Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Frostborn by Lou Anders (No Spoilers)

Those of you who want to know more about Lou Anders should check out the interview I conducted with him last time we were all together. It is a good one!

Cover Art by Justin Gerard

One of my most important moments as young boy was when my father handed me a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I remember this moment distinctly-- I was eleven at the time, and one of the big complaints my parents had was that I was reading "too many comic books" and that it was time for me to "grow up." Because, you know, nothing makes someone grow up like switching from comics to fantasy novels... but anyway. The memory was because the cover was done by the amazing Alan Lee, who at the time was on a tear re-doing all of Tolkien's covers for the publisher. This was before the LOTR movies, and each one was a masterpiece.

What I found inside that book changed my life forever. Without The Hobbit I don't think I would have ended up with my dream of becoming a successful fantasy author, a dream that I will pursue until my life ends. The story of Bilbo was exactly what I need to... reading isn't the appropriate word here, but what I went through was an experience, one that showed me I could define myself without having to fit into a particular box (trope), that the power of goodness and fairness really do matter, and more importantly, that courage isn't being the biggest and the toughest, but the most willing.

I have grown older and moved on to more adult fantasy (thanks, Dad), but The Hobbit always stayed with me. It was my book.

I say all this, prattling on, because I think the importance of Lou Anders' Frostborn needs to be made clear: This isn't my Hobbit, but after reading it twice through, I am almost certain it would have been if I was eleven in 2014.

Anders has crafted a tale filled with ages-old themes and lessons that I think are often missing from a lot of today's fantasy, be it Middle-Grade or Adult. Friendship, Courage, Intelligence, and Trust--these are things that are often assumed to be in the background of every children's novel, but rarely are they talked about openly and pursued passionately, let alone done well. I believe this to be a major reason why I dislike Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series so much--when it is done out in the open it is too campy to my taste, and when it hidden in the background I just don't care. Anders falls more in with JK Rowling and Lloyd Alexander, so much so with the latter that I almost felt like I was reading The Book of Three (another classic everyone should read.) To put a point on it, I was taken on a great adventure and learned something.

I love the main characters, Karn and Thianna: while being new and interesting, they are also timeless. Thianna is a gem, especially when one looks at how Anders worked with a lot of different classical elements to develop a incredibly likable character that girls need to read more of. This book is like making an old soup recipe with the same ingredients, but the measures have been altered so the taste is different, and it tastes good. Even the secondary characters fit into their classical molds, but there is a small detail here, a small flair there, that truly sets them off with life and breath. More importantly, both of the main protagonists grow in an honest way--they never stop being kids, but they don't have their innocence stripped away. That detail is often overdone or overwrought, but here again, Anders shines. There won't be a forced adulthood. There won't be a black day that stains the rest of their lives. They win, they work, but at the end of the book, they remain wonderful.

The writing itself is never too simplified (which is always a big sin to me--kids don't need to be coddled because of a "lack of understand or nuance"), nor is it ever too high for someone of the age it is aimed towards. Anders works his Tolkien-like style very well, being able to balance character, dialogue, setting, and pace in equal measure. One of the key elements of the book focuses around Karn's ability to play his favorite board game, Thrones & Bones, and the many applications he uses this ability to get himself out of sticky situations. This is particularly well-done in his final standoff with the leader of the draugrs, which proves that you can be thrilling without a sword fight in adventure fantasy.

I do have some criticisms of the book. With the exception of the draugr lead the villains were a bit flat. Some of the humor is a little too young for me to really get a laugh out of, but that has more to do with me being how old I am more than anything else. The world of Norrongard is full and fleshed out, but I finished the book still wanting to know a little more about the Frost Giant's world, especially from Thianna's viewpoint. It was just missing that one *thing* that separates a "very good" setting from a "great setting."

But even with these criticism, Anders has forged for younger readers one hell of a fantasy adventure. I would definitely recommend this book, and I am sure the next one will be as equally charming.

See you all soon! Next post will feature my adventures at Dragon*Con!

Remember, you can always follow me @JayRequard!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Frostborn comes to Sit.Write.Bleed! ft. Lou Anders

Words can't really measure what I want to say, so I will keep it short.

It is my pleasure today to introduce Lou Anders for this interview. A Hugo Award winner for his fantastic stewardship of Pyr books, his first novel Frostborn was an honest delight to read. A review will be coming very soon for the novel itself, but without further ado, the interview.


Sit.Write.Bleed (SWB): Lou, welcome to Sit.Write.Bleed.! So in your debut novel, Frostborn, vikings, dragons, draugrs, and gaming are joined together in this epic story about Karn and Thianna, two kids from two very different walks of life. Where did the inspiration for such a multifaceted story originate?

Lou Anders (LA): The story of Frostborn grew over a number of years. Back in 2010, I tried my hand at a sword & sorcery short story inspired by childhood reading of Fritz Leiber. It was a disaster, one that should never see the light of day, but one of the two “buddy” characters was a woman who was half-human, half frost giant. I liked her and didn’t want to let her go, even though the story itself was broken. As I worried at her (across two more short story attempts), I started to realize that I didn’t really understand her dual-heritage and I ought to think more about her back story. Somewhere in there, I realized her backstory was the story. Frost giants sent me into a Norse/Viking research frenzy, and the world started to come together. Then when I wanted to pair her with a boy her own age, I tried to come up with a counterpoint to her very physical personality, and the idea of a board gamer came to me.

SWB: One of the real strengths of the novel is the ability to describe the game play of the "Thrones and Bones" board game. What has gaming added to your life, both as a writer and as a person?

LA: I played an enormous amount of board games in a short amount of time as an adolescent, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to Top Secret, Call of Cthulhu, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Boot Hill, others. I was almost always the GM. And I certainly read more rules manuals, modules, and setting guides that I played. I think this was a foundational experience when it came to both learning to be a storyteller and broadening my imagination. Some much of our entertainment is passive, even a lot of video games that appear to be active are actually fooling the player into thinking they are exercising more decisions than they are, and RPGs strike me now as an amazingly active, player-driven form of entertainment. I want to involve my children in them for this reason. But it was a few years ago that I started to realize all of this, around the time when I discovered how many of my favorite fantasy writers were, or still are, dedicated role players. At that point I became very interested in the back and forth between playing RPGs and creating fantasy fiction. (Mind you, I’m not knocking video games, which I’m also very, very fond of.)

SWB: It is interesting to see a story focus on two main leads instead of one, especially when one considers that most coming-of-age fantasy is usually singular in its character focus. Karn and Thianna are great both as individuals in terms of their appeal to boys and girls, but where they really shine is their ability to work together and form a very organic friendship. Was that pairing something you set out to do early on or was it something that developed in the process of writing the novel?

LA: I have a son and a daughter, and I wanted to write a story with both of them in mind, with heroes both of them could be proud of. It’s very important to me that neither character is the other’s sidekick, but that they are co-equal leads. And it is very important to me that they each have strengths and weaknesses that differentiate them one from the other, but which they learn to put into service of the greater whole that is their friendship.

SWB: Let's talk about dragons and wyverns for a moment. Dragons have always held the imagination of readers, cementing themselves as an immortal trope, with wyverns just now working into the consciousness of fantasy pop culture. Why do you think that popularity has stuck through not only modern fantasy, but throughout centuries of storytelling?

LA: Dragons, done right, are more than just monsters. They are primal forces, iconic figures, majestic representations of elder days, powers in the world. One of the things I like the best about the new Hobbit films (and yes, there are things to like about them) is the way we see Gandalf’s motivation in helping the dwarves as fear that the Dark Lord might one day be able to turn Smaug to his purpose. Smaug is a game-changing power equivalent to a country or cabal of wizards in strength. He’s one of the features of the world. The archetype of entities that are very dangerous, very old, and very powerful is quite compelling. I hate when dragons are reduced to the level of regular monsters.

SWB: I know you took a trip to Norway to conduct research for the culture of this novel. How did visiting the home of the Vikings change your perceptions about them as a people and a culture?

LA: You know the first thing it did is taught me the landscape. Norway has a really unique geography, which, although I’d seen it in pictures, I didn’t understand until I was there. Geography shapes cultures, and sailing down the fjords, or standing on the mountaintops, I suddenly got it. I was working with my cartographer Robert Lazzaretti on the map of Norrøngard at the time, and I was taking photographs every day and sending them to him at night. It was a marvelous way to world build!

SWB: Stepping away from Lou the Novelist for a moment, many also know you as a Hugo Award Winner editor. What happened when you took off your editing cap and put on your writer's viking helmet? I imagine being on the other side of "the table", so to speak, led to a lot of discoveries about yourself.

LA: Ha. Maybe the first is that even though I’ve told scores of authors not to bother checking their Amazon ranking every five minutes, and know - with facts to back it up - how meaningless and futile it is - I can’t stop myself from doing it! Also, I’ve learned a great deal about writing from a decade and a half of editing, but being edited has taught me things I never knew.

SWB: So update us: when are the next two books coming, and what should we expect from the world of Thrones and Bones? More importantly, when will we see a board game?

LA: Don’t quote me on this until my publisher announces it formally, but books two and three should be out this time next year and again in 2016. Book two is on my editor’s desk, and I’m doing the research for book three now. As to a board game, the rules for Thrones and Bones are in the back of book one, and they’ll be rules for a different game in the back of book two!

SWB: Last question, and at Sit.Write.Bleed. we always end it with a fun one. What trope do you wish would disappear?

LA: There are no bad tropes, only degrees of skill in exercising them.

Cover by Justin Gerard

You can find out more about Lou and his work at these links:

Thanks for coming by and check the blog out again soon!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Round Three: Gail Martin sits down to talk about Deadly Curiosities

*So, this took a bit longer than I would have liked to get up on the blog, but some technical issues derailed that for far too long. Thankfully Gail has been more than patient with me, and I am proud to present Sit.Write.Bleed.'s THIRD interview with this great and gracious author.*

Gail Martin is best known for her high and epic fantasy work, having garnered rave reviews since she first introduced the world to Chronicles of the Necromancer and later on the Ascendant Kingdom Saga. However  recent changes have occurred, and returning to her old stomping grounds at Solaris Books, she makes her debut into the genre of Urban Fantasy with her debut novel, Deadly Curiosities:

Gail was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss her brand-new work!

Sit. Write. Bleed (S.W.B): Gail, thanks again for sitting us down for a third time! You are officially the most interviewed person at Sit.Write.Bleed! So your upcoming novel, Deadly Curiosities (Solaris), is an interesting foray into urban fantasy. Having established a very successful career in High and Epic Fantasy, how does it feel to be stepping into what many see as a different genre?

Gail Z. Martin (GZM): Thank you!  I’m glad to be back! I really am not hung up on epic vs. urban as a huge shift. There are stories I want to tell, and some lend themselves better to an epic, high fantasy setting, and some belong in the modern day with magic. So to me it’s really a shift in tone, but not a huge change. 

S.W.B: So let’s talk trade-offs: what did you learn that you could do in Urban Fantasy that you couldn't or maybe wouldn't do in High Fantasy? Are the genres really so different from each other in form and execution, or did you find commonalities?

GZM: Well, sword fights aren’t as common in Urban Fantasy—wait, yes they are. OK. Then arcane magical objects and ancient rituals aren’t as common—oops, yes, Urban has those too.
The truth is, except for the horses and lack of flush toilets, a lot of the same kinds of things happen in urban that happen in epic fantasy, except with a smaller scale (a city vs a kingdom) and less royalty.

One thing you can do in Urban Fantasy that you can’t do in Epic is make cultural references and include a certain modern level of snark. That’s fun, but it’s a very modern sensibility and it isn't in keeping with trying to be period-authentic for Epic. Also, in Urban Fantasy you've got a real- life city with its own history, so while you might tweak that history and make some alterations, you have to play somewhat by the rules. 

S.W.B: Let’s talk about Cassidy Kincaide, the hero of Deadly Curiosities. What drew you to writing that character? I found the aspect of recovering and disposing of ancient evil artifacts quite interesting.

GZM: I first wrote Cassidy in the short story “Buttons” for Solaris Book’s award-winning Magic: The Esoteric and Arcane anthology. They wanted something with modern magic, and that’s the story that came to mind, the modern continuation of the Trifles and Folly universe I had created for other anthologies with stories set centuries ago. Cassidy is the latest in a long line of her relatives to run Trifles and Folly, going back 350 years, always with Sorren as a silent partner, always with the secret mission of getting dangerous magical items off the market.

The idea of disposing of dangerous evil artifacts came about in a couple of ways. I visited Charleston on business and went back with the family because I was so entranced. I wanted to figure out how to set an urban fantasy story there, and an antique shop seemed likely, since they are so prevalent in Charleston and there is such rich history in that city.

My dad was a big collector/hoarder and antiques buff, so I got hauled around to antiques shows, swap meets and flea markets the whole time I was growing up. To amuse myself, I used to make up stories about the stuff that was for sale, just as a way to kill time. Then when my dad passed away and we had to clean out all his myriad collections, I found myself hip deep in strange old collectibles. Most of the stuff that is featured in Deadly Curiosities, I've owned and gotten rid of. Except for the mother-of-pearl opera glasses. I still have those. 

S.W.B: Vampires often appear in your High Fantasy works, but in Deadly Curiosities we see the introduction of Sorren, a 500 year-old immortal and jewel thief.  Did taking on an Urban Fantasy alter your view of vampires and how you employ them?

GZM: Unlike the vayash moru in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series or my talishte in the Ascendant Kingdoms books, Sorren isn't a lord. He was never noble—he was a jewel thief before his luck turned. He looks like he’s in his late twenties, and he does his best to fit in—cell phones, email, texting. Yet there’s the weight of centuries, having lived lifetimes, having lost so many people over the years.

I would say that the vampires in Deadly Curiosities are a bit more savage than in some of my other series. They own their place as top predator. And yet, as with all my vampire characters, they have a choice in how they behave and whether they elect to use their enhanced abilities constructively or destructively.

S.W.B: Stepping away from the book for a moment, the genre itself is very popular in our current era. What other Urban Fantasy authors do you like reading?

GZM: I enjoy the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher and the Secret Histories books and Ghost Finders novels by Simon R. Green. I love Victoria Laurie’s two series, both her Ghost Hunters and her Psychic Eye. CJ Henderson’s Piers Knight books are a lot of fun, too. And Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, as well as Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series. 

S.W.B: Last question, and as always, it is a fun one. Every genre has a trope, and Urban fantasy is chock-full of them. Which one do you HATE the most?

GZM: Love triangles. Can’t abide them, or drama for the sake of drama. Makes me want to slap someone silly.


You can find more about Gail and her work at these links. Go and support this great author!


See you all soon!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Death God's Chosen

I am happy to announce that The Death God's Chosen, featuring my story "The Ghost Stairs", has been released by Deepwood Publishing! Here's the cover:

You may purchase it at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble at the links provided!

I would really like to thank James Tallett, the editor-in-chief at Deepwood, for a really wonderful experience. It was great working with a quality individual who always too his time to answer questions, stay positive, and set ahead with a clear vision. I truly hope to work with him again in the future.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Good News!

I am very happy to report that I have sold another short story, and it is available for reading right now!

Narrows, a Sword & Sorcery short, is featured at Sword & Sorcery Magazine! Please go by and check it out so you can support a site dedicated to the genre I love with every fiber of my being.

Remember, you can follow me on my social media outlets here, like @JayRequard on Twitter! And please, if you have the time, click on the G+1 button on the left-hand side of this blog. Doing so allows it to climb the ranks on Google, and it is a big help not only for myself and my own work, but also for the authors I interview here on Sit.Write.Bleed.!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Tale of Intriguing Silliness by Jay Requard

A little bit ago an author-friend of mine had a birthday, and instead of the customary gifts, she asked each of the guests to write a piece of flash fiction revolving around a theme. The theme was Lewis Carroll and Nonsense in the vein of things like his poem, "Jabberwocky".

I tried to rise to the challenge and it seemed successful enough. The crowd got a good laugh, I was able to practice reading in front of people, and overall a good time was had. But I got to thinking that I wasn't going to publish the piece, as I am not really sure it would place well as flash. One of my other friends is a brilliant flash writer, so I thought: 

"Hey, why don't I put it up on my blog for free like she puts stuff on hers? At the very worst people hate it and I'll never have a career in the business."

No pressure.

Without further ado, I would like to introduce for your pleasure or for your horror...

A Tale of Intriguing Silliness
by Jay Requard

Daffodil skies and fancy meat pies, the wind warped and willed the pancake leaves onward as the brand new butterflies flapped and flopped to clouds so high. Purple-Popsicle fields waved at Everdina as she rode toward the peanut pumpernickel palazzo of Princess Pimperton's castle. Shining and shimmering in clap-trap mud-flap cookware armor, she jostled and juggled her vorpal in the sunlight, a display of dizzying daring-do.
"Oh, the things I'll cut."
Passing by pastoral paddocks and pristine ponds of grey-green goop, Everdina spotted an impossibly-possible p-dactyl passionately razing the home of a hugely humble farmer. Periwinkle beds were torn all to shreds as his dirty and dastardly children ran to and fro, screaming and seething and slathering and shouting "Save us, save us from the p-dactyl!"
Juggling and jostling her vorpal, the fantastic and fashionable knight knew her time was nigh. "Hark and hi and hail, there is a beast for my blade to bleed!" Riding on her riveting tri-color steed Mary, roaring and rumbling, she raged down the snosberry hills with their sausage flowers and bacon buffs, whipping and whooping all the way. Meeting the monster in the middle of a meadow, knight and beast clashed and bashed until the dirt was flat under the menace of their fight.
"Woe and Willy to thee, oh beast," said Everdina, wailing away at the p-dactyl. They fought and fussed until flummoxed, frustrated by their furious fighting and ferocious fencing. The wings of the wonky bird hung in horrid tatters while her vorpal, oh her wondrous and wrathful vorpal, had taken a ding of a nick of a burr on the blade!
"Bully and bluster," said the bemused and beautiful knight, "this beast is giving me quite the bashing!" Tightening her titan-strong traps, she lifted her vorpal and attacked the terrible bird in a tizzy of terrific terror, tearing its terrible head off in a twisting cut.
"Oh, the things I'll cut," she shouted up to the sunny and sage skies.
"Yay, she saved us from the p-dactyl," cried the farmer's children, their grubby faces gross with their grubby smiles. The friendly farmer shooed his frightful children away, battering them with a bulging sack of bountiful coins. "Here ye be, me lady, for the love of your vorpal. Take these hard shiny biscuits."
Everdina snatched the sack of solid gold out of his hands and rode off on Mary, whooping and whipping all the way.
"Ta-ta, tumultuous scene,” she said. “Onto the next story!"


Here begins the next story.
What that wonderful story was to be was the Wondrous Tale of Wilbur the Woolly Wizard. Now Wilbur was of the worrisome type, always wandering and worrying about his kingdom. He advised the audacious King Albert, who always allowed his awesome wizard to do awesome things.
One day a blabbering bumpkin farmer from the country came to the castle, caterwauling and cursing. "Oh, no! The flucking dam is fracking clogged! Our fricking farms are flooded!"
King Albert looked to his lucky wizard, his many mustaches a-twitch in trouble. "Well, my woolly wizard, what say you? What is the problem with this problematic dam?"
Wilbur waxed on the worrisome thought, stroking his wizened beard. "I guess I have to go and check."
Riding across the rough miles on his mountainous mare John, Wilbur arrived at the damaged dam and found that an entire forest of feisty animals had clogged its malefic drainage tunnel. Lions, Tigers, Bears, oh my, Foxes, Rabbits and Weasels with Ferrets and Turtles, and even a Goat! They roared and they bellowed, chirped and yapped, and made all sorts of ruckus that this writer didn’t want to go into yet.
"Oh, whatever will I do?" asked the worried wizard. Suddenly and surely an idea came to his head. "Oh, that's what I'll do!"
Marching down to the hole, the hotly habitual Wilbur pulled up his voluminous sleeves and waved his hands in the air, wibblely-wobble-like. Splam, Phlgam, Ala-Bazinga, he threw a spell and the animals went as if someone had fling 'em. Free and forced empty, the formerly dammed-up-damnable drainage tunnel only drizzled.
"Willy and Woe, in the name of the crown, I will fix this folly before sundown! Because I have way too much paperwork, the sheer volume of which really makes me question our current form of government, but the king is the king and what we are going to do about it? Take on the chin. That’s what we’re going to do with this silly story and our silly king."
Wilbur went down to the offending orifice, stamping his feet and ringing his hands. In the hole he saw something strange, bones and flesh and meat. Poking at the protruding putrid, he gasped.
"Is that a p-dactyl?" he asked.


Oh, what a fantastic mess! If you like this story or anything else you see here on the blog, be a friend and click on the G+1 button on the left side of the screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @JayRequard! Thanks for coming by, back, and I hope to see you again soon!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Romance and Agency

One of the big "debates" in Science Fiction and Fantasy right now is the question of women and the role they play in the genres we all love. Some have erroneously gone out and proclaimed that women authors are "killing" genres, which is kind of bullshit when you consider the fact that it would mean that Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Shelley, Patricia McKillip, Karen Lord, K.V. Johansen, and an outstanding mix of old and new women authors have done so much to keep the money flowing into publisher's pockets, which keeps the genre going. There really aren't "male authors" or "female authors." Just great authors.

Mary only invented Science Fiction and Horror. But what does she really know?

And before anyone asks: I am not a feminist due to the fact I am  a humanist, simply because I think humanism encompasses all the things that feminism wants without all the political bullshit and gender-divisive language. I am a big fan of Judith Butler and Naomi Wolf though, so I do understand and support the goals and aims of the movement, as long as it is is for true equality and the realization of human dignity outside of gender, race, creed, and whatever else.

Seriously, cut that intolerant shit out.

But enough of that! Politics always sours a good table of friends.

What I wanted to talk about this time revolves around is the question of "Romantic Interests," because one thing that women readers and women writers often bring up is how female characters are relegated to being love interests. And it's true, speaking from person experience. Nine out of ten books I read within fantasy feature women who are treated as some sort of prize to be won by the hero.

So let's get some things out of the way. Nobody should be a "prize." When you get turned into an object instead of a person (which I think defines "objectification"), there is something being taken away from that person, which adds the nasty quality of "subjectification." What is being taken away is their right to be something unto themselves.

But is having a love interests a bad thing then? It depends.

At the crux of this argument I am about to make is that it all comes down to Agency.

What is Agency? It is not just something important for female characters, but for male characters, gay characters, black, brown, white, red, and green characters too. Agency is the ability for characters to act independently and make their own free choices.

Let's look a pair of examples of characters with agency and another pair without agency before we talk about its implications of how this fits into writing a relationship between two romantic leads, because the implications are where things might get contentious.

Please understand, everything below is my opinion alone.

Characters with Agency

Example #1

All rights go to CinemaBlend for the image.

Jen Yu from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is  one my favorite characters from one of the best (yet still universally underrated) films in international cinema. Played masterfully by Zhang Ziyi, she is a character that is all about her agency. Instead of being the kind of mewing princess that dreams of holding a sword and going off on adventures, she actually goes and does it throughout the entire movie without having to rely on someone else to do it for her or show her the way. From her choice to study Wudang in secret to deciding that her arranged marriage isn't for her, her willingness to give up her easy life for more than just love alone throughout the story demonstrates for the viewer quite clearly that she is a master of herself and her fate. That is agency in a nutshell. It isn't just that she decides to be a "kick-ass female," it is that she decides on her own to be a kick-ass female.

Example #2

All rights to R.A. Salvatore and The Forgotten Realms

One of my absolute favorite characters from the menagerie of R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt novels, Wulfgar of Icewind Dale was more than the average Thor/Conan stand-in that often overburdened any D&D property. Salvatore's books have been a high mark for a company that often executes before it really thinks. While all of Salvatore's characters get their time to shine throughout the twenty-plus book series, Wulfgar stands out to me as a realistic depiction to the torments of being a real hero. Raised by a dwarf-king and trained by a dark elf, Wulfgar has both the ability see outside of his native people's worldview, and at the same time, form it in a way that it fits within his as well. From deciding not to marry "the girl" and marrying the one he actually loved to giving up his rightfully-earned crown as King of Settlestone, he forged his own path based on what he felt and needed, not what others expected of him because of the typical tropes that usually come with this type of character. He took actual responsibility for the consequences of his actions. This is a marked difference from other warriors I often see in the genre, who are either drones for a higher power or people that just want to work within the system they operate in with little thought to why they do it. Having agency means having the ability to go outside the accepted notions of how people think "the story should go", and Wulfgar does that.

Now, let's look at

Characters *without* Agency

Example #1

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Please note, I am not picking on the character of Maid Marian herself, as there are a lot of great examples of her being a character with agency; in fact, Cate Blanchett playing the role is a perfect example of a character that could have topped the previous section. However, Maid Marian in Prince of Thieves is a pro-typical damsel in distress that feminists like Anita Sarkeesian point to when they talk about this kind of subject, even though Anita is equally full of shit (another topic for another blog, though, get back to the topic, Jay!) The problem here is that Marian throughout this version of the Robin Hood story is always having things done to her. Robin of Locksley returns to England, she falls in love on first sight. The Sheriff of Nottingham (played by the brilliant Alan Rickman) kidnaps her after trying to force her into a bogus wedding and tries to rape her, requiring her to be rescued by Robin because dammit, that is what needs to happen to get us to the climax of the story. She's a pretty set piece meant to motivate the protagonist to action and little more. She's a prize both sexually and in a proprietary sense, and prizes don't have their own agency if they are only allowed to be won. This is why Robin Hood: Men in Tights is so damned hilarious when they tackled this very issue.

Example #2

You know who this is? The best actress in that movie.

So this pick is probably going to earn me a lot of heat, but bear with me. Everyone loves Rue, but at the end of the day, she is one of the many characters in The Hunger Games that does not have an ounce of agency. Let's be honest: Rue is there to get jacked (killed) for the sake of Katniss Everdeen's plot, and if we go by the strictest definition of agency, then she is a character without it from the get-go.

This gets to an important point of characters and agency in the first place: not all of them are going to have it, nor do they all of them need it. The moment any author decides to harm, kill, alter, or change a character for the sake of of another character's plot, that character loses their agency and becomes a set piece.

This leads to the overall discussion of how Agency and Romantic Relationships interplay with each other, especially in stories where one of the characters in the relationship most likely won't be a point-of-view character. Let's look at two more examples of relationships with agency that only have one point of view in the relationship, and then let's look at one where there isn't any agency present.

Relationship with Agency

Croaker and The Lady, Glen Cook
***SPOILERS in this section***
Full disclosure, I have to admit my bias for this relationship as it is my favorite in all of fantasy. Croaker is the medic and keeper of the annals for The Black Company, a elite force of mercenaries that often hire their services out to the worst of the worst. The Lady is an all-powerful sorceress that rules over half the world, which she took from her husband, The Dominator. Slap these two together from book one, and you have one of the most unforgettable, awkwardly romantic, and organic relationships in one of fantasy' more under-appreciated works. The Lady is always in the seat of power next to our lowly medic, but these two develop an attraction that turns into friendship, and friendship into a love that lasts beyond the most difficult of travails. Yet what makes them work so well is that each is independent of the other, with one neither defining themselves on the basis of the other when it comes to their own self-worth. When Croaker is thought dead and gone from the result of a battle, The Lady steps up as the Company's new leader to take care of herself and the survivors, just like when Croaker finds out The Lady is potentially in huge trouble, he doesn't dash off to save her, knowing she has more than enough ability to handle herself. What makes these characters work so well together is their individual agency and how it interacts within the relationship. When they need each other, they are there, but when they can't be there, they don't just sit their thinking "Oh, what is he/she doing? What am I going to do? I MISS THEM SO MUCH I NEED THEM HERE RIGHT NOW!" It is a relationship that befits any strong couple: one of trust and honesty, not sycophantic reliance on one person.

They are a TEAM.

Now let's look at a

Relationship *without* Agency

Yep, I'm going there.
Once again, I am not bashing the film. In fact, I love this movie! But this movie features a romantic duo that is the exact opposite of Croaker and The Lady. Buttercup, from the get-go, is a blonde Maid Marian, meant to stand there, pout, look pretty, and smile and kiss Wesley on cue. Now, I know what many are going to say: That was the point. The entire movie/novel is meant to satirize the princess genre completely, but they do it so well that it popped into my mind pretty much immediately. Buttercup's entire world is built on two things: 1. I love Wesley and 2. Is Wesley coming for me? Every action she has is at the behest of him, but let's not let Wesley off the hook, either. His entire character  is about finding Buttercup and literally giving her whatever she wants, no questions asked, so everything I can say about her should be applied to him as well.

Like Lady and Croaker, who are a TEAM, this is DEPENDENCY.

And there is a crux of writing a Romantic Relationship with Agency involved:


Here is an easy guide to know the difference:

Does your romantic relationship feature two characters working in team, who make independent decisions for themselves outside of the relationship and can still be in a relationship?

Then YES, they have agency.

Does your romantic relationship feature two characters where one is dependent on the other for everything, who's role and function is dependent on serving the other person's story line or identity?

Then NO, they do not have agency.

It is pretty simple when you get down to it, but again, just because a character or a pair of characters do not possess agency doesn't mean they are automatically bad. Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones is distinct for the fact that she has no agency but is still compelling as a viewing glass into the workings of Westeros. She is our witness. As is Gollum from Lord of the Rings, who is meant to represent the corruption the One Ring brings upon all those who wear it. As with everything in writing, it all comes down to how your write it. Be thoughtful about what and who are you putting the page, and put real thought into how you want them represented. You will never please everyone, but a well-written character will always please more people than not.

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