Archive | Writing Tips RSS for this section

What Makes A Hero?

Have you ever run into a blog or review that compares Harry Potter to Star Wars or argued that Star Trek stole all of its good points from Lord of the Rings?

Well, what most of these surface scratching critics don’t realize, is that fabulous, timeless adventures follow the same pattern by design. Ingenious authors realize that in order to  withstand the shifts in culture, their characters must be accessible to the human race at large or risk become outdated within five years or so.

This pattern has a name. Its called the Journey of the Hero.

It doesn’t matter if your watching Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, or Batman. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading about Clary Fray, Katniss Everdeen, or Ender Wiggins. If a hero stands the test of time, she must become the archetype.

The Journey of the Hero transcends human culture. Its found in the stories of old: Hercules, Thor, the heroes of Japan and China. It was first described in western literature by Joseph Campbell in A Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Step One: The hero must have a divine, magical or royal lineage. Something makes the hero special, sets him apart from the millions of people in his universe. Harry is a wizard–he’s The Boy Who Lived. Luke is destined to be a Jedi. Batman is the owner of a billion dollar corporation!

Step Two: The hero is hidden away until he is ready to face his destiny. Most of the time he is given a protector or mentor to help him train. Katniss has her father. Clary has her mother. Frodo gets Gandalf. ’nuff said.

Step Three: The Childhood Test. This is the moment the hero is changed forever. He cannot sit back an let evil wreak havok around the world. He is told of his lineage and he can never go back to what he thought he was before. Peter Parker looses Uncle Ben. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games. Ender goes to Battle School. The hero is changed forever.

Step Four: The quest. The hero embarks on his journey to save…something. Usually he doesn’t want his calling. Do you think Buffy Summers wants to be “the Slayer?” No, she just wants to be normal! Doesn’t Harry just want to be a regular wizard, without Reeta Skeeter nosing in his business all the time? But alas, the hero cannot fight against the call forever. Frodo decides to go to Mordor to destroy the Ring. Harry must finally face Voldemort. Batman must stop the Joker.

Step Five: The hero must face death and return stronger. This step is actually quite tricky. In mythology, the hero literally had to die and come back, or visit the underworld and return to the regular world. In modern times “facing death” can have a symbolic meaning. The loss of a loved one, the loss of self-confidence, or the loss of a hero’s superpowers are just some examples. The hero must face these “deaths,” something that all humans fear, and overcome them in order to successfully complete his quest. If the hero fails–well then he’s not a hero.

Step Six: The hero lives unhappily ever after. Yes, we know. This is the most controversial step. But think about it. The hero has sacrificed everything for his quest. He may have saved the world, but he has lost something along the way. Another way to explain this step is “the hero lives as happily as can be reasonably expected.” Sure, Harry married Ginny, but did he get his parents back? Will he ever see Sirius or Dumbledore again? Frodo Baggins said it best at the end of Lord of the Rings. Sam said to him: “We saved the Shire!” and Frodo answers “Not for me.”

So, there you have it. Don’t believe me? Analyze your favorite book. Take your favorite character through the steps.

Advertisements

What it takes to Create Cover Art for an Independently Published Book

How do you take this:

Phoenix Angel Cover RawGuardian of time raw2

And turn it into this:

Phoenixguardian-cover-final-frontonly

Lets be honest: A lot of work goes into making a cover for anything. So when it comes to publishing a book independently, it’s not any different. Normally, with a big publisher, you take what they give you. But publishing independently, you get to choose. There are two routes you can take, 1)select a pre-made general cover provided by independent publishing company, or 2) like us, you can have your cover designed by an independent artist. The second path isn’t easy. There are a lot of steps to be considered:

1. Find an artist who has talent, knows how to do market research, and knows how to format.

2. Next, our artist decided to create our covers from a real life picture of a real human being. That meant finding a model that fit what we needed, both in looks and stature. After that, we needed a photographer, costume, and money to pay both people for their work. Those who do this process, always remember: have your model, artist and photographer sign the proper waivers and photo releases so you have the rights to use their work.

3. After completing the photoshoot, the artist takes over. We have several meetings, talking about what we do and don’t like, until finally, a first draft appears. (Something to consider, not all fonts are free, some are copyrighted. Remember to check that before you publish anything. Never use anything copyrighted without written permission or paying the royalty fee.) Then it goes back to the artist. We follow this process until the final product is done.

4. Different books have different sizes, and depending on your publisher, you will need certain formats and dimensions for your cover to work out correctly on your book. Don’t be offended if they send it back with corrections, its just the process. Always, always, always remember to do your research.

Exciting news for our readers: we have just started this process for book 3.  More soon!

What’s in a name?

One of the hardest decisions an author can make is what to name her characters. Shaking the “popular baby names” book all over your manuscript can be one of the worst mistakes an author makes. A name has power. Would Eragon be a timeless epic hero if his name was Freddy? Would Captain James T. Kirk have been written into the history of science fiction as a rebellious leader of Starfleet if Gene Roddenberry had called him Arnold? I don’t think so.

It is important to research the culture of your world before deciding on a name. In Phoenix Angel, we chose the name Lily Ivers not only because it means “archer of purity,” which really describes her character, but because the name itself has a quality of elegance that the reader attributes to Lily as well. In Guardian of Time, we learn that her true name is Esilwen, which means “lady of the silver light.”

In contrast, the name Maggie Brooks carries a defiant swagger that defines her spicy personality. It literally means “pearl of the waters.” Knowing that she was once the Princess of the Jewel in the realm of Nehro, the water goddess, gives her name a subtle foreshadowing that is integral to the weave of our story.

Care was taken especially in the development of Thyella (which means “land of the purple bamboo”), because of the underlying Japanese cultural influence we built into the shard. Raeylan is a blending of the Japanese words rei and jikan, which mean courtesy and time, respectively. Viridius was chosen as his surname because it means “green”  in Latin. Rei is one of the core values of the Japanese Samurai, the Bushido code, and is paired with the element of spirit, honor and the color green. Shikun means “little truth,” derived from the Japanese word shin, which is another attribute of Bushido.

So what about Kyle Spencer? You’ll have to wait until Book 3 to find that out…

What makes a good villain?

So what is it that makes us love to hate a villain?  Is it because of his actions, or because he is just so good at being bad?  For me, it’s both.  Even more, its his motivation behind both.  Let’s look at some popular villains.

Darth Vader is an iconic anti-hero who is recognized by his unmatched power in the Force (and lets face it, his awesome breathing apparatus).  His motivation: loss.  He was tricked by the Emperor into believing that he was going to lose everything–which then he did–and was left only with his conviction that democracy was a failure, that the Peoples of the Star Wars universe needed to be ruled.  Why do we love to hate him? Darth Vader’s actions are unforgiving and intimidating.  He shows little mercy to those who cross him, whether rebels or his own men.  Guess what? We eat that stuff up.  Little kids don’t dress up as Luke Skywalker, or even Han Solo.  It Vader or Yoda, nothing else will do.

Another villain, one who’s not new by any means, but who has recaptured the attention of the public, is Loki from the Avengers.  Why do we love him?  Well for the girls…lets just say, they think he’s one good-looking evil-wannabe-king.  But what endears us to his character?  It is his tragic loss. He has fallen: once an Asgardian, now an outcast.  Once again, more than just an antagonist, he is an anti-hero. Revenge for loss is what drives him.  It is what makes him human.

So this brings me to the Shardwell Series.  It is important to us as an author team to stay true to our characters, including our anti-heroes.  When it came time for us to design our main antagonist, we had some choices to make.  What kind of villain would he be? What ethical system would he follow?  (For those of you who play turn-based role-playing games, would he be lawful evil or chaotic evil?)  Then C.Hall had a brilliant idea.  What if our antagonist believed he was the salvation of the Peoples of the shards? What if he thought he was leading the people to a greater good?

Kirion was born.  A villain more terrifying than those who are hollowly evil.  How do you reason with a man who thinks what he does is for good of all?  How do you stop him when he sees justice where others see tyranny?  That is the dilemma that faces our heroines–Esilwen in particular.  She sees the good in everyone, but Kirion’s definition is the extreme: either you join or die, all for the sake of righteousness. There is no villain more terrifying than one who thinks his path is the way of light, when in reality it bleeds genocide and murder.

Kirion shows the depth of his convictions in the end of the second book.  I won’t say what he did here in this post, (I’m saving the discussion of this great atrocity for later, but if you have not yet finished the second book Guardian of Time, I entreat you to do so) but I will say this: it was one of those moments that brought tears to our eyes as we composed every sentence.  It was then that we realized the power of the villain we had unleashed in the shards. And how hard it would be to stop him.

Kirion = love to hate.

Why is the ending always wrong?!

This a warning to all who have not read either Phoenix Angel or Guardian of Time, there are spoilers below.  Stop reading now before you ruin the end!!!

So as it turns out, we always get the ending wrong the first time.  When developing our books, C. Hall and I always get together to outline each book before we write it.  We discuss what needs to happen for each character and decide what needs to happen in the story.  Conflict and such.  Our books are written in sections, separated by the different story arcs.  We always get the first ones right, following a natural progression for our characters and their storylines.

But then there’s the dreaded end…

We always get wrong the first time.  Its happened so many times, that we now know that the original ending we prepared will be thrown out the window, probably aimed at the cat, for all its worth.

So how different were the endings?  We already discussed Mark, the impossible character to kill.  But now I must mention the earthquake that never happened.  In our original outline of Phoenix Angel, Bonneville High School was going to be destroyed by magic cast by Kirion’s Faithful Legion, an earthquake spell that would haven been the demise of the school.  But as we reached the end, we realized that an earthquake would be too chaoic, limiting our ability to introduce key members of Kirion’s fold.  Instead, we chose to make it Carter’s fault.  When he connected with the large ball of expanding light energy, he had a choice to make.  Would he choose to preserve himself, or stop a disaster?  In all fairness, Carter didn’t know he was making a decision that was quite so important.  So now we ask ourselves: how much of Kirion was still inCarter when he chose to sacrifice half the school?

The changed ending of Guardian of Time was quite a struggle.  Remember how we framed Margariete for Katrina’s murder?  Yeah, that’s not how we originally wanted it.  We had first planned to frame Esilwen.  We had hoped to show Raeylan’s struggle in choosing between love and his kingdom.  But the logistics didn’t quite work out.  For one, Esilwen was never solitary access to the secret passages of Castle Viridius.  With the passages connected to only the king’s and queen’s quarters, it became a key piece of evidence that strongly implicated Margariete’s guilt.  The second reason we changed our minds was because of Terail.  His vendetta was against the Viridius family, not Esilwen.  It simply made more sense for Terail to frame Margariete, taking advantage of her in the process.  But the main reason for the change was the most important.  What could cause Raeylan more growth then to choose between his twin sister and his kingdom?  Of course, in the end, he realized that Terail was the real murderer and pardoned Margariete.  Still, his love for his sister was critical in bringing down the First Kingdom.

Our pattern has still not changed.  When the time is right, I will blog about the changed endings of the third and fourth books, Maiden of Life and The Mystic.  But that is a story for another day.