Very Young Writers: What Characters Do

Hello again, VYWs (and all other writers)!

This is totally unrelated, but  do you remember Ship’s Log by Brandis, that little Alen’s War fanfic I wrote (except it’s canon because I wrote it and I’m the author)? Well, school is done, and I finally wrote part two on Figment. Go check it out.

Now, let’s talk for a minute about characters. You probably know by now that I like ranting about what makes a good or bad character, but writers rarely talk about the basics. However, the question is worth asking: what jobs should characters do in a story?

That depends on many things. Characterization has a lot of sub-categories and requirements, and not every character adheres to every one of those requirements (after all, sometimes we break the rules).  There is so much more to writing characters than I can put down here… but it can be simplified. You can find a few components in almost every single character ever written, and those components just depend on what role the character plays in the story. For now, let’s look at the two most basic roles: the protagonist and the antagonist.

The Protagonist (usually, the good guy)

The protagonist is the main character (who is probably also the hero and your viewpoint character). A protagonist should do three things:

  1. Be likeable
  2. Work to reach a goal
  3. Have a “eureka!” moment where they discover the truth

Now for some explanation. Being likeable just means that readers have to like the character; otherwise, they won’t stick around to see what happens to him. A good example is Gru from Despicable Me (who isn’t actually a good guy!). He may be a cruel, mastermind-y sort, but he’s likeable because he wants to prove himself to his mom and, later, to his little girls. That’s something with which we can all identify.

Having a goal means that the protagonist doesn’t sit around and do nothing, but stands up and tries to get the thing that she wants. For example, Heidi (of Heidi fame, obviously) has one goal: to make people’s lives better, and she works toward it no matter where she is. She makes friends of the goatherd Peter, encourages Clara to learn to walk, and brings her grandfather back to God. As a reward for working toward her goal, Heidi ends up with a group of lifelong friends.

The “eureka” moment is a scene that happens somewhere between the middle and the ending of the story, when the protagonist has to realize the truth she has been missing all this time. Rapunzel from Tangled is a good example. She thinks her dream was to discover what the real world is like, but at last she realizes that she was really searching for her true family all along. And she finds it, with the king and queen and with Flynn/Eugene.

Antagonist (usually, the bad guy)

An antagonist, usually a villain, has a few different requirements:

  1. Be understandable
  2. Cause trouble for the protagonist
  3. Be a different version of the protagonist

Being understandable means that while we don’t necessarily have to like the bad guy (although likeable bad guys are fun too), we should understand why he does what he does. For example, nobody actually likes the Elvenking from The Hobbit book. He’s generally nasty and not very helpful to Thorin and Company. But we do understand why the Elvenking wants Thorin’s gold: he thinks that the dwarves of the Mountain had stolen some gems from him, and he wants them back.

Causing trouble means that the antagonist’s goal is totally opposed to the protagonist’s. For example, in the movie Brave, Queen Elinor (who is an antagonist, but not really a bad guy) wants Merida to marry into one of the clans to preserve peace. That’s opposite to what Merida wants, namely, to stay single and let her hair flow in the wind as she rides through the glen firing arrows into the sunset. (Did you see what I did there??) Neither of those goals is absolutely wrong or absolutely right, but they are completely opposite to each other. This is what causes the conflict.

Being a different version of the protagonist means that the antagonist should be like the hero in some way, only gone wrong. This is a little harder to do, but it adds depth to a story. Star Wars is a spectacular example. Luke and Anakin both have the chance to be the Chosen One, the one who would restore balance to the Force. They both save the galaxy multiple times, they both train as Jedi with Obi-Wan/Ben Kenobi… they even use the same lightsaber. But Anakin chooses the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader, while Luke chooses to do the right thing. Same character type, different decisions- like two sides of a coin.

So that sums it up.

There are many more ways to characterize the protagonist and antagonist (like backstory ghosts, character moments, and quirks) and many more kinds of characters (like antiheroes, impact characters, and love interests), and obviously I can’t list them all here. But the protagonist and antagonist are a good start. Characterization is complex, but it doesn’t have to be. Ultimately, your characters should seem real enough for the reader to go on the journey with them, and if these lists of three components help you do that, awesome.

Now get back to writing!

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To Christians With “Overprotective” Parents

overprotectiveparents

Here are two things you should know.

1: This post is a letter written to Christian kids under age eighteen. If you’re not a Christian and/or child and you want to read this post, take it for what it is: not written for you.

2: This is an insanely-super-long post, so if you don’t have a lot of time and/or are highly distractable, don’t read this post right now. Bookmark it and come back later after you’ve taken care of your important to-do things.

What to do about overprotective parents?

Full confession: I’m eighteen now and make my own decisions. Before I turned eighteen, though, my parents were what they jokingly call “overprotective.” Meaning, I didn’t read Harry Potter until one year ago, the kids in our family couldn’t watch the Disney movies with ghosts until we were too old to appreciate the slapstick humor, and most of my siblings still don’t have Facebook. Basically, I’m saying I know what it’s like to have parents who say no.

Maybe you’ve said/heard people say things like this:

Dad shouldn’t try to control me so much!

I may not know everything, but neither do my parents, and I know myself a heck of a lot better than they do.

Harry Potter isn’t going to damage me; it actually teaches some really good lessons.

I know my parents are well-meaning, but they don’t understand me.

It just hurts that Mom doesn’t trust me with something as harmless as a children’s book series.

But are we looking at this all wrong? I’d posit that we might be, that maybe overprotective parents are not a curse, but rather a blessing. I thank God and my parents for most, if not all, of the decisions they made, even though I disagreed with them at the time.

To explain why, I need to start from square one:

Everyone is overprotective sometimes- and thank God that we are.

When people say “overprotective,” what do they really mean? No one knows the future, obviously, so there is no way to be just the right amount of “protective.” People have to be either under- or over-protective, and most folks like to err on the side of caution.

Let’s just take the most basic example: a seatbelt. Every time you get into your car and put on a seatbelt, you are necessarily being overprotective. Gee whiz, you’re probably not going to wreck every single time you’re in a motor vehicle. What’s the big deal? In fact, while we’re at it, we could probably do away with those giant concrete barriers in the middle of the highway and just use one yellow line instead of two. It would definitely save the government some money. Buckling up is a time waster.

Yet, if you’re smart, you buckle up. You know that if you don’t have a seatbelt on, you could get hurt– just like my friend. Last month, driving back from vacation, a distracted driver rear-ended her car at high speed, totaled the vehicle, and gave her whole family whiplash. If my friend hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt, she would have flown through the windshield and probably died. This is why the law requires people to buckle up.

If you don’t crash, a seatbelt is an inconvenience that wastes maybe five seconds on every drive; if you’re in a bad wreck, it’s that fine line between life and death. Next time you pull into the driveway safely after a road trip, thank God that He made people to be overprotective.

Of course, overprotection can be a good or bad thing. Where do overprotective parents fit in? Well, let’s get to the next point:

The keyword is not “overprotective.” It is “parent.”

Let’s say you’re a mom or dad who just brought home your first child. Congratulations, balloons, meal trains. Now what do you need to do? More than you think. Contrary to popular belief, your job as a parent is not just to clothe and feed that hypothetical child and make sure he/she doesn’t do bad stuff at parties until age eighteen; you as a parent are now responsible for an actual soul. When God creates a child, He doesn’t just make a body with a brain that sometimes functions with ample caffeine. He creates a person with a soul that will live forever. (C.S. Lewis wrote a good explanation.) God gives children to you, the parent, with the responsibility to make sure that you take care of their little souls, lead them to seek out and obey His plan, and teach them diligently in the hope that they will come to a saving relationship with Christ.

This is why we have Mother’s and Father’s Days. Because, all things considered, your parents are doing a pretty freaking awesome job.

I don’t know about you, but when I step back and realize the overwhelming responsibility of my parents to care for my soul, I find it really hard to be mad about not reading TwilightIn fact, I even have a little bit of gratitude that Mom and Dad made the best decision they could for my benefit. They probably didn’t enjoy some of those decisions any more than I did. (It can be hard to say no to people you love, especially if it makes them sad.) Some of those safeguards were probably unnecessary, but my parents didn’t put them there because they were monsters. They put them there because they cared.

If you understand all this, yet you still fundamentally disagree with your parents’ Hunger Games policiesthen here’s another bit of truth that might help:

You probably aren’t missing out on much.

If you really miss out on something good, you can catch up on it later. I don’t think it takes that long to read The Hunger GamesIn fact, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you take your parents’ advice and wait.

Now if your parents are starving you, then by all means argue, disobey, and do whatever it takes to eat and survive. That’s not overprotection; that’s abuse. (Metabolism is one of the four biological criteria for life.) If they aren’t letting you encounter opposing worldviews and you’re in your teens, maybe have a talk about that one- or else college is gonna be tough for you. But if your parents tell you not to do something you want but don’t need… then don’t do it. Face it, you don’t need Harry Potter in your life. Queen Victoria never read Harry Potter, and she ruled the British Empire for over sixty years. Tell yourself you’re being like Victoria. It will do wonders for your attitude.

And if you think that you should be able to make your own decisions because you know best, think again. Many times, when my parents told me not to do something, I later realized they were right. For example, a few years ago when I was probably fifteen, maybe younger, I wanted to watch Sherlock. Dad said no because it had a lot of swearing, it could be scary, and it would probably do me no good. I disagreed with him on that last bit quite strongly; but I decided to do the right thing and obey.

Now, as an adult (and Sherlockian), I can see at least two reasons why it was a good idea to skip the show at that age. One, Sherlock is in fact scary, and being my usual empathetic, prone-to-depression self, I would not have handled Moriarty’s psychopathic tendencies very well at all. It would have done me more emotional harm than good. Two, Sherlock has some particular themes in a particular episode (if you don’t know, don’t look it up) which my dad didn’t know about because he never finished the show. If I had stumbled upon that episode a few years ago, I would have been too disgusted to finish the show, and thus I would never have watched “The Sign of Three.”

There was no way for me to know all that at age fifteen. Good thing my parents were overprotective about a show they never finished.

And lastly, if you still disagree, I just have one more thing to tell you:

You should obey anyway.

Even if nothing else in this post has inspired you to obey, this should be enough to convince you. As a Christian, you have a responsibility to obey your parents in everything. Look at Colossians 3:20. In context, “children” means “people under the legal age of adulthood.” That means that if you’re a Christian under age eighteen, you have to obey your parents whether you like it or not. (Even adult Christians are still required to show honor to their parents.) Unless they command you to do something sinful, disobedience to parents is disobedience to God. Obey them, if for no other reason than your desire to obey God.

Ultimately, it helps to know that your parents do actually care about you.

They aren’t always right. Parents can be wrong sometimes; I know my parents make mistakes because I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my few years of life, and they’ve been around a lot longer than I have. But now that Mom and Dad have messed up a few times, they can help us avoid doing those things. They can protect us from things that just might be dangerous. When they say no to something, try asking why- I’m sure they’d love to explain it to you if you just ask them nicely. You can disagree and present your reasons for why they should change their mind; in fact, you may actually get them to agree with you. But in the end, it’s the job of Christian parents to make a wise decision, and it’s the job of a Christian son or daughter to accept it.

And it’s worth mentioning that the sooner you decide to trust your parents, the likelier they are to start trusting you with more of those things you want to do.

27 Things I Accidentally Did This School Term

(desperately searches for a gif that suits the insanity of this semester) (oh there’s one) (it’s Sherlock even better)

Miracles do happen. I’m alive, people!

Granted, I am 1000% ready for the summer. I’ve got a bunch of fun plans for the next few (i.e. million) blog posts. In the meantime, though, I’m just trying to recover from the last two months of my life. You would not believe the insanity if I tried to describe them. However, insanity is sometimes better communicated in a list format, which is why I’m going to tell you about it in a list of 27 things I randomly did this semester without ever planning to do them.

So in case you ever wanted to know, here’s why I disappeared over the last two months. Not a thinking post, just a rant to say hello and hopefully make someone laugh. I did some good things as well as some not-so-wise things. Learn from my mistakes and copy the things I did right, and hopefully you will survive your junior year as well. (Maybe.)

In the past half-semester of school, I:

  1. Signed up for five courses in eight weeks.

  2. Subsequently learned that you’re only supposed to take two or three courses in eight weeks.

  3. Tested the “you need at least eight hours of sleep in order to function normally” hypothesis. It is in fact true.

  4. Learned how to bluff my way through a paper.

  5. Wrote a total of 28 essays (some shorter, some longer, there is no in between).

  6. Got really, really good at finding scholarly sources for papers.

  7. Mastered the skill of citing those sources in multiple formats in my sleep.

  8. Tweeted a lot about #college and #studentlife. (Still did not learn how to use Facebook.)

  9. Concluded that I go to college with a bunch of Andersons.

  10. Speaking of Anderson,  finally sat down and watched Sherlock. 

  11. Became a full-fledged & slightly insane Sherlockian (see also: gif).

  12. Also watched Doctor Strange way more often than I should have.

  13. Perplexedly tried to figure out why most people I talked to hate Doctor Strange.

  14. Basically watched any movie that has Benedict Cumberbatch as a sarcastic jerk.

  15. Wrote parodies for Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

  16. Perfected an impression of Mads Mikkelsen for aforementioned parodies.

  17. Discovered just how hard it is for American me to learn a Danish accent.

  18. Did not do any decent filming- we must hold out until the summer. Sigh…

  19. Re-wired yet another old draft of a novel.

  20. Turned that novel into a fantasy thriller turned romance novel turned Greek tragedy turned… well, I don’t really know what it is yet, but it’s cool.

  21. Invented an eccentric INTP who may will probably turn out to be an antagonist.

  22. Also invented his twin ESFJ sister who is the sweetest little cinnamon roll that ever managed a kingdom.

  23. Let my characters start another war. They’re really good at that.

  24. Published two whole blog posts (although I admit one of those was written beforehand).

  25. Promised myself I would take off the summer and resisted any and all attempts by my college to get me to come back.

  26. Made a resolution to take violin lessons.

  27. Ranted about all of it on my blog.

So that was the last few months of school for me. Needless to say, I’m just glad the semester is over, and I plan to have a lot of fun during the next one.

Happy summer, kids.

Doctor Strange || Coat and Cloak:

Of Surveys and Updates

Well.

Star Wars movies movie star wars hello GIF

We haven’t talked for awhile.

I apologize that I’ve almost completely disappeared from the internet over the past few weeks. School leaves me nearly zero time for writing or blogging (not to mention sucks away my motivation for it), so it may be a little while before I’m back to my normal pace of weekly posting. In the meantime, though, how would you like some updates and things to do while I’m gone?

First, you can help with a survey on books and authors. A friend of mine from Kingdom Pen is gathering info from book-loving teens about reading and books and all other literary things. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? It is. So, if you’re a teenage-ish bookworm, click on this link and take the survey! Many thanks to you.

Well, once you’ve done that (don’t worry, I’ll wait), allow me to thank you for participating in the Indie e-Con Book Awards. It was fantastic to see authors and readers come together on the internet to talk about some of our favorite things. I didn’t get to attend that much thanks to school, but I know everyone had fun.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s chat a little about Alen’s WarThat is to ask, how in the world did you like it? I’d love to hear your thoughts! I like talking about my books. By the way, if you really really liked the book, go ahead and rate or review it on Goodreads or Amazon. I love reviews, so thank you kindly.

Finally, some things to compensate for my unprecedented appearance. Have you been to my Resources page? That’s where I’ve compiled a lot of helpful articles and blogs, as well as some books and videos. You should check it out. For now, I recommend the Write About Dragons channel (by Brandon Sanderson!) if you want some brilliant writing advice, or the Rafflecopter blog if you want some tips on marketing.

And I promise I’ll be back within five weeks at the very worst. It’s almost the end of the school year, guys. Hang in there!

Two Reasons I Liked Rogue One

Reminder: Don’t forget about free books!

I feel like this post doesn’t need much of a prelude. Chances are that anyone reading has already seen the newest Star Wars story and doesn’t care about reviews or spoilers, so this is basically a structured rant about a fun adventure/war film. Because I like that sort of thing.

Cinematography…

So yes, I’ve seen Rogue One! I actually watched it about a week before I went to see Doctor Strange (which of course resulted in me wondering why Kaecilius looked so familiar), because although I’m not a Star Wars fan per se, the trailers caught my interest. It didn’t seem like the traditional huge space epic, but more like a smaller and more intricate war movie, which quite honestly appealed to me.

Now you’ve probably heard all the complaining: the pacing was off, the battles were tactless, the characterization was stuffy… and I can definitely agree with most of it. But in spite of all that, I still enjoyed the film. I can’t explain my thoughts precisely in a single sentence, but the closest I can get is this: Despite its mechanical flaws, Rogue One is a genius story idea that taught me two big lessons about writing. And- you guessed it- we’re talking about those two lessons today.

Cue the “blog post proper” theme song…

Reason #1: Most epic use of a plot hole.

Or a ventilation hole, come to think of it.

Anytime I think of plot holes, I think of How it Should Have Ended. Have you heard of it? HISHE is a comedy channel on YouTube that parodies popular movies by asking the question, “Why didn’t they just do X instead of Y?” Thus, they rewrite plots and plot holes and totally change the ending of a movie, to everyone’s amusement. (Note: I didn’t provide a link because HISHE isn’t always clean, and I don’t want to be yelled at for letting little kids watch it. Sorry, kids.)

Now as a moviegoer and fan, I appreciate such parodies and laugh when they humorously point out gaping plot holes. But, as a storyteller, I have a certain fear gnawing at the back of my mind- how does any writer end up with such glaring flaws? Authors’ worst nightmares consist of two things: plot holes, and no book sales. And if we overlook our plot holes, we also get no book sales. Lose-lose.

Well, now let’s talk about the genius of Rogue One.

I imagine that the brainstorming session looked something like this. A bunch of Star Wars fans who also had a thing for storytelling looked at one of the most famous plot holes of all time: why the heck was there a hole in the Death Star that led to the core of the machine? The question had been plaguing fans for years, and these storytellers dared to answer it: The hole was there because the rebels put it there.

For those of you who don’t know, the whole concept of Rogue One is that the guy who designed the Death Star realized too late the destruction it could bring, and he built in a secret weakness with the intent that the rebels could find it and destroy the weapon. Now, the daughter of that engineer and her team of rebels are out to find the plans and bring them to the Resistance.

Thus, what used to be a gaping plot hole becomes an epic heist film.

mind blown

Yeah, that’s how to tell a story.

Lesson learned: seek out and work with the plot holes. They can help you tell a better story.

Reason #2: The bravely creative ending.

Hope.

*spoilers warning spoilers warning spoilers warning*

Let us not mince words.

Everyone dies. 

Seriously, how insane is that? Let’s just leave aside the terrifying awesomeness of Darth Vader- although that, too, was a fantastic scene that no one will ever forget. Think about it; the last twenty or so minutes of the movie is literally a series of death scenes and sequels, which, I think, is quite a fitting end to a war movie about a Resistance team. It’s probably my favorite aspect of the movie: I got to watch a group of regular, courageous people give their lives for what they believed in. It drove the theme home so hard. I get goosebumps thinking about it.

You probably won’t believe this, but at the beginning of the movie, I took a bite of popcorn and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if they all died on this mission so that the rebels could save the galaxy? -But no, that’s crazy. No way would that work.”

And then it happened! Intentionally or not, the story set up a wild idea in my mind and then fulfilled it beyond all expectations.

sherlock benedict cumberbatch sherlock approves

But I have to stop and ask myself, how did that production meeting go? We writers know how it is when we kill just one character; what about a whole cast? There’s always that one lady who despises watching characters die- death is heartwrenching! There’s the money guy who’s still holding out for a sequel- no sequels unless you have characters! And then the focus groups analyst who says that killing characters makes people angry- look what happened to The Walking Dead!

Yet, despite all the craziness surrounding it, the production team went for it. And am I ever glad they did.

It’s the bravest endings that stick with us. Resolutions needn’t always be bleak, nor even tragic, but they should always be a fitting close to the tale we’re telling. And sometimes that means asking questions that sound insane:

What if the Greeks built a giant wooden horse?

What if Romeo and Juliet actually kill themselves?

What if the whole team dies on the planet?

Lesson learned: Ask the crazy questions; go for the extreme endings. They may turn out to be the most memorable stories. 

Well, here we are. No matter if you liked Rogue One or not, I think we can all take a lesson or two from the imaginations behind it, as well as learn from its failures. That’s the thing about movies- there has never been a film that can’t teach us something about writing. And now, thanks to one particular Star Wars Story, I’m inspired to be a braver writer than before.

Free Books? Indie eCon 2017 Book Awards

Just a friendly reminder that my book Alen’s War is free for the next five days!

All this thanks to the Indie e-Con Book Awards. The best part of this contest is that, for the next week, all y’all fantastical readers can head over to Amazon and download any or all of the eligible books (some for free, others for 99¢) and dive into the literary adventures. Then, on the 18th, you can vote for your favorite books in different genres. Click this button to visit the official e-Con page for details- it’s all on the site!

Oh, and did I mention that you should attend the e-Con on March 20-24? Kendra E. Ardnek (remember her?) is hosting some brilliant indie authors to talk about a plethora of topics, like outlining and online marketing, and she’s also got some writing and fan-art contests going. It will be superb. At least, I’m expecting it will be; this is only my first year attending, too. So do click on the button and look around. Who knows? You may find something awesome.

By the way, if you enjoy my book, feel free to leave a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads so other bookworms can know how you liked it. A little indie secret: reviews aren’t always easy to get, and whenever you take the time to rate any book or leave a nice word about it, the author greatly appreciates it. At least, I know I do- so thank you!

Oh, and come back this Thursday during one of your reading breaks, because then we’ll be talking about a certain Star Wars Story.

Until then, happy reading!