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A Writer's Journey

Character Development in Moonlight Reflections: Rachael

A Victorian image of a moon woman
In 2011, I wrote a 10 minute play called “A Date with an Anime Princess.” It’s now 2014, and I’ve written a sequel. The positive reaction to the script has inspired me to write an entire series of short plays based on the characters. I’m calling the series Moonlight Reflections.

Rachael is one of the main characters of the series. She is a fangirl of the Princess Luna Kitty anime, and often cosplays as Luna. The series follows Rachael and Tim (another anime fan and cosplayer) from their first meeting through their eventual marriage and first pregnancy.

Phase One of Rachael’s Character Development

When I wrote the first play, I tried to make Rachael a lot like the anime character she so admired: cute, kind, and playful, but strong — with a need to fight injustice. She is a sweet girl, but tends to get angry when she feels someone is being unfair. This can be seen when Tim tries to inhibit her very public enthusiasm for cosplay:

“You’re asking me to give up my individuality, my creativity, to fit in — to give up my idea of fashion and art — of fun — just to make everyone else happy.”

I was writing a 10 minute play, and didn’t spend too much time developing the character. Now that I’ve decided to write more stories involving Rachael, I need to round out her personality, and I need to do it using the character traits I’ve already established. To do this, I’ll rely on the dialogue in the first script, because it provides clues to her basic personality. I’ll also need to work more on the character’s backstory and make her more realistic.

A More Rounded Rachael

Starting out, I have a young woman who has the following traits: cute, kind, playful, flirtatious, just, and nerdy (she cosplays). She tells Tim she is a music therapist in a mental hospital, so she is also musical, caring, and giving.

Rachael didn’t have a last name in the first script, so I started there. I think I just picked the name Rachael randomly, and it has no meaning for the character, therefore, I decided that I’d give her the middle name of Catherine, since Kitty is one of its nicknames. For a last name, I chose Landere. According to some baby name sites, Llandere is a girl’s name that means “moon woman” — very appropriate for someone who pretends to be a princess named Luna. Rachael Catherine Landere is a pretty nice name.

Next, I need to ask some questions. Why did Rachael become a music therapist? Why is she into cosplay, and why is she so attached to Princess Luna Kitty? I may not share the answers to these questions in the plays, but having the information will help me write a better character.

I decided to make Rachael a pianist. She’s studied music for many years and is quite accomplished, but that doesn’t explain why she is a therapist at a mental institution.

From my research, I’ve found out that many cosplayers dress up as characters and go to conventions to escape the worries and boredom of everyday life. What if Rachael’s inclination to study music therapy and her desire to cosplay were inspired by the same things: a need to help mentally ill patients and a passion for escape into fantasy.

Perhaps a member of Rachael’s family suffered from a mental illness. Perhaps she found that her music helped to sooth the person’s suffering. Maybe she used cosplay as a way to temporarily remove herself from the reality of caring for a mentally ill person.

Rachael’s Story

Rachael Catherine Landere’s mother suffers from Schizophrenia. Rachael found that playing the piano often helped her mother’s condition, so she decided to help others and majored in Music Therapy.

Yet, the stress of caring for her mother and the workload at college was tough for Rachael. When she discovered anime and cosplay, she enthusiastically entered the world of conventions and cosplay competitions, because it helped her escape from her troubles. She particularly liked portraying Princess Luna Kitty because the character shared a lot of her traits, displayed a calmness during hard times, and had the ability to heal illness.

A Step on My Journey as a Writer

In coming up with Rachael’s backstory, I’m not only creating a more rounded character, I’m adding a lot more detail to Rachael’s life. The details fit together well and could happen in real life, so it makes the character more plausible.

This will help me write better dialog, because I know Rachael and her story. It’s only one step of my journey as a playwright, but it’s an important one.

Moonlight Reflections: A Cosplay Love Story

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In 2011, I wrote a short play for the Carrollwood Players’ One Act Weekend. The 10 minute play was called “A Date with an Anime Princess.” It was the story of a first date between two cosplayers who are fans of an anime called Princess Luna Kitty.

Now it’s 2014, and I’ve written a sequel entitled “The Fall of Princess Luna.” Rachael and Tim, the two main characters of both plays, are now married. Tim’s brother Frank is staying with the couple at their home, and he has an accident that initializes the conflict in the story.

“The Fall” is currently in rehearsal, but the reaction to the script, both at auditions and during the rehearsal process, has been so positive, that I’ve decided to write an entire series of 10 minute plays based on Rachael and Tim’s relationship. Since the characters are so passionate about Princess Luna Kitty, both anime and cosplay will be featured throughout the series. Each play will explore the love story between Rachael and Tim and involve incidents that revolve around their passion for Princess Luna.

I don’t have all of the chapters of the series figured out yet, but I am in the process of writing the first installment, where Rachael and Tim meet at an anime convention. The working title is “The Trial of a Wisdom Warrior.” When all of the scripts are finished, they’ll be combined into a book. Producers will be able to obtain rights to an individual one act or license all of them for an evening of entertainment.

The name of the entire series will be Moonlight Reflections. I think its a great title, since Rachael, Tim, and their friends cosplay as characters in the Princess Luna Kitty anime. Also, many of the ‘real life’ characters share traits with the anime characters.

And yes, Princess Luna Kitty is a fictitious anime, but it was inspired by Sailor Moon. To avoid copyright and licensing problems, I had to create an entirely new anime story, but you’ll be able to see many similarities. There are also many details borrowed from other anime, plus some created in my own imagination.

I’ll let you know when I’ve finished the series and where you’ll be able to get a copy of the book. If you get a chance to read the series or see any of the plays in production, let me know what you think in the comments area.

A Valentine’s Day Gift

While searching for new music this week, I found a lovely little song that was recorded by the Korean Pop group Secret. Secret was one of the first K-pop girl groups I discovered when I first explored the genre, and they are one of the sweetest and charming groups I’ve ever seen.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I can appreciate charm, sweetness, beauty, and the excitement of new love. I must confess that when I first watched this video, I teared up. You can judge me if you will, but I am glad I have the ability to enjoy this type of music and video.

Because it means something to me, I am linking to it here as a Valentine’s gift for those who share my passion for such things. (I’m not claiming ownership or copyright, of course, I’m just sharing something wonderful. The music and video are owned by TS Entertainment.)

This was recorded for Christmas, but I think it fits well for Valentine’s Day also.

So, ladies, please be my Valentine, if only for a few minutes while you watch the video.

On a technical note: The entire video is done in one shot! No cuts, no edits. It just makes it that much more special.

As I watch the video again for this post, I’m getting all sorts of inspiration and ideas for the Master Plan.

Some Character Names You May Not Know

I am working on several writing projects at the moment. Right now, I’m working on the characters’ names.

Naming characters can be a tricky business. I struggle with the process of creating my characters’ monikers. I’ll talk more about how I do it in an upcoming post. In the mean time, let’s look at some famous characters whose real names you may not know.

You are probably familiar with Peppermint Patty from the Peanuts comic strip and Charlie Brown cartoons. Her real name is Patricia Reichardt. Twitter’s little feathered mascot is Larry Bird. Yes, it’s true. Another famous Larry is the Quaker Oats guy on the oatmeal box – it’s not William Penn.

Mental Floss on YouTube has a video featuring 44 Fictional Characters whose names you may not know.

I was very surprised by some of the names.

A character’s name can remind a reader or viewer about an idea the writer is trying to convey. Do any of the names of the characters presented change how you feel about the characters? Perhaps you felt that some names didn’t match the character at all, while others seemed to be a perfect fit.

When you create characters, be aware that the names you give them may influence how the character is perceived by your audience.

Building Plot with Dramatic Situations

Georges Polti was a 19th century writer who created a list of "Dramatic Situations." He read scores of stories and scripts (mostly Classical works), and analyzed the plots to create his list of 36 situations – what today might be called plot points.

Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations can provide ideas for conflict in all types of stories. He also developed detailed explanations of each of the situations, along with the character types that would be involved in each scene.

The 36 situations are listed below. A wise writer could use one or more of them as inspiration when stuck for a story idea or conflict.

The 36 Dramatic Situations

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
  4. Vengeance Taken for Kin Upon Kin
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Fall Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring Enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of Kin
  14. Rivalry of Kin
  15. Murderous Adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal Imprudence
  18. Involuntary Crimes of Love
  19. Slaying of Kin Unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrifice for an Ideal
  21. All Sacrificed for Passion
  22. Self-sacrifice for Kin
  23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
  24. Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of Love
  27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
  28. Obstacles to Love
  29. An Enemy Loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with a God
  32. Mistaken Jealousy
  33. Erroneous Judgement
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of a Lost One
  36. Loss of Loved Ones

Expand on one or more of these "situations" and you could have the foundation of a great scene or even an entire story.

Story Structure: Beginning, Middle, Ending

Basic tools of writing - an inkstand, quill, and blotter.There is something to be said for occasionally reviewing the basics. We often tend to get so involved in our writing that we forget to keep the simple things in mind.

It’s the elementary stuff that can foul us up the most, so let’s go over something that seems self-explanatory but sometimes eludes the most experienced of writers: basic story structure.

When discussing plot structure or how a story is put together, many experts go back to Aristotle and his work Poetics. This seems to be one of the oldest texts about writing, and in it, Aristotle states what seems to be the obvious. A story must have:

  • a beginning,
  • a middle,
  • and an ending.

Simple enough, right? Almost too simple. Yet, we often get so excited about a new idea that we start writing a story without considering these three basic parts. What we can end up with is a mash-up of characters and plot points with no real order.

To avoid the problem, we have to remember these basics when we are in the first steps of creating a story. Like theme, keeping the basic story structure in mind while writing keeps us on track.

In the Beginning

When we start thinking about a new story, we usually begin in the Middle. We come up with some characters who are dealing with a conflict and begin expanding the story from there.

What we don’t want to forget is that the audience needs to know who these characters are and how they ended up in conflict. This is where the Beginning of the story becomes important. The Beginning provides an introduction to the characters and the setting of the story. It provides the exposition needed for the audience to know who is involved and why they are in conflict.

Hopefully, we make the characters and the introduction of the conflict so interesting in the Beginning that it “hooks” our audience into staying with the story. The Beginning must grab the attention of the audience while answering the Who, What, Where, When, and Why questions needed to understand the rest of the plot.

The Middle

The Middle is supported by the Beginning. Without a good Beginning, our audience can easily get lost. We must establish the main characters and the setting(s) early, so that when we reach the Middle and conflict begins, the audience knows who to cheer on.

Once we’ve introduced the characters and the conflict, we get to the heart of a story. The Middle is where characters are developed and the plot becomes interesting. Through a series of increasingly difficult problems, the conflict between the characters grows until we get to the climax of the story.

The climax is where everything changes. The protagonist has conquered or been defeated by his major conflict or the antagonist. Now, everything must be neatly wrapped up with a good Ending.

The Ending

It is a good idea to write the Ending first. In this way, we know from the start where everything is going – where the characters end up. If we know the ending while we write a story, it is easier to stay focused and not get lost in unnecessary plot lines.

A good Ending satisfies an audience. It ties up all the loose ends in a story. Unless we are writing a series, the Ending should resolve all of the conflicts and show how the main characters have changed.

Too Basic?

Reminding ourselves that a story has a Beginning, a Middle, and and Ending may seem too basic. It’s obvious. Yet, many a story has been abandoned during the writing process because the author did not keep this basic idea in mind.

We must establish our characters and hook the audience with a good Beginning. Then, we have to keep the action going by throwing in lots of conflict and character development in the Middle. Finally, wrap everything up with a satisfying Ending.

What To Write: Coming Up With Ideas

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There you sit, in front of a blank screen or an untouched piece of paper, reaching into the depths of your imagination trying to find a character, setting, or plot idea – anything that will get the writing process started. You might become frustrated and feel blocked.

Many writing gurus tell us that ideas are everywhere. You know what? They’re right!

The problem with creativity is that often it doesn’t come when you are focused on it. It doesn’t work when you want it to. So, you have to un-focus your mind and warm up your imagination before it will give you what you want.

Below is a list of activities that might help spark your imagination and get rid of that writer’s block. While involved in these activities, keep the concepts of good storytelling in mind: character, setting, conflict, plot. You should soon have a list of words or images that you can use to break down that wall. Just start asking yourself questions about them.

  • Browse websites like Pinterest or Tumblr.com.
  • Write down the name of the person you most admire and three of his/her qualities. Do the same for someone you dislike. Write down a place you visited in the past few days. Now, write down the subject of the last argument you had. There are your story elements.
  • If you already have a topic, write a list of related words about it.
  • Use vocabulary websites like Enchanted Learning for word lists and elementary facts about specific topics.
  • Play free association games with a family member or friend – give the person a word and write down the word they think of first. Repeat until you have a nice list.
  • Type “writing prompts” into Google and visit several of the websites listed.
  • Visit story generator websites

These are just a few suggestions that should help stimulate your imagination. Like everything else with writing, it will take a bit of time and effort, but the results are worth it. After an hour or so, you’ll hopefully have more than enough ideas to create a few characters and an interesting setting. You might even have some ideas about the conflict of your story.

Now, you can move on. Ask questions about each of these new ideas. The answers you come up with could be the basis of a great new story.

What We Know about Plot May Not Be the Whole Story

The plot of a story is very complex. It involves many elements that are often taught as plot, but are actually the building blocks used to help you create a plot. Let’s review some of these elements and how they help in building a story.

What is Plot?

Before exploring how plot can be confused with the elements that make it, let’s first define what it is. The plot of a story is the order of events that occur within the story. It is the storyline. First, something happens, then something else happens, then another thing happens, etc.

Here are just a few of the events that happen in the “Wizard of Oz” and make up its plot:

  1. Dorothy cannot get into the storm cellar, so she returns to the house.
  2. Dorothy is knocked unconscious when the window is blown into the room, and she is hit with the frame.
  3. Dorothy awakens to see that the house has been lifted into the sky.
  4. She sees things and people flying in the tornado.

The writers of the movie (L. Frank Baum’s version is a bit different) had to imagine these events and then put them in order to create the plot of the story. Some of you may have heard the phrases “action and reaction” and “scene and sequel” to describe this progression of events. In this way a story is constructed.

Story Structure

You should recognize this list; it is one of the variations that is often used when teaching plot:

  • Exposition
  • Foreshadowing
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

A well-written story should contain most of these elements. They create a clear order in which things should occur, but they are not detailed enough to tell what happens in a particular story. They make up the structure of a good plot, not an event-by-event telling of a tale.

This can be shown easily by asking a friend about a movie. When asked about what happens in the film, he won’t reply, “First, there was the exposition, then there was some foreshadowing.” He will probably list the events that happened in the order that they occurred – the plot.

Theme, Type, and Plot

When we study plot in high school Literature or in a writing class, we are often given one or more lists of words and phrases and are told that these are the most common plots. For example, here is a list of words and phrases that many teachers use:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

These seven phrases come from Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” While these words may help us understand what happens in a story, they are themes or story types. Some may suggest beginning and ending events, but they don’t supply us with the events that would create an entire story.

Another list of so-called plots can be found in Ronald B. Tobias’ 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Again, the book deals mainly with themes, although it does contain plot details in examples of each theme.

Conflict Versus Plot

There is another famous listing of phrases that are used in writing classes to teach plot:

  • Person vs. Self
  • Person vs. Person
  • Person vs. Society
  • Person vs. Nature
  • Person vs. Supernatural
  • Person vs. Machine/Technology

These opposing forces can help us develop a plot, but they are conflicts, not events. We can base a story on one or more of these conflicts, but we still need to create a series of events. We still need to build a plot.

Plot Isn’t Easy

Writing or evaluating the plot of a story is not easy, especially if we are confused about what we know about plot. We are often confused between what a plot is and the elements that make up a plot. It’s understandable. Plot is complex. Hopefully, this article has cleared up some of the confusion and will help you write better stories.

The Difference Between Theme and Message

There are some elements to writing that can be confusing, even to experienced writers. This can include the ideas of Theme and Message. Both are difficult to define since they are ideas that can be interpreted in many ways.

A theme is sometimes defined as the moral or message of the story. This is a simple way of trying to explain a complex idea, but it can cause problems for a writer, because theme and moral are two very different things.

 

What is Theme?

A theme is the controlling idea or the driving concept in a story. An author uses a theme as he develops the plot, the setting, the characters, and the dialogue. Everything that characters do and say is usually determined by a theme. Conflicts and events are also controlled by the theme.

One of the themes in Romeo and Juliet is Fate. Shakespeare stated it in the Prologue, and throughout the story, no matter what the star-crossed lovers tried to do, they were destined to die in the end. The story is driven by Romeo and Juliet’s attempts to defy their Fate.

 

What is the Message or Moral of a Story?

The words message and moral are often used to mean what a reader or audience member learns from a story. The moral can usually be expressed in a sentence or proverb that teaches a lesson.

There are many ways to interpret a story, and sometimes, different readers may come away with different lessons. This is why in older stories, the moral was stated at the end, as in Aesop’s Fables. For example, the moral of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is usually stated as “Slow and Steady Wins the Race.”

Today, audiences are considered sophisticated enough to figure out the message on their own, and a moral is usually only added at the end of a story if the author wishes to be ironic.

 

Theme vs. Message

Theme and message are both ideas that are often implied without being explicitly stated. It is no wonder that they often cause confusion for both writer and audience.

Perhaps it is best to think of Theme as something an author can use from the beginning of the writing process to direct the plot and characters in his work, while Moral is what the audience takes away from the work when it is finished.

 

Writer’s Work

As an author, coming up with a theme for your work can be a difficult task, but it will be the driving force leading your story to its conclusion. Of course, after developing your theme, you then must create the setting, characters, and plot actions and combine them – using the theme – to make a story.

This often happens on an unconscious level, but it is one of the best reasons why an author should always write the ending of a story first. You need to know where the story is headed and why.

Busy, Busy, Busy! Rushing to Get Things Done

Someone Here Needs Some Direction

(and it ain’t the actors!)

It’s a busy time here. I’m directing a one-act at Carrollwood Players, assistant directing their summer musical, and trying to revamp the Tampa Bay Callboard website in time for it’s first anniversary on July 1st.

Carrollwood Players is holding their annual One Act Weekend on August 10, 11, and 12. I was chosen to direct on of the plays; it’s called "Intermission" and was written by local playwright and sometimes stage hand Ed Hagelstein.

This is my first real directing gig, if you don’t count the holiday shows I did with my students when I was a teacher. It’s very challenging for a hermit to try to explain details about blocking and character to people. I’ve been away from people for quite a while, so my language skills are lacking. Plus, my brain has trouble with all those details. Oh well, if you want to recover from being a hermit, you have to put yourself out there.

If you’ve read my blog, you probably know that a play I’ve written will also appear in the One Act Weekend Festival. "Stuck in the Middle" is about two witches fighting over a boyfriend. I think it’s humorous, but the final judges will be the audience. Combined with my directing, I’ll have two shots at a Nancy Award this year. Of course, I’m not doing it for that, I’m doing it for the art. (Yeah, right.)

Christmas in August?

I’m assistant director to Carlyn Postle again. This time, we’re working on a Christmas Play called "Elmer the Elf." The thing is… the show will play in August.

It’s a long story as to why Carrollwood Players is producing this show during the summer. Still, it’s nice to be working on a musical again. Although, trying to keep the kids quiet reminds me of my teaching days and gives me some doubt about doing this again.

Happy Anniversary

On July 1st, the Tampa Bay Callboard will have been online for an entire year! I hear you shouting, “Hooray!”

I am working on a redesign that will make the site look a bit more professional, plus I’m adding a couple of new features. Hopefully, I’ll even have the membership area up and running, so the Talent section may finally be a reality. Will Bob get it done in time? Stay tuned.