About Me

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Fresh Start

Well, I'm not sure who follows my blog anymore. I realize I've been very lax about updating this poor thing :)
But I've decided to start a new blog, and hopefully, hopefully, keep up with it much better. You can go HERE to see it. This one will stay up but I won't be using it anymore.
I hope to see you all at the new blog!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Just Tips!

About two months ago, I wrote a post on creating well-rounded villains.
Well, although it's entitled 'Some Tips for Creating Well-Rounded Villains', it doesn't come off as tips, but as 'you must do all these things or you will have a lame villain'.
So, let's backtrack a little.
I would say that the only two things you really, actually need for a successful villain are: a motive, and average (at least) intelligence. In my mind, these are non-negotiable in a serious story. We're not talking about comedies where a ridiculously stupid villain still somehow takes over the world.
Why these two things are important is simple: believability. To me, having a villain who doesn't have a motive (power, revenge, etc.) and/or is brainless, but most especially the latter, annoys me. Sure, a story can still be entertaining if the villain is lame (think, old cowboy movies), but it might have me banging my head every time he shows up.
So, while the other 'tips' I wrote about are good to think about, they're just tips; take 'em or leave 'em. After all, the ultimate villain is the Devil, and while he definitely has a motive and is super intelligent, he doesn't conform to anything else on the list.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Talking Animals - C. S. Lewis vs. Thornton W. Burgess

Anyone who knows me very well knows that I love C. S. Lewis. I think he was an amazing writer, and I have a quote from him for just about anything. Of course, The Chronicles of Narnia rank right up there as the best childrens' books ever.
So today I'm going to discuss talking animals, using Lewis and Thornton W. Burgess as examples of the right and wrong way to do it.
We've had a few of Burgess' books around our house for as long as I can remember. I've tried and tried to get through them, and I've only succeeded in finishing one; and that one I was never able to re-read. I think for my next article I'll discuss why that was, but for now let's focus on the animals.

Lewis' animals aren't human, that's for sure. Well, OK, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, some of the animals seem more human than in his later books (especially The Horse and His Boy), but the fact remains that Lewis wrote them as animals. However, these animals have consciences; they know right from wrong (whether they do the right thing or not), they have consciences, they can love, and there are certain rules that, as rational and sentient beings, they must obey. Also, to knowingly eat a talking animal is a great crime, whereas eating a regular dumb beast isn't. Basically, the way Lewis treats his Talking Animals is summed up by Aslan in The Magician's Nephew: 'Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”

On the other hand, we have Burgess, who wrote a whole lot of stories about the woodland creatures. These creatures may talk, and Burgess may moralize them to death, but they might as well be 'dumb and witless'. Several years ago I picked up Blacky the Crow and read a bit of it, until I came to a certain part that's stuck with me ever since. But first, a quick bit of set-up: Blacky the crow really, really wants the eggs of Mr. and Mrs. Hooty the owls, so he devises several plans to lure the owls away so that he can get to the eggs. All his plans fail, and he ends up deciding that if he can't have the eggs, then he'll get Farmer Brown's boy to take them so that the owls can't have them either.
During all this, we're told several times that Blacky is wronging the owls by trying to steal their eggs.
Then this (emphasis mine):
Blacky The Crow isn't all black. No, indeed. His coat is black, and sometimes it seems as if his heart is all black, but this isn't so. It certainly seemed as if his heart was all black when he tried so hard to make trouble for Hooty the Owl. It would seem as if only a black heart could have urged him to try so hard to steal the eggs of Hooty and Mrs. Hooty, but this wasn't really so. You see, it didn't seem at all wrong to try to get those eggs. Blacky was hungry, and those eggs would have given him a good meal. He knew that Hooty wouldn't hesitate to catch him and eat him if he had the chance, and so it seemed to him perfectly right and fair to steal Hooty's eggs if he was smart enough to do so. And most of the other little people of the Green Forest and the Green Meadows would have felt the same way about it. You see, it is one of the laws of Old Mother Nature that each one must learn to look out for himself.
But when Blacky showed that nest of Hooty's to Farmer Brown's boy with the hope that Farmer Brown's boy would steal those eggs, there was blackness in his heart. He was doing something then which was pure meanness.
I could hardly believe it when I read that. I still can't believe that Burgess goes to so much trouble to get us to think Blacky is being mean and self-serving by trying to get the eggs. Then he completely contradicts himself by saying that, basically, it's perfectly fine according to the laws of Mother Nature (who is worshiped by the animals in all of Burgess' stories) because, hey! Everyone has to take care of himself. No, the only really wrong and mean thing that Blacky did was try to get Farmer Brown's boy to steal the eggs.
So what
is wrong, according to Burgess? These are just animals, obeying the laws of Mother Nature, so why shouldn't Blacky do as he pleases? How can he do something out of pure meanness if he's just an animals obeying the laws of nature? If it's perfectly all right for him to steal Hooty's eggs, and for Hooty to eat other talking animals in the forest, then is anything wrong at all? It's not wrong in the real world for a lion to kill and eat a deer, or even for some animal to kill another animal and just leave it there without eating it. But, just as soon as they can talk and think and reason, that's not good enough anymore. And you can't justify it by calling it 'Mother Nature's law', especially if you've been moralizing against it the whole time.

Of course, if Mother Nature is the goddess and makes all the rules, we can't say anything against it, now can we? Survival of the fittest and all that. But as Christians we can't accept that; so, if you're going to write about animals that can talk and reason, then Lewis' way should be the way you go, and not Burgess'.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Just Some Thoughts on Writing

I'm a bit tired of hearing all this high-falutin' talk about Writing. Wait, before I go on, let me give a disclaimer: I love writing; I love reading. It's been one of my chief pleasures since I was little. I love the way words can be put together to form a picture in my mind. So, with that out of the way, what do I mean by 'high falutin'?
It seems like people who write have a serious superiority complex. Not only that, but they describe writing in terms that make me cringe.
How about this one? 'If you are still emotionally stable after reading, then you're not reading the right books.'
Or this one: 'Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.'
And a hundred thousand other things said by various authors. Things like that really annoy me. Take the first quote, for example. As far as I know, I've never become emotionally unstable after reading any book. Any. Some stories have made me almost cry, and a few have haunted me for a long time, but they've never destabilized me emotionally. I have started a few books that I've put down as being too depressing. Why would we want to become emotionally unstable? That's just stupid. Shouldn't a book, a good book, do just the opposite?
What about the next quote? Oh, that sounds so grand. 'Just open a vein and bleed' eh? I wish there wasn't anything that needed to be said further, but too many writers think of themselves as martyrs, pouring out their hearts and souls into living words of passion and vulnerability.
Is there any rule that says a story must be birthed in agony? I've certainly had some tough times while writing, but never come close to anything like opening a vein and bleeding; not even close. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one who feels like this. I know I can't be the only one, but no one else seems to be saying it.
I'm tired of being told that, as an author, I'm basically sitting up on a cloud with a halo. Everything that I write, simply because I am an Author, is worthwhile and everyone should automatically read it.
That's what annoys me a bit about NaNoWriMo. Thousands upon thousands of people sign up for it and are told that, 'Everyone has a story inside that the world needs to hear.' No they don't. Sorry, but no. Your story, my story, any story in the whole world, isn't worth something simply because of the fact that it was Written. Stories have to prove themselves. If they didn't, then writing would be pointless. It doesn't matter if you sit down and pour out your soul; that doesn't make it a good story.
Any thoughts, anyone?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Some Tips for Creating Well-Rounded Villains

Yesterday I talked about characters in general. Today, I'm going to expand on what makes a villain work.
By the way, for anyone who didn't read the last post (I don't know why you didn't; you should!), the characters, Kinlar and Keldrin, that I reference, are from an old story that I wrote about six years ago.

So, what makes a good villain?

1. Motivation. No one does anything for nothing. Keldrin joined the sorcerer, and the only reason he did so was because he was ... evil. 
There was very little motivation. He would most likely have done it whether Kinlar had been around or not. There should always, always be some reason villains do what they do.

2. A range of human emotions. Keldrin had jealousy, fear, and hatred. He had no emotions besides these; no remorse, uncertainty, or longing.

3. He (or she) must believe that what he is doing is right for either himself or everyone. Either your villain must believe that he is above the law and can do whatever he wants; or else he thinks that what he is doing is best for everyone. 
And I don't mean in that annoying, patronizing way that authors will do where they sort of do the sarcastic aside: 
'Of course he was doing it for the greater benefit! Greg was firmly convinced that poisoning all the dogs would be best for everyone. Why couldn't anyone see that?'
I mean where he firmly believes that whatever it is, he is in the right. 
He has to have reasons (of course the wrong reasons) that he's thought out and convictions that he holds to.

4. He must believe that the ends justify the means, but he shouldn't necessarily like the means. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of villains who get kicks out of evil. I'm not saying that they should dislike being cruel, but it really is boring when villains seem to forget their goal and instead focus on being nasty for no reason.

5. He should have at least one moment of almost choosing right over wrong. Perhaps I should say that he has to have an inner struggle. Especially if he sees the protagonist doing the right thing despite the trouble it causes him. He should wonder, at least for a little while, what it is that motivates the hero. He should maybe remember back when he himself wasn't evil. Then, the next time the chance presents itself, he should struggle against doing the right thing.
Now, the way he goes will depend on your villain. If you intend to redeem him by the end, then perhaps he should choose the right thing ... just this once. Not necessarily, but possibly. Even if it's not a positive act, such as helping a beggar; maybe it's just not doing something wrong. Maybe he decides not to poison the king, or he lets one of his enemies go free.
If he's going to be evil to the end, then he will probably end up choosing evil over good, sending him on a further downward spiral that will result in his destruction at the end. Or he might choose the right thing, but when the consequences are negative he quickly goes back to the security of his evil.

6. They should be at least of average intelligence. One thing that gets my goat is how overtly stupid villains usually are. 
How in the world (that they plan to utterly dominate) did they ever get in the position they're in if everything they do is obviously calculated to overthrow their own regime? Never mind the hero destroying them; they should have destroyed themselves long ago. Cackling evilly and revealing your evil plans will never get you to the place you want to be. Here's an example of a typical villain's List of Things to Do: 1. Conquer the world. 2. Destroy the good guys. 3. Enjoy it.
Conquer the world. Yep, that's a pretty broad category. They don't even have an idea of how they're going to do that. I guess they just figure that being fearsome and treating their own henchmen bad will cause everything to fall into place.
Your villain should have a set and definite plan for how he's going to get what he wants, and it should either be a plan that would probably work out if the hero didn't throw a wrench into it, or it should be the 'perfect crime' sort of scenario, where everything should have worked, but, because of the very nature of evil, no matter how perfect it is it's doomed to failure.

So, I hope this was helpful and entertaining! If there's anything I missed, please let me know in the comments box :)