When Your Ship Sails

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It must be nice to have a ship sail. For the record none of my ships ever sail: Aragorn/Eowyn, Rollo/Lagertha, Sebastian/Mary, Motoko/Batou, Finn/Poe just to name a few.

Before I proceed, this is regarding a moment from the season finale of Game of Thrones, so if you haven’t seen it SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

Consider yourselves warned.

For Dany/Jon shippers, last night had a very satisfying moment. To be honest, it was pretty fun to watch for us nonshippers too. I mean, damn, that was a steamy scene.

While I’m undecided how I feel about Dany/Jon (Sorry Aegon) getting together, I do know what ship I’d like to see sail.

So … while everyone is starting to build a boat for Tormund and Brienne, I’m still hoping my Brienne and Jaime ship will sail.

Last night did give me some hope when Jaime left King’s Landing for the North where Brienne of Tarth just so happens to be.

I know people like the idea of Tormund and Brienne and their giant children, but I’ve been rooting for this ship since season 2, damn it. They just have such good chemistry.

Well, since the next season isn’t going to air until 2019, I guess I”ll have to wait two more years to find out if Jaime and Brienne get together.

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What ships do you want to see sail? Which ones would you like to sink?

Take a Break from Life to Watch this Video: Game of Thrones/Taylor Swift Mashup

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Life has been firing lemons from a lemon-grenade launcher at me all week, so instead of my planned post, here’s one I whipped up in a pinch just for fun. After all, humor is the cure-all for life’s troubles. But don’t worry, for those of you who follow me for content, I will try to resume my regular blogging schedule on Tuesday with a new Tuesday Tip.

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A blog post is coming. It’s on it’s way. It’s gonna be amazing.

In the meantime, I’m going to be catching up on my blog, writing, editing, and life in general, I’ll also be catching up on Game of Thrones. One more disc and I’ll be finished with season 4.

And speaking of Game of Thrones, if you haven’t seen it yet, please enjoy this Game of Thrones/Taylor Swift parody “Blank Page.” I promise you, there are no spoilers, but I warn you, it will be stuck in your head for days.

http://www.nerdist.com/vepisode/nerdist-presents-game-of-thrones-meets-taylor-swift-in-blank-page/

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever killed someone? Why did you do it? How did you do it? Did you do it again?

By now I hope you know I’m talking about fictional people. If not, go turn yourself in, you sociopath.

Writers are a disturbing group of people, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Imagine if you will what murder looks like from the viewpoint of a non-writer. The writer stares deadpan at the screen as the keys clack to a rhythm coinciding with the thoughts in their head. With the same face one might write a casual email, the writer is gruesomely disemboweling her character. She pauses, not in remorse, but to take a sip of coffee. Not that some authors don’t cry all the tears as they kill off a character. Others laugh even.

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Almost every book has a death scene. I can’t think of the last book I’ve read where no one died, unless you count the books I read to my kid.

So while you’re planning how you’re going to do it, you should probably decide if you should. For those of you sharpening your proverbial knives, here’s Murder 101.

To Kill or Not to Kill?

The death of a character should be premeditated and not a random decision. I believe it should be the result of the character’s actions or because of their fatal flaw or greatest attribute, not because you think it would be cool to kill them.

Consider Ned Stark. His death is one of the least random and best planned deaths in A Game of Thrones. I’m not finished with the series yet, but sometimes I think people just die to be dead. He just offs them because they became inconvenient to the plot or because he doesn’t know how to finish their arcs or because he just wants to prove to his readers he’s a stone-hearted bad-ass. I don’t know.

So how do you know whether or not to kill your character?

Do it for the epicness. OK, that’s not a word, but that is the word that comes to my mind when I read a story where a character has a well-planned death.

How do you achieve epicness? Consider the why and why nots of Murder 101.

To Advance the Plot: Does the death serve the plot. Did a character grow from it? Did events occur as a result of it? Did it affect the other characters? e.g., Ned Stark. Yes, characters were affected. Yes, plot happened as a result. Yes, characters grew from it. Look at Arya. Look at Robb? (speaking of a death that may or may not have a purpose)

Not for Shock Value: This is never a good reason to kill a character. I mean NEVER. Any desired emotional effect will wear off once the reader realizes what you’ve done. Picking on George again, I believe the Red Wedding was all for shock value. I could think of a hundred ways to kill Robb better than that. And did he need to die? Was he just becoming too powerful? Too boring? Why, George? I’ll give him credit for this much, Robb’s death was the result of his own actions, not random. But that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

To Fulfill a Character’s Goal or Purpose: The character performs a function in the story. Sometimes closing off the character’s arc with death invalidates his or her purpose. Ask yourself, did they exact their purpose because of or in despite of their death? e.g., Shane from The Walking Dead. While the love triangle served little purpose other than for drama sake, Shane’s death was pivitol to the plot. The character Shane had to have a purpose other than to create rifts and tension in the group. His purpose was to test Rick. Note his character always disagreed with Rick. If Rick said fly, he’d say swim. In season two, Rick is facing a moral dilemma: Kill or not kill a living person. Naturally Shane is for it, while Rick has some reservations. The decision is made for him when Shane ambushes Rick in the woods, forcing Rick to make the decision, not on the gang member, but on Shane.

Probably the greatest example of this, however, has to be from “A Tale of Two Cities.” What was the purpose of Syndey Carton, the man who dies for Charles Darnay? Why, to find purpose of course. The character detest and sacrifices himself for Charles because Charles has the life he could have had and a purpose. He realizes he has no purpose other than to save a man who does. As a result, Sydney has a purpose. Still my fav literary death.

Not for Sadistic Pleasure: I’m pretty sure some writers get a disturbing pleasure from killing their characters. I’ve heard the term pain perve used in fanfiction before. Probably not a good reason to kill your character.

To Create Realism: I’ve read so many books where a trio or small group goes on an adventure where they fight against insurmountable odds . . . and no one dies. This kills suspense. At what point do you worry about the characters? You might want to invent some redshirts.

Not Because you Don’t Know What to Do Next: Filling in the gaps between your plot wth senseless death will be just that: senseless. Likewise, if you have a character you don’t know what to do with, chances are they should not be in your story

For Symbolism: This works best when the death is an animal. Animal deaths often symbolize something. The death of a bird can symbolize hopelessness, loss of freedom, or loss of innocence. In one semester of college, I read three books in a row where the authors killed cats. Killing cats seems to be a popular tool with writers (sadistic bastards). The plot device was always lost on me. The result: My class rebelled against our teacher, refusing to read any more books containing cat death. I also threw “Kafka on the Shore” against a wall,and refused to read one more page.

When to Kill

I’m not referring to the time of day. Night or day, it doesn’t matter. I’m referring to the beginning, middle, or end of your book.

Beginning: this usually works best if the character who dies is NOT a main character but a character whose death motivates the protagonist (therefore moving the plot). e.g., Uncle Ben in Spiderman.

Middle: This works best with a side character. Perhaps their death is the consequence of the protagonist’s actions or their own. Maybe they die just as the character was losing hope and refuel their will to carry out their purpose.

End: Main character death. I caution against killing off a main character unless you have to. This can also be a side character. e.g., Boromir in The Lord of the RIngs. His death proves the power and the danger of the one ring.

How

I don’t mean whips or chains, I mean how. Don’t be sadistic. be realistic. Has your character survived everything just to be taken down by a fly, a stumble, or a tiny net?

Some of you might point out, Drogo died of an infection. Does this cheat the reader? Arguably no, it’s payoff for foreshadowing. He has a long braid because he has never been defeated by any warrior. Technically he is and isn’t killed in a fight. He defeats his opponent, only to die of infection.

You want your character’s death to be a result of their actions, not a random flu. Using Ned Stark again. He is brought down by his greatest flaw/greatest attribute: his honor. It doesn’t matter that he was beheaded. He could have been poisoned and the result would be the same.

How Many?

rmx-it-039-s-hard-killing-off-so-many-characters_o_1424057What’s your body count? in my current WIP, I’m up to about 11 if you don’t count the nameless background characters. George R.R. Martin puts me to shame, but I’m not competing.

There really isn’t a set number. Just ask yourself the why/why not questions. Does the death help/hurt the plot?

George R.R. Martin is obviously building quite the body pile, but can he beat Shakespeare?

How to Create the Feels

The best death scene in the world won’t elicit a tear unless you do several things leading up to the death. I’ve read so many books where a character dies and all the characters make such a stink, but I don’t care. I wasn’t invested. Readers want to feel. They even want to feel sad. We like our heart-strings pulled. So how do you make sure your readers cry, full-bodied, blubbery tears?

Make sure you let your readers get to know them.

Build suspense leading up to their deaths. Think of the dramatic, foreboding music before a death scene in a movie. Oh no, something bad is going to happen.

Follow through. Once the character is dead, do your characters move on right away. How can your reader react if they don’t?

Beware False Deaths

princessbride11Sometimes characters die and don’t stay dead, e.g.,Gandalf, Harry Potter, Kenny Mckormick. These characters legit die and come back to life. This is not an uncommon thing in fantasy; however, It’s not my favorite gimmick, and it can leave readers feeling cheated. After all, it’s a major cop-out. My advice is make sure your character is returning for a purpose, not because you missed them or felt bad about killing them. If it serves the plot, kill them and let them stay dead.

The biggest cop-out is the false death. No, I’m not talking about when a character is only mostly dead. I mean they never died. They were just perceived to be dead. This is a gimmick not to be overused.

At best your reader will be surprised and relieved when their favorite character or the villain returns after everyone thought they were defeated. At worst, they will feel lied to and cheated.

Never try to trick your readers into thinking a main character had died by making them black out. Your reader will be ticked when they wake up in the next chapter.

Never have your character die only to reveal it was a dream.

I think false deaths work best for villains. Let the character celebrate their victory only to realize the fight is not won. Again, don’t overuse.

I hope you enjoyed Murder 101. If you remember nothing else, just don’t forget it’s about your reader. They have invested emotionally in a character. Make sure it’s worth it. I got punched in the rib for killing a character once. True story. That either means I did something wrong or right.

Let’s here from you. What’s your body count? Do you cry when your characters die? Did your readers cry?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1I was so conflicted about what to write about today. Well, would you look at that, conflict just happens to be the next item on the editing checklist. To see the full editing checklist, feel free to check it out here.

We all face conflicts in our daily lives. Small conflicts like what to eat or wear. Major conflicts like getting a divorce, having surgery, or moving for a job.

water-cooler-gossipPeople enjoy conflict–not in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Ever notice how engaged your friends and coworkers are when you tell them about your divorce from hell, but for some reason they glaze over when you recap your relaxing weekend. People feed off of drama like plants feed off of light. Maybe it distracts them from their own lives; maybe they relate; maybe they are addicted to the chemicals released from experiencing negative emotions. Whatever it is, harness its power to engage readers. If conflict keeps people at the water cooler, it will also keep readers turning the page.

Types of Conflict

Conflict is the most important part of your novel. After you introduce your main character, you introduce the conflict. The story doesn’t truly begin on page one, but when the protagonist sets out to resolve the conflict. When we think conflict, we often think of something exciting, like a plane crash or a car chase, but a conflict can be something invisible and small-scale like an emotion. To help understand conflict, let’s break it up into categories.

External: Any force outside of the protagonist: fire, tornado, shark, sharknado, etc

Internal: Internal conflict adds meaning to the external conflict. Consider the Battle of Blackwater in a Game of Thrones. Since this event happened in season two, I hardly feel the need to announce a spoiler alert, considering there are five seasons now. You’ve had your chance to catch up.

There are a lot of external conflicts in this scene: Stannis’ fleet, under-protected walls, fire, etc. However, the true drama comes from the characters’ inner conflicts. There are a lot of characters we could choose to focus on: King Joffrey, Tyrion, or Stannis, but let’s look at The Hound (I don’t remember what his real name is). The character is a great fighter, so why does he freak out and leave in the middle of battle? It’s not the ships, it’s not the men with swords, it’s the fire. Because he was burned as a child, The Hound fears fire, which is everywhere at King’s Landing. This is a great example of inner conflict layered underneath external conflict. His fear, and inability to overcome it, makes this scene more dramatic. Kudos goes to George for playing on a character’s weakness, but before I hand out too much praise, let’s just see how this character arc ends. George typically fails at character conflict resolution. No, this is not just my opinion. There are a lot of arcs that are never closed off and conflicts unresolved because Martin kills off a character instead of developing a more satisfactory conclusion (e.g., most of the Starks). Lazy, just lazy. For the Hound’s conflict to be resolved successfully, he will have to overcome his fear of fire in order to achieve his goal, but George will probably just kill him off–which is ok as long as it’s with fire.

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Person vs.

  • Self: inner conflict: flaws, doubts, prejudices
  • Person: an antagonist e.g., a villain
  • Society: tradition, laws, culture e.g., Hunger Games
  • Nature: weather, elements e.g., Robinson Crusoe
  • Technology: tech takes over
  • Supernatural: something superficial: Gods, demons, fate, destiny
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Man vs. Technology: Take that, stupid printer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to create conflict

To add conflict, you don’t have to plan a ton of major events, like explosions, war, etc. If you’ve ever read The Teahouse Fire, you’ll notice there was only one catastrophic event in the entire story: the fire. Other than that, not a lot happened, but every page was saturated with conflict. To create conflict, simply ask yourself, what does your character want? Once you know what they want, take it away and make it difficult to achieve.

  • family
  • money
  • power
  • job
  • justice
  • a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Give your character a goal that your audience can relate with. The more they can relate, the more they’ll root for your protagonist. Create situations that prevent your character from getting what they want, and show their struggle to achieve it.

How to increase conflict

1. Give a Deadline

Think of a ticking clock. Imagine the story of Cinderella without the midnight curfew. Not as exciting, is it? A race against the clock adds suspense and drama.

2. Make your Character Choose

Decisions, decisions. Giving your characters choices will keep your readers on the edge of their seats. What will they choose? Will they complete their goal if it means ruining the lives of others? What will they sacrifice to get what they want?

3. Conflicting Goals

Like real people, your main character can have more than one goal. Make those goals compete.

Example: He wants to get a promotion and save his marriage. To get the promotion, he has to spend more time at work. To save his marriage, he needs to spend more time with his wife. He obviously can’t do both.

Also, group your protagonist with side characters who have conflicting goals or who have personality traits that conflict with your character.

Returning to the prior example. He has a mother-in-law who hates him, persuading his wife to leave.

4. Include Conflict in Every Scene

To iterate, this does not mean you have to have an explosion in every scene. Just make sure your character is struggling with something. Are they conflicting with their morals, another character, nature?

5. Inability to take Action

Render your character helpless to act. What always comes to my mind is a villain hand-rubbing and cackling while the main character, usually tied up, declares that they won’t get away with it . . . to which the villain always replies:

I already have

I already have

Main Conflict. 

Let’s look at Star Wars (The good ones). You might think the main conflict is about the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance; however, the main conflict is actually Luke’s inner struggle between choosing the honorable way of the Jedi or getting revenge. The war complements Luke’s struggle because it is a battle between good and evil.

Side Conflicts

One conflict is not enough. On the road to your character achieving his or her goal are smaller conflicts. Think of these like bumps in the road. A good story has layers of conflict. Multiple conflicts add realism, depth, and interest. Interweave them so they are related. Let’s return to A Game of Thrones, however, we’ll take a look at Daenerys this time. Her main conflict is her desire to rule the iron throne. The battle hasn’t begun, but already she’s had many side conflicts: choosing between her family and her rule, hunger, obtaining an army, her brother, etc.

Note: Don’t forget to give side characters conflict as well. Make their wants compete with the main character. Just make sure their conflicts complement, not compete.

Raising the Stakes

Every conflict should be worse than the one before.

Conflict one:They mess up your order at McDonald’s

Conflict two: You’re late for work.

Conflict three: Your boss gives you a write up.

Conflict four: You’re girlfriend calls you during lunch to breakup with you.

Conflict five: You get pulled over on your way home and receive a ticket.

Conflict six: You get home to find all of your stuff is on the lawn.

Conflict seven: You have nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep, so you spend the night in your car while your stuff gets rained on.

Compare the first and last conflict. I bet you’d happily eat that Mcmessed up egg muffin now.

What happens if your stakes decrease?

One of several things. Your readers will lose interest or the conflict will get resolved too fast.

How to make sure your stakes are rising.

It’s easier if you plan your conflict while you’re planning your novel. Map the conflicts on your outline in the order they occur. You’ll obviously put the major conflict last.

What if it’s too late? You’ve already written your first draft. It’s never too late to rearrange or cut scenes. Keep a list of the conflicts that arise in your novel and compare them to make sure they appear in the correct order. I did this while editing my sister’s novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Rather. Kay and Pig’s conflicts include a bear, a salesperson, and a kidnapping. Obviously the salesperson came first, followed by the bear, and lastly the kidnapping.

Don’t Raise the Stakes too High

Sometimes writers raise the stakes so high the protagonist cannot resolve the conflict realistically, resulting in a deus ex machina. I love her, but Karen Miller is infamously guilty of this. Do not let a God step in or bull-shit a magic ability at the last minute.This robs the reader of a satisfactory conclusion.

Rules of Conflict

  • Conflict must always be resolved (That goes for you too, George R.R. Martin)
  • Conflict must always be resolved by the main character or as the result of their actions
  • No deus ex machina
  • Have conflict in every scene
  • Have multiple conflicts

There you have it. When it comes to writing, don’t save the drama for your mama.

 

 

 

Who is the better Writer?

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untitledI love Pub-talk; it’s my favorite part of the bar experience. Usually I’m the DD, so I spend more time talking than drinking.

Saturday, I had a great literary conversation while sharing a drink with my sister. I only had one drink, mind you; I would hate to get a DUI while dressed as an elf. After the con, there was an after party at Cook McDoogles, which is an Irish pub in my city’s downtown. My sister and I were talking with two brothers, attendees of the con, when one of them asked an interesting question. Who is the better writer: J.R.R Tolkien or George R. R. Martin?

My initial instinct was to blurt out Tolkien. His books are classics and he’s practically the father of fantasy; however, this does not make him a perfect writer. His writing suffers from info dumping, plot holes, and plot-stopping scenes and characters. That doesn’t mean I’m naming George the winner. He has his fair share of faults as well: A first chapter that doesn’t establish the main conflict, no clear main protagonist, and the overuse of dream sequences. I think I’ll save my opinions for a later post. I want to hear from you. Who do you prefer?

For Shock’s Sake

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In light of it being Banned Books Week, I thought to write something related. I don’t plan on reading a banned book this week, though I’d like to, because I will be too busy writing my own novel; however, I think next year I will review one for my other blog, Cover to Cover.

Books are often banned for language, sexual content, or just being considered unfit. YA books seem to be the most popular targets for obvious reasons: parents and church authorities are very hyper-sensitive to what is taught to children. I don’t believe in banning books, and often wonder why books get so much heat, especially in light of what we see on television. Channels like HBO and STARZ bank on series containing sex, violence, and explicit language—the same things books get banned for. J.D. Salinger dropped the F-word quite a bit in Catcher in the Rye. Some of the same parents who support the ban of this book let their children watch television shows like Hells Kitchen that have the same, if not more profanity.

For the record, I’m not against sex, violence, and language in books, but I think others will agree with me when an excessive use of all of the above gets to be unnecessary, distracting, or down right annoying. The great George R.R. Martin automatically comes to my mind. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy his writing and I’m eagerly awaiting the next season of Game of Thrones, but if you cut out the sex scenes alone, his novels turn into novellas. I’m not offended by the sex, I’m just bored of it and it just begins to feel like filler.

A good writer uses explicit content to make writing real. When it’s not needed, it seems out of place. The same can be said if it is omitted where it belongs. After all, it would break the third wall if a death-row inmate used euphemisms like “darn” to replace stronger words. The reader will not be convinced; rather, the author’s inhibitions will detach the reader from the story. A good writer can distance their own moral or personal believes for the sake of a character or for their story.

In an effort to protect the reader, or due to personal biases, writers have tried to write around the F-word, using alternatives like frack, feck, or fudge. After all, their concern is that a reader may be thrown by the F-bomb, but euphemisms can be distracting, if not down right ridiculous. My opinion is either use the word or don’t. Don’t eat half a cookie. Cram the whole thing in your mouth like Cookie Monster, or leave it on the plate. Personally, I use euphemisms in front of my preschooler, not in my writing.

The other reason writers include controversial content is for shock value. I think we’re running into more of this as writers struggle to write something that hasn’t been done. It’s like the bully at school trying to provoke you just to get a reaction. Writers just want to see how far they can go. When the intent is to cause an intense or drastic feeling of fear, disgust, or shock in the reader, the result is shallow. The effect of this is often short lived and forgettable. Using the elements sparingly makes the effect more profound. Shock value is usually the result of a writer who is worried their writing will be boring. Just like any element of writing, when used to often, anything becomes boring. Do you hear that, George? I’m bored of boobs and butts!

Again, I am no prude. When I was in middle school, I was enthralled by The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl, particularly the scene where the character starts her period.. To this day, I remember that chapter. It just goes to show a little can go a long way. I’ll also never forget when I read my first homosexual paring outside of fanfiction. Many writers avoid these parings because of their own personal biases. Some writers use them merely for shock. I feel that explicit or controversial content needs mature appreciation from both the author and the reader for it to be successful.

So how do you know when to use certain content? It’s an easy answer to a very controversial question. The answer lies in your readers. It should be based on your audience. You will never satisfy everyone. After all, if you are writing a gritty historical novel about the wild west or the Holocaust, you shouldn’t worry about your three-year old niece or your great grandmother. They aren’t your audience. Ask yourself, based on the demographic you’ve chosen for your book, will they be thrown, will they be offended, will they appreciate it. Right now I’m writing a novel that contains violence, sex, and probably a sprinkle of cussing here and there. The audience I’ve selected should be mature adults. Therefore, I’m not worried about whether it is appropriate for teenagers to read or the impact it could have on them. I don’t believe books should be banned (and I doubt mine is bad enough to warrant such a drastic measure) but the immaturity and impressionability of youth, and media’s impact on them is underestimated. Twilight. Need I say more. The reader is always in my mind. After all, I’m not writing for me. I’m writing for them. Listen to what your reader wants. Read customer reviews for books similar to yours. If they aren’t complaining about content, feel free to put in enough bad language to make Gordon Ramsay blush.

As I write, I’m going to keep my readers in mind. So when you get ready to write that steamy sex scene or throw in an f-bomb/d-word combo, consider this: are you being edgy, or just going over the edge?