The Book-Room Challenge

Hey, kids, guess what? I’m not actually dead! It just happens that I’ve been tagged by not one, but two of my favorite bloggers in an already-busy month. But… of all the kinds of busy, this is the bestistest. This week, we’re just going to start with the one, but come back next week because we’ll have some more awesome stuff.

the-book-room-challengeFirst, the one and only Blank Mastermind genius (thank you, writefury!) has tagged me for the Book-Room Challenge, which will be fairly self-explanatory.

We have an order of events tonight. First of all, the rules.

  1. Write 3 of your own books as rooms. They can be finished, works in progress, or even just ideas, but they have to be your own.
  2. Write 1 of your favorite books to read as a room.
  3. Tag 5 other people.

Then the tag. I had a little trouble deciding what approach to take; should I write the rooms as if they were from palaces and villages in fantasy worlds, or should I write more modern rooms with fantastical flavor? I was up for a challenge, so I chose the latter.

Son of Ren

A foyer in an old Victorian house. The floor is marble, with an old Saxon tapestry as a rug. Several mahogany chairs line the blue walls, and several white Hellenic statues line the far wall. One stained glass window is over the door, and overhead hangs a chandelier with lit candles. Smells like winter and history books.

Alen’s War

A boathouse by a river. An old sword from the Civil War hangs above the doorway. Several raincoats hang on pegs and boots sit on the worn pinewood floor. Two floor-to-ceiling windows let in the grey morning light. There are no chairs, but a large wooden table is at the center with some books on it, and the whitewashed walls are covered with old maps, navigation charts, and flags, and at the far end of the room hangs a huge painting of a royal flagship.

Aaaaand…. I didn’t plan to tell everyone about this project quite yet, but now is as good a time as any other. I am writing a speculative/scifi/dystopian novel. Yes, it will probably be finished within the next five years. No, you may not read it yet. Thank you for asking. Its working title is…

Monsters Becoming

A dark, sad living room splashed in golden light. The walls are dark blue-grey and the floor is faded tile, but it’s brightened by yellow lamps, a soft rug, and a warm fireplace that smells like burnt coffee. The walls are decorated with what looks at first like paper chains, but are really metal chains painted bright colors.

Mismatched chairs surround the fire: several metal folding ones with cartoon character blankets, one kitchen chair with a quilt-pattern cushion, and a recliner with a laptop bag sitting beside it. Several important-looking folders are stacked on the table next to a box of crayons.

King Richard III

Because it’s the only Shakespeare play I really enjoyed. (Lately I’m watching The Hollow Crown version and loving it- maybe I’ll talk about that later this month.)

A small office/meeting room. The floor is black carpet with red and white geometric shapes. One wall is covered with a bookshelf with Latin-sounding books; another has a huge whiteboard scribbled over with charts and lists of names. At the center of the room stands an oaken table, and in the middle is an old faded Risk board game.

Now for the tagging of bloggers, which is where I usually break the rules. Not on purpose- I’m just can’t always find people who haven’t already been tagged. This time, though, I might be able to get by…

And there you have it. That’s all for now, so enjoy another October week complete with hot cocoa and rich descriptions. 🙂

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Why That Movie Wasn’t a Failure

I’ve been confused for some time about the complaints of Star Wars fans of The Force Awakens. You have probably heard them…

“That’s not a story; that’s a pitiful fraction of a story.”

“There wasn’t enough character development!”

“How can I understand this story? The movie raised more questions than it answered.”

http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?page=2&t=2139356

But the people who say these things really mean them. These are die-hard Star Wars geeks who were anticipating another good movie, but somehow J.J. Abrams didn’t meet their expectations. They aren’t trolls; they are disappointed fans.

I knew from day one that these arguments had some underlying logical problem, but I could not pinpoint what that problem was, nor why people seemed to think their complaints were legitimate. And the dichotomy wasn’t limited to Star Wars. People might well have blurted the same things about The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit trilogies, but that wouldn’t have made sense, either. Somehow I knew that the “half-story” arguments were true for some trilogies and not for others. But why?

Then it struck me: there are two kinds of trilogies, with completely different functions and rules. I call them the triplet and the triad.

The Triplet: Three Stories in Three Parts

In music, a triplet is three notes in a row, one after another. They are all equal in that each gets a third of a beat, but otherwise they are distinct notes. They might have different tones, they might vary in loudness, or some might be played staccato and the others legato; they all give off a different sound. They are three separate notes. Yes, actually, I am a part-time music teacher. How did you know?

Some trilogies are like triplets. They are all linked together somehow- maybe having the same characters, setting, or theme- but each movie or book in the triplet is a complete story by itself. Often these trilogies begin with one wildly successful story that inspires the author to make more.

The first Star Wars trilogy is a good example of a triplet. A New Hope was originally intended to be a stand-alone film, but its monstrous success led to two sequels (and, unfortunately, three prequels). In keeping with the first film, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi were both written so that they could also be stand-alones. Each film has the same characters, but each one tells a different story about those characters.

The Chronicles of Narnia is another example of a triplet- or septuplet, in this case. The first book written was, in fact, the second in the series: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis wanted to write stories for the children who came to stay with him during the Luftwaffe raids on London, so he drew inspiration from history, mythology, and his own childhood games. Each book centers on the world of Narnia, but aside from that, every book has a different story.

The Triad: One Story in Three Parts

In music, a triad is three notes played at the same time. We sometimes call it a “chord.” Each of these notes has a different tone, but they work together to form a single sound. If you take even one of the notes away, the triad is no longer a complete triad.

Triads are like the other kind of trilogies. Each movie or book in the triad tells only a fraction of the story, and when you take each part together, you get one complete story. Granted, in some triads, each story might possibly be able to stand on its own (like An Unexpected Journey in The Hobbit trilogy), but this is not usually the case. Most of the time, each part gets only one act, which doesn’t make a whole story. Its job is to set up the story and conflict, introduce characters, ask questions, and draw people in for Act II. You can usually tell triads apart from triplets by looking for a climatic moment followed by a resolution that answers every question. If the big showdown has not happened and nobody has won for good, then the story isn’t over yet.

This is the case with The Force Awakens. We are introduced to a new problem- the First Order and Kylo Ren- and a set of new characters. We learn to ask questions: Does Rey get trained as a Jedi? What will become of Finn now? Where did they both come from? Can Kylo Ren ever turn good? The storytellers can drop as many hints as they like, but it isn’t time to answer the questions yet. Thus, folks like me have no choice but to be hopelessly interested in the story.

The Lord of the Rings is also a triad. The Fellowship of the Ring only contains the first act of the story, and though it leaves us crying as Frodo and Sam make the tough decision to simply walk into Mordor, yet we are still left with questions. So we are drawn into the theater each December to find out what happens in The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

Now hopefully you can see why the “underdeveloped story” arguments about the newest Star Wars film don’t make sense from a storytelling perspective. Expecting a full story from The Force Awakens is like me watching The Fellowship of the Ring and then refusing to watch the next two movies because not all of my questions were answered. Well, of course Frodo didn’t get to Mordor, and of course Aragorn didn’t save Minas Tirith; those things don’t happen until Act III in The Return of the King. And I haven’t even met some prominent characters like Gollum, Eowyn, and Faramir. If I really want to have my questions answered, I should stick around until the final act.

So why don’t people recognize this fundamental difference at once? I think it’s because the The Force Awakens was dangerously close to being a carbon copy of the original Star Wars movie. The original was a whole story; naturally, fans had a subconscious expectation that the new movie would be the same, and they were disappointed to get only one act. For me it was different. Not being around for Star Wars in the seventies and eighties, I was blessed to go see this movie without those expectations.

All in all, I learned two things from the Star Wars trilogy discussion. One, fans ought to keep their trilogy categories straight, because mixing them up is unfair to the writers; and two, writers must not try to copy a different kind of trilogy, because that is unfair to the fans. If J.J. Abrams and all other Star Wars fans had kept triplets and triads separate, more people might have enjoyed The Force Awakens for what it was: one piece of a larger story.

And, after this discussion, I hope that you will learn to enjoy your favorite triplets and triads even more.

Have you ever heard of the differences between the two kinds of trilogies? What are your favorite triplets and triads? 

Also, I’ll be doing a Q&A series on self-publishing soon, but first I need your questions! If you wonder about any aspect of indie publishing, comment and ask me.

Why Write?

“The written word is a powerful thing, you have to be careful with it.” –Inkheart

I am a Christian. I am an INTJ. I am also a writer. It’s a very simple formula for all sorts of fantastical novels. Or for revolution, come to think of it. 

But, of all the things I could do, why do I write? From an outside view, all I do is sit in a chair and type word after word after word about fake people and the feats they never really did, and I drink a lot of coffee in the process. That seems insignificant. Yet, if you asked me what I would regret if I died today, one of my first responses would be, “I wish I had finished my books first.” Why is writing so important to me?

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Writing itself just looks pretty. (image credit)

Well, for one thing, I am naturally introspective, and I love writing for creativity’s sake. God blessed me with a severely overactive imagination and a mind that constantly asks, “What if?” I have to answer those questions. I spend a good deal of time inside my own head and dig into those questions, making up my own worlds. Mine is an imagination that is set afire by one single image- resolute castle gates weathered and rough from ancient battles, purple lakes frozen over with glowing whiteness. It strikes me, and I have to write it.

For another thing, I love writing for language’s sake. For all my introspection and thinking, some of it is bound to spill out, and while I’m no virtuoso at crafting imagery out of spoken words, I can build anything with a pen and paper. I can’t tell it to you, but I can write it for you. Writing is like constructing a Gothic cathedral, for you have to learn all the mechanics and the rhetoric, then you must take a grand idea and build a strong-standing structure out of it, and finally you must make it ornate and color it with stained glass. I do love a good challenge.

For the most part, though, an INTJ writes because of the nature of writing itself, because the pen really is mightier than the sword. Harriet Beecher Stowe created an avalanche with her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opening the eyes of a nation to the evils of slavery. Upon meeting Stowe, Abe Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who started this big war.” Again, long before the bloody wars against communism broke out, Marx wrote a book that attacked capitalism and everyone who possessed more than someone else. That book sparked revolutions all over the world, and we still suffer repercussions of that today. One German book- and it led to warfare across the Pacific and Atlantic.

Let me ask you something: why has every totalitarian regime in the last century started with banning books? Why are the historians, philosophers, and writers always the first to go? Why does the government desire to control the press? I’ll tell you why- people who hate the truth necessarily hate writing. They hate that ideas can be recorded and handed out for all the world to see and consider. They especially hate the Bible.

Oh, yes, the Bible is at the top of the list here. You should have known Christianity would make its way into any of my posts on truth and life purpose. Ho and hum and beat around the bush as long as you like, but you cannot erase the fact that whenever philosophers and writers are taken away, the Bible is taken away with it. That has got to count for something. People who try to take away the Bible don’t hate do-good-er morality or legalism (which aren’t actually in the Bible), nor even the inspiring stories and scientific truths (which are actually in the Bible). Enemies of freedom, of love, really of anything good will always hate the life-changing message of the Gospel, and that is because it is true and challenging. Everyone who reads and believes it is commissioned to share it, and it spreads like a wildfire. Take away that rudder of truth, and you can wreak all manner of havoc on everything good in the world.

I am an INTJ, and that means I want the truth. I am a Christian, and that means I am commissioned to share the truth. I am a writer, and that means that I will share the truth. Writing is one way that I do my life’s work: a plain yet beautiful, simple yet complex, tiny yet powerful weapon, the pen is a spark that starts a worldwide fire. It is a tool to change the world, and no one will ever stop me from doing that.

“There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” –The Two Towers

Now you tell me- why do you write?