Saturday, 5 June 2010

Further thoughts on characterisation

I felt Mike's refelctions on my blog entry about our characters being real people – in our heads – was intersting. I too was rather annoyed when some people giving feedback said – Almir wouldnt speak like that, it sounds too street (when the research interview I did with the Albanian professor at SEES indicated that a young Albanian man with little english comming to London for the first time would not have difficulty with Enlgish pronounciation – and – especially if he lived in a place like E17 , would quickly pick up the language of the street.
Also if felt many people giving feedback didnt apreciate/have knowledge of how gay men do it – crusing I mean – it IS cold and matter of fact – like a business transation almost - and usually sex comes first then the romance(if that comes at all) – so the comment that -” how can this become a love story when they cut to the chase so quickly didnt ring true for me.
ALSO I was surprised at the number of commentators who’d never heard of the term “batty man” – which is the perjorative term usied by homophobic black (men mostlty)people in reference to gay black men.

Perhaps the answer to all of this is to modify for the “less informed” reader – elaborate by spelling out meaning which might be ambiguous or unknown in the popular mind;also to make it more literary – its fiction after all – so that it makes for an easier and better read – I mean eg the dialogue – like Rose Tremain has done in her book The Road Home where she has her Romanian immigrant protagonist speaking perfect english like all the other characters…

I may – as a result of the last City workshop feedback on the bakery pick up – have Roland avoid taking drugs and be anti quick pick ups/one night stands – he’s had a few and sees the “scene” as superficial – ok when he was in the closet for a quick occaisional anonymous foray – but now he’s comming out – he wants more – the attraction to Almir IS sexual at first but I do agree that Almir needs to be more coy/guarded to the come on – I will have them dance with each other a little longer in the scene I workshoped and also a few more brief encounters before they get to this point. Almirs needs to have more curiousity about Rolands motivation – maybe he asks him if he wants to chuck hoop(basket ball) on a saturady..

I think too that I will make his arousal less sexual over this scene – It will come afterwards – when theyve become passionate lovers. I think too I will make a short scene about the night out at Barcode – minus Roland on e – maybe he does still go back to the Highbury flat – then feels numbed by the experience …or just aknowedges it as anyomymous sex, which doesnt fulfill his needs entirely.
I will show his week at work in the new job – maybe AFTER he’s started the affair with AL – that would make him more distracted for sure – if theyve already had great sex – he wouldnt want to get out of bed to go to work and all he’d think about would be his next fix of the sexy, horny Al!

a little more about Rolands back story I agree with too – though theres some in the previous chapter which City hasnt heard but which I work shopped to excellent feedback in the Novelist’s Club – my other work shoping outlet at the moment. I read through all the City feedback and Novelists club feedback again – late last night before I went to bed -I slept like a log – so I must have made peace with it all. Often thats the best approach I am finding in response to “heavy” or conflicting feedback /comments/critique – read it again after the distance of a few days- then sleep on it.


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  1. I don't think I can comment in detail on your very interesting deliberations about the novel (after all it's your novel). But I knew what batty boys were. I knew it was black slang but I didn't realise it was aimed at black people in particular.

    As for the references to the Roland-Almir pick up, I'm sure that you're completely right about how that might be true to life in gay culture, I think my query is about how familiar and/or confident Almir is in the culture at that point in the plot.

    By the way, just looked at the log lines and yours has no hint of the Almir-Roland relationship -- which, from the above, seems like a very important part of the book.

  2. It says his world begins to unravel..which hints at this..I did tutorial it with Emily

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  4. Just reflecting on my own feedback from the reading last night and I've come to an interesting conclusion related to the points on characterisation you raise.

    It seems the people whose readings have been parts of what can be loosely termed love stories tend to get the hardest time from everyone else. I can only think of mine and yours that have dealt directly with developing sexual attraction (perhaps ND's too -- and she gets similar comments). Perhaps that triggers feedback that is more related to the reader's own personality than the type of extracts read by other people? Writing about these sort of fundamental human motivations is quite risky -- there's a lot wider scope for feedback than on just the quality of the writing. (And it also probably taps into areas of people's psyches where that they don't want to reveal in a class discussion.) I'm not saying that feedback we got in our classes was influenced in this way -- but it is a risk when you get down to the basic human insecurities of being wanted and valued by others.

    It's good that people look at the characters and think they're real enough to say the author has got it wrong but, on the other hand, where's the story in people behaving absolutely as expected.

    As you very sensibly pointed out, there's no accounting for taste in relationships -- they're not always logical and who the f*ck wants to read a novel where a character does exactly what's expected as agreed by a sort of focus group? They've got to surprise.

    In mine, wouldn't it be more interesting for an artisty type to get besotted with an unreconstructed alpha male rather than someone very similar to herself? Making that plausible is what the other 97,500 words are meant to be about.

    And it is quite amazing that when you get the annotated scripts home and you discover a few people have written 'I thought x was talking utter bollocks -- take no notice' when you seemed to think that person was making a point shared by the whole group.

    I also think that Alison should consider giving her thoughts last because whatever she says then sets the tone for the discussion.

  5. Mike - now take a deep breath. I too am more than a litle nervous about my next reading. Blooging I find clearly can help get out ones frustration about difficulties experienced with work shopping feed back especially.

    At the end of the day - you have to hold up you head and be confident about the story you are telling - all things having been considered - and make your own mind up about How the story is going to be told. This will come across. Keep going with the material you have. Make your own decisions - its your story, no one elses - but reflect on all the feedback, look for threads of commomality, and then decide how, what and if you will rewrite.



  6. Sorry for clogging up your blog with two almost identical posts. I've been trying to delete the older one but for some reason it won't let me.

    I think the feedback is great overall. Getting all those comments on the manuscripts is the best part of the course for me. I was up until 1am last night reading though them carefully. There are many comments that people have made which point out real deficiencies.

    I think all the feedback will make a better novel but I do think there are certain genres where the author can hide a bit more. However, I think if you get a novel right about relationships then it's going to have more resonance with the reader.