Romance and Friendship

Affection is the cornerstone of both romance and friendship.

Think about it.  Romance without affection is nothing.  Friendship without affection is two people hanging out together who have no reason to stick around each other.  Flirting without affection?  Basically just a cryptic argument.

Affection upholds both romance and friendship.  It’s the glue that keeps two or more people together even though one of them is Ronan Lynch or Tony Stark or Mr. Darcy.  Since both love and friendship deal with affection, we can manipulate both in the same ways.  Basically, a good friendship is two inches from being a romance.

You can use any romance plot line you find as a friendship plot line.  You can use any friendship plot line as a romance plot line.  And whatever you choose, someone will want to write a fanfiction based on the opposite choice.

Let’s look at a classic example: Pride and Prejudice vs. The Lord of the Rings. (more…)

Evil Sympathy

Everyone likes the big bad villain.  Rather, everyone hates the big bad villain.  Darth Vader, Voldemort, Sauron– the Dark Lords of fantasy and science fiction have the coolest powers, and most often, the coolest backstories.  A normal person would have to go through a lot to become as evil as these people appear.  Unveiling that backstory can be more fun than the actual plot, yet accentuate the main character’s story along the way.  However, as we understand them, they inevitably become less scary.  Darth Vader is just a poor old single father, while Emperor Palpatine gets all the hatred.  Voldemort is just a regular guy missing his nose.  Sauron… well, he doesn’t have a nose either, but his backstory isn’t so well known.

Sympathetic means feeling the same emotions as the reader, but that has different connotations for villains.  It might mean having an understandable path from good to evil (Voldemort style).  It also might mean acting in a good way, even though they’re supposed to be evil (Darth Vader style).  If you choose not to make your villain sympathetic, they probably still have a backstory that made them that way but you choose not to show it (Sauron style).

All these are viable options, and it depends on the kind of arc you want your villain to have.  Do you want a tragic arc, like Voldemort?  Or you could have an evil arc that ends in good, like Darth Vader’s.  You could also have a slow reveal of backstory (like Voldemort) leading to a good act (like Vader).  Or you could have nothing at all, leaving your villain unsympathetic but awesome and terrible, like Sauron.

But that aura of evil is so useful– is it possible to have a sympathetic villain and that aura of evil at the same time? (more…)

How to Write Strong Females

Strong female characters puzzle me.  I’ve been planning to write this post for a long time– hopefully now I’ll be able to make it make sense.  An early analysis suggested that scarcity was key– Tolkien wrote two of the strongest females I know among the least diverse cast he could manage.  But that makes no sense.  Tolkien also wrote countless interesting male characters.  Characters are characters; their gender shouldn’t make a difference.

And that, I finally realized, is the first hurdle to clear when you try to write strong females: don’t try.  That doesn’t mean don’t do it at all– just don’t concentrate on making a female interesting.  Just make the character interesting and the rest will follow.

A brief note: this is not speaking only to male writers.  Female writers seem to have the same problem– look at the Hunger Games, in which there are perhaps three strong females in the whole thing, depending on how you look at it.  Those three are heavily outweighed by the strong males, and the author is a woman.  Just something to think about. (more…)


In every story, whether you’re aware of it or not, there is a midpoint.  Whether it’s a 3000-page fantasy trilogy or a 15-second TV commercial, chances are it has a midpoint.  By the most obvious definition, a midpoint is the spot right in the middle.  By the story structure definition, it’s much more complicated than that.

Depending on which structuring technique you use, the midpoint will have a different definition.  The Hollywood Formula says the midpoint is when the story moves from asking questions to answering them.  Dan Wells’ 7-point plot system says the midpoint is when the main character moves from reaction to action.  Emma Coats says the midpoint is the point at which you know there’s no turning back.

If you really think about it, all these definitions say the same thing.  The first half of the story is always still uncertain– the main character is committed to his goal, but he still doesn’t know what he’s up against.  Questions are still being asked, and until some get answered, all he can do is react.  But then, after the midpoint, there’s no turning back; questions begin being answered and he can act for himself.

But can you possibly keep every scrap of information away from the main character until halfway through the story?  I already mentioned trilogies– what do you do for the first book’s midpoint if you have to wait for the trilogy’s midpoint instead?  And how does the main character do anything if he’s only reacting?  That seems like a pretty pathetic way to start off a story.  And then, after the midpoint, how could the main character possibly get into a low point when he’s acting so much, and so many questions are being answered? (more…)

Here I Come To Save The Day!

Deus ex machina is Latin for “God from the machine”.  It’s a literary term for when all hope seems lost and KABLAMMO! everything is saved.

That has to be the only paragraph in history with both a Latin phrase and “kablammo” referring to the same thing.  Let’s see how much more awesome this post can get.

A Deus ex machina is a contrived way to let the author keep his characters alive.  Consider, for instance, the eagles from the Lord of the Rings.  Thirteen dwarves, a wizard, and a hobbit are at the top of the same tree as wolves and goblins prowl the land below and a fire licks up from the trees around.  Well, it looks like Bilbo’s done for this time.  Nope!  The eagles are coming! (more…)

Don’t Pick Noses

Some people have noses.

Some don’t.

You can’t hold it against someone that their face was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that they were born with a defect (or reborn, as the case may be).  Several people without noses have scintillating personalities and are lovely friends to have along on a picnic.

But some choose to be morose about their noseless state.  They neglect themselves, letting their skins turn colors or deteriorate altogether, taking different, more frightening forms as the whim takes them.

You would not want them along on a picnic. (more…)

I Did Not See That Coming

At every point in any story, there is a plan.

“We have to get to Mars to negotiate the release of the most awesome person in the world, who is the only person that can stop the end of the world!”

“We must manipulate events to cause the asteroid to deviate from its current trajectory that it might not squash a cheese factory in Wisconsin.”

“I need a sandwich!” (more…)

The Tolkien Trick

Every November, the folks at NaNoWriMo make a big deal about locking your “inner editor” away in a closet so that you write unhindered all month.  The urge to edit sentence-by-sentence hits everyone, and it’s hard to keep him away.  Recently, however, I discovered a trick that will keep you from your editor as you write first drafts of scenes.

It’s easy to edit yourself when you’re writing fast, because it took no time to get the words out– how much longer would it be to erase it all and rewrite the sentence with a stronger verb?  Part of this technique has to do with writing more slowly.

Similarly, it’s easy to edit on a computer or electronic device.  Write, read, highlight, delete, rewrite, repeat.  At the end of the day, you’ve got nothing except dissatisfaction.  Part of this technique has to do with writing something difficult to destroy and remake.

Lastly, who hasn’t wanted to write like Bilbo Baggins? (more…)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, A Review

Last night, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the first time.  I had heard a lot about it– from some sources, that it deviated from the book in bad ways; from others, that it was extremely good no matter what; from still others, that the entire Lord of the Rings and Hobbit story is a Harry Potter ripoff.  After shrugging to the first group, hmming at the second group, and not even bothering with the third group, I got the chance to see it myself.  This review will be as spoiler-free as I can make it without being vague. (more…)

A Lord of the Rings Picture Post

I spent about an hour yesterday making signatures for the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program on Microsoft Word. They’re all Lord of the Rings jokes, and I’m quite proud of them. Enjoy, but please don’t steal any for yourself. If you have suggestions, they would be welcome as well.

Just plain funny.

For those who don’t know Lord of the Rings, this is the orc who runs a torch into a waiting bomb. He meets an unfortunate end.  Hmmm…  I just noticed the little green lines under the punctuation.  Stupid Microsoft Word.

Sauron would never say that; he’s living on top of his house.

The real quote:
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

A nameless orc said that.

I’m not quite so proud of this one, because it isn’t as seamless as the others, but it’s still funny.

In the movie, Sam has stopped because it’s the farthest from home he’s ever been.