Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Yesterday, I was working on Chapter 6 of WIP1 (God, I really need to name these) and as I rounded off a section I thought, 'Why is she sneaking off home? She could totally meet up with Admon along the way and that could be really interesting.'

So, instead of doing something with that thought, I stuck a post-it note in there for my alpha reader to ask what her thoughts would be for such a moment. Then, today whilst reading a post about writer's block, I thought 'You know, it's a pity you couldn't think of something to do with that one idea. Because that could really have gone somewhere neat.'

And then I had an epiphany. (Ooohhh, Hook moment. "'Lightning just struck my brain.' 'That must have hurt.'") All of a sudden, I knew what I could do with that. (I should probably write it down before I forget about it.)

Weird, huh? Has this ever happened to you?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

God, I'm Sorry, I Love U of C (And Alpha Delta Phi)

Okay, this happened back in March, but I just found out about it now.

Apparently, the Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest Obama's stance on gay rights at University of Chicago. The frat boys of Alpha Delta Phi held a counter protest by dancing outside their house, which was along the protest route, to such songs as "I'm Coming Out" and "It's Raining Men." I love them.

For video footage, click here. :-)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foil! It's Shiny.

When I watch a movie, I'm not always on the lookout for things like "Whoa, that's foreshadowing." But the other day, I was listening to music and thought "Whoa, that's a cool foil."

In the movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame (I'm talking Disney version today, because I'm in a minor Disney kick at the moment), Quasimodo is the lovable protagonist and Frollo is the cold hearted, corrupt villain. Generally, they're just complete opposites, but they don't spend the whole flick foiling each other. In fact, I didn't notice a foil until I listened to just two good songs that come back to back in the movie called "Heaven's Light" and "Hellfire." (For those unfamiliar with the movie -- I've known people familiar with the movie to deny the first song exists -- click here to listen.)

Both characters want Esmeralda. I'd call it love except Frollo's emotions seem to be circling lust and not getting much beyond that. Their desires foil each other during these scenes. Quasimodo says that loving Esmeralda is like experiencing heaven's light. Frollo says that Esmeralda has lit a fire in him that burns his flesh and is turning him to sin. While for the most part in the movie they are just protagonist and antagonist, in this moment they create an interesting contrast that heightens the emotions in respect to both characters.

This is possibly my favorite foil I've seen in a Disney movie.
(For interesting reading on foils, click here.)

Does you have a favorite literary or film foil? Do you use foils in your own work?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Much of Anything? Say what?

One night, during a discussion of favorite books, I mentioned Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, for which I have a special love. My dad replied something to the effect of "I read Ender's Game in high school. I didn't think it was much of anything, except a good read." He told me that he was surprised the book had become as popular as it had among my generation.

I was flabbergasted. I'd just written a term paper about the book, comparing it to Plato's The Republic. I couldn't understand how the brilliance of such a work could have been missed. (My dad's got some game and has good taste in books, so he's usually right on the money.)

That got me thinking. What constitutes great? I mean, I thought the book was great because it had characters a reader could relate to, interesting meanings that one could tease out of the text, memorable quotes, and lots of interpretive value. Apparently, interpretive value can take time to shine through. (I guess I can put Ender's Game on the list of things that might not have been appreciated during their time but are awesome.)

Maybe the books we judge as only so-so now will be considered classics in the future. Are there any books now deemed "not bad" or "nothing too special" that you think are going to be esteemed in the future? What makes a book worthy of such esteem?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Names, Names, Names

It's in my nature to geek out over names. I love names and knowing what they mean, and when I give the names to characters, I really like it when the names mean things for the character.

I recently started outlining a story that I've been kicking around for a while, and I noticed a slight flaw with the names. A pattern had formed with the naming that I liked: the upper class had English names, the middle class (largely absent from the text but occasionally present) have French names, and the lower class (mainly the thief's underworld) have Italian names. There are just two spots that are niggling me.

~Leo: The prince (a major player in the book) and also the chief of police. The appropriate English name would be Leonard. Now, I've probably got some sort of implicit bias in my mind, but I don't really like that name. I don't like the sound and much prefer the Italian Leonardo. My concern would be is it worth compromising the structure that I had previously developed with the other names. My rationalization function tells me that he will go by Leo for most of the book, so I can skim over that detail. Also, since he'd be spending a lot of time with the members of the underworld, he could get away with an Italian name. My persnickety side does not really like my rationalizations but isn't sure how to change the name well, because I want to keep the nickname Leo.

~Maggie: She's a comparatively minor character (medium sized role) but a thief. In theory, she should have an Italian name. The closest I could swing a name like Maggie is that it might be short for Marguerite, which is French, but the nickname Maggie is shamelessly English. A similar problem faces me with this name, since I'm not sure how much I want to move outside the system I'd already established and how much I can expect a reader to overlook. On the other hand, I'm much more flexible with this name.

Any advice (or commiseration) at all would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Ultiamte Villian

Last night, my brother and I had an interesting conversation. The topic -- who is the best Disney villain.

A few bad-guys (and one bad woman) were dismissed, as the weren't really villains. We figured that to count as a real villain, a person needs to have his own goals and motivations, not just be a force in the way of the good guys (and gals) getting what they want. So, there went the step mother from Cinderella and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.

Another benefit of the goals and motivations rule is that it deletes the bad guy who wants to do evil for the sheer sake of doing evil. Really, how often does a real world bad guy say, "Nope, there wasn't anything I wanted to accomplish other than doing some evil. Just felt like it." People usually do want something at the end of the day.

Bonus evil points if you don't have to be warned from the beginning that someone is evil. (Sorry Frollo -- Hunchback of Notre Dame -- if you're actions aren't menacing enough for your actions to be the tip off that you're evil, then you aren't doing the evil thing well enough.)

My brother went with Scar from The Lion King. It's a good pick (even skipping over the goose-stepping hyenas, which add a whole new level of creepy if you notice it). After all, he does kill his own brother, and on the heinously evil scale, that's pretty high up there. And he convinces the protagonist that his father's death is his own fault, causing Simba to run away, allowing Scar to claim they both had died -- again, heinously evil. Heck, Scar's so evil that he changes all the weather, pollutes to pride lands, and drives away all the food.

Anyone else know of good villain criteria? What makes for a really good bad guy?
Who is everyone else's pick for Ultimate Bad Guy/Girl?

What's in a Name?

One thing that's always niggled me about a story is the name. I've never been a dab hand with the name of things. (Which is yet another plus on the side of notebooks instead of typing, as far as I'm concerned. A typed thing has to be named somewhere along the way, often near the beginning. A story in a notebook can be That One in the Purple Notebook until I get it more figured out.)

I've always found naming to be a hard thing to do for a story. It's not easy to find the thing that captures the whole story in one go, or a name that will likely catch someone's interest and imagination. It feels like a very high-pressure task, and so I prefer to let it sit until I've done the most of the drafting or until something brilliant walks in and smacks me on the head. That second one doesn't happen all that often.

Anyone else faced with naming difficulties? Are there any tips or tricks out there for this?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wait! Where'd My World Go?

When I first started outlining my current WIP, I created character analysis for my main characters, a plot outline, and also some basic information about all the cultures I might mention in my text. (All cultures in my text are fictional, so I wanted to line up the basics so they didn't run together.) Lots of nice back story, which I enjoyed.

Now that I've started writing the first draft, I've noticed that a lot of the back story isn't making it into the text. All that mythology I made up is skimmed over, and other thing are getting a vague mention, if at all. Is this bad? Is there an apparent lack of important world building going on here? Am I skimping on details because they're apparent to me but might not be for the uninitiated?

In my view, I think I've got it covered. I think a lot of the back story I came up with doesn't actually need to make an appearance in the book. It was nice for me to know how these people might feel about an event, in case I decided that someone wanted their input, but a lot of the details were just for me. Something to remember as I flushed out personalities that no one else needs to care about.
The world building was useful for me as a writer, but I don't think it was anything the reader is going to miss.

Maybe a future beta reader will come to me and say, "I don't understand why these people insist on doing this thing," and then I'll return to my back story and put more of it into the text for the reader. Then, it will be nice to know I've the information on hand. Until that time though, I think it's better for the information to remain in my notebook and not in the novel.

For other useful information on Need to Know, check out this post by Lady Glamis.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What was that?

I just finished a reasonably good book with one chief complaint about the text.

I felt like I got slapped in the face by the author.

I'd been reading the book for a bit, everything was moseying along well, and then all of a sudden at the end of a chapter everything changed! The main character was suddenly a vampire, and so were all but about five other characters. Say what? Now I don't mind a shocking reveal, but I do think that the author should drop hints along the way.

In the second half of the book, the MC talks about her morning cup of blood and that her parents don't eat dinner but drink it instead. Neither of those things were even nodded at previously in the text. All that was said was something to the effect of "Oh, and I ate dinner with my parents every Sunday." What part of that hinted at vampires eating sanguine substances? I don't think the word blood even made it into the first half of the book.

That's not okay. I'm sure there are other people who didn't mind it at all, but I cannot swallow that it is acceptable to just all of a sudden, out of nowhere toss something into the book as though the reader should have known it's coming. That's simply not fair to the reader.

Another blogger, Tara Maya, once said that every writer should begin as they mean to go, and I think that that is very true. I don't mean that the author needed to be upfront about everything the whole time -- I like a good twist as much as anyone -- but I do think that there should have been some clues, some chance for me, as the reader, to think 'Oh, wow, that other stuff totally makes sense now.' I prefer the sense of something being hinted at to the idea that something just got chucked at me out of the blue.

Has anyone else been blind-sided lately? Am I alone in this view?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rules for Writing

As always, Mark Twain is good for a laugh and some very good advice. This list is brilliant.