December 26, 2012

A Merry Post-Christmas

I didn't post yesterday because, well, it was Christmas!  But it wouldn't do to go without mentioning the day at all here on Scribbles, so I'll just be belated about it.  I wish all of you Scribbles readers a

merry christmas

and a

happy new year!

I hope you all had a lovely time yesterday, and are adjusting fairly well to the dazed post-Christmas sensation.  I think I have accepted the reality of it.  It helps to wear my new "Legend of Korra" Fire Ferrets t-shirt and to stare very hard at the Christmas tree, looking a bit bare without any presents beneath it.

This year was an exceptionally good one, mostly because I was very pleased with the gifts I found for my family.  There's nothing like seeing people oohing and aahing over the presents you got them: scarf-and-earrings for Jenny (matching set for Anna) and a flat-cap for her husband (looks a bit peddlar-ish; he needs a penny-farthing bicycle now); a tie for my brother (sounds dull indeed, but it was ticklish business getting one that matched his suit coat), earrings and an adorable 1920's style hat for his wife; Kidnapped, movie and book (old, cloth-bound, altogether awesome) for my dad; new water glasses for my mom; "Treasure Planet" for the niece and nephew.  Jolly fun stuff all around!  The excitement has yet to wear off.

The new year is coming up just around the corner, and as it approaches or we approach it or whatever, I am fiddling with the idea of tweaking Scribbles' layout a bit.  While I like the notebook look, the current positioning is a tad cluttered - and I don't like clutter.  For those of you who dislike change as much as I do, panic not!  I have every intention of retaining at least a similar look and feel.  It simply can't stagnate.  My mind rebels at stagnation.  I will be hunting around for a new style and designer in the next weeks or month, so keep your eyes peeled! - Which is really a disgusting phrase.

December 17, 2012

Flawed to the Bone

pinterest: wordcrafter
In a comment on my last post, on sappy and sentimental straw men, Writer4Christ asked if I could pull together a list of books with characters who have "good flaws."  That turn of phrase makes me laugh a little, but at any rate, I thought this would be an enjoyable exercise.

A caveat (of which I have many) before I begin: this is a list of books I've read where the protagonists have excellently glaring flaws.  However, those flaws go hand in hand with the characters themselves; they cannot be divorced from one another.  And just as we ought not try to put asunder what the author has joined together, as authors we should not try joining together what should stay asunder!  We can't throw darts at a dartboard of character flaws in order to choose which ones our protagonist should have.  These grow out of the person himself, and develop with him; they must be intrinsically a part of him.

There's my caveat.  Now we can move on to fun stuff.

north and south

In talking of flawed characters, my mind flew immediately to Mr. Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.  Not surprising, since he is one of my favorite characters ever.  But anyhow, those of you who have either seen the film or read the novel will understand immediately how he represents my point.  His flaws are obvious: pride, a sharp tongue and quick temper, and perhaps overmuch ambition.  They reveal themselves in ways that hurt a number of people, especially the workers in his cotton mill, for they make him nigh oblivious to their suffering.  He is no saint, and his flaws are no mere trifles; they have keen effects on those around him.

With flaws like those, he could easily become odious to the reader.  Gaskell pulled it off, however, by balancing these elements of his personality with other, equally critical ones.  He is a hard worker, glad to break his back in support of his family; he loves ardently; and he is not lacking in compassion, though he shows it harshly.  He is certainly a conflicted personality, but it all comes together to create someone who is very real and very much a hero in his own way.

sherlock holmes

Another obvious choice!  Who doesn't think of Holmes when flaws are mentioned?  There are few elements of his personality that don't constitute flaws.  He is arrogant, rude, selfish, oblivious, manipulative, verbally abusive (sometimes), and a drug-addict.  He's not exactly the spitting image of a hero.  And again, these things are not whitewashed - they're out in the open for all readers to see.  We really ought to hate him.  But most of us don't, and for some crazy reason he so endeared himself to readers that there were riots and protests when Conan Doyle attempted to kill him off.  For he is also brilliant, witty, at times kindhearted, and even occasionally just plain wrong.

the chronicles of narnia

Of the Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy are by far the most thoroughly developed and the best-loved.  Edmund is a very flawed personality: he went and betrayed his siblings, after all, and was just an all-around brat who needed a good swat on the rear end.  But we love his redemption, and even the natural roughness of his personality toward a character like Eustace Clarence Scrubb is attractive.  (Because Eustace "almost deserved it.")  Lucy is not as obviously flawed, but she still has her weaknesses - her jealousy of Susan, for instance, which pops up in The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader.'  

a tale of two cities
Um, Sydney Carton.  Need I really say any more?  Even more than Thornton, even more than Holmes, Carton represents an anti-hero.  He's a drunkard and a ne'er-do-well, just the sort of Dickens character you are meant to loathe.  But instead you pity him for being, it would appear, incapable of change - for being chained to his vices - for his unrequited love.  And then you're blown away by the ending, sob over him, and love him for his nobility.  End of story.

the count of monte cristo

Here you have a main character bent on revenge, obsessed with the idea of being sent by God to bring evildoers to justice, ruining people's lives left and right.  He has so many flaws, there are very few bits of gem left in the whole lump.  If you dig around a bit, though, you find that he is capable of some form of compassion toward those he considers innocent (does that even count?), and of immense generosity - no stinginess there!  I am actually hard-pressed to think of anything else.  Please call back at a later date.

the thief

The first flaw in the hero of Megan Whalen Turner's series is self-evident: he's a bit light-fingered.  He also lies and swears, so you could call him light-tongued as well.  He is horrendously proud, often sullen, frequently bitter toward both the gods and the people around him.  Actually, he's very flawed indeed and makes the reader want to hit him upside the head.  He's also in love, and it's unrequited - both things that tend to make the reader soft-hearted.  In addition, he is incredibly loyal and at once brave and oddly fearful.  He is a well-blended mishmash of traits, and one of my favorite things about The Thief and The Queen of Attolia

howl's moving castle

I almost forgot this gem, and that would be a heinous crime.  How can you leave Wizard Howl out of a mix like this?   He is talented, but on the other hand, he's a coward and what another character calls a "slitherer-outer": he won't face any danger if he can help it.  He's also quite heartless and has a habit of making girls fall in love with him, then leaving them in tears.  But that's not his fault, now is it?  And his wit (ever a popular trait), his humor, and his character development make him loveable despite these things.

For amusement's sake, I'll do a run-through of the most glaring flaws in all these characters.  Pride; excessive ambition; arrogance; rudeness; selfishness; drug-addiction (!); manipulation; betrayal; jealousy; drunkenness; idleness; hypocrisy; hatred; thievery; lying; bitterness; swearing; cowardice; and heartlessness.  Not the marks of heroes, we would think, and yet borne by heroes.  They are the marks, or some of the marks, of fallen men and women - and that includes those who are saved and being saved, but who are not yet "confirmed in righteousness."  There are still flaws that go down to the bone.

December 14, 2012

Burning the Straw Men

pinterest: the soldier's cross
Back in October, inspired negatively by a book I was perusing at the time, I scribbled a post about some of the most flagrant stereotypes applied to women in novels.  I don't believe it would be playing fair if after that, I didn't do something of the same for male characters.  I haven't seen this as commonly in modern books (probably because I don't read many of them), though it does crop up quite a bit in the more "sensational," romanticized literature of the 1800s.  However, I know many of Scribbles' readers, as well as myself, garner more inspiration from that era than from our own, so I think it still worthwhile to address the issue.

A plague that afflicts many male characters is one I've seen in several older books, and unfortunately, it seems to crop up most in books by Christian authors.  It might come from the writers being women; it might have grown out of the Progressive movements in the late 19th Century - I'm not sure.  Certainly one book I found guilty of it was written a long while before that.  So, without further ado,

the straw man

These are characters who, though men, act like women and are portrayed as something like feminine angels (and not the powerful angels of reality, either).  They are extremely good.  They are also extreme milktoasts.  They are as emotional as women, though I've found that the authors try to get away with this by calling them "manly tears" - protesting too much, mayhap?  You can't picture them going into battle, or fighting with everything they've got for something they love, or overturning money-changing tables in a temple.

The moral compasses of these straw men never waver.  They have no real struggles with anything so terrible as hatred; certainly not anything like drink (gasp!) or a foul mouth (oh noez!).  What "struggles" they do have are sanitized and even glorified to make the characters look even better: they might love another person too much, or be too sacrificial, or too trusting, or what have you.  But sin?  Oh, goodness, no, mustn't have that!

Caveats are in order.  Most of you know that I'm all for characters who, like the prince in fairytales, represent virtue in its purest form.  I'm all for them because those characters are true: they represent valor and honor and truth, all powerful and masculine virtues.  They've got backbone.  They are good, but that does not necessitate their being wimps.  In fact, it rules out their being wimps: there is no virtue in milktoasts.

This doesn't mean there can be no cowardly lions in our stories, only that it ought not be portrayed as a mark of piety and goodness.  My character Justin King from Wordcrafter is one of my own favorites, and yet he is also naturally the weakest.  His insecurities make him unwilling to stand for much of anything; he lacks conviction, and Agent Coulson has informed us what happens to men of that stamp.  You can't pretend that Justin's retiring personality and half-developed backbone is a good thing, while Ethan Prince's blood-and-fire impulsiveness is evil - and yet, by the Law of Straw Men, I suppose that's what you would say. 

The Straw Man reveals itself in different forms, some much more innocuous than this, and is quite apt to creep into our stories when we're not looking.  I prefer writing male main characters, and yet I make these kinds of mistakes in the rough draft and have to get them ironed out by my father-and-beta-reader; in particular, it seems my characters have a tendency to be pacifists.  Not to say they won't fight, but when it comes down to killing someone, my heart fails me.  I put myself in their proverbial boots and find war and killing so ugly that I usually take the easy way out, and have to correct myself later on to be more in keeping with the character.  I kick myself for it whenever it happens, but ho hum!  One of these days I'll get it the first time around.

do you find any straw men in your rough drafts?

December 10, 2012

Ink from Other Pens

Of course the year is not quite over yet (shopping and Christmas have to come first!), and before the New Year I hope to finish Bleak House; but it's near enough for me to scribble up a "yearly reads" post for 2012.

I find it interesting to go back to last year's post and look over the books I read during 2011.  Sherlock Holmes; Mutiny on the Bounty; Beowulf; Rosemary Sutcliff.  I read my first Tale of Goldstone Wood.  Robert Louis Stevenson introduced himself to me via The Master of Ballantrae.  I reveled in Howl's Moving Castle and waded through The Count of Monte Cristo, and read The Christian Mind and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  I dabbled in G.K. Chesterton and Eiluned Lewis' Dew on the Grass.  I researched for the Sea Fever books.  And all in all, not counting re-reads, Goodreads informs me that I read 39 books in 2011.

I read more this year, and though not all were particularly lengthy, I loved a good number of them.  The very first book I finished in January was Rosemary Sutcliff's Simon, and later in the year I also read The Shield Ring (gah, so sad!) and The Lantern Bearers (gah, so sad!).  I only have two unread Sutcliff novels on my shelf now, those being The Shining Company, which I hear is even more sad, and The Mark of the Horse Lord.  Her books tend to wring me of all possible emotions and leave me rather limp, so I'm proud of myself having managed three in a year.  Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.

I took a semi-self-directed course (figure that out) in the history of science during last school year, so I read several books for that, with more or less success: I enjoyed Eureka Man, but The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a struggle indeed.  And then of course there were Custance's Noah's Three Sons and Genesis and Early Man, both highly recommended.  I also read At the Evening Hour, a little devotional by E.D. Warfield, which would be highly recommended if it weren't practically impossible to find; and Bunyan's All Loves Excelling, among others.

I continued falling in love with R. L. Stevenson's novels, devouring Treasure Island, Kidnapped (now an adored favorite), and its sequel David Balfour.  I read that last at the beach, and I think it will always remind me of sunshine and ocean and lounge chairs on a balcony.  I got a lot of reading done that week, actually...  Good times.  The Black Arrow waits on my shelf - at least it did, but I think Jenny made off with it - because after all, I couldn't read all of Stevenson in one year.

Fans of Margaret Mitchell will be happy to hear that I finally read Gone with the Wind; I think maybe the only reason I did was because the title is so gorgeous, and perhaps because I wanted to compare it to the movie.  Or the movie to it.  Or something.  I read Peter Pan about the same time: an odd book, but I loved the bitter-sweetness of the ending.  I Capture the Castle, recommended by our very own Mirriam, was very different from my usual fare; it made me think, and puzzled me a bit.  It might have been the time period; I'm not used to that setting.

I read a number of books that I had been meaning to get to for a while: Alexander Hamilton, Cooper's The Deerslayer, Blamires' New Town, Forester's Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.  I read several that I hadn't been planning to read, and had never heard of before: A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery, and McKillip's The Riddle-Master of Hed, and A Hanging Offense.  I read Anne Elisabeth Stengl's two novels that released this year, Moonblood and Starflower (hurrah!).  I managed Les Miserables in full, unabridged glory (exactly one page longer than last year's The Count of Monte Cristo.  Were the novels as long in the original French...?) and sobbed over A Tale of Two Cities.  And I absolutely gobbled up Sayers' The Mind of the Maker - which everyone should read, no exceptions.

This year's literature course has been entirely Shakespeare, so I've read more of his plays this year, I think, than all the previous years combined.  Which isn't exactly saying much.  I read As You Like It, Cymbeline, and Antony and Cleopatra without much enthusiasm; quibbled with Richard III ("HE'SPLANTAGENETHE'SEVILCURSEHIMCURSEHIM!"), Julius Caesar (who almost deserved what he got), and King Lear (ohmywordsodepressing!); but thoroughly enjoyed The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, and Twelfth Night

Reading was, unfortunately, terribly slow in November and has not been much better this month, although I am making fairly rapid progress through Bleak House.  Goodreads (a most knowledgeable place) informs me that I've read over fifty books this year, but I think that's a bit unfair, seeing as at least nine of those are Shakespeare plays.  Still, it wasn't a bad year.  I found new favorites in Kidnapped, The Mind of the Maker, and A Tale of Two Cities.  I ventured into Custance, braved my sorrow over Uncas and read another Leatherstocking Tale, and finally worked up the gumption to read Alexander Hamilton.  I read a number of varied and disconnected histories, ranging in subject from Rome to the English Civil War to the French and Indian War.  I soldiered through Les Miserables.  And despite my complaints and mocking, I really have enjoyed this foray into the world of Shakespeare.

Actually, I think "varied" is a pretty good adjective to describe this year's reading list.  Varied, and fast-paced; it was not as regular as 2011.  Probably next year I will keep to a more staid regimen, lest I give myself indigestion.  Too many books in a short span of time is almost as bad as too few!

what have you read this year?

December 5, 2012

A November Recap

pinterest: tempus regina
November is over - has been for a while, as a matter of fact - which means the close of the blog party giveaway as well as the close of NaNo.  For the former, it's high time the winners were announced.  Jenny and I gathered up all the names and points earned, shuffled them up in that wonderful thing called the Random Name Generator, and were informed that the winners are...

Elizabeth Rose & Lynette

Congratulations, gals!  Each of you will receive a copy of The Soldier's Cross and a copy of The Shadow Things.  You will be receiving emails or Facebook messages shortly to confirm your win (and to get mailing addresses for you both).  Thank you all for participating!

Secondly, let me just repeat: NaNo is over.  I know a lot of fellow participants are practically in tears as that thought begins to sink in, but I, for one, couldn't rejoice enough when I scraped and scrambled my way over the 50,000 word mark and into December.  It wasn't that I didn't manage to keep up or maintain a steady pace.  On the contrary, early on I got a day ahead of my goal and kept that lead all but one day out of the month.  It was tiring, at times overwhelming, but by no means undoable.  And yet I had a hard time.

The first reason is simply that it has become harder for me to write a great number of words in a day.  That might be because I've been plodding along at White Sail's and Running Tide for so long that 1,000 words a day now looks like a glorious achievement.  I wouldn't chalk it up to any increase in the weight of other responsibilities; relatively speaking, I have few.  But my writing and my approach to writing has evolved.

Some people believe that every novel a writer pens is a little easier than the one before.  I laugh at this foolish notion; every novel I have written since The Soldier's Cross has gotten a little harder in a slightly different respect.  Somebody - Neil Gaiman, I think; he's apparently a quotable chap - remarked that you never learn how to write a novel: you only learn how to write the novel you're currently writing.  I do not know, necessarily, that this is true for everyone, but I've found it to be the case with Wordcrafter, The White Sail's Shaking and The Running Tide, and now with Tempus Regina.  Each has taken a little more out of me.  But I found Wordcrafter more rewarding in the end than The Soldier's Cross, the Sea Fever books than Wordcrafter, and I'm (sometimes) optimistic that Tempus Regina will be still more rewarding than either of its two predecessors.

At the moment, however, Tempus Regina is being quite difficult indeed.  It might be in the terrible two's period of story-telling; I couldn't say.  It goes right now in fits and starts and bursts of inspiration and clouds of brainstorming, and I warn you all that I might be a bit oysterish about it for a little while.  Don't say I didn't tell you ahead of time.

None of this to say that I didn't enjoy NaNo!  I did.  Mostly.  But every time I finish a round of madcap writing, I fall back into my mental chair and vow never to put myself through it again.  I'll never be so foolish - I'll never be so insane.  I shall be wise!  I shall tell myself no!  I shall be PRUDENT!

But I don't doubt that come next NaNo, or perhaps the one after that, I'll be itching to join in once more.  Because I just don't know what is good for me.
meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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