Saturday, July 12, 2008

The importance of the orange dot

This is either our intrepid photographer, Andif, or our intrepid photographer's intrepid husband, Jim. Andi, is this near Lake Powell? And who is that orange dot and why is he/she wearing a life jacket to swim in rocks?

There's something about this wonderful photo that makes me think a writing thought. I've been reading a little book, a "meditation," about the killing of the Amish girls in that schoolhouse a couple of years ago, remember that? The motives given for the man who killed them and himself were: a.) that years ago he may have molested other girls and was now feeling irresistible urges to do it again; and b.) that he was furious at god for the death of a baby daughter several years before, and he wanted to show god how pain felt. Well, here's the writing thought: as a motive for a murder in a novel, I could buy (a), but not (b). (Actually, I don't buy it as a motive in real life, either.) I do not know of a single novelist who could write a story with god as the villian and make me believe it--unless God is like the God of the Book of Job, and sits and has amusing conversations with that Satan fellow next door.

There's a truism in novel writing that you shouldn't make your villain something abstract, like "nature," or "the government," or the weather, or god. Any of those things could be a malevolent force in a novel, but it's generally believed that you have to give them a human face. There has to be a malevolent and very specific human bureaucrat, for instance, to represent the evil government, because readers can't easily relate to "characters" that aren't human, unless they're given humanoid traits--as in Hal the computer in "2001: a Space Odessey," or the Cylons in "Battlestar Gallactica." If the villain is an animal or a plant, the human characters have to project human traits onto them. Etc. It is not necessary to agree with this, but it is probably necessary to *do* it in order to get published. If you can think of any exceptions to this "rule," fire away.

That's it, that's my writing thought inspired by the little orange human figure in the big rocky room. It's the little human who draws our attention and makes us curious.

::Everybody wave at the little human!::


Nancy P said...

Good morning, little humans!

It is still Saturday night where I am, so I'll see you when it's Sunday.

Paul Lamb said...

The first thing that comes to mind is that Tom Hanks movie about his character being stranded on the island and fighting nature to survive. I'm not sure it was a commercial success, but the "man versus nature" theme is supposed to be one of the standards of literature. I haven't read Robinson Crusoe but I think that might qualify. The nonfiction books Into the Wild and Into Thin Air are essentially man versus nature, too.

The old "man versus god" theme sure sounds like the kind of thing Vonnegut might have tried.

More examples may come.

AndiF said...

This is your intrepid (and pedantic) pragmatist Andi informing you that the photo is by me, the orange dot is Jim, he's wearing a backpack, and we're in Buckskin Gulch, which is located about 30 miles west of Lake Powell and happens to be the longest, narrowest slot canyon in the world.

A pleasant Sunday to all.

Janet said...

Nancy, authors ARE gods :) Ever see "Stranger Than Fiction"? with Wil Ferrel, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. I love it. Makes you laugh and cry. Sometimes at the same time.

I had a lot written about my thoughts on god or gods... but decided to delete so that I don't get burned at the stake or cause a war or something. ;)

Andi, that photo, much like you, is beyond amazing! Reminds me of how I felt yesterday trying to find my way around IKEA. LOL

Janet said...

One note about god/gods...

Ever try explaining the american/christian version of Easter to an autistic teenager?

I really try my best to leave out my own personal ideas/findings/stereotypes about most things and help my children find their own answers. Not just with religion but with most things that aren't 100 percent safety driven. And it alot of ways they help me improve, progress or change my course or views altogether.

I was trying to explain to my children who know tons about Greek mythology, native folklore, and pagan stuff... as well as they've seen tons of horror movies... They are pretty cool, thoughtful, empathetic yet very sarcastically curious kids LOL

Tried to explain to them why one of our neighbors put up a HUGE, TOWERING cross made out of wood and lights - (it actually looks like a burning cross for cripesake) and why for the most part the the rites of Spring are pooed pooed by much of the severe Right and yet there is a huge fascination with chocolate, bunnies and eggs LOL

So I began to explain the whole resurrection dealio in a very serious way. Leaving nothing out from my old Bible Study Days. Both kids' eyes got bigger and bigger as I told them how Jesus rose from the grave after three days.

My son hollered, "So Jesus is a Zombie?!?!?!" Ah... no. But now we hike the spring trails (carrying everything in and out)while "celebrating" Chocolate Zombie day ;)

Nancy! this weekend we ran to the library and I found "Virgin of the Plains"!! Danni and I are going to share/read it. My first thought was... I knew her while this was coming out. ROFL. I got one book and Danni (my girl) picked out EIGHT.

Off to work I go. Enjoy your Sunday everyone and try the Romero Truffles they're to die for :)

Nancy P said...

Hey, Paul, Andi, and Janet!

In the Tom Hanks movie, the soccer ball isn't actually an antagonist, it's a companion. To me, the antagonist is "fate," which is why they *had* to make the soccer ball seem human. I also have to say that movie mostly bored me, so I'm probably less on board with the abstract characters than a lot of readers/viewers are--Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea were tedious to me, too, so you can see my bias.

I don't actually think nature is the antagonist in Into the Wild (which I loved). I think the antagonist is conventional society, but the movie is careful to give that several human faces along the protagonist's route. The real villain, in human terms, imo, is the boy's father, with everything else flowing from that.

Haven't read Into Thin Air, so I can't speak to that.

The Greeks had men against gods, but if any gods ever had human qualities, theirs did.

To me, when protagonists purport to be struggling against "god" or "nature," what they're actually doing is inflating their personal, inner struggles which, taken down to a more real level, usually turn out to be with other humans and/or with themselves.

As always, YMMV. (Your Mileage May Vary)

Nancy P said...

Oh, Janet, that story about your son and Jesus is adorable. But then I do love vampires AND saints, lol.

Lordy, your neighbor has real human concrete problems that he is sooo not addressing, ha!!! Sounds like a scary dude.

I hope you like the book! There's a "supernatural" element that I tried to write so readers could bring their own opinions to it without any interference from the busybody author.

FARfetched said...

Sure, why not b)? In the end, the true conflict is internal, and the (what? antihero?) is externalizing his problem, but it provides a basis for his struggle.

A fine example of this is Normal Spinrad's Carcinoma Angels, in which the protag (deliberately and consciously) personalizes the cancer that's killing him. The trick is to personalize that opposing force of nature in a way that a reader will go along with.

[abrupt change of subject] Kelly, I didn't get a chance to respond yesterday, but I'm glad to hear things are starting to improve for you. It's amazing to me that you managed to write so much & so well with such a load.

Nancy P said...

Nicely said, far. Very nicely said.

(About antagonists and to Kelly!)

Nancy P said...

So what's everybody up to this Sunday? I'm about to clean the kitchen, the bathrooms, and then vacuum. The glamorous life of the writer!

Nancy P said...

Paul, have you gone in the water yet? Got sunshine or rain?

paul lamb said...

Yes, I spent nearly two hours swimming in a deliciously warm lake yesterday afternoon. Sometimes good ideas come to me there.

Anonymous said...

(Waving at Jim).
Great picture, andif, even though it gives me a sense of claustrophobia! In the long and narrow canyon, are there any easy escape routes if one should suddenly feel overcome with claustrophobia? :-/

Regarding the killer of the Amish girls: when someone is that mentally deranged, I'm not sure he could accurately articulate what the motive was for the killing, though I believe someone in such a state might think they are somehow getting back at God. To me, the interesting fact of the whole episode of the killing was the forgiveness the Amish community gave to the killer and his family. Where did that come from?! That's just one more reason I believe in and am thankful for grace. My 2 cents. lol (btw when did the take the cent sign off the keyboard and why?)

Wishing everyone a sunny Sunday.

Kimberly Frost said...

Hey, guys:

My preliminary cover is posted at my blog, and I have to say that Paul Lamb has a very good eye. Check out his comment.


Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks, Far,

When I'm stressed, writing provides me with a refuge both because it allows me to step outside of my problems and because it gives me a sphere where I can exert real control. That said, I write more and faster when life isn't piling crap on me and I figure I lost something between 1 and 3 novels worth of production to the mess. And possibly several more over the next couple of years, because it did some really weird things to my work habits as well, and I'm not sure how long it's going to take me to straighten those out.

Kelly McCullough said...

Oops, forgot, (waves). Hi everybody.

Kimber, great cover.

Interesting on the motives thing. It makes me want to write something with God as the antagonist--I think I'd approach it from almost a split personality POV with the narrator conversing with his own personal God and aim for a story that left the reader uncertain whether the ongoing conversation was all in the killer's head or if there was some outside entity that really was destroying his life. It'd be a really tough line to walk and I think it'd be easier to do on stage with a really good actor shifting body language etc.

Nancy P said...

Anonymous, you might like this little book then, the one that triggered my (off topic) thought. Its called "Forgiveness," and it's all about the Amish and how their attitudes toward forgiveness developed and are practiced. It's subtitled, "A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School," and was written by John L. Ruth, a Mennonite minister. My mom brought it home from her (Presbyterian) church library.

Nancy P said...

Kimber, I really really love the cover. It's both adorable and also a bit sophisticated, imo. (The use of black and "back" are both great.) The description of the book, next to the title, is really good. You can tell the book is going to be funny, lively, charming, and a little bit wonderfully strange. I think this suits what you're doing--and how you're wanting to establish yourself--to a T. Makes me want to read it!!

Kimberly Frost said...

The lake sounds wonderful, Paul.

Nancy, in terms of what we're doing today...I did a bit of editing, but then decided to take a rest. I just started a Deborah Crombie mystery called A Share in Death.

Nancy, did you recommend her to me? I know that my friend David did at some point, but thought you may have too while we were at WRW.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the book recommend, Nancy. I'll add it to my list. Another reason I look forward to retirement - so I can read more books!! lol

boran2 said...

Hi all. One notable exception is the car Christine in the Stephen King novel of the same name. No human traits there, but that's what made it more effective.

AndiF said...

Waving bye to all the little, big, and who-knows-what-size-because-this-is the-internet humans as I get ready to head off to St. Louis (big wave to MaryB). See ya'll later.