Character Study: Adolin Kholin, The Cosmere’s Most Underrated Hero

Character Study: Adolin Kholin, The Cosmere’s Most Underrated Hero

Greetings all,

It’s been a while since I’ve done a character study, and since I’m currently through my fifth read through of Oathbringer, I’ve been thinking about Adolin.

I’ve had the chance to speak with the author, Brandon Sanderson, who is my favorite in the business right now, and people were talking about Kal and Shallan. I couldn’t help but say, “The only thing wrong with Adolin is that he isn’t Kal.”

Fanboy moment: Mr. Sanderson felt that was a good point.

You see, if Stormlight doesn’t have Kaladin, I affirm that Adolin would be the main character. In fact, Adolin would be a fine main character in pretty much any other fantasy story that doesn’t have Kaladin in it. And yet, poor Adolin is stuck behind this generation’s greatest hero. Kaladin is the greatest main character since Rand al’Thor, and Adolin can’t help but get lost in that shadow. (I’ll probably do a character study on Kaladin later, but I’m still a bit perturbed by his character given what happens in Oathbringer.)

Even in writing a blog praising Adolin, I can’t help but acknowledge why he isn’t the main character, but he is possibly one of the greatest secondary characters ever (I’d put him behind Perrin myself, but Adolin is up there).

So why not take a look at Adolin and try to understand why he’s so compelling.

The simple answer is his sympathy aspect. Adolin is loyal. He’s the picture of a good son and a model of a great big brother. He’s charming. He’s earnest. The most fascinating part of all that is how he sees himself: Not good enough.

Like his father, Adolin is his harshest critic. He’s an acclaimed duelist. He’s the planet’s most eligible bachelor, but he sees in himself flaws that don’t even exist. The flaws that do exist in him are mountains that rest on his shoulders. This leads him to do something beautiful: He tries. He tries so hard to be the sort of man he thinks everyone thinks he should be, and he’s unable to see he’s already so much more. This is what makes Adolin stand out.

When I was first reading Oathbringer, I was afraid Adolin would turn against the team. A part of me still is. How long can a man be just short of good enough before that yearning to be recognized becomes bitter? It would make for a great fall-from-grace arc, but I sure hope it doesn’t happen. I still think it might, and that has me rooting for Adolin all the more.

This is why some of the events of The Rhythm of War made me so happy, which brings me to the other point I wanted to make about this character.

Adolin does all the “hero arc” things others do in a completely original way, and when you compare his arc to Kal’s you can see the parallel. To be honest, Adolin does it all the hard way.

The trade off is Adolin’s suffering (the tool most authors use to build sympathy) isn’t as obvious as someone like Kal. This is probably one reason why I don’t hear people talk about him. Honestly, I hear more people talk about Renarin.

This image by Exmakina was taken from The Coppermind for review purposes. Please don’t sue me.

I think the fact that Adolin doesn’t suffer physically or by the loss of others is the the key, and that makes me sad. Adolin is sort of a caricature for an average person in today’s world, and we do the same thing to him that real people do to others.

We look at him and think, “Well it’s not like he’s been imprisoned or hurt, betrayed or forced to experience loss. What’s he got to complain about?”

Think about it. He’s wealthy, charming, and handsome. He must be fine right?

Except he’s not. He’s fighting every bit to be seen as his own man, a man a father and brother can be proud of, a man a woman can love, as Kaladin fights to protect those around him, but because he’s never been poor or enslaved, people just don’t appreciate him, and that’s tragic. It’s a depressing view of how people treat each other.

Yet he fights on, not so much with his awesome swordsmanship or his spren, who he’s helping to find herself. Instead, he fights on by being a kind, loyal man who does all he can.

That, dear readers, is a character worth putting on t-shirts. That, dear readers, is a main character trapped in a more-compelling main character’s arc.

So the next time you’re reading a Stormlight book, take a moment to give Adolin a bit of love.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

A Step Too Far: Why I Stopped Watching Supernatural

A Step Too Far: Why I Stopped Watching Supernatural

Greetings all,

I’m moving in a different direction this week. This may be seen as a rant. In a way I suppose everything is a rant. But I hope that rather than see it that way, we can look at how life, art, and entertainment mix and how sometimes they don’t mix.

It’s common knowledge that I am Christian. In fact, if I’m known for anything, I’d hope to be know in that light first.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in this blog before or not, but I do indeed love Supernatural. But there were some caveats to that. Years back, I finished Season 5 of that show and thought it was a fantastic ending to a beautifully done plot line that has many themes.

So let’s start there. I’m not sure what year it was for me. It may have been when the episode aired. The point is, I watched it and loved it. I thought the series was among the better shows I’ve seen. But something strange happened. It didn’t end.

Far be it from me to deny actors and producers and others affiliated with a show to stop earning a living, but I had known that the original creators had walked away saying the story they intended to tell was over.

Being a fan of the show, I watched.

Season 6 was a big bomb for me. It felt lost. It seemed random. I didn’t like the direction they took the characters. So I stepped away.

The thing with me though is I’m stubborn. Even if I’m reading a terrible book (I’ve read many), I feel compelled to finish it. It’s a failure of mine. So some time a few years back (though less than when I’d turned away from the show), I sat down determined to see what happened.

Honestly, I wasn’t impressed. First off, when the villain you face is literally the devil, where do you go from there? Some of the later seasons weren’t that bad. In fact, the ark with The Darkness at least felt like it was moving in a direction that reminded me of the first five seasons.

So I sort of plodded along just seeing where the story would go, and indeed I saw a few things that I like. I was actually interested in Jack as a character. I like redemption stories. I like stories where the one who is supposed to be the bad guy genuinely wants to be good.

So here’s where my faith comes in. It’s my personal opinion (and you’re welcome to disagree; this just happens to be my blog) that any Christian should at least be very discerning and careful when they choose where to go for entertainment.

Does this mean Christians shouldn’t be watching science fiction, paranormal, supernatural or even horror shows? I hope not; I write that stuff.

I have precedent. C.S. Lewis is a renown Christian who wrote fantasy. Who was it who shared the gospel with him that ultimately turned him to Christianity? None other than J.R.R. Tolkien. Both write with either allegorical or at least relatable material, but I don’t feel it’s inherently sinful to enjoy these genres. Again, I understand if some disagree.

The point I’m coming to though is that every person should have a line they do not cross. I experienced something similar with Walking Dead. They just went one step too far, so I stopped watching, but that’s a tangent.

While a few episode or story arcs in later seasons of Supernatural pricked my conscience (and I’ll confess I probably should have listened), I kept going. It was sort of like being in a relationship (not a marriage) after the magic had gone, but you didn’t want to end it.

Then I saw the final episode of the penultimate season (or so I think).

For me, the line too far was an episode that showed they were actually going to make their character of god (and that does create several potential areas of discussion in itself) the villain.

Here we go back to the first five seasons. Indeed everyone thought god (the character) was “gone.” But, as shown, he hadn’t gone. Sure, there were several things that one might debate about that aspect alone, but I had some sort of leg to stand on (even IF I wasn’t supposed to).

But I saw those final minutes and honestly felt my heart break. Here’s a show I once loved with characters I didn’t want to let go of even if I hadn’t honestly enjoyed a season in forever. Then the show takes this sort of direction?

I couldn’t do it.

I can’t help but feel if I try to explain this more, I’ll only fire up those who still love the show and were perfectly happy with that arc and many others. I have no intention of starting a huge argument.

I say again; you have a right to your own opinion.

While I am indeed pointing to this one moment in this one show, my ultimate point (again) is that everyone needs to decide where they draw their line. For some it’s nudity. For others it’s blood. Some people don’t watch anything rated higher than PG. Heck, I’ve seen some who even lose their cool over PG.

If I’m going to ask people to respect my right to my opinion, I must, therefore, respect their right to theirs.

But each of us as viewers has to decide, “Hey, that’s just too far.”

Well, I supposed there are those who have no line whatsoever, but even that is a choice about where their line is.

Maybe the story goes in a different direction. Perhaps there was more to it. Again, that episode really rubbed me the wrong way.

This isn’t me telling YOU not to watch it. I have absolutely no authority over you, nor do I have any right to tell you what to do.

I still love those first five seasons. I think it’s beautiful storytelling and a fantastic arc. I still market Bob Drifter as “Dead Like Me Meets Supernatural.” That’s the regard I have for that story. I’m also not going to pretend I don’t like it. Maybe as I grow and change, my opinion will change, but this is where I am today.

I referenced Walking Dead. That show and one other, Family Guy, all went a step too far for me for different reasons, and I found myself conflicted until I realized something that led to this blog.

It’s ok to have enough. You don’t have to push through that book you bought just because you bought it. You don’t have to stay in that movie you’re not enjoying.

I’m still pretty stubborn. I don’t see myself stopping just because I’m not enjoying something. I’ll probably write a blog about that later on. However, the actual message this is leading to is actually, “If you stop liking something, it’s ok to stop watching, reading, or listening to it.” Sure, others may disagree, but that’s ok, too.

People can discuss what they think without anger or malice. They can find common ground and agree to disagree. That’s actually a big learning moment for me. I’ve often felt like I have to justify when I stop watching something (or whatever). That’s just not the case.

Oddly, here I am explaining why I stopped watching something, but not to defend the stopping. Instead, I hope this encourages you.

Even if it’s this blog, you don’t have to read it.

I hope this doesn’t end up in thousands of super fans seeking my head on a platter. It could happen. People are passionate. Instead I hope this is like a group of friends at a restaurant, and one guy goes, “Wow, this meal’s turned out to be too spicy for me to handle.” That was the intent.

Thanks for reading,
Matt

The Anime Formula

The Anime Formula

Greetings all,

So I wanted to do a case study today, and I’ve been thinking a lot about anime and how it works. To be fair, I probably haven’t seen as much anime as a lot of other people. What anime I watch, I watch all of, but I’ve seen about ten anime series, and they’re just about the same, but in a good way. How is it anime can be so formulaic and still be entertaining? Sure, the magic system or fighting system is unique. The characters are sort of unique. But if you’ve watched Dragonball Z, you’ve seen Naruto, Bleach, and a host of others. Again, I don’t mean that as an insult. I love all of those shows, but they all follow a pretty basic formula, and I’m going to go over that today.

Step 1: Isolated hero seeks to be accepted/respected/befriended or the rogue hero who stands up because “someone must.”

Ichigo and Naruto are isolated people who either form small groups or seek small groups of friends. They either earn those friendships quickly or must fight doggedly to earn them. In either case, they’ll risk everything to save their friends. This is where they’ll risk their lives to protect others.

In either case, these bonds are the catalysts for the first arc. The bulk of the first arc is all about the development of the friendships or the establishment of the lengths the hero will go to in order to protect those friendships.

Step 2: Enter powerful antagonist 1.

When this person arrives, there is immediate dislike. There is rivalry. This new arrival has (at the very least) a leg up on our hero.

Step 3: The fight.

This fight either ends with one winning, and therefore winning over the antagonist, creating a new friendship or ends with a more frightening opponent arriving, forcing the original combatants to join forces.

Step 4: Enter even more powerful antagonist.

This villain walks in and wipes out pretty much the entirety of the original cast, and they do it with ease. This butt whoop’n either establishes the larger arc or teases it before the next phase (or both). The heroes somehow survive (or die and maintain the ability to do the next phase).

Step 5: The training arc.

This is where our heroes get down to business. They usually meet a mysterious mentor around here who beats them until they reach the next stage of their abilities. Our heroes are often given some sort of “uber level” attack or state of being they must reach within a deadline that is impossible. But somehow, they pull it off. Sometimes the writer makes us wait to see if the move works or not, but the training is the bulk of this stage.

Step 6: The underling or main event.

Our hero either takes on the current big bad or starts his way up the chain. The fight is close, but our hero reveals his/her new ability and wipes out the current challenger. But then an even stronger foe arises, who beats up our heroes, who barely survive and find somewhere to train.

That’s right folks. Hero wins. Go back to step 4. Rinse repeat until the ultimate of ultimate level 80 villain is vanquished.

All the while the previously defeated foes become fast friends and members of the metaphorical Scooby Gang.

To be honest, I don’t know why it works (on me every time), but it does. I love Dragonball Z. I love Naruto. I love Bleach. I love Jujutsu Kaisen. I love Demon Slayer. All of those shows follow the same template. The moves have to be cool. The fight scenes have to be epic.

This image was taken from bleach.fandom.com for review and study purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Most importantly, even though everyone who’s been watching anime since Goku was a baby knows the hero is going to win (at least in the end), the writer has to make the fight seem impossible. The hero must get beaten and battered to such a degree that the reader says, “Wait, is he really gonna lose?” That’s the magic part.

Some anime throws in a twist.

Twist angle: Hero has some indwelling creature who offers great power at a great cost. This indwelling creature is another antagonist, but the relationship is literally symbolic. In this case, the hero reaches his Epic Tier when the hero converts his indwelling pest into a true ally. Then the hero does that last step mentioned above.

So there it is. This is the only genre I’ve ever seen that never gets old for some reason. Interestingly, I haven’t seen it used that much in books, which is why I want to give it a try at some point.

Did I miss a step? I will say I understand that there are other anime that don’t remotely follow this formula. There may even be the great majority of anime that don’t. But if the hero is a plucky fighter of some kind, I promise I know what’s going to happen. The excitement for me is to see what the “next level” ability or move looks like.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

I’m Pretty Sure Naruto Took A Bunch From Hunter X Hunter

The family and I started watching Hunter X Hunter specifically because the television told us it was similar to Naruto.

Similar? I am utterly convinced Naruto’s creator was a huge fan of Hunter X Hunter, and took a great deal of inspiration from the show. How much?

So the main character (the names in Hunter X Hunter are very confusing) wants to be a hunter (ninja in Naruto) because his father (yep) left to be a hunter. His father, a mysterious, famous, and legendary hunter (or Hokage) seems to have impacted the whole group of Hunters (ninjas).

The series picks up when the main character has to take a test, which is almost plot-point for plot-point the same as the Chunin Exams.

I’m not going to dive into a point-for-point review, and I’m not trying to say Naruto is nothing more than a trumped up rip off of Hunter.

What I actually want to say is that Naruto clearly respects Hunter, and shows it in using material from that predecessor and adding something new and refreshing to it.

Naruto has a ton of original angles in comparison to Hunter. I’m only about one season into Hunter, and for all I know everything changes after that season. But it was cool to see so many pieces that matched.

I actually vectored this image from an original source, so it’s pretty much my own fan art.

For instance, the main character of Hunter takes on a master, who simply wants him to take away a set of bells. Wait? No, that was Naruto. With Hunter it was a sort of dodge ball. You get the point though.

After doing a bit of research, I’m not quite sure what ran when, but the anime style of Hunter indicates an early release date, and I found one date as 1999, which is easy to believe. However, what may be surprising is they are contemporaries.

The Mangas for each title only came out about a year apart.

So I guess I’m just wondering what you all think? Is one a rip off of the other? I don’t think so. Yes, they are very similar. However, I like to think of it more as similar tropes done in equally entertaining ways.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Last Airbender: Why A Kid’s Show is Still Great Storytelling

The Last Airbender: Why A Kid’s Show is Still Great Storytelling

My family and I recently finished re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (the series, not that atrocious movie).

Most of these images were taken form wiki pages. Please don’t sue me!

I think there’s an unfair stigma about “kid’s shows,” but I understand where it comes from.

You see, back in my day, cartoons were very thin. They had limited plots and shallow characters. Some still have those flaws, but that doesn’t mean that every animated show is bad or guilty of those crimes.

Avatar proves that on every level.

Broader Characters: All the characters on Avatar have deeper levels that a typical cartoon. They have virtues and flaws. They have differences that cause conflicts.

The relationships between the characters are themselves arcs. I think the biggest draw to the show is in the relationships formed and challenged throughout the series. Zuko’s relationships are particularly wonderful. We don’t see how loving Iroh is if we don’t see how fixated and selfish Zuko starts out. Just about the moment we’re ready to give up on Zuko, we meet Azula, and suddenly we understand more about Zuko, and grow to sympathize with him and even love him.

Great Conflicts: Those conflicts I mentioned above give an emotional charge to what could have been a terribly shallow plot. Aang learns water bending. Aang learns earth bending. Aang learns fire bending. Fight. End.

Those things happened, but each of those plot elements are only part of additional, more interesting plot elements. The story does a great job of maximizing the directions stories can go.

Just these two simple things make a story so much more interesting, and it’s good entertainment. It’s not enough for things to happen to people. We need to care about those people. It’s also not enough for us to just see people, no one (no matter how sympathetic) is interesting if they are not doing anything.

This is the balance I think Airbender struck. We had a good mix of episodes that connected us to the characters (am I the only one who loved that episode in Book Two where we saw each character’s day?). We also had episodes where the characters moved. Sometimes they reacted (the episode where Azula was chasing them the whole time), sometimes they acted (the library). Yet even in those action driven shows, we still see character building moments.

So I just wanted to share a few thoughts that might help hopeful storytellers learn how important those elements are to a story. More importantly, I wanted to demonstrate how those elements elevate a story. Good character depth and conflict can make any style of story for any genre better.

Do you have some favorite episodes of Airbender? Do you have some other elements you enjoyed? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

They’re the Same Character!

They’re the Same Character!

Rogue
Low res image used for review purposes. All images here used for character study purposes under fair use doctrine.

I was talking to a student about narratives recently, and the topic of characters, story arch and Star Wars came up.

The student affirmed that he hated Rey, but really liked the main character from Rogue One.

Those were his words.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

The student looked at me blankly.

“How can you say you like a character you can’t even name?”

Comedic interaction aside, a classmate looked up her name, Jyn Erso. During some good natured back and forth, I asserted that Jyn and Rey are, in fact, pretty much the same character. You can hate both, but you can’t hate one and love the other. They are pretty much the same character.

Let’s just start with the simple biometric data: Both actresses (and therefore characters) are shorter (less than 5’9″). Only four inches separate them. Both have dark hair. They have the same build (healthyceleb.com says they’re exactly the sam weight). They both have lighter eye colors (green and hazel). So they do, in fact, look very similar.

Now let’s look at the character’s specifically.  Both were abandoned by their parents.  Both have a serious investment in their familial legacy/origin. Both are incredibly skilled in their craft and seemingly learn at alarming rates. Both are witty. Both are prone to “rage” moments.

downloadSeriously folks, @me on this. Heck, I can line up Rise and Rouge One plot point for plot point if you want in terms of their arch:

  1. Establish abandonment.
  2. Establish isolation.
  3. Introduce impact character who brings them to the rebellion/alliance.
  4. Character inspires large level action against threat.
  5. Character get’s captured/pinned down.
  6. Character faces idiotic odds.

The only actual difference between the two is that only one lived.

I suppose one could argue Rey’s arc is more complete, but ironically that’s the thing everyone (I talk to) disputes about why this trilogy is bad.

So I leave it to you wonderful readers. Assertion: Rey and Jyn are pretty much the same drn character. Agree or disagree?

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Character Study: Rand al’Thor, a perfect acr

Character Study: Rand al’Thor, a perfect acr

Eye of the WorldWheel of Time is my second-favorite saga of all time. I joined the series after Knife of Dreams was out (though I started with Eye of the World), and I was hooked. I’ve read the whole series at least 14 times (1 time for each book in the series). There isn’t much news on the M.L.S. Weech front this week, so I thought I’d do a character study.

I’ve talked about character arcs a few times, and Rand is a fantastic analysis of character arc. Warning, there are spoilers here!

Characters need to grow: When we first meet Rand, we see a young man who thinks he knows how his life is going to go. He’s going to be a farmer, like his dad, and marry Egwene. He’s innocent. He’s naive. Eye of the World is essentially the story of a young man who must leave his home but desperately wants to return to it. The whole book is basically establishing Rand as a character living in ignorance (literally).

The Great Hunt forces Rand to act. Even in this book, Rand truly wants nothing more than to life to return to the way it was (a return to innocence). It is only his bond and desire to save his friend that keeps him on the path he needs to stay on. Which brings me to another point.

Characters need believable motivations: What else could keep a character moving along the plot line? Why would a character risk danger? In this case, Rand risks giving in to his power by putting himself on the Hunt. His loyalty to his friend is the motivation that makes us believe he’d do  something he’d otherwise never do.  The friendships established in the first book allow the reader to see that motivation.

Dragon RebornThe Dragon Reborn is such a clever tale for so many reason. Here we see Rand grow to accept who and what he is, and I don’t know that he has 5,000 words of screen time. We’re watching Rand grow from the perspective of those trying to catch up to him. This is the critical turning point. This is the book Rand realizes there is no returning to innocence. This book is Rand putting his fate to the test. He knows that only the Dragon Reborn could reclaim Callandor. I think this might be the book where people really fall in love with Rand. It seems weird to say, but this is the book where we see how heartbroken Rand is, and our hearts break with him. What do we learn about this?

Characters need to suffer: Sometimes, suffering can make us care for a character, and sometimes suffering can deepen how much we care. Either way, there must be conflict. In this book Rand is alone and struggling with nightmares and visits from Ba’alzamon. I have to admit, there was a large part of me that wanted it not to work. And that makes the story work.

The Shadow Rising is far more about Perrin than Rand. The scope of this series demands some books focus on one character more than others, and this is such a case.

Fires of HeavenThe Fires of Heaven has a victory of sorts, but it’s a tragic victory. Everything is thrown into chaos, and Rand must evolve from a character who has reluctantly accepted his fate to one who must take the path he has. There’s a lot that happens in this story. The first is that Rand actively pursues his role as the Dragon Reborn. He’s acquired a plan. He’s still untrusting of Moraine, and why should he be? She’s been manipulating him from the beginning. Sure, she was doing it for the sake of the world and for his own good, but it doesn’t make her actions less manipulative. Of course, the moment he starts trusting her is exactly the moment she “dies.”

Character must be isolated to grow: This isn’t the same as The Great Hunt. First, he didn’t want to be anywhere near Moraine to begin with. Here, Moraine became a crutch. In a way, she also would have been a hinderance. Like the power these characters wield, Rand isn’t something you can direct, only something you can channel. Taking Moraine in that way and at that time forces Rand to become a leader.

Characters need evolving goals: The first three books are all about Rand trying to return to where he wants to be. Fires gives Rand a new goal and a new motivation. We still see his innocence, characterized by his desire to prevent women from dying, and even in this, Rand must allow others to die. This hurts Rand. He desperately wants to protect others, especially women, so his goal becomes morbid rather than hopeful. This is the seed that was planted for his fall.

Lord of ChaosLord of Chaos changes Rand, and not in a good way.

Characters need to devolve every bit as much as they need to evolve: Rand’s capture and torture take someone who’s been manipulated before and pushes it to the extreme, leading him to be suspicious and distrustful of everyone. This betrayal changes Rand from one morbidly marching toward doom to a weapon. This was the most important moment since Moraine came to visit the Two Rivers.

Characters need anchors: Min and Aviendha (I’ll never see the value in Elayne) serve critical roles here. They represent who Rand used to be. They serve to give Rand some connection of love and trust that he desperately needs where others only fear him or what he must do.  Rand tries to avoid this in a few ways, but Min (my favorite of the three) refuses to leave his side.

A Crown of Swords is a darker book that shows Rand descending into darkness. he does things that are “right,” but his motivations and justifications begin to darken. This book, Rand (not the Dragon) receives power. That power, like always, begins to corrupt him. He starts to want to break away from his older person. Again, motivation is key. Love and trust leads to loss and betrayal, so here, we see Rand beginning to use people and seek power rather than protect.

The Path of Daggers is a tipping point. Rand is gobbling up nations and gaining power. His actions fill him with pride and hubris, leading him to a critical battle with the Seanchan.

Characters need to fail: Failures teach characters. Failures humble characters. This particular Failure shows how far Rand has fallen, and the scary thing is, he doesn’t learn from it. Instead, he’s insulted by the failure. He’s goes even bigger.

Winter's HeartWinter’s Heart becomes a sort of crowning moment of arrogance for Rand. He and Nyaeve cleanse the Source. Armies attack. The world watches in horror, and Rand does the impossible. It doesn’t actually do anything for him. He’s still insane. So are the Asha’men. As amazing as this is, it only means future men won’t lose their minds. At best, those already tainted will be saved from going completely mad. Rand’s falling deeper into despair, and this huge act of awesome power is great, but ultimately doesn’t do anything for Rand. He still has his anchors in the form of Nyneave and Min (and a few others). They continue to support Rand, who desperately needs that protection and that loyalty.

Many people hate Crossroads of Twilight. The plot doesn’t move an inch. It’s essentially a whole book of people reacting to Winter’s Heart. I had the advantage of being able to read straight through it to the next book, but I can understand how people who had been reading since the ’90s and wanted to see what happens next might have felt. I don’t imagine New Spring helped much either. Sure it showed us some new information in terms of back story, but we’re still left eager to see what happens next.

Knife of Dreams continues to push Rand to the edge. Everything he tries fails. Everything he tries comes to disaster. Failure isn’t new to Rand at this point, but this is different.

Characters need to be humbled: Here Rand isn’t just humbled, he loses a hand and almost loses himself to Lews Therin. The secret about his insanity is revealed. Where Rand was willing to go into the darkness for people, now it’s proven that he’s worthy of fear and distrust. This is important to show how close to the edge he is.

Characters need to appear as though they might go the wrong way: This is such a powerful writer tool and one so rarely used. We never worried that Harry Potter might become a Death Eater. We never worry that Luke would join the Dark Side. Those are great stories, but here is where Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time shine. We begin to seriously fear Rand would go too far. At this point, our fear is small, but we’re just a tiny bit afraid that Rand will simply become a ruthless overlord. Him saving the world seems farther away than ever.

The Gathering StormThe Gathering Storm brings all of this to a head. Rand is again betrayed. Rand is again hurt. Rand becomes convinced that ruthlessness and death are all his options. He seems to have lost all his faith in people and in the world. This is most obvious when he not only kills a woman, he erases her from existence and then (apparently) does the same thing to an entire building. Is it effective? Ironically, no. The whole idea of his abusive, excessive actions was to catch his enemy off guard, and it fails. Rand falls farther than ever, until he encounters his father for the first time since this saga began.

Characters need to remember their original motivations/who they are: There’s an argument that characters need to change. I prefer grow. Rand is clearly a different man than he was. He’s harder. He’s wiser. At this point he’s more sly and mistrusting. But he’s still motivated by love. In desperation, Rand returns to Dragonmount to seemingly end his own life, and then he realizes the beautiful potential in the world. Sure, one may fail over and over again, but each new opportunity is a chance to get it right. That return to hope is what saves the day and leads us to the new Rand.

A Memory of LightThrough Towers of Midnight (far more about Matt) and into A Memory of Light, we see the changed Rand. He has accepted that he is both Lews Therin and Rand. He has accepted that suffering is a part of life, but he has returned to hope. His encounter with his father and his love for his friends (and other forms of love) has become his anchor. Rather than morbidly thinking about getting the Last Battle over with, Rand instead looks to the future.

We still see the change. He’s certainly never pushed around by any woman again. He’s not manipulated. He’s powerful, but now humility and loss has tempered his ego in to wisdom.

Those are the things that made him ready for the Last Battle. We see the battle end, and Rand is a new man. Rather than going home (who can ever go home again?), he sets out to see the world through new eyes (literally). The boy who only wanted to stay home and live a quiet life has now left to live a life of exploration and adventure.

Rand is a beautiful character in an equally beautiful saga. Just writing this post makes me want to read the saga again (maybe not this year because a new Stormlight book is coming).  I just thought that  analyzing this story gave so much insight to how to craft great characters into great stories. I hope you found this post helpful.

A while back, I wrote a song dedicated to Wheel of Time. The recording isn’t anything near studio quality, but hey, why not? Enjoy!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

My Top Five Naruto Characters!

My Top Five Naruto Characters!

Greetings,

Since COVID still has things slowed down, I need to dig into my bag of ideas.  Since I’m still on a Naruto kick, I figured now’s the time for my five favorite Naruto characters.  This isn’t ranked by power, but instead only the ones I liked.

Itachi
This image of Itachi was taken from FanPop.

#5) Itachi: Honestly, this is one of the best characters to study to begin with. Itachi has a fantastic arc. His story is heartbreakingly beautiful. He’s amazingly powerful. I like his personality. That personality really matches his story to. He’s figured things out, and he’s acting on those realizations. The only time he acts on hope is when he’s thinking about his brother, and even in that case, he’s planned for the worst.

#4) Shikamaru: For the same reason I like Itachi, I like Shikamaru more. He’s hilarious in that he can do anything, but he’d prefer to do nothing. I’ve already told you how much I loved his role in the Asuma arc.  I like characters who are thoughtful. I love watching them to see how everything will inevitably come into fruition. I spent every arc watching him and thinking, “somehow, this is a part of his plan.” It usually was.

Naruto
I vectored this image.

#3) Naruto: I don’t think I’ve ever had a title character as my favorite. But Naruto is pretty close for me. He’s everything I want a character to be. He’s sympathetic and proactive. His numbskull antics get him into trouble and it sort of makes him comedic relief when he’s not supposed to be so. Still, he is a brilliant title character who always makes me cheer for him.

#2 Gaara: I LOVE a redemption arc. Honestly Gaara would be my favorite if I did this tomorrow, but he might fall to number three next week. That’s why I’m doing the top five: because they are all my favorite at one point or another. I just love that Gaara was as low as one could be and then became one of the most loved characters in the show. His sand power is what initially caught my interest. I just thought it was cool. He’s also got that cool-but-passionate personality.

Rock
This image of Rock was taken from MyAnimeList.

#1 Rock Lee: Yeah, that’s right. Look, it’s pretty simple why I love him most. I see a lot of myself in him. He’s probably in the worst position to be a ninja, but he’s earned his right to be there because of that hard work and determination. Honestly, anyone who wants to know me better, just watch Rock. His single-minded determination is pretty much how I’ve worked for as long as I can remember, and the pain he feels when his dreams are put at risk or the people he loves are in danger resonate with me as well. Don’t even get me started on drunken fist and his love for his mentor!

So that’s my list. Do you have a top five you’d like to share? Why?

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Most List: Personality Awards For My Characters

The Most List: Personality Awards For My Characters

Greetings all,

Do you remember your high school yearbook? More specifically, do you remember that list of most or Mr. and Ms? I thought it might be fun to talk about a few of my characters using that concept as a twist. I’ve never really tried something like this, so hopefully, it’s fun!

StealingFreedomMost Clever: Ardelia Sabine, Stealing Freedom/Power of Words. This isn’t even close! I think a number of my characters have a degree of wit, but Ardelia is on another level. She’d be a great villain if her motives were different. She’s always thinking and planning. Where power or just plain grit get some characters through, Ardelia is a throw back to the characters who love it when a good plan comes together.

Most Sympathetic: Elele’Therios, Sojourn in Captivity. This was a close race in a few ways, but Elele takes it for me. I think this will be controversial to those who’ve read all my work, but I stand behind it. I still think the first chapter in her story is the best first chapter I’ve written to date. There’s so much that happens to her that I don’t think anyone could read it and not hope for better things for her.

caught-front-coverMost Dramatic: Sal Veltri, Caught. It was a close contest between him and Elele, but Sal is pretty dramatic if I’m being honest. He’s a man of passion in a lot of ways, and his emotions are always to the max, which is why I gave him this title.

Character I’d Most Like to Hang Out With: Driscoll Navin, The Journals of Bob Drifter. The guy’s hilarious! He’s hundreds of years old, so he’ll have a bunch of stories to tell. I also happen to know he’s generous, so he’d probably pay the tab.

Most Frightening: Grimm, The Journals of Bob Drifter. Ohhh, so very, very close. (NO SPOILERS!)  For obvious reasons, I’m going to go with Grimm. Sure, I have other characters who are pretty darn frightening, but Grimm gets the edge because he’s literally a grim reaper. Again, perhaps some controversy in this pick, especially considering the catch to Grimm’s goal, but I’d still run screaming from him in his cowl before any of my other characters to date.

Most Fun To Write: Caden Carroll, Caught. For so many, many reasons. The first is that Caden only speaks in metaphor and simile. I had so much fun researching the normal way to say what Caden means to find the perfect story or movie to pull from. He’s such a cool character to work with, and he’s absolutely bonkers.

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front CoverMost Like Me: Richard Hertly, The Journals of Bob Drifter. This one will also (oddly) receive a lot of debate for those who know me and have read my books. Here’s the thing, Richard is never satisfied, nor does he ever feel good enough. That’s probably the core of who I am, and why I most identify with him. There are a number of other things I think I have in common with him. All my other characters have some aspect that is beyond something I have without careful thought and consideration. Naturally, they all have a part of me, but Richard has the part I most recognize about myself.

Best Developed: Kaitlyn Olhouser, Caught and Repressed. I’ve loved watching her grow thus far, and I can’t wait for you all to see the woman she’s destined to become. Elele was in consideration for this as well, and this may shift, but, for now, seeing how she’s grown from a scared little girl into even the young lady she is in Repressed is just fun.

Most Lovable: Bob Drifter, The Journals of Bob Drifter. I really think this guy could pretty much befriend anyone. He’s kind, intelligent, polite, and honest. I’ll be honest and say he’s the character I hope most of my readers would call their favorite. I think the reason most people love that book is because most people love Bob. I’d also argue that the majority of those who didn’t care for it think it fell short because, for whatever reason, they didn’t like Bob.

So there you go! For those who’ve read my books, what are your thoughts? Would you give any of these awards to other characters? Who is your favorite character? I’d be interested to hear about it in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

Star Wars: Fact and Feeling.

Star Wars: Fact and Feeling.

I’m going to limit this to about 1,000 words. Since the official movie poster for Episode IX, I’ve seen a lot of comments. I have my own feelings and opinions on the matter. You are all welcome to your opinions and feelings, but I just can’t sit down and listen to opinions stated as fact. I’ve already talked about how unfair the criticism for Star Wars is.

Instead of just ranting (this is absolutely a rant, it’s simply not limited to ranting), I decided to address some of the comments I saw about the poster and the movies in general and supply the facts. If you hate the movie, you hate it. However, if the reasons you hate it are simply not true, then why do you hate it? Let’s begin:

Palpatine portraitComment: “Palpatine’s return undermine’s Anakin’s sacrifice.”  This is only true if Anakin died to kill Palpatine. He didn’t. Anakin didn’t sacrifice himself to kill Palpatine. He’s motivation and goal was to save his son.  Remember? Remember Luke crying in agony for his father to help him? I do. It happened during the movie many people are screaming was ruined by this current trilogy. But if Palpatine’s death was the objective, Luke’s life was optional.  Therefore, if saving Luke’s life was the objective, the death of Palpatine was, in fact, optional. The fact that his death was a bonus may be a bit of a bummer, but it in no way undercuts Anakin’s sacrifice because the cause for which he died is still true. Luke lived. Also, we’re jumping the gun on the whole, Palpatine is alive thing aren’t we? Is Palpatine “alive?” Remember, this was the Sith Lord of Sith Lords here people. He even told Anakin a “more rounded view” (or something close to it) was necessary. Couldn’t this just be a Force ghost the same way Obi-Wan operated? What part of the original cannon trilogy provides any sort of rule stating a Sith Lord can’t. In fact, that same original trilogy proves they can. Anakin (redeemed or not) was still a Sith Lord, and he returned as a Force Ghost.  Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen him yet. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Anakin appear before Rey.  So, you can hate the movie if you want, but you can’t hate it for undermining Anakin’s sacrifice because Luke lived.

Comment: “Rey is a Mary Sue.”  SIGH!  First off, people who don’t do this for a living really shouldn’t use terms they don’t understand. A novice calling any character a Mary Sue is like a fast food junkie walking into a five-star restaurant and calling the chef a Gordon Ramsey ripoff.   So, before we can bust this myth, we need to first define what a Mary Sue is. A Mary Sue is a female characters who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses. There’s a simple per se counter to this comment, but I’m going to hold off on that. Let’s start with a more nebulous argument. “Lacking in Flaws.” Rey is absolutely overeager. That overeagerness gets her into several bouts of trouble. This flaw causes conflict, and some of that conflict doesn’t happen without that flaw. Examples? She reaches straight for the dark side of the force like a 2-year-old reaches for a pot on a hot stove. Right after doing that, she goes behind Luke’s back (another flaw) to do it again. Why? Well for yet another flaw. She’s overly invested on her heritage.  The whole “who are her parents” thing is still unresolved because BAD GUYS LIE! Kylo is a seriously POOR source of information. But assuming that statement (not fact) from Kylo is true, the entirety of the first two movies are hinged on Rey desperately seeking her parents. This truth is so pivotal, the possibility that her parents abandoned her (abandonment issues, also a flaw) tempts her to side with Kylo.  Some of you may argue that’s pretty thin.  Ok. So let’s talk about the whole “and weakness.”

SnokeMaybe while I was on the edge of my seat worried she might die, I missed the part where Rey broke Snoke’s hold of her and chopped of his head while she quoted Shakespeare and developed an entirely new connection to the force. I mean, I could have missed that. I saw the movie twice in a row, and maybe I wasn’t paying attention like the rest of the people who helped the movie profit $477.5 million just so they could turn around and bash it. But I could have SWORN that Rey was helpless as a kitten while Snoke mocked her and laughed at her. I would have testified in court that Kylo had to save her. But I guess I just fell asleep and dreamt that scene because everyone else seems to want to ignore that and call her a Mary Sue because they read an article on Reddit and they’re suddenly qualified to use terms they don’t understand.

While I have another hundred or so words, I have to stop somewhere, and this is a good point. Listen, you can feel however you want about Star Wars. But if those feelings are based on ignorance of a term or a perspective that changes the original series, aren’t you guilty of doing the very thing you claim to be mad about? I just had to provide a bit of perspective on some pretty toxic language I’ve seen out there. Yes, you have a right to speak. I’m doing so now, but it hurts me as a creator to see something get this much outrage. I mean, I’ve talked to fellow creators about books and decisions I hate. There’s one popular author I’ll never read because of a Star Wars book he read. But I don’t bash him every opportunity I get. I don’t have time. So instead of investing time in your day bashing something you don’t like (for reasons I don’t think make a whit of sense), why not just go watch something you do like?

Thanks for reading,

Matt