Apr 30, 2011

Z is for Zeal

Here we are. 26 blog plosts and a full month on. It's safe to say this has been a roller coaster month for me with some bad lows and some epic highs. There were times when I wondered if it was worth the hassle of thinking up a new post every day, and every time I told myself that it was. Why? Zeal.

I love writing. I love the late nights, the research, the furious rush to get just another hundred words written, the creation of characters, the shaping of a story, even the feeling of punching keys as I type. There's almost nothing else I'd rather be doing than writing. Since I was very young, it's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Over the last month I've met so many new people who share my zeal for writing and I've been welcomed by them all. It's humbling to be a part of a community that is so open and helpful. This is especially true now that I've signed on with WiDo Publishing for the release of my first book. I'm grateful to be part of such a team, and to have so many people in my life, online and otherwise, to share in my journey as I share in theirs.

Well done to everyone in the challenge, and thank you for sharing.

Apr 29, 2011

Y is for You're a Mystery

Those who read my F post will know that my wife and I are expecting our first child in July, and that there was some concern after the last scan because the amniotic fluid levels were low and they couldn't identify any kidneys.

Today we had another scan, and they were able to confirm both that there is a functioning bladder and a pair of kidneys. This is good news! The baby's the right size, there are no ruptures in the placenta at all. The bad news is that there's still a very low level of amniotic fluid, but they simply cannot find a cause. This, it turns out, is also good news, because without a medical cause for the low levels, the odds are a lot higher that this is just a medical mystery and the baby will be absolutely fine once born.

Of course, the baby is still being as uncooperative as ever and won't let us find out what gender it is.

So today's post is a message to my unborn child. Kiddo, you're a complete mystery. I love you for it, and hope you're always a complete surprise throughout your life, but I guarantee you if we're driving anywhere and you complain of needing to pee, I'll remind you that you were perfectly content to hardly pee at all while your mother was carrying you, so you can bloody well hold it! :-)

Apr 28, 2011

X is for X-Rated

Just something which I thought of while trying to work out what to write about for X (damn that letter!).

I'm not a romance writer, and my book isn't about sex, but I do think sexuality is an important part of a character. So, I make reference to, and give very mild descriptions of, sex, at a couple of points in the novel. These scenes are important, but far from graphic. I've read several YA novels with more detailed descriptions than I used.

At what point does content become considered "x-rated?" And how should sex be used in fiction?

There's a trend in urban fantasy to use sex as part of magical ritual. There are times when a character must have sex with a supernatural creature to gain more power themselves. It's an interesting choice for a writer.

I think my book might be different, though. It's not detailed in Locked Within, but if the book sells well and I'm able to continue the series, I will expand on how people in this supernatural society live their lives. That will include differences in day to day life, including sex.

In this world, sex is a very human thing. It's an expression of love between two mortals. Other creatures might try to replicate it, seeking to understand the intimacy that can exist between two souls, but they can't truly feel it. These creatures may use it to seek power, dominance, create offspring, or to try and understand the connection humans can have with one another, but with so many stories out there where humans are lesser beings, unaware of the pleasures enjoyed by powerful beings, I want to tell a story where mortals have something that immortal beings can never have. I want their impermanence, their very nature as limited beings, to be what gives them the strength of will and love to bond with one another.

Apr 27, 2011

W is for WiDo Publishing

Who are, officially, my publisher!


My manuscript for Locked Within was chosen as the winner of a contest for a contract with them, and I'm very pleased to accept! It's an absolute honour to be chosen, and to join the WiDo family. Just a quick look at their website and reading Karen's blog tell me that WiDo are a great company, totally committed to embracing the way the publishing industry is growing and changing. I'm excited to be a part of this and I look forward to working with WiDo to prepare my book for publication.

If anyone needs me, I'll be over here, hoping this isn't all just a dream.

Apr 26, 2011

V is for Vampires

My book isn't about vampires, but it does have a few in it. They're all antagonists to one degree or another, and two of them have names.

These days, vampires are either still the hottest thing going, or the last thing anyone wants to see anymore. I grew up on vampire movies, though, so they're kind of ingrained in my mind as go-to villains. The thing is, they're not the villains in most cases anymore.

Something changed, somewhere along the road, and instead of vampires being representations of everything our humanity and society are meant to find abhorrent, they became romantic, tragic figures. Even re-tellings of old stories have changed. Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Gary Oldman, while an excellent film, is very different from the book. In the original book, Dracula is not a romantic figure. He's a dark, sensual predator. The women he feeds on are not drawn to him by lust or love. They're drawn to him by his supernatural power over others. Dracula is an embodiment of everything Victorian ideals stood against. He is a monster whose own desires are met by inflicting suffering upon others. He is feared and hated. Not loved.

It would be interesting to see vampires return to their place as monsters. Some movies have tried to return to this. The one most in mind at the moment is the upcoming Priest, starring Paul Bethany. I'd like to see these romanticised creatures as the villains again. We need to fear our nightmares, or else what will our heroes save us from?

Apr 25, 2011

U is for Unicorn

The Last Unicorn, to be specific.

As a child, this movie was one of my favourites. I watched it so much the tape wore out and my parents had to replace it. There's a specific moment in the movie which has always resonated with me, which taught me how stories are meant to be told.

It's the moment at the climax, when the Unicorn is being chased by the Red Bull, and Lir asks Schmendrick why he can't use magic to save her, he asks what use is magic if it can't be used to save a unicorn.

Schmendrick tells him that's not what magic is for. That's what heroes are for.

There should be no quick fixes, no easy answer that saves the day. There should be someone to risk themselves, to give up something of themself for the greater good and make a stand.

That's what heroes are for.

Apr 23, 2011

T is for Teamwork

I'm in the middle of a 5-day weekend, with the barbecue going out in the garden and friends on their way over, so this may be a shorter post that normal.

My topic for today is Teamwork.

The stereotype of the writer is that of a lone figure, toiling away in a study or attic, or perhaps sitting on benches by the side of the street or wandering through libraries. It's a very popular image. The artist as loney genius.

Well I can't speak for those who've gone before me, but from my experience in getting my book just to the stage of querying, that image is hooey. It takes a team to create a book. The writer just happens to be the one who gets the credit. Just to get me as far as I am, my book has needed the help of crit partners, beta readers, my wife to spring ideas off, friends who've offered to do head shots for when I need them, or help put together a promotional trailer if and when a release date becomes a real thing.

And that's not to mention the people I'll inevitably deal with once I go further, whether they be agents, publishers, editors, marketing staff, or cover artists. It nearly takes an army just to get a book printed and bound and ready to deliver as a finished product.

So whoever out there is lucky enough to be a published author, I hope your acknowledgements page is up to date. For the rest of you, remember the people who are there for you, supporting you, advising you and generally making sure write the best damn book you can. Without them, even the best of us would flounder.

Apr 22, 2011

S is for Summer

Okay, it's still technically spring. But the sun is shining, we've stocked up on meat for the barbecue, and we've got the whole Easter weekend off work, so I'm claiming this as a summer day.

While I was in college, Easter was always a kind of start to the summer. It was the last break before exams started, and typically marked part of the transition from regular term time to "Oh dear god I've done no work all year I'm so screwed!" I have memories of sitting by the lake in UCD (my college) with Jen (then just my girlfriend) and our friends, eating ice pops. Then heading indoors for a game session.

We did some studying at some point in college, I'm sure...

While having day or even weekend-long parties is a lot more rare these days, even during the summer, it still makes me happy that we can make the time for things like this. I think the hot weather encourages people to take things a little more easily and to just enjoy themselves together.

Here's to a great weekend, and I hope everyone has a good Easter.

Apr 21, 2011

R is for Reading

Which is something I don't do enough of. I can scan through non-fiction pretty quickly, but I tend to take my time when reading a novel. Part of the problem is that I tend to read mostly when on the train to and from work. I really should take more time to read when I'm at home.

My current favourite is The Dresden Files. I absolutely love this series, and I want to keep reading even when I don't feel a given title is up to the caliber of others in the series. Jim Butcher has created one of my favourite heroes in Harry Dresden. I'm a bit jaded from seeing so many heroes whose flaws are all traits that actually make me like them less. It's great to see a hero who is at heart a decent guy, but who makes mistakes and takes the wrong course of action from time to time, instead of being an unbeatable badass whose biggest flaw is an antisocial personality. Butcher's characters, even the ones who are faeries or vampires, feel human. They have a spirit that shines in the writing and makes me care for them.

At the moment I'm reading Book of Jhereg, by Steven Brust. Normally I find it difficult to attach myself to assassins and other characterss who are drawn into the story primarily by profit. They generally have little emotional attachment to the plot and even less to lose. It's an interesting read so far, though.

Once I'm done with it I'll be reading a friend's ms for the second book in a series she's working on. Then I'm moving on to The Pain Merchants (UK title of The Shifter) by Janice Hardy.

What're you guys currently reading?

Apr 20, 2011

Q is for Quotes

Today, like my friend Ellen over at Pink Tea and Paper, I thought I'd share with you all some of my favourite quotes:

"I tip my hat to you, one legend to another" - Rattlesnake Jake, Rango

"My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I'm in the book." - Harry Dresden, Storm Front

"Do. Or do not. There is no try." - Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

"Let's show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown." - Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters

"Indeed. The last charge of Wyatt Earp and his immortals." - Doc Holliday, Tombstone

"It ain't easy having pals." - Charlie Bowdrie, Young Guns

"You remember the stories John use to tell us about the the three chinamen playing Fantan? This guy runs up to them and says, "Hey, the world's coming to an end!" and the first one says, "Well, I best go to the mission and pray," and the second one says, "Well, hell, I'm gonna go and buy me a case of Mezcal and six whores," and the third one says "Well, I'm gonna finish the game." I shall finish the game, Doc." - Billy the Kid, Young Guns 2

"Who are you?" "A friend." - Lois Lane and Superman, Superman The Movie

"The three assholes, laying into one guy while everybody else watches? And you wanna know what's wrong with me? Yeah, I'd rather die." - Dave Lizewski, Kick Ass

Please share some of your favourite quotes! 

Apr 19, 2011

P is for Prose

First up today, I'd like to properly pass on the award given to me by Karen Walker to another blogger whose posts I read almost religiously. Janice Hardy is the author of the Healing Wars series. Her posts on writing advice and techniques are invaluable to writers both new and experienced.

So Janice, I'd like to pass on the Creative Blog Award to you:

The awesomeness of Janice's posts lead nicely into today's topic, Prose.

Love it or hate it, we have to write within a certain framework. Keeping our prose clear, concise, but at the same time engaging and fluid, is key to writing a great book. The most original story in the world won't be worth a thing if you can't tell it right, and that's where prose comes in.

We live in an age where it's easier than ever to learn about any subject. We really can't afford any excuses for not using a spell or grammar check, or picking up a book on grammar and syntax. Words are our tools, and we need to make sure we know how to use them. This doesn't have to be a chore, however. It can be truly rewarding to start playing with writing conventions and using subtle techniques to alter how the reader experiences our work.

When you're writing a tense scene, consider using a longer sentence structure early on in. The flow of the words, carefully used, can instil either an initial sense of security and control. Then intersperse this with shorter sentences, perhaps even one or two-word phrases. These create uncertainty. Used well, the juxtaposition of slightly longer, rational description, and then a short, sharp emotional burst can ramp up the adrenaline and urge the reader on.

Take time to practice, use your beta readers and crit partners for advice and as sounding-boards. Let how you craft your words be as important to your writing as your themes and character motivation.

Apr 18, 2011

O is for Originality

Originality is a big hang-up these days. One of the first things I tried to do when I first decided to become a writer (all the way back when I was about 11 or 12) was come up with totally new and unique ideas that had never been done before. Years have gone by and I've thought back to those ideas I had when I was so young. I learned something, too.

It had all been done before.

The dreaded "unoriginal" label is something all writers hope to avoid. This can lead to a belief that the best way to make it in this industry is to come up with the most amazing plot twists or a concept nobody else has thought of. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case.

There is a limit to the variety of plots and characters that can be used. The fact is that almost anything you can think of has probably been done before, and there's a reason so many tropes keep coming back. It's because they work. People like seeing them.

Certaintly, there's room for an unexpected twist or a really novel take on an old favourite, but by and large readers can lose themselves in a book much more easily if they're not trying to wrap their heads around your latest, greatest invention. When I write, I try to focus on telling a good, fun story first. Rather than coming up with unique ideas, I try to use established tropes well, or even apply them in ways that are just a little different from what may be expected.

So keep writing and keep working. Don't sweat it if you think your work is similar to someone else's. Don't worry if you can't come up with something new to happen to vampires when they're exposed to sunlight, or that you want to feature elves or dwarves in your fantasy novel. Concentrate on telling a good story, and telling it well. The rest will fall into place.

Apr 16, 2011

N is for Never Say Die

First up, I'd like to thank Karen at http://karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com for giving me this:

I met Karen through the A to Z Challenge and I've loved reading her posts. If you haven't yet, check her out, you won't regret it.

I promise I'll keep the tradition going and find someone to pass this on to.

On to today's post, which is a motto I've worked to keep to almost all my life. Writers aren't the only ones who see rejection on a regular basis. Everyone's felt it at some point. But we press on. Rejection can never be taken personally. If we allow it to become personal, we destroy ourselves.

Rejection is simply the way we learn that this is not the right choice for us right now. It may be in the future, but for now we press on and look to new paths. So long as we keep our faith and keep working to better ourselves, we will find the right path in the end. The key is in not giving up. The only time we ever truly fail in life is the moment we decide we don't want to try again just once more.

Never say die.

Apr 15, 2011

M is for Main Character

In this case, the main characer of my completed manuscript, currently titled Locked Within and in the querying process.

Nathan Shepherd dreams about living different lives at different times in history. He dreams of battles and bloodshed. More than once, he's dreamed of his own death. He also has another trait; a perfect ability to recall information or things he has seen.

He tries not to let either of these things become well known, but finds himself drawn to stories of unexplained deaths or disappearances in the news. His girlfriend, Laura, is tired from trying to compete with Nathan's obsessions and his friends are worried he's developing serious mental problems.

When we meet Nathan, he is somewhat lost. A drifter in society, not quite sure where he wants his life to go, he knows only one thing that calls to him. Death. Those he has dreamed of, and those he starts to believe he can prevent, if only he can learn how to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

It is when Nathan stumbles across evidence of a series of murders taking place over a hundred years or more that he starts his journey into the supernatural world of New York and discovers people and events overlooked by mundane society.

Whether Nathan can adapt to survive in this world, or loses everything, is a question left for another day.

Apr 14, 2011

L is for Legends

The greatest stories in the world transcend the boundaries of history and culture. They live on in myth, books, movies, toys and games. Children grow up knowing them, but never really knowing where they learned about them. Adults look back on them with fond memories and delight in seeing each new generation discover them.

We all know legends that have been passed down time and time again, retold and reinvented. That's the strength of a legend. It will always adapt to meet its audience, yet its core will never change.

I have a WIP still in the planning stage, but I've had the opening decided for a while now. It's a fantasy western trilogy set in the late 1870s. The opening is something I created for a roleplaying game I ran, and which has become a key element of how I think about my writing. I'd like to share the opening here.

They say every story starts at the beginning. I say every good story starts with an ending, and ends with a beginning.

There was a time, before this, when the West was still being won. A time of death and darkness, where fear was like a storm on the horizon; dark clouds gathering, getting  closer every day. In this world, a man could choose to suffer, or choose to act. He could join the darkness, or stand as a light.

In this world, ruled by the gun and forged by the gun, a man could become a hero. A hero could become a legend. And a legend could live forever.

Let me tell you a story...

Apr 13, 2011

K is for Kryptonite

An unbeatable hero is no fun to read about. That's why Superman was given Kryptonite, introduced way back in 1943 for the Superman radio drama. It took 6 years for it to cross over into the comics. Over time it has become the main point for anyone arguing about why Superman is a boring character.

Well, I say that any writer who can only challenge Superman with Kryptonite isn't doing his job, and any reader who thinks that it's the only way to hurt Superman is not looking hard enough. Superman has many weaknesses an enemy can exploit, from his love for humanity in general and Lois Lane in particular, to his sense of duty and the dark, haunting secret that, sometimes, even Superman can't save everyone. Sometimes, even the Man of Steel can be broken.

All great characters, heroes or not, have their weaknesses. These don't have to be glowing chunks of an exploded planet, either. This is why I prefer reading about characters who have friends and families rather than antisocial loner badasses. I love seeing characters try to do the right thing while at the same time trying to keep balance in their lives.

My MC, Nathan Shepherd, has several weaknesses which harry him throughout his story. He has friends who think he's losing his mind, a job he's in danger of losing, and he is torn between his fears, the sensible part of his brain telling him to walk away, and an instinct to help others. This is not to mention the fact that, at the start of my WIP, he is in no way able to stand against the creatures that confront him.

I think it's Nathan's indirect weaknesses, his loved ones and indecision, that are more compelling than the obvious "Kryptonite," the fact that he doesn't know how to fight the supernatural.

Apr 12, 2011

J is for Journey

The end of every journey brings with it the start of a new one. After one goal is achieved, there is often another to replace it. Our lives and stories are an unending cycle of starts and endings. Once we stop, we stagnate and lose ourselves.

All to often we become focused on the goal and stop caring how we get there. The same can happen in writing. In the rush to reach the end, we forget to go back and take the time to properly re-write and edit. What we forget is how much the journey itself matters. How we reach the end can matter as much as what end we reach, or even whether we reach it at all.

When writing, or doing anything, for that matter, take some time to just experience the process. Learn from the act of doing, and remember that there are many routes you can take to you end goal. Sometimes that means going back and finding a different way, while sometimes it's a nice straight road with no stops along the way. Just remember that every step is important, and by the end, all of those steps will have made you the person you are.

Apr 11, 2011

I is for Inspirational

Dark forces are gathering. The odds are stacked against our heroes and the situation is grim. Backs are pressed against the wall and the barricades won’t hold any longer.

It is the moment of truth, action, and the most truly inspirational moments in a story.

This is the moment when we cheer our heroes, when we feel the rising fire from deep in our stomachs threatening to scream out of our throats. Inspirational moments, when the hero rises to the challenge, delivers a rousing speech, or realises he has the strength he needs to succeed, are some of the most defining moments of fiction. Whether it’s the moment Luke Skywalker turns off his targeting computer, or Rocky Balboa gets back up for just one more round, it’s the swell of music, the gritted teeth, and the moving words that bring us back from the brink of despair.

As writers, this is our most glorious moment, when we’ve trapped the reader’s attention and pull off the big finish. As the audience, it’s our reward for suffering alongside the hero all this time.

These are the moments when children become brave and the monsters cower back under the bed.

And if you ever need a bit of a kick, here’s something I like to watch every now and again for a boost.

Apr 9, 2011

H is for Heroes

The lone gunslinger walking into town. The idealistic farmboy thrust into a world he doesn’t understand. The boy who swears vengeance after seeing his parents gunned down in a dark alley. The last survivor of a doomed world sent to protect Earth.


It’s all too easy to make the villain the more interesting character in a piece. After all, they are seen as more exciting and compelling than the “goody good” hero.

But a good hero is a work of art. A masterpiece of storytelling so compelling that we cannot turn away, no matter what. A skilled storyteller can create a hero so memorable that it defines the story and leaves a long-lasting mark on the audience.

So, what makes a great hero?

1: Humanity. A great hero has flaws and desires that we can relate to. It’s very easy to create a flawless protagonist who never suffers from doubt or makes mistakes, but that character gets boring very quickly. I don’t want to just see a hero who is flawed. I want to see a hero who can rise above those base elements of himself and triumph over not only the adversity inflicted upon him by others, but the adversity he brings upon himself.

2: Something to lose. I find protagonists who have no stake in the story the most boring of all. I quickly lose interest in such characters. Whether it be a loved one, a valued position at work, or a particular circle of friends, I want to know that the hero stands to lose something from his involvement in the story. A smart reader knows that the hero won’t die halfway through the story, because if the hero dies, the story ends. There needs to be something else, something greater, than the hero risks losing, in order for the story to have drama.

3: Loss. Going further, the hero needs to actually lose something in the course of the story. There needs to be some measure of sacrifice before the final victory. A loved one is killed. A relationship ends. A job is lost. If a hero escapes the final conflict unscathed, their victory is lessened by the last of sacrifice needed to achieve it.

4: Inspiration. The true mark of a hero is that they can lay bare their weaknesses and failings, and yet still stand tall and fight the good fight. They inspire us to be better people that those we are. Through them, we believe that a better way is possible, that we too can rise above our base desires and make a difference. Heroes make us want to better ourselves.

5: Victory. When it comes down to it, I’m a child who never grew up. When the hero’s made his sacrifices, watched the things he loves be threatened or lost, and stood against the tide because, dammit, that’s what heroes do, I want him to damn well win. Not some cheap trick where the villain is undercut at the last minute, but a proper throw-down, mentally, socially or physically, where the hero embraces his destiny, the music rises, and we know that this is the one person to can defeat the villain and bring victory for the greater good. It’s the Luke Skywalker moment, when only the hero can save the day. This is our reward, as readers or audience members, for suffering alongside the hero in his trials. This is the moment when our faith is rewarded.

So I leave you with this, and the question. What, to you, makes a hero?

G is for Ghost Stories

Okay, both Jen and myself are doing better today. We've been hearing a lot of stories about how this sort of thing happens quite often and frequently results in perfectly healthy babies.

So, on with the challenge. It's still Friday somewhere, right?

I love a good ghost story. Proper horror is amazing, but unfortunately rare.

Good ghost stories, good horror, are defined by two key elements. The fear of, and the obsession with, the unknown. True horror needs to be unknowable, but disturbingly compelling and even seductive.

This is why, despite the myriad of terrifying creatures, The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy and not a horror. The threat is a known force, and the method of its destruction is known by the heroes. Further, aside from the draw of the One Ring, there is no sense that the heroes are in danger of losing themselves to their quest.

Similarly, Interview With The Vampire is not a true horror, as the deep mysteries of the vampire are laid bare for both the reader and the characters. By presenting the supernatural in a knowable and tangible way, the writer removes the sense of uncertainty and fear that would normally be present.

Real fear is based on the threat of the unknown. Not cheap startle tricks.

The recent Keifer Sutherland movie, Mirrors, is a fantastic example of truly excellent horror. There is mystery, danger, and the protagonist's growing obsession with the puzzle before him. In a good horror, the hero should actually be very much responsible for the destruction in his personal life, rather than simply being a victim. They should almost be accidentally destroying themselves because they underestimate the real danger.

If you want to read a really amazing story, one that put real chills up my spine, I heartily recommend The Dionaea House. Read everything there. It's truly enthralling.

Apr 7, 2011

F is for Fatherhood... and Faith

This is not a happy post.

My wife, Jen, is a week away from entering her third trimester. We decided last summer that we would start trying to have a baby and within a month or so she was pregnant.

Today we had our fourth ultrasound scan. The doctors told us there wasn't as much amniotic fluid around the baby as they would like. For someone with little medical knowledge this language is pretty scary. I know amniotic fluid is important, I just don't know why.

We were told that a reduction in amniotic fluid can result in the lungs not forming properly. This means that there is a very small chance, a worst-case scenario, that if this doesn't sort itself out, the baby will not be able to breathe on its own when its born, and will not survive more than about 48 hours, at best.

There isn't anything that can be done. We just have to wait. And hope.

Up to this, everything has been fine. The baby's size is good and its heartbeat is strong. Its been kicking all shades of crap out of Jen for weeks now. Right up to our last scan, everything looked perfect. We've been told that there have been cases where a mother has even had no amniotic fluid around the baby, been told the baby won't survive, and still prove the doctors wrong. Our doctors have been wonderful, making sure we're both okay and assuring us that there is still a very good chance our baby will be fine, that at this stage it's all guesswork and they simply have a responsibility to tell us about all of the possibilities.

When I stated the A to Z Challenge, hell, when I started this blog, I hadn't intended that anything really personal would be posted on it. But this is just too big for me to shove aside for some random "F" post. As it happens, fatherhood and faith are foremost in my mind.

Both Jen and I are trying to keep positive. We've been told that nothing can be done. I don't believe that. I believe in the power of the human spirit. I believe in faith. I am not a religious man, but I am very spiritual. I want to believe that our baby is a fighter, like us. I want to believe that, whether through chance, faith, Reiki, positive thoughts, or prayer, our baby will be fine.

But faith isn't about knowing.

I'll be keeping things updated here and on Facebook and Twitter.

Apr 6, 2011

E is for Evolution

Characters are not static constructs, they need to adapt and grow throughout the story in order for them to feel real.

But changes to a character need to feel natural and organic. They must flow with the story, caused by the events the character experiences. No-one would have enjoyed watching Luke Skywalker start swinging a lightsaber and taking on Darth Vader the first time he set foot on the Death Star. We needed to see Luke develop from a frustrated and idealistic farm boy, to an eager and aggressive student of the Force, and finally to a powerful and controlled Jedi Knight, capable of forming effective plans and making hard decisions for the greater good, rather than his own desires.

When I'm creating a character, especially a protagonist, I usually create two versions in my mind. The first is the final result, the hero he is meant to be. The second is who the protagonist is at the beginning. Then I chart out the evolution of the character through various significant events and turning points, always looking for ways I can show the reader how the hero is changing without having it seem stilted and abrupt.

Apr 5, 2011

D is for Do Not Disturb

I'm reading, writing, or playing a computer game. I'm in the middle of a really good, high-emotion, climactic scene and my entire world has become the artificial creation that commands my attention.

Then someone calls me and takes me away from the fantasy.


This drives me to distraction. Of course, it's not the person's fault for calling. They have no way of knowing that I'm right in the middle of finding out how Harry Dresden gets out of his latest dilemma, or that my protagonist is about to realise what's really going on behind the scenes. And most of the time it's my heavily pregnant wife calling, who I'm all too happy to help out, whether she needs me to make a cup of tea or scratch part of her back she can't reach. But still, it's a tragic moment when the illusion is shattered.

Wouldn't it be great if we could broadcast an all-points "do not disturb" bulletin?

Of course, my husandly duties require that I do whatever my wife needs, because I'll be dammed if I let her hurt herself doing somthing that I could do for her easily.

Apr 3, 2011

C is for Consequences

The simplest plot involves a hero progressing from one situation to the next in a linear progression. Like a detective moving on from the crime scene to one suspect and on to another, the hero's decisions may have no real bearing on how the story unfolds, until the climax when the villain is revealed.

Not that there's anything at all wrong with this kind of story. I'm a great lover of detective stories and crime procedurals.

Some heroes, though, push things a little too far. They're not happy to let the world move around them. Instead, they move the world. They kick in doors and get in people's faces. They make mistakes, win surprising victories, and the results of that can change the course of a story or even reverberate throughout the remainder of a series.

It's always great to be able to see how one character's decisions alter the course of the narrative. It makes the setting seem vibrant and alive, like there's more to it that just our POV character(s). Of course, the most immediately obvious form of consequence is when the hero screws up. They lose a lover, a friend dies, they get arrested. These are awesome. Heroes should never glide through the story unscathed. I want to see what they stand to lose if their fail, and I want to know that there's a very real chance of that loss happening. Even more, I want to see the consequences of the sacrifices the hero is willing to make. Does he break the law to catch the bad guy? Does he have to go to jail or start hiding from the police as a result?

But there's another kind of consequence that's just as important, and often even more fun to experience. It's when the hero takes charge of his environment and starts changing it with his very presence, hopefully for the better. No longer is the hero reacting to events and struggling to persevere. Now he is becoming a force of nature in and of himself. He kills the villain, and when we next meet the hero in the series, he is loved by the authorities and reviled by his enemies. Maybe he's being targeted by vengeful hitmen, or been given new responsibilities by the authorities that help him do more good, but mean that he has to sacrifice more of his personal life.

Consequences give life to a story. They are raw material writers can use to let their world grow from the seed of an idea into a breathing, emergent creature that has to be fed and nurtured.

Apr 2, 2011

B is for Best

Who doesn't want to be the best? I know I do. I want to walk through a book shop and see my name over a big display of my novels. I want to be top of the New York Times Bestseller List. I want to sit in a cinema watching the opening credits roll on a movie adaptation of one of my books.

To quote Freddie Mercury, I want it all.

Not asking for much, right? ;-p

But I'm not the best. I may never be the best.

But I still keep trying. I keep working, keep learning, keep improving. I've always believed that a writer is only as good as his next book, so if you don't give 110% every time, you'll fall behind. It's a lot of hard work. Even when reading for pleasure or sitting back to watch a movie, I'm studying the narrative techniques, learning from those who've made it ahead of me. These people are my mentors and my guides, because they've had the skill and the determination to be a success.

Unfortunately there's no easy way to get better. It's a slow process and if I'm honest, I never feel like I'm learning enough. I'm always afraid I'm still writing like that innocent 12 year-old I was when I first decided I wanted to be a writer. But I want to feel that way. I never want to feel like I've learned it all, because I never will. There'll always be someone better, something to learn from. And I take joy in that.

But, to get me through my learning journey, I do allow myself some guilty pleasures, and sometimes you just need to tell yourself that you kick ass. So for tonight, I'm doing that with the help of Mr. Joe Esposito:

Apr 1, 2011

A is for Antagonist

I've managed to bruise the inside of my eyelid with a stray tortilla chip crumb, so focusing my eyesight on anything within a 75 degree angle of my left field of vision hurts. This will not make blogging any easier.

This is my first ever post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, so here goes!

A is for Antagonist.

A hero is only as good as the villain he has to fight. It's no fun watching Batman foil insurance fraud, so we get to see him go up against the Joker instead. So what makes a good antagonist?

As a reader, I want several things from a strong antagonist:

1: I want the hero to be truly challenged. This one is easy enough to satisfy as a writer. I don't want the villain to be defeated in his first confrontation with the hero. I want to see the hero beaten down and forced to struggle to overcome his adversary.

2: I want the antagonist and the protagonist to be connected somehow. The Joker is Batman's perfect foil because where Batman stands for justice and order, with a strong purpose behind his actions, the Joker is driven by chaos and whimsy. The Clown Prince of Crime is unpredictable and dangerous, madness personified. But his genius matches that of his arch nemesis. His plans, while seemingly without reason, put the city of Gotham in a state of terror. A true antagonist is a dark perversion of the protagonist, not quite the same, but not quite the opposite. They are a vague suggestion of a symbiotic relationship, two partners in a macabre dance for dominance.

3: I want the antagonist to revel in his role. This doesn't mean I want a mustache-twiddling stereotype. Far from it. The best villains don't see themselves as villains. The very best villains are the ones whose motivations we can understand. The hero should be able to look at the villain and think "there but for the grace of God go I." But the antagonist can still love his own mission and actions. Gene Hackman's "Little Bill" in Unforgiven is a town marshal, he's the law. But he gets a perverse satisfaction from his corrupt brand of justice. He'll happily see a man whipped to death or beat a man in the street just for telling tall tales, yet still think it fair and right that he has a strong position in town.

4: I want to be sorry when the antagonist is gone. The relationship between an antagonist and a protagonist should help define both characters. They should need each other for direction and meaning in their lives. Once the antagonist is overcome, whether through defeat or redemption, the protagonist should be lessened because of it. Not that the writer should have the hero sad that their enemy is no more, but rather that the conflict should have been so engrossing that, though we know it must end, we almost wish their ongoing battle could never end, as it would mean we no longer get to see these two powerful personalities clash.

5: When it comes to the end, I want a good fight. Whether it be a physical confrontation, mental outwitting, or social destruction, I want to see the antagonist truly defeated by the protagonist. Not through some cheap trick or deus ex machina, but by the hero using his strengths and rising to the challenge, thoroughly overcoming his foe and proving that he's the better man (or woman).

What do you look for in an antagonist?