Category Archives: Story
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that for some of you, if you hear one more author complain about some form of existential crisis that results in the catch-all epidemic known as Writer’s Block, you are going to find a block (or a writer) and throw it at said author. Because, really, there has to be something better to do than complain about being uninspired.
Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe authors just like to complain about writer’s block because it gives us a chance to explain how great our writing normally is when we’re not blocked – which is most of the time, for some of us.
At any rate, this post is not going to be about writer’s block. Not at all. I promise. It is going to be about Inspiration and Creation and How To Build a Beautiful Story Out of the Strands of Creativity. Or something awesome like that.
So, to start this month’s fun exercise in StoryBuilding, we are going to create characters together! Doesn’t that sound fun? At the end of this post, you will have the perfect character to introduce into your new world. I promise. (Note: No refunds for time, effort, or mental suffering will be offered if the character does not meet expectations or spontaneously dies during the course of the story)
The way this is going to work is that you are going to categorize your character. Simply pick a letter in each category and make note of what you picked. At the end, you will read the explanation for each categorization and have the building blocks for a brand new character. Aren’t you excited? I know I am.
BUILD YOUR CHARACTER HERE!
1. Character’s Backstory:
2. Character’s Appearance:
3. Character’s Character:
4. Character’s Priorities:
D. Favorite Pet
5. Character’s Weakness:
Now, I hope you made note of all of your choices because I’m about to tell you what you have chosen. I will provide the descriptors for each of these category choices, and you will have assembled a complex and fascinating character to lead the charge in your new story. Feel free to do this multiple times to add new characters to your entourage if you are in a questing mood. (Note: I know some of you picked E: Unexpected for every single category. You are about to receive your just reward for such a bold move)
1. Character’s Backstory:
A. Mysterious: This character was found in a large soup tureen floating in the moat of some random duke’s castle and subsequently adopted by the local blacksmith. No one knows how long the babe has been floating in the tureen or where the tureen or baby have come from. Of one thing everyone is certain, however: This baby is Destined For Great Things. No pressure or anything.
B. Tragic: This character was living a happy life selling apples in a market with his/her mother until, one day, an Evil Man on a black horse came and not only destroyed the apple cart, but stole every single apple. Also, the Evil Man killed this character’s mother. Thus began this character’s journey.
C. Royal: This character is the second child of the king and queen of the country. The royal parents shower all their attention on the first child and heir, causing extreme bitterness in this, the second child.
D. Ignominious: This character was a farmer who raised sheep. That’s about it.
E. Unexpected: This character insulted a fairy who was already having a bad day and was immediately put under a curse which causes the character to turn into a rabbit on the full moon. No cure for this curse has thus far been discovered.
2. Character’s Appearance:
A. Dashing: Congratulations. Your character cuts such a dashing and noble figure that others are constantly begging to join this character and pledging their loyalty and gazing rapturously upon such incredible dashingness. This is quite a burden for your character to bear.
B. Uninspiring: Read the above description. Imagine the opposite. No one respects this character or thinks they will amount to anything.
C. Ridiculous: This character has purple hair in a world where purple hair is both unlooked for and frowned upon. This character is also a bit on the short side, a bit on the wimpy side, and a bit on the no-one-knows-what-to-make-of-you side.
D. Magnificent: This character has purple hair in a world where having purple hair is exotic, unique, and worthy of admiration. Also, this character is often assumed to be royal, whether this is true or not, which makes things difficult when looking royal is dangerous.
E. Unexpected: This character is a dragon, complete with big, scaly body, the ability to breathe fire, and an unfortunate tendency to frighten the populace of surrounding countries.
3. Character’s Character:
A. Optimistic: This is the character the annoys everyone with a sunny outlook on whatever predicament they might be in. Nothing is ever too bad to be overcome. A proclivity toward making long, inspiring speeches may or may not endear this character to others.
B. Brooding: This character hates the optimistic people of the world, is not prone to speaking much, and prefers to look darkly at things and assume the worst. For some reason, others still find this attractive in your character, much to your character’s annoyance.
C. Humble: This character is not worthy of anyone’s high regard no matter how awesome they may be. This character wishes everyone would stop assuming such good things about him or her and wants nothing more than to serve, despite being the leader and main character. This character is simply not good enough to be so good at everything.
D. Courageous: Leading every charge, risking life and limb whenever a small child or kitten is being assaulted by a minion of darkness, caring not at all if he/she lives or dies, this character may or may not be truly skilled in battle, but will bravely sally forth regardless. Often seen sporting war-wounds which are simply ignored, this character will stand up for Truth and Right and battle Injustice and Evil unswervingly.
E. Unexpected: This character is a combination of all of the above, a complex individual who hopes for the best, plans for the worst, hates attention, and loves taking unnecessary, but impressive risks. This leads to an assortment of conflicted emotions that often paralyze this character in a state of indecision just when important decisions need to be made. This character’s friends and foes alike are often confused and nervous whenever a confrontation is imminent because one never knows what to expect.
4. Character’s Priorities:
A. Self: This character may have many good qualities and is well aware of them, which is why this character deems it so important to preserve such a valuable life as his/her own, perhaps at the expense of someone slightly less valuable. This may seem callous and unheroic, but your character realizes that it is utterly impossible to be a hero if one is dead or imprisoned or otherwise inconvenienced. Keeping oneself alive is a first priority from which every other heroic trait might naturally follow.
B. Country: For better or for worse, this character loves king/queen/president/dictator and country more than life itself. This may become something of an issue of the country somehow fails to uphold other standards of the character, but ultimately, preserving the country from foes foreign or domestic is this character’s goal.
C. Beloved: True love conquers all, and any villain worth his/her salt knows that to get to your character, all they have to do is find your character’s beloved and place that individual in some creative form of danger. Your character will risk life, friends, country, and any unfortunate person who gets in the way in order to save this most prized and treasured of beings. Most likely, your character’s beloved is somehow a key point in the villain’s plot anyway, so saving him or her conveniently serves two purposes.
D. FavoritePet: Who needs people? Your character’s favorite steed, favorite dog, or favorite bird is somehow constantly in danger and constantly in need of saving. Thankfully, this favored pet of your character will end up saving your character’s life at a significant juncture, thereby justifying your character’s strange priorities.
E. Unexpected: Your character wants nothing more than to be a traveling bard. Every experience, both good and bad, can be turned into a song. At the end of it all, your character hopes to write the ultimate ballad by which to be remembered forever. Your character is frequently caught composing a new tune during critical moments of the plot.
5. Character’s Weakness:
A. Self: Your character has issues. While somehow remaining lovable, your character often questions his or her ability to solve problems, be a leader, be a follower, save others, save him/herself, or otherwise succeed at the given task. If anyone insults your character’s appearance or ability, your character is immediately consumed by self-doubt. It is both irritating and endearing.
B. Nemesis: The villain of your story is either the character’s sibling or schoolmate who knows all of your character’s weaknesses and goals, being a former confidant. After a falling out, which was in absolutely no way your character’s fault, of course, the villain is determined to destroy the main character by any means necessary, and is frightfully creative in doing so.
C. Beloved: See above description of Character Priorities: C. Pretty much everything threatens the life of your character’s beloved, rendering your character incapable of making logical decisions, inspiring headlong rushes into traps, and ultimately causing your character to question any moral principles once held if they stand between the character and his/her beloved.
D. Allergies: Whether it is peanuts, glowing green rocks, or some mysterious antagonizing agent in the possession of the villain, your character cannot seem to get through an entire chapter without stumbling headlong into something that causes excruciating pain, delirium, and poor decision making specifically to this one individual. Since no one else is affected, having friends around can be helpful, but this allergic reaction will occur in conjunction with any important plot point.
E. Unexpected: Your character is deathly afraid of rabbits. This may or may not be known to the villain at the outset of the story, but probably will be by the climax. Woodland areas are traumatic to your hero, as are most grasslands, farmland, and pretty much everywhere else. No one is quite sure how your character is still (mostly) sane.
Share Your Results!
Having reached the conclusion of this character description workshop, you should now have a complex and interesting person to work with for your story. No two characters should be alike, even if you’ve picked the same letters as someone else, so if you would indulge me in sharing your character’s description, adding your own details and filling in the basic outline a bit, I would be much obliged.
Next week, we’ll do some world building in a similar fashion. By the end of the month, I expect to have several bestsellers in the making.
Posted by Rachel
Dear faithful readers (and new readers),
LHP is about to release the next issue of Gallery of Worlds (June 1). In preparation, I’ll be posting the prologue to the new serial, which is making it’s debut in the issue. I hope you enjoy. I’ve been working on this story for several years now and am very excited to start sharing this strange world of mystery, darkness, magic, and light with all of you. I’d love to hear your feedback.
So without further ado…
A Child of Orn – Prologue to The Keepers
The darkness penetrated her thoughts and consumed her being. She remembered a time when the darkness had not frightened her. She remembered a time when the darkness had been like a cloak that warmed her, when darkness had been a friend that she knew better than herself. She remembered a time when stone and earth walls and rooms had been safe and comforting. But this was not that darkness. This was malicious darkness, full of hatred, pain, and horror. This darkness was that sort of pitch that nightmares were made of, from which even death fled.
She shivered more from the fear that gripped at her heart than for the chilly dampness. She muttered a prayer begging for Orn to give her rest, to take her breath and let her soul leave this hellish existence. But Orn had left her, he did not dare come to these chambers. That is what he wanted. He wanted Orn to come…it was a trap. She shivered and even though her mouth was parched and her head ached from dehydration, she managed to shed a tear.
“Orn…come not to this place…give me strength to endure…the light.”
She heaved a choking sob. Light. Dreadful, harsh light. Oh, how she hated the brightness! She was not supposed to see it. She was forbidden to see daylight and yet…was it daily that her captor dragged her out into the brilliance of the burning orb, tying her to the black iron that warmed to scorching temperatures, searing her skin? He would come and taunt her. He blasphemed Orn. He violated the sacred name of death. He made her look at the Sun!
But she would endure. She would not let him take her soul. She belonged to Orn.
Harsh, yellow light reflected off the damp stones. She backed into the corner of her cell as far as she could. She could see the hundred eyes of the other captives. Pale opalescent eyes stared out of taunt, terrified faces. These were faces of creatures like her, once human but now reduced to the stupor of fear and lifelessness. Their faces were barely recognizable as faces – all bloodied, burned, scarred, bruised, and flesh torn. She could see all the horror and hopelessness she felt in the dim glow of the lantern in the faces of the captives. They were all thinking the same thing: who was it going to be this time?
The cruel brightness of the lantern stung her eyes as several men all hooded and shadowed came into her cell. Even though she shared her cell with several others, as she squinted against the burning, she knew they were going to take her. She tilted her chin ever so slightly. She was not going to let them conquer her. They may kill her body, but her soul was Orn’s. She had served him faithfully. She had not answered any of his questions. She had stayed firm. No amount of burning or blinding searing light was going to make her give up her faith.
One of the hooded man laughed sinisterly.
They grabbed her by the hair and half-pulled, half-pushed her along the dark corridor of rough damp stone. These were old tunnels from a time when the gods roamed the earth. She stumbled along trying to keep up with their forceful pace.
Suddenly she was flung into the greater, harsher light of day. Her eyes burned so fiercely that she thought that they were going to ignite. She drew a sharp breath but that was all the visible sign she gave of the pain. She heard him laugh. And she was kicked down. The force caused her to bite her lip. Blood filled her mouth. She spat it out as strong hands pulled her to her unsteady feet. She was then tossed onto the apparatus of her torture.
It was a disk of black metal that had been infused with magic to not only reflect the sun’s light but its true heat as well. There were six metal braces One for each wrist and ankle and one for the waist and one for the neck. Those same strong and malevolent hands bound her. She was forced to face the sun. If she tried to turn her face away jagged teeth of the metal brace around her neck would bite into her skin.
“I belong to Orn,” she said through clenched teeth.
He laughed. “I know. That is why I want you. Your twisted little black soul is just too good to waste.”
“I belong to Orn…I seek the dark places. I dwell in the deep. I care for the sacred things, the holy things, the treasured things of Orn,” she muttered. Endurance. She just needed to endure the light of day. “I belong to Orn.”
He started to speak in a language that only the gods knew. It chilled her to the bone despite the sizzling heat and burning brilliance of the light of sun and apparatus. This was something new. He had never done this before. Normally he questioned her, mocked her, blasphemed Orn and profaned the name of Death. But now he spoke words that cut deeper than taunts. He was cutting away at her soul, slicing it from her living body. She could feel her soul squirm. This was a new kind of pain. It was worse than anything she had endured yet.
He smiled and spoke the words louder.
Her soul writhed and twisted, straining to leave her body. “I belong to Orn,” she chanted. She willed her soul to stay. Even though she wanted to be free and rid of the mortal flesh that caused her pain. It was not her choice to decide when death should come. It was not his decision either, though he did not seem to bother with the proper order of things.
“I belong to Orn,” she whispered. Her soul ripped from her body with a force that could have leveled cities. He cackled with mirthless glee. She felt pain so deep, so raw that she could only gape wordlessly. There was no sound that could express the pain. There was no escape from it either. The pain was too much to faint from. In all consuming agony, she watched with a distant horrific fascination as her writhing soul burst. An emptiness and loss washed over her; the sun’s brilliant rays seemed muted and the pain felt immaterial; all thoughts of caring left her and she was completely hollow.
He cursed and with a howl of anger and frustration, he killed her with a single word.
Posted by Brian
“The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”
–C. S. Lewis (Allegedly)
Anyone who knows me well (even remotely so) knows that I think the world of C. S. Lewis. Lewis was amazingly prescient, and many of the things that he predicted about general culture and the church in particular have come to pass. Lewis was also human, though, and his prediction was based on his circumstances. I came across this quote recently on-line, and while it sounds possibly like something Lewis might have said, I can’t put a finger on the exact location, and of course none of the posters bother to reference it. While the sentiment was certainly applicable once upon a time, I have to say that it is now dated. Christian literature is in need of a dual renaissance, of the “little books” we discussed last week and also within itself.
For some time now, I’ve listened to a generation or so of intelligent Christian academics echo Lewis’s call for more good writing that can reach the general culture and be judged as excellent by any reasonable standard. That is, of course, all well and exactly as it should be. It is absolutely necessary, especially in an increasingly hostile culture that needs to be engaged from the ground up, and to those who are called to do so, I say, “Charge ahead!.”
Unfortunately, I also find that the accompanying critique of literature aimed at the Christian sub-culture to often be reflexively dismissive and even demeaning. People glory in the fact that “I don’t write that to those people! You’ll never see anything of mine on that shelf!” It can (and sometimes does) quickly escalate into an unhealthy, mean-spirited “holier-than-thou” attitude, the very attitude they claim to critique in the sub-culture they try to stand apart from.
Let me be clear: There is a lot of slop out there that passes for Christian creative, historical, analytical, and scientific thought. But we should forcefully (and politely) critique it on the grounds of its sloppishness (Is that a word?), not because of the audience to whom it was written. The truth is that there is a need for literature of all kinds, including that which is written by Christians to Christians. In our haste to engage the larger culture, we shouldn’t over look an equally desperate need.
When Lewis was alive, there were many intelligent Christian authors who had been writing books to Christian audiences for centuries and many people were still equipped to understand them. That is one reason why the quote above is believable.* Unfortunately, things have changed in the generation since Lewis left us. Most of the classics of Christian literature are lost on people these days–due in large part to the failure of the Church to educate its members. They are no more stupid than the people who came before, but culture and language have changed to the point that they speak a different language. They need someone to translate and interpret.
Perhaps more importantly, while we shouldn’t be ashamed to stand on the shoulders of giants, we need to be producing more giants of our own. It is an excellent and worthy thing to reach out to the larger culture, but if we aren’t deepening our own understanding of the timeless truths of the Bible and Christianity and then disseminating it among ourselves, what do we have to offer in our “little books”? It isn’t far off from the dying churches who cling to their own dated cultural manifestations of the faith, singing songs from the 1920s with music played on instruments from the 1800s. While there is nothing wrong with that by definition, their failure to engage and grow is killing them, and they are increasingly ceasing to be any concern at all.
When we can be as reasonably sure of finding mostly “good literature” on the shelves of places like Christian bookstores as we are of finding it elsewhere, we’ll have taken a large step forward in the revival of western culture as a whole. It is only one step, but a positive one nonetheless.
There are some of us who are called to write the “little books”, but there are also some of us who are still called to write from within the Church to other believers. (Many will be called to do both.) To these latter, I say stand up and be proud of your calling. People outside the church–and some inside it–will have trouble identifying with you, but remember who your audience is and what you have to offer. Study the Bible and the giants of the past and bring them all home to struggling believers in the modern world.
Here is the real key though: Do it right and to the highest of standards!
Next Week–Arming Ourselves: Reading and What It Really Means
*Many of these books are still out there and are still excellent. In fact, they are enjoying something of a renaissance of themselves thanks to public domain and the internet. More average people have access to George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, the early church fathers, etc than have in years, and that is a good thing. We should encourage people to devour them.
Greetings, LHP Readers! After the holiday season, we are continuing our reposts on the best blog entries of 2013. This post was published by Melissa one year ago, a reminder of the best books we have read and we should keep rereading. This post has particular relevance to writers, for as we contemplate why books are worth rereading, we will hopefully apply the same criteria in our own writing.
Happy New Year, everyone! And because new things terrify me, I am going to be reflective instead. Reflective is deep, right?
I was talking with some friends about the joy that we take in watching some movies over and over and over again. Some movies just keep coming back out when people come over for a visit. Sometimes only a certain film will do for our particular mood. Sometimes, a movie simply provides a comforting, familiar background to whatever it is we are doing: writing, grading, cleaning, studying, etc.
For me and many others, rereading books can provide a similar solace, although books are much less a social thing and can certainly not be read at the same time as writing, grading, cleaning, or studying (unless you are especially talented, that is). So why do we reread books? Or rather, why do you reread a favorite book? Do you? I know some people will read a book, and then they are done with it. Some books aren’t worth a second read, to be sure.
These are some of the things I want to explore a bit more. In this post, I want to talk about familiarity. I think that one reason for rereading a book for many people comes down to the fact that you know it. A good book is a friend. It tells you a wonderful story and it is a reliable source of excitement, joy, and interest.
Knowing the Ending
Some people don’t understand the appeal of rereading a good book, particularly if it’s a mystery or otherwise surprising toward the end. Why read something when that initial surprise is gone? What’s the point if you know the ending?
Honestly, knowing the ending never bothers me when I reread. Perhaps it is because characters matter more to me than plot, but I don’t think that’s all of it.
Sometimes knowing the ending is a good thing. It allows you to focus on enjoying the experience of reading, the pleasure found in a good turn of phrase, and the well conceived setting and characters in the book. You don’t have to stress out about how it ends. You might even take some pleasure (you cruel, cruel person) in knowing what your characters do not. You know their fates.
Maybe that’s going a bit far. I don’t know. I find that knowing the ending when I start (so long as I discovered it for myself and it wasn’t ruined by someone before I got to it) doesn’t detract from a truly good story. A good book is a good book and will be a good book every time you come back to it.
Meeting Old Friends
The most comforting aspect of a good reread for me is that I feel like I am revisiting people that I have already gotten over the initial difficulties of meeting and getting to know. I don’t know about you, but I find meeting new people very stressful: that awkward stage when you have already exchanged names and now wonder what you have to say… that moment when you find out something about the other person that shocks or annoys you… that moment when all you really want to do is to figure out a good way to part company… Okay, so I like people, but I don’t like the meeting bit.
But after the first read, the heroes and heroines become my friends. I can enjoy the characters all the more because I know who they are. And I can continue to develop that friendship with the character more the second (and third, and fourth, and fifth…) time around.
And don’t tell me they’re not real people. They are.
I have one book that I read every year, usually in the summer. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett is historical fiction and my particular favorite. Every time I read it, I am drawn into the story again. I’ve read it over half a dozen times, but it doesn’t matter that I know every detail of the plot and I know what’s going to happen. What I love is re-experiencing the main character’s adventure. He’s an intimidatingly brilliant hero, but I feel like I know him pretty well by now, and I plan to keep renewing the acquaintance every year.
Next week, I think I’ll talk about what the experience of rereading can offer that is new, different, and ever-changing. Because that’s important too, you know.
But in the meantime, what do you think about rereading books? Do you enjoy it? Does it lose some of its magic once you know the ending? Do you feel connected to the characters or do they remain firmly affixed to the pages? Or are there simply too many good books to spare time for a reread?
Last weekend, I got to see another new movie. I feel very spoiled. Normally I wait for them to trickle their way down into the local dollar theater (which actually costs two dollars on weekends… I feel lied to) or just rent them later from Redbox. But not lately. Lately, I have been too eager to see these new films in theaters!
I went into Thor: The Dark World with mildly optimistic expectations. By optimistic, I mean that I expected to be entertained, if in a very shallow way, by lots of action and adventure and things being smashed by a hammer and Loki being an extraordinary villain(ish). That’s all I wanted. I had read a few reviews ahead of time that indicated the movie could be summed up as cheesy good fun and nothing more.
That is pretty much exactly what the second Thor movie is. It is funny, it is fun to watch, and it is pretty shallow entertainment, but not in a bad way. When we left the theater, though, I made a profound realization about this movie. And this is the profound realization that I made:
“The plot kind of sucked. If it hadn’t been for the characters, this would have been a horrible movie.”
Clearly, I am meant to be a movie critic because I think such deep thoughts.
But I stand by what I said. The plot is pretty silly. Without giving away anything crucial (although just to be safe, I’ll cry spoilers! so you can’t get mad at me), this is basically how it goes:
Ancient evil elves want to destroy the universe using glowy universe-destroying goo. Thor stops them. The end.
I know. Wow.
But despite the fact that the plot was not terribly enthralling and a lot of it was simply Thor tossing the hammer and angsting about saving his girl, it was still enjoyable. Why is that?
The answer is because of the characters. Or rather, because of some of the characters. Ironically, the main characters of this film, Thor and Jane, are not the strong ones. They don’t do any growing or character development during the movie and while they are both generally likable and decent characters, they were not the ones who had the audience laughing and deeply engaged throughout. Instead, the characters who held this movie together were several of the secondary characters.
One of the greatest fears we have when we go to see a sequel is that the idiot producers will look at what people liked in the first film and then overdo it in the second one (think: Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). In a way, this movie did take what was good in the first film and give us more, but in this case it actually worked.
The characters that I enjoyed in the first film, such as Jane’s friends Erik and Darcy, were even funnier and more charming in this film. They had a very strong supporting role and I cared more about them than I did about Jane. Again, I had no hard feelings toward the female lead, but she wasn’t what drew my attention.
Now, there was one other character who was extremely important, crucial even, for the success of this film. I’m not forgetting him. I’m just saving him for last.
Many people liked the first movie more for the villain than for the hero, and in this movie, the character Loki is improved upon, if that is even possible. He is even more sardonic and snarky and wounded and clever and interesting. If anyone grows in this film as a character, it is actually Loki, although I will not tell you that he becomes “good.” Watch it and see for yourself what happens with him. No spoilers from me. Suffice to say that Loki alone makes this movie worth watching.
Ultimately, this movie is about the characters more than it is about the story because, let’s face it, the story is pretty silly. Furthermore, this movie is about the secondary characters rather than about the title character or his lady love because, let’s face it, they’re nice and all but not that fantastic.
For someone who cares more about characters than plot, this film demonstrated something that I find is often very true for me as both a reader and a writer: characters are crucial. Do not create stock characters, stereotypes, and meaningless minions. Characters aren’t just there to walk through the story. We are people and so we want to engage with real people when we read (or watch) a story. Yes, the plot does matter. The plot matters a lot. But the characters are the ones to whom the plot happens, who make the decisions, who experience the adventures and intrigues, the ones we root for or can’t wait to see fail. We have to be able to like them or dislike them. We have to be able to remember them.
If we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the plot. The story will lose its impact, no matter how clever (or not!) it actually is.
So make the characters count.