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…)

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…)

Sandwiches, Gollum, and Maybe a Llama

Character motivations are a tricky business.  You know what the character wants– the latest MacGuffin, closure with his estranged son, a sandwich– but why do they want it?  “Because that’s what moves the story forward” is not the right answer.  Why do characters want what they want?

Why do people want what they want?  It’s never “just because”.  They have a need that must be filled– the original definition of “want”.  They are missing something, just like everyone else in the world.  The same goes for characters.

Let’s say you have a villain.  (I know, I’m assuming a lot, but bear with me.)  That villain wants the exact opposite of what the hero wants– world domination, perhaps, or just a checkbook of her own.  Obviously, this villain needs to want that thing, or we have no story, but if you want a good villain, you’ll have to do better than that.  Why does she want a checkbook?  Why world domination?  Why Bill’s sandwich? (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…)

Wise Guys

Way back in March of 2012, a friend of mine posted about Wise Guys— the old man who accompanies the hero on his journey and provides justifiable infodumps.  She makes good points: this guy is overused, he is most common in the fantasy genre, and you should probably avoid him if you value your originality.  I agree… to a point.

Most fantasy books are milieu stories.  Since the author has spent so long creating this world for her characters to live in, she can’t help but write about it all.  Placing plot points in exotic locations, she gives a tour to the reader.  Unfortunately, if the main character knows all about everything already, she can’t make him curious enough to give the reader the necessary information.  The character would just brush off all explanations, knowing it already.  Instead, the main character is someone new to this world, often with approximately the same grounding in reality as the reader.

Since the main character is new to the world, just as the reader is, they need someone to explain the world to them.  Why does this place lack technology?  What’s the history?  Why do all the short people have hairy feet? (more…)

Squids!

This post will contain squids!

What if I told you to expect a super-awesome post tomorrow on a really cool topic?  All well and good– but what if I didn’t actually post that day?  What if I didn’t even apologize?  If I were my audience, I’d bug me until I posted the super-awesome post.  And if I found out that the post didn’t even exist and I was making an empty promise for fun, I’d be pretty upset.

This is called breaking promises, and it’s a very powerful technique… when intentional.  When you break promises by mistake, it’s horrible, and yet both instances have the same outcome. (more…)

A Diversion! (TCWT)

The prompt for the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain this month is: “Write a letter to an antagonist.”

Some people might find this easy and pick an antagonist in a matter of minutes.  Not me– I spent half a month trying to think of a suitable antagonist.  Not just any will do, of course– it has to be a special one.  Special antagonists, however, are very hard to find.  In fact, I realized as I was thinking of this prompt, that I don’t enjoy antagonists half as much as protagonists.  The more interesting they are, the more they contribute to the fame of the protagonist.

After a very long time, I finally settled on writing to Sauron, an old friend.  Figuratively speaking.  However, one does not simply write to the Dark Lord.  Normal mail wouldn’t work.  The mailman, Nazgul Five, is notorious for losing things– maps, expensive Morgul blades, his mind; you name it, he’ll lose it.  (Not to mention the fact that he’s pink.  They conveniently left that out of the movies.)  Normal mail was out of the question.  Thus, I had to settle on a more complicated and slightly outdated means of communication: telegraph through the palantiri.  Pardon its slight awkwardness.

* * * (more…)

The Hollywood Formula

The Hollywood Formula is the formula that professional screenwriters use to keep their stories tight, emotional, and, obviously, formulaic.  Though I have directed you to the podcast that first taught me this formula, I doubt many of you have listened to it, so I shall describe the formula again here.  I did not make this up.

The Formula centers on three characters: the protagonist, the antagonist, and the relationship (or dynamic) character.  The protagonist is the main character, and he wants something material.  He doesn’t simply want happiness; he wants that specific puppy as a pet, which will make him happy.  He doesn’t simply want to be rid of the Ring; he wants to destroy the Ring by throwing it into the Cracks of Doom in Mordor.  He doesn’t simply want to get away from his uncle’s home; he wants to join the Rebel Alliance/Varden/class at Hogwarts.

The antagonist wants the exact opposite.  He wants the protagonist to forget about the puppy and settle for, perhaps, a ratty stuffed animal.  He wants the protagonist to stay in his hobbit-hole and let his minions murder him in his bed, and to never destroy the Ring.  He wants the protagonist to stay right where he is on Tattooine, Carvahall, or No. 4 Privet Drive.  This, too, is a material thing.  In some places, the antagonist is an evil warlord bent on destroying the earth.  In most places, however, the antagonist is an unexpected person.

The relationship character usually isn’t the love interest.  The relationship character is a side character who accompanies the protagonist on his journey.  This character usually has something wise to say, but the protagonist doesn’t want to hear it until the very end.

The story is finished when everything resolves: the protagonist has achieved his goal, the antagonist is defeated, and the relationship character and protagonist have reconciled (usually with a “You were right!” scene).  According to the podcast I already linked to, the closer together these events are, the stronger the film.

That’s just setup, though.  The real fun is mapping out the progression of the story. (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…)