Category Archives: Thoughts

Journal: on writing characters

This is pretty random. Just thinking aloud.


People are made up of opposites.

A good character, you get to be able to predict their reaction (Ed stands up for himself against anybody, no matter how imposing. He shouts at cops, throws punches at huge bouncers). Then you figure out what their opposite character trait is (Ed cannot say no to little kids. They trample him daily. He spends all his pocket money buying them ice cream).

Here’s another thing to consider: Ed is in danger of being a stereotype. Which one? The Gentle Giant. You know that one. Or if he’s smally built, he’s the juvenile delinquent who talks tough but has a soft heart. Yeah yeah. We all know those guys.

So let’s throw some wrenches in the works. Yes, Ed is brave and scrappy. Yes, Ed loves kids. Ed is also SUPER NERDY. Tiny asthmatic with an inhaler. Angry little asthmatic. An angry little asthmatic who loves death metal and babies. He gets so angry when people mistreat him it’ll spur an asthma attack, and after the fight he’ll gnaw his inhaler. The plastic end is gnawed to hell. It looks like rats got ahold of it. This is not a stereotype. It’s way too weird. And that’s what makes Ed interesting.

You can spend the rest of your spare time trying to explain why he is the way he is, giving him a backstory. Maybe he was bullied. Maybe he is the oldest of ten siblings. I don’t know.

Let’s try making another character.

Gina is a hippie. She enjoys gardening. She never mows her lawn, it’s full of tall weeds and wildflowers and snakes. She calls it wildlife habitat. Her HOA hates her and she’s always having to defend herself. She is severely freckled and never wears makeup.

Gina is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She could take anybody down. But she’s never been in a fight.

Gina is also a tech whiz. She is fluent in several computer languages and spends her workday creating webpages.

Gina has three disparate fields in her life. None of them seem to hang naturally together. But they do. I heavily based Gina’s character on a real person. (Yes, you can do that too. It’s called cheating. Just kidding.)

These hobbies are all opposites, so she’s already way out of danger of being a stereotype or cliche. But it’s not enough. What can we do with this character?

Gina needs some kind of inner conflict. We need to know about her insides.

Let’s say… she has very poor health and high anxiety. She needs her garden as a happy place but the HOA fights are giving her a stress ulcer. She needs her job for the insurance but the job makes her want to go postal. She needs her Tae Kwon Do to make her feel strong and confident, but her body is always giving out on her.

Now she’s finally getting interesting. I’ve inserted conflict into all areas of her life. Poor kid. Being one of my characters isn’t easy.

Now she needs some kind of a crisis to pull her into a character arc.

Every character has to go through an arc. They can win, or lose, learn something, or even learn nothing. But they have to face something, and near a breaking point.

There are plots which are wholly driven by character arcs. The story can be as big (e.g. dealing with the death of a loved one) or as little (e.g. worrying about the bee in the back yard) as you please. As long or short as you please. Ain’t writing grand? As Bob Ross would say, this is your world.

As an example of a character driven story, let’s try writing the small story, the bee story:

 

Gina sat in the chair on her porch, watching the bees pollinate the wildflowers in her overgrown lawn. She kept it tall just for them.

One of the bees appeared to be a little slower, a little heavier than the others. It landed near her, and she noticed its wing was deformed. It sat still in the sun, resting quietly.

What a sad thing. How did anything make it to adulthood in the wild with such a disadvantage?

It’s a social insect after all. Social creatures can afford to rely on their fellows to share the burden.

Gina shifted uncomfortably in her chair to take the weight off of her bad hip. Tae Kwon Do was getting harder these days. Where was her social support network? She considered, once again, quitting work. She could get by on disability.

The bee twitched, buzzed, and took off with visible effort, buzzing back into overgrowth. It landed on a purple nettle and explored the pockets for pollen.

Then again… even the bee was working.

If the bee could make it, she could. It was only four more years to retirement. Until then, she would have to content herself with only weekends in the garden. In four years, she could spend all her time here.

 

I don’t know, that was just a draft. But you see how pretty much nothing happened? She stared at a bee. But in her head, she made a decision about her life, and chose her pride over her health. That was her character arc.

It’s entirely possible to have a plot driven story instead. This is the kind of story where stuff happens. But it might be a bit hollow if unaccompanied by a character arc. Let’s try writing a story with no character arc.

 

Gina sat on her porch drinking tea when a van pulled up. She knew this neighbor. It was an HOA representative.

“Miss,” the man said, all beer belly and suspenders. “We’re gonna have to ask you to cut your lawn. It’s overgrown by two feet!”

Gina sipped her tea. “This lawn is a miniature nature reserve. I will not cut it.”

He grabbed his suspenders and stuck his belly out. “It’s attracting snakes and vermin!”

Her tone even, she replied, “It’s attracting endangered bees, harmless garter snakes, and monarch butterflies. It’s providing a place for native prairie plants to flourish.”

The man hiked up his pants before forming his next argument. He was turning pink with frustration. “It’s against the homeowners association code!”

Gina leaned back in her rocking chair and met the man’s eye. “If you examine the bylaws from when I moved in, there was no lawn restriction. I never signed any documentation agreeing to conform to this.”

The man huffed extravagantly and waddled back to his van, outraged but out of arguments. For now. He pulled into her driveway to turn around, squishing one corner of her grass to do it. She was sure he did it on purpose.

Gina sipped her tea. What a silly goatee. He would have looked better with a full beard.

 

Okay, so that was hard. I had to make the universe arc around her. It kind of killed me not to make her react, get angry, even smile. A smile would have denoted smugness, victory. I had to get rid of all those character flaws we just painstakingly created. It might actually be harder to not have a character arc than I’d thought.

Anyway, this story, in the end, seemed like either a bad joke (everything Gina likes is hairy) or some kind of weird morality tale (environmentalists are heroes and always right and if you’re a good person don’t cut your lawn ever).

(Side thought: fairy tales, folk tales, parables, and morality tales rarely have character arcs. These have very consistent characters, which each act in accordance to their established rules. It’s more like they’re outlining the outcome of having a specific character trait than they are telling a story.)

Now if we can blend a character arc with a plot arc, well, then you’ve got something. You go do it yourself though. Feel free to use my characters (share if you do!).

I’ve learned lots. I’m going to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

A nice peaceful lunch

 

I went outside into the courtyard at work to do some nice quiet pencil drawing, to regain confidence. My whole creative life is just one long interrupted battle with perfectionism. Why this should be, I don’t know. We’ll save that subject for a million whiny poems. But drawing in pencil is always easy, and a nice reminder that I can indeed draw.

It was very windy. My hair kept fluffing into my face. Normally I’d stick a pencil in there to hold it out of the way but, well, I was using it to draw. Minimalism has its pros and cons.

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Just when the drawing started to come together and I started to sink into the Zone…

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CLANG!!!!

I nearly jumped out of my skin. A large empty metal trash can, the classic kind that I can’t believe people still make and use anymore, fell over right in front of me. The lid blew off and the bag, being empty, wind-socked out.

I decided to do the responsible thing and put it back. I was the only one in the courtyard, and who knows where that lid could blow. So I walked the trash can to a good snug corner and tried to put the lid on it. Had some trouble. The bag was so fluffed out and would not un-fluff. I eventually just gave up and forced the lid over the bag. It was at this point that I started to giggle.

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(I know I just said I was a perfectionist. I vacillate back and forth between “not good enough” and “hell with it.” Guess which this doodle was.)

Slightly discombobulated, I sat back down to draw. WhoooOOOoOOOsh, said the wind. Pbptpbptpbt, said I with a mouthful of hair. The trash can remained firmly ensconced in its new corner, and said very little.

Behind me there was a loud, loud, gunshot CRACK.

THE FUCKING TREE WAS FALLING APART.

 

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So it wasn’t the whole tree but it sure sounded like it. The drawing is more or less to scale. The dialog is also accurate. It might not have hurt me a whole lot if it landed, but oh my bajeezus. That scared me good.

So… something didn’t want me to draw today. I went back inside where the angry gods couldn’t attack me anymore!

HAPPY EASTER YOU SONS A BITCHES! May God and nature smile kindly upon you and not send vengeful winds your way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Journal – Sarah still hates romances

Why are romances always so bad?

I’ll be honest here. I am still a girl. When I’m reading a well-written story, I do ship characters, and I get pretty amped up when they’re going to kiss.

HOWEVER.

When it comes to bona fide romance novels, I always end up irritated.

I tried a dating simulator last night. Apparently that’s like, a normal thing in Japan. I had to know.

The game I picked (thanks to https://otakuandshit.wordpress.com/2019/03/25/top-5-best-free-mobile-otome/ who reviewed them and is a much nicer person and more receptive audience to this kind of thing than I am) was a phone app called Samurai Love Ballad: PARTY. Great name so far. Samurais are awesome, love is wonderful, and who doesn’t like a party?

Well I played the damn thing for an hour and there was no party.

Everything was pink or white, with sparkly things and butterflies and flowers and elegant script, which was fun. I’ll tell you what, when the Japanese market towards women, they don’t pull any punches. I actually enjoy the insane levels of over-the-top girliness when it comes to visuals. This makes me feel a combination of amused and proud. We should all embrace pink with such outrageous, steamroll-your-eyeballs pride.

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(“Sent to War by one lordLove before death demands another… your own heart.”  I believe they’re trying to express the same sentiment as Monty Python when they said, “Cake or death?”)

 

I just looked it up and the gameplay style is called a visual novel. Essentially this was an illustrated choose-your-own adventure story. It shows an image, usually of a beautiful anime guy, and displays text below. Sometimes his face will change depending on what he’s saying, but it’s all very static. This was fun, I enjoyed this format because I’m old and it reminded me of the old PC games like Might and Magic. It was more a novel than a game.
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(Samurai Love Ballad PARTY: one of your potential beaux)

 

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(Old-ass RPG: one of your potential murderers)

 

Here is the part I didn’t like.

The characters. Blarrgh. So I get to be a cute girl in the Edo era, which is fun. But for some reason, I’m an absolute dipshit. If I’m not making terrible decisions which get me in hot water, then some ugly asshole is trying to either hit me, or fondle me. My life is a kind of bad decision hell.

Enter about fourteen handsome men, who all save my ass, repeatedly. I have never felt more useless. This is too close to period accuracy. I really don’t want to go back to those days… O_O

Every one of them has a character flaw, which is interesting. But most of them have the same character flaw, in that they’re dicks. In Japan they call being a dick “tsundere.” This translates to something like, “cold outside, soft inside.” Tsunderes are deeply insecure and express their insecurities to their significant others through verbal abuse and/or angry outbursts. Every human on the planet except me finds this behavior extraordinarily charming.

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Every guy is equally beautiful so I pick the one who seems to be the least cruel and dumb. The one I picked came with a competitor, so the rest of the story is watching them save my ass and squabble with each other over who’s taking better care of me. It’s all very primal.

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Every time something interesting happens, I have no power and watch myself choose the stupid thing. The only choices I get to make from here on out are subtle conversational cues about which guy’s side I’ll take in the conversation. The whole plot that I ended up with is, I dressed up as a boy and joined the army as some noble’s food taster, in order to save my kid brother from having to join the army as some noble’s food taster. I still haven’t figured out why I didn’t just let my kid brother join the army; isn’t it kind of disrespecting him to steal his place in war? He wasn’t even going to the front lines. It actually saved my ass more than it saved his, because it got me out of a hotbed of sexual harassment at the restaurant where I worked. And it left him in a precarious position to deal with at home.

I finally got frustrated with the damn thing and turned it off because:

  1. I was just tapping through a mediocre novel sentence-by-sentence. As a game, it wasn’t very interactive. As a novel, it was constantly being interrupted and slowing down my reading. When it comes to the written word I CONSUME voraciously. This put me on a word diet. I had to chew my food twenty times before swallowing, ugh!
  2. Every twenty screens or so it’d take you to a menu and try to convince you it was a game by giving you “love passes” meaning you could read the next chapter. Apparently after 48 hours the love passes stopped being free? Or else they’re released 5 a day. This felt pandering and markety and irritating and pointless to me.
  3. As much fun as it is to have two beautiful anime men fight over the right to protect me from a scary old-fashioned world, it’s just not fun if I don’t respect who I am. I spent most of my life tripping over stuff. My only evident skill is making delicious fake sweet potatoes out of chestnuts. I have to admit this is impressive, but it’s not enough.

Now I understand the Japanese have different sensibilities than us, and that’s fine. But this isn’t just a Japanese thing; many American romance novels are like this too. Am I the only girl who doesn’t want to be stalked by a beautiful rich asshole?

After googling screenshots, I’m kind of intrigued again. There seems to be death/reincarnation,

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loincloth sex,

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and a lot of throwing up that I’m missing out on.

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Also I may not have been playing right. There is also a castle section? I’m not sure it’s worth it to go back.

Anyway, people LOVE this game. It’s very pretty. I’m alone in these feelings. It must be that I’m 100% more evolved than every other woman ever… it must be that. Everyone’s crazy but me. Right.

I have another app to try called “Burn Your Fat With Me.” This is a dating simulator combined with workout app. Apparently a beautiful anime tsundere boy heckles you for being fat and shames you into doing sit-ups. I’m really looking forward to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

On the futility of knowledge

 

Everything starts and ends
With the floor
On the floor
We are born on it
Crawl on it
Walk on it
We die and fall on it
It isn’t really a foundation
It’s just a flat plane
To which we are limited.
Time, the universe, life, death, space
All happen on a plane.
We can only understand this one level of reality
We observe and shape our reality
Aristotle said
We should not experiment, only observe
Experiments change the observation
Now we say
Observation changes the experiment
Eventually it all comes around again
Old theories are proven right
Outmoded fashions come back into action
Old thoughts are rethought
Things that are lost get discovered again
Children crawl on the floor
It’s all pretty well impossible to measure
How silly to try.
The ancients who spent their days
Trying to count the stars
Trying to corner knowledge
They really did that
And when do you think
They finished?
Even if you finish counting what is visible with the naked eye
Then you must move to another pole
And count again.
Even then
You may have a telescope
Or you might make a better, stronger one
But one can never
Never
Be done counting the stars
Because the universe may not be infinite
But by the time you reach the edge of it
You are back at the beginning
The number has changed
And you must start
All over again.

So it is in life.
What we measure is immeasurable.
And even if we try
Anything we put in our heads
Will be made head-shaped
And no longer be the thing
That we wished to understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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