Friday, August 17, 2018

Last-To-Be Chosen Ones

            Day late.  Sorry.  Still recovering from the move.  It’s just this sort of ongoing project...
            Anyway, an idea crossed my mind recently and—after batting it around for a bit—I thought it might be worth sharing with all of you.
            A while back I talked a bit about a certain type of character—the chosen one.  That lucky person pretty much preordained for a great destiny.  Sometimes literally preordained.  Ancient scrolls and prophecies aren’t that uncommon, although there are also legendary parents and preternatural skills to take into account.
            The most common beginning for such a story is, after a chapter or two establishing their completely normal and mundane life, somebody shows up to collect said chosen one and whisk them off to that amazing destiny we were just talking about.
            And that’s kinda the bit I want to talk about.
            I think it’s very important to note that our chosen one’s story doesn’t begin because of some overwhelming threat.  It’s almost always for simpler reasons.  They're finally the right age.  They found the hidden room.  They inherited that special book or locket or sword.
            You might be able to find an exception to this rule, sure, but let’s go over a few popular examples...
            Buffy Summers doesn’t receive her Slayer calling because the Master is rising in Sunnydale—the last Slayer died and she inherited the power.  That’s it.
            Harry Potter isn’t brought to Hogwarts to fight Voldemort—he’s only brought cause it’s his birthday and he’s old enough to start classes.
            Katniss doesn’t take her sister’s place to become the symbol of the resistance—she just happens to be successful in the Hunger Games in the right way at the right time.
            Luke doesn’t join the Rebellion to blow up the Death Star.
            Rey didn’t join the resistance to fight Kylo Ren.
            Jay didn’t join the MIB to stop an Arcturian Battle Cruiser.
            I think the reason for this is that if X is this overwhelming threat... all these training montages and bonding moments are going to seem like a horrible waste of time.  “Wow, Phoebe’s the chosen one—the one who was foreseen—who will save us from the murderous threat of the Yakkonator.  Even now it closes in on our city of three million people, ready to drain their blood and harvest their souls. But first... you need to practice your footwork for a few days.  Also, you and Wakko need to figure out how to be better partners—in every sense.  Focus on that for a bit.”
            One of the big tricks to a successful chosen one story is that it’s really two parallel stories.  It’s about Phoebe discovering her destiny/parentage/abilities, yeah, but it’s also about our heroes discovering, oh, crap, it looks like the Yakkonator is waking up now, not in 2021.
            These threads need to stay separate so they can each develop on their own.  Phoebe needs that time to train and grow as a character, because if all we need to do is toss a nineteen year old Banana Republic clerk in front of the Yakkonator—trained or not—to fulfill her destiny, then the Yakkonator isn’t much of a threat, is it? And if she absolutely needs training but the Sacred Order of Antiyakkination waited until the last possible minute to bring her into the fold... seriously, what’s wrong with these guys?  If you’re trying to fit six years of training into six days, maybe you just could’ve started six years ago?  These people just look stupid now.  And if she needs those years of training but pulls it off in days... well, aren’t we back at that first example again?
            So when I’m plotting out a great destiny to for my chosen one, I need to remember not to tie them immediately to that destiny.  Give them space to grow.  Maybe not hit them up with that ultimate evil in the first hour or two.
            Everyone’ll have more fun with it that way.
            Next time, I’d like to encourage you to take a few deep breaths.
            Until then... go write.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Writing Workout

            As I mentioned the other day, I just moved.  And, in moving, realized how many LEGO sets I have.  A huge number of them unopened and never assembled.  A few of the huge ones, but also some small, simple ones.
            Plus there were a ton of Gundam models.  Truth be told—I’ve seen maybe ten Gundam episodes ever.  But I’ve loved the models since I was a little kid. They were peak “Japanese robot” to thirteen year-old me.
            And so much Warhammer stuff.  Age of Sigmar and 40K. I got rid of maybe two hundred models before the move and I still have a whole bookshelf filled with armies and scenery and rulebooks.
            Books.  We won’t even talk about all the books.  There’s going to be an actual library in the new place.  Screw having a guest bedroom, that room’s getting floor-to ceiling shelves all the way around.  And we’ll probably fill them.
            Why do I mention this? 
            Aside from further establishing my geek cred, that is....?
            I’ve mentioned before that I worked with a physical trainer years ago, and he stressed the need for balance a lot.  Some days were more reps, others were more weight.  Some days favored arms and shoulders, others favored legs and core.  Losing weight and getting in shape was about working the whole body.
            Because we’ve probably all seen someone who doesn’t balance their workouts.  The almost-hunchbacked guy who works his chest, but never his back.  That person who always skips leg day.  Someone who runs marathons but never hits the gym.  These folks end up getting a bit... distorted.  Out of proportion.  Sometimes it’ll actually change the shape of their bodies.
            More to the point, it starts hindering what they originally set out to do.  The guy overworking his chest ends up drawing attention to his tweaked posture.  The marathoner has a harder time because their arms are weaker and have less stamina.
            Figure out where we’re going with this yet?
            I encounter people sometimes who do nothing but write.  Write, write, write, write.  I’ve seen writers brag about never taking a day off.  I had one guy dismissively tell me once that “real writers don’t have time to read.”
            This is just my personal opinion, but I think the brain works a lot like the rest of my body.  In some aspects.  I can exercise and train it to get better.  But I can’t over-focus on just one part.  That’s when things get off balance and grow... well, distorted.  Deficient. They stop functioning correctly because I’ve overworked that one aspect without working anything else.
            I build little toy soldiers and Gundams and LEGO sets.  It lets my brain focus on shape and color and spatial relations.  I make it solve completely different types of  problems
            I know a lot of other writers who play tabletop and miniature games.  And video games.  I know some who paint or draw.  I also know writers who cook, run, do martial arts, play basketball, garden, refinish furniture—I even know one who fences.  
            And despite doing this other stuff, they’re all very prolific.
            A few years back I was having a serious writing problem.  I’d just signed a new contract with a publisher, but I constantly felt stressed and overwhelmed.  And it had an effect on my writing.  It was so hard to do anything.  To focus.  To hit word counts.
            I solved it by setting a firm rule for myself.  A mandatory day off.  Every Saturday, no matter what—take the day and recharge.  No writing.  I watch movies, build some of those toy soldiers, or maybe go for a long walk.  I have a couple drinks and post funny comments on Twitter.  Maybe all of the above.  I cook dinner for me and the lovely lady—a dinner that requires cutting and peeling and setting timers and all that.
            And it helps.  It really does.
            He said, as he dove into his eleventh (arguably twelfth) novel.
            So take a moment.  Take a breath.  Try doing something else—anything else—and exercise a few different mental muscles for a change
            Next time... a few more thoughts on chosen ones.
            Until then, go write.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


            Holy crap.  So very sorry it’s taken me forever to post.  I just moved and it was kind of a hell move.  Not that anything truly awful happened, just... well, when you’ve been in one place for almost twelve years, it’s not going to be easy getting out of it.  And it wasn’t.  Nor has it been easy getting things set up at the new place.  For example, I just got internet three days ago.
            I wanted to bounce something off you fast, just so we can hit the ground running, so to speak.  This came to me a while back during one of my Saturday geekery tweetstorms.  See—I’m totally worth following on Twitter.
            Plus A. Lee Martinez brought it up the other day.  So I guess he’s totally worth following, too.
            I’ve talked about backstory here once or thrice.  It’s all those fun things that happened to our hero or heroine before my tale of wonder begins.  Their time just off the coast of Madagascar.  That earlier romance with a supporting character.  The mysterious past they avoid talking too much about.
            Here’s the thing I need to remember.  Backstory isn’t character development.  Backstory just gets my character to where they are now.  It gets us to where the story begins.
            Y’see, Timmy, character development should be moving things forward.  It’s progressive, because by its very nature it means my character is progressing in their development.  No forward movement=no progression=no character development.
            My character can have the coolest backstory ever... but readers want to know why they’re interesting now.  What they’re doing now.  How their lives and views are changing now.  I need to be sure I’m not confusing fleshing out all the stuff behind us for all the character growth ahead of us.
            Next time, I’d like to talk about exercise a bit.
            Until then, go write.
            And sorry again for the delay.