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2014 Year of the Horse—equines in genre fiction

firefly-horses-zoeFirefly—Contrasting Elements
In a world of spaceships, technology, and super-weapons, the last thing you would expect is a horse. In the difficult life of rim planets, despite the fact they have hover cars available, most folk can’t afford them and turn to easier forms of transportation. This gives a mood of early settlers, and contrasts to the core worlds with their flashy modern technology. Characters can talk about how different the rim and core are, but seeing it first hand with an old west setting complete with horses vs shiny skyscrapers and hover cars makes it all the more potent, and we can understand why there was a civil war between the two.

eomer-horse-lord-of-the-ringsLord of the Rings—Cavalry in Battle
In the fight against Sauron’s evil armies, Gondor stood alone with few to no horses. They were an army on foot, and while that is needed in battle, it was not enough to come close to defeating Sauron’s forces. What they needed was a mobile, well trained cavalry to give them an edge. Enter the Rohirrim—originally raiders who came swooping in to raid and pillage, until a brilliant Steward of Gondor offered to give them their own kingdom instead. As a result of his foresight, Rohan and Gondor became allies—the foot soldiers and the cavalry. This alliance became crucial during the Second War of the Ring, when mobile troops became imperative. When writing epic fantasy, ask yourself where the cavalry is.

star-trek-picard-riding-horseStar Trek: The Next Generation—Characterization
The holodeck is a wonderful place to show what a character cares about—some put themselves in ancient battles, others at a quiet fishing spot, and who can forget Voyager‘s black and white scifi serial adventures of Captain Proton. One of the only times we see Captain Picard alone on the holodeck is when Dianna Troi interrupts him while he is out riding a lovely white horse English style. We see Picard’s love of elegant, civilized pursuits, are reminded of his European origins, and see that in his down time he is not interested in more battles or beautiful women everywhere—he loves a quiet country ride.

narnia-horse-and-boyThe Chronicles of Narnia—As Characters
Sometimes horses feel like a character, such as Shadowfax in Lord of the Rings, but rarely are they one of the main characters. In The Horse & His Boy, Bree shoulders his way into the spotlight as a captured foal forced to become a war horse, and determined to return home. He is brusque, full of himself, yet also a mixture of cowardly despite his prowess in battle. For all his faults, it is easy to care about him as a character, made possible because he is a talking horse. It is easy to turn a talking horse into a cartoonish animal, but treating them like any other character with backstory, depth, motivations, failings, and character growth can overcome that brilliantly.

There is a request I would like to make of any fantasy or science fiction authors eager to include horses. Please, no more white or black ones—almost every horse present on screen or in books that has a major role is either white or black. There are many beautiful horses that are other possibilities to use!

Top 10 Scifi / Fantasy Sibling Teams

luke-leia-skywalker10 – Luke Skywalker & Leia Organa
(Star Wars)
Things started off rather weird for them, with what looked like the classic boy rescues princess story, but they evolved into a strong supportive unit. One can’t help wondering what a great team they would have made had they grown up together, rather than planets apart. It is an example of starting with a broken family, and bringing siblings together through a series of adventures, raising the jeopardy by putting one or both of them in danger.

boromir-faramir-lord-of-the-rings9 – Boromir & Faramir
(Lord of the Rings)
Although much of their relationship is known through scattered notes and the appendix, the young boys were brought close by the death of their mother, which also caused the withdrawal emotionally of their father. Denethor blamed Faramir for his wife’s death, taking it out on him constantly. Boromir took to the protective older brother role, and though they had different personalities, the brothers shared a close bond throughout their lives. J.R.R. Tolkien used that backstory to bring a depth to the emotion Faramir feels when he hears Frodo talk about Boromir, allowing the reader to care about this new character as well.

richard-jennsen-rahl-sword-of-truth8 – Richard & Jennsen Rahl
(Sword of Truth)
Jennsen starts out hating Richard because she believed he sent assassins after her and her mother, causing them to spend their lives on the run in constant terror. She goes from a vendetta to kill him to becoming a crucial part of his team to defeat evil in the world. A variation on the split family writing technique, setting siblings against each other, then resolving their conflict, is an easy way to a reader’s heart. Most people have experienced conflict with siblings and are able to relate to it.

sadie-carter-kane7 – Sadie & Carter Kane
(Kane Chronicles)
The sense of teamwork comes out through Rick Riordan’s use of POV switch off between Sadie and Carter, with interruptions on either side. A dash of humor can be added during tense scenes, by having the sibling interrupt with a snarky remark, and there is a realism to both the character voices. The Kanes aren’t a close family, but are forced to be through desperate circumstances and adventure—a theme that can be useful in writing.

arthur-morgana-pendragon-merlin-bbc6 – Arthur & Morgana Pendragon
(BBC Merlin)
The reverse of a split to reunion, Arthur and Morgana start off as having a playful, caring relationship, until through various choices and circumstances they end up on opposite sides of a war. I thought this was a powerful idea—teaming them up and showing how great they were working and having fun together. There is an episode where Arthur & Morgana have a “Seven Samurai” type story saving a village from robbers, which demonstrated how well they were as a team. When the slow degradation of their relationship happens, until they finally split altogether, there is a sorrowful edge to their encounters, because of that taste of what could have been instead.

cersei-jaime-lannister-game-of-thrones5 – Cersei & Jaime Lannister
(Game of Thrones)
Who can forget Cersei’s passionate speech to Ned Stark of how she and Jaime shared a womb together and belonged together—the golden Lannister twins. Similar to Arthur and Morgana, they started out so close as children that people couldn’t tell them apart, and slowly their life choices plunged them along such different paths that they hardly knew each other any more. It’s easy to sneer at them due to the level of their intimacy, but in the end it shows that even siblings as close as they were cannot last forever.

alex-justin-russo-wizards-waverly-place4 – Alex & Justin Russo
(Wizards of Waverly Place)
One of the main themes of the show is the constant tension between Alex with her unrestrained bouts of magic and Justin’s textbook perfect lifestyle. While they constantly argue, from time to time both admit they wouldn’t work without each other. Their styles of wizardry are a perfect compliment, even if it also drives them nuts most of the time. It is an example of how two siblings don’t need to have a “great” or “terrible” relationship with each other, they can have a mixed combination of both.

mckay-and-mrs-miller-stargate-atlantis3 – Rodney McKay & Jeannie Miller
(Stargate: Atlantis)
Sometimes siblings can be judgmental of each other to the point of leading completely separate lives. Rodney starts out furious with his sister for giving up a brilliant career to “waste” her time raising a family instead of showing the world her genius. She thinks he completely let her down by not supporting her decision. Through a project they are forced to work together on, they manage to forgive each other and remember how well they were as a team. They both still think the other is crazy, but the relationship is restored.

leto-ghanima-atreides-dune2 – Leto & Ghanima Atreides
(Children of Dune)
These two had everything going against them—they were in constant peril of their lives, expected to take over an entire empire of planets on the verge of war, torn between multiple cultures, and worst of all, being pre-born. They had the full conscious knowledge of every single person in their line before them—hundreds of lives screaming in their head all the time. With that came the danger of possession, when one of those voices managed to push through and take control. Through that shared burden, they grew stronger, choosing to face the desert together to build a new path for their people—a golden path.

fred-george-weasley-harry-potter1 – Fred & George Weasley
(Harry Potter)
Inseparable, Fred and George have a similar humorous brilliance to them. They are one of the ultimate sibling teams, finishing each other’s sentences, inventing crazy amazing joke items, and helping other kids get out of class to do more important stuff, like turning the hallway into a swamp. When faced with an oppressive regime, they did not try to fight it, or conform, or sit around crying, they turned the place into a zoo filled with pranks, fireworks, and zoomed off with a “your loss” attitude to do their own thing. They seemed unstoppable. That’s when J.K. Rowling did her author thing—those of you who read the last book understand what I mean.

Did anyone not make the list that you think should have? Comment below!

Happy Birthday Bilbo & Frodo Baggins—Special occasions in writing

bilbo-baggins-hobbitSeptember 22nd “Hobbit Day” is sacred amongst fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, since it marks the birthday of Bilbo & Frodo. Why is that so etched in the memory of readers? Because Tolkien used the birthdays as major plot points in his books.

The Hobbit
Although Bilbo did not properly celebrate, who can forget the water-logged dwarrows straggling out of the river and being welcomed to a feast? It was a welcome respite from the out of the frying pan into the fire style of the book. Bilbo sits there with a cold, sneezing, but safe, just in time for his birthday. When writing action adventure, pausing to celebrate a character’s special day can give the readers a chance to relax. This was used by J.K. Rowling in The Deathly Hallows for Harry’s birthday as well.

bilbo-frodo-baggins-birthday-cakeLord of the Rings
Sometimes using a birthday can help connect readers to the characters. We feel Bilbo’s frustration with his irritating relatives, being overwhelmed by party planning, and the young Hobbits sneaking around to get extra presents. By opening the book with a party, it allows readers to see characters as they are in every day life while under just enough pressure to be uncomfortable. Later, after being chased by monsters, if Frodo yearns for the Shire, we feel the pain with him because of the investment. J.K. Rowling used this concept as well for The Philosopher’s Stone, as we see Harry celebrating his birthday alone with irritating relatives ignoring him. As Hagrid bursts in with a birthday cake, we feel his relief, gratitude, and terror.

Other than as a respite or introduction, can you think of other areas of the plot that would benefit from a birthday chapter? Post comments below!

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