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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Lately I have been talking about characterization, and writing in general, because I am a writer in addition to being interested in the geo political process around me, which I will be getting back to those blogs soon. So one might wonder, just what does Commander Shepard have to do with characterization?

For those of you who do not know Commander Shepard is the male or female protagonist of the video game series Mass Effect, a character that you can shape in every conceivable way. Gender, race, facial structure…though not height or religious orientation…ok so they might not be that diverse after all. 😛 But the point is you have a very intimate way in shaping this character, and that is just the point that I want to talk about.

For the vast majority of my life the characters that I have created, the protagonists of my stories, have been some extension of myself and my values, just what I’d do in a certain situation. An avatar. One who can be a Jedi Knight, or a Starship Commander, or a Special Forces soldier. Again by and large this has been the rule though there have been a few exceptions in some of the one shot characters that I’ve created.

But with my Commander Shepard, who is a Ruthless Earth born, is not necessarily this way.

Sure I play her and control her and her actions are my actions and she is an extension of my own morality but at the same time it is an RPG, a Role playing game. In this very specific case you are taking on the role/ character of Commander Shepard. What she would do, and what she wouldn’t do. Its shaped by the events of her life as are all of our events in our own lives.

For instance would someone who grew up in the gangs of Earth and then went on to go murder a bunch of prisoners of war be a paragon of virtue and turn out all cuddly? No matter how much she might been redeemed in her life? I don’t think so and I play the character accordingly. Through the events of her life ruthless to her enemies, supportive of her friends, and with a hard practical edge born on day-to-day necessity.

Sure this is not to say that we are slaves of our past, and nor should our characters that we create, but it does say that our events do shape our lives, and gives us some motivation for our actions. Because even if we were a lazy teenager who hardly did chores or just had their heads stuck in the clouds that could motivate them to be a better hard-working person. Or someone who has butchered surrendering aliens might see the folly of her ways and go on to become a defender of liberty and justice. And a caring momma bear to her crew.

Its called character inventory, its actions and events that help determine who your characters are as people, and distinguish them one from another.

And it is something to think about as you are going through your daily lives and planning out your characters, it means that everything they do should have some reason, and if they do something contrary to their established character there should be a reason for that as well.

Which is good advice no matter what aspect of writing you are trying to tackle, give it a reason, and then explain it to make it flow. Something to cover in the future I think.

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Back when I was doing my first semester of college my Creative Writing teacher made sure to make one thing very clear to me, kind of nailed it into the head repeatedly. And that was the difference between Literary Fiction, and so-called ‘genre’ fiction. That there are two big means of fiction writing.

Genre fiction is like sci-fi and romance, and fantasy. Things that have to have a set plot and a set design to them of things that must happen in the stories and the setting to make it sci-fi…or a western…or what not. And while Literary Fiction is more broad and general, and it focuses more on characterization instead of having to match a certain number of literary conventions to match with someones idea of what you are trying to do.

I both appreciate and really dislike this distinction, because on the one hand I do understand the distinction that one can draw and that if one followed literary conventions at the expense of descent story telling, well we get bad storytelling.

But the reason why I dislike this distinction is because I know that one can do character and genre at the same time. In fact some of the best characters that I know come from genre works. Be it the Doctor and Doctor Who with its huge themes of time travel and sci-fi, or Jack Ryan of the series of books written by Tom Clancy. In fact I can say that it is characters that attracts me to these works. Not setting, or action, or plot…sure those things are amazing and even nice when addressed properly….but the shows and books that distinguish themselves for me is the characters. That is what makes great fiction great. That is what makes great sci fi great or great fantasy great.

In fact I will even go so far to say that it is precisely because its genre, and has to match certain literary constraints, that it can create so many vivid characters.

For instance my professor often went off about how the ‘great terrorist from Planet X would go off to kill and invade the peaceful planet of peacefully’ *ok a really bad paraphrase*. But that was it basically that these plots follow rather simplistic plot structures.

But that’s just it. If you really can get plots out on one page and its so simple, that is perfect breeding ground for ripe characterization.

For instance whether it is an alien invasion and they were going to wipe out your people in a horrendous act of debauchery, or my current favorite, you either have to create/ stop a super weapon before the enemy kills you, maybe with the super weapon, is a time for great character. These plots are so simple that I can cite a dozen examples of it, some whole franchises have been devoted to these very themes. And some of them are much beloved, and some of them go into still deeper themes using that general structure as a jumping off point.

Same for character. If you use a simple formula for your story, Protagonist needs a technological device to stop antagonist, you can use that as a leaping off point for loads of character development.

How they react, what they do, who they fall in love with. How they deal with love and balancing that with a potential galaxy ending crisis, and a whole slew of other things acting on the character determines who the character is as a person.

Is he a paragon of virtue? Or a bad ass renegade? Will he destroy the super weapon and rid the galaxy of the great threat? Or will he spare it then forge it for his own purposes?

This is all character, this is all inventory, this is all things that will help determine who your character will be for years in the future and how he or she affects the universe around them.

This works well for whole series of books or movies or shows. You can do a simple plot line, and then establish the character in the meantime growing ever more complex as your series goes along and gets older. You can use that as a building block for future development in plot, and in character.

Either way though at the end of the day there is little difference between the two. Because if you want to be remembered, you must have memorable characters.

Yay a non political blog but time is kinda short and research is kinda a pain right now. Eventually though I will get to that research and other things that need to be done.

But over the time that I have been writing I have learned many things about the craft. How to write scenes, and characters, and the settings in which they live and take place. But there are two tedious things about writing, pre writing, and then editing. And in my experience there seems to be two main ways to come up with the structure of a story. Dealing with individual stories, chapters, and the content within them.

The first method is to write out every little detail to plan out chapter by chapter and write notes, scenes, characters, and what they are doing in every single little chapter. The second means is to do it more general and just plan out in broad strokes in terms of an entire story. To write out plot developments, threads, and things that happen in a certain chronological order.

While there is nothing wrong with either step, both do have their merits, it comes down to how creative you want to be, and how good your memory is.

PLANNING OUT EACH CHAPTER

If you want to plan out each chapter that tends to take a longer time and more space to write out every little scene in your individual chapters, or for a really short story. Who is coming and going, what characters will appear in it, what they do.

The advantage to such a system is that everything will be scripted, all you have to do is write it! Dialogue scenes and where everyone is. These detailed notes lets you know precisely what is going on with your story at any moment and you can pick it up months or years later, and just write it. Assuming you still have the interest level going.

The disadvantage is it is time-consuming and can stifle creativity. If you are going to be following a script, you may then follow a script only. And not add anything else. As for me this tends to frustrate and leads to me wondering if I can’t do anything more. But yet my script says that these characters must only do these things.

And if you are frustrated by your work that will show in your writing and you won’t be able to craft individual scenes and the story that you truly want to forge.

PLANNING OUT IN BROAD STROKES

This allows you to plan by plot points in general. That this will happen then that will happen and it all leads to a main climax. Its broader, takes up less space, less time, and employees a maximum of creativity.

But it also leaves you open to forgetting what you were going to write or unsure of where to go with yourself or your story. Especially if you haven’t written it in a while you might be unsure of the original idea, or the scene in mind when you originally wrote that piece of information.

But in the end you can figure out and improve. This allows for a lot of improvisation in the end of the day where you can add whole scenes and plots to advance the over all plot that you originally wrote down. Or to just simply create characters or expand on their inventory. Or to just fill up space if you want it. That is up to you.

Whatever way you chose it helps to consider what project you have in mind and what suits your own writing talents. Do you like freedom and creativity? Or do you want everything to be explained in detailed notes? Are you starting a project in a couple of weeks? Or a year?

Considering these questions will help determine what you are going to do and what is best for your overall writing project.

This past week was a big week for the American ‘democracy’. We had a recall election in the state of Wisconsin and for the first time ever, apparently, a governor survived the attempt to do so. But out of all of this was a lesson, a lesson in the America Democracy, a time to reflect.

Now I would like to, before I get into the blog, congratulate Governor Scott Walker. His win was huge for the moment and hopefully he can continue to balance the budgets and increase the liberty. Though if he does not than I owe no special allegiance to him and I will be on him like white on rice.

But apparently because of this election, because of Scott Walker and his lieutenant Governor living to fight another day, becoming elected by the people of Wisconsin to continue to serve as their Governor…apparently Democracy is dead.

And Democracy we Hardly Knew Ye.

Now instead of getting out my pinata and air horn and jumping in the air in a daze of celebration and good times I feel I should explain why I meet this statement with such joy. For the first of all fact that we hardly knew Democracy to begin with. The United States has never really been a Democracy but a Constitutional Republic. And its only been lately that we have gotten so used to the idea that everyone seems to call us something that we, in actuality, are not. Not to mention the fact that even in the current system we hardly are a democracy with our courts and politicians, on both sides, ignoring the ‘will of the people.’

So I am not exactly sure what he means by Democracy has died when Democracy was never alive here in the first place.

But first of all what is Democracy?

Well our good friends at reference. dictionary.com define it as: “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” (Link)

Yep I don’t think I would’ve put it better myself, which is why I am extremely happy that it is now dead.

You see how can we be sure that 100 people voting and 99 people voting another way is any less corrupt than one person just dictating a solution on an entire body of people?

This is what makes Democracy dangerous and the second worse form of Government next to totalitarianism. There is no guarantee that a collective group of people will be able to protect the rights of another collective group of people.

I will give you a recent, up to date, real world example. North Carolina has recently voted to ban gay marriage. Or at least prevent those marriages from being legally recognized and thus no benefits, no support, no nothing really. A decision that has since upset many people, and many advocates for Democracy.

But is that not Democracy?

If it’s the supreme will of the people in a fair electoral process and that all it is not this a perfect example of what it means to live in a democracy? All it takes is for one more person to vote for an issue then against it to be legally binding, if the will of the people is supreme.

So if 51 people voted to ban gay marriage and 49 voted against it, gay marriage would be banned, for life, it’s the will of the people. And if 51 people said that gay marriage was the most natural thing in the world and that everyone should have gay sex, then we would all be having gay sex! Or be in jail.

If 51 people said that Sugar was terrible for you and all sugar should be banned, hey guess what?! Sugar will be banned.

And if 51 people said you should be forced to eat Pork on Sundays then yep, you will eat pork.

Democracy, if it really is the will of the people, will always go to the majority wins. Whoever can organize the most support their own for their idea, that is who determines if you have the right to something. And same with the politicians. If 51 people vote for candidate A and then 49 people vote for Candidate B then in a Democracy that candidate represents the will of the people and can do whatever he wants because, well a majority of people put him there.

Now the guy in the video claims that the reason why Democracy is dead is because Walker won by outspending them by many millions of dollars. But so? What does that matter? Do tell what does that matter in a Democracy. I do not think it matters why more people vote for one thing or another in a Democracy all that matters that they do.

Never mind any potential miscounts, recounts, and fraud when it comes to counting votes that can sway a decision one way or another.

And now many people would probably say that ‘but no modern Democracies are all about rights and equal treatment under the law!’ Is it really?

I don’t dispute that many of the modern ‘democracies’ are the good guys and do treat people with some amount of decency, but we have seen countless examples of democracies, people, and their ‘democratically elected representatives’ trampling on people, their rights, their liberties, and their very lives. Nazi Germany rose from a ‘democratic process.’

So where does this leave the United States? Where we have always been, we are a Republic with a Democratic element, but that element was never meant to be the chief element in our society. The Constitution was, and should be again. Not the will of the people, but our actual God-given rights that no man or no Government should be able to take away. And they do so at their peril.