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The End of a Year

On my birthday in 2011, I got an idea in my head – to write fiction every day for 365 days. It was based on the many 365 projects that I had seen around the web. Some people documented their meals or took pictures of their feet or whatever. I decided to use this idea to get back into something that I really knew I was good at and that I enjoyed doing – writing stories.

For a while, that worked out brilliantly. I think I got all the way to February of 2012 before everything collapsed, but more on that in a bit. During the year, I created worlds – hundreds of people, companies, small towns. I made new histories, societies, and hinted at things that even I wasn’t sure about. I saw the beginnings of new societies and the last throes of the universe, and it was really good fun.

Every night I would come home and start writing. The Boyfriend didn’t really get what I was trying to do – I would try to explain what I was writing, and usually after a few sentences he’d had enough and just wished me Good Luck. Sometimes he suggested I take a day off, or maybe even a weekend. I said no – if I took a day off then I’d take another, and then another. I didn’t want that to happen. In retrospect, all I can say is that I hate when I prove myself right.

I posted everything I came up with, even the ones that imploded halfway through. A few of them were long, multi-day epics and others were flashes of barely half a thousand words. I wrote things for #fridayflash and for the fine people at Worth1000 (who must think I’ve died or something). I blasted my way through NaNoWriMo, something I hadn’t even attempted since 2004 or so. All in all, I probably wrote about 250 entries over the course of the year.

And then the end of the school year approached, with the finely-tuned mental and organizational chaos that only comes in that time and that place. And I was dumb enough to start playing Skyrim, even though I knew – I knew – what it would do to my attention span. February 12th pretty much marks the last regular day of posting. 263 days. A few interruptions due to vacation or illness, but still.

263 days of fiction.

So in the end, how do I judge this experiment? Did I succeed or did I fail?

Well… Yes.

Believe me, when I started, I didn’t think I would last nearly as long as I did. I figured a few weeks, at best, before I either got distracted or disheartened. Making it as long as I did is a feat unto itself. It helped that kept meticulous records of my progress, filling up several spreadsheets with data. There was one that kept track of the dates and titles and word counts, another for the characters, and a third for world-building. I used mind-mapping software to see how my stories fit together, and even tried drawing some of the characters.

I showed that I could not only build a world, but I could build those connections within the world. I could make a place varied and interesting enough that characters could not only have their own stories, but they could have new and interesting stories with each other. I could examine their backstories and motivations and work out some sense of a future for these people and places. I wrote in a variety of genres and made conscious attempts to write outside my boundaries, both in terms of style, genre, and character.

I did more writing during this year than I have at any time in my life. So in that way, it was a success.

On the other hand, I didn’t make my goal of a full 365 days. The title of the blog proved to be highly inaccurate, and I let my weaknesses overcome me. I know that one of the biggest requirements of a writer is that doing this needs to be the most important thing in his or her life, and I dropped the ball there. I let life get in the way of writing, and even though I’m sure any writer will tell me that these things happen, I still feel a bit bad about it. I made a plan and I failed to follow through with it. That sucks no matter how it happens.

In addition, I gained a small following of readers, people who subscribed to the blog and left very kind comments and feedback, and I feel like I let them down. Not on a George R.R. Martin level of let-down, mind you, but still – I made a promise to these readers, and I did not fulfill it. For that, I sincerely apologize.

On balance, though, I’ll call this a success. I proved that I can dedicate myself to a goal, as long as I am realistic about both its limits and mine. I found where my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer, and worked to improve them. And, most importantly, I built up a body of work that will serve as a foundation for future writing. I think there’s a lot more gold in there than I ever planned on finding, and I’ll mine it as best I can.

If you’ve stuck with me through this year, you have my deepest appreciation. I’ll keep this blog here, and as I pick myself up and dust myself off [1] I’ll use it as a place to try out new stories and new ideas.

The project isn’t over. It has only changed.

And as any writer will tell you, without change there is no story.

Thanks, all.

– Chris

—-
[1] Perhaps after I’ve removed Skyrim from my computer. With a crowbar if necessary.

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Categories: Reportage Tags: ,

I used to be a writer like you, but then I got Skyrim in my brain

March 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Seriously, don’t start playing this game.

I feel like it’s just planted itself in my brain and taken over. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a lot of fun, and definitely a lot of game for your money. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see, and no two games will be alike. I’ve made two characters so far – a high-elf battle-mage and a Khajiit sneak-thief/assassin/werewolf – and I’ve had a lot of fun playing. Sitting in the shadows and picking people off with a blazing arrows will NEVER get old, especially when they step over the bodies of their friends and say, “Huh. I guess it was my imagination.”

But it will take you over. I was so happy today when a story idea unfolded in my head that was good enough that I actually wanted to write it more than I wanted to go back to Skyrim and kill dragons. So it looks like I may be close to burning myself out on that game.

Thank. God.

I’m not sure exactly what it is the game is tapping into, other than the dopamine reward system of the brain. That is, of course, an intensely powerful neurochemical system – the same one responsible for many serious addictions as well as everyday feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Where Skyrim wins out over, say, writing a short story is that Skyrim never ends. So you’re always expecting that next level-up, or a new dungeon to crawl through, or to see how many Forsworn you can hit in the head with arrows before one of those damned Briarhearts realizes you’re there. That anticipation is powerful, and it’s hard to ignore.

Fortunately, I’ve played through most of the major quest lines by now, which means there isn’t a lot more to do other than random side quests and fetch-quests. Soon, I hope to be able to let the game go for a long while before whipping up a new character and doing it again.

But you never know…

Anyway, thanks for not sending me death threats.

– C.

Categories: Reportage Tags: ,

Day Two Hundred and Fifty-seven: Safe Ground

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

A man of inhuman proportions stepped around the corner into the frozen food aisle of the supermarket, stopped at the vegetables, and sat cross-legged on the floor. Waiting.

Even sitting down, he was tall, taller than most of the men and women who had come to do their shopping. His leather greatcoat fanned out behind him on the floor, and he creaked and jingled when he moved, as though there were still more layers of metal and leather underneath. His face looked like it had been carved from volcanic rock, with a single livid scar that slashed across his nose from one cheek to the other. He had long, silver hair that was bound with a red leather cord, and looked like someone who had stepped off the cover of a fantasy novel.

The other Sunday shoppers didn’t seem to notice him at all. One middle-aged woman with two kids in a shopping cart stopped next to him, reached past his face, and took out a package of peas. Her littlest started at the man, and made to say something, but the child was soon distracted by its older brother, who smacked it with a package of snack cakes.

The man sat there, cross-legged, eyes closed, for hours as the shoppers went by. They guided their carts around him, never really noticing that he was there. Perhaps some of them wondered why it was they should suddenly want to veer left and look at the frozen pizzas. Some of the more sensitive of them may have noticed the faintest smell of woodsmoke curl up into the deep recesses of their brain, but they would have dismissed it as soon as they walked by. Only a few very young children seemed to see him, and none of their parents were interested in following up on the strange fantasies of their toddlers.

The day wore on. More people came in to shop for dinner or to get their groceries for the week. As the night came in, the tide of shoppers slowed, and by midnight the store was populated mostly by the skeleton crew of employees and college students looking to meet their immediate snack and soda needs. The supermarket was quiet, except for the constant hum of compressors and the quiet melodies of the overhead music.

At about one in the morning, the man opened his eyes. They were a deep, terra-cotta red set in black, and they seemed to be following the movements of something outside his own vision. A moment later, a girl walked around the corner. She looked like she had pulled her outfit together from the first items she’d laid hands on in a thrift shop, with oversized combat boots on her feet and a fez on her head. She stopped in front of the man on the floor and flashed a grin that was brilliant under the fluorescents. “Been here long?” she said. She planted her feet and crossed her arms, and somehow managed to look more solid than the giant in front of her.

The man leveled his gaze at her. “All day,” he said. “Where have you been?”

She shrugged and twirled a finger. “You know. Out. About. Doing things and stuff and things.”

He unfolded himself from where he’d been sitting and sighed as he stood. “I should have set the bargain for a dusk limit instead of dawn.” He looked down at her. “I was told that you were more reliable.”

That grin again. “You were told wrong, big man.”

The man sighed, and it was a rumble in his chest. “Shall we begin?” he asked.

“Yup. Let’s get this over with.”

The man reached into a pocket of the greatcoat and pulled out a small cloth bag. He held it up to his lips and whispered to it, words too quick and too soft for anyone to hear. Then he gestured to the girl, for her to move closer. She did. “In this place,” the man said, “this sanctuary, we have come here to make a bargain. In honesty and good faith.” He poured red sand out of the bag, making a half-circle around them. “Siorad of the Western Hills does so swear.” He took the bag in both hands and presented it to the girl with all the solemnity of ancient ritual.

She swiped it from his hands, rolling her eyes. “We’re here to make a deal,” she said. “Nobody tries anything, nobody gets hurt.” She poured the rest of the sand from the bag, but now it was blue. When she completed the circle, she stood up straight. “I’m Liryl of the Underground, and I approve this message.” She tossed the bag to Siorad, who caught it with a look of disapproval. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again they glowed the dull orange of old coals. He spoke a word, and the supermarket around him seemed to ripple and change. For a moment, it wasn’t a supermarket at all. It was a great meeting-hall, ancient and dangerous. A place where even blood enemies could meet and parley without fear of betrayal. It was the place it had always been, even when it had changed beyond all recognition.

The strange waves subsided, and Siorad looked a little more relaxed. Liryl, on the other hand, was shuffling her feet and never letting her gaze settle. She kept away from the sand circle.

“Very well,” Siorad rumbled. “Let’s begin.”

To Be Continued… at some point.

Day Two Hundred and Forty-seven: The Selfless Daughter

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

The wind whipped and howled, picking up the tiny crystalline flecks of snow off the ground and sending them into Valerie’s eyes. She squinted against the snow, impossibly bright against a noontime sun that failed in its promise to bring warmth and life to the world. Every step was a trial, lifting her leg free of the snow and then plunging it back down again. She was breathing heavily almost as soon as she started out, and she was already sweating under the layers and layers of winter clothes that were all she had to protect herself from a freezing and unforgiving winter.

Her thoughts turned to her mother. It was for her that Valerie had gone out, and she found herself trying to choose between accepting her fate and hating the woman who had forced her out into the elements. Her mother was old, getting frail, and reveling in it. She knew that Valerie would want the best for her – she always had, even since she was a little girl. Their relationship was one of unbalance, a giver and a taker, and Valerie knew where she fell in that equation. Every time she said it would be different, and every time she gave in.

She pinned her watering eyes on the red flag in the distance and trudged her way towards it. The wind cut through her clothes, and she wondered if the little skin that showed between her hat and her scarf might not turn black and freeze off. Unlikely, she knew, but her mind took the image and ran with it.

“Don’t you worry yourself about me,” her mother had said, ostentatiously leaning on her cane to wake up.

“Mom,” Valerie said, inflecting it into at least three syllables. She already had a second sweatshirt on and had her giant puffy red coat in hand. “You can’t go out there, mom. It’s not safe for you.”

Her mother raised a thin white eyebrow. “Oh, and it’s safe for you then?” She stood up all the way, trembling as she did so. “I should let my only daughter out into that weather?” She shook her head and waved a thin, veiny hand. “No. No, Valerie, you sit. Have some soup, and I’ll go.”

With a sigh of very long suffering, Valerie took her mother by the shoulder and guided her back to her chair. “Mom, those winds’ll know you off your feet before you know it.” Her mother sat down with far less difficulty than when she stood up, and Valerie was sure that her lips were about to curl up in a smile. “I’m not a little girl, mom. I’ll go, and I’ll be back before you know it.” She patted her mother on the shoulder and zipped up the coat. “Just you want,” she’d said.

Now it was hard for Valerie not to regret that decision. Not that she would have sent her mother out into this freezing, blasted hellscape. The woman could barely walk across the room without complaining about her back or her knees or just making a pointed remark about how it was never this cold when she was a girl. Without Valerie, the woman would have been without options.

The red flag was closer now. A few more feet, she thought. A few more and I’ll be able to make my way back. She lifted a foot and brought it down.

Lifted the other foot, brought it down.

One.

Then the other.

One.

Then the other.

She arrived at the little red flag. Quickly, almost angrily, she reached out and put it back down to the side of the mailbox. For all this, she wanted there to be something fantastic in the mail. Something to make going out feel more worthwhile. When she opened the mailbox, there were three catalogs, some flyer from a state senate candidate, and a bill for the credit card that Valerie was pretty sure her mother wasn’t supposed to have anymore.

She looked back up at the house and her trail of footsteps. The trip back would seem shorter than the trip out had been, that was for sure., but the storm that would hit when she got there would put anything the winter could throw at them to shame.

Valerie slammed the mailbox closed and started to trudge back to the house.

The things she did for that woman.

Day Two Hundred and Thirteen: The Iron Avatar

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

All right – the Randomizer has spit out an interesting one for us today. This is a character that I created on a whim, out of a desire to write a male Mary Sue story – a Marty Stu, as it were. I’m not entirely sure it succeeded, but it was fun to write. Ladies and Gentlemen, Khrys Ferro, from Special Agent Khrys Ferro, parts 1 through 3. Let’s see what the stories have to say about this Man of Action!

133: Part One

  • Chief Jerrold Mire hates Khrys Ferro.
  • Ferro once blew up a busload of nuns. They were terrorist nuns, yes, but still. It’s an image problem.
  • He has a “lean, athletic frame,” green eyes, “impossibly white teeth,” and a baritone voice. He dresses casually.
  • He can impale a fly with an unfolded paperclip while the fly is in mid-flight.

134: Part Two

  • Ferro is a master at driving sports cars and making them do ridiculous things.

135: Part Three

  • He knows how to pick handcuffs.
  • He’s gay. And has a thing for Tanner Quan.

I did this story because, as I said, I wanted to write a Mary Sue. What’s a Mary Sue, you might ask? Well, according to the fine folks at TVTropes [1] she is:

an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.

She has an unusual and dramatic Back Story. The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their True Companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting; if any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal. She has some sort of especially close relationship to the author’s favorite canon character — their love interest, illegitimate child, never-before-mentioned sister, etc. Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.

In other words, she’s the character that the author wishes she could be, if she were somehow transported to that world. Having arisen out of fanfic, there was a rather sexist connotation to it – the term implied both that only women wrote fanfic, and that only women would be so crass as to create such a blatant author avatar. Surely men would be immune to such things!

Well, no. The Marty Stu is the male version of this, as guys are just as prone to idealizing themselves in fiction as women are. He is:

devastatingly handsome (or if not, possessed of a strange, saturnine magnetism) and desired by all significant women, yes, but romance is not likely to be the main dish. He’s an unstoppable fighter, a rogue agent, a fearless freedom fighter, a master of disguise. However, as times have changed, just as Mary’s acquired a bratty temper, Marty’s had the occasional opportunity to show his softer side.

So you can see where I was going with Khrys Ferro.

As for the name, that’s pretty simple – I just tweaked the spelling of my own given name, and then hunted around for a “manly” surname. I didn’t want to go with Steele or Irons or Rock or something like that, but Ferro seemed to fit. It’s the Latin for “iron,” and one of my favorite Legion of Super-Heroes characters. [2] And so Khrys Ferro was born. Having done that, I pretty much just fit him to the template and watched what happened.

The one twist I put on him, of course, is that he was gay. Partly because if he’s going to be an author avatar, then he should at least be marginally authentic, and also because it kind of plays against the expectation that he’ll be hooking up with a hot lady somewhere in the story.

Interestingly enough, when I was plotting the story out in my head, there was a female character who worked in the Department of National Security offices who was just a-flutter over Khrys Ferro. If he asked, she would have dragged him into the nearest broom closet at a moment’s notice. And Khrys was going to be nice to her, but not in the way she was expecting. He was going to be nice because she was a good agent who deserved his respect. He had zero interest in sleeping with her whatsoever, which would have made for some wacky hijinks.

I’m not sure why that scene didn’t make it in. Probably because I was telling the story from the point of view of Tanner Quan, so it was a little harder to get Ferro and the Nameless Woman together in the same scene. Maybe in the re-writes I can manage it, or in another Khrys Ferro story.

The reason I wanted to tell it from the POV of Tanner, of course, was that it made it much easier to idealize Ferro. Here we have a young agent who’s just itching to get out into the field, partnered up with a guy who is a living action hero. Tanner idealizes Ferro, which is what you need for this kind of character. We don’t want to see his flaws or his inner torments – we want to see him chock full of confidence as he executes some split-second driving to derail a freight train with a Ferrari.

Also, it made it easier to hide the Gay Twist.

Despite my best intentions, I think I’ll hold on to Ferro for a little while, just to see if I can get anything of substance out of him. Where does this boundless cockiness and skill come from? What is going on inside that gorgeous head of his? And, of course, what kind of gay man is he? It seems that he’s not very open about it with his co-workers, which is kind of the soft spot in his armor. The only reason he soul-kissed Tanner was because he thought that Tanner might have died. The great Khrys Ferro was overcome by emotion, which made him drop his Manly Man facade for a moment. Can we see more of this? Will he let us? Who knows?

Either way, I think I can make him work. We’ll see…

—–

[1] Motto: Come For A Moment, Stay For A Lifetime!
[2] Post Zero-Hour, mind you. The original was a little too cocky for my taste.

Day Two Hundred and Ten: The Only Real Man

December 17, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Now this should be interesting. My random number generator (courtesy, as always, of the fine people at random.org) gave me a character who has the unique privilege of existing in two universes at once.

Let me explain: when I started going through all the characters in all the stories, I realized that I basically had four universes going on. There was Earth Prime, which held most of the stories, a high fantasy Earth, an Urban Fantasy Earth, and then there was Outer Space. That last universe could well be linked to Earth Prime, or it could be separate. As yet, there are no reasonable connections between them.

Except, of course, for Eddie Holsclaw. And unless he’s an immortal, I can’t really use him to link them together.

Here’s what happened. As you know, I occasionally like to mash random characters together and see what happens. This one time, I rolled up Eddie, from day 9, Reunion, and Jani Morgan, from day 25, Babysitting. The result of this was that I had to make a choice: do I take Jani out of her spacefaring sci-fi setting and put her on 21st-century Earth, or do I move Eddie up into space in the far future? I chose the latter, and that gave me day 110, In Transit.

Now, one could ask oneself, “One, which Eddie is canonical? Which one is real?” Fortunately, One, that’s an easy question – the original Eddie is the real one, since I wrote him first and the mash-up stories are all only canonical if they add something to the overall world. But the interesting challenge was fitting him into two very different environments while still keeping continuity between both appearances. He had to be the same person, no matter where or when he was.

The trait that most defines Eddie is that he suffers from Capgras Delusion. This is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes that the people around him are not who they say they are. Despite looking exactly like your wife or your brother or your friend, this person is an impostor. You can’t explain how you know – you just know. The most recent research seems to suggest it arises when your temporal lobe (the part of your brain that recognizes the person) stops talking to the limbic system (the part that would normally generate the feelings associated with that person). You see your husband, but you feel nothing for him. The rest of your brain, not knowing how to cope with this, comes to the conclusion that this is not actually your husband, because if he were, you would feel something. Therefore, he must be a very clever impostor.

With Eddie, I took this a little bit further. Not only does Eddie think his friends and family have been replaced with doubles, he believes that they have, in fact, been replaced with robots. Capgras sometimes comes in with schizophrenia, so I decided to go the whole distance with him.

In Reunion, we see Eddie at a family reunion. [1] He is utterly convinced that his aunts and uncles, his grandmother, are all cleverly programmed robots that are trying to get to him. He believes that they not only replaced his family, but tortured them first to learn everything they know. He won’t eat the food, as he believes it’s been drugged, and is constantly looking for ways in which the robots have slipped up on their mimicry. Above all, though, he tries not to let them know that he knows what they are.

Until Rachael Decker shows up. She was one of the few people in high school who was nice to Eddie (who, let’s face it, was a bit weird). The thought of her being tortured and replaced by a robot is too much for him to bear, so he grabs a barbecue fork off the picnic table and starts stabbing her with it. He is wrestled to the ground by family members as the story closes. While it’s not explicitly stated in the story, Rachael does die [2], and Eddie is shipped off to a mental hospital.

The other story, In Transit, involves Eddie being transferred from a secure holding facility outside of Antares so that he can be sent to a slightly more secure prison asteroid. During the trip, Jani Morgan tries to talk to him, only to set him off again. He still believes he’s being targeted by a vast conspiracy of robots, only now he seems a little more free with letting them know what he knows. He speaks openly about it, and starts ranting before one of the guards hits him with a tranquilizer.

Of course, there are two big problems with Eddie as a character, from a writing point of view.

The first is that you have to be careful when you write someone with mental illness. The effects of Capgras and schizophrenia are well-documented, and this isn’t something that you can just make up as you go. [3] If I’m going to hold on to Eddie as a character in the future then I have to really sit down and read about this condition. How do people deal with it? How does it affect the families and friends of those who suffer from it? What are the treatment options, if any? How can the illness be managed? Is it any easier to live with once you know what it is, or does it become more frustrating, knowing that your brain has betrayed you? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but using Eddie will require that I do my best to find out.

The second is that, Capgras Delusion or not, Eddie is still a person. There’s more to him than an unfortunately short-circuited brain, which is true of anyone with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a writer to just wrap a character around a neurological disorder and be done with it. Why? Because it’s easy, especially when the character is not the protagonist. Regardless of the role that your character plays, though, he is more than simply a mental illness with a name slapped on it. So it is imperative that I find out more about Eddie apart from the Capgras and the murderousness, but a lot of that is going to be contingent on the above-mentioned research.

And despite what he became in the mash-up story, I don’t want Eddie to become a villain. I think he’s a decent guy who has been pushed into a very unpleasant place in life, and doesn’t have the skills to cope with it. Maybe the treatment he gets following Reunion will allow him to live a little better.

———–

[1] I still need to work on my titling skills.
[2] She’s my Kenny. I have to put her on the list for a character sketch.
[3] Which I kinda did. My bad.

Day Two Hundred and Six: One, Two Princes Here Before You

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

You know you loved the Spin Doctors too. Just admit it and get it over with.

Anyway, tonight I thought I’d do a character sketch on the brothers who were featured in Prince of the Air, part one and part two.

As you may have noticed from previous character sketches, making a good character is a lot of work, and it takes time and some trial and error. You have to go to work on them and make decisions about who they are, decisions that will affect how your story plays out. If you make the wrong choices, the character might not be right for the story you want, so you have to start again. It’s like carving a statue out of marble, really. You hack away at all the bits that aren’t your character and hope you don’t manage to knock off an arm or a nose in the process. In the end, if you’ve done it right, you’ll have a good character – and only you’ll know how much goddamn effort went into making it.

Every now and then, though, a writer gets a gift. It comes from somewhere deep in your subconscious, in a hidden place you couldn’t get to if you tried. Once in a while a character walks out of this strange, secret room in your head, and it’s fully-formed and ready to go. It has a voice, it has a personality, likes and dislikes, a history all its own and it will very happily walk straight into the story you’ve written for it. All you can do, as the writer, is hope to keep up with what your character does.

Such is the case with Calaris and Rissandir den Raud, princes of the realm of Ardenspire. These two boys walked out of my head and they were already bickering. They may well be two of my favorite characters that I’ve done so far.

Here’s what the story says about them:

CALARIS DEN RAUD:

  • He’s the older brother
  • He’s the crown prince of Ardenspire
  • He starts shouting when he is afraid or upset
  • He cares a lot about his brother’s well-being
  • He admires Royal Wizard, Canucog
  • His name shortens to “Cal”
  • He’s risk-averse

RISSANDIR DEN RAUD:

  • He’s a tinkerer
  • He’s the younger brother
  • His name shortens to “Sand”
  • He really wants to fly, so he’s building a flying machine
  • He tested his machines on models first
  • He’s not comfortable with being a Royal
  • He believes in the ethic of work
  • He would rather get by without magic

To understate it, the brothers have an affectionate rivalry. Rissandir is very aware that he is the second son during a time of peace, that Calaris is very much his father’s son and will probably be a fine king. Rissandir was born to test things and try things, he has a very scientific mind, unusual in a magic-heavy kingdom, and is more than willing to risk his own health and safety to accomplish something without magical influence.

On top of that, he seems to be aware of and uncomfortable with his privilege as a Royal. In his speech before he takes off, he says:

“Flying is not a new thing for our family,” he said. “King Alden den Fevre led his twelve bravest through the air against the tyrant king Vysoli. With the flying rings they wore, they were able to soar through the air and defeat their gravest enemy.” He looked down at the wizard. “And if I asked, you’d give me one just like it, wouldn’t you, Royal Wizard?”

Canucog chuckled. “I don’t know about ‘give,’ young prince.” Everyone laughed gently at that, even Rissandir.

“But that’s just it,” Rissandir went on. “Isn’t it? If we want to fly, then flight is given to us. If we want…” He searched for what he wanted to say. “If we want clean clothes, there’s a simple talisman for that. If we need to sleep well, we are given an amulet.” He gestured to the faraway castle. “Half that castle was raised by magic! Given to us.”

He paused to take a breath. “Given to us,” he said again. “Not earned.” He took a moment, and Calaris looked to his father. The king’s face was hard enough to read, and the wizard’s gave away nothing at all.

“Maybe because we’ve been at peace for so long,” Rissandir said, “but we’ve forgotten what it’s like to work for things. To make things. To earn things.” He glanced out towards the villages beyond the castle. “The people of Ardenspire – the common people – they work and make and earn. We in the castle ask for things and they are given to us.”

He took off a glove and gently caressed the machine he’d built. “If this succeeds,” he said, “it’s due to my own skills and talents. If this fails…” He made sure to look right at Calaris, who looked away. “If this fails, then it’s due to my own mistakes and impatience.” He patted the machine and put his glove on again. “Either way, this is mine. I worked for it. I made it. I earned it.”

He knows that he’s bucking the trend, that he should appreciate what he has and just get about the business of being a prince, but he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to be known for being lucky in birth – he wants to be known for what he actually does. Thus, the flying machine. And that look to the King is important – King Raud has learned to let Rissandir have his own head, to let him try things. Maybe because the boy succeeds more often than he fails, and maybe because he knows what a pointless life a second-born prince can lead. Either way, Rissandir generally has his father’s blessing to try his wacky schemes.

One day, however, I’m sure he’ll push his father too far. I can easily see Rissandir leading some kind of republican movement in Ardenspire, insisting on some kind of democratic reforms against either his father or his brother. That would be a fun one to write…

Calaris, on the other hand, lacks his brother’s confidence. He generally avoids risk, even as he knows that risk is inevitable. What’s more, he knows just how much he doesn’t know about being a king. Like his brother, Calaris is highly self-aware, and he’s known since he was a child that he would one day be the king. Despite generations of peace, however, he’s been raised on the tales of kingly heroism, of kings that stood against the forces of darkness and won. Even without those tales of heroism, running a kingdom smoothly takes immense skill, patience, and tact. He believes wholly and fully in the responsibilities that come with being a king – protecting his family and protecting the people of Ardenspire to the last breath in his body.

His greatest fear is that his father will die – and he knows that he will, some day. When that day comes, Calaris will have to take over, and he is utterly certain that he will ruin everything his father worked for. Calaris has Impostor’s Syndrome written all over him: no matter how good he really is, he will always see himself as a fraud. And that’s why he doesn’t want to be king, why he doesn’t take risks or stick his neck out.

In fact, I might go so far as to say that the real reason he’s so concerned for Rissandir’s well-being is because secretly – so secretly that even Calaris isn’t aware of it – he wants to abdicate to his brother. In his heart of hearts, Calaris believes that his brother would be a far better king than he would, and so must do everything he can to keep him alive.

So you see, these boys showed up on my mental doorstep, baggage in hand and walked right into their story. There is nothing so cool as that.

Of course, there’s always a caveat to this kind of character: they don’t like to do as they’re told. Instead of shaping the character for the story, you end up shaping the story for the character. These are the ones who refuse to follow the plots you lay down, the ones who go left when you really want them to go right, or the ones who sit down right in the middle of the story and say, “Nope. I’m not going anywhere.”

What has to go from there, of course, is a delicate re-adjustment both of story and character. You may have to re-tool the story in order to get the character to do what you want. This means not telling the story you thought you were going to tell when you embarked on this project. If you do it right, though, and find a story that both you and your character are happy with, you will have something wonderful indeed.

Story Ideas:

  • Calaris has taken the throne. Rissandir gets pulled into a reform movement. Chaos ensues.
  • Calaris becomes king. Tries to abdicate to Rissandir, who refuses.
  • Pretty much any story where Rissandir drags his older brother into chaos.