winning by losing (row80)

Just a quick update on my novel, and ROW80.

My goal: 250 words/day, 5 days/week.

Thus far,
Monday: 742/250
Tuesday: 389/250
Wednesday: 416/250

It’s a tiny goal, yes, but it makes what I actually do look impressive.

I’ve noticed something about one of my characters. He’s perhaps the most brilliant badass character I’ve ever written. Huge, strong, smart, skilled, good coordination, good reflexes. … And he’s never yet won a fight in this story. I’m starting to think that he’s not going to. (For those of you who’ve seen pieces of my book, yes, I’m talking about Uriel.)

And yet, in each case he comes out ahead. I’m not sure why, or how, or what it is he does to manage this. He escapes at opportune times while pulling switches, lets himself get hit where he’s protected… he even lets himself get gunned down once.

How is it that his escapes, his deflections, his clever tricks and his patient ‘play dead’ schemes earn him more– and more reader admiration– than if he simply was a fighter to match his build? Why is this more effective?

We’ve seen this before. This is the story of the clever tailor who sewed ‘seven in one blow’ on his clothes and began ridding the land of giants. It’s purely a traditional protagonist trait… but my character being something of a noble trickster-villain, it’s taking a very odd turn.

(soon to be) looking to commission artists

I’ve had a crazy idea for a bit now, to hire commissions from a bunch of different artists for some characters for a young adult steampunk adventure novel I’m writing. (Yes, it’s The Artificer’s Angels.)

Here are the details.

  • There are seven major characters in all– five men, two women. They range from the ages of fifteen-ish to mid-fifties. Here’s a quick preview of the lot.
    • The farm girl. Merrily Soarin is cheerful, upright, and has a mean left hook. She’s nineteen years old, black, and her nappy hair’s getting clumpy.
    • The engineer. Paul Soarin is serious, often uncomfortable, and desperate to prove himself to the upper circles. He’s thirty-two, Merrily’s brother, also black, head nearly shaved, thin. He also becomes a bit wild by the end of the book.
    • The hacker. Polly Owens was a promising inventor before she was kicked out of the university. Now she smokes a lot of opium, she wears shocking clothes, gears and tools sewn to her skirts (in case she ever needs one), and does mechanical under-the-table deals. Mid-twenties, brown eyes, straight brown hair, and she dresses in ways specifically designed to make her victorian-esc neighbors uncomfortable (classic steampunk).
    • The mad scientist. Maxwell Gallows is in his mid-fifties, wears lots of black, and would probably have taken over the world had he cared for anything in it. He’s stick-thin, gaunt in the face, and his black hair stands out. Usually accompanied by a black hat and a heavy cane.
    • The boy. Leo Gallows is sweet, gentle, desperately shy, and part machine, though the only real indicator of this on the outside are his glowing, artificial teal eyes. His hair is platinum blond, but it’s the style to dye hair wild colors and saturate it with gel, and his ends are blue-green and stand up in spikes. Every so often, though, he does show signs of his father’s inventor-traits running through him.
    • The intellectual thief. Abraham Gennyson has the nasty habit of stealing invention ideas that don’t belong to him. Getting near sixty– he’s not horribly fat, but he has a gut, his hair is long and brown and silver, he wears nice clothes and looks the part of the overweight Victorian business man.
    • The trickster. Uriel is also a reworked dead man, and he very much intends to keep his life and his freedom, both of which are at risk. He will kill, steal, lie, and con his way out of his bad situation– anything to get himself free. And he’s pretty good at it. Six-five (two full meters) tall, broad shouldered, strong featured, tan, with artificial red eyes and a wild red-and-black haircut. He appears to be in his late-twenties.
  • I would write a more detailed description of each character, then two or three scenes with them in it, to give a better idea of what they’re like. I’ll also write a bit about the novel.
  • The commissions would go to a variety of artists– one character per commission. I’d love to see a range of skills, styles, and takes.
  • When I have a good collection of characters by a variety of people, I’ll make a collage for each character.

That’s the preliminary details. Anyone interested, and if so, in anyone in particular? And does anyone want to point to artists seeking commissions?

the hero’s journey – the ordinary world

Lately I’ve been studying The Hero’s Journey, or, in its original form, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The simplified form of this goes through twelve ‘steps’ to define a story.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the First Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Supreme Ordeal
  9. Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the ‘Elixir’

Alright, now, I know naturally stories are much, much more complicated, and normally I’m the first on beating down formulas and writing rules and such fluff. But on the other hand… people would look pretty awful without a skeleton, and it’s certainly not what you see when you look at them. There’s also a ton of variance to the formula– steps can be rearranged, added to, deleted altogether. But probably most of all, having seen it appear naturally in my own work, I think this bears a closer study. Think of it as a way of studying story elements.

So, act one, part one. The beginning– The ordinary world.

The ordinary world, supposedly, in the starting point– the native setting before thrusting the character into something unfamiliar and alien, so as to better contrast the difference between the two. Which makes sense. If something changes in the story (and it would be pretty dull if nothing ever happened), you need to show what it changed from. The shire before Bilbo’s road East in The Hobbit. Grace’s reckless, lonely character in the movie Miss Congeniality, fighting with the microwave in her empty apartment. The Secret of Nimh’s Mrs. Brisby seeking help for her ill son.

What strikes me, though, is that none of these worlds are really ordinary, and they’re not necessarily comfortable. Bilbo Baggins may have been a comfortable bachelor who somehow needed to do nothing but eat tea and cakes and blow smoke rings (I’m not sure how, as he wasn’t filthy rich before the end of The Hobbit– how rich was his Took/Baggins inheritance?), but the other two examples begin the story with problems.

That’s how the world works, after all. Problems everywhere. I very much doubt, in that sense, that there ever is an ordinary world– just, the world currently untouched by the larger adventure that’s in the midst of approaching. Ned Stark, in A Game of Thrones, had enough work to do before the King sent word that he was coming to Winterfell, and as much of a fuss of hosting the royal family went, we never left that stage until Ned admitted that the king had asked him to be his Hand. The prologue, the executed deserter, the direwolf puppies in the snow, the arrival of the royal family, Jon’s issues with his stepmother (I loathe that woman– if you want to hear my anti-Catelyn Tully-Stark rant, I’ll be happy to supply it), Arya’s problems with her perfect sister Sansa, the grim warnings that ‘Winter Is Coming’… ordinary. Business as usual. Or, at least, that’s the way it seems.

I wonder if that’s the first element to The Ordinary World. To begin your story with a metaphorical warning. Winter is coming, in one way or another. The introduction of problems provide reason, and sometimes motive, for the launch of the story, but they aren’t the story in and of itself. It’s stepping around rubble before the character stops, looks up, sees a mountain towering over him, and begins to wonder if this was really the way they even ought to be headed.

Furthermore, I think if you have a multiple character story, this ‘formula’ can occur for each character, in different ways. Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone has their initial ups and downs– a relationship, a housing situation, a romantic let-down, a lost job. In A Game of Thrones, Jon Snow called himself to adventure to escape his stepmother (bypassing the ‘Refusal of the Call’ altogether) at a pace related to, but ultimately independent of Ned Stark’s adventure. Tyrion Lannister’s and Daenerys Targaryen’s didn’t start until much, much later, despite being some of the most important characters to the series, and they receive their calls in such different ways that we never much notice that it is a ‘call’ element. Furthermore, because their viewpoint builds up the story before they’re fully involved, their ‘ordinary world’ is much better established for it.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I’ll get to the Call to Adventure later.

one thing to another

So, how is NaNo going for everyone?

I’m behind– probably as far behind as I’ve ever been at 14k/18.3k par– but I’m also taking some time off of work to rest and not get sick. I’m hoping that I can catch up.

Also, while I love this book, sometimes it takes me to very strange places. Has this ever happened to anyone?

My paladin and my amateur inventor (both young ladies) need to get to a city down south. They took a train, so I began my scene in the train. To show them heading off.

The weapon that they brought wasn’t hidden well enough. It was confiscated. The paladin worried for the train worker’s safety, as that weapon is dangerous in a wholly unusual way (an electric spear). She decided that they needed to break into the luggage car and reclaim it. So now I’m not writing a travel scene. It’s now a steampunk train robbery.

Then the attendant who’d taken the spear in the first place showed up with a buddy in the back and started going through the passengers’ bags, looking for things to take. I hear so many stories of people losing things on airlines that I have it in my head that everyone in the luggage rooms must be a thief. The sliding luggage with the momentum of the train pressed against the paladin’s injury, she got caught by the fellow who lingered… he had a pistol…

Long story short, she has a pair of thieves to turn in, an embalmed body she found stuffed into a trunk (being smuggled to the remote country), and all they really want is that spear.

How on earth did I get here?

I love it when the middle writes itself, but… I’m bewildered.

writing children, part i

This is a topic I’ve meant to tackle for a while now, mostly because children are so often so badly written in stories, and partly because I’ve failed to find any good advice on the matter online. Anyone with any tips, tricks, or thoughts on the topic, please, post them in the comments.

Children are… difficult.

Unapologetically selfish. Sweet. Generous. Silly. Mean. Serious. Awkward. Energetic. Lazy. Tough. Fragile. Careless. Intelligent. Foolish. Mirrors of what they see about them. Parroting, grass-stained, stuffed-animal toting, messy children. Frustrated by the difference between what they mean to say and what everyone around them understands.

Children are characters. But they’re also one-person fantasies, and it’s important to keep in mind that they do not, will not, can not have the same perspective as adults. Talk to a little kid some time. They have entire worlds buzzing around their head, and they don’t always seem to realize that these things they’ve collected from movies, from games, from dreams, from things they’ve been told are not always part of real life.

The Little Mermaid will have a girl spending her baths with her legs crossed, kicking and splashing water everywhere, and how exactly do you explain to Mom that you had to rescue the prince from the evil McDonald’s toy when she starts asking things like ‘what were you thinking?’ and ‘Molly, you know better!’?

(Because the answer, of course, was that there was simply no choice in the matter. Doesn’t mom understand that the prince was in trouble? “I had to!”. Then, maybe to get out of trouble later, “Sorry…”)

It goes on. My cousin Sean (age six) informed me that he was actually part of a secret alien race who simultaneously lives on three planets at once and that he was a spy meant to blow up the earth, but that he loves his mommy and daddy too much to finish his mission. He also informed me that his power level was a thousand million, and that he was the strongest ever. I replied that I was actually the Queen Jadis, and I was an immortal necromancer even higher than that for my royal blood. Sean became incredibly indignant, and began to tell me about his secret unlockable levels. It sounded like a bad anime.

Human thoughts. The human wish to be regarded, twisted into a completely new form. None of these are new character traits. They’re just stuck in a form of almost surrealist fantasy, brought into the real world into what would appear to be a random jumble of emotions and raw dialogue. Still difficult to understand, maybe, but along with base personality, I think anyone who want to write children characters needs to take the time to understand where they’re coming from.

Anyone with thoughts on the matter, please, add a comment. I meant to write some more thoughts on this topic, and I’d like to see what people think.

nano excerpt

(My apologies if the names are hard to keep straight. It makes complete sense in context.)

Merrily took them to the town’s bar first, shrieked and tried to tackle the bartender as soon as she passed through the doorway. He caught her in one arm without spilling the drink he was pouring. “Gamble!” he roared, slid the drink down the bar counter, capped the bottle, and gave her a hug. Leo was beginning to see why she had grabbed him that morning in the woods. He had hardly been able to bring himself to talk to her since then.

“Trouble!” Merrily called, entirely louder than needed. Her brother set her gently on the ground. “Trouble, listen. We got an artificer.”

Her brother’s head snapped up, and he looked beyond the bar at Maxwell and Leo. After a moment’s consideration, he stepped forward and offered Maxwell his hand. “I’m Matthew Soarin,” he said.

Maxwell didn’t shake his hand. He tried to stare Matthew down.

Matthew stepped close. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you?”

“Don’t you shoot my brother, Mister Gallows!”

“I don’t think his hand could get to his holster in time, Merrily.” Matthew’s eyes did not move from Maxwell’s. “Mister Gallows. Welcome to Rathberry. I can tell that you don’t want to be here, so I will be brief. My mama means the world to me. You are going to take very good care of her. Is that clear?”

Maxwell nodded.

“Good.” Matthew stepped away, returning to a polite distance. He looked askance at Leo.

“Leo Gallows,” Leo said, and was quick to offer his own palm.

Matthew shook it. Leo noticed that he kept a blade in his sleeve. “I’m very pleased to see you. I hope the farm is to your liking.” Matthew returned to the bar and hugged Merrily again. “You have a way to get home?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll pass word around the patrons that you’re looking for a ride. Stick around for two hours, and I’m sure I can get you the back of a cart at worst.”

“I’m visiting Joel and Marc first. Send them on over.”

“Right.” Matthew turned and grabbed a bottle and a short glass. “Before you go…” he poured one drink in, then a bit of another, handed it off. Merrily grinned and poured it down her throat.

She started choking almost immediately. “Gah!”

Matthew laughed. “That’s what you get!”

“Trying to poison me…”

She was still rubbing her neck when they left the bar, muttering uncomplimentary things under her breath about Matthew’s sense of humor.

Maxwell cocked his head to look back at the tavern. “I like him.”

“Why do you call him Trouble?” Leo asked.

Merrily made a face. Her mouth was still burning. “Why do you think?”

“I very much like him,” Maxwell said. “Fine gentleman.”

old art, from ‘the artificer’s angels’

Sortof like the scrap I found not long ago, I came some of my old ‘Artificer’s Angels’ art in a packed notebook. Some of these were neat enough to share. 🙂

Who doesn’t love airships?

Air ships and gliders!

My heroine’s family is mostly dark skinned; her second-eldest brother has a polished version of this tattooed over his heart in white ink.

Matthew's Tattoo

Violetta (pencil)

A color image of the last one:

Violetta

And finally… that old digital painting of my villain. Or, one of the stories’ three villains. I think Uriel has the purest motivation of the lot, yet he’s still somehow the most evil.

Uriel (recolored)

nano plan

It’s a bit early for it, but with National Novel Writing Month a bare month and a half away, I thought that I’d outline my project and a few of the details. Anyone participating in NaNo is welcome to add me to their buddies list– [my profile].

The Artificer’s Angels
POV: Third person omniscient. Currently out of fashion, but nonetheless holds promise.
Rating: PG – PG13. I’m in the mood for something lighter.
Genre: Fantasy.
Sub-Genres: Magical-steampunk, action/adventure, romance.

Most grave robbers take the jewelry. This one stole the body.

On a tour of a mechanist’s laboratories– her brother’s workplace– Merrily Soarin wanders off, peeks into an ajar door, and discovers a boy in a glass tube. Just before Merrily is caught, she could have sworn that he looked at her. As if he were still alive.

Enter master artificer Maxwell Gallows, once famous, now infamous. He’s been looking for his son’s corpse for a long time, and meeting Merrily Soarin was the best thing that had yet happened for his search. But there are a few problems.

Maxwell Gallows would rather kill Merrily than repay her for her help. The mechanist is an old enemy, and won’t back down from a fight. Resurrection is illegal, and protocol dictates that the recipient be destroyed. Leo, the artificer’s son, is so damaged that his next death will be his last no matter how brilliant his father. To make matters worse, in an attempt to steal some of Maxwell’s old projects, the mechanist accidentally activated one.


Major Characters:

Leo Gallows – Leo has a good, level head on his shoulders, and unlike his father, he has a strong conscience. He’s unbearably shy around girls, and doesn’t take well to Merrily’s constant hugs. He’s on his way to becoming an artificer in his own right.

Maxwell Gallows – Manic, driven, brilliant, but also self-centered and elitist. He doesn’t take well to being helped by a farming family, much less a religious one. He’s killed Leo twice in lab accidents.

Merrily Soarin – Cheerful, impulsive, accepting, and the bringer of hugs. Merrily spent half of her childhood working on the farm, a quarter taking stupid dares, and another quarter trying to resuscitate injured animals. The family has a little graveyard beyond the garden where Merrily buries the ones that don’t make it.

Paul Soarin – One of Merrily’s five older brothers, Paul bears the nickname of ‘Shadow’ for his tenancy to conform and follow.

Abraham Gennyson – A strong mechanist, Paul’s boss, and one of Maxwell’s old rivals. Abraham is brilliant at clockwork, but does not understand biological engineering or magic.

Uriel – The prototype Maxwell used before he tried to rebuild his son after his first death. Maxwell pulled Uriel out of a hospital morgue, but in the process of resurrecting him, erased his memories. Maxwell thought it was ironic to give him the name of an angel.

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.

“VoilĂ ! 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.