New character profiles added

As of today I have began updating the site with information pertaining to The New Potential.

The two small updates on the site are for the characters Eric Sturgg and LeLayhilani.  I have yet to really nail a format down for these pages so they may evolve over time to something I am more content with.  For now they serve as a brief bio and introduction with a little of what went into the process for creating/designing the character.

I’m sure this sort of thing will be looked at more carefully when and if I manage to get these books out to market.  ^_^”

Share on Tumblr

Another Day and New Potential

The story begins here.

This week saw the culmination of a project began earlier this year.  My follow up work to Master of the House finished its initial draft.  Initially the book was to be titled “Children of the New Potential”.  I’ve decided to change that and use the series title along with a shorten version of that tentative title. That being said, I am happy to announce Legacy of Shadow: The New Potential (TNP) is complete and ready to face the challenges of the market.

So, how do I explain this book?  TNP is the story of a group of characters who make a similar decision to walk away from the lives they are leading into the unknown.  Each of the characters does this for a different reason but as they end up on the same path, together they are given a warning that the answers each of them seeks rest at the top of a frozen mountainous wasteland at the top of the world.  Over the course of a week these characters fight against the forces pursuing them, against their own fears, and against the fear of passing the point of no return.

Laylani is an Elf of Deep Shadow who has taken up a burden that was not her own.  Her arrival in Britania spells doom for its people and spreads fear that the City State is under attack from the undead forces at its door.  She has come seeking refuge after her failures in the northern lands.  Laylani finds no refuge in Britania but manages to regain control of her destiny and perhaps the friends who will see her through it.

Eric is a Templar in the service of Britania.  He is smart, skillful, and has a promising career ahead of him however a nagging sense of worthlessness and isolation leave the warrior feeling as if there should be something more.  When he comes face to face with Laylani and senses something familiar and kindred in the supposed threat to his homeland, it becomes the catalyst that will either ruin his life or save his soul.

Vavian is a free-wielding mage who works and lives outside the control of Britania’s Magi Guild.  He is a sought after criminal.  He is a threat to the social order.  He knows what the Guild has in store for the downtrodden of Britania.  Using the chaos around Laylani’s arrival to move on his own plans, he becomes hopelessly wrapped up in a struggle that he could have never imagined.

Dempsy is a wealthy ‘Copter pilot with a keen eye and a strong distaste for the law.  He plans to help Vavian escape Britania and life a life of comfort, ease, and coin but when his friend returns to him and reveals that their plans have changed, Dempsy has a choice to make.

I never could have imagined how difficult writing this book would be.  It was not that the actual writing, typing, and plotting were hard, overcoming doubt was the challenge.  Master of the House lent itself to an ever tightening plotline and left plenty of room for character evolution.  TNP is a lead off book, meant to spark a whole series but still be self contained.

I had to capture a world, introduce new characters, justify motivation…  Of course every book does this.  I’m not complaining, not at all.  What I wish to express here is that this book is the first step in a bigger story.  This overall story is something I have captured in my mind and now had to find a way to condense the important parts into an opening act.

I was not even sure I liked my own characters as I wrote the book.  That’s a hard pill to swallow.  (Rest assured they ARE awesome and the book turned out great.)  It’s simply that when you are inside a story, crafting it and setting the stage for later, you know who these characters WILL be.  As you write them, you see them only as they are on the first page or first chapter and it feels wrong.

The further along I traveled in this book, the better it felt.  Not only were my own fears unjustified but many of them were incorrect too.

I plan to do some site expansion and add information about these characters in the coming weeks.  I will also post my query that I will send out for this book for anyone to see and comment on.

I should really take a lesson from Dempsy.  He pretty much nailed it:

 “You can never bake the same cake twice. That’s a life lesson. Don’t forget it.”


Share on Tumblr

Giving It Away

Character knowledge versus reader knowledge, what is the proper balance?

The title of this post references the idea of giving away your “catch” in a story.  How does the author do this?  When is the right time for the author to drop knowledge?  When one character is in possession of more information than others, how long can the author strike a balance between giving away the major plot points and keeping a reader interested?

Complicating the matter further, at the beginning of a complex narrative, how does the author establish a basic understanding with the reader for the book to move forward?

These were all easy questions for me to answer when writing Master of the House.  That book being heavily character based allowed me to pair up the reader with Julian from the beginning.  As the reader developed questions, so did Julian.  There was parity there.  To keep things interesting for the reader, to keep them feeling intelligent and as if they were in a superior position, Dori would reveal other information in scenes apart from the main cast.  Turnbill also served this purpose but in a contrasting way and after the crux of the conflict was revealed, Envy participates in this dialog with the reader as well.  From a writing standpoint, the questions at the beginning of this post were never an issue.

Now, my follow up work, tentatively titled Children of the New Potential, faces a far more challenging method for delivering information and foreshadowing.

In this new book, I have the challenge of informing the reader of a vast and sweeping plot/concept and at the same time, I have characters who are learning the same things as the characters.  The difficulty comes in how to deliver plot information and still have it be believable.  This applies both to the reader and characters as well.

I am working within a fantasy realm here and the crux of any issue has to be…well, fantastic.  Trying to preserve character motivation and rationality in this environment is difficult.  If one character reveals critical information but does it such that it is presented flatly as an explanation, it sounds crazy.  I don’t mean “crazy” to the reader, they are reading a fantasy novel and have already suspended their disbelief.  I mean that a character is just as likely to say, “Right, right, end of the world…dragons, wizards, threat to all mankind… Piss off you crazy kook” as they are to say, “Let me go get my sword”.

So, to move a complicated plot forward, information has to be presented in a sane manner to the characters so that the reader can understand their motivation in context of the situation.  Think about Star Wars.  Even with Luke’s desire to leave his home planet, Obi Wan’s initial offer to travel away for adventure is rejected as “impossible”.  Only when it is shown that Luke has nothing to stay around for because his family has been killed does he make the decision to leave.  That example carries through this whole discussion despite Luke’s final choice being so obvious.  (Removing ALL other choices is a somewhat blunt way to show motivation but it works)

For plot driven stories, the author must strike a balance between showing and telling.  Too much telling and you give away not only the plot but all the suspense that builds up to the conclusion.  Too much showing robs your characters of an ability to mold the events in their own perception.  Go back to the above example of Star Wars.  Obi Wan tells Luke a whole lot in the scene after rescuing Luke but he tells the events from his perspective.  There’s clearly more to what’s going on than the viewer knows and there’s more going on than Luke knows but the plot has moved more into focus.  We know that this character Darth Vader is not only bad but is tied to Luke’s history from what we have seen and now heard.

Children of the New Potential has a character named Laylani in it.  She is an Elf of Deep Shadow much the same as Rozalin and LeShaitan from Master of the House.  Her role in the story is that of messenger.  She knows far more than any of the other core characters in the book.  The adventure that Laylani will lead them on is based on this knowledge.  To advance the plot, Laylani has to act on what she knows.

Laylani becomes my voice as the author amongst the group where plot is concerned.  She understands the threats they are facing and knows enough to explain the immediate problems that they are facing.  Just like Obi Wan from earlier, the information she reveals is colored by her own perception of things.  In her case, she thinks that she knows more than she really does.

This becomes for me, what I started to question at the beginning of this post, how to strike a balance.  Laylani reveals what she knows to the other characters and to the reader.  However, the reality of the world and the threats they face become the “showing” that keeps the plot from being revealed too early or too easily.  The “showing” also reveals that Laylani may not have as tight a grip on things as she first thought.

A far reaching and plot-centered as Children of the New Potential is, my main method for delivering information to the reader and other characters is preserved from merely being a plot device by her own vulnerability of not having the story as correct as she thinks she does.  Slowly, she will come to find that the clear lines she has established in her head to go about her tasks, are not so clear.  The understanding of it all that she shares with the readers becomes a point of sympathy for her when the reality of the situation is shown to differ from the reality in her mind.

Tough subject matter to be sure and writing about it without the source material being available for review at this point is even more difficult.  I apologize for that.  Much of what appears here and what will appear in this blog is a way for me to organize thoughts as I write and look back on it to explain my thought process as it moves forward.

Share on Tumblr

Villains

Most stories live and die by the worth of their villains.  They are in one way of looking, the reason for telling stories.  There are rare exceptions.  Stories of self exploration and mastery, biographies, etc can all circumvent the need for an outside actor to move the plot along.  When it comes to fantasy fiction the need for an evil, an obstacle, or person of ill intent is key to the genre.

I think it can be very easy to slip into the trope of the mustache twisting black hat villain in fantasy fiction.  To avoid this, I think that rooting your story in the antagonist motivation is critical.  When I began conceptualizing the Legacy of Shadow series, I honestly did not have a set direction for it.  The world came first and presented me with problems that really bothered me and somewhat ruined the rationale for such a place.

I knew that I wanted some omnipresent force to oppose the heroes.  I knew that I wanted this force to be something that did not have to confront them directly, but that could corrupt their very reasons for stepping into the field of conflict.  My first attempt at the character who would become my ultimate villain for this series was known only by title: “The White Witch”.  Please bear in mind that at the time, I had absolutely no knowledge of The Chronicals of Narnia.  Seriously.  I didn’t.

This character was aloof and distant and somehow responsible for the trials and tribulations of the world I created in the Legacy of Shadow series.  She was generic and…boring.

So, I began to ask myself questions about her.  What had she done to be responsible for the undead curse placed upon the land?  Stepping back, I had to ask, what is she to begin with?  ”Elf” was the answer.  More specifically, a “Light” elf when compared to the thus far heroic “Dark” elves that this world and its characters encountered.  Then came the inversion, the typically heroic by nature good-guy forest elves would somehow be responsible for…what?  Or should it even be all of them?  Why not just one?  What if one member of this otherwise pristine race of creatures did something so terrible, that…

That what?  What could one character do that would be so condemning to vilify that character for all time?  The answer was:  she is responsible for the death of her entire race.  Already there were no light elves in the story but there were uncountable undead creatures.  So, this character became responsible for the death of her entire race and that genocide resulted in a world ravaged by undead hordes of elves.

Now we were getting somewhere.  It wasn’t very far down the road but the wheels were spinning.

What would make a character commit genocide on their own race?  Would it be purposeful?  Or would it be accidental?  Well, one thing that was certain in my mind was that this villain would be something that a reader could understand however, sympathy was not something I wanted to extend to her.  Accidental was right out.  Purposeful?  This was a more difficult thing to accomplish.

I was stuck.  I needed something beyond petty vengeance, something grand something…that was eluding me.  That’s when Jimi Hendrix happened to me.  That’s when I turned up the music in my car and happened to turn my ear at the right moment to hear the lyrics that unlocked the remainder of my story.

“Anger he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor. Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him. Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground…”

It wasn’t much but the idea of sins personified struck me just the right way.  It’s been done countless times, sure.  This time though I felt I had found a unique hook.  This “White Witch” became Envy in my mind, the personification of a unique and deadly power.  (Her color happily changed in my mind as well.)

What would the personification of Envy possibly find herself jealous of?  What would a creature with immense power and a hatred of anything more powerful than it turn its attention towards?  God.  That personified sin would turn its rage towards the one thing that truly held dominion over it, in this case God.  Now the genocide of a entire race could make sense within the context of one powerful entity looking to dethrone another.

Thus my Deadly Sin Envy, the Queen of Jealousy was born.

The reasons that surround her actions and the way in which she achieves her goals are all details that play out in the book but the important thing here is that the villain’s motivations are genuine and even though a reader would not agree with her actions, they can understand those motivations never the less.

I began this by commenting that a villain’s actions are the driving force for most plots.  While this is true for Envy’s actions as the story moves forward, she is still a somewhat distant, a force that can not be engaged for most of the tale.  Her motivations and the way by which she seeks to achieve those goals create a dread and even outright fear in other characters lending credence to their own actions.  This does not even speak to the ways when Envy does reach out into the moral realm, how characters who are directly touched by her actions take on a villainy all of their own.

Creating a complex villain on an epic scale has allowed me to tie characters, places, and most importantly a plot of epic scope into a story that has its roots in a concept that everyone can identify with “Too much is never enough”.

Share on Tumblr

What’s in a Name Part 2

Yesterday I began explaining the origin of sever character names and the reasons how those names came to be.  Let’s continue where we left off…

  • Turnbill - I needed a gangster of shadowy power, someone distant with a name that meant trouble.  It was a tough one to figure out honestly.  When I get in that trap, I often scan old fantasy stuff and look for something small to go off of.  My MtG cards had a character from the Legends series called “Riven Turnbull”, note the last name is different.  I took the idea and swapped the ‘U’ for an ‘I’ because my initial idea was for him to be a powerful bureaucrat gone bad.  In essence, he turned bills that resulted in death and dishonor.  Dumb, but it stuck and it sounded sinister like I needed.
  • Honest – Honest may be my favorite character in the book.  She’s my instigator.  Her name was meant to be a strict matter of fact.  I think sometimes using a name as a means of explaining a character is quite effective.  It plays out well as she evolves in the book as well.  Her name may be one of the most effective because a reader must constantly wonder when or if she will break from form.
  • Skylar – I really just thought up the name of the worst person I had any dealings with in high school.  This was the name of a boy so callus and selfish that he left a friend of mine in ruin for several years.  Also, I think it sounds really douchy.
  • Abiel - Another real life name brought to fiction.  This is the full name of one of my friends who goes by the shorter version of “Abe”.  Since this character is for all intents and purposes a religious nut, expanding his name to its original use carries a nice bit of odd religious weight to it.

On another note, I resolved my issue from yesterday.  It was in the lamest way possible too.  I simply reverted to the original name I assigned to the main character in my initial draft.  I was over complicating the issue.  Several of the potential names I was looking at were too long or too…much.  In the end, this character will be named Eric Sturgg.  ”Eric” has connotations of leadership behind it.  There’s an old Swedish King named Eric the Saint who worked to bring Sweden back to the old ways, which has a small thread of connection to this character.

Share on Tumblr

What’s in a Name?

I’ve actually had a great deal of difficulty choosing names for certain characters in my current project.  I just haven’t connected with anything yet that I am comfortable seeing three to five times on a given page.  Not only do names have to fit the character theme, but they have to flow with the story.  I was thinking that by reviewing the names used in Master of the House, that I might figure something out for myself here.

  • Julian - This character went through numerous names but it was part of his theme.  He was the man of many faces, always switching it up for a given situation.  Like many of the characters in this book, Julian was someone’s roleplay character to start with.  I believe his original name was “Jules” (as in ___Vern).  I wanted something more serious for my cast lead and his name was given its full length.
  • Face - Another character born of roleplay, I think the player chose this name because he had recently watched “The A Team”.  Re-branding it a bit, I found it was still of use.  The character was a bruiser, a fighter…so his nickname of “Face” was a reference to his many black eyes and split lips.  Now his real name…that’s a spoiler I’ll keep to the book.
  • Katrina - I wanted a strong female name here that could be shortened to something cute.  Katrina/Kat…it allowed me to distinguish when people were close friends of hers or not, because she would absolutely not put up with nicknames from people that were not friends.  Some early readers took exception to her last name being “O’Malley” but the idea is that the prefix to that is honorific, not ethnic.
  • Hawthorne - This name was once again chosen by a player, but his full name of Matthew Q. Hawthorne was chosen by me and a small tribute to the film Quigley Down Under.  It’s about a marksman of incredible skill who I imagine Hawthorne to be a slightly more criminal version of.
  • Dori - Dori is tragically named after the girl I went to Homecoming with my freshman year of high school who completely freaked out and hid in the bathroom all night.  She may have been very, very high.  (or I could have been a lousy date)  Girl was nice, but flighty;  creative, but cripplingly disorganized.  My Dori is all of those things crossed with a fortuneteller.
  • Tin – Tin’s name comes from a song…this is no joke now.  Remember Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio?  ”Got my tin in my hand and a gleam in my eye…”  Just gangster tie-in stuff for me, but I liked the idea of Tin using slang terms for hand gun as his name.

I may have to come back to this again tomorrow to go over some of the others.  I still don’t have an answer for my male lead character.  Arg…

Share on Tumblr

Character Evolution Part 2

Yesterday I began my discussion of character evolution from conception to written reality.  From my work Master of House both Dori and Hawthorne were covered.  Today I’m going to look at Katrina and Face.

Now for me personally, I find it easier to write and flesh out female characters.  There’s something about being a guy that lets you plug in little endearing things into female characters that make them likable.  Well, that’s how it is for me, your mileage may vary.  The thing about Katrina is that she probably kept more of the unlikable qualities that the cast originated with than anyone.  Sure, she’s good at what she does (really good in fact) but she is a belligerent drunk for the first third of the book.

The negative qualities got to stay in place for her because out of the cast, Katrina is the redemption story.  The only way for that kind of literary device to work is to bring the character pretty low.  The drinking, the careless disregard for her life, the dismissal of her past…all of these things leave the reader wondering what has happened to this woman.  Her position as a former Paladin carries weight even in a distant land.  Notice the ways in which both Skylar and Turnbill recognize the latent potential in Katrina that is being squandered on Julian‘s gang.

So, all these things were somewhat planned from the start.  Her attitude was reigned in a little because I am not certain that anyone would have tolerated her violent outbursts in my original plan for her regardless of her skills.  What evolved in Katrina as I wrote her was her ability to relate to other people (particularly Face) and the reason behind her exile from New Raj.

Here I am, prepared to discuss the meaningful ways in which a character evolves through the writing process but alas I find myself up against the danger of spoiling one of the key plot points for this character.  If you care to continue, highlight the portion below other wise just scroll past:

-Big time spoilers-

I wanted Katrina’s reason for leaving to be intensely personal, something that would make her question her faith and everything she know.  So when she accepts The Church’s philosophy that love is a universal quality and accepts the fact that she is in love with another female in the Order, there are consequences she can not begin to calculate.  It had to go beyond the idea of “Surprise Lesbian!”, rather Katrina as a person has decided to open herself up to love in any form it may take.  If I ever have to be blunt about it, if anyone ever goes around questioning her actual orientation should I ever get this work into print, Katrina is Bi.

-End big time spoilers-

Face, as discussed on his character page, went through the largest revision over all.  He was originally a mean spirited brute who was only looking out for himself.  One early idea for the book followed a plot of betrayal where Face made several bargains with forces outside Julian‘s notice.  These would come back to trouble the gang and when the others are eventually redeemed by Dori, it would be Face who would choose another path.  The first draft idea had Face becoming a terrible villain who would haunt characters in later planned books.

When I sat down to write Master of the House it was immediately clear that line of plot simply would not work.  The very beginning of the book and the way in which Julian gets drawn into Envy’s plot works on the frienship dynamic of Julian and Face.  If Face plays the part of a scheming plotter, it becomes much more difficult to get the story into motion.  For that matter I could never imagine Katrina allowing herself to work with a selfish or villainous version of Face.  She would gut him…

Face became my bootstrap hero.  He pulls himself up and out of the strife around him and is better for it.  Perhaps he did not so much evolve as a character but rather became something else entirely.  His core characterization is still there.  He’s still a brawler.  He still has a bit of over eagerness.  He still punches first and asks questions way, way later.  Face does these things at the right times though.  He never takes the easy path and I think his growth in the story plays out quite genuinely.  I worked to pair that growth so that by the time Katrina starts to see potential in Face, the reader is seeing it as well.  In this regard, I hope that his character evolution has taken him from something that may have been easy and lacking in complexity towards something daring and fun for the reader.

Share on Tumblr

Character Evolution Part 1

Too much either way...

When I came up with the idea for Master of the House, I think the initial cast was a lot less likable.  The book starts with a group of people who are…crooks.  They are willing to do what they have to in order to get by.  My first draft as it existed in my head had them more cast as criminals.  In a way, that limited their growth potential.  I know I’m mincing words there, but the cast is more accessible if they start off as morally ambiguous rather than prime-time evil doers.

I think as you plan as story out and as your characters become further interwoven into that story, you have to allow them to evolve and grow.  There are just things you can not plan for, ideas that grow out of your writing, that are too good to ignore.  Take it too far and the characters become unbelievable, but with subtle and well thought out patterns of growth, you can evolve the story and characters as you progress.  Let’s look at the core cast of Master of the House and see how this went for me.

Dori may be the best example I can use.  Dori’s initial purpose was to serve as my voice in the narrative.  She leads the reader by dropping hints, she leads the characters by placing them in odd situations, and she’s a walking bundle of foreshadowing.  I even had one of my initial readers question me about 1/4th of the way through asking me if she’d be the eventual villain.  With so much riding on her, there was a very real concern in my mind that she would be a Mary Sue (please read that link if you are unfamiliar with the trope).  So…I made her insane and kind of untrustworthy.  Problem solved…kind of.  Truth was, Dori was a character I liked.  I did not want her to be a throw away or a tool.  Her failings, the weight of her burden, and her later uncertainty were all evolutions of her initial concept that made her real, despite the fantastic things she was born to do.  I think that a reader seeing Dori in action within Chapters 3 and 4 will find her somewhat…annoying or difficult and that’s perfect.  They should be annoyed by her because the characters are still somewhat annoyed with her by that point in the story.  As she evolves in the book, I hope to see the reader’s attitude towards her evolve as well.  I think she provides one of if not the most powerful emotional response for her eventual evolution.

Hawthorne was another character I had to be careful with.  Conceptually…he’s a murder machine.  Not only does he use a weapon that is illegal but he is above and beyond anyone in Seaside in terms of skill.  One of the early questions I had for myself in dealing with Hawthorne was “Why not just have him snipe all the other gang leaders?”.  He’s that good.  But that question led to other questions, “Why isn’t Hawthorne in a better place in life with that exceptional skill?”  The answer was staring me in the face.  He’s a self defeating kind of person.  He lacks a certain ambition and drive.  He will shoot anyone Julian points him at but he’s not going to go out of his way to do so.

Also, I imagine that in the context of this world, if Hawthorne were to shoot one of the other gang leaders in an underhanded way, Julian‘s operation would be dismantled by the other factions pretty quickly.

But back to Hawthorne, his evolution is forced upon him.  He’s one of those “Greatness is thrust upon him” types.  What makes it work for me as an author is that Hawthorne is also my dispassionate voice of humor in the book.  He always kind of gets it, even when he thinks he doesn’t.  He’s wry and a little bit detached, so as things start happening to him, he can almost sense the world having its way with him.  I think a reader can sympathize with that feeling and despite Hawthorne’s uncanny abilities, he’s a sympathetic character.

Seeing now that this post is longer than I intended, I’m going to break off and cover two more characters tomorrow.

Share on Tumblr