Month: October 2012

Talking Characters With Month9Books Editor, Courtney Koschel

Today is Monday, and you know what that means? If you said time to talk characters with another special guest, then you get a gold star. Not real gold, but one of those shiny stickers your teacher used to give you in second grade. You’ve earned it. This is the last Monday in October and I have to admit, I’m kind of sad to see it come. Character month is drawing to a close. But don’t worry, we saved the best for last.

This past month we’ve gotten a glimpse at what writers hope to accomplish with their characters. We’ve established what can make characters stand out and keep readers interested. I thought it was just as important to see into the minds of a few literary professionals to help us unpublished writers get an idea of where we may be falling flat. Literary agents, editors, and other professionals have expertly trained eyes that can spot flat characters a mile away. Hopefully they can help us understand what doesn’t work as easily as what does work. That’s why I asked Month9Books editor, and all around fantastic person, Courtney Koschel to shine a light onto the subject of characters for us.

Getting to know Courtney Koschel. Courtney Koschel has been writing since she could hold a crayon. Her love for all things writing followed her to college where she obtained a B.A. in communications with a focus in print journalism. In the past seven years she has worked as a journalist, an editor, a technical writer, a technical editor, and a freelance editor. Her undying love for YA and MG fiction brought her to Month9Books, a publisher of speculative fiction for teens and tweens, where Courtney is a senior editor.

We’ve got questions. Courtney was brave enough to descend into the slush and give us some answers. Let’s get to it!

What, in your opinion, makes a memorable character?

I’m an empathetic person. Sometimes it sucks because I can become really emotionally invested in a character—if I care about them. Anyone who can make me laugh, cry, or cheer is a memorable character to me.

How important are physical traits, or quirks, in the creation process?

I think physical traits and quirks are important to a degree. The reader doesn’t need to know everything the writer knows about a character, but the writer needs to know the character inside and out. As far as how much to put in your manuscript, I think it’s a balance. You don’t want to give too much description because it can be distracting. But you want to give enough so the reader knows who the character is. The more a reader knows a character, the more they will care about said character. You want the reader to care. Also, make sure the descriptions are organic. Don’t have your first person character looking in a mirror describing how they look. Do you look in a mirror and think, “I brushed my chestnut colored hair out of my emerald green eyes.”? No. You don’t. Your character won’t either.

What is something writers should be mindful of when focusing on characterization?

Don’t simply have things happen to your character, instead, show your reader how your character reacts to the things that happen to them. A character should be active, but at the same time, the reader needs to be able to build the story through subtext. The action is what’s happening to the character. How the character chooses to act on the action is a reaction. Show that.

What are the most common mistakes you come across in requested materials?

The writer’s responsibility is huge. They have to set the tone of the novel and establish characterization immediately. The reader will follow a character who has a purpose. I often see a lack of character motivation.

Another big one is when the plot is too convenient. Always make sure your character is doing something that’s authentic to them, and don’t just put things in a story for the plot’s sake.

What type of characters are you drawn to?

I love strong characters. They can be the underdog, a kickass female, a band member, motorcycle rider, or the hottest cheerleader in school. As long as they are strong in their role, I’ll follow them wherever.

Do you feel “flat” characters are deal breakers?

Flat characters are definitely deal breakers. Use subtext to show the reader a character’s personality. This will have them popping off the page.

I’d like to thank Courtney for taking the time to explain some of the intricacies involved in character creation with us today. To say this post was helpful would be an understatement. It’s hard enough trying to get our characters to pop off the page and a little expert advice certainly helps. These are some great tips. You’re the best, Courtney. No, really, like a Karate Kid eighties montage, kind of best.

Want to know more about Month9Books?  Month9Books is currently open to submissions from agents and authors. They are looking for YA and MG speculative fiction. Authors without agents may pitch them on Facebook. You can read more about their guidelines here.

Thanks, once again, to Courtney, Month9Books, Tonia, Jae, Daphne, Victoria, and everyone else who made character month such an overwhelming success. I couldn’t have done it without any of you. Come back on Friday for the epic recap. I’ll even show you what I think my main character, Mitsuko, looks like. See you then!

Do you have a question about crafting characters for Courtney? Well, you’re in luck because she has agreed to spend some time answering questions throughout the day. Just post your questions in the comments and she’ll do her best to provide answers. I told you she was the best, didn’t I?

Talking Characters With Literary Agent Victoria Marini

Some of you are saying this isn’t that Flash Gordon post you promised us! No, it isn’t. When we started character month I had a few surprises planned. This was one of those surprises. Ms. Marini was kind enough to answer a few questions about characters for us, which is no small feat considering how busy she is. You have to admit she’s pretty awesome too. The needs of her clients, queries to answer, and manuscripts to read, and she still set aside some time for character month. You rock Victoria.

Getting to know Victoria Marini: From her official website: http://www.victoriamarini.com/ “I am an associate literary agent with the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency,and an assistant to the boss-ladies: Jane Gelfman, Deborah Schneider, and Heather Mitchell. Gelfman Schneider has been in business for over 30 years. We passionately represent a wide range of authors including American Academy of Arts, Edgar Awards and Pushcart Prize winners, as well as several New York Times bestselling authors. Click the link above to find out more about my awesome agency.

I am the newest (and shortest) member of the team, and I began taking on clients in 2010. Currently, I’m building my list and hungry for more.”

From the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency website: “Victoria began taking on clients in 2010, and she has begun to build her own client list which includes literary fiction, commercial fiction, pop-culture non-fiction, and young adult. She is very interested in acquiring engaging Literary fiction and mysteries / suspense, commercial women’s fiction (romantic suspense, sci-fi, fantasy), and Young Adult (contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller and horror ). Above all, she is looking for anything with an engaging voice, compelling narrative and authentic characters.”

Let’s get to the questions, shall we? Our thirst for character knowledge is never satiated.

What, in your opinion, makes a character great or memorable?

This is one of those je ne sais quoi things; there’s usually something indomitable in the spirit of a great character. I think great characters are multi-dimensional; they have many sides, behaviors, experiences, beliefs, opinions. They can not be described as an archetype or a caricature.

Can you tell us the most common character mistakes you come across in requested materials?

When the protagonists enemy has no motivation for being antagonistic, or a very shallow motivation.

What type of characters are you drawn to?

Flawed ones. I like characters who screw up a lot whether it’s because they make active mistakes during the course of the narrative, or they’re bad at communication, or they’re don’t listen to the needs of others.

Do you feel “flat” characters are deal breakers?

Absolutely. I don’t know anyone who would disagree with me, either.

If you could meet one character from a book, who would it be and why?

This is too difficult. Ummm, honestly? I suppose Sydney Carton from A TALE OF TWO CITIES because – while I’m not a Dickens fan – Sydney was the first “literary crush” I had. I suddenly realized it was possible to create a character so real that could actually like him. I don’t know that I still have a thing for him, but I’d be interested to explore the memory; like meeting an ex-boyfriend 10 years later and trying to figure out who you both were then. Oh wait, wait, also Miles from LOOKING FOR ALASKA. or  Mibbs Beaumont from SAVVY. I told you this was a difficult question.

I’d like to thank Victoria for stopping by and sharing her thoughts on characters. I really enjoyed her answers, especially to which character she’d like to meet. And I love the phrase “literary crush”. I’ll have to think about mine. If anyone was wondering, Victoria is a fabulous agent who always makes time for her clients and an all around good person who should be at the top of your query list. She’s definitely an agent to watch. I’ll see everyone Monday when we’ll have another special guest talking characters with us. You guys are so lucky.

Where to find Victoria: Twitter, blog (you’re going to follow her, right?), official website, agency website

What Victoria wants in submissions.  “Bottom Line: I’m looking for a fantastic idea (the kind where you go “Oh My Goodness, what a GREAT premise!) and the voice, character, story, and  world-building to back it up.” Before you hit the send button, make sure you know what she’s looking for. A good place to start is here. Gelfman Schneider submission guidelines can be found here.

Anyone thinking of querying Ms. Marini (and why wouldn’t you?) should pay attention to what she likes and doesn’t like in her characters. For the rest of us, we get a glimpse into the mind of what a literary agent is looking for as she reads queries or requested materials. This is what she does every day, all day. Keep in mind each agent will have different tastes and needs to fill in their list of clients. But a little knowledge never hurt anybody. Right? 😉 Good luck!

 

In Character With Daphne Shadows

Where has October gone? Only one more Monday left and then November will be on us like a hungry relative on the last turkey leg. At least there’ll be pumpkin pie. Mmm…pumpkin pie. Anyways, I’m glad you’re here. Today we go in character with another wonderful writer, the mysterious and always elusive, Daphne Shadows. Let’s get right to the questions, shall we?

Why don’t we start with a little bit about your WIP and how it came about?

Human or Hidden is a fantasy novel, sub-genres paranormal and horror. I could yammer on about all that technical stuff or just tell you what it boils down to. Or who to be precise – the crazy chick. Blair is a soul eater with amnesia, anger issues, bloody clothing, and chains; or at least that’s how she wakes up in the forest, just outside the Cursed town she’ll now call home. Upon arrival, she both frees the townspeople from an ancient evil and releases the savage sickness and insanity on them that follows the ancient creature’s death in one fell swoop. Not the best way to make allies, especially when they’re not all human, but of the Hidden.

As to how “Human or Hidden” came about, well… that’s actually kind of messy. First, two things happened at the same time. ONE – I decided/already knew I wanted a wicked female protagonist that had amnesia that discovers she’s a soul eater by accident. And TWO – I had a dream about a mysterious, creepy, and intriguing creature and its entire backstory. Ironically, I won’t be able to write about this particular creature until a few novels down the road. It’ll be quite the revelation at that point though. Cue evil, maniacal laugh. THIRD – After those two things hit me, came Blair’s entire backstory, tied in with a huge subject I’ve always been interested in. It wasn’t until after these three things that I even considered what Novel #1 would be about in deep detail. I wrote draft one and instantly scrapped 80% of the plot. And finally – finally – I found Blair’s real story. And here we are.

What, in your opinion, makes a memorable character?

I suppose there are only three reasons I remember a character well after reading about them. ONE – I fell absolutely in love with the character. TWO – I couldn’t stand the character to the point that I couldn’t think of enough ways to jump in the book and kill them. And THREE – I was intrigued by the character, for one reason or another.

For me, it all boils down to emotion. That spark. Is this character real? Did they make me feel something raw and genuine? Were they consistently this person that radiates from that spark inside? Or were they just a tool used to get the author’s story put onto paper the way they wanted it? If the latter, said character won’t be memorable to me. They have to burn with the passion that consumes them. Or they shouldn’t have a story written about them. Duh.

What makes your main character unique?

Blair is a crazy angry, brain damaged soul eater who has no idea what’s going on, who she is, or why everyone’s pissed off at her. What more can I say?

On a more serious note, Blair is Blair. She’s got this cesspool of anger and this feeling that injustice upon injustice was done to her and is trying to reclaim her, but she doesn’t let that stop her or make her into the monster she knows she was meant to become. Blair is stubborn and refuses to be held accountable for what’s not her fault. She outright goes against whatever she doesn’t like and doesn’t take any grief in the process. She has such strength yet is so vulnerable and it all mixes together to form a very strange young woman who really doesn’t know anything about herself but is fighting tooth and nail to remedy that without getting too many people involved.

As far as what she is goes, she’s a creature not used very often and I’ve loved the ability to exploit that. There’s very little in the way of soul eater mythology and very few opinions on the matter. Which is really going to piss Blair off.

Who, or what, served as the inspiration behind your main character?

Oh Jeeze. Probably my own issues and twisted imagination combining to create a woman who wouldn’t shut up once she appeared. What pushed the envelope and shoved her into my current vision of what to write was the combination of a creature I really wanted to write about, a scenario I couldn’t resist, and my wonderings on what I should do with all my anger over injustices.

I wanted to give a wounded animal strength and see what happened. I got Blair.

How important are physical traits, or quirks, in the creation process?

As equally important as personality and backstory. What my character embodies should show up in their physical appearance. I get each character’s appearance and who they are at the same time. I have to have a mental picture of them or it’s hard for me to hold onto who that person is as I move forward with their story.

How much of yourself, if any, is in your main character?

My best guess would be Blair’s anger and identity issues. Neither to the extreme Blair suffers. Thank heaven! We also share our dislike of telling others about ourselves. Our personal lives are our own and most people only try to use it against you later. We both figured that out at a young age. But at the same time, there are a lot of differences between Blair and myself. She feels like a separate entity and our differences make our similarities pale in comparison. Oh – and we’re both dodgy. We don’t always give straight answers to questions asked of us.

How does your main character change by the end of their journey?

Nowhere near the end of her journey – but by the end of this first novel, Blair has found a release, a way of translating what could be lethal into something positive. It’s really cool, what she does. I envy her for that. She’s still crazy and she’s still got issues but she’s okay with that by the end of Human or Hidden. She’s ready for whatever comes next. Or at least, that’s what she’s thinking. *evil grin*

She’s also acquired something she needed more than she knew, yet something she never imagined she’d be able to call hers. This is going to give her a different kind of stability from within. But I don’t even know how that’s going to play out yet. Blair hasn’t let me in on anything about Book 2 yet. And yes, that was a very vague answer but hey! I’m not going to give away the exact ending.

What can we expect from your main character in the future? Will we see more of them or is their story finished?

Definitely not finished. Blair’s past has only found her by the end of Book 1. She has much more to show us now that she’ll have her bearings. Blair has morphed into this huge chunk of my brain. It’s labeled on MRI scans, I swear!

Name a character who most closely resembles your main character and tell us why?

Dory (Dorina Basarab) of the “Midnight’s Daughter Series” by Karen Chance. Dory is the only character in my bookshelf that reminds me of Blair. I think the base reason for this is because Dory has major issues yet she isn’t psycho depressing or gloomy all the time – something I came into writing Blair dead set on not doing either. Both Dory and Blair are dark, but that’s not all they are. Another thing they hold in common is an intense anger that lurks inside them; one they have to fight to keep from taking over their lives. They’re both a bit crazy and they end up fighting to save people who hate their guts half the time but they do it anyway. Also, they both have short hair (I just realized this).

How would your main character respond if they knew this post had been written about them?

“All. Of. This. And you’re not going to tell me what’s coming now?”

Yeah… when she get’s quiet you’re screwed. Also, I hope no one liked that computer desk much.

Everyone knows how much I love music. Can you share a song which you feel best represents Blair, or a song you listened to as you wrote about Blair?

The Wolf by Fever Ray

I’d like to give Daphne a huge thank-you for dipping her toe in the slush with us today, maybe even a hug and some of that Choxie chocolate she loves so much. Blair too, even though she smashed my computer desk. Isn’t it fun to see how different writers approach their characters? I can’t wait to see where Human or Hidden takes readers. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let all of you know the juicy details as soon as they become available. If we’re lucky Daphne will come back and tell us the good news herself! The door is always open for you, my friend. Please stop by and check out her blog or any of the other places she lurks.

Author Bio: Daphne Shadows wrote a semi-psychotic book in the second grade and was instantly a writing obsessed crazy person (though that first book went missing under suspicious circumstances long ago). She grew up surrounded by everything fantasy – from TV shows to books to strange music to crazy relatives – and that’s what she loves to write to this day. Vampires and werewolves were her first guides through the paranormal, horror infested corridors of her mind. Things only got stranger from there. You can find Daphne on her blog (daphneshadows.wordpress.com), on Twitter @DaphneShadows, or over at WANAtribe. She plays favorites with her blog.

Characters We Love: Hellboy

I was thinking about which movie character to dissect next when I remembered Jae’s love of The Avengers movie, Iron Man in particular. So I picked up my copy and saw that some critic claimed it to be the greatest super hero movie of all time. That got me thinking about what other movies had been made from comic books. Batman and Blade crossed my mind, but then I remembered Hellboy.

I like Hellboy for many different reasons. One of those reasons being the Guillermo Del Toro, who happens to be one of my favorite directors. But enough about directors and super heroes. Let’s talk about Hellboy.

The film opens with a man asking, “What makes a man, a man? Is it his origins, the way things start? Or is it something else, something hard to describe?” If you thought you were in for a few hours of mindless action, this should help change your mind. We don’t even see Hellboy until twenty five minutes into the movie.

When we do get to see him, we immediately learn he’s a slob. His room is littered with empty beer bottles, empty food dishes, and stray cats. Then there’s his wall of televisions which he uses to watch news stories about himself. As agent Meyers learns about Hellboy, the audience also learns he is fed six times a day, files his horns to look more human, smokes cigars, love Baby Ruth candy bars, and is having problems with his father. We’re given a lot of information in a few minutes.

We learn Hellboy wishes he looked more human. His horns are a touchy subject, so he files them down. Hellboy doesn’t think of himself as anything but human, even though he obviously isn’t. Why wouldn’t he? His father raised him as a normal child.

Hellboy has a job, family, friends, and responsibilities like any other person. He works for the B.P.R.D., or Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. I laugh every time I see their headquarters in a waste management facility in Newark, NJ. I’ve been to Newark many times and this always tickles me. Hellboy is the first person they call when something out of the ordinary happens. You know, like monsters or the occult pop up. He works with a team of FBI agents and Abe, a blue amphibious creature with psychic abilities. Hellboy may have a bit of an attitude, but he’s the first person to stand up for the people he cares about.

Even though he loves his father, Hellboy is willing to risk that relationship for Liz, a woman who can manipulate fire, and fellow freak. Hellboy later tells Liz he’ll never give up on her, which explains why he breaks out of the B.P.R.D. twice to check on her. The villain also uses Liz to get to Hellboy.

Hellboy may look like a demon, but he’s really just an average joe at heart. He thinks of himself as human even though he knows he’ll never fit in and society won’t accept him. His boss thinks he’s a monster. Part of the reason Hellboy wants to be discovered by the public is so they’ll maybe accept him. Hellboy has insecurities just like any of us.

This movie doesn’t start off by immediately establishing Hellboy’s character. Instead the audience is immersed in Hellboy’s world and origins. In order to understand Hellboy, we must first understand where he came from. But the writer/director does an excellent job of showing us all of Hellboy’s layers with everything he does.

As the movie ends, we’re left with the same question: What makes a man, a man? This time we’re given an answer: It’s the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.

Hellboy could have become the demon he looks like, but everything inside of him is human. Instead of using his powers for evil, he decides to use them for good. He remembers his father’s love and all of the people counting on him. It was his choice to be something more than what he appeared to be. We all have that choice to make. Splendid writing makes Hellboy one of the best super hero movies ever made.

What can we learn from Hellboy? Two words: internal conflict. This film does an excellent job establishing Hellboy’s inner conflict and showing how it affects him. Writers should take note of this and try to incorporate some sort of internal conflict into our main character. Hellboy loves his father, but he also loves Liz. He disobeys his father to break out and see Liz when his father is murdered. Hellboy feels guilty for not being there. He is so saddened that he doesn’t speak for three days. Hellboy has more bouts with internal conflict too. His identity crisis being another. We also notice Hellboy has a multitude of layers like most other great characters. I hope we’re noticing a trend here. I know I have.

Have any of you sat down and dissected characters from movies, or television? What have you found? Who would you like me break down next?

In Character With Jae Dansie

Monday is here…again. I can hear the moans and groans as many of us return to another fun filled work week. Rub the sleep from your eyes and prepare to be dazzled by another guest writer as we step in character with them. This week we have the always adorable YA author Jae Dansie. You guys are in for a treat. Sit back, relax, and sip your favorite beverage because we’re about to get started.

Why don’t we start with a little bit about your WIP and how it came about?

A lot of my inspiration comes from dreams.  It’s usually just one little scene, like a small spark that starts quite a fire.  In one particular dream, I saw all the details of what my protagonist looked like and during the dream his house was raided by thieves.  It grew from there into this idea involving demons, half-demons and angels.  But as fate would have it, that original spark of a scene is no longer in my current WIP.  I guess that’s the way stories evolve sometimes.

What, in your opinion, makes a memorable character?

For me, memorable characters are flawed.  I forget too easily the perfect characters, I like to see them struggle through something.  I especially like those characters who are able to overcome some of their flaws.  Quirks, too, I think help.  With protagonists, I like to see them falter sometimes—that they’re not always cool and perfect.  With antagonists or villains, my favorite villains are the ones who aren’t all bad.  The ones who can almost convince you they’ve got good reasons for what they’re doing, and like messing with the hero’s mind.  But on both, whether protagonist or antagonist, I want to see passion in obtaining their goals.  If they don’t care, why should I?

What makes your main character unique?

He’s a part-demon teenager who’s lived such a restricted life his understanding of emotion is severely stinted, so he sees the world in a more stark, or honest way.  Sometimes that’s beneficial to him, like it’s harder to intentionally make him mad, but other times he feels totally clueless and at a disadvantage because of it.  I like that he has to figure out how to live in a loud, colorful, crazy human world in order to be free or go back to his rigid, cold life where it was predictable and safe.  He also has a cool demon dog that can teleport, fly, and change its size.

Who, or what, served as the inspiration behind your main character?

It’s probably a combination of a hundred things.  I pull inspiration from everywhere, including my own life.  I guess I felt awkward as a teen dealing with my emotions, something I think a lot of teens can relate to.  With my character, I’ve just kicked it up to maximum awkward.

How important are physical traits, or quirks, in the creation process?

Very important.  Sometimes the quirks come before the physical traits.  To explain it a little better, I see some of my character’s personalities and try to imagine what kind of person they would have to look like in order to best embody those traits.  Other times their appearance just comes to me from the beginning.  It’s definitely one of the more intriguing parts of the creation process.

How much of yourself, if any, is in your main character?

There’s probably more of my teenage self in him than my current self.  I think I’m hoping to bring him into a happier adult life once he gets things figured out.  That’s one thing I love about writing Young Adult.  I remember so vividly how frustrating, difficult, and trying the teenage years were.  But at the same time, there’s something strong in teenagers you don’t see as often in adults.  They dream of ideals some see as impossible, and yet many of those teens grow up to change the world (like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.)  Most of the ideas that come to me end up being YA ideas.

How does your main character change by the end of their journey?

What I want to see happen for my character is him coming into his own identity and realizing he doesn’t have to be what anyone expects of him—he can choose his own destiny.  It’s still a WIP, but he gradually becomes warmer and more accepting of the human world, realizing everything his parents wanted for him isn’t the path he wants for himself.

What can we expect from your main character in the future? Will we see more of them or is their story finished?

You’ll definitely see more of him.  He’ll learn that in the real world there’s no black and white when it comes to people.  Those whom he should be able to count on as good can turn bad, and those he thought bad can turn good.  He’s got a lot worse things coming too, the poor kid.  But his abilities will only continue to grow in awesomeness.

Name a character who most closely resembles your main character and tell us why?

It’s hard to just point to one.  He’s a little bit like Katsa from Graceling, but colder—at least in the beginning.  A bit more reliant on the intellectual, like Klaus from A Series of Unfortunate Events, maybe a hint of Snape from Harry Potter if I’m being honest.  But he evolves quite a bit in the first book, so I’d say closest to Katsa.

How would your main character respond if they knew this post had been  written about them (a response in the voice of your main character)?

I’d rather you didn’t write whatever this “blog post” is, but if I can’t stop you then leave me anonymous.  I have enough enemies hunting for me and I don’t need you giving away my location.  I envy the time you have for these sorts of things.  Lately I feel like I haven’t got five seconds to catch my breath.  You shouldn’t write this post.  If my mother catches wind of it, she’ll be here in an instant, torturing you for everything you know.  Honestly, it’s better if you forgot you ever met me.


We all know how much I love music. Can you share a song which best represents your character?

This was a tough question.  I couldn’t think of anything for awhile, then two popped into my head.  One is the theme song from Alphas (sung by Trey Lockerbie).  But since it’s only 30 sec, the other that popped into my head is “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi.

A big thank you to Jae for talking characters with us this week. I can’t even describe how awesome it is to be a doodle! Anytime you want to come back, for any reason at all, you will be most welcome. I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date on the status of Shade as more details become available. Stay tuned and make sure to come back next week when another writer steps in character. This is where we would cue the theme music, if we had any.

Author Bio:  Jae Dansie is a graphic designer, doodler, and writer.  Jae wrote her first novel when she was 14 and has probably written a dozen or so in between which she calls “practice.”  She’s in a love/hate relationship with her current novel SHADE but knows it’ll all be worth it in the end.  When Jae isn’t doodling (she calls it scribbling) and obsessing over her WIP, she likes to karaoke, travel, and tantalize her tastebuds with tasty new treats.  You can find Jae on her blog at litandscribbles, or out patrolling the streets for truth, justice and the American way.

Characters We Love: Captain Malcolm Reynolds

I know, I was supposed to post this yesterday, then I said next week, but I felt bad for not keeping my own schedule. I’m covering the feature length film Serenity and not the series Firefly in my description of Mal. I found it interesting how Mr. Whedon managed to effortlessly weave in bits of Mal’s back story from the series into the film. Forget the snore fest that was the Avengers, this is Joss Whedon’s best work. The writing, characters, everything comes together in perfect harmony.

Serenity was released in 2005 and takes place after the final episode of the series Firefly. It tells the story of a captain and crew of a “Firefly-class” spaceship named Serenity and their fight for survival outside Alliance control. The captain, Mal, and first mate, Zoe, are veterans of the Unification War having barely survived the battle of Serenity Valley, due to Mal’s bravery and intuition. Their lives of petty crime and hindering The Alliance are thrown for a loop after one of the crew, River Tam, The Alliance’s experimental weapon and psychic, goes berserk after a run in with the Reavers (cannibals from the Outer Rim).

The first time the audience is introduced to Mal, he’s wondering if the primary buffer panel just fell off his ship. Wash, his pilot, agrees the primary buffer panel did indeed fall off. What does Mal do? He calmly grabs the radio and tells the crew to expect turbulence and they may explode, all the while checking on preparations for their upcoming robbery.

What does this scene show us about Mal? It shows us he remains cool under pressure, he has a sense of humor (or a bit of a smart-ass), easily adapts to stressful situations, and obviously has dealt with spaceship problems before. We learn all this in the first five minutes. Mr. Whedon wastes little time conveying many of Mal’s traits. The more movies I watch, the more this seems to pop up. Good directors establish their main characters as soon as possible. Good writers should find a way to do the same through action, as a way to keep the reader interested.

A few minutes later, Simon, the ship’s doctor, gets in Mal’s face about taking his teenage sister on the upcoming robbery. Mal makes it very clear he gives the orders on his ship, to which Simon objects. Mal calmly explains his position and the two men seem to find a common ground, at least for now. Mal says, “I look out for me and mine. That doesn’t include you less I conjure it does. This job goes south, there may not be another. So here we are on the rageddy edge. Don’t push me, and I won’t push you.”

During the robbery, Mal tells the people in the bank he’s taking the payroll and not what belongs to them. We learn that even though Mal is a thief, he has honor. To further this point he convinces the guard to take a bullet in the leg to make it look like he put up a good fight. Basically so the guy will keep his job. Mal clearly doesn’t have to do this, but only wants to take from the Alliance and no one else.

When the Reavers arrive, Mal tells the guard to get everyone down in the vault and not to come out as long as there’s air. The Reavers mindlessly murder, rape, and eat their victims, and all while they are alive. Mal could have simply left with the money but we see that he cares by insisting the innocent people survive. One guy runs after them begging they take him too. Their vehicle won’t go fast enough with the added weight. Mal refuses. The Reavers grab the guy and Mal puts a bullet in his head as an act of mercy. Later, Zoe asks why they couldn’t take the guy. Mal asks if he should have left Jayne, or her. She wonders why they didn’t drop the money. We can see from the look on Mal’s face that the thought never crossed his mind. Remember, he said he looks out for him and his people. We learn Mal may not be as honorable as we first thought.

After the Alliance learns Mal has their weapon, their agent looks up Mal’s record. In about a minute we learn Mal was the son of a rancher and born on the planet Shadow. He was bound by law five times for smuggling, tariff dodging, and transporting illegal cargo. Mal was never convicted. We also learn he was a Captain in the Independent Army, 57th Brigade as a volunteer, and awarded a Commendation of Valor for the Battle of Serenity Valley. All of this information is presented as the agent reads Mal’s file. To the astute viewer, this information is vital to Mal’s character. We learn he was probably a simple, hard-working man before the war. He volunteered to fight for independence and was one of the best soldiers they had to offer. He probably doesn’t believe in the Alliance and being forced to live under their control doesn’t sit well, thus all the Alliance robberies.

I’m going to stop there. Nathan Fillion does a great job bringing this character to life. Malcolm Reynolds has many layers, as do most of us. He isn’t just a hero, or anti-hero. He is a damaged man who holds certain ideals dear. He is a man who will fight for what he believes, even if it means his death. This is the character Han Solo wishes he could be. Yep, Jae, I said it. Star Wars, Star Trek, no thanks. I’ll take Serenity every time.

What can Mal, and Joss Whedon, teach us? It’s a good idea to have a layered character. We can also establish certain traits only to test them in our story. External conflict will only take us so far, we need internal conflict as well. Mal may not want to be a petty crook, but like he says, “I have a powerful urge to eat sometime this month.” He rationalizes the outlaw lifestyle by only taking from the Alliance, the government he never supported in the first place. We should never shy away from tension created from our character’s beliefs. When Zoe questions Mal about not taking that desperate guy and saving him from the Reavers, she helps Mal take a step back and wonder if the criminal lifestyle has affected him more than he realized.

If you haven’t seen Serenity and enjoy Star Wars or Star Trek, you really should check this movie out. Firefly as well. You’ll get a better appreciation for these characters and world.

Song of the Week 10/10–Dear Jamie…Sincerely Me

This may be the only official song of the week for October due to the fact that I’ve combined music with the guest posts. But don’t fear, the song of the week still lingers like that mystery tub of leftovers at the back of your fridge. I like to let the songs come out and grab me, and this song did just that. I was thinking about which song to post when the medley popped into my noggin. They may not be the most popular band, or even the coolest, but Hellogoodbye have a unique sound that tends to stay with you. Their sound can best be described as synth-pop and normally something I don’t get into. Yet here they are as my song of the week. You can find Hellogoodbye here (something is wrong with their official site, sorry). Because I know you’re going to love them, I’m posting another great song of theirs titled Here In Your Arms too. You guys are so lucky. 🙂

As you can see their videos are just so cute! Who doesn’t love a geek in love, or felt out of place? Finger puppets for the win! Hope you enjoyed the videos. See you next time.