Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Beauty In the Small Things

Building a supernatural character with some basis in reality can be fun, but it is also very complex.
When one does research for a book, it is, in many cases, to answer questions. I found that this can be a useful way to build a character as well.
And while you are answering questions about a character, you can extrapolate a hypothesis from the known facts. Find something, even if its something small, that would connect the character to something supernatural. Perhaps its something common, and it works best if it is. Perhaps it is something from their ancestors, or about the place where they live, or something that they did as a young child. It can really be anything.
But, in this case, you really need to know your stuff when it comes to the supernatural to be able to tie it in well. If you're writing the sort of book that has these beings, your going to want to learn. It is possible to pull it all out of thin air without knowing any of the folklore or mythology or history. I would not advise it, and I know one famous case that did it (I'm not mentioning names) but unless its contemporary I wouldn't advise it.

Because that's the thing about history. The beauty in the small things.
A few of the things that I just mentioned came from Jack Whyte, a hsitorical fiction writer that my mother has read for a very long time, and who I admire greatly. I went to a lecture where he was talking about his new book 'The Forest Laird', and he has this brilliant theory that the Robin Hood legend was actually based on William Wallace (yes, the Mel Gibson Braveheart. But I did not know until then that someone else actually carries the name Braveheart, not William Wallace). That in itself blew me away. And then he said these things.
Do research to answer questions. 
Extrapolate hypothesis from known historical facts. 
The exact little things, small but brilliant ideas, that I needed to weed my way through the mountains of potential research. Now, I start with a list of questions of things that I need to know about every aspect of what's going on in the book.

I think its a mantra for life, actually - find beauty in the small things. 
That was something I had to learn, and took a long time, because I was so worried about the big picture life was passing me by. I was so worried about having that '5 year plan', like most people my age have, that strange things started going on in my head. When I realized that, whether I like it or not I'm not going to be like everyone else things got easier. I started making realistic goals for me, and stopped thinking about what other people my age are doing. I put everything into my writing and the books and stopped worrying about buying a condo. If its supposed to come, it will. Enjoying now and preparing for later is important, but it needs to go in that order.

And apparently I like the post title Beauty In the Small things - perhaps I should make it a reoccurring topic?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Underworld: Awakening

  As expected, the newest installment to the Underworld franchise was a feast for the eyes.
And, not just because it was in 3D. I must say, unless your a die hard Underworld fan the 3D might not be necessary, but for all you die hards (like me) it does not disappoint.

Now, I'm not going to get into my problems with the last movie, Rise of The Lycans (continuity errors much?), but I will say first off that you do not need to remember, or even have seen the other Underworld movies to enjoy Awakening. The opening of the movie does a good catching up on what's previously happened, without bogging you down, then drops you right into the action.
The general plot of the movie is: humans have discovered the existence of vampires and lycans. So the war they'd been in with each other for centuries turned into a war with human beings - and through what they refer to as 'the purging' they rid the world of most of the vampire population and left lycans all but extinct. During the purge they tracked down our heroine, Selene (played by Kate Beckinsale, thank god she's back!) and Michael, the hybrid, and tear them apart, taking Selene prisoner.
12 years later the movie really starts to kick in, when someone wakes Selene from a freezing tank in a lab and allows her to escape. This is when things start to get interesting.

I've always loved the Underworld movies for the action, and the back story is always creative and ballsy in a way that supernatural movies should be. By removing a major factor from the first two movies (I'm trying to be a bit vague as to avoid giving too much away for those who are interested) the opportunity arose to give Selene something new to fight for, and that came in the form of a young girl. Another hybrid, and one bad ass 12 year old. It gives Selene a very unexpected dimension, and in a way reboots the franchise because there is now this new story with the girl - she has to take care of the girl, and the lycans cannot get their hands on her. And they now have the humans to worry about, with the other vampires running scared and a new form of lycan popping up the action in this movie doesn't stop for the hour and thirty minutes.

I loved this movie....but you must keep in mind, its an action movie. I think it had its bits of brilliance but its not going to win an academy award for best screenplay, you know what I mean? But that's a given with most action movies. So, fans make sure you get out to see it. It won't disappoint (this is not a case of Rise of The Lycans, trust me).
Another great thing was seeing the home grown talent, Kris Holden-Ried, the werewolf from one of my favourite shows on tv right now Lost Girl, as a serious lycan who gives Selene a run for her money. I hope he doesn't mind getting type cast from this point on - because he's so damn good at it.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Doing Research

 Lots of people, including other published author's that I knew, told me how lucky I was to have the internet available to me because when they were researching they had to do everything 'old school'. So, I thought, great! This is going to be fantastic! I'll just be able to type something into a search engine and BAM! No problemo, right?
I found out really quickly that you have to be very particular about the keywords you put into a search engine, because you'd be shocked by some of the randomness pops up, especially when you're looking for something vampire related.
I also found out that some historical texts people have not bothered to put online. I don't know why, but the information is just not there. And, yes, wikipedia is a good jumping off point but those books that they list at the bottom as reference are NOT online! Most of that info isn't even close to being online, and anyone who tells you different is seriously deluded.

The reality of internet research is that all it does is point you in the right direction. In no way will it give you all the information you need, and if you want to write books with any kind of history in them you're going to have to kick it old school and read a book.
 And, history books are really...well....wordy? I'm not sure the best way to explain it except there is a lot of extra information, especially royal biographies! When you pick up a royal biography, probably 100 pgs out of a 400 pg book are actually about the person, the rest about the political climate and other details about what was going on in their country during their reign. While this is all important, its not so helpful in building a character.

Kelley Armstrong recommended these fantastic encyclopedia's about supernatural beings that are amazing when creating a character - most of these sorts of books have information from several different cultural references right at your fingertips. It's as good as the internet, and looks cool on your bookshelf. I suggest to anyone who's writing something with fantasy creatures (and I'm talking everything from mermaids to vampires to dragons to banshee's to morrigan's) to pick up these sorts of books wherever they can find them. It was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. 

So, I must say quite loudly to anyone who's starting to research a book, do not be so naive to think you can find everything on the internet. You will be disappointed, and I wouldn't want your novel to come to a screeching halt just because you have to kick it old school. And that's what writer's do, right? They read. If you don't read, you'll have a hard time writing a book in general.
So dig out your dusty old library card, here in Toronto you can order from the library's online site and get it sent to your local branch, and get digging! And you may want to make a budget for yourself to buy research materials - the library is for those that are too pricey to buy, unless you can find them used.

Another major issue that I've seen in regards to research is that a writer can get so bogged down in it that they never write a word. In a strange way, you'll always feel like you don't enough. But, the beautiful thing is that you can simply write it the way that you see it while you're doing research, you can always go back and change it, if needed.

I think that some people walk into a book that involves writing history thinking its simple, assuming that since they know a little they know everything , but its very far from it. Then they get so overwhelmed by what they need to know, sometimes they even give up. And I think that's sad. We lose a lot of great stories that way.