introducing a group, part ii

After my last post, about how to introduce several characters, and the distinctions between character and setting, I thought that I’d go visit Gav Thorp’s blog ‘Mechanical Hamster‘ and ask him if he would be willing to say a few words on the subject. I really love Gav’s advice– he writes some really excellent articles on writing tips and craft. Anyone interested in advanced creative writing should stop by and browse through the archives.

Much to my delight, Gav obliged me and wrote a long, detailed post on how to handle secondary characters that really addressed some of the problems I was having. You can find it here, and I think it’s well worth a read.

Thanks, Gav!

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?

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.

writing the second draft

I had a request to share how I went about writing the second draft of my novel. As a disclaimer, this is just how I did it; I’m certain that others try different methods that work well for them.

My first draft was written during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month— I highly recommend participating) last November, 50,000 words in one month. It took another week after November to finally finish it, which brought it up to approximately 52,000 words. As expected of a NaNo novel, it had several major problems.

First, there was the pacing. I was writing furiously for four weeks to produce volume, not good craftsmanship. My first test reader said that the book felt like it needed to be about twice as long, which I agreed with. The city was an undefined blur, the castle equally nondescript. My prose rambled, got distracted, changed ideas halfway through sentences.

Some of the characters were very fleshed out. Others were flat and uninteresting. My two protagonists, Rylan and Wyrren, were not very consistent. My villains showed up when inconvenient for my heroes, the characters were sidetracked at several points. Some characters I had decided would be important, but seemed to decline their part in my plot.

And speaking of plot… the entire middle of my story sagged terribly. I had the ending I wanted, the beginning I wanted, and I got to keep my tiger-fight… and yes, I could see what I was going for in that first draft. It was also an unholy mess.

Now, I’m a terrible critic. I’ve been spoiled by literature, and I’ve read too many good books to be impressed by mediocre work. This might even be the reason that I’m so hesitant to start reading something new… I have a fear of being let down by a book, as if they were a new friend that I was entrusting myself to. When I read a book or watch a movie, I ask myself things like, “If I had written this passage, would I be satisfied with it?”

I also have an excellent memory for words on paper. I can still quote poems that I memorized twelve years ago, regardless of length. So I don’t forget the things I write in a hurry.

In January, I read over a few pieces of my printed first draft, put it away, and began writing the second draft. From scratch. No references, no list of absolutely required scenes. After the second chapter, I felt that I needed to be reminded of where I was going. Instead of going back to the first draft, I wrote a detailed outline of the book and kept going.

To those of you who practice art, I compare the first draft to a thumbnail sketch. It’s enough to let you know what you’re going for. But if you draw from the sketch, you’re just going to get a bigger sketch. Best to have worked out your thoughts ahead of time and begin fresh, looking forward to other references other than old, and quick, work. I can say that my second draft is far superior to the first in every way, but still not perfect.

That’s what the third draft is for.

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? ๐Ÿ™‚

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’:

๐Ÿ™‚ Highly fun to play with.

villain: sorche du remerdii: introduction

Sorche du Remerdii
โ€œCommon sense really isn’t that common.โ€

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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