November 21, 2010

Who Wore it Better?

Now it's time to cast your votes to determine who is the better designer as we take a closer look at some of the knock-off fashions featured in Harry Potter 7.


Jany Temime for Harry Potter 7, modeled by Clémence Poésy "Fleur Delacour"
Alexander McQueen Fall 2008, modeled by Georgina Stojilkovic?

Viktor & Rolf 2003, Fall RTW collection, Model: Simone
David Ryall, "Elphias Doge", Harry Potter 7

Viktor & Rolf, Vogue June 2010, Alice in Wonderland,  Model: Natalia Vodianova
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz

Cast your votes in the comments section~

November 17, 2010

A Guide to Creating Villains

First, avoid making the villain too evil. This is usually an issue when the protagonist is too perfect since  the antagonist is often portrayed as the polar opposite of the hero. It is important to remember when creating likeable characters (both hero and villain)  that perfect is boring and completely unbelievable. The hero does not have to be nice to everyone and the antagonist should have some redeeming qualities.

Each character should have strengths, weaknesses, and a solid motivation for their actions.   

I have not yet been to the theater to see "Megamind”, but the previews hint that it  touches on the theme of role-reversal amongst heros and villains.

A children’s book I enjoyed growing up is, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by  Jon Scieszka.  The story is the retelling of the “The Three Little Pigs”, but from the Wolf’s point of view. 

And for anyone who might appreciate a tragic comedy in the form of a musical,  “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” demonstrates that the roles of good and evil are not always as distinct as black and white.

From the archives of, the ten most common types of Hollywood villains:

1. The wild beast: He usually has only one eye or only one arm, long unwashed hair, and he’s creeping in smelly dark alleys. He carries a big gun to attack people at random, and sometimes drives a bike. He will visit a shady bar during the movie to have someone unsuspecting pick a fight with him.

2. The gentleman killer: He’s well-educated (he knows French words), has a sense of arrogant humor, a suit, and often sports a well-trimmed beard. He usually has muscular henchman to perform killings but also kills himself at least once to prove how cold his heart is (very, very cold).

3. The small-time crook: He’s small-time (bank robber and similar), but kills a lot and without second thoughts. His down-to-earth brutality serves to add realism (hence suspense) to the movie.

4. The super villain: A super hero needs a super villain to compete against in near-eternal rivalry. Super villains are always the opposite of the super-hero and mostly have special reasons to hate him. They will always fall in, inhale or drink some poisonous green substance in the beginning of the movie to make them “super” (mostly, super-schizophrenic). The super villain is highly intelligent, usually a scientist, and feels his acts are justified.

5. The pseudo-buddy: You won’t know he’s the bad guy because he seems to be the good guy’s best friend (or his cop colleague, or his mentor, or his satanic child). Well, at least you won’t know the first time you watch this kind of movie, so once you are around 10 years old you probably do know.

6. The nemesis: He’s a big corporation kind of guy, bullying our hero within the realms of the perfectly legal (albeit immoral). A more harmless version of the nemesis didn’t quite qualify as a villain; it’s the kind of annoying career-oriented news reporter who gets knocked unconscious by the hero in the end.

7. The psycho: He’s a maniac with a smile on his face and hunts people, especially the movie hero. What separates him from other types of evil-doers is that he doesn’t want money (he’s just crazy). Sometimes the psycho is also partially a gentleman killer (see type 2).

8. The gentleman burglar: He’s actually a good guy posing as bad guy. He’s into stealing jewelry but leaves notes for the good good guy to track him down in a sort of love-hate relationship. A somewhat more brutal variant of the gentleman burglar is the mafia hit man.

9. The nice guy: This man will pose as clown or family man, but always starts to kill. You will see him handing candy to kids on the street during sunset, while our hero (the only one with inside knowledge) runs towards him in slow-motion, uttering a hyperdramatic “Noo-o-o-o....”

10. The sports villain: OK, the sports villain – a boxer, Karate black-belt etc. – is not really evil, he’s just trained by Russians (or whatever is the evil du jour) to beat the brains out of our hero, repeatedly.

By the way: variants 1-4 will always die at the end. 5 and 6 may die, 7 never does, and 10 mostly only ends up in hospital. 8 and 9 escape to Morocco.

November 15, 2010

Rules for the Evil Overlord

 Today I'm sharing the humorous list, "Rules for the Evil Overlord" to complement my upcoming post: "A Guide to Creating Villains"

Feel free to contribute additional rules in the comments section!

Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice. It pays well, there are all sorts of perks and you can set your own hours. However every Evil Overlord I've read about in books or seen in movies invariably gets overthrown and destroyed in the end. I've noticed that no matter whether they are barbarian lords, deranged wizards, mad scientists or alien invaders, they always seem to make the same basic mistakes every single time. Therefore, if I ever happen to become an Evil Overlord:

1.      My legions of terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.
2.      My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
3.      My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.
4.      Shooting is not too good for my enemies.
5.      The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box.
6.      I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them.
7.      When the rebel leader challenges me to fight one-on-one and asks, "Or are you afraid without your armies to back you up?" My reply will be, "No, just sensible."
8.      When I've captured my adversary and he says, "Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?" I'll say, "No." and shoot him.
9.      After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks' time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out.
10.  I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labeled "Danger: Do Not Push". The big red button marked "Do Not Push" will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it.
11.  I will not order my trusted lieutenant to kill the infant who is destined to overthrow me -- I'll do it myself.
12.  I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum -- a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.
13.  I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.
14.  I will not waste time making my enemy's death look like an accident -- I'm not accountable to anyone and my other enemies wouldn't believe it.
15.  I will make it clear that I do know the meaning of the word "mercy"; I simply choose not show them any.
16.  One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.
17.  All slain enemies will be cremated, or at least have several rounds of ammunition emptied into them, not left for dead at the bottom of the cliff. The announcement of their deaths, as well as any accompanying celebration, will be deferred until after the aforementioned disposal.
18.  My undercover agents will not have tattoos identifying them as members of my organization, nor will they be required to wear military boots or adhere to any other dress codes.
19.  The hero is not entitled to a last kiss, a last cigarette, or any other form of last request.
20.  I will never employ any device with a digital countdown. If I find that such a device is absolutely unavoidable, I will set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation.
21.  I will design all doomsday machines myself. If I must hire a mad scientist to assist me, I will make sure that he is sufficiently twisted to never regret his evil ways and seek to undo the damage he's caused.
22.  I will never utter the sentence "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know."
23.  When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.
24.  I will not have a son. Although his laughably under-planned attempt to usurp power would easily fail, it would provide a fatal distraction at a crucial point in time.
25.  I will not have a daughter. She would be as beautiful as she was evil, but one look at the hero's rugged countenance and she'd betray her own father.
26.  Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.
27.  I will hire a talented fashion designer to create original uniforms for my legions of terror, as opposed to some cheap knock-offs that make them look like Nazi stormtroopers, Roman footsoldiers, or savage Mongol hordes. All were eventually defeated and I want my troops to have a more positive mind-set.
28.  No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.
29.  I will keep a special cache of low-tech weapons and train my troops in their use. That way -- even if the heroes manage to neutralize my power generator and/or render the standard-issue energy weapons useless -- my troops will not be overrun by a handful of savages armed with spears and rocks.
30.  I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)
31.  No matter how well it would perform, I will never construct any sort of machinery which is completely indestructable except for one small and virtually inaccessible vulnerable spot.
32.  If I am engaged in a duel to the death with the hero and I am fortunate enough to knock the weapon out of his hand, I will graciously allow him to retrieve it. This is not from a sense of fair play; rather, he will be so startled and confused that I will easily be able to dispatch him.
33.  No matter how attractive certain members of the rebellion are, there is probably someone just as attractive who is not desperate to kill me. Therefore, I will think twice before ordering a prisoner sent to my bedchamber.
34.  I will never build only one of anything important. For the same reason I will always carry at least two fully loaded weapons at all times.
35.  If my supreme command center comes under attack, I will immediately flee to safety in my prepared escape pod and direct the defenses from there. I will not wait until the troops break into my inner sanctum to attempt this.
36.  My pet monster will be kept in a secure cage from which it cannot escape and into which I could not accidentally stumble.
37.  Even though I don't really care because I plan on living forever, I will hire engineers who are able to build me a fortress sturdy enough that, if I am slain, it won't tumble to the ground for no good structural reason.
38.  I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.
39.  All bumbling conjurers, clumsy squires, no-talent bards, and cowardly thieves in the land will be pre-emptively put to death. My foes will surely give up and abandon their quest if they have no source of comic relief.
40.  All naive, busty tavern wenches in my realm will be replaced with surly, world-weary waitresses who will provide no unexpected reinforcement and/or romantic subplot for the hero or his sidekick.
41.  Any and all magic and/or technology that can miraculously resurrect a secondary character who has given up his/her life through self sacrifice will be outlawed and destroyed.
42.  I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are hard to come by.
43.  I will see to it that plucky young lads/lasses in strange clothes and with the accent of an outlander shall REGULARLY climb some monument in the main square of my capital and denounce me, claim to know the secret of my power, rally the masses to rebellion, etc. That way, the citizens will be jaded in case the real thing ever comes along.
44.  I won't require high-ranking female members of my organization to wear a stainless-steel bustier. Morale is better with a more casual dress-code. Similarly, outfits made entirely from black leather will be reserved for formal occasions.
45.  I will not employ devious schemes that involve the hero's party getting into my inner sanctum before the trap is sprung.
46.  I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.
47.  I will not grow a goatee. In the old days they made you look diabolic. Now they just make you look like a disaffected member of Generation X.

This list is Copyright © 1996 by Peter Anspach [].
If you enjoy it, feel free to pass it along or post it anywhere, provided that (1) it is not altered in any way, and (2) this copyright notice is attached.

September 14, 2010

Alphabet Soup

Dedicated to anyone who has ever sat through the ending credits of a movie for a reason besides wanting to see if there was a teaser at the end, or because you lost your keys on the dark theater floor.

The ending credits of a movie are full of extras. So at what point does someone’s role earn them the title of “Shop Clerk #3” verses no mention at all? At what point in your novel does a character deserve a name, and when should they just be given a title or nickname?

First, a game: Below is apicture of the daughters of Triton from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Now correctly identify one of the sisters (besides Ariel). I’ll even give you the names:
Attina, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Adella, Alana

If you need a hint, here’s a short 40 second video clip of their introduction from Youtube:

I’m betting if you watched the clip, your answer “Aquata,” the one with the blue tail. Solely because she was the first one introduced or because her name is a variant of “Aqua” meaning ‘WATER’ (which is usually blue). If you answered Adella or Alana you automatically failed since they didn’t even get screen time while singing their names. Answers are at the end of the blog.*

If the daughters of Triton were characters in my book, they wouldn’t have been given names.

My general rules to avoiding Character Soup:

# Avoid the lunchroom setting. Your character may be popular at their workplace or at school. This doesn’t mean we want to meet all of his/her friends the first time they sit down to eat. Slowly introduce the group of friends by having your main character bump into their two best friends in a hallway—before they reach the populated group gathering. Save the yearbook exchange for the high school reunion planning committee.

# Give characters titles or occupations rather than inventing a name for a person who will only be in one or two scenes. The headmaster of the school, the nurse, the waiter, the guard, Queen Victoria, Captain Jack Sparrow, Sensei.

This can sometimes lead to pronoun over usage or confusion of the “he/she” variety. I counter this by giving nicknames to these characters.

Here’s an example from “Austenland” by Shannon Hale:

“His every blink was slow and deliberate, reminding Jane of a frog. [...]He was saying something in lawyer-ese, but Jane was distracted. She was trying to figure out what besides the measured blinking made him seem so amphibious. His taut, shiny complexion, she decided. And his eyes being so wide apart. And his salad green tone. (Okay, he wasn’t actually green, but the rest was true.)

I’ll bet Shannon Hale could refer to this character at the end of the novel by “Toad-face” and you’d know she was talking about the lawyer.

# For secondary and tertiary characters who must have names. The easiest trick is to give the reader something to visually or audibly associate with the character.

Flaws stand out more than perfections. (Which is more iconic for Harry Potter--the scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt, his jet black hair, or his mother’s green eyes?)

The catch with using mnemonics is that if you put in too many, they will stand out less. Give titles and nicknames to as many irrelevant characters as you can, then for the ones that matter, make a reference to one of their specific mannerisms or visual traits each time you mention their name again.

* Andrina has a lavender tail. Arista has a red tail. Attina has an orange tail with and wears a crown-like tiara similar to her father's. Adella

July 19, 2010

The entry in which authors are compared to architects

Okay, both start with the letter “A” and end in “S”.  There are three vowels in each…

Being serious now:

“I enjoyed the premise, but…”

This is perhaps one of the most frustrating themes in a rejection letter an aspiring author can get. A phrase that seems like it should be equaled to absolute praise is actually little more than a building contractor saying that he likes the picture of the house you drew for him.

Any house that is constructed always has a set of blue prints. The most user-friendly interfaces of these blue prints are the floor plan prints (the 2D layout of each room and square footage calculator) and the elevation drawings (the actual picture of each side of the house).

Let’s say now that you, the author, are an architect and your job is to design a template home for a housing community. This house will not be the same as your dream home since this house must appeal to families with different aged children, price ranges, and lifestyles.

You draw the floor plan with a few bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen, the living room, the garage... You get feedback and then you make the closets walk-in-closets, and add a washer/dryer area etc…You show it to the contractor.

He likes the way it looks, he likes the floor plan layout and thinks many families would want to live in a home with that style. However, as he looks over your blue prints he realizes you left out the Electrical Plan for the light wiring and the Framing Plan for the roof. Also, this house might be built in California so you’re going to need redesign the concrete footings in the foundation to meet the earthquake codes there. And, there is no sewer in the area  they will be building these homes so you need to include plans for a septic system and leech field.

By the time the contractor realizes everything that is lacking with your plans, he decides to pass. How were you supposed to know that water heaters located in the garage need to be 18” off of the ground level so the pilot light doesn’t cause an explosion when you pull your car into the garage? Still, he liked the “premise”. The outside of the house looked very nice and it had the right number of rooms and kitchen counter top space.

Yes, your house is very lovely, I’m certain a lot of people would live in it if it was built. But the contractor is going to go with the entry from the Cal Poly student because his blueprints are on CAD and included a schematic with the floor joists and plumbing. Changing his flooring in the dining room from carpet to tile is much easier than getting an engineer to design your indoor swimming pool on the second story of your home with cathedral windows on the first floor.

July 7, 2010


In the fashion industry, for something to be technically considered original and  not another knock-off (since all fashion recycles itself ) the new design must have changed at least 20%. 

On the left is the original. On the right is my creation. I've changed the fabric, length, and removed the rosettes.  I also did not include a petticoat.

The inspiration for my design: I was given a request for a casual "beach" wedding dress with vintage inspirations. And since the dress would be for a second marriage, "standard white" was not a prerequisite.

I bought this fabric at a Wal-Mart several years ago for $2/yard. 3 yards of the swirling hibiscuses, and 1 & 1/2 of the interlocking hibiscuses.

I usually use unbleached muslin to sew the samples rather than printed fabric. However, I realized muslin costs about  $2.49/yard and I've got  6 plastic crates full of  uncut fabric I've accumulated over the years.  Definitely a win-win situation.

June 27, 2010

"X" Marks the Spot

I’d like to present a point/counter point edition for Groundwire: Should you follow a fad?

Reasons you should not follow a fad in an elegant, but very simple, bulleted list:

  1. Fads will fade
  2. You are an idiot.

And now, I’d like to prove this using the universally supreme logic of mathematics.

Take your current age and subtract 10 years from it. Were you smart back then? Of course you were, you were an idiot! The fact of the matter is, you’re just as big of an idiot today, it’s just going to take you 10 more years to realize it.

Now, if you’d written a book 10 years ago about the one thing you thought was the most awesome thing in the world at the time, would you be happy with it today? Chances are you wouldn’t be, unless it was something really cool—like a fad, right?

Looking at this graph of Supply and Demand, we see that the more the market is saturated with a particular theme, the less demand there is for it, as well as the decrease in quality of that product. If you’re still in doubt, look at the big red X.

It says, “Don’t do it.”

Still think it’s a good idea? Okay, so maybe following a fad might not be such a bad idea if you get in early and avoid these  mistakes:

Young Adult Themes: When the price of an item is calculated by the equivalence of hours worked flipping burgers at the local fast food chain per dollar, your book had better have at least 3 hours and six minutes of satisfaction. Wait, I forgot about sales tax. 3 hours and 18 minutes... You’d do well to ensure your book has appeal to the adult/parent with the actual paycheck, since chances are they’re the one who will decide if they like the premise enough to buy the book for the intended reader. Most of the negative reviews for YA books I’ve read, come from…an adult. Their number one complaint seems to be stereotypical cardboard cut-out characters without any authority figure to give guidance and censure to the main character.

References to bands, popular songs, TV series, and celebrities: Because of the internet, the way we listen to music and watch TV has been revolutionized. People can be picky in their choices of what to listen to and watch, because it’s all at their fingertips. If you like Indie Rock, you can find a music channel totally dedicated to Indie Rock. So out of the songs currently on your play list how, how many were on your list last year? 2 years ago (since publishing a book can take that long). 5 years (given the curve for it to increase in popularity. 10 years (you wrote a series didn’t you?). Over 10 years? Let’s face it, the only music stars to have over 20 years of music publishing credentials are Madonna and Michael Jackson, and you’re not fooling anyone playing “Like a Virgin” for your character’s first dance at her wedding. 

Lastly and most importantly, Steampunk: No one gets it. Let’s be honest, you had to have someone explain it to you, and you don’t even know if they’re telling the truth.

If in doubt, ask yourself this: Would you wear what you wore to your prom at a formal even tomorrow? Since fashion has similar market patterns for trends and cycles as the publishing industry, your answer might reveal more about your susceptibility to fads than you think.

June 25, 2010

Do you believe in fairies?

It started out as a homework assignment to write an eight page short story with a focus on visual and descriptive sensory imagery. Eight pages, because I was in the eighth grade. Around page 6, I realized at the rate I was stringing my pulchritudinous purple prose together, it would be at least another hundred pages before I could get around to telling the end of my “short story”.

One page at a time. Since that’s all the clip art publishing program (think: Microsoft Publisher) would allow me to write before making me create a new poster. 132 pages, 6 months, and 2 Hewlett-Packard ink cartridges later, my first novel was finished. Now all that my 60,000 word “children’s book” needed was illustrations!

So, the next Sunday, I brought out my colored pencils during church and began sketching. After the meeting, a woman wearing a purple cloak came and sat next to me, curious to see the drawing I’d been working on. I showed her my artwork *cough* chicken scratches *cough* of my main character—a fairy in a purple dress. When she asked what it was for, I explained I’d written a book and was illustrating it. I held up the 2” binder with each of my precious pages carefully preserved in clear sheet protectors—my magnum opus.
If any doubt the existence of God, I testify: He is real, and He put a woman who is a published author for children’s books, a lover of fairies and the color purple, directly in the pew behind me. Because she saw potential in my book and put the crazy idea into my head that I could get it published, I haven’t stopped writing.

Just like fairies and the one literary agent who’s going to fall in love with your book—how can you ever expect to see one, if you don’t believe they exist?