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Enter the Dragon: The Art of Beating the Sh*t Out of Your Characters

My toddlers and I love using our imaginations when playing with Little People action figures and Beanie Babies. However, I think my five-year-old has more fun messing with the carefully created plots that I craft for our playtime.

For example, I enjoy the mundane story with generic problems while playing with my kiddos. It’s typically G-rated, predictable, and relaxing. Or what my five-year-old describes as . . .

boring

Me: Let’s have the kids get on the bus for school. Next, they’ll learn about the zoo. After that, they’ll board a second bus for the zoo and visit the animals. The zoo guide will teach them amazing facts about the elephant, ostrich, the lion, the gorilla, and even the hippo. Finally, they’ll ride the bus home. Their parents will meet them there and take them to the park to swing in the tree house. The End. 🙂

My Five-Year-Old: But on the way home from the park, a giant dragon comes and attacks them! *Ka-BLAM!* ::He knocks over the school bus, sending miniature plastic children flying everywhere:: Then, Spider-Man comes and saves them, followed by Link (the plush kind) fights the Dragon. *Pow! Pow!* *Boom, Ka-CHUNG!*

Me: Why don’t the dragon and Link become friends? Hmmm? Wouldn’t that be nice?

(Understand that his preschool teacher has lamented to me how he sometimes enjoys play-fighting too much). 😦

My Five-Year-Old: Mom! This is a dragon and this is Link. Link’s a hero and doesn’t make friends with the enemy. Geeze. ::Link smacks the dragon with his sword::

Me: Okay. So, they fight and then Iron Man shows up and tells some jokes, right?

My Five-Year-Old: ::sighs, like a weary old man:: Okay. Fine. Let’s build some mega-block towers and have the dragon and Darth Vader knock them down while Spider-man and Link try to stop them.

Me: Okay. Cool.

At times, when creating conflict my toddler is clearly a better writer than I am. He shows no mercy on the adorable Little People action figures (characters) and enjoys making life very difficult for them without batting an eyelash. In fact, I think he sometimes enjoys it. Especially when Link, Iron Man, or Spider-Man arrive to save the day.

Now, not every story calls for a literal dragon. The dragon (or the wolf) often symbolizes The Problem that your Main Character faces.

The Problem could be one of the four types of conflict:

Different Types of Conflict

I have two main characters in the story I’m currently drafting. The main conflict is Man vs. Society and Man vs. Man. These two characters despise one another and in general the society they live in. But I needed something more to heighten tension and suspense and it worked perfectly in this world of magic, science, and mystery.

I decided to give one of them a debilitating disease that threatens her life and compromises a goal that both characters share.

And if she dies? All is lost.

Whelp. Get the casket ready.

dark link grinning

Sorry, not sorry.

Now, I’ve considered killing this character off, which would totally eff things up for the other main character. And he’ll have to work his butt off  trying to pick up the pieces and carry the torch to resolution. I hesitated going that route because I wasn’t sure if that was a Rule Breaker. Do I dare allow what the main character has been dodging, fighting, and hiding from to come to pass?

Do I dare?

After attending a writer’s workshop on heightening suspense, I asked the host writer, “Is it okay if the main character’s main fear actually happens?”

She smiled. A smile similar to Dark Link’s (above) and said, “Oh, yes. So glad you asked.”

Whoa. I was taken aback. I was blown away.  In most stories I’ve read the protagonist is trying to avoid the Big Bad or their Worst Nightmare from coming true and is successful in just the nick of time.

This devious route seems like some new-level gangster sh!t.

But it’s not. I think I was just a coward and didn’t feel like I could do it. I was afraid to do something so totally twisted. Isn’t the world already filled with enough suffering? Do I really need to add another layer of terrible sadness and heartbreak?

heartbreaks

Like Kyoko Mogami (from one of my most favorite mangas, Skip Beat!) I’ll take heartbreaks and unhappily ever afters (for now) differently. For example, in the Dresden Files series (spoiler alert coming) Harry Dresden’s love and mother of his only child, Susan Rodriguez, dies. I wasn’t expecting that. I was angry. Sad. And in need of counseling. I mean, I knew that Butcher often beats the crap out of Harry, but I didn’t think he’d go there. 

So did, Tsugumi Ohba, in the renowned manga, Death Note. About halfway through the series, she/he/they  (it’s a mystery) kills off (spoiler alert) L, Light Yagami’s rival and my favorite character!

L_Death Note Notes

Little did we know, that you’d die. 😦 

I hope this post helps any writer who struggles with being hard on their characters.

In one of my future post, I’ll discuss the importance of a sympathetic character. Otherwise, if and when the character dies the loss is genuine and doesn’t garner a “meh” response.

 

 

 

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To Glossary or Not to Glossary: that is the question.

I’ve been writing the first draft of what I call The Novel. Some days paragraphs come in torrents. Most days? A trickle of sentences or phrases here or a sparse description of a character there. I count it a good writing day when I’m able to twist a cliched phrase into something wonderful and new.

While drafting, I noticed that having a glossary of need-to-know terms would help both readers and mostly myself along the way.

When I taught elementary school, there was a writing unit that focused on nonfiction text features, such as the glossary and index. I wanted my students to be successful and professional when creating their books (yes, yes, I know they were only second graders, but come on we’re talking about books here).

I made my own book ahead of time to use as a guide and teaching tool. Behold, the cover:

Japan at a glance

I had returned from Japan a few years before filled with memories and some knowledge about the country and customs. So, I decided to use it as my teaching model. 🙂 

I enjoy drawing and am pretty good at it. My intention for having a pre-made model was so that students had a goal to live up to. I didn’t want crappy work turned in. They needed to do it to the best of their ability and they knew I wouldn’t settle for less.

The appendix, index, and glossary are parts of a book called the “back matter” because they appear in . . . the back of the book. Lol. The word glossary comes from the Greek “glossarion,” with its root being “glossa,” meaning “obsolete or foreign word.” In fantasy stories, even though the world is steeped in strange, imaginary worlds and alien languages doesn’t mean that these creations aren’t anchored into reality (as we know it) or at least something we mere mortals can relate to while navigating the pages of these worlds. I think the glossary serves as a compass, for lack of a better word, by reminding the reader or redirecting them in the right direction. For example, in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, the glossary defines almost 40 words. One of these terms caught my eye — the Knitting Circle. Most fantasy readers could draw the conclusion that this must be an innocuous name for something else entirely.

Please, forgive me (especially you older brother) for not having read this series. Yet. I’ve been extremely busy writing my own books and as it perches on my bookcase flashing its gorgeous hardback cover and flirtatiously winking at me, my eyes prickle with tears as I look away. It’s book eight that I have, after all. (Gasp)! #ShameOnMe

That aside, the glossary helps new readers who have the audacity (or is it insanity?) to jump in the middle of a series and return to the “real world” unscathed all thanks to the aid of the trusty glossary. Heh, heh. Maybe the glossary could be compared to a shield because it shields us from ignorance? I dunno. All I know is that I lo lo lo love glossaries!

I’ve read several fantasy books that don’t have a glossary because these books clearly didn’t need one. The reader was able to understand what was happening without this tool. Most of those books were stand-alones and that makes sense. On the other hand, books that I’ve read with glossaries often were a series or a trilogy and possessed a magic system that was exciting, new, and so amazing that the glossary contributed and complimented the story rather than subtracted from it.

Now, since The Novel I’m working on relies on some scientific aspects and complicated world-building I think a glossary will come in handy. However, I’ve got to be careful while walking that tightrope because I don’t want the story to be so inundated with “foreign” jargon that readers will lose sight of the story’s heart and fling it across the room.

As I continue drafting, I think I’ll have a better idea of what not to include in the glossary. And at this point, I can safely say that the glossary is here to stay. 🙂

Quotes to Write By Revisited

While scrolling through my Quora Digest feed, I noticed this question:

As fiction writers, how do you get past the common feeling of “This is awful” when you start to write?

Marshall Karp provides a great answer with a hilarious story that frames the difference between having a pessimistic outlook on life or an optimistic one. 🙂

Well, I’m in the process of starting one of those first drafts. To help decrease the amount of manure, I created a simple outline using this structure for chapters and/or scenes:

Opposing character:

Disastrous ending of the scene (that answers the scene question):

POV character:

Character’s immediate goal:

Scene Question (can be answered with a yes or no?):

When my husband asked me how many words I was shooting for, I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure. I’d like to finish it within 30,000 words, but that’s just an estimate. For the most part, I think that the word count doesn’t matter (at this time) as long as I tell the story and tell it well.

Using the outline above, I was able to complete the first chapter within an hour. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean I won’t return to it for revisions. Nothing is written in stone. I’m just happy that I jumped that hurdle.

Karp provides a great quote toward the end of his answer, which I had to use here:

Anne Lamott_Quotes to write by

Happy drafting!

Dear NaNoWriMo Cheerleaders, I Want to, But . . .

Cheerleaders of NaNoWriMo, I’m already behind. Based on the 50,000 word goal, I already have a deficit of 10,002 words!

Yes, I’ve written some short stories. There’s one that I’m finishing up for a November 15th deadline, but does that even count towards the novel of my dreams?!

You see, I have a novel inside of me that needs to be written. It makes threats. It keeps me up at night. The characters taunt me, “Monique, we’re so much more interesting than those other characters you created. Come on, what are you waiting for? This project is so much more important! Do us! Do yourself a favor and write about us!”

If only I had the time. So, I’ve decided to make time.

In Florida (accent on the duh), we have this thing called Daylight Savings Time, where we FALL BACK (happens in autumn or fall — you know, the season where trees change their color and the weather gets cooler?)

gorgeousfallscene

Sorry, Florida. No gorgeous fall scenes for you. You get to “fall back” an hour as a reminder that autumn has arrived.  #sarcasm

Well, since Florida rarely experiences these beautiful moments, I guess that’s why we’re still forced to abide by “da rules”.

Anywho, let me get back to the task at hand.

In order to make NaNoWriMo happen for me, I pledge, I vow, I promise, I swear (by the moon and the stars in the sky) that I’ll wake up earlier AND before making smoothies for the family, before packing lunchboxes, before working out (Zumba or weight training) that I’ll crank out those words; I’ll wrestle with those words; I’ll caress them; cajole them; coax them; and tickle ’em out of me and spew them on paper or clank them out on keyboard!

kermitthefrogtyping

Oh yes, I can!

So, now my day job is starting in a few minutes. With that said, au revoir. Until later. Blah, Blah, Blah.

blah blah blah

*Falls asleep on keyboard*

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 29 What’s In a Name? More Than You Think!

Disclaimer: The following analysis of characters and their names are solely my opinion and conclusions I’ve drawn from being a wordsmith, character creator, and a lover of names.

williamshakespeare1

Juliet, from the play, Romeo and Juliet, speaks this famous line. She argues that it doesn’t matter that the young man Romeo whom she loves is a Montague, her family’s archenemy.

But Juliet is wrong. Names are important. Especially when it comes to creating names for characters. And on a more mundane note, who the heck would lovingly pen the name, Toilet, on their newborn baby’s birth certificate. Or Virus? Cesspool? Booger?

I read a lot of fantasy and I love when I can tell that an author put a lot of thought into creating their characters’ names. When my oldest brother read the names I had brainstormed for a book we’re working on together, I smiled until my face ached (okay, fine I’m using hyperbole) because I was pleased that he was pleased with my inventions. Creating names is a lot of fun!

Popular Character Names in Book Series

In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the wizard Harry Dresden’s full name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Not only is Harry’s name fun to say, but his first name is a nod to Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, famous for his sensational escape acts. Dresden’s also named in honor of David Copperfield, an American illusionist and magician who was born in 1956. I’m not sure about the background information on “blackstone” though. I do know that it comes from the Blackstone Group, which is a financial firm founded by two dudes in the 1980s who used the German and Greek parts of their names to create a cryptogram: “Schwarz” is German for “black” and “Peter” or “Petra” in Greek means “stone” or “rock”. Thus, “blackstone”.

HarryDresden

Harry Dresden

Another popular character in urban fantasy, is the one and only Anita Blake. I adored this series and still mourn for the style it was written in over a decade ago. I miss Anita solving crimes, raising the dead, and putting them back to rest. Her full name consists of four syllables. Her first name sounds softer and more romantic to me. Also, Anita certainly had a softer side in the beginning of the series (i.e., her stuffed animal penguin collection). Her name is derived from Sanskrit and means full of grace, mercy, favor, variety, a leader, without guile. In the series, it’s implied that her name is from the Spanish language because her deceased mother is Mexican. Her last name, Blake, is a mystery and where it is derived from is uncertain. According to Mr. Wikipedia it could come from “blac”, a nickname for someone who had dark hair or skin, or from “blaac”, a nickname for someone with pale hair or skin. Another theory is that it is a corruption of “Ap Lake”, meaning “Son of Lake”. I think this uncertainty and duality of dark and pale suits the character of Anita Blake just fine since she has gone from being a character symbolizing justice and daring not to dabble with the dark creatures of her world — vampires, for example — to not only protecting them, but doing the horizontal mambo with them every day, all day.

Anita Blake

Anita Blake

Popular Character Names in TV Series

Olivia Pope’s name is interesting. Her surname evokes images of holiness, righteousness, and power. However, one could argue that the title or word “pope” also conjures images of the exact opposite due to corruption and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Likewise, the character, Olivia Pope, in the television series Scandal, is a woman of contradictions.

olivia pope

Olivia Pope

As a crisis manager, her job is to solve problems for her clients who add to the existing drama in her personal life. Her first name comes from Latin and means “olive branch”. Olive branches are a symbol of peace or victory, which fits Olivia perfectly. The fictitious character of Olivia Pope is partially based on real-life crisis manager, Judy Smith. I watched the first two episodes of Scandal and couldn’t continue. There are no dragons and too much mundane drama that I avoid in the daily news. I found it tragic that Olivia, a beautiful, talented, and intelligent woman couldn’t have her happy ending. Granted, it’s her own choices that often keep her from it. Or maybe Shonda Rimes, the show’s creator, wanted to portray a realistic woman who forfeited the search for an impossible “happily ever after” and instead settled for or could be satisfied with “happy enough”? I have no idea. I like Happy Endings. That’s why I often play RPGs and live vicariously through my CGI characters. 😛

Anyway, I predicted that Ms. Pope’s slippery slope into tragedy would continue to worsen and if I became a fan my heart would most likely break. I’m all about keeping my heart intact. 🙂

Another character with a cool name is Nikita from the series (first a movie), La Femme Nikita, which is French for The Woman Nikita. Nikita. Nikita, Nikita. That’s it. No last name. And that’s all that’s needed.

Nikita

Nikita

Why? This name is loaded with goodies! Nikita is an assassin that is paired with great assets — beauty, intelligence, and the ability to kill with ease and efficiency. Her name isn’t even originally French or female. It originated as a masculine Greek name and subsequently a Russian name exclusively for males. The name has been recently adopted as a French name for girls.

 

 

 Popular Character Names in Movies

Keyser Söze isn’t the name of a breakfast bagel. And no, I’m not referring to one of Moe’s (Welcome to Moe’s), (Tex-Mex eatery — delicious!) salsa. Keyser Söze is the name of the main antagonistic and driving force in The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite movies. I won’t spoil the movie’s epic and mind-blowing twist ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this cinematic masterpiece. Traditionally, Keyser is a last name and it’s a development of the early Germanic name “Kaiser”, which was derived from the Roman imperial title “Caesar”. In the criminal underworld, Keyser’s great skill,  ruthlessness, and reputation are of epic and mythical proportions. For example, handicapped con artist Robert “Verbal” Kint describes Keyser as “a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop and Keyser Söze will get you.’ But no one ever really believes.” Poor dears. They should believe.

Keyser_Soze

Keyser Söze

Keyser may be a man of violence and enjoys spreading fear, but like some mega-villains he’s a man of his word. I looked up the meaning of the word “soze” in Turkish and was prompted to look it up in Kurdish. It means “promise“. Keyser Soze is most likely a pseudonym and a small piece of the puzzling, deceptive, and criminal world the “usual suspects” dwell in.

Speaking of the criminal world, how could I not mention John Wick? Before John Wick, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 beckoned action, thriller, and suspense lovers, I didn’t think any movie could bank on the explosions, the mystery, the gunfights, and the gloriously twisted plot that the writers of The Usual Suspects had created. During a heated and no less humorous conversation between a father and son (both elite members to the Russian maffia), important information about John Wick is revealed:

Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.

Iosef Tarasov: Who? That fucking nobody?

Viggo Tarasov: That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”

Iosef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?

Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman.

Iosef Tarasov: [stunned] Oh.

Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will… something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog.

The name John is Hebrew and translates to “Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor”. And the fact that John Wick is unstoppable and for the most part untouchable seems nothing short of a miracle.  Reeves, who plays John Wick also compared Wick’s story to “[…] a kind of Old Testament revenge story” adding that, “When someone takes the things he cherishes, violence erupts and John can’t temper it.” Though the character’s last name, Wick, is a name Kolstad (the movie’s writer) had used as a reference to his grandfather, the founder of Wick Building Systems, as a fellow writer just because something is simply cool isn’t reason enough to do it. So, I did a little digging. The word wick is Old English and related to both Dutch and German languages. The best definition of the word “wick” that I discovered is:

wick1

/wɪk/

noun

1.

a cord or band of loosely twisted or woven fibres, as in a candle,cigarette lighter, etc, that supplies fuel to a flame by capillary action

2.

(Britslangget on someone’s wick, to cause irritation to a person
john wick2

The second definition is symbolic in regard to how John Wick operates in the criminal underground of assassins. Without his wife’s love, he’s like a wick or woven fiber waiting for fire to light it. In other words, there are two parts to John: his need to settle down and find happiness and the wanton desire to kill and blow things up. And the second definition, which is slang for annoying a person is poetic justice. In the first movie, John just wanted to permanently silence whoever messed with him by stealing his car and killing his dog. Cautionary advice: give him what he wants and he’ll return to his quiet self. Word to the wise: don’t bother John Wick and he’s as sweet as a lamb. 🙂

One of My Own Character Creations

From my vampire series starring the titular main character, Gabriel Lennox, I wanted to make a name that possessed sex appeal, mystery, and a firmness to it. Gabriel_ok
The name Gabriel is Hebrew and means “God is my strength”. The last name Lennox originates from Gaelic and means “lives near the place abounding with elm trees”.  Gabriel Lennox is a strong, sophisticated name and it’s also the surname of one of my favorite singers, Annie Lennox.

Fellow writers, how do you choose character names? What techniques do you use?

Adoring readers, what character names do you love or hate . . . and why?

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 27

Writing high fantasy is not for the hobbyist. It takes perseverance, cleverness, and lots of dedicated time.

I’m currently completing the second phase of world building for a high fantasy series that’s been haunting my waking and dreaming hours for quite some time. About three years actually. Adara Trosclair, for whom this blog is named after will make her appearance in the second book. I see main character in this first book clearly. She’s not like Adara, who is charismatic, sweet, and girly. Lethe, on the other hand, is bitter, snarky, resentful, and will most likely be an unlikable character. But that in no way means that readers will be unable to relate to her. Anyone who has lived on this earth may have acted like this guy:

grumpy

in some way, shape, or form. Even for a day. 🙂

But then again, maybe Lethe is more like this:

grumpy cat_people

And the entire idea behind this book — once a tiny seed — is now a mighty oak tree. Lol. Well, in my mind currently. For the past several days I’ve been working on my fantasy world’s distinct parts:

  • Continents
  • Characters
  • Religion
  • Ethnic groups
  • Jobs
  • Mythology
  • Language
  • Conflict

I also want my high fantasy idea to be fresh and to question and maybe even provide answers to current issues in the real world. Issues like racism, sexism, and bigotry.

tolkien quote

At first, I totally agreed with this quote from Tolkien. Fantasy is a great way to escape! However, escaping and being distracted is so easy and it’s not worth it. Yes, we all need a little break every now and then (that’s why I play video games and do Zumba Fitness), buuuuuuut, ignoring important issues in the world isn’t a solution to the world’s worldly ills (yes, yes, yes, I know I used the word world three times in that one sentence).

I’m considering whether or not the book would fit the Young Adult age group and if so, what kind of pitfalls must I avoid? For instance, is it okay for the two main characters to engage in sex? How violent and bloody should the sword and sorcery scenes be? And what about expletives? My husband and I are fans of Dragon Age and the rating for this RPG is “M” for mature audiences due to sex (your main character can ROMANCE other characters), violence (lots of blood — I mean LOTS), and other suggestive themes. And as I continue plotting away, do I consider my book having a dark tone like Dragon Age? HECK YA!

dragon age

Lots of blood slaughtering darkspawn, humans, dwarves, elves, and dragons!

I wouldn’t mind kids similar in age to my oldest son who will be seventeen soon reading this book. But younger than that? Wow. Just wow. Makes me feel uncomfortable.

dragon age_killthequeen

Lol. I just want Alistair. 🙂

As a child, I loved fairy tales and I also want to incorporate them into my high fantasy books. My favorites are the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Little Match Girl, and Rumpelstiltskin.

 

Regarding Tolkien’s quote, I agree more with the spotlighted quote of the day. I don’t need to escape. I want to understand.

 

Quote #27

Alexanderquote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 26 . . . with a Freebie!

 In a previous post, I discussed Octavia Butler’s thoughts on inspiration vs habit. Habit is worth cultivating. Inspiration when it comes to writing will do little for the writer. Writing every day or as much as one can is a best practice.

Initially, I planned on continuing the Quotes to Write By series for 60 days. However, I may have to take a small hiatus by day 30 in order to focus on writing a dark fantasy with sword and sorcery elements, which means I will excuse myself from all social media to make that first draft come much faster.

So, in honor of habit I share two quotes.

One from Clarence Kelland. The quote is hilarious and this dude was dedicated to sadism. 😉 And another from Ursula Le Guin.

Quote #26

clarencekelland

FREEBIE

ursulaleguin