Categories
Writing process

How do you write ‘good’ characters versus ‘bad’ characters?

One thing writers try to do is ‘show’ a character by his or her actions. That is, rather than say,

Bob Jenkins was a bad man.

You show it by

Bob Jenkins pulled into the petrol station one midnight, just after Granny Stevens had closed up, and demanded she unlock one of the bowsers so he could fill up. Granny refused, so he punched her in the face, knocked her to the ground, and drove off. Granny spent three months in hospital, recovering.

It’s not so common now, but simple way authors were taught to show a protagonist’s character was to show how he treated animals.

Does he kick the dog, or does he pat it?  Does he, like Jack Holloway in John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, allow his dog to detonate explosives. (This works better than it sounds here, Jack’s relationship with his dog saves him, in my opinion.)  Or does he, like Riggs in Lethal Weapon, rescue a dog that’s being tortured by some low-lifes?

That last may or may not be true, but I’m sure I’ve seen the start of Lethal Weapon where some people are sitting around a fire in a drum, and they’re torturing a dog. Riggs is uber crazy, out of his mind with grief and depression, probably blind drunk, and he goes in and tears these people apart.  (Not literally, but he roughs them up.)  It sets the scene for the whole movie.  People I’ve spoken to can’t remember the scene, so I don’t know if I imagined it or not.  But to me, it’s part of the Lethal Weapon canon, and it shows Riggs’ character perfectly. He’ll go in to prevent injustice, but he’s badass with it.

Like I say, they don’t use animals as much to show character now, although it’s still around.

Another common technique was to show how the character treated children.

Nowadays, good guys can be a lot more ambiguous, but they have to have morals. Morals that we agree with.

Even if they’re half-way bad, our ‘good guy’ has a good reason for doing something.  Something that we as a reader think is a good thing.  For example, our protagonist may be determined to destroy a pharmaceutical company, and does unpleasant things to achieve it, but it always turns out that the company he (or she) is trying to destroy is worse. For example, they covered up the test results of a drug they sell, and even though they know the drug causes people to die screaming in agony they still sell it, because it makes them money.  Enough money to buy and sell governments.

I love bad guys who aren’t truly bad, just doing what they feel is right, and that’s different to what the protagonist wants.  They’re the best type of ‘bad’ characters to read about.

Even so, my gut feel is that with the world in the turmoil it is today, many writers will start making their antagonists a little more obviously bad in the future.  It’s a way of coping.

Categories
On writing

An exercise in editing—from first draft to second

Please, bear with us. The first example is bad. It’s meant to be. The second isn’t much better. This is designed to show the drafting process. Two drafts is never enough. At least, not for us.

Email, me to Sherylyn:  What do you think? Unlikeable?

 

Eliud Frank was building a stark arrangement of human bones when Alaric finally got to his office.

“You’re late.”

He’d got the message at lunch time.  It had taken three hours—two public buses and a maglev ride—to get here.  “No one gave me a time.”

Eliud placed a bone carefully at cross angles to another, stepped back to view the result.

“It’s off-centre,” Alaric said.

“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”

Alaric shrugged, and watched in silence as his boss’s boss’s boss finished the arrangement.  The pieces had the creamy-white porous brittleness of real bone.  He thought they might be real.

Eliud placed the final piece.  “What do you think?”

It was still off-centre, but Alaric shrugged.  “Can’t say I’d like a bunch of bones in my office.”

“You don’t have an office.”

“Rub it in.” Not that he wanted an office, and he shouldn’t be talking to his boss’s boss’s boss like this anyway, given it was the first time they’d met, but there was something about the man that felt as if Eliud was deliberately provoking him.  Alaric was contrary enough to poke right back.

Where was Tina, anyway?  You didn’t meet with superiors this high up the tree without your own boss in attendance.

She’d probably gone back to their branch office, disgusted with him for being so late.  If that was the case, she should have offered him a lift.

“Survive or fail,” his grandmother had told him, “But don’t think that I’m going to interfere for you.”

So far, he’d been just treading water.

Eliud cracked a smile.  His teeth were the same colour as the bones.  “Hurts a bit, does it.”

No, it didn’t.  What hurt more was being plucked out of a life he’d enjoyed and forced to take a shite job like this because his grandmother had ordered it.

“Konrad Deens,” Eliud said.

That little shite.  “What about him?  I hear he took over his uncle’s business.  Been quite successful.”

“Somewhat of an understatement.  While you’ve been saving the worlds and making music, he’s become the de-facto ruler of three worlds.”

That sounded like Deens.  He’d always been ambitious.

“You went to school with him.”

“He was a bully.  We clashed.”

“Nevertheless, you went to school with him.”

 

Note by the question I ask in the email I’m pretty sure Sherylyn won’t like him.  Sherylyn has final say on characters. If she doesn’t like them they’re either out, or we work on them until she does.

Email reply, Sherylyn to me: Very confusing.

Another email reply, Sherylyn to me: And maybe not so likeable.

 

So we discuss this little piece over dinner.

“I like the bones,” Sherylyn says.  “Otherwise, there’s too many people, I have no idea what’s going on. I don’t even like the swearing.  Who’s Tina? What’s his grandmother got to do with it? He didn’t have an office.”

“I know he didn’t have an office.”

“Well you make it sound like he did.  In the first paragraph.  Also, would he call him Eliud or Frank?”

 

Okay. It needs a lot of work. Sometimes Sherylyn does the edits. But not this time. Partly because it’s only the first page, and partly because she doesn’t have any feel for Alaric yet.

What does she like?

The bones.

So, our next draft becomes:

 

Eliud Frank was building a stark arrangement of human bones when Alaric finally arrived at Frank’s office.

“You’re late.”  The Chief Superintendant placed a bone carefully at cross angles to another, stepped back to view the result.

“It’s off-centre,” came out before Alaric could stop it.

“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”

Alaric watched in silence as Frank finished the arrangement.  The pieces had the creamy-white porous brittleness of real bone.  He didn’t know why he’d been called here, and that fact that his own boss—Tina—wasn’t here, worried him.  You didn’t see someone three ranks removed on a social call.

Frank placed the final piece.  “What do you think?”

It was still off-centre, but Alaric shrugged.  “Can’t say I’d like a bunch of bones in my office.”

“Konrad Deens,” Frank said.

“I hear he took over his uncle’s business.  Been quite successful.”

“Somewhat of an understatement.  While you’ve been saving the worlds and getting your face in the tabloids, he’s become the de-facto ruler of three worlds.”

That sounded like Deens.  He’d always been ambitious.

“You went to school with him.”

“He was a bully.  We clashed.”

“Nevertheless, you went to school with him.”

 

Email, me to Sherylyn: What do you think?

Email reply, Sherylyn to me: Better. Still needs more work. Good to see you fixed the office. I like the bones, but are they important? Or are they symbolic? What happened to the maglev?

 

Ready for round three.

Categories
Fun stuff

What bot is that – answers to last week’s quiz

Last week,I gave you six bots and asked if you knew which books they were from.

Bot 1

Once upon a time there was a cyborg. That’s me.  You might think my life is a fairy tale. I can tell you it’s not.  I live in New Beijing with my stepmother—who hates me—and my two stepsisters. The stepsister I adore is dying of the plague.

Who is it?

Cinder, from Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. More specifically, the first book, which was called Cinder. This is a retelling of fairy stories as science fiction.  Including an evil queen (the ruler of the moon).  Book one was Cinderella’s story.  She had an artificial foot.

In the Lunar Chronicles anyone with artificial appendages (like the foot) is a cyborg, and considered sub-human.

 

Bot 2

We’re here to solve a murder.  The New York detective I’ve been partnered with doesn’t trust Spacers. Or robots.

He’s from overcrowded Earth, where they hate robots because Earth people believe robots take jobs humans could do.

Who is it?

This was R. Daneel Olivaw from Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel. It’s probably the first robot book I ever read, and Elijah Bailey and Daneel Olivaw were probably my two favourite Asimov characters ever.

Bot 3

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

This one is a direct quote, which I will attribute next week, but I love it so much I’m quoting it verbatim. This is also a really great start to a novel.

Who is it?

Everyone’s favorite murderbot. Ranks up there with bonus bot (below) as one of my two favorite artificial intelligences of all time.

The SecUnit from Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries.  Book one, All Systems Red, won a Nebula for best novella this year, and it’s a Hugo finalist as well. I, personally, am voting for this on the hugos. I love Murderbot.

Bot 4

I am 50,000 times more intelligent than a human, and have a “brain the size of a planet” which I seldom get a chance to use. I was built originally as one of the (many) failed prototypes of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s GPP (Genuine People Personalities) technology.  I’m bored. Maybe a little depressed.  People have called me paranoid, and manically depressed. I’m just stoic, patient even.

“The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million. They were the worst, too. The third ten million I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into a bit of a decline.”

“Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I’m standing?”

Who is it?

Marvin the paranoid android from Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Alan Rickman played Marvin in the 2005 movie of the book.  We didn’t see it, for some reason, but I can imagine Alan playing him. He’d do it so well.

Bot 5

I used to be a ship AI, but things went wrong and I had to do a hard reboot. Now I’m in a body. That takes a bit of getting used to. It feels cramped, and tiny. I can’t remember what happened before.

Who is it?

I thought some people might have chosen Breq (bonus bot) for this one, but they didn’t. This bot is Lovelace, aka Sidra, from Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit.

For a bonus point

I used to be a ship. I controlled thousands of human bodies. My ship was destroyed. All that’s left of me is the one human body I am in now. This body sings. Badly.

Who is it?

My other all-time favourite AI. Breq, from Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.

Categories
Fun stuff

What bot is that?

Our book is done. This draft, anyway. Due date was the 1 June.

We delivered, although of course we’d love to have another round of editing right now. Books are like that. Every time you look at your writing you see something else you want to change.

I have to clean my desk ready for the next one. It’s becoming a tradition—clean your desk ready for the next book. I just don’t understand how a desk can get so messy, but it does.

We have ideas for the next story, but nothing planned. We’ll take it easy for a couple of days, and then talk to our agent about what we should do next.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a quiz.

It was initially going to be a quiz totally about humanoid robots, but in the end I’ve stretched it out to full robots, AI, cyborgs, augmented humans and everything between.  So it’s not really just bots in the sense that most science fiction people know them. (There’s a very big hint here, people.)

How many can you get?

Bot 1

Once upon a time there was a cyborg. That’s me.  You might think my life is a fairy tale. I can tell you it’s not.  I live in New Beijing with my stepmother—who hates me—and my two stepsisters. The stepsister I adore is dying of the plague.

Bot 2

We’re here to solve a murder.  The New York detective I’ve been partnered with doesn’t trust Spacers. Or robots.

He’s from overcrowded Earth, where they hate robots because Earth people believe robots take jobs humans could do.

Bot 3

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

This one is a direct quote, which I will attribute next week, but I love it so much I’m quoting it verbatim. This is also a really great start to a novel.

Bot 4

I am 50,000 times more intelligent than a human, and have a “brain the size of a planet” which I seldom get a chance to use. I was built originally as one of the (many) failed prototypes of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s GPP (Genuine People Personalities) technology.  I’m bored. Maybe a little depressed.  People have called me paranoid, and manically depressed. I’m just stoic, patient even.

“The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million. They were the worst, too. The third ten million I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into a bit of a decline.”

“Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust, or just fall apart where I’m standing?”

Bot 5

I used to be a ship AI, but things went wrong and I had to do a hard reboot. Now I’m in a body. That takes a bit of getting used to. It feels cramped, and tiny. I can’t remember what happened before.

For a bonus point

I asked Sherylyn to do the quiz before I put it on line.

“I know who one of them will be,” she said, and told me.

No. I didn’t put that one in there. Why not? Because I forgot it. I’m not sure how, because it’s my favorite AI in a human body story ever, and I rave about it all the time.

So here it is.

I used to be a ship. I controlled thousands of human bodies. My ship was destroyed. All that’s left of me is the one human body I am in now. This body sings. Badly.

 

 


How many did you get?