Monday, March 5, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Editing "Worth Searching For" for FFN

Yessss I got my work done so now I can play with writing! :) Work hard, play hard, I say! Although a lot of my play looks suspiciously like work. Hmmmmm. (Pro tip: that's how you know you've got the right job.)

I know I keep talking about the changes to Terra's and Isengrim's character arcs, but they're kind of important and by far the most major alteration to the story. Isengrim has undergone a considerable change in character as well, because I wanted to make his character arc (and the story as a whole, really) more upbeat and hopeful.

In the original, he's kind of a sociopath who doesn't particularly care about the emotional needs of non-Werelupes and only starts to change when he's confronted with his worst fear: abandonment. In other words, the only thing that gets him to alter his actions is fear, and throughout the rest of the story his progress is slow, as his motivations are still essentially self-serving up until the very end. Looking at it now, I feel like that idea is just much too grim and depressing.

So in this revision, Isengrim is a much more hopeful character. He clearly shows guilt and remorse for upsetting Terra and taking her from her family, and it is his conscience - and listening to it - that gets him to change, and much earlier on than before. From his first appearance we see hints of nobility and kindness in him that are being fought against by his hurt and anger, and now his turning point in the middle of the story is not marked by resignedly deciding to listen to his owner because he doesn't want to be abandoned again, but by resolving to trust Terra and let himself be kind to her, to reciprocate the compassion she has shown him.

I also chose a less depressing route for him this time around because I feel it is a privilege and an obligation of writers to create things that help people feel better about life and give them examples of a better world. I want to impart a hopeful outlook in my work, and give people a sense that there is good in the world and it's worth it to believe that. I think the world would be a much better place if everybody really thought that and acted on it. I strongly believe fiction writers should hold their characters and plots to a high standard, and by so doing they might just pull the rest of the world up with them.

I think this also makes Isengrim a much more realistic character, because people in real life do feel remorse and respond positively to kindness and patience, even the most hardened-seeming individuals. One of the lessons of this story was always supposed to be that love changes people for the better, but I don't think four years ago I got the point across quite right. Now, though, I want this story to carry the message that love is powerful because it resonates within all of us, and inspires us to be better simply because we truly care about others. I think that's a message everybody needs.

I also like these changes because I think they empower Terra a lot more. The reader can see that her kindness and patience are actively having a positive effect on Isengrim, and by having him fully arrive at his change of heart halfway through the story instead of at the end, it's evident that she has made a concrete impact on him. By the day after she arrives at the Burrows, she's got things under control on her end, so the reader can rest easy--but I also think it adds some amusing dramatic irony that Hyren and Blynn still worry that she's in danger. Terra knows how to take care of herself, though--because one of her biggest strengths is that she's quite adept at turning enemies into friends through the power of love and kindness. Just like she did for Hyren twelve years previously.

Pro tip for writing for the Neopian Times: One of the NT's rules for stories is that the species and colour of all Neopet characters must be explicitly stated. I believe most of the reason for this is so that the editor can select an appropriate thumbnail image. However, I've learned through experience that you absolutely do not need to mention the colour of "background" Neopets that occur throughout the story, such as a random Bruce at a bookstore or a Grarrl in a parade crowd that a main character briefly pushes past. In fact, assigning them colours can be distracting, because it places undue importance on them, giving the reader impression that they have more to do with the plot than you intended, or that they'll come into play later.

Actually, that's pretty good advice for writing in general: don't include unnecessary details. For example, readers don't need to know the layout of a room where a character only spends a moment of the entire story--you can just say she leaned into the kitchenette to grab a bagel and leave it at that. Only include details that either come into play during the plot, or contribute constructively to a setting that you are trying to immerse your reader in. Going back to the kitchenette example, you would want go into more detail about what it looks like if your purpose is to paint a vivid picture of the character's Manhattan apartment for reasons of atmosphere or because it's a setting that occurs frequently in the plot.

It's kind of one of those things where you ultimately have to use your best judgment, but if you're reading through a text and phrases like "a yellow Kougra recognized Pharazon's name" or "a single Royal Girl Bruce browsed the shelves" start sticking out like painted thumbs, that definitely means some changes need to be made.

I enjoy characterizing Brightvale as a kingdom of incredibly intelligent and also incredibly self-absorbed Neopets. Most of them give little thought to anything besides their research and their academic respect, and so you have things like a historical War of the Typefaces (which I made up but sounds perfectly reasonable for Brightvale). King Hagan is especially fun to write as an individual who is smart and wants to be thought of as wise, and hasn't quite understood yet that true wisdom can't be gained from books--nor is it earned after you utter a certain number of pithy quotables. I have a short story that I wrote that I hope to get in the Neopian Times sometime later this year (after "Shadow of Takeryuu") that's mostly about Hagan and Master Seradar and the friendship between them. Seradar, on the contrary to Hagan, is both smart and wise, and his long years of dealing with short-sighted Brightvalian academia have made him quite irascible, but he is kindhearted beneath that. He's basically the Gandalf of Neopets. (He was super fun to write in "Worth Searching For", too.)

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