I am celebrating the worldwide release of Rune Warrior. This epic sci-fi time travel thriller is a fast-paced, world-spanning adventure that also travels back through the history of the Roman Empire, and beyond. It’s book two of the Facetakers, but is written as an entry point, so new readers can start with this awesome adventure, then go back and read Saving Face and Memory Hunter as prequels.
This book has adventure, romance, intrigue, tons of cool historical figures, a unique soul-based magic system.
And it has Spartacus like you’ve never seen him before.
Frank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers scifi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org
When I think memorable characters, I think of villains first. Because villains make the heroes. It’s the villain’s scheme that proves the hero’s worth and skill. A hero’s purpose is to stop the antagonist. The stakes are almost always incredibly high, and the hero feels the crushing weight of the responsibility upon his or her shoulders.
Unless that hero is John McClane. (Not to be mistaken with John McCain. Ever.)
The best part of John McClane is that he doesn’t want to be there. At the start of every movie, we glimpse our reluctant hero about to embark on a situation he doesn’t want to be in, whether it be a Christmas party or another day without a drink. His motivations are simple, and have hardly anything to do with what actually happens to him. The story of his life: the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the middle of each movie, not even God knows what he’s doing. He’s solving puzzles like who the 21st president was, killing a helicopter with a car because he’s out of bullets, and figuring out why Hans Gruber has such a horrible American accent. What do all of these situations have in common? His clothing that always gets increasingly dirty, and his lovable nonchalance. As he says in Live Free or Die Hard, “You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin’. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can’t remember your last name. Your kids don’t want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy.”
A ray of frickin’ sunshine.
In Die Hard, NYPD cop John McClain flies to LA to attend his wife’s company’s Christmas party. The two have been recently separated, and John hopes to rekindle their relationship. Instead, he kindles a witty cat-and-mouse game around Nakatomi Plaza with German terrorist Hans Gruber (played by the incredible, late Alan Rickman).
John’s Initial motivation: attends a Christmas party, tries to get his wife to love him again.
Final outcome: saves nearly everyone in the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles, kills terrorist Hans Gruber and foils his entire plan, saves his wife Holly. Ho ho ho!
In Die Hard 2, the ugly stepsister of the Die Hard movie franchise, John’s wife Holly finds herself in the middle of a terrorist plot (Again! What luck!) at the Washington D.C. airport. I’m not going to lie, I fall asleep every time I try and watch this one. Some planes crash, there’s a news helicopter in there, Holly’s okay, and that’s the end. I think.
John’s initial motivation: pick up Holly from the Washington D.C. airport.
Final outcome: McClane foils another terrorist plot, has a really badass scene where he lights a trail of fuel and blows up a plane, rescues Holly, again. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same stuff happen to the same guy twice?
In Die Hard: With a Vengeance, we find John a bit down and out. Holly’s no longer in the picture (after all that, she just didn’t like him I guess), and John’s nursing the bottle. When a call comes into the NYPD and the caller specifically requests McClane, John must get himself together for a race around the city with the best side-kick ever, Zeus Carver, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
John’s initial motivation: drink all day.
Final outcome: runs around the city with new bestie Zeus, saves an elementary school, meets super knowledgable construction driver, foil’s terrorist plot, saves a bunch of gold, decides to call his fickle wife Holly. This stuff happens when you throw a terrorist’s little brother off the thirty-second floor of Nakatomi Towers out in L.A. I guess he’s a little pissed off about it.
In Live Free or Die Hard, the world becomes more technological, but John McClane is still who you’d want around when things go offline. A terrorist (shocker) recruits computer hackers to build separate parts of fire sail. When most of the hackers turn up dead, the remaining hackers are left to figure out what they’ve all built. It’s one hacker’s lucky day because it’s John’s job to keep him safe.
John’s initial motivation: just wants to stalk his estranged daughter in peace.
Final outcome: McClane gets America (back) online, begins repairing relationship with daughter, foils and kills terrorist. McClane is a Timex watch in a digital age.
In A Good Day to Die Hard, John now has to repair his relationship with his son Jack, who just so happens to be under arrest for an assassination attempt in Russia. This movie takes place in Russia. It’s difficult to count this movie because the other Die Hard movies are as American as John McClane drinking apple pie-flavored moonshine.
John’s initial motivation: wants to see what’s going on with his son in Russia.
Final outcome: almost blows up the Ukraine with uranium. Oops! But also foils the Russian terrorist and reunites with his son, Jack. They’re not a hugging family.
What I’ve learned from a nearly 30-year love affair with John McClane is this. Your hero doesn’t always have to be willing. Sometimes, that’s exactly what will make your readers love him more. He can be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and still kick some major butt. Giving your hero a strong personality and a little reluctance can be a recipe for one of the most memorable heroes of all time.
I’ve just experienced a life with a unique set of events and fields of study that, if one were given enough the correct motivation (and a healthy dose of limited moral inhibitions), the particular set of skills learned could be misapplied to one’s advantage. Fortunately, I’m in a position where the best use of these skills is writing realistic stories where the only people affected or hurt are characters. There’s always that old writing advice of “write what you know”, but if that’s all writers did, there’d be a lot of the same old. I always liked to interpret it broader: “use what you know to help flesh out your story”. It does help to have first hand experience with things, but in order to tell characters who know how to break locks, I don’t have to be a master locksmith. To tell characters who know how to use medicines or poisons, I don’t have to be a professional assassin. To describe characters who must infiltrate or use stealth to escape, I don’t have to be a scout or a ninja. But having a familiarity with these concepts, and the feelings and logistics that surround them, can certainly be used in the stories to provide a more authentic experience.
So how do my characters know how to pick locks, poison, or sneak around? Because someone who was obviously not a good friend once told me to have an interesting life. Back in middle school, I was your typical latch-key kid. I’d come home off the bus, pick up the mail, and let myself into the apartment. But on more than a couple occasions I forgot my key. Easy enough fix, you can use your student ID to let yourself in (seriously, use the deadbolts). But another time, the deadbolt was locked for some reason, which meant I wasn’t going in through the front door without property damage (and I didn’t have a drill handy anyway). But I could climb over the balcony. Turns out that door was locked, too. With some bobby pins, tweezers, paper clips, for some reason the metal file on nail clippers, and a rudimentary knowledge of tumblers, I was able to get in. Another time in gym class, someone decided to put their lock on my locker to keep me from getting my things. I got in, and kept their lock so they could never lock up their things until their parents bought them a new one. When they confronted me on it, it was already in the trash and I could honestly say I didn’t know what happened to it. “Why would I have your lock? That’s a weird question to ask, did you give it to me somehow?” Getting gently vicious at the middle-school gym. Add in another skill-set for my characters to learn. Now, poison…I don’t have a story for poison. I’ve never poisoned anyone without it being a written order from a doctor for a dose low enough to be within the therapeutic range for the purpose of providing medical treatment. So, any medicine, really. Morphine. Chemotherapy. I liked studying toxicology in the library, hoping one day to help people with overdoses after some friends got into drugs, and drinking was a problem within the community. There was a greater job market and more marketable skills in medicine, so I learned more about medicines through the certification to be a pharmacy technician and then getting my nursing license. But with those studies comes the knowledge of the “Therapeutic Index”, and the difference between the toxic dose and the lethal dose. The “dose makes the poison” as the saying goes, and the dose that affects the body varies based on the mode of delivery. Does the liver filter out most of it? Can you add in another substrate that will tie up the cells in the liver that detox the blood, thus leaving the chemical within the system to build up to lethal doses? There’s a reason they make doctors take the “First, do no harm” oath, ‘cause oh, man, could we ever. …also, people who took anatomy or who have hunted know how to dissect. So. There’s that. Horror writers, am I right? We’re fun folk. I get invited to so many parties. Someone please invite me to a party. I swear I’m charming and won’t bring up dissection again. Stealth I learned from having to navigate the school, my home, the neighborhood, and the woods. School because I didn’t make many friends, and if people noticed me it often didn’t end well. Where were the exits? How do you make a distraction? How do you blend into a crowd? Home because …because. Neighborhood because I often house-sat with my friend, and she’d often take long walks at night past curfew. I didn’t want her to go alone, so I’d go with her. We’d wander around the neighborhood and hide from passing cars or people.
Woods because I was involved with a search and rescue team. We were looking for people as a group, so obviously we wanted them to know we were coming, in case they wanted to be found. …Did you know people who don’t want to be found hide in trees? So that’s what I used the night we had a squadron-wide bottle rocket war by the lake one summer. We took turns ‘defending’ and ‘attacking’ a trailer hooked up with a security camera. When my team, Bravo, was on ‘defend’, I snuck out to go scout out where Alpha was and what their plans were. They didn’t expect to find me in the trees. Humans don’t usually have predators above them, so they rarely look up. To start, I was wearing overalls and a t-shirt over my swimsuit. The overalls made noise, so I took them off and kept the swimsuit bottoms. Black stands out at night, and dark blue is a much more natural color, so one of the boys lent me his shirt that I tied at my waist to avoid swishing or catching. I had a flashlight nestled in my chest to not only hold it but keep the noise down from it swinging. I learned their plans, took off my boots to hide the noise, and took the dirt path back to the trailer to warn my team. Because Bravo was prepared, we could successfully defend. Like having me fire bottle rockets from the trees. They really weren’t expecting that. When it came time for Bravo to attack, we had already defended, so we learned where the security cameras were and what their range was. We definitely got the better end of that coin toss. The rule was, defending team started out inside, and we waited 15 minutes to give people time to spread out and get far enough away. I hid in the bushes and avoided the guards, then covered the cameras with my old shirt and overalls by staying just out of range. Sent out a rocket for my team to come out of hiding. Alpha rushed outside to defend against the ambush, and with the majority of their forces distracted, I got inside and ducked past the guards. Got on the speaker: This is our castle now, and I am its Queen. Because of all of these experiences, I can describe not only the logistics of what goes into less than reputable character actions, but the feelings they might have as they do so, whether the first time, or after it’s become second nature. So think of what things in your life might not immediately translate into something you could put on a resume, but you still might be able to use in your story.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard this sage advice: write what you know.
Our experiences help shape who we are and what we believe about the world, so they can be valuable veins to mine when it comes to writing. No one person in the world has had the same combinations of experiences as you. However, many have had similar combinations of experiences and have lived in the same time as you. That connection of shared, similar experiences can help engage readers and draw them in to your book. This is why the saying, “Write what you know, ” is so popular in writing circles.
But this advice isn’t the end-all be-all. Plenty of arguments can be made against it.
What if a physical handicap has limited the writer in combat experience, but the writer wants to write a medieval sword fight?
What if you’re a boring person? Do you just write about owning seven cats at one time because that’s what you’re familiar with? What not showering for three days does to the human body? Not clipping your toenails for three months?
While those topics can be very interesting and you should totally write about those, perhaps there is room for adding more information to your story even if you haven’t yourself experienced it.
This month, the Fictorians will discuss personal experience verses imagination: which
is more important and where the two intersect. We’ll also consider how far you can/should/maybe shouldn’t go to experience what your characters experience. We’ll include some interesting experiences we’ve had, which may or may not include learning how to deal with post-combat stress, retracing Nikola Tesla’s footsteps, butchering our own meat, and breaking bones.