Posts Tagged ‘characters’

Meet the Crew of the Hope’s Redemption

I made a huge mistake, squiders.

I was like, oh, well, we’ve talked about the ship, and we’ve talked about the world, so maybe we should talk about the characters! And I should find pictures of the characters, so everyone can see what the heck I’m talking about.

Only I couldn’t find pictures of the characters. Well, admittedly one character has green skin and hair and that was never going to happen, but I was having a hard time with everyone else too, and then I got to pondering posting pics when I didn’t have permission, and in the end I decided it would be easier to use an avatar maker to make the characters.

But I had a hard time finding a maker that would work for everybody too, so I played around with a bunch, and now I have about five versions of everyone in varying shades of success, and I’ve spent two hours of my life on it.

Whoops.

But I suppose we should get on it, right?

So, if you guys remember, I’m trying writing from a non-protagonist point of view for my main character. Think Watson from the Sherlock Holmes story, or whenever they do Star Trek episodes from “below decks.”

So our protagonist, but not our viewpoint character, is Rae. She’s captain of the Hope’s Redemption and the reason the crew is attempting to cross the uncrossable ocean, for reasons she has thus far kept to herself.

Our secondary protagonist/sidekick/potential love interest (for Rae) is Sol, who is a member of the main race that lives on the continent our human crew is trying to escape from. He’s aware of what’s going on and why, and is the main voice of reason onboard.

(I shall have to remember that second one. This species has routinely given me trouble when messing about with this sort of things, and it had options for skin color, ears, and stripes. Wahoo!)

Next we have Marit, who is our viewpoint character. She ran away from home and right into Rae and Sol, just in time to get swept up in all this madness.

And then there’s Viri, who’s basically Marit’s opposite and hence is a bad (or good?) influence.

And last, we have Ead, who was unplanned but whom I love dearly. He and Marit are essentially best friends, and they’re also close in age (youngest on the ship). Poor Ead’s a bit of a worrywart.

(Also he got dinosaurs to the face, poor kid.)

I also have this one of Ead and Sol:

(This generator was called the Hipster generator, har har.)

And there was a LOTR generator where I could stick in as many people as I wanted (green skin was not an option, alas, so that’s why Sol looks the way he does):

(I had to fudge clothes and stuff there. Whee.)

And then there’s other people. I think I’m up to 20 or so named people out of 36. It’s always interesting, trying to juggle a bunch of people who may or may not actually be important.

So, that’s the crew!

I hope everyone’s having a lovely November thus far, and I’ll see you next week!

WriYe and Character Names

Time’s gotten away from me today, squiders, so we get November’s blog prompt instead of what I had planned, and hopefully we’ll get there next week.

Nano is still going well! I do feel a little wander-y, here, and not sure I like this plotting method I’m trying. We’ll have to see if it solidifies as we get farther into the plot.

But without further ado:

Names: How do you come up with character names? Do you find it hard to come up with the perfect name?

Ah, names.

I am a firm believer that the right name makes the character, and that if you don’t have the right one, they’re not going to turn out how you like. A lot of times if a character doesn’t seem to be properly inhabiting their story, a name change can be the solution.

That being said, my naming conventions are wide and varied. In some cases, like when I’m working with mythology, the characters come with their names and there’s not a lot to be done there (though nicknames are a thing). In others, a character shows up with their name, which is most convenient, because hey, less work for me.

Most of the time I troll about on Behind the Name, which is my favorite naming website, because you can search by meaning. In the case of a main character, I might go through until I have five or so potential names, and then see what feels right. Side characters I tend to match to the main characters (so, for example, in my Nano, I had a few characters end up with Swedish names, so now I troll those first when I need a new name).

Bonus:
What is your favorite character name that you have come up with?

That’s hard. I’m very fond of most of my characters, and by extensions, their names.

Cass, I suppose, is a favorite. I think I’ve got three different characters in different stories with the name. And I’m always pleased when I pick a name and it ends up matching a character’s personality meaning-wise.

And I will admit to be more than a little too pleased with myself whenever I come up with a good nickname. This is probably just me, but I am very fond of nicknames, and I am fond of calling people I like nicknames. So I am also fond of the convention where what you call someone denotes how close you are to them.

I am also fond of short names.

Hm. A favorite name? That’s hard.

I will say that I am quite pleased with the names I have in my Nano, which are a mixture of my favorite tropes (nicknames, related names, personality-matching names). My favorite is probably Eadwine (an Anglo-Saxon form of Edwin, which means “rich friend”).

Anyway! I could talk names forever, and you guys probably don’t need or want the story behind every one. So I shall spare you.

Have a good weekend, squiders!

Literary Namesakes

My sister recently dropped off a book for me to read (along with some llama socks and a Totoro keychain, woot woot) that featured her name in the title.

Me: “Did you pick this up just cuz the main character is named after you?
Her: “Yes.” A pause. “But I think you’ll really like it.”

And to be fair, I’m a little over a fourth of the way into the book, and I do like it. So I give her that.

But it is kind of fun, isn’t it, when you open a book and find a character with your same name? Well, unless the character is a jerk. Or your name is so common that there’s another one everywhere you look. Or you share a name with somebody super famous (can you imagine all the Harry Potters out there?).

At least for me, though, “Kit” isn’t terribly common, so it’s still exciting when another one comes out of the woodwork, but it’s common enough that it does come out occasionally. Though, being a gender neutral name, I did go through a period of time where all the Kits I found were male. Kit Cloudkicker in TaleSpin, a male griffin in The Dark Lord of Derkholm (by Dianna Wynne Jones), etc.

(Not that there aren’t female Kits, of course. There’s an American Girl named Kit, after all, though I will admit to never reading any of those, since she came out after I’d moved off of American Girls. And Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I think was required reading back in elementary school.)

And, like my sister, I will admit to picking up a book if I know the main character is named Kit. I did that with Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan, which is a supernatural story taking place in a boarding school, and with a mystery that I can’t recall the name of where the central mystery revolved around something that could have been solved with a 5-second Google search (the book predated Google, but I was still annoyed that that-Kit couldn’t do some basic research somewhere).

What do you think, squiders? Do you like opening a book and finding your own name staring back at you? Or does it weird you out?

Working with an Ensemble Cast

I’m to the climax of the space dinosaur book, which is exciting! And also scary, because I’m trying out fencepost outlining for this particular project (basically, you identify the major plot points for your arcs–first plot point, midpoint, second plot point, etc.–and that’s about it) so I’m not 100% sure how this is going down, but sometimes that’s part of the fun!

This book is meant to be the first book of a series, and as it takes place on a spaceship with a crew of about 150 people, there’s a lot of people to deal with. It can be overwhelming. So what are you to do when you’ve got a ton of people to keep track of?

Well, me, I’m taking a page from one of my very favorite science fiction series, Star Trek: the Next Generation. (And arguably other Trek franchises, like Deep Space Nine and Voyager.)

Next Gen had a core cast of characters–Picard, Riker, Data, Geordi, Deanna, Beverly, Worf–as well as several reoccurring characters, such as Barclay, Chief O’Brien, Q, Guinan, that nurse whose name is slipping my mind, Wesley in later seasons, etc. In general, you got a good idea of the scope of the ship without getting overwhelmed by everyone on it.

So when I started setting up my cast, I focused on my core crew, which looks like this:

(Remember what I said about character images from last week.)

(Also, if you can’t read names–I have never claimed to be decent at digital art–it goes Ari, Brian, Chris, Dave, Lin, Robin, Roya, Tom.)

That gave me a good spread across the ship–these people are essentially in charge of different departments. (And, well, space dinosaur.)

However, depending on the type of story you’re writing, eight viewpoints is a lot of viewpoints. A thriller where character is less important and you can have a multiple of viewpoints is one thing. But I wanted to have characters people could identify with, that they’d follow along with for the entire series. That they’d care about. So I decided I’d do three viewpoints per book, with the focus being on who is most involved in the plot for that book. The main plot for this book involves an unknown saboteur who somehow manages to get around all the security measures, so the engineering characters have a lot to do. Other people–medical or science staff, for example–are around, and do contribute, but it doesn’t make sense to give them viewpoints here.

And in writing this book, some of those secondary characters, the ones that make a ship feel like a real, working vessel and not just a backdrop for the officers, have already started to show up. I’m taking note of them so I can use them throughout the series. I don’t know if they’ll ever become viewpoint characters later down the road, but, hey, anything’s possible.

I mean, Chief O’Brien didn’t even get a name for two seasons and went on to be the chief engineer of DS9.

What are your favorite ensemble casts, squiders? Any thoughts on how they’ve been handled, good or bad?

How to Picture Characters

Good news, squiders! I did not have to go to jury duty today! (Obviously.)

(Also, I wanted to note that I put The Wanderer as MG historical in my box of books post, and it is straight MG. Not sure why I thought it was historical.)

I am not the most visual of authors, but I know a lot of people like to use images to “see” their characters. Or other people’s characters (hooray for fanart!). So, if this is you, I thought I’d give you a few resources to use to hunt down characters or build your own if you already know what they look like.

(I find having pictures of my characters useful for showing other people. I typically just need a name to get a fully formed character when actually writing. But everyone’s different, and that’s okay!)

If you know what your characters look like

As I said, I typically just need a name, and then everything else kind of falls into place. Sometimes I will start with a visual (I want them to be this ethnicity, or have this color eyes, or whatever) and then go for a name, but normally they show up and come with their own details.

If you’re artistic, you can try drawing your characters. I do this periodically with mixed results, because I never quite got past a middle school drawing level. (And also I was obsessed with the anime-style drawing at that point and it shows.) Also I don’t know how to color, so I typically get line drawings I’m happy with and then ruin them by digitally coloring them.

If you’re not artistic, never fear! There’s a lot of character generators out there! Some are specifically designed to do forum avatars, and tend to be from the shoulders up. Search “avatar maker” and you’ll find a ton of them. “Character creator” typically works for full-body ones, and here’s a reddit thread about decent ones.

They do tend to be a bit specialized, so you might need to poke around a bit to find one that will work for you. Here’s a picture of my character Ali that I whipped up just for this blog post on HeroMachine. (It’s specifically for making superheroes or other scifi/fantasy characters which makes it not awesome for character like Ali, who is a contemporary high school student, but I’ve used it forever so I’m used to how it works.)

Ali pic

(Alternately, here’s a pic of Briony from City of Hope and Ruin, also using HeroMachine.)

(There’s a lot of bare midriffs for the ladies in HeroMachine land.)

I don’t know what my characters look like and/or I prefer real people

(Or at least more realistic drawings)

Hey, too bad there’s not an entire Internet out there with pictures of things! Here’s some places to look:

  • Pinterest – there’s even a handy-dandy search bar, right at the top!
  • stock photo websites – Again, handy search bars. Harder to find some weirder things. I remember, when we were working on the cover for Shards, it was near impossible to find a guy looking over his shoulder that also had a shirt on. Additionally, if you find a picture you really like, you can normally purchase it (for a fee) and then you can legally use it in promotional material and stuff like that.
  • Portrait-photos.orgLike HeroMachine, I’ve been using this website for literally forever, ever since someone first brought up trying to match characters to real people for use in avatars, practice covers, Nanowrimo banners, etc. You search by keyword (I usually do this by clicking on a keyword under a picture and then replacing it with what I actually want to search for). I like that this website has a wider selection of people than just “pretty, young people.”
  • Flickr
  • deviantArt

A note about copyright: Please do not just steal pictures off the Internet. If you’re making an icon or a banner or even a cover just for fun, it’s probably okay, but if you’re going to be using them for a real cover or promotional materials of any sort, you need to make sure you have permission to use the image. There are some stock photo websites, like pixabay, that specifically host public domain images, and you can purchase images off other ones. Websites like deviantArt and Flickr usually list the copyright information under each picture. A lot of artists use Creative Commons (CC), and some CC copyrights allow for personal use or modifications. Just be aware.

And if you want to see a lot of old drawings, icons, and banners of various book projects…well, here you go.

(Okay, some of the banners aren’t so old.)

(Also, there’s some landsquid.)

What resources do you use to picture characters, squiders?

Language Barriers in Speculative Fiction

Hey hey, so apparently I was going to write this post two years ago, got as far as “WOO” and never went back to it. Good job on focusing, me.

Language barriers are something common that you find in science fiction and fantasy stories. It makes sense, especially if you’ve got cultures that have never met before, and it can make for interesting conflict if characters can’t understand each other. Especially when dealing with alien races, you can even make up new ways of communication that may be impossible for other species to learn.

On the other hand, sometimes you need characters to be able to communicate, even if you’ve set things up so they shouldn’t be able to because of whatever reason.

Let’s go over some of the most common ways to get around language barriers. And feel free to let me know your favorite and least favorite examples of overcoming barriers and what worked (or didn’t) in the comments.

Common Language

The idea here is that there’s a common language that different species all learn so they can communicate with each other, even if they have their own language otherwise. This is your “Galactic Standard,” as it were. Of course, for this to work, your various species need to similar enough that it makes sense that they’d all be able to make the same linguistic sounds, etc.

One Person Understands

This is where you have a character that speaks its own language which is incomprehensible to the reader/viewer, but luckily there’s that one other character who knows that language and can translate or have one-sided conversations that essentially get the meaning across. Han Solo with Chewbacca, for example, or Rocket with Groot.

Universal Translator

These are magic devices that automatically translate any language it comes in contact with, as long as said language has been encountered before (to add some leeway for when you want a plot that hinges on miscommunication). A lot of the time, these can also pick up new languages after a few minutes of listening. A LOT of science fiction uses this idea, though you do occasionally come across the fantasy equivalent (such as a spell of understanding).

Telepathy

Maybe characters can’t understand each other, but hey, using telepathy can help even the most disparate of species communicate! (Assuming, of course, that their patterns of thought are at all similar.) This mode can often rely a lot on visuals and emotions rather than words.

Immersion/Building Understanding Over Time

For a more realistic approach, if your cultures aren’t meeting for the first time, you can assume they have had interactions for a while and might have started to pick up each other’s language. (Some people show this through some characters/species speaking with an odd grammar, though be aware this can get tedious to read.) Alternately, people can pick up languages through immersion, which is where you’re immersed in another language for a long period of time. This forces you to learn the language through everyday interactions, and also helps you learn how to convey ideas when you don’t have the vocabulary yet.

Of course, both of these methods require time, and if you need two characters to be able to interact to stop the universe from imploding in the next week, well.

Do you have a method I’ve left out, Squiders? Examples, good or bad? Thoughts on storytelling that relies on disparate characters being able to understand each other?

Character Change as a Catalyst for Conflict

A few weeks ago, my sister finally convinced me to join Pottermore and get sorted into a house. Now, I was 14 when I started reading the Harry Potter books, and over the years I have taken a lot of sorting quizzes. The good majority of those came up about 50/50 Gryffindor (due to a sometimes ill-advised tendency to jump to people’s rescue without thinking things through) and Ravenclaw (because I am a giant nerd and love puzzles). Once I got Slytherin, which was a bit thrilling, because I went through a phase where I was really into Slytherin (much like I went through a phase where I was really into the Empire a few years before), but even I had to admit that was probably a fluke.

I was expecting Ravenclaw from Pottermore. I got Hufflepuff.

“Hufflepuff?” I said to my sister, who had sat with me on the phone while I went through the quiz. “I have never been a Hufflepuff. Aren’t Hufflepuffs nice? And like other people?”

My sister is also a Hufflepuff, but she is, like, stereotypically Hufflepuff. If she’d taken those gazillion of quizzes back in the day, they all would have said Hufflepuff.

My sister said, “I think most parents are probably Hufflepuff.”

Which I’ve been thinking about, because that’s what I do. And I think she’s right. It’s not that I no longer have the qualities that marked me as a Gryffindor, it’s that I have to stop and think about what I do before I do something, to think about how it will affect my family. And it’s not that I’m not still a giant nerd or no longer love puzzles, but when presented with a choice between working on a devilishly hard Sudoku puzzle or having a tea party with the small, mobile ones, the latter tends to win out.

People change. It’s what they do. And characters also change, at least if you want them to remain realistic. There are always thread to who they were, sure, but people are affected by life. Good things, bad things. A character raised out of poverty to a life of luxury is not going to be the same person they were when they were living in a cardboard box. A character who has lost their spouse to cancer is going to be affected by that, one way or another. Characters make choices–choices that force them to reevaluate their priorities, to face the darker parts of themselves (or not to), to pick where they want to go and what they want out of life.

And that, dear Squiders, can be a wonderful catalyst for conflict within a story. It can drive internal conflict. Maybe a character knows they need to do something–for themselves, for their family, for their soul–but can’t bring themselves to separate from a part of their selves that they feel is essential. Maybe their goals are hurting them, but they’re not willing to let go. Or they know what they need to do, the change that needs to be made, but feel like it’s out of their reach.

It can drive interpersonal conflict as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “He’s not the man I married.” When people change, it can affect how they interact with the people closest to them. People react to pressure or success in different ways, ways that not be compatible with those of their loved ones. Someone can make a change for the better only to find their old friends trying to pull them back down, or someone can feel that someone else is leaving them behind.

Don’t forget change, Squiders. People response to outside stimulus, good or bad–and characters should too.

I think I’ll skip Thursday, but I should be back to post on Friday, unless I get swallowed by family things. (All state parks have free admission on Friday to try and combat the Black Friday phenomena, and that’s hard to say no to.) If I don’t see you then, have a happy Thanksgiving, American Squiders, and a great weekend, global Squiders.

Oh, and thank you to everyone who’s picked up To Rule the StarsWe’re sticking up pretty decently in our Amazon categories, hooray! The ebook version is still on sale for $.99, and the paperback is now available as well, so pick it up while you can if you haven’t yet!