Sunday, 1 November 2015

New fanfic!

I haven't been around much lately (those pesky medical exams etc), but I have been quietly writing in the background. So please allow to present a new addition to my fanfic page, where I delve into the world of Dragon Age: Origins.

Choices

Elissa Cousland knows the difficulty of the choices she’s made during her journey, but what happens when she can’t face her mistakes? Takes place during the Arl of Redcliffe/ Urn of Sacred Ashes quests.

Click here to check it out!




READ THE FIRST CHAPTER BELOW

The chill air of the Frostback Mountains was a welcome change after so long shut in Orzammar, and I took a breath to savour it. Not that it could cleanse the guilt that haunted me. I tried to focus on the snow-capped horizon, but my thoughts wouldn’t still. Once again I’d been thrown into a conflict not of my making, forced to pick sides I scarcely understood. And once again I was left with lingering doubts as to whether I’d made the right choice.

My eyes narrowed. Choice. How I’d come to loathe that word. It was ironic; I’d longed for choice when Duncan had dragged me from Highever, desperate to go back for Father and Mother. I’d longed for the choice to fight Howe, instead of being forced to become a Grey Warden. And there were times I still longed to choose to walk away from it all.

Yet now I’d gone from one extreme to the other. For with both the Circle and the Dwarves, I’d had to pick one path and forego another. Templars or mages; the castes or casteless; Harrowmont or Bhelan. Too busy bickering amongst themselves, I’d had to bring order to their chaos. To remind them that as they screamed and yelled and stamped their feet, the Blight swept the lands, ready to engulf Ferelden in darkness. And I was getting sick of…

“Hello, Ferelden to Elissa, is anyone home?”

I blinked, snapping my head up. Alastair was waiting before the mountain path, along with the others. He raised a concerned brow.

“Sorry.” I discarded my train of thought. “What is it?”

“We don’t mean to be too much trouble,” Morrigan drawled, folding her arms, “but we would like to know your intent, Warden. You have yet to declare our next destination.”

My face flushed. Guess I’d been too deep in thought to notice.

“Well, we can either try and track the Dalish elves, or go to Redcliffe,” I said, regaining composure. “Any preferences?”

“Redcliffe is nearer,” Alastair piped up, “and easier to find than the Dalish camp. We could be combing the Brecilian Forest for weeks otherwise.”

“I too would prefer a more comfortable exercise,” Zevran added, resting his hands behind his head.

“How unsurprising you’d wish for the simpler route,” Morrigan scoffed. “I recommend we seek the elves. T’would be a more fruitful venture. For one, we would gain eyes to check the Blight’s progress.”

“But if Arl Eamon is as ill as the rumours say, should we not go to confirm this?” Leliana asked. “If we are too late…”

“Then it will be futile to try and gain the approval of the Redcliffe army,” Morrigan retorted. “No doubt Loghain’s influence has taken hold there, and if the Arl cannot counter it, what chance do we have? His men will more than likely attack us on sight. But if we had the backing of another army, they would have to think twice before crossing us.”

“Who cares,” bellowed Oghren, taking a swig from his flask. “So long as there’s ale around I’m game for anything!”

“Indeed,” Wynne said quietly. Sten frowned, but remained silent. “The choice is up to you, Elissa.”

I clenched my teeth. Of course, it was always down to me.

“We’ll go to Redcliffe,” I said at last. Morrigan’s eyes flashed, but I ignored her. “The Dalish aren’t exactly on friendly terms with us, either. I’ll take my chances with the Arl’s soldiers.”

“Good. Seems some of us still have sense,” Alastair puffed out his chest. Morrigan rolled her eyes.

“Then let’s make a start while it’s still light,” Wynne said.

Alastair strode ahead, shooting Morrigan a triumphant glare. Morrigan gripped her staff tighter, her lip curled. I shook my head. Yet another tightrope I had to walk delicately. It was a wonder they hadn’t torn each other’s throats out. But despite Morrigan’s constant disdain, she had never betrayed my orders, so I could afford to ruffle her feathers now and then.

Besides, I had good reason to choose Redcliffe. Eamon’s knights, as far as Alastair had told me, were loyal and steadfast, and would not simply cow to Loghain’s rumour mongering. Nonetheless, many would be searching for the Sacred Ashes, so I had no idea how many remained around the village. I could only pray they would be willing to listen to a Warden.

“Something on your mind?”

I glanced to my left. Leliana was walking alongside me.

“You’ve been very quiet since we escaped the Deep Roads,” she said.

“You know I’m not one for many words,” I answered. Leliana smiled.

“Ah, but even for you this is a stretch,” she teased. “Besides, you always hold that furrowed look whenever you are troubled.” The heat returned to my cheeks. She always watched me so closely. “Has something upset you?”

I sighed. “It’s nothing I can change.”

“Maybe so, but dwelling on such things will not do you much good,” Leliana said. Her tone darkened. “I should know.”

“Look, it’s nothing, really,” I said. “I…I just get frustrated sometimes, that’s all.”

“With those two?” Leliana nodded towards Alastair and Morrigan, who continued to sling insults. “You wouldn’t be alone there.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“So what do you mean?”

I hesitated. Part of me wanted to reveal the truth, yet my wariness held me in check. It felt wrong to share my doubts so openly. But Leliana always had a patient ear, and I’d come to appreciate her counsel. Perhaps it would do no harm.

“I was never meant for this,” I said softly, in case the others overheard. “I was the younger Cousland, and a woman. Never meant to take over the family name, or the responsibility of Highever. I was never supposed to…to become a leader, to have others look to me for guidance. I just…” I shook my head. “I don’t know if what I’m doing is right.”

Leliana’s gaze softened.

“It is only natural to feel that way, especially given the burden placed on you,” she said at last. “But everything you’ve done so far has worked out. You restored the Circle and defeated the abominations, you destroyed the Anvil so it would take no more innocent lives, and appointed a ruler to the Dwarves. Where there was unrest, you brought stability, and you did not abuse your power to achieve such.” She touched my shoulder. “You’re a good person, Elissa, and it shows in the decisions you take.”

I nodded slowly.

“It’s one of the many reasons I admire you,” Leliana went on. “You are not afraid to stand for your convictions. I have seen many falter at much less.”

“You give me too much credit,” I replied.

“Of course,” Leliana smirked. “After all, you chose to bring me along, didn’t you?”

“I have yet to see how that proves me a wise decision-maker…hey!”
I barely finished my sentence before having to quickly side-step. The bard was still on target, and her elbow grazed my side. My foot slipped in the ice, and we almost thumped into a nearby tree.

“What in the Maker’s name are you two doing back there?” Wynne snapped. She shook her head. “I would expect this kind of behaviour from Alastair or Zevran, but not you, Warden.”

I cleared my throat, straightening my sword sheathes. She reminded me so much of Mother when she took that tone.

“My apologies, Wynne,” I said. “You are right, we should not tarry. Redcliffe won’t come to us any sooner.”

Wynne nodded, turning back to the road. Leliana giggled softly.

“I will repay you later, dear Sister,” I said, unable to stop my grin. “Do not think the Maker will save you.”

“I will accept any punishment, Warden,” Leliana conceded. “Anything is worth seeing your smile returned.”


The burning returned to my cheeks, and it had nothing to do with the cold.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Top 10 Medical Tropes that Wind Me Up

Health and disease play a major role in most fiction, whether it's violent trauma or a terminal diagnosis. Even if the show/ book/ film isn't primarily medically focused, sooner or later someone's going to break an arm, get shot or find out they've got a brain tumour.

However, since most writers are not medically trained, many tend to skip over research, and as such we have some well-embedded, if extremely false, tropes prevalent throughout our entertainment media. Most go unnoticed, but for doctors like me it can lead to a lot of eye rolling!

So here are the top 10 Medical Tropes that Wind Me Up (in no particular order):

10. The absent anaesthetist/ medical team



Whenever anyone needs some form of surgical intervention, the surgeon seems to also be the assistant, the anaesthetist, the scrub nurse and the operating department practitioner. The surgeon puts the patient under, does the job single handedly, and the result is always a miracle cure and speedy recovery, rather than the disastrous infection and bleeding rate and more than likely dead patient if this happened in the real world. No wonder surgeons used to think they were God...

9. Consultant Physician Surgeon Obstetric General Practitioner (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SurgeonsCanDoAutopsiesIfTheyWant)



Similar to the absent anaesthetist, this is the 'doctor/ healer' character who caters for the entirety of medicine and surgery. Broken bone? No problem. Childbirth? An expert. Ear ache? I can fix that. Need a hysterectomy? Sure! This one doctor has the specialist skills of twenty, she's your one-woman hospital, because come on, it's not like we have specialists for a reason. Your (fantasy) GP can sort it out.

8. Clean, Pretty, Reliable (CPR)
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CPRCleanPrettyReliable)



Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation is a key part of emergency first aid for a patient who's stopped breathing and has no pulse. Whether it's just the Basic Life Support (what non-medical people can be trained to do) or the Advanced Life Support (complete with ECG reading, IV drugs to give and the famous 4 H's and 4 T's), it's not surprising that it's featured a lot on media. It's pretty dramatic, and suspense sells, right?

Except on TV etc it's made as pleasant as possible. Whether it's the hero getting a chance to 'kiss' their lover who they haven't revealed their feelings to yet, or the extremely exaggerated success rate (up to 75% on TV, where in reality it's a lot lower, between 37-52% [source]).

CPR is also meant to be the definitive 'life saving' technique. And of course the patient can just get right back to whatever they were doing (we already established anaesthetists don't exist, so who needs ITU and post arrest support, eh?). Not to mention that survival to discharge rate in real life is as low as 11%...

7. One Dose Fits All/ Instant Sedation
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/InstantSedation)



Whether it's an assassin planting poison or a princess trying to knock out her guards so she can escape to freedom, whatever dose of sedative or chemical they choose, it's equally effection on all parties and within the same time frame. Never mind size, weight, gender, liver capacity and genetic metabolic processes. If only real medicine was as easy as 'take two and call me in the morning'...

6. Radiograph of Doom
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RadiographOfDoom)



So, we're in hospital, our character (with the Cough That Never Goes Away) has just had their first CT/ CAT scan...and the entire crowd of nurses, doctors, students and even the janitor can see it's clearly a T4N3M1 lung cancer.

Which in reality is a complete farce. While junior doctors and nurse practitioners are trained to read simple X-rays (as I've detailed in my post on medical imaging), and some subspecialties can interpret images directly (such as rheumatologists doing joint ultrasounds), more complex scans like ultrasound, CT and MRI need a radiologist's trained eye to find the subtle changes and give a formal report. Particularly staging scans, which look for spread of a tumour throughout the whole body (or in some cases where the primary tumour is, as a metastasis could have been picked up incidentally).

5. Blood From the Mouth (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BloodFromTheMouth)



Bleeding from the upper oesophagus/ stomach/ small intestine is a very common medical problem...and one the media love to use for ANY penetrating wound to the chest/ abdomen. Got shot or stabbed? Gotta have that FRESH blood pouring from the lips, so the audience knows it's a bad wound. Even if the shot is in the abdomen or no way near the chest.  Perhaps it's a spontaneous gum bleed triggered by the trauma.

4. Televisually Transmitted Disease
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TelevisuallyTransmittedDisease)



Let's be honest here; common things are common. As ridiculously obvious as this sounds, this also turns out to be pretty boring. I mean, who wants to watch about a COPD patient coming in with their eighth exacerbation this year, or the patient with lower back pain who just needs some extra pain killers? No no, that will not do!

So we end up seeing extremely rare conditions being diagnosed far more often than in real life. While this is (sort of, not really) acceptable in series like House which is all about rare diseases (or more often rare PRESENTATIONS of COMMON diseases), it gets really annoying seeing it all the time. That cough that's more than likely undiagnosed asthma just HAS to be cancer.

3. Worst Aid
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WorstAid)



Don't try this at home...no really, we mean it. These are the wild and wacky 'treatments' that seem to have no consequence when used in media. Just had a terrible car accident? Well let's just pull the victim out, and probably sever their spinal cord in the process. Got a sword through your arm? Just pull it out, you'll be fine, or more likely lose your entire blood supply in under a minute. Spent a few hours in a freezing river? A lovely hot bath will do...if you want to mess up your core temperature even more by causing redistribution of internal fluids.

There's no excuse, writers; do a little bit of research!

Check the link for plenty more examples!

2. Magical Defibrillation
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicalDefibrillator)



Oh no, that annoying 'beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep' is sounding on the monitor, there's no electrical response from the patient's heart, therefore we must...NOT shock!

Despite what TV will tell you, asystole (whether the heart stops beating altogether) is a NON-SHOCKABLE RHYTHM! This needs treatment with IV medication ASAP, as does PEA (pulseness electrical activity, where you see the 'normal' ECG trace but the patient lacks a pulse, which is the COMMONEST of in-hospital cardiac arrest rhythms).

On the other hand, pulseless ventricular tachycardia (where the bottom chambers of the heart beat themselves into oblivion and can't push any blood out, hence no pulse) or ventricular fibrillation (where the heart just flutters) ARE shockable rhythms, and patients can respond very well to this.

Thankfully the AEDs available to the public do not give bystanders the option to interpret the heart rhythm, and give direct instructions on when to shock and when not to shock. Imagine the chaos if that wasn't the case!

1. Magic Antidote/ Instacure
(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicAntidote)



Human physiology is complex, and even more complex is the pharmacology that goes with it (how medicines interact with our bodies). Why else does Big Pharma spend so much money on research and trials? It's not easy to find that 'silver bullet' that will help attack the disease but leave the rest of the body unharmed.


But nope, not on TV or in film. We don't need to be hindered by things like antibiotic resistance, side effects or allergic reactions; a dose of whatever it is always works, and it doesn't matter how long the poison/ whatever was in your system, you'll be cured of all complications as well. You don't even need a course, just a one off dose will do.


So those are my hang-ups with medicine in the media! Does anything wind you up? Let me know!

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
HarperCollins
Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play
iBooks
Kobo

Follow A.F.E. Smith on:


Thursday, 9 July 2015

Well-Written Characters (Part 4)

(Character sheet for Avatar Korra, from Legend of Korra, source)

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!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Azaria Locations: Terent

After a brief hiatus, here's another location from the kingdom of Azaria, where my Chronicles of Azaria are set. This is Terent, the biggest city in the north of the kingdom, and local residence of House Glenford. Situated beside the river of the same name, it's one of the more traditional cities, and a major trade hub linking Begara and Bane.




Terent by sam241 on DeviantArt 

Stock:


Thursday, 7 May 2015

Special Annoucement

Hey there, I'm interrupting my current series of blog postings for a special announcement!

I'll let Eliza tell you the news...


Saturday, 2 May 2015

Well-written Characters (Part Three)

(Character sheet for Avatar Korra, from Legend of Korra, source)

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.

So let's see who will fare in TV SHOWS/ ANIME!


Korra (Legend of Korra)




Personality: 5/5

There's a reason I've used a character sheet of Korra for this blog series ;)

Korra is brash, brave, talented and more than willing to settle matters with her fists rather than her diplomacy. She tackles problems head on, isn't shy to voice her feelings, and isn't happy when things don't work out. She can be irrational and reckless, caring and kind, badass and vulnerable- she really is a brilliant, multi-faceted female protagonist, and you really don't see many of these at all. Whether you related to these traits or not, she'll definitely catch your attention.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 5/5

These form the foundations for the 4-book series, as we watch Korra grow into her role as the Avatar. In the first book she's woefully naive thanks to her sheltered upbringing, prefers to solve her problems head-on, and can't stand that she can't learn airbending as easily as the other elements. She's impatient, hot-headed, doesn't think before she leaps. This lands her into trouble at times, such as when she tries to confront book 1's major villain alone and finds herself at his utter mercy, or when her feelings for Mako intervene when he's already in a relationship with Asami. She also butts heads with her mentor, Tenzin. She's always been so good at what she's learnt before, the concept of finding a new skill difficult to learn (in this case airbending) doesn't sit well with her at all. This carries on into the second book, where she becomes more attuned to the spiritual side of her bending and the legacy she's inherited.

And the show does everything it can to show the consequences of Korra's flaws, and how she develops and learns to work around them. This is most notably in book 3/4 with her PTSD arc, and it's just a joy to watch her learn to heal herself and come to terms with the trauma she suffered.

Relatability: 4/5

Personally I don't find Korra that relatable- I'm more into the reserved aloof characters (if my previous posts didn't make that too obvious)- but I can see her appeals to others. Especially important is that she's loud and brash and arrogant; traits you don't often see in female characters, especially lead ones. She breaks a lot of media stereotypes, and while by the end of book 4 some people have criticised her development arc as 'taming her', I think in general Korra ends up very well rounded.

Consistency: 3/5

Korra is generally very consistent even despite her major developments. As I said above, while some fans dislike how she wasn't as aggressive or passionate as she was initially, I think it just reflects how she's learnt to use that side of her as the situation calls for, rather than all the time. A great example is when she threatens her enemy's fiance in book 4 in an effort to hurt them, which isn't something your 'noble hero' would usually contemplate.

There's also some discrenpency between books 1 and 2 (where the lessons learnt from book 1 seem to have been forgotten), but that was hard to avoid, given that the show was only meant to be 1 book initially and then got expanded. Another one fans like to point out are the ending scenes of book 4, which doesn't seem to gel as well as the ending to previous seasons, but aside from these, Korra doesn't usually step out of character throughout the series.

Development: 5/5

Korra practically defines this! Her arc over the four books, with the occasional blips, is magnificent and a shining example of how a character should be written, male or female. She comes to appreciate and master the aspects of herself she initially thought to be weak and inferior, she pushes herself above and beyond her limits, and when she's broken she slowly rebuilds her shattered self image and becomes something more. You really couldn't ask for more.

Total: 22/25 (88%)

Korra easily passes!

Lina Inverse (Slayers)




Personality: 4/5

Lina is a powerful sorceress who loves to run around chasing bounty hunters to fill her own pockets with other people's plundered riches. She's certainly no Robin Hood and is more looking out for herself than others, but when it comes to world-threatening evil she'll step up when she needs to. She has a ferocious temper (particularly if you comment on certain aspects of her physique) and bottomless appetite, and nothing much fazes her (apart from her sister, Luna). She's also very inuitative and can pick up on seemingly non-existent cues. She definitely leaves a strong impression and is an extremely memorable character.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 3/5

Lina has plenty of flaws that make for interesting viewing. She can be rude, obnoxious, unreasonably angry over seemingly trivial things (leading to plenty of 'outbursts' and extensive collateral damage), she's extremely competitive and takes insults far too personally. However most of this is played for comedic value, and while it does affect certain aspects of plot it doesn't usually get in the way of final battles.

Relatability: 3/5

Lina is a loveable rogue and I can't help but admire her fiery temper and proficient magic use for her own gain. She's not out for glory or helping others; she just wants enough cash for her next (super-sized) meal. She does empathise with some of her enemies, and can also see the cracks in those who others see as 'saintly'. She still falls prey to her own temper and greed, though, which shows she's not some perfect goddess.

Consistency: 4/5

Lina's pretty consistent. Her temper never changes and she still gets riled over things she really shouldn't. And despite destroying evil forces at least six times over, she's still only out for treasure for herself. She very rarely acts out of character.

Development: 3/5

Alas, since Lina is so consistent, it leaves little room for much development. While she does learn more about her own powers and what she's capable of, she doesn't change how she treats her friends, and she still acts and behaves much the same way as she did before. So she loses points here.

Total: 16/25 (64%)

And Lina scrapes by too!

Sokka (Avatar: The Last Airbender)




Personality: 4/5

Sokka is the only non-bender (can't use an element) in the main group, but that doesn't stop him being a sarcastic, witty and (eventually) competent soldier. He's always full of quips and one liners, and he's not too bad in combat, either. He can be stubborn and brash at times, but he's also under-confident in his abilities as well, making for an interesting internal conflict. He prefers science to mysticism, making him somewhat of a black sheep in his world, too.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 4/5

Sokka's main flaws come from his immaturity. He doesn't see girls/ women as his equals, he's pretty sceptical and closed minded, and can be quite abrasive even to his own team mates. He's also not very skilled (at least initially), but each of these traits gets addressed as the show progresses.

Relatability: 3/5

Sokka's sarcasm and jokes always brighten up the mood of the show, and being a non-bender means he can be easier to relate to than the other members of Team Avatar as he represents the viewer's point of view (in a way). He's also often a victim of his own actions and he'll usually get his just rewards. He also learns a lot from his mistakes and is willing to change, which isn't something you see very often.

Consistency: 4/5

Sokka is generally consistent, with his actions and behaviour developing slowly as the show goes on. His reactions to similar circumstances do change as his experiences widen, but that is more a reflection of his character arc than acting out of character.

Development: 4/5

Despite being a secondary character Sokka gets a full development arc. At first he's pretty immature, commenting about how girls can't be fighters, but he's rapidly proven wrong and he changes his attitudes as a result. After facing loss and failure, he re-evaluates his strategies and priorities and continues to move forward. By the end of the show he's matured into a strong, responsible leader but without losing his sense of humour and easy-going nature.

Total: 19/25 (76%)

So Sokka passes too!

So it seems the winning streak continues! In the fourth and final part of this series, I'll be looking into film characters. Can we make it a perfect score?

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!