About Writing

Carol

In this post, I’ll be discussing spoilers for The Scion Suit. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you click the link and enjoy a free story.


The big reveal at the end of The Scion Suit is that the main character, Carol, is a “seed” for a bio-mechanical alien race, and she has a chip implanted in her brain stem that allows her to connect and interface with her mechanical body — aka the Suit. The idea behind her characterization is that she starts off as literally half of herself, and is consequently a fairly boring and one-dimensional individual. The more time she interfaces with the Suit, the more she develops into a full person.

With writing different story branches, I’ve had some time to emphasize that Carol doesn’t have much going on. She has no obvious hobbies or preferences, and can’t figure out how to occupy herself when she’s left to her own devices. Heck, she gets abruptly plucked out of her life and doesn’t miss anything about it.

I’m going to go ahead and confess something here:

I feel like I’m writing a normal, average real life person.

I want to believe that real people are more rounded than that, but unfortunately one of the poignant lessons of 2020 was that, when stuck at home with no where to go, a huge number of people will spend all day watching Netflix and not much else.

How disappointing.

But I guess that since this is my little fictional world, I can pretend that everyone is far more interesting than they are in the real one.

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com
The Scion Suit

The Scion Suit Character Notes

Carol

  • Age: 31
  • Rank: special officer
  • Time served: *2 years cleaning the Suit*
  • Appearance: 5’4″, brown hair – just above shoulders, wears neutral t-shirts and tank tops
  • Personality: “Obedient and unambitious”, but has a petty vindictive side. Struggles with anxiety. Starts off bland, because [SPOILER].
  • Drink of choice: Moscato (sparkling white wine)
  • Other notes: Lambert mockingly calls her “commander”. The Suit recognizes her as the primary user.

Lambert

  • Age: 40
  • Rank: Captain
  • Time served: 6 years
  • Appearance: 6’0″, bulky, dark brown hair, wears dark colors when not in uniform.
  • Personality: Irritable. Has no life outside of the military. Secretive about himself.
  • Drink of choice: Whisky
  • Other notes: Was a psychiatrist before joining the military.

Hartmann

  • Age: 35
  • Rank: Master Sergeant
  • Time served: 18 years
  • Appearance: 5’11”, angular, sandy blonde hair
  • Personality: Joined the military for the action, loves being recognized for his accomplishments.
  • Drink of choice: hard liquor for getting drunk/showing off
  • Other notes: Brain damaged by the Suit

Holmes

  • Age: 21
  • Rank: Corporal
  • Time served: 3 years
  • Appearance: 5’10”, lanky
  • Personality: Young, likes to tease, but takes his job seriously and follows his orders very well.
  • Drink of choice: Anything lawl
  • Other notes: Has a girlfriend, planning on getting married after his service is up.

About Writing

The importance of clothing with characterization

‘Round about a decade ago, I mentioned in some writing community that I liked to go window shopping and find clothes that would fit my fictional characters’ sense of style. I was promptly informed that I was crazy and weird.

Well, duh.

Why else would I be a writer?

Now that I never go anywhere without my ever-growing entourage, I don’t go window shopping anymore. I also don’t have anything to do with writing communities anymore, because the sheer level of “not getting it” is beyond astonishing. For people who claim to be all about writing fiction, they’re a little too concerned about appearances in the real world. Seriously, who cares if you’re weird?

But anyway

I love characterization. It’s probably the facet of writing that I’m the most enamored with, and I’m as passionate about my villains as I am about my heroes. I adore those meditative moments when I seek out their voices and listen to their stories.

And I guess that, given my apparent insanity, I have a different approach to characterization than other writers.

For some reason this is an unpopular thing to say, but the truth of the world is that the way you dress reflects your personality. That’s why some people are all about leggings and messy buns, while others like vintage fit-n-flare dresses. You know. Because they have different personalities.

So, my once-upon-a-time window shopping was part of my characterization process. Getting a clear picture of how they dressed also gave me a clear picture of who they were. I still like to browse online for what so-and-so would wear, and I put the clothes into my stories.

My approach also relies heavily on the preconceptions that the readers are bringing into the story, and gives a lot of room for individual interpretation (which I happen to enjoy, because it personalizes the experience). Instead of describing Miranda as “professional”, I put her in a pantsuit and it’s up to you to view her as “empowered” or “narcissistic.”

Me? I don’t think of her as either. But that’s a ‘nother post.

There you have it: clothing matters in fiction.

About Writing, Alice and the Warden

Miranda Grainey

Aged 34. Blonde hair, usually in simple updos, blue eyes, oval-rimmed glasses. Lawyer.

Miranda is a foil to Alice.

She and Hackett were together for about ten or so years, then broke up three years before the start of the story. As described, “It was a comfortably low-maintenance relationship, and Miranda never cared how many hours I worked, because she was putting in just as many herself. In retrospect, I don’t think that either of us put an ounce of our hearts into it, and we were only together to ease the strain of our careers.”

However, Miranda was the primary motivation behind Hackett’s career advancement, because she cared about prestige and image. They worked well together as long as he kept moving upwards, but Hackett’s satisfaction with his position as warden put a strain on their relationship. Eventually, his desire to switch gears and begin a family is what brought their relationship to an end.

Miranda’s main weakness is that her self-image is externally defined. She needs the fancy job, car, money, etc, to feel like she has worth, and any threat to those things is a threat to her as a person. She rejects the idea of motherhood completely, because in her mind it would rob her of who she is.

She views Hackett’s marriage to Alice as a huge personal insult. They were together for ten years without ever once mentioning marriage, then out of nowhere he up and elopes with someone 17 years younger than him. Worse yet, Alice is a high school drop out, with none of the education or ambition that Miranda deems valuable. She writes off Hackett’s marriage as a lapse in judgment brought on by a midlife crisis, and hopes that they’ll eventually divorce.

She also listens to too much modern music.

About Writing, Alice and the Warden

Damon Rake

Obligatory link to Alice and the Warden

The night that I named all of the characters, I browsed through a database of surnames, came across Rake, and thought that it felt right for Damon’s character. The next day when I showed everything to my husband, he laughed his butt off and pointed out that one of the definitions of a ‘rake’ is: “a man who behaves in an immoral way, for example by having sexual relationships with a lot of women.”

Oh. Right. That’s probably why I thought it fit. Kept it anyway.

So yes, I know, but it wasn’t intentional.

Damon is thirty years old, straight auburn hair about cheek length, and brown eyes. He’s attractive, and deliberately goes for the ‘hot bad boy’ image, but his lifestyle is catching up with him and his looks are wearing out.

Damon’s background is fairly stereotypical: he grew up with a deadbeat mom and her steady string of boyfriends, many of whom were abusive jerks. Got into the party scene young and never made it to high school. Likes the freedom of a motorcycle, never thinks about the future, and has an almost narcissistic preoccupation with image. His moral structure is hedonistic and self-serving, and he’s full of a lot of anger and hatred that results in antisocial behavior.

Damon is smart. He’s good at reading people, and has an intuitive understanding of how to exploit and manipulate their weaknesses. He doesn’t make very many mistakes.

While he saw Alice primarily as an asset to manage and utilize, he was genuinely fond of her. In his mind, he rescued her from neglect, took her under his wing to provide for her, and gave her a purpose. Because of this, he kept her around for much longer than he ordinarily would have, until he thought that she was becoming too much of a liability for him to keep control of. He was aware that he was slowly destroying her, but was too nihilistic to stop.

He views Alice’s transformation as a betrayal of him and everything he taught her, but is secretly glad that she found somewhere stable and safe to land.

In about twenty years or so, he’ll have reformed enough to maintain contact with his daughter, Alicia. But that will be a long journey for him.

About Writing, Alice and the Warden

Writing a three pronged love story

When I started writing Alice and the Warden, I decided that I wanted it to be a three pronged love story.

First, I wanted to depict Alice growing to love herself. The foundation is built on her learning that she has inherent worth as a person, and that she isn’t defined by her past mistakes. As she herself puts it, “I lived like I was disposable, so it was no wonder that I was used and thrown away”. She realizes that before she can move on and build a better life, she needed to accept that she has value.

Second is the story of maternal love. Alice’s main motivation is to be the sort of mother she thinks her daughter deserves, and all of the introspection and hard truths that she admits to herself stem from that desire. After her baby is born, she does her best to empathize and care for her newborn without complaint, even when she’s exhausted. As she says, “I’m her whole world. I’m the reason she exists, and I can never be replaced as her mother. When I think about myself from her perspective, it makes me want to be a totally different person – the sort of person who’s worthy of that love.”

Third is the marriage between Alice and Hackett. Their relationship is built on companionship and acceptance, as they skip past the stereotypical romance and dive right in to quiet evenings at home with the baby — but they’re still flirty and affectionate whenever they get the chance. They aren’t perfect, but they’re determined to love and support each other, especially when things get tough. Because they both come from painful backgrounds, they find refuge in each other.

Alice: “I feel like it’s okay to be damaged with you. My real dad abandoned me because my parents divorced, but now I can rely on you to look out for me instead, you know? And you’re so good with Alicia, that I never want you to leave me. I love you. Probably more than I would have if I wasn’t damaged.”

Hackett: “She wants to make sure that Alicia doesn’t grow up lonely and vulnerable the way she did, and she wants to make sure that our marriage never grows cold and distant. And you know what? It makes me feel safe. I can be myself without turning into a giant disappointment.”

In retrospect, my original plan of wrapping it all up in 15,000 words was pretty silly. The character development is more ambitious than that would have allowed for.

Anyway, I promise that I’m not being self-congratulatory or anything like that. This year has been stressful in more ways than one, which has made me more forgetful than usual, so I decided that it was a good idea to start compiling my thoughts and goals with this novel. Truth is, I’m not sure I’ve satisfactorily met my goals with this story yet, since it’s still very much a work in progress.

Alice and the Warden

Alice Leigh

Since I did a post on Hackett…

The title character from Alice and the Warden.

Rebel Alice

The story starts after she’s already begun her redemption process, so this phase is only referenced/flashbacks. Funny enough, this is also the phase that I’ve had the most brainstorming sessions with my husband about.

Chin-length hair, dyed vivid pink. Lots and lots of black eyeliner and mascara. Goes out of her way to look like a rebellious, sexy, motorcycle chick. Cusses a lot.

However, her lifestyle is harsh on her. She’s malnourished, waxy and pale, and is usually too out of it to think for herself.

Her boyfriend, Damon, managed her use of drugs and alcohol to keep her malleable, but he never gave her any of the scary stuff.

Redeemed Alice

Her natural hair is growing out, so the top half is brown while the bottom is still bleached. Chocolate brown eyes. A healthy diet, lots of rest, and pregnancy, has helped her fill out and given her a much softer appearance.

More than anything, she wants to keep her baby and be a good mother, so she’s been doing everything in her power to change herself. Her isolation has enabled her to do a lot of introspection, and she has admitted a lot of hard truths to herself. She’s cleaned up her mannerisms considerably.

However, she still struggles with self-esteem and views herself as permanently damaged because of her past.

Anyway, it’s both hot AND humid today, which has me feeling totally miserable, so I’m gonna call this good.

About Writing

Basil Hackett

WordPress finally forced me over to the block editor, and now I know why everyone complains about it. It strikes me as something that a bunch of tech geeks thought would be AWESOME, and they completely forgot that a lot of us users have skills that are more in line with typing up articles in Word.

But le sigh, I will have to learn it anyway.

Or I’ll start copy-n-pasting, and bypass this change all together. Everything keeps popping around and disappearing too much for my tastes.

Back to our originally scheduled program…

Basil Hackett.

For those who don’t know, he’s my fictional character from Alice and the Warden

It’s taken quite some time for me to get a clear mental picture of him, so thus far he hasn’t been properly described. This is the sort of thing that I usually add in while working on the second draft, but that will be awhile. My current goal is to write about 1000 words a week, which is comfortably steady and works well with where I’m at in real life right now, but it’s definitely not fast.

So we’ll go ahead and describe him now.

Physically, he lifts weights a few times a week (lunch break in the prison gym sort of thing), but he also has some extra padding from never saying ‘no’ to dessert. He’s bulky, but not “beefcake.”

His hair is short, combed back, mid-brown with a few gray strands at the sides. He’s always clean-shaven.

His eyes are the one thing that I do describe, a striking hazel-green that can make you forget what you were saying if you look too closely at them.

The impression he gives is being like a boulder, impassive and unmovable. The part that Alice never sees is that, as the warden, he likes to run a tight ship to ensure the safety of everyone in the prison (guards and inmates alike). He takes his job very seriously, doles out discipline when necessary, utilizes psychological methods to promote good behavior, and provides lots of training and resources to help inmates transition to the “outside” world.

Of course, the story mostly portrays Hackett behind the scenes in his private life.

Those are most of my non-spoiler thoughts about him. Honestly, it’s a little weird to be openly writing about characterization with an unfinished story, but hey, first time for everything.

About Writing

Inuyashiki

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I used to be a big anime geek when I was a teenager, and watched far more series than I care to admit to. I grew out of it after a few years, mainly because I got burnt out on most of the stereotypes and tropes — anime just got so anime, if you know what I mean.

I still watch it every now and then when the mood strikes, which is how I came across Inuyashiki Last Hero.

This is definitely a “after the kids have gone to bed” sort of show.

The basic plot is that 58-year-old Inuyashiki and high school student Shishigami are accidentally killed by inter-dimensional aliens, who replace their bodies with highly advanced combat robots to cover up their crime. Hilarity ensues.

I’m bringing this up because of the characterization of Shishigami was particularly noteworthy. He’s the main antagonist of the story, and the audience sees him do some pretty evil stuff. There’s no doubt that he’s a sociopath who is incapable of empathizing with strangers.

However, he’s not *all* bad. When he cares about someone, he deeply cares about them. More than once, he tries to quit doing evil for the sake of his loved ones, then gets pushed back into it when his loved ones get unfairly hurt.

It creates a genuine conflict in the audience. On one hand, you want to hate him because you see him do really terrible things; on the other, you can’t help but feel that some of his acts were justified. Not all, mind you, but definitely some. He would have settled down into helping society instead of hurting it, if society had been capable of leaving him alone — the audience knows this, and can’t help but feel bad for him because he’s demonized so thoroughly that he can’t change despite his best efforts.

The anime turned out to be a thought-provoking departure from the usual stereotype of the evil antagonist.

So the next time you sit down to start writing a novel, don’t be afraid to humanize your villain. It’ll be a change of pace from what everyone is used to.

Books

Bloodstained

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I will be discussing spoilers in this post. Consider yourself warned.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with video game culture, there was a series that started clear back in the 80’s called Castlevania. Many people consider the 1997 release, Symphony of the Night, to be the best game in the series (phew, exposition).

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Alucard

I confess that I have never played Symphony of the Night. All I know is that Alucard is the ultimate gothic pretty boy vampire character.

Anywho, the creator of Castlevania got fed up with video game companies, struck out on his own with Kickstarter, and developed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as a spiritual successor.

We played Bloodstained because I was in the mood for something gothic, lol. I’d rate it 4/5.

All right, now here are the spoilers: your character wakes up after a ten year long nap, and discovers that her bff is the villain. He is later revealed as being mind-controlled by a demon, and the excessively helpful blonde woman is outed as being the one who is actually evil. She summons the ultimate demon that you have to fight and kill as the final boss of the game.

And, well, I thought that the story line was the weakest part of the game. It was too obvious and predictable, but teased just enough that I kept hoping it would try something new. It didn’t.

The mind control shtick has passed its sell-by date, in my opinion. Whenever characters act like, “You used to be sooo good, but now you want to kill everyone. What’s going on?” you can bet that it’s because of MIND CONTROL.

I dunno, maybe they were abused and damaged beyond what they could handle. Maybe they realized that society is irredeemably corrupt. Maybe, just maybe, something happened that made them change their mind. Characters are allowed to evolve, and it doesn’t always have to be for the better. Even good characters can have a dark night of the soul.

And the main character… she’s allowed to change too; she doesn’t have to statically believe in black and white forever and ever. Wouldn’t it be wild if, halfway through the game, the main character has an epiphany about pursuing the wrong goals, and forms an alliance with the antagonist? No one would see it coming!

It feels like there’s a big, gaping hole in the middle of storytelling that no one acknowledges, ideas that are never explored because we’re too accustomed to stereotypes.

In this day and age where indie is becoming more and more accessible, what are we afraid of?