Where Desire Meets Destiny

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Just Stopping By

It's another one of those crazy weekends, where I don't have enough time to do everything I need or want to do!

So, just a brief post for now.

I sold a story to Caramel Flava 2, which is an anthology of erotic stories edited by Zane. I had submitted the story to Caramel Flava, the anthology that was published last August, but my story didn't make it. But looks like I've gotten a second chance. I don't have a publication date yet, but since I had to get my contract and an electronic version of the story to Zane ASAP, I'm thinking sometime this year. Or at least I hope.

Okay, gotta start running around before the weekend is over and it's back to the EDJ (Evil Day Job.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Arc of the Character

The Character Arc. It's one of those terms that's bandied about by writers, readers, reviewers, editors, agents, movie producers, etc.

But what exactly is a character arc? Some define it as the emotional progress of a character through a story. Others as the change and development a character undergoes, or the evolution of a character towards something positive, or something negative. On his website, James P. Mercurio has some interesting defintions of a character arc.

But I think it's safe to say that a character arc is some kind of change that a character undergoes during the course of a short story, novel, play, televison series or movie.

Deep Space Nine was the third incarnation of the Star Trek franchise. I'm not going to argue whether the show was the best or the worst of the franchise. I just know that for me it was one of the more interesting because it had some of the most dramatic character arcs I'd ever seen in Star Trek. Or in any other television show for that matter.

The four characters below, Captain Benjamin Sisko, Major Kira Nerys, Damar and Nog had some of the more fascinating arcs.

At the beginning of the seven year run of the series, then Commander Benjamin Sisko has recently been assigned to not only command the space station Deep Space Nine, but to assist the newly liberated inhabitants of Bajor in acquring Federation membership.

Having endured decades of occupation by the Cardassians, a militaristic alien race who enslaved the Bajorans and raped their planet of its natural resources, the Bajorans are struggling to get back on their feet.

However, the last thing Sisko wants is to raise his son on a space station, formerly a Cardassian stronghold, on the edge of the Federation. And the very last thing he wants is to be the Emissary of the Prophets of the Celesital Temple, as they are known to the Bajoran people. To Sisko, the strange beings who telepathically contact him are nothing more than wormhole aliens.

And yet, by the end of the seventh season, Sisko has not only accepted his role as Emissary, he regularly receives visions from the Prophets and in the very last episode joins the aliens in the wormhole in order to receive guidance from them.

Sisko's second in command at Deep Space Nine is Kira Nerys. She's a Bajoran national and a former freedom fighther or, as the Cardassians see her, a former terrorist. As she tells Sisko at their first meeting, she's been fighting the Cardiassians since she was old enough to pick up a phaser. And the last thing she wants is for the Federation to come along and replace the Cardassians as the overlords of Bajor.

And yet, by the end of the seventh season, Kira has not only befriended a number of Cardssians, sat and comforted a dying Cardassian who called her daughter, but in the last episode she's wearing a Federation uniform and sharing a belly laugh with three Cardassians whom she's been sent to train as freedom fighters as they struggle to free their world from the Dominion, a race of aliens even more hell-bent on conquest then they are.

Nog is a Ferengi, a race of aliens who live and breathe a credo that Gordon Gekko (played by Micheal Douglas) in the movie Wallstreet would have heartily embraced: Greed is good.

As a matter of fact the first time we see Nog he's burglarizing a store on DS9 and Sisko immediately has him arrested. By the end of the seventh season, however, Nog has not only been admitted to Star Fleet Academy, but he's become a spit and polish, by-the-book cadet. And in the last episode of the series, he's given the news, by Sisko himself, that he's been promoted to lieutenant.

And, finally, there's Damar. Damar is a Cardassian and he starts out initially as one of the officers serving under Gul Dukat, the antagonist of the entire series.
Damar is intensely loyal to Dukat and considers himself a true patriot of Cardassia. He has a great dislike of the Bajorans and an absolute loathing of Kira Nerys. And the feeling is mutal on Kira's part. Especially after Damar cold-bloodedly kills Gul Dukat's daugther, a half-Bajoran, half Cardassian woman whom Kira saw not only as a friend but as a kind of younger sister.

And yet, by the end of the series Damar has become a charismatic, heroic, rebel leader. He not only finds the strength to liberate himself from the alcoholic and self-pitying emotional morass he wallows in, as a result of his having gotten in bed with the Dominion, a tyrannical and imperalistic government that sees nothing at all wrong with sacrificing the lives of half a million Cardassian soldiers to achieve its ends, but Damar turns for help to free his world from the very woman whom, not that long ago, he would have gladly killed.

Kira Nerys.

Damar is, in fact, one of those Cardassians I mentioned earlier, with whom Kira is sharing a belly laugh as they try to figure out a way to storm the stronghold of the Dominion.

Needless to say, I love character arcs. I love when characters change, and I think a lot of readers feel the same way. Why?

Because I think we all would like to imagine or believe that we can change. That we are capable, in some way, of becoming better than what we are. That's there's hope for us to not only be better people but to create a better life for ourselves and those around us.

Not all characters have to change during a story, of course. But I think it can make for not only a more satisfying reading experience if a character does change, does arc, but an equally satisfying writing experience.


Sunday, January 14, 2007


First off, I'll preface this post by stating that I know as much about music theory as I know about thermonuclear physics. So I won't highlight my ignorance by talking about chord progression, semintone phrases or chromatic elements.

The purpose of this post is to talk about using the concept of leitmotifs for characters in fiction. But, first I'd like to introduce some people.

In the Star Wars epic, which now encompasses six episodes, George Lucas used the same composer, the incomparable John Williams, to score all six movies. John Williams, right from the start, established leitmotifs for all of the major characters in the Star Wars movies.

What is a leitmotif? To borrow the definition in the Wikipedia entry on leitmotifs, it is is a recurring musical theme, associated within a particular piece of music with a particular person, place or idea.

Luke Skywalker, whom we first meet in Star Wars, Episode III, is the hero of what is known as the Classic Star Wars trilogy. His theme, or leitmotif, is also the main theme of all six movies and, when we hear it, we think of heroism and adventure.

His twin sister, Leia Organa Skywalker, is also introduced in Episode III, and she too has a leitmotif. It has a lush, romantic feel to it, and we hear it most in Episode IV, The Empires Stikes Back.

Finally, last but not least, the dark father of Luke and Leia, Darth Vader or, as he was known before the Dark Side of the Force consumed him, Anakin Skywalker.

Darth's Vader leitmotif, which is also known as The Imperial March, is powerful, dark and militaristic. It not only reprsents the repressive, totalitarian aspect of the Galactic Empire but also the souless, ruthless persona of the man, now more machine, who serves it.

Other leitmotifs are heard in the six films: Obi-Wan Kenobi has one, which is also associated with the Force and the Order of the Jedi Knights. Yoda has a very promiment theme, which suggests wisdom and the passing on of this knowledge to Luke. Han and Leia have a love theme, and just about all of the creatures from the Jawas to Jabba the Hutt have their own leitmotifs.

I was pleased to note that in the last movie, Episode III, The Revenge of the Sith, Williams used the leitmotifs for both Luke and Leia in a most poignant manner. The last few minutes of Episode III is basically a slient movie. With their mother dead and their father having been transfomred into a mechanical monster, the twins, in order to protect them from both their father and the Emperor he now serves, are split up.

We first see Senator Bail Organa arriving on Alderaan to present their foster daughter to his wife, the Queen of Alderaan. As he gently places Leia in his wife's arms, Leia's leitmotif, the one we come to associate with her when she becomes a young woman fighting for the freedom of the galaxy, is played.

The next scene is of Obi-Wan arriving at a lonely homestead in the middle of the vast deserts of Tatooine, where he also gently places Luke into the arms of his aunt, Beru Lars. Luke's heroic theme or leitmotif is then played.

Lucas and Williams, by playing those themes as the twins are given into the care of those who will see them grow safely to adulthood, gives the audience hope and reassurance at the end of what is basically a bleak movie. That is the power of the leitmotif.

Now, how can this be applied to characters in a book?

One way would be to use certain words or phrases with a character. Another would be to use soft, lyrical words whenever a character appears in a story that you may want to present to the reader as that kind of person. Or, perhaps, clipped, harsh words if the character is someone who is brusqe and to the point.

Of course, one would have to be very subtle in the use of such techniques. You don't want to hit the reader over the head with the leitmotif. You want it, prefreably, to play in the background as they read, affecting the reader on an almost subconscious level. But if done effectively, it could be a way to not only suggest the mood or tone of a particular scene, but also the psychological hue of your characters.

The point is that coming up with ways to differentiate between the characters in a story can go a long way towards helping the reader not only know who each character is but what they're about.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Least Likely To

Remember that classification in your high school yearbook? The one titled "The One Most Likely To?" Someone in the graduating class would be designated the one most likely to be a beauty queen, or the one most likely to become president, or the one most likely to be a millionare.

There's another classification that I like to think about in terms of my cast of characters. The Least Likely To.

Sometimes, just for kicks and grins, and for more serious purposes, I like to look at my characters and ask which one is the least likely to do something in the story and then, lo and behold, they do it. Here are some examples from a few of my favorite movies.

Frodo Baggins. I think it's fair to say that if anyone was the least likely person to carry the Ring of Power all the way to Mordor, to the very heart of darkness and evil on Middle Earth, in order to cast it into the fire from which it had been made, it was Frodo Baggins.

Not only because he is about the size of a child, being a hobbit and all, and not only because he comes from a race of people who, on average, were more interested in drinking and eating and tilling the soil of their pastoral paradise, the Shire, and had no interest in doing great deeds or caring about anything outside their borders, but because Frodo is a dreamy, bookish, introverted fellow who, although he dreams of adventures, really has no desire to be involved in one. And yet it is Frodo, with the help of Sam, of course, and in his own twisted way, Gollum, who accomplishes what no great king of men, or elf or even a wizard could have accomplished

Michael Corleone. The youngest son of a powerful Mafia Don. At the beginning of the Godfather saga, Michael makes it very clear that he wants nothing to do with his family's underworld activities. Michael is not only a college graduate but a decorated war hero and when he looks at his future he sees himself marrying his non-Italian, WASPish girlfriend and, presumably, getting a job in some corporation or perhaps even becoming a judge or a senator just as his father, Don Corleone, had planned.

But over the course of the story, it is Michael, and not his older brothers, Sonny and Fredo, who, when the Corleone family is threatened, must take up the reins of power and, by the end of the first movie, as his hand is being kissed reverently by his Mafia lieutenants, becomes Don Corleone.

Ellen Ripley. Okay, I know that in 2007 Ellen Ripely, after four Alien movies, doesn't seem like the one least likely to have survived the attack of the first Alien creature in the first Alien movie. But, lest we forget, the first Alien movie came out in 1979. Nearly thirty years ago. That was pre-Buffy, pre-Xena, pre-Alias, pre-all of the ass-kicking heroines that we are so accustomed to today.

I saw the first Alien movie in the theaters and, at least back then, most of us saw Ellen Ripley as the least likey of the crew to survive. Why?

Well, forgive me for being politically incorrect, but she was a woman. There were four other men on that crew and one other woman.

Now, it's not that we didn't think at least one of the women would survive, but back then, in those less politically correct days, and, in our oh-so-unenlightened eyes, we figured that at least one of the other men would make it too. The fact that Ripley was the only one to survive is what blew us away.

It could be argued that Lambert, the ship's Navigator, and the other female member of the crew, was the one least likely to survive. She was kind of whinny and nervous and, physically, she was even smaller than Ripley.

Ah, but here's where we come to an important point. When thinking about choosing the character least likely to do something, that character also has to have some inkling, subtle or obvious, that, given the right circumstances, they could achieve whatever goal is placed before them: to destroy the Ring of Power, to become a powerful Mafia Don, to survive the attack of a vicious, dangerous Alien.

Frodo Baggins isn't like the other hobbits. Not only does he read and speak Elvish, but he has an interest in events outside The Shire. He knows that if the Ring of Power is not destoryed, all of Middle Earth, including The Shire, will be cast into unending darkness. Also, because of who he is, Frodo has earned the nearly supernatural loyalty of Sam, without whom, as Frodo himself admits, he wouldn't have gotten very far.

In addition, Frodo has compassion, something his more xenophobic neighbors in the Shire may have had a hard time showing to someone like Gollum. It is Frodo's expression of compassion and empathy towards Gollum that motivates the pathetic creature to help Frodo reach Mordor, before his lust for the Ring consumes him and forces him to betray Frodo at the end.

Michael Corleone isn't like his two older brothers. Sonny, the eldest, is passionate, impulsive, vengeful. He can not control the power he has and it ultimately destroys him. Fredo, the middle brother, is passive, indecisive, weak. Only Michael possess the cunning, the strength and the ruthlessness needed to save his family from the forces that threaten it.

Ellen Ripley isn't like the rest of the crew of the Nostromo. Early on she come across as thoughtful, intelligent and level-headed. The others, from the captain all the way down to the engineers who dwell in the bowels of the ship, appear to be driven by whatever individual passions exist within them: the desire to make money, to explore the alien ship, to just get the hell out of there. Only Ripley seems able to calmly and, one could say, dispassionately look at the situation around her and try to understand just what the hell is really going on.

So, in summary, creating a character who is least likely to do something can be a fun exercise. For example, in my pervious post on Characters and Their Actions, I listed three characters and the actions they would take when faced with an armed robber. One would beg, the other fight, the other try to reason with the robber.

What kind of person would be the least likely to beg? A six foot, 10 inch ex-Navy Seal? But what if he were the one to beg for his life, falling to his knees, his hands clapsed in front of him.

What kind of person would be the least likely to attack? A 95-pound, 95 year old woman? But what if she were the one to try and wrest the gun away from the robber.

I'd venture to say that neither of these scenarios is totally beyond the realm of possibility. The trick would be making it believable.

And that's where the fun of being a writer comes in. *grin*


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Characters and Their Actions

I'm currently working on the characters in my WIP and my soon to be WIP.

One of the things I'm focusing on is the action my characters take when confronted with the obstacle that bars them from their goal.

A couple years ago I took a summer writing workshop with Jerry Cleaver, author of Immediate Fiction, a book on writing fiction that I am surprised is not recommended more. I think it's one of the best books on writing fiction I've read and Cleaver was very instrumental in getting me back to writing fiction after a very long time away from it.

In his workshoop and his book, Cleaver stressed that not only should a writer be concerned with his or her character's goal, their reason for wanting said goal and the obstacles they face, but the author should also focus on the action the character takes when confronted with the obstacle to their goal.

We never really know anyone, whether it's a real person or a character, until they take action. To quote Zoe from the movie Serenity "Talking ain't doing."

Until a character takes action we really don't know what kind of person that character is. For example, Characters A, B, C, could all want the same thing: to survive an armed hold-up. They could all want that goal for the same reason: to get home safely to their family. And they could all be confronted with the same obstacle: the robber is insisting he's going to kill them.

What what will distinguish the three characters from each other is the action they take in response to their goal, their motivation and the obstalce they face.

Character A, for example, will beg pitifully for his life, wailing that he has a wife and child.

Character B will attack the robber and try and wrest the gun away from him.

Character C will try to reason with the robber, reaching out to him in an attempt to find some common ground upon which she can establish connection and, hopefully, have the robber see her as a human being.

All three actions would be based upon the kind of person the character is; their background, their beliefs, their strengths and weaknesses. And that's where the author comes in as she goes about the business of creating her characters.

Jerry Cleaver told us over and over in the workshop that one of the purpoes of fiction is to reveal character, to show us who people are and why they are that way.

We can best show the truth of our characters by showing them in action.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2007 proves to be happy, healthy, successful and joyful.

Okay, now that I've uttered the customary New Year's babble, I truly do hope that 2007 is a better year for everyone, whatever it is that you hope to accomplish or achieve.

Usually, I would start listing all the goals I've set and resolutions I've made. But, after umpteenth years of doing that and then, after a month or so, drifting back to my bad old habits, I'm not going to do that.

I know what I need to do this year. I'm just going to do it. One day at a time.