What is Deep POV? (Spoiler: It’s “Show Don’t Tell”)


Showing Versus Telling

Today I wanted to talk a little about the idea of “deep POV.” I’ve had a couple authors approach/email me asking questions about the concept. While I was familiar with the idea of point of view (POV) and how to sink deeply into it, I wasn’t uniquely familiar with that terminology. So, I did what I always do when seemingly new knowledge presents itself, I tracked it down.

Typing “Deep POV Books” in Amazon yielded many questionable (in regards to author credibility) self-help type books regarding deep POV. About ten books down on the list, I found some pretty interesting erotica. Scrolling farther down yielded even more eyebrow-raising search results. Anyways, that wasn’t the deep POV I was looking for…

I grabbed the two books (writing books mind you) that had the most reviews regarding the subject. The two books are the following:

While both books have some decent information, holy macaroni folks, deep POV is just show, don’t tell dressed up in new words. While the showing/telling song and dance is geared toward many facets of writing, this deep POV concept is geared toward characters.


Deep POV.jpgThe marketing folks must by doing a river dance right now. There’s nothing like slapping lipstick on a well-used term and screaming, “I’ve uncovered a new gem! Whadayamean it’s the same as…oh…I see. Okay, one-line show don’t tell and write in deep POV!”

Regardless of how used the concept is, if you are unfamiliar with showing versus telling, or deep POV, just know the terms are basically interchangeable in regards to writing characters.

Here are some blog posts I’ve generated regarding showing and telling, if you need a quick fix. The quality of these posts, much like the quality of my brain, is questionable. Though, a few people have found them useful (the posts, not my brain…yet).

Tics and Tells to Show not Tell (talks about using character mannerisms in your writing)

Using Sensory Detail to Enhance Fiction (talks about taking advantage of your senses)

Show vs. Tell & Intensity Scales (talks about the concept and offers a tool to determine when to show or tell)

resourcesTo be honest, if you are looking for resources on deep POV, you would do well to simply search for solid writing books that have a chapter or so on showing/telling. The two books I listed in the beginning are a great start. S.A. Soule’s book is filled with examples, if that floats your literary boat. If I had to pick a couple of books to recommend on the subject, because you all know I eat my greens, I would point toward:

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (This book is simply jammed full of tips and examples of how to write believable, visceral character cues. Tackles 70+ different emotions. Great if you can’t deal with emotions…in your writing.)

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction, by Marcy Kennedy (Confused about the concept? Can’t find a blogger or source of information to solve the problem? Marcy Kennedy does a good job of clearing the fog. Also, this author states that telling isn’t always wrong, or bad, or bad-wrong. Indeed, telling had its place.)

That’s a wrap for today. Sorry to be away for so long; life has been busy (editing, writing, conventions, stay-at-home dadding, military spousing). As time opens up, I’ll spend a little more of it here. Shooting for a post a week here and on the author page, we’ll see if I can pull that off.

question markQuick question! What books or resources would you all recommend to tackle the idea of deep POV or show don’t tell? I’m always looking for more pieces of information to add to my library. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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The Art of Character: Book, Blurb & Collage

The Art of Character

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, The Art of Character, written by David Corbett. Image created by me and free to share.


During my transition to the new state over the last month or so, I’ve continued hitting the books and eating my greens. The Art of Character, by David Corbett was a delight to read. Honestly, I’ve burned through so many bloody books about writing characters and examining archetypes that it was starting to get repetitive — this book caught me by surprise.


Image linked to Goodreads.

Corbett offers some fresh perspective about understanding how to craft and build believable characters. Unlike many of books I’ve read, he emphasizes the importance of shaping the character before your build the book. In my experience working with other authors, many go the opposite direction: starting with the story or general plot, then populating it with characters.

The issue, and I’ve seen it happen, is the characters are custom fitted to the story and one dimensional when you plot the story then begin to craft the characters afterwards. They say, “I want a scene where he/she commandeers a pirate vessel then builds a robot out of Pixy Stix, duct tape, and bubble gum…oh, they must be able to knit kitten sweaters too! I better make sure the character has X, Y, and Z traits.”

The book is separated into four main parts: Conceiving the Character, Developing the Character, Roles, and Technique. Each section builds on the previous and provides instruction on how to weave characters into the tapestry of your story. This is bolstered by countless examples from a smattering of different genres.

Speaking of examples, one thing I like to do when I read books on the craft of writing is glance at the bibliography at the back of the book. Corbett’s bibliography is three pages long with about fifty cited sources. That’s a goldmine!

When it comes to character studies, this book has quickly jumped to the top of my go-to pile. I can see it being one I refer to clients and friends alike. If your Amazon trigger finger is itchy, give it a go!

question markThat’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I’ve read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here (going to have to update this beast soon), or jump to my Reads section. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. What writing books are you reading? I’d love to hear about it. I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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Wasteland Wednesday #6

*Language and Content Warning*

skull and crossbones.jpgskull and crossbonesUnlike QE’s normal informational blog, Wasteland Wednesday is potentially full of foul language and post-apocalyptic nonsense.

Wasteland Wednesday


It’s time for another update from the Wasteland.  As the author, I’m pounding away on rewrites. If I can hold my pace, I should have it out to my alphas by the end of the month. When it goes out to my alphas, I’ll do the rewrites of the novella.

I‘m planning on finishing one of my more time consuming client projects here in mid-December (not a bad thing, just a bit of work), and when that happens I’ll pound out the discovery draft of the next book in the series. This next book will have whoever survives book one, moving north to face a bigger threat—and maybe even escaping Middle America. The Lost Word, mentioned last week, will play a larger role in the next book as well.

Today, meet Jim.

Name:  Jim

Age: 14

BackgroundFrom birth, Jim lived in a bunker. His father told him the outside world was a barren radioactive wasteland, and if they would leave the bunker they would die. Despite his isolation, Jim’s father provided him a superb education (even by pre-fall standards). This education was heavy in classic works of literature, language, and some technical skills like medicine and electronics.

When Drake meets Jim, his familial background is ambiguous. They meet “accidentally” outside of Stanley Station, which is a coal plant that was converted into a settlement.  Jim admits little about his father and family.  Outside accounts indicate Jim is an orphan that wandered into the station.

vegetables-italian-pizza-restaurant.jpgBasic Physical Description: The wasteland doesn’t provide salad bars, or all you can eat pizza, so Jim is a skinny boy. Acne has began to spring up among his freckles.  His eyes are described as bright blue, and his hair is shaggy and brown.  He is very pale—apparently the bunker didn’t have a tanning bed.

Personality: Jim is very clever and optimistic. This is likely a result of his education and lack of exposure to the wastes. With no “real” experiences to rely on, Jim often attempts to apply classic works of literature to things he experiences.  The boy is particularly fond of Treasure Island and sees Drake as swashbuckling pirate of sorts.

treasure island.jpgAs classic works of fiction are basically extinct, Jim references people, places, and things that most people have never heard of.  On the other hand, the most common of wasteland information is often a foreign concept to the boy.

Drake considers himself to be a master of manipulation and understanding what makes people tick, and Jim has managed to pull a few fast ones on him. In this way, Jim quickly endeared himself to Drake (thought Drake would never admit that).  Both Drake and Lex are very protective of children, and this cements him into the party—that, in addition to some wasteland happenstance.

When Drake looks at Jim, he imagines what his dead son Jonathon might have become.  When Lex looks at him, she sees the innocence she lost. When Preacher looks at Jim, he sees the future of the wasteland. Due to all of these points of view, Jim because a central character to the groups unity.

Abilities: Jim is clueless and vastly intelligence at the same time.  Especially in a time when most children, and even adults, are knuckle draggers in terms of brainpower.  This cuts both ways for the boy.  He is also a sponge, quickly picking up on information and training.  Drake notes that the boy learned the steps to effectively fire a pistol faster than some of the people he trained while he was in the military.

suture.jpgJim is also a whiz when it comes to first aid.  Drake owes his life to Jim’s fast action with a needle and thread.  Drake has noted Jim knows aspects about medicine that could have only been taught formally, not just picked up at random.

Motivation:  Jim’s motivations shift throughout the book. At first, he hears a story about Drake Nelson, who had rolled into Stanley Station.  Jim puts a lot of stock in stories and maneuvered himself in a way to be close to him.  Being naive, one motivation is to share in Drake’s adventure. This perhaps, as the story unfolds, wasn’t the best course of action.

Jim is also motivated by something higher, something even Drake can’t put his finger on. To Drake, Jim seems to be running away from something and toward something else at the same time.  Preacher seems to believe Jim is the future of the wasteland…which to Drake is the kind of idiotic rantings he would expect from someone like Preacher.

Jim is driven to prove he isn’t just some dumb kid.  While he knows he is probably the most intelligence kid out there, he understands there is a lot of things he is ignorant of.  Any opportunity he gets, he attempts to prove himself and his worth.


Sig-mosquito.jpgEquipment:  Jim, much to his horror, is largely Drake’s pack mule.  The boy bears a heavy burden, literally. He is a novice with the pistol Drake acquired for him, a Sig Sauer Mosquito, but becomes more and more proficient with each passing firefight.

Author’s Note: I say this for all of my characters, but Jim is one of my favorites. He is comic relief, a source of bonding, and has a natural way of cutting through characters and revealing their motivations.  For Drake, Jim’s character reveals his humanity to the reader.  It also acts to tie Drake back to the person he was before the fall, when he had a little boy named Jonathon. I also like how dynamic Jim’s character is.  His arc is very rewarding and there are a lot of important plot points tied to his evolution and growth.

question-markThat’s it for today’s wasteland news!  I hope you all enjoyed this sneak-peak into Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  I’d love to know what you think about Jim.  Until we cross quills again, keep hiding, keep hoarding, and as always—stay alive.

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Writing Monsters: Book, Blurb & Collage

Writing Monsters

A collection of phrases and quotes from the book, Writing Monsters, written by Philip Athans.  If you click the image you will be teleported to my Flickr where the image lives in high-res.  As always, it’s free to share and use however you would like.

riting Monsters
, by Philip Athans, has been on my list of books to showcase here on QE for a while now.  Why?  Because it is one of the most entertaining and well written books I have found on the subject matter.  Before I go into my blow-by-blow, you can check out the book on [Amazon] or [goodreads].

A Refined List

There’s a big list of things that really made this book appeal to me.  To make my bias apparent, I’m going to make a slight deviation from my normal blueprint and offer a short list.  Some of these things may seem silly to you all, and some of these things may make you foam at the mouth and impulse buy the book (or snag it from the library).

  1. Philip Athans is awesome.  There, I said it.  I’m a fanboy of his, and he actually maintains a WordPress blog called Fantasy Author’s Handbook, which he updates every Tuesday.  There is a massive amount of information to be mined from his page.
  2. In our continuing study of character archetypes, I wrote a post called Writing Characters & Role Playing Games a few weeks ago.  In it, I talked about how the computer game Baldur’s Gate blew my mind and really made me examine character archetypes when I was younger.  Well, Philip Athans wrote the book on it.  By that, I mean he literally wrote the official Forgotten Realms book, Baldur’s Gate.
  3. Why am I sharing all of this?  For transparency.  I’m obviously biased toward this author, and I like to be honest with you all.  With that being said, let’s talk about this book.

writing monsters.jpgThis book, for me, is solid because it covers a wide range of topics regarding how to write monsters.  More so, because it uses a number of examples and cited works to bolster and emphasize points.  Athans uses examples from literature (spanning from historic works all the way to modern time), movies, and even video games.  For my gamer friends (console, computer, and D&D), you are going to feel very comfortable flipping through these pages as Athans uses these mediums as tools to provide information to the reader.

Writing Monsters also does a phenomenal job of defining the physical, psychological, and emotional characteristics of monsters from almost all genres.  While this book is shorter and more current, at times I felt like I was reading the “monster version” of Joseph Campbells’ book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  The only difference being Campbell provides a sweeping mythological look at the hero throughout time, while Athan pinpoints certain monsters to drive the purpose of his book.

The book is broken into three main parts: What They Are, Why They’re Here, and How to Write Them.  While all parts are very insightful, I found the chapters within, Why They’re Here, to be especially enjoyable.  In this section of the book, Athans talks about monsters as metaphors, obstacles, agents, sources of pity, sources of magic or technology, and how they bring out the good and bad in people.

In short, if you are struggling with coming up with concepts for monsters, or simply curious about them, this book provides some very interesting and fun information.  Also, this book serves as a great tool to find other relevant sources of inspiration.  I did a quick scan of the cited sources and Athans uses more than thirty books and short stories to drive his narrative.  That by itself is a gold mine if you are entrenched in these genres.

question-markThat’s it for today.  If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here.  I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for more books to devour.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Archetypes: The Herald

herald.jpgToday’s post will take a look at the herald as an archetype.  Most stories include a character, being, or mechanism that serves as an announcer of things to come.  In regards to the Hero’s Journey, the herald usually works as a “call to adventure” for the hero/heroine.

In non-fiction, heralds are an important part of history.  They transcribed, orated, and tracked the various families, coats of arms, battles, and wars.  When a war or conflict would break out, a herald would be called to court to give an oral dictation of the history of events and offer insights into current ones.  In essence, the herald would reveal to the court the chessboard and describe all the pieces on it.

While one function of the herald was simply to catalog and pass information, they also acted to inspire action.  Their accounts of current events were often laced with language designed to rouse fence-sitters from their perches and spur them to action.  In this way, the herald did more than simply show everyone all the pieces in play, they offered insights as to what might happen if action was met by inaction, or indecision.


We also see heralds in mythology.  Christopher Vogler, in his book, The Writer’s Journey, states, “Heralds are so necessary in mythology that the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury) is devoted to expressing this function.  Hermes appears everywhere as the messenger or Herald of the gods, performing some errand or bearing a message from Zeus” (p. 70).

In fiction, the psychological function of the herald is to introduce change.  We relate to this idea because heralds come to us in different forms and trigger thoughts of change.  To some extent, events, stories, and people trigger in us the need to change our current path.  This might be as simple as the doctor saying your blood pressure is high, and it might be as complex as someone very close to you passing away.  These events remind us of potential futures.

The heralds’ message, once delivered, typically triggers a conflict (physical, emotional, or spiritual) for the characters involved.  If you watch Game of Thrones (GoT), or read the books, the statement, “Winter is coming,” is a constant herald.  While it serves multiple functions in that story, it is a non-stop reminder to the reader that change is coming. logo_game_of_thrones
like the GoT example because it reveals the power of a herald to tie many individual stories together and highlight a greater conflict.  GoT is an extremely complex story with many sub-plots running all at once.  The idea that, “winter is coming,” works to tie all of these sub-plots together and unite them.

The website TV Tropes has a page devoted to heralds.  Don’t let the name of the website fool you though, the source I have linked here, breaks heralds down into categories and offers basic examples from the following categories: anime, manga, comicbooks, literature, religion, and many more.

question-markThat’s it for today.  I hope this brief introduction into heralds was useful to you.  If character archetypes interest you,  you can go to my archetypes category and see more examples.  As usual, I’m curious as to how you all use heralds in your own work.  I’m also curious about any examples of heralds you find interesting in stories.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Feature Friday #1 (Bloggers & Books)


Welcome to Feature Friday!  Today we will talk about some bloggers who are writing amazing posts on the craft.  More specifically, bloggers who are providing tips and tools for people to improve their own skill and understanding.

In my opinion, it’s important to step outside of what we think we know and examine how others perceive writing.  Personally, and for the purposes of this blog, this allows for ideas and concepts to evolve via positive outside influence.  This week, these were the bloggers who I felt enhanced the way I view subjects.

spotlight (facing right).jpgThe first spotlight shines on Nichole McGhie over at, The Excited Writer.  Nichole writes a lot of great posts, and she does an outstanding job of bringing her passion for the craft (and for life) into her voice and style.  If you’ve never been to her page, I recommend stopping by her, About Nichole, page first.  Not only will this give you a most excellent snapshot of her background, life, and adorable kids, but she also smartly linked some of her most popular and impactful posts into the content.

The individual post I wanted to highlight is one about passive voice.  The title is, What is Passive Voice and Is It Bad?  

Besides being well-written, it is loaded with resources for you to sink your teeth into.  For me, when a blogger links outside resources this tells me (1) they took the time to research the content, (2) this isn’t just their solitary opinion, and (3) they want to offer other sources of knowledge.  Another great thing about her post is you can learn a thing or two from the conversations within her comments.

spotlight-facing-rightThe next spotlight casts a glow on Adam over at, Write Thoughts.  Adam applies a critical eye, and thorough depth of knowledge, to break down character archetypes.  However, he covers a number of other topics in addition to providing insightful book reviews.  I encourage you to first stop by his, About page, where he does a great job of both introducing himself and breaking down his site content.

Adam’s posts on how to write characters, relationships, and virtues are loaded with solid takeaways.  The post I wanted to focus on specifically is, Working with and Past Stereotypes

I like this post because it examines gender roles, stereotypes, and the role of children in fiction, as well as cultural expectations and norms.  For me, it goes beyond just being a list and offers additional insights I wouldn’t have thought of.  Ultimately, I was able to glean some positive takeaways.

thanksI wanted to take a moment to thank Nichole, and Adam, for allowing me to link over to their pages. Personally, I have you both bookmarked on my “Bloggers to Watch List,” and will make every effort to swing by more often.


These are the resources I used this week (Friday to Friday) to create my posts.  I wanted to take a day to feature reference materials as a, “one-stop-shop,” for folks.  I’m a voracious eater of greens and believe in the power of self-study to improve writing skill and understanding.

For a more comprehensive list of books I have utilized to build content here on QE, you can refer to this post.

(This week will be a very short list given I had a glorious two day vacation.)

Stein on Writing – Sol Stein [Amazon] [goodreads]

Conflict & Suspense – James Scott Bell [Amazon] [goodreads]

Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales – Stephen King [Amazon] [goodreads]

hourglassThat’s it for today, another week down.  If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me and point me in your direction.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Wasteland Wednesday #3

*Language and Content Warning*

skull and crossbones.jpgskull and crossbonesUnlike QE’s normal informational blog, Wasteland Wednesday is potentially full of foul language and post-apocalyptic nonsense.  I’m talking f-bombs, thrice-bosomed mutant women, and buckets of gore.

Wasteland Wednesday

Welcome to the third edition of Wasteland Wednesday!  Today I’m going to introduce you to an important and deadly lady.  Instead of applying epic creativity, I’m going to share my unedited original character concept with you.  Plus a couple author notes about the character from me at the end.

Full Name:  Alexandria [Last name unknown]

Nickname: Lex

Age: 30

Bio: Lex has only known the world as a wasteland.  She was born on the day the bombs decimated the United States.  Drake and her paths converged five years after the destruction.  Drake’s original party found Lex scavenging on the outskirts of Columbus.  She was dirty, alone, and starving.  Lex was also bordering on feral.

At this point in time, Drake’s group was starting to transition from deadly survivors into a disorganized band of raiders and slavers.  When a raiding group discovered Lex she was captured and brought back to central Columbus.

Conflict 101: Man vs ManThe general census was this young girl would be used by the group for morale (raped) and then traded to one of bands of slavers taking hold of the area.  When Drake saw the girl she reminding him of his dead son Jonathon who was roughly the same age as her when he was turned into radioactive dust.  This, combined with his depression and overall disillusionment with the group, caused Drake to attempt to free the girl and allow her to escape.

All of these events culminated with Drake getting blasted in the head.  In the confusion he generated, Lex did manage to escape.  Drakes presumably dead body was stripped of everything and left to rot.  Once they finished stripping Drake’s body and left the area, Lex returned to Drake.  He was still alive, but practically a vegetable.

Lex stayed with Drake bringing back whatever food and water she could find.  She also cauterized the holes in his head.  It took a while, but eventually Drake’s body recovered.  His mind never would.

Despite this, Lex knows that under the madness and insanity is a decent man.  Lex has stayed with Drake, often in the shadows, no matter how many half-hearted attempts Drake has made to rid himself of her.  They have traveled together for twenty-five years now.

Abilities:  Lex is perhaps more deadly than Drake.  Put another way, she is deadlier in different ways.  She thrives in the shadows and plays in the chaos Drake seems to endlessly generate. Drake has noticed that as she has matured her gun sounds before his sometimes, and that means she is perhaps faster.

While Drake is a master of chaos driven insanity and confusion, Lex prefers subtlety.  This natural inclination to shadow was fostered through her formative years with Drake.  Drake often told her to go and hide when trouble came, which eventually morphed into killing people from those hiding spots.

subliminalPersonality: Lex has an extreme aversion to being touched.  Especially being touched by men. For every settlement Drake has been chased out of for killing people, Lex has gotten them banished out of another for killing men who attempted to touch her.  Sexually, she will only pay for the companionship of females.  She only chooses to sleep with prostitutes because it ensures there will be no real emotional connection, just the promise of a needed release.

Many of Drake’s personality traits have been inherited by Lex.  With that being said, she is far more calculated with what she says and tends to think things through instead of speaking and acting on impulse.  Much like Drake, she has a soft spot for children.  Also like Drake, she has no problem killing someone if they say the wrong thing to her.  She’ll just wait until they are sleeping to deliver the blow.

Motivation:  Most people’s motivations in the wasteland are centered around survival.  This is true for Lex as well.  However, Lex also realizes the power of a story and a name.  Drake’s legend, while based on truth, has been largely fabricated and exaggerated due Lex’s influence.  Part of the reason she pays for female prostitutes is because she knows they like to talk and spread gossip.

rifle breakdownEquipment:  Lex learned a lot from Drake during their travels.  She adopted his, “one mind, any weapon,” philosophy and is proficient with most killing implements.  Her tools of choice are stealth weapons.  Knives, bows, and other projectiles are her bread and butter.  She does carry a rifle and pistol, but she normally uses them as a last resort.

Author’s Note:  Lex was a late addition to my book and required some sweeping rewrites (which I always advise against doing in a first draft).  I felt my book was a bit of a sausage fest and lacked the value of a female perspective.  But beyond just injecting a female character into the story to have one, I wanted a strong character that would add a level complexity to the story.

Alexis Final.jpg

My concept work for Lex.  I digitally painted this in Photoshop using a photograph I took as a blueprint.  It’s rough, but I’m getting better (slowly).  This image is owned and created my me.  If you would like to use it contact me.

Lex also allowed me to reveal more of Drake’s personality and backstory.  What is also solid about her character is it enabled me to do this through dialogue and action, instead of info-dumping or weird internal dialogue mechanics.

I have grown fond of Lex because she is like Drake in many ways, but better than him in others.  I also like Lex’s character because she isn’t a victim.  She is a capable predator.  She doesn’t play the damsel and she doesn’t pretend to be in distress, she simply kicks ass and collects heads (mutant inbreeder heads).

Additionally, she makes Drake’s survival and legend in the wasteland a little more believable.  Especially in regards to it being coherent in the story world.  When I first wrote the story, I made the assumption his legend would spread by word-of-mouth.  But there were issues with that assumption.

Did a slaver go to random settlement and tell a story about the man who came back from the dead and starting killing them?  Why is a slaver in a settlement chilling out and not trying to enslave people?  A raider certainly wouldn’t be telling this story in a settlement, he/she would be killing people.  Is Drake the kind of character I want to portray as someone who would blather on about his own legend?  These were the issues I was dealing with in making the legend of Drake believable.

Lex allowed me to propagate Drake’s legend and backstory in a realistic way.  She also has the ability to be a stand-alone character with a powerful backstory.  The book could be rewritten from her point of view and likely be just as interesting.  For me, that’s a good thing.

That’s it for today’s wasteland news!  I hope you all stop by next Wednesday for more information about Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  I’d love to know what you think about Lex’s character. (I’m sure Drake will be jealous she got a full-page character breakdown before him.)  Until then, keep hiding, keep hoarding, and as always – stay alive.

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Writing Characters & Role-Playing Games

vintage computer.jpg

Similar to my first computer.

Today’s post is going to look at how earlier role-playing games (RPGs) introduced the basic concept of archetypes to me when I was younger without me even realizing it.  For those of you who are nerd types, this post will likely appeal to you.  For those of you who aren’t, perhaps you’ll find some of it amusing.

When I was twelve or so, my dad surprised my mom and I with a new computer.  I should preface this by saying my dad was notoriously tight with his money.  I say this in a good way.  The comforts I enjoyed as a young boy were due to my parent’s ability to manage a limited budget.  Regardless, I was awe struck.  It was sometime in the late 90s.  We weren’t the most technologically advanced family out there (I grew up on a farm) so this wiz-bang addition was mind boggling.  The new computer had amazing features!  It came with a mouse, and a color screen was now standard.  This new computer also unlocked a new world for me.  The world of in-depth RPGs.

baldurs gate.jpgThat following Christmas, I received Baldur’s Gate from my parents.  I carefully opened the box with the smiling skull on it and looked at the five discs.  Five discs!  This game was going to be huge.

Christmas was at my grandma’s house.  Needless to say, I was chomping at the bit the whole hour plus drive home.  The game box came with an instruction book and a little map.  I must have read the book ten times before we got home.

I popped in Disk 1 and waited through the installation.  I couldn’t believe how fast it was going!  It must have taken less than an hour to install all of it (if only I knew how technology would evolve).  The game fired up and I was blown away by an amazing cinematic.

Baldur's Gate Intro.jpg

I quickly clicked “New Game.”  The game asked me to build a character.  I would be a sword and shield wielding hero!  Then it asked me to select my alignment.  The question caught me off-guard.  The younger me thought, “Heroes are only good…duh!” I selected Lawful Good and off to the races I went.

baldur's gate logo.jpgAs I began the game (in a state of sheer wonderment) I began clicking and watching as my character navigated around.  I clicked on a person and to my surprise a dialogue box popped up.

[Note:  From here on out I am roughly recalling the dialogue and actions of the game.  If you played the game, don’t bust my proverbial balls too much if my memory fails me.]

The computer character I clicked said something to the extent of, “There are rats in my cellar, if you help me out I’ll give you a reward.”

baldurs gate gameplay.jpgI selected the most heroic option.  “Leave it to me!”  With that, I moused the character to the house, found the cellar door, and brought down the fury of lawful goodness down on their rodent heads.  I nearly died.  My baby character was either using a crappy dagger or his fists.  I can’t really remember.  But I do remember my heart pounding because I thought I was going to die five minutes into the game.

After the battle, I noticed I could click on the environment.  I figured it would be foolhardy to not reward myself with some items from this cellar.  As I clicked a chest and opened it there were a few items inside.  However, instead of saying, “take these items,” it said, “steal these items.”

I quickly navigated away.  I would not be tempted by the fruits of evil.  Nay I say!  I found the gentlemen who assigned me the task and informed him of my glorious success.  He responded, and again, there were different options to respond with.  I could accept a small reward, or just say something to the extent of, “Think nothing of it.  I can’t accept a reward for helping a person in need.”  A heroes glory is reward enough after all…I selected the the no-reward option.  I continued playing the game in this manner.  Never straying from my Lawful Good alignment.

baldurs gate character.jpgAs minutes turned into hours, and I continued to explore and play, the dark side started calling to me.  Wouldn’t it be more fun to have just punched that first guy in the face and stolen his promised reward?  Then I could have went into his cellar and looted it as well.  I considered how much more powerful my character would be if I had chosen a different path.

I saved my progress, went back to the main menu, and created a new character.  This one would be Chaotic Evil.  I would do whatever the heck I pleased and reap the rewards!  The game was much harder to play in this manner.  Suddenly game mechanics popped up and began murdering me.  Magical police forces would materialize and blast my character into oblivion.  It didn’t matter what I tried to do, there was no escape.  Where the heck were these guys while I was getting mauled by rats when I was lawfully good?

baldurs gate map.jpgThen I considered that perhaps a blended option would be best.  Maybe not a total goody two shoes, but someone who was willing to take a reward and cut corners every now and then.  I selected a Neutral Good character, that seemed to fit the bill.  For me, this yielded the most enjoyable results and allowed me to wander in ways that didn’t confine me to alignment.

I noticed that each character gained different benefits/consequences in the game world.  For instance, when I would encounter a shopkeeper how they responded to me would be different depending on my character alignment and my previous actions.  I would click on the shopkeeper and indicate I wanted to purchase or sell some gear and these could be the shopkeeper responses.

  • Lawful Good: I’ve heard of you good adventurer, enjoy this discount. 
  • Lawful Neutral: Welcome to the shop.  Feel free to browse my wares. 
  • Chaotic Evil : Guards!  He’s here!  KILL HIM!

Flashing forward to now, this concept is no real revelation.  Most modern RPGs are carefully crafted and written.  They all have built in mechanics to reward/punish you for the choices your characters make.  It’s standard.  But back then, it challenged my perception of what a hero could be.  After all, even as a chaotic evil character (exercising moderate restraint) I could still win the game and beat the big bad boss.

skyrim.jpgTo this day, when I play a RPG I typically create three characters.  A good one, a bad one, and a neutral one.  I want to see what the game developers and writers built into the game to cope with these types of characters and their subsequent decisions.  For me, it adds a whole new dimension to the game play.

I encourage you to apply this same methodology to your writing.  Especially when you are outlining and creating characters.  Consider how the character’s alignment will impact their interaction with the world you are creating.  Really take the time to fully realize this early on.  Make sure you select an alignment that will offer the most interesting and rewarding results in your story.

The benefit you gain when writing (which most RPGs fall short on) is the characters you create can evolve in your world.  Their world views and alignments can change.  In essence, you control the character arc and can direct it in a way that best elevates your story.  It just needs to be believable.

question markAs for me,  I think I’m going to track down Baldur’s Gate and take a trek down memory lane.  We’ll call it research.  If you are a gamer, was there an RPG that really impacted your view on characters and what they can do?  If you’re not a gamer, do you take the time to consider character alignment and how it impacts your character?  Are there particular character alignments you find especially appealing to read and write about?  I’d love to hear about.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!  (Keep gaming too.)

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Template for Tracking Character Arcs

I had a couple emails from folks regarding how I track character arcs.  Specifically about the extra notes I take chapter to chapter to track changes in character.  I’ve talked about character arcs in the past here (use in self-editing) and here (what they are).  I do have a standard template I work from and attach to chapters as I roll through.

Below is the one I mocked up a while ago.  I just recently converted it to Flickr so you can click on the image below and print it out if you need it.  It’s been formatted to fit a standard piece of printer paper (landscape) so you should have no trouble printing.

It’s pretty self explanatory as you look at it, so I won’t go into any great detail about how to use it.  If you do have questions about it, don’t be afraid to leave a comment. I’m pretty good at getting back to people.  I destroy trees at an alarming rate so I just print them off as I need them.  This template would cover six chapters.

Character Arc Tracking Sheet.jpg

Give the image a click and get teleported via interweb majesty to my Flickr page.  You can print a higher-resolution version there.  Created by me, and as always, free to use and share.


Today is a mercifully short post, but provides you a handy tool.  If you can get your beta readers to use something like this – you win the prize.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Archetypes: Threshold Guardians

A while ago, we went on an adventure and traced the lines of The Hero’s Journey.  We talked about the hidden pulse flowing through most of the stories we read and see.  Today we are going to hit the trail again, and test our mettle against some threshold guardians.

dragon attack.jpgHave you heard of these beasts?  If not, strap on your armor, quiff a potion, grab your sharpest quill, and let’s break it down.

The scholar Christopher Vogler penned in his dusty tome, The Writer’s Journey, that, “At each gateway to a new world there are powerful guardians at the threshold, placed to keep the unworthy from entering.  They present a menacing face to the hero, but if properly understood, they can be overcome, bypassed, or even turned into allies” (p. 63).

I have created a bestiary of sorts to catalog some of the various types to assist you in your quest.  Oh, and for you more seasoned explorers, a threshold guardian is considered by some as a type of archetype.  If archetypes are unfamiliar to you,  touch this stone, and the information will be telepathically linked into your brain.  Now let’s examine some of these garden variety beasties.

semicolon monster.jpgThe Underling.  They haven’t achieved super-villain status yet, but they are trying.  You can find them in the tavern throwing darts at pictures of unicorns, boxing unwary peasants, and ordering lesser life forms around. These are your mercenaries in the woods, giant stone golems barring entry into the mine, or the big bosses second-in-command.

The Unwitting Barrier.  These foes have no allegiances.  In fact, they may not even be foes.  It doesn’t mean they won’t test your resolve.  Sometimes the jackals feast on the leftovers of the dragon.  While the dragon is your enemy, you will still have to contend with those toothy little scavengers – be it by sword, or by cunning.

scale of justice.pngThe Scale of Judgement.  You’ve battled your way across the land leaving a trail of destruction behind you.  This has attracted the attention of great powers – curious powers.  These super-powered entities enforce balance.  Even if you slay the dragon, if you destroy the world doing it, you are no better.  These entities will appear and test both your heart and your body.  Pass their tests, and they will offer knowledge and/or powers.  Fail, and be ground into the dirt and serve as cautionary tale to those who follow.

The Switcheroo.  Sometimes the underling doesn’t want to be an underling.  They were strong armed into it.  You can cut them down or enlist them to your cause. Never forget, while sometimes smelly and verbally obtuse, these switcheroos have unique insight into their boss’s inner circle.

The Inanimate Object.  Stupid door, wall, mountain, swamp, ocean, rubik’s cube!  These may just seem like boring obstacles to overcome, but they are something more.  The door can teach you an important lesson about locks.  The mountain can offer you perspective on resolve.  Not to mention the grip strength.  Seriously.  Climb a mountain wearing full plate and you will have fingers that can crush boulders.  That might be useful for say, a stone golem!  Every barrier stopping you is a chance to become stronger, wiser, and more well-rounded.

link v link.jpg

Very cool artwork from ComicVine.  Image ‘Link’ed back to artist!

Yourself.  No, not a conjured doppelganger hell bent on your stealing your life, but your inner self.  Your own fear and hesitation can serve as powerful threshold guardian.  You must take a leap of faith, face your own fears and weaknesses, and transcend.  What use is a flaming sword if you fear fire, or the power to walk on water if you fear drowning?  Often times, the threshold guardian we conjure in our mind is greater than any perceived foe.

Are you ready?  While my bestiary may not be totally complete, (the last two heroes never returned so I didn’t get updated information) it’s a good starting point.

The beauty of examining archetypes, and sub-types, is it opens your mind to the possibilities of merging different concepts.  By understanding the sheer number of available archetypes, and blending them in a way that suits our purposes, we can move away from stereotypes and create multi-dimensional characters.

warrior.jpgWhen it comes to threshold guardians, they are the fodder that builds your characters.  Each obstacle (threshold guardian), is a chance for you to shape that character in a different way.  Think of a door.  A character can turn the doorknob, use a key, kick it down, blow it up, remove the hinges, pick the lock, or get someone else to open it up for them.  An action as simple as how they approach a door can drastically change the way we perceive them.  In this way, threshold guardians have great potential to tell volumes about your characters.

What I love about the concept of threshold guardians, is outside of fiction, we contend with them in our own lives.  If we can just be willing to accept that we have the heart of a hero, we can look at these struggles as chances to improve.  Do you have some examples you would like to add to the bestiary?  Or perhaps some instances where a threshold guardian knocked your socks off?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp.

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