To What Extend Would You Kill Off A Great Character In A Novel?

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right….

Martin Luther


It has been a long time since I reviewed on a manga or anime.
– For no apparent reason actually.
I normally post a topic based on my mood – and yeah, my current mood is NOT HAPPY.
There, I said it.

I got emotional easily when reading a manga or a novel.
This time it was caused by Alderamin on the Sky, a Japanese light novel that was recently adapted into an anime. I sorta like it so when I like something, I’ll look for more information – spoilers in this case.
And what I found was beyond shocking.

I was once a writer but I’m not going to comment from a writer’s point of view.
As a reader, I hate a storyline where the author built-up a main character so much, and then killed it off just to give way to another annoying character to be the protagonist.

Plot-wise, I do understand why some characters need to be killed off. (By the way, the context of this discussion is for the on-going series). Take One Piece for example. When Oda-sensei killed off Ace, that was for the sake of Luffy so he could power up. Even so, he gave us Sabo. Yes, exactly – the equivalent exchange.

Or when Manato was killed off early in Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, to give way to Haruhiro to stand out as their leader (since he’s the main protagonist). Anyway, the point is, neither Ace nor Manato was the main character. They were simply side characters needed for the protagonist’s character development.

But Yatori Igsem in Alderamin on the Sky, the female protagonist, died in the 7th volume, and for what purpose? So Ikta Solork would be a better soldier without his right hand? I’m actually ok if it’s solely for that purpose.

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However, killing Yatori and making the annoying Princess Chamille as the main protagonist was unacceptable. It is like killing off Asuna in Sword Art Online so the other females in Kirito’s harem will get a fair chance, or getting rid of Erina Nakiri in Food Wars! to give way to a bland character like Megumi to become the heroin.

Unfortunately, some people do think that way.
Yeah, let the best girl died so the worst girl got to live.
Welcome to the real world.

Does it really worth to have such a plot twist?
Authors write for readers.
Novels only survive if the readers are supporting it.

In the Alderamin on the Sky’s case, a lot of readers are not happy. Some have already dropped the series though many are still hanging on to it. To me, one of the reasons for them to stay loyal is because they are clinging to the hope that Yatori will be revived, due to the fact that her body was actually frozen using the cryogenics method.

If that’s the case, then I’ll say the author has really succeeded in maintaining his readers.

Me? I’ve learnt not to hope too much but I will continue to see what does Volume 11 have to offer.

Sword Art Online Progressive Volume 1 (Novel)

There’s no way to beat this game. The only difference is when and where you die…

~Yuuki Asuna~


I’m a big fan of Sword Art Online (SAO). Though I’m not really happy with the way Kawahara Reki downgraded the heroin from amazing to just being Kirito’s girlfriend, as well as adding other females to Kirito’s harem, however, story wise, I have to give credit to Kawahara sensei.

I watched its anime. It seemed a bit rush. So I read its novel, SAO – Aincrad Part 1 and 2. A lot of details were left out from the anime, especially on Argo the Rat. She’s the information broker, an important figure however she only appeared briefly in the anime, on episode Red Nose Reindeer.

The anime is still entertaining to watch. It just that I wish for more. The first novel started from 74th floor. The second novel only consists of side stories about Silica, Lisbeth, Yui and Sachi. I really wanted to know about the players early lives in Aincrad. What happened after the first floor boss fight.

SAO Progressive holds the answer.

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It covers three stories.

Aria on a Starless Night – This part covers in details how Kirito first met Asuna. It was actually in a dungeon, not during the floor boss meeting as portrayed in the anime. The story then progresses to the floor boss meeting, the deal Diavel made with Kibaou and Argo to buy Kirito’s Anneal Blade sword in order to prevent him from taking the last attack and ends with Kirito holding the title ‘Beater’.

The Reason for the Whiskers – After the first floor had been defeated, Kirito went on a quest where he learned the truth behind Argo’s whiskers which earned her the nickname ‘The Rat’.

Rondo for a Fragile Blade – Kirito and Asuna once again partied up together to solve the mystery of sword thieving committed by the first Aincrad blacksmith. They did not stop there, and later joined up with Agil and the rest of the front liners to beat the boss of the second floor.

SAO Progressive basically is a story about how the bosses for each floor is defeated, which is not covered in SAO – Aincrad. The second volume (English) has just been released and it is on its way to me ^-^

As far as I know, there is Volume 3 as well. I don’t what Kawahara sensei is planning but I hope he would write for each floor, though that might take forever πŸ˜›

Book Depository – Free Delivery Worldwide

Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.

~Benjamin Franklin~


BookDepository.

Thousands of choices. It’s cheap. It’s fast. It’s reliable. And free delivery. Doesn’t that spell great?

I was introduced to BookDepository by a friend. Before this I purchased manga volume from the Mighty Ape. But since I’m no longer in New Zealand, I need to find a cheaper way to buy my favorite books without having to worry about the shipping fee.

And yes, BookDepository is the answer.

I received my first purchased manga from the site within the estimated time frame. The condition is good. And I had received the other four as well, also in good condition.

book depository

I value a great customer service and BookDepository does not disappoint me. Whenever I have questions, they would answer me promptly.

As a happy customer, what else could I say except to brag about them? ^-^

So yeah, feel free to visit Book Depository page to see what they have to offer and shop without worry :)

The Sweetest Confession

Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness.

~George Santayana~


It does not have to be a love story to give the greatest impact of confession. Oda-sensei proves and does it in his greatest shounen manga, One Piece.

A boy who was at the brink of death due to an illness. A man who betrayed his own brother, as well as the marine to find the cure for the boy. A strong bond was developed throughout their short journey together.

The man managed to get a devil fruit which can cure the boy’s illness at the cost of his life. Knowing that there was no escape for him, he hid the boy in a treasure box while making a promise that they would meet again at the next town.

The boy who was hated by so many people because of the disease he carried, had finally met someone who cared for him wholeheartedly but soon witnessed that man taken away from him forever.

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And the confession was made slightly before the man was shot to death. Sweet, but sad. Definitely one of the best moments in One Piece.

The Shogun Assassination

If they each carry their own bushido in their hearts, they can each become their own samurai.

~Yoshida Shouyou (Gintama)~


After 516 chapters, Sorachi-sensei finally revealed the most awaited flashback – the relationship between Gintoki, Takasugi, Katsura and their teacher, Shouyou.

What is so special about their relationship?

Gintama is a shounen gag manga. It doesn’t really follow a plot like any other manga. But once in a while, it would have serious, touching moments. And most of the times, those moments were related to Shouyou sensei.

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The death of Shouyou resulted in his students taking a different path in their lives. Gintoki, the main protagonist, decides to live ‘beautifully’ under the rules of the Amanto, who was responsible in taking Shouyou’s life, and endures his hatred towards them. He lives to protect Shouyou’s teaching.

Takasugi is the opposite. Instead of protecting, his aim is to destroy everything that took Shouyou’s away from them – the current world. His hate towards the Amanto leads him to join forces with the Amanto’s Yato tribe (irony?).

Katsura, on the other hand, is the in-between. Being the leader of the Joui patriots – a terrorist group, he is one of the most wanted figures. In the beginning, he was an extremist but after seeing how Gintoki leads his life in this world that he was supposed to hate, he started to tone down his terrorist activities.

The Shogun Assassination is the current arc of Gintama where Takasugi’s plan to destroy the world is already set in motion. He’s now clashing sword with Gintoki, where the last page of the latest chapter showed that Gintoki was cut down by him.

Gintoki, and his Yorozuya’s members, are the last three standing to protect the Shogun (well, the Shinsengumi and the ninjas are still fighting with the Yatos as we speak, but the Yorozuya is entrusted to protect the Shogun). The fight is already at its climax (the only thing it is lacking right now is the adult Katsura is yet to appear). Where would this lead to?

This arc, without a doubt is one of the best, and at the same time, worries the fans much. Is Gintama ending soon? There are so many backgrounds that have yet to be revealed, especially regarding Gintoki’s past, when he was feared as Shiroyasha (the white demon).

Sorachi Hideaki is the master of trolling his fans. Hopefully the epicness of this arc does not mark the end of Gintama, but is the start of something far greater.

And Gintama deserves another season for its anime!

Finding The Right Genre

Believe that you have it, and you have it.
~Latin Proverb~


Fantasy. That was what came into my mind when I thought about a new story line.

Why?

Maybe because I love the world full of magic and its extraordinary environment?

I love watching fantasy movies, obviously, with The Lord of The Rings easily becomes my all time favorite.

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Having said that, I do not read much fantasy books, except for The Charmed Ones novels, which are not an epic fantasy. My reading preference is always on mystery/thriller/investigation genre.

Why am I so focus on writing a fantasy story then?

At first I thought it was just me trying to avoid the so-called “facts” in my novel. My first young adult novel was based on a psycho-thriller plot. I did not know much about a psychopath nor a shrink, the therapy process, yada yada. Based on my little reading on the subject, I tried to avoid most of the technical explanation, simply because I didn’t want to provide wrong facts, hence making my novel less credential.

For years I believe that was the sole reason. To avoid writing facts, something that I don’t know much about.

Writing a fantasy genre would be much simpler because it doesn’t rely on facts, or so I thought. True, when I wrote the series Pengembaraan Fantasi I did not have much difficulty. Writing a teen book does not require much details or technical explanation, as long as the story is interesting.

When I wrote my second young adult novel, a cross-over between the real and fantasy world, I needed to incorporate a bit more details. Interesting alone is not enough. The world has to be believable too. It is something that I realized later on.

Although the fantasy world is not bound to the real world law of physics, it still has its laws that need to be followed. The writer, as the creator of that fantasy world, needs to create a set of rules, thus making the world believable.

These set of rules is not much different from the “facts” in the real world, is it?

It is not until recently that I fully understood the reason behind my genre preference, thanks to the Sword Art Online (SAO) light novels that I had read non-stop for the past 2 weeks.

Reading SAO made me realized that I am writing a fantasy story not to avoid the real world facts, but because it is who I am.

Someone who is simply amazed by the fantasy world. Someone who loves creating her own imaginary world and hopes that it will be her reality. Someone who just wants to hide away from her troubles.

Isn’t it ironic, that I knew this all along, but failed to acknowledge it? Maybe I’m afraid that people would think I’m such a delicate, insecure person.

I guess it is time to accept the truth about who I am. Who knows it might boost up my capability to create a more believable fantasy world.

My current manuscript can be classified as a low fantasy, and maybe a contemporary because the plot took place in the real world (with the element of crossing over to the other world through a portal).

However it is my wish – after the current manuscript is completed – to write a high, epic fantasy story (which I have started drafting it ^-^).

Between What You Want To Write And What Your Reader Wants To Read

It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.
~Francois De La Rochefoucauld~


Every writer has their own story to tell. But is it enough to tell a story the way you strongly want it to be? Or do you need to consider how other people would react when reading your story?

I guess the answer depends on your own goal.

If you are writing just to satisfy yourself, then you not need to worry about other people’s feedback. In this case, you can write whatever stories you have in mind.

But if you want to write a story that is saleable, you have to take into account who your readers are. Because these readers are the one that will determine your success in this field.

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When I wrote my novels before, I never allowed anybody to read my draft, except for my editor.

Reasons?

I really believed (at that time) that I want my story to be a great surprise, and by letting other people to read my manuscript before it is published would just ruin my goal.

Oh, who am I kidding?

At that time, I failed to understand the essential of readers’ feedback. Without good feedback, a writer might not go far in his/her career. There is no point in writing a complete manuscript if you can’t get your readers to leaf through after the first page.

So, who should be these readers?

They should not be of any family members, simply because they might be biased towards you.

Definitely not your partner, for the same reason stated above.

Friends, yes, honest friends who would help you to achieve your goal.(There are several types of friends out there).

Maybe professionals if you don’t mind paying the cost.

Or you can try uploading the first few pages online and get some random feedback. If you were to go for this approach, make sure your content is copyrighted. You definitely don’t want your creative idea to be stolen.

Anyway, back to the main point. Although you do focus on what the readers want, bear in mind that you can’t please everybody. I speak from experience, AS a reader πŸ˜›

If I can question why the genius Oda-sensei chose such an approach in One Piece or why Reki-san kept on introducing new female lead and push the one and only heroin to the sideline in his best selling Sword Art Online light novels, definitely a newbie and a no-name author, like me, would raise much more questions on the story line.

Personally for me, that would make a good learning experience. Know what the readers want, what the majority of them are not happy with, and try to improve from there.

But try not to lose your identity just to please your readers. Your story is yours to tell.

The feedback helps to improve your writing, to make the story line more interesting. What your readers want will help you to focus in the right direction.

However, never ever compile ideas from your readers. If you think that will sell your novel, you are making a big mistake.

Know the difference. Learn and improve from the feedback. Not blindly copy and compile from the suggested ideas.

Writing A Novel: Series vs Standalone

Fully to understand a grand and beautiful thought requires, perhaps, as much time as to conceive it.

~Joseph Joubert~


As a writer, I often ask myself what type of book to write: series or standalone. Subconsciously, I would straight away think of a plot for a standalone book. However when I was offered to write for teen books category, surprisingly the first thought that came to my mind was a series.

I guess my reason at that time was because as a kid, my favorite books were from series: The Famous Five, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Somehow I thought writing series for kids would be more appealing. Especially when you find out that there were some kids who were actually waiting for your series’ sequel!

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When I had the chance to write for the Young Adult’s (YA), I forgot all about series and focused only on writing a standalone plot.

That what was my thought before: series are only meant for kids while standalone books are for YAs and adults. I was wrong, pretty obviously!

It doesn’t matter which category you are writing for – series or standalone can always fit in. What matters most are the character(s) and the plot.

Writing a standalone book requires the author to develop the main protagonist and antagonist well, intertwine with a great story line. Once the story is over, the author can move on to the next idea, with different characters and plot.

Writing a series, to me, is a little bit harder. Firstly, the author needs to create characters that can have followers. When I read my favorite series, I wanted to read about my favorite characters. I wanted to know more about them. I hated the idea if my favorite characters were suddenly downgraded and pushed to the sideline (I felt that way with Sword Art Online light novels Vol. 3-6). That is not something that is easily done.

When creating a character for series, that character must be developed consistently as the series progresses. The character must have the ups and downs for he/she to grow and capture the emotions of the readers. Otherwise, nobody would be looking forward to read the next sequel of the series.

Secondly, the plot of the series must be fresh and not repetitive (this holds true for a standalone plot too, of course!). With series, the plot of the story is always focusing on the main character(s). If there are five of them (like The Famous Five who always solved mysteries together), then the author has to create a story line that can include all five of them.

And the character’s signature must be maintained throughout the series. The mystery to solve is of course different. The tension and drama should be too. But the characters’ unique identity, what made them stand out in the first place, must be presence all the time. Like Dr. Alex Cross. Or Sherlock Holmes.

I have the experience in writing for both series and standalone books. And my preference for now? I’m gonna focus on writing a standalone story – simply because I wanna have a complete different character as the protagonist ^_^

Sword Art Online: Is It Possible To Create A Fully Immersive Virtual Environment In The Future?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

~Marcel Proust~


I’m not a hardcore gamer. It is not because I do not enjoy playing games, but simply because I’m easily addicted to it.

My first game console experience was when my dad bought us Atari 2600 (yeah… I know, it was ages ago!). My favorite games at that time were Pacman and Space Invaders. Years later, he bought us our first PC and I got myself hooked on the Prince of Persia game.

As I grew up, I played various other games – from PC to console to online games. I did play Hidden and Dangerous 2 once, a multiplayer, first-person shooter (FPS) genre. Unfortunately I have an extreme motion sickness which obstructs me from diving further into 3D games, including virtual reality games.

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Speaking of virtual reality games, this brings up the topic of discussion for this post: Sword Art Online (SAO). Yup, SAO is a light Japanese novel series written by Kawahara Reki, and have been made into an anime.

Putting the ‘anime-freak’ in me and the creativity of the story line aside, what impressed me the most about SAO is the world it was based on: virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). A subject that is really close to my heart; something that I proposed to do at the start of my PhD (not exactly on MMORPG but something related to VR games) before resolving to a natural user interface area.

A little bit of background on SAO. The story was set in the near future where humanity had finally created a complete virtual environment. By donning a VR helmet that stimulates the user’s five senses via their brain, known as Nerve Gear, players could control their in-game character with their mind. When the players logged in for the first time, they found out that they were trapped in the VE without being able to logout. The only way out was to clear all 100 floors and defeat the final boss. To make matter worse, death in this game means death in the real world as well.

Watching this anime made me think about the possibility of creating a complete virtual environment, that gives the feeling of naturalness to the users. With the current technology, we are still far behind from achieving that goal.

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When I did my research on natural interfaces, the first thing I looked for was the technique used to implement the interface. I had not done much research on VR games since my focus was more on a 3D manipulation technique. However, our goal was still the same – to make the interface as natural as possible.

So, what is a natural interface?

In my thesis, it was defined as:

β€œAn interface that relies almost exclusively on visuomotor skills already possessed by users.”

In other words, an interface is considered natural if the user does not take long to learn how to use it. Not every action in the real world can be simulated as it is. Some actions need to be compromised with some tricks to achieve the naturalness in the interaction.

Why is the naturalness so important in the simulated world? To me, it gives the feeling of satisfaction. I played Tekken on a console, and loved it. I played EyeToy: Kinetic Combat and the feeling was overwhelming.

It is what engaged the users to the virtual world. After all, the VR world is the place where people would go to, to take a break from reality. To be what they can’t be in the real world. To make them feel belong in this universe.

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To arrive at the world portrayed in SAO where all of our five senses work as in the real world seems to be out of reach at this moment. Even with the 3D manipulation technique I implemented, the effect of a haptic feedback was omitted because that will require a whole new research.

But one thing for sure, the gaming industry is moving towards VR and AR experiences. More researchers will be investing their time in creating new technologies for this purpose.

It is only a matter of time before the world in SAO is no longer a dream.



Character Development:
One Piece vs Attack on Titan – A Case Study

A fair reputation is a plant, delicate in its nature, and by no means rapid in its growth. It will not shoot up in a night like the gourd of the prophet; but, like that gourd, it may perish in a night.
~Jeremy Taylor~

The following content contains ***SPOILERS*** ^-^.

How far do we need to develop a character in a story? This is the sort of question I’ve been asking myself lately. Without great characters, a story might just be nondescript. Plain and boring.

Developing a character is not that simple. A writer must be able to write a believable character from the readers’ point of view. A writer must be able to create a connection between the characters and the readers – to hate, to love, to sympathize and so on.

I’ve been reading a lot, not just manga but also novels. I tried to understand what makes me engaged to a story. Apart from a good plot, I found that characters do influence me as well.

For the purpose of understanding the importance of character development, I compared two of the currently most popular manga: One Piece by Eiichiro Oda and Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama.

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One Piece has been dominating the manga sales for years now, holding the record for the highest total volume sales and making it the best-selling manga in history. Attack on Titan, based on its volumes sales in 2013, was doing extremely well too.

However, I discovered an interesting fact that distinguishes these two mangakas – how they develop their characters and who would become the center of the story later on.

Attack on Titan started really strong. The story focuses on Eren, Mikasa and Armin’s journey after Shiganshina was attacked by titans. Along the way, a lot of supporting characters were introduced. Some of the characters got more development, especially Captain Levi (who was actually rated the most popular character in this series).

As the story reaches its climax, Isayama decided to make a complete turn in the plot. From an intense battle since the very beginning to a mostly-talk-less-action political plot to dethrone the king.

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And not just that. He also decided to bring one of the most least developed characters in the very beginning, Krista aka Historia to play a major role in this current plot. Out of sudden she becomes the highlight of the story, pushing aside Mikasa and Armin to the sideline.

As a reader, I found it hard to connect with Krista at this point. I even questioned, why her? In my opinion it’s too late to give her this important role when she was barely noticed (yeap, I couldn’t care less about her character back then) in the very beginning. I guess Isayama was trying to make a major twist, to surprise his readers but he picked the wrong character to carry out his plan. I’m not sure about others but it does make me feel disconnected from the story by much!

This is where Oda excels. Since the start of One Piece in 1997, he has introduced character after character and make his readers drawn into these characters. If a character will play a major role in the future arc, he either makes a strong introduction about that character and leaves the readers to wonder, or he just introduces that character at that particular arc and builds the character from there.

I think that is one of the reasons why One Piece continues to soar high – the connection that he managed to develop between his readers and his characters. (The Fishman Island arc was not really up to the readers’ expectation but Oda managed to cover that with a great revelation at the end of the arc).

And since I’m already on this subject, I just wanted to touch slightly on a novel by Sidney Sheldon (one of my favorite authors).

I love all his novels. He was indeed a master storyteller. The only time I felt a bit let down was when I read the Best Laid Plan. The story was about Leslie Stewart, who was betrayed by her fiancee, Oliver Russell, and started to plan a revenge towards him.

What I expected was to ride the journey with Leslie until the end of the story, but somehow after the third quarter, I lost her. A new character emerged in between which was completely fine and nicely built but that should not put Leslie away from the focus.

The plot was good. I was just not satisfied with the character development. He introduced Leslie as one of the main characters, built her so much and then took her away from the limelight.

I kept on asking myself – where was Leslie? what had happened to her? – while reading the novel. By the end of the story when it was revealed that Leslie planned had failed and she was humiliated by her own plan, I could not feel anything. I had been disconnected from her the moment Sheldon pushed her character away.

What do I learn from all these?

A good plot without a good character development will not make a great story. A story is not only to entertain, but to make the readers immerse in it. It will be a great challenge for me to develop characters that can connect to my readers. Hopefully I can do justice to each of the characters written in my story.