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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.”

With the Holidays behind us, we return to our more or less chronological history of what trying to be a poet has taught us.  Why do we write?  This is as good an explanation as I have been able to come up with.  Jaime Fredericks was a student of mine some years ago, and is a very good writer of fantasy in her own right.

C. S. Lewis’s Writing Desk

THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

For Jaime Fredericks, Fellow Explorer

The mind is poised; the fingers grip the pen.

Ahead, the unexplored expanse of white

Lies peaceful, undisturbed—invites you in.

No one can tell what wondrous things you might

Encounter once the journey has begun.

The hidden chambers of the human heart,

That labyrinth that is fully known by none,

Lie perilously open once you start.

Solar systems far beyond our ken;

Dragons, wizards, elves, and warriors bold;

The desperate lives of ordinary men;

All the untold tales that must be told,

And any one might pick you for its Mage!

The grand adventure of the empty page.

Dr. Williams working on his next book

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 books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.

StoryBuilder 1.0 – Create the Perfect Character!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that for some of you, if you hear one more author complain about some form of existential crisis that results in the catch-all epidemic known as Writer’s Block, you are going to find a block (or a writer) and throw it at said author.  Because, really, there has to be something better to do than complain about being uninspired.

Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe authors just like to complain about writer’s block because it gives us a chance to explain how great our writing normally is when we’re not blocked – which is most of the time, for some of us.

At any rate, this post is not going to be about writer’s block.  Not at all.  I promise.  It is going to be about Inspiration and Creation and How To Build a Beautiful Story Out of the Strands of Creativity.  Or something awesome like that.

writers blockI promise that this is in no way the result of a horrible case of writer’s block that is causing me to question my calling as a writer or my ability to tell stories.  Not at all.

So, to start this month’s fun exercise in StoryBuilding, we are going to create characters together!  Doesn’t that sound fun?  At the end of this post, you will have the perfect character to introduce into your new world.  I promise.  (Note: No refunds for time, effort, or mental suffering will be offered if the character does not meet expectations or spontaneously dies during the course of the story)

The way this is going to work is that you are going to categorize your character.  Simply pick a letter in each category and make note of what you picked.  At the end, you will read the explanation for each categorization and have the building blocks for a brand new character.  Aren’t you excited?  I know I am.

 

BUILD YOUR CHARACTER HERE!

1. Character’s Backstory:

A.   Mysterious
B.   Tragic
C.   Royal
D.   Ignominious
E.   Unexpected

2. Character’s Appearance:

A.   Dashing
B.   Uninspiring
C.   Ridiculous
D.  Magnificent
E.   Unexpected

3. Character’s Character:

A.   Optimistic
B.   Brooding
C.   Humble
D.  Courageous
E.   Unexpected

4.  Character’s Priorities:

A.  Self
B.  Country
C.  Beloved
D.  Favorite Pet
E.  Unexpected

5. Character’s Weakness:

A.  Self
B.  Nemesis
C.  Beloved
D.  Allergies
E.  Unexpected

 

Now, I hope you made note of all of your choices because I’m about to tell you what you have chosen.  I will provide the descriptors for each of these category choices, and you will have assembled a complex and fascinating character to lead the charge in your new story.  Feel free to do this multiple times to add new characters to your entourage if you are in a questing mood.   (Note: I know some of you picked E: Unexpected for every single category.  You are about to receive your just reward for such a bold move)

1. Character’s Backstory:

A.  Mysterious: This character was found in a large soup tureen floating in the moat of some random duke’s castle and subsequently adopted by the local blacksmith.  No one knows how long the babe has been floating in the tureen or where the tureen or baby have come from.  Of one thing everyone is certain, however: This baby is Destined For Great Things. No pressure or anything.

B.  Tragic: This character was living a happy life selling apples in a market with his/her mother until, one day, an Evil Man on a black horse came and not only destroyed the apple cart, but stole every single apple.  Also, the Evil Man killed this character’s mother.  Thus began this character’s journey.

C.  Royal: This character is the second child of the king and queen of the country.  The royal parents shower all their attention on the first child and heir, causing extreme bitterness in this, the second child.

D.  Ignominious: This character was a farmer who raised sheep.  That’s about it.

E.   Unexpected:  This character insulted a fairy who was already having a bad day and was immediately put under a curse which causes the character to turn into a rabbit on the full moon.  No cure for this curse has thus far been discovered.

2. Character’s Appearance:

A.  Dashing: Congratulations.  Your character cuts such a dashing and noble figure that others are constantly begging to join this character and pledging their loyalty and gazing rapturously upon such incredible dashingness.  This is quite a burden for your character to bear.

B.   Uninspiring:  Read the above description.  Imagine the opposite.  No one respects this character or thinks they will amount to anything.

C.   Ridiculous:  This character has purple hair in a world where purple hair is both unlooked for and frowned upon. This character is also a bit on the short side, a bit on the wimpy side, and a bit on the no-one-knows-what-to-make-of-you side.

D.  Magnificent: This character has purple hair in a world where having purple hair is exotic, unique, and worthy of admiration.  Also, this character is often assumed to be royal, whether this is true or not, which makes things difficult when looking royal is dangerous.

E.   Unexpected: This character is a dragon, complete with big, scaly body, the ability to breathe fire, and an unfortunate tendency to frighten the populace of surrounding countries.

3. Character’s Character:

A.  Optimistic:  This is the character the annoys everyone with a sunny outlook on whatever predicament they might be in.  Nothing is ever too bad to be overcome.  A proclivity toward making long, inspiring speeches may or may not endear this character to others.

B.   Brooding:  This character hates the optimistic people of the world, is not prone to speaking much, and prefers to look darkly at things and assume the worst.  For some reason, others still find this attractive in your character, much to your character’s annoyance.

C.   Humble:  This character is not worthy of anyone’s high regard no matter how awesome they may be.  This character wishes everyone would stop assuming such good things about him or her and wants nothing more than to serve, despite being the leader and main character.  This character is simply not good enough to be so good at everything.

D.  Courageous: Leading every charge, risking life and limb whenever a small child or kitten is being assaulted by a minion of darkness, caring not at all if he/she lives or dies, this character may or may not be truly skilled in battle, but will bravely sally forth regardless.  Often seen sporting war-wounds which are simply ignored, this character will stand up for Truth and Right and battle Injustice and Evil unswervingly.

E.   Unexpected: This character is a combination of all of the above, a complex individual who hopes for the best, plans for the worst, hates attention, and loves taking unnecessary, but impressive risks.  This leads to an assortment of conflicted emotions that often paralyze this character in a state of indecision just when important decisions need to be made.  This character’s friends and foes alike are often confused and nervous whenever a confrontation is imminent because one never knows what to expect.

4.  Character’s Priorities:

A.  Self:  This character may have many good qualities and is well aware of them, which is why this character deems it so important to preserve such a valuable life as his/her own, perhaps at the expense of someone slightly less valuable.  This may seem callous and unheroic, but your character realizes that it is utterly impossible to be a hero if one is dead or imprisoned or otherwise inconvenienced.  Keeping oneself alive is a first priority from which every other heroic trait might naturally follow.

B.  Country:  For better or for worse, this character loves king/queen/president/dictator and country more than life itself.  This may become something of an issue of the country somehow fails to uphold other standards of the character, but ultimately, preserving the country from foes foreign or domestic is this character’s goal.

C.  Beloved:  True love conquers all, and any villain worth his/her salt knows that to get to your character, all they have to do is find your character’s beloved and place that individual in some creative form of danger.  Your character will risk life, friends, country, and any unfortunate person who gets in the way in order to save this most prized and treasured of beings.  Most likely, your character’s beloved is somehow a key point in the villain’s plot anyway, so saving him or her conveniently serves two purposes.

D.  FavoritePet:  Who needs people?  Your character’s favorite steed, favorite dog, or favorite bird is somehow constantly in danger and constantly in need of saving.  Thankfully, this favored pet of your character will end up saving your character’s life at a significant juncture, thereby justifying your character’s strange priorities.

E.  Unexpected:  Your character wants nothing more than to be a traveling bard.  Every experience, both good and bad, can be turned into a song.  At the end of it all, your character hopes to write the ultimate ballad by which to be remembered forever.  Your character is frequently caught composing a new tune during critical moments of the plot.

5. Character’s Weakness:

A.  Self:  Your character has issues.  While somehow remaining lovable, your character often questions his or her ability to solve problems, be a leader, be a follower, save others, save him/herself, or otherwise succeed at the given task.  If anyone insults your character’s appearance or ability, your character is immediately consumed by self-doubt.  It is both irritating and endearing.

B.  Nemesis:  The villain of your story is either the character’s sibling or schoolmate who knows all of your character’s weaknesses and goals, being a former confidant.  After a falling out, which was in absolutely no way your character’s fault, of course, the villain is determined to destroy the main character by any means necessary, and is frightfully creative in doing so.

C.  Beloved: See above description of Character Priorities: C.  Pretty much everything threatens the life of your character’s beloved, rendering your character incapable of making logical decisions, inspiring headlong rushes into traps, and ultimately causing your character to question any moral principles once held if they stand between the character and his/her beloved.

D.  Allergies:  Whether it is peanuts, glowing green rocks, or some mysterious antagonizing agent in the possession of the villain, your character cannot seem to get through an entire chapter without stumbling headlong into something that causes excruciating pain, delirium, and poor decision making specifically to this one individual.  Since no one else is affected, having friends around can be helpful, but this allergic reaction will occur in conjunction with any important plot point.

E.  Unexpected:  Your character is deathly afraid of rabbits.  This may or may not be known to the villain at the outset of the story, but probably will be by the climax.  Woodland areas are traumatic to your hero, as are most grasslands, farmland, and pretty much everywhere else.  No one is quite sure how your character is still (mostly) sane.

 

Share Your Results!

Having reached the conclusion of this character description workshop, you should now have a complex and interesting person to work with for your story.  No two characters should be alike, even if you’ve picked the same letters as someone else, so if you would indulge me in sharing your character’s description, adding your own details and filling in the basic outline a bit, I would be much obliged.

Next week, we’ll do some world building in a similar fashion.  By the end of the month, I expect to have several bestsellers in the making.

You’re welcome.

Inspiration in the Stillness

This month I’ve been looking at who and what inspires me.  For some, inspiration enriches the soul, helps us to appreciate the world we live in just a little more.  For others, inspiration drives us to recreate or, as Tolkien called it, sub-creation.  The beautiful sunset, the rain streaking down the window obscuring the woods, the bright colors of spring reflected in the varied outfits of the busy passers by on the city street, the long road lined with red-buds and blooming trees – they inspire us to paint, sculpt, draw, write, or read. In my last post I called these the wild places that compel me to be something more and make me aspire to tell stories. But often I am too busy, too noisy to appreciate these things.

Inspiration breaths in the quiet moments, when we are still.

I am reminded of Psalms 46:10″Be still, and know that I am God.”

If we acknowledge the truth of what Tolkien wrote about the art of sub-creation- we can only create because God has created us and we enjoy creation only because of Him – then we cannot truly sub-create without acknowledging the creator.  Imagination becomes an imitation of the act of creation.

Be still.

Take a moment and enjoy creation.  Be inspired.  Do not let the business of life detract from the enjoy the world we live in, from finding inspiration in the wild places, the books we read, and the people we know.

Be still and know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Be inspired in the stillness of a quiet moment, of a gentle breeze.

Wordy Wisdom: Why We Love Our Living Language

Okay, I admit it.  I’ve been pretty harsh about words these last few weeks, and that’s not fair at all.  Words are wonderful.  Words are magical.  Words allow us to craft our thoughts, just so, and lead our readers on a path of thought, adventure, whimsy.  Finely crafted words invite us to trespass into other worlds for as long as our eyes are captured by the pages.

Let’s be honest.  We love words!

(Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog… )

So, enough of the lambasting of the poor unworthy adjectives and the literal things that aren’t literally literal (… actually, no, I’ll never give up in my fight against poorly used “literally”).  Let’s focus instead on well-crafted and well-used words.

First of all, after how twitchy Twain made us about those pesky adjectives and poorly placed adverbs, I think we need to call him out on how little credit he is giving to beautiful writing.   When I think of descriptive passages and the images they summon to the imagination, I think of George MacDonald’s Phantastes:

“The trees bathed their great heads in the waves of the morning, while their roots were planted deep in gloom; save where on the borders of the sunshine broke against their stems, or swept in long streams through their avenues, washing with brighter hue all the leaves over which it flowed; revealing the rich brown of the decayed leaves and fallen pine-cones, and the delicate greens of the long grasses and tiny forests of moss that covered the channel over which it passed in the motionless rivers of light.”

What I see.  What do you see?
What I see. What do you see?

 

Now, maybe we are all seeing different trees bathed in different light, different leaves and different moss. Does it matter?  Does it make the image that this passage conjures for each of us any less lovely?  Adjectives can easily become trite, meaningless, and overdone.  An adverb is more often excessive than a necessity.  However, in the right place at the right time, we can use words to transform a wisp of an idea into an image that is almost tangible, and there is something eminently satisfying in the product.

Furthermore, as readers, we have the privilege more often than we realize to appreciate the wordsmithing of others, their images and ideas unfolding before us.  We make the images our own and so both share them with their creator and adopt them into our own library of treasured thoughts and stories.  This is the constant and endless delight of the reader, an abundance of words transformed into an infinite store of impressions.

The wonderful thing about words is that, while we do submit to their meanings on the one hand and allow them to create a picture for us when we approach them, we are on the other hand and in another way their masters.  We are the creators of the words themselves and we are allotted some of the responsibility of giving them meaning.

Sometimes this goes horridly awry, and more than one stuffy wordophile (I don’t exclude myself from this category, by any means) turns a nose up at such travesties as ain’t and irregardless and… you were waiting for this one… literally.  Words that aren’t words or shouldn’t be words or aren’t being used the way they should be used – we gaze in most respectable and erudite horror upon these little gremlins of our language and try (uselessly, alas) to squish them the way Twain squishes adverbs.  Of course, he didn’t have very much success either (Do you see those adverbs I just used, Twain?  And I’m not even sorry).

But there are two things that we must remember, no matter how stuffy we are or how much we love to preserve our sacred, lovely, beautiful vocabulary just as it is.

First, for a language to be alive, it must be allowed to grow, change, and flourish.  Now, I do still firmly believe that trimming little, rogue branches is in the tree of la langue‘s best interests.  We should definitely discourage the words that are senseless and correct mistakes as they come our way (in the nicest way possible so that our friends don’t start apologizing every time they write anything they know we’ll see… Not that this ever happens to me).   However, aside from the words that just plain shouldn’t be allowed, there are new words and new meanings that are always springing up, and I think that we might approach these with more fascination and excitement than gloomy discouragement.  Our language is still alive!  It is growing!  Our culture, one generation after another, is exploring and creating and inventing new words and new meanings as our world continues to change.

And some words are just fun to say, aren't they?
And some words are just fun to say, aren’t they?

 

Take for example a word that is quite appropriate for this post: text.  A word that means words, born of the idea of a substance, like textiles, something you can touch and feel and hold in your hand.  Something solid.  In our technological age, text has changed.  We might become a bit nostalgic about it, but we might also see the magic in it.  Text has grown and expanded, still attached to the page, but also floating off of and away from it, a collection of thoughts sent invisibly (magically, as far as I’m concerned) from one device to another.  It’s not just a thing anymore.  It’s an action.  I can text someone.  Let’s set aside the usual bemoaning of what the digital age has done to our youth’s perspective of the written word (a worthy subject for another day) and just contemplate how many ideas are being sent in all directions all the time.  Because text has changed.

The second thing that we must remember about words is that we are not passive onlookers.  We are a part of our culture’s language, and we participate in its lively evolution.  Words don’t magically appear; someone starts the process.  Shakespeare is responsible for the use of a massive number of words in the English language.  We can go into a zany rant about a bedazzled arch-villain because Shakespeare was awesome and creative (short story idea, just in case someone wants it).  We chortle and gallumph because Lewis Carroll wrote nonsense that just might make sense.  Words are fun, and while I sometimes like to say that only Masters of English should be allowed the privilege of adding to our vocabulary (I told you I was a stuffy elitist), the fact is, if you write it, text it, say it, or share it, and someone else loves it and passes it on, a new word or meaning can very easily be born.

So to end this month’s long-winded, wordy exploration of reading, writing, and the words we use, I want to know what you think of words.  What is your favorite word to say?  What word do you love for its meaning, origins, or impact?  What fabulous word do you think should be added to our vocabulary?  Maybe we can spread a new one and make our language grow a little more (something to replace literally as an intensifying adverb, perhaps?  Please, I beg of you!)

* * *

Previous Bits of Wordy Wisdom:

Too Much of a Good Thing

Very, Very Verbose

I Literally Died!

NaNoWriMo – Half way through and barely started

In the midst of trying to write a novel in a month, I have to write blog posts.

And it is time for me to face the fact – I am not writing a novel this month.

I wanted to…I told myself I was going to be disciplined. I was going to be loyal to my goal.  I was going to write like a mad woman, sleep less, and be creative ALL the time!

Truth is I started out the month trying to recover from a cold/flu and sleep became a necessary and spending time with friends became more fun than hiding in the darkness of my room with only the glow of the computer screen for company.

Enough complaining…I’ve barely started but I want to muse about my process.  I am working on a character and part of the story that I have not fully conceptualize.  I have a method of writing…it normally consists of just writing what comes to me, when it comes to me.  NaNoWriMo forces me to force the story out of a sluggish and cantankerous muse. I have written a good portion of the story already (last years NaNoWritMo) but I discovered that I was only telling one character’s story and I did not want her voice to be the only one.  I needed to make the story I was telling fuller, deeper, more alive and real.

This is a good thing – making the story a better story.  The problem rests in the fact that only that character’s story came to me freely and full of inspiration.  The other character’s stories are more like shadows and mysteries.  I am stuck trying to understand a character that I don’t fully understand.  I know I’m the author.  I should know my characters and that is why I’ve barely started.

So, I’m working through my writer’s block or character block by slowly writing scenes that I do know and understand, in which these characters feature prominent roles.  I am hoping that these scenes will slowly fill the gap in my story and bring life to my characters.

Happy writing!