Foreign Friday: Environmental Influences

Reading manga has really taught me to keep my horizons wide, since Japanese culture is not the same as American culture. Things that the characters do or say reflect the environment of the author, and if I’m not paying attention I won’t understand. But only recently have I considered the effect of my own environment upon READING.

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Have you ever read a book or watched a movie, and then forever related it to the events or location during which you first read/watched it? Pride and Prejudice in the summer. Cardcaptor Sakura in the spring. The Lord of the Rings at Christmas time. The Hunger Games in a windowless room with dry snack food. Harry Potter in the back of a minivan. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with my brothers, watching them play and reading out the strategy guide for the Water Temple. Can’t read Redwall without cheese and iced tea. Final Fantasy XIII at a friend’s, trying to figure out the plot and debating the pros and cons of Xbox vs PlayStation.

I’ve found that those environmental relations tend to color how I remember the story (hot, cold, fun, lousy).  Starting Naruto Shippuden was super exciting, but it could have been because I started reading it at Easter after having given up manga for Lent. I hated The Hunger Games, but perhaps it had something to do with the institutional room and substandard food I was eating, making me feel a little too sympathetic. Final Fantasy is awesome and intricate, but it may be colored by the pleasure of playing it with my friend.

These are the fun observations that can lead to brilliant character development! And it all started because I wanted to finish a video game…

 

 

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Foreign Friday: Prologue

“What is past is prologue.” – The Tempest

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One of the best things about summer is that I have a lot of free time. One of the worst things about summer is that every else knows I have a lot of free time. The end result is that all my free time gets planned out for me with (albeit fun) activities that don’t leave a lot of…free time. Good for my social life, bad for my writing. Well, that’s just how it goes.

One of these fun activities was to go and see Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed in an outdoor theater. Brilliant production! If you’ve never seen Shakespeare acted out by people who know what they’re doing, you’re really missing out! Wooden O has been performing “Shakespeare in the Park” for 20 years in my area, and they are truly to be commended.

There is a famous line in The Tempest (which I quoted above), which gave me writing food for thought. Prologues (or so I’ve been told by my personal critic whom I respect most) are often useless, poorly written, and actually miss what a prologue should really be. What should I prologue really be? I haven’t reached that peak yet, but I’m scaling that mountain.

I know for myself that while I always felt that prologues are a waste of paper (because usually the information they give is either marginally irrelevant, or could easily be summed up in a paragraph in the main story), I find myself writing them anyway. There is something about prologues that makes me want to put something down. But is it the sort of information that needs to be placed in a prologue? Is it really the first thing I want readers to experience in the story?

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I know that if done well, prologues can be very tantalizing, or very frustrating. Take the first page of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle – that is a prologue of events to come. There are no words, but the action and the desperate emotion jump of the page at you. Yet the events they are prologue-ing don’t occur until THE LAST VOLUME! You plow your way through the series trying to find out how that single page fits into the story! I’d say that is an excellent use of a prologue (and yes, I am a CLAMP fan.) Another great use of the idea of prologue is the series Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki. While there isn’t actually a prologue, the whole vibe of the story is centered on things in the past. It’s almost as if the main character’s life was a prologue to the events that follow in the series.

What do you think? Ever read a great – or terrible – prologue? Any prologue writing tips out there?

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Foreign Friday: Fathers

As the weekend approaches, I find myself thinking about Father’s Day, mostly because this week my dad came home after a five and a half month’s absence and it promises to be an epic Father’s Day. I know my dad has been a significant figure in my life (next to my mom, we’re a tight family) and I can tell that that positive influence can be seen in my writing.

Dads are usually cool. Unless they’ve been killed off before the beginning of the story.

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One of the reasons I enjoy reading manga is that it gives a glimpse into the Japanese culture. What do they think of their fathers? What sort of quirks are general among them? In the end, fathers are the same across the globe, some are good, some are bad, some are… special, some are useless. We may express things differently, but fathers are fathers.

For all you fathers out there, I salute you.

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Foreign Friday: Swords Make the Man

Ever notice in stories that the hero can be identified by an object? If I think ‘character with a sword,’ I quickly come up with Ichigo’s Zongetsu, his ultra-powerful zanpaku-to. Inuyasha’s heirloom sword Tetsusaiga. Rurouni Kenshin’s reverse blade sword. Kanda’s Innocence Mugen. You can’t really picture them without their trusty sword, right?

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Sometimes this identity starts to get to the point where you don’t expect the hero to ever do anything without his sword. This weapon defines him! He is nothing without it!

Uh-oh. Help! The character has been swallowed by his powerful sword!

Losing a character’s identity within his main accessory can be a danger. The character becomes the tool a writer uses to bring in the ultimate weapon. Of course, this danger is not just with swords. Magic powers, special cars, and other things can overshadow the character they are supposed to be supporting. Fortunately, the characters listed above are properly nurtured to be able to act and have a personality beyond their steel.

The same cannot be said with some of my characters….

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Foreign Friday: Going Back to Fix Things

Yesterday I read a wonderful blog by Kristen Lamb about not going back to edit/fix manuscript until you’ve reached the end of the story. This advice is incredibly valuable, following my new mantra of DON’T LOOK BACK. I have not yet mastered this skill.

Of course, Kristen Lamb is not the only one to have given such good advice. Moving forward while resisting the urge to go back and correct things before the end is something I’ve learned from such manga epics as Fullmetal Alchemist and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. 

Edward and Alphonse Elric wish to bring their dead mother back to life. Not the best idea. Can they go back and correct the consequence (losing of limbs/body)?

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Syaoran….well, let’s just say that the whole point of Tsubasa is ‘don’t screw with time.’ Innumerable consequences follow from a wish to go back and change something. And even if the change is successful, the act of changing it twisted the entire fabric of the universe, screwing with just about everything.

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DON’T LOOK BACK is a good motto to have when just trying to finish your WIP. Of course, if Ed or Syaoran had followed that advice, then there wouldn’t have been a story, would there?

FMA photo by (http://media.comicvine.com)

TSUBASA photo by (http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net)

Foreign Friday: Rainy Thoughts

Sometimes, I wish I could be like the rain. If I were, would I have a way to connect two hearts together, the way the rain connects the earth and the sky, even though the two never touch?

  – Bleach

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Rain can often make me melancholy and introspective. I blame the falling rain for my lack of focus on my WIP, and my increase in daydreaming. Although, daydreaming can arguably become a way of harnessing new ideas, or a way to get into the head of a melancholy or introspective character. Despite my issues with the plot of Bleach, this is one thing that Tite Kubo does rather well; with just a few lines, he can set the mood and thoughts of a character whose thought process is usually abstract, changing her from amusing to poignantly insightful.

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Foreign Friday: Manga Villain Awards

Welcome to the Manga Villain Awards, where I will hand out fictitious awards to some of my favorite (and least favorite) manga and anime bad guys. SPOILER ALERT. If you want to read/watch any of these in the future, please abstain from the rest of this post.

Disclaimer: These are all based on what I’ve read/seen, and how far I’ve gotten. This list is always going to be subject to change.

#1 Most Despicable Award

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Father (Fullmetal Alchemist). There is something plainly evil about a being that is perfectly okay with slaughtering an entire country so that he can be a god. Coming in a close second would be humans in the anime Vandread.

#2 Most Psychologically Challenged

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Creed (Black Cat). This guy is an obsessive sociopath. He’s totally nuts. The runner up for this would be Dilandau from the anime The Vision of Escaflowne.

#3 Most Predictable

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Naraku (Inuyasha). Possibly because the series stretches on so far, Naraku becomes rather predictable in his actions and schemes. Fortunately he redeems himself and becomes interesting again right at the end.

#4 Most Surprising Identity

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Emperor Dornkirk/Sir Isaac Newton (The Vision of Escaflowne). Discovering that the bad guy was actually Sir Isaac Newton is hard to beat. Seriously? A runner up for the award would be Seishiro from Tokyo Bablyon. I didn’t see that one coming either.

#5 Most Annoyingly Overly Powerful

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Aizen (Bleach). I’ve ragged on this guy’s absurd amount of power and genius in previous posts, so I won’t say much more. This guy was just annoying by the time the end rolled around!

SPECIAL AWARDS

#6 Coolest Turncoat

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Gaara (Naruto). From a blood lusting insomniac to the coolest kazekage, Gaara has come a long way from the Chunin Exams.

#7 Coolest Antihero

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Shesshomaru (Inuyasha). He’s not good, he’s not necessarily evil, but he’s way cool….

#8 Most Creatively Complicated Schemes

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Fei-Wang Reed (Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle). It’s not every bad guy who is the villain of two simultaneous series, and whose plans include clones, multi-dimensional traps, and repeated time traveling.

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