Archive for January, 2012

Beloved Characters

Think about it. Throughout the years, there’s been characters that you have adored, whether you’ve identified with them or just thought they were wonderfully bizarre.

I can name a handful off the top of my head.

As a writer, it’s easy to slip into the trap of trying to create beloved characters of your own. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do so, but it’s unfortunately rather simple to attempt to do so in the absolute worse way possible.

It’s one of the ways Mary Sues are created. Surely by making your character the most special flower in the field, people will love them, right?

We all know the answer to that.

The characters we identify with are human. They have hopes and dreams and flaws and hates, and some things they are good at, and some things they are actually rotten at, and that’s okay, because that’s how people work. The more depth you give a character, the more readers will see them as real.

There’s no guarantee that doing so will make your character “beloved,” certainly. The same things don’t appeal to everybody. Sometimes you don’t want a character to be adored, but you do, above all else, want to keep the readers’ attention and keep them engaged. You want them to care about your character, even if they’re just along for the ride in the hopes that your character may one day get a well-deserved fist to the face.

Which characters have caught your fancy over the years, Squiders? Why do you think they appeal to you?

 

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Disconnect between Fantasy Books and Gaming?

To go along with Wednesday’s post, there seems to be a bit of disconnect between modern fantasy novels and stories and modern games.

As we speak, I happen to be gathered around the dining room table playing a session of D&D. Nerdy, I know, but I have a spirit panther and he’s nigh invincible and the DM hates him a lot. But compared to modern fantasy novels, it seems interesting that something like D&D continues to be much the same as it has been for the last twenty years, at least in terms of content.

And then I got to thinking – video games are the same. While fantasy fiction seems to be trending towards real-world, small cast, gritty realism, games continue with the wide secondary worlds, epic quests, elves and dwarves and all that jazz. Legend of Zelda. Skyrim. World of Warcraft.

Is it that there’s different audiences between readers and gamers? Is fantasy fantasy fantasy?

Is it a progression? For example, I read a lot of older epic fantasy when I was younger, and I don’t read it as much anymore. Perhaps gamers tend to do the same thing, and games give them a different medium to experience the same things that fascinated them as a child. Perhaps it’s the visual aspect, or the interactive element.

Any insights, Squiders? What, if any, mediums do you prefer to get your epic fantasy in?

 

Generational Fantasy

A friend recently loaned me a fantasy trilogy. (I am on the second book.) I started reading and was struck by how…80s…it read. I mean, this trilogy is from the 80s, but even if I hadn’t checked the publication date before I started, I would have been able to tell from the prose alone.

(It’s not weird that I look at publication date, is it? I mean, I use it for statistics when I do my year-end reading wrap-up. I admit I am a giant nerd. I have two engineering degrees.)

I got a few pages in and said, “Wow, this would never be published in today’s market.” I’d never really thought about it, but fiction goes through changes with each successive generation. Subgenres rise and fall, tropes are adopted or dropped. Some are more stable than others – I don’t think mysteries have really changed much in the last 150 years – but there ARE changes.

So, this 80s fantasy novel. Omnipresent 3rd person point of view. Large composite cast. Magic with no clear explanation of how it works. Epic story arc, multiple hero journeys, dwarves and elves. Main characters start in the real-world and travel to a secondary world.

Compare it to modern fantasy. Modern fantasy tends to be in limited 3rd or first person. You’re in someone’s head, and only one someone’s head at a time. Cast tends to be smaller. You don’t see a lot of between world traveling anymore – action is usually all in a secondary world or the real world, but not really both. Plots tend to be more character-focused as opposed to the sweeping epics of the past.

I’m not saying that you can’t find modern fantasy with the same characteristics as the 80s fantasy, but it’s going to be a lot more rare.

Even looking between, oh, say, Tolkien, and the 80s fantasy, there are generational differences. Tolkien has no female main characters, and he doesn’t really care what anybody’s thinking at any point in time. The story’s more important than the characters. The 80s fantasy is kind of a transition between the all-important plot of the 50s and 60s and the all-important character of the here and now.

Admittedly I’m being a bit general, but I do think you could pick up any fantasy from the 50s/80s/whatever the heck we’re calling this decade and be able to tell what generation it’s from without looking and be able to see the differences between them.

What say you, Squiders?

 

Creating the Right Atmosphere

Perhaps you’re the sort of person who can write anywhere – even at the dining room table while your offspring scream bloody murder and beat each other with foam swords. You are a lucky person.

For the rest of us who need to be at least somewhat in a good frame of mind to get work done, this post is for you.

This will vary from person to person. A lot of people like to create their own little writing cave, with inspirational artwork on the walls and their desk laid out just so for the best writing efficiency. Others just need any sort of flat, clean surface, as long as its either quiet and/or bright and/or you are the only one and so no one can bother you.

If you’re having trouble focusing, take a look at the environment you’re trying to work in. Is it messy? Clutter, for whatever reason, often manages to be subconsciously distracting enough to throw you off. Is it bright? If the room’s too dark, you might find yourself getting drowsy. Is it noisy? Sometimes it can be hard to focus around a lot of extraneous noise. Some people can listen to music to drown out random noise; others cannot.

Experiment with music, lighting, and location to see what works best for your creative juices. Sometimes you will need to leave the house to get work done – try a variety of coffee shops, libraries, and book stores – any place that’s willing to let you sit at a table for a few hours for the price of a mocha (or less) – and see if you can find one that suits you. My favorite one is painted with cheerful colors, has lots of natural light, and contains a constant low hum of happy customers.

Do you have any tips to share? What works for you?

The Trope of Destined Lovers

You know the tale. Two people, through whatever circumstances, are thrown together and discover there’s a spark. But it’s more than just that – there can be no one else for them. Fate has brought them together. It was meant to be.

Soulmates.

This tends to be fairly prevalent in fantasy and paranormal romance. (It may also be fairly prevalent in straight romance. I admit I’m not terribly familiar with the genre.) I suspect this may be because fantasy itself tends to be somewhat enamored with Destiny in general. (Luuuuke, it is your destiny.)

(Star Wars, despite the spaceships, is totally fantasy.)

Like so many tropes, it can be done well or poorly. (You will know, based on whether you are excited when destiny hits, or confused and slightly off-out. I recently read a series that, in general, was quite excellent, but there was a bit of destined lovers right at the end, where the main character had been avoiding her best friend’s boyfriend despite their connection, but then the best friend said, essentially, “Oh, you can have him, even though we’ve been madly in love for years before you showed up, because I know you are soulmates because of [random magical whatever] and I am perfectly okay with this.” Right. Pull the other one.)

I admit I tend to be overly sensitive to this particular trope. I like it when it goes well, but so often it seems tacked on and lazy.

What do you think, Squiders? Does it warm the cockles of your cold, dead heart, or make you consider setting things on fire? Recommendations on movies/books/etc where it’s done well?

Year of Doing Things: Picture Book Challenge

I have friends – and I’m sure you do too – who have yearly resolutions to try new things. I have a few that want to do a new thing every month, or even every week.

I am nowhere near that adventurous. I hold myself to a just a couple of new thing goals: 1) Go somewhere I have never been before, and 2) Do something new writing-wise. Last year I started submitting short stories (and went to Peru). The year before I entered a couple of query contests (…and went to Germany). This year, we are trying the medium known as picture books.

This is for a couple of reasons. One, they look fun. Two, people have said I have a good child voice. (Alternately, people have said I’m really good at dark. Those two concepts seem to be mortal enemies.) Three, why not? It never hurts to try something new.

So, with the urging of my dear Sarah, I have joined #kidlitart’s 2012 picture book dummy challenge. The goal is to have a complete dummy ready by June. That is an excellent time frame for me (more on that sometime in the future) and hopefully I will come out of the challenge with something good.

Ever done a picture book, Squiders? What are your favorites? (Either from when you were a kid, or ones you like to read to your kids.) I’ve always been rather partial to The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash.

Author Websites

So, I’ve reached a point in my career where I probably need to stop mooching off of free services and create my own website.

The problem?

The last time I had my own website, I was sixteen and firmly believed in some weird movement called the Save the Electrons which preached that black backgrounds on websites saved energy. Or something like that. It was black with neon green text. There were frames.

Obviously, technology has come quite a long ways since those days, and while I’ve had to program the odd thing in my day, I find myself staring at my options without an ounce of understanding. You don’t even really have to program anything any more these days, just pick some sort of engine and a theme and buy a domain, and tada, you’re good to go.

I have two engineering degrees; this should not be as confusing as it is for me.

KD has been a dear and is trying to explain things to me and it is like she is speaking Klingon.

For those of you out there who run your own website, what do you suggest for someone who’s been mooching for the past ten years? I just want something simple and clean and customizable with all the landsquid a girl could want. Something where I can stick on widgets and social media buttons and have it look lovely and professional. Yeeeeessss.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.