Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Worlds and Characters I Never Want to Be

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten fictional worlds we’d never want to live in, or characters we’d never want to trade places with! Here are mine – I’m going to do five of each! :)

Fictional Worlds I’d Never Want To Live In
1) Panem: I think this one goes without saying. Whilst I might be lucky and be born into the Capitol, more likely than not I would be born in one of the twelve districts and then have to worry about avoiding being picked for the Hunger Games. Because I wouldn’t do well as a tribute, not at all.

2) Westeros: As much as I love A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros does not seem like a very inviting place to live. War, white walkers, dragons… yeah. I’ll stay happily behind the pages of a book.

3) Camorr: And the surrounding areas. I love the city of Camorr in The Lies of Locke Lamora. It’s incredibly well described and brought to life. But would I ever want to live in a place with jumping sharks, cut-throat thieves, and as much filth and grime as I could shake a stick at? No, thanks.

4) Middle Earth: I would probably be slaughtered by orcs. :( Also, there are giant spiders. Nooooo.

5) The Muggle World: I would love to live in the Wizarding World, but sadly, I’d probably be a muggle. And, knowing my luck, I’d have a magical child, so I would know about the Wizarding World and be forever jealous. :(

Honourable Mention: Gilead (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Characters I’d Never Want To Trade Places With

1) Locke Lamora: The amount of crap this guy goes through on a regular basis? No way. I love him and his brains, but I’d never want his life.

2) Anna (from My Sister’s Keeper): Anna was born specifically to be a bone marrow match for her sister, Kate, who is dying of a rare form of leukemia. Imagine having that hanging over your head.

3) Mo (from Inkheart): I love his power to read things out of stories, but it brings him so much heartache. :(

4) Hazel (from The Fault in Our Stars): *gross sobbing*

5) Sansa Stark: Because. Just read books 1-3 of A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m on book four, so things could get better, but it’s been pretty horrible so far. To be honest, this could have been any number of characters from ASOIAF, but I’m pretty sure I’d be most likely to be in Sansa’s position.

Honourable Mention: Severus Snape (Harry Potter)

So, that’s it. What would you guys choose?

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Review: The Republic of Thieves

Title: The Republic of Thieves

Author: Scott Lynch

Series: The Gentleman Bastard (#3)

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Brutal, Thieving Fantasy

Pages: 598

Rating: 7.5/10

“I don’t expect life to make sense,” he said after a few moments, “but it could certainly be pleasant if it would stop kicking us in the balls.”

Summary: Locke and Jean are in Karthain, working for the Bondsmagi. Their task is to win the election for the party they have been assigned to. This is the Five Year Game. It’s different from their normal work, for sure, but the Bondsmagi have another trick up their sleeves. Their rival, fighting to win for the other side, is none other than Locke’s one true love – Sabetha.

Review: Firstly, this one has a map! Yay!

The Republic of Thieves is really split into two stories, two strands of narrative. The first strand is the Five Year Game, set in the present. The second strand is mainly the summer when the Gentleman Bastards were in training as players in Espara, and the summer where Locke is determined to win Sabetha’s heart. (Though it goes back further than that, and shows us the full story of Locke and Sabetha’s past, from Shade’s Hill to the end of their time in Espara).

This works well, in some ways. It’s nice to have the backstory about their summer as players at last, as it’s been mentioned in previous books, and it’s also nice to see Locke’s backstory with Sabetha. I enjoyed seeing Locke in Shade’s Hill, as all previous knowledge we had of that time was second hand and not through Locke’s eyes at all. I enjoyed seeing the slow growth of Locke’s affections towards Sabetha, from the moment he first lays eyes on her, to meeting her again at Father Chains’s, and beyond.

To be honest, unlike the first two books, this was more about the characters than the plot. It felt like it was building up to something, and it kind of did, but I think this one was setting the scene for how the rest of the series will play out. It felt like a prologue to something much bigger, in a sense.

I did appreciate the character building, though, and it has certainly piqued my interest and anticipation for the next book.

Sabetha has been an elusive character throughout the first two books. We didn’t even get to see her in reminiscences of the past. She was always mentioned in passing. This has built a certain mystique and anticipation around her character, and therefore she had a lot to live up to.

Does she live up to this anticipation?

Yes and no. She’s certainly a clever character, and certainly gives Locke and Jean a run for their money. But I didn’t exactly like her. She has insecurities, sure, and reasons for it, but she gives Locke the brush off so many times, and he just kind of follows her around like a lovesick puppy. I just wanted to shake Locke (both young and older versions) and tell him that she’s not good for him. I don’t think it’s a healthy relationship at all.

Were we meant to like her? I’m not sure. I think I understood why she is the way she is, but I really disliked how she played with Locke’s feelings.

Locke is the hero of these stories. We’re close to him. We root for him. Seeing someone shoot him down again and again does not really endear them to us.

I’m interested to see how Sabetha and her relationship with Locke develops, though.

Once again, we see the strength of Locke and Jean’s partnership. I love both of them so much, and their rapidly turning into one of my favourite fantasy duos. Perhaps I also resent Sabetha a little bit for getting in the way of that, but then I didn’t resent when Jean got a love interest in the last book.

I love Jean so much. Locke is very lucky to have him.

One minor niggling thing – every time Scott Lynch was supposed to write ‘stories’, he wrote ‘storeys’ instead. Once I could forgive as a typo, but this happened repeatedly. And no, I don’t mean building storeys. I mean tales, stories. Not sure how an editor missed it, to be honest.

The ending, though. Oh my god. What? What?! WHAT?!?!?

I need the next book now. ;_;

Top Ten Tuesday: A Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten things on our reading wish lists, or what we would like to see more of in the books we read. Here are mine. :)

1) More unconventional relationships in books where the relationship is not the number one focus of the text. Kind of like Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, where the main characters are in a gay relationship. I want to explore the relationship spectrum: gay, straight, lesbian, poly, etc.

2) On that note, more LGBTQ characters/protagonists where their sexual orientation is not the main focus of the book. For once, I want to see how an asexual or transgender character saves the world. We need more LGBTQ heroes.

3) Fantasy worlds that are not based on medieval England. There are so many other cultures and so much history in our world that fantasy worlds could find their roots in.

4) Love triangles that do not have an obvious conclusion. Usually when there is a love triangle in a novel, you can see from a million miles away who the protagonist is going to end up with. Why not make both love interests equally as likely? Why not have your protagonist end up with someone completely different, or no one at all?

5)  Unreliable narrators. I find them fascinating. Related to this, unlikeable narrators.

6) Protagonists that are parents, particularly in the fantasy genre.

7) Court/political intrigue, once again in the fantasy genre. I love tangled webs of lies and characters that are able to navigate all of this.

8) YA fiction that deals with mental health issues (anxiety, OCD, autism, schizophrenia, etc) or physical disability, though not necessarily as the thrust of the plot. Similar to the above point about LGBTQ characters. Everyone is capable of being the hero of their own story; why don’t we let them?

9) Sibling relationships. I want to see more books where the protagonist is really close to their brother or sister, or when their sibling is along for the ride to save the world.

10) Unconventional gender roles. Characters that are defined by who they are and not what’s between their legs.

So there’s my list. What would you guys like to see more of in fiction? :)

Creating Characters: Appearance

Disclaimer: As with all my posts relating to writing, this is purely personal and my methods and opinions will not hold true for everyone.

Appearance

Image from rgbstock.com

This is the least important point of character creation, at least in my view (although it’s still important).

Feeding the Information

A lot of new writers make the mistake of describing their protagonist on page one, either in the ‘my name is Rachael and I have black hair and brown eyes’, or by making them look into a mirror. Both of these can work, if done well, but the mirror trick especially is fast becoming a cliché.

As far as writing about appearance goes, the trick is to let what a character looks like trickle in piece by piece. Mention their hair colour in passing on page seven, perhaps. Have another character comment on their eyes on page thirty-two.  Have them have to wear a disguise and describe how different it’s making them look to their usual appearance. Anything but one long block of text that is purely there to say ‘This is what I look like.

Exceptions  and elaborations to this rule:

  • Love interests – if there is an instant physical attraction (and I mean physical, not insta-love), you bet I want to know what that love interest looks like. Try to steer away from clichés like ‘flowing locks’ and ‘smouldering eyes’, though.
  • If a character your character is meeting is particularly unusual in appearance. Describe them.
  • If we’re meeting new characters, we don’t need a ‘police profile’ of them, like listing hair and eye colour, etc. We want to know if they have a kind face, or how they walk, whether they’re as tall as they are wide. Try to sketch in a few details that make that character unique and that would be instantly noticeable to your protagonist. You can always build on their appearance later on.
  • If your character is a hairdresser, they’re going to notice people’s hair. If they work in fashion, they’ll notice people’s clothes. Try to think of what your character would notice about someone, and describe them that way.

Knowing a character’s appearance can help the reader envision them in their mind’s eye and, in some cases, can even be an important plot point. For example, the colour of Harry Potter’s eyes, or, you know, the scar on his forehead. Scars and marks and weird eye colours are most often used this way, though if race or culture is a big theme in your novel (fantasy or otherwise) then so can the colour of a character’s skin, the tattoos or body modifications they display, the shape of their face, or the colour of their hair.

Stereotypes and Clichés

Watch out for how you describe a character’s appearance too. There are a lot of appearance-related clichés out there, and using them may set off the Mary Sue alarm bells in some readers’ heads (the Mary Sue is a post for another day). For example, there’s ’emerald/sapphire eyes’ (I’m pretty sure JK Rowling is guilty of this, but perhaps I’ve just read too much fanfiction and I’m getting my wires crossed), hair that ‘cascades like a waterfall’, ‘golden locks’ or ‘raven hair’.

Careful with skin colour too. Often darker-skinned characters are said to have skin like ‘chocolate’ or ‘caramel’, so much so that these have become cliché. There is also the issue that some people of colour find these food-related adjectives offensive, though how predominent that view is I am not sure. It’s just something to be aware of, however.

When making your character’s appearance ‘unique’, try to keep it realistic in the world you have created. Don’t give them purple eyes, just because you want them to be different. When I was thirteen or so, the protagonist of the novel I was writing had red eyes, just because I thought it was cool. Later, I tried to come up with an explanation for it and eventually dropped it completely. By that point, she didn’t need the red eyes to make her unique; she was a fully-developed character.

Beauty (or Not)

Dont make your character stunning just because they’re the protagonist, or because they’re the love interest. Give them physical flaws, just as you would personality flaws. Freckles, moles, or scars, for example. Do they hate their nose? Are their lips too thin, their belly too flabby? What do they dislike about their appearance?

Of course, it depends on the character. If your character is a model or something, perhaps you want to make them beautiful, handsome or flawless. But there’ll probably still be something about their appearance that they dislike.

And if not, that tells you something about their appearance too.

Cricket – a study in blending in

With Cricket, I didn’t want him to stand out from the crowd, for the most part. He has the same hair and eye colour as about 90% of the population of his country (dark, dark brown and dark blue). There is nothing remarkable or memorable about his appearance, though he is slightly on the pretty side for a boy (mostly to do with his long eyelashes).  His hair is naturally messy, and he usually lets it grow to just past his ears before he cuts it. He’s eighteen, average height, slender and pale-skinned. He is, much to his ire, incapable of cultivating facial hair; it just doesn’t grow. He wishes he could grow a bit of stubble to offset his natural prettiness, but his skin remains stubbornly smooth. His mouth is quick to smile, though it should be noted that these smiles are not always genuine, and his eyes often maintain their natural wary distance.

Hopefully that brief description goes a little way in showing what I mean.

Creating Characters: Introduction

Disclaimer: As with all my posts relating to writing, this is purely personal and my methods and opinions will not hold true for everyone.

Creating characters is one of the most exciting and frustrating parts of writing a story.

I’m currently in the middle of trying to tease out the protagonist of my fantasy novel. I know his culture, his religion and his backstory. I know what he looks like. His personality is proving elusive, and so is his voice.

This is him:

Please ignore my terrible art and terrible webcam photography. :c

For now, his name is Cricket, but that is not his real name. He goes by William sometimes, but that’s not his real name either. His real name could get him killed.

*dramatic pause*

*tumbleweed*

Creating a character is exciting for many reasons. For one thing, you’re creating a human being with nothing more than your mind. You are sculpting them a life, a personality – a whole history with nothing more than words. Done well, a character can breathe. They can take on a life of their own and surprise you with the things that they do and the things that they say. You can discover in them a strength that you didn’t think was possible. In one gesture, they can create hundreds of new fangirls and -boys across the vast world.

Okay, so that last one might be stretching it.

If you’ve spent much time on the NaNoWriMo forums, or around a group of other writers, you probably have heard the lamentations of an author whose characters are running amok. These characters are protesting every word that is written. They’re falling in love or into bed with other characters who they weren’t meant to say two words to. They are ignoring the main plot and running off to chase shiny new subplots.

When your character is real enough to you that they become a voice in your head – when they start telling you what they would do, what they would say, no, they’re not going to go in the haunted house, that’s stupid – that is when you know you have created a living, breathing person.

You need to know your character inside out. When you can take any random situation outside the plot of your novel and you know instinctively how your character would handle that, or when the dialogue seems to write itself because you just know exactly what a character will say, or when you’re in the supermarket buying chocolate and you know which chocolate bar your character would choose (and when you even think about that sort of thing) – that is success.

Of course, these are only a few examples, and everyone’s characters present themselves in different ways. How do you know when you’ve created a successful character? (Let me know in the comments, I’m curious.)

For every character that comes out right, however, there are about ten others that don’t. We’ve all been there.

These characters are flat, lifeless. Every line they utter is robotic. Their movements are cardboard. Their personality flip-flops from one scene to the next. They are black or white, rather than multiple shades of grey.

How do we avoid these characters, then?

Some of this stuff is to do with the writing. Dialogue in particular is hard to do right, particularly in the first draft. If some of the dialogue is just not working for you, read it out loud. Does it sound like something a real person would say? If not, why?

Sometimes, yes, it does. But it doesn’t sound right for that character. So, what’s wrong there?

That’s not an easy question to answer.

I believe that characters need five things in order to make them successful. They need an appearance, though this is arguably the least important point. They need a personality, with strengths and flaws (and no, being ‘too kind’ or having ‘slight buck teeth’ are not flaws. The second is not even a personality trait. Get out.).  They need a backstory, a life outside of the story. They need a goal, a motivation – something to work towards, or something that they desperately want out of life. And they need a voice that is undeniably theirs. The latter is what would be missing in the above dialogue example – ie. the dialogue sounds perfectly fine, but is generic, not what that character would say, but what anyone would say.

Any one of these things could be a starting point for a character, and all of them are important.

The posts linked below (there are no links yet D: – that will change) will discuss each of them in more depth, using my very own Cricket as a model (if he co-operates).

1) Appearance

2) Personality

3) Backstory

4) Motivation

5) Voice

So this post has a bit more of a point to it:

What characters are you guys currently working on, and what was the starting point/idea for them? Any difficulties you’re currently having? Share your darlings with the world (and me, because I’m curious and I love learning about people’s characters)! :)

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten 2014 Debuts (That I’m Excited For)

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten debuts that we’re looking forward to in 2014. Here are mine. :)

This actually took quite a bit of research, seeing as most of the books I’m excited for are from authors I already know and love. But it was worth it, I think.

Click on the links to find out more about each book! :)

1) The Headhunters Race by Kimberly Afe

The Headhunters Race

2) The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

3) Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

4) Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

5) Pointe by Brandy Colbert

6) Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

7) Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

8) Fake ID by Lamar Giles

9) Alienated by Melissa Landers

10) The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

So there we have it. What debut books are you most looking forward to in 2014? :)

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Author: Scott Lynch

Series: The Gentleman Bastard (#2)

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Brutal, Thieving Fantasy… with pirates!

Pages: 630

Rating: 9/10

The night quiet was broken by the high, distant trill of a whistle, the traditional swarming noise of city watches everywhere. Several other whistles joined in a few moments later.

“It is possible,” said Locke with a sheepish grin, “that I have been slightly too bold.”

Summary: With his sights set on the Sinspire, a gambling house no one’s ever stolen from and lived, Locke Lamora is in the city state of Tal Verarr. The game is proceeding as planned, and Locke and Jean are looking forward to their hard-earned windfall.

But the Bondsmagi of Karthain have a long memory, and soon someone else in Tal Verarr wants Locke and Jean’s expertise. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy, and are once again embroiled in a fight for their lives.

Review: Once again, wow.

I knew I’d like this book from the moment that Locke hopes Jean gets his cock sucked by a shark. Yes, that is a thing.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting as much from this book as from the first one. Second books tend to have a bit of a stigma surrounding them. I take back any hesitation I had.

Okay, some people might not like the fact that there’s more than one plot thread going on (though they tie up neatly in the end), and the fact that the piracy plotline doesn’t start until you’re a fair chunk into the book. But, you know, I liked that. Locke’s life, with its layers upon layers of deception, isn’t going to be straightforward. There’s going to be complications. Just as his Sinspire game looks to be going well, BAM. Something HUGE comes along and messes up all his plans and he has to do major damage control.

Kind of like the first book.

Poor Locke. I believe that he had some major character growth going on in this book. The events in the last book have taken their toll on him and his relationship with Jean, and I feel like he’s growing up. He seems to think more about consequences (well, sometimes), and isn’t quite as cocksure and reckless as he was in the first book.

And we see the aftermath of the first book, even though this first one is set two years after the end. For the first part of the book, we get reminiscences of the previous two years, bringing us up to date on Locke and Jean’s adventures to the starting point of the novel. I liked this feature. Not only was it in keeping with Lynch’s style (like the flashbacks in book one), I’m glad we got to see what happened in the missing two years of time. Locke and Jean’s relationship was strained to the breaking point, and we got to see that, and see the ramifications of that even two years later.

We also get to see the beginnings of the Sinspire game, which, in the main plot, is coming to a close. All in all, I really enjoyed the flashbacks. I always enjoy when an author is clever with time, and with their narrative structure. Especially when it’s not confusing at all.

The prologue was and is, I admit, a dirty trick. Prologues that are a scene from somewhere near the end of the novel always put me in two minds as a reader. Firstly, I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to spend the entire book waiting for this scene, or feeling anxious because it hasn’t happened yet. No, thank you. On the other hand, I admire the ballsy hook.

Jean got some character development too! I appreciated the scenes from his point of view – I know there were a few in Lies, but not nearly as many. Jean is the source of MANY FEELS in this novel, just to warn you. I was SO HAPPY and then I was DISTRAUGHT. That aside, you really get to see what a damn good friend he is to Locke. Locke puts him through so much crap sometimes, and yet he is still always there. Always looking out for him.

I love their friendship. They would die for each other. Just die. And we get to see evidence for this over and over again. It’s not just words for them. It was never just words.

Let’s talk about some of the other characters in this book. I LOVE the badass women pirates. I love the fact that Scott Lynch’s world is so totally different than our own when it comes to gender roles. Being a woman doesn’t stop any of his characters doing anything. His women are as real and vibrant as his men, with as many nuances and shades of grey and badass awesome moments.

Like Zamira. She’s a middle-aged pirate woman, a captain of one of the most feared pirate ships in the Brass Sea. She also is the single mum of two kids, and is raising them right out there on the high seas. She’s a great character. She oozes authority, and courage, and you definitely do not want to get on her bad side.

There are, of course, other great characters. I particularly liked the antagonists in this one. I felt that they had a lot of depth to them, rather than just being assholes for the sake of assholes. There are loads of other characters I could mention – Ezri, for instance – but you really need to experience them for yourself.

There is no map at the beginning of this one, which was a grievance I had in the last book. Once again, I feel that the novel would have benefitted from the inclusion of one.

The writing, though. I love the way Scott Lynch can turn a phrase. I really, really do. Amongst beautiful descriptions and plenty of atmosphere building, there are moments of pure humour and snark and wondrous narration.

For example:

“Mew,” the kitten retorted, locking gazes with him. It had the expression common to all kittens, that of a tyrant in the becoming. ‘I was comfortable, and you dared to move,’ those jade eyes said. ‘For that you must die.’ When it became apparent to the cat that its two or three pounds of mass were insufficient to break Locke’s neck with one mighty snap, it put its paws on his shoulders and began sharing its drool-covered nose with his lips. He recoiled.

I am in love with his writing. Pure, unadulterated love. *swoons like a maiden*

Whilst The Lies of Locke Lamora can stand alone as a novel, the same isn’t entirely true of this one. Sure, the main plotlines are all wrapped up at the end, but there is a massive great question mark left hanging over the characters. Technically, you can read this one as a standalone too, but I, for one, am very glad to have the next book sitting right next to me.

If you like cons and thieves and brutal fantasy and enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, read this book. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, read that first, then come and read this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.