Sunday, November 26, 2017

Character Types: The Socially Awkward Cinnamon Roll

I admire characters who can spew forth witty dialogue, characters who are dashing and brave, but I’m still drawn to those who don’t know how to handle social interaction. As an introvert with a touch of social anxiety, I can totally relate. Seriously, I’d rather deal with a 2,000-pound horse, a dragon, or a bookshelf, than a 140-pound human being.

When it comes to a lot of socially awkward characters, I want to shout, “My people!” Then go stand by them awkwardly, pull out a book, and read in silence until I can work up the courage to make eye contact.

Why cinnamon roll, you might ask? For those unfamiliar with this term, such characters are precious and fun and must be protected at all cost.

Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit

Bilbo: *as four dwarves start rearranging his kitchen, his doorbell rings again* Oh no. No. There’s nobody home! Go away, and bother somebody else! There’re far too many dwarves in my dining room as it is. If this is some cluthead’s idea of a joke, I can only say, it is in VERY poor taste!
*He opens the door, and eight dwarves fall in a heap in front of him*
(The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

Bilbo Baggins is a homebody. He likes the comforts of a good book, his armchair, and his garden. But he’s also an adventurer who relishes the excitement of the road, which he gets from the Tookish side of his family. In many ways, I can relate. Like Bilbo, I enjoy a good cup of tea with some peace and quiet, and often it takes another person, not necessarily a party of dwarves, to drag me out of the house.

Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon

Gobber: See, now this right here is what I'm talkin’ about!
Hiccup: It, it... mild calibration issue, I...
Gobber: Don’t you... no, Hiccup! If you ever want to get out there to fight dragons, you need to stop all... this. *gestures to all of Hiccup*
Hiccup: But you just pointed to all of me!
Gobber: Yes! That’s it! Stop being all of you!
(How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup is awkward when it comes to conversations and handling himself. Yet he’s brilliant at engineering, having been an apprentice to a blacksmith. That and he’s empathetic, willing to take the time to understand dragons while everybody else just wants to kill them. He’s both relatable and admirable.

My sister and I recently re-watched the first movie, and I realized how resilient Hiccup is. How many characters could take such a slew of insults from friends and family and still want to save them? Then again, he is a Viking. They have stubbornness issues.

Auri from The Kingkiller Chronicles

“She felt the panic rising in her then. She knew. She knew how quickly things could break. You did the things you could. You tended to the world for the world’s sake. You hoped you would be safe. But still she knew. It would come crashing down and there was nothing you could do right. And yes. She knew she wasn’t right. She knew her everything canted wrong. She knew her head was all unkilter. She knew she wasn’t true inside. She knew.” 
(The Slow Regard of Silent Things)

Auri isn’t quite like the other characters in The Kingkiller Chronicles, as she lives underground and isolated from most of humanity. The protagonist of the main books, Kvothe, theorizes that she was a former student at the University and the stress drove her to madness, but her backstory isn’t definite. She’s a little eccentric but rather sweet, believing that many objects have their own personalities, thoughts, and place in the world.

Gil from Pandora Hearts

Now I’m really getting obscure! But I can’t help but mention one of my favorite characters from a graphic novel series I’ve gotten into lately. Gil likes his personal space, but he’s incredibly devoted to protecting his friends and his master, ensuring their safety and happiness. Unlike Hiccup, he knows how to carry himself, but he doesn’t know how to handle a bunch of girls fawning over him at a social event. It’s kind of adorable.

Other notable Socially Awkward Cinnamon Rolls include Newt Scamandar from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Barry Allen (The Flash) from Justice League, Caitlin from Mockingbird, Peter Parker from the Spider Man movies, and Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Let’s chat! Who’s your favorite Socially Awkward Cinnamon Roll? Did I leave any of their attributes out?


Similar posts: Character Types: The Bookworm, Christ Figures, and The Best-Friend-Turned-Evil-Villain

Film references: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, How to Train Your Dragon, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Justice League, the Spider Man movies, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Literary references: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles, and Jun Mochizuki’s Pandora Hearts

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Character Development vs. Character Roles

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have guessed I like to categorize things. If this is your first time here, surprise! I like to organize, to categorize, to figure out how things work. Such categories apply to character too. (This year I even started a collection of some of my favorite character types.)

The only problem with categorizing characters is that they’re supposed to be like people, and if you’ve ever met one, you may have discovered people are hard to put in a box. Trust me, I once tried to put my sister in a box, but she did not like that. I even hid in a box, but within the first ten seconds, I was getting awfully sweaty. Okay, so you can put an actual person in a box, but they don’t belong there. Moral of the story: you can’t always categorize characters.

Today, I’m here to write about the difference between developing a character and assigning them a role. 

I did something different when I plotted out my last novel. Instead of going with notecards to plot out my story—which is incredibly time consuming to say the least—I wrote out the plot in a notebook. I discovered the plot and the characters as I went along and because I was writing everything down instead of typing it up, I discovered my characters as they appeared in the story rather than throwing them in there.

This gave each character a little more freedom to be themselves. One character turned out to be a bookworm who lugged around a backpack full of books, and another turned out to be obsessed with coffee and music. Come to think of it, I don’t think I labeled any of my characters “villain”, and I definitely didn’t include “love interest” in my plotting like I usually do. That isn’t to say these types of characters didn’t appear in the story, but that I allowed them to establish their personalities before they revealed their roles. It was as much of a discovery process for me as it should be for readers.

Character Development: What is it, and why do writers need it?

          “Who are you?”
          “No one of consequence.”
          “I must know.”
          “Get used to disappointment.”
          (The Princess Bride)

Character development is the way writers make their characters seem more human. Writers give their characters dreams and aspirations, heartbreak and vices just like in real life. Typically, the best developed characters are the protagonists and their allies, but you’ll occasionally come across a well-developed villain.

Writers need character development because it helps readers connect to the story. If a character is poorly developed or “flat”, readers won’t care about them.
Have you ever connected with a piece of paper?

How about a paper airplane, each crease pressed by the fingers of a five-year-old who dreamed of flying?

Which example did you connect with? You can make people care about your story if you take the time to choose the right words.

There are many ways to get to know your characters, and they’re not unlike getting to know people. You have their appearance and general small talk questions—their name, hometown, age, etc. Then you have my personal favorites, the deeper questions—their philosophies, passions, and motivations.

Some people like to jot down the basics, and others like to interview their characters, asking them questions they can answer for themselves. Personally, I like to throw my characters into a situation and see how they react. Maybe they’ll freak out, maybe they’ll strike up a conversation, or maybe they’ll turn into a dragon and blast somebody with fire. It’s a tossup.

Character Roles: Again, what is it, and why use it?

“‘Inkheart.’ Fenoglio rubbed his aching back. ‘Its title is Inkheart because it’s about a man whose wicked heart is as black as ink, filled with darkness and evil. I still like the title.’” (Inkheart)

Most stories have a protagonist and an antagonist, at least when it comes to adventure stories. Identifying these characters typically isn’t too hard. But a well-developed character should transcend character roles and their stereotypes. Not all protagonists (the main character) are heroic, and not all antagonists are villainous.

The difficulty with categorization comes if one considers the adage “each character is the hero of their own story.” In other words, when writing characters, writers shouldn’t just treat one character like the love interest and another like the villain. If characters are to seem more human, they should be treated like people, not chess pieces. 

To Steal Walk in a Character’s Shoes

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” (Walk Two Moons)

Funny story, in my latest novel, I actually stole my main character’s shoes wrote a couple chapters where she had to go barefoot. Writers, even if your character has to go without shoes, put yourself in their place and try to understand their perspective. I’m not saying your protagonist has to think and act exactly like you, but it’s always interesting to get into the heads of your characters. Once you establish who your character is and what they think about, it’s a lot easier to write about them.

Who before what.

           “I’m Agatha Jordan.”
           “What does that mean? Who are you?”
          I’m the daughter of divorcees, a part-time mechanic, and a high school graduate who has no idea what to do with her life. Who am I? I don’t even know. But I’m not about to say that.
          (Just Breathe)

When I took journalism in college, they taught us when conducting an interview to focus on “The Five W’s and an H”, also known as who, what, when, where, why, and how. When it comes to developing your characters, whether or not you choose to conduct a character interview, make sure you establish who your character is before that what role the character plays. Just as the who comes before the what in the Five W’s and an H, so the development should come before assigned roles.

Give your characters a chance to be human before you try to shove them into a box. Focus on writing about people. Supersede stereotypes. And your characters just might surprise you and your readers.

Let’s chat! Which do you work on first, character development or character roles? How do you develop your characters? Do you interview them or just jot down the basics? Which is your favorite character type to write about?

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Literary references: William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Controversy in Fiction: Feminism and Female Characters

Welcome back to my mini-series, Controversy in Fiction. Each post can be read separately and in no particular order, as each one explores a different topic. This time last year, I posted on Feminism and Female Authors, and today, I’m here to continue the discussion, addressing issues that I didn’t review before.

Part 1 Summary:* Is feminism necessary within fiction? Some female authors still use pseudonyms today to help their books sell better (or to preserve their identities). Most classical writers are males, but most YA fiction today is written by women. Both genders fall into stereotypes. The world of fiction has come a long way over the centuries, progressing in equal representation between men and women.

But what is feminism today? And how does it apply to fiction, particularly to female characters?

* I would like to add to part 1: Female writers may be more numerous than they were in history, but they tend to receive more criticism than male authors. I follow lots of authors on Twitter, and one co-wrote a book with another author—one author was male, one female. They conducted an experiment where he took on her e-mails for a week and can confirm that all the negativity for the book was solely directed at the female writer. This bias needs to stop.

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. While I have done my best to avoid stereotypes, some of my points are generalizations and may not apply to every situation and person. I have done my best to write objectively and mean no offense.

What is feminism?

Feminism (noun): 1) the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. 2) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women. (

Going by the dictionary definition alone doesn’t sound like something so controversial. But words are often more than their mere definitions, so I’ll give a brief overview of the waves of feminism in the United States:

1st Wave Feminism (Late 1800s, Early 1900s)

Emphasis on empowering women in politics, particularly allowing women the right to vote (suffrage).

2nd Wave Feminism (1960s-1990s)

Emphasis on anti-sexualization of women and anti-“oppressive” female objects (e.g. bras).

3rd Wave Feminism (Mid-1990s-Present)

Emphasis on typical “feminine” beauty and intelligence. Draws from Postmodernism.

4th Wave Feminism (Present)

Mostly undefined but current transition from 3rd Wave. Emphasis on gender equality and inclusion of women and men.

Please take into consideration that the above summaries are greatly simplified. Any mistakes are my own. For further reading on the waves of feminism, check out Martha Rampton’s “Four Waves of Feminism”.

How does feminism apply to fiction?

There are many ways. In historical fiction, you might have female characters who dream of taking on jobs that are not considered feminine or who advocates for women’s rights. In science fiction, you might have a revolutionary or a warrior who fights alongside her brothers in arms.

Feminism in fiction can relate the progression of women’s rights in history and it can empower female readers today.

Of course, constantly reading stories with male-dominant societies can be annoying, even for feminists. Readers don’t just want stories about the way the world is, they also want stories about the way the world can be. That isn’t to say that all stories have to be utopias, but they don’t all have to reflect a patriarchal society. On the other hand, writers should consider that a matriarchal society is not simply replacing the male characters with female ones. 

What’s the big deal with the Strong Female Character trope?

If any of this sounds familiar, it is. I briefly touched on Strong Female Characters in my last post on feminism in fiction, but here I’m going to go more in depth.

One misconception about strong female characters is that they all have to be not just equal to men but better than them, in brains and physical strength. And in this sense, nothing about gender stereotypes has changed. Not really. Instead of the women being classified as weak, now men are classified as stupid.

This misconception is really annoying.

Not only is it hard to relate to a Strong Female Character with all the emotional range of a teaspoon, but it’s also hard to admire a girl who can only lead a revolution. Drat, you mean I have to be able to lead a revolution in order to be admirable? Forget that. I’m going back to my garden to read a book! Never mind that it’s freezing outside…

Females can be physically strong, yes, but not all Strong Female Characters have to be. Many types of strength exist—physical, mental, spiritual, you name it.

Some great examples of Strong Female Characters include but are not limited to Valka from Among the Red Stars, Maerad from The Books of Pellinor, basically any of the women in Code Name Verity, Lila Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic, Mimi from Full Cicada Moon, Amani from Rebel of the Sands, Dri from The Remnants trilogy, and Puck from The Scorpio Races.

Let’s chat! Where do you stand on feminism and fiction? Who’s your favorite strong female character? Do you think gender discrimination is a problem that still needs to be addressed in the publishing industry and the world of fiction?


Literary references: Gwen C. Katz’s Among the Red Stars, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon, Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands, Lisa T. Bergren’s The Remnants trilogy, and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Poem: Lost as a Leaf

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a loop? Like your routine stays the same day after day while everybody else seems to be passing you by? Maybe you’re a student who feels like you’ll never be done turning in homework. Maybe you have a job and life seems like it’s the same from one day to the next. 

Sometimes I get such feelings.

I can’t say my life has ever been normal let alone boring. I haven’t lived in the same house for more than three years. But I still find similar routines popping up while it seems like most of my friends are progressing. Friends of mine have gotten engaged. Others have gotten married. Some of my friends have even gotten their dream jobs. And here I am still in school.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining. It’s just the way my life is for now. I’m in that loop of uncertainty. I keep finding myself confronted by that pestering question “What happens next?” Perhaps it’s a question that will never leave me, and that’s all right. I’m learning to live with the uncertainty. The following poem is a mix of life’s uncertainty mixed with inspiration from autumn imagery.

Here’s to the soon-to-be and recent graduates looking for a job. Here’s to the high schoolers wondering whether or not they want to go to college. Here’s to those confronted with a career change. Here’s to the Lost.

If you find yourself asking “What Now?”, this poem is for you.

[Lost as a leaf]

Lost as a leaf in the rivulet
scattered from schools of branches—
first sprung from seeds of imagination,
then grown in the hills of the mind
until creativity drifts down
down to the stream,
caught in the current
spun round in the whirlpool,
in the gorge while the rest of the leaves
pass by—
in shades of orange,
in lights of gray—
from dust to dust,
lest you take hold,
shall fade away.


Let’s chat! What season inspires you the most? Do you ever find yourself facing uncertainties in your life? What kind?

Similar poems: Magpie, Pile of Words, and Shadows