Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: n00b!

So that's why my cat is always hitting me while I'm at the computer, it makes perfect sense now.

So I'm going to be interviewed by theHub Magazine (their site might be slightly NFSW, because there is some art with nudity, fyi). Right now they're looking for questions for me over at their Twitter page. If you're on Twitter and have questions for me about the book or my writing, you can use the hashtag #robynbachar and they might include it in my interview.

Pretty neat, huh? :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Storyteller: Story Structure: Levels, Bosses, and Rising and Falling Action

Ah, plot. It makes you tear your hair out. You have great characters, a fabulous setting and clever world building…but now they need something to do. Fight crime? Slay dragons? Rescue the princess? Something needs to happen to get them from “Once upon a time” to “And they lived happily ever after.”

In a RPG, your character starts out at level 1 in a simple setting, sometimes referred to as the “newbie zone.” She doesn’t have much in the way of powers, spells, and abilities. She’s probably wandering around half nekkid with a rusty weapon and a crust of bread, chasing down giant rats and bunny rabbits. As she gains experience, she learns new powers and acquires better equipment, and she begins to face tougher opponents. Bigger, stronger ninjas, if you will. In World of Warcraft, my warlock started out fighting itty bitty wolves with her whiny imp minion complaining the whole time. Now after many quests and adventures she’s reached the end of the game, and she fights dragons with her big, burly (but still whiny) fel guard demon minion.

So how does this apply to your plot? No matter what genre you’re writing, there’s a basic structure to any story. Just like in a RPG, you start out small, gain experience/knowledge by overcoming a few obstacles, and then you defeat the end boss. At some point during your educational career, you probably encountered a Dramatic Structure chart like this in an English/creative writing class:

In a video game, the rising action takes place over a series of progressively more difficult levels—the ninja level, the underwater level, the outer space level, the dream sequence level—you make your way through by fighting the monsters, solving the puzzles and whatnot to get to the end, where you fight the boss for that level before moving on to the next. In a story, each scene/chapter is like a level your characters must get through, and this is where Goal, Motivation and Conflict come in again. Say you’re not fighting monsters in your story. What is the goal for your hero/heroine? Why are they pursuing that goal? And what’s keeping them from achieving it?

Often it’s the boss monster that stands between them and the end of the game, like Bowser in the Super Mario series. In some games, like the first Mario, you fought Bowser several times before the end, but in others you fought his minions before getting to him. Your heroes might face a few minions during the rising action before getting to the villain, whether it’s actual bad guys or hypothetical ones like personal conflict. (Remember the personal ninjas? Good.) However, sometimes instead of fighting the level bosses, an author will have a cut scene to describe what Team Evil is up to. This is fine, well and good, but if you’re going to do this, please make these cut scenes interesting. I won’t name any names, but there’s one series out there that I follow that has villains I can’t get into. They’re boring. They’re evil because someone had to be. So when I come to a chapter with them, I skip it. The whole thing. Next! It makes the books more enjoyable for me, but I also end up skipping 1/4 to 1/3 of the book. Therefore, my word of warning is to please be careful with your bad guys, because they may not be as fascinating as you think they are. Villains need GMC too, and "just because" isn't really a good motivation, unless they're toddlers. (Aside: When BFF Diana proofread this, she asked me if I was dissing a completely different series, so make that 2 series where I skipped the bad guys. Actually, I may have to do a Storyteller Side Quest post on alignments now, hmm…)

The heroes complete level after level. They suffer through a sea of storm troopers and tie fighter pilots before getting to Darth Vader, but once they get to Darth Vader, that’s the Big Deal. The music swells and the audience knows that this is it! It is on like Donkey Kong! It should be epic, climactic…thus why it’s the high point on the chart. It’s not the end, it’s the big bang that brings about the end. Even if it doesn’t have actual explosions, your boss fight should have dramatic impact.

Next week I’ll be discussing how to steer your party down the right path, even if they don’t want to get on the airship. However, my birthday is Wednesday and I’ll be out celebrating (at the Cubs game! Go Cubs go!), so the Storyteller post might be Friday instead of Thursday. We’ll see how hungover I am. ;)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: To Boldly Go

Today, I bring you this video. I inherited a love of Star Trek from my dad, and I thought this was hilarious. Please to enjoy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Storyteller: 20 Questions

Finishing Touches for Character Creation

Hi, my name is Robyn, and I’m addicted to character questionnaires. Really addicted. In need of a 12-step program addicted. But I find them very useful for character development, whether that character is meant for a RPG or for my writing. Here are two sets of questions that I’ve used for both. I did not create these, and I’m not sure where they originated from (I vaguely remember that the first set might be adapted from the 7 Seas RPG). I also have a template for creating in-depth character bios, and if anyone’s interested, email me at robyn at robynbachar dot com and I’ll send you the file for it.

  1. Who does your character have the greatest respect for?
  2. Why did they choose their particular profession?
  3. Do they collect anything?
  4. What is their most embarrassing moment?
  5. Are they superstitious? How so?
  6. If they were given the opportunity to know the exact date of their death, would they want to know it?
  7. Your character's chosen deity speaks to them, and says that they can end the war tomorrow if they will slay an innocent child. Would they do it?
  8. What is something your character has lost that they wish they could get back?
  9. What is your character's biggest regret?
  10. Do they believe in love at first sight?

  1. What country is your character from?
  2. How would you physically describe your character?
  3. Does your character have recurring mannerisms?
  4. What is your character's main motivation?
  5. What is your character's greatest strength? Greatest weakness?
  6. What are your character's most and least favorite things?
  7. What about your character's psychology?
  8. What is your character's single greatest fear?
  9. What are your character's highest ambitions? His greatest love?
  10. What is your character's opinion of his hometown?
  11. Does your character have any prejudices?
  12. Where do your character's loyalties lie?
  13. Is your character in love? Is he married or engaged/betrothed?
  14. What about your character's family?
  15. How would your character's parents describe him?
  16. Is your character a Gentleman or Gentlewoman? (think Code of Chivalry)
  17. How religious is your character?
  18. Is your character a member of a guild, club, or secret society?
  19. What does your character think of magic?
  20. If you could, what advice would you give your character?
Feel free to try out a few and post your answers in the comments. I know I had one for Cat, but I can’t figure out where it is, which means it’s probably on the old laptop… Anyway, next week I’m starting the plotting section by discussing story structure—levels, bosses, and rising and falling action.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Storyteller postponed 'til tomorrow

Just got back from my mini-trip to Springfield, so I'll be posting this week's Storyteller discussion tomorrow. :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shameless Begging for Votes

So this last week I got a 5 out of 5 Book review from Long and Short Reviews (which you can read here, it makes me grin like an idiot). Now this weekend I'm up for their Book of the Week. Please vote here: http://www.longandshortreviews.com/LASR/recentrev.htm

All votes are greatly appreciated. Seriously, I <3 you guys. I'd bake you all cookies if I could.

(In completely unrelated news, because I can't run Dragon Age on my antiquated desktop, my dear and loving husband bought me a copy for the Xbox. OMG, it is so good! I stayed up late last night getting through the beginning and I'm in love. Bioware delivers like Domino's, people.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Storyteller: Quest, Reward and Ninjas!

Getting Your Characters Out the Door and into Harm’s Way

Continuing on our character creation journey, today I’m talking Goal, Motivation and Conflict. You’re probably familiar with GMC. If not, I highly recommend it, because the concept is pretty awesome and I found the book very helpful in my writing (and you can buy the GMC book here). But to boil it down, the idea is that your character should have a goal that they want to achieve, a reason for wanting to achieve it, and something preventing them from getting it. Gamers are very familiar with this concept, except in a RPG your character is given a quest, offered a reward for achieving it, and then ninjas pop out and beat the snot out of him to stop him. I’m going to break it down step by step.

Quest: Your hero starts out in his ordinary world. It’s familiar, comfortable and probably a bit boring. Maybe he wants to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters, and his uncle won’t let him. Something needs to happen to get his butt off of Tatooine, because if he stays there it’s not a very interesting story. Thus along comes the call to adventure! In a RPG, your adventure is usually a specific quest or campaign. A quest giver tells you "hey, bring me this sword" and you agree to do so. Slay the dragon, bring down the evil empire, save the princess, yadda yadda yadda. Though obstacles may occur along their way—as in a chain of quests, where each step builds on the last—there is always one overarching goal. In a story the quest isn’t always as obvious as it is in a RPG. In romance, the quest is to fall in love and live happily ever after, but the hero and heroine probably aren’t aware of it in the same way as a knight setting out to slay a dragon would be. In a way, your quest as the romance writer is to get them to their HEA.

Reward: As a gamer, it’s easy for me to shove my warlock out of her pixilated front door and send her off to slay dragons and fight the Lich King, because I want phat loot and awesome gear and she needs to quest to acquire those. As a writer, if I’m going to shove my warlock out the door to adventure, I need to know why she wants to do it. Before any character can embark on any quest, they need a reason for doing it. In a RPG everyone knows what’s in it for them, whether it’s coin, equipment, experience, faction or all of the above. There’s always a tangible reward for completing your quest. In a story, rewards often intangible. Heroes save the kingdom because it’s the right thing to do, not for gold and xp. But if your heroine starts out as a common scullery maid, why would she suddenly decide to save the kingdom from the evil menacing it? She needs a personal reason to get involved. Again, think of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker, simple farm boy, is presented with a quest: rescue the princess and become a Jedi. But does he take it at first? Nope. He offers to help old Ben Kenobi get to Anchorhead, but that’s it. Luke isn’t motivated to get involved until his family is murdered. Once the Empire’s evil becomes personal, he’s ready to go to war. Now think of Han Solo. He’s also presented with the quest of saving the princess, and he also refuses, until he’s offered a financial reward. But it’s not just about the credits, because we also know that he has a price on his head and desperately needs that money to call off Jabba’s bounty hunters. Speaking of bounty hunters...

Ninjas!: In LARP we used to refer to this as "and then the Assamites jumped out: (Assamites being assassin vampires whose mission in unlife was to kill other vampires, usually by jumping out of hiding and wtfpwning your character)(which is how I met my husband, but that’s another story)(he got schooled). It’s the empty room you walk into in a game where suddenly there’s a zombie OMG RIGHT BEHIND YOU! (Bioshock, anyone? Gah!) It’s the moment of "That’s not a moon, it’s a space station!" There is always something standing between the hero and the end of the quest line. It’s the thing standing between your characters and their Happily Ever After. Ninjas. Damn those ninjas, always causing shenanigans with their throwing stars! Anyway...your story needs drama. I’m a fan of fight scenes—not of actually writing them, but I like having them in the story. I like action. I like movies with explosions, so I’m likely to take the easy route for conflict and have ninjas jump out (or vampires, or magma elementals, or some more vampires).

If you’re not writing an action story though, you have metaphorical ninjas instead of physical ones. In Romancelandia, this can often be the Big Misunderstanding (as discussed in the Smart Bitches’ Beyond Heaving Bosoms, also an awesome book)(Sarah Wendell signed my Heaving Bosoms, squee!). Cheesy example: The heroine’s a virgin, but the hero thinks she’s a dirty whore because she was out after dark in a dress that showed off her shapely ankles. Better example: Though I mainly read paranormal and fantasy, I’ll read anything by Nora Roberts, even if no vampires are involved. Nora’s Bride Quartet series is straight contemporary, and it’s fascinating to me to read it because there are no zombies, no explosions, no murder mystery to push the story along. Just the conflict between the hero and heroine—personality conflicts, emotional misunderstandings, problems from their pasts. Their own personal ninjas who leap out of the recesses of their minds and attack their better judgment, if you will.

Next week is the last of the character creation section, where I talk 20 questions. I love character questionnaires. Seriously. It’s an addiction. Until then, be on guard for ninja attacks. Constant vigilance, people!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Srsly Goffik

I can't remember who posted this on Twitter yesterday, but it is indeed a dramatic reading.

I'm a little mystified at the fanfic thing, even though I'm probably guilty of it myself to an extent. I've never had the urge to write myself into someone else's book, but I've written a few stories for my MMORPG characters, and that's technically writing in someone else's setting. It was fun, and I enjoyed creating a story with other players. But Harry Potter fanfic? I'd rather create my own world and run amok in it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Storyteller: Customizing Your Characters for the Road Ahead: Expanded and Unrated Edition

BFF Diana is my unofficial proofreader, and when she read my post for Savvy Authors she said, “Dude, where are the swears?” Now, you all know that I am not afraid to drop the f-bomb, but I try to keep posts on other blogs G-rated. Thus, I bring you the expanded and unrated version of choosing character traits. Please to enjoy.

Gamers spend a lot of time on character creation. Perhaps even too much time, because no one wants to be stuck with a character who can’t survive an adventure or isn’t fun to play. I spent hours making characters in City of Heroes/City of Villains, and really it was the most entertaining part of the game. A gamer’s focus is on creating a character that is going to be the best at his or her role in the game (and possibly the awesomest looking as well). As writers, our focus is on creating characters that are going to be the best at their role in our story—a brave hero, a strong heroine, an evil villain (and probably the awesomest looking ones as well; when was the last time you encountered an average-looking hero, really?). But in fiction brave, handsome heroes are a dime a dozen, so if you want to make him memorable, then he’ll need more detail. This is where character customization comes in. Adding skills and abilities to a character makes them more efficient in a game, and makes them more interesting in a story.

Skills, Feats and Merits: In most role playing games, characters start out with the same basic set of abilities, like they’ve been stamped from a cookie cutter. Players then use build points to purchase whatever they need to make their character’s lives easier. Like what, you ask? Here are some examples from various RPGs I’ve played:
Silent spell casting, arcane library, true faith, lucky, destiny (as in the character has some all-important fate to play in the story), ambidextrous, allies, underworld influence, resources, haven, guardian angel, photographic memory, heightened senses
Essentially, the player buys whatever they think will make the character stronger. If you’re writing a paranormal or fantasy story, those are the sorts of things your character will probably want too, and deciding what these skills are adds a deeper level of detail to them. Say your heroine is a vampire private detective. Then she’ll need things like stealth to follow targets, investigation to solve mysteries, heightened senses to pick up clues, and so on. Non-woojy characters can benefit from this sort of planning as well. If your hero is a businessman, think of specific areas of knowledge that he needs to run his business, and then consider how that knowledge can benefit him during the course of the plot. Is he a computer whiz? Brilliant at marketing? A legal genius? Having all of these can be important to him, but lacking them can be equally important, as seen in choosing flaws and negative traits.

Flaws and Negative Traits: When a player runs out of build points, she has the option of taking a limited amount of negatives in order to earn more points. These are things that can make a character’s life a living hell, and some examples are:
Poor vision, clumsy, unlucky, cursed, unholy aura, shortsighted, tactless, monstrous, callous, enemies, destiny (because sometimes your fate is to die horribly), insane sire, hunted, permanent wound
In Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, Cat is tactless. Though she’d probably agree with a T-shirt that I own that claims “Tact is for people not witty enough to be sarcastic.” Cat is not afraid to tell anyone to fuck off, even when it’d be in her best interest not to do so. It makes her life harder than it needs to be. I once played a vampire with a permanent wound, and she woke up every night with three oozing wounds in her chest. First, it sucked because she started every game by being only a few hits away from dying. Second, waking up with icky wounds is kinda hard to explain to your snuggle buddy.

As a reader, I love flawed heroes. If the hero has a traumatic past to overcome, I’m instantly sold on the story. Adding flaws and negatives to your characters not only makes them more interesting but provides the opportunity for challenges to overcome and lessons to learn in your storyline. Even Cat learns a bit of tact by the end of the book.

Not everyone loves to torture their characters as much as I do. One problem that writers can run into is that while it’s easy to decide a character’s strengths, it’s more difficult to pick weaknesses. When creating characters, I try to follow the general guideline that for every gift you give them, take something away. If your heroine needs to be a powerful sorceress, then she should be bad at something else. Maybe she’s fabulous at magic, but scared to death of horses. A hero who has worked all his life for fortune and glory probably sacrificed something important on the way. Think of Tony Stark/Ironman—he’s got looks, brains, money…and some serious personal demons. He doesn’t have issues, he has multiple subscriptions, but that makes him entertaining. Most of the super heroes we’re familiar with have similar problems, and their flaws allow us to relate to them.

Finally, if you’re writing romance, choosing one character’s flaws can determine the other’s strengths. I have a romantic conflict chart that I use when plotting a new story, and one of the questions asks how the hero and heroine complete each other. It’s a question that I always struggle with, because romantic conflict is damn difficult. Anyone who says it’s easy to write a romance novel deserves a swift kick to the groin. Anyway…the couple should always be stronger together than they are apart, and it’s not a simple matter of “oh he’s strong and muscley, so he can protect her because she’s a delicate flower.” No, no. More like “she comes from a broken home and has relationship issues and he’s a dependable source of stability.”

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, taking a few moments to think through a character’s skills, abilities, negatives and flaws can make her more memorable and may even help hammer out details in your plot. Next week I’ll be discussing a gamer’s approach to GMC, better known as Quest, Reward and Ninjas. You know you love ninjas.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: WoWtastic

In celebration of the fact that my warlock finally hit 80 and is no longer wearing her ugly robe, I bring you this rather cool WoW video:

I find it amusing how many men play female characters. My husband and my brothers-in-law all do, though they have male characters as well. I just play chicks. I tried playing a male dark elf once in EverQuest and I didn't like it, though having armor that actually looked like armor instead of a chainmail bikini was a refreshing change. I hate getting new armor for my characters and finding out that what's intimidating on a guy is panties and chaps on a female. Sigh.

Any thoughts on the subject? I suppose for writers it's less odd, because you're expected to write characters out of your area of personal expertise, but while I don't mind writing male characters (except for Lex--dammit Lex, stop being a paladin!) I don't want to roleplay one.