Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dissecting Prophecy, Part 2

Last week, my list of complaints about prophecy in fantasy included:

1. Prophecy so specific it gave the story away.
2. Ambiguously worded prophecy with an easily-guessed second meaning.
3. No reason given for why people choose to believe or disbelieve a prophecy.
4. No explanation given for how the prophecy came into existence.

Now I can go complaint by complaint and give my solution to each, but they basically boil down to Don't Do It, Don't Do It, Think of a Reason, Think of an Explanation.  Which really isn't that interesting to me.  Instead, I'm going to start with a clean slate.  If you must include a prophecy in your story, here are some things you should consider:

1. Why Does This Story Need a Prophecy?

Prophecies have the power to warp the space-time continuum.  Such a vast power should not be taken up lightly, so if you don't need a prophecy, DON'T USE ONE.    If all you need to do is foreshadow the coming doom, find another way.  Burning a village is effective.  Some bad guy inner monologuing works.

If it is necessary, why?  Does it create a situation that absolutely would not happen if not for this prophecy?  (In the novel I'm writing, The Changelings, a prophecy is only reason the title characters exist in human form.)  Does the prophecy point out who the Chosen One is?  Does it create a moral dilemma?  (For example, the Chosen One will save the world, but lose what he most values.)  Does it manipulate someone into a specific action or state of mind? (Think of MacBeth killing the king.)

A prophecy must have a purpose and the writer should know what that purpose is before idly writing one in.

2. What Does Prophecy Tell Us About the Universe?

Now it gets tricky.

From a writing stand point, prophecy is a plot device and a damn good one, too.  But it can also transcend that role and make us think about the universe.  On a very basic level, the author needs to know what's the role of destiny and what's the role of free will.  If people know the future, are they able to change it?  Or will it come to pass no matter what?  Is there a single future or many?  Are the words of the prophecy absolute or is there wiggle room?  From what source does prophecy actually spring?

Heavy stuff.

Getting through that, it's wise to consider how the society and the individual regard prophecy.  Is it regulated to certain religious ceremonies?  Does it just flow into certain individuals?  How can you test if the prophecy is real?  What happens if a prophecy is shown to be false?  Does the prophet become disgraced, does the system collapse?  Do the prophets receive certain power and prestige?  Is it possible for them to be corrupt?

I like this part better.  I can think of half a dozen stories right here based on human weakness.

The point is not to have answers for all these questions, but just to consider how the prophecy fits into the world you're creating, both on the spiritual and political realms.

3. Who Delivers the Prophecy?

Fun!  And the exclamation point isn't sarcastic.

Prophecies need a prophet to deliver them.  (I suppose lightning could carve the words into stone, but I've never seen that happen.)  Stereotypical prophets are vague, flighty weirdos who go into trances, channel the prophecy, and fade into the background before they can develop a personality.  Why?  Why not a fierce, pushy, practical prophet?  Or have a vague, flighty weirdo, but develop him.  Give him a role in the group.

One of my favorite prophets is the rabbit Fiver from the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams.  (Watership Down is basically about rabbits building a new warren and it's one of the most awesome books in existence.)  Fiver is a small, frail-looking rabbit who gets hit by great swells of terror and sees visions of blood.  He can't control or explain his visions, but his sheer intensity convinces the others to leave their old home and set out on their adventure.  This moody slip of a thing has also bawled out his entire group on their stupidity and frightened an enemy twice his size with a few gentle words.

Fiver doesn't disappear.  He practically makes the book.

What interests me about prophets is that they're the only source of information on the prophecy, but how much do they know?  Do they see visions?  Do words just come into their brains?  Do they remember what they said?  Do they intentionally hold information back?  Are they honest?  Are they moral?  Are they corrupt?  Are they liars?  Will they promote their own prophecy?  Will they just get depressed and wish this power away?

Knowledge of the future is such an awesome superpower, yet for some reason it gets pushed aside so we can focus on the guy that can throw fireballs or hit really hard.  Big whoop.

4. Who Knows the Prophecy?

Once the prophet delivers the prophecy, someone has to receive it.  Does it fall into the good guys' hands or the bad guys' hands or both?  Does one person know about it or is the entire world aware?  And most important of all, how does the awareness of the prophecy affect their choices?

Most obviously, if the bad guy knows that the completion of this prophecy means his death, what does he do to try and stop it?  Pharaoh tried to kill Moses by having all the Jewish babies killed.  If your villain can't at least rise to those levels, he's not much good.

On the other hand, if a prophecy says that the hero is destined to destroy the evil one, I imagine it would cause him some relief.  Maybe he'd even get cocky.  But what if the prophecy also requires great sacrifice.  He will kill the bad guy but lose what he loves the most.  Does he try to protect his love?  Does he abandon the quest?

What if he doesn't know this little caveat?  What if his mentor knows, but decides not to tell him?  Then, right as Mr. Hero's facing the Big Bad, Lord Evil tells him that the prophecy says, if he dies, True Love dies, too.  Now what happens?

Prophecy, when it comes down to it, is information, and knowledge is most definitely power.  So the author should consider who knows what and how it affects the plot.  Knowing, after all, is half the battle.

5. What Happens if the Prophecy Fails?

Last week, I complained about how the prophecy in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland tells our heroine exactly which day to slay the dreaded Jabberwocky.  Why, I raged, couldn't the Queen of Hearts wait one day to release her beast?  What would happen if Frabjous Day passed and no Jabberwocky was released?

What indeed?

Can a prophecy fail?  Can it go horribly wrong?  Can it work against our heroes?  This rarely happens.  Prophecy is rarely fallible, possibly because it has a strong religious connotation.  However, the prophet can fail.  The prophecy could be a complete fraud.  The bad guys might have fabricated it.

Prophecy conveys a level of certainty.  But the readers want doubt.  A small failure, an unforeseen event.  This can twist the story entirely and tumble reader expectations like the cart of a roller coaster.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekly Update: 3/29/13

My room's a mess.  I have correspondence piled up.  Laundry from two days ago sits wrinkling in my chair.  My nails have been bitten down to the quick.  My weekly planner, where I write down my day to day activities, is mostly blank.  In sum, another poor week.

Let me tell you, I can't wait for March to be finished.  It has not been a productive month for me.  My hope is that once it's gone and out of my system, I'll be able to accomplish things again.  It's probably a pipe dream, but I still have hope.

March has been a brainstorming month.  For instance, I did prepare for Camp Nanowrimo in April.  My "March Crunch" brainstorming sessions yielded 17,499 words (or 54 pages) of notes for the ending of my second book.  It yielded some good ideas, but there are still many things lacking.  Same thing for my Coffin story.  The more I brainstorm, the more holes appear, 'til I gnash my teeth in frustration and veg out on T.V. Tropes for half the day.

I don't like to feel like I'm not accomplishing something.  Brainstorming has that effect. I'm mining ideas, which are effervescent nothings.  At first it's fun, because it doesn't feel like work. And then it does.  Suddenly reading becomes researching and daydreaming becomes a slog.  And that's the time to just put it aside and move on.

Sorry, if I'm not making any sense.  On a more positive note, I'm going to Little Tokyo tomorrow.  That should be fun.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dissecting Prophecy, Part 1

Fate features heavily in fantasy, as well it should.  It's hard to write about humble farm boys saving the world and not at least consider the role of luck, destiny, God, or whatever higher power there may be.  Playing off this spiritual theme, prophecy often winds its way into fantasy novels, asking the reader to consider how static or fluid the future may be.  They're great fun... if used correctly.  But a poorly written prophecy can easily sour the entire story.

What's My Problem with Prophecy?

I have a love-hate relationship with prophecy.  On the one hand, it can be an incredibly powerful tool.  A good prophecy is like a spur to the character's side.  It starts quests.  It creates villains.  It clearly enunciates what's at stake.  It creates suspense.  If we know from the start that 5 companions will go on a quest and only 4 will return, suddenly we want to know who will be the unlucky person to die.

On the other hand, poorly written prophecy can destroy suspense and surprise alike.  If destiny is used as a justification for every plot point, you can end up with a deus  ex machina.  Dynamic characters become puppets of fate.  Poor decisions are hand-waved.  The ending is given away.  The world is sapped of free will.

Pitfall #1: Too Specific

One of my main problems with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is that the prophecy around which the story revolves reads like a birthday invitation.

Who: Alice
What: Slaying the Jabberwocky
Where: Underland (aka Wonderland)
When: Frabjous Day
Why: To Restore the White Queen to Power

All the Queen of Hearts has to do is release the Jabberwocky one day early or one day late and the whole prophecy falls apart.  But she doesn't.  And so the party goes off without a hitch.  Meanwhile, I beat my head with my fists for the stupidity of the Queen and the complete lack of surprise.

There is no way you can have a villain know exactly what will happen and do nothing to stop it without her looking like an idiot.  Likewise, if your protagonists go around proclaiming their plans, they're idiots, too.  A prophecy is like having top secret military information.  If one side has it, they shouldn't announce it.  If the other side then gets it, they shouldn't fall right into the trap.

And even if the prophecy never falls into the enemy hands, the reader knows.  If the climax is basically a culmination of those very events, why bother to read?  When I read fantasy, I generally assume good will conquer evil (unless I'm reading George R. R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie).  The interest lies in the how the good guy will triumph.  If the prophecy tells me, why bother reading?

Moreover, 9 times out of 10, these particular stories end up devolving into everyone gathering around The Chosen One, to boost her perpetually self-doubting ego long enough to defeat the Big Bad.  And since I don't enjoy The Chosen One trope, I'm not all that interested in those kinds of stories.

Pitfall #2: Ambiguous Wording

On the other hand, an overly vague prophecy is nothing to get excited about.  These kinds of prophecies descend into the kind of "Doom is coming, a Black Shadow falls across the land" babble which tells the audience roughly nothing and provides no useful information to the poor farm boy who has to defeat said Doom.  I find these kinds of prophecies annoying, but basically harmless, and if I'd have to go with overly specific or overly vague, I'd choose vague.

But then we come to the vaguely-worded prophecies which opens a whole new can of worms.  These prophecies are intentionally written to be misleading and usually rely on an ambiguous phrase or even a bad pun to create confusion.  For example, if you tell the audience five will set out on a quest and four will return... only to reveal that Person #5 is having too much fun in the new land to go home.  (Thank you, Brian Jacques.)

These sort of prophecies act like a riddle.  If done well, they work fine.  The problem is that the author has to set his or her wits against not only the characters, but the audience as well.  The writer must assumes that she is smarter than her readers.  Don't do this.  It will likely end in sad disillusionment.

Fantasy readers nowadays know that literal and obvious meanings in vaguely-worded prophecies are usually wrong.  They can eliminate whatever conclusion the hero/ villain comes to and start working out their own theories.  This can work fine and even involve readers, if only one or two characters hear the ambiguous-prophecy.  After all, individuals have their blind spots.  But if the whole world knows the prophecy, the riddle starts to lose potency.  Are you telling me no one can figure out what took the reader ten minutes to guess?  The world starts to look lame now.

Bottom line: ambiguously-worded prophecies can be tricky, awesome, and fun if done properly, but they are very hard to do properly.  And if they misfire, they can take the whole story down with them.

Pitfall #3: Everyone Believes or No One Does

It seems I've stumbled upon a pattern here.  The more people know about a prophecy, the better it functions.  Therefore, let only one or two people know, and the prophecy will do its job beautifully.  Let the whole world know and you're headed for disaster.

Nevertheless, prophecy is very hard to keep under wraps.  It makes sense.  If you have important information regarding the end of the world, you'd better act.  One person can do little on their own, so more and more people must be rallied.  They won't help unless they understands what's at stake, so the prophecy must be shared.  A blabbermouth here, a traitor there, and pretty soon the whole world knows.

But how does the whole world react?  That's a different question altogether.

In certain stories, the populace either blindly believes in the prophecy or blindly disbelieves it.  I find blind skepticism more credible.  The burden of proof should be on the prophet.  Why should people believe every idiot with a wild tale?  But the fact remains that people are varied and multi-faceted.  Some will always believe, some will always disbelieve, most people will look at the facts and judge as best they can.

Proof is the problem.  Why do people believe or disbelieve?  Maybe people believe because this prophet's other predictions have come true, maybe there's a long tradition of prophecy in their religion, maybe they're in such a miserable state that they're willing to cling to whatever hope they can find.  Maybe people disbelieve because they've been deceived before, maybe the prophet does not command respect, maybe they're all material rationalists who denounce the existence of prophecies at all.

The point is that belief (or disbelief) requires some reason.  It's so easy for the writer to have people believe or disbelieve as the plot requires it.  But that creates a shallow world and one-dimensional characters.  Belief is hard.  Let the people grapple with it.

Pitfall #4: It Floats in the Background

How many times, have you read something like this:

The old mentor leaned toward the farm boy. "There is a prophecy that speaks of a boy bearing magic not seen since the old days, and he shall face an army of demons and emerge victorious.  But the dark one's curse will linger on him, or so the prophecy says...

Etc., etc.  All well and good for drumming up suspense and pointing out The Chosen One.  But though this prophecy is clearly important to the story, we never hear where it comes from.  It's just sort of there.  Floating.  Like a very old saying.  A hero will rise.  An empire will fall.  An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

This isn't a problem for everyone, but it's a problem for me, in part because of the whole belief issue I discussed earlier.  If no one even knows where this prophecy came from, why do they believe it?

I suppose, on a deeper level, I want to believe that the prophecy exists as more than just a plot device.  That it is fundamentally tied into the world somehow, whether through a vast cultural tradition or the personal revelations of a single character.  

* * *

As with all my "Dissecting Fantasy" series, I like to spend the first week complaining about cliches I see and the second week spitballing suggestions for how to make them a little more thoughtful.  Be sure to tune in for Part 2.

Weekly Update: 3/23/13

Sometimes you makes plans and they all just get away.  And there's nothing to do but wave them goodbye and start again next week.

I had plans to write and write and leave of off my procrastination from last week behind and finally get caught up.  Then I had subbing gigs all five days of the week.  Excellent for my pocket book, less so for my writing.  I struggled along.  Friday, I went up the hill to my parent's house, just to hang out.  I hoped (but knew better), I'd be able to get some writing done.

But that same Friday, my Grandma was admitted to the emergency room.  Then we found out it might be cancer.

We get more information on Monday, but for now the news is pretty grim.  My grandma is 84 years old.  She's the last grandparent I have left.  Fifties-style curls bob around her head and her face lights up when she smiles.   I think I will have to spend as much time as I can with her and memorize all the little details about her.

Life seems to want to interfere right now.  So, I let it, but still I write on.

Hours Worked: 47

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fiction: An Oil Lamp, Miners, and a Dog in the Mountains

Note: This is a story I wrote from a writing prompt during my monthly writer's club.  I like the ideas but I have no idea where to take this story.  If anyone has suggestions, please let me know. :)

The dwarf miners lay the body of their brother inside the cave deep in the heart of the mountain.  Beside them, the dog howled.  She'd been the pet of the deceased and the only witness to his murder. Soon the other dwarves would use her to seek vengeance.  But not just yet.  Right now, the dead took precidence.

They laid the body in a tomb of treasure with a single lamp yet burning.  The light glinted off piles of gold coins, off crystal goblets, off ruby necklaces and silver bracelets.  If ever the lamp burned out and the tomb became dark, it would mean that the spirit of the dwarf had found peace in the netherworld.  But if the lamp did not die out, if light continued to pour from the glass long after the oil bured away, then the dwarf's spirit remained and the tomb would be haunted.

It was said that deep in the mountain, there were chambers filled with treasure and guarded by ever-flickering lanturns.  All those who disturbed such toms would find themselves cursed with plagues and foul-luck, doomed to live a short, untimely existance.

That was why the dwarves had to avenge their fallen brother.  It was ot out of any sort of fraternal love, but of greed.  Once avenged, the spirit would move on, the lamp would die, and the tomb would be ripe for the plundering.  Blood is thicker than water, they say, but gold is thicker than blood.

Only the dog wailed in grief.  The dwarves dragged her from her masters body and sharpened their axes.  It had started with death and it would end with death.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekly Update: 3-16-13

As far as productivity goes, this week has been awful.  How awful?  It's hard to say, exactly, because I did not keep hours in my journal, as I normally do.  But I'm behind in just about all my writing tasks, plus my taxes, and it's now Saturday afternoon.  If I finish anything, it will be a miracle.

I will say this.  I've been going through a lot of heart issues, many of which has to do with fear.  Fear is often the bane of my existance, and it seems to well up in me like a fountain, for no discernable reason.  When I was a kid, I often wondered why so many of the fairy tale/ fantasy stories emphasized bravery.  Now I know.  Life is scary.  And it's not even the grand, dramatic moments.  Little things scare me just as much.

In short, this has been a week for feeling and dealing with personal issues.  And sometimes, that's good, too.

Brainstorming, interestingly enough, has been probably the most productive thing I've done this week, writing-wise.  I added 15 more pages of notes for my secod novel, in preparation for NaNoWriMo.  I've also done some work on Chapter 29, though I've yet to complete it.  I did some writing for my new Coffin story and I got Rejection #18.  I got two substitute jobs and I went on a date on Monday.  So, all in all, I guess stuff got done.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: Trickster

Title: Trickster
Author: Jeff Somers
Genre: Urban Fantasy


Lem and his pal Mags are idimustari, low-level magicians who spill blood from their own veins to perform simple cons.  It's barely a living, but it's about to get much worse when they run into headfirst into the schemes of Mika Rensar, the most powerful mage in the world.  To achieve immortality, she's willing to sacrifice all life on earth.  But in a world where magic must be paid for in blood how can Lem survive her scheme--let alone foil it--when he is unwilling to use anyone's blood but his own?


First of all, if you dislike vulgar language, this book may not be for you.  The f-word makes an appearance pretty much every page.  I personally don't appreciate cursing, but in this case it doesn't seem gratuitous.  The story is told through the eyes of Lem, a street-wise con-magician; as such, it would be strange for him to observe the niceties of drawing room language.

The story begins when Lem and Mags find a dead body.  The dead body quickly leads to the discovery of a kidnapped girl named Claire, a threat from Mika Rensar and her apprentice Amir, and the realization that Mika's scheme involves killing off 99% of all life on earth.  This is 1/3 of the way through the book.  The tension definitely keeps you reading, but I wonder if Mr. Somers didn't make the stakes a little too high.  Lem is often so low on blood he's on the verge of fainting and Mags can hardly manage a spell.  Yet somehow they keep thwarting the will of the most powerful being on earth and her high-ranking apprentice?  After a while, the villains start to appear ineffective if not downright stupid.

So, let's talk about the characters.  Lem's ethical code of using only his own blood for spells makes him an appealing hero.  The kidnapped Claire shows fight and spirit and has a tragic backstory.  Sidekick Mags is a massively strong intellectually-stunted man-child.  He's meant to play Lenny to Lem's George, but I find him inconsistently drawn.  Sometimes Mags is a gentle puppy, other times he explodes in anger.  Supposedly, he can hardly do spells--yet he pulls off complex ones when it's needed.  Still, I found most of the characters well-drawn and interesting.  None of them annoyed me enough to pull me out of the story.

The author has some wonderful ideas, starting with the central one: combining magic with blood-letting.  Most of the great tragedies of history come from mages trying to gather enough blood to fuel a spell.  As Lem often points out, magicians are not good people.  The wisdom of this saying will bear out time and time again.  The tone of Trickster skews cynical, and the descriptions, while good, are often ugly.  We are taken to moldering houses, seedy bars, and cults. Still, I don't mind a touch of noir, as long as the story is compelling and I have at least one person to cheer for.  Trickster provided that.  I read it and couldn't put it down, until the very end.

Oh, the ending.  Where to begin?

First of all, I can't say whether most readers would notice or care about all the plot holes and loose threads I found--but I did notice and I did care and it grated on my nerves.  I felt mildly disheartened when I realized Claire had become the typical damsel in distress the hero had to rescue.  I disliked the torture scene.  I sighed when the author asked me to believe that his first person point of view narrator was going to die.  But those things I could overlook as a matter of personal taste.  I could not, however, overlook dropped characters, dropped themes, a pointless cynical ending, and a rushed sequel hook.

But my complaints are too numerous to be contained in the review section, so allow me to dissect them, piece by piece, in the rant.

Rant (Lots of Spoilers!)

The main moral thrust of the book is whether or not Lem will use other people's blood to work more powerful magic.  He states that, even if the other person gives you permission, using their blood is too much like rape.  It's disgusting.  It's corrupting.  But in the end, of course, it's unavoidable.  If Lem wants to save the world, he needs help.  So, two-thirds of the way into the book, he drops his code and uses other people's blood.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the last time this code ever comes into play again.  Does he suffer for breaking the code?  Not really.  Does he go back to abiding to the code?  Not that we see.  The whole moral dilemma is scooted aside so that we can get to the action.

The climax gets rolling when Lem recovers the udug, a demonic green necklace which provides the wearer a relentless stream of information: past, present, and future.  Lem gets a hold of it when he meets Claire, back on page 41.  On page 141 Mika's apprentice Amir attempts to recover the udug but is distracted by Claire, fireballs, and the arrival of police.  Lem is too busy running away to bother with the demonic artifact.  By page 274, he finally gets back to it--after days, maybe even weeks have passed.

Lem has an excuse for the delay.  What's Amir's?  It seems like the villains completely forgot to recover a rather important weapon.  Now the udug is hidden, so perhaps they can't find it.  Perhaps.  Though that's not a ringing endorsement of their skills.  But even if they don't know its exact location, they have a rough idea where it is.  Yet they don't bother to post one guard.  Strike 1 for villainous stupidity.

The udug leads Lem to a bar where fellow idimustari rally together to keep the world from ending.  The rise of this ragtag army would have been a wonderful heroic moment--but after 5 pages, the bad guys crash the party and the idimustari scatter like rats.  So much for that.  Mika reclaims the udug, but its last words to Lem is "let her take you."

It's another intriguing idea that gets dropped before it can develop properly.  What happens when Lem is taken?  He gets tortured.  That's it.  He also learns some pointless information about when the ceremony to destroy the world will take place.  But mostly just torture.  Amir gets the information he needs from Lem and leaves him for dead.  Because it was so difficult to pull out a gun and shoot this pesky idimustari who has thwarted his plans for the last few weeks.  Strike 2 for the villains.

Lem, of course, recovers.  At this point, the Mika and Amir begin their complicated death ritual, which requires total concentration, exact precision, and no interruptions--without a single guard posted to keep annoying good guys from interfering.  Now, I could buy trading security for secrecy--if it wasn't extremely obvious that every single idimustari knew of their plan.  Seriously, would it kill them to have a few tough guys with guns and some extra evil magicians keeping watch?

Especially when anyone can tap into the massive energy source they're creating.  It's like heaping guns in every single room of an empty house and hoping no one will use them.  Years and years spent planning this delicate ritual and they can't even post a guard.  That's it.  3 strikes, you're out.  I have lost all respect for the villains.

In the end, Lem saves Claire and keeps Mika from completing the spell.  He does not, however, prevent total disaster.  Tragedy upon tragedy piles up in unrelated cities: mass suicides, drownings, shooting rampages, all within minutes of each other, hundreds of thousands of deaths.  Our intrepid narrator sums it up this way: "all [we] had done was kill a bunch of people to no [f'ing] purpose."

Now, I find this a rather depressing and cynical conclusion.  But that's not the worst of it.  Up until this moment, the author has maintained the illusion that Trickster essentially takes place in our world.  These astonishing calamities shatter this illusion.  It is no longer our world.  We have spun off into an alternate reality.

This, I suppose, could be used to set up a sequel.  The secret's out.  The citizens of "real" world will ask questions, and the magicians will either need to ban together to hide their secret or reveal themselves.  Instead, a random character named Mel pops up out of nowhere, tells us Mika is alive and willing to try for immortality again, and invites Lem to join her in the war.  That's our infuriating sequel hook.

First of all, where was Mel and her army when Lem needed them, when the world was on the brink of distraction and no one but two idimustari around to save it?  Second of all, Mika's recycled schemes to destroy the world no longer interest me.  She's lost her credibility and anything she tries is bound to be more of the same old incompetence.

One last thing.  Claire--the damsel in distress who inspires Lem to ditch his code and fight the two most powerful mages in the world almost single-handly--disappears.  She is there one paragraph, gone the next.  Lem rather bleakly concludes she ran off to get away from all this craziness.  I don't really buy that.  There are characters floating around who have reason to kidnap her all over again.  It makes me angry at Lem for not even considering the possibility she might have gotten in trouble, for giving her up for loss the moment he's saved her.

So is Claire so incredibly rude, selfish and insensitive that she'd abandoned the guys who nearly rescued her without so much as a goodbye?  Or did she just get kidnapped for the fourth or fifth time this book?  Neither situation is appealing.  Claire is arguably the third most important character in the book.  After investing so much emotion in her, we (the audience and Lem alike) deserve more than for her to just drop off the face of the earth.

And really that's the last straw.  At this point, it seems like the author has gone out of his way to make the story as inconclusive as possible.  Maybe he's doing this to make a point about the randomness of life, maybe he's trying to set up a sequel.  I don't care.  Stories are not life: they need a point or what's the purpose of reading?  And once I lose my trust in the author's basic story-telling abilities, I'm not interesting in a sequel.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Weekly Update 3-8-13

Once, while I took a walk around the neighborhood, I spied a tree filled with pink flowers, so bright they almost looked purple against the overcast clouds.  Atop the highest branch, a single hummingbird perched.

Spring is coming, but this week was full of clouds, if not outright showers.  The lack of sun has sapped my energy and made me far from productive.  Luckily, this is the beginning of my spring schedule, filled with brainstorming.  Brainstorming, like an actual storm, is rather blah at times and unpredictable.  I never feel like I get anything accomplished, but I know if I don't put in the work, it suffers.

I started March Crunch, my prequel to Camp NaNoWriMo in April.  After an hour a week just spitballing ideas, I have about 20 pages, a better grasp of the villain, and a sketch of the setting of the final battle.  I re-wrote Chapter 28 in my Changelings novel, but since it only took two days it almost feels like cheating.  I also brainstormed Chapter 29, the final chapter.  I finished Cults in Our Midst, which I consider research for the villains of the story.  I also finished Trickster by Jeff Somers, one of the new books I purchased at Barnes and Noble last Friday.  You'll be hearing more about that later.

I got another rejection, which puts me at 17.  I'm starting to get numb to these.  This weekend I have taxes.  Yay.... :(

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Plot Tips For When You Get Stuck

Plot is hard.

You start off with a great idea.  The idea sustains you and the writing flows for maybe 10, 30, 50 pages. But sooner or later the idea runs out, and then you're stuck.  So how do you get the plot rolling again?

I'm not the sort of person who likes to plan out every single plot point in advance.  I throw ideas around until something sticks.  That said, some ideas stick better than others.  Here are some things that work for me.
  • Think of an outrageous, shocking, or impossible event, the kind that makes you say, "I can't do that," while you secretly giggle in delight.  Do it.  Now explain how it happens.  Figure out the consequences.
  • Think of a backstory for the main or minor characters.  Now find a way of making that past come into the present.  This could take the shape of an old acquaintance, a parallel event, or a revealed secret.
  • Develop a relationship. Tear down a relationship.  Threaten a relationship.  Test a relationship.
  • Have your hero hurt someone.  This could be a major or minor hurt, emotionl or physical, accidental or intentional.  It adds conflict and dimension to your protagonist.
  • Develop other characters' motives.  Have them come at crossroads with the main character.  This is especially painful if someone the main character cares about is working against him. 
  • Have minor characters reveal secrets of their own.
  • Make them have to go somewhere.  Think of all the ways they could get lost.
  • Give them a deadline.  Think of all the ways they could miss it.
  • Introduce family members.  Family = Drama
  • Plan something for something nice, fun, or beautiful to happen.  Give the character something to hold onto in the bad times. 
  • Have your character learn something.  A new skill.  New information.  A secret.  
  • Plot the murder of your favorite cliche.  (See my "Dissecting Fantasy" posts for ideas.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weekly Update: 3-1-13

Happy Beginning of March!

The Orange County weather had been flirtng with warmth all winter long, but now that the first month of spring has rolled on in, it's officially hot.  I still see orange trees with fruit hanging off the branches like bright Christmas ornaments.  My aunt found a hummingbird nest in our tree.  My sinuses are going crazy.  Thusly, do the seasons change.

I'm in a good mood as I write this, because I've finished all of my goals for the winter, more or less, barring getting my driver's license, which has remained stubbornly out of reach.  I edited 3 chapters, did research, wrote 50 pages for my Coffin short story, wrote 2 new short stories, completed editing and posting my fanfiction, and kept up with this blog.

The next three months will be even crazier, especially with Camp NaNoWriMo and NaPoWriMo both converging in April.  I also want to finish my Changelings novel, continue with my Coffin short story at a rate of 3 chapters a month, and keep up this blog.  I've got my work cut out for me, that's for sure.

With so much upcoming work, I was tempted to launch headfirst into it, but some little cry within me said no.  You can start your work tomorrow.  You've completed 3 months of hard goals.  Time to celebrate.  And so I did.  I put aside my work and went out to a nice sushi lunch and spent an hour browsing at Barnes and Noble.

I'd earned the right to have a little fun.