Why Does Every Story Have a Villain?

In Waking the Dead, John Eldredge writes:

Little Red Riding Hood is attacked by a wolf. Dorothy must face and bring down the Wicked Witch of the est…Frodo is hunted by the Black Riders…Beowulf kills the monster Grendel…Saint George kills the Dragon. The children who stumbled into Narnia are called upon by Aslan to battle the White Witch and her armies…

So why does every story have a villain?

“…Because yours does.”

What are the villains in your life, your Story? Addictions, vices, work, bad habits, crazy people… As Eldredge writes, we are “born into a world at war.” He is coming from the perspective of Evil that was long ago unleashed in the world and seeks to undermine all that is good.

Our stories have villains because our stories are inspired by life. Fiction is only fact in different clothes.

Categories: Books, Fiction, Writing | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Have you Abandoned your Story?

Every wonder why stories speak to people as they do? Is it, as Brent Curtis and John Eldredge write in The Sacred Romance, that it is written into our very beings?

Life is not a list of propositions, it is a series of dramatic scenes. As Eugene Peterson said, “We live in narrative, we live in story. Existence has a story shape to it. We have a beginning and an end, we have a plot, we have characters.” Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the naked facts of mathematics or the abstract propositions of systematic theology…Contrast your enthusiasm for studying a textbook with…read[ing] a novel, or listen[ing] to the stories of someone else’s life.

Is it any wonder why stories of people finding their purpose, their part of the Story, never go away? A little Hobbit defeats evil and saves Middle Earth…frail Steve Rogers becomes Captain America…Luke Skywalker doesn’t want to stand on the sidelines anymore… Perhaps it is because we too often abandon our story?

Children aren’t a bad place to look when we’re trying to get beyond the cynicism of adulthood…Before skepticism takes over (what we mistakenly call maturity), children intuit the true Story as a fairy tale…the best fairy tales aren’t romantic in the poor sense of the word. They are realistic, only more so. There are ogres and evil sorcerers and wicked stepmothers, to be sure. But they are neither the whole story or the heart of it. There are genuine heroes and heroines and a cause to live for that is worth dying for. There is a quest or a journey strewn with danger and the stakes could never be higher.

Choose to not ignore that you are part of something bigger than your day to day tasks and busyness. Find your place in the Story.

It is not too late.

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Choose Your Own Adventure

Whether print, film or television, fantasy as gone from being a fringe to mainstream genre in recent years. We’ve discussed why it has appeal and how the stories of the masters like Tolkien have such depth and staying power. But what if you could take these worlds that captivate your mind and add another dimension to them? An interactive one where you can enter for a time?

I’m not talking about joining some reenactment group (though some do) or video games (and their lack of face-to-face human interaction). Instead, there have been a number of successful attempts to lay out fantasy worlds right on your table in the form of board games. No, these aren’t the repetitive and soon worn out type of games we are all introduced to as kids.

Take Legends of Andor where you join your fellow players in Andor to stand up to the evil hordes and resolve pressing quests. Yes, I said join; this is a cooperative game. This is a whole different experience for those (nearly all of us) used to the normal competitive party games. Most find they like it, but might find it strange that everyone can lose.

In Runebound you set off on your own into Terrinoth, but instead of just reading about heroes, you can become one and face their trials and triumphs for yourself. Or maybe you want a familiar land? Then enter Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. With essentially just cards, you find yourself in immersive scenarios with your allies. Soon you will want to jump back into the books, or are you already there?

While the stories that unfold cannot be as detailed as a book, they certainly have qualities of unexpectedness, interaction and variability that pull you in like a good book would. These class of games bring gaming out of the kids realm. The learning curve is a bit steeper than say Scattergories or Trivial Pursuit, and but you are rewarded with depth and the joy of engaging your mind (that’s not to mean that they are hard to learn). Apparently there is a golden age of gaming threatening to drag people from their glowing screens and replacing it with human interaction and adventure.

Battling evil, finding the hero within, exploring strange lands…it all seems much more exciting than another television show that is the same as the last twenty.

But as fantasy fans, you already knew that.

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Are You Reading Enough?

Author Nadine Brandes asks the question, and explains why and how you should be.

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Into the Black

Remember 1981? Yes, it’s a bit fuzzy at this point, but that was the year that manned spaceflight became normal. On the 21st of April, the Space Shuttle Columbia rocketed into orbit. Over the next 30 years, 135 launches were made by the fleet. For the generations who grew up or were born during this era, astronauts traveling to and living in space (on board the International Space Station) became commonplace. This normalcy hid the difficulty and danger that were behind the curtain.

Rowland White‘s Into the Black recounts the epic effort to design and launch the shuttle. It took nearly as long and was every bit as difficult as the Apollo program. In some ways it was more so: Apollo components had to work once; the Shuttles had to survive the rigors of launch and space over and over.

White recounts how the shuttle program was the final project of the Apollo veterans. It was also a fusion of a canceled military space program – complete with astronauts and launch sites – that would be combined with the civilian side.  Technologies such as reusable rocket engines and protection from reentry were beyond state of the art. The drama that unfolded was every bit as exciting as what was told in From Earth to the Moon and Apollo 13.

Danger was never eliminated, but the later losses of the Challenger and Columbia were not, ironically, cause by failures of the orbiters. None of the shuttles ever failed, repeatedly surviving launch stresses and harsh environments that those of us earthbound cannot imagine.

While the shuttles never flew as frequently as envisioned, nor brought the costs of launch down, history will look back on them as making possible what comes next. We are already seeing the turnover of spaceflight to private companies. The International Space Station that the shuttles enabled is an orbital spaceport on the verge of becoming the staging point for new ventures. The government and politics often got in their own way in opening the frontier, but as Into the Black details, the astronauts of the Space Shuttles swung that door wide open.

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Are We Failing Students by Not Turning Them into Readers?

Thanks to Teacher of YA for reblogging this:

Pages Unbound

Discussion Post Stars

The Benefits of Reading

It’s commonly known among teachers that students who read more or who are read to at home are more successful at school and write more successfully than their non-reading peers.  This probably should not surprise us as, of course, not being able to read at grade level would make studying any subject more difficult.  Furthermore, reading extensively can help students gain a larger vocabulary and become more comfortable with more complex syntaxes.  It can also provide students with models for their own writing and provide them with evidence to support their own arguments when they write.  And, of course, we are now exploring the possibility that reading literary fiction can make a person more empathetic, and help socialize children.

The Depressing Statistics

However, despite the widely-known benefits of reading, all of us know plenty of individuals who do not read and do not like to…

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Publishers Hire “sensitivity readers” to Censor – I Mean Edit – Books

Is it just me, or is there a large slice of the population who no longer recognizes censorship when they see it? Read more here.  Between banning books and revising history, seems to be a lot of this going around.

Maybe we’re all busy with our causes, activism and politics, that we are blowing right by the fundamentals?

Being offended doesn’t give one the right to censor.  Censorship itself is what everyone should find offensive.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Win AtS for your Kindle

Want a free Kindle copy of Among the Shadows? Of course you do! But you have to answer these three questions from classic sci-fi:

  1. What is the name of the Princess of Mars?
  2. Where is Thongor from?
  3. What planet did Carson Napier travel to?

Use the Contact form to send the answers, and I’ll send the first person who answers all three correctly a copy of my book for your Kindle (Hint: All the answers can be found on this website).

Good luck!

Update: We have a winner! TeacherofYA answered all three correctly:

1. Dejah Thoris is the Princess of Mars, from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom tales.
2. Thongor is from Valkarth (or I would have accepted Lemuria) from Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria fantasy series.
3. While John Carter was on Mars, Carson Napier was on Venus in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Carson of Venus adventures.

Congrats to our winner, and watch for more contests coming soon!

Categories: Books, Writing | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Death of History

It is said that if we ignore history, we will repeat it. How can we follow this quintessential maxim if we allow people to erase or rewrite history?

Recently, Charlottesville City in Virginia, voted to tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee at a cost of $300,000. Once councilman claimed it was “delusional”  to believe anything different than the “Confederate states had as their primary aim the preservation of a way of life in which enslaved humans.”

No, Councilman, your statement is a rewrite of history.

There were those who wanted to preserve slavery, but Lee was not one of them, he wrote before the war (as quoted by H.W. Crocker III): “In this enlightened age…slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil…” and “emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity than from the storms and contests of fiery controversy.”  Lee would also free his inherited slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation and argue for the South to abolish slavery during the war. Lee was loyal to Virginia, and when it seceded he went “to her defence” but still hoped that “wisdom and patriotism of the nation will yet save it.”

He believed in the United States of America, but also the right that every state understood when they joined the Union: The right to leave. To consider Lee a symbol of racism or slavery is what is delusional. Ignoring history also makes it easy to avoid the question that few every want to ask:

Was there not a better way to end slavery and preserve the Union that didn’t result in the deaths of at least 620,000 Americans (and maybe as many as 850,000)? Continue reading

Categories: Critical Thinking, History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

8 Heroes of Krynn

Always on the lookout for a new fantasy series, I ran across Dragonlance a few weeks ago. It turns out the series isn’t new, but began way back in 1984 with Dragons of Autumn Twilight. This would spawn nearly 200 books in a shared universe. In the book world, a “shared universe” is a series of books written by multiple authors.

Dragonlance is set in the mythical land of Krynn. Like many “classic” fantasy tales, it is populated with races of humans and other creatures, battles between good and evil, and those who must rise up and decide the fate of the world. I know there are some who look down upon such stories as a “trope” — and I’m sure whatever they are reading is high-level, amazing literature — but the rise of heroes to battle evil is a timeless theme that crosses genres and speaks to our own existence.

What often makes or breaks a story is its characters. Dragons of Autumn Twilight introduces readers to Kyrnn’s most memorable band of friends, whom have already been trough much together before we drop in their world, only to be faced with far greater threats. Book 1 finds the heroes in one dangerous encounter after another — probably reflective of the authors being involved in creating Dungeons & Dragons games. As the series progresses, the epic scope expands across Krynn. Continue reading

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