Friday, October 25, 2013

How Seculars view the Church

Many Figures On The Market Square In Front Of The Martinikirche, Braunschweig - Cornelis Springer

The Church has had an interesting role in modern fiction; sometimes it preys on the innocent, and acts like the center of intolerance and spiritual tyranny. At other times, it takes the role of mercy, in the form of kindly priests or wise ministers. Mostly, it is a force of spiritual light which does not illuminate, cast against a force of spiritual darkness that darkens just like the real thing.

What are we seeing here in literature? It's complicated. The Western world has always had an arduous relationship with Christianity.  It has loved Her, and it has tried to use Her for it's own ends. In a fit of boredom it forsook her, and sampled other things. But post-Christian thought failed,* and now the relationship between the two is choked. The west looks back at Christianity with a mix of admiration and horror, and literature reflects this. Authors sprinkle kindly ministers in between radical Knights Templar. Christianity is good, bad, sane and crazy--sometimes all at once.

This is not entirely secular bias. Christians have been good, bad, sane and crazy; and we shouldn't react to their confusion by setting the Church up as a utopia--secular readers will assume that the real Church is a dystopia. Churches really are large groups of sinful human beings, some of whom have accepted Christ, and some of whom have not. It's bound to get messy.

*  It only took two World Wars, a cold war and the rise of global Islam to show us that. Aren't we quick-witted?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Heart and Head writing.

The blow to the heart - Rene Magritte

Sometimes when writing, I encounter a sort of quandary--do I write from my heart or do I write from my head? Both have their benefits. When I am having a bad day there's no question about it. I will write from my heart; lest the day poison me. But why does it matter?

Mind based writing often lends itself to comedy or speculative fiction. If I am trying to write something light, I will write it from my head. My heart is much too melodramatic to make people laugh.  I will write humor, mysteries and novels with complex plots: I will need a sharp sense of wit and situation, but not always empathy. 

On the other end of the spectrum is heart based writing. The tear jerker and the deeply affecting short story spring, weeping, from the heart. My heart is a serious place, and the deeper my emotion, the more serious my tone.  My work will flip from heart rending sorrow to divine joy. Heart based writing digs deeply into the meaning of things, and mothers vivid descriptions. Or at least it will try.

Head based writing tends to describe the bare minimum. A head-based writer will notice the ocean, but a heart-based writer will gasp at the moonlight dancing on the water. A lot of this has to do with taste. Some of us are emotional people, and many more of us are...well... completely mental. My favorite writing is a hybrid which pulls on both the heartstrings and the head ones. It often has the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Studliness, Arete and Writing.

Achill - Max Slevogt

I have an awesome Western Civ professor. I have heard him refer to Xerxes, King David, Sappho, Socrates and St. Perpetua as 'Studly'. I will not comment on his use of a term generally reserved for a male horse on female historical characters--I am too tactful for that sort of thing. Usually, when he refers to 'studliness' he refers to a concept of general toughness. Cruder internet folk might have called this concept 'badass', but the ancient Greeks, who were refined internet folk, called it arete. 

We have a notion of being the best you can. This stems from the Greek arete, the idea of achieving excellency in every way possible. Arete donated a very helpful idea to the culture-- it proposed that writing is neither simply self expression, nor is it just a record. Writing is an art--and the very roots of that word tie into arete. We have to develop our writing to an expertise--a dynamic skill that we improve with practice.

Often we take this for granted, but back in the day, the idea of pursuing something so fully spread like the Plague: hardening writing and thought as it went. Since then its power fluctuated; for example-- it died a little when Rome fell, and resurged in the Renaissance. Over the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries we've killed it yet again as we allowed our culture's trust in absolute truth to decay. The advent of electronics shortened our patience and nipped our willingness to work. We need to protect (or restore) excellence, and in doing so, become excellent ourselves.

So that's your history lesson for the day.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing and Prayer.

St. Onuphrius - Jusepe de Ribera

How does our prayer life, our relationship with God, affect our writing?  Too often our lives are compartmentalized. But what is the point of a prayer life that doesn't affect our life?

Few Christians would actually admit that they don't pay attention to God in their normal life. It has become popular to see the Christian life in holistic terms. We want see how their faith affects all of reality more and more. That's a good thing. It adds to our testimony. However, we still struggle with compartmentalized baggage.

Again and again, we put our prayers in the Prayer Box, and our writing in the Writing Box. To a certain extent this is right, prayer and writing can be different things. However, if we block God out of an area of our life, we steal from Him. We are His children, and He is loath to lose even one part of us. 

 So how do we let Him in? All relationships naturally affect our writing in some way, but the one we share with the indescribable Triune God has to rank the highest. The answer is simply to spend more time with God than anyone else. Then He will take precedence in your writing.

  Although it would be cool if God decided to split the sky and give us instantaneous, perfect writing, we will probably still have to learn the rules of grammar, style and character building. God didn't give us heads so we could make targets out of them.  Instead, prayer will make us more Godly writers. It will help us avoid worldliness in our writing-- and conversely--will help us avoid preachiness, which often comes from attempts to shove God into the story without relating to Him.

We can have the strongest prayer lives in the world, and still write stories that make William Shakespeare cover his ears and curse in his grave. Praying is not a magic token that we can exchange for anything we want. It is a conversation with God, who will do what is best for us despite our waspish complaints.

In the end, praying will give us satisfaction while we write. The Holy Spirit illuminates the dark portions of our hearts, the more we commune with Him, the more clearly we will see reality. Readers will pick up on that fulfillment. Think of Lewis, Bunyan or Chesterton, and what gave those authors the ability to affect so many with their work.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Originality Clones.

Original Sin - Salvador Dali

If writers try so hard to be original, than why is so much of their work identical? Answer: because they all try too hard to free themselves from the banal.

Here's a question; what is originality?  If we define it as a completely unique creation, sprouting solely from our heads like Athena from that of Zeus, then our pursuit of originality will prove disastrous.  We will all sound the same: like fangirls of our own supreme genius.

In the end, the man who looks outside himself for answers wins. We create the works of greatest beauty when we open ourselves up to God, other people and the our vast, wonderful world. Originality does not come from within. It comes from without. There are many ways we can get it, and only a few of them have to do with ourselves. Empathy trumps almost all else in writing. The moment "originality" squashes empathy, real value packs up and leaves, and disdain mars our work. Humility nurses great authors. Pride mothers great destruction.

"One sees great things from the valley, and only small things from the peak" - G.K Chesterton

"What moves us in writing that has regional or ethnic the sound of voices far older than the narrator's, talking in cadences that are more than ordinarily rich." -William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Friday, October 18, 2013

Enter the Guardsman

Illustration for poem The Picket Guard - N.C. Wyeth

Lets take a moment to salute the most unappreciated character in all of fiction--the humble guardsman. Stop for a moment in your vicious writing and consider this. The humble guardsman always gets the short end of the stick. An alien octopus or rogue assassin always targets him if he works for the good guys, and If he's working for the bad guys the heroes often kill him.  He has an unforgiving job,... and the audience doesn't even root for him.

As Christians, should we really treat our minor characters like that?  Every human being has a living soul, and even though our fictional characters are not real, they still represent human souls. Often we consider our tertiary characters as unimportant because they don't affect the plot; however, I'm starting to think that since Christianity claims that all people are made in the image of God, we ought to see our minor characters--who represent people--as valuable.

 Those guardsmen represent in a way the ordinary people that we meet every day. The people that you meet once, talk a bit to, but never really get to know. They're the unfamiliar faces we see every day, but still possess their own unique lives and their own unique stories. However, even though we encounter them for a brief period, they are human beings and deserve our respect. Treating tertiary characters like humble guardsman with disdain breeds disdain towards unfamiliar people. You do not have to put a long backstory about the guardsman in order to make them seem human. The moment you do that they cease to be a tertiary character. Rather, you should include brief snippits that show the guard's humanity.

Quis Custodiet Ispos Custodiet? 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dire Wolves

Attacked a goat gray wolves  - Zinaida Serebriakova

The train stops, and the rhythmic chugging of the train engine gives way to silence. Suddenly, you hear a howl in the dark. This happens in an excellent children's book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and it's amazing isn't it? You can't beat wolves for sheer spine chilliness. Other great authors, Tolkien, Stoker and Lewis all make excellent use of wolves as enemies. Perhaps that's because our ancestors had to deal with wolves on a daily basis. I have no idea.

You will hear people say that,  in real life, wolves don't actually attack, let alone eat, people. If you routinely go camping in the Rockies, this is good advice,  but not as good if you write in a medievalesque period. Wolves today do not carry the same dread that they did in the days of yore. The wolves in North America have grown to fear humans after centuries of getting shot by rednecks, and the wolves in Europe are too scarce to really pose a danger to anyone. But once upon a time, not so long ago, wolves posed a real danger. Wolves killed 3000 people in France alone. Half of those wolves did not have rabies.

Most of these attacks involved children, a few included lone women, or less often, a lone man; something many people forget when writing of wolves. No wolf would ever attack someone with a weapon. Wolves are opportunistic predators, and thus they only pose a real danger to the weak. They would never think of attacking an armed man... much less a train; however, you do not enjoy books like the Wolves of Willoughby Chase for their realistic descriptions of predatory habitats. You enjoy them for their stories.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


File:Gerson Assassination of Przemysł II.jpg

(This also could be titledhello! I'm back!)

In the last few decades we've glamorized assassins: with video games, such as Thief, Assassin's Creed,  and with the over-saturation and distortion of ninjas in our cultureThis sort of dramatic glorification is nothing new. The assassin stabbed his way into our hearts at his inception (and who knows when then that was?). I don't need to write a blog post on why we love assassins. It's obvious: we like pointy, stabby things with cloaks. Question settled. Instead, we will talk about how to do it.

Yes, I know this subject is getting morbid, but many writers show a manic delight in massacring their unsuspecting characters (take J.K Rowling, for example) so I'm sure you won't mind. We will now get into gory details. Assassination, sadly, is a lot easier then it looks. Assassins Creed persuaded us all that assassins would all fail without impressive combat skills. It lied. In reality, with the dubious exception of the Islamic Hashashin and the Japanese Ninjas, assassins often lacked finesse. In fact, the most important trait in an assassin is expendability.

Assassination is essentially a form of terrorism with low collateral damage. You pick a target and you try to kill him. Although some of these attempts fail, it's difficult to keep assassins out forever. They just keep coming: like the Terminator, a horde of zombies, or Mr. Darcy. Since assassins, unlike Mr. Darcy, fail: it's often best to keep sending one after another. They're expendable, remember? This is not to say that no planning or skill ever goes into assassination, but the average assassin doesn't live long, and as a result, you often don't spend much time training him.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Another break

Pere Melon Resting - Camille Pissarro

Again, this is due to health problems and needing a little time just to reorient myself. I probably won't be long. Probably be back and posting tomorrow night. Hopefully not longer. God Bless all of you and keep you.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hunter's Fragment: Part 2

Interior of an Inn - Adriaen van Ostade

Comfort... for a little while. A warm inn with warm food. At least it was comfort of the body. Lukas has not been entirely successful with comfort of the soul, but that was a different matter. In a way, it had been a very long time since had been truly happy. But what could he say? Life at the edge of the wild was hard, and happiness was in scarce supply. He devoured his stew. Not the best he had ever tasted. Not the worst either. It had just enough meat to keep him from being hungry later on.

 He was so absorbed in his meal he almost didn't notice the man who sat down across from him. The man was old, disheveled, weary, and weather beaten: like Lukas himself. Lukas found the food more interesting. He stayed silent.

"I take it you're hungry," said the man across from him. Lukas didn't look up from his food, he didn't tend to waste words on people who stated the obvious. There was a long silence. 

The man sighed, "I'm sorry Lukas." 

Sorry? The word bounced off of his mind like eastern rubber. Lukas was not the type of person to harbor bitterness, so he shook his head, "You did your duty Conrad, that's all. God knows I needed to get out of there." 

"I didn't know you believed in God," said Conrad. Lukas shrugged. He didn't know if he did either. Another long silence. Discussions of religion could be as dangerous as they were pointless. Lukas's spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl. What a pity that there was no more left. Now he had to go to work. 

"Are you ready lad?" Asked Conrad. Pointless question. Lukas was always ready. The sword on his back seemed to itch for black blood. Somewhere far away, something fell howled in the darkness. 

"Yes " he said.  And his hand itched for his sword. 

Hunter's Fragment

Idylls of the King - Gustave Dore

The wind blew hard, loudly and ominously, tearing through the beleaguered countryside like so many fell ghosts. All around, ominous groaning emanated from trees that were only one hard gust away from crashing towards the ground.
            All in all, it was not the sort of scene anyone wanted to be in, when he had already been walking for a whole day and a good part of the night. The unforgiving cold sank deep into bone.
            But Lukas was a different breed; he had a temperament that years of training far harsher than anything this weather could bring had forged. The sinews in his muscles were so prepared that he could barely feel the cold stinging against his exposed hands. He was in his own element, certainly, but he was anything but calm,
            Why did every thought of her haunted his waking actions? He had been told never to feel: never to let an inch of sentiment cross his mind. And yet here he was. What would Epicurus say? He had no clue. It really didn't matter. Her face haunted him more than any teacher or instructor’s. Had he known this girl for how long? No. Two days at most. Still, all the education and lectures seemed like a pale haze compared to it. He wondered if he was falling in love. He hoped not, because he could be executed for that if it became known, but he felt sure that wasn't the reason. There was something about her that kept teasing the edges of his head. There was something important he had forgotten. He just couldn't tell what that was.
            He shook his head violently. There would be other times to face his personal demons, but now was not one of them. Tomorrow wasn't going to be one of them either. In fact, Lukas had learned from long experience not to face personal demons. It was best to let the demons be, and usually if he concentrated hard enough, he could drive the offending thoughts from his mind. Sleep was the only thing he truly dreaded. Long discipline had taught him to keep his doubts silent in his waking hours, but nothing kept them from his dreams.
            He forced himself to focus: on the path ahead, on the cruel, painful wind, on the distant sound of sheep bleating, on anything that kept her eyes out of his mind, but nothing seemed to work. Not this time. Nothing was able to rid his conscience of her eyes, those eyes that always seemed to remind him of what he could never remember no matter how his mind tried. He had just about given everything up for lost when he saw a small, golden chink of light half a mile up the road. An inn! Not a nice one by any means, but still, it was somewhere to stay the night! It provided a welcome distraction. His mind fixed on the ethereal glow of the candlelight, banishing his poltergeists  back to the shadowy corners of his soul. 

 - Brendan 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Death of History

File:The Anatomy Lesson.jpg

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a place where we did not regard fiction as something that materialized out of some inner self. Instead, she was seen as the product of learning, life experience, and reason. She grew wise and fruitful, taught by her ancestors. But no longer. Instead fiction became a work of the inner genius, and so she had no need of learning. But what she didn't know, was that without learning,  she cut herself off from the past, and so had no idea what the great writers who came before actually wrote.

We in the west are very future oriented. The inexorable, incessant advance of technology compels us to look ahead, not behind. The media ingrained the idea of a future Utopia so firmly in our minds, that the idea of searching in the past for any wisdom seems ludicrous. The past was the land of uneducated barbarians and illiterate brutes; real art, the media says, is found in the contemporary, the shiny, and the modern.

Now, the only time we look back is to try to peer into the past like it is a looking glass. We take antique authors who seem to have 'modern' ideals, celebrate them as progressives (even though almost all of them are very different from a modern mindset) and ignore anything to the contrary.

Let me be really clear here. The chronological snobbery of our culture runs deep. Although it has it's roots in secularism, it infested Christianity as well, taking a new form in virulent anti-traditionalism. For some odd reason, evangelical protestants, particularly American evangelical protestants, claim that by being anti traditional, they are acting on the ideas of the Reformers or the Founding Fathers. As they have not studied tradition, they usually don't know that nothing could be further from the truth. Both the Reformers and the Founding Fathers were avid students of history and tradition. They understood that the past holds the examples that are needed to build the future.

We as writers and as Christians need to develop a healthy respect for history and the past and realize its profound importance. Those that came before make who we are now. Alright now, end history rant. I digress

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Love corrupts

That was a shocking title, wasn't it? Perhaps a little much so, but oh well. I'm not bashing the concept of love. This is a Christian blog after all, and given that apostles of our Lord said 'God is love', it really wouldn't do to bash it. We all know (or at least we should), that love is an essential element in our heroes. What we sometimes don't realize is that love is an essential element for our villains.

Of course, I should clarify my terms here. What do I mean by love? Obviously I'm not using the Christian definition of agape, or selflessly putting one's neighbors above yourself, but neither am I  using it to describe eros, since what I'm trying to describe is not necessarily sexual (although falling in love and sexual lust could fall into this). What I'm going for is a more common term: anything the character has a passion for--an obsession.

Every villain has a obsession: something they love above all else. Without it they wouldn't be motivated to act. A villain with absolutely no emotion is a rather dull character, since nothing drives them to cause mayhem. The fact is that villains love, in a twisted sense of the word: sometimes they love themselves, sometimes they love security, sometimes they love the hero, but whatever their love is, it's always corrupted.

The main difference between the heroes' love and the villains' is that the villains' is myopic. The villain takes one good thing and stretches it to the point where it starts to create havoc in the world. So much havoc, in fact, that the thing he loves is deeply hurt. The Hero's love is Divine, it stems from God himself, and thus desires self sacrificing service. Even in non-christian books, the characters that love often come very close to Christianity in their ideas. The villains' love is a diabolical love, that is ultimately rooted in idolatry. This sort of love is corrupting. Both the hero and the villain are subjects of passion, the difference is in the passions' nature.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

And they did not marry...

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets - Frederic Leighton

No, this blog post is not a vent about personal, deep, romantic heartbreak. Your suspicions were apt though. Writers have an annoying tendency to weave their personal lives, especially their love lives, into their writing (Dante anyone?). No, this is more about exploring the Christian fiction's addiction to the 'married happily ever after', as if that was the be all and end all.

 We should have some fiction where we have a happily ever after married couple.  I think it's a great idea, for three reasons: firstly, because it's relevant to the millions of married christian couples out there, secondly, because the mysterious union that symbolizes Christ and the Church can be appreciated by anyone, and thirdly, because western idea of a 'happy ending' is a highly christian idea. But we must be careful that we don't go too far.

Here's a radical statement--the guy doesn't have to get the girl. Here's another--the girl doesn't have to get the guy. I can feel all you romantics cringing right now, but please just hear me out. Real life contains a lot of different stories, and not all of them include romantic happiness. Many Christians in our sex obsessed age react by trying to make marriage sound more appealing. There's nothing wrong with this, per se. Marriage is quite a lot better then mindless sex, however, in some Christian fiction, we've fallen into the trap of advertising.

We've gone from saying that marriage is good, to holding it up as a reward for being a good Christian. It isn't. In writing, we have to walk the careful line between affirming its goodness and advertising it. Making it a guaranteed gift only cheapens it.  Instead, we should realize that marriage is what it is: a calling from God. Just as some people's story ends with blissful marriage and happily ever after, other people have a different calling--one that is just as good in its own way--and we, as Christians, should write stories in which some get married happily ever after, and others don't.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Greeks and Star Wars.

Parthenon. Temple of Athena Parthénos. - Vasily Polenov

No, that wasn't a typo. I said Greeks and Star Wars, not Geeks and Star Wars. Yes, the guys who wore white and liked philosophy--that's right. I'm going to talk about two Greek philosophers and their relation to the Jedi and the Sith.

I kid you not!

You see, back in the days of ancient Greece there was once a man named Zeno, who taught his students a vaguely platonic philosophy called stoicism. He taught that everything in the universe was bound to a logos, an ultimate order of the universe; that the logos surrounded them, penetrated them and bound the galaxy together. Their ultimate goal was to sync their lives with this logos. They always valued composure over passion. Order over emotion? Sound like anyone you know? Exactly! It's the code of the Jedi; or rather, the code of the Jedi is repackaged stoicism in a more palatable form, so the Christians would hardly blink an eye.

At the same time as the stoics, there was a competing school of thought called epicureanism.  They were complete opposites; they believed that pleasure was the ultimate good, and that pain was the ultimate evil, and that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain was the way to true happiness. That is exactly what the Sith teach, only the epicureans were nicer. The Sith seem like a stoic caricature, not an accurate picture of epicureanism.

So that's my random thought for the day! You may all carry on with your lives now.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Release the Kraken!

 I've wanted to write a post on sea monsters for a long time--specifically, I wanted to write one on the kraken. Unfortunately, it got lost in a host of my other ideas. After much ado, I've finally returned to the tentacled beast of terror.

Krakens are almost always beasts. I've never seen anyone do a sentient kraken; I'm sure it's been done somewhere, over the rainbow, but that's really not the point. This squid is almost always non-sentient.

Although modern movies have shown the kraken lurking in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, the monster is of Norse decent. I will never know why it appeared in The Clash of the Titans; especially since the monster in the story of Perseus and Andromeda had a perfectly good Greek name (Cetus). But I desist. The kraken is the kind of monster that the Vikings faced, because they were tough and manly.

The kraken first comes into the picture in the epic adventures of Orvar Odds where the author describes a hideous creature called the Hafgufa. The Hafgufa was said to be the "greatest of sea beasts", and it could "swallow ships, whales and anything else it can reach".  The references to the kraken are mostly scientific after that. On old Norwegian scientific work from the thirteenth century refers to the kraken as being a monstrous creature, more like an island then an animal. None of these references mention it being a giant squid, which is a bit odd, since we are so used to the idea of the kraken being a giant squid.

It isn't until Carolus Linnaeus, the man who invented the classification system, that we have any mention of the kraken as a giant squid. Pause for a moment, to consider the fact that one of the first great modern scientists included the kraken in his classification of animals. Pure awesomeness. He defined the kraken was some sort of monstrous squid, rather then just some vague sea terror, like Charybdis.

That's all there is to say on krakens. Hope you all found that entertaining!

"Below the thunders of the upper deep 
Far far beneath the abyssal sea
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The kraken sleeps" - Tennyson 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alien Abduction

To add variety, I'm going start posting a few fiction excerpts, mostly to add variety to my writing. I really have to practice what I preach, and write some fiction. So without further ado--the completely novel concept--writing.

              The library was quiet. 
              All libraries are quiet to some extent, due to their purpose. But this one--it wasn't the quiet of people, trying to breath quietly and tread softly, it was a dead, heavy silence that seemed to poison everything it touched.  There was no gentle hum of an air conditioning system. No sound of whispers. Not even the ambient noise that most people take for granted. No, this was absolute silence. Reverend Bell couldn’t hear anything except the sound of his own breath.  Even that was muted. 
           It was like being deaf. 
           He was in a library unlike anything he had ever seen before. There were books, but they were arcane and strange, covered in esoteric languages he had never seen before. Everything else was white plastic: clean, pristine and untouched by any human hand.  It was like someone had found a way to make things out of bleach. The lights overhead shone brightly, making it hard to see. 
         “I’m deaf and blind,” Bell muttered to himself. His words echoed, though he had barely whispered.
          No-one answered. The minister was alone, in a library full of books he couldn’t read. 
         Then they walked onto the scene. Two tall, thin creatures with grey skin and almond eyes. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were. Bell had watched enough sci-fi movies to recognize them. Aliens. 
 There was something disconcerting about seeing something in real life.  The barrier of safety was gone, and what had been an interesting concept in the safety of his living room, was suddenly terrifying when manifested in the flesh. No television could convey the utter eeriness: their absurdly silent movement, their unblinking eyes, the odd grey color that was their skin. He might have been more prepared as a medieval peasant.
         They stood, one on either side of him. They both whispered to each other in a weird, unintelligible language. Honestly, it was hard to tell whether they were talking at all. Sometimes it just seemed like their mouths were moving. 
         Then, for some reason, they decided to speak in words that he could understand. 
         “Reverend Jonathan Lewis Bell,” said the one on the right. It's voice was cold beyond all reckoning.
His name was uttered so quietly he could barely recognize it as his. 
        “Yes?” he whispered back. It seemed obscene to reply in a normal voice. 
There was a long pause, a full minute of quiet. For one minute, he worried he had offended these strange creatures. Then the left one spoke. 
        “How does it feel….” he whispered, “To be human?”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Different Angles

Cubes - Jean David

After I posted last time, a lot of you made the excellent point that writing on the spur of the moment actually had its merits. You guys are right, and honestly I should have made it clearer in the post. However, when I wrote the article I was primarily approaching the subject from the perspective of trying to defend careful pre-novel planning. When all of you commented, it occurred to me that you could take writing from a different perspective, and make a case for seat-of-your-pants-writing, or for heavy revision and editing.

You all had different angles on my original take. 

I have a theory--well, better yet, I have a theology--about the nature of truth. Okay, be patient with me as I wax a little philosophical. Truth is absolute and unchangeable, but it is many sided, like a diamond. For instance, right now, you know that your hand exists (hopefully), and you know that absolutely (we're going to ignore postmoderns), however, you can view that hand from many different perspectives: you can look at the back, you can look at the palm, you can make your fingers point straight towards you, you can cover your face with your hand. All of these give you a different perspective on what your hand looks like. This is something that God built into the nature of reality: different things can be true depending on your perspective.

Now lets be clear here, I'm not claiming that everything is true depending on your perspective, but rather you can approach an absolute truth in different ways. You can view you hand from many different perspectives, but it will always be a hand and never a tentacle.

Fiction writing can be viewed from various perspectives too: you can look at it from the perspective of sub-creation,  from the perspective of telling a story,  from the perspective of self expression. Your method of writing will be influenced by how you you view writing itself vastly.

You can view the craft of writing from different perspectives as well, and hence, I think, our confusion. I was looking at it from the perspective of careful planning, which is one methodology. You can also view it from different perspectives, and both seat-of-your-pants-writing and ruminate-on-the-concept-for-a-few-hundred-years have their advantages.

Which is all a really complicated way of saying that there are a lot of different ways to go about writing: Heart of Darkness was written in the seat-of-your-pants style, and The Lord of the Rings was written in the ruminate-on-the-concept-for-a-few-hundred-years method. Now, while both my editor and I like Tolkien better, Joseph Conrad was a talented writer (especially when you consider that English was his fourth language, and there are some words I don't know). There are facets to reality, and you can choose which one to depict. Use your talents accordingly.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seat of your pants.

Writing on the fence - Norman RockwellI've often heard it said, by many modern great authors and writers, that the way to write a great novel is to quite simply... just to write. To plunge yourself into action of writing, and that, with practice and time, somehow you will become a great author. I really hesitate to criticize this thesis, seeing as so many good writers would oppose me here. However, given the quality of modern literature, I honestly think there might be something wrong with this approach.

Imagine this; you're an officer going into battle, and your general tells you not to plan at all, because planning is cowardice. He tells you to fight like a madman and hope for the best. You would probably protest. You might even call him an idiot, blockhead, fool, dummy, moron, nitwit, imbecile, cretin, ignoramus, muttonhead, dunce, pinhead, ninny, dumbbell, nincompoop or twit. Not that I claim to be an expert in either military tactics or strategy, but something tells me that capering headlong into a battle with nary a care in the world--tends not to work so well.

I know there is something to be said for impromptu writing, and some of my best friends seem to come up with wonders on the seat of their pants, but I am not one of those people, and my writing tends to take a lot of thought. I need time to sort out my ideas before I put my hands to the plow, or else all my work ends in befuddlement. These blog posts are usually the child of my unspoken, daytime rambles. Now, far be it from me to suggest that everyone should write the way I do; however, isn't there something to be said for planning? 

A lot of the great novels and classics had planning put into them. Some works, like Lord of the Rings, had almost an inordinate amount of planning. C.S. Lewis first conceived of the Narnia Chronicles in 1939, but he didn't finish writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  until 10 years later. Most authors, until relatively recently, seemed to consider planning an essential part of the novel process. This seems to have been largely replaced by the seat-of-your-pants-style. 

 My point is, it's okay to put some time and effort into your novel to make it good. Be patient! There's a place for planning and intellectual effort in your book: it's beforehand. You don't have to feel bad if you're not writing at this exact moment. That's no excuse not to work on your book. You just don't have to work on the writing right away; plot matters too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The old gods.

The Muses Leaving their Father Apollo to Go Out and Light the World - Gustave Moreau

A better title for this article might have been 'The Dark Gods.' From a Christian perspective, all false religion is darkness. In this blogpost we'll examine the broiling potion of contradictions that is paganism.

This is the interesting thing about paganism; oftentimes we mistake it for anti-Christian hostility, and in a sense it is, but only because it doesn't honor God. When we assume that paganism is one vast, unified arsenal aimed to destroy Christianity, with only minor logical flaws here and there that our characters must cleave to in order to make any headway at all--we draw not on the data, but on our own experience. The more modern religions that we face today (especially secularism and Islam) were, in a sense, formed in opposition to Christianity. Paganism was not so. Odds are, it formed long ago in opposition to true worship of the Creator; however, a lot of time passed between the initial rebellion of paganism and foundation of the true Faith.

Since paganism was not formed in opposition to Christianity, it didn't have some elements of religion that we tend to take for granted today. For example, it didn't even attempt to be holistic. Most world-views today center around one core truth, or universal mystery. That's because most (although not all) either sprung out of Christianity or were heavily influenced by it. Even modern paganism tends to be centered, consistent and orthodoxic to a point. Neopagans today talk loudly about how God is everything and everything is God. Such pantheism was foreign to most pagans of old.

The reason for this is that true pagans don't try to explain the world. Religion is not always a method of uncovering the world we live in, contrary to the claims of some atheists. Sometimes it is the world we live in. We have an inherent sense of the supernatural, and when left alone with both our sin and our concept of the otherworld, we tend to make something like paganism. It's scattered, and distorted, and vague, with no one answer to the question of existence if you ignore the intervention of God or demons in religion (there is Biblical evidence for both).

I think one of the ways God prepared the earth for the coming of Christianity was that paganism had no one answer for the universe at large. Questions about existence, such as 'why are we here?' and 'what is our purpose?' often went unanswered. If you wanted to know something like that, you went to the philosopher, not the local priest.  A second way God prepared the pagan world, was that until Christianity, morality (someone's concept of good and evil) wasn't tied to the divine. Good and evil was a something that philosophers figured out, not gods.

In that way, pagan thought was very different from that of Christianity or other modern religions . It wasn't skeptical. It didn't try to figure out the way the world worked. It just saw the world as certain way and didn't question it. Often, when Christianity was introduced to these places, the pagans saw it as a dangerous and radical grain of thought that went against the traditions of the elders.

So when we write about pagan religions, we need to grasp the fact that paganism isn't a set religion. It's a chaotic stew of ancient man's thoughts, feelings, imagination and views. The only thing that keeps it together is tradition.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Wyrm

Dragon - Utagawa Kuniyoshi

I know, I post inordinately about dragons, but hey! It's called Theology and Dragons for a reason, right? That in mind, this post is on writing about draconic villains. It sounded like a fun idea, so I'm going to do it. After all, the evil dragon is a time honored archetype, even if it has become increasingly rare. So, how do you write a draconic villains?

Let's analyze the enemy. If you make a dragon your villain, it's going to fall into one of three categories: the Beast, which is just a basic animalistic dragon, the Sentient, which is a dragon with a humanoid mind, and the Demon, which is self-explanatory. These three all make very different villains, despite their external similarities.

The Beast bears the characteristics of all monsters. Its primary role is to cause destruction: and a lot of of it.  Since it's an animal, the protagonists have to be a lot smarter then it is, which means the emphasis has to be physical destruction. That's the only advantage it has over the protagonists is physical strength, so milk that for it's worth. Make it breath fire, make it's tail a smashy instrument of death: not to mention venomous teeth, claws that can cut through metal like butter-- don't be afraid to overdo it.

The Sentient is more complicated, because psychology comes into play. I could write quite a lot on the mind of a villainous dragon. The Sentient is neither bestial nor numinous, so the authors have a wide range of personalities they can play with. Villainous Sentient dragons are usually proud and overconfident like Tolkien's Smaug; however, what writers sometimes forget that an evil dragon could be given a range of personalities. This dragon can be selfish and insecure, perhaps insane, maybe it desires admiration and infamy. The Sentient dragon works as a human in a dragon's body, and, given it's human mind, the scope for creativity is enormous.

Last of all comes the Demon, the most subtle and deadly of all. Some other time I might try and write about Demons, but that will take considerable strength of will. As it is, we're just dealing with the draconic Demonic. Here's when the numinous comes in. Don't make your demons overly physical. A Demonic dragon will not be slain by stabbing it in  the heart, like the two others before it. No normal weapons can kill this villain. Spiritual creatures require spiritual warfare to slay.

I hope you have enjoyed my largely incoherent how-to's on how to create (and slay) dragons. I hope they can be of use to you!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing with humility.

Ezra Kneels in Prayer - Gustave Dore

I'm back! Yes, I'm finally feeling up to snuff again. Oh boy, I can't tell you how good feeling up to snuff feels. Perhaps sometime I will do a post on how to write when one is sick. That will have to wait till another time, because there's another idea that's been on my mind for awhile. It's writing with humility.

When I told my editor I wanted to do a post on writing with humility... she seemed to find it really amusing.  I'm not the most humble of people. I swing like a pendulum between arrogance and insecurity. Both are obstacles to good writing, or at least, to good christian writing.

To be sure, the arrogant and the insecure can write (Metamorphosis, Old Man and the Sea). Often they have a lot to say because so much emotion goes into their ego or lack thereof. The writing of any man who focuses to much on himself will always be stiff and wooden, whether it takes the form of fear or confidence. For a long time this was my greatest obstacle to writing, and honestly it still is. My concerns about what other people will think often take precedent over enjoyment.

That's the problem. To make good art, you have to lose yourself in what you are doing. It was never intended to glorify the artist. It was intended to glorify God. Or at least, if you are not a christian, to glorify something outside oneself. All the greatest works of art do so. No-one reads Dickens because of his interesting self analysis, or admires Michelangelo for his self portraits. We find their works beautiful because they take us outside of ourselves. All beauty does, in a way. To make anything beautiful, you must first foster a some sort of sense of humility.

We need to get over ourselves. One of the biggest illusions we have about writing is that it's about us--it isn't. Good writing isn't about sharing our vision with the world, it's more about seeing God's vision of it played out. To write well, you need to lose yourself in your work the same way you lose yourself in reading a book. Once we get out of ourselves, then we find out that our writing is as marvelous and terrible as the world around it: lost echoes of the greater creation. That will give you greater fulfillment and greater enjoyment then anything you can produce on your own.

"Humility is the mother of giants. One can see great things from the valley; only small things from the peak." - G.K Chesterton. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Taking a Break.

Resting on the Vine - Carl Spitzweg

Hey folks!

Alright, I'm going to be taking a break from posting on Theology and Dragons for a few days. The main reason is, I made some poor choices for employment these last few months that have really taken a toll on my health. I need some time to sleep and get back up to snuff health wise. This is by no means a long term sabbatical, it's just a breather so I can focus on a bit of the school stuff that's come up. Thanks all for understanding!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Perfectly Proper Punctuation.

Illustration for the book Living Word - Ivan Bilibin

And here's the post where I'm a hypocrite.

To be honest, as some of you have been awesome enough to point out, punctuation is not my strong suite. It's not that I don't know the rules of the English language, it's more that I'm not always as mentally organized as I should be. So this is the post where I'm going to tell you all not to be like me. Don't do what I do and make tons of typos and grammatical errors everywhere. Write English good--or well. Whatever works for you.

So my hypocrisy aside, why on earth is grammar important? This is a question I struggled with for years. For the longest time, my friends, most of whom were writers, all seemed to possess better grammar and punctuation than I, and would correct me all the time. It started to get disorienting, like that feeling you get when you stumble around in the dark trying to obtain a midnight snack. Once you've stepped on a lego, tripped over the cat, and nearly killed yourself by sticking your hand into the electrical socket you start to realize there was something you should have done in the first place.

You should have turned on the light.

For grammar, having a well ordered mind is like turning on the light. If you're anything like me, the first thought that pops into your head when you think of a 'well ordered mind' is "yeaaaaaaaaaaah, that's... not me." I understand, that's not me either. If you're the sort of person who's naturally organized, kudos for you. You don't need this post. But if you're like me, you are probably more spontaneous then you are neat. And that's really okay, that's who you are, but it's still no excuse not to be orderly. You can be yourself without the messiness.

One thing that Paul exhorts us to to develop as Christians is an organized mind. It isn't impossible. After all, our God is a God of order. An organized mind helps us to understand both His word and His creation. And grammar is a way that we demonstrate to others that we have an organized mind. 

To all you lovable grammar Nazis... you've probably noticed quite a few errors. Oh the irony. Well what can I say? I'm definitely a hypocrite here. I have a lot to learn. Physician heal thyself! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let there be Truth.

Chardenal Dictionary - Max Weber

I'm pro-reality.

In our day an age, that actually seems like an odd thing for the fiction writer to say. Isn't fiction supposed to be about escape? About fantasy? Isn't it a way to get away from the real world and do something else for a change?

The answer is, no it's not.

If the point of fiction were a lie, then the proper duty of a Christian would be to avoid fiction like the plague. Fiction would be a licentious pursuit, utterly devoid of meaning. Why? Because truth is important. Like, really really important. If fiction were about lying then we would be justified in abandoning it. God never asked us to lie for a living. If the point of fiction is to lie, then we're much better off without it.

However the fact is, that's not the point of fiction. To use an example let's go back to the definition of the word 'fantasy'. It's definition it our capability to imagine things. Not to escape reality." But wait Brendan!" You cry. "Doesn't imagination imply escape from reality?". Not at all.

The only reason imagination has such a bad rap in Christian circles is all the latent empiricism which managed to seep in in the 1920 to 1950s. Imagination is basically conceptualizing that which is not directly observable to the senses. If you don't believe in anything that doesn't come from the five senses, then that manes imagination must not be real in any meaningful sense. For some reason, Christians, even though we believe in the spiritual and non-physical realities have been influenced by this view, and that has contributed greatly to our intellectual poverty.

The thing is, fiction from the Christian prescriptive is simply another way to communicate reality. Instead of using a statement of straight facts, it uses the language of story to help communicate human experience at a depth that normal language can't handle. That's the real reason we write Christian fiction, not to escape reality but to show it for what it is.

Friday, September 13, 2013

From Otherworlds

So I was going to write a post about mythology, then I figured I wasn't in the mood, so I'm going to write post about aliens. More specifically, writing aliens from a Christian point of view. That was sort of them theme of my last post, but that was a description of what I was writing. This post though is the help you write you own aliens.

Now, writing Aliens is a somewhat controversial subject in Christian circles, I have heard it said before, and probably will hear it said again, that extraterrestrials have no place in a Christian cosmology. They make the legitimate case that it's impossible to work aliens in, in a Christian framework. I don't deny the point, it is difficult to work aliens in to a Christian cosmology. But I'm going to make the case here that doing it is a good idea.

Christianity suffers a dearth of good sci-fi, I've blogged about this before, and perhaps may blog about it again. We have yet to produce anything the likes of Asimov. And why is that? I answered part of that question in an earlier blog post. But here I'm going provide an alternative explanation. What if it's because we simply don't want to answer questions about extraterrestrial life or artificial intelligence, and those are two of the primary themes of sci-fi.

It's true that you can write fiction without resorting to aliens or AI, but the limitations run deep. It's like trying to write fantasy without any magic or mythical creatures, or trying to write war novels without any graphic violence. It can be done, but it's hard to do and it the restrictions make it difficult to write anything. Sci-Fi exists to tackle certain questions about the nature of the universe. And its' really difficult to tackle those questions when we certain questions are forbidden.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pyramid of Stars

Planet - Victor Hugo

Alright. I'm going to interrupt our normal broadcasting to give you idea of one of the projects I'm working on. It's a Christian Sci-Fi novel, that I'm really happy with.

First there was Creation. Nine Worlds sprang out of nothing. And with them the host of heaven. Rebellion. The light of the stars became corrupted. One third of them fell. The starlight changed, and then came the creature. 

First of the Creatures were the Guardians. First they were created, and so first were they tempted. The Guardians were a Reptilian race, snakelike, tall, long armed and broad shouldered. They were pious and they were proud. They took the fruit from the tree of knowledge because they were convinced that God had allowed them. 

Second came the Monastics. Humble, calm, slothlike creatures. They fell because of curiosity. They explored the wrong possibility. 

The third race were the Inquisitors. The Inquisitors are pale, thin, grey humanoids. Above all the other races they desired knowledge and progress. Unknown to the rest of them the Inquisitors were not tempted. Unlike the others, the Inquisitors seized the fruit from the tree of knowledge as soon as they saw it. 

The Artisans were insect like humanoids, they were hard workers. They were humble. They fell because of their misplaced obedience.They failed to rebel against Satan and by doing so rebelled against God. 

Next came the Idealists. Bird like creatures, vivid plumage, with sharp beaks and talons. Their ideal was freedom. They took the fruit because of their desire to be free from God.

 Then came the Auxiliaries. They were fighters. For the longest time the two Auxiliaries fought against the fallen races. Two unfallen creatures against thousands.The largest, deadliest,most powerful and devout of the races. But eventually they too fell because they desired violence. 

And then came the seventh. The lost race. The Lords of the Stars. Hope of the seven creatures. From them comes salvation. And dominion over the galaxy. But no-one has ever heard of them. Only the devout even believe in the existence of a Redeemer, and the race of Ministers. 

Long ago the Guardians took control of the galaxy, and claimed that the prophecy referred to them. That they were the Ministers. And that their king was the Redeemer. And killed many of those who said otherwise. 

Not so long ago. The Seventh race was found.But it was found by the Inquisitors. Who kept it secret. Hoping they could use it as leverage so that they could break the Guardians Theocracy over the Galaxy. But few Inquisitors have any faith anymore. They cared little about the theological significance themselves. 

Then. Quite by accident, a Monastic somehow stumbled across the information. One who happened to still be one of the faithful. The ones who believed in the Seventh Race and the Redeemer. He came to earth covertly. For fear of the Inquisitor. He brought back with him a Missionary. 

And that's where things got really interesting....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Foppishness and Society.

Lord Hervey and His Friends  - William Hogarth

I've been brought up on Jane Austen. Back when I was a five years old, I would break out the hobby horses and pretend that I was Mr. Darcy. Now I may lose manliness points on this, but I've been told this increases one's attractiveness with the girls. I guess that's some consolation for the fact that I never grew up watching the 'A-team'. Anyhow, tossing my masculine insecurities aside for the moment, Jane Austen is an amazing author. She manages to craft a well done story, with intriguing characters and resolves it well. Six times. And she does it all about rich people.

Once upon a time, most of the stories one could read were about rich people. They were glorified as the amazing pinnacles of humanity. They could do no wrong. And then came the Marx and the mobs rose up, killed the rich people and created Democracy... oh wait. But in all seriousness, most stories that were written before the 17th century were mostly about rich people. This was mostly because the rich had the time to do things like write full length novels. But given that they were humans, they tended to represent themselves pretty well. So we end up with the story of the glorified rich.

I'm from two countries, the US and Ireland. Both places have a rather strong anti-aristocratic mindset, especially on the Irish side, where the British subjection has only just passed. This also exists in the liberal sphere. All and all, in this age of radical Democracy we have a widespread aversion to aristocracy. And there's some pretty good reasons for this. Aristocrats have done some pretty evil things in the past. They've made life miserable for a lot of people. This has lead many authors to view aristocrats as the villains. But people misplace the problem when they put it in aristocratic wealth and society, It's not. It's in the nature of humans given power.

Just like savages, aristocrats are easily either romanticized or demonized. Both miss out on the essential humanity of the subject. In order to write well about any subject we need to avoid both extremes. Neither will present to us an accurate picture of the way things were.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where doth strength lie?

Heracles kills the centaur Nessus to save Deianira - Franz Stuck

Heroes have to be strong, it's part of their nature. It's not that they can't have their moments of weakness, relapse and struggle--but in the end they're going to need to be strong. Otherwise, when push comes to shove and the villain plays his cards, the hero will break. And they would cease to be a hero, they would just be a main character.

So a hero has got to be strong, however the question is... where does this strength come from. In our postmodern world, that strength is always going to come within, the human animus is going to be the center of our strength. To quote the poem Invictus, 'I am the captain of my fate, the master of my soul'. That's what modern thought tends to glorify: the individual, the strong self, the lone ranger. To grow spiritually a person has to come deep into contact with their own inner awesomeness. Only then can they really truly reach their full potential. 

As probably a lot of you know, this is an example of bad worldview, but I have seen this in Christian books. The idea of self sufficiency is still appealing to a lot of Christians. That's natural. Ever since the fall humans have wanted to turn to their own strength and ingenuity to solve problems. We desire autonomy. Our way or the highway. 

The second way the hero can achieve strength through something outside himself. This is not necessarily a Christian view, but it is a religious one. It's very unpopular nowadays. Postmoderns don't like the idea of finding truth outside of yourself. Absolute truth is viewed as a dangerous thing nowadays. What if it offends someone?

The third and final way (which is really a subset of number two) is for the hero to find his strength in our God. This is the Biblical approach: something we've by and large forgotten as a culture, even though that was what made novels like Chronicles of Narnia so great. No matter what, in order for the heroes to win, they would always have to depend on Christ. That is where true strength comes from.

Monday, September 9, 2013


End of Day - George Inness

When I was a lad of about thirteen, I read this series called the 'Animorphs'. They were the coolest thing to me. The plot revolved around a group of teenagers who had to fight an alien invasion using shapeshifting powers. It was amazing. I devoured it ravenously. Finally, I came to the last book in the series and read it eagerly. I was in for a shock.

There was no ending.

Or rather, there was an ending, but no resolution. After writing sixty someodd books, the author killed two of the main characters then ended the series right in the middle of a battle scene. There was no theme, not message. Just utter pointlessness. The sadness I felt as a thirteen year old was crushing.

So how to wrap up a story?

Wrapping up a story can is difficult, mostly because there are two pathways to avoid. Especially for the Christian novelist. There are two endings that are very easy for a writer to use, but it's usually the result of laziness and the author not being willing to resolve things efficiently. These two different endings are both very familiar to modern writers, the unresolved ending and deus ex machina. 

The unresolved ending is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a plot with no resolution. Apparently in our postmodern world it's considered 'artistic' to leave things unresolved because that demonstrates the meaningless of life. Well if life is meaningless... why write? Why do anything for that matter?

On the other hand, deus ex machina is cheap resolution. The fact is, resolution is never easy. If the resolution to your story is easy, then it's probably not a story worth telling anyway. I say that with caution. I might be wrong. 

These are basically two categories of authorial laziness. Deus ex machina is giving a cheap resolution to your plot, and unresolved ending is not giving a good resolution at all. A good ending is a happy medium, where some things get tied up nicely, others a little more loosely, and some not at all. Black and white, but also grey, just like real life.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Question of Spiders.

The Smiling Spider - Odilon Redon

I'm an arachnophobe. I mean, I'm really not a fan of spiders. At all; so why am I writing a post of them? Well I want to pause for a moment and think what spiders symbolize.

Honestly if you want to ask my opinion? The spider always looked like it symbolized sin. It's eight legs, ten eyes, mandibles and grossly inflated abandonment looked far too hideous to be something of God's creation. I wonder why He made those things. Of course that's somewhat of an overly negative view of spiders. They're His Creation, whether I like them or not, and the one Biblical reference to the animal is the positive one.

I still don't like them.

So here's a question? How can one view something entirely loathsome as part of God's creation? This is sort of where this interesting question comes in. What's a matter of taste and what's part of appreciating God's Creation? Do I have a duty to appreciate Spiders given that they are something God created, or am I allowed to have my own tastes in that area?

This is something I've been pondering. I'm not sure on this issue.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Jacob, having recognized the tunic of Joseph that his son reported to him tinged with blood, think that he is dead and abandons himself in his grief (Genesis XXXVII, 31-35) - Marc Chagall

I've heard it said before, by people who who've experienced grief, that if one has never lost one very close to them, they cannot possibly imagine it. I know why they say this; honestly I've felt it before myself. This pain leaves the deepest of scars. It goes through your gut like a sword, and cuts through tendons in your soul that you didn't even know you had. It is so painful, so unexpected, so unlike what you imagined, that it's difficult to see how someone who has never experienced sorrow would know what it feels like without actually experiencing it.

I'm an optimist though, and I want to believe that people have the potential to understand grief from the outside, even if it's only in a rudimentary way. I think some can; but I also think there are those out there who have gone through grief and do not yet understand it themselves... so why is this? What does it take to have understanding of grief?

It takes empathy, honestly, and a lot of it. If you're writing about a character undergoing grief, the thing is that you can't take it lightly. Honestly, you can't enjoy it. This isn't one of those 'Oh yay, I get to torture my character!' moments. It isn't 'Time to relish the drama!'. If you're going to write about grief you need to take the situation seriously, with empathy, or else it won't seem real. And not with the self-righteous seriousness (i.e. look how sophisticated I am... I'm writing about grief), but the seriousness of treating the feelings of those who have borne grief with care.

 Love, care, protection, empathy. I honestly believe if you have those traits you can write about grief, even if you've never personally undergone it. That's me being an optimist.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Creation of the World XIII - Mikalojus Ciurlionis

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth... and then came the music of Ainur. Okay, maybe that's not exactly how Genesis goes. But it is how Tolkien's version goes. Tolkien did a great job retelling the Creation narrative. Few authors can even come close. So this blog post is going to look into how he did it, and use it as a reference for describing Creation.

Firstly, he did it allegorically. However literal you believe the Creation account is, it's impossible for a mere human, who is not divinely inspired, to write about. It would just blow our minds. If we try to give a literal rendition of the Creation account, we're either going to start sounding like pagans, or cheap rip-offs of Genesis. Cheap knock-off's of scripture are not going to honor God in any way.

Secondly, he approached the Creation from a different angle. Tolkien took it from the perspective of Music, but there are quite a few ways to approach the Creation account; they are as numerous as facets of Creation itself. The best way to look at it is to view it from a different aspect. Why? Because distancing your words from Genesis also helps the readers theologically. It helps them to understand this as your interpretation of Genesis rather then Genesis itself.

Thirdly, he understood the theological ideas behind Genesis. Every Christian knows the events of the Seven Days. Not every Christian is familiar with the telos, or purpose, behind it. It establishes God as the first and foremost among Creation. Contrary to the creation legends of the ancient world, there is not cosmic stride. No Ahriman, no Tiamat, no cosmic force of chaos stands in God's way. The Lord is sovereign over all things. All that is Created is Created by His Sovereign Will. God's Creation is  ordered, as opposed to the pagan legends where all randomly springs out of primordial chaos. He loves symmetry, and all will be well again one day.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Frog Prince.

The Prince and the Frog - Ivan Bilibin

Okay, it's time for a trickier post. Put on your thinking caps. I'm going to ask you all a question; what on earth makes a human, human? This is a relevant question to science fiction and fantasy authors. We have worlds with genetic engineering and magic. We can twist, transform and mutate human beings in any way we choose. We can give them superpowers, turn them into butterflies, apotheosize them into god-like beings. So what we want to explore in this blog post is, what makes a human, human?

Let's just start with this question, and take an example from a well known fairy tale. Your incredibly handsome, dashing prince is turned into a considerably less handsome and charming frog. He still has all of his personality, mind, memories, passions, hopes and dreams; but now he has the body of a small amphibian. Is he a human or is he some creature entirely other?

If you answered 'he's no longer human,' let me make matters more complicated, let's assume Prince Charming is a Christian. Salvation applies to humans, but not to frogs. Someone, of course, could say that he is still in possession of a human soul, and not a human body. So the human soul is what makes a human, human. There's a certain logic to this idea. After all, when we die and shed this body, we're still human.

So, it would stand to logic, that what makes us human is spiritual and not physical. However, let's say that said Prince Charming has been stripped of human mind and reason. His mind is that of a frog. Has he died? That brings up yet another question. Is the mind physical? If for instance I were to turn you into a frog, brain and all, would you still think and feel like a human even if you were unable to express it? If that is true what does it mean for mentally handicapped people?

I think (and I could be wrong), it's very necessary for the Christian fantasy writer to view to mind as a non physical substance that can stand abuses that the only a fantasy writer can throw at it. We need some core definition of what humanity is, in a other-worlds where humanity can be compromised. Objectively, we need the best working standard of what a human is.

I rest my case.

"She turned me into a Newt! I got better." 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Writing Weariness

The Nap - Gustave Caillebotte

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, some "genius" got the idea that pushing yourself to write as many words as you could in a day was a great idea. As if good writing was a product of sheer output and no input! This idea might be philosophically shaped from a human centered worldview, or it might be the handiwork of overconfidence. Either way, it's wrong.

As writers, we need rest. Shoving our ideas onto paper without a break, without time to take in new ideas, will not produce good art.

We live in a highly self-relient age, and we think we can overcome any issue simply by tackling it more. We assume that power comes from within. This fancy is partly due to our human natures, and partly due to the culture around us. It values individuality so highly that we often turn to ourselves, instead of God, when we look for our inspiration. But that leads to failure, not just as writers but as Christians.

I'm not disparaging looking within when it comes to seeking ideas and inspiration. However, if we really want to seek rest we have to look outside of ourselves. That means turning off our computers, closing our notepads, and taking time to relax. If you're like me, the "tireless" workaholic, then you definitely need it.

Yes this is a short post, perhaps the shortest one yet. But I need to take some of my own medicine and go to bed. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sweet Liberty.

Romania Breaking off Her Chains on the Field of Liberty - Constantin Daniel Rosenthal

Eventually, those of us who have strong political opinions will end up shoving our views into our writing. We can't help it. Real political feelings run too strong, too deep, not to be expressed. On top of all that, no two impressions are the same. I'm sure I disagree with most of my readership on a host of fiscal issues. This is not the place to discuss that, however, we are going to talk about politics in writing. Specifically, we're going to talk about liberty, or freedom.

In our books and films we talk a great deal about liberty. We use our character to fight for it, whether they are hobbits or Scottish highlanders. We talk about freedom almost constantly, but do we ever stop to wonder what it is?

When some people think of freedom, they think of liberty to do whatever they want, so long as it does not directly hurt another person. Freedom is the chief of modern virtues, I even might say it's the only modern virtue. However, when coming at this from a christian perspective, we're faced with a problem. Sin is slavery, and how can we say that our characters are fighting for freedom when they are fighting for people to be able to sin, and destroy each other if they want? That's hardly a moral cause.

On the other hand, I've heard christians say that the only real freedom is freedom to do good. I think in a sense that's true, but it can be misconstrued so easily that I don't like it.  If freedom is only freedom to do good, than any small sin could be punished. So who would be the arbiter? The church? The state? The family? We can't reasonably make sin illegal, because it's omnipresent in our fallen world. So that brings us back again to the question; what does freedom mean?

I think freedom means not only the freedom to do good, but also the freedom to make some mistakes along the way. It's not a permit to do whatever we want, but grace covers the mistakes we make as we strive to improve. We have liberty to do good, and liberty to stumble in our pursuit. It's liberty to get back up again and fight, not to roll around in the dust.

That is the definition of christian liberty.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Dark Knight.

No! this post isn't about Batman. Or, at least, not just about Batman. It's about a certain type of character, and although it is related closely to the antihero, this sort of character is not villainous in anyway. It may be dark, brooding, perhaps introverted, but it stands as a bastion of moral purity in a hive of scum and villainy.

No, it's still not about Batman.

So, the question is, may a christian make the brooding, dark-knightesque, protector, sort-of-hero? Is that a legitimate enterprise for christian fiction? Think of this sort of character for a moment. He's the pinnacle of virtue in a city and acts as it's guardian; and this is all well and good, but then he takes the law into his own hands! The nerve! He has to resort to desperate measures against villains. He lives in a dark world and, as such, adopts a dark mindset. Is this really something christians should fill their head with?

Alright--maybe this is about Batman. Just a little.

I've heard a lot of christians say this ideal is overly dark. The idea of a lone protector against a vast sea of writhing evil is a sad, depressing feeling, they say, and one that christians should stay away from.  I think, perhaps, these Christians are suffering from the cult of happyology. As if christianity should shun heavy, weighty things and stick to that which is light and optimistic!

This stands in opposition of what the Bible has to say: think for a moment on the Judges, they were lone protectors who often had to enforce justice with a firm hand, weren't they? Think of Jeremiah, who utterly opposed all his authorities, of the plagues of Egypt and Ecclesiastes. The Bible can be dark--very dark. We don't like to think about it, but that's the way it is.

Which brings us back to Batman again. I think as long as your Batman (or Batman-like-character) is upholding the law of God, and as long as he realizes that everything does not depend on him, then I see  no problem pitting your character against the world. The world can be a dark place. Sometimes there's only one brave person to stand against it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Thoughts on Positive Thinking

Happy Arcadia - Konstantin Makovsky

There's a certain stream in secular society that seems to have found it's way into christian literature and christian culture at large. It's the child of the Romantic movement, the sister of Postmodernism, and stems from all the cultural upheaval that took place in the mid 19th century. The best name I have heard for it, is the 'cult of Happyology'.

This movement has had many forms: it was there in the occult movement of the 19th century, the hippie movement of the 60s, the weird cults of the 80s, the modern self help movement, the prosperity gospel, and so many more!  But they all boil down to one basic motto. Think happy thoughts! Think happy thoughts, and the world will get better! It will! Because, if all that reality boils down to is your personal experience, then the core of reality is centered in your thoughts, and if those thoughts affect reality, then the best way to change it is to think happy ones.

This changed our mindset dramatically. We now view 'positive' words as inherently good and 'negative' ones as inherently bad, regardless of whether or not they are actually true. Praise becomes something inherently good, and criticism something inherently bad.  That's why every child needs a trophy. That's why if we don't have anything nice to say, we shouldn't say anything at all.

However, this sort of thought has no place in christian writing. If you look to Holy Scriptures (which I think all christians agree is the ultimate piece of christian writing), you will not find this blissful, uber-happiness that you find in some 'christian' literature (Pollyana anyone?). You won't find that the most faithful characters overcome their struggles through thinking 'positive thoughts'(Job wasn't positive, and look how he turned out). That's not to say we don't need to write about hope, but God should be the source of that hope, not the cult of positivity. Happyology should have no place in our novel.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Tragedy - Pablo Picasso

I was asked to write a post on tragedy by a friend. This honestly, is a harder one to write. Cause it's rather personal to me, and I'm sure it's personal to many of my readership. Even if you have never really experienced personal tragedy it's a difficult subject to talk to to others about.

So what does define a tragedy? I think, when most people think of a a tragedy they imagine that it's a story where everyone dies in the end. However, I think this definition is somewhat misleading. It's possible to have most of the main characters die and still end the novel in a bittersweet manner. Conversely, it's also possible to have everyone live, and yet live in such a desolate state that tragedy is the only word for it.

So what makes a tragedy a tragedy? Tragedy is the lack of a happy ending. When things don't end well we call it a tragedy. It's not to do with the moral state of the characters, but rather the state of the character as the novel leaves off. This is why tragedy is often confused with death.

I think however, the way we view the death of a character as a pure tragedy is part of our empiricist culture. To an empiricist death is the ultimate evil, because death steals away the senses. And since the empiricist thinks that life lies in the senses, death seems to them to be a preternatural terror. The ending of all things. That's what we covered in the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh post.

To the Christian death can be a tragedy but it depends on the context. When the main character dies and goes to heaven, like Jean Valjean does in Les Mis, I would be loathe to classify it as a tragedy. Eternity with God is a wonderful thing. Loss though... that's a different story. And I think that's a different post. It will take more emotional energy to write about that then I am willing to spend right now. But suffice to say for now, loss is tragedy... because we have to go through life without someone. Meaningless death is also tragedy... because of what awaits afterward.

Life can also be tragic as well as death. If you leave your characters in a miserable situation at the end, even if they still are alive, that can in some ways be worse then just simply killing them. The real tragedy I think is a person who has to live on and on in loveless situation.

"Do not pity the dead Harry, pity the living. And above all those who live without love." 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Doctrine and Writing.

So I write about Muses, and right after I posted I wonder if that title sounded pagan. It probably did.

So this time I'm winning back some Holy Points and going to write about doctrine.

So caveat here, I know in my readership there is a lot of denominational variation. Among like.... all three of you who regularly keep up with this blog. Which is quite an amount of doctrinal diversity for so small a sampling. I'm a Presbyterian, which means I'm an evil Calvinist/Predestination person. I believe in Sovereignty of God, baptizing infants and drinking alcohol. So now that you know where I stand lets talk about the controversial issues of doctrine and how it applies to writing.

Now, we all hold differing theological persuasions. Here is where things get tricky. How do we remain faithful to our doctrinal commitments while making our work accessible to other Christians who don't necessarily hold to the same commitments? Well here's where a bit of grace and a bit of wisdom come in.

Well I think there are two basic rules for writing about doctrine in your story. The first is, don't worry about offending anyone. Alright this rule seems a bit odd. Well not perhaps odd from a Calvinist, but normally we do think it's polite to try not to offend people when we put our doctrine into our works. Nothing could be further then what God intends for us. Honestly if you believe your doctrine is true, and it is good representation of the Absolute Truth of God, then of course you should publicize it. I'm not saying you have to push your doctrine in people's faces. But you do, as a Christian, have a duty to represent absolute Truth. Don't feel like you have to hide your doctrinal stance when you write. You really can't divorce yourself from your Theology. Don't try too.

On the other side of the spectrum. When you're putting something in your novel that is a contentious issue among other believers, please don't demonize the believers who hold to the opposing doctrine. Be polite, and courteous, while still holding to Absolute Truth. After all, if someone wrote an amazing Christian novel, but slammed your views/church, and represented what you believe as some infernal distortion, you might feel a bit hurt too. Take the time to understand the doctrine you are refuting. Remember that there are true believers among their number. And some of them are smarter then you.

On the whole, good rule of thumb when it comes to bringing doctrine into writing is, hold to truth and be humble. Humble Orthodoxy. Has a nice ring to it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Come oh Muses!

Back in the old days, the Ancient Greeks used to believe in these creatures called Muses. They were these amazingly convenient creatures that basically existed to put ideas into peoples heads. That way whenever a writer suffered from a writers block or a astrologer suffered from an astrology block (I'm sure that happened!), he could just call upon a Muse and voila! Instant idea. Of course that's any artist's dream. If only it were a matter of calling Muses to give us creativity.

So how do we get ideas for what to write about? Like really? Well lets start from the beginning. What do we do when we reach a metal block. Well most often this goes like this, instead of trying to find ideas, we just contemplate our blank mental state, perhaps go back mentally to times when we had inspiration... trying to draw on that. When that doesn't work we often end up surfing the internet or raiding the fridge. Hoping that inspiration will strike us sometimes. Pity we can't summon any Muses. 

But honestly we as Christians have something even better then the Muses don't we? Even if the Muses were real, and really did exist they being finite creatures could only give one person inspiration at a time. We're not limited by dependence on such whimsical beings. Nor do we have to depend on ourselves entirely. We have the Holy Spirit! Did it ever occur to you that you can ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and inspiration as you write, not just when you go through your day to day life but when you write as well?

It seems a bit weird, and no I'm not saying we should write by being possessed by God. Or that the Holy Spirit will give us a vision of our complete outline if we pray to Him. But I'm fairly positive that He will help us. I'm not saying that it will get us past the writers block. There's no guarantee in the Bible that God will do that (though doesn't every writer wish there was?). However I think I can safely guarantee that if you approach the Holy Spirit in prayer and ask him to guide your mind, you will experience results. Not that this means that you can abdicate the responsibility of thinking. You still have to think to make your novel work. But with God guiding your thoughts, we truly due have a Muse to rival all other Muses. The Third person in the Trinity.

Sounds pretty good to me. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Amazing love. How can it be?

Exaltation of the Cross: Heraclius enters Jerusalem with the Cross - Piero della Francesca

It is impossible to write a great Christian Novel without love.

Now let me be clear, it is quite possible to write a great novel without love. Plenty of the great ancient and great modern writers wrote phenomenal works of fiction without including love in it. If you read Homer's Iliad or Hesiod's Theogony, you'll be hard pressed to find any love. At least of the non-sexual kind. The same goes for the works of Moderns such as Hemingway or Conrad.

You can make a great work of fiction without love. Your characters can be realistic, your imagery vivid and your themes fascinating. But it still won't be a work of Christian literature without bringing love into it in some way. This is because love is one of the central themes of Scriptures. All of Scripture points towards the love of God.

Or judgement.

Hm, I may want to backtrack on what I was just saying. It seems there is a lot of judgement in scriptures. So if there's judgement in scriptures how is that love? Well the fact is God's judgement actually cannot be separated from the subject of love. The Judgement of God is upon humanity for their failure to love. That same judgement is only appeased by the Love of Christ. In that way works of judgement are inextricably tied the concept of love.

Love is one of those elements at the core of Christian thought. One whereby God is made known. You don't have to make your work explicitly Christian. But you do have to put in the Christian concept of love, the sacrificial agapean kind in order for it to be a Christian work.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Happy Barbarians

Hospitality of Barbarians to Pilgrims - Gustave Dore

One of the standard inhabitants of or fantasy/sci-fi worlds, are the barbarians. Usually they're a proud warrior race, perhaps slightly more in tune with nature. Not exactly sharp on the intellectual scale of things, but brave and courageous. They have a tendency to show up at the final battle and suddenly turn the tide in the good guys favour. Or perhaps they are the good guys, pitted against some usually some more sophisticated and evil nation.

Okay, I'm going to say here, I think we in the twenty first century romanticize the barbarian too much.  And to a certain extent that's a product of our technologicalicalization (is that even a word?). Right now we're surrounded by technology, and it makes life complicated. Cars have to be fueled, oiled, cleaned and cared for, computers have to have anti virus software, drives licences expire, the internal revenue service much be satisfied and so on. So we long for a simpler time when all we had to worry about was farming the crops and strength in arms.

This stands in vivid contrast to the portrayal of 'primitive peoples' that ran rampant 50's. Back then we were confident in the power of technology, and we looked down on those stupid, illiterate savages who seemed to us to be enslaved to superstition. We had science and they had not, and since were were convinced that knowledge equaled moral superiority, we were sure we were superior then those barbarians that lived back in ancient days.

Both these ideals, 'the noble savage' and the 'barbaric savage' make the same mistake. They both assume that technology fundamentally changes human nature, As if technology somehow made humans better people or worse people. No. People are still people. No matter what power is in their hands. Our lives are complicated, not because technology is complicated but because human natures are complicated. Science doesn't make us more moral. Neither does ignorance. We as Christians should avoid both romanticizing and marginalizing.