Archive for » February, 2014 «

How to do a Character Study

This is one of my favourite past times and something I’ve done so much I sort of find myself doing it automatically a lot of the time.

To start with, obviously, I pick a character. I try to choose one that has more than just the basic cannon to work with. Something like a Jane Austen character or where a film has been made about a book. Most of the time having two sources to work from helps. On top of that if I’m using film as my source material I make sure it’s an actor I know reasonably well. It helps to have an idea of how they interpret characters and what sort of dynamic they will bring to the part. Finally I take a character that interests me in some way.

I then read or watch everything that character is in, paying attention to dialogue, body language (if film) and emotional reactions to events. There’s so much to learn about a character and most of it is between the lines so I just start with this and then grow out from there if I want to. If there’s a lot of stuff. I’ll just grab the original works and some of the bigger adaptations or extensions.

Through their dialogue and emotions you can get a feel for what makes them tick, their level of education, what they think of themselves and others and what sort of personality they’ve got. If they speak well they may have been to a posh school or they may be a little vain. Through their emotional reactions you can work out what hang ups their past might have given them as well as whatb their goals and dreams might be.

While a lot of this is included in the story if you’re studying a main character, studying the bad guy or the secondary characters often leaves you wanting on the details of their past and why they might be the way they are, and this is where the character study comes in handy the most. A lot of our personality and the way we act is governeed by our past. Take the phantom in the musical. In the film they made he comes across as a passionate a genius and very much in love with Christine. We also get shown the cruelty he’s faced because of his disfigurement and can then make the choice to pity him because a lack of love has made him so aggressively possessive of his own love’s object of affection.

In the original book, the phantom is more disfigured, more crazy and appears to take more delight in harming people for the sake of harming people, leaving us pitying him less. Our ability to pity comes out of analysing his actions and understanding whether they are coming out of his own pain or some sadistic desire to hurt others.

I try to make as few assumptions as possible, prefering to stick to the facts but certain behaviours usually match up with certain past experiences and the more character studies you’ll do the more you’ll get a feel for the types of logical leaps you can make about them.

When I’m satisfied I know the character as much as I can, I often start to brainstorm what if scenarios for them. I start with what sort of person would be able to make friends with them and gain their trust and then move onto romantic attachments. What would their ideal partner be like, how would their initial meetings go. For some characters I have many many possibilities for these but a few characters (often the more complex and untrusting ones), I can sometimes list several possible scenarios for a first meeting and the different personality types and find flaws in a lot of them, but eventually I arrive with something workable.

With all that done I often write a brief bit of dialogue intensive meeting of two characters. The one I’ve come up with as a friend or romantic attachement and my character study (On the few rare occasions I’ve been unable to decide on a suitable extra character, or when I’m struggling to get my head around the character and want to explore him or her a bit further before taking it too far, I might use myself as the extra character). This then gives me the opportunity to see if I can get into the character study enough to write as if I’m them, and explore their reactions and dialogue for myself.

Often this is where I end. If I’m satisfied with having an introduction to them and enjoy it I might continue, which is where my Mycroft fan-fiction has come from, but for the most part I consider myself satisfied and like I’ve understood the character as best as I can with the information I have. Very occasionally I come back to one years later and write the meeting point again from a different place.

The Lego Movie: A Review

I think pretty much everyone who’s seen this is agreeing. It’s awesome, so awesome, that ‘everything is awesome! Everything is cool when you’re part of a team’ (yes that’s the song lyrics and yes it is stuck in my head and has been since I started watching it).

So you’ve probably gathered that I really enjoyed this film, and I have to admit part of my enjoyement was the awesome comments the kids in the row behind me were making. They were some well informed kids. The recognised the millenium falcon and got excited when they saw it. How could you not be impressed by that!

In terms of the film itself, it was obviously one of those films that wasn’t taking itself too seriously, but like a lot of great kids films, it had a really great message. So many people these days are asked to fit in and just go with the norm, don’t ask questions and allow the person in control to shape your world and feed you propaganda, but this was all about being creative, challenging the norm and believing in yourself. It also made a point of us all having a role to play, even if we don’t think we do. We all have a unique talent and the world needs that talent.

All in all I think the message could have been easy to miss, wrapped up in the light hearted humour but I’m really glad they made it and told the story they told. Also Will Ferrell and Liam Neeson were awesome!

Dylan Gray & His Crew

So this is one of those blog slots where I normally share something I’ve been working on. The problem is, the last few weeks I’ve been held up with all sorts of things I can’t really blog about easily. So I thought I’d talk a bit more about a world I’m in the middle of creating.

This world is inhabited by a United Federations Fleet Captain called Dylan Gray. United Federations Fleet Captain Dylan Gray is a bit of a mouth full so we’ll go with Dylan or maybe Captain for the most part. As you’ve probably worked out Dylan is the Captain of a space ship. At the moment his ship is called Sapphira. That may change but not until the full length novels come out.

So far I have one story written about Dylan and his crew, called The Slave Who’d Never Been Kissed. I shared the opening a few weeks back here, and the anthology it is available in is free on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. This isn’t the first story in the string of introduction novellas I would like to do but it stands alone well (hopefully they all will), so there’s no need to hold off reading for that reason. I also think it’s one of my better shorts as well as it being my personal favourite.

I think there will be another three of these, maybe four, which will help introduce the crew members so the full novels can get going with a whole crew. I guess that sort of makes them prequels, but I’m writing them first to get my head around the world.

And on that note, I should actually talk about the world a bit (that was the point of this post). In my head it’s pretty much an amalgamation of Star Trek, Firefly, Farscape, Stargate and pretty much everything else set in space. The Sapphira is bigger than Serenity in Firefly but smaller than the Enterprise, but is a small ship for the world Dylan is in. As he grows in his Captain role he will possibly be given larger ships to command, sort of how the navy used to give different ships to different people, and like the navy Dylan will take certain members of his crew with him, Probably the Thorian, Trell and Auraylia. I haven’t decided for sure on the other two or three officers and engineers who are named in the novella already written.

As mentioned in The Slave Who’d never been kissed, the United Federations is at war with several other alien races but also has several as allies (Trell and the Thorian aren’t entirely human), and the fleet is used to protect the allied colonies, although there’s a lot of human colonies where Dylan is stationed.

The colonies themselves range from very poor and struggling to survive to rich, successful and well protected colonies nearer the heart of the human empire. Earth still exists but I’ve not decided in what form yet. Dylan was born on one of the wealthy colonies and enrolled in the fleet acadamy at a young age. He’s basically always wanted to be a Captain in space.

12 Years a Slave: A Review and a Thought on the Ripple Effect

I know it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a film as I chose to give the books I read a slightly higher priority, but this film is one I want people to know about.

This is based on a true story of a man who was free, sold into slavery, and then spent 12 years working for different slave owners of varying tempers and opinions. The original man the story was about wrote his account and the film is based on that book, something I’d also really like to read.

With all films like this you expect to shed a few tears and I can say I definitely did, although not until the end. I also found several points hard to watch. The makers didn’t always hold back on the horrific things the slave owners did to their slaves.

Acting wise I was very impressed. Michael Fassbender did a fantastic job in what must have been a tough role to play as the worst of the slave owners, and Chiwetel Ejiofor who played Solomon himself had me very moved by his performance (I knew him best as Peter in Love Actually before this). I knew Brad Pitt was going to be in it from the trailor and wasn’t impressed but equally not dissapointed with his performance. The surprise actor was Benedict Cumberbatch and his character presented one of the most interesting points of the plot for me.

While most slave owners really seemed to believe black people were something inferior and needed owning or it was their God given right etc. Cumberbatch played the part of an owner who evidently knew the slave trade was cruel and on a couple of occasions acts to try and make it less cruel. He still kept silent and bought slaves, as well as using them for work, but he was relatively kind to them and listened when they spoke. I think this is the hardest ground to stand on with something so controversial.

The people who genuinly believed they were better, while totally deluded, they were at least acting in line with their beliefs. But knowing it’s wrong and not doing much about it but the odd act of kindness here and there, is that actually going along with the wrong, because your actions don’t speak out otherwise. I find myself wondering if these people are actually the ones to be blamed for not stopping the slave trade sooner. Because if all of them had fought their fears and spoken up, who knows how much sooner people like Solomon would have been freed?

In the end it is one of these, in between, sort of men who saves Solomon. Just one voice spoke up and it saved him, which meant he could go home to his family, and then write his book, and then let others know about it all, and then help build momentum to stop the slave trade for good. One single voice started a ripple of events that helped change so many more lives. I want to write that again for emphasis. One Single Voice started a ripple of events that helped change the lives of so many more.

The next time I find myself faced with something and I’m afraid to speak up, I hope I remember this true story and I say what should be said, because one voice can sometimes turn an entire tide.

Book Cover Cubes

I’ve just had the most amazing fan make the most amazing tribute/present for me ever. A design for a book cover cube.

Doesn’t it look amazing! Not only is it a really lovely thing for someone to make for me, it’s exactly the sort of thing that appeals to my brain. I used to be the kid who spent ages putting together models made out of this sort of thing and had a lot of fun Sunday afternoon making up another from the extra sheet I was given.

I’m also going to get a pdf of the design via email so I should be able to make more of these gorgeous things and this awesome fan doesn’t seem to be too opposed to the idea of making different designs as I get more covers and creating cubes with genre themes or series books on them.

I have a feeling lots of them together is going to look amazing, even two looks better than one and I’m super excited about having them as extras when people buy books off me etc. I think they need to have something inside them though. Any suggestions (other than chocolate, cause let’s face it everything is better with chocolate)? And who wants one?

Casino Royale: A Review

So I love the Bond films. There’s been some great ones in the years I’ve been alive, including the latest, Skyfall, so I jumped at the idea to read the first of the books when it was presented to me in my bookclub. What better way to appreciate Bond than read the books.

It started a little dull, as older books tend to do. While it’s not acceptable to write a book with lots of description and back story up front these days it was just fine back then. People liked to have the scene set for them and didn’t need to be hooked on the first page because their attention spans were longer. I also thought the dossier chapter was interesting if a little dry.

Bond wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. He appeared very sexist, and the author may well have been. As the book was written in the 50’s this could be a sign of the times again but I’m not entirely sure. M was male, something I found interesting given that I always imagine M as Judi Dench and probably always will. Given Bond’s sexist nature this was probably necessary.

I’m still not 100% sure if I liked the book, however. It was shorter than I expected, barely even long enough to call itself a novel, and very few of the side characters were fleshed out. Bond had some backstory and info about him but it was sparse and the rest of the characters had even less, giving the whole thing a rather 2d feel to it. I imagine it would build over several books, but I’d really have liked less description about the setting and more of the characters.

All in all it’s left me very unsure whether to continue. The ebooks aren’t cheap given how short they are (this one was £4) and not as good as a lot of cheaper indie books are these days but I am sort of curious. I suppose I might consider trying a second if I’m feeling flush sometime, but given how many other ebooks I want to buy I don’t expect it will be any time soon.

Character Spotlight: Ishtar

This lovely elf features in For Such a Time as This, one of my not so short fantasy shorts. It’s the third tale of Ethanar and although she seems like a very inconsequential elf, she’s actually a very important person in a line of elves and monarchs who shape the entire world through the ages. My favourite book in the Bible, Esther, inspired her and some of her tale.

Ishtar doesn’t think too much of herself. She starts off as a slave and is mostly just getting on with her life and trying to do a good job. She’s not unhappy but you wouldn’t really call her happy either. Most importantly she’s obedient and worked out at an early age that if she does as she’s asked, doesn’t complain to much and is polite to those around her she can get through life without too much fuss and attention being brought to her. Of course this is made easier by her owner being someone easy to work for but she still gives him no reason to be unsatisfied.

Her story is pretty much about life and the way it occassionally decides it’s had enough of things the way they are and throws a curve ball to see how you respond. That’s exactly what life does to her. It plants an idea in her owners head and events continue to transpire and attentions continue to be drawn her way until her obedience and aquisence leads her to the King and her new life.

Sometimes life just puts you in the right place at the right time, and coupled with the right attitude, magic happens.