Friday, February 27, 2015

Making a Fiction Timeline

I'm talking about timelines for your current WIP, by the way - not the timelines you made with a scissor and gluestick in elementary school.
Why would anyone make a timeline for their novel, though? What is the point of it?
Okay. Do you ever find yourself going back over your draft with a calculator, wondering how long it has been since Johnny left home with nothing but a sandwich in his pocket and a half-filled canteen clipped to his belt? You have to figure out if he'd be dead from starvation by now, but you have no clue how long it's been since the wolf attacked, since he lost the stockpile of berries he gathered in the river, or since his canteen sprung a leak during the rock slide. Maybe you have some vague idea. But every time you need to figure out how much time has passed you have to whip out a calculator or take notes while rereading over the last few chapters.
A timeline solves all this. All the events of your novel get put into a easy-to-read format so you can easily see when everything happened. No more rereading your chapters just to figure out if little Johnny should be dead by now (most of my character should probably be dead by now regardless of time frame, but that is beside the point).
So how do you go about making a timeline? There are a few ways, depending on your resources and preferences.

The first is the simplest. You make a list of all the events in the book that you want to be able to remember - plot points, phases of the moon, chapter lengths, etc. - and then write down the time and date next to it. You could use plain paper, index cards, or a word processing program (which allows for easier info changing).
I like organization and detail, so I'd spice it up by creating several columns of information, including name of event, character point of view, start time, end time, and maybe which characters were involved. You could use plain paper or index cards (one for each event) on rings.
You could do the same thing in a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, which allows for limitless columns. Going digital, obviously, makes it a lot easier to change the information repeatedly as your novel progresses.

Even more tech-savvy is using a online timeline program. One program I know of, Tiki-Toki, allows people to create one timeline for free or multiple timelines with a premium account. It can be exported to a printable format and the timeline never expires. You just need a username and password to access it. What is nice about programs specifically for timelines is that you can add additional information likes notes on the event, character arc, labels, and more. You can also adjust the zoom to display varying amounts of time. The problem with Tiki-Toki is that events are not displayed according to their length (e.g. an event taking up three hours will only have an indicator the same size as an event which takes fives seconds).
A screenshot of the timeline I made using the online program Tiki-Toki.

Lastly you can buy a timeline program for your computer. Aeon Timeline is what I use and I love it. Events display according to their length so you can compare lengths of events and see if they overlap.  For speculative fiction novelists, you can create your own calendar with different year lengths, month lengths, etc. There are also several "normal" calendar settings to choose from. You can create character arcs and easily track which characters, organizations, and places were present or involved with each event. Various viewing settings allow you to filter events that are displayed or seperate events by arc. Additionally, if you have Scrivener Aeon can sync with it. Just like Tiki-Toki, the zoom can be adjusted and it can be exported. Aeon actually has better export options, with more formats and better layout. Particpants and winners of NaNoWriMo have had discounts on Aeon available to them the last two years (it's how I got the program).
A screenshot of the timeline I made AFTER the Tiki-Toki one using Aeon. The Relationship View at the bottom portion indicates who was participating in an event or observing, while the divisions at left split events up by arc. Both are optional views.

Of these methods I have used all, bur I quickly abandoned a simple list format and found Tiki-Toki. Then I found Aeon and never went back. It's the most convenient method and also the best designed. It is also the most expensive, but it isn't too bad with the NaNoWriMo discount.
Making a timeline has made it so much easier for me to keep track of the events in my stories. I now consider it a integral part of my planning process and keep my timeline up on my laptop when writing
What about you? Do you use timelines? How do you make them?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Keir Durjaya is Open for Questioning

Aaaaaaand it's another character interview! This time around, I've chosen a less willing participant: Keir Durjaya, the primary antagonist of Taken.

Yes, I chose Benedict Cumberbatch. Probably the genius cliche by now. (Collage made from images found on Pinterest.)
So a little info on Keir. He is the High General, or highest authority in, the Kampene Army. He is a military genius, which became evident while he was attending Kampen's military academy, and the youngest High General in the history of Kampen. He reports directly to the queen and is internationally famous (or infamous, depending on the country you hail from) for putting an end to the centuries of raids and invasions launched by Jager against Kampen (Nitri takes personal offense to this outcome.) This was accomplished by reinventing the military's organization and training, and because of his own inventive tactics and strategies. Before he ended the raids he spent years fighting on the front lines of that conflict.
His wife died from childbirth back before he was promoted to High General and as a result of his grief, he resolved never to be emotional or let people get close to him again. Obviously this is impossible but trust me, he tries his best. He creeps people out with his unchanging facial expression and nearly toneless voice. It's very rare you'll get any indication of emotion from him even though he feels just as much as the next guy. He loves his only remaining son, Jyran, but has made the mistake of not showing that love. He has locked Jyran out of his inner thought life just like he has everyone else, and instead keeps their relationship restricted mostly to one of a commanding officer and his subordinate.
Keir hates the Eroberens for daring to invade his country without provocation, just to save their own economy. This hatred comes from his intense loyalty to Kampen, so even though he's set on revenge it's because of a noble idea. He values loyalty and patriotism, truth and justice. So while he's got issues, he's not an antagonist because he's a bad guy. He just wants to defend and avenge his country.
Haha, guess which MBTI he is. xD For a deeper picture of what he's like, visit his Pinterest board and check out the other time he's been mentioned on this blog: a linkup post on antagonists.

So! Ask any question you can think of. His history, his tactics, his hidden favorites, whatever. I'm giving this one two weeks, so the interview will be posted two weeks from today (Tuesday). In the meantime I will continue with the normal posting schedule (one on Tuesdays, and then another sometime between Friday and Sunday). I may have a post on using timelines coming up, so stick around. ;)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Favorite Screen Character Blog Hop

Good day! Surprise, there's an extra post this week!
Aimee Meester at To the Barricade! basically extended an open invitation for anyone and everyone to do this thing (thanks for that, because I think it will be interesting to actually figure this out). You should check out her blog because it is no joke the funniest blog I've ever read.
Basically, I have to list my top ten favorite characters from the screen. This means book characters will be left out, but they're in a separate level of amazing anyway. I also would never be able to choose just ten of those.
These are listed from roughly least favorite to favorite (out of my favorites, if that makes any sense). A lot of swapping of places on the list went on though, and I'm sure they'll continue to switch around.
Hey look, I have gifs now!
10. Maleficent from Maleficent. 
First of all, she's a prime example of a villain that we're capable of empathizing with. We totally understand why Maleficent hates the king so much (wouldn't you be just slightly angry if your boyfriend cut off your limbs and ran away with them?).  Maleficent has a heart, even after going bad though. And her sass. Just yes.

9. Magneto from the X-Men movies.
Imagine the concentration needed to manipulate two objects at once. It has to be complex; so cool.
Basically I like him because he's powerful but he isn't dumb. He can lay a plan; he knows what to interfere with and when in order to achieve his goals (totally messed up goals, but right now that is beside the point). Add in his tragic history and awesomely powerful mutation and yup, I like him. And who wouldn't like a villain as well-dressed as he is?

8. Khan from Star Trek: Into Darkness.
He really was.
Aside from the fact that he's played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan is amazing because one, he's a legit genius; two, he's sassy; and three, he's loyal. Yeah, he wasn't loyal to everyone - he totally back stabbed Kirk - but the amount of devotion he showed to his crew was so touching ("Is there anything you would not do for your family?"). Plus his plan-laying masterminding was so epic I can't even describe how much I love it.

7. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader from the Star Wars universe
Nevermind the fact that this is the fourth villain in a row. Anakin is sassy in The Clone Wars and Episode III just about killed me. I always spend the entire time screaming at Anakin from my couch, dumbly hoping that the outcome will somehow change. When he is evil he's sort of awesomely powerful and intimidating. but he's redeemed in the end. George Lucas did such a good job crafting Anakin's tragedy that it broke my heart.
Yes, except I'm pretty sure even I am a better actress than she was in that scene.
Plus, his name is an anagram of mine (I've had two people actually call me Anakin for a total of three times) which is awesome! I'm practically named after this guy!

6. Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game.
Cool, calm and controlled genius.
Just like most, I assume, I really love Ender from the book more than I love him from the movie. However, Asa Butterfield still did a good job of showing off Ender's character - the genius and the heart. I relate to him a lot, even if I'm not a child general.

5. Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time. 
The Rumple = "Meeah heh heh! Magic always comes with a price, dearie!"
Isn't that guy's name a headache to spell! I don't like him as much as I used to but I still admire just how intricate (and generally successful!) his plans are. He is the epitome of evil genius. Seriously:

I applaud his schemes. If only I had scheming abilities on Rumpelstiltskin's level.

4. Sherlock Homes from BBC's Sherlock.
"High-functioning sociopath. With your number."
Who doesn't love him? Yes, he's an insensitive jerk a lot of the time but he's got a heart (actually, despite his line he isn't really a sociopath, which is actually the same as a psychopath, so sorry to bust the myth). Plus the way he can tell someone's entire history is . . . well, I so want that skill. I can have dreams.

3. Frank William Abagnale, Jr. from Catch Me If You Can.
This guy was so smooth. I'm impressed. He passed himself off as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer all before his nineteenth birthday and had gained so much money from his scams and forgeries and cons that I can't even remember the number. His ingenuity, intelligence, and ability to talk his way out of anything (I suspect ENTP) earned my admiration. He even escaped the FBI by pretending to be from some other governmental investigation organization, without any sort of badge. And he was a real guy. Yeah. Epicness. (As a side note, he ended up working with the FBI so I don't count him in as another villain on this list).

2. Neal Caffrey from White Collar.
Another conman. What can I say, smooth-talkers impress me with their talking skills. Plus Neal is such a child most of the time. It's adorable. And the loyalty Neal shows Peter even though Peter is the one who caught him is so lovable. Gosh, I just love everything about this character and I haven't even finished season 1! Oh, and . . .
His hats.

1. Merlin from BBC's Merlin.
Poor guy.
He's actually contesting with Neal right now, but I know Merlin better so he got #1. Merlin is sort of the oddball on this list of villains, geniuses, and con-men because there isn't really a bad bone in his body. He doesn't lay intricate plans, he's a terrible liar, he's an unrecognized hero. And he's adorkable.  I could spend hours just quoting all the funny dialogues between him and Arthur. Plus the sass levels . . . no one can compete. He sasses the king, for goodness's sake! (And Arthur likes him enough to keep him around anyway).

That's my list. I wish I had room for more gifs . . . now that I've used them, I like them. I also wish I could just write a entire post filled with Merlin quotes, but you can all just take a visit over to Pinterest for that. 
So, what can you learn from your favorite characters? What traits do they all (or most of them) share? Think of this as a writing exercise and make a list of the traits which make good characters. By spotting it in the characters you watch and read you can be more conscious of putting it into your own.
I'm going to go with Aimee's example and not tag anyone in specific. Open invitation, everyone. I had fun doing this and you probably will have fun too. Warning, it may be difficult to figure out which characters make the list and which don't. 
 If you do this, leave a link in the comments. I'd love to take a look at other people's preferences in characters.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why You Should Read "The Naturals"

I've had a few interviews lately. College interviews, to be precise, for scholarships and honors programs. And while questions vary from college to college and program to program, there is one question that keeps popping up.
Name two unassigned books you have read recently, and tell us why you liked them/would recommend them.
Not only has this been asked in interview, it has been asked on applications. My thoughts upon hearing this time after time? They look something like this. "Oh gosh, which two which two . . . they have to be good, with meaning and traits that impress people. Should I mention that one nonfiction book I read on Myers-Briggs? No, because that isn't what I usually read. Would be dishonest to misrepresent myself. Oh well. Which book did I read last? Ah. That Christian fantasy; that's good we'll work from there . . ." Of course, the interviewer sits there staring at me while I try to make up my mind. xD
I realized, however, that despite my general indecision there is one book I consistently mention. I would like to introduce you all to it today, because it is amazing and you should all read it RIGHT THIS MOMENT.
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
So, first of all can I mention that I love the creative cover design? Police tape and a gift box. Very cool.
Next, here's my hopefully-persuasive speech on the actual book.
The Naturals is a YA mystery/thriller with a small element of speculative fiction. The plot centers on Cassie, a seventeen year old with a natural ability to profile people (think about what Sherlock Holmes does and you have some idea of what this actually is) at a glance. Though she's only a waitress at a diner, the FBI takes notice of her skills and involves her in the Naturals Program, which is essentially a group of teenagers with inborn talents in crime investigation. There is a girl who is a walking database and can deal with numbers and statistics like a computer (she tends to deal with people in the same way), a boy who can read anyone's emotions just by glancing at their face, a girl who can detect lies but tells them even better, and another boy who can naturally profile people, like Cassie. The Naturals are used by the FBI to investigate cold-case serial murders, which is a bit of a sensitive job for a few of the characters due to back story. Makes for interesting drama, I'll tell you . . . Anyway, in this first book of the series the Naturals get themselves embroiled in a most definitely not cold case because the serial killer involved has the MO of the murderer of Cassie's mother.

I love this book so much because one, PLOT TWISTS. Barnes was a natural at laying false trails and then shocking you out of your comfy reading chair with killer twists.
Second, CHARACTERS. All of them were so realistic! Most of them have secrets, they all have pain, they all have different coping mechanisms, their dialogue styles are different, they have different senses of humor, and they're teenagers so they have all this inter-teenager drama that goes on and then there's rebellion against the FBI agents trying to control a houseful of strangely talented and messed up teens. It's amazing.
Third, PSYCHOLOGY. Barnes is actually a psychologist herself, so it is no surprise that not only are the characters brilliant and realistic, but the book details the process of profiling the criminals - which Cassie and the other profiler have to do in order to solve the cases. This can actually get pretty creepy, but I think it's an accurate portrayal of what criminal psychology is. Not really all that fun. But it isn't all creepiness - watching the emotion-reader try to duke it out with Cassie as a profiler is pretty funny. I love how Cassie starts deducing the personalities and back stories of everyone she meets from little details. Due to my interest in how different people work and think I found this element of the book fascinating.
Fourth, EVERYTHING ELSE. Name something a good book has. Fast pace? Understandable, easily read writing style? Engaging plot? Drama? Hint of romance? Check check check check check. Secrets? They abound; check! Action? Check. Puzzles to figure out? Check. Grip-the-book-so-hard-you-dent-the-cover suspense? MOST DEFINITELY POSITIVELY CHECK.

However I must warn you all that this isn't a book for everyone. Barnes writes several pages interspersed with the normal chapters from the perspective of the serial killer. They're written in italics, so they're easy to spot and skip if you feel like you need to, and there's nothing anywhere else in the book that might make someone's stomach churn. These little pages have nothing truly graphic, but Barnes, as I said, was incredibly good with her character development - including that of the serial killer. I think she left those little bits in to portray just how truly sick and evil the mind of a serial killer is.
Even if you don't want to read those I truly recommend reading the book. As I said, they're easy to skip, and the rest of the book is so incredible. Plus, the little tiny VERY FEW sections aren't intrinsic to understanding the plot. Seriously, this is one of my favorite books I've ever read. I challenge you to find a better YA mystery.
What's more is that I hold this book up as a role model for my WIPs. If I could only imitate Barnes's plot twists and characters I'm sure I would be happy forever.
I linked the cover image above to the Goodreads page, if you'd like to check this one out further. The Naturals also has a sequel called Killer Instinct. It was just as good as the first, so don't stop at the first book. I think a third book has also just been scheduled for release.

So, have I convinced you or scared you away? Let me know if you will/have already read it and what you thought of it. Maybe we can fangirl together. xD

I also updated the "Writer Lingo" page again for anyone who is interested. New words include "subplot" and "research."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Build Meaningful Character Appearance

For a while I thought that every character had to look completely different. To create diversity amongst my cast, I'd meticulously make sure that each character had a different hair color and eye color. Inevitably I needed to go past the variations available with combinations of blond, brown, black and red with blue, green, hazel, and brown. So I'd then vary the lengths of the hair and whether the character had freckles or not. This way, I figured, every character was different and none seemed the same.
If only things were that simple.
Original Image from 365 Images. Edited by Annika S. using PicMonkey.
After reading for years and years, I now realize character diversity isn't as easy as just drawing them differently. We all know they need separate personalities and fears and favorites and back stories, among other things. I wasn't just wrong on that front, though. My entire system for creating a character's appearance was so insufficient that I groan to think about it.
Character appearance does matter. True, not as much as a personality does, but it just so happens that when done right, a character's appearance clues readers in to the nature of the character in question.
So what things should we be looking at when decided how a character looks? I thought of six main factors to consider.

First of all, the character's ancestry, culture, home, and time period.
Ancestry is what I consider to be the cornerstone of character appearance. Someone who is French by descent won't have browned skin that never gets sunburned. Likewise, someone whose family tree is populated by Native Americans will not have skin so pale that it glows in the right sunshine and gets burned even in overcast weather like mine.
And you have to narrow down the gene pool even further. What coloration did the parents have? This may not matter if the parents are never even featured in the book and are never described. It will be assumed that they looked something like the character in question. But if you describe a mother with Asian features and a father who is European with black hair and dark eyes, it will raise a few eyebrows if your character is a natural platinum blond with pale green eyes. Of course, making the character adopted overcomes that issue, but it may be simpler for your plot and character development just to change the way the character looks.
Also, culture, home country, and time period. This will determine the character's piercings (and where), tattoos, clothing style. jewelry, hair style, makeup (if any), weapons, etc. This becomes a research task if you aren't writing a story set in the current time period or your home country. Or, if you're writing fantasy or sci-fi, "research" can be replaced by "imagination."
For instance, I was working on Nitri from Taken and was trying to work out his clothes. Taken is a fantasy but its society is very European Middle Ages, so I did a little digging on the ordinary culture surrounding clothes back then. I found a little factoid that coats with long tails were a symbol of rank and wealth. Nitri, being the vain charrie he is, obviously would have loved to be wearing some sort of status symbol. Hence, he now wears a coat with long tails (that he stole, but more on that later).

Occupation is the next one. Although this may not seem a very important thing to think about if your charrie will be leaving home soon anyway to go chasing after a dragon or some other evil, it's actually a very important factor in not only the character's appearance but also the skills he has and how he behaves.
Let's take a blacksmith for example. How do you think he'd look? Heavy leather apron, built-up arm and chest muscles, callouses on his hands, maybe a few burn scars, and smoke and coal dust all over his clothing and skin. If I came across a blacksmith that didn't have a black build-up under his nails and had all the muscle mass of a beetle I'd be pretty suspicious about his professed occupation.
Or take a businessman, if we're thinking in more modern times. He may not dress in a clean-cut suit and tie all the time, but he certainly would when he's just been to work. Maybe he's accustomed to wearing a Bluetooth on his ear, and carries a small stack of business cards in his suit pocket. He probably wants to appear clean and professional, so chances are he won't have any unruly facial hair (unless his reputation and position is already so high that no one can judge him for it anyway) and his hair will be freshly washed and combed. Unless he also engages in metal working or carpentry as a hobby, he probably doesn't have very calloused hands and his skin won't be too tanned since he's in an office all day long.

Next up is the character's circumstances. This includes things like wealth, reputation, and social support. Obviously a character who is bankrupt will dress very differently from a millionaire. However, the bankrupt charrie may have a circle of do-good friends and family that help support him and provide him with, say, a decent winter coat. That same character, if he's reputed to be a low-life, may not have that same social support and will therefore have to tough out the winter with just a holey sweater his late mother knit for him when he was still in college. This one is also linked to the occupation factor. A janitor will most likely not have hoards of money (unless he had a super-rich uncle who just died and left him all his belongings). Consequently, he'll dress in clothing he's owned for a few years and bought at sale price or at a thrift store (in which case it will be even older). The age of his clothing will determine if he dresses fashionably or not, and how faded/worn/stained the clothing is.
Take, again, Nitri, who is essentially a young man with no sense of responsibility and therefore lives in an abandoned inn in the worst sector of town, and keeps himself alive by stealing from whoever in vulnerable. Being a orphaned thief, he has no family or kindhearted friends to help him out, and given his frequent clashes with other thieves and criminals no stranger wants to improve his living conditions. These are his circumstances. Therefore, his clothing is pretty ragged - full of holes and tears from age and fights, threadbare, faded, and pretty darn filthy. I wouldn't go near his clothing with a ten-foot pole. His hair is greasy and knotted and dusted with dirt. He's got scars from old fights and is pretty skinny and short from undernourishment. However he also dresses practically for his "occupation" by keeping his loose coat belted around his waist so it doesn't interfere with his fighting style and keeping his hair cut at a reasonable length. Also, he's strong despite being skinny because of the constant use his muscles get and the increase of food he began getting once his skills as a thief improved.

Backstory is also important. Often other factors are woven in with this, such as the character's ancestry and occupation. There's more to it though. How was your character treated as a child? What was viewed as appropriate appearance by his parents? Did he grow up in a penny-pinching family? What kind of peer pressures was he under? What occupations has he moved through? Was he influenced as a child to grow up to be a free-loader?
Your character's reactions to all these things will help shape how he looks. Say he went through a bad relationship with his parents and wanted to rebel. Not only would that influence his character, it would come through in his appearance. Maybe he dyed his hair black or red, or got a Mohawk. Perhaps he decided to try out being a goth. Or maybe his parents were goths themselves, and in an attempt to be perceived as "normal" by his peers he started wearing button-up shirts and more formal outfits. Maybe he's a recovered drug addict and made some permanent choices while high. Maybe he got a weird tattoo or got a nose ring, which he regrets now that he's been through rehab and trying to piece together a self-sufficient life. Maybe the drugs made him prematurely bald. There are any number of things which could result from something in someone's past.

The next is personality and values. A modest character will dress very differently from a girl who is trying to get a boyfriend by any means possible. Also, I know women who keep their hair just a couple inches long because it is easier to take care of and less time consuming. Likewise, someone who is lazy will probably not put as much time into her appearance and will end up looking more disheveled and dirty, and someone who believes that appearance matters most of all will make every effort to dress fashionably.
Also, what are the character's religious beliefs? This is under the values part. Some religions make it mandatory for certain clothes to be worn, or simply have a piece of clothing instilled as tradition. The Jewish yamaka and the Muslim burka are two examples of this. Christians advocate modesty but not all Christians adhere to that belief, or interpret "modesty" differently. There's a lot of variation.
Tyv's (left) and Nitri's (right) appearances compared.
Drawings belong to Annika S. 
I can give an example on this, again from the cast of Taken. While Nitri doesn't make any effort to be clean but values prestige (therefore the long-tailed yet filthy coat he refuses to take off), his friend Tyv cares a little more about cleanliness and practicality and not as much about status symbols. They live in the same conditions and have the same "occupation," but dress very differently due to their values and personality. Tyv's clothes are faded and stained, but he patches up the holes and tears because he doesn't want his clothing drafty (Nitri does not do this because he thinks patches ruin the appearance of the clothes more than the holes do). He stole his clothing based on durability and practicality, while Nitri stole it mostly based on appearance. Tyv also makes an effort to wash his clothes every now and then, as well as his hair and skin. For this reason he doesn't smell quite so bad. Tyv doesn't care about status symbols so instead of using a years-old coat which stands out from the typical cloaks used in the town, he uses a simple, unnoticeable waist-length cloak made from durable wool. Simply because of his personality and values, he doesn't look quite as shabby as Nitri does.
(Nitri): I take offense to that!
Then wash every now and then.

The last is a pretty minor consideration, in my opinion, but it is a consideration nevertheless. Think about color associations and cliches when designing your character's appearance. A villain that hasn't yet said a word but dresses in a lab coat and goggles will instantly be taken to be a mad scientist, "mad" being the key word. Likewise, a guy dressed all in black is going to portray a negative (at best moody) impression to both readers and other characters. Either he'll be labeled instantly as a bad guy or an emo.
Colors are also associated with certain things, and this varies from culture to culture. Working from my cultural associations, red means love and war and anger. I associate green with nature or the military, depending on the shade. I also associate it with that leprechaun mascot for Lucky Charms, which is probably more of a personal association than a cultural one. When I see blue I think of the ocean, the sky, peace, or nobility. As a Christian I think of white as a representation of purity. If I see a woman in a movie dressed in a flowing white gown with accents of green, I'm going to think of a good, moral character who lives in the woods and helps along the heroes in their time of need. Add in a red sash and I may think that this woman has a bit of fighting skill. Or turn the dress from white to black and my perception will change to a witch. Change it again to blue, and I'll think noblewoman. Red and I think stunningly gorgeous love interest. And this is all based on the mere color of her dress, without even touching on her hair color, facial structure, or eyes! Get the point?
Bottom line for this factor is that we've come to associate certain looks with certain types of personalities. This can be a bad thing in your writing or a good thing - for instance it can be used to portray the nature of your character instantly to readers with just a quick description. On the other hand, it can come off as cliche. It's up to you to decide. I recommend watching some of those special features on your movies and TV seasons that focus on the costume design - really fascinating stuff.

Those are the factors I could think of that should influence a character's appearance, which matters because it provides the reader with an instant impression of who your character is.
Can you think of any more factors that should be taken into consideration when designing a character's appearance?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Book Review and How to Properly Write Christian Characters

So remember I was complaining about the lack of good characters in the Christian fiction I've read?Well, I've found a book that breaks the mold, and I'd like to try to convince you all to read it too.
I ordered The Follower by C. F. Barrows a few days ago and had it shipped to my house. It arrived yesterday and I began reading it that afternoon, because I've heard good things about it in a writing group I'm part of (the author happens to be a part of the same group) and I was procrastinating homework. I finished it last night and was raving about it to my family for a good half hour afterward, then went online and wrote a review and posted it to amazon and goodreads just so I could talk about it some more.
This is that review:
THANK YOU C. F. BARROWS FOR A GOOD CHRISTIAN FANTASY.I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I don't read a lot of Christian genre fiction, and have been largely disappointed by the ones I have read. This book was the complete opposite! I loved reading it and found the characters thoroughly engaging (my usual problem with Christian fiction is the characters). Right off the bat reading this, I could tell it may be a challenge to remember all the characters. There are quite a few and a lot of the names sound extremely similar - a list of the characters and who they were would have been very useful, along with a map labeled with the different nations. However it is so worth putting in the effort to remember the names! Barrows managed to capture two common struggles that exist in Christianity perfectly: the struggle of a believer to unconditionally trust God, and the turning away from God some believers experience when faced with a tragedy ("why would a loving God do this?"). I feel like this book was a perfect representation of those and I really enjoyed watching the characters overcome their indivdual struggles.Spiritual aspect aside this is still a fantastic book. All the characters had unique struggles along with unique ways of dealing with them, and I loved trying to piece together the different backstories. The plot was complex and well thought out, with a good mix of mystery, drama, action, and romance. I especially enjoyed the climax, which was so not what I had expected but was at the same time a perfect way to conclude the plot. If you haven't read this but enjoy fantasy, READ IT. I am now off to track down the second book. A salute to Barrows for a novel well written.
My main complaint about Christian fiction is the characters, as I have now probably said too many times. As I stated in the post about honoring God in writing fiction, they tend to be perfect Christians with no troubles trusting God or keeping faith. They exemplify all the good traits we want to develop as Christians and none of the flaws every human being has. If they do mess up, they are gently chastised by another perfect Christian character, take the message to heart, and immediately change their ways (thereby going back to being perfect). As a result they seem like cardboard cutouts with a knack for getting under readers' skin with their perfection.
I would like to point to Barrows's book as an example of how NOT to end up with that problem.
Her characters are REAL. At the start of the book we have a large cast of characters, only one of which is what translates into a Christian. Another used to be a Christian (Barrows calls them Yawveh-Followers) but fell away from faith when faced with a tragedy and doesn't understand why anyone would trust God. Yet another feels like God betrayed her, and yet another is the equivalent of Jewish. The rest don't seem to have much of an opinion on the matter but certainly aren't Christians. All of these characters have diverse backgrounds which caused unique struggles and fears and all that other good stuff.
The Christian wasn't bland, either. True, at first he seemed to have an extremely strong faith and even tries to evangelize several times to other characters. However, he has a hatred for one particular character, complains, and engages in other normal human behaviors. Towards the end of the book he even struggles with his faith. THESE ARE THE KINDS OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTERS I WANT. The kind that is relatable, real, flawed.
I felt like The Follower was a truly accurate representation of Christians and following God, not the glorified versions I've read before. And for that, I am so incredibly grateful, because I think that the world does really need good Christian books and good Christian authors who are willing to show that being a Christian isn't a cakewalk. It's hard just like anyone else's life; the only difference is that we have a God we can turn to and put our hope in. Not hope that one day life on earth will be perfect, but hope that He will bring us through life's struggles, make us stronger, and eventually take us to heaven to live in His presence.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." - Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)
So. Read The Follower if you like a fantasy with dragons and good characters and drama and fights and angst and a true representation of Christianity. If you do read it, or already have, comment below and let me know what you thought. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Building Blocks of Character: Antagonists Link-up

I thought this was too good to pass up, even though I know I have done a LOT of character stuff lately along with a LOT of link-ups and award-type things. I'm probably going to try posting twice a week now so that there's a little more variety going on. Can't make that a promise though. Along that line of thought, what kinds of things do you want to see on this blog? Anything else on Myers-Briggs, or maybe short stories or flash fiction inspired from Pinterest? Please tell me in the comments!
Now on with the actual post. This is a linkup centered around antagonists, started by Rachel Day of Stained Glass Windows and Adrianna Gabrielle of The Librarian Files. I've decided to use the questions for Taken's antagonist, Keir Durjaya.


  1. Take linkup theme pic and post on your blog.
  2. Show us one (or maybe two) pictures of your antagonist.
  3. Answer the questions.
  4. When you're done, link back to either one of our blogs.
The Questions:
1. Is the antagonist a person or a concept?
A man and the concept of war.

2. Now give us your villain's description. What do they look like? What do they wear? Scars, tattoos, birthmarks, etc.
Keir is over six feet tall with a thin, lanky build. He's exceedingly pale but has pure black hair - a perfect example of the coloring of his race. He has black eyes, is only ever seen wearing his general's uniform, and has two scars. One on his shoulder from a more recent wound, and another long one down his lower leg from a accident when he was fresh into the army.

3. Does your antagonist have a special trademark item? (ex. President Snow's white rose). 
Well not really. I guess his High General's badge could count since it would be recognized pretty widely around Kampen, but it's not his personally.

4. What is a theme song you have for your antagonist? Does it tell their story? Or is it just some epic song?
He doesn't have a theme song. There is a song I like to think of in relation to the story's climax, which obviously Keir plays a huge role in. It's called "Heroes May Cry" by Stefano Mocini. Come to think of it, that song is pretty villainous. . . :D Though Keir wasn't out to kill the protagonist specifically. They just had conflicting agendas.

5. Is there a tragedy that has stuck with your antagonist through their life? What is it?
Yes, as a matter of fact. Keir's wife, Alona, died some seventeen years before the beginning of Taken. Her death prompted Keir to decide that emotions were vulnerabilities to be eradicated, so he now tries not to feel anything and certainly not show anyone else anything he could be feeling. He's become quite good at it. 

6. What is it that is deceptive about your antagonist? What tricks people into believing that they are good?
The only thing deceptive about Keir is how he hides his emotions. It's practically a superhuman ability at this point, because even though he feels just as much as anyone else he literally does not show a thing. 
Also, just like anyone who is real Keir is not entirely bad nor entirely good. Hey, he's not even mostly bad! He actually has several extremely heroic traits, like loyalty, patriotism, honesty, bravery, etc. So he doesn't need to trick anyone into thinking he's good, because he mostly is. 

7. What is the main motivation for your antagonist's actions? Are their morals just mixed up? For the protection of someone? Revenge? etc.
The aforementioned patriotism, with a dash of revenge. The patriotism motivates him to score a victory for his country and punish the invaders for daring to launch such an unjust invasion in the first place. That's the revenge bit. As an explanation, this conflicts with Tyv (the protagonist) because Tyv wants to end the war without further bloodshed - and certainly not the death of his entire nation's army! (Such as it is . . .ehem. Details.)

8. Does your antagonist see himself as a hero or do they know that they are a villain/antagonist? Do they want to be "the bad guy"?
Keir is definitely a hero in his own mind, and a hero to his entire country along with it. I think the expression, "history is written by the winners" applies here. It depends which perspective you look at the conflict from. From Tyv's side, Keir is a villain. From Keir and the Kampene's side, Keir is the hero and Tyv is a meddling interference with some silly ideas in his head. 

9. Has your antagonist got a criminal record? Or had s/he broken any laws?
Actually I can see how he may have done some sort of prank back in military school which could probably count as criminality. Trying to trick a fellow student by forging an instructor's handwriting, perhaps. Some sort of deceptive prank.

10. Now last but not least (because we love to embarrass our characters), what is your character's deepest secret that (if found out) would embarrass them greatly?  
Keir has been through battles aplenty and participated in all that implies, but his chief fear is humiliation. Probably because his pride hasn't had much damage through his life - he's always been able to do anything and he's gained a very powerful position. Plus, he sings when he's a alone. He has a nice baritone and likes theater music. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Character Interview: Ace Harrod

Nearly two weeks ago I opened up Ace Harrod for questions, which he promised to answer in an interview. And now, I deliver to you the results of your relentless questioning. (Thanks for all the questions, by the way - there are a lot of good ones and this thing is way longer than I expected it to be.)
So now, here he is! *whispers* I apologize for his arrogance. He's knocked down a few pegs later on in the book, but don't tell him that.

Quotes belong to A. Smith, from Shadows & Light. Images found on Pinterest. 

Hey Ace, let's get started. Do you ignore your twin because of a personality clash? Or is there something deeper?
I don't think it's so much a personality clash as it is a Destiny clash. My life is going to go in one direction, in which I will be awesome, and hers is going in another direction . . . in which she will not be awesome. Heroes and villains can't really get along, can they? It's like a law of nature.

Do you hold the fact that you're the elder twin over Mara?
I haven't really thought about it before. I mean, I'm only older by a few minutes. But I feel older because I'm obviously a lot more mature than she is, and I'm dealing with more responsibility than she could probably handle. So yeah, I take pride in that. I don't really talk to her much, though, so I don't think I hold it over her. Why are we talking about Mara anyway? I thought this interview was about me?

Alright, alright. Different kind of question. Do you enjoy your popularity?
Well who wouldn't? Of course I do! I can hang out with whoever I want, date whoever I want . . . ehem, not that I'm not happy with Victoire of course. If you're reading this, baby, I love you!

Ugh. Do you think you'd have the same friends if your Destiny was different?
*shrugs* Probably. I know that a lot of my friends hang out with me because I'm awesome, and I'm awesome because of my Destiny of being a life-saver. Who wouldn't want to be friends with me? That said, my really good friends aren't just cronies. I don't know if they would have started hanging out with me if it wasn't for my Destiny, though. I would have just been another face in the crowd to them.

How did you meet your French girlfriend? What is she like?
Oh, Victoire . . .she and I were accepted as Mage League cadets at the same time and went to training together. We first started talking when we were partnered up for a unarmed combat class. I'm pretty sure I still have a bruise from where she kicked me . . . but yeah, Victoire is great. She knows what's what, you know what I mean? She's got convictions. And she's smart and witty and kind and beautiful and. . .and perfect.

You're such a romantic. How important is your family to you?
It depends which family member you're talking about. *laughs* Yeah, I'm close to Mom and to a few of my cousins, but I hardly ever see dad and Mara . . . well, she's Mara. But I make breakfast in bed for Mom sometimes, and I hang out with my cousins whenever they're around. And I like Dad. He's sort of quiet but he gives good advice, even if I don't ask for it. So yeah. Pretty important, I guess.

What kind of piano music do you play?
How did they know about that?! *looks at author accusingly* You told them? Why?
Just answer the question. We can argue later.
I'm not happy about this. But since you must know, I play classical. Beethoven is my favorite.

What's your favorite thing to do? 
Hang out with my friends, use magic, play piano (*glare*), draw, take Victoire out to dinner . . . that's a big one. Do I have to choose one?

Nope, I get it. You're a indecisive kind of person. Morally, are you a black and white guy or a shades of gray guy?
Pretty black and white, I guess. I mean, you either follow the law or you don't. If you don't, you're a criminal, and if you do, you're fine. It's pretty simple, isn't it?

And what's your view on mercy versus justice?
Mercy is good I guess, as long as by being merciful you aren't being stupid. Like, don't let a murderer go just to be merciful! He'll hurt other people. Most of the time I think justice is better. It exists for a reason, you know?

What is it you're being trained for?
Mage League, you mean? Well right now I'm an Apprentice, which means I've been approved to study to become a Mage. Mages are magicians that lead teams of non-magicals on missions to arrest Sorcerers. Or Sorceresses, I suppose.
Maybe you can explain the difference between Mages and Sorcerers?
Mages are government trained and approved magicians. We use magic legally to deal with illegal magicians, sorcerers or sorceresses, depending on the gender. Sorcerers are not cleared to learn and use magic by the government, and they're often criminals for other reasons too - magical assault and murder are often on their crime list. Essentially the Mage League is like an elite police force that deals exclusively with magical criminals.

Do you kill people, and are you trained to kill?
I have never had to kill anyone, no. Because I'm in the Mage League though I do know how to kill . . . but I really don't ever want to have that on my conscience. On missions, killing is always a last resort and it will only ever be ordered in order to save the lives of the good guys. I hope I never get into that kind of situation.

Yeah, let's hope. Does your girlfriend know what you do?
Of course, she's right behind me in training! I even help her with her homework, since I went through cadet training a little faster and got ahead.

What's your favorite weapon?
Magic. I'm training with a handgun too, but it doesn't have nearly the same range of effects that magic does. And it isn't nearly as cool.

Who is your role model? And it can't be yourself.
Aw, you're serious? No, I'm kidding. It's my Mage mentor, Paul. He's awesome. Never failed a mission and has the lowest casualty rate of any Mage team in the county. Plus he runs his team well. I also look up to the director of my local Mage League Outpost, Director Delaney. He knows how to get things done, and done right. (He also happens to be Victoire's dad, so I kinda have to like him. But that has nothing to do with it. At all.)

You'd better hope you stay in his good graces. What's your view on life? 
What does that even mean?
I don't know. Your motto, or life's purpose, or what is most important or something.
Who asked this question? I'd like clarification.
*shrugs* A philosopher? Question-askers' identities are classified, I'm afraid.
*sigh* Alright, well I guess my view on life's purpose is to do something meaningful with it. Save lives or make a scientific breakthrough or something. Don't waste the time you've got because there's that saying thingy . . .life is short. That answer the question?

I think so, but here's another philosophical question: What's your view on power?
Good in the hands of the good guys, bad in the hands of the bad guys.
That's sort of a no-brainer, isn't it? Maybe want to expand a bit? 
Well it should be given to people who will use it right.
May I say that you should be president? You're so profound.
Yeah. Very funny. I would try to come up with a comeback, but that's Victoire's thing and I don't want to be embarrassed any further. Can we move on?

Well I guess you're not going to come up with anything better, so sure. Here's one you'll like. What are your special abilities and talents?
I nearly broke the record for completing Cadet training to get into Apprentice training, so I'm a sort of prodigy when it comes to magic. My mentor says I'm going through my Apprenticeship at double-time, too! So yeah. There's that small thing. I get good grades, too, though that isn't as impressive.

And now on the opposite side of the spectrum, what are your strengths and weaknesses?
As I said I'm a talented magician. And I'm pretty good with people. Weaknesses? Ummm . . .
You've got to be able to think of something.
I stink at strategy games?
I think this means a serious weaknesses. Because I know what they are . . .whether you do is another question.
Well I only barely passed science and strategy. All those lost games of Risk didn't really fulfill the expectation of "practice makes perfect."

I guess that will have to do. I can't very well tell you (sorry people). Next one. Do you have a secret?
Well my piano playing was a secret. Now, obviously, it isn't, thanks to my author. *glares*
Any others?
No. I have this tendency of blurting things out that I've been thinking about too much. I reach my internal thought limit, you know? So anything I try to keep secret usually doesn't stay a secret for very long. My piano playing was the one thing I'd managed. Thanks for ruining that.

I'm not sorry. Anyway, that's the last of the submitted questions. However, I have a bonus question for you. *rubs hands together gleefully*
*nervous* Yeah?
Yeah. Here it is: what would you do with yourself if your Destiny changed?
But Destinies don't change. That's sort of the point.
Just say it did. What would you do?
I . . .I don't know. And it doesn't matter anyway, because Destinies don't change. No danger of that. *smirks* So is that it?

Yes, that's the end. I think your answer was sufficient for my purposes.
*gulps* I'll see you all later. I'm going to leave now before she thinks of something cruel.
I can do that whether you're around or not. But go ahead. I'm sure everyone got to know you pretty well.
Good. I'm sure it was the highlight of everyone's week! *grins* Bye!

He really meant that seriously, didn't he? I'm glad he's gone, I was reaching my Ace limit. His arrogance is so irritating. I like him so much better at the end of the book. *sigh* He's a good person, under the over-confidence and the bigotry. He's got a long way to go . . .
Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed that. I know Ace did. *rolls eyes* Anyone else have irritating characters?