Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
In other matters, I've decided to have another reflective post. The following timeline is of my blog! Have fun.
THE AGE OF SILENCE
This is the Age of Silence--I had no blog followers, and two comments in all of my 20 or so posts--one from Andrew Peterson (there's a story behind that one, and how I recieved it!), and one from J. R. Parker, who is now the author of Kestrel's Midnight Song. :) He became my first follower.
THE AGE OF THREADS
I began to pick up followers around this time, Squeaks being one of the first and still an active follower today. :)
On March 31 or 30, I believe, I tried my hand in a 'Kill This Thread' contest for a copy of Venom and Song on Wayne Thomas Batson's blog. Believe it or not, it is still going on today! XD This is how many people began following me, as well as my comments on other blogs.
THE AGE OF THE DARK KING
Some of you older followers may remember my segmented story 'The Dark King'. I posted the Dark King through May, and I was delighted at the response. :) I'm still editing it off and on today (lol). My blog picked up steam then, as well. :)
THE AGE OF COMMENTS
Throughout all of this period of time, I gained many followers, had my first giveaway, and--the most remarkable in my sight--I have had at least one comment on every single post since the fifth of July. Wow!
The giveaway I am going to have--soon--is not only because of followers and posts--though those were a convient addend--but also because of all of you readers. Thanks for reading Teenage Writer, everyone! :D
Friday, September 24, 2010
But today I thought I'd talk of prologues.
Prologues are commonly the things that get writers going. When they write, they write a prologue--and things go on from there, usually.
For some strange reason, I do things differently than most. Prologue? I didn't have my prologue (on my first novel) until some time after it was finished. And even then I tinkered with it off and on, and added another POV and some suspense to keep things interesting.
The reason I'm writing about this is because I started on my prologue--for Sadaar.
Now, for me, I put prologues in my novels for two reasons.
Ah, yes, we come to it again. Foreshadowing is an excellent technique (one that I ought to write a post on sometime) that comes in handy when one is trying to bring some suspense and shock into the story. I won't go into the denfinition of foreshadowing, but I use my prologue to foreshadow events that are to come.
The plain truth is this; if you start an adventure novel with something that isn't an adventure, well, no one will want to read it. With this in mind, I start my novels with these 'prologues' in order to kick the reader into the story and hold them there.
Besides this, there is one other way to use a prologue.
3) To Give Something...
At times, prologues give something. They can give you events that happened in the past (like from L. B. Graham's Binding of the Blade series--each book started with a past event) or events that happened in the present. And sometimes, they give a hint at what is to come, partly through foreshadowing. If you give a reader a nugget of certain information, it can hint at what is to come, or what will happen. If someone betrays your Protagonist, the prologue can be a scene(s) in which the traitor talks to the person who convinced him/her to betray the Protagonist--but the reader doesn't know who the traitor is, yet. More on that in my post on Betrayal.
There you have it! Assuming you're writing some sort of an adventure novel (if you're writing a novel, that is), one of the best ways to grab a reader's attention, foreshadow, and give a nugget of precious information is to have a prologue. Successful prologues should have at least the first element--grabbing the reader's attention. But that discussion is for another post.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelieveable story: that ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily habit only a tiny part.
One explorer know more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard, and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code--a roadmap of symbols--that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all of the pieces and discover its secrets.
But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining. (From the back cover)
Before I start talking about the actual book, let me tell you one thing; this isn't all it's cracked up to be. By the description, I expected a dangerous quest to recover all of the pieces of this 'Skin Map'. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. Not to say I didn't like this book--I did--but I just wanted to warn you that the description is misleading.
Now, as for the actual book; the plot and characters were superb. Especially the plot. It was a unique book, to be sure. I had never heard of these 'ley lines' before (in a real-world context, that is; I believe there were ley lines in Hero, Second Class), and the whole idea of a skin map, Omniverse, etc. was highly imaginitive. The characters were relatable--although I didn't exactly feel a pang of sadness when one of the characters died. That part could've been done better.
And the writing? As Lawhead has proved over and over, his writing is great and refreshing.
And now for the cons. It's not what Lawhead did--it's what he DIDN'T do.
First, I felt that the Skin Map could have been a longer book. Sure, it fell just short of 400 pages, but the plot moved slowly and didn't go very far before the book ended. In fact, I felt like I had gotten only into the introduction to these worlds Lawhead had created. Now I know about ley lines, Omniverse, the Skin Map and its history, etc., but this book was more about a primitive coffee shop than an epic quest for a Skin Map. No offense to Lawhead. :)
Second, there was a surprising lack of, well, Christ in this book. I saw several threads of religious thought that could be expanded in the next book, but there wasn't any of the amazing allegory that I found in 'In the Hall of the Dragon King' and the other books in that series. I was disappointed by this.
Third, (though this is rather related to my second point) I felt that I didn't really get any meaning out of this book. Whereas books like Dragons in Our Midst have values, morals, and themes (not to mention Biblical truths), this book had a lack of them. I just didn't find anything meaningful to take away with me. Perhaps this will change with the next book--perhaps not. But until then, this series isn't much more than an interesting adventure.
All in all? If you don't mind slow plot--and coffeehouses--then you'd like this book. It has a great plot and cast of characters. But don't expect to bring much meaning back with you.
Rated 8.5 out of 10.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
First, Squeaks is having a contest...er, giveaway...thing. :) It's called the Green Giveaway--and it would be nice if you'd head on over to Hidden Doorways and give him a Hello. Oh, and while you're there, you can vote for my storythingamabobber. :)
Second, Nichole White (a.k.a. Star Dreamer) is having a giveaway sort of thing too. I haven't been able to do it yet, but go on over there anyway. :)
Third! Recently I've been engrossed in Wayne Thomas Batson's Tribe Contest for Venom and Song, he and Christopher Hopper's newest book in the Berinfell Prophecies. It's really complicated, so you can just click here to find out all about it. :)
And last, but not least, 100! Centenial!...I think that's the word.
Now, I'm going to tie this all together--because all of my words before this was a rather interesting use of foreshadowing.
The very first paragraph? It means that I am drawing close to !40! followers. Wow! And do you know what the second and third paragraphs mean? Nope, you don't. But I'll give you a hint--I'll be doing something...let's say, similar. The third paragraph is about the Tribe Contest, yes? Wait. You'll find out later what that means. Fourth? I am about to break 100 posts. Very soon. :)
To tie this altogether...something mysterious is going to happen soon. VERY soon. And it is tied to giveaways, the Tribe Contest (though very loosely), 100 posts and 40 followers.
Once I get over 100 posts and 40 followers...well, something...hm...interesting will happen. Shadow and Flame... No, not another LOTR giveaway or anything to do with LOTR! I just like that combination of words--and it has to do with all of this.
One more thing! Rabbits are holding their Thousand-Year-Meeting! So, to quote Beorn in a comment on my other blog, be prepared for all rabbits to 'go ninja'. If you want to find out more (and save your life), go here.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
It's something many books should have--and there's a certain way to do it. Hopefully, in this post, I can show you a few of those ways.
Foreshadowing is a useful thing--especially when betrayal is involved. If your story has more than one POV, this can be a useful thing--and foreshadowing can happen without multiple POVs as well. Here is two of the main points of foreshadowing.
1. Protagonist foreshadowing. This is done when you hint at something suspicious, using your Protagonist. In The Door Within, Aiden sees his 'betrayer' sneak out of bed into the night. He assumes the Glimpse had gone to relieve himself--but later, you find out that he had
betrayed them. This kind of foreshadowing makes you say, "Why didn't I see this coming?" Its main point is creating shock--a good thing for an epic story.
2. Multiple POV foreshadowing. This is where you go into an 'enemy' POV and basically tell the reader that someone is going to betray the Protagonist. I'm sure you can think of a couple stories that have this example--but I can't think of any as of right now. M-POV foreshadowing's main purpose is 'dread' and suspense. Dread is a sense of impending danger, and, of course, you know what suspense is.
2) I Didn't See This Coming
Like Protagonist POV foreshadowing, this is the 'I didn't see this coming' part of betrayal. There are basically three kinds of IDSTC;
1. Foreshadowing, like discussed in the first point of the foreshadowing part of this post.
2. Making you think someone else will betray them. I have read this in many books--and that has a reason; it is a good way to shock someone. Say you have the Protagonist and two companions. The Protagonist is warned, one way or another, that one of his/her companions is going to betray him/her. The Protagonist immediately suspects one person...but after the betrayal takes place, s/he finds out it was the other companion that was the traitor. Misleading your reader into thinking someone is a traitor--who actually isn't the traitor--is a great way to make a betrayal all the more shocking.
3. Making a very close friend betray the Protagonist. This works wonderfully because it is unexpected. In fact (I really should have said this earlier), the greatest tool for betrayal is to make it unexpected. But since close friends--and even family--are usually held as 'good' guys, it makes it shocking. Judas was an extremely close friend--one of the Twelve--to Jesus, yet he betrayed Him.
Which is the best way to do this? Well, I've said this many times before on various subjects, but I'm going to say it again; do both.
Make the person a close friend--and mislead the reader as to the betrayer at the same time. Make the Protagonist foreshadow the betrayal--and (if you can) make an enemy tell of the betrayal upcoming. Do this, and your betrayal will be even more shocking and terrible--the goal of a good betrayal.
Friday, September 17, 2010
So, what is purple prose? From what I hear, the definition goes something like this;
"1) Prose that is overly descriptive or flowery, and useless or, 2) Prose that describes things uniquely."
But is it good to use? Does it matter to the reader?
Sometimes purple prose is useless to those who don't enjoy description at all. Most people view it as useless to the plot. Why take the time to describe all of this useless stuff?
On the other hand, some people are enchanted by 'purple prose'.
Here's the 'Purple Prose is Useless' argument.
1. Purple prose is agonizing to get through.
2. It is useless to the plot.
3. It is unneeded.
And the Purple Prose-er's reply?
1. REAL purple prose, written right, flies right by.
2. Useless? Just put it in the right places and enhance the plot.
3. Unneeded? Quite the contrary. If you have the right amounts in the right places, it gives imagery to the story.
But what is an example of purple prose? Squeaks gives this, from Paul Clifford, a novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (though I have never read it myself), as an example.
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
Who does not find this beautiful?? What did the author do right to immerse you in his Purple Prose?
1) He used Personification. Description (especially purple prose) is not all adjectives, adverbs, etc. Personification does a better job. "...by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets...rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." [Emphasis added] Do you see the personification? Personificationi is where you put human characteristics to inanimate things.
2) He mixed in information. From this one sentence, you gain that 1. the lamps are flickering, 2. There is a violent storm going on, and 3. this takes place in London.
3) He added depth to the description. Not only is this a storm, this is a violent and gusty storm.
4) He showed. He told you that it it was a violent and gusty storm--and then showed it. The prose said, "...a violent gust of wind.." This is where many writers would stop in terms of description. But the author shows just how violent the wind is. "...which swept up the streets...rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
So, is purple prose good? Is it bad? You decide. But purple prose is only good when done skilfully.
Monday, September 13, 2010
You should usually get rid of them. Before you cling to your 'wearilies' and 'strangelies' and yell, "NO! Never! I love my adverbs!" or think "About time someone told me how to do this!" or just an indifferent read-through of this post--let me show you a few things that I have learned.
1) Beef up your verbs. (Yes, I just HAD to use that word) ;)
Consider the following sentence, that uses an adverb. "He walked hurriedly along the sidewalk." It's what I'd call 'an okay' sentence. But it could be better--and it 'tells'. How do you defeat the adverb, though, keeping the meaning of the sentence, describing the same idea, and 'showing'? You 'beef up' the verb. "He hurried along the sidewalk." Easy! And which one sounds better?
Here's a few more examples.
With adverb; "The man looked carefully around the room."
Without adverb; "The man peered around the room."
With adverb; "Sam walked carefully because of the acorns on the ground."
Without adverb; "Sam crept through the yard, mindful of the acorns littering the ground." (By the way, this could use some clarification, but I won't go through the editing process.)
2) Replace the Adverb
Replace the adverb with an adjective or some other word.
With adverb; "The man peered around the room cautiously."
Without adverb; "The man peered around the room, careful to stay hidden from all eyes."
Note that I didn't say 'careful to not be seen' there--I originally did (when I wrote this section of the post), but I realized that I had unknowingly stuck a 'not' adverb in there. :P So I rewrote it, and it looks better.
But sometimes you CAN use them. Yep, don't throw them all away yet. Consider the following sentence from my novel;
"Aron chose his words carefully."
There's an adverb in there! But look what happens when I try to replace it (since I can't really do anything else to the verb).
"Aron chose his words, careful to..." To what? Ah, but that would be telling. But say I do 'tell'; what does it look like then? "Aron chose his words, careful to keep all his information hidden."
It's a rather unwieldy sentence, and I think you will agree that the original sentence is better.
And there are other examples as well; "'I don't know,' he said wearily." It would probably be best to leave that sentence as it is. Say we change it, and look what we come up with. "'I don't know,' he said, weary from...' We'd have to go into an explanation of why he is weary which is telling. Not a good idea. :)
Sunday, September 12, 2010
"After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There's little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus." (Taken from Amazon.com)
This book has been quite a sensation, I know, in children's fantasy. A major movie was made about it, and what is even more remarkable (to me) is that a close friend of mine actually read all of these books. You don't know my friend, but if you did, you would know that he usually doesn't read much--and fantasy books of this size are almost unheard of.
When I read this book, I didn't know what to expect. I liked the movie well enough, but what drew in the readers so much?
The concept, at least, is interesting. Greek gods in New York? And I thought it was interesting and mildly funny that the entrance to Hades was in Hollywood. ;)
The plot? Well, it was all right. I liked it well enough to read it and order the next books from the library--but I must say that the movie rather ruined it for me. I already knew what was going to happen, so maybe that is what took away my enjoyment of the plot.
The characters, Percy at least, were developed well enough for a book like this.
But theologically, what do I think of this book? Well, if you can get past the whole idea of Greek gods being real and coming down and having demigod sons and daughters (which I wasn't really impressed with, though it was mythology) in modern day, then you could read this book. However, the author didn't say there was no 'God' in this book, meaning, all there is, is just Greek 'gods'. For instance, consider these sentences from the book;
"'Wait,' I told Chiron. 'You're telling me there's such a thing as God.'
"'Well, now," Chiron said. "God--capital G, God. That's a different matter altogether. We shan't deal with the metaphysical.'
"'Metaphysical? But you were just talking about--'
"Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter.'"
So you can decide for yourself about the theology of this book.
But otherwise, (meaning, besides the fact that Poseidon's son is Percy, yet he, Poseidon, was not married, Greek mythology, etc.), there is only one other thing I don't agree with; Percy's mother turns her husband to stone with Medusa's head. :P
But should you read this book or not? It depends on the person. You may or may not want to read about Greek gods and one of their mortal offspring--that is your choice. But keep in mind this; when I placed a hold on the Lightning Thief at the library, I was number 120 in line. There were 119 people in front of me, waiting for the book. Even now, I am number 49 for the second book. It may or may not be worthwhile to wait for the book--most likely, for many of you with better books to read, the latter.
One more point before I let you go; what frustrates me is that this book is so popular. Not that I resent it's popularity, but I have read many better books than this, with much better characters, plot, etc. (Christian fantasy books!) and they are being left on the shelves by many people. If you have a choice between this and a Wayne Thomas Batson book, for example, there is no choice. WTB would win hands down. Even now I would much have rather spent my time reading All My Holy Mountain (by L. B. Graham) than this book--unfortunately, it isn't in yet. What I mean to say is this; why should these books be selling so well and are being so popular when the overall writing, plot, and character doesn't compare to the average Christian fantasy novel? But I know the answer already--we live in a secular society. :P
But overall? My rating is probably somewhere around 7 out of 10--depending on the person.
Friday, September 10, 2010
A familiar cry sounded nearby. "Maston! Are ye deaf? Tell the men to unload, and do it sharpish!"
An incredulous thought crossed Aron's mind. Captain Jaskin?
The barrel-chested man stormed into view, a man in tow. "Sir," the man was saying, "I could not find a solitary man willing to--"
"Tis yer job!" the captain growled. "Do it right, or ye'll find yerself out of work. Permanently!"
The captain abruptly changed course and crashed into Aron. "Sir!" Aron said quickly, surprised.
Captain Jaskin raised a bushy eyebrow. "Aye? Why, if tisn't the Paladain lad 'imself! Are ye looking for work again?" His normally frowning face took on a slightly more pleasant hue. "What brings ye to this..." He glanced around. "This...place?"
Aron bowed slightly. "It is good to see you again, Captain. I...well, it's a long story, sir."
The large man clapped Aron on the back. "Then ye can tell it to me in my quarters. Come!" He said it with such force that Aron didn't dare disobey...
The thought of Aron, my character, going to Captain Jaskin's quarters didn't cross my mind until it popped up. Sometimes characters are just so forceful that they force the story to go somewhere else. You see, I needed Jaskin to take Aron somewhere on his ship--but Aron had to ask at one time or another. Instead of asking then and there, the natural thing to do would be to go somewhere comfortable to talk--his quarters. If you can manage to make your character do the 'natural' thing--that is one step closer to a better character.
Tolkien, in a letter to someone (I haven't the slightest idea who--I'll find out in a moment), once wrote this;
"I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlórien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were Horse-lords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but the Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. I had never heard of the House of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf's failure to appear on September 22."
-J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to W. H. Auden, 7 June 1955
In a fantasy novel, there are many more 'unknowns' than there are 'knowns'. If one pops up along the way, don't bother trying to revise it. Stuff that comes out naturally is usually good for your novel. It shouldn't effect the overall plot too much. If something pops up that you had not foreseen, then evaluate it. If it is good, keep it! If not, don't be afraid to cut it.
Unfortunately (as I do not have the financial means), it is not my giveaway. It is actually Noah's, over at his blog Books I Recommend. PLEASE do not click that link, though! I rather want that book...a lot. I have been wanting to read the book he is giving away--A Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz--for some time, and my chances go down ever time someone clicks that link. XD
I'm just kidding. Go ahead and click on the link if you must. :)
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Just so you know, I wrote this in two segments, two different nights--so I may have a different outlook on some parts of the post than others.
Now, in this post there are two opposing arguments; Characters are Most Important, and Plots are Most Important. I will investigate each of these arguments, and then come to a conclusion. But the real question at stake is this; should stories be character driven, or plot driven? Whichever side may win takes the bacon. :)
Characters are Most Important
Characters are indeed important. Some of the most important parts of a story are contained here. But are they MOST important? Here's a couple of points that seems to point in that direction (no pun intended!).
1) A character may 'make or break' a book. Bad and poorly made characters drag the story in the dirt, while the opposite is true as well; great characters pull stories up and place them among the best stories of out time.
2) Good villains make or break a book. The villain is just as important as the other characters, more so in many cases.
3) Readers will care more about the story and recommend it to more people if the characters are done right. The character in LOTR are wonderful and real to us--and that is part of what makes so many LOTR fanatics in this world.
4) Characters narrate. If a character that you don't like (meaning a two-demensional, boring character) is narrating, the narration itself is flat. On the other hand, if your favorite character is narrating, the narration seems more alive to you.
So does this prove the supremacy of Characters? We'll see.
Plot is Most Important
Characters are well and good, and perfectly necessary for a successful story, but it is plot that is most important. Right?
1) Without a plot to back them up, the characters are useless. Who cares about the character development when your plot is so unoriginal and un-arresting that it turns off readers from the first whiff?
2) Plot is what keeps the readers going--not the characters.
Not very many points to back Plot up here, but the two I have are strong. Surely this will prove, once and for all, that Plot is clearly the better.
In this part, I'll address each point.
C-1) "A character may 'make or break' a book. Bad and poorly made characters drag the story in the dirt, while the opposite is true as well; great characters pull stories up and place them among the best stories of out time." True or false? That may be up to the reader reading this, but in my view, this is mostly true. Sure, bad characters drag the story in the mud, but the stories can still limp on.
C-2) "Good villains make or break a book. The villain is just as important as the other characters, more so in many cases. " Basically, this is the same thing as the last point. I'm not sure why I even wrote this. :) But the same reply I gave above applies.
C-3) "Readers will care more about the story and recommend it to more people if the characters are done right. The character in LOTR are wonderful and real to us--and that is part of what makes so many LOTR fanatics in this world." This is absolutely true. The characters, not the plot, are usually what gives a story meaning. What the character does is what gives meaning to a story.
C-4) "Characters narrate. If a character that you don't like (meaning a two-dimensional, boring character) is narrating, the narration itself is flat. On the other hand, if your favorite character is narrating, the narration seems more alive to you." To an extent, this is true. But if the writer does his/her job right, we'll either forget who's narrating, or be greatly aware of the narrator and share his/her thoughts--which also takes a good writer, partially invalidating the point. You see, if the writer has enough skill to get the reader inside a character's mind skillfully, why can't s/he develop the characters well?
P-1) "Without a plot to back them up, the characters are useless. Who cares about the character development when your plot is so unoriginal and un-arresting that it turns off readers from the first whiff?" This is mostly true, in my opinion. What good are characters when the plot is bad? But it depends on the reader. Some readers really need to connect with characters in order to get into the story, while some are indifferent. This means that some readers won't mind the plot, while some will be quite put off by it--so it is partially a matter of opinion. However, there are certain points where you hold up your hands and say, "I can't take this plot anymore," and put the book down.
P-2) "Plot is what keeps the readers going--not the characters." The above answer/explanation/dissection I gave also applies to this. In a way, this is a matter of opinion. Some books, like "The Shadow and Night" by Chris Walley, rely on characters much more than plot to get the reader's interest, though the plot is intriguing as well. Others, like "Offworld" by Robin Parrish, rely on plot to keep the readers reading.
This is what the post is leading up to; did any of this help you with your novel? Not really. But here I'll try to capture the usefulness of this post.
So, which one was more important? Plot or Character?
Neither, believe it or not.
Inevitably, when in the business and bustle of writing--assuming you know other writers (I didn't until I made this blog in March!), you will hear about 'plot driven' books, and 'character driven' books. That discussion is for a whole 'nother blog post, but let us say that those are the two categories many books fall into. But what category should your book fall into?
Neither, believe it or not. You shouldn't focus on just characters, or just plot in your novel. If you're good at one thing, like characters, but bad on another, like plot, it may be good to focus on one or the other to 'balance' your novel out, but you shouldn't focus on just one aspect. Think of character and plot as a whole. They aren't opposing forces; character doesn't drive out plot! Or vice-versa!
"They are all part of," (to borrow a Bible verse) "one whole body." One does not work without the other! They are (or should be) intricately woven together until you can't tell where one began and the other ended; plot and character molded together gives you the best of both; the meaning that character brings, yet the suspense that plot can give. Each effects the other; if you successfully develop your character, you successfully develop your plot, and vice-versa. If you make your character meaningful, it makes his/her goal meaningful; the plot.
Hopefully I have showed you, in my past two posts, the potency of both character and plot alone. But together, woven into a compelling story, they can triple their strength and make your story all the better for it.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
NOTE; I just posted some excerpts from my novels on my other blog, in case you want to check them out!
Wow. Where to start? This is every inch as massive a task to write as the Plot post was. So, like the plot post, let's start at the beginning.
Assuming you know what gender your characters are or are going to be (LOL), you must next find out or define what kind of character they are; what type. The problem lies in the amount. There are SO many different kinds of characters that I won't even bother going over half of them. Instead, I'll focus on the kinds of characters that most novels (fantasy novels especially) usually have.
1) The Protagonist
This post is not only about what kinds characters there are (although that helps) but also some tips on how to make them realistic and relatable. An unrelatable cardboard character doesn't do a novelist much good.
The Protagonist. Basically the most important character there is in any story. The Hero(ine), the Good Guy (or Gal), whatever you want to call him/her. If you don't succeed on this character (at least partially), your novel will flop. Utterly.
2) The Companion (or Ally)
Since most of you have a plot type as a Heroic Quest, all quests must naturally have a companion. The Companion(s) is/are usually one of the more important characters in a novel, after the Antagonist. This character is one who believes in your Protagonist, encourages him/her, and accompanies him. In LOTR, the Companion is good old Sam; and I think you'll agree that he was developed well.
Conflict between the Companion and the Protagonist is sometimes a good idea, though rather depressing to write. In the movie version of LOTR, Frodo, after Sam asks if he can 'share' the Ring, tells Sam to go home. I dislike that part, but I have to admit it is good for character development; because Sam decides to go back and help Mr. Frodo.
There can be various types of Companions in a novel, however. The Boromir kind of Companion is different than the Sam kind of Companion. I'll call them the 'Companion' and the 'Ally' for this post; The Companion being Boromir, and the Ally being Sam.
3) The Antagonist (the Villain)
This is, after the Protagonist, the most important character. Good villains make good stories, as OYAN says.
I'll discuss this more in-depth later in this post, but there's one important thing I must note; make your Antagonist human, with human needs and desires. A human-like Antagonist is chilling because you recognize part of him in yourself.
4) The Mentor
This is the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star-Wars. The Brom in Eragon. The Gandalf in LOTR. A story, on select occasions, does not always need a mentor, but it is best to have one. The Mentor is someone who the Protagonist can learn from about various things; the world, God (or whatever name he might go by in a Christian fantasy novel), etc.
5) The Minion
This character is in league with the Antagonist, or represents the Antagonist's 'morals' (evil). Good guys (or Gals) gone bad, betrayers, messengers, generals, etc. Examples of Minions from LOTR would be Smeágol, various Orcs (like the ones that had taken Merry and Pippin captive), etc.
6) The Supporting Cast
This is the sixth kind of characters, and it varies. Kings, innkeepers, various other people, etc. fall into this category, providing they are not traveling with your Protagonist, in which case s/he would become an Ally or Companion. This is a vast group, with a lot of different characters. To give some examples from LOTR; Bill Ferny, Glorfindel, Denethor, etc.
These are just some of the kinds of characters floating around in the world of literature.
THE ELEMENTS OF CHARACTER
Just like plot, there are certain elements that drive characters, especially Protagonists. What things make a character need the story goal? What force drives them through pain and disaster?
This is one of the things that makes your characters memorable. They have morals. Villains and Heroes (or Heroines), Antagonist and Protagonist alike have morals. Antagonists have bad, evil morals, whereas the Protagonist is the opposite. S/he represents a good moral; Kindness, forgiveness, humility, etc. An Antagonist represents hatred, bitterness, cruelty, etc.
So pick a specific moral, and have your Protagonist embody it; and have the Antagonist embody the opposite. The Protagonist is kind; the Antagonist is cruel. Better yet; have your Protagonist suffer from his/her morals. Because s/he is kind, s/he is ridiculed. This proves the Protagonist's willingness to suffer for what s/he believes, and readers admire that.
Morals drive a character. Frodo wants to destroy the Ring because it corrupts. To narrow it down, Frodo leaves the Fellowship at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring because he knows the Ring will slowly corrupt every one of the company, as it did Boromir.
The stakes of the plot are one thing that drive the character to do what he does. Frodo not only takes the Ring upon him to get rid of it for himself; he wants to destroy the Ring to protect the Shire. As the stakes grow higher through the novel, the Protagonist feels an urgent need to finish the quest, because its no longer his quest; the quest is all that is stopping the Antagonist from prevailing.
Love for a person may drive a Protagonist, but I'm talking about a broader form of love. Frodo loves the Shire so much that he will undertake a terrible quest to save it. How can a Protagonist just sit and watch the things he loves be destroyed? No, he has to complete the goal and save them.
But make sure that you define why your Protagonist does what s/he does. It deepens the understanding the reader has for your character, understanding that the reader can relate to. When your reader can relate to your Protagonist in a way that makes them care about him/her, then you've done your job.
There are other things that drive a character, but these are the main ones, some of the ones the others flow from.
THE CHARACTERS; A-Z
So how exactly does one create believeable and relatable characters? Is there some secret formula that develops a character? Not exactly, but I'll try to show you what I know about character development.
Choices. Choices are the things that define your character. By the Protagonist's choices, you can tell what kind of a person they are, and that creates understanding--which, as you know, creates relateable characters, someone the reader can care about.
What kind of choices should I use to create development? you may ask. Here's a couple;
1. Difficult choices. This is the most important kind of choice; between two negative outcomes. The choice your Protagonist makes defines who he or she is. The choice between rotting fish or raw rabbit. ;) Sorry if I grossed you out there. Anyway, your character must make that choice--and pay the price. To use an example used in OYAN (it's a great example), in Spiderman, Spidey has to make a choice; his love, or a bus full of children. This is a wonderful opprotunity to reveal what kind of character Spiderman really is. Unfortunately, he does the thing that no writer should ever, ever do. He did both. He saved the love, and he saved the children. Never do something like that; you lose an opprotunity to reveal your Protagonist's character and give your character distance from the reader.
2. On what to do. Have the character make wise choices with disastrous outcomes. Sure, the way through the forest seemed easier than the way through the marshes--certainly wiser--but how was the Protagonist supposed to know the forest was filled with killer monkeys? Wise choices, disastrous consequences. You never want your character do to the less-wise thing; even if it turns out to be disastrous later. The only exception is if the Protagonist was warned against the killer-monkey-road. :)
3. Chances to go back. Frodo, so many times, was offered the chance to give up the Quest and go back to the Shire; but he didn't. Like the wise Sam Gamgee said in the Two Towers; "Those people had a plenty chances of going back, only they didn't. Those were the stories that meant something, Mr. Frodo." If your character is offered a chance to go back, and s/he rejects it, it resonates within the reader, and, (guess what?) creates understanding. And we know what that creates!
I touched on this in my earlier post, because it is very important; what your character is willing to suffer, and how s/he reacts to it reveals character.
As I said before, "An item is worth however much the buyer is willing to pay for it." If the Protagonist has to pay a high price--loss of a friend, loss of his old life, wounds, etc.--then it proves just how much the goal is worth to him.
What is the Protagonist's reaction? Does s/he bathe him/herself in self-pity? Or does s/he accept that price and stand strong? If s/he does accept the price, it creates admiration in a reader, which creates...
And one more thing, one that I said in my last post that seems necessary to put in here; The fulfillment of the story goal may need to have a lasting price to make it all the more worthwhile. In LOTR, Frodo can no longer go back to his own life; the Ring and the Ringwraiths have wounded him for life, and the power of the Three Rings fade, making most Elves sail over the Sea into the West, along with Frodo. The lasting price can help make the ending more meaningful and sad.
What your Protagonist does also creates development. This is closely related to the Protagonist's choices, but there is one thing that is different and stands out; in real life, it can be fairly easy at times to decide what to do. The real challenge is in doing it; it takes courage, just like when Frodo made the hard choice to leave the Fellowship. As it says in the LOTR; "I know what I have to do, only, I'm afraid to do it." When the Protagonist does what s/he had decided to do, it creates admiration in the reader. They know first-hand how hard it can be to do the right things. Which brings me to one more point; if the Protagonist does the right thing, it also creates admiration; doing the right thing can be hard. And admiration creates...
With this, I wrap up my post. Not quite as lengthy, perhaps, as my Plot post, but I hoped it helped you out. :) Feel free to comment if you felt I missed a certain point. I can make another Character post again, sometime soon.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
So, where to start? Presumably, we should start at the beginning.
PLOT TYPE AND GENRE
Before writing, most of us sit down and think about what we are going to write. We think, at least a little, on what genre and plot type we might write in. So that is where I will start.
First of all--the plot type. There are three basic types, according to most writers (though these are often intermixed--indeed, they almost should be); Change of Character (called by the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum 'The Man Who Learned Better'), Romance, and the Heroic Quest. I am almost positively sure that most all of the writers who read this blog write in the Heroic Quest plot type. The title says it all--it's about a quest where the Protagonist has to overcome various obstacles in order to achieve his/her goal. My own novel is the Heroic Quest.
As for the other plot types; An example Change of Character (The Man Who Learned Better) would be A Christmas Carol. The Change of Character plot type is when the plot basically revolves around the change of character that happens to the Protagonist. Romance, of course, needs no explanation.
Now that we've covered plot types, we can go on to genre.
Almost everyone knows what genre their story takes place in. Fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, modern fiction, thriller, horror, nonfiction, etc., as well as the sub-genres within, are some common genres. My novel is fantasy, specifically Christian Epic Fantasy (fantasy that takes place outside this world).
Now I'm going to assume that you are writing either a fantasy or sci-fi novel. Or at least fiction. I must note here that all of my post now, though useful to just about anyone, is biased towards fantasy and sci-fi, specifically fantasy. To make things a little less confusing, I'm going to attempt to use my own novel as an example. Everything after this (genre and everything) will be said with my novel in mind. :)
So now we have our basic stuff set in place! My novel is Heroic Quest and Christian Epic Fantasy.
THE ELEMENTS OF PLOT
Now I can discuss the Elements of Plot; the things that drive a plot. The thing that makes them 'go round', so to speak.
I don't know how many times I've said this, and how many more times I will say this, but conflict is essential to a good story. Every plot type and every genre has to have conflict. It's obvious in the Heroic Quest that you need conflict--after all, what's the worth of a quest if you don't even have to try to achieve it?--but there needs to be conflict in other plot types as well. In Change of Character, the conflict is mostly internal. Will the Protagonist choose to change for the better or the worse? The 'better' and the 'worse' are what make up the conflict.
But how do you write conflict? Good, compelling conflict that sucks you into the story?
By the way, I don't have all the answers to that question. I'm just going to tell you what knowledge I have learned over the course of writing my novels.
Be warned; I'm about to jump into a sub-list within a list. But I must make one note before I do. I am assuming you know how to write conflict when making this list. If you don't, then you should probably go and read a lot more. :) Maybe you think about buying a writing book or OYAN. :D
1. Everyone knows about some kind of conflict. I've had conflict with my siblings on numerous occasions, to be sure. So, whatever knowledge you have--let it seep into the story. If you fence, then you know how to write a sword fight; if you have had a fight with a friend, then you know how to write a scene where the Protagonist fights with his/her friend. And so on.
2. Write conflict not only from external sources (coming from the Antagonist) but from within. A bitter fight erupts in a friendship. The Protagonist disagrees with a decision and takes a rash move to argue. Even conflict within the Protagonist's own heart--what decision should he make?
3. As for external sources, don't let your Protagonist win too often. Failure and disaster should be constant. That isn't to say that your Protagonist can't win every once and a while--but the price of the victory must be high.
Conflict should be constant. If you have a chapter that has a low amount of conflict, either cut it or ruthlessly edit it. You should never have a chapter without some degree of conflict, internal or external. Conflict is what brings the reader in closer for a look. It's like passing by a fist-fight--you can't help but stop to see what's going on.
Characters drive a plot. That much is plain. The Antagonist, the Protagonist, the supporting cast of characters--friends, allies, enemies, and traitors, to name a few. I'm planning to do a character post later, so I'll save this for then.
This drives a plot, to a lesser extent than conflict. Suspense is what you get when you're about to go to the doctor's office to get a serious check done--and then you find out that it's delayed until tomorrow. The sense of foreboding and dread--meaning the anticipation of what's to come. You have a feeling of what's going to happen, but you don't know for sure.
So how do you create successful suspense? I'm by no means an expert on suspense, but here's a few tips that may help.
1. Give hints. OYAN gave such a good example of this that I can't help but use it as well. Think about the Mines of Moria. You knew that the Fellowship would eventually come to the Mines, simply because, when Gimli suggested they take that route, Gandalf replied, "No, Gimli, I would not take that road unless we had no other choice." See the pattern? Eventually, they don't have any other choices, so they pass through Moria. In a similar way, have one of your characters drop hints at what is to come, so when it does come, the reader will say, "Wow! I should have seen that coming."
2. Make the end result bigger and badder. When Gandalf said that he would not go to Moria unless he had no other choice, he told us, as readers, two things; one, that they would go there, and two, that something really bad is going to happen there. If you drop a hint, the hint must be an understatement of what is to come. The Fellowship finds that Gollum is following them, they discover Balin's tomb, and Orcs attack them. All of that is bad in itself, but then the Balrog enters the scene, and we say, "Whoa! Didn't see that coming." And then (Spoiler!) Gandalf falls from the Bridge of Khazad-dum. That makes Gandalf's ominous hint of what is to come seem like small potatoes compared to what REALLY happened. And that is your goal. If you succeed in doing that, when you make bigger and badder hints, your readers will wonder, "If something so bad as what happened before came from that other hint, this one must be really really bad."
Besides all of the things that I have just told you about what elements drive the story, there are other, smaller things that I don't have time (or energy) to go over. But there is just one more thing; all of the things that drive the plot--disaster, conflict, characters, and suspense--slowly but surely, with numerous setbacks, drive it toward the Protagonist's goal.
THE PLOT, BEGINNING AND END
Now we have the story type, genre, and the Elements of Plot, which all combine to make this; the actual Plot. A plot is usually contained into three sets; beginning, middle, and end. (duh). Usually, the middle is as long as the beginning and end put together.
But before I start my list, I ask one thing, if you are about to write a book; try making a synopsis. Write the basic elements of your story together, and then make a carefully worded overall synopsis that sounds like what you might read on the back flap of a book. This would be to hold your attention and keep you focused on the plot, for those of you who try to finish a novel but often quit. If you find you can't write a synopsis that satisfies you and sounds intriguing, then you may want to adjust the plot; if it doesn't interest you, it won't interest others.
The beginning is one of the most crucial parts of the plot. It does two major things if done correctly; it holds your reader's interest, and it holds yours. It sets the stage for the rest of the story. If you mess up here, you mess up the entire story--and if you mess up the story, it will end then and there.
I once wrote a 'prologue' (about three or four years ago) with a plot that was useless. The overall imaginativeness of it was like zip. But yet, to this day, it still intrigues me. I don't even know what in it intrigues me, but when I wrote that, I wrote something right. The writing itself was terrible (badly in need of editing), and the character in my characters was zip, but something about the way I wrote it still clung to its fragile, cracked shell. That's just one example on what should happen if you write a beginning; it should force you to keep writing, if only to find out for yourself what happens next.
But besides the initial stuff, like a prologue, what are some necessary elements for a beginning?
1. The wonder. You should try your best (especially if you're writing a fantasy novel) to capture the wonder of the world your Protagonist dwells in, whether it be Rome, England, Mars, or Middle Earth. But don't forget that everything has a 'dark side' to it, and everything will always have a dark side until Christ returns.
2. Set the stage. Most of the time, unless you are writing a prologue--in which case it is acceptable--you can't charge on to the stage without setting it up. What is the use of characters, plot, and suspense if your reader doesn't have an accurate view of your world?
3. Show what's at stake. By the time the beginning has ended (no pun intended!), you need to have established what's at stake, why your Protagonist is doing what s/he is doing, and what the goal of the story is.
The middle, according to many people, (including me) is the hardest part of a story to write. It's not just the way to get to the beginning to the end, or a place for long and tedious travels; it's the best place to build characters, further establish the battle lines, draw the stakes ever higher, and prepare your Protagonist for the battle with the Antagonist (not necessarily literally, depending on your genre).
How are we supposed to do this? Well, let me tell you; I am definitely not experienced as I may seem in this part. Like before--I don't have all of the answers to this question. But I will try my best.
1. First and foremost; Don't give up and always keep writing. This can apply to plot or even novels in general, but the middle part of a novel is the easiest part to give up on. You may have read a book where the characters are in either a snowy land or a desert. Oftentimes what happens can be summed up in one sentence; keep going, or give up and die of thirst or cold. The same phrase applies to writers and their novels; keep writing, or your novel will die. Don't give up on it. If you feel like what you're writing is junk, then guess what; it probably is. But why should you care? My novel, when I first finished it, had very little silver in the diluted mess that it was. But over time I have polished it and polished it, as much as I am able. Just think; if I had given up during the time it took to write my novel (I came very close to it on several occasions), I wouldn't be in the position I am today. I most certainly wouldn't be writing this blog post today if I had given up. So basically; don't give up! and always keep writing.
2. Be inventive. If you think part of the middle is boring, then spice it up! Add a surprise attack, get someone sick, or have unexpected friendship be passed the Protagonist's way.
3. Looks like I'm going to have to say it again; add conflict. More conflict. Really.
The ending, also, is an extremely important part of the plot. You should try and have the ending to be as meaningful and satisfying as possible. You want to fulfill the reader's expectations, namely, the Protagonist's goal of the story, but you have to do it in a way that the reader did not expect.
The ending is where the Protagonist finally experiences his/her hugest victory, but also their worst loss. Victory must come at a price, or else it will devalue the worth of the goal. The amount of suffering poured into the journey there will determine the value of the goal. In other words, (to bring economics into it!) "The item is worth whatever the buyer is willing to pay for it." The greater the price, the greater the worth. The greatest victory comes at a great cost.
There are several main things you should keep in mind when making an ending, however;
1. Make a showdown! The clash between the Antagonist (assuming you have an actual clash) and the Protagonist happens in the end. It's the most climactic moment in the story--or it should be. Most of the time, the Protagonist wins the fight with a high price. The only exception to that is in a series; the Protagonist almost always loses that battle.
2. Do you want to fulfill the goal of the story? Presumably you do. If so, then fulfill the story goal; but fulfill it in a way the reader did not expect. The ending of LOTR is a great example. (NOTE; If you haven't read LOTR or seen the movies, you should skip this next part) Frodo is finally in the Cracks of Doom. He's in Orodruin, the Ring dangling over the edge. All he has to do is drop it into the Fire, and the story goal will be fulfilled. But he turns and claims the Ring for his own, so close to the story goal. You can imagine the shock we get through this. "No!" we yell, "Just drop it in!" Not only does this fulfill the story goal in an unexpected way (or at least it will in a moment), but we can't help but think, that after all of the suffering and disaster that the Fellowship had faced on the way, the goal must be fulfilled. And then Gollum comes into the scene. He fights Frodo for the Ring and bites his finger off. And then, as Gollum claims the Ring, he falls into the Fire; fulfilling the story goal in an unexpected way.
3. The fulfillment of the story goal may need to have a lasting price to make it all the more worthwhile. In LOTR, Frodo can no longer go back to his own life; the Ring and the Ringwraiths have wounded him for life, and the power of the Three Rings fade, making most Elves sail over the Sea into the West, along with Frodo. The lasting price can help make the ending more meaningful and sad.
So there it is! I think I have covered many of the subjects that I wanted to. If you want to note something I missed, feel free and comment! I'm writing this late, so I may have to do another Plot post tomorrow or the day after.
Oh! And one more thing; try not to put resurrections in your novels. I just read a certain resurrection in the fourth book of BOTB and I wasn't impressed. I liked how the author made that particular character die; it seemed good and final, a sacrifice. But L. B. Graham kind of ruined that part. Otherwise, I am loving the series. :)
With that final note, I am off at last. I should bother you again tomorrow or the day after with either a character post or another (though notably shorter) Plot post. :)