Are Blank First Person Characters on Purpose?

So, our Twitter book club is reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin this month–which is the first of a high fantasy trilogy that came out about four years ago–and we all noticed something pretty quick.

The book is in first person, following Yeine, who, as tends to be a trope sometimes, is an outsider to the society that the story takes place in. But while the world is very interesting, and the other characters are as well, Yeine herself is pretty…blank. We get a physical description of her, but when she expresses opinions, it’s more “in my country we do it this way instead” or “my grandmother always used to say this” instead of what she thinks about it. I’m about halfway through the book and she’s just starting to do and think things as opposed to just observing.

This is a book that’s been highly recommended to me, and is one that I think is generally well-regarded in the SFF community, which makes me think that the blank first person character is on purpose.

As readers, we often rely on the viewpoint characters to be our eyes and ears in the fictional world. And there is a theory that says that, the less detail you give to a character, the more a reader can insert themselves into said character, and the deeper they can get into a story. It’s the reason why video game characters like Link never say anything.

Now, I don’t know that that’s necessarily true, because everybody reads a little differently and experiences things differently. I’m not a huge fan of blank first person characters because I am never going to see myself further in that world, not in that medium, so I prefer to have a strong character that I can care about, that I can sympathize with when bad things happen, and cheer with when badass things happen. But I suspect it does work, to some degree, because these blank first person characters seem to be getting more common lately, especially with female protagonists. (If you can think of a blank first person male protagonist, please let me know!)

What do you think, Squiders? Blank characters you can “become,” yea or nay? Thoughts on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms specifically, if you’ve read it? Other examples you’ve noticed, male or female, especially in speculative genres? If you’re a writer, is this something you use, and why?

How Your Subconscious Affects Your Character Interactions

When I was editing Shards last year, I came to a realization about my own writing, and I’ve since talked to several other authors who have confirmed that this happens to them as well.

As an author, you’re privy to information your readers don’t have. And that means you know a character’s true stripes, even if your other characters, and your readers, don’t figure this out until later.

And it turns out that what you think about a character can subconsciously affect how your other characters view that character. For example, if you know you have a character that turns out to be a bad guy later on, then your other characters may view that character with suspicion for no obvious reason in your early drafts.

With the first draft of the first book (say that five times fast) of my high fantasy trilogy, one of the characters does some bad things by the end of the book, but the other characters were mean to him from the get-go, which was confusing to the readers.

There was no reason for the other characters to not like this character. He’d done nothing bad yet. But knew he’d be bad in the end, and apparently that came out through the other characters without me meaning it to.

Luckily, this is something that is fixable and you can train yourself to stop doing it.

However, I was poking at that same fantasy trilogy earlier this week (see last post) and I discovered that, without meaning to, I’d accidentally done it again, but in the opposite direction. Instead of characters treating a bad character suspiciously with no justifiable reason, I had bad characters treating a character like she was good, and would always be good, and it wasn’t even worth it to try and corrupt her, because she would obviously never be corruptible, never mind that it is in these people’s characters to try and corrupt everything they touch.

And what I find most interesting is that, in the five years since I wrote this particular draft of the first book, I’ve had probably a dozen people read it, and not one person ever realized (or at least pointed out) that fact (some of these same people read the earlier draft with the bad person suspicions and caught that one handily). I mean, not even me, til a few days ago.

Which brings up an interesting question–do we, as readers, more easily accept a character as unilaterally good? Do we look at a “good” character and think much along the lines of the villains–that a hero is incorruptible, that they can’t be made to falter, so they need to be defeated straight out rather than through manipulation? Do we automatically assume a character is good until they do something that makes them otherwise?

I went to a panel at a writing conference about mysteries once, and one of the panelists said that they couldn’t know who the murderer was while they were doing the actual writing because otherwise too many clues snuck in. Interesting how the author knowing something can unknowingly affect the story.

Have you encountered this in a story, or in something you’ve written yourself?

When Your Brain is All Over the Place

I find myself kind of in a weird place at the moment, Squiders. Normally I am excellent at compartmentalizing my writing, at working on a single big project at a time (with some side smaller projects), and everything is fine and dandy and lovely and so forth.

But recently, I’ve been all over the place and I think I’m starting to go a bit mad.

As you guys know, I’ve been working on editing a YA paranormal novel. That’s actually going pretty well. I hit 25K on the edit this morning, which puts me about a third of the way done, and I think it’s more even in tone and plot flow than the original draft was. I don’t think this will be the final draft, in the end, but I do think it’s getting much better.

I’ve been working on a consistency challenge–making sure I get in at least half an hour every day on the edit–which is definitely helping.

So all’s quiet on the Western Front.

I’ve also been attempting a short story a week this month, which is going though less swimmingly, but I was admittedly a little overambitious. Probably shouldn’t be attempting a full short story outline/draft/edit in a week’s time frame while also editing/rewriting a novel, but so far I have written something every week. The first week I wrote a novel-related drabble. Last week I wrote a prompt-response short that I promised my sister for her writing blog about two months ago. This week I wrote a novel-related drabble AND finished up a short story I started in February of 2012.

The drabbles are not related to my YA paranormal novel, however. Which leads us to probably the most frustrating aspect of my sudden inability to focus like I normally do.

Do you remember earlier in the year, when I was finishing up the first draft of the third book of a high fantasy trilogy? Well, I sent that sucker out to betas, and in some cases I sent all three books out to people. And I asked everyone to have it done by October and then went off to work on my YA paranormal novel.

But the issue is that I haven’t been able to get the high fantasy trilogy out of my head since then. I’ve read over the drafts myself multiple times, and every time I get comments from someone else, I read through their comments and tend to get sucked into the draft myself. I’ve started an editing document where I’m keeping track of things I want to change, from character names to new scenes to tweaks to existing scenes. I’ve pondered what the characters did after the end of the third book, or what they did before the first book. I’ve had character arc discussions with anyone who would let me. I have a non-standard “hero” who does bad things at the beginning before he reforms, and everyone has different things they dislike about him, so I’ve been trying to figure out if and where things are too bad (but they are literally different for every single person and I am going to go insane).

Do you know how distracting it is to work on an edit when your brain is trying to edit something else? Normally I might follow my brain’s lead and switch edits, but there’s no reason to do so until I get all my comments back from my various betas. And that’s still months out.

Any advice, Squiders? About any of it?

Betas’ Memory (and How Trappings Color Readers’ Experiences)

My family seems to be very slowly making their way through ShardsIt seems like every week a different cousin or aunt or uncle is reading it, which is honestly a bit flattering, that everyone’s bothering.

Last week my mother told me that she’d read it, and she said that she was really glad I’d added Thor into the story, that she had really liked him.

The weird thing is–Thor’s been there the whole time, and my mother read the first draft of the book. In fact, I barely touched him at all in my edit, aside from adding an epilogue scene (which of course has other characters in it as well and isn’t focused on him) and having a few other characters mention him before he actually shows up so it wasn’t out of the blue.

It’s interesting being a beta, and then reading the same story in later drafts or after it’s released. You have a memory of how the story went, but most of the time specifics don’t stick unless they either annoyed or pleased you more than usual. You spend a lot of time kind of peering at the text, remembering something slightly different, or wildly different.

But it’s also weird how much you forget, and how much changes in the story can change a readers’ perception of what’s happening. A few paragraphs of description can change the feel of an entire scene, or moving dialogue from one character to another can give the words different meaning.

In this particular case, apparently a few mentions and a new scene–no changes to the original scenes or dialogue–made a character much more memorable for my mother.

Have you ever come across a situation, either in your own writing or through reading something in multiple stages, where an easy change made things wildly different?

Why I Like Dual Viewpoints

In the modern day trend of first person or single third person narratives, I sometimes feel left out because I tend toward dual viewpoints. (Sometimes I do write single third person. Sometimes I write first person. Sometimes I write more than two viewpoints. But dual is my favorite.)

And even within dual viewpoints, I feel a little left out, because I would say a majority of dual viewpoints are romantically inclined, and mine are all mixed up. I do a lot of friends, or sometimes siblings. Sometimes I do lovers, but not a lot.

So! What’s the appeal of dual viewpoints?

Well, there’s a couple. Staying in a single viewpoint of course limits your ability to show anything that happens outside that person’s field of view. That’s kind of personal preference, however. Some people like to give a fuller view of all the events in a story. Others prefer their readers to find things out with their protagonist.

It can allow you to add more depth to a story because you have multiple people, each with their own goals and plans, affecting the plot.

(And involved in their own subplots.)

But why I tend to like them is because I love exploring relationships. And yes, everyone has relationships, even in first person or single third person narratives. But having two people, involved with each other (in whatever manner), and watching how their relationship grows and changes over time–that intrigues me. Because people aren’t the same. And even if they’re two halves of the same relationship, they’re not going to approach it the same. Likewise, people will not react to the same event in the same manner, and it’s also interesting to see how that affects a relationship.

What viewpoint combinations do you like as a writer/reader? Are there any that you just can’t stand?

Double U Tee Eff, Amazon

I’m writing this over the weekend, so no doubt by the time it goes up Tuesday this will all be old news (and probably out of date) but this is by far the silliest and also slimiest thing I’ve yet to come across in my publishing career.

So, by now you’ve probably heard about the letter that Amazon sent out butt early Saturday morning (if not, you can find it here). In summary, Amazon and Hachette have been pulling each other’s hair over contract disputes. I don’t know all the details and won’t pretend to, but it’s been going on for a while.

And, apparently, Amazon decided that the best way to get ahead in said fight was to email all their KDP authors and ask them to email Hachette and tell them to stop being jerkfaces.

What.

What.

I have very rarely actually spluttered, but there you are.

First of all, I don’t care about the Amazon/Hachette dispute that much because it does not directly affect me. Also, at this point it has reached such levels of ridiculousness that it feels unreal.

Second of all, Amazon doesn’t do much for its KDP authors unless they’re enrolled in KDP Select (where the book is available exclusively through Amazon, so the author can’t offer their book through multiple channels), and even then, the benefits are not great.

It’s entirely possible that Amazon expects (and maybe some people do) indie and self-published authors to think that they owe Amazon a huge deal because Amazon allows them to sell their ebooks on Amazon. Never mind that Amazon takes at least a 30% cut from each sale for doing nothing except providing a little bit of real estate (and, by some accounts, undercuts KDP books so it makes it harder for them to go up in the ranks or show up in searches. I don’t know if either of those have ever been proven, however).

KDP authors do not work for Amazon. They will not get any benefits if Amazon “wins” their dispute with Hachette (and, as some people point out, will probably lose out by Amazon forcing more ebooks–and those by bigger publishing houses–into the cheaper categories that indies and self-published books tend to hang out in).

KDP authors are not Amazon’s minions.

This move is just so wildly unprofessional that I don’t even know what to say. So here’s some other smarter, more knowledgeable people to say it for me:

John Scalzi

Chuck Wendig

Four Moons Press

And here is Hachette’s response to this whole debacle, which, unlike a certain email, looks like it was actually run by someone with a brain before they let it out the door.

To reiterate, I, like most people who sell ebooks on Amazon, have no say in the Amazon/Hachette thing because I am not involved. And it was uncool for Amazon to try and force me into the middle. So, if anything, now I am slightly on Hachette’s “side” purely because they haven’t tried to put me into a fight that I have absolutely nothing to do with.

Badly done, Amazon, badly done.

General Geekery

I hope everyone’s having a lovely summer and getting to see all the movies/TV shows and read the books they want.

As for as what I’ve been up to lately:

1) Guardians of the Galaxy
I don’t get out to many movies these days (and, to be honest, I’m not really a movie person–they take up so much time) so I try to make them count. The Marvel movies are pretty high up on my list, though, and I really enjoyed this one. It’s different in feeling from the Avengers movies and aside from some crossover characters, I wouldn’t have pegged it as a Marvel movie if I didn’t know it was beforehand. But I recommend it, along with 95% of the rest of the Internet. (I did, however, cry in the first five minutes. So beware.)

2) Avatar: The Last Airbender (and Legend of Korra)
I didn’t watch ATLA when it was on TV, but I’ve always meant to, because it seemed like something people really enjoyed. And its something I don’t mind the small, mobile one watching. (Actually, he really likes it. He doesn’t talk much, but he has learned the order of the elements.) It wasn’t quite what I expected–I didn’t realize the episodes were so short, and it was occasionally extremely silly. But I enjoyed the characterizations and the character arcs. We started Korra after we finished ATLA but it feels very different, like it’s meant for an older audience (and I’m sure it was–appealing to the original audience for ATLA, who’d grown up in the meantime). It’s very interesting (and holy industrial revolution) but it’s not quite as family friendly and we haven’t gotten terribly far into it.

3) Current Reads
I’m currently reading Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy. Boneshaker is a combo of steampunk and zombies, but I’m having a hard time slogging through it. I’m not sure why. I’ve read other stuff by Cherie Priest, and I always want to love it a little more than I do. Master of the Five Magics is 80s fantasy, but less transition-y than a lot of the other high fantasy I’ve read from the same time period. And it’s kind of horribly sexist, sigh.

4) Recent Reads
I’ve been kind of all over the place. Out of the last five books I’ve read, there was scifi noir, high fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fiction and Christian literature (which I thought was a mystery or I would not have picked it up). Of those five, my favorites were Hornblower and the Hotspur by C.S. Forester (Age of Sail books always read a little scifi-y to me, which is probably why I like them), Nolander by Becca Mills (very interesting fantasy concept thus far–first book of a trilogy, probably, because everything is a trilogy), and Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, which hit all my fantasy feel-good spots and now I shall forever be dedicated to her.

What have you been reading/watching, Squiders? Anything you loved? Hated? Anything you’d recommend I check out?

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