Characters Lead the Way, Redux

Image Source: https://lonewolf.fandom.com/wiki/Shadow_on_the_Sand

While cleaning up this weekend, I happened to stumble across the original “Rough Draft” that I’d printed out for my story Dragonhawk. This story (to the time of writing this blog entry) remains my one-and-only story that was accepted on the first try. It is truly a “rough draft” in that it is only three (3) paragraphs long (and is probably shorter in total length than this blog entry will be by the time I’m finished writing it). What struck me, however, was the first word on the “rough draft” was Kelfryn, the name of the protagonist.

Inspiration from a Book Cover

So, the book cover above, is from a series of Choose Your Own Adventure books called The Lone Wolf series by Joe Deaver and Gary Chalk. While the D&D books were pretty popular at the time, the ones by Deaver and Chalk really spoke to me. While not part of the Warhammer universe, the illustrations still have that “Old World” feel that marks the Warhammer brand (and what is probably what drew me to that universe). While definatley dark (the character could and often would die and the “adventure” would be over–much like a “game over” screen in video games), I always found the artwork both on the covers of the book and in the interiors to be arresting and fascinating. The above cover of a warrior riding a giant “warbird” was particularly interesting and stuck with me into adulthood.

Kelfryn and Scryfe

As I began writing, I had several incarnations of this image pop up, most notably an idea for a novel entitled Sparrowhawk as I imagined the protagonist would be a young Norse warrior who was mentally bonded to the bird (much like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders were bonded with their dragons in her series of books (which I, of course, loved and devoured as a child). I was also much taken with the idea of a bird hunting other birds–which is what the Sparrowhawk is named for doing. However, the novel did not progress and that idea fell by the wayside. After I had a few publications under my belt, I decided to revisit the idea, but this time I went back to the original image that had captivated me: the warrior riding a giant warbird. Then it came to me: why not have both the warrior and the bird still be mentally bonded, but why not have them hunt dragons?

The Art of the Character Sketch

From there, I tried to come up with a reason for them to hunt dragons and I likened them to fishermen. They had to hunt dragons to survive. Finally, I reasoned that even with the warbirds, dragons would be too ferocious, so they would only hunt things that the dragons left behind (scales, teeth, talons, etc.) when they went out hunting for food. Then came my stroke of brillance: I used Scrivener’sCharacter Sketch” template to completely write out each of the two main characters: Kelfryn (who became a young “wannbe” warrior) and Scryfe (his devoted warbird companion). I filled out all of the sections of the Character Sketch with a solid paragraph for each of the major categories (I found those sketches earlier this year–that’s how I know). After doing the character sketches, I simply started the story and everything seemed to fall into place–I didn’t have Writer’s Block at any point, nor did I have any major diversions to the story that I dreamed up–both character and plot seemed to just seemed to merge together, so that’s what I’m working towards now–getting back into the Character Sketch mentality.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)
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HawkeMoon Acceptance!

Falconry--falcon landing man's gloved hand.
Image Source: https://www.usatoday.com/videos/travel/2018/11/12/celebrate-world-falconry-day-historic-hotel/1977581002/

So, sometime ago, I wrote an Author’s Note that covered the genesis of my short story, HawkeMoon. While I thought it was an awesome story, I despaired of every getting published as it is an action story. And it features an ending that is not the typical “GrimDark” fare that you see these days in Fantasy based on the successful of Game of Thrones (and its many imitators). Well, after 21 tries, #22 turned out to be the right market! HawkeMoon was accepted for publication by StoryHack Action and Adventure! While I’m not sure what issue it will be in yet, you can be sure that I’ll be keeping readers know when it is available.

Action and Adventure

So, this market is exactly the type of market that I wish there were more of in the Fantasy and Science Fiction field. Most of the markets are more for “social” sci-fi where they look at a trend and extrapolate on that trend for near future/far future and then that becomes the author’s world. Fantasy is a lot more fluid, but thanks to George R. R. Martin’s success with his “GrimDark” Game of Thrones series, it is very hard to interest editors of markets to get behind anything that is not “GrimDark,” or has elements of that sub-genre in work. I make no bones about despising the “GrimDark” sub-genre, hence my despair at finding a publisher for HawkeMoon.

One of the things that I like about this market–in addition to the awesome system of keep authors in the loop about the submission process–is that the editor understands that “action” and “adventure” are not dirty words, but are elements that are integral to the story. Yes, characterization is the most important (see, I’m learning), but just because characters don’t have “bad things” happen to them and then they turn around and do “bad things” to others (take a guess to which Fantasy series I’m referring to), doesn’t make the story nonpunishable. Action/Adventure, when used appropriately, can heighten the suspense for the reader and make the character “change” by putting him or her under extraordinary circumstances from which they must escape. So, they don’t “change” via a soliloquy or deep intense reflection–that’s okay. They still change–whether its deciding to kill (or not kill) that Troll guarding the bridge, or whether or not to pull the trigger on those starfighter controls that will, in effect, kill his mother and yet, all the girls go gushy over because of his long black and emo personality (guess which popular space opera movie I’m referring to here), still these are choices that the character makes and these choices define the character (for good or ill) and are just as appropriate as deep navel gazing (reflection) or long dramatic speeches (soliloquy) in defining the character.

Celebration

So, I haven’t decided what to do quite yet to celebrate HawkeMoon’s acceptance. My birthday’s coming up soon, so I may just roll the celebration into my birthday and call it a day. At the very least, getting an Acceptance for HawkeMoon is an awesome birthday present!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Mini-Review: Netflix’s The Dragon Prince (Season 1)

Image Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/7/17826544/the-dragon-prince-review-avatar-last-airbender-netflix

Okay, with the impending release of Season 2, I thought I’d take a moment to come back and talk about my reactions to Season 1 of the show now that I’ve taken I’ve seen the first season all the way through. This will be a shorter entry as I have a packed schedule today, but I’ve been meaning to revisit this series for a while.

Characters

So, one of the main reasons that I didn’t initially like the show was that the main character was just too close to their earlier creation–Sokka from The Avatar: The Last Airbender series. Prince Callum (pictured in the above image on the left) is very much in tone, spirit, and vocal inflection a “spiritual successor” to Sokka. While I like Sokka, I can only take him as a “side” character. As the main character, he grates on me (or at least he did until the 4th or 5th episode). I think they toned down his character and gave him a “specialty” which made him seem more in tune with the other “main” characters and less of a walking “joke.” The other main characters were fine and I didn’t really have any problems with them, but Prince Callum really turned me off at first.

Plot

I actually liked the way the plot unfolded after say the 4th episode. The main characters find something and must return it to its rightful place — in other words, a quest. This was missing in the early episodes. Once they set out and began their quest, things seemed to fall in place for me with the show and I began to look forward to watching it, rather than it being a chore to get through.

The main villain seems a little off, however. He seems to use the best interests of the Empire as his justification, but his actions are at odds, and much of what he does seems like a “power grab.” I can’t tell if the creators are trying to create a “complicated” villain (and just not reaching it, in my opinion), or if they are trying to show the villain’s “two-faced” nature (i.e., the Palpatine/Emperor duality from Star Wars Prequels).

Final Observations

The show has potential–which Netflix seems to have seen as they greenlit a second season of the show. They’ve added a new “main” character–so I’ll be interested to see how that works out in regards to the characters’ dynamics as they go about their quest. They’ve added several side characters, so I’d like to see how they are going to be used over the upcoming semester as well as I kind of like their side characters as much as the main characters–probably not their intention, but they are still varied and fun.

Overall Grade: B

So, due to the earlier part of the season, I would have rated this as a B-, but based on the stellar last half of the season, I’m raising my grade to a solid B. If you can get past the early humdrum episodes, I think there’s a worth fantasy series that is worth checking out. It’s no Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it isn’t that bad as fantasy series go.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Netflix’s The Dragon Prince

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Image Source: IMDB

I had a chance to watch the first episode of this Fantasy show from the creators of the Avatar: The Last Airbender and I found that it was pretty good.  I don’t think, at this early stage (and having seen only one episode), that it is a good as their previous show, but I think that it has promise.

Characters

So, this is where I’m still undecided.  The characters that they introduce are mostly interesting, but unlike Avatar, they don’t fully flesh out each character’s relationship to each other.  There is an extended “history” of the world at the beginning, but the writers also use quite a bit of dialogue as “exposition” in the episode as well.  There are some funny character moments as well as some dramatic ones, but especially for the first episode, I would have liked to have had more grounding in the relationships and motivations.  There are, of course, analogies to the old series, a serious sister, a jokey, but ultimately heroic brother, but there are also some new ideas, that of a “step-brother,” which hasn’t really been explored too much in animation, but is pretty much a fact of life in many Western families.

Plot

So, I won’t go into too much of a plot summary here, but basically humans have killed the Dragon King and are pressing the borders of the other races (elves) now that there is no “guardian” on the borders.  I understand that the humans are being portrayed as the “bad guys” here (colonists, or as Shuri from The Black Panther might term it–colonizers), they are portrayed on-screen remarkably sympathetic.  The writers want you to form an attachment to these humans, even though they are on a mission of war and conquest, and after the first episode, I can’t quite reconcile these two disparate elements together, and it took me out of the plot.

Will I Continue?

Yes, for the moment, I think I will.  I’ll probably watch one episode a week (my normal viewing speed) and I’ll report back after the season is done.  I really like what they’ve set up, although I can’t quite decide if I’m going to like it as much as their original show, which (although I’ve not seen every episode, I’ve seen enough to know that as a Fantasy and Sci-Fi person, as long as it doesn’t go crazy, I’m probably going to enjoy most of it, even if I don’t enjoy it as much as Avatar: The Last Airbender.  However, I’m reminded of the old adage: “Perfect is the enemy of good.”  While Avatar looks to have been perfect, this seems perfectly fine as well.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

Kubo and the Two Strings (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: Amazon.com

Kubo and East Lake Academy

Before I get into my impressions of the movie proper, I wanted to note the context of my seeing this movie.  I first heard about it from trailers and during the Oscars where it was nominated for a couple of awards (just checked via google and it was nominated for Best Picture and Best Visual Effects for 2017).  I then saw that after its theatrical run, it had come to Netflix and I intended to see it.  At the end of the 2017 semester, I went back to East Lake Academy during the final week of school just to see how things were going with my former 6th grade teammates.  They raved about Kubo and the Two Strings and told me how much the kids loved it.  I had always intended to see it, but one thing led to another and I would put it off again and again.  Finally, this week, it is set to go off Netflix the 6th (?) of this month here in the United States, so I thought I’d better make it a priority.

Kubo = A Great Animated Movie

I really liked the movie.  It is one in which the main character doesn’t complain about his circumstances.  He doesn’t always want to do as he’s told, but from the characterization and editing of the movie, you can see that he very much loves his mother and wishes that he could help her more than he is able to because of his young age.  He also wants to know his father better and that touches off the beginning of the story’s central plot.  While the humor is isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as, say a Pixar movie, still it has quite a bit of humor and their are a ton of verbal gags and quips that could easily become referential or memes in the future.

Kubo = A Film with a Message

Now, most films have a message or theme that they are imparting to the audience, regardless of whether it is explicitly made clear or not.  In Kubo, the theme is explicitly spelled out at the end, so if that type of thing bothers you, be aware that is there.  However, there are other themes, like fidelity, family (both the good and bad of familial life), and disability/ability that one can glean without having it told to the audience.  I personally don’t mind when movies do that in most cases (really, the only animated movie that I’ve actively disliked is Happy Feet which presented its theme in a very confusing way and in an utterly unrealistic ending).  Kubo isn’t like that–however, as its theme always derives from its story and the actions of its characters.  So, Kubo always makes sense in its formulation of story, plot, and characters.  And its fun, too, without being mean-spirited, which is ultimately what I think Happy Feet is–albeit unintentionally.

Overall Grade: B+

I think Kubo and the Two Strings is a strong entry in the animated movie field.  There are other movies that I like more than this one, but as both a story and a life-lesson, I think that it really has strong narrative and visual elements that help to make it a must-watch movie at some point.  As a Fantasy movie, it also works well, in that it allows the hero to access “magical powers” that are unique to the Eastern Tradition.  While the movie doesn’t fully explain his powers, it does explain the hero’s origin, which then suggests how Kubo can do magic (to explain further would probably be “spoilery” so I’ll leave it at that).  I really liked it and I only wish that I would have seen it earlier (when the teachers at East Lake were raving about it as I feel it would have been more impactful at that time because I wouldn’t have seen as many Disney animated movies and Pixar movies with which to compare it to.

1st Try

So far, I have only sold one story on the first try: Dragonhawk One of the reasons why I believe that it was so successful is that even though I had the plot for the story in mind when writing the story, I also used (for the only time time since I restarted my writing “career” by buying Storymill and then later Scrivener) the Character Sketch Template Sheets provided by Scrivener.  One of the things that the character sheets forced me to do was to think about my characters from the external and the internal

External

So, on the Character Sheets, there is a place to fill out all of the external characteristics of the character.  What do they look like, what is their background, etc.  All of the things you might ask yourself when filling out a biography for a character.  Sure, it isn’t much, just spaces where you can write a paragraph or so, but I did that for both of the main characters in the story: Kelfryn (the young man who was a Hawkrider, but wanted to be a Dragonrider), and Scryfe (his mind-bonded hawk, who didn’t understand his rider’s obsession with dragons and dragon eggs).  It really didn’t take that long to write out each one–maybe half an hour to one full hour for each one.  However, when it came to describing the characters and knowing the history, my mind was able to weave a narrative around them that made them seem (to the editor who bought the story, and hopefully his readers), well, alive in some undefinable way.  It also made it easier, for me, to come up with a reason why  he was doing what he was doing that seemed both rational and in keeping with the character.

Internal

Perhaps the most important point is the fact that the character sheet provided a place for internal conflicts–i.e., what is the character struggling with internally.  For Kelfryn, he wanted so much to be a Dragonrider of old and to have the status of a Dragonrider.  His great grandfather had been one as had countless generations before that and in the world I created, even though there were no more Dragonriders, there was still an air of mystique about them and a reverence.  Even though he knew it was forbidden in his culture, his desire to bring them back trumped his good sense and he (pardon he pun) “hatched” a plan to steal an egg, thus setting the story in motion.

Concluding Thoughts

As I said earlier, this is the only story which has sold on the first try–and I didn’t even like the story all that much (the kid learns his lesson while I wanted a fun adventure story).  While I may never have another story accepted on the first try, this incident is trying to tell me something: good characters need both internal and external conflicts.  To help me, I printed out several character sheets.  My goal, of course, is to use them for each of my projects to help get at the inner conflicts and to create well-rounded and dynamic characters. I’m starting this with The Independent.  I’m working on the 2nd Draft now and I’m hopeful that a Character Sketch Sheet will help me to create Ryn (the protagonist) into a round and dynamic character.

Perhaps, one day, I can even reach the rarefied heights of getting back to getting a publication on the first try.  It’s something to shoot for anyway.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1)

Characters–Now with Faces

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 12
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)

Goal = 5 Pages a week.  Working on Rough Draft for the next 5 pages on Fridays/Over the Weekend.
Actual = 1/5 Pages done.  The writing process went fairly smoothly and I completed the page before going to bed.  It wasn’t particularly hard or easy, but just a basic drafting session.  Four more to go.

  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 3 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 4 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Here is a summary from Amazon: “In this hip, accessible primer to the music, literature, and art of Afrofuturism, author Ytasha Womack introduces readers to the burgeoning community of artists creating Afrofuturist works, the innovators from the past, and the wide range of subjects they explore. From the sci-fi literature of Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and N. K. Jemisin to the musical cosmos of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, to the visual and multimedia artists inspired by African Dogon myths and Egyptian deities, the book’s topics range from the “alien” experience of blacks in America to the “wake up” cry that peppers sci-fi literature, sermons, and activism. With a twofold aim to entertain and enlighten, Afrofuturists strive to break down racial, ethnic, and social limitations to empower and free individuals to be themselves.”
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Scrivener’s Character Sketch Feature

So, I’ve known about Scrivener’s Character Sketch Template for a while now.  I’ve actually used it to great effect.  I did a character sketch for Scryfe and Kelfryn years ago and it is (to date) still the only story I’ve ever sold on the first try.  However, I’ve recently discovered a way that other writers are using the template that never occurred to me and I think that it is pretty useful, so I thought I’d share.

Drag and Drop Characters

Scrivener, like many pieces of Mac software, allows you to basically drag and drop images from your computer or the web into the program with just the click of the mouse (or touchpad these days).  While I’ve done that and used the feature for the “Notes” section to help me visualizing places that I wanted to describe in my fiction, I’ve recently seen other writers dragging in images for their characters.  They are sort of “casting” their stories much like a director/casting agent “casts” their movies.  I think this is “aces” (slang for “a bloody brilliant idea”)!  I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t think of that–sure, you might not find that perfect image that is a one-to-one match for the character in your mind, an image that is close would definitely help the writing process.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

The only potential problem that I see with this is that if you get your work published, you should find someway to acknowledge the art/photo that helped get you there (if at all possible), especially if it was an artist’s sketch.  That’s why, whenever I use an artist’s image in the cover image for a post, I always try to credit the artist’s name and promote their website in that blog post.  I don’t promote artists as much as I probably could (i.e., use more artwork from artists) because I know what its like to produce your work, but not paid for it.  I’d like to showcase it, but I’m not a gallery and don’t have the resources (aka funds) to license work for extended periods of time, which is why I do it sparingly.  However, as a member of communities like Deviant Art , I can tell that there are some AMAZING artists out there that I would LOVE to work with at some point.  Here is a Pinterst post to prove my point (click to see more images).

So, writers out there.  If your story gets used/picked up by a publisher, how about throwing a few dollars back to the talented artists and photographers that helped to inspire your work by, perhaps, buying some of their work as well?  We may not all be doing the same type of creation, but at the end of the day, we’re all creators together.  Let’s help each other out, shall we?

Sidney




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