Four Things

This week I’m stealing my blog topic from my friend Jessica over at Chronically Vintage. She’s a lovely person and blogs about vintage fashion, which is something I knew little about until I started writing historical fiction.

Anyway, the idea of this post is to not talk about writerly stuff per se, but rather to reveal some slightly more personal things about me. So here we go – four things about me: Continue reading

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Stories about Stories

I like stories, and so stories that are about stories seem doubly cool to me. I decided to analyze three of my favorite “stories within stories” and the different ways that this concept can be handled.

A Tale: “The Tale of the Three Brothers” in Harry Potter

I’ve read various cautionary articles about inserting a “tale” into fiction. Interrupting the flow of the plot for “storytime” can slow the action, take the reader out of the story, and is often a thinly veiled excuse for an unnecessary flashback. While all of these are true, I think there are still ways to use the “tale” inside a story without interrupting the main plot. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does this very well with the “Tale of the Three Brothers.” One of the main things that makes it work is that this tale is vital to the rest of the main plot of the book. This tale isn’t an excuse for lame backstory or filler for a slow plot—without this little story-within-the-story, Harry wouldn’t learn everything he needs to know about the Deathly Hallows, which is vital to the rest of the story.

Plus, the tale was treated beautifully in the film. Honestly, it’s my favorite part of the movie:

 

Nested Stories and Flashback Tales: The Historian

If you’re not supposed to use tales within a story as an excuse for a flashback, then this book breaks that rule with every single chapter. This book is a bit unique, though, because the entire thing is a flashback within a flashback, and the different time periods of the story mesh perfectly to create the larger plot. I blogged about this book in a post I did about narrators, because all of the flashbacks are told in the first person, but by different people. This book isn’t really a good model for the average writer to follow, even though this author handled the writing style brilliantly. If you want to write a story within a story, it would probably be wiser to stick with a Harry Potter-esque “tale,” or a story about a story, as in the following example.

A Story about a Story: The Princess Bride

Since the book of The Princess Bride is very different from the movie—and probably more people have seen the movie—I’ll focus on the film for my example. The “main plot” of the story is the relationship of a little boy and his grandfather. Very little action happens, but there is character growth as the impatient boy realizes that his old-fashioned grandfather really isn’t as out of touch as he first thinks, and that they both share a love for a good story. The bulk of the movie, of course, is the fairy tale that the grandfather reads to the boy, The Princess Bride. The occasional hops out of the tale, like when the boy complains about the kissing scenes, are just frequent enough to remind the audience that this is a story within a story, but they don’t interfere with the flow of the plot.

Now over to you! Do you have a favorite “story within a story?”

Or a favorite Princess Bride quote? Just because.

Fantasy Characters as Role Models

Finding role models in fiction is not a new concept (or even a new idea for a blog post, probably). But I’ve been thinking and reading lately about characters, how to write them, and what they can mean to readers. So here’s a short list of some of my favorite characters from fantasy and science fiction, and what they can teach us about how to live and how to behave.

Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings Loyalty

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Hobbit sidekick. Except he’s more than just a sidekick. He’s more than a gardener, a bodyguard, or even a good friend. He’s a man so loyal to his friend and to his own word that he faces off against orcs, a giant spider, and a raging volcano just because he told Gandalf that he’d protect Frodo. His word is his bond, no matter what.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series – Courage 

Hermione can be described in many ways: smart, clever, nerdy, loyal. But really, none of these traits would enable her to accomplish half of what she does if she weren’t exceptionally courageous. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s feeling the fear and doing what you need to do anyway. From the first book on, Hermione bravely steps out to help save the day, never letting fear of Voldemort – or worse, expulsion from Hogwarts – stop her from doing what she knows is right.

John Sheridan from Babylon 5 – Justice

Captain Sheridan is the perfect leader for the Babylon 5 space station – he’s brave, smart, and a true warrior. All of this stems from his fierce sense of justice. When faced with the tough decisions of life, the ones with no clear-cut right or wrong, he uses his sense of justice and fairness to temper his decisions. He lives by the understanding that every decision – good or bad – comes with consequences. Whether others label him as a hero or a villain, he stays true to his principles of justice and personal responsibility.

Fezzik from The Princess Bride – Honesty

Fezzik the gentle giant is kind, patient, and maybe a little slow, but he’s the most honest character in the story. While he never directly rebels against Vizzini, his honesty prevents him from carrying out his malicious orders to kill Westley. He’s intensely loyal to his friend Inigo, and once he determines that Buttercup and Westley are the good guys, he never stops supporting them because he believes in rightness and honesty.

Princess Anna from Frozen – Compassion

Anna is brave, eternally optimistic, and loves her sister dearly. But really, her greatest role model-worthy trait is compassion. Her love for Elsa is more than just a sister bond. Despite her shock and confusion when Elsa reveals her powers, Anna immediately understands how Elsa must be feeling. Her ability to empathize with Elsa’s fear and loneliness is what drives her to literally freeze to death for her sister’s sake.

The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz – Wisdom

The Scarecrow is the smart one without any brains, but he’s also very wise, which is a different sort of intelligence. Wisdom such as knowing when to take charge – which he does for most of the story – and when to let someone else lead (by telling the Lion that he’s the one to lead them into the Wicked Witch’s castle, or by submitting to Glinda’s authority at the end of the movie). Wisdom tells him to trust this strange girl and her little dog. The intelligence of knowing the Pythagorean theorem is less important in life than making wise decisions.

The Addams Family – Love

From the movies to the classic TV show to the original cartoons by Charles Addams, Gomez and Morticia Addams have represented the ultimate in passion and romance. But there’s more to love than romance. Love means sticking together no matter what storm is raging, or standing up for a loved one who might be acting very unlovable. This family may have dead flowers as the centerpiece and a loose hand that runs around the house, but they have love. No outside force or inner turmoil pits Gomez and Morticia against each other, or draws their children away. Even Uncle Fester’s poor decisions can’t make the others turn their backs on him. Any family that wants to stay strong should put as much of an emphasis on love as the Addams do.

Yes, I know that this is a really short list. I could have listed several hundred characters, and made this post longer than the epic fantasy trilogy I’m working on, so I had to pare it down somehow. If you have a favorite fantasy character that has positive role model traits, feel free to share in the comments!

Inconceivable! And Other Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

If you understood the reference made in the title of this post (hint: if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, stop reading right now and go watch it), then you probably know what I’ll be discussing in this post.

In a living language like English, words sometimes change their meaning over time. For example, we use the word “prosaic” to mean dull or unimaginative; but originally, it simply meant “prose,” as in literature that wasn’t poetry.

So yes, words change, and even the most contentious literary lover might misuse a word or will encounter a new word they didn’t know before. But some words in recent years seem to have become problematic for many people. Here are a few of my pet peeves:

Literally. This means “exactly, without inaccuracy.” Nowadays, though, most people use it as nothing more than a modifier to add emphasis to a statement, like beginning a sentence of moderate importance with the word “dude.” There’s nothing wrong with “literally” moving into slang usage in this way, but where I take issue is when people forget what it actually means. Saying “Dude, my head literally exploded” in everyday conversation is one thing; but if you’re trying to sound professional in either your speaking or the written word, just remember that you wouldn’t still be here if your head had literally (i.e. actually, truly) exploded.

Alright. I’ve blogged about this word before. There’s not much to say here, because “alright” isn’t a word at all. What you’re trying to say is “all right.”

Welp or whelp. First of all, welp is not a real word. I see welp or whelp used in slang and conversation as an alternate way of saying “well” at the beginning of a sentence. For example, a Facebook update might say “Welp, there goes my great idea for my school project. :-(” Again, I’m fine with slang usage for words, but please don’t forget what the actual definition is. While “welp” doesn’t mean anything, a “whelp” is the pup or cub of a dog, a bear, or other animal, or can be used to as a somewhat derogatory term for an obnoxious child.

I’m sure there are other words that could be added to this list of “words that don’t mean what you think they mean.” These three are a good start, I think, mostly because I see them used (or misused) so frequently. What misused words would you add to the list?