Characters Everywhere!

Have you read a book with so many characters you find yourself asking “who did what now?”  If you ever read the Silmarillion your head is undoubtedly bobbing right now.  The number and names of characters is a hard one to decide on as an author.  Generally, if you want your stories to be believable, characters need to encounter others.  How many characters?  Well there is no set number it depends on the plot, but too few can make the world seem sparse and too many are difficult to keep track of.

In the above paragraph I referenced the Silmarillion as a book with many characters.  Not only are there A LOT of characters but they have similar names, and I struggled keeping track of who was who and responsible for what.  LOTR wiki was rather helpful during that reading.  It was a marvelous book, but far from a casual read.  Frankly, note taking is a must for this book.

Most books are not as dense as Tolkien’s history book, but still sometimes overwhelm the reader with many characters.  What is a good number of characters if you are a reader?  Do you ever read a book and wonder what a certain character(s) point is?  I certainly have.

Sometimes it is overwhelming when there is an excessive amount of characters to follow, for it isn’t just the characters but their sub-plots as well that all need to be kept straight.  Sometimes a large world with many characters is a good thing and works for a story, but most often it makes a tale confusing and hard to follow.

What sort of balance do you look for in a book?  I prefer a story to focus on a handful of characters, but I understand that not all plots allow for that.  When I write I try to stick to no more than a small group otherwise it gets difficult to maintain.  If you are a writer what is your approach though?  Let me know in the comments.

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5 Things I Reflect on as I Turn 30

 

  1. I don’t have to be a doormat

As a kid I was shy.  I preferred not to be noticed or seen in school.  A lot of that had to do with dealing with bullies.  This persisted into my early 20’s as well.  I would sometimes speak up in college, but it wasn’t the norm.  I would let people say things to me and I would keep quiet (mostly) and fume to myself.  Standing up for myself didn’t happen.  Then I had a life changing experience happen in 2013.  I let a toxic (former) friend walk all over me and in many ways control me.  After bouts of anxiety and seeking help I realized that I spent my life too afraid to say anything to defend myself or call out a relationship for what it was. It’s never too late to be your own advocate.  Don’t let people walk on you and abuse you.  I know it’s easier said than done, but if you don’t do it who will?

 

  1. Society sees people in their teens and twenties as young and at 30 you’re suddenly old.

This is an overly simplistic statement I know.  Obviously not everyone feels this way, but the impression is there.  Since I turned 25 I’ve known classmates to lament how old they are.  Really?  Old?  So, you spend 2/3 of your life as a senior citizen?  I’m pretty sure that isn’t how it works.  Old indicates the last stage of life, not the one immediately after being young.

 

  1. Wisdom doesn’t always come with age.

From childhood up through young adulthood I strongly believed in revering what my elders have to say, for they are wiser and more knowledgeable than I am.  That is still mostly true, but I’ve also accepted that aged people can be immature too.  The election of 2016 made that crystal clear to me with reactions from people significantly older than me who should know better.  I’m not talking about not liking the results but all throughout the election I saw what would be considered “classic millennial snowflake” behavior from people who were Boomers or Gen X. We should always consider what those older have to say but temper it with reason too.  Just because someone is older doesn’t necessarily make them wiser, age can and does come alone for some people.

 

  1. I have so much to learn.

Piggybacking off of #3, I am also still young and know that I have much to learn.  I started down the path of being a writer in late 2014 and I’ve got a ways to go before I reach my goals.  Analyzing and changing strategies is something I’ve found to be important.  Admittedly, the market is over-saturated with bloggers and authors all trying to make their way which makes things more challenging for me.  Of course this is just one small example, I have room for growth and learning in all aspects of life.  It is especially humbling listening to those with whom I disagree.  Most people we can learn something from.

 

  1. What people think of me isn’t as important.

This is related to #1 somewhat. If people thought something untrue about me when I was younger, it bothered me.  I wanted to change their minds.  The bigger the misconception, the more it bothered me. It wasn’t until my mid to late twenties that I started accepted I cannot change other people’s perception. I may have known it intellectually, but my heart didn’t.  Now it matters less to me what people think.  Being a stay-at-home father who is a full-time writer, I’m certainly no stranger to judgement and criticism.  I don’t need to justify or explain that this is what’s best for my family and what my wife especially prefers, and where I’m called to be.

 

 

Will the Forest be Tamed?

It is the late eighteenth century.  You live in a secluded town near a forest with an unsavory reputation.  To add to the dark nature of the forest, there have been rumors of cult activity.  At least it starts as rumors, but then people you know are disappearing or worse.  Before you know it, terrible things happen all around you, and merely whispering about the forest-dwellers who worship beings you’ve never heard of comes back at you with a terrible price.

On New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a new year.  With that comes a time for people to look forward to the future as well as make commitments toward a better future.  New Year’s represents hope, a fresh start, something most people want because all of us have made mistakes.  Mistakes are what make us human after all, and some mistakes repeat themselves in our lives despite us not liking them.  However, it is common knowledge that resolutions often go unfulfilled, people continue in their habits, and little if anything changes.

Change is hard, even if we don’t like something in our lives, we are creatures of habit, and it is easier to fall back into the old routine and deal with the guilt than persevere.  Due to neuro elasticity people can change but once we reach adulthood change is hard and feels like it continues to get harder as we get older.

There is something I’ve observed in myself and others, people do not really change unless they are discontent in their current position.  Sometimes guilt alone isn’t enough to move someone to true discontentment with his/her life choices.  That is when a major wake-up call is needed.  However, those don’t always come.  So, what are we to do?  Well, the words are easy to type, and sound rather stupid, but they are quite another to put into practice.  We need to truly commit, especially if it’s an important change such as sobriety, and that involves having someone else help us along the way.

Something important I’ve learned in my quest to be a better man is that I have to acknowledge that perfection isn’t possible.  I’m on a journey which means I will fail from time to time.  The acknowledgement of failure doesn’t excuse it, but I’m someone who holds myself and the people close to me to a high moral standard.  If I mess up, I tend to beat myself up, which oddly has the opposite effect than desired.  I’m guessing many people fail at their goals because they mess up and figure they cannot do it.  Failure will happen and happen more often than you would like.  That’s okay, because progress to anything worthwhile is slow and takes time.

So dear reader, I challenge you to not flippantly make a New Year’s Resolution because it’s a cultural phenomenon, but to commit to be a better person no matter what.  Have someone there along the way to help you when you are weak for failure will happen.

Religion in Fantasy

Religion in Fantasy is rarely portrayed in a positive light.  In my review of “Orcs” I referred to the author’s caricature of faith.  In modern Fantasy this is generally the norm and not the exception.  Many authors in this genre, especially ones, are staunch Atheists.  Disclaimer: I know that not all Atheists view religion in a cartoonish way.  Many are level-headed, this isn’t an attack on Atheists but an observation that many Fantasy authors are Atheists that happen to have a simplistic approach to religion and that is reflected in their works.

Religion in Fantasy is seen as cultish and for only the extremists.  Many times, they are portrayed as villains or at worst simpletons.  There is rarely a nuanced approach as to why followers of a Religion may hold their beliefs.  “Skyrim” is a video game not a book, but I feel it handles religion somewhat better than most contemporary Fantasy stories.  Even then religion while present and referenced was still seen as culty and somewhat extreme.  The Thalmor are religious extremists who persecute anyone who disagrees with their view of faith.  Them along with the Empire have banned all other religions outside their own.  Other beliefs are still expressed, but for the most part it is subtle, and you can play the entire main campaign without encountering more than a surface level exposure of religion.

Many Fantasy movies and books collapse into the trap of holding religion nothing more than a superstition for the foolish and violent.  I know some of the irreligious persuasion hold that view.  That people believe in a religion are those who have been manipulated and duped by the religious leaders.  However, if anyone has spent a lengthy amount of time around the faithful or read personal testimonies, it becomes clear that this approach is cartoonish.  People come to faith for a multitude of reasons, not because they are stupid or duped by a priest.

The point of this isn’t to proselytize any sort of position, the point is that the Fantasy genre needs to have a more realistic approach to religion.  Yes, there are fanatics in the real world, but those are the minority.  Most have very personal reasons for holding their beliefs.

Extreme Cynicism

If you know anything about me or have read this blog for a while you would know that I try to take a logical but open-minded approach to things.  Am I perfect at this?  Certainly not.  It is something I strive for.  Believing everything or not believing in anything are easy positions to take and neither require thought.

Extreme cynicism/disbelief appear to be the more common of the two and is in fact encouraged in this culture.  I’m not advocating superstition, simply pointing out that cynicism is prevalent.  It is easy to be that guy standing in the corner scoffing at everyone else.  After all he isn’t taking a stance on anything.  Again, the point isn’t that we must believe every story or be open to every idea, but I’m only addressing those who scorn and mock while not holding any positions of their own (save for the position that X isn’t/aren’t real.)

I came across a blog that claimed everything in culture isn’t real.  I followed this person’s logic quite well but found it a rather simplistic approach to life.  On the surface it appeared intellectual, but further analysis reveals the flaw in this position.  The flaw isn’t all that complicated to find and I already alluded to it, if you don’t believe in anything at all then it requires no thought.  Those who take stances are braver in my eyes, even if they are wrong, many of them have reasons for their beliefs and research to back it up.  Not all of course but there are some people who do this.

Skepticism is healthy to a certain degree, but like every sort of approach human have a way of mucking it up.  Extreme skepticism is the norm.  There are some then who have a knee-jerk reaction to this and fall more into the “I believe everything” camp.  Along with skepticism we need to weigh evidence.  That sometimes includes consistency in the anecdotal too.

I think we all should be more willing to listen to other perspectives without mocking and jeering in the corner with our arms crossed.  We can still disagree, even hate an idea, but it costs nothing to listen and understand your fellow humans.

On How Not to React to Criticism

If your stuff is public, it is open to scrutiny.  Sometimes feedback is helpful, sometimes people have an axe to grind.  As an example of how not to react I will use one of my favorite franchises of all time: Star Wars.

You may be familiar with the fact that “The Last Jedi” wasn’t received well by fans of Star Wars.  Certainly, there are fans of the film and some defend it.  Many though do not like the direction of the film for plot reasons.  I am one of those.  This piece isn’t about my criticisms about that movie but about how Disney/Lucasfilm have reacted to people’s critiques.

Instead of sifting through the critiques and taking the most well-thought ones to heart, Disney/Lucasfilm have labeled anyone who does not care for “The Last Jedi” as sexist or a toxic fan at best.  They claim that people who don’t like their movies are nothing more than man babies who cannot handle strong women or change in narrative direction.

Those who criticize “The Last Jedi” (again myself included) don’t even include those aspects in the critique.  It is mainly breaking established in-universe rules and established characterization.  It has nothing to do with Rey as a main character.  Some of the critiques are that Rey didn’t really have to work for her powers and can hold her own against force-users who are fully-trained but that isn’t about her gender in and of itself.  I had the same issue with Luke and other people did as well, Rey is even more exaggerated.

Showing utter contempt for fans is not the way to go.  It is the hardcore fans who buy tickets and see these films multiple times and buy the merchandise.   There are pictures of the filmmakers holding mugs on the Star Wars website that says, “Fanboy Tears.”  Look, I get it, some fans are toxic.  As someone who has an appreciation for the prequels, I’ve seen this go on for nearly two decades now.  Not every voice should be listened to, but even DC is listening to what fans are saying about the films that underperformed and acknowledged certain flaws.  Disney however doubles down and admits no fault.

This is an example of what us creative writers shouldn’t do.  Sometimes criticisms are legitimate and need to be rectified in future installments if there are any.  If you are an independent author, it is especially easy to go back through a book and fix certain problematic areas.  I’ve had to rerelease a couple books before.  Some critiques though should not be applied.  I’m simply stating that we should use discernment when our audience complains and if there are consistent criticisms then it is time to consider if there is something to it.

Honestly, it’s best not to engage in any negative feedback.  It doesn’t matter your intent, due to the internet culture it may still appear petty.  A lot of feedback does need to be ignored too, but to tell your fans they are just babies or worse label them with terms such as racist, sexist, or homophobic for simply not liking certain plot points is absurd.  Not to mention jumping to such labels diminishes true racism, sexism, and homophobia.  Just something to think about.  How have you handled negative feedback?  If you aren’t an author or creative artist, how would you imagine yourself reacting?

An Abhorrent Comparison

The Holocaust is one of the worst tragedies in human history.  Not many people can wrap their minds around the evil that occurred.  There are no words to describe the evil in that time in history.  Factories were constructed with the sole purpose of killing along with labor camps to literally work people to death.  More and more there have been comparisons to that time in history, to the killing of animals to the most common example, political figures people have a particular distain for.

Don’t like a politician?  He’s Hitler?  Don’t like a different worldview than yours?  Well some may say you’re a Nazi.  This comparison needs to stop because there is nothing that can be compared to the Holocaust.  Making comparisons to it cheapens the horrors of the even and is a slap in the face to those who suffered and died along with their family members who are still living.

I’m not saying you cannot hold your dislike of a politician or a political party but comparing him/her to Hitler is asinine.  No matter what your thoughts are of Republicans or Democrats neither side has created death factories.  I’m well aware of the arguments against Trump’s rhetoric concerning Muslims and those trying to cross the border illegally.

You can be against Trump’s perspective, you can hate it.  That is fine.  That is the beauty of living in a Republic.  We have a free exchange of ideas.  That is a good thing to discuss and disagree on topics.  This is how we learn why we believe what we believe.  Comparing Trump to Hitler and his actions to the Holocaust.

This post isn’t about defending any politician or political party.  If it’s not clear, I will say it again, I don’t care what your political alignment is and who you voted for.  The point is that comparing people and situations we are against to the Holocaust is something that is so common it is becoming cliché and a logical fallacy.

We can acknowledge something as something we are against, wrong, or evil without such a comparison.  The Holocaust existed to eradicate an entire people group and killed people in numbers the world hadn’t seen before.  Those of us who had never been in such a situation cannot comprehend the heartbreak that endured there.  Let us stop disrespecting the victims of this atrocity by comparing their deaths and suffering to something or someone we dislike.

My Christmas Wish

This will be a short one as I hope people are spending time with family.  This Christmas I wish for people to remember what’s important.  I hope people remember that most things that cause strife between loved ones isn’t worth holding onto.  Even the stuff that is, forgiveness is always best, because unforgiveness and grudges only hurt the person carrying them.

I hope and pray everyone stops and thinks about what’s important.  It may be cliché, but it is also something so readily forgotten.  We only have so long with our loved ones, we never know when it will be the last Christmas.  Love them, cherish them, and remind them, even the difficult people because every single one of us has been difficult at some time in our lives too.

To all my readers I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope you find a good book to dive into soon, or an epic video game quest.  Stoke the imagination, because it is invaluable and will go away if not used.

Again, may we all remember to love.  May this season thaw the hardest of hearts, and I pray that division between family members is healed.  Merry Christmas to you all, I will take a couple days break from blogging to enjoy time with my family.

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