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When the characters in the book you are writing are TSTL

We’ve all read books where the characters are too stupid to live. There’s even an acronym for it, TSTL. They’re stories where a character does something they wouldn’t logically do, and that action drives a major part of the plot.

Romance writing gets a lot of schtick for characters who are TSTL. Whether they’re full-on romance or just have romantic elements, stories can often have a romantic sub-plot where the characters misunderstand each other and that causes problems. Our two would-be lovers go around angry at each other, doing stupid things as a result, while the reader sits there screaming at them, “For goodness sake, talk to each other.”

It’s not just romantic leads, though. A lot of fantasies start off with the hero (or heroine) going off on a half-baked whim, too. Let me give you an example.

Take twin brothers who haven’t seen their father in ten years. Father writes and asks that they meet him at his new cottage, and that they be there for their thirtieth birthday, as he has something important to tell them. The younger (by four minutes) brother has twin girls at home and his wife is expecting again. The older brother has a relationship with the head of the Mage academy in the city.

As they get closer to the forest, they hear disturbing stories about the creatures in the forest. So much so, they’re already wondering why their father wants to live near it.

Then they get to the cottage itself. There’s no father, but they see signs of a struggle, and tracks leading into the forest.

Youngest brother says, “Our father’s in danger.  We have to save him. Let’s go.”

Older brother, “But it’s dangerous in the forest, and neither of us know how to fight.”

“It doesn’t matter. Dad’s life is important.”

So off our heroes race, unprepared, into the dangerous woods, and the whole story is about them rescuing their father, the angst about the partners they’ve left behind, and of course, the mysterious thing their father was to tell them on their thirtieth birthday.

How likely is this? They’re thirty years old, for goodness sake. Settled. Are they just going to run into the forest? They don’t even know if their father really is in there. They’re unprepared, untrained and likely to die. TSTL.

Many readers won’t read past the first chapters. They haven’t got time for a character who deserves what’s coming.

Bit what does it mean as a writer if your characters are TSTL?

In our experience, it means we’re at least one draft off a workable story. And yes, we too have written stories where the co-writer comes back and says, “Why didn’t he just tell her what he planned to do. I mean, they talk to each other normally, don’t they? Why hold this particular piece of information back?”

Why? Usually because the author decides that’s how the story has to go and they’re trying to cram the characters they have created into that story. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter or a pantser you can still force a story down a path that doesn’t make logical sense.

Let’s go back to those twins who go off into the dangerous forest to find their father. The whole story revolves around getting into that forest and on the things that happen there.

Are these two, in any logical storyline, likely to go into the forest alone?

Probably not. If they have any nous they’ll go first to the local law, and if the law doesn’t help, maybe they’ll hire an experienced tracker or someone who knows the forest, to go with them. They might even decide not to go into the forest at all, given they don’t know their father really is in there.

That’s why I say you’re at least one draft off a workable story. You need to fix this massive logic hole before your story is done.

An easy way might be to arrive at the cottage and see their father fighting with one of the forest monsters. They join in the fight—he is their father, after all—and when the monster drags their father off, they chase. That might work, and you’ve only really got one big scene to change, plus maybe some angsty bits where they’re thinking about how they might have done it differently.

If they choose, instead, to find a tracker, then you’ve added another character to the story and you have to write them in. Adding a character isn’t simply a matter of, ‘hey, there’s another person along, mention their name on occasion’. The newcomer will interact with the brothers, they’ll have their own thoughts and feelings and ways of doing things. And if you’ve done it properly, that will change what happens in some of the fight scenes, and how the brothers track their father. Basically the whole rest of the book.

Alternatively, you can change one of the characters to be the sort who does rush off and do this sort of thing, and have his twin always follow to rescue him.  Then you’ll have to rewrite the characters to match.

Like I say, there’s at least another draft to write. Probably more.

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Life imitating the movies

On Thursday morning we braved the pandemic and saw Wonder Woman 84 at the movies.

We did it early, and we did it in Gold Class, which has limited seating and lots of space between seats. It was nice to get out of the house and do something and lovely to see a film on the big screen. The movie (with ads) was three hours and we wore masks for the whole time. For all you people who have to wear them all day, every day for work, I salute you.

I enjoyed Wonder Woman, although it was nothing compared to the original, which ranks as one of my top ten movies of all time. That’s a hard bar to match. Although, now, of course, I think we should all come up with ways that Steve can come back

For those of you who have seen the movie, there’s a scene where the bad guy storms the Whitehouse. Thursday morning was Wednesday night US time. We woke to news of people storming the Capitol in DC. I must say it was surreal spending the morning reading the news and then seeing a movie where people stormed that same building. It certainly changed the experience.

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Edible food art

Photo from 9gag.com.

So that was 2020. Late last year the above quarantine calendar was doing the rounds. I’d say that about sums up my year.

#

I’m still not in the mood for anything serious yet, so today it’s food art.Sherylyn found some amazing food art on the internet. I have to say, I didn’t realise there was so much of it around, but it’s so good.

Bored Panda has 16 awesome food art ideas, many of them to encourage younger children to eat food.

From Chewbacca noodles to a sleeping rice bear.   All of them are fantastic, take my word for it.  Go and look at the site.

Bears made out of rice look really good.  I could do a whole blog just on them.  Or on designing edible plates for children.

Then there’s Tisha Cherry’s pepperoni pizza faces over on the Lifestyle Asia site.  (5 food artists that turn simple ingredients into edible masterpieces, Kankanit Wichiantanon).  Using vegetables to put scenes onto flatbread is quite common, and you can do almost any scene you want.

Or what about playing with your food.  Back in 2008, they made a toast stamp called Tic Tac Toast.  It was a simple stamp, two lines across, two lines down.  Then you cooked the toast.

I have to say, here in Australia we tend not to mix our jam and peanut butter—or not when I was young, anyway—so I’d like peanut butter and butter, maybe. 

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Post-Christmas exercise

I should be writing, but I’m not. I should be exercising. I’m not doing that, either. No, in this post-Christmas lull all I want to do is sit down and read a good book. Or failing that, play a mindless computer game or pick up a game like Sudoku. I’m sure many of you feel the same, so here you have it.  Two slightly twisty games of Sudoku. And look, they don’t even go up to nine. That makes it easier, right?

If, like me, you like your Sudoku on paper, here’s a link to printable pages.

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Watch out for 2020 submarines

Washington Post, 18 December 2020

The Washington Post asked readers to describe 2020 in one word or phrase. I went to their site to check it out, and the first word that came up was ‘exhausting’.

Yes, that’s my 2020.

Other words people came up with included lost, chaotic, surreal and relentless. Yes, all of those, too, but overall for me the year was simply exhausting.

Also from the Washington Post article—the best summation. “It’s like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting hit by a submarine.”

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A pre-holiday puzzle

I’m getting into holiday mode, as I only have four days’ work left in this year. A puzzle for you.

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Reflecting on changes in how we watch television

We’re binge watching a show on Netflix called Black. It’s a fantasy-thriller about a girl who sees black shadows around people who will die soon, and a grim reaper who inhabits the body of a human in order to track down a fugitive grim reaper.

It’s eighteen episodes long and even though we’ve only been watching it for three nights now, we’re half-way through the series. I’m enjoying it, although to be honest sitting I’d rather it was a few episodes shorter.

I can remember when binge watching a series was only something you did at movie marathons over Christmas and New Year. They’d take something like Star Wars and show all three movies back-to-back. That’s right. There were only three movies then. Now known as episodes four, five and six. In those days, it wasn’t even the television channels that got into the act but the movie theatres.

If you wanted to watch a movie on demand, you had to buy the video, or later, the CD.

Now it’s Netflix, and streaming and we don’t have to wait any more.

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Today’s mood

It’s Sunday and I’m working. My own fault, but it’s been one of those weeks where the work just keeps piling on.

I haven’t touched the novel for two weeks. Four weeks to annual leave, and I’m exhausted. 🙂

Hope the rest of you are having a good week.

Keep safe.

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Granny came out of the phone

The ring of steel around Melbourne is gone.

Here in Victoria COVID restrictions have eased a little and we can travel around the state. Sherylyn and I, who are both the only members of our family living in Melbourne, haven’t seen the rest of the family since the start of the year.

It’s been like that for a lot of people. Sherylyn was talking to a woman today, down from the country, who hasn’t seen her two young grandchildren all year. She’s kept in touch of course, video-calling them weekly, but this is the first time she’s been able to visit them personally in months.

What did these two young toddlers say?

“Look. Granny came out of the phone.”

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Time is flying

Lockdown has eased

Yay. Less restrictions. We can do more things. We’re no longer restricted to going out for just exercise, food, medicine and safety, and only for an hour a day. We can go further—25km rather than just five—and there’s no curfew. We can eat out, provided the groups within specified guidelines. The hairdressers are open.

My hairdresser booked me into my regular 11:30 Saturday slot as soon the announcement. Then she sent me a message to ask me if I wanted it. That’s service. She did that for all her regulars, so much so that even when I arrived on Saturday (the announcement was the Sunday prior), she was still turning people away as she was booked up for the next three weeks just with the regulars.

To be honest though, outside of a haircut, little has changed for me.

Tax deadline looms

31 October is the deadline for tax returns if you’re doing it yourself, and the tax financial year itself runs from 1 July to 30 June. We do our own tax (except the super fund, which we leave to the experts). Because so many of our receipts are electronic nowadays, one thing I do as part of the process is export my bank transactions to a spreadsheet and compare them against the receipts.

Given that COVID-19 has been around since the start of the year, and the first round of restrictions came into play in March, with more severe restrictions commencing from August, it’s been interesting to see the change in my spending over the last 12 months.

Mostly, it’s all about the food. I can’t believe how much I spend on food. Less eating out, obviously, and more takeaway. More expensive takeaway—many local businesses simply switched their menu from on-premise to takeaway but didn’t change their prices. (Takeaway is the Australian term for take-out.) What surprised me most, however, was how far back I started doing this. March and April, rather than August. Eight months, not three. I know this year has flown by but reading the patterns it feels as if time has been compressed. March to October is a blur, and it doesn’t feel like that long.