Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Character Sketches Make It Easier To Make Sketchy Characters

One of the things I'm really enjoying about working on background material for the novel I want to write is the character sketches. You would think this would be a tedious activity, but I'm finding it fascinating. So much so I wanted to share.

So what's so great about character sketches? It gives me ideas.

Okay, so as a writer ideas aren't that hard to come by. That I'll admit. But useful ideas can sometimes be harder to wring out of my brain. A novel is a big thing to write and it requires interesting material to keep the reader's eyes glued to the page.

That's where the character sketches come in. By filling out all the fields in each one I'm finding myself crafting much more complex, interesting characters. The template I have in Scrivener requires me to give each character a physical description, a job, a role in the story, personality, habits and mannerisms, and most importantly, external and internal conflicts.

It's those last two options that are helping me the most. By understanding how each character is in conflict with themselves and the others around them I'm finding the plot of my novel. Events happen not for a random reason but because the characters I create put things into motion for their own reasons. With each new character I'm finding another thread I can weave into my novel.

Now how much of each character will end up on the page has yet to be seen. As with all the background material I'm working on the reader is likely to only see the tip of iceberg so to speak. But the important part is that I know it's there. I don't have to have every tiny detail mapped out before I start writing, but effort right now will save me a lot of mental lifting when it comes time to write my first draft.

Hopefully I won't have to spend too much more time on background material. It's been a bit slow going with some of the other projects I've been working on the last few weeks. I want to finish this material sometime this week so I can get working on plotting out my novel this weekend. Even if I'm not done I think I'll spend this weekend plotting, as I do have a good base of material to work with.

Either way, this novel is getting written, and the character sketches I've come up with will help me make it the best it can be.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Clarion Submissions

They're done!

Oh, wait, I should probably explain a bit.

Okay, here's how it is:

I've reached the point where I need help if I'm going to get my writing to the next level. I've come a long way in the last three years. What I'm producing is light-years beyond what I started with. My language is tighter, my grammar has improved, and I'm starting to tell really compelling stories. I'm on the cusp of producing publishable material. But I'm not quite there.

I've learned that I make bigger leaps forward if I have some guidance. While the quality of my writing has improved steadily, the biggest jumps where when I had something read by someone else who provided me laser-guided criticism on what wasn't working or what needed to be improved. It's hard to see your own bad habits. At least it can be for me.

So that's why I decided this year I was going to submit an application to the Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. Both are focused on fantasy and sci-fi, the exact genres I want to work in. Both are six weeks long, and both have different instructors each week. I'll learn a lot if I can get into either of them.

I don't know for sure that I'll get in. Each workshop only takes in eighteen students, and I'm they get hundreds if not thousands of applications. Both have a great line-up of instructors this year, including George R.R. Martin and Chuck Palahniuk for Clarion West.

Now I just need to play the waiting game. The waiting game sucks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Dork Review: Red Tails

Okay, fair warning time. To adequately review this movie I may have to dip into some spoilers. If that's not your thing, then please don't read on. I'll just tell you that I enjoyed the movie but it didn't live up to its potential.

Still here? Let's move on then.

In a nutshell, Red Tails is a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots from World War II. The real world pilots were an exceptional group of men who served with distinction and proved that the character of a man is not determined by the color of his skin. They were heroes in every sense of the word.

Now if only Hollywood could produce a film about these men that did them justice.

I think a lot of it has to do with things seem too easy for the men in this film. They shoot down Nazi's with relative ease, even destroying jets without took much trouble. And they do it with at worst a few bullet holes in their planes to show for it. No sweat at all.

In the entire flick, only two characters are killed and once sent to prison, though he makes it out in the end. I kept expecting a grand battle where characters we'd seen through the entire film, characters who were amusing and pleasant enough for us to start caring about them, to start dropping like flies. Where's the drama if we don't have a sense that anyone could die?

Nevermind that a lot of the characters portrayed in this film are only one or two steps way from being stereotypes (racial or otherwise). The pretty fight scenes with the well done CGI planes are distracting enough for that to be overlooked. But would it have killed the director or writers to include some real pathos rather than using the cheap trick of killing a guy off just after the love of his life has said she'll marry him?

And what about the drunken leader who never really seems to be affected by alcohol that the audience can see, who even when he fails we know he couldn't have done anything else and the drinking never really seems to have affected his judgement?

There are many missed opportunities in Red Tails but there is some good in all of this. The CGI work was outstanding, which gives me hope that in the future we may finally get to see a really good movie on the Tuskegee Airmen. I have this hope because now World War II films will no longer be restricted by the fact that period vehicles will be so hard to find. They can be reproduced digitally for a fraction of the cost to build them.

I hope we get to have a revival of the classic war movie in the next few years now that this tech is available and able to produce planes that fly realistically. Of course what I want to see is a film celebrating some of the Canadian aces and highlighting their contributions. How likely is that?

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year, New World

Sorry about the radio silence the last few weeks. Like some people I've been caught up in working on manuscripts and such, in addition to the usual craziness around the holidays and just after.

Aside from working on submissions for Tesseracts 16 and The Friends of the Merrill Collection Short Story contest, I've been worldbuilding for the next novel I want to write. I learned a lot from my last attempt, the most important lesson being I can sustain the effort of a full length novel.

This time I want to write something even bigger, and that means I need some solid background material.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, can't I just pull this stuff out of my head/ass when I need it? Well, yes and no. I could probably create things as I go, and a few details will probably get filled in as I write, but I've found I don't like to do that. Stopping mid-write to jot notes down breaks the narrative flow for me, takes me out of the right headspace and then I have to dive back in again. I want to maximize my gains for each second I spend writing. That means getting prepared in advance.

There are some definite advantages to doing it this way. For one thing, little bits of plot and characterization dribble through as I build. For instance, as I was working on the naming conventions I came up with an insult that could be used as part of my main villain's motivation for some of the terrible things he does. I've built in some basic conflicts in my world that can be used in this novel, or in others I choose to set in the same world.

By understanding how this world works I better understand where my characters fit in it and what will drive them to perform the actions I need to tell my story.

The best thing about it though is that it's fun! I get to make up everything. If I want to through something in, I can. If it doesn't work or doesn't make sense to me, bam, it's out of there. Nothing is impossible. I'm the god of my own imaginary realm.

Muahahahahahahah.... err, sorry about the evil laughter. I'll try to keep it down.