A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't Do The Mentor

To start my off the series on clichés, I’m going to expose one of my favorite hackneyed characters: the mentor.

  Mentors serve important roles in fiction. They play to part of an example, somebody who’s been there. The main character needs guidance. They want things explained to them. They want to ask questions of somebody who knows what it’s about. There’s nothing wrong with having a character like this.

  The problem lies with portrayal. Something to always remember: no character is a role. Every character is a person. The difference between a person and a role is essential. When a character is simply a role, everything falls into place just a little too easily. Here are characteristics of a mentor role:

·         A mentor is older than those they are teaching

·         A mentor knows just what it’s like to be in the main character’s position

·         They’ve been there—and come away wiser. They’ve somehow managed to learn all the important lessons

·         They always know just how to verbalize those lessons in pithy little sayings (clichés.)

·         They are officially done making mistakes themselves (you know, we’ve all got to get over that sometime.)

·         They say “Ah,” a lot more than us normal people do

Yeah. You know these people. It’s quite convenient to throw these characters in, just so somebody can be there to be the source of all those profound one-liners you’ve been thinking up to drive your novel’s message home. The problem is, that’s all they are.

  In my opinion, every character should have something to gain from being in the story. They learn, they change, they develop. Mentors don’t. They’re already all finished and complete at their first entrance. No real character is ever finished.

  You’re mentor character is an individual. Don’t deny them their rights as an individual. Develop a character profile for your mentor character that lends itself to progress—a story of their own. Remember they have a life. In their life, they are the protagonist. Who’s going to answer their questions?

  Here’s a small list of quick twists that you might use to flesh-out your mentor character:

·         They have a troubling secret

·         They don’t actually live by all those pithy little sayings

·         They sometimes lose their temper with the protagonist

·         They sometimes can’t express what they truly mean

·         They’re secretly in love with the antagonist

You need to remember to have fun with every one of your characters. Don’t worry that these little twists will make them less helpful to your protagonist. (Some might actually help. Think about it.) A character is always more likable if they are more real. You want your reader to connect with the mentor. They’ll listen to them better if they do.

  And, one final thing: “Ah.” If you really have to make your character use this interjection…fine. I guess.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Series Starting Soon

Hey. So, I've done a lot of general "fiction writers' advice" so far. I thought I'd start a series soon on clichés. It's always fun for me to find ways around typical fiction clichés, and I'll try to make it fun for you too.
  I also am going to start occasionally including feature posts on particular novels, comparing their pros and cons and doing a little by way of review. I'll also be focusing on fictional characters in some well-known (and less well-known) books that might interest you. These posts will also serve and studies in methods of characterization.
  Should be fun. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What Are Readers Looking For?

Something occurred to me recently. I was thinking about novels—successful novels, unsuccessful novels, classic novels nobody reads, cheap paperbacks everybody reads—and I was wondering…why do people like certain novels more than others? When a reader picks up a book with the intention of reading it, what are their expectations? What do they want?

Well, I’m sure it’s a little different for each reader and each novel—but not a lot different. When it all boils down, the reader wants a story. In the end, they don’t care a lot about your grammar, or your descriptive power, or your atmospheric development. They just care about you story—and maybe your characters.

  What they really want is an emotional attachment, and ability to sympathize with the characters. Once you have those bonds established, you proceed to take those characters--your reader’s new--friends and comrades—through a labyrinth of fear, pain, sorrow, confusion, joy, thrill, love, and victory. If you do that—and don’t overuse dashes (or parentheses, like some people)—you will write a novel people will hunt down in bookstores, and search for on Amazon.

  People want to be moved, above all, when it comes to art. The same is true for all art, really. With music, it’s the same. A pianist of great skill, with fluid artistry, and technical perfection, could play some monstrously complex Bach composition on a top-of-the-line instrument and everyone would know it was great. But a very mediocre singer singing some ridiculously easy folk song a little bit flat will get everyone to listen—if only they can bring out the audience’s emotions with their own raw intensity. This is what really matters to people.

  Is this a bad thing? Not really. It’s a very natural thing, and for many people, it should be very encouraging. Readers couldn’t really care less if you’re perfect. They just want a story that they can grasp and feel. But as for me, I’m a perfectionist. I feel like I really do have to be perfect when it comes to creating art. And that’s okay too, just as long as you don’t forget the essence of it. You need to move your reader. That’s what they were looking for when they opened your book.