Ship Happens

We’ve written before about shipping but it’s been on my mind again as we watch some really great new TV shows. Most recently we finished up both seasons of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire about the tech industry in Texas in the 1980s, and Manhattan, which follows the scientists at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project during WWII. Both shows have kicked my shipper’s heart into high gear, and as always, the writer in me asks, “Why?” So here’s a quick look at my 5 favorite ships on TV, why I like them, and what I can take away as a writer.

1) Manhattan: Charlie and Helen

Why I Ship Them: You know what’s even hotter than two beautiful people wanting each other? Two geniuses wanting in the other’s pants. Now, this ship poses a bit of a problem for me, in that I prefer not to ship adultery (Charlie is married), and yet I can’t help cheering on this nerdiest of nerd love. They are so obviously meant for each other.

What I’ve Learned from #Harlie: Nothing is as sexy as a meeting of the minds. The fact Charlie realizes he wants to rip Helen’s clothes off when she’s being her most brilliant is something I just love. As a writer, I don’t need to worry about describing just how tall and leggy my heroine is if I can show how much my hero loves a woman who can recite detailed plans from ancient battles.

2) Halt and Catch Fire: Joe McMillan and Cameron Howe

Credit to unknown creator

Credit to unknown creator

Why I Ship Them: There’s an immediate spark between Joe and Cameron, and yet they can never quite seem to sustain the fire. They eventually manage to have a relationship in Season 1, but it’s in Season 2 when they have broken up and spend little screen time together that the relationship becomes its most interesting. It’s their constant inability to make it work in Season 2 that gives them an epic quality, that sense they will never be quite rid of each other.

What I’ve Learned from #McHowe: If you use the time your characters spend together wisely, bringing them together just to rip them apart can be the best way to make the viewer/reader attached to your couple. It’s exactly what Margaret Mitchell figured out all those years ago in Gone with the Wind. Give your audience just enough to set their imagination going.

3) The Musketeers: Athos and Milady de Winter

My edit.

My edit.

Why I Ship Them: I feel like I might be going out on a limb here a little, since no ship works unless the actors involved have great chemistry, but Tom Burke and Maimie McCoy may have the best chemistry on the list. For those familiar with Dumas and other adaptations but not this one, the most unique choice the BBC has made is to keep Milady alive and haunting her very estranged husband. But any time these two are together, fireworks! Even though they are the only married couple on the list, they have by far the most dysfunctional relationship, and are worse for each other than any two people could possibly be. And yet, as Milady says to Athos, “I am bound to you.” There is no life for them together or apart. Their every scene is painful and sexy in equal measure.

What I’ve Learn from #Milathos: Take two dysfunctional people, put them together long enough to make them dependent on each other, and then rip them apart. The angst and the fire is unbeatable.

4) The Vampire Diaries/The Originals: Klaus and Caroline

Credit to unknown creator.

Credit to unknown creator.

Why I Ship Them: One of the best things about The Vampire Diaries is Candice Accola’s ability to have chemistry with everyone she’s on screen with. So why do I so specifically ship her with Joseph Morgan’s Klaus? Because when they were both together on TVD before Klaus spun off to head up The Originals, this pairing was the perfect execution of the old trope Good Girl tries to reform Bad Boy. Caroline in a lesser actress’s hands would be painfully good, and Klaus is the original vampire who could easily be an irredeemable villain if played by another actor. But these two pull it off. Heck, they’ve been on different shows for two seasons (save a very special appearance by Joseph Morgan on TVD), and they remain one of the most popular ships on TV.

What I’ve Learned from #Klaroline: You can rip a couple apart and have new plans for them, but that doesn’t mean your audience will care. Cammy has been a sad replacement for Caroline on The Originals, and as much as I’ve always enjoyed Caroline and Stefan together and separately, it’s no replacement for what the sweetest vampire girl in the world has with the psychopath vampire/werewolf hybrid bad boy.

5) The 100: Clarke and Finn (SPOILERS for anyone who hasn’t seen Season 2)

My edit.

My edit.

Why I Ship Them: Girl meets Boy. Girl hates Boy. Girl falls in love with Boy. Standard set up, but at the end of the day, execution is everything. Also, immediately following falls in love and having sex, they broke up and remained apart until Clarke literally had to kill Finn. I kept rooting for them to work out their problems right up until the moment Clarke stabbed Finn in the heart, and I suppose they did work their problems out in those final moments. I honestly believe under other circumstances, they could have been happy together, but other circumstances wouldn’t make terribly interesting TV.

What I Learned from #Flarke: Of the couples I’ve named, Flarke is possibly the least popular. Both characters had other romantic options, which a lot of fans preferred. And yet, love them together or not, they had a solid foundation on which to play out a final goodbye that moves any viewer who does not have a potato where his heart should be. And that’s great TV.



Welcome Back, Potter

Some thoughts on rereading the Harry Potter series, yet again.

Another school year is now upon us.

Another school year is now upon us.

My summer vacation is, sadly, over, and it’s time for me to go back to work.  Looking back now, I’m pretty pleased with the amount of writing I got done.  I’m not quite done with my reference work on religions, but I had only thought I was going to get halfway through, and I’ve finished about three and a half of the four major denominations.  The file is over 45,000 words now.

S, of course, continues her adventures with fanfic.  I’m sure she’ll have more to report about her experiences sooner or later.  I’ve been helping her by typing a little; her fans are eager for the next installment, and I know she doesn’t want to disappoint them.

Other than working on making up religions and typing and getting ready to go back to work, I’ve started rereading the Harry Potter books in the evenings.  Someday I’m sure S and I will do a formal “reread” of the series, with regular posts on what we’ve read and detailed comments.  But this is not that day.  I’m mainly just reading it because I have to get back onto a regular schedule after months of being able to stay up as late as I want, and reading physical books at night makes me tired.  Also, Harry Potter is fun.  I’ve been reading for a few days, and I’m a little over halfway through the fourth book.  Sometimes it takes me a while to fall asleep, okay?

So here are some things I’m noticing, as an amateur writer, as I go through the series this time:

1 The POV is trickier than I remembered.
When we think about the HP books, we tend to think of them as limited third person from Harry’s POV.  But they aren’t always.  And I’m not just talking about the first chapter of the first book, which is a sort of omniscient third person POV, or the first chapter of the fourth book, which is from the POV of the old caretaker who’s about to be murdered by Voldemort.  You may recall chapter 11 (“Quidditch”) of the first book, where Harry is playing Quidditch for Gryffindor for the first time, and someone (Quirrell/Voldemort, though we don’t know that at the time) is trying to knock him off his broom.  Hermione and Ron think it’s Snape, and they run to the other side of the stands and Hermione sets Snape’s robe on fire to distract him.  In the resulting commotion, Quirrell gets knocked over, thereby inadvertently saving Harry.  The interesting thing about this chapter is the way Rowling slides back and forth between Harry’s POV and the POV of his friends in the stands (especially Ron).  There is no break or line of asterisks to tell you that the POV is shifting.  One moment you’re up in the air with Harry, the next moment you’re down in the stands with Ron.  It’s not especially jarring, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that books for beginning writers tell you that you’re absolutely not supposed to do.

2 You actually can unsee the wrylies…mostly.
I read the books as they came out.  In the case of these first several books, that was when I was in grad school (where I met S, as it happens).  Back then, although I had studied a lot of literature, I hadn’t tried seriously to write any of my own, so I hadn’t read any books on how you’re “supposed” to write a novel.  That meant that, among other things, no one had told me how terribly, terribly bad adverbs are supposed to be.  Thanks to Rowling, though, everyone on earth has had a lesson on the horror of adverbs in articles like this one, and this one, and this one.  The thing is that, as I read these books late at night, I don’t really notice them.  Yes, a few of them stick out.  Take this one, for example, which adds a clunky note to one of my very favorite exchanges in the entire series:

     But Ron was staring at Hermione as though suddenly seeing her in a whole new light.  
    “Hermione, Neville’s right—you are a girl….”
    “Oh well spotted,” she said acidly. 

Is there any question at all, even in the mind of the youngest reader, as to the tone of voice in which Hermione would say, “Oh, well spotted”?  But by and large the “wrylies” just roll over me unnoticed.   This isn’t to say that I’m now going to have all my characters constantly saying things “coolly” and “sarcastically” and “irritably” all the time.  But it does make me suspect that a lot of people who complained about Rowling’s adverbs were writers and writing teachers who, thanks to reading a lot of crappy writing in their time, are hyper-vigilant for “problems” that ordinary readers just don’t see.  Also, as the writer of the blog at that second link suggests, the wrylies stand out much more when you’re either reading the book aloud (as S and I have done together) or listening to the audiobook (which S and I have also done together).  When you actually can hear someone read Hermione’s line in an acid tone, the adverb becomes redundant.

3 The stories take a while to get started.
In my U.S. hardback editions, the first book is 309 pages long.  Harry doesn’t even get to Hogwarts until page 111, more than a third of the way in.  Fighting the troll in the restroom (the event that makes Hermione friends with Harry and Ron, thereby finally bringing together the central trio of protagonists) doesn’t finish until page 179, well after the halfway point.  In book 4, they don’t get to Hogwarts until page 170, though that’s much earlier in the story, comparatively speaking, since that book is 734 pages long.  This isn’t a criticism, necessarily.  A lot of what Rowling does in those long opening sections is worldbuilding and setting up clues and red herrings for later in the story.  But it is somewhat at odds with the idea you need to start your story as late as possible (“in late, out early”) and have something exciting happen at the very beginning.  Let’s not forget how Rowling starts the whole series.  With the murder of Harry’s parents?  With Hagrid bringing Harry to live with his aunt and uncle?  No, actually.  That comes later in the first chapter, and as for the murder of Harry’s parents, we don’t get to see that.  We just get to listen to people standing around, talking about it sadly.  No, the story actually starts with a couple paragraphs about the Dursleys, explaining how boring they are.  It’s an amusing little opening, but one can’t help feeling that it’s not at all the way most books on writing a novel would advise to do it.

Anyway, those are the main thoughts I’ve been having on this particular read-through.  As I say, I’m sure someday S and I will do a true “reread” with more detailed comments.  And then you can hear all of S’s complaints about how Quidditch makes no sense as a sport (S played a lot of softball when she was younger, so she has far more experience with team sports than I do).  But for now, I’ve got more reading to do.


Who Knew Sex Could Be So Much Fun?

ao3 warning

Warning for Explicit fanfic at AO3.

Back when I wrote the #PelvicSorcery blog about what I was learning from reading smutty fanfic, J started teasing me, saying a lot of things that began with, “When you start writing fanfic….” I thought the notion ridiculous, but guess what? I’ve started writing smutty fanfic. I’m still dedicated to the Myrcia ‘verse, and in fact, I just finished my revision of Dock 29, the first Oleg Omdahl book about a world-weary detective living in Annenstruk, Myrcia’s southern neighbor. I often dislike what I write, and at best I can usually live with it, so know it means something when I say I kind of love Dock 29. In about a month, J and I are going to read through it, and I’ll probably make a few more changes before moving onto revisions of the second Oleg book, The Science of Fire. Hopefully I’ll finish that up before November, and I’ll be ready to write the third book, which is already outlined, for NaNoWriMo.

But in the meantime, yep, I’m writing smutty fanfic. I’ve even posted my first story to Archive of Our Own (AO3). Now, I am not going to link to the story or reveal the pen name I’m using for my fanfic. I don’t want anyone to think I’m embarrassed of my sexually explicit fanfic, but for the sake of keeping the JS Mawdsley brand about Fantasy, I think it’s best that my fanfic persona live her own separate life. However, that doesn’t mean JS Mawdsley can’t learn something from Anonymous’s experiences in fanfic.

1) Instant feedback is the best.
At AO3 readers can leave comments and Kudos, which is essentially a Like system. My first story hasn’t been up long, and yet it already has a fair few number of kudos, as well as some sincerely touching comments from people who enjoy the story. I’ve never written something that had this many readers or received this much feedback, and I have to say the ego boast has been fantastic. As I said earlier, I’m pretty hard on myself, so a positive response to this had been tremendously good for me.

2) Know what the reader wants.
Naturally, J and I have spent a lot of time over the years discussing the expectations of fantasy readers. And readers of other genres for that matter, including mystery readers when working on Oleg Omdahl. But there’s something great about writing smutty fanfic for having some really specific expectations and desires to shoot for. For instance, more than one reader has commented on a specific kink I included in my story, which only received as much focus as it did thanks to my beta readers encouraging me to play it up. As I’m working on my second story, it’s aimed at fanfic readers with a slightly different bent, so I am finding it a fun challenge to make certain I deliver on the promised kink of the story.

3) Writing is fun, dammit!
I haven’t had this much fun writing in years. It’s in large part the fanfic, but the Dock 29 revisions also went so well that they have much to do with my current good mood. I remember when J and I started writing, we didn’t care what eventually happened with our work, because it was something we did because we enjoyed it. Truth be told, I have disliked writing far more often than I’ve liked it for a couple years now, and I’ve been thinking about what J and I said back at the beginning—we’ll do this as long as it’s fun. Since it had stopped being fun, I’d seriously thought about packing it in more than once, but that isn’t the case anymore. In fact, you would have to pry my pen out of my cold dead hand. I’m having a helluva good time, and I’m going to keep writing to make myself happy, no matter what anyone might think of what I’ve chosen to write.



Getting Religion

After the service, be sure to join us for the covered-dish dinner!

After the service, be sure to join us for the covered-dish dinner!

S and I are back from Gen Con, which was loads of fun.  We attended a bunch of panel discussions on topics ranging from constructing magic systems to “What Editors Want.”  There were a couple of lectures, too, including a very entertaining one by Scott Lynch on writing realistic trauma and death in fantasy and sci-fi.

One of the panel discussions we went to was on inventing religions, which was very useful for me, since that’s what I’ve been doing since finishing The Path of the Son in the second week of July.  A few of our main cultures in the Myrciaverse practice different denominations of the same religion, and the conflict between these denominations is a major causus belli in the Quartet.  Here’s the thing, though: we’ve never spent much time actually nailing down the differences in church doctrine that separate these people.  So that’s what I’m working on.

Last year at Context, S and I picked up a book on worldbuilding called Eighth Day Genesis.  The chapter in there on religion is by Maurice Broaddus, and I highly recommend it as a starting point for anyone who is trying to figure out how to do a fictional religion right.  Sadly, even though he was at Gen Con this year, Maurice Broaddus wasn’t on the religion panel.  Maybe next time.

So here are a few things I’ve been trying to keep in mind, both from the book and from the panel discussion we attended, as I make up doctrines and ceremonies and ancient schisms:

1) Everyone is the hero of his own story.
As a general rule, both in religious and secular contexts, bad guys don’t know they’re the bad guys.  Even if a religion is “evil,” even if it’s headed up by horrible people who do horrible things, those people probably think they are the good guys.  They have to have some sort of motivation besides just making life miserable for the hero.  They’re just trying to make the world a better place, one human sacrifice at a time, and they can’t understand why the hero won’t just get with the program and join them.

2) Religion is part of your culture, not separate from it.
Religion affects how people see the world, so it’s important to think through the consequences of doctrine.  If you’ve grown up going to Sunday School, and you’ve been taught that X, Y, and Z are terrible, terrible sins, then that’s going to inform your reaction to X, Y, and Z for the entire rest of your life.  You’ll think they’re icky and wrong.  Or maybe, if you reject the faith you were brought up in, X, Y, and Z will seem especially tempting and exciting.  But in either case, you’ll never see those things the same way you would have without those Sunday School lessons.

3) What do your POV characters know?
Obviously it’s nice to have the whole religion planned out, but when writing a story, the important thing is to ask what the characters know.  If a POV character is, say, a priest or theologian, then he knows pretty much everything there is to know.  In the Quartet, some of our young POV characters go through a Confirmation-like process, where they have to memorize catechisms and things like that.  So they have a fairly good idea of the major doctrines.  But it wouldn’t be odd for them not to be aware of the full history.  And more importantly, they don’t really know all that much about the doctrines of the other denominations.  They just have a vague sense that those other people do things differently.

So, anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to.  I’m almost finished with the second of the four major denominations, but school will be starting up again in a couple weeks, so it might be a while until I get finished.