Paul Anthony Shortt on Consequences

Hey all! Today I want to welcome Paul Anthony Shortt to my blog! Before we go into that, though, I just want to let you know where I am and what I’m doing. 🙂

First, I’m doing an excerpt swap with Quanie Miller, author of the up coming book It Ain’t Easy Being Jazzy. My excerpt is here. Hers is here. By the way, if you haven’t met Quanie yet, I suggest you check out the writings she’s posted so far. The lady has some kick-ass talent and I’m looking forward to read Jazzy. 

Second, I’m visiting Rebecca to talk about writing a series.

Hope to see you there!

Okay, take it away Paul. Adore the cover, by the way.

Consequences

Today’s guest post is pretty self-explanatory. A good story needs consequences. A character can’t run around, messing with the plans of powerful beings, throwing their own lives into disarray, and expect to get off scott-free.

At the end of Locked Within, Nathan Shepherd has suffered for his actions against the Council of Chains, and his obsession with unexplained murders. One friend of mine describes it as Nathan having “the worst week of his life.” And that’s true.

Or it was, anyway.

In Silent Oath, Nathan has to contend with the demands of his new role. The more he fights to keep people save, the harder he has to work. It’s as if his reward for each heroic act is to be presented with ever more dangerous challenges. He has to learn that it’s not enough to kill a few vampires. He must build something that allows the people of New York to protect themselves. He needs a conclave, a united group of people in the know to stand united against the Council of Chains.

But even that noble goal will have unexpected consequences. Outside conclaves look to Nathan for support. As his reputation grows, amid rumours that he is not just any reborn, but in fact the reincarnation of a legendary hero, he finds that more enemies want to challenge him, which those under his care look to him more and more for guidance.

Nathan must rise to this, and take charge if he is to do any real good.

However, reincarnation is tricky, and Nathan’s memories haven’t finished coming. He has other things to remember; events in past lives that will leave him shaken to his core. His actions, past and present, are leading him, inexorably, to war. For all his determination and strength, Nathan could stand to lose everything he’s built, and he doesn’t yet even remember why.

This is why consequences are so important in a story. As I wrote Silent Oath I thought more about Nathan’s past lives and how centuries of death and rebirth might affect him. What lengths would he go to in order to keep people safe? What if he wanted to have a quiet, peaceful life for a change? Fate has a funny way of dragging heroes back into action, no matter what they may do. This, too, is a consequence. The events that unfold throughout Silent Oath all stem from action or inaction on Nathan’s part. The challenge is for him to not only defeat his new enemies, but come to terms with the way he has changed things in New York, for better and for worse.


Bio: 
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren’t enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life. Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

Paul lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica, and is now expecting their fourth child.
Paul’s first novel, Locked Within, was released on November 6th, 2012, by WiDo Publishing. Silent Oath is the second book in this urban fantasy trilogy.

Blurb:
Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city’s supernatural masters. But it’s not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan’s former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.

Nathan’s only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.

Links:
Twitter: @PAShortt

Characterization Lessons from Women’s Fencing


I’m spending a lot of time watching the Olympics this month. Maybe some people would think it a frivolous waste of time, but I’m just fascinated by the human aspect to everything.

It really shows me a lot about characterization, motivation and subtext. About how everybody thinks they’re the hero, even when they might be dead wrong.

Take the woman’s eppee controversy. I really felt sorry for Shin A Lam from South Korea, but at the same time, I felt horrified.

Still do. And to be honest, the horror by far outstrips the sympathy.

Okay, since a lot of people aren’t all that interested in fencing and therefore might not have heard about the controversy, I’ll quickly set the scene…

We’re in the semi-final. The winner goes on to compete for the gold medal. The loser for the bronze. After nine minutes of fighting (I.E. after the full allotted time), the score was 5-5 between Shin and her opponent (Britta Heidemann). Shin had priority, so if she managed to get through the one minute sudden death round evens with Heidemann, she would go through to the finals and potential glory.

59 seconds pass and Shin doesn’t concede a point. And after a last second infringement by Shin, the president (fancy fencer name for ref) resets the clock at 1 second and continues the bout. Heidemann launches a lightning fast attack, but Shin hits at exactly the same time. No points. Time left: one second.

Another attack by Heidemann and another simultaneous hit. Time left: one second.

And another. Time left: one second.

Heidemann attacks yet again, but this time she scores a valid hit. The president stops the bout and the second ticks away. South Korea’s coach is furious. Because how long could one second take? Shin refuses to leave the piste. The president and technical staff confer. The point holds.

More tantrums follow and another meeting happens, this time with officials from the FIE (the International Fencing Federation). After a total of 70 minutes, the president confers the win to Heidemann.

But it doesn’t end there, because Shin refuses to leave the piste, staring off into the distance when FIE officials break the news. Her coach is escorted from the building. Shin gets a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct. She breaks down into tears as she’s half  helped, half dragged from the piste.

So yes. Drama. Lots of it. And let me get this out of the way. She lost the chance at the gold medal in a total of one second. And yes, as someone who was timekeeper at fencing competitions, I can say this much. It’s very feasible that the fencers could score three or four hits in the space of one second. I felt sorry for her.

But her conduct and especially that of her coach absolutely repulsed me as a fencer. From the day I started fencing, I was taught the importance of our (even if it is unwritten) code of honor. We are the descendants of duellists. Ungentlemalike conduct is not an option.

And the actions of her coach and Shin herself… well, that’s probably the worst conduct I’ve ever seen or heard of in a fencer. And I’ve seen some. Heard of even worse.

So while I felt bad for her as a person, I couldn’t help but think that she got off lightly. Yellow cards go to fencers who aim to bruise opponents on purpose. Or who brought malfunctioning weapons onto the piste. Disrespecting officials and other fencers get red cards. Continuing to disrespect them results in being black carded. In other words: a ban from competing.

She got a yellow card. And a loss of the gold or silver medal. As a result of all this shit happening, a lot of people are paying attention to Fencing, but not because it’s a wonderful sport, but because one fencer didn’t know how to behave.

Where does this come in with characterization and subtext? Well. She thought (and probably still does) she was in the rights. A lot of people who never had any exposure to fencing probably agree with her. But my background as a fencer completely colored the way I looked at the main actor in this drama (Shin).

If most other people wrote this situation in a story, Shin would probably have been a tragic but sympathetic character. If I wrote it, she wouldn’t have been. Because I would have included all the cultural background involved with being a fencer. Things that non-fencers just wouldn’t understand unless a fencer took the time to explain.

And that really got me thinking. Writers could make any character sympathetic or unsympathetic, depending on the subtext and background they work into the story. Look at heist movies. Thieves shouldn’t be heroes, but give them a sympathetic cause and everyone roots for them. So I guess the lesson here is: write a character as bad as you want. Just make sure you have justification. The worse the bevaviour, the better the justification.

Have you ever written an unlikable character as your story’s hero?

A to Z Challenge: More Than Meets the Eye

Today is actually related to my A post. Characters have to be realistic. For that to be possible, they have to act and sound realistic.

Sounds easy, right? Well… yes and no. Because while characters react in certain ways, they also react in certain ways to certain people and situations.

Why? Well… because some people and situations people love. Others they absolutely hate.

It all comes down to motivation. Which is where today’s headline comes from. In reality, very few people can see other people’s motivations. Even those they love. So most people of forced to take things at face value.

You as writer, can’t rely on that when it comes to your characters. Because your readers need to see into the character’s soul. They need at least a glimpse. Well… maybe need is a bit of a strong word, but do you really want your reader to wonder why two characters are fighting?

You know those (effing) books that you struggle through because the whole conflict in the story is about two characters arguing about reasons unknown? Or worse, a stupid reason. Yeah. Textbook motivation issue. (Bonus fact for new writers: in fiction, conflict is NOT about characters bickering. See last year’s A to Z C post.)

I actually wrote a whole post on motivation that you can read here, for more detail and info on how to use motivation. Today’s focus is on fixing it in edits.

Credit

Firstly, you need to know what you’re fixing. Motivation isn’t the reason why characters do things. It’s the reason behind the reason (sometimes behind that reason too) why characters do and think things. See it as the main route of ALL decisions, actions, thoughts and ideals. So no… it’s not anger, fear or a dream either. It’s the reason behind those. Basically, to find motivation, you need to play the why game. You take something a character does or thinks or whatever and wonder: Why? If you get that answer, you ask again. And again. And again. Until you can’t go back further.

Then, you need to make sure that (at least in the beginning) everything tracks back to the same motivations. Because if they don’t, your character has multiple personality disorder. Of course, there are some times that a character acts out. For example someone with major-trust issues overcoming their issues and letting someone into their circle. That’s fine. Just don’t do it lightly. And give the reader a road-map to how and why it happened at some point in the story. If you don’t, the reader will just be confused.

Okay… back to the conflict problem mentioned above. If characters don’t like each other, make sure it’s for a good reason. I think it’s best if the dislike comes out of their motivation, because then it flows naturally out of who the characters are. Never will the bickering feel contrived. If it’s based on anything less than the motivation, make sure that it stays as close to the motivation as possible.

So yes, even if the reader can’t always see the motivation, make sure you always keep it in mind when editing. More than anything, motivation is the anchor that keeps everything real and believable.

Look Out for These:

1) Crit partners and Betas pointing something out as seeming contrived in some way.

2) Your “why’s” not adding up to the same character when they’re supposed to.

3) A problem that’s rooted in a character’s motivation being overcome without emotional (or other) turmoil.

Do you get to know your character before hunting for their motivations or do you build your characters around motivations of your chosing?

Motivation

During my forced time off from my rewrite, something occurred to me about a moment in my WiP2 that’s going to be a bit problematic. It’s one of those watershed moments where a character makes a choice that will determine the course his life will take. So it makes for excellent story.

Only… the motivation was off. Or more accurately, the perception of the motivation was off.

To my mind, characterization is the reason why a character is who he is. Motivation is the reason why a character does what he does.

Actually, it’s more the reason behind the reason. For example, commitment phobia might be a reason why a guy won’t marry, but the reaction that caused the phobia as a result of something in the past is the motivation. In the case above, distrust as a result of his wife cheating on him with his best man would be his motivation.

Characters can have more than one motivation, but most importantly, each motivation will have a significant effect on how the character reacts to others or on how he lives and sees life. For example, Mr. Commitment-Phobe might start distrusting women in general, and then struggle with the idea of marriage as he falls in love. But then, since he was betrayed, he’ll also very likely struggle to trust his love-interest around his friends or vice versa. 

It’s vitally important that the motivation is carried through the character as far as it can conceivably go, because if it doesn’t go all the way, the motivation will be seen as weak and it will impact on the story. If I stumbled over the above example in the story, I would think that his phobia was on over-reaction if he didn’t show at least some indication of it when his love interest is talking with his best friend. If this didn’t happen, it cheapens the situation and takes the depth out of the story.

Another important factor to consider: perception vs reality. What I mean with this is the reader’s perception based on the character’s actions vs. the actual reason behind the action as known to the author. It’s not that common that a character’s motivation is kept from the reader until the end of the story, since the conflict that comes as a result of character motivations can make for some wonderful story, because the journey of discovery of the character’s motivation makes for good reading. But not if the reader leaps to the wrong conclusion as to what motivates a character.

If the reader decides that a reader won’t marry because he’s selfish in some way, there’s a problem. Because whether or not this conclusion was wrong, it will affect how the reader will perceive the story’s events, as well as whether he/she will be able to stick through the story all the way to the big reveal.

The reader can be kept on the right track, though, through leaving clues to the motivation or by showing that the opposite of the wrong conclusion is true. For example, if there’s a chance of a reader thinking that Mr. Commitment-Phobe is nothing but a selfish bastard, show him at his most generous. Maybe let him take a kid under his wing. Something like that. Something that shows that not only is the guy generous, he’s only worried about committing to a woman. 

What about you? How do you handle motivation – especially for difficult characters?