Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Lee Everett: A Strong Male Character

In the past I've talked about both strong female characters and my love for The Walking Dead video game. Recently I found myself thinking about strong female characters again -- and I realised that, for all the time I'd spent pondering what makes for an inspiring female character in fiction, I hadn't given much consideration to how this applied to the other side of the coin.

Perhaps it's because we have so much male-dominated media out there already, and the quintessential "strong male character" is often lost in cheesy action movie tropes and watered-down representations designed for mass-market appeal. But a lot of the tropes of strong male characters out there are just as superficial as those that plague their female counterparts.

I talked in the past about how a truly memorable female character should encounter challenges that are organic to her gender -- those related to social conventions, physical characteristics, themes of motherhood etc.
For a male character (who isn't gender-neutral), the same should ideally be true. So I started thinking, what are the traits that make for a strong male character? Not the buff, butch stereotype who always saves the day and gets the girl, but someone with depth and realism, someone you look at and go Yes. That's what it means to be a man.

I'm happy to say, video games have provided an excellent contemporary example in the form of Lee Everett, the protagonist of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead.
Lee has many of the traits you'd expect from a strong male character. He's intelligent, capable, heroic, level-headed, and a natural leader. However, much of Lee's most meaningful characterisation is accomplished through his relationship with a young girl named Clementine, and the challenges they face as a surrogate family unit in a world full of death and despair. While exploring the idea of motherhood is something I'd cite as a good ingredient for a strong female character, Lee's story focuses on the surprisingly obvious alternative of fatherhood. His relationship with Clementine is not simply a parent/child one, it is very clearly the story of a father and a daughter -- the kind of story that simply would not resonate on the same level if Lee were a female character.

Lee's relationship with Clem is one of instruction and learning. While there are tender moments between the two, Lee is certainly not an emotional and nurturing parent in the same way a traditional mother figure might be. His job is to protect Clementine, educate her, and prepare her to face the dangers of the world. His emotions are often revealed via his actions rather than through words, and there are heartbreaking moments where he struggles with his adoptive daughter's need for a mother's comfort; something which he feels unable to provide.

Having mentioned the tropes of action heroes, it's also important to comment on how these play into Lee's characterisation. Of course, even the cheesiest of these stereotypes play into the idea of the strong male on some level, and in The Walking Dead they are used sparingly and appropriately to demonstrate Lee's determination and competence as a character. Our hero has only one climactic action scene in which he overcomes insurmountable odds in a suitably butt-kicking manner, and the context of this scene is used to emphasise all of the most positive characteristics of the action hero in the best possible way. When Lee is forced to fight, there is nothing macho or glorious about it. He takes up the mantle of the action hero in an entirely self-sacrificial manner, putting his life at risk for the sake of protecting Clementine and ensuring the safety of others. He is backed into a corner, and when faced with the prospect of losing the ones he loves, he chooses to do everything a father can to save his little girl.

Now that's a strong male character!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Bi Boyfriends Bundle Published, and Reviews!

This week I've been working on re-editing three of my older shorts as part of my great edit-a-thon, and since they all shared a similar theme I decided to package the whole lot as a bundle! It's now available on Amazon and Smashwords at roughly 55% the price of buying each story individually!

From the blurb:

Some girls like a guy who has eyes for more than just the ladies! Claudia King's Bi Boyfriends Bundle is a collection of short, sweet, and incredibly hot stories featuring guys exploring their bisexual side for the first time. Not for the faint of heart!

His Girlfriend's Daddy (M/M)
Take it for the Team (M/M, Group)
My Slutty Little Boyfriend (MMMF, Bisexual)

His Girlfriend's Daddy:

Luke's girlfriend Hayley is a daddy's girl with a wickedly kinky streak, and her ultimate fantasy is to see her boyfriend together with her stepdad. Having never been with another man, Luke doesn't know how he feels about the idea, but he can't deny the attraction, and Hayley's fantasy is soon slipping dangerously close to reality.

Take it for the Team:

Tyler lets his eyes stray far too often during practice with the college basketball team. Fed up with Tyler's unrequited fantasies, his girlfriend decides it's time to have the team teach him a lesson once and for all. When he ends up trapped in the showers with the team captain, Tyler suddenly finds himself about to deal with a lot more than he bargained for.

My Slutty Little Boyfriend:

Jenny doesn't want a big alpha male, she just wants her cute little boyfriend Mikey; but that doesn't stop either of them from fantasising about sex with big, hunky, powerful men together. One evening Jenny has a sexy new outfit for her boyfriend to wear, and two butch friends waiting in the lounge to teach both of them what it's like to be a pair of girly, submissive little sluts.

So! Aside from that, Wild Instincts #4 is still in the pipeline. I'll hopefully be releasing it at some point next week in between sorting out tax information and setting everything up officially to be my own professional writer. I keep telling myself that one day I'll have all of this sorted and nothing to worry about but writing. But there'll always be something, gosh dang it.

I've also been thinking of how I can keep the blog a little more active. I've run a little dry on subjects I'm desperate to blog about recently, and I'd love to try and pick up some more traffic through social media than I am currently. So, what's a fun way to pick up page views while putting out interesting content at the same time? Reviews!

I've got a nice little backlog of books I've read over the years that I can probably spend some time talking about to begin with. I've written a couple of review-esque posts here and here, and those turned out to be pretty popular according to my little blog-management dashboard. Not to mention, they were among my favourites to write! I've always had a bit of a passion for being a critic, so expect to see a few more reviews here in the future! I'll likely focus on novels and indie shorts, but I'm sure the odd movie review and maybe even some musings about video games might slip in there from time to time.

Anyway! Back to work!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Making His Choice Published!

Woo! His Darkest Desire is finally complete! Check out the final chapter now on Amazon and Smashwords!

Faced with Marcia's terrible ultimatum, Nina finds herself trapped between two heartbreaking choices about her future. Is there some way she can outwit Elliot's spiteful ex-lover, or will she be forced to sacrifice her relationship to protect the man she loves?
But Nina's Master has his own choice to make. Can the pair of them finally be happy together? Or will Marcia's interference force them apart once and for all?

All totalled, the complete series finished up at something like 57000 words, with this last chapter being the longest at 9700. Technically that's still 3000 words short of what most people classify as novel-length, but gosh darn it, it's close enough!

So I'm a published novelist now! It's funny to think that six months ago I was barely just starting to dabble in one-off erotic shorts, scraping together a few dollars a month and hoping all my effort would pay off. I've passed a lot of milestones since then, but, on a personal level, I feel like this is the biggest one. His Darkest Desire was never exactly the book of my dreams to start with (I never even thought of it in terms of a novel at first), but it's carved out its own little niche in my career as a writer, and I'm proud to have finally finished it.

If you'd told me a year ago that in twelve months I'd have written an erotic novel, and would be making actual money off it, I think my mind would've been pretty blown. I'm still finding it hard to wrap my head around the idea that I'm a professional writer now. Of course, I'm not making the big bucks yet, but 2013 has been a good year so far. I'm starting to edge over the line of making a liveable income from my writing, and despite some inconsistency on the Amazon sales, I'm hoping to finish the year with a reliable monthly salary coming into my bank account.

I suppose this was a bit of a reflective personal post for me, but it's an appropriate time to reflect!
Coming down the pipeline in March will be more chapters of Wild Instincts (which will become my main writing focus now), and in the background I'll be re-editing His Darkest Desire in preparation for publishing the complete series as a novel at some point in the future.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Character vs Plot

I've been neglecting the blog again! Bad Claudia!
Don't worry though, I've been busy on the concluding part of His Darkest Desire, and if all goes well it should be ready to publish in a few short days.

Anyway, just now I bumped into a thread on Kindleboards about character vs plot, and I thought it might make a great jumping off point for a blog post!

At first glance it might seem as though character and plot are two equal partners in the process of storytelling. Certainly, it's pretty gosh-dang impossible to have any semblance of one without the other when you're writing fiction, but I'm a firm believer in one of these elements vastly overshadowing the other in its importance. Can you guess which?

When I was a student, I vividly remember one particular lecture on creative writing where our tutor turned to the class and asked us: "What's the most important part of a story?"
She got a bunch of vague and nondescript answers (I think my own was something like "a gripping story", duh), but nobody gave her the one she was looking for. It was, of course, character. Characters are the foundation upon which any good story is built, and understanding why involves looking carefully at the fundamental reasons behind why we read fiction in the first place. Certain genres all have their different niches, but a big part of what motivates us as human beings (not just to read, but to pursue any activity in life) is to experience emotion. The best stories are always the ones that make us laugh out loud, or break down crying, or punch the air in triumph, or that follow us around for days haunting our thoughts.

The vehicle for all of those emotions is character. Characters allow us to get sucked into the story. They provide a relatable reference point from which we can vicariously experience the events of a story through human eyes. It's almost impossible to tell a story without there being some kind of character there for the reader to latch on to. Even if I wrote a simple sentence like:
The pebble rolled down the hill.
I'm willing to bet most people after reading that would be thinking of the pebble as the focal point of the story. It's rolling down a hill, going on a journey. Where will it end up? What started it rolling?
Even a pebble can become its own character when we need a point of reference from which to ground our understanding of a story.

The most important thing I took away from those classes in university was this: A good story does not need to have a good plot if it has strong characters. 
Even if the events happening around those characters lack consistency or structure -- even if they're just a jumbled mix of "things happening" with little rhyme or reason -- we can still experience the emotional engagement of putting ourself in the characters' shoes and following them through their personal arcs. It's caring about characters that makes us keep turning the pages over and over again.

A good example I can think of would be Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. I can't for the life of me remember what the plot of that book was about -- or if there even was much of a plot. There are small subplots, and a general theme of "Louis travels the world trying to find out more about vampires", but there's no intricately woven narrative unfolding across the book as a whole. The novel is very much focused on Louis as a character, and how he adapts, changes, and copes with his existence as an undead creature of the night. Everything else that happens is just a vehicle to stimulate Louis's development. When a character has such a strong and emotionally complex arc that they become a microcosm of a plot in themselves, it really doesn't matter all that much what is going on in the world around them.

But of course, that isn't to say that plot is something you can just toss by the wayside if you have strong characters. Even though a story can survive on characters alone, it will always be better if the plot is up to standard as well. Whodunnit mysteries can keep you up late at night with a devilishly gripping plot -- but the important thing to remember is that they wouldn't be nearly as compelling if the characters hadn't made you care about whodiddit in the first place.

I like to summarise it by saying that plot is what makes a story interesting, but character is what makes it engaging. History books and news reports are interesting, but stories with heroes, villains, emotional depth and heart-wrenching conflict are the ones that will stay with you forever. We need characters for that kind of engagement, and they should always be the building blocks for any story.