Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: The Fuzzies

Here is one of my posts from my Tough Guide to Clichés series!  Because we can never have enough fuzzies…

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I’ve really been enjoying my month in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland and all of the marvelous clichés that she has brought to my attention.  What I think I have learned while writing these (and perhaps, you have, by reading them) is that while there are always cliché ways to present your world and characters, there also just as many ways to avoid or even to utilize those clichés to make our fantasylands better.  An awareness of the stereotypes gives us greater power over our worlds.

And what megalomaniacal, world-building author does not want greater power?

So we’ve covered names, colour-coding, and villains thus far.  I want to touch on something a little smaller, a detail that might not even come into consideration when we are writing.  But when you think about it, it is a little strange.

pangur ban cat rabbit friends
Pangur Ban is a magic cat and Bella is a soulless, power-hungry, would-be villain. I think they both merit a story or two.

The question that Jones presents in one of her entries is this: Where are all the fuzzies?

Specifically, how do animals figure into your storytelling?

First, let’s see what Diana Wynne Jones has to say:

Animals. See Enemy Spies, Food, and Transport.  Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purpose, there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland.  Any other animals you meet will be the result either of Wizard’s Breeding Programme or of Shapeshifting.  You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.

Domestic Animals are as rare as wild Animals.  In most cases their existence can be proved only by deduction.  Thus, sheep must exist, because people wear wool, and so must cattle, as there is usually cheese to eat.  Cats are seen in company with Witches and Crones, often in large numbers, but seldom elsewhere, and there have been sightings also of solitary pigs; possibly in Fantasyland cats are herd animals whereas pigs are not.  Goats are seen oftener (and may even provide the cheese) and dogs are frequent but often rather feral – the arrival of a Tour party at a Village is usually greeted by barking dogs.  Dogs are also kept in numbers by Kings and nobles, where their job is to be scavengers: you throw bones on the floor and the dogs fight for them.  These hounds cannot be kept for hunting (except perhaps for hunting men and Mutant Nasties), as there are no Animals to hunt.

The thoughtful Tourist might like to pause here and consider, since Animals are so rare, what exactly the meat is that the Management puts in its Stew.

Another use for animals: as desks.
My brother demonstrates another use for animals: as desks.

Now, then, let’s talk about the animals.  When I read this, I remember feeling a very twingy sense of concern because my fantasy serial The Holder Wars has fallen prey to exactly this description of animals.  There are horses for “Transportation” and then there are plenty of shapeshifters.  But my land has been peculiarly lacking in pretty much anything else.

Oops.

But here’s the conundrum: We want to create a world that is realistic and immersive and natural.  On the other hand, we want to tell a story and relate action and dialogue and characterization.  This means we do have to make some choices about what is important to describe and what isn’t.  If I were to write a chase scene through the woods, I wouldn’t stop the narrative for a moment to point out some bluebirds nesting in one of the trees my characters is frantically riding past.  I don’t need to tell the reader everything on Old MacDonald’s farm when my character passes by or stops in, do I?  We do need to have boundaries, and in many ways, it does make sense to only bring up things like animals when they are actually integral in some way to the plot.  Otherwise, the book becomes a ponderous tome of details.

chicken food
Dogs are desks… and chickens are cuddly snacks. This child lives in an interesting world.

And fuzzies just aren’t worth it.

So what do we do with animals?  Of course, we continue to use them in our stories in various ways, whether it is the usual horse transportation or as game to be shot or as magical changelings.  Otherwise, I think we would do well to be aware of any significant gap in our description, such as of a forest or farmland, and where we might add some animals.

It might do us some good to read what Jones has to say about horses as well:

Horses are a breed unique to Fantasyland.  They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.  Sometimes they do not require food or water.  They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  They never otherwise stumble … But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them.  If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a Valley while you talk.  Apart from this inexplicable quirk, Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.  Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no Stallion ever shows an interest in a mare; and few Horses are described as geldings.  It therefore seems probably that they breed by pollination.  This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals.

The same issues apply with horses,  I think, when it comes to description in stories.  If we were to be completely and utterly realistic, we would also be completely and utterly boring.  However, I do like Jones’ point about horses needing rest and the issue of stallions, mares, and geldings.  These are small practicalities that might be worth bringing into consideration.

Unless, of course, your horses do in fact breed by means of pollination, which is another matter entirely.  And I would like to read that story.

belted gallowy
Cow is sad because she is not in a story.

So, what are your thoughts on fuzzies in fantasyland?  Do you think that novels tend to dismiss them too easily or do you think that it is generally a matter of space and practicality?  Do fuzzies matter to you?

StoryBuilding 1.0 – And A Title, Too!

It’s been a busy month, and I’m sure that you are all so relieved to have all the hard parts of story writing so easily taken care of by yours truly.  Really, I am just the nicest person.

But before I let all of these newly fledged stories fly free, I realized that I still have left off one very important part: the title.

choose book titleBecause stories need titles, apparently.  Otherwise, things would get kind of confusing.

So for my last post, here are some helpful suggestions to get you the attention-grabbing, inspirational, unique title that you’ve always dreamed of.

Or something like that.

The usual rules apply.  Pick one from each of the following and watch your title magically appear before your eyes!

 

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character
B. Plot
C. Unexpected


2. Structure

A. And
B. Of
C. One Word

3. Add Some Adjectives:

A. Serious
B. Fluffy
C. Mysterious
D. Unexpected

You never knew so much went into titles, did you?  Well, let’s see what happens.

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character: Place the main character’s name right there in the title.  Just make sure you give your character a name that is fairly easy to pronounce and spell or else no one will be able to remember the book.  Your character’s name might be the only word in the title, which is a bit self-centered but workable, or your character is defined by something else in the story.
B. Plot: Use one of the following relevant words as the key to your epic title: War, Book, Magic, Quest, or Power.  Whichever one is most central to your story, or whichever sounds most important even if it’s not quite central, that’s what you want to go with.  Many people like to include the character and major plot point just to keep things exciting.
C. Unexpected: If you picked “Unexpected” for what is probably the eleventeenth time, it means you want something random, daring, or inexplicable.  So go ahead and include a “Frumious Hedgehog” or a “Cantankerous Sea Turtle” in your title.  I dare you.

2. Structure

A. And: Using “and” is a great way to sneak a whole lot more information into the title.  Follow one of these formats for a sure-fire win:

[Character’s name] and [mysterious object].

[Character] and [Character] [do something interesting].

[Mysterious object] and [another mysterious object].

B. Of: Including an “of” prepositional phrase is a great way to make your story sound really, really important.  Here are some useful guidelines:

The Quest of the [important thing].

[Character’s name] of [important place].

The [-ing words like: running, seeking, reading] of [important place/thing/person].

[Awesome noun] of [Awesome noun].

C. One Word: One word titles are all the rage, these days.  Just make sure the word is so powerful, so impressive, so though-provoking, so unique, so catchy, and so vaguely relevant to what your story is about that your readers can’t help saying to their friends, “Hey, have you read [Insert One Word Here]?”   Adjectives often work for this.  For example: “Frumious”.  (Now that I’ve given you that example, you can’t cheat and use it, so move on).

3. Add Some Adjectives:adjectives list

A. Serious: Dark, deep, long, final, lost, eternal, scarlet
B. Fluffy: Great, cerulean, shining, magical, new
C. Mysterious: silent, hidden, shadowed
D. Unexpected: grumpy, spasmodic, punctual, crapulous

 

With this handy guide, you will come up with titles, such as the following gems of my own making (no stealing these brilliant ideas!):

“Archibald and the Cerulean Spoon”
“The Quest of the Cantankerous Turtle”
“The Spasmodic Spies of Spinne”
“Barry and Klive Destroy The World”
“The Silent Telling of the Hidden Tale”

So many perfect titles.  Now all they need are stories.  What titles have you come up with?  Please share!  And happy writing, one and all.

StoryBuilder 1.0: Construct Your Magical Land!

Last week, I gifted you all with the perfect character building machine, and now you all have strange and wonderful characters, but nowhere to put them.  That is easily solved.  We will do the same thing this week with world-building.  After all, you can’t have characters without a world.  At least, I don’t think you can.  Maybe you can.  But probably not.

So here is a world-builder.

magic fantasy castle landscapeThe same rules apply.  Choose options from the categories below and make note of your choice so that you can find out what your wonderful world is like at the end of the post.  Once again, if you go for the exciting and unexpected route, you will get exactly what you deserve for such cheekiness.

BUILD YOUR WORLD HERE!

1. World Theme:

A. Roman
B. European
C. Asian
D. Totally Not Like Any Culture of This World

2. Add Some Landscape (Add any or all of the below):

A. Ancient Forests
B. Vast Fields
C. Grand Mountains
D. Bodies of Water
E. Something Unexpected

3. Local Color (Add any or all of the below):

A. Merchant Guilds
B. Gladiatorial Combat
C. Spy Network
D. Town Idiot
E. Something Unexpected

4. Government Structure

A. Democracy
B. Dictatorship
C. Anarchy
D. Monarchy
E. Something Unexpected

5. Local Wonder of Choice

A. Mysterious
B. Big
C. Ancient
D. Pretty
E. Something Unexpected

 

Alright, now that you’ve chosen your fantastical and wonderful and totally unique world attributes, you get to find out more details about your world of choice.

1. World Theme:

A. Roman: Welcome to the land of columns and togas and prodigiously prominent noses.  In your world, a very clean and shiny upper class spends its days bathing and talking about politics while the masses engage in bloodthirsty activities just for fun.  Everything is very well organized, but rebellion is simmering… just beneath the surface.  Business as usual.
B. European: Welcome to a totally unique world in which knights ride around castles and citizens herd sheep, farm, and look upon the occupants of castles for protection against roving bands of mercenaries.  Also, there are probably big, fire-breathing dragons.  Possibly trolls under bridges.  Maybe even unicorns, if you’re lucky.  But don’t pet the unicorns.  They bite.
C. Asian: In a land of zen, your world is filled with pagodas and orchids and very tiny gardens filled with sand and small rocks.  Your culture is clean and civil and all conflict takes place discreetly out of sight.  There are probably also dragons lurking around, but they are much more likely to want to sit down and debate philosophy and politics than they are to burn your house to the ground, which is quite useful.  The other supernatural creatures are not so trustworthy.
D. Totally Not Like Any Culture of This World:  In a land of fluffy castles made of flowers, your world floats on a cloud… in space.  The people are friendly… except when their flowers are stolen.  Herein lies most of the conflicts of the citizens, most of whom are fairies, some of whom are bunnies, and a few of whom are small, curmudgeony polar bears.

 

2. Add Some Landscape (Add any or all of the below):

A. Ancient Forest: This forest has been around since before anyone in your story can remember, or since their great grandparents can remember.  The trees are taller than most palaces and tend to make deep groaning noises as if they are sentient, which they probably are.  Entire societies of mysterious creatures lurk in these woods, some of which friendly, although most are probably not.  No one who gets lost in these woods ever finds their way out… except your characters because they’re special…
B. Vast Fields: Yes, these might just be here to take up space, but they are also useful for riding across at a quick pace, being inconveniently spotted by the enemy because there is no cover, or standing at one end to gaze at a looming destination on the other side.  These vast fields may or may not have names, but they will definitely be important to the plot.
C. Grand Mountains: Inevitably, these will need to be crossed.  Inevitably, there will be snow at the top.  Also inevitably, there will be trolls or carnivorous mountain goats lurking on the precipices.  And a final inevitability: part of the dangerous paths along the edges of these mountains which have been around for thousands of years will give way at exactly the same moment your characters are trying to cross.  Drama abounds in the grand mountains. Don’t forget to name them.
D. Bodies of Water: Whether it is a lake, a river, a sea, or an entire ocean, having a body of water is quite useful.  Like mountains, bodies of water pretty much always have to be crossed.  That is, except when they need to be dived beneath to discover some sort of underwater city.  Magical beings like to rise out of bodies of water, as well.
E. Something Unexpected: Your world is blessed by the incredible presence of an upside down sky-volcano.  Every so often, it likes to spit fire on the unfortunate masses who dare to live beneath it (luckily, this only happens every few hundred years or so, normally at some significant moment in some significant character’s journey to greatness).  No one knows what’s holding the volcano up or how the lava stays inside an upside down volcano.  It is a source of great academic interest – that is, when it’s not exploding and the academics are making a run for it.

3. Local Color (Add any or all of the below):

A. Merchant Guilds: Merchants are useful folk to have around.  They sell things, buy things, and also seem to know what’s going on in the world.  Their leader is usually corrupt, though, so your character should probably not trust him/her, although most characters will end up in the guildmaster’s debt for some reason or another.
B. Gladiatorial Combat: Inevitably, your character will end up in the ring if your world has gladiatorial combat, so be advised and consider some training to lead up to this.  This cultural atrocity will also figure largely into any sort of revolution against the current government.  Gladiators tend to be more than willing to get behind a rebellion and most corrupt leaders never see it coming.
C. Spy Network: These always know what’s going on, always influence what’s going, and always play both or all sides of any conflict.  The leader of the spy network may or may not be trustworthy.  Spies are shady by nature, so even the “good” ones will probably do some pretty nefarious things in the name of “right” which will cause your character all manner of empathetic guilt.
D. Town Idiot: Adding a touch of humor and the occasional, unlooked for insight, a silly character can be humorous, but also very annoying.  Your character (and your readers) might want this character dead, which will make any sort of sacrifice of the character later a little pointless.  These characters work best in small doses.
E. Something Unexpected:  Your character’s nation engages in the epic sport of bear racing.  Bear jockeys are a courageous lot who ride bears and attempt to get them to lumber forward rather than attack each other, their riders, or the audience.  Most races end a bit violently, but the sentimental attachment to bear racing overcomes all massacres.

4. Government Structure

A. Democracy: All for one and one for all!  Everyone has a say, but strangely, no one seems to care.  A handful of people have somehow still managed to take control of the nation.  This is probably important to your plot.
B. Dictatorship: One evil overlord/lady has taken control of the kingdom.  Obviously, one person should not have all this power and it will take a plucky band of freedom fighters to give the kingdom back to the people/rightful ruler(s)/other.  Don’t forget to give the dictator a very tall and dark and impressive tower to rule from, if s/he is into that sort of thing.  As a fun alternative, your dictator could be a friendly, relaxed person who is doing a very nice job keeping the country in line.  This will probably confuse your character a bit, but I’m sure there is someone else evil enough worth overthrowing.
C. Anarchy: No government exists and chaos reigns in this kingdom.  Your character is probably seeking some sort of order in the face of this chaos, fighting against the many petty thugs who have taken over various parts of the country.  There is a slight likelihood that it will be your character who will rise up to lead everyone (although your character is totally not a dictator or anything).
D. Monarchy: All hail the king and/or queen!  It is generally a toss-up whether the monarch is good or evil and this will usually affect the plot.  A strong evil monarch is often a very exciting villain to stand against.  A strong weak monarch is normally under the thumb of an even more evil power-behind-the-throne villain.  A strong good monarch will be a good ally once you convince him/her that the villain is truly Out There.  A weak good monarch should probably just be put in a corner until everything’s taken care of.
E. Something Unexpected: When your kingdom has social or political issues to be dealt with, a small group of chosen officials ascends a low mountain to present its queries to a sort of magical, giant orb which answers questions with “Yes”, “No”, “Quite Likely”,  “Probably Not”, or “Maybe, Ask Again Later”.  Sometimes the orb takes a good shake or two to get an answer out of it and often the answer is extremely unhelpful, but somehow, your country has gotten along alright anyway.  Your character, on the other hand, might object to this process for some odd reason.

 

5. Local Wonder of Choice

A. Mysterious: A green stone tower that emits a different song each month stands at the center of a field.  Anyone who tries to climb the tower gets about halfway up before being knocked off by a mysterious force, after which the climber begins to sing that same song as the tower incessantly thereafter.  Normally they also end up mysteriously disappearing later, but this may be because people simply can’t stand the singing.
B. Big: A giant, glowing ball hovers over a lake.  It doesn’t do anything.  It’s just really big and glowy.  Someone suggested touching it and everything called them an idiot.  No one seems to have tried.
C. Ancient: A book sits beneath glass in a small room at the back of a library.  It is covered in script from a language lost in the shadows of the past.  Someday… someone will read it. And then Everything Will Change.
D. Pretty:  It’s glorious, colorful, shimmering, and probably magical.  If you wear it, it might kill you.  Most people just gaze at it in awe.  What is it?  Well, no one actually knows, but it’s really pretty.
E. Something Unexpected: People travel from distant lands to stand within the Forest of Bad Riddles.  The trees tell horrible jokes that have no sensible answer, the kind that you can’t get out of your head, that make no sense, and that make you wish that no one had ever told you about the Forest of Bad Riddles or dared you to spend the night there.  Seriously, if your character has any shreds of nobility, burning this forest to ashes will be the first order of business.

Random, yes, but unique, right?  Now you have a world set up with plenty of space to fill in, magical names to provide to geographical features, and a character to drop in the middle of it all.  But you still need a plot, don’t you?  Don’t worry.  That comes next week.

NaNowriMo – Story Teaser

I’m too busy to articulate a post…so here is a teaser from the story I’m working on. This story is part of “The Keepers,” the new serial in the quarterly epublication, Gallery of Worlds, from Lantern Hollow Press.

Enjoy!  And happy writing!

The ringing of the Reach Bells started Larus LaCree out of his thoughts. He glanced over to his grandfather, who poofed contentedly on his pipe. They both waited, knowing what should follow.  The pattern on the Reach Bells echoed a cry for aid.  The Keep Bells would reply with an order.   The deep Keep Bell reverberated through the tunnels – the call for the Yeomen to assemble.

“Grandfather, I…”  Larus began, getting to his feet.  His heart was pounding and a nervous shiver ran through his arms.

“Yes, boy, you must go. I’ll wait here for your mother and sister.”  Llemuel said.

“Be safe,”  He called after him, but Larus was already running down the hall.  Other Yeomen were joining him.  He heard the rumors as he ran.

“Corruption,” someone said.

“Must have been a skirmish,” others commented.

“Killed?”

“Wounded, but it could be worse than that.”

“Families being notified. Check on Karla, she always knows.”

“Keepers have been summoned. There must have been a death.”

“A Binding gone wrong.”

Larus glanced around nervously trying to find his company, a friendly face.  Cold sweat was running down his back.  He did not know why he felt so anxious.  This was not uncommon; the bells summoning the yeomen to the Keep.  But this was the first time he had the privilege to join them.  And try as he might, he couldn’t stop thinking of the fact that his cousins and uncle had been forced to extend their Watch.  Something was not right in the Reach.

The Keep filled with Yeomen and from the many windows in the cavern walls Larus could see the faces of women and younger children staring out.  He used to be part of that crowd but now he was in the midst of the commotion waiting to hear what the Master Yeoman would say and what his orders would be.

“Have you heard?”  Henrick asked coming up behind Larus.  Henrick was accompanied by Mikhail and Camri.

“Only whispers.”  Larus replied.

“Well, we were coming from the Mess Hall when we saw…” Henrick started but Mikhail  interrupted.

“They were talking loudly and the tapestry was pulled away.”

“You were eavesdropping?”  Larus hissed his indignation.  In a world of echoey halls and tapestry doors, hanging outside of a doorway listening to conversations within was reprehensible.  On military matters it was punishable by highest authority, age did not matter.

“It wasn’t on purpose!” Camri explains hurriedly.

“Regardless,” Henrick exclaimed. “we heard that a new tunnel was found.  Or rather, a Chailtair revealed it. They are saying a new wave of Corruption has come from the eastern tunnels near the Reach.”

“All that from an accidental hearing.”  Larus said with a hint of condemnation.  But he could not help the thrill that swelled within him.  He was excited by the prospect of something dangerous, something new.  His company clearly felt it too.

“Someone was badly hurt.  A Binder.”  Camri said.  Larus noted the fear in her voice.  She was a Binder.

“Do you suppose they’ll let us go down and fight?”  Mikhail asked, grinning wickedly.

“Not seasoned enough.”  Ewan shook his head.  “But we’ll get placed somewhere, probably at a Yoeman’s watch in the Tombs.”

Larus nodded his agreement.  It was too much to hope that they’d get to see battle.  More than likely they all would be sent to guard portions of the Tomb that were normally unguarded and set up patrol there, keeping an eye on the dead and making sure they stayed dead.  Larus shivered, not out of fear, but anticipation.  He had heard stories.  They had all heard the stories.  Corruption begets more corruptions and stirs the souls of the dead.  Even the dead whose souls had crossed over, their corpses could be reanimated by Corruption.

Larus and his companions lined up in formation along with the other Yoemen of the Watch The ringing of the bells stopped and an eerie silence hung in the air as everyone awaited Master Yeoman’s orders. Noise from the tunnels drifted into the cavern.  They could hear distant shouts and the orders for the medical units.

Ewan was right.  As a brief description of the events that were transpiring in the Reach were explained, Larus and his companions were ordered to report for Watch duty in the Poor Man’s Lane, a section of the Tombs that was set aside for the unfortunate souls who did not have family or money to pay for a better resting place.  The Yeomen were dismissed to report to their assigned duties.

“Do you see Yeoman Caps?”  Camri asked.  In the shuffle they had all lost sight of their group leader.  Caps was incharge of all the junior Yeomen who had been recently promoted to Watch.  He was a middle aged Yeoman with more scares than seemed right for someone still rather young by Yeoman standards.   It was said that he had been part of another Keep in his younger years and had been brought to the Tombs for rehabilitation.  From what? Everyone had an answer for that but the truth of any of the speculations was limited.  Larus was partial to the story about how Caps had destroyed an infestation of Corruption but in the process he lost his Keep and everyone in it.  It was the sort of story that had honor, blood, death, and the most epic battles.

They did not need to look long.  Caps found them along with another group of junior Yeomen.   The other group had older more seasoned Yeomen.  Sevren could be on full Watch but he had not been assigned to a Soul yet.  He and Henrick were only one year in difference., but the way Sevren commanded his group and looked down on Henrick you’d have thought that they were years apart. Caps had left Sevren and Henrick in command of the two groups hoping that leadership would enhance their natural leading abilities. He was not far off.  Sevren was ambitious and he took his rule seriously. But his severity was not always looked upon favorably by his companions.   Henrick on the other hand still lacked discipline and he had a penchant for causing trouble. Larus, Ewan and Mikhail often were caught following his wildness.  Camri proved to be of tougher stuff but that is what made her a good Binder. But there was a respect among Henrick’s companions that was built on trust, honesty, and years of training and tomfoolery.

“Juniors,”  Caps called the groups to attention.  He looked directly at Sevren and Henrick. “You’ve been assigned the Poor Man’s Lane. It is the farthest from  the Corruption sighting but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.  Sevren you take your troop to Westmain Tomb and Henrick your troop to Drunkers.  You’re to set up a standard watch.  Have your Binders check all the seals.  You’re to report back to me at the beginning of every Watch, use the Chialtair.  I’ll be making my rounds with the rest of the scouts. Sevren, you have point.”

They were dismissed with a solute.  They went to the store rooms to pick up their equipment and supplies. There was no time to write a note or send a message to families.  But then, all of their families would know. Larus followed his group down out of the Keep and into the Tombs proper.  They followed the winding tunnels to Poor Man’s Lane.  It was not so much of a lane as it was a particularly strange series of tunnels and caves that were like honeycombs.  These caves were filled with the bodies of the poor.  The Chialtair cared for these sections more so than the Yeoman but in times of Sighting all the Tombs must be checked and looked after.

“We’ll set up a base camp here at the junction,”  Sevren declared.  There was an alcove ten yards from where the Drunkers Way branched off the Poor Man’s Lane and the section known as the Westmain began.

“Wish we didn’t have to all camp together,” Mikhail muttered.

“Rather be alone in a rat hole?” Sevren’s second,Eustis, retorted, having overheard Mikhail’s comment.

“Just don’t like your smell,”  Mikhail jeered.

“Well, it cannot be worse than…”

“Can it Eustis” Sevren threatened. “Henrick, keep your group in line for once.”

“We don’t take orders from you” Mikhail continued to comment.  Sevren rounded on him.  Mikhail took a step back but Sevren continued to leer at Mikhail.

“You’ll remember that I’m Point. You got a problem with that take it up with Caps.”  Sevren turned away and headed for the alcove with cold determination. “Henrick, a word.” Henrick gave Mikhail a jovial nudge, before coming along side Sevren. “Look, I don’t like this any more than you do.  But we’ve got to stick together. Right?” Sevren asked in a low voice.

“Yeah, Sev, whatever,”  Henrick replied dismissively.

“This isn’t a game.”

“Never said it was.  Lighten up.”

Sevren scowled. “You’re useless as a leader.”

“I’ll have Lars send out for a chial to set up the messaging system.” Henrick said taking his leave.  “Lars,”  he called out for the group to hear. “Go hunt for a chialtair and get a message to Caps that we’re at the junction.”

Lars nodded and handed his pack to Ewan.  “I’ll be back.”

Larus went to the junction and took the Drunkers Way.  The way was much more narrow than the main tunnel and immediately began to wind down, occasionally opening up into little rooms that had several other tunnels branching of.  All along the tunnels and in the little rooms shelves had been cut out of the rock.  Bones were laid upon bones, creating a wall of skeletons. Skulls peered out through the darkness.  There were bits of linens tired to some of the bones and words and sacred symbols scratched into the skulls.  This was an old section and he would have to go deep to get to where the newer arrivals were buried.

Larus held up his torch as he entered the first room or junction in the Drunkers Way in the middle of the floor was a rosette.  He took note that the tunnel he had come out of was indicated on the rosette by the symbol of a  bird with a knife in its beak. It was a symbol of the Yeoman. He would be able to use the symbols to find his way out again.  In parts of the Tombs he was familiar with he did not have to rely on the symbols to navigate, but here in the places he had only been once, the code would be his salvation for finding not only his way to the city of the Chialtair but his way back to his company.

The image of a spire with a cloth draped over it was the Chialtair’s icon.  Larus found the symbol in the rosette and followed the tunnel nearest it.  Several junctions later, Larus found himself winding down a tunnel that had no bones.  The shelves were empty but for the series of symbols etched onto the surface.  The symbols were the language of the Chialtair.  He and his friends had often tried to decipher their meaning but with no true reference point they could not.

Larus knew he was close to the Chialtair because he could hear the hum of a chant and the walls began to vibrate with the beat of a dum.

Movie Muses: Thor 2 and Why Characters Matter

Last weekend, I got to see another new movie.  I feel very spoiled.  Normally I wait for them to trickle their way down into the local dollar theater (which actually costs two dollars on weekends… I feel lied to) or just rent them later from Redbox.  But not lately.  Lately, I have been too eager to see these new films in theaters!

thor the dark world filmI went into Thor: The Dark World with mildly optimistic expectations.  By optimistic, I mean that I expected to be entertained, if in a very shallow way, by lots of action and adventure and things being smashed by a hammer and Loki being an extraordinary villain(ish). That’s all I wanted.  I had read a few reviews ahead of time that indicated the movie could be summed up as cheesy good fun and nothing more.

That is pretty much exactly what the second Thor movie is.  It is funny, it is fun to watch, and it is pretty shallow entertainment, but not in a bad way.  When we left the theater, though, I made a profound realization about this movie.  And this is the profound realization that I made:

“The plot kind of sucked.  If it hadn’t been for the characters, this would have been a horrible movie.”

Clearly, I am meant to be a movie critic because I think such deep thoughts.

But I stand by what I said. The plot is pretty silly.  Without giving away anything crucial (although just to be safe, I’ll cry spoilers! so you can’t get mad at me), this is basically how it goes:

Ancient evil elves want to destroy the universe using glowy universe-destroying goo.  Thor stops them.  The end.

 

dark elves thor dark world
Evil elves!

I know.  Wow.

But despite the fact that the plot was not terribly enthralling and a lot of it was simply Thor tossing the hammer and angsting about saving his girl, it was still enjoyable.  Why is that?

The answer is because of the characters.  Or rather, because of some of the characters.  Ironically, the main characters of this film, Thor and Jane, are not the strong ones.  They don’t do any growing or character development during the movie and while they are both generally likable and decent characters, they were not the ones who had the audience laughing and deeply engaged throughout.  Instead, the characters who held this movie together were several of the secondary characters.

One of the greatest fears we have when we go to see a sequel is that the idiot producers will look at what people liked in the first film and then overdo it in the second one (think: Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).  In a way, this movie did take what was good in the first film and give us more, but in this case it actually worked.

thor dark world darcy erik internThe characters that I enjoyed in the first film, such as Jane’s friends Erik and Darcy, were even funnier and more charming in this film.  They had a very strong supporting role and I cared more about them than I did about Jane.  Again, I had no hard feelings toward the female lead, but she wasn’t what drew my attention.

Now, there was one other character who was extremely important, crucial even, for the success of this film.  I’m not forgetting him.  I’m just saving him for last.

loki thor dark world lokiMany people liked the first movie more for the villain than for the hero, and in this movie, the character Loki is improved upon, if that is even possible.  He is even more sardonic and snarky and wounded and clever and interesting.  If anyone grows in this film as a character, it is actually Loki, although I will not tell you that he becomes “good.”  Watch it and see for yourself what happens with him.  No spoilers from me.  Suffice to say that Loki alone makes this movie worth watching.

Ultimately, this movie is about the characters more than it is about the story because, let’s face it, the story is pretty silly.  Furthermore, this movie is about the secondary characters rather than about the title character or his lady love because, let’s face it, they’re nice and all but not that fantastic.

thor dark world lokiFor someone who cares more about characters than plot, this film demonstrated something that I find is often very true for me as both a reader and a writer: characters are crucial.  Do not create stock characters, stereotypes, and meaningless minions.  Characters aren’t just there to walk through the story.  We are people and so we want to engage with real people when we read (or watch) a story.  Yes, the plot does matter.  The plot matters a lot.  But the characters are the ones to whom the plot happens, who make the decisions, who experience the adventures and intrigues, the ones we root for or can’t wait to see fail. We have to be able to like them or dislike them.  We have to be able to remember them.

If we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the plot.  The story will lose its impact, no matter how clever (or not!) it actually is.

So make the characters count.