Music for My Muse

GottshawInn00ElfSong_by_Merodinoongaku
Kielanai is a character you’ll meet in The Dragonling. She’s a bard, and like Shei, she is capable of creating visual illusions to accompany her music. Image source: Melody Daggerhart, personalized Oblivion game screenshot.

 

Many things inspire my writing — games, art, film, folklore, real life events, even dreams. In this article I’d like to discuss the various ways music can infiltrate, dramatize, and add dimension to writing. Some people require music in order to visualize what they are writing about because it aids creative flow. Other people need absolute silence because music is a distraction. Then there’s people like me, who are a little bit of both. When I’m drafting something, I usually play music suited to the scene I’m writing. But when I’m editing, I require silence, or I will start singing along with the lyrics or envisioning new scenes! We can’t have that during final edits, now can we? There is no right or wrong here. Do what works for you and your situation.

Music is as much in my blood as writing and art. I’ve played several instruments over the years — none proficiently, but I enjoy trying anyway. I’ve always been a huge fan of several music genres, likely and unlikely. And I have fan-girled a wee bit over a few musicians. (*cough* Bedroom wall plastered from ceiling to floor with posters of various favourite music artists in high school. *cough*) My mother named me Melody because music is a universal language. This is a bone-deep truth for me. Even if I don’t understand the lyrics of a foreign language, I can still admire the sound and the emotion or style that the singer brings to the performance. I can listen to music from one culture and hear similarities to others, which leads me to believe that music isn’t necessarily a culture thing as much as it’s a human thing. Drums, for example, exist in every culture I know of. My Navajo neighbor once told me, concerning traditional sweet grass dances, the drum represents the heartbeat of the earth itself and all of life. And yet I can listen to “Trøllabundin” by Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir and be taken to that same sentiment. If I want my writing to be complete, I try to include words and events relating to sound, not just touch or sight. This becomes even more necessary when writing for a musical character … like a bard.

So, how can music help your writing, both in process and in output?

1. Language.

While writing my invented elven language, I listened to a lot of Faroese and Icelandic music. I don’t speak or understand much of either, but I love how it sounds, and the similarities between Old English and Old Norse fascinate me. Ditto for Scottish and Irish Gaelic. So, when I needed vocabulary for Thályntól, I leaned on these languages, and a few related others, as banks for etymological kinship and sounds. My invented language isn’t meant to be exactly like anything that inspired it. But I wanted a cousin-language feel to it, since elven folklore originated in Scandinavia and traveled down through Germany and the U.K., changing as it went from culture to culture, being reinvented as something unique to each region. This is how all folklore evolves. This is how language evolves. And this is how music and culture evolve, as well. So, when looking for possible linguistic ties while writing fiction, don’t neglect music as a sound source.

2. Atmosphere and Imagery.

Since my elves are based largely on Norse and Celtic mythology, listening to Norse and Celtic music while drafting puts me in the frame of mind to try to paint an ancient, yet timeless, culture in my settings. (Adrian Von Ziegler and Vindsvept have a lot of instrumentals appropriate for this mood.) When I switch to modern Paganfolk or game soundtracks which are influenced by those sources, too, I can get a feel for a more modern, yet still somewhat antiquated, tavern-like atmosphere. (The Witcher 3 soundtrack was worn out during my drafting process.) But I don’t want my elves stuck in the past, so I bring them further forward into an alternate modern time without losing that earthy feel to their magical nature and culture by looking up Victorian music and steampunk music (Steam Powered Giraffe’s “Brass Goggles” was a good airship song. The Sherlock Holmes movie soundtrack and an old music box version of “Luna Waltz” were good “wandering Brinnan” songs, while Johnny Hollow’s “Alchemy” was good for exploring Castle Bloodstone, the undercroft, Ysmé’s lab, and reading her letter.) It’s an odd combination, but it works for me. My goal is not to be “consistent”, but imaginative.

I hunt down tribal drumming, war chants, movie soundtracks, and sometimes even industrial music for writing fight or action scenes. I came up with the fight scene between Trizryn and Kassí in the sacred grove at the Gate of Min (in The Changeling) while listening to a particular “screamo” song that had me thinking in terms of dark green flashes of lightning in some kind of nightmarish blackness with skeletons rising from the ground—like trying to fight the undead under the effects of a strobe light. (Psyclon Nine’s “Parasitic”) Hopefully it translated half-blind and horrific enough for the reader. Dungeons, of course, need to be suspenseful and “off-key” somehow to indicate dark, creepy, abandoned ruins. (Nox Arcana gave me a lot of good dungeon music.) I looked for soft Gothic or emotional music when it comes to sad scenes. (BrunuhVille’s “Celestial Temple” was one of several songs I listened to while writing K’tía’s funeral scene.)

For Trizryn’s vampire-related scenes, I found myself leaning toward soundtracks that have relative themes. (“Das Tir en Mir (Wolfen)” by E Nomine was a favourite, even though it’s about werewolves. So was “The Undertaker” by Pucifer and songs like “Kelling” by Valravn.) For bard songs, I consider the bard’s personality. I like listening to bands like Faun or Irish pub songs when writing for Shei. (Faun’s “Wind und Geige” and “Karuna” inspired a couple of scenes, as well as Gaelic Storm’s “Darcy’s Donkey” and actually looking up You Tube videos of people playing old lute melodies.) But I prefer listening to traditional Asian-inspired music when writing for Kielanai. (Game soundtracks like “Schala’s Theme” from Chrono Trigger and Shenmue’s “Shenhua” were favorites.) When Kielanai dances, however, music box songs inspire light, delicate, flighty words.

Sometimes songs define characters, other times they define events and places. The bonfire scene in The Dragonling was written to repeated replays of “Walpurgisnacht” by Faun, as I sifted through memories of various similar festivals I’ve attended over the years. … The scene where Aija and Trizryn admired the subterranean garden in the overgrown corridor of Absin’navad and had their first real talk on an amicable level near the end of The Changeling was written to “Corridors of Time” … and ONLY “Corridors of Time” from the Chrono Trigger soundtrack. Most of Absin’navad’s other scenes, Trizryn’s and Aija’s escape into the tunnels beneath Brinnan, where they fought the lindworms, and a lot of the Deep Warren’s travel was written to an old download I have from a now-defunct band called Paranoid Space Machines. That CD is synonymous with the Deep Warrens for me.

Other times, I skip the music altogether and listen to atmosphere soundtracks. When I write outdoor hiking through snow scenes, I listen to windy tracks. Camping? Campfire tracks. Are they in the belly of a ship? A creaking ship on the ocean is perfect. What about swimming underwater? Yep, there’s underwater soundtracks, too. I even looked up “mermaid sounds” when trying to pin down how Kai’s speech might sound when he and Gaellyna converse, and the search led to something truly creepy sounding that gave me the idea for … Well, I can’t saying anything more without spoilers, since The Dragonling hasn’t been published yet. :3 … For atmosphere, I will use anything that can help me describe movement or bring the senses to life becomes the aural paint for my keyboard paintbrush.

3. Lyrical Attributes

Sometimes it’s not the tunes, but the lyrics that can add something to the story. You can’t copy song lyrics into a story without breaking copyright laws. However, song titles can be referenced, as can published musicians. But even one line of a song lyric can cost you licensing fees because songs are so short. This is why I can mention Aija sings “Puff the Magic Dragon” (by Peter, Paul, and Mary) at the thieves den (much to Shei’s chagrin), but I can’t actually print the lyrics in my book without permission. However, sometimes a song title or a lyric strikes me as being very relative to my story, so I flesh it out and bring it to life. I was listening to Big Bang’s “Beautiful Hangover” when I drafted the scene in which Aija intentionally annoys Trizryn the morning after he got drunk at the pub in Pranýa. I was amused writing the scene because she does sing a little ditty about a sailor very loudly into his ear, line for line, but her lack of sympathy for his hangover sharply contrasts previous scenes where she admires his beauty, both to herself and aloud (accidentally). It kind of summed up that humorous/romantic slip of the tongue for her and served as payback for his egotistical teasing.

Of course you are free to make up your own lyrics when characters sing, as J.R.R. Tolkien often did in his novels. (Good lords, who wasn’t moved during Pippin’s rendition of “Home is Behind” in Return of the King, or the dwarves singing “Misty Mountain” in The Hobbit?) Things like that can lend authenticity to the moment and the characters. But if that’s too distracting and lengthy, you can always do quick summaries by simply using music and sound words to describe the song and reactions. My editor for The Changeling wanted to know the name of the song Shei was singing, so I gave it a title based on the song I listened to for inspiration, which was better than just saying, “He sang a song.” Shei also sometimes sing-songs his words, so I indicate that in the tag words for his dialog. I have a definite tune in my head when I do this, but since there is no way to translate a tune to the reader, I guess the reader will have to create her own on those. 🙂

4. Writer’s Block

Finally, sometimes when I’ve been writing or proofing so much that my mind wanders, I stop everything, close my eyes, and just listen to music, giving it 100% of my attention. It lets my ears take over guiding my thoughts and imagination while my eyes rest. Usually, I eventually hit upon an idea that fits in with what I’m supposed to be working on, so I can return refreshed enough to keep going, or be brave enough to remove what’s been blocking me and start over with a new plan. Sometimes, music inspires me to stop writing one one project and start working on another, but as long as I am writing something, one will usually end up contributing to the other. Either way, time is not wasted on writer’s block.

 

Writing When Life Interrupts

vintage-book-page-print-illustrated-butterflies-NYPL

Yesterday was the two-month mark for having sent out beta manuscripts. You would think I could take a two-month vacation since I’m no longer working on my current script on a daily basis, but indie authors laugh in the face of such wussy pastimes. No. I did attempt to take a week of “down time” that ended up being only a few days of relaxation that included other writing projects. But since then, I have had the “fun” of doing things like weeding the jungle growing on the retainer wall in my back-yard and having to take my pet guinea pig to the vet multiple times because he stopped eating and was (is) starving. (It’s an on-going situation, so he’s back at the vet right now. I won’t know whether we can save him or not until I hear back from them.) An avalanche of personal, family, and life issues also chose “vacation” time to crash down on me in the past two months, so I’m actually grateful I have not been trying to relax and have fun, or I would have also ended up feeling disappointed at having lost something beyond my grasp. However, I’m grateful I haven’t had the added expectations of keeping regular “office hours” during the week. Sometimes, life just sucks. We’re stuck with days where we have to be okay with not being okay. If possible, I think it’s best if we can make space for those days. For writers and other people who work at home, who are responsible for lighting fires under their own butts when it comes to productivity, we have the space, but not the time to stay in bed and hibernate when those days hit. And people with jobs that require creative productivity can suffer greatly when reality sucks the creative energy right out of you.

One of the things I’ve been doing this week is reading articles on work flow and sifting through my notes and quotes on productivity and self-motivation. There is an ebb and flow to everything in life. Work and writing are no exception. Sure, you have to work on a schedule to make deadlines, even when working at home and being your own boss. But within that framework, sometimes you can create options better suited to the ebb and flow of your energy to minimize stress. For example, today I scheduled an hour for a scene in book 6; it ended up taking two. I’m grateful the creative flow lasted that long because stress has been killing my creativity lately. So today I stayed with my muse until stomach growls reminded me I had worked through lunch to grab that extra hour of progress. But now I’m drafting this blog article around my Cup Noodles, and I can tell my creative energy is ebbing again. So, I’m looking at my planner and contemplating whether I can alter what’s next. Normally, I would be doing editing tasks after giving my best energy to creative tasks. But only two of my beta readers have returned feedback so far, so I don’t want to start doing sixth-revision edits on Dragonling until I’ve received a “consensus” on the overall content. Then I can get nit-picky about any individual typos or technical concerns they found, one feedback list at a time. So, in lieu of editing, here are some ways I push myself to keep working, even when life sucks and the energy ebb is low.

1. Lower the bar on your expectations. If your to-do list is normally 10 or more items, prioritize what absolutely MUST be done today, then pick one task — only one. Set a timer, and do it for five minutes. If you’re good to go after five minutes, do 10 more minutes. Keep building in small increments of time like that until you have finished the task or at least made reasonable progress. Progress may feel like a snail’s pace, but in tough times doing something is better than doing nothing. As a good friend once told me, “Even the mighty elephant can take only one bite at a time.” No matter how big your project, it still must be broken down into small steps. The smaller the step, the more likely you are to feel you’ve accomplished something and keep going.

2. Pick a task that is mechanical. In other words, it shouldn’t tax your critical thinking skills too much when you’re already not thinking clearly. It should be a task that’s more routine or relaxed. When writing this article’s first draft, I accepted it was just a draft. And all first drafts are usually awful. I knew it had to be revised anyway before publishing, so as long as I had the outline and gist of what I wanted to say, I let go of fretting about trying to make a first draft as perfect as possible. Today I’m able to think more clearly, so you are reading the better-organized, proofed, revised article. 🙂 … Some other examples might include answering email, looking at articles bookmarked for later reading, or researching something relative to a question I noted about the next book’s content.

3. Pick a task that isn’t emotionally taxing. Unfortunately, my to-do list yesterday included preparing some divorce paperwork and force-feeding my piggy again, which he hates, so that’s frustrating for both of us. (No, the guinea pig is not part of my “job”, but since I work at home I have to juggle publishing tasks with taking care of my fur babies just as I did with my human babies when they were young. In the case of a guinea pig who isn’t eating, that means syringe feeding him a crushed-pellet-and-baby-food slush every couple of hours to keep his digestive tract working. Guinea pigs always have to have food going through their gut or they could get very sick and could die. Since we don’t know why he stopped eating in the first place, keeping his gut working full-time is the only thing I can do for him until the vet can sedate him for the full exam, x-rays, and blood work tomorrow to see what’s going on.) Feeding my piggy isn’t optional; his health and possibly his life depends on it. Working on the divorce paperwork, however, could have been subbed for something like cleaning a corner of my office to discard things I won’t be taking with me when I move. If that’s still too emotionally taxing, maybe I could swap “divorce/move” tasks with the art project I need to finish by tomorrow evening, and save the divorce tasking for another day. Since colouring actually soothes anxiety and depression, and since colouring isn’t as taxing as sketching and detailing, finishing the art assignment might be the best choice to keep productivity going in spite of feeling emotionally drained.

4. Meditate or nap for 10-15 minutes. I am a huge advocate of meditation because it has made such a big difference in my life ever since I started doing it on a daily basis. I always start my mornings with meditation now. But as the day progresses, my eyes can start burning staring at the computer screen all day. Or my attention can drift off toward news, social media, You Tube, iTunes …. Or sometimes it’s just receiving bad news that can flip the day upside down so focusing on the task at hand suddenly seems more exhausting than running to the top of Mt. Fuji. When everything comes to a dead stop, it’s time to shut down, set my alarm, and close my eyes for a few minutes of nothing but the breath. Science backs meditation’s ability to lower anxiety, help with depression, increase focus, and improve mood. Worst case scenario, I move to my recliner in the living room, set my alarm, and nap. Research has shown that both meditation and short “power” naps have restorative effects on the body and brain. Naps shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes, though, or they end up counter-productive, leaving you sluggish and groggy. The goal is to rest and reset, not enter REM. The recommended amount of time for a mid-day nap when you have to keep going is 10-15 minutes.

This is how I survive the work day on days when I have trouble pulling it together. I will add that sometimes music can help reset things, as long as it doesn’t interfere with concentration. I realize that right now I am fortunate to be my own boss and work at home so I can have flexible office hours when it comes to bad days. But sometimes that means making up for taking a needed break during the afternoon by working through dinner, skipping Netflix in the evening, or staying up a little later than usual to complete that day’s tasks. However, these principles of productivity can apply to other kinds of work, as well, depending on individual circumstances. What’s nice about being a writer is that even bad events can turn into good plot material, sway the outcomes of certain encounters, or provide character fodder, which not only helps you de-stress, but might improve your story in the long run. (*Ahem* I may or may not be guilty of throwing a frustration or argument or two at my writing projects after a stressful day. Under such circumstances, using bad days as story fodder may or may not be rather cathartic, too.) 😉

What Makes a “Good” Character?

GTO_manga
Great Teacher Onizuka is a Japanese shōnen manga written and illustrated by Tooru Fujisawa.

This is a revision of an article I initially published on my previous blog several years ago, in which I questioned what we mean when we say a character is “good”.

In that article, I introduced everyone to the main character of Great Teacher Onizuka. If you are familiar with Japanese pop culture in any way, you might already be well acquainted. My introduction to this series (which was originally published as manga, but later adapted to anime, TV live-action, and film due to its enormous popularity) was in Sapporo during Yuki Matsuri. We had already seen everything there was to see of the ice sculptures and shows during the day, and we needed to warm up again before hitting the night festivities. While lounging in the hotel room, I was flipping channels to see what Hokkaido TV had to offer, when I found the TV series. I had heard of the manga and anime, but I missed the original airing of the live action TV show, so I was delighted to run into reruns like this.

If you’re not familiar, let me briefly explain this is a high school drama/comedy. Imagine, if you will, a former member of the Japanese mafia (yakuza) wanting to become a teacher. He was a trouble maker in school, has a police record, and took 7 years to complete his education at a not so reputable university. He didn’t pass the teacher’s exam, but a private school is looking to hire. So he goes for the interview and is rejected by the head teacher, but then is hired by the school director after she witnesses how he handles an unexpected disciplinary incident while he’s there. She hires him on one condition: he is to carry his resignation in his coat pocket at all times and be ready to hand it over if he ever hurts one of the students. Then, unknown to him, she gives him the worst class in the school to see if he can straighten them out.

This disciplinary crisis that occurred while he was present involved two expelled students chasing the head teacher with a baseball bat and threats. But he ended up siding with the students after the head teacher called them trash and gave Onizuka permission to rough them up because they would only continue to cause trouble if they were let go. Needless to say, using karate on the head teacher stunned the students, the director, and everyone else witnessing the incident, but his point was clear. It’s because of adults like that, that kids fail. And if that’s the way this school was going to be, he didn’t want any part of it.

Onizuka often resorts to violence like that to solve his problems. He is a pervert, too, always watching adult videos, always trying to get a peek at the girls’ panties beneath their school skirts. He’s a slob. He’s a slacker. He’s reckless and takes unnecessary risks with other people’s lives and his own. To say he is an unconventional teacher is an understatement. At a glance, and even after watching the series, one might come away from this character thinking, “How in the world is this guy regarded as such a hero?”
Many times, people expect characters, protagonists in particular, to be good role models. The thing is, often good role models are not good characters. I forget who said it, but a quote comes to mind. To paraphrase: “A man’s flaws are often the most interesting thing about him.” When we read stories, we expect them to be interesting, not necessarily realistic. Onizuka might be a truly horrible concept for a teacher in real life. But in fiction, he is one hell of an interesting character. Why else would we find ourselves cheering for someone like this while also cringing at his actions?

Here are some thoughts on the matter.

 

1. It’s fiction.
All of fiction is fantasy, even the “slice of life” type, literary genre dramas. Romance is fantasy. Cop shows are fantasy. Even horror and tragedy are fantasy; they just don’t end with happily ever afters. But ALL of fiction has the potential to offer us something that’s unlikely to happen in real life. Moralization is not the point of fiction. Fiction can teach us, but its primary purpose is simply to entertain us while reflecting the best and worst attributes among humanity. Fiction is the study of the human condition, good and bad. So before anyone starts wagging fingers at Onizuka-sensei for being a horrible role model who unrealistically inspires everyone around him to greatness, step back and get a grip on reality. Remember, we’re talking about a fictional fantasy here. For better or worse, the impossible becoming possible touches something in our souls. In fiction, anything is possible … and that is usually why we enjoy reading it.

2. Not all protagonists are meant to save the world.
Think about it. Most protagonists actually do end up as heroes. It’s very stereotypical when you realize just how many times in fiction our world has been saved by good-looking people with positive attitudes, strong morals, and the blessings of the gods. Ironically, many readers relate better with characters who have flaws because perfect people are unrealistic. The reluctant hero, the clutzy hero, and the anti-hero have their stereotypes, too, but sometimes it’s refreshing change of pace to watch the cursed ones struggle with their flaws to find unconventional ways of solving problems. Raising a lowly character to an “I did it in spite of myself!” status usually forces at least some dynamic character growth, but even that isn’t always good. Real humans don’t always have the right answers, either. We disappoint each other quite frequently. But somehow we muddle through, learning from both positive and negative experiences, and life goes on. Fiction is not about creating role models, unless that is the intent of the author. Fiction is about pulling the reader into the lives of the characters so they can tell their tales about what happened to them. Readers may disagree vehemently with the decisions some characters make, but the characters must be allowed to make their own decisions because it’s their story. Readers are not reading about themselves in the protagonist’s role … unless it’s a choose-your-own-adventure novel. So, readers and viewers of fiction should not expect fictional characters to reflect their own personal morality. Onizuka often chooses the wrong methods to solve his problems, and they only create more problems. But presenting himself as the perfect role model is not his goal. Helping his students realize “there is no practice for real life” is what motivates him, and he will do whatever he thinks it takes to save each and every one of his homeroom delinquents, even if that means hanging them from rooftops, forcing them to quit school, and allowing bullies to beat the crap out of them.

3. Redemption is a powerful thing.
For a “bad” character to be redeemed in the eyes of the reader, he has to do something right. He has to want to be good, even if he repeatedly fails. He has to have some likable qualities to make us think he’s worth fighting for. For Onizuka-sensei, he has a big heart. He is friendly, funny, often childish, and in many ways childishly naive. He realizes he screwed up when he was younger, so he sincerely wants to prevent other kids from making the same mistakes he did. Now he wants more than anything to be a teacher. He doesn’t hold grudges or pick on people he considers to be at a disadvantage, but he’s crude and firm in a manner that opens “respectable” people’s eyes to their own despicable behavior. He’s optimistic, even when things have gone horribly wrong for him. And as much as he dwells on sex, he’s still a virgin because he’s saving his first time for someone he loves. He even has a special condom marked for the occasion that he frets over when intrusive people get their hands on it and tease him about it. Though he struggles with exam scores, when pushed he studies hard. When all is said and done, he is literally willing to sacrifice his position, even his life, for his students. He not only ends up inspiring each of his students to greatness, but he ends up teaching their parents and his fellow teachers to value the opportunities they have to enlighten the lives of these kids.

 

As a reader I prefer tragic heroes. I find their stories more interesting. As a writer, I’ve discovered how extremely difficult it is to find the right balance when creating protagonists who are meant to be darker characters. Trizryn, the main male protagonist from my Elf Gate series, is definitely in the anti-hero camp, but I’m always looking for ways to inject a little of this into the other characters, as well. I don’t want to write strictly “good” characters, or strictly “bad” characters; I get bored with the predictability of those archetypes. So, Trizryn is the kind of person who will give his life for someone to protect them if he feels they are worth saving. But if you were to threaten whoever he is protecting, he won’t hesitate to destroy you. Is this kind of protagonist common? Yes, actually. But they are not what usually comes to mind when you think of attributes of a hero. The tragic monster, the sympathetic villain, the dark hero … self-contradictory archetypes are often bad role models, but often make the most interesting, “good” characters in fiction.

Character Interview: Aija, the Rogue

04naturalsplendor_by_merodinoongaku
Image Source: My personal Skyrim game. I usually end up throwing my novel characters into the games I play to give me a better sense of how they might develop in terms of skills. And sometimes their adventures end up shredded and reshaped as part of their background. Putting Aija in Skyrim meant having her do mostly the odd-job side quests … and mostly without magic. After all, she’s supposed to be in hiding, rather than a prominent member of society.

As I close in on the final 10 chapters of the beta script, I thought I’d share another character interview. I’ve already featured Shei (the bard) and Trizryn (the thief) with this little quiz, so this week I decided to throw the same questions at Aija.

It’s always fun to compare and contrast character voices to make sure they are as unique as possible. While Shei and Trizryn are best friend and foils, Aija is the outsider. She’s the only true human in the cast, but in the land of the fae, that makes her stand out in a crowd. As the other main protagonist, it is her story that gets the ball rolling for the Elf Gate series. And it is her voice that most closely matches the reader’s in terms of first impressions about this Other World. Aija’s story is a coming-of-age story primarily. She goes from feeling like she lives a dull life with no purpose and experiences limited mostly to what she had to learn for school, to suddenly having to hide, run, and fight for her life in a land where her very existence could earn her a beheading, no questions asked. Aija is a dynamic character by design. She starts slow and has a lot to learn. But she does learn and even becomes a bit of a leader over the course of the series. I intentionally designed her to grow in the opposite manner of Trizryn. He starts strong and has to learn humility and vulnerability. She starts humble and vulnerable, but has to learn to be strong. I designed her this way because I did not want a damsel in distress who always needed someone to save her, but neither did I want a “strong female character” who suddenly knows everything and can do everything without help. She’s smart and capable. But she’s human. So, she does the best she can with that.

Aija is a rogue character, which is a lot like a bard and a thief, but the emphasis is on versatility of skills. She started with a love of lore about magical creatures, thanks to her grandmother’s old books. And she has a natural talent with drawing. But after landing in Aesethna, she’s had to learn survival skills, self-defense, a new language, and more about magic than she ever thought she’d need to know. Aija’s biggest asset is that she has a beginner’s mind; she’s open to learning new things. But her teachers come from all walks of life, so her growing collection of knowledge and skills make her a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

Here’s how Aija did when put to the same character development interview as her elven cohorts. 🙂

17KajiWoTore
Aija was my excuse to bring steampunk and modern elements into my game in Skyrim. But in my novel its the elves who straddle that line between old and new. She just does her best to blend in so that no one, other than her friends, notices she’s human.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Saturday mornings, sleeping in. Eating juicy tangerines in the sun. Or chocolates. (shrug) Maybe I’m too simple, but simple pleasures matter a lot to me.
2.What is your greatest fear?
I used to be afraid of getting lost, being alone in the dark, being dependent, heights … The list goes on and on, but I keep having to face these fears again and again. So, I’ve learned now that they’re not going to go away. It’s not that I’ve become braver; I just try to take them as they come, somehow.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Honestly? I hate that I can’t do magic. Not on my own. Not like the fae. I feel utterly useless around them sometimes. So, I’m working on that, too. Trizryn’s teaching me sorcery. Féonna and Shei are teaching me wizardry. And Gaellyna’s teaching me alchemy. My options are limited, but even if I can’t do magic, understanding it is better than nothing.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Cruelty. I’ve been surrounded by “monsters” living among fae, but it’s still normal people that often behave the most monstrous.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Trizryn. I mean, okay, he’s not … that great of a role model. But he doesn’t pretend to be. I appreciate that he tries to do the right thing these days. He’s trying to better himself. And I think that’s powerful because that’s really all any of us can do. He’s still going to make mistakes. He’s still going to fail. But it’s how he gets back up again that inspires me.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
Uhhhh … I have no idea how to answer that. (laughs) Chocolates? Cake?
7. What is your current state of mind?
Hmmm … Torn. I want to go home. I miss my family and friends. Aesethna isn’t exactly the safest place in the world for me. But … I can’t bear the thought of leaving, either. I’ve got friends who are like family to me here now. I can’t bear the thought of never seeing them again if I do go home, and that gate closes forever behind me.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Courage. I think what a lot of people think qualifies as courage is really just reckless apathy. To be fearless isn’t necessarily a good thing. I think real courage means being terrified, but somehow making yourself do it anyway. And I think there’s different kinds of courage. It’s not all about facing down dragons, so to speak. Sometimes it’s about being honest when you look in the mirror.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
Oh God. I hate lying. I hate it. But I’ve done it for Triz multiple times, and for others on occasion. I think there are times when truth does more harm than good, so unless there is a time and place for it, sometimes lies and secrets do a better job protecting people from unnecessary conflict. But I do absolutely hate having to keep secrets.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I’m short. (laughs) Do you know what it’s like to be the short one among all those tall fae? Even Féonna’s taller than me. Wee people and little folk, indeed … tsk.

01AijasBeenPracticingHerSwordSkills
Self-defense on a grand scale … something Aija never had to worry about before quite the way she does now.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
Ilisram. He is the epitome of what it means to be selfish and cruel, in my opinion. Mahntarei was selfish and cruel, but he was a touch mad, too. Ilisram knows better, but hurts people anyway.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Humility. (smiles) I like someone who can apologize when he’s wrong … and mean it. Lip service isn’t the same as a change of heart. I’m not into macho bravado at all. A gentle man who’s not afraid to show compassion is someone I feel I could trust.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Friendliness. Wait, what is this rubbish Triz and Shei have scratched through on their interviews here? Let me guess. They said boobs and legs, right?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oh, em … the word sorry. Definitely sorry. Triz once said I used it like a tic.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Trizryn. (smiles) He’s solid, you know? He’s always got my back, even when it seems like he doesn’t. He’s taught me a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses. And it’s because of him I’ve learned what I’m really capable of doing when pushed. I just want to see him happy; I think he deserves to be happy after everything he’s been through. If I can be part of that, then that makes me happy, too.
16. When and where were you happiest?
Before going through the Gate of Min? Riding my horse, hiking in the woods, sketching … After going through the Gate of Min? Seeing the world of the fae is really cool … so long as no one’s trying to kill me. That puts a bit of a damper on things.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be a better artist. And I’d like to be able to do more with magic.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to be more capable. I know that sort of thing takes time, but … like I said, sometimes I feel quite useless among the fae. Maybe that’s what motivates me to take up Gáraketh’s quest for the alliance. If I can do that, he won’t have died in vain.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Learning telekinesis. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was lift that stupid little river rock Triz gave me. Now I can throw people off their feet and disarm opponents just like him.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Heh. Well, I think all bets are on me coming back as a vampire, considering how tainted I am with Triz’s blood. But let’s hope not, eh? I’m not ready to give up sweets yet.

02GotIt
Rogue characters are generally lumped into bard and thief categories; but they aren’t usually talented performers, and they’re not necessarily treasure hunters. Rogues stand out as having versatile skill sets. So, she might be charismatic like a bard, but light and agile on her feet like a thief. Or more precisely, Aija’s strength is that she is open to learning just about anything from anyone. She might not be able to master the skill, but being versatile has its own benefits.

21. Where would you most like to live?
I’d like to be able to take Triz home with me. I think he’d like Yorkshire. The question is whether Yorkshire would like him. An elf they’d be happy to gander at, but probably not big fans of vampires.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
That stupid little river rock? Yeah. Not the most expensive or magical item I’m carrying. In fact, it’s probably the most ordinary. But … definitely the most precious. Oh! That and my Gran’s gold ring that she gave me. Oh, wait, I’m wearing Trizryn’s signet ring, too, now. He’d kill me if I lost that.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not having hope. Not having a reason to go on. I’ve come close to feeling that way a few times, but … someone always manages to lift me up. Good friends are priceless like that.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
Haven’t a clue. Seriously. Maybe I can sell my elf sketches when I go home. Make them into a manga. I have lots of good models right now. (sneaky grin)
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
You see this mole right here? (points to upper lip) It follows me. Everywhere. I can cover up the scars on my leg and abdomen, but no amount of make-up will make this disappear.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Inclusiveness. They accept me as I am, even though I’m human. And I know I can count on them to be there for me when I need them. And it’s not just me. They’re all so different from one another. Sometimes they have issues with that, but mostly they try to get along and learn to appreciate those differences. Frostfang had a huge problem with finding out I was human because it was the human invasion that started the War of the Blood Reign, for example. But … I took care of her egg when she went missing, so … she knows she can trust me now. And even though she tried to roast and eat me when we first met, as far as dragons go, she’s not that bad.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Oh, em, I don’t really … read as much as I used to when I was a kid. But I love mythology and nursery stories. I’m always up for reading those. Maybe Tolkien or Rowling … (taps finger thoughtfully against cheek)
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
Harry Potter. No, wait, the Doctor. No, Bilbo Baggins. Spock! Okay, that’s a bad question. How can you possibly expect me to have only one answer for that?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
(Puffs bangs out of eyes and thinks hard … really hard.) Next question?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
My friends. They are … amazing.

08AijasBestFriend_by_Merodinoongaku
There’s a few times in my books that Aija mentions she has an Irish wolfhound named Mirk. Imagine my squee of delight when I started playing Skyrim and discovered you could own a pet wolfhound in the game. Aija is an animal lover. Besides Mirk, she loves horses and helps take care of Trizryn’s black mare, Zhenta. She also befriends a special little mouse, which she names Henry. But Henry is much more than a wee beastie. 😉

31. What are your favorite names?
Oh, dear. I kind of like the name Kethrei. Sssh! Don’t tell Triz. I mean that used to be his name, and it suits him well still; but I don’t think he appreciates it so much now, and there’s no telling what might happen if he started answering to his past, rather than his present.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
Spiders and zombies and I do not get on well. But I think I’d have to say heights make me really, really uncomfortable. Spiders and zombies up high would probably be the death of me.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Leaving my own world without knowing whether or not the dragon of Min attacked Winderbury. For all I know, he’s killed Kim, my family, my pets … and everyone else. I have no way of knowing or doing anything about it … unless we can find a gate back.
34. How would you like to die?
No, thank you. I’d rather not. That is the whole point of Triz hiding me from Erys and the Derra Eirlyn, yeah? NOT dying?
35. What is your motto?
I once told Triz that our mistakes make us who we are. Everything we experience makes us who we are, but mistakes in particular force us to choose between suffering repeats, or learning and growing. So, when I make mistakes, I try to ask myself if I grew … if I learned. If I can learn something from it, I don’t feel so bad about having made a mistake.

04WolfAttack
Whether it’s facing off against wolves or facing off against her friends, Aija’s vulnerability is kind of what makes her special in a setting where everyone else has so many more advantages than she does. I think that’s what I like most about writing for Aija’s character. She has to put a little more effort into solving her problems the mundane way, just like most of us mere mortals do.

The Capriciousness of Creativity

Thursdays are my days for blog drafting … according to my new schedule … which fluctuates with the seasons, events, and moods in my life quite often. Yesterday, I was suffering a migraine and nausea and various other spring allergy garbage so I found myself drifting across the internet without purpose, rather than drafting this week’s blog article. It happens.

Today I am trying to rescue my very unproductive yesterday. First, I read an article on long novels in hopes that would inspire me to draft something inspiring, educational, or at the very least witty. Instead, I am writing about … not writing.

But in sifting through the drafts of my previous articles, I found one concept file that I started and didn’t finish (ironically) after watching this TED talk from author Elizabeth Gilbert on “Your Elusive Creative Genius”.

If you don’t have time to watch the video, she basically distinguishes the difference between “being” a genius (which puts a lot of pressure and stress on outstanding productivity in creative professions), and “having” a genius (which is not only the historical/etymological origin of the term, but also humanizes the creator). The word “genius” comes from Latin and originally referred to a guardian spirit or deity that watched over a person from birth … a sort of spirit guide that helps you out in moral dilemmas or situations that require intuitive wisdom, wit, or other creative problem solving methods. It is comparable to saying the creative person has a muse that inspires his or her work. The genius was not considered good or evil by nature, but was just present to inspire.

On a side note, the word “genie” has nothing to do with “genius” because “genie” is Arabic in origin. But it does come from the word “jinn” … which is also a spirit. Jinn are considered “trickster” spirits, so they are viewed as evil more often than not. But their base nature was originally considered neutral. And more interesting, the word “demon” comes from Greek “daimon” and Latin “daemon”, but also used to refer only to a guiding spirit or lesser god. In other words, “demon” did not carry any negative connotations until the Christian church started using it thus, because of their own belief that any spirit other than their own deity was evil. But I digress. 🙂

The concept here is that if creative inspiration comes to you from a factor outside of yourself, like a spirit, that creates an interesting understanding of the capriciousness of creative inspiration. Ask any writer, and you will be told the best ideas do not come to you while you are sitting at your keyboard plotting. Your best ideas will come to you when you are in the shower. Or when you are driving. Or when you are getting in bed, have the lights off, and really do not want to walk across the house in the dark to grab your notepad and pen. Your best ideas will come to you when you are as inconvenienced as possible for catching them and pinning them down into notes you can work with.

The same is true of other arts. I often see faces or creatures in rug patterns, tree shapes, rocks, and other items that make me think, “That would make an awesome sketch!” But as soon as I walk away, it’s gone. Thousands of sketch ideas have been lost from one wood pattern in my door on a daily basis. Why? Because who has a sketchpad and a pencil when they’re getting dressed or putting away laundry?

This is so common to most creatives, in fact, that it would almost be a comfort to know that there is some kind of spirit imp hanging over my shoulder, snickering at how clever he is with casting ideas out there at inappropriate times, and then jerking them back as soon as I blink. And in some cases, perhaps thinking like that can help creatives lessen their burden. If the creative ideas are external, rather than internal, what is the logical solution to jump-starting your creativity?

First of all, it gives the creative person a choice. I can choose to snatch that idea and do something with it, or I can choose to let it go and it may or may not come back to me, but I go into that choice knowing that it is my choice — knowing how capricious ideas come and go because that is their nature, so I accept that I can’t count on that idea being there for very long or coming back. I will put more effort into keeping a notepad by the bed or shower or in the car, so that I have a better chance of snatching that idea out of the air and capturing it for later use.

Second, it gives the creative person freedom. Knowing I don’t have to sit at the keyboard to brainstorm ideas means I can take a walk, go on an adventure, live my life as I normally would, but keep a writing notebook handy to jot down ideas as I go along. In fact, I’m more likely to have more ideas while doing other things, than while trying to be creative at my work space. My work space is primarily for organizing, developing, and producing those ideas … not giving birth to them.

Third, it eases the expectations we creatives have of ourselves by giving us space between what we do and who we are. If you are a creative person, you know how difficult this is because your mental health probably depends on being able to create. You might not know what to do with yourself if you can’t create. In this sense, perhaps creativity is a lot like being possessed of a little spirit, so that you and your desire to create are one. But if we cannot unplug from those expectations now and then, we burn out. And if other people expect us to be switched on all the time, they will be disappointed when one creative project succeeds, but the next fails. It’s as if we failed, but really it’s just that human beings can’t be switched on all the time. No profession or individual can do this and maintain good health. I often say I AM a writer because it’s such a part of me that I can’t NOT design new story ideas or characters in my head. But even I have moments when I have to put the writing aside to get other stuff done. In those moments, I need to be able to cage the spirit and cover it, or I won’t be able to function in day-to-day life. If you are a creative person, you are probably nodding along because you have lived this, too. You get it.

So, the next time your creative genius flies off and leaves you high and dry for ideas, maybe try to reconsider it as a blessing. It’s a chance to rest. It’s an opportunity to leave your desk jockeying position and do something else that will invite your muse to return under better circumstances. And it’s a chance to prepare your living space to work in-sync with his capricious nature.

My Muse
My muse doodles a lot. 🙂

Look at that! A blog article born from the lack of inspiration for writing today’s blog … 🙂 I think I will thank the genius sitting on my shoulder for rescuing me today and give him the weekend off from writing, so that I can come back on Monday with fresh energy and ideas.

Plotting: Connect the Dots

04NaturalSplendor_by_Merodinoongaku
Screenshot of Aija in my Skyrim game.

When I receive letters or messages about my writing, it’s usually from other writers who are just getting started and who are looking for solutions to their own writing craft problems. And usually those problems have to do with plotting. So, I’d like to share a few thoughts about that today.

Pantsing Versus Outlining

There are basically two kinds of plotting styles: outlining versus pantsing. Outlining is what your English teacher taught you in grade school which you became dependent on for the rest of your educational life. They provide structure so that your scrambled thoughts can actually make sense in an organized flow toward the points you’re trying to make, regardless of whether it’s a science report on butterflies or a short story following a hero’s journey. Pantsing (as in “by the seat of your pants”, meaning spontaneity) was probably never advocated by your teachers, but it is the common term for unplanned creative composition. It’s where you go with the flow of whatever inspires you, even if you have no idea where it leads.

Outliners meticulously map out their plots and subplots so they know exactly what’s happening each step of the way. But the problem with outlines is that they can get boring and predictable and uninspiring. Writer’s block can set in because the writer loses interest. And if the writer loses interest, so will the reader.

Pantsers sometimes need the right circumstances or mood to work. Or perhaps they start with a vague idea and attempt to define it as they go along. Creative expression and exploration drives their work. But the problem with pantsing is … it’s fickle. Writers start with this burst of energy, but when it runs out of steam, they poop-out and hit a blank canvas without being able to budge further. Many stories get started, but not many get finished. Or there is an idea for a scene, but the writer has no idea what to do with it because it’s not an actual plot. It doesn’t go anywhere.

It’s the difference between using a map to plan your road trip directly to a specific destination, and getting in the car without a map to see where the road takes you. In outlining, the destination is important. In pantsing, the journey is important. But … there is more than one way to journey to a destination. And road trips are more exciting when unexpected things happen, or if you plan for a little sight-seeing along the way. Writing doesn’t have to be one or the other. Writers should feel free to mix and match techniques as it suits them. I like to call this third option connecting the dots.

Connecting the Dots

Remember those connect-the-dots colouring books you had as a kid? The page offers nothing but scattered, disconnected dots and maybe a few hints of minor details … like an eye. You know it’s going to be a face if it has an eye, but nothing else is clear yet. You have to draw lines between the dots to connect them before the picture can take shape. Then you can add colour and other details to finish the picture. This is how I write. The eye is the idea for the story. The dots are the creative surges that I know I want to write about. The lines between the dots are the outline that gives it structure as something recognizable. And the colour and additional details are the many revisions I put my “finished” stories through to make them better with each pass. You can do this however you like, but this is how I do it.

I start with the eye — the idea that intrigues me. I “pants” a scene to see where it leads me. Usually, that scene turns into a chapter. And usually that chapter can extend to about three more chapters before I stop and try to see the overall picture beyond my random dots. I am always switched on when it comes to creative writing and ideas, so I can always create characters, explore settings, and imagine dilemmas that need fixing. But eventually I bump up against the fact that plots always need to be progressing toward a destination.

I’m going to side-track a bit here to add a note that, contrary to pop-culture preferences, plot isn’t always necessary. There is such a thing as a plot-less story. It’s more common in Eastern cultures than Western, but one very good example of this in Western culture is the original Winnie-the-Pooh Storybook by A.A. Milne. There is no objective in that book to take the reader from problem to solution. It’s just a collection of sweet scenarios in the life of a little boy’s stuffed toys. It doesn’t have any murders to solve, or mysteries to explore, or quests to accomplish. Pooh is not any better or worse off for having been through the story’s events. He just is. And we enjoy sharing those moments with him. You shouldn’t be afraid to explore a plot-less path if it intrigues you. Just know that plot-oriented stories are more popular, especially among publishers, because they usually sell better.

Okay, back to plot-designed stories.

554813436_shepard_01_web
The original “Winnie-the-Pooh Storybook” by A.A. Milne is a fine example of a plot-less classic. It’s more of a window into the lives of the characters than a quest or objective for them to accomplish.

Timelines

Once I have several dots, I start contemplating the overall design. That’s when I stop writing random scenarios to draft a timeline. I use a timeline, rather than an outline, because the timeline doesn’t have to have sub-points, yet it’s linear enough for structure. I plot the events I have so far, then I carry them toward a goal at the end.

This is important because if you don’t have an end goal for your plot, you might never finish the story. It doesn’t have to be a predictable or good ending, but the story has to end somewhere. And this is hard to do sometimes because stories are actually the “middle” segments of a continuum for those characters in their world. Something always happens before your story begins. And things will continue to happen long after your story ends. As an author, you are cutting out only one segment of time to show what happened. So, your story must have a beginning and end, even if your imagined world and characters live on.

When I have my beginning and end defined, I am free to add as many dots/plot points as necessary to get from A to Z. Or, I am free to go back to pantsing, using the timeline as a generic guide for directing the story toward its end. I give myself permission to go back and forth between outline and creative flow at that point because I feel both are necessary to keep the plot progressing toward the objective without restricting inspiration when it strikes. In other words, plans should be flexible and allow for change. Just because my timeline originally kills off a character, doesn’t mean I can’t find a reason to save him when I get to that scene. And just because I had no intention of killing off a character in the beginning doesn’t mean I won’t do it later if I think it will create a more interesting challenge for the protagonists.

Writer’s Block

Usually, the only time I hit writer’s block, which is rare, is when I know of a dot I need to connect, but get stuck on how to incorporate it based on where I stand at the moment. It feels a bit like coming to a “Bridge Out” sign and wondering how I can leap to the other side. Logically, I know I’m going to need stepping stones based on what’s already been written. But how many options I have to explore before I find what works can be a challenge. Should the characters chop down a tree to cross that gulf? No, they have no axe. Should they swim? No, I already said one of them was deathly afraid of drowning. Are they part dragon so they can fly? You get the idea.

This stage of composition might mean altering small bits that I’ve already plotted, or finding ways to accommodate inconsistencies I don’t want to change. Maybe I back up and add a dot where a character spots an axe in the car trunk. Or maybe the fact that the one deathly afraid of drowning must overcome her fear becomes a subplot challenge she has to resolve. But major changes, like suddenly deciding I want my characters to be part dragon just so I can give them wings, are not to be taken lightly. I’ve written stories that required major overhauls, and they are exhaustive to rework because every single mention of every plot thread affected must be sought out and dealt with accordingly. That’s actually part of the reason for the delay in the publication of The Dragonling. I made some major changes that affected the entire script. It’s very time consuming and laborious to make major changes in revisions like that. But if it makes the story better, sometimes it’s necessary; you just grit your teeth and do it.

Overall, this is how I write until the story reaches the end objective. I draw a few dots, add a few lines, and where the lines don’t curve the way they need to, I add more dots and draw more lines, erasing anything that’s no longer relevant, and so on. If I get stuck for inspiration on a fight scene, I skip a few lines, type “FIGHT SCENE” in red font, maybe jot down ideas I have for it (example: “Recall dagger lesson Aija learned from Trizryn in earlier chapter.”), but then I move on to the next scene. I don’t make myself compose in a linear fashion. I don’t waste time on scenes where there is no inspiration. If I get stuck, I work on the timeline and other aspects of organization, like character development or world building. Eventually, the big picture takes shape into something I can consider as a finished draft. Then each revision cleans it up a little more, whether the changes are big or small. I consider the story “shareable” when it’s clean enough that I’m not making very many changes. And then I consider it “publishable” when several other “fresher” eyes have read it without flagging flaws.

Conclusion

Good stories are constructed with a balance between structure and creative inspiration. There is no exact measure for this balance. Each writer (and reader) will decide what feels right for them and for each individual story. Don’t approach writing feeling like you have to do it the “right” way. Staring at a blank page while waiting for inspiration or hoping for perfection because you feel the first draft has to be “done right” usually ends up in writer’s block. There is no “right way” to write. Give yourself permission to be non-linear in the creation stage, but acknowledge that structure is helpful in guiding you around the big picture to the end. How you mix and match structure with creative whim is entirely up to you. The journey of a story has to reach its destination eventually, but connecting the dots off-road — with unplanned flat tires, ice cream stops, ratty hotels, flying tumbleweeds, and all — can make your plot-trip more interesting, memorable, and fun. 🙂

Character Interview: Trizryn, the Thief

13restraint_by_merodinoongaku
Image Source: My Skyrim game. 🙂 Trizryn and Zhenta are on their way to hunt down a missing person who stole from the Thief Guild. In my novel, Trizryn is a character with illusion magic, so he crafts his appearances according to his environment. He spent most of his life living as a light elf in the fae court, but then went underground into Nisala’s thief guild to intentionally undermine his step-father’s regime.

Last week I shared a character interview and demonstrated how to use such things to find the voice of a character. This week, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the voice aspect of character creation. (In other words, no, I have not finished my book of the month for a review, or finished my beta draft, so let me distract you with shop talk.) 🙂

Shei, the bard and best friend of one of my book’s protagonists did last week’s interview. He is a “foil” character. That means he was designed to be the opposite of the main character in order to highlight his personality. Don’t confuse foil characters with antagonists. Antagonists antagonize protagonists by going against them in some way. They don’t have to be bad guys, but they present a challenge the main character must overcome to complete the plot. Foil characters, however, are usually friends with the main character, and they are there for support. They’re just intentionally different because by contrasting the main character’s personality, they help the reader refine the main character’s voice … and their own. (Secondary characters should be treated as primary characters for the sake of character development if not for plot.) So, as an entertainer, Shei’s dialog and actions come with a bit of comic relief and charm. It’s not fake or manipulative, unless he makes it clear that is his intent, so his personality also has to come across as sincere and loyal. But more often than not, his mood is light because he is the kind of person who attempts to support others when they are down or stressed.

This week, I’m going to offer the same interview to Trizryn, one of two main protagonists. With four published books on these characters, I should feel comfortable discussing Trizryn’s nature in articles that mention him, but I guess I still feel protective of spoilers. I will try to find a balance here. Trizryn is enigmatic by design. His “truths” unfold little by little over the entire course of the series. He was designed to be dynamic, which means he starts off rather rough, but then changes as a result of what happens to him over the course of the plots. Trizryn is also an anti-hero with more burdens on his plate than his foil, Shei. He used to have a playful sense of humour, according to his sister, K’tía. But that was stripped away from him when he was reconditioned in the Derra Eirlyn dungeon. Over the course of the story, he “awakens” to reclaim his freedom, his ability to trust, his appreciation of life, and more. Shei is a very important person in his life because he is the one friend he could trust. They are brothers-in-arms and the butt of each others’ jokes. So these characters must have distinctly different voices, yet those voices must support each other in spite of contrast. So, here is Trizryn’s interview to compare to Shei’s. It’s all about finding the character’s voice. 🙂

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Freedom to be yourself. Friends who accept you. Spicy noodles.
2.What is your greatest fear?
Not knowing who to trust because everyone has an agenda. … Necromancers creep me out, too. Especially now that I’m dead.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Where to begin? I tend to make bad decisions. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I’m trying to put things right now where I can. … Let’s see, I’m dead. That tends to not go over well in conversations. And my current death was tainted by my previous death, which complicates things. Oh, and I’m not even real to begin with. At least not this time around. That’s even more fun to try to explain.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Betrayal. You never really get over it, especially if it’s abusive in nature.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Aija. She’s stuck in a world she knows nothing about, in dangerous situations that test her courage and strength like nothing else before, and she may have lost … everything … when I pulled her through that gate. But somehow she’s been able to forgive, accept what’s happened, and keep going without becoming tainted. She’s a quick learner, able to adapt. Once she sets her mind on something she’s tenacious about it. She has a strong sense of fairness. And some days her insight makes her seem more like an old soul than I am.

10moonlightswordsman
Trizryn is an expert swordsman who can see in the dark. And, if necessary, he can use his internal sorcery to conjure his own weapons. Because in truth, he is a dark elf. And he’s tired of pretending to be something he’s not just to appease everyone else. So, for Trizryn, the Elf Gate series is about rebellion and awakening to his true self. His voice, therefore, is often introspective. As a thief and agent, his main plot lines involve a lot of political intrigue, a lot of information bartering and some under-the-table type activities where he has to be able to act without a squeaky-clean conscience. His morality is gray, but he does lean toward good. In D&D terms he would be chaotic neutral or chaotic good.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
I don’t think of myself as an extravagant person. I grew up with wealth; but it was empty, so I never attached to it the way some people do. Which is good because now I’m dirt poor.
7. What is your current state of mind?
Honestly? Nervous. Plans to get Aija home screwed up, as usual. But if this next attempt works, I might end up having to meet her parents.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Justice. It too easily turns into revenge. When we’re eager to punish people for doing something wrong, that doesn’t usually solve the problem. It’s just an outlet to justify our anger. Justice and problem solving are two different things. I’ve had to learn that the hard way … and I still struggle with it. But in my opinion if you want revenge, just call it revenge. Don’t hide behind justice.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
When I have to protect secrets that could endanger myself or others, or make matters worse than they already are. Most of my life has been one lie after another, so I’m tired of illusions and lies now. Tired of secrets.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Well, the fact that I resemble a gargoyle more than an elf now has damaged the pride a bit. But as long as Aija doesn’t seem to mind, I’d rather be faded with fangs than dressed in illusions.

09FocusOnTheBlood
Without illusions, Trizryn’s natural skin used to be raven-black. Now, afflicted with vampirism, it is charcoal gray. As a Gray One, he is even less welcome among surface fae because it is assumed he is diseased and feral. Trizryn, however, is a cursed original. And the deeper he goes down that path to find out why he is this way, the more complicated his story becomes. Much of his plot is heavy, but self-discovery is a theme most readers can relate to. His voice must reflect his frustration at each obstacle.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
In the past, I would have automatically said Erys, my step-father. He’s an abusive tyrant. But now it’s a toss-up between Erys and Ilisram. Because they’re both two-faced, cold-hearted sons-of-bitches that deserve to be tied to posts and flayed for the crows to feast on for everything they’ve done.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Respectability. Or rather, recognizing that respect is earned by deeds, not titles or possessions. A man who wears a crown has a responsibility to be a good leader and look out for the people of his kingdom, or he does not deserve that crown. A tyrant deserves to have his crown taken from him, by force if necessary, in order to spare the people who would otherwise be mistreated by him.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Nice legs and short skirts. (Punches Shei and pushes him away from the keyboard. The bard quips something about payback being a bitch. Glares at Shei and turns his back to guard the keyboard.) Trustworthiness.
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
My sister used to complain I cursed too much. Aija agrees. Even my translator amulet has started boycotting me, so I guess they have valid arguments. But I’m trying to be less … colourful … these days.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Aija. (smiles) Shei once said Aija and me could argue about the colour of an orange until pigs flew, but she’s my compass when I lose myself. She makes me want to be a better me … for my own sake, as well as hers. She’s my anchor … my hope.
16. When and where were you happiest?
Just being able to “be” with Aija … remembering what it was like to have fun with Shei and other friends … without someone trying to kill us, preferably.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’m not a talent seeker. I did used to have free time for learning music, though. I’d like to have more of that.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Not being dead or needing regular blood intake would be nice. But not if going through a third birth means giving up what I have now.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting Reznetha’ir’s refugees out of Serensa to Absin’navad before the Derra Eirlyn raided their camp. I just wish I had been there to evacuate them from Absin’navad, as well.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
You mean like — I don’t know — a vampire? (snort)

03bloodbath_closeup
I chose to make Trizryn a vampire because I have always been intrigued by vampiric characters. They are the eternal outsiders. They represent the struggle between impulse and impulse control. They represent the monsters we all have within ourselves. And they are rather godlike in the supernatural powers they are given, so exploring what makes them weak is a challenge.

21. Where would you most like to live?
Some place peaceful. Wherever I can be with Aija. Doesn’t matter where. No politics, no dragons, no more living on the run.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
Again, I’m not really one to attach to material things. They’re too much of a burden. Although, I do have a favourite sword that’s been enchanted with fortification spells. It can take off anything’s head in one swing … even for someone as lightweight as Aija.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
My time in the dungeon for reconditioning was a low point. I was isolated, tested, tortured. My body and my thoughts were invaded on a regular basis. They tried to recondition my behavior with mind control and pain. And even after I was free, they kept me under constant surveillance … until I became a drug addict just trying to put some space between me and my summoner. But then I found out she wasn’t who I thought she was, and that was almost as miserable as the dungeon. Being everyone else’s damned puppet is no different from being their slave.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
There’s occupations beyond the Derra Eirlyn? I never thought about it. I’d probably end up teaching martial arts or becoming a locksmith. I can always break the locks or break down the doors if I can’t pick them. … What? Oh, right. Shei says that might be overkill.
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
My appearance. People have always judged me based on how I look. And considering how I look, that’s probably never going to change.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Having lived around the fae court and a den of thieves (which aren’t much different), most of the time I can tell when someone hangs around because they want something from me versus wanting to be with me. I prefer people who value relationships without asking what’s in it for them.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Don’t really have any. I don’t have time for reading these days. Shei’s poetry is good for a laugh, though.
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
I don’t know about fiction, but Reznetha’ir is probably my real life hero. He’s always willing to help someone in need, without judgment. He’ll put his life on the line to stand by his word. He’s honest and a good problem solver. He’s made of good stuff. He’s the kind of person I sometimes wish I could be.
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
This is a trick question right? Technically, I am a historical figure.
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
Already said Reznetha’ir. His mother, Knight Abehendal … I can admire her sacrifice for standing up for what she believed in. Róbynn because he was more of a mentor or father to me than Erys ever was. I guess I’d add Shei, too. He puts up with a lot from me, but has never let me down. … Well, maybe once. … Okay, twice. … Okay, he gets in trouble a lot, but so do I. Never mind. Let’s just say we’ve got each other’s backs when shit goes down.

16hellowhatareyoudoinginmycastle
I prefer vampire characters who are more than their identities as vampires, and Trizryn has multiple identities. There is a person beneath those titles and roles. So, the challenge in writing for him is to consider how all of his experiences would affect one another … from dark elf prince to thief to vampire and beyond. But for this type of character, for all the fun I have unraveling him, there should always continue to be a little bit of mystery. 🙂

31. What are your favorite names?
I chose the name Trizryn for my minkuiliké because it’s a traditional name that comes from two archaic High Thályn words meaning tried trust or proven trust. I thought it would make me, as a dark elf, more acceptable at the light elf court, but who was I kidding. Now, it’s the identity that reminds I am not Kethrei.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
This is going to sound odd coming from someone like me, but I hate killing people. There’s far too much blood on my hands, and I’m not even an assassin. If I could retire my sword tomorrow, I would.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Leaving Absin’navad, K’tía, Róbynn, and everyone else in Ilisram’s hands without knowing what kind of monster he was. I should have seen through his lies sooner. My other big regret is Ilansa. I might not have been able to stop Ilisram, but I should have been able to stop myself.
34. How would you like to die?
In my sleep, but I doubt I’ll be so lucky. I’m more likely to die while staked or wrapped in bloodletting chains, followed by decapitation or fire, now that driving an ordinary blade through my heart isn’t enough to execute me. Then again … a blade with anti-magic runes could also make for an interesting end.
35. What is your motto?
No more secrets. No more hiding. I am what I am, and one way or another, I’m taking back my life.