Friday, October 28, 2011

Killer Characters Blogfest: Antagonist

This week I am participating in the Killer Characters Blogfest, hosted by Deana Barnhart and E.R. King. Today it is the Antagonist. The role of the antagonist in fiction is to oppose the goals of the protagonist. The antagonist can take many forms -- a villain, a boss, that girl who always does better than you in exams -- but the greatest antagonists are those who are deeply enmeshed with the protagonist. You don’t get more enmeshed than Edward Hyde.


Dr Henry Jekyll is a man struggling with dark impulses who strives to be a decent, morally upright man. By drinking a potion he separates himself from his baser instincts becoming -- literally -- a different man: Edward Hyde. 


 At first, Jekyll doesn’t try to fight Hyde. Hyde is free from conventional morality; free to be violent and lustful, and wanton. Jekyll is working on a theory of moral dualism: if Hyde holds all the wickedness, then Jekyll will hold all the goodness. It spirals quickly out of control.  When Hyde starts appearing without the aid of the potion, Jekyll realises Hyde’s true strength. By then Jekyll has lost the battle.


Hyde, as a facet of Jekyll, is one of the most frightening antagonists in literature. Because if Jekyll has a Hyde just waiting to burst out of him, don’t we all? Am I my own worst enemy? Are you yours?


Who is your favourite literary antagonist? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Killer Characters Blogfest: Protagonist

This week I am participating in the Killer Characters Blogfest, hosted by Deana Barnhart and E.R. King. Today it is the Protagonist, and I’ve picked a literal killer: Alex from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.


Alex is one of the most complicated, most unlikable, and most intriguing protagonists in fiction. Is he an irredeemable rapist and murderer, or a fifteen-year-old victim of political machinations? The disease or the symptom? He’s both. He’s a monster, and also a kid. He is our guide into the underbelly of a very unsettling world.  Alex says, “O my brothers” and we listen.

Alex doesn’t justify himself. He doesn’t have to.

“But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into the cause of goodness, so why the other shop?”


“But what I do I do because I like to do.”

The genius of A Clockwork Orange is that it makes Alex an almost-sympathetic victim. When the government uses a behaviour modification technique that makes Alex physically sick when he thinks of violence, when Alex jumps from the window to escape the torture of music he once loved, we recognise this as an atrocity. We know this isn’t just about Alex. This is about free choice, and Alex should be free to choose to be a monster. 


Even Alex’s redemption -- his realisation that he is growing up and growing out of violence -- is tempered by his belief that the cycle of violence will, and must, continue as the natural order of things.

"But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen."


Who is the protagonist that gets into your head and won’t get out? 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Killer Characters Blogfest: Supporting Character

This week I am participating in the Killer Characters Blogfest, hosted by Deana Barnhart and E.R. King. Today it is the Literary Supporting Character. I have chosen Sam from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.


Samwise Gamgee isn’t particularly brave, or particularly clever. Sam just got roped into this whole walk-into-Mordor malarkey because he wanted to hear a good story. In the beginning Sam has modest ambitions (glimpsing another Elf and maybe seeing an oliphaunt) and fussily worries more about Frodo’s wellbeing than Middle Earth’s. He’s the most homesick of all the hobbits, but it never once occurs to him to turn back because Sam is, above all things, loyal.

His loyalty and his love for Frodo push Sam further from home than he has ever been before. They take him right into Mordor, and right into heartbreak.

"Don't leave me here alone...Don't go where I can't follow!"

But hobbits, as Gandalf reminds us, can still surprise us. And Sam does the most surprising thing of all: he becomes a hero. When Frodo finds the weight of the Ring too great to continue, Sam does the only thing he can: he carries Frodo and the Ring, all the way to the end.


Sam saves the world. 


Who is your favourite literary supporting character? 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Monsterfest: A Yowie Hunt

I've been on a yowie hunt. No, not running around the bush blindly with a torch, a bad camera phone and no sense of equilibrium. I thought that for my final Monsterfest post -- and my second yowie post -- I would tell you all about chocolate yowies. And they are as magical and mysterious as their namesakes, I promise. 

When I was at school and at uni, you could get chocolate yowies everywhere. They were like Kinder Surprises. You ate the chocolate, cracked the plastic egg open, and ended up with a cheap toy whose legs fell off in five minutes. It was usually some sort of dinosaur. I got a minmi once -- they were very Australian. I seem to remember a vague environmental message as well -- there were comics and colouring books for the younger fans, but I just wanted the chocolate. Okay, and the toy. 

This is Squish. Because he was purple, he was my favourite. Hello, Squish!  

Anyway, in order to investigate why yowies were no longer on our supermarket shelves, I joined the Cadbury forums. Really, there's nothing I won't do for research: 

I was eager to track down the yowie, but I wasn't the first explorer who'd blazed this trail. No, others had been here before me. Others had sought the very answer I burned to know. 

YowieLuva wasn't buying that corporate schtick, and neither was I. I turned to Facebook, only to find that the page was losing momentum! I was too late, again!  

Defeated and helpless, I turned to YouTube. Could it be? A rare yowie sighting! 

Success! (And that environmental message I was talking about. Careful it doesn't hit you over the head. Apparently yowies don't do subtle.) 

What mythical creatures -- or chocolates -- would you like to hunt down? 


This post was brought to you by Sommer Leigh's MonsterFest2011. Check it out here: MonsterFest

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

3rd Campaigner Challenge: Flash Fiction

This is my entry for the Third Campaigner Challenge. Here are the rules:
Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show:

• that it’s morning,

• that a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach

• that the MC (main character) is bored

• that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting

• that something surprising happens.

Just for fun, see if you can involve all five senses AND include these random words: "synbatec," "wastopaneer," and "tacise." (NB. these words are completely made up and are not intended to have any meaning other than the one you give them).

And here is my entry:
Survivor: Honeymoon
     Paul trails along like a beachcomber. His feet sink in the sand. Tiny waves race to fill the footprints he leaves behind. They glisten like gold in the morning sunlight all the way up the beach, and I play join the dots in my head and resist the urge to look at my watch.  
     It’s broken anyway. I should have got a Synbatec like Paul’s.

     Honey, look! He shoved it in my face that first night. Not even scratched!

     I write swirls in the damp sand with my finger, and ignore the stench behind me. Paul was going to bury that fish head, wasn’t he, or use it as bait or something? I wasn’t really listening when he told me. I watched his mouth move, but I was hearing a different conversation: Of course I can sail a yacht, honey! It’ll be a great honeymoon, I promise!

     The Wastopaneer juts up out of the brilliant blue ocean, wedged on the reef, mast snapped.

     Time passes. The waves whisper back and forth on the beach. Paul’s got a stick in one hand and his shirt in the other. God only knows what he thinks he’s doing, and how showing off his pecs will help.

     I’ve got the GPS beacon here somewhere! If I can just find it, we’ll be set!

     I lick my lips and taste the tacise sting of salt.

     I could have married Lionel. Lionel’s a nice guy. Not rich, but nice. Nice is nice.

     My fingers close around the cylindrical object buried in the sand. The GPS beacon.

     The fish head behind me belongs to a puffer fish.

     Want some breakfast, honey? Paul beamed with pride.

     I demurred with a regretful smile.

     I’ll activate the beacon this afternoon. Maybe Lionel will comfort me when I’m back in civilisation.


If you like my entry, please vote for it at Rach Writes.
My entry is # 25.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Monsterfest 2011: The Yowie

The yowie is one of my favourite types of monsters: one of the ones that maybe, if you hold your head at the right angle and squint into the sun, you just might see in real life. The yowie is another Australian monster, or, more precisely, a cryptid -- a creature that like Bigfoot, or Nessie, or the Yeti probably isn't real, but there are just too many eyewitness accounts to write them off as imaginary quite yet. 

Wikipedia tells me that the yowie legend is sometimes interchangeable with that of the bunyip, but I've always understood them to be two very different creatures. Yowies are a sort of Australian Bigfoot, a hairy ape-like creature that lives in heavy bush and is shy and fast. Bunyips are shape-changing howling monsters that live in billabongs and drown people. Also, bunyips don't get caught on blurry home video: 

The above footage is probably the most famous yowie footage, but I don't like it much. It's a little derivative. It's got a real Bigfoot vibe to it. An ape lopes through some trees -- we've seen it a hundred times before, and we've stopped caring. If you're going to fake yowie footage (and let's face it, they probably did) you should do it in a  cool, unexpected way: 

I'm a sceptic. Really, I want to believe in strange and fantastical beasts, but I just can't. Well, maybe ones under the ocean because that goes down for miles, you  know, but not ones that are just hanging around in the bush and popping up randomly to scare picnickers. Because we've had video cameras and phone cameras for a really long time now, but I've yet to see any footage of any cryptid that someone with an ounce of technical knowledge can't debunk. I'm like that poster in Fox Mulder's office. I want to believe. Really, I do, because the world needs mystery and imagination, and undiscovered corners, but you've got to give me something a little more substantial than the sort of video my four year old niece accidentally makes when she's looking for Angry Birds on my phone. 

In the meantime I'll keep watching fuzzy Youtube videos of monster sightings and alien autopsies, and I'll keep squinting into the sun, because the world needs things that go bump in the night. I do, anyway. 

What do you want to believe in?


This post was brought to you by Sommer Leigh's MonsterFest2011. 
Check it out here: MonsterFest

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blog awards, a random question and a book giveaway!

Margo from Urban Psychopomp has given me the 7x7 Link Award. Urban Psychopomp is closing down but you will still be able to read great tips there on the craft of writing -- particularly on plotting and structure. You will still be able to find Margo every Wednesday at Wicked & Tricksy.

For this award, I need to come up with the following: 

Most Beautiful: The post isn't beautiful, but the Bislama words are. Read them here and then say them aloud! 

Most Helpful: Let's not get carried away. I don't know that I've actually written anything helpful, but this might come close: Evil in Fiction. It's a reminder that evil isn't created in a vacuum, and you're doing your story a disservice with a mwah-ha-ha villain. 

Most Popular: I've judged this on comments alone. It's my second flash fiction entry for the  Write Campaign: Mirror Imago.

Most Controversial: I don't think my post was controversial, but the topic was. It was the "dark YA" thing. Ooh, dark, scary...won't somebody think of the children?  

Most Successful: I have no idea how to judge this. I think my most successful post was  this one on POV. This scored me a guest post on the lovely Tahereh Mafi's blog. I was a very new blogger back then, and delighted that anything I'd written could actually be useful to anyone else, so that definitely counts as a success. 

Most Underrated: How am I supposed to choose this? A post that didn't get any comments, because I didn't have many followers? A post that I felt was helpful but nobody else did? Or a post that got some comments, but could have got more? Yeah, I'm going with that. Check this out. It even has pictures. The End of the Affair.

Most Prideworthy: This one, because I'm finally starting to recognise the traps my brain sets for me, and work through them. But I'm also proud of this one because it turns out in a natural disaster my first instinct is to write it all down! 

I also need to pass this award onto 7 blogging friends: 

2. The always informative and entertaining TF Walsh
3. Shelley Koon at Dark Writes.
4. Debbie Johansson, who has some great writerly advice. 
5. The Patient Dreamer at Writer & Dreamer at Work
6. Trisha at WORD + STUFF
7. Liza Kane at Redeeming the Time

Also, Sheri from Finding Joy in the Journey has awarded me an Irresistibly Sweet Blogger Award! Thanks, Sheri! 

The rules for the award are:

1. Link back and thank your givers.
2.Share 7 random things about yourself.
3.Choose some awesome people to pass the award to and leave a comment on their blog so they can claim them.

Here are seven random things about me. 

1. A policeman just knocked on my door. He was doing neighbourhood enquiries because a car got broken into next door. He is new and didn't recognise me. "Hello," I said, "I'm Jen, I work in Comms." Then his sunglasses fell off and broke on my garden path. They looked expensive. He'll remember me now. 

2. I have a very specific phobia about being trapped inside a sealed room that is filling with water. This is probably from some movie I shouldn't have watched as a child. 

3. I can't do basic maths. This is a psychological issue. I once worked in a bank. I hated it. When I quit, I told myself I would never have to do maths again. And now I can't. 

4. I hate snakes, jellyfish, crocodiles and cyclones. I don't know why the hell I live in North Queensland. 

5. My car is blue. That random enough? 

6. I can't decide whether or not to buy myself an iPad for Christmas, or chickens. My gut tells me that chickens, although they have less apps, might actually be more fun. 

7. I can't hold a grudge. Not because I'm a nice person, but because I get distracted and can't remember why I shouldn't be talking to you. 

I'm passing the Irresistibly Sweet Blogger award onto: 

2. Aldrea at Thardrandian Thoughts
3. Adam at Author's Echo.

And now, the book giveaway... 

In the spirit of today's post, why not tell me something random about yourself in the comments? The randomest comment will be chosen by a random number generator, and I will send you a copy of Shine by Lauren Myracle. 

I accidentally ordered two off Amazon. Sleep deprivation is a wonderful thing! Let's say I'll draw it in about two weeks? Or when I remember. Whichever comes first. 

Over to you: hit me with the random. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Monsterfest2011: Evolution

As part of the evolution of monsters in storytelling, we defang them, declaw them, and demystify them. We humanise them, which isn’t always a bad thing.  

It gives us werewolves who are just high school guys who want to play basketball. Or lacrosse, according to latest incarnation.

It gives us witches with boyfriend troubles and day jobs. 

And, tragically, it gives us vampires who drive Volvos and have prettier hair than me. Edward Cullen, I’m looking at you, you sparkly wuss. (I think I am most offended by the Volvo. Really, because a vampire needs the most famously safe car on the planet? If living forever and a predisposition for feeding on the blood of the innocent doesn’t entitle you to a classic Porsche Spyder, I don’t know what does.* God, why didn’t they just given him a Prius and be done with it?)
Hello, I'm a vampire. You'll have to take my word for it that I'm a predator because nothing that I say, do, or even drive will actually give an impression of danger.
The same has been done with the bunyip. I did a post on bunyips last time here. What once was a scary drag-you-down-and-drown-you monster has been...domesticated? Emasculated? Whatever the word I'm looking for, the bunyip has been made cuddly.

Alexander Bunyip was my friend. I know this because he had a TV show back in the eighties, and the theme song went "He's Alexander Bunyip, and he's our friend". I can’t actually find any of it online. Apparently bunyips shun media attention. I did, however find his Facebook page:

Alexander was the first non-scary bunyip I remember. He was pink and fuzzy and had fun adventures. I also remember a song they sang on Playschool that went "Bunyip, bunyip, YIP YIP YIP!" Those were the days...charged up on fruit cordial and Vegemite sandwiches, rampaging through the house screaming "YIP YIP YIP!" Actually, I might try that later on...

It's not always a bad thing to humanise our monsters. Maybe looking for the human inside the monster is also a way of looking for the monster inside our human selves. It's a way of looking at a story from another side, and that's a valuable lesson to learn. Do you remember the first time it occurred to you that Frankenstein was the real monster, not his creation? 

And it's not always a bad thing to make a monster cuddly. For every bunyip who chases you under the bunyip moon, there is an Alexander to save you. Just, please, for the love of all that's unholy, whatever you do to your monsters, just don't let them drive Volvos. 

* "Oh my God! Help, police! I'm being chased by a soulless blood-sucking monster driving a...a...holy crap, it's a Volvo. Yeah, it's definitely a Volvo. Don't worry about coming out. I can handle this myself." 


This post was brought to you by Sommer Leigh's MonsterFest2011. 
Check it out here: MonsterFest

Monday, October 3, 2011

MonsterFest2011: The Bunyip

We need monsters. 

Monsters teach us not to stray from the group.
Monsters teach us not to go into the woods.
Monsters teach us to sleep with one eye open.
Monsters teach us to stay away from dangerous places.

The bunyip is an Australian water monster.
The bunyip lives in waterholes, and creeks and billabongs. Like the Celtic kelpie, the bunyip drags its victims into the water and devours them.
The bunyip is an evil spirit. 

Descriptions of the bunyip are as varied as the indigenous tribal groups who tell the bunyip's story. The bunyip is not a dreamtime creature. The bunyip is still here. 

Source: National Library of Australia

Source: State Library of Victoria

Don't go near the water, or the bunyip will get you. 

This clip is taken from a old cartoon called Dot and the Kangaroo. An otherwise charming show, it was responsible for freaking out an entire generation of Aussie kids. 

This post was about authentic bunyips. Next time, cuddly! 


This post was brought to you by Sommer Leigh's MonsterFest2011. Check it out here: MonsterFest

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Genre Mashups

Sometimes mashing up two genres is a great idea. Sometimes it's so great it produces an entirely new genre. Spec Fic + Historical = Steampunk. 

But sometimes you should leave well alone, as Vince and Howard from The Mighty Boosh know: 

(Although every time I watch it seems a little less crazy, and a little more so-crazy-it-might-just-work.) 

I'll be back in a few days for MonsterFest 2011. If you haven't joined that yet, you really should. It's gonna be scary fun! You can join up at Tell Great Stories or by following the link down on my sidebar.


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