Some Interesting Links

While perusing my normal morning collection of random articles, I came across a couple of items I thought would be of interest to those following this blog.

The first was an article entitled Dissecting a Simile with VocabGrabber. I read this article and wondered, “What the heck is VocabGrabber?” So I went and looked it up.

VocabGrabber is pretty cool. You can drop any text you want into a text box on the web-page and have VocabGrabber analyze it. VocabGrabber will list every word, how many times it’s used, and show icons indicating what subject matters the word is primarily associated with.

For instance, it showed me that the word analyze is associated with three subjects: Arts & Literature, Science, and Vocabulary.

VocabGrabber lets you filter words by the different categories; for example, you can have VocabGrabber just show those words in the submitted text that are associated with Science, or with Vocabulary, or with any combination of about a dozen different categories. You can save word lists and automatically generated sample sentences using words you select.

Best of all, VocabGrabber links to (and is part of) VisualThesaurus. You can select any word on the list and immediately see related words in a VisualThesarus graph displayed on the right side of the page. Clicking on this graph launches the full VisualThesaurus so you can easily search for related words.

Even cooler, by selecting Gallery View you can see a VisualThesarus graph for every word in the text. Clicking on any of the words causes all the sentences that contain that word to be displayed on the right side of the page so you can see how the word was used in context.

The obvious use for this tool is to have VocabGrabber analyze something you have written. This will tell you how often you are using certain words and easily look for possible alternatives to ones you use too often.

I saw another article this morning I thought people might be interested in entitled Bringing Lively Similes Into Student Writing. I think the subject of this article is self-evident from the title, so I will not elaborate further on it.

That about covers it for this morning. Have fun.

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 3

This post is part of an ongoing series about the central characters in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to the earlier posts in this series.

Protagonist, Antagonist, Hero, Villain, Antihero, and AntiVillain
Protagonist: A Closer Look at Damon Roth
Antagonist: A Closer Look At Demiurge
The Nature of the Hero
Hero, Part 1: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis
Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2
Hero, Part 3: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis
Hero, Part 4: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis
Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith
Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I continue with reviewing the character of Artemis Arrowsmith, the woman who fills the role of antihero in Gods Among Men .

In my previous two posts on Artemis I established the journey she took from being a stock, male, character with no well defined role to a female character central to the story. Last time I focused upon the elements that would become seeds for her back story, about how on the surface she would appear to be completely different from the story’s protagonist, Damon Roth, but underneath would have a history and personality that made her his natural ally. I described how Artemis became the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Within that framework were details that had to be filled in. Details that took years for me to determine and which were inspired and influenced by a motley collection of sources including, but not limited to, Greek mythology, Dungeons & Dragons, Dances With Wolves, Babylon 5, cheesy science fiction heroines, and the seven deadly sins.

First came Dungeons & Dragons, which is where Artemis first began. She was inspired originally by the ranger character class. Rangers in D&D are fighters with specialized knowledge of certain types of creatures that heps them become experts at fighting and killing those creatures. I incorporated this feature of rangers into Artemis’s personality by making her exceptionally knowledgeable of, and focused upon killing, Gogs; humanoid creatures that have a wolf-like appearance along with some characteristics of wolves.

I couldn’t have Artemis intent upon killing Gogs unless she had a good reason for hating them. Killing for no reason is the act of a villain, and I was determined that Artemis would not be a villainous character. Finding a reason for her to hate Gogs drove me to flesh out these creatures as something more than big nasty wolf-like monster. At the same time, I also needed a way for Artemis to gain her special knowledge about them.

Around this time I watched the movie Dances With Wolves, in which Mary McDonnell plays the character Stands With A Fist. Her parents were killed by Indians when she was a young girl, and then she was raised by a different tribe of Indians.

There on the screen were answers for why Artemis hated Gogs and where her expertise of them came from. Artemis hates Gogs because they were responsible for someone she loved dying, and her knowledge came from a period where she was taken captive and lived among a Gog tribe.

This solution raised other problems. I had already decided that Artemis was an orphan raised by the Guild, a world-spanning empire. This part of her history was important because it paralleled Damon’s own childhood and was integral to using Artemis as a way to explain Damon to the reader. i.e. Artemis could not be raised by the Gogs, nor could it be her parents that were killed by the Gogs.

The solution to this quandary came from a merging of ideas from the science-fiction television series Babylon 5 and the story from Greek mythology of Artemis and Actaeon.

In an episode of Babylon 5 there was a tender, romantic moment in which the character Marcus Cole sacrifices his life to save the life of the woman he loves, military officer Susan Ivanova. This prompted me to add a love interest for Artemis, someone she grew up knowing and fell in love with. I named him Marcus, a homage to the character who inspired him. I decided that Marcus and Artemis would have served in the military together and that he died fighting Gogs.

In Greek mythology, the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, catches the mortal Actaeon spying upon her. As punishment she has him torn apart by his own hounds. I already thought of the Gogs as related to wolves, which in turn are related to hounds. Once I thought of Actaeon being torn apart by hounds because of Artemis, it was easy to conceive of Marcus being killed by Gogs because of something Artemis did.

I combined these ideas and decided that Marcus and Artemis were, at some point in the past, sent to a remote fort. Because of something Artemis did, Gogs overran the fort, Marcus died, and Artemis was taken prisoner. There she would learn about Gogs in great detail before she managed to escape and make her way back to civilization. As a plot twist, I decided the Gog who captures her and holds her prisoner would be Widukind, the Gog I created based on the work I did while developing Morel Rihtwis’s character arc. In developing his relationship with Artemis, Widukind in turn became an antivillain.

Over time, Artemis’s grief over what happened to Marcus became transformed into bitterness, which in turn became a wrathful need for vengeance against those she believes have wronged her. In particular Gogs suffer her wrath, but as Gods Among Men unfolds others become the focus of her burning rage.

Wrath, of course, is one of the seven deadly sins. Rage became the character flaw that made Artemis violent, even bloodthirsty where Gogs are concerned. Her excessively violent nature makes her cross the line between hero and antihero. It also means that at some point she must pay a heavy personal price for committing the sin of wrath.

There were other influences that drove Artemis towards the character she is now. Germanic and Celtic mythology offered ways to resolve problems with the timeline of events in her life. Movies such The Deer Hunter made me ponder the psychological effects the violent events in Artemis’s life would have upon her, which led me to consider the affects upon her relationships with those closest to her. Songs such as the Moody Blue’s Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time) and Bill Whelan’s Highstep inspired particular scenes that, in turn, made me tweak her character so I could eventually include those scenes.

In many respects, Artemis Arrowsmith has become my favorite character. Her flaws become entangled with her strengths, her failings color her successes. Her importance in Gods Among Men and her ever growing complexity as a character made me alter other characters, facts about the world, and even plot elements so that they better fit what I needed and wanted from her character. Without her I couldn’t begin to tell the story that I have worked on for so many years now.

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I shall continue reviewing the development of Artemis Arrowsmith, the character who has developed to fill the role of antihero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. This is part of a larger series of posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, and includes posts about the nature of the hero, protagonists and antagonists, and multiple posts about the more heroic characters Morel and Tara Rihtwiz. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Last time I covered how I first included a male ranger-type character drawn from my Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing experiences, then evolved the character into being a female archer/hunter called Artemis Arrowsmith. Although I did discuss how the character underwent a sex-change and was renamed, I did not discuss the changes that occurred with her back story. That is because at this point in her evolution she had no back story to speak of.

To call Gods Among Men a large, complex tale is an understatement. It took a long time for me to understand what the story was, which made actually writing any of it rather difficult. For many years I was plagued by more problems than solutions and few of my vague thoughts made their way to written word.

Artemis was one of many characters included because I felt instinctively a need for certain archetypes common in fantasy and mythology. Over time, my thoughts on the plot began to coalesce and the real needs of the story became more clear. As that happened, some of the characters I first included were removed while others were altered, some quite dramatically.

The central character in Gods Among Men has always been Damon Roth. Part of my growth as a writer was understanding how making Damon Roth central to the story influences the development of other characters. To state this revelation in simple terms: all the other characters become defined by how they react and interact with Damon.

As originally conceived, Artemis was to be Damon’s ally. For many years I kept her personality defined based upon stereotypical notions of what she should be like, and that made her impossible to write effectively. Once I realized Artemis needed a personality and history that made her a natural ally of Damon then she came into focus.

Thus began a slow mixing and matching of traits so that, upon first glance, Artemis would appear to be the exact opposite of Damon. He was a wizard, she was almost immune to magic. Damon was wealthy and lived in a grand manor, Artemis carried all her belonging in a backpack and had no permanent home. Damon was subtle, while Artemis was blunt. Damon planned everything he did with infinite care, while Artemis lived entirely in the moment, reacting instinctively to all that happened.

Underneath all these surface differences were the similarities that would bind them together. Both were exceptionally skilled, unusually intelligent, individuals who loved leading dangerous lives. Both were orphans, raised by the Guild, and inducted into service at a young age. Both had hurt those who cared for them, and both suffered guilt and regret over their actions. They each want redemption for their past sins. They want to be heroes, but both are willing to cross the moral lines that a true hero never would.

Then came the insight that firmly moved Artemis from merely an ally to a central character once and for all: Artemis is the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Damon needed to be mysterious; the reader must wonder about his motives and history and plans. Ergo, Artemis must ponder those questions. The reader should not trust Damon right away, therefore Artemis must not trust him right away. The reader should come to understand Damon overtime, so Artemis must come to understand him. Every question, every concern, every reaction I wanted the reader to have concerning Damon became the theme that ran through all of the scenes involving Artemis.

It was in this process that Artemis transitioned from a traditional heroic model of character to an antihero. As I explained in my post about Damon as the protagonist :

Damon Roth cannot be the hero because he does not embody heroic ideals. In his past he committed horrible acts for his own benefit. Acts which harmed many,including people he cared deeply about, though he was unable at that time to acknowledge those feelings even to himself. The important point of his character is that he is still doing this. He will again commit and cause atrocities that will harm many including those he cares for. … The acts he commits in Gods Among Men, as terrible as they will be, are intended to save mankind, to save the world and everything on it. To avoid the death of every living thing on the planet he believes, truly believes, that he must follow a ruthless plan that leaves a path of death and destruction in his wake. Some must suffer so all may be saved.

If Damon is going to commit atrocities, and if Artemis is going to accept those acts as being required to achieve a greater good, then Artemis cannot be heroic in the classical sense. She must, on some level, be capable of rationalizing that certain amoral acts are required, and that is something a classical hero would never do. She is not a villain, because her acts do not spring from selfish desires, and she performs heroic deeds without thought of reward. She is flawed, and those flaws make her an antihero.

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith

This is a continuation of earlier posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about Damon Roth, the protagonist in Gods Among Men, and Demiurge, the antagonist, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. I have multiple posts about Morel and Tara Rihtwiz, who fill the roles of classical and modern heroes respectively. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Today I will focus upon Artemis Arrowsmith, a woman who has evolved into the role of the antihero. I begin by reviewing how I came to conceive of her character and the various twist and turns that led to her current incarnation.

In a previous post I described how I first conceived of the story that would become Gods Among Men. To recap, I was a teenage geek who loved playing Dungeons & Dragons (a.k.a D&D), and so my initial musing on the story revolved around stock characters drawn from my experiences with role-playing games.

A character-type central to D&D is the Ranger. A Ranger in D&D is a hunter, a tracker, a woodsman, a fighter who has special expertise fighting certain enemies. Back when I was teenager it was clear that the creators of D&D were basing their Ranger upon the character of Aragorn from The Lord Of The Rings, who himself was based upon archetypal hunter-heroes.

Initially, I added a ranger-type character to Gods Among Men without much thought. The story I was conceiving revolved around the wizard that became Damon Roth. When I was sketching out my original ideas, a common theme in D&D adventures were background details like, “A long time ago there was a wizard so-and-so and his ranger ally such-and-such that fought the great evil etc…” Another concept that could be directly traced back to The Lord Of The Rings and the relationship between Aragorn and Gandalf.

And so, once I began thinking of a wizard as the central character, I naturally decided he must have a ranger ally. Having no better idea than that, I created a male ranger, named him Smith (nickname Smitty), and tried to figure out where he fit into the story. I thought of him as a tough, experienced, deadly fighter who could dispatch enemies without a second thought.

I also thought of the ranger as the character that would balance the group of heroes. In my mind, the wizard would be in constant conflict with the knight figure (who became Morel) and with other characters I was starting to introduce into the story. My first draft of the ranger had him as a peacemaker that pulled each person’s extremes back toward the center so they could complete their quest.

It took me a while to realize the contradiction inherent in this concept of the character: the killer that makes everyone want to be peaceful and happy together. I found the contradiction impossible to fully reconcile, and so began changing the character more and more.

Perhaps the first major change came when a former girlfriend read my early drafts and noted, “You don’t have any female characters.” This prompted me to look at my major characters and consider which ones would benefit from a sex-change. The ranger named Smith was the first to undergo the procedure. In the process, I dropped the horrible nickname Smitty and the non-descriptive name Smith and began looking for a better name.

Being a fan of all things mythological, when I began thinking of a female hunter I immediately thought of the Greek goddess, Artemis. I liked the symbolism, so I gave my huntress a bow and changed her name to Artemis.

Later I stumbled across the name Arrowsmith; it was the name of the central character in Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Arrowsmith. I immediately liked the name Arrowsmith because it underscored the archery aspect of the character and created a nice alliteration: Artemis Arrowsmith.

After a bit or research, I discovered the character in the Sinclair Lewis novel was a doctor torn between the demands of society and his own desires. I liked the symbolism there as well, so Artemis Arrowsmith became my new and improved ranger character.

In my next post I shall continue reviewing Artemis’s development as a character and the various influences that affected my choices with her.

An Essay by George Orwell

I stumbled across an 1946 essay by George Orwell I thought people might find interesting. The essay is about the poor use of language in writing, with examples of (very) bad writing and suggested rules for what should be avoided. The essay is broken across two web-pages. Here is a link for the first page, and for the second page.

I may comment on this essay later, but for now I thought I would point it out so those interested could read it at their leisure.