Tag Archives: Frodo

The Second Book in a Series, or: The Ugly Middle Child

Ahh. There’s nothing like kicking back in a comfy chair with a good series. While I am not a fast reader by any means, you might finish a book in one day and go right on to the second book. When you look at that cover, what are you thinking about? Are you expecting another exciting installment in the adventure? Are you anticipating it will be just as good as the first?

I’ll admit it. Every single time I pick up book two in a series, I have high hopes and expect it to be just as good as, if not better than, the first book. And I should seriously know better by now. Because almost every series I read has a major book two problem, especially trilogies. I’ve taken to calling book two (in any series) The Ugly Middle Child. No offense to all of you middle children out there, I’m sure you’re lovely and probably gorgeous.

Whenever this topic comes up in conversation (which is often, you’d be surprised), I always come back to The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, book two in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why? Because it’s a perfect example of a book two done well, at least in my humble opinion.


*Caution: spoilers ahead! I repeat: spoilers ahead!*

Important Things Happen

Gandalf is reincarnated as Gandalf the White. Ents! Shelob! F*ing Wormtongue! If you weren’t entertained by The Two Towers, then you might want to go back and re-read it. While it does what many book twos do — sets up everything for the end — it also deepens the characters by splitting them up to have individual quests. And boy are those quests cool. Some book twos simply exist to set up book three, and the author forgets to make the journey fun. They also forget to make sure crucial things happen in book two, which will make the climax of book three all the more wonderful.

The Introduction of an Integral Character

Gollum. He was whispered about in the first book and we knew him from The Hobbit, but in book two, we really get to see him. We learn his story and see his suffering. And for many of us, we had no idea what an important part he would play in the end. Now that’s how you set up an integral character.

Facing the Consequences of What Happened in Book One

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir is overcome with the allure of the ring, and Frodo and Sam split off to go to Mordor alone. The consequences of this decision play out in the beginning of book two – Boromir is killed by Lurtz, the Uruk-hai leader. While the movie has Boromir die at the end of the first movie, the consequences of his actions are played out in the second book and in the second movie. When Frodo and Sam come across Faramir, Boromir’s brother, they expect the same ring-lust. However, Faramir must grapple with the truth of his brother’s death and resolve not to be like him. Real consequences and real decisions, which only pave the way to an explosive book three.

Too often, book twos feel slow and sloggy, and only serve the purpose of setting up book three. Let us take Tolkien’s example of what a good book two looks like: one full of action, intrigue, important character building, fun, the introduction of integral characters, and making sure the characters face the consequences of their actions from book one, making them stronger and all the more ready to face their ultimate battles in book three.

What do you think? If you liked The Two Towers, what did you like about it? Why was it successful as a book two? Any more examples of a book two done well? I’d love to read about it!

Good Characters Drive Good Stories

A guest post by Daniel Braithwaite.

Daniel According to Plato we have the idea of the thing, or the form. Everything we see around us is just representations of those ideas. To take it one step further the poet (writer or author) makes a representation of a representation. The author is therefore creating something that is twice removed. A lie about a lie.

As an author, if we are going to lie, then we had better make it a good one. In science fiction and fantasy every story is a “lie.” Readers want to immerse themselves in the story. They want to forget the “truth” and believe the “lie,” even if it is only for a little while. But what makes a story believable, what makes a good story? Good characters drive good stories.

How many times have you been walking around when something hits you and you’re like, “Wow, that would be a great story”? So, you run home with your wonderful idea for a story, “Everyone is going to love this. I’m going to destroy the world and then . . . I’ll bring it back—with a time machine!” So, armed with your idea you start to write. You need someone to be the awesome hero, but who do you cast? Who can carry this amazing plot?

After thinking about it for a few days you decided to cast a reluctant hero, an everyman (or everywoman) and you get to writing. You have your character wake up, and what is the first thing he or she does? Well, get ready for the day, duh! So your character walks to the mirror and looks in, because that’s what everyone does first thing in the morning. (We never just throw clothes on and run out the door.) Alright, you have described your character, and by so doing you have achieved the ultimate Zen experience of storytelling: characterization. You smile and say to yourself, “This character has to be good, I mean, the reader know what she looks like!”

Right? Wrong. Turns out your character is just your cousin Bob . . . with boobs. And she isn’t even as interesting as Bob (he picks his nose and then feeds it to the dog). But how do you fix this? How do you save your hero from mediocrity? You’ve read up on your books: you’ve followed Frodo out of the Shire, Rand away from the farm, and Vin out of the city. You know a good character when you read one.

Out of the many tactics writer use to breathe life into their characters, I recommend using the character sheet (also called a character profile or character sketch). This type of planning may be difficult at the beginning, but will yield dividends with practice.

Before we dig into you character, lets dig into you. Are you just your outward appearance? No? I didn’t think so. Maybe you cringe when you come up to a blind turn, is that because you were in an accident as a child? Or perhaps you love to visit historical monuments, does that go back to your dad reading stories about cultural myths? Everyone internalizes their experiences in a myriad of ways, and that internalization plays a role in who they are.

Now, let’s look at our character sheets. I like to start with a name and outward appearance. It makes it easier for me to think about a person if I can see him or her in my mind. This is the quick part. Meet Annie. She is 5’9”, has shoulder length dusty blond hair, has a slight pigeon toe on her left foot, has hazel eyes, and is plump (but not fat). Do you see her? Is she introverted? Yep, else she wouldn’t be our reluctant hero. Why is she an introvert? Maybe she had a traumatic experience as a child playing in the neighborhood. A boy pulled down her pants on the playground. That, coupled with her closest friends laughing at her favorite underwear, sealed the deal. Great, what next? Her pigeon toe, you see she got it when she was twelve. She was on the monkey bars alone when she slipped and broke her leg. It didn’t heal perfectly and now she has a pigeon toe. Do the same thing for politics, religion, pet peeves . . . we can keep going, but I think you get the idea.

You keep asking questions and answering them until you feel you know your character. Now you know how she will react when the dying spy approaches her with the stolen plans to a time machine. You can weave the cool details you came up with into the story: a hint here, a line there, and eventually you have excellent characterization.

Do you have to do this with every character? In my opinion, you don’t need to go through this process for everyone; but at least your vital characters. Their supporting staff should have a few lines about them as well. (Uncle Tim talks with a fake Scottish accent because he wants to be “authentic” at his SCA events.) A little planning goes a long way. We’ve all heard that you should write what you know. Well, sit down and get to know your cast. Ask them deep questions and you will get deep answers. (And when your friends see you talking to yourself they will get deep concerns about your sanity.)

You have your idea, you have your character, and now you are ready to weave your tale. Practice on a few characters. If you ever get stumped, go back to one of your favorite books and ask those characters the same questions. Could you answer them? How did you know the answers? It’s not because you were told all at once. Before too long you will start to notice how their lives are woven into the action, dialogue, and plot. Ready to give it a try? Well, then get going, you have a lie to tell.

Guest Writer Bio:

Daniel Braithwaite is a Senior Editor at the science fiction and fantasy magazine Leading Edge (www.leadingedgemagazine.com). When he is not reading slush or interviewing authors he is working on his writing (if he isn’t battling off a horde of children and kittens). He is also currently studying writing under Brandon Sanderson at Brigham Young University. He is always happy to answer questions about the magazine (and the mysteries of the universe). You can reach him at nonfiction@leadingedgemagazine.com.

That Extra Touch

Guest Post by Josh Morrey.

planets of Star WarsWe’ve read in several articles this month that characters are what drive a story. Characters are why we read fiction. Very few people want to read a fictitious science or economics textbook. (Though I’m sure they exist, and someone reads them). For the most part readers require plot and conflict, neither of which we can have without characters to overcome those conflicts or drive that plot.

But a good story requires more than just a warm body to go through the motions. Characters have to be interesting, intriguing. We don’t want just some Joe Schmoe cardboard cutout to destroy the One Ring and defeat Sauron; we want terrified, tender, Frodo Baggins, smallest of all the heroes, to show his incredible bravery as he faces down an enemy that entire armies couldn’t stop. We want Neo, who absolutely knows he’s not “The One”, to stop running and face down Smith and the other Agents and be The One.

So how do we create interesting characters? This is something I’ve spent a lot of time on recently. See, I’m in the process of developing a space opera web comic in the vein of Howard Taylor’s Schlock Mercenary. It’s about a small, intergalactic shipping company. Part of the developmental process is creating an interesting cast of characters to crew my ship.

One thing I like to see in characters, that I think makes them vastly more interesting, is contradictory traits. Actions or personalities that belie their outer appearance, or challenge their stereotype. For example, one of my main characters is an 8’ tall living rock with the strength and toughness of ten men. So, what’s the stereotype of a character like this? Muscle, enforcer, tough guy, brute.

This character, Argnik, is the best friend and confidant of my main character, Dax, and by all appearances is absolutely Dax’s brawn, like Chewbacca for Han Solo, Little John for Robin Hood, or Fezzik for Inigo Montoya. And these are all great characters. But if I merely make Argnik Dax’s brute force, he loses a little originality and is thereby little less interesting. So how do I change that? First, I made Argnik an accountant. And then I made him a pacifist. Argnik wouldn’t hurt the proverbial fly, and wants nothing more than to lose himself in the endless calculations of shipping manifests and invoices. Now, Dax’s enemies don’t know that, so they, like everyone else, just assume that Argnik is nothing but dumb muscle. An illusion Dax is in no hurry to contradict.

Another way to create interesting characters is internal conflict. As Jace pointed out at the beginning of the month, no character should be all good, or all bad. The world isn’t black and white. It’s full of grays and a myriad colors. Just because someone is makes good choices, doesn’t mean they won’t be tempted to make bad ones, and vice versa. We all make mistakes, some more often, or much larger, than others.

People are complex creatures. Your characters should be as well. Don’t make them the sentient being equivalent of Star Wars planets. Planets in Star Wars tend to have only one biome; the forest moon of Endor, the ice planet of Hoth, the desert planet of Tattooine. Earth, on the other hand, has no fewer than five biomes, and as many as fourteen, depending on who you ask and how they’re classified. And many of those biomes are completely opposite to each other; desert vs jungle, tropic vs arctic. Your characters should have just as many biomes in the form of personality and physical traits, and many of those should be at odds with each other. Those create conflict, which, in turn, makes for more interesting characters.

Think about some of your favorite conflicted or contradictory characters. What deep desires does their exterior façade hide? What inner conflicts do they struggle with? Like the ruffians from the movie Tangled, does your hook-handed thug yearn to be concert pianist?

Maybe he should.

JoshGuest Writer Bio:  Josh Morrey is a writer, artist, gamer, husband, and father, Josh has been writing fiction for nearly ten years. He is a member of the Word Vomit Writers Group, which group blogs at The Writer’s Ramble. Josh has one story published in Issue 2 of Promptly and has earned three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. He is currently developing a space opera webcomic based on a short story he wrote for NaNoWriMo 2012. It will eventually be seen at www.lostintransitcomic.com. Josh lives in Utah with his amazing wife, two beautiful kids, and two tiny dogs.