Creatures of Habit

August 15, 2010 at 5:07 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

People really are creatures of habit. When pushed out of our comfort zones we tend to act a little lost for about five minutes and then we create a whole new comfort zone and find a new pattern to fall into. Over and over again we find a rhythm and steadfastly stick to it until something actively forces us out of it.

It’s all the little things that are telling. While the big events change from day to the day, the small details tend to remain stuck in time.

For instance: What hand do you reach into the cutlery drawer with? Have you ever thought. Start checking when you go to the drawer. You’ll notice you almost always use the same hand, and not only that you will always grab the cutlery in pretty much the same order. For me, I tend to go knife and then fork, unless I’m carrying something and then I’ll be using my off-hand and go through the drawer from the other direction. Weird but true. I’ve also watched people actually swap the hand they were using to carry a plate in order to ensure that they are reaching into the cutlery drawer with the same hand. They don’t realise they’re doing it – it’s an unconscious action – but they can’t help themselves.

Everyday we do things in the exact same way. When you get into the car do you belt up first or start the car? Do you check the mirror before you start backing out or do you wait until you’ve finished reversing before you look up and realise someone has moved the mirror?

However the big thing that nobody every really seems to notice is that they almost always walk the same path. Regardless of whether it has been five minutes or five years, when walking through a space people tend to follow the same line they followed the first time. For some, that means stalking straight across the middle of the space, while others skirt in a slight arc so that they are not in the middle but still cutting it close. Others still are happy to give the middle as wide a gap as possibly and hug the edges. Whichever they do, they’ll repeat their steps almost every time until someone drops something directly in their path. Then they take the next path of least resistence.

What strange creatures we are. What strange creatures are characters must be if they are to really ring true.

What habits have you noticed in yourself?

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Best and Worst Fantasy Creatures

July 5, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Despite being a fantasy writer by nature, I have noticed a distinct lack of fantastical references on my blog, mostly because I am focused on the art of writing in general and have tried not to be genre specific. That said, today I want to focus on fantasy.

Below is my list of favorite fantastical creatures and the books in which they feature. I’ve tried to think of one example where they are used really well and one example where the creature has become groan worthy. Certainly feel free to add your own opinions to the list.

1. Dragons – of course the list had to start with dragons. Whether we are talking wyverns, wyrms, drakes, western hunters, pernese, doesn’t matter, I love dragons. Yet they are quite frequently a hit and miss character in books (and movies, but that is an entirely different blog post).

  • The Best: Strabo from the Magic Kingdom of Landover Series (Terry Brooks). Who can dislike a dragon that can cross the mists between worlds, is intelligent and yet shockingly ego-centric, noble in a way and yet infuriatingly stubborn on other issues. By far my favourite dragon and the only down side is the limited book space he actually gets.
  • The Worst: Lady Ramkin’s dragons from the Discworld Series (Terry Pratchett). I don’t think the world really needed exploding dragons, no matter how amusing they might be.

2. Fairies – or faeries, doesn’t matter how you want to spell it. Surprisingly, fairies are few and far between in the books I choose to read. A shame, because these tiny characters could be absolutely incredible.

  • The Best: Applecore from the War of The Flowers (Tad Williams). The foul mouthed fairy dominates every scene she is in and despite her small size, utterly dominates Theo as he stumbles blindly around in fairy land. Quick witted and utterly devoted, she is definitely a fine example of fairies in action.
  • The Worst: Simon from A Modern Magician (Robert Weinberg). I love this story, and I love Simon’s character, but he is a terrible fairy. Admittedly, they are actually changelings, and they borrow their lore from Shakespeare, and in the modern age they now pose as long lost relatives or exchange students, but something about him is distinctly unfairy like.

3. Elves – way too broad a category really. Particularly when you consider how many different variations there have been on these characters. Still, they have a very active role in a large number of fantasies, and when used well, work superbly.

  • The Best: All of the elves as presented in The Deverry Series (Katherine Kerr). One of the best elvish cultures created and brought to life. Particularly in the later books of the series, the elves very much become dominant characters and are thoroughly enjoyable.
  • The Worst: ?

4. Ghosts – always did love a good ghost story, but the key word is good. Ghosts that simply spook for no apparent reason and finally at the end reveal that they were somebody someone knew really don’t work for me. I like ghosts with personality and voice.

  • The Best: Ariel from A Knight of the Word Series (Terry Brooks). Made from the memories of dead children, she serves The Word and delivers messages to those in need, as well as protecting Nest as she tries to save the Knight from his Demon stalker. Ariel is a fascinating character, though rather short lived.
  • The Worst: Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling). Despite saying I liked ghosts with personality, Nearly Headless doesn’t really work for me and most of the time I found myself wishing that he and the other ghosts of Harry Potter would simply disappear. Though, I make an exception for Moaning Myrtle who was thoroughly entertaining.

5. Vampires – I really couldn’t do this list without including vampires. I’m a little biased in the vampire category, given I was a Buffy fan and that kind of skews my view point a little. Vampires are classic characters that have been given so many contemporary twists, and in many book shops even their own section, that I just had to include them.

  • The Best: Not technically a vampire (dhampir, half human-half vampire) I am giving best vampire to Magiere from the Noble Dead Saga (Barb & J.C. Hendee). Her dress sense, her attitude, and her continual ability to thwart destiny are incredible, as is her ability to get herself into the worst kind of trouble. Besides, the vampires she hunts are quite interesting, and very resilient – more so than the usual vampire. Makes for some very interesting reading.
  • The Worst: Again, not technically vampires by any definition of the word, but I place the entire Cullen family from Twilight (Stephanie Meyer). Not actually dissing Twilight, simply pointing out that glistening, venom producing creatures that do not grow fangs and can go out in daylight, don’t actually qualify (at least in my version of reality) as vampires. If she had named them something else, maybe I would have got over this already.

As I said right at the start of the list, please feel free to disagree of give me your own examples. I would love to know what you think about fantastical creatures in books.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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