Author Archives: Matt Jones

About Matt Jones

Software Engineer for a living. Fantasy writer for myself. I'm a writer, veteran, gamer, hacker, maker, astronomer, thinker, and altogether indescribable.

Conflicts of Character Design

There are many parts of creating a new novel, and creating realistic characters is probably one of the most challenging ones. Characters need to be believable. They need to have their own personality, habits, and traits that set them apart from others. If done correctly, the reader will be able to relate. They’ll understand and feel concerned. It’ll pull them deeper into the novel and they’ll keep reading to figure out what will happen. If done poorly, it will throw them out of the novel. They won’t be able to believe and before long, they’ll look elsewhere and leave your novel behind.

When I create new characters, I focus on the conflicts. Everyone has conflicts they face and have to deal with. It’s the sum of all these conflicts that can lead them on the road of hero or villain. These conflicts will generally take on the shape of external and internal, two sides of a fight that is always raging in everyone.

Internal conflicts are anything that tears your character apart from inside. This can be dealing with a phobia, memory, or other psychological barrier. It can be need to be the best, or look the prettiest. It can be the fear of the dark that makes your character abandon others he could easily save. Or the pride that keeps him from admitting he was wrong. The internal conflicts are generally the deeply ingrained problems that the character spends the entire novel attempting to overcome.

External conflicts are everything else that keeps your character on track. The broken home he has to deal with, the abusive parents. They can include the weather, environment, wild animals, or other characters. Anything that goes against what the character would do and forces them to make decisions.

When you create a new character, consider all the conflicts that they have to deal with. Write them down and keep them in your mind as you write them. They’ll keep your character constant and provide motivation to act, even if it’s running away. Once these conflicts are established, your character can show true heroism by not only saving the day, but by having to overcome their natural reaction to do so.

The Strangest Part of Real Life is that it Happens Every Day

1930348_21385808146_2396_n After High School, I joined the U.S. Air Force as a means to attend college. I signed up as a computer programmer, knowing even then exactly what I wanted to do in life. Sadly, due to one of those strange twists of fate, they didn’t have room in that career field and offered me another. Since I spoke Japanese, I could change my job to a Cryptologic Linguist. This would mean I would be able to perfect the language I loved but didn’t master, as well as giving me the chance to live and learn in Japan. I jumped at the chance. Sadly, nobody warned me at that time that recruiters lie.

I went to basic training at Lackland AFB before going to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California. I was excited and ready for the challenge, or at least I was, until they gave me my language. Arabic. I was told that only officers get Japanese since we’re not actively “watching” them. So, I began my life as a trainee linguist who began to understand how easily the government can betray. I begged for at least Chinese, which was a language they did offer, but by that point I was simply a number and those in charge could care less what I did.

After a year of learning Arabic in the classroom, and studying Japanese after class, I was pulled from my class. I didn’t want to be there, and they didn’t want me. My sergeant at the time swore I would get the worst job possible. They asked me what jobs I wanted and I chose Electrical or Software Engineering. Instead they pulled my Top Secret clearance, which they paid insane amounts of money for, and made me a bus driver. 2T1x1, or Vehicle Operator to be precise.

The job was simple. Think of a cross between a rent-a-car for people visiting the base and a taxi service. The good side was that the base I was assigned to had lots of downtime, which meant I had plenty of time to go to school.

The story so far is simple. Quick back-story I guess. Maybe not even all that exciting. For me it was more insulting than anything. Shortly afterwards, however, things got exciting. The Army was short on manpower and the Air Force offered their troops as a stopgap. I went from bus driver to gun truck operator. I was part of the team that drove the armored vehicles with the big weapons on top.

When I first got to Camp Anaconda, a base north of Baghdad, Iraq, we were being actively bombed every day. It became commonplace to see missiles flying overhead or hear explosions sound from just across the way. Nobody really talked about those explosions or those involved in them. You just moved on.

One time, I was at the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) tent doing what any good soldier does in his off time: playing a first person shooter. It was a usual day until we all heard the tell-tale sign of a missile. A whistling sound followed by an impact. We opened the door to see a still smoking missile, about a foot high, buried in the ground a couple feet from the door. The fact that it didn’t explode wasn’t uncommon since most of the weapons being fired at us were old and derelict. We quickly evacuated and went on with our day, refusing to believe that we were one spark away from not returning home.

My job was to drive in the convoys in my armored Humvee with a 50cal mounted to the top. You rarely stop on these missions and after hours of staring at the road through armored glass, everything gets distorted. When you do get to stop, you hold the brake pedal a little firmer than usual since, to your eyes, the world is still rolling along in your peripheral vision. I’ve had a couple encounters where I would do a full day’s drive just to find out that the convoy directly after us was hit by a roadside bomb. Children you meet on the way would beg for candy and then flip you off as you drove away. Everyone, and everything became a threat. Months after returning I would steer clear of plastic bags and cardboard boxes someone left on the road.

My one deployment lasted just under a year and was filled with many similar stories. It was a unique and challenging experience. It was a time that I’ll never forget and one that definitely shaped my life. The part that is really strange to me is that my experience was roughly calm. I’m sure there are thousands who go through much worse than I could ever imagine. After experiencing that, I watch these films of war and can somehow relate. Some may say that I was protected by plot-armor. The protagonist of my own story who avoided these deadly experiences because the plot said I should.

Fiction can be strange, but it’s bound by rules. My story is true, but nobody would buy it. I didn’t save anyone. I didn’t help advance an overarching plot. I didn’t do anything special at all. I simply lived my life and was extremely lucky that I passed all the rolls of the dice that could have ended that. And these things happen all the time. It might not be exciting enough for a mass market, but it was hell of a thriller for me.

Enjoying Your Own Writing

Remember the last time you wrote something really good? I mean REALLY good? Maybe something you set aside for a little while and upon revisiting it you thought, “Did I really write this?” Something that fuels imagination, incites rage, or simply gives you goosebumps. It’s for those moments that I write. To be honest, it’s for those moments that I live for.

But lets step back and look at my life. This month is all about getting a glimpse into the world of our fellow fictorians. For my day job, I’m a Software Engineer. I write code and I love it. I guess it makes sense. During the day I get to write clever algorithm and create new software. At night I get to write clever prose and create new worlds. In both jobs, my favorite moments come when I can look at something I wrote, be it code or prose, and bask in my own brilliance.

Now, I guess there is something that makes those moments so special for me. They happen, but not as often as I would like. I guess one of the problems with writing every day, for a long time, is that you get used to it. You come to learn what to expect with your abilities and you don’t always end up pushing the envelope. In coding it is the well understood, easy to read code usually is always the best. A favorite quotes goes as follows:
“Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.” –Brian Kernighan

The same goes for writing. You learn what works and what doesn’t. To some degree, writing is taking pieces of a novel and putting them together in the right order to keep the reader entertained. If you make it too clever, or too convoluted, you’ll lose a lot of readers who just want a simple novel. The chances of doing something really amazing sometimes feel few and far between.

But that doesn’t mean it never happens. Sometimes magic strikes, and sometimes I can channel that magic to create pure brilliance on the screen. When I read it later, the magic is still there and it flares to life. And sometimes, I forget all the mistakes I’ve made. I forget the negative criticism I’ve received. I forget all the rejection letters I have. Sometimes I know that I am a writer, and this is why I write.

And that’s why I keep writing.

Spreading your Intellectual Property without Infringing on Someone Else’s

Image in the Public Domain from the Library of Congress.
Image in the Public Domain from the Library of Congress.

Many people view the internet as a lawless scary place where virtual goods, the lifeblood of starving authors and artists worldwide, is freely traded and stolen. And worst, this is all done without the original creators knowledge or consent. This is the image often portrayed by lawyers and copyright holders around the world when working to protect their personal income. The sad thing is, to an extent, they’re completely right. It’s not difficult to find copyrighted works, especially popular and bestselling works, available for download the day they’re released. While there are many competing views, as content creators ourselves, we should make the best effort to stay on the straight and narrow as we promote ourselves and our works.

It’s not easy to provide good content and still ensure everything is legal. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you’re an author working on your own works. Your words are interesting, your descriptions are captivating, and your audience is enthralled. However, if you’re like me, your drawing abilities leave much to be desired. But fear not, the internet is there for you. A simple google image search quickly gives you many great images that will give your prose that nudge to perfection. It happens all the time, and many times nothing bad comes from it. Perhaps even most of the time, nobody will even notice that the work didn’t belong to you. Some may even think you created it yourself. But, for the sake of argument, what if it was your work that someone “borrowed” and put on their page. No attribution or notice to you. It might make you feel guilty and quickly try to set matters right. Luckily, as technology advances, so does the ability to find content that is freely available to use on your site!

As always, if you’re concerned or have any questions, consulting a copyright lawyer can save you time and money in the long run. Information is freely given, but you ultimately own the responsibility for your own actions.

Images: As with all content, you want to ensure you have the rights and permissions to duplicate and host someone else’s work. While it’s perfectly acceptable to find an image you like on the web and ask the creator for permission, sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly who the creator is. If the owner of a piece of work is ambiguous, you probably just want to avoid the work altogether. When searching for work, look to buy from well known vendors or via trusted sources. A couple well known sites include: Shutterstock and iStockphoto.

If searching for free images, you probably want to look for images that are hosted under the Creative Commons license or listed as Free Use. These images are available by the content creator for your use following certain restrictions. Before using them, ensure you understand what is required and how far the rights extend. Many images, for example, are available to anyone as long as they contain proper attribution and are used for non-profit purposes. A few good sites to find Creative Commons images are to look at the Creative Commons section of flickr or look at wikimedia. You can also do a Google Images search and select “Labeled for reuse” under the usage rights of the search tools. Finally, you can just do a search on the Creative Commons website itself.

Writing: Like using images created by another, written content should be used carefully as well. Everything is given an initial copyright as soon as it is created, and that work should be respected. It is usually pretty easy to get access to bloggers and authors if you wish, so it’s never a bad idea to send a quick email asking for permission. This usually costs you a little time and can be very rewarding in the long run. The original author may even send traffic your way as a token of appreciation of your own work. You should always link back to the original work if possible as well. If not, make sure you give proper attribution and details on how the users can find the work referenced.

In the end, if you are using someone else’s work to help promote yourself. Someone, in the future, may consider doing something similar with your work. Play it forward and do what you can to help improve the current state of copyright on the internet. It may not get any better, but at least you’ll know that you’re one of the good guys. And, better yet, it might keep you free of all legal issues and ensure you can keep writing the good stuff!