What Anime gets right: Characters

What Anime gets right: Characters

Note: (Featured image from Anime Planet.)

Greetings all,

I Heart Anime
Image from RPGWatch.

It’s been a few weeks since I had a good ‘ol fashioned writing-based post, and since I’m in the middle of a few projects, and I don’t have any official news yet, I have the chance to take a look at what I feel is the most important part of any story …

Character.

If anyone interested in writing wants my humble advice, watch anime. It’s awesome for one. The other reason is that they always deliver a multitude of characters viewers love. Now I could go in a lot of directions, and I might actually do more than one post on this robust topic, but for now, I’m just going to focus on the general idea of what anime does with characters.

  1. Deep, complex backgrounds: When I watch anime, I genuinely feel like the creators sat down for every character and wrote a story just for them. Any one of them could be the main character if they just got a bit more screen time. As if that’s not enough, the episodes use those complicated backgrounds to advance their MCs. This allows fans to grow closer to an
    Naruto_vs._Neji
    Image taken from Fear-World.

    other cast member while still being connected to the hero. It’s honestly brilliant. Naruto does this best. Some may argue they go to this well too many times, and I’d have to agree, but inevitably, as Naruto interacts with characters, we learn more about both of them. This happens both in fights (Naruto VS Neji Hyuga and with team-ups (Sai’s arc). As they fight or work together, we learn more about the side characters, and as Naruto works with them he learns more, and we grow closer to him.

  2. Clear motivations: Every character in anime has motivations and obstructions to those motivations. Good or evil, those characters strive for something. Sometimes they build conflict and suspense. Sometimes the motivations build sympathy. Both are essential.  Let’s take a look at Mikasa Ackerman. She’s a fascinating character. She could want any number of things, but all she truly cares about is protecting Eren. This motivation is clear. So when Eren is in danger or pain, we know this causes Mikasa stress (sympathy). When people seek to harm or even just belittle Eren, we know this will create conflict.
  3. Ryuk
    Image taken from Star City Tees.

    Sympathy: One of my favorite things to do when talking anime with anyone is to talk about their favorite characters. My favorite books have that same feeling, but I can’t always do that with books. I can always do it with anime. The main reason for this is how sympathetic anime characters are. Anime does a fantastic job of making viewers feel for them. They do it through humor. (Ryuk. Sure, he’s evil, but people like him because he amuses them. Why else do people always think of him and apples?) They do it through conflict (Ichigo). They do it through relationships (Ed Elric). The writers use a variety of situationally dramatic settings to allow the viewer to grow sympathetic toward the characters.

So I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, and I’m probably going to harp on a lot of this when I don’t have any news about my writing to offer. However, this is a good place to start.

When developing your characters, look for opportunities to consider these topics and how anime uses them to get those fans cosplaying. If you do, you might just see a few cosplay people pick one of your characters? (I’d love to see a Grimm or a Caden cosplay!)

Thanks for reading,

Matt

My Top 3 Reads of 2018

My Top 3 Reads of 2018

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to share my top three reads of 2018 with you all.  Goodreads says I’ve read 37 books in 2018. It wasn’t quite as much as last year, but it’s a solid amount, especially considering how much happened. This list was made without regard to publisher, format, or author.

How I did it:  I kept track of books I liked and mentally compared one to the other. Without further delay, here’s my list.
51C+CI-HrZL#3 Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook: You can find my review for that book here.  This book was my at one point my favorite that I read this year. It had a slow start, but man are those characters awesome, and I just love the action in the story. Of the three, I’d want this made into a movie most. I think this is the first in a series, and if it is, I’ll be picking up the other books once the series is over.

 

 

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So that’s my top three. What are yours? Why? Do you have a review you can link it to? I’d love to reblog it for you.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Art of a Heist: A Few Tricks For Outlining

The Art of a Heist: A Few Tricks For Outlining

Greetings all,

Power of Words Cover_FRONT_EBOOKSince The Power of Words is up and running, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about a method of plotting.

Plotting is a tool I and other authors use to plan out how the story unfolds, and a heist story, is a specific type of plot.

When I started writing my contribution to The Power of Words, I saw in my imagination a mother who had to pay insane amounts of money just to be able to say, “I love you” to her daughter. That gave birth to the idea of this mother hatching a scheme to shut down the system that regulates the Communication Act of 3748.

I did some research (some would call it binge watching Leverage, but I call it research). This led me to believe there are key plot points in any good heist story.

now-you-see-me-01
Screen image of Now You See Me for study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine. 

One: Introduce the team.  Different stories do this in different ways, but nothing really starts until the readers meet the team.  Ocean’s 11 spends the first quarter of the movie on this while Now you See Me spends about five minutes. But this is the first real part in any heist story.

Two: The plan.  Now this is a debatable part of the plot as sometimes the ultimate plan is hidden.  For instance, in Now You See Me, no one really knew what they were ultimately up to, but I argue the viewers still clearly knew that team was after a Robin Hood angle. Sure, the ultimate plan was hidden, but there’s usually some identification of what the team is after.  In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, he just came right out and said it. Again, there was a mystery here in that the readers didn’t know the real plan (more on that later), but there was a clear objective stated. Ocean’s 11 did this as well.

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Screen shot of Ocean’s 11 for study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Three: The confrontation of the antagonist.  Most stories do this in a blunt way. The brains of the outfit and the cop or mark face of in a direct manner. There’s even usually a dare of some sort.  Ocean’s 11 shows this when Danny Ocean faces Terry Benedict.

Four: The weak link. Most heist stories identify some sort of flaw or hole in the plan. It’s usually a person, but can sometimes be a fulcrum on which the plan hinges. Yen get’s injured in Ocean’s 11. Jack Wilder dies. The other way this happens is when there is a character who seems like a bad fit for the team.  Ocean’s 11 actually does this too in that Linus seems at times antagonistic.

Five: The collapse. There might be some who want to insert “the rehearsal” before this, and I wouldn’t immediately argue.  I’d like to state, however, that while a number of heist stories have a rehearsal (Gone in 60 Seconds, Inception), this is more something many heist stories do, but it’s not what I would call a requirement. However, if you’re writing a heist story, you need everything to fall apart. The trick is, it has to sell.  You need the viewer/reader to be ultimately convinced that the plan failed and the movie/book is about to end on a downer.  This usually happens with the team caught or taken down (Ocean’s 11). It sometimes happens when the object in question seems gone or missing (Inception). Either way, everything has to fall apart spectacularly.

Six: (The Most Important) The twist. And this is what makes or breaks a heist story. You need that plot point that has the reader saying, “I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN!” It can’t be forced. It has to be unpredictable without being unbelievable. It has to be something that the reader can connect either just before or right as the twist happens.  In The Final Empire, we learn that the plan wasn’t really the plan we thought it was. In Ocean’s 11 (and honestly most other heist stories) we realize that getting caught was actually a part of the plan. Some do both. If this is satisfying, then you’ll have readers singing your praises. If it doesn’t work, well, there’s always the next story. Right?

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Screen image from Leverage for study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Seven: The victory lap. Once the loot is distributed or just as the opponent realizes he’s lost, the crew has to have their moment in the sun. Leverage actually has the team inevitably find some way to obscurely smirk at the mark as he’s taken away in cuffs. The Now You See Me crew get’s a literal final sendoff. Sometimes it’s more subtle. The victory lap in The Final Empire is actually a letter. Here the author is letting the brains of the outfit or the outfit as a whole gloat for a moment.

So there you have it.  I’d challenge anyone to watch any great heist movie and identify these seven plot points or (a thing I truly challenge you won’t be able to do) show any heist story in which one of these moments is missing.

Do I think Stealing Freedom, my contribution to The Power of Words, holds up? Honestly, yeah! I’m darn proud of this story. I won’t be so egotistical as to say it’s as good as any of these, but I think the twist (hehe, singular? No, my friend, I mean to say, twists) are immensely satisfying. You could of course buy the anthology, read the story, and judge for yourself.

Thank you for reading,

Matt

 

Why Clara Oswald Fell Apart as a Character

Why Clara Oswald Fell Apart as a Character

I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. When Clara was first introduced, and when her arc with Matt Smith ended I considered her one of the better characters.

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Image taken from Pinterest for character study purposes.

However, from the moment Capaldi’s arc started, I’m of the opinion that the writers weren’t ready to let Smith go so Capaldi could shine, and no character suffered more for that than Clara.

During Capaldi’s entire arc, Clara’s character degraded to such a degree that I’m of the opinion there are some who think of her as one of the worst companions of the modern era. But why?

 

Here are my reasons:

  1. Continuity Conflict: We established that Clara’s arc at the end of Smith’s tenure was wonderful. The problem is, when Smith left and Capaldi came in Clara was resentful of the “older” Capaldi. She had an entire episode where she “came to grips” with the Doctor being a different person.  The problem is, if anyone were able to roll with the regeneration mojo, it would be the companion who has helped every doctor to have been or to come. In fact, she should have recognized that doctor.
    1. Very_Ancient_Eleven
      Image taken from the TARDIS Data Core website.

      Some might argue, “But her memory reset!”  Really, then explain the scene when Clara speaks with the aged Smith in “Time of the Doctor.” She told him, “You’ll just pop up with a new face.” This is when the show went on to account for the cannon’s established number of regenerations (12).  She knew that Smith would go, and another new face would appear.

    2. Only she didn’t. She acted with shock and even asked if there was a way to change him back. This rather bigoted point of view from a character who should know the Doctor better than most just felt half-hearted. Especially in the “argument” she posed on why she wasn’t bigoted (but then continued to doubt the Doctor.
  2. gallery_uktv-doctor-who-s08-e04-2A Love Story with No Love: The show went on to push the love story between her and Danny Pink. The problem, they never developed that love story. Compare the love story between Rory and Amy, a story that was so compelling, Amy’s choice to stay go be with Rory (while the reason I hate her (she was the only character the Doctor begged to stay with him)) made sense because they established several times through  multiple season just how much they mean to one another.  Meanwhile, Pink went on one awful date and had one speech (in which she lied to this man she was supposed to love so much she betrayed the doctor). So when that episode happened, her heartbreak over Pink’s death just didn’t mean anything. For crying out loud, she professed her love over the phone. (eye roll)
    1. This love story didn’t have any development or growth, so her reaction to his death just felt like an excuse.
  3. A Fall From Grace with No Consequence: I think this is the most tragic reason this character just fell apart. The following season, we saw Clara begin to get pretty dark. (The justification did feel off from the beginning since we’re still just finding it hard to believe she cared so much for a man she willfully lied to.) Anyway, justification aside, this arc was fascinating…
    1. face-the-raven-16x9
      Image taken from The Ultimate Guide to the Fashion of Doctor Who website.

      … until she never had to face the consequences for her fall.  This season was one of the most frustrating for me because we’d see an episode that was just fantastic (Face the Raven or Heaven Sent) are undercut by episodes that render the tragic cost of those episodes moot. Clara makes a huge mistake and heroically accepts her fate (until the Doctor brings her back). I even disliked the return of the Doctor’s memories.

    2. When character makes poor decision after poor decision but doesn’t face consequences, it annoys the audience. They start to doubt the story will unfold with any real suspension of disbelief.  Comic books kill characters and bring them back all the time; however, those characters are at least dead for more than two episodes.

All of these reasons have nothing to do with Jenna Coleman or her acting ability to act (which I feel is outstanding). The problem is, in my opinion, with the writing. The plotting for Clara’s arc lacked respect for her previously established cannon and enough foreshadowing to make her plot twists convincing.

I think this is all unfortunate as she was such a great companion through Smith’s tenure.  Whatever happens with this new Doctor, I’m glad this new Doctor is getting a new companion. This will let us judge the pair together and individually.

What do you think? Do you still like Clara? Do you have more reasons her arc didn’t work? (Please don’t just bash characters or actors. I always seek to analyze based on definable characteristics not just raw emotion.)

Thanks for reading,

Matt

A Thin Line Between Loyalty and Boring. The Value of Conflict Between Supporting Characters

A Thin Line Between Loyalty and Boring. The Value of Conflict Between Supporting Characters
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Image from comicbook.com

I’m making my way through my TBR pile, and I noticed something in a book that drew my attention. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s probably not a good thing. I’ll keep things vague because there’s enough bad pub out there regarding books, and I’m not in any way trying to bash anyone. However, we can look at what some people do and make notes.

We have a  main character who has a sidekick. This sidekick is loyal and steadfast. My argument is this character might have reached the point to where that steadfastness is not only hard to believe, but has become boring because no matter what the main character puts that sidekick through, the character simply keeps being this amazingly helpful, understanding person.

While I’ve recently come to believe that conflict in stories is a must, and I think authors should find as many opportunities for conflict as possible, I’m not in any way saying there needs to be some sort of fight scene or argument in every scene. Sometimes you need tension. Sometimes you need support. The thing is though, no one can be stalwart and reliable 100 percent of the time.

From a human perspective, even lifelong friends get frustrated with one another. My brother-and-I are such close friends and so well regarded, that family members have on occasion asked one of us what we wanted and then bought it for the other.  When I go shopping, I just buy something I really want and give it to him. That doesn’t mean we’ve never fought. From that same perspective, friendships are tested through adversity. The point in live isn’t to always agree and support each other.  Support is a thing, but support doesn’t always imply, helping or (more importantly) rolling with whatever the MC wants.

From a writer’s perspective, any author should be seriously worried when character reactions or actions become predictable. Predictable characters are boring, and boring characters lead to unread books.

Disagree?  Let’s take a look at some of the most famous “friends” in fiction or entertainment:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.  Didn’t we all see Civil War? I mean, the movie made metaphorical-astro-bucks in theaters. Wasn’t that story (in movies and comics) all about putting allies at odds? That sort of conflict takes this analogy a little farther than I want though.  What about the most loyal sidekick ever?

samwise-gamgee-samwise-gamgee
Image from writingishardwork.com

Samwise Gamgee: The guy tagged along with Frodo through everything. Some may Sam is the actual protagonist of the story.  while I think he was the hero, he wasn’t the protagonist. The protagonist in any story is the one who has a clear goal and encounters obstacles. The main goal of Lord of the Rings? Destroy the ring. Yes, Sam just wanted to protect his friend, but it’s not as neat as those wearing fond remembrance glasses think. For starters, Sam didn’t hear about the tale and shout, “Frodo can’t go unless I do!”  In fact, he was caught eavesdropping and ordered to follow Frodo.  The very beginning of their journey wasn’t based on friendship and support; it was based on Sam being yanked into this mess because of being nosey.

Yes, Sam was stalwart through perhaps 95% of the whole story, but there was rising conflict and an eventual clash of wills and break-up. Sure it was short lived, but Sam and Frodo argued about Gollum, which ended in Sam saying he can’t support this path. Yes, he returned, but that return as all the more heroic because the audience understood and believed how frustrating it would be.

So writers, I’m not saying the friends or sidekicks of the story need to argue at every page or end up on opposite sides of the conflict, but no one real or fictitious, can walk in the shadow of an MC and not encore some of the emotional strain, turmoil, and resentment the MC encounters.

Writers should be aware of what the MC is putting that sidekick through, and respect that those challenges have a toll on that friend. Every Robin ever has had some major conflict with Batman. Sometimes it was a conflict to earn a place beside him, and sometimes it was a more literal conflict. No one liked Jason Todd until he came back and tried took on Batman.

mat-cauthon-hat-3-wheel-of-time-mat-by-dragoninstall-567-x-632
Image by Dragoninstall taken from agrimarques.com.

There’s another side. There are characters who get boring for the opposite reason. They almost never seem willing to support or help out that MC.  Mat Cauthon was a very hot and cold character for me.  I frankly resented him sometimes for how quickly he was ready to abandon Rand and how stubborn he was about pretty much doing anything. I understand part of this was an aspect of his arc and his fatal flaw, but he infuriated me, and there were times when I just wasn’t interested in him because I didn’t want to read another ten pages about how he wanted to avoid the situation. That said, I absolutely bawled when he mentioned a certain prank from way back in Eye of the World (I’d really appreciate anyone who remembers what that animal was by the way. I can’t seem to recall it. Might be time to read that series again.)  Mat ended up working for me because he inevitably was loyal. He fought it every step of the way, but he did come through in the end.

Consider this as you write. Tension and conflict, even between the closest characters, can make that relationship stronger.

Thanks for reading,
Matt

 

I’ve Learned I’m Not Big on Villains: Reflecting on Bad Guys

I’ve Learned I’m Not Big on Villains: Reflecting on Bad Guys

MordorAs I’m not reading as quickly as I’d like, I don’t have a review for you all. That means I had to think about something on which I could discuss. I gave it some time, and as I was thinking about another project I’m taking on (super-secret, big possibilities), I started thinking about villains.  I did a blog on villains a while back, but then I realized, I’m not actually a big fan of villains.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a good conflict, but stick with me. I went back and thought about my favorite books of all time. Only one of them has any arguable main villains.

Beowulf: One might argue this has villains, and it does. But Beowulf fights several. To my recollection (and I’ll admit it’s been a long while) none of them have very complex back stories. Oh, there’s some information, but ultimately, they’re either the fodder Beowulf cuts through or the thing that finally takes him down. Grendel is the most discussed, but he’s dispatched fairly quickly in the book.

What Men Live By, by Leo Tolstoy: I promise you, there was no bad guy.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson: So here we come to the “yes there was a villain” argument. Look, Ruin was the main antagonist. But Vin takes him on, and that’s that. Ruin wasn’t a mortal. He was this larger than life force that Vin had to elevate herself to take on (and I think there’s something there).

Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: Again, the Dark One was the overall threat.  Some may argue Ishamael was the “villain” of that story, but I simply don’t see it that way.

The Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey:  No villain. A threat, a lager than life threat, but no villain.

This led me to an assertion. Great Books Need Great Villains.  I think not. These are my five favorite books of all time, and the reason I love them has nothing to do with the villains. Do I think a great villain can make a book great? Yes, but I don’t think they’re mandatory. It really dawned on me as I was thinking about who my favorite villains are. The fact of the matter is I don’t have any. I’m actively sitting here thinking about books and who the MC faces in each of them, and I can’t even name one. Comics are different in that regard, but comics are meant to run for years, so you need a cast of villains to change things up.

BobsGreatestMistakeI’ve said this a bunch of times, give me proactive, sympathetic characters, and I’m probably going to love your story. I’m less invested as a reader to see if they’re proactive because they have to defeat evil or because they have to beat this one particular antagonist. That’s window dressing for me. Bob and Caught both have villains. I certainly hope they’re enjoyable villains, but I don’t mind a world where the heroes are the ones with whom my readers connect.

So this post, short but interesting, leads to a question. Where do you sit in relationship to villains? I understand the value of compelling villains. What I’m asking is do you only invest in stories that have a great villain? Compare your favorite books ever to this question. Tell me the villain of your favorite book or series. I’m honestly curious to know what you think.

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt