Cheating at Characterisation…

No, not this Thing. This Thing is awesome and cute and more than slightly hilarious.

There’s this Thing.

It’s an irritating Thing. A far-too-prevalent Thing. I’d all but forgotten about it until recently, when I came across it again in one of the books from my TBR pile.

It sounded like a good book, so I was reasonably anticipatory as I flipped to the first chapter. It was a solid first chapter, fluffy and bright and quite a bit of fun. There were glimmerings of decent characterisation, and the setting was an interesting one with some fun ideas I hadn’t seen before.

I actually quite enjoyed it until I started seeing the Thing in chapter two. At first, it was just a touch or two of the Thing. Nothing too obvious. Just an edging here or there that could have just been a character being different. Then I got to chapter four and the Thing burst onto the scene in all its warty annoyance, unmistakable and unavoidable.

First, one of the MCs was introduced. She was a politically loud, rebellious, environmentally proactive MC, trying hard to do the right thing by sourcing ethically produced products for her store. She had a habit of talking down to anyone and about anyone who didn’t align exactly with her politics.

Okay, I thought. She’s kinda annoying, but she’s also really energetic and even if she’s a bit preachy and self-righteous, people tend to grow up. Besides which, I’m the kind of reader that can appreciate an MC that isn’t perfect. And even if I didn’t agree with the way she put across her opinions, I agreed with and could appreciate quite a few of them.

Then the main bad guy was introduced. How did I know he was the main bad guy? He was introduced as ‘ranting’ about Trump, illegal immigrants, and one or two other hot-button topics of today’s world.

I groaned. I mean, I seriously, literally groaned. Not the Thing. Please, not the Thing!

But it was the Thing. The author was introducing all the ‘evil’ or ‘unpleasant’ characters as those who held to a certain set of political views and/or ethical beliefs, while introducing all the ‘good’ or ‘right’ characters as those of (I assume) the author’s own preferred beliefs. It didn’t stop with one or two characters, and it didn’t get any better from there on in.

I haven’t seen a more egregious example of the Thing since re-reading Louise Lawrence’s Chronicles of Llandor. I loved those books as a kid. There are some books that give more with age, but those books unfortunately only gave annoyance. You knew a character was bad simply because they advocated eating meat. And you knew when a ‘good’ character was going to the bad because they would start to think eating meat wasn’t quite so bad, or that perhaps killing an enemy who was trying kill their friends wasn’t so bad.

It wasn’t so much a case of politics being included in the storyline so much as a bit of story being included in the politics. And, just as with the first book I mentioned, it was being used as a shorthand form of characterisation.

I’m not a person who thinks politics and religion and Stuff That Matters should be kept out of books. My own books are hardly free from threads and themes (though not overt ones) that tie directly back to my heritage and growth as a Christian. Of course, the odds are, if you have a differing political/religious/Thing opinion than me, I will enjoy your books less–especially if you choose to use your books to low-key preach at me. It will not, however, stop me reading your books.

What will stop me reading your books is the use of political/religious/Thing as character development or characterisation. If your character is a bad guy just because he supports Trump/supports free immigration/opposes abortion/supports gay marriage/whatever, or if you use any of these as shorthand for what a horrible person s/he is, I will stop reading. Because that’s not characterisation. That’s laziness.

Also, newsflash: people aren’t the sum of their opinions. People are a mix of good and bad, and just because someone supports the death penalty, it doesn’t mean they’re out murdering puppies in the street. Characterisation means drawing people who have a mix of good and bad in them: things they struggle with, stupid ideas they support until they know better/because they’re too stubborn to change.

Characterisation is one of the most amazing things about Lloyd Alexander’s The Kestrel. (It’s the 2nd book in the Westmark trilogy–yes, I read it first, I’m an idiot; no, I haven’t read the 1st or 3rd yet, I’m not yet ready for the emotional damage that I know is coming). The characters, each on their side of the war–at times uneasy allies, at times enemies, at all times spectacularly human–are all such a mix of good and bad. The good make bad decisions, do wrong things, experience the fallout of their wrong decisions. The bad have both good and bad parts: their opinions are sometimes morally evil and sometimes morally good. Not all the bad guys believe the same thing. The good guys aren’t all united under the same umbrella. They each have their own motivations, and it is, in the end, their actions that define how they are seen.

Please. Please. Authors. Don’t do the Thing. The Thing is lazy. It’s irritating. It’s Bad Writing.

It needs to die.

“Introducing the Players”

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about Nero Wolfe before. If I haven’t, please excuse me while I hyperventilate in disbelief, because Nero Wolfe is flamin’ amazing.

“Book or T.V. Nero Wolfe?” you ask me.

“Both,” is my reply. “Both, my sprightly word-lover.”

My first introduction to Nero Wolfe was in book form, with Rex Stout’s novels. I still love them, and I still re-read them (and gasp excitedly whenever a newly-converted-to-kindle book that I haven’t been able to find at the library comes up on my Amazon storefront). I could really rave for ages about how awesome Wolfe and Archie are, and how much I enjoy the books. I’m not going to do so, because that isn’t the point of this blog post.

No, for this blog post, I’m going to talk about the T.V. version of Nero Wolfe (and a couple other things which are the actual point I’m currently illustrating by using the Nero Wolfe T.V. series).

Deep, ain’t it?

So. The Nero Wolfe T.V. show. For the purposes of this blog post, let the record show that I’m referencing the Maury Chaykin/Timothy Hutton series: I believe there are other movies and maybe another series, but since I can’t possibly see them being anywhere near as good as the Chaykin/Hutton effort, I’m ignoring them as if they don’t exist.

archie-and-nero1

The whole show is well done: the casting is perfect (Chaykin and Hutton are Wolfe and Archie; mad and bad and dangerous to know–ie, flippant, selfish, and frequently crazy), the dialogue as sparkling and hilarious as in the books, the directing some of the best I’ve seen, and the costumes both bright and entirely accurate. And like all the best shows, the Nero Wolfe series has a peculiarity that will either endear it to you, or annoy you intensely. You can possibly guess which it is in my case.

This peculiarity, in the case of the Nero Wolfe series, is the fact that the show, instead of introducing the actors, introduces “the Players”.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

If not, allow me to explain. By introducing “the Players”, the show is letting you in on the secret that you may otherwise not notice until two or three episodes later– which is the fact that each of the actors is present in nearly every episode.

That’s right. Each of the actors is almost always present, and they each play a different part in each different episode. In the case of one particular episode, one actress even plays two parts– her recurring part as Lily Rowan, and that of another lady in the story. Only Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe, Fritz, and Lily Rowan are always the same. Even Saul changes face once before he remains Saul, and Orrie gets the same treatment. And when Saul and Orrie aren’t in the storyline, those actors play different parts, too.

It’s something that makes you really appreciate the skills of the actors, since with their different parts, they quite often have different accents as well as completely different personalities, and none of them fall short in any of those things. After a while it becomes a game to pick which ones are the same as last episode, because it’s not always easy to tell at first.

I was reminded of this lately as I watched a couple of Taiwanese dramas.

So far I’ve seen two. They’re hilarious and weird, and really very sweet– and insanely long (oh my goodness, 35 episodes?!?!)

Why am I bringing up Taiwanese drama after Nero Wolfe? Ah, now for the second illustration of my point (which, btw, I haven’t yet brought up. Wait for it).

I originally started watching the second drama because I really liked the main male lead in the first (Office Girls) and found out he was in Miss Rose is Getting Married, which sounded as hilarious as Office Girls.

Smiling eyes, hilariously hammy acting on occasion, perfect comedic timing, and then a sucker-punch kind of sweetness that catches you by surprise, Roy Chiu has quickly become one of my favourite actors.

Smiling eyes, hilariously hammy acting on occasion, perfect comedic timing, and then a sucker-punch kind of sweetness that catches you by surprise, Roy Chiu has quickly become one of my favourite actors.

So I began watching the second drama along with the first (really livin’ it up, yeah?)

My first surprise was that my (again, favourite) 2nd male lead was also in this one, in a bigger role (hooray!) Then the mean girl from Office Girls turned up as the cute, peppy best friend (also hooray, b/c she’s just adorable). It didn’t occur to me until about three or four episodes in that the main female lead was also 2nd female lead in Office Girls.

From this discovery I went on to find that nearly every single actor in Miss Rose is Getting Married was also in Office Girls. I’m not even exaggerating. Every main lead and most of the secondaries are in both dramas, simply playing different parts. They’ve even included some of the actors in fake video clips that you see in the background, causing me to choke on my tea and nearly die of death by drowning in my hitherto safe armchair. I’m now having a great old time trying to catch ’em all–er, I mean spot them all.

Which (finally) brings me to my point. Hooray?

As a writer, there is one thing that I’m constantly worried about. If you’ve been paying attention up until this point, you’ve probably guessed what that is.

It’s this: after you’ve written about four or five books, you start to worry about your characters. Specifically, you begin to worry that your characters are all the same. You worry that you’ve simply regurgitated the same old characters into a new setting and a new plot. You wonder if their reactions, dialogue, and essential character are just too similar to each other.

In short, you begin to see them as the same old actors, painted to look superficially different. I remember the first time that I realised Ellis Peters’ characters were essentially the same characters for each book, simply put into a different setting, plot, and murder mystery.

To some extent, you can’t get away from it. There are only so many types of characters out there, and each writer is generally geared to a certain type/s of character that they enjoy/are good at writing. It’s not even necessarily a bad thing: your fans and readers like a certain kind of character, and they won’t always appreciate you growing your craft at their expense.

So, if I can’t fully escape it, why am I stressing over it?

Because sometimes, just having the problem in mind is enough to ameliorate it, even if that’s only by a small amount. If you’ve got that nagging doubt at the back of your mind, you’ll be more careful about your character drawing. You’ll tweak this or that to add small shades of other colours. You’ll consider different circumstances that might lead to different character development. In short, by thinking about your craft as you work, it’s likely that your craft will improve.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have similar characters. Our core values don’t change too much, and as writers, that will always be disseminated in our writing– and especially in our characterisation. But as a writer, I don’t want to have the same old character in every book because I wasn’t good enough or disciplined enough to write different ones. If I have similar characters, I want it to be because I intended it that way, not because I don’t know any better.

10 Things I Hate About KDrama (Part One)

Okay, you know the drill. Been watching KDrama, loving some things, hating others, too long and gasbaggy to keep this down to one post, so ya got another two-parter.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

I guess I’ve just got a giving heart.

Anyhoo.

Some of the 10 Things are minor niggles. Some of them are pet hates. Some of them are things that make me fume and scream and rage-quit. Some of them are things that just make me give a small, sarcastic hiss of laughter and say: “Oh really?” 

So here goes, again in no particular order. 10 Things I Hate About KDrama, Part The First.

The ‘Accidental Kiss’

So there’s this thing in KDrama.

It’s this thing where the characters are secretly attracted to each other (or perhaps simply don’t yet realise that they’re attracted to each other), and through a terribly coincidental accident or ‘adorably’ clumsy moment, end up kissing. Like, the girl falls off a chair or a bench or something (this method seems remarkably popular–hint: ladies, if you tend to fall off things, flamin’ well don’t climb on ’em, yeah?) and the hero, in catching her, ends up accidentally locking lips with her. ACCIDENTALLY.

accidental kiss flower boys next door

YEAH. FLAMING. RIGHT.

You know how I said that this was in no particular order? I lied. This one cheeses me off the most. And when I say ‘cheeses me off’, I mean I sit there saying: “Oh really? Where is the blood? Why aren’t your lips mashed to a bloody pulp fit to rival The Walking Dead?”

Mates, it’s simple. Lips may be soft, but they’re backed by teeth, which really aren’t. I so much want to see a scene where the heroine loses her front teeth and the hero’s annoyingly bee-stung lips are a bloody, gory mess. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN TWO MOUTHS COLLIDE AT HIGH SPEED AND SIGNIFICANT IMPACT.

(Sourced from Stuck-In-A-Loop) This. This is what happens.

(Sourced from Stuck-In-A-Loop)
This. This is what happens. It’s not cute, and it’s not pretty. You WILL look like a zombie.

(There’s only one instance that I’ll forgive and it’s sheerly because of Park Shin-Hye and Yoon Shi-Yoon, who are both so adorable as Dok-Mi and Kkae-Geum that I’ll forgive them almost anything. Also, there was no falling from a great height, just a minor impact. Also, also, it was unusual in that he was the one who fell on her, which made me laugh.)

Arrogant Male Leads who win ALL THE TRICKS

AUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

Okay, it’s out of my system. For now.

But maaaan, is it annoying!

Here’s the setup: your Main Female Lead (henceforth MFL) is a bright, determined, stubborn woman. She doesn’t give up. She makes things work. She is kind and principled and clever.

Enter MML (Main Male Lead). Maybe she saves his life. Maybe she accidentally sends him hurtling into a vat of concrete (I’m firmly of the opinion that she should leave him there but no one listens to me). Maybe she piques his interest ‘cos every other woman ever falls at his feet in an infatuated heap, and he *blurk*’likes a woman with spirit’*blurk*. Naturally he is unbelievably handsome and all the women love him.

Because apparently it's ok to be a prat if you're beautiful and/or sexy. I wanted to punch this guy in the face SO OFTEN.

Because apparently it’s ok to be an abusive prat if you’re beautiful and/or sexy. I wanted to punch this guy in the face SO OFTEN.

Whichever way it happens, the hero decides pretty quickly that he needs this woman in his life. He may not realise exactly why at the time, but he’s pretty clear that she’s not allowed to go anywhere, or with any one. To achieve this, he will (if he’s rich) buy up whole buildings to force her into the one he wants her in, get her fired from her job, make her homeless, make her indebted, and basically mess with her in a fashion that’s about as close to torture as you can get without blood.

She will initially struggle and try to fight back, but will eventually come to him with her tail between her legs (or, if the writer prefers to save face) with a reason as to why she changed her mind. After a protracted battle where he wins all the tricks and she manages not to do a single thing that could have ended the cycle for good (like engage in assault and battery, for example), bam, they’re together, exactly where and how he wanted them to be.

Can you say: “Abusive Relationship?”

And after being worn down like that and having all agency taken away from her, the MFL will still fall in love with this grade-A prat. Worse, during the struggle, all of her vaunted determination and cleverness and self-reliance will have proved to be just window-dressing on the part of a writer who had to have a reason for the MML to fall for the MFL in the first place. Of course, once he has, who needs that window-dressing?

Pft, Consistent Characterisation? What’s that? Can I eat it?

I would like to stress here that the best KDramas I’ve seen do not do this. It has, however, been prevalent enough in the rest of ’em to make me want to reach through the T.V. and physically hurt those arrogant MMLs who are verbally or emotionally abusing their MFLs (Noble, my Love, I’m glaring at you).

I would also like to stress that in the best KDramas, even if a MML starts out as an arrogant idiot, he is always changed into something infinitely more lovable during the course of his adventures and trials. This change can be effected because of the MFL, or because of a capability to learn and change on the part of the MML (which is even more satisfying).

Perfect hair...as in, perfect for grabbing so I can rub his face in the dirt.

Perfect hair…as in, perfect for grabbing so I can rub his face in the dirt. Ji Sung-Joon from She Was Pretty only just made it through my 3 episode rule.

So I’ve made a rule for myself. If I spend more than three episodes wanting to grab a MML by his perfectly coiffed hair and forcibly acquaint his face with the nearest table-top, without once thinking ‘Oh, poor baby!’ Or ‘Ah! So that’s why!’ I stop watching.

Why?

Because life is too short to keep watching bad T.V. Also, there are far too many great KDramas out there to be wasting my time on the bad ones.

TSTL MFLs (AKA, Main Female Leads who are Too Stupid To Live)

This indirectly leads off the previous point, in that one of the biggest things an arrogant MML will taunt a MFL with, is the charge of being stupid. This seems to be a much bigger thing in Korean T.V. than it is in Australia: probably because we don’t actually care about being called stupid (Study-Til-Your-Nose-Bleeds isn’t a thing here).

My problem with this is more than the constant barrage of insults the MML shoots at the MFL. The big, BIG problem I have with this is that the MFL doesn’t actually usually start out as stupid. She may not be book smart, but she usually has a different kind of smarts. She is also usually kind, lovely, and proactive in helping others.

So of course, I sit there calling out and verbally abusing the MML because of his insults, and basically getting all rage-quitty.

Then we get to somewhere in the middle of the drama and the MFL starts to do really, really stupid things. Things like following the MML around like a dog. Or stalking him across campus and hiding behind bushes to watch him while he’s on a date. Getting hit by a car while she’s following someone. Or doing THE THING, THE ONLY THING that he told her not to do. Or–oh my ragey heart!–making the exact same mistake over and over and over and OVER AGAIN.

Basically proving true every single insult he ever made about her.

Playful Kiss. I would like you both to die now, please. And bring on the dude who checks if the petrol tank on his motorbike is empty by using his lighter, cos even he isn't as stupid as these two are. Plus, he's funnier.

From Playful Kiss. I would like you both to die now, please.
And bring on the dude who checks if the petrol tank on his motorbike is empty by using his lighter, cos even he isn’t as stupid as these two are. Plus, he’s funnier.

I can’t even.

I can’t odd.

RAGE. QUIT.

I will forgive a lot in a kind heroine, but not that.

OTT MFLs (AKA, Main Female Leads who are Ridiculously, Embarrassingly Clumsy and/or Cling to the MML like Lawyer Vine)

Let me state a basic rule of thumb, MFLs. If you have to install an app on his phone to track his whereabouts, it’s not a crush. You’re a stalker.

Writers, I want to love your MFL. I want to love her and sigh for her and cheer her on. And that’s really hard to do when she’s an idiot who clings to the MML with all the tenacity of Lawyer Vine, without a smidgen of self-control, self-respect, or pride. I mean, how much humiliation and rejection do you have to imbibe before you finally realise that he’s not into you?

Only in KDrama, he will eventually be into her. Because if you stalk a guy long enough, of course he’s eventually going to think you’re cute and fall in love with you. Of course he’s not going to have you put under a restraining order or actively run away from you. Because you’re the cute MFL, and the paradigm is created solely for you.

I hate your guts.

Also. MFLs who are so cringeworthily clumsy that I’m watching entire episodes through my fingers because I can’t bear to look.

I hate you too.

It’s not just clumsiness. It’s unbelievable, ridiculous clumsiness. How have these girls not died? HOW? At some point they would get run over, or accidentally impaled, or slip in the shower, or any number of things.

You. Clumsy/awkward MFL. Why are you holding your head like that? You look like a chook. A scrawny chook. Why are you rushing around like that when you know you fall over? I spend most of my time with these MFL wailing: “Why would you do that? Why? Why would you do that?

Unfortunately, MFLs who are either of the above tend to be BOTH of the above.

This, too, makes me rage-quitty.

2nd Boys who break my heart (AKA, Give 2nd Boys a Happy Ending too!)

(Told you this was gonna be on both lists.)

Oh my broken heart! It is an almost infallible fact of life that I will always fall in love with the 2nd boy. If that 2nd boy is a facilitator, there’s no hope for me: I’m lost.

So it naturally bothers me that my lovely little 2nd boys so rarely get their own happy ending. Where in the rule book does it say that only the main leads should have a romance?

KDrama writers, what are you doing to me?? I have enough books of my own to write: I can’t obsess over every 2nd boy and write him a story just so that he gets a happy ending! Help me!

A Tale of Shin-Woo: or, How I Wrote a Whole Novel to Give my Fave 2nd Boy a Happy Ending...

A Tale of Shin-Woo: or, How I Wrote a Whole Novel to Give my Fave 2nd Boy a Happy Ending…

It’s the same thing I hate about most older films: the secondary characters are never allowed to do more than stand as supports for the main characters. They exist solely as they impact the main leads.

Bad storytelling, KDrama. Bad, bad storytelling.

OTOH, it means that when I find someone who is technically a 2nd boy but manages to take over the main role because the writer is that good, I appreciate it so much more (Flower Boys Next Door and High School King of Savvy, thank you very much!)

You already know how I feel about Kkae-Geum from Flower Boys Next Door. Meet Seo In-Guk, who is a 2nd Boy type character. He is ADORABLE. So sweet, and stupid, and delightful. Sort of like a big puppy, but better. He completely won my heart, and without him I would have stopped watching High School King of Savvy, which would have been a pity.

You already know how I feel about Kkae-Geum from Flower Boys Next Door. Meet Lee Min-Seok, who is a 2nd Boy type character. He is ADORABLE. So sweet, and stupid, and delightful. Sort of like a big puppy, but better. He completely won my heart, and without him I would have stopped watching High School King of Savvy after the first episode, which would have been a pity. This little baby gets the girl, and not only that, does a huge amount of growing at the same time. It’s constantly delightful to see his change in perspective as the episodes pass.

Okay. That’s it from me until next time! I hope you enjoyed this episode of my (rapidly increasingly) series of posts about KDrama!

Musings: Why Won’t This Thing Die??

There’s this thing I see a lot in fiction. It happens in movie/tv series as much as in books, and it’s even more annoying there (for my long-suffering hubby as well, because then I remonstrate with the tv. At the top of my lungs.).

It’s the thing where the detective/cop/insurance investigator is too close to the investigation due to a personal connection (ie, investigating the death of his/her own wife/husband/brother/whatever), and throws convention and the orders of their superior officers to the wind to investigate and generally make a nuisance of themselves. The plucky detective then goes on to prove that he/she can handle the pressure and bring the murderer to justice.

It’s a reasonably irritating trope, but I can live with it cos I can sympathise with the desire to make sure justice is done by doing it oneself.

The thing I want to die? The episode further down the road where an officer from another precinct or a grieving father of a murdered/missing girl is determined to push themselves into an investigation. Same setup, same idea. But this time, the officer or father is painted at best as an interfering annoyance and at worst as a trouble-stirring ambulance chaser.

No. Just no. If something is laudable because your MC does it, it can’t become dreggy and wrong because a side-character does it. That’s flamin’ bad writing and needs to be fixed. Give your side-characters and walk-on characters a better form of conflict. Flip your point of view. Just because your MCs are bothered, it doesn’t mean the thing that bothers them has to be a bad thing. Maybe they need to learn a lesson. There’s nothing more annoying than a set of characters who encourage you to see only from one point of view, and automatically assign opposing ones the status of being wrong by virtue of disagreeing with them.

Repeat it with me: “It’s flamin’ BAD WRITING”.