The SolAARium: Discuss the craft of writing - Alphabetical Index in the 1st Post

unmerged(61296)

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It's a simple trick, but a useful one : when working on a character whose views you as a writer would find either foolish or abhorrent, and assuming you're not trying to depict an insane or truly stupid character, look for good reasons why he should think this way.

Ex : In an HoI2 you want to feature, say, Chamberlain, or a Chamberlain sympathizers. What could be a good and complelling reason for the character to be ready to renege on support to Czechoslovakia during the Munich conference ? What could bring Cabinet members to support such a grave issue, and what could bring millions to salute it as the only possible choice ? Are they happy about it ? Do they see it as the lesser of two evils ?

When you have one solid conviction, looking for reasons it could be flawed or inappropriate in specific circumstances will make it all the more dramatic and compelling when the time comes to have Chamberlain (in this example) replaced by Churchill.
 

unmerged(61559)

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As per the SolAArium, Lord Durham's character sheet;

Character Sheet


Name: __________________________________________________ ________


Date & Place of Birth: _____________________________________________

__________________________________________________ _______________


Height: _______________

Weight: _______________

Physical Description: _______________________________________________

__________________________________________________ ________________

__________________________________________________ _____________________________


Ethnic Origin: __________________________________________________ ___


Parent’s Names & Background: ________________________________________

__________________________________________________ _________________

__________________________________________________ ______________________________


Family Members: __________________________________________________ __

__________________________________________________ __________________

__________________________________________________ ________________________________


Friends Names & Background: __________________________________________

__________________________________________________ __________________

__________________________________________________ __________________


Social Class: __________________________________________________ _______

Education: __________________________________________________ _________


Occupation: __________________________________________________ ________


Community Status: __________________________________________________ __


Skills: __________________________________________________ _____________


Political Beliefs: __________________________________________________ _____


Religious Beliefs: __________________________________________________ ____


Hobbies/Entertainment: __________________________________________________


Strengths: __________________________________________________ ___________


Weaknesses: __________________________________________________ _________


Ambitions: __________________________________________________ ___________


Fears/Phobias: __________________________________________________ ________


Type of Humour: __________________________________________________ ______


General Health: __________________________________________________ ________


Distinguishing Marks: __________________________________________________ ___


Disabilities: __________________________________________________ ___________


Cultural Tastes: __________________________________________________ ________
 

Lordban

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An excellent character sheet indeed. Just writing down the details gives ample material to flesh out the character involved :)
 

dharper

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For me, character development has always been about personality, motivation and history. If you have none of these your character is a cardboard cutout; if you have all three, they're practically a protagonist.

The blond officer marched into the operations theatre and saluted crisply. "Lieutenant Hans Zimmer, ready for orders, sir!" Colonel Anders looked up from his maps. "Come in, Lieutenant," he said. "The news from Berlin is grim. I need you to carry out a desperate mission."

Personality is crucial. When we meet people we often like to pigeon-hole them into categories - he's brave, she's nice, they're creepy. As we get to know them better we start to consider them as having several different traits that come out at different times. Characters in a story are much the same; you want to introduce them with one trait, then gradually revealing a more complex personality to the reader. Consider the difference between a confident general and an aggressive one. Both could be excellent generals, but already there is a real difference in their styles. If the character sticks around for a while, I add another one, and eventually a third. What if I added conservative to one but shy to the other? How could you resolve someone who was aggressive but shy at the same time? This gives them a layered, complex personality that can begin to seem very real. I use a list of 20 traits and pick up to three for each character - that gives me over 1,000 unique personalities to work with.

The cocky blond officer marched into the operations theatre and saluted crisply. "Lieutenant Hans Zimmer, ready for orders, sir!" The twinkle in his eyes and the grin on his face marred an otherwise parade-perfect performance. Colonel Anders glanced up in irritation. "Come in, Lieutenant," he said harshly, then went back to studying the maps in front of him. "The news from Berlin is grim. I need you to carry out a desperate mission."

Motivation is the second key to character development. Very few people in the world are obsessed - most have any number of goals, some of which are unrealistic, some of which may conflict with others. Again, trying to introduce them all at once will overwhelm readers, so you start off by showing one, then gradually reveal more layers to your main characters. When I introduce a character I try to come up with what they value most. General A may be serving his country out of a sense of duty, while General B could be in it for the money. Both could be capable men who were always loyal - but they would have different reactions to the same event. I enjoy giving a few characters conflicting goals - this can make them seem flawed and human. Once again, I use a list of 20 broad goals and pick up to three, so again, over 1,000 unique combinations.

The cocky blond officer marched into the operations theatre and saluted crisply. "Lieutenant Hans Zimmer, ready for orders, sir!" The twinkle in his eyes and the grin on his face marred an otherwise parade-perfect performance, but he didn't seem to care. Colonel Anders glanced up at the young man and tried not to wince: his uniform was covered in mud, but his gold braids were carefully cleaned. "Come in, Lieutenant," he sighed, as he went back to studying the maps on the table. "I don't have the time for this, but it's time to begin your education as a man. We're losing the war, son." His voice caught and Anders cursed himself for showing weakness. "I need you to carry out a desperate mission."

History is the final step in making a character seem real. You may have just come up with them ten seconds ago, but if you write as if that is the case your readers will sense it too! Having a past makes them seem far more real. Consider the difference between walking in and seeing an old friend or walking in and introducing yourself; the tone of the story changes and becomes more natural, less formal. You can still share the same information without needing to spell it out for the reader - showing, not telling. I don't have any list I use for this - I just try to come up with something. History can be tied into motivations and personality easily - perhaps the money-loving general isn't greedy but needs the money to keep his wife in the style she's accustomed to - or he's being blackmailed by his gay lover. Perhaps he became greedy in the first place because he used to be an aristocrat - before all noble titles became so much worthless paper. History could even be as simple as the recognition of a shared experience or mutual aquaintance.

The cocky blond officer marched into the operations theatre and saluted crisply. "Lieutenant Hans Zimmer, ready for orders, sir!" The twinkle in his eyes and the grin on his face marred an otherwise parade-perfect performance, but he didn't seem to care. Colonel Anders rose from his maps with a roar. "Lieutenant Zimmer? God! If only your father could see you now, Hans!" The two men embraced fiercely. "Ach, if only the news from Berlin were as good..." His throat caught for a moment. "We're losing the war, lad." The young officer stared at him in dismay. "It's true. And that's why I called you here tonight - to see if a Zimmer can't pull the Prussian fat out of the fire once again..."
 
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CatKnight

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I'm gonna give you pretty much the exact opposite advice of everyone else.

Start small. A name, his/her role in the AAR (which hints at what their skilled at), and two or three descriptors:


Example from Resurrection:

Anne Foster: Former Spy Mistress for Britain in North America, now hunted by them. Now in Philadelphia helping Waymouth.

Beautiful (when she tries), manipulative, mentally unstable, vengeful


I've found if you put too much detail down in the beginning, you will come up with a lot of stuff that is...unimportant or even harmful. For example, as we meet my main protagonist, Tom Heyward, he is dying of a cold and despair induced asthma attack. I've only mentioned his condition two or three times more and pretty much assumed a more active lifestyle did away with it. For the most part it didn't matter, and for part of his story (leading an army!) would have actually been in the way.

Worse, you will forget these details (as I did with Tom's asthma) unless you write it down on one of LD's character sheets or something similar. It will also inhibit what these characters tell you about themselves as you write - few come to (at least) my mind fully fleshed out. I have what I need to get started, I start writing, and go with what feels write as they develop.

Foster above is no longer just a two or three word description. I know some of her background. I know why she's prone to mood swings and paranoia. I know what makes her dangerous, and I know where her weaknesses are. I didn't at the beginning, and if I'd tried to force it from day one I think I would have had a much weaker, more shallow character.

That's not to say the advice you've been given is bad. I have a copy of LD's character sheet on my hard drive and fill it out as details come to me. (Or rather, I do now. For many details I still have to go back through my own material - clumsy.) dharper's advice on motivation, personality and background is masterful and something any writer should strive for in their characters.

Atlantic Friend's comments on how to justify characters you may disagree with (such as Chamberlain) are also valuable: Someone once wrote that his readers weren't expected to like or even agree with his villains, but if they understood where the villain was coming from it made them realistic - and much, much more scary. Every baddie (or bad decisionmaker) has reasons for what they're doing. Even the insane ones. Especially the insane ones.

But you don't need all this on day one. That's a good way to develop writing paralysis. Don't pigeonhole yourself. Don't even feel trapped by something you've already written. If you write a suave, courageous action hero and suddenly want him to be afraid of snakes...that may appear contradictory, but it's okay. Just ask "Indiana Jones." Sometimes those exceptions to the stereotype are what make your characters really fun to watch and learn about.
 
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Lord Durham

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To take CatKnight's sage advice a step further, reveal your characters through dialogue and actions in addition to description. The beauty of a well rounded character is how he/she is presented over time. Definitely avoid front-loading all of their attributes, as that amounts to little more than info-dumping, and will leave few surprises for the reader, or wiggle room in case you wish to add additional info. As a writer, there's a certain sense of satisfaction when a character surprises you with a response or action you didn't plan for, or anticipate. And in some cases they will provide an important plot development that will take your story (AAR) in a totally unexpected direction. And by all means give your character flaws. Nothing is worse, or more boring, than a perfect character.
 

unmerged(11366)

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Lord Durham said:
Definitely avoid front-loading all of their attributes, as that amounts to little more than info-dumping, and will leave few surprises for the reader, or wiggle room in case you wish to add additional info. As a writer, there's a certain sense of satisfaction when a character surprises you with a response or action you didn't plan for, or anticipate. And in some cases they will provide an important plot development that will take your story (AAR) in a totally unexpected direction. And by all means give your character flaws. Nothing is worse, or more boring, than a perfect character.
This is absolutely true. There's a lot in Lord Durham's post and all worth emphasizing. For example, I remember when, writing The Hussite Lament, one of my characters hijacked the story and turned it into a political intrigue thriller. This sort of shocker is what keeps stories feeling "alive" and spontaneous, what drives the plot along to new heights, and what makes it interesting to write. Good characters come to life not just in the minds of their readers, but in those of their authors. In my current AAR, several of the main characters are considerably less interesting than the others, and it's because they have yet to run away from me. Oddly, one is the title character, who's been cited for "best character writing" twice - so I may have entirely the wrong idea here!

Generally my (flawed) approach is to assign each person a general concept, so they can be developed and elaborated over a very long period of time without getting old, and introduce a couple "signature" quirks or flaws right at the start. Guy Marlborough, for instance, is afraid of handshakes, and in a murder mystery I wrote last year incorporating all my friends from school, one friend (a future girlfriend, as it turned out) poked the narrator between the shoulderblades with a pencil every time they met. These types of things are odd enough to get readers' interest, and help establish the character as a real person, but they are not important enough to cause any continuity issues later, unless you're really foolish. I am. I forgot about Guy's fear of handshakes halfway through the AAR, and my readers called me on it!

The best thing to do, though - and it's not always practical - is to sit down all the characters at a table for a meal. Have some rip-roaring conversations and debates take place, and then afterwards go back and assign each line of dialogue to the person to whom it most "fits". In this way, by reverse-writing conversations, you can make the discussion into an exposition of your own mental image of each individual person at the table.
 

dharper

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CatKnight said:
Atlantic Friend's comments on how to justify characters you may disagree with (such as Chamberlain) are also valuable: Someone once wrote that his readers weren't expected to like or even agree with his villains, but if they understood where the villain was coming from it made them realistic - and much, much more scary. Every baddie (or bad decisionmaker) has reasons for what they're doing. Even the insane ones. Especially the insane ones.
Totally agree with this, but I want to add a warning. Many writers get personally involved with their characters, and if you come to sympathize with your villain's point of view too much (as author or reader) it can be very depressing or upsetting. Having the villain win occasionally is a good thing - it adds conflict and tension and makes the eventual victory of the good guys that much more meaningful. However, when you realize it'll tear you up to see either side lose...it's time to take a step back.
 

Konig15

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OK, justifying the villain is important. Or the antagonists. But in the AAR I'm working on:

The Crusading Tradition http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?t=330381

Seems to have neither villians nor antagonists, except for the English monarchs themselves. Now as it's MES I have Richard I, John I, Elenor of Aquitane, and that's just the rule of Henry II, but how to justify them, I can't. At least to my narrarator, Elanaor is a petty witch, Richard is a spoiled brat and John is a well, John. But after that I don't have any particularly bad monarchs until Edward II, and even he's not too terrible. And since it's a Crusading scenario, and set in the Crusading period, who's going to say 'Hey, let's NOT beat the crap out of the heathens' or 'Converting people to the Holy Catholic Church and saving their souls is just too darned expensive'? The only villian I can justify is Henry IV, who's not so much a noble, but a wronged noble who's coup causes the collapse of most, if not all, of the Empire I've been building for 250 years.

I can handle the specifics if I know where opposition is supposed to come from, but this is the theme of the era. Sorry I couldn't make my question more general. But the question does come up: WHO can I make into an antagonist?
 

stnylan

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OK, I have just looked over your AAR. In this sort of thing it pretty much comes down to the narrator. What are the narrators views? What are his likes or dislikes? When is he writing? Does he follow any particular historical schools of thought? Are there any other schools of thought out there he might disagree with? Perhaps he has an antagonist in the current timeframe who views things differently.

The vital thing to remember about narrators is that they will not be objective, passive retellers of events. Therefore they can have a particular likes and dislikes of a historical figures, even if the facts perhaps would suggest an alternate view. Say you have two leaders, or even just two armies with random leaders (which you could just substitute historical names for if you like) your narrator might be a fan of one general, but not the other. The result could be that he refers to the one he is fond of in glowing terms, while the other he castigates. If he wins a victory, it is through good fortune or because someone else helped him. If the hero leader loses a battle, it is somehow because the villain conspired to make it so. Be inventive.

Look at game events, including all the random ones. Do you have a series of events in more or less the same region, perhaps with a few events? If so, invent a rebel nobelman (or choose a likely character from real history) and make him perhaps a malcontent, a brute of a man who must be put down. Again, just take a inventive approach to game events, indeed all game occurrences, and they can provide backing and inspiration for all sorts of things beyond the basic event itself.

I hope that helps. These points, of course, have much applicability regardless whether you want to find an antagonist, a theme, or whatever.
 

Cyrus_The_Great

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Recently for school, I had the fortune to be assigned to reading this excellent article regarding dialogue , which I thought some of you may enjoy and learn as much from as I did.

Although it addresses Hemingway specifically, many of the main points about how Hemingway makes his dialogue so excellent can easilly apply to us with dialogue in our AARs. I think I will have to try some of these techniques in my next update, and it seems that they work since I have found Hemingway to be one of the most masterful writers in this aspect.

I hope you learn as much from this as I have.
 

comagoosie

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Please forgive me, as I am rather new in this sub-forum, and having searched for it but to no avail, I have turned here, so frankly don't even know if it belongs:

If you look in my sig you will find a narrative AAR (my first one too :wacko: ). There is really nothing special besides how it was started. Anyways I am looking for a font that would be suitable not only for my story but for anyone writing. So I need your help to decide what font would look best.

Normal

Arial

Arial Black

Arial Narrow

Book Antiqua (this one doesn't look half bad)

Century Gothic

Comic Sans MS

Courier New

Fixedsys

Franklin Gothic Medium

Garamond

Georgia

Impact

Lucida Console

Lucida Sans Unicode

Microsoft Sans Serif

Palatino Linotype

System

Tahoma

Times New Roman

Trebuchet MS

Verdana

Any and all advice is welcomed :)
 

Cyrus_The_Great

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I don't know how much the font has to do with the art of writing, but anyways, I don't really think it matters too much. You don't need a special font to make an AAR shine, just make sure it is easy on the eyes. The standard one is fine IMO.
 

TeeWee

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There are two replies to this.

The artistic one: if you have an artistic need to use a particular font, this reason can be more important than all other considerations.

The pragmatic one: readability, especially online readability, is paramount! In the default font size, a sans serif one like Arial or Verdana is fine. Sticking to the normal one is recommended, as you probably don't want a very "busy" look in your AAR as your font will be different from all the replies from everyone.

Remember, fonts are for reading! And remember the lesson of print: too many different typefaces make your page look untidy, random and decreases readability.
 

coz1

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I'd say font counts for at least layout purposes. You want an AAR that is pleasing to the eye both to read and look at, and especially for wordier AARs, a nice font can add much to the "look" of the work. It's really one that you think looks best, so no one font is the correct one. Somewhat like screenshots, a special font can add a nice touch to any AAR. ;)
 

ComradeOm

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Honestly I've never seen a need to use alternate fonts... and I tend to pay a fair amount of attention to presentation. Some people may feel otherwise but to me, as either author or reader, fonts are at best a non-issue and at worst can poorly affect the readability of your AAR.

The exception to this is when the font actually serves a purpose in the AAR
 

unmerged(93390)

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My question isn't really related to writing itself but rather to what constitutes a valid source for a historical book. Right now, I'm just beginning an attempt to write a book focusing on the period in Polish-Lithuanian history known as the Deluge. I'm only 20 but I like to write and I'm hoping to establish it as at least "side-career" because I really don't have any other strong motivations as far as a career is concerned. I'm not really aiming to uncover new or even rarely heard of facts, but instead to present the event in a comprehensive and fairly detailed way. I won't just be discussing military and political activities concerning the wars of the deluge but also the socio-political, cultural, religious, spiritual and biographical things that surround and relate to the Deluge as well as my own connections and commentary.

However, it will be difficult for me to amass the large amount of psychical books (I'm thinking like at least 40 or 50; right now I have about 10) that are typically listed in the bibliographies of many historical scholarly works. So my hope instead is to scavenge the internet for not just web pages but whatever relevant books, documents etc. I can find online - most of these books I refer to are older and thus, of course, available as public domain.

To get back to my question, would a publisher by wary to accept a non-fiction book - even if (hopefully) well written - if it relies heavily on internet sources (I mean those which are considered "legitimate" for scholarly research - i.e. not wikipedia)? Or am I kidding myself that I can rely so heavily on the internet? :confused:

As I've sort of said, although there will be much of it, "pure history" isn't really my intention. And perhaps this fact mitigates the need for a vast amount of sources. For instance, because spiritual matters are so interwoven with Poland in particular, I've resolved to focus on it quite strongly - not so much analytically or as a basic description of beliefs and practices but more so as a kind of unifying transcendence linking the many "characters" within the book - if that makes any sense. :)
 

coz1

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This is really more a thread to discuss writing rather than researching, and creative writing at that. You'll likely have many more takers with a question like this in OT where the historians can jump in and give you an informed opinion. We do have a few of those over here as well, so if any of them want to tackle it, feel free.
 

unmerged(93390)

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Feb 22, 2008
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I understand. I'll do that.

But in that case, what ideas do you guys have about really making a historical narrative come alive? How can one suitably incorporate creative writing into a historical account? Even though I just registered, I'm quite familiar with this forum and I know there are very many interesting "historical" AARs. Granted, they aren't actually factual since they're based on Paradox games, but - for all purposes - they're written as if they were.

Sorry if the question is a little broad, though I hope it's more fitting for this thread.

Anyways, I'd appreciate any thoughts whatsoever.
 

likk9922

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You can focus on specific people, real or fictional. Adding humanity to a story tends to enhace it.

Read lots of AArs. There are many different ways and styles to make history jump off of the paper. Good luck!