Thursday, December 27, 2012

Villainous Villains of Villainy Part II


Picture her as she appears in the throne room to curse the infant Briar Rose.

Remember her entrance; the thunder and the smoke, the high and commanding lilt in her voice as she pronounced her words of doom over the little princess. Consider for a moment her dramatic exit, the ridiculously high-collared cloak of black and purple which she wears, and the horn-like crown she perches upon her brow. Plus, there's the whole idea of 'Death by Spinning Wheel'. Truly, whoever thinks of that? And then, wonder of wonders, she transforms herself into a dragon to fight her final battle.

Maleficent rolled in style.

Now ponder a moment: Would this scorned fairy have been as evil if she had no flair for the dramatic? Or would she have been ‘marginally disturbing’ at best and a ‘bothersome old woman’ at worst? After all, style was her weapon of choice.  This shows us that she is vain and has more than a generous portion of self-love.  Many of the classic fairytale villains are beautiful to look at—at least at the beginning of the tale. Does this mean that a good villain must be beautiful and conceited in order to be appropriately evil?
It is not her beauty, of itself, which makes her the villain. That beauty merely makes her evil nature all the more shocking.
While he does not cut a particularly handsome figure, Moriarty, too, seems to have a certain desire for flair. For example, the manner by which he grabs Sherlock's attention in the popular BBC series, and his line “Honey, you should see me in a crown” hints at this aspect of his character. Or the way he calls the standoff between himself and Holmes in Doyle's work “The Final Problem” beside a great, roaring waterfall.

He challenges and laughs and preens. According to the books, James Moriarty was not a man of good looks. He is described as being extremely thin with a forehead which ‘domes out in a white curve’, and his eyes deeply sunk into his skull. In contrast, the BBC version is a dapperly dressed man, though still pale. Doyle’s villain was still a man of cunning and style. His joy was in his chain of underlings, his spider’s web of informants and hired guns. Why should he dirty his own hands? The only conceivable answer to that is because he wanted to. And that, my friends, is a fashionable thug indeed.
The vain villains love themselves and thus hate the heroes who have something better than what the villain has. Such as when the wicked-and-perpetually-nameless-queen petitions her magic mirror 'who is the fairest of them all?' When the answer comes back as someone other than herself, said-queen rages. She hates Snow White for her beauty. Here’s a thought: If Snow were any less beautiful, would she still be the heroine of the tale? In this case, chances are that she wouldn’t. The queen would not have felt the need to destroy Snow and the princess would have happily gone on singing to birds and making certain her servants never swept dust beneath the rug.

If Maleficent were a dirty old hag, would we react in the same way to her? And Moriarty; if he didn’t insist on rubbing every little thing right under Sherlock’s nose, would he make us cringe so? Likely not. They would both be added to the growing pile of mediocre hooligans, quickly and efficiently dealt with.

It’s often the discord that a villain’s vanity creates in our minds which so ingrains their evil intentions upon us. Evil is not supposed to look cute, sound nice, taste sweet, or act kind. We think about monsters and our brains inevitably turn to such creatures as ghouls and trolls, rabid wolves and hideous serpents. We forget, often, the brightly colored frog, the fragrant flytrap, the white-furred stoat and the singing siren. All have elements of beauty but can be deadly—some in reality, others confined to the tales we tell.

In a spiritual sense, things of evil nature are made to look good in order to tempt us into doing the wrong things and this is often the case in stories. No one wants to harm the beautiful queen, nor harm a single fiber of the man sitting with such self-assurance in the courtroom. When they petition you, you often accept because it looks good, sounds good, tastes good. The proverbial Turkish Delight. But it is always just a mask. A pretty face concealing the alien creature underneath. One must be oh, so very careful and alert, always watching for the danger on every side. Whether in life or in tale, there is always a battle at hand.
Does your favorite villain have flair? What do you think of the differences between the pretty villains and the monstrous ones? All thoughts and comments are welcomes on this post and others, so share your thoughts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Reviews: “Floors” and “3 Below” by Patrick Carman


Title: Floors
Author: Patrick Carman
Genre: Children's Fiction
Rating: 5

When I first read Floors by Mr. Carman, I cannot say that I was impressed. Not because of the book’s own worth, but because of the reputation of its author. Having begun with ‘The Land of Elyon” series, a Christian Fantasy which utterly enthralled me and gave birth to my first, unmentionable, completed novel (And please note that I use the term ‘completed’ in the very loosest of senses, as the story was written from a point of beginning and I somehow managed to drag it into an ending.), I had high expectations of quality. At that point in time I considered Mr. Carman one of my favorite authors. Since having read some of his other young adult/children’s literature works, I am wary of using those words, though they still hold a semblance of truth in them. For the sake of time and space, I will avoid mentioning his less-favorable books for the moment, although I might decide to come back and discuss them at a later date.

In any case, I opened Floors with mild senses of expectation and foreboding. I melted, however, upon reading this, said of one of the central characters: ‘“You will prosper in the field of wacky inventions” were the only words of advice Merganzer had been given. If only Merganzer had known they were spoken by a man who’d been talking gibberish for weeks. Things might have turned out differently.’ (Excerpt from the prologue.)

Floors, the first in a projected series now consisting of two children’s novels, is a wacky invention of its own and a peppy, bizarre thrill ride. It may be said of the book that it was rather poorly executed, as if Mr. Carman were in a hurry, or perhaps his editor was. A few things are just on the verge of being explained, but that explanation never comes. Sometimes you are waiting for the story to go in a direction it has hinted at for some time, but it turns a completely different way. When you are dealing with a hotel built by a duck-loving eccentric on a broad square of land smack dab in the center of Manhattan, on the other hand, things do tend to go a bit off-kilter. And, to be fair, most of the seeming inconsistencies are explained by the end of the book, or have a foreshadowing which leads to the next book.

The Whippet Hotel is quite possibly the weirdest place on earth: picture Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium from the film of the same name, only with less order, less magic, more mechanics, and a lot more ducks. Now picture that Merganzer D. Whippet, the owner and builder of the hotel, has been missing for one hundred days, leaving no clues as to how long he will be gone, what to do in the meantime, or whether or not he’s actually going to come back at all.

Running the Hotel, we find young Leo Fillmore and his father Clarence, the maintenance men. Not only do their duties include cleaning up after the guests, receiving messages from a shark head named Daisy, and walking the ducks; they must also keep all the rooms in full, wacky order. This means the robots must not be permitted to fight lest they disturb the delicate balance of a terribly famous author’s routine, and a great number of other calamities must be avoided on an hourly basis.

Amid an odd assortment of characters, Leo finds a friend in Remi, the son of the maid who acts as the new doorman while his mother works. Together, the two of them discover that Merganzer has left them a puzzle—aside from the gigantic one no one knows how to finish in the Puzzle Room. Following a mystery of puzzle boxes, clues, the shady MR. M, hidden floors, and messages drawn onto glass walls, the two boys discover a lot is at stake as someone schemes to wrestle the hotel out from underneath Merganzer’s capable—if not fully present—hands.

Floors is a good book over all. I might wish some more thought and character building had gone into the story, but I would recommend the book with very little hesitation.


Title: 3 Below
Author: Patrick Carman
Genre: Children's Fiction
Rating: 4

3 Below is another story. (Aside: That pun was entirely unintended and would be a downright lousy one regardless.) It follows in its predecessor’s footsteps with its hilarity and off-the-wall humor. There’s even a mad scientist. And monkeys. Can’t forget about them. On the negative side, some irregularity is found in the makeup of a few of the original characters. Something in the character of the book itself is different and lacking. While I enjoyed 3 Below, I found the second half, or perhaps the last third of the book to be the best. This book also had a somewhat clumsy, unfinished feel to it. This disappoints me because, and despite my disagreements with him, Mr. Carman is a skilled and often lyrical writer.

Both books lack any distasteful language or vulgarity which always earns a plus from my side of things. In Floors, there is a Halloween party and some questionable characters show up, but not in an overtly offensive way. Also, in 3 Below, there is…well, ‘excessive burping’ sums it up nicely. I went along with this and it all worked out for the story and the plot. I also paused to remind myself that the two main characters are young boys and that the majority of boys tend to find that sort of thing funny.

In fitting with the colorful scheme of these books, one might liken them to a pizza covered with all the toppings you can imagine, but completely lacking the crust. These would not classify on the list of my favorite books, by any means, but they are good reads, and wacky ones.

And I like wacky.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Crossing That Bright & Beautiful Finish Line

Happy NaNoWriMo Literary Abandon Day! (Which should be an official holiday, if it is not already.)




Not-Quite Final Word Count: 51,891 words! :D


(A different processor explains the difference in word counts, as this one claims I have almost 58k... :P )


I must say, I've been writing in a rush the past couple of days--not so much to be able to get my word count in, but so that I might be able to cram as much of the story into the ending. I've had to scrap and shorten and rearrange into an unsatisfactory order many of the epic scenes I've been longing to write since the initial ideas for the story came to mind about a year ago. But that's alright, there's always editing.


Oh. And did I mention my NaNo has a sequel? That's right, introducing next year's planned novella work: The Turq Wars! I plan to, over the coming months, post every once in a while on the world building, character building and plot building which I hope to accomplish before this time next year.


Anyone else finished NaNoWriMo yet? What's you end Word Count (whether or not you've actually finished)? Planing to Novel with us next year? Share your thoughts in the comments, and have a great day and a great First of December!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Some Further News and an Excerpt

The Last Storming, my NaNo tale this year, was plotted and planned as an action-packed novella but has, instead, become a rather rambling bunch of nonsense in which I completely disregard most of the world-building I had prided myself on accomplishing before the month began. Almost the entire story has been slow and unexciting, until these past few days. You see, I finally got to the part I wanted to write. The part where everything comes together and the real action begins. Which means I have about four days in which to cram all the fast-paced scenes and heart-clenching moments that TLS was supposed to be all about.




The good news in all this is that my word count has not suffered overmuch. After a period over Thanksgiving week in which I wrote next to nothing and stayed at a relatively nice 38,637, I at last reached the place where all the things I wanted to write were happening, and suddenly realized that in order to finish in time, I was going to have to skip over a good deal of them. So--since it's NaNo, and I can do this in NaNo--I backed out of my story and began narrating sloppily, telling myself, the 'reader', what was happening in order so that other things could happen. Needless to say, this was disappointing.


Since then, even skipping over a lot of heavily wordy and wonderful scenes, I reached what I like to consider a decent 47,091 words as of today. At this point, reaching my word count goal is not the issue. Fitting enough story in before the deadline is more what concerns me.






Excerpt from The Last Storming
(This is the first time Heron and Reise, my two MC's meet each other--although Reise, a professional thief is going by the alias of Elsbette Kuyn. I had a great deal of fun writing this scene, as the two characters get off on the wrong foot, as it were. However, since that moment in time, I have been unable to get this unruly pair to cease stomping on each other's nerves and cooperate--much less become friends. Still, this remains one of my favorite scenes of NaNoWriMo.)

“Why are you following me?” hissed the girl in green as she stepped out in front of him.
“Ah!” The air whooshed out of his lungs in a burst of surprise. “You—”
“Why are you following me?” she asked again. Well, ‘asked’ was putting it mildly. ‘Demanded’ was more suitable in the situation.
Heron stood a moment, staring at her, before realizing he had no good answer. “Um.”
The girl appraised him quickly with her flashing green eyes. “Who are you?”
Still somewhat flabbergasted by the fact that he had found her at all—or that she had found him—he answered dumbly. “Heron.”
A hint of a smile creased the left corner of her mouth. “I know that, already, ‘Mister Heron’.”
He reddened anew at the reminder of his explosion in the Sun House reception area.
“You’re Miss Elsbette, right?”
She considered him. “People generally call me that, yes. Though I don’t think I’m so eager about my name as you are.”
“I was…anxious.”
“For what?”
“To get out of there. I was bored.”
This time she gave a genuine smile and Heron was all at once struck by how she contrasted and contradicted herself in her movements, style, and manner. First harsh and belittling, next soft and amused. Her smile lit up her white face, but it failed to quite reach her somber, brilliant eyes.
Heron remembered his manners. “I’m sorry, by the way. I didn’t mean to startle you, or anything. I, I wouldn’t harm you I swear. But, like I said, I was bored and when I saw you…” He realized that whatever he said next would come out wrong and would carry with it all the wrong insinuations so his wisely snapped his mouth shut and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry.”
“I accept your apology, Mister Heron. Now, if you please, I am late returning to my aunt.” Her gaze suddenly fell on the baby formula he carried. “Siblings?” she asked.
Glancing down at the bottles, Heron rubbed a hand through his hair. “Something like that.” He slipped them into his pocket.
She shook her head at him. “You are a strange one, Mister Heron. Do you or don’t you need those?”
“Just Heron, please.” His brow furrowed. “I…I have a use for them.”
“Well, Heron. I really must be going. Good eve and good morrow to you.”
“And you.”
He watched her leave with a confused jumble of feelings congregating in his chest. She was a strange girl. He guessed her age to be just a year or so younger than his eighteen, so she would have been of age to go to his same school, though she would not have been in any of his classes, naturally. Still, he should have been able to recognize her from somewhere. He sighed and turned for home, comforted by the knowledge that he would, in the very least, recognize her at their next meeting.
It wasn’t until he had nearly reached home that he realized the bottles of infant formula were gone. As was his wallet.




"Lieshellyk City comes undone when a thief girl and the grandson of its founder form both a friendship and an alliance to discover the truth behind the City's construction, and the truth of the Stormings which keep them bound inside Lieshellyk's dark corridors." ~The Last Storming logline.


Hope you enjoyed and happy writing to everyone in these last few frantic, frenzied days of the month!


NaNoWriMo: Week Two and a few extra days...

(Apparently, I neglected to post this one, so although it's a bit late, here you are:)



Week Two...otherwise known as PANIC! or, in my case: 'Can we get a move on, please?'

Needless to say, my story has been less than action-packed. Hopefully, things will change sometime very soon.


The Seventh day of the month bled into the Eighth with not a whole lot of change. I was able to use the whole Salvador character and episode to formally introduce my two main characters—as they had met once before but only in passing, as two strangers exchanging small talk. Heron has discovered the rather unorthodox work of Reise, the thief, and has used this information to black-mail her into attempting to break Salvador out of prison, under Reise’s advice. It’s a long story…Word Count (on the 8th): 18,161

Day Nine, Saturday, I ended up getting practically nothing accomplished—only a couple hundred words added to my count. I knew where I wanted the story to go and what needed to happen in the next few thousand words but wasn’t too excited to actually write any of it. Word Count: 18,487

Day Ten. Upon observing a small piece of debris idling on my computer keyboard, I paused in my writing to expunge the offending obstruction via the expulsion of used oxygen and discarded carbon monoxide. The effort, much to the overall dismay of my proficient solution, resulted at the end with the obstacle proceeding to cover beneath the approximate vicinity of the right-hand ‘shift’ key upon my computer’s typing and information distributing surface. Despite the rather unprecedented consequence of relaying a boost in combined cranial function, this occurrence proceeded to inhibit my overall word-to-time ratio due to the unfortunate, though relatively minor, discombobulating effect it proposed upon my ability to convey the correct punctuation and accurate grammatical strength in my writing. Needless to say, this hindered my story somewhat. (But, as you can see, made for a great example of the wonderful uses a thesaurus can have in stretching one’s vocabulary to the limits.) (Translation: a bit of something—possibly a crumb of some kind—became wedged underneath my key and makes it difficult to use that particular key very much.) Word Count: 19,032

Day Eleven came and went most wonderfully. At long last I was able to tell a rather abbreviated version of the events surrounding the basis and background of my story—namely, the history of the city’s founder and the reason for the city to be built. This covered an entire chapter and I skipped a lot because I utilized my MC’s giving of an oral report to tell this particular version of the facts and, thus, didn’t feel right going into some of the details which everyone in the MC’s class obviously would have already known. I did manage to cheat that a bit, however, to the pleasing effect that I have left my imaginary-potential readers with at leas a bit more information than they had previously Has anyone ever noticed that it is often hard to pull your mind out of your story enough to remember exactly what facts you still need to tell the readers so that they understand what’s happening? Word Count: 22,990

Day Twelve was rather a disappointment. I simply didn’t write anything for no good reason whatsoever—except, possible, the fact that it was Monday and I already had enough words to keep me comfortably afloat until sometime on Wednesday. The only writing result I had was a bit of ‘editing’ to fix a few typos I had found and which bothered me, as well as to clarify some things. The result, and I’m not entirely certain how this happened, but the result was that I had actually lost two words. Word Count; 22,988

Day Thirteen dawned with unexpected challenge outside of the writing world and I had to postpone all such work until late in the evening hours due to some unforeseen circumstances involving livestock. When I sat down to write, at last, I found that I simply had no desire to go on. I’ve not yet arrived at that place where I despise my tale with enough passion to throw the whole thing out and I feel that this is very healthy, indeed. That point may not come about until three fourths of the way into the month and we are not quite half-way at the moment. Still, my writing felt listless even though I knew where I wanted the story to go. I just wasn’t interesting in writing that part. I considered skipping ahead, but that felt dishonest so I forged on, writing what felt utterly boring and useless, but driving my story onward so as to at least come to a point again which I diddesire to write. Word Count: 24,221

The Fourteenth brought on an entire new episode of action and suspense to be placed somewhere near the end of the story—as if I didn't have enough pending adventure for the end of the story and not nearly enough for the beginning. Word-Count: 25,971

The Fifteenth arrived and my story had yet to pick up any speed. Although words come fairly easily, the story itself is slower than the dripping of molasses in wintertime--as some would say. Word Count: 26,70


So, here's hoping that the following days will bring more of the excitement I had planned for this year's noveling month. 

How goes it for my fellow writers who have crazily accepted this challenge to write 50,000 words over the course of thirty sleep-depraved, caffeine over-dose headache achieving, this-piece-of-lint-is-more-fascinating than-my-story days? For your sake, I hope your stories are more exciting than mine is currently. Happy writing!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Week One

Day One was uneventful and lacked the usual NaNo surprise of ‘Hey, see that character over there? Yeah, the one you don’t even give any name to. They’re actually the hero of the entire thing. You’d better get the naming books out fast.’ I was perfectly cool with this and managed to get a good head start on the next couple of days. Word Count: 3,570

On the evening of Day Two, I sat down on the couch with a yellow duct-tape covered notebook, a pencil, and some old crayons I’d managed to scrounge up. I set to writing out a timeline based upon the birth and subsequent years of my villain’s life. The third attempt worked out rather nicely and I discovered that, by employing a sideways method, one can use the spaces of a lined notebook to represent five or ten years and have room then to add in the details around the edges of the timeline itself. (My plan was to use two spaces to equal five years, but I ended up botching that and didn’t feel like redoing the entire thing again.) Word Count: 4,362

The third of November rolled through with little incident and I began to wonder where all the action I had planned was vacationing and when it supposed it might be making a return trip. I also began to wonder about all those nifty gadgets one can find for displaying their word count on their blog. Word Count: 5,746

The Fourth, I finally was able to introduce Saint, a madman living in the depths of my novel's city, Lieshellyk. Saint is a fascinating character with a fascinating history and I can't wait to write it all out and see what happens. I also used a little lullaby I had written. Word Count: 6,872

November 5th almost passed by before I realized I had yet to set something on fire. While I started randomly setting the home of one of my MC's neighbor's on fire, I had a sudden brainstorm about the reasons behind this fire, having do to with threats issued from my villain to the man who owned the house. The owner, a man named Salvador, had questions about some of the top gurus in the story: namely, the villain himself and his followers. The villain threatened him but Salvador didn't stop. I've yet to decide whether Sal set the fire to destroy papers and information he had on the bad guy, or if the bad guy set it himself to be rid of Sal, but either way, Sal was arrested for arson and treason. I alos got to introduce Darvis Lieshellyk, the Founder of the city, and the grandfather of one of my MC's, Heron. Word Count: 9,686

Day Six, I really didn't write much at all, but was able to introduce the best friend of my other MC, Reisoni: a girl whose name is Maewyn, or Mae, for short. Word Count: 10,400

Day Seven, today. Honestly, I've not yet written a thing. (I know, shame on me.) However, I do my best writing in the evenings, so my word count for the day rarely gets in before supper time.

Fellow NaNo writers, how's it going for you? Interesting plot developments, unexpected characters jumping in on you?

Friday, November 2, 2012

It Has Begun!

(Taken from a note written on October 31st)

Returning from a road trip and collapsing into bed late on Wednesday night, I felt a superb sense of relief. At last: back on a regular schedule. At last: some rest, some sleep, and some looking forward to the weekend.

And then it hit me, something which I had managed to utterly forget, if only for a few seconds. Tomorrow is... 



So much for relief.

With all the planning, plotting, history-writing, character-building, world-constructing, etc. which has gone on for months, one would think I’d be prepared.

News flash: I am not.

I’m exhausted and unsure and, what is worse, I can’t think of my first line. First lines are important. More than that, they are essential. And I have nothing. Zilch. Nada. Usually, you see, the starting line is one of the first things that will come to my mind when considering any story, but for this year’s NaNo, I am at a loss. Granted, the first line isn’t everything, certainly not during November—but they are vital to the story, they tend to set the stage and the form for all the writing that comes after. Here’s hoping that inspiration hits early sometime tomorrow morning.

Previously on November 1st, I have endeavored to wait up until midnight and then sit happily writing the first words in the first moments of that first day of November. The first year I participated in this national frenzy of creative blathering I had no such ambition. The second year, I thought that welcoming November with as much flash and bling and celebration as New Year’s Day would simply make the whole month. However, I was not, at that time, used to staying up late at all and I sat there on my bed, munching on some candy. I remember laying back to get more comfortable, reveling in the bliss and silence of a darkened house on an exciting night. I remember glancing at the clock once again and seeing that I had about fifteen minutes to go before midnight. And then I woke up the next morning. I had fallen asleep while waiting. The third year was better. I managed to stay up until midnight with very little problem and clocked in my first thousand words before 1am.

This night, however, I am too tired to care about staying up to midnight. Tonight, I plan on finishing this little note and heading off to bed just as fast as my wearied limbs will take me. (Okay, so it’s not like my trip was that long or hard. I’m just worn out.)

And so, without further adieu, I am going to bed. Tomorrow is the start to another month. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another story to be told.
 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Villainous Villains of Villainy Part I: The Heart of the Matter

(And now for one last post to get underway before the madness of NaNoWriMo begins and all else is abandoned for an inconceivably long time. I shall attempt to post during NaNo, but that might prove very difficult indeed.)

What makes a good villain? Here is a question which has perplexed and bewildered me in my writing since the day I began. Ever since my first villain, a vile sorcerer bent on...well, destruction and ruin in the very broadest and most undefined terms, I have found myself struggling to sculpt a likeness of a big bad-guy who is believable and inspires the correct emotions in a reader. With every book I read, every tale I pen, I try to capture this elusive idea of a 'good' villain.

Really and truly, what is it that makes a bad-guy so rotten and horrific and just plain bad? How do you write a character which the recipients of your story will loathe with an appreciative amount of passion? How do you forge the grim mindset and cruel vitality of such an evil persona?

Let us consider, for these posts on what makes a good villains, two of quite possibly the most infamous story-villains in the whole history of the world:

When I think 'good villain', my mind instantly turns to Maleficent, the Disney name of that dreaded scourge of the tale Sleeping Beauty. I love and loathe her at the same time for varying reasons: I love her because she's a cool villain and at the same time is so evil that I am jealous she is not my own character. I loathe her because, well, because she's Maleficent. She is, in many ways, the epitome of a good villainess.

Consider then, if you will, Moriarty, the great archnemisis of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Smart, conniving, slimy, and creepiness personified.

Yet at the same time, there is a subtle difference between this villain and Maleficent. Whereas she radiates a diabolical evil, Moriarty displays a more sly detestablility. Where the faery sorceress is a dragon, Moriarty is a rat. At the first you think he's not so dangerous, until you realize that a rat can go all the places a dragon cannot. Dragons use the weapons of fire and fear, rats tend to employ prowess and plague.

The villains of our stories come in all shapes and sizes, colors and desires, ways of destruction and reasons for attack. The villain might be a crippled, hobbling, ugly creature with no sense and no cunning, but it is their hatred for the good in the story that gives us insight into their depravity. It isn't enough to simply have the villain destroy things and start wars, for while this does make them undesirable, it will generally fail to inspire the recipients of the tale to cry 'boo' every time the enemy shows their face. (And yes, that's what story-tellers tend to aim for. It's far more difficult than one might realize, this balance of creating loveable and detestable characters all at the same time.)

There is this one, prevalent aspect of what makes a character the true villain of the story, I believe; and a good many villains of any story fall under this category in one form or another. Here, at the very core of so many of our favorite stories where good battles evil we find that the heart of the villain hates the heart of the hero. Or, the villain hates what the hero loves.

 In the Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson, the villain remains almost completely invisible, but you learn of his evil ways and you learn to loathe him because he seeks to destroy the Jewels of Anniera—the very things the heroes of the tale seek to protect.

Let us return now to Maleficent. The evil fairy finds Briar Rose to be deplorable in her sight because of her own shunning by the princess's parents. She hates the royal couple and so seeks to destroy the one thing they love most, the child which holds their best love and their bright-future.

Moriarty, on the other hand, despises the efforts of Holmes to solve and stop crimes in London. The British crime lord gloats in the television series: “Every story needs a good-old-fashion villain.” There is a strange relationship between Moriarty and Holmes in whichever game they play. There is a sense that they need one another but there is still, at the foundation, this idea of hating what the hero loves.

So many of the best villains are built around this point, and most every villain of any story can be traced back to a semblance of this relationship. (Usually the exceptions to this idea are more your anti-heroes and anti-villains, which, as most writers can tell you, delight in departing from every set of rules or logic ever constructed.)

The villain of my NaNo this year remains elusive in many respects. I can't quite get a grasp on who he is, yet I know what it is that the heroes of the story hold dear and this is the very opposite of what my villain loves. Thus, this enemy also hates the heart of the hero. (Needless to say, with this much discussion on such a strange topic as what drives our villains at their very core, I've been doing a lot of thinking on this subject.)

What about your own villains? What drives them? Whatever the plot of your tale, can you trace down to the deepest roots of the villain's heart? How does what you find relate to the goal of your hero? In what other stories do you find this thread?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: "Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms", by Lissa Evans

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans caught my eye in a bookstore as I passed the shelf on which it sat. There were no bright colors to attract me, only a cover of black and white with a small boy standing upon a stage, cogs and wheels spinning above his head. “Magic, Mystery & A Very Strange Adventure” read the cover. I smiled and jotted the title and author down on a piece of scrap paper. I found the children’s novel sometime later at my local library and brought it home to read.

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is probably intended for those around the ages of ten-to-twelve, but I found this fact to be of little consequence as I devoured the rollicking little adventure. It is what I like to call a ‘quiet’ adventure and, while reading too many of these can create a sense of boredom, the occasional romp upon such pages sets the mind at ease while winding up a tale of mystery and riddle.

When Stuart Horten leaves his comfortable home and big yard and many friends for the English town of Beeton, he is decidedly unhappy with the conditions. It’s summer, so there’s nothing for him to do, and no one with which to play—except for a bothersome set of triplets one house over. So when a game of riddles and a handful of threepence from his great-uncle appear with the promise of a shop full of magical wonder, Stuart eagerly accepts the challenge.

It’s a race against time for Stuart and his new friends as they discover why Great-Uncle Tony and his fiance Lily vanished years ago, and what an old collection of Horten-made machinery has to do with anything. In the end it will take all of Stuart’s courage, all of his friends, and a good deal of obstinate detective work to answer the questions.

Ms. Evans is a talented children’s author with that well-loved knack for dropping a hundred obscure pieces to the puzzle and somehow manage to them snugly together when all is said and done. From Stuart’s quirky, crossword-creating father, to a blind woman who knew Tony Horten personally, to a magic-trick manufacturer and her green-suited student; the cast of characters is a lively bunch manufacturing a little bit of magic on their own.

I read this little novel in a few hours and took pleasure in every page. Recently it has become a rare joy to find a children’s story so filled with innocence, focusing on friendship, with such clever humor and innumerable bike rides. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is clean and smart, without a trace of the usual crude humor. 

A comparison may be made between Evans’s work and that of Trenton Lee Stewart with his Mysterious Benedict Society books, but for younger readers and with a more open, clean-cut feel than the lyrically inclined Stewart. In any case, I’d recommend this book without hesitation.

Rating for this book:
4

Friday, October 12, 2012

Announcing: Dictionary Day Giveaway

In the world of writing, who doesn't love a free book? And what could be better than a free dictionary?

Fellow Blogger, Mary R. P. is hosting a give-away for her readers: a copy of the 'Flip Dictionary', by Barbara Ann Kipford. All you have to do for a chance to win is

(1) 'Follow' her blog at Enter the Writer's Lair(see link below)...
(2) Find and define three words you've never heard or used before...
(3) And share those three words via a comment on her blog.

Go check out the drawing over at Enter the Writer's Lair for more detailed instructions and to enter for your chance to win. Have fun looking up some words in honor of the up-coming Dictionary Day!

Writing to the Music

For this year's NaNoWrimo, I've been scrambling to gather decent writing music, grabbing some of my favorite movie soundtracks and band singles which relate to the story. I've found several songs to be themes for my steampunk-ed novel this year, and have made folders in my music files for 'intense', 'gloomy', 'sad', or 'happy' songs to write to.

With several of my other tales-in-the-works, I've found various music themes that match up to characters, plots, or just the general feeling of the story. Rock music, I've noticed, is generally good for darker characters and scenes. Slower music, such as ballads or Disney Movie soundtracks, work especially well when crafting the softer edges of the story, or for quieter characters. For example, I use a lot of music by Andrew Peterson for more whimsical stories, Owl City and Chris Rice are generally what i listen to for the happier episodes, and Day of Fire plays well when I'm either writing action scenes or anything from a more grim, sad character's point of view.

I've found it extremely interesting to choose music from a wide variety of genres when crafting a story I don't know much about, and the music influences how the story twists and turns. One character I think might be a gloomy type becomes exceedingly optimistic when and friendly when paired with scores from Disney's 'Meet the Robinsons'.

As a lover of music and of story, it thrills me to be able to listen to the music I love while I pound out a story on my keyboard.

Some fellow writers enjoy classical, others country or pop, and still others discover a need to write in the quiet and the still.

Soundtracks from movies such as 'Treasure Planet', 'Hugo', 'How To Train Your Dragon', 'Eragon', and 'Star Wars' are among my planned listenings for the fast-approaching month of November. They are joined by singles from the likes of Switchfoot, Thousand Foot Krutch, and Robbie Seay Band.

So...
(whether you are planning a NaNo this year or not) 
What do you like to listen to as you write? 
What inspires you, and how does the music you listen to influence your writing?


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann



Title: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
Genre: Children's Fantasy/ Steampunk
Rating: 5

“Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure.” reads the back inset of the book’s dust jacket. It’s a fitting description for The Peculiar, written by Stefan Bachmann; a children’s novel set in a tangibly familiar, yet utterly different England from the one we know.


I’ll admit, it was the clockwork sparrow on the cover which drew my attention just as much as the blurb on the back: ‘Child Number Eleven is everything. Everything we hoped…’ Having only been a fan of the steampunk genre for a short time, I am intrigued by each new book which comes out bearing that brand. Many of the steampunk books I have picked up proved to be worthless—either in content or in style—and so I was pleasantly surprised when The Peculiar scooped underneath my ideas of good steampunk and braced them with iron and stone. The first few chapters of the book were dark enough that I almost reconsidered the reading, but I stuck with it and read on and was not disappointed.

Bartholomew Kettle is a Peculiar, also called a changeling, due to his English mother and faerie father, and he lives in hiding and in fear of being found out. No one likes changelings. Not the fay. Not the humans. Bartholomew and his younger sister Hettie do not belong. The two children and their mother scrape out a living in the city of Bath, the place where the faeries came first. They hide and pretend to themselves that all is right in the world when all is, in truth, very wrong.

Then the lady in plum arrives and steals away a changeling boy from across the street. Changeling bodies are found in the Thames. The faerie Bartholomew thought he would have as his friend turns out to be a bad one, creeping into the house and singing Hettie to sleep with nightmares. In London, Mr. Arthur Jelliby watches the faerie politician, Mr. Lickerish, stir dissent as news of the changeling fates reach Parliament’s ear. All Mr. Jelliby wants is to go home to his sweet wife and his meaningless parties and not be too noticeable or too involved. Then he meets the purple lady and she begs for his help and he finds he cannot do anything otherwise. When Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby meet, they form a dubious alliance to stop Mr. Lickerish from doing…well, whatever it is they know him to be doing. With his coded messages, and meetings with dark fay, and turning Mr. Jelliby’s own house against him, whatever the politician is up to, it’s not good. It might not even be politics.

And then Hettie is taken and the game changes. Bartholomew is desperate to get her back and Mr. Jelliby is his best hope.

When I was reading this novel, there were several places were everything grew terribly dark and eerie, almost to the point where it would be downright creepiness. And then Mr. Bachmann offers an unexpected burst of humor—usually under the character of Mr. Jelliby—and the mood lightens and a lamp flickers on somewhere.

I loved this book, the humor, the intrigue, the darkness of the faerie slums, the bright warmth of Mr. Jelliby and his good-hearted, somewhat-bumbling character. When all is said and done, I thoroughly enjoyed this children’s steampunk. Besides the excellent story, I liked it because of the lack of even one careless obscenity—a few mentions of ‘he swore/cursed’ are as close as the author ever ventured.

My one disappointment is that it ends on a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger where you think you know who this person is and what happens here but you’re not terribly sure. Then something twists and there is new light and new darkness and a million questions. And the book ends. Some cliffhangers seem to be penned only to draw the reader in for another book, another sale, a few more zeroes on the check. Others are written because one book cannot hope to hold the story due to the fact that it wants to keep going—and we writers are notorious for ending a book at its most exciting part just to cause our readers pain. The Peculiar, I’d like to think, was one of the latter, and I look forward to reading the next part of the story from this refreshing and riveting new talent, Mr. Stefan Bachmann.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Novel Season: November

Well friends, it’s about that time of year. Fall is tumbling down over the countryside like a child at play, cool breezes are maturing into wizened, cold winds, and frost can be seen upon the lawns. Trees are glowing like embers, trading emeralds for crimson and fireglow. Holiday items appear in stores, pies are fresh out of the oven, and the writing bug is festering in many veins across the States, Canada, and lands beyond.

This disease has no known cure, and only one rare treatment an individual has to be half-mad to give or receive has been found. But the bug only lasts a short while, then it calms down. Still, it never leaves completely. No, it lies dormant until next fall. Until the next novel season. November.

It is a bug, don’t you realize? It’s something of a plague, but somehow it’s a good one. And it strikes us all to our very core until we start to shiver and laugh and light bulbs flicker on above our heads. Most of these light bulbs tend to shatter about the second week into that much-dreaded, much-yearned-after month of November. Many of them are then replaced. And they shatter again. They blow out, sometimes they flicker out. Sometimes they are replaced a third time. A fourth. Even a fifth. But somehow, somewhere, someone will be lying in their bed on the first morning of December, just waking up to icy toes and cold face and perhaps the buzzing of an alarm clock. And then they will remember. They will look back on thirty days of excitement, anticipation, worriment, caffeine highs, tears, desperation, resignation, the bitter foretaste of defeat, and then the sweet savor of victory. They made it out. They survived. And they won.

NaNoWriMo.

It has caused the people around me much confusion in the past when I say that word as explanation for why I’m so busy, so exhausted, so insane. I’ve explained it so many times that I simply sigh the words out, “It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s in November and it’s when you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days and it’s crazy-insane and I love it and that’s that.” Then come the real questions. Are you crazy? Why would you ever want to do that? What is the prize? Are other people this crazy too, or did you make it all up? Have you done it before? What is the prize again? You do it for nothing? Why?

Fellow 'Wrimos' can relate I’m certain.

Now, in answer to those questions, from those of you who may not have heard of NaNoWriMo, or want to know more about it, or maybe want to try yourself, allow me to explain.

First: Yes, we are crazy. I discovered long ago that a so-called normal life isn’t worth the bother, but a crazy one is. (Aside: I also found out that the majority of people claim to be crazy, so, if that is true, then we are actually normal and those people who claim to be normal are actually the crazy ones. Beware.) Still, one would have to own a google’s worth of insanity to actually make such an attempt as the one mentioned four paragraphs previous. Or else, they are extremely bored, or perhaps addicted to deadlines. So: the fact that Wrimos are really quite mad is an established fact.

Second: The why and the desire to do what we do. Because it’s fun. And crazy. And we are writers. The greatest reason I have chosen to participate in NaNoWriMo is for the feeling of near-ecstasy which a writer experiences when completing a story. We live for the words ‘the end’ and when we reach them we smile at anything and everything for days on end and don’t think of anything much at all. Eventually, however, our feet are bound to touchdown on the Earth once more. But that bliss and ear-to-ear grinning sensation a writer gets when the story is written to its completion for the first time is one of the best feelings I have ever known. The end game of NaNoWriMo is that you’ve finished a novel. It probably will never be a best seller, you might never even let it see the light of day once December arrives, but you did it. Now you have something you can, if you so choose, work with. You have a place to start. So: NaNoWriMo is the first stone of your story’s foundation.

Third: There is no prize. There are, instead, ‘goodies’. There’s a certificate, some web badges; T-shirts and coffee mugs and book bags are available to buy, and you get a little icon beside your name that says Winner. But of an actual prize, there is nothing. There are bragging rights. And that little thing of a novel which you’ve sweated and cried and bled for. We don’t get paid. The novels we pound out are not immediately published—and thank goodness for that! It’s merely the thought of ‘I did it’ that draws us in and keeps us coming year after year. And really, that’s no mere thing after all, is it? So: No prize; just satisfaction.

Fourth: It’s called National for a reason. It’s National. To be quite precise, it is now somewhat international and that is a fact which brings much pride. We are not alone in this crazy ambition to reach the deadline. We are part of a large community of crazy writers and people who aren’t really writers but they join in anyway. Thanks to how large NaNoWriMo has become we can participate in things like Word Wars (writing with a group for a set period of time to see who can eke out the most words) and many other—although lesser-known—socially-inclined games to stimulate our writing. So: Many, many other people do it.

Fifth and Lastly: Yes, I have done this before. On a more personal level from the other questions I often answer, I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times in the past. This shall be my fourth. I hope, also, that is shall by my fourth win. My first NaNoWriMo was also my first ever completed novel, followed shortly by the erroneous ‘Shadowed Moon’ expedition which was the first fantasy novel I had ever begun—and the earliest novel attempt I will admit to.

 My first NaNoWriMo was written longhand in a now much battered blue folder of sheaves and sheaves of notebook paper. I can’t even read the words. Some exclaim over how amazing it was that I managed to pull the whole thing off writing longhand. Yet I know others have done the same before me and one must take into account that this was at a time when I did not have much experience writing on a computer, nor did I have one easily on hand. (Aside: I plan to do NaNo in longhand again at some point in the future, just to see if I could repeat the success I had found there before.) So: Third time may be the charm, but let’s hope the fourth is just as magical.

The best thing about NaNoWriMo is that no one is upset if and when you lose. Except for, perhaps, yourself. Although I myself have miraculously managed to slog through to the finish each year, there is bound to come a time when I don’t make that deadline and don’t win and walk about feeling dejected for a few days. That feeling fades with the progression of regular life, and besides, there’s always next year.

So why not give it a try?

(For more information on NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to check out the website at nanowrimo.org, or to find and peruse the book written by NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty, “No Plot? No Problem!”)