Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Christian Fiction Needs More Violence

Recently I've heard a lot of critics of 'The Hunger Games' say that both the books and the movie are 'too violent'. Sadly, even Christians have jumped on that bandwagon.

Christian fiction has a rep of being the opposite of violent. Bland romances in Amish or Prairie settings with nothing to do with the real world.

But should Christian fiction be like that? The Bible is violent--- from the murder of Abel to the wars in the book of Revelation (which is really all about the Eucharist, but still...). History is violent--- Masada, World War III, I mean II.... Mythology is violent--- remember that proto-god who ate all his children? Even peaceful anti-war protests often turn violent.

Violence is necessary to good fiction because fiction is about conflict. And it's hard to have serious conflict if there is no actual or threatened violence. Would we have been mesmerized by the Harry Potter series if Lord Voldemort had been threatening to lower Harry's grades rather than threatening to kill Harry?

The need for violence in fiction is an evidence of Man's fallen nature, as taught in the Christian apostolic tradition (which includes the Bible). Because there is so much violence around us, conflicts without a hint of violence possible strike us as bland, trivial. We don't buy mystery novels where the mystery involves finding a lost Latin missal in time for next Sunday's Latin Mass--- since the prospect of someone going to Latin Mass without their own missal and having to use the Latin Mass booklet provided doesn't thrill us the way the threat of murder does.

This does not mean that every Christian science fiction or fantasy series has to include a character-bloodbath like the ones at the end of Harry Potter or Left Behind, or the recent one in the BBC TV series Being Human. Character bloodbaths are harder for the Christian reader/author because most of us are firmly part of the culture of life and want every human life respected from conception until natural death. Which makes us worry about staging a massive character bloodbath, or even worry about reading one.

I think it's no mystery why the Left Behind apocalyptic fiction series broke out of the Christian fiction ghetto and onto secular best-seller lists. The Left Behind series is not only Christian fiction, but it's centered on a theological belief--- the Rapture theory--- that the majority of the world's Christians believe is invalid. One would think it would not only repel secular readers but most Christians. But it sold, because it was set in a world where the main characters were under threat of death all the time as the Antichrist, Nikolai Carpathia, took power. In fact, several of the important Christian characters did die before the final battle. And this is what made the conflict in the story real and compelling to the reader.

Christian science fiction and fantasy, like Pagan science fiction and fantasy, or secular science fiction and fantasy, have to reflect the real world. Perhaps our worlds will have elves with enchanted spears or semi-Roman emperors with laser swords instead of Crips and Bloods with guns. But there has to be violence--- or at least the implied threat of violence--- to show that the conflict in the story matters.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The One-Page Method: Before You Snowflake

Lately I've been doing the Snowflake Method to plan my new novel Kirinia. I've even bought 'Writing Fiction for Dummies' which was authored by the Snowflake guy, which helped me understand I shouldn't have been so rigid the first time I Snowflaked--- the steps do NOT have to be done in that order. Which is good.

The first step in the Snowflake is to sum up your book in one sentence--- a storyline. Like, for the Harry Potter series: "A fallen Dark Lord seeks to regain his power but is thwarted by a bratty kid wizard." (There is a more normal example on this post at Fortnight of Mustard.)

My current storyline/elevator pitch sentence for Kirinia goes something like this: "A Kristan cultist girl, condemned to fight in the arena, must choose between her faith and saving her family's lives."

This was actually the third one I wrote. I wrote the first from the viewpoint of a different character, and a second from the viewpoint of the villain. I thought it was weird to write storylines for three different characters until I got to Step 3 and found I was going to have to write storylines for all of the characters.

The hard part for me was getting to the point where I knew enough about the story to write storylines. Because I not only had to create characters and bits of story for them, I also had to do worldbuilding.

The problem with doing these preliminaries is that I tend to get bogged down, ramble and such, and then never get things done. But I am good at writing short things--- poems, blog posts, and so on. So I invented the One-Page Method.

This is how you do it: you take something you know about the story--- a character, a bit of the storyworld's history, an event from the story--- and write about one page about it.

By 'one page' I mean the maximum is the amount of text you can get on one computer page. You can write part of the page as well.

What I do is I write the topic of the proposed page in boldface on the left top, and on the right top write the title (or working title) of the novel. If it is more of a worldbuilding topic, I write the name of the world and the name of the kingdom/empire within that world that the page is concerned with.

This is a very unstructured way to get started. You only write pages for the stuff in your story you already have worked out. My early One-Pages were about the settlement of the empire in the story, called Kirinia, about the Twelve Cities of Kirinia, about the enemies of Kirinia, the Eaters-of-Men, notes about some of the main characters--- Mija, the Kristan cultist girl, Kamilla, the girl from a patrician family who loves Mija, Tiberio, the emperor, who finds out that the Kristan cult is growing at an alarming rate, which he believes threatens the ability of his empire to defeat the Eaters-of-Men....

Once I had a bunch of One-Pages (which I keep in a binder) I was ready to start doing the early Snowflake steps. (The early Snowflake steps have the advantage of being compatible with One-Page, some of the later steps, such as the Long Summary, I intend to break down into One-Page portions.)

As I'm starting to do the Snowflake steps, I'm continuing to turn out One-Pages as well. I'm also updating One-Pages and Snowflake steps as I discover more about the story. For example, I had to change certain character names when I decided that characters who were slaves would have the affix -el- in their names (Markelo, Lukelo). I decided that names which naturally had an -el- in it would modify it--- so Aurelio, the family name of the current emperor, becomes Aurilio.

I hope some other writers, particularly those who have problems being organized, will try the One-Page method and see if it helps. In my own case I've been able to sustain my interest in and belief in my current writing project for a much longer time than I usually do. I hope it works for other people as well.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Naming a Character? Visit this Blog!

This is to announce a relaunch and refocus of my old Korean Names blog. It's now Writers Guide to Korean and Global Names.

So far what I have gotten done is that I took down all the old posts--- not very many--- which were topics like 'Korean Male Names beginning with J'--- and replaced them with three new posts. One for Korean female names, one for Korean male names, and one for Korean family names.

These three new posts were a cut-and-paste job of some files on my computer to which I've been transferring my Korean names lists. These posts will be updated as the files are added to.

I've also put in a list of word verification words, for those who collect and use such things. I'm also going to be adding names from other ethnic groups, starting with Quechua.

Posts planned for the near future will be ones on Roman names, Esperanto names, Frisian names and Low German names.

Since it takes a long time to prepare these posts, I'm also using the blog as a place to post info on the most current Korean soap operas I'm watching on KBS America. This is relevant because Korean soap operas are where I get names from.

I'm hoping the revamped blog will be useful to writers who are naming characters. Check it out and see what you think.

Writers Guide to Korean and Global Names

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

7 Reasons Why People with Asperger Syndrome can Never, Ever be Writers

Sorry, Herman Melville, Jane Austin, Hans Christian Anderson, but you can't have existed. Or at least, not existed with the Asperger Syndrome folks are convinced you had. As it says in Xanthippa's Chamberpot: "Writing is one of the major woes for people with Aspergers."
Here are the three reasons she gives, followed by more cynical ones of my own:

  1. Children with Asperger Syndrome have too much trouble with the mechanics of writing.
  2. Short term memory problems--- the ideas rush by so fast, you forget what you were writing by the end of the word.
  3. People with Asperger Syndrome can speak on any topic at great length, but are inhibited when it comes to writing it down, because that makes it too official.
  4. Aspies soon learn that if you write things down, people, especially schoolteachers, can find it and ruin it for you. So you must never, ever write things down.
  5. Aspies have odd special interests and so won't want to write on the topics that the mass market wants to read about. 
  6. Aspies find it near to impossible to attract friends, so how can they possibly attract readers for their book?
  7. Aspies have something called a 'lack of executive function' which is pretty much the same thing as Attention Deficit Disorder. How can you be a writer when your novel-notes are in a giant paper-pile along with old Christmas cards and a list of your Vampire Wars friends?

A bit gloomy, isn't it? And I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with Xanthippa, in spite of the cool name. Writing has never been MY woe, but the one area in which I could shine. Here is some commentary on the above list:

  1. The mechanics of writing has never been my problem. But if it is for you, who cares? Schools aren't even teaching handwriting any more. Folks can use a computer instead.
  2. Who cares if you forget some of those fast-flowing ideas? Jot down notes to capture enough of your brilliant ideas to finish the project at hand. Your brain that generates the idea-flow can generate all the ideas you need no matter how many you forget.
  3. If you can speak about it, you can write about it. Ever notice that the fellow who can't get around to writing a college paper or finishing his novel can spend an hour or more goofing off online--- writing to express himself? Just transfer that writing-energy to your novel and you are set.
  4.  As you grow up, you learn that the rude things folks might have once said about your writing were pretty dull-witted rude things. You CAN learn to have a thicker skin. 
  5. Those weird aspie special interests are what make your writing interesting and unique.
  6. The things that make an aspie unpopular as a real-life friend makes him more attractive as a writer.
  7. You can learn to organize your paper pile with paper trays, and put all the stuff from your current writing project in a binder so you can find it.

So, maybe it's true that with Asperger Syndrome I can never ever be a real writer. Maybe I'm doomed to be a failure like Herman Melville. I can live with that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blogger's New Word Verification Ruins it All for Everyone

I love Blogger's old word verification words. I even collected them in a notebook for use in writing--- when I need an alien name or word, I pick one from the notebook either as a temporary substitute for the final-version name/word, or sometimes as the permanent solution.

But I always hated the Captcha WV system. Besides the fact that they were often ordinary words--- useless for my purpose--- there was the fact that they were too distorted for me to read. With Captcha WV, I had to enter the words 2 to 3 times before I got it right.

Now Blogger has scrapped their old system for Captcha. And so I have had to eliminate the word verification step on this blog out of respect for my reader(s).

This led to quite a bit of commercial comment spam. So I've had to disallow anonymous comments. I don't like to do this as I use the anonymous comment thing myself. Not that I want to be anonymous. But under 'anonymous' there is the name/URL option. I use that when I am reading poetry blogs, and want the blogger to find my poetry blog and not my sci-fi/writing blog or my Esperanto blog or my low-carb diet blog.....

I do still like Blogger the best. I've tried many other free blogging platforms and Blogger does a lot of things and makes it easy to do them. So what if Blogger is owned by a mega-successful business and thus is the tool of the progressives' version of Antichrist?
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