A Hero Shouldn’t Be Perfect

I’ve been seeing the pictures a lot on the internet as of late. Batman taking down every challenge with all ease and no sweat, or Goku and Vegeta of DBZ fame strolling towards the entire Marvel line-up with the feel of two friends taking a walk in the park.

More interesting yet is that I’ve seen such attitudes leak into writing, with characters facing nary anything to make them wonder whether a battle is winnable. This brings me to something that every writer must consider.

Don’t make your hero perfect. Don’t make them emotionally flawless, and certainly don’t overpower them.

I count Indiana Jones as probably my favorite fictional character ever. What’s not to love about the guy? He’s a gentlemen and a scoundrel both, he can fly off the handle at times and get in over his head, he throws Nazis under trucks, you name it. However, if you were to ask me who would win in a fight between Indiana Jones and Superman, I would probably plant myself in Team Kent. I love doctor Jones, but he can’t win all the time.

Indiana Jones is a flawed character. His hot head can get him into trouble, he often needs other people to save him, and by the time each movie is done, he’s hardly in the best shape. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that final image though of his bruised and broken body coming off his latest adventure is one of the things that makes him so lovable, because it reminds us of the insurmountable odds that he was able to overcome.

The main purpose of a hero in fiction is to create a character that takes your audience on a journey. In order for a character to do that, they need to be relatable for your audience.

It’s true that some heroes are less figures to relate to, and more for the audience to look up to. Part of the appeal of the Goku character is that he basically has the powers of a god, but also has the naive innocence of a child. The character is still challenged by equal opposing forces. However, having a hero that is overpowered can be a great risk because it can send a bad message. When you see a hero go continuously unchallenged or beat their adversaries with special powers the reader does not have, it can make them feel as if those powers are the only way to solve their real life woes.

In Lord of the Rings, the hero wasn’t the immensely powerful Gandalf, but the tiny Frodo Baggins. This worked so well since like Frodo, the reader was often in awe at the characters that filled with world, and could at times feel unable to measure up. Frodo didn’t really have any special powers or skills to get him through the day, and in the end he needed to make it on power of sheer will. It was a will that failed him at times, but in the end he was still the most important character of all. It was something that was very inspiring for the reader, in particular those among us who often feel small.

If Frodo could go Super Sayan, how would that message have been affected?

That’s not the only way a hero can be sunk, though. One equally dangerous way to deliver a hero is to make them perfect morally.

I’m a fan of the movie Krull, the 1983 cult classic about aliens invading a fantasy world. It has a certain endearing charm that makes it impossible to hate, in spite of its incredibly poor screenplay. Its main weakness is its writing, both in the story and characters. The character that suffers most is the hero, Colwyn.

Colwyn is a Disney Prince. He’s polite and charming, chivalrous, and never does anything selfish or self serving. That’s part of his problem. He doesn’t learn to be a better or braver man since he is already that way at the start of the journey. He just goes from point A to B, and that’s not what a story should be.

Going back to Indiana Jones, he does some morally questionable things often. He cuts off a man’s finger and threatens to murder a helpless woman in Temple of Doom, shows poor judgement in character when picking his guides in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and allows himself to be fooled by a seductive Nazi in Last Crusade. These mistakes and flaws leave opportunity for him to grow, which is just what a character should do. He goes from threatening women to saving enslaved children, goes from picking scoundrels to surrounding himself with friends, and overcomes his lust to see what lies beneath false beauty.

An overpowered or otherwise flawless character is something I think about often. It can be tempting to do this to your hero, because your hero is a character you love, and you don’t want to hurt your baby. Take my advice though, hurt them. Hurt them bad and hurt them often, because there is something inspiring about it.

There’s something more inspiring about seeing John McClane run across a glass covered floor than there is watching Superman fly across the world in a flash. There’s something more endearing about seeing a frightened Ellen Ripley journey into an alien nest than seeing King Arthur go to take on a dragon without dropping so much as a bead of sweat. This is because these characters are us.

The best characters are always us.

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Our Book Cover: Background Finished.

Well, after much work, our illustrator Joseph Buehrer has finished the background for our book cover for the first entry in the Never Heroes action/fantasy series. It took a lot of work to finish, but we feel this is the right atmosphere we’re going for. We do have an alternate possibility for a background in the works, a more ornamental one which our characters will be added to, and we’re going to try that as well. If that ends up getting used instead of this, we will still work this into the book somehow in one of the illustrations.

Shown here is one of our Haiden sunsets, with Ganbury and the Every War Tower on the left of the picture, and The Five Moons visible above it in the light of the setting sun. We hope you all enjoy this picture and promise more on Never Heroes to come soon.

Never Heroes Background

Outline for Book 2 Completed: Action Fantasy

Well, it is done. After my several weeks long struggle to get through the second act, I’ve finally done it, and now have a nice complete outline for the second book in my action/fantasy saga.

Never Heroes 2 is underway again

Things have remained busy here. I still have to apply the chapter 11 prose edits to the first book, and my now 100 page long manuscript for the second book patiently awaits my return to the keyboard, a return that is now imminent. I have linked the chain, and now have an unbroken thread that links the narrative from first page to last. Now it’s just a matter of writing it.

A few things had to be altered for the outline to work. For one, I had to seriously cut down on some of the action sequences, which can be difficult when your protagonist, pictured above, is an immensely large and powerful fire breather.

The action sequences in the next installment promise to be very spectacular, a trek through a booby trapped temple, a fight with a mass of flesh eating tar, a great battle with a fleet of ships, and a final showdown on the summit of an ice covered mountain peak. A few sequences had to be cut or combined with others for the simple sake of making sure this next story wasn’t going to be too loud. Ironic considering I was initially worried it wouldn’t be loud enough.

This is after all supposed to be action fantasy.

Writing this outline was originally a very worrying and tiresome process, but coming up with these set pieces and vignettes for the hero and his companions to overcome reminded me one of the things that made me fall in love with this story, and that label was one of them. Action fantasy.

It was something I had never seen before. It is true that many fantasy stories had some spectacular set pieces, such as the epic battles of Middle Earth, or magic showdowns at Hogwarts. None that I had seen in film and literature though had certain qualities that, to me at least, make great action. Sequences and set pieces that are less like the works of Rowling or Tolkien, but more like something out of an Indiana Jones or Die Hard movie. Awkward and bloody violence, torn shirts and bruised knuckles, and more plumes of fire than you can shake a stick at.

The latter is a given, considering that once again, the protagonist is an immensely large and powerful fire breather.

The opportunities for good and exciting set pieces are incalculable when you have such a hero in a story, someone who can breath explosions out on a whim, has big, powerful wings that can fly and kick up storms, and massive claws and a tail that can scatter armies and topple buildings. When you have such a character, what do you do with them? Just how can they be challenged? What credible threats can they face? How do they overcome said threats? Just how much damage can they do? They have to be strong, but they still need to face enough things to make them seem mortal and vulnerable.

So far in this outline, I have eight major set pieces. Most of them are concentrated in the third act of course. I don’t want to be too noisy.

My protagonist is a force of nature with major failings to overcome over the course of this story, and he continues to do so even just in outline form. I can see the slow transition from the sulking and sinister shadow in the dark to someone much more humble, heroic, and maybe even a little kind.

It’s not just this particular book that continues to grow. While outlining this one, I actually started to get some pretty interesting ideas for books three and four in this series. The most significant discovery was how to enhance the primary threat the characters face in book three, which I had been trying to find a better concept for.

Dragon-Eater-Concepts-Sketch

Early sketch for the dragon eater, a monster and one of the main antagonists in the Never Heroes book series.

The original villain, dubbed the Dragon Eater, was conceived as a prehistoric beast the characters must destroy. Though doing a traditional heroes vs. monster story was an attractive prospect, it didn’t seem quite as far reaching as it could have been given how the first two entires were turning out, and my idea for the forth and final book.

Fortunately, as the writing process often goes, an idea came that changed everything, and enhanced the Dragon Eater from a mere instinct driven beast to be killed, to something much more nefarious.

That is one of the joys of writing. Coming up with ideas and building them more high and more proud is a great feeling, especially if you already loved the idea to begin with.

Action fantasy. It is not a genre I’m too familiar with, but writing it sure is a blast.

Never Heroes 2, here I come.

Character Development, Small Touches vs. Big Ones

Character development is an art that requires much skill, and the willingness to both indulge, and show restraint. The tricky part is figuring out when to do one over another.

When writing a character, it can be very tempting to just pound away at the keyboard with a stirring monologue where they expose their darkest secrets, biggest dreams, and deepest most profound desires. There are great moments like this, like in Jaws when Quint opens up to Brody and Hooper about the horrors he experienced on the Indianapolis.

However, there is another part of this scene that is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. During the scene where Quint and Hooper are comparing scars, Brody lifts up his shirt to reveal a wound on his abdomen. It appears to be a more horrifying image than either Hooper or Quint has to offer. It looks like a bullet wound.

It makes sense. Brody is a cop from New York who spoke regularly about the violence in his home city. He very likely would have been at the very least fired at in the line of duty. What’s very telling during this scene is he doesn’t chime in about what happened to him. Quint was probably waiting for years to open up about his wartime experience, and tells the two men what happened down to the smallest detail.

Brody doesn’t, so one must infer that this scene was at the very least as traumatic to him as Quint, if not more.

One immediately wonders just what happened. Was Brody forced to kill his attacker in self defense? Did he witness the death of a partner? Does he feel guilt over having to shoot someone, or did something he do put his partners in danger so he feels deserving of his gunshot? All of this can be guessed from nothing more than a glimpse of his abdomen when he holds up his shirt. No monologging or info dumping required.

You see, small character touches can often be much more effective than big sweeping monologues. Sometimes a blunt and to the point statement can mean so much more than chapter upon chapter of someone telling about their past.

There are many number of ways to deliver a message in a short sentence or, as is common in film, do it purely visually. The back story of Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Misery is done with a look through a scrap book.

Another good example is in the movie Escape from Alcatraz. When Clint Eastwood is asked how his childhood was, he doesn’t go into a speech about how his dad was a drunk, how his mother never loved him, or how mis beloved puppy Skip was hit by a truck. His response is one single word.

“Short.”

In that one word, all the tragedy he has suffered, and all the anger he feels because of it is conveyed in an instant. Imagine if he did deliver a speech, and how much less that moment would have meant for us as an audience.

We can fill in those gaps with something far more effective than a monologue.

This is not to say monologging can’t be effective. Going back to Quint, we needed to hear all those details to understand just why Quint hated sharks as much as he did. There are many such great speeches from many greater characters. There is a time and a place for a monologue. In Quint’s case, it was a tragedy that he wanted to get off his chest, and he finally had someone willing to listen. It was right for his character to deliver that speech, and it was right for us as an audience.

There’s also a time and a place for a mystery. Annie Wilkes from Misery is not someone willing to admit her guilt in killing her lover and a series of infants, so her story would have to be learned by the hero and the audience by other means. As it would have been wrong for Quint to stay silent, it would have been wrong for Annie to reveal what she had done.

Sometimes, it is even more effective just to stay silent altogether. Halloween for example features a terrifying villain in Michael Myers. All we know about him is that as a six year old child, he murdered his older sister seemingly without any motive. He later escapes a mental hospital and begins a killing spree in his home town. We never find out why he does this, or if there even is a reason for his actions. Quite frankly, we don’t need to. All we need to know is he has a knife, and he wants to use it on Jamie Lee Curtis.

Yes, character development can be a very difficult thing, and sometimes it is very hard to tell when to go one way over another. The key to deciding this is to know who your character is, how they would act, and how much does your audience need to know in order to understand them. Sometimes they need to know a lot, sometimes only a little, and other times things are best left unsaid.

 

Why The Ending Isn’t The Hardest Part of a Story

I once heard someone describe writing as walking down a narrow winding path through the forest. You know what’s behind you, and what’s immediately beside you, but you have no idea what is coming next or where the path will end.

As someone who has been writing for several years now, I never found that to be the case.

I always know my ending. The ending is one of the first parts of any story that usually comes to me during the creative process, not just one ending but several equally attractive options. Likewise, the first act is also pretty easy, where you set up your world and your cast of characters that your audience will soon tag along with until the turning of the last page.

You have a clear beginning, and an ending in sight,and you just need to trudge through the muck and foliage to reach it.

Only you don’t know just how deep the muck is and that foliage looks like it has an awful lot of thorns. Yes, the ending of a story isn’t very difficult for me. The part that’s difficult is always the second act.

Why is this the case? One would think the action coming to a head would be the most critical part of a narrative, and it is in some cases. After all, the third act of any story contains a lot of the most memorable sequences, and that’s the point where the character arcs are settled. That’s the part where Indiana Jones and his father reconcile, where Romeo and Juliet join each other in death, and where Brian has to accept his fate on the cross while singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Those who focus on that do miss one key point, and that is holding the reader’s attention.

Take people who cover books and scripts for example. I covered scripts a lot during my internships, and it was always said that the first ten pages are the most critical part of any script. If you didn’t know what was going on by the end of those ten pages, chances are the script wasn’t worth reading. This is why you see books and scripts starting in big ways. A group of mysterious wizards dropping off a child at Privet Drive in the middle of the night, or a young girl getting killed by a shark off the shores of Amity Island.

But that’s just the start of the story. How do you sustain that feeling all the way to the third act? And that my friends is why the second act is the most important part of any story.

Nobody just remembers the opening and ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They also love the high adventure of Indy’s archeological and Nazi killing antics in Egypt. Who just recalls Harry’s arrival at Privet drive and surviving his first year at Hogwarts? They love seeing him go to class, introduce us to this strange new world and slowly unravel the mystery of Voldemort. People didn’t just want Sam and Frodo to arrive at Mount Doom straight off. They wanted to see them go through a long and treacherous journey of Balrogs, orcs and giant spiders.

This may be a poor analogy, but think of any story like a sandwich. The first and third acts are the bread that holds it together, but the second act is the cheese, vegetables and meat that fill you up. People don’t want to get roped into a story only to wait for it to get really good at the end. They want the story to be good right now. Nobody would feel full after eating two pieces of bread.

Imagine if Indiana Jones just sat around and found the Ark of the Covenant without the action. Imagine if Sam and Frodo just had a casual stroll with Gollum before things picked up at the volcano. Imagine if Harry just spent most of the time tediously studying before Voldemort showed up out of nowhere.

The second act is the most critical part of the story, because that is the journey. The payoff is great, but it needs to feel earned. Part of the joy of a mystery for example is the reader trying to figure out with the characters who is responsible for whatever crime was committed. How do you keep them guessing and keep them intrigued? This is true of any other story. In an adventure, they want to keep guessing who lives and who dies, in a horror tale they want to be wondering when the monster will jump out of the darkness again, and so forth.

This makes the second act the most open part of any story, which is one of the reasons it may be the most difficult, because how do you keep all the ideas straight so the ending seems like the appropriate conclusion? What conflicts do you introduce to spice up the characters? What challenges do they face before their final standoff with the big bad?

You think just linking point A and C would be a no brainer, but it really isn’t, because that second act is full of so much possibility, it’s sometimes hard for a writer to chose where to go. Where do you be funny, scary, sad or exciting? Through it all, how far can you go without losing your story’s spirit?

I have no answers on how to fix this problem. I’m hung up on a mere two chapters in my latest outline, even though the first and third acts of my next book are mapped out in advance. Sometimes it may be best to just wing it, because isn’t that where some of our best art comes from?

Regardless of how you or I solve the problem, I don’t feel the analogy of a story as a winding path is correct. It’s much more like climbing a mountain. You know where you’re starting, you know where you’re ending, but you still need to figure out the best route to take.

There are any number of ways to get to Mount Doom.

Outlined Writing vs. Free Writing

Writing is a very interesting art form. Like any art, there are any number of ways to complete it, longhand r typing, improvised or planned, as fiction or non-fiction and so forth. The biggest distinction I make when it comes to writing is whether it is outlined or done freely.

An outline is a writing tool, similar to a bullet point, where you map out your story and/or points from beginning to end, so you know precisely what goes where in your work before you even begin. This streamlines the writing process in many ways in that it becomes a journey of getting from point A, to B, to C and so forth.It is a tried and true method that helps keep your thoughts organized during the creative process.

Free writing is a different thing altogether. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Sitting down and just letting it all go without any organization or restraint. There are many great things about free writing, better improvisation, it helps with brainstorming, and generally is more energetic for the artist than outlined writing.

So, which process is better?

I’m not going to lie, but like so many things there is no clear black and white answer Different styles work better for different writers. Rowling for example had each of the Harry Potter books carefully planned by the time the first book hit the presses. Each plot point was carefully set up and foreshadowed in advance. Sometimes though, this planning comes at the expense of spontaneity, and the process of writing may suffer.

An outline can be a terrific road map for someone who is nervous about filling in that blank page, so that is personally the method I prefer. When the points are out before you, it allows you to keep things better organized in your head. When that happens, you can do a good deal of writing without ever stroking the keyboard.

Writing is mostly thinking, because there can be no words without a clear cohesive thought. I’m a very visual thinking person, and the organization of the outline makes it much easier to remember. With that tool, you can contemplate and elaborate on each point one at a time. By the time you do sit down, you’re overflowing with ideas that you can’t wait to put into words.

In spite of my love for the outline, there is a risk. Sometimes it prevents you from thinking outside of the box. My outlines are very specific, so when it comes time to sit down and actually write, I sometimes forget that venturing beyond them is also an option. In simpler terms, it can unintentionally put you in a box. In your outline you may have your hero rush into a burning building to save someone, so you may forget to consider what may happen if they don’t.

Free writing doesn’t have that unintentional effect. You just sit down and let it all go. I’ve taken part in free writing, mainly as an exercise, and it is surprising just how quickly the ideas and inspiration come sometimes. The spontaneity is quite refreshing after the sometimes dry  process of outlining. It’s also a very exciting process since you don’t know just what is coming next half the time. Writing free of an outline frees both you and your characters, and allows them to wow you in a variety of interesting ways.

The casualty of this spontaneity is organization. Good stories are, for the most part, very well structured. You look at classics from the Shakespeare plays to the Indiana Jones movies, and all of them have that certain organic flow that makes them work as cohesive narratives. Work like that requires a lot of careful planning, writing and re-writing, and time off to let your work fester.

There is no black and white answer as to which one is better overall. Perhaps it depends on what mood you’re in. Some days the planning may be the most effective way to get your creative juices flowing, while other days it may be best to just do a jiggy on the keyboard without any planning or foresight. Maybe outlining is a good place to get started and free writing is a good way to finish, or maybe it’s best to free write a first draft and structure it into a cohesive narrative later on.

I read so many articles saying one way is right and the other is wrong, but take my advice as someone who has done both. Ignore those. Nothing in the world is black and white, and this is especially true for art.

I’m personally more of an outliner because the stories I make are complex with a lot of layers and plot points that need to be sorted out, but I also enjoy the freedom that free writing has to offer. Find the one that works best for you, and should the day come that you find yourself stuck, consider trying the other way, if only to get yourself started.

Meet and Greet @ Dream Big: 5/21/16

Hello Danny. Always look forward to your blog parties.
Hello everyone. My name is Eric Hanson and I’m a writer of books and screenplays in the process of editing my first book and writing my second. I blog news about my projects as well as writing tips and editorials on favorite books and movies. Can’t wait to meet some new bloggers so feel free to drop by and I’ll check your sites out when I have the time.

Dream Big, Dream Often

Dream-Big

It’s the Meet and Greet weekend at Dream Big!!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times!  It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want.  It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new blogs to follow.

Now that all the rules have been clearly explained get out there and Meet n Greet your tails off!

See ya on Monday!!

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Halfway Done with Prose Edit

After a week of anxiety and work related stress, I was finally able to sit down and apply the edits to chapters 9 and 10 for the prose edit of my first novel. This is a major event for us, because this puts us halfway through our edit on the prose, and a quarter of the way done with our editing overall.

The improvements made to the manuscript since I met my editor have been most valuable. She has helped me spot plot holes I would have otherwise missed, pointed out some of my shortcomings as an artist and allowed me to focus on and improve them, and done it all with an overall spirit of fun and friendship. What I like about my editor is she does all the things an editor and a critic is supposed to do, but she does it in a way that doesn’t seem harsh or mean.

That approach really has helped me as a writer, and has been nothing but beneficial to the story.

Well, we have ten chapters to go on the prose edit, and finally a second run through focusing exclusively on characters and dialogue. The manuscript promises to mature a great deal in this time, and I couldn’t be more excited. The run through for dialogue and character development shouldn’t be quite as long as we will be more focused, but time will tell.

Rest assured people, if you find a good editor, it can be a very fulfilling partnership. It’s not just busywork, but can be an essential part of the creative process. In many ways, it can be every bit as essential as editing the rough cut of a movie. An editor comes at the story with the same critical eye any other reader will, and if they’re confused, it isn’t because they’re stupid. It’s because an idea wasn’t communicated clearly enough. If they’re confused, your reader will be confused as well.

An editor will help you spot such mistakes and correct them before a book hits the presses, and save you from any potential embarrassment. That, my friends, will bring your work to a much wider audience.

World Building Article Update

After much time and effort, our latest edit to one of our world building articles for the Never Heroes adventure book series is done. This article, which deals with the life of the villainous Sir Slight, with special attention given to his lethal blade and its highly detailed sheath.

Our dear friend and brother Cullen McCurdy has just finished some extensive work on the sheath, which is adorned with sculptures, murals and portraits depicting the life and times of Sir Slight and his heritage. It is the most highly detailed digital render we’ve posted yet, and deserves a special round of applause.

Be sure to check it out at the link below.

Owand Family Lineage and the Blade of Sir Slight

While you’re at it, be sure to check out Cullen’s own blog at this link. Thanks for reading and we will catch you all later.

100 Page Mark

Sorry for the delay in getting back since last week. I had some dire personal issues that needed to be addressed, but they have since been fixed up.

In the meantime, it has been a most busy week for Never Heroes. We move closer to the completion of the background picture for our cover, our beast artist is nearly free so he will be able to provide the image of out leading man (or rather dragon), I now have two more chapters to edit on the first book.

One of the big things that happened though was the completion of chapter four on the first draft of the second book. That beginning manuscript now tops 37000 words and 100 pages.

It’s honestly pretty strange to look at it now. I can’t believe we reached that milestone so quickly, bringing it to roughly a third of the length of the original book. This chapter was pretty interesting, taking the characters back to the city that served as the finale of the first book, slowing down to do a little world building, and put some issues from the first book to rest. All in all, it was pretty productive.

I think I’ll take a little time off the manuscript itself and delve deeper into the outline for now. As I mentioned before, I started writing the manuscript before the outline was finished, so I have a large gap in the second act that needs to be filled. Fortunately, some pretty interesting ideas started coming to me a few weeks ago, and I’m eager to try them out and see how they work in this story. This week may be the one where that outline is finally finished.

Finally, had a wonderful meeting with my editor. I filled her in on some of the plot details and what I was trying to get across so we can better figure out ways to clarify certain things. We’re about half way through our run at the prose, and then we’ll go on a second run through that exclusively focuses on characters and dialogue.

It really is great to have an editor so easy to work with, and she is also enjoying the story very much so she wants to see it go well.

That’s all for now. Will fill you in on more details as they come. Catch you all later.