Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, January 25, 2010

Have your characters brushed their teeth today?

So, I'm reading this book by Patterson called "Sundays at Tiffany's" and I'd read that most people that gave it bad reviews did so based on the fact that things were never explained. This should have sent a red flag up in the air for me. I assumed I'd be able to get "past" whatever they were talking about. Well, I haven't finished the book, but I know what they're talking about. If you have a man, an imaginary friend, have the ability to be real at times... there are certain things that need explanation. This is true of any alternate universe in my opinion... and it's one of the things that a lot of authors skip across.

1. Money. If your character is using money, you should explain how they get it. You can't just have him appear out of thin air and toss across money like he has a full bank in his pocket. This really bugs me when I'm reading a book in which the character has no way of earning money. There isn't a lot of money in Imaginary Friending.

2. With creatures non-human, there should be some bodily needs explained. Do they need to eat? Personally, I always found it weird that in Twilight--Edward never needed to take those mortal moments that Bella always seemed to. He didn't need to pee? Vampires don't need to pee? They drink blood.... He seemed to have equipment that could serve that purpose.

Okay, so his fangs apparently never wore out or needed dental work--but the dude was drinking blood... what kind of breath would that inspire? He could brush his teeth. Plus, maybe a shower every so often wouldn't be amiss. I'm not saying that there should have been peeing moments in Twilight, but she kept mentioning Bella's as if she was some human freak job because she did.

3. Clothing. Seriously... clothing. If you have a shapeshifter, they're going to be naked most likely whenever they shift back. If you have an imaginary friend that is sometimes visible... why is his clothing disappearing with him? Does he have control over the visibility of his immediate area? Plus, if your whatever gets in a fight while wearing clothing--even if they/it are invincible--is their clothing?

4. Sleeping. Either they need sleep or they don't, but don't gloss over it. If you have a human... you can't have them going a week without sleeping.

5. Family. They didn't spring from the earth--unless they did. Either way, you should explain the presence or lack of family in a person's life and if you don't feel like complicating your roll call with their characters--still... kill them, have them be estranged, or whatever... but there should be some explanation.

6. Why does everyone speak English? Did anyone find that odd about some of the science fiction shows of the past? Every alien seems to speak perfect English?

7. With critters and non-humans, procreation might be of note. (How are more of them created?) Whether it's knocking boots or turning them via a bite... sometimes it's kind of important.

8. Their lives and jobs and school. Even if you want your characters to interact frequently--they should still have lives. Friends (tv series) always did this and it annoyed me. They seemed to have a ton of spare time to sit around during some episodes.

9. Lost time. I've been struggling to insert the passage of time in my books, so I've been paying more attention to how writers create time jumps so that they're not writing an itinerary of a characters events... and also so the novel doesn't occur over a forty-eight hour period. Some authors do it well... and some just really don't. You can't just skip time without reason... as if the days don't matter. This especially annoys me in first person YA books. When you're a teenager, every day matters.

These are some of the things that bug me as a reader. Maybe I'm nitpicky, but there are rules... sometimes you've created your own details due to the world you've set up... and sometimes they already exist. You can't skip across them and hope that no one notices.

The details... the devil is in them. There was a long but rather brilliant post by Kristin Cashore the author of Graceling. It talks about all the nitpicky little things better than I have.

Still, I'm left wondering... shouldn't vampires have to pee?


  1. Excellent post - yeah, there are certain things that the reader will accept, but at some point you've gotta wonder why the vamps haven't gotten UTIs from their lack of relief.

  2. Nah, vampires just release waste material through their pores or something. I would, however, like to see Edward popping a tic-tac or something if he's not going to brush.

  3. Thanks for a great post and the link. It's a good read, and definitely something I've put a lot of thought into.

  4. I am a little on the fence. I am reading a book right now that goes back and forth in time pretty much every other chapter, and I love it. I like the movement, and I like that each of the timelines don't always pick back up in the same spot... I just wish I could pinpoint what it is, exactly, that the writer does which makes it all feel so effortless for me!

  5. For most of the mundane requirements of life, I don't need to know about them. As a reader I just assume they happen even if I'm not told.

    But money, if spent in large amounts, beyond an allowance or job, then I need explanation. That bugs me. The book might be fiction but that doesn't mean they have money trees growing in their back yards. Unless they live in some kind of wish world then sure, money trees would explain their spending habits.

  6. We discussed the pee thing. Not going into it again. lol But I have an interesting way of dealing with time issues. Doors and cars are magical. We can use them to leave one space and enter another. Who's to say we can't use it to jump ahead in time too? My current WIP I use a car to escape and return to my leads three days later to spare boring recoup time on pages best spent with other plot moving events. It flows well for me. When I get someone to rip my manuscript to pieces I'll let you know if it still works.

  7. Linking to this in my blog today!

  8. First time reading here. Wow.
    Glad to have found this blog.
    And I agree......
    vampries need to pee. But I also don't really want to know about it. It's so tempting to make fun of peeless vampires, but would I really want to read about it? No, definitely no.

    I guess it's a fine line. I don't want to turn into a Tolkien and go on and on about grass and what happened to the grass a gazillion years ago, but neither do I want my characters to appear like they were born yesterday (even if they were).

    TFTP (Thanks for the Post)

  9. HA! Love this post. Everything you covered is so true... writers need to think of their stories as movies. If a character has something in one scene that they didn't in the scene just before that - continuity error! Readers can't keep depending on the suspension of belief. I saw your peeing vampires puzzlement on Twitter and laughed myself silly. It's so true! They must pee! They don't have a circulatory system anymore, do they? (But why do stakes through the heart kill them then?) I would think they'd still have a digestive/waste system. And how do they get enough calcium? Running around, flying, turning into bats all need good strong bones!

  10. Julie, you totally made me spit on my monitor with the calcium remark. The stake through the heart has me totally thinking, though... why does that kill them? Hmmm. I need to go run to your blog and see if you've entered into ABNA. You're the only other one I know for sure that is doing it.

    Reesha, you're right. We don't want to go on and on about the mundane and trivial. It wouldn't have bothered me if Meyer's wouldn't have made such a big deal of the fact that Bella HAD to do these things and Edward didn't. Yes, Edward was perfection on a stick--we got that--but still... certain things still must have needed to happen. Thanks for posting. There is a line--definitely.

    CKHB-thanks for the link back and the tic tac comment which made me laugh.

    R.C.-Wow... that is an interesting way of dealing with time. I'm curious how it'll work for you spread out over a manuscript. Hopefully, it flows and your beta doesn't rip it to shreds. Time is my nemesis, honestly. I'm constantly trying not to document the seconds but not ignore them also.

    GwOE- I assume the mundane is happening also. I wouldn't care if vampires pee or not if they didn't imply that it didn't happen. The money thing is my current hang-up with this book about an Imaginary Friend that actually exists. It's a clever premise, but you can't skirt around things that you just don't feel like explaining.

    Amber, if you do pinpoint it... seriously, come tell me. Time is... gah... frustrating.

    Tere, hey! Good to see you.

    Bane, we had quite the odd discussion about vampires peeing blood on Twitter yesterday and it made me think of your UTI remark. Thanks for being the voice of male thinking in here. You make me laugh every time.

  11. I think I covered the time gap well by referencing the mundane that happened quickly then moving on. Now I have a couple short paragraphs instead of a whole chapter of boring non-plot drivel.

    But like I said, I won't know for sure until its my turn to suffer.