The Most Powerful Story…

Fiction

I have just finished playing what has been for me the most powerful and thought-provoking game ever. I know, that’s a huge call. But please play it for yourself before pulling out the pitchfork.

save the dateIt’s called Save the Date, and at its gameplay core is nothing more than a visual novel. But this game is so much more than some gameplay with a tacked-on storyline. The gameplay is just… a portal. The story is where the magic happens.
I now desperately want to go deeper and discuss what goes on, but I more desperately want you to experience it for yourself. You can download it here.

What I will say is that, by the end, I felt more connected to Felicia than I have to any other character. And I was disgusted with myself for not listening to her.

 

If you have played the game and want to know what the creator intended, check out this post (and his following comments).

My own fiction!

Fiction

Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog! A lot has happened in that time. Most excitingly, I’m now an official writer! Well, fan-fiction writer, which is something.

It's a fancy minimalist cover, so you really should check it out.

It’s even got a fancy minimalist cover, so you really should check it out.

I’ve just put up the first chapter of my first Chuck fan-fiction, Chuck vs the Eagle Commander. Check it out here, have a read, and please review! I’d love to know what people think of it. (BTW if you haven’t watched Chuck… why not?! It’s awesome. Plus it’s on Netflix or DVD. So what are you waiting for? Go watch some!)

The idea for this came from two separate questions that were rattling around my brain: What if Chuck had got the Intersect a day late? and What if Chuck didn’t stop the first bomb? I realised that these go together pretty well, and after a bit more thinking I came up with this story. It will follow a very similar timeline to the show, with a lot of the same mission and characters. But don’t worry – I’m going to be shaking things up a bit as well 😉
I’ve got plans for a new major character and other interesting new stuff.

Does anyone else out there write any fanfic? Or have you ever thought of? It’s surprisingly fun to have to try think like the characters which you’ve grown so used to simply observing!

Tolkien and Writing for Children – from The Nerd Machine

Fiction

» Tolkien and Writing for Children from The Nerd Machine, by Kevin Rigdon.

“As the bar gets lower and lower, lazier we become as a culture, and the fewer significant stories we have. We miss out looking for nuance and significance. We learn less and less about ourselves, our culture, our history, the histories and cultures of others. All because of this system of categorization. If you’re a parent, or going to be, do your child a tremendous favor, encourage them to read, not just the grade appropriate stuff. Expose them to stories that they may have to work a little to get through. In doing so you will open the world to them.”

Check out the full article here.

Battle of the Myths: Game of Thrones vs Lord of the Rings

Fiction

versus34_zpse3c67725Tolkien vs Martin.

Aragorn vs Joffrey.

Gimli vs Tyrion.

In my mind, not much of a battle. But vox populi (‘the voice of the people’) would probably disagree. Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the biggest book-TV combo ever, and is currently one of the most popular TV shows in the world. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is not really in current pop-culture (besides the Hobbit films, which aren’t on the same level) and the books are nearly 60 years old.

Game of Thrones, in case you’ve been living in a bubble, is a fantasy series ( the books written by George RR Martin, the TV adaptation by HBO) filled with violence, power-hungry leaders, betrayal, sex, manipulation, and a hundred other dark things. It’s hailed as a ‘great modern myth’ which will overthrow the ‘fairytale’ Lord of the Rings. I heartily disagree; but don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from a brilliant article by Rowan Light about the conflict between these two epics:

There are no clear “goodies” in Westeros. Characters are honourable or treacherous depending on the day of the week. Good guys finish last and those who cling to noble principles are manipulated and/or beheaded. We sympathize with immoral characters like the incestuous Lannisters, Varys the Eunuch, and an assortment of murderers, rapists, and sadists. Nothing is taboo.

Tolkien’s G-rated narrative, critics argue, has burdened the fantasy genre with a “Disneyland Middle Ages”. Martin is more meaningful because he is morally ambiguous.

Although he is an admirer of Tolkien, Martin notes that “the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling ugly guys, Good versus Evil … has become a kind of cartoon.” Fantasy doesn’t need any more Dark Lords or hideous enemies, because “in real life, the hardest aspect of the battle between good and evil is determining which is which”.

In this moral fog there is no room for nobility and beauty. “Of all the bright cruel lies they tell you, the crudest is the one called love”, Martin wrote in his 1976 short story “Meathouse”. But the “realist” fantasy is limited to the basest dimensions of human experience. It’s like reading a newspaper which only features articles about Ariel Castro the Cleveland rapist, al-Qaeda suicide bombers and waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay. It is hard to imagine anyone wanting to live eternally in the brutal and sadistic Westeros. […]

Is Tolkien really less realistic, though?

Tolkien bridled at the idea that his Free Peoples were unequivocally good and flawless: “sloth and stupidity among hobbits, pride … among Elves, grudge and greed in Dwarf-hearts, and folly and wickedness among the ‘kings of men’, and treachery and power-lust even among the ‘wizards’”, as he pointed out.

Nor is victory ever certain. There is a haunting sadness in The Lord of the Rings, which with the fall of Beleriand in the Silmarillion, was misunderstood by critics as being defeatist. In fact, his work does features torture and the brutality, as well as hints of rape and slaughter, especially in his saga The Children of Húrin. I would argue that his depiction of evil ranks amongst the best in fantasy literature, even though it is understated. Buttering your evil with savagery and depravity does not necessarily make it more terrifying, or even more convincing. […]

All enduring literature is realistic, because it reflects the truth of the human condition for generation after generation. My hunch is that Tolkien, whatever the critics say, will still be sitting on the throne of fantasy in a hundred years’ time while George Martin will be dismissed as the practitioner of an early 21st Century fad for grimy pessimism.

So what do you think? Will Game of Thrones be remembered as brilliant fantasy breakthrough? Or will Tolkien remain as the rightful king?

Check out the full article here.

Brideshead, Beauty, and Evangelisation

Faith, Fiction

What follows are some excerpts from an article by Fr Robert Barron, entitled Evangelizing Through Beauty, from WordOnFire.org.

In his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh implicitly lays out a program of evangelization that has particular relevance to our time.  “Brideshead” refers, of course, to a great manor house owned by a fabulously wealthy Catholic family in the England of the 1920’s.  In the complex semiotic schema of Waugh’s novel, the mansion functions as a symbol of the Catholic Church, which St. Paul had referred to as the “bride of Christ.”  To Brideshead comes, at the invitation of his friend Sebastian, Charles Ryder, an Oxford student, devotee of the fine arts and casual agnostic.  Charles is overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of Brideshead’s architecture and the sumptuousness of its artistic program, which includes magnificent painting and sculpture, as well as a fountain of Bernini-like delicacy, and a chapel which was a riot of baroque decoration.  Living within the walls of the manse, Charles mused, was to receive an entire artistic education.  The beauty of the place would entrance Charles for the rest of his life, drawing him back again and again. […]

This brief and utterly inadequate summary of Waugh’s narrative is meant simply to highlight a ryhthm that obtains, I would argue, in effective evangelization. […] The pattern is more or less as follows:  first the beautiful (how wonderful!), then the good (I want to participate!) and finally the true (now I understand!). […]

The same applies, a fortiori, in regard to religion.  I might suggest that the evangelist  start with the Sainte Chapelle or the life of Francis of Assisi or the Little Flower’s Story of a Soul or Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain or Gregorian chant, or perhaps best of all,  a carefully executed liturgy of the Roman rite.  These would function in the manner of Brideshead, captivating even the most bored agnostic.  Then, the wager goes, the captivation would lead to a desire, perhaps vague at first, to participate in the moral universe that made those artistic expressions possible.  And finally, the participation would conduce toward a true and experiential understanding of the thought patterns that undergird that way of life.  First the beautiful, then the good, then the true.

I wonder whether this winsome aesthetic approach might prove more frutiful in a postmodern culture so instinctively skeptical of dogma either intellectual or moral.

The Story Archetype(s)?

Faith, Fiction, Films

I was chatting with some mates yesterday and we somehow ended up discussing types of stories. We’d all heard the claim that there were 7 Story Archetypes; a quick google search uncovered this list:

  • The Odyssey - a 'Quest' story or 'Voyage and Return'?

    The Odyssey – a ‘Quest’ story or ‘Voyage and Return’?

    Overcoming the Monster

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

The above link explains them each a bit better.Though we thought this was a pretty good list, we also recognised that each of these ‘archetypes’ (“the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based”) is fairly loosely defined and seems to overlap with others.

One of my friends confessed that he’d always dreamed of crafting a story which avoided all of these archetypes. But when we tried to think of how this could be done, we were stumped. A young man works towards becoming the best in his industry, but ends up failing horribly… that’s a tragedy. Maybe an elderly woman who discovers to become young again in order to ‘do over’ her life? Oh wait, that’s rebirth. We then tried looking at stories we know, to see if any of them find a way to avoid these archetypes. The three of us like to think of ourselves as film buffs, so we began thinking through our list of films. Again, no luck.

I then suggested something radical: that perhaps there’s only one story archetype. Every story ever told, and every story that will or can ever be told, is drawn from one great Story.

The Catholic Church speaks of ‘Salvation History’ – the huge living mass of stuff that makes up the history of mankind’s creation, fall and salvation, seen through the eyes of faith. The major happenings of this are contained with the Bible, which, though written over hundreds or thousands of years in a wealth of different settings, forms a single body of work. Even without the perspective of faith, there can be discerned within it a distinct story which flows through every piece of literature within Scripture: the poetry of the Psalms, the symbol-charged story of early Genesis, the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, all of them.

salvation history

And so I propose an archetype called Salvation, which encompasses all other types. It’s basic premise is that in all stories there is an underlying battle between good and evil, with the conflict of these creating the thrust of the story. Good and evil can manifest themselves as hope and fear, right and wrong, peace and war, happiness and anger, clarity and confusion. The truly great stories – ones like The Lord of the Rings, The Great Gatsby, Othello, or The Divine Comedy – move through many of these manifestations, and though on the surface they appear to be a Tragedy or Voyage And Return, there is a much wider scope within them.

 

What do you think? My mates felt that this was a bit too loose of a definition – do you agree?

A Plethora of Words

Fiction, Films

book film

I’m currently reading a book so that I can review it for CatholicFiction.net, and to be honest it’s… mediocre. Admittedly, I’m only a few chapters in and everything is still being introduced. But if I hadn’t chosen to review this book, I would have already stopped reading it!

It’s not that it’s a bad story (a secret Vatican group that hunts vampires!) or bad characters (a priest with a tortured past!), but it still somehow falls short. And I worked this out after the first couple of pages. How? What is it that told me ‘This isn’t a great book’? And why is it that something like The Lord of the Rings is a great book?

First, I think we need to compare a book to a film. A film can tell you things in many different ways: speech, music, background, colour, cinematography, costumes, and heaps of other ways I can’t think of right now. On the other hand, a book uses only the written word. Sure, it can use conversation or description, different styles of writing can be employed, but everything comes down to what the author writes. This is both a curse and a blessing for a book. I look at it like this: a film reveals a painting to a person’s mind, while a book actually paints that painting. (This is a crude metaphor, I know, but try to love it for its simplicity!) Thus the book has to reveal information in a very different manner to the film.

Herein lies the issue!

It seems to me that many authors these days (particularly first-time authors) try to write their books like a film. So instead of describing things in detail, they simply introduce things. I know that things should be left to the imagination, but our imaginations need a springboard! Here’s a quick comparison from two books of new characters being introduced:

 

With her was a black priest, a healthy looking forty year old maybe, in a cassock and biretta, and Lucy had never seen one dressed like that, not even when she’d gone to Rome with the whole family a few years ago. “Old school” was such a trite phase, but it seemed to match the clerical outfit. God, Lucy thought. Old fashioned, okay?
– ‘Mysterious Albion’ by Paul Leone, pg 15

Suddenly Frodo noticed that a strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall, was also listening intently to the hobbit-talk. He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much ear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched over the hobbits.
– ‘The Lord of the Rings – Book One’ by JRR Tolkien, pg 152

 

aragorn strider

Recognise that description?

Notice the difference? Mysterious Albion spares a few words on the character being introduced, then moves quickly to the protagonist’s reaction. On the other hand, Tolkien gives details about the character. Many of these details seem to be meaningless, and yet they all give our imaginations some ‘reality’ to stick his character to. The description of ‘Strider’ from LOTR actually goes on for another few paragraphs, with his character slowly revealed through conversation. It may seem unfair to compare a book to what has been hailed as ‘The Greatest Book of the 20th Century’, yet wouldn’t it be better if we had fewer books but all of them were great?

What I think makes LOTR (and many other great books, as diverse as Les Miserables and Harry Potter) such an engaging read is the huge wealth of words. Not meaningless words; rather, words which are like tiny strokes of the brush on the canvas, creating lines you don’t notice individually but which come together to create an essential part of the image.

This, I think, is the key: using less conversation and more description. Conversation in novels is extremely important, and in films the only words are those which are spoken. But a great piece of fiction is about creating something! Novels need more than just the thoughts and words of the characters; it is essential to give the imagination an outline of some sort to work from. Not having this instantly gives away a beginner or mediocre author (myself included).

This trap for authors stems from, I believe, a great passion for their story. In their own mind, everything is so clear – so what is the need to describe it? They just want to share this story, get down the ideas, write. I fall into this same trap. I’m currently working on a piece of fiction and I keep on having to go back to ‘fill in the blanks’ so that the reader will have more than just a transcription of a character’s mind – they’ll have a living, breathing world.

The Catholic Imagination and You

Faith, Fiction

Re-blogged from TuscanyPress.com and shared here for your enjoyment!

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The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

images-2We begin the new weekly column “The Catholic Imagination and You” by taking our inspiration from one of the great poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins; the great artist Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (who carved Ecstasy of St. Teresa); and the mystic and writer St. Teresa herself. We propose that the Catholic imagination is what sets apart the Catholic artist, writer and reader from the naturalist or secularist. God and the Catholic faith illuminate a Catholic artist’s imagination in much the same way that a candle will shed its light in the recess of darkness.

The Catholic imagination for the artist brings alive what we, as Catholics know to be the Truth: The living God is among us in the world. His presence serves as an inspiration for great artistic achievement and beauty. Through the Catholic imagination, the Catholic artist depicts concretely in fine art, sculpture, poetry, and literature those hallowed and epiphanic moments of God’s grace, which come unbidden to every soul.

The Catholic artist and writer live in a larger universe – a universe of the temporal and the divine. As the great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor so clearly states in one of her essays on writing, “ . . . [T]he chief difference between a novelist who is an orthodox Christian and the novelist who is merely a naturalist is that the Christian novelist lives in a larger universe. He believes that the natural world contains the supernatural.”

O’Connor is echoing the sentiment Hamlet expresses to his friend Horatio:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

We Catholics understand that everything in this world is not as it appears – that there is a depth of meaning that the philosopher taps through reason, the theologian taps through faith and reason, and the fiction writer taps through faith, reason and the imitative act of the imagination. We know God is acting in the world around us. He walks every day in “the garden of the world.” Rather than hiding as our first parents did when God called to them, Catholic writers go out to greet God with their art and bring Him into the works they create.

If you are a writer or artist, how does the Catholic imagination inspire you? Or, if you’re a reader (like us) and consider yourself a patron of art, we’d like to know your perspective. How does the Catholic imagination affect you personally?

We are opening up this column to everyone. Please consider writing a piece on the Catholic imagination for Catholic, Ink.

Perhaps you have an original take on the Catholic imagination. Some insight into the process of composition or the imitative act by which the writer, poet and painter produces art.

You may consider reflecting on the words of some great Catholic artist. Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Graham Green, J.R.R. Tolkien and T.S. Eliot, among others, who have important things to say in both their creative works and their critical works about this topic.

Another suggestion, consider highlighting some classical artist – Homer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, etc. – and bring these great masters into the conversation, pointing out how what they’ve created for the ages might relate to this same illuminating principle we call the Catholic imagination.

Help us bring alive the Catholic imagination to the readers of Catholic, Ink. We look forward to reading your words and, through them, inspiring readers, writers and artists.

Please e-mail your 400 to 2,500 word column (include your name and e-mail address in the MS Word file) to publisher@catholicfiction.net.

Subscribe to Catholic, Ink.  www.catholicink.com. Be part of the Catholic Literary Revival – receive the weekly column “The Catholic Imagination and You”.

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Re-blogged from TuscanyPress.com and shared here for your enjoyment!

Ender’s Game: the trailer surfaces…

Fiction, Films

Ender’s Game is definitely not your average sci-fi novel. You learn barely anything about the alien race, there’s not much weird futuristic tech, and the main characters are all children. Yup, children. As young as 6 years old.

I discovered Ender’s Game when I was about 11 or 12. I think I’d recently had my birthday, because I had a book voucher to spend. Searching through the local bookshop for something new (I was an avid reader, so had worked my way through most of the good ones) I uncovered a book with an embossed, grey, dragon head on the cover. It looked interesting – plus it was discounted because of a small tear! – so I bought it. And loved it.

Sure, I may have been a bit young to understand everything when I first read it. But it wasn’t like anything in it was too explicit or ‘dark’ for a younger kid; it was just a bit over my head. Re-reading the book each year, I’ve fallen totally head-over-heels for it, along with the rest of the series and the wider universe which author Orson Scott Card has developed.

What makes Ender’s Game so wonderful is… well, everything really. A big part of it is that these children are conscripted into war and trained mercilessly; you, as the reader, then get to explore their reactions and growth as all this is going on. Add on top of that some epic twists and intrigue, a fleshed-out and realistic future, realistic emotion, and artful writing, and you’ve got the beauty that is: Ender’s Game.
Plus the fact that it’ll totally screw with your mind, in an awesome I-can’t-believe-it-omigosh sort of way.

reallifecomics-endersgame

OK, enough of the fanboy love-letter.
The reason I started writing about this is because the first trailer for the Ender’s Game films has just been released. I’ve been waiting for a film since I first read the book, and when I heard a couple of years ago that it may be happening, I was… well, excited, to put it lightly.

Asa Butterfield as Ender? Abigail Breslin as Valentine? Harrison Ford as Graff? Awesome, awesome, awesome. Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer I’m not sure about (why not try find an actual Maori to play the Maori character?!), especially after his round as the Mandarin in stupid Iron Man 3 stupidness, but I’ll hold off on judgment. But after watching the trailer this morning, I’m rather hesitant about the whole thing.

The power of Ender’s Game is brought about by three things:

  1. It’s more about the psychological and intellectual journey and conflict, than it is about anything physical.
  2. You don’t really learn much about the ‘Buggers’ (aliens), only slowly piecing together information. The reason for this is that there are other, more immediate enemies.
  3. You’re always unsure of who’s lying, who’s pulling the strings, how the characters are being manipulated.

The trailer (which you can check out below) seems to ignore all these three things. It shows fast-paced action, quick camera movements, and close-ups (a la Star Trek) which imply a more action-based story. It shows us a battle with the Buggers on Earth (WHY?! Nooooo….). It seems to show no real intrigue or distrust. Plus, that Inception-style ‘brrrrrr’ sound? Really?

I know that this is only the first trailer, I know that they can’t show everything in a single trailer, I know all of that. But unless they’re planning to pull an Iron Man 3 and make the film totally unlike the trailer, I can’t see how this film will be anything like the beloved book. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.