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Archive for February, 2009

Read this fantastic quote from Felix Adler,

“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.”

A great quote, isn’t it? I like books and movies with both heroes and saints in them, but I never differentiated them like this. I never thought to.

I’m curious how others react to this quote. For example, do you believe that a character can be both at the same time? What examples from literature are the best exemplars of each?

In terms of the Harry Potter series, I think Professor Dumbledore (prior to our revelations about him in book 7 at least) clearly fits the saint category. Whenever he is portrayed in the book we have information, clarity, and safety. It seems tied to his presence.

Harry, however, doesn’t seem to me to quite fit the role of the hero. Prior to book 6 in his revelation to Professor Slughorn during the Felix Felicitas chapter, he doesn’t really accept his lot in life. Acceptance seems an implied requirement for heroship to me. I mean, why would you go out into the night and set up a blazing torch if you didn’t believe in your own actions? Harry certainly does light a few fires here and there when certain things are set right, but they seem to be lit more as an afterthought than for any particular purpose. Some would argue that the Harry Potter books lack substance and are merely nebulous whirlwind rides of action. Good fun, but hardly worthy of proper critical acclaim. Are these claims justified here?

This brings me to a final thought. Doesn’t Dumbledore’s care over Harry make him into the hero he becomes? Isn’t this a form of setting up blazing torches in the dark? So, couldn’t our very own saint Albus also be hero Albus too? I’m reminded of the first scene where we meet Professor Dumbledore in the first book. He has his put-outer and is using it to conceal his presence in the street at Privet Drive. How remarkably ironic that first glimpse is in light of this quote by Felix Adler.

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I just found this very interesting web site. It’s called Daily Routines and includes posts on how writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days. The posts are mostly short at a paragraph or two, but they’re informative. Here are a few to whet your appetite:

I will definitely be subscribing.

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Source: The Secret of Creating Characters – Advanced Fiction Writing Blog.

“Every character is the hero of his/her own story.”

This is incredibly simple advice that has profound implications for writing. The Star Wars theme in the original post really makes this stand out as an easy read. I recommend those that want to learn more about creating great characters start with the first blog post, Top 100 Writing Blogs, and then read the explanation in The Secret of Creating Characters.

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I just got an email in my inbox today. The Kindle 2, an updated version of Amazon’s wireless reading device, has just been released. Here’s a copy of the email I received: 

We re excited to introduce Amazon Kindle 2 [ http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00154JDAI ], the next generation wireless reading device.  With a sleek and thin design that makes Kindle 2 as thin as a typical magazine and lighter than a paperpack, the new Kindle has seven times more storage and now holds over 1,500 books. It has a longer battery life and faster page turns. An advanced display provides even crisper images and clearer text for an improved book-like reading experience. And Kindle 2 even reads to you, with Read to Me, our new Text to Speech feature.

With Kindle 2 we kept everything readers love about the original Kindle: the convenience of reading what you want, when you want it, the immediacy of getting a book wirelessly delivered in less than 60 seconds, and Kindle’s ability to disappear in your hands so you can get lost in the author’s words. We’re also excited to announce that the Kindle Store has over 230,000 ebooks available.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00154JDAI

Let your readers know that Kindle 2 is available for pre-order starting today for $359 at http://amazon.com/kindle [ http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00154JDAI] and will ship later this month. We also have a wide variety of Kindle accessories available, including new covers from Cole Haan, Patagonia, and Belkin and more.

  • New Features & Enhancements  Slim & Lightweight : Just over 1/3 inch and 10.2 ounces
  • Books in under 60 seconds : Get books delivered in less than 60 seconds; no PC required
  • Improved Display : Reads like real paper; now boasts 16 shades of gray for crisp images and text; even reads well in bright sunlight
  • Longer Battery Life : 25% longer battery life; read for days without recharging
  • More Storage : Take your library with you; holds over 1,500 books
  • Faster Page Turns :  20% faster page turns
  • Read-to-Me : Text-to-Speech feature means Kindle can read every book, blog, magazine, and newspaper out loud.
  • No Wireless Bills : No monthly wireless bills, data plans, or commitments. Amazon pays for Kindle s wireless connectivity so you won t see a monthly wireless bill.
  • Large Selection : Over 230,000 books, plus U.S. and international newspapers, magazines and blogs available
  • Low Book Prices : New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases $9.99, unless marked otherwise

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s worth knowing that the Kindle 2 is out. I’m considering getting one, but only later when I have more money on hand. Just looking at the specs above it definitely looks like it was worth waiting to adopt. The new version sounds hands down better than version 1.

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Source: Novel Openings – Forensics & Faith
Part Two: Novel Openings — Part II

Ever heard the expression, ‘ you only get one chance to make a first impression?’

This is excellent, really excellent, advice on how to start a novel well. What to reveal and what to withhold among many other decisions will make or break your novel. Includes some discussion of variations on openings based on genre.

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I have long been intrigued by the concept of having a certain number of basic plots. Over time I found What are the seven basic literary plots? and Writer’s “Cheat Sheets” by Michele Albert. I’ve combined material from both of those as primary sources and now continue to add more. Hopefully, it will aid you in your ventures.

Apparently, everyone has a different way of establishing how many basic plots there are. Here are some of the more popular attempts.

69. Attributed to Rudyard Kipling by Ronald Tobias. There is, alas, no specific list that I am aware of.

58. From Patricia Ryan’s “Pat’s Premises: Popular Plots, Conflicts and Elements in Romance Novels,” Romance Writers’ Report, 17(4), April 1997 issue. (Note that these are strictly romance plots.)

  • Enforced Intimacy (8)
    • Marriage of Convenience
    • Hero as Protector
    • Arranged or Forced Marriage
    • Pretend Marriage or Relationship
    • Stranded Together on an Island
    • Snowbound
    • Matchmaker Contrives to Throw Lovers Together
    • Must Share Office, Home, or other Space
  • Love Conquers All (2)
    • The Healing Power of Love
    • Redemption Through Love
  • One Lover Rehabilitates or Cures the Other (6)
    • Amnesia
    • Physical Disabilities
    • Emotional Problems
    • Disfigurement
    • Mental Illness
    • Alcoholism
  • Emotional Baggage or Internal Forces Keep Lovers Apart (12)
    • Inability to Trust, especially Opposite Sex
    • Fear of Commitment
    • Emotional Detachment
    • Some Past Incident has left Emotional Scars
    • Lover Blames Other for Some Hurt to Self or Loved One
    • Lover Harbors a Secret that Threatens Love
    • Lover must find Self or Solve Problem before Committing
    • One Lover has Lied to Other about Something Important
    • Lover can’t Forgive Other for Some Flaw
    • Fear of Abandonment
    • Sense of Unworthiness
    • Feeling that One doesn’t Belong or Fit
  • The Lovers’ Differences Keep Them Apart (8)
    • Lovers from Different Social, Religious, or Ethnic Worlds
    • A Difference of Opinion on Critical Matter
    • Bad Boy, Good Girl or Vice Versa
    • Lovers have Opposing Loyalties
    • Lovers are Business Competitors
    • Lovers’ Personalities are too Different
    • A Large Age Difference
    • Unrequited Love
  • The Lovers’ Similarities Keep Them Apart (2)
    • Lovers engage in a Battle of Wills
    • Lovers Share Goal, but Only One Can Achieve It
  • Babies and Children (7)
    • Secret Baby
    • Arranged Pregnancy
    • Accidental Pregnancy
    • Reunited with Child given up for Adoption
    • Child Plays Matchmaker or otherwise Brings Lovers Together
    • Child Lost or Threatened
    • Heroine Plays Nanny
  • Comedy of Errors (5)
    • Heroine Pretends to be Male
    • Mistaken Identity
    • Misunderstandings
    • Masquerade
    • Twins
  • Evolving Relationships (3)
    • Platonic Friends Fall in Love
    • Ex-Sweethearts are Reunited
    • Divorced Spouses Rediscover their Love
  • Mythic or Fairy Tale Elements (5)
    • Kidnapping
    • Taming of the Savage Male
    • Transformation
    • Rags to Riches
    • Awakening, Emotional Rebirth

36. From The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti.

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Crime Pursued by Vengence
  4. Vengence taken for Kindred upon Kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring Enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of Kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
  15. Murderous Adultry
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal Imprudence
  18. Involuntary Crimes of Love
  19. Slaying of Kinsman Unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrificing for an Ideal
  21. Self-sacrificing for Kindred
  22. All Sacrificed for Passion
  23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
  24. Rivalry of Superior & Inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of Love
  27. Discovery of Dishonor of Beloved
  28. Obstacles to Love
  29. An Enemy Loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with (a) God
  32. Mistaken Jealousy
  33. Erroneous Judgement
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of Lost One
  36. Murder of Loved One

20. From 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias. (Note that Tobias doesn’t claim these are the only basic plots – just the more common and effective ones.)

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Existence
  19. Ascension
  20. Descension

8. Denis Johnston’s Eight Plots as reported in The Guardian newspaper,  September 9, 1991. Reposted from: Archetypal Stories

  • Cinderella: Unrecognised virtue at last recognised
  • Achilles: The Fatal Flaw
  • Faust: The Debt that Must be Paid
  • Tristan: that standard triangular plot of two women and one man, or two men and one woman
  • Circe: The Spider and the Fly
  • Romeo and Juliet: Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy either finds or does not find Girl: it doesn’t matter which
  • Orpheus: The Gift taken Away
  • The Hero Who Cannot Be Kept Down

7. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker from a Book Review by tobedwithatrollope

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

7. The “Man versus …” list. The Wikipedia entry Conflict (narrative) explains these in detail.

  • Man versus Himself
  • Man versus Society
  • Man versus Man
  • Man versus Nature
  • Man versus Fate
  • Man versus God, gods, or the Supernatural
  • Man versus Machine

4. From a quote by J. Richard Sneed, Life: Journey, Battle, Pilgrimage, or Race.

  • Journey
  • Battle
  • Pilgrimage
  • Race

3. From William R. Kane on Decmeber 1st, 1916 as published in the foreword to the 1917 English translation of The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti.

  • A decision to be made
  • A change to be suffered
  • An obstacle to be overcome

3. From Cheryl Klein’s talk, A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter.

  • Conflict
  • Mystery
  • A Lack

3. From Basic Patterns of Plot by William Foster-Harris.

  • Happy Ending
  • Unhappy Ending
  • Literary

3. Motives of Story from ‘Discussing Sci-Fi Storytelling & World Building with Writer Jon Spaihts’ on FirstShowing.net.

  • having something that you hope for
  • having something that you fear
  • having a burning question that you need answered

2. From 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias in which the author states that there are really only two basic plots.

  • Plots of the Body
  • Plots of the Mind

1. From Gustav Freytag. Commonly known as Freytag’s Triangle.

  • Exposition/Setup
  • Rising Action/Complication
  • Climax/Crisis/Reversal
  • Falling Action/Unraveling
  • Dénouement

1. From Cheryl Klein’s A Character-Based View of Plot.

  1. The book establishes a complex character – someone with:
    • A flaw of which he or she may not be aware
    • Something to gain or lose
    • Or both.
  2. The world of the book presents that character with a situation:
    • One that will evoke the flaw – again, possibly unbeknownst to the character
    • Or in which the thing that can be gained or lost will be gained or lost
    • Or both.
  3. And then it forces that character to make a choice or take some sort of action
    • John Gardner: “Real suspense comes from moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damn thing after another.”
  4. In the new situation engendered by the results of #3, the plot repeats steps 2 and 3, until
  5. The flaw in the character is faced and dealt with or
    • The thing to be lost or won is lost or won
    • Or both.

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Source: A Character-Based View of Plot – Brooklyn Arden

Cheryl Klein has done it again! This time she has formulated a view of plot completely from the perspective of the main character. Being familiar with some of her other writings, I think this is something that’s always been there waiting to be formally written down. It’s certainly intriguing and adds yet another perspective on plot.

What follows is a summary of her post including the main parts. I recommend reading the original to pickup more of the discussion about the parts and more of Cheryl’s examples.

  1. The book establishes a complex character – someone with:
    • A flaw of which he or she may not be aware
    • Something to gain or lose
    • Or both.
  2. The world of the book presents that character with a situation:
    • One that will evoke the flaw – again, possibly unbeknownst to the character
    • Or in which the thing that can be gained or lost will be gained or lost
    • Or both.
  3. And then it forces that character to make a choice or take some sort of action
    • John Gardner: “Real suspense comes from moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damn thing after another.”
  4. In the new situation engendered by the results of #3, the plot repeats steps 2 and 3, until
  5. The flaw in the character is faced and dealt with or
    • The thing to be lost or won is lost or won
    • Or both.

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