Monday, December 30, 2013

The Philosophy of Writing: The Autonomous Character

Last week I began a new series dealing with the philosophy of writing. The first step was considering the motivation for ourselves writing a story. We analyzed the structure of a story as being a tool used by people to advocate a particular view of the world. It is important to know and understand why we tell our stories. Ultimately, our goal is to extricate ourselves from our stories as much as possible, starting with the plot and followed by the characters.

Who a character is, what their motivation is, what they believe, these questions illustrate the fundamental hurdle all amateur story-tellers must overcome. When writers start out, they often craft their characters as stand-ins informed by their own personal experiences. Myself, for instance, wrote two stories when I was very young. One story featured characters from existing narratives. The other was wholly original, but drew heavily on my own personality. Each character was a construction of my desires and what I truly wanted at that particular period of my life. It is natural to write like this when starting out. Fan-fiction, that reprehensible art form, derives from these fledgling experiences. And while such beginnings are safe and welcoming for the novice writer, to stay at this place is a horrible thing.

So, where do we go then, now that we understand our first instinct when writing characters?

We know characters are good when they are original, when they act autonomously, or do things that we don't suspect. In essence, a good character is self-contained. How much of this is formula, and how much of this is art, is not necessarily the question. Where we must start is understand what a character is. Characters are people when it comes down to it. A person has emotions and feelings, so does a character. A person has motivations and aspirations, so does a character. A good character emulates a raw person, one that is wholly different from what we want. Christian writing is often party to shoddy and cliched characters, particularly because the authors are creating characters to fit a particular mold or expectation of the publisher or potential buyer. But is this really an okay thing to do? I would hope that Christian stories, which fundamentally deal with people who have real problems and concerns, cultivate worlds conducive to our own. Our world can tend to be a dirty and rotten place. So why are we making characters that don't mirror the conceptual environments that they supposedly emerge from?

One tip that I have found helpful, at least, for creating an original character I will share before we exeunt is a rule that I recently developed for the final draft of my book. If you take the voice of a celebrity, or film actor, and imagine your character speaking in that particular voice, it helps to distinguish the personalities of the characters operating in the scene. This is not the same as writing "fan-fiction" at all, because the emphasis here is not copying what the celebrity does, or what they are. Here we are taking a distinct voice and supplying that voice with words. The voice of a gruff and disturbed fellow would not be conducive to a comely woman, etc.

In the next week I want you all to consider taking up an assignment. Write two character outlines and pick a hobby that you do not relate to whatsoever. Integrate these characters into their respective hobbies and have their motivations and desires align with their pursuits. This will train you to get outside yourself, and let your character act autonomously. Also, you might learn something interesting. Go for it!


Friday, December 27, 2013

Swag, And Then Some

It's odd closing down a year and coming in to a new one. I always feel that twinge of regret, the knowledge that another year has passed. This feeling of morbidity, offset by the bountiful harvests of swag and transient distractions from the cold gripping hand of death, can be a confusing one. Actually, this year I got my hands on Neil Gaiman's new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Very excited!

Anyways, As far as updates go, there are none. My novel is currently being slaved over by my wife, who steadfastly soldiers onward. This edit is meant to cull the few remaining inconsistencies from my book. My projections are hopeful that once this step has been taken, there will no longer be any glaring faults associated with the project. This is for the best. Also, I've recently purchased the first of several books that I will need for research concerning my Sandman books that I am writing for Sequart Research and Literacy Organization. I'm starting my work on the parts that deal with Christianity first. Do what one knows best, hmm? Afterwards, I've gotten some textbooks dealing with animism and orientalism that I need to go through.

So I guess there are a lot of things that are new...

One more thing! Archaia has received my application to their internship program. The actual thought of me going up to Los Angeles to do an internship wouldn't sound nearly as cliche if the prospects of me doing so weren't so threatening. One must quit jobs, couch surf at friend's houses, reapply to old jobs if prospects are emptier than hoped, etc. Anyways, your thoughts and prayers are welcomed, nay, encouraged!

My artist continues to procrastinate ala "being with family" on the cover illustration for my upcoming book. When he gives me the proofs, goddamn me if I won't share them around for the whole world to see, including you, reader.

Life goes on and the battle rages, but aren't you glad you aren't me? Kidding. Just stay tuned. Things are a'foot!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Philosophy of Writing: Why Do We Write?

Were I to ask you the question, "why do we write?" what do you think you would say?

This is, I admit, a rather broad question. There are, conceivably, tens of thousands of proper answers. I contend that the reason why we write is to tell a story. You'll find that this reason, above all others, touches on our basic yearnings and needs as people.

A story is the most fundamental, self-contained unit of text. It has a beginning, middle, and end, a hero and an obstacle. After overcoming the obstacle the story finds resolution. Any of these tales can be of any length, from a sentence to several thousand pages. It is through these narrative units that we tell stories.

A "story" philosophically conveys a deeper truth when told. This is because, at the heart of every story, is a worldview (a fundamental belief about the world, or about how we see the world).  Stories are told to change people's minds. The story of Jack and the Bean Stalk, is about a boy who, out of desperation, steals from and kills a giant to survive and fed his mother. Fundamentally the story advocates the principal of "might makes right," and becomes a tale about a child exploiting the stupidity of another for gain. It also can be about the fight for survival that many experienced during England's medieval history, in which the peasantry went to great lengths to keep their land and liberty, even to the point of revolt. So when this story is told, we are being fed an idealized situation and confrontation that reflects a fundamental truth about the world. Another example of this is the Judeo-Christian YHWH, and his pursuit of mankind through history. His story of redeeming mankind reveals the fundamental truth of our need to be saved, simply because the story emphasizes our poor states and suggests that YHWH must do something about it.

So, after all of this, we must introspectively ask ourselves, "Why do we tell our stories?" Is there a purpose or reason behind what we write? That is what we need to know. Without such knowledge we are depriving ourselves of the incredible worth of telling our stories with intention. This is different than being "preachy," mind you. Being preachy is underhandedly inserting our own beliefs into a story as a means to influence others to our side. Telling stories with intention involves laying out principals initially for your characters to run with and follow throughout the narrative. A character can be a "struggling christian" without being a complete asshole, or stereotype. Likewise, a character can be an outspoken atheist without being haughty, prideful, and incendiary. Establish what your characters believe. Attempt to understand why, and discover the significance of that.

So then, the message of today, where we start, is to tell our stories intentionally, understanding that behind every story is a greater narrative being told implicitly. Chew on that a bit, and I will continue next week.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Bonuses and Project Updates

Is it Friday already?

This is the first year since I've been out of college that I've not had to set foot in a mall unwillingly. My predilection to enjoy this juletid derives solely from my inclinations towards Christianity, everything else can be wrapped up into a festive ball of refuse and burned. Relationships are strained, as family relatives paw at you like peckish wolves. The world goes mad briefly, championing willful statements like "the reason of the season" to justify acts of horror and injustice. Sadly, their crusades yield only emptiness and cheap victories.  

I recently got a holiday bonus, or as I refer to it, "revolt insurance," from my day-job employer. The holiday bonus reflects a wonderful time of year when employers give their shiftless employees a little extra pocket change. I imagine the gesture is apart of some larger scheme, one bent on satiating the secret societies and G-Men that watch over us from their secret televisions. It must be to their amusement then as they watch employees open their prizes to find that Uncle Sam has taxed the living shit out of it. Result: my $500 bonus is reduced to $280 in one fell swoop. Treason! Madness! Villainy! Perhaps it is pure irony then that I am a socialist. Honest to goodness, I wouldn't mind such egregious taxation, were the government actually to give me something valuable in return. Do we still have libraries?

The year of our lord, two-thousand and fourteen, will be my proving grounds, the Waterloo of my ambitions and fortunes. I've got so much going on. Sequart has commissioned me (with encouragement) to write a book for them. Not only that, but my long awaited novel will finally see the light of day on Amazon Kindle. Between the success of these two projects I will also be hopefully publishing the first couple of pages of my online graphic novel with my cohort Phil.

So much can go wrong can't it?

How do I keep sane, you ask? Baby steps, friends. "Rome wasn't built in a day." No, but, it was built on the misery and conquest of millions. Now, I must conquest the hearts of readers, one sentence at a time.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 19

Construct projections! It made so much sense to Laufey once he approached the guard inspecting the long dead soldier and his jaunty movements. Anke watched him as he observed the agent, looking the image over, mesmerized by it's resolution and rendering. He would never of expected the subterfuge had he not gotten close. Only now could he see how dated the technology was. Turning back to them all, he looked between them, wondering what he should do next. As his eyes scanned each of them, they fell to Geira.

"You," he pointed. "Crack this image and disable it."

"Ragna," he added, "go and find out where on the map we go in." Reaching into his pocket, he extracted the construct map and tossed the rugged vintage cylinder to his sister.

"There still might be a trap," he grumbled, crouching down and looking over the edge of the compound.

At his feet in the sand, he dug around until he found a small stone. When he found one he hurled it towards the building to see what happened. Harmlessly the rock clanged against the exterior of the building. As he did this Ragna had opened up the map, isolating the front entry way. Kaupi and Keli followed Kaun onto the sandy dunes, crawling on their hands and feet covertly. So routine, so mundane, Laufey thought. It had been too easy.

"This doesn't feel right," he murmured, keeping his eyes on the triplets as they edged closer.

"Very observant," Geira said, and she busily worked on her virtual construct station. "I thought the same thing before we got into this whole mess."

Laufey could not help but express his disdain.

"Why would some creature kidnap Amma," Laufey speculated, "when all of this was just simple tricks?"

"Maybe daemons are as stupid as we are," Geira murmured under her breath. Laufey sighed in exasperation and looked back at the triplets once more.

A small brown rabbit hopped along them, hidden on the other side of the dune. The children didn't seem to notice, only Laufey. He squinted, trying to follow the creature, hoping to see where it went. As it veered off to the left, towards the compound he stood up and held his breath. Kaupi let out a loud cry of laughter, causing the rabbit to dart towards the facility, when a large beam of energy exploded from the door. The boys shrieked, rolling away from the building, and when the dust settled there was no more rabbit, nothing at all.

Ragna and Geira froze, huddled around Anke, who all the while was looking over Geira's shoulder until the blast errupted. Laufey grew tense, anxious.

"Alright, Geira. Let's see what you have, shall we?" Laufey said, whispering. Geira blinked then, as if coming back to reality, began to frown. She expanded her construct window once more and looked over the edge of the projection, pressing a final key. The projection faded, the charade was over.

"So," Anke began, quaking with anger, "you got me to come along on this crusade... I'm not one to hold a grudge or think less of you either."

He paused, glancing a moment at Laufey.

"So why is there a battle bot, at the front?"

Laufey craned his neck, to observe the machine. It was an old one, still watchful and on guard after centuries. All the projections now vanished, Laufey could see that their prize laid on the other side of the main blast doors at the front of the desecrated compound. The silver exterior had faded to an orange hue. The scent of oxidation became all the more apparent.

"So there's a battle bot," Laufey replied. What of it?"

"Well, Sigmundur's boys were nearly killed." Anke retorted harshly, his voice a shrill whisper. "What do we do now?"

Laufey had anticipated this, though what was to come he dreaded. Glancing at Ragna, he pulled out his construct wand and cycled it on.

"What we talked about," he began in a slow calm voice. "Are you ready?"

Ragna bit her lip, her attention returning to the battle bot, which shuffled stiffly on it's iron haunches. Grabbing her own construct wand, a large sword and shield materialized around her.

"Yup, let's get this over with."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Building Characters: Where we have gone, Where we can Go!

I thought it prudent to have today be a bit of a recap on our work in creating characters. It's been great so far (I think), and we've covered a lot of ground. What I do today is actually something not all too uncommon in the book writing business. Reconciling your material, streamlining it, and restructuring it is a necessity. I've been writing this series since the tail end of October. Let's see what we have!

  • Character Foundations: The Silhouette - Every character needs to be distinguishable in an iconic kind of way. This first step begins with constructing a silhouette for your character that will be immediately recognizable.   
  • Character Foundations: Descriptions - This lesson, and the following one, deal specifically with the two approaches I take on describing characters when writing books:  "Show Me" and "Tell Me"
  • Recap! Let's Make a Character! - Four weeks ago I fabricated a character taking our previous lessons and put them to use. The result was Reinaldo, a royal printer from a period setting. 
  • Crafting an Accent Comprehensively - People go overboard sometimes when they make up accents for their characters to have. Here I lay out some principals that can help alleviate the urge to make your character speak unrealistically. 

Take this week to review where we have gone. Next week I will move on from Character Development to a new series on the Philosophy of Writing. I hope to see you there!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit - A Lighthearted Review

So I, among the throngs of prepubescent tweens and star trek nerds, assailed the local cinemas to glimpse at the first images of The Hobbit last night. This is why I am late posting, and I am not sorry.

Well, maybe...

Anyways, the film seems to have tapped into a deeper reality of most Hollywood adventure pictures to date. Rather than be confronted with deep philosophical truths, more often than not, our experience at the theaters is more akin to a dairy farm. We are the cows eating our rich nutrient paste from the troughs, wondering all the while if we are partaking in the flesh of out fallen brethren. We are what we eat, but only when we begin to feed on our own bodies do we realize that we have approached a deeper madness.

But, this is okay.

In fact, this is better than okay. It's marvelous! Peter Jackson's films truly have, in the words of Christopher Tolkien, "eviscerated" the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, but we must be okay with this. What we have been given is a conceptual universe on the scope and scale of Star Wars. Concept fantasy versus philosophically driven fantasy is always easier to digest. That is the way of the age, and because Peter Jackson successfully achieves this in all his film none complain. Even the diehards, the drones that sup from the hairy New Zealand teat of Mr. Jackson, are so reprehensibly, philosophically illiterate that they fail to understand what is before them beyond them beyond bastardized folk myths of the Viking Age.

The Hobbit was a well intentioned film, born of love and admiration for the source content. It's a shame that none see past the flashy bits to understand what it really means. Unfortunately, in order to do that, we must be Oxford doctoral candidates.

Go see it, I say. You'll get exactly what you are looking for, no more no less.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 18

Following the construct map proved neither difficult nor taxing, and in the journey there, Laufey perceived that those who were otherwise obstinate, unwilling to aid him before, were now more generous in doing so, Geira especially. The shadow man, whatever creature he was, or was not, followed them day by day to observe them. Laufey discovered him one morning walking away into the tree line, his head disappearing just as Laufey turned his head towards it after emerging from his tent.

The compound, as it appeared on his map, still stood in Gaun. The building's exterior, though neglected, was intact and as he suspected it to be. Kaun and his brothers, their scouts, were the first to find it, not that finding it was difficult of course. The structure stood on the head of a great delta that flowed into the fjord. Given it's size and presence at the head of the river, he wondered to himself why the building had not attracted the attention of others.

What secrets did it hold?

After the party exited a long, cavernous pass which ran adjacent to the river, it became apparent to Laufey why this was the case. It was populated with people. He looked at the map, then up at the compound, shaking his head.

"No..." he lamented. "This is all wrong. This isn't right." Laufey removed his binoculars from his head and passed them to Geira. Scanning the compound, he heard her grunt something angrily under her breath.

"When we get back," she began in a slow, calm voice, "I am going to find the man who sold you that map, and kill him."

"Get in line," Ragna growled. "What the hell are we supposed to do now? Do people already know what is inside?"

Laufey shrugged.

"I can't answer that," he admitted. "That, right now, doesn't matter. But if Amma is going to live, we are going in there. Grab your gear."

And they did, and soon had found their way nearly to the front, along a large road that had worn away in the past years, large parts of it washed out from past rains. The compound seemed impervious to weather on the other hand, it's foundation built of reinforced masonry and it's walls made of titanium.

Each of them perched themselves up behind a bunker in the sand to peek their heads over the hill. The figures walked routinely, some stopping to chat with one another. Another took out tobacco and rolled up a cigarette, a detail that struck Laufey as odd, for tobacco was hardly common this day an age.

"There's a lot of people up there," Kaun grumbled. "How do we get in?"

"Not a question of how, but where, don't you think?" Keli added.

"Look at their guns..." Kaupi murmured, ignoring their qualms.

"That's the main door," Laufey confirmed, pointing to where three guards stood, pacing the airlock in suspicion. "We have to get in through there."

"And how to we manage that?" Geira said. "Each one of those guards are armed."

"I don't know," Laufey admitted, letting his head fall into his hands. "I'm still trying to figure that out. Jesus..."

"Hey Laufey," he heard behind him.

Turning around, Laufey saw Anke standing next to a soldier, his arm sticking through the man's belly as the energy around it shimmered and distorted. The guard noticed nothing, looking around causally, as if they weren't even there.

"What does this mean?"

Monday, December 9, 2013

Character Mannerisms - How Much Is Too Much?

So, if I created a character that had particular quirks or mannerisms, what would that look like? This is a huge problem when writing anything because the common thing to do is go overboard and do too much mannerism!

In my upcoming book, I had this character on the fringe. He's meant to be an oddball, not really because he's stupid or slow, but because he has lived on his own in seclusion for quite a long time. Experiences like that change people, make them weird, etc. Characters that express odd behaviors should derive these habits for logical reasons.

So mannerisms should start here: beginning with a habitual circumstance or behavior that sheds light on the character.

All mannerisms must express a facet of the character's personality. Captain Jack Sparrow's slow, lackadaisical movements are supposed to typify a drunk pirate, which is the stereotype we are all familiar with. If your character works at a desk, let him fumble with paperclips or lick the tip of his pen. This characterization can be taken further if you like. Mannerisms can also shed light on the internal motivation and drive that the character possesses. The inherent organization of a character's desk highlights his/her fastidiousness. A general who looks at a pocket watch in the heat of battle emphasizes his callousness in the face of inhumane carnage. You get the idea.

Something to consider in all this brings us back to our original problem: how much is too much? One of the distinguishing characteristics between a mature and an immature writer are the presence of tired out mechanisms in the writing, and mannerisms are the chief offender. My rule of thumb is to only have an instance of mannerisms at the beginning of a "beat" or new period of narrative action. If a character is the kind of person to have a short temper, make them swear when opening up a difficult pack of cigarets. Or, if your character is prone to complain, have them whimper occasionally.

Ultimately, mannerisms should be used diplomatically. Make them aspects of a character, not the sum, and you will go far.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Lateral Movement

To my chagrin, I recently got a promotion at my day job. The tantalizing prospects of finally breaking the $15 per hour threshold makes me wary however. Have I traded my dreams for a better paycheck, or will I endure the bi-vocational hell of uncertainty a little while longer? It's not that I can't work. Far from it! It's just not what I'm passionate about. Inventory specialist is not a career field that builds brotherhood with the common man. Rather, I feel it will transform me, align me with darker purposes, until I am like Sméagol turned Gollum, a ghastly wraith in a cave, descending from the shadows to haunt some poor soul that placed a pallet where it ought not be.

You see, the "day job" is a place where we go to die, where we drink the Lethe waters of forgetfulness and pass on into relative obscurity. We should not be proud of it, but abhor it. Seriously! People would graduate from college and just get a job and work for 40 years, then retire. That's not for me. I want to do what I am built to do, and that's tell stories.

These passions are what we battle on a regular basis. It doesn't matter what career we choose. Everyone has that thing they really want to do. "Do it," I say.

The time is coming for me to buy my research materials for my upcoming Sequart book. It's rather surreal to me, to do this now, of all things. I've never written non-fiction. This will be one hell of a starting point, but I'm confident. Thus far my word count on Sequart is in the high 70,000s and rising, that's a 150 page book, and I've been only writing a year for Sequart. I plan to do that, but in 6 months. Let's get to it!

I can do this, right?


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 17

Before Laufey, standing beside saplings still as ice, a dark apparition appeared. That it was a man Laufey could not tell. The creature had the shape of a man, but was severely disfigured, one arm smaller than the other, legs stunted, and head crushed. It swayed in the wind, lonesomely, taking great care to stay in the shadow, but they all saw it's eyes. Each glowed in the darkness, a cool white hot blue.

"What are you? Why are you here," Laufey said, drawing his knife and brandishing it towards the creature.

The old man, breathed deeply, it's lung vibrating richly.

"Mmm, not what," he said, bobbing it's head. "Not what, but who. I mean you harm if you are to harm me young children."

Stepping into the light, Laufey got a clear look at him. He was covered in moss and fur, like a troll from his father's stories.

"What is your business here on my mountain?" His eyes scanned them all, slowly. the girls stepped back, gripping one another tightly, while Anke, and the triplets joining Laufey from behind.

"What did you do to our friend? Where is she?" Laufey demanded.

"She... She is fine. Young and healthy." His voice shook and quivered with such force that Laufey felt the rhythms in his chest. "You are on an adventure, to find the treasure hidden in the glacial pass."

"How did you know that," Laufey said quietly, keeping his fear muzzled."

At this the creature's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise.

"You, your companions... They are very loud. It was bothersome, and informative."

"Give her back!" Geira screamed, lurching forwards in Ragna's arms. "I'll kill you, you whore's whelp!"

The old mannish creature, loosened it's jaws and cracked its neck.

"I won't," it said flatly. "Of this I am certain. The little lamb has too much meat on her." Hearing this, Geira began to shout but was stifled by Ragna.

"We couldn't change your mind then?" Ragna said, her eyes darting between herself and Laufey.

The treasure was a bartering chip, Laufey thought. Ragna was pleading with him for it.

The creature was less perceptive. Slowly it mused and combed through its massive beard with it's fingers.

"Mmm... I require things that you cannot provide, but in the valley of the great ice is a fortune... We mutually seek it, you see. Bring it here... Bring it in two weeks. And she will yet live."

Clenching his fists, Laufey felt helpless, but it was clear to him, his options were strained. Lowering his knife, Laufey looked the creature in then eye and nodded.

"I don't think we have much of a choice." Laufey grumbled.

"No... No, no... Good. Bring what I need. I will find you here."

Then, with a shimmering light blooming around it, the creature vanished. Leaving Laufey standing idly, in shock, filled with indecision.

"What shall I do?" He thought, and looked to the branch that had melted in his hand.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crafting an Accent Comprehensively

So as our series continues lets recognize where it's all going, that is, the creation of a character. We started off building a character that focused primarily on the writing craft. Writing is an art form foremost, so it needs to be emphasized that to some degree the writer must posses an ability to actually write, weave sentences together, and successfully create a word picture for the reader.

We now continue on to the language end of things, beginning first with accents. Accents are important to a character's presentation, not development . This is important to understand. An accent makes the statement that the character is different is some way. It doesn't reflect where the character has gone in life, most of the time.

When considering a good accent the first step begins at deciding what the accent with state about the character. Should a character be poor? Rich? The accent with decide this. More abstractly, a character's speaking style can reflect their humility, fears, or pride. At this point the skill of the writer's control of language is of primary importance for executing this.

Accents above all must be consistent; they should reflect the character's personality evenly throughout the narrative. The best way to insure that your character always misses his 'H's is to set up a chart or graph of all your characters so that you can keep track of which character speaks which dialect. Another way is studying the regional  dialects of whatever place your character comes from. If the story takes place in a fantasy universe, then much care must be taken when developing accents to insure that the accents reflect socio-economic disparity or class conflicts. Otherwise, if these aren't taken into account, your universe will lack the diversity it otherwise could of had.

Remember: immersion is key. Without it, your universe will be stale!

I want ti elaborate in these points next week with an exercise on dialogue. Stay tuned for more!