Get thee behind me, June!!!

So June is over and we’re into July, which means it’s time to take a look at the month gone past in terms of writing, and offer some other news items of note, first from my part of the world and then from other writers!

:: Numbers? We got ’em!

Final June #amwriting tally. 'Twas a bit of a rocky month!

The main project was drafting the second “GhostCop” novel, and in those terms, June was productive, but not greatly productive. It was not a bad month from a writing perspective, not bad at all. It wasn’t great, either. I basically made my targets and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There were some days when the writing was harder than others, especially one stretch toward the end of the month when external-world concerns piled on to make writing especially difficult. Basically, The Wife had to work a number of very early-in-the-morning shifts, which screwed up everybody’s sleep schedules. I’m not super militant about needing my eight hours a night, but 4.5 to 5 hours for three or four consecutive nights increasingly takes its toll on me. But I soldiered through and still managed to average over 1000 words a day for June.

I also only had one zero-word count day, but on that day I sat down and did some “prep” work, making some notes about characters and ironing out the backstory that comes into play in the book’s third act and generally nailing down what all the various conflicts are in the book. There are more moving parts in this story than I had originally expected, but it should all play out in a pretty explosive way toward the end. At least that’s the current hope! As I write this (July 2, but it will appear on July 5), I have finished drafting the first act of the book and am on to the second. I hope to have the draft done by the end of August.

:: The focus this fall, starting in September, will be the publication prep for GhostCop Book One and Amongst the Stars, both of which will appear this fall. Hooray!

:: But I’ll also be starting another series of space opera adventures! I’ll say more about this as time passes, but it’s set in the Forgotten Stars universe. The stories will likely not intersect in any meaningful way; I’m setting them in the same universe mainly because I want to use the established world-building I already have in place. As Lt. Uhura once pointed out on Star Trek, “It’s a big galaxy!” So I might as well keep playing in it. I ‘ve been doing some plot-noodling and generating information on my characters, because this is going to be a Firefly kind of adventure series, with a spaceship and her intrepid crew having exploits. And I’ve even been sketching the ship! Move over, Millennium Falcon! Take a back seat, Serenity! Meet Orion’s Huntress, soon to be one of the iconic ships in all science fiction!

Spaceship for an upcoming space opera series I plan to write! (The ship's tentative name? Orion's Huntress.) #spaceopera #SpaceshipsAreAwesome #amwriting

:: Nifty blogger and writing cohort Faith Rivens recently read both Stardancer and The Wisdomfold Path, and she graciously reviewed both, here and here, respectively. Check them out! And then read the books, because they’re good! Other people say so!

:: A few months ago I first heard the term “bullet journal”. This has nothing to do with firearms. It’s a specific way of using a journal to enhance your daily like and productivity. Blogger and writer Coryl O’Reilly explains.

:: Ksenia Anske on taking long breaks between drafts. I absolutely believe in doing this. I wait at least three months between first draft and first manuscript markups, and most times I wait even longer than that. Distance makes seeing the flaws easier.

:: It’s required by law that I link this, so here it is: George RR Martin and Stephen King sit down and chat.

It’s a grand world out there, Writerfolk!!!

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Sunshine Blogger Award!!!

Oh wow, it’s actually been an entire month since I posted here last, hasn’t it? That’s terrible. Anyway, I’ll have a proper report up on how June went in terms of writing (short version: mixed bag) early next week, but for now, check this out: A fellow writer, Rebecca Chase, nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! Huzzah!!

The rules are as follows:

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a “get to know the writer better” type of blogging exercise, with a couple of rules attached:

1. Answer all 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

2. Nominate eleven bloggers in return and write eleven (possibly fiendish) questions for them to answer.

You know, it’s funny — over on Byzantium’s Shores (my personal blog, for those who only know me through here), I’ve been blogging for so long that I remember when these types of blog-quiz awards were quite common. They’ve really fallen by the wayside with the rise of Facebook and Twitter and the like, but they’re still fun, so I’ll go ahead and answer these, pose my own, and nominate. Here we go!

1. What is your favourite song? Do you have a significant memory attached to a time you listened to it?

Oh heavens, it’s this question. Don’t you just hate when you ask someone this question and they get all dewy-eyed and say something like “Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song!”

Well, guess what? Gosh, I just love music so much that I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite song! Although…I can pick a favorite song, just so long as we acknowledge that there are hundreds of others. For now, I’ll note the song “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. Here’s what I wrote on my personal blog about that song on the occasion of Donna Summer’s passing.

2. Where do you love to blog/write the most?

Upstairs, in my library, surrounded by my books.

But I do love writing elsewhere. I can write in cafes and in public libraries perfectly well, and I like to do so once a week, if possible, for the change of pace. I also want to try writing in a public park or something like that, but as of this writing my laptop’s battery is too old to live up to a sustained writing session without a cord. Luckily, though, also as of this writing, I’ve ordered a new battery! I don’t want to buy a new computer for at least another year if I can help it.

3. If you could make up a fear of something what would it be of and what would it be called?

Huh. Interesting. How about Pronunciphobia, which is the fear that you badly mangle a word in spoken conversation because you’ve only ever read it and therefore you don’t know how it’s said? Or Scrabble Expectations Syndrome. This is when people assume that you’re a great word-game player because you’re a writer.

And as a pie-in-the-face fan, I admit to barbasolaphobia. This is an unreasoning hatred of shaving cream. That stuff is terrible, folks!

4. Italian or French? (in whatever context you decide)

French! (We’re going with opera here. I love me some French composers. Hector Berlioz is my favorite composer of all time, and he wrote three wonderful operas. Then you have Bizet, composer of Carmen. Not that the Italians are any slouches, though. Verdi and Puccini are enough to ensure the Italian star in the operatic heavens.)

Oh, and salad dressing? Italian all the way. I’ve never been a big fan of French dressing.

5. What do you think killed the dinosaurs? (can be as creative an answer as you like)

Nothing. There never were any dinosaurs. Their bones were artificially created and seeded around the world by the aliens who put us here. Why? Because they’re jerks.

6. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to research for your writing/blogging?

Huh. I’m not really sure! I recently looked up how boiler explosions happen, because my current WIP features someone who died in one.

7. What can you hear right now? What would you prefer to be listening to?

Right now? Crickets and birds; the wind in the trees; traffic on the big highway that’s a quarter-mile thataway; the clackety-clack of the dog’s feet as he wanders about trying to signal us that he wants to go out for his walk!

8. What do you do when you feel you should be writing but are lacking in inspiration?

I usually grit my teeth and force myself to write. I’m a “Get the job done” kind of person. I don’t have a great deal of use for waiting for The Muse to show up.

9. What is your greatest achievement?

Raising the Daughter; staying married (no, we never came close to breaking, but we did have some pretty serious tests about ten years ago); finishing a book; learning how to use Scrivener (yes, this counts); learning how to format e-books in various formats!

10. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

As long as I can change the toppings in any way I want? Pizza. Or waffles. Or sandwiches, with as broad a definition as possible! I also can’t rule out nachos or burritos. Damn, this question is hard!

11. Who is your favourite author and why?

My favorite living author is Guy Gavriel Kay, whose historical fantasies are deeply emotional and filled with characters who are incredibly real. My favorite nonliving author is JRR Tolkien, because The Lord of the Rings is quite frankly a miracle of a book.

OK, time to tag a few people! And my eleven questions follow. Wheeeee!

Roger
Calvin
SamuraiFrog
Lynn
Briana
Brianna
Sara
AB Keuser
Rae
Faith

 

Questions:

1. What do you value more in a story: dialog or plot?
2. Describe the home planet of Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Come on, that dude ain’t human.)
3. If you enjoy watching any sports at all, which ones would you at least like to try just once?
4. Describe the most recent book to which you gave (or would have given) five stars.
5. Do you finish bad books? Why or why not?
6. How vexed are you when movies don’t match the books?
7. Describe your perfect hot beverage. In detail. I’m talking roast of bean or variety of leaves, additives like spices or squirts of citrus, vessel from which the drink is sipped, where you are sitting as you sip it, who is next to you, what music is playing.
8. Do you watch cooking shows? If so, describe your favorite.
9. Name a place you’ve visited that you thought you’d hate but you didn’t.
10. You know that hobby you had as a younger person that you miss dearly but you know you’ll never do it again? Describe it!
11. On January 20, 2017, the newly inaugurated President of the United States signs a law requiring all Americans to display a coffee-table book prominently in their home. Which one do you put out?

And thanks again, Rebecca, for the award!

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DEE-YOU-ENN

I haven't been posting much because I'm THIS CLOSE to finishing the first draft of SEAFLAME, Book One. TODAY I FINISH WRITING THE THING, fellow writer-warriors!!! #amwriting

My intent has been to post here at least once a week, but obviously that hasn’t happened lately, and the reason is my usual one: I’ve been really focused on cranking out the words on SEAFLAME!, and guess what! Today I finished the first draft!

So…how did it come out in the end? Well:

It. Is. DONE. [thud] #amwriting

I’m not gonna lie, folks: while I gave myself permission to write a long book, mainly because I wanted to write a long book, I didn’t quite expect it to be this long! That’s a lot of words. It’s about 60,000 words longer than Stardancer‘s first draft, about 50,000 longer than The Wisdomfold Path‘s, and it’s about 30,000 longer than what was my longest book to date yet, Amongst the Stars. Plus, this is only the first book in a duology, and I plan to take a break from this project before I draft Book II, so it’ll be a while before this book sees the light of day beyond my own eyes. Sorry, folks, that’s just the way of it. But I will say this: I think I’ve done some really nifty work here, if I do say so myself. Certainly there’s some very strong character writing, and I look forward to seeing how it’s received!

SEAFLAME! is my Dumas-inspired adventure novel, and it’s a “fantasy” by virtue of taking place in a completely imaginary world, and there is no magic in it at all. It was a lot of fun to write, and I’m really glad to have a draft complete, because this is a project that I’ve started three times already. Third time was the charm, though!

So what’s next? Ghostcop II (more on Ghostcop to come in the next few months), and then the first draft in a new space opera series (which will be set in the same universe as The Song of Forgotten Stars, but the stories won’t intersect), and then either SEAFLAME! Book Two or Forgotten Stars IV. I like having my work planned out way in advance. Almost makes me feel like a real writer!

Onward and upward! Zap! Pow! #AmWriting

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Buckle Thy Swash!

There are a lot of ways to separate writers into opposing camps: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write in past tense or present tense? Do you have a daily quota, or not?

One of my favorite such queries is: Do you listen to music when you write, or not?

Some writers don’t listen to music, claiming that they can’t focus on the story when music is playing. Others need music, as a way of setting mood and of shutting out the rest of the world. I fall into the latter category. I can write without music, and I often do, but my preference is to have music going.

Usually I listen to classical, Celtic, or film music while I write. I’m not too insistent on matching my writing music to the mood of what I’m working on, but I do like to use music as writing-mood music at least some of the time. Thus, for my current WIP – the Alexandre Dumas-inspired Hefty Adventure Fantasy novel Seaflame! – I have been listening to some swashbuckling adventure music. Sometimes you just need some good adventurous-sounding music when you’re writing about crossed swords and villains with big hats with feathers in the brim and pounding horse-rides across the landscape and highland clans and all that sort of thing.

The Three Musketeers, music by Michael Kamen. This is the score from the 1993 film of Dumas’s novel, and it’s a terrific score. In fact, it’s almost certainly the best thing about the film.

The Adventures of Robin Hood, music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. So many wonderful swashbucklers of Hollywood’s Golden Age boast scores by Korngold. I can’t even look at a picture of Errol Flynn without hearing something by Korngold in my head.

The Sea Hawk, Korngold again. See what I mean? This is my favorite Korngold score.

Pirates of the Caribbean, music by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt. I really do love these movies and have never understood the increasingly negative reaction to each one that comes out, and the music is a lot of fun too, for a more modern take on the swashbuckling thing.

Cutthroat Island, music by John Debney. This is not a good movie, although I also don’t think it’s quite as bad as everybody else does. It cost a ridiculous amount to make, the male lead was terribly miscast, and the movie simply wasn’t good enough to overcome being in a genre that simply wasn’t in demand at the time. Debney’s score, though, is amazing – in fact, many film music lovers consider it a classic. Lots of swashbuckling here!

The Mask of Zorro, music by James Horner. Energetic fun here, if you want a Latino flare to your swashbuckling music.

Ivanhoe, music by Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa is another of the great composers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He’s likely best known for his work on big epics like Ben Hur, but Ivanhoe is a wonderful swashbuckling listen.

Hook, music by John Williams. Here we’re skirting the line between “swashbuckling adventure” and “outright fantasy”, but it’s hard not to get caught up in Williams’s work for this movie (which is, admittedly, not a favorite of mine).

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, music by Michael Kamen. Kamen was somewhat underrated during his lifetime, and, well, he might still be a bit underrated. His Robin Hood score is terrific. (I like the movie, despite its well-known faults in the “historical accuracy” department.)

Rob Roy, music by Carter Burwell. This film isn’t quite the standard type of swashbuckler you might expect – it’s more of a historical drama, and Burwell scores it as such. But there are still exciting moments in it, and the score is well-worth hearing.

The Princess Bride, music by Mark Knopfler. Also not your standard swashbuckler, and therefore not the standard type of adventure music you’d expect for one, but it can still fit the mood, especially if part of your swashbuckling story involves Twoo Wuv.

And not just film music! You can hear a lot of thrilling music of the swashbuckling variety in the classical realm. A few examples, which aren’t remotely exhaustive:

Le Corsaire Overture, by Hector Berlioz. Berlioz is one of my favorite composers ever, and there’s a lot of adventure in his music. Especially in this rousing overture!

The Polovtsian Dances, by Alexander Borodin. Exotic and wonderful. The Russian Romantics will sweep you away, if you’re not careful. But come to think of it…let them!

The Flying Dutchman Overture, by Richard Wagner. There’s a lot of overlap between good swashbuckling music and good outright fantasy music, and this is an example. Wagner makes amazing listening for fantasy purposes, actually – but fantasy music is another post.

I could go on, but this post is pretty long already. These are but a starting point, though, so sharpen your rapiers, put on your wide-brimmed hat with giant feather in it, and go buckle your swash!

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KINDLE SALE!!!

image

Hey everybody! For one week only, you can get both FORGOTTEN STARS e-books on Kindle for just $.99 each! Two fantastic* space opera novels for the grand total of $1.98! Spaceships! Princesses! Ancient galactic empires! Lost planets! Mysteries! Action! Giant six-legged cats! Enigmatic space pilots! All this and MORE!!!

Get ’em while they’re hot!

*This opinion is completely biased.

 

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GUEST POST!!! On the Tracking of Progress, by A.B. Keuser

Hey, folks! It’s me. Below we have a first for this site: a guest post! This entry is by A.B. Keuser, a speculative fiction author who, by her own words, “spends a lot of time making things up and figuring fun ways to kill people.” Here she discusses her methods of tracking her writing progress. Enjoy!!!

——-

I track my writing by day. It’s a practice I took up in 2013 when I decided to write 1,000,000-words in one year, and I’ve kept with it since because it gives me some really great feedback.

Much like Kelly, I keep track of my writing on a spreadsheet. Unlike Kelly, I record my numbers up in a calendar like set-up.

This allows me to pull day counts, week counts, and keep a running total.

Let’s look at March of this year:

This is what my monthly spreadsheet looks like.

The bulk of the sheet is the calendar where I record the actual numbers. I keep 3 lines for each date because I have a main item scheduled and then I’m usually juggling two other back-burner projects that I write on when I’ve met certain goals. This is why I color code them. With one quick glance, I can look at March and tell you what I worked on.

I like to keep track of my weekly w/c and my running total alongside this just to make sure I’m getting on with my bigger goals.

Below the calendar, I keep a running bar graph (At the beginning of the month, I set up the formula to collect the day’s totals and add it to the chart so I don’t have to worry about it later.) This is one of the most visual representations I have of my monthly writing. It’s quick, it’s tidy, and it gets the point across.

Why this works for me

My eyes get bored pretty easily when it comes to numbers. We’ve never really gotten along, so I use this method of spreadsheeting with colors and charts to keep me interested in said numbers.

I’m also a very self-competitive person. This year one of my bigger goals is to beat my totals from 2014 & 2015. It’s going well enough.

But one of the main things it allows me to do is know when I write, and when I should focus on other things and give my brain a break.

Honestly though, the main reason I do this is to hold myself accountable. As Kelly mentioned at the beginning of April, I post my counts every month. I’m not sure anyone really cares to see them outside of myself, but having them out there, in the open really helps me keep from slacking off.

The Big Picture Numbers

ab sheet 2

2013: 1,000,497
Average: 83k words per month.
Best month: February – 133,329 words
Worst month: December – 0 words

In theory, this sounds awesome, right? So much productivity! But I managed that by ignoring all but two editing projects. Which means I’ve still got some back burner projects from that year that are waiting around to be finished.

If you’re just looking to get words down on paper—maybe you need to empty out your brain because it’s gotten too cluttered—the way I approached 2013 is great. You just write. If something isn’t working, you shove it aside and work on something that does flow. You worry about the rest of the writing stuff later.

2014: 438,943
Average: 36,578
Best month: May 62,965
Worst month: December 5,880

This year was all around tamer. I was working on things with the intention of finishing them and getting them right. That meant I couldn’t shove them to the side until my brain sorted through their issues later. I had to get things done, and I had to get them done when I scheduled them.

I learned, from looking through this year’s records, that I can’t rely on myself to do any writing on Thursdays. For whatever reason, they’re my own personal Mondays, and that day just sucks the life out of me, writing wise. Sure I can force it, but the writing is pretty awful in edits, so I usually just don’t schedule myself any req words that day. I use it for admin things now, like finishing up blog posts and doing marketing backlogs, or outlining etc.

2015: 361,949
Average: 30,162
Best month: November – 63,624
Worst month: June – 3,260

Now, those numbers look okay, but when you look at what happened throughout the year as a whole, you get a different picture. 1/3 of the words from last year were written in the last 2 months of the year. This has a very specific reason. While the first 5 months of the year were incredibly consistent, June through October were weak sauce on the writing.

June has its own excuse, my sister got married in our home state so I spent a lot of time traveling and with everything going on, I didn’t get a chance to write outside of 4 days.

July-Oct shows a different sort of recording. It shows how badly medication can affect your writing. Make sure you’re on the right meds, kids!

What this tells me on the whole

When I look at the numbers I have saved in my yearly spreadsheets, I can see patterns, like the fact that Thursdays just do not work for me. Decembers are (usually) pits of non-writing hell. Weekends are lucky to average 1000-words/day, and usually I just shouldn’t expect myself to get there.

—fin—

And there you have it! Great stuff. How do you track your progress, fellow writers?

And check out A.B. Keuser’s books!

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Progress! I has it!

So my writing month of April is in the books! How did it go? Well:

Final April productivity. Whew!!! #amwriting

That word total is just in drafting Lighthouse Boy, which I have now retitled Seaflame!, after its main character. (Yes, I’m using an exclamation point in the title. Not sure if I’ll keep it, but we’ll see.) Just over 27000 words, and I think that as of this writing, I’m a chapter or two away from the end of this one. And then…Book II, at some point. Seaflame! is a duology, after all.

The other major project was editing Forgotten Stars III, and how did that go? Well:

I DID IT YOU GUYS!!!!! Now to format and get it off to beta-readers. #amwriting

Yup, the First Revised edition is done, and the book is off to the beta-readers. And yes, the title is Amongst the Stars. You heard it hear first, unless…you didn’t.

Amongst the Stars was the toughest book I’ve edited yet, because there were a lot of things I left unexplained or unsatisfactorily put-together, with notes to “Fix this later.” Well, all of those bills finally came due, so there was a lot more heavy-lifting for this rewrite, with a number of chapters that needed outright rewriting. Hopefully this all resulted in a much stronger book, but we’ll see!

So what now? Well, plowing ahead on Seaflame!, and then moving on to something else. The next book drafted will likely be a sequel to Ghostcop (which I may now have a title for; stay tuned for that announcement), and then the first book in a series of space operas set in the Forgotten Stars universe, but not related to those books story-wise. Hey, why create a whole ‘nother galaxy if I don’t have to?

I’m also starting to brainstorm a bit on the next three Forgotten Stars books, which will form Act II of the entire saga. The bummer part of this is that there probably won’t be a Forgotten Stars book in 2017, but the break might well do me good.

So there we are. As always….

Because in my head I'm still twelve. #AmWriting #overalls

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New Book! (not by me, but really good!)

TheIsland_eBook_600x900-1

 

I was fortunate enough, as a perk for having backed her Kickstarter campaign, to get a preview copy of The Island by S. Usher Evans a few months ago, and I loved it! (Here’s my Goodreads review.) It’s a terrific book about two warring nations, a prince from one of them, and a pilot from the other. When they crash on the same deserted island, these two enemies are forced into an unwelcome alliance…which grows into something else, as each begins learning uncomfortable truths about the war they’re fighting.

The book launches the Madion War Trilogy, whose second volume will be available for pre-order…soon. For now, check this one out — it’s really good! (And Evans herself is awesome.)

 

 

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Updates and What Some Other Folk Are Up To

Greetings, programs!

It’s been a while since I updated my progress and/or linked some other stuff around the Writersphere, so…I’m now going to update my progress and link some stuff around the Writersphere. Wow-za!

:: I think I have a title for Lighthouse Boy. I’m not sure yet; I like to live with titles a bit before I decide if they’re right for the books. Kind of like breaking in new shoes, I guess.

As for actually writing the book, I’m closing in on the end. I think I’m two or three chapters away — more likely three, but you never know with these things. I’ve been promising a long book, and this one is certainly that. The manuscript currently stands at just under 200,000 words, and this is only Book One! (Never fear; this is going to be a duology, not an extended series of doorstops. Just two doorstops.)

::  Editing Forgotten Stars III has been a real task. A lot of heavy lifting, with some wholesale rewriting of entire chapters. Part of the problem was that I had to literally insert an entire subplot from the get-go (which has to be there, because it solves a lot of the book’s original problems), and there are other things I did in the first draft that were problematic and had to be either reworked or jettisoned entirely. I’m well behind where I wanted to be on this book by now, but it simply couldn’t be helped.

::  I don’t know what was in my coffee this week, but I found myself entertaining a lot of new story ideas. Weird.

But enough about me! What are other folks up to?

::  Dawn Kurtagich went to Spain.

::  Briana Mae Morgan updated her editing services. Check her out!

::  Amanda Fairchild posted a short story. I wonder what’s in that freezer….

::  Friend and beta-reader Jason Bennion eulogizes Prince. Jason is a terrific writer.

::  How Jen Fulmer got her agent.

That’s about it for now. Cheerio, chaps, and we’ll see you around the Galaxy!

 

 

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On Character: Groot and Lying Cat

One of the most important traits in any character is their voice: how they speak, what kinds of things they say, what phrases they like to repeat, and so on. In my Forgotten Stars books, Lieutenant Rasharri has a number of sayings she is fond of saying all the time: “Think on what you know” being a main one. A lot of the best writers are good at giving characters specific voices. This is one of the better aspects of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series: think of Tyrion’s sardonic wit, or — my favorite — Dolorous Edd’s eternal conviction that he and he alone will suffer all of the worst possible fates.

But sometimes you’ll have a character whose voice is extremely limited, for one reason or another. How do you allow them to show emotion, then? How you do make a three-dimensional character when they can’t speak, or can only speak in very limited ways? Let’s look at two such characters: Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Lying Cat from Saga.

Groot is a walking, talking tree with enormous strength and a number of other interesting skills. He is also incapable of saying anything other than “I am Groot.”

groot 2
Groot has complex thoughts, but in terms of linguistic expression, he is completely stunted. No matter what thought he wishes to express, it comes out as “I am Groot.”

In the Guardians movie, it’s not really spelled out until later on in the film that Groot is capable of deeper, complex thoughts. He just goes along, saying “I am Groot”, and shouting it in rage when a bunch of prison guards start shooting at him. The first half of the film suggests that Groot is little more than a brainless tree-creature, but then we get some real insight into him. Half the heroes are captured by Yondu (long story), leaving Groot and Rocket Raccoon behind. Rocket wants to flee to the farthest corner of the Galaxy, but Groot has other thoughts, and begins saying “I am Groot”, over and over, but in a different tone of voice. “I am Groot!” he says, and Rocket Raccoon responds incredulously: “Save them? How are we gonna do that?”

An even more determined “I am Groot!” follows, to which Rocket responds again. This scene does more than just establish that Groot has feelings; it establishes that despite Groot’s vocabulary of three words, Rocket actually understands him.

Groot’s biggest moment comes in a moment of self-sacrifice, when he uses his own body to protect all of his companions from certain death. Rocket asks him why he is doing this, and for the first time, Groot says something else: “We are Groot.” Somehow…that is perfect. We know exactly what he means, even though his words don’t mean that at all.

So by using tone of voice, context, and a perfectly-placed change, this character with a vocabulary of three (or is it five?) words becomes one of the most expressive in the story.

groot 1
groot 3

So, what about Lying Cat? She comes from a comics series called Saga, which is an adult-themed space opera. (How adult? The opening scene is an alien woman giving birth, and her first line is, “It feels like I’m shitting!”) The comic has an immense cast, but mainly it follows two young people from different species who have fallen in love and had a baby together, despite their respective species having been at war for a long time. Saga is violent and full of sex and has as much shocking death as any George RR Martin novel, but it is also loaded with humor and heart.

The important character for my purposes here is Lying Cat, the traveling partner of a bounty hunter known as The Will. Lying Cat is just a big, nasty-looking cat who lurks about, but she can detect when anyone speaking is saying something untrue, at which point she says a single word: ”LYING.” This natural lie-detector is quite convenient for anyone in the bounty-hunting line of work.

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So how do the writers make Lying Cat more than a plot device? There’s one scene where The Will lands on a “pleasure planet” (basically a giant brothel), but he is informed that Lying Cat is not allowed away from the ship. That results in this:

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While there, The Will rescues a young girl who has been forced to prostitution. A few issues later, this happens:

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Even a lie-detecting cat with one-word vocabulary has a moral compass, and she finds good ways to use it.

What does this illustrate, along with Groot? Even if you have characters whose expression is extremely limited, there are still ways to give them good character moments that stretch their expressive boundaries and allow them to be seen as characters. It’s a challenge, but worth it! These respective stories would suffer greatly without Groot and Lying Cat.

I kind of wonder if George RR Martin has some kind of moment like these in store for Hodor….

UPDATE: I originally identified Lying Cat as a male cat, when she is actually female. I have fixed this. I don’t know how I managed to get through thirty-plus issues of Saga without correctly identifying Lying Cat’s gender, but in truth, it simply isn’t a plot point in any way, and I can’t recall at all when this would have been established. I’m sure it was, though, and I missed it, so the error is mine — and it probably says something that my default assumption was male. That’s a post for another time, though.

 

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