55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Favorite Character Types

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

Captain America is probably the poster boy for this type!

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

Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda from the 2002 mini-series.

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

A comic I drew back in 2013!

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.)

The Leader

This is how I picture Peter Pevensie!

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

Henry Jekyll

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?


55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Further Narnia Thoughts – A Confession, A Rant, and Personal Therapy

The Confession

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…

The Rant

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:

  • Modern-sounding dialogue
  • Hidden angst in the characters
  • Susan/Caspian ships
  • Unholy romantic pairings (you think Narnia escapes this?  Guess again)
  • Peter as the more level-headed, grounded one
  • Peter’s protective nature being magnified above his other qualities
  • Blond Peter
  • 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 things about 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).
55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

The Art of Storytelling – Creating My Compass

(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.









55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Guest Post! – Beauty & the Beast Film Review

My sister Gingersnap went to see Beauty and the Beast recently, and typed up her thoughts about it, and kindly let me post her review.  There are some spoilers sprinkled throughout, just to warn you.  Also, when Gingersnap refers to the cartoon Beauty and the Beast, she means the special edition.  Enjoy!

First, let me say that the 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” Disney cartoon is one of my favourite movies, and I’m very passionate about it (probably too much).  Therefore, a lot of the opinions I formed of the live action remake is based on my biased love of the cartoon.  If you don’t love the cartoon as much as I do, half of this probably won’t make sense, but I’m sharing it anyway. 😉

Let’s start with things I liked about it!

The Actors’ Performances (most of them).  This is an AMAZING cast (with one exception I’ll discuss later)!!  My favourites are probably:

Luke Evan’s Gaston.  AGH, Luke’s acting and singing were both terrific!!  I never would have thought Bard could be such a bad guy! 😉

Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere.  He did such a fun, wonderful job of being carefree, charismatic Lumiere (even though his French accent wasn’t the greatest)!  My dad didn’t think he was that great, but I loved him.  Dad says he liked it better when Cogsworth had the lighter voice and Lumiere had the deeper voice, as in the cartoon.  The remake switched it around.  I kinda see what he means, but I thought Ewan and Ian McKellen both did a great job.

Josh Gad’s Lefou.  He captured the cartoon character’s personality/mannerisms spot-on!  (More on Lefou later.)

Dan Stevens was also incredible (I REALLY  love what I’ve seen of Dan in interviews), but I’ll talk more on this later. And his singing was wonderful, too!

The Musical Numbers.  I love the Beauty and the Beast songs so much, and the orchestra; and most of the singing/dancing was wonderful!  I wasn’t as crazy about the new songs, although “Evermore” was beautiful.  But I’m very unhappy they left out “Human Again”.  They could have made that AMAZING.  And man, “Gaston” was so much fun (except it would have been FAR more enjoyable without Lefou; again, more on that later).  My top favourite musical scene is probably “Be Our Guest”, which was INCREDIBLE!!  Which brings me to my next point …

The CGI.  Without a doubt, this film is BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL.  I love the detail and beauty of the Beast’s castle, not to mention the talking objects!!  Sometimes you can tell when a movie is using too much CGI (like The Hobbit *cough*), but the CGI looked really real!  I heard some people say “Be Our Guest” wasn’t too impressive, but I was amazed!!  But I’m also not a CGI expert. 😉

Dan Steven’s Adam.  OH MY GOODNESS I LOVE HIM SO MUCH AND HE’S ADORABLE!!!  His smile just makes me dance on fairy clouds with happiness.  He’s so CUTE!!!  (And I mean that in a sweet way, not a creepy way).  I wish we could have seen more of him!

And now for the negatives.

Emma Watson’s Belle.  I mean no disrespect to people who like her performance, and I really don’t mind if the rest of the world thinks she’s great, but I can’t stand her.  (As in, I dislike her AS BELLE. I’m sure her acting was great, but I don’t think she’s a good Belle, and I think the movie ruined Belle’s character in general; more on that later.)

For one, her singing voice wasn’t that great, and she didn’t even TRY to hold notes.  It’s hard for me to overlook that, especially compared to Paige O’Hara, who had such a deep, rich voice and sang with such strength and passion.

But my biggest problem is how the movie portrayed Belle in general.  (This may or may not be Emma’s fault; I’m not sure.)  To me, the attitude behind Cartoon Belle and Emma Belle is what’s different.  Cartoon Belle was an imaginative reader who longed for adventure, which made her “odd” to everyone else, but she was comfortable with it and polite about it.  But what I saw in Emma Belle was a show-off, full-of-herself attitude, and she seemed to treat others condescendingly.  There’s a difference between being comfortable with your differences and showing off your differences.  It’s almost like Emma Belle was trying to prove something.  (I’m very sure I’m the only one who thinks this way; I won’t argue if people disagree).  Not to mention the fact that Emma Belle is SO “independent” and non-conformative to the point she doesn’t wear a corset and she pins her skirt up, revealing her legging things underneath (I’m assuming it’s underwear?).  I mean, I get that French clothing in those times wasn’t very practical, but seriously??

One difference I especially disliked was Emma Belle’s encounter with Gaston, especially compared to Cartoon Belle.

Cartoon Belle – Is kind and polite to Gaston, even though he’s flirting with her, abusing her favourite book, and being obnoxious in general.  However, she’s not afraid to tell him to his face that he’s “positively primeval”, but her tone of voice is light-hearted, not disgusted or condescending.

Emma Belle – has an eye-rolling demeanor towards Gaston and doesn’t really try to be nice.  “May I come over for dinner?” Gaston asks.  “No, sorry,” Belle replies.  “Busy?” Gaston says.  “No …” Belle walks away.  I guess she could have been ruder, but compared to cartoon Belle, I thought it was rather snobbish.  At least Cartoon Belle said she had to help her father, which was true.  Emma Belle basically says, “I don’t like you, go away.”

And I HATE HATE HATE that they have Belle trying to escape immediately after giving herself over to Beast.  It ruins the beauty of what Belle did for her father.  In the cartoon, Belle made a SACRIFICE for her father.  She GAVE HER WORD to remain as Beast’s prisoner to save Maurice, even though it meant she lost her freedom forever.  She says, “YOU HAVE MY WORD.”  And she does keep it, at least for a while; it’s not until Beast yells at her in the West Wing that she runs away.  But in the remake, she tells Maurice, “I promise I’ll escape”, and she does as soon as she can by tying the dresses together and climbing out the window.  That’s not a sacrifice.  Emma Belle loses nothing by taking her father’s place if she means to escape.  That takes away the impact of Beast’s own future sacrifice when he releases Belle so she can be with her father, meaning Beast loses his chance of being a human again.  Beast’s sacrifice mirrors the sacrifice he saw Belle make when he first met her.

Another difference (not necessarily a bad one) between Cartoon Belle and Emma Belle is their answers to Beast’s question, “Are you happy here with me?”  Cartoon Belle says, “Yes … if only I could see my father again, just for a moment. I miss him so much.”  Emma Belle also acknowledges she misses her father, but her first response to Beast’s question is, “Can anyone be happy when they’re not free?”  I completely understand her wanting freedom; there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I like it better that Maurice is the  only thing missing from Belle’s happiness.

You get the idea, I’m moving on.

Beast’s character.  Again, an attitude thing.  In the cartoon, when Beast starts falling in love with Belle, he truly wants to be nice and do something good for her, but he’s not used to it and he’s not sure how.  Anyhow, he’s eager, just clueless.  In the remake, it seemed to me like Beast would try to be nice, but act like he wasn’t trying to be nice.  Ya know what I mean?  Like he didn’t want to admit he was being nice.  And then Belle has to pry it out of him like, “are you being nice?” and he’s like, “er … no.”  I prefer it when Beast was openly being kind. Like giving her the library!  In the cartoon, Beast decides he wants to do something for Belle, and settles on giving her the library.  Intentionally!  Because she loves books!  In the live action movie, he and Belle are in the library and she’s like, “I love this!”  And he’s like, “Really? Cool. Well, I guess you can have it.”  It wasn’t as sweet and special to me as the cartoon version was.

Another thing I don’t like is how the movie almost blames Beast’s dad for Beast’s bad attitude.  Um, no.  In the cartoon, Beast’s rotten attitude was clearly his own fault, and that’s what he had to change.  But nooo, the remake had to give him this tragic backstory, having his father treat him badly and twist him into growing up the way he did.  Like you’re supposed to go, “Aww, poor Beast, it’s not his fault, the enchantress was so mean to him!!”  It IS his fault, thankyeverymuch.  Don’t pin this on the dad.

Rushed moments.  Maybe not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but some of my favourite moments between Belle and Beast felt rushed, one in particular: when Beast decides to release Belle.  In the cartoon, Belle looks into the magic mirror, sees her sick father, and says, “He may be dying, and he’s all alone!”  The music swells, and Beast turns to the rose vase and strokes it, and you can see it in his eyes that he’s making that life-changing decision.  After a pause, he says genuinely but not without regret, “Then … then you must go to him.”  Later he says, “I release you. You’re no longer my prisoner.”  It’s so powerful and emotional.  And then Belle strokes his cheek in thanks before she leaves, and we’re all bawling at that point.

How does the remake do it?  Belle says, “He may be dying, and he’s all alone!”  Beast IMMEDIATELY says, “Then you must go to him.”  Um. What? I blinked, and I missed it.  And Belle’s just like, “Really? Awesome, toodles!”  For something so character-defining and life-changing for Beast, they didn’t even bother to draw it out.  Maybe to make room for the new song “Evermore?”  Maybe they thought “Evermore” showed it better than the pause before Beast’s decision.  I dunno.  Anyway, I didn’t like it.

Another difference I don’t like is when Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts warn Beast of Gaston’s arrival after Belle leaves.  In the cartoon, Cogsworth asks why Beast let Belle go, and he answers, “Because … I love her.”  He admitted it himself.  But the remake has Mrs Potts say it for him: “Because he loves her.”  … Ma’am?  Beast can speak for himself.  Don’t take his spotlight.  Seriously, why have Mrs. Potts sum it up??  The whole point of the curse was to teach Beast to love.  He should be the one to acknowledge when that finally happens.

One more.  This isn’t so much of a rushed moment as a moment that wasn’t in the movie to begin with.  I love in the cartoon when Belle reads “Romeo and Juliet” to Beast, and he loves it.  He asks to hear it again, and she helps him practice reading.  In the remake, Beast already remembers how to read and is well-versed in literature.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I love seeing Belle encourage that love of reading in him.  Also, in the remake, Beast is embarrassed when Belle catches him reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere (a romance), and she teases him about it.  What happened to the Beast who loved hearing “Romeo and Juliet” (another romance)?

That Weird Backstory With Belle’s Mom.  What was that for?!  I couldn’t figure out what it contributed to the story. Supposedly it explains why Maurice left Belle’s mom, but when was that even a thing?  Belle’s mom is never mentioned in the cartoon.  And in said cartoon, Maurice and Belle have a wonderful, sweet relationship.  I felt like that was some tension between them in the remake, maybe because Belle didn’t know the aforementioned Weird Backstory With Belle’s Mom.

Lefou’s Love for Gaston.  I really, really thought Lefou’s gay parts were going to be subtle, so subtle that I could wave them off as being character-accurate obsession with Gaston (non-romantic).  But they weren’t subtle.  You can’t miss it in Lefou’s glances and the way he drapes himself on Gaston’s chair.  Sometimes I closed my eyes and turned my head just cause I couldn’t bear to watch it. Granted, it could have been worse, and there wasn’t even kissing or anything physical.  But you still know exactly what Hollywood was going for.  It was especially frustrating during the “Gaston” number because it was SO WELL DONE and SO FUN TO WATCH, and they had to soil it with Lefou.  It’s such a bummer because if Lefou hadn’t been gay, he would have been such an enjoyable, hilarious sidekick, and I could have actually rooted for him when he became a good guy.

Thankfully Lefou’s parts were not many, so I’m hoping maybe we can skip/edit his bad parts out with the DVD.  He didn’t spoil the whole movie for me, but I was hoping there would be enough wonderfulness in the film to make it worth it to me.  But whether because of Belle’s and Beast’s changes that I’ve mentioned, or maybe just Emma Watson’s existence in general, their love story didn’t touch me the way it did in the cartoon.

I know I listed more negatives than positives, but I truly did enjoy watching it, and it’s incredibly well-made in some areas.  I’m just disappointed with how they handled Belle and Beast.  But I would love to watch it again, if only to enjoy the music and animation and to feed my own imagination so I can mentally come up with a much better version.








55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Picture Wednesday – Art Block

The problem is not lack of ideas for what to draw–those come in abundance.  It’s that I can’t get my sketches to even resemble human beings, poses, landscapes, and so on.  The result of any attempt is pages of graphite scribbles with “this stinks” or “argh!” scrawled somewhere near the failed sketch.

I’ve heard this happens to other artists–they hit periods in which they try hard, but nothing comes out right.  It’s a comfort to know that I’m not alone.  But though I don’t have much art to show, I branched out a little to accomplish what I did get done: I sketched my sister Enkie’s character and took a semi-commission from my brother Chris.

This is Enkie’s character from her period fiction story.  I want to be able to sketch and illustrate other people’s scenes and characters, not just my own.  Enkie was kind enough to let me practice with one of her characters.  🙂

Chris wanted to see what Batman looked like in my toned paper/sketchy graphite style and suggested I draw the Dark Knight in this pose.  His suggestion was a good one.  🙂

Looky, Batman rubbed off on me.  Literally.  #artist problems

A work-in-progress shot (this was before I added and smoothed the darkest tones and the final highlights.)

So yeah, not much artwork this week.  Maybe next week, there will be more!









55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Character Challenge: Animated Movies

Sorry I’ve been absent, guys.  I’m still recovering from illness and also helping family members who are also sick or getting sick.  To quote a family phrase coined years ago: “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without an illness.”

Anyway, I’m back now.  And since I missed so many days, the next few categories get to share one post.

Character everyone loves that you don’t.

Merida from Brave.  Film and TV is so full of spitfires that this character was nothing new and just made me roll my eyes.  But ignoring how often this type of character has been portrayed, Merida has very little in her personality that I respect.  She is irresponsible; she’s a princess, for crying out loud, and it’s implied she will rule the kingdom someday, but she complains about all her duties, everything she has to learn, and would rather ride her horse and shoot her bow.  While there’s nothing wrong with taking a break every now and then, she fusses about her royal education because she just doesn’t like it and would rather do what she wants.  And her hobbies of archery and riding aren’t even helpful to anyone, as there’s no mention of (a) a war or (b) any indication that women would fight if there were.  She’s a tomboy for the sake of being a tomboy; she kicks against an arranged married because, well, she just doesn’t want to get married.

Now, she does have a legitimate complaint against the arranged marriage; affection is an important consideration, to the point that Bible has a whole book dedicated to love between a husband and wife.  But Merida doesn’t object on these grounds.  She objects because she just doesn’t want to get married.  Kind of like a toddler refusing to eat his squash because he doesn’t like it.  She also has a legitimate complaint that her mother doesn’t listen to her—but Merida also doesn’t listen to her mother, doesn’t even make the effort.

All that said, I can respect her for acknowledging her mistake, mending it, and humbling her pride.  That is something I rarely see spitfire heroines do.  Aside from that, Merida doesn’t have a terribly unique personality and not enough qualities to respect.

*gets off soapbox*

Character that you love and everyone else hates.

*resists urge to talk about The Phantom of the Opera instead*

Ugh, I know there is an animated character that fits into this category, but I can’t remember who it is.

I’ll talk instead about an animated movie that I love, and it might strike people as odd, considering how seriously I take Tolkien’s epic stories.  But I like the Rankin Bass animated Hobbit movie.  Mainly because, while it was a very streamlined adaptation, it did tell the basic story (unlike some filmmakers I could name).  Also, the music is gorgeous; I was disappointed to find there wasn’t a soundtrack to the film.

Character you used to love but don’t anymore.

I’ve outgrown the animated Charlotte’s Web movie and the Madeline movies.  That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Character you would fall for.

Um…I’m really not the easily-swept-off-my-feet type.  It takes a lot of good character traits for me to respect a character (or a real-life person, for that matter).  However, the one character I might fall for also belongs in the next category….

The character you want to be like.

Tadashi Harmada, hands down.  He’s a responsible, protective older brother.  He pulls Hiro out of dangerous scrapes and then swats him for being foolish.  He has his brother’s best interest at heart at all times; he sees the potential in his little brother, knows he is capable of so much more than bot fighting, and tries to interest him in college and science rather than violent betting fights.  He teases his little brother, but also encourages him to keep trying, to look for another angle.

Tadashi is also the persevering, seen in his line “I’m not giving up on you,” but also in his lab, where it took 80-something tries and tests to get his robot Baymax in working order.  The very fact that he built a nurse robot to tend injuries and illness says something for his priorities, doesn’t it?

Interestingly, the film never implies that Tadashi is or was a young genius like Hiro is.  But there’s no jealousy between the brothers; if anything, Tadashi pushes Hiro to fulfil his talents and become better at them.

I want to be like Tadashi and to encourage my siblings to do what they’re good at, and to never give up on them.

55-Thwarted Steps (Dr. Jekyll)

Fifteen-Day Character Challenge: Animated Movies

I’m joining Bella for the Fifteen Day Character Challenge—she’s discussing anime characters, and I’m talking about animated/cartoon characters in general.  I’m also a day late in publishing this, and therefore, Days 1 and 2 get to share a post.   🙂

First character you absolutely loved.

When I was a kid, it would have been a toss-up between Madeline (from the animated films based on Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books), Duchess from The Aristocats, or any of the characters from the animated Charlotte’s Web.  (I still remember some of the songs from that film!)  Though I can’t remember why I liked Madeline and the barnyard animals, I liked Duchess because she was a cat.  I’ve always loved cats.

As an adult, I still like Duchess; she’s dignified but personable, and requires polite and controlled behavior from her kittens, yet she has a streak of adventurous spirit despite her sheltered life.

Character you never expected to love.

Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.  I knew there would be dragons in the film.  What I didn’t expect was how hilarious and sometimes cute Toothless was.  (Who knew a dragon could be cute?)

Toothless is at heart like any other pet: curious and playful, yet cautious; loyal, but sometimes with a mind of his own; generally obedient, yet sometimes evading Hiccup’s attempts to saddle and ride him.  It’s a familiar animal personality, but also unique because, well, he’s a dragon.

Anyway, Toothless is both adorable and fearsome, and probably I’m not the only viewer who ended up surprised at how attached I could get to an animated dragon.  🙂