RSS

Category Archives: Politics

Communication and Respect

c2016, KB

c2016, KB

There’s a meme I occasionally encounter on social media, and it’s a quote from Isaac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.

Usually, I let the meme pass without comment.

Not so after the most recent encounter:

Unfortunately, democracy is made up of flawed human beings of varying perspectives, values, and educations. One trauma, one triumph, one challenge, one loss, one gain, one ________ can change our view of the world and of ourselves.

We — an all-encompassing “we” — need not assume that someone’s disagreement with our point of view means they are the ignorant one in the conversation.

Regardless of where we stand on certain issues, we too often think we stand above those with whom we do not agree. That, I think, is one main reason there are such gaping chasms between groups in this country.

Are only those with whom we agree worthy of courtesy?

Are only those we deem our intellectual equals worthy of our respect?

Are only those we consider morally correct worthy of being treated with decency?

We tend to assume we’re the ones with the whole truth, and often do not consider we might be mistaken.

On the other hand, there is absolute truth, and if we have no strength of conviction, we’ll never stand for anything.

There’s a time to hear and understand other points of view, even if we never change our own stance.

There’s a time to examine ourselves and explore other ideas, and then decide whether or not we need to adjust or to remain firm.

Simply because others disagree does not mean we double-down, speak louder, or become aggressive in trying to change their minds.

Maybe we’re the ones who are wrong.

Maybe, in our ignorance, we overlook their intelligence.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Where Are You Going?

Where Are You Going?

“Progress” is merely motion in a certain direction, as in advancement toward a goal. Depending on the goal, your motives, or your methods, that progression can be positive or negative.

People say, “Hold on! It’ll get better!” but sometimes we need to let go. As much as we admire people who trudge onward toward their goals, there is, indeed, a time to give up.

Sometimes we persevere in the wrong direction. We may not know it. We may know it but not know how to change it. Our effort, skill, hope, endurance, loyalty, courage, and strength of will are expended in vain.

Step back. Examine goals, motives, methods, relationships, results. Is this truly the path you want to tread? Is this the end result you desire?

Don’t be discouraged by how much road — or how much life — lies behind you. It’s never too late for a course correction.

east on a Wyoming highway (c2013, KB)

east on a Wyoming highway (c2013, KB)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Story First

Anyone else wearied by myriad causes du jour? By politics and the endless “debates” about it on social media? By the expectation of outrage or an emotional response about [fill in the blank] lest one be labeled by folks who are outraged, offended, etc.?

In the literary realm, one current debate is the “inclusiveness” of novels, and some people think we need to keep score: x number of ethnic characters, x number of certain genders or sexual orientations, and so on. There’s plenty of agenda-driven fiction out there, from a variety of political, religious, and cultural viewpoints. From whence comes this need to turn stories into soapboxes or pulpits?

I have opinions and beliefs, and I’ll talk about them, but not everyone requires, deserves, or is entitled to knowing what they are. In this age of constant exposure, personal freedoms and privacy are in becoming a short supply. So is moderation of speech and behavior.

The Internet, as valuable as it can be, is also a digital three-ring circus. Society/culture at large is often a flamboyant, obnoxious tyranny demanding everyone think alike.

Not gonna happen.

Even in the most repressive governmental regimes, silence or outward compliance have never meant assent. There is always an underground.

I cannot and will not divorce what I believe from what I write. However, my focus is story first.

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The First Principle – day 3

The First Principle – day 3

A young adult perspective on this month’s CSFF Blog Tour novel:

Marissa Shrock‘s The First Principle wasn’t exactly what I expected. For one thing, It read like a spy thriller rather than like other books I’ve read in the same genre, which was refreshing since Christian-young-adult-dystopian-sci-fi is a pretty narrow genre.

There aren’t many pauses in the action – but that’s once you get to the action. The suspenseful moments are almost stressfully so, but the story gets off to a bit of a slow start, since Vivica doesn’t gain a big, personal conflict that the reader cares about until a couple of chapters in when she discovers her pregnancy. Even then, there’s still more pages to traverse before the suspense actually sets in.

The story itself deals with issues that are very real in the world today and that many people don’t want to talk about. In fact, this is the first story I’ve read that actually handles the issues of abortion and teen pregnancy with more than a passing mention. Not only that, but neither of those issues is glossed-over or given a prepackaged answer; rather, Vivica’s situation is discussed fully and with a lot of questions and struggles, and the Biblical response is presented in a good way. Also, the story isn’t kept “clean” and “safe” for the sake of not offending anyone; rather, it is allowed to handle realistic scenarios realistically.

FirstPrinciple-258x400The conversion scene in this book is also well-handled. When a character does finally accept Christ as Savior, there is no big to-do. Problems don’t all magically get better. Consequences are still consequences and the world is still an uncomfortable place. There are no rose-colored glasses involved, just inner peace and grace that the character sometimes has to struggle to accept.

I also like that not everything ends happily or easily, yet enough of it does end well enough that the reader can be satisfied, and that forgiveness is a big theme, yet so are consequences and responsibility.

I have one major complaint, that being that the title of The First Principle is never actually explained or even referenced in the book anywhere that I can find. What is the first principle exactly?

Overall, though, this is the best Christian-young-adult-dystopian-sci-fi that I’ve read so far, and while I’ve begun to tire of dystopias in general, I am looking forward to any sequels that may follow The First Principle.

Here is where I digress from the book a bit and talk about the genre: as I’ve said above, it’s a very narrow genre, and the seemingly-endless flood of dystopias on all fronts is especially beginning to grate.

Therefore, I would like to issue a note to authors in which I remind them that variety of concept is a good thing (you don’t just have to write whatever’s selling right now) and refer them to Amish Vampires in Space for an example of a story with a serious tone and message but also a mild dose of humor – mainly due to the creative blending of genres – and a noticeable lack of everything-going-to-pot-in-the-government.

I’m not saying everybody needs to start writing books like that one; just that it’s time to do something creatively different genre-wise from what’s being done right now.

~Jamie, age 17

For other perspectives on the novel:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s Your Filter?

Two or more people can look at the same object at the same time, and although they are seeing the same thing, they are not perceiving it the same way.

The filters of experience, prejudice, understanding, philosophy, religion, age, appreciation, comfort or discomfort, good day or bad — all color the way we see the world.

Below are several versions of a photo of the statue of the grieving Christ outside the Oklahoma City National Memorial, commemorating the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. Each image is affected by various filters imposed by photo editing software — each filter is overlaid the others, until the image underneath is far different from the original.

Christ (c2015, KB)

Christ (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)

See how unexpected interferences or cooperations change what the viewer perceives?

The order matters, as well. If trauma colors our world at a young age, we will view it through a different filter than we might if that same trouble arrived when we were older.

Below, black-and-white and Cinemascope effects were applied in different orders. When the movie effect was applied first, then the monochrome, the image looks crisp. However, when the order was reversed, the image takes on a sepia cast.

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)

Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)

Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, then "Cinemascoped" (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, then “Cinemascoped” (c2015, KB)

Is there something in life you’re not seeing clearly?

Are there colors you think you’re perceiving, but your friends, colleagues, loved ones — or perfect strangers on social media —  do not view?

Before we impugn one another’s intelligence, reputations, abilities, etcetera, it might be wise to step back and consider the filters through which we — and they — view the world.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises DVD coverDirected by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautics engineer who designed the infamous Zero fighters used to attack Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Some viewers dislike the film for its fiction (Jiro’s wife did not die of tuberculosis, for instance), some for its pacing, some for its glossing-over of the death and destruction his planes caused. There was offense at the way his wife was portrayed, and offense at the way he treated her. Some viewers were either offended on Jiro’s behalf, thinking the added fictions dishonored him, and some were offended that the creator of the Zero was the focus of an animated film.

Regardless of detractors, the hand-drawn animation and the beautiful colors are beyond excellent. There’s a night scene in Germany where the elongated and distorted shadows of men running through the streets are stunning in their realism, and the clouds throughout the film are nigh photo-realistic.

The story — which borrowed heavily from an unrelated novel, The Wind Has Risen, by Tatsuo Hori — is interesting, and the dialogue is often sharp and funny.

It’s an homage to love and dreamers, and is a film well worth seeing.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What Is It To Be Human?

What Is It To Be Human?

What is it to be human?

What is staying alive? To possess
A great hall inside of a cell.
What is it to know? The same root
Underneath the branches.

What is it to believe? Being a carer
Until relief takes over.
And to forgive? On fours through thorns
To keep company to an old enemy.

What is it to sing? To receive breath
From the genius of creation.
What’s work but humming a song
From wood and wheat.

What are state affairs? A craft
That’s still only crawling?
And armaments? Thrust a knife
In a baby’s fist.

Being a nation? What can it be? A gift
In the swell of the heart.
And to love a country? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.

What’s the world to the all powerful?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.

Waldo Williams (translated from the Welsh by Menna Elfyn)

According to the article about him on Wikipedia,

Waldo (GoronwyWilliams (30 September 1904 – 20 May 1971) was one of the leading Welsh languagepoets of the twentieth century. He was also a notable pacifist, anti-war campaigner, and Welsh nationalist.

The fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem above reveal his political views. The translator states,

One must remember that “nationhood” in Wales was very often synonymous with anti-militaristic campaigns. Very many prominent poets in Wales have been known as pacifists, seeing their patriotism as embedded in total regard for human life and rejecting notions of “imperialism” and “colonization.” Many would argue that Wales was the very first acquisition of the English state when Wales was conquered in the thirteenth century, its princes killed, and the Welsh language disallowed. (Poetry, April 2008)

This poem reminds me of the spoken intro to the song “Higher Education and the Book of Love” by Rich Mullins:

What does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to be human?

I cannot help but suspect that, at one time in the history of thinking,
people believed that it meant that we were spiritual,
and that we could make choices,
and were capable of aspiring to higher ideals…
like maybe loyalty or maybe faith…
Or maybe even love.

But now we are told by people who think they know
that we vary from amoeba only in the complexity of our makeup
and not in what we essentially are.

They would have us think,
as Dysart said,
that we are forever bound up in certain genetic reins —
that we are merely products of the way things are
and not free —
not free to be the people who make them that way.

They would have us see ourselves as products so that
we could believe that we were something to be made,
something to be used,
and then something to be disposed of.
Used in their wars —
Used for their gains —
and then set aside when we get in their way.

Well, who are they?
They are the few who sit at the top of the heap —
dung heap though it is —
and who say it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

Well, I do not know that we can have a Heaven here on earth,
but I am sure we need not have a Hell here either.

What does it mean to be human?
I cannot help but believe that it means we are spiritual,
that we are responsible, and that we are free —
that we are responsible to be free.

Influenced greatly by St. Francis of Assisi, Rich Mullins endeavored to live what he believed. He died at age 41 in an auto accident in autumn 1997.

Of possible further interest:
1) Fan site for the late Rich Mullins: Calling Out Your Name
2) Lyrics with the intro to “Higher Education”: Lyrics Mode
3) Poetry Foundation
4) Rich Mullins on YouTube
4) Waldo Williams official website
5) Menna Elfyn’s website — in Welsh!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Annotated Dracula (part 1)

(Below is a revised re-post from January 27 and February 7, 2010.)

‘You are early to-night, my friend.’ The man stammered in reply: —

‘The English Herr was in a hurry,’ to which the stranger replied: —

‘That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.’ As he spoke he smiled, the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s ‘Lenore’: —

‘Denn die Todten reiten schnell.’ —
(‘For the dead travel fast.’)

I picked up a copy of Bram Stoker’s classic novel after I finished NaNoWriMo 2009 (during which I worked more on what’s probably my darkest effort to date), and re-acquainted myself with one of the foundational vampire tales. Dracula is far removed from the modern re-imaginings of the mythology — and, strange as this may seem, it was refreshing.

Anybody else tired of hearing about Bella and Edward and whoever else they hang with? Anybody else look with a canted eye at Buffy and Angel?

But the suckers — ahem — critters have populated frightening tales for centuries, and I don’t expect them to leave anytime soon.

On occasion, I participate in the CSFF Blog Tour, which has featured modern vampire novels: Shade by John Olson, and Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson. (My blog posts about each can be found here: Shade 1, 2, 3 and Jackals 1, 2, 3.) Both books are in series, and are different takes on the mythology. Shade presents more of a “psychic vampire” image without the traditional blood-letting, but Jackals is much more graphic and offers a twist on the ability of vampires to shape-shift.

I read those books, sampled some television series (those mentioned above, also Forever Knight and Moonlight), listened to teenagers — and even adults — rave about the Twilight books and films, and experienced the strange sensation of being lost, of being pressed under the weight of all those versions and the various leaps (or chasms) in logic that made me unable to suspend disbelief for long, if at all.

Dracula coverSo I went back to what many might consider source material: Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. He was not the first to cover this ancient ground (other well-known stories include Polidori‘s The Vampyre, and Le Fanu‘s Carmilla), but he is very likely the most well-known and most-referenced author of vampire fiction. The copy I chose is the Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics edition, with notes and commentary by Joseph Valente, a Professor of English.

[Though I enjoy books in which such additional information helps provide historical, social, political, or religious context, or discusses why something may have been important or overlooked by characters in the book, and so on, I sometimes wonder how much of the commentary is really just the commentator’s twisting of the text to fit an opinion, and how much is straight-forward observation of the material.]

Vampires and sex, an age-old coupling. The reasons are obvious: attacks that happen at night, usually on victims who are of the opposite gender to the vampires doing the attacking, and (in Dracula the novel) after the victims are in bed. And there’s the whole neck-biting schtick—which, as we all know, is more than a flirty little nibble.

There’s a lot of writing out there concerning vampirism and Victorian views of sexuality, and there’s a realm of scholarship that sees Dracula the character as freeing women sexually while Van Helsing, et al, try to suppress them. And, though the women seek help from their friends and send up prayers to God, they are drawn to the immortal count because their subconscious supposedly really, really wants him.

While such arguments might be made, there’s not much in the novel itself to support them. Yeah, vampires may work their mojo, but they’re presented as evil, and not all that sexy. Sensual, maybe, but not freeing. They’re rapists—even the females. After all, rape isn’t about sex or mutual expression or love. It’s about power and control.

Dracula controls Lucy. He controls Mina. Neither woman wants what he’s offering, and the men do what they can to stop him. Sure, they make some bonehead mistakes, like leaving Mina alone while they scout the count’s London digs, but I never get the impression they are trying to suppress either woman. In fact, Mina and Jonathan seem quite happy with their marriage. Until Dracula gets involved, of course.

to be continued

UPDATE: Last year, I read John Whalen’s excellent Western twist on vampires, Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto. You can read my review of his well-received novel here.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Cup of Water

WARNING: Religious talk below.

battery position, Wilson's Creek Battlefield, Missouri (c2013, KB)

battery position, Wilson’s Creek Battlefield, Missouri (c2013, KB)

Been thinkin’ lately about morality, faith, and getting along with others who don’t think the same way as I do.

This, of course, only works with people who are open to discussion, know themselves as flawed individuals, and realize that all humans are weak. It doesn’t work with folks whose first response to those who disagree is to verbally shut them down or to physically cut off their heads. Self-righteousness brooks no argument.

Nor does self-righteousness belong only to the religious. Wow, can the politically-correct and the non-religious exhibit a boisterous and vitriolic brand of self-righteousness.

Anywho. Moving along.

Luke 6:35 (New Living Translation, Holy Bible) says this:

Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.

Those who are unthankful and wicked. Us. We like to think we’re good and smart, and above stupidity or evil, but in reality, we’re weak and foolish and we do terrible things to our fellow humans, even to people we like. People we love.

The next verse (in the New American Standard version) says this: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Ah.

We know of recent situations where landlords or Christian innkeepers don’t want to rent to homosexual couples; where Christian photographers don’t want to take pictures at homosexual weddings, nor Christian bakers supply the cakes; where Muslim barbers don’t want to give masculine haircuts to lesbians. Those who refuse services are called bigots and far more foul names, are dealt lawsuits and negative publicity campaigns, and more. Yet, in some cases — some, not all — individuals and businesses were targeted because they do not condone homosexuality. In other words, the customers walked in the door knowing the business owners dissented with their lifestyle choices.

Hm.

So, then, whose rights are being violated? Whose beliefs are being pushed aside? Who’s the victim?

I’m not saying that people of faith should remain silent in the face of bullying and become doormats — far from it — but can we disarm the bullies?

There are those who will hate us and make our lives miserable, even kill us, simply because we follow Christ. That’s no secret. He told us that would happen (Matthew 5:11 and 10:17; Luke 9:24 and Matthew 16:25; and more). It’s part of our history. Persecution in the Western world may be more annoying than life-threatening right now, but killings, beatings, and massacres are happening right now to believers around the world.

When we face opposition or challenge, we may be tempted to back down, smile and nod, hide our faith, follow the crowd, go along to get along, try to be popular. But that’s fear talking — and we’re not supposed to live in fear (Revelation 12:10-12; 1 John 4:18). We need to be ready always to give an account of the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15), and to speak plainly (1 Corinthians 14:7-9), regardless of consequences.

On the other hand, instead of retreating in the face of opposition, we may be tempted to lash out, to give eye-for-an-eye revenge on those who hurt us or seek our destruction. We might speak hatefully, turn the persecution around, try to quash our enemies. But that’s what others do. It is not becoming of followers of Christ.

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48, NASB)

Some of us may speak loudly, hold up signs, boycott, refuse goods or services.

However, standing against wrong is not necessarily doing right.

We who claim to follow the teachings of Christ are instructed to repay ugliness with kindness.

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21, King James Bible)

What if those of us who disagree with someone’s choices remember that serving is not necessarily condoning?

(W)hoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:27-28, NASB)

Jesus certainly didn’t condone the way mankind was living, but offered a better way. He who was without sin offered His life for the sinful. He who deserved worship knelt before the weak and washed their feet. He didn’t have to love us, but He did. He still does.

He prayed for us, too, and asked His Father to help us:

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John 17:16-18)

What if we who claim to follow Christ truly put our best efforts into our work, and considered everything we do as serving Him (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

We are not, after all, in charge of someone else’s soul. That is God’s domain. We can, however, reflect His heart to the world — “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all” (Romans 8:32, NASB).

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, NASB)

Not just for one another, but for those who live and believe differently than we do.

King Saul told David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil” (1 Samuel 24:17, NASB). Perhaps, in striving to live according to Biblical principles, we are less David and more Saul. We forget the bigger picture. We swallow camels while straining at gnats. We alienate people who need Truth.

What if a baker, without hiding his beliefs or backing down from them, baked the tastiest cake possible, and prayed as he did it?

What if an innkeeper rented the couple the cleanest, nicest room she had, and prayed as she did it?

What if a photographer shot the best photos in her career, and prayed as she took them?

What if?

Parting thoughts:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:18, NASB)

and

 

When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 6:7, King James Bible)

——————————————————————————–

For further reference: Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14,20; 2 Chronicles 28:25; Luke 10:25-37 (the Good Samaritan); 1 Thessalonians 5:15. There are other passages I could list, but these’ll do for now.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rant, Rebellion, and Realistic Characters

This entry was originally posted in late December 2011, almost two months after I left a job of fourteen years and began a new life.

This work-related rant turned toward writing and characterization, but I cut the post short back in May 2011, and never finished until picking it up again seven months later, after the source of the rant was no longer part of my life. For good or ill, the rant is unchanged. However, I’ve expanded upon the original characterization portion, and hope my frustration and anger produced something worth reading, something that might serve others in their lives, their writing, or their work relationships.

I don’t like to be controlled. Don’t like to be micromanaged. Don’t like someone being “all up in my business” or constantly asking questions about matters that are no business of theirs.

This is an increasingly intense battle at my day job, in which colleagues misbehave but put the burden on my shoulders. I am made responsible for their behavior, and for the morale of my fellow workers.

Funny. I thought morale started at the top. And, last time I looked, neither my paycheck nor my title reflected that kind of responsibility.

Everything comes back around to one issue: control. Who’s gonna be the puppet master?

When someone says they trust me then they try to manage me, push me, pull the rug out from under me, they’re saying, “I don’t trust you.” When someone says they appreciate all my years of service to the organization then they try to confine me rather than giving me room to do my job, they’re saying, “I don’t appreciate you.”

Tasks that I did over a decade ago are no longer acceptable now. There’s been an added position, one that’s supposed to free the rest of us to do our jobs better, but the person in that role is so uncertain of his place that he’s grasping control wherever he can, and in the process making life difficult for the rest of us. Commonsense has gone the way of freedom, autonomy, and trust: out the door.

Layers of bureaucracy do not produce efficiency. They do, however, produce mountains of paperwork, frustration, and demi-tyrants.

A couple weeks back, I was told by a supervisor, “I don’t need any Lone Rangers.” Really? It was concerning an area I had overseen since I was hired almost fourteen years ago. Suddenly, I’m a Lone Ranger.

Then, last week, I was reprimanded — this person was shocked, shocked, I tell you — because I didn’t immediately do the first thing the boss asked, but offered an alternative that was better suited to the situation. After all, said this shocked individual, the good of the organization is superior to the good of the individual.

That’s a scary notion. There’s a whole lot of subtext to that statement (socialism and communism, for instance). Countless crimes and misdeeds have been carried out under the banner of the corporate good.

To my mind, the good of the individual is the good of the organization. After all, the organization cannot operate without the individual.

But what does any of this have to do with writing, other than serving as my personal rant?

Thus the soapbox is put aside, and here begins the actual writing-related portion about characters. Hope it helps!

Writers, how much control do you exert over your characters? Are they real, or are they robots?

If one is writing science fiction, robots might be expected, but even robotic characters tend to have personality i.e. C3PO or R2D2 in Star Wars, or android Mr. Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; human characters, however, should not display robotic tendencies, unless the writer intends to use that stiffness or coldness to further the story somehow. (Or the “human” is a droid. That’s almost always cool.)

With a change of circuitry or software, at the whim of the designer, robots can be altered, predicted, controlled.

Not so with humans. Push, prod, bully, or demand, we’re stubborn, willful, changeable, foolish, scheming, proud, weak — all sorts of traits and addictions not easily controlled by ourselves, let alone by others seeking to change us.

Why, then, do authors try to impose their wills on their characters? Granted, characters should not run amok in a story, or behave illogically (unless, of course, that plays to character or plot). However, ever read a story where the author obviously had a goal in mind for certain characters, and forced them to adhere to that plot, against the integrity of the characters?

By integrity, I mean the truth of the characters — who they are, what they do, how they think and reason, what they believe, how they respond to authority figures, etc.

In the real world, questions don’t necessarily mean disrespect for authority, though there is the assumption that questioning a command equals insubordination. Questions are a search for information, for reliability, for a reason. Authors should allow their characters to ask questions and establish realistic identities: “Why must I say that? I would never do this. I’d never hang out with that guy. Even if she’s my relative, I wouldn’t just excuse her behavior. If you, the author, want this from me, you must first give me a reason.”

Just as valid a question in fiction as in the real world, have you earned the authority to make such demands of your characters? Are you a trustworthy storyteller? Do you keep your story’s promises? Give your characters logical motivations? Allow plot twists to arise organically from the story rather than, say, including gunfire or an explosion — or the cliched dead body — just to jazz up boring or dead-end material?

Even if they can’t always express it, readers can tell when they’re reading the work of a competent and trustworthy storyteller, and when they’re reading a story full of contrived circumstances and unrealistic characters.

My opinion: A tacked-on happy ending is less desirable than an organic, realistic tragic ending. (Although, to be honest, I much prefer happy endings to sad ones.) And give me a hero I can believe in, flawed or not, because he or she is written as if real. Warts, rebellion, and all.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,