As you can tell from the title, I have little boys in my family.
Sometimes a writer’ll use different terms than her publisher, even though they mean the same thing. It’s not that one term will always be on the publisher’s side and the other always on the writer’s side, but English being what it is, there’s almost always one word that means exactly the same thing as another.
And that gets even more possible when you add in the fact that English likes to go through other languages’ pockets looking for loose change. (Not my comparison btw). This bring me to today’s topic. When my publisher first said that A Ship Called Hope was a Bildungsroman, I thought he was saying he didn’t like it. The term comes from German and means “book about formation” or “book of education.” This is why I don’t speak German.
It’s used for novels that’re about a person’s formative years or spiritual development. And well, the current books I’m working on are definitely about that for Sajani. It’s been a fun trip for me, watching a character I’ve come to admire and love going through the events that’ll make her the kind of person she’s become. I thought I’d talk today a little bit about those elements and some of the things I think of as being important to, what I’ve always called, a coming of age story.
Now, it’s pretty easy for me to do the first part. You need to know where that character is going. While it’s possible to work the other direction and start with the base character, I prefer to take this step first. You need to know how far that person is going to need to travel and if the way ends up being too long, you might end up with three books instead of one…um… yeah, just like I did anyway. So sue me.
In the end, and this is true of almost all novels anyway, the character needs to end up a better person or at least better suited to her environment, than when she started. While there are notable exceptions to this rule (think those awful Star Wars prequel movies), you’ll find that you appeal to the broadest audience when your character advances rather than falls.
A side note here that maybe I’ll touch on next week: a character that falls from grace can make a really great story. Don’t get me wrong by what I’m saying previously. I’m concentrating mostly on a coming of age story. The rule of moving forward still applies in a regressive tail, but it’s done in a different way.
Important things to note when developing the final character: she doesn’t have to be noble or great or honorable or anything noteworthy. She only needs to have progressed from where she was and, become a better person. A Bildungsroman is about progress and education, not so much about a final destination. In the case of my books, I had something pretty concrete to work with, but Sajani still continues to progress as the novels go on. People like to see that.
Next I look at how far back I want the character to go. A lot of this depends on the length of the story you’re telling. The first coming of age story I remember reading was called “The Apprentice.” It was a really cheesy and preachy story of the kind I now thoroughly despise…. Ahem… It was a heartwarming story about a young girl who learns about the challenges her parents are going through by having to find her missing dog. The story doesn’t show so much of a major progress to adulthood as it did a realization that she already knew something, just wasn’t applying as broadly as she could.
So the change doesn’t have to be huge or earth shattering; you just need to know how long it’ll take. The more drastic the change, the more suddenly traumatic or more development over time the change will require. Remember what I said about pacing? Pacing becomes even more important in something like a Bildungsroman than it does in an adventure. Instead of action, you’re often using change to move the story along. I use both, but not all stories in this genre do.
A final note I’ll touch on as a way to help in this area: I’ll go into more detail on this in a later post, but a literary foil helps a lot. A literary foil is a character, prop, or setting used in a story to add contrast to the behaviors and/or feelings, or climate of another character, place or item. White will look it’s whitest when there is black behind it and visa versa. Artists use the concept all the time and so do writers. Instead of using colors, the writer uses behavior or characteristics to make the flaws of another character in the story stand out. In A Ship Called Hope, I use Gregor, someone who is just an all-around good person with very simple wants and desires, to show just selfish and petty Sajani is at that age. The truth is that Sajani isn’t that bad. I didn’t want her to be the opposite of what she’ll become, but I use Gregor’s character to make her look worse than she actually is.
I hope this helps people wanting to write their own Bildungsroman. It’s a very popular genre and one of the most profitable. I’ll probably touch some more on it in future posts, but this is a good start. Like the topic of immersion that I keep referencing and never fully talk about, it’s a broad topic that’s impossible to cover in less than about 10k words. I like to keep these under 1k.
Thanks again to my few followers. I can never say that enough. You’re all the best and keep me going. I try to make these entertaining and showcase a bit of my unique personality while educating writers in an open and friendly manner. There’s too much totalitarian dogma and angst in the writing community and while that’s fine for some, I think it’s a breath of fresh air at times to get something else.
If you have suggestions for future topics, you can DM me through the site, or contact my publisher through Twittered @realRPGames or Parler @RPGames. There’s a Facebook page too, but I don’t know it. Look for Terah maybe.
I don’t really have any definite plans from week to week, so I’m always open.
Oh and my publisher will be at Magaplex Online. His panel is on Friday at 1:30pm. He’s not as entertaining as I am, but he is pretty knowledgeable about publishing.