Saturday, 11 July 2015

Guest post-- A.F.E Smith Darkhaven Release Tour

Finally, a weekend off for me (anyone who's ever worked an A+E rota will tell you how painful it is...)

And what better way to enjoy this hard-earned rest than to host A.F.E Smith, author of the newly-released Darkhaven, published by Harper Voyager! Plus there's even a giveaway for you to enter to win a copy of said book, too...

Rafflecopter giveaway 

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

So, as A.F.E has toured the exotic locales of the interwebs, her stop with me will tell us more about her as a writer, and what Darkhaven is all about.

My writing life

This may be the last day of my blog tour, but it occurred to me (belatedly) that I should introduce myself as a writer. Yes, this post should have gone at the very beginning, but what can I say? Read through the set of tour posts backwards and it may all make sense :-)

So without further ado, here I am, answering some fundamental questions about my writing life.

What do you write?

Fantasy. Usually with death, destruction and darkness in it, but also a bit of romance and other soppy things. Because I’m contradictory that way.

Who is it for?

Adults, officially. I dunno. I’d have read the sort of stuff I write when I was eleven or twelve, but I’m not sure if I’m actually meant to recommend it to that age group, given the occasional bouts of sex, swearwords and bloody violence.

Why do you write?

I write because I have always written. That isn’t an exaggeration. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was six years old and wrote my first ‘book’. I keep coming back to it because if I don’t, it makes me grumpy.

Less flippantly, I write because I have always read. And because books have always been my greatest source of entertainment and solace, I would like nothing more than to provide the same for other people.

When do you write?

Around the edges. In my lunch break, during my children’s nap times, after everyone else has gone to bed. But of course there’s also lots of time when I’m not actually writing, but thinking about writing – which can be just as useful. I often plot things out in my head when I’m doing some tedious task and my mind is free to wander. So I write-without-writing when I’m walking to work. In the shower. Chopping vegetables. In a boring meeting … er, better scratch that last one.

Where do you write?

I would love an actual dedicated writing space. A little table, a couple of bookcases, a pinboard for all my reference notes and illustrations … But the truth is, I write wherever I find a space. At the dining table. On the sofa. In bed.

How do you write?

By typing the words into a computer ;-)

Of course, this may be a deeper question than I’m giving it credit for, and it’s really about how to go about the process of writing. In which case, the best writing advice I can offer is simply to write. Keep writing and never look back, as if you are Orpheus and every word you put on the page takes you one step further out of the underworld.

I’m terrible for this, myself. I have a tendency to want to polish as I go along. And then the flow stops and I end up with one perfectly crafted, lifeless paragraph instead of a fluid page of action.

The only way I can get round it is to force myself not to read back over what I’ve written. Just keep going. If there are joining sentences or less interesting events for which I don’t immediately have the words, skip over them and keep going.

And yes, when I read back over it there’ll be word repetition all over the place, and sentences that don’t make sense, and comments in square brackets that say things like “he crosses the room” or “she fights off three men”. And little notes reminding me to cross-check Chapter X with Chapter Y, because I’m writing it as it comes and that isn’t necessarily chronologically, and the bits don’t necessarily join up yet. It’s a mess. Yet it has a shape and a feel to it that it wouldn’t have had if I’d done it one perfect paragraph at a time.

It’s like that thing about sculpting, how you gradually take away a bit at a time from a block of wood until its true essence is revealed. Rather than take away all the bits around the hand until you have a perfect hand sticking out of the shapeless block that is the rest of the wood, you chip away at the whole thing, but in stages. Rough outline of a figure. More detailed outline of a figure. Until finally you end up with The Thinker, and everyone admires your artistic skill for the rest of eternity.

Well. One can only hope.

I'm sure everyone will appreciate your efforts, A.F.E. Now then, let's take a look at Darkhaven:

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: 2 July 2015 (ebook), 14 January 2016 (paperback)
Price: £1.99/$3.99 (ebook)

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Buy links
Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play

Follow A.F.E. Smith on:

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Well-Written Characters (Part 4)

As both a consumer of various entertainment media and a writer, characters are one of the key factors that decide if I end up liking a franchise or not, and that's probably true for many people. As shown by my One Hundred Character Meme, I enjoy a variety of different characters.

However, what I like even more is a well-written character. What defines what this is will be different for different people, but it got me thinking: what makes ME consider a character well-written? How can I adore one character in one series and yet dislike a very similar character in another? And better still, how can this help me make sure the characters I create are similarly written?

So, in this four-part series, I'm going to apply some simple criteria to several examples from books, video game, TV and film, and see if they fit or fail the Sam's Well-Written Character Test (TM).

Please remember this is a completely subjective set of criteria and it's simply my personal opinion, nothing more!

My deciding criteria consists of:

Personality- how is the character presented, what traits define them, how easy is it to identify the character, do they stand out compared to others?

Flaws/ Roundedness- what are the character's flaws? How do these interfere with/ hinder the character? Do they make the character feel more real?

Relatability- how relatable is the character? Can we empathize/ sympathize with them?

Consistency- is the character written consistently? Do they have any out-of-character moments, and if so are these plot-drive or convenience driven?

Development- does the character have an arc, do they learn anything/ change as a result (for better or worse)?

Each one will be marked out of 5, and the standard to qualify for well-written for me will be 15/25 (60%) (average 3/5 for all criteria). Not an easy one to please, am I?

View Part One here.

Part Two here.

Part Three here.

So let's see how our chosen ones will fare in our final medium, FILMS!

Jasminder 'Jas' Kaur (Bend It Like Beckham)

Personality: 4/5

Jas is the very talented, if somewhat shy, main star of the film. Her one true love is football (soccer), and she's pretty good at it, too. However she's pulled into conflict with her traditional Sikh roots, where her parents do not appreciate her talent and try to make her conform to their traditional standards. Jas shows great determination and courage, yet at the same time she's always questioning and second-guessing herself, so she provides a great rounded mix of personal traits.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 4/5

Jas' main flaws come from her indecisiveness and her wanting to please everyone all the time, rather than make choices for herself. She's really torn between wanting to take a chance and follow her dream versus making her parents happy by being 'bored out of her mind as a solicitor'. She's also pretty shy and underconfident (which I find adorable!).

Relatability: 5/5

For me Jas is extremely relatable, as while I'm not Sikh (I'm Hindu) the cultural boundaries are pretty much the same. Families of Indian background tend to value stable, professional jobs rather than creative, artistic ones and there is a lot of extended familial 'gossip' for even the most trivial things. Poor Jas is punished for being talented at something seen as 'worthless' (as there's no financial stability) and this puts her at odds with her parents, family and culture. Also, her lack of awareness as to the 'gossip' mentality of close family/ friends lands her into trouble, which has happened to me on occasion when I was younger (thankfully I am much wiser now!).

Consistency: 3/5

Jas is pretty consistent, well, as consistent as one can be when they're in such inner conflict. She'll lie to her parents to go play for her local women's football team, and then in the next breath be so crushed with guilt that she'll talk herself out of every playing again. The only time she doesn't quite act like usual are when she's slightly drunk at the club and has a brief intimate moment with her coach, despite knowing that her best friend also has a crush on him.

Development: 4/5

Jas does have a wonderful arc where she comes to reconcile her two conflicting desires and makes peace with her parents and her life choices. She finally decides what she wants for herself and does it in a way of compromise with her parents, rather than defiance, and this finally leads to their acceptance. She also makes amends with her best friend, and her sister, and learns that she can value her roots and culture while at the same time also embark on her dream career.

Total: 20/25 (80%)

Good pass! (forgive the pun!)

Rapunzel (Tangled)

Personality: 3/5

Rapunzel is a feisty, free-spirited princess (although she's unaware of the latter for most of the film). She's creative and artistic, has a passionate imagination and like your typical teen wants to prove she can survive outside on her own, as well as find the truth about her past. While she may be afraid and unwilling at first, once she finds the courage to leave home against her 'mother's' wishes, she proves to be determined and proactive in her endeavors.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 3/5

Rapunzel's flaws come from her naivety and gullibility. Given her lack of worldly experience she is prone to being easily manipulated, and also her impulsive nature can lead her to make unwise choices. Her fear of Mother Gothel too undermines her confidence and independence; things she eventually learns to overcome.

Relatability: 4/5

Rapunzel is pretty appealing to most, with everyone able to identify with the 'finding yourself' adolescent themes and her quirky determination; a significant departure from the usual passive and tame Disney Princesses of old. We can easily empathise with her situation and desperation to learn about the lanterns, and I enjoyed following her journey.

Consistency: 4/5

Rapunzel can fluctuate between fierce and independent to lukewarm and regretful (as shown in this brillant GIF set), depending on her feelings at the time. However this tends to be plot related, and there wasn't a moment I recall where she acted way out of character, so she's generally consistent.

Development: 3/5

The development Rapunzel follows is generally well done (if somewhat predictable). She learns to trust herself and her skills, stands up to Mother Gothel who has smothered her entire life, and even experiences loss (even if it is short-lived). She's not as naive as before, but still retains her sense of self, so ends up more rounded.

Total: 17/25 (68%)

Rapunzel makes the cut too!

Carl Fredricksen (Up!)

Personality: 4/5

Carl is the curmudgeonly grumpy old man who finally embarks on his own adventure after the passing of his dear wife. He's very shut in, resentful and just wants to be left alone, believing the world has nothing left to offer him as it took the woman he loved away. He's certainly not meant to be likeable, which makes him stand out to other main characters, but of course he has reasons to be the way he is...

Flaws/ Roundedness: 5/5

Carl's main flaws stem from him isolating himself. He's very antisocial, quite short-tempered and really wants to sever all ties to anything he could care about. Given what we learn about his life, this is all too understandable, and cement him as a solid character.

Relatability: 3/5

Even though an elderly gentleman may not be the most relatable to children, the way Carl is portrayed gives him clear motivations and backstory, which anyone of any age can appreciate. We also share his shock when he discovers the truth about his childhood hero, and root for him to win.

Consistency: 4/5

Carl is consistent for his development. The choices and decisions he makes fit with his personality and mindset of each moment, and he doesn't step much out of it.

Development: 4/5

Carl's development is strong. Even though he's loved and lost and thinks there is nothing left for him, he is able to rediscover himself, find a new companion in the form of his boy scout 'grandson', and go on and enjoy the adventure he always dreams of. He also comes to appreciate the time he spent with his wife, and lets go of his regret that he could never take her to their adventure spot.

Total: 20/25 (80%)

Well, was there ever any doubt?

And there it is; all characters pass my test! Not bad, eh?

What do you look for in a well-written character, and who do you consider well-written? Tell me!

Don't forget to check Part One: Books!

And Part Two: Games!

Not forgetting Part Three: Animation/ TV!