#110 On difficult characters + sticky situations
The best books don't center around perfect characters doing easy things.
I am so excited to share this week's episode as each of these conversations was so much fun to record. Edan has been on the show before, but I wanted to have her back to talk about her love of writing difficult characters within the framework of her latest novel, Woman No. 17. Edan delights in creating tension by revealing her character's flaws for the reader's view and puts these characters in situations sure to highlight these flaws and bring them to a head. So many books create tension through plot and action, but the suspense in Edan's books is just as much about pushing flawed characters to their edge, all the while leaving us asking "Oh my god, what will they do now??"
Jim Butcher has written so many novels that I wouldn't be shocked to learn that he doesn't sleep at all. He admitted that he has trouble keeping track of the exact details of former books after having revised them numerous times, so he relies on his fanbase Wiki to keep track, a detail I found both charming and extremely practical. In addition, we dove into the beauty of throwing your characters into sticky situations and the necessity to write scenes so things go from bad to worse. This chat helped me feel much braver about putting my character into tough spots to see how she will navigate rocky territory.
I hope both these conversations inspire you to investigate the less savory corners of your story and take your books into riskier places. May we all send our characters down a dark alley, metaphorically, after taking both of these writers' advice!
Discussed in Episode 110 with Edan Lepucki:
The difference between difficult and unlikable characters.
Both California (first novel) and Woman No. 17 are very similar structurally, though very different in subject matter. Both are two characters w shifting perspectives & take place over roughly 6 weeks.
"I didn‘t really set out to write her as a bad mother."
On developing the character of Lady
"What if you didn‘t do the right thing?"
The fascination of writing a flawed mother character.
Edan's new podcast, Mom Rage
Both books plus upcoming book are a kind of thought experiment.
"I need plot in order for the book to sustain itself."
How she stays engaged in the writing of her books.
"I don‘t really know who they are at the beginning."
On discovering her characters through the writing.
"It‘s through the conflict & the action that that I start to really discover who they are."
How writing the story clarifies character.
"Where they diverge is just as interesting as where they converge."
On the necessity of conflict to show who each character is under pressure.
"My story is the peephole."
On well constructed characters being so much larger than the book they‘re in.
"What is the reader itching to know?"
On how much backstory needs to be in a scene.
"Oh this is really beautiful; thanks for masturbating for us."
On over-writing scenes with all the focus on the language.
"If you‘re really open to the work, the work will lead you."
On discovering your story through the writing.
"Ultimately I just want people to care about my characters."
On unlikable characters.
Discussed in Episode 110 with Jim Butcher:
- “I was considerably more confident when I was 25 than I am now.”
On his early career
- "As soon as I see ‚Here There Be Dragons‘ then my eyes light up."
On what draws him into a story.
- "By the time I‘ve finished a novel, I‘ve written between 8 & 11 slightly different versions of that same novel."
On how many drafts it takes to be satisfied.
- The Dresden Files Wiki
- "The fans keep much closer track of these things than I possibly can.“
Why you don‘t need to keep every detail of every book in your head.
- "I don‘t consciously think about themes."
On writing stories, not themes.
- "You should never preach harder than you can entertain.“
On staying focused on the reader rather than what the book is ABOUT.
This episode sponsored by Listeners like you via the Secret Library Podcast Patreon