I’m About to Start the Beta Draft of Betrayed: A Thank you to Beta Readers

Greetings all!

I’m happy to report I’m about to begin work in the Beta Draft of Betrayed. This will be the last content draft and the last set of revisions. After this, I send it out for proofreading and then polish it up for publishing.

I’d like to just take a moment to thank my beta readers!

First up is Bia Bella Baker, author of the HECCTROSSIPY series.

Next up are Tamy and Don Way. I actually met them outside an Ikea, and they’ve been supporting me and my work ever since.

I just want to thank them for taking the time to read Betrayed and offer feedback. The good news is they all liked it! Yes, they all had constructive feedback that I have to comb through and consider as I do this final draft.

I’ll say this much, Kira has been a challenge to write, and she’ll be challenging. Her arc is powerful, and I’m of the opinion that if I don’t get it right, the series will suffer greatly. I’d argue the next most important arc is Kaitlyn. Dom and Sal aren’t nearly as challenging because they’re more simplistic in nature.

I’ll start work on that early next week. While I was waiting, I got some more work done on Discovered. I’m just a bit over halfway done with the discovery draft of that story, and it’s looking solid.

I’m doing everything I can to get Betrayed out as soon as I can. It’ll take me at least a month to finish. Then I’ll need to give Sara time to proofread it. Then I have to apply those edits. So I’m hoping for a February or March release date. While Sara proofreads Betrayed, I’ll switch right back to Discovered, so it shouldn’t be nearly as long a wait for that book as it was for Betrayed.

Again, I just want to thank my beta readers and let you all know where I’m at. I can’t thank you all enough for the support you give. I hope you choose to stick with me and continue to enjoy my silly little stories.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Chimera by Mira Grant

Book Review: Chimera by Mira Grant

Cover
The cover for this book was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Spoiler Free Summary:  Chimera by Mira Grant is the Last book in the Parasitology series.  As the rise of parasite-controlled zombies increases, and the self-named Chimera are working to take over as the master-species on the planet, Sal is stuck in the middle, trying to return to her family and protect them. Can she find a solution that doesn’t end in one species eliminating the others?

Character:  Sal is who got me interested in the series as a whole (I have read the whole series). She’s a very interesting character. I can’t say I appreciated every decision she made, but she’s a compelling character. She’s a solid example in how to build a first-person-narrative story around an interesting main character. 

Exposition: I have to acknowledge that any first-person-narrative story is going to have more exposition than other stories. That said, as compelling as Sal is, I felt the story slowed down several times while Sal contemplated her place in the world and how humanity works. This created an odd sort of frustration for me. I enjoyed Sal, but I felt myself getting tired of her musings. I think the story would have moved a lot quicker if at least four of Sal’s inner soliloquies were removed.

Portrait_Seanan-McGuire-crop-credit-Carolyn-Billingsley-300x296
Image by Carolyn Billingsley was taken from Grant’s bio page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Dialogue: This fell a bit short for me. There were some parts where it really felt like each scene of dialogue were really just opportunities for each character to present his or her manifesto. It got a bit tedious for me. The conversations didn’t really feel natural. There’s one scene that relies heavily on Sal convincing another character to do something, and I just couldn’t buy it. This was because the character development wasn’t there for me any more than the dialogue.

Description:  I got what I wanted out of this area. It wasn’t vivid, and it didn’t really activate many senses for me, but I could picture the settings and characters well enough.

Overall:  This book is a great example of just how much I love character. I can’t say Sal was a “great” character. But she was good enough to carry a story that wasn’t as entertaining as others. It’s also a good example to demonstrate that an author doesn’t have to do everything well if she (in this case) does a few of them very well. The worldbuilding and character of this book carries the rest of the story. This was a decent ending to a pretty decent saga. I’m glad I read this book to see how it ends, and that ending was reasonably satisfying. l

Thanks for reading

Matt

The Line in the Sand: Discussing the “traditional” hero in comparison to the “flawed” hero

The Line in the Sand: Discussing the “traditional” hero in comparison to the “flawed” hero

new-1If 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.

coverrevealCase 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.

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Cover for Perfect Shadow used for review and educational purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

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.

5377147-supermanYep…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.

12509430_10205913257685707_8906529411258551482_nSo 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_2005_s04e06_1080p_bluray_x264-shortbrehd_1809Doctor 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.

(SPOILER OVER)

front-coverI 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.)

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

One Nut’s guide to Developing Characters

One Nut’s guide to Developing Characters

cocoons-329059_960_720Character 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).

charcter-inventory-sheetQuintessential Editor covered some ground with his blog 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.

character-1297502_960_720Where 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.

new-lion-iconThere 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.

START

coverrevealBob Drifter :  Robert Drifter

6’3”

230 lbs

Light brown hair

Brown eyes.

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.

END

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:

START

early-seferam
This was a very early, very rough sketch of Elele by an artist named Robert Quill. This image was developmental. I’ve had other people work on that, but it was hard because I’ve only JUST really gotten a good mental image of her. Hence why I need these sheets.

Elele’Therios

(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.)

Age:  22

Occupation:  Mathematician

Hobby 1) Travel

Hobby 2) mathmatics.

Height:  60.8 inches – 5’1”

Weight: 161 pounds

Build:  Sleek. (She’s twiggy even by Seferam standards.)

Skin Tone:  Black (All Sefaram are)

Voice Quality: Analytic.  Snappy.  Quick.  Clips words.

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.

END

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.

rifts_character_sheet_scan_1_by_dragonfett-d5dhijfSo 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 a random 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).

2000px-heroesjourney 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 SojournSojourn 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.

bobLet’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.

Thanks for reading

Matt