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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Folklore and How it Can Help Build Characters




I'm taking an introductory folklore class this semester and I'm only a couple of weeks into it, but a lot of it is clicking and we've gone over the basic principles. From the very start, I realized folklore is something I needed to apply to my stories, and I think it can help you as well.

There's a misconception that folklore is something old, quaint, and untrue that dredges up the picture of people in Eastern Europe somewhere, perhaps of women wearing shawls and all that good stuff.



Well...

http://cdn.memegenerator.net/instances/400x/27546652.jpg

The truth is folklore is very much about groups--how we fit into them and how other people make their way into them. It's about inside jokes and stories and nicknames and a bunch of other things.

What does this have to do with characters? Well, as I had this great folklore stuff rolling around my noggin, I was thinking about the folklore I had developed for my characters. 

Which was none. 

These characters of mine (or at least of my main WIP) have been friends for years. They should have nicknames for each other (ones that don't make sense usually), their own lingo, stories they refer to that remind them of a lesson they learned together, etc. 

For example, my friend calls me chicken. I have no idea why. I think it's just something she calls people. Meanwhile, I had to call her something back, of course. The natural choice would be to call her turkey, but since I'm vegetarian, she's my Tofurkey. This is an example of verbal lore. It identifies my friend and I as part of a group. A small group, but a group nonetheless (a group of two is a dyad, just fyi).

This same friend had another group of friends that she grew up with. They loved Ninja Turtles and they each corresponded to a particular turtle. SO one of the friends got each of them a Ninja Turtles hat. 

http://leetlady.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtles-Tossle-Hat.jpg


That's an example of material lore. 

Long lesson short: if you have any group of people no matter how big or small, they're going to have their own folklore. Developing this can help to flesh out your story (it's certainly helping mine). For example, I figured a suitable name for a character of mine that can control wind would be airhead. Now, as I was writing this down though, it struck me that maybe this name shouldn't make that much sense. Maybe it seems to outsiders that she's called airhead because of her powers, but in reality it's because her friends bring her that candy whenever she's sad. 

Every family has folklore. Every couple. Every group of friends. Every group of coworkers. 

Inside jokes. Nicknames. Stories. Lingo. All that good stuff that is a component of being human and socializing. 

Hope this helps! Let me know in the comments of some examples of folklore you can think of and if you have any already going in your story that you particularly like. Happy writing!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Seven Random Things

I was tagged by Rebecca Lamoreaux in this blog hop thingy:


                                              

For this blog you have to list seven random things about yourself :) Here goes!

1. My sense of geography is atrocious. I don't know anything in my state, can't picture the U.S. map, and know maybe where ten other countries are. If ever there was a subject that could make me look like a valley girl, it's a geography one.

I feel your pain, Miss South Carolina.



2. I had to be held back in kindergarten (at Challenger) because I couldn't speak English. And now I'm trying to be a writer?

Riiiiiiiiiight.


3. I still love unicorns. Who could possibly not love a unicorn? 





The artist of that work can be found here, btw: http://ironshod.deviantart.com/

4. I got to swim with dolphins once. It was phenomenal. 

5. Back in elementary school, my best friend (at the time) and I decided to pretend I was mute and only communicated through sign language when we met these two new girls. I made up hand signals and she would interpret them however she wanted. Best part? I think those kids totally bought it.

6. I'm one of those people who could lose their cell phone for a month and have only one missed call. 

From my mother.

7. I loved the side ponytail growing up. 



Wore one to middle school. 

Not one of my best ideas. 

Just loved that eighties style. Probably because I was a little obsessed with Teen Witch.




 And just for more random:


I doth tag:

Alyssa J. Lewis :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Main Characters, Protagonists, Heroes, Flaws, Likability

One of my resolutions (not just for this year, but for life) was to become a better story-maker and word-smith. To that end, I've begun my mornings every day so far this year with a writing podcast called "Writing Excuses" and a chapter or two from a book on writing, in this case literally "On Writing" by Stephen King. The podcasts have so far been very enlightening, so I thought I'd share them and what I learned with some of my own examples.

Here's a link to the podcasts that inspired this post:

Writing Excuses Episode 5: Heroes and Protagonists

Writing Excuses Episode 6: Flaws vs Handicaps

In the first podcast, they talk about the differences between heroes, protagonists, and main characters. They explained that a main character is the person you follow, that a protagonist is the character that changes throughout the story, and the hero is the person whose actions move the story. They can all be the same person, or not so much. For example, the main character may tell the story and change as a person while following the hero around, a la Sherlock Holmes, without being the hero. Another example I thought about as this concept rattled around my noggin is Beauty and the Beast. 


Belle remains the same person throughout. She doesn't really change for she always had it in her to love the beast and pretty much gave him a chance from the beginning. She sees a person for who they are on the inside--making her the only person in her "PROVINCIAL TOOOOOWN" who doesn't care for Gaston.

We follow her from the beginning though, so I would say she is the main character. I would also say she's the hero because, through falling in love with the Beast, she saves the day and breaks the curse. The Beast has his part to play, too--in this case as the protagonist because he begins the story selfish, spoiled, and self-involved. By the end of the story he has learned to love and think of someone else before himself (the scene exemplifying this being the one where he lets Belle go to be with her father.)

Next subject: Flaws.

I've always struggled with this. I don't know if I have a mental block or if this particular highway was never built in my brain, but I simply couldn't think of flaws for my characters.

Well, back to Beauty and the Beast for my example. The Beast has plenty of flaws, as I stated earlier. The really great part about his flaws are that they add to the conflict. After all, it's infinitely difficult for a selfish person to give up what they want most for the happiness of someone else, but that's exactly what the Beast does. Interestingly enough, I didn't hate the Beast for his horrible actions--the constant yelling, spoiled behavior, and--oh, yeah--throwing Belle's dad in a freakin' DUNGEON(!!). That's pretty harsh and, in the right circumstances (such as if I gave a fig about Belle's father*) I would be pretty pissed at him.

(*Disney has a pretty bad problem when it comes to useless fathers, given Belle's dad, Jasmine's dad, the King from Cinderella, etc. They're just there to facilitate the story and that's bad in writing, I would say).


So, why don't we hate the Beast for his flaws? I argue that it's because of the side characters--Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Pots all care deeply for him. Since they're cool characters, I think what happened was I assumed there must be something to like. Also, Belle obviously made it cool to give people a chance.

At this point, I would like to make the assertion that a flaw is not necessarily a weakness, nor a virtue necessarily a strength. I'll give a non-Beauty and the Beast example for this.
The Joker: flawed? Yes. He's a sociopath who has absolutely no empathy for others whatsoever. Is this a weakness? No. In fact, it possibly makes him the most untouchable villain in Batman's Rogue's Gallery because there is nothing in the world the Joker cares about.



Iron Man. Flawed? Oh, yes. But for the sake of this observation, we'll ignore his many flaws. His virtue is love--he loves Pepper Pots (Potts?). Let's say the Joker took Pepper Pots and held her hostage, would she temporarily become Iron Man's weakness? I say yes.


I think this is why (and how) flaws are important. They definitely add to the conflict (if you choose the right ones) and add depth to the character because their flaws can become both a strength and a weakness and how the character treats their flaws tells you a lot about them.


The anti-hero, for example, is often heavily flawed. Do these flaws help them? Oh yes. Ruthlessness, hate, anger, a lack of empathy--these are all flaws that can make anti-heroes pretty tough to take on. Examples that come to mind are The Crow and Red Hood. They're doing things we can root for--getting revenge on a lost loved one and abolishing crime--through means that wouldn't necessarily sit well with us. Meanwhile, in the The Crow example, he is the main character because we follow him and the hero because his actions move the story (or anti-hero, as I pointed out) but not really the protagonist. His change is the inciting incident and from there he pretty much just gets his revenge in horrible and interesting ways and moves on.




So there you are. It's important to know exactly what your characters are (main, pro, or hero) and what their flaws and virtues are. Properly manipulating both make for a stronger story.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What (I hope) I'm Learning about Stories

Lately I've done a lot of thinking about what makes a great story and if any of the four I've written to the end can be counted as a great story by any definition.

So here are some of the things I'm learning:

1. whatever powers a character has are tools, not solutions. It doesn't necessarily make for a great story for the hero to simply pummel the bad guy into submission because the hero is more powerful. They're rarely more powerful. Even when they gang up to become Avengers or the Justice League or what have you, things still seem hopeless, they still make mistakes, and they still have to make a big choice if they're going to be true heroes. Do we really love Iron Man because he flies around in an iron suit and can blast stuff?

Well, yeah.

But we love him a lot more because he's an arrogant ass and funny to boot. We love him because he's got style and class. Take away the suit (duh, he's often without it), take away the millions, take away everything, and Tony Stark is still awesome. In the end, the suit is his tool.

If everybody were given the suit, not everyone would sacrifice themselves at the end of Avengers. Not all of us would do as Stark did and pass over the many, many people who fawn over him for the one person who doesn't put up with his crap and humanizes him.

So, make sure before anything, that if the hero were to face the same challenges, they would still stand up even if they're powerless because that's just who they are and something is motivating them like nothing else.

2. The biggest impact come from the smallest actions.

A character in a story can often do many things we cannot. That's all well and good, but the biggest impression left on us are the things they do that anyone can do. That probably doesn't make sense, so here's an example.

Let's talk Toy Story 3: There are no big explosions. There are no superpowers. The world is not in danger. AT ALL. But there was a moment in that story that made me cry. When the characters are all facing certain death and there's no feasible way for them to survive, they don't wail, they don't lose it. They hold hands. They intend to go out together. They are all different, they all fight plenty, but in this defining moment they stand together. They are about to die and there will be absolutely no impact on the world whatsoever, but I'm sitting there pretty much heartbroken.

Would all of us go out with such dignity? Yeahno.

Does an audience HONESTLY care if the world is going to end?

Does an audience HONESTLY care if the bad guys win?

Not unless we care about the characters. If the world is ending, but we're viewing it through the eyes of a character that has so much to live for, THEN it matters. If the bad guys are going to win when that means the loss of all hope for the characters we love, THEN it matters.

In order for this not to get too long, the rest is laundy-listed:

3. Characters have to be very strongly motivated.

4. The stakes have to be high to the character.

5. They have to face a difficult choice. Most of the time both options seem to suck.

6.  Every character has to be useful multiple times.

7. There should be multiple problems going on and the best ending is one in which the problems collide and almost solve each other in a way.

There's more, but I can't think of what else I've learned right now. I'll keep learning and posting though.

Tell me what you think is the most important thing you've learned in making a great and engaging story in the comments! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shootings and Gun Control: Facts, Questions, Possible Solutions



Given what happened today, I decided to educate myself. Skim through the dates, sources, and excerpts. They mainly detail how the shooters came by their guns. I don't have EVERY shooting, just the major ones of the past two and half decades, plus almost all of the ones this year. At the bottom I suggest what we should do about this. Please leave you opinions in the comments and keep them clean and aimed at facts to facilitate discussion.


4/20/1999 Columbine shooting: http://alturl.com/6dwqg
"Robyn Anderson, a friend of Klebold and Harris, bought the shotguns and the Hi-Point 9mm Carbine at The Tanner Gun Show in December of 1998 from unlicensed sellers" (illegally, one year before shooting)

4/16/2007 Virginia Tech shooting: http://alturl.com/y4ast
"Seung-Hui Cho bought his first gun, a Glock 9 mm handgun, on March 13 and his second weapon, a .22 caliber handgun, within the last week, law enforcement officials tell ABCNews.com" (Read somewhere guns were bought on Ebay, semi-legally. Mental health conditions SHOULD have prevented the shooter from buying these guns but didn't. )

1/8/2011 Arizona Shooting: http://alturl.com/fqeqz
"Loughner legally purchased the Glock at a Sportsman's Warehouse chain store in Tucson, Ariz., on Nov. 30 after completing a form and passing a background check." (Legally, about a month before shooting)

4/2/2012 Oakland Christian college shooting: http://alturl.com/49v4s
"The serial number of the gun matches that of a weapon bought by Goh earlier this year, police said."

7/7/2012 Colorado theater shooting: http://alturl.com/8n8oa
"In the past 60 days, police said, Holmes bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, at gun shops and over the Internet" (legally)

8/5/2012 Sikh Temple shooting: http://alturl.com/aeq8x
"[Murderer]  did not appear dangerous when he bought a handgun at a shop last month, the shop owner says." (legally)

10/21/2012 Empire State Building Shooting: http://alturl.com/259qf
"The police said the shooter, Jeffrey T. Johnson, 58, used a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol that held seven rounds. Law enforcement officials said Mr. Johnson bought the pistol in Sarasota, Fla., in 1991." (legally)

12/12/2012 Oregon Mall shooting: http://alturl.com/8mnts
“Police are still seeking information about what Roberts was doing in the days leading up to the shooting. They said today they believe Roberts stole the gun he used in the rampage from someone he knew.” (Illegally, right before)

Notes:

So most guns or ammunition was bought legally with a couple of exceptions.
Most was acquired shortly before the shootings.
Most of these people were disturbed and planned things out to some degree.
Some had intended targets, others just wanted to inflict pain on anyone they could.
All male shooters.
No OTHER legally armed person stepped in to stop these people.
Most, despite have some problems (who doesn't?) were otherwise described as normal and functional.

I was wrong about something I previously thought: gun control in foreign countries has no correlation to crime rates. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jun/27/gun-control-in-most-countries-more-stringent-than-/  “ Japan has some of the toughest gun ownership laws in the world, while Switzerland requires all males serving the armed forces to store their rifles and ammunition in their homes in case of attack. Yet both have among the world’s lowest rates of gun-related deaths.” I guess some countries are just more violent, and even if they have the guns, they don’t use them.

Questions:

Let's say tomorrow we make guns illegal in the U.S. The murderers of the future who start planning their shooting sprees after guns become illegal can't buy guns online or in stores. Where would they get them, exactly?

When have you ever heard of a shooter stopped by a civilian, or by anyone but the cops? Especially a mass-murderer.

Have you ever heard a SURVIVOR of these crimes say "We should have less gun control so guns are more available" or "I wish I had had a gun that day"?

(I’m not kidding. I want answers to these questions.)

My idea of compromise on gun control:

Fine, have your guns and protect that constitution. But you can only have ONE(!!!) that holds, like, four shots. If you can’t shoot someone with that many bullets, you shouldn’t be shooting in the first place. If such a gun hasn’t been invented, invent it. You don’t need something that holds 100 rounds of ammunition and shoots 60 bullets a minute. (See Colorado theater shooting) Like Australia, the government can pay you back for the rest of your unnecessary armory. (See article on countries and gun control). 

Backgrounds checks need to be WAAAAAY tougher. College drop outs seriously can’t own one (see two or three of the shootings for the college drop-out bit. I can’t believe all of these shooters passed background checks. That’s ridiculous). 

Waiting period for guns needs to be six months. Ammunition a year. (see all the shootings but two).
Guns and ammunition can’t be sold online. Someone should be able to see your crazy face and deny you a purchase if you’re planning on shooting people. 

No you can’t walk around with your gun in plain sight. We need to be able to differentiate the crazies from the normal citizens.

Seriously, just don’t even buy a gun. If you need to “defend yourself” (though I don’t know what from since nobody ever successfully does so in these shootings and I’ve never heard of a home invasion deterred by a gun-wielding citizen) you can buy a bullet proof vest. At least that way, if you become emotionally unstable tomorrow, you can’t go and shoot me because I choose THAT day to visit the mall/school/movie theater. 

Guns can only be bought by women over the age of 25 and men over the age of 50. If you can’t rent a car, I don’t see why you can buy a gun. Also, men over fifty don’t seem to shoot people up nearly as often as young men. (I'm only partly joking :) )

Toy guns should be illegal if they look anything like the real thing. HOW DO YOU JUSTIFY THESE AS TOYS?!? FOR KIDS?!?!? 

That is all. Thanks for comments, personal stories, and other sources either backing up or countering my own. 

edit: Also, this resource for general knowledge: http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/united-states 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Losing the Magic of Writing

I've been writing since I was thirteen, so going on nine years now. Not that long, but I can say I have some experience under my belt. (Why do I use that expression? Since when have I worn a belt?)

Anyway...

I've always written with a love of fantasy, of super-powered characters, of different worlds and cultures, of things I can only see in the movie theater of my mind. I've always written with the hopes someone else will read my writing and love it as much as I did. I've always written with the intention of publishing.

At the very, very first, it seemed writing must be easy. If it's awesome in my head, how can it not be awesome on paper? Well, I quickly learned there was more to it than that. More to characters, to plotting, to earning and keeping a reader's attention. There was more to making a book readable than correct spelling and grammar. It took me a while to see how and where my books were not readable and, in a way, that the first loss of the magic of writing--the first time I realized I wasn't writing just for myself.

The next losses came when I realized it wasn't just readers I needed to impress, but publishers. Then I learned of agents. And query letters. And suddenly, I was writing less for myself than ever.

AM writing less for myself than ever.

Sometimes it feels like my books are little models getting ready for the catwalk. They're my vision still, yes. And I don't hate editing--that's not the problem. I'm not even sure what I hate--other than query letters themselves; don't even get me started!!!

It's just... writing suddenly seems unforgiving.

My book must be THIS long to be publishable, but THIS long is unpublishable too.
My book must follow such and such rules.
My query letter has to be like this, but not like this, and not like that either.

Let me tell you--it's not magical at all. It's BUSINESS. There we go. I've found what I strongly dislike. I hate business. Really do. It's cold and brutal and uncaring and unforgiving and the more I've learned of the business side of writing and the more they've become connected, the less I've enjoyed writing.

It's a sad fact I've known but never truly understood--to be a successful author, the author must embrace the BUSINESS side of writing. The total lack of help in marketing, the book cover you might hate and have no control over, the change to the title and all that nonsense in the name of BUSINESS.

I ALWAYS knew that but no one ever told me the business side of writing bleeds into it LONG before you get anywhere near publishing. Its poison stings when I'm writing for the agent and writing for the publisher in my mind. When I judge a story's value by its ability to be published and summarized in a query letter. When a book stopped being good because it's entertaining to me and because it has life I can feel in every bloody cell of my body, and started to suck because some fragment wasn't JUST right to be published.

What's worse--like a real smack in the face--is seeing so many books out there breaking all those same rules and getting published. I kept thinking the authors must not care or know. Now I'm thinking they know AND they don't care. They see the value of their book, they love it for what it is, know others will love it too, and don't sweat the small stuff. Their writing still has magic--magic their agents and publishers must see somehow.

I don't know what to do to get the magic back in mine. Writing a new idea and plotting a new idea and thinking of ways to make it better--even in the editing process--smells a bit like magic again. But whenever I think of submitting and query letters and that garbage, I really don't feel like writing anymore.

No happy ending to this post. It's been kind of cathartic writing this, but mostly I just want to crawl into a hole with my laptop and write my stories for the next fifty years. Alone. I really don't feel like I can write for anyone but me right now and not go crazy... 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Financial Friday Two

So last week I instructed you to save ten percent of everything you make.

Maybe you were wondering the point.

A fancy car?

NO.

New clothes?

NO.

Video games? Flat-screen TV? ALL THE THINGS??

NOOOOOOOO.

You save your ten percent to invest it. Simple as that. You save your ten percent so you can figure out ways to make it work for you. Smaller examples include buying something at a low price to sell at a high price. Then you take everything you make on the sale and put it back into your savings.

I.E. You can buy a box of ten individually wrapped cookies for five bucks (fifty cents each) and sell for a buck each. You turn your five bucks into ten. On a bigger scale, you buy a car for a grand because time is more valuable to the owner than cash. You, who have time because you have saved so well, can turn around and take your time selling the car at a profit. Say, two or three grand.

AND PUT IT ALL BACK IN YOUR SAVINGS.

People also invest in real estate (for flipping or renting), businesses, and stocks/bonds/mutual funds. Whatever bank you work with probably has a way to invest your money for you. They'll charge a fee, but it can often be worth it because they're in it to make you money too. My personal experience has been good with my bank. I told them what my goals were and they chose an investment that suited me specifically. The only advise I'd give in that arena (since I know squat about stocks themselves) is if you don't like what your financial adviser does for you (or their level of aggressiveness or general attitude) go to another branch or try someone different on the phone line. Once you find one you like, stick with them. They can usually make notes on your preferences right on the computer so they won't forget the next time you come around wanting to invest all that Christmas money.

What you're looking for is for your investments to build over time so that your money is working for you while you sit back. This takes years upon years, but it's worth it. You don't want to have to work until you're old and gray do you? Then save your money NOW. Invest it NOW. You won't regret it!

Best of luck with your endeavors!