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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Time to have a little fun with a Star Trek motif. We note in passing that Captain Picard has exquisite taste.

PICARD’S PERENNIALLY PERFECT POTABLE

Some people swear by coffee
As loud as loud can be;
But for the truly civilized,
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

Some long for port or cognac,
White wine or vin rose`;
But far more elegant than these:
A small sip of Earl Grey.

Some swear by Coke or Pepsi,
The Uncola or RC;
But those who really want the best
Request some Earl Grey tea.

And some must have their Perrier;
Some could have had V-8.
But those whose taste is most refined
All think Early Grey is great.

The captain of the Enterprise,
He sails a starry sea;
He asks the Replicator for
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

 

The captain of the Enterprise,
When first he rises up,
He wants the status of the ship
And Earl Grey in his cup.

The captain of the Enterprise
Will always end his day
With a page or two of Shakespeare
And a cup of hot Earl Grey.

The captain of the Enterprise,
He drinks it by the pot.
Unto the Replicator,
He says, “Tea—Earl Grey—hot!”

While too much Saurian Brandy
Or too much Romulan Ale
Can give you trouble, you can drink
Your Earl Grey by the pail.

Yes, some folks swear by coffee
As loud as loud can be.
But for the truly civilized:
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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Laughter – It’s all about timing

I have learned a few things about myself…

  1. My legs bounce when I laugh
  2. Laughing while eating eggs is a very good way to choke
  3. My laugh apparently sounds just like a whooping crane
  4. No matter how many times my friends have heard me snort…they still think it’s funny.

I know you are probably wondering why I am musing over laughter: I promise you I have a point.  It was somewhere in the middle of that fit of laughter…timing and that well placed phrase or word.  These are the elements of comedy.

A haunted toilet has some many mysteries…

And I am sure if my friends tried to stage an intervention for me and my problems, it would be something like this…

I fear that I have tried many wardrobes…and I will not give up.

But I digress, I was talking about humor, well actually about laughter…my laughter.  There are some things that just make me laugh, more specifically quotes that just strike me… funny.

Quick Niles kill five eels! – Frasier

Looks like somebody just lost the Elf vote – Andrew Peterson

I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt in all this random and funny…

What are some of your favorite funny quotes?

Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: The Fuzzies

Here is one of my posts from my Tough Guide to Clichés series!  Because we can never have enough fuzzies…

_________________________________________________________________________________________

I’ve really been enjoying my month in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland and all of the marvelous clichés that she has brought to my attention.  What I think I have learned while writing these (and perhaps, you have, by reading them) is that while there are always cliché ways to present your world and characters, there also just as many ways to avoid or even to utilize those clichés to make our fantasylands better.  An awareness of the stereotypes gives us greater power over our worlds.

And what megalomaniacal, world-building author does not want greater power?

So we’ve covered names, colour-coding, and villains thus far.  I want to touch on something a little smaller, a detail that might not even come into consideration when we are writing.  But when you think about it, it is a little strange.

pangur ban cat rabbit friends
Pangur Ban is a magic cat and Bella is a soulless, power-hungry, would-be villain. I think they both merit a story or two.

The question that Jones presents in one of her entries is this: Where are all the fuzzies?

Specifically, how do animals figure into your storytelling?

First, let’s see what Diana Wynne Jones has to say:

Animals. See Enemy Spies, Food, and Transport.  Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purpose, there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland.  Any other animals you meet will be the result either of Wizard’s Breeding Programme or of Shapeshifting.  You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.

Domestic Animals are as rare as wild Animals.  In most cases their existence can be proved only by deduction.  Thus, sheep must exist, because people wear wool, and so must cattle, as there is usually cheese to eat.  Cats are seen in company with Witches and Crones, often in large numbers, but seldom elsewhere, and there have been sightings also of solitary pigs; possibly in Fantasyland cats are herd animals whereas pigs are not.  Goats are seen oftener (and may even provide the cheese) and dogs are frequent but often rather feral – the arrival of a Tour party at a Village is usually greeted by barking dogs.  Dogs are also kept in numbers by Kings and nobles, where their job is to be scavengers: you throw bones on the floor and the dogs fight for them.  These hounds cannot be kept for hunting (except perhaps for hunting men and Mutant Nasties), as there are no Animals to hunt.

The thoughtful Tourist might like to pause here and consider, since Animals are so rare, what exactly the meat is that the Management puts in its Stew.

Another use for animals: as desks.
My brother demonstrates another use for animals: as desks.

Now, then, let’s talk about the animals.  When I read this, I remember feeling a very twingy sense of concern because my fantasy serial The Holder Wars has fallen prey to exactly this description of animals.  There are horses for “Transportation” and then there are plenty of shapeshifters.  But my land has been peculiarly lacking in pretty much anything else.

Oops.

But here’s the conundrum: We want to create a world that is realistic and immersive and natural.  On the other hand, we want to tell a story and relate action and dialogue and characterization.  This means we do have to make some choices about what is important to describe and what isn’t.  If I were to write a chase scene through the woods, I wouldn’t stop the narrative for a moment to point out some bluebirds nesting in one of the trees my characters is frantically riding past.  I don’t need to tell the reader everything on Old MacDonald’s farm when my character passes by or stops in, do I?  We do need to have boundaries, and in many ways, it does make sense to only bring up things like animals when they are actually integral in some way to the plot.  Otherwise, the book becomes a ponderous tome of details.

chicken food
Dogs are desks… and chickens are cuddly snacks. This child lives in an interesting world.

And fuzzies just aren’t worth it.

So what do we do with animals?  Of course, we continue to use them in our stories in various ways, whether it is the usual horse transportation or as game to be shot or as magical changelings.  Otherwise, I think we would do well to be aware of any significant gap in our description, such as of a forest or farmland, and where we might add some animals.

It might do us some good to read what Jones has to say about horses as well:

Horses are a breed unique to Fantasyland.  They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.  Sometimes they do not require food or water.  They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  They never otherwise stumble … But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them.  If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a Valley while you talk.  Apart from this inexplicable quirk, Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.  Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no Stallion ever shows an interest in a mare; and few Horses are described as geldings.  It therefore seems probably that they breed by pollination.  This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals.

The same issues apply with horses,  I think, when it comes to description in stories.  If we were to be completely and utterly realistic, we would also be completely and utterly boring.  However, I do like Jones’ point about horses needing rest and the issue of stallions, mares, and geldings.  These are small practicalities that might be worth bringing into consideration.

Unless, of course, your horses do in fact breed by means of pollination, which is another matter entirely.  And I would like to read that story.

belted gallowy
Cow is sad because she is not in a story.

So, what are your thoughts on fuzzies in fantasyland?  Do you think that novels tend to dismiss them too easily or do you think that it is generally a matter of space and practicality?  Do fuzzies matter to you?

Pathos in Pieces: Nostalgia in The Lego Movie

It may have something to do with the fact that I’m getting hitched in under two months, but I’ve recently been thinking a lot about emotions. Specifically, the ways people try to drag out an emotional response in media, like movies or books. Sometimes it’s like they think they’ve got a prize-winning big-mouth bass on the line. As I am male, I tend to resist this sort of coercion. I pull that line with every ounce of bass-strength I have, and if I go down, I’m taking them with me. I find that even when I’m caught off-guard and have to pretend that there’s something in my eye to avoid the awkward glances of fellow movie-goers, I resent the assault of the writers on my emotions and judge them for their crudeness.

My point is mainly this: anyone can have their protagonist’s favorite fuzzy take an errant arrow, or have a doe-eyed little girl meet an untimely grizzly death to drag a tear out of the audience. It’s cheap, easy, and as far as I’m concerned, poor form. Melissa already covered this ground succinctly in Killing Little Suzie, so read her post if you want her take on when and when not to murder children for dramatic effect.

What I would like to explore in this post, however, is what I feel is a much subtler and more artful emotional appeal that I find is not only more difficult to pull off effectively, but widely unrecognized for its power.

Nostalgia – The Subtler Appeal

The Lego Movie posterI recently saw The Lego Movie (yes, I know, I’m a bit late), and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Any film based on a children’s toy is in danger of being hopelessly dumb and devoid of creativity, often purposefully so, because the people involved operate under the assumption that children like dumb, worthless fluff and will go see the movie anyway because TOYS! Clearly, we have many great works of literature and even several great classic films that demonstrate the fallacy of good art having no appeal to children. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie are both enduring children’s classics full of wit and humor that delight adults alike. Pixar has given us several films that clearly have tremendous appeal to both children and adults. I don’t specifically seek out movies that were created for children, but I have seen many films fail because they try to dumb their art down to what they think is an appropriately childish level.

I loved Legos growing up. I still refuse to refer to them by the appropriately Dutch plural form “Lego” because I’ve always called them Legos and I’m not a pretentious prat. So when I saw the preview for The Lego Movie, I was sure that it was either going to be exceedingly dumb or incredible. After hearing good things about it from several friends, even those unlikely to make excuses for a “Kids Movie,” I was optimistic.

What I actually got was a beautifully crafted, stop-motion animated monument to my childhood, and I ached to have a young sibling or nephew to share it with. I wanted to go excavate my parent’s attic and dump my old 50-gallon container of Legos on my bedroom floor and build a giant spaceship. The Toy Story series of movies touched my sense of Nostalgia for my childhood imagination in a general, vague way, but this movie was a direct hit on my inner child.

 

Nostalgia and Kitsch

So, great. I really really liked The Lego Movie. But I started thinking about it more and more, about what I found so powerful. The story was well-written, and the gags were clever and endearing, but I felt that there was something deeper that resonated.

The sheer scope of the animation process for this movie is mind-blowing to me.
Aside from the value of the movie’s script and effective appeals to nostalgia, the sheer scope of the animation process for this movie is mind-blowing. You’ll swear it’s CGI, but it’s not.

When I use the word nostalgia, I am dangerously close to both clichés and kitsch. Merriam-Webster Online defines nostalgia as 1: the state of being homesick, 2: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. “Excessively sentimeltal” strikes me as inherently negative, and in a sense, for a writer to attempt to affect the audience with a deep sense of nostalgia, he or she is in danger of relying on kitsch, the post-modern self-aware manufacture of emotional experience for its own sake.

In my recent class on literary criticism, I read an article Roger Scruton called “A Culture of Fake Originality” in which he describes contemporary academia as being driven primarily by kitsch, which he defined as a work of art which is “not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it” (1). According to Scruton, this phenomenon relies on a collaboration between faker and victim to replace reality with the idealistic vision represented by kitsch. Kitschy art that wields nostalgia relies on the audience to supply his or her idealistic vision of the past, ignoring conflict and flaws in an unbridled fantasy of what should have been. But the old guard of Tolkien and Lewis would say that the peril in the adventure of childhood is just as important as reflecting on the happiness of more innocent times.

The Lego Movie is not about creating a beautiful and false ideal, nor is it relying on clichés to formulate whatever market-driven image of childhood we should all have stamped on our memories. Without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, I can safely say that the entire story world of this film reflects a child’s unabashed creativity and imagination, through the medium of a child’s toy that specifically enables it, and to me the combination was a powerful image more akin to The Shire than the sort of merchandise-driven marketing ploys we’ve come to expect.

I’ve gone to somewhat silly lengths to express my admiration for the quality work I saw in this movie, but I hope I’ve at least managed to express the impact the legitimate and effective use of nostalgia can have, if only on one person. You may not have as strong of a reaction as I did to The Lego Movie¸ but I encourage you to look for the more subtle and artful emotional appeals in movies and books and to call it out when you find it. I for one want to see more of this sort of thing rather than the likes of that abomination The Last Airbender or that mind-rendingly horrible Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

StoryBuilding 1.0 – And A Title, Too!

It’s been a busy month, and I’m sure that you are all so relieved to have all the hard parts of story writing so easily taken care of by yours truly.  Really, I am just the nicest person.

But before I let all of these newly fledged stories fly free, I realized that I still have left off one very important part: the title.

choose book titleBecause stories need titles, apparently.  Otherwise, things would get kind of confusing.

So for my last post, here are some helpful suggestions to get you the attention-grabbing, inspirational, unique title that you’ve always dreamed of.

Or something like that.

The usual rules apply.  Pick one from each of the following and watch your title magically appear before your eyes!

 

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character
B. Plot
C. Unexpected


2. Structure

A. And
B. Of
C. One Word

3. Add Some Adjectives:

A. Serious
B. Fluffy
C. Mysterious
D. Unexpected

You never knew so much went into titles, did you?  Well, let’s see what happens.

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character: Place the main character’s name right there in the title.  Just make sure you give your character a name that is fairly easy to pronounce and spell or else no one will be able to remember the book.  Your character’s name might be the only word in the title, which is a bit self-centered but workable, or your character is defined by something else in the story.
B. Plot: Use one of the following relevant words as the key to your epic title: War, Book, Magic, Quest, or Power.  Whichever one is most central to your story, or whichever sounds most important even if it’s not quite central, that’s what you want to go with.  Many people like to include the character and major plot point just to keep things exciting.
C. Unexpected: If you picked “Unexpected” for what is probably the eleventeenth time, it means you want something random, daring, or inexplicable.  So go ahead and include a “Frumious Hedgehog” or a “Cantankerous Sea Turtle” in your title.  I dare you.

2. Structure

A. And: Using “and” is a great way to sneak a whole lot more information into the title.  Follow one of these formats for a sure-fire win:

[Character’s name] and [mysterious object].

[Character] and [Character] [do something interesting].

[Mysterious object] and [another mysterious object].

B. Of: Including an “of” prepositional phrase is a great way to make your story sound really, really important.  Here are some useful guidelines:

The Quest of the [important thing].

[Character’s name] of [important place].

The [-ing words like: running, seeking, reading] of [important place/thing/person].

[Awesome noun] of [Awesome noun].

C. One Word: One word titles are all the rage, these days.  Just make sure the word is so powerful, so impressive, so though-provoking, so unique, so catchy, and so vaguely relevant to what your story is about that your readers can’t help saying to their friends, “Hey, have you read [Insert One Word Here]?”   Adjectives often work for this.  For example: “Frumious”.  (Now that I’ve given you that example, you can’t cheat and use it, so move on).

3. Add Some Adjectives:adjectives list

A. Serious: Dark, deep, long, final, lost, eternal, scarlet
B. Fluffy: Great, cerulean, shining, magical, new
C. Mysterious: silent, hidden, shadowed
D. Unexpected: grumpy, spasmodic, punctual, crapulous

 

With this handy guide, you will come up with titles, such as the following gems of my own making (no stealing these brilliant ideas!):

“Archibald and the Cerulean Spoon”
“The Quest of the Cantankerous Turtle”
“The Spasmodic Spies of Spinne”
“Barry and Klive Destroy The World”
“The Silent Telling of the Hidden Tale”

So many perfect titles.  Now all they need are stories.  What titles have you come up with?  Please share!  And happy writing, one and all.