Trope Tuesday: Death Seeker

The Death Seeker is a character who wants to die, but for whatever reason isn’t willing to commit outright suicide. The TVtropes page has a good summary:

At some point in the past, some characters have had a traumatic experience, found themselves dishonored, committed a crime they could not repay, or lost everything worth living for. For whatever reason, rather than turning to suicide, they went off seeking battles to fight, hoping to find an enemy who would kill them, and achieve an honorable, heroic, awesome, or otherwise acceptable death, sometimes going as far as outright surrendering and offering their life to their enemies.

I’ve written a surprising number of these characters, but more often than not they end up living instead of dying. Quite often, they have a mentor who used to be a death seeker themselves, who makes them promise to find a reason to keep on living.

Escapist fiction is fun, but I like to read stories that are meaningful as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. When the protagonist is a death seeker, the question “what is worth living for?” tends to be a major driver for the story.

One character who’s very much on my mind right now is Mara Soladze from Sons of the Starfarers. A refugee turned marine, she has a traumatic experience in Comrades in Hope that very nearly pushes her over the despair event horizon. She can’t just give up and die, though, because there are people depending on her. As she climbs up the ranks from first mate, to captain, and finally to commodore, that tension never goes away.

Probably the biggest difference between a death seeker and someone who’s simply suicidal is that the death seeker is looking for something to die for. They’re much more likely to make a heroic sacrifice or go out in a Bolivian army ending.

But if something is worth dying for, isn’t it also worth living for? That is ultimately the question.

Trope Tuesday: Only the Chosen May Wield

So I’m bringing back the Trope Tuesday posts, but with a little twist: instead of talking about the trope itself and what I like / don’t like about it, I’m going to talk about how I used that trope in one of my books. And since The Sword Keeper is currently up for preorder, I’m going to spend the next few weeks using examples from it.

Perhaps the most central trope in the book is Only the Chosen May Wield. In the first chapter, Tamuna Leladze discovers that she is the Chosen One when a mysterious stranger arrives at her aunt’s tavern, carrying a cool sword. Unbeknownst to her, the sword is enchanted and carries the skills and memories of all the people who have wielded it. She soon learns that she is the last sword bearer of prophecy—which comes as a huge shock, since as a common tavern girl, she’s really not cut out to be a warrior.

While the book mostly plays this trope straight, there are a couple of other complications that give it some depth. First, the sword itself is an actual character. It speaks to Tamuna through the psychic link that she establishes with it, and when she sleeps, it carries her to a mountain sanctuary where she’s able to talk with it like another person. The sword becomes something of a mentor to her, sharing skills and memories as quickly as she is able to receive them (which is never quickly enough).

Second, while Tamuna never wanted to be the Chosen One, one of the members of her party did, and struggles with feelings of jealousy because of it. This becomes especially complicated because this character’s chief motivation is honor, and he’s put in a position where he has to act as a trainer/bodyguard for Tamuna until she comes into her own. It doesn’t help that he’s only a few years older than her.

I suppose there is a third complication: the fact that Tamuna can’t (or shouldn’t) wield the sword until she has been physically trained for it. Several times, Imeris tells her that he can’t share all of his knowledge of swordplay with her, because she isn’t yet strong enough. Otherwise, she’s liable to injure herself, because her body isn’t capable of executing all of the strikes and parries and ripostes that she knows how to execute in her mind. So, while no one else can wield the sword Imeris, the one person who can isn’t yet capable of doing so.

It makes for an interesting dynamic. Stories tend to get boring when things are too easy for the Hero, and in The Sword Keeper, very little comes easy for Tamuna. In fact, one of the recurring questions she asks is how in the heck she became the Chosen One in the first place. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing whether or what she discovers by the end.

The Sword Keeper comes out in twenty-five days! Preorder it now!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

Character Sheet Template

I’ve had such a ridiculously hard time lately trying to look up old characters, either from half-finished WIPs that I’ve recently picked up again, or from books I plan to publish but need to give a character description for the cover artist to work from. My Google-fu is pretty good, but a text search will only take you so far.

So yesterday, I put together a rough template for a character sheet. I plan to fill one out for every major character in my WIPs from now on.








Larry Correia on creating “offensive” characters

Larry Correia has a fantastic post up on the pitfalls of political correctness when writing fictional characters. He not only nails it on the head, he takes a nail that’s been twisted in three different directions and rams it into the wood with just a couple of well-placed taps. Seriously, if you’re interested in writing at all, you should check the whole post out.

The main gist of it can be summed up by this quote:

Smart writers are going to focus on entertainment. They’re probably going to offend everybody at some point. But at least they won’t be boring while they do it.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, the unforgivable sin for writers is being boring. As a writer you can get away with damned near anything as long as you are entertaining a big enough audience.

There is a contingent of readers out there who exist only to nitpick and bitch. There aren’t that many of them, but they make up for it by being loud. Many authors are under the mistaken impression that you can make these readers happy. You can’t. At best you can appease them. Temporarily. But you will cross their invisible line sometime and they will get all sorts of outraged.

The latest person to get outraged was Melissa Harris Perry, who denounced Star Wars because Darth Vader was (and yet at the same time wasn’t) black. Seriously. It’s like she saw this clip and didn’t realize it was satire:

But I digress.

The reason it’s impossible to please politically correct SJW-types is because the way that they signal their virtue to other members of their tribe is by finding something to be outraged about. This is a consequence of their belief that the only way to fix society is through social revolution, a point that Dennis Prager deconstructs quite effectively. It’s all about how loud they can scream.

As Larry points out, trying to placate these perpetually outraged people is a game you can’t win—not unless you’re already a member of their tribe. This ironically makes them far more prejudiced than most of the people they’re so outraged at. When was the last time you heard the word “white” used as an insult? Has the word “cisgender” ever not been used as an epithet? “Privileged” is another one—without knowing anything about you as an individual, they have already passed judgment and despise you.

Again, this is why I support the Sad Puppies: because they have the courage to stand against these perpetually outraged types who would tear down everything in SF&F that they can find offense with. The most imaginative genre in fiction is no place for self-appointed thought police.

There is one important area where I disagree with Larry. He rejects the Bechdel test out of hand, where I think it still has value. As a litmus test, I totally agree with him: I’m against any kind of a litmust test for stories. But from a writing perspective, I think it can still be a very useful tool.

The Bechdel test is something that I usually have in the back of my mind when I write: not out of fear of offending the perpetually outraged, but in order to write more complex and interesting characters who can stand as heroes of their own stories. I don’t think we’re at odds on that point, since Larry himself says the same thing in his discussion of how to write a strong antagonist. To that extent, I personally find the test to be useful.

The point is, if you want to be a successful writer, don’t try to please everyone. As soon as you start to experience success, someone will inevitably take offense with you just to bring you down a notch. Don’t let them get to you. In the words of Brigham Young:

He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.

Why I stopped watching House of Cards

I started watching House of Cards a couple of weeks ago, and really got into it for a while. As longtime readers of this blog will remember, I spent a semester in DC at a high-powered K street internship, and was thoroughly disgusted by what I found there. House of Cards is all about the sleazy back-room political machinations of scrupulously ambitious people, so it gave me a lot of satisfaction to watch them all screw with each other.

Kevin Spacey’s performance in particular is absolutely fantastic. Periodically throughout the show, he breaks the fourth wall and turns toward the camera to give a monologue about the nature of political power. It’s such a characteristic part of the show that they spoofed it at the 2013 Grammys.

By the start of the third season, though, I started to have some misgivings. At various points in the show, I asked myself who my favorite character was, as a way of analyzing the writing. In the first season, I had several favorites. In the second season, those characters either died or did things that made me hate them. By the start of the third season, I didn’t like any of the characters—I only hated them in varying degrees.

The only potential exception to that was Senator Mendoza, the main antagonist of the third season who sets himself up as the Republican nominee for president. While all of the main characters consider him an asshole, that’s mostly because he doesn’t honor any of the back-room deals and secret combinations that they do. But since the story was setting him up to go head-to-head with Frank Underwood, I could tell early on that things wouldn’t end well for him.

The main reason I stopped watching, though, was because of all the gratuitous sex. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of those people who throws a book across the room the moment sex is acknowledged as part of the human experience. I’ve read and enjoyed (and even written) plenty of books where sex is an important part of the story. But when it becomes gratuitous—in other words, when it no longer serves the story—that’s when I get tired of it.

In order to do sex well, I think it needs to 1) convey an important facet of someone’s character (for example, Kirk in Star Trek), 2) serve an important plot point, or 3) impact the character arc in some important way. If the story can hold together just fine without the sex, then the sex is actually a sign of weak writing. Throwing it in just to titilate or hook the audience is like using adverbs to convey emotion: if the writing was strong enough to begin with, you wouldn’t have to do that.

So without getting into spoilers, that’s why I checked out of House of Cards. I hated all the characters, the writing was getting weaker, and the sex was too gratuitous.