I participated in a discussion recently about the tomboy character in literature. We discovered that we all had very different opinions of what constituted a tomboy. If you search online these days, you'll find definitions associating tomboys with lesbians and transgenders, which I think is wrongheaded and anachronistic.
I know what I mean when I say tomboy, and I think of it it as an example of a story character archetype which, like all archetypes, reflects something in real life.
Let's try this definition:
A tomboy is a girl or young woman, typically pre-pubescent or at least virginal, who values highly the same male virtues that appeal to boys of her own age, and values less the virtues that appeal to girls of her own age.
As I mentioned in the previous post, Dungeon Masters and Fantasy Authors both need to create characters, but DMs have software to help them.
For my current series, The Chained Adept, I used a Character Card creator module from ProFantasy called Character Artist. Some writers browse the internet looking for photos that remind them of their characters, but I think that takes too long. I had much more fun coming up with an iconic “card” for some of the main characters in The Chained Adept.
These are not paper dress-up fashion dolls, and the choices are limited, but it's surprising how much you can do with the given tools to provide a very quick sketch. While I don't want to get too specific when describing a character for a reader, so that the reader can fill in much of the picture himself, I do find it helpful to get specific for my own view.
So, here's what I think about my main character (Penarit), her companion (Sanderel), and the commander of the military unit they accompany (Benir Zant).
Of course, there's one big difference between Dungeon Masters and Fantasy Authors. The DMs don't care about keeping your character alive.
It's a good thing you can trust authors. Most of the time. Unless that character really, really, needs to go.
Ceremonial weapons are all very well. They look splendid when you ascend the throne. The goldsmith was probably the best in the land — look at all those animals on the sheath (click on the image to enlarge it).
What insights can we draw from this dagger from Tut's tomb? The blade is gold alloyed with copper to harden it, but it can't have been a practical weapon. So the boy Pharoah who carried this never had to defend himself (or didn't expect to need to after death) — that's what he had guards for. Judging from his physical remains, he may have been unfit and walked with a cane. The cause of his death at 19 is disputed.
So, this dagger defended his reign, the right of his dynasty to rule (but he had no issue, so the 18th Dynasty ended with him). It was a beautiful, treasured, symbolic weapon.
But before we jump to conclusions, there was a second dagger found in his tomb, this one with a meteoric iron blade. (Notice that the haft for the iron blade can't be the original, since it's shorter than the tang of the blade requires.) Given the similar haft and sheath treatment in gold, there is speculation that the iron blade was valued as highly as the gold one. Certainly it's more practical as a weapon, being able to take an edge.
Ever wonder what an alien thinks? Well, aliens may be in short supply in our daily experience, but life in the country recognizes alien beings all the time. It's just that they typically have four legs.
So, today we're driving along the road on top of the holler and we see a good-sized goat trotting diligently down the middle of the (deserted) pavement. We pull alongside and ask it what it's doing, and it pauses to consider the question, but continues on its determined way.
The next driveway belongs to a neighbor, and we think he may keep goats, so we pull in and, sure enough, the goat (following us) turns in, too. So we head to the house to let the neighbor know he's got a goat loose, but no one's home. Meanwhile the goat trots into the one-stall barn, and takes up his post next to the horse there, good buddies that they clearly are.
We shrug, head on home, and later give the neighbor a call to tell him about his goat's travels. Only it turns out, it's not his goat. It belongs to one of his neighbors and is in the habit of paying his horse a visit from time to time.
That goat had places to go and people to see. Wasn't lacking for motivation at all. Wonder if it borrowed a cup of oats while it was there?
Sometimes I'm asked, “How do you come up with these invented worlds so you can write about them?”
I don't think that's the right question. I think the real question should be, “How do you make these invented worlds seem real?”
I'm working on Structures of Earth, the first book in the series The Affinities of Magic. I plan to write several books in this series, and I'm approaching the first book as the foundation story, the prequel to the long string of stories to follow. I have a plot and a team of characters, and a good bit of the book written, but for the last while my brain has been raising alarms, saying “Stop. Something's wrong.”
You often hear people refer to the fabric of a story or to weaving a plot, but these textile metaphors are maladroit. Stories aren’t flat 2-dimensional objects.
In a piece of cloth, all threads are functional, all must be anchored at each end, and all are necessary for a whole cloth. Stories, on the other hand, are about a person (one or more, human or alien or any sort of thinking/feeling being) who does something. Everything else in the story is background context to help tell the main story.
The story implicit in the (photoshopped) illustration is the fox’s story. Certainly, each hound might have a story to tell, but if you tried to tell them all at once, there’d be no story at all. So every hound’s story must be subordinate to the fox’s to make a proper tale.
A better metaphor is in the domain of optics, in the form of lens focus.
I’ve gotten to know my primary characters in the older series pretty well. I know what they would and wouldn’t do, and a good bit of how they interact with each other. In other words, I'm comfortable with them.
In novels of adventure, the sort of thing I write, you need a good story, a sound plot, and it’s a good idea to have the basics of that in your head before you begin writing. Perhaps the details are hazy — maybe you don’t know exactly how certain things are going to happen — but I find I need at least a sketchy outline of the key plot points before I can start. Some authors are comfortable just writing into the void, but I’m not one of them. (The lessons of Wile E Coyote are all too vivid.)
Plots in and of themselves don’t scare me. I used to be a serious software engineer, and what is that but the instantiation of a fully realized product where all consequences are knowable (at least, after debugging).
But story comes from characters, and that’s my current sticking point. Who are all these people?
As some of you know, I moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania in May, just as I was finishing King of the May. We relocated to our vacation home in central Pennsylvania, an old log cabin (with improvements) nestled into a hollow of the Allegheny mountains.
No one had lived in the cabin for 10 years beyond a few relatives visiting during hunting season, so the place had to be emptied, cleaned, repaired, and painted. On the Virginia end, this included moving two different households to a single smaller location and a warehouse, so it was beyond complicated. I did my best to keep writing each day but the dust is still settling and will be for a while. (Half of my office is still in boxes.)
You may have noticed that King of the May is published by Perkunas Press, still in Hume, Virginia. It will take a little while for me to register the business in Pennsylvania, and after that new printings (and my bio) will show the update.
Meanwhile, I've started on Bound into the Blood, book 4 of The Hounds of Annwn. Since I include the first chapter of the next book at the end of the current one, I had to write the first chapter before I could publish King of the May. So I have a pretty good idea how this one is going to roll out.
It will be a more intimate book than King of the May, as The Ways of Winter was more intimate than To Carry the Horn. George will look for answers about his father's family, and the search will take him to strange places with unusual companions (Seething Magma will be coming along).
These four books of The Hounds of Annwn will cover most of a year, from mid-October to end of summer. Interestingly, they are coinciding with the same seasons in real life as I write them — helps me stay in the mood.
I'll produce some more short stories in The Hounds of Annwn world, and collect them into an anthology (sign up for my newsletter to hear about each new one as it comes out and read it for free on my blog), but after Bound into the Blood (sometime this fall/winter), I intend to begin a new fantasy series, The Affinities of Magic.
Depending on the wishes of my readers, there may be more adventures in store for George Talbot Traherne. Please let me know — I'm listening.