Monthly Archives: August 2012

Consequences

Whose child was this anyway?  She had been given nothing but sass and disrespect from the girl from the moment they met.  Unprovoked harassment from the snot-nosed little brat greeted any and all who entered the child’s radius, and she had reached the breaking point.  After losing Vorstag to what she could only call pretentiousness and jealousy, and learning the truth about Farkas and the Companions’ inner Circle, she had taken all she

Please shut up.

could possibly take.

“I’ll fight anyone,” she heard the child say.  “I don’t care if they are my elders!”

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

With a cry of pain and surprise, the child reeled away from her fist.  She knew it was wrong, but it was so very satisfying to give the girl a mighty wallop.  The vendors in the market square gasped and called or help as the sobbing child fled in terror.  Within seconds she was surrounded by city guards and disenfranchised soldiers looking for any excuse to fight and win the Jarl’s favor.  There would be no call for surrender this time, only blood.

In a flash she was armed, the air singing like a malachite bell as her elven axe-blade sailed through; one soldier of fortune off to Sovngarde.

Lydia, loyal housecarl and dearest friend, jumped into the fray without hesitation and drew several guards away from her.  Together they would go down in a blaze of infamy and disgrace with the name of the last Dragonborn staining the proud history of Whiterun and Skyrim forever; a fittingly ignoble way to die.

Two guards fell by her blade, their blood mixing with the first drops of rain falling from a bleak and hopeless sky.  But, quick as she was, strong as she was, alive as she was, she was not without injury.  Though Lydia was holding up far better than she, there was no way they could reach the city gates alive.  Spinning on the spot, she found a guard at her back and struck out.  She didn’t see the fourth approach, or feel the blade slip through a gap beneath her cuirass, but knew her luck had run out when her body crumpled to the ground in a useless heap.

The last thing she saw as the world began to fade, was Lydia valiantly and vainly fending off yet more city guardsmen as they swarmed the market square.

Goodbye, my friend . . . .

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

“Did you hear me?”  The child’s voice was grating, but a smile began to spread across her lips as the knot in her belly slowly unwound itself from the stone of anger that had been growing.  Without another word, she turned away from the little snipe and looked to Lydia.

“Your smile concerns me,” Lydia said, shifting uncomfortably.

She continued to smile her disconcertingly pleasant smile, and headed back home for a nice hot meal and sleep in a real bed.  Perhaps she would next imagine Vorstag’s face before being eaten by a dragon.  Yes, Vorstag eaten by a dragon, now that would bring true bliss.

——–

AUTHOR THINGS:

Another Skyrim short!  Hurrah!

Mumble mumble something about Flash Fiction Friday.  Let me know if you have a short you’d like to see featured on Friday and we’ll work something out maybe.  It’ll be great!

I am so darn sleephungry right now, it’s not even cool.  I’m going to drink some coffee and sleep for fifteen minutes and trick my body into welcoming awakeness and then do more writerly things, probably.  Also food.  If the ol’ brain kicks in, that is.  And eating.

If you haven’t taken the time to download and love “Don’t Let Her In“, then no worries!  It’s still FREE!  Go get you some, girl!

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Is It “Inspired by” or “Fan Fiction of”?

Photo by Mattox

The pen is only mightier than the sword if the sword is made out of papier-mâché.

It’s no secret I play Skyrim now.  Since buying the game it’s been a regular part of my life,

to the point that some of my dreams have been very Skyrimmy, both in terms of content and perspective.  As I addressed in my post about Skyrim’s surprisingly complex politics, I am THAT gamer.  I’m the gamer who reads all the in-game books and weighs the options carefully before ever choosing a side.  I’m the gamer that initially turned down a quest because it required my character to beat up someone she had just helped, and that made me feel bad.  I’m the gamer who stopped hunting because the sounds of elk dying made me sad.  So it should come as no surprise that I would also be the gamer who spontaneously writes flash fiction based on the imagined reactions of her characters to everything that happens.

Currently I have five official Skyrim shorts, and one short I can say was inspired by it, but this separation between being “inspired by” and “fan fiction of” got me thinking:  What really defines the difference between the two?

Before the emergence of Fifty Shades of Grey, I noticed less scrutiny given to where a writer would pull their inspiration as long as enough details were changed that it could be called an independent story.  Since it could be said that Fifty Shades follows this model, though, I’ve noticed an upswing in readiness to dismiss something as being “fan fiction” based on the source of inspiration, rather than the content or purpose of the prose.

I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I’d never felt compelled to write fan fiction, that my worlds and characters were all my own, so when I took an event in Skyrim and twiddled it around to fit Eleasia, there was a part of me that shuffled around in shame.  In the back of my mind was this tiny voice that said “Fifty Shades of Grey, dude,” (my inner voice is a surfer) and despite telling it to gtfo and shoot the curl, I couldn’t entirely shake it.  If I said nothing, no one would know and my story would stand on its own merit, but if I said “This was inspired by Skyrim,” I worried that it would suddenly be perceived as little better than fan fiction, and when I can’t bring myself to like fan fiction in general, it’s not something I would ever want associated with my serious work.

It wasn’t until I sheepishly, and self-deprecatingly said I had “Fifty Shaded” something from Skyrim, and then proceeded to defend the prose, that I really saw the biggest differences between the two.

To start, the most obvious indicators of fan fiction would be the use of canonical settings (Hogwarts, Middle-Earth, Tamriel, Terre D’Ange, the Death Star, the USS Enterprise, etc.)  Within these settings are often canonical characters, but they may not be the focus, as often the use of fan fiction is to allow the writer to feel like they’re a part of their favorite settings, so they create an OC (original character), and this is your basic Mary Sue.  The writer, and by extension the reader, can step into the character-vessel and ride them around the  narrative, which is usually something that comes off as being self serving and lacks dimension and depth in order to feed something in the fan.

But what if you change the names of the characters and locations, add in some original characters, and come up with your own plot for them to follow?  What might prevent it from stepping fully outside the stigma of fan fiction?  My answer would be the writer’s intent.  If a writer changes these elements but continues to write as if the characters are the same as they were in the original source, it’s still just fan fiction in the end.  It’s still an outlet for the writer to pretend they’re having adventures with their favorite characters, which is often (though not exclusively) the drive behind writing them in the first place.  It’s the literary equivalent of watching a Steven Segal movie:  No matter what his character’s name is or what the plot tries to tell you, he’s still just Steven Segal punching stuntmen in the face.

How can you determine how much of your inspiration is inspiration?  Well, what have you been inspired to write?  Can it be boiled down to a theme?  If it’s a scene, what could you say is the simplest motivation behind it?  If you can say “It deals with the struggles of overcoming emotional apathy and learning how to share inter-personal bonds,” or “It addresses the complications that can accompany mental illness” then okay, you’ve got valid inspiration.  If your answer sounds more like “I didn’t like that Legolas never had a girlfriend,” or “Harry Potter, but with schizophrenia” then you’re still trapped by the shadow of fan fic.  And really terrible fan fic, at that.

Most writers, I think, are not in danger of crossing into making lazy variations on established works, but that doesn’t stop some of us from wondering or worrying that a source here and there might have too much influence.  As long as you can identify the underlying theme and use it to tell your story, you shouldn’t be in any danger of letting the source of your inspiration become the only thing people see.

If you want to know what Skyrim inspiration looks like, go back and read The Retriever’s Body from Friday.  For contrast, here’s some unapologetic Skyrim fan fic.  You’ll love both.

—–

Ultimatum

She agreed to meet Farkas at Dustman’s Cairn, but whens she turned to inform Vorstag of their change of plans, he had vanished.  She searched the city, such as she could, until continued searching would mean delaying her meeting with the Companion.  Concerned, disheartened, and a little apprehensive, she left Whiterun.

With Artax saddled and ready, she headed down the main road to the West, thoughts of Vorstag lingering in her mind.  It was therefor, with no small amount of irritation, she instantly identified the lazy gait of the mercenary as he sauntered through the spreading evening gloom.

That idiot!  She thought venomously, spurring Artax to intercept him.  She dismounted to the jingling chorus of her elven armor, an acerbic quip at the ready as she confronted him about leaving so abruptly.

“I’d happily fight at your side,” he said, his pace hardly slowing, “but it looks like you’ve already got a companion.  Get rid of him, and I’ll gladly rejoin you.”  He turned from her and continued down the road, she knew, toward Markarth; his home.  Not once did he look back.  Not once did his step falter.

She was stunned.  Her heart raced, and it ached.  Her mind swirled in silent chaos as she watched the light of his torch bob into the distance until it disappeared around a bend, and once again all was night.

An ultimatum.  The thought echoed through her mind again and again.  An ultimatum.  How dare he issue an ultimatum!  He had no right!  He —A dull throbbing in her chest emphasized the hollowness growing inside her.  The thick steel walls she had felt so easily melting away while sharing his company began to rebuild themselves around her heart.  As she stared into the night, her jaw slowly set and her resolve da

rkened.

And so, let him leave.  The arrogant beast can go back to his inn and live out his days as the unscrupulous sell-sword he was when I found him!

I don’t need him.

The thought was a hiss that burned her, cauterizing the ragged, bleeding edges of her trust.

She didn’t need him.  She would never need him.
—–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind is an international literary sensation who believes men over 6’4″ are actually just midgets in a man suit, no matter how convincing their totally sweet spin kicks are.

For more of her completely non-derivative writing, check out “Don’t Let Her In“, the weird fiction tale about a quiet hamlet in Eastern Europe consumed by an ancient evil.  “Pitch-perfect with elegant language and ‘missing pieces’ that drew me in and kept me thinking about it afterwards.” – John Fiore.

—–

He had dreamed over and over again of rushing toward some great precipice, over which he knew he must fall, but every time he approached the edge he was sent back to find it again. He wondered if that’s what the others had dreamed when they Faded, only nothing had stopped them from falling.”  –  The Last Tower, available on Smashwords in September!

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The Retriever’s Body

Full Moon by Otávio Brito

“With a grim nod, he took the lead, carefully negotiating the rocky, mountainous terrain with the skill of a man who had moved more than a few bodies before that night.”

The assassin lay dead at her feet.  She had chosen the main roads specifically to avoid Ilhavin’s Retrievers, but they grew more bold with his deepening desperation.  If she hadn’t been desperate herself, she never would have set out at night in the first place.  She nudged the body with the toe of her boot, noting the complex Anovan leatherwork decorating what was otherwise simple attire, and frowned; he was expanding into the Eastern kingdoms.

Layen a’Ciah siawyn ne’kaieth tha li a’Rhune liatha,” she murmured, making the sign of the gods before kissing the thumb she had tucked into a loose fist.

“Why would you bless one of his agents,” Temur asked, settling his weight on one hip to the creaking accompaniment of his armor.  Temur refused to use Ilhavin’s name, out of spite he said, but she suspected it was superstitious fear that saying it would attract the powerful Bright Lord’s attention.

“Every soul deserves Ciah’s blessing in Rhune’s embrace,” she said, bending to rummage through the Retriever’s hidden pockets.  “However misguided we may think they are,” she continued to Temur’s disapproving grunt, “every soul deserves a blessing.”

She found the note she knew the Retriever would carry, and tucked it into a similar pocket hidden in her own vest, but made a show of confiscating the man’s coin purse and small valuables.  She could feel Temur’s eyes at her back, the mercenary’s gaze appraising.  Given his lack of comment, she figured she had guessed correctly; always search the body for more coin.  If she hadn’t, he would have, and the last thing she needed was a man like Temur having too much information.

“Help me move him,” she said, shifting to take up the dead man’s feet.

Wordlessly, Temur complied, his unspoken question hovering between them in the gloom.

“To the river.”

With a grim nod, he took the lead, carefully negotiating the rocky, mountainous terrain with the skill of a man who had moved more than a few bodies before that night.

Silence stretched as they made their way to the violent current of the Nimareth river, its black water churning white against hidden boulders and jagged rocks too stubborn to be worn smooth by the river’s eternal passage; by the time the Retriever’s body was found it would be unrecognizable — that is if the body was ever found.  They gave the body a great heave at the precipitous ledge several spans above the river.  She watched it disappear with a distant splash.

“I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure it out,” Temur said at great length.  “Who would send a sneaksword like that after a woman like you?”

“Politics,” she said, her gaze still locked on the dark, rushing river below.  “It’s just politics.  He wasn’t the first sneaksword to find me, and he won’t be the last.”

—–

AUTHOR’S SAY STUFF SECTION:

Flash Fiction Friday!  Hurrah!

If YOU have a flash fiction story you’d like to share with the untamed wilds of the internets, then send us a message at FlashFictionFriday.ci(at)gmail.com (the “[dot]ci” is very important, so don’t overlook it).  Submissions should be 500 words or less, but we’re willing to accept up to 1000.  Please make subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”. All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces. Please include word count in the body of your e-mail, preferably right after the title. Stories must be received by Wednesday to be considered for Friday inclusion. Please include any links to previous works, official pages, personal blogs, biographical material, or pictures of bunnies you may want linked or included at the end of your story to direct traffic back your way, or to make Adalind smile extra hard.

Please feel free to click your way to happiness by following the blog, the Twitter, and/or the Facebook, and DEFINITELY check out “Don’t Let Her In”, still free for your Kindle, iPad, Nook, and e-reader devices of choice exclusively through Smashwords.com.

Keep an eye out for “The Last Tower”, a surreal post-apocalyptic look at the last stronghold of humanity as it faces sun-scorched oblivion, due on Smashwords in September!

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Skyrim Has Really Complex Politics [Spoilers?]

[DISCLAIMER: This post deals with the history of the Nords in Skyrim, and briefly about events surrounding the Stormcloak rebellion, as well as speculative lore regarding elves.  I try to keep vague about any details specific to quests and outcomes, so I don’t think there are any actual spoilers.  But that depends on how much information you think counts as a spoiler.  You can probably read on safely without risk, as long as you’re not super uptight about what constitutes a spoiler, and really, if you ARE that uptight, why are you reading a blog post about a game you don’t know anything about in the first place?  Anything could be a spoiler!  THERE ARE ELVES! =o  Now you hate me. 😦 ]

Hello, my name is Adalind and I finally got a copy of Skyrim.

Initially I made an Altmer (High Elf) mage whom I named Kivara, who– no, that’s wrong.  I made a Bosmer (Wood Elf) archer named Malloriel, but that was on Amy’s console, so I don’t know how much she counts except to say that she, too, was entirely the wrong first character to make.  Why? Because I quickly found that while adjusting to the setting and storyline, choosing a character that might require a little focused dedication instead of natural inclination in order to play well might not have been the best plan.  I discovered THAT by watching my brother play HIS first character and remarking to myself how useful a shield was for hiding and bashing people in the face, both of which are activities I knew were lacking in my life.  With that little realization under my belt, I set to work creating a character as applicable to the events in Skyrim as possible without imposing any unnecessary racial bias I wouldn’t know was even implied, because, yes, I am THAT player.

Thus was born Cordelia (because I swear to Dibella she looks just like Charisma Carpenter when she was on Angel).  She’s a Nord because the main conflict in Skyrim revolves around the Nords, thus

My TV doesn’t have Print Screen. Shut up.

she would potentially have a vested interest in Nord affairs, not because of the wide-reaching effects the way the Aldamari Dominion would be interested, but because it is her home and her people fighting each other.  She came in as unbiased as I did, which is to say leaning slightly toward the Stormcloaks, because, c’mon!  Down with the Imperialist pig-dogs!  But it’s not really that simple when you take the time to read the books you find scattered throughout the land.  Which I do.  Because I am THAT player.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Skyrim was, as was the rest of Tamriel, the land of the elves. Mortal, human settlers filtered in and for the most part managed to get along fine with the native elves, sharing their toys and everything.  The Bretons even became nearly indistinguishable from their elven hosts with the high level of commingling (that’s sex), but this was not the case for Skyrim.  When the proto-Nords, like blobs of Nedic plasma, crossed the sea from their original land, which was locked in some kind of civil war, they saw the elves and decided they didn’t like the cut of their jib.  The proto-Nords said “GTFO” and started a new war, because the old one didn’t have any elves, which is probably why the Nords hated it and left.  The elves, understandably, were less than cool with this.

There was a great war between man and elf (believed to be the now extinct Snow Elves), with the Nedic army headed by Ysgramor and his five hundred Companions, which he insisted on calling Companions even though I doubt he knew any of their names personally.  The Snow Elves were led by their forever nameless Snow Prince (which supports the idea that Ysgramor was terrible with names).  The short of it ends with humans winning the battle with many a touchdown dance and thrusting of hips, the Snow Prince slain by a little girl, of all things, and Ysgramor becoming a big fat hero.  Now, even if the conflict was started because the elves were like “GTFO” when the Nords stopped by looking for a kegger and maybe a cup of sugar, the Nords’ answer to the native population’s “We want to keep our homes, thanks,” was to invade and obliterate them, so I’m not seeing a whole lot of nobility in the motives for the war in the first place.  Add to that the speculation (lore speculation, so probable in-game fact) that the Snow Elves descended into the bowels of the earth to seek refuge with the Dwemer (Dwarves) who poisoned them blind like the jerks they were, indentured and then enslaved them for fun, and then, just to make sure they never had any trace of self worth again, they bred them into the cave-dwelling Falmer everyone loves to encounter at night.  By “love” I mean I don’t hate them like I hate undead Draugr warriors, but I wouldn’t mind not hanging out with them ever again.

I now see the Nords as being single-handedly responsible for the total destruction of the native population of elves, not just in having killed them, which they totally did, but in being the catalyst that would also rob them of their sense of identity, history, and self.  Because fuck elves, I guess.

Repeating the pattern is Ulfric Stormcloak — leader of one of the two faction options you’re given as you play through– with the native people of Markarth.  Markarth has a lot of history behind it, but all you need to know is that those Dwemer  jerks who turned elves into mutants built it and then up and left like it was Roanoke (but probably with a far less plausible explanation than Roanoke’s), and humans live there now.  Built into the rocky face of a mountain, it would resemble Rivendell if not for all the hard angles and beds made of stone, which are wicked comfy if you hate yourself and all the joys life has to offer.  The people of the Reach, that is the humans who first settled there, were ousted more than once, the latest occasion being when Ulfric Stormcloak decided to kill the High King for ending a war by saying Nords couldn’t worship their man-god, Talos, because it upset the Thalmor of the Dominion.  To be fair, though, the Thalmor look really terrible when they cry, so it was a pretty big issue.

Until recently, Skyrim didn’t even have an issue with the Empire.  The problems started when the Aldamari Dominion decided that a mortal can’t become a god, so if Skyrim didn’t want to find out what “cleansed by fire” meant first hand, then worship of Talos would have to be outlawed.   Actually, no, that wasn’t even the problem.  The problem was when the High King made the Jarls (kings of individual Holds/cities) actually enforce the law.  That’s when Ulfric threw his dinner across the room and put on his fighting breeches, and a bunch of other people went “YEAH!” and joined him.

In this initial uprising, Ulfric removed the remaining native born people of the Reach from their homes allowing Nords to completely supplant them, so those who remain, now called The Forsworn, hate all Nords.  I can totally sympathize with that, especially when all those who remain in the city from the original blood are enslaved in the silver mine/prison by their friendly Nordic hosts.  Playing a Nord, though, I don’t really appreciate their tendency to still try to kill me even though I helped them this one really important time.  My ability to sympathize with their cause is also hindered somewhat by the way they insist on terrorizing the citizens of Markarth who had nothing to do with the uprising, but are apparently evil because they’re Nordic.  Very much a “Sins of the . . . That Guy You’ve Never Personally Met are the Sins of the . . . Everyone Else” situation.

With all this, you might wonder why it’s not an obvious choice to go with the Imperials, then.  Well, I mean other than because they’re obviously pig-dogs.  Partly I can say it’s because I haven’t met an Imperial who isn’t a douchebag and/or royal tool (ha!) except for the first one you meet at the beginning of the game. (I call him Smelly.)

All the Thalmor I’ve met have been super mean, too.  Just all kinds of arrogant.  Also, they’re trying to kill me.  I mean, Cordelia.  Apparently helping  Forsworn is a no-no in their book worthy of clandestine assassination attempts that aren’t even officially sanctioned.  Not the kind of people that encourage me to encourage Cordelia to join them.

I can’t get behind the Imperial army because they’re under the boot heel of the Dominion, the aforementioned arrogant meanies, and from a personal standpoint I’m really not into one religious view dictating to entire races and countries of people what they are and aren’t allowed to believe based on what does or doesn’t offend them, so while I may not fully support from where the Nords have come or their inherent attitude of Right by Conquest, if I were going to pick a cause it would be to fight against religious oppression, but dang, Bethesda!  You didn’t make them a very sympathetic people!

So, no one’s right, everyone has baggage, and I AM THAT PLAYER!

—–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is a writer and gamer who listens to Malukah sing The Dragonborn Comes on repeat because it’s pretty much the coolest arrangement of a Skyrim song ever.  She is an avid reader and writer of fantasy fiction, and feels much inspiration coming to her revolving around conversations she pretends happened between Cordelia and the NPCs.  Currently, she swears a lot at Lydia for getting caught in a glitch at Sungard and pretends her mercenary in full Dwarven plate is an Animunculus.  Cordelia’s second horse is named Artax.

Check Adalind out on Facebook or Twitter for all the fun, and don’t forget to stop by her Smashwords page to get all the reading.

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Here’s a Question: How Perfect is “Too Perfect” for Characters or Races in Fiction?

I don’t recommend using this method for writing your fiction, but I can’t really stop you, you rebel.

I tried asking this just earlier today, and was very nearly stoned to death by another writer who felt that the question was so old and over-asked that the answer should be part of the automatic mindset a writer gets the first time they decide to write, like a new writer benefits package complete with FAQ and club pin, but if it’s really asked often enough to be an “old meme”, as they put it, then doesn’t that mean there are people who still want to know? There are always new writers, new reasons to ask the same questions, and I don’t think it’s very fair to slam the book on a topic simply because you, as an individual, have found the answer that works for you.

It’s obvious,” they said. “Give them flaws.” But is it really that obvious? For some of you, you might be nodding your head yes, and saying “Of course it’s that obvious,” but we’d never be in danger of encountering Mary Sues, Gary Stus, and Paragons if it was really that obvious to everyone.

A Mary Sue/Gary Stu, for those who may not know, is defined as a character lacking flaws that give dimension and credibility, and is frequently a paper-thin “wish-fulfillment” character for the author, allowing them to imagine that they are the ones having these adventures. When you see the term, it’s most often because you’re reading about fan fiction, but this doesn’t mean it hasn’t appeared in traditionally published fiction, either. Bella Swan, for instance, from the supremely popular Twilight Saga (as if you needed the reminder), could be called a Mary Sue. Though we’re not given specific details about her appearance, we are led to believe she’s both beautiful and popular, but for no obvious reason. She doesn’t participate in any meaningful school activities, but remains the center of attention at school so long as it serves the author’s interest, which is usually until Edward shows up, or is mentioned, or thought about, or missing. But this isn’t about my opinion of Stephanie Meyer and her Frankenstein’s Monster of a series, it’s about characterization! (And she has none! ZING!)*

Pictured: Character depth.

Now, Mary Sue and Gary Stu are the two-dimensional trope extremes of flawless fictional characters, and sometimes they can be easily avoided by adding a simple flaw here and there, but what if you’re writing a legendary hero in an epic fantasy? Say, Heracles. (Go on, say it. “HerAAAAACKles.” It’s fun, right?) Good. Now that we’ve got that out of our systems, our new story revolves around a Greek character named Heracles. He is the son of the king of the gods, but also half human! Is this a flaw? Well, that all depends on how you treat him. If his being half human diminishes his strength, allows him to be killed like any mortal, denies him the ability to ascend to Olympus, or lack all the rhythm it takes to win the ladies through the power of dance, then yes; you have yourself a successful flaw. If, however, being half human just means he’s not a god, but really he’s mostly a god, then you don’t have a flaw at all. What you have is a Paragon.

A Paragon is a peerless example of perfection, and when it comes to writing characters, a Paragon is often a two-dimensional protagonist who can never be defeated. No, not even by the evil Dark Lord of Evil, who has also never been defeated. When it’s obvious the Paragon will always win, there’s no reason to believe there’s any risk involved in the adventure. This is a problem when you want the reader to feel the tension when you give your protagonist obstacles to overcome. Paragons don’t struggle with obstacles, they explode through them and smell fantastic and don’t need to change their clothes ever, because they never get dirty or sweat. That might be great if you’re living in a romance novel where making naughty after a battle would be kinda gross if the protagonist wasn’t a Need No Shower kind of guy, but most of us aren’t romance ingenues, so, in my opinion this is a problem, because it disengages the reader from the character they should care for the most.

But what if we’re not talking about a single character as being flawless. What if we’re talking about an entire race of Paragons? What if we’re talking about . . . elves? Ooooo, mystical, shiny, immortal elves! Well, let’s rewind a bit here. Odds are we’re not talking about the kind of elves that can be described as “wee folk”, who mess about at night making shoes and cookies. We’re probably talking about Tolkienian styled elves, and that’s a problem, too. Tolkien’s elves were far from perfect. On the surface, in The Lord of the Rings specifically, it can appear that the elves embody a kind of perfection. They are immortal, beautiful, magical, in tune with nature, highly skilled warriors, healers, and mediators, but beneath that, many of them suffer from blinding pride. You need look no further than The Silmarillion for proof of the dangers this elven pride can produce.

In many instances Tolkien illustrated that anyone can become corrupted, no matter how innocent or impervious they may seem, from Frodo to Galadriel, yet in modern interpretations of the tall, beautiful, immortal elves what we see are facsimiles painted in perfection. These elves are the upholders of all that is good and moral (according to the author’s perspective), they are the stewards of nature, and they represent the highest moral judgment, all while being beautiful and ageless as everyone and everything else around them is flawed and probably horribly disfigured. Tolkien’s elves live on in our collective memory because of their depth, but when taken as a blank template, they lack any of the elements that make them worth remembering.

I think this quest for depth is what people are trying to address when they ask about perfection. They’re not looking for a chorus of “There’s no such thing as perfection,” a phrase that can mean “so just write whatever you want, and hang the opinions of everyone else”, or it can mean “so no one will believe it if you write it”. Either way, it’s one of the least helpful phrases I can think to offer in response to any question about the subject. I think one of the things we’re really asking here is “How close to ‘perfection’ can I write a character or race before the reader stops connecting with them?” and I think part of the answer comes down to both defining what “perfect” means to us as individuals (part of the “there is no perfection/utopia because no one can agree” argument) and defining what we consider to be the plausible flaws that bring a character or race away from the brink of perfection. It doesn’t have to be a huge flaw like “was blinded six weeks ago and is struggling to cope”, it doesn’t have to create a Damaged Character like “witnessed the death of parents and became obsessed with bats and vigilantism” , it just has to be believable for the character in their situation, like “extreme aversion to the color yellow, which happens to be the favorite color of the love interest”.

For me, a character expressing the idea of “perfection” is one that is no longer in need of personal growth. They are at the apex of development, and have no room for improvement. Where a Mary Sue or Gary Stu lacks flaws, the “perfect” character, the Paragon, lacks the ability to change. Regardless in what manner change would manifest, the absence of change makes a flat, boring, and sometimes very annoying character. What we want to see when we follow a character’s journey is growth. We want to see them change over time, to be effected by the events and people around them. Frodo’s shift from the happy homebody Hobbit of the Shire to the haunted soul who sails away with elves to Valinor. Luke Skywalker’s change from the naïve young mechanic on Tatooine to the self-assured Last of the Jedi, capable of putting a stop to his father and the Emperor. Rand al’Thor’s descent into madness via unrelenting harassment from shrewish women on all sides. This is what we want to see! Well, maybe not the last one so much. But what we don’t want to see is Heracles sweeping peril from his doorstep with a yawn before sitting down to a nice cup of ambrosia. We don’t want to see the Doctor and his companions walk away unscathed every time something threatens all life on Earth. We don’t want to see Dr. House show up to work with a smile and a bounce in his step, tenderly see to the patient and their family, and solve every mystery with sensitivity and as little conflict as possible before he skips home, whistling, to spend a happy, but uneventful evening with his family. That’s just not House, and love him or hate him, he’s memorable because of all his flaws.

So go ahead and make a character people hate, but make them hate him/her for their flaws and not the lack thereof.

—–

*Example of personal opinion. No looking to start a fight between Twilight supporters and non-supporters, so focus on the topic, not the zing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is a wildly successful novelist in her head, trying to get the world to catch up by producing quality blog posts and unbelievable feats of fictional daring do. She enjoys Chinese food and short walks on the beach. Actually, she prefers sitting on the beach; the sand is too hot for her sensitive baby feet.

Don't Let Her In (Cover)

If you enjoy her writing and want to experience the magic that is character growth in action, download “Don’t Let Her In”, a weird fiction tale that will chill the willies right out of you and replace them with more different willies. Worse willies. The williest of willies. Also, it’s free, damn you. FREE!

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Why Do We Read?

Pictured: An avid reader.

Maybe the first question I should ask is “Why do we stop reading?”

There’s a problem here. Do you see it? Here, I’ll help you find it: When you stop reading, you don’t SOLVE problems, you CREATE problems, problems you can’t even see coming, because you’ve put on blinders to keep out all the other voices, voices that could teach you things, voices that tell you what to avoid. And yet, this is a thing that many writers have done. Do you see how this might be a problem for you? No? Then how about this: As a writer, when you decide to stop reading, it’s like thinking you’ve figured out the key to never having body odor again is to stop showering.

Take me, for instance. No, I didn’t stop showering.  But, I know I’m not the only writer to have stopped reading the work of others in an attempt to keep the ol’ brain pallet clean of outside influences. The problem with that, however, is that the avid reader I was when I was a child, the reader who couldn’t put down a pencil and stop writing to save her life (despite also not being able to finish any story she started writing), became a shriveled up old hermit lady grumbling in some forgotten recess of my mind while the writer in me starved. The world builder and imaginist thrived well enough, but in the years I wasn’t reading (yes, years), I also wasn’t being very productive, either.

It seems to me that for some reason we think it’s okay for an artist to be influenced by other artists, to have artists producing similar work considered to be part of a movement, but when speaking of writers doing the same, we’re either derivative or “the next <famous author of the same genre>”. Yet H.P. Lovecraft quite openly borrowed from his peers, writing what he called his “Poe pieces” and his “Dunsany pieces” (better known as his Macabre stories [approximately 1905–1920], and his Dream Cycle stories [approximately 1920–1927] respectively). Though he perhaps perfected his unique voice when telling the stories in his Cthulhu Mythos (approximately 1925—1935), it was not for this decade alone that he’s remembered as being one of the greats, or as having a distinctly unique way of telling stories. So why are we so afraid of the influence other writers might have over our work?

Photo courtesy of MiiraT

Pictured: Derivative work.
“I’ll get you, my pretty, and influence all you writing by making you emulate my own!”

Because we’re afraid of that blasphemous term “derivative”. Some of us don’t want to hear that a reader is reminded of Harry Potter, or of Issac Asimov, or of The Last Unicorn, but we don’t really have any control over what a reader’s exposure and experience will impose on the writing once it’s left the carefully crafted shelter of our minds, and limiting our own exposure to these sources only ensures that we’ll be completely incapable of identifying them, and thus incapable of removing or modifying them to avoid the inevitable comparisons.

Writer, teacher, and editor Lori L. Lake once wrote about two aspiring writers she had in a creative writing course who came in with a partially written fantasy story each. During a critique session where the class read sections of each writers’ work, it was expressed that they found their work was “derivative, repetitive, boring, and that it had already been done, re-done, and over-done.” They were crushed by what was news to them. These two aspiring writers had no clue they’d told stories as old as storytelling itself, as neither had read, nor had any exposure to fantasy stories prior to their own forays into the genre. “They spent a lot of time imagining worlds with evil dark lords,” Ms. Lake wrote, “and creating characters who may as well have been Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.” But, when you spend no time acquainting yourself with what already exists, this is exactly the sort of obstacle you face.

But what if you just don’t have the time to read? What if you’re a busy playwright with three murder mysteries on the line, and a three hour tragedy in the works and you can barely find the time to work on those, let alone find time to read someone else’s stuff! To this imaginary and not at all real person I spoke to last night about this very thing, I think Mr. Stephen King has something to say to you.

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Yes, that was a smack down from one of the masters of modern horror. If you don’t have time to read,

Pictured: Writer tools.

you don’t have time to write. The same five minutes you snatch here and there to scribble on your note pad could be given occasionally to reading a few pages of a book. It’s harder to write while you eat lunch than it is to read, and that right there is pretty compelling as far as arguments go.

But what about these “tools”? Well, our tools are words, aren’t they? When an artist wants to improve their craft, they study the masters. When a writer wants to improve their craft, they read.

Consider this the next time you’re thinking about not opening a book: How, exactly, do you know what a well written story looks like if you’ve stopped exposing yourself to them? It’s easy to decide that most of the books published these days are rubbish, but do you even know why you think that? Have you sat down to really look at what you dislike? Is it the way the characters are written? The sentence length? The sentence structure? How can you avoid the things you hate reading if you aren’t sure what they are? You need to be a critical reader.

A critical reader is one who can analyze the prose in a way that opens up opportunities to learn new methods that might improve their own writing, and methods they might prefer to keep away from entirely. The successful writer is a critical reader. See, it’s not all about reading your favorite authors and saying “Golly gee, if I just use more metaphors about clouds, I’ll be a better writer!” Sometimes it’s about picking up a book by someone you can’t stand and pin-pointing all the little things that make them so difficult to enjoy. It’s not enough to say you hate the short protagonist, though; you have to really take a hard look at what you’re writing and ask yourself if you’ve been doing the same thing, and then correcting it.

In addition to asking yourself what a writer has done that you really enjoyed and practicing those methods, there are a couple of exercises that can help you grow both in your craft and as a critical reader. The first is to take a passage from an author you like and rewrite it with a new focus. Keep true to the events and plot, but change what is meaningful to the reader. The second exercise is to take a passage from an author you dislike and change it into something you wish they’d written. Personally, I think the second exercise is the more helpful, as it forces you to really focus on the methods the original author used to convey the ideas first, and then apply what you think to be better, all the while trying to consciously avoid what you disliked in the first place.

There’s a particular Australian fantasy author whom I personally cannot read. We’ll call her “Terrible”. I made it about six pages into Terrible’s first book in a series before I had to stop myself from setting it on fire. Now, Terrible hadn’t been doing well for herself at any point in those six pages, so she was already on literary probation, but when she used the word “doomed” in three consecutive paragraphs to convey the exact same concept with little to no variation, I threw the book across the room. What did I learn? Other than the fact that Australia needs more writers to challenge her and paperbacks have far too much wind resistance, I learned that repetition without variation infuriates me, and that I think Terrible stole the manuscript from an exceptionally talented five year old before slapping her own name on it.  I learned that the opposite of prose I enjoy is the sort that reuses words that really stand out at the same time it picks words that stand out, and reuses them.

By contrast, two of my favorite authors taught me not only that I can love a story written in first person, but one of them also reminded me that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination, and that it’s okay to take your time getting there.

Pictured: Not winning.

Writers have a responsibility to themselves and to the readers they hope to garner to always keep perfecting their craft. You’ll hear time and again from various sources that there are no new stories, that every story there is to tell has already been told a million times. That sentiment isn’t wrong. When you choose not to educate yourself on the methods used for telling that age old story, you shoot yourself in the foot before you even join the race. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to run a race with a shot-through foot, but winning is pretty difficult.  Mostly you end up passed out on the ground from blood loss just a few yards away from the starting line. Professional athletes call this a “disadvantage”. You put yourself at a similar disadvantage when you decide that reading is only going to distract you, or influence your style beyond your control. I argue that not reading limits your resources, inspiration, and that very same control you think you have in spades, but have diminished through ignorance.

So go on and read already!  What are you waiting for?!

—–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is an uppity little kick in the pants with a heart of gold who only wants to help you get a jump start on reading to expand your horizons by offering her Lovecraftian short “Don’t Let Her In” for FREE.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

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