Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saga of the Unemployed Historical Fiction Novelist

1st: This is my 100th post!! Very exciting. (At least for me.)

2nd: Thanks to everyone who has voted on my poll! I'm surprised so many of you want to hear me blab about my stories. Yes, that's what the My Writing/Characters option REALLY means. You have been warned.

3rd: I considered name this post "Amazon is Ruining My Dreams" but I realized that was over-dramatic, not Amazon's fault, and hey, I really do LOVE Amazon. (Not the river. The online store of awesome low prices.)

4th: I'm not really unemployed. I hold a small part-time job with a wonderful employer. I just lost my "big bucks" job with my not-quite-so-wonderful-employer, so, yeah...I feel unemployed.
5th: I could go on like this. How long would you read? I've heard people like to read lists.

6th: Really? Okay, now for the actual post.

Already, writers have this kind of stereotype:

But what happens when you add a history-lovin' and books-on-history-lovin' facet to this? Well. Things get ugly, when you get in as deep as I am.

My period is so scantily researched that all of the good information comes from very scholarly (and maybe starving themselves) people; not many people buy these kind of books, right? So the price skyrockets (even on the wonderful Amazon).

For example, what looks like a wonderful series of very detailed books (re-enacters on Amazon seem to love 'em, so I think they're just on the track I like): Medieval Finds from Excavations in London. The sad thing? The prices on Amazon are ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME. I am somewhat distraught. (I wish I could find a library that carries these so I could figure out if I like them $34-$50 worth, but I can't.)

Then I'm skimping for other books too, like New Oxford's Norman and Angevin Kings (which I posted pictures of on Friday). I was lucky to find that one for only $25. I was also lucky enough to pick up what look like spectacular books on Half-Price books, and am again scouring the depths of Amazon for a few other books in reasonable price ranges. (Having looked at those expensive babies, Amazon now thinks I'm a rich historian and is giving me a wide range of highly expensive historical clothing books.)

Then, for this program this year, I also bought two Great Courses (highly highly recommended resource for people who just plain love learning), which were on sale, but still not QUITE cheap.

Nobody told me that writing historical fiction can have high monetary research costs. So, I'll tell you.

Writing historical fiction can have high monetary research costs.

Now you know.

100 Birthday Cake Image Source.
Blah Image Source.
Money Image Source (edited by me)
Amazon Logo from Wikipedia.
Starving Writer Image Source.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Christian Writers: Limits

In my last post, I discussed how Christian writers need to tell the truth--to acknowledge that darkness exists and then show the Light.

Putting it like this can be seen both as a crippling limitation (do I have to yell “Jesus is Lord” in every single one of my books?) and as a freedom (so I can write any darkness I want as long as I stick Jesus’s name in the middle of it?).

To me, the answers are No and No.

As I now stand in my understanding, it is a legitimate calling for someone to write more “ambiguous” Truth. That is, to write something that awakens that hunger FOR Light, that shows some of that Light (coming from a true source--from the things of God) contrasted with the Darkness and makes the reader think: “I wish there was really light like that. I wonder if there is...”

On the other side, some people are called to be blatant, to reach the people that are closer to really wanting the light. I don’t mean preach--too much Christian fiction does that already--but to SHOW even more clearly WHERE Truth, Light, and Fulfillment really stem from: to SHOW unabashedly true Christian living and unabashedly point to the Savior of the world.

It’s up to each writer to figure out where their calling is, or even specifically what their calling for a particular book is. Forest of Lies is blatant; Quintessence is subtler. Both depend on the needs and knowledge of their main characters for their orientation.

Then as to the “freedom” to write “any darkness” you want as long as you mention Jesus. I believe this also calls for careful prayer and thought by each writer, but at the same time, I don’t think the rule for any of us is “anything goes.”

I once debated someone who stuck to the motto that “if it’s needed for the story, I put it in.” As I remember, it didn’t matter to him if the “needed” thing for the story was carefully described torture or sex. Also, any curse words are okay. I asked him how he decided what was “needed.” He never really gave me an answer.

My priorities are more like this: if someone is tortured, show more of the effects than actually engaging in the torture by gruesomely describing it. I have a very visual imagination. If I read something with any kind of gore described in detail, I will have those details bothering me for months afterwards. Is the torture really the “necessity” or is what causes the torture--which I believe should always have to do with conflicting ideals and values--or the after-effects of the torture? (Both mix in Forest of Lies.)

Then, as far as sex and cursing (I mean mainly the ones with truly bad meanings and taking God’s name in vain), I think of the verse about being a “stumbling block” for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ--and again, just getting images and words in other people’s heads that really shouldn’t be there. When I write, I don’t deny the existence of sin, but I don’t spell it out, either; I allude to it. Again, I focus on the effect of sinful action (which is really the point anyway), not the sin itself. If I focus too closely on the sin, it’s almost like engaging in it. Jesus ate with sinners; He didn't commit sin.

As a Christian writer, those are my limits. What are yours? Do you have any?

If Jesus showed up at your door and asked to read your story, what would you say?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Christian Writers: Balancing Darkness and Light

In general, darkness in literature is seen as “real life,” and discussions of cutting, rape, and homosexuality are commonplace. It’s what’s “hot” in YA literature--if not in literature in general. I’m part of inkpop, a site built for amateur writers of YA literature, and it is rife with stories about forbidden love, scandal, sin--the darkness of the world. The country-wide outcry over Meghan Cox Gurdon’s “Darkness Too Visible” is also evidence of the call for the “reality” of darkness in literature.

On the other side of the coin, you have the Christian label, which is stereotyped (probably rightly so) as being cheesy, unrealistic, and badly written.

For awhile, I had a conflicted mindset about what exactly the Christian writer should write. One verse constantly came to mind when I debated what exactly should and should not be included in Christian fiction. It’s this.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.
-Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

If we’re supposed to think--mediate--on things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy--can a Christian novelist write, with a clear conscience, a torture scene? Can we write about rape? Prostitution? Illegitimacy?

I thought that we, as writers, were squatting dangerously on the edge of a precipice, having to fight against falling into things that were dark, growing too close to the sufferings instead of the victories of our heroes, falling in love with the villains instead of the heroes...focusing on wasn’t noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy...because, let’s face it, that would make a boring story. Can we write about what’s dark--what’s “real”--without becoming too entranced by what is evil? It is our nature to love darkness instead of light, because our deeds are evil...and yet we are called to be the salt and light to the world.

How could I write good stories and still follow the Bible? I couldn’t think of a way to justify myself against that verse.

It took me awhile to realize that I didn’t need to. Read it again.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true...

There is a reason darkness is equated with "real."Evil IS reality. Evil is true. Evil exists because of lies, but it is a Truth that it exists. If you ignore evil, if you write stereotypical Christian fiction, you aren’t telling the truth. If you ignore Goodness, Truth, Light, Nobility, aren’t telling the truth. Stereotypical Christian fiction ignores the dark in the world, and secular fiction the light. Neither one has real, powerful, awesome, Truth.

Christian writers should learn to tell the Truth. We need to learn to show the contrast between darkness and light; contrast makes light that much more powerful. We should be unafraid to say: yes, there is Darkness. I know what it looks like. I know how the world works. I know you live in Sin and Darkness. But listen. There’s a Light.

And it’s beautiful.

Image Source (Blocked by my internet safety)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weekend Fun (Well, Maybe)

Hullo, readers!

I have lots of ideas for posts tumbling around my head--so I thought I'd ask you all where you like to see me go. I've put up a poll, but I'm also writing it here in case you have specific reasons for picking any of the categories.

They are as follows...

-Christianity In General
-Christianity in Writing
-Researching Historical Fiction
-Resources for Historical Fiction
-Writing and Writers
-My Writing/Characters
-Other Fiction I Like (and Why)
-What the heck happened to your Robin Hood posts and book reviews?

It's okay if you don't have an opinion...then I'll just write whatever I'm interested in and hope it interests you, too.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 22, 2011

You Know You're a Historical Fiction Novelist...

...of an obscure, hard-to-research time period, when finally owning THIS... supremely awesome.

Just sharing my joy.


Images owned by me.


First: This is a “lighter fare” post, but as for the coming posts, I’ll be writing on this conflicted creature (well, maybe not conflicted--but I know I used to be!), the Christian novelist, and more on the research, process, and etc. of writing historical fiction.


So, you all should already know that I am a Traitor and am writing a sci-fi novel now instead of historical fiction (I’m still hoping to work on editing Forest of Lies, however). But, in case you’re wondering what I’m up to, and because I’m an author and like people to know what I’m working on, here’s some of the basics of my novel Quintessence.


Hero: Hywel, a fourteen-year-old boy.
Genre: Dystopian/Sci-Fi/Futuristic
Name inspiration: Okay, no, not telling. You have to read it. (Once I release it.)
Status: Ready for Chapter 2 of the rough draft; 2,800 words so far.
Projected Length: 12 chapters, 25,000-50,000 words.
Hywel's always asked questions. But no one's ever gotten angry, no one's ever been sent to his house to straighten him out over them. No one's ever died. His questions have never been worth bothering about.

But now they are. Now, Management is standing at his door. Now, people are dying. Now, his questions are too big, too dangerous. They threaten The Good Life. They threaten Hywel's life. They threaten the lives of his friends. But really, he's only asking one thing. Why is it such a big deal? Why will Management stop do anything to stop him questioning? It's really only one question. One small, simple question.

What is quintessence?
First page:
My grandfather’s dead. That doesn’t sit that well with The Good life, however, so my parents will fix it.

I’m not even supposed to know he’s dead, but I have a habit of tinkering with the old comp, thinking that if I jiggle enough wires, the Internet just might be resurrected. That’s why my parents didn’t see me when they came into the Main Room--I lay bunched up underneath the comp desk with my hand tangled in a nest of wires.

“It’s just so--shocking, Nelson. I can’t--can’t cope,” my mother said in a breathy voice. “People don’t die anymore!”

“Look, Agnes,” my father said. “It says on the box that we only have to call for Management, mention a dustbin, and it’ll all be sorted.”
God bless your weekend!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Researching Historical Fiction: The Balance

This last weekend, I began real work on constructing my history curriculum for next year. The focus is England during the 11th-13th centuries, with specific focus in the late 12th for daily life and the way society works. Though I will be doing some broad stretches of what I call the “politics” of history--kings, wars, the Norman invasion, those crusades, the Magna Carta--mostly I’m building it to study the time period of my novel (that is, Forest of Lies) deeply. For about 3 or 4 hours, I specifically went looking through a web of sites to see what might be helpful.

As I did this work, I had to be wary of two things: 1) reading all the stuff NOW because it sounds so interesting and 2) going to deep or to far. By the second one, I mean I’m such a history buff that though I’ve given myself three centuries already, I’m also drawn to the Anglo-Saxon time in England, and have to keep myself from pick up lots of books on that. Then too, while looking at suggested books on one site for clothing, I got reeled in a bit too close as I read reviews of books by people who do re-enactment. The same thing could’ve easily happened with books on medieval art and medieval cookery...the very fact that such experts exists makes me almost want to become an expert too.

Studying those two habits of mine, I’ve come to a bit of a conclusion: the historical fiction novelist has an interesting balance to keep. One, we must become experts. Two, we can’t become experts.

Let me explain. There are clothing experts, cooking experts, art experts, music experts, politics experts, church experts, architecture experts...the list goes on for miles. It is, to put it simply, quite impossible for one person to become an expert in all of these fields. People spend their whole lives on just one...something novelists can’t do. For one thing, we’re already a bit committed to be writing experts. So, we have to be knowledgeable in many fields at the same time, not going too deep into any for fear of jilting the others. Jack of all trades, master of none.

While the experts on medieval history get to submerge themselves in a particular field, novelists have to go knee-deep in many. We have to know what we’re talking about so we can stick to that ever-important “historically accurate” and so we can communicate with a readers in a way that brings a period fully to life. It’s a tricky and interesting balance to keep among the many facets of life in historical times--but maybe, by so doing, we actually get a bigger picture of life as a whole in that period...and really, isn’t that what we want? People in that time period didn’t walk around studying each other’s clothes and say “yep, it’s definitely the time when dresses get tighter fits, now!” They understood their own clothes, the workings of the church, the laws, manors and cities. They didn’t necessarily see their time period in comparison with a dozen others.

They lived and dreamed. And it’s the job of the historical fiction writer to recreate that, knowledgeably and respectfully.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Things That Make Me Happy

Great Courses...

Books on England, the Middle Ages, or both...

Castles built in the 12th century...


Period-accurate clothing...

What started it all...

Still a historical fiction buff? Yeeeah, I'd say so.

All images belong to me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Historical Fiction Dialogue

The dilemma of dialogue in historical fiction can be summed up in two words: expectations and readability. (Readers don’t care much about accuracy, really; they usually have expectations about time periods, not actual facts.)

When you write the dialogue of medieval characters, especially if you go as far back as the twelfth century, you are directly confronted with these issues. First, readers have expectations about what the characters should “sound like” from this time period. Secondly, while dealing with these expectations, the writer knows if he writes a truly accurate dialogue between characters, the reader will not understand a single word (people in the twelfth century spoke Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, and a mixture of the two. Sorry, not just “thou” and “thee” we’re dealing with here).

Comments I got on dialogue in Forest of Lies were always one of these two:

1. I like your dialogue. It’s fresh and real.

2. Your dialogue seems a bit modern sometimes.

Often, it was the two combined. I met the readability but not the expectations. They wanted it to sound more archaic--their idea of archaic. I’m still trying to make up my mind about how and where to soften Marian’s dialogue and where to leave it alone. I haven’t completely figured out how to work with historical dialogue, but I do have some specific principles that I use.

1. Eliminate words that are obviously from the last 20-30 years (at least in their modern usage). “Cool”, “okay”, “neat”, “guys”...Take out the obvious.

2. Find some words that will add a bit of the archaic to your world. I use “aye” in place of “yes.” If you’re lucky and using a time when people really did speak English more as we know it today, find words that they really used--especially in place of words that we would use (the same goes for characters that speak, say, German or French: a few replacement words).

3. Think more formally. We have this perception (whether true or not) that everything about 19th century and older had a more formal taste to it. If you make your characters more eloquent than the average person, they will probably sound like they’re from an older time period.

4. Read books from the same time period and see how those authors tackle it, what words they use to make it sound older. (This will also give you a good idea of what readers are expecting from a book set in this period.)

5. DON’T SQUASH CHARACTERS WITH PERIOD WORDS. Let them talk. Yes, they’re from a different time period. They’re still people. Especially in the first draft, let the characters shine through. You may need to go through later and take their “groovy”s away, but if you’re worrying about them the first time through, it’s going to hinder their development. Then, even after this, you may decide to let them sound more modern, like I currently have with Marian. If you’re going to lose who they are by changing the way they talk, I’m against changing the way they talk. I don’t know if that’s right, but that’s how I roll--and my readers seem to like it. Be true to the characters, be true to yourself.

It’s a lot about balance. It’ll take a bit to find out where you need to balance on expectations, readability, and reality; I’m still working on it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Fun: 13 Random Things About Me

I’ve been pretty serious lately, so now it’s time for some fun. At least, I hope it’ll be fun. You readers see a lot of what’s on my heart and mind, but what about those quirky externals? Well, here are some of those.

1. I have one kitty named Holly, who is sleek, black, tiny but long, and good ol’ farm-cat stock. No, I don’t live on a farm. She’s adorable and sweet and is the most NON-independent cat I’ve ever seen.

2. I have seven younger siblings. Six girls, one boy (smack in the middle!). Yes, he has a hard time finding people to throw a football with him, but on the plus side, he has a LOT of girls to giggle at his jokes.

3. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I will defend Frodo Baggins as one of the most amazing characters ever until the very death. That’s because I read the books, folks. Two dozen times, probably. (Not dissing the movies...they’re awesome...they’ve just given Frodo a bad name.)

4. I’m horrible at keeping a journal or diary. I have a really nice journal I bought for has about 200 pages...I’ve written in about half...and I started it in May 2007. Yes, I am THAT bad.

5. I spent more money on Shakespeare memorabilia than anything else while I was in England.

6. I own 5 copies of Hamlet (four books, 1 DVD), three copies of The Chronicles of Narnia (2 book sets, 1 Radio Theatre set), and 12 copies of various Robin Hoods (8 different book versions, 2 that are doubles, 1 TV season, 1 movie). I also co-own 5 Doctor Who seasons.

7. I grew up on VeggieTales, Dr. Suess, Adventures in Odyssey, Liberty’s Kids, and Narnia.

8. I have a fencing foil on my wall. Be afraid.

9. I have played violin for 8 years and adore being in orchestra. I am, however, taking a break this year.

10. I saw Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate and IT. WAS. AMAZING.

11. One Year Adventure Novel changed my life.

12. I’m not ginger.

13. I really, really love blogging.

God bless your weekend!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Character Lounges: The Helpful Curse

The character (or “charrie”) lounge is something of an OYAN forum phenomenon, so I’ll explain. Usually, you get two to five other forum members, create a scenario relating to one of your books (or to none of your books), shove in a couple of characters apiece, and then have them interact. It’s rather like a role-playing games, I believe. The idea is that in a strange scenario with strange characters and other authors, you develop your characters better.

To some extent, it works. I used to be a great proponent of the “Charrie Lounge Cure” which turned flat, uninteresting characters into masterpieces (no, I didn’t ever actually say that).

But the great character lounge cure turned out to be rather like the internet--a curse as much as a blessing, something that the more you give to it, the less it gave back.

There was a point in 2009 where I was involved in several character lounges, one of them more of a role-playing than usual (it was actually written in third person instead of like instant messaging), I ended up spending HOURS just going back and forth between the other members of the lounges. I skipped between them and school, stayed up late at night, and eventually ended in a part-parental part-me break from the OYAN forum for a solid 3 months. How much did I write in this time period? As I remember it: absolutely nothing.

I had fallen into the trap of using my favourite characters only (instead of ones that really needed developing) and used it even as an escape from the stress of school assignments. It filled a void in my life that I usually would have filled with writing real books: it became my only writing, my only way of releasing the emotion. In truth, it became an escape. It was a way to write without really having to work.

Why am I writing this? I know other writers, at least on the forum, fall into the same trap. It’s non-committal, easy writing...especially if you only use favorite, developed characters! There’s no point in that. Yes, you might figure out something new after 50 pages of posting, but is it really worth all that time?

Instead, I suggest an alternative: faster, more exciting, and even more helpful. Live Character Chats. I’m serious. One of my best-loved characters, Much from Forest of Lies, developed at a startling rate through live character chats with fellow authors. He turned from a snobby, annoying character to one full of life and love, the character everybody (except one, that I know of) loved. Instant messaging with characters is fast, wild, and surprising. It develops faster than lounges, demands answers in split seconds that let the characters surface, and all and all, takes less time.

The other alternative (in case you live in an alternate universe or something that doesn’t have instant messaging--or you just don’t have friends who will do that sort of thing with you) is this: write your book. Simple and hard. Write your book. Let the characters know they’re free to take control (within reason)--and see where they take you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where's the Still, Small Voice?

Four of my younger siblings just finished up VBS (vacation Bible school) with my grandmother’s church. I like the church (I actually like the church better than all of the “normal” churches I’ve been in the last few years), I like the people there, and I like the people who drove from North Carolina to put on this VBS. But...

All I’ve heard for the last three days about VBS goes something along these lines: “well, the other team brought more tithe in so they won again,” and “I brought a guest so I got 10,000 personal points” and “my cousin and I threw a water balloon the farthest without breaking it so we got five dollars” and “because we lost there weren’t many prizes so I got this one because it was the only one I was kind of interested in” and “Granny, I need a Bible so I can get more points!” and “if my cousin had just brought her five dollar bill, they would have won!”

And on and on. That’s all I’ve heard about VBS. Prizes and games and contests: winners and losers. The closest it’s come to anything Biblical was my five-year-old sister smoothing out a crumpled cross with stickers and her name on it.

“Why’s it a cross?” she asks her eight-year-old sister.
“Because Jesus died on a cross.”
“Oh. Well really, it has my name on it so people know it’s mine.” Pause. “Adelle died on the cross!” She laughs.

Now, my sister can be a bit of an airhead and might’ve missed the explanation. But I can’t help wondering. What is the point of VBS? Anything Biblical they were given was swallowed up in prizes. Prizes, games, winners, losers. It’s the same with Sunday school, whenever we venture into the Church-in-a-box. Except even worse: then they bribe my siblings into asking my parents to come back. More points, more prizes.

Not just to pick on children’s church. Even in this little Baptist church that I like, they segment things by ages: teens aren’t mature enough to be with the adults, apparently (do we have a different Jesus?). Then there’s the small megachurch near my home with the deafening music, flashing lights, huge buildings, and unwavering scheduling.

I’m not against making a joyful noise unto the Lord...but I honestly can’t make anything joyful amidst all the flashy noise. I can’t feel right volunteering to knock on doors for VBS (even if it is “contending for the faith” as I’m told in Teen’s Sunday School [I don’t suppose writing Christian novels or asking God where he wants you is worth as much as knocking on doors to bolster attendance]) when all VBS has filled the kids’ heads with is greed. You tithe to beat the other team and get a first go at the prize table. Not because you pray and ask God where He wants His money--heaven forbid we don’t support our pastor and air conditioning!

What in the world do we think we’re doing? Impressing others? Impressing the children? Impressing God?

Does it ever occur to us that maybe we should shut up and listen--and teach children to do the same?

Image from free image site (GospelGifs)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lessons from Doctor Who: Heart > Mind

The REAL trump card in any story is emotion. I know I said “character trumps everything” but good characters are intertwined with good emotion. When you compare the Davies (2005-2009) and Moffat (2010-present) eras of Doctor Who, you have, for me, the striking contrast of LOVE and like, brought about by stories that engaged my heart and stories that only engage my mind.

I like Matt Smith/Eleven. I like Moffat’s writing (I more than liked his writing in the Ten and Nine years). I like the interactions of the characters. I like to watch it. I feel like a like teenager with all those “likes” but I think I’ve made my point.

When I go back to the Davies era, though, you hit my love. I love the Tenth Doctor. I love Donna. I love Rose. I love Donna-Doctor interactions and Rose-Doctor interactions. I love watching it. And rewatching it. And re-rewatching it.

I’m something of an anomaly when it comes to Moffat Doctor Who, I admit it (I expect to get jumped all over, yet again, for posting this), but this Whovian doesn’t feel the same tug at her heart she got used to in the Davies seasons.

For me, the Moffat era has become more of an intellectual puzzle: a mystery. He drops clues for long periods of time, keeping you wondering and picking up the pieces, trying awkwardly to get them to fit together--then BLAM. Revelation! You know how you were wrong and how you were right and how it all fits together. You sit back and think about how clever he was to make all those strange pieces splice together so wonderfully and unexpectedly. Puzzles are fun and satisfying: hence, I still like Moffat’s Doctor Who.

But. While Davies’s finales were apt to be wonky and a bit slipshod sometimes, the characters were more captivating and thus drew more emotion. Ten (and even Nine) were easier to care about than Eleven--nothing against him, I just can’t relate anymore. You can describe Ten as angsty and bipolar--I don’t care. I actually cared about what happened to him and to his companions (even annoying Martha!), probably for two reasons 1) I liked them as people and 2) He showed obvious care for them.

I honestly don’t care that much about what happens to Eleven, Rory, and Amy. The most I felt was: “ack” when Rory died (multiple times) in series 5, a bit of “how do they get out of THIS one?” in [big series 6 spoiler], and “ack” again at the end of Almost People. I’d like to care more. I think the characters are interesting. But I don’t really care if they keel over. (The episodes where I did care about characters--Vincent and the Doctor, A Christmas Carol, The Doctor's Wife--were all episodes where the character I cared about didn't really come back.)

That’s a far cry from the tears I shed over Rose and Donna (I love you, Donna), and absolute freak-out in 42 and Midnight.

Not to get into the just plain fun aspect. Series 4 alone probably brought more laughter and tears than series 5 and 6.1 put together. So...I suppose this is a slightly depressing post. It’s true though, and the change in Doctor Who has showed me how much more it MATTERS to have that Someone (or Someones) to Care About than to have a cool plot and even cool characters. Bowties (and Eleven) may be COOL...but no one ever cried over cool.


P.S. This ends the Doctor Who invasion of my blog. I think. (And you hope.) At any rate, there are no more posts bouncing in my head at the mo’.

Image found via google images. No copyright infringement intended.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I am a Traitor

Really, I am. I just realized this. And I figured it's about time I let you all know. Why am I a traitor? Well, this:

It's a banner. A banner for my new book. Which is not, unfortunately, Worthless renamed.It's completely different.

And it's completely sci-fi.

Well, maybe not completely. But definitely related in no way to Robin Hood, medieval England, and historical fiction. It's futuristic, dystopian.

I know, painful, isn't it? Here I go and blog for a year about writing historical fiction and Robin Hood and all that good stuff...and then my brain goes and thinks up this.

But wait! Don't run or panic. I'm still studying 12th century England AND even putting together my own history curriculum to help me out in my senior year. Yes, I WILL be sharing any juicy info I find with you all--after all, you're part of the plan too. Part of my curriculum is blogging. I know, I'm a homeschooler, I have epicly awesome parents who let me do things like that. I'll be making my dress, I'll be reading books, watching Great Courses lectures, and letting you know where to look for the thin, scarcely-researched time frame called 12th century England (and 11th and 13th, because I can't resist the lure of the Magna Carta and the Norman Invasion). I might even dig further into theories about the Robin Hood legend. And, of course, I'll still be READING Robin Hood. Old habits die hard, you know.

I just thought you should know that amidst the year of becoming a greater scholar on 12th century England and the great outlaw, I will be writing sci-fi. I will be writing Quintessence. At least, I think I will.

I never really know with God. I think he pointed out to me that Gervais story was on the wrong track and that I'd have to back up and rethink it, and then I think he nudged me towards this new one. I never know when he'll nudge me back again.

So you see, I'm not really a traitor. I'm just trying to follow His will and write for Him. Because although Quintessence is in no way related to medieval England, Robin Hood, and historical fiction (besides the way it uses Hamlet), it's completely related to God (and adventure. Nothing is adventure if you know where you're going!). It's about Truth. The value of Man. The sovereignty of our Lord. The costs of Truth and the rewards.

And what a great weapon it is. The greatest. Everything evil comes from a lie, from believing a lie. Everything good comes from Truth and believing the Truth.

So yes, I'm a traitor. But only a traitor to my "historical fiction writer" label. Because, you see, there's another label that overrides everything else. Know what that one is?



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lessons from Doctor Who: The Doctor

With my last post, I scratched the surface of what I believe has made Doctor Who such a fabulous and endlessly popular show: the wonderful character(s) that inhabit it. "S" is in parenthesis because sometimes the character playing opposite are amazing (DONNA) and sometimes so-so. The Doctor, however, is usually wonderful. I'm going to list some things I think make him a great character--I'm mostly fixing on the Tenth incarnation because he's the one that got me hooked and stayed the longest that I've watched, though some of these descriptions fit Nine and Eleven as well. (More on Eleven later.)

1. Zany.
Go ahead, laugh. I do. There's something awesome about going on a trip with a character who might be--who is--just the slightest bit crazy. Saving the earth every two weeks is serious stuff--but if this show only admitted that, and nothing else, it would probably bore us to tears. The Doctor is wild, a bit unpredictable, and almost always outrageously funny. He confuses his enemies by talking at rapid speeds, scares his companions by yelling "OH!" (poor Donna), has at least one zingy one-liner per episode, and yes, licks things.

2. Hurting.
When I finished watching the somewhat infamous "Partners in Crime," I wrote a journal entry about it. Now, it takes a lot to have me write a journal entry about anything. I'm halfway through a 200-page journal I started in May 2007. Enough said. Anyway, I mentioned that the flying fat things were a bit strange, but there was something in his (misunderstood) plea to Donna Noble at the end that resonated with me: he's lonely. Heartbreakingly so. It's mostly him, his TARDIS, and the human companions that come and go. And they, he says, "break my heart." He's the sole survivor of a war the culminated in the extinction of his race, something he feels extremely guilty about. He needs people to travel with him, yet at the same time knows that he will eventually lose all of them.

3. Loving life.
You'd think that someone as hurt as the Doctor would just crawl into a hole and sulk. But he doesn't. He goes out there, saves universes, loves his friends, loves traveling, loves discovery, loves life. He doesn't let what hurts him stop him. In that he doesn't only avoid becoming a drag to follow around, but he becomes admirable.

4. Arrogant.
Ain't gonna lie: this is probably the Doctor's biggest character flaw. He manages to get away with it most of the time because we love him so dang much and because he does seem to have rights to arrogance. He's really good at saving the world and he knows it. He has a tendency to do something of this sort: "okay, I'm cleverest here, I'm now in charge!" It's also this arrogance that helps push him into the messes that are "Midnight" and "Waters of Mars."

5. Confident & Courageous.
The flipside of his arrogance is his confidence: it's sometimes hard to tell which he's demonstrating. He walks into alien confrontations so sure of himself that the other aliens are baffled into listening. He time and time again puts himself in between the attackers and the attackees with a devil-may-care "get past ME first." This quality and the next four have a tendency to run together, but I'm going to go ahead and list them separately.

6. Defender of the weak.
I've always found it ironic that in a secular show that attempts to tote evolution, tolerance, all that good politically correct stuff, has a main character who is defying evolution and the survival-of-the-fittest policy. According to "New Earth" it's good for humans to "evolve"--but according to every attack on our earth, it is NOT good for humans to become Daleks, Cybermen, you name it. The Doctor defends the weak. There's no way around that.

7. Merciful.
Any alien the Doctor goes against, if it's capable of being reasoned with (some are, some aren't--Daleks, anyone?), gets a chance to back down, get away, find a new planet. Often times he even offers to help by way of his TARDIS to get them to another planet. They always get at least one shot to reform; he doesn't kill unless it's absolutely necessary in defense of others.

8. Determined & Morally Grounded.
Coupled with that "one warning" is his fury over injustice. He's not a weakling. He gives people doing evil a chance at reform, and then when they continue in their evil, he stops them. He doesn't say "oh, it's okay because you have a different idea of right and wrong" but instead says (through action): "what you're doing is WRONG and I'M going to STOP you." The mercy and the determination to do what's right combine together to create a strong, moral main character that defies the worldview of his own writers. We love characters that know what's right and what's wrong...and stand up for right. Always.

9. Self-Sacrificing.
This really tags along the very end of the last quality--especially a character in defiance of the worldview of the writers. If the only way to stop evil from prevailing--or even to keep one innocent person from dying--is to die himself, he will go that far. Sometimes he even sacrifices his own happiness for the benefit in others, seen especially in "Journey's End." The Christ-like attitude demonstrated in so many episodes is truly baffling, showing, I think, the longing that every person has for someone that gives up everything for others, even if they don't deserve it.

10. Complex.
So, that's a few qualities about the Doctor that make him fascinating, lovable, identifiable, and many other -bles. But what is perhaps most awesome of all is that the more you watch of him, the more you grow to understand him--and the more he grows and changes, like a real person living a real life. As I was writing this post, it kept growing and growing as I thought of more and more things...which shows how many different aspects add to his complexity.

If you want to know what makes a great character, I suggest looking at the Doctor, what balances him, what appeals to us about him. Hey!--no pressure, he's only one of my top 3 favourite characters ever. (Okay, loads of pressure--it's hard to top the Doctor!)

In a nutshell, that is how Doctor Who survives its plot and alien silliness: one fantastic main character.


Once again, all images found via google and most likely pinched in some way, shape, or form from the awesomeness of BBC. I'm not sure who made the moving one because my internet safety blocks the site--but isn't it AWESOME?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons from Doctor Who: Character Trumps Everything

Let me set a scene.

Open to inside of some kind of vessel, or room, which has a glowing console in the middle, overflowing with gadgets and tended by a man in a blue suit and interesting ideas about hair styling.

Noise: sound of large ship. IMPACT! Man in blue suit goes flying, prow of a ship and accompanying sounds appear through the walls of the room. Dust settles.

Man: What? WHAT? [cough] [crawls to life saver on floor. flips it over. TITANIC] [looks up] ...what.

Man in blue suit with funky hair is able to somehow "pedal" the ship back out of his wall. Blue box materializes in Titanic. Man walks out of blue box wearing black suit with hands stuffed in pockets, chin lifted.There are small red people running around. Goes to window. Oh wait, we're above earth. Flying in space. In the Titanic.

Man: Riiight...

Cue strange music and a blue box flying through a colorful vortex.

Sound strange? It gets even better (worse?), as we encounter "Heavenly Hosts" that malfunction and then start killing people with their halos, a millionaire with only a head and very shiney tooth, a couple dressed in purple cowboy get-up, a pretty waitress who wants to see the stars, a terrorized London in Christmas Eve, among more cacophonies of strange characters and plot turnings.

This is my favourite show. But it seems, by this episode, to be worthy of being no one's favourite show. Admittedly, it stands among the worser Doctor Who episodes ever concocted (I do not say THE worse. I'm looking at you, Love and Monsters.) This episode, however, holds a tinge of nostalgic for me, because this is where I started.

My sister and I ended this episode, I think, with the same conclusion: this show is really strange, but we like that guy who walks strange, talks British, and is apparently 903 years old. Our liking even survived what I now think of brilliant but then thought as astronomically stupid (really, it's both) next episode, Partners in Crime.

The show Doctor Who demonstrates, I believe, the extreme power of character in any story. It also shows the importance of good dialogue and writing, but there are dips when the show has neither, and even when the plots are good, they still hold a measure of extreme silliness (don't try and deny it, Whovians--you know it's true!).

My sister and I attempted those next episodes and got hooked on the story for basically one reason: the Doctor. He holds the entire show together. Without him, the show is not worth watching. With a character as good as the Doctor you can survived stupid plots, stupider plots, silly aliens, plot holes, sillier aliens, even stupider plots, bad acting, gaps in logic, and a huge arsenal of other things that writers might think of as necessary to keep readers or watchers hooked. No, really, all you need is a complex character that we love to follow (though great plots and questions certainly help), even through all time and space.

So, a lesson from Doctor Who: there is absolutely nothing more important in a compelling story than your characters. Doctor Who is living proof. And the fact that it's still living is itself an amazing feat: 49 years, and still going strong. That's not merely luck.


All images found through google images, and probably pinched in some way or form from the BBC. As I'm analyzing and advertising their show, I hope they don't mind.
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