I was looking at comments on the WordPress universe and was thrilled to learn I’d won the Blogger Recognition Award!
The classiest of classy gents, J.J. Azar was kind enough to award me this distinguished honor. It’s honestly one of the most flattering things in the world to have someone form your community feel you’re deserving of something even resembling recognition. As you’ll see below, he could have named any one of the blogs he’s following, and he felt I was one of those deserving. Thank you, Sir.
To accept the award, I must:
Thank the blogger who nominated me and provide a link to his blog (CHECK)
Write a post to show my award (check)
Give a brief story as to how my blog got started (see below)
Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers (see below)
Select 15 other bloggers for this award (Just 15? Um…ok)
Comment on each blog to let them know I nominated them and link them to this post (pending)
How’d my blog get started? Well it was non-existant until Quintessential Editor sat me down and showed me how it was done.
I wanted a central location for all things Weech. I like to do reviews, character studies, and, oh yeah! I also wrote these books I’d like to sell. I had a lot of great ideas and things I wanted to talk about in addition to the shameless self promotion, and blogging seemed like the way to go.
As for my advice:
What do you do that others don’t? For a while, I think my Character Studies was something I did. There are a LOT of great blogs out there, but I really enjoy looking at characters and analyzing how and why they are effective. That was something I liked to do that I didn’t se others doing. Then I had another idea. I’m an instructor at the Defense Information School, and I’m constantly reviewing work. I judge award contests, grade students and provide feedback. I’m also a fan of randomly staring at covers. That gave me the idea of the Book Cover of the Month. Every month, I post a bracket in which people can vote for their favorite covers. I’m still growing this, but it’s already been a ton of fun and hugely viewed. There’s a lot of wonderful people out there doing a lot of great things, but you have find the parts of yourself that make you unique and expose (the right word I promise) those vulnerabilities, those parts of yourself that make you special, to the world. If you’re only saying what other say, why should people come to your blog?
Consistency is everything. Now, it’s okay to have some elements of randomness. My BCOTM posts happen each time a new round comes up. But those who follow my blog know that they’ll see a post of some kind every Wednesday (usually a review) and every Saturday (Usually a character study). When I see someone’s reviewed my book, I post that. If there’s some news relevant to my projects, I post that as well. But I never post more than once a day, and people always know when they’re guaranteed to see something new. Also, viewers know the BCOTM posts start on the first of every month, so even that has elements of consistency.
Now, to nominate those I can. There are a lot of blogs I follow, but those below are the ones I make it a point to visit whenever I’m doing what I call, The WordPress Tour. I don’t get to do it as often as I want, but I ALWAYS try to check these guys out.
The Excited Writer (Another solid site that, like Corey, talks about balancing writing and family.)
There are more, honestly, but these are the one’s I’m pretty driven to check up on when time allows. They’re all wonderful blogs that I think you’d either enjoy reading or learn a lot from (usually both).
I’m honestly flattered J.J. nominated me. It’s nice to feel like I’m providing value to someone. Thank you all as always.
Their feedback was honest, sometimes painful, and always helpful. Good Alphas do that for you.
I’m a huge fan of this project for a lot of reasons, and I honestly feel like this project has put me on another level.
So, what’s next? Well, while I wait for my developmental edit, I get back to redesigning The Journals of Bob Drifter. I’m also starting the development of my next writing project, tentatively called The Truth of Emotion. ToE is a short story told from Kaitlyn’s point of view. Kaitlyn is one of the main characters from Caught. ToE is meant to bridge readers from the end of Caught to just a bit before Caught’s sequel (which had a title until I realized I need a new one, so give me a minute on that). The JoBD re-design will take the bulk of my attention, but I should make a bit of progress on those other things as well.
I’m glad to be moving forward on this. Progress always makes me happy.
I was jumping around the Blogverse (if that’s not already a common term I’m trademarking it) and found J.R. Handley’s blog about Villains. That got me to thinking about the “types” of villains.
This isn’t to be confused with conflict, which Quintessential Editor covered so well in this blog. Villains are a source of conflict, but I’m talking specifically about the different types of villains you see in stories.
Both have a lot of great information, and they break villains down to a very fine degree.
However, I tend to like things kept simple. Things can be broken down into micro-categories, and one should work to do so. But where the above blogs give you the micro, I thought I’d attempt to offer the major categories of villains. The distinctions I give them are out of my own mind, but may overlap. My goal is to create a smaller list of “broad” terms to describe whatever villain you might be creating. That list can be broken down into either of the lists I mentioned above.
So here we go:
The deity villain: This isn’t a post about religion. That said, this type of villain deals with any deity be they good, bad, or man-like (the Greek gods were very petty). Any “god-like” or “devil” like character would fall under this category.
This villain has what seems to be absolute power. This villain rarely acts directly. He/she has agents who do his/her bidding. The final conflict between the hero and deity villain don’t always end in direct conflict, but they can.
Stories from this point of view often have a “helper” deity. This usually gives the hero (if he isn’t a god or demigod himself) the required power to delete this evil, thus preventing Deus Ex Machina. Now, some stories have many different villains (the Greek gods were dastardly in some regards, but they weren’t the “main” opponents, just meddlers that made life more complicated for hero and villain alike). But stories that focus on this villain as a source of conflict are go-to Scifi and Fantasy villains.
Case Study: The Mistborn Trilogy (1st era). I was going to analyze this more deeply, but it’s just a great series, and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you. This trilogy meets all the criteria I mentioned above.
Case Study: Lord of the Rings. As I mentioned above, the hero and deity villain don’t have to face off directly.
2) The inversive villain: I did a blog about symbiotic villains recently. These guys all fall under that category. The sole requirement in this type of villain is that the villain is the equal opposite of the hero. I did plenty of case studies for this in the blog I just mentioned, but I do want to elaborate a point.
It doesn’t matter how powerful or weak the character is. What matters is the qualities the hero shares are manipulated and skewed through the perception of the villain. Some inversive villains are equally as powerful as the hero, while others are comparatively weaker. This depends on how much the hero’s “power” defines him. Whatever defines the hero also defines the villain, it is the stance on the issue or the application of those defining traits that make the conflict between these villains and their heroes so compelling.
3) The betrayed villain: A point of emphasis. Here, the point is betrayal is the nature of this villain. It doesn’t matter if it’s the villain who betrayed or was betrayed. If the cause of this characters negative actions are a direct result of a foreseen “slight” you have a betrayed villain. Betrayal is a key theme in this conflict and to this character. This villain rises due to a wedge driven between he and the hero. They were friends or family at some point. Don’t be tempted to throw Magneto in this. Magneto and Charles still care about each other. Neither feels betrayed and they, in fact, often protect each other from perceived “greater” threats. No, Magneto belongs in the inversive villain category.
Case Study: Iago (my favorite villain of all time). Iago felt betrayed. The reason for his actions revolve around a promotion he felt he deserved but was instead slighted. He was able to pull off his plan because of the trust he still feigned through the play.
This is a common theme in this sort of villain. , but it isn’t mandated. In fact, sometimes a betrayed villain is born, and the hero knowingly creates him. The point is, this villain’s motivation and reason for dastardly deeds is based on a sense of betrayal. I thought about this topic a long time, and couldn’t readily think of a “main” villain of this type in Fantasy or Science Fiction. So if anyone here more well read than I am knows of a scifi/fantasy villain who falls in this category, please say so in the comments below.
4) The pure evil villain: These are the guys my generation grew up loving to hate. These villains are very common in cartoons. Pick an 80’s cartoon, look at the villain. These guys are falling out of style these days because their motivations are harder to believe. These are the guys who simply exist to be bad. They have no motivation nor cause for their evil deeds. Any villain who is bad, but there’s no identifiable cause of that evil falls into this category.
I’m not so against this type of villain, but my editor and many bloggers talk about them, and most say these types of villains are unsatisfying. That doesn’t stop Hollywood from cranking out villains who fall under this category, but there’s a reason for that. TV and Movie fans have a lesser expectation of depth. Unless you’re sitting down for a 30-minute cartoon, the viewer doesn’t tend to care “why” the villain is doing what he’s doing. To shift your villains out of this category, give him a motivation the reader can identify. I’m personally NOT going to make it a requirement that the reader empathize, but some would argue the requirement. I absolutely agree the reader/viewer must understand a character’s motivation to be promoted out to this category, but I don’t think the reader has to agree or empathize with it.
5) The cause villain: If all you do is give your “pure” evil villain a “cause” this is what you’d get. Here is a villain who has a “reason” for what he’s doing, but that reason can vary. It doesn’t matter here if the reader agrees with the cause. What matters is the reader understands it.
Case Study: Grand Admiral Thrawn from Star Wars. He wanted order in the Galaxy. He did some awful stuff to see that order delivered, but he did it. For fans of the series, I have a question you can debate in the comments below.
I was going to create a new category for the power-hungry villain, (which might be where Palpatine goes) but it doesn’t matter that the cause is “more power.” If the villain has a cause, he’s a cause villain. This is the villain whose primary motivation is the accumulation of (or of more) power. That means this is where those evil emperors/kings fall under too. He’d be pretty easy to get a long with if the world would just do what he says and give him what he wants. You may argue Palpatine goes here, but I’m less convinced. Yes, he wants to rule the galaxy, and that might be the point that wins the argument for you, but did he develop that want for a reason? This is what creates the power-hungry villain subcategory of a cause villain from a power-hungry villain. If the villain’s cause is more power, you’ll see this (specific) version of a cause villain.
Case Study: Sylar from Heroes. His whole purpose is the accumulation of abilities. He still has a cause, but that cause is specifically related to power. Yes, Palpatine and Sylar are cause villains, but their motivations might differ. I’m not wholly bought in on the idea that Palpatine simply wanted “more power.” I’d be very interested to see a debate on the subject in the comments below.
So there it is. I’m pretty confident I could set any villain in one of the five categories above. The subcategories (power-hungry being so important I felt I had to at least address it) are more about plot and conflict than the motivation for the characters. Do you have a villain I can’t throw in one of these categories? If so, what category would you give them? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’ve been talking about my progress on this project since my first blog post. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate with some amazing authors in an anthology. I finished the discovery draft of Sojourn in Despair over the holidays, and I just wrapped up what I call the first draft.
What this means is it’s finished, and it’s in English. I feel very good about it, and I think the story itself is fantastic!
What’s next though is something big. I always try something different every time I write a project. I’ve always had AN alpha reader. Ben is my best friend and brother in law. He reads EVERYTHING I write (poor guy). But I expanded my alpha reader pool to a few others.
Alpha Readers to me have always been people I can go to with questions about concepts or ideas. I don’t know the first thing about a lot of things, so I find alpha readers who are knowledgable in some way about some aspect of my story. This story’s topics are: The Jewish religion, mathematics, and evolutionary theory.
That said, if there’s someone out there with a PHD in either math or evolutionary theory, I’d appreciate an email in that regard. I’d be overjoyed if someone with expertise in those areas could give this a glance and make sure I don’t look foolish on a scientific level. I have one alpha who’s looking at it for math, but no one to look at the science of this planet or its species.
As of now, I have five alpha readers. Each bring something unique and specific to the table. They’re all offering invaluable feedback that I’ll put to use in my second draft (the draft before it goes to the editor for developmental review). Two of those alphas are our very own Jenn Moss and Quintessential Editor. So if you’d head over to their sites, give them some likes, shares, and follows, I’d appreciate it as they’re REALLY helping me out.
I just wanted to share my joy at this most recently finished project before I start my next one (because that’s sort of what I do). What’s that you ask? The layout and design of The Journals of Bob Drifter so I can re-release that book at a lower price with another edit done. I’ll keep you all posted.
Thanks for checking in and all the support you’ve shown me. I hope you’ll all preorder Caught or snag a copy of it Jan. 28!
If Quintessential Editor could use a few of those greens he consumes so readily to help apply better terms, that would be amazing, but when discussing the contrast between the traditional hero and the flawed hero, I felt inspired (thanks Rough and Ready Fiction!) to offer a few case studies and offer my thoughts and opinions.
There are a lot of sources that describe a lot of hero archetypes. The reason I didn’t narrow down to one source is more because I don’t feel there’s a TON of consistency out there, so I’ll use the terms that make the most sense to me and you can decide on what terms you like best. I’m more interested in discussing my thoughts than I am determining the best terms in this regard.
The Traditional Hero: He’s the nice guy’s nice guy. He’s the white knight. The man of principle. He’s the example to follow. If you had a daughter, he’s the man you’d want to date her.
Case Study: Odd Thomas. I won’t lie. Odd Thomas was a very influential part of my writing The Journals of Bob Drifter. He’s such a great character. He’s honest, doesn’t cuss a lot. Heck, he even uses “sir” or “ma’am” when addressing people. He’s forced to act by circumstances, and sometimes he must do things he doesn’t want to do, but he’s a good guy, and no one can deny that. Bob is a traditional hero. He’s honest. He’s soft spoken. He’s even a little shy around women.
I’m more drawn to these heroes because a part of me honestly believes that fiction should strive to show humanity what it CAN be. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate flawed heroes, enjoy books about flawed heroes, or write stories about them. When stretching to find new levels of skill, one must try new things, but my favorite books all have more traditional heroes.
The Flawed Hero: He’s the rebel. He’s the hero who’s a drunkard or killer. He’s the man who’s seen stuff in life and is just trying to get by. He’s the man you’d shoot if he showed up to ask your daughter out.
Case Study: Durzo Blint from The Night Angel Trilogy. I love him. He’s a great character, but he’s a jerk. He’s a whore-mongering, drinking killer. His motives are selfish, and his moral code is just about as messed up as it can be.
These characters (to a degree) feel more real to readers. They’re more relatable. So I don’t know how often I’ll try to psychoanalyze humanity as a whole, but I’m going to step out on that limb in this case. Most people, myself included, feel flawed. Everyone has “hot buttons” because those issues spark in people that which they most dislike in themselves. Where a traditional hero provides an example to follow, flawed heroes show readers it’s okay to not be “perfect” because you can still, and always, do something worthy of the term hero.
Let’s look at this in practice (an point out my hypocrisy at the same time): Superman vs Wolverine.
Yep…I’m going the comic book route. Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way. Wolverine is a killer. Now, based on my above comments, you’d think I like Superman, right? Wrong. I hate Superman. But in this we find the complexity of art. I don’t hate superman because he helps old ladies cross the street or reminds people that “flying is still statistically the safest way to travel.” I hate Superman because he’s TOO perfect. He’s (arguably) the most powerful character in comics. I don’t mind a person who has all these morals. What I mind about Superman is the fact that I just don’t ever feel he’s in danger. He’s not one for whom I worry because I don’t think he’ll ever be taken down. I don’t read the comics too much, but I hear he’s been “flawed” in some regard. I like Wolverine because (immortal thought he may be), I’ve seen him lose fights. I’ve seen him fail. And failure is a key part of gaining sympathy.
It’s the setbacks characters face that create the tension readers feel when they try anything. These setbacks don’t have to mean failure, but they are important.
So my problem with what I feel is the overabundance of flawed heroes isn’t people genuinely have flaws. It’s that some readers argue there aren’t nice guys out there. I served for 10 years in the Navy. Some of the kindest, most “Superman” type people I’ve ever met (Quintessential Editor among them) are Sailors. Corey will give you the shirt off his back while asking if you need a pair of pants. He’ll give everything he can for people in general. He’s capable of right and wrong like any human, but if I have a son one day, I’d be pretty proud if he grows up to be like Corey.
I have other friends. I have friends that my other friends ask why they’re still my friends. I obviously won’t name one. But if I were to judge people and withhold my friendship because they’ve done things I don’t like, I’d be pretty short on friends.
So what’s my point?
The most times I hear arguments regarding these two types of heroes, they’re arguing principles when what I think they’re really discussing is the unreal reaction to events. This was a major point of discussion with my editor about Sal in Caught. He goes through some seriously bad stuff, and just keeps plugging along heroically. At least, he did in the last draft of the book. In this draft, the issues he faces causes him to doubt himself.
I don’t actually care what type of hero anyone writes, but MOST readers want realism. They want character who reacts to situations. Let’s do another case study.
(SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO..YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)
Doctor Who: In the episode entitled “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the doctor meets, grows to care for and loses a genetic clone of himself that seems like a “daughter.” The fanboy in me chuckles a bit because I actually remember the doctor’s initial reaction to Jenny (I believe the word “abomination” was used, but I could be wrong). Tennant is (from my informal, passive observation) commonly regarded as the “best” modern doctor. He still does the “good guy” thing in the end. He shows mercy. He’s still the better man, but the viewers see his temptation. They see his desire to do wrong, and he chooses to do right. THIS is what makes characters compelling. It’s seeing characters tested that make them sympathetic. But test a character too much, and the reader will become annoyed. The writers’ skill in having the doctor do “good” and “bad” is what makes him feel real in a lot of cases. Tennant’s doctor is the greatest example of this. He’ll be the better man when Jenny dies, but then kill a bunch of people if they don’t heed his warning.
I shifted Sal’s timeline not because he was “too good” a guy, but because he receives a lot of negative stimulation without any of those events affecting his personality. I still feel strongly it’s okay to have characters who “don’t break.” Those characters who never shift their morals because those morals define them are important. Ultimately, Sal’s the same “person” he was in every draft of Caught. But his responses to what he goes through shifted to account for those events.
I think some people like “flawed” heroes because it’s easier to believe a flawed man can do right on occasion than it is to believe a man can swear never to kill, no matter how many sidekicks, women, friends and associates die because you refuse to kill a man. (I’m looking at YOU Batman!)
So let’s talk about the caped crusader while we’re at it. Am I mad at Batman for never killing Joker (at least he didn’t when I last glanced at the DC universe. Again, I’m not a fan of that industry)? If you want REALISM, how does a mass murderer commit any crime and not inevitably be put to death by the legal system?
(NOTE) Look, I’m not here to start political debates. I won’t share my opinion on the death penalty any more than I’ll approve comments which do the same. This is a writing blog. The above comment was made because the death penalty exists regardless of the existence or absence of my approval.
What we should strive for as authors are AUTHENTIC characters. If you want a white hat, help old ladies cross the road, shining smile, never lies character, go for it. If you want a drinking, abusive, thieving character, go for it! But when SOMETHING happens to SOMEONE, that person reacts. I think readers have more problems with authenticity than moral values of characters.
What do you all think? Which do you all prefer? Feel free to throw your comments below. (For the record, Doctor Who is a FLAWED character. Come on people, even if you know the events of “The Day of the Doctor” he still knowingly killed an entire species.)
Possibly the biggest opponent to fantasy and science fiction is the concept of Deus Ex Machina. literarydevices.net gave a description of the term, but I’d like to add to that. When something arises that the reader isn’t prepared for to resolve the conflict, the reader will be unsatisfied with the ending. Let’s be honest, as readers, we WANT to believe the ending is plausible. We’ll take some pretty hanky explanations as background or foreshadowing.
In The Two Towers, Gandalf basically said, Just hold off for three days and I’ll come kill whatever bad guys are left. They fought for three days. Gandalf saved the day. No one batted an eyelash.
I’ve been speaking with Quintessential Editor about his book, editing mine, and outlining Sojourn in Despair. That means I’ve been talking about magic systems like crazy. Corey and I were talking about it, and I’d mentioned Sanderson’s Laws of Magic. I’m telling you, if you haven’t read these, and you write fantasy, stop writing and read this. It’s a solid group of guidelines. Sanderson’s First Law is, “An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.”
I love fantasy. I love Sanderson’s work in particular. The reason I love it though is because it has a sense of wonder. Bad fantasy destroys that sense of wonder with a sense of impossibility. So when I read that law, I translate that to mean, “The better the reader understands the magic of the world, the more likely he’s going to accept that magic solved the problem.”
In The Journals of Bob Drifter, I took great care easing the reader into the magic system. Some say I took too much care. But I take a great amount of satisfaction from the fact that no one has (as of yet) complained that the ending was too easy. I spent some 110,000 words building up a villain that seemed unstoppable. But as Grimm was doing dastardly things, I was explaining through a few characters how his power worked while also explaining how Bob’s power worked. I feel if I hadn’t have done both, people would have called me out. Actually, I was more concerned the reader would discover the trick too soon. If that’s happened, no one said so yet. If you’ve read the book feel free to comment below regarding your thoughts.
I’m wracking my brain trying to determine a book that really failed at this. I’m sure it’s out there, and I’m sure I’ve read it, but I can’t honestly recall. But how do you prevent it? Should you?
Should you? Well, not necessarily. (OK, you should TOTALLY prevent Deus Ex Machina, but you don’t always need a magic system which requires a degree in physics to understand). Refer to the rule. “An author’s ability to SOLVE conflict….”
What if you wanted to CAUSE it? Children’s, and young reader fantasy stories do this a lot. No one sweeps in and saves the day with magic, but quite often magic is the cause of the problem. I’d argue this is the case with Lord of the Rings. Magic is far more responsible problems than it is solutions (Gandalf’s rescue included). So…if you’re working on a story where magic is getting thrown around like crazy and all it does is make life miserable for the characters, GO FOR IT! I don’t care how the magic system works. It’s magic!
But what if the man is going to rely on magic? Well then, the degree with which that magic is going to be relied upon must be that understood by the reader. Here are a few things I try to do to avoid the problem.
One: If Three is Good Enough for Tolkien, it’s good enough for me: I consider this the LEAST an author can do. I use this with foreshadowing and magic plot devices. I make sure to mention the “trick” at least three times. (Free autographed copy of my book if you can name the three instances I did this in The Journals of Bob Drifter.)
Two: The Mentor Magic Learning Montage: I’m less and less a fan of this every time I see it and use it. In 1,200, I took the mentor away JUST to avoid this. Inevitably in most fantasy sagas, there’s the “mentor” who appears JUST as the guy develops his power. How handy he shows up just in time to teach the guy how to become the hero. It’s a common thing and not really a “sin” in writing. I’ve just personally grown tired of it. (Though I did use a mentor archetype in New Utopia. Even then, I added a twist just to be different.) What this mentor can do is teach the user, and through him the reader, how the magic system works. In these types of stories, there’s usually a “hint” (see above) at how something thought impossible could happen. Or at least they do this next trick.
Three: Hang a Lantern: When the character does something impossible, and another character goes, “How could that be!” The reader gets a clue that this is an intentional thing. Then calmly waits for the explanation on how that should happen. If you use this, you NEED to explain that later in the story.
Four: Internal Dialogue: This is the last one I use. I used it most in 1,200, but I like it because it’s different. The author can use conflict and internal dialogue to express learned experiences and ideas. You can use the point of view of another character as well. In New Utopia, one of my upcoming books, the hero, Wilum, does something impressive. His mentor character (mentioned above) notices, then considers how it was done. You actually see this quite a lot in Anime.
How do you avoid Deus Ex Machina? Do you have a trick I don’t know about? Please share it.
Recently I posted a blog about how I develop characters. While doing that, I talked about how in in character files, I outline each character’s progression. This is commonly called plotting. You use structures to develop each character’s through-line. In the post mentioned above, I discussed the need for each character to be their own main character. I also mentioned they need more than one plot.
The bulk of my plotting terms come from Brandon Sanderson’s online lectures. I may have altered some terms because they make more sense for me that way, but those have the bulk of the structures I use.
As I grow, I consider other options, but this is a solid list. Essentially what it boils down to is asking yourself, “How are my readers going to know my character is growing.” Reminder: Regression is a form of growth.
I always knew about the Three Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey. The Journals of Bob Drifter follows a three act cycle. The “Matt breakdown” of this is: Introduce Hero. Make life suck. Resolve issues established in Act Two.
Rather than rehash what is already covered brilliantly in the links above, I thought I’d do what I love best, and provide you with some examples. I call these case studies. I learn best by looking at what others have done and seeing how it applies to what I’m trying to accomplish.
Corey Truax covered the heroes’ journey quite well, and Star Wars is a textbook example. Corey’s breakdown and Episode 4 are more than enough to go on.
Mystery: If your character is trying to learn something, you’re writing a mystery. It could be who killed John Doe or what’s wrong with the water in Ladonis. (I made those up to give you examples, so if you find something I accidentally touched on, I didn’t mean it.) Now, I’ve sung Sanderson’s praises a lot, so I feel talking about Elantris would be a bit unfair here. Let’s give someone else a little credit. Redshirts by John Scalzi is type of mystery. It’s hilarious. It’s obviously a parody (I’ll track down my review and post it on the new blog soon). The point is, the main character is trying to figure out what exactly is going on. I loved this book, but what pushed me through it was each clue the main character had to get him to realize what was happening. One of the main plotlines for my sixth book (New Utopia) is a mystery. Sanderson mentions Big Problem plots. I sort of lump this in with mystery as whatever they’re trying to do, they still have to figure out how to do it.
Try Fail: I tried to make this a sub plot as well because the character is trying to achieve something. The mystery would be how to do it, but what makes this plot stand alone better for me is the fact that you don’t actually need a large objective. I use this more for character than plot. Grimm is essentially a try fail plot in The Journals of Bob Drifter. If Grimm didn’t get closer to his ultimate objective, there’d be no tension, and his conflict with Bob would feel meaningless. My takeaway here is that the more a person fails to do something, the more surprising it is when the character succeeds. Now I’ve peddled my book several times over, so let’s talk about another book. Fade to Black byTim McBain is a more “problem” based thing, but what kept me reading was the fact that I wanted to know if the main character’s new approach was going to work.
Travelog: Sanderson mentions a few in the link I gave you, and I’ll elaborate on one of those. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan does a lot for me as a reader, but it also teaches me a lot. I was 90 pages into it and wanted to shout at my brother for recommending it, but he’d ordered me to read the first 100 pages, and so I did. If I use my analytical eye, I can find out why. Readers want to know the story is moving. The first 100 pages of The Eye of the World is all character introduction. Now, when I read book 13, and Sanderson tied back to that first 100 pages, it brought tears to my eyes (I’ll talk about endings in a future blog). So why was I so frustrated? The Eye of the World is essentially group of people trying to get somewhere. You have a map in the book that tells you where you are as a reader. The destinations change as well, but you always know you’re moving because the characters are striving to get somewhere. The first 100 pages of Eye of the World might frustrate readers because the characters don’t move. That 100 pages sets up the other 14 books (counting the prequel). They’re important and even cherished, but as a stand-alone novel, I wouldn’t have wanted to finish it had I not been ordered too. I’m glad I did. But the book moves much faster as we follow the characters and where they go.
Relationship Plot: I was about to sing C.L. Schneider’s praises again, but I feel if I’m too heavy handed, I’m not giving you readers enough material to read. I want to give a lot of books some credit. I haven’t spoken about the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, and this is a good spot to do so. Here, you’d have to read the first three books to analyze the plot I’m talking about, the relationship is between Artemis and the magical creatures. The most used plot is “People meet and don’t like each other; then they get to know each other and fall in love.” There are many types of love, but the story could be about the breakdown in a relationship too. (Remember, where I say progress, change might be a better term).
Time Bomb: This can be quite literal or not. Essentially this device is in effect when you put a limit on something. Murder mysteries do it well. Every time you pick up a murder mystery, you want the hero to find the villain before someone else dies. It’s subtle there. It’s a lot more literal in Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. Thread is going to fall any day now, and Pern doesn’t have enough dragons. The second part of New Utopia (which will become its own book after I revise it) has one of these.
What I wanted to do with this post is show you the types of plots that are out there and give you a few examples to study up with. I hope it helps.
Character development is a fluid process for me. I consistently try new things and keep what I feel worked and get rid of what I don’t like. Sometimes I bring those things I don’t like back because as much as I don’t like them, they help me create more realistic, sympathetic characters.
I put a lot of thought into how to present this because of how fluid my process is. I thought about taking you through how I evolved and what I tried. I can do that if anyone is interested, but what I think anyone would use this for is to put what I know I’m going to do when I start writing my eight book (Sojourn is a short story and Elele is already developed).
Quintessential Editor covered some ground with hisblog about using dice to create characters. This comes in handy mostly because of the character sheets for me. I did this a few times. It worked, but I thought it was too time consuming, so I dropped the sheets. Now I’m brining them back because some books have WAY too much for me to track. I have word processing character sheets, and I may adapt those, but I need something that helps me track my characters, particularly physical attributes.
I also took full advantage of Brandon Sanderson’s online lecture about Character Creation. That helped me mostly as it came to plotting. (Note: Today, I’m talking about development. That way, I can talk about plotting later.) But it does give me a snapshot, and it helped me streamline (in my case too effectively) my character sheets.
My character sheets start as simple pages in a word processing document. They get larger as I start plotting the character.
A note on archetypes. I outlined Caught using archetypes. While I want to know the role my characters play in the book, what I found this ended up doing was make my characters too cookie cutter. They fit their role in the plot, but it made them plot devices and not characters. I think what I’ll do next time is add the archetypes to the character sheet, though this still scares me. (NOTE: As I publish this, I’ve again decided against it.) I’m a very literal, linear thinker, and I don’t want to force my characters in a direction they wouldn’t go just so they fit some standard archetype.
Where my ideas come from: I teach my students about this concept where a writer has an idea for a story. I got it from one of my sources we used to develop the course, Telling True Stories. They call it the glimmer moment. I exist in a constant state of glimmer infinity. I constantly have flashes of imagination or insight that I think would be amazing. I jot them down or commit them to memory (let the debate on memory begin here). When enough of those ideas arrive to formulate one consistent narrative, I know I have a story. The idea for Caught came to me when my mom told me about a nightmare she had had. (Am I a bad son?)
I mention that because sometimes the main character develops clearly in my mind. Sometimes they don’t. What I mean is I have a sense for the emotional description of the character, but not the physical one. When I see the character clearly in my mind, I don’t fight it. When it doesn’t matter, I let chance determine those characteristics. For Perception of War, the flip of a coin determined the gender of my character. A four-sided die determined his ethnicity and color. I’ll probably post a blog about this one day, but I think characters are people.
There are several fantastic stories out there where race, religion, and gender are arcs. When they aren’t I feel silly developing a white male character simply because I’m a white male. Sal, the main character in Caught is a protector and a Soldier. He was always a man in my imagination, but I’ll tell you frankly the majority of the service members I respect most happen to be women. It’s not a knock on one over the other, just a point I’m trying to work to. He was a man, because of the dynamic I wanted to create with a few other characters. He was white because my four-sided die said so. He’s from Philly because that’s where my finger landed on a map. When these traits matter, writers should take great care. They always have significance though because they’re parts of what make a person who he (Sal) is. None of those characteristics affected the plot, so I let chance decide because it’s fast, and in my mind, it’s the best way I have so far to make sure the diversity in my books comes anywhere near the diversity of life.
That brings me to character sheets. Like I said, I’m going to bring more elements in, but here’s Bob’s character sheet.
Bob Drifter : Robert Drifter
Light brown hair
Bob’s exactly what I named him. He’s a drifter. In personality as well as occupation. He’s accepted who and what he is, for now at least, because it’s all he’s known. He’s kind and takes it upon himself to be more of a guide than a conduit. Others in his field don’t take such measures, but a part of who Bob is demands a certain courtesy. He doesn’t remember anything at all about his life before his work. A part of him is curious, but, given his nature, he accepts things without much argument. Things are. Part of this stems from his belief that change isn’t possible for him.
Now take a look at Elele’s. This is her character sheet from Sojourn. Please know I’ve absolutely deleted a few spoilers, and that may cause some confusion, but I’d like people to read the book and be entertained by some of the twists. Note the differences between her character sheet and Bob’s:
(The trouble with Sefaram is that they all look essentially the same. Hair is a thing. But they’re very hard to tell apart unless you look at their Faline. These fractal patterns are the way Sefaram see one another. Where humans look at skin color facial shapes (shapes are a thing for Sefaram too), Sefaram rely most on the inner-most ring of the faline.)
Hobby 1) Travel
Hobby 2) mathmatics.
Height: 60.8 inches – 5’1”
Weight: 161 pounds
Build: Sleek. (She’s twiggy even by Seferam standards.)
Hair Color: Black (All Sefaram with hair have this)
Hair Length: Mid-shoulder
Hair Style: Rolled and braided. What would you call cornrowed hair that is braided into multiple braids…then braided again? (I don’t speak hair). (NOTE: I did some research and talked to a friend. The most accurate term I found was braided weave)
Eye Color: Black (All Sefaram)
Eye Shape: large ovals longer than tall. (deer eyes) (All Sefaram)
Face Shape: Round.
Freckles: None (Sefaram have none)
Moles: None (See above)
Scars: None as of Sojourn. (SPOILER DELETED INFORMATION)
Faline: Outter pattern (FAMILY IDENTIFIER): Four tear-drop-shaped loops in which the points meet in the middle. Inner Pattern (INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFIER): A pattern resembling a seven-pedaled flower blossom. (NOTE: Faline are ultraviolet patterns on the mid-section of each Seferam. Think of them as luminescent tribal tattoos that follow fractal patterns).
Clothing: (All Sefaram leave their faline exposed. Men usually go bare chested. Elele wears what are considered prudish clothes. No style or fashion (especially since the bad guy’s arrival). She were’s a simple outfit that ties around the neck. It covers her breasts. Cloth covers her sides and becomes a mid-calf length dress. It’s always a simple color with no ultraviolet patterning (a common fashion trend these days). She wears simple leather shoes. (SPOILER INFO DELETED)
Jewelry: None. Sefaram don’t wear it. Their bio-electro-magnetic power plays hell with metal.
faline: For Seferam, they’re an emotional cue. They pulse in different ways the way humans blush or flush.
You’ll see a lot of elements from the above-mentioned Sanderson Lecture there. Like I said. I can promise you that second hobby gave Elele a dimension I never really expected. Little things like that help me get deeper into her character. I didn’t realize math was going to be such a huge part of her character until I gave her that hobby. It then became her occupation. It’s now one of her key assets to how she sees the world and progresses in her plot.
Not all of this became cannon. (Note the picture, she looks very different now that she’s all fleshed out) I left in some of my self-notes. They’re my musings, motivations or research sites for me to get a better feel. I did delete a bunch of my self notes because they were far too spolierific for me to include.
So my next evolution will blend all of these to help me develop a character in terms of physical attributes, motivations, archetype, and plots. Where Corey uses his D & D sheets, I was always a Rifts man myself. I’ll let those character sheets provide the physical attributes. I’ll let the Sanderson lecture round the character out. Then I’ll let them work together to make the character more realistic. Then I’ll let the plotting provide the finishing touches.
I feel this needs a summary:
1) Identify character. Leave what speaks to you alone and let chance determine all other physical attributes. For Elele, I knew she was female, and I knew what species she was. I also knew what culture I would borrow from most heavily for that species.
2) Name the character. (I’m all over the place here. I do everything from a quick study of names, to popular names of other cultures. Sometimes I look for what a name means in a language I best feel fits the culture of the character. When all else fails, I use arandom name generator. For Elele, I realized I liked the idea of palindrome names. There’s a mathematical significance to that (and also one of the other species in the book) that I felt was appropriate.
3) Fill in physical attributes. This includes race, species and other aspects of the character’s background.
4) Establish occupation, hobbies and goals. (this is where some plotting comes in).
5) Begin plotting. This is the most critical step. Every character is the main character in THAT character’s mind. So I plot as if this character is in her own story. I’m not married to this plotting or outline. Elele’s actual arc has some significant differences from the outline, but not who she is or what she does.
This gives me the freedom to get to know my characters in my own natural way. I’m a discovery writer at heart, and I need some room for that to work. What I don’t ever do is start plotting before I get a sense for the core of my character. When I outline one way, then realize my character wouldn’t do that, I don ’t fight it. Early on in Elele’s arc in Images of Truth, Elele was supposed to act and work in one way. Then I realized she wouldn’t handle that situation in the outlined manner. Her decision was more heroic, and led to better conflict and emotional payoff.
(NOTE: I’m talking about her role in Images of Truth, not Sojourn. Sojourn is a prequel to Images.)
Every character has a core just like every person. I find that core by gifting them traits. I take something from a character I love. I take something from someone I love. I take something from someone I don’t like very much. Then I take something from myself. I blend them together and it makes a new character I understand very well.
Let’s look at Bob: His part-time job and love of reading came from me. His drive to understand came from my mom. His love of quoting things came from Beast of the X-Men. I won’t tell you where his frustrating ability to mope comes from, because I’m not trying to dime out people I’m not actually a big fan of. (Note, I said people I don’t like very much. Me not liking a person in no way makes them bad or even unlikable. I feel naming said individual would borderline on slanderous.)
Doing that is what gives me a picture for how they would handle situations. We writers need to remember though that the horrible things we put our characters through is going to change them. If it doesn’t, it won’t feel realistic. I get a baseline from this, then let their experiences shape how they’ll handle future decisions.
I hope that helps. Honestly, it’s just the way I do it. How do you do it? Was this helpful? Any tricks or resources you like? Feel free to say as much in the comments below.