Friday, August 3, 2012

Thesis Inspiration Culmination--"Saving Edalya"

Good Friday,

As promised, today is spoiler day for my SHU thesis novel, “Saving Edalya.” I’ve spent the last three Mondays talking about the three kids movies that inspired it: Disney’s Mulan, Quest for Camelot, and The Swan Princess.

Before the spoilers, I’m going to spend a little time talking about my other writing. It’s been a very productive week. I submitted 2 poems, a short story, and a piece of flash fiction to lit magazines, wrote and revised a good amount, and retrieved an old project (that I’d pretty much forgotten about) from the depths of my computer. The bulk of my work was done on my YA fantasy. And, the YA fantasy romance-ish thing that I retrieved from my computer needs the most work. Hopefully, it will get it. I’ve made it my project for Camp Nanowrimo this month. If you’re not a part, join. It’s going to be great!

All right, back to Edalya. Since I talked the most about Jayleen, I chose a section from her POV that I feel gives a close look at who she is. This is the end of Chapter 3. Jayleen has just, very unintentionally, overheard a conversation between her parents about the possible reestablishment of Blackfire—a rebel clan that nearly destroyed Edalya twenty years ago. Earlier in the evening, Jayleen left her father’s study unnerved at her father’s unease. Unable to sleep, she took her journal to a tree behind her family’s house from which she heard the entire conversation. Jayleen’s father has just closed his study window, leaving Jayleen alone in the night.
Jayleen heaved a sigh as her father disappeared from her line of sight. She didn’t know what she would have done if he had seen her. His temper would have been as formidable as her mother’s. The study window went dark, and only then did Jayleen move back to the flat area of the tree. She glanced down at her sack—again only illuminated by moonlight. All of a sudden, her desk, rather than a tree at night, seemed the perfect place to write a journal entry.

Blackfire back. She didn’t want to believe it. Her father didn’t place full protection on the royal family for no reason, though. Jayleen regretted coming to the tree, but she also was glad she had. Knowing what lay out there made the academy even more important.

Jayleen climbed back down through the branches and dropped to the ground. She retraced her steps to the servant’s door, careful to keep close to the house. She climbed the stairs and slipped inside. The house’s doors were always kept unlocked with the secure knowledge that the outer gates to the estate were sealed. Jayleen closed the door behind her and crept down the hall. She emerged into the foyer and paused. A comfortable quiet filled the house. Jayleen knew the house—took its safety for granted. If Blackfire was at large, that safety would be compromised.

“Honor bound, fidelity strong.” The Edalyan Army’s pledge issued itself of its own accord from Jayleen’s lips. She would recite it again upon completion at the academy, but the words had been engraved into her memory years ago. They fit the situation now. “I swear to uphold the code of honor, protect my kingdom—my home. I take this pledge that I will draw my last breath before I see Edalya fall. Hekulai—I swear this.”
There you have it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’ve put blood, sweat, and literal tears into it thus far. The rode is a bit bumpy, but the destination will be worth the trouble.

Like my writing? Love to read? Support me at Camp Nanowrimo at my sponsor page!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bridging the Gap: Writing as the Opposite Gender

Before I get into the meat and potatoes here, I’d like to give a shout out to all my SHU peeps who participated in the “Writing as the Opposite Gender” discussion last night. Great insights and info, and I know I learned a lot!

All right—first, a bit of background. Before I did the Seton Hill thing, I took a semester off. Before I took a semester off, I spent four years at a small Catholic Institution in the North Shore of Massachusetts studying psychology. And, since I loved psychology so much, I went to grad school for writing.

Haha, no. Honestly, I am done with psych for a while, but I can’t lie and say that it hasn’t helped me. It does every day. But, it especially helped me last night grappling with the idea of writing as a man.

Officially, I hold a B.A. in psychology. I also have a minor in communication studies with a concentration in interpersonal comm. What does all of this mean for this topic? It means that I spent a good chunk of my undergraduate career talking about people. It was unavoidable in communications, and a lot of my classes were dedicated to the differences between the genders in terms of how they communicate. It was similarly unavoidable in psychology. The Psychology of Sex Differences, as you can imagine, talked a lot about gender differentiation, but it was also a frequent topic in Personality, Developmental, Cognitive, and, yes, Neuroscience.

And, that didn’t even brush the surface.

Needless to say, my undergrad course load gave me a decent look into the deeper workings of the female mind and the general workings of the male one. And, last night’s discussion added to that. There was a lot of stuff I’d never thought of, and I’m sharing the wealth in, hopefully, non-psychological terminology. Old habits die hard.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in psychology or communication studies is set in stone. Similarly, none of what I’m about to say is set in stone. It can be generally applied to the genders, but, ultimately, it comes down to the individual. The same goes for your characters.

-Writing the genders is actually more similar than different
“People are people.” This is true on more than one level, and characters are no different. Men and women will have similar reactions to a lot of things. They will cry or be sad at funerals, happy at weddings, nervous on tax day. I’m not talking about your dark, disturbed horror protagonist or your mentally distraught villain. They’re in a category all their own and different norms apply. I’m talking about the “normal” people—the everyday people. Even if you look around, you’ll see that men and women aren’t as different as everyone makes them out to be.

-Don’t “over write” your genders
All men are not “alpha/macho overload.” All women are not obsessed with shoes, shopping, and gossip. If your character is, by all means, write them that way. But, do not make all of your women Barbie dolls, and do not make all your men “in touch with their inner dog” because that’s what gender they are.

-Tip—men tend to be reactive where women tend to analyze
What does this mean? It means that, typically in response to a situation, men will make their decision and be done with it. Conversely, women will make a decision but then question said decision. Important to keep in mind for writing believable characters. Believability is a certain percent giving the reader what they expect. But, rules are made to be broken too. So, it’s all right to have a man who questions himself or a woman who just makes decisions and never thinks about them again.

-Tip—men and women deal with their problems differently
According to the research, men are less likely to talk about their problems with their male friends. Conversely, women are more likely to talk about their problems with their female friends. And, men are more likely to talk to women about their problems.

The first thing I learned in psychology about research is that it is never definite about anything. I got an earful from a professor about using “proves” in a paper as a freshman. “It’s always suggests” because they can’t prove anything.

To add to this, and again this is from the research, women want someone to just listen when they talk about their problems. Conversely, men want their conversation partner(s) to offer solutions. Again, good for giving the reader what they expect, but you can have men who talk openly, women who want solutions, or men who just listen.

These are some of the big points we touched on. I want to reiterate that all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Write how you write, keep this stuff in mind, but don’t let it rule your life.

As a closing, I have a few other things that came up as overall points.

-Dialogue is a good differentiator
Not all men say “dude.” Not all women say “OMG.” But, they can if you want them to, and dialogue is one way to divide your genders.
NOTE: We found that, when writing about educated people, the dialogue gap is smaller.

-Don’t think “I’m writing a man/woman. Think “I’m writing a person.” The rest will follow.

-Talk to your gender. Talk to the opposite gender. The best research is understanding, and, as I learned in comm, understanding only comes from communicating.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thesis Inspiration Part 3--"The Swan Princess"

This is it—the final week about my thesis.

For those of you just joining me, I am enrolled in Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, and I have spent the last three Mondays (today included) discussing the three kids movies that inspired my thesis. As I like to put it, my thesis is not a kid's book, but kid's movies have a lot of adult themes.

So, check out the two previous posts—Disney’s “Mulan” and “Quest for Camelot”.

And now, I present “The Swan Princess.”
Prince Derek and Princess Odette have been brought together every summer in the hopes that one day they would wed and join their parents’ kingdoms. Now, as adults, they have finally taken the first steps toward romance. However, said romance is ruined in a moment of dim wits from Derek. Odette and her father return home where Rothbart—an evil enchanter—lies in wait. He kills Odette’s father and takes Odette captive.
Derek discovers this and makes it his personal goal to find Odette and bring her home safely. When he does finally find her, he discovers that Rothbart has placed an enchantment on her that turns her into a swan each day and that to break said enchantment, Derek must “make a vow of everlasting love.”
With the help of Odette’s animal friends, Derek and Odette are brought together but too late. Rothbart’s enchantment has been broken, resulting in Odette’s death. Derek fights Rothbart for Odette’s life and wins only with the aid of his guard and best friend. Odette is revived by Rothbart’s death, and Derek and Odette are wed.
This movie is clearly a romance. My thesis, however, is not a romance novel (it’s an epic fantasy), but since “The Swan Princess” is where some of the romantic inspiration came from, I feel that now is a perfect time to mention the guest post that went up today on a fellow writer’s blog about working romantic elements into non-romance.

All right, back on track. As I said above, “The Swan Princess” provided some of the inspiration for the romantic subplot of “Saving Edalya” (working title). It can’t take all the credit, though. In fact, “Quest for Camelot” is probably equally responsible just in different ways. As I said last week, I loved the concept of romance in “Quest for Camelot” because it wasn’t about the romance. It was about the quest, and the romance was a bi-product.

As can be noted above, this is absolutely not the case in “The Swan Princess.” It is clear from the beginning that the movie is about Derek and Odette falling in love. And, everything that follows is clearly an obstacle bent on keeping the romantic couple apart.

I’m an only child. Thus, I spent a lot of my childhood hanging out with…well, me. I had a lot of time to make things up—which is probably where my creative mind came from—and a lot of what I made up involved twisting my favorite movies to include a new character. This character was always female, not a princess, and a life-long friend of the hero. In the case of “The Swan Princess,” she was also a guard in charge of protecting the royal family and in love with Derek. In my alternate version, Derek realized that Odette was a wimp and married me. Or, occasionally, he married Odette anyway, and my character was left heart broken. I think I may have been a disturbed child.

Anyway, the important thing I took from all of this was the idea of the prince not ending up with the princess. Thus, Jayleen (my protagonist) is not a princess. She is a girl from a strong military family who burns to be in the military herself. Prince Kylander (my other protagonist) is...well, a prince. (Duh) He has absolutely no interest in Jayleen for some time. And, yes, there is a princess involved but not in the way you might think. Jayleen and Kylander aren’t life-long friends either. As a matter of fact, it takes several chapters for them to even really like each other. No more about Jayleen and Kylander will be said. Read the book when it comes out. *maniacal laughter*

There is also an important element from the end of “The Swan Princess” that found its way into my thesis. I feel, though, that disclosing it would just be giving too much away. So, I will laugh maniacally again and say simply that I promise it will be good.

There you have it. Three weeks, three movies. And now, Friday…there will be a bit of actual text from the story. Stay tuned.

See you out of the box,

P.S. Please check out this blog post about a project to raise money for a fellow SHUer fighting cancer. I’m not directly involved—by the time I heard about it, it was too late—so I’m passing it along as my contribution. Many thanks!