Fix 7: Inspired Naming

Sometimes when you make a character you’re making it for a certain parameter, like you need a Victorian Lord who trades magical creatures (Lord Jasper Sutherland, aka: the highly unresearched, but I don’t care.) Sometimes you see or read something that makes you go: “I have to fix that!” A lot of people will run to write a fanfiction to fix said problem, and sometimes you go and create a character to fill the void.

 

Anyone who has heard my rant on Aro from Twilight (which I will not repeat here because it’s very long and I get very mad) will contest this with me. My often mentioned ultimate Villain, Erin the Green was impossible to write until I finished reading the Twilight books. I was so angry at what Stephanie Meyers had reduced her main villain Aro (who was a genuinely good character) for the sake of not killing any of her character. The more I described him the more I came to realize how much what I was describing was Erin. Suddenly I could write her. She’d terrifying, but I suddenly understood her enough that I could write her. I’m still too timid to write her as she needs to be written, but I have hope that she will eventually get her own book.

 

I’m someone who reads a lot of Manga (Manwha as well), and one that I truly wish I could find English copies of is one by Chiho Saito (the creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena), called Bronze no Tenshi. This series is what originally got me interested in Alexander Pushkin, and through him the Decembriski and the Decembrist Revolt.  You don’t have to look it up, just know that I really love Russian History, specifically that point in time. If I was a Historian that’s what I would specialize in. All of this came about because of Chiho Saito’s historical romance manga… the problem? The real Alexander Pushkin looks nothing like the one in the Manga.

 

Now I love the real Pushkin up and down all over the place, but I wanted to create someone who actually fit the image in the Manga.  So for my own purposes I created my own Alexander Pushkin (who goes by Pushkin as I have like five other Alexander’s). My Pushkin is very little like the real one, except they are both very passionate men, and once they do get married they are hopelessly in love with their wives.  My Pushkin, unlike a revolutionary poet, is a General, and one of the top three tacticians in the demon race (yes, he’s a demon, roll with it). He’s also got a terrible reputation, one that he himself has made by his own actions and stupidity (which he will freely admit), and as such is only ever able to work in minor kingdoms.  

 

In my last posts I spoke about some new Roleplaying characters I created. One of them I talked about as having the copy-pasted back story of Othello, plus the loyalty and position of Taybur Sibigat from Tamora Peirce’s Trickster’s Queen (my all time favorite book). In doing so I ended up considering inspirations for characters. I’m a big proponent of not naming characters after people you know, but I’m also for naming characters after other characters and historical figures.

 

The Othello like character is Jimajen (the last name of the ruling family in the Trickster Series), Pushkin is clearly named for Alexander Pushkin (to the point that my Pushkin gets mad at the comparisons, because the real Pushkin was kind of ugly). I have a character named after the incredible badass from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Raven (Dmitri Ravinoff). I have two characters named after Taybur Sibigat, a spy named Taybur Dodeka (the last name being another from the book), and King Sibigat. I have two characters named after Jasper from Twilight (Lord Jasper Sutherland, and Jasper the self destructive model). I have one character named for Bob Hope. One for Hero from Much Ado About Nothing. One named for Sjakalen Kaizer from Kaizers Orchestra. 

 

Most of these characters are good characters. There’s nothing wrong with naming a character after another one, if the name doesn’t match up with the culture around it then you have an interesting thing to explain (Dmitri had this problem, and he’s much more interesting and fleshed out for it.)  Sometimes it can give you an interesting talking point. Pushkin’s wife (my friend’s character) often quotes Tyger, Tyger, (Pushkin is part tiger demon), which makes an amusing dialogue about Romantic poetry.  Sjakalen, besides having a ridiculously hard name to pronounce, now has connections to Scandinavia because of his name.

 

Here’s where the problem comes in: Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way. Besides the fact that I’m not even sure I got all the words in the right order, or if the “N” in Dark’ness should be capitalized after the apostrophe, or the millions of other problems with the name, it’s actually the last name that’s our current topic of discussion. Ebony (or Enoby, Enony, or really whatever) is the lead Mary-Suepreme of the painfully bad (and painfully funny,) “Harry Potter” “fan fiction” My Immortal.  This story is so bad that it’s famous, and possibly Troll-fiction. The prose is so purple it’s almost black, and where it’s not purple, it’s minimalistic to the point of not making sense. In the opening paragraph of incredible description the main character states her full name (which I’m not retyping for all the world), and finishes by saying that she’s not related to Gerard Way, but people say they look alike… Gerard Way is the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, something I didn’t know until reading that fic (now it’s burned into my memory for all eternity).

 

The problem with having the last name Way is not that the character has the name, but that the writer has to stop and mention that she’s not related to said real person. As I said, I had no idea who Gerard Way was until reading the name fifty-hundred times throughout the fic. Most of the times when you name a character after another character or a real person most people aren’t going to automatically know.  

 

The point of naming a character after something/someone is to give yourself a touchstone. It’s also a great way to force you to expand the character’s back story. If you have to have a character with an American name sat in a Japanese school, then explain why: Did her mother marry and American? Is she transferring from America? Does she have an American first name, and Japanese last name? Is that because her parents really like American culture? What problems come from this?

 

I have two characters who are American girls but have Japanese names. The first (Sakura) is because her mother really liked Japanese culture, and picked the name for her, and she doesn’t like it because no one pronounces it like how she wants, and it doesn’t fit. Her daughter is named Satori, because Sakura’s husband picked it after his wife.

 

You can be inspired by other characters, by their names, or personalities, but you need to be aware that when you’re creating your own character is needs to be your own character. Pushkin is named for a real person, but he’s also nothing like the real person, or the character in the Manga that his image is taken from.  Erin has the best parts of Aro, but she has so many of her own parts that the only thing the Aro parts did was make her suddenly writable. 

 

So here’s your homework: create a character, but let it be based on another character or person. I suggest picking a historical name (no Adolfs or Napoleons or Shakespeares, try poets or military figures because they aren’t as well known). If you’re going to base you character on another character then I suggest a Shakespeare (who was literally the master of this) character. If you use the name of a person/character, then don’t let your character have more than 3 traits similar to the original. If you base your character off another character they need a new name/location/time period. Use the same personality or backstory. Once you’ve done this, put your character into a location. Figure out how their name/back story affects them by being in a different place than the original. Figure out how the character’s personality is different and the same. If they have the same personality, then figure out what back story would make them have the same personality.

 

Remember that whatever character you make, though based on someone/thing else, is entirely yours, and you should treat it as such.

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Fix 5: Flash Characters

Readymade Villians, just add water!

 

While I haven’t specifically talked about different types of Sues, I suppose I should try today. I’ll be touching on the “Villian-Sue”. Now honestly, I haven’t seen a lot of these, because my villains were never supposed to be liked, not when I was in my Sue phase anyway. Now I have villains who range from being terrifying if attractive, to so likable you almost wish they could win but they’re wrong.  The last one involves an OC villain for a fanfiction, where I didn’t want anyone evil, just someone who feels his country will be wronged if the heir becomes he monarch, and is willing to do anything to stop that from happening. Ironically, the audience really loves the villain, and some of them really want him to win in the end.

 

Making characters is kind of my thing. Right now if I do any personal writing, it’s often little character sketches. Things without plot, simply describing a cool character idea I had.  It’s actually a good exercise to do for writing, because there’s no push to go anywhere, you’re simply laying out back story, and getting a feel for your character. The last time I did this I wrote about an atheist bounty hunter in the old west. He’s a fantastically interesting character, but I don’t know enough about westerns to really write things with him.

 

So, how do you write a good villain? Well, I can’t really tell you. The problem with Mary-Sue litmus tests is that they’re really only for identifying one type of character, and sometimes the character isn’t a Sue once they’re within the context of the story. Same thing with the Villain. If your villain is ridiculously powerful, but has something tragic happen to them so their destroying things is ‘explained away’, then you have a very common type of villain. These appear often in movies and books, and everywhere. What makes it interesting is if the hero’s journey include great struggle against the villain.

 

The other thing to consider about the above villain is that unless you’re doing a duel journey (the journey of the hero vs the journey of the villain) it’s hard for the villian’s tragic past to not seem… unnecessary. Remember this mantra “Less is more, less is more”. Hannibal Lector is far more threatening when you don’t know about his past. Same thing with Darth Vader. *spoiler for HP book 7 ending* Voldemort is less threatening when Harry verbally reduces him to that of man. *end spoiler* This is part of what’s wrong with the 7th movie, but I digress.

 

How does any of this pertain to the title? Well first off, characters get easier to make the more you make them. Your first character is often a Sue because you want so badly for people to love them and you spend so much time on them that you over burden them with things. I have characters that I’ve been working on for almost as long as I’ve had my Sue. One of them includes a character who I recently discovered had a mind that worked so fast that she often had trouble communicating. It’s a clear case of Blessed with Suck, but it also makes her interesting to write as she struggles to be understood. (It’s also an interesting variation on the Cassandra story, as my character may know something that could help, but she simply never speaks up because she’s so lost in thought that she forgets to say anything at all.)

 

This character I have just mentioned has taken years to perfect, and now she’s a very well formed character. You can work on a character for years, watch them grow and change within the confines of their original character. It’s a good thing. On the other hand, you don’t always have the time for those fantastically well formed characters. Save them for your magnum opus. Instead, when writing a book, or starting an RP, or something you often have a clear idea in mind, but no pre-formed character to fit the mold of the story.

 

I have a friend who I’ve been RPing with for about 3 years now. We know each other’s styles and characters very well. We ended a 2-year running RP that spanned about 2 hundred years before starting over with it because we go tired of dealing with demons and the characters formed for that world, a lot of whom were characters I’d had for many, many years.  We moved on to some other ideas, but we finally decided on things with political intrigue, like our first RP, but more normal. One of them is set with a basis for a book I’m writing, but set in the Victorian Era, instead of the present (which is a fantastic way for me to explore my world without having to taint the characters I already have).

 

For the plot there’s a witch, and a Lord who she serves. A main part of the plot up until now has just been their interaction (I don’t do RPs without a promise of a future romance, even if the romance is really screwed up). So far my main character (the Lord) has been the antagonist in the story… Lord Jasper Southerland, trader in magical creatures that are otherwise unknown to society (We’re knowingly playing fast and loose with history). Then along came Wilhelm, Wilhelm the Witch Breaker. A man who, like ‘the hero’ is on the outs of society because of his birth status (Jasper is probably a bastard, but his father acknowledged him as a legitimate son. Wilhelm is a confirmed bastard). At the same time, Jasper has more social connections, and his also physically stronger than Wilhelm. Wilhelm, though needing Jasper, hates him because he can’t use him.

 

All of Wilhelm’s back story, appearance, and personality came to me in a flash.  He’s perfectly wonderful for the story we have going, and he’s going to be a fantastic villain. A lot about writing is very much practice makes perfect… another lot of it is stealing strategically then being creative what you stole. Among the Preacher community the saying goes: “A good preacher steals parts of other sermons. A great preacher steals the whole thing outright.” Another thing to keep in mind is that Shakespeare, the God of Writing, never wrote and original play. All of his plays were based on other stories. Most of the characters based on other characters. To quote the bible: “”What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Nothing new exists anymore. It has been done. Well, what does that mean for the writer?

 

To continue with Christian type writers, on the same TV Tropes page I found the bible quote (I’m so too lazy to actually pull out my own bible and look it up when TV Tropes nicely did it for me.) I found this:

“…No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

—C. S. Lewis

 

Here’s an example from the 2nd RP I’m doing with my friend: For the RP I needed a character who is infinitely loyal to the Queen (I’m sure you’ve noticed I play all the male roles in these RPs by now). So I created Jimajen, if the name looks familiar it’s from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster series (of which the 2nd book is my favorite book.) The RP is about spies and political intrigue in a fictional, non-magical, medieval based world. The two sources I borrow the most from end up being Tamora Pierce (who corners the market on good fictional, magical, medieval based worlds) and Shakespeare (who’s Shakespeare).  For Jimajen I literally copy-pasted Othello’s back story, and then added Taybur Sibigat (Tamora Pierce)’s loyalty and position. Jim is the closest friend the Queen has, desperately loyal, and desperately in love with a woman who can (for personal and political reasons) never love him back. Instant character, new and interesting. I’ll probably never use him outside the RP, but Jimajen is a good character.

 

“But that’s a hero!” you say, “What about villains?”

 

It’s about the same actually. Wilhelm the Witch Breaker came from a concept I already had in the story (the Witch Breaker), combined with having just returned from seeing Much Ado about Nothing, and wanting a character like Don John, throw in the boyish good looks of Teaser from Anne Bishop’s Sebastian. Teaser is actually a good character, not a hero, but close, in his world. This is just to say that you can get things from everywhere.

 

Now unlike Jimajen, Wilhelm is a lot more his own person. He is somewhat like a couple of my other characters (including the terrifying one I keep talking about) in that he doesn’t see people as people, but toys he can play with or frogs he can dissect. This causes a lot of problems with Jasper because Wilhelm can’t see Jasper like that, and it really pisses him off *understatement*. Even though I said Wilhelm is his own person, I can easily trace his influences.

 

Jimajen, while being a lot more obvious about where I got his influences, in personality is a lot more original than Wilhelm. I’ve had characters that have similar personalities to Jimajen, but they were like Tset, the Cinderella-like half-breed son of the Tiger King. With Jimajen he is both hard and military, while sweet and strong for his queen. It makes him very believable. For me he is very original compared to my other types of characters.

 

To create a flash character you can’t simply just say: “I’m going to create a character!” It’s a much smarter idea to need the character for something, like a Roleplay. In the first book I wrote every single character was a flash character. This includes the narrator/main character.  All I had was the first line that popped in my head: “I killed myself”, from there I knew I was writing a ghost story told from the point of view of a ghost writing a blog. Everything else about that book came from simply filling in what I needed when I needed… and it surprisingly good.

 

You can create flash characters simply by doing the NaNoWriMo thing of just putting words on paper; but that doesn’t always turn out good product. Another way to create a good flash character is to create a character who fits a parameter. For Jasper I needed a man who was a lord and traded magical creatures. I thought he was going to be a jerk… I just didn’t realize how much until I started writing, or that he was essentially still a child in many ways.

 

Flash characters very rarely come out fully formed, but unlike other characters that you create and tinker with, all the tinkering comes in the writing process. With a normal character you create them to play with, and later write them down. You create a flash character while writing. Mary-Sues are often the characters you play with first. Now, the characters you play with will often end up being much more interesting, but they can also become over burdened with interesting.

 

If you know that you write Mary-Sues, it is you assignment to create a few flash characters for RPs or a fanfiction. Just start writing. You don’t have to show them to anyone, they just have to be. Remember that you won’t be completely original, and that’s fine. Take parts of a couple of random and non-relating characters, throw them together, give them a new name, and go.

 

So what about a flash villain? Well, honestly the best parts of villains is that you don’t know a lot about them. It’s sometimes hard to write a good villain if they exist first (although this is a good way to get either poor or great villains). Instead, start with your hero, then you can do two things 1) make the villain be someone who can stop the hero by being strong against the hero’s weaknesses. 2) make the villain a variation on the hero.

 

Type one is essentially an Iago, a person who is able to get the hero where it hurts. Iago is well trusted, but also manipulative. He’s able to get Othello thinking his wife is cheating on him. The character doesn’t have to be manipulative, in fact Iago is far and away the best villain ever written, so much so that I don’t suggest trying to write anything like him. It will pale in comparison. Ironically, the closet modern correlation is the Joker from The Dark Knight. This is ironic because the Joker is also our next example.

 

Type two makes me think of Batman and the Joker. In one of the Tim Burton Batmans, Batman (in human form) complements something in a woman’s home. Later the Joker breaks in and complements the exact same thing. Batman is a great hero because he’s only about two degrees away from the villains. The DK Joker is both a type one and two because he recognizes this matter of degrees, and his similarity to Batman (no sane man dresses in costume and beats people up). He also tries to poke Batman in his weaknesses to force him to admit the similarity.  Again, this is a once in a generation (or maybe a century) type character, don’t try to write it. If you do create the next Iago or Joker it’ll happen, but not if you try and force it.

 

So what do you? You have your hero, and you figure out what are his weaknesses. You either make a character who specifically poke those weaknesses (whether they mean to or not), or you create a character who is very similar to the hero, but just a little different. Wilhelm is a type two. He’s similar to Jasper, but he takes Jasper’s dislike of people and general meanness about ten steps farther.

 

Now, I suggest RPing to do this, because it’s a great way to get instant feedback and it’s okay to mess up. To do this I’d suggest trying to do more than the standard one-word-sums-it-up idea (Band, Highschool, Doctor, Slave, etc). I normally do one on ones, and really only romances, but I like epics a lot as well. So I’m going to list a few ideas I’ve tried before, and you can run with them as well.

 

  1. 1.       A writer has one (or more) of their characters come alive.  There’s a fun bit of meta with this, but I don’t like writing writers, it’s really uncomfortable for him.
  2. 2.       A bad man wishes on a star, and then the star falls and says she’s there to grant him all his wishes. This one I’m still doing. I saw it as someone else’s idea, but they were looking for a pure-hearted person to make the wish… which I think would be boring.
  3. 3.       A Cheerleader is secretly in love with a nerd.
  4. 4.       A Witch and Witch Hunter fall in love.
  5. 5.       A princess from an isolated country has to go on a quest with an outsider so she can save her father.

 

All of these are very random, just one I’ve done, or liked that. Start out with the hero, and then you can figure out the villain. Note that who I’d have as the villain will not necessarily be who you would have.  I listed heroes, but you need to write the villain as well, or at least an antagonist (the person trying to stop the action). It’s often hard to make the story do anything if you don’t have an antagonist (ironically).

 

So, go write and have fun!