they’re just that good

Last week, I rented one of my favorite movies, “V For Vendetta”, as my boyfriend had not seen it and was sure to like the intellectual anarchy. Well, it’s two days late now, and I’ve found myself rewatching it a few times as I work on my book. It’s a good strategy– watch part of a movie, go back to the story, flip again. Especially an intelligent film that keeps your mind working.

I’ve noticed something that the movie does, though, that never occurred to me before I started watching it back to back.

The writing almost never includes setup, or how anything was accomplished.

For instance, in the very beginning of the story, V is introduced as a hero, madman, and genius. And strangely, this is all done in stylized dialog.

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.

“The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

“Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”

I could probably spend a good couple of posts going over the stylization, alliteration, and concept of strong, over pronounced dialog as a form of characterization. Let’s skip all that for now, and move on now that anyone who hasn’t seen the movie has an idea of V.

V proceeds from there to lead Evie to a rooftop, where he speaks with her for a moment before Big Ben chimes midnight, then pretends to conduct an orchestra. The police-state broadcast system starts playing classical music, the building beside where V stands is destroyed with explosives, and fireworks are set off, the biggest and last being red ones that form a ‘V’ with a circle about it at the end of the show.

So… to do this, this character is assumed to have hacked into a high-security government system, sneaked into a building, rigged the entire thing with explosives that would destroy that structure and only that structure, added a fireworks show, and set everything to go off in sync to a timer set just after midnight. Later, we find out that V is badly burned, and the mask isn’t just for decoration.

And the audience just accepts that he can do this. V is brilliant. We’re convinced. He’s just that good. Excellent characterization and genius in details and small things can override logistics and improbability. When weighed against other factors, it turns out that the logistics just aren’t important.

Inversely if V were written by anyone else…? I doubt it would have worked at all.

In fact, imagine that we had a weak character and a full description of exactly how said person managed to do A, B, and C. I think it would fall flat, even as a perfectly plausible chain of events. Mystery versus description, the mystery has a much stronger case than one would think.

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.
Continue reading

showcase of villainy, part iii

Villain Month

Here’s the weekly showcase for the third week in June. We’ve got one more week before the end of Villain Month!

I worked on my bully, Redaechyl, and wrote about what I think makes a good villain.


Saint Know-All started on her second villain: Darren Hare.


Aldersgatecycle has been working on Sir Sylvan DeLoire.


Nymeria spent this week focusing on Dawnelle Nymeron.


Ashley made a post on her villain’s setting.


That’s it for this week! I’ll post the final character showcase on July 1st!

villain month: participants!

Eliza Wyatt presents Villain Month!

Welcome to Villain Month!

For the next thirty days, participants will be building up villains in whatever manner they see fit! Egors, overlords, serial killers, smothering mothers, mad scientists, gladiators, thugs, temptresses, poisoners, ambitious politicians, assassins, manipulative children, bullies; pick anything that appeals, and develop a villain!

The current participants:

Eliza Wyatt
Saint Know-All
MJ Cohen
Agarithia
Karma Girl
Seanchaí
Aolo
Sam
Poirotskull
Nilah
Aldersgatecycle
Dory
Shadow-of-ice
Nymeria
Evildex
Rachel Russell
Ashley
Amber
Olivia
Asustadizo
Bbirdmank

know your enemy (antagonists)

There comes a time when a writer has to stop their story, turn and look at their villain, and admit that they’re phoning it in on the antagonists’ performances. I simply have not given any of my (multiple) villains the treatment that I’ve given my two main heroes. I don’t know what they’re doing while I’m focusing on my heroes. I don’t know their subplots. I don’t know what problems they’ve been going through behind the scenes.

So far I have four villains to counter my two heroes: A king, a lord, a winged bully, and a high-ranking slave. I’ve managed so far, but I just invented the last on the list (Sorche du Remerdii, the man who gave that cheeky line I mentioned here), and in a high-tension scene he feels flat.

Lesson learned: know your villains. I’ve decided that June is going to be ‘Villain Month’. Each week will be dedicated to developing and writing side-stories about one of my villains. That way I’ll be ready for my second rewrite, and I’ll be posting up character exercises, collages, and notes on development. I’ll also be exploring the extent of their power, what they can and can not do to the heroes, and why.

No flat enemies allowed.

characterization of a city

While I was building my fantasy city, it occurred to me that settings need as much, if not more, characterization as characters. Think about it. Outward appearance? Of course. Strengths and weaknesses? So to speak, though it might differ a little from how we think of character traits. History? Far more than any singular character I’ve ever made. Cities live longer, and its history is a fuzzy mirror of the people who have lived there.

As long as people are going to fill out those long character sheets for people, they might want to start doing the same for the places their books cover.

by implication (the use of subtlety in prose)

The first post of a series, studying the writing techniques that I’m lacking.

Someday I’ll write about the similarities between the different forms of art. This is not that day, but I’d like to point out something. The premise of animation is that when a person is shown similar drawings quickly in sequence, their mind will connect the events and perceive movement. One could write a trip in the car from one place to another, and follow it by having the character get out of their vehicle, go to the door, let him/herself in, have a snack, watch the tv. Or you could cut from the car to the tv, and discover that by implication nothing is lost.

Possibly the best writer I know of to use subtlety is Patrick O’Brian, author of ‘Master and Commander’ and its sequels (also known as the Aubrey-Maturin novels). This is also one of the reasons I highly encourage people to read other genres– O’Brian wrote in historical fiction, and is one of the masters I greatly admire. His books are written in a very old-fashioned style that makes for heavy reading, but they’re rich in description, believability, characterization, world-building, and subtlety.

I first noticed this subtlety on entering and exiting doors. A character within a room will be speaking. Instead of narrating that they were interrupted by a knock on the door, the character will give permission to enter mid-paragraph, and finish his thought. By the end of the (almost poetic) speech, someone new will be in the room, ready to change the subject or inform the POV characters of something. In the same vein, the characters once were having a discussion while preparing to practice (one plays a violin, the other a cello), and in the middle of the cello player’s speech he says something along the lines of, ‘when you have finished with my rosin- my rosin, I say-‘ and I can just picture the other holding the rosin between his thick, square fingers, running it along his tightened bow and nodding to his prickly friend. Or there’s a dinner where a character will announce, ‘the wine stands before you’ to a dining companion, and the next thing you know, he’s refilling his own glass.

Of course, O’Brian has his own drawbacks. Sometimes it’s daunting to start his books, because in order to fully enjoy them, one needs a dictionary on one side and an atlas on the other. Some things he explains about the ships by informing the doctor, who can’t retain anything about sailing, and some things just aren’t mentioned. ‘Firing grape’, for instance, by which it is assumed that the reader knows about grape shot, or they are intellectual enough to go look it up. The target audience consists of educated, bright people, and he doesn’t lower standards.

This is coupled with a strong recommendation. Go read the Aubrey-Maturin series.

If O’Brian is the master of subtlety in logistics and world-building, I think that my next favorite is the infamous George R. R. Martin, not in setting or action, but in his characterization. Martin’s characters are incredible in their diversity and their depth, and I think that his secret is the depth in which he develops them, then proceeds to reveal only pieces relevant to the story at the time. We can see that there’s more that he’s not telling us, we can tell through the multiple narratives that things don’t quite line up with what we know, and the difference is intriguing.

Any other tricks that I’ve missed? Authors strong in this trait that I should read?

flaws

Everyone talks a lot about how characters need to have flaws to make them interesting. I haven’t made ‘lists of weaknesses’ in some time, but there’s a contest on the Mental Floss website that would be great inspiration for developing some terrible weaknesses, compulsions, and disgusting habits.

Link