Category Archives: Matt Jones

Ignorant Secret Troubled Love

whisper-408482_1280 One of my favorite tv shows of late is Castle. What’s not to love? Nathan Fillion is awesome, fights crime, and is an author! He’s who I want to be when I grow up. One of the subplots, and it’s almost getting to the point to where it’s cliche, is the love relationship between Richard Castle and Kate Beckett. Everyone knew from day one that the sexy co-star would eventually end up with the strong protagonist. In fact, I’m sure that even those who have never seen the show know exactly what I’m talking about. The formula is as old as time, so why does it keep happening? Or, perhaps a better question, why is it still so exciting?

If you’ve been following the blog all month, you have seen many examples of how love sells. We’ve talked about why it sells, the science behind it, the deep emotional depths, and the physical side as well. And, like clockwork, it comes up every year as we approach and celebrate Valentines Day. And, like the media we watch, it won’t go away. Cliche or not. The easiest explanation for all of this is that love if one thing that, no matter the genre, style, or age, will instantly connect to the audience. Everyone has experienced love and heartbreak. We all know the spark of attraction, the joy and embarrassment of dating, and the hurt of betrayal. And watching these shows, we can instantly bond with the characters and we have an idea of what they’re going through.

Another good reason is that relationships are a source of easy drama. Misunderstandings and clashing personalities are expected with any relationship. It adds realism, while still providing the tension that can carry an audience through the series. With episodic television, it’s somewhat expected that whatever problem is introduced in the beginning of the episode, it’ll be resolved quickly. This means that you can usually sit down and start watching an episode and have very little requirement in knowing the back story. Someone was killed, lets go find out who did it. The relationship drama, however, can last the entire show. Start watching in the middle, you can be fairy sure that you’ll know exactly where they are in the relationship arc and have a good idea of what came before it and where it will go afterwards. Despite this, it’s still able to elicit the emotions the writers desired.

And perhaps the best reason it still happens is that the audience will always want it. If Castle and Beckett never ended up together, it would be frustrating to much of the audience. The formula is so ingrained in us that if we see the potential and it’s ignored or dismissed, we almost feel that it’s a failure. The world practically revolves around these two characters. It’s hard enough to get through the beginning stage where they both have the feelings but they hide it and walk around in ignorance. After time, it would become difficult to balance the proximity the main characters have with each other with the expectations of the fans.

I will say that not everything follows this format, but even those that break it do so knowing what they’re getting into. We’re human, and we love. Disaster comes and goes. Worlds shatter, and murder cases are solved. In the end, it’s the relationships that will be remembered most. Which is fine by me. The world can always use a little more love.

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.