Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's done!!!

Ok, I've sent in my proposal to TokyoPop. We'll see what happens. I forgot to add my blog address, darn!! Oh, well. I feel like I'm holding my breath and turning blue!! I hope this is my it and if not, then I'll just keep plugging away!!!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Penguins of Madagascar: Analysis of characters.

After I saw the Madagascar movies, I fell in love with the Penguins. I was thrilled when I saw that they had their own show on Nickelodeon, THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR. Silly fellows. But then I found others who were just as enamored with the flightless birds and I began to think, why? Why do so many adults and kids love this one cartoon? It is just a cartoon, right? Or maybe it’s more then just a Saturday morning kids’ show, maybe it’s brilliant writing that creates interesting characters.

Take Skipper, my favorite character. He seems crazy and his stories are crazier as if he’s blowing smoke into peoples’ faces. He’s in love with himself, even bragging about his past adventures. He is over the top, jumping to conclusions, very unorthodox, never analyzing a problem, but always thinking the worse. Every small coincidence is Defcon 5. He is suspicious of any stranger, thinking they are the enemy. Paranoid? Or perhaps the back stories will shed more light on the situation. Manfredi and Johnson, two fallen soldiers and friends, buried with spoons in Ecuador. They never saw the flying piranhas, there was little left to bury. Maybe the Skipper is paranoid because his comrades in arms are now gone. Stopping and thinking can get a man killed, so why do it? Were the two male penguins real or part of his self-delusions?

His actions never match up to his insanity. He takes flying punches in order to protect the innocent, looks after the frail and helpless animals in the zoo, even the annoying King Julian sits securely under the Skipper’s wing. He loves his men and they love him. They are lost without him. The young boy Private is like the Skipper’s son to the point of offering himself in place of the boy when the zoo keeper, Alice, takes the boy away. An insane person would never risk his life for the annoying neighbors, his actions would never stand up to his words, yet another writing gem. His actions DO match his insane words. But again, I have to ask, is the Skipper really insane and blowing smoke or is he part of an Elite fighting force, a military experiment that suddenly went wrong?

His name is Skipper, yet a skipper is a captain of a ship. The group is an Elite Ground Fighting Force like the Green Berets. So why Skipper? Was he in charge of a ship at one time and lost it? Or did he just like the name and ran with it? Or is this a way the writer draws in the reader like a fishing line? Skipper. It doesn’t match his military position. So why not Gunny? Or the Old Man? Sergeant, General, Colonel? Again we have the million dollar question, why? It needs to be answered by someone and people will watch the show in order to follow their questions.

Then there’s Marlene, the otter. The voice of reason in the sea of insanity. She loves the penguins but she is like me, questioning their reasoning. Their actions seem insane, always jumping to weird conclusions and thinking everyone is an enemy. “Thank you for your bits of Paranoia,” she once said. Yet sometimes that same paranoia has saved the zoo, other times they were completely wrong. Since she agrees with me, I have to think, another being thinks the same, so maybe we are right, the penguins are insane. But again, the actions stand up and defend the crazy stories of fallen soldiers in Ecuador and Skipper’s arch enemy, Dr. Blowhole. I’ve met those who speak loud, yet their actions never follow their words. When the chips fall, so do they. They crack in the face of dilemmas, blaming others for their mistakes. They cower at the sight of danger and run for cover. Yet again, Skipper’s actions match his words. It’s off kilter, something is wrong and I can’t make sense of it, I must keep watching to understand.

Look at his environment. He deals with a world he doesn’t understand. Neither he nor his men can read English. Yet he understands the fundamentals of weaponry, flying a plane and military tactics, things a normal person could never know. He can pull a plan together in minutes and expects his men to follow them to the last letter, which they do. But he can’t read the zoo map, doesn’t understand how a copier works and seems to make things up as he goes along. At times he is like a con man hiding the pea under the cups and switching them around, and other times he is the recreation of General Patton.

So what did I, the writer, learn from all of this?

Be in love with back story and use it wisely. Sprinkle a little here and a little there, enough to give it a salty taste.

Be in love with secrets. Secrets are wonderful and Skipper has plenty.

How does he deal with problems? Orthodox, rationally, quick to action, paranoid? Why? What back story can you use to back up his problem solving?

What about his name? Does it match his personality? Why? Is there a story behind the nickname?

How do others perceive him and why?

How does he perceive himself and why?

Does he care that others do/don't see him the way he sees himself? Why?

What are his fighting skills and why? Ever notice each penguin has a different fighting skill and they fight differently?

How do his actions negate his words or justify them? Why?

Manfredi and Johnson were two characters from the movie STALAG 17 and were prisoners in a German prison camp. They crawled out of a tunnel that lead out of the camp and were shot to death by German guards. They never saw the bullets coming. Interesting. Now we have more depth to the characters. Did Skipper see the movie and decided to incorporate the two people into his fraud? Did he make them up? Or did the writers do this on purpose, taking two characters from a 1960’s movie and add them into their story, giving us clues into Skipper’s past?

Create questions, a bread crumb trail leading the reader more and more into the story. Keep your cards close to your chest, never give the reader a break or a breath, keep them guessing. Never answer those questions until the end of the book/story.

Make every word deliberate, nothing is an accident or coincidence. As one writer had once said, Every word should advance the plot, support the theme and develop the character.

But most of all, know the character, his thoughts, past, reactions, emotions, loves, lusts, weaknesses, strengths, his friends, his pains, his angers, his happiness, his mental capacity, his secrets. Most writing books teach us to know the character’s favorite color, song, animal, sport, food but the writers of PoM teach us to dig deeper into unknown waters. Understand the character’s name, his back stories, his fears, his longings, the deep crevices of his very soul and be like a miner who brings gold to the surface, one nugget at a time. That’s what makes a great character like Skipper or Kowalski, Private or Rico. All rich and juicy characters with lives prior to the filming. Beings who somehow came together to form a strange military group that may or may not be legit. But that’s the question that must be answered, who are these guys? And we’ll all keep watching because we have to know!!

Yeah, I know, I have problems. I am seeking medical help. :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fantasy warriors

My friend's hubby is an authentic Swordsman and knows his way about a battle. He took fencing classes for 2 years, then studied the writings of several master swordsmen and was in several fencing matches which he won most of the time. He also enjoyed writing characters and plots for role playing games.

He's taught me a lot about creating the warrior character, what weapons to put in his hands, how he should use that weapon, and no you don't have to always use a sword, to what style he'll use, and no you don't have to use Japanese martial arts. There are hundreds of martial arts, from European to French, to American, to barbarian, just pick one that suits your character. All of them are good in their own way, you just need to research them.

Important questions he gave me:

How does the character deal with stress vs problems? Stress makes us panic and do stupid things, problems, on the other hand, can be easier to handle when there's no pressure baring down on you.

Does he panic when the enemy bares down on him? Panic is bad. Very bad. But can be used as a way to create sympathy for the character.

What is his culture and how does play into his battle plans? This is a biggie. If he's from King Arthur's Court, then he'll more than likely fight as a knight. If he's a barbarian, then fight as a barbarian, etc.

Does he analyse the problem or jump in? Does he make a plan first and manipulate the enemy into in a postion in which he is defeated or go with the flow and see what happens?

How patient is he? Does he let the enemy come to him first? I find this one really interesting. My characters had choppy training so one of them lets the enemy come to him, while the other uses anything to get the upper hand.

How is he flexible enough to adjust to the enemy's fighting style? My friend's hubby said this is important. If the character can't adjust to Japanese style of fighting when he is a knight, he'll have some problems.

I'm amazed at how complex fighting can be. It's always been such a mystery to me, one that included only jabs, leaps, etc. But it's not, it's a game of chess laid out by two swordsmen and only one will come out alive. My job as a writer is to understand that game of chess and bring it out to the reader bit by bit. He uses The Princess Bride as a great example in that the fighting scenes are all fencing moves and each fight scene is unique, like a dance. that's what I want to bring to the reader, a dance.

My characters will have obvious weaknesses as their training was interrupted several times by cruel leaders who tossed them into prison and the death of their masters. It will take some digging on my part to create their style and fighting stances, but I'm up to it and giddy as a school girl. I can't wait to jump into it. This is making my characters stronger, weaker, vulnerable and just plain nasty. :))

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's a been awhile . . .

Ok, so I've been gone forever, but I'm back now!! The book is completely done now. I took lessons from Patricia Hickman, an awesome teacher,, and she taught me so much about writing and characters. I also spoke with Diane Eble,, a publishing coach and she taught me so much about publishing!! So this is a journal of my experience. :)) I'm going to create a website, but now I have to decide what's going on it. I want to put backstories that go along with the MEDALLION SERIES, character descriptions, my language, etc. So let the journey begin!!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

I was thinking about Maslow's Hierachy of Needs the other day and how we can incorporate it our writings.

Characters are basically humans who live in the writer’s head. Yeah, I know, schizophrenic, weird, whatever. But they do. The writer visits them each day, talks to them, gets to know them. She invites them to dinner, interviews them, even cries with them. It’s at this point that they become real to her. This is where the real psychology comes in, and that doesn’t include taking the blue pills.

Abraham Maslow invented the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs in 1950-1960. It basically lists the things we, as humans, need to survive.

1. Biological and Physiological needs - air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs - protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3. Belongingness and Love needs - work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4. Esteem needs - self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

In order to bring that human element over into the character, she must first have her biological needs met. She needs to eat, drink, breath in order to reach the second level of humanity which is safety. If she’s in Freddy Kruger’s house and he’s hunting her, then she might not worry about the belonging and loved level. Instead, she will want to feel and be safe. So until she feels safe, she can’t move onto the next level, being loved.

Before moving on, let’s talk about what everyone loves to either ignore or over do, the fear factor.

Perhaps this is a great time to create conflict and sympathy for the character. She can breath, eat, and drink water, but the bad guy is stalking her through the alley. At this point, she needs to feel protected someway. Protection can come from formal training, a garbage can used as a weapon, a phone to call the police or a hero. But she must feel protected. At this point, the reader must be alerted to that protection for her to believe the character will survive. I.E. The character (Alice) is a martial arts expert. The writer must relay this fact to the reader through foreshadowing. Example: Alice runs a martial arts school or she is the teacher’s best student. Then when the bad guy comes after Alice, she can use those arts on the bad guy.

BUT there is still the question of does Alice feel safe? Probably not. All humans feel fear at one time or another. Fear is simply the fight or flight stage. It tells the body, you are in danger, do something. It is a chain reaction that comes from the brain. The brain releases chemicals into the body. The heart races faster, breathing is quicker and the muscles are energized. This gives us the fight or flight mentality. We can either raise the sword and fight or run like mad, which of course depends on the training or if she decides to try to fight.

Fear is created in the unconscious mind. There are two paths fear must take to reach the human brain. The low road, which is a quick response and the high road, which takes more time and interprets the events.

The low road means, I won’t take a chance. It’s late at night and a shutter bangs against the side of the house. The mind says, mmm . . . It could be the wind or it could be a ghost. It’s better to think it’s a ghost and hide, thus being safe, then it is to think, it could be the wind, when it’s a ghost and the person is now in danger. Thus Alice WILL be afraid because her mind is taking the low road. The human mind will ALWAYS think the worse before it thinks the best. It’s a ghost, not the wind, thus protecting itself from the ghost. Even if Alice is trained in ten martial arts and has never lost a fight, she will automatically think the worse, it’s a ghost at the door, or someone is trying to get in. She will automatically get the fear rush: the beating heart, fast breathing, tensed muscles.

This is why Friday the 13th movies are so popular. There is such deep Character Penetration into the second level of Maslow’s HN that we, the audience, feel the same fear reactions as the character. We feel her fear as seen in the racing heart, fast breathing, tensed muscles. That’s why people scream and jump in their theater seats when Jason pops out of the woods. We are there with the girl as Jason stalks her and we feel what she feels.

The high road, which is going on at the same time that Alice is running for the phone, is the senses relaying the banging shutter to Alice’s brain. The brain sends the information to the sensory cortex where it shuffles through the information, looking for an interpretation. If it determines there could be a second interpretation for the banging shutter, it sends this information to another section of the brain, who asks, have I heard this banging before? Can I match this to another instance? Are there other sounds/sights that might explain the banging on the side of the house? The other senses give this section of the brain other information. It is storming outside. The rain is hitting the side of the house and the wind just pushed the garbage can down the street. Whew!! It’s just the wind and not a ghost, the brain says. It shuts off the flight or fight stimulus. This process takes a bit longer which is why it takes longer to calm down. Problem is now eliminated and Alice is happy. That is until Jason jumps from the shadows and cuts off her head. :)

So it’s impossible to have a character who has no fear whatsoever. There will be something, a beating of the heart, breathlessness, maybe even a bit of confusion at first. Maybe the character will yell, or give orders, seem tense, but alert. Something WILL happen. That’s when the brain kicks in and tells the body, you can handle this, you have the training. Get over it and fight. Or run like a madman.

The traits of fear are

  • heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
  • veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the
  • "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
  • blood-glucose level increases
  • muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps --
  • when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
  • smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
  • nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
  • trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)
All of this is instinct. Every animal, from birds to fish to humans, will respond the same way. Fight or flight.

Humans have what is called Anticipation when it comes to being afraid. Alice anticipates that the banging outside is a ghost or Jason. This is caused by conditioning. Alice may have been conditioned from childhood that banging noises mean bad people. She may have heard a scary story from a childhood friend or seen Friday the 13th on TV. Example: I was watching one of those “haunting” stories on TV. A woman and her family lived in a ‘haunted’ house. She claimed to have heard voices and even taped some of the voices on a tape recorder. Then one day, she was vacuuming and the cord popped from the wall. Because of her past experience in the house, she was convinced the ghost unplug the cord. Did it? Doubtful. But her mind is now conditioned to conclude a ghost did unplug the cord. So her mind sent the picture of the cord unplugging, added it to her past experience and concluded the ghost unplugged the cord.

So it’s impossible to have Alice be Zena, Princess Warrior while having no formal fight training. She isn’t going to walk into the enemy’s camp, her eyes gleaming and tapping her sword in the palm of her hand. She isn’t going to calmly say, “Zoric, today you will die.” Yeah, right. More than likely, her heart will increase beating, her palms will sweat and she will have rapid breathing. Her digestive system will shut down, which explains the butterflies in the belly. Her mind will be thinking fight or flight. She might say, Zoric, today you die, but not without the physical side effects. In fact, walking into an enemy camp is not only stupid, it’s unrealistic.

But Zena can push her fear aside as can Zoric, which will allow her to walk into the village and fight. Instinct will kick in, but if controlled, they will survive. So what do Zoric and Zena do? They train each day. They mentally attack their enemy regularly and use the fear in their training. They mentally and physically practice to the point where they are able to use the fear instead of it using them. Both people are still afraid, but have found a way, by training and teachers, to use it for his/her advantage. But this takes practice and normal Alice, who has no practice, will not be able to be as Zoric or Zena. She will freeze, cry, have sweaty palms and run from the fight, while Zoric will be afraid, but will use it in his attack. Again, this must foreshadowed in the story. Make the reader aware that Zoric has the training to fight Zena. Don’t confuse the reader by having him suddenly defend himself from Zena without knowing what he is capable of doing. Readers get a bit testy when things are sprung on them with no explanation.

As for the other levels of Maslow’s ladder, we, as writers, should have no problem bringing Alice to the next level, then the next and finally to self-awareness. It’s fear that we fear. Perhaps it goes back to the old saying, big boys don’t cry. And only babies are afraid. We fear being afraid. It makes Alice and the writer seem weak. Weakness is bad so we must be strong. But again, being afraid is being human, so we must allow our characters to be human if humans are to understand them.

The best example of human fear is seen in the 9/11 attacks. Here is a video of Bob and Bri and their accounts of that day. Notice the fear in Bri’s voice and how she’s afraid for her and her family. Notice the video of people running away. This is fear in it’s rawest form. Here’s another example.
again, listen to the people’s voices. Here’s one more.

Notice when the towers fall, there is no Conaan the Barbarian or Zena, Princess Warrior in the group. All you hear is people screaming in the streets, then they begin to run. The only Conaans and Zenas were the people who were trained, the firemen and cops. This is human nature, this is what you need to achieve in your writing. Humans being humans.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Do they care??

I picked this up from another website.

What if the reader just doesn't care? That's a question that haunts writers from age to age. We strive to bring the reader to the point of tears and concern over the story and the character, fussing over every word, every sentence, every period. But how do we get to that point? How do we make them really give a rat's behind?

My dear Uncle Orson Scott Card showed me how. It's quite simple, to tell you the truth. All you have to do is care about the story yourself, care about the character and why she is doing what she is doing. Grieve over the consequences with her, let her cry on your shoulder.

"That's why, when you really love a book, it makes you think about important ideas and issues and fresh and powerful ways. It isn't because the writer planned it that way. It's because the writer let his unconscious mind have a lot of chances to control elements of the story. It's because the writer got out of the way and let the truth of his heart dominate the opinions in his mind. "

Let your heart rule the story, let your opinions, your dreams, your desires step forward and led the way. Let them be your banner over the story. Don't worry about the rules, the rules will care for themselves; instead be concern over the why in the novel: why it happened, how it happened, how it effects the character. Do you rejoice with her when she gets her man? Do you rejoice with him when he gets the promotion? Do you grieve over their lost child? How important is the lost child to you, the writer? Is this something that means a lot to you or are you doing this just because it seems right? Or worse, it worked to someone else, why not me? Are you really that fascinated about Haunted houses and ghostly things like Stephen King? Do you grieve over slavery like Talita Tademy? Do you really care about a girl named Ruth like Jane Hamilton did? Do you really care about humanity just as Charles Dickenson cared over the homeless in old England? If not, then why write like them? Why write the same themes over and over? The authors listed above wrote things that stood on their hearts like a rock in a river and refused to budge. It grieved them, fascinated them, even scared them. They breathed these things and they became their banner. In the same way, your writing should become your hill, your cause, your trumpet blast, not someone else's.

I read on Orson's BB where someone had a great idea for a story. It struck me, even flamed my own fire:

"I know this response is to an old subject, but I thought I'd mention it, anyway.
JK shared his idea about a priest who is made into a vampire, and the ensuing spiritual turmoil in this man's life. The fact that he drinks another person's blood torments him.

It occurred to me that this torment would be exacerbated by the fact that by the 7th century Christians believed, and the Catholic Church affirmed at the Cousel of Trent(1562–63), that in the Eucharist (Communion) the bread and the wine are "transubstantiated", becoming in fact the actual flesh and blood of Christ.

Can you imagine the conflict raging in this priest's soul while tryng to administer Holy Communion to his flock? When bringing the chalice of Christ's blood (from which only the priest drinks)to his lips?"

Talk about caring!! I can see it in the poster's writing. This is someone who does care about the priest and his dilemma. How heartbreaking to be a shepherd of the flock who believes vampires are of Satan, only to be turned into Satan himself. When he drinks the chalice, he is truly drinking Christ's blood as well as those of His sheep. Now that would be an interesting book. Even now I care about the good father. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the goal of writing. Make the reader care because I, the writer, care. And if I care, then I'll relate the facts or shall I say, lies, to you the reader, thus making you care.

So I guess it all starts in the heart, in our beliefs, our standards, our passions. That's where we begin the care, when we let our passions rule us instead of the rules ruling us.

Happy writing, children!!! :)