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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Greetings all,

It’s been a while since I did any character studies, so I thought this was a good time to do that. There’s a lot of demand out there these days for characters who “grow.” That term is used a lot but the better word is “change.” People like to see characters affected by their actions and evolve as a result of them. I’m still a big fan of neutral change arcs (K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs talks about this), but I have seen some character arcs that I just loved. Some I’ve already mentioned before, but I’d like to share with you some stories where you truly saw a character evolve as the story progressed.

51PNy3Gq7OL._AA300_Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: I’d argue this is my favorite arc of all time. It probably should be as it took 14 books to evolve. I don’t know that I’ve seen any other character grow, fall, and return to grace the way Rand does. He starts as a simple farm boy (yes, the most overused trope ever). But he’s just a boy whose biggest concern is dealing with a girl he’s pretty sure he’s going to marry. We see him afraid and avoid his calling for three books. Then we see him struggle with what it means to be what he becomes. Then we see him betrayed, and what that does to him. He falls all the way to darkness, nearly willing to end his own life. Then he becomes the leader and figure he’s meant to be, but that’s not the end. I won’t go farther than that. Even with spoilers, there are some things I just won’t discuss on a blog. But for people who want to study an arc of a character, I’d recommend you start here.

518MX5UPImL
This isn’t Dorian, but I don’t want to dare some author to sue me for using his art. The cover of a graphic novel? Well, there I can try and argue fair use.

Dorian Ursuul from the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks: I’ve already spoken about his arc in terms of his fall from grace. He’s honestly a good, well-meaning man who’s put in a position that basically tempts him into becoming the monster he eventually becomes. I’m fascinated about the possibility of a story where this plot is more of a centerpiece of a novel. It’s rummaging around my head somewhere, but it’ll fall out at some point, and this character and story is why. It’s a beautiful negative change arc.

Tyrion from The Embers of Illeniel series by Michael G. Manning: The end of his arc was the best book I read last year, and that’s saying something.  He gives Rand a run for his money in terms of quality (I give Rand the advantage because I like good guys to find their grace again), but this character’s arc is so enthralling. Every single thing he does that will make him a monster is understandable. The tragedy of its necessity is second only to the sadness I felt as I saw what those horrific necessities created.

41awCCmXEKL._SY346_Artemis Fowl from the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer: I have to make it a point to pick up this series again. I thought it ended, but I’m not sure I read all of the books. Even with what I read, his arc deserves to be here. Listen folks, this kid is a little turd in book one. Watching him interact and make friends and become a protector for those he originally sought to use was a real treat. It’s funny because the way I’m identifying these characters is by looking through my Goodreads books. I scrolled around until I stumbled upon the book and thought, “Oh yeah! His arc was fantastic!”  He’s a character who starts out pretty bad (I mean it’s a young reader book), and then grows into someone truly selfless.

41SA4n8T3uLEmma from Emma by Jane Austen: I’m going to pause here to go off on a tiny tangent. Fans claim to demand great arcs, but if I’m being honest, I just don’t see many. Oh, I read a bunch of great stories. But most of the stories I read are about men who are tempted but don’t fall, men who are nice and stay nice, or men who are bad and stay bad. I’ll go over some of my favorite books where I just don’t see the arc. People can argue with me if they wish (I encourage debate), but I spent a solid hour going over all my books in my Goodreads and struggled to find five arcs where I could really point to a person who changed (even if only for a while in the book). Oh, they evolved. They learned a truth, but they didn’t actually CHANGE. There are other characters who truly change in other mediums. (Weiland does a bunch of character studies in her book.)  But for my money, it’s tough to find those sweeping evolutionary arcs. Emma represents one of the originals. She’s a selfish woman who thinks she knows best how to do things. (Clueless was one of the best modern adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen. Seriously!) Regardless, she changes from a selfish person who THINKS she’s selfless, to a person who learns how to value others as people rather than objects. It’s honestly a solid arc.

So there you go. I’d love to hear your thoughts on arcs. Please don’t misunderstand. There are a lot of books I love (I thought about putting Vin on her list, but she evolved pretty quickly in my opinion) where I didn’t really notice an arc, but I won’t deny that some of these stories are genuinely great because of the way the characters evolve (or devolve). If you think you got another good one, please post it below in the comments for discussion or study.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

What is it to be a Hero?

What is it to be a Hero?

My favorite thing about the blog so far is the inspiration I see from comments to older posts. I’m glad you all enjoy character studies as much as I do, and when I talked about “flawed” vs “Traditional heroes, you all gave me some great ideas.

The first idea I wanted to tackle was the idea of a hero, and what makes one heroic. I thought about this for some time, and decided it came down to sacrifice, courage, and loyalty. For my character study, I’m going to say I’d like my hero (regardless of his flaws or perfections) have all three of these if you look hard enough.

So since I have three traits, I should highlight three characters right?  Makes sense to me at least.  So without much more ado, here are three characters that I think are fantastic heroes because they exemplify these traits.  BUT as a special aside, NONE of these characters are (at least regarded) as the main character of their stories. This means Sam is out from Lord of the Rings because I honestly think  he is the hero of that book.

blacksmith-1460826_960_720
All images from Pixabay because I fear copyright even when I feel I fall under fair use.

Perrin Aybara is absolutely my favorite character from Wheel of Time. Oh Rand is awesome and Mat is fun (and he has my name, so he has to be awesome right?), but Perrin’s heroics are worthy of study.  (Look, Rand is easily a hero, but he’s too easy).

Sacrifice: He didn’t sacrifice his family. He LOST his family, but that doesn’t actually make one heroic. Not in my standing anyway. Instead, what he sacrificed was the simple life he always wanted. Through the whole saga he wants his wife and a simple life. This is exceptionally heroic as most people don’t long for that, especially in fantasy. Most characters dream of adventure and discovery, but Perrin just wants to be a blacksmith. He gave that up to be the man he knew he had to be. He continued to do so even thought it cost him.

Courage: Here’s where Perrin may fall short a bit in relation to the other two heroes I cover, but he still has it. No. I’m not talking about facing trollocs or whitecloaks. I’m talking about facing a part of himself that he doesn’t like. Look anyone can face external dangers. Fight or flight kicks in, and a man has to defend himself. That’s not (in and of itself) courage. It’s self preservation. Perrin faces his identity as a wolfbrother. He’s lived his whole life taught to believe wolves are evil, and THEN he realizes he’s becoming one (or like one).  He doesn’t necessarily want to embrace this part of his life. Instead, he chooses to. He has reasons, but he doesn’t just face this part of himself out of self preservation or even to save his friends. He does so because he must.

wolf-1768913_960_720Loyalty: This is where Perrin has the title. Rand frequently puts Perrin in the most danger. He even forces Perrin to go back home to deal with events in Book 4 that Rand can’t deal with. Rand has his reasons, but Perrin never fails to support Rand. He’s the first to try and understand Rand. He’s the one who goes home to defend it. He’s the one who steps up.

Xander Harris is the only character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who doesn’t grow into something more. Heck even Dawn gets training as a slayer. Xander is just a guy.

Sacrifice: So where Perrin has some obvious areas of sacrifice. The question, if my criteria hold up, is what did Xander give up?  This is tough because Xander is actually a pretty selfish character. Sure he LOSES people, but what does he let go of that he would have if he’d stepped away from the Scooby Gang?  I thought about it, and nearly changed characters when it dawned on me. What he gave up was any chance to be special. Most people want a chance to shine.

bat-149892_960_720Most people want a chance to be in the lime light or be seen as important. Xander happily plays third or forth fiddle to a group of people that become exponentially more powerful and unique than he is. There was an adorable episode in Season 3 where all he wants to do is help. He KNOWS something’s going on, but everyone sort of shuns him away. He also finds his power there. In that same episode he sacrifices the opportunity to be exceptional just to be a part of something greater than himself. Go watch that episode and see how he eventually turns that to an advantage. Every progressing season he stays back. He is the normal, consistent part of life for individuals that are so much more. This becomes the need he fills for the team.

Courage: This is more on the nose than I’d like. But when his sacrifice is his choice to remain normal in a paranormal world, he’s also choosing to willingly put himself in danger when he’s always out of his league. It’s different from Perrin. Perrin faces his own fears because he’s bigger and stronger. Then he gets more powerful. Xander doesn’t have those advantages. All he has is the willingness to put himself in harms way over and over again just to stay near those he loves.

Loyalty: He takes a knock here, but not a big one. Let’s put this elephant on the table. He hates Angel and wants to kill him. Maybe even still. BUT, when he CHOOSES to see good in a person, he’s untouchable. He brings Willow back. What helps his loyalty shine here is how fierce he is with it. He hates who he hates, and loves who he loves. He’s as true as the North Star, and he doesn’t shift. Even his tolerance of characters he’d rather see take a stake to the heart is based on his friends’ desire to see them protected (though again, Angel makes this hard to justify).

wizard-147663_960_720My final character is one I’m proud of myself for. This is mostly because, again, it’s easy to point out the hero of the story. They’re usually the ones on the cover. But my point is what makes a person heroic, and is it always the main character? In this case, how about Charity Carpenter from the Dresden Files.  (Love you Waldo, but you have a (INSER COPYRIGHT) as you’re a (INSERT SPOILER) now. Don’t freak. I’m not saying he’s NOT a hero. But he was already rewarded as one, so I don’t have to defend him.)  Charity though, she’s fascinating to look at under this light.

Sacrifice: I’m in the Navy, and I’m a coward. I chose to avoid a certain problem rather than ever face it. But let someone you love put himself or herself in danger time and time again. It’s harder than ACTUALLY putting yourself in danger. (Any of my service members want to argue?) She gives up her husband for years, and THEN has to let her daughter go. She also sacrifices the VERY power that would make her able to fight, and she lets this power go to be a mom.

Courage: I’m going to double tap this. Facing danger, easy. Letting those you love PUT themselves in danger? Nope. I can’t do that. I’d rather take on the entire magical world by myself with a slingshot and a prayer (no offense to that guy who fought a giant) than let someone I love come anywhere near danger.

Loyalty: Where Xander is loyal to a fault, Charity’s loyalty shines despite her wishes. She lets Harry in her life (and those of her children) because of Michael. In point of fact, she, though begrudgingly, allows Harry to remain in that family despite every reason to turn him away. THEN she agrees to watch over his child. Loyalty isn’t always shown by being there when your needed. Sometimes loyalty is putting up with a person you’d rather not just because someone you cared about asks you to. This is where Charity shines. No, she doesn’t exactly like it, and that much is obvious, but she still does it.

What do you all think? Do I have too many qualifications? Not enough? What would you add?  What would you let go? Feel free to comment below. Or, offer other characters (I left a bajillion out).

Thanks for reading,

Matt

My Favorite Books

My Favorite Books

dog-734689_960_720So I often talk about a lot of books and things of that note, but a few people have asked me about my favorites, and I thought now was as good a time as any to share a few with you.  I’m probably already talked about these in one way or another, but I think it’s a good idea to have them all in one spot.  After considering my options, I’ve decided to give you my top five, because everyone likes a good countdown.  These are my all-time favorite.  They are books I’ve read more than once simply because I love them.

Note:  I talk a lot about a lot of writers, and they’re all amazing.  This is my top five ever.  These are the books that I’d drag out of a burning building (and that’s saying something since we’re actually talking about 28 books in reality).  This isn’t to say I don’t like others.  I even love some.  But these are the ones I love most.

heaneybeowulf5)  Beowulf:  Probably the first book I was ever made to read in school that made me realize that books existed that I actually liked.  There’s a lot here in this story.  Beowulf is probably why I’m drawn to the types of characters to which I’m drawn.  I created a role playing character named in his honor.

4)What Men Live By, by Leo Tolstoy:  This is actually a short story, but any anthology of his work that includes this story is something I’ll read more than once.  I’m a huge fan of Tolstoy.  I usually find a way to weave him into my books, (including The Journals of Bob Drifter).  This story strikes a lot of chords with me, and is actually a very good case study for character and foreshadowing.  The message of this book is what drew me in.  I’ve loved it since the first day I read it.

mistborn-trilogy-ppb3) Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson:  I’ll confess.  I read this because I learned that Sanderson was finishing the Wheel of Time (see below).  I wanted to get to know him so I would just judge him on what he “didn’t do that I thought Jordan WOULD do.”  So I read his blog when he spoke about Jordan’s passing.  That alone helped me see what a good man he was.  Then I read Mistborn.  Game over!  He’s the best in the business.  He’s a brilliant writer and an amazing individual in the community of authors.  On my list of “writers whom I drop what I’m reading for,” he’s number one.

2) The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan:  I’ve read this series no less than eight times.  It’s a huge story with so many wonderful characters. I actually think readers are VERY polarized with Jordan and his work, but I love the series and can’t wait to see it in live action if it ever actually happens.

dragonriders-of-pern1) The Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey:  This has been my favorite series for decades.  I fell in love with Ruth.  I love the Master Harper.  It’s one of a few books I freely confess to openly weeping over while reading.  It’s so beautiful and touching.  The drama between characters just pulls in the reader.  The covers are simply amazing.  Every time someone asks, “If I want good fantasy, where do I start reading?”  This is my answer.

So this is short and sweet, but I thought I’d share.  I’ll probably drop a few more favorite five every now and then.  What are your favorite five stories of all time?  Post in the comments below.  I’m always looking for books to add to my TBR list.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Sympathetic Characters

Sympathetic Characters

Under my new book review format, I talk about how much I enjoy characters.  That got me thinking about character sympathy, why it’s important and how to manipulate the reader’s sympathy for a character.

masks-701837_960_720One reference for how to adjust sympathy is Writing Excuses.  They’re more successful than I am, and they’re also better at this than I am.  The linked podcast addresses the how.  They reference another podcast that explains why you don’t have to have sympathetic characters.  That’s true.  There are reasons to have unsympathetic characters, but I’m not a fan of them.  They exist in The Journals of Bob Drifter, but that doesn’t mean I was overly happy about their existence, only aware of their necessity.

What is a sympathetic character.   There are a few differing opinions, but I’m going to selfishly hover in my realm of opinions.  While some feel sympathetic characters are those readers feel sad for, I don’t necessarily leave it at that.  When I talk about sympathetic characters, I’m speaking specifically on characters readers have a strong emotional response to.  A character my readers hate (if that’s what I wanted them to feel) is every bit as important as a character my readers love.  When I get feedback from beta readers, my worst fear is I’ll ask, “what did you think about Character X?” and the readers will respond with, “Who?”  That’s a  much bigger problem to me.

richardOne of my betas for Journals hates Richard.  When she told me why, I smiled, and said, “Sorry, but that’s exactly what I wanted you to feel.”  The degree to which readers hate Richard is one thing, but if they hate him for the same reason my beta hated him, I did my job right.  Characters can’t be completely rage worthy any more than they can be completely sympathetic.  The masters (who in my opinion are George R.R. Martin and Peter V. Brett) can make you hate a character and then a book later, make you at least understand them.  This particular ability allows you to have an extra arch with your characters.

sue411_shawn_michaels
Image of Shawn Michaels is used in reference to WWE’s effectiveness in building character sympathy.  Photo Credit unidentifiable.

A great example for how to do this?  Believe it or not, the WWE.  I haven’t watched wrestling in years, but think about it.  Shawn Michaels went from hero to villain to hero to goof to hero and all the way around again.  Readers look for growth in character, and that’s another term that might be misleading.  Sometimes failure tests a character’s metal, and it’s okay for that character to regress.  Why?

Now we come to the main purpose of this particular blog.  We’re all human. Just on the drive to my brother’s house we talked about what it is to be human.  I don’t think people are good or bad.  I think they’re people.  Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they do horrible things.  I know I have.  So the most realistic characters react to their environment.  I have a few characters who don’t change.  I like those characters.  I like those who no matter the test, they alway pass.  I like the other characters too.  I think House, M.D. was a great example here.  What kept me watching that show was the thought that, “Maybe this episode, he’ll do the decent thing.”  Nope.  Never did.  It’s the same trick Charlie Brown kept falling for.  He’ll never kick the ball and House will never be a compassionate person.  (You can argue the end of that series with me in the comments if you want.)

bobThose characters are unique, but they can get boring quickly.  I’ve failed in my life, so I look for characters who have flaws, but are generally decent folk.  One of the more common compliments I get for Journals is Bob.  He’s a good, white-hat, guy.  He has his slumps, but he’s consistently kind and compassionate, and that makes him sympathetic when he’s faced with tragedy.  Others don’t like him because he’s too nice.  I think the world is just about done with antiheroes, then again, maybe not.  I think it’s an archetype like any other.  Use tools for a reason.

You don’t need a raging alcoholic day-care sitter any more than you need an incredibly pious prostitute.  That sort of extreme can seem forced and/or contrived.  Strive instead for people who feel real.  All my favorite books have at least one character I genuinely feel some connection too.  It’s the part of me I see in those characters that makes me want to see what happens to them.  I think this is something to strive for in writing.

That makes me want to close with a few (in no particular order) characters I found very sympathetic.  They area also some of my favorite characters in fiction.  They are:

Perrin Aybara from Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

Vin from Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

John Cleaver from the John Wayne Cleaver series by Dan Wells.

51lahusmnlThe Warded Man/Arlen from The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett.

All of these characters have great emotional range.  Sometimes, they do things that make me proud, other times, I’m angry with them for how they handle a situation.  I could have gone on, but I just wanted to give you all a few characters I felt have the qualities I look for when I’m reading.  You can feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

In summary:  A sympathetic character is someone the reader feels something for.  They should be realistic by sometimes failing tests of character.  They can be “bad” or “good” as a whole, but no one is all of any one thing.  (except for a few carefully chosen characters, which I feel need to be offset by other members in the cast.)

I hope this gives you some insight into what I shoot for when I write.  If you think you’ve found something I missed, or you just have a good resource to share, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading,

Matt