Now That’s a Character…

Characters are what draw me in to the story, make me want to continue to read, to devour, a good book. It is the plight of these characters, their growth, their trials, that keep me wondering after I put the book down what will happen next. Some authors are quite adept at giving me what I want in a character, others, not so much. Granted there are books that I have read and fully enjoyed that do not have the development I want in my characters, but overall, my favorites are character-driven stories that just happen to also have an awesome plot.

As a lover of all kinds of fantasy, I find that sometimes character development falls to the wayside, trying to get EPIC story status but falling short when after 10 books, the characters have not really changed, learned or grown from the multitude of trials they have survived. And while I continue to read these books for the plot, I often get quite frustrated at this lack of character development. You may be able to write descriptive prose that immediately draw me into the world and plots that make my heart pound and twists that make me breathless, but if the characters fall short, I will ultimately be disappointed. I may even rave about your books, how awesome they are, but in the end, there will be a big BUT…

As a writer, I find that character development is my favorite part of the outlining/development stage of my stories. I like to get into their minds, build up their life stories to determine how they became the way they are in the present and why they will act a certain way during/before/after significant events. Sometimes, I find that I like my characters too much and other times I want to kill them off before their time because I don’t. Finding the balance at times is difficult. I read a lot about authors becoming too attached to their characters. And I know how easy it is to do so. When I mentioned to Candice, (My artist on Nyctalopia) That the day may come when I might just have to kill off one of our women, she looked stricken. She didn’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe it either, but the story may take me there and if there is one device that writers use that I absolutely hate, it is the altering of character in nonsensical ways just to force the story to go the way you want. So while it is not set in stone, while I have not nearly gotten to a point where that is necessary, I am trying to prepare us both for a possibility that may never come to pass.

The easy part of character development, for me anyway, is the back story. The story I tell myself about this character to determine why they act the way they do and what in their life would bring them to this point. Character development gets harder the more you write the story though. It is easy to fall into the trap of nonsense to further the plot instead of taking a step back and thinking about what this character would actually do in the situation at hand. When I read over first drafts, I find these instances frequently. Even after revisions, I may miss some of these points or glaze over them in the effort to further the plot, but as a reader whose pet peeve just happens to be instances such as this, I have to be vigilant. Characters should behave in character. Without the prescience to know the outcome, humans will behave in character. If a person acts out of character, those around will take notice of the change and question it. As it should be with fictional characters as well. If my characters alter their behavior, I damn well better explain the why of it eventually or expect readers to take issue with it.

Now maybe I am crazy (well…I know I’m crazy, but I think this is sane, right?) to put so much on character development. Maybe to others the characters are less important than the plot, but for me the characters are integral to the plot and therefore just as important. I get bored by books where the characters are unimportant. I get bored by pages upon pages of descriptive prose. But give me insight into a character and chances are I will stick with the book to the end. As I tell me husband, I don’t get crushes on people, I get crushes on characters. So until I develop the magical power to bring to life characters from a book, I’m all his. And as long as authors continue to write compelling characters, I will continue to be absorbed in the book, devouring the words on the page as if I am a part of what is going on. And I will continue to work on character development in my own writing in order to bring that fantasy world to life for my own readers.

What do you look for in a book? What are some of your favorite fictional characters? And to other authors out there, how do you stay on track with your own characters in order to make them believable?

If you will remember, back in January, I wrote a post about a dream that I had that turned into a story. For those that don’t remember, this was a story about demons and faeries. Anyway, I wrote a bit on it, worked on some character write-ups and then promptly set it aside when everything got crazy-busy during the moveandworkonthehousewhileignoringeverythingelse time.

Anyway, last week I realized that I really needed to get back to writing and trying to get in some paid work as well, as the budget has dwindled down and that’s no good since we have so much left to do…

So I spend my days looking at all my different job sources, sending out resumes and cover letters and when that is finished, I get back to my writing. While the job searches have been coming up empty currently, my writing has been flowing. I went back to my demons and Fae story. I figured this would be a short story. Something that could stand alone, but could also become bigger if I ever decided to continue writing in this universe. Well, this short story is not all that short. In the last week I have added about 7000 words to this story and I am still building up the story and adding characters.

There’s Asmodei, the loveable lust demon (ok, so loveable is definitely not the word to describe him, but I do happen to like him for all his evil ways).

There’s Titania, queen of the Fae on a self-imposed exile to the human realm. Selfish and in need of human adoration, her and Asmodei have a running rivalry related to human souls.

Enter Maggie, young, human, and directionless. Titania introduces her to the world of the Fae and throws her whole life into turmoil, and Maggie fights back every step of the way.

There’s also Bernie, a stupid human minion of the demon Belial who I was planning on killing off but now I’m not so sure. He annoys the hell out of me, but I’m not sure that it is reason enough to kill him. He may still have a bigger part to play in the story.

I find this story just keeps telling itself to me and is surprisingly effortless. Maybe I have finally found a long story I will stick with to the end? See, I don’t have a problem with short stories, flash fiction or even longer comic stories, but novel length stories have always floundered after awhile. I even tried NaNoWriMo to no avail. I get to a point where I want to change the story, or something I write just doesn’t gel with the rest of the story, but I think it really belongs with the rest of the story, which would require a huge rewrite. Sometimes I just hate the world I have built up, or as in the world-building post, I just get stuck on the world.

I have tried outlining, but that hasn’t really worked for me. Generally, I find that if I start writing and then outline when I get stuck, it helps to get the story moving again, but outlining the whole story does me no good when I end up changing the direction halfway through. But I am enjoying this story immensely, and writing more on it every day, so maybe this is THE ONE.

Besides writing and job searching and house stuff and yard stuff, I have been trying to fit in a few moments here and there to read. I get really, really cranky if I go too long without a decent book. But it’s hard to fit in reading time, especially with the long, epic fantasy books that I usually read in which I get totally absorbed in the world and just can’t put the damn thing down until it is finished. Which is where Vaginal Fantasy books come in. A few months ago, Felicia Day (awesome geek goddess extraordinaire and kindred spirit) came up with this book club idea and called it Vaginal fantasy. The books are all in the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/paranormal genres and have strong female characters at the forefront. Sometimes there’s romance and sometimes there’s smut, but there’s always a kick ass female main character. She gives a main book and then a back-up book. Overall, I have enjoyed the selections because they are not so serious and time consuming and in depth as epic fantasy. I read the book without needing to finish it IMMEDIATELY with what time I am able to eek out to read. When I finish the book I generally don’t feel the need to download the next in the series to my kindle because I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Instead, I enjoy the book as I read it. This may not be what the authors want to hear, I know, but it is great for me.

So after having this discussion a few times that goes something like this:

Me- “I have been reading vaginal fantasy books lately.”

Giggles

Them- “Wait, what’s that?”

Me- “You know who Felicia Day is?”

Them- either yes or no, to which the no gets  a long list of things she has done to which the non-geeks among them still don’t know who I am talking about to which I respond with “anyway, google her when you have a chance. She is awesome.”

Me- “Anyway, she started this Vaginal Fantasy book club…”

Them “Oooh that sounds cool. I might like to read those books.”

Me-“Well maybe I should start a local chapter of the Vaginal Fantasy book club…”

Them- “Yes! That would be awesome!”

I have decided to actually do just that starting next month. We may or may not follow Felicia’s picks for the month and we may or may not meet up every month, but I think it will be a fun way to spend some time talking about books, which I love, and hanging out with my girls that I don’t get nearly enough time with, which I also love.

There will probably be some good discussions that I may or may not blog about, and probably some drinking moments that I probably shouldn’t blog about.

Reading, writing and making my house wonderful are all coming along nicely. Now if I could only find some paying work, I will be happily crazy busy!

Speaking of shameless plugs, if you are a knitter, and in the market for a new pattern that’s cheap, check out my other blog, Brigid’s Knits,  where my sister and I  blog about craftiness and knitting and have patterns on sale until the end of the month!

This post has been moved to a more appropriate blog: Brigid’s Knits: Tales of Hearth and Home. So if you really want to know about the house stuff, from here on out it will be posted over there.  And if you are knitter, go peruse the site. Many patterns for sale and quirky adventures in the crafting world for your reading enjoyment.

They called me a hero. They thought I would save them. They watched me go mad, and reign over their destruction, and still they looked at me with hope and trust. Always believing that what I did was to save them. They were fools to trust me. I was a fool to believe them. When the end came and they asked my “why?” all I could do was laugh and cry. The sky turned black and the seas boiled. Mountains fell as the earth cracked and everywhere was blood and death. and me. I was the sole cause of it all. I was supposed to save them. How could I when I couldn’t even save myself? I don’t even have it in me to destroy myself as I deserve either. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe this is what I deserve. To live out the rest of my life alone, surrounded by the ruin I have made.

 

I came across this beginning part of an old novel today. I had written a few chapters of it, fleshed out some of the characters and set it aside to work on something else. Why? Not because I lost interest in the tale, but because of world-building. Whenever I sit down to work on the world, I get stuck . And being pure fantasy, well, I need to know the world. I need to know things that won’t ever make it into the story. The kinds of things that readers would take issue with, scoff at, call out as too much detail, in love with her world, and on and on. But it doesn’t change the fact that I need to know the world these characters live in. I need to know the rules of magic, the terrain, the races, the hierarchy and social systems. All of it has to be outlined in order for me to write the story I want to write. When I write urban fantasy, the world-building is much less important. I take from reality and mythology with a good dose of whateveriwant thrown in for good measure. It gives me time to focus on the story and the characters instead of the world. I get why epic fantasy writers always have to add more books as their readers sigh and complain, always waiting for the next book. It’s because this whole world all of a sudden becomes so much more complex than you thought it would. Characters become more involved and the story starts to take on a life of its own while you shout at it to wait for you. So what is it about world-building that makes me abandon a tale I want to tell? I really don’t know. I’ll sit down and start fleshing out details and hit a block that doesn’t coincide with what I have written or doesn’t work with the other structures I have set up.  I’ve never had to build an entire world before, the closest I’ve come to god-like qualities is growing babies. A world is a hell of a lot more involved (and takes a lot more thought) that something my body does naturally. (Notice-raising those babies into decent human beings? Much harder than building a world. It also takes years and years and you still never know how its going to turn out and you never get to hit delete and take out chapters you don’t like either.) Now before my digressions go too far, I’ll get back to the point. Which right now happens to be digressing. When unfocussed, world-building jumps all over the place, taking me from magic, to social to government, back to the actual story and over to characters. I have a hard time sticking to one topic, fleshing it out and moving on to the next, building off of whatever system I have already developed. Or some part of what I have actually worked on and developed inspires me to get back to the story until I realize that once again, I need to get back to my world-building in order to continue. Frustrations occur, another idea pops in my head and off I go to write a simpler story, while the novelIalwayswantedtowrite sits and waits patiently, popping up every so often to remind me of its presence. Do I have a solution? No. Do I have a point to this post? I guess not really, because just like my world-building, I have rambled all over the place trying to get an idea fleshed out and never really achieving what I set out to do. I am inspired though. I am motivated (today) to try my hand at building this world that starts with its destruction. Today I am beating this world into submission, making it obey me and be what I want it to be. At least until it hits me back. I never quite know what to do at that point. Just ask my little brother.

 

So speaking of world-building, are there any tips or tricks you employ in your own writing to actually flesh out a world so that the writing flows easily? Or do you let it all just come to you as you write?

 

 

Image courtesy of Christine Kozol

This past Saturday, I had the honor of moderating the panel for Womanthology at c2e2 in Chicago with a bunch of awesome women. The program listed 7 of us: me (you know…Jessica Daniel), Candice Reilly, Lauren Burke, Raven Moore, Stephanie Hans, Katie Shanahan & Jean Kang. Unfortunately, Stephanie couldn’t make it. Some of our Chicago food did not agree with her (I know it wasn’t the pizza. In fact, that might have cured her.) and she was greatly missed, but at the last minute, we had two additions to the panel that made it that much more awesome…Gail Simone and Janet Lee joined us. Surprise panelists much to the delight of our modest yet awesome crowd.

This was my first time moderating a panel. Heck, this was my first time public speaking, but I managed to pull it off with only a minor twinge of nervousness playing out in my voice and a few missed opportunities when it came to question time. A few of us were quite a bit nervous, but as the panel went on, we all started to loosen up a bit and our excitement over the project and what it has done for girls and women really showed. We discussed our work on Womanthology, why it was important, why we got involved and how it has helped us in terms of working in the comic industry. You can watch it all on YouTube…

The questions were overall great questions from the audience that really added to the discussion and led to further conversation after the panel about the direction of the industry and the desire for more women-centric comics. One of the things I found quite interesting was the discussion on creator owned comics and the uprising trend toward self-publishing. Besides discussing this at the panel, I had this conversation multiple times over the very long, tiring, crazy, fun weekend at C2E2. I do a lot of lurking about when it comes to this topic as a writer. As I get more and more work out there and bit by bit, more recognition, it is something I research extensively. I am really not sure what I will do when it comes time to get Nyctalopia to the masses, but I do know that retaining rights to my own work is important.

If there is one thing this project has done for me, it is get me to come out of my shell more, step back from the keyboard every once in a while and get out and actually meet some of these terrific women who all had a part to play in the massive tome of fantastic-ness that is Womanthology. As I continue to work toward my goals, I am learning more and more how important it is to have a network of not just people who might just click on a link you share and actually take the time to look at your stuff, but a network of people who you can consider friends and who will support you and share enthusiasm about each other’s projects. The comics community is really a great community of people who sincerely want to help each other succeed. If anyone has any thoughts about the panel or the topics we covered, I would love to hear them! I am still much to exhausted from the weekend to cover everything from C2E2, so in the next couple of days I will get at least one more post up about  Sunday-when I took my monsters with me and possibly one about networking on Friday.

Better Kids, Better World

Posted: March 1, 2012 in Parenting
Tags: , , ,

In order for society to change and grow for the better, we have to make a conscious effort to teach our children to be better than we were.

Seeing this short video about bullying really hit home for me. As a mother of 2, I have heard these things from my own children. At their current school, both my kids, who are only 6 and 9, have had to deal with bullies. The bus is the most prevalent place for bullying behavior. I am lucky enough that I was able to take them off the bus route and drive them to and from school myself, but many parents do not have the option. As we prepare for our move and the changing of schools, I can only hope that things are different at the new school. Unfortunately, bullying is a problem everywhere, and hiding your head in the sand or spouting platitudes like “kids will be kids” is bullshit. We as parents, educators, administrators and community members should realize that we have the power to change this behavior. A parent should never say “I got through it ok, so will they” or “It worked fine for me, it’ll work fine for them”. We as parents have a responsibility to our children to do what we can to make them better than us.  We should strive to not only give them a better life, but to guide them to becoming better people.

My kids transferred to a new school this year. We were thinking it would be very temporary as we were in the process of buying a house in a different neighborhood. That was a short sale deal, which after months of waiting, fell through. Finally, we found a new house that we now own and are moving into very shortly. In the meantime, my kids had to adjust to a new school. Previously, they were at a private school. A very diverse private school, but one in which my kids were not introduced to the topic of racism. I do know that some of the older grades had bullying problems, and every so often my daughter would have a child say something mean to her, but overall they were very lucky to have a lot of friends and very little troubles. This year changed drastically for them. I know there is this belief that white kids have all the advantages and nothing to worry about, but they are in the extreme minority at this school, and as such, have to deal with bullying because they are white. We have always taught our children that people are people and have had open and honest discourse with them, answering their questions and teaching them to look at who a person is on the inside and not the outside. This year has challenged us greatly. They are dealing with racism directed toward them, kids are pushing them, calling them names, making fun of them and they are both having troubles making friends. When we talk about the move to the new house and a new school, the relief in my kids’ eyes is heartbreaking. I never wanted them to have this pain.

There have been good things about the change as well, I won’t say that nothing good came out of it. They have realized that there are people with a lot less than they have and the things they have are a gift not to be taken for granted. My daughter has learned empathy in a way she never had to before. The most touching story I can think of to illustrate that is the day she came home and told me a bout a child in her class who was having emotional outbursts. The boy was not mean to her, or anyone in particular, but he would get angry and yell about how he hated the school (he was also a new boy to the school this year). She told me about him and how he was a trouble maker and she didn’t think she could be friends with someone like that. We had a long talk about people in different situations then her, a home life that might not be very happy, a problem that caused the move, trouble making friends, and trying to get to know the boy. As the introspective child that she is, she mulled this over and made an effort to talk to the boy and get to know him. They are now great friends, and I don’t doubt that he has helped her just as she helped him.

These are the kinds of behavior we should encourage in our children. Empathy, understanding, friendship, compassion. We should not encourage our children to carry on our own prejudices or our bad behaviors. Yes, kids can be jerks, but if a kid is being a jerk, it’s most likely because the child’s parents are even bigger ones. This is learned behavior. My kids are geeky, silly and fun kids because that is the behavior they see from their parents. The older they get, the more they develop their own personalities and make their own decisions, but what I do around my kids when they are young influences their behavior, ideas and beliefs. I am trying to give them a foundation they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. I try to teach them to be strong and stand up for themselves when needed,  but overall I try to teach them to be better. Better than me, better than their dad, better than all of the grown-ups out there set in their ways pining for bygone eras, forgetting that we have seen society shift overall for the better. If society doesn’t evolve and grow, it fails. If we backtrack, we fail. Making bullying a topic that is talked about in schools, at home, everywhere, should not be scoffed at by anyone. We should be outraged, all of us, that this behavior happens and we should realize the lifelong pain a person can hold with them from being bullied as a child. We should realize that children really are our future and by teaching them to be better, we in turn become better people ourselves. As much as I want to keep my kids in a bubble and protect them from all the bad things in the world, to shield them from pain and hurt and sadness, I can’t. My job is to teach them so that they can become their own person and make their own decisions. There will come a day when I just have to hope that I did a good enough job teaching them empathy, compassion, understanding, strength, and critical thinking so that they can make wise, informed decisions that will influence the direction their lives take and influence the lives of those around them for the better. And that is all any of us can hope for really; hope that we did enough to teach our children to be good people and hope that they don’t get hurt by those that didn’t bother. So please people, bother. Bother to teach your kids, to influence them with positive behavior and help them grow up to be worth a damn. That’s not too much to ask for is it?

“And so the hunt begins. Tonight we will feast, we will drink and we will celebrate as we await the beginning of the hunt. He rides out on his great steed, hunting the spirits who wander the earth, on these the darkest days of the year. We put up the tree for the benevolent spirits to hide in, out of the cold and safe from Wodan’s hunters. We burn our yule log to protect us from the evil spirits, those that would try to enter and harm us. When it ends, in 12 days time, we will feast again and celebrate the return of the light.”

Grandfather told this story every year, and every year, I listened and dreamed of meeting Wodan and joining him on his hunt. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a part of that hunt, not huddled inside, feasting and warm, laughing and telling stories. I waited for the feasting to end, for the mead to run dry and the elders to doze off and dream their muddled dreams of warmth and wine. I dressed quickly in the soft supple leathers given to me as a gift this very night. My pack was ready, and uncle’s axe, left carelessly by the door, slid into my belt easily. I wrapped myself in my fur cloak and took one look back at those I loved as I walked out the door, sliding it closed silently behind me. I climbed onto my horse, a shaggy thick thing who shambled across the snow.

Weariness set into my bones as I plodded along, searching until finally I saw a speck in the sky, there and then gone, to the east. I set my horse to a canter as I rode off in search of Wodan’s ravens. The horn blew, loud and insistent. Excitement fueled me as I rode straight into the famed hunt. Wodan pulled up quickly in front of me, his hair and beard a shock of thick white standing out against his dark armor.

“What do you seek? The hunt begins, return to your home or fall victim to the spirits of the land.” Wodan spoke in a booming voice, tall upon his horse with his spectral army arrayed behind him. I looked him straight in his eyes, one blue and one black as night, an eye in which the wonders of the worlds are revealed. Inside I quivered, but my voice was steady and strong.

“I come to join you on your hunt. I would bring in the sun with you and defeat the darkness.” I said.

His laughter came as a surprise, echoing across the land. “Then tonight you shall.” He said, his eye twinkling. I felt the change in me as I became a part of the hunt, my steady horse turned into a wild destrier, snorting and stomping her feet, ready to hunt. “Come young one, hunt with us,” he said, and I fell in beside him, removing my axe from my belt.

We hunted throughout the night, finding spirits and demons across the land and sending them back to the darkness of their world. Long into the night the hunt continued as I rode beside Wodan, never feeling the cold. We talked as we rode, telling each other stories, stories I would one day tell my own children and grandchildren as my grandfather did. We hunted until the darkness began to fade.

“Return to your home now, young one.” He said as he turned away, his army following behind as they rode up into the clouds.

I awoke in my bed, huddled beneath my furs, no sign of my ride with Wodan. Around me the elders still slept. I padded across the floor, wondering if it was all a dream when I noticed a small package beneath the tree. I opened the package quickly. A small stone, the size of an eye and black as onyx fell into my hand. I grasped the stone in my hand, closing my eyes and feeling the power in this small stone, this gift left for me from the great Wodan.

*This story was originally published in the Womanthology Holiday PDF for backers of Womanthology.