Pronunciation Guide

Monday, January 26, 2015

“G” is for gray

So, I’m officially dumb. I’ve procrastinated for days because I couldn’t think of something for “G.”

It just hit me: my characters are gray.

If you aren’t familiar with my world, it is a Medieval dystopia ruled by a totalitarian regime (Huls, H-guys). They are the police and military; they exist to protect their people from the despised (and gray-skinned) creature race. I once had it that all my Huls were bad, they were all going to die, and everything was going to be happy. Several years later, I love every single one of my Huls and hate killing them.

I never wanted this story to be white vs. black, but gray vs. gray. None of my characters are perfectly good or completely evil. The “big bad” for book one is misguided; he does some terrible things, but his heart is good. He loves his people, wants to protect them. If not for the moral lines he crosses, he’d actually be a great guy. There’s a time and place for dark lords, sociopaths, psychopaths, serial killers, and people who want to watch the world burn. I just don’t write like that.

I also don’t like writing stereotypical “white knight” heroes. My good guys are just as gray – sometimes grayer – than my bad guys. They have pasts, some darker than others. They make bad choices; they do bad things. There are no easy paths for them. It is often “kill or be killed.”

So when nearly everyone has to kill, lie, and manipulate to survive, what makes my good guys good and my bad guys bad?

What I’m trying to show is that there are no good guys or bad guys. In their own eyes, all of my characters are good and doing the right thing. I believe in absolute good and absolute evil. But I don’t believe a person can be one or the other; we have the capacity for both inside of us. It is about the choices we make, the paths we choose to walk to reach our goals.

To be honest, Siserah (“big bad”), is chillingly similar to Sorek (rebel leader). Both seek to protect their loved ones and are willing to do whatever that takes. Both are manipulative, brutal, and focused. Yet since the story is partially told from the POV of someone close to Sorek, he’s ultimately the good guy, and Sis is an antagonist. If the story were told from the POV of Sis’s wife or children, he’d be the hero.

Oh, and funnily enough, Sorek has gray eyes. :P That wasn’t even planned!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fear and Failure

Fear is a driving force for most of my characters, and something they all wrestle with throughout the story.

Sorek’s biggest fear is failure to protect those he loves and views as his responsibility. If he wants something, he goes after it, and he doesn’t really care who or what stands in the way; he is willing to do anything – even become a monster – to stop monsters. As long as his goal is accomplished and his people are free, he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. He doesn’t fear combat, pain, torture, rejection, or conflict. But he has failed to save people before. He’s seen loved ones murdered. His actions – his call to arms – have led countless people to their deaths. He fears that he will fail again, that he isn’t good enough or strong enough for the task before him. He hides behind humor and a surly attitude.

Siserah is what writers often call the “big bad” (aka, the primary antagonist). Yet he and Sorek are very similar. Siserah’s driving fear is failing to protect his beloved people (expressed through the fear of losing control). He views the townspeople as his responsibility, and like Sorek, he’s willing to do anything and everything for them. Unfortunately, his version of “anything” crosses numerous moral lines. While he comes off as an evil control freak, his heart is actually in the right place. In his mind, control = peace, and peace = protection; therefore, control = protection. Topple Siserah’s carefully constructed control, and you will eventually topple Siserah.

Masrekah is probably the most emotionally fearful of all of the characters. Like Sorek, he doesn’t fear death, pain, or combat. What he does fear is rejection. While Sorek stubbornly pursues his desires, Mas hangs back and calculates whether pursuing his is worth the risk. More than anything else, though, Mas fears himself. He knows what he’s been, what he’s done. He can’t look at his hands without seeing blood, can’t seek happiness without thinking of the thousands of reasons why he doesn’t deserve it. He views himself as a monster, and he’s quite sure everyone else does/will as well. So he hides behind an icy pretense, manipulating those around him when it suits his purposes, and never letting anyone close.

Rab starts out fearing men and failing to protect Ari. She willingly puts herself in harm’s way to take care of her sister, but she lives haunted by the fear that someday, something will happen that she can’t stop or save Ari from. (This happens.) Her fear of men manifests itself first with Sorek, then Mas. Her deeper fears are opening up to people and allowing herself to be fought for and protected. She fears weakness (looking weak, being weak, people thinking she is weak) and believes needing protection or help is a sign of weakness. She fears she has no purpose apart from being her sister’s protector. She is afraid of pain and death, though she typically stands strong in the face of both. When deeply afraid, she either shuts it down by sheer will, or lashes out. She suffers panic attacks for a while.

Ari starts out afraid of her mother and of getting in trouble. She lives with the threat of punishment and explosive attack constantly hanging over her head. After the inn, she fears everyone, expects the worst from every person she meets. She especially fears men and physical contact, and lashes out to keep everyone away from her. Even once she starts healing, she remains terrified of being captured/trapped again, and is willing to do anything to avoid that fate. She deals with claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) and nyctophobia (fear of darkness), as well as a host of other things related to the horror she endured. She also fears people viewing her as disgusting or ruined, which is how she views herself. She presents herself as hardened and untouchable because that is how she wishes she could be.

And this is just what I know right now. Haha!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Character Emotion -- Part Three

So, this kind of became a three-part thing, ha! “E” is for emotion.

Emotion is huge for my characters. They are either driven by it, overwhelmed by it, scared of it, or work hard to stifle it. I write in first person; we are only ever in Rab and Ari’s heads. Yet I want people to feel like they know the other characters in the story, especially Mas and Sorek. I’ve been trying to incorporate a lot of body language in my story to reveal emotion.

Rab is the most openly emotional character so far. She is passionate, fiery, and bold. With a few exceptions (especially at the start of the story), if she feels a certain way, everyone around her will know. She has little control over herself, but she is likely the most emotionally honest of the main four. Her natural reaction to a threat is to lash out, fight back. This is why she clashes so much with Sorek at first; she feels threatened by him (both him himself, and by the eventual feelings she has for him). As the story progresses, she learns to control herself a bit more and to embrace positive emotions, while rejecting the more destructive ones.

Ari is naturally reserved. A lifetime of abuse has trained her to keep her emotions methodically controlled. She deliberates before she allows herself to feel, or react with, emotion. In her heart, she is actually every bit as passionate and fierce as her sister. But she buries it, for in her mind, that is the only safe action. As the story progresses, a big place of growth for her will be in expressing her true feelings about what has happened and what she is going through, instead of just internalizing it all. Where Rab needs to learn how to control herself, Ari needs to lose control.

Sorek hides behind sarcasm and cockiness. His emotions are fluid, one flowing instantly into the next, largely because he is at constant war with himself. He fears himself: what he’s done, what he’s capable of. He fears his weakness. It is not in the displayed/buried emotions that we get a sense of what he is actually feeling, but in his body language, especially his eyes. Often he laughs or smiles, but his eyes remain untouched. Only in moments of heightened emotion do we see the real Sorek come out, like flames flickering within the cracks of cooling lava. As the story progresses, his guardedness will drop a lot as he learns to let people in again.

Mas also hides his emotions, but unlike Sorek – who uses humor to protect himself – Mas has turned himself to ice and stone. He monitors everything about himself: how he speaks, the expression on his face and the look in his eyes, the way he stands and walks. The more emotional and out of control he feels inside (or the more terrible of a situation he finds himself in), the more he hardens himself outwardly. The result is one of emotionlessness, coldness, and ruthlessness. Only when he doesn’t have to pretend anymore does the real Mas start showing his face.

How much emphasis do you put on character emotion in your stories? How much emotion do you like to read in a story? Let me know! =)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Character Development -- Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote about how I first come up with a character. You can read that post here. Today, we are on “D” for development!

Once I have a character and a basic idea of personality, appearance, and role in the story, I set to the very fun task of figuring out their story. A lot of it evolves as I write. I’ll be writing a scene, for instance, and they’ll say something that strikes me as, “Now, why do they think that? Why do they believe that? Why are they acting like that?”

“Why?” is a great question for a writer. So is “How?” (As in, “How would someone who has been through _____ react? How would that alter their behavior, their mindset?”) People have reasons for doing what they do, being how they are, and I believe characters should too. Everyone has been through something that changed them; everyone has wounds and beliefs and fears that led to certain behaviors. Characters, again, should be the same. Oftentimes, parents or peers wound a person, so I figure that stuff out too. Don’t just make your characters a certain way for the sake of them being like that – give them a reason! Even if they don’t understand it themselves, you as the writer need to understand.

Masrekah (Mas) is a good example of all of this. He was simply a backstory guy who pursued Rab and ended up giving her a complex about men. I had the very basic information about him (appearance, age, bits of personality), and I wrote the scene (which takes place three years before the story starts). As I went through and tweaked it – actually, I think it was when I transferred it from third person to first – I added one specific exchange between them. Quick recap: Mas wants to marry Rab, and she has refused unless he takes her sister with them. He’s not liking that deal…


            “I’m just afraid for my sister,” I said. “Do you – don’t you have siblings that you love?”
            He blinked. “No.”
            My heart sank. “You don’t love them, or you don’t have any?”
            Again, he remained as unyielding and impenetrable as stone. “They’re all dead.”
            I opened my mouth, then hesitated. There was only coldness in his eyes, but for some reason, my chest ached all the same. “I’m sorry,” I said again. “And your parents?”
            He didn’t move, not even to blink now. Ice radiated from him, and a shiver prickled through me.


“They’re all dead.” That was unexpected. It made me feel bad for him. And suddenly, OH MY GOSH, that rude, violent, jerkface of a guy became incredibly interesting to me. My mind exploded. “He has a family, but they’re all dead. Why are they dead? What happened to them? When did they die? Why doesn’t he like to talk about it? Why is he so cold about it? Did he see it? Did he have something to do with it? Does it hurt him to think about? How old was he when this happened? jalksdfjaeirgjaierjg!!!!”

From that one line, Mas stuck a knife in my heart. I figured out his backstory, and I couldn’t forget about him. I liked the iciness in him, so when the idea came to have him in the actual story, I intensified that attitude. The more I’ve written him (if you don’t know, he has become an extremely main character), the more he has developed. I decided it would be awesome if he became a good guy, but in order for him to turn good, something big and traumatic had to happen. So I figured out what it was and worked out the timeline. The struggle of being a good, changed guy forced to keep up the charade of badness has added even more to his character and personality. People have told me that Mas is their favorite character so far, and it is because of the depth of his personality and the redemption in him (even though he doesn’t see it yet).

Another thing I’m trying to do more of is give everyone their little quirks, often displayed in dialogue scenes. Sorek especially has a few certain things he says numerous times, and he laughs or snickers when he is uncomfortable or in pain (which is usually an inappropriate time to laugh). Someone pointed out that Mas has more of a dry sense of humor, while Sorek is snarky, so I’m playing up on both of those. Mas is also, on the whole, more refined and polite than Sorek in how he speaks. Rab is always on the defensive and often speaks with a biting undertone. Because of abuse, Ari has learned never to give non-verbal responses to direct questions. She also stutters, especially when nervous or afraid.

Another thing I do is figure out how characters feel toward other characters and believe others feel toward them. Mas (rightly) believes that Rab hates him, so he is instinctively colder toward her because he is steeling himself for her rejection and rage. Yet everything in his personality softens when it comes to Ari, for he views her as innocent and sweet. Not only is this visible in scenes between him and Ari, but other characters notice it too, and each of them have different ideas about what it means. Rab is more sarcastic toward Sorek than she is with anyone else. Sorek flirts with Rab alllllll the time, mostly subconsciously. Rab and Ari are sweet toward each other, but when it comes to their mom, Rab is fierce, and Ari is defeated. I also utilize “love languages,” which are different ways that people give and like to receive love. (Physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, giving gifts.)

There are millions of ways to develop a character and add depth. These are just a few of my common avenues. I hope this has proven interesting, and I hope it helps you with your own character development. =)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Character Creation -- Part One

I’m going to do something slightly different today!

This will be part one of a two-part series (series?) about characters! Today is “C” for character creation. Tomorrow, I’ll get more into the development aspect.

Characters, in my opinion, drive a story. You can have an incredible plot, a wonderful writing style, and perfect grammar…but if I can’t care about the characters, then it doesn’t matter. I won’t be emotionally invested, so I won’t care enough to read your otherwise awesome story. Everyone has different things they like/are drawn to in a character. For me, I love depth. Complex, interesting, realistic characters draw me in. I hate when “bad guys” are stupid. Hate it. They have no motivation, they aren’t a threat…they are just bad because there needs to be a bad guy. I love a story that shows me how the “good guys” aren’t perfect, and how the “bad guys” aren’t bad in their own eyes.

When I create a character, I start with zodiac signs (haha!). I decide on a specific birthday and age (for main people), or simply a sign and age (for minor people). (Yep, everyone pretty much has an age. I can’t stand not knowing how old characters are.) I use common personality traits of that sign as a foundation. Sometimes I pull character traits from people I know, but I never base a character on a real person. Nor will I ever, ever write a real person into a story. Here’s my vent about that. Once I have a birthday, I decide on appearance. That is relatively easy for this story because I have certain coloring for each nation.

Somewhere amid that stuff, I pick a name. I use a ton of Biblical names in this story. Many of them are taken directly (like Masrekah and Sorek); others, Biblical or not, have to be tweaked a bit to fit the nation’s naming customs/my personal taste (Eidel – Edaliah; Hilkiah – Hikah). Some are made up but similar to real names (Ariliah – Riley, Leah). Others are made up simply to fit the nation (Toritik). For minor characters, the creation often stops here, at least for now.

Around this time, for more important characters, I’m typically already batting around some personality trait ideas. I’m also starting to figure out what role they play in the story, as well as who they might go with romantically (haha!), which helps form a personality. For instance, Sorek is the rebel leader, and I created him to be that role. There were several personality traits I wanted in the rebel leader (ha, and he’s rebelled against all of them, the butt). Once I latch on to a few traits, I delve a bit deeper: into why they are the way they are, what their family life was like, and what happened to put them on the path they are on.

Everything after that starts getting more into development, which is far more fun. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Brand

“B” is for brand

Most of my characters have a brand (or two) on their right arm. I haven’t quite decided what it looks like, but it is a symbol of who they are. To whom they belong. To what beliefs they ascribe. The ones who do the branding believe it unites them. You cannot become a Hul without it. It’s something that cannot be taken back; once it’s done, it’s done.

Except when things change.

Loyalty is under constant scrutiny. If someone fails the most important test, they receive another brand. This one also defines the bearer – not as one united, but as one Shamed.

This, too, is permanent.

Many of my “good guys” have two brands: the uniting one, and the snakelike “S” to show that they are no longer part of what they once were.

I realize this may not be the smartest thing, and many of my Huls don’t agree with the system either. They see the flaws. But, like the good soldiers they are, they follow orders. (Except the ones who start plotting how to take over. Muhaha.) But the top ruler is just power-mad enough to believe that removing an 18 year old boy from the only life he’s ever known, branding him as Shamed, and forcing him into slavery is more than enough to crush anyone’s spirit.

He thinks he’s delivering the worst blow possible, leaving young men to a fate worse than death where they must deal with the ramifications of their stupid decision for the rest of their miserable lives. Plus, he is getting some beaten-down workers out of it too, so he wins all the way around.

What he is actually doing is bringing together defiant, selfless, and trained men who have every reason to hate the Huls.

The world is ripe for revolution.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Anger

“A” is for anger

I seek to make realistic characters. Therefore, all of them, at some point, feel and express (or repress) anger. The angriest people in the story – that I know of so far – are probably two of my main ones: Rab and Sorek.

Rab is always on the defensive; she expects a fight every second of every day. For as long as she can remember, she has defended her younger sister, Ari, against their mother’s vicious verbal/emotional/sometimes physical abuse. In her mind, she has to be ready for anything, because at any moment, their mother could snap.

But Rab’s fury spills over into everything else in her life (which isn’t much, since Ari is her life). She is aggressive, distrustful, fiercely judgmental and unforgiving, and truly doesn’t know how to be any other way. While her best friend often cools the seething wrath, someone else brings it out of her: Sorek. He is, in many ways, the manifestation of everything Rab despises and fears. He is cocky (like the Huls, whom she hates), he is forward and forceful, and he is chillingly dangerous. He does what he wants, doesn’t conform to her image of “rebel leader,” and he is exasperatingly hard to read. She looks at Sorek and sees her dreams of fighting against the Huls withering to dust. Submitting to his leadership grates on every nerve in her body. As time passes and they interact more, he puts her more and more on edge.

Sorek is angry as well, though his is more of a quiet, driving rage. He isn’t expecting a fight, but he’s ready for one just the same. His anger typically seethes just beneath a controlled surface, masked by a snarky personality and a seeming inability to ever be fully serious. Though he sometimes comes across like he is in love with himself, he isn’t. In truth, he doesn’t like himself. That’s too nice. He hates himself. Much of his seething anger isn’t directed toward the Huls, but his own self – the self that reminds him far too much of those he wants to overthrow.

His vendetta against the Huls is, in part, a physical manifestation of his struggles against his own darkness. He believes that if he can destroy them, then maybe he’ll be able to destroy them within him, dredge their poison out of his life once and for all. Everything Sorek hates in the world burns in his own heart. For a man who wants so desperately to be good, he is pretty convinced that he’s not, and never will be. Not until he conquers that which threatens to destroy him. But it is in his attempt to destroy the darkness in the world that he feels himself slipping further and further in to the darkness within himself. And he doesn’t know how to stop.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

“Z” is for zeal/zealot

Wow, it’s been a while. Sorry!

We’ll start with definitions.

~Zeal: “a strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something”
~Zealot: “a person who has very strong feelings about something (such as religion or politics) and who wants other people to have those feelings…a fanatical partisan”

My H-guys/Huls, on the whole, are normal people. They have families, interests, and passions. The “passion” part is where things get messy. Huls are raised to believe certain things about themselves, people, and their enemies. They are indoctrinated with these beliefs; they believe them passionately and follow their leaders with zeal. A loyal Hul is a good Hul; they are all about loyalty. I haven’t decided yet if there is a religious undertone to them, if they feel they’re on a mission from God to destroy those they view as lesser.

It would be tragically realistic.  

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to say that several of my characters come from this background. Some heal from it more easily than others, though all are left with some sort of lasting mark. Some take that driving zeal and redirect it. Instead of fighting for the Huls with passion, they fight against them with the same passion.

And, sadly, often with the same intolerance.

They still want everyone to see things as they do. They still desire to destroy those they see as a threat.

They’re still zealots, just fighting on the “good” side now. But what makes them different from the ones they are fighting against?

I guess we’ll find out.