I got a few reader questions about what I do before I write a book, so that’s the topic of this week’s vlog post (which is late. Oops).
We’re talking ideas, characters, plotting, and pantsing!
I got a few reader questions about what I do before I write a book, so that’s the topic of this week’s vlog post (which is late. Oops).
We’re talking ideas, characters, plotting, and pantsing!
Griselda Beaumage is a teacher at Ernis Albion’s school on Belleisle.
As we know from Torn, she’s a powerful Sorceress–an omnilinguist and an illusionist, to be precise, though she has other skills that Rowan knows nothing about. She’s tall and intimidating, and fiercely intelligent. She’s a bit of a hero for Rowan, who hasn’t really had a Sorceress to look up to. Sure, there are a few other female students at the school, but a true Sorceress is a rarity, and Griselda has had a lot longer than those students have to hone her skills.
She’s an adventurer, and has been spending significant time in Luid as the guest of the Tiernal family and as an ambassador.
She’s more than that, though.
Griselda is a scholar of magic. She’s far older than she appears (one of the benefits of strong magic), and has spent decades exploring the world outside of Serath. Her gifts with languages have allowed her to travel as she pleases, communicating with people and intelligent species the world over. She spent years among centaurs–previously a misunderstood and nearly legendary group, as far as her people were concerned. She has loved, and she has lost far more than she will ever let on in front of her students.
She’s also a character whose history I’d love to dig deeper into some day. She’s not the only one. If I were to write every story I wanted to that branched off from the Bound trilogy, I’d be looking at…
*counts on fingers*
*takes off socks, counts on toes*
A hell of a lot of work ahead of me. I’d love to follow the merfolk to their world, to explore new lands with Griselda, to seek out the Aeyer and witness their clan wars. A dragon’s story would be a challenge, but an interesting one.
And then there are the two trilogies I’m actually planning to set in this world, one historical and one set in the near future.
There was a time when I worried I’d run out of stories to tell. That was before I met my characters and realized that each one of them is the key to a door that opens up new lands, new worlds, and new adventures.
Have I mentioned that I love my job?
Quick, because I need to outline and write another scene before I start cooking supper in an hour. Totally not going to happen, still going to try!
I broke 14,000 words for NaNoWriMo this morning, which was nice. I got NO words yesterday (school event in the morning, guilt over housework in the afternoon, boot-buying mission after school, “V for Vendetta” at night), so it felt good to get two scenes in this morning that I was excited about. I met a new character, too, who was a lovely surprise. Her name is Griselda Beaumage, and she’s a blond sorceress who wears high boots and leather pants. She has a French accent and coined the word “Sorchere” this morning (combination of “sorciere” and “chere”). I don’t know where she came from, but I’m kind of in love.
I think it’s because I put lipstick on to make my muse feel special. I’ll have to keep doing that.
So there we go. We’re going away on Saturday evening, so that’ll put a dent in my productivity (and my ability to participate in the NaNoWriMo marathon). But darn it, I’m going to take my computer and write while we’re away. This book is exploding with bright, shiny things, and I’m not going to leave it alone until this draft is finished.
For more ROW80 goodness, click here!
I guess I should put something up, but there’s no time to edit. Ack. Here’s the first 6 paragraphs of the scene where Griselda introduced herself, for the 6th of October. Sorry for the first-draftiness, but I have Things of Great Importance to do…
The lights dimmed, allowing gloom to creep into the corners of the classroom. A breeze whispered past my ear, and a pale apparition appeared at the doorway. Smoke at first, nearly invisible, but solidifying into the form of a bright green dragon. Every part of it was beautiful, from the arch of its snake-like neck to the way the sunlight from the windows reflected off of its overlapping metallic scales.
The creature came closer, neck and back arched, nostrils flaring, steam rising from its mouth. Bright red eyes locked on mine. It lifted a foreleg to paw at the air, and took a few more steps, until it stood nose to nose with me where I sat frozen on the professor’s desk at the front of the room. The scaled lips rolled back, baring vicious fangs that dripped with an unfamiliar poison.
“Can I touch her?” I asked.
“Give it a try.”
I reached out, and my hand passed through the steam unharmed. The dragon snapped at me, and its teeth closed together over my wrist without resistance. The dragon’s flesh looked as real and solid as my own, but I felt nothing.
“Incredible,” I whispered.
Join the fun, or just see what those crazy WIPpeteers are up to here! Thank you, KL Schwengel, for hosting even when life is hitting you hard. ❤
And with that, I leave you. Let me know what you’re up to this week! WriMos, are you participating in the marathon on the 9th? Anyone doing word sprints on Twitter? Everyone else care to share what’s happening these days? Want to lie on the couch, talk about your mother? HMMMM?
Thanks for stopping by!
HOLY CRAP DID YOU WATCH THIS SHOW?
Well, we just started, so please, no spoilers in the comments! AJ and I are working our way through Season 2 of Breaking Bad, and we’re… is it bad form to say addicted? It’s a strange sort of show in that it has me rooting for characters who are doing Very Bad Things– and even for characters whose positions put them in conflict with each other. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure, this is a show about a brilliant, over-qualified high-school Chemistry teacher who finds out he has lung cancer. Bad. Health care in the USA being what it is, he can’t afford treatment, and doesn’t want to leave his wife (pregnant at 40-ish with a surprise baby) and his 16-year old son (who has cerebral palsy) with his debts. So he can choose to die, or to make money.
There’s money in meth, and he knows chemistry.
It’s a fascinating story on several levels, and I’ve heard it only gets better. The characters aren’t always likeable; certainly no one is perfect, and I wouldn’t want to trade places with any one of them, two things that we often hear are important in a protagonist. The thing is, though, that they all have believable goals and motivations, and we as an audience can empathize with them, whether we agree with their actions or not.
The best thing about this show, and the one that I’d like to talk about today, is CONFLICT.
Sweet thundering methamphetamines, do the writers on this show know how to create tension and conflict. I’d like to look at one episode, which AJ and I watched last night, for a few examples. There will be episode spoilers, so fair warning there, but no series spoilers for anyone who’s just starting out, like I am (Hi, Robyn!).
The episode (Season 2) is called 4 Days Out.
We start out with tension inherent in the situation. Walt (our chemistry teacher/meth cook) has managed to pay for his first round of treatments, but has very little left over to put toward his family’s upkeep if he dies. He’s had an MRI to see how things are looking, and won’t get his results for a week– but he saw a terrifying blotch in his lungs on the scan, and is certain his time is running out. He and Jesse (his former student and the guy who does the selling) head out to the desert to cook up a storm while they can.
We, the audience, know that what they’re doing is illegal, and most of us probably think that selling meth is wrong (especially after the characters we met in a previous episode. It’s a hell of a drug, guys). Still, we feel for Walt. He loves his family, but he’s lying to them to protect them, and it’s causing problems in his marriage.* He is absolutely certain he’s dying, and feels he has no choice but to do this. Back against a wall, much?
Seriously, the show is almost an ad for universal health care. That, and the awesomeness of chemistry.
So things are tense already. The questions are never stated, but they’re there. Will Walt and Jesse be able to make their product and sell it without getting caught? Is Walt going to die soon? What was that on the MRI? And Walt has been showing signs that he’s no longer the basically decent person we met in Season 1, so that’s pulling us in, too. How far will he go for his family?
Jesse brought 10 gallons of drinking water. They’re in the desert for a few days. The cooking is a great success, until the generator runs out of gas. It’s time to go back home…
And the RV’s battery is dead.
Now, here’s where the writers show their skill. Skillz? We saw a similar situation in season 1, when the RV was broken and had trouble starting. It’s since been repaired, so the dead battery is unexpected– and worse, it’s Jesse’s fault. He left the keys in the ignition for two days. He denies that it’s his fault (“the buzzer’s broken!”), but the fact remains that these two are stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Oh, did I mention that they have cell phones, but Jesse’s has no signal, and Walt won’t use his to call anyone but his wife, because she’ll check his phone records? They have a tool, and they can’t use it, even though Jesse insists that they need to. This creates more tension than we would have seen if they simply hadn’t had a phone.
I won’t give away the whole episode, but it’s a perfect example of escalating tension, and the idea that a writer’s first thought should usually be, “how can I make this situation worse for my characters?”
They hook up the generator to the battery to try to charge it, after Walt siphons gas out of the RV (EEEEWWWWW!). It bursts into flames. Walt runs in to get the fire extinguisher, but Jesse, in a panic, grabs what’s left of their water and dumps it on the flames.
Good thing: the fire is out. Terrible thing: they now have no drinking water. In the desert. 15 miles from a road.
Did you see what happened again? Situational tension has increased, but so has the conflict between the characters. This was the point where I went, “THIS IS BRILLIANT!”
It only gets worse, of course. Walt starts coughing up blood. They call for help, someone’s on his way, that someone gets lost, the phone battery dies. They’re forced into physical exertion to try to charge the RV battery, they think they’ve succeeded, they’re wrong. Those moments of hope create a roller coaster of emotion that sharpen the low points and prevent the story from becoming a mere downward spiral.
I hated it for stressing me out, and I loved it for keeping me entranced.
I said no spoilers, so I won’t tell you how it ends. I assumed all along that they were going to get out of this mess, what with there being several more seasons of the show to go, but that did nothing to dampen the tension in what was actually a very simple storyline. I will tell you that the emotional payoff at the end is amazing, and this situation changes the two characters’ relationship in a way that should be interesting.
The lesson I’m taking away from this episode (aside from “Holy crap, I will never be this good at the whole writing thing”) is that not only is tension important if you want to keep a viewer (or reader) hooked, but interpersonal conflict often trumps situational tension. If they’d run out of drinking water before they decided to head home, we still would have had a tough situation. But the fact that their thirst was Jesse’s fault made the situation tense on a deeper level and made the audience react in a different way.
Is this exact approach what we want for every story? No, but we need to remember that tension is what hooks a reader and keeps him/her reading. That’s our goal as writers. The ups and downs that keep people guessing, the interpersonal conflicts, the screw ups and the defensiveness, the desperation… all tools we can use to make our work shine. I know I’ll be looking at it from a fresh perspective, now. Who says books are the only place we can learn about good writing?
If you’re looking for more information on tension and conflict in writing, I recommend Donald Maass’ book “The Fire in Fiction,” which is on my list to re-read during this round of ROW80.
So tell me: Did you watch/are you watching Breaking Bad? NO SPOILERS, but did you enjoy the storytelling as much as I do? If not, have you ever picked apart a particularly effective movie or TV show episode to see what made it tick, and what were your conclusions?
*For the record, I think that Skylar’s motivations are just as valid as Walt’s, given what she knows about the situation at this point. Anna Gunn, who plays Skylar, has received death threats over things her character has done… I can’t wait to find out what that’s all about, but really guys. Chill.
Some of you know that Empire Records is one of my all-time favourite movies. It captures something about the nineties that other movies seem to have missed, an atmosphere that I guarantee you’ll never find in new movies when that decade becomes “retro” and a cool time period to set movies in.
And I’m not ashamed to admit it, I adore Lucas.
But as I was watching last night, I realized that there were things that I, as a writer, could learn from this movie. No, it’s not perfect, but it does a lot of things very well. The first one that struck me was character introduction.
This isn’t a movie with a small cast. It’s not Game of Thrones huge, but it’s a day in the lives of the people who work at a record store, on a day when absolutely everyone is working. So do we open on a scene with everyone running around, doing their thing?
Of course not. The introductions come quickly so we can get to the story, but each character has a moment (or a scene) where we meet them and learn the basics; depth and details come later, but we get enough to push them into our brains and stick a pin in them until we get back to it. Now, I’m talking about the fan edition; forgive me if anything doesn’t line up with the original cut.
First, there’s Lucas. We learn that he’s closing the store, and he’s been instructed not to touch Joe’s (the manager) beer, cigars, or drums. A moment later we cut to Lucas touching all of those things, drumming away on the piles of money he’s been instructed to count twice. But count it twice he does, which tells us a lot about Lucas. We also learn something when he discovers that his beloved Empire Records (an independent store) is set to be turned into a big chain store (booooo!), and he decides to take a big risk to try to save this place he loves.
Lucas may have impulse control issues and/or an odd way of respecting authority, but he wants to do the right thing. This in just a few minutes, and from him closing the store. Not the most exciting set-up, no danger or explosions or fights, but we’re thrown into character and story right away, and want to know what happens.
Boom. That’s exactly what all writers are told to aim for in the first few paragraphs, isn’t it?
Other characters trickle in the next morning. Joe, the grumpy manager. Frustrated, beaten down, but it’s quickly apparent that he cares for the kids who work for him. We get Mark, who’s obviously not all there (hi, drugs!), but he’s funny and seems like a good guy. AJ: artistic, confused, and lovesick.
Next scene, Corey and Gina on their way to work. Corey: perfect, organized, efficient and infatuated with a much-older pop star who she plans to seduce later that day…
Because it’s REX MANNING DAY, folks!
Rex is clearly a bit of a douche. This creates tension as we wonder what in the world the sweet, innocent Corey wants with him, and how that’s going to pan out. Bleh.
Gina: Corey’s polar opposite, except that they’re both pretty (of course).
Other employees filter in (Burko and Eddie are really the least-developed ones, but we still get a feel for them*), adding to the cast in little bits, allowing the audience to adjust and get to know them a little before we’re overwhelmed with more people. And while this is happening, of course, there’s a plot developing.
Several plots, actually.
And this is another thing I think is interesting. You have this plot concerning what’s going to happen to the store after Lucas screws things up. This affects everyone. But the subplots are thick in this one. AJ wanting to tell Corey he loves her. Debra tried to kill herself, and everyone’s worried about her. Rex Manning is a douche, and just makes everything worse in the store (and adding conflict is a good thing, right?). And we also have Warren the shoplifter.
Gina hates Debra, Debra hates Gina. Gina is jealous of Corey but tries to hide it; Corey seems perfect on the outside, but we all know that can’t be right. Everything is coming to a crisis point.
It could be a huge mess, but every sub-plot is tied in to the others, adding to them rather than taking screen time away from them, and everything builds toward the climax and a satisfying resolution. Subplots add depth to a story; keeping them tight and intertwined keeps them from slowing the plot down.
So there’s two things, and plenty of evidence that I can’t just sit and enjoy a movie. There are other lessons, I’m sure. Dialogue is one:
Aah, I love it.
So, what movies have you learned from? Jae, I know you always find lessons in movies (everyone else, have a look!). Anyone else have one movie you just adore and want to share with the
class rest of us? Or are there movies/books/shows you thing didn’t do character introductions well, throwing so many people at us that we can’t really tell them apart later on? Share!
*However, their hairstyles are never adequately explained. Come to think of it, everyone’s hair is pretty greasy… this may be the film’s primary downfall.
Know what sucks? Yes, besides a Hoover. Very funny. What I was going to say was that re-naming characters sucks. Hard. And not in a good way.
I knew this was coming. I’ve even mentioned it here, trying to mentally prepare myself. But it really has to be done now, both in revisions for my first book and for the character re-appearing in the second. And it’s not the character I thought it would be.
I was going to change Cassia’s name, and let Kai keep his. His name means “ocean,” he’s a watery sort of guy, and then name seemed to me to have the sort of fun-yet-laid-back vibe that he gives off. I was attached to Cassia’s name, too (I adore it, and it means “cinnamon,” which is pretty much the colour of her skin), but I thought she could survive the change. I couldn’t leave them both, not with love interests in a very popular YA series being named Cassia and Ky. My brother and sister pair would not stand for it.
So Kai’s name was going to stay. And then a friend named her dog Kai, and told me that her kids had named him after a Lego Ninjago character. Lovely. And reviews of another book that I need to read say that there’s a female character named Kai. And the name has come up a few times in reviews of other books I’ve seen recently, all male characters. Point is, it’s popular, and I don’t like that. Didn’t want to give my kids popular names, don’t want to do it for my characters. I don’t need them to be speshul-snowflake unique (or Uneeq, for that matter), but I really don’t like name trends.
But there’s also no other perfect name with a similar meaning. All evidence to the contrary, I don’t usually choose names based on what they mean; I’ve almost rejected names that gave away too much. But most of my mer folk do have water-related names. Nguh. I’ve narrowed it down a bit… I just hope this doesn’t take up as much of my day as blog renovations did yesterday. O.o
EDIT: Ugh. I liked the name Caius (it’s similar!), but I just found out that there’s one in the Twilight saga. So that’s probably a “no.”
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