Category Archives: Special Feature

Understanding Static Characters

Most of this month has been focused on character development. One of the greatest forms of character development is a lack of any development at all: The static character.

This is not a flat character, a character which lacks interesting traits and therefore remains the same. This is a character that, when given the chance to change, does not.

Take the simple protagonist formula. You have a character with a flaw. That flaw is what he is trying to overcome, and if he can overcome it he will win. An example would be we have a student who has a C. He wants to get a B overall in class, but he struggles to study due to the distractions of the world. Through the story, he begins to study and is able to tune out other activities. He gets his B.

However, what if the siren???s call of video games, sports, and girls is just too much for this poor student to handle? We watch him fail time and time again, where he goes straight to the TV, though we know he has homework to complete.

Take Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from Journey to the West. Wukong is always playing pranks, to the point the gods come down to deal with him. They offer him a position in heaven, hoping responsibility will calm him. Bold move, Jade Emperor.

Wukong isn???t given glamorous jobs, but he???s given a rank and a place to live. Pride, the same pride that made him unruly on earth, caused him to scoff at his lower rank and a lack of invitation to a party. There is no humility, there is only the belief he must be the best and treated as such, so he gets drunk, gorges himself, then goes back to his kingdom and prepares for war. He crushes the heavenly forces.

Eventually Buddha makes a bet against Wukong. All Wukong needs to say is he???s out. He needs to eat his pride, put on the armor of humility, and walk away. However, he thought he was better than Buddha and ended up trapped under a mountain for five centuries. His inability to change meant in the final conflict of his personal story he failed, despite how powerful he was. Continuing on he does make slight changes, but a head splitting headband helps his progression.

(caption: An image of Sun Wukong from Paragon. He???s not thinking philosophy. He???s pondering how to give a massive wedgy.)

Sometimes the static character is a constant in a world of change. Sherlock Holmes is who he is. He solves crimes, does drugs, and strives to perfect his detective abilities at the cost of knowledge outside his expertise and a social life.

Holmes is obsessed with solving cases. He is so obsessed with the mental stimulation that he turns to drugs when he is not on the job. The man is an addict, and he does not care one bit to change that.

Then there is Watson. The two live together for a time. Holmes, ever the bachelor married only to his work, watches as Watson gets married and starts a family of his own.

Holmes also fends off the future. Watson goes to Holmes in an earlier story with information about the solar system. Holmes replies he will immediately forget the information as it does not pertain to detective work.

The antagonist will not win due to Holmes??? unwillingness to change. He will continue to save the day and stop the bad guys. The world around him, always moving forward, is simply a contrast to this man???s inability to strive into the future and break his static bindings.

Sun Wukong and Sherlock Holmes are both immensely interesting characters. They have rich lives, they endure harrowing trials, and we like them, in their way. I mean, Wukong pees into some jars and convinces some monks to drink it. What???s not to like? But in the end, neither character will change their ways. They will always succumb to their vices and addictions. They will always extol their virtues. In the face of adversity and progress, the static character stands their ground and refuses to move.

[Tweet theme=”tweet-string”]the static character stands their ground and refuses to move. @ourwriteside #writingtips #amwriting[/Tweet]

Show Vs Tell Character Description by Emma T. Gitani

We’ve all heard these expressions. Show don’t tell. Give meaningful description but don’t make ??a laundry list. The example below takes on showing character description without creating a laundry list.

Laundry List Example:

Matt started magic school two weeks ago, and he watched the girl who sat at his lunch table. She was skinny and had dyed-green hair, freckles, and gold eyes.

images (3)Reaction:

What do we really know about her now? What is your image? I’m reading this and think oh the wicked witch of the west’s daughter.

Showing Example:

Matt started magic school two weeks ago, he still didn???t get what this girl at lunch was going for with her dyed-green hair. The frizzed-tangled mess sure grabbed your attention, just not in a good way.

He took a bite from his homemade sandwich and peeked at her, curious. Her new school-uniform hung off her skinny shoulders a size too big. Matt wondered if she was trying to hide something underneath and blushed. He rummaged in the lunch-bag for a drink and the stupid carrot sticks his mom put in spilled on to the table.

He snatched them back and looked around embarrassed. She didn’t acknowledge the mishap, and his eyes locked on the freckles that stood out against her pale cheeks.

8e1dff5cbc3dada5214e4cb451da3b91She must have sensed his stare, because she glanced up and gave him a shy smile. He saw the glint of humor in her golden eyes, and he knew her secret. She was beautiful.

Reaction:

Ahhh how sweet Matt is! And of course the new girl likes him too.

Hope this helps and leave your character descriptions in the comments. No laundry lists or dialogue, please. And Go!

Give meaningful description but don't use a laundry list. #amwriting #writingadvice Click To Tweet

The Magic of Multiplicity: JD Estrada

As an indie author who also has a day job, a lot of people have asked me where I find the time to work on my projects and how I???ve been able to publish the books I have with the schedule I keep. The one word answer I can offer is that I focus my energies to always be in a state of ???flow???.

Writer???s block may be a thing that happens but I???ve worked hard to avoid it by working on several projects simultaneously, something that a lot of people recommend against but I swear by. Here???s the thing, do you love pizza? (Odds are yes because you???re human; although we all have the right to like what we like in case you DON???T love pizza, and I???m sorry you???re missing out, replace pizza with one of your favorite foods. Ok. Got it? Let???s close this parenthesis before I further embarrass myself). Then ask yourself, could you or would you eat pizza every day? Odds are massive that by the end of the second day you???ll be good and NEED something else. Well sometimes writing is the same.

I am always working on several things to make sure that what I???m working on motivates me. I build on each project sometimes bit by bit, other times chunk by chunk, but the reality is that I???m always working.

For May I???m working on several projects, a YA novel about a boy who dreams about flying, a sci-fi novella titled Natural Intelligence, and two poetry collections.

Firstly, why two poetry collections rather than consolidate in one? I often write based on moods and feels and sometimes you can see a pattern and with every poetry collection I release, I try to adhere to a music album mentality. Part of the beauty of the collections is figuring out which poems to include and then it???s deciding on the ???track listing??? so to speak and that???s a whole other blog post. But think about it, have you ever heard an album that would have benefitted from a better sequence of the tracks? Same with poetry collections.

Might I also add that I???m working on finishing the second volume of my short stories titled the Daydreams on the Sherbet Shore? Oh and I also have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, a blog, and Booktube/AuthorTube (Basically Youtube) and I???m active on all of them. Why do I do so many things? Because I want to flow. I want anything I???m working on to get my full attention and what eventually happens is that one demands more attention. Either I feel I need to finish something or a story/project demands more attention because I get into a groove. I also play guitar and sing, btw. So I???m also working on that and should have 3-4 new songs on youtube within the next two months.

Some people might say all of this is madness but there???s a question no one asks because they???re focused on asking ???when do I sleep???? The reality is that I sleep pretty well and average about 6 hours a night. What no one asks ever is if I get bored. And the fact is, I NEVER get bored. Being bored to me is a choice and the result of poorly used time.

So what if I???m not in the mood to write? Does that even happen? Well on occasion it does. That???s when I read or doodle or work on some random project or watch Netflix or go to the movies or go for a walk. The idea is to always be engaged with something creative and something that???s fun, and I achieve that often even if it???s not always fun. Sometimes I browse all the emails for petitions to sign, sometimes I read the news (but not too much because I???m not craving depression), and then there???s the talking. Simply put, I talk a lot. Blame mom, Cuban/Puerto Rican genetics, or what have you, the reality is that I talk and write a lot and am always in touch with friends from around the world.

And if you see all of this, you basically notice I have an activity for any free moment since my job also demands a lot of hours. What does tend to happen is that I run into fatigue and I???ve grown WAY better in identifying the signs of fatigue and the difference between being near a second wind and being near getting run down, and I respond accordingly.

In short, though, my method to madness is to use that childhood energy and ADHDness and running with it. If I want to work on something 10 minutes then switch, I do. If I???m engaged and would rather give a project a full day, I do. I go to the rhythm of my mind and that varies but I always do my best to gravitate to what will make me smile, be it a youtube video, a song, a poem, a blog post, an email, a chat, a walk, a surf, world building for future projects, or working on current projects. The name of the game for me is ???flow??? and it has repeatedly brought me joy, satisfaction, and new definitions of happiness and success. And call me crazy, but I think it could work for other people.

So until next we ramble, may you write up a storm and smile all day.

Peace, love, and maki rolls.

JD

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Guest Post: Building Cities by Paul R. Davis

I???m addicted to city builders. I thought about this the other day when I started playing Folk Tale, a fantasy city builder still in alpha stages, and suddenly it was 1am. When I was little we would play SimCity??on the SNES. Then Godzilla became a permanent resident and burned that mother down. I???ve played Cities XL, Cities: Skylines, Tropico, and countless other games, from fantasy to science fiction. Building cities, whether it???s in a video game or my own writing, is a bit of an addiction for me.

Cities are living and breathing characters in the story. Just like a character, they should have hurdles, goals, growth, or tragic stagnation. A story can forgo this, have a cookie cutter setting, and still work. However, a living city makes it easier for the reader to live in that book. Here are some tips on how to make sure your city pops.

The city expanded east due to a bandit issue to the north and beastmen to the south. East was not ideal, but my villagers aren’t dead.

1. Why people build cities

Europe was cracking down on different religions. Jews, Protestants, Catholics, the list goes on. They were all being persecuted in one country or another. They sailed across the sea. Most died. The few who succeeded created an incredible nation with the goal of numerous freedoms in light of the persecutions they faced.

Gangsters wanted a place to relax. They wanted to build a paradise where they could partake in all sorts of sordid activities, including convincing people to willingly hand over their money. It was an absurd plan of greed and opulence. This is how Las Vegas became the location it is today. Vice and crime are high, the city is dirty, but it???s so easy to get lost in the beautiful structures, bright lights, and well-displayed women.

The reason someone settled your city often determines how the city starts out and the foundation it???s built on. It often shows up in the future. In the case of Las Vegas, despite it being a city of glitz, you can still see the natives who settled before. You can visit sites of the Mormons who were fleeing persecution.

2. Where people build cities

You have the why, but what about the where? Most cities have one thing in common: water. They are built on coasts or waterways. This is crucial for trade, especially in an age before trains and planes. Even today, it???s a hallmark of major cities: New York City, Chicago, LA, St. Louis.

Next would be looking for a resource. Food is the most important resource next to water. Can they grow wheat? What about fishing? Is there an abundance of animals they can domesticate, or did they bring some of their own? They have to solidify their food supply. In games like Tropico, Settlers, and Folk Tale, the first thing you do is set up your food chain. When food is no longer a concern, you can start looking into your amenities such as cigars, soap, or beer.

After that are the resources which will forge the future of the city. They are the economic purpose going forward. If they can harvest an abundance of seafood or crops, this can become their staple. Virginia became known for their tobacco, and their fields were filled with the broad, fragrant leaves.

In Cities XL, I found a property rich in oil. As I wasn???t nearly as worried with water, and I wasn???t at all worried about food, oil was life. I built massive oil fields. Industry was built around them. Meanwhile, commercial and residential properties were far away and the two built in opposite directions. Oil isn???t exactly a clean or quiet industry. Every other need we had was met through trading that oil. Money flowed in as if by magic, and I used it to build up a strong infrastructure. Eventually oil dries up.

Why did your people go to that location? What resources did they come with? Was it rushed or planned out? How will that affect the way they structure the city?

3. Cities have scars

In SimCity, being around eight, we were destructive. You had about half an hour to build your city. Maybe an hour. You built fast and furious. Once your time was up? Someone else was given the controller. Godzilla reigned supreme. Downtown was ripped to shreds. You lost emergency services. To be fair, there was no coming back from it. The scar was simply too deep.

When catastrophic events happen, cities become crippled. Even if they bounce back, there are often signs of the transgression, even generations later. Catastrophes lead to holidays, memorials, parks, and other signs of observance.

It can also lead to new laws. The Cocoanut Grove fire is why there are doors on either side of a revolving door. It also altered many other safety regulations. It left a horrifying scar on both the city and the nation, one deep enough to briefly overshadow World War II.

Give your city scars. List one or two horrific events. In what way do people remember it???? Click To Tweet

4. City Cycle: Growth

The city cycle is basically the economic cycle, but for cities. They grow, they stagnate, and then they change and grow, or remain the same and die.

Cities start in growth. Maybe they found gold. Perhaps a railroad is coming through. There are plenty of workers who have money, there are merchants selling them goods at a higher cost, and there are families moving. Everyone requires services, and soon a city is growing around it.

This is usually based on the resource they have in abundance. For my example, I???ll use Tropico. I built up a city based on coffee and tobacco. Both sell well, I eventually built factories to turn them into canned coffee and cigars. The highest paying jobs on the island consisted of farmers and factory workers based in this industry. From there, I am constantly building tenements, schools, clinics, and other infrastructure. My people have a pretty decent life.

Why is your city growing? What could lead to more growth if it???s not?

5. City Cycle: The lie of stagnation

Inflation is about 3%. If a company is growing 3%, they are not actually growing, but riding inflation. If they are growing 0%, someone else is claiming their shares as they are realistically shrinking 3%. More importantly, there is a reason for stagnation, and stagnation is the sign of death.

A real life example would be a city reliant on a factory. This factory creates LANdline phones. In case you were unaware, LANdline phones aren???t big items anymore. At a certain point they started getting replaced with the cellular phone. One morning they woke up and saw growth was flat, and they had to make a decision: move into the future or die.

In Tropico, now and then they give prompts to alter commerce parameters. Suddenly tobacco and coffee products are down 50%. Due to the high pay of those workers, I???m losing money on the production lines, so I significantly decrease their pay. This means they cannot pay their rent, but I can???t afford to make rent free. It also means they can???t afford food, and so they end up dying. As I???m bleeding money and citizens, as well as cultivating a healthy rebellion, I have a decision to make.

The way to come out of stagnation is change. LANdline companies start making cell phones. My dictatorship flips the fields to bananas or destroys them. There is a beach on the other side of the island, so I invest in tourism before my funds are too low. Suddenly I???m a booming vacation spot and I???m back on the growth city cycle.

What resource, if devalued or dried up, could lead to stagnation in your city? How would they deal with it? Would they deal with it?

6. City Cycle: Decline

There is no greater representative of decline than the mining or railroad towns. The city is booming. It???s a stop for trains or it???s a rich mining vein. Then there???s another city the train can go through which has better resources. The vein runs dry. You can see these ghost towns all over the west.

Crime, lack of resources, lack of infrastructure, all of these things can lead to the decline. Staunching the bleeding caused by these effects is what lets a city swing back up into growth. Refusing or ineffectively dealing with the issue is what leads to the fall of cities, such as these ghost towns.

Is your city in a decline? What caused it? Can it return from the decline or is it too late?

7. The living city

Final bit of advice. Cities are always moving. In Tropico, I have at least three foundations for future structures at any given time, waiting to be built, or halfway built. If you visit Austin, you will see cranes everywhere you look as they build up the booming metropolis. If you play a GTA??game, as there is no one in the gaming world better at building cities, you will always see construction all over the city, from simple road repairs to half built skyscrapers.

In a declining city you will see the opposite. Buildings are dilapidated. Some are burned down or vandalized, with new tags every time someone drives by. Something is regularly failing and needing repair.

Whether it???s growing and building new structures or declining and ripping them down, the city is always alive, and noting this will make readers more invested.

What construction is occurring within your city? What structures are breaking and need fixing?

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