Sudden, random thoughts on character

Last night I got to see an advance screening of the new Battlestar Galactica movie (long episode, whatever you want to call it). In a theater and everything! It was awesome on pretty much every level, much like the rest of the series. BSG in general almost always hits every beat it needs to–I’m disturbed when I need to be disturbed, inspired when I need to be (even the terrifying Admiral Cain’s speeches get the blood stirring, which is a testament to Michelle Forbes), terrified when I need to be, and so on.

BSG’s biggest strength is the characters. They’re believable, they’re terribly flawed but likable, and every one has a tragedy in their life beyond the obvious one that their civilization has been all but obliterated. People screw up as often as they succeed, and sometimes make bad choices and have to deal with the consequences. That may sound like a trifle, but in most serial storytelling, massive events are minimized in order to keep the status quo (and there are good reasons for it, but I won’t go into that).

The lesson to take from BSG? When you create your characters, make them interesting people first. Kara Thrace, Starbuck, is a stubborn, grouchy, alcoholic with serious authority issues stemming from a bad relationship with her mother. She works and plays hard, and can become deeply passionate about something once she focuses in on it. Into this unlikely figure is poured the responsibility of being either the savior or destroyer of humanity (that’s still up in the air). Oh, yeah, and she’s a crack fighter pilot and a woman, too. Those last items definitely inform the character and how she’s written, but they’re the most broad categories and least interesting.

Let’s compare her to the current Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman. Poor Jaime is a good example of someone who was written the opposite way. They started with a woman, then added a few cybernetic parts. She doesn’t have a terribly unique voice or background. They gave her what could be an interesting situation, having to raise a younger sister by herself, but we don’t really get to see how it’s affected her besides having to come up with awkward excuses for why she’s out so late. Her dialog, sadly, isn’t clever. She works for a shady and loosely defined government organization with limitless resources. Who doesn’t? The only thing about Jaime stand out from the crowd is her bionic implants, but those are primarily just used as plot devices. [Resists urge to make joke about implants in Hollywood–whew] So in the end, Jaime ends up coming off as just bland.

It’s interesting, because the two shows share a producer in Don Eick. You have to wonder what happened.

I guess my point is that when you really sit down to start fleshing out the character, you need to go straight for the most specific details you can. If your hero is the only person in three counties who can skin a potato in under an hour, start with that. There’s nothing wrong with starting with sex, but make sure there’s something interesting about the fact that your hero is a particular gender (or race, even), and it’s not just a flip of the coin.

I dunno, this is all pretty obvious, I guess. I think I’m mostly just working out for myself why “Bionic Woman” is such a failure when it should have been good. Carry on, nothing to see here.


NaNo Day…um, what day is this?

I had a good time over the weekend at the Texas Book Festival. Sherman Alexie was awesome, and congrats’ed me on the acceptance of my story. Also noteworthy was The Onion’s hilarious presentation of their new atlas. I laughed in between glares of hatred and envy over their jobs. C-SPAN was there recording for BookTV or something, but I can find no mention of it online.

Also? Lady sitting in front of me was wearing a Serenity t-shirt. I keep telling Hope we are legion, but she refuses to believe.

Oh, and Hope was nearly run over by the Secret Service. How awesome is that?

NaNo has stalled. Not having a notebook makes it a chore to write anywhere but home. I’ll be working 10 hours of overtime this week, with no doubt more to come.

I’m going to focus on my Secret Santa story, because it has been a blast so far to work on, and because it will be turned over to an actual person at the end of the month. I actually just about finished it last night, but I think I’ve hit a snag and possibly turned my main character into a Mary Sue. She can do pretty much anything, so I’ve got to figure out how to limit her powers and still have her win out in the end. And there’s a really cool scene that might have to go because of that. That’s the tricky thing about magic.

Also, I’ve noticed that the story is almost entirely action. Fun, exciting action, but there’s not really anything to explain who the characters are or why you should give a crap about them. I’ll have to add some exposition in there.

As soon as that’s done, I will return to NaNo with a vengeance.

NaNo Day 1

Irritating side note: I just discovered Hotmail has, at some point over the past few months, completely deleted my old account. So much for a good 5 years worth of emails and contacts. I’d transferred most of it over to gmail already, but damned if that’s not irritating.

Anyway, rocky start today. Maybe I should have gone with something different. I’m not sure I’m feeling this book right now. We’ll see. I don’t think I’ll get anything done this weekend, since I’ll be out of town, so I’ll have a lot of catching up to do next week. I also still have to finish up my Secret Santa story. Ugh.

End word count today: 1,535, just shy of the minimum goal per day. Here’s the first couple hundred words. Continue reading NaNo Day 1


“Shades of Red,” the apocalypse story I wrote this past year, has been accepted by A Thousand Faces, a journal of superhero fiction. It’ll be out around April, I believe. If you’re a fan of superhero stories, check out their site. There’s some good stuff in there.

I want to send big thanks to everyone in my writing group and a handful of other people who helped me revise the story. For anyone keeping track, this will be my first publication.

In other news, my soon-to-be failed attempt at NaNo begins tomorrow! I am completely unprepared, having squandered the last few weeks on a Secret Santa story and last-second tweaks to “Shades of Red.” But really, how hard can zombies be? ….right?

Texas Book Festival

I discovered that one of my favorite writers, Sherman Alexie, will be at the Texas Book Festival in Austin next weekend. That makes it time for a road trip! As a bonus, The Onion will also be there. (Can we elect a ruling council of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and The Onion for president? I smell a write-in campaign coming on. Based on what I’ve seen in the news lately, we could elect an actual onion and be better off than with the knuckleheads running for leadership. But I digress, as usual.)

I discovered Alexie years ago when I was forced to read his second novel, Indian Killer, for a class. Turned out to be a fantastic book. There’s a structure to the book and certain themes about the characters that reminded me strongly of comic books, and when I brought up the possibility to my teacher she was a bit mystified at first. But the presence of a character, a little boy, in the book wearing Daredevil pajamas was enough to get my “out of the box” cylinders firing (anything involving Daredevil fires my cylinders, but that’s a whole other post). We worked on it a bit together and ended up coming up with (I believe) a completely new interpretation of the novel. We were supposed to co-author a paper about it, but it fell through when she left the university unexpectedly. Actually, I think she still has my copies of the first Astro City and Preacher trades, heh.

Anyway, I highly recommend any of his books. Also, the film Smoke Signals was based on his work and worth a view. I haven’t had a chance to see The Business of Fancydancing yet.

It feels odd to be so pasty and be such a big fan of an American Indian’s work.

Update: I have discovered that the hardcover version of Indian Killer is out of print. O cruel fate! My battered paperback is a poor offering for an autograph. I’ll have to hit up the used bookstores this week and see if I can find one.

National Novel Writing Month

We’re just a few weeks away from this year’s NaNo. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, thousands of people across the country (world?) get together and brow beat each other for the entire month of November to write a new 50,000-word book by the end of the month. It is insane! We have little spreadsheets to chart our progress and everything. Last year I threw myself into it rather at the last minute. I started off strong, but soon stalled out and ended the month with something like 10-12,000 words. And even that was a mess.

I have a simpler story idea this time, and over the next few weeks I’ll be attempting to come up with an outline. When you’re trying to pump out a couple thousand words a day there’s not really time to stop and think about your story.

Unless I come up with something different, I’ll be writing about the protagonist of “Daughter” and his quest to find his lost daughter in a land overrun with the undead. The time is now, and the setting is here, so there won’t be much in the way of world building necessary. I can jump right in with the story. If anyone has a Texas locale you want to see overrun with zombies or other horrors, let me know. 🙂

I have no idea why I’ve been on such a horror kick lately.

The upside of this for you, my gentle readers, is that, in theory, I should be posting something here every day. Each evening, perhaps, or morning, I’ll post a few hundred words of what I’m writing. It’ll probably be out of context and make no sense, but it will be something to read nonetheless. Also, there’s a strong chance it will be crap. When it comes to NaNo, quantity beats out quality.

If you’re a writer and joining in on the NaNo craziness, feel free to add my as a buddy. I go by flakbait.

I could only hope…

…to one day have a cover as awesome as this.

I read some of Alan Dean Foster’s stuff when I was a kid and always enjoyed it (Nor Crystal Tears was fantastic). He wrote a Star Wars book, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye which was, I believe, the first EU book ever written, at least for Star Wars, which puts in the running for first EU ever. It came out before the revelations of Empire, so there’s a romantic sub plot between Luke and Leia that’s hilariously creepy. Maybe I’ll hunt around and find some of his other stuff sometime.

Chicago Defender

Writing exercise: Use these three things in a short story/scene: a superhero, a church, a spoon

The spoon was a bit tricky, but I worked it in there. This was a hero mentioned a couple times in Shades of Red, but I hadn’t really fleshed him out any. I’m thinking he’s a government-employed hero who works with the Chicago PD. His on and off relationship with the Scarlet Ranger (not mentioned in this piece) is no doubt great fodder for the tabloids.

I’m really digging the villain in this. He’s kind of reminding me of the Joker, but with less style and actual powers. Maybe an archenemy for the Defender? As a telekinetic, he can find ways around the Defender’s powers that a lot of other enemys can’t, and his personality is a complete 180. He’s all emotions–rage and hate. I’ll have to come up with a name for him (especially since I had trouble coming up with enough different things to call him in this, heh).

Holy cats, it’s 1300 words. And I just realized this is the second Sam I’ve used in a row. Hmm.

Continue reading Chicago Defender

a writing sketchbook