Which Airbender Character are You?

Here's today's exercise:

If you have not yet watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, go to Netflix and watch it right now. We'll wait. Actually, if you have watched it, take this time to watch it again. It's definitely worth a repeat viewing.

Okay, now we're all refreshed on the awesomeness that is Aang and the Gang. And thus I pose to you these three questions:

  • Which character from the series (it does not have to be a bender) do you think most closely resembles you?

  • Which character do you wish you were like? (It can be the same as the above or it can be different.)

  • Which character do you think other people would associate with you?

  • Originally this was two questions, but I broke apart my first question into the first two above, which means I don't even have answers to all three questions yet. I will have to ponder this.

    For question 2, my answer is Iroh, no question. The man isn't perfect, he makes mistakes, but he's incredibly noble and has learned from his mistakes.

    Question 3 I know is Zuko, at least for those people I consider friends who have already seen the show and made it a point to tell me that they think I'm Zuko. Given how his character arc ends, I can live with that.

    Exploring the Subgenre

    An agent asked me at the end of last year, "Do you have any sword and sorcery?" I love sword and sorcery. Okay, I love Conan. I have extolled the greatness that is He-Man and Thundarr the Barbarian here before and they're both just rip-offs of Conan. If you say sword and sorcery, I think Robert E. Howard. I'm sure other people have written sword and sorcery. Other people than Tolkien have written epic fantasy, but unlike him, I can't tell you a single sword and sorcery author that didn't make his mark by writing pastiche Conan stories first.

    And that's a problem, isn't it? Do you have any sword and sorcery? No, because I don't read sword and sorcery. I read Conan. I don't think I could write one without just telling a similar story, I said.

    That's what I said, and I meant it. But dammit that agent asking for it seemed like the excuse I needed to tell the story I had been wanting to tell for so long. Fuck it. I'm going to write sword and sorcery and readers will see the influences and that's okay. Hell, John Scalzi went so far as to mention STARSHIP TROOPERS at the end of OLD MAN'S WAR (of which the ties become very obvious a third of the way into the story). I can do the same. It'll be okay.

    So here we go, miss agent. I'm writing you a Conan story.


    Wait, why is my protagonist a 20-year-old woman? How did that happen? Where's Conan? This is a Conan story. What are you doing here, lady? Oh, you want to be the main character? Okay, I guess that's fine. I don't usually write females as main characters. It's not a matter of gender, just a matter of the stories I choose to tell. Klara was supposed to be my first female main character, but that's the second book of a trilogy that isn't being published. She's like Hilary Clinton and you're like Elizabeth Warren. I've been assuming Klara was going to be first for so long that I didn't notice Amelia just walking up and saying, "This is my story."

    But hey, my Conan story has turned into an Amelia story, and that's pretty cool. I think it'll be better for it. I still have a Conan-esque character (and an Ookla-esque character for that matter, if the reference makes sense to you), but they're there to further Amelia's story. Oh, and sorcery and lasers and radiation and a post-cataclysm world. Let's rock this thing.

    I don't usually love a story this much this early in the draft. I hope that's a good sign.

    Keith Mars on Flashpoint

    Have you seen Veronica Mars? Let's assume you have. If you haven't, go watch it so my assumption will be correct. You can thank me later.

    Okay, now that we're all up to speed, who is one of the best characters on the show? Keith, the dad, played by Enrico Colantoni. If I could rent a father, I would rent Keith Mars. He's that awesome.

    Well, Veronica Mars ended, but Enrico Colantoni is an actor, so he went on to other things. (You also saw him as Mathesar, the head of the Thermians in Galaxy Quest--but that was before VM.) You may have seen him in Flashpoint.

    You probably didn't though, not a lot of people saw it. It was a summer-released show to see if it would take in the regular CBS fall schedule. Premise? Toronto, Ontario, Quebec SWAT team is trained in negotiating tactics to attempt to settle volatile situations without unnecessary body count. Redubbed the SRU, they get to be all empathetic and polite while reserving the option to shoot you in the head.

    I gave the show a try because it's Keith Mars and Keith Mars deserves a shot. Unfortunately, it wasn't that good a show. I stalled out by the third or fourth episode and that was that. It went for three seasons and got canned.

    Well recently, we got our basement repaired and set the TV back up. I was looking for something to watch and was in the mood for some Enrico Colantoni. I decided to skip the first season and see if season 2 got any better. Sometimes shows do that.

    Oh how I wish I hadn't stopped watching! About episode 7 or 8 of the first season, the show REALLY found its groove. My wife and I just watched the entire second season in the span of a couple weeks (and I watched half the first season as well).

    Here's the standard breakdown of the show: start with out-of-context climax then flash back to a few hours before. Introduce situation, respond, try different methods, resolve the situation, make you cry.

    That last part happens enough that it is part of the standard show outline. My wife says the show could feature a goat in a pudding factory and it would still make you cry. She is not wrong about this.

    The thing is, it breaks a lot of stereotypes in the procedural drama realm. The big tough guy doesn't have to be closed off emotionally. The sniper doesn't have to want to kill everyone and everything. Shooting the bad guy isn't always the best solution (rarely is), and just become someone is a bad guy doesn't mean the cops will look the other way while a victimized citizen introduces him to Old West justice.

    We like to say it's because they're Canadian, but really I think it's just snappy writing. I love taking an established genre and turning it on its ear without clubbing it over the head with a baseball bat. It's good to see characters portrayed as human and the hardships they endure having to be in a job where their decisions can cost people's lives. (Lewis! *tear*) I wish it had hit its stride sooner. I would have watched it while it was on rather than a few years later when it was too late to give it my support.

    Anyway, if you have Netflix, it's available for streaming.

    Naming Characters

    Suzanne Johnson posted today on Roni Loren's writing blog, Fiction Groupie1.

    Suzanne is discussing picking names for your characters. This is a topic relevant to EVERYONE and a particular challenge to fantasy authors who so often create cultures from the ground up and can't name their protagonist Joe despite how awesome people named Joe are.


    Despite tradition, I am not writing this to disagree with Suzanne. I agree with most everything she says2. No, I am writing this because I DO agree with (most of) her and there is a process I use for naming conventions that I thought I would share. I also have a warning, and we're going to start with that first.

    We're in a current Live imitating Art imitating Life loop. We're moving away from the more classic Judeo-Christian names. Unfortunately the rediscovery of some Old World classics that were smothered by Biblical names has reintroduced some names that were lame even back then. So if you're naming your daughter Madison, KNOCK IT OFF! It means "Son of Maud" so think on that a little before you try to preemptively make your kid cool with an uncommon name.

    Okay, now to the positivity. Names are a big deal. They can really draw a reader into your character, establish him/her in the same was as pages of prose, and add a degree of atmosphere to your setting. This last bit is what I find most important about names. They establish setting. I don't just pick names that sound cool. I pick names that communicate culture. You won't find a hodgepodge of names in my books, cherry picked from any resource that I find supder-kewl-dude-omg unless the country is a melting pot, a la the US. Instead, I will choose a regional theme and apply it to the entire setting. I find Behind the Name3 incredibly helpful in this regard.

    So for example, I chose Scandinavia to be the cultural influence for the kingdom of Reliarach (in my novel, THE TRIAD SOCIETY and its sequels). Most names come from Sweden, but I'll look in Norway, Finland, and Denmark too. So lower class people and a number of places I took from Germany, and for the rural folks that migrated to the city looking for work, I used Polish and Russian names. Not casting aspersions on the Polish or Russian readers out there, just wanted something similar but clearly distinct to my originating Swedish names.

    I also like using those names because they're foreign to US readers to make them sound fantastical, but still rooted in something recognizable so they don't struggled to identify them. Fantasy authors frequently violate this rule. They make names so complex and unpronounceable that the first thing the reader does is come up with a nickname. They read the first one or two syllables and skip the rest. You're wasting your time and theirs making the super big Bobomastidonaramanustra. They call him Bob from there on out.

    So go! Be more consistent in your naming conventions. Remember, that you lay the first blocks of your setting with the name you pick.

    And stop trying to make your kids cool with their names. You don't have to name them all Joe, but it works for boys and girls and peopled named Joe are awesome. Remember that.

    1 If you are blogging and include a ton of links like I just did, be sure to add a "target" to your html code. A target dictates where a link opens. In this case we want links to open in a new tab/page so that the user can continue to read our blog without having to navigate back and forth. To accomplish this, we do the following: [a href="URL address" target="_blank">URL name[/a]. Replace [ ] with < > and you're good to go.

    2 Despite its numerous Hs, Cthulhu is not hard to pronounce. It's also a dangerous point to make as taking such an iconic figure from fantasy/horror will bait the nerds to argue your nominal point rather than focusing on the larger point being made. And come on, Cthulhu? Really? Out of all the fantasy names out there, that's the one you pick as being hard to pronounce?

    3 While I rarely use it, there's also a Behind the Name for surnames!

    Anti-Social Socializing

    I am not anti-social. In fact, I love being the center of attention. I have wanted to be the storyteller since I was five, lying about the size of the frog I caught1. The trick is, there are a lot of social situations where I cannot be the center of attention, and in those cases I find I would much rather be writing.

    Most often, this is a barbershop party. My wife is in a competitive a capela barbershop chorus and quartet and those folks love to party. When they party, they sing. I can't sing2. So I hang out while they sing. They're good people and we converse at times, but really, it's a party where everyone else is singing. I would rather write, but I feel that's rude. I don't want to sit in the corner on my computer. So...I sit in the corner with my liquor. It's marginally more social.

    Any more, it seems I measure all social engagements against writing time. Knowing that I've already had two hours to write that day, would the time spent socializing be more fun than more writing. If yes, then yay! If no, then...can I bring my computer just in case?

    1 It was THIS big!

    2 I'm told I could sing very well with proper training, but I consider that training writing time and would not sacrifice the one for the other.


    My friend Luke introduced me to Penny Arcade many years ago and it didn't click. I didn't have an X-Box and my Playstation 1 was gathering dust. I didn't get any of their jokes.

    But one day in 2005 we're hanging out in his room and his screensaver is a composite of his favorite PA strips (at that time) and they were funny as hell! We went through the whole thing twice and laughed every time. So I started reading the strip regularly and have continued to do so for six years now. And of course, now I have an X-Box 360 that does not gather dust (thanks to Bioware and Valve) and I get more (but not all) of the jokes.

    To continue the trend, I didn't key in on Penny Arcade TV right away. I figured it would be lame self-promotion. It turned out to be awesome self-promotion! Self-promotion has a bad stigma to it, but really this is how you want to promote your product. It's an exploration of character and voice and craft. It's funny and endearing and at the end you really wish you worked there too.

    Malcolm Castle/Richard Reynolds

    I was watching an episode of Castle recently (in itself not surprising since it's the only show on right now where I watch weekly [Psych being the other]) and I made a startling realization. Nathan Fillion is playing the same character he played in Firefly.

    I will not explain to you what Firefly is. You should know this by now.

    Now you may think, "How can you claim Richard Castle is the same character as Malcolm Reynolds?!?!?!"

    And I say to you this: Watch the pilot, Serenity, and then have the independents win the war. Who is Malcolm Reynolds if he didn't suffer the horrors of defeat and the aftermath of Serenity Valley?

    He's Richard Castle.


    The scenes I have the most trouble writing are men posturing. I blame fantasy for this. It is one of the most used scenes in classic fantasy when two alpha males begin barking at each other and bumping chests. It also reads like the stereotypical nerd living in his parents' basement writing the hero he wishes he was taking revenge on the people that picked on him in school.

    I don't live in anyone's basement, and none of my characters are representative of a person I wish I was (or think I am). They are their own selves. Chest thumping is what stalled THE 7TH SACRIFICE for the second time and I wrote another such scene this morning in my current wip. It's a necessary tension in the plot and will factor in later, but...

    ...but I don't like posturing. At all. It feels juvenile. Worse, it feels amateurish. I am the hero and I'm a badass therefore I am better than everyone. Did you smudge my pumas? I will have satisfaction, sir! Throw wine in face, punch to the stomach, draw swords, epic duel. Honor maintained.

    What? Dude. Chill out. No grown adult is as quick to temper as a fantasy hero is. You don't need to browbeat everyone into supplication. If you're confident and skilled, your own regard is all that matters. Let the guy scuff your pumas. Throw an urchin a copper piece for a quick polish and be on your merry.

    It's incredibly difficult to write because no matter how I approach it, I don't like that kind of thing, so I'll never think I've done good enough. I'll leave it there for now, but who knows whether it'll even survive my second draft.

    No One Likes a Dumb Protagonist

    The subject line says it all. No one likes a dumb protagonist. We accept flawed characters and we accept that situations can be shrouded in mystery or so layered that a character cannot comprehend it on spec. They need time to peel back the layers or let the whole thing soak in before it finally clicks. This is all well and good. It's even better. No one wants a story so superficial that there's no depth or complexity to the challenges the main character faces. They need to unravel it all.

    HOWEVER, as they unravel it, you have to be cautious about how you give them clues or what clues you give them. They need to figure out what's happening at one of two possible times. Near the end to propel them to the climax. Or near the beginning where they realize X is happening and thus need to begin the investigation that will lead them to the climax. If you are going for scenario A but give them a clue large enough that they should figured it out closer to the beginning, you have officially made your character stupid. Some clues are such a fish to the face that anyone with an IQ of 100 should be able to figure it out. So when your character doesn't... yeah, exactly.

    I'm reading CATCHING FIRE (sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES) and Katniss just got slapped in the face. In a single paragraph, she said the fish was in fact a badger and continued on as if nothing happened. No, see dear, when you do that, I care for you less. When your obliviousness leads you to trouble later, I figure you deserved it because you were too stupid to realize someone just hit you in the face with a fucking fish. That kind of thing hurts. The scales scratch you all over. They used to use that as a punishment in biblical times. It's not a badger. They're furry and shit.

    Decide when your character is going to figure things out, beginning or end, and measure out the progression accordingly. Do NOT switch the two because any later emotional conflict caused is completely deserved and then your reader is not engaged with your character. And if your reader is not engaged with your character, your reader is not engaged with your book. That's when they set it down and go read something else. You don't want that to happen. You want your book to be the one they read instead of finishing their own manuscript because it's that good. Use your fish appropriately.

    Finding New Meaning in Old Emotions

    A scenario. Your character has:

    Given up professional and post-graduate dreams to aid a friend
    Moved to a new city to aid said friend
    Then been let down by said friend
    Which resulted in the loss of your character's entire circle of friends, who had really been said friend's friends
    Only speaks to his ex-fiancee every few weeks, which only reminds him of what he lost
    Earns less 1/3 less than the national poverty average

    It is:

    Your character's birthday
    Your character is at dinner alone
    No one has called to wish him a happy birthday

    Your character's mood is _________

    The quick and easy answer is depressed or sad or any other negative emotion. Emotions are tricky things because it's easy to use them like Venn diagrams. A person is ________ (happy!) or __________ (sad :() and regardless of where they fall in that little circle of a diagram, they are that emotion. People don't usually work that way. You can be sad at success and happy when you've failed. We're a mercurial people and our ability to want more and to attempt more and to achieve more is pretty astounding. So when you're putting your character through a dramatic ringer, slow down and ask yourself if maybe there's another reaction to be had. Maybe the opposite of your first reaction is both plausible and a fresh take on an established subject.

    In the case of the scenario above, that was my life in 2001 and 2002. My birthday was my favorite time of the year. Not because it was my special "me" day. My mom hadn't made my birthday special since I was 8 or so. No, it was special because I made $7000/year in 2001 and it was the one day out of the year I splurged on a steak. I walked down the street to a place called Scooters. I ordered a steak (medium well), steak fries, and a two-fingered scotch neat. My birthday was steak day, and for those couple hours sitting in that restaurant, the hardships of the world stopped at the door. In what was one of the most difficult times of my life, that one day was the happiest day of the year.

    (Of course, it doesn't hold a candle to any of the 365 days I live now, but I got my shit together. Now I have steak whenever I want.)