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Using Cliches in Your Writing: Why, When, and How

Continue reading Using Cliches in Your Writing: Why, When, and How

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Picking the Right Character Names

One of my followers asked, “I can’t for the life of me get my character’s names right. I have two main characters and I just can’t find satisfactory names for them. Do you have any tips on how to find the right names?”

Which led me to write a whole post that covered everything I could think of about character names.

Setting and origin is an important factor.  If I lived in China, my name might be “Li Ming Fan.” Names like “Alohilani Smith” suggest a mix of ancestral heritage or perhaps the character’s mother is Hawaiian and the father American. I have one friend who has a Native American name and she’s super pale, yet she has Native American blood, so you could even play around with things like that to make your character a little unique.

harry pavarti

Names can suggest culture and ethnicity. Never in the Harry Potter books does Rowling describe the Parvatis’ skin color. She just gave them Indian names, Padma and Patil. In The Maze Runner series, we meet Fernando. Dashner doesn’t need to tell us Fernando’s ethnicity.

Names can also establish time period. I had grandmother named “Merle.” No one names their kids that these days, but if you wanted to write a story that took place about 80 years ago or you’re writing about a grandma in 2015, it’d be fine, just like “Gertrude.” Some of those names are coming back in fashion. “Emma” used to be an old name, but in the last decade or so it’s become one of the most popular baby names. For my generation, everyone was named “Jessica” or “Megan,” so those name would be great for someone my age.

A lot of people are named after public figures or ancestors, so you can think about that. I’ve known people named after movie stars or prophets in scriptures. It can tell a lot about the character’s parents or the character’s family. I’ve heard of one family where the youngest child got to name the next baby–one can only imagine how that turned out.

Maybe your character’s parents are movie buffs, so they name their kid “Harrison,” after Harrison Ford, because they want him to be an actor. Does the boy want to be an actor? How does he feel about being in a family pushing him into that? That’s something you could explore. What about a character named after a prophet? Does he feel inadequate because he’s not saintly? What if he’s atheist? Would he try to go by a different name? Or wear it more proudly out of spite or snark?

You can pick names based on their meanings. J.K. Rowling does this all the time. “Dumbledore” is Latin for “Bumblebee,” and she picked it because she pictured Dumbledore to be the sort of person to hum when he walked about the castle. “Lupin” relates to “wolf,” and he’s a werewolf.  Many of the pure bloods are named after stars, like “Bellatrix” and “Draco,” and Sirius is named after the Dog Star, and he can turn into a dog. Suzanne Collins named her character “Katniss,” which is an old word for arrow or arrowhead–something like that. (There was once an early time when I could google “Katniss” and that’s what would come up. That time has definitely past.) Continue reading Picking the Right Character Names

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Writing (Magical) Items: Weapons, Attire, Potions, Tools, Steeds

I used to loathe the idea of having to research things like weapons for my fiction. It’s just not something that interested me. I’d rather just say “he had a sword,” or “she pulled out a gun,” and get back to the plot and characters. But I know some items, especially if they are important to the main characters, should be specific, should have names technical or given. Then one day this part of the writing process came alive for me when I applied The Legend of Zelda to it.

I don’t consider myself a “gamer,” but there are some games that I love. Zelda is one of those. I haven’t played all of them but several. One of the coolest parts about The Legend of Zelda, is that Link, the protagonist, acquires all these wicked weapons during the course of the game. They’re unique. They’re personalize. They’re awesome. Once I married my love for Zelda with writing, I finally gained an understanding of and appreciation for characters’ items.

Whether you write speculative fiction, like fantasy and sci-fi, or stick to the real world, you can get something out of this post. Even if your characters’ items aren’t Magical they can still be “magical,” and should be. In this post I’ll be talking about how to take your characters’ items to the next level, what makes an item a good one, and how to use an item well in your story. But first, let’s talk about the different kinds of items your character might have, both fantastical and realistic.

ocarina_of_time_inventory_by_blueamnesiac-d6wamuk

Continue reading Writing (Magical) Items: Weapons, Attire, Potions, Tools, Steeds

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

What I’ve Learned about Writing Action Scenes

I came to the realization last year that I didn’t really know much about writing action or fight scenes. I knew some basic things like how you should keep your sentences short and use words with few syllables (that gives the scene a fast pace), how you need to make sure your action sequence is realistic, how you shouldn’t give a blow-by-blow description because that gets boring. I took Tae Kwon Do as a teenager, so I do know a little about fighting people. I’m also a pretty good shot with a gun.

But I wanted to know more. I wanted to dig deeper

I wondered, what really makes an action scene great? What makes one better than another? What makes one bad? Not in the writing style, but in the content itself.  Are there cliche action scenes? Is it bad to use one? How do you improve an action scene?

I didn’t know.

I asked people for references, blog posts, books, something, about writing great actions scenes. I couldn’t find a book, and most people couldn’t give me much guidance. But my friend James went out of his way to find a few sources for me, like this podcast from Writing Excuses, and a blog called Grading Fight Scenes, and the Think Tank’s podcast on the subject with author C. Michelle Jefferies.

But I wanted more. (I get kind of obsessive about writing.) I wanted to develop an eye for writing action scenes myself.

So I decided to start studying instead of just reading or watching action scenes.

And I quickly ran into my first problem.

Zoning Out

Iron Man

I’ve learned I have the tendency to zone out during most action scenes. Yes, I’m weird. While everyone is on the edge of their seats watching Iron Man flying around fighting villains, I start to slip into daydreaming mode after a few minutes. I’m kind of watching, but very passively, not actively. It’s kind of embarrassing. I think my subconscious realized that it didn’t need to get the details of the action, that my brain only needed to be completely engaged when a character was seriously injured or a dangerous object was stolen by the bad guys. All the jumping and swords swinging wasn’t that important to me.

I’ve also realized whether or not I zone out depends on how long the action sequence is and how much I care about the characters. If I don’t really care about the characters, I don’t pay much attention to them. I do want to say, though, that I don’t always zone out, but probably more often then not, I disengage to a degree.

I had to retrain my mind to pay attention, to watch and read action scenes actively and not passively. I had to learn how to focus.

And you know what I’m finding?

Yes, yes, action scenes do have cliches! Yes, there are cookie-cutter fight scenes! And yes, there are ways to make your action scenes better!

Cliches

I finally started developing an eye for action cliches when revisiting Dragon Ball Z with my brother. Okay, I know there are some people rolling their eyes right now, but bear with me. There is a lesson that can be learned from anything, and once I started watching or reading things with that attitude, I’ve learned loads more about writing. And heaven knows I’ve learned plenty from Dragon Ball Z. As I was watching it, I realized there was this one fighting/micro-plotting technique that was used against almost every villain by every hero. It was this: Continue reading What I’ve Learned about Writing Action Scenes

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Chastise and Challenge Your Characters

I just finished a book that drove me BONKERS!! Here’s the premise: a character decides to go on a The Hobbit-like adventure and joins a party to do so.  Despite his complete inexperience with treasure-hunting and monster killing, he is instantly loved by everybody he is traveling with. When trouble would raise its ugly little head, our hero would either accidentally solve the problem, or fall into a trance where something (not fully explained) would fix it for him.

book-textbookThe guy never really had a desire for anything, so he just kind of floated around like a leaf in the wind as nothing but good fortune came his direction. He didn’t complain often, but when he did it usually involved him getting so much treasure he didn’t know what to do with it all.

Boring.

I’m not going to name the book or the author, but I won’t be picking up another one of this author’s books. In fact, in the end, I was upset because I had actually spent good money on this book!

Let’s talk about another author: Michaelbrent Collings. Now, this guy michaelbrentknows how to torture his characters! In The Colony, his zombie apocalypse series, the main character can tell on page one that something in the world is wrong. Very wrong. I think by page three he was already running for his life. I’m about to start the third book in the series, and it would be very difficult for me to come up with ways Michaelbrent has NOT terrorized his main character, or any character in the book, yet.

I also just finished another of his books, The Loon, which starts off with some guy living the perfect life. By the end of the first chapter, his life is far, far, FAR from perfect. Things got bad, and with every turning page it only got worse. One scene literally made me CRINGE in fear.

I get it, being mean to your characters is hard. It makes me feel like a sadistic jerk. The irony is that writers are the most compassionate people on earth. Nobody likes taking somebody they love and making them go through the ringer.

Regardless, you’ve got to torture your characters and give them seemingly insurmountable problems anyway. When it comes to writing, this is a literal case where nice guys finish last (in book sales).

If Frodo was asked to destroy the One Ring, and all he had to do was hop on the back of an eagle and drop it in a volcano, would anybody read it? Heck no! Well, Tolkein’s Mom might have… out of obligation.

What if Harry Potter was raised by a loving and supportive aunt (or better yet, his own parents) only to trot off to Hogwarts where he was admired by all and a few magic words would finish off Voldemort forever. Would you have read that book?

rudyAnd let me bring up one of my favorite movies, based on a true story: Rudy. Rudy Ruettiger had one goal, to play college football for Notre Dame. He had to overcome obstacle after obstacle to achieve his goal, from getting into the right college in the first place, affording it, making grades, touching the field, dealing with negative influences from his own family, being taken seriously by his teammates, and even being allowed to even dress for one game. Not shown in the movie is the fact that he did all this with dyslexia. SPOILER ALERT!! He played college football for two plays. On defense. He didn’t even end up touching the ball, but he was heralded a hero and he has inspired countless others to reach for their dreams. Decades later, Rudy is still a wonderful story, but if he had the physic to play in the first place and waltzed onto the field with a  full scholarship, nobody would remember him now.

So, challenge your characters. Torture them if you (can) have to. Why?

Make us care about and relate to your characters.

We all have problems, some greater than others. Reading is often a nice escape from our own problems to experience other people’s pains. In a way, it reminds us that ours might not be as bad as it could be. I’ve always said that if everybody threw their problems in a pile to be distributed, you’d probably look at the choices and want your problems back. So when your characters suffers, we understand. It makes them more alive. It makes them more likable. It makes us care about them. When they are in pain, the readers are in pain. When they achieve a success, the readers share in the enjoyment. As readers, when a character we care about succeeds in overcoming amazing challenges, we literally feel the triumph alongside them.

Regarding the book I mentioned at the start of this article, if the main character had died halfway through the book, I probably would howled in laughter! Unfortunately, the twerp lived, and I think a sequel is in the works.

But with Frodo and Sam, did we not all hang on the edge of our seats as they “simply” walked into Mordor? With Harry Potter, did we not relate to him being bullied at school, struggle with certain teachers, fight to make and keep friends, and make tough decisions when deciding between right and wrong? And he did this while forming an army and taking down the bad guy (oh, spoiler alert there too, sorry).

And Rudy? I’ll admit, I can’t make it through that movie without cryingtearing up. I feel completely emotionally invested into that story, and Rudy is the one doing all the hard work. If you haven’t seen it, go pick up a copy and thank me later.

Create a character arc

Like I said earlier, the “hero” of that book didn’t change. The protagonist was the same guy on page one that he was on the last page, except he had picked up a few facts about his genealogical lineage. True character stories have characters who change from the beginning to the end.

Frodo changed so much that he no longer felt like he belonged in his beloved Shire he worked so hard to save. Harry Potter went from a pitiful, unloved orphan boy with no prospects to becoming a powerful auror with a loving family of his own. Rudy achieved his dream and is now a public speaker, helping others achieve theirs.

Make the book more interesting

Characters make great books, but so do great plots. By raising the stakes, it not only helps your characters grow, but it helps move the story. I didn’t mind the protagonist from the unnamed book above being a leaf in the wind, being pushed around by circumstance, but what would have really made the story great was if he stopped being the leaf…and became the wind. If he actually did things to make a difference.

Frodo was supposed to take the ring to Rivendell, and spent the first hobbits-hiding-from-nazgulhalf of Fellowship doing nothing but running for his life. Heck, he had to be carried into Rivendell. However, in Rivendell, he stepped forward to be the one to take the ring to Mount Doom. While the first few books of Harry Potter were fun, the plot really picked up for me in the fourth and fifth books when Harry decided to start taking his magical studies more seriously in The Goblet of Fire and when he formed Dumbledore’s Army in Order of the Phoenix. As Harry got more on the offensive, I got more engrossed and intrigued by the series.

Tip on how to do it: Try/Fail Cycle

When writing, make sure it takes a few tries to solve a problem. Three is the preferred number of tries… any less, and the problem doesn’t seem difficult. You can have more, but it might make the story drag on a bit. It’s best to have them solve the problem in three tries and then move on to another problem.

Oh, and each time, make the problem worse! Keep amping it up!

Frodo thought he was bringing the ring to Rivendell. Oops, now he’s frodosamgollum3taking it to Mount Doom, and he gets a fellowship to take him there. Oops again, somebody on the team turns on him and he decides to do it alone. Ah, easy sailing now, especially since he has a helper and finds a guide to take him there. No, no, no… not quite. The guide tries to turn him into spider-food, and his helper seems a little too eager, to the point that Frodo thinks he is just trying to get the ring all to himself. He finally reaches his destination, only to be overcome by the power of the ring and abandoning his quest. Can it get worse? Oh yes, the guide is back and ready to do anything to claim the ring for himself.

Next time you watch a show or a movie, or read a book, look for this. You’ll notice that they often run into problems and it takes at least three times to get it right, and after each failed attempt, new information is learned, e.g., oh, there’s a large three-headed dog guarding the entryway to a certain character’s goal, and the stakes get raised, e.g., the professor our character is trying to outmaneuver seems to have a head start.

Now, go ahead and sit down with your book, and if your character isn’t suffering, take away their true love, throw them into the pit of despair, and suck their entire life away with a water-powered machine. You’re characters—and your readers—will thank you later.

Sidenote: The obstacle mentioned in the previous paragraph MIGHT have already been used.

Princess Bride 5

About James Duckett

James is a geeky, nerdy dude. He writes, sometimes. He blogs, sometimes. He's helpful to people, sometimes. He doesn't like to repeat himself, sometimes. He's funny... looking... always.

His hopes and aspirations of the future is to one day find a way that people will pay him while he sleeps. It is his dream job.

2 Types of Truth in Fiction: Which are You Telling?

Did you know there are two types of truth in fiction?

Whatever stories we write include statements about the world, whether or not we want them to. Brilliant authors use theme to their advantage; they use story as a means to tell others about poverty, slavery, love, and courage. Less attuned authors, on the other hand, might imply messages unintentionally. Stephenie Meyer, for example, has been ridiculed for presenting females as weak and dependent, although she never meant to. While I like Twilight, some of the arguments are valid.

 

Writers, like other artists, use fiction to tell truths.

“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are, but our choices,” “Sometimes it is harder to follow than it is to lead,”  “to hurt is as human as to breathe,”  “Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life,”  “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart,” are all truths writers have penned.

But there are different kinds of truths. Some truths are steady and consistent while others are more subjective or relative. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west is always true (unless you’re writing a crazy sci-fi novel). The fact I’m wearing a red shirt is true right now, but won’t be tomorrow.

When it comes to the arts, I see two kinds of truths: the Absolute Truth and the worldly truth. (Please note that when I say “worldly” I mean “of the world” without the “wicked” connotation.) The Absolute Truth is comprised of eternal, ideal teachings—love conquers all, be true to yourself, never give up—and presents us with how life should be. The worldly truth is comprised of teachings that hold true in the imperfect world we live in—feed and entertain a people to make them lose political power, sometimes the oppressed grow more ruthless than the oppressors—and presents us with how life is.

Both truths are important. Both truths are powerful. Lord of the Rings can inspire me to press on during trials just as effectively as The Hunger Games can provoke me to reevaluate our entertainment industry. Here are some points I use to define Absolute Truth and worldly truth, with some pictures for examples.

Absolute Truth

 

Characters rewarded for choosing the right and enduring to the end


Good overcomes evil


Uplifts and encourages


Inspires others to be better

 

Worldly truth

 
 
Illuminates one’s understanding of the world
 
Increases awareness of issues in the world
 
Sparks reflection and incites worldly changes
 
Leaves audience “sadder but wiser”
 
 
 
Sometimes, these truths can overlap. In Les Miserables, for example, Jean Valjean witnesses worldly truths while seeking Absolute Truth. The worldly truths are evident in the poverty and lack of freedom the characters’ experience, while the Absolute Truths appear in the themes of mercy, redemption, and love. This works so well in Les Miserables partly because in the end we follow the characters beyond death, bringing both the worldly and Absolute truths to a satisfying close.

 

But you don’t have to go beyond death to create this type of story. Give a character an Absolute or spiritual journey on a personal level while he witnesses and battles the reality of the world in outer conflicts.
But what about stories that don’t tell truths? Unfortunately, they exist. And they’re dangerous because under the guise of entertainment, they deceive us.

 

Deception

Glorifies evil, sin, lust, violence
 
Desensitizes
 
Promotes and encourages “wrong” or immoral behavior
 

Employs shock value for the sake of shock value


I didn’t use anything literary for my example picture, but the image above is from a professional photo shoot. Intentional or not, the pictures from the shoot glamorizes domestic violence. Likewise, these pictures taken from a Glee photo shoot sexualize minors, and that fact is presented to us as “okay.” Deceptive stories breed damaging perspectives and strike at our humanity. They can often influence a people without them even noticing.

Whatever you write, be savvy about which of these categories you are tapping into. Certain genres lend themselves to certain categories. Fantasy often deals with Absolute Truth. Dystopian can be a great vehicle for worldly truth. Porn, in my opinion, delivers deception.Think about the message you are putting out into the world with your story. Your readers will be influenced by your work. Does your story tell of Absolute Truths or worldly truths? Make sure it doesn’t stem from deception. Strive to be aware and have control over what your story is saying.

So, in closing, do you prefer to explore Absolute Truth or worldly truths in your fiction? Or both?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

(Don’t) Tell Me How You Really Feel

I’ve been thinking about dialogue a lot this year. Particularly, I’ve been interested in dialogue where characters don’t say what they mean. In Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern, Stern notes,

“Advice about dialogue generally starts with discussing what your characters say. It might be better to start off with what your characters don’t say and the way they don’t….the more intense the feelings, the more likely people are to say the opposite of what they really mean. If you want to keep a high level of tension, keep the dialogue evasive, filled with suppressed information and unstated emotion.”

He also says that how a character sits, stands, fidgets, pauses, or adverts eyes can be as important as his or her words.Three examples of narratives that follow Stern’s advice are The Office, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Rings.

Here are some clips to illustrate. The first video takes place when Michael Scott, one of the main characters of The Office, leaves Dunder Mifflin. Watch how Jim avoids (and gets Michael to avoid) saying what they actually think and feel. The second video is very short, but you can clearly tell through Ryan’s tone and facial expression that his words are an understatement of what he actually thinks.

Often The Office plays with the gap between what characters say and actually think for humor.

For The Hunger Games I couldn’t find the clip I wanted, but it’s the scene at the starting where Katniss and Gale are talking in the forest. In the book, Gale says “We could do it, you know…Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.” In the same conversation, when Katniss says she never wants to have kids, Gales says, “I might. If I didn’t live here.” And later, Gale gets frustrated and snaps at Katniss.

What Gale really wants is to be in a relationship with Katniss, but he can’t say it straight out. And Katniss, who never intends to live a lifestyle that includes a significant other, doesn’t catch on. Gale’s real frustration lies in the fact that Katniss doesn’t pick up on what he’s getting at. That’s why he snaps back at her.

And for my last example, I have the very last scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Here is the dialogue between Frodo and Sam.

Sam: I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales. 

Frodo: [turns around] What? 

Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.’ 

Frodo: [continue walking] You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. 

[stops and turns to Sam

Frodo: Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam. 

Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn’t make fun; I was being serious. 

Frodo: So was I. 

In this example, Frodo expresses how much Sam means to him, but indirectly. It’s clear Frodo really values Sam, but instead of telling Sam something sappy, he works it into their conversation. And Frodo takes no chances that Sam will misunderstand him; he makes sure to say “So was I.”

So you can play with the gap between what characters say and actually think to add humor or tension. Sometimes playing with that gap creates moments even more powerful than situations where characters speak their minds. If Michael and Jim really just spoke what they meant, the scene wouldn’t have been as significant. Same goes for Frodo and Sam. The fact that they withhold their words shows how much those words mean to them.

Do you have moments where your characters don’t say what they mean? When do you think it’s best to be most indirect? Do you have any other examples for us?

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

Fawkes wrote her first story on a whim during a school break when she was seven. Crayon-drawn, poorly spelled, and edited so that it contained huge, fat, blacked-out lines, the story (about chickens seeking water) changed her life. Growing up, she had a very active imagination; one of her best friends accused her of playing Barbies wrong when she turned Ken into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mad scientist love interest. Her passion for stories led to her playing "pretend" longer than is socially acceptable. It was partially a symptom of never wanting to become an adult. Luckily she never did. She became a writer instead.

Fawkes has a soft spot for fantasy and science fiction, but she explores and reads anything well crafted. She has a passion for dissecting stories and likes to learn from a variety of genres, so you may find her discussing classics in one blog post animated shows in anotherTry not to be afraid of either. (And do be sensitive to the fact she never did reach adulthood.)


September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.
She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while (rarely now) critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side, and she even had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City, but mostly she hides out in her room, applies her butt to her chair, and writes. Other than that she reads fiction and books about writing fiction.

She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.  Her main writing project right now is a young adult fantasy novel she plans to publish traditionally.

Some of her favorite things include, but are not limited to, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Les Miserables, The X-Files, The Office, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, rock concerts, Creed, ballet, pugs, cherry blossoms, Ethel M. Chocolates, and anything yellow.

Character Color Coding

I had the privilege to attend a fascinating seminar about “Color Code” a system that has been devised to categorize individuals into four color groups: Red, Blue, White, and Yellow.  The testing is done via an online computer test, then the data calculated to show you what colors you are.  Interestingly enough, all the questions on the test are based on how you perceived yourself as a child.  My color—Blue, was right on!  I was awed by the information that it gave me about myself; detailing my strengths and my weaknesses.  The program also shares how you have a primary color and a secondary color that make up your personality.  The seminar was a training course on how to manage different personality groups; however, I saw this as an excellent writing tool. So here you go.

Throughout the seminar the instructor shared the different strengths and weakness of each character trait, I say character trait instead of personality because I’m a writer and I want that to be the focus of this post.  The most common question I find myself asking is “what makes this person do this thing?”  It’s never the same question.  Every character that I write is different in many ways—why?  Why does this crazy clown that dances around throughout my book want to kill people with rubber chickens?  This character’s traits may be bazaar but there is a reason to it, I just have to discover why.  Then once I find out the “why,” I find a more relate-able, realistic, round character.  Forgive my rant, but I believe that a writer knowing the character traits of their characters makes the story.  I’ve read plenty of books where the characters are dry.  This evil villain is trying to take over the world, he has no weaknesses, and he is only defeated by a small moment of dumb luck by the hero—BORING!  Villains need weaknesses just as much as the hero.  So how do you find out about weaknesses?  Ah!, the question I continually ask, and now the reason for this post.  The Color Code!

Each character trait is divided into four colors: RED, BLUE, WHITE, and YELLOW.  I am going to give a brief outline of each character trait color then share an example.  Note that all the examples of the traits are not all going to be pronounced in each character.  Some traits will be stronger than others; these are traits that are more visible in these color types.  Also remember that there are primary colors (the color that is inherently you) and secondary (the other traits that are also you, just not as pronounced).  Most everyone has a percentage of every color.  And so should the characters you are writing about.

RED: Core motive: Power.  Natural Talents: Leadership and Vision.

Strengths: proactive, productive, decisive, assertive, action-oriented, determined, responsible, leader, focused, powerful, visionary, pragmatic, motivated, articulate, confident.

Limitations: arrogant, relentless, obsessive, bossy, critical of others, demanding, impatient, argumentative, overly aggressive, insensitive, always right, selfish, tactless, calculating, intimidating.

Needs: to look smart, to be right, be respected, attain approval from select few.

Wants: to hide insecurities tightly, be productive, be in a leadership position, experience challenging adventure.

BLUE: Core motive: Intimacy—developing legitimate connections.  Natural Talents: Quality and Service.

Strengths: nurturing, caring, loyal, intimate, analytical, thoughtful, compassionate, respectful, dependable, deliberate, detail-conscience, well-mannered, sincere, quality-oriented, intuitive.

Limitations: perfectionist, suspicious, worry prone, self-critical, overly sensitive, unforgiving, moody, jealous, low self-esteem, judgmental, guilt prone, emotional tense, hard to please, self-righteous, unrealistic.

Needs: to be good morally, understood, appreciated, and accepted.

Wants: To reveal insecurities, attain quality, be autonomous (do it on their own, be a leader), have security.

WHITE: Core Motive: Peace—the ability to stay calm while in the midst of chaos.  Natural Talents: Clarity and Tolerance.

Strengths: objective, kind, peaceful, non-discriminate, voice of reason, good listener, patient, even-tempered, balanced, clear perspective, accepting, diplomatic, centered, self-regulated.

Limitations: indecisive, indifferent, silently stubborn, avoids conflict, disinterested, unmotivated, indirect communicator, reluctant, ambivalent, timid, uninvolved, detached, boring, inexpressive, unproductive.

Needs: to feel good inside, given space (they like to be alone a lot to think and create), be respected, be accepted.

Wants: to withhold insecurities, to please self and others, be independent, and contentment.

YELLOW: Core motive: Fun—living in the moment.  Natural Talents: Enthusiasm and Optimism.

Strengths: carefree, charismatic, creative thinker, engaging of others, enthusiastic, flexible, forgiving, fun-loving, happy, insightful, persuasive, positive, sociable, spontaneous, inclusive.

Limitations: afraid to face the facts, disorganized, poor follow through, impulsive, inconsistent, interrupter, irresponsible, naïve, obnoxious, self-centered, uncommitted, undisciplined, unfocused, vain, and forgetful.

Needs: to look good socially (everyone must like them), be noticed, be praised, receive approval from the masses.

Wants: to hide insecurities loosely (joke about faults), achieve happiness, be free, enjoy playful adventures (have fun!).

Okay so now that you’ve read through some of these you can see that you probably share a lot of those traits and so do your characters.  Hopefully you can identify strengths and limitations.  Like everyone, each color has a breaking point (a point at which the character pushes the boundaries of their limitations) and that’s when they have character shifts.  I wanted to help visualize this by giving the greatest example you can give to a writer: The Lord of the Rings.

 

boromir

   RED: Boromir: His strengths are he’s a leader, he is focused on bringing power to his people, he’s motivated, he has vision. His limitations are that he’s critical of others, always right, intimidating, obsessive, and arrogant.  A great example of RED.

BLUsamE: Samwise: His strengths are he’s very loyal to Frodo and the quest, thoughtful, compassionate, sincere, and he cares about others. His limitations are that he’s worry prone, unforgiving of Gollum, has low self-esteem, guilt-prone, and jealous. Totally BLUE!

gandolf

WHITE: Gandalf: His strengths are he’s the voice of reason, even tempered (when not around Merry and Pippin), clear perspective, diplomatic, the peace maker, good listener, and centered. His limitations include: reluctance, detachment, he’s an indirect communicator, he’s silently stubborn, tries to avoid conflict (but when pushed does a pretty good job fighting), and he’s uninvolved (he removes himself from the story so the leader or hero can take lead).

pippin

YELLOW: Merry and Pippin (who would have guessed): They are both (although they do have different traits) charismatic, engaging of others, life of the party, spontaneous, adventurous, fun-loving, and carefree. Their limitations include: they are afraid to face facts (Merry with the stone), they have poor follow through, they’re naïve, self centered, forgetful, uncommitted (I think they join the quest more out of a desire for adventure), and they are impulsive and don’t think things through.

So there you have it.  Remember that you can do this with your own characters.  I think it can be a great writing tool.  A lot of the times I am trying to work out a character I have a hard time giving the hero limitations.  This is a great way to be realistic about people.  If your character is BLUE then they should express more emotional based traits.  Of course they can also have small fractions of other colors but if you choose to keep them primarily BLUE he must show those traits consistently to be believable.  If your character is like Merry who is YELLOW, if your hero then becomes a stronger RED in the middle of the story then there should be a reason for the change.  He still however needs to be YELLOW, just have some character traits of RED.  I hope I have made some sense out of something I found really fascinating.  I would really love to give a lecture on this because it truly is fascinating.

Just for the sake of not being sued I am citing that I received the Color Code information from Color Code International and you can find more info on them at http://www.colorcode.com/.

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.