“We are then able to answer in some manner the question, “Why have we no great men?” We have no great men chiefly because we are always looking for them. We are connoisseurs of greatness, and connoisseurs can never be great; we are fastidious, that is, we are small. . . .
“When Diogenes went about with a lantern looking for an honest man, I am afraid he had very little time to be honest himself. And when anybody goes about on his hands and knees looking for a great man to worship, he is making sure that one man at any rate shall not be great.
“Now , the error of Diogenes is evident. The error of Diogenes lay in the fact that he omitted to notice that every man is both an honest man and a dishonest man. Diogenes looked for his honest man inside every crypt and cavern; but he never thought of looking inside the thief. And there is where the Founder of Christianity found the honest man; He found him on a gibbet and promised him Paradise. Just as Christianity looked for the honest man inside the thief, democracy [a Republic] looked for the wise man inside the fool. It encouraged the fool to be wise. We can call this thing sometimes optimism, sometimes equality; the nearest name for it is encouragement. It had its exaggerations – failure to to understand original sin, notions that education would make all men good, the childlike yet pedantic philosophies of human perfectibility. But the whole was full of a faith in the infinity of human souls . . . and this we have lost amid the limitations of a pessimistic science. . . .
“It was a world that expected everything of everybody. It was a world that encouraged anybody to be anything. And in England and literature its living expression was Dickens.
“He was the voice in England of this humane intoxication and expansion, this encouraging of anybody to be anything. His best books are a carnival of liberty, and there is more of the real spirit of the French Revolution in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ than in ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ . . .
“Whether we understand it depends upon whether we can understand that exhilaration is not a physical accident, but a mystical fact; that exhilaration can be infinite, like sorrow; that a joke can be so big that it breaks the roof of the stars. By simply going on being absurd, a thing can become godlike; there is but one step from the ridiculous to the sublime.
“Dickens was great because he was immoderately possessed with all this; if we are to understand him at all we must also be moderately possessed with it. We must understand this old limitless hilarity and human confidence, at least enough to be able to endure it when it is pushed a great deal too far. For Dickens did push it too far; he did push the hilarity to the point of incredible character-drawing; he did push the human confidence to the point of an unconvincing sentimentalism. You can trace, if you will, the revolutionary joy till it reaches the incredible Sapsea epitaph; you can trace the revolutionary hope till it reaches the repentance of Dombey. There is plenty to carp at in this man f you are inclined to carp; you may easily find him vulgar if you cannot see that he is divine; and if you cannot laugh with Dickens, undoubtedly you can laugh at him.
“I believe myself that this braver world of his will certainly return; for I believe that it is bound up with realities, like morning and the spring. . . . I put this appeal before any other observations on Dickens. First let us sympathize, if only for an instant, with the hopes of the Dickens period, with that cheerful trouble of change.”
G K Chesterton, from Charles Dickens: The Last of the Great Men, pg 11 – 12, 17
If you have not read the above book, it is well worth reading. It has astonishing correlations to our present time and stirs thought and courage.
Thank you for visiting, I hope you found it worth your while.
What is it, and why is meaning vital to us as writers? Why should we look for it where it grows in our work, clarify it, and hone it? Why should we care?
How do truth and the life-changing meaning that arises from our stories impact our characters, both in their world and our own?
I haven’t seen any writing book dig into the subject of how truth impacts our characters and creates meaning as well as Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors.
I’ve had hours of profitable fun looking into Brandilyn’s writing techniques because they are based on the reality of truth and lie, good and bad, wrong and right in the human heart. She shows us how to grow ‘true’ characters that reflect reality with clarity, whether we write fantasy, contemporary, memoirs or any other genre.
I have felt the impact of truth and meaning in books since I first began to read when I was quite young, but for a long time I could not pin down or express why some stories left me with a sense of hope, exhilarating beauty, and strengthening courage, while others left me with a feeling of cumulative despair, disgusted by ugliness, and fearful of life. What made the difference? How was it done? Why?
These questions have only grown clearer since my tweens. Their emerging answers are a big part of what drove me to write YA fiction. Lately I have been mulling over what I can see of these answers. They relate to prevalent thought in our age: that truth is relative to you, and meaning is what we make it.
So much destruction comes from this.
Good stories deal with truth and error, testing the validity of individual people’s ‘inner truths’ against each other and a universal framework of inherent truth apparent in everything around us, in the way the world works. Acting on the belief or premise that good and evil are interchangeable to any degree never works well in fiction, nor in real life. Calling evil ‘good’ creates a muddle where all is shifting sand and there is nowhere to stand.
The fact that this thinking defies logic, conscience, and experience quite effectively counters the idea that good and evil are the same – for the thinking head as well as the feeling heart. People who seek to rob the words, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ of meaning by saying they are interchangeable, in the end act as if there is no real meaning in the world, nothing that does not change to conveniently fit their surroundings, like a chameleon. This results in their speaking nonsense and fostering chaos, and ends in despair because it is far more of a fabricated fiction than stories.
It is an absolute fiction, if you will.
The presence of true good and true evil, clearly identified as not being the same, are necessary to create a solid story. We all realize on a gut level that some things are wrong and some right. Just as a lie, though a small lie, is nothing more or less than a lie. A small untruth cannot be true, or you deconstruct language and the reality it reflects.
Truth is vital to living in reality.
Conflict arises from the opposition between real good and real evil. It is true that good and evil are often mixed in us as well as in our characters, but one never becomes the other. The smallest bit of evil remains wrong, just as iron and clay may be mixed and set in a mold, but even the tiniest grain, though it appears part of an amalgamated whole, is yet itself. And pursuing even a grain of truth has potential to lead to great good.
And the actions of evil men, though the men themselves may have some good in them, cannot be allowed to destroy others. Evil demands conflict, and well we know it, in the interest of right, conscience, and hope of real peace. As it is in life, so it is for our stories.
Truth is not relative but absolute in relation to us, whether we believe it or not. This becomes unavoidably apparent in fiction.
Core ‘truths’ we believe are tested in our stories when our character’s actions prove them good or bad as they act from the inner values or core truths we operate from, with tangible spiritual and physical results. This is why great classics of every genre are so powerful. Meaning arises from the interplay of truth with what we believe – wrong or right – with what others believe, and what we both do about it. In the great stories we recognize the battle of our hearts and hands.
Brandilyn’s book has a lot to say about seven vital aspects of meaning, how to uncover our characters’ secrets, how to reveal these truths to our readers, and how meaning arises from it– all without getting philosophical. The ramifications of what she teaches gives us a huge potential to craft and forge and design what we once created by feel alone, when we were half blind to truth and meaning.
She digs into:
How connection at the level of truth is essential between the character and the reader. Secret # 1 – Personalizing, “discovers a character’s inner values, which give rise to unique traits and mannerisms that will become an integral part of the story.” (Pg. 12) She calls these inner values or beliefs “core truths”, which have meaning that our characters act on. (Pg. 22) This extends into traits, or attitudes, and to mannerisms that reflect a character’s reaction and grows yet further. As she says, “The beauty of this personalizing secret is that the process creates the entire character, both inside and out. Still, this is only the beginning. In the following chapters I’ll show you how the inner values and traits you’ve found through Personalizing lay the foundation for further discoveries about your character and your plot as a whole.”
Truth goes far deeper than the surface actions of a person, empowering that person and everything they do, building the meaning of the story as a whole and directing its impact. Meaning powers our story into fictional reality.
This leads us to Secret # 2 – Action Objectives. Every Action Objective is based on an inner value, or core truth. Every core truth holds meaning, which is a fascinating force that drives our entire story on every level, from the characters, to the conflict, the plot, the story’s climax, and its accumulation of meaning to the reader. Brandilyn uncovers the four D’s that touch them all: our main character’s overarching Desire, obstacles that Distance them from it, then circumstances that force the Denial of their desire, and finally, the Devastation of their desire.
As she says, “Once you’ve determined your Protagonist’s Desire, ask, ‘What happens if she doesn’t achieve it?’ In other words, what are the stakes? … often it’s not just the character’s way of life at risk, but loved ones as well. In a “high concept” story, the whole world’s existence may be at stake.” (Pg. 54)
Both failure and achievement of the Action Objective has real meaning and propels the story forward. Exploring the truth of who a character is and what they believe in the face of challenges and contradictions clarifies and deepens the meaning of our stories.
Secret # 3 – Subtexting in dialogue reveals the truth of its underlying meaning. Brandilyn’s techniques make it easier to do this while increasing tension. “Without an inner reason for existence, lines in a play [or book] will be simply words, recited by rote, lacking believable emotion. When an actor looks beneath the lines to fully understand a character’s desires and fears – the subtext of what is spoken – the words spring to life. … They express a character’s strengths, weaknesses, passions. They bare a human soul.” (Pg. 91) “In subtexting the real communication is artfully woven through description into the context of the conversation.” (Pg. 95)
In other words, bursting with buried meaning, layered meaning, and nuanced meaning, subtexting reveals truth.
In Secret # 4, Coloring Passions, often variable and seeming highly contradictory, the truth of our human emotions requires exploring the many shades of feeling that collide in our hearts.
So Brandilyn shares with us, “Stanislavsky likens a human passion to a necklace of beads. Standing back from the necklace, you might think it appears to have a yellow cast or a green or red one. But come closer, and you can see all the tiny beads that create that overall appearance. If the necklace appears yellow, many beads will be yellow, but in various shades. And a few may be green or blue or even black. In the same way, human emotions are made up of many smaller and varied feelings – sometimes even contradictory feelings – that together form the ‘cast’ or color of a certain passion. So, if you want to portray a passion to its utmost, you must focus not on the passion itself, but on its varied components.” (Pg. 120)
Exploring truth versus lie in all their degrees creates complex characters: such as the truth of twisted, dying love that can reveal itself in hate (Pg. 126), or where the contrast between Jean Valjean’s steady empowerment after his heart was changed by mercy and Javert’s pride and unenlightened conscience, are clearly seen in the height and depth of their meaning. (Pg. 135)
Truth and meaning give us the endurance and growth of Eamon despite horrific evil in Anna Thayer’s The Knight of Eldaran series, shines the light of hope throughout the lands of S.D. Smith’s The Green Ember series, instills the will to live beyond ourselves in The Wingfeather Saga, and shows how stories like these can draw our hearts to goodness in Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing. But how do these authors communicate from their hearts to ours?
Secret # 5 – Inner Rhythm, deals with ‘hearing’ our characters’ rhythms, both the rhythm of their actions and the truth of their emotional motivations, and using these to weave a potent picture. Brandilyn puts it succinctly. “Once you are ‘hearing’ the Inner Rhythm, you can blend it with your character’s personalized traits and mannerisms, and with his Action Objectives for the scene, to create action that is believable and full of emotion.” (Pg. 158)
Facial expression and other body language of a character create powerful telltales that reveal truths to us, but we must hear those rhythms in our character and translate them clearly, or our reader won’t be able to feel them, though we outright tell them. It’s like watching a movie without the music, or hearing the music and the script alone without the actor in play. But when the music is there with the actor, and both translate the script, you find yourself within another heart, swept inside the story.
Some words encapsulate truth and our translation of it better than others. Secret # 6 – Restraint and Control, are pivotal to cutting away the confused, the vague, and the extraneous words that destroy, hide, or bury the truth of what our character feels, thinks, and does, and consequently – muddies or clarifies the meaning of our story. Restraint and Control also correlates the beat of the words and sentences with the dominant rhythm of the scene, whether it is the inner rhythm of emotion or the outer pace of the action.
“If a scene is weak or moves too slowly, it may be the result of superfluous or poorly chosen words – words that blur the focus of the scene and slow the pace. Through Restraint and Control a novelist learns how to use the best words to flesh out characters, create an aura, and move the scene forward.” (Pg. 175)
Words either deaden meaning or sharpen it.
But how can we explore truth we do not yet know, find meaning we have not yet experienced, in a character we feel is alien to us? Emotion Memory – Secret # 7, is a way for us to plumb the depths and heights of every character, from heroes to villains.
As Brandilyn says, “Time to get personal. To this point, we’ve focused on your character. By now you have a clear understanding of how important it is to know your character from the inside out. We’ve discovered who he is – his inner values, traits, and mannerisms. We’ve discussed his Action Objectives, his Inner Rhythm, his motivations for Subtexting, the widely varied colors of his passions. Now we’re going to talk about you. Like it or not, the truth is this: your character’s emotions begin with you. You are the well from which every passion of your character – every tremble and smile and tear and jealousy – will be drawn.” (pg. 200)
So, the truth of our character is the culmination of ‘who he is’ and ‘what she means’ to our story and the world. The act of lending our life and heart and breath to a character leads to our discovering them – and ourselves. At the least, in seven aspects of truth and meaning.
To recap, connection at the level of truth is essential between the writer, the character, and the reader. Second, every core truth holds meaning, which is a fascinating and driving force behind our entire story. Third, subtexting in dialogue reveals the truth of concealed meaning. Fourth, often variable and sometimes seeming contradictory, the truth of our human emotions requires exploring many shades of feeling that collide in our hearts.
The fifth aspect deals with ‘hearing’ our characters, the rhythm of their actions and the inner truth of their emotional motivations, then using these to weave a picture bursting with life. In the sixth aspect, restraint and control cut away the confused, vague, and extraneous words that destroy, hide, or bury the truth of what our characters feel, think, and do. Our skill in this muddies or clarifies the meaning of our story. The seventh aspect reveals how we can we explore truth we do not know yet, discover meaning we have not experienced, and bring to life a character who is alien or unfamiliar.
So why pursue good meaning in what we write?
Our story stands on solid ground – in truth revealed as our characters grow, truth woven throughout the human spirit and mind, truth given birth in action, and the meaning arising from uncovered rhythm, clarified by the right word, honed by judicious cutting – meaning stands on the reality of truth. As our villains discover, and our heroes learn, meaning built on lies, on false reality, fails when it is tried in conflict. We must dare to see truth and its meaning, dare to name it, dare to act on it. Dare to live in it.
Because it’s true.
Because we want to present others with a real picture of hope and goodness that exists to overcome evil and despair.
Because we desire to illuminate each person’s potential, explore who we are, and truly experience the world and the universe.
Because, if we are a Christian, we dare not hide him who is our hope and the hope of the world.
Because we live by faith alone, through God alone, in Christ alone.
Because no human was created to be silent.
Truth is the only solid ground under our feet. The sand of lies heaped beneath us will betray us the moment we are tested and discover we have no solid footing. Why is this important?
Because it points to truth and lie, and the meaning of both impacts far more than ourselves. Truth and meaning are vital to our existence, to the life of the world. They make up the very fabric of the universe.
So, what do you think of truth?
Where do you think meaning comes from?
Why does it matter to you?
Suggested reading: C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, chapter 1.
This is the Romance Giveaway I committed to a while back that looks like it has some interesting reads. Don’t forget to sign up for a chance to win a gift card for the book of your choice! And the ebooks in the giveaway are free, for a limited time.
Then below is aclean Christian RomanceGiveaway with a $20 gift card prize. Be the lucky winner! This one just started today.
Seriously, spring is in the air. The clouds are passing, sunlight is staying a little longer, the robins are seeking worms. New life is around the corner – take advantage of warmer days and plant spring in your heart with thankfulness to our Maker. And don’t forget to thank the special loved one who adds romance and true love to your life.
There are more forms of love than Eros, as a man loves a woman. If you have never read the original story of Valentine, I suggest you do. Or get it at your library.
I decided to be transparent, bite the bullet, and bare my soul.
These are the kinds of books I love: the ones that pull you deep into a a story world you wish didn’t have to end. The poetic painting of a place where you sense loyalty, love, and goodness rising to do battle against deception, despair, and hate. From the little things like the ups and downs between companions on a great journey, to the soul-tearing decisions of romance, or the life-threatening choices before you, as the hero or heroine.
A world where conflicts are fought within and without. In the intricate vales of the human spirit; in the broad ‘scapes of the land, terrible, beautiful, or engagingly homey; and most of all, in the battle between soul and soul, where the conflicting desires of a villain or villaness (if I can coin the word) and the hero or heroine, drive everything from large armies to their companions, sycophants, or honest followers. What they see and how they react decides their impact on their world, whether they spread darkness or light.
Besides the tried and true we all know, like Tolkien and Lewis, Anna Thayer’s The Knight of Eldaran trilogy, CJ Cherryth’s Fortress in the Eye of Time, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel, Dennis McKiernan’s The Iron Tower trilogy and The Silver Call duology, Patrick Carr’s The Shock of Night: these types of stories all draw me like a lodestone. In the good conflict contained within them, I glimpse the Morning Star.
This is the very reason I began to write, for those glimpses of joy, beauty, and adventure. And I have feared letting other people know how very much I like poetic, deep themed, character and conflict driven fantasy: historical fantasy, and every other kind of fantasy. Even to other genres. Except for horror and dark.
Because there is darkness enough in our world, enough emptiness, enough despair. What some call realism–the idea that we exist by chance, (which means we have no purpose, no part to play) is actually despair, not the true state of affairs in our world.
Part of Webster’s dictionary definition of despair is “without hope.” And a definition of hope is “to…hope with the expectation of attainment.” If you have no hope of attainment, (which holds solid meaning in its very definition) why do anything? What’s the point? Or why not do whatever you feel like? Tomorrow we die, with less impact than a grain of sand.
When I was a teen, despair almost ate me alive. Partially it was because I was sick, which tends to make everything look black or grey, and partially it was the horrible things I began to see in myself, in life, and in the books I was reading. Where I looked for joy and beauty I began to see betrayal, which brought unhappiness and ugliness. (Fantasy has a strange way of highlighting whatever it portrays, whether darkness or light.)
Suffice it to say, I was learning. But also absorbing what was around me without perspective. I saw a picture in my mind of dominant, rampant evil smothering good, and of despair, a kind of creeping death drawing its shadow over the world. The younger, happy me I used to be was gone, without return.
Then I began to realize, without knowing it at first, that there was more. All who follow good must fight evil, or we will be overcome. And goodness often exists, apparently overcome, but triumphant in the end.
Yes, there is darkness, and fear, and despair, and hate in us and in our world. There is also beauty and joy and hope. Because we were sent here, particular in every area of our being, of time and place, and our every step resounds through the fabric of time, and beyond.
Does this sound like a sci-fi or fantasy story?
It is. And this story is true.Because it’s true, it’s quite natural we find it reflected in many books, the great conflict between dark and light. Not always portrayed clearly or truthfully, but still glaringly there.
With God, all is hope, however we feel about it, for he works all things (even the things that hurt) to our good when we walk with the great dance of his universe, not following the destructive road of the great rebellion. The difference between books of despairing realism and those of hopeful adventure are created when we who write them see the real world, the true story, reality, as we name it, through what we believe. Here it gets tricky. You have to pay attention.
What is true, is true, whoever sees it. But the person who sees the clearest will see the most truth. God is absolute truth, and in his light, we see light. I don’t mean here that we ever see the complete truth, for we see dimly, but we can point to him, who promises to teach us.
So, what fits the world we see, and our experience, best?
That intricate and full of life as we are and our world is, all is for nothing? And consequently there is no good, and no evil? No purpose? Not even for a grain of sand?
Or that someone made all this, and us, and we can find joy and beauty and adventure in him? That we can fight evil, and it will mean something in the end, we can really save something or someone? We can really be a hero or heroine?
These opposing beliefs determine whether you see a grey world, or a world alight with its true splendor, a glory of golds and blues and greens, silver and brown and white as snow–and blackness, dark as the pit. That is not gone, just because we see the good. In fact, it becomes all the darker, revealed by the light.
As many others have said, truth makes stories possible. Truth shows good and evil as they are, opposed; shows the mixture of good and evil motives we often are, and the two roads we are torn between. Truth reveals, moment to moment, which road we are on.
I write my fantasy adventures, historical and otherwise, for teens and up, for those disillusioned or discouraged with the rampant ugliness in our world, so often showcased in books. I write for people who yearn for hope, joy, and beauty, wrapped in the clarion call of adventure.
I hope this post, my turning point in 2017, helps you. That my breakthrough, that I had a wall of my own to overcome, namely fear of you, gives you courage to cross over whatever life-changing wall looms over you this coming New Year.
Crossover: Find the Eternal, the Adventure
Yes, start this very moment.
Define good and evil, and continue your journey with truth. Make a great impact on your world.
I will feel it from here! Let me know in the comments about your wall, and how you will overcome it.
You never know what you’re going to find out in the woods, or see. Hunting is no exception. Here’s my story in pictures. I didn’t get the elk or bear meat I was after, but I got something greater. A glimpse of the vast beauty of our created world.
You never know what you’re going to come across in the woods.
An unusual arrangement of fungi . . .
Last night’s snow . . .
Or a bear crossing your track within ten minutes of you.
I’ve been working on coloring pages for Trencher and Board: food and recipes of the Middle Ages, an Adult Coloring journey.
Here’s what I have to date. Trencher and Board coloring pages sample. I know I said in my blog letter I’d give a few samples, but I decided to give you what I have so far. The recipes themselves are forthcoming, in the completed book format.
If you like the sample, would you leave a comment on how the coloring pages worked for you? I’d like to know if the grayscale and traditional coloring mediums work together, and whether the pages work well for you for markers, pen, or pencil. (I’ve been using pencil.)
On another note, Mary Pearson’s The Beauty of Darkness the third book in her trilogy, in hardcover, is cheaper than the $9.99 e-book, and just released the 2d. Don’t miss it! That is, if you like YA fantasy. I tried her books out from the library first, but this one I’m buying. 🙂
A riveting retelling. Snow White has grown a backbone and a half to save her kingdom. And she doesn’t do it alone.
When Lorelai’s parents are murdered, she wants to save her family and her kingdom. Ravenspire is in the throes of death, the earth of the kingdom itself drained by Queen Irina’s lust for power. When Queen Irina comes for Lorelai and her brother Leo, the princess discovers strengths greater than she knew through her struggle to tame shape-shifting dragons, defy an evil queen, and do the right thing. Continue reading →
We have a winner for the Epic YA Fantasy 21 – book Giveaway! Sharon of the UK, with her entry 1498. Congratulations! We hope you enjoy your 21 summer reads. 🙂
The winner of my earlier YA Fantasy Books Giveaway with The Beauty of Darkness will be announced soon.Continue reading →
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