6-Hera Syndulla

Year-End Art Meme!

(Meant to post this closer to New Year’s; then the new year got off to a crummy start.  Still, better late than never!  🙂 )

Time to thumb back through the portfolio and either celebrate or cringe!  Or both.  Or get inspired to create better art.  Or get annoyed that the brand-new portfolio you bought yesterday is almost full thanks to the slough of Rebels fan art months from the last two months and I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to bring my personal problems into this.

Ahem.  I created and posted this meme last year, but I’ve updated and expanded it a bit since then.  It’s a good way to keep track of progress.  🙂  If you’re an artist, feel free to snag the tag and fill it out yourself!  Or, if you’re a writer, feel free to grab it and adapt it to the art of creative writing.  Go nuts, and have fun!


First piece of artwork finished in 2017

This was my attempt to draw more smoothly with colored pencils rather than the”sketchy” look with visible lines going everywhere.  Didn’t quite succeed…

Last piece of artwork finished in 2017

This quick drawing of Poe Dameron for Gingersnap’s birthday–because once again, I was sick and couldn’t decorate her birthday cake the way I usually do.  We’re very generous people, but we draw the line at sharing germs.  🙂

A new medium/style/technique you tried this year

I actually tried two new media this year!  Of the two, my favorite was…

…watercolor and gouache on toned pastel paper.  An odd combination, but it worked far better than I’d anticipated.  And it recreates the look of an old sepia photograph, which is cool.  I’d like to try other watercolor/pastel paper color combinations soon: indigo watercolor on blue paper,  green watercolor on green pastel paper, and see how those turn out!

Then I tried my hand at charcoal drawing…

…and I liked it well enough, though improving my charcoal technique isn’t my top art priority at the moment.  (This character is Lennox, from Empty Clockwork.)

A subject/medium/technique that took you out of your comfort zone

Drawing faces from the front was always a challenge–to the point that I was too nervous to try,  especially with characters I liked.  Because there was no way I would risk making Sydney Carton, or someone other literary hero, look like a humanoid-goblin-thing thanks to inexperience.  (#perfectionistproblems)  But drawing Rebels fan art forced me to try, and succeed, and even improve.  🙂  And oddly enough, about half my portraits of Ezra have been from  front or near-front angles.

The piece of artwork that others liked the most

Um…I’m not really sure!  I guess this one?

It’s a setting from Christine Smith’s The Nether Isle.

3 ways your artwork improved through 2017

I finally learned how to draw smoothly with colored pencils!  (Thanks to a book I picked up from Hobby Lobby.)  The technique requires a lot of layering and blending, but the results are definitely worth it:

I also improved the light and shadow in my pencil drawings–many of my earlier pictures didn’t have enough contrast and looked too pale.

(This character is Durant, from my story Gentle Fire.)

And, as mentioned before, drawing faces from the front.  🙂

Your personal favorite piece from 2017! (Explain why!)

This portrait of Ezra Bridger.  Not only did I capture an angle I’m not used to drawing, the picture turned out to look (a) very much like the Rebels  character and (b) in the realistic style I was shooting for just ignore the unfinished hands, please.  So yeah, definitely my favorite piece!

3 things to improve in your artwork in 2018

  1.   Um…probably more realistic-looking hands.  🙂  Along with more varied poses and facial expressions.
  2. My colored pencil technique and also my watercolor technique…the values in my paintings lately have been unbalanced and with poor contrast.
  3. And drawing more out of my imagination and not relying quite so much on reference photos.

3 new things to try in 2018 (such as styles, mediums, poses, backgrounds, characters to draw, contests to enter)

  1. Keep working with the watercolor/gouache/pastel paper combination (not exactly new, but still…)
  2. Painting watercolor on wood.  I found some pictures of that style the other day, and it looks really interesting.
  3. And I want to learn to paint people in watercolor…a daunting thought, but we’ll see how the process turns out!

What do you enjoy most about creating?

Both the process and the finished product (usually).  I also love being able to capture the characters and scenes from my imagination!

6-Hera Syndulla

In Which Christine Has A Checkered Experience with NaNo

So, in the the Beautiful People link-up from October, I said I decided against participating in National Novel Writing Month.

Then I changed my mind.

I read Christine’s post for how to survive NaNo and her post about her NaNo work-in-progress…and started to think that the challenge would be a good way to spark progress on my own novel.  So after some thought and prayer, I decided to at least start NaNo.  If it proved too demanding for my writing, my life, or my health, I would either drop it or amend my goals.

I had already begun writing my novel a few weeks before November began–on pen and paper in a loose-leaf binder–so I didn’t start page one on November 1st.  But the situation helped me create my daily goal: I counted 1,600 written words, and found that amounted to roughly 6 1/2 pages. To get 2K a day, I estimated that would be about 9 pages. So my writing goal became 9 pages a day.  I found I actually loved meeting a daily page goal!  And it definitely spurred writing progress, and helped me do more than I thought I could!

Well, for the first two days at any rate.  I ended up writing in the wee hours of the morning of November 1st–not because of any dedication to the craft, but because of asthma trouble that forced me to sit upright.  After hours of sitting in the recliner and texting a friend who also happened to be sleepless, I finally noticed the blue binder sitting nearby and thought, “Why not?” I actually met my 9-page goal that day, and the next–but then reality and the need for sleep set in, and I fell behind for the next two days.  🙂

I caught up by adding an extra 3 pages to the daily goal–and promptly fell behind again.  I kept adding an extra 3 pages to the daily goal every time I fell behind–and thus began an endless cycle of trying to catch up.   It was incredibly helpful to have my friend Heather encouraging me through it, asking after my progress via text and cheering me on!  But the amount of catch-up work to be done soon got overwhelming.  And I got perpetually exhausted halfway through November, and so decided not to push myself to meet the daily page counts any more.  And then Thanksgiving approached, and I got caught up in drawing Star Wars: Rebels fan art, and long story short, I dropped the NaNo goal.

Which was incredibly frustrating, because this cycle of falling behind and dropping goals happened repeatedly through my 12 years of writing.  Mainly because of my chronic illness (though I also used to be a huge procrastinator and perfectionist).  HOWEVER, the whole experience wasn’t a waste, because here’s what I learned.:

  1. That Star Wars Rebels fan art is so fun to draw!  Okay, okay, I’ll be serious.  🙂
  2. November is really not a good month to set a self-appointed writing deadline.  For years, November has been a wind-down month for me and a Christmas preparation month–I do all my shopping, boxing, and wrapping through November, and what with Thanksgiving at the end of the month, it’s just a bad time for me to cram in 2,000 words a day.
  3. On the other hand, I actually can meet daily word counts/page counts–something I hadn’t been too sure about before starting this endeavor.  Having a concrete daily goal of some kind really does jump start my progress!
  4. Writing with pen and paper actually works better for me than typing on the computer.  Or rather, it works better for the draft; I do character and story development on the computer.  But with Gentle Fire, it has worked really well to type a bunch of notes, a sort of “thinking (or is that typing?!?) out loud” process, and then de-clutter the notes, print them out, and draft the story by hand.
  5. However, this process is definitely slower than tapping away on a keyboard.  So when I have the option, it might work best to pair a 50K word count goal with a month in which there aren’t as many holidays.  🙂
  6. As such–I may actually try for a monthly 50K word count again–but in March, not November.

All in all, I’m content with the progress I did make, and with the principles I learned.  And once again, I missed the Beautiful People link-up, but I’ll still include the questions here.  🙂

Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going?

Hehe.  Bit of a roller coaster on both counts.  I wanted to chronicle my first two weeks of doing NaNo, like Christine did, but it would be a refrain of “met the goal, fell behind, tried to catch up, fell behind again.”  Kinda boring to read about…

At the moment, I’ve focused more on art than on writing, so my progress is sporadic just now.  I hope to get back into the swing of daily writing after New Year!

What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?

The little school room, though not empty, had an abandoned air.  Benches were deserted, and a slate or two lay askew atop the wood.  But near the front of the room, the small population of scholars crowded around their young schoolmaster, who sat with a boy on his lap, and a book in his hands.  Two more boys sat on either side of the teacher, and the young man held the book open and tilted so that the students could see the pages.  He read aloud from the text—but no more than a sentence or two at a time.

~Chapter 1

And Durant can’t read further because his students keep interrupting with questions.  🙂

Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?

Durant, hands down, because of his character layers–he’s the quiet type with a serious and reserved demeanor, but he is deeply passionate for his family and his values.  He also adores his nephews and niece, and he enjoys teaching children.  He has an iron will, but a soft heart.  Also because I can relate to his struggles (fear and discouragement) and his priorities (family, fulfilling trust, responsibilities).  May or may not be a case of Real Life Writes the Plot (and I really need to get off tvtropes.org).

I enjoy writing Mary, though; her voice and her actions come very naturally to me.  I also think Wilson will be fun to write, once he appears (he went ahead to the colonies to buy land and set up the homestead, and so he’s not in the earliest chapters), and I’m definitely looking forward to writing Sanchia!  (More about these characters here.)

What do you love about your novel so far?

I like the frontier setting–both Anglo and Mexican–and the twist on the western setting tropes.  Because the frontier is not newly acquired home territory; it’s actually a colony and is referred to as such.

I also love the world building.  While I draw a lot of inspiration from history, I started from scratch with the social and political development of the colonies and simply asked, “given that the colonies were started for economic reasons, how might the society and politics develop?”  And wrote about 4 pages of world building in one day.

 

Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?

That snippet I shared above?  In the original, I repeated the phrase  “near the front of the room”–in the same sentence!  (And yes, I edited it before sticking that paragraph on my blog…it’s not a problem to correct typos when you’re aware of them.  🙂 )

Also, as I scribbled away one day, I suddenly wondered, “Hey, what chapter am I on?”  I flipped back, five, ten, twelve, fourteen pages…a few minutes of amused chuckling and flipping later, I found my Chapter 3 heading…20 pages back.  Turns out, I’d forgotten to end chapter 3 and just merrily kept writing without chapter breaks!  I got a good laugh out of it, and finally found a good place to put the heading for Chapter 4.

Then the same thing happened with Chapter 6–I got so caught up in the string of events that I didn’t actually end the chapter!

What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?

I’ve honestly never thought about this.  My beginning chapters are hard because I didn’t connect them very well to Durant’s character arc through the rest of the book.  So I’m kinda making it up as I go, and I expect to write better and faster once I get to the more interesting stuff later on.  🙂

What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!

Erm, well, the only consistent habit is “sit down and write”.  Beyond that, it depends on the situation; if the room is noisy, I’ll stick in my ipod with The Alamo soundtrack playing–I might also do that if the room is quiet, but I need musical inspiration.

There’s really no good time of day to write–it all depends on how much sleep I got the night before (even this is inconsistent; I’ve written 9 pages after being up half the night with asthma, and I’ve barely written 3 pages when feeling just fine.  I have no idea what the pattern is!).

How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?

It honestly depends on the story and/or the friend or sibling I’m talking to!  My brother Chris knows more about Empty Clockwork than I’ve shared on this blog or with my other friends-and-relations.  I’ve talked a good deal about Gentle Fire here, but I’ve also kept a LOT off the table.  I’ve talked a good deal about my literary story Yorkshire Crossroads with my sister Enkie, but I’ve also kept some spoilers well-guarded.  So it really depends!

So, I  guess in general, I work alone like Batman–but with a few confidantes that play the roles of Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox.  🙂

What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?

Looking ahead to the finished product.  Reminding myself of my goal–and that it will be worth it when I get there.

What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?

  1. Understand the story you’re telling–not just the genre, but what it is you as the writer are ultimately trying to say.  And also the themes, the style, the tone, stuff like that.  Then select the writing “rules” and techniques that will suit your story, not the other way ’round (I discussed that briefly here).
  2. Learn how you work best.  Some writers need more time to plan; others need the general concept and they come up with the rest on the fly.  Some need pages of notes; others work off the tops of their heads; still others find a combination of the two.  Understanding how you work best will let you plan reasonable goals (e.g. if you need LOTS of time to prewrite, then shooting for a novel a year might not work), and let you be flexible when life throws a monkey wrench in that plan.  Plus, you’ll tailor your schedule and stories to your strengths.
  3. Encourage other writers.  You’ve been through those difficulties before, so why not help others through them?

So, there you have it, my NaNo experience!  It didn’t end quite the way I’d hoped, but it wasn’t a failure either.  And I would definitely like to try for 50K words in one month, but perhaps in March.  🙂

6-Hera Syndulla

Artwork Whatever-Day-I-Get-To-It Post

Seriously, I’ve fallen behind in my Artwork Wednesday posts.  Sorry about that.  On the plus side, I have a lot of art to showcase since it’s been so long!

Only now that I’m uploading this do I notice the terrible photography quality  Sorry, guys.  Ahem.  This is a watercolor doodle/sketch, and I did this freehand (meaning with no line art), and it’s not too bad.  🙂  I particularly liked how the wall and the shadows turned out.

A colored pencil drawing of Easter lilies!  Which subject makes perfect sense, given that it’s almost November.  🙂  Anyway, I had the line art for this sitting in my sketchbook for weeks before I finally finished it, using the techniques I mentioned in this post.

Quick colored pencil sketch (and this drawing is little bitty in my sketchbook, maybe 2″x3″).  Adobe buildings have joined my List of Favorite Things to Draw, along with oranges, pumpkins, sunset cactus silhouettes, and Sydney  Carton.

When my friend HeatherJoy LaHaye (you can read her guest post here) visited New Mexico recently, she snapped a lot of pictures, sent them to me, and gave me permission to use them as painting reference!  (Thanks again, Heather!)  So here are some adobe ruins, rendered in watercolor and copied from one of her photographs.

This is my favorite recent piece, guys: a watercolor portrait of my character Sanchia from Gentle Fire.  It was so thrilling to get her complexion and hair color the right shades, and her expression just right as well!

Also, I meant to paint sewing supplies in the basket and first forgot to sketch them, then quit caring and just made the basket empty.  #lazyartist

And then here are some doodles, sketches, and works-in-progress…

The corner of the cabin that Durant shares with his nephews.  (Soon after snapping this picture, I realized I’d messed up the proportions, so I’ll probably trace it onto a fresh sheet of paper and redo it at some point.)

Durant and soon-to-be Alex.  (Also starring: the shadow of my arm across the paper!)

Sketches for the components of another southwestern painting (that I haven’t actually painted yet).

Sketch of a tropical scene that I will eventually paint.

Doodle of Igor from the 2015 film Victor Frankenstein.  I plan to (a) draw better doodles in the future, and (b) probably review the film, in-depth, after I finish my Christine posts.

That’s all for now, but I’m working on more drawings and paintings–and so I might get another art post up sooner than later!

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6-Hera Syndulla

Beautiful Books 2017

This month, instead of Beautiful People (where you talk about your characters), Sky’s link-up is Beautiful Books, where you talk about your work-in-progress!

I’ve mentioned several stories/story ideas here, but my true WIP is a semi- western Gentle Fire.  “Semi”–because the setting is based off early 1800s Anglo and Mexican cultures, but the story world is an imaginary one.  Whoop, wait, I guess I should be talking about this in the questions!  So off we go.

What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

The 2004 film The Alamo inspired this story…and what particularly grabbed my imagination was the idea of a very young man thrust into a leadership position that would be hard to fulfill with success.  I wondered how I might handle such a situation…how someone else might handle that situation..and Durant’s character and motives and flaws appeared almost instantly (though he’s also grown and changed since I got the initial idea).

A contributing inspiration was one of my pet peeves.  I’ll explain.  🙂  Through 2016, I got sick and tired of the “you can succeed if you work hard enough” message that appears in a lot of Hollywood stories (just about every sports film I’ve seen and several artist/writer/performance arts films.  Plus a lot of the personal stories on American Ninja Warrior).  Now sometimes, work and perseverance do pay off, and they’re inherently good qualities. But they don’t absolutely guarantee success, and I remember the night my annoyance with this message solidified.  My family and I were watching The Martian (with liberal editing and TV Guardian, mind you), and after astronaut Mark Watney is stranded–alone–on Mars with no chance of rescue, he declares to himself, “I’m not gonna die.”  Dad pointed out, “See, that’s his determination.”  And I remember thinking, “You know he could still die, right?  No matter how hard he works?”  Yes, it was good initiative that Watney didn’t mope about his predicament or give up.  But that scene nonetheless struck me as hollow, because there was a distinct possibility of failure.

Okay, this is sounding cynical.  But here’s what I would rather see: stories like the The Alamo and The Lord of the Rings, where the characters fight for their values.  Principles and people they “are willing to fight, and possibly die, for,” whether or not they succeed.  I am definitely encouraged by those examples.  And I’ve worked all that into Gentle Fire.

I got the initial story concept in April, 2016 (and commemorated the event by making April 24th Durant’s birthday.  🙂 ).

Describe what your novel is about!

Durant wants to live in peace with his family in their frontier home, but the west is too far from the mother country to receive consistent help, and it has no organized government.  As the family struggles against wilderness and the lawlessness, Durant fights to help establish a government to safeguard his new home and make it prosperous.  And he is keenly aware of the consequences of failure.

Well, lookee there, I managed to write a short synopsis!  🙂

What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

The landscapes are modeled after places in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, with some south Texas-inspired landscapes here and there.  The northern most parts of my imaginary world are mostly mountains; the midlands have slopes and woods dominating, and the southern most portions are desert-ish areas.  As such, the southern towns and homes are built from adobe (with a few lumber houses for those who could afford the material), while the northern towns and homes are often log cabins.  However, these varied landscapes all belong to one colony of one nation, and Mexicans and Anglos live together in several areas, and those towns/communities are often a blend of the two cultures.

Music has also inspired lots of plot points, story twists, and general settings.  These songs in particular:

“West, Pioneer!” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)

“Homeland” (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron)

“In The New World” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)

“Listen to the Mockingbird” (The Alamo)

“Sell Our Lives Dearly” (The Alamo)

“Where You’ve Always Been” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)

“Home Away from Home” (James Galway & Phil Coulter, Winter’s Crossing)

“Flares” (The Script, No Sound Without Silence)

“Hard Times” (Annie Moses Band, American Rhapsody)

“Hymn for the Heartland” (James Galway & Phil Coulter, Winter’s Crossing)

“El Bexareno” (The Alamo [note: my keyboard won’t make Spanish accent marks; hope the meaning is clear enough!])

“Clancy’s Theme” (The Man From Snowy River)

“La Zandunga” (The Alamo)

Introduce us to each of your characters!

*looks at list of17+ characters*  Or…maybe just the most prominent ones?  But rather than narrating personalities, I’ll list the tropes from tvtropes.org that apply to my characters.

Durant

Beware the Nice Ones – Threaten Durant’s values or family, and he will not go quietly.  His reactions range from calling you out to insubordination (though he always tries the peaceable solution first).

Cannot Spit It Out – He’s definitely better with written communication.

Deadpan Snarker –  In some instances (the flip side of the trope above!)

Friend to All Children – He loves kids, adores his niece and nephews, and he likes teaching (and prefers the vocation of schoolmaster to anything else).

Knight in Sour Armor – He turns into this.

Not A Morning Person – And often wakened by nephews bouncing on him in the morning.

Alex huffed.  “Why are you always sleeping?”

Durant turned over.  “I beg your pardon, you rascal.”

The Quiet One – Initially, but he opens up once get he gets to know someone.  And he’s laid back and more cheerful around his family.

Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? – He hates public attention.

Mary

Deadpan Snarker – Definitely.

Determined Homesteader – She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty working with Wilson to establish their homestead.

Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand – Mary manages to uphold a combination of the two.

Good Parents – To Alex, Luke, and later, Sophie.  She and Wilson want to have more children once they get settled in their new home (even though pregnancies are often difficult for her).

Happily Married – To Wilson.

Honest Advisor – Mary can see through smoke screens, recognize when both sides have a point–and she tells it like it is.

Humble Goal – She wants to build a comfortable home for herself and her family.

Mama Bear – Don’t mess with her kids, or you’ll be looking down the wrong end of her musket.

Team Chef – She absolutely loves to cook and to keep hearty meals on the table for her family.

Wilson

(I really need to draw a proper portrait of Wilson!)

Determinator – He has a type-A streak that can make him stubborn.

Determined Homesteader – Wilson is a farmer through and through and honestly prefers to get his living from the soil.

Does Not Know His Own Strength – While Wilson is incredibly gentle with his wife and kids, he sometimes falls prey to this. He once gave Durant a friendly back slap–that was so strong, Durant stumbled forward a step or two. And then refused to quit teasing Wilson about it.

Good Parents – To Alex, Luke, and later, Sophie.

Happily Married – To Mary.

Humble Goal – He wants land of his own and a working farm to pass down to his sons someday.

Mellow Fellow – He’s laid-back and cheerful–usually.

Papa Wolf – Mess with his family, and you’re going to wish you hadn’t.

(Don’t have a drawing of Barros yet.  Sorry.)

Barros

Papa Wolf – To daughters Teresita and Maria.

Reluctant Hero – Subverted; Barros defends his family and values without a second thought, he but he would rather lead on a social level than go into politics.  Guess how well that preference works out.

Reasonable Authority Figure – He generally listens to all parties, and never acts without thinking carefully. On the other hand, he can also make up his mind quickly when needed.

(I’m still developing his character, which is why there aren’t as many tropes for his personality yet.)

Sanchia

Friend to All Children – Possibly because she has several younger brothers and sisters (and a couple of older ones; I think she’s the third child of nine kids).

Humble Goal – To help support her family.  She loves them dearly.

Nice Girl – She’s warm and enthusiastic (without being overly effusive) and friendly.

Plucky Girl – She tries to cheer others up and isn’t easily discouraged.

Proper Lady – As per the social and cultural standards of the time (though in a twist on this trope, she’s not an upper-class lady).

Silk Hiding Steel – She moved to a foreign colony–alone–to work as a seamstress and earn money for her family .  At age 17.

Spicy Latina – Actually subverted to averted, depending on your perspective.  Sanchia is passionate for her values and tends to push others to fulfill their talents and callings, but she’s also down-to-earth and patient and cheerful.

The Social Expert – She’s outgoing, observant, and a good conversationalist!

(Characters not featured here: Alex, Luke, Sophie, Teresita, Maria, Jacobs, Harrison, Williams, Jackson, Dennis, Eduardo and Dolores, various others who haven’t been named yet.)

How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

Lots and lots of planning.  I need to know my characters thoroughly before starting the book, and I need to know what the story is ultimately saying, and where the major plot points are, as well as where everything ends up.  As such, I’ve been planning this novel for over a year, and only just beginning to write it.

What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

Writing Durant’s character and journey and growth (and he does grow a lot).  And I look forward to writing the world and how the characters react to it and influence it.  I also think the story and its settings and problems are fresh twists on the western genre, and so it’ll be fun to play with all those ideas!

List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

  1. Most characters refer to the frontier as “the western colonies” or just “the colonies”–since the new land was founded by the eastern government for economic benefit.
  2. Anglos and Mexicans live together in the colonies and eventually created a blend of cultures.   The land being harsh and rugged, the colonies of the two nations engaged in trade and came to depend upon one another a good deal.
  3. The story is set during the dawn of the west, during the 820s–30s.  As such, the fashions are 30s style (both Anglo and Mexican) and the weapons are muskets and flintlock rifles.

What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

See the synopsis above.  🙂  Durant really just wants to be left alone and live in peace with his family.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Spoilers!  This is actually a key point, so I’ll keep it under wraps for now.  (And maybe intrigue people by doing so…mwa-ha-ha!  🙂 )

What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

Again, spoilers!  I’d rather let readers figure this out for themselves!  As for the readers’ feelings…I’ve noticed a trend of bittersweet endings in my stories.  Think The Return of the King bittersweet.  So there’s that–but I would want the readers to feel quietly inspired.  I say “quietly” because sometimes it’s the subtle things that influence you the most.

Now, I considered whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month (in November)–and ultimately decided against it.  The reason is that I’ve switched writing methods.  Rather than typing at my laptop, I’ve gone back to scribbling with pen and paper and this actually works better for me.  Typing is handy, but it’s so fast that I often finish a scene or a line before I’ve planned the next–so I have to stop and think what comes next–and there goes all momentum.  But because handwriting is slower, I don’t come to the end of my imagination as quickly, and the momentum doesn’t slow down either.  And there’s no “backspace” key on a pen, meaning less incentive to edit during the draft.  🙂  HOWEVER it would be incredibly difficult to reach a handwritten 50k word count in one month.  I may twist the rules a bit to suit my methods, or follow along as well as possible for the first week or so, but nothing official.  And perhaps, I’m not doing NaNo–I might be able to write humorous blog posts for the rest of you writers to enjoy!

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6-Hera Syndulla

What if They Don’t Like My Layered Female Character?

I have read (and applauded) multiple posts about how to write a strong female character–a truly strong character, one who is strong because of her convictions. Her compassion. Her personality, rather than a superhuman ability to punch stuff and sass the guys.  So many posts, I can’t include them all, but here are my favorites: Hannah Heath’s input, Christine Smith’s guest post, Bella’s thoughts during her Writer’s Camp, and K. M. Weiland’s opinion.

What these posts do not cover, however, is how to banish fear–fear of seeing your female characters soundly bashed on Tumblr by readers who think that to actually like dresses will perpetrate the constraints of patriarchy and that a woman being physically weaker than a guy is sexist.

Maybe I’m the only writer who’s considered this. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked at my character Mary from Gentle Fire and wondered how much of a verbal beating she’d get from critics. Mary is married with two children, and most of her focus is on helping her husband build their farm and raise their sons (and later, daughter).  Plus other plot-related goals and struggles after this doesn’t work out the way any of them want.  Yes, she has dreams, and she has strengths, flaws, talents, and quirks–in fact, Mary’s drive is to do her job (whatever that may be at the time) and to help those who need her.   But at the end of the day (and the story), her job and her main sphere of influence is in her home.   And I just know that’s going to be popular with the general readership.

So I’ve thought a lot about how to handle this concern. Here’s my input to writing that true strong female character–without being afraid that others will criticize your characterization.

  1. Write a layered character.  Easier said than done, of course, but if your character is constructed with agency (she drives her parts of the story) and has strengths, flaws, quirks, talents, and non-talents–then you can take comfort that you’ve written a solid character, regardless of who criticizes her enjoyment of knitting, pride in cooking for her family, and hatred of snakes.
  2. Pinpoint what you’re afraid of.  What is all this imaginary criticism directed toward?  Your character’s general personality–or specifically that she spends a lot of time in her home?  (Or that she has a cleaning job, or that she’s the soft-spoken type, or whatever else is unpopular these days.)  If you can easily imagine someone criticizing the fact that your character doesn’t really contribute to the story, that could be your intuition telling you to make sure she’s a legitimate main character.  If, however, you can picture someone nitpicking your character’s interest in embroidery or that she’s skilled in household economy–those are details, not fundamentals.
  3. Adjust your thinking.  Here’s where I might really offend people, but I’ll try to be diplomatic.  Somewhere along the way, the idea of a homemaker became synonymous with the term “doormat”.  Along with the idea that she’s wasting her life.  Or wasting her talent.  But here’s the thing: being a homemaker takes incredible discipline, perseverance, patience, and diligence.  Double points if you add children into the mix.  You are responsible for protecting and guiding these children, 24/7.  How is that weak?  How is that a waste of time or talent?  And why do we applaud a male character who is willing to serve and care for others, but condemn a woman who does it for her family?  A homemaker character has to be strong in many different ways to do her job.  Strength comes with the territory here, just like we expect a fireman character to be physically strong.
  4. Let it go.  As the song says.  🙂  But seriously, unless your imaginary critics are offering polite, constructive criticism–why do you care what they think?  Or what any real critics say, for that matter, unless, again, they’re offering intelligent input on the fundamentals of your character.  If any critics, real or imaginary, whine only about the facts that your character loves children, likes make-up, and cooks a mean clam chowder–ignore ’em.

So, those are some ways I’ve found to beat the fear.  Feel free to add what tips and tricks have worked for you!

6-Hera Syndulla

Random, Rambly, Writing Thoughts

I’m sorry for my absence, guys.  I got sick out of the blue, and recovery has been kinda slow.  And I considered trying to finish Part 2 of “A Few Notes About Christine” during the down time, but had no brain cells for it, and ended up screen capping Daniel Deronda and Season 1 of Mercy Street instead.

Anyway, I came across this post by Hayden Wand and thought it would be fun to borrow the concept.  Because I too have noticed elements that repeatedly surface in my own stories:

Recurring Concepts

Alternate History

This pops up again and again, from my British political novel to my steampunk story Empty Clockwork.  I think it’s the natural result of the writer’s question “what if?” It’s also the result of an overactive imagination that also doesn’t want to be reined in by details.

Fighting Fears

I realized this only recently: the internal conflict is often against fear of one kind of another.  I think this idea sneaks into my stories because it’s a flaw I’ve struggled with all my life.  The “what if?” question is great for creativity, but it’s not helpful anywhere else.  🙂

Adult Fears

Forget Ye Olde Villain with his doomsday weapon; how about incompetent government officials?  Mob mentality in society and politics?  Fearing you made the wrong decision for your loved ones?  Or being afraid you can’t provide for your kids?  Losing respect for someone you once admired?  Unable to use your gifts and talents, either through physical limitation or societal apathy?  The list goes on.

Marriages During the Story

I guess I just want to see my fictional OTP weather it together as a married couple.  It’s an interesting dynamic–on the one hand, you have a companion through the conflict; on the other, differences of opinion on how to handle the conflict can cause further conflict.  That, and the time span of my stories is often a decade or more.  I don’t have the heart to keep lovebirds apart that long (though some of them do have to wait longer than they want!).

Recurring Settings/Topics

The 1820s–30s Time Period (usually in England)

I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is funny that this era pops up so frequently in my stories!  It’s a relatively overlooked period; the only books I can think of set in that era are Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Dickens’ Little Dorrit.  (Some of Dickens’ other works start in the 1820s, but the main action moves to a later decade.)  Writing about the 20s–30s for me is like researching and exploring undiscovered territory.  And that’s just pure fun!

Politics

I can’t keep politics out of a story.  I’ve tried.  The most obvious example is the British political novel set in the (you guessed it) 1820s–30s– the entire backdrop is the debate over the Great Reform Bill and other national/international issues (like the July Revolution).  I can sense a frenzied market growing for this stuff already.  🙂

My western story Gentle Fire  heavily features frontier politics–I’ve drawn lots of inspiration from the Mexican Empire, the structure of north Texas and New Mexican ranchos and towns, and Anglo settler towns and counties.

And politics wander in and out of various others stories, or at least are implied to be in the background/part of the backdrop.  Even in one story where politics is not the driving force, my own opinions can be discerned if you read between the lines.

Sibling Relationships

Sometimes this is a driving point of the story; other times, it’s more in the background, but I can think of only two stories that don’t have sibling relationships–Empty Clockwork is one, and the other is a mystery set on a south seas island during the late 1700s.

Recurring Characters/Traits

Lower Ranks of the English Aristocracy

I have yet to write about a duke.  Not that there’s anything wrong with dukes, but since the title of duke is the highest in the English peerage, Lord X would be too busy with society and politics to do anything my plot requires.  The highest rank I’ve written about is the rank of earl; and I’m thinking of demoting that family anyway, because, again, the story needs them to live somewhere other than London and not to be tied up with society and national politics for most of the story.  (Local politics, on the other hand…)

Lord Fredericks (from my steampunk story), for example, is a viscount.  Lord Wetherell, from my literary novel, is a baron (the lowest rank), and various other titled characters usually don’t stray above the rank of viscount, unless they are minor characters.

Hero Lawyers

All the lawyers I’ve written about thus far have been the good guys.  No stereotypical corruption or dishonesty or hunting for ridiculous loopholes…in fact, most of my lawyer characters seek to reform this kind of corruption in their trade.  (I’m probably biased here, because my dad is a lawyer, and he’s as honest in his job as readers expect the hardworking everyman to be.)

Sarcastic Characters

From the outspoken sassmaster to the deadpan snarker, at least one character in each story has a tendency for quick and dry wit.  Usually more than one!

Outgoing/Energetic/Outspoken Characters

I’m as introverted as the next writer, but I’ve written a fair share of extroverts.  Who are allowed to be extroverts, mind, and don’t annoy the stew out of the quieter, therefore obviously more intelligent, characters (sarcasm!).  Actually, I have a habit of pairing introverted/extroverted characters as friends, siblings, or couples–this allows funny results and a nice way for the different personalities to balance each other out.

A subset of my extroverted characters is “extroverted bookish”–extroverts who like to socialize, sure, but also like to read and aren’t just bouncing off the walls the whole time.  🙂  Extroverts are great people, guys.  Be nicer to them in your stories.

Early Bird/Night Owl Couples

I do this on purpose to be funny.  *evil laugh*  But it’s a great way to get natural humor and natural conflict in a romantic relationship.  There are exceptions; both Mary and Wilson from Gentle Fire are early birds, but generally, if one half of a relationship is a night owl, the other half is the opposite!

Ages 25 & Up

Maybe it’s because the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know?–but my protagonists often end up in the late 20s and early 30s age range.  Any character younger than this is likely to be inexperienced and still figuring out his or her life goals.  In Empty Clockwork, Lennox is 23 years old and fits this bill perfectly.  Susan is a slight exception; at age 17, she wants to use her money to support something worthy before she marries, but she is still looking for another purpose in life.  Lord Fredericks, however, is 31; Henry is 36, and Ye Unnamed Character is in his mid-to-late 40s.

Durant from Gentle Fire is 22 when the story starts, and through mature for his age, he is inexperienced.  But he’s in his mid-30s when the story ends (maybe closer to 40; it just depends on the story’s time span).  Mary is 23 at the beginning of the story and also close to 40 when it ends, and Barros is in his early 40s when he enters the story and probably in his early 50s when it ends.

Inspired By…

Sometimes I watch a movie or read a book, and know that I have to write a character inspired by Sydney Carton.  Or Daniel Deronda.  Or Jarrod Barkley.  Or that inspiration comes from an actor’s performance or portrayal.  For instance, after I watched The Phantom of the Opera: The 25th Anniversary Concert, I knew it was a matter of time before I wrote a character inspired by Hadley Fraser’s portrayal of Raoul.  Same for Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Raoul in the 2004 film, a performance that has actually inspired two characters.

Other inspiring characters/portrayals:

Samuel Diggs from Mercy Street

Mr. Green from Mercy Street

Milo Thatch from Atlantis: the Lost Empire

Billy Bob Thorton’s portrayal of Crockett from the 2004 film The Alamo

John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises

In other news…

Now, on a totally different topic, I’m thinking of making some changes to my blog.  The color scheme, for instance; I may go for a blue scheme rather than a red one.  Blue can symbolize depth and imagination, and that’s definitely an aesthetic I want .  And on that note–I might change the blog title.  The url will stay the same, but “Overflowing Mind & Pen” is a mouthful, and doesn’t really describe my content as much as the fact that, I think too much.  Instead, I like the title “Analytical Imagination”–which describes both content and the fact that I think too much.  🙂  Your thoughts?

6-Hera Syndulla

Beautiful People – August Edition

It’s that beautiful time of the month again, and I’m going to bend the rules a little (as I usually do).  I’m featuring three characters–Wilson, Mary, and Durant–from my dawn-of-the-west, fantasy-of-manners story (Gentle Fire).  Mary and Wilson are husband and wife, and Mary and Durant are sister and brother.  And if you’re wondering why I refer to the gentlemen by their surnames, it’s because I first wrote a military portion of the story, and it made sense to use surnames rather than Christian names.  And the naming convention stuck.

Note: I’m still developing these characters, and so some of these details may change.  But as of now, this is what they’re like!

Wilson

(This is actually Wilson and Mary, and it’s the only picture of Wilson I have in my portfolio!)

  1. What is he addicted to/can’t live without?  Coffee.  Mary once joked that maintaining  good supply of coffee was a higher priority than getting glass windows for the house.  (Which is also kinda true, since Wilson made shutters for the windows that work quite well).
  2. Name 3 positive and 3 negative qualities about your character.  Wilson is easygoing, yet hardworking, and cheerful.  However, he has a type-A streak that makes him stubborn; and though he leads his family, he’s not the sort to step up in community leadership (he says he doesn’t know what would give him authority to do so).  And he doesn’t like to be restrained or controlled, and he becomes an absolute grouch if such a situation continues.
  3. Is he holding onto something he should get rid of?  Not that I know of.  Unless it’s the memory of working his parents’ farm, which his family eventually lost due to financial trouble.  This disturbed Wilson deeply, as he wanted to be able to work the land and pass it down to his sons.  And it’s one reason he moved his family to the colonies: to be able to gain and work their own land.
  4. If 10 is completely organized and 1 is completely messy, where does he fall on the scale?  *sarcastic laugh from Mary*  3 or 4.  He tends to be tidy or at least careful with his tools and farm equipment, but everything else…no.
  5. What most frustrates him about the world he lives in?  Winter.  (His answer.)  He gets stir-crazy after being cooped indoors for a while.   And he hasn’t seen fit to share a serious answer with me yet.
  6. How would he dress for a night out? How would he dress for a night in? Night out: clean shirt and his nice coat.  And that’s about it.  His preferred outfit is sturdy comfortable clothing in earthy tones that won’t show dirt.  And he always wears boots, and usually has his sleeves rolled up and his hands stained with dirt, sap, grease or stains from iron…in fact, he looks as though he’s in the middle of manual work.  This is because he usually is.  And even when he’s not, he still looks casual and somewhat rumpled; he’s never been a sharp dresser and has no sense of fashion.
  7. How many shoes does he own, and what kind?  Work boots and one pair of shoes…assuming he still has them, that is; he may have given them to someone who needed them more.
  8. Does he have any pets? What pet does he WISH he had?  If you count the temporary and accidental ownership of the snakes and squirrels that get into the cabin.  (His answer.)  He doesn’t wish for pets, but he does want animals for the farm: two goats, a pig, and some chickens.  The family already has mules.
  9. Is there something or someone that he resents? Why and what happened?  The creatures the get into the cabin.  (His answer, again.)  And he definitely resents losing his family’s farm back east due to financial trouble.  But he’s not the sort to spend too much time thinking about it; he found a different way to get land to pass down to his sons.
  10. What’s usually in his fridge or pantry?  Potatoes at the very least.  Mary may have added more foodstuffs since he visited the cupboard.  (His answer.)

Mary

  1. What is she addicted to/can’t live without?  She loves knitting.  She once said she could be happy living in a rock field if only she had colorful yarn to work with.
  2. Name 3 positive and 3 negative qualities about your character.  Mary is no-nonsense, but caring and hardworking.  But she gets overly frustrated with lack of common sense, she is sometimes too blunt, and she’s not much of a people person–she’s polite and gracious, but not naturally diplomatic or outgoing.
  3. Is she holding onto something she should get rid of?  Not that I know of; Mary doesn’t tend to get stuck in the past.  Or hold on to material things.  For one thing, there simply isn’t room in the cabin.
  4. If 10 is completely organized and 1 is completely messy, where does she fall on the scale?  5-6.  She tends to be tidy, but she also doesn’t fuss about everything being just so.  She has more important things to think about.
  5. What most frustrates her about the world she lives in?  I think it’s the lack of responsibility and initiative from other people, especially from those who are needed to pull their weight in the community or the government.  (Mary is the sort of person who can easily see what needs to be done and why.)
  6. How would she dress for a night out? How would she dress for a night in?  For a night out, she would probably fix her hair in a more elaborate style and wear her nice calico dress (red-brown  sprigged with pink and green flowers).  For a night in, she’d just wear her normal outfit: hair in a low bun, her sturdy work dress, and her favorite red gingham apron.
  7. How many shoes does she own, and what kind?  Her work shoes, and one nicer pair for special occasions.
  8. Does she have any pets? What pet does she WISH they had?  Pets, no.  Vermin that intrudes upon her territory, yes.  (Her answer.)  And she doesn’t really want a pet; there’s not enough room in the cabin for a dog or cat underfoot.  Although she let her son Alex keep the frog he caught, as long as he kept it away from the kitchen table.  (The frog later escaped, though.)
  9. Is there something or someone that she resents? Why and what happened?  Not that I’m aware of; Mary is not a complainer.
  10. What’s usually in her fridge or pantry?  Potatoes, cornmeal, flour, beans, bacon, salt, coffee grounds, the herbs she found in the woods, sometimes leftover meat pie, sometimes cheese from their neighbors, and spices and molasses when the family can afford them.  Mary loves to cook and takes pride in making good meals for her family.

Durant

  1. What is he addicted to/can’t live without?  He keeps his notebook on hand and records what happened during the day and any expenses incurred–usually a line or two as a memory aid.  He also records his nephews’ antics; and whenever he’s teaching, he keeps a record of his students’ progresses and skills and what they struggle with.  He doesn’t trust fallible memory with something so important.  As such, he would be upset if the book got lost.
  2. Name 3 positive and 3 negative qualities about your character.  Durant takes his responsibilities seriously–so seriously that he’s keenly aware of the consequences of failure, and this fear affects his ability to assess and decide.  He’s a hard worker, but sometimes gets distracted from the big picture.  And he’s persevering–to the point of being stubborn.
  3. Is he holding onto something he should get rid of?  He sometimes gets too easily discouraged by his own failures and setbacks, and he should let that go.  He tends to drive himself harder the more frustrated or discouraged he gets.  Also, in hindsight, he could probably have brought fewer books out west…but on the other hand, they are valuable possessions.
  4. If 10 is completely organized and 1 is completely messy, where does he fall on the scale?  This depends on what’s at stake.  His notes, letters, and papers are tidy, as are the lesson plans whenever he works as a schoolmaster, but everything else…no.
  5. What most frustrates him about the world he lives in?  The inefficiency of the colonial government.  The whole purpose of the government is to govern and dispense justice, and if the government can’t do that job, something needs to change.  He is also annoyed by any public attention–Durant never knows how to handle it and would prefer to work in the background.
  6. How would he dress for a night out? How would he dress for a night in?  For special occasions, he has a nice blue coat to wear, though he always wears his boots.  Otherwise, he wears his boots, his shabbier brown coat, and work clothes.
  7. How many shoes does he own, and what kind?  Durant wears his boots almost everywhere, but I think he does have one pair of dress shoes.  He just rarely wears them.
  8. Does he have any pets? What pet does he WISH he had?  No pets; and he’s neutral-minded about them.  He likes horses, though.
  9. Is there something or someone that he resents? Why and what happened?  He usually resents his own failures or weaknesses more than anything else.
  10. What’s usually in his fridge or pantry?  He has no idea (his answer).

 

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