Category Archives: Tropes & Archetypes

From a Certain Point of View

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

Our view of events in stories, and in real life, is frequently tainted by our past and emotions. Two individuals who have similar stories will react to another person’s actions differently based on their personalities and personal experiences. Thus, giving our history the ability to become metaphorical sunglasses, tinting the truth of what is before us. And, because of this, allows the main character’s “enemy” to fool easier through the power of incomplete truths.

In the sixth Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, when Luke Skywalker returns to Dagobah to finish training, only to find that is mentor, Yoda, is dying. Afterwards Luke has a heart-to-heart with the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Your father… was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be the Jedi Anakin Skywalker and “became” Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So, what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”

That revelation was a prime example of incomplete truth—once the knowledge became apparent to the main character, their perception becomes completely altered as they are forced to re-evaluate their beliefs. Darth Vader was a bad guy, plain and simple. But learning that Darth Vader was once Anakin Skywalker, someone’s husband and father, changes Luke’s reality. He was forced to re-evaluate the truth that he thought he knew.

Throughout the Harry Potter series, Harry has a distinctive personal enmity toward the Potion’s Master, Severus Snape. J.K. Rowling gives the reader permission, from the start of the series, to despise Severus Snape. For one, he had the gall to despise Harry’s father (James Potter). Secondly, Snape openly showed hostility toward the chosen one (it didn’t matter that Harry never wanted to be the chosen one). Only at the conclusion of the final book/movie, after Snape is killed by Nagini, does Harry learn that his emotions and past tinted everything he thought was true. Only then is Harry forced to re-evaluate everything he thought was real. Only then does he see the sacrifice and honor of a once hated man, turning Snape into an individual that Harry admired enough to give one of his sons the name Albus Severus Potter.

Other examples of incomplete truths include the M. Night Shyamalan movies The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable where we view the story from the incomplete truth of the main character’s lives. It is only in the end that we are given the lens of truth, revealing the stories from a whole other angle giving the characters, and the viewers, a complete mind-flip moment.

Incomplete truths often tend to be blessed happenstance on the part of the author/creator, but if done well can come across brilliantly. If done poorly, can cost you your reader’s faith & trust. The true brilliance is when an author is skilled enough that they plan out the incomplete truths or omissions from the start. This is why I love the work of Brandon Sanderson. The story Warbreaker is told from the point of view of two Idrian princesses—Vivenna and Siri. At the beginning of the story, the princesses’ planned futures are switched, pulling the proverbial rug out from under the feet. Siri is sent to marry the God King while Vivenna is left feeling lost. Taking matters in hand, Vivenna decides to be the heroine of her own story, and marches off on her own to rescue Siri from the horrible life that Vivenna was meant to live. I thought I knew where the story was headed, and I was enjoying the ride. Then, halfway through, Sanderson flipped everything that Vivenna, Siri, and even the readers, thought they knew on its head; unravelling the twisted and incomplete truths. Only later, if you go back and look, do you realize that Sanderson hints of reality scattered throughout as brilliant nuggets of creativity.

So, next time you find yourself reading or watching a story that mesmerizes you with a mind-flip moment, go back and see if you can determine for yourself—is the use of emotions and history making it easier for one character to fool another through incomplete truths? And if so, was it simply a beautiful happenstance, or was it planned brilliance on the part of the creator?

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

Don’t Split the Party!

Yes, the title of this post is one of the most revered and honored tropes of role-playing games. I can’t even begin to count the number of stories I could tell about the consequences of an adventuring party going their separate ways and being systematically wiped out by frustrated Dungeon Masters whose carefully constructed campaign is being turned into a shambles by players who think it’s a grand idea to have everyone wander off on their own.

But this post isn’t about gaming. It’s about writing. Of course, like all “rules”, this one is frequently violated to great effect in numerous stories from “Lord of the Rings” to “The Avengers.” So as Barbossa would say, this isn’t a “rule” so much as a “guideline.”

But it’s a solid guideline if you want to create a story where readers can experience the rich interplay of characters that is really only possible when the reader has become not only acquainted with individual characters, but has also developed an understanding of the complex dynamics of interpersonal relationships between groups of people.

It is rare for any story to rely on a total focus on one main character. It is incredibly difficult for a writer to keep readers interested in a story like that anyway. So the vast majority of the world’s favorite stories usually have one main focus, but that main focus is surrounded by other characters whose stories weave their own threads around and through the main character’s thread.

In that group of orbiting characters, at least one should be a friend of the main character, not just a flunky, or a tool the main character uses to advance their agenda. Friendships allow the reader to see the main character as a living, breathing person. The more a writer can create a sense of true mutual love and respect between the main character and another character, the more likely readers will be to empathize and sympathize with the protagonist. In most cases we want to root for characters we like, and observing how the protagonist interacts with close friends is the best way for a reader to learn the normally hidden vulnerabilities that make them human and relatable. Sometimes these “friends” are also siblings, but usually not.

Creating close friendships does more than make a protagonist more human. It also gives the author opportunities to use that relationship to bring elements of the story to more compelling climaxes, and to explore emotions to sublime depths. What would the story of Frodo be without Sam? Would we really care as much about Lizzy and Mr. Darcy without Charlotte and Bingley? And Harry Potter would have been far less interesting without Ron and Hermione.

Building relationships like that takes time. It can’t be “told” it has to be “shown” in dozens of little details sprinkled through scene after scene. And that’s not easy to do if you can’t keep the party together long enough to build them.

Starting Over Again … Again

Ungrateful God, the second volume of Unwilling Souls, is with my copy editor as we speak. While I’m not quite ready to announce a release date yet, it’s time to start thinking about the next volume. Beginning a new book is an exciting time full of a blank page’s endless possibilities. That being said, I’ve never done the third book in a series before, but before Ungrateful God, I’d never done a second volume in a series before, either. So it’s worth reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned when writing sequels. After all, a lot of those blank-page possibilities will lead to a pretty crappy book.

Do a better job outlining: Ungrateful God will be released many months after I’d originally hoped it would. The main driver for this was the substantial content edits my editor handed back. These were very necessary edits from the standpoint that the book was not living up to its potential (it is now, big time!), but they were also very unnecessary from the standpoint that I could have avoided them if I’d done a better job outlining. So that’s the plan for Book 3, a thorough outline followed by a call to my editor to go over the book’s structure and remove any large weak points before I ever put a word down. I’ve already begun this process, and given that Book 3 will be even more complicated than Ungrateful God (itself more complicated than Unwilling Souls), I’m hopeful I can avoid some pain and suffering later by doing this work up front.

Decide what kind of story I’m telling: I don’t mean to imply I’ve got no idea where the story is going. I have rough notions of major plot points for each of the remaining books in the series. But I also don’t want this series to feel too formulaic. Each book, while both standing alone and telling a portion of a larger story, should feel different than the other books in the series (at least, that’s my desire, but every author’s mileage may vary). So while Unwilling Souls was a chase book with a mystery at its core, in Ungrateful God the pure mystery element is much more front and center, leading to an explosive ending. Similar stylistic decisions must be made before the outline for Book 3 can really resonate. I have a good idea what the answer is, but telling would be, well, telling.

Decide how long between books: I don’t mean the time it takes to write the books, though that’s important too (see below). In this case, I mean the in-world time between books. Ungrateful God begins more than a month after Unwilling Souls ends, so quite a lot has changed between the volumes, and the author has to convey that information to the reader in a way that neither confuses nor bores them. Time jumps are a good way to skip straight over stuff that would otherwise bog down the story into parts that are more interesting and relevant to the story at hand. But they aren’t appropriate for every book, and as it turns out, Book 3 will begin right where Ungrateful God leaves off.

Decide how long between books, the other way: Simply put, I wrote the bulk of the first draft of Ungrateful God too damn fast. I’d set myself (and my editor, more importantly) a deadline I was determined to meet, and I burned myself out getting there, another reason the draft needed so much work. I’m still learning the answer to this “how fast can I write consistently?” and I’ve given myself more time for Book 3. It will help avoid unrealistic deadlines and ensure I can turn in a more quality draft to my editor when the time comes. I’d like to be able to put out more than one book a year, but the reality is I work a full-time day job and I’d also like to, you know, see my loved ones on occasion.

Determine if the formula needs shaking up: Above I said I try not to be formulaic. But the truth is that if books in a series bore no resemblance to one another, they would make for a pretty poor series. I decided early on that in order to make the story as epic as I wanted it, I’d have to play around with the viewpoint format from book to book. In Unwilling Souls, Ses Lucani is the lone viewpoint character. In Ungrateful God, Ses remains the primary viewpoint character with the vast majority of chapters, but I add a second, minor viewpoint character as well. In Book 3, I plan to continue that trend, with a second minor POV (for three total), and so on. At the moment, that works for me as a way of expanding the stories I can tell. Harry Potter fans know that JK Rowling occasionally broke with a strictly Harry POV in later books to give us an idea of what was going on in the wider world. One extra POV per book is a nicely pleasing number to me, but I reserve the right to change my pattern should the needs of the story demand it.

All this pre-work is a new experience for me, a dedicated pantser of a writer. But after several attempts at this and taking honest note of the delays the style has cost me, I’m confident the increased productivity (and decreased wait time of my fans that will result) will be worth all that unpleasant change.

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

The Classic, and Not So Classic, Fairy Tale

I’ve heard it said a thousand times that there are no new ideas, just old ideas recycled, rehashed, recajiggered and repackaged. Maybe that’s true, but there’s one niche of stories that never seem to get old, no matter how many times they have been retold. Classic fairy tales.

You know the ones I’m talking about: Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Not only have moscinderellat of these been turned into movies—including classic cartoons by Disney—but each of these stories have been rewritten again and again.

I won’t take you down the proverbial Rabbit’s Hole, but Google “Alice in Wonderland Adaptations” and go to Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.

For now, let’s stick with Cinderella. I once sat next to a single mother turned author at a book signing that told me if she saw a gap in finances approaching, she would write a quick Cinderella retelling and put it up on Amazon. Instant cash. Unfortunately for me, Cinderella is generally free of fist fights, action scenes and random ninjas, so I have yet to try this tactic, but she swears by it.

Then again, what must a Cinderella story include? A lonely, mistreated young woman, living with an evil step mother, who only wants to go to the ball. I could work ninjas into that. Now that I think about it, Prince Charming is a bonus that comes with the ball. Hmmm.

Movies seem to be a good platform for adaptations. Here are just a few that feature the Cinderella story:

-Disney’s classic Cinderella. I grew up on this one, and was wary of shrinking pumpkins for ages.

The Slipper and the Rose. A comical, musical retelling that harnesses the charm of a young Richard Chamberlin dancing in his own mausoleum, and the fantastic idea of a bride finding ball. (There’s a song about that too.)

Elle Enchanted. Put a curse on Elle that forces her to do anything anyone tells her to and see what happens. This one was a book first.

Into the Woods. Insert a handful of fairy tales, squeeze, twist, shake and pour. This is what happens. It was a stage production before it was a movie, by the way.

Ever After. Set in historical-ish France, this version brings modern ideas (independent women, education for all and inventors) into the classic story. Funny. Snarky.

There are plenty of novels as well, Cinder being among the most recent and the most unique. A science fiction backdrop, cyborgs and more.

As the world moves on, these adaptations will keep coming. What if Cinderella had access to social media? #evilstepmotherssuck #opressedstepsistersunite #sneakingouttonightnomatterwhat

It can, and will, go on and on. Bring it.