering doesn’t make them any less a person, but less a hero for a story.

        However, it is possible to have a great story without much of the suffering kind of conflict. Look at the movie Napoleon Dynamite. There is no overall plot to that movie, only a few minor conflicts, yet I love that movie because of the characterization. If you develop your characters fantastically there is no need for plot.

        Of course, me going on about character development. That’s my favorite part about writing. 🙂

        Haha, that had to be a really long comment! Why didn’t they just copy and paste the URL?

      • Yes, I think this is fitting my character well.

        In the story, he goes through the main conflict. So in the end, he has suffered in a way.

        I guess that’s what it comes down to? Conflict—even if not suffering per se—makes a character?

        I ❤ character development too. 🙂

  3. Very interesting question. As you know, I’m working on backstory for my characters. In my current novel, all of my characters have suffered in their past. That, in my opinion, is the easiest to write and the easiest way to make readers feel connected to a character.

    Though in a previous book, I had a female character who was going to be my main character’s love interest. She didn’t have much of a backstory and she was rich and beautiful (of course). By falling in love with my main character she was forced to experience much suffering. I think not having a difficult past can work as long as the suffering comes later in the book and the character grows because of it.

    However, I believe every one has difficult events in their past even if outsiders would say that they had it easy. It never feels easy to the person experiencing the difficulties and small things can even be traumatic. It can be as small as being teased for wearing glasses or having braces or not being mother’s favorite or being the last picked for teams. If you think about it I’m sure you’ll agree that small, painful incidents stick out in your mind. I know they do in mine.

    • “I think not having a difficult past can work as long as the suffering comes later in the book and the character grows because of it.” Very good point. The message I’m getting here is that the conflict/pain has to come sometime, pre-story, or mid-story. Also good points about micro-trials.

      Wow, getting a lot of good feedback here!!!! Thanks so much!

  4. Your character may not have had a past of suffering, but I’m sure he had to have experienced things that brought him pain. I don’t think he needs to have a massively tragic life where everything has happened except getting struck by lightning twice, but it can’t be too perfect.

    Personally, I resent too-perfect characters; maybe it’s because my life is so imperfect, I don’t know. Hmmm…that says a lot about me, right?

    • “I don’t think he needs to have a massively tragic life where everything has happened except getting struck by lightning twice, but it can’t be too perfect.” lol 😀 No he doesn’t. I haven’t had a massively tragic life like this, in fact I’m quite happy now, but there have been some trials in my life that were difficult for the time being, even though they may not have left me with physical scars.

      I’m thinkin deaths in the family for my character. That is befitting to the story (a somewhat war-torn world) and befitting for the character.

  5. The Saturday Evening Post picture put me in the mood for some Norman Rockwell paintings — love those!!

    Great question, J.P! Funnily enough, I was talking about this exact thing with someone over the weekend — how the powers-that-be in the book circles (and publishing) always want stories with heroes that have gone through hardships and come up on top. I’m not sure whether not going through sorrows makes one less of a person in real life, but looks like trials and tribulations (esp. when they are not your own :)) are what sell books… Oh, well, you live and learn!

    • It can be frustrating when the powers-that-be decide “What will sell.” And when I say that, I know, I know, it may not be the publishers per se that decide, it’s the readers. But what publisher say are “Hot reads,” may just be “Hot reads” because they say they are (Did you follow?).

      I don’t want to write a cheap romance novel. I don’t want to write about a terrible murder. I don’t want to write a magic-drenched YA novel about the son of a Greek god. (cough*cough*percyjackson*cough) I just want to write the stories inside of me. That might kind of injure my career in writing, but what writer lets someone else decide what they will write? 🙂

      • … I like magic-drenched YA novels… *cough cough hater cough cough* 😀

        I totally agree though, if it’s not your thing don’t bend to the will of the publishers. Write what you want to because you want to for you before you write for anyone else.

      • “Write what you want to because you want to for you before you write for anyone else.”

        My, my, there’s a lot of quoting going on tonight. 🙂

        Thanks for being so understanding. 😀 And I guess that’s a whole priority thing too, writing for integrity vs. writing for money. We can look at a lot of things that way can’t we?

  6. I love that method of getting a character’s backstory out. It sounds like a very interesting piece of writing. Maybe I should get some of my characters to try that… I do occasionally let them write in the first person (sometimes even handwriting — theirs looks nothing like mine, which just adds to the fun!), but I like your method too.

    As for making characters suffer… I think there is such a thing as going too far the other way. While a tragic backstory can be interesting, it can also make a reader roll their eyes and think “Oh, yeah, right.” I believe as writers we have a duty to our characters to bring them to life, and if the character insists that nothing particularly trying has ever happened to him, that he hasn’t really suffered all that much… fair enough, character; so be it! It’s our job to make his story interesting now so that others become invested in his future. To a certain extent, I think past doesn’t matter. You hit the nail on the head when you said “…it was the fact that you were a person that made you a person“. As long as the character is realistic and reasonably relatable, for me at least, the tragic backstory can take a back-seat. If it’s there, great — particularly if it’s had a significant effect on the character’s current personality or situation. If it’s not… how many people do you know who have real-life tragic backstories? Most of us are just ‘ordinary’ people, but ordinary people do extraordinary things, and that’s what makes them interesting.

    Apologies for rambling! Hopefully some of that made some sense.

    • Mm, some good thoughts!!! 🙂

      Yes, I like the idea of us having a duty to our character. Can you imagine forcing a terrible past on an otherwise ordinary character, just to make your book popular? I mean not to go psycho, our characters aren’t real…but they are in a way.

      Also, you’re right, not everyone has to have a wildly tragic past. I didn’t, and I consider myself an interesting person.

      Welcome to the H.O.H.! Nice to meet ya. (And if I may plug, check out the blogs of the other commenters too. You may find some new blogging friends…)

  7. Our characters aren’t really real, but they are to us (or at least to me. Maybe I have a psycho side. ;]) While a tragic past does work well for some characters, I don’t think it does for everyone — besides, if everyone had a wildly tragic history, unless their shared tragic pasts brought them together maybe, I suspect there’d be a lot of reader eye-rolling!

    I didn’t have a truly horrible tragic childhood, adolescence or anything else, but I’ve still dealt with a lot, in my own little way, and my not-all-that-tragic past has definitely shaped me. Characters could face ‘ordinary’ tragedies like the death of a beloved pet, suffering from a mild (or not-so-mild) depression, missing some school due to an illness as a child — little things like that — which could provide just as much profound history which has helped them develop into the person they are today. Maybe not all of their ‘little tragedies’ are important enough to make it into the plot, but it’s important that we, as writers, know these things — or at least, that’s my feeling… but then I know far too much about most of my characters. 😛

    Incidentally, it’s nice to meet you too! Thanks for the welcome. (And yes — I took your advice and clicked through on a few names, and have come across some very interesting stuff. My subscriptions list is getting ever longer!)

  8. That’s kind of others have said here. It doesn’t have to be anything like getting hit by a train…it could be something as simple as getting a paper cut. Obviously thats kinda a stupid example, but you know what I mean. 🙂

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