The Stories Begun











{March 15, 2013}   Calling all faerie tale fans:

I need some help.

As you might notice, it’s been a while.  I tried to get a couple things prepped in January, but I was doing an INSANE sprint to finish up the first draft of Stars in Their Houses before the month was over.  We’re now in the pre-editing stage (otherwise known as “ignore it” OR, more accurately, “give myself some breathing room because I was about to crawl inside the manuscript and live there”) and I’ve been working on some other projects to make sure I 1) don’t get out of the writing habit and 2) to make sure I don’t get into the habit of *just* that style.  I went back to one of my pet projects (it’s something like eight years old and has been through three revamps and I just can’t give it up) and really sat down with the characters.  They’re finally who they’re supposed to be in my head.  Now that I have a grasp on them, it’s time to put them away until the editing of my draft has at least gone through round one.  I have a short that has some very fun characters that I’m loving and working on giving a strong ending, rather than a happy one.

That concept–strong endings–and this video put me onto my final project that I’m going to take on before getting back into Stars in Their Houses.  As I’ve talked about on this blog, faerie tales and myths are a specialty of mine.  I’ve not just been involved in a life-long love affair with them, I’m also good at seeing the creepy, nasty parts of the originals and understanding why those things were part of the cultural ethos and how that heritage is even relevant in the world of today.  I love the fact that my ancestors laughed at the dark and made it something easier to deal with.  Myths and faerie tales, for all the flaws they expose, are important.  This is why I decided to tackle some of the lesser known ones along with some of the better known tales in my Strains of a Sonant Storie series, which is the whole reason I started this blog.

As you might imagine, that’s one of my reasons to dislike Disney.  I LOVE Disney.  LOVE IT.  It may be a little Stockholm Syndrome-esque, but the love is there.  I also don’t like Disney very much because of what they’ve done to faerie tales.  It’s tough to see some of the most beautiful moments and lessons taken out.  The faerie tales of become sanitized and neutered.  EXCEPT: Disney can’t help it.  Some of that darkness does still bleed through.  Whether they intended to or not, some of those tougher lessons really do exist in the background or would exist if the movies didn’t end at “happily ever after.”  In order to convince us that that happily ever after stays happy, they make sequels!  BAH!

So here’s where this project comes in.  Right now, any time I think faerie tale+writing it equals Stars in Their Houses.  I don’t want that perspective going into the edit.  I want faerie tale+writing=good, well-researched writing.  I don’t want it to be about Stars in Their Houses, I want it to be about good story telling with a firm understanding of what’s going on in the faerie tale/source material.  I can’t do that if I have preconceived notions about the tale rather than just working with the material I have.  To stretch myself, I’m going to take five of these ruined versions of the faerie tales and write what happened AFTER the ending based on a close watching of the movie itself with NO BACKGROUND READING (this will be almost impossible for me, just so you know).  I need help choosing which five Disney movies I’m going to do this for, so please help me choose!

Rules for candidacy:

  • Must be a Disney film (sorry, Fox/Dreamworks).
  • Must be fully animated (no Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Song of the South).
  • Must be based off a myth or faerie tale, NOT THE LIFE OF A PERSON THAT WAS MYTHOLOGIZED (sorry, Mulan and Pocahontas, for what they did to you).
  • Must be based off a myth or faerie tale plot, not an extrapolation of fae/myth stories (so, not Atlantis).
  • Must be based off a myth or faerie tale, not a novel (so, Alice in WonderlandPeter Pan101 Dalmations, etc are all out).

Rules for me:

  • I’ll go with the vote.   The top five vote winners (through facebook and these comments) will be what I do.  Even if I hate the movies.  Only exception, if an illegal movie gets a ton of votes.
  • Each movie gets a watch and a note-taking watch.  I promise, I’ll research it right.
  • I need to get them all done within two months.
  • Post them on here after one more watch of the film to be sure I stayed true to the characters.
  • Do the characters justice (or, in other words, no word requirements/limits, it’ll be as long as it needs to be).
  • After the ending means just sometime after, there’s no reason to start right after the movie ends.  Also, no reason to start at the end of the characters’ lives.  So don’t.  Choose a reasonable situation that might happen anytime in the futures of the characters.

So, vote!  Choose what three movies you would like to see me work with and remember: these are the Disney movies.  Be sure you want me to deal with the characters as Disney wrote them and the story as Disney wrote it.  Don’t be thinking, “Well, I know she knows the background on such and such so that one would be cool!”  I’m doing my best not to let that influence me, so no thanks!

The top five movies picked by Friday of next week will be the ones I use, so get your votes in here or on facebook NOW!

~RJLouise



It’s writing Tuesday again!!  I cannot tell you how glad I am for this!  Usually I have at least one idea running around in my head, but not this time.  So, it’s time for another thousand or so words of creative something.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been re-reading a TON of my old stuff and determining what I want to do with it.  Some of it is still in that scary writer’s limbo: I know I want to do something with it, I just have no idea what that something might be.  Some of it has moved up into the “work on it soon, you dip” file (this is a slightly more urgent file than the “to be worked on” file mentioned in the last writing Tuesday post, just to be clear).  None of it has been tabled.  But, because of the nostalgia trip, I decided this week’s one shot (and next week’s) will be from images in as yet undeveloped scenes from these stories that have been flitting around in my conscious for a while.  This week’s scene is at least three years old (I began saving the ideas for it in April of ’08) and it’s about time I started writing parts of it down.  It’s from the rodeo family series I’m developing, the third book called Life on the Edge of the Grand Canyon.  The series is currently named after the first book because I’m too lazy to figure out what I want to call it.  Mostly, I’m working on this because it involves one of my favorite characters.  If I could marry this man, I would (Is that weird, creating a character you’d marry? NAAAAHHHHHHH!!).  You’re welcome, Celeste (That’s right, I so know you would, too!).

Addison hated to call Jason with something this huge.  Well, she hated to call anyone with something so monumental, but Jason Stern especially.  She wasn’t a fool.  She knew how he felt, she knew that whatever she asked of him–unreasonable or no–would be done.  It felt like she was using him.  Then again, shouldn’t thirty years be enough time to get over someone?  It wasn’t as if she hadn’t given him his space.  He had come to her after thirteen years of silence.   That should have meant he was over her.  That should have meant that calling in a favor wasn’t a big deal, that they were just friends and that was that.  That should have meant she didn’t have to feel guilty.

But she did.  Addison could spend all day with the wouldacouldashouldas, but it didn’t stop the truth of how she felt.  Or the fact that she knew that thirteen years had been enough time for Jason to become a good man, but not enough for him to “get over” her.  Thirty years had been enough for that, maybe, but not enough for him to want somebody else.  Jason was a problem, a good friend, but a problem.  So, Addison hated to call him with anything, but especially something this huge.  Who was she kidding?  This wasn’t just calling in a favor.  Besides, she knew that it hurt her husband, Levi, that Jason might be able to do something that Levi couldn’t.

However, despite all this, Addison needed Jason.  Or, more correctly, her daughter, Coreen, needed him.  So, Addison called.  Three seconds, two rings, one deep breath.

“Hello?”

“Stern!”

“Ad!”

“That’s me.  Please tell me you’re home.”

“I am.  What’s wrong?”

“Who says–”

“Don’t play with me Ad,” Jason snapped at his long-time friend.  “Let’s be honest, you call me for two reasons: good news and bad news.  You never call just to say hey.  Besides, who on this green earth cares if someone’s home if the news is good?”

“You’ve got me there.  On all counts,” Addison said tiredly.  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Never you mind.  At least, not right now.  Tell me what’s wrong and we’ll figure out you bein’ a lousy friend later.”

Addison winced.  When she had met Jason, he hadn’t been nearly so honest or straight-forward.  She had taught him that.  Some days she appreciated it.  Some days she regretted it.  Most days, she couldn’t decide.  This was one of them.

“Coreen’s pregnant.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, that’s about all we can figure to say ourselves.”

“Is the boy in the picture?”

“No, and we don’t want him to be.  Lousy son of a buck, that one.”  Ad smiled through the tears that started to fall.  Jason had been the one to teach her that phrase.  When she was new to college rodeo, Jason had been her gateway to it all for a while.  During this tough time, these were the small things that she had to hold onto.

“What can I do?”

“I hate to do this to you, I really do,” Addison paused for a long moment, gathering the courage it would take to make this request, “but is it possible for you to let Coreen live at your place for a while?  She can’t do school and be a mom at the same time.  We’d come out and pick her up if we could, but she won’t let us.  We’d feel so much better if she were taken care of by someone we know and not in a dingy apartment paid by some waitressing job.  We’ll pay you rent, we’ll help out with any unexpected expenses of any sort, you won’t be responsible for her much at all, she’ll just be a really quiet roommate.  You won’t even see her that much, seeing as you’re on the road so much!” Addison rushed through the last part of her proposal as fast as she could, part from nervousness, part from guilt.  Was there even a justification for her request or was she completely out of line here?

“Ad, don’t be stupid.  When does she move out of the dorms?  She’s at U of A, right?  I’ll make sure I’m there to pick her up.”  Jason didn’t even bother to say yes.  As if there had been any doubt he would do what Addison asked him to do.  She called and he jumped.  There was a disturbing pattern to it all, but in many ways it was the least he could do.  He owed so much to her after the way he treated her when they were together that he had a lifetime of paying her back before he could call it even.

“She has until the end of this week.”

“Good, I’m in town until next week.  I’ll be able to help her get settled.  And don’t you even think about payin’ me rent.  D’you still have my e-mail, hon?”

“Yeah, Stern, I do.” Addison sighed.

“Send me hers and her phone number.  Make sure she knows to expect to hear from me.  We’ll arrange a time for me to help her move out.  I assume you want to be kept in the loop without her knowing?”

“You always were a quick study, Jason.”

“Maybe.  I don’t know about that.  Does she know you’re callin’ me about this?”

“Not yet she doesn’t,” Addison admitted.  “I didn’t want to get her hopes up.  I’ll only send you her info if she agrees that moving in with you’s the smart choice.  Frankly, I think it’s her only healthy choice, but what do I know?  I’m her mother, I haven’t known anything since she was fourteen.”

“You can’t beat yourself up about that, Ad,” Stern objected.  “Every teen is like that.”

“You’d think that, but not every teen runs off to college and gets pregnant their Freshman year.”  Addison wished she could take the judgmental words back as soon as she said them.  She was so glad her daughter hadn’t been there to hear them.  This was one of the reasons Addison secretly thought it was a really good idea her daughter wasn’t letting Levi and Addison come pick her up.  Things were just too volatile right now and were liable to blow up in their faces.  Perhaps in a few months, but right now there would likely be some unforgivable words said that wouldn’t just damage the parent-child relationship, but the grandparent-grandchild relationship to come.  It was time, hard as it was, to back off.  “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know you didn’t.”  Addison was grateful that, no matter how awful she could be, she had a friend like Jason, a friend who always saw the best in her.

“Just keep her safe, Jason.  Do what I can’t.”

“You bet, Ad.”

Jason was glad of the silence as he hung up his cell phone and tossed it on the couch in his sparse living room.  Well that’s going to have to change, he thought at no one in particular.  This was no atmosphere for a teen, much less an expecting mother, much less a child.  He was lucky, though, he had the means to change that.  It was time for a change anyhow.

See you next week with something else inspired by the archives!

~RJLouise



{April 19, 2011}   Why I love what I hate.

Remember when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out?  The fans had been waiting for three years (the longest Rowling ever made the fans wait) for this book.  Many of us who had been growing up with Harry (as I had) were all of a sudden older than him.  We were salivating in anticipation.  And then we read OotP.  This boy who had been our hero and classmate and everything good about someone who had to overcome a bad situation quite suddenly turned into a world-class (heck, multiple worlds-class) jerk.  He mistreated his friends, he was a boor and lost his girlfriend before he even really had her, he was terrible to the one man who consistently tried to help him through everything, he insisted on acting misunderstood when–in all reality–many people tried to understand him and he refused to let them.  Harry shut people out.

And yet . . .

After all that, after the whining and the screaming and the fighting and the bs teenage shenanigans that I hated every minute of, I was still rooting for Harry, as were a lot of other readers.  Yeah, Harry was terrible.  He turned into everything I hated about being a teenager and the teenagers who I was around.  But he was still my hero, not because he had many (or any) redeeming qualities in this book, but because Rowling had written him so believably that I still cared about this whiny teen after an 800+ page book of his bull.  I’ve written before that I’m kind of tired of Harry Potter & Co., and I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t love Rowling’s writing.  I think it’s good, but I’m not one of those who think it’s lasting.  Except in this book.  In book five Rowling took a much loved character and turned him into the least lovable version possible and still came out with a huge (if not bigger) fan base.  In OotP, I feel like Rowling created something I can not only like, but respect.

Something similar happened just this morning in the webcomic I mentioned last week.  I know I just posted about All New Issues, but I have good reason for bringing them up again, so please forgive me.  This time, I wish to talk about the writing.  Dani O’Brien is the other half of the ANI team.  She’s the main writer (though the artist, Bill Ellis, started the comic by himself and still contributes to the plot and characters).  She’s phenomenal at making the right decisions for her characters.  They are not always popular.  About a week and a half ago, after one of the characters went on a truly horrific date, she kept in line with his character and had him sleep with his date anyway.  I did not like the character for making the decision, but I loved that he made it.  It was exactly what I expected him to do, and I would have been disappointed had he not.

Today’s comic (the one linked above) he made another decision in keeping with his character that did surprise me.  I guess it hadn’t hit me just how much of a dick this character was.  Due to reader reactions from a couple weeks ago, Ms. O’Brien knew that today’s strip would not be popular (the character not only slept with his shallow and terrible date, they’re now dating).  According to her twitter account (what?  I follow my favorite webcomic artists on twitter–they’re clever and make my day brighter . . . don’t judge), she expected hate mail.  I’ll admit, I was displeased enough to comment on the comic, but at the same time that I expressed my displeasure, I also expressed how awesome it was that Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Ellis had created a situation that elicited these responses.

I love what I hate because it draws me in.  Rowling, ANI, Nicholas Evans (The Loop, Buck Calder), Suzanne Collins (The Underland Chronicles, Ripred; The Hunger Games, Haymitch), A Girl and Her Fed (Agent 146: Clarice), and too many more to list create characters that I cannot stand, but have to read more of because they create the tension that drives the situation.  Sometimes these are the main characters, sometimes these are side characters driving the main characters to action.  Half the time, these characters aren’t even antagonists, which is so many kinds of awesome!  Writing that inspires passion in the reader is exceptional.  Writing that inspires negative passion that–against all expectations–engages the reader even deeper is astounding.

This is a skill I am working on.  A good antagonistic situation (whether or not there is an actual antagonist) is hard to create.  It means making tough decisions with your characters, putting them in situations you (and most likely your readers) dislike or with characters you hate, even though you created them.  Sometimes it even means having your best and most loved character making a hellacious decision.  Sometimes it means hurting your characters, which can be akin to hurting yourself.

At best, I’m writing antagonists now.  Eventually, I’d like to get to the point where I’m writing antagonistic situations where the surroundings or the protagonist themselves are the “antagonist.”  I have the greatest respect for these authors who manage this balancing act.  They’re inspirational as well as entertaining.  I love that, as an author, I never lack for examples and enjoyment.

Go write someone (or something) horrid,

~RJLouise



“There are no small parts, just small actors.”  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that (or the industry equivalent) said.  And, honestly, it’s a lie.  Incidentals make up the life and breath of literature.  Small characters are small for a reason.  If they’re too big, they take away from the story that the author is trying to tell.

But!

This does not mean you get to cheat and spend less time on said characters.  In fact, this is a very bad idea.  Small characters need to be there with purpose.  They are small for a reason, but that does not mean they are unimportant (which, of course, is the intention behind that silly phrase that I began my blog with).  Small characters are good things, vital, and must be treated as such.

Before I go into my tips on how to make characters small but memorable, I will share two examples of what I feel are the perfect small characters.

Current Popular Literature: The Hunger Games, Gale.

Before all you Gale lovers raise up in a huff, I’m speaking of the first book only.  Not the series (and, even then, I’d contend he was a minor-ish character, but that’s for a different day).  In The Hunger Games, Gale is physically present in all of three chapters at the very beginning.  It’s well established that he’s  the best friend of the character and, with the way the character reminisces for a few more chapters, you get the feeling there might be more to it than that.  However, soon, he’s gone.  Katniss, the main character, becomes so wrapped up in the Hunger Games and Peeta (the young man who went with her) that she almost completely forgets about her best friend Gale.  However, the reader never forgets Gale.  There’s just enough of Gale at the beginning that the entire time Katniss has to pretend to love Peeta, the reader’s heart is aching for a young man he/she knew for two and a half chapters.  Gale is hardly what I would call important to the story, but he’s memorable enough that his side story can be made to be either as significant or insignificant as the reader allows.

Past Popular Literature: The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Prince Bumpo.

Prince Bumpo is a much smaller character than Gale.  He has two scenes in this particular book.  Regardless, he’s one of the most distinct characters because his main feature is something that all humans can relate to: longing to be something else.  He’s so very human and flawed that it’s easy to like him.  I did an entire paper on the subject of Bumpo’s scenes because of how they’ve been changed over the years, but here’s the essential: Prince Bumpo is in love and feels inadequate.  So he asks Dr. Dolittle to change him so that he may become more attractive to his Sleeping Beauty (who he once happened upon and even kissed, but she ran away in horror at the sight of him).  The Doctor agrees, in exchange for a boat and his freedom from Bumpo’s father’s prison.  In the end, a quick fix is made and the Doctor feels horrible for practicing this deceit.  As they leave, the Dolittle’s companion, Dab-Dab the Duck, points out that the Prince really should learn to be happy with who he is, as he’s a good sort of fellow.  Bumpo is memorable, beacause he is so much of what we are.

So, how do I suggest going about the making of good small characters?

  • Give them one thing that is particular to them.  Trevor, one of my minor characters, is a good listener.  That’s his deal.  Because of that, he becomes–while remaining a peripheral character–competition in the love interest category.  Or, at least, that’s how one of the other males (who is a much bigger character) sees it.
  • Make them relatable.  Minor characters tend to be incredibly quirky or incredibly generic.  Either one works, as people tend to see themselves as too individual for the crowd or as someone who can blend with the best of them.  Side characters fill that function.
  • Don’t fill in too many features, one or two is good.
  • Minimal is a great idea at the start.  If it comes later that the character needs fleshing out, you’ll find out then.
  • Too much background that does not involve the main character is a death sentence.  Don’t kill your story.
  • Plan their exit before you even put them in.  Knowing where they end makes it easier not to let them get out of control.

I’m sure there are other ways, but these are some I’ve learned and am still learning to apply.  Remember, minor characters are really what the audience makes them, not you.  Give them something fluid to work with, they deserve to have as much fun creating their version of the character as you did.

Off you go!

~RJLouise



et cetera