Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts on characters (part 2)...

Part Two: In which there is a struggle for power...

A good cast of characters will let you get away with a lot. If the reader really cares about them, he or she might be willing to go along with a little more nonsense. Some backtracking or tangents might be a little more allowable, because they let the reader spend more time with the characters.

This doesn't mean that you can sacrifice plot for the sake of your characters though. Even with the greatest cast in the world, a movie will suck if the story goes nowhere. Sure, people will love the characters and quote their lines back and forth, but without something for those characters to be doing, it'd be like watching a bunch of one-liners with  no real context.

On the other hand, you can't sacrifice your characters for the sake of plot. If your plot dictates that your character must do something that character would never do in a thousand years, the character can not do that. In that situation, you can only a) change the plot or b) change the character.

Now, I'm not talking about the sort of difficult decisions that face characters all the time. Like, if your character would never kill someone but they are forced into killing for self-defense or as a solider or something, that is different. This is like that same character suddenly shooting someone in cold blood with no provocation at all.

But say your plot demands that Character A kill Character B, when it is fairly clear that Character A would never do such a thing unless absolutely forced into it. The solution? Either change Character A to make them more likely to kill Character B, or change the plot so that Character A is being forced into it.

Out of character moments are allowed. We all have them, whether we're having a bad day or something we've never encountered before occurs. But we usually at least acknowledge the differences. If a character who is usually very kind is suddenly brutal to someone, there is usually some reason behind it. It's when there isn't beyond "the plot needed to move forward" that it becomes a problem.

Usually, it's never addressed why that character acted so out of character. It's as if the author didn't even notice that their character wouldn't do that. No guilt, no one else asking what was wrong, nothing. It just happens and is treated like a normal interaction, leaving the reader going "huh?".

Any examples you can think of where a character does something blatantly out of character, just to move the plot forward?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some thoughts on character (part 1)...

Part One: In which there is mostly fangirl squee...

First of a few-parter musing. I've been stewing on a lot of character-related things lately and to put it all in one entry would be far too long. Yay for my first foray into multi-part blogging!
I've never really made a secret of the fact that I am very character-oriented. I wasn't always this way (as evidenced by my flirtations with plot-based outlines) but I'm very firmly convinced that character is key. Plot is certainly vital as well, but you can't have a plot without characters and the plot arises from those characters. You'd be surprised what you can get away with plot-wise if you have characters that an audience can become invested with. Though, on the other hand, you'd be shocked how much you can not get away with character-wise once that investment is made.

A bit of video game talk follows, but I do have a point. I'll get to it eventually, I promise...

Some might remember my ramblings about receiving the sequel to my most favorite video game of all time. I finished it a little while after that and I have to say: I didn't like it as much.

The plot for Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World was quite contrived.  It was rather short comparatively and I hated quite a few of the puzzles. But the real gamebreaker was the cast.

The original Tales of Symphonia wasn't perfect. I hated some of the puzzles in that game too, some of the storyline is painfully predictable, and let's face it, upwards of fifty hours of gameplay (just in the story, not going into sidequests or anything) is a long time to spend with a group of pixelated folks. But you want to spend that time with them, even through the frustrating boss re-fights and pushing oodles of boxes around all the time. Their trials and tribulations are so engaging, the relationships, the friendships, between the group are so endearing, so well-rounded that you just want to see it through to the end, to make sure everything is going to turn out all right.

Dawn of the New World, on the other hand, didn't know what it had. The romantic couple is forced into a relationship almost immediately. It seems like the entire point of the game is to show how perfect they are for one another, and yet... I don't really see the attraction between them. Character development doesn't progress to a point where I could realistically see these characters liking each other. Most of the in-game banter is backbiting, most of the original cast has been flanderized for their cameos and it just seems like the members of the party don't really like each other at all. I didn't feel the tight-knit family atmosphere of the first game, the atmosphere I fell in love with. And because I didn't have that redeeming quality, the game fell through for me.

Do I regret playing it? I don't think so. If I hadn't, I likely would have been driven crazy with curiosity. So if nothing else, it gave me some moments of nostalgia and a few lulz. Would I recommend it? Meh, probably not, or at least not until you've played better Tales games.

Because Tales of Symphonia was not a fluke. A few weeks ago, I bought Tales of the Abyss, another (completely unconnected) game in the series and after many gaming sessions that stretched waaaaaay longer than they should have, I finished it just yesterday.

First, because I am such a fangirl, the intro:
I actually hated the music here the first time I heard it. Used to the lovely orchestrations of the Tales of Symphonia beginning, this rockin' intro was a bit jarring. After a time or two though, it really grew on me and I would actually watch the entire thing every boot up. Plus, this remix later in the game seriously gave me chills.

The story here was far more complex than Tales of Symphonia, with a much darker tone and a whole bunch of international politics and the hard decisions therein. But it all boils down to a young man named Luke and his life after he accidentally gets kidnapped. A lot of debating about person-hood, a lot about trust and friendship, a lot about growing up.

It isn't a perfect game either. I hate hate hate the map, the loading time is a little lengthy and sometimes the story is, again, a little contrived. But again, it is the characters that make it worth sticking around for.

I plowed through this game because I cared so much about them. I wanted to see what was happening to them, why such horrible things were going down and how exactly they were going to go down. Even with the occasionally predicable twist, I cared about the characters. The protagonist starts out as a real jerk. He really does. But he has a heart of gold in there somewhere and it shines through enough that you care about him. You want him to get better and let everyone else see that heart of gold. And so stuff happens to him that breaks away his jerkish exterior. But boy does he suffer in the meantime. There is a lot of death in this game, not all of it anonymous mooks. There were several scenes of genuine heartwrench.

But I kept playing, despite being mildly confused at times, despite the stupid map, because I was watching the characters grow together. Unlike in Dawn, where the characters' awkward "attraction" is shoved down our throats from moment one, these characters start out not liking each other. And they have very good reasons not to like each other. But they grow into it, everyone having to give (some more than others) in order to take. And because there is growth, there is change and because there is change, there is a little leeway in what I am willing to accept from these characters.

These characters can fight and I can't be assured that they will make up. They felt like real people in that sense. And if they were to make up, they would have to apologize and really change. A great deal of the story was about people atoning for their mistakes and mistreatments of the other characters. But not everyone does. Because these were people, not ideals. They went kicking and screaming into their plot and they weren't compliant for one minute of it. And it was awesome.

Part two will hopefully have less of the nerdy game references and more of the actual thoughts on original character development.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Crazy little thing called 're-writing'...

So, what with Valentine's Day having driven off the advances of the shameless Shiny New Idea and rekindled my love for my hedgehog project, I found myself taking a swing at beginning again.

I've written before about rewriting a beginning over and over again and that leading to stagnation of the story. It's one of the scariest parts about this rewrite: knowing my history with this whole thing. But I think this story needs it.

See, even when I say things like "just keep writing", there remains the Golden Rule of Writing: there are no rules. While, yes, there are rules about grammar and such, even they can be broken if you have a legitimate reason for breaking them. And when it comes to a process, there really is no "right" way to write. I myself never seem to follow the same pattern twice, which is one of the reasons I'm giving myself the go-ahead with this re-write.

I am a pantser through and through and it took me that original six thousand word beginning I had to see that it wasn't working. I had to take it that far to see that it wasn't working, or else I would have regretted a flighty change. This latest beginning is actually something like Version 2.5, being a sort of rework of an actual second beginning idea.

Now, if I were to have followed my own advice and "just kept writing", I would have been banging my head against a brick wall, frustrated by lack of enthusiasm and progress. And, despite the fact that ninety percent of writing is just the muscle action of putting pen to paper and keeping it there, some sort of inspiration is necessary to keep the story going.

And if anything, this is part of my planning process. Testing out what works, experimenting with styles (yay for out-of-order flashbacks and unreliable narrators!), and just generally hashing it out. I can't let the fear of a past failure stop me from progressing, nor let my own sensibilities stifle my story.

Does part of me panic at even the possibility of letting another story head towards the shelf? Yes. Is part of me frustrated at not having gotten it right the first time and now being almost entirely back at square one without having gotten all that far to begin with? Yes.

Is it going to be worth it? I think so. Worst case scenario, as always; I'll have learned something from it.

Anyone else ever rebooted a project more than once in the early stages? Did you ever finish? Still working on it? Relegated it to the shelf?

Monday, February 14, 2011

On slaying the Shiny New Idea (a love story)...

Because I thought about slaying:
Quite possibly one of my most favorite performances of my most definitely favorite poem.
So, a few days ago, I contracted a case of the Shiny New Idea. I blogged about it. And, in blogging about it, I found that I was able to counter it.

See, the thing is with Shiny New Ideas, at least for me, is that they tend to fall apart if I think about them too hard. Actually, this is true for most ideas I have, but the difference is that I'm still excited about my current hedgehog project and so the Shiny New Idea doesn't hold the appeal it did because it is being overshadowed.

And so, on this, Valentine's Day, I'd like to share a short love story about my hedgehog project.

Young Writer's Society has a group called "Your Novel" in which members post short open letters to their novels. Often just a few lines if that, they are a cathartic way of venting frustration or love about a project. Recently, my own posts have followed an arc of sorts.

GryphonFledgling: Dear Novel, 
Be patient with me. It takes some time to move from one relationship to the other. NaNoWriMo took a lot out of me and I want to be able to give you my everything. These scribbles in-between are actually working for us, I promise.
Wed Dec 22, 2010 
GryphonFledgling: Dear Novel,
It's not cheating, just flirting. I'll come back, I promise. Just give me a little time to realize just how amazing you are and then you'll have the satisfaction of seeing how I come crawling back to your pages.
Mon Feb 07, 2011 
GryphonFledgling: Dear Novel,
See? I told you I'd come back. Here's chocolates and a rose to prove my love for you on Valentine's Day.
Tue Feb 15, 2011 
The first was right after NaNo, when I was sort of scribbling little scenes and things in lieu of actual writing on anything besides this blog. The idea was there, the want was there, but my heart just wasn't ready for that kind of commitment yet.

The second was right when the Shiny New Idea struck. It was all awhirl, with its glitz and glamor and snarky humor. I saw it for what it was, but I still begged for the time for a little excitement, a little adventure.

The third is self-explanatory. I wasn't dumped, I walked away before I got too involved with something that wasn't worth my time. I went back to something that I loved and that loved me and together we're going to make something amazing.

This is a project meant to last, methinks. Or at least I hope so. Right now we are going through a little rocky spot with regards to a beginning (seeing as how the beginning is going to drive the rest of the story). I'm thinking I may actually have to (*le gasp*) do a little brainstorming / outlining (*more le gasp*).

But despite being at a point where I'm feeling lost enough to want to do that, I feel good about this project. I might regret saying that in three months, when I'm mashing my forehead into my keyboard with frustration, but I've been with this project long enough for the puppy love of a Shiny New Idea to wear off and I'm still giddy with excitement at times.

Because, this project did start out as a Shiny New Idea, if you recall, in the middle of November. But, unlike this last Shiny New Idea, the hedgehog project stuck around long enough to be called a project at all, even to the point of getting me writing again after a post-NaNo funk.

I did write down my Shiny New Idea and maybe one day it will inspire me again, or at least let itself be hacked to pieces and stitched into other stories somewhere, but for now, true love triumphs and the hedgehog story and I march forward together into the great unknown.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


...Let's be bad guys.
Yes indeed.

Well said, cat of questionable literacy but many lulz, well said.

If there is one thing more dangerous than the dreaded Writer's Block, it is the Shiny New Idea.

So you've got a project that you love, and you're working hard on it. Life gets in the way sometimes and the last few days haven't been so hot, but you still feel like this could go somewhere. It's just taking a little time.

Then, suddenly, from the blue, comes a Shiny New Idea. It's an idea! It's new! It's shiny! It seems to flow from your brain like a chocolate fountain, chock-full of marshmallows, strawberries and pound cake!

Suddenly the current project is exposed for what it is; a lukewarm Hot Pocket, full of congealing cheese and mystery meat dressed up as ham for Halloween.

So you want to drop that Hot Pocket and go for the Shiny New Idea, this lovely critter that demands nothing from you, just allows you to channel awesome from brain to pen.

And you do... for a while. But there will come a time when the Shiny New Idea is not so New anymore and eventually it will not be so Shiny anymore. And along will come another Shiny Newer Idea and then a Shiny Shiny Newer Idea and so on and so forth, in a horrible rampage of frustrated inspiration but no production.

The moral of the story? Stick with a project. If a Shiny New Idea pops up, demanding your attention

... indulge it for a minute or two. Take the time to write down that scene that is bugging you. If it turns into a little more than a scene, fine. But know where to put the brakes on.

At the same time, sometimes projects need to be taken a break from. I've blogged before about letting projects go. Sometimes they do need to go. But they shouldn't be dropped like a Hot Pocket. Lain carefully down like the inedible bits of lobster, maybe.

...because otherwise they might eat you?


I actually secretly like Hot Pockets.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bursting at the seams...

First off, a big thank you to Hannah from Musings of a Palindrome for her shout-outs to me and other small-time bloggers!
A sedentary body equals a sedentary mind for me. I find that the less I do in a day, the less I end up writing. It's why NaNoWriMo is such a frantic month, but always one of my most productive, while my writing always seems to stagnate during the summer months when all I do is laze about. Many a writer has bemoaned a surplus of free-time as hindering their writing.

That said, it seems like after a period of non-activity, my brain always seems to start cooking stuff up, just when I don't feel like writing at that moment.

For real, haven't been feeling fantastic lately (everyone else in my family has gotten sick and I'm the only one hanging on to health) and have been sleeping a lot. The other day, I spent the entire day sleeping, eating and playing video games (class had been mercifully cancelled due to snow) and while it was somewhat refreshing, I was frustrated afterward when I realized how little of anything I'd gotten done.

Cut to yesterday, when I had a full day of class and two essays to write. Suddenly my brain seething with inspiration and ideas, but I don't have the time to write any of them down.

Cut to today... The inspiration is still knocking around, but I am still feeling under the weather. I've been browsing the internet, reading a little and just generally not doing anything again. And I'm driving myself crazy because while I want to be writing, I really don't want to be writing.
Of course, the key is often to just start writing anyway. As I write and moan right now, I'm feeling the urge to simply grab a pad of paper and start writing something worth writing. So I likely will.

Funny how just taking a moment to purge and whine can actually set you on the path to activity. Anyone else find that they tend to follow any of these patterns? Or do you do something completely different?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I hate double-spacing.

I never really noticed how much I hated double-spacing until I had to write a research paper for Psychology my first semester of college. Before then, the longest paper I'd written for school had been maybe ten pages. It was about breeding mice for a science project and at the time, I was too caught up in mouse-care duties to really care too much about the paper itself. I wrote it, turned it in, got an A, was done.

This research paper was different. Something like fifteen pages and I agonized over that thing for months, writing several different versions, nitpicking over the formatting. And in the end, after all that work, after all that stress, the finished product looked so... soulless.

The extra space between every line made it look so empty, so lifeless. I can't really explain it, but it bothered me.

I still can't stand double-spacing. I don't know why it was that Psych paper that exacerbated that dislike, because I'd worked with it before. I didn't typically write in double-spacing before, usually just writing in single-spacing, then punching the button to spread it out at the end. Now, what with professors wanting a particular format, I generally work with double-spacing from the beginning, making sure to follow the format as much as possible from the beginning to avoid stress later.

And I hate it. Even if I do work from single-spacing in the beginning and then switch before I print, the print-out always bothers me.

It's a silly thing to get worked-up over, but get worked-up I do. I'm so visually oriented and writing holds such a special place in my psyche that things like that get me rankled. The same part of my brain that does this to me is the one that makes me drool over stacks of books and obsessively read every scrap of text I can get my hands on when I'm eating (for real, I especially can't get through breakfast without something to read). Books with funny margins cause me literal headaches and huge walls of text make my eyes slip up and water.

But double-spacing. Oh that double-spacing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In which there is a great deal of poetry...

you pretend not to watch me
I pretend not to judge
a half-baked soufflé
too early and it will fall
too late and the cement has set
unyielding, uncaring, cold
just right and the lantern rises
held up by wishes and hot air
careful not to catch on fire
hope it doesn't cool
your hand is warm in mine
grip too tight and bones will break
too loose and the darkness will eat you
having me alone with an empty page
don't blink
I'll make my verdict
thumb pad on an ice cube
ridges and slick
two steps removed
watching the world go by in slow motion
count the hummingbird's feathers
catch the cold breath in a balloon
let it squeal out in a fog horn
calling in my imaginary friend
keep up with me
moving banana peels from underfoot
chasing fruit flies
waiting for the light
switch it on
write on the bathroom mirror
ghost letters
from the great beyond
two steps away
snail shell spirals
warm chocolate curls
eyes ask a question
while your smile tries to mitigate it
walking on monkey grass
blades of shattered knives
trying to dance a tango
when one only knows how to samba
a box of chocolates
gun barrel hiding under your ear
not sure whose finger is on the trigger
or if its just a lump in the pillow
I'm not sure of the answer
but ask anyway
I'm in class and randomly scribbling things. Stuff happens. I have to admit that the first one is my favorite. I don't often write poetry, but I often seem to find myself inordinately proud of the result when I do, even if it is complete nonsense.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thank you and farewell...

Brian Jacques passed away Saturday, February 5.

I got the news from Twitter and I was actually struck with physical shock when I read about it.

I can't say that I was always a big fan of Jacques, but he was definitely a huge part of my childhood. I loved Redwall, even if the other books in the series sometimes seemed to regress into repetition. My younger siblings loved the series and so I constantly was surrounded by the books all the time. I loved his narration in the recording of his books and I actually still use my CD of Redwall to fall asleep sometimes. His voice was just so soothing.

And now he's gone. It breaks my heart.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A daily record...

faux amis
false friends
sliding on an oil slick of french
thinking you're ice-skating
olive oil instead of hinge grease
gumming up the works
blowing bubbles of smoke
bright pink sludge
filling up plastic bottles until they're dry
cracks in the mask
deer in the headlights
raccoon eyes hiding gecko pads of want
eyeshadow sliding into lipstick
faux animals
fur amis

Yay for complete nonsense? 

Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I scribble in class when a lecture lapses into boring. 

There's something to be said for a daily journal. It could be about your daily life or about your writing or for collecting pictures or for writing poetry. Mine is sort of for everything and it goes everywhere with me. I went through phase towards the end of last year, scribbling notes and rants and stuff on scrap pieces of paper, but there is something to be said about having an actual notebook. It makes it easier to keep things together (remember my word of 2011 is to be "collected") and there is really gratifying to watch a notebook fill up, even if it is just with insane scribbles like that above. I'm barely a week into February and already I'm half-way through a notebook I started on the first of January.

Though I think someday I'm going to need to go through my notebooks and binders and write out a timeline for when each one fits so that if I ever need to put them in order, I can without having to actually put them in order on my shelf (seeing as how most of the binders are full-size and most of the notebooks are only like half that size and they would just fit awkwardly).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In defense of fanfiction...

Before anything else: The wonderful Elena Solodow over at You're Write. Except when you're Rong. created a super-cool new hashtag for Twitter.: #lastlinetoday. At the end of the day, post the last line of whatever you wrote that day. I intend to start, seeing as how my Twitter tends to lay dormant for months at a time when it's not NaNo. Though my last lines tend to be long after I've shut my computer down for the night, so maybe they'll be posted the next morning? As sort of a start to the new day? Hmm...

Now onto actual blog posting!
So, in one of my late-night deliriums of inspiration I've been talking about lately, I started a fanfic. Just a short little drabble, brought on by the superficial similarities between two characters of two different fandoms. It's fun and it's something outside of my other projects, giving me somewhere else to flex my writing muscles a little without having to worry about world-building or character casting or anything. I've never really written fanfic before (aside from one alternate character interpretation fic for two minor minor minor characters of Tales of Symphonia that can be found here for the interested) and I have to say: it's hard.

I have respect for fanfic writers. I think I've blogged before about literary sandboxes and whatnot (though I can't find the post and if I haven't, I will soon) and how fanfiction can be really awesome. I enjoy reading my share of good fanfiction (because there is certainly a lot of not-good out there). I mean, good writing is good writing is good writing, right?

I can see where haters of fanfiction are coming from. I mean, most of what you'll find is badly written, etc. etc. etc. and the authors aren't coming up with the characters and setting themselves, but there is something to be said for writing a character that isn't your own.

It's one of the reasons why it is so hard to find a good fanfic. When you are writing your own characters, you're allowed to flub them at first, finding their voices, exploring their psyche and letting them grow organically. But in fanfic, you've got a character already laid out. They've already been made to someone else's specifications and you're not really allowed to tailor them all that much. Out-of-character moments run rampart in bad fanfics because the authors try to fit the character into a role rather than letting the role grow out of the character.

It's hard for someone like me who never knows anything about her characters unless she sees it unfolding in front of her. It's very easy to fall into flanderization and pick just one trait of a character and let that be the basis of the story, which isn't fair to the characters or the original creators. 

The whole thing is very foreign to me, but I think it's good practice. It is nice being able to think about how an established character would react to something, rather than trying to make up my own character's opinion on a matter. And that's good for me, maybe teaching me some of the benefits of different styles of writing. 

So yeah, I'm having fun with it. That and I'm writing it mostly on WriterFeedPad, which is always a pleasure. Every time I use it, I like it more. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A little pimping...

So, I'm a member of Young Writers Society, run by the ever-fabulous Nathan Caldwell. It's a online community of writers, mostly aged 13 to 25, with wonderful reviews, a chat room, forums about just about everything, live feeds of friend activity, blogs, and a whole crap-load more. I've been a member for three years and running now and I can't think of leaving. The people are awesome, the site is awesome, it's just awesome.

But there is something even more awesome looming in the future...

Nate is currently working on a sort of sister-site to YWS, called Writer Feed, which he has developed based on all the things he knows now that he had wished he had known about when he began YWS. The idea behind it is social networking for writers, aimed mostly at writers 18+ as a more serious alternative to YWS. It's set to launch really, really soon (the date's sort of nebulous, since Nate's programming in his free time - something like 20 hours of work remain, I understand) and I am super-crazy excited. A review and more pimping will come when it does finally launch (right now, the above link just leads to a spiffy "coming soon"-type page).

But, in the meantime...

Nate has given us WriterFeedPad, which is simply awesome. Similar in concept to Google Docs or other online document sites, it gives you a place online to type up documents and the like. The formatting tools are fairly simple, but for a short story or novel or just notes to yourself, it's perfect. Plus, the really cool things about it are the way you can make a pad public or share it with other users (so that more than one person can be working on the same pad - each shows up as a different color) and it tracks the revisions in real time (and has the niftiest slider bar thing that will literally take you through every change you make in a document in a sort of running film way, allowing you to stop at any time and export that particular place in revision as a document). It's already linked to YWS, but apparently it's also going to be hooked up to WF when it finally launches!

Super, super excited. I've been using WriterFeedPad for several documents already, putting in some handwritten notes and drafts of my hedgehog story and even hashing out some scenes from an idea that just won't leave me alone tonight (for real, it's again around midnight and my brain won't shut off).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An ending...

Whew. One month into the new year already.

With the end of January comes the end of a sort of unofficial-yet-very-resolved resolution to post every day of the month. I sort of decided to do it after a day or so in the new year when I was being consistent and I never actually made it official because I was afraid that if I said anything, I would jinx my resolve. But now it is over and I can celebrate my completion of another resolution this year already!

That's not to say I won't be posting every day or nearly-every day in the months to come (in fact, I want to keep it up for as long as possible for the rest of this year) but I won't do the "Oh crap, it's 11:49 at  night and I haven't posted anything yet" panic that I did a few times last month. It's a good exercise in consistency for me and it helps me hash out a lot of things about storytelling and writing.

For this new year, I'm going to be trying a lot of new things, both in my writing and in the rest of my life, and perhaps in my blog. Anything you guys would like to see me try here? I'm open to suggestions as I turn another corner this year.