“She’s My What?!”: Discovering Character Relationships

Yeah, you know where this is going.
Yeah, you know where this is going.

Character dynamics are a tricky business. I was working on my novel earlier, and I had two characters, who hadn’t previously interacted, about to meet. As I wrote the lead-in, there was something…off about the character whose point of view I was writing from. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but beneath his annoyed scowl and general irreverent attitude towards the situation he was currently in, something strange was going on. Rather than try to figure it out, I decided to keep writing and just see what happened. The scene progressed, the door opened, the two characters came face-to-face, and my narrator took in his first impressions of her, and then I suddenly tuned back in at the moment he was thinking “…because she’s my sister.”

Wait, what?

Nothing has ever stopped me dead in my tracks during a writing spree as much as that little revelation did. Were it not for the fact that I never wrote any sexual tension into their relationship, I am certain that my stupefaction would have rivaled that of George Lucas when he suddenly realized 3/4 of the way through filming The Empire Strikes Back that the male and female leads were siblings.

“Really, guys?” I grumbled in an attractively sulky manner while still maintaining an air of authoritative pique. “You couldn’t have told me this earlier?”

Both of them shrugged, smirked, and told me it was on a need-to-know basis and I didn’t need to know until they officially met on the page. Brats.

Stop smirking, guys.
Stop smirking, guys.

Anyways, the point is that not knowing every detail of your characters’ relationships with each other isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I visualized both of these characters, they had a strictly businesslike interaction based on their duties and social interactions within their caste. The moment they met on paper, though, the relationship changed and there’s now some really interesting tension that adds depth to both of them…and, as I realized while I was working on the next chapter, not only fixes a plot problem I’d been worrying over, but also, through their interactions, revealed a great deal more about the social hierarchies and history of the society than even I was aware of, and I’d been working on world-building for months at that point. As weird or annoying as it may be when you randomly discover such important information as family or relationship connections that far into writing (I’d hit just over 10,000 words at that point), and even if it turns some of your plot ideas upside down (which it did for me), letting some of your character relationships develop naturally and reveal themselves to you on their own can be both fun and beneficial for your story. Since this incident, I’ve had one more surprise familial connection jump up out of nowhere between to highly unlikely characters, but again, it’s solved more problems than it’s caused, and it’s been quite an adventure  figuring out all the political, social, and interpersonal ramifications of this new relationship. If you have any stories of similar discoveries, I’d love to hear about them! In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how my main characters are going to react to this latest tabloidesque revelation.

Major Life Changes: Balancing Packing and Writing

mapTo say that the last few days have been a whirlwind of insanity would be an understatement. Last Monday, I was contacted about an interview for a job I really wanted. Less than 24 hours later, I was being interviewed for that job and was given a tentative offer; 42 hours beyond that, and I was offered a position as an Instructor of English with Berlitz in Poznań, Poland, starting at the beginning of October. “Did you accept?” you may very well ask, at which point I will stare at you incredulously, because of course I took the job. It would be ridiculously stupid of me not to. Anyway, factoring in the time I’d need to get settled and start my job training, it became clear that I have a little under 5 weeks to prepare, pack, and relocate. Everything since Thursday has thus been a hectic mess of logistics and suitcase-wrangling.

The sad and unintended side-effect of this major life change has been that I don’t have time to write. I finished another chapter of my novel about a week and a half ago, and I was working at full steam on the next one when the world turned upside down and and inside out (albeit in the best possible way). When I do have a few moments to sit down and not work on a list or comb through paperwork, I’m too mentally tired to actually get any of my creative writing done. My characters are currently complaining that I’m never around, but one day they’ll understand that I’m doing this for them so that they can have better opportunities and maybe a European castle some day. Anyways, I just cannot brain enough to work on my novel, but I can’t just stop writing while I’m relocating. So I’ve developed a system to keep myself consistently in the writing game (and, incidentally, keep me from stressing out too much). I have to take at least 15 minutes a day to write on *something,* whatever that may be. I started a travel blog that I’m currently updating daily, I write my posts for The Art of Writing, and occasionally I will write out one of my famous rants about something nerd-related (usually Doctor Who, to be honest, but you all probably knew that). The point is, despite all the insanity around me, I’m still making myself write. And when I’m flying from the Arizona desert to Poland next month, maybe I will have the time and energy to get back to my novel and my poor neglected characters. But for now, it’s a start.

Random Challenge of the…Whatever

mawwiageSo our fearless leader/benevolent dictator/main writing guru Tobias is now a newlywed! He’s currently off gallivanting around the world and doing whatever it is people do on their honeymoon, so he asked me to take charge of the Friday writing challenge, and out of the goodness of my heart, I chose to oblige. How today’s challenge is going to work is that I am going to give you a topic and some general parameters, and then you come up with a scene or a story based around those guidelines. You can post your results in the comments, put them on your own blog and link it to us, or hide them in your basement and never speak of them again. It’s up to you 😉

In honor of Tobias and Alayna’s recent nuptials, your topic today is a wedding. It can be before, during, or after, but the main event should involve a wedding. And not just any wedding, because I am incapable of doing things in a normal or healthy way: it should be a wedding gone wrong, whether in a humorous or tragic fashion. Just no Red Weddings, please. Have fun!

“What Took You so Long, Old Man?” A Review of the Doctor Who Series 9 Trailer

Hello, sweetie.
Hello, sweetie.

I am a longtime Whovian, a devotee of the Doctor. I grew up watching Classic Doctor Who, and when Russell T Davies regenerated the show in 2005, I jumped on board the TARDIS with Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor and never quite left. In April, I published my Master’s thesis, a 120+ page paper all about Doctor Who, complete with a personal interview with writer Robert Shearman and the signature of the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant. I’m a little bit obsessed is what I’m trying to say here. Despite my concerns (Tom, Lorien, and Tobias can all attest that they are many) with Who under Moffat’s leadership in general, and series 8 as a whole, I still haunt the internets in search of hints and promo pictures for anything leading up to the new series. When the teaser trailer for series 9 was released this weekend, I screamed like I’d seen a Weeping Angel, plugged in my headphones, and sat down to watch. So today, you’ll be treated to my review of the new Who trailer. The video is embedded below; if you haven’t seen it yet, watch, and then finish reading 🙂 Allons-y!

So, the first thing that comes to my attention is that they’re running a trailer without the Doctor Who theme music. I’m all for mixing things up, but making an entire 1 minute, 30 second trailer without even a hint of the music (particularly since the 12th Doctor’s music is so amazing), seems a little odd to me. We’ve also got some recognizable bad guys: Missy, the Daleks, the Zygons, and I could swear the grey hands coming out of the ground at the beginning are reminiscent of the Weeping Angels from Time of the Doctor. I could be wrong-and I probably am-but hey, that’s the first thought that came to mind. We also have what looks like the Doctor in an orange spacesuit, which has obvious flashbacks to the Tenth Doctor in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. Several folks have commented that this trailer leans very heavily on connections and references to Classic Who/early New Who, particularly in regards to Peter Capaldi’s increasingly Pertwee-esque look, and I can agree with that assessment. Moffat brought in a lot of new stuff to series 8, but based on this trailer, I think we’re going to be falling back more on previous plots and monsters. The appearance of Maisie Williams, the young actress who plays Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, reinforces this idea for me. Her one line, “What took you so long, old man?” instantly connotes a long familiarity with the Doctor, which has many, including yours truly, thinking that she’s a Time Lord. Earlier in the trailer, we see her jumping into the Doctor’s arms and he holds her tightly. Personally, I think that Williams’ character will be Susan Foreman, the First Doctor’s granddaughter.  Moffat is linking New Who to Classic Who far tighter than Russell T Davies ever did – and considering the atrocity that was the reference to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in series 8, I’m not sure I like it. pertwee and capaldi

The newer villains, locations, and other characters honestly don’t make that much of an impact on me. They barely blink in for half a second each, and the dark lighting makes them hard to see. Since they barely register, it’s hard to be interested in them.

Something I noted in the trailer was the Doctor’s line about “evil.” We don’t know what that evil is; it could be evil in a universal sense or speaking about some force in particular. However, the Doctor’s line “I want to kiss it [the evil] to death” comes directly after a shot of Missy applying her lipstick, which seems to me to indicate that Missy is the evil and will be our overarching villain again. I also noted that this line seems to contradict the last line: “I’m the Doctor, and I saves people’s lives.” The contrast between him wanting to cause the death of something followed directly by an announcement that he saves lives. I think we’re going to get more tension between the Doctor’s traditional heroism and his more recent tendency towards anti-heroism.

The best part of the whole trailer was the one second shot of the Doctor in sunglasses, rocking out with a guitar. Now THAT, I want to see. Other than that, this trailer overall left me colder than a Dalek Sphere in the Void. It wasn’t very different or interesting, and it was hard to stay engaged without the right music. It didn’t get me excited about the upcoming season, so I do hope that the next trailer will be more defined and exciting. Overall: 2/10. Thoughts, fellow Whovians?

 

Discovering Worldbuilding

Worlds are complicated.
Worlds are complicated.

As I mentioned a year or so ago, I really hate worldbuilding. It’s hard for me because it requires a great deal of external description and intricate details. It also stresses me out because my ideas change so much as I write that when I change one thing (say, the name of a country), I have to go back through everything and change each instance, plus comb through each detail to ensure it lines up with my new vision. Frankly, it’s stressful, and it annoys me. As a result, I’ve never undertaken a large creative project, such as a novel, because the genres I write in necessitate a lot of worldbuilding and description and other such things. I avoided it like the plague, actually. However, now that I’ve finally started my first novel, a dystopian sci-fantasy sort of thing, I’ve had to reevaluate my stance on the whole idea. Today, I want to talk about how I’m learning to worldbuild, and how that process is working (or not) for me.

I have some writer friends who do the majority of their worldbuilding before they even sit down to write the story. That method, however, doesn’t work for me; as I mentioned above, my ideas change too much as I write for me to be comfortable with committing to a world before I begin to put my characters in it. What I’m doing for this project, instead, is to take the very basic idea of the world that pops into my head when the plot outline does, and scribble it down in a notepad somewhere. When I started my novel, I only knew two things about the world: the class divisions and the factor that distinguishes my world from any other dystopia (not that I’m going to tell y’all what it is. I don’t do spoilers, least of all for my own novel). I held very firmly to those two notions, as they were what separated all of my characters into their different groups. That was my starting place for the world, and that was all I worried about when I began to write.

Basically, imagine starting with this, and no idea what their surroundings look like.
Basically, imagine starting with this, and no idea what their surroundings look like.

As I wrote the prologue, more pieces of the world started to appear, without me ever having to think them through. Characters from two separate castes were represented in that scene, and as I began to write their dialogue, I suddenly understood how both classes generally viewed and spoke to each other, as well as the history behind their preconceptions of each other. When the violent weather changed the direction of the scene and brought new characters in, I realized what the geography of the world had to be – where everyone lived and why they had to live in those places, and what the commerce system would be like. After I finished writing the prologue, I took some time to write down the new elements of the world that I now understood. The puzzle pieces slowly started fitting together.

The history of my world was a little bit harder and revealed itself differently. I spent long hours agonizing over how the world got into the post-apocalyptic/dystopian state it’s currently in. I didn’t know what the motivations between the central conflict were, how the classes ended up being divided the way they were, or the details behind the powers the members of one particular class display. Eventually, I ended up unable to write any further into my first main chapter because I couldn’t get any characters to explain anything to me. A few nights ago, I had some really bad insomnia, but instead of getting on my computer or reading, like I normally would, I spent about 5 hours just laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and talking to myself about the history of my new world. I started with where my characters are now, and, taking what I had already discovered, started working backwards through the timeline to figure out what happened in the past. As I went through that process, more and more details started showing themselves to me, and next thing I knew, I’d arrived at the zero point: the point in the timeline where everything relevant to my plot began. And suddenly, I knew exactly what had happened. I talked it through the next morning with my patient proofreader, Tom, and he liked where everything is headed. We checked it against what I already had, and everything lined up very nicely 😀 Once I’d written that down, my writing mojo came back, and I got right back into my chapter writing.

I’m still learning new facets of my world as I continue to write, and some minor elements are changing (particularly name structure – I’m really bad at that), but more the most part, I’ve learned how to cope with and understand the elements as they reveal themselves. Some parts I have to put a lot of effort into, but others unfold naturally. Regardless, worldbuilding isn’t as painful as it has been in the past, and I think I finally found the method combination that works for me 🙂 I hope it was helpful to some of you! What other methods do y’all use?

A Novel Idea

typingNow that grad school is over and I have completed my long trek to the desert (I’m now living in Arizona, which is a big change from the Virginia mountains – it was 100 degrees at sunset tonight! Sheesh!), I finally have time to write again. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have never really gone for the whole “writing an entire book” thing because I suck at worldbuilding and I often have trouble having time to finish such a large project. However, I decided in the interests of self-improvement and strengthening my writing, I should give it a go. Plus, I had a really cool idea that came to me in a dream one night (involving Neal, one of the writers for this blog, getting stabbed in the eye with a tattooing needle), and I quickly became obsessed with it, as characters and plot lines and almost entire chapter structures for this post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy novel started playing out in my head. I’ve written the prologue, which is about 12 pages single-spaced, outlined some main characters, and started working on the first full chapter. It’s pretty exciting! The main thing I’m doing differently this time from the other few times I’ve tried novel-writing is that I’m not worldbuilding all in advance; I’m making it up as I go along, which is very helpful (my next post will be on that subject). So far, it’s going well, and I’m hoping to finish up chapter 1 this week. I am bound and determined to finish this book, come hell or high water, as my very Southern grandmother likes to say. Any of you more experienced novel-writers have any tips for me as I work through this process?

Writing and Awesome Opportunities

The masterAs most of you know, I finished my MA degree a couple weeks ago (you may now all call me The Master), and since leaving school, the long job hunt continues. At the beginning of May, I put in an application for an internship with a company in Pennsylvania. The internship looked pretty awesome: lots of writing, work from home (no relocation needed), set my own hours, etc. It specified unpaid, but hey, internships are great resume builders, right? And it keeps me writing. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting to get it because those things are competitive, but I sent in my Resume and CV anyway. They contacted me for a Skype interview the following day, and the interviewer talked to me about my experience. He was really impressed with the wide variety of writing I do, as I have several academic publications, two theses, several non-academic publications, editing/proofreading experience, creative writing, and, actually, this blog. He looked over some of my posts for The Art of Writing, and he loved it. He said it was a unique and interesting addition to my varied resume and it spoke to my writing experience in various mediums. So, I got hired on the spot! It’s unpaid, but he said there’s a good chance of getting a full-time job out of it in three months if my performance reviews are high enough, which is pretty exciting. The moral of the story is: writing is awesome and it opens many windows for you that you may not be aware of. Varied writing is the key; if I’d only done academic writing or creative writing or what have you, he wouldn’t have found my resume interesting. So keep writing, try new avenues of wordcrafting, and see where it takes you!

A Triumphant Return from the Mount of Academia

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for the past three months. This unfortunate and quite devastating (to all of you, I’m sure) absence has been due to a rather insane final semester of my Master’s program. Over the course of the past 12 weeks, I’ve written and successfully defended a nearly-hundred-page thesis on Doctor Who, met David Tennant and his glorious hair (and got him to autograph the aforementioned thesis), survived my last two graduate classes and all of the papers pertaining thereto, and taught two courses full of occasionally eager, but usually sleepy, Freshmen students. I’ve also made the decision to move; in two weeks, the day after I get to wear the long robes and the funny hat in another commencement ceremony, I will be leaving the East Coast and heading to Arizona. As a result, I’ve had to add packing to my long list of things to do (and I still haven’t finished quite yet…). As you can imagine, such a hectic schedule has prevented me from doing anything outside of academic writing. I haven’t written a single short story or a line of poetry since January. Now that (almost) all of that is over and done, however, I now have time to write creatively and to talk to all of y’all about writing and other such fun things. For my next post, you can look forward to me talking about my next monumental task: I’m finally attempting a novel. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with David Tennant, his hair, and the random banana we brought for him (David’s Scottish accent not pictured, but oh, is it brilliant)

me and david

 

Poetry: My Bedroom Dresser

dresserI had another post I was working on for today, but between Christmas preparations, hours of thesis writing, and mental exhaustion from a very stressful semester, I wasn’t able to get it finished in time. You’ll probably get to see it for my next post in a couple of weeks. Instead, I have some original poetry to share with you that I wrote for a poetry seminar a few months ago. Enjoy.

My Bedroom Dresser

The four overstuffed drawers squeak in protest

every time I shove one shut without bothering

to fold the floral mini-dress I wore when he was

home on leave last time. Blue dust shrouds

the still-full picture frames and the paint-chipped

Captain Picard perched on Malory’s Mort d’Arthur.

The single surface of the dresser not sick with dust

is the red Codeine bottle, still full from last week’s

visit to General Hospital’s emergency room.

If the dresser had been within arm’s reach last night

that big plastic red bottle might now be empty.

 

Brainstorming Tips: Be Thankful

So, it’s Thanksgiving time, and I couldn’t be happier. I have a week off from work, I’m in the middle on the North Carolina mountains with my boyfriend’s family, and I get to sleep in as long as I want every morning. Pretty much paradise for this exhausted educator and thesis writer. Anyway, I often have trouble doing any creative writing during this part of the holiday season because I’m so worn out that I can’t think of anything to write, and since I only have a week, it’s difficult to rest up enough to let the ideas come along on their own in time. I do have a little trick I do to both get myself in the holiday spirit AND in the mood to write: I write out a “thankful” list. Most people do around this time of year, but I don’t just do the generic “family, friends, and work” sort of thing. I get as detailed as I possibly can with about 25 events (major or minor) that have happened this year and 15-20 objects and/or people I’m thankful for, and I leave an anecdote with each one. Usually, at least one of those write-ups on my list will spark an idea, and off I go to write. So here’s a couple examples from my list this year:

1) Thankful for: My boyfriend. Anecdote: He always tries to get me to attempt new things; this semester, he’s wanted me to go to a football game because he loves sports and I have never so much as seen 5 minutes of a football event. I agreed to go, rather begrudgingly, but the home football games for my school’s team never lined up quite right with my schedule. The day we finally got to go was the last home game of the season, and it was ridiculously cold outside (about 30 degrees). We were there early, so we got bobbleheads of the school’s mascot, and pretty nice ones at that. I still don’t know what to do with mine, but who cares? So anyway, we sat in the student section, and it was kind of ridiculous. I had no idea what was going on (why is it called football when their feet don’t come in contact with the ball?), particularly since the game kept getting stopped every 5 seconds, and it was so cold. Boyfriend told me we could go after the first quarter, but I had promised him I would stay until the half, so I said I would wait. He laughed at me for being stubborn and bet that I would give up. Me being me, that taunting made me even more stubborn. So despite the teasing and the ridiculous cold as it got darker and darker, I stayed put until the whistle blew to mark the end of the second quarter. We both ran for the nearest building and sat in there for 2 hours to warm up. I still have no idea how football works, but I’m thankful for having that experience with my boyfriend because it made him very happy I was willing to try it, and it brought out his more playful side (he really likes teasing me when I’m being stubborn). It was a good day, despite the cold and confusion. football1

23) Thankful for: my spice cabinet. Anecdote: I was in a car accident a couple months ago, and the vehicle swerved quite a bit after the initial impact before we finally stopped. I was in the back seat and got thrown around a little; I later went to the hospital and I was diagnosed with bad whiplash. Anyway, when the car first stopped, my head hurt really badly, and I was dizzy and kind of freaked out. The police and an ambulance were there, and we all had to get out. Despite everything going on, all I could think about was finding my salt and pepper shakers…I’d brought dinner in my bag, and with it I’d brought along my black peppercorn grinder and my expensive sea salt. They fell out of the bag when the accident occurred, and I remember being terribly worried that I wouldn’t find them before the tow truck came and took the van away. I actually had one of my friends crawl around the car looking for them – she obliged me and found them, and I was at peace despite the fact that we were stranded on the side of a road in the dark out in the backwoods somewhere. None of that mattered because I had my salt and pepper, and I was greatly thankful for it.

I don’t know where I’ll go with these things creatively, but I’m already starting to get some ideas. In almost every case, I start off with the item or person in question, and end up somewhere in my anecdote that I hadn’t even considered. It helps me not only remember things to be thankful for, but also remember occurrences to bring into my stories, and it’s quite inspiring. So what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?