writing names and groups

It’s been a heck of a week! Trying to get the hang of teaching has drained me pretty dry for the last two weeks. I’m glad to report that we’re now working with code (which to me is easier to teach than history), my students look to be a fun group, with the exception of one or two of the guys who seem to be far too ‘cool’ to be taught by a hyper nerd-ette.

Which means that after two weeks of delays, it’s back to my novel, and back to thoughts on writing craft.

I remember watching old bugs bunny cartoons, and knowing what’s going to happen next, because one plank of a fence board will be a slightly different color than the others. It always annoyed me, letting one prop stand out from the others. Lately, I’ve been having the same problem in writing.

If you have a group of characters show up, how do you handle them? Do you go through the entire process of developing them? Do you name one or two, and leave the rest as blank faces? Leave them all blank, and hope that they’re still important?

Option 1– develop them all. It’s realistic. It brings a lot of focus on the parts of the new force, maybe even too much, detracting from the main characters and whatever else would be going on. Name them, and the reader will feel obligated to remember their names. Another advantage is that if one is utterly unimportant and another will make a huge difference later on, the device isn’t just inobvious– it doesn’t exist at all. I think this can be a good choice if introduced early into the book, or if they’re a constant presence.

Option 2– name the important ones. … I feel awkward about this method. It always seems painfully obvious who the returning characters are. Like the joke from Order of the Stick, “They won’t survive! They don’t even have names!” (link). It’s less weird if the main character has a reason to note one out of the group, say they’re looking at a girl he likes, or if something they do stands out. But that’s interaction as an individual, not as a part of the group.

Option 3– name no one. Make them all faceless. Last summer, I attended a fantasy-sci-fi conference in Spokane. One of the panels I attended included Timothy Zahn, of Star Wars fame, discussing villains in stories, and we made a comment that a lack of familiarity with the villain, not understanding who he is or his motivation makes said character less of a villain and more of a force of nature. Of course, this might be easier when you’re working with stormtroopers.

These are the techniques that come immediately to mind… but here’s what I want.

I want an immediate impression of a group as a whole. I want to be aware of the characters in a vague light, as tertiary characters ought to be seen, but ready to pop out, without being obvious which one will be used for plot, yet supported and foreshadowed.

Any thoughts on this?

third draft theories

First, it’s probably safe to say that I’m feeling better. Thanks for the get-well comments, guys!

I’ve been going through my plot recently, as part of my scheduled plot-scrub (which is turning out to in fact be a beastly, terrible creature that seems determined to pin me down and chop me up– fie to whoever decided to hand that thing a chainsaw). After some study, I’m adding in another plotline, because I noticed that one of my protagonists seems to be lounging around when other characters aren’t looking. Add in another plotline, carefully consider the implications and how this will change the story… typical revision stuff.

But it also had me thinking about the structure of chapters, and how individual pieces (because chapters are pretty good examples of broken-up chunks of story) contribute to the overarching plot. While I’ve been re-planning chapters, inserting new ones, thrashing others, I’ve also been wondering what the best way to structure each chapter might be.

Simplistic as the idea is, what is a chapter, and what should it accomplish?

I don’t have the answer for that, of course. I’m not sure that there is one. But I do have some ideas, theories, some possibly even worth discussing.

A chapter should be enticing. The audience should want more. This is a cardinal rule of writing: make things that other people want to read. This point is entirely subjective; possibly the reasons we group books by genre. Fantasy, science fiction, and westerns are premises and settings, if you think about it. Romance, action, drama, suspense, and horror are plot and theme elements. This is why you can have a fantasy-action story, a scifi romance, a western horror, and other fun combinations (keeping in mind that setting seems to supersede tone in bookstores). While the genre lines don’t make complete sense in the matter of content, it’s really all reader expectation, desires to be filled. I don’t really like genre categories, but I think it’s important to realize what they really are: pre-defined tastes, not too unlike calling something sweet, salty, or chewy. Unfortunately, this ‘season to taste’ rule doesn’t help with the composition of a chapter.

As an aside, my personal solution to the problem of interest is: Think of book ending that would make you (the author) bounce up and down with manic glee. Go write. Try to get there.

What else should a chapter be? Why do we use chapters? Why not some other paragraph breaks, also used in fiction to end scenes, ect? Adult novels don’t seem to include a ‘table of contents’ anymore. Some chapters are titled, some are numbered. Some are neither. Some people write long chapters, others end them after only a few pages. Some use length to determine their chapters, others are fond of POV shifts and scene changes, while some use significant plot events.

I have a theory right now that when chapters are long and based on plot events, elements of short story form might be a very good way to construct them. You have your basic elements of plot: set up, rising tension, crisis, and resolution. While this works for a story, this could also be applied to the individual elements of the conflict in their own right, and if a chapter is being based around chunks of conflict, it might be a smart way to structure a chapter, daisy-chaining conflicts and resolutions with each other from chapter to chapter, introducing new problems after the minor climaxes.

Note: there is a difference between ‘resolution’ and ‘problems go away’. I once read a book where a chapter ended with a character learning a terrible secret, then getting pushed down several stories, maiming himself if he did manage to survive. Building tension, conflict, and resolution– just not a happy one.

That style, of course, would create something of a rhythmic motion to it, a lapping of waves on a beach, so to speak. It could be good, or it might not work. But it would almost certainly focus the chapter on at least one big problem, which immediately inserts tension into a story.

Any other thoughts on the use of a chapter? I’m particularly interested in thoughts on structure right now.

lie to me

The other day, I was reading a few chapters of a story for my new crit partner (which is going very well so far, I’m happy to report), when I noticed that some her characters’ thoughts contradicted some of the events in the story. Stating theory like fact, coloring the readers’ view with their own perspective, making decisions about the other characters based on chance, situation, and emotion.

… I love it when authors do that.

The unreliable narrator has always interested me. It’s an immediate insight into the character’s head, creating at least two different stories into the prose: what they say is happening, and what I as a reader can see between the lines. Playing with perspective, can have some great effects on prose and help add an immediate level of depth to a story.

background to plot

I’ve re-entered into a plotting stage with my novel. I do this between every draft– write, plot, write, plot. It’s a good way to correct problems with form in your story.

For an example, two of the things I’m dissatisfied in the second draft were the intrigue (far too few characters, relatively little court conflicts), and the state of the rebellious commoners, which is mentioned but never plays a tangible role until the end.

Now, either of these two things could be described. I can paint in the features– a few rumors, some sub-plots, some sparkly court background. I can mention grumbling, unhappy common people and the high price of food. I can even hint at narrowly escaped danger.

Yet neither of these elements will truly become part of the story unless they have not just an effect on the plot, but a plot in and of themselves. More specifically, both must hurt my hero and heroine in a real and tangible way. Their interference must change my main characters’ mind about how they handle things, and cost them something important. Elements mean change in a story. It is vital to its structure.

dacha, the literary funeral

As previously mentioned, I killed a character and abruptly had trouble writing again. I kill a lot of characters. The path my literary endeavors have taken me on has been littered with bodies of fictional friends and enemies. I don’t usually have this problem writing, and I’m not sure why it’s bothering me now.

So to commemorate Dacha, and perhaps to gain some ‘closure’ (I don’t really believe in the concept myself, but what’s the harm?), I thought I would write her a eulogy.

Dacha was a remarkable woman, impressive in girth and skill. She may not have had the qualifications to present a heroic figure, but she fared well as a secondary character. She made my hero uncomfortable for her own amusement, worked with my heroine to protect and help her, and littered my book with pieces of colorful, if course, dialog.

Such phrases included:

“… You know, that’s almost scarier than me naked.”

“Weapon? Oh, honey, I don’t need a weapon. All I have to do is sit on you and fart. You won’t be getting up again, I promise.”

“Aha! Dickless, spineless, and brainless! … He must think with his stomach.”

“Sure I’m a lady! I’ve got the teats to prove it and everything!”

Rest in peace, Dacha. You died victorious, and were avenged swiftly. And your loss made my test readers cry aloud: a dozen outraged, horrified gasps of, “No, not Dacha!” disturbed the air of the library reading room that night.

Until the third draft, my friend.

showcase of villainy, part iv

Villain Month

As promised, here is the last showcase of the month-long villain series.

This ended up being more difficult than I thought it would be. Just spending time thinking about the antagonists was useful, and it was fantastic seeing other people join in. Thanks to everyone participating!

I spent the week focusing on my last villain of the four I meant to go over, Sorche du Remerdii. I also wrote a closing message and introduced a bonus villain-type, the king’s secret police, nicknamed after the silver masks that they wear.


Saint Know-All finished a few more drawings, and bid farewell to the month.


Nilah wrote a short article about human predators, in regards to the villain month project.


Aldersgatecycle focused on her last villain, Sally Din.


Nymeria wrote about Orion Novak, Dahlia Laras, and posted a gallery of her villain portraits.


And, last, even though she wasn’t actually participating, Worderella was kind enough to write up a few posts on villains on her blog as a kind of villain-month-tribute.


Closing links:

A list of participants
Showcase of villainy, part i
Showcase of villainy, part ii
Showcase of villainy, part iii

Thoughts? Comments? Shall we do this again someday? 🙂

A ‘hero month’ idea has already been put out, and I wouldn’t mind spending some time dedicated to world building as a future project…

villain month: in closing…

Blue Crystal Today is the last day of June… and an end to the ‘Villain Month’ project.

It’s been great being able to see everyone’s project– the last villain month showcase will probably be up tomorrow, with big thanks to everyone who participated! I really needed to go through this project, and I think the extra effort will show in my writing.

Since today is our last project day, I thought I’d post about one last antagonist of a slightly different flavor. Purposefully underdeveloped; these characters show up very rarely and don’t reveal much of themselves when they do.

The Silver Mask

The king’s secret police all have silver masks. The pieces are all handcrafted, intricate, completely unique. Some have the sculpted faces of angels, some are monsters or dead men, some are dragons or tigers, deep sea fish, insect-like beasts. The shape doesn’t matter. They’re all silver masks, and they all mean the same thing.

You will not know who they are. You will not know if someone in the room might be one. They put on their masks in private, and only when they have work to do in the name of their station.

Every time a mask appears in the book, someone dies.

villain: sorche du remerdii: ten wants

Recently, I started speaking with the gracious Joelle Anthony. Joelle is a published author who was kind enough to help me re-work my query letter.

The first thing she had me do was to write down ten things that my heroine wanted. And I thought, ‘This should be easy. I’ve been writing this character for eight or nine years now– I know Wyrren like the back of my hand.’

It took me two days to come up with a list that satisfied me enough to send back. Two days, and it was actually quite challenging. So since that was such a headache, I’ve decided, ‘let’s do it some more!’.

Sorche du Remerdii
Ten things he wants.
(Took twenty hours to finish).

  1. Luxury. His idea of luxury, the mental image it conjures, involves crystal plates, wine, music, dim light, and a large bed with entangled limbs on each side: five beautiful girls to share it with him, all with glossy hair and soft lips.
  2. Respect. Sorche doesn’t care about power, not nearly so much as his brother Kione, but he hates to be left out or seen as second-rate.
  3. His own small domain. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what he’s put in charge of. He has to work (he would grow miserable without work, and knows it). One of Sorche’s hobbies is to polish tarnished silver. Likewise, he wants to have something of his own to administer and make shine.
  4. The title ‘bastard’ Mordache changed. Mordache with skin other than the standard icy-pale have human blood and are known as Mordache bastards, despite their legitimacy. This has always irritated him, as a gentleman’s adopted son (and as a bastard Mordache).
  5. To win a strategy game against Kione. He’s tried. It hasn’t happened (yet).
  6. His previous lover’s forgiveness. Some of the things she accused him of were true, some weren’t, but he still misses her.
  7. To learn carving. The Mordache’s main form of art is sculpture, and he’s always wanted to learn how to make it himself, even if it’s just another hobby.
  8. His brother’s well-being. Sorche is convinced that Kione has no idea how to relax and have fun.
  9. A moment of glory. Sorche would love to impress his father, to be able to have a very good reason to say, ‘aren’t you glad you took me in?’.
  10. An interesting life. Perhaps not always a good or a happy life, but he would very much like his to be an eventful one.

villainous links, and a fun text tool

Browsing the internet yesterday and today, I’ve found a few fun links that I thought to share.

But Seriously, Villainy, taken from Steve Malley’s blog. A pictoral list of villains, most in the style of despair.com, and a hilarious read.

Developing Villainous Characters, part 1, on Belinda’s blog (Worderella Writes). Only half of my villains fit in with the beginning stereotype on the links listed, but still link-worthy.

And then, I found wordle.net. Enter in a bunch of text, and it makes a pretty spiffy looking word cloud based on the most common words (excepting and, the, was, and the like). So far, I know for a fact that it can take at least 65 thousand words.

Here’s the word cloud for ‘Blue Crystal’:

🙂 Highly fun to play with.

villain: sorche du remerdii: introduction

Sorche du Remerdii
“Common sense really isn’t that common.”

Sorche du Remerdii

(Ideally read to the tune of Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult.)

Sorche is my favorite villain in this story– I’ve touched on him before in my Kione excerpt, and have been working on him in the background since June began and I figured out what a smart-ass he was.

“Apologies, du Jadis.” One of the men in black bowed slightly. Rylan decided (for now) that he was the leader, and noted his unusually dark skin showing between his cap and scarf. “This is a rescue, despite appearances. We’d appreciate it if you would move quickly. We’re not to hurt anyone.”

Another man appeared with bandages while a third pulled out Rylan’s coat that he’d left in the other room, along with his hat, muffler, gloves, but not his swords. Rylan allowed them access to his wounded arm, and they bandaged it (sloppily– Rylan thought he could have done better, even with one hand). “Who do you serve?” Rylan asked.

“Now?” The leader glanced back to the men who were keeping the doors. No one had intruded on them yet. “Very well. On behalf of my lord, Rylan du Jadis, I commend you for your bravery, congratulate you for your victory, and condemn you for your idiocy.” He offered Rylan an exaggerated bow, and pulled back his left sleeve to show a golden bracer, celestite set into the ring on his middle finger instead of a sigil. “You can call me Sorche du Remerdii.”

Sorche is the adopted son of Remerdii, a landed gentleman who has managed to achieve great wealth, and foster brother to Kione Remerdii. Sorche was taken as a small child and given the name of the Remerdii’s dead son and brother. Sorche has always been considered a gentleman as long as he could remember, given good rooms and private tutors, encouraged to compete with his brother Kione. He’s better than Kione at the Mordache Art, fighting and other physical activities, but falls short at tact and diplomacy. Sorche just can’t help but take jabs when he sees the opportunity.

I’ve put another Sorche excerpt, longer this time, under the cut.
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