So, it turns out that I left out some character types from my last post! And it’s becoming a tradition for me to publish 2-part posts–and on that note, Part 2 of A Few Note About Christine Daae is coming up, so stay tuned. 🙂
But for now, on to the character types!
The Responsible Eldest Sibling
Without, being over-protective, mind; it is possible to be responsible without being neurotic. Right, siblings of mine?
Anyway, I greatly respect the eldest child who takes the responsibility and power that comes with being the firstborn. Younger siblings are watching, and they will pick up on the attitudes and actions of the eldest. The eldest child also is the first to take on more chores, the first to drive the car, the first to have to balance school and social life, and so on–and therefore, they can help teach those things to the younger kids. Also, I have a thing for protective characters.
Katniss Everdeen fits this category, as does Gale Hawthorne (if you’ve read the books, you know that he has younger brothers and one sister). So does Peter Pevensie, Maedhros from The Silmarillion (to a degree), Rachel Lennox from Dancing Shoes, Roberta from The Railway Children, Ben and Polly Pepper from Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Ben is the eldest, but he and Polly share the responsibilities of looking after the younger children), Dominick Rigonda from The Island Queen, and Sir Percy Ashwell from Elisabeth Allen’s The Abolitionist.
The Cynical Softie
This is the guy who seems hard, bitter, and tough, “like an India-rubber ball,” as Mr. Rochester says, but who is really a softie at heart, more caring than he lets on, and was perhaps hopeful and idealistic before he got knocked around by life. This doesn’t excuse his behavior, by any means–but it does mean there’s more to him than meets the eye. And it means the potential for redemption as well.
Sydney Carton is probably the poster boy for this type, but Mr. Rochester fits the bill too. Puddleglum from The Silver Chair also fits this category; he isn’t exactly cynical, though he does believe in taking a serious view of life. But he looks after Jill and Eustace with determination and puts very odd twists of cheerfulness on the situation–because one good thing about being stuck underground is that you don’t get any rain.
To be honest, I fit the category of softhearted cynic. ‘Cause life is a total bed of roses, don’t you know. But even in this sin-cursed world, there is hope and light and happiness. And I love those ever-optimistic characters who remind me (and readers) of that truth.
The optimist is the guy who can’t be discouraged for very long. He always hopes–always, even after being disappointed multiple times. He may develop a slightly less rose-colored view of the world as the story goes on, but he refuses to be beaten down and given into despair. He can always find a reason to be cheerful–and a reason to persevere.
Sam Gamgee is definitely one example; Pippin Took is another; and Bilbo Baggins has shades of this in The Hobbit. Other characters of this type are Caspian and Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Outgoing & Bookish
This is the character who is definitely an extrovert, but who isn’t the empty-headed, party kid stereotype. On the contrary, this characters loves to be around other people, but loves to read and learn just as much. They handle their problems, goals, hobbies, and conflicts differently than the introverted characters–but they are no less intelligent and focused.
Unfortunately, I can’t think too many characters who fit this label except the ones I’ve written (writers–be nicer to extroverts, please.) I consulted with Gingersnap, and she came up with Nim from the movie Nim’s Island (yes, it’s a book too, but I’ve seen only the movie). Edmund Pevensie also fits this type–he’s stated outright to have read several detective novels, but he also is the sort to say what’s on his mind. And then after the events of Prince Caspian, Caspian himself is far more outgoing than he once was, but he was also bookish to a degree when young. Also Jane Porter from the Disney cartoon Tarzan and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey. And Anne from Anne of Green Gables.
The Sharp Wit
Have I mentioned I love a sharp wit? From the outgoing sassmasster to the deadpan snarker, I love quick-minded characters. This guy is never at a loss for words, but rather than being a blabbermouth, his lines are clever and witty. And he often makes a good point about the situation (though his remarks can easily turn into complaining). No matter what situation or argument you throw at this guy, he can fire back an answer and usually dismantle your point in the process.
Tony Stark fits the outgoing sassmaster type (though he does overlap with Deadpan Snarker as well), and so does Legolas from The Lord of the Rings (this may come as a surprise–but read his dialogue again. He’s not exactly the subtle, deadpan type!). Also Peter Parker/Spiderman, and Anakin Sykwalker.
More character than I can name fit the deadpan snarker category: Haymitch Abernathy, Sydney Carton, Captain America, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff, Bruce Banner, Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester, Edmund Pevensie, Aragorn, Merry, sometimes Gandalf, Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Selena Kyle, The Phantom of the Opera, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Eames and Arthur from the film Inception, and so many others that I can’t recall all their names.
And believe me, I write this type of character too.
The Reasonable Authority Figure
Authorities get a bad rap in fiction, don’t they? They’re often overbearing, un-listening, and always block the protagonist’s path. If they’re fat and they have a mustache, you know they’re a bad guy. And if he’s a bigwig in charge of a lot of companies/employees/whatever, he’s bound to let it go to his head.
Which is why I love the reasonable authority figure. He is dedicated to his job, but also willing to listen to the protagonist. (Which is no easy feat; lest’s face it, the trouble protagonists run into are often really, really hard to prove and convince others of.) And though he’s patient with the main character, he will not hesitate to call out our hero if he’s being a jerk.
James Green from Mercy Street fits this type. So does Doctor Thorne from the TV drama of the same name (yes, I know it’s a Trollope novel too, but I haven’t read it). Alfred Pennyworth (from The Dark Knight trilogy) is a reasonable authority figure, as is Jarrod Barkley and Victoria Barkley from The Big Valley.
So there you have it! What are your favorite character types? Are there any others you’d add to these categories?
I loved Chelsea’s post about her favorite types of characters, and she kindly let me borrow the idea for my own blog! These are the folks I most enjoy reading about:
The Principled/Steadfast Fighter
This character may fit into the generic “good guy” category, but his (or her) defining feature is dedication to what he believes is right. Characters such as Captain America, John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises, Jarrod Barkley from The Big Valley, Jane Eyre, Fanny Price, Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games, King Tirian from The Last Battle, and Puddleglum from The Silver Chair. (Gloomy as Puddleglum is, when things are on the line, he’s steadfast in his principles!)
And this kind of character doesn’t always win the battle–Travis from The Alamo is this type (though, in a twist, definitely not a generic good guy). But while winning the battle is important, for this character, doing what he believes is right is the ultimate fight. And I love these kinds of characters because they give me hope, inspire me to stand up for my principles.
The Gentle/ Good-Hearted Fighter
This is the guy who may seem like he’s too mild or gentle or soft-hearted to fight–but for these guys, Good Is Not Soft. This is the character who cares deeply about his world, his loved ones, and his morals, and because of that deep love, he fights as fiercely as any hardened warrior. Frodo and Faramir from The Lord of the Rings are the prime examples, but others are Jean Valjean, Samuel Diggs from Mercy Street, Igor from Victor Frankenstein, Fanny Price (again), and Bilbo Baggins. Possibly also Daniel Deronda. Steve Barton’s portrayal of Raoul also fits this category. Just listen to his rendition of “All I Ask of You”–he’s understated, but earnest, and you can tell that he’d be willing to walk through fire for Christine.
This character is a subset of the principled fighter, but I enjoy this type because their fierceness is unexpected. They get the upper hand because they look too tender to do any damage–and yet they ultimately care so very deeply they’re willing to lay down their lives to defend what they love. Durant from my story Gentle Fire is definitely this type.
The No-Nonsense Mentor
Forget the wise old man smoking a pipe and delivering quiet (if vague) words of wisdom; I like the mentors who tell it like it is and won’t put up with your whining, who whip ya into shape, and have a sharp wit to boot. Think Gandalf, Alfred Pennyworth, Obi-Wan from the prequels, and Captain Pellew from the Horatio Hornblower TV series. Dr. Livesey from Treasure Island kinda fits this category as well.
I think I like this type because the “wise old man” mentor type seems to deliver very vague advice and let the hero figure out the context/deeper meaning on his own. And if I were a young hero-in-training, I would be incredibly frustrated. Either tell me what to do point blank, or let me do it my way. No waffling in between those options, please. And the no-nonsense mentor does not waffle. Their advice is “take it or leave it.” That, and I love a sharp wit. 🙂
Honest, Honorable Men
These guys get labelled “bland” or “boring” because All Girls Want Bad Boys–until we’re pestered by that one boy who won’t take no for an answer, and then our distaste for honorable men comes back to bite us.
Ahem. Sorry, got sidetracked. But seriously, what’s wrong with a respectful and honest guy? Just because they lack an edgy dark side doesn’t mean they’re boring. Case in point would be Charles Darnay from A Tale of Two Cities. Many people compare him to Sydney Carton and declare Sydney a more interesting character. But that doesn’t mean Charles is one-dimensional. He makes mistakes. He should have told his family he was heading back to France. His pride was nettled as Englishmen ridiculed the French aristocracy, the class to which he belonged–even though he had renounced his heritage. And just look at his interactions with Lucie—when alone with his beloved, this honest, straightforward, principled young man turns into a sentimental softie who calls her pet names. It’s adorable.
(And from a story analysis perspective, if Charles hadn’t been honorable and honest, Sydney would probably not have been inspired to change. Comparing himself to Charles showed him what he could be, if he just made the effort. But that’s another topic for another post.)
Other honest, honorable characters are Jarrod Barkley, Daniel Deronda, Mr. Darcy, and Edward Ferras from Sense & Sensibility, and James Green from Mercy Street. A female example would be Jane Eyre (actually, we could use more female characters in this category. I specified male characters because I respect those qualities, and I”m tired of the bad boy attraction, but women ought to be honest and honorable too.)
I love a man who takes charge (without being a bully) and who knows what to do in the situation. A man with initiative and willing to plunge right into things and get involved. I can’t express how much I love the leaders!. Characters like Jarrod Barkley, Captain America, Peter Pevensie, Aragorn, Hadley Fraser’s Raoul from The Phantom of the Opera, and Lucky Jack from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
I like the leaders because, first of all, that is the role God assigned to men. And I respect a man who embraces that role and doesn’t let the culture dictate otherwise. It’s also quite admirable when a man sees what needs to be done and steps up to the plate, takes the responsibility of handling a sticky situation and tries to solve the problems that get thrown his way.
The Tragic Hero/Antagonist
Often presented in a cautionary tale, I like the heroes who definitely have a downward arc, but who also have either a valid point about the situation or good intentions. Characters like Javert from Les Miserables: he’s often viewed as the antagonist with no room for mercy or grace in his mind–but think just how sad that is! Also, as much as I root for Valjean, he did break his parole. Javert was justified in at least locating the fugitive.
Other such characters would be Robert Angier from The Prestige (film), Dr. Jekyll from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde. Oh, and Boromir, my goodness. Possibly also Maedhros from The Silmarillion; I relate to that guy more than I should (we’re both the eldest, both responsible, both very honor/duty driven, devastated by any mistakes that violate those last two values…) And I would argue Gale Hawthorne fits into this category. Because he was determined, intelligent, intuitive, and creative. And he misused all that, even though he was trying to help win the war.
I am honestly not sure why I like this kind of character. I don’t enjoy watching someone destroy themselves–maybe it’s a combination of respect for whatever good intentions the character has, plus a sobering warning.
Silk Hiding Steel
These are the ladies who seem like products of their time (in historical fiction) or the so-hated doormats in a contemporary setting. These ladies are actually not doormats. They are quiet but firm, gentle but principled–and as such, when push comes to shove, they are unflinching, industrious, and intelligent with spines of steel. Lucie Manette, for example. She was gentle and compassionate, and she spends most of the book caring for her family. She also followed her husband to France when he was unjustly imprisoned, worked bravely in a foreign country where she was in constant danger of being also imprisoned herself, and every day, journeyed to a corner of the street where her husband might be able to see her if he could get to one of the upper windows of the prison. And she stood there for two hours to let him catch a glimpse of her when he was able to. Every day. Just to encourage her imprisoned husband and remind him that she was there for him. She also suffered no breakdowns, and she persevered through apprehension and uncertainty for two years. Oh, and the Reign of Terror was going on during this time. Lucie swoons only after her husband is unjustly imprisoned for the second time and sentenced to death. How in the world is she a weak character?
Or take Christine from The Phantom of the Opera. She seems naive and overly-trusting–but notice that she trusts only those people she considers friends. Which at first included the Phantom, but after she learns his true identity, she flees from him and never ultimately trusts him again. She also, after being lied to and betrayed by the man she considered her mentor, was not afraid to love again, and trusted Raoul to protect her (even though she disagreed with his methods later). And after all that–she remained compassionate toward the man who had hurt her so badly. Christine is awesome, guys. For deeper analysis of her character, check out my post here.
Jane Eyre also fits this Silk Hiding Steel category, and Elinor Dashwood , Fanny Price, Emma Green from Mercy Street, and Lisa Carew from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde. Probably others I can’t think of just now. 🙂
So there you have it, some of my favorite character types! Are there any more you would add to the list?
I have read (and applauded) multiple posts about how to write a strong female character–a truly strong character, one who is strong because of her convictions. Her compassion. Her personality, rather than a superhuman ability to punch stuff and sass the guys. So many posts, I can’t include them all, but here are my favorites: Hannah Heath’s input, Christine Smith’s guest post, Bella’s thoughts during her Writer’s Camp, and K. M. Weiland’s opinion.
What these posts do not cover, however, is how to banish fear–fear of seeing your female characters soundly bashed on Tumblr by readers who think that to actually like dresses will perpetrate the constraints of patriarchy and that a woman being physically weaker than a guy is sexist.
Maybe I’m the only writer who’s considered this. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked at my character Mary from Gentle Fire and wondered how much of a verbal beating she’d get from critics. Mary is married with two children, and most of her focus is on helping her husband build their farm and raise their sons (and later, daughter). Plus other plot-related goals and struggles after this doesn’t work out the way any of them want. Yes, she has dreams, and she has strengths, flaws, talents, and quirks–in fact, Mary’s drive is to do her job (whatever that may be at the time) and to help those who need her. But at the end of the day (and the story), her job and her main sphere of influence is in her home. And I just know that’s going to be popular with the general readership.
So I’ve thought a lot about how to handle this concern. Here’s my input to writing that true strong female character–without being afraid that others will criticize your characterization.
Write a layered character. Easier said than done, of course, but if your character is constructed with agency (she drives her parts of the story) and has strengths, flaws, quirks, talents, and non-talents–then you can take comfort that you’ve written a solid character, regardless of who criticizes her enjoyment of knitting, pride in cooking for her family, and hatred of snakes.
Pinpoint what you’re afraid of. What is all this imaginary criticism directed toward? Your character’s general personality–or specifically that she spends a lot of time in her home? (Or that she has a cleaning job, or that she’s the soft-spoken type, or whatever else is unpopular these days.) If you can easily imagine someone criticizing the fact that your character doesn’t really contribute to the story, that could be your intuition telling you to make sure she’s a legitimate main character. If, however, you can picture someone nitpicking your character’s interest in embroidery or that she’s skilled in household economy–those are details, not fundamentals.
Adjust your thinking. Here’s where I might really offend people, but I’ll try to be diplomatic. Somewhere along the way, the idea of a homemaker became synonymous with the term “doormat”. Along with the idea that she’s wasting her life. Or wasting her talent. But here’s the thing: being a homemaker takes incredible discipline, perseverance, patience, and diligence. Double points if you add children into the mix. You are responsible for protecting and guiding these children, 24/7. How is that weak? How is that a waste of time or talent? And why do we applaud a male character who is willing to serve and care for others, but condemn a woman who does it for her family? A homemaker character has to be strong in many different ways to do her job. Strength comes with the territory here, just like we expect a fireman character to be physically strong.
Let it go. As the song says. 🙂 But seriously, unless your imaginary critics are offering polite, constructive criticism–why do you care what they think? Or what any real critics say, for that matter, unless, again, they’re offering intelligent input on the fundamentals of your character. If any critics, real or imaginary, whine only about the facts that your character loves children, likes make-up, and cooks a mean clam chowder–ignore ’em.
So, those are some ways I’ve found to beat the fear. Feel free to add what tips and tricks have worked for you!
You may have figured this out already, but I don’t like the Walden Media adaptations. I enjoyed Peter, His Siblings, and Family Is Important The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it first came out, but–ahem–I was 13. We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of.
By age 16 and when Jerk Peter Prince Caspian came out, I was a bit more mature–mature enough to nearly succumb to traumatic shock at how much the story had been changed. (Am I being sarcastic? I don’t even know.)
And by age 18 when The Voyage of Self Discovery & Multiple Aesops The Voyage of the Dawn Treader came out, I was mature enough to succumb to neither extreme and to simply laugh at it. (*whole crew sailing into mysterious green mist of ambiguous kidnapping power* Caspian: “Now is the time to be strong!” Me: “Oh, really, sir? No kidding–I never would have guessed.”)
So, that’s the confession. It leads straight into…
Those paragraphs were not the rant, believe it or not. But because I dislike the movies, I get really annoyed by movie-based depictions. I looked up Narnia fan art yesterday, and most of it was movie fan art. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d love to see more depictions of how the artists picture the characters. And on that note, I’d love to see more depictions of blond Caspian. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader describes him as a “golden-headed boy” (though such a description is never given in Prince Caspian, so I understand how readers would get a different image fixed in their minds).
Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to get tired of seeing Movie-fan art. So then I looked up head canons. About 45% were movie-based, 45% were odd or just didn’t sound like the characters Lewis described, and the remaining 10% were mostly okay. It’s not a huge deal, but I want more of the book characters! In particular, I’m tired of seeing fan fics and head canons with:
Hidden angst in the characters
PHOTOSETS OR GIFS OF SUSAN/CASPIAN THAT ARE NOT NECESSARILY PG RATED I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP AND I AM COMPLETELY DISGUSTED (okay, I saw this only twice, but that was one time too many)
Peter’s protective nature being magnified above his other qualities
Completely logical Susan
Fashion/make-up loving Susan prior to The Last Battle
Feminist Susan/defense of Susan’s behavior in The Last Battle
Sassy prankster Edmund
Ignorance of Edmund’s thinker, justice-focused nature
Caspian as anything other than an earnest, cheerful, sometimes hesitant young man
The Personal Therapy
Yesterday, I began drawing my own fan art, and one piece depicts the reactions of the Pevensies and Caspian discovering fan fictions written about them. I also began writing an essay discussing Book-Peter’s personality and character arc and relationships with others. It quickly turned into a dissertation, and I shall put it in my “A Few Notes About…” series, although I’m going to try to finish Part 2 of my post about Christine Daae first.
It’s amazing how I’ve read and loved the books for 17 years and still notice new thingsabout the story and characters. For instance, while reading through The Horse and His Boy, I noticed this about Susan: she did not rush into a marriage with Prince Rabadash. She judged him by his actions rather this appearance, race, or culture, and when she realized he was in truth spoiled, arrogant, cruel, etc., she made up her mind not to marry him. And she did so of her own initiative; her answer to Edmund’s inquiry about her decision is an unequivocal no. She’s not flighty or clueless when it comes to romantic relationships.
After Rabadash has been captured and imprisoned for unprovoked attack upon Archenland, the lords of the court mention that they are justified in executing Rabadash for his treachery. But Edmund the Just argues against this–he points out that “even a traitor may mend.” Barely two minutes later, Edmund tells Lucy that he doesn’t believe Rabadash would repent and mend–but was willing to show him mercy anyway. A second treachery, however, would not be met with such mercy.
Hopping ahead to Prince Caspian, it melts my heart that the Pevensies were the closest thing to a loving family as young Caspian had. His aunt disliked him, and Miraz, though initially willing to have Caspian inherit the throne, clearly never loved him. I wish Lewis had shown a little more of the interactions between Caspian and the four Pevensies (I posted about that here).
What’s also amazing is Caspian did not grow up bitter and angry despite his lonely childhood. He was unsure of himself, hesitant to take the throne, but–even after learning that Miraz murdered his father, after having to flee for his life, and after having to grow up quickly while barely a teenager–he remains humble, dedicated, and able to love.
He is also realistically young and adorable. For instance, though he is taught Rhetoric (mentioned in Prince Caspian) and uses it in official situations, notice how informally he speaks around the Pevensies and other comrades. He greets Eustace cheerfully and is somewhat amused by him (though this sentiment quickly fades). He is instantly smitten with Ramandu’s daughter. And he jumps overboard himself to save the three children struggling in the sea, though he could easily have ordered someone else to do it. In short–Caspian is precious and must be protected at all costs. Do not malign his character. Or I will find you. And I will kill you.
And lastly, more head canons:
When Peter was about 15, he shot up several inches in a growth spurt, and ended up lanky for about two years. However, this did not happen as he was growing up in Narnia, because of the physical exercise he kept up.
When a king of Narnia, Edmund usually listened to what everyone had to say and only then spoke up, usually with an armor-piercing question or very obvious solution that everyone else had missed.
Susan learned to play the harp in Narnia, and she became quite good at it.
Though Peter discourages any suitors unworthy of his sisters, he’s particularly protective of Lucy, since she’s the youngest, very innocent, and his favorite sister.
In fact, he knows that Susan can hold her own, but that Lucy would be entirely too kind and sensitive to anyone obnoxious, thereby accidentally giving the wrong suitors hope.
Lucy has no idea that she is Peter’s favorite sister. It has never crossed her mind that you can even have favorites among family members.
Lucy likes to play outside, and she brings home anything of interest that she finds: a feather, a oddly shaped rock, and colorful pebble, an old snail’s shell, colorful leaves, bunches of flowers…
Caspian is terrible at arithmetic. (Lewis never even lists math as one of the subjects he was taught, though he surely learned it at some point.)
While he goes about his daily duties, Caspian often wonders what the Pevensies are doing at that moment in their world.
Early in his reign, when he found himself confused/overwhelmed by some political matter, he found himself wishing he could consult the High King.
Which led to the hope that just perhaps, Aslan would let the four of them return one day.
He even began to look for them at unexpected times.
On the other hand, Caspian did not realize it was the Pevensies (and guest) who appeared in the Narnian seas…he just saw three people struggling in open water and promptly dived overboard (like the precious, caring person that he is).
Caspian revived the art of navigation in Narnia…by applying the astronomy principles he learned from Dr. Cornelius.
As much as he loved his astronomy lessons, he also loves just stargazing for fun.
During the water shortage on the Dawn Treader, Caspian actually shared some of his rations with Eustace, and Edmund shared his with Lucy (Lewis states that Edmund and Caspian had been sleeping badly since the shortage began; and given their natures, it’s conceivable they were looking out for the younger characters).
(Thanks to Bella for her title suggestion! I was truly stuck.)
NOTE: I initially published this back in January, but decided to tweak the style and post it again. This isn’t a guide for How To Write the Perfect Story; but the principles that have worked well for me. ?
I once had no idea how to keep my stories focused. I had good ideas, but I had a lot of ideas and couldn’t discern which ones truly belonged in my work-in-progress. Was this phrase a better explanation of the theme?—or that paragraph a couple pages later?—or that note on my digital sticky notes? Cue the pile-up of 172 pages of notes. And I inevitably got overwhelmed. Even more frustrating, after I sorted through those notes and reworded ideas (again), the story pieces added up—to the wrong picture. Finally, through trial and error and through analyzing books and films, I created this list of points that help me build my story more easily and to keep it focused.
Articulate the Story Concept. Or the general idea behind the story. It could be a question to explore, such as “Where to draw the line in giving loyalty?” It could be a character or situation: “A girl who was never taught to discern properly,” or a simple plot: “A girl takes up multiple hobbies to find her passion and talent.” Or it could be a general theme, such as “different kinds of power (social, legal, abusive, and others) and what they can and cannot accomplish.”
Actually, I know the concept from the get-go; whenever I say, “Well, I have an idea for a story about…” that’s the concept. But it could be narrowed a little–a general idea can become many different stories (which cleverly disguise themselves as plot bunnies). So here’s a question that narrows the field: What draws me to this idea? What do I love about it? This not only helps keeps my story focused, it also explains what’s original about the idea, and it articulates my own passion for the subject.
As an example from my writing, one story idea is about two families whose children marry for mutual social and financial benefit. This is the general idea. The more specific idea is how these characters respond to the various social and familial expectations of them. And what I like about the idea is the mindsets, values, and relationships of the characters as they handle situations in which they do not have a lot of control. All very general, but it tells me at once that my idea about the fight between Enlightenment vs. Romanticism doesn’t belong in this story.
And then I tinker with the wording of the concept until it expresses exactly what I have in mind. My ultimate goal is to understand what story I’m telling. Not just the genre, but what I’m personally trying to say. (More on that later.)
Specify the Story Conflict. This definitely helps me discern which ideas (and subplots and side characters) belong in the plot. And when I fail to specify the conflict, my story becomes crowded and confusing. (*stares sadly at mountain of unfinished drafts*) So do other writers’ stories—I may offend people with this example, but the film God’s Not Dead had a plot thread completely separate from the main conflict. The conflict of the film is ultimately between skeptics attacking faith in the God of the Bible and Christians defending that faith. While this is going on, a liberal feminist news reporter learns that she has cancer, and she eventually gets saved. (Whoops, spoilers.) But she does not meet or influence any of the other characters. And since she gets saved near the end of the story, she doesn’t have time to contribute to the main point by defending her newfound faith.
I get why this plot was included: so that a character (and by extent the audience) could hear the Gospel. But that character and her story does not enhance or contribute to the ultimate conflict. That detour simply uses screen time that could have been spent on the main characters. And on that note, a better way to include the Gospel would be to have the ex-Muslim girl remember the Gospel to strengthen herself in the face of persecution or perhaps try to share the Gospel with her family. That would have contributed to the conflict, and it would have been an awesome addition. (Seriously, the writers should have explored that character and her situation further!)
So, defining the story’s conflict will thin down those plot bunnies. But here’s a catch: conflict often has two layers: surface conflict, and then what I call “root conflict.”
Surface conflict is a clash that fits the story’s concept, but that happens apart from—or because of—the root conflict. The root conflict is the ultimate battle of the story, the clash that explains what’s really at stake. It’s often internal conflict (but not always). A good example of these two layers is the film Inception. The “surface conflict” is the attempt to plant an idea in a man’s mind through his dreams. This is something that had never been successfully done—oh, and there’s a deadline for this attempt. But the root conflict is Cobb battling his own guilt and fear and grief. He cannot let go of the past, and at first refuses to confront his problems. His stubbornness and his burden endanger his goal and the safety of his team.
So I write down the obvious conflict in my story and then ask how that conflict came to be, which helps identify the root conflict. (Or vice-versa, and I think about what action might be prompted by the root conflict.)
Make the Setting Influence the Action or Affect the Characters. Years ago, I entered a short story contest with several guidelines: the required setting was the Titanic, and the contest theme was “Women and Children First.” I wrote the story of a couple who met on the ship; and though they weren’t close friends, the man stepped back so the woman could get into a lifeboat and escape. Measured by the contest guidelines, the story and setting worked. But when I looked at that story a few years later, I asked: how does the Titanic enhance the plot? Sure, the event is a classic example of chivalry, but without the contest parameters, my characters could do what they liked and could be moved to a different setting with no big change to the plot. Red flag that the setting was just painted scenery, and not a place with impact.
In my story Empty Clockwork, however, the setting is a late-Victorian world with strict social norms and tradition but with a steampunk twist: scientific dabbling is a popular hobby for the rich. And “secret” labs in the basement are an essential part of any grand house. This setting creates conflict for Lord Fredericks, a brilliant, self-taught scientist, who can’t capitalize on his skills because he is also an aristocrat and not supposed to do manual or tradesman’s work. The setting also affects Henry*, a doctor who is passionate for his work, but who can’t get the wealthy hobby scientists interested enough in his ideas to fund his experiments. The third character affected is Lennox, a young man who teaches classics at Cambridge and therefore can’t get anyone to take him seriously as a scientist. Because art and science don’t mix, y’know. And Susan, heiress and Lord Fredericks’ ward, can’t find an endeavor she thinks worthy to support with her money because of the complacent attitudes in society. The setting directly affects the main characters, creates conflict, and points to my theme (which I will not reveal here because spoilers).
*inspired by Henry Jekyll from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde. As such, I might eventually change his Christian name so as not to be sued by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Discover why the Story Matters to the Characters—and to Me. Goal, stakes, conflict…those can be found anywhere. A character could set the goal of opening his own business, with the stakes of providing for his family, and face obstacles in the lack of money and an affordable building to rent. But why doesn’t he go another route to provide for his family? Why does he choose this hill, the hill of the story, to fight and possibly die on?
This point is a cross between the character’s motivation and the stakes of the conflict–it’s why the goal matters to the character. Not just the external repercussions of failure, but the internal consequences. The more personal the story conflict and stakes, the more the readers will care about the characters and their struggles. For example, Inception deals with complex concepts: the actions of the subconscious, the unique nature of dreams, and how each can be manipulated. Truly engaging stuff—but the principles matter because of how personal they are to Cobb. If he can complete the inception attempt, he can go home to his kids—but ironically, experimenting with dream manipulation and inception is what tore him from his family in the first place and created the guilt that plagues him throughout the story.
The author also needs personal motivation, and a second question I ask is: why does this story matter so much to me? What are my own personal stakes? This is partly practical; I’m more likely to finish the story if I’m passionate about it. But understanding the personal stakes is another tool that narrows the focus of the story. Suppose a writer believes that it’s ridiculous for 18-year-olds to choose their life passions before college. They only just got out of school; they haven’t observed and experienced life to the degree that a 30-year-old has; how on earth can teens be expected to know what they want to do with their lives? With that question, that drive behind the story, the writer can quickly discern that his other story idea about how the elderly are ignored doesn’t fit in the plot of this story.
Work Backwards from the Conclusion. Articles and tutorials say “figure out your ending first. Write toward your ending.” I never understood this. Doesn’t the outcome depend on what the main characters choose? Won’t choice A create one outcome and choice B create another? Should I just make up events regardless of what the characters chose to do?
Not necessarily. The ending is more than the final dramatic events. It’s also the conclusion of what the story says. Which is an extension of what the author is trying to say.
Oh, please. There’s no need to ask “What am I trying to say?” Stories are just to entertain, right?
Right. And wrong, because every story, even the fluffiest, feel-good novel makes some statement. Even as untrue as “everything will turn out okay if you dream hard enough.” Or whatever. Continuing to offend people with my examples, The Battle of Five Armies film had no idea what it was ultimately saying. Fight Ye Olde Evil? All Gold is Evil? Something Vague About True Love? Reclaiming the Characters’ Ancestral Homes? Hobbits Are the Saviors of the World? (Epic fail on that last point, as Bilbo was demoted.)
By contrast, the Lord of the Rings (book and film) made a clear statement with its ending: sacrifice is the price of freedom. When Frodo leaves Middle Earth, it highlights the price that warriors and defenders pay so that others may live in their homes in peace. This theme is shown throughout the story. Didn’t Frodo leave the Shire in the first place to protect it? Didn’t Sam help Frodo no matter the cost to himself? Didn’t Aragorn conceal his lineage and walk in humility for years and protect the Shire unseen? Didn’t Tolkien lament the fallen defenders all through his story? Sacrifice is the conclusion—sacrifice for the land and peoples of Middle Earth.
Once I recognize what I’m saying with my story, it’s easier to work backwards from that and figure out what events and final conflicts would fit the story. (And I often have an inkling of how everything will turn out, even if it’s cliche and obvious.) Then I ask: where do the characters need to be, emotionally, physically, and mentally to drive the final events? Then I create conflict and events that push the characters to that stage of readiness.
What’s ultimately important is that I understand what story I want to tell. This means more than the genre. It’s the big picture: the concept of the story, the tone, the stakes, what I’m trying to say, and what I want the story to accomplish. Do I want it to be lighthearted or a cautionary tale? Is it just a practice project or something I’m passionate about? Do I want it to amuse or criticize or inspire? If I don’t know what story I want to tell, it will end up dissonant. It will read as though it tried to say one thing, but ended up saying something something very different. It has happened in the past–and I’ve seen it happen to too many other storytellers. The makers of the Hobbit films clearly did not know what kind of story they were telling. In a film trilogy called The Hobbit, Bilbo is almost a side character, and the story focuses on the other races of Middle Earth. The franchise tried to be dark and epic, but the slapstick humor and roller coaster chase-and-battle sequences undermined that tone (not to mention that when Smaug’s fire doesn’t burn rotting tapestries, tension vanishes anyway). The main plot was the quest to reclaim Lonely Mountain, but the subplots didn’t really enhance that—Thranduil’s white gems, for example, and the romance between Kili and Tauriel, and Tauriel as a character in the first place. *ducks volley of rotten avocados* The result is three films with some good aspects, but with so many conflicts, characters, and plot threads that the story feels stuffed. *ducks more flying vegetables* And the root problem is that screenwriters didn’t seem to know what story they wanted to tell.
Now, confession time: I don’t have every one of these points articulated for every one of my stories. Several are missing the ending. A couple are missing the general concept. One does not have specified conflict. And that’s okay. Stories take time to develop. Some take more time to grow than others. And these points are just general guidelines to help me build a strong foundation for my story.
This ties in to my first “Writing Tips for Perfectionist” post, though I’m applying the principle to artwork, not writing. (But I’ll post about applying the principle to writing later!) This particular post is a cross between a colored pencil walk through and an anti-perfectionism tutorial. 🙂
While reading about the triumph of the Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I got such a vivid mental picture of the scene–with such dynamic perspective and atmosphere– that I had to capture it. The first sketch…
…only the angle didn’t match my mental image (from the perspective of a viewer looking up the hill at the crowd). After a few more attempts, I realized the drawing needed to be taller than wider. Sketch #2:
Only that still didn’t match my mental image, which was as sharp as a photograph and as dramatic as any Romantic painting.
So then I considered what I ultimately wanted to capture. Definitely the contrast between the torchlight/smoke and the moonlight. Also the colors of cool night clashing with red torches; and the grotesque, undefined shapes of the crowd; and the upward perspective (to emphasize the seeming triumph); and the Witch with her crown on.
With that in mind, I refined the sketch, primarily the landscape and the key figures.
I fiddled with the composition to make sure the Witch and the stone table stood out…
The background crowd is just scribbles, because detailed depictions of each creature are not the point. The sheer mass/numbers of them are.
I also held the sketch up to a mirror to reflect the image backward and check that nothing was abnormally crooked. (The Witch was a little crooked, but it wasn’t noticeable unless you were looking for it, so I left the pose alone.)
I added the base colors and colored and rendered the stone table. The color palette will be cool and dark with most of the detail on the Witch and the stone table. (The dark green lines are there to remind me of the steepness of the hill so that I can shade it properly.)
The main light source is the moon, but I scribbled red over the crowd in places to show reflected torchlight.
Once the base colors were in place, I started darkening the sky (you can see the shadows in the upper left-hand corner). The mass of creatures remained loose scribbles. Later, I picked out highlights here and add shadows there to suggest creatures all grouped together, but only a few figures in the foreground were detailed.
An added bonus of knowing what I ultimately want for this drawing is that I’m not second-guessing my colors and composition. Or pausing to assess how “good” it is–all I focused on are the colors and values and general composition.
The sky and torches are finished; the crowd got a little more rendering–though they’re still just varied scribbles at this point, except for the giant to the far left–and the stone table and the Witch have gotten a little more detailed. I also started adding shadows under the stone table.
I somehow got green pencil shavings under my fingernails. It’s both funny and perplexing–it’s never happened before!
Here, I added more darkness and shadows to the crowd, darkened some of the reflected red light, and began to pick out very general shapes near the front of the crowd. You should be able to tell that it’s a mass of people grouped together, and that they aren’t ordinary people due to the giant on the left and the spider-shaped thing on the far right. But you can’t see any detail when you look closely, and that’s okay. I’m still going for a general atmosphere rather than photograph-sharp clarity.
I darkened and rendered the slope of the hill and added details to the Witch’s hair and robes. The crowd got a few more shadows and a few highlights–I realized that the creatures under the moon were darker than the ones on the left, further away from the moon. Oops. So I erased the right-hand crowed a bit, added the red highlights and deeper shadows to indicate contrast. Still no detail, just general light and shadow.
And this drawing actually doesn’t have the dramatic angle perspective that my mental picture does. But that’s okay, because I’m pleased with the colors and atmosphere!
After this stage, I set the drawing aside for the night and looked at it again the next morning. The crowd needed a bit more rending to further suggest a group of creatures, and the atmosphere could use a few more torches. The Witch also needed more detail–but not too much, since she’s so far away from the viewer.
I scribbled carefully in the crowd to suggest more shadows, and I added some torches and smoke in the background (they turned out very dark red/black, as I had to draw over the indigo sky). Then I tried to render the Witch a bit more–but detail was actually impossible, because she’s so far away.
I managed to erase the details I’d tried to draw, and I added a few red highlights on her hair and dress. I also added a faint red mouth–but that’s all the detail that figure needed.
I then darkened some of the red highlights on the crowd. After that, it seemed that the picture could use a little more tweaking…but since I didn’t know specifically where, and since the drawing had the atmosphere I imagined–I decided it was done!
I’m re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and noticing new details, even though I’ve read and loved the books for 17 years. For instance, the other day, I dissected Edmund’s argument to Peter in Chapter Six:
“Hush! Not so loud,” said Edmund; “there’s no good frightening the girls. But have you realized what we’re doing?” … “We’re following a guide we know nothing about. How do we know which side that bird is on? Why shouldn’t it be leading us into a trap?”
“That’s a nasty idea. Still—a robin, you know. They’re good birds in all the stories I’ve ever read. I’m sure a robin wouldn’t be on the wrong side.”
“If it comes to that, which is the right side? How do we know that the Fauns are in the right and the Queen (yes, I’ve been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong? We don’t really know anything about either.”
“The Faun saved Lucy.”
“He said he did. But how do we know?”
Edmund’s arguments seem to hint that seeking evidence and understanding presuppositions is the realm of skeptics, and that blind faith the habit of religious people. And his first point is sound—they knew nothing about the guide (and Peter’s counter-argument is not that strong). But look closely at the rest of Edmund’s argument—and his motives for making it.
Edmund has already sided with the Witch. In fact, he knows she’s a Witch and knows she is dangerous; yet he doesn’t want to admit he’s wrong or give up his desire for glory (and more Turkish Delight). His argument that “we don’t really know anything about either” is incorrect. Yes, the children could seek more information about the situation. But Edmund knew what the Witch had promised him and what she wanted in exchange. And Lewis later reveals that his “beliefs” about the Queen were just an excuse: deep down, Edmund knew the Witch is bad and cruel.
He goes on to say that the Faun “said he [saved Lucy]. But how do we know?” This is also incorrect. Lucy said the Faun had saved her. And Lucy had told the truth about Narnia, and Peter and Susan testified to the professor that Lucy always told the truth. The strength of her word should have been reason enough to believe that the Faun did indeed save her. Furthermore, the children had found Tumnus’s cave destroyed and a note inside condemning him for harboring spies and fraternizing with humans—which corroborated Lucy’s account and provided the children with more information about who the Witch was.
Thus, Edmund’s argument appears solid, but he deliberately omitted some information and misrepresented the rest. And yes, the children would do well to gather more information about the situation. But they were not operating on blind faith. They did have evidence—and the testimony of someone who never lied.
And I don’t believe Lewis implied that seeking proof is wrong. Peter says only moments later to Mr. Beaver, “Not meaning to be rude [about determining whether he’s a friend] … but you see, we’re strangers.” And to this, Mr. Beaver shows his token of truth: the handkerchief Lucy had given to Mr. Tumnus. Lucy recognizes it, and if it had any monogram or distinctive feature, the others should also have recognized it as hers. (In fact, it makes sense that there was some kind of identification on the handkerchief; a plain white one could belong to anyone, and that handkerchief had passed through a couple of hands already. It must have had something that made Lucy recognize it as hers.) It’s common sense to gather evidence and discern it—but in this case, Edmund simply didn’t want to admit that the Witch (and therefore himself), was wrong.
Even while under the sway of the Witch, however, Edmund put together an argument that at least looked solid—and he did have valid points about following a guide they knew nothing about and the chance of getting back home (although perhaps he wanted to weaken Peter’s faith in who was right, as Edmund intended to bring his siblings to the Witch, not back home). This and other details scattered through the series created my belief that Edmund is the logical one, not Susan. Susan is practical and sensible—but Edmund generally sees (and points out) what should be obvious. He seems to be the thinker sort, but without being stereotypically quiet. If anything, he speaks his mind and is incredibly straightforward.
Head canon set #4:
Caspian doesn’t lose his temper often, but he he does, it ain’t pretty. (Canon-based; see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.)
He is easygoing by nature, but also stands firm when necessary.
Susan is what we call an “old soul”. Lewis says she was “no good at schoolwork (though otherwise very old for her age).”
She also likes to dance, and she’s good at it.
Edmund couldn’t care less about this, so Peter usually dances with Susan when she wants to.
Susan is the tidiest of the four, and she gets frustrated with her siblings for leaving their stuff out.
Edmund, for instance, leaves his books and papers literally anywhere.
That said, he usually remembers where he puts his belongings.
When he forgets (or when somebody moves them), he gripes about the problem until the missing items are located.
Peter can’t be bothered to tidy all his stuff, though he’s often in a hurry or just preoccupied.
And he has a nasty habit of letting dirty socks pile up under the bed.
Needless to say, the boys’ room is a mess.
Which drives Susan nuts.
Lucy also makes a mess when she works on a project; she works best in creative chaos.
Contrary to the Pevensies, Caspian is actually rather tidy.
Lucy’s favorite color is purple: not dark purple, but a soft lavender shade.
Bella tagged me the other day for this really creative tag—one using titles of various Taylor Swift songs. And I’m a sucker for blog tags, so this is going to be fun!
1. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
(Pick a book or series that you were pretty sure you were in love with, but then wanted to break up with)
This was a fantasy series, and a fantasy series written by a Christian. So the stories wouldn’t have demonic magic and other fantasy elements I objected to, right?
Well…no, there weren’t any of those elements. But the writing style was hard to read; there was so much description (repeat: so much description) in the prologue that I actually lost my mental image of the scene. A form of sensory overload, I guess. The writing style continued flowery and redundant through the rest of the story, and it read as an attempted mimicry of Tolkien’s simple grandeur. (Spoiler alert: it failed.) The writing was so bad in some parts, that I took a pencil and actually struck through phrases and rewrote them in the margins. That soothed my tortured editor’s soul.
And out of the 15+ characters, I half-liked only one and truly liked only two—and one of those two characters was a really minor one. I did enjoy this series reading it for the first time while the twists of the story were new. But when I read it a second time, I could barely get through the first ten chapters. Definitely never getting back together, and if I read this series again, it will be only to review it.
(Pick a book with a RED cover)
REEED! THE BLOOD OF ANGRY MEEEEEN! BL–oh, wait. Although that’s not too far off the mark…
I never thought I would like The Hunger Games series. But though Suzanne Collins wrote some pretty dark and depressing twists, they serve a purpose in the story—they make a point about humanity. Nobody decent ever wins the Games because in a gladiator style fight-to-the-death contest, nobody really can. She’s brutally honest about how each Victor bought his or her freedom at a dear price, and were often haunted the rest of their lives by what happened during their fight in each Hunger Games. She did not create a world that a young, feisty teen heroine could escape with nary a scratch, physical or moral. If anything, her characters are struggling to survive in a world that makes beasts of them all—and fighting for survival more than anything else.
But the story isn’t nonstop darkness either. The exception to all the points above is Peeta Mellark. Peeta chooses not stoop to the level of the shallow Capitol citizens or the Tributes and Victors so desperate for survival. And his actions show the other characters that they can do the right thing regardless of circumstances, that they can choose another path. Most of them don’t, but Peeta’s example is still there, as a silent contrast to the mistakes everyone else makes.
3. The Best Day
(Pick a book that makes you feel nostalgic)
Long before The Lord of the Rings hit the bookshelves, Professor Tolkien made up a wondrous world for his children: the world of the North Pole, home of Father Christmas. Letters were left by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, written in shaky old handwriting, that related the anecdotes of Father Christmas, his assistant the North Polar Bear, the Red and Green Elves, and various other characters.
I love this book because of those funny anecdotes, Tolkien’s style of writing, and the pictures that accompany the letters. I read this book every Christmas, and I often read parts of it to my brothers as well—they laugh heartily at some of the rhymes at the end!
4. Love Story
(Pick a book with forbidden love)
Can I skip this one? Stories built around romance aren’t my thing, and forbidden romance strikes me as awfully melodramatic. I would rather read about a couple who marries early in the story and learns to love each other and put up with each other on a daily basis (and not as a comedy either.)
Which is why I’m writing such a story. 🙂
5. I Knew You Were Trouble
(Pick a book with a bad character you couldn’t help but love)
Heh. Bad behavior in fictional characters instantly severs my respect. (Same thing happens with real people.) But one character I’m fascinated by (though certainly don’t love) is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
Heathcliff is rotten to the core, but intelligent, cunning, forceful, and charismatic enough to get away with it. He’s often described as “gipsy” brown, but nobody really knows his ethnicity. Which adds to the mystery of who he is—and on that note, nobody knows who his parents were. (People have speculated that Heathcliff is Mr. Earnshaw’s illegitimate son, but given the way the Emily Bronte portrayed Heathclif’s character and influence, I think she purposefully kept his parentage a mystery for the sake of mystery. Anyway, if Heathcliff was Mr. Earnshaw’s son, even illegitimately, that revelation could have been a game-changer for the plot—for instance, the romance would become near-incest. The Brontes were messed up, but not that messed up.)
So Heathcliff is intriguing because of the mysteries surrounding him and because of the forcefulness of his character and cunning. Being passionately in love does not dull this man’s wits; rather, it sharpens them. Unfortunately for the rest of the characters. Ladies, do you really want to crush on a guy who nearly bashed in the head of a five-year-old as revenge on the kid’s father? You might want to change the caption of your Pinterest pins from “Heathcliff my Love” to “get this guy a restraining order, pronto.” Although odds are, he would ignore that piece of paper. Heathcliff is a fascinating character, but a terrifying one. It’s almost like watching a tornado—you want to get out of there, yet you can’t look away.
(Pick a book that someone ruined the ending for)
Actually, I tend to spoil the books myself. If I’m not sure a book will be worth my time, I look up reviews before buying it (therefore running into multiple spoilers). Or if I don’t really care about the story, but kinda want to know what happens, I’ll skip ahead and read a bit. (So naughty.)
A book that fell into the first category, was The Ale Boy’s Feast.
I loved the first book in the series, skipped the second because I disagreed with some plot elements, liked the third book, but wasn’t sure this last would be worth my time. So I tracked down enough reviews to get a basic idea of what happens . I finally decided to take the risk—and boy, was it worth it! And the story still revealed twists that I hadn’t anticipated.
A book in the second category (don’t care enough to finish; curious enough to peek ahead) was Two Crosses. I really didn’t care about the characters but vaguely wanted to know what happened. So I skipped ahead a bit to read. And got freaked out by one of the story twists, and then lost interest and never finished the book.
7. Everything Has Changed
(Pick a character from a book who goes through extensive character development)
You knew this was coming–Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities
Sydney first appears in such a slovenly state that he looks almost debauched. Second impressions don’t change this image; he’s drunk, rude, and apathetic about his work and his life. Or rather, he seems to be apathetic. Early on, Dickens shows us flashes of remorse, humanity, and lost hope that keeps readers from writing Sydney off as a hopeless case. (And unlike Heathcliff, there is nothing charismatic about him either.) Through hints dropped through the story, we learn that Sydney was once a bright young student, but lost hope or lost purpose, and came to hate himself, to drink because of it, and to despise himself further.
But through Charles Darnay’s silent example, and Lucie Manett’s compassion and kindness, Sydney begins to see himself in a newer light: to see himself for what he is, but also to see what he could be. Neither Charles nor Lucie writes him off as hopeless; they treat him as a normal human being while not glossing over his faults either; this creates a very clear mirror for Sydney to appraise himself. Lucie’s compassion and kindness touch him in particular; and he begins to hope again.
He makes little efforts never to appear drunk before the Darnay family, but he does not actually change his habits and behavior until near the end of the story. When conflict is at its hardest for the Darnays and their friends, Sydney sets in motion a selfless plot, sticks to it like steel, and remembers Scripture for the first time in years while wandering the streets of Paris. I really can’t describe his transformation with justice; read the book yourself.
8. You Belong With Me
(Pick your most anticipated book release)
My own novels. 🙂
Hoho, sorry, couldn’t resist. Only that won’t be for another 17 years.
One book I anticipated before its release was Rachel Starr Thomson’s Coming Day, the final book in her Seventh World Trilogy.
I’ll probably always have nostalgic and grateful feelings for this series because I read it while writing my first trilogy. Reading these books and keeping up with Rachel’s blog gave 17-year-old novice writer me the encouragement to keep plugging away.
9. Forever and Always
(Pick your favorite book couple)
I have to say Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre. What I like about this pairing is that they fall in love, not because of their looks (she was plain, he was “ugly” according to the male beauty standards of the day), but because of their intelligence, and because of their personalities. Falling in love also happens overtime and in very mundane ways. And they must go through trials before they can be together. While these difficulties are indeed external, they reflect the important need for internal change. Jane has to fix her priorities (she confesses that she’d made an idol of Rochester), and Rochester must be humbled before they can be together.
I complained about melodramatic forbidden love earlier, even though, to a degree, the romance in Jane Eyre is exactly that. But Bronte got away with it because she made me care about both characters, and because Jane’s and Rochester’s actions grow organically, out of the circumstances and personalities already established.
BONUS QUESTIONS! (Added by Bella)
10. Never Grow Up
(A book you read when you’re feeling sad/emotional)
This book is hilarious, guys. A series of personal anecdotes by the authors (cousins, who were both home schooled) shows just how funny mishaps, accidents, and family quirks can be if you look at them with the right attitude. The authors describe their crazy, fun, hectic life with good humor and a wise outlook on life. When I first read this book, I laughed out loud at every other paragraph!
11. Begin Again
(A book you’ve read multiple times but always go back to it because it’s that good)
The Chronicles of Narnia, and…
…The Lord of the Rings! I grew up with these books, and I’ve been reading them for 17 years (in the case of the Narnia books) and 13 years (in the case of LotR). And every time I reread them, I notice something new, either about the characters, the story themes, the writing style, the symbolism, or…I could go on, but I’d like to keep these descriptions short. 🙂
(A book you hid in bed with/fell asleep reading)
This one, but only because I just wanted to finish and be done with it. No offense to the author, but 3/4 of the way through, I still didn’t understand what the point was.
13. I Know Places
(The number one book you would take on a long trip away from home)
Going to borrow one of Bella’s answers and say The Hobbit. Maybe because journeying is a prime theme of the book? Or maybe because, like Bilbo, I would rather be home than abroad. Unless the destination was San Antonio, Texas, in which case, I’m off like a shot from an 18-pounder.
(A book you’ve never read but want and plan to)
I want to read this one only because it looks like an interesting social critique/commentary, as well as a remark on human nature.
I also want to read Watership Down someday; Julia recommended it, and it’s her favorite book. (I would showcase a picture, but our copy seems to have disappeared.)
BONUS QUESTIONS 2! (Added by Christine)
15. Long Live
(A modern book you think should be a classic or a classic that should be more widely read today)
Part adventure and part mystery, this story is about four children recruited as secret agents by kindly Mr. Benedict. He suspects that the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened is hiding a dreadful secret, and since it is an academy for children, child agents are the only ones who have a chance. That, and children are so easily overlooked by adults that his team should be able to find critical information before it’s too late.
The mystery grows darker and deeper as the story goes on–and though the book was written for children, and children are the heroes, adults will find this story very deep and thought-provoking. Particularly how the students and staff on the island are manipulated by very cunning mind control. When I first read this story, I couldn’t put it down, and I think it deserves to become a classic.
Second category (classic that should be more widely read):
This is Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. (You can’t tell by cover; this edition is from 1944.) It’s one of the most confounding mysteries I’ve ever read, with false clues and red herrings galore. The whole reason the mystery of the stolen diamond arose is pretty mundane—but the red herrings, and misleading clues are what make it so fascinating. Also the fact that each part of the story has a different narrator, and, just as in real life, you kinda have to sift motives and figure out just how colored everyone’s perspective is. And even the most biased narrations reveal new story layers and clues that carry over into the next bit.
I think this one should be more widely read because of the unique narrative style and the twists and turns the mystery takes.
(A book you have a personal vendetta against for whatever reason)
Hoo boy. I actually have a long list of books that annoy/anger me. But the top series for this category would be the Elsie Dinsmore books (the Life of Faith reboots, that is; I’ve never read the originals).
Elsie annoys me because she’s too perfect at age eight for me to relate to. I get that the writers are trying to set an example, but come on. That amount of perfection in an eight-year-old is bound to make us hate her. Because unlike Elsie, the rest of us have a sin nature.
Okay, I’m being snarky. But Elsie never really messes up or makes serious mistakes that she has to learn from—her struggles are usually inflicted upon her by the other characters. And she’s so spiritually mature at age eight that there’s no room for growth or improvement. That, I think, is the fatal flaw of the series. In real life, sanctification and growing more like Christ is a process, learned through studying the Bible, observing others, making mistakes, going through trials, and so on. Stories intended to enlighten and encourage should reflect that, should show that growth process rather than portray near-perfection at the start. And yes, there’s a place for setting an example via a noble character (Frodo Baggins from LotR is one of my favorite characters of all time), but here on this earth, nobody is going to attain perfection. And I think stories should reflect that, but should also show characters striving to be more like Christ.
17. Safe & Sound
(A “comfort book”)
Definitely the American Girl Josefina series! I love Josefina’s character: sweet, but determined; shy, but with a spine of steel and high hopes. She has such close, loving relationships with her sisters and her father, and the rancho where they live is a setting both unique and familiar–it’s pretty much a farm, just set in the Spanish West world. I love the descriptions of weaving blankets, celebrating Christmas, trading in Santa Fe, the New Mexico summers and fandangos.
I had so much fun with this tag! Thanks to Bella for tagging me!
I’ve been thinking about the characters on and off all weekend, about their amazing differences and strengths. I even created character boards on Pinterest for Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, and Caspian. And I’ll probably create more Narnia character boards later.
I also want to read the books again soon and draw the characters. It’s about time somebody drew Caspian with blond hair–I’ve seen only one artist do that (artist Dawn D. Davidson, although I can’t find her DeviantArt account now. She must have deactivated it).
Headcanon collection #3:
Never underestimate how righteously indignant Edmund can get on behalf of his friends and family.
He can be found with a book half the time.
The other half of the time, he’s out and about, playing sports or going somewhere important.
Edmund’s middle name is James. (I’ve had that headcanon ever since I was a kid!)
He decided to go to Oxford after graduating school.
Caspian wears this silver pendant thing while sailing on the Dawn Treader. No idea why; he just likes it.
Once Caspian becomes close to the Pevensies, he lets himself be far more cheerful and informal* and generally says what he thinks.
And the Pevensies are the only friends he can do that with. (Doctor Cornelius was more of a guide and tutor than a comrade).
Caspian prefers casual or informal outfits to court finery. He never feels fully himself when all dressed up.
Susan is kinesthetic** (a hands-on learner). One reason she’s so good at archery, but not much good at schoolwork.
She is also good at handling interpersonal conflict. She’s gracious yet focused.
There are times, however, when she gets very annoyed with others’ stubbornness and rudeness.
Susan likes wearing simple but pretty sweaters.
Lucy likes to paint with watercolors. And always makes a huge mess on the table with her papers and paints.
Paint often ends up in Lucy’s hair.
Susan insists on combing Lucy’s hair after a painting episode and scrubbing out any color.
Therefore, Lucy took to cleaning up her paints in record time and fleeing the general area until Susan was thoroughly involved in something else.
Which is how Lucy made it out the door once with a streak of purple paint in her yellow hair.
Actually, she cleans her art mess only half the time. The other half finds her abandoning the project for another interesting activity. (She would get distracted while waiting for the paint to dry.)
Similar incidents of books/playthings/games/projects abandoned in this manner can usually be traced to Lucy.
If Peter needs the dining room table when Lucy’s paints are out, he (gently) pushes the paint supplies to the middle of the table and uses the cleared end.
Edmund just sets his books and papers amid the mess and works around it.
Peter hates visiting the Scrubbs (before Eustace was un-dragoned, especially). There’s very little to do, the food is revolting, and he always gets the idea that Aunt Alberta judges his parents for their lifestyle choices–among other things, the schools they chose for their children, the storybooks they let them read, and the activities they let them do.
Not to mention that Eustace acts as though he is superior to his elder cousins because of his great knowledge of Facts. Peter knows good and well that Eustace would be overwhelmed by any real scrape, and tries to keep an eye on him whenever there’s a possibility of something going wrong.
Aunt Alberta dislikes Peter because of his take-charge and protective nature. She fears he will grow up to be a demeaning sort of person.
Susan tries to be gracious and welcoming whenever her cousins come over, and listens patiently (if reluctantly) to Eustace’s endless recitation of Facts and Aunt Alberta’s feminist lectures.
Edmund hides when his cousins come over.
Lucy finds his hiding places and joins him. Before LWW, this was the only thing he would willingly share with his little sister.
Occasionally, Peter finds their hiding places and requires that his siblings come out and be polite to their guests, while admitting it was the last thing he wanted to do himself. But that made no difference–they had to be respectful.
Other times, however, Peter just lets them hide, not wanting to subject them to this rot.
*Canon based, actually. Look at the difference between his behavior around his men, the governor of the Lone Islands, and Ramandu and his daughter, and his behavior around the Pevensies.
**Also canon based. Lewis said she was not much good at schoolwork (though otherwise old for her age)–and that she was good at more hands-on activities.
It occurred to me the other day that Lewis never stated the race of the Telmarines. All he said was that they were pirates who roamed the south seas. They could have been of any nationality. But since Caspian is described (in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) as blond, and his aunt Prunaprismia is described as red-haired, that seems to indicate European heritage.
But the Telmarines probably had south seas native heritage mixed in, as Prince Caspian says that these pirates “took the native women for wives.” On the other hand, Lewis generally specified if someone’s coloring was darker (or in the case of the White Witch, lighter) than the European norm. Which seems into indicate that the Telmarines may have at least looked more European than anything else.
On a different note, I’ve seen some misconceptions about the Pevensies floating around. Namely, that Edmund is a sassy prankster, that Peter is the more level-headed, grounded one, and that Susan is the logical, down-to-earth one. I think this is all from movie influence. The books’ descriptions are different. Peter, to start with, is not only bold and adventurous, he’s the one who totally understands a kid’s propensity to hide and play jokes. He even points out how Lucy could do it better: “You’ll have to hide longer than that if you want people to start looking for you.”
Edmund, on the other hand, is straightforward (“If you’re not still too high and mighty to talk to me, I’ve something to say which you’d better listen to”), logical, and down-to-earth. In LWW, he points out that they were following a guide they knew nothing about, and probably couldn’t get home from there. In PC, he was bugged by the unexplained fact that Cair Paravel had become a ruin in a single year–and he’s the one who figures out the time difference between the worlds. His plan for following the coast and the streams to Aslan’s How was incredibly simple and logical–he just forgot to factor in geographical changes because of that time difference. (He was also still a kid; give him a break.) In VDT, he is said to have read several detective stories, and he’s the one who pointed out the strangeness of the finding clothes and weapons scattered on one island, but no body and no bones and no signs of a fight. Nowhere in the books do I see evidence that Edmund would be a sassy prankster; and he grew up to be a “graver, quieter man than Peter”.
Susan is practical, but not inherently logical. In fact, in some instances, she is downright illogical; in PC, she is too afraid to see Aslan at first, even after Lucy had been twice proven right, and (as time went by) the testimony of the siblings who could see Aslan should have convinced her.
More head canons:
Susan loves reading her mother’s old Good Housekeeping magazines.
She also taught herself to knit to help the war effort.
Her outfits are simple and stylish, but she doesn’t pay that much attention to her looks (Lewis doesn’t describe her as focused on appearance until The Last Battle).
Peter is dedicated and responsible, but if a duty isn’t pressing, he pauses to have some fun with his siblings.
I see Peter being, not focused on his looks, but after that first trip to Narnia, a more or less neat and/or sharp dresser.
Edmund, by contrast, couldn’t care less about his appearance and dress, and even while a King of Narnia, favored a simpler style.
Edmund is somewhat bookish.
He also has a sweet tooth (though this is based in canon: in PC, the trees’ food looks so much like chocolate that he tries a piece of it).
Lucy is the only morning person of the four of them. Edmund is the hardest to wake up in the morning.
Lucy goes barefoot whenever possible in the summer.