Disney-esque Villains

“You’re not Ina!” he shouted. (Butler 238)

That’s true. She wasn’t. Shori Matthews was a young genetically-modified vampire whose DNA was mixed with a black woman’s so that she could go into the sun unlike the most normally pale vampires, or Ina.

But was this the only argument on why she shouldn’t be allowed to live?

Sure she’s black, where the normal vampires aren’t. Sure she’s enhanced with human DNA, which is based on the same argument of GMO salmon. But is that the only reason to hate her?

It seemed to me that this was a very superficial argument. Of course, I don’t know much about the argument for racism, except that people don’t like things that look/act different.

I know that we used to hurt and abuse people for being black. There was name calling, segregation, murders. But there wasn’t a reason why. When we moved from slavery to none, it seemed people were still holding on to traditions, that blacks should be treated as slaves or tools and when we were forced to change, people hated this change in living.

But in this book, it seemed as if the characters were using this same argument for Shori, except without the history. Everyone hated her because she was black, but since there was no reasoning from the characters besides that she was GMO to advance their race, to me it seemed like a very bland argument with an overly-exaggerated response.

First off, it seemed strange that the Ina didn’t perceive any racist tendencies in relation to their symbionts (human food source). Why would some perceive it within their species but not in relation to their syms?

 

And second, why is it that this proper Ina family, the Silks, go through such immoral means to remove her? It seemed an exaggerated response that was more for a wow-factor than for realism.

Everyone says they were an “ancient and once-respected family,” and yet this family didn’t go through legal means to stand against this issue? They brought up a technique that was dead for centuries instead of raising the issue to be discussed?

It seems Disney-esque that these villains react so violently to an issue that has actually never been explored. This conflict seems as if it was implied throughout the novel through a few words scattered here and there, saying that not everyone believed this to go be a good method to advance the race.

I think my feelings could reside in the fact that I’ve never truly researched why racism exists. For being so against it, I could harbor my own beliefs that keep me from seeing the conflict the story is based on. But it doesn’t change the fact that I do feel this way, and I wonder how many people do.

Would a solution be to build up the underlying conflict more? To explain why the Ina cannot accept a black vampire? It seems the only reason I was given was, ‘she’s black!’ I know, personally, I would’ve preferred more than that. More than, “she’s modified!”

Why do they care about this? Why aren’t they worried about sleeping like the dead during the day? What are their concerns?

Maybe this is a good learning lesson to build up your villains just as much as your characters. Even if they’re the bad guy, they still think they’re doing something right, even if it’s the wrong reason. In this way, they should have just as much justification for their actions as the heroes.

Butler, Octavia E. Fledgling. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2005. Print.

Creating characters

I have to be honest with you guys – when I choose characters, I basically go through a list of characteristics until something pops out and fits the personality of my characters.

But there’s a few attributes I like to come up before my character is finalized.

  1. Likes – I like to think of this as hobbies. What does my character like to do in their free time? What makes them happy? Everyone has something, and I’ve actually been using this Wiki page as a source of ideas. There’s quite a few.
  2. Dislikes – Okay, everyone has something they hate. For me, that would be swimming. I really don’t like to swim. Maybe for my character, this can extend to a fear, a phobia, a bad experience, or a taste/flavor preference. Anything of the sorts.
  3. Friends – Who are they friends with? Are they all within the same age group? This will label them in one of those stereotypical friend circles you would’ve imagined in high school or college, i.e. the jocks, the nerds, the gamers, the cheerleaders, the dancers, the theatre kids, etc. (Notice how everyone is defined by their hobbies.)
  4. Family – They don’t have to have parents, but knowing whether or not they have siblings or still see their grandparents, this will help influence some of their family values, and whether or not they want a family of their own.
  5. Values – I talk to different friends of mine, and it’s interesting to hear about their varying culture/family values. One friend of mine prefers his friends over his family, and the other will put their family above all else even while they don’t like them. These are very abstract concepts, but you only need one.
  6. Looks – Google. Seriously, start googling people at a certain age, hair color, or feature, and copy down that picture. This will help you keep that character’s look in your head and make it easier to talk about them in your story.
  7. History – They should have a little bit of background that you can drop here or there, peppered throughout the story. Did anything traumatic happen? Any scarring experiences? Maybe not, but maybe they have a favorite memory.
  8. Flaws– To make your characters feel real, they need a flaw. Absolutely need it. I referenced this earlier here.

As Writers Write summarized, this could also be attributed into three separate categories: social, physical, and psychological aspects. But, I like to list these biography details as specifics since I actually go through my characters like this and have found out that this makes the character usually real enough in my head that I can write about them.

Atypical Endings

When I first walked into Big Commercial Bookstore – not actually the name – and purchased this book, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, the cashier said, “Out of all the books I’ve read this year, this was my favorite. You’re going to love it.” And if anyone has ever had this happen to them before, you know exactly what’s going to happen. The book doesn’t meet those expectations.

I mean, of course it’s not going to meet them! You just raised the bar for the reader by bragging about how amazing this book is going to be, and of course, I’m going to raise the bar above my standards, thinking this book is going to be one out of a million, which of course it isn’t. Because even if books are amazing, they’re not perfect.

So I read the book, and I can tell you, it’s not perfect. Every author has their quirks, their own ideas, and although I appreciate everything, it’s not my favorite. But thank you cashier for raising the bar even more.

But there was one thing I truly appreciated, besides the nicely written summaries, which everyone should learn from because they aren’t boring in any way even if they do take up a huge portion of the book, and that is the ending.

In my perspective, there’s two types of endings, which probably over generalizes things, but this is again a general rule within my opinion.

  1. Open-ended
  2. Close-ended

For open endings, the finale of the book reaches some general conclusion, but never really wraps things up. You never find out what happens to Joe’s mother. Bobby’s friend. Does Shannon get into the American all-girl’s school after fighting sexist stereotypes against Thai Tom’s? Who knows…

For closed endings, the book reaches a finale. It ties everything up and shows you how everything ends. A good example of this would be the epilogue in the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling showed us who marries who, how the story ended and how the good guys won. She firmly ended the series so that in no way could they be continued. (Probably a good thing considering how dedicated her fan base is. You as the writer probably don’t want to suffer the pressure of continuing a possible series.)

This book – and I know this may SPOIL details for you – but this book ends like this, abbreviated-style:

Vincent.

This is my will and testament. My confession, if you will. My victory, my apology. These are the last words I will write in this life, for already I can feel the end coming to this body, as the end always comes…And in another life, a life yet to come, a seven-year-old boy will walk down a lane beyond south London with a cardboard box in his hand. He will stop before a house whose gardens smell of rhododendrons and hear the whistle of a passing train…This seven-year-old child will approach these strangers and, with the innocence of youth, offer them something from his cardboard box. An apple, maybe, or an orange…I promise the poison will be quick.

And Vincent Rankis will never be born. (North 403-405)

This ending I thought was amazing. You are not shown anything, which is a complete reversal of what every writer is told. “Show, not tell.” And yet, here we are told exactly how the story will end. We are given a letter, in which Harry reveals to his enemy, Vincent, that he will kill him, that Vincent doesn’t have much time left, and it’s already too late. And yet, we never see him kill Vincent. We are told how. We are given all the details, but we’re never shown if it’s successful.

Good-grape-ilicious-gosh, I love this ending! Nothing and everything is wrapped up. Simultaneously, this ending is open because we are not shown the definitive end, and yet this ending is closed because we know what’s going to happen next.

Because this ending forces the reader to imagine the ending, since it’s not technically shown, it forces them to think. It gives them closure because we can assume Harry will succeed, and yet we will never truly be satisfied without proof of his success. It achieves this perfect balance that I think a lot of books struggle to achieve.

What I would recommend is leave your readers within this sense of balance. To me, I think this ideal. Give them a sense of closure, but don’t close the door all the way. Give readers the motivation to think, to imagine. As authors, our job is to make our readers question the world around them. It would be in our best interest to try!

North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.

Anti-social skills

I think it’s great that we have the internet now, so anyone can look up anything and learn something. For instance, because I have access to a computer and the internet, I can look up any topic on writing and find something about it. Or just let YouTube suggest it for me.

I definitely haven’t talked about this enough even though this is a skill I use all the time. This is my skill when it comes to creating stories. People ask me what I do, and I honestly tell them day dream, become distracted.

And yet, it’s hard for me to put into words what happens when I day dream, which I find this video does a good job of breaking into a skill.

When I’m thinking about a story, it roils in my mind, disturbing any train of thought with a single line of distraction that balloons into this series of webs and tangents, eventually twisting back together to create a singular thread that will take me back to a final outcome.

For instance…I’m working on this new story of mine, and the characters, while defined, seem to be working pieces of art. While I have that image of the character in my mind, they’re alive. They speak. They have a voice. Which I believe is true for any author. When you write often enough, your characters come to life, and writing their story is simple because you’re simply the conduit that they speak through. But this is after time. After daydreaming. After training.

You must first become comfortable with gazing into a distance.

You have to be able to zone out and picture a setting in your head. Who’s there? What are they doing?

And the most important part: There must be conflict, and there must be something you’re interested in. It doesn’t matter if it’s an internal struggle, or a physical disturbance. There must be something that bothers you and your character and keeps you interested enough to follow a possible scenario from beginning to end.

This is what I call zoning out.

It comes from practicing skills, like the video mentioned: eavesdropping, observing, imagining. These are truly anti-social skills because this is something you have to practice by yourself. But they don’t all have to be.

When you’re knew, it helps to bounce ideas off a friend, maybe a fellow writer. Observe people in a public place. What do they do? What makes them upset? What makes you upset?

The whole idea is if you practice enough, if your character feels real enough that they’ve developed a body and voice, scenes will come easy. Dialogue will come easy. Reactions will come easy. But it all takes practice. And I’m sorry this skill isn’t any easier to learn.

Why all writers are poets

There’s a reason you get absorbed in a book, and I know I’ve touched on this a few times but I really do think this video that TED-Ed released does a really nice job explaining. I encourage everyone to watch it. It’s not long.

Short version: The definition of writing is visual symbols (or words) that the brain has equated to concepts or experiences. For example, everyone understands the color red due to their own experiences and recalls a specific image or memory based on reading that word. In order to fully engage every reader, it is then the job of the writer to choose words that most stimulate your brain. This means using words that rely on the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

 

Concrete versus Abstract

I think for today, this topic works best by example.

Abstract:

I was careful with my new body, timid, where I once was brave, and careful, where I once was daring. I always feared what was to come because I knew what was coming before it was here.

I know. Not my best work. But it’s really difficult to write in abstracts. Maybe this isn’t the best example, but you’ll get the picture. Prose can also be much better than this. (Or poetry.)

Concrete:

“Holes and crags that I climbed along and leaped in my first life, to my more conservative elder brain suddenly seemed places of danger, and I wore my child’s body as an old woman might wear a skinny bikini bought for her by a fragile friend” (North 10).

What’s the difference?

If you don’t see it, read my next I’m-sorry-this-couldn’t-be-better example.

Abstract-2:

You take a bite of the fruit and continue to eat, the taste reminding you of sweet beginnings, a continuous loop of life that keeps going and going, an endless repetition until it finally comes to an end at the center – the single finale that reminds you of the contrast of new and old, birth and death and back again. Always bitter and sweet. Never too much of one side but a balance in the middle.

Concrete-2:

It reminds you of a grape, except this fruit is of the larger variety, always covered in a skin of orange and red, swirling together in a constant mirage of sunset that feels like the fuzz on your face if you were still a baby or hadn’t yet experienced puberty. The perfect ending to the perfect meal – a peach.

Not the best of examples, but bear with me. What do you notice?

It should be that abstract always outlines abstract concepts – things that are more akin to thoughts and feelings, not really defined as a hard image, taste, smell, or sound. Abstract concepts are thoughts or ideas and are usually the most difficult things to convey, where as concrete examples are easy to define. When I say a peach, you think of the fruit. It’s a concrete example. Easy to paint a picture with color, taste, feeling, and smell although I can’t even begin to comprehend how to describe that.

Because abstract concepts are so difficult to communicate, they need concrete images to attach to, which is why abstract things are hard to write. They’re just as hard to read. Even while writing it, I couldn’t help but include concrete images: bite or loop, even birth and death to an extend.

Even if I was talking about “birth” and “death,” by relating it to a fruit, I’ve made it more definable. Just as North did the character’s loss of innocence. I’ve just turned a phrase into an image, making it more relatable to the readers.

This is a good trick on how to talk about big ideas – metaphors, images.

North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.

Edit on 11/16:

Mixed example of concrete and abstract descriptions by BJ Neblett – You take a bite of life and continue to eat, the skin sweet and tangy all at once. Crunching into the meat you find it difficult at first, soon learning the subtle nuances of the texture, the run of the grain. Savoring as much as possible, you can feel the juice seep from the corners of your mouth. Finally, with great expectation, you reach the center and find a hard sour pit. Disappointed at first, you realize from this core will spring new life.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Every time I read science fiction or fantasy, there’s the usual new power struggle, of defiance or denial – either way you want to think about it. And the book The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is no different.

“As the full powers of my adult consciousness returned to my child’s body, I fell first into a confusion, then an agony, then a doubt, then a despair, then a screaming, then a shrieking, and finally, aged seven years old, I was committed to St Margot’s Asylum for Unfortunates, where I frankly believed myself to belong, and within six months of my confinement succeeded in throwing myself out of a window on the third floor” (North 8).

I thought this was beautiful, not because of the style, but because it shows the truth of every ability or power. That there’s is ugly just as there is beauty. I think every book stands to look at the faults of not only their characters but the powers they experience.

Too often you read books where it’s shame, embarrassment and then overjoyed acceptance. This book tells the truth that there is suicide in the world, there are people who can’t handle it, and although this whole book is not like that, I appreciate that it went in that direction and experienced it.

Not much to comment on besides that. I think every book should show the flaws just as much as the strengths.

North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.

Chapter Design

As I’ve written before, chapters are designed to encompass a sort of mini story line within the bigger picture of your book, and depending on your story, they can vary in length, perspective, POV…Now because I just finished The Martian Chronicles, I thought this would be a great book to discuss chapter design since each chapter is a stand alone story.

The overall purpose of this book is unknown to me at the moment. I can tell you the book is mainly about Mars and settling the planet, but each chapter shows a different piece of the timeline. And I say timeline because this book really does span the start to the end of the settling of Mars…probably why it’s called The Martian Chronicles – the lifespan of one species of Martians to the next…but I’m getting off topic.

The first chapter sets the scene of the whole book, telling of the origin of the first rocket launch. And then the next chapter goes into the Martian perspective, telling of how the first expedition failed due to murder. I think this chapter was important for the book (even though most other chapters are from the human perspective) because we need to know what makes a Martian…martian. Now we know they’re telepathic, what they look like, how they live. It really sets the scene on Mars.

The next few chapters tell of similar stories. Of humans struggling to settle on Mars, either being killed or killing each other until finally the Martians are gone, wiped out by disease just like how Europeans killed the Native Americans here in North America. And this sets the tone for the rest of the book. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that although the book was telling the history of the planet within a span of 5 to 10 years, each chapter wasn’t only telling a piece of the timeline but relating to some bigger theme that tends to be a problem on Earth. This is worth noting because all these same people are leaving Earth for these same reasons, and these same problems follow them here as well.

Maybe the book is trying to tell us we’re creating these problems and we’re the source of them. Our problems will always follow us where we go.

This book is a great example of how to tell a story through a generation or time span, which I feel isn’t possible (or difficult to do) unless you span multiple perspectives like Bradbury did. He does a wonderful job writing each story with a new character, giving them their own wants, needs, and conflict, and shows how that story ends within the chapter while expanding the story of Mars in itself.

For example…

Chapter 8: After man was finally safe to settle on Mars, chapter 8 did a sort of summary discussion of how it was only a few men at first who came to settle Mars.

Chapter 9: Gives one man’s story of how he terraformed the planet in order to create a level of oxygen that was more natural for the humans settling on Mars. This is what helped create a more comfortable planet for the people.

Chapter 10: Used summary to show the growth of the population, including those of men and women.

Chapter 11: This chapter I feel like didn’t fit the story as much since it discussed a sort of…timeline cross. It told the story of a human made aware of a Martian and a Martian aware of the human, who were both in different timelines and couldn’t interact with the other besides talk and listen. Nothing similar followed this chapter.

Then there were more men, more women. There was a discussion of spreading religion to the Martians. A show of boys playing in the debris leftover in the Martian cities, before that was cleared. A scene of women on Earth wanting to go to Mars. Of a man creating a house of darkness, witchcraft and such in order to discuss censorship and rebellion against the old Earth orders…

This book alternates between quick summaries of the general population and long scenes with specific characters to emphasize specific events that are critical to the timeline of the settling of Mars.

I think this a good strategy if you are focused more on the plot than a specific character.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.

Self-Reflection

“This is no celebration,” replied the captain tiredly. “This is no banquet. These aren’t government representatives. This is no surprise party. Look at their eyes. Listen to them!”

…”Where are we, sir?”

The captain exhaled. “In an insane asylum.” (Bradbury 34-35)

What a beautiful twist! And this book is full of them.

First, the initial expedition, which made it to the ground only to be murdered.

Then the second expedition, who told the people of Mars they were from Earth and were then forced into the asylum because the natives thought they were crazy telepathic Martians.

I like the way Bradbury convinces the reader of this. First, the astronauts are celebrating. They think someone is finally taking them seriously, until the natives mention they’re from Earth as well, which obviously isn’t true.

And then they think, we’ll we just have to prove it’s true. It shouldn’t be difficult, considering that they have pink skin and Martians are brown. But notice the captain’s words when his men ask them if it should be easy to leave. “I’m not [certain.] Look in that corner” (35). Where people bent realities with their minds. The people of Mars mentioned earlier in the book they were telepathic. This was not only a believable excuse, but riveting for the reader as the second expedition encounters their own realistic problem. I loved it!

I loved how this problem harassed the third expedition as well, and it was also not until the captain reflected on his reality, the odds of it happening, until he realized these imaginings were from his mind (63). It is these reflections that gives the characters the realization and the ability to act on these problems, and it is these reflections that clue the reader into the problem and give us the ability to react.

These reflections made these next chapters exquisite! And I definitely think they point out why self-reflection and thought are so important for our characters. Without it, they’re not real. They’re just figurines.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.

Breaking expectations

When you’re mom exclaims, ‘Johnny! This is the first night you haven’t wet the bed! I’m so proud of you!!’ There’s good reason for her to be excited. Against all evidence, you’ve broken her expectations! When you’ve been wetting the bed since you were 6 and now you’re 13, she probably expected an ordinary night but instead there’s dry freedom! Congratulations! This situation awards you an accomplishment.

Of course the opposite is also true. You can break expectations in the reverse direction. If we’re following the moral compass…you can break expectations and fail spectacularly! As in, you’ve never crapped your pants before but as soon as you get a stomach bug in the middle of allergy season where you’re sneezing worse than that 27-sneeze girl in class, you do it. Yeah. You shouldn’t be proud.

This book is like that. Well, not the spectacular fail but instead breaking all expectations in a positive, dramatic way.

“Aside to his men [the Earth captain] whispered, “Now we’re getting someplace!” To Mr. Aaa he called, “We traveled sixty million miles. From Earth!” / Mr. Aaa [the alien]  yawned. “That’s only fifty million miles this time of year” (Bradbury 27).

How obnoxious! Here these Earthlings traveled all this distance, and no one gives *excuse my language* a crap. Absolutely none. No one could be bothered with this information.

And I love it!

I feel like the general expectation here is if you’re an ‘alien’ then people would react to you. There’s the War of the Worlds reaction: general dooms day apocalypse. There’s the welcoming with open arms, where the aliens donate their technology and culture, which I’m sure exists in some movie or book but whose name I can’t think of at the moment.

Either way, these all deal with reactions.

And this book has none, except boredom.

I like it.

By breaking all my expectations, there’s originality, creativity, and a disguised comment that I haven’t yet become aware of.

I’m enjoying the book so far.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.