Monday, February 29, 2016

Beautiful People: February 2016 Edition

Joining February's Beautiful People linkup... on the last day of the month, but eh, whatever.  BP is one of my favorite writer linkups and I look forward to seeing what questions Sky and Cait have come up with each month.

I'll be doing two of the 6 sides of the love hexagon from the Fidelitas series.  This triangle developed in the first draft and everything else snowballed from there.

1. How did they first meet?
At a diplomatic party to which their parents had been invited.

2. What were their first impressions of each other?
Lirios thought she was shy.  She thought he was very friendly and wondered if he was going to be 'one of those annoying boys'.

3. How long have they been a couple?
They're not technically a couple... yet... but they've been friends since they were five and best friends since they were seven.  Practically speaking, they've been considered a couple since they were fourteen, and they're about twenty now- so six years.

4. How committed/loyal are they to each other?  Would they break up over a secret or a disagreement?  Could stress drive them apart?  Would they die for each other?
Their loyalty has been constant for over a decade and neither can imagine not being loyal to the other.  Her election has separated them to a degree but long-term, they'll still be close.  Stress is not likely to drive them apart and yes, either would very likely die for the other.

5. List 5 "food quirks" they know about each other.  (Ex: how they take their coffee, if they're allergic to something, etc... and feel free to mention other non-food quirks!)
Johari: hates her coffee black, is always eager to try new fruits, can smell cinnamon in anything, thinks raisins don't belong in cookies and won't eat snake meat under any circumstances.
Lirios: won't touch yellow tea, can't wake up without his coffee, does not like bananas, claims peas are 'the devil's candy' and rarely goes a day without eating at least one apple.

6. Does anyone disapprove of their relationship?
No.  In fact, most of the Court and the Councils actively approve of it.

7. What would be an ideal date?
Sightseeing on a foreign planet and then dancing, probably.

8. What are their personality dynamics?  Similar?  Contrasting?  Do they fight a lot or mesh perfectly?
They mesh pretty well.  She's the more far-thinking of the two, but he's the more tolerant in general.  She hates change, he's not fond of it either but doesn't fight it like she does.  Together they're not flamboyant, but they are an excellent team that is highly productive.  

9. What have been their best and worst moments together as a couple?
The best moment for both of them was their first day of college when they were explaining something to their classmates and talking for each other so fluidly that the professor held up his hands for silence, looked at them over his glasses and demanded to know if they could reach each other's minds.  Both answered, "Of course!" "Since when?" he continued.  "Since always," they replied.
For Lirios the worst moment was when he saw the news that his best friend had just been elected Crown Princess of his planet.
Worst for Johari was when she was told that she couldn't be the one to inform him of the event that would change her life forever and his, too.

10. Where do they see themselves and their relationship in the next few years?
Lirios sees himself becoming her right hand man and being able to continue their friendship and hopefully start a romance with her.
Johari isn't thinking that far ahead right now.  Prior to her election she saw herself becoming an ambassador side by side with Lirios.  Now, it's enough for her to make it through the next week without coming apart.

The ship that more than one beta reader boarded the moment the eyes of the characters met when they were introduced... and also the ship that 90% of said beta readers are still firmly sailing.  (My sister is the exception and she's officially neutral at the moment.  Also, I think my Mom is neutral.)
1. How did they first meet?
Alejan signed on to become one of her bodyguards, passed all of the tests with flying colors and was made Chief Bodyguard.

2. What were their first impressions of each other?
Johari's first impression of him was that he was a good leader and that he was the quintessential chief bodyguard.
He thought she was strong, but mysterious and blank.  He distinctly sensed a core of steel to her, and felt that she was worth protecting with his life.

3. How long have they been a couple?
Aahaha, they're not a couple, technically.  He's her bodyguard, sworn to love her but never speak of it; she's his Crown Princess, very likely to make a political marriage.  There is literally no hope for them to ever be a couple... at least not at this point.  *whistles*

4. How committed/loyal are they to each other?  Would they break up over a secret or a disagreement?  Could stress drive them apart?  Would they die for each other?
He's fanatically loyal to her and nothing is likely to damage that loyalty.  He's also sworn to die for her, so yes.
Do not say anything against him in Johari's hearing because she'll make sure you suffer for it.  Very few things could or would strain her relationship with him.  She'll probably never have a chance to die for him.

5. List 5 "food quirks" they know about each other.  (Ex: how they take their coffee, if they're allergic to something, etc... and feel free to mention other non-food quirks!)
He knows all of the abovementioned quirks that Lirios knows as well as the fact that she likes her breakfast to be fruit, sweet roles, and protein of some kind and that she can taste most sedatives, no matter how little is in the drink or food. 
She knows that he doesn't like spicy food, always has fruit snacks around, can rattle off the name of every variety of fruit and vegetable that is native to their planet, loves blueberries and won't touch green tomato products if he can do so politely.

6. Does anyone disapprove of their relationship?
Everyone on the planet would disapprove of their relationship if they were to figure out some way to start one.  One of the terms of his oath is that he not declare his love for her.  She wouldn't even consider a relationship with him... at this point.  It's literally illegal for both of them.

7. What would be an ideal date?
Hmmm... a hike, dinner by a waterfall and watching the stars afterwards.

8. What are their personality dynamics?  Similar?  Contrasting?  Do they fight a lot or mesh perfectly?
Both are logical thinkers, but also very willing to imagine possibilities and then research them.  He understands love far better than she does, but at the same time he's ruthless to anyone who would harm her mentally, emotionally or physically.  They mesh very well together and their strong dynamic is one of the binding forces between her and all of her Companions.

9. What have been their best and worst moments together as a couple?
So far, their best moment was when she acknowledged to him how much he was helping her transition.  Worst... well, it hasn't happened yet.  They haven't really even had a 'bad' moment yet, but it's coming.  Oh stars, is it ever coming.

10. Where do they see themselves and their relationship in the next few years?
He sees himself always at her side, protecting her, for the rest of her life.
She sees him in the same place, hardly even realizing herself just how much she needs him.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Love Shapes - Square, Hexagon or Decahedron?

I've been planning to write this post for many weeks and February seemed like the perfect month in which to finally do it.  More than once I have been asked about my tendency to write stories with 'massive love shapes' as my friend Kate terms them- meaning more than one loveline or a love triangle- and how I do it.

Romance is NOT the primary focus of any of my stories- politics, moral problems, ethic problems and adventure are.  I fought against writing romance for a few years before realizing how many layers romance adds to everything; besides the fact that it's just plain realistic.

I enjoy writing powerful female main characters and all three of my current series, plus at least two other books and one other series, feature such FMCs.  Power attracts, so it's logical to me to have multiple love lines for a powerful woman, but, I don't like writing love triangles for them because it's too limiting for the scope of things I prefer to write.  And it's cliche.  Every book and its sister has a triangle these days.  (Which does not mean I'm saying people should stop writing them.)  I will sometimes write love triangles for secondary and tertiary characters but I try to stay away from them for the MCs.  Human emotions are complicated things and none more so than love and loyalty.  My younger sister Erudessa's usual response to me having described a new plot point or loveline is, "You just HAVE to take already complicated things and make them even MORE complicated," followed by a sigh and an eye roll.  In addition to just feeling the story as it comes to me and writing it, there is a part of me that likes seeing just how complicated I can make the lives of my characters and still bring them through it all (hopefully) cohesively to a concise end, while telling the story I set out to tell in the beginning.  (Okay, okay, there miiiiight be a tiiiny bit of the INTJ mastermind mentality in there, too - loving to create situations and then just sit back and watch the reactions of the characters.)

In the case of most of my stories with multiple male romantic leads, each started out as a triangle or a square- three male leads and one female lead.  From there, depending on the story, it grew, adding sides until I ended up with a pentagon, hexagon, or even a decahedron.

 As the story takes shape in my head and I realize I have multiple love lines, to sort them out I start asking questions and analyzing characters and dynamics; specifically, the dynamic each has with the FMC and each has or will have with the other male leads.
  • Why are they attracted to the FMC?  Does it stay mere attraction or does it ripen into love?  Why or why not?
  • Is she or is she not attracted to him in return?  Does it ripen into love?  Why?
  • What is it about him that the other male leads don't have?
  • Why would it work/not work in the end for the FMC and him to be together?  (Obviously this will only have a concrete answer for those stories that end with the MCs alive.)
  • Is he friends or enemies with any of the other leads?

At some point, at least one more woman usually appears, complicating things still further and prompting questions such as:
  • How does she know this lead and why does she love him/is attracted to him?
  • Is he or is he not attracted to her in return?
  • What is her dynamic with the FMC?

Throughout the middle of the story, as the plotlines weave and interweave, the lovelines are sometimes the foreground and at other times the background of the plot.  I try to show all the facets of why and how each pairing could work or won't work, highlighted within important events and catalysts.  Often, the characters surprise me with some facets and I'm sitting there saying, "Oh botherATION, I've written myself into a mess and I'm not sure how to write myself out of it.  You weren't supposed to be so likeable together."

'Okay', you say, 'that's fine, you've told us how you set up the story and the lines you follow through the middle'... but then you echo my friend Kate's question: "How do you decide who ends up with whom in the end?"

Traditionally, first male leads win the girl and thus the others are- from a technical, linear standpoint- just complications.  However, as I believe I've stated once or twice before, I am a rule breaker.  Basically: do not expect anything in my stories to follow traditional plot types.  Things may work out the way you would expect based on the story so far... or they may not.

I don't write polyamory (though I do write harems), so in the end there is always a clear resolution to the shape, no matter how painful said end might be.  First of all, it depends on how the story has to end to complete the arc begun by the premise.  Sometimes, the politically correct match will carry the day.  Sometimes love will win.  In the case of love winning, the final decision always comes down to one thing- which pairing feels absolutely, without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt right.  Even though there are elements in each male character that match with the female character, only one (or maybe two) has the deep complete soul connection with her that means they match on every necessary level, including love.

So, there is no formula that I use to determine the end.  It's just 'instinct'.  I feel the story out as I go along and then write it.

At some point, I'll post about my individual stories/series that feature pentagons, hexagons and etc; discussing how each shape happened in that particular story but to go into those now would make this post way too long.

And for those of you who might be wondering, no, I do not write massive love shapes into every story I write. :D  For example, Sub Rosa- my one-third done 2014 NaNo novel- has one pairing.  One MC ship.  There isn't even a legitimate triangle.

Have any of you written more than two male leads with one (or two) female leads?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Literary Voids

In filling out January's Beautiful People tag, question #9 started me thinking again about a subject that's been on my mind for a few months: holes in our literary world.

9. Toni Morrison once said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what "holes" do you think need filling in the literary world?

My answer was:
I think there is a lack of diversity in the literary world.  As for books I'd like to see more of: more well written, clean, books dealing with tough issues and showing that even in the dark, there can be hope and light.  I'd also like to see more English language historical fiction about little known historical figures and Asian and Middle Eastern history.

I'd like to elaborate on that.

There are dozens of YA paranormal and dystopian books on the market, but most of them seem to be cliche-ridden fluff that teens gobble up. I'd like to see thought-provoking YA and New Adult paranormal and dystopian.  Dystopian that really makes me think about the world around us.  That traces lines about where we might be headed based on real world events.  Paranormal that digs into the origins of 'other-that-human' creatures/people and presents them with a fresh viewpoint.  I don't think such books have to be hugely long or heavy in style in order to handle these issues well.

As Faith also pointed out, there is a lack of cultural diversity in the English language literary world.  Historical fiction about American and European history is all over, naturally.  We speak English, thus it only makes sense that many HiFi books in our language deal with the English speaking world, or the rest of Europe- from which America's ancestors came.  I have no problem with this, but I'd also like to see more cultural diversity.  America is a melting pot; there are people here from every continent.  How about more HiFi about South America or Africa?  Or Asia?  Asia is a huge and varied continent, from the Middle East to the Orient to the Southeast to the frozen North- believe you me, there are a LOT of books one could write about it.

Even in the limited amount of English HiFi about Asia, there is a sad dearth of books about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history in particular.  We have some novels about Marco Polo and there are a few Oriental fiction novels (Lisa See and Pearl S Buck are two authors who spring to mind) but China has a recorded history that reaches back much farther than America and we in America have too few novels about it. 

Everyone knows about Joan of Arc, the warrior maid who saved France.  But how many know about Khutulun, a great great granddaughter of Genghis Khan and niece of Kublai Khan, a formidable warrior in her own right and a woman who said she would never marry unless a man could defeat her in wrestling?  Many men tried and failed and forfeited horses to her.  She amassed a herd of 10,000 horses this way.  (*cough* No, she's not a fascination of mine, why would anyone think that?)

Historical China was notoriously male-centric, but did you know that in the Mongol era, particularly the days of Genghis Khan, women were hugely influential and kept his empire together more than once?

You've heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but have you heard of Crown Prince Sohyeon of Joseon (Korea) in the 1600s, a learned and kind man who tried to further peace and knowledge in his kingdom but who was exiled by his father and then poisoned along with most of his family?

Alexander the Great is well known, but what about Akbar the Great- conqueror of much of India and beyond and foundational pillar of the Mughal dynasty in India?  The story behind the building of the Taj Mahal is well known, but there was far more to the Mughal court than just that story.

There are also many untapped periods of European history.  For example, I have yet to find a good HiFi series about Queen Margaret I of Denmark- the woman who united Scandinavia in the Kalmar Union and ruled it as queen regnant for twenty-two years.

I think there is also a huge drought of good historical fantasy in the world.  HiFy is my favorite genre because it combines my two favorite things- fantasy and history- but aside from the books that some of my friends write (which are great and need to be published pronto), I have a hard time finding good HiFy.  For example, how about someone writing a book featuring French Musketeers with the power of touch telepathy?

I personally think we need more good, original fantasy.  Pretty much anyone can write something with elves and humans, or dwarves or anything resembling Tolkien or Lewis.  With good reason these authors stand as the giants of clean modern fantasy.  But we don't need another Tolkien or Lewis.  We need individualism.  We need more ordinary lives being made special by the touch of 'magic' from a source where we'd hardly think to look.  Or more ordinary people being transported to another world where they're forced to use their wits to survive.  Not that I have anything against a person having special powers that have lain dormant- it's just that after the tenth such book without much plot, I tend to want to throw my Kindle against the wall.

Let's also have more unique fairy tale and classics rewrites.  So many times Cinderella has been retold in a fantasy or European historical style, and don't even get me started on the modern pseudo-'retellings' of this story.  Browse a list of Hallmark or Hallmark-type movies; you'll see 'a Cinderella story' everywhere in the descriptions.  There is nothing wrong with retelling fairytales in a traditional fantasy or European historical setting.  I enjoy this kind of book and have myself set several fairy tale retellings in a psuedo European world.  But, in addition to these, I'd like to encourage people to think outside the box a little more.  What about a Brazilian Snow White?   Or a Mongolian Snow Queen?  Or a Chinese Little Mermaid?  I recently read a Bollywood-style retelling of Beauty and the Beast and loved it and I'm hoping the author will go on to do more Bollywood fairy tale retellings.

As far as classics go, please stop rewriting Pride and Prejudice unless you're going to do something other than what amounts to nothing more or less than fan fiction.  Give us the story of Mary Bennet sure, but don't blatantly contradict the original P&P while you're at it.  Give us the diary of a minor character in P&P, but don't change half the story while you're at it.  And if you're going to write the story of Darcy and Elizabeth's children, would you mind thoroughly researching the historical time period before you do it?

I'd like to reiterate that this post is not aimed at any particular writer or writers.  I myself have lots of plans to tackle many of these holes.  I'm simply presenting some alternate viewpoints to those of you who may not have thought of them.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone can persuade Tong Hua to translate her novels into English, I'll be forever grateful to you.

What are holes do you see in our English language literary world?  Are there any of these holes that you have plans to work toward filling?