Archive for May, 2016

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During this past week I decided to try to write a story using only random sentence generators. If there’s anything that can get me laughing until I can’t breathe, it’s randomized sentences and MadLibs. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy getting something semi-understandable out of the nonsense.

Now that I have my random story, my goal is to edit it into an actual story. What’s the point of this exercise? Turning nonsense into sense is a great way to practice editing. It’s similar to solving a puzzle. In the beginning the pieces appear to be a confused jumble of colors, but once you start to put them together you discover something recognizable.

Everything in the story was given by the random generators, including the characters. The only change I made was John was Two-finger John.

If you would like to participate in the editing challenge, here are the rules:

  1. The characters must remain the same. (John and the lovely secretary.)
  2. The plot of the story must remain the same. (The plot is John wants the lovely secretary to burst a boil on his back. It’s a horror story.)
  3. The tense of the story must remain the same (present tense.)

I will post the results of my own editing in two weeks on Saturday, June 11. If you want to play along, post your results in the comments of today’s post by Thursday, June 9th 2016 along with a link to your blog, and your story and link will be included in the June 11th blog!

This is meant to be fun as well as strengthen our writing and editing skills.

Below is the story to be edited:

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The random generators I used to create this story are:

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Random Word Generator

SmartPhrases.com

Random Word Generator

Nonsense Generator

Thank you for reading and I hope some of you decide to play along with this challenge!

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Windbound

This is an unsolicited and unbiased review.

Windbound is a very short novella set in an unnamed island in Greece. It follows the tale of Armynta and her best friend Sofia. They are both locals to the island and also happen to be sirens. All manner of mythological sea people exist in the world including mermaids and sea witches. All together, these people are termed Neptunians, and although they look human, but they are not.

The Positives

  • Interesting Premise
  • Fast Paced
  • Good tension building
  • Believable characters

From the story’s opening, I expected it to contain more romance. I was wrong. This story is more suspenseful. Told in first person narrative, you find yourself following Armynta on the way to meet a date from classmate named Kostas. To her dismay, her friend Sofia has enthralled him with siren song to get revenge on Armynta for a previous disagreement.

The conflict between Armynta and Sofia feels genuine for two teenage girls who are squabbling over differences in opinion and boys. Armynta goes so far as to say Sofia is both her best friend and her nemesis.

The story also explores ideas behind tourism and the effect it has on the local population. Armynta and Sofia both see the tourists as outsiders. Armynta admonishes Sofia for enthralling a local boy instead of a tourist, but at the same time respects that tourists are also people and should not be used for ill gain. Alternately, Sofia sees no ham in using her powers on tourists or the locals because they are all humans and the island should belong to the Neptunians.

Sofia is not the antagonist, however; and the real issue is a Hunter. The Hunter is a human who knows a way to suppress the siren song. Although Armynta and Sofia are forced to deal with the Hunter, we do not learn the full story behind his presence on the island because this is part of a series.

My Notes

  • Typos
  • Errors in sentence structure
  • Inconsistent Tone

There are quite a few typos and errors in the story, such as odd sentence structure and word use. The story is still understandable, but it’s clear that a few more editing passes could help.

Sometimes I wondered if the errors were on purpose to give Armynta an accent, but if that was the case it wasn’t used consistently. That is why I felt as if they were errors rather than tone.

Despite the errors, I did enjoy the story and was able to read without difficulty. It was a quick and fun story to read and I will consider reading more books in the series.

I give Windbound 3 Stars!

Three Star

If you would like to read the book you can find it here on Amazon.

This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead which aired May 22, 2016. If you have not seen the episode come back later.

What in the hell did we just watch?

Seriously, this episode was a nightmare. It wasn’t the type of nightmare that forces you to stay awake because there may be a zombie in the closet. Oh no. This was the type of nightmare which ends with you staring in utter confusion as the preview for Preacher starts to play.

To top things off, the episode was moving at a frantic pace in order to cram all of the ill conceived plot devices in before the hour ended. The storytelling was disjointed and chaotic. Perhaps that was on purpose to showcase the chaos happening on the vineyard. All it did was serve to show just how little plot and character development was being used.

Fear the Walking Dead needs to change the title to Missed Opportunities. The list of weird, pointless decisions in the storytelling continues to grow. It’s too bad because for a couple of episodes it was starting to get better.

I want to discuss insanity. Mental illness is a real issue with real problems and real stigmas in the real world. Using mental illness as a turning point for a character can be catastrophic, and that’s the feeling I get from this episode. It was already bad enough last week when Chris started to fall off the deep end. Nick has always had issues because we know he was a drug addict, but his sudden flip to siding with Cecilia made very little sense. To top it all off, Salazar falls into religious delusions and hallucinations about his wife. That’s three characters making huge changes in two episodes. Is there something in the water? Maybe the land is cursed.

Let’s break down the demise of three lines of character development:

Chris

We discussed last week that he could be suffering trauma. Sure. This week he goes full tilt crazy by fleeing into the night. Not only that, but he ends up holding a stranger’s child hostage. Really? He becomes the pirate he killed. Did he also eat Reed’s heart and cut down one last immortal before the final battle? From being a scared kid to terrifying a kid, this leap is too far and too fast.

Travis, my least favorite character, was actually one of the better characters of the episode. Staying with Chris until he is well is what Travis would do, and that’s the best we can expect from the episode.

Nick

Okay, so Nick has always been a special character because he has issues that are unique to every other character. Being a drug addict comes with a set of problems. Nick’s drying out ended quickly. From being half dead at the quarantine to totally cleared up the very next day on the Abigail.

His discovery of the blood making him invisible was good. He never tells anyone else and they obviously just think he’s crazy already. Why is Nick covering himself in blood all the time? Even after he tells Madison outright that he’s invisible, she doesn’t put it together. It’s fine, she tends to be slow on the uptake, but still frustrating.

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“For the last time, it’s not a vampire phase.”

I do believe he thinks he’s invincible. That’s not far fetched at all. What I don’t believe is that he teams up with Cecilia instantly. Sure, she might persuade him over time, but within a 24 hours a stretch. I get that he wants to stay safe, and even thought maybe he was just playing along. Nope. The end of the episode proves otherwise. It doesn’t make sense. He abandons his family for people he just met? I don’t buy that, not after begging to let them stay.

Salazar

This is a tricky one. Could the boy at the church have triggered massive PTSD? Sure. Out of all the issues happening, this breakdown is the most plausible. It would have been nice to have had hints of this throughout the season, especially knowing he is leaving Ofelia behind with people he doesn’t trust. I think this could have been powerful, but it wasn’t, merely because it happened in such a chaotic episode. We also lose one of the best characters in the series.

On top of that, we now have yet another antagonist and conflict resolved within a couple of episodes. The pirates were built up and then easily dispatched. Alex from flight 462 and the pregnant pirate are left behind with no resolution. (Will they come back despite hundreds of miles and needing “payment” to cross the boarder? Probably, because that’s predictable.) Getting into Baja after so many arguments was boring. Cecilia was introduced with such fervor from the church scene last week, and now she’s gone. This place we worked all season to reach is burning to the ground.

Our cast is now cut into the three groups. Travis with Chris, Madison and friends, and Nick with the fanatics. Where are we going from here? Who knows. When we get there it will only last one episode.

I believe the show is trying very hard to differentiate itself from The Walking Dead. Crazy people is not really that different. Rick has been slowly descending into madness ever since the Prison. The little girl who believed the dead were her friends is another example of insanity the show recycles.

Fear the Walking Dead had an amazing opportunity to be different, and they bypassed that in season one. Instead we get halfhearted attempts to build tension for characters we do not yet care about.

Do we want to get the characters on the water? Great. There could have been a far more organic solution to that than Strand meeting Nick in the quarantine and seeing potential. Do we want to deal with pirates? Okay, let’s actually deal with pirates. Do we want to go to Baja? Fine, but let’s go there for a reason that will keep us there, not because of a mystery that turns out to be pointless.

Give the characters plausible motivation to drive the story other than contrite plot devices. That is the lesson of Fear the Walking Dead.

This is the mid-season finale. That means the rest of the story begins August 21. Will I be interested in watching the rest? Maybe or maybe not. Now that we are at the end, however; I want to change up the blog.

Starting next Monday I’ll be writing up character analysis from different popular shows, movies, and even some books (or characters that exist in multiple media.) I want to dig up the clockwork and show how a well built character functions (or how a poorly built character comes apart at the seams.) I’ll continue to use spoiler alerts at the top of those posts. I hope you join me!

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add please feel free to post in the comments.

 

 

I talk a lot about characterization on the blog. This is primarily because characters can become props to a story instead of the driving force. It was one of the major issues I had to overcome in my own writing and something that needed serious correction for Darkness Falling. When characters come second to The Idea, a story becomes flimsy and dull.

Today, however; I want to talk about another very important character. This character is one you may not even realize is a character; and that is the world in which your story takes place. Just like the people in your story, the world needs to feel realistic. It doesn’t matter if your characters have magical powers, fly in spaceships, live on a different planet, or exist right here on Earth; the world needs to have a set of rules by which it adheres.

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Your world will also have a personality. This will be created by the types of landscapes, cities, and cultures. Languages, naming conventions, social structure, and “laws of science” all exist within a balance that creates a unique setting in which your characters exist. The world and these rules will have a direct effect on the plot and characters.

Another point to consider is that your world also needs a background story. It may  have appeared in your mind in the blink of an eye, but to create a rich world it helps to have some idea of the world’s history. The Kingdom may be falling apart now, but there was a time when it was prosperous. Living on a space station has been common for centuries, but have the people always lived in space? The more you understand your world the more realistic it will feel.

The Law of the Land

Not everyone understands physics. I have a very basic knowledge of how it works. For example, I know that gravity holds me down on the ground. I can’t just suddenly leap off of my roof and fly away if I’m being chased by the bad guy. Creating similar concrete laws for your world keeps your readers invested because it makes the story believable, even when the characters have amazing powers.

Let’s look at Superman and Super Girl for a moment as an example. They both come from the planet Krypton and while on Earth they have special powers. These powers are explained by the effects of the sun on their alien bodies; it’s fictional science, not magic. Both Superman and Super Girl have the same powers; super hearing, x-ray vision which can be blocked by lead, laser eyes, frost breath, super strength, super speed, and flight.

These are amazing powers, but they are concrete and governed by the laws of the world building. By giving them both the same abilities it gives the characters a sense of realism and plausibility. Super Girl can’t suddenly read minds when the story could use a helping hand. Superman can’t become invisible or change his appearance to be sneaky.

To complete this, any Kryptonian who comes to Earth has the exact same powers. Superman and Super Girl are “average people” for their species. They only appear Super to humans because we do not have the same gifts. These “laws of science” are consistent and has kept fans believing in the world for 78 years.

Clued In

World building can be tricky. If you sit down and create the world first, it’s easy to want to share everything in big globs of exposition. You want to make sure everyone knows everything about the world so that someday the super geek fans will debate your discuss your world with a passion on the internet. Unfortunately, this type of storytelling drags a story down and your characters and plot get lost.

I had this problem in the old manuscript of Darkness Falling. The first chapter bombarded the readers with names and dates and history. It was all very scholarly and maybe someday I’ll have an appendix to share all of these wonderful tidbits for the geek fans to discuss. (A girl can dream, right?)

For actual storytelling, it was a horrible beginning. I cut the first chapter down from being twenty-six Word document pages to four pages.

Yeah, it was that bad.

World building should be subtle. Very much like revealing characters, you want to give your readers what they need to know in digestible chunks. A great way to do this is through your point of view character. How much would they really know? What is their level of education? The laws of your society will come through your characters beliefs and actions. Giving certain characters different knowledge and experience will slowly widen the view for your readers.

Let’s consider J. K. Rowling and her wizard world. We are introduced to Hogwarts and wizards through Harry, a character who doesn’t know anything about the world at the start. He is introduced to the world through Hagrid. This is important. Why would she send Hagrid instead of Dumbledor or McGonagall or anyone else, for that matter? Hagrid is a perfect character for the role because he knows things, he’s loyal, and he’s willing to share a little bit of information either on purpose or on accident. He also adds a little bit of comedy which keeps the mood light.

Giving characters limited information about the world adds to both the feeling of awe and mystery. When your readers share discoveries about the world with  your characters it causes immersion and bonding. It makes your readers wonder “what’s next?” and that’s what keeps them reading.

Language Arts

Not every book will use new languages. If you’re working with present day Earth, your characters are going to speak real languages. Even if your characters speak in slang or dialect, they will still follow those rules. The same goes for fictional languages. Not everyone is going to be J. R. R. Tolkien and create the entire language from the ground up. You can learn to speak Elvish if you choose. You can also learn to speak Klingon from the Star Trek  universe, which is another example of complex language building.

Even if your language only goes far enough to create names and places, you still want to have concrete rules. Being writers, we all have a firm idea of how language works, at least within the languages that we speak. Designing rules for a language should be based on the real languages of Earth.

In Darkness Falling I have six different languages that come into play based on five continents and cultural backgrounds. The languages are primarily made evident through naming conventions. The language of the Empire is a complex system based on clans. This was an area I debated a great deal, and actually made some changes to it based on reader feedback. In the end, the language requires that I adhere to strict consistency to help prevent confusion. This is true of any language you create. Consistency is what makes it believable.

Mapping it Out

The last thing I’m going to discuss is maps. Not every book contains a map for readers to follow. Despite that, you have a good idea in your mind as you write where your characters exist. If they stay in one location through the story this is easy. If your characters are on a long journey you need to consider distance, time to travel, and alternate locations.

Even when you do not include the map, you need to remember your story takes place in time and space.  Science-Fiction stories about time travel may jump backwards or forwards (or both) in time, but this still applies. For example, the Back to the Future films all take place in different times, but they exist within the same space.

Hill Valley is just as much a character as Doc and Marty. Throughout the series we get to see the town and surrounding areas grow up from a dusty western farm town to a metropolis. The town is given specific features to make it recognizable at different eras; the clock tower, the development sign, the old theater in the downtown square.

Once again this shows how consistency creates a believable world even when the circumstances of the story are impossible.

That’s all for today about world building! I hope you enjoyed it and thank you for reading. If you have anything to add or share, please feel free to do so in the comments. I’ll see you Monday for my thoughts on the Fear the Walking Dead mid-season finale.

This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead on May 15, 2016. If you have not seen the episode, come back later.

The key to good storytelling is consistency.

It’s similar to a muffin. In every little bite you expect there to be a little bit of soft bread, and a little bit of blueberries, chocolate chips, or whatever. You don’t suddenly expect there to be a pebble or a puff of flower. Last night’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead was a pebble.

I have a lot of issues with the episode and they all are rooted in the inaction of season one. It’s easy to forget that the survivors in Fear the Walking Dead were sheltered for a good portion of time at the start of the zombie apocalypse. How long they were under the protection of the National Guard wasn’t really clear. We were thrown forward in time from the first night of chaos to an unspecified date. If we calculate time based on the facts that we know, it was long enough for the army to cut down several hundred thousand zombies (LA is huge, and the streets were empty once they took Travis out on patrol.) They also set up a highly functional medical quarantine where the very important “we’re all infected” fact was learned.

The first time Travis was taken out of the quarantine, he didn’t understand what really happened out in the world. There was a scene where the soldiers attempted to get him to shoot a zombie waitress from long range, and Travis is confused by the ordeal. The first real encounter with the dead is when Salazar released them from the stadium during the rescue of Nick. From there they ran straight to Strand’s house, were forced to say goodbye to Chris’ mom, and boarded the Abigail. The end of season one and the start of season two happen on the same day.

This is important because we have been with our survivors every step of the way from that point. The number of times they have encountered zombies has been limited. 1) The island with the crazy family. 2) The beach with the wreck of Flight 462. 3) Some random floaters. 4) Nick’s walk to Luis’ house. 5) Zombie pirate. You can list them on one hand!

Yet last night the survivors get into a scuffle with the zombie church goers from the top of the show. The scene adds to the confusion with these free range zombies hanging out where they died.. We all know how easily walkers get distracted. Maybe the poisoning had just happened. It’s hard to say because of the order in which the episode was run. Church. Avoiding the border patrol. Then back to the church. Sure, I guess it could have happened shortly before they arrived.

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“The power of Christ compels you!”

That’s another thing; the border patrol. We’ve been building up all season to get past them for what? This plot point which has been a driving point for much of the season was completely useless. We didn’t even see the exchange (or lack thereof) go down. The only thing we got out of it was getting rid of another throw away character that never needed to exist in the first place due to his not adding very much to the plot at all. He was a “saving grace” to get our cast out of a corner with the pirates, that was all. Adios, Luis, we hardly knew you.

At the church, our highly sheltered survivors battle the fresh zombies, easily stabbing them in the head with relative ease. They’re acting like pros when they are not. Their intimidation level is way too low for the lack of time spent in danger. To go along with this, when Nick is talking to Cecelia about how he’s “so tired of the killing” it’s a head scratching moment. Sure, we’ve seen some death, and yes, I can see people being scared and not wanting more people to die, that’s not the issue. It’s traumatizing, and I don’t doubt he wants to be safe. The real issue was the way in which he delivered the line. He said it like Rick, or Maggie, or Michonne. It doesn’t add up.

I admit that writing a series is hard. It’s easier for The Walking Dead because they already have strong source material. Fear the Walking Dead is having a case of the prequel blues. It’s based on the fuzzy, mysterious world building that birthed The Walking Dead, but it’s missing the point of being a prequel. It went from prequel to “we’re just going to see what’s happening in another part of the world.” That’s fine, of course, but it still takes place in the past. The characters need to be learning what we already know, and there is a fine line to walk between moving too slowly for the audience, and moving too fast for the characters. Right now this show is struggling with the latter.

This is why spending time in the early days of the apocalypse would have been better. We moved these characters from “early days” into “a lot of bad has already happened.” It feels as if the show is trying to recreate the confusion Rick felt after waking up in the hospital. I’m going to tell you now that it can’t be done, especially for long-time fans. It can’t be done for the new fans at this point, either, because of the inaction of season one. It would have been more interesting to watch them deal with things before anyone knew anything. (And I’m not talking about the confused mush that we were given.)

Another big issue with last night’s episode is with Chris. He’s gone from timid kid feeling guilty about letting pirates onto the boat to a psychopath wanting to murder his step-family.

What?

Yes, Chris is suffering trauma, but this is an unexpected turn, and not in the mind blowing “oh my god, why didn’t I see it coming?” type of way. What was his motivation for this twist? Madison not believing that Pirate Reed was about to turn, and that’s why he shot him. Okay, so she doesn’t believe him one time and now the best answer is murder?

Is there a possibility that Chris could make a turn toward this type of behavior? Sure. Does it make sense that it happens right now? Nope. The primary reason it doesn’t is because only two episodes ago he was hesitating to kill possibly innocent strangers. Suddenly turning on one of the few people with whom he has an attachment in the entire world doesn’t fit his character at this point. It could eventually. But right now is too soon.

Chris’ character arc is now suffering from what I consider “Anakin Syndrome.” That’s basically when you want to showcase how a character turns to the Dark Side but have completely goofed up in their development. They are too caring, just, friendly, or innocent in their behaviors when suddenly, out of the blue, they massacre a village full of Sand People.

Using the “annoyed with authority” trope is exactly what happened to Anakin (and a big reason why the Star Wars prequels are terrible.) It seems to be what’s happening to Chris. Madison’s concern of Chris’ behavior is plausible, and the fact that she overreacts to everything is annoying, sure. At the same time, Chris killing Pirate Reed could be a tiny first step in the direction of antagonist, rather than the flying leap he is making.

My last thoughts are on Cecelia. I want to call her Evil Hershel. The Abigail compound in Baja is reminiscent of the Greene Farm; picturesque, self-sufficient, and housing zombies. The big difference here is that Cecelia doesn’t think there could be a cure. She’s fully accepted that the zombies are dead. They’re just, you know, like any other ancestor spirit except we can see them.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about the beliefs of the dead in Mexico much farther than the celebration of the Day of the Dead. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the beliefs include the idea that our ancestors are just beyond our field of vision trying to rip our guts out for a snack. The fact that she’s totally okay with her dead family becoming flesh eating monsters is disturbing, even more than Hershel hoping for a cure. At least they keep them locked up, I guess. The real creepy, possible psychopathic killer in the episode (other than Cecelia, obviously,) is the little boy who feeds the zombies a live puppy and doesn’t blink an eye. Our survivors need to keep an eye on that guy.

Next week is the mid-season finale. What consequences will our survivors be able to bring the show back level before the break? Maybe we’ll find out next week but with this show, who knows!

 

Today I want to talk about characterization again. I know, I know, it seems like a topic that comes up a lot in storytelling. There’s a good reason for that. Your characters are one of the most important elements to your story, if not the most important. Why do characters hold such a lofty position? It’s because they are the access point through which your readers enter your world. Without relatable characters, readers cannot become emotionally invested. Without emotional investment, boredom sets in and readers stop reading.

Caricatures are a common issue in the “unrelatable characters” category. This is probably a term you’ve heard but maybe it’s one you don’t quite understand. We have all seen caricature drawings of ourselves or celebrities. It’s ridiculous and silly and meant to make you laugh.

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Lincoln Goes to the County Fair

Caricatures in writing are the same thing. Instead of giving characters balloon heads and tiny feet, you expand on ridiculous personality traits. Great examples of caricatures are the tropes found in melodrama. The villain with the curled mustache tries to tie the syrup sweet heroine to the train tracks only to be rescued by the valiant cowboy on a white horse. Meanwhile, the vamp is showing a little leg in an attempt to lure the hero away from his lady love. They have over-the-top personality traits and stylized dialogue.

“Curses! Foiled again!”

These types of characters can be fun to write, but it becomes easy to fall into the trap of using caricatures too often. One or two caricatures in a story can bring about instances of comic relief if done properly. When there are too many caricatures or it is done improperly, it can ruin a story for the audience.

It’s easy to rely on caricatures in comedy to the point of overuse. Pushing every character over the top is exhausting for a reader. Although it may be funny initially, as the story continues readers want complex characters that grow and surprise them, even in a comedic story.

A lot of good comedy comes from a team of one “serious” and one “funny” character. This is a classic set up. When everyone in the room is “funny,” it can be difficult to keep reading for an entire novel. Also, if the funny character is a caricature, this can also become and issue. If the serious character is not strong enough in complexity, the caricature will take too much focus away and that can be very aggravating.

Consider Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels and the hate that surrounds the character. Not only was the caricature unappreciated, it was also considered offensive. It was made worse by the fact that the characterization throughout the films was lacking as well. In the end, the whole story suffered due to poor characterization and having a caricature made it worse.

Building Realistic Characters

When you’re designing your character, you want to create a balance of good and bad qualities. Protagonists must not be perfect. Villains require qualities that allow their humanity to shine through. Real people make mistakes or can surprise you with moments of kindness. Just because a character starts as a caricature doesn’t mean you can’t build on that foundation to add complexity.

The first step is seeing thing from each character’s perspective. Remember, a villain doesn’t wake up saying “I’m going to be evil today! Mwahaha!” Real people have a tendency to believe they are right, even when they are wrong. Consider any political or religious argument you have ever heard. Both parties think they are correct and the other person is an idiot. This same type of “right/wrong” conflict is what drives your protagonist and antagonist instead of the pure “good vs. evil.”

Let’s look at the melodrama characters again and see how flaws and perspective can change them from caricatures into characters.

Hero: Strong, brave, and kind; he always does the right thing no matter what. The ‘right thing’ may not always be a clear cut issues. Perhaps the hero is strong and brave, but that makes him do stupid things because he also feels invincible. He might be kind, but only to the right people. This guy can also be a jerk if he thinks you’re the “wrong people.” He judges whether or not you’re right or wrong based on his own opinions rather than the facts. He’ll defend his lady love no matter what!

Heroine: Sweet, demure, and would never hurt a fly.  She’s sweet, that’s for sure, but a lot of people in the town think she’s fake. No one can be that sweet all the time. Demure? More like manipulative. She acts innocent to get her way, and is actually quite good at scheming. Playing dumb is the name of the game, but everyone knows she’s intelligent and her goal is to win and play the victim. Her family is poor now but they used to have a lot of money, and she’s not going to let some no-good businessmen push them around.

Vamp: Sultry, backstabbing, “immoral.” The vamp has led a difficult life. She wasn’t given the same opportunities in her upbringing as the heroine, and had to find her own way to survive. Falling in with the “wrong crowd” was the only way she could make enough money to get by. Dancing at the saloon may look like a bad thing to the other women, but none of them have ever gone hungry or slept in the street. Their judgmental attitude toward her only proves they’re not really as good as they pretend to be.

Villain: Mean, corrupt, and greedy. He is the wealthiest man in town. He’s a banker, and he got that position by working hard and going to school in the city. He understands the economy, and the dusty Western town is in real trouble financially. He puts the value of money and acquiring new property high on his list because it will aid in growth. Sure, he has to foreclose on the heroine’s farm, but they haven’t paid the mortgage in nearly a year and are living on credit at the general store. That kind of behavior is hurting the other people in the town. A developer is offering to buy the land and put in new business that will bring new money and new jobs, too! The farmer could probably make more money in a new job than he ever has with his farm, which could save the family. His manipulative daughter and her boyfriend are the real problem.

Looking at the characters in this new light changes the plot. It gives gray area to the story and adds to the possibilities of the plot. Instead of the “good vs. evil” it gives the story a real-world feel that gives readers a better chance of staying interested.

Do you have anything to share about caricatures? Feel free to share in the comments!

If you have not seen the episode of Fear the Walking Dead on 5/8/16 please come back later, because this post contains spoilers!

This weeks’ episode of Fear the Walking Dead took a few big steps backward in the realm of storytelling. Last week’s episode the Abigail was overrun by pirates. They didn’t have eye patches or hooks for hands, but they did have guns and a pregnant lady for bait. Travis and Alicia were captured and taken to the pirate base. Travis was supposedly chosen because he’s a mechanic. Alicia was chosen because “boy meets girl, bad decisions follow.” Later Luis, fellow henchmen to Strand, made quick work of some of the pirates with a gun while Madison took a moment to impale the dread pirate Reed with a sharp something.

This week we’re on the move and Madison takes control of the Abigail, insisting that they have to rescue Travis and Alicia. Luis reveals that only has money enough for two people to cross the border, which he tells to Strand in Spanish while in the presence of Salazar. Smooth move, Luis. Also, it seems some idiots still care about money in the apocalypse. Maybe, just maybe, only the US was hit with the hordes of zombies? Who knows if we’ll find out before the season ends. Maybe Luis just hasn’t gotten the word yet that no one cares and is focusing on what he knows.

The episode moves along and the goal is met, although not without consequences for next week.

Today I want to talk about Alex (who I previously thought was named Charlie? Actually, getting her name wrong only proves my point in the following discussion.)

Alex shows up at the pirate base. Last we saw her she was floating away on a raft. In the caged of the base is where Travis is being held prisoner, while Alicia is being trained to mark ships for attack by her new BFF. Alex wants to tell Travis the tale of everything that happened to her and the burned boy (who I think is named Jake, maybe I’m wrong there, too,) after Strand cut them lose. First they ran out of water. Then she watched Jake die. Finally, she pushed him into the ocean because there was no way to prevent him from turning. The pirates picked her up and she told them everything she could about the Abigail in search of revenge.

That’s a great story. It has all of the elements of being very emotionally jarring. It’s too bad that no one cares.

Why don’t we care? Well, quite frankly, who is Alex? She was a character on Flight 462, which was “special bonus content” that popped up during commercial breaks of The Walking dead. You could watch them online. Each “episode” was about a minute long. The only people who know Alex and may care at all watched all of these mini-episodes. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see all of them. This is making your audience do homework to care about characters who are otherwise irrelevant.

What if you had to go to the bathroom during the commercials? Maybe you fast forward through commercials, just like most people. What if you didn’t remember or care about Flight 462 and never bothered to watch it on the AMC website or YouTube? This is lazy storytelling, to assume your character knows things that were a “bonus.” It’s like a surprise essay on your final based on your professor’s favorite song that is only listed in the “about me” section of the faculty website.

There are a lot of reasons why Alex and Jake are just two random people. When they were introduced two weeks ago, it was strange enough; floating along in their raft with two other survivors at the top of the show. When we next see Alex she’s on shore being chased by zombies. These disjointed appearances mean nothing to the greater arc of Fear the Walking Dead.

Alex’s speech at the end of her first episode felt ominous, sure. It was a pretty bad day. When she shows up with the pirates it’s surprising, but her encounter with Travis is just weird. We were never given the pieces we need to care about her struggle. Although I think Travis is a weak character, I still care about him far more than I do about her. Once again this is a huge failure in the show vs. tell realm. It would have made more sense for Connor to have captured Travis merely for his boat hijacking skills than it does for him to help Alex in her desire for revenge.

Let’s look at everything we missed in Alex’s journey:

–          What happened to get Alex and Jake to shore?

–          What happened to the other guys on the raft?

–          Why were they being chased by so many walkers?

–          After being cut free from the Abigail, they run out of water.

–          Jake begins to dye, and Alex is helpless.

–          The final struggle to push Jake’s body overboard for her own safety.

–          Desperation of being trapped at sea and alone after losing everything, succumbing to the reality that she could easily die of exposure.

–          The pirates picking her up and taking her in and then making friends.

–          Giving them information about the Abigail.

–          Forming a relationship (of any kind) with Connor to convince him that the Abigail crew is bad and to bring Travis to her for revenge. (Plus, she’s trying to earn empathy from a bunch of pirates who randomly murder people for more ships.)

All of this could have been episodes on their own; a subplot, perhaps. The way it has been presented to us, however; is the result of a marketing strategy and forcing these characters to connect with our survivors.

Perhaps Alex is going to become the new villain, with Jack (the pirate teen) as her minion. Surely he’s upset that Alicia chose her family, that she loves, over being a murderous pirate. Considering all we know about Alicia, that makes sense. Even if Alex is the antagonist, we still need to know her and her reasons.

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“But we were going to be angry teenagers together!”

Storytelling is a journey you make with your characters. When you don’t make the journey and are merely told it was made, you do not have the same emotional investment in a character. Let’s compare our introduction to Alex with the greatest antagonist from The Walking Dead show history so far; the Governor.

We didn’t need to see the founding of Woodberry because we arrived there during a different character journey with Michonne and Andrea. Their friendship was very important to the story. Also, finding an eerie safe place in the middle of a nightmare world made a big impact. After that, we spend time with the Governor in his habitat. We see him sit in his creep-show room of zombie heads. We meet his daughter, and his desperation for a cure. We watch him run the zombie fighting ring, an oddly violent addition to what looks like an ideal American town. We watch him rise and fall only to be reborn as Brian, only to fall again.

The reason the Governor as an antagonist was epic was because Michonne didn’t just appear at the prison one day and say “There’s this creep a few miles over doing some bad stuff and Andrea is there in his trap.” It’s because we witness the truth. We believe it, and it’s powerful.

If I were editing Fear the Walking Dead, I would have cut Alex and Flight 462 from the story. At this point, they do not live up to the hopes that were placed on them to “tie things together” and are completely unnecessary to drive the plot.

We don’t need Alex to convince Connor to look for the Abigail. There is already a motivation for that thanks to Alicia talking to Jack on the radio. Even though the Abigail lost them short term, they were still close enough to their base to come in contact with them again. We didn’t need Alex’s desire for revenge on Travis (which seemed completely misplaced, her reasoning should have been all of the crew,) because he proved he’s a mechanic and can start a boat without keys. Sad to say, but their direction with Alex made her useless, and that’s not the fault of the character, but the fault of the writers.

If you have any thoughts to add please feel free to mention them in the comments! Here’s hoping next week we get some answers about Luis and his need for money in the zombie apocalypse.

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I published Book One of Darkness Falling six months ago. It was an exciting time. After 19 years of on again, off again writing and editing I was finally able to put some shine on my story and send it out into the world. As I hit the publish button in the middle of the night, only my husband stood beside me, hugging me at that moment I had dreamed of since I was thirteen years old.

There were no fireworks, torrents of confetti, or bottles of champagne. I didn’t make the circuit of talk shows. Conan and Ellen weren’t calling for exclusive interviews. It was just another book set adrift in a sea of obscurity.

That magical moment was anticlimactic at best. Despite that, within a few hours I had my first sale. There was a rush of joy at the idea that someone out in the world was able to read my words, but that sale was one of only a few in the following days. Announcements on Twitter did nothing. My inability to pay for marketing, or even to fully understand how it worked, was evident.

In the first month of my first book launch, November 2015, I sold five books. Two people borrowed my book and read it through to the end, which I know thanks to the page counter on the Kindle Direct Publishing report. I didn’t receive my first review until December 26th, almost two months after the release date on October 31.

By the end of 2015 8 eBooks were sold, 3 paperbacks, and 30 eBooks were given away for free. Adding in the two borrowed books, that was 48 books.

Expectations vs. Reality

Before publishing, I read  many blogs by successful self-published writers. It gave me a spark of hope that perhaps there was some money to be made. Let’s be honest, all writers would love to live off of their words. During that first month after publication I kept thinking to myself “What did I do wrong? Those other writers made it sound so easy.” Over time I tried some things in the hopes of boosting sales. I lowered the price of my book, I had some free days, and I tried posting little ads on Twitter.

At first I was disheartened. I knew what was wrong, advertising. I knew there wasn’t much I could do about it, and slowly stopped hurrying to check my KDP report each day, knowing what I would find.

Each month I keep a spreadsheet of all my sales. I’ve always had a thing for spreadsheets and data despite being horrible at math. It’s one of my quirky organized disorginizational things. Near the beginning of March I realized that I had sold or given away 98 books.

Does that make me an Amazon Best Selling Author? No! Not even close. It does mean that 98 people in the world have my book.

That’s 98 people who never would have had my book if I never tried. Maybe they’re reading the book. Maybe they’re waiting until they run out of magazines to look at while they wait for the dentist. Maybe, just maybe, some of them are quietly out there waiting for Book Two.

New Perspective

As of right now, 102 books are out in the world. I get a couple of sales a few times per month. I’ve made peace with that, and continue to look into options for marketing. I have 3 reviews, and all three are positive in their own way. I know of two people who are wondering when Book Two will be ready. That’s amazing! It’s something I didn’t have before, and I’m grateful for it every day.

The New York Times doesn’t know I exist and maybe they never will. At the end of the day, that’s not the point. I’m doing what I always dreamed, and publishing Book One was not the end of the story. It was just another step in my life’s work; to be an author creating worlds and giving people the opportunity to experience new adventures with my characters.

Thank you to all of my readers! I appreciate you.

 

This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead on May 1, 2016. You’ve been warned.

This is not a recap of the episode, but a discussion of the successes and failures in storytelling from popular media. Hopefully we can all learn and grow together as writers.

Fear the Walking Dead has steadily been turning itself around, or so it seems, replacing inaction with action. Once again, last night’s episode upped the game by putting the cast in motion rather than forcing them to stand still. Again, we are faced with the best episode of the series so far. I hope to say this every week for the next three weeks.

Today I want to focus on some of the character arcs and how the choices characters make can drive a plot. Last night’s episode was very good mostly because characters behaved as their previous characterization dictates. That’s a key element in believable storytelling. This episode had some great moments which could be character altering for several survivors. Last week Chris faced a similar experience with the man begging to be killed on the plane. This week we bring danger and trauma to everyone on board the Abigail.

We finally learn about Strand, who truly is a shady guy and always has been. I’m happy to say Strand’s past was revealed in flashbacks and not just him telling the story. (Show not tell!) We learn he used to buy junk debts, he’s a con artist, and a thief. We also see him get caught up with the true owner of the Abigail, named Thomas Abigail, and they fall in love. It’s the classic tale of wealthy man meets shady guy in a bar and makes him his henchman. Strand is racing to Mexico not only for a safety, but to be with his man, who also is in charge. That information puts a lot into perspective.

Of course, Strand is all about “survival of the me” when it comes right down to it. Jumping ship when the pirates show up was fitting, proving his bark is worse than his bite. He’s a rogue, not a fighter. The real reason the rest of our survivors are alive is because Strand really isn’t a killer, he’s a henchman; a scout.

Madison makes a big character move when she attacks one of the pirates. I’m still unsure that she has what it takes to survive long-term, but that moment is a big turning point. I only think she will survive because I believe the point of Fear the Walking Dead is to have a woman as the focal character where The Walking Dead has Rick.

Madison, however; isn’t a leader. Travis isn’t a leader, either. They’re “parents.” They try to parent the cast the way they parent their kids.I would like to see Madison make more changes in the direction of being a good leader. She certainly doesn’t add up to Michonne, Carol, Maggie, or Sasha at this point – all of which could be leaders. Carol made big changes. Can Madison do the same?

This episode again showed why the teens drive the story. Alicia’s error with speaking to the pirates finally comes into play. Yes, it was a stupid mistake but now we have true conflict.  Alicia continues to make her mistakes, trusting the younger pirate, and even giving him a hug. Come on, Alisha, your boyfriend may be dead but don’t’ go jumping at the first pretty face you see. Actually, do jump because otherwise there won’t be a story.

Their conversation is important. A new name is thrown into the game; Conner. From the young pirate (I think he is Jack?) we learn that Conner is in charge, but he listens to Jack’s council. Everyone is waiting for Conner to decide what happens, and maybe Alisha and her family will be allowed to join Conner’s group. Why does this seem familiar? Oh, right, it sounds a lot like Negan and his Saviors. This group feels like a mirror of that group, only younger and in their raw beginnings.

Unlike Negan, we get to meet Conner this episode.

In order to play the hero, Travis reveals his skills as a mechanic, which he hopes will save his family. Good ol’ Travis, finally doing something stupid to help the story along. In the end, Conner takes Alisha and Travis hostage. Excellent. Now we have a rescue missions to either solidify them as a team or tear them apart.

Lastly, I want to talk about Nick on his secret mission to the shore. First off, how much time does he spend in his room that no one noticed he was missing? Were they all just pretending they didn’t know where he was? I couldn’t tell. Also, where is this non-firebombed town? Perhaps we should be scrounging for supplies?

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“If this is what napalm does, we should have stayed on land.”

Despite these questions, last week I said that Nick is becoming my favorite character, and that continues as he progresses from drugged out teen to zombie apocalypse survivor. Maybe it’s because of his past that he isn’t as afraid of the walkers as everyone else. Having survived the withdrawal of his addiction might put things in a different perspective. Plus, he is still an addict, just because he’s not currently using doesn’t mean he’s magically cured. The drive of teenage immortality and whatever drove him to drugs in the first place could be in play.

Nick isn’t Carol or Daryl at this point, but I would say he has a lot of characteristics similar to Glenn. He’s more reckless than Glenn, but he has the same confidence to be able to go into an infested area. He’s also smart like Glenn in being observant to zombie behavior. Glenn was able to rescue Rick in the beginning not because he wasn’t afraid, but because he has observed the walkers and understands how they respond to the world. Nick is quickly gaining this same type of information.

Nick also has the same attitude toward the walkers in this early stage that we often see in the current cast of The Walking Dead. He has the nonchalance to their presence in the world., accepting when they appear without being terrified. There will be walkers and we can get past them. He is still learning but I would like to continue to see him grow in this direction.

Nick picks up Thomas Abigail’s henchman Luis, and they save the day, as much as it can be saved. The real question is if Luis is truly a savior or if he will only bring more conflict in the days to come.

Other Questions

Will Strand finally decide the other survivors are worth saving, now that they’ve saved him?

Will Alicia continue to follow her teenage hormones and get everyone into more trouble?

Will a zombie baby chew it’s way out of the pirate mom’s tummy?

Hopefully we find out with only three episodes remaining of the season!