book review · Books · gay romance · lgbt · mogai

Book Review: Seer’s Stone by Holly Evans

October is my month to read and plan for NaNoWriMo. It’s a good way for me to get through my TBR pile … if it quit growing. Anyway, I decided to kick the month off with the brand new release Seers Stone by Holly Evans. Part of the Ink Born world, it is full of fun and magic.  Here is the official blurb:

My name’s Kaitlyn Felis, and I’m a treasure-hunting alchemist.
51nauuwe29lI was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for a mysterious elf called Fein Thyrin. Not only did he give me my dream alchemy lab, one that came with a beautiful part-nymph assistant (she’ll be the end of me, in the best possible way) he’s also hired me as his personal treasure-hunter. To say I was excited is a drastic understatement.

First on my treasure-hunting list? The Seers Stone – it’s a thing of legends, and I’m going to be the first hunter to get my hands on it.

Seers Stone stars Kaitlyn Felis, a fun, feisty, flirty heroine who I quickly fell in love with. Her companion will’o-the-whisp, Wispy, is adorable and adds just the right touch of humor when things are getting a bit dicey. And they do indeed get dicey at points. Kaitlyn might be an alchemist but she also craves adventure and treasure hunting is the perfect outlet for that. While most of the time I find characters like her grating, she was amazingly well grounded and not above calling herself out on her own bullshit. Something I’ve come to love about Holly’s writing is the fact that her protagonists are allowed to make mistakes and be assholes, but they also acknowledge where they went wrong when the time comes.

I will also say that typically I don’t care for characters who sleep around. Mostly because of personal reasons. I’m demisexual and the thought of sleeping with someone I’ve just met is both baffling and terrifying. But this felt so much different. Kaitlyn is all about adventure and trying new things, and sex is just another component of that. It helped that encounters didn’t feel forced and the scenes were sweet and emotion-focused rather than your typical blow-by-blow erotica (don’t get me wrong, I love those too, when in the right place).

It was great to see Tyn again as well as a couple other familiar faces. As always Evans took us to some spectacular places as well as some rather creepy/depressing areas. It’s nice to see such a well-rounded world. Yes, there is wonderful beautiful magic, but there is also a rather dismal and terrifying underbelly as well. And magic definitely has its cost.

Overall, this was a fun, fast-paced read and I’m very much looking forward to more of Kaitlyn.

 

Limited Print Edition of Masquerade

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book review · Books · lgbt

Book Review: Blood & Ink by Holly Evans

51n2bwvpdrilIt has been quite a while since I’ve read urban fantasy yet this past month I’ve seemingly been on a UF kick.  While it’s not high on my list of go-to genre’s (mostly due to lack of MOGAI representation) I have enjoyed it in the past. Which is what makes Evans’ book all that much more fun to me.

When I picked up Stolen Ink a few weeks ago, I had no idea what to expect and found myself completely wrapped up in the story and characters. I read nearly the entire thing in one sitting. Thankfully, I’d had the forethought to buy the second at the same time as the first. I delved right in as soon as I had a spare moment. And again the story and characters held me captivated from start to finish. I even took my Kindle to the pool with me so I could keep reading. Evans was kind enough to indulge my Twitter flailing.

All flailing aside, this book was excellent for several reasons. I appreciated the added world building that I missed in book one. Learning more about the magic system was fascinating and I love her take on the fae and Sidhe. There were only a few little things that tripped me up here and there such as repetitive phrases, but overall nothing serious. The characters are lifelike, well written, and believable. The plot buzzes along but doesn’t leave you grasping for context or missing pertinent details.

Mostly I enjoyed getting to know Dacian better. While at times he gets pissy and aggressive, it’s never without reason and I love that he’s allowed to make mistakes and be totally human, selfish and then own up and deal with consequences. It is also nice to see side characters be fully realized with their own motivations and for Dacian to have to adjust his perceptions as he learns things.

Keirn is such a sweetheart and I feel so much for him. I’m looking forward very much to learning more about him in the next book.

The next book, Ink Bound, comes out August 4th! You’re going to want to pre-order this one, I promise you. I’m so glad I did. I can hardly stand the wait after finishing Blood & Ink.

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book review · Books · gay romance

Book Review: Ice in Sunlight

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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“I think I’m supposed to be dead.”

Corwen’s emotions are a frozen wasteland after years of enslavement and abuse. When he’s finally rescued, freedom isn’t enough to thaw the wintry landscape of his heart.

Slowly, his new compatriots teach him that physical intimacy is a sacred gift, that pleasure can be shared without pain. With endless patience, they offer him a different way of being.

In order to be whole, Corwen must surrender the self-loathing he wears like armor. Can he learn to see himself the way his new companions do? Or will he hide from love forever in the icy vault that shields his deepest soul?

Ice in Sunlight is a full-length M/M fantasy tale. It is intended for mature readers only due to adult themes and content.

This is one of the few times I will post a review for a book I did not finish. While I personally did not care for the book I know the style and subject matter are something many might find compelling. Please do not let my personal opinion sway you from picking this book up, there are still many reasons to read it.

While I find Julia’s writing style pleasurable to read and the prose clear and evocative, from page one I found it impossible to connect with Corwen. I appreciated that Julia showed Corwen struggling to cope with the horrible things that had been done to him without having to actually show the abuse itself. His reaction to the changing situation is proof enough.

That being said, after six chapters of listening to Corwen’s derision at being shown kindness and many references to his daydreams of dying I could no longer handle his attitude. It might have helped if there was a break from his constant melancholy. I would have appreciated another viewpoint, such as from Amir, to give me a respite from Corwen’s depression and show me why the trio felt compelled to help him beyond the seemingly altruistic motives.

I finally closed the book on chapter six. I have enough dealing with my own self-loathing, depression and post trauma issues and would rather not read a whole book dealing with someone else’s. Unfortunately, Corwen was not someone with whom I could relate. Corwen has no redeeming qualities outside of his pining after Elias, he’s cruel and manipulative and knows he is. It is what has kept him alive this long. I really wanted to like him, but after spending half a book with him, I was done. I suppose it is a good thing Amir and the others have more patience since I no longer cared whether this frosty young man ever thawed or not.

 

Tomorrow join me on Queer Sci-Fi for an interview with author and editor Ryan Vance.

Please consider supporting me on Patreon.

 

 

 

 

Books · Going Over the Rainbow · mogai

New Book Release: Masquerade

Masquerade banner

I’d hoped to have this ready back in February, but life.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ In other news the Going Over the Rainbow series is going on hiatus while a major revamp/restructure is in the works. I hope to have more news for you soon. I’m super excited about the new direction and I think it will be much more helpful to writers and really anyone looking to bring more diversity into their lives.

Now on to the new release.

Masquerade is a novella prequel to The Jeweled Dagger and follows Lafayette on their ill-fated mission in Galey. If you’ve had a chance to read The Jeweled Dagger this will give you more insight into what happened and introduce you to a couple of characters who are only mentioned in passing in the novel. If you’ve not had a chance to read the novel and want to read this first, it’s a great introduction to Lafayette & Genevieve. The events lead directly into the opening of The Jeweled Dagger.

Plots and intrigue are Marchioness Genevieve Merlot’s specialty, and opulent balls teeming with bored aristocrats are the perfect opportunity to uncover the secrets behind idle gossip and courtly scheming.

However, things take a sinister turn when they overhear a plot to assassinate the Orandon Queen.

It will take all their skill and ingenuity  not only to survive but to foil the assassins and return home.

Masquerade is available for pre-order on Amazon as an e-book only release. It will be available June 1st.

The Jeweled Dagger CoverYou can purchase The Jeweled Dagger here:

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Books · Characters · gay romance · Going Over the Rainbow · lgbt · mogai · Movies · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

Going Over the Rainbow: The Trope Trap

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All joking aside, accountability is something that professionals of any discipline face. Even us writers.

Yes, you read that right. You, my dear writer, are accountable to your reader. Well yes, you say, I should give them the best story I can write.

Yes you should, but it goes beyond that too. If you’ve written for long you’ve probably ended up having to do some research into an unfamiliar topic. We often joke about hoping the government isn’t keeping too close an eye on our internet research history. There are many resources available online to help us flesh out our characters and our setting. One Stop For Writers is a great example. However, while we might research settings, the job our character has and where they live; sometimes we forget that other things need research too.

Jami Gold had several excellent articles about writing with diversity and the research that goes along with it.

Ask if the Story Is Ours to Tell: If we don’t have direct experience with the diverse element, a story that centers on the diverse aspect might suffer from disrespectful negative stereotypes or breathless, isn’t-it-inspirational-how-they-overcame-those-obstacles “positive” stereotypes. (Note that treating a character’s diverse element as a problem to overcome isn’t actually positive.) — Jami Gold

Sometimes when we are writing a character, even when we’ve done research, we might find ourselves slipping into stereotypes or tropes. They are like clichés. They are comfortable and familiar. Unlike clichés they can be damaging and perpetuate some very harmful thinking.

We can usually spot harmful racial stereotypes. I wrote about avoiding stereotypes in a previous post. I still recommend WritingWithColor, DiversityCrossCheck and betas to help with racial/cultural sensitivity. But tropes aren’t always stereotypes, so how do we know if we are falling into the trope trap?

Trumping the Tropes

There are a LOT of tropes out there. And they are not all bad, most exist for a reason and like popular themes don’t have to be eschewed completely and can even be used to good effect. Over the course of this series I will be addressing various tropes and how they relate to the identity or orientation I’m discussing. In case you are curious as to how many there are TV Tropes Queer as Tropes page is a good place to start.

One of the most prevalent tropes is Bury Your Gays. Queer persons never get happy endings. Ever. Often they die.

Or, more recently, they are the villain.

This doesn’t mean that your queer character has to survive and not be evil. However, it does mean that you need to be very careful about how you approach each of those circumstances. Just as careful as you’d be about casting a black man as a street thug.

Tropes at their most basic are indeed stereotypes and thus need to be very carefully considered. Many common romance themes are tropes in disguise.

  • Stereotypes: Not literary. We avoid using this term to talk about classifying characters, settings, plot points, etc..
  • Archetypes: The broad, all-encompassing norms of the stories humanity tells. The same archetypes can be found in all or nearly all cultures.
  • Tropes: Culturally-specific norms in storytelling. Tropes are cultural classifications of archetypes. There can be many tropes found under the umbrella of one archetype. Literary devices are not tropes (i.e. narrators, foreshadowing, flashbacks, etc.).
  • Clichés: Overused and hackneyed phrases, characters, settings, plot points, etc.. Archetypes do not become clichéd. Tropes can become clichés if they are used too often and readers get bored of them. Clichés are defined by a loss of the meaning or as a distraction from the story.

Definition list from WriteWorld.org.

If we find ourselves falling back on common tropes a lot in our writing5 Questions to Ask Yourself (1), we might need to ask ourselves why. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using tropes but we need to make sure we are giving them our own special treatment. This is easily done by combining two or more tropes or even subverting or flipping them.

Let’s look at some examples:

All Gays Are Promiscuous trope is the stereotype that a gay man is completely driven by lust and must therefore have sex all the time.

Game of Thrones: Downplayed by Ser Loras Tyrell; he is rather easily seduced by an attractive male prostitute, and exchanges significant glances with the openly bisexual Oberyn Martell not long after his lover Renly Baratheon is killed. He mostly comes across as this in comparison to his literary incarnation, who falls into a deep depression after Renly’s death, is apparently celibate, and shows signs of being a Death Seeker.

Wallace Wells, Scott Pilgrim‘s cool gay roommate, is characterized with this trope, even going so far as to hang a lampshade it when chastising Scott for infidelity.

Scott: Double standard!
Wallace: Hey, I didn’t make the gay rules. If you don’t like it, take it up with Liberace’s ghost!
Are there gay men who like to sleep around? Yes, or course, just as there are lesbians, bi-sexuals, pansexuals and straight people who do the same. But the issue comes when we perpetuate it as a defining trait of being gay. This trope is very easily subverted by letting our gay character be in a committed relationship that is not centered on sexual gratification. After all that’s the kind of relationships many of us have and enjoy.
So, do you see how a trope can be trouble? But why should you care?

Jumping the Shark

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The blockbuster movie Jaws launched a national campaign against the ‘man eaters’ and contributed to the drastic decline in the shark population. To this day, the stereotype against sharks persists.

The film’s key mistake was portraying great white sharks as vengeful predators that could remember specific human beings and go after them to settle a grudge. — How ‘Jaws’ Forever Changed Our View of Great White Sharks by Charles Q. Choi

This is just one example of how harmful a negative portrayal in our work can be on others. This is why I wanted to address the issue of accountability with you and how it relates to using tropes.

As authors we enjoy the privilege of having readers accept our words at face value (for the most part). People trust us. What we show them in our fiction, no matter what we write— paranormal, romance, thriller, mystery, literary, et cetera—has an impact on their thinking and their perception of the world around them. This is why we have to be so careful about stereotypical or negatively portrayed characters from marginalized identities/orientations/races/cultures.

This is why I say we are accountable. Our words have power. The power to create understanding and empathy or further the divide. This is why research from valid sources is so important and why we must recognize our own tendency toward common tropes and stereotypes when writing.


 

Now that I’ve got most of the preliminary issues out of the way, it’s time to start delving into the various gender identities and sexual orientations. As we move forward, I’d like to encourage you to refer back to these posts and keep these things in mind.

What are your thoughts on author accountability? Have you ever come across a negative portrayal that affected you personally? Have you read any books where certain characters were walking stereotypes? Do you have any other comments or questions for me?

If you enjoyed this post and would like access to exclusive content please consider supporting me on Patreon.

Books · lgbt · mogai

The Jeweled Dagger Pre-Order News and Book Release Party

It’s been just over a year since I started working on The Jeweled Dagger. It all started from a NaNoWriMo boot camp in 2013 and a little righteous indignation at an editor over being told to take out Lafayette’s ‘cross dressing.’ I quit the boot camp when it became obvious I wasn’t going to get any support writing a non-traditional romance. I’ve never once regretted my decision.

Over the past year I’ve had amazing support from my friends, both online and off, and the lovely staff at my local comic book store who let me come haunt their premises.

This book would not have been possible without the help of the exceptional Jean Mabbs and the amazing Eleonore Eder and my lovely sprinting partner Joana Maia. You all are invaluable and this book would not exist without you.

The Jeweled Dagger Cover

Genderfluid spy Lafayette Goddard knows better than to trust anyone in their line of work. Now they sit in prison with information that could save the Queen yet they cannot bring themselves to trust the new Captain of the Royal Guard. Even if it means losing everything they’ve worked so hard for.

All Captain Jasper Stanton ever wanted was a chance to prove himself. Mistakenly imprisoning Lafayette isn’t how he planned on distinguishing himself. Now he must try to win the former spy’s respect if he wants cooperation investigating the conspiracy.

The secret to finding out who is plotting to kill the Queen lies with Lafayette’s mysterious informant known only as the Jeweled Dagger. The closer Jasper gets to Lafayette, the more he wonders just how much is being hidden from him.

The Jeweled Dagger is currently available for pre-order  and will be available Feb 1st.

I’m inviting anyone who can attend, to the book release party on Feb 13th from 11am till 8pm at Collectomaniacs here in Ozark. If you cannot make it in person, don’t worry I’ll be hosting an online party as well (I’ll post details once they are finalized). You will find your personal invitation here. I look forward to seeing or hearing from you and hope you’ll join me in celebrating this unique novel.

Book Release Party Flyer

book review · Books

Queer Lit Book Review: Lord Mouse

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I’ve been reading a lot of great books lately but it’s been a rare thing to find a book that hits all my literary kinks.

I’ve been searching for well crafted fantasy with queer characters for so long I almost decided to write something myself. Then I happened upon a review by Just Love that sounded promising.

Boy did it deliver.

Lord Mouse is everything I’ve been lusting after in a fantasy novel. The main character is Mouse, a tiny little badass thief and assassin, and no he doesn’t have a heart of gold but he does pride himself on a job well done. If you can afford him. He’s never failed a job and when he gets a chance at a challenging job that pays more coin than he’s ever seen he’s not about to turn it down.

And that’s exactly what gets him into trouble.

Thomas does a fantastic job at throwing you right into Mouse’s world and a dark, dirty, gritty world it is. Thomas takes you from the cruel criminal underbelly, up the rungs of the social ladder in a way that feels natural, but not too easy. Mouse has to work for his contacts and information and sometimes it’s a blade and sometimes it’s a bed.

As an asexual I’m not a big fan of casual hook-ups but the sex scenes were never gratuitous and were mostly fade-to-black moments. This was something I appreciated. The story was about Mouse’s character growth, not about sexual escapades.

It was also very refreshing to read a book where being gay wasn’t something to angst over. It was just treated as part of who he is, which in my opinion, is as it should be.

I loved getting to know Mouse but I sincerely wish the story had been longer and I think it should have been. The first act is spent getting Mouse into position to do this big rescue mission and then we spend the next act of the book with him trying to escape. I did enjoy it very much, but I felt the last third was rushed and would have liked to have seen Garron and Mouse get to know each other better before the end. The big reveal at the end could have packed a lot more punch had we had a chance to get to know Garron better.

Ideally the rescue could have happened by the end of the first act and the second act could have had a longer build up to the finale. I feel that a longer second act would have helped with the rushed feel to their relationship and the finale. I would have happily read 80-100K words of these two.

I was also disappointed with the copy editing and found a few instances where a side character’s name was misspelled from one page to the next, which wouldn’t have been a big deal but it threw me out of the story for a moment as I tried to figure out who was being mentioned.

Overall, these issues were minor and I thoroughly enjoyed the story and am eager to read anything else Thomas writes.

Books · gay romance

The Jeweled Dagger: Excerpt

If you like steampunk, adventure, conspiracies and grand masquerades along with technologically progressive lesbian queens, nonbinary spies and gay soldiers then my current WIP The Jeweled Dagger is probably right up your alley. Below is the introduction to Lafayette Goddard, one of the main characters.


The clang reverberated through the cell block, jolting Lafayette from where he sat leaning up against the bars of his cell. The movement set off a riot of aches and he gritted his teeth. Even as exhausted as he was sleep had been impossible with the stench, the pain, and the frustration. Blinking grit out of his eyes he reached up to pull his hair out of the way and winced as his shoulder protested. Getting slammed to the ground twice by that cretin after running all the way from the harbor made moving difficult. He should never have taken the shortcut through the garden. But he hadn’t been thinking clearly. He had only slept a handful of hours during the two days stowed away on the ship crossing the strait after running for his life in Galey. This week was becoming a string of miscalculations and bad decisions. Getting his papers stolen hadn’t even been the least of his problems.

If only he’d recognized the Captain’s uniform first off and not overreacted. He’d spent too long in Galey jumping at shadows. He was certain those same shadows had followed him back to Orandon. He lifted his head, peering down the corridor as footsteps echoed. It must be morning. His message was too late. He’d failed Rona and who knew what might happen now. He narrowed his eyes as the tall, dark haired Captain walked into view. The intent brown eyes regarded him for a long moment but his face remained impassive and Lafayette couldn’t discern what the man might be thinking.

“Get up.” The Captain man turned away and took the set of keys off his belt along with a pair of cuffs. “I’ll take you to the Queen.”

Books · Characters · Sorrow's Fall · Writing FUNdamentals

Let’s Get Complicated Part Two: The Positives of Being a Villain

So last time we talked about creating multi-dimensional characters and focused on the protagonist of my novel Sorrow’s Fall.  This week I’d like to help you look for ways to make your antagonist just as compelling and multi-faceted.  After reading my post about Sorrow you are probably wondering what kind of person could possibly be an impediment to him and his goals.  That’s a very good question. It’s also one you need to consider in your own story. For now we are going to assume that your antagonist is another person and not that your character is struggling against nature or something. Nature doesn’t really have a personality, though it might seem like it at times.

In Sorrow’s Fall we are quickly introduced to Qadira Fall. She is the daughter of Lady Zulyekha Fall and the Queen-In-Waiting. She is nearly as powerful as the Barendi Queen herself. She has been raised and groomed to be consummate royalty. She is gorgeous, highly-intelligent and disgustingly wealthy. She also hates Sorrow with a passion. In the book he has no idea why she detests him. All he knows is that she tries to kill him every chance she gets.

She is his antagonist. But outside of her hatred for Sorrow, what is she like?  We know she’s royalty, that she inspires great loyalty among her coterie and that she is driven by the need to save her race. But what core qualities does she possess that take her from just being the person who hates Sorrow to a force all her own?

Last time we started with a negative trait, since most heroes have issues with them. This time lets look at the positive qualities a villain could have.  Yes, even villains have positive traits.  Serious. I’ll prove it.

First I need to figure out her core moral value. The Postitive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi offers some amazing insight as to why this is so necessary. Not just for villains, but for our heroes as well. In The Positive Trait Thesaurus Appendix B has a method for finding your character’s core moral value. This is the core belief that affects all their other traits.  After making my lovely list of her positive traits I went to Appendix A to see which of them were moral values.  The main one was professional.  I’ll be honest. That confused me. Until I went to the entry for it.  There they list the definition as: exhibiting specialized knowledge and applying it with courtesy and good judgement.

Whoa. Wait-a-minute.  Now I’m more confused. My villain is courteous and has good judgement?  Well, let’s think about this for a moment. She is extremely well educated by the best instructors money can buy. She’s talented, smart, career and success focused, she’s ambitious and mature for her age. She is confident with high self-esteem and is highly ethical.

She’s not sounding very vile.  And if you are not a threat to her, she’s won’t be.  So what associated behaviors might she display where Sorrow can see them?  Lets look at the list.

  • Having the education and knowledge required to be proficient at one’s job
  • Being experienced in a specific field of work
  • Reliability, trustworthiness and honesty
  • Having strong people skills
  • Objectivity
  • Working well under pressure
  • Having a strong command of language and being able to articulate oneself well
  • Adaptability
  • Keeping one’s promises
  • Maintaining control over one’s emotions
  • Being proactive
  • Thinking before acting
  • Treating others with respect and courtesy
  • Being proactive
  • Being a strong listener
  • Assessing the politics of a situation and acting accordingly
  • Using good hygiene
  • Being well dressed
  • Acting appropriately for the situation

I could go on but you get the idea. A couple of the ones I highlighted as far as things Sorrow sees are; being experienced, adaptability, keeping promises, using good hygiene and being well dressed. Each of these things on their own seems pretty neutral or at least positive. So how do we grow her character beyond just being professional?  Well according to Appendix B the next layer beyond the moral core is achievement traits. This was a new thought for me and it took me a little getting used to, but now I see how invaluable it is. So let’s look further into Qadira’s personality and see what achievement traits she’s might posses that build on her core trait of professionalism.

The first one that pops out for me is ambitious but decisive actually wins out as the dominant trait here. Mostly because you can’t get much more successful than she already is, though she does have ambitions. Her decisiveness on the other hand is partly her and partly her upbringing. She’s had to bear a lot of responsibility since she was very young and much is expected of her. Her core value also influences her decisiveness since she is driven by a strong sense of responsibility and has the desire to lead.

Cool, we are on a roll here. Can you see how working from the inmost core trait outward is helping us build her personality and keep her well rounded? Let’s move on to the next layer: interactive.

These traits develop through interaction with others and the world in which the character lives. These traits help her work with her subordinates, handle conflicts, convey ideas and create healthy relationships. So building on our core trait of professionalism and our achievement trait of decisiveness what might be her dominant interactive trait? Here I run across several that are worth noting such as bold, flirtatious, inspirational, patriotic, persuasive, sophisticated and traditional. She is all these traits to varying degrees, but which one is dominant and why? Looking through the book both patriotic and sophistication are good choices, but sophisticated wins.  This is mostly due to her upbringing and the culture in which she was raised. She was brought up to be royalty so sophistication is not only needed, it’s demanded.

Now we come to the out most layer, the identity layer. The book describes this layer as “attributes [that] are tied to a personal sense of identity, leading to satisfaction and contentment with who one is. Traits emerge to allow the character to explore and better understand what makes them unique.” (The Positive Trait Thesaurus 2013, Ackerman & Puglisi, Appendix B page 233). It’s in this layer that I would put patriotic along with traditional. Here traditional actually compliments patriotic. She is very concerned with keeping her native culture untainted by outside influences which is directly tied to politics. She even went so far as to disown her mother who went against the established tradition and is willing to start a war to keep things as they have been.

You’ll notice we’ve not once considered the negative side of any of these traits, yet we already have a very good basis for her character. And she doesn’t seem all that evil does she? 

All of this just from a core value of professionalism.

Books · Characters · Fandoms · Loki · Movies · Transformers · Writing FUNdamentals

The Owl and the Raven

“The great destroyers of nations and men are comfort, plenty and security. A coward gets scared and quits. A hero gets scared, but still goes on. ”     – unknown

by Leyla Akdogan

“We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion.” – William Shakespeare

The Owl

Heroes rarely surprise us.  They do what we expect them to.  What is right, what is just, what is honorable.  They may struggle getting there but there is never any real question as to the outcome of their fight.  They may die trying but it will be a heroic death.  But what makes them heroic?  Is it strength, intelligence, wit, loyalty, perseverance, morality, sheer bull headedness?  Is it the fact that they do what is right, not for any benefit or personal gain but simply because it is the right thing to do?

Heroes are rarely seen as such by their peers.  Their actions are often regarded as too avant guard, consider Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird or Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.  While a hero’s actions might be altruistic, their motives rarely are.    I personally have always been skeptical of the typical hero.  Why would someone go to such lengths for others with no thought of any gain of any kind?  We all want to be at least recognized for our good deeds if not compensated.

The Raven

Villains rarely surprise us anymore.  They are a necessary evil to thwart the hero.  They are crafty, greed, capricious and cruel.  They seem to appear out of the ether, hate already fully born and festering for revenge on the hero.  They will die before they let the hero succeed.  But what makes them a villain?  Is it strength, intelligence, lack of morality, snark, perseverance, sheer bloody mindedness?  Is it the fact that they do whatever they damn well please just for the hell of it, or at least for some principal gain?

Villains rarely see themselves as such.  They are fully justified within their own minds and see their actions as not only right but necessary.  Darth Vader, Shere Khan of The Jungle Book, Moriarty from any incarnation of Sherlock, Sauron of Lord of the Rings. Shall I go on?  You get the idea.  I personally have always hated the one dimensional evil for the sake of being evil villain.  Everyone has a motive and motive implies will and will implies thought and reason.

The Quandary

So who is the Owl and who is the Raven?  Sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to determine.  This has given rise to the terms anti-hero and anti-villain.  Theses characters are neither strictly one or the other.  They are the vagabond hero and the dubious ally, the thief with a heart of gold and the benevolent overlord.

To illustrate this point I will be drawing on several characters.  Most I’ve discussed before and a couple will be newcomers.  If you are not familiar with my fandoms then beware of spoilers here on out.

First, Megatron.  Yes that Megatron.  By the time we meet him in the franchise he’s a despotic overlord with the mantra ‘Peace through Tyranny.’  A villain’s villain if you will.  Yet we learn that he and his archrival Optimus Prime were once friends and depending on which backstory you prefer, co-collaborators in the rebellion on their homeworld.  In the most recent iteration their friendship fell apart over method.  Megatron, a former slave and gladiator only knew how to achieve his means through violence.  Optimus saw a more peaceful, albeit slower, method through diplomacy.  Neither was wrong in wanting change in their society.  So what made one the hero and the other the villain?  Motive and execution.

Then we have Loki.  In the original works he is not the scene stealing villain from Marvel, but a crafty, cunning and beloved brother.  He’s as mischievous as he is helpful and often his schemes benefit himself more than anyone.  When they do go awry he still manages to find a way to make the outcome work for him.  Yet he allows his jealousy to get the better of him and resorts to murder and extortion.  This doesn’t stop him from helping when a situation calls for it.  He simple will only do it if it in some way benefits himself.  He’s an opportunist.  Again motive and execution come into play.

Now let’s look at Deadpool.  He’s the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ who fancies himself a hero yet can never quite live up to the hype.  When he’s trying his hardest to be the hero is when he fails the most spectacularly.  Its those moments when he stops trying and just does that the hero emerges.  Yet he’s too bogged down by his own demons to ever fully transcend his penchant for indiscriminate violence. He at times both hinders and helps the other super heroes depending on how the situation strikes him and if he can make money off of it.  Much like Loki, he’s an opportunist and will stab a hero in the back as soon as offer a helping hand.  Motive. Execution.

So how do you write a convincing non villain?

Keep them consistent.  Know their motivations, even if they don’t. Make sure their actions are supported by their motives, that they execute their plans accordingly.  Loki and Deadpool are both consistent in that you know at some point they are going to betray you sometimes just for the hell of it.