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

 

Examples of Good Book Qualities

Examples of Good Book Qualities

Whenever I do a review, those familiar with my blog know that I have a very consistent approach because I know what I like in stories, and I evaluate stories by what I like. I think the more someone works to understand what they like, they’re more likely to find books they enjoy and (if they aspire to be an author) write books they will enjoy.

What I decided to do today is provide examples on what books did particularly well in various categories.

Name of the Wind
Image of this book’s cover was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Character:  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I chose this specifically because of how divisive this book is in my opinion. I love it. I know people who hate it.  The love and hate of this book is based entirely on how people feel about Kvothe. I think Kvothe is a brilliant character. He’s sympathetic, proactive, and highly competent. Now this is actually why a lot of people don’t like the book. He’s too perfect. I don’t think he’s a Mary Sue, but some do. Still the point is, this book hangs it hat on the main character.

Exposition: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.  Every book needs exposition. Sooner or later, the author has to just tell the reader what’s going on. The trick is to make sure that writers show everything they can and lace the exposition through the story. Mistborn has an incredibly complex magic system, and the world it happens in has a deep history. This book never once beats up the reader with complicated blocks of exposition. There is one “education” scene, where Vin learns the basics of allomancy, but other than that, the book weaves what we need throughout the action.

Worldbuilding: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. If you’re wondering, yes, it was very hard to not include Sanderson here as well, but Eye of the World is another example. Great stories typically have worlds that feel real. Eye of the World establishes so much with culture, the magic system, the mythos, and the setting. It’s truly masterful worldbuilding, but it’s not just worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. There are books I feel that take worldbuilding too far. I don’t want to spend my life reading about the economic value of a whosit. This book balances intricate worldbuilding with the story to make the scene and universe believable.

Dialogue: Brother Odd by Dean Koontz.  I’ve always been a fan of the dialogue in Koontz’s books, but I think this book is a text book for how dialogue is done. The conversations in this book are crisp and relevant, and each character has a distinct voice. Also, it’s a pretty amazing book.

BetrayersBane
Image of the book’s cover was taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Description: Betrayer’s Bane by Michael G. Manning. Honestly, I’m so finicky with description, this is hard for me. I think Timothy Zahn should also get some credit here, but Manning came to mind first, so here it is. This book has a lot of action and a lot of dramatic scenes. Manning artfully places strategic adjectives that bring a story to life without beating the reader to death with huge paragraphs of description.

There are many books that do many of these well. I don’t know that I can truly place a book here that does all of them well. I think a good book only has to do a majority of these well. I’ll even go so far as to say that, for me personally, I just need good character and low exposition, and I’ll probably like it. The point is, the more of these a writer pays attention to, the better the book will be.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

The Work: What Any Hopeful Storyteller Needs To Remember

The Work: What Any Hopeful Storyteller Needs To Remember

33691405_1268090163335754_6441353274913193984_nGreetings all,

A lot of people have asked me how to write.

Several people have asked me about how to self-publish.

Only a few people have talked to me about marketing.

I can’t remember the last time (or if ever) anyone ever asked me about the work.

The thing is, people love the idea of being an author. Actually, what they love is the idea of being a huge author.

First, “huge” is not a real measurable standard. For instance, Brandon Sanderson only has a net worth of $6 million according to celebritynetworth.com. Now, I’d never say no to $6 million, but what is that compared to say, George R. R. Martin, who makes $15 million per year on that show you all know and $10 million a year on those books based on that show.

Those are good stories and nice goals to have. They’re even real, attainable goals. However, no one just goes to sleep and wakes up next to a novel that will put them in the millionaire club.  Sanderson wrote 13 novels before he got picked up. He typically releases three titles a year. That means the guy writes a lot.

WritingI don’t begrudge a guy who’s more like me. I’m someone who does his best to get work out, but I’ve learned a bit more about the trade (and I still have a ton to learn) since I’ve started. Still, let’s just look at the work I have done. I’ve released nine titles (five original works) in four years. I had written about seven books before I self-published. In word count alone, I’ve written more than 330,000 words. That’s a commitment of time. Before I got married, I wrote 1,000 words a day and marketed for about an hour.

Since I’ve been married, I market as I have time and squeeze in a couple-hundred words a day even if I have to do so during my lunch break at work. I’m still under the belief that the time you put into it has a direct relationship to the success you have. I think this is particularly true of the marketing.

Hopeful authors, please understand that I want you to have your dreams come true. I’d be overjoyed to see you become a best-seller climb up that Forbes list. I just want you to have your eyes open to the effort you have to be willing to put in. There are no shortcuts; there are no easy paths. Too often we see the reward for one’s work, and assume it just “happened,” and that’s just not true.

ChartI wish I had some sort of chart. There are days when I’d kill to know how many books I’d have to write before I start seeing a monthly profit. I’d love to know how many dollars to invest in marketing before I see a regular sales pace. I have some info for you.

I know that a self-published author typically has to get ten books out there before they start to see a profit.

However, that’s the only solid info I have, and it’s info you need if you aspire to be an author/entrepreneur. To be frank, I still don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m just doing my best based on my own research and talking with authors I respect.

So the real question that matters is, “How much time are you willing to put into this?”

If you come and tell me you write 5,000 words a day and market for three hours a day, I’d expect you to be doing well. If you haven’t written a single book, well, that’s why you’re not succeeding as an author.

Why this post at this time? Well, I’m not working as much as a single guy could these days. I’m not upset about it. I’m more interested in being a loving husband and leading father than I am about anything else. But I am still working toward a goal. I just expect I’ll reach it a bit more slowly than I would otherwise. That doesn’t discourage me, it encourages me. It changes my thinking.

Instead of wondering why things haven’t happened yet, I realize I just need to work at it a little longer. However, I can have that optimism because I believe that work ethic breeds success. My goal is to help you see that too. I don’t imagine it would be hard to be at least as successful as I am (if one would go so far as to call me successful). But it starts with, “Write a book.” Then it builds to, “Market the book.” Then it’s, “Write another book.”

You just have to put in the work. It’s a lot of work, but that’s the only trick. So what are you sitting here reading this blog for? Go on! Get writing!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

 

 

The Need For Pain: Why Happy Characters Are Boring

The Need For Pain: Why Happy Characters Are Boring

Greetings all,

First a few notes:  For starters, I have the files for the Sojourn in Captivity audio book. I’m reviewing them now. The (very early) results seem wonderful.

Next: My wife an I are officially trying to have a child. This required a surgery to reconnect her tubes (which had been done during her previous marriage). The surgery went well, and I’d just like to take a moment and thank God for that. She and I both truly wanted to have more children, and we’re grateful the door is open. Her recovery has us both growing (code word for frustrated, which is actually why I’m doing this topic today). She’s stir crazy, and my routine is shot. Her number one comfort is being outgoing and doing things, which she can’t. My number one comfort is routine and consistency, which is nonexistent when I’m working and running a house.

But I truly mean it when I say this helps us grow.  You see, I aspire to have a boring life. I love the idea that tomorrow will be just like today. (Not at all my wife’s idea of a good day, but in this case opposites attract).  It’s all fine and good for a person to like what he likes, but if we don’t experience pain, we don’t grow. No one wants to read about the guy who encountered no stress and overcame nothing.

When we encounter struggles, it changes us. Pain  helps us grow. No, I don’t look forward to it, but I’m better when it’s over. Our characters are the same way.

Rand
Image taken from A Wheel of Time Wiki for character study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

A lot of my favorite characters are characters who suffered plenty: Rand from Wheel of Time suffered a ton (as did my favorite character in that series, Perrin). I’d say these characters are the extremes in terms of my top three series ever. Still, all my favorite books (personally) feature characters who truly struggled.

Here’s the next part to why this is so important. The readers or viewers must believe the characters might fail. I often have playful (yet also serious) arguments with a friend of mine (Hi Terry!) regarding why I honestly don’t care for DC. The characters are too powerful.  They have near Olympian power. Sure, Marvel has some OP characters, but most DC characters are of a ridiculous power level. I’m not afraid for them. I’m not in the least bit worried they won’t win the fight or meet their goal. This makes the story boring. If you want readers interested in your story, you need to convince the reader that character might fail.  This is all the more difficult to do because most readers expect a happy ending. They anticipate that, so it’s such an art to instill an honest sense of fear of failure for the character.

The wife and I don’t hate Jodie Whittaker or her Doctor, but we really couldn’t get into her first season. Now, other than Matt Smith (who remains the greatest Doctor ever), I hated every first season of every doctor. I think the writers take time to figure out the new Doctor just like the new Doctor (in the story) takes a minute to figure him or herself out. But we couldn’t get into it. Then something occurred to me: She never lost. Yes, the grandma died (was it the first episode?), but there wasn’t a connection. In fact, I’m of the opinion that character was pretty expendable. Why? Guess:

She was happy.

Doctor
Image taken from BBC.com for character study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

The only good thing a happy character can do in a story is die. They have no struggle, and therefore they have no interest. The most interesting thing that could happen is to see this wonderful, happy character die, thus causing all the other characters to become even more interesting as they try to adjust to life after happy character.

Most of my readers who I talk to during conventions often ask me about the characters who die. We talk about this a little. The one character I get the most (playful) anger with killing (no spoilers) was the character who was happy. But that character’s death shook the readers and gave them an emotional jolt. This loss affected not only the readers, but the characters around the the dearly departed.

So I had some interest, but then life got consistent for the Doctor. Then things got easy. I can think of a few instances when there was great opportunity for this Doctor to face true loss on a couple different stages, and the writers didn’t take the plunge. But you can only put Lois Lane on the train tracks so many times before the readers don’t even care anymore.  Sooner or later, that engine needs to plow over Lois, or the “act” gets boring. That’s what I feel happened with this latest season of Doctor Who.

So I wanted to throw out those ideas when I had a moment. Hopefully things calm down for me. (I really do appreciate growth, but I miss my routine something fierce right now, and my wife is going to go out of her mind if I can’t take her out next week.)

What do you all think? Do you have a story you realize you didn’t like so much for this reason? Do you disagree?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Curse of Greatness

The Curse of Greatness

Greetings all,

I thought I might take a moment to discuss a topic near and dear to me. I love stories. They’re just so amazing, and each one is special for it’s own reason. But what happens when someone truly creates something exceptional? A trend I’m noticing these days is that the greater a creation someone has, the more demand that artist is to create something greater, but that’s not a consistent measurement for any number of reasons. Lately, I’ve seen a number of people talk about how awful something is. I’d be in the middle of asking why they didn’t like it, and, inevitably, the other person would say something like, “His first book was so much better!”

OHHHHhhhhh! You’re not evaluating this story on it’s own merit, you’re comparing it to something else. Is it a completely unreasonable thing? Maybe not. I mean, every author and artist I know truly wants the next project to be better than the last. But I don’t know that I’d want to be judged on my last work, especially if I were ever lucky enough to create something amazing.

So what I’m going to do is look at a few projects to hopefully show what I mean.

downloadThe Star Wars saga: This might honestly be the most beloved story of all time. Even people who hate Star Wars (like, from 1980-something and beyond) still know it. They still get the jokes and memes. The original trilogy was lightning in a bottle. It does so many things well, and it hit people and culture at a perfect point in history. Here’s my statement though, no follow up, ever, could hope to hold up against it. First, we’ve had some 30 years to romanticize that story. We grew up, loving it, watching it, and reaffirming our love for it.

I don’t have statistics to measure this, but I’d be willing to bet money a guy is more likely to meet and marry a second wife before he’d be willing to let anyone touch is beloved Star Wars. Bold statement right? Is it? God forbid, if I lost Julie, I’d be devastated. I love her. I truly believe God made her just for me in the same way he made Eve for Adam.  Still, I’ve already asked her to try and find someone new if I die, and, after time, I might find someone new for myself. But whoever I meet, I’d meet and get to know on an individual level. How fair would this hypothetical situation be if I compared my second wife to Julie? Even more, people don’t really even consider it. Sure, they may recognize things or appreciate things that remind them of their original spouse, but they don’t hold the previous spouse against  the current one.

But make a prequel movie that doesn’t meet the twenty years of expectations I’ve placed on it, and we’ll riot. Make a sequel that doesn’t line up with my fan theory, and I’ll start a petition demanding Disney retcon the movie, and then I’ll lose my stuff because the director lacked the courage to stand behind his conviction of starting an original story line. This isn’t opinion, search #StarWars on social media and look at the hate. My sons actually said, “The sequels ruined Star Wars.”

Star_Wars_The_Last_Jedi.jpgThat gave me pause. “Did you even watch it?”

“Yes.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then how did it ruin it?”

“My teacher said so.”

First off, my kids are supposed to be learning skills, not being force fed your own personal opinion on art and cultural issues, teachers. No my sons are TAUGHT to hate a thing just because they want to fit in. (Tangent over.)

Here’s my point. You can say you like Star Wars, or you can hate it. But I wonder, if we had someone watch Episode 8, and make sure that person never saw the originals. What would that person think?  What would happen if we watched that movie just for that movie? Is it a part of a whole, sure, but fans today are measuring against decades of romanticized expectations and anticipation. Disney doesn’t stand a chance. I’m not saying 8 was the greatest ever, but it’s nowhere near the worst, and no amount of Jar Jar Binx can honestly ruin A New Hope.

So why talk about this? Am I trying to justify 8 vs the other episodes? No, like Disney, I don’t stand a chance. Neither does 9. Fans have chosen to love or hate that movie already, and they’ll love it or hate it regardless of the content because they’ve chosen to love it or hate it. It’s like politics. I could say the most hateful things, do the most horrible stuff in accordance to anyone’s opinions, but if I label myself a republican, republicans everywhere love me. Do the SAME stuff, and label myself a democrat and democrats everywhere will embrace me. It’s honestly the same with these transcendent works.

Harry_Potter_Cursed_Child_PlayThe Cursed Child: People everywhere are pretty polarized about this story as well.  I loved it. Now, fans didn’t have the same amount of time to romanticize this story, and I’ve noticed the dissatisfaction is way down. Do a survey, and I’d bet money those who hate it are those who grew up with Harry. I mean that literally. If they started it at 12 and finished it at 20-something, they probably hate Child.  Find those older readers who were more discerning and less impressionable, and at the very least I bet money that group will have a much more standard Bell curve.  Why do they like Beasts? They went away from all those main characters.  Why don’t they like Grimwald? They made editorial decisions on Dumbledore.  The only real way to stay in a universe and not get flack would be to  create a new story with new characters who don’t alter or affect the ones people fell in love with. Solo might be the most hated Star Wars movie (maybe).  But Solo doesn’t stand a chance. We love Han, and if the Han we see doesn’t fit into our romanticized view, we hate him. Frankly, no one can meet your romanticized view of a character.

So I fear ever writing that transcendent story. Because people forget what it means to truly create something transcendent. It’s notable specifically because it’s unique and original. I think a lot of directors, writers, and creators are unfairly held to a transcendent standard, and it takes away one’s ability to simply enjoy a story on it’s own merit.

books-1245690_960_720I very carefully didn’t give too many opinions on what I thought of these things because that’s my point. There is not fair comparison. There is no fair opinion. The very nature of an opinion is based on emotion and thought more than any measurable standard. I challenge readers and viewers to think about this the next time you watch or read something. I’ve seen things I didn’t enjoy as much. My wife asked if I’d watch a remake of Krull or a sequel.  I’d probably see the sequel, but I’d have to work very hard not to be unreasonable. I’ve had decades to imagine how I thought the story would go. My life as a writer even began with my work to pen a sequel to the story. So anyone else’s vision would just be insulting to me on a personal level because of my own filter and not because of the actual work, which really isn’t fair.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Do you disagree? I’d really like to have a civil discussion on this.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

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