A week ago, I was privileged enough to attend a conference by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. One of the keynote speakers was Judy Schachner, author of many character driven books including “Skippyjon Jones.” She talked about her process of thinking about her characters and coming up with great stories and one of them was very familiar to me and really intriguing.
She creates “Character Bibles” for all of her characters.
For those of you in animation the term “Bible” may seem familiar, it’s a term we use when we’re pitching new ideas or communicating with a crew about what our films are about. For Judy, her bibles focused on just one character and they were incredibly exploratory. She used collage, photography, drawing and notes to develop each character or their stories.
The other reason that this intrigued me was because I had seen another character bible in a similar vein before too.
When I was just starting at Disney Feature Animation, my mentor, Claire Keane, showed me this amazing book she made. It was a sketchbook full to the brim with watercolor drawings, notes and sketches that she created for just one character. That character was Rapunzel, who feels more like a fully fleshed out real person than most animated characters.
According to her blog, Claire kept this journal and kept track of her day and imagined what it would be like if it was Rapunzel living out her day.
Rapunzel, being a bit of an odd duck (how do you get into the head of someone who’s been essentially trapped in one room for 18 years?) was a challenge for a lot of people to understand and Claire’s sketchbook was a great way to communicate and explain what kind of person Rapunzel was and how we could use that for her design as well as her acting.
A lot of great actors use something called ‘Method Acting’ to get into the heads of their characters, and when we see them use these methods we are often rewarded with characters who feel especially real and more than generic.
When we design characters in Entertainment, employing this type of thinking can also be a great way to get into the head of who you are designing. Even if you can’t sit down and create a whole BOOK one one single character, take the time to get to know your person. What would they order at a coffee shop? What kind of places make them comfortable or nervous? These types of details are what make your characters more than drawings and give them a life beyond the page. And hey, if you’ve got the time, why not make a little book about your one character or story? It could be a great fun way to explore and maybe come up with great ideas!!
Images for Judy from Iza Trapani’s Blog
Not really. I mean, if she’s scared of agents, well, they’re a cake walk. They’ll either say no, they don’t want to represent you, or yes, they do. Nice and simple.
After them, you get publishers and editors and copy editors, all with opinions and the ability to buy or reject a book, or to ask for changes. And it gets worse if you do get published, because the reviewers will be waiting, and some of them won’t love every word of the book and will tell the public, and if you think that reviewers are bad, well, the published books are going to head out into the hands of the reading public, and every single one of them will have an opinion and they will tell you on Amazon or on GoodReads just how many stars your book is worth, and even a book that wins the GoodReads award as the fantasy of the year, with 126,600 reviews, is going to have over 2,200 one-star reviews. (That’s only 1.7%, but still, 2,200 people really hated it and many of them will undoubtedly tell you why…)
The best thing to do is write a book you are proud of, and then let it go and let people read it. It’s a good thing that not everyone likes the same thing. That’s what allows different writers to make a living.
The point of this campaign is that there are some wonderful diverse books that are published but that don’t sell. Because they don’t sell, they don’t stay in the shelves long. Because they don’t stay in the shelves long, they don’t earn out (meaning they don’t recoup the small advance paid to the authors). Because they don’t earn out, publishers consider them a loss and the authors can’t publish another book. Because they can’t publish another book, other diverse authors also don’t get published.
This is an oversimplification of a complicated problem. But to say if you want them just write them is just plain wrong. It’s like making a comment on a subject you know nothing about. Please educate yourself first.
We need diverse books to do well in the marketplace so that they can STAY in the marketplace and more people can read them.
FFS, not everyone is a writer! Just because I like to read doesn’t mean I can write a fucking novel. I HATE this “just write them” crap because it’s based on this weird idea that writing a book is no big thing, just dash one off this afternoon, like it was a fucking grocery list, and that any random person can sit down and write fiction.
No. I’m a READER. I’m not a writer. But I’m a reader who wants a wide array of authors, characters and subjects to choose from, so I want diversity to be supported and boosted and encouraged and spotlit. The problem is not that there isn’t diversity among authors or books, it’s that this diversity is ignored or neglected or dismissed in favor of the status quo. And we shouldn’t all have to suddenly, magically, become novelists in order to change that.
Reblogging for commentary!!Nevertheless, if you write books and want diverse books? Write diverse books.
We are writing them. Many of us are. This is not the point. The point is - if you want diverse books BUY THEM!! BORROW THEM FROM THE LIBRARY!!! SUPPORT THEM!!! And then maybe more authors can write more diverse books.
I often hear this reaction to “we need diverse books” discussions, that is, “so why don’t you write them?” The thing is, not only are not all readers writers, the act of reading a book is significantly, hugely different from writing a book.
I have indeed written the books that I wanted to read, but after doing that several times, I’ve realized that writing them is nothing at all like reading a book that I want to read. Writing a book is WORK; work that I love. It’s about making thousands of decisions about words, plots, and characters. It’s about thinking endlessly about what you’re doing, and figuring out how to do it in a way that translates to readers. It is basically the opposite of reading, because reading a book is about escaping into another world that someone else created. It’s about losing yourself in that world; it’s about experiencing something outside yourself and yet feeling like it’s in your head. Reading should feel like the opposite of work.
Reading and writing are two vastly different experiences.
Also, I’d say that writing is driven by very different needs than reading is. As a writer, I’m driven to tell stories that mean something to me, but the meaning I’m unpacking through my writing is totally unrelated to the meaning I’m looking for in my reading. For example, when I decide to tell a story, I tell it because it hits some kind of gut-level desire in me to express myself in that particular way. In contrast, when I decide to read a story, I do it for a variety of reasons: I want to read a thriller on the airplane; I want to read a literary novel to polish my craft; I want to escape in a sci-fi adventure full of romance. These reasons feel very different, for me, than the reasons I want to write something.
So, I’m going on forever but the point is: reading and writing are different things.
Also, I can read many more books a year than I can write. So we need more diverse books.
First of all, thanks! I’m revoltingly pleased that you like my writing. I know you didn’t ask a question about reviews, but I’m going to answer a question about them anyway, because I have a few related asks in my inbox.
I once heard that writers should ignore one star reviews and five star reviews, because they’re both lies.
I actually think they’re both true. They are the purest, most unchecked reaction to a novel. Right before my first novel came out, I went onto Goodreads and I read both the good and bad reviews for several of my favorite novels. I wanted to remind myself that if my favorite novels to read didn’t appeal to everyone, surely mine that I’d written wouldn’t either. The thing I realized about the one star and five star reviews, though, was that they often said the same thing. The five star would praise the anti-hero narrator; the one star would harpoon the unlikable narrator. The five star would admire the thorough exploration of the mother’s backstory; the one star would ask why the book had to slow for someone as unimportant as the mother character. The five star would praise the energetic pace; the one star would complain that there was no description.
Same book, different tastes. I do think a book can be done badly, sure. But even a book done very well can’t please everyone. And the more specific a book is, the more polarized the reviews are.
I figured out then that my goal isn’t to write a book that everyone likes. It’s to write a book that some people love — which means some people are also going to hate it. The more passionate my reviews get, good and bad, the happier I am.
So even though you didn’t ask a question, I’m going to answer one for aspiring writers: learn to love your reviews of all stripes. Learn how to read them for the true, objective bits, and decide for yourself if those bits match the kind of novel you’re trying to write.
I want to translate this entire post about reviews into a post about relating to people. It’s a wonderful perspective on the feedback you get as a writer, but I think it applies to the feedback you get as a human being. You can almost substitute “book” with “person” and “write a book” with “be a person.”
A book that tries to pleases everyone will fail and won’t find readers who will really connect with it. A person who tries to please everyone will fail and won’t find people who will really connect with her.
I believe in being specific. Not controversial for controversy’s sake, but specific: about what you like and don’t like, what you want and don’t want, what you’re interested in and what you care about. It’s hard to be happy without being specific, not least of all because you don’t find your people by being vague.
reblogging because this, yes, yes, yes, definitely.
Also, it doesn’t just apply to people, it applies to The Everything. Specific versus general is the way to both satisfying success and memorable failure. You just have to be willing to face the latter to get the former.
Oof. Here it is. My #1 writing block.
Hello, dear anon~
I have said in the past that we as writers don’t come up with stories. We find them, we stumble upon them. This is why, to be honest, writing advice has very little to do with writing— and a whole lot to do with the writer.
As a writer you have one job, and that is to: be true to the story. You found it. It’s yours. And you must be true to it, because doing otherwise is not only betraying the story— but yourself.
Now that I put that in very nice words, I will say them again a little bluntly— because I’ve gotten questions similar to this in the past, and I want to make sure everyone gets the message.
GET OUT OF THE WAY OF YOUR STORY.
Are you afraid people will judge you because of your writing? Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but that doesn’t sound like it’s a problem with the story, it sounds like its a problem with you. I’ve gotten dozens (upon dozens) of messages from people who are writing a story they feel may be offensive, or that deals with horrible things, and they doubt the story because they’re afraid of what would come their way.
But that’s not your job.
Your job is to be true to the story. Check-in your doubts, and fears, at the door and do your job, anon. And do not ever think for one second that you have the power to ‘change’ the story— because you didn’t make it, you found it, and if you try to change it at all it will look as convincing as a dinosaur fossil pasted together with duct tape. It will not look right, I promise you. I have learned this the hard way.
Again, your job is to be true to the story. To tell it as true as it could possibly be— and that means getting out of the way.
Are you afraid people will judge you because of your writing?
This has been the most challenging, and the most amazing part of writing. I got to work through a large part of that fear, and I’m looking forward to moving past all of it down the road. Getting all of the mental garbage out of the way and no longer crippling my creativity with judgement. It’s gonna be a glorious thing! :)