Tag Archives: craft

I Heard it From a Fool

the man who knew too little“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
~ Winston S. Churchill

The Fool, often known as The Jester, is a well-known and very useful trope in both TV, theater, and novels. Sometimes in our work, the tomfoolery is subtle, or devious, or creepy. With The Fool, it’s in your face.

In TV, the fool can come in various shapes and sizes. Often they really are clueless, but blessed with abundant luck and usually a cheery outlook. The ridiculous, almost accidental ways they escape bad things is always great for a laugh. They’re excellent for comic relief in an otherwise tense situation.

A great example is the movie, The Man Who Knew Too Little. Bill Murray gives a stellar performance as Wallace Richie, a bumbling incompetent who is mistaken as a spy and ends up stopping an international assassionation plot without understanding anything that’s going on. Simply brilliant.

Other times, perhaps they’re more the Profound Fool, an idiot who still offers spot-on advice and remarkable insights that no one else seems capable of figuring out, despite their genius or heroic attributes. And it’s often because the fool is so simple that they can see the truth about problems, which everyone else is complicating unnecessarily.

Bill and TedThink Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. This classic time travel sci-fi movie follows the high-school slackers Bill S. Preston and Ted Theodore Logan, who have delusions of greatness with absolutel nothing to back up their claims. They’re failing school, and can’t even play the instruments, even though they want to start a band. Even as they embark on their excellent time-traveling adventure, they really don’t seem to get it for a while.

For example, when the Evil Duke at the castle where they fall for the princesses decides to kill them by torture and orders, “Put them in the Iron Maiden.”

Instead of shuddering with their impending doom, they think he’s talking about the rock band.

But of course by the end of their awesome adventure they meet cool historical figures, ace their history presentation, and set everything right with the universe with their momentary flashes of insight, and their determination to “Be excellent to each other, and Party on.”

Then there’s the Fool of Shakespeare’s time. That kind of Fool can say anything to anyone, and they usually do. In otherwise strictly-managed social heirarchy, the fool grants a way for truth to be shared, to poke fun at pompous or foolish or disturbing tendencies or justifications.

“That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.”
~Isaac Asimov, Guide to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was famous for using ‘the fool’, and took the trope to whole new levels. They were usually ignorant or poor, low class commoners, who used their wits to tear down or humiliate or make fun of their betters. They could be used to poke fun at moral issues or the lies or justifications that nobility tried to use.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
~William Shakespeare

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.
~Feste, Twelfth Night, I.5.328

If men could be contented to be what they are, there were no fear in marriage.
~Clown, All’s Well That Ends Well, I.3.372

Winning will put any man into courage.
~Cloten, Cymbeline, II.3.983

the Court JesterOne final type of fool I’ll mention are the Jesters. In the middle ages, these were entertainers of nobility. Singers, dancers, storytellers, satirists, and comedians. They perfected the art of being clever fools, and a wonderful example is the movie The Court Jester.

Hawkins, the main character in the classic movie, The Court Jester. Danny Kaye did an amazing job playing Hubert Hawkins, who has to go undercover as Giacomo, King of Jesters and Jester to the King. The entire move revolves around his antics and the intrigue and plots he gets caught up in more by accident than any design. If you haven’t watched the movie, do it now. You’ll thank me later.

So when designing your stories, don’t forget to consider including a Fool. It might turn out to be an extremely wise decision.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Well, that was Unexpected

 

I have a confession to make-I didn’t start watching Doctor Who until after my husband and I started dating.

I know, I know, most self-respecting geeks are at least familiar with the Doctor. Me? Nope. As a matter of fact, two friends and I went to England a few years back. Naturally we went to watch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. I’d seen it before, but the others hadn’t, so we went.

During the rather dull ceremony (sorry, it’s the truth) the band played some great sci-fi music, including Star Trek. A number I didn’t recognize received thunderous applause from the crowd. Lucky for me, the friend standing next to me at least knew that it was the Doctor Who theme song.

While we were dating, my soon to be husband finally talked me into watching. The first season of the reboot is rough, and I didn’t particularly love Rose as the companion, but once I’d made it through a handful of episodes, I started to get it.

Then The Empty Child happened.

If you’re a fan, you know what I’m talking about.

The entire two-part story is based in World War II London, and through the whole thing a little boy in a gas mask keeps appearing asking if anyone and everyone is his mummy.

Seriously creepy.

I spent the entire episode trying to figure out what sort of wretched creature would do such a thing. Then the reveal at the end blew my proverbial socks off. It went so contrary to where I thought it would, that I probably sat with my mouth hanging open for a good fifteen seconds.

While my boyfriend pointed and laughed at me. (He’d seen it two or three times.)

The writers of Doctor Who have pulled this off a number of times. My personal favorite is Gridlock:

The Doctor takes Martha to New Earth, where she is kidnapped by two carjackers and taken to an underground Motorway, where the remainder of humanity on the planet live in perpetual gridlock.

What is left of humanity has been circling on the futuristic freeway full of flying cars/motor homes for who knows how long (years? Decades? Centuries?) trying to find an exit open. About half way through the episode we, the audience, figure out that they’re never getting off the freeway. It’s some sort of sick trap.

Well, the Doctor won’t stand for it (he’s got a very insistent need to protect humanity) and he and Martha set out to figure out what’s going on.

Adventure ensues.

But once again, when we expect to find a creature that is both parts cheesy and foul, we find something totally different. A friend of the Doctor’s who moves through time at a different rate than most. And he didn’t trap humanity underground on the freeway because he was mean, but because he wanted to keep them safe from whatever catastrophe happened on the surface of the planet..

It’s brilliant. In so many places the writers allude to something, and then allow the watchers to come to their own conclusions, which are totally wrong.

For me, this is one of the best thinks a story can do. Not so much trick the reader, but provide an insight that can truly delight them at the end.

Shave and a Haircut

The thing about tension is, it wants to be released. This is true not just for bowstrings drawn back to the ear, unresolved chords, or tectonic plates grinding up on each other in the world’s most excruciatingly slowed-down dance club. All of life, every life, is about the release of tension.

Sometimes the release comes quickly. Sometimes the stresses just continue to build, ratcheting up ever higher, long past what we would have believed to be possible. (On a possibly related note, it took me eleven years to earn my doctorate.)

But all of us are bullets, shots in the dark. We begin explosively, super-charged with unimaginable kinetic energy– as every parent of a small child knows. Over time, we lose it. Our trajectories curve groundward, our orbits decay, and we fall.

It is in this sense that mortality is a coil, in Hamlet’s famous phrasing. Life is a spring, tightly wound. Tension is what keeps it all going, what keeps this whole universe humming along. Sure, we complain about the stresses we endure day after day. But in a way, they’re reassuring. They let us know we’re still here, still kicking, not yet resting in peace.

I’m in no hurry to achieve entropic resolution myself. Oh, I know I’ll get there in time. All of us will. What’s the rush? Yet, on we run. We can’t help it. Tension propels us, speeding us toward that ultimate release.

I think this is true for stories, too. We all know the unbearable agony of being wrenched out of the narrative before we know our heroes are safe. I think that’s why parents grant their children the small mercy of finding a “stopping place” in their book (or game, or show) before they have to come help set the table.

We also know that in the very best stories, you can never find a stopping place. It gets its hooks in you right from the start and doesn’t let you go until the end. “It rips my life away, but it’s a great escape.

So, how do I make it work for me?

First, take a cue from Dean Wesley Smith and try exercising a little mind control over your readers. Hang those cliffs. Don’t make it easy for them to put your book down.

This doesn’t come naturally for me, but I’ve been experimenting with my preschooler. He wants to hear stories every night, one from mommy and one from daddy. And for the last few months, daddy’s stories have all followed a single hero (Percival Bunny-rabbit) in a continuous narrative, usually cutting off at the moment of maximum tension.

It’s cruel, I know. And every time the boy flops back on his bed with a frustrated groan, or spends the next day begging to hear the end of the story, there’s a part of me that thinks it can’t be good parenting to torture him so.

But another part of me is delighted.

He tells me he prefers stories that have an ending. So every few nights I give him a break and we come to a place where I can pronounce THE END. But the very next night my boy is asking me if we have any “leftover stories.” He can’t wait to find out what his hero is going to do next. And neither can I.

Which is the second way I am trying to make tension work for me: keeping myself in suspense. I don’t like leaving things unfinished. In fact, I’m like Roger Rabbit, positively vibrating with the need for closure.

So I’ve been experimenting on myself, trying to use this tension as a driver. Instead of stopping my writing for the day at a place where I’ve finished my scene and said all I want to, I cut it short and walk away.

The pressure of that incomplete ending, that unfinished chapter, pushes me to get back to the keyboard. And until I do, the untold story is bouncing around in my brain– generating dialogue, action sequences, etc. It itches at my brain, keeps me up at night, kicks me out of bed early in the morning to curl up on the couch with my laptop and punch out the lines that have been running through my head since my last writing session.

The experiment is still young, but it’s had some promising results. I’m really excited. I also am a little anxious, because we’ve got a new baby coming and I know that’s going to turn my whole life upside down (for the third time). And then we have the end of the semester, and then summer (and attendant travel) is going to nuke my schedule, and then we’re going to move.

So even though I’m telling you this works, I really don’t know if I can even keep this up myself. Will my new writing plan survive the month of March, or will it fall casualty to sleep deprivation? Will I find the time to finish my novel, or miss my deadline and maybe miss my chance? What will become of our peerless hero?

Find out next time, in . . .

PERCIVAL BUNNY-RABBIT

AGAINST

THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE

Coming soon!


John D. Payne lives in Houston with his wife, two sons, and (maybe, by the time this post goes up) his newborn daughter. (Still looking for names, so please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.) His hobbies include removing peanut butter and chocolate from the stupid white couches, blowing bubbles for little boys to chop with laser swords, and using a Mickey Mouse doll to do Pharaoh’s part in the Moses story (complete with Mickey voice).

John’s debut novel is The Crown and the Dragon. His stories can also be found in magazines and anthologies such as Leading Edge, Tides of Impossibility: A Fantasy Anthology from the Houston Writers Guild, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. For updates on his writing and stories about his kids, follow him on Twitter @jdp_writes.

Sexual Tension in Fiction

Attraction is easy. Desire is a deep and constant companion for most people. Even advertisers know this. We all have idle thoughts. People go out on a weekend looking for sex, and may find it or not. This is not sexual tension.

For sexual tension, you need a compelling sexual attraction – something that really pushes a character to do something they might not do otherwise.

Often sex and romance get lumped together in fiction. Both serve similar functions in a story, and often the protagonists’ sex is an expression of the love.

But not always. People can strongly desire sex with people they don’t love first, or at all, and it can have consequences other than love. Sex can also be an exchange, or a pressure, used in relationships characterized by imbalanced power. People can deny their true sexual attraction and still have pleasurable sex with others – even of different genders than their natural preference – who are not their first choice. Or, all of the above at once!

Sexual tension is a thing of the body, of the senses, of the id. It is the realm of the cad, the rake, the femme fatale – and yet, it is for all of us. It is manipulative and often shadowy, if not actually dark. It is our selfishness, our self-indulgence.

In fiction, sexual tension has something inappropriate or unwise – from the character’s view, or from the story’s. I don’t mean to demonize sex, or advocate a subtle puritanism, but fiction is always a distorted and extreme depiction, and sex is always a vulnerable state.

Characters can deny it, or give into it. Giving in is inherently heedless – if the sex were uncomplicated, they would just have it. It may lead to ruin. It may be for the good of the persons involved if not the society that denies them. It may even lead to romance and love, but not easily, and not without great disturbance in other aspects of the characters’ lives.

For good or ill, sexual tension leads characters astray.

The endless no

Not all attractions get acted out. Sometimes they linger, unacted on. Long enough and these denials can age like wine into bonds of friendship, or fester into ugly thoughts, or simply drag at us, like tides from a moon we’re bound to.

This works well for series characters, whose relationship can develop over several stories. In a standalone, the reader often comes in the middle of the relationship. In either case, seeing the tension is often more economical than backstory.

Be careful, however, to keep it in its place – after all, the characters are by definition in denial. When we see two characters drunk, or on their spouse’s arms at cocktail party, you can get to mutual sexual interest quickly and believably. In a crime scene investigation, it’s unprofessional, badly comic, and disorienting.

Locks and keys

As I said earlier, uncomplicated sex is not tense. If sex starts with a tension beyond simple anticipation, an attraction has to be more than the opening of a door. It has to be an unlocking, or a hacking, someone gaining access.

The disturbance I mentioned comes from this access, or can precede it. A person otherwise capable of denial might have had a separate major change in perspective making them less in control of their emotions. Or, they might simply find a person uniquely attractive person. I combined these in my novel The Demon in Business Class. When my rival protagonists first meet, they respond deeply on a sensory level, each for their own well-foreshadowed reasons. They’ve also both been through enough change in their recent lives that they are too compelled by their feelings. As my Gabriel later admits, “I was tired of doing the smart thing.”

You don’t have to underline what the character wants. You can even provide them with regular dollops of something they don’t want, even if it’s their normal. Charlaine Harris did this overtly, making Sookie Stackhouse unavoidably psychic, and vampire Bill Compton her first experience of not knowing too much.

Conditional attraction 

The ugliest sexual tension is also the most interesting – when it isn’t mutual. A character’s deep response to a disinterested, or manipulative, other gives the other power.

Usually these come on fast, giving the character no time to think. Also, once another is empowered, they quickly take what they want, or develop contempt.

Remember that even in this situation, you need to consider both characters. It’s not enough that a person find themselves vulnerable to a predator. Why? It’s rare that another is so compelling to a healthy ego; maybe the character’s real weakness is a belief in a distorted version of their true self.

Meanwhile, the predator has to know its prey. Maybe it adapts to attract a known mark, or just happily senses the particular insecurities it knows how to enthrall.

The empowerment can come after the possession, too, like Scheherazade’s tales. If a powerful person takes on an inferior for a lover, but then is drawn into vulnerability, the stakes for the attraction become more compelling.

The movie Looper has a lovely and strange conditional attraction. The mother seduces the young hitman, not for any specific reason, and with a powerful excitement – an intuitive empowerment. She wants him when he is most lost, to get him to protect her son. It’s never stated, it’s hot, but it’s clear he’s the one changing, not her.

Closing the deal

Just as the moment of attraction says more than backstory, the sex that comes from the tension can express the tension economically. Sex isn’t a mindless act. Even if characters give into passion they still know themselves. They also tend to enjoy it. In positions of weakness, or sudden strength, they can still embrace that pleasure.

Sex goes great with any mature genre. Enjoy exploring all the unromantic reasons characters get together!


Anthony Dobranski writes stylish fantasy and science-fiction novels with big ideas and desperate characters. His first novel is the modern-day international fantasy The Demon in Business Class, from WordFire Press. He is currently writing his second novel.
He is a native of the Washington DC area. In his first career he worked for AOL, in Europe and Asia-Pacific, which gave him the international corporate background for Demon. When not writing or reading, he likes odd movies, challenging theater, and skiing.