Skilled Characters

My dearest friend texted me yesterday about a character who is an aspiring author who adores libraries and books about as much as she enjoys origami, self-styling herself as a paper sculpture artist. She worried that it was “too much” for the character, perhaps on the basis that female characters who openly celebrate their talents and hobbies are more likely to be criticized than their male counterparts (see: accusations of writing a Mary Sue). For a character in a modern setting, however, it would make sense if she, perhaps, listened to audiobooks while keeping her hands busy with paper crafts. Especially since said-character, as my friend revealed later, lived with a very sensitive and severe case of asthma, thus barred from many outdoor and physical activities. These are reasonable skills for the character that complement her personality and capabilities without disturbing the harmony of her characterization.

It left me thinking on some old writing advice I read years ago: Each character should have three hobbies, at the very least. Now, ignoring the blanket aspect of that statement (let’s just say I have that opinion concerning a lot of writing advice, that anyone reading tips and tricks for any aspect of writing should carry a huge bag of salt and take those grains regularly), I was, at first, skeptical. Wasn’t three hobbies too much, especially for characters who were very young, had little time/energy/ability to devote to these hobbies, and/or their environment was not conductive to cultivating the skills that accompany these hobbies?

But then I considered myself and could think of those three minimum hobbies in a heartbeat. I enjoy writing, reading, and trying to break video games. I then considered my parents: my mother enjoys watching movies, gossiping on social media, and reading; my father enjoys reading, woodwork crafts, and trying to break operating systems. Look at enough people, at their skills, at what they enjoy, and you can see patterns emerge that complement who they are. My mother is sociable and enjoys a good story (and, from my observation, the trashier the better), while my father is inquisitive and contemplative. I struggle with activities beyond my room, especially if they involve other people and the outside world, and I like to think of myself as curious and intelligent.

As people, they make sense. For writers, characters that make sense, that don’t trigger the reader’s “oh, bullshit” reaction and shatter their connection with the story, are what we should aspire for.

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The Great Winter Eclipse

To Princess Lorraine of the Summer Court, does King Natanael of the Winter give his most respectful of greetings.

I extend my deepest condolences for the losses you’ve suffered during the Great Eclipse. Know that your steadfast neighbors to the north share in your time of mourning. Queen Artemis was an inspiration to us all and the world is certainly darker having lost her.

As for the Council of the Courts, I accept your invitation to Emberstone Keep. Please be certain that the mirror in the northern antechamber is uncovered on that day, as I will be traveling by the usual method.

I also, with your grace, would bring to this meeting a most intriguing individual. It is no falsehood that we suffered less losses in the Great Eclipse, but it is equally true that it was not by our tenacity alone that won us the day. Without their intervention, this letter would have gone unwritten.

Their present leader has expressed interest in speaking with the Courts of Season. Please do me the honor of introducing him to you, as well as to the Emissary of the Eight Winds.

May the summer’s sun bring you comfort.

King Natanael Continue reading

Exodus of the Court of Autumn

Speaking of those who chase winds instead of the ladies, I have a matter of great comedy to share. Think of it as the matter I regard with my half-smiles, this millennia-long temper tantrum from a indignant, unlucky queen and, more to the point, the temper tantrum the Luminary and Emissary keep pinned to their office walls! If you cannot find the breath to laugh at that, Rilke, then I daresay you can hardly draw breath at all.

Have you noticed, that the vultures gather at our walls? The middle will challenge at the next full moon and, by saying that, the future shifts in your favor. Foresight is so grand a gift that I would be tempted to invite destruction just to spread it, except I will not, for I am no fool long given to dust.

And neither are you.

Ava Continue reading

Concordance of the Seasons

I have gathered, less for the name of history and more for the name of amusement, what records there are of the earliest pieces concerning the ladies of season. The Court of Spring recorded their primitive art, bless their futile efforts, for they are much unlike their cousins to the east, and especially unlike those who have denounced their lady in favor of far more frivolous and far, far more nonexistent entities. Perhaps you could consider the irony, that those who preserved so much of history were the first to fall. I would not consider it myself, but if I were, it would be with the manner of half-smile in which I regard the antics of our favorite joke.

Still, my dear, I do hope you find some measure of delight in the words of long-dusted artists.

Rilke
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Idle Thoughts on Naming

So, as I continue drawing the notes together for Shadows in Summer, I find myself reflecting further on worldbuilding.  Though I’ve written the most crucial points to the subject, or the points I name the most crucial, I still find myself examining the process upon which I give names to characters.  The trap of worldbuilding is realizing when you need to stop, for if you think too much on all the things that can be uniquely designed for your fictional culture, you drown yourself in the sheer weight of details.

Such as I am where gathering name pools for this story.  Typically I default to foreign names stemming from a superficial comparison drawn between the real-world entity and the fictional “sort-of but not really” counterpoint.  Or else I tap into the great portfolio of names assembled by authors who are resonant with a larger culture; the aesthetically-oriented Court of Spring taps into Shakespeare, with certain groups deriving from the same play (specifically, a trio named for Othello and a pair from Midsummer’s Night Dream).  Sometimes I break out my d10 and tables (such as this one) to try and create distinctive, unique names.  The majority of times, the names I create on my own sound like utter garbage.  I think Olmoro has the only name I’ve created that I actually enjoy; that stemmed from a lot of odd mouth movements while playing with the om utilized in meditation.

But is it laziness in worldbuilding to default to given names, rather than styling each process of naming individually into its culture?  Such that some may only have a syllable at birth, with others added through their life to reflect their accomplishments and deeds, or perhaps one where all children born in a certain year share the same name, where individual names are unofficial and traded between friends and family?

The hardest thing to do with fantasy worldbuilding is realizing that your humans do not, necessarily, need to be the same humans found in reality and, in fact, that they have the same naming schemes, the same marriage traditions, the same familiar structures, seems rather distracting in its laziness.

On the other end of the scale, of course, is overcomplication for the sake of overcomplication.  And there is the fact that humans in a fantasy setting are often a baseline, the bridge to connect the reader with the strange and otherworldly of the narrative.  Where would A New Hope be without Luke Skywalker, someone framed as so ordinary and human, to ease the movie viewers into a galaxy distinctly not our own?

So I will bite my tongue and fight the urge to scatter more deck chairs upon this ship.  I will have my queen named Artemis who, yes, should be connected to the real-world Greek goddess with her associations to women and the sport of hunting.  And she will have her daughter Lorraine, for the name is frivolous and sweet and prone to obnoxious nicknaming, which is certainly at the crux of Artemis’s motives for naming her child thus.

If a name works, a name works.  Don’t sweat the devil loitering in the details.

Discordance: A snippet from Bed of Weeds

I am brainless on cherries today, not fit to dribble out letters much less words, so here I am with a paltry offering of old writing, though for what purpose of sharing it, I do not know.  Perhaps to demonstrate that having a focal character with Lots of Issues makes for a chaotic spin for a narrative, that a writer is perfectly invited to let the character’s voice bleed into the third-person tone so long as it is only one character doing so.  Or perhaps because I am fond of the chaos this voice invited, descriptions crashing into one another in an endless stream of sensory detail, overwhelming the reader as much as it overwhelms the protagonist to experience…

Or, perhaps, I have nothing better to offer this day than discarded words.

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