Book Review: The Hollow March

The Hollow March by Chris Galford

I picked up this book initially because the cover is seriously beautiful; it reminded me of the Alan Lee illustrations for The Lord of the Rings, which are the editions of that series I own. I was looking for a new epic fantasy that combined the high adventure elements of a travel quest with something new and different. The strength of The Fifth Vertex was in its characters, and it’s a book that does just this. This story, however, has all the setting of epic fantasy, but none of it feels grounded in the characters, and this kept destroying my reading experience.

As a reader, I better be able to tell what the main character(s) want, and the early, driving action in a story needs to bring that into lazer focus. This is, essentially, what the book is about: what the character wants or needs. The main problem in The Hollow March is that I kept struggling with what Rurik wanted. He wants to fight his father because of backstory, okay, but what else? This is also a story that could’ve benefited from only focusing on one character, too, because a single well-developed character can make a book, but a weak main character will only get their perspective diluted in a multi-POV story. Essa’s character rose above the rest, and maybe the story should’ve been about her, but trying to make the story about the band of sell-swords didn’t quite work, either. I didn’t hate any of the characters, but I just didn’t feel much of anything for them, which is much worse, honestly, than if I’d hated them. I’ve read books where I’ve spent the better part of the book loathing the main character, but I can hate them because there is something there to hate. It just doesn’t feel like there’s much behind Rurik & Co.

The other issues I had with this novel might’ve not occurred at all if I didn’t have such a lackluster experience with the characters. There’s a lot of telling about the backstory and the fantasy world, but in epic fantasy, the world building exposition tends to be heavier because it can be essential in helping the reader understand the story. There’s still a tad too much telling here for my liking; a bit more sticking to the action vs. explaining backstory could’ve done the first several chapters of this book a lot of favors. The story, in many ways, should’ve opened with Rurik or found a way to do so and make him interesting. I honestly think that’s often the way to know if an author has written the story about the wrong character–if they can’t find any interesting way to open said story with the main character. Are there exceptions to this? Yes, but they are highly exceptional, and those stories do have to work extra hard to convince me that the main character should be the protagonist. It takes a level of story-telling finesse that, not gonna lie, most authors (including moi) don’t have to successfully open a story without the main character any where in sight.

Backstory is never as interesting to the reader as it is to the writer. I love my character’s backstories and think they’re terribly important, but readers prefer the here-and-now, which can make it tough to get the necessary info into the story. Epic fantasy tends to just dump it in there, but even that’s not the specific problem I had here. It felt like the story was about the backstory and not about the current action; it’s just that the explanations about who did what never let up. The action got lost in all of that, and there simultaneously needed to be more action and less. It’s a confounding book, and a problem that I usually don’t find outside of fantasy books with literary aspirations, or at least, that’s where I’ve experienced this feeling before.

Random Thoughts:

  • I don’t like to rag on books or authors, but I thought I should post something that I bought with the intention to enjoy, but for reasons, couldn’t get into it.
  • The cover is really great, and I seriously wish the story itself could’ve been half as good.
  • This book is long, and while that doesn’t specifically turn me off, there has to be a lot there for me to be convinced the entire story is worth it. (I’ve never been able to finish a Neal Stephenson novel because I find I just don’t care enough to spend the time, but lots of people seem to love his stuff.)

Read if: You have a lot of patience with characters.

Beware if: You wanted epic fantasy with a little more action.

My Rating: 2 because I just couldn’t get into the story. There’s a lot of explanation with much story, IMO.

Trip Round Up: Summer ’14 (and early fall)

I ended up having a very busy late summer, so I didn’t get into the outdoors as often as I would’ve liked to. This wasn’t helped by having my backpack and gear stolen, either, but I did get several trips in that I really enjoyed this year, and I’m hunkering down and saving money for a really exciting, longer trip next year. Here’s a list, in a rough order of time, what trips I did starting in May and continuing into mid-September.

San Gorgonio

This was one of those trips. I intended to do a 3 day trip through the San Gorgonio wilderness, and this is what happened:

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The middle of May when wildfires were burning up other parts of SoCal.

The middle of May when wildfires were burning up other parts of SoCal.

I didn’t want to hang around too long in a thunder-snow-hail storm above 9000 feet, so I didn’t. The weather was supposed to be partially cloudy in the morning with a 30% chance of rain, so this was very unexpected weather! It was snowing down to 7500 feet, so I bailed on this trip.

Joshua Tree

This is the corollary to ‘failed San Gorgonio trip’, and it turned out to be two of my favorite days in the outdoors all year. I yo-yoed the California trail in Joshua Tree, and it was a solid decision because the cold front that came through the mountains lowered the temps in the Mojave as well. I’m aware the California trail isn’t the most exciting or challenging trail in the world, but it was a relaxing walk across the desert, and I had it to myself 95% of the hike. After the mountains, I thoroughly enjoyed being dry! I also enjoyed the wildlife I saw, too, although they moved quickly, and I didn’t get any good pictures of the lizards, snakes, and rabbits. Bonus: there were still some flowering cacti. These are some of my favorite photos, too, because the light mid-morning was so perfect.

CAM00334CAM00356 CAM00346 CAM00340 CAM00359New Hampshire: Presidentials

The next several are out of order, but I’m posting the Presies first, even though I did them a bit later in the summer. New Hampshire is easily the nicest place to hike and climb out East, even though I didn’t have the energy or time to do the drive more this year. I tend to take less pictures when I do more scrambling and harder hikes.

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Adirondacks: Great Range

There’s a reason this hike is infamous, but it did bump me over the two dozen mark for the ADK 46er list. This was a hard hike, but it was the perfect early summer day for it, although I ended this thing looking like I’d done Tough Mudder.

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Maine: Grafton Loop

Bailed on an original New Hampshire plan to hike this loop and bag Old Speck. It’s a bit more weedy than most people would like, I think, but I did enjoy having the blue blazed trail mostly to myself. This, however, was a hike where I got a rude note left on my car, so that makes me think less fondly of it.

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Acadia

I went into this trip with negative planning, especially for me, but that’s kind of what I needed that weekend. I went to the sea shore at 6am, went for a slow, small starter hike, and then proceeded to do a hike/trail run around the major ‘mountains’ in Acadia. The best thing about the hiking there is that the tree line starts at ~600 feet, and there are some wonderful slab ridge lines with endless views of the coast and inland Maine. It’s quite nice, but also a bit crowded, which is why I trail ran–to get away from some of the slower walkers and more crowded areas.

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Wonderland Loop

I ended up with an UTI during the last day of this trip, but there’s a reason this trail is super famous. It’s a well-maintained hiking trail with spectacular views. The best part was that we saw an entire herd of mountain goats, including 6 babies. Lovely trip overall. This is also the last trip my overnight pack went on, RIP Mariposa 2012-2014.

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Mount Tremblant

I did this last one for a work conference, and my gear was stolen shortly after this trip, so this is the last one I’m posting. The area was lovely, but it was overcast for most of the time I was there. I’d love to go back and ski there, too.

1411481024940 1412339788626My final notes on these trips is that I did most of them solo, which was something I didn’t anticipate doing this year. I found I really liked the solitude and control I had while hiking solo, although there is a certain motivation and comfort that I get hiking with other people, but being able to go out and do my own thing ended up being the major theme of this hiking season for me. The bonus of doing some of these trips is what I was able to work into running half-marathons and several days of 8-12 miles of running on a weekly basis, which gave me the best aerobic performance I’ve had in years.

God’s Play Blog Tour Round Up

The God’s Play blog tour finished up last week. It was a lot of work (and a lot of fun!) to finally have this happen, and here’s a master list of the blogs that hosted the book and my favorite highlights of what they said about it.

Overall I enjoyed this book. A nice read, great writing and the story will keep you interested throughout. The fantasy was done well and the author didn’t over do it on the genre. I liked that, and would read more from the author!

-Lovely Reads

Lynn weaves together a variety of mythologies in an original fashion and writes top-notch character interaction.  The few domestic scenes are particularly well done.  She even manages to weave in flashbacks fairly organically.

-In Bed With Books

This is a creative story blending paranormal, fantasy and mythology together into an interesting albeit simplistic plot.

-I’m A Voracious Reader

The idea of shapeshifters isn’t a really unique one, but I felt that with the Veil and the links with the mythology, it was a much more unique take on the shapeshifter genre. Since I read a lot of Egyptian and Greek mythology-based books, I recognized a lot of the links that there were in this book.

-Sarah, via GoodReads

Once things got going, I read this book in one sitting. Toby and William are great characters. They are perfect opposites to each other. The start of their “relationship” is biased only on Toby wanting revenge for his mother’s death, and William just wants to get rid of someone from his past who wronged him as well as many other shifters.

-Pages to Explore

My Guest Posts:

To Sally Forth

We Do Write

What Happened to The Wallflower

Matthew Graybosch

Lili Lost in A Book

Diane’s Book Blog

Nightwolf’s Corner

Writer’s Wednesday: On opting out of NaNoWriMo

It’s time for the most sacred holiday among writers: National Novel Writing Month. Every year, the writing community comes together and pounds out millions (maybe billions) of words worldwide, all in service of finishing their novels. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is a simple: write 50,000 words (or the entire first draft of your novel, which ever comes first) in a month. The main goal behind NaNoWriMo is to discipline yourself to write everyday, no matter what distractions there are in life. Writing first! Writer’s write! Art harder!

We live in an age of constant gratification and distraction. I get it: lots of things threaten to take priority in life. Loved ones, waitressing shifts, going for a run, Steam sales, the new season of Korra…shhh, shhh I understand. I’m here for you. It’s not easy making time for creativity. Are there valid reasons to do NaNoWriMo? Yes, and here are a few:

  • Writing community. Twitter and the NaNo boards are going to be JUMPING with people frothing at the mouth to talk about their new novel this month. THEY WILL BE SO EXCITED to post word count (always word count!), discuss characters, dissect plot…all of the things we writers never have enough people on earth to talk about. (Hey, it’s why I started this blog!)
  • Discipline. Making time for writing is hard. Developing productive habits and getting in a rhythm is something you’ve got to learn, homefries, if you’re going to write things or just get things done in general. NaNoWriMo can and absolutely will teach you how long a scene should be, how many hours it takes before you want to bash your head into a wall, and most importantly, how to write consistently.
  • Getting shit done. This is a corollary to the point above, but if you’re stuck on an idea, NaNo it out. Don’t let your little brain nugget rot away. Get it out there, see what it is on paper, and move on.
  • Transitioning into a new genre. Want to experiment with writing erotica or Westerns? Never written a space opera? DO IT NOW. NaNo is the time for experimentation. Make it happen!

Still the best comic about NaNo

However, I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year, and I’m here to talk to those of you writers who feel like you’re going to be sitting on the sidelines twiddling your metaphorical thumbs this year. I’ve done NaNo; I even ‘won’ NaNo. I’m not participating this year. Gasp! Writing Sacrilege! Wait, wait, before you click away, let me tell you my experience with NaNo, and then lay out some reasons why it’s perfectly okay to opt out of NaNoWriMo and be the black sheep of the writing community.

When I did NaNo, I had a project that was partially finished, but it needed to be rewritten from the beginning. The idea changed a lot when I started to write it (this is a common theme with my writing…), and it needed demolished completely for it to be a better story. This was several years ago, and I’d known friends who did NaNo the previous year. I checked out the website and thought, ‘Why not? Need to get this crap done someday. Why not today?’ I made my account, popped open a new Word document, and stared to pound it out. I’d written ~75k by the end of the month, and in December, I finished the new first draft. And I realized the story sucked. Hard. Even after editing, it was all over the place and just not the right story for me to tell. So I shelved it and started new projects, which never would’ve been possible until I faced the cold, hard truth about that particular story.

The 1st of November for many writers.

Am I staying away from NaNo because I wrote a bad novel using that method? Maybe, but it helped me discover things about my writing, and one of those things is that I’m just not a NaNo type person. I can pound out the words with the best of them. My PR (personal record) for words written in a single day is 15,000. My PR for fastest rough draft was 88,000 words in 10 days, with multiple days of sustained 10,000 words per day to make that happen. Getting the word count down was never the problem for me; if that’s an issue for you, NaNo will teach you how to Art Hard.

How many novels are conceived.

That said, there really is something to all the frilly talk about the ‘creative process.’ Sometimes, what that means, is not writing. Ideas are like good wine: they need time to ferment in your head. I have to tell myself the story I want to write about half a dozen different ways before I write it down. If you’ve got an idea, and you think its ripe, write it down. Do NaNo and finish; make the dream real. But here are some reasons to bench yourself during NaNoWriMo:

  • You’ve just finished a big project. I’m coming off a marathon of a writing streak from August, September, and October. Any writing I do during November is going to be more intermittent. Word count isn’t going to be a priority if I sit down and drabble out some stories.
  • You’re working on other art. Maybe it’s not conducive to the NaNo format.
  • Real life takes priority. November might be The Month From Hell for you to write your novel, even if it’s ready to meet the page. The good news is there’s a NaNo something just about every month now, so don’t feel pressured into November if it sucks for you. Hey, my birthday’s in November, and I still don’t know why my parents picked this month. (Hint: look at where Valentine’s Day is on the calender. Yes, this turned into a sex joke.)
  • You’ve got your own writing groove.
  • You don’t feel particularly inclined to participate in the NaNo specific writing community.

There are probably more reasons why you should or shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, but I’m just listing some of them that have been prominent for me and those I know who’ve done NaNo. The idea of always writing, always being on point and ready to sell yourself, is so pervasive in creative culture today. Sometimes, you need to turn that off to reconnect with yourself and your stories. At least, this has been true for me. This isn’t a popular opinion, but when I turn that nebulous thing on to write, it’s like an atom bomb blowing up in my head. It’s powerful, but I can’t sustain that kind of energy indefinitely. The smart asses among you will say ‘build a nuclear plant, duh’, but that’s more like editing for me than rough draft writing. The power is there, but in a more controlled way. So write if you have to write, edit if you need to edit, and let your ideas get delicious in your head. Whatever it takes, and remember, if you’re doing NaNo or not: you’re not alone.

Book Review: Star Wars Tarkin

Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Discolsure: If you don’t like Star Wars and aren’t familiar with its basic timeline, this review won’t matter to you. This is a book that you’d only be picking up if you’re already a fan of the greater Star Wars EU.

This book takes place an undetermined time after Revenge of the Sith, but while there are still Separatist forces in great enough number to cause problems for the Emperor (he hasn’t dissolved the Senate yet). The focus of the book, as the name suggests, is Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (learning characters first names–a joy of Star Wars EU). For those of you going ‘who the eff is Tarkin…what did he do again?’ let me refresh your memory with a picture:

The emperor is looking for ‘a commander with the will to be as merciless as he [the Emperor] is’, and in Tarkin, he’s found his man. The book starts off with Tarkin designing his signature uniform when his secret weapons base (negative guesses as to what secret weapon he’s building) is attacked. The attack involves a fake HoloNet transmission, which reminds Tarkin of the time he dealt with Count Dooku and his hacking of the HoloNet feeds.

The real joy in this book is learning about Tarkin’s childhood on his home Outer Rim planet of Eriadu; the Tarkins were one of the first settling families of the hostile planet, but grew wealthy after Eriadu became a major exporter of lommite. Tarkin grows up in a wealthy, patrician branch of the family, but he’s not spoiled or treated softly by his parents. His parents tell him that someday, he’ll have to go out to the Carrion Spike, and young Tarkin doesn’t know what this means, but he builds himself a special vest in hopes it’ll help him survive. One day, his uncle Jova, a hunter and frontiers man, comes to take Tarkin to the Carrion, which is a massive mesa/savannah on the vast expanse of Tarkin land on Eriadu. Years later, the final test is for Tarkin to climb and spend a night on top of The Carrion Spike, and the experience is so pivotal to him that he names his ship The Carrion Spike in its memory.

The main plot involves said ship (The Carrion Spike) being stolen by a group of rebel shipjackers; this book is clearly designed to tie into the new Rebels series, and I’m wondering if we won’t see a particular character from the shipjacking crew pop up later. The shipjackers are a sympathetic band of characters, and I found myself genuinely curious to see if they could outwit Tarkin and for how long. Tarkin is a Magnificent Bastard, and the more the shipjackers push him, the more of his cleverness he has to use to subdue them. That means that the real winner in all of this is you, the reader, because the plot becomes seriously fun.

There’s also a large section where we’re treated to a Dark Side buddy cop drama between Vadar and Tarkin, and don’t tell me that doesn’t want to make you read this book because then you’d be a liar. The Emperor, as he does, manipulates the situation because he needs Vadar and Tarkin to work together to make his fledgling Empire powerful and terrifying. While the Emperor is plumbing the depths of Sith power in his newly excavated Sith shrine, Tarkin and Vadar are tasked with figuring out who attacked Tarkin’s weapons base; it becomes clear during this part that there’s a mole in the Imperial forces, but that plot is for the end of the book as this is also when the shipjackers take Tarkin’s ship.

The strength of this novel is that it weaves the plot with Tarkin’s past on Eriadu. What Tarkin did to survive with his uncle, Jova, on the plains shaped him into the ruthless man he later became. He tells Jova that he carries his time on the Carrion with him wherever he goes; he never really left the Savannah. Tarkin is a social Darwinist, and there’s literally a chapter labeled ‘Red, In Tooth and Claw’. Tarkin believes that those who aren’t the predators are the prey; there are the rulers and those who must be subjugated. It’s not a pretty philosophy, but it’s genuine and explains why someone who wasn’t a Sith would sincerely work for the Empire. Maybe it’s because I just watched Ken Burns’s Roosevelt documentary, but Tarkin reminds me a lot of Teddy Roosevelt and the type of opinions on imperialism held by him and many well-to-do and wealthy men of the late 19th and early 20th century. (The documentary also mentions the red-in-tooth-and-claw line, too, which is what made me make the connection.) It’s valuable to note that the ideas behind Social Darwinism are racist and were used to justify many terrible crimes, and despite how fascinated we might be with someone like Tarkin–with his successes and his cunning–we’re ultimately reminded that it’s this philosophy that imperialism is built upon. Tarkin is akin to a Dark Side Walter White in that way; he does everything for himself, for his beliefs, and he likes upholding what he believes is the ultimate order of the universe.

Random Thoughts:

  • There is clearly a character who is being introduced in this novel for the Rebels series. Being that I liked the character, that might not be a bad thing.
  • Lots of scenes between the Emperor, Vadar, and Tarkin. Get your fill, villain love-to-haters.
  • My mind glazed over at any technical terms, but there aren’t so many that they get in the way of the story.
  • The frontier aspect of the Carrion made me want to go back to the Badlands SO MUCH. I mean, between that the The Roosevelts, I seriously started to think how much time I would have to drive out there again this spring.
  • The parts about Tarkin living on the Carrion were my favorite in the novel, for sure. Those of you who like a more Western feel to your Space Operas should like these parts, too.

Read if: You like your Star Wars villains. The book does reference The Clone Wars a lot, but I’m fine with this because Clone Wars is my favorite piece of Star Wars media. It’s a smart move for this story to cling so closely to it and the characterizations developed there. Tarkin’s life philosophy is well-done, too, and the hunt for the shipjackers is exciting.

Beware if: You don’t like the EU, I guess. I mean, if you’re reading this review, I’m assuming you do like the EU; if you’re chill with cheering for the empire a bit, or even in understanding their psychology, just read this.

Rating: 5. This is all for you, Star Wars villain fans. It’s a good read that delves into the workings of the Empire and it’s most famous Moff.

The 10 Day Rough Draft

Ksenia Anske has a wonderful post up about how to write a rough draft in 20 days. I think 20 days is a very realistic goal for the average rough draft, honestly, and she makes great points about how she does this with every book. Her process in drafting that vital first run at a story is similar to the one I use for most of my stories. The post got me thinking about my PR for rough draft writing: I wrote the first draft of my 88k adult urban fantasy that got me picked as an alternate in Pitch Wars last year in 10 days.

This is how it felt to finish that story, too.

This is how it felt to finish that story, too.

Pick up your jaws, fellow writers. I wanted to share with you how I did this because, even for my fast fingers, it was an anomaly. I’ve been working on the sequels to that book, and they haven’t come as fast or furious to me. This hasn’t ultimately been a problem because 4000-6000 words a day gets the job done just fine. But let’s dive into my PR (personal record) for rough drafting, shall we?

  • It was first love. That’s ultimately how I ended up sustaining several days of writing 10,000+ words. I was more excited about writing than I had ever been since I was a wee little one churning out original fiction without a care in my parent’s basement on our old Dell PC circa 2000. I wrote and wrote and wrote without regard for who would see this work or how good even I ultimately thought it was. And I loved every minute of it. This was how this rough draft was for me. I told myself a story I needed to write, and I loved it.
  • I had an outline that I knew would work for me. I make these 8 point flow chart style outlines, and that took me through the entire story. I fleshed out the finer details for the chapters as I went along. I planned about a fourth of the book at a time, then wrote for 2-3 days, then at the end of that section, I planned the next fourth for the next 2-3 days…you get the idea. But that master outline? It kept me grounded.
  • My characters had a single phrase to sum up their life philosophy, and I expanded them from there. I’m not sure this was ultimately the best way to write these characters, but it helped me keep them consistent during the first draft.
  • Speaking of characters, the three main characters and the relationships and plot between them was something I conceived long ago. I scribbled the basic idea down in a notebook, and that was a life saver! Keep a writing notebook! DO IT. You want to keep a log of these story nuggets. I don’t have a full story for every single one of the things I’ve written in that book, and I probably never will, but there are several basic ideas in there I keep mulling over and coming back to. This story was one of those ideas, and keeping the names of the main characters and the title on hand was a life-saver when I did eventually sit down to write this behemoth.

  • The notebook was crucial in another way: I needed two more HUGE plot ideas for me to make this story happen, and those came almost two years after the initial idea I had about these three characters. But when they did? I knew exactly where they fit. The thought process was literally, ‘Well, this could be X character’s back story, and they could do Y job…and thing Z could be part of the world building…STORY TIME!’ Well, not quite. I told myself several versions of this story before I wrote it down, and I got so excited about the one version that I committed it to an outline and wrote the thing.
  • Notice how much writing I didn‘t do? This story lived a lot in my head before I made it real on paper. I needed to tell this story to myself in several different iterations before I found a version I loved (and I’m STILL working on that version). Could I have drafted an earlier version of this story? Sure. Would I have loved it the way I did when I finally wrote it? Nope. There’s a lot to be said about writing everyday, Art Harder, and grinding things out, but there’s also something to be said about creative fallow periods. Letting this idea develop while I worked on other stories (hey there, God’s Play!) was crucial for finding the version of this project I really loved. I didn’t force it, collecting the pieces as I figured them out. I’m still doing that, but if I hadn’t given myself time with the characters and the world-building initially, I’m 100% sure I would’ve written myself into a corner like I do when I jump into a project a bit too soon before I know it’s ready just to write something for the sake of getting the words down. It helps to get the words down, but having something half-baked does bother me, and it’s always a thrill to be able to tell the complete story to myself when I do write it.

  • I had tunnel vision. Someone could’ve snapped their fingers in front of my face–I wouldn’t have blinked while I was daydreaming up scenes and plots for this. I was obsessed and kept grinding out more plot because I couldn’t put my own story down; the words were flowing like booze at an open bar, and who doesn’t love one of those?
  • This story? Not perfect. The rewrite involved chancing the tense of the book from present to past, which was a HUGE pain, but necessary to make this story work. The third draft? It’s involving a bigger, more momentous chance than that! (This is because I’ve written the 2 sequels since then and realized there were things that needed to change in the first 1/3 of the book to make the entire series work.) But while writing the initial draft, I didn’t care if it was crap or not. I was on the roller coaster of insanity with my characters, and I was freaking exhausted and proud when I got off.

How I feel about my stories.

There’s not really a process here, but if you’re dreading the rough draft or ragging on yourself for not writing enough, I understand. But planning and patience can result in a killer story. This is ultimately what this book taught me: keep good records and give myself time to tell the story I want. Because that story? That’s the story I’ll love.

Let something like this sit. For months. You have to pull away from a story you love this much or else you won’t see it’s flaws. That part is hard for me, honestly, but after a month and a half, I made the changes I needed to make before submitting it to Pitch Wars. Now, I’m reworking it again, and I’m hoping you guys get to see it in 2015!

Writer’s Wednesday: Character Agency

I’m in the midst of finishing/starting a big project, and I realized what’s drawn me so deeply into this story (or set of stories) is my characters. That’s because it never feels like any character in the story is a prop piece; no one is hanging out in this story just to help or further another character’s arc. The plot requires all the characters, and none of them want to feel useless; they come and go when they have a part to play, which has made this story difficult at times, but also a thrill ride to write. All the characters have their own agendas, and whenever I’ve been stuck, focusing on what each character wants helps crack the story open again.

Think about your favorite stories (books, movies, TV, comics, wev). Each major character has their own reason(s) for being there, don’t they? Even the villain (and especially the villain) should have unique motives for being involved in the action. That’s because no one lives their lives, hoping to be the set piece in someone else’s life. Who wants to do that? We all want are own story; we think what happens is about us. Every side character and villain thinks it’s their story, not the heroes.

LSP gets it.

That’s why fridging a character is such a pernicious thing to do, too. It’s traditionally been done with women, but there might be examples of it being done with men, too. (A father or brother dying could qualify.) That character is essentially boiled down to a prop, a piece of set decoration for someone else’s pain and growth. If you’re going to off a character, sure, their death is going to impact the rest of the story (as it sometimes should), but maybe they’ve contributed their own little part to the story or went out fulfilling (or failing to fulfill) their own wants and needs. GRRM may have oodles of characters, but each character feels like they’ve come into the story for their own reasons. It’s a bit easier to show that each character is unique in multi-POV stories, me thinks, but it can definitely be done in single POV stories as well. Two of my favorite stories/series growing up were Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series and Harry Potter. One of the things that subconsciously drew me to these stories was that all the characters felt real to me. When I went back and read them as an adult, I was struck by how the supporting cast has so much of their own agenda; sure, the many story is about Harry or Sabriel, and other characters take that journey with them.

But the main point is that it’s a with not a because.

People aren’t prizes (hint: people owned by other people are slaves), and reducing characters to objects is the fastest way (for me personally) to lose interest in a story. It’s the princess in a castle syndrome; the hero needs to rescue the person in the highest tower or at the center of the maze, but it’s difficult to understand why or empathize with the hero’s quest because we don’t even know who this person is! They’re an abstraction to us, an ideal. Sure, me might care because we like the hero and want them to succeed, but if they’ve never met the person they’re trying to save, it’s hard to see why they’d want to. At least own up to the fact that you’re chasing an ideal, hero, and not a person. Jeez.

Of all the stories that got the ‘princess in a tower’ thing right, it was Shrek. Fiona starts out as an ideal, a princess to be won, but she’s not the end game of the story. When she’s saved, we find she has her own wants, her own desires and needs. It’s a twist, and a good one, in the traditional story of rescuing a damsel in distress. She wants to break her curse, and we’re rooting for her to do it (of course, not in the way she’d like it to be done, but that’s dramatic irony for you). This is because Fiona has agency: she’s in the story for her own reasons. Everything else about a character can change, but the act of checking to see if the character is joining the quest (or sabotaging the quest) for their own goals helps more than all the complex world-building or 3D chess level plot machinations ever will into making a story feel full and alive. Good story tellers do this because they’re in love with their characters (or love/hate with some of them), and they don’t want to leave any of them without a good reason to be participating in the plot. You, dear reader, are welcome to think the reasons given are stupid or contrived, but that’s another post for another day.

They came for second breakfast.