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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Some Ramblings on Character

Throughout my life, I’ve been told two things about character: a) it’s whatever good you’re willing to do, and b) it’s best when there are flaws.

These are obviously two different personal definitions. Character is either the quality of a trait or an actual person. A good character has flaws, a bad character doesn’t. And yet you have bad character when you act poorly. It all makes for a wonderful contradiction when you think about it, one of those words that are just ripe for wordplay. And I like wordplay–it makes for good fun.

If you’re having trouble imagining it, just count the characters: I like this character because he has poor character and so is a good character.

Just look at it–in one sentence, there are four different definitions of the word “character,” two of which may be interpreted in more than one way. You can’t do that with every word that comes around.

Now, back to the business at hand. Characters–the people, this time–evolve. It’s important to remember that. A main character needs to be dynamic; if it isn’t dynamic, then it isn’t the main character. That means the narrator can be a secondary or even tertiary character (more on my perceived character levels later). For example, take Death in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. For those who haven’t read the book, what’s important here is that he’s an omniscient narrator, and a very good one at that.

If I were to read the book over, I could probably go through and find some minute changes in Death. But that’s the whole point of a story, right? That everyone changes? We could argue all day that Nick in The Great Gatsby changes, if only minutely.

But that’s not the point of a main character. The main character doesn’t change minutely; it evolves.

Death is not the main character of The Book Thief. Liesel is, just as Gatsby is in The Great Gatsby. Why? Because the main character evolves. And it’s not always something so significant as “he’s alive in the beginning and dead at the end.” If that were the case, all characters would be the main character.

All ranting aside, though, this isn’t the point. Oh, sure, main characters evolve during the actual story. But they also evolve during the process of creating a story. From an idea, or even just a notion, to a full-fledged character. Some characters start out as characters, and might change very little between the starting point and ending point. Others only begin as a hunch, or as thought-experiments, nothing but vaguely swirling images.

That’s all for now. This could get lengthy, so I should stop here. Up next: Character creation at its most basic (A.K.A. mostly my observations of how others create characters, because it’s different for everyone).

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Writing

 

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Human Rights?

For some reason I find myself thinking about the Vietnam War.

I’ve read a total of three books on the subject: A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, and Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried, both by Tim O’Brien. I suppose I’ve probably read some other things, like parts of Kissinger’s Diplomacy and numerous other works by numerous other authors.

Even knowing what happened, I feel like there’s something missing. Some vital piece of the puzzle. Oh, yeah. The piece that was missing since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (aspects of which are very scarily turning up in current events): why it happened.

Who knows why people resort to war? Large public upheavals. Mob psychology. It all plays a part. I’m sure the definition might be a bit enlightening.

1. A conflict carried on by a force of arms, as between nations or parties within a nation.

2. A state or period of armed hostility or active military operations.

Never mind, then. There is no reason for war, other than the contention between ideas that some people believe must be solved by violence.

But that’s general war. What about Vietnam? Why did the United States interfere in what had previously amounted to a civil war? Was it communism? Honest fear of Soviet expansion? Or was it something else?

It certainly isn’t communism now.

Now, it’s “human rights.” Apparently, we have the obligation to make sure others’ rights are well-secured. So we send troops overseas, to Afghanistan, Syria, Libya. Because there are revolutions going on there, and human rights are being neglected. Or is it because we’re still fighting for allies in a Cold War fashion?

If we’re so concerned about human rights, then why is no one interfering in Rwanda?

If the Cold War is over, then why is this still happening?

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2011 in Contemplations, Controversial Topics

 

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Morphing Ideas

The more I write, the more I realize that there’s a lot of change going on in my ideas. From the initial prompt and planning stage, the setting and nature of the characters has shifted radically. The story isn’t even on Earth anymore, and the main character has been fleshed out far beyond the point by which I usually stop to write. It really makes me wonder what’s so different about this idea than all the others.

Here are some of the possibilities:

  1. I’ve made the existence of this story public. I don’t usually do this, out of paranoia. Even now, did you see what I did here? I hated the fact that I relied on a prompt to get this story rolling, but at the same time I got so suspicious of what others would think or do with my idea that it was all I could do to say “there are dragons.” Previous works have never been put out there, even like that, with one exception. Even then, I turned it in late.
  2. It doesn’t take place in a world I’ve worked in before. Actually, it doesn’t even have the same genre as any story I’ve worked on before. And I haven’t read very much in this genre either–just bits and pieces. Yet I’m still doubly or even triply as enthusiastic about this project compared to past projects.
  3. I’m treating it as if I know nothing. This is explanatory in and of itself. I’m trying to let the characters tell the story, but when the characters stop talking I don’t just continue blathering on as if I know what I’m talking about. Let’s face it: I really don’t know what I’m talking about. And while I go on to admit this, I might as well get it in writing, too. Let the characters correct me when they will.
  4. I’ve written the ending first. Some people might think this is an elementary tactic to try, but in truth I’ve never been able to think that way. I’ve always had to write things from the middle outward, or from the beginning outward. But never the end first.
  5. I’ve committed myself to absolutely no research whatsoever. Usually, when I find myself in the beginning stages of a project, I’ll do all this research and planning on the characters and setting that the whole story just gets bogged down with unnecessary details. Right now, however, I’m just trying to take everything one step at a time. I can establish technology and world details as I move along with the draft; a full outline would be disastrous at this stage. And it helps that I started with character-building first, and not world-building. That way, the world can develop around the characters, rather than the other way around.

I’ve started the draft already, and already it looks as if it’s going to be pretty cohesive. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even take it off to the new Camp NaNoWriMo¬† for extra motivation during the desert that is supposedly the middle of the draft (seeing as I’ve never really seen one of my larger works off the ground, I’ve never seen this wasteland; but the prospect is exciting nonetheless).

All in all, I’ve never had a story morph so quickly from initial idea to the beginning of the draft. I don’t know if that’s a good sign, but I certainly hope so.

For people who might (but probably aren’t) wondering about my previous work, yes, it’s changed over the years. But those ideas have taken years to come to fruition, and even then they really aren’t fully worked out yet. In this scenario, if you subtract the initial fighting with the idea, trying to get it to fit the mold I wanted it to fit, we’re talking more along the lines of three to four days. It’s a big deal for me, and I certainly hope this early enthusiasm hearkens as a good omen as I continue to write.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Writing

 

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The Next Step

Today’s inspiration comes from Sunday Scribblings, a site of weekly writing prompts. This week’s prompt is “Next Step.”

What is the next step?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve asked myself that, I’d have a total of…a lot of nickels.

Especially now, at the first big crossroads of my life, this question has been haunting me. Graduation looms closer, and I’m beginning to doubt. Am I really good enough to succeed? Do I have enough passion for physics to continue? Do I have what it takes to continue my education on my own, without my friends and family?

I can only imagine what it must be like to not have to make any choices. To have someone else choose for me: what I am, who I am. And part of me envies that image, while at the same time, another part of me hates it.

As difficult as they are, what would anyone be without choices? I’ve already made some that have changed my life in irrevocable ways. But this–this is different. I can’t just skim through the course catalog and pick between regular, advanced placement, and International Baccalaureate. No, this time I have to pick between taking courses of entirely different subjects. Gone are the three and four year requirements: French, English, history. Gone are the textbooks I don’t own, and the bus that picks me up in the morning.

In preparation for these changes, I’ve already made some decisions. To apply for college, to choose a college. But even on the last day of school, a day full of ice cream and pizza and frantic last-minute yearbook signings, it just didn’t seem real. Like I’d still have school on Monday, or an exam next week. Like I’d just be playing in the graduation band, instead of walking across the stage myself. Like in August I’d be shopping for school supplies, rather than moving out of home for the first time.

Everything changes, and the changes come so fast. Get a Facebook, get a Skype. Say goodbye to old friends and hope to find some new ones. Maybe get out of the language requirement, but maybe get stuck with it, instead. It’s kind of depressing, thinking that in two months everything will all be different.

But at the same time, some part of me is ready to take on the world. To know that whatever comes next, I’ll survive. To know that even if I don’t grow out of this uncertainty, this specific uncertainty will grow out of me just like all the others. I just don’t know when.

What’s next? How should I know? But I do know that the next step is to just keep going. I guess that’s the most important part: to keep taking steps, to keep walking forward. Because like Walt Disney said:

Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A New Project

Because telling someone about it is the best motivation to write, I will say it here: I’ve started a new project. A short-ish story, for now. I got the idea from the Wondermark Fiction Generator.

It’s going all right for now, though the setting didn’t work when it came down to write. There are dragons.

Right now I’m establishing relationships. To make things simple, I’m using three characters–interactions seem to come naturally when there are two other¬†counters to balance out, rather than one or three.

The best part about this stage of writing is that I get to tell my friends I’m writing in voices.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Habits

There are lots of writers who can pound out one, two, or even three thousand words per day.

I’m not one of them.

So, in the hopes of developing a habit of writing, I’m initiating a (hopefully) habit-inducing plan.

For as long as it takes me to finish a piece, I will write three hundred words a day. That’s at least two thousand-one hundred words a week, and at least nine thousand words a month. That’s not so bad.

The trick, so I have been told, is to take each day as it is. That said, if I get behind on one day, I can’t force myself to make up the difference.

Now the only problem is to make time to read.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Writing

 

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Life Outside of Earth

Yes, this is another daily topic. But I’m enjoying the questions, so I guess I’ll continue taking them. Today’s topic: does life exist on other planets? And, in addition: why are aliens in most movies dangerous?

The first question is simple. How can’t life exist on other planets? Are we humans so full of ourselves that we could ever believe that it couldn’t? There are hundreds and thousands of galaxies, full of hundreds of thousands of planets. And even in our own galaxy, there are hundreds of thousands of star systems and planets. It’s statistically improbable that there are no other life forms out there. We just haven’t found them yet–and some people even claim they have.

Then again, any species that can create the geocentric model of rotation must have some innate superiority complex going for it. And why haven’t we come across these aliens so far?

Geez, maybe because we’re way out in the corner of the galaxy. Maybe aliens have come across us; maybe they’re influential in history, or maybe they just don’t care. Or maybe we are the aliens, something Douglas Adams explored in his Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. Or, as long as we’re talking maybe, the skeptics are right and there’s really no such thing as aliens after all. Maybe Earth is flat and the geocentric model was right all along.

Sarcasm notwithstanding, I have yet to find anyone who could give me a decent argument to the “Earth is not the only planet” discussion, or even the “our solar system is not the only solar system” discussion. If anyone else can give me a good argument, then go for it. And for the record, I do not consider any geocentric rotational model or a flat-earth theory as a valid argument–the physics involved in either model just doesn’t add up.

That moves us into the second question: why are aliens in most movies so dangerous?

When I think of such movies, my mind goes straight to the “Alien versus Predator” series, or even the recently-released “Predator.” These aliens are highly dangerous–or just volatile, whichever way you want to think of it.

And then we have “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” The first is probably the only example of a truly diversified society. In the second, it is noted that the enemies are pretty much guaranteed to be inhuman.

This is where a knowledge of conflict is key.

A story is boring if it does not have some sort of conflict. The conflict can be either mental or physical–in this case, we’ll only deal with the physical.

In “Predator,” the conflict is two-fold: man versus nature (a strange environment breeds tension and caution), and man versus predator. The predator in such conflict is not necessarily malicious, but it could be.

From here, the movie really presents itself as a futuristic horror film, which might invalidate the entire argument. The predator in a horror film, after all, could also be human.

Let’s add something psychological: take “X-Men.” It’s not about aliens. But it is about how people instinctively fear anything different from themselves.

Now let’s apply that concept to “Predator.” In addition to being thrown in a strange environment, the characters now face an entire species of which they have no knowledge whatsoever. How will it react? Does it have a human sense of morals? Does it have a special fondness for human blood?

Because no one knows anything about these aliens, one can only assume that it’s dangerous. And that alone means it must be stopped. The fact that it is dangerous only adds to the stratification between predator and prey, which in turn adds to the conflict.

People are scared of things that are different from themselves. That could be part of it. Then there’s the simple fact that danger equals conflict, and conflict equals a more compelling story.

What do you think?

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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