I’ll Fix It in Post

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“Fix it in post.” The most dreaded words on set?

Often when J and I are writing, we will borrow from the world of film the idea that we can fix what’s wrong in “post.” Of course, this is just our silly way of referring to revision, but I thought about the idea, and the trope, more seriously when I was working on my ill-fated NaNo novel. Granted, unlike a film, a novelist can always go back and “reshoot” (rewrite) a scene to get what she needs, but I think there’s something to be said for having the raw materials you need before you get to the revision process.

Now, I’ve never made an exact study of the numbers and percentages, but let’s say in a novel that has been properly outlined and researched ahead of time and is drafted thoughtfully, it will have 10-20% changed significantly in revision. When I start a novel knowing that eventuality is coming, that is something I can live with at this point, because I’ve written enough to appreciate that writing is rewriting. But then on a novel like The Queen’s Tower, my NaNo book from two years ago, I went in with a tenuous outline and characters I didn’t know especially well. I finished the first draft of that knowing I would be changing around 20-30% of what had been written, plus adding about 30% entirely new content. That’s pretty daunting, and probably why I still haven’t finished the novel.

And that brings us to this year’s NaNo novel, The Swift True Road. Not only did I not start with the level of detail to my outline I prefer, but I didn’t do as much character work as I would have liked, and being my first historical novel, I quickly realized I hadn’t done even close to enough research. Because it was NaNo, I kept plowing along, but around 35,000 words in, I realized I would be completely reworking at least 50% of what I had already written. Knowing I would be chucking half of what I was laboring so hard to write became discouraging to the point that I didn’t have the heart to continue writing the novel. It also seemed to be a supreme waste of time.

As J pointed out last week, I decided to set The Swift True Road aside, and I went to work on other projects to see me through the month of November, and make certain I still wrote 50,000 words for the month. At some point, I absolutely intend to return to The Swift True Road. I still think it’s a great idea for a book, a romance between two mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, but I’m not going to pick it back up again until I’m sure I can successfully draft a novel that will leave me with the pieces I need to polish a good story in post.

~S

The Precious Cinnamon Roll

 

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Too good, too pure.

Late summer is a good time for writing.  It’s incredibly hot here, and so we’ve been spending more time indoors lately, even though we have projects we really ought to be working on outdoors.  We’ve been putting decorative rocks and edging around the house, for example, and that’s sitting half-done.  And the newly planted grass in our lawn is long enough now that it really needs to be cut.  But, as I say, it’s too hot for that.  So we might as well stay inside with a cool drink and write, yes?  Yes.

S is finishing up Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg Omdahl mystery, set in our Myrciaverse.  Last night she finished up a chapter, and I think she’s going to try to write another one today.  Perhaps she’ll give an update on that sometime soon.

But anyway, the other day S and I were sitting around, discussing writing and characters (yes, we really do this), and we started talking about how to make a good character who is also a good person.  In other words, how do you make a character who is interesting and realistic, and yet is also virtuous?  It’s a question that interests us, because it seems like there’s a tendency on the part of many writers (I won’t name names) to assume that in order for a character to be interesting, the character has to have a dark side—a tendency to assume that the best way to make a character complex is to give him some sort of terrible moral flaw.

The topic came up because, in my latest novel, Joint Command, I managed to work in a cameo for one of our favorite characters from the Quartet.  We’ve mentioned this character before, when we were discussing our favorite fantasy characters, and we compared her to Neville Longbottom.  Neville doesn’t really have a moral flaw.  (I mean, who knows what he grows in the greenhouses, but what happens in Herbology stays in Herbology.)  As far as we ever see in the books, though, he’s a decent guy, and his flaw, if he has one, is that he’s a bit of a klutz at the beginning, and he’s really forgetful.  None of that is his fault, though.  And none of his problems really amount to a moral failing on his part.  In fact, insofar as his life has a dark side, it all comes from the actions of other people.  And he perseveres and puts up with it and eventually becomes an awesome hero.

That, I think, is the answer to the question we posed.  A virtuous character can be interesting, but he still has to have an arc.  He has to overcome something or achieve something, even if he’s a nice guy the whole time.

Our character, whose name is Tynble, has a similar arc to Neville’s.  Obviously, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers about exactly what happens to her, but I suppose I have to reveal that she does manage to live through all four books, since she’s in Joint Command, and that novel takes place about twelve years later.  To be honest, I mainly put her in as a surprise treat for S (who is the audience for whom all my books are written), though I do think her appearance in the book actually makes sense.

When I wrote her, I didn’t really give much thought to how her character might have changed in the intervening years.  She’s just as cheerful and happy and whimsical and fundamentally decent as she was before.  Perhaps that’s lazy writing on my part, but I like to think it isn’t.  It’s not that I think she hasn’t had misfortune and sadness in her life over the course of those twelve years.  But no matter what problems she might have had, she wouldn’t stop being who she fundamentally is.  I think it says something about a character that she stays good, no matter what.

As S and I were talking about her and Neville, we started thinking of other fictional characters we’ve loved who share that same kind of unshakeable decency.  Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter books, for example.  And we can’t forget Lucy Pevensie, our favorite fantasy character of all time.  And a few from outside our genre, like Richard Quinn in The Fountain Overflows, by Rebecca West—a book we read for S’s book club just recently.  S informs me that this type of character is known on Tumblr and Twitter as “a precious cinnamon roll, too good for this world, too pure.”  And what S and I have discovered is that apparently we like cinnamon rolls.

I suppose it’s a matter of balance.  There are plenty of dreadful people in the Harry Potter stories, and there are people, like Ron Weasley, for example, who are good, but occasionally do the wrong thing or act like jerks.  Likewise, Lucy’s shining light of goodness is balanced out by the much grayer morality of her brother Edmund or her cousin Eustace.  Cinnamon rolls are great, but I doubt you could make a meal out of them and nothing else.

J

Irredeemable by Choice

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Please allow him to introduce himself.

We’re still mulling over Season 3 of The Musketeers, and now that it’s available on Hulu here in our part of the world, we’ve started rewatching it. As S mentioned last week, one of the more controversial aspects of this final season is what happens with the character of Milady de Winter. If you haven’t seen Season 3 yet, consider yourself warned that SPOILERS FOLLOW.

The first problem that I see with how Milady’s story ends is that, from a certain point of view, it’s not really the end of her story at all. It’s the end of Queen Anne’s story. Anne has gone from being the sidelined, ignored queen to being the regent and de facto ruler of France. And Milady acts as the symbol of this. In season one, she worked for the Cardinal, who was the true power in the kingdom. At the end of season three, she’s working for Anne, which shows how the queen is now the one in control. It’s actually a neat way of showing the queen’s arc, but it doesn’t really have much to do with Milady’s arc, and so I can see how people might have found it unsatisfying.

The second problem is that, as S discussed last week, Milady didn’t get redemption, even though it seemed earlier as if she might have been heading in that direction. Coming to the end of Season 2, it certainly looked as if Milady was about to do a classic “Heel-Face Turn.” That is to say, she looked like she was about to go from being a bad guy to being a good guy. She helped the heroes beat the real villain, and she almost-but-not-quite ended up with the leading man.

But of course what happened to her in Season 3 was that she turned back to being a spy and an assassin, and she engaged in (or was forced into) what TV Tropes calls “Redemption Rejection.” This is when a villain has a chance to make a Heel-Face Turn, but instead decides to keep being a bad guy. The classic example of this, as cited on the TV Tropes page, and as noted above in our picture for the week, is Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost, who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.

A character doesn’t actually even have to be a traditional villain, though, in order to reject redemption. Another great example on the TV Tropes pages is Barney from How I Met Your Mother. S and I stopped watching that show a few episodes into Season 6, but we’d still get updates on the show from time to time from our online friends. One of them once summarized a then-current plot line on the show by saying that, “Barney grows a soul for the umpteenth time,” or words to that effect. Time and time again, Barney looked like he was going to be a decent person, but then he would decide to go back to being his old, legen…(wait for it)…darily charming, yet awful self.

This points to what I think is one of the usual causes of “Redemption Rejection”—namely, the need in many long-running series (both sitcoms and soaps) to “reset” the story and put the characters back the way they were. If Barney stops being a cad, we all feel good for him and cheer for about ten seconds, and then we realize that the show is now essentially over, since his caddishness is one of the primary sources of humor and dramatic tension on the show.

That’s one of the things that makes the decision to “reset” Milady to a villainess at the end seem so odd: there was no particular reason to do it. Yes, she needs to be a villainess (or at least a “frenemy”) for there to be tension with the other leads (especially Athos). But when the show ends, there’s no need for that anymore. Milady actually can have a happy ending, just like Porthos can be a general and Athos can decide to adopt a terrible new hairstyle. The fact that those things would have made the story problematic going forward doesn’t matter anymore, because the story is over.

It’s interesting to note that, from what I understand, How I Met Your Mother did essentially the same thing with Barney. (Admittedly, I’ve never watched the finale, and I probably never will; I’m just going off what I’ve read about it.) They had him return to his usual lechery at the end, instead of redeeming him. And from what I’ve read, there was a very similar outcry from fans. During the run of the show, fans reveled in his bad-boy antics, and they might have prayed, paraphrasing St. Augustine, “Lord, grant Barney Stinson chastity and continence, but not yet.” Once the show ended, though, it seems like fans want to believe that the bad boy settled down. And in a similar way, it looks like there are a number of Musketeers fans who wanted Milady to find happiness and some way of supporting herself other than knifing people in the dark.

J

Five Times Tropes Were Done Well, and One Time the Trope Wasn’t

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Not my edit of the Mother of the Year on Vikings, but I wish it were.

I just wrote my first Five Times fanfic, a structure popular in fanfic in which you have a character in 5 thematically connected scenarios and then a 6th scenario that’s somehow different. It was a fun experience, and between doing that and thinking about various tropes I’ve been running across lately in my viewing and reading, I thought this might be kind of fun. Or, you know, not. We’ll see!

 

Five Times Tropes Were Done Well
1. Spirited Young Lady in Pride and Prejudice
My book club just discussed this novel, and if there’s anything Jane Austen did better than anyone, it was write a spunky heroine. Elizabeth Bennet, in fact, is pretty much the foundational character of this trope. She takes crap from no one–not her mother, Mr. Darcy, or even Lady Catherine. Yet, she’s always a lady, her spirit undimmed.

2. Spared by the Adaptation on The Musketeers
In the Dumas novel The Three Musketeers, Milady de Winter kills Constance and is then executed for the crime. God bless the BBC for saving them both in the Season 1 finale. Milady had a gun to Constance’s head, and it sure looked as if this adaptation would be following Dumas’s playbook, but then Constance got away, and when push came to shove, Athos couldn’t kill his wife, instead allowing Milady to go anywhere but Paris. (And least until the following season!)

3. Battle Couple on Legend of the Seeker
We finished The Shannara Chronicles last night, and we really were not thrilled with it. Much of what doesn’t work about the show for us is the lack of chemistry between the three leads, who are on a great quest together, fighting for their lives. More than once, we thought about Richard and Kahlan on Legend of the Seeker and how they represent the right way to create a couple battling their way through this world while trying to save it. They have individual charisma and great chemistry together, and it’s a joy to be on the journey with them.

4. Action Mom on Vikings
If you can find me a mother on TV you’d be more afraid to piss off than Lagertha, please let me know. (Seriously, let me know. I’d want to watch that show.) Katheryn Winnick has such presence and physicality to pull off the roll of shieldmaiden that the show really hit the jackpot when they cast her. She’s just fantastic and deadly. And a good mom.

5. Lampshade Hanging on Community
There might not be another TV show in history that pulled off so many tropes so well. And the show wasn’t afraid to admit that. So, the show was going to do a Bottle Episode? Of course Abed had to point out that it was a Bottle Episode. And the tropes always became more fun when the show happily admitted to doing them

One Time the Trope Wasn’t
1. Stuffed into the Fridge on The 100
Some characters are created to die in order to serve the plot and motivate the main characters. It’s why there are red shirts, and that’s okay. But when The 100 created Gina this season just so they could kill her and make Bellamy feel bad about it, they made a mistake, but not simply because they used a trope. No, the mistake was that there were numerous less offensive and more original ways to motive Bellamy. A few eps after the fridging, Bellamy had a confrontation with Clarke in which he admitted that her actions at the end of the previous season motivated him. This current season opened with Bellamy training new recruits, people he felt responsibly for, all of whom would have made more meaningful red shirts than a girlfriend we didn’t really know. Heck, I even have a friend who pointed out a beloved pet would have meant more than the random girlfriend.

I have a feeling I haven’t finished thinking about tropes in the fiction I consume and write. Watch this space for more ideas as I have them.

~S