I’m going to jump ahead a bit. My next post on building character is going to deal with antagonists & adversaries who aren’t necessarily evil and allies who aren’t necessarily the kind of people you want to invite over for dinner. Spoiler warning: I’m going to be talking about Q.
In that future post, I’ll be talking about what makes Q exemplary in this role of adversarial ally. But that’s the pinnacle of his character, and here I want to discuss the ups and downs. It’s something that comes from different writers handling the same character with varying degrees of success. Charles Sonnenburg has discussed the Q character arc at length in his opinionated episode guide videos of his episodes, and I recommend checking those out.
When we first meet Q, in Encounter at Farpoint, he’s an officious and clearly omnipotent being with every intention of wiping humanity out of existence. Hide and Q casts Q as Mephistopheles and also establishes his penchant for playing games with mortals. Q Who introduces us to the Borg, and Q is more grounded and less flamboyant. The result is a dimension of depth to the character that will be exploredlater. We also see what happens when Q is stripped of his powers and interacts with other Q beings. Yet at the same time, we’re ‘treated’ to what happens when Q goes gift-shopping and, despite his protestations that humans are unevolved savages with disgusting biological processes, chasesskirts.
It would have taken the writers of some of the weaker episodes in the Q arc all of five minutes to check on the characterization & information established in his previous appearances. Alas, they seemed more interest in playing his “omnipotence” for laughs. It’s one thing to take the ball & run with it. That’s what you do when you catch a ball. However, you don’t want to run in entirely the wrong direction. It’s not just a case of a writer not doing the research, it can also lead to a serious case of dis-continuity and character decay, which may become terminal.
How do you avoid this? Keep notes, and check them often. Lend an ear to feedback you receive on your work, both positive and negative. Above all, keep your characters consistent. Say what you like about Stephanie Meyer, the character of Bella Swan remains co-dependent and nearly obsessed with Edward throughout her books, so at least she got the consistency right.
I picked up Dragon Age: Origins because I’m a sucker for both fantasy role-playing games and BioWare’s writing. Sure, they’ll dump extensive write-ups into your journal (or Codex in this case) at the slightest provocation and some of the conversations can be a little long-winded, but the writing is so good and the character stories so interesting that I take those things in stride. However, sometimes the game system can be a little weird. The first major hang-up I’ve encountered, however, is entirely my fault. It’s something of a case of Did Not Do The Research, but I’ve been building my mage character wrong. I’m 7 levels in, and some of the time I spent on the first attempt can get shaved since I know my way around the system a bit better. But the point of me bringing up this little bit of geekery is so I can discuss something we’ve all indulged in since childhood: the do-over.
You remember do-overs, right? Someone would throw the dodge ball incorrectly, or you’d forget to fill your water pistol before shooting at a sibling. “Do-over!” would be the cry. “Do-over!” The previous attempts would be wiped away in the nascent young minds and play would begin again as if the last block of time never happened. It’s something that’s found its way into gaming in general. If a title has “replay value,” you can basically leave one save-game alone and start over, making different choices and experiencing the game in a different way.
You can pull do-overs in your writing, as well. I’ve done it on more than one occasion, most notably with my first novel, and every time I’ve declared a do-over, the resulting writing has been a marked improvement. I’m not saying you should always wipe out what you’ve written if a better idea comes along. I’m merely suggesting that you should never feel restricted by your previous efforts. If you want to try something new, try it. Nothing’s stopping you.
And it goes beyond that, as well. I’m going to wax philosophical/religious for a minute, so if you’d rather not think about it you can jump ship now.
Still with me? Fantastic.
A lot of people in authority, from conservative pundits to religious leaders to your boss, might tell you that everything in your past defines who you are now. You need to pick a career and stick with it, says the prevailing capitalist sentiment. It doesn’t matter how much pigeon crap is in the hole, this is where you belong. Credit scores and employment histories are just a couple of examples of how we like to track where people go in their lives to show that they don’t change.
But people are not generic, hot-swappable modules. The only thing all people in the world have in common is that they’re all different, and all of them are capable of change. You’ll be called a failure or a quitter if you try to change, but I only really see someone quitting if they either commit suicide or convince themselves that what they want in life is impossible to attain or not worth pursuing.
Guess what? You are the only You in existence. In all of Creation, only you can do the things you dream of doing. Your stories haven’t been told by others and they won’t get told if you don’t tell them. Sure, other people have climbed Everest or swam the English channel or split the atom. That doesn’t make what you want to do, what makes you passionate, what gets you out of bed in the morning and propels you through a generic hot-swappable day job any less unique than the things that do that for me. If you change jobs, or pursue a dream, people may think you’re a quitter. I tend to think you’re just the opposite – you’re starting something wonderful and you can’t really fail at it. You might fall short of the ultimate goal, but you made the attempt, and probably learned a few things about yourself and your place in this world along the way, which is more than a lot of people can say.
It’s one of the things that maintains my faith in Christ. Outside of the rhetoric of televangelists or the stoic zealotry of pro-life clinic bombers or the “God bless us and nobody else” isolationist tendencies of some congregations, the message of Christ is really pretty simple.
You weren’t meant to suffer. You shouldn’t have to bear the burdens of a daily life plagued by self-doubt and self-recrimination. And you don’t have to. I’m more than willing to help you with your struggles. All you have to do is ask. If you have the courage to admit that you can’t make it on your own, and the open-mindedness to appreciate this world and acknowledge that there’s more to it than what you can see, I’ll let you in on a secret. Your entire life is a do-over. Pick up the dreams you thought were shattered. Mend the heart you felt was broken. I can’t guarantee you’ll get everything you desire, but in following Me, you might just find something you were seeking without ever knowing you needed it.
I know, I know. I’m a dew-eyed optimist and the cynicism of the world is going to try and grind me into a fine powder for an unfeeling corporate master to snort off a hooker’s cleavage while sitting in traffic contained in a luxury car on his way to a meeting on the greatness of his company.
But until that day, I’ll keep believing and keep writing. Even if I have to call a do-over now and again.
“…. Writing is anti-social. It’s as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to turn and bite right to the bone… and not even know that he’s doing it. As writers’ wives and husbands often learn to their horror. And- attend me carefully Gwen!- there is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all… and if you shake him at this stage, he bites.”
This is how Robert A. Heinlein describes writers in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. He goes on to talk about “the need to write” which is apparently an incurable disease. It can be combated with different kinds of therapy. The character in question, ex-soldier freelance writer & gentleman about Luna Richard Ames, talks of a friend of his who was so affected by writing that he checked into an asylum.
“Cured him of writing, all right. But it didn’t cure him of the need to write. Last I saw him, he was huddled in a corner, trembling.”
I think that’s how it goes. I’m not sure where my copy of the novel is located. Might’ve left it in the box with the cat, just to see what happens. Anyway, the concept of a need to write isn’t without merit. Considering the arduous, time-consuming and often thankless nature of the business, many writers probably wouldn’t be writing if they didn’t need to. I know some people who are more talented with the art than they think but don’t do it for a variety of reasons.
However, once you get past a certain point and your dreams and ideas begin to take shape outside of your own head, all of the lost man-hours and eyestrain and rejection begins to matter less and less. You take these things in stride because a strange thing happens. It starts to become fun.
It’s never fun to get rejected, don’t get me wrong – form letters never lose their impersonal sting. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fun comes from the act of creation itself. Who cares if some berk over at Generic Adventures Monthly or Want More Twilight Publishing House doesn’t think your work is good enough? That’s their opinion. Your work is an entity onto itself and really doesn’t need the approval of others to justify its existence or its merits.
On the other hand, writers don’t write in a vacuum. If they did it really would be akin to masturbation. So if the more personal response from the potential publisher says they want tweaks in the story in order to pick up your work, by all means tweak away. The plants that bear the prettiest flowers and juiciest fruit don’t do it without some pruning. Be it by your own hand or the red pen of an editor, some metaphorical shears need to come into play before the words get baked into a delicious pie for general consumption.
The fact of the matter is, either way writers have a need to write. Rejection or acceptance, publication or obscurity, riches or poverty, writers need to write. If you can get good enough to make a living doing it, more power to you. But it’s a long, hard struggle to get to that point even if you are good enough, and that’s something I intend to explore more in-depth.
Especially once I get the panel pictures off of my camera. Those panelists really knew their stuff.
From the beginning, my intent was for this blog to be about, for the most part, storytelling. From reviewing movies to posting my fiction to discussion the ins and outs of the publishing industry, I’ve wanted above all else to outline what I feel makes for a good story and the best ways for those stories to be told. Granted, this means the blog will likely have a smaller audience than some, as it has a more focused appeal rather than a universal one, but I really should take that with good grace.
I lost sight of my original goal when I started putting political rants in this space rather than my LiveJournal or Facebook. Sure, some of my diatribes are amusing and there are points to be made, but this is probably not the place I should be making them. I won’t take any of my previous posts down – I have nothing to be ashamed of and am in fact proud of the stance I take on things – but I’ll refrain from posting such things here in the future. If this is to be my place for telling and discussing stories, I should not be discussing politics. I’ll find other forums in which to do that.
There is philosophy among UNIX programmers. They write their scripts to “do one thing, and do it well.” It’s a simple, straight-forward philosophy that made Orville Redenbacher make such good popcorn and brings hundreds of thousands of fans to AC/DC concerts. Orville didn’t try to make snack mixes or granola bars, he just made popping corn. AC/DC doesn’t put hip-hop or electronics or country or jazz into their music, they just give us rock, the whole rock, and nothing but rock. And it seems to me that in that way lies success.
I am not a journalist, nor am I a biographer. I’ve given thought to offering my services to men other than Fritz Sprandel to help them writing their memoirs – this time getting it in writing, of course, because of how it turned out the last time. I’ve also thought about writing a philosophical/spiritual work (perhaps adapting Sun-Tzu’s “Art of War” to a truly Christian mindset, without bringing in things like guilt or evangelism or burning people at the stake) or an examination on how certain political climates of the past mirror some of the undercurrents of the current state of affairs. But are these things I really want to be known for? Are they things I really see myself as being good at?
I’m a dreamer. I’ve spent a lot of time with my mind in places other than where my body was. I’m a gamer. I roll dice, push buttons and deal cards to escape from the rigors of everyday life. I’m a traveler. I want to go places I’ve never seen before and do things I would otherwise not do. And I feel all of these experiences are, more often than not, better when shared. In roleplaying on World of Warcraft, participating in tabletop games and writing speculative fiction, I invite those around me to join me in a journey. I don’t always know the end destination, but sometimes I think that’s less the point than the actual journey itself.
This journey will be a bit more pleasant, I think, if I can move away from the emotionally-charged rants about neo-conservatives. Going from a discussion on the creativity or lack thereof in a given story to an angry response to conservative stupidity and back to movie & television reviews can be somewhat jarring. If I’ve managed to retain readers more interested in the geekiness than the politics I’ll be very surprised, and I’d rather lose the politicos than the dreamers.
I need to focus on doing one thing, and doing it better than the Dan Browns and Stephenie Meyers and Laurel K. Hamiltons out there – produce original speculative fiction that captures the imagination of the reader and takes them somewhere they had no idea existed before opening the cover of a book that I have written.
So. Let’s move on, shall we? The journey into the unknown and undreamed can’t continue unless we take a step in the right direction.
In the midst of my day-to-day workflow, the aftermath of my nuptials, and trying & failing to keep several financial chainsaws in the air while ducking for cover to avoid losing limbs, the news coming from my various writing prospects has taken a rather positive turn. I need to push forward on writing my fantasy novel, but some of my other writing has been getting attention or might earn me some scratch and, more importantly, notoriety.
Since my first article was published there I’ve been keeping my eye on their upcoming issues. I have one query in to Tom Endo, the acquisitions editor, and hope to brew up a couple more in the next few weeks. People actually seem a bit surprised when they realize I write non-fiction as well as my usual flights of fancy.
About a year ago I wrapped up working with Fritz Sprandel, a man who found himself on quite a few journeys in his life. I helped him chronicle one of his many sojourns, a solo canoe trip down the east coast that landed him in Castro’s Cuba. It’s a good tale and I hope he gets it to print soon. I heard last night my name will be prominently featured on the book’s front cover. More on this as it develops.
I was made aware of this by a dear friend of mine. This anthology of horror stories will have a second volume produced soon, and they were looking for submissions before September. I pointed them towards Akuma, which was quickly accepted. It’s a free contribution on my part, but it’s another way of getting my name out, this time in the realm of fiction.
For now, however, I have bills that need to be paid and a bank account waving its arms at me after getting tossed overboard by a wave of life events, so I’d best get back to work.