Thursday, 28 February 2013

On a Downer.

   I don't like to make miserable posts, so don't assume I'm being whiney. I'm using this post as a way to try to figure out what might be bothering me. But let me start by saying that by no means do I feel that nothing in my life is going right. I have an amazing boyfriend who I really do love more every day, and who can always make me laugh and knows just how to do it; I have an amazing family who look after us as we do for them, would never turn us away or kick us out, and never ask us for anything; I have health, and intelligence, even if it doesn't always seem like it. In short, my life is just peachy.
   But I still can't shake this downer. I'll be honest, I don't think I have much to be upset about, like I said above, but that doesn't always help to shake such a feeling off.
   I can think of a few things it might be.

   My shop. Lately they have both been so very, very slow. The only thing keeping me positive is that I've got new products for both Peaches and Pebbles, and Grumble Cave Monsters. The downside of that is that I'm still waiting for supplies for my new jewellery, and while I finished the new monster piece, I've found it impossible to photograph. I photographed it against white, but because it is white itself, it didn't work out, but I don't like it against wood at all, either. I don't want to photograph it on myself, and I have no immediate people who can help me out either, so I'm feeling a bit stuck with that.
   My weight. I weighed myself at the beginning of February, worked hard for the next three weeks, particularly the final week where I doubled my exercise time. I weighed myself the Monday afterwards and somehow gained a pound or two. In my experience, if I weigh myself on a Monday, exercise properly for a week, then weigh myself on Friday, I always weigh more, but if I rest for the weekend and then weigh myself on the next Monday, I weigh less than the initial Monday. I'm hoping that by doubling the amount of time I spent exercising, I just shocked my body, or something like that, and the weekend wasn't enough to rest over. I don't believe I've actually gained anything, surely I've only lost it, but it still hasn't given me any confidence boost - very much the latter, in fact.
   Writing. This is a big one for me. I enjoy writing, and I like the story I'm writing right now, but I'm having a hard time wanting to do it, and so, I don't. This means I'm postponing my dream career, because, I've discovered, I don't think I want it as much as I thought I did, otherwise, surely, I'd be able to make myself do it. Actually, I wouldn't even have to "make myself" do it. I'd do it because I want to. I think, for the most part, it's because I'm not interested enough in my characters. The story is a good one, and it could do well, but finding the concentration to sit down and write it is getting harder and harder - and the longer I put it off, the harder it gets to get back to it. It's bringing me down, along with the fact that, as I've stated several times before, my dream career is in the hands of complete strangers, depending on their opinion. I cannot offer any achievements or grades to pursuade them, because they would mean little. So all I can do is keep writing and hope it's not all for naught.
   Money. I don't like to talk about finances, but we're saving up for things that are important to us, which means we're a little worse off than we used to be. We've never had much money, and with nothing but crickets coming from the shop lately, we are especially bad off, which is bringing me down. I worry that we won't be able to afford things we need, or, should something happen, we be unable to cope.

   I don't mean to whine, and it's helped to get this out a bit, but at the end of the day, I think I've realised that this downer is something I've slipped into for no reason at all, and one I will snap myself out of in time. Knowing me, it may not last too long. Seeg thinks I just need to keep myself occupied, so there's a marathon Naruto session coming up, along with excessive amounts of Mass Effect and Skyrim, and birthday cake making. It's my mum's 49th on the 1st, and, despite having to ask my dad nicely, we managed to get her a present. Nothing flash - she's very hard to buy for, since she has no hobbies - but it's something that will last and she will enjoy looking at. We got her some fake poppies. At least they won't die - and, knowing mum, she won't even realise they're fake. Not that we're trying to trick her, we're not that mean.

   Hopefully things will perk up shortly. How about everyone else? Anyone else having a bad day? Or perhaps an especially good day? Got any nice/funny/sweet stories to cheer me up with? We also just watched the Naruto Shippuuden double episode of the Kyuubi's attack on Konoha today, which didn't help. While it was obvious particular characters would die, since it was set 16 years before "present day", it still didn't stop tears from streaming down my face. Anime is deadly. Chracters get too deep, and when they die (which is rare, to be fair), it's awful.

Mother's Day Marshmallow Cakes

   With Mother's Day right around the corner, I thought I'd share with you a really simple but delicious treat! Using a standard cake mixture and marshmallow mixture, you can make yummy squishy bites!
   I had a fat day making these, because I was making biscuits to start with, then decided to make a marshmallow mixture, and then I ended up making cakes as well because Seeg walked passed shouting about cake. Luckily we had just enough sugar, so I got to it all.

   It's really simple to do. You make your cakes - I added yellow food colouring to mine, which usually doesn't work out if they start to brown, but I happened to check on them at exactly the right time this time. Once your cakes come out of the oven, let them cool. I would suggest making the marshmallow mix only once they come out of the oven. While you make the marshmallows, which can take half an hour, the cakes are given the chance to cool.
   Once they are cool, use a spoon and dug downwards into the top-middle, going in a circle, as below, and on the final dig that will join the circle, you can scoop it out. The depth depends on how far you dig, and the size on how far out you dig.

   Once you've dug yourself a little bowl from the cooled cake, you can spoon in some of the marshmallow. Bear in mind that the marshmallow will gradually set while it's standing there - it may take 4 hours to overnight to fully do so, but the texture will certainly change if it's sat there untouched for half an hour. If you plan to make actual marshmallows from this same mixture, I recommend moving the majority - if not all - of the mixture into your chosen container, and spoon bits out as you need them. Then, once you've got your marshmallow into a cake, pop the top back on. Be sure you put the tops back on after you've done each one, because, as I said, the mixture may start to set, and that will affect how well the "lid" will sit.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Garden Moss Terrarium

   I've always wanted to make a terrarium. I love moss - I love how rich the shade of green is. There's moss growing on rocks in the garden and it looks lovely, but any time I've looked into how to go about it it's always called for seeds of this and that which, to be honest, I can't be bothered to maintain. I really don't have green fingers. Honestly. Any plant I get I manage to kill through neglect. It's terribly cliche, but...well, what do you do with a plant? Give me a dog - hell, any animal - and it'll live in luxury, never bored and never alone.
   Anyway, no, anytime I read how to do it it just seemed too much work for something so small. It's strange, though, how the obvious solution was such an obvious solution that I didn't even notice it.

   Like I said, the moss was growing on rocks. After looking up simple garden moss it became obvious that it didn't need soil, and little to no watering. Moss doesn't have typical roots, it has little...I don't know, suction leg thingies that cling to the surface it decides to grow on. All you really need at the bottom of a bowl is gravel or wood or something. Most people use soil for their terrariums, regardless, because it looks more natural and earthy.
   So, the other day, I grabbed an unused fish bowl, a knife and a spoon and headed out into the garden. I'd read that if you use soil, you want to use more acidic soil because the moss will prefer it, but it doesn't really matter. Either way, using my awesome gardening tools, I scooped up what I happened to know was acidic soil from a corner of the garden, layered the bottom 1 and a half inch of the bowl with it, and then moved over to the greenest moss in the garden, which was growing on a stone bench, and used the flat of the knife to scrape the moss off as the interwebz told me to. I arranged it all in the bowl as I liked it, and used a rock from the garden to cover up a bare patch I couldn't quite cover.
   Garden moss doesn't do much for refreshing oxygen, but it at least adds a bit of green to a room. I have a few things in mind to make for it, which I'll get to in time. For now, though, the green jar will do.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Creative Writing Tips: World Technologies

Applies to Fantasy

Looking at:
Technology (electricity and plumbing)
• Social advancement
• Availability (only rich, or everyone) 

   It's very important to know your world back to front, especially when it comes to technologies and world advancement. To make it easier, think of it this way: if a comet were going to hit, would they know what a comet was? Would they consider it a religious sign? Would they even recognise it as a threat? In this case, how far advanced are their technologies and sciences? In most fantasy stories, technology is replaced by magic, or technology will be more gyro and kinetic based than electrical. In Science Fiction, technology will be very present and will probably exceed what is here today, while normal fiction will be quite familiar, probably not exceeding what is in your own home, unless your character is rich or a scientist, perhaps.

   First we're going to look at religion. In most fantasy, religion is either the enemy, or they follow gods that actually physically exist. When religious beings are the enemy, it is either with a corrupted god, or the god doesn't actually exist, such as in the Dark Materials Trilogy or briefly in The Dreamers. When the god doesn't exist, they take it upon themselves to deal out death and judgement because their god has never shown himself or outwardly done so himself, because he doesn't exist, which leads to wars, and also leads to the uppermost ranking priests to make up their own rules and laws as time goes by to make their life more comfortable.
   Opposing that, there are also gods that physically exist like the Daedric Princes or the Divines in The Elder Scrolls, the latter of which don't show themselves or get directly involved as much as the Daedra because they are of purer spirit than the Daedra, who are more like demon lords. These beings will generally see to problems themselves as best they can, sometimes by actually materialising. As such, their followers don't usually take death and judgement upon themselves because they can rely on their gods to do it themselves.
   The best example I can give that actually embodies both is The Dreamer series. There are four gods in the Land of Dhrall, all of whom not only physically exist, but walk among the humans. They each rule a quarter of the land, but their people are more primitive than is usual, even in fantasy works, and three of the four lands consist of just farmers or hunters. A large group of people in the fourth land, however, do actually worship their god rather than seeing her as just another being who happens to have powers (so seen because they behave relatively normally themselves, other than the fact that they don't eat or sleep for many, many years), but they are very fat and lazy, and still rely on their goddess to deal with problems herself. These gods kept their continent seperate from the others, and also kept peace as best as they could among their own people.
   However, there are other lands beyond Dhrall that are more advanced, and build cities rather than live in tribes, and in the most advanced of those lands, there is a religion based around a god called Amar. Amar, however, does not exist, and as a result, the priests of the religion make up their own rules and kill anyone who opposes them or their false god. This resulted in the priests and their slavers launching an invasion on the Land of Dhrall for their gold and more slaves to satiate their greed.
   Not all fantasy has religion, of course, and when it does, it's not always as prominent as the above. It could simply be beliefs that are rarely spoken of because they're just not necessary to the story.

   Moving on to technology: you may have noticed that it doesn't always exist in fantasy. Sometimes people still live in thatched houses and use spears to kill their prey, while other times there are brick buildings and steam- or gyro-powered technology used to power vehicles, weapons and appliances. If magic is present, however, that magic usually replaces any kind of technology, leaving candles and gas lanterns to those without it. Some fantasy, though, does include technology of our present standard, like His Dark Materials when it briefly featured in our own world in The Subtle Knife. But for the most part, fantasy is relatively simple. Look at Harry Potter, for instance: the magic world lives right alongside our own, and, in the very first film, while they were walking through modern London, they opened a secret entrance in a brick wall behind a pub that instantly led into a victorian street. Nowhere in Hogwarts or any store in the magical world is there a piece of electricity. Even the lights are either conjured or candles. This is because having technology alongside magic seems a bit much. A bit too powerful, I think, but it's usually set this way because, if our own technology was used in a fantasy work, it would be difficult to distinguish that world from our own, and also cloud our minds with what is and isn't normal these days.
   If you're struggling, consider these questions: where do people get light from when the sun sets? Where does their water come from, well or pipe? Are there underground sewers or is everything just tipped in the street? How do people get around, horse-drawn carriage or car? By considering these questions, you can set your world out easily enough - and don't be afraid to mix them, either. If electricity is being used, it doesn't have to be used by everyone - perhaps only nobles and rich suits have electricity while everyone else go without. Perhaps it's still in the process of being discovered, or perhaps it's not used by everyone because of a religious matter. It might seem that I'm going too deep, but you need to know if electricity is available on hand or not, and you might also want to know why that is in case it somehow pops up later on in the work itself. It's best to have a solid world to work in, where you know the hows and whys.

   In some fantasy pieces, girls are married by 14. In others, they may not be allowed to marry at all until an older age. So society also changes. This falls under your world's social advancement - what is life like? Is there plumbing? Electricity? Have you got one without the other, and why?
   What is socially acceptable and what isn't? Is it normal to keep your hat on indoors? Is there a gesture or act that is unexpectedly rude, such as keeping said hat on?
   Is it very clean? Do animals live in the street? Do people tip urine from the window? Is homelessness a big problem? Is prostitution common?
   Is there a law enforcement? Are they fair? Who do they answer to? What is and isn't allowed?  Are they feared or respected?
   These are the sorts of questions that just fly off the top of my head. This is world advancement. It seems again that I've gone a lot deeper than I need to, but it will help you set the scene, and will also help to deepen your world. If it seems a bit much, consider our own world. We use many contrasting things across several countries - some have plumbing, some do not; some see the thumbs-up or the 'okay' hand to be very rude; in some countries it's polite or complementing to leave a bit of food on the plate rather than eat the lot.
   Of course, some of these matters depend on what sort of fantasy you're writing. If you're writing gritty, dark fantasy, like the Night Angel Trilogy, then things like prostitution pop up a lot, and become a common theme. The same goes if your main character is a thief, they're more likely to encounter such things than more prestigious figures. But if you're writing high fantasy, like Eragon, then the idea of prostitution wouldn't even exist, let alone be mentioned. Personally I like to go half way between the two. I don't like things to be too brutal, personally, so I don't write anything too dark, but neither do I like happy-happy-butterfly lands either, so I make sure to keep things like homelessness, murder and prostitution present within the world, the latter particularly only by reference, but the rest are more active and obvious. It adds more depth.

   Having a deep world can really draw the reader in, build bigger pictures in their minds, and ultimately just create a better book. If you know the world well, too, it may open up new ideas for side or sub plots, or just little extras. Perhaps if you're stuck for a meeting place, being able to better envision the world will help you pick out a prime location.

Friday, 22 February 2013

How to Use Chocolate Transfer Sheets

   Chocolate transfer sheets are sheets of thin plastic with a design printed on them, usually made from cocoa powder and food colouring. They can be bought from most cake or craft shops, or easily online. I've seen this stuff around a lot, but I've never really had the right opportunity to use it, until Valentine's Day. As you saw in my last post, I used these transfer sheets for the first time, with much success, with my chocolate valentine heart cakes.
   So I thought I'd show you how to use them.

You will need:
Chocolate, or chocolate melts
Transfer sheet of your choice
A bowl
Sharp knife or cutter - I used hearts (optional)

   Melt your chocolate in your microwave or a double boiler. Once it's all lush and runny, spread it over the transfer paper. The sheets are much bigger than what's shown above - about A3 size - but it's best to cut it into strips so that you only use what you need. Saying that, I cut it into strips and still used far too much.
   Spread it thin and evenly with a spatula over the transfer sheet, shiny side down, patterned side up. Don't worry about smudging the pattern - I was worried about it, because little goes the way I want it to with such things, but this went fine and there was absolutely no sign of smudging.
   Let it almost set. You can hurry it along by placing it in the fridge or freezer, and it will soften back up a little when you take it out. At this point you use your knife or chosen cutter to cut the chocolate up, then let it set completely.

    Once it's set, you can peel the plastic away, and the pattern will be left clearly on the chocolate surface. If you remelt the chocolate, the pattern will disappear, so you can use other transfer sheets with the left over chocolate.
   I pressed the chocolate hearts into the icing on my heart cakes. I've seen other people drizzle chocolate into shapes onto the plastic and stand them in frosting, and others still sandwiching chocolate between two strips of transfer sheets and creating looping ribbons with them. There are a lot of ways to use these things - look about and I'm sure you'll find some clever ways to use it.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Chocolate Heart Cakes - Valentines

   As you all know by now, I cheat. I prefer box mixes to making my own because it never seems to go my way if I need a big cake. It usually burns on the top and stays runny in the middle, and if it does cook right through it won't come out of the pan, and if it does come out, it's usually in pieces. I thought it would be the same with box mixes, but actually the best cakes I've ever made have come from a box.
   This Valentine's day, I returned to my favourite box mix because a) it's delicious, and b) I could rely on it co-operating in a big tin.

   I'm rather proud of how they came out. I used the same Betty Crocker cake mix that I did with my dinosaur fossil bed cake, but in a slightly bigger tin to make a thinner cake. That didn't actually happen, though, it still came out quite thick, so once it cooled I sliced the cake through the middle.
   Once that was done, I took a heart cookie cutter - I used 4cm for the most part - and went to town on the sponge. There was a lot left over because I wasn't very economical with the heart cutting, so I put that all to one side. Well, most of it anyway. There are certain benefits to being the baker.
   I then took the same yummy chocolate icing that I used on my dinosaur cake, also from Betty Crocker, and put a layer over the hearts. This was quite difficult given their size. The sponge is gorgeously soft, but the icing is quite thick, so I had to hold the cake firmly enough that spreading the icing wouldn't break the cake, and gently enough that I didn't crush it.
   Once I'd done all this, I moved onto the chocolate. I'd never used chocolate transfer sheets before, and with my experience, I expected it to go wrong, but I thought I'd take the risk. The chocolate could always be remelted.
   Well, this part actually went very well. Chocolate transfer sheets are thin sheets of plastic with patterns printed onto them, made from cocoa powder and colouring. They come in a whole range of images, patterns and colours. I went for a nice subtle one. I had intended to buy a gold one that I'd seen several times before, but I couldn't find it when I wanted to buy it, but this scrolling one suited me fine.

   Here's a little tutorial I put together on how to use chocolate transfer sheets, but for the sake of consolidating information:
   I melted the chocolate in a double burner (saucepan filled with water, boiling on a hob, with a heatproof bowl sat on top with the chocolate in it) and then spread it thin over the transfer sheets. I had worried that by dolloping the chocolate on and then spreading it across I would smudge the pattern, but nothing of the sort happened. It seems to be Kim-proof, so it's certainly fool-proof.
   I put the chocolate in the freezer to hurry it along, and then I took a 3cm heart cutter and cut hearts out of the chocolate. Once again, I wasn't as economical as I could have been, so there were a lot of scraps left. I put them to one side again. I actually made far too many hearts, I probably could also have gotten away with only melting one chocolate bar rather than two, but nevermind. I froze the chocolate for a little longer and after twenty minutes was able to break all of the hearts out. I positioned them on the icing and that was that.

    The scraps didn't go to waste, either. We had them for dessert a few nights later. Cake scraps, chocolate scraps, a few left over raspberries that didn't get added to a smoothie, a couple of left over chocolate hearts, and some whipped cream. It was gorgeous, actually.

Homemade Pizza Pinwheels

   I love pizza pinwheels. I always have. Pizza is generally awesome, really, though, isn't it? Though, saying that, I knew a girl who hated pizza, and chocolate. Bloody weird if you ask me.
   As I said yesterday, I wanted to make these with homemade dough rather than store-bought, so I put together my own dough, the recipe for which I posted here yesterday. Using this recipe and typical pizza dressings, I managed to make really quite nice pinwheels!

I used:
Tomato puree (thick pasta sauce would work)
Ham pieces

   It's simple really. Spread the puree (less is more in this case) or pasta sauce over the rolled out dough, then sprinkle the cheese and ham. I won't tell you how much to use because I never thought to take much notice of how much I used. Just use what feels yummy. I went overboard with the puree but I still liked them. I don't know about everyone else. But I also think if I was to try again, I'd use either pizza sauce or pasta sauce. Something not as potent.
   Roll it up when you're happy with it, and once it's all rolled up, cut it into pieces. I went for 1 inch pieces but only because the dough wasn't rolled out thin enough.
   Stick it in the oven for the amount of time the dough needs cooking. If it's store-bought, it'll say on the package. If it's my dough, it's 12-15 minutes about 220C.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Homemade Healthy Wholemeal Pizza Dough

   I wanted to make pizza pinwheels for my nephew's third birthday - I needn't have bothered, he hardly touched them - but every recipe I found called for premade crust. Well, that's a bit boring, frankly. I might as well spread tomato and cheese on bread. So I had a look about and eventually just mashed up a recipe for healthy wholemeal homemade pizza dough by combining bread and pizza recipes. It worked quite well, I thought. So I'mma share it with you all.

You will need:
200g wholemeal bread flour (or 100g wholemeal & 100g bread flour)
10g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp of instant yeast
100ml water
2 tsp olive oil

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Create a "well" in the centre and add the water and oil.
3. Mix it all together using your hands (this is gross to start with) until it forms a soft dough.
4. Move dough to a lightly floured surface and kneed it. Punch the poop out of it.
5. Leave it to one side, in a lightly oiled bowl covering the top in clingfilm.
6. Leave it in a warm place for an hour or so until it doubles in size.
7. Move to lightly floured surface and kneed it until the air comes out then kneed until smooth.
8. Leave dough in clingfilm for 10 minutes before use.

When you're ready to cook it - toppings and such have been added - you want to cook it for about 10-15 minutes at 220 C.

Monday, 18 February 2013

This Weekend...

   This weekend was great. We didn't do anything - so it wasn't much different to usual in that respect - but somehow it was still the best weekend I've had in a long time. Seeg played on his laptop while I played Skyrim on the Xbox. I played on my secondary character, a Nord Warrior (very original choice, I know), and built Heljarchen Hall. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
   This lasted the whole weekend. The sun was shining outside so bright and warm that it lit up our place amazingly. I was feeling positive all day every day, and I was so comfy wherever I was. I slept so well, didn't stuff my face with chocolate, and felt so refreshed each morning.
   I had new ideas for Grumble Cave Monsters which are monster-related but NOT plush toys, and I had some ideas for new Peaches and Pebbles jewellery that I hope to work on soon. I got some writing done and did more work on the plan, so the story is getting better and better now, and when I woke up this morning I easily jumped out of bed and did more exercise than I have in months.
   And it gets better, because this morning my glittery ammonite earrings were featured on Etsy's front page, giving Peaches and Pebbles a little well-needed boost.

   There's a chicken and stuffing sandwich on the cards for lunch today, and my lovely friend Vicky of VividPlease has put together her first treasury - and quite frankly, it's one of the best I've seen. Mint has got to be my colour crush at the moment.

How was everyone else's weekend? What did you get up to? Anyone catch any awesome
post-Valentine bargains? If you're still looking, my pink fox in a jar necklaces are at
a new lower price, and there's only one Valentine monster left - and he's looking a bit lonely.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Bookmark Dump

The geology of Skyrim. A geologist who started playing Skyrim noticed how much sense the rock formations and ore placements made. Apparently she couldn't help noticing it and really enjoyed looking into it. She sounds like one awesome lady :D

Lovely colourful artwork by Bryony Crane. I swear I don't just love it for the dinosaurs.

A machine that carbonates drinks at home. How awesome is this?!

Pancake plushie by The Crafty Button UK

A brand spanking new 10 Minute Solutions dance DVD - it came out at the end of November, and I didn't see it before now because I always search "10 Minute Solutions Dance", but it doesn't have "dance" anywhere in the title. So I'm very excited about buying that one in a few months!

My guest pinner board - Melita from Coffee Break has been pinning for me this week! She's been a wonderful first pinner, and is with me until Wednesday! If you're interested in being a guest pinner for me, read up on the rules here and let me know!

A meteor hit Russia this morning at 5:20 (GMT) - just 6 hours ago - injuring 500 people. The video below shows several clips recorded from cars. A meteor is passing very close to earth today and tomorrow (15th & 16th), closer to us than the moon is, I think. This is likely a fragment of it. The meteor that's passing us is about 50m in diameter.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Fossil Dinosaur Cake in Deposits Issue 33

Well, I received the latest quarterly issue of Deposits in the post today, and guess what was in
the "Recent Finds" section. Can you see it?

   It's an odd and awesome place to be featured. It's no craft magazine - instead, it's the only magazine in the world I've ever been able to read cover-to-cover. So to have my dinosaur fossil birthday cake featured alongside real fossils in such a great magazine is actually very exciting :D It properly stands out, too! I love how they included the name I gave it: Theobrama Cacao Veloxis :D a chocolate raptor, in short.
   This is my first magazine feature, and while it's unusual, I am so proud! Not only did I make myself an awesome and delicious birthday cake, but other people thought it was great as well. I doubt I'll ever really make it into another magazine, as much as I'd love my crafts and products to be featured everywhere - who wouldn't? - and so this means so much more.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Moodboard: Teal Scales

   I've wanted to do moodboards for some time now, but I lacked the motivation to start. However, I recently found a way that works for me! Products catch my eye for certain reasons. Sometimes it's the product itself like a dress or a ring, sometimes it's the unique style it might have, like the cut or materials used, and sometimes it's simply colour and pattern.
   In this case, it was colour, pattern, and product.
   Wellies are amazing, frankly. Shoes that are designed to get dirty. They were my favourites when I was a little girl because if I had to put wellies on it could only mean one thing: muddy puddles. And that was (is) a lot of fun. I don't do festivals - too many people, too much noise, not enough loos - but if I did, I think the wellies would be my favourite part.

   So when I saw these gorgeous teal snake print wellies I got very excited. I actually have a pair of open toe heels - eventhough I hate heels - that I bought purely for the fact that they were turquoise snake print. I had my eye on them for about a year before I finally wasted my money on them. I love those useless little things.
   But these wellies by Hunter, are on my new wishlist. The new blue-green snake print footwear that has grabbed my full attention. I love these things. And so, they easily sparked a moodboard of similar colours and natural patterns. So prepare yourselves for moodboards inspired by products that catch my eye. I think this is probably the easiest way of making them :D

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Monday, 11 February 2013

Creative Writing Tips: Character Deaths

Applies to Fantasy, Sci-fi, and some other fiction.
WARNING: This is a bloody long post!

Looking at:
"Why" - why do they have to die?
Character depth
Poor example
Respecting your villains
Alternatives to killing characters

   This time we're looking at character death. It's not necessary to kill off your main or sub characters at all. For example, in Bleach (366 episodes), only a handful of people die. Sorry for the spoilers, but the only people who die really are the bad guys. And it's not even necessary to kill them off. As long as you give them a satisfying punishment or resolution, it's fine. If a villain is somehow rendered braindead, it might not be pretty, but they don't need to be killed. They won't be able to get up to no good anymore. Same if they're severely paralysed and there's no technology available to allow them to communicate, or to cure them. Or perhaps simply imprisonment in somewhere it's impossible to escape from for the rest of their lives.

   One thing you have to keep in mind when killing off characters is "why". Why kill them off? If a character is just a burden to you, and you can't find a way to make them useful, I wouldn't suggest killing them, I'd suggest removing them from the very beginning. If they serve no purpose - even if it's just comic relief - they shouldn't be there. But purpose doesn't have to be big; if someone were to utter just a few words to the villain or the protagonist, those words could change the entire result of the battle. They could cause someone to give up, or empower them, because they might stick in the mind and hurt or help more than the person's intention.
   In my personal opinion, the best reason to kill them off is to empower another character. Killing a protagonist's friend can set them into a fury which can result in them killing every enemy around them. It could give them a whole new reason to fight, a reason that won't be easily forgotten. Maybe it'll give them strength, it could awaken something in them, some desire to protect everyone else, and they'll try harder to atone for what they believe to be their failure - or what could have actually been their failure.
   But this can apply to villains, too. They don't need to be evil at heart, sometimes they are just misunderstood. A character who is close to another could die, and that character could try to avenge them in a foolish way, or they misunderstood the circumstances of their friend's death and take it upon themselves to kill anyone who may have been responsible.
   Perhaps their death won't empower another character immediately, but may offer them a key later in the story. Perhaps when someone is going through the deceased's things for one reason or another, they discover something that could give them the upperhand - something incriminating to the villain, maybe a clue to an artifact or key that could stop them, or perhaps just their diary or a collection of things given to them over the years by one person that they kepy for sentimental value.
   Killing off a character whose story is done is not necessarily a bad idea, but it should be done well, and relevantly.

   But to successfully kill off a character, there needs to be character depth. I hate to cry, I do, it's not something I ever want to do unless I'm unbelieveably stressed and need to get the lump out of my throat somehow. But at the same time, if I don't cry after a big character's death, then it was written poorly.
   This doesn't mean that the character's death needs to be long and drawn out, or in front of someone they love or who loves them. The reader should already have a connection with them strong enough that they don't want to see them die. When a character dies in a book I'm reading, I want to cry, I want to be sad, I want to know that this character was awesome, and nothing proves that to me more than how I feel after they die.
   But, this doesn't have to apply exclusively to protagonists! I've seen a few films, and in a few games, where I've cried when the big bad villain died. As I've said several times already, villains do not need to be inherently evil. Misunderstood or slightly off in the head will do. They could also in fact be perfectly good people, but the protagonist has been fed lies from an early age, either purposely by the liars themselves, or by mistake as the lies are widespread and widely believed.

   Now I'll got through some examples of great character deaths, but I hope you also realise that from hereon out there will be some big spoilers from the following: Star Wars, Arthas/Wrath of the Lich King,
So if you've not seen/played/read any of those titles and intend to, don't read below until it says that it's safe in big, bold letters.

SPOILERS until next large, bold, red heading!

Star Wars - Senator Padme

   I thought she was okay, but she was never one of my favourites. I can't say I did cry when she died, but she still deserves a place on this list. She died in the third film, after plenty of air time. We knew her well enough, we knew how she felt for Anakin, we knew where she stood on matters and how even when she was a queen, she didn't sit on her throne all day doing nothing to change the course of events of things going on around her. She could handle herself well enough in a fight (sure, others could do better, but she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty). After all of that, she died from a broken heart, because of what Anakin did, how he turned out. She lost the will to live. (Though personally I think after giving birth to two little kids, that would give you enough will to live, surely).
   Her death influenced a character. She died because of what Anakin became, he chose the Dark Side, but he did it to save her - he had a vision of her dying and wanted to be able to protect her. Unfortunately, the reason she died was because of what he had become. The vision he saw was what was going to happen because of the choices he would make, but that much wasn't revealed to him. And when she died, he took further to the Dark Side, and it led to him losing his last arm and both his legs, and becoming the Darth Vader we know and love. He became who he was because of her death.
   Of course, Darth Vader can be on here too - I did cry when he died, it was so sad.

World of Warcraft - Arthas Menethil

   I cried when this guy died. He was the villain of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion - the Lich King himself. Kind of. It's a lot to get into with who the Lich King really is, but to put it very simply, there was the spirit of Nerzhul residing in the armour of the Lich King, and Arthas ended up searching for the sword called Frostmourne and was led to the armour. Finding the sword, he had a link to Nerzhul, and then when he put the armour on, he was more or less fused with him. Or something like that. It's been a while since I read Arthas (by Christie Golden).
   He was the young prince of Lordaeron, but a plague began to ravage his lands. The plague was started by a necromancer and was used to contaminate crops. Anyone who ate the wheat were afflicted, would die, and rise again as undead in service to the Lich King. Arthas was a good boy and desperately wanted to protect his people, and as soon as he found out what was happening, he went to the city of Stratholm to try to put a stop to it by culling it (the Culling of Stratholm is one of my favourite heroic dungeons in the whole game), and lost the respect of many.
   He chased the demon Mal'Ganis to Northrend where he found the sword, and after further corruption through the sword and a very long and drawn out series of events as the first of the new generation of Death Knights, he soon put on the Lich King's helmet and became fused with Nerzhul. Many years later, after sitting dormant on his throne, he awoke and reeked havoc everywhere with his undead minions.
   He was defeated in the Icecrown raid by "a bunch of adventurers" (including myself - best raid ever) and Tirion Fordring, and at the end, his helmet was removed, and he was there - still very human - and he was dying and apologised for his misdeeds. He then began to pass and his last words were that he couldn't see the light, he was taught there was a light (he used to be a paladin, essentially they were holy warriors who spread the word of the Light), but all he saw was darkness.
   I must read that book again.
   He was led with good intentions, he just wanted to save his people and be as good a king when his time came as his father was, but his passion for the matter drove him to extremes, and he became corrupted by the spirit of the Lich King, became the first of the new Death Knights, killed his father, destroyed Lordaeron (now home to the Undead who once lived there) and drove his love away. In the end he had no one, and had killed many, many, many more people than his heart could bear, and died, unable to atone for his sins. We knew a lot about him and who he was, and how he became the Lich King, which made his death - though satisfying - still very sad and really quite tragic, with the way his life turned out.

Assassin's Creed 2 - Giovanni Auditore da Firenze

   This is turning out to be a difficult list of examples. This character was not in the game for long (of course the titles of the Assassin's Creed 2 series are available as books and the story is flipping good so I highly recommend reading them if you don't play games), but he should still be on the list, because his death, along with his two sons, influenced the actions of the third son for the rest of his life.
   Giovanni Auditore de Firenze (of Florence) was hung with his eldest and youngest son by Templar conspiritors. The Templars and Assassins had been fighting eachother since the Crusades, and this game is set in Italy during the Renaissance. The Templars were growing in number, while the Assassins were dwindling, and just before Giovanni's death, he told his son, Ezio, who had managed to evade capture, to take a scroll to a family friend to clear their name. He took the scroll, but the family friend was in fact a Templar, and followed through with the execution. Ezio was told shortly later that his father was an Assassin, and that he would follow in his foot steps. He did. He donned the armour, the awesome hidden blade, and using his childhood talent of scaling buildings and free running, became a very adept Assassin. But he took that path to enable him to avenge his family. He fled Florence with his mother and sister, and he learned to hone his skills, and was able to kill many Templars who had been key in his family's murder, and to rid the world of their corrupt ways.
   It wasn't particularly sad when he died because we knew little about him, but his death had a massive influence on Ezio, and changed his entire life. Ezio believed his father to be only a banker, and knew nothing of the Assassins, but - as games and books go - he was able to rebuild the order of Assassins and recruit new people.
   Absolutely amazing story, really quite funny with his womanising ways, but so fantastic. The game gets a little repetative - it's all stay out of sight and aerial kills - but as a spectator (it was never a game I could play, but I watched Seeg play them all) it had a marvellous story, and the books remove all of the running around in between (and the stress of failing missions because you've been detected). You also learn a little Italian - swear words, of course. Apparently there was a problem with the animus' language translation or something.

Red Dead Redemption - John Marston

   We've visited this guy before, but in this post we're looking at his death. The game followed him as the main character, blackmailed into helping the government take down his old gang because they had his wife and son. He did as they wanted, and managed to take down his old gang, they let him go and he lived happily with his family for about a week, before they turned up and killed him, too.
   His death was awful because he (and the player) had been led to believe that that was it, the government would leave them alone and go pester someone else. He was in the barn at the time, and when he came out, there were lots of government people standing outside, guns drawn. He drew his gun and managed to take some out (or not, depending on your play style), but they killed him. And it wasn't just one shot. They shot him again and again and again, he was shot to hell and back again before they stopped firing. I cried at this one too, the main character had died, which is not something you see all that often really, but I figured it was a good end to a good game.
   This was late in the game, however, so it was an assumption that it was the end, but shortly later there was a cutscene that sees someone standing over two graves at the Marstons' ranch. The figure is his son, grown up, and the graves belong to John and his wife who died later, likely of causes more natural than one hundred bullets to the chest.
   You can play on in the world as his son, though there's no story left. It's more of a free-roam, but he's turned out a lot like his father, and there is a side quest if you can find it where he hunts down his father's killers and kills them himself.
   In this example I'm focusing more on the death of Marston being unexpected and really very sad, but he did have an influence on his son - sure, whether you kill them or not, or even go looking for them depends on how you want his son to be, but he still turned out like his father, though he seemed like he'd turn into a proper young gentleman when he was younger.

Okay, it's safe now.

   As this list shows, even villains can be killed and the reader can be sad to see them go, and generally if it's a good person who's died - lead role or not - they can have an effect on other, bigger characters, and can influence them to chase down their target harder, or to become darker and filled with hate.
   I still prefer to see deaths that make me cry. A poor death belonged to Krasus in the book "Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects". Krasus was the mate to the queen of the Red Dragon Flight, Alexstrasza, and they loved eachother dearly. He'd been in many, many books (all of which written rather tiresomely by Richard A. Knaak), and as repetative as his name became, I was fond of him. But in the T:TotA, there was a sudden implosion, and he was gone. Being that Warcraft is a fantasy setting, with magic, dragons, demons and so on, I naturally assumed we'd see him in a few pages' or chapters' time. We did not. He had, in fact, died, and as much as I love Christie Golden, his death was far too sudden for a character who had been around so often, and it seemed a bit disrespectful to a good character who often solved problems and saved everyone's hides. It happened near the beginning of the book, and it wasn't until the end of the book where it was explained that I fully realised he had died. He had been in the Red Dragon Flight's sanctuary, and had been amongst the eggs of his kind, but as he was caring for them, he noticed something black, and as he touched it, it clung to him and began to creep up his arm. Other eggs took on the same effect, and he saw a troll appear, laughing, and wearing the garments of the Twilight Cult. The cult had infected the eggs, turning them into horrible dark mutants who would mostly not survive, and any that did would be bent to the will of the cult, much like the Red Dragon Flight had in earlier years to the Orcish Horde. He realised that all he could do was destroy the eggs - and since he too was infected and it was taking hold fast, he would have to destroy himself too. Using his superior knowledge of magic, he caused an implosion and took out all of the sancturies (green, blue, bronze and his own red) to eradicate the threat of any more mutated dragons destroying the world at Deathwing's command.
   Through the whole book I was questioning if he had really died, because it was barely addressed. Deaths can be swift, even for characters who have been extremely present even through six or so books, and sometimes the swifter they happen, the sadder they are, because it seemed like no one could do anything about it, but they have to be addressed. The impact of Krasus's death only seemed to reach Alexstrasza, who withdrew into herself and refused to help or acknowledge anyone around her, and I believed, even at the half way point, that we'd see him again. There was no body so I assumed he'd teleported himself and the sanctuaries elsewhere, since it was within his power, but nope. He was gone, in a puff of smoke.

   When killing off characters, you really must respect them. This is easy to do with protagonists, you'll probably give them a funeral, too, but you must show respect to your villains. Even if they are despicable, truly black to the depths of their frozen hearts, with no understanding of the word 'compassion' or even know how to smile - they're your creations, and they were good enough to be the evil force of your book, the reason the story even happened - if there's no villain, there's no plot, and if there's no plot, there's no story. A villain is the most important character to a story, and you should show them the proper respect.
   You can kill them in a terribly evil way - they probably deserve it; leave their bodies for the crows to pick at, but you absolutely must give them the final spotlight they deserve. Let the reader understand that they're truly dead, let them rejoice, or let them cry, but let them know that the threat is over, and that they won't be getting back up.

and more Spoilers.

   I also want to take a moment to explain that you don't have to kill your villains or protagonists to bring the story to an end. Killing them certainly lets the reader know that there won't be a continuing story, that that tale is done and dusted, but there are other ways of rounding things off.
   Bleach was a wonderful example of this. Prepare for spoilers.
   Aizen was defeated in the end, but although every Espada had been killed - as had Tousen and, unfortunately, Ichimaru - Aizen was never killed himself. He was locked away for 20,000 years. I will point out right now, though, that you must ensure that you still round it off. Aizen is proclaimed as being immortal by Central 46, but they still sentence him to 20,000 years of imprisonment. What will happen after 20,000 years? He'll probably try everything all over again, with a newly formulated plan (he's had long enough to put one together), if he doesn't manage to escape from imprisonment before then. But either way, even if he did continue 20,000 years later, you can still say the story is almost more or less finished - it'll do, at the very least.
   Alternatives to killing could be secure imprisonment, as above; powers removed or locked away permanently so that they can't get them back, or alternatively they could end up destroying their own powers by trying to do something that was out of their abilities; they could be insane, perhaps they turn into a jibbering wreck and can't recover.

   Either way, just give your villains - perhaps even your protagonists - a decent end that is worthy of them, and also rounds off the story, or even leaves a small window of opportunity to continue at another point, but small enough that the story will survive without revisiting it.

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They are each linked to the source from
which I have found them.