Fourth Day of Class
Not quite as much time had passed before the professor issued a call for them to come together in the classroom again. As the students filed in, they noticed the presence of a newcomer. The redhead with the bold personality was the first to introduce herself, her broad grin and bright eyes showing nothing but warmth and welcome.
“If you don’t know where to sit,” she said, her voice naturally fast. “You can sit next to me.”
Before the newcomer could reply, the professor strode into the room, “Please take your seats,” she said with a grin and a wink. The students all hastily made their ways to their desks, pulling their notebooks and pencils out and getting ready to take notes.
“We’ve finally come to the last piece of character creation,” KRenee said. “The appearance of your character.”
There was a chorus of nods in agreement, and KRenee grinned, continuing, “So, the appearance of your character, believe it or not, is the least important part. When you write your character, chances are that, at most, there’ll be one feature that stands out because its important, as opposed to being different. That specific detail is something that you can occasionally touch on.”
“But – and I’m going to say this a couple of times so brace yourself – you absolutely do not and will not ever need to give the readers a full-body and outfit description of your character. To be honest, you could write a story with only two or three details about your character that you know of. My mother wrote The Rise of the Phoenix without ever describing what Dia and Daerus look like. She never mentions anything more than, if I’m recalling correctly, “grey eyes” and “dark skin.” That’s it.” KRenee told them seriously.
“In the prompts I offered when I was asking people to specifically sign up for the class, almost all of you felt the need to describe exactly what your character looked like. You describe eye color, hair color, skin tone, and mentioned that they were “unique” in some kind of way.” KRenee looked around the room again, eying her students.
“That’s unnecessary and its bad writing. I understand your need to describe your character. I really do. When you’re writing a fanfiction based in a universe where you can see what everyone looks like, you want to have a visual of your character as well. But fanficiton isn’t a manga or a video game or a movie. You can’t see the characters in fanfiction, and bringing the story to a screeching halt so you can stare at your character is wholly unnecessary.”
“When you write your character, whether its fiction or fanfiction, there is never a reason to give a full description of your character.”
Suddenly, a hand shot up. It was the girl with the red hair yet again, her violet eyes mildly defiant. KRenee looked over at her, nodding at her to give her to go-ahead.
“What if their appearance is important? Like, what if they have a huge scar on their face or something? What if what they look like has a lot to do with the plot?” She asked. KRenee stared at her for a long moment, looking somewhere between annoyed and disbelieving. The students collectively cringed away from her expression, waiting for the curb-stomp that would surely come.
“There’s probably never going to be a point when every single detail about your character is important. If that happens, you’re probably writing poorly. If your character has a huge scar that’s hard to not stare at, you can mention it. Here’s an example.” She waved a lazy hand towards the whiteboard, and it immediately started writing in a vivid purple.
Even with his hood up and his eyes on the ground, Joe knew people were staring at the scars that marred his face.
“See? That would be an ideal way to start a story. You give the character’s name – Joe, and you bring up the scar. You also depict him as being ashamed or embarrassed by it, because he’s trying to hide it.” KRenee said, “So we have Joe, who’s got a huge scar on his face that you can’t really miss, and he’s really self-conscious about it. Later on in the story, you could potentially have a flashback caused by a trigger of some kind and show very briefly, in as few sentence as possible, what had happened to him. Maybe it was an attempted murder. Maybe it was a tragic lawn mower accident.”
“Hon, you should never have to describe every detail about your character. Like I said, if every hair on your character’s body is important to the plot, you’re writing badly. In all honesty, you don’t actually need to come up with a design for your character. You could pick maybe two traits that you imagine your character having and not mention anything else at any point in the whole story,” KRenee told them. She was looking more and more tired by the second, for some reason. It wasn’t like it was all that late.
“Now, with that, we’ve finished the appearance unit. That’s all I wanted to talk about regarding that. In summary, you can come up with every detail about your character’s appearance just for the heck of it. But you do not ever need to describe all those details. In fact, avoid it. Avoid talking about what people look like, what they’re wearing, etcetera, etcetera.” KRenee halted in her talking at that moment, looking around the room, “Does anyone else have any questions? Regarding this unit or any of the previous ones?”
“I have a question,” Aegis, the black-haired, scowling boy suddenly said. “If you don’t think we should plot out how our character looks, why did you ask for some details about the appearance of our character when we joined the class?”
KRenee smiled, but tried to hide it. “Honestly?” She asked, looking around the room at all the eyes that were one her. “Partly because I have this great streak of curiosity, partly because I feel that the appearance you choose for your character is a good reflection of where you are in terms of writing prowess, and largely because I wanted a way to describe you guys as students while I wrote the class. I didn’t really want to make up characters to use as students, and I thought it’d be kind of fun if I sort of vaguely wrote people’s characters as the students. Most of you I don’t give names to, because I feel like that might be rude. Only two of you have been given names – Aegis and Harumi. Harumi is a friend of mine, and Aegis is my little brother.”
At that, Aegis frowned deeply, and KRenee continued, “The rest of you were given personalities and descriptions based on your creator’s quickie prompt. So, if you recognize those two factors as being similar to your character’s, I’m probably emoting you. So, pardon me on that one. And don’t for a moment think that any questions I have your character asking are a reflection of my opinion on you or even necessarily your writing – sometimes, I just need a question to be asked, so I pick someone who’s character I could see asking a question period, and have them ask.”
“Anything else?” KRenee said, smiling a little sheepishly. No one moved an inch, and she smiled brightly at them. “Okay then, let’s move on. The next topic is very important but also pretty hard to cover – plots. I’ll do my best, but I might at some point stop making sense. Let me know if that happens. I’m not known for being coherent.”
There was collective set of nods and a couple of chuckles from the class as pages were flipped and the title of the new section was scribbled down. KRenee waited for the class to be ready before she began.
“Before you start your story, you need to know what your story is going to be about.” The professor told them. She paused briefly, thoughtfully, before continuing, “Now, you don’t necessarily have to plan where it’s going to end. I can say for sure that I have never done that in all my time as a writer. I figure out what the story is about, and then I just write. The story will end when the story ends.”
“But, I would suggest for your first attempt at writing that you plan out as much as possible. Plan out backstories, plan out habits, plan out everything to some degree. You don’t have to have every single detail figured out, but figure out at least a little bit of everything.” KRenee paced back and forth in front of the class, her hands tucked into the pockets of her hoodie. “The plot is especially important. Don’t start writing until you know what the important plot-points of your story will be. Figure out what what has to happen, at least for the most part. Maybe you’ll end up changing those things midway through the story, but you need to know what you’re doing before you do it.”
“Now that I’ve covered that, let’s get a little more specific. Let’s start with…” The professor paused, looking to the ceiling briefly as she considered. “Romance. Lots of people like to write romance-based fanfiction. Almost every story I’ve read featuring an original character has some element of romance in it. Somebody give me a basic plot for a romance story.” She turned on the ball of her foot and gazed upon her students, smiling expectantly.
Eventually, a man with white hair slowly raised his hand. The professor looked over at him, smiling encouragingly, and he said, “If it’s a romance story, wouldn’t the plot be the romance? Girl meets boy, they fall in love, and so on?”
KRenee chuckled, “Well, a romance is indeed about two people falling in love and living happily ever after, but if the story was just about that, wouldn’t it be kind of boring? Think of all those Disney movies and Dreamworks films featuring romance. Rapunzel and Eugene didn’t just fall in love, Anna and Christoph didn’t just fall in love, Belle and the Beast didn’t just fall in love. The list goes on. Am I making sense?”
The students nodded, if not a bit uncertainly. “Okay, if you think you get it, give me a plot for a romance.” KRenee requested, waiting patiently for the students to come up with some ideas. Finally, a the young woman with aquamarine hair – Harumi, as she was now known to the class – raised her hand, looking fairly contemplative. The professor looked over at her and she paused to carefully consider her words before responding.
“Um… Hmm… A woman’s husband is murdered, and the police come up with nothing, so she hires a private detective to figure out who murdered her husband for her, and she ends up falling in love with the detective by the end of the story?”
KRenee’s eyes rose as she nodded, looking impressed. She looked up towards the ceiling in thought for a moment, before nodded, “A romance-mystery type, then. Sounds like a good one to work with. So, for arguments sake, let’s say our story is 150,000 words and it’s 30 chapters. The husband is murdered in chapter 1. The police start and end their investigation in chapters 2 through 4. The detective is hired in chapter 5, leaving us with twenty five chapters. So, bearing in mind that the detective is brought in during chapter 5, what chapter do you think the widow should start showing signs of falling in love with him?”
There was a long silence that followed her question. The students fell into thought, obviously trying to imagine how long it would take a woman to fall in love in those circumstances. Professor KRenee patiently awaited the moment when a student would tentatively raise their hand and offer an answer.
Eventually, the redhead with the bold personality raised her hand yet again, and KRenee looked over at her expectantly. “I think I’d start showing it in chapter 8 or so.”
“Hmm, interesting.” KRenee said thoughtfully, “What about the rest of you? When would you start showing it?”
Several more hands went up, one at a time, and KRenee called on each of them. Harumi offered chapter 10. A tan girl that KRenee identified as “Juritsu” recommended chapter 14. The moody brunette in the back of the room suggested somewhere in the midst of chapters 15 to 18. KRenee couldn’t help but notice that none of the men in the classroom offered any answers, and the fact amused her tremendously.
Once the room had emptied of answers to her question, the professor stated, “8 through 10 is too soon. Chapter 15 or 16 would be as early as you would want to make it. That would leave you with 14 or 15 chapters remaining. There would be stages of this widow falling in love, too.” KRenee explained, “As soon as she realized she was falling for him, she’d likely feel guilty and awful for falling in love so soon after her husband died. She might get angry with herself or the detective, and wind up emotionally pushing him away. Maybe she’d end up firing him and hire a new detective, only to realize that she didn’t want a new detective, she wanted the old one, and she was super sorry for firing him and blah blah.”
“And,” KRenee continued, “While all this romance is happening, you would have to make sure not to abandon the original plot. Widow hires detective to catch her husband’s murderer. That’s the plot, so you can’t just abandon it in favor of pursuing the romance. You have to do both. And you can’t do one or the other too fast. In this particular story, you would want the widow and the detective to confess their undying love near the end of the story.” She paused, looking around the room. The majority of the students were hastily scribbling notes and the rest were watching her, captivated and thoughtful at the same time.
“This is also why you can’t have them falling for each other before chapter 14. Aside from that, you’d also have to take into account everyone’s personalities. If the detective is rather aloof because of his line of work, it’d take longer for him to fall for her, and it might be harder for her to fall for him.” She told the class, “If the widow is overcome by her grief, she might take longer to realize how much she cares for the detective because she’d be too busy mourning her late husband. It might take a huge event for her to realize that she’s totally over him and wants to bone the new guy.”
There was a ripple of laughter through the classroom as KRenee grinned briefly before continuing, “In romance especially, pacing is really important. If you go too fast, you’ll end up with a really unrealistic romantic flow. People don’t fall for each other within days. It’s also important to distinguish between sex hormones and love. Your two characters will likely have sex before they fall in love, and that’s fine.” She explained, “Sex isn’t usually about love, unless you’re a purists who refuses to have sex before they get married with the person they love. In nature, sex is about one thing: reproduction. And as soon as your hormones decide that you’ve found a mate who will serve you well in terms of the reproductive cycle, you’re going to want to reproduce with them. And if you’re lucky and your hormones weren’t lying to you, they might even stick around long enough for you to actually fall for them.”
“A lot of fanfiction writers like to rush the romance. I’ve read plenty of stories in my time where, literally, the scene where you meet the main hero or heroin is the moment their love interest falls for them. And sometimes it isn’t even the overt love-at-first-sight nonsense. Sometimes, it’s just “Joe stared at the newcomer, unable to tear his gaze away from her bright green eyes.” And believe me, that is just as bad as writing “it was love at first sight.” You should never introduce your character like that.” KRenee told them seriously, her expression no-nonsense. “Don’t write from the love interest’s point of view and have them staring and giving the readers a full-body, blow-by-blow analysis of their appearance so that you can properly illustrate that these two character’s will be in love by chapter 5.”
“Don’t just write it the easiest possible way. Don’t cut corners so you don’t have to do anything hard. Don’t alter a character who doesn’t belong to you just so that you can make it easier to manipulate them.” The professor said, “Take the hard routes. Think about the characters you’re using and what kinds of personalities they have. Think hard about everything. And, most importantly, take you time and think it through.”
“I’m probably going to be saying that for the rest of my life,” KRenee said with a heavy sigh, smiling tiredly. “Okay, it’s time for homework.” Everyone in the class turned a page in the notebooks and waited for their next assignment. The professor smiled more broadly when none of them groaned loudly or sighed unhappily.
“I want you to write the scene introducing our widow to our detective. I’d like it to be less than ten pages, but other than that there are no size stipulations.” The professor said, pausing briefly to yawn, “Just remember everything we’ve covered while you write, and you should come up with something really nice. That’s all your homework for today, so you’re free to go.”
There was a quiet bustle as the students put their notebooks back into their bags and started making their way out of the class. KRenee did her attendance as they were leaving before shutting her laptop, tucking it under her arm, and following the last student out the door.