Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why I Loved the New "Cinderella"

I'll admit: I loved the new Disney movie Cinderella.
Why? It certainly wasn't because I liked the first one. In fact, Cinderella has been one of my least favorite fairy tales up until now. Beauty and the Beast was probably my favorite, but this new movie has blown that out of the park. Why?
For starters, isn't every girl's dream to be loved and valued by a man? A good man who'd do anything for her? The prince chose to spend an entire party with Cinderella (a serving woman) instead of thousands of other beautiful women. Then he kept the shoe she left behind and spared no effort in using that shoe to find her again out of an entire kingdom full of people. Now tell me - don't you think Cinderella felt valued by him? Girls, wouldn't you love to feel that way? Well I know I would.
Of course, that is the basic story of Cinderella. Why did I like the newest version of it in particular so much? The answer isn't too surprising: it was the characters.
One of the primary complaints against some fairy tales is that the princess and prince are one-dimensional. No one likes one-dimensional characters. The new Cinderella managed to give both the prince (the only name I've got for him is Kit) and Cinderella herself actual characters. Cinderella was still the optimistic, dreamy, kind girl we know from the first Disney movie . . .
Please tell me I'm not the only one that was annoyed by her incessant cheeriness.
. . . but she was different in that she wasn't supernaturally cheerful. She didn't sing while she worked, she collapsed exhausted to go to sleep by the fire place after she was done working, she was hurt when the step mother and sisters left her out of something so basic as a meal.
In others words, she had more than one emotion. She didn't prance through her hard life singing to birds.
As for the prince, he had character because he existed outside of Cinderella's life. He was worried about his dying father, his father was pushing him to choose a princess for a bride, and he tried to keep the fact that he was a prince from Cinderella because he thought she'd treat him differently otherwise. He had a nickname. It made him more human, as opposed to a cutout picture of the perfect heroic prince we got in some of the older Disney fairy tale movies (Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, etc.).
Another thing to like about the new version is that, wonder of wonders, the prince didn't fall in love with Cinderella at the ball. They met beforehand, and yes - it was a little bit of instalove - but their relationship had a little bit more time to develop than it did in the original Disney movie. Their initial meeting is what motivated the prince to invite all the maidens in the kingdom to the ball, and motivated Cinderella to try to get there. It made the whole plot so much stronger.
A few other things that made the movie fantastic? Helena Bonham Carter as the hairy dogfather I mean fairy godmother . . .
. . .Cinderella's incredible ball gown . . .
I want to twirl around like that too.
. . . the animated mice . . .
 . . . and the fantastic job done on the costumes and the excellent acting from Cate Blanchett as the evil Lady Tremaine.
Just go see it. My dad even liked it, and if you're a girl and want to feel all gushy inside, this movie should just about do it. Take a fluffy blanket and a bar of chocolate to the movie theater. Fantasize that you're Cinderella. You'll love it. 

Have you seen the new Cinderella? What about the older ones? What do you like and dislike about each? Leave a comment!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Inspiration From the Battle of Gettysburg

You should know that I'm not a fan of reading nonfiction. I much prefer my fantasy worlds that keep reality away, thank you very much. But recently, I've had to research the Battle of Gettysburg for a school project, and that involves doing a little bit of nonfiction reading. For those of you who somehow haven't yet heard of Gettysburg (if you live outside of the U.S. it's excusable, but if you're in the U.S. and are out of grade school . . . you should be paying more attention in school), it was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. A lot of heroes were discovered that day. Real heroes, not fictional ones.
A memorial to Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, who died at Gettysburg
You see, I've been reading several short biographies of officers that fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. A few of them are Daniel E. Sickles, Joshua L. Chamberlain, James E. Longstreet, Henry Heth, John Buford, Robert E. Lee, and George G. Meade. I thought I'd find this part of the project boring - I'd rather research the battle tactics. But it turns out I was wrong. I've enjoyed reading these short little biographies very much. Why? Because I found that they are stories, with real, interesting characters and plots worthy of novels.
Take James Longstreet, for example. While reading his biography, his "coolness under fire" was mentioned several times. Everything painted a picture of a cool, cautious, unflustered man who wasn't scared to tell Robert E. Lee when he thought that the battle plan was a little ill-advised. His reputation suffered because he was outspoken, and yet I think he sounded wise. Through his life he had three children die in rapid succession, his first wife died after the Civil War, and his relationship with Robert E. Lee degenerated after Gettysburg. The South hated him for supporting the Republican party and Ulysses S. Grant's campaign for President, and then for accepting a political office under Grant. But, Longstreet went to West Point with Grant. They were friends. What kind of emotional roller coaster must it have been for this man to endure all that? Warring against his friends, watching his family die, losing the trust of his home? And through all that he was still noted for being able to inspire the men under him. Heroic? I think so.
Another character I discovered was Daniel E. Sickles. This guy is single-handedly responsible for some of the bloodiest fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg because he moved his men out of line against orders. Yet the guy still got a Medal of Honor because of how well he fought and encouraged his men, even after losing a leg in the fighting. Oh yeah, plus he donated his amputated leg to a museum with a card that said, "with the compliments of Maj. Gen. D.E.S." And what do you know? The museum still has it on display (ew). So the guy had issues with authority but was still a brave man and a good leader. I got the impression that he was a sort of rogue. Imagine trying to write that kind of character realistically!
Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles - I don't think he really LOOKS like a rogue . . .
My point here is that sometimes the best stories and characters are from real life. If you pay attention in history class, who knows? Maybe you'll find your next story inspiration, or that character you've been looking for. Nothing is better inspiration than real life.
And did you know that some Civil War soldiers reportedly found a pterodactyl? There's a photograph. Beat that for story inspiration.

Where have you gotten real-life inspiration from?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Cake Book Tag

Cait @ Paperfury said that if I liked cake, I could consider myself tagged. It just so happens that I do like cake, very much, because no one with a sweet tooth as large as mine would ever turn down a good-looking piece of baked genius. Combine cake and books and I can't imagine many things better. So I am quite pleased to be doing this tag.
No, seriously, I mean, come on, does this or does this not look fantastic?
Yes, it does, and if you think otherwise, well . . .I don't know what has come over you. I can't imagine what would cause someone such as yourself to not like the idea of eating that.
Ehem. Anyway. 

A book that was a little slow to start off with but really picked up as you went along.

I love Brandon Sanderson. He's probably my favorite fantasy author ever. But The Rithmatist, at least for me, felt like it had a sort of slow, unexciting start. It was hard for me to get involved in the first third or so of the book, even though Sanderson did hint at the coming escalating conflicts. I probably should have been hooked - probably would have been if I wasn't so busy doing things that stop me from reading. The later portion of the book though - yes. Just yes. It was exciting and fast-paced and intriguing and made me scratch my head in a good way. 

A book that had a rich, thick plot.

Haha, I don't even have to think about this one:
This was the most intense book I have ever read. I don't usually read high/epic fantasy and I'll admit that I had a hard time getting into this one just because the world was so detailed (right from the start) and one of the characters annoyed me at first. But as I got further in the character no longer annoyed me, I fell in love with another (Kaladin <3), I felt like the pages were pulsing with the life of the imaginary world, and the plot just got more intricate and complicated and multi-layered. and JUST READ IT. The one-thousand pages are SO. WORTH IT.
And yes, it was Brandon Sanderson. 

A book you thought was going to be bad but actually turned out to be quite enjoyable.

I first picked Nobody up nearly a year ago, probably. I read a couple chapters and was bored, so I put it back down. Then I went and read Barnes's The Naturals and decided to give Nobody another chance. I am very happy I did, because I loved every minute of it. I loved the idea that some people cannot really be noticed by others, and that some actually force others to notice them. It seemed like a exaggeration of wall-flowers and popular people. Plus, there was action, moral debate, a little bit of romance, missions to save kids, evil organizations with guns, and everything else good. Plus one of the main characters is named Nix. Is that not the coolest name ever? I assume it is a spin on "nox," a Latin word for night. I love Latin. It looks awesome.

A sweet, sugary book.

Errr . . . ummm . . . hold on, I know I can think of one . . .
This is probably as close to sweet and sugary that I read. And it isn't really all that sweet, even. It's just written in a much more lighthearted, ridiculous sort of tone than I usually go for (talking idiot English miniature dinosaurs and rutabagas and characters named after prisons included). Alcatraz is a fantastically sarcastic, straight-faced narrator and makes a few digs at authors (which I very much appreciated) and the whole book just made me laugh. So it made me feel sugary and sweet even if it sort of wasn't . . . if that makes any sense at all. 

A book that covered every element you enjoy about a book (funny moments, action moments, sad moments, etc.)

Catalyst: I love this book and its two predecessors. Tom is a great main character, even though he makes me cringe - repeatedly - with the stupid stunts he pulls. I sit there wincing wondering when mean old Blackburn is going to come and give Tom a real earful (and possibly more than that). Plus the tech is cool, and I love how Kincaid explores just what sorts of weaknesses and problems could come with computers implanted in a brain. The humor was amazing, the plot wrapped up exquisitely, and the sad moments were . . . well, incredibly sad. But I call that good writing, because not many books actually make me feel that way. And A+ for characters. I already mentioned Tom, but I also just love Vik and Wyatt and Yuri. They're all to die for. 
Mistborn: The Final Empire: I'm pretty sure I've talked about this one before. But I couldn't not mention it because it was phenomenal, along with its successors. Vin was deep, complex, troubled - everything that makes a good character. Kelsier was interesting, and I never knew what to expect from him. Breeze is hysterical. Spook was curious. Ham was a amateur philosopher and pro warrior who lived to puzzle Breeze. They were all brilliant and I love them all so much. But I also love how Sanderson (yes, another Sanderson book, just go read them all) manipulates the relationships of the characters so realistically. Especially between Vin and Elend. Nothing feels unrealistic. Also, the world was extraordinary, as I've come to expect from Sanderson.

A book series that you can turn back to for a little pick me up when you're feeling down.

The Ranger's Apprentice is one of my favorite series from before I was a teenager. I've read the first book about eight times, read all of them at least twice, and have reread portions more times than I can count. I can always count on them to make me laugh. Halt was my mentor is learning how to properly raise my eyebrow. I think my family wishes I hadn't learned that particular facial expression. :D

The Cherry on Top
Your favorite book(s) of the year.

Look at that clever cover art. DNA strands in her hair? Love it. I read Uninvited because it has a similar premise to my WIP Shadows and Light, so I was curious what it would be like. (Thankfully) it is totally different from what I'm working on. It was excellent, too! I loved it all. The book rolled along at a decent clip, the character relationships were always shifting, and every time the main character got comfortable with a change in her life another change came whacking into her and she had to adjust to survive. It was a great read. :)

There is my book-cake. Cait @ Paperfury, who I mentioned and linked to above, said if you like cake you can consider yourself tagged, so I'll just pass along that message. Go check out her post, because I think she likes cake more than I do and she had some interesting books listed.

What about you? Have you read any of these? Any that you now want to read? What flavor of cake is your favorite? Comment away, darlings.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Beautiful People #7 Linkup

I've never done one of these before, but Cait @ Paperfury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In host a linkup called Beautiful People which is a monthly list of questions designed to let you get to know your character and book better. I thought I'd give it a shot since other bloggers seem to be having fun doing it.

I've chosen to use Mara and Ace Harrod for this since I need to work on Ace's character, and, well, Mara is his twin so it would be unfair to leave her out. :)
They'll be answering the majority of the questions themselves. If I have a comment to add it will be in italics.

The Questions!

1. What is their secret desire?
Mara: Sometimes I wish I could just forget all about Destinies and what people will think of me and just yell. Yell at everyone who bullies me and stares at me and calls me a murderer even though I've done nothing. Of course, that is a no-can-do because heaven forbid I show any sign of losing control of myself.
Ace: I wish that I didn't have to be perfect all the time. Good grades, act respectful, be popular, do well in sports, be the model guy. It can get tiring, you know? But everyone expects all that from me - hey, I expect that from me at this point.

2. What is the best and brightest moment they experience during the story?
Mara: *smiles sheepishly* When me and Gabriel hung out after school at the park, and had dinner at the diner, then hung out more until it was dark. It was an escape from everything. (The fact that this was at the very beginning of the book doesn't mean anything. At all.)
Ace: When Victoire told me that she loved me. *goofy grin*

3. What are the emotional places your characters are afraid to go?
Mara: I don't want to get angry. Oh gosh, I so don't want to. Because I'm just so scared I'll lose it, and nothing will ever be the same, and everything will be ruined and I'll prove myself wrong. (Oh dear . . . what have I done to you.)
Ace: . . . I don't want to admit that in some weird way I love Mara (sister love, okay?! Anything else would just be wrong). Because we're opposites in our Destinies and I need to be a hero and heroes don't love their evil sister villains. But sometimes . . . yeah, I do love her somehow. Don't tell anyone. Especially her. (Aw, I knew you weren't so bad after all.)

4. Is there a place/city/room where they will never go? Why?
Mara; *blows air slowly* I don't think I'd ever have the nerve to set foot in the Mage League Outpost in town. *shivers* They'd probably lock me up just for setting my toe over the threshold.
Ace: Nah. I'm not scared of anywhere! Why should I be?

5. If they were permanently leaving town, what would they easily throw out? What would they refuse to part with? Why?
Mara: I know I would never get rid of the photo album Gabriel gave me. And I'd probably take my art supplies with me, because that helps me calm down sometimes. But I don't think I'd care if I left the majority of my fashion-y clothes behind. Never cared much for looking popular anyway. (A girl after my own heart. T-shirts and sweatpants all the way.)
Ace: I'd take my keyboard, iPod, sheet music, and headphones, because, ya' know, music. And my leather jacket, because it's cool. And the watch Dad gave me, because that's meaningful, and my folio of drawings from when I'm bored because some of them are actually good, and the picture frames with me and Victoire, and me and the family, and I'd also bring the super-man blanket I've had since I was twelve . . . I think I'd just need a moving truck, because I want to keep it all. No, wait, I would throw out that awful cardigan Grandma knit for me last birthday. That thing is hideous.

6. What do they want (consciously and tangibly)?
Mara: I want people to stop judging. And I want to make a good life for myself - lots of money from a good job, be looked up to. *snort* Like everyone is going to let me actually do that well.
Ace: I want to fulfill my Destiny and save someone's life! I want to be a hero, and I want to marry Victoire one day and have a family.
(Didn't realize that their dreams were so similar . . .)

7. On the other hand: What do they need (on the emotional, subconscious level)?
Aaaaand I'll take this one, thank you, since they're self-ignorant and have no real idea. Mara really needs acceptance, but even more than that she needs to take the acceptance she already has. She's blind to it and focuses on who doesn't care for her instead of those who do.
Ace needs assuring that he'd still be unique and special without his Destiny. His entire self-esteem is based on it, which is shaky ground. He's not as confident as he seems.

8. If they could change one thing about themselves, what would it be?
Mara: My Destiny, obviously. Gosh, all my problems would be solved.
Ace: I'd make myself not care about everyone else's opinions so much. (Told ya'.)

9. What is the most humiliating event of their life?
Mara: The morning after my mother explained to me what my Destiny was and what it meant, and I still had to show up at school even though all their parents had already told them about me months or years ago. I finally realized why they all hated me. I broke down crying after just two periods.
Ace: Errr . . . when I fell flat on my face in gym class a couple years ago and everyone laughed at me. Then I started blushing and they laughed harder. Then fifteen minutes later I jarred my foot against the ground trying kick the ball and started hopping on one foot. And fell over again. Cue more laughter. It was awful.
(Ah, the differences in their life outlooks . . .)

10. What things do they turn to when they need a bit of hope?
Mara: Sometimes I draw while trying to drown out the world with music. That never really works though so I usually just go to Gabriel and hope a couple hours talking to him will cheer me up. Or I grab the picture album he gave me and hug my yellow fleecy blanket.
Ace: My keyboard. Lock my door, put my headphones in, and play my favorite songs. I get lost in playing, and when I'm done I always feel better.

Have you done any of the Beautiful People linkups? Leave me a link in the comments. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Pantsing

Note: I'm sorry for the frequently changing backdrops for the blog. I'm still figuring things out, okay?

As some of you may already know, "pantsing" is when a writer writes without much of (or any of) a plan. A sort of initial idea, and the start writing the first draft pronto. Usually without any sort of outline, sometimes with no idea what the ending of the story will even be. It's a "fly by the seat of your pants" approach. From my interactions online it seems like a lot of writers are pantsers, so I feel a bit like a oddball in the sense that I am a "plotter" - I think of a story idea, think out the entire plot, write a outline, and THEN start on my first draft.
For the last couple weeks I've been operating on a different procedure, though. I've been pantsing, largely because I've been writing in a project that I don't really have a vision for and haven't been taking seriously. But now that I've had some experience, I would like to tell you my observations on this way of writing.

First, the cons.
It is easy to lose interest in the story. This could just be me, but without a real idea of where it is going I find it easy to lose interest in the story I'm writing. I like to be working towards something - a goal, a climax. Without a clear idea of where I'm going I just sort of write what I feel like when I feel like it and am totally disinterested the rest of the time.
Sometimes it gets a bit like that.
Sometimes you don't know what to write. In other words, you're more prone to writer's block. Say that you DO have some sort of end goal - an idea for the climax. But, without a outline (even a mental one) you're not sure how you're going to get there. As a result when you sit down to write, you're stuck staring at the screen trying to figure out what to write in order to advance the plot. This can be time-consuming and depressing.
As I said - depressing.

And now the pros.
You don't feel obligated to stick to an outline. Although you can change an outline and deviate from it, I, at least, have a tendency to stick to it pretty closely because it is easier to keep moving with my story that way. Without an outline you feel like you're sort of free-floating. You can go in any direction. Total freedom. Some people, I know, REALLY like this, but it may not be something you're after.
Or translate as: "Dobby has no outline. Dobby is a free writer."
The story feels like it develops more naturally. Because you don't spend hours upon hours brainstorming for an outline beforehand, you watch the story unfold as you write it. I actually DID enjoy this part of pantsing. You get to discover it a piece at a time. It feels less rigid and less contrived. However, at least with myself I have noticed that I have a tendency to write scenes I find interesting and only those scenes. This can result in a LOT of cleanup come revision time. Still, it can be nice to just explore.

This was a bit of a traipse into unknown territory for me. But I'm glad I did it. I don't think I'm going to be pantsing my serious projects but it was nice to explore my opposite side of the coin. 

And I have one announcement. Aimee Meester of To the Barricade! and I are working together on a series of collaborative blog posts about the ways people act because of their separate Myers-Briggs traits. So how Is behave vs. Es, how Ns behave versus Ss, etc. We need people to interview for each trait, but we need people with strong preferences (preferably 50% or more). If you'd be interested in helping out, leave a comment with your percentage strengths for each trait. 

What about you? Are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you like/dislike about each method? 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Humor Me: Putting Laughter in Writing

Okay, so that is a really bad pun. I couldn't think of a more interesting title for this overdue post, however, and I'm sort of rushing to write this and post it. So please, forgive my punniness.
I thought that I'd talk a little bit about writing humor today. Not comedy - I haven't the faintest idea how to do that - but just little specks of humor throughout a story to lighten up the mood. I've noticed three ways authors get me laughing: through the narration/writing stylethrough character dialogue, and through character motive and action.

A few books that fit into the first category are Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and the Percy Jackson series. They're both written (mostly - I think Alcatraz had a little second person in there too) from a first person point of view, which makes the main character the narrator. This offers plenty of opportunities for the MC's sense of humor to leak into odd places in the book. And that is the key - it is the narrator who is being funny, not the author. These books have a very light feel to them, despite the monster-battles and super-powers. Look at the following quotes from those books:
"People can do great things. However, there are some things they just CAN'T do. I, for instance, have not been able to transform myself into a Popsicle, despite years of effort." - from Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
 "Hades raised an eyebrow. When he sat forward in his throne, shadowy faces appeared in the folds of his black robes, faces of torment, as if the garment was stitched of trapped souls from the Fields of Punishment, trying to get out. The ADHD part of me wondered, off-task, whether the rest of his clothes were made the same way. What horrible things would you have to do in your life to get woven into Hades' underwear?" - from The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Essentially these are funny because the narrators are funny. Percy is ADHD (which leads to him making strange, out-of-place observations), and Alcatraz has a sort of dry humor. And because they are narrating, their humor colors the entirety of their books.
Also, another observation on the above quotes - notice how both begin with a sense of seriousness? With the first, you're expecting some profound philosophical statement about how people can do anything if they put their minds to it. Then you get Alcatraz saying he's tried turning himself into a Popsicle. In the second we get the increasing sense that Hades is a bad dude. We're dealing with trapped souls and the god of the underworld. Then Percy starts reflecting on the guy's underwear. Both of these are total changes of mood. Serious to funny. The sudden change catches readers off guard and, with any luck, makes them laugh.

Next up is humor through character dialogue. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but I've come to a perhaps not-so-startling conclusion in relation to it. There's no sense in trying to be funny. You can't force it, so if it doesn't "just happen" then don't bother. You know why? Because, like with the narration point above, it shouldn't be you who is funny. It should be the characters. If you want some light, happy, laughter-provoking moments then make certain that your characters have senses of humor! Whether it is sarcasm, pranks, ridiculousness - it doesn't matter.
Quite a few books have this style of humor. It's easy to fit into any point of view (remember, the writing style/narration one only really works when you've got a narrator and are therefore using first or second person). A few books stand out to me, though, so here are another couple quotes that I dug up on Goodreads:
"'Harry!' said Fred, elbowing Percy out of the way and bowing deeply. 'Simply splendid to see you old boy-'
'Marvelous,' said George, pushing Fred aside and seizing Harry's hand in turn. 'Absolutely spiffing.'
Percy scowled.
'That's enough, now,' said Mrs. Weasley.
'Mum!' said Fred as though he'd only just spotted her and seizing her hand too. 'How really corking to see you-'" - from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
"'You see the dilemma?' Ham asked.
'I see an idiot,' Breeze mumbled." - from Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
"'So long as you don't bleed in the shape of wing joints, you should pass for human. Oh, and don't let anyone pick you up. They'll know you're not right as soon they feel how light you are.'
'I'll be sure not to let anyone but you carry me in her arms.' - from Angelfall by Susan Ee 
 "'Any sign of them yet?' he asked.
Will looked at him. 'Yes,' he said. 'A party of fifty Scotti came through just twenty minutes ago.'
'Really?' Horace looked startled. He wasn't fully awake yet.
Will rolled his eyes to heaven. 'Oh my word yes,' he said. 'They were riding on oxen and playing bagpipes and drums. Of course not,' he went on. 'If they had come past, I would have woken you - if only to stop your snoring'
'I don't snore,' Horace said, with dignity.
Will raised his eyebrows. 'Is that so?' he said. 'Then in that case, you'd better chase out that colony of walruses who are in the tent with you...of course you snore.'" - from The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan
A limitation to using this kind of humor is that your characters have to be in the right mood to joke, and they have to have time to talk. You can't use this when your character is alone, or grumpy, or breathlessly sprinting for his life. It wouldn't make sense and it would feel forced.

And then of course there is simple character action. This is very similar to the dialogue in that it is driven by individual characters who aren't narrating. It is unlike it, though, in that the humor doesn't come from anything spoken but more from what the character's motives are for what they're doing. Take the following quote.
"Halt regarded him. He loved Horace like a younger brother. Even like a second son, after Will. He admired his skill with a sword and his courage in battle. But sometimes, just sometimes, he felt an overwhelming desire to ram the young warrior's head against a convenient tree.
'You have no sense of drama or symbolism, do you?' he asked.
'Huh?' replied Horace, not quite understanding. Halt looked around for a convenient tree. Luckily for Horace, there were none in sight." - from Halt's Peril by John Flanagan 
That was the only example I could find for this one. But notice that the humor comes from Halt's simple desire to bash Horace's head on a tree, not from him saying that he'd like to bash Horace's head on a tree. The word "convenient" just makes it better. :D

What are your observations on writing humor? Have you had any success writing it yourself? Share a quote! 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Character Interview: Keir Durjaya

So two weeks ago I invited you all to ask Keir Durjaya, the antagonist of Taken, any question you could think of. And, after a few shares of the post and repeated exhortations to please ask something, you guys actually compiled a pretty decent list of questions! So thanks to everyone who participated. And to everyone who reads but leaves no trace of their readage. It's all great.

Keir Durjaya Collage (made on PicMonkey)

Any-way. Keir is here and ready to roll, so let the interrogation commence! Hello Mr. General. How do you do?
My name is not "general." However, I am no different than usual.
How goes the war? 
It is progressing. I believe you have a list of prepared questions to ask me? I did not come here for idle chatter.

Fine. I get it, you have an army to annihilate, so here's the first: how did you meet your late wife?
I was on duty at a Jageran border post. Myself and the other officers from my base were invited to the local lord's manor house for dinner one night - the lord in question was Alona's father. I was invited back after Alona engaged me in conversation - I suppose she found me intriguing. We grew close while I was stationed there and eventually married before I was transferred to another base.

Continuing along the family line, this is the next one: because you have locked your son out of your life, do the two of you fight a lot?
We have occasional disagreements about my orders in the army. Jyran is overly idealistic and finds it difficult to accept the realities of war. Apart from that, he and I are both kept busy with our respective commands and rarely speak outside of a professional context.

What would you do if your son turned against you, since you're not close?
I have trained him to be loyal to Kampen, as I am. The only way he could turn against me would be to commit treason, and that is not in his blood. Hypothetically, if he were to commit such a foolish act, I would be duty-bound to find him and deliver him to the queen's court for judgement.

Could you please go give your son a hug? Now?
I do not believe that you requested his presence for this interview.
I can always bring him in.
He is commanding the army in my absence. If you wish to summon him here I will have to go, as I do not trust my other officers to command in his stead.

Your logic is disheartening. Did you always want to be a general? Was there ever a time you wanted to be something different?
When I was a child I wanted to be a surgeon. It was, however, a mere phase. When I realized that I would not be able to afford such education, I decided to enter the military academy.
That is a radically different career change.
Some might think so. However, both soldiers and surgeons make use of blades and both involve death.
But soldiers kill and surgeons save.
That depends on perspective. It could be argued that in my current position as High General I too save lives - but only Kampene ones.

I see your point. Do you have any siblings?
Biologically I am an only child; however, my parents took in my cousin just before I left for military school. Her parents had died, so, for my last few years at home, we were treated as siblings. We were never close, as she was a socialite and I preferred to keep my own company. She resented me for never attending her frivolous parties.

Somehow I don't think you would have fit in anyhow. Who's your best friend?
She is deceased.
Alona? You don't have anyone still alive?
I have acquaintances from banquets I have been required to attend, and business contacts in the capital city, palace, and military school. Of course, I also speak to many of the higher-ranking officers in the army frequently. But I do not have friends.

Ooooookay. Are your parents part of your life?
They moved in to my manor several years ago; therefore I see them regularly when I am not at war.

So that's why you really hate the Eroberens. They stole you away from your cozy manor. What is the hardest decision you've ever made? 
When I was still a lieutenant I was given orders to lead my men into a fight which we were certain to lose. I could have ignored the order, but my mens' sacrifice was vital to the success of my commanding officer's strategy. Therefore I led them to their deaths.

...that's...grim. On a lighter note, what is your favorite fruit? 
I believe that it would be starfruit.
Isn't that Jageran?
I dislike the Jagerans. The fact that starfruit grows in the country tainted by the Jagerans' presence is not the fruit's fault.
I know that you were completely serious about that but that was honestly very funny. I didn't know you sympathized with fruit!
*blank, unchanging stare*

*clears throat* Do you do anything for fun/to relax?
I play the flute and, when at home with my library, study topics of interest to me.
Which include . . .?
The history of war, foreign cultures, and military tactics both failed and successful.

How typical of you. What is your biggest regret in life?
I regret attending the officers' dinner the night that Alona went into labor and died. I may not have been able to save her, but I could have spent more time with her before she passed.

Alright, well thank you Keir. Even if you're not the most effusive character I've created, you're honest. 
A trait more people should endeavor to cultivate.
Indeed. You may now return to your army of tens of thousands. 
Then I will take my leave. Good day. *walks away, slowly fading, until he is gone*

So that was Mr. Robot. He isn't as much fun as Nitri or Ace, but with any luck the interview was at least informative. Do you guys have any more questions? I won't be able to get Keir back but I could try my best to answer them myself.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Make Them Run! Fears and Phobias for Characters

I'm sure you could make a small (or large) list of things you're scared of. Whether it is a small fear, like being scared of bees, or a large fear, like dying, you're going to have at least one fear unless you've got a abnormal brain (topic for another time). So clearly our characters should also have fears if we want them to feel real.
However, not any old fear will do. You must be cunning with this and choose the best (or, for them, worst) fears for your characters to hold. The most debilitating, inconvenient, crippling fear you can think of. In this way you shall make life as hard as possible for your dear charrie, and we all know that characters with hard lives are the ones that make good stories.
Good fears to choose are ones that enhance tension in the book. Choose ones that directly interact with the setting and conflicts in your story to enhance character reactions. Are you writing a story about a boy trapped at sea? Give him a fear of drowning or of fish. If he's scared of fish then he's going to have to overcome that fear at least in part to stay alive. What about a girl falling in love with a guy for the first time? Hmm, I wonder what conflicts would arise if he tried to kiss her and found out she had a phobia of germs. And if she didn't explain at first? Boom. Major conflict because of a misunderstanding. 
If possible, make the character's backstory tie into the fear. Some fears aren't really rooted in anything we remember but others began from something in our pasts. Look at the backstory you've already got to find potential fears. If you feel like a certain fear would make the plot better, then work a reason for the character to have it into the backstory. That way it feels less like an add-on and more like a developed part of the character's personality. A real life example is my fear of yellow-jackets, bees, and wasps. Seriously, I'll start shrieking if one gets too close (I have gotten better over the years). I couldn't figure out why I was so scared of them, but then I remembered a small incident back when I was really young (like four or five). I had been having a picnic with my mum at a park and she was stung when swatting at a yellow-jacket. We had to pack up our picnic and go to the park's administrative building, looking for a first aid kit. My child brain got extremely worried for my mother - was she going to die? What had happened? What did she need to make it better? Would the park people have it? Although my mum was just fine in the end I still developed a big fear of getting stung that has been with me for over a decade now. Getting stung a couple times myself and understanding that it isn't anything to get really worried over has helped diminish the fear, but it is still there. 
In addition to the big, plot-changing fears, give your characters a sprinkling each of small fears as well. For instance, a character could be a bit scared of dogs. Just enough to make her keep her distance when visiting her best friend's house, but not enough to send her screaming unless the dog leaps at her. Smaller fears can grow if needed, as well, which can be useful. They also make the character feel more human. 
Browse the following list of fears for a few ideas or brainstorm a few fears of your own. Then choose a scene and rewrite it, giving a character a fear that ties into that scene. Does it come out more tense?
Found at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/559009372468708955/
Now look over your whole story. What things would naturally cause fears in the backstory you've developed? Which scenes could use some more tension? What could cause the most problems for your character? Tie these together using fears.
You also, as mentioned somewhere above, have the option of kicking it up a notch more by turning the fear into a full-blown phobia. Did you know that there have been as many as 500 phobias categorized by psychologists? There are some pretty strange ones, too. Like pentheraphobia, the fear of your mother-in-law, heliphobia, the fear of sunlight, or genuphobia, the fear of knees. Or how about this one? Phobophobia, the fear of having a phobia! If you want to hear a few more ideas, check out this list of one hundred weird phobias.

What fears or phobias have you given your characters? Have you been able to make them play into the plot? Is there a scene that could use a little more fear? Tell me in the comments!

Also, if you're not too busy, PLEASE pop over to this post and leave a question or two for Keir. His interview will be the next post and I'm still in dire need of questions! Be a kind soul!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's in a Name? 10 Things to Consider When Naming Your Characters

I'm sorry Mr. Shakespeare, but, while the nature of the rose would of course be the same, calling it a dandelion would make people think of something very different from a rose.
Some people think names don't matter. Shakespeare, apparently, was one of those (at least when it was a rose being questioned). However, I am here to tell you that they do matter.
Many people name their characters in many different ways, from stealing the name of a friend to mixing up the first five letters they think of. Some people use name generators. Others have a book of baby names in their house. And that's all fantastic, but choosing a random name out of a hat isn't the way to go (usually). If you got introduced to a teenage girl nowadays, I'm pretty sure you'd do a double-take if she said her name was Matilda. Why? The name doesn't fit the year of 2015. That's just one way names do matter. Other things to consider include culture, the meaning of the name, and personality.
Obviously, your parents didn't choose your name based on your personality. They had no idea what you'd be like once you'd grown up. So maybe you ended up with a name you feel "fits" or maybe you didn't. The nice thing is that with fiction we do know our characters' personalities. And because of that we can choose names that "fit" just right.
Below are ten points I try to consider whenever naming a character.

1. Genre.
Obviously a character in a contemporary fiction will not have the same name as an alien in a sci-fi or high fantasy. Honestly I really hate it when a character in a fantasy has a very simple, normal, this-world name. If he started off in this world, fine. If not - if our world has no possible connection whatsoever to your fantasy land and the character's ancestors aren't long lost settlers from planet earth whose names weren't at all influenced by the native culture - then what on earth is a earthly name doing in your world?! Jack was born and raised on the planet of Fedora in the Sombrero galaxy? (Which, although it is real, is far beyond our reach in space - heck, even in Star Wars they didn't have enough power to make it out of their own galaxy.) Really? Please tell me what is wrong with that picture. Please. Besides the fact that astronomers decided to name a galaxy after a hat, of course.

2. World.
This is just a more specific version of the above point. Try to tailor your name styles to the world you've built. Do you have a very high-tech world? Make your names futuristic in sound. Medieval style world? Go for some older names, or make a few up that sound complicated and archaic. The sound of the names should fit with the world you've built. It is hard to give specific advice for this - you have to rely on your own judgement.

3. Culture.
Again, we're zooming in even farther. On earth people from different nations have plenty of different name styles. I know my parents identify the heritage of a family based off of the family's surname, sometimes. Mohammed is clearly a Middle-Easten sounding name, while Louis is clearly French. Go scan a baby name site with names from around the world sometime. You'll quickly notice the ones that aren't from your native language, I assure you.

4. Time period. 
This is especially important in books set on planet earth. I read a series called Dragons in Our Midst by Bryan Davis. The main character's name was Billy, but I could seriously never remember that. I was constantly thinking of him as Bryan. Why? Besides the fact that it was the author's name and I have a friend named Bryan, I think it is because Bryan is a more modern name. It fits in a modern world, while Billy sounds more 20th century. Bryan, in my mind, also seems to fit better with the picture of a young guy who can breath fire, has a dragon for a dad, and fights evil knights. Billy sounds more like a young kid in the Great Depression or a soldier in one of the world wars. I probably would have been able to remember the main character's name better if it had fit the time period he had been set in. Billy didn't fit the time frame, so I couldn't remember it. Pretty significant if no one remembers your main character's name, don't you think? Don't confuse the readers, please, and choose a name that comes from the right section of the timeline.

5. Other characters' names. 
Why on earth should you consider other characters' names when choosing one for the problem-charrie? I'll tell you. If you have a male MC with two best friends named Nolan and Nick, you're hardly going to want to name him Nathan. And don't just think about the letters the names begin with! Think about if they rhyme, if they use the same blends, if they're all the same number of syllables, etc. Don't. Make. Them sound. The same. Otherwise readers quickly lose track of who is who. Fantasy authors, it seems, run into the problem pretty often when they make up their names. Adarin. Renarin. Pilannen, Taputten. Whatever. They sound the same and I'd give myself a headache trying to remember a host of characters with names all three syllables long ending in "n." I bet you would, too.

6. Character personality.
This is where the sound of the name is what you should be focusing on. A character who is tough, silent, and a good fighter shouldn't have a name with loads of soft sounds in it like Gabriel or Johnathan. Likewise a caring, gentle character who serves as a doctor shouldn't be named Adarok or Zak.  Make the tough fighter Adarok and the doctor Gabriel and suddenly things click a bit better, don't you think?

7. Name associations.
Who would you associate the name "Newton" with? "Natasha"? How about the name "Juniper"? "Rose"? "Bud"? If you have the same basic associations as me, you'll think of Sir Isaac Newton, Natasha Romanov, a juniper plant, a rose bush, and the logo of Bud Light beer. How about "George"? Maybe George Washington, or a pompous king of England. Point is certain names have associations tied to them by now. If you're going with a name that is real, think about what famous people have that name and who they were/are. A character with the name George I half expect to be sort of stuffy, pompous, and English. Newton makes me think scientist. Rose makes me think of a delicate girl or, if I'm in the mood, a tough girl sort of like the Doctor's companion. A name can cast a shadow of someone else on a character. Consider if the shadow enhances or obscures who the character truly is before you decide on that name.

8. Name's literal meaning. 
Honestly I love this part. I try to hide little Easter eggs in my character names, even if I'm the only one who will ever notice them. I like to choose a name that describes my character. I compile the meaning from just one portion of the name, or two names, or three. It's like trying to fit together a puzzle and it is absolutely the most fun I ever have in character creation.
Here are a few examples of the meaning of my names (see if you can guess the actual names).
  1. Thief.
  2. Hard-to-conquer darkness.
  3. Bitter, dark herald.
  4. Noble hero.
  5. A curse looking for peace.
  6. Victory.
  7. Young angel.
I got the meanings either by translating the meaning I wanted into another language or my searching for names online with a specific meaning and scrolling through lists of names until I found one that sounded right.
You want to know whose names those were? I'll tell you, just because I'm proud of them. Here:
  1. Tyv.
  2. Keir Durjaya.
  3. Mara Ebony Harrod.
  4. Ace Harrod.
  5. Nitri (This isn't exactly right but I can't explain without giving spoilers).
  6. Victoire. 
  7. Gabriel Young. 
Pretty cool, huh?

9. Name's flow. 
Words have rhythm, as any poet or songwriter, I'm sure, could tell you. When compiling a two part or three part name, I always try to give each portion of the full name a different number of syllables to avoid a staccato beat. Take Julian Ace Harrod. Three, one, two. Sometimes I make a pattern: Mara Ebony Harrod. Two, three, two. Whatever I do I just strive not to stick names with the same number of syllables next to each other. For instance I'd never make a character's name Nick John White. Horrors! It rolls together too easily. One one one. Bleagh. However, that name isn't nearly as bad as it could get. Remember the points I made about considering other characters' names? Most of those apply here too. Don't name a character Nick Nathan Nolan. Or Rick Maverick. Please. Please. I'm begging you.

10. Name's length.
This is the most un-creative part of the naming process. This is where practicality comes in. John Flanagan gave out some advice (I can't find the precise quote; sorry) about naming characters. Don't choose long names. Over five characters (erm, as in letters and numbers, not the fake people) and things gets annoying. If at all possible keep your character names five letters long or less. Otherwise you start wanting to just copy and paste in the name every time you have to type it. Six, sure maybe. But believe me, once you get to seven you will regret choosing that name for the rest of the writing process. I once has a charrie named Tristan (seven letters, not too bad, right?) and I messed up his name so much and it was breaking up the flow of my typing and ERGH. If you want to go ahead and name your character Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar then proceed at your own risk.

So, there are a few ideas. If you want to figure out how to think up a name, I recommend taking a trip over to this baby name website, typing in a meaning (nothing too complex; try for single adjectives and nouns like "war," "dark," "light," "noble," etc.) and selecting a gender, and then scrolling through the lists of names that will appear. You'll get origins from English to American Indian to German to Inuit to Russian to Swahili. You won't be lacking for choice. If that fails, try translating a word into different languages, swapping letters in and out of a existing name, or mashing together a few cool-sounding syllables (not as sophisticated but at times it works - where do you think I came up with all those strange names for examples during this post?).
You've made it down here to the end. Kudos. This was long. If you're not too fed up with me yet, leave a question for Keir at the post I made last week. His interview will be posted next Tuesday and I don't have nearly enough questions yet!

How do you name characters? Do you agree/disagree with any of my points?