Here's 2009!

Hey all! We'd like apologize for disappearing again, but you know how the holidays get. In any case, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

We're resolving to be better bloggers in 2009. :)


Fairy Tales

I absolutely adore fairy tales like how I absolutely adore classical mythology. I know this isn't one of my best openings, but I've been procrastinating on this post and I figured I should just out with it. It's a new thing I'm trying: thwarting my self-thwarting.

Back on topic though, fairy tales hold a special place in my heart. They were probably my first introduction to fantasy and magic both in picture book form and in movie form (thank you Disney). RANDOM ASIDE: Not going to lie, I'm something of a Disney junkie. If you're ever visiting Disneyland, drop me a line. I will get you your one-day pass' worth of Disneyland fun. Also, one-day does mean FULL day. You can't do a Disneyland run properly in half a day, and considering ticket prices, it wouldn't be worth it. Yes, I know where practically everything is. Yes, that's without a map. And yes, that's how many times I've been there. They were, shall we say, the earliest seeds placed in my undeveloped imagination, and as such heavily influence what I like to write and what I like to read.

This pertains to me particularly so at this moment because my NaNo novel was a reboot of something I only vaguely started in the last year or two, and it is based on a fairy tale. I also put myself through the torture of writing my own fairy tale for the novel, which meant I went and read/researched a bunch of fairy tales to get the cadence and style down. (Again, Surlalune for fairy tales plug. Why didn't I find this site sooner?!) Even so, my novel-verse fairy tale still doesn't sit well with me and I'll probably have to revise at least the second half of it. Mostly, what I want is for the entire novel to have a sort of fairy tale tonality to it. I want magic to be embedded into the story, but I want it to feel precariously paradoxical. I want the presence of magic in the world to feel eerie. That's not really happening at the moment, but it's nice to have goals, right?

While the collaborative work that Alz and I really should work on again (now that NaNo is over) is not of the fairy tale ilk, it does in turn draw from various mythologies and legends.

As for my reading tastes, I think the specific appeal of fairy tales for me lies in its ability to walk the line between charming and eerie, and they bring magic into otherwise seemingly ordinary worlds: children run errands for their parents, but then they meet a talking animal or a witch in the woods; peasant girls marry into better lives, but find their husbands ask them to fulfill extraordinary and impossible tasks; shoemakers try to make ends meet, and while they sleep, helpful elves come to answer their prayers. The settings and situations are often mundane enough, but magic is an acceptable intrusion. The world of fairy tales is liminal - real and imagined, enchanting and frightening, sweet and also grotesque, bittersweet.

They represent a type of story and reading experience that I particularly enjoy. I love The Last Unicorn so much because it's told with that sort of "fairy tale" voice, though dressed up to be more lyrical. Also, I just finished reading Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories, which is a collection of, well, fairy tales - some retold and others newly wrought. (Haven't read her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell yet, but I have it.) The lovely part about the stories is that magical occurrences aren't always spelled out for you (very classic fairy tale-like); you're given just enough to draw conclusions but are left with a sense of wonder. It's that eeriness again, the sort of haunting quality the stranger fairy tales have. I suppose it's that feeling that magic could be "just around the corner."


A bunch of little updates (I have nothing witty to say here.)

Yes, I'm back for yet another update. This one actually pertains to the right month, I promise. I go through these spurts of renewed interest in this blog/blogging in general. I'm trying this new thing called "consistency," something I've learned from NaNo, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, some New Things to note!

1) You may have noticed by now that the blog looks different! Alz and I both thought that for the upcoming New Year, we should fix up A Nudge a little. I want to add right now, I absolutely adore this layout (it's so cute!), but it is no small secret that I have a weakness for birds. Credits for this loveliness can be found at the bottom of the page and right here because I'm plugging Better in Pink for some really cute freebies. Ours is "Birds on a Wire," converted for Blogger Beta by Randomness. Again, credits at the bottom.

2) The side bar has also changed, other than being on the left. There are a few new links under Curiosities to check out. One of them I will be mentioning later in the post, so I will just point out Bookshelf Muse, which has the very helpful "Emotion Thesaurus", and Cut Out + Keep is a rather delightful DIY website that I was made aware of through Twitter. Speaking of Twitter, another addition to the side bar is "Deck of Cards," otherwise known as "Followers," which is much like a Twitter concept that Blogger has incorporated to make keeping up with blogs easier. So please Follow us if you are so inclined. We'd be very appreciative.

3) The new link that I saved for this paragraph is Surlalune, a wonderful resource for fairy tale related info. Why did I save it for now? Well, I'm planning to make a post about fairy tales, in which case, I will most likely be plugging this website again. And that is the other update: the return of actual posts!

Other than a post on fairy tales, I'm thinking about doing a NaNo-reflection sort of post, inspired by this post at learntowritefiction.com. My often-intimidating, but ultimately great 9th grade Honors English teacher taught me to appreciate the art of reflection, and one of the random things I've learned from my pursuit of my undergrad degree in Psychology is that writing is cathartic and thus has some therapeutic benefits.

4) I'm also considering for the side bar some sort of slideshow of random things that amuse us or stuff that is related to our writing. This is a MAYBE though.

So in short (tl;dr): new layout, updated sidebar, new posts.

Look forward to it.

P.S. Writing about writing is pretty hard!

This, then, must be a true December Update

It is as the Krispy says--'twas the pure, unadulterated insanity of National Novel Writing Month that ate up the whole of November for Krispy and me. As Krispy insists that I show off my winner badge, I shall place it here:

It took 50,000 words.

I suppose that's coffee in that golden cup, symbolizing the endless nights of furious writing powered solely by caffeine and the mad, mad desire to reach that word count. (My final November word count, incidentally, was 86,322. I'm still going though because this freaking story refuses to end. Every year I do better and better and go longer and longer, so I guess I am learning some discipline from Nanowrimo after all.)

But now that that particular craze is over and done with, I expect that Krispy and I shall get back on track with regards to our baby!co-novel. Having spent some time away from our baby surely makes us neglectful parents has given us some fresh perspective and we shall be better able to craft unique characters inside a worthy narrative.

Also, Krispy changed our blog's layout and template all by herself. It's so snazzy. And a nice nudge to get us working on our story again.


November Update (even though it's December)

I realize we have not updated for almost 2 months. We really have to remedy this situation, but in our defense, Alz is earning herself a higher degree in writing of the creative sort and I am trying to figure out my RL. Both are rather stressful and time-consuming endeavors.

But that does not mean we have neglected our baby because of something as trifling as Real Life. No, we neglected this blog and our collaborative project for the insanity that is National Novel Writing Month.

by angelicshadow (at livejournal)

Now, Alz has done this like 4 years in a row and because she is a Wort Ungeheuer, she chips away at 50,000 words with the ferocity of a woodchuck at wood if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I'm sure she has a spiffy "Nano Winner!" badge somewhere and I'll have her post it up some time because what's the point of a spiffy badge if you can't show it off somewhere?

I came in somewhere in the 23,000s, which considering that this was not for a grade and I am a procrastinator until the end (and also I have no idea what is going on in my novel now), I'm pretty impressed with myself. We'll see if I can get to 50,000 by the end of 2008, but seriously, I need to go back to spending more time on resolving my existential crisis. Yay goals though!

So that's the November update. We were writing, voting, and stuffing our faces in thanks for this awesome month.


Fanfiction: Unleash your imagination?

While sifting through my personal archive of old high school newspapers and library newsletters, I somehow ended up looking through the old files from my family's old desktop. This would be the computer we used through those wonder years of middle school to mid-high school. I found on both the computer and in one of the newsletters evidence of one of my staple hobbies through those years: fanfiction. (My other hobby during those years was forming a mock singing group named SMACK. The scary thing was we actually performed in public spaces.)

So is fanfiction a good or bad thing? Opinions on the subject vary. On the negative side of things, some see it as a violation of copyright and a poaching of established worlds and characters. This is basically true. It's plagiarism to take the words and ideas of another person and present it as one's own. Some people feel it treads on the rights of the creator or that it corrupts a given world and/or characters. Then there are those who feel it's just plain lazy on a would-be writer's part to dabble in fanfic. After all, such writers have a big bulk of the work done for them -- they've already got a world and a set of characters to work with. Another thing that gives fanfiction a bad rep is the sheer amount of fanfic there is out there, and I'm not going to lie, not all of it is good. In fact, a lot of it is on the wince-worthy side of the spectrum. And let's face it, when you read a fanfic that is particularly bad, something that butchers both your beloved characters and the English language, it's going to leave an exceedingly bad and lingering taste in your metaphorical mouth.

On the positive side, people also see it as a creative outlet for showing appreciation towards established worlds and characters. There's that saying that mimicry is a form of flattery, and in fanfiction's case, it's mostly true. The subject of fanfiction--whether it be a TV show, movie, book, or person--is so beloved that fans just can't help but want to be a part of it. Sometimes they want to see characters go on more adventures or delve into what makes characters tick. Other times, people want to know more about side characters or about events that happened before the start of a series. Then, there's closure. Ever watch a show or read a book and wish there was more? What happened to the kingdom after the Big Bad was defeated? Did a certain supporting character get a happy end? Did a man suffering from an apparently terminal illness die by the time of the epilogue or is he still alive? (On this last point, Alz knows what I'm talking about. I want to know, damnit!) Well, fanfiction is there to speculate on those questions. Plus, supporters of fanfiction see the practice as all done in good fun (and that's what disclaimers are for). It's a form of discussion and bonding among fans over a mutual subject.

Fanfiction can also be seen as a way of practicing writing and receiving feedback (good, bad, and constructive). For example, if characterization is an issue in your original work (i.e. your characters all sound the same, or you're really tempted to make a character do something--because YOU CAN--that would otherwise be viewed by others as wildly out-of-character), you might use fanfiction to help you out. In a fanfic, characterization would/should be based on the characterization in the original work. You would be constrained by the character markers and actions from the original work (as well as fans' expectations for recognizable characters), which may help you learn how to write characters distinctly. This skill can later be transferred to your original characters, who will benefit from your ability to make them sound like distinct and different people.

Both sides of the issue have merit, but what does all this have to do with me? Well, like I said, I found some fanfiction on my computer--my fanfiction--and it severly tested my will power to STOP myself from deleting everything in a fit of blind editorial rage. It also reminded me of all the hilarious, crazy, and fun times I had with my co-writers in middle and high school when we created these abuses against the English language. The stories were fun and outrageous--just the way we liked it--and the characters were, well, very exaggerated and not at all well characterized. But hell, it was FUN, and sometimes the plots were well thought out, and mostly they were freaking hilarious to us. The best part was I found stories I'd sort of forgotten and I still found the ridiculousness of their plots LOL-worthy. My co-writer and I remembered how much laughing was involved as we discussed plot over the phone, and we realized that we STILL found the exact same things funny.

It's been a long time since I've written any fanfic (though I suppose abusing Alz's poor characters counts...), but I do still sometimes read it (re: closure). If anything, fanfiction represents a distinct period of my tween-teenagehood. It also shows, as Alz so sagely remarked, my growth and improvement (oh heavens, the improvement) in my writing. Like, seriously.

In any case, I think the dual nature of fanfiction is best exemplified by the wise words of one of my fandom-participating cohorts, "You have to wade through a lot of shit before you find the good stuff."


Sociology of Scars

Let's talk about scars. Most of us acquire at least one scar or other throughout the turbid frothing streams of our lives: a round white scar acquired from an overly large pox of the chicken persuasion, a thin white line from some form of surgery, a reddish mark or nick from a mishap with a pair of scissors or while carving a pumpkin for Halloween. Such marks fade with time and growth, becoming paler and thinner and perhaps eventually vanishing until the skin is more or less as unblemished as before. The marvels of modern medicine ensure that most serious wounds and surgeries leave the smallest and least noticeable scars possible.

Yet the modern mentality and mythos surrounding scars seems to view them as hip and sexy indications of a person's dark, angst-ridden, mysterious past. That is, of course, speaking of characters who possess strategically placed and not-too-disfiguring scars. Shall we take a look at a few of these?

There is the sullen hero of Final Fantasy VIII, Squall Leonheart, with a great huge brown scar slashed diagonally across his face. The source of this scar is a scene of drama and fighting and hacking and slashing with gunblades and in general, actually, since I never did play FFVIII, I'm probably not really qualified to go harping on about it. But from what I do know, I'm fairly sure that Squall gets this scar to 1) make him look badass and 2) form nice symmetry when the dude who gave it to him in the first place receives a similar scar going diagonally the other way across his face. Of course, that whole point #1 about looking badass goes back to my original intent in starting this post: What is it about having a huge scar slashed across a guy's face that makes him "badass"? Is it the implied macho-ness of having survived such a near-deadly wound and coming out without permanent damage to the eyes? The thrill of a near-miss? That he must be pretty damn manly to have been in a fight and earned such a scar in the first place?

Himura Kenshin of the anime Rurouni Kenshin is a prominently scarred character, and this is an example of a scar with a purpose, history, background, and effects upon the character's life. Kenshin used to be a political assassin during the war-torn Bakumatsu era and helped to bring about the transition into the Meiji Era, and was renowned as a highly-skilled and terrifying swordsman, the Hitokiri Battousai, identifiable by the cross-shaped scar on his left cheek. The back story of how he acquired this scar—and changed from being a feared assassin to a gentle wanderer—is very dramatic, very full of character-driven passion and belief, and very excellent. Naturally having a prominent scar in a difficult-to-hide place complicates Kenshin's life for there are those with grudges or glory on their minds who seek to best the legendary Battousai—particularly as he has taken an oath to never kill again.

Dilandau Albatou of the anime Vision of Escaflowne gets sliced along the left side of his face (what it is with the left side, anyway?) during a skirmish with Van Fanel, and because Dilandau is already an unstable narcissistic freak, this wound sends him over the edge and let the animators have a field day competing to see who could draw him with the most psychotic expression short of foaming at the mouth. For Dilandau, the scar that he so often strokes thereafter is an unsightly mar upon his beautiful face and is entirely Van's fault, and fuels his obsession for killing Van throughout the series.

In the anime series Death Note, the character Mello's face becomes scarred through spoilerific means. Here we seem him munching on chocolate, as usual. But it should be noted that after he becomes scarred—or perhaps more accurately because of the events that lead to his scarring—Mello becomes more obsessive and underhanded with regards to his goals. In this case, it is events that lead to his change in personality and the scar serves as a symbolic reminder.

In Bleach, Grimmjow is scarred by Ichigo. A lot. In this case, however, it's not just a single fine slice across his face, but massive owwiness. While I can't speak for all fan art, what fan art I've seen of Grimmjow is typically not of him crisped and burninated and mono-armed. Clearly his amount, type, and location of scarring goes beyond aesthetic appeal and perhaps becomes either grotesque or just simply not "sexy." Is this because there is something tragically attractive about near-perfection or perfection-now-marred, but not immense or intense amounts of disfigurement? And yet fan art of Mello in his scarred state is more prevalent than that of scarred!Grimmjow—is it because Mello isn't also missing an arm and is more femininely androgynous than machismo-manly Grimmjow?

Moving beyond anime, there is Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride by William Goldman, a Spanish man who has parallel scars on his cheeks—one on each cheek, vertically, scarred for life as a child, he was. For him, these are scars of remembrance of vengeance, for the six-fingered Count who gave them to him also killed his father.

We can take a look (once again) at Harry Potter, who bears a zigzag scar on his forehead that is the source of much pain (physical, mental, magical, etc.) in his life. What is this mystical scar? Why, it marks him as the Boy Who Lived, the only person ever to have survived the Killing Curse, and cast by the Dark Lord Voldemort no less. Later on it's revealed to have several sorts of magical properties linking him back to Voldemort (hurting when Voldemort is nearby, enabling Harry to catch glimpses of what Voldemort's doing, etc.), and is also a symbol of Harry's mother's love for him. It becomes a symbol and a plot device and an identifying mark all rolled into one lightning-shaped stamp on his forehead.

In the Asian ball-joint doll community, many doll-collectors have an obsession with painting their dolls to have scars, with or without a story behind them. The methods of accomplishing scarring range from the purely cosmetic (simply painting a scar onto a doll's face or body) to physical modification (actually carving a scar into the resin using a knife). Facial scars slashed across an eye, along the jaw, or over the bridge of the nose are a particular favorite.

The Volks company released two versions of an extremely limited and highly-sought-after scar-faced variant of their original Cecil doll, creatively named "Cecil the Scarface". How does Scarface differ from regular Cecil? His right eye is mostly closed and a great huge gash is carved into his face—literally. (He also has a scar carved into his right arm.) This scar is a deep, jagged-edged groove that is typically painted some form of orange-red-brown, as though this poor doll is doomed to have a perpetually unhealed wound sawed across his eye. (Incidentally, both versions of Cecil the Scarface were sold with a special "blind eye", gray with a white pupil, that could be used for the wounded eye.)

But as mentioned in Grimmjow's case, scars cannot be disfiguring or else they become too disturbing. Take a look at the Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode III: According to Krispy, he acquired the scar over his right eye in battle during the Clone Wars in a light saber duel with Asajj Ventress, shown in the Clone Wars cartoon series. His scar doesn't play any kind of role in the third movie and I haven't watched enough of the Clone Wars series to determine if it has any affect there either, but fans seem to accept and like his scar as far as I can tell.

But once Anakin Skywalker gets toasted and he morphs into Darth Vader (as it were), well, he's totally covered in black so that not a speck of skin shows, from face to feet. It would be too disturbing for the audience and anyway he's not attractive anymore. In a way, he very much resembles V from the movie V for Vendetta, also a victim of full-body burns who also covers himself from head to toe so that none of his burns are visible—but V probably belongs to another post some other time. For now, it's enough to see Anakin's descent from his pedestal. I mean, come on, you find tons of pictures, fan art, screencaps, etc. of Anakin and Darth Vader, but not of Anakin-after-the-lava-pit or Darth-Vader-sans-mask-and-helmet. People want him either whole and handsome or dark, mysterious, and completely covered.

The physical scars of real-life can mean anything, including nothing. I don't think twice about this weird little scar I've had on my hand for several months now, originally attained from scraping my hand on a protruding bit of wire mesh. This event was hardly traumatizing or life-changing and it was just an owwy on my hand that healed pretty quickly and didn't even require a band-aid, and yet the tiny slightly discolored mark persists. But scars earned from bullets taken in warfare or in the line of duty are proverbial red badges of courage and honor and duty.

But in the world of fandom, at any rate, scars seem to be as cosmetic and varied as eye- and hair-color. They tend to be of mysterious origins rooted in angst and trauma. But not too much scarring, and not too intense a scar. They can be marks of honor or remembrance or vengeance or brotherhood, of ritual or tragedy, or maybe just incidental, accidental, and forgettable—except that if a scar is either shown or mentioned, chances are it's not the latter.

This post is brought to you by the fact that one of our characters does have scars, acquired through traumatic means, and which definitely do drive him indeed along his thorny path of vengeance. But really it's not the scars that are important to him or about him: it's what happened to him in the past. (Incidentally his scars are not in a usually visible place, unlike most of the characters named above. I tried to think of characters who have hidden scars, but none readily came to mind. If I manage to think of a few, there may be forthcoming Scar Post Part II. Oooh, that rhymed.)


Ulterior Motives gets Krispy Weak in the Knees

Villains/Antagonist issues. We're having them. Maybe Alz isn't having them, but I am. To put it simply, I'm not too keen on our bad boys, and that is a problem. For me to get any real meat out of them, I need to feel something about them and I'm hovering around indifferent. So in an attempt to figure out what it is about our antags that is making me give them the brush off, I've been thinking about the antags that I do like and what it is that makes me go ga-ga over their shady, shady ways. Brace yourselves, this may be a long post.

First problem, I don't like a lot of villains. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the Good Fight, though I also do like inflicting pain... *Ahem* Most bad guys are just not that interesting to me (though there are always exceptions), and when I do like antagonists it's usually based, at least at first, on some quality that I suddenly and inexplicably latch on to and become wholly fangirlishly obsessed with. Usually this "random quality" is the shallow one of being drop dead gorgeous (this pertains mostly to the visual medium). Or shiny. Or BOTH. Another prerequisite is that they are usually quite capable somehow of pwning you dead. There's a sense of power there, a sort of lofty arrogance. I think the key, though, for the ones I'm really head-over-heels over is shadiness. Ulterior motives coupled with one or all of the aforementioned qualities and I'm enlisting in that Dark Army.

Let's take a look at a few of them. These are all going to be ani/manga references because I can't for the life of me think of a book antagonist/villain who does anything for me. I can't even think of one that I really hated, which means I should maybe read more? :/

*Um, SPOILERS up the wazzu--though I'll try to keep it vague/general--for Code Geass, Loveless, Death Note and Bleach to follow.*

Schneizel El Britannia (Series - Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, R2)

2nd Prince of Britannia, and all he's really guilty of is looking kinda evil. Early in the first season, he is set-up to be an antagonist when he is mentioned as knowing something about the MC's mother's assassination. Then for the rest of Season 1, he's not much more than someone who's connected to characters in play. He doesn't physically show up until the last third of the season, and when he does, he's, well, very princely. He's courteous, charming, and not only looks nice but actually IS nice to everyone, including his subordinates. He doesn't look smirky or otherwise nefarious the way he kind of does in his brief appearance in the opening. Yet, his actions, while not outright suspect, indicate much calculation and manipulation. More hints are also dropped about his dealings, and we're reminded that he is the only person from our MC's past who ever beat the MC in a game of strategy. This continues to build the expectation that he will eventually challenge the MC in some huge, plot-turning showdown of doom (though not Doom because Schneizel is NOT the main antagonist).

But see, everything is hearsay, speculation, and rumor. While he may have manipulated a few events, he manipulated them all towards the good of his country with minimal bloodshed, and did I mention he's ridiculously nice to like everyone? He's every bit the competent and dutiful prince, except with this undercurrent of his being up to something. It's this "what is he up to?" question that has me obsessed with this guy. His motivation and his true intentions/goals are as of yet still unclear.

Really though, his actions in the series wouldn't seem half as shady if he didn't also look kind of evil/shady to begin with. Thanks opening credit animation for preemptively biasing me! Alz has suggested that perhaps we're horrible people for expecting the worst of him simply because he looks it. Come on though, no one this good-looking is that nice without ulterior motives! Either way, I support the Rebellion, but Schneizel has me considering switching sides.

Seimei Aoyagi aka Beloved (Series - Loveless)

I actually wasn't interested in him much until recently--that is, until I reached a point in the series where it became very clear that he was one big Antagonist, if not The Big Bad of the series. The start of Loveless is focused on the MC (Ritsuka) and his introduction to the Sacrifice-Fighter dyad world Seimei belonged to. Character and plot developments all more or less tie into the mystery of Seimei's murder, and so for the first volumes, Seimei was little more than a plot and character development point for me (though a pretty one). Plus, all we learn of Seimei at first is that he was murdered, he was kind and deeply loved his little bro (the MC), and his dyad, Team Beloved, was reputedly unbeatable.

Flash forward some chapters/volumes and Seimei has me by the throat and wholly fascinated. He emerges out of background character status to Lead Villain. Hints get dropped about his having abusive, sadistic, and neurotic tendencies. Where the MC only knew him as a kind, protective, and affectionate older brother, others knew Seimei as cruel, merciless, and destructive. He was close to no one, and as Ritsuka (as well as the readers) begins trying to reconcile Seimei's two vastly different personalities (gentle and kind brother vs. sadistic and cold Sacrifice), surprise! Seimei turns out to be very much alive and up to no good.

His motivations and intentions are murky. He retains a strong attachment to the MC, saying that Ritsuka is the only person he truly loves and cares for. It makes for a pretty twisted relationship since Seimei is of the mind that "you hurt the ones you love most" and is bent on testing Ritsuka's love for him, but that appears to be only part of it. There's something bigger afoot that has yet to be revealed. Shady, right?

And he is still really pretty, and it was in fact a rather pretty panel of him that re-caught my attention. Then, he had me and it was over. With a name like Beloved, Seimei just commands and demands love and despair.

Still, this sort of thing isn't hard and fast. In a recent discussion with Alz while I was in the midst of writing this post, I considered a few other antagonists, who by the above mentioned qualities should totally float my fangirl boat but they don't. Here's one.

Light Yagami (Series - Death Note)

Actually, quite a fascinating "villain," Light is the boy genius MC of the series. The series is a psychological thriller (with a touch of the supernatural) where Light gets his hands on a Death Note (a notebook which kills the human whose name is written in it) and decides to use his newfound power to create a better world. What makes Light an interesting character is that his intentions are good, but power and his drive towards his goals makes him into the kind of murderer he's trying to rid the world of and corrupts his nature towards ruthlessness. He is aware of this inherent hypocrisy, but he justifies it as a necessary "sacrifice" for the betterment of society. Opposing him is the enigmatic L, the world's greatest detective, and what ensues is a cat-and-mouse chase based on intellect.

Given his qualities, Light seems like the type of bad guy (I can't call him an antag because he's actually the protag!) I would usually go for. He's attractive, charismatic, super smart/competent, and if his huge God complex says anything, he's got that air of confidence/arrogance that I generally like. But he doesn't do it for me. I don't even particularly like him much. I think it's because his intentions and motivations are pretty straightforward. It's also hard to have any attachment-like emotions to him beyond fascination or grudging respect because he becomes so cold. Everything he does is calculated; even when people he cares about are involved (i.e. his family), it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of the situation. He loses his humanity, and while he's fun to watch, he's hard to love.

I will say that I was rooting for him half the time, but with the series centered on him, I couldn't really help but cheer him on, at least a bit. In fact, there are a bunch of people who want him to win out along with the bunch of people who want him to fail. Even then, it's not so much that I want Light to fail, it was more that I want L (antagonist but probably who we would call the "good guy") to win. And L, by the way, is not at all typical of the kinds of ani/manga characters I adore. He's blunt, socially awkward, weird, and while not "ugly," he's kinda strange lookin. It's all these quirks, plus his considerable ability that make him lovable, even if he too is about as emotionally distant as Light is.

Aizen Sousuke (Series - Bleach)

I was always sort of ambivalent towards him, and he (like Seimei) became more interesting once he showed his true colors. While his fans will claim he got hotter after going to the Dark Side, I'm not fond of the new look (mostly the hair). In any case, he was always a good looking-ish guy, becoming more good looking as the series continued because the mangaka's style has changed some. In more recent chapters, in flashbacks when he has his pre-Dark Side appearance but is looking shady or outright evil, I have to say, I'm kinda starting to see the appeal.

He's got more What Makes Krispy Like Antags qualities than Light has because not only is he pretty good looking, smart, competent, and with that air of arrogance, he's also friggin' SHADY. (Light isn't so much because like I said, his motivations are clear and his actions speak straight to his intentions.) Aizen gives this vague, God-complex-like answer as to his motivation. At face value, his answer is about obtaining power, becoming/surpassing the gods--that sort of run-of-the-mill Villain Reason for Being Evil--but Aizen comes across as more complex than that. Also, it's unclear what he wants to do once he's reached his goal (change the system? take over the world? destroy everything and start anew? build sandcastles in the sky?). The extent of his power/skill is also unknown. See, very shady. I don't understand him, much like how I don't really get why Seimei is so twisted.

Despite having the magic combo, Aizen does nothing for me. He does less for me than Light does. He's interesting but not much more. As with Light, I find Aizen distant. Light has the advantage of being the protag of his series, and thus I at least get the intimate details of his thought process and can see his logic; there's a kind of connection. Aizen, on the other hand, remains mysterious, and coupled with my tenuous grasp of his personality (a trait I share with most of the other Bleach characters it seems), he is bafflingly inscrutable rather than intriguingly shady.

*END spoilers*

In conclusion, Alz and I have no idea what we're talking about. When I started this post, I thought I'd figured out the qualities that help me like them. I realize now, at the end of this post and after discussion with Alz, that it's not that simple. We think there's just a certain ineffable characteristic that really gets me weak in the knees. Our current antagonists lack that spark, making it difficult for me to breathe life into them. I can talk motivation and pasts with Alz, but when I don't care, all those details come across as character stats. It's fine for describing the antags in a nutshell, but I have my doubts about how that will hold up written out in depth if I have no feelings for the characters themselves.

Still, this exercise was good for me because it made me realize that I have a thing for people with ulterior motives. This might not be easy to put into our antags here (since I need to actually know what our kiddies are up to in order to write it), but it's something to keep in mind.


Growing Pains

We're alive and working on the story, I swear! It's just that May has been a busy month for both me and Alz, what with the whole graduating from college and all that. ZOMG. May is a month of those pesky final Finals and pomp and circumstance related events such as Commencement and hauling 4 years worth of accumulated stuff (how did I manage to have so much stuff in that small apartment?) from one side of the state back down to the other. Well, the latter pertains mostly to me. (Alz higher educated herself closer to home.)

In any case, that is the real and true reason for the month-long silence here at Nudge -- surprisingly not procrastination and not laziness. Though, I have also been trying to think up something interesting to write about in terms of how our baby is developing, and boy, is the baby developing.

We've gotten to that point in the novel where, well, the shizz is hitting the fan. I don't think I ever realized how hard it is to go out with a bang. It certainly sounds easy and straightforward enough, but it's not. It's incredibly hard to actually plan out the climax. I mean, this is THE Moment--of Truth! if you will--so you kind of have to get it right. There's also that sort of stage fright-like feeling. Now that we are finally there, at this Point of points in the story, I find myself blanking on my lines. So we're here at the pearly gates, but what the frell are we supposed to do?

I'm a little overwhelmed to be honest. There's a lot of action in multiple locations involving multiple characters that needs to be planned out. This includes the issue of transitions between scenes, characters, and even actions by the same characters. I mean, there has to be rhyme and reason when a character goes from operating as a Distraction to purposefully fulfilling his current Goal in Life. There's also a lot of pesky logistics cropping up like emergency evacuation procedures (should have paid more attention during fire drills!), event/location security (what kind, how many, armed/or not and with what?), and the weight-carrying ability of teenagers (how many sacks of potatoes do you think they can drag and can they do it while being pursued by a pack of purple bunnies?).

Oh and Alz mentioned last post that we recently gave one of our characters a crippling fear of snakes, which will now potentially be a Big Problem, considering we're about to head into a section involving a whole mess of serpents (or would that be a tangle of serpents?). Comedic effect, you better be worth the trouble!

Much like most climactic explosion-filled scenes are, things are very confusing and I'm not quite sure what's going on. I'm trying very hard to figure things out on the fly, much like my good friend Pi, who is getting into all sorts of trouble and wondering what she did to deserve it. Keep your fingers crossed for us. I know I am.

P.S. Next time, I try to figure out what my issue with bad guys is. It'll probably be a long post involving a lot of ani/manga people.


Power through!

Krispy said yesterday that she thinks A Nudge is dead and she doesn't know what to post, so I will randomly update on our progress with...random updates on our progress.

So the other week, we decided that we needed more stuff to happen before the Final Showdown. Important details about certain characters needed exposition, other characters needed to actually do things, motivations needed to be clearer, and character development is always good. We'd gotten our outline down to the equivalent of the first stage of Dr. Wily's castle in the old Mega Man games, you know, the beginning of the beginning of the end type of thing. We might have been moving a bit too fast, but there's nothing wrong with that since this is just the outline.

We went back and added a new character who is and was basically a plot device--opening the way for more exposition and development, though, so it's okay, and it's a minor character. I like to think that the way we've incorporated said character into the story makes him better than just some schmoe shoved into the plot to make things happen, but let's say he serves his purpose, complicates things, and furthers the story at the same time, which is a good thing, right?

But adding this single small new role effected quite a few rather large changes. There was, in no particular order, a cosmic showdown in the sky (not the Final one, mind you), angelic interference, lies about engagements and imminent marriage, Time refusing to take sides, a happy anniversary dinner, ascension to Heaven, and revamped kidnappings, to name a few.

After catching up to ourselves and accordingly revising what was left, we've plowed ahead these past few days, hashing out a few names and details and (sadistically) deciding to give a main character ophidiophobia and working out reasons for things happening or not happening. That's part of how we've been operating, too, pointing out reasons why stuff shouldn't or wouldn't happen as much as why stuff shouldn't or wouldn't not be happening, and bam, there's a double negative right there! Hah!

Currently, though, we're in the mid-beginning of the beginning of the end, I think, but even so we still have to go back and add some sections for our antagonists to explain and explore what they've been doing. We kind of got caught up abusing developing our protagonists because such exciting things were happening to them. I suppose we'll just have to have exciting stuff happen to our Big Bad Baddies too--after all, there's always retroactive revision to take care of little things like plot holes, continuity errors, and sudden inexplicable death.


On Animal Group Names

So we all know the standard flock of birds, herd of horses, pack of wolves, etc. And I thought, well, you know, I'm not totally sure what you'd call a bunch of snakes, so I thought I'd look it up, and ended up wasting too much time reading lists of animal collective names.

I knew of a murder of crows, of course, because it sounds dramatic and particularly badass when you're a thirteen-year-old goth-girl writing your first fanfic. (I wasn't thirteen when I wrote my first fanfic and I'm not and never was a goth, but that doesn't mean I'm above throwing around stereotypes and mocking all the thirteen-year-old goth-girls out there. I never said I was nice. And incidentally, Word 2003 counts "badass" as a real word. That's cool.) I'd also heard of the corresponding unkindess of ravens. Apparently a bunch of crows can also be called a horde of crows or a parcel of crows, but those just lack the panache of "murder of crows". I mean, come on, a parcel of crows? That makes me think of brown paper packages tied up with strings, which makes me think of The Sound of Music and that's not very conducive to writing things full of emo angst and melodramatic lovelorn gothiness.

Some animals get far more than their fair share of alternative group names. The websites I perused all agreed that dolphins are but a pod, while peacocks are variously described as being a party, a pride, a muster, or an ostentation. I guess I’m not that surprised considering that peacocks are showy little bastards in the first place and so it figures that they'd have a bunch of names for themselves. Foxes also get several names, gathering into a leash, an earth, a lead, a skulk, or a troop.

The names often emphasize a particular animal's symbolism in society, such as say a pitying of doves or piteousness of turtledoves (doves can also gather into an arc, a dule, or a flight), or a business of ferrets, or a pride of lions. (Took me a while back when Lion King II: Simba's Pride came out to realize the pun inherent in its title. I never said I was fast, either.) Larks and skylarks sure get to sound exciting being an exaltation or ascension of larks and exultation of skylarks.

Then there are the names that are moderately more boggling. Take jellyfish, for instance: a smack of jellyfish. Maybe there's some kind of obscure marine biology terminology or slang that explains the inexplicable choice of "smack" for describing a group of jellyfish. Or maybe the name just smacks of weirdness because jellyfish are so damn weird-looking. There's also goldfish—you know what groups of goldfish are called? A glint of goldfish, which is fine by me because goldfish are, after all, shiny—or a troubling of goldfish. Which troubles me because goldfish are the most normal and inoffensive kind of pet fish you can get, except for that spooky fish from the only episode of South Park I've ever seen.

A wreck of seabirds is actually rather fitting, except that would sound terribly ill-omened to me if I were sailor—no wonder the Ancient Mariner shot the albatross. (Though apparently you call a bunch of albatrosses a rookery; there are other birds gather in rookeries too, like penguins, which also gather in colonies, and seals, which are not birds and also gather in pods and herds.)

These group names can be subcategorized too, such as for crocodiles, which become a bask of crocodiles on land and a float of crocodiles in water. Pheasants are a bouquet when flushed into the air, a nide when in brood, and in general form a nest or nye of pheasants. Geese in general form flocks, while in flight they form skeins and on the ground they form gaggles.

See? Distracted—completely sidelined by looking up all these weird animal group names. I totally meant to just mention a few oddities and amusing tidbits and then make a brief post on snakes.

So snakes: In general, a group of snakes can be referred to as a bed, knot, den, nest, or pit of snakes. Then we get to subcategorize again, because vipers form generations, cobras form quivers, and rattlesnakes form rhumbas. Ain't that catchy? I like the alliteration they've got going there.

However, I could not find on these collective-term-lists a name for a bunch of serpents. Undoubtedly this is because these lists were focusing on non-mythological creatures populating the animal kingdom, which is why they didn't list such things as a choir of angels, a quarrel of lawyers, or a glory of unicorns--and anyway, most people would probably just lump snake and serpent together.

I do seem to recall though that serpents in a group are referred to as a tangle. I asked several of my friends (including my dear Krispy) and they all agreed, yes, a tangle of serpents. Some cursory Google searching would seem to indicate that this term derives from the fact that the Greek Medusa has a tangle of serpents upon her head instead of hair; other than that and the fact that if you throw a bunch of serpents together they're probably going to look tangled, well, I don't really know if the term has any more significance or origin than that. Plus, Robin Hobb refers to groups of sea serpents as "tangles" in her Liveship Traders trilogy.

Being that Krispy and I are dealing with cosmic serpents, I believe we have a cosmic tangle on our hands. Or a cosmic bed. Or a cosmic knot, a cosmic den, a cosmic nest, a cosmic pit, a cosmic generation, a cosmic quiver, a or a cosmic rhumba. Things just sound so much more awesome when you add "cosmic" in front of it, don't you think?


Back to work!

So Krispy and I have gotten back to work on our baby. These past couple of days, we've done a bit of work on characters—motivations, appearances, abilities, etc.—and we've also gone back and revised a bit so that things make more sense. Sometimes things just end up being too convenient or coincidental, you know? And you don't realize it until it's been sitting there for a while. We decided the story would be better off if two particular characters didn't really know each other after all; we'd planned them to have a casual sort of yeah-I-know-him/her relationship, which has summarily been reduced to oh-yeah-that-person-I've-seen-him/her-around-before status. This didn't really affect things hugely, but it's just one of those little things that has to be done.

We've also been developing a new character because we decided that there needs to be a Revelation, and this character will be, I guess, a sort of plot device to get this Revelation happening. It seems like it may be an uncharacteristically flashy Revelation, but, well, you know, when you're dealing with divine spirits and demigods and gods and emo punks and suchlike and so on, maybe some flashiness now and again is appropriate. They've got their pride too. Boy, do some of them have pride…

Anyway, this character will also serve to heighten tensions, hint towards the existence of our Big Bad Evil (because Big Bad Evil sounds cooler than Big Bad Antagonist), and generally move things along—less a nudge in the right direction than a signpost by the side of the road.

One of our other antagonists is proving a bit difficult (getting into his head and deciding what he would or wouldn't do, and how he'd act and react and why), but I think we've gotten a good grip on him recently, and have come up with some interesting ideas for our big finale. We still need to sort him out more, but Krispy and I are toodling along quite well once again, I think.


Say No to Author Insertion Fic

Of late, I have been talking to people about books that I read back in the day, which lead me to a topic that, well, kind of drives me up the wall. Call it literary snobbery or even jealousy, but I hate Author Insertion in fiction--probably more than I hate Mary Sue. You could probably put Author Insertion as a subcategory of Mary Sue, which only makes me hate it more, but there you have it.

Let me backtrack and explain exactly what I mean. A Mary Sue in fandom is usually an original character, who is then inserted into whatever fandom and inexplicably loved and adored by all who gaze upon her lovely visage, but especially by the Big Players of the borrowed world. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "inexplicably" because sometimes the writer does bother to explain just why Mary Sue is so awesome, but when you read it, it sure feels like it's inexplicable. Sometimes it's just bad characterization and development: you're told that Mary is beautiful, that Mary is kind, that Mary is to be pitied to be loved, that she is noble, funny, athletic, etc. etc. ad nauseum. You never really see the evidence to back this up or all the evidence is dumped on you suddenly like being ambushed at the Prom with a bucket of pig's blood.

From the description, you can see that Mary Sue also exists in the realm of original fiction. She (or he, though I'm not sure what the term would be here) may be slightly more difficult to identify because you might not have the tell-tale sign of Main Characters falling all over themselves over her (or him), but she's still lurking around.

This brings us finally to my main point: author insertion in fanfiction and in original fiction, but especially in published original fiction. I'm not talking about writers having a distinctive voice or putting a little bit of themselves in their characters (I mean, they are putting themselves in the character's shoes or becoming the characters in some cases). I'm also not necessarily talking about writers who put a fictionalized version of themselves into a story in order to do some kind of literary soul-searching. I'm talking about a specific kind of author insertion--the Mary Sue kind, where the character in the story isn't just based off of the writer; the character IS the writer albeit very thinly disguised.

It's annoying enough to see this is fanfiction, but it drives me up the wall to see it in published fiction. Why? Because it's being inflicted on the paying public and these people should know/write better than that. Let me give you a general example to avoid singling out anyone and no names of course because I don't kiss and tell. Also, I realize everyone has done things that are/could be embarrassing, and I'd certainly appreciate it if people didn't bring up my transgressions. So I'm going to be discreet.

Main Character of the novel seems to be very much like the writer. S/he shares the same likes and dislikes as the actual writer, looks like the writer (except possibly fictionally airbrushed), shares very similar background history to the writer, and/or has the personality/habits/quirks of the writer. Yeah, yeah, writers may do a bit of superficial matching up of the MC to him/herself to help them get a better grasp on the character, but there's a line that once crossed, I--as the reader--can no longer suspend my disbelief that these similarities are just superficial. Now, I can appreciate a tongue-in-cheek joke like a reference to something the writer did in real life or maybe the MC's favorite book is something the writer's published. It's another thing when the MC does everything the writer's done with the addition of having the zomg-awesome luck of being in the world of the writer's books. The MC is the writer living the dream, having adventure, and hooking the hot Romantic Lead.

Sure we all are guilty of vanity, and hey, who doesn't want to take a romp in the world they've so lovingly created? But does the public have to be subjected to this bit of vanity press?

Joyriding through a new world with the writer at the wheel is great; I mean, that's what we do as readers. We go along with the characters for what is often the ride of their lives, but I don't want to watch the writer go joyriding off on his/her own. It's one thing to invite me into the fantasy. It's another to make me sit and watch you indulge in your own fantasy and go romping off into the sunset with your One True Love.

I don't appreciate being left in the dust.


Pros of Collaboration 2: The Sequel Post

As Krispy noted previously, we have slowed down a bit. I too place the blame on midterms and the tantalizing approach of Spring Break, though a recent negative reason for the lack of productivity is my potentially ill computer (not virus-ill but hard-drive-making-disturbing-hacksaw-noises-ill) because, as noted previously, we do 98.5% of our plotting via instant messaging and I've had limited internet access these past couple of days.

However, a slowdown in our mad headlong rush towards our novel is not necessarily a bad thing. It provides time to look back over what we've planned and spot plot-holes and inconsistencies. Also, since we have gotten around to some more substantial world-creation, building things from the ground up, and now we have time to explore what we've created and work out some of the finer kinks and details. We get to add to and refine our cast of characters, work on the little details that will show their personalities and motivations, and give them their little quirks and mannerisms that will hopefully make them unique and noteworthy instead of being cardboard cutouts. For this, they need to have backgrounds and reasons for doing things, which are of course not at all mutually exclusive.

Like angst. I abuse the term generally and broadly, but we decided that one character needed a better reason to stick around than the vague one we'd started out with, and so want of reason led to want of angst, and want of angst led to suffering. Things were going just too easy, you know, and we can't have that. (This is frequently how it works when I'm writing solo: I'll decide that things are going just too jolly well for said characters, so it's time to complicate matters and beat them up and add a judicious touch of betrayal, maybe a sprinkle of angst, a dash of guilt or shame, suffering and self-recrimination. Character development calls for a complicated recipe unique to every character, after all.)

Krispy, I believe, is far too disparaging of herself in the previous post. She's a great one for those little details that make our characters into people, and for keeping things reasonably realistic. Like, you know, I'm all for great plot twists and drama-llamas galore and maaaad ideas, and I know that sometimes I get a little too excited (particularly when the sugar-and-caffeine-highs hit late at night) and start blurting out random crazy things, and Krispy is like my combination psych and muse, able to sift through this barrage of semi-lucid images and semi-idiotic plot devices and pan the gold from the gravel. (Not that there's a lot of gold, or even gold every time. Would that there were.) And from these raw nuggets of inspiration and even from these coarser granules of stupidity, she's able to dredge further ideas that are usually great and sometimes brilliant. Pulling a diamond from a pile of pebbles? That's my Krispy.

Our general plan so far has been to just plow through the general story and get that basic outline finished, after which we'll go back and flesh out further and revise and edit and eviscerate and adjust and add all our bells and whistles, our stripes and spots, our fangs and claws, our laser-vision and fireballs, and generally polish it up just fine and dandy, spruce and dashing, and then get down to the actual business of writing it out. We're constantly editing and revising as we go along, too, going back and adding key scenes and inserting new characters. And our antagonists do need quite a bit of rounding out, some spit and elbow grease, polish and varnish and lacquer until they're shining examples of—you know what? I don’t even remember the metaphor I was going for right there. Oh well.

Like Krispy, I have no frelling idea how we're going to go about the writing. I suppose one way to do it would be to split up points of view and scenes and split the characters between us, in which case the difference of voice could be used to an advantage, though that does seem rather limiting as I think there are characters and scenes we'd both like to write. Or we could actually write it together a piece at a time, sending bits back and forth, which seems terribly cumbersome and like it would take forever and a day. Or we could do as we've done in the past and simply write segments and take up where the other leaves off. Or we could do a combination of these things, or work out something new. No idea at this point.

(Krispy, by the way, exaggerates my huge vocabulary, because I'm pretty sure I don't use hugely impressive-sounding and gobbledygookish words in my normal writing. I only toss around words like "defamiliarization" , "dystrophic", and "thalassocracy" in analytic papers in a vain attempt to sound all smartful. And because my professors said to remember them because they were cocktail-party words with which to impress slightly drunken people. And then tell Krispy these big huge words I learned, from which she receives her false impression.)

I fear matching my writing to Krispy's marvelous voice for beauty. Seriously, there are times when she writes and what comes out is as much poetry as prose, be it drama or dialogue. Because, see, when I say "beauty" I don't mean just pretty images, but, like, beautiful prose. Not purple prose, not melodrama, but just quite frankly beautiful writing.

I guess we'll just have to do our best to live up to each other's legacy, Krisp.


Pros of Collaboration

I really need to stop using the blog for procrastination.

Recently, on the novel plotting front, things have slowed down quite a bit. I blame this mostly on midterms and the teasingly close whiff of Spring Break floating on the air, but I think it is also because we're getting into the nitty gritty of plot and character. We've gotten into the mechanics of the world and the logistics of the organizations involved, which is fun and also very frustrating at times.

This leads me to the pros of collaboration. It's great having Alz to bounce ideas around with and to discuss issues. I tend to take an idea and run with it, thinking I'll figure things out along the way, but this style is perhaps too free-form. It certainly explains how I get writer-blocked so often (I mean, Real Life aside) and also why I have issues finishing stories. My idea tends to be too general or too vague, and then I have to spend a lot of time pondering things. I ponder a lot, let me tell you. It's possibly a reason why I take long showers.

Having a partner changes that because when I don't have an answer, she might, and if neither of us has any idea, we can try to figure it out together. It's kind of the same concept as ranting to your BFF about your woes and asking for their advice.

Alz also writes things out and has been keeping a nice outline/note-sheet for us. This is the most I've ever known about anything I've attempted to write--it's kind of insane--and the most organized. Again, this may explain why I'm such an erratic writer and fickle poetry flirt. I'm aware of this tendency of mine, but I know that having Alz around will keep me disciplined.

I'm not sure what exactly I bring to the table other than general randomness and enthusiasm, but Alz seems to think I'm at least somewhat useful. The point here being that collaboration works when partners complement and support each other and they get things done. I feel that is certainly happening for us as we flesh out events, characters/relationships, and motivations. We're beginning to complicate things too with a few new players, but I think we still need to show the antagonists a bit more love. We also need to make sure certain characters who need to be sympathetic actually are.

The question that looms in the future though is for when we start writing. How are we going to go about with the actual writing, and how are we going to blend our voices? I think the latter will be less difficult than it sounds since I think I'm not a bad mimic (I'm not sure if I should be proud of this or not, but I kind of am?) and I've written a little with Alz before. The issue is that we've only written fun, comical, and completely not serious things together, which is much easier for voice-blending, but we write somewhat differently when we're "serious." At the very least, Alz tends to show more of that giant vocabulary of hers and big words that I may or may not understand appear, and my skills in mimicry don't cover vocabulary like that.

But we'll deal with all that when we reach that bridge.



Here's another post coming not long after this marvelous one, which beat me to the punch as I've been lazy and mine has been lackadaisically in the making for a week or two. Not that there was any particular time-dictated punch that demands a blog post on serpents and snakes appear within the month of March. Not that I know of, anyway.

The word "serpent" is a loaded one. Sure, it's a synonym for "snake", but the connotation is totally different. "Snake" is a mundane term to describe your basic scaly, legless, carnivorous reptile lacking ears and eyelids and with a penchant for swallowing its prey whole—but "serpent", now, ah, there's a term haloed in mystique and a-shadow in mystery, colored by hints of the supernatural, the religious, the occult.

The serpent is prevalent in religions, folktales, myths, legends, and fairytales across the world. These slithery not-really-beasties are tempters and guardians, gods and demigods, maleficent and beneficent. In contemporary society (yes, yes, U.S.-ethnocentrism fully included in that statement, thank you) the serpent most often gets booted across the line of malignity and is regarded with suspicion, condemned as deceitful, and feared as a symbol of evil.

But why should the snake and serpent attract such fascination? Well, for one thing, there's appearance. There are relatively few limbless creatures found the world over—and most of us find ourselves wondering at some point in our childhood, "How the hell does a snake slither anyway?" This reptile manages mobility despite a lack of arms, legs, fins, wings, pseudopods, tentacles or any other form of appendage. So they're creepy there because they're different, and when things are different, they tend to be scary, or unlikable, or odd, or otherwise negatively regarded. Snakes are obviously low to the ground and thus become associated with lowliness, and they tend to either crush their prey to death or inject them with deadly venom in order to kill them, not to mention the whole swallowing-them-whole thing which is downright disturbing to some people. The striking snake is an image of speed, and since striking snakes are usually the venomous ones, and some snakes are very venomous indeed, it becomes an image associated with the speed of death—and from something so innocuously low to the ground it's easily overlooked.

Snakes are also extremely common throughout the world, unlike platypuses, pandas, and penguins. So being extremely common, weird-looking, possibly extremely deadly, possibly exotically colored or prettily marked, it's no wonder that mythology and the human mind seized upon snakes as intriguing little buggers millennia ago and hasn't relinquished its death-grip since.

Surely the best-known serpent is the Serpent of the Garden of Eden, for "the serpent was more subtile than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made" (Genesis 3:1). This serpent is twined around the Tree of Knowledge and appears solely, it seems, with the intent of seducing Eve to the Dark Side pluck a fruit and eat of its flesh, telling her that "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5), thereby bringing about the classical image of the serpent as a symbol of temptation and evil. Technically there is no evidence that the serpent is anything other than a snake—that is to say, later interpretations of the Serpent being a representation of Satan infiltrating the Garden and bringing about Original Sin/the Downfall of Man (or Humankind, if you prefer a more gender-neutral politically-correct term) are just that, later interpretations. The text itself? Doesn't say nuthin' about it bein' the Devil, yo.

(Also, Satan/Lucifer/the Devil is frequently depicted throughout various periods of art as a dragon as well as a serpent. My AP Art History is long behind me, but a great many cathedrals possess statuary depicting various saints or Christ stepping on dragons and/or serpents, representing the conquest of evil. Also, slightly randomly, forked tongues have long been symbolic of deceit and malicious words, hence the term "to speak with a forked tongue" and how the Devil is said by some to have a forked tongue. I seem to recall having heard about tongue-splitting used as a form of torture or punishment meant for those who were caught lying—and a cursory Google search reveals that when Byzantine emperors were overthrown, yes, apparently their tongues were split as a form of torture. Ow. And generally speaking (pun halfway intended), cutting out of the tongue has been an ancient form of punishment in lots of cultures, usually for lying or slander or deceit or the like. Even more ow.)

In Greek mythology, a prominent serpent is the Python, the chthonic guardian of the Oracle of Delphi that was slain by Apollo. There's also the poison-blooded Hydra that grows two heads for every one cut off, slain by Heracles as one of his Twelve Tasks—though the Hydra is less specifically snaky being that it is often depicted as having limbs; the heads, though, are occasionally of the serpentine persuasion, and generally it seems agreed that the Hydra is serpenty or at least dragonish and reptilian. The fire-breathing Chimera is usually pictured as a beast with a lion's head and a goat's head and body and a snake for a tail. There's Echidna, the mother of all monsters (including the Hydra and Chimera), woman from the waist up and coiling thrashing serpent from the waist down; there's also Lamia, originally queen of Libya, who murdered her children and turned into a serpent from the waist down and had the power of prophecy and apparently the ability to temporarily yank her eyes out of her head. And of course we can't forget Medusa, one of the three Gorgons (or in some accounts she is the sole Gorgon), who has serpents springing from her head in place of hair and whose face could turn anyone to stone.

So women + snakes = a winning (evil) combo for the Greeks. But! There are also instances of snakes providing wisdom or otherwise being of aid to humans. According to some versions, blood taken from a Gorgon's left side was lethal poison whereas blood taken from her right side could return the dead back to the living. In some tales, Asclepius, son of Apollo and the most renowned mortal healer of Greek mythology, is given a vial of the Gorgon's life-giving blood which he uses to "cure" the dead (for which later Zeus smites him with a thunderbolt since Hades whined that the souls of the dead were his, his, his, and Ascelpius was stealing them). Asclepius also bore with him a staff twined around with a serpent that would whisper causes of patients' illnesses into his ear. (The Rod of Asclepius is apparently the original medical symbol and not to be confused with the Caduceus, which is a winged rod with two serpents wound about it, though even today it is still being used as a medical symbol.) Zeus eventually put Asclepius in the sky as a constellation, Ophiuchus or "the serpent-bearer". The healer and seer Melampus found a dead mother snake on the road and gave her a proper burial, for which he had his ears licked clean by her grateful offspring so that he could hear and understand the language of animals, enabling him to have all sorts of adventures and garner interesting information.

Moving on to other cultures and societies, there are the naga of Hinduism and Buddhism, which are deities taking the form of huge serpents ("naga" is apparently a transliteration of the Sanskrit word for "snake"). They sometimes appear as a mix of human and serpent and are preyed upon by the bird-god Garuda. And of course there are the naga people of Piers Anthony's Xanth novel series, able to shift forms: fully snake, fully human, or a combination of snake and human (human from the waist up or a human head on a snake's body). In Japanese folklore, serpents and snakes are generally symbolic of jealousy, for there are many tales of women transforming into serpents due to jealousy. (Interestingly, there are extremely few (if any) tales of men transforming into snakes, either on account of jealousy or otherwise. Demons, spirits, and ghosts? Yes. But snakes? No.) The Aztecs worshipped Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent, as a god of both sky and creation as well as a patron of knowledge. Another feathered serpent (possibly related/connected to Quetzalcoatl) is Avanyu, a water guardian and storm god of the Native American Tewa people, represented as a horned, feathered serpent. And in Chinese mythology and folktales there are apparently a number of stories featuring snakes, for which I got to essentially sit down for Story Time with Krispy, who recounted a few to me, including one about a snake that a boy raises up from a wee snaky, for which in gratitude it spits up a pearl that brings him wisdom, success, and general happiness in life, until he gives it away as a bribe and has the gall to ask the snake for another, whereupon it bites him to death; and another story about a giant lotus that appears every morning floating on a lake, which people sit on because a wandering monk tells them it's a holy lotus that will take them to the Pure Land—and which in the end turns out to be the mouth of a gigantic serpent that ate all those credulous superstitious people.

Ouroboros, the name generally now given to any depiction of a serpent holding its tail in its mouth, symbolizes eternity, time, cycles, round-and-round the merry-go-round and what have you. The gold ring the sorceress-type Aes Sedai women wear in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series takes this form. A variation of the snake-biting-own-tail is also prominently featured on the cover of the book that Bastian finds in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, featuring two serpents (one silver, one gold) biting each other's tails; this symbol is also found throughout the story. In Norse mythology, Jormungandr, the World Serpent or Midgard Serpent, is a serpent that gets flung down into the ocean and eventually grows large enough to encircle the world and bite its tail.

In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, one of the four Hogwarts Houses is Slytherin (link contains some analysis and may contain mild spoilers up to book five-ish), named after former House-head Salazar Slytherin; its colors are green and silver, it's mascot is a serpent, and according to the article I linked to, J.K.R. purportedly once said somewhere or other that the House is loosely affiliated with the element of water. According to groundskeeper Hagrid, I paraphrase, "There are no wizards gone bad who weren't in Slytherin." Slytherins are widely touted to look out for Number One above all else, and are cunning ends-justify-the-means type of people—and of course provide 85% of the antagonism within the daily academic life of Hogwarts.

And of course there's Parseltongue, the ability to communicate with snakes; notably there are no other animal-communication talents mentioned within the scope of the Harry Potter world, thus singling out snakes as a mysterious (and malign) force. You don't see Voldemort wandering around with a cuddly big-eyed bunny familiar—oh no, he's got a frickin' huge killer serpent named Nagini. Sure, he may have his reasons considering his ties to Slytherin House and all, but in the end the fact remains that he's got an evil snake at his beck and call and is constantly associated with serpents.

There are also basilisks in the Harry Potter world. In European mythology, the basilisk is a creature with a power similar to that of the Greek Gorgon sisters whose gaze could turn humans to stone—accounts vary as to whether the basilisk's gaze kills at a glance or turns to stone. The purported king of serpents, the basilisk tends to be pictured several different ways: a gigantic serpent (fittingly), a cockerel with a snake's tail and teeth (similar to the cockatrice, itself another legendary beastie of the serpentine persuasion, though it's supposed to have wings, unlike the basilisk), and a multi-legged lizard. Basilisks can often be found as minor monsters within the various Final Fantasy games with the power to inflict "petrify" status upon your party members, turning them into stone. (This condition can usually be remedied through the use of several respective items, including the creatively named "remedy" and even more creatively named "soft".)

Speaking of Final Fantasy, a frequent ally/Summon-type monster is Leviathan, who usually takes the form of a gigantic blue serpent and deals tidal waves of usually water-based damage upon enemies. (In Final Fantasy IV, in fact, Leviathan is the King of the Land of Summons.) The term leviathan has its origins as a monstrous sea creature in the Old Testament; there seem to be a number of versions stating that originally God created two leviathans, a male and a female, but that He killed the female to prevent them from procreating and overrunning the world. Very considerate. In the Book of Job, though, Leviathan appears to be a normal ordinary everyday humdrum mundane beastie alongside goats and hawks.

And who can forget evil Grand Vizier Jafar of Disney's Aladdin, whose staff of power is shaped like a cobra. The Vizier himself later takes the form of a gigantic black cobra in order to crush the life out of hapless Aladdin (rather odd that he doesn't just bite Aladdin's head off, swallow him whole, or pump him full of venom, but then again, I guess that wouldn't be acceptable in a Disney movie). Going along with other Disney portrayals of snakes, there's Sir Hiss of Robin Hood, whose power to hypnotize with his eyes is similar to the powers of Medusa and the basilisk; mesmerizing/hypnosis by means of the snake's eyes is also a common theme in general snake myths. Sir Hiss is King Richard's advisor and used his hypnotic powers to send Prince John on a crusade in the first place, thereby exemplifying Sir Hiss's deceitful nature and—you know what, it's a Disney movie and fairly self-explanatory. Same with Disney's version of The Jungle Book with the python Kaa hypnotizing Mowgli and deceiving various characters because he wants to eat the so-called man-cub. (And for the record, The Jungle Book was produced in 1967 while Robin Hood came out in 1973; Kaa and Sir Hiss look basically the same and the googly-stripy eyes they have when hypnotizing are pretty much the same too. Seems like Disney got lazy with their character designing.)

From this mish-mash of mythology and pop culture, we can determine that snakes have gotten a pretty bad rap as the centuries have gone along, and really, things haven't gotten much better. We can also determine that there seems some sort of malign link between serpents and women, if the Greeks, Japanese, and the Bible have anything to say of the matter, to say nothing of the other mythologies and folklore I'm less familiar with. I'm sure there's probably some psychologist or literary analyst out there (not even necessarily Freudian) who says that the serpent is a phallic symbol and something or other about women donning masculine characteristics and transforming monstrously as a physical result and representation of the unnaturalness of women acting like men—but I've said enough already right there. After all, to literary analysts, everything is a phallic symbol. I have this on good authority. More than one of my literature professors has said so. (They really have. In almost exactly those words.)

At least in the past there were some respected serpent deities and snakes were occasionally revered as sources of wisdom and protection, affiliated with earth or water as guardians or patrons of the elements; nowadays in our metropolitan, cosmopolitan world, snakes are relegated to pet stores and zoos and squirmy people going "Eww!" at the sight of them. All right, all right, I exaggerate—somewhat. (I mean, come on, look at this particular example of what this general ill-will and disgust and fear of snakes has birthed: Snakes on a Plane.) But the snake has long since lost that glitter of mystique and taken on a much more ordinary place within contemporary society's mindset as a perhaps mildly exotic creature to be looked at and either admired or loathed simply for existing the way it does. The serpent, along the same line, has taken root in modern imagination as a symbol of evil, deceit, poison or venom, death, and/or destruction, and thus a symbol to be feared and despised.

Krispy and I have done a bit of reading on serpents, as perhaps you can tell. There will be serpents in our collaborative novel. More than one. And they will be not necessarily evil, nor even immensely powerful, nor perhaps live up to mythological or contemporary convention, but they will one and all, in some quality or other, be bad-ass.


What's in a Name Redux

Now that I'm done dealing with midterms (for the time being), I can make another post about names without feeling guilty. So in honor of having fun and procrastinating (what 2 books I have to finish reading by tomorrow?), I'd like to blog about a few instances of Names Being Important and/or giving another delicious layer to the people they belong to in a few personal areas of interest. But first, let's start off with something a little more dense--namely Shakespeare (he's getting such a shout-out these past few posts).

From Romeo and Juliet, we have this famous passage:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
While Juliet is essentially arguing that it is what a thing is or who a person is that matters--not what it/he/she is called--she does not disregard the impact the name nevertheless has. While Romeo's name may not change his "dear perfection," it is his name and all that it represents that makes their love so star-crossed and tragic. The weight of their family names is the biggest obstacle in the way of their love.

Now, on to the fun things. The Harry Potter series has fun multi-layered names that I've enjoyed. These include those that may not have direct "meaning" per se but they evoke the type of person the character's supposed to be. I'll cover a few of these latter type names, but only if time and space permitting (since I ought to be reading). Before I go on though, I must make a token SPOILER ALERT warning for those who haven't read Book 3 and onward and don't want to be spoiled. (Spoiling people who don't want to be spoiled is a big no-no for me since I hate it when it happens to me and would hate to do that to someone else.)

Let's start with Professor Remus Lupin. No, I didn't realize he was a werewolf until the big reveal at the end of Book 3, but in hindsight (which is always 20/20), it couldn't have been more obvious with a name like that. Professor Lupin's entire name cries wolf. His first name, Remus, references the myth of Rome's foundation, in which the twins Romulus and Remus are suckled and raised by a she-wolf. The last name, Lupin, references wolf directly with the root of lup. Lupus is Latin for wolf, the Latin species name for wolf is canis lupus, and loup is French for wolf. You don't understand how much this stuff makes me squee inside.

Then there's the whole Black family. Sirius Black's animagus form is a huge black dog. The black part is a bit of a given, but the other relation is that Sirius, the star, is known as the "Dog Star" as it is located in the constellation Canis Major. It's also the brightest star in the sky, and what is Sirius but the most (in)famous member of the Black family in the storyline's recent years. Sirius' younger brother, Regulus, is also named after a bright star. The star Regulus is located in the Leo constellation, and not only is Regulus the brightest star in the lion constellation, it's the Heart of the Lion. Though it was mostly the clues given in the 5th and 6th books (esp. the RAB bit) that made me believe that Regulus did the right thing in the end, seeing the connections Regulus' name drew helped cement that belief. I mean, Sirius' brother named after the Heart of the Lion--the lion being the symbol of the Gryffindor House, which is where our main protags are from--has to mean something.

There's also the Black sisters, Bellatrix, Narcissa, and Andromeda. Bellatrix and Andromeda continue the Black family tradition of constellation names. Bellatrix is another meaning laden name because it's the name of the 3rd brightest star in the constellation Orion and means "female warrior," and isn't that exactly what Bellatrix is to He Who Must Not be Named? Narcissa, on the other hand, isn't constellation named, but she's a good example of one of those names that "fits" for reasons other than literal meaning. The name references "narcissus," which aside from being a rather pretty white flower is also the name of the Greek youth who fell in love with his own reflection because he was so beautiful. Narcissa, herself, is described as a pale beauty (platinum blonde, blue eyed, fair skinned -- unlike her dark-haired sister Bellatrix and cousins Sirius and Regulus), and while we don't see anything that suggests she's particularly vain, she is what amounts to a wizarding world aristocrat, and there's an air of self-centered snobbery to the old blood.

Moving on from Harry Potter, we enter the world of manga and anime. Briefly, I'd like to note the role of names in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away (which is a great film by the way) and Kubo Tite's manga/anime Bleach. Name is the key to power, identity, and freedom in Spirited Away. The girl protagonist, Chihiro has most of her name taken from her when she signs a work contract with Yubaba. She is left with a fragment of her name, Sen, to be called by, but she is warned by friends to remember her true name if she wishes to succeed in saving her parents and leaving the spirit world. The boy Haku is apprenticed to Yubaba but cannot leave his apprenticeship or remember who he is/used to be because he has forgotten his real name. Names are the key to unlocking spiritual power for shinigami in Bleach. For the protagonist Ichigo to truly gain the power of his zanpakutou, he has to first learn its name.

The more recent manga/anime hit Death Note (by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata) plays with names as well. The initial draw of the series is the Death Note's cardinal rule: "The human whose name is written in this note shall die." You find out later that you have to know the person's full and true name, as well as what they look like to make it work, but the implication on the importance of names is clear. It's the name rule that really becomes an obstacle for main character Light because his nemesis only goes by nicknames and fake names and famously by the letter 'L.' So there's a lot of playing with the concept of hidden and "true" names.

Then there's the manga/anime Loveless (by Yun Kouga). I can't really do an analysis of this justice, especially since the English Tokyopop release includes a really wonderful essay about the power of words and names in this series, but I need to mention it. It's strange to explain and I've read like 6 volumes and I'm still confused about stuff, but basically, the plot involves these dyads of a 'fighter' and a 'sacrifice.' Battles are conducted between fighter and sacrifice pairs and fought with words that form spells.

Where do names come in? The dyads are paired by name (fighter and sacrifice share the same name), and not just any name; it's a "true" name. We find out in the beginning that main character Ritsuka's brother, Seimei, revealed his true name (Beloved) to Ritsuka before his death. It is this "true name" that designates a fighter to his/her sacrifice, and it is from this shared name that they draw their strength and power. It is what connects them in a deep and spiritual way--like soul mates. Thus, having a pair with unmatched names is not just frowned upon, it's viewed with a fair amount of disgust. And for Ritsuka, who is trying to cope with the loss of his brother, growing up, and figuring out who he is, names take on an especially meaningful role. His "true name" aside (he can't quite make heads or tails of it yet), Ritsuka's struggle to find who he is under the psychological torment he's been subject to since Seimei's death is tied to the name Ritsuka. It's this name--not his "true name"--that he ultimately identifies with and uses to reaffirm to himself who he is. This action is especially significant in the context of Loveless because as mentioned before, words are spells are power in the series.

So in such a world, names perhaps hold the most power of all words and spells.


On Plausible Villainy

Iago of Shakespeare's Othello is widely touted to be the epitome of villainy. Why? Because he's just so damn evil. The dude's got it down on Othello and wants him to suffer, suffer, suffer, and suffer some more for good measure, and manages to contrive Othello's downfall with a smiling face and everyone's full trust. Why does he do this? Because somebody else got promoted, not him, and Othello gets to take the brunt of the blame. There's not really much reason beyond that given for his absolute hatred of the Moor. Dim-witted Othello trusts Iago completely which fact of course Iago takes shameless advantage of in order to manipulate and betray his "friend", and this is supposed to be why Iago is the quintessential evil villain. And because Shakespeare is revered as such a noble figure within the realm of English literature, and he's been dead for centuries, and scholars say so, it seems to be one of those general "facts" of the academic world.

Iago's kind of one-dimensional if you just take him straight out of the play.

No, seriously. Think about it. Iago haaaaaates Othello and wants to nail his tender bits to the wall and to make him suspicious of and despise his wife so that he'll smother her with a pillow and then feel terribly, terribly guilty about it when she finally dies of it a half-dozen agonized soliloquies and dialogue exchanges or so later. Cassio got promoted instead of Iago, and this fills Iago with vitriolic rage and loathing for Othello's littlest skin particle, never mind the rest of him. Speculation as to why he hates Othello so damn much is all well and good, of course, and ripe pickings for fanfiction (leave the temptation to slash alone, please, oh gods please leave it alone), but within the bounds of the actual play itself—let's face it, there's no real concrete reason given why Iago loathes Othello so much. We're just supposed to concentrate on the fact that Iago feels betrayed, the loathing is there, and now he's acting on what he feels and doing what he does best: being a manipulative bastard. He can gain dimension for possible reasons, and this is where the analysis and interpretation takes place, but there are characters who come off to me as deep and full of inner conflict and motivations and twists and turns of psychology that form an elaborate pretzel-knot, and then there are those who just leave me going double-you-tee-eff. Needless to say, Iago's one of the latter.

An Iago-type villain holds thin water nowadays, having become a stereotype: "You passed me up, so I'm-a kill you, you son of a bitch." I mean, most villains seem to be ambitious and aspiring towards power (for either destructive I'll-show-them-all-and-destroy-the-world or constructive I-can-make-the-world-a-better-place purposes), or because they've got vengeance cooking hot on their brains (this is Iago, who takes it to an extreme), or they lust after fame/infamy, or they're lusting for somebody that they can't have or want to impress, or they're just insane (which though it can be done well is more often used as a cop-out, like the typical oh-it-was-all-just-a-dream trope), or sundry other reasons. But it's a rare villain indeed who exists simply as a plot device of Sheer and Absolute Evil for the Sake of Hating So-and-So For a Reason of Some Kind. I mean, check out the Wikipedia section talking about Iago's possible motives—about the only clear and text-citable reason for hatred is that he was passed up for promotion. (Granted, it's been a while since I've read Othello, but I'm pretty sure I remember Iago having not very many clear reasons for his absolute hatred of Othello.)

Thus there are "evil" villains. But there are also villains who are not so much villains as antagonists, opposing the protagonist without necessarily being what you'd nominally call "evil". Look at the works of Hayao Miyazaki. His films are notorious for having villains who turn out to be not quite so villainous after all—they may not exactly be paragons of pure goodwill and altruism, but they tend to have a decidedly human air of reasonability about them. Check out the invading force in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Lady Eboshi of Princess Mononoke, or Yubaba of Spirited Away. I'll not post spoilers here, but they are human (or have humanizing qualities) as much as they are villains, and they're not pointlessly evil—or even exactly evil at all, since "evil" becomes a matter of perspective. As characters, they come off more multi-dimensional than Iago right off the bat without a great deal of analytical or interpretive work—and to my mind, if you need to work really hard to even identify (much less deconstruct) a villain's motivations and mental workings, then that means you're probably stretching things.

Want an example of a more one-dimensional "evil" villain? Check out Baron Von Rothbart of Mercedes Lackey's The Black Swan. He's a magician with a vendetta against unfaithful women—but why? The blurb on the back of the book says it's because he considers his wife's death some years previously to be the ultimate betrayal, but this isn't mentioned anywhere within the pages of the actual book, and it's a sad, sad day in literary heaven with the analytic angels of fiction weeping tears of blood when we have to turn to the summary on the back of a book in order to figure out character motivations within the story. (I mean, come on—I'm pretty sure the authors frequently have very little or nothing to do with the blurbs on back covers and on the insides of dust jackets, and there's been more than one occasion where the back blurb actually got facts about the story inside wrong.)

But back to Von Rothbart. The only hint we have of this wife's death = ultimate betrayal thing is a brief passage from Von Rothbart's daughter's perspective concerning violets. Yes, violets. Apparently Lady Von Rothbart loved violets (which the daughter Odile vaguely remembers) but there are no longer any violets growing on Von Rothbart's land because he has every patch of flowers found rooted ruthlessly out. (The poor woman doesn't even get a name—by calling her "Lady Von Rothbart" I've already given her more name than she gets in the story.) As far as I recall, that's the sole mention of any kind of wife-related angst, and the only possible hint of motivation for his going out and stalking young women to see if they're unfaithful, transforming them into swans when he finds them cheating on their men, and then kidnapping them away to his estate where they spend their days as swans and their nights as women clad in thin silk dresses. (Personally, I think Von Rothbart is a power-mad pervert with a major fetish for swans and cheating wives and way too much time on his hands, but I sadly have the feeling that my interpretation right there is giving him more character than is really there.)

So what of Krispy and I? We've been working on the "villains" lately. Motivation, background, and personal history, ambitions and deceptions and relationships with other characters. Several times we've had to back up and rethink character structure and motivation, and we're probably going to be zigzagging back and forth for a good while longer yet. Developing a plausible villain is tough work, particularly when there is a surfeit of villainous clich├ęs lurking like potholes to trip up unwary feet. We want more dimension than simply single-minded ambition or a single life-changing tragic incident in the past, and I don't think either of us has brought up madness as a suggested motivational force or excuse for a character's actions. These elements can be present, but they have to be well-done and they can't be reason enough alone—not without turning said characters one-dimensional, or two-dimensional if they're lucky.