Thursday, 31 December 2020

To Epilogue or Not To Epilogue

Every couple of months, there will be a debate in the writers' corners of social media.  Are epilogues a good tool for wrapping up a story or are they the tool of a lazy writer who should have made the ending clear within the main plot?  In other words, are they useful/enjoyable or not useful/enjoyable?

For the most part, I like epilogues, so I usually just shrug and say "No one's forcing you to read them if you don't like them" to myself and move on to the next amusing cat video.

However, the last time this debate circled, I actually asked myself the question: why do I like epilogues?  Their critics raise valuable points: an epilogue shouldn't be necessary to complete the story, and they are often used as bait-hooks which can leave the story feeling incomplete.  I've been annoyed by some epilogues in the past, so why do I continue to believe that some stories need an epilogue in order to work?

I sat down to figure it out.  And now I'm sharing my conclusions with you. (I'll mostly be talking about romance novels since that's most of what I read these days.)

The most consistent factor that makes an epilogue satisfactory (in my opinion) is the timeline/pacing of the main story and the main characters' relationship.  When I'm reading a fast-paced suspense novel, the epilogue is a welcome opportunity to breathe.  It's a chance for the author to show me that the characters have overcome their challenges and have a smoother path ahead.  Especially in romance stories, I like to know that the characters are still finding their happily ever after with one another, without the stress of saving the world, or being on the run, or whatever other danger has overshadowed the relationship to that point.

Perhaps I'm too much of a realist to put my faith in a relationship that has only existed under high stress and forced proximity.  Especially if the individuals in question have spent most of the story fighting their feelings for one another.  In those cases, an epilogue reassures me that the ending really was the start of a happily ever after.  Seeing the couple a few months or a few years after the official end gives me that contentment.  I don't need them to have gotten married or have kids, or anything like that.  I just need to know that they're still happy and together.

Another factor that makes an epilogue necessary (again, in my opinion) is when the conflict of the relationship has been solved via a grand gesture.  If I am reading a character who has chosen to self-sabotage their feelings (eg.: pushing their love away to "keep them safe" or because "they deserve better" or because the character thinks they'll only screw everything up) then I need to know that they have truly overcome their tendency to run away rather than face their problems.  A grand gesture can be wonderful, but it's only one moment in the character's history.  If there are lots of other moments where they've made the wrong choice, then that one moment isn't enough to convince me of the change.  I need to see that they've sustained it over time.

This also applies when a character is struggling with addiction as part of their arc.  Relapse is an expected and frequent part of recovery, so I need to know they've made it through those initial hurdles.

Critics are right when they say that an epilogue shouldn't be necessary.  All the crucial plot elements and character growth should happen in the main story.  But an epilogue can provide reassurance to the reader.  It gives comfort and a sense of security.

That's what an epilogue should do.  It shouldn't be used to undermine the main story or to solely provide a hook for the next book in the series.  It should enhance and support the main story, relieving any lingering tension for the reader.

I suppose, by this definition, the epilogue isn't necessary.  The conflict has been resolved and what the epilogue shows is that it has remained resolved.  For some readers, they may not need the reassurance that everything continues to be okay.  And that's all right, they can skip it and move on to their next read in perfect confidence.  But for those of us who wonder what happened after The End, an epilogue can be a perfectly enjoyable thing.  Like dessert after a good meal.  It might not be necessary, but it is satisfying.

In other words: "No one's forcing you to read them if you don't like them" so please, let's all agree to disagree and finish by watching this adorable cat video.

Previous Blogpost: Learning From Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)

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Thursday, 24 December 2020

Learning from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

When I first began to write, one of the common pieces of advice was to learn good story structure from the books and movies I enjoyed.  This is good advice, but I've found that I often learn more from bad stories, the ones I should have enjoyed, but didn't.  Figuring out why those stories didn't work and plotting out how I would have done them differently has taught me a lot about editing and story-telling. (Warning: this post will contain spoilers)

I'm sure I'm not the only one for whom the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a holiday staple.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds herself wincing through the nostalgia.  The story itself is pretty good and it has a lovely message about being true to yourself and found families, but there are a lot of dated approaches and references that grate on a current viewing.  So this month, I decided to think about how it could be updated, while still keeping the good parts.

First off, let's look at what works.  I love the stop-motion aesthetic and think it works really well for a fanciful holiday story.  I like that Rudolph leaves the North Pole to try and find a place that he belongs, but ends up finding it among friends who also don't fit in.  I think that part of the story speaks to a lot of us who felt like outsiders growing up.  From the moment Rudolph leaves with Hermey, the plot flows nicely.  They run into the prospector, Cornelius, and the Abominable Snowman (Bumble).  They float off on an iceflow and find the Island of Misfit Toys.  Rudolph sneaks away, afraid that his nose is drawing the Bumble and endangering his friends.  Then there's a growing up montage, and he decides to go home and confront his family.  He discovers his family is gone and goes to rescue them from the Bumble, but only succeeds with the help of his friends.  Then they all return to the North Pole and Rudolph helps Santa save Christmas.

That's good.  What's not good are the repeated sexist references sprinkled throughout the story.  Any reference to "not for does, this is bucks' work" needs to be ditched immediately.  Next to go can be the references to what "makes Christmas"; such as silver and gold ornaments on a tree or lots of toys.  There are too many families celebrating in too many ways to declare something as a required Christmas experience.  Luckily, those things are fairly minor.  They don't affect the plot and are mostly asides which don't even drive dialogue.

Slightly harder is toning down the rejection from Santa and Rudolph's parents.  It makes them very difficult to like.  I honestly think an updated version would provide a powerful opportunity to examine how painful microaggressions can be.  Most people would already agree that Rudolph's parents treating him as a freak is bad.  But most people don't understand how a careless comment or joke can cause harm.  I would probably write the introduction as Rudolph is shy, his parents encourage him to be himself, but he still faces rejection from the other reindeer.  That would allow the message of self-acceptance to be more resonant.

There is a bit of a nasty undercurrent to the 1964 story.  The misfits are only accepted because they are useful.  But people don't have to be useful to be accepted.  By changing it so that Rudolph has a supportive family, he's got an unconditional place to belong.  And by gaining friends, he learns that he doesn't need to rely on his reindeer peers for acceptance.

It also would add poignancy to the Island of Misfit Toys (which is my favourite part - side note: I wanted an elephant with pink polkadots and a swimming bird).  These are toys that self-loathe themselves because they don't fit in.  Except their differences make them the perfect toys for particular children.  There are people waiting to love them just as they are, which is a fantastic message for a children's movie.  I would make that part more explicit, showing them being happy with different children.

The music would have to be updated.  The songs are mostly forgettable, aside from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Holly, Jolly Christmas.  And since I'm partial to musicals, I'd keep the key points of the story tied into music.

I would also tweak Cornelius.  Rather than having him be a prospector, I'd make him a naturalist or an environmentalist (which is why he knows so much about Bumbles!).  He finds and helps Hermey and Rudolph.

The ending also needs work.  I'm not a big fan of pulling out the Bumble's teeth to make him helpless.  I'd much rather Cornelius be working with him and ends up gentling him so that the North Pole doesn't have to be afraid any more.  And Hermey gets accepted because Santa has a nasty toothache (and that's why he didn't want to eat).  He fixes it and Santa makes him the official North Pole dentist.  Rudolph can still save Christmas, but he tells the other reindeer that he doesn't need them to be his friends.  He knows who he is and he's proud to be red-nosed.

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Previous blog post: Things I Love: December 2020

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Thursday, 17 December 2020

Things I Love: December 2020

 I've decided to start a new monthly feature sharing what I'm currently enjoying.  This year has been so difficult and finding joy has been a challenge, so here's some fun stuff that's made my life livable.


I've been reading Shiloh Walker's Barnes Brother series and Erica Kelly's Rock Star Romance series.

I really like the Barnes Brother books because there's a rawness to them that speaks to me.  In Wrecked, Abby is trying to reclaim her life and her identity.  She's spent a long time trying to be what she should be and trying to fit her life into preconceived boxes.  It's scary for her to abandon that structure and be free.  I connected with that.  In Razed, Keelie is struggling with a guilty past she doesn't want to talk about but is also facing life with a "f*ck you" attitude.  In Busted, there's a beautiful slow burn romance between two people who aren't looking for it any more.  That one is my favourite and the one I've re-read most often.  Ruined is a powerful story about recovery and being true to one's authentic self.

The Erica Kelly series is full of energy and fire.  It pairs some of my favourite things: music and happily ever afters.  Everyone is trying to find success in their own way and the first two books touch strongly on the dangers of addiction and how prevalent it can be in the performance industry.  The third book, Take Me Home Tonight, explores the challenge of finding a new normal after a traumatic event.

This bit is a highly personal reason why I love these books.  My 16 year old son is a huge 80's rock fan and whenever he sees these books on the table, he begins to sing the title songs.

TV Shows:

I've got a couple of shows on the go right now that I'm enjoying.

First and most enjoyment is The Mandalorian.  It's intergalactic bounty hunter single dad catnip to me.  It's Star Wars, it's a "character wanders through different places and becomes involved in local issues" Western-esque, it's a guy learning to be a dad to a superpowered infant.  All things I absolutely love (and all I can share without spoilers!)

A new one that I'm catching up on is Suits.  I love law shows that actually look at the law and this one is full of geek references and witty dialogue.  This one got me with an exchange between Harvey and Mike.  "What's the gun for?"  "We're going to go start a knife fight."  I was braced to DNF the series quickly, but instead I got sucked in by the amazing characters.  
The heroines are wonderfully written and complex individuals.  I love Donna's independence and competence and Jessica's cool superiority and control.  I'd probably love it more if it was all about them, but the heroes aren't too bad either.  I'm on Season 3 and I'm even starting to have a grudging admiration for Lewis Litt.

And one more that I'm so thrilled to find on my Disney plus plan is Once Upon A Time In Wonderland.  It was a single season but I enjoyed it so much!  I wasn't a fan of the original Once Upon A Time but I caught the Wonderland version while channel flipping and just adored it.  (Eventually I went back and did enjoy the original but it took effort.)  The season arc is a beautiful romance novel between Alice and Cyrus (a genie) and has a brilliant set of villains with Emma Rigby as The Red Queen and Naveen Andrews as Jafar.

Fictional Crushes and Fanfic

I have a fickle heart when it comes to my fictional crushes.  Or maybe it's just a broadly appreciative taste for hotness in all its wonderful forms.  But no list of the things that I'm enjoying would be complete without the imaginary stories I find myself composing.  Creating a little fanfic is one of the primary ways I cope with difficult situations.  It never fails to re-energize me.

I've had two which have dominated my imagination of late: Pedro Pascal as The Mandalorian and Gabriel Luna as Ghost Rider (from Season 3 of Agents of SHIELD).  For my Mandalorian fanfic, I created a plucky, cheerful Force-sensitive engineer (think Kaylee from Firefly as a Jedi) who joins the Razorcrest to keep it flying and to watch over Baby Yoda when the Mandalorian is busy mandalor-ing.  For Ghost Rider, I paired him with Firestar (from The Amazing Spider-Man and Friends Saturday morning cartoon) but I made her an independent superhero who is also working as an accessibility consultant for the university that Robbie Reyes's paralyzed brother attends.  The two of them team up for justice and vengeance.

And of course, each partnership ends up having Feelings.  And Kissing.  And More Feelings.  Because the lack of that is why I write superhero romance to start with.

And I have to share one cool (though minimal) brush with celebrity.  A friend on Twitter wished me a good night's sleep.  I replied that I'd gotten it, including a weird dream about me and Gabriel Luna being in a pancake making contest.

His twitter account liked it!  I had a moment of geek excitement and no one to share it with.  Luckily, I can share it now.


Last but not least, I'll share the songs that I've been finding myself playing on repeat a lot.  Losing myself in music is my preferred form of meditation and I often connect songs with scenes or stories.

I've been listening to ADONA's Hit Me With Your Best Shot (a cover of the Pat Benetar classic that was featured in the Birds of Prey movie).  It's a haunting, slow version of the original and to me, it's perfect for someone slowly standing up against someone who has been hurting them and refusing to back down.  

Another one I've just been loving is Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande's Rain On Me.  It's an energizing pop-dance song.  I love the harmonies between Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande and it instantly gets my toes tapping.

Previous blogpost: Reclaiming My HEA: Better Living Through Crushes

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Thursday, 10 December 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Part Three - Better Living Through Crushes

Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature where I share my progress through my separation and divorce.  Starting last month, I'm including snippets of a therapy exercise where I imagine myself in a healthy relationship.  The purpose is to remind myself of what a supportive, caring partner would be like, to try and offset the effects of over a decade without one.

I was recently asked to list off the names of people that I find attractive.  Hmm, thinking about cute guys... what a hardship.  Being firmly committed to my psychological recovery, I devoted myself to the task.

I am nothing if not thorough for my mental health.

As I compiled my list, two things became very obvious.  First: I have a lot of crushes.  Second: every one of those crushes are on fictional characters.

In some ways, it's not surprising.  Thirsting about fictional characters has none of the potential complications or ickiness of fantasizing about real world people.  One knows the inner heart of fictional characters, so there's no danger of discovering that one's crush is actually an asshole.  (Unless assholery is what works for you.)  Fictional characters are safely remote, never disappointing a person.  There's no risk of rejection or any other unpleasant consequence.  They're the safest kind of crush there is.

There's another bonus, especially if, like me, the fictional characters also tend to be superheroes.  They're also capable of larger than life actions.  They have superpowers.  They possess superior fighting skills.  They are deeply protective, especially when they love someone.  They are knights (in shining armor or otherwise) who are always willing to ride to the rescue.

In my fiction, I like a balanced rescuing on all sides.  However, I will admit that the idea of being rescued is extremely appealing to me.  In reality, I've been exhaustively doing the rescuing for a long time and it would be so refreshing to have someone else to rely on.  To not have to be on guard all the time.

The question is: what would I consider a rescue?  I don't need someone to snatch the mystical McGuffin or rip apart the fabric of space-time.

What I want is someone to give me a hug when I've had a hard day.  Someone who will tell me that they have faith in me and who will offer to help me, whether it's something simple like getting dinner started or more complicated like researching different school choices.  Someone who doesn't have to be asked to participate in the household.  Someone who wants to help and support me, because that's what people who are in love do for one another.

And, to be honest, that seems more fantastical than a guy who can bench-press a helicopter right now.  But I have to believe it's possible.

This month's snippet is my own version of a rescue.

   It had been one hell of a day.  From the moment I woke up, it seemed I was falling further and further behind.  My to-do list kept getting larger and larger and everything seemed to be utterly crucial.  As I struggled up to the house with grocery bags, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I was ready to cry.

   I fumbled with my keys, dropping them into the snow.  Great.  I put down the heavy bags, wincing at the icy chill on my fingers as I plucked the ring from the fluffy ice crystals.  Before I could shove the key into the lock, the front door opened.

   "Hey, I thought I heard the car," he said. "Let me give you a hand."

   My brain was too tired to come up with anything witty.  "I thought you were out of town until the weekend."

   He easily hefted three of the overloaded bags, leaving one for me.  "I finished up early.  I missed you."

  "I missed you, too."  The words were automatic, though the sentiment was genuine.  Or at least it would be once I got enough rest to wake up my benumbed brain and heart.  As I stepped into the house, I stopped, unable to believe my eyes.

   The toys scattered all over the floor had been tidied up.  My stack of library books was gone and a new selection waited in its place.  A neat pile of envelopes waited for my perusal.  He'd cleaned, gone to the library, and checked the mailbox.  My jaw was slack as I stumbled through to the kitchen.

   Pasta bubbled on the stove and a pan of tomato sauce simmered on another burner.

   He cooked dinner.  Tears pricked my eyes.

   "Hey, what's wrong?" he asked, concerned.

   "Five seconds ago, I was worrying about the kids eating late and having to pay late fines and when I was going to pick up the gift for the birthday party this weekend and my computer broke at work and people kept yelling at me because nothing was working and--"

   "Got it."  He wrapped his arms around me and planted a kiss on the top of my head.  "Bad day."

   "Yeah."  I sniffled.

   "I got you," he whispered in my ear.  "You don't have to do it alone any more."

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Part Two - Practice Makes Perfect

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Thursday, 3 December 2020

Missing My Writing Retreat

 Usually, the first week of November finds me on a beach in South Carolina with 10-12 other writers, enjoying a writers' retreat.  For 2020, even before the pandemic hit, we were nervous about being in the United States during what was expected to be a highly polarizing election.  With Corona, it became a non-decision: any thought of the trip was cancelled.

Writing retreats are one of the ways I keep up my writing progress through the year.  I've got a lot of responsibilities at home, plus a full time job, so my writing time is pretty minimal.  In a typical year, I can manage 4000-6000 words per week, but on a writing retreat, I can often do 20 000 to 25 000 words, which is a major jump forward.  Being able to just concentrate on my writing, plus the fun, energy-boost of being around some amazing and entertaining folk turns on the creative flow at full volume.  (The relative warmth and sunshine helps too, energizing my inner lizard from winter sleep to summer productivity.)

I really miss having that break this year.

Pictured: not this November

However, I have a bunch of unclaimed time-for-time through my day job, so I decided to try an at-home writing retreat.  I've been managing about 1000-1500 words per week since the kids went back to school in September.  For my writing retreat, I did about 8000 words, which puts me within a chapter or two of finishing my WIP.  (For those looking for perspective, a 300 page book is about 90 000 words, and my books tend to be 100 000 to 130 000 words.)

It's hard not to compare what I usually do on a writing retreat with what I was able to do this time.  Usually I write for about 5-7 hours throughout the day.  For this week, I wrote for 2-4 hours.  I am very aware that my energy levels are still quite fragile and that I needed to be able to preserve enough to function as a parent during the evening.

I'm glad I took the time.  It felt good to be able to concentrate on my writing.  I've had to switch my writing time from the afternoon (when I was traditionally able to do 1500-2500 words in 90 minutes) to the morning (where I'm only able to do 500-700 words in the same amount of time).  Usually I have to turn off my computer when the words are just starting to flow and I can feel my brain starting to spark with ideas.  For this week, I could keep going and it was a real pleasure.

Going back to the regular routine is hard, but its necessary.  I do like my day job and the people I work with, but it's not my heart's calling.  I keep hoping that someday I'll make enough money with selling stories to support myself and my family.  That would be one of my happily ever afters.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Learning From Suicide Squad

 When I first began to write, one of the common pieces of advice was to learn good story structure from the books and movies I enjoyed.  This is good advice, but I've found that I often learn more from bad stories, the ones I should have enjoyed, but didn't.  Figuring out why those stories didn't work and plotting out how I would have done them differently has taught me a lot about editing and story-telling. (Warning: this post will contain spoilers)

I love comic book movies, and I love stories about redeeming villains, so I should have loved Suicide Squad.  But while I did really enjoy some parts of the movie, overall, it's not a great experience.  However, it could have been with some changes.

First of all, let's look at the parts that did work, specifically Margot Robbie, Will Smith and Viola Davis.  Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Amanda Waller were all brilliantly developed characters with good, clear arcs.  They played off against each other well, with Deadshot's methodical precision acting as a great foil for Harley's chaotic impulsivity.  And Waller was the perfect villain, one who believes that her chosen ends justify the means.  The scenes with these three make the film worth watching.

Jay Hernandez's Diablo had the potential to be a really strong character with a powerful backstory, but he got lost in the general mishmash of plotlines.  And I actually liked Jared Leto's Joker.  The combination of lethality and playfulness is an approach to the character which is often used in the comics but hasn't usually been attempted in film.  However, many of the Joker's scenes seemed superfluous in the greater story.

This is where Suicide Squad falls down.  Too many characters, too many contrasting character arcs, and a vaguely defined overall conflict.  There are 8 named characters in the title squad: Deadshot, Harley, Diablo, Killer Croc, Slipknot, Boomerang, Rick Flag and Katana.  There are 3 main villains: Amanda Waller, Enchantress, and Incubus.  And then there's the Joker, who I don't count as a villain for this movie because he isn't trying to attack the protagonists or the city.  That's 13 characters competing for screen time.

- Deadshot wants to provide for his daughter

- Harley wants to reunite with the Joker

- Diablo wants to atone for killing his family

- Killer Croc wants to be free to... lurk in the sewers, I guess?  He just seems to want to enjoy himself, to be honest

- Slipknot wants to escape and gets his head blown off

- Boomerang wants to screw over Amanda Waller and make her look bad

- Rick Flag wants to protect his girlfriend, June Moon (who is also Enchantress)

- Katana wants to avenge her husband's spirit, who is trapped inside her sword

- Amanda Waller wants to make use of a bunch of villains instead of leaving them trapped in a black site at taxpayer expense

- Enchantress wants to resurrect her brother, Incubus, and break free of Amanda Waller's control

- Incubus wants to rule the world after being imprisoned for millennia

That's a lot of different competing motivations and is one reason why the movie ends up being muddy.  The other reason is that the audience rarely knows what the stakes are, especially for the mystical elements.  Is there a reason why Diablo is afraid of losing control of his powers or is it just an issue of emotional regulation?  Why do Enchantress and Incubus want to take over the world and what do they plan to do with it?  Is there a deadline on Katana's vengeance?  Why is she even connected with Suicide Squad to begin with?

Without knowing the stakes, it's hard to achieve dramatic tension.  This is a particular problem for Diablo's storyline, which is why it comes as a complete (and frankly, meaningless) surprise when he morphs into a Mexican fire god to battle Incubus.  We had no idea it was possible, we have no idea if this means Diablo is sacrificing himself or his personality, and we don't know if this is Diablo leveling up on his powers or something completely unrelated.

The only stakes that are clearly spelled out are for Deadshot, Harley, and Waller.  Deadshot wants to be reunited with his daughter and provide for her.  If he goes along with Waller's proposal, he'll be able to do that.  However, following Waller's instructions mean breaking his own moral code.  That's a good tension set up.  

Harley wants to be the Joker's wife and have a fairytale life with him.  She is using the Squad as a means to escape, but risks having her head blown off by the explosive boobytraps installed by Waller.  She thinks the Joker dies in an explosion, leaving her to find her own goals and path.  That's a journey of self-discovery and one the audience can empathize with.

Waller's main motivation seems to be power and efficiency.  She's got no problem with using dangerous people to further what she sees as laudable goals.  She's also got no problem with discarding them (by blowing their heads off) if they step out of line.  She's a manipulator but has a lot of enemies waiting to see her fail and take her power.  The audience knows that if the Suicide Squad doesn't succeed, she faces a professional crisis.  As the film's main antagonist and the only one where we understand why she's taking the actions she is, she serves to keep the plot moving.

For everyone else, it's really foggy what's supposed to be going on or why we're supposed to care.

I'm a huge comic nerd.  And if I can't figure out what's going on, then that's a pretty sad condemnation of the storytelling.

Now comes the fun part: how I'd change the movie to make it a better story.

First, I'd trim down the cast.  My Suicide Squad would be Deadshot, Harley, Killer Croc, and Diablo.  My villains would be Amanda Waller and Enchantress, with Joker thrown in for chaotic intervention.  I would keep Rick Flag as the token "good guy" on the squad, but change it so that he thinks Enchantress killed his girlfriend, June Moon.

I would start with Amanda Waller proposing the Suicide Squad and getting rejected.  The government has decided to move the villains out of her control and put them in some extremely isolated place (out in the ocean or even a space station).  The proposal could be used to introduce the various characters in the Squad and what their skills are.

Next would be the transfer.  Deadshot, Harley, Killer Croc, Diablo and Enchantress are loaded into the transport.  Flag and Waller are overseeing it.  The audience knows that Joker has gotten wind of the transit and is planning to intercept.  I would include a terse conversation between Flag and Enchantress about how she destroyed the one person he loved (June) and Enchantress gives him a knowing smirk.  Lots of insulting petty bickering between the villains (because I love that kind of thing).  Enchantress keeps promising that they'll all die painfully.

The Joker intercepts the transport.  During his attack, Enchantress breaks loose.  She transforms the guards into the stone creatures, which then attack the remaining human guards.  Harley leaves with the Joker and Waller tries to activate her booby-trap bomb.  It doesn't work.  Deadshot and Killer Croc both react with "we're getting out of here."  Enchantress blasts them (not killing them), then sends a blast after Joker and Harley in the helicopter, bringing it down.  Next she turns on Waller, but Diablo stands between Waller and Enchantress.  Instead of attacking him, Enchantress vanishes.

This would set up an understandable conflict, plus give the group a reason to stay together.  They want to stay with Diablo because Enchantress is afraid of him.  Flag and Diablo insist that Waller be allowed to come along.  They find Harley near the wreckage, in tears.  Killer Croc convinces her to come with them.  She wants vengeance on the Enchantress for killing her Puddin'.  Waller tells them that the new prison will be hell on earth and their new warden won't see their potential the way she does, so this is their only chance to prove themselves.  She offers them privileges if they get her to safety (this is where Harley could get her expresso machine, Croc gets BET, etc.). 

There could be adventure and conflict as they move through the city, which is rapidly filling up with the Enchantress's stone creatures.  There's a conflict between Deadshot, Flag and Waller as to who is in charge.  There's the conflict of getting Diablo to reveal his story (which would need to include some kind of mystical element for his powers to set up the god reveal properly) and that he is protecting others because he doesn't want his soul to succumb to the devil, since the afterlife is the only way he'll ever see his daughters and wife again.  Again, this would set up a relatable tension between using his powers and his own goals.

The Enchantress is building some kind of portal device that will allow her to escape this Earth and thus never be at the mercy of people like Waller ever again.  (This is a much more understandable villain goal than just ruling the world.)  If she opens the portal, the world will be destroyed, giving our motley crew the motivation to stop her.

There would have to be an acknowledgment of why Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. aren't able to fight the Enchantress themselves.  Maybe we get a report of them attacking and failing, because they're not willing to kill the Enchantress.  Or they're occupied with something else and the Enchantress is blocking them somehow (a dome over the city, which means the Suicide Squad is the only one in position to stop her).

Finally, we get down to the climatic conflict.  The Squad is preparing to attack the Enchantress when she tries to bribe them with their deepest dreams, including Flag, who is promised that he could have June again.  Flag is furious and goes to attack Enchantress, who then reveals that she is in June's body.  He hesitates and is struck down.

Waller tries to get the Squad to attack, but they are ignoring her (if this has been set up properly, the audience should be tense as to whether or not they'll step up and save the world).  Enchantress contrasts herself with Waller: "I just want to go home.  She wants to control all your lives."

I would keep the climactic twist of Harley attacking Enchantress just when we think she's going to accept the offer to have her dream life with the Joker.  The Enchantress's hold is broken and Diablo surrenders himself to the fire god.  The two gods battle it out while the Squad and Flag fight the stone creatures.  Waller is conspicuously absent from the battle.

Diablo is winning the fight when Flag approaches.  Diablo expects Flag to try and stop him, but instead Flag helps him to defeat Enchantress.  He blasts her, driving her out of June's body.  Diablo then collapses, returned to his human form and gravely weakened.

Fresh troops arrive.  The Squad is faced with a choice of surrender or fight their way out.  Flag steps up for them, protecting them.  The Squad surrenders, under the condition that they stay with Waller rather than get transferred to the middle of nowhere.

Epilogue, we see everyone happily enjoying their rewards.  In particular, Diablo, who is hoping that saving the world will be enough to offset his gangster past.  Final scene is Waller meeting with the Joker, revealing that she's the one who told him about the transport because she wanted an opportunity to demonstrate her Suicide Squad idea.  She asks him if he wants Harley back and he ends with "I always want what's mine."

Because this story isn't overloaded with characters, there's time to properly develop each arc and make sure they complement the overall story instead of seeming forced or unnecessary.  Sometimes writers have really cool ideas, but those ideas don't fit, so we have to be strong enough to let them go.  And we need to focus on the elements that we do choose to include to make sure that they're given a proper opportunity to shine.

I am going to be curious to see what the writers and director have done with Suicide Squad 2, which is supposed to release in 2021.  It'll be interesting to see if it's another chaotic, overloaded romp or if they're willing to pare their ideas down to ensure each one shines.

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Learning from Jurassic Park III

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Thursday, 19 November 2020

Why Is Self-Care So Hard?

A few days ago, I looked in the mirror and flinched.  I was exhausted, with no makeup, my hair in a ragged mess, and wearing a sweatshirt which should have been retired from service at least ten years earlier.  Not my best look.

And the thing is, I have pretty tops that fit me.  I know how to wear my hair so that it looks awesome and stays up and out of my way during the day.  I've long known that failing to pencil in my eyebrows makes me look like Grima Wormtongue and that I look infinitely cuter with a little lipstick.  And I could have taken a nap earlier in the day, but instead found myself doom-scrolling through Twitter.

None of those things take a particularly long amount of time or a strenuous amount of effort.  I'm excruciatingly aware of that when I make the choice in the morning to walk away without doing them.  I know that it is going to hurt when I catch a glimpse of myself later in the day.  I know that I feel better when I take the time to pick out a cute pair of earrings.  Blame my internalized misogyny or patriarchal oppression if you wish, but it's the truth.  When I think I look nice, I feel better and more confident.

Which brings me to the question: why do I find it so hard to make that effort?

I suspect I'm not the only person who experiences this.  It's something I've often heard among my friends and there's a reason why self-care is at the top of most self-help lists.

One of the things I hear in my head is that there's no point in making an effort because it's not like I'm going to see anyone.  And yet, that's not true.  At a minimum, I'm going to see myself.  And taking care of myself isn't about living up to someone else's opinion of how I should look (I have hit the "you have obviously mistaken me for someone who gave a fuck about your opinion" stage of my life).

The easy answer is that it's a form of self-punishment, which is something I am sadly far too familiar with.  I've rarely been a good friend to myself.  If anyone spoke about one of my friends in the way I speak about myself in my head, I would kick their butt immediately.  I've often blamed myself for circumstances that were out of my control.  But that's too easy and, in a way, it's furthering the self-punishment: you're not doing it because you're not good enough to be worth it.

The slightly more compassionate answer is that 2020 has been a terrifying hellscape of a year and my energies have been going toward survival for myself and my family.  And that would be a very simple answer to accept.  After all, I'm not the only one embracing the sweatpants as workwear dynamic.  But it doesn't ring true for me.  I struggled with these issues long before COVID reared it's ugly microscopic head.

Maybe it's a society thing.  Our society praises self-denial a lot.  We admire those who deny themselves simple pleasures (creating the awful and overused trope of "pretty, skinny girl takes a bite of a donut and loses all control" that I despise).    And yet, what is the actual value of self-denial?  Where is the benefit in living a life where a person is, at a minimum, mildly unhappy most of the time?  Where a great deal of their effort goes into saying no to the things that bring them pleasure?

A lot of studies have shown that willpower is a finite resource.  The more a person denies themselves, the harder it is to deny themselves the next time.  Yet it is also difficult to take care of oneself, to say yes to oneself.

Maybe that's where it needs to start.  With just one yes.  Just one: I'll do this because it makes me feel happy.

Previous blogpost: Reclaiming My HEA: Practice Makes Perfect

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Thursday, 5 November 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Part Two - Practice Makes Perfect

 Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature where I share my progress through my separation and divorce.  Starting last month, I'm including snippets of a therapy exercise where I imagine myself in a healthy relationship.  The purpose is to remind myself of what a supportive, caring partner would be like, to try and offset the effects of over a decade without one.

A few months ago, I began rewatching Star Trek: Voyager.  It's my favourite of the Star Trek series (though Discovery is becoming a fast second place).  One of my favourite episodes is from the final season, one where Seven of Nine is using the holodeck to explore a romantic relationship with Commander Chakotay.

It's a storyline I would have liked to see more of (mainly because I'm a sucker for romance) but this time, as I watched it, one thought kept running through my mind: I would desperately love to have access to a holodeck right now.

A holodeck would have been terribly useful during shutdown, but that's not the reason.  The ability to have a "practice" relationship, to restore my confidence in myself and my own heart, that would be invaluable right about now.  I've spent a long time believing a lifetime of messages that I'm "too much" and fundamentally flawed.  It would be incredibly helpful to hear that I'm interesting, fun, and that someone would want to spend time with me.

As I type this, it strikes me how hard the words are to write.  And they shouldn't be.  No one should be made to feel that they are unlovable.

I just finished reading Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient, where an autistic woman hires a male escort for a practice relationship.  The heroine's struggles of self-confidence spoke very strongly to me.  At the end, the author said she'd wanted to do a gender-reversed Pretty Woman story for awhile but was having trouble finding a plausible reason why a lovely, intelligent, and independent woman would hire an escort.

The thing is, I think a lot of women are in the horrible position of having their self-confidence eroded by the very people who should be supporting them.  Over and over, as I've gone through this process, my friends have told me how they would never dare to get divorced and how much they would dread having to re-enter the dating arena.  Dating guides for divorced women consistently stress the dangers of being exploited or predated on, reinforcing a message that no one could possibly want to be with them unless that person had an ulterior motive.

There is so much that people are told they need to accept.  That they should be grateful for what they have and not risk it by asking for what they desire.  We are encouraged to be smaller in order to make others more comfortable.

Well, I think I'm done with being smaller.  Maybe I am "too much" but maybe I'm also just the right size.

Here's this month's snippet from my ongoing project.  This time, I focused on one of the lonelier experiences of single life: waking in the middle of the night from a bad dream and having no one to turn to.

   No matter how I struggled to run, the swampy mud clung to my feet with a clammy grasp.  I was desperate to escape the lethal creature I knew was pursuing me.  I knew I had to find my children before it did.  And I knew I was completely helpless as my muscles failed me and I collapsed into the murky water--

  "Hey, it's okay," a male voice interrupted.

  The images suddenly vanished, replaced by blackness.  I was disoriented, confused as I tried to figure out where I was.  I'd been standing a moment ago and now I was lying down.  The only constant was the frantic beating of my heart and the unrelenting fear that something terrible was about to snatch away everything that I cared for.  I tried to move but my body was still trapped in sleep paralysis.

   "What's wrong?" he asked again.

   My mind slowly put the pieces together and terror gave way to embarrassment.  "I'm sorry I woke you."

   "Forget that."  In the dark, his hands gently stroked the length of my arms.  "Tell me what happened."

   "It's nothing.  A bad dream."  I tried to dismiss it, my cheeks flaming hot.  The clock revealed it was hours before the morning was due to begin and despair filled me at the thought of losing a night's sleep.  I knew how this would work.  I'd spend the next hours staring blankly at the shadowed ceiling.  Every time I came close to falling asleep, the remembered fear would jolt me back into full wakefulness.  If I was lucky, I might eventually drift off a few minutes before the alarm went off.  I'd spend a week being exhausted and barely able to function.  All for a bad dream.

   "I can still feel you trembling.  It's not nothing."  His finger traced the line of my cheek.  "Please, tell me."

   He held me as I struggled to find the words for why the sensation of being trapped and chased had been so horrifying.  He didn't interrupt or try to analyze what I'd said.  He only listened, keeping me close to remind me that I was no longer facing the terror alone.  The steel grip of fear faded in the face of that one fact.  No matter what happened, I was no longer fighting all on my own.

We're not meant to face the world and its challenges completely on our own.  Trying to do so is exhausting.  It doesn't take much to be someone else's support.  The act of listening can make all the difference, but it sometimes seems impossibly rare.  Yet, I remain hopeful that this scene isn't strictly a creation of fantasy.  It can be real.  Not bad for a practice attempt.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Part One

Previous Blogpost: Creating Stories With Music

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Thursday, 29 October 2020

Creating Stories With Music

Music is a big part of my writing process.  I have thousands of songs sorted into dozens of playlists for characters, moods, and universes.  Maybe it's the result of too many formative years spent watching movies and television, where the right emotions are always triggered through the background music, but it's how my brain works.  Sound creates fictional worlds faster than anything else for me.  

It is impressive how consistently music can affect our interpretation of what we see.  Stores use catchy music to encourage people to be cheerful and impulsive (thus more likely to buy things).  Cathedrals were built to amplify certain chords within their structure, creating experiences of awe and transcendence.  A switch in music can change a story from a hopeful musical into a horror film.  

My writing process often starts with a scene inspired by a song.  I imagine an emotionally powerful experience or connection.  With Revelations, it was Michael telling Dani that she is not a monster, inspired by the song True Colors.  I wanted to create a profound moment of being seen, all the bad parts and all the good parts.  Of having someone truly know and understand, making it impossible to dismiss their feelings of love.  In Division, the first moment was Vincent falling into a depressed fugue and realizing he has to pull himself out, inspired by Bring Me To Life.  He is desperate to find a way out of the trap of his own mind.  He's reaching out to anyone who might be able to save him, but still finds the strength to offer a hand to someone else who is equally trapped.

Knowing this, it's probably not a surprise that my book, Deadly Potential, features a songwriter who uses music to sort out her emotions and experiences, transforming them into notes and lyrics.  Delving into the music industry was incredibly fun, providing a peek into a world that I've always been curious about.  I read a lot of biographies, including Never Say No To A Rock Star and biographies of Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, and Madonna.  I learned that there are song factories, where people write dozens of songs each day, which are then bought by performers and managers.  There are people who can write a song in ten minutes and others who spend months crafting each chord.

A song can tell a story just as powerfully as a book.  It gives us the same opportunity to experience life from another person's point of view.  It's probably why music and stories are so intertwined.  As Hugh Grant explained in the movie, Music and Lyrics, nothing can make you feel happy as quickly as the right song.  Except maybe, the right story.

Previous blogpost: Fixing Jurassic Park III: Learning a Lesson from Bad Stories

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Thursday, 22 October 2020

Learning From Jurassic Park III

One of the first pieces of writing advice that I received was to examine my favourite movies and books to see why they worked.  This is good advice, but I've actually discovered that it can be more helpful to examine movies that I should have enjoyed, but didn't.

I love the Jurassic Park movies.  They're a great combination of action and terror.  But just about everyone agrees that Jurassic Park III missed the mark.  It failed to connect with audiences, even the enthusiastic fans.  The question is: why?

Superficially, it should have worked.  It followed the formula of the other movies, the special effects were decent, and the cast was talented.  But I can explain where Jurassic Park III worked and where it didn't, and I'll share how I would have rewritten it to avoid some of the inherent problems.  Those are the exercises that I've found most helpful for improving my own writing.

It case it's not already clear, there will be spoilers in this post.

There are actually a lot of good elements in the movie.  Setting up a repeat of the "rich guy bribes Dr. Grant to come to the dinosaur park" element and then twisting it when Grant discovers that the Kirbys aren't actually rich was a good idea.  There was a good mix of humour with the danger, which gives the audience relief from the thrills and usually make them eager for more.  The displays of raptor intelligence, using a trap to lure in the humans and sophisticated communication, were awesome.  The pterosaurs and Spinosaurus were something new for the audience to be afraid of.  And, as a parent who as watched way too much Elmo's World, I will admit to a little schadenfreudish satisfaction watching the actor who plays Mr. Noodle get killed and eaten.

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the structure of the story is that there are very few tension builds.  In order for an audience to connect with a story, they have to be engaged with it.  They have to care about the characters and they need to understand the stakes and dangers so that they're worried when the characters are in jeopardy.

In Jurassic Park III, the audience is rarely given a chance to understand the dangers.  The writers didn't tell the audience that the grad student, Billy, had stolen raptor eggs, thus provoking the raptors to track the group.  We're never really shown what the spinosaurus's capabilities are, so we have no way to judge when the group is in danger from it.  The clearest example of this is when the Spino breaks through the fence.  We had no idea it was possible, so the moment is basically a jump scare rather than a tension build.  Ten seconds later, the group is behind another barrier and safe, so the audience doesn't feel any lingering effects from what should have been a major moment.

That's something that a lot of writers have problems with.  We, as authors, know everything that's happening and sometimes we forget to let our audience know the details they need to share in our excitement.  This is where beta readers and test audiences are crucial.  They don't know anything about the story and thus can point out when an author's vision hasn't quite made it into the current draft.

Another challenge is giving the audience enough time to make an emotional connection with what's happening on the page or on screen.  If things happen too quickly, they don't have an impact.  In movies, the time is built into what's on screen and for how long.  In a book, the author needs to recreate the subjective experience of time.  Time seems to slow down when an experience is intense, so an event that only takes a few seconds can last for several paragraphs or several pages.  The focus shifts from the narrative to the emotional.

This is why Jurassic Park III doesn't resonate the way Jurassic Park or Jurassic World does.  The dangers are rushed into and over too quickly.  The audience doesn't know what the stakes are.  Too many things are treated as surprise twists, but the twists rarely have any consequences past the immediate moment.  Those are all lessons that writers can learn from.  Figure out what the big moments are in your story and make sure that the audience clearly understands why they're important and that they have important consequences afterward.  Don't be afraid to take your time with them.

Now the fun part (or at least, the fun part for me).  Rewriting the story to make it better.

First things first, I would have had Ellie be with Dr. Grant as opposed to being married to someone else.  (This isn't a structural plot issue, but I shipped them in the first movie and since I'm writing it, I can do that.)  I also would have gotten rid of the Kirby's divorce and reconciliation subplot.  It didn't really add anything to the story.  They could have been married and arguing about the best way to parent their son and the story still would have worked.

The movie opens with the son (Eric) and the mom's boyfriend doing a Dino-Soar parasailing tour.  The boat is attacked behind fog and crashes, sending the two into Isla Sorna.  This is the inciting incident.

I would have opened with a similar scene, but with a few crucial changes.  I would have had the mom there with the son.  She's taking him on an "adventure" that his dad wouldn't approve of while they're on a family vacation.  Paint the dad as a rule-following fuddy-duddy and the mom as the freewheeling fun parent.  The tour guide mentions that they have to be careful because of an elevated U.S. military presence in Costa Rican waters (this is to set up the rescue at the end).  The kid is sent up on the parasail and is having a great time... until the pterosaurs come out.

The pterosaurs attack the sail and end up snapping the line holding the kid to the boat.  He goes flying toward the island.  The mom frantically tries to get the tour guide to follow but he refuses.  End the scene with the mom screaming and fighting to get to her kid.

This is a very relatable situation which instantly raises stakes for the audience.  We know the kid is alone on the island, which is full of dangerous dinosaurs.

Next scene, the mom and dad are together on the resort.  They're blaming each other (Dad: he never should have been anywhere near that island, Mom: It's not important now, we just have to find him.)  During the argument, mention that the family runs a plumbing supply chain, profitable but not stratospherically rich.  Mom has approached some mercenaries that the tour guide knows and suggested, but they won't go without a dinosaur expert.  Cue a poster about Dr. Alan Grant's scheduled lecture.

This set-up allows the audience to know that the Kirbys are fooling Dr. Grant, but it also compresses the timeline.  In the original movie, the kid is on his own on the island for 8 weeks, which they did to make it plausible that the kid learns to navigate the island, but also decreases the stakes.  (This was also another lost opportunity to build tension, where the parents expect to find their child dead, but I don't like dead kid stories so I'd make it a race against the clock instead.)

The scene where the Kirbys lie to Grant and claim to want him to serve as their guide for an island overflight could continue pretty much as is.  I would have Dr. Grant arguing with Ellie.  He wants to accept the deal because they haven't been able to get funding for their digs.  She tells him that he's crazy for even thinking of going back there and refuses to go.  He decides to go anyway, setting up a nice wedge between them which makes it questionable whether or not she'll take his call later on in the movie.

Now we've got a good batch of interpersonal tension going, plus the audience knows what the stakes are.

The rest of the movie only needs a few tweaks.  I would make the raptors and the pterosaurs the main threats and forget the spinosaurus.  Or, if necessary to include the Spino, make it a secondary threat (much like they did with the aquatic mosasoar in Jurassic World).  Have Grant explain what these animals can and can't do so that we know what the stakes are.  Spend more time building the tension in the big impact scenes.  I'd keep Billy (Grant's grad student) stealing the eggs and later sacrificing himself to save the kid, but make sure the audience is following along with it.

The difference between a story that works and one that doesn't is often pretty subtle.  That's why analyzing stories that don't work can be a great tool to make sure your own stories shine.

(And now my shameless self-promo moment, if you like the way I would have told this story, you'd probably like the books I wrote!)

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Thursday, 15 October 2020

Update on Audiobook Progress

The short answer to "How is the audiobook coming?" is "It's not."

I've run into some unexpected technical challenges: namely getting the volume levels right.  I've tried three different microphones and yet the audio is consistently below the volume required by Audible.  I.e., it's too quiet.

Since shouting isn't exactly how I pictured my romance novel, that's not working for me.

My son's gaming headset worked once but then I couldn't get it to work again.  I recorded two chapters and sent them to my beta listeners.  Two of them liked it and one didn't.

I'm torn about how far to pursue this.  I liked the idea of reading my own book, if for no other reason than I know how everything is pronounced.  But it just might not be a feasible option.

Yet I find myself shaking my head as I remember that hundreds of people are recording podcasts from home and aren't running into these problems.  I feel like there must be some setting that I have wrong which is causing the problem, but I can't figure out what it is.  I've tried checking every microphone setting I can find on my laptop and all of them are set to maximum reception.

I am baffled.

I still want to get my books out in audiobook, so maybe I need to see if I can find a narrator who is willing to work for royalties.

I'm not giving up, but I'm not quite sure how to proceed.

Previous blogpost: Part One of Reclaiming My HEA

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Thursday, 8 October 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Part One

 Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature where I share my ongoing process as I go through my separation and divorce.

Last month, I told you all about an exercise that my therapist set me: picking a celebrity and writing my own happily ever after.  The idea is to break myself out of a pattern of not looking for affection and of not trusting other people.  Before I can find happiness, I need to believe it's possible.  We can't create what we can't imagine and while I can imagine love and happiness for superheroes, robots, and magical creatures, I find it hard to imagine it for myself.

My first step was to choose my celebrity.  I was toying with Brendan Fraser, Brandon Routh or Keanu Reeves, and I was having a hard time choosing.  Luckily, my subconscious had everything in hand.  I had a dream where I was playing a table top RPG with my friends from high school (yes, I am a complete nerd even in my dreams), but there was an addition to our usual group: Brandon Routh.  In the dream, this was a completely unremarkable fact and we were all having a good time laughing and playing our characters.  When the game was done, Brandon and I were tidying up and, as a joke, he asked me to dance.

We started swaying back and forth to a Taylor Swift song.  It was a really nice feeling, being held and guided to the music.  I seized a moment of bravery and asked him to go out with me.

Unfortunately, his reply was to apologize and say that he wasn't interested in being more than friends.  (This illustrates why this exercise is necessary.  What happens in dreams reflects a person's deepest held beliefs and expectations.)  I woke up shortly thereafter, feeling both disappointed and strangely encouraged.  I decided to go ahead with Brandon for my exercise.

I started with something small:

    "Ready?"  His tenor voice made me smile, even from the other room.  Brandon appeared from the kitchen with a big bowl of popcorn.

    "You're sure you're okay with just watching TV tonight?" I asked.  It was still hard to believe that someone I'd seen on the television would be joining me to watch The Princess Bride.

    "Absolutely."  His smile was infectious.  "I love this movie."

    He settled onto the couch, patting the seat beside him.  I maneuvered around the popcorn bowl and joined him, unsure what to do with my hands.  Should I sit with legs crossed or uncrossed?  Would he expect me to lean into him or would that annoy him?

    "Relax," he whispered, his lips brushing against my ear.  "There's no wrong answer.  I just want to spend time with you."

     His arm stole across my shoulders, drawing me into his side.  My head leaned to the side to rest against his shoulder.  For the first time in a long time, I felt safe.  His warmth seeped through the thin layers of fabric separating us, a tangible reminder that neither of us was alone anymore.

So there you have it, my first foray into imagining a happily ever after for myself.  Not for a kickass heroine with superpowers or an intergalatic starship engineer or for any of the other characters who live in my head.  Just for me.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Choose Your Hottie

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Thursday, 1 October 2020

Finishing the Character Arc: Vincent

Vincent Harris has appeared in every lalassu novel before getting his own story in Division.  He's gone through big changes since he first appeared on the page.  He's been a long time favourite of mine and I'm proud of his character arc.

He started off as the annoying little brother of my Revelations heroine, Dani.  He was a Peter Pan type who was always ready for the next party and never took anything seriously.  His big brother, Eric, dragged him along to a job interview for a professional bodyguard firm, trying to get him to take some responsibility.  Only it turned out to be a trap set by a multinational CEO looking for people with superpowers.  Eric and Vincent are taken captive and need to be rescued by their sister (and her newfound partner, a psychic child therapist).

Eric and Vincent have different reactions to being taken prisoner.  Eric struggles to resist the CEO's psychic powers of persuasion, but Vincent falls for it hard.  He's seduced by the temptation to have someone else take charge of his life, of not having to hide his abilities and being recognized as a powerful and admirable man.

When Metamorphosis starts, Vincent is deeply changed.  He's lost his confidence and is consumed by shame about what he did to his people and his family.  He's also been exiled to an isolated community in the far North, because his family are worried that his mind is still being controlled.

The experience has broken Vincent's joie-de-vivre, but he's still trying to escape from his fears by numbing himself and hiding from the rest of the world.

In Inquisition, he's starting to return to the world, but there's still a lot of trauma that he needs to process.  He's hiding his pain through sarcasm, pushing other people away.

But even though he's undeniably prickly, there's still a hint of the caring person underneath.  He's focused on protecting his family and helping others, even though he sees himself as an anti-hero at best and an untrustworthy villain at worst.

The hints of his return to a hero status begins in Judgment, when he helps the prisoners at Woodpine to overthrow the guards and escape.  This is the book where he initially meets Annika, but like so many great romances, she's not overly impressed with him at first and he's more focused on the task at hand than his feelings.

But the part of his story that I'm most proud of is recognizing his trauma and depression.  As someone who's suffered with my own mental health challenges, it was thrilling to give him a chance to do what is, in my opinion, the most courageous act of all: taking a chance on hope.  Falling in love doesn't cure him, because that's not how love works.  But it does give him a chance to see himself through fresh eyes and realize that maybe he's a better person than he's given himself credit for.

Through it all, he never loses his best quality: his sense of humour.  There are times when it's bitter and dark, and sometimes it's just off-the-wall.  Writing his dialogue has given me many moments of laughter and I'm glad to share them with everyone else.

And now the obligatory buy link, if you'd like to pick up your own copy of Division.

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