Category Archives: Writing Fodder

F is for FUN!

I know you were probably expecting F is for Falara, but I just touched on Eaglecrest in the last post and, frankly, Falara isn’t the most exciting place. It’s often cold and they spend a lot of time indoors, drinking. The food there is pretty good, which speaks even more highly of Toryn’s cooking since managed to impress Brydon. But I digress because this post is about fun!

Some fantasy novels, I’ve found, become mired down in their own seriousness, and every word drips tension and drama until, by the end, the reader feels as if they’ve walked every agonizing step with their heroes and need a couple of weeks to rest their brains. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing and I’ve devoured plenty of those in my day, but I appreciate it when an author takes the time to give their characters a little bit of fun, because without that life is pretty much a dull, endless quest towards that lava pit on Mount Doom.

Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Volcano_q.jpg#/media/File:Volcano_q.jpg

“Volcano q”. Licensed under Public Domain via

For my characters, fun can have vastly different meanings. Brydon’s idea of fun is a nice workout with his sword, shooting at targets to perfect his skill with a bow, or possibly sleeping. He enjoys sleeping much more than he lets on in the book; don’t let him fool you. He pretends to enjoy reading, but most of the books he’s read have been dull histories or church documents discussing the proper way to live a noble life.

Toryn, on the other hand, thinks the best way to have fun is hours of companionship of the naked variety. He doesn’t have much opportunity for casual dalliance during the quest and he finds it ironic that Brydon gets more action during their journey than he does. Of course, being attracted to the more volatile sort of woman is a drawback in that regard, first with Alyn and then Daryna. By the time he meets Daryna he has, thankfully, learned that sometimes it’s better to not get involved with the ones who might shred all your clothes during the night in a fit of jealous rage. I’m not saying Daryna would do such a thing, except that she totally would.

Romantic shenanigans aside, Toryn has a tendency to add elements of fun to what might otherwise be a boring journey, although Brydon doesn’t always appreciate his assistance in that regard. Toryn is always ready with a sardonic comment, which sometimes provokes the others to certain levels of annoyance.

The cleft was far too narrow for Brydon to climb down and assist her, and she could not reach her own ankle.

“Can you slide your foot out of the boot?” he asked finally.

“Don’t you think I already tried that?” she snapped. Brydon’s urge to leave her strengthened.

“Well?” Toryn called. “Is she dead?”

“No, she’s stuck in the rocks,” Brydon replied.

Alyn groaned as Toryn’s guffaw reached them. “Too many meat pies and pastries?” Toryn asked.

Alyn shouted several loud slurs about Toryn and his parentage and then she wrenched at her leg. Rage must have lent her strength, for she was suddenly free and clambered out of the hole like an angry badger.

Brydon eventually gets used to Toryn’s quips, although he never gets past the urge to bruise him for the privilege.

“I need to tell you something.”

Toryn sighed and set the pot near the fire. “You’re not planning to confess your undying love, are you?”

Brydon punched him on the shoulder.

Or shove him into nearby water features.

“And if you return without the gauntlet?” Toryn asked.

“I resume my old life as before. But I would be privately considered a failure.”

“What does your princess want with it?”

Brydon grinned and then laughed. “My place is not to ask why, Tory, my friend. Mine is to quest and bring back.”

“Sort of like a hound?” Toryn asked.

“I suppose,” Brydon replied with a growl and shoved him at a nearby fountain.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Larus_heermanni_in_a_fountain_in_Sausalito,_California.jpg#/media/File:Larus_heermanni_in_a_fountain_in_Sausalito,_California.jpg

“Larus heermanni in a fountain in Sausalito, California” by Wingchi Poon – Own work.

Although occasionally Brydon gets to turn the tables.

Toryn sat up and tugged his boots on. “When I agreed to come with you, I expected a nice, quiet journey,” Toryn grumbled. “What have I gotten? Lions. A viperous Akarskan wench. An insane Penk who thinks he’s a werewolf. Captured by thieves. A battle with thieves. A battle with more thieves. A man who disappears into thin air before I can slice him in two. A Falaran who can read my mind. Swamps, mud, rain, bugs, and fever. A city full of howling madmen and tax collectors. Now this. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Did you plan all this?”

“If you are finished whining, I suggest we go find Davin,” Brydon said mildly.

When all is said and done, one fun character can spice things up just enough to keep the others on their toes, and prevent long journeys from getting monotonous.

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The Dreaded Backstory

THE DREADED BACKSTORY

Ask a novelist one thing they hate about writing and they will probably list “backstory” as pretty high up on the list. Sometimes we’ve taken great pains (and weeks and weeks of research) to create an amazing world and populate it with a multitude of persons, creatures, warring factions, pious religions, and every sort of thing in between. It’s tempting to dump as much of this on our readers as we can, all at once, preferably at the beginning of the story. It’s also a good way to lose your readers within the first page.

Grass and Sky

Cool world, bro.

Most writers are told to “show don’t tell” and since it’s difficult to convey things like backstory without pages and pages of telling them how things are, one preferred method is through dialog. Most readers don’t want to sit through a long exposition about where and how each character lived prior to beginning their careers as a part of your novel, so one good way to bring out their history is through discussions with other characters.

Ideally, backstory is revealed gradually and dialog is an excellent vehicle for doling out information piecemeal. This allows the reader to put your character together as though collecting bits of a puzzle. Sometimes we don’t even know what the character looks like until it’s handed to us through some sort of dialog. It can be difficult for the POV character to convey self-description, but fairly easy to utilize others. “Gross, now I have your blond hairs stuck to my comb,” one character can say, or they can latch onto your POV character’s arm and make a quip about their bulky muscles (or lack thereof).

cute little blond girl

I am 172 years old.

It can be tough to use dialog to give away backstory without it becoming just as boring as a block of text. A long, rambling discussion about the political history of warring factions can have your reader skipping pages or shutting the book for good. However, a rollicking argument will have the reader eagerly reading ahead to find out exactly why one character “expected that sort of crass behavior from a dirty carpet-seller from Pugnasia” or why a Summoned demon was ignoring the wizard and ransacking the house for liquor.

If time permits, your characters should reveal snippets of backstory during multiple scenes, giving away only what is vital and holding the remainder back for later revelation. A personal chosen method is to have one character reveal something interesting to another character, which can pique the curiosity of the reader to learn more.

ombres 1

Man, your backstory
is really long.

One of my favorite series contains an amazing method of revealing backstory as the main character wakes up in a hospital bed with amnesia. As he knows very little about himself, we are pulled along for the ride as he learns random tidbits from others and pieces together his past using only dialog and observation.

However you choose to do it, always remember one thing: if you are bored writing it, your readers will be bored reading it. Try to come up with interesting ways to reveal the dreaded backstory.

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The Hero – Balance in Pairs

A bit of background…

I recently read that one of the keys to a successful blog is knowing who you are blogging to. Since I am a writer, obviously my blog readers should be, well, readers. Not just blog readers, but novel readers, and probably not just blog and novel readers but the sort of readers who sit down with their morning cereal and read the box because there are words on it and you simply can’t resist. So with that in mind, I plan to blog to readers and talk about characters and plot and all the things we love about reading fiction.

Image

Riboflavin? Interesting…

The Hero

Firstly I want to talk about characters and what we love and hate about them. The most common person in my books tends to be the Hero. *cue dramatic music* Or, even more commonly, the Heroes. Many heroes come in two flavors – the good to the core hero, and the anti-hero. With the first sort, you never have to question his character. Throughout the whole story, you know he will make the right choices, follow the moral path, listen to his conscience, and choose good over evil. Harry Potter is good to the core; even at the ultimate moment when he can choose to be selfish or save the world, did anyone have any doubt which path he would choose? I don’t think so.

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Have wand, have glasses, have school tie and magic. Now what?

The Anti-Hero

On the other side of the coin we have the anti-hero. His motives are grayer, his morals ambiguous (or even non-existent or flat-out evil), and his choices sometimes gripping and unexpected. This can make for a more intense story, but sometimes we simply don’t like them very much. Many times the anti-hero is willing to sacrifice characters we love in order to fulfill their own personal goals.

Hey, let’s put them together!

Opposites can be really wonderful when combined. Lemons and sugar make lemonade! Vinegar and pineapple make sweet and sour sauce! The hero and the anti-hero make the perfect heroic duo! Many authors have capitalized on this and have come up with some amazing pairs for us to love. Often the anti-hero will be a source of conflict for the hero as he attempts to fulfill his honorable mission without being waylaid by the machinations of the anti-hero.

Hero: I must achieve my goal at any cost.

Anti-Hero: But look at this shiny thing you might want instead!

Hero: Must. Resist.

Anti-Hero: SHINY THING!

Also, it can spur some great dialog and keep potentially boring scenes from getting dull. Two oppositely-motivated people traveling together for long distances (whether walking, riding horse-giraffes, or taking a car or train) can make for some entertaining interactions, arguments, and encourage tougher choices and introduce greater conflict in the long run.

Image

You know you want one.

Sometimes the anti-hero can be mistaken for the hero’s comedic sidekick, but in most cases they have a larger role than that and end up being vital to the plot, whereas the comedic sidekick could be removed from the story completely without affecting the overall story.

In conclusion, opposites attract, or sometimes repel, and in either case can make for interesting reading.

 Who are your favorite heroic pairs?

 

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The Idea Stork

The Stork, Of Course

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I hear this question frequently and it always makes me laugh. “From the Idea Stork,” I want to reply, “similar to the one that brings babies and those spiders that randomly show up in the bathtub.” It might be a more satisfying answer than the truth, which is: “Everywhere.”

I usually don’t elaborate, either on everywhere or idea storks, but since this is a writing blog wherein I blog about writing, I shall give it a go. I think it’s important for writers (especially fiction writers) to constantly explore possibilities. In my case, I can’t seem to shut it off.

People Watching For Fun And Fodder

My primary source of information is simply people. I have a very long commute to and from my day job and this has been both a curse and a blessing. A curse because it takes precious time away from the process of actual writing, and a blessing because of the never-ending creativity fodder. Let’s face it, people are incredibly interesting.

I once encountered a man in the bus with a self-made tattoo. “Melissa” it said, scrawled down his forearm in a rough print, uneven and, frankly, unattractive. My mind spun crazily. Who was Melissa and why had this man felt the need to permanently mark himself with her name? Had he done it himself or had he recruited his ten-year-old  nephew to help? Was she an unrequited love? Old girlfriend? Book character? Favorite dog? (The paths my imagination took were likely far better than reality; I didn’t ask and he departed at the next stop.)

Create Your Own Club

Then there are the men with the handlebar mustaches, seen at different places and different times. “Why?” I want to ask. Do they think those enormous, curling mustaches are attractive? Are they part of a cult? A secret handlebar mustache society? Do they meet on Tuesdays and discuss twirling techniques and villain stereotyping? (The urge to put such a club in a story is great, I assure you.)

Tattoo

Not-so-secret Society?

Give Them A Backstory

And what about the beautiful black man dressed like a street thug while clutching a magazine written in French? He opened it next to me and began to read. With less than a minute to my exit, I did not have the time to ask him anything. “Who are you? Where are you going? Is your family, friend, lover from France? Canada? Did you learn the language as a child or an adult?” Without actual answers, my imagination had to fill in the blanks; just like that, a character was born. Perhaps one day he will interact with the icy blond businesswoman who sat near the front of the bus with perfect posture and unshakeable poise, looking utterly out of place on the grungy city bus. Where was her Mercedes? Had she fought with her boyfriend/husband/best friend/sister and stormed out of the car/condo/office to get on the bus and flee to her mother’s/the bank/the airport…?

And We’re Off!

The possibilities are endless. Maybe one day on the pages of a book she will bump into Mr. French Magazine and speak to him in flawless French. He will introduce her to his best friend, who has a handwritten tattoo scrawled on his forearm…

“Where do you get your ideas?” they ask.

Everywhere.

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