A few weeks ago, I listened to an episode of The Thinking Atheist podcast hosted by Seth Andrews with Dr. Chrissy Stroop called “I Left Because…” It was a call-in show where people shared their stories about why and how they left organized religion to become atheists. Some were dramatic, but the majority were comprised of gradually drifting away as they learned more about about the religion itself and the world around them. My own deconversion was likewise a gradual process as I realized how little sense religious doctrine made. I went from being Christian (specifically Lutheran Protestant) to Deism (the clockmaker god), flirted briefly with Wicca and paganism, stayed agnostic for a while, and finally embraced the label of atheist and humanist (in part to help destigmatize the word “atheist” and to help show that you can be “good without god.”)
However, when I was telling this to a friend, I told them that I stopped being Wiccan because it was so anti-climactic compared to the fantasy novels I was used to reading. My friend expressed surprise that fantasy actually helped me leave religion rather than encouraging me to stay, since magical thinking is required to accept a lot of religious tenants. I hadn’t actually thought about this and decided to examine this idea further.
My first and pretty much only experience with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” genre of books was, unfortunately, with Goosebumps. “Reader Beware, YOU Choose the Scare!” As someone who perceives stories in a very linear way and prefers to know “what really happened,” this type of book was an exercise in frustration. This was before I was exposed to role-playing games of any kind, although I am more acclimated to this style of story-telling in video games thanks to RPGs from Bioware and otome from Steamberry Studio.
But there still is part of me that gets very frustrated with multiple storylines or multiple routes, especially with books. I don’t do well with stories that tackle multiverses, alternate timelines, or transporter accidents. I want to know the proper order of events, the single “right way” to experience the story… and that just isn’t present in that style of writing. All of the “facts” are equally plausible. (Well, at least, they are if the game or book is good.)
So imagine my surprise when I found myself writing just this kind of story for my day job.
I love it when people comment on posts because it leads me down new avenues of thought and discussion that I hadn’t considered before. When I shared my post entitled “When Canon & Commentary Collide” about the retroactive changes made to preexisting work by J.K. Rowling and George Lucas, my friend David Greenshell had this to say:
I think it’s important to consider that it’s not JUST about the visual effects. As writers, we know that you can’t write the same story at 20 that you can at 30. As you change, your sensibilities change… so 1997 George Lucas actually isn’t fully able to reproduce what 1977 George Lucas would have wanted. By modifying the movies, he inevitably makes them a product of 1997 — not just technologically, but creatively.
And David is absolutely right. The stories that you can and do tell change depending on your age. You shift focus as you gain experience. The stories you are drawn to or are interested in telling change. The characters you relate to and want to write about evolve. And whenever there is a large gap between installments of work, especially if they are in a series, you can usually tell the difference.
It was very strange to leave home all green and summery, going to the beach where it was a balmy 80 degrees and sunny, and then coming back home to find the leaves all yellow and orange with the scent of autumn in the air. This season has grown on me; I used to despise it because fall meant it was time to go back to school. While I still don’t like the cold, I can appreciate autumn much better now. Plus, as a compulsive hoarder of blankets, mugs, and sweaters, I can now put them to good use!
I didn’t get much writing done on vacation, but that’s okay. I actually had to remind myself multiple times that, being on vacation, I could do what I wanted to do rather than what I felt I should do. It’s a little depressing how many times I had to tell myself that. Still, I got about half a stack of books read, enjoyed the sun and surf, and came home to relax and play and review a bunch of otome game demos before returning to my day job.
One of my goals, however, was to decide what project I should work on for National Novel Writing Month 2019.
The trope is endemic to fantasy literature. Especially middle grade and YA fantasy literature. How many times have we gone through the old song and dance of a single person who is “special,” who feels like an outsider or doesn’t fit in, and turns out to have special powers or is the long-lost heir to the fairy throne or some other trite nonsense that hangs the fate of the world on the decisions of a single hormonal teenager? (Nostalgia Critic’s review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief covers a lot of the issues with this trope of “Wowed Teenagers” quite nicely.)
Now, to be fair, a lot of people do connect with this base character type, and as long as the story does something interesting with it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the trope. For people just discovering works featuring that character type, it’s something new and unfamiliar to them. For people like me who have read a lot of fantasy and see the same tropes and cliches turn up over and over again without much variation, it can be a little grating. To each there own, of course, and I would prefer to see more variation. But a lot of people, especially those in the middle grade and YA audience, do feel like outcasts and want to be reminded that they to can be something special. It can be inspiring for them and help them discover their own talents.
But there’s a Dark Side to this emphasis on being a special, super-powered Chosen One. It can help reinforce two very unfortunate mental states: Magical Thinking and Delusions of Grandeur.
It’s very difficult to know how, or even if, a story will affect you.
We think we know what we like and why we like it, but a lot of the time we actually don’t. Sometimes you pick up something you think you will like, something that you should like, and it leaves little to no impression on you. Perhaps you even dislike it! By all accounts, I should love Game of Thrones. It has high fantasy, political intrigue, complex characters, and dragons. And yet I have never warmed up to it. Other times you pick up something on a lark and are surprised to find out much it moves you, how deeply it sinks into your psyche and plays upon your heartstrings. How was I to know that tagging along with my friends to the theater on May 4, 2012 would send me careening head-first into the world of Marvel comics and superheroes?
Love does not equal romance. Or at least, it doesn’t always equal romance. It certainly is part of the traditional story-telling formula, but love can be present between characters that isn’t the romantic kind.
Generally, love gets shown in two ways in stories. It’s either the aforementioned Romantic Love (the one that usually involves sex, kissing, etc.) or Familial Love (between mothers/fathers and their children or between siblings). The Greeks had words for seven different types of love, but love can come in so many shades of meaning and permutations of expression that I doubt there are names for them all. But the point I’m trying to make is that when we use the word “love” it can apply to far more than the Traditional Two of Romance and Family.
If I learned anything from the agonizing months spent editing Courting the Moon, it’s that by the end of it you’ll have tossed out pretty much everything from the original draft (or two…) and have essentially started over from scratch. And it seems that I have to do the same thing with my YA fantasy novel Faylinn… only much earlier in the process.
Belief is a funny thing. It’s a word that gets tossed around in a lot of discussions, debates, and outright arguments without ever being properly defined. Granted, the idea of belief is a slippery concept to begin with, especially since it is so easily personalized and adapted to fit almost any mindset. In onset of the holiday season, combined with my recent read of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and rewatching Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, got me thinking about the nature of belief and its place in stories.
As someone who is trying to be a good skeptic and humanist, I’ve developed a weird, slightly uncomfortable relationship with stories about the importance of belief. I read and watch a lot of stories that emphasize how important it is to believe in something fantastic, even if there doesn’t seem to be a good reason or at least nothing solid. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt for not playing with my Barbies, dinosaurs, Hot Wheels cars, and My Little Ponies anymore, but I still won’t donate them. I feel like I’d be giving up on them, or that they would feel sad (never mind the fact that they’d probably prefer to be played with!)Dream a Little Dream by Piers Anthony and the film version of The Neverending Story feature worlds and characters whose very existence depends on being believed in by real people, especially children. If that belief fails, they don’t just die… they cease to exist. Being forgotten is worse than death. For someone with a highly active imagination, I think stories like this compounded a bunch of my weird neuroses (which thankfully got used to fuel writing rather than sending me to the loony bin. Although that could still happen…)
For the last few weeks, I’ve been living in the world of Jane Austen. As of today I have read all of her novels except for Emma, which I’m about halfway through. She is not my favorite 19th century author (that distinction goes to Charlotte Brontë), but I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the literary mastery and elegance of craft that her work exhibits.
However, I will admit that I prefer seeing the film adaptations of her novels, particularly the ones with the screenplay written by Andrew Davies: Pride and Prejudice (1995) with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Northanger Abbey (2007) with J.J. Feild and Felicity Jones as Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, and Sense & Sensibility (2008) with Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Right now I’m just a little bit obsessed with Northanger Abbey (and yes, I am totally blaming that on J.J. Feild’s Mr. Tilney.)