Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What's on your bookshelf?

You know, to be a good writer, you also need to be a good reader. It's fun to read books as well as write them. At least in my opinion. Everyone has their own writing style and their own stories to tell. So if you like to write, you must like to read. I read the Writer's Digest magazine and they have a section in there about famous authors and what is on their bookshelves. Well, I'm far from being a famous author...yet. But I will share what I have on my shelves!
When I moved from Arizona to Alaska, I had to give up a lot of my books and movies. We left a lot behind, so I am slowly building up my collection. I can tell ya, though, that the Salvation Army thrift store has helped me rebuild my bookshelves! I don't know what I would do without them. I find some really interesting stuff on those shelves! So here we go.

First, I'd like to start with my book of Shakespeare's Sonnets. I adore Shakespeare and also have "MacBeth" among my collection.

Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel by Ronda Thompson
Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien (Several different copies of each book)
Complete Book of Dragons
The Cat Who Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun (I have almost all of the "Cat Who" books)
Marked by P. C. and Kristin Cast (A House of Night Novel and I have the first four books of that series)
Night World by L. J. Smith Volumes one, two and three.
Wind in the Willows
Watership Down
The Belgariad and the Mallorean series by David Eddings
Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings
The Smoke Jumper
The Shack
Sis Boom Bah
(Bear with me, I'm trying to recall from memory what is on my shelves and don't have all the authors names)
A few books by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
The Notebook
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series
Wishsong of Shanara by Terry Brooks
Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist (OMG I love this book, it is in tatters!)
Celtic Knotwork

Ok, so far that is what I can recall off the top of my head. I'll take a better inventory one of these days and actually be able to give you all an idea of what I read and who the authors are.

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Characters: Love 'em or Leave 'em

I belong to the writing community of I have an online portfolio there and I get to read, rate and review other writers in the community. I really love the place, as we call it WDC. You can also sign up for newsletters in different areas and genres, depending on what you'd like help with.

So today was newsletter day, you get them every week either in the middle of the week or the end. One of the fantasy newsletters was about characters and loving them too much. Is it good for the story if nothing bad ever happens to the main characters? Is it good for the story if everything happens to the main characters? What is a good balance?

Personally, the main character in the "Twilight" series, Bella, was loved too much by her creator. I felt pretty disappointed by the last book, "Breaking Dawn" simply because everyone lived happily ever after and even the big bad group of Elder Vampires walked away from a fight. Yes, Bella got attacked by rival vampires, she was in the hospital more times than I care to count throughout the series, yet in the end, she got her way. She went from being a normal 18 year old girl fresh out of high school and straight on to being a newlywed, then a mother and finally a vampire. She rocketed from an 18 year old mentality to a 30 year old mentality in the space of a couple years. While there was plenty of teenage angst and drama going on, what with the numerous boys having crushes and the insecurity that Bella was indeed a beautiful girl, it fell flat. Again, this is my opinion, but I am choosing this character as an example of one being loved too much. Nothing horrible ever happened to Bella. (I can hear the fans gasping.) Bear with me. There is a huge difference between drama and tragedy.

When writing about a beloved character, which Bella was, you can't be afraid to have irreversible damage happen. It seems to me as if not only Bella was loved, but all of her background characters were loved just as much. When an author loves their character so much they're afraid to put them directly in harm's way, it leaves the story lacking. Bella always seemed to get out of a jam, even if she was injured in the process. That isn't always enough for some readers.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a morbid, wicked person. Okay, maybe just a little bit. But when writing about my characters and putting them in a situation I have to stop and ask myself, "Would they really be able to escape this situation without some sort of physical or emotional scarring?" If you know human nature, the answer would be no. It is important to move on with a story, yes. But to have a character just let things go like water off a duck's back just doesn't seem to fly with me. It seemed as if Bella let a lot go and it didn't even sit in her subconscious.

On the other hand, there are characters that have much too much happen to them right off the bat and it affects them the rest of their lives. The example given in the newsletter was Star Wars. Luke Skywalker's family is wiped out and he's off like a shot to follow his destiny. I think just enough happened to Luke to shape him into the man he was meant to be. I don't think I have yet come across a storyline or book where the character just seems to have tragedy after tragedy thrown at them. Give me suggestions and I'll check them out.

I have no qualms about killing off a main character if that is where the path is leading them. I even have plans to kill off a main character eventually. I write like I play "Magic the Gathering"; be willing to sacrifice your own for the sake of destroying the many. (Yes, I'm a serious geek, tell me something I don't know.) If I had a character whose sole purpose of the story was to die in the end, I'd be right there holding the blade to kill them with. However, I would mourn that character in the end. I'd cry, I'd probably even hold a flippin' funeral for it. But in the end, if it stirred up the same grief in my reader, then I have done my job. If my readers mourn that character, if they saw that the only way for things to be right in my world was for that character to die, I've given them a gift. I've given them something they'll enjoy.

Harry Potter books do that to me. J. K. Rowling cannot be accused of loving her characters too much. There's no way. If you have read all of the books, you know what I mean. If you haven't read them all yet, well be prepared to cry. I won't be a spoiler, though. But the woman knows how to twist our hearts. She knows that the friends of Harry will do absolutely anything to protect him to reach their goal of destroying Voldemort. They would even die for him. What more do you need to tell you how important it is that Harry survive? You certainly don't see any of his friends backing off suddenly and saying, "You know...forget it. I've done enough and I want to live to see the end result. Harry, love ya man, but I'm outta here." Everyone knows that in war, which is exactly what was happening in Rowling's books, lives will be lost. Innocent and otherwise.

So all in all, don't be afraid to have something bad happen to your characters. It shapes them into the people they're meant to be. If it is important to the storyline, then let it happen. Don't fret and be over protective about it, let it happen. You'll be happy with the end result if you are willing to love them enough to let them go.

I'd also like to apologize for writing such long blogs. I can't help it, I have a lot to say. However, if you manage to read every single one to the end, then let me just say THANK YOU!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Character Creation

In case it isn't blatantly obvious, I am blogging about writing stuff. If you want to see my personal rants, mostly political, you'll have to look for my other blog. I certainly won't be putting a link to it here. I will, however, start with a link to my website. It is currently undergoing construction, so bear with me. There, now that is out of the way, I can move on to my blog topic.

Character Creation seems to be a daunting task for people. More than world creation if they write fantasy. I've browsed through post after post on other writing sites where people have begged for help with character creation. The only response or piece of advice I can give to you is to look around. Who are your friends, your family? If you aren't much of a "People Watcher" you will struggle with creating your characters. There is no real secret to coming up with a character full of personality and depth. You either know what makes people tick or you don't.

Personally, creating the characters is the best part for me. I love the challenge it offers and I love how diverse my characters become. I love to watch people where ever I go. I'll sit in a restaurant or I used to sit in the mall and just watch people walk by, listen to bits of their conversations (honestly, I don't purposely eavesdrop, sometimes people talk too loud!) watch how others react to information or surprises. It is really fun and I suggest trying it, just try not to look too much like a stalker. (By the way, you are out of milk.)

People fascinate me. I don't know why. I have never gone to school to study the human psyche, but I bet I would pass any class with flying colors in profiling.

Most of my characters are based off of people I know. And obviously, some are not. I don't know anyone like my Mandorak Li'endrin, ruling king of Relavia. If you have even read a small portion of my book(s) (crosses fingers) or short stories, you would know what I mean. Mandorak Li'endrin is only one ruling king in a long line of kings from Relavia who are just plain mean and nasty. His son, Alabassin, just breaks the mold. He's as sweet as he is honest and caring. I absolutely adore Alabassin. I've based Alabassin off of a good friend of mine I used to roleplay with in an online RPG called "Cosrin". If you know of this game, then you'll know the name Ninny. If not, then you'll just have to be in the dark.

Mandorak isn't the only mean, nasty person I write about. But I don't know anyone quite as spiteful and egotistical as these characters. I've just gone on what I know of people and how there are people out there like these figments of my imagination. Don't believe me? Watch Jerry Springer.
Alabassin is only one character I have based off of a friend. Others include Laria, her name is the same in the book as it is in Cosrin. To continue the list of Cosrin-based characters, there is Farrehn (Ariosh), Tyren (Tyrus), Nikkolani (Protean), Vendras (Korhal). There are more, but I won't bore you with details that may or may not mean anything to you. The point is, each one of these characters are pretty much spot on in my book. I know them as well as they know themselves. I can emulate them easily because I've spent weeks studying them, interacting with them and the like. Okay, maybe more than weeks. The point is, Laria is a sweet Elven Ranger, she's got a fiery temper and loves her family and friends with the same fiery passion. Farrehn is half ogre. He can talk the talk and walk the walk. Cross him and you'll be sorry, befriend him and he will defend you with every ounce of Honor he possesses. His best friend is Vendras and the two of them are constantly competing, but it is all in good fun and neither ever gets his feelings hurt. Tyren is an Elven Assassin who has more heart than he'll ever let on. Dangerous and dark, the man is just downright sexy and fun. Nikkolani, well, let's just say everything that man does is to make sure more coin is in his pocket and not yours.

When creating these characters, I tried to focus on their traits, good and bad. I've based other characters off of my friends and again I have tried to capture their nature, their quirks and sometimes, even their phobias. When my friends read my work, they all tell me how I've pretty much pegged their characters down to the last detail and that makes me happy, that was my intention. When I am writing about someone I don't know, I try to focus on those same qualities and come up with characters with depth. So I suppose my advice, if I were to give some on character creation, would be to base your characters off of those you know. My main characters are built around myself. I know what I would do in any situation, obviously. But I don't filter all of my strengths and weaknesses into one character. I take one and then build off of it. I'll give you examples.

Kayta, she's one of my oldest characters. I've had her since I was 19 and I won't tell you my age. Anyway, she's one of my most honorable characters. She's a warrior, she's compassionate, honorable, strong and stubborn. Ok, so I am almost all of those traits, I'm just not a warrior in the sense that she is. But I take that and run with it. What would someone do who is a warrior and has a strong sense of honor? Well, she certainly wouldn't fight a fight unless it was fair. She wouldn't walk away from a fight either, especially if her loved ones were involved somehow.
Nightshadow, she's the best. She's an assassin. I've taken my dark side (the one I keep hidden) and I've used it to my advantage. I simply allow her to to the things I would never, ever do as a morally, honorable human being. I also allow her to say things I wish I could say to people, but don't. She's everything I would want to be, if I wanted to be a crazy serial killer. She's strong, she isn't afraid of what people think of her and yet she loves with her whole being, not just a tiny part of it.
I've had other characters, like Nimareau. Nimareau is my spiritual healer. She's a blessing to those who know her. She's gentle, she's kind and the thought of harming any living thing is just deplorable. She'd rather die than to hurt anyone or anything. She only fights to protect herself and those she loves. She was my Elven Mage in Cosrin, she was an exceptionally good healer.

All three of those characters are as different as night and day, yet I portrayed them all. Each of them contains parts of me that I either want to express more or hide away and never let anyone know about. When I played those characters, created them in the game, people just never could figure out it was the same person. I took it as a high compliment when I shocked people and told them who I was. I was also happy when I could pinpoint a new character and guess who their others were. I just know people that well. I hope all of this gives you some insight on character creation. Perhaps it will help you, perhaps not. All I can say is look within yourself. Find those strengths and weaknesses you have and put them into your characters. You can create characters with depth if you just look around you!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

World Creation

When writing fantasy, not everyone chooses to go into details of their world. Then there are those (like me) who delve into it to create everything, literally, from the ground up.
So if you write fantasy and are trying to decide how deep into the creation process you want to go, there are some things you might want to consider first.

One thing to think about is your Pantheon. Gods and Goddesses, demi-gods, lesser demons and deities. Are you going to talk about them all the time? Will they be prominent in your writings or will they sort of be assumed and lurk in the background? If you want your characters to use their name in vain as in swearing, you might want to give some thought as to what they're cursing. If they're just going to be mentioned as almost an afterthought, then you might just want general descriptions. If they'll be more prominent, you may want to come up with short descriptions, what they represent and how they came into being.

Next is kingdoms, villages and cities. Figure out borders, even if they are only going to be in your own mind as you write. If you are like most writers and have far too much information in your head to begin with, draw out a map. Not an artist? Not a problem. Anyone can draw a few squiggly lines in a circle or oval shape and go from there. Some things to remember are main roads used in transporting goods through the Trade Route. Don't put down every single line that might end up just being a footpath. Determine where you want lakes, rivers, mountains and even swamps. Not exactly sure how to figure this out? Try looking at a map for an area around you. Perhaps even a map from another country. Most people who write fantasy try to base their maps off of familiar surroundings.

Decide whether your kingdoms will be Matriarchal or Patriarchal. Matriarchal societies are ruled by women while Patriarchal is ruled by men. Your societies can be both with a dominating Matriarch or Patriarch. Also decide if the heirs to the thrones will be the eldest male, eldest female or just the eldest regardless of gender. This will also help you determine your armies. Ranks within the military are listed if you google it or you can create your own ranks. For example, one of my kingdoms has a position of Guardian of the Realm. Basically it is a fancy title for the Captain of the Guard, yet is a step above that rank and orders filter down from the king to the Guardian, then on to the Captain and so forth.

Money. Money rules all worlds, imagined or otherwise. However, if you don't want to get into monetary values, just go with a general rule of gold, silver and copper coins. You can also have a society based on bartering. That way everyone would be somewhat equal, rich wouldn't be a description as there is no money.

Creatures are just as important to imagined worlds as they are to real ones. Animals and plants play a large part in our ecology, so think about what you would like. Staying to the mainstream foliage and animals is fine. Don't feel that you have to come up with a Jackolope or something to that effect if that is not your strength. If you do want to include some strange and interesting creatures or plant-life, make sure you have good descriptions.

World creation can become tedious unless you are basing your writing works off of your world. Personally, I spent almost ten years creating my world so that I would know it almost as well as the real world I live in. It makes writing easier for me and I know every creature, god, demon and king. I know where every road leads, I know the secrets of the earth that have remained undiscovered and how the mythical beings were created. It can be a daunting task sometimes and I do have to take a break from it now and then, yet I am pleased that I put so much time into the creation for lots of different reasons. Everyone is different, though and world creation is not for everyone who writes fantasy. To each his own. Happy building!