Yes, Water is Wet – Character Discussion

30 Sep

This has been on my mind for some time, but I had a hard time coming up with an interesting way to talk about it. I recently signed the contract for my third novel – it’s a Steampunk Horror novel, with a villain protagonist. My best guess is, I did study Victorian and Edwardian literature back in university, and it usually had a gothic flare to it. My publisher and Champagne said they wanted more steampunk, so I set myself to write one.  The contention here, is that I’ve had more than one editor read the source material and find it “Problematic”. My main character is a monster, and not in a curly-mustache tie-you-to-the-tracks sort of way. I say no kiddin’.

Anyway, a point of contention I have about these upcoming books is that the characters aren’t squeaky clean. Don’t get me wrong – I admire good guys who do good – Tower of Obsidian kinda has a theme with this – but as a writer and especially as a reader, I like getting into the mindset of characters who aren’t necessarily acting decently all the time. I adore novels where we have an untrustworthy narrator, and I finally understand when C.S. Lewis said he found writing The Screwtape Letters “Distasteful”. I’m not going to preach the grey-on-grey morality as being superior to classic fantasy black-vs-white, but it’s far more interesting to me to watch someone with flaws act out and make their way in the word.

Then I came across this video.

I’m not a Potterhead, so I don’t have a dog in this fight, and I acknowledge that it’s sometimes extremely prudent to not be 100% faithful to the source material because the mediums are different, and it can work to a director’s advantage to change sequences so that they’re faithful to the spirit of what the author intended, but it got me thinking about media and its power. If you don’t want to watch it, it’s essentially how Book!Hermione is written as flawed whereas Movie!Hermione knows everything and can do no wrong – essentially reducing Ron’s character to comic relief. I’ve talked about female characters in media before, and I can’t say I disagree that it’s annoying – I can relate better to someone who sometimes flounders or gets frustrated then the beautiful, clever, witty one who farts peppermint.

This could be about idealization in the most common form of media (tv screen) and we could have that same discussion about Katniss Everdeen, if by my recollection, was an addict suffering from PTSD by book 3, but we couldn’t have this strong female role model be anything other than relatable on the screen.

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I know that girls need role models – but why are we being lazy, and making these characters flat? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I found book Katniss whiny, but I thought there was some growth, whereas in the movies, I found her to be vulnerable and sadly overcoming it… every movie.

Back to my own work – I understand that when we pick up a book, we have certain expectations, and those can’t be violated or we’ll come away at least initially disappointed (I can’t pitch my tragedy as a comedy, it had better be pretty darn gripping if you came for a chuckle) but I don’t see why we have to make everything palatable and not allow our readers to think for themselves. Books should be about pushing boundaries and exploring ideas – and those ideas shouldn’t necessarily be what’s considered safe. Granted, producing a book isn’t cheap and it’s minute compared to the price tag associated with a blockbuster, but at what point are we chipping away at what makes these characters interesting to begin with?

 

Thoughts? Have you ever had backlash because someone was worried how the source material might be interpreted?

Also, I found a daily challenge that’s meant for twitter, but I’ll be posting it here. Stay tuned, I’m going to keep the answers short and publish them on a timer, so hopefully you’ll get an update a day.

 

 

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Baddassery Part 3: My Kryptonite

1 Sep

Sorry for the delay  – summer’s usually a pretty busy time for me, but I am happy to announce I’ve not really done *any* OT in months, so I’m feeling refreshed. I’m going to take a moment to talk about something that I think that often times, fantasy does very well – and that’s utilizing not only underdogs, but in the epic struggle of good versus evil (or grey vs grey) having a healthy sense of comeuppance. Yes, there might be unicorns and dragons, but here’s one of my favourite quotes from Gandalf.

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But we’re not here for philosophy. It’s time to talk heavy hitters, and for me, the most logical place to start is talking about those who have powers beyond that of normal human beings, and we’ll work our way backwards to the very mortal but greatest swordsman or what have you.

I’ve said before I’m not the biggest person into superheroes. Others have pointed out that with the retelling of the story of Spiderman and Superman, started to embody classic archetypes that can reach across cultures. I’ve heard more than one person talk about Marvel and DC being the new Greek Mythology, and given how many times we can reboot a series, let’s say I’m not unconvinced.

I watched One Punch Man because of this video. For those who ain’t gonna watch it, it sets up the titular character, Saitama, as a hero so strong, he can solve any of the usual problems, usually with a single punch. He gets no thrill out of fighting so he’s bored but continues to fight as he can easily mop the floor with creatures other elites find daunting. He’s not in it to do the right thing – Saitama is in it for fun. There’s no climax, because after you’ve seen the first few episodes, we know how things are going to end, and in order for us to emotionally invest in the story line, we have to look at other characters who aren’t one hit and it’s over. I’m going to go into character struggle in the next part of this series. If you’re looking for something fun to watch, I recommend it.

Alongside superheroes, I find using magic can be a bit of a cop out if I don’t give myself clear guidelines as to what the rules are. In my upcoming book, Witchslayer’s Scion, magic is utilized, but it’s not clearly understood by the protagonists – they know some, but not all of the rules, and the mages generally keep a lot of what they do secret even from one another so other mages can’t work against them. That’s all and good to keep the reader guessing, because the reader will speculate and fill in some of the blanks naturally. From a writer’s perspective, I had to know not only what spells were more powerful, but what happened when certain spells hit one another – would they negate, or have a certain reaction?  I had to come up with strict rules about how things worked, so I could understand how a weaker mage might try to stand up to a more powerful one, so it’s consistent when the mages start getting tapped out and it doesn’t seem to take place for the necessity of plot.

Do I have to follow things to their logical conclusions?

To me, the reasoning of why John Carter retained his human strength on Mars didn’t work given the movie’s interpretation of the source material, but it is fun to watch him learn how to walk. There’s plenty of fun speculating how powers can be a real game changer, whether it’s doing seemingly normal activities, or, parodied.

Moving to normal human beings – this means you can make a character tougher than normal, but you can’t have them breaking all the rules for the sake of making them look badass, because it can play inconsistent when they need to be captured or detained for plot purposes.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but it really irks me when a character is very powerful, and made weak to move the story along. It doesn’t bother me if they have an injury and succumb to it, like Baron Godfrey’s character in Kingdom of Heaven. In Witchslayer’s Scion, I utilize rapid healing via touch. While throwing a potion at a character works in a Final Fantasy game, in story, I knew it could easily become a game changer if left unchecked. How I kept it interesting is giving different healers different abilities and, making a person’s response to healing dependent on their own health. And not gonna lie – I used it in the first place so I could have characters go through action sequences and not have chronic injuries plague them for the remainder of the series.

Not all Fighters are the Same

Just because someone is good at a certain type of physical activity doesn’t necessarily preclude them to all activities.  Consider The Hunger Games – one would think it would be to your advantage to be a fighter – but the truth is, fighting is brutal and there’s a good chance you’ll sustain an injury even if you win. It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, but to my knowledge many previous “winners” survived by living off the land and outlasting other players. Some badasses have skills or stats that make them better in some circumstances than others – a very noble knight might excel at carrying out the king’s justice, but a sell sword might be better at dealing with a troublesome courtier in a way that doesn’t look like murder.  Let’s plop these two down in the bush for a week – not hostile living conditions, but not easy to trap and eat, either. Suddenly, being a big strong knight with a revving metabolism isn’t as much as an advantage as the smaller sell sword who is used to going days between meals, and scavenging isn’t taking the same toll on him as the knight. Even if both are obtaining the exact same amount of calories and shelter, my gut tells me Prince Valiant is burning more calories for the exact same activity, at least initially.

Back to my example from last week – I made Rain a character that excels at fighting, especially with a blade. Another character, Ataro, is shorter and weaker than Rain, but I made him a better hand to hand fighter – not that his punches were better, but in a grapple, Ataro not only has more tricks, Ataro has no qualms about playing dirty. In general, I have it that what Ataro lacks in power, he makes up for in technique Neither of these characters are weaklings, but all things being equal, Rain would win if it was simply a strength competition.

So how else might I make a fight between these characters interesting, assuming neither has the home team advantage?

I establish early on in his book, that Rain isn’t a good swimmer – he can tred water slowly, but that’s about it. Utilizing water in a fight scene makes the stakes higher for him. I’ve established Ataro is sneakier – he might go out of his way to lure Rain to a location where he can use shadows or make it so that Rain’s no longer can utilize his strength – I don’t like gimmicks, but if Rain is only used to fighting on firm ground, and suddenly has to swashbuckle atop a sinking ship’s deck, a less skilful swordsman but lifelong sailor will probably beat him if they can hold him off and get him off balance. Go back in rewrites, throw out a line or two that implies Ataro is a sailor or very nimble, and it doesn’t feel forced.

Here’s some basic questions to ask:

Who has the better stamina?

Who can take the most damage?

Who can sprint the fastest?

Who has the best reaction time?

They are disarmed and must fight unarmed. Who can grapple? Do they know any holds or other techniques?

Now, there’s no accounting for dumb luck – watch videos on sparring on youtube, and you’ll see how short fights generally are, because things happen quickly. Things that look epic in fights usually tend to look impressive but not be effective. So it is natural, then, that often when we see a character who stands out on tv, that they appear to be in a different stance or grip then other characters, as illustrated below.

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Scout

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Major Character

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Levi is the best Titan Killer in Attack on Titan. There’s something unsettling about Levi’s bored gaze, and reverse grip. I know my pictures should be better, but watching him in the anime, you see he is different, even compared to other elites.

Kendo is the only swordmanship I’ve ever really studied – and I didn’t get to do it terribly long before I went back to school and that swallowed up my life for several years, but here’s a quick reference to the five stances.

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The first stance is actually nuetral – you can defend or attack from it. The second and third are aggressive – you easily move from a strike position. The third is defensive – if someone strikes, you can knock their blade to the side. I never studied the last – we called it the “hidden” stance. I can’t tell you it’s advantages or disadvantages, but it seemed extremely intimidating to a beginner like me.

Let’s take a look at an extremely famous series, and get a sense of what we see with how these characters are holding.

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Standard Jedi pose. We know canonically, that Anakin is one of the greatest jedi fighters. This isn’t technically a pose he would probably take in fighting, but it invokes he can either attack or defend here.

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Back to a reverse grip. It’s eerie – this stance leaves her open, but she would probably not face someone with a blade in this stance. This strikes me more as position five in kendo, hidden pose. Once again – don’t watch this show – but here’s a sequence of these two characters fighting together. Watch how they move in the scene. (FYI, Vader dominates the fight with the kid before she shows up). Flips aside that should get Ashoka hacked to bits, you can see a very different style between the two of these characters.

Of course, going for flash and excitement first will have you over analyzed. This is the internet, afterall.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t get hung up on the choreography when I’m writing as compared to a more visual medium, but let’s end with something fun.  I don’t watch Game of Thrones (wanna finish the books first – go ahead and point out the show will have an ending, first) but this fight sequence is great. With lightsabers, well, because, but you can see visually Dayne is dangerous right from the get go – fighting with twin swords (extremely tricky) and the reverse grip, he stands out from everyone else in that scene. As writers, we don’t have camera angles and music at our disposal to make the sequence more dynamic, so I say focus on what you do have, and worry about the fight making sense first, even if it’s two lightweights or two titans.

Badassery Part 2: The Measure of a Mook

14 Aug

I’ll start off with saying that it’s difficult to define where to draw the lines, because fantasy is full of characters who can exceed human limitations. I’m not going to lecture you on what people are capable of, if you’re reading this you have the internet and can learn all about what a fit and healthy person is capable.

Mooks can be either villainous henchmen or cops you need to generically lose so Batman steps up. Obviously, the type of mook depends on the subcategory – the requirements of a ninja are different than that of a Viking raider, and depending on what your group is, once you have a team of elites, being better than just about everyone might be the status quo. Point being, sometimes you need a group who can be interchangeable – when you call 911 because your house is being robbed, I’m not sure if anyone says, “And make sure the cop has excellent listening skills!”

But if you want to make your band memorable, you should probably develop a bit of time making them different beyond their personalities.

I often use rangers in the series I’m working on, and I figure it’s a good group to reference. In this context, they’re woodsy folk whose order came from a military model, but over time have been amalgamated into a territorial police force. They do a variety of different tasks: beyond law enforcement, they deliver messages and supplies, maintain various trails, and can back up other agencies as necessary.

So the obvious skills would be nature survival – if the weather turns bad, they need to find shelter, find sustenance if supplies run thin (hunting and foraging) and orienteering. Other common skills would be horsemanship and maintenance, archery, as well as passing literacy for your common grunt. When they get into the higher ranks, there’s more administrative duties, as well as specialist training; it’s not uncommon for the child of a ranger to accompany their parent, work odd jobs in the stables, apprentice and pick up a specific skill, such as shoeing horses, do odd delivery jobs as they get a little older, become a ranger for most of their adulthood, then “retire” back to working the stables if they sustain a chronic injury.

I have dozens of these guys, and making them interchangeable would be boring as a writer, let alone as a reader. Beyond their sparkling personalities, I usually start to differentiate them based on what their past. For instance, one of my young recruits, Keefe, is the nephew of a ranger, and therefore before he begins has an idea as to what the job entails – he never states whether or not he ever went with his uncle or worked in the stables as a youth, but it’s implied he understands some of what the more experienced rangers are doing and he picks things up the fastest. When he starts out, he isn’t particularly good at anything, but his insider knowledge helps him give pointers to his friend. Vincent, who grew up knowing Keefe and started at the same time, is the son of a lumberjack. He is quite a bit stronger than Keefe, but he’s not as good with some seemingly nominal skills – he doesn’t like riding horses initially, and is more interested in learning weapons than learning some of the survival skills. As these two develop in their careers, there’s a marked difference between two characters of the same age of similar class and background, and I haven’t told you who’s the introvert or their main character flaws. One might argue that Keefe sounds like he’s better off in this situation. Vincent’s background can imply a different but still useful skillset – lumberjacks work in the woods, afterall, and so while he wouldn’t inherently know as much as Keefe, he might know more than say, a third character – I’ll use the MC, Rain – who is a little older, but from a very different part of the world. Because he grew up in a very different climate, other characters have to help him with things locals would automatically know, and out of all of them, he’s the most vulnerable to the elements. He’s not the guy you come looking to if you were to need a specific question answered about trying to get a shelter erected in a blizzard, but both younger characters would be behind him if they were having trouble with their horses or a fight was imminent. Again – you know nothing of their personalities.

I’ll talk about “Specialists” here because I think there’s plenty to talk about when we get to Part 3: Elites. Specialists would be characters who perform a certain function. In a larger setting, they might be non-combatants but, in a smaller setting, sometimes your bands tend to be more self-reliant.

In the commentary of Riddick, Katie Sackhoff talks about her character needing to have a reason why she’s with the group of mercenaries. She’s designated as a sniper, so it can explain why, if a character is a seeming token, especially in a brutal world, why she’s kept around or ranks higher than another character. Although Riddick’s technically worth more dead, her boss wants words with him first (additionally, he’s swiped a part necessary for their ship to leave the hostile planet) since Riddick is identified as highly dangerous, it shows that her boss is the sort of man who’s got the types of tranquilizers necessary to keep him from doing the up close and personal stuff that is his trademark.

Identifying a given character as important at a task can add a dynamic if said needs to be accomplished but the usual character can’t do it. Let’s go back to my rangers: Rain’s the fighter, but in this instance, he’s sustained injuries so he can’t defend the group like he normally would. It heightens the drama as say, Vincent, who was keen for it, saw what fighting is really like, and is struggling with doing something that not only scares him, he might find it repugnant. Juxtapose any guilt, even misguided, that Rain got hurt because he hesitated last time. What would be easy for Rain might be nearly impossible for Vincent. Tell me, as a reader, what do you find more interesting?

Let’s finish off with some mook-on-mook action. Our three above rangers have been captured, by let’s say some robber bandits, and they’re outnumbered and taken back to the jolly camp of ne’er-do-wells. They’ve identified Rain as the fighter, and Vincent, well, the guy looks strong, but they went and underestimated Keefe, so while Rain and Vincent are kept locked and under guard, Keefe is kept lightly chained and forced to do work around the camp, much to some stereotypical jeering because I’m being lazy.

Keefe is effectively the non-combat protagonist I talked about in the previous post. Assuming one of his captors gives him a sword and goads him into fighting, the reality is that short of Keefe revealing he was a wizard all along, fighting isn’t going to get him out of his situation. Let’s look at the skills Keefe has: The odds of him freeing the other two are slim to none by himself, but if he escapes, he can go get help. In this example, I haven’t established whether or not he can pick locks, so it would be a saving butt-pull for him to unchain himself or suddenly have a wide set of improbable ninja skills. If he lets the robbers know he’s competent, he’s going to get just as guarded as the other two, so he might play dumb to his advantage. I’ve established Keefe knows his foraging – and while I’ve never established him as a truffle hunter, I’ll bet you he knows certain mushrooms that definitely shouldn’t go in the soup pot.  This can totally backfire;  if someone figures this out they might force Keefe or someone he cares about to eat the soup. This example is all about thinking of creative ways of solving problems. You know your characters, I know if Keefe tries to seduce the robber’s daughter, it will end poorly (although given his character, that still wouldn’t be a deterrent). The minute that Keefe gets free he goes back to standard mook –but if I want the reader to sympathize with Keefe, he’s best off being proactive when the situation allows it, whether that’s sneaking Vincent a weapon or leaving marks on a tree while he “tends to nature” to tell other rangers where they’re going, the reader will probably recognize that the character did what they could, based on the situation. Keefe joining the bandits might be a plot twist or lazy writing, depending on how it’s handled.

So all and all – sometimes you just need a generic force and, let’s be honest, not all teams are the same. But taking the time to develop how this force’s skill set might differ, might help you utilize small details to make your crews seem not only authentic, but relatable.

Badassery Part 1: The Non-Combat Protagonist

10 Aug

I first started to write when I was fairly young – I loved sport and was competitive. This, combined with a love of pulp-novels and adventure movies, probably made me write characters who, were capable of a variety of physical activity.

After I got my BA, I studied firefighting and paramedicine, and, while I’ll attest to the limitations of my own body (Chronic R ankle injury, yo) it has made my suspension of disbelief really fail really fast. I’m that jerk who kind of accepts that most people get CPR wrong in the movies, and whenever I see violence on screen, I am looking for mechanism of injury and start speculating what injuries are likely.

And, with the market as competitive as it is, I often watch movies and notice how we’re told that a character isn’t only cool – they’re badass. My main issue? It effectively becomes beating up Worf. I’m not saying you can’t have characters who are extremely powerful, but that means as a writer, I need to come up with characters that are even more badass, or make the threat to the character something that can’t be handled via physical prowess.

So how do we keep in mind character struggles, especially when genres such as science fiction, horror and fantasy involve characters that can be much stronger than average?

To me, the answer to how to create dynamic struggles with a very powerful character is considering how to solve a problem when you can’t punch your way through it. Obviously, one could argue that the use of superior technology is in the role of a combatant (in other words, if I give regular Joe a tank with training, and the best swordsman on the planet is across a field, their fight is a little one sided). Making your characters a force to be reckoned with but making their struggle real is gonna be split into several parts, and I’m going to start with “lightweights” – these would be characters most would assume no to light threat, followed by a standard mook, then the Uber Warriors. Feel free to nitpick and argue, because I am a firm believer in tactics over raw power. I believe most humans throughout historical conflict died from infection and, no matter how much of a magnificent creature you are, you and I are still prone to dying from minute concentrations of chemicals, heat exposure, and lots of stuff is poisonous. Look up “Carfentanyl” and how much is needed to tank one of us.

I’ll also point out the average human being, even if they are pacifists – is capable of fighting back. This is about a character who recognizes that, all things being fair, they’re likely to lose against a regular human being, let alone a hero amongst heroes. This might be because they’re very young or old, or they might have a disability or relatively weak.

Take this into consideration if you’re writing about individuals you would never consider physical if you were to place them in the population as a whole. Pretend, in a pre-cell phone era, we have a group of urbanite retirees out hiking, and their rough-and-tumble tour-guide gets injured in a rock slide, blocking the fastest route back to help. Someone has to go get help, so they’ll probably chose from amongst themselves the individual best suited to make the journey while the rest make camp and wait for help. They’d probably pick someone with orienteering skills or in the best shape physically, but if they’re in a very specific area, they might pick the person who is the most familiar with the type of terrain. They might argue about if the individual should go around the long way, compromising the injured guide as time takes its effect, or if they have the skill and equipment to repel down and go directly for help, knowing that if anything happens to the person going, they’ll have more than one injured person to contend with.

How does this relate to the speculative fiction genre? Especially when we have superheroes who need kryptonite for there to be drama? Perhaps there’s an extremely famous version in one of fantasy’s best examples: Hobbits.

You don’t have to save kingdoms and destroy ancient evils to prove your species is capable of accomplishing great tasks, but let’s be honest: If somehow you were to invoke trial by combat and allowed to pick any fictional character to defend you, and you probably wouldn’t pick any of Tolkien’s hobbits as your first choice. I’m not saying you couldn’t write a hobbit who was a powerhouse, but even this hypothetical character would probably recognize that his reach and jump isn’t as good as the average sized human.

One of the strengths of a hobbit is that they’re seen as not a threat, that allows them to go unnoticed – much to the detriment of Dark Lords everywhere. So for us, the battle seems like a physical impossibility. For the hobbits – even the journey is that much longer with shorter legs. But, not only are they capable, they are able to triumph because they hold onto what is good and just longer than humans might. Pretend, for instance, that another character took the ring from the council of Elrond, and for argument’s sake, they’ve got a hobbit-like constitution in terms of being corrupted by it. Virtually every other character at the council would be likely to slay golem or not be listened to by Faramir. Because they have strength, they might better rely on it rather than Frodo taking it seriously about destroying it the way he was told.

My character of Naguset from Tower of Obsidian plays in this theme. She’s a young Miq’Mac woman who was kidnapped and kept in slavery, she’s underweight and her value is as a guide. The aforementioned Tower was designed to defeat warriors and sorcerers. One of my MCs, Aaron, is let’s just say, as strong as a normal mook can get. The son of a blacksmith who became a man-at-arms, you don’t get to be either of those if you can’t open a jar of pickles. Aaron’s reliance on his strength got him into trouble more than once, and ultimately his going at things head first was useful in some instances, but ultimately failed him in getting the sword he needed to challenge the immortals of the tower. Naguset, by contrast, was able to perform a difficult swimming task and injured one of the dragons (albeit in human form) because he assumed she was helpless, whereas Aaron was incapacitated and left to starve to death. Stabbing someone when they’re not expecting it is hardly honorable, but given the character was going to Do Bad Things to her, Sir Wellington’s Rules of Fisticuffs need not apply.

A non-combatant specialist can be more than helpful – their help might be vital in a struggle. An obvious character who might be tagging along in a war might be an engineer who recognizes structural weaknesses in fortresses or an individual who builds siege weapons. In Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire, we’re introduced to Beetee, who won his Hunger Games by electrocuting his opponents. One of the most influential characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, Petyr Baelish, fell in love with Catalyn Tully and, when she was betrothed to Brandon Stark, he challenged him for her hand. Petyr was badly beaten, and realized from that young age he wasn’t going to win by fighting his enemies directly, so he manipulated others to his will to accomplish what he wanted, creating a wonderful Machiavellian manipulator. Characters like Beetee and Peter would die if they tried to act out directly, but because they were able to utilize other means, they become extraordinarily lethal. Molly Grue from Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn comes across as excess baggage – but she proves to be brave, loyal and fierce, learning the secrets of Haggard’s Castle and giving Prince Lyr the words he needs to face the Red Bull.

I don’t want this blog to get much longer, so I’ll wrap it up with a final thought. Am I off the mark? Does writing a non-combatant character change the way, as writers, a physically powerful character addresses the plot? Not all plots are physical, but we’ll get into that more on the next post.

The Prequel or Parallel Series Or; On the Importance of keeping notes

7 Jul

When I started writing this, I was thinking mostly my own experience in writing the Prequel that is Witchslayer’s Scion, but I realized that this advice can be used for supplemental novellas or shorts, and isn’t limited just to prequels. So for starters, let’s start with some definitions:

Prequels: Events-wise most of the story predates a work that comes out first – like the Magician’s Apprentice in the Narnia series, which chronologically came out book 6 but is book 1 in the sequence, or the Dunk and Egg novellas, set in the Song of Ice and Fire Universe about a century prior to the main books. This is not about a flashback, or about stories like ‘Til We Have Faces when the narrator is telling an event that happened, although a framing device can be used, such as in The Hobbit movies.

Technically, the main series isn’t picked up yet, but in terms of what order I wrote them, Witchslayer’s Scion is a prequel.

Parallel Series: A parallel series would be novels that take place within the same universe, and may or may not have influence on each other. I tend to think of things like Agents of Shield as they reflect on the larger Marvel Movie Universe.

I could go on and on – but these are similar ideas I’m just lightly going to mention here.

Interbetwequels are essentially things like The Lion King 1 ½ that focuses on different characters, or told from another perspective, like Grey by E. L. James.

Shared Universes would be something where both authors agree and work on different stories, such as the Malazan Books worked on by both Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont.

Finally, Extended Universes would be stuff like supplemental Star Wars novels that expand on an established story – which in this case is a terrible example due to new movies tearing down something like 20+ years of books.

I haven’t done any of the last three, but I suppose taking notes would be helpful in all of these cases to help you be consistent later – you never know where your creative process will take you, and while you might think to yourself, “Why would I want to go back and revisit X?” keeping notes helps you quickly relearn something when you might have shifted your focus to another project. Because the publishing process takes forever, it might be prudent for you to be working on other projects and for you to be able to get back into the groove quickly.

Also for the sake of this post, I’m speaking mostly about series with an epic scope, as opposed to a more intimate character-driven series. In other words, one can dive into the extended mythology of say, Middle Earth, but reading The Children of Hurin isn’t essential to enjoying The Lord of the Rings. I mostly think about it as another means of exploring the world you’ve created.

I’ve spoken on writing the Uber Series before, but there’s a difference writing a sequel as compared to a prequel. On the surface, they’re quite similar; you’ve established rules, and most likely, characters and settings. Unlike the sequel, you already have more than a vague idea where the characters need to end up. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at my first attempt in revisiting a series, but going back in time and focusing on a very different cast. My MCs in the main series are more or less traditionally heroic. My MC in Witchslayer’s Scion is more of a traditional anti-hero.

I started writing it for myself to flesh out a character’s backstory, and decided to keep going. It’s one thing to have a bunch of point-form information and characters to reference events that happened in story, it was another thing to imagine someone setting out from home and to really delve into his mindset and what it must have been like to be in those situations. I knew who certain characters had to become – but it made me think about similar themes as they were handled by a different cast, as well as made me as an author ask questions. Moreover, I got to explore part of the world where I didn’t get to spend as much time in the main series, so I had a chance to flesh it out. It feels like it belongs and is consistent in tone, but is different enough where I feel that it’s relevant enough to the series overall.

For my writing process, details are key to getting into a character’s mindset. It’s one thing to say “He was involved in battle X.” But it was another thing to plunk him in as a conscripted man who didn’t want to be there, and watch him essentially flee the first chance he got. I quickly established that, being in a tropical area, they dressed much more differently than the colder countries in the north, and watched the MC flounder once he lost the home team advantage. But, moving away from the character, I found while I had established general rules, I had to now be more specific. He was from the north and everyone had practical clothing – especially in winter months – but moving to a more tropical area, there could be way more differences between the way the classes dressed. I referred to the Nation we spend the most time in as an empire – so it was made up of different kingdoms. How long were certain areas in the Empire, and how did they interact with one another? For me, it was especially fun to delve into an area that interested me but I couldn’t focus on, if only because the other series established the world and had a big plot. In a way, I told what felt like a smaller story and I felt like I could let the prose breathe a little more, if only because I didn’t feel that I had to get. Every. Detail. Established. And, when I went back and did subsequent rewrites, I was able to make it so both books could start as an entryway – that it didn’t matter where the reader started.

So for me, it was a positive experience that helped me revisit a story I’d been working on for a while, and examine the same old big sandbox with a different focus. Obviously, you can revisit any character or event – I’ve got enough notes where I could start following someone else with the same established rules – that I could spend my entire time only writing on this series.

Don’t think I want to, as I tend to have more ideas than time. But, if you’re considering the idea, here’s some seemingly simple questions to ask yourself:

Who do these characters become? What effect does this event have on the other story?

Does this story affect how the readers may interpret other established material?

Personally, I didn’t think we really needed to know what happened in Rogue One. Now, there’s no shame in writing something that never sees the light of day, but serves as information for you, writer, to make the main story better.

How is this story different?Or is it?

I was joking with another writer at Keycon that I could redo the same plot over and over again and probably be successful. I think it’s fun to revisit the same world, but at the same time, I don’t want to only be known as a one trick pony. Readers like revisiting the same world if they’re a fan, and I also think there’s a fine line of giving the audience what they want and pandering. But then the question becomes: When am I deviating too much from the original idea – and when am I simply rehashing what I’ve already done?

And as a final point: If the entire story makes what follows or just followed moot, the audience has a right to be a wee bit upset. Keep this in mind when writing your sequels, as well.

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If you end your movie saving the kid as the climax… maybe let’s not kill the kid offscreen in the next story…

 

Well, I don’t know if I touched on everything, but I have been meandering through a bunch of topics and I figured I should hurry up and post this one. I’m trying to get myself to When Words Collide next month; I had the time banked and I have a ticket, but I have to deal with work and someone from payroll who can’t do math. Huzzah~

Quick Update on Witchslayer’s Scion Release Date

4 Jun

I’ve been rather quiet on the subject, and it has nothing to do with work for a change. We’re going to be delayed – I know, as with Tower of Obsidian, due to editing – and I do not have a firm release date at this time. It won’t be a month or two, more like, more; will keep you updated as I know.

Now, last year I promised a new book this year – and I will deliver something, even if I self-publish. Which means me learning how to use Sygil, I guess, but I shall keep you posted. Witchslayer’s Scion is under contract which means it’s off the table, and I’ve been a wimp about the novel I was going to self-publish, so perhaps it’s time to revisit that option.

But, on the plus side, Ron and I have a table at the Highland Festival in Selkirk June 24 & 25. Never been, but looks like fun; I have a conditional day off on the 24.

Want vs Need in Story – Endings

3 May

I got excited when I learned this year’s Rainbow Stage production includes Little Shop of Horrors. I hadn’t seen the film version since Jr. High, but I remembered it enough to decide quickly that I am going, regardless of who is coming with. I wiki’d the film – and now I’m curious – is this stage production going with the original ending, or are they going for something that tests positive with audiences?

This isn’t the only series that the ending changes from the original: I am Legend, The Lord of the Rings, The Witches; to name a few.

This isn’t so much about the necessary adaptation from the various mediums, because what I can take pages describing can be shown relatively quickly on a screen. I’ve seen things work in live theater that don’t carry over so well into the movie. And, if I’m writing a serialized story with monthly installments, it’s probably going to fit into a series better than Hollywood’s three-act system (or theater’s two-act). Personally, I think that you can be faithful to the original in keeping with the spirit.

That being said, I find more than any other aspect, that endings are one of the most important aspects of fiction, so I’m way more upset if the adaptation changes it dramatically, without justification. I think sometimes it is a matter of respecting the audience, namely that if you’re making a movie with a huge budget, you expect a return on the investment, so it’s best to play it safe with the formula that tests well. It’s the reason The Hero’s Journey is seen again and again in fiction.

This doesn’t always sit well with those of us who like our expectations teased. There are certain sub genres of science fiction revels in the And I must Scream, whereas historically, Romances can end tragically, but usually on a high note of hope, such as Tristan and Isolde or the Arthurian Romance of Arthur, Gwenevere, and Lancelot – they may be torn asunder in life, but together in death/exile, etc. Those who don’t read much fantasy assume it’s all wish-fulfillment, failing to recognize fantasy’s long history, and I need only point to the cautionary Brother’s Grimm originals to prove my point, let alone The Epic of Gilgamesh or The Odyssey.

This isn’t to say that all science fiction ends with self-loathing and Nietzsche, but I have different expectations putting on an episode of Murdoch Mysteries as compared to Heartland. In giving the viewer what we want, usually, good prevails or at least solves the problem at hand, but the ending has to fit the tone of the story more than the beginning or middle. If it doesn’t answer a question or satisfy me, even the most casual “I just want the good guys to win” audience member would probably lose interest in the next part. Why is the ending so important?

Even when we have stories of Grey vs. Grey morality, audiences usually pick a side. We might even be with a villain protagonist, who we might subconsciously want to get caught, but at the same time, we know his getting caught ends the romp, so we don’t. We’re conflicted. How long can he pull this off, exactly?

But some of our most well-loved stories end in a loss. The Empire Strikes Back, seen probably as the ‘best’ of the movies by most, ends with Han potentially being lost forever, Luke losing his hand and the rebellion is in shambles, with Luke reeling from a forty-year-spoiler. I wouldn’t call this a win for our heroes– but the story still ends with hope. If this was the first installment of Star Wars, I think it’s safe to say that it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as well-received by the audiences – but there was pretty much a guarantee to a third installment at that time, so maybe it wasn’t as big of a challenge to the audience as I’m making it out to be.

So what are some of the best endings you’ve read? And are there stories that you thought were fantastic, but couldn’t stand the ending?