Saturday, November 10, 2012

Character Conscience

Conscience. Usually that word is used to refer to a moral compass. Literally, however, it means "parallel knowledge". Similarly, the word confess means "parallel speech". In those senses, the words don't have to refer to a sense of bad or good at all; they can apply to a great deal more.

Now, I'm not trying to redefine the words, but the literal definitions are useful. For instance, I think of Bach's contrapunctal music as being an expression of conscience. The intertwined melodic patterns are very often of a "repeat after me" construction, hence, parallel speech or knowledge. See "" for an example.

Or, consider how confession is generally used to refer to admitting guilt. In the literal sense, however, confession can also be used to admit good things. For example, when God says to his people, "reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto me", then it's a good confession to say, "yes, I'm indeed dead unto sin, and alive unto you."

Ultimately, good conscience is walking in the parallel knowledge of God, "having a good conscience towards God".

How does this apply to writing? Well, one thing I've noticed about modern stories (especially movies), is how even when portraying scenes of other times and places, the characters often have modern consciences and sensibilities. That doesn't feel right to me at all; the parallel knowledge that the characters are aware of is out of place, anachronistic.

I realized that part of building a character is building the parallel knowledge that they are aware of and are sensible to. Generally that parallel knowledge will be shared among certain people and groups, so I might have characters belonging to different sets of parallel knowledge.

For example, I was once at a week-long gathering with some folks from Europe, and they were remarking on how we Americans wear white socks, and how they only wear those kinds of socks to sporting events. :)

Parallel knowledge is perhaps just another way to look at different cultures, but for me it's more precise, and makes it easier to work with.

Ironically, I need to be aware that my characters need to be aware of parallel knowledge fitting their time and place, else they'll all share mine, and that won't do. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Inheritance Cycle

I recently read all four books in the fantasy series the Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance). I enjoyed them all, and came away with some conclusions and observations.

The best character in the series is Angela the herbalist. At least, we are introduced to her as an herbalist, but she's a lot more than that. In thinking about why she's such a good character, I came up with "unrestricted, consistent spontaneity".  That's probably contradictory, but I mean that the author didn't put Angela in a box, or try to define her up front. Angela continually reveals new facets of character (sometimes humorous, sometimes mysterious), but there's an underlying consistency to her character from which these seemingly random revelations spring.

The author spends a lot of time on detailing settings. Nothing new there, but in encountering it this time I realized that describing setting is a pacing problem. In a modern book, the normal pace of a story via conversation and interior monologue is significantly faster than setting. I had to slow down my reading pace to appreciate the setting descriptions, and even then, I could tell I wasn't slowing down enough.  I'm thinking that setting could be described better via a character's impressions of a place, rather than trying to do an absolute description directly from the author to the reader. I plan to experiment with that.

The ancient language of command and the magic of the world of Eragon are intriguing. Someday I want to write a post about magic (all these things are hints of the real words of power); for now, I'll say that the author kept his own rules. I like the concept of combining words in new ways to get new effects; it's something I'd already considered as a game developer. It did seem amusing, though, that the logical conclusion of the author's world were effectively lawyer-magicians.

The first two books are mostly about training Eragon as a magician and fighter. That's not the first fantasy story I've seen devote a lot of time to training like that. Again, without going into a lot of detail on magic, I'll say that one of the purposes of what I hope will be my first novel, the Beastlord of Underrim, is to present a different kind of magical training.

At the deepest level, I found no trace that the author knows God. I don't mean that in a religious, evangelistic sense; rather, I saw no sign that the author knows what good and evil really are. That's normal; I haven't found many fantasy worlds that do express it. The superficial expressions of tyranny and freedom are there, of course, but I'm always looking for more underneath that. George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis could express a taste of incorruptible glory in a fantasy world, and I want that, and miss it if it isn't there.

But I still enjoyed the series, and got something out of them. And the dragons were cool. :)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Epic Quantity

What is "epic", anyway? The word is overused in modern culture, and it's losing its meaning. A general definition might be "world-changing", or simply "great, majestic".

Here's where it gets interesting. What is "world-changing"? What is majesty? They imply that something matters, that it has import, that it made a difference. When we look at the universe as a whole, though, what can people do to make a difference? The universe will die, no matter what we do. Can we change that? We can, perhaps, feel better about ourselves by doing something considered "world-changing", and fool ourselves into thinking it really made a difference. But it didn't.

The irony is that the dumbing-down of the word epic more truly reflects humanity's power to be epic. Nevertheless, there is that which is truly epic.

What can make a difference in the outcome of the universe? Only Incorruption. What is the only thing that matters? That which is stronger than death. And that thing, that holy thing, is God. Holiness, Incorruptible, Majesty, Greatness, and Epic: all these words find their true meaning in God.

And here's where words fail me. The epicness of God is always visible, hidden, perhaps, behind the busyness and corruption of the world, but it's there all the same. The epic God is visible in history, and in the future, and in the here and now: he which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. The world may seem ordinary and tawdry, but behind it all and through it all I can see a taste of the Real, and there's nothing like that. In the natural world, and in the accounts of what God did long ago, and in what he will do, there lives a quiet glory. It's the real magic, powerful and sweet and good. It's the taste of Him.

I just can't describe it. But the best stories have that epic quantity in them, however undefinable it may be.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Author or Writer?

I'm not sure there's really a difference between the two words, "author" and "writer", but they seem to convey something I've been thinking lately. I want to be an author; I'm not sure I want to be a writer.

That is, there are a certain number of works I want to write and finish, but there are other kinds of projects I want to do (such as building computer games). I'm not sure writing is my dream day job; I'm not sure I want to "live by the pen".

I do seem to have endless ideas for stories, though, at least more than I can write. :) And I want time to write them, so it -would- be nice to make enough money from writing to spend more time at it.

Maybe I just want to be a writer for a while, and not the rest of my life, but if I keep getting more stories I want to write than I have time to write, maybe it will happen that way anyhow. :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Evangelism is something I've been thinking about lately, and then discussions on the subject popped up on a blog I follow, The Pen and Parchment, which didn't dampen my enthusiasm. :)

The word "evangelism", aside from being hard to type this morning, has a relative connotation, in the sense that it's often applied to the hawking of any belief system. I discovered that's not what the word literally means, however. It's a Greek compound word, from "eu", meaning good, and "angelos", meaning angel, or messenger.

So, an evangelist is a good messenger, and evangelism is a good message, or good information. Of course, anyone might think their beliefs are good, but goodness isn't relative to people, but to God. I don't want to get into a discussion on whose God is real, or whether there's one at all; it's enough to say that perpetual motion and God are the same thing. That is, God is Incorruptible, and everything else wears out. Perpetual motion versus entropy is good versus evil, and redemption from the power of entropy is the good news the human race needs. (My upcoming non-fiction book, The Quest of the Incorruptible, is all about this topic.)

Anyhow, I realized that an evangelistic story is simply a story that has good information in it, regardless of how it's labeled. That is, the book doesn't need to include an altar call, or explicitly state Christian core beliefs, or even say it's Christian. If it has something of the mystery and wonder of Incorruption in it, it's evangelistic. George MacDonald's The Golden Key is an excellent example.

So, while I've tried to avoid what would be called evangelizing in my fiction, the whole point of my writing all along has been to express good information through stories (however well I've achieved that). Despite my best efforts, I'm evidently doing some evangelizing. :)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Foundation: Jesus Christ

My dad has released his latest book: The Foundation: Jesus Christ (What Every Christian Should Know), both as a Kindle ebook and as a paperback. This is volume two in his Friends of the Living God series.

"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble..." (I Cor. 3:11-12)

How do we begin to build eternal gold, silver, and precious stones upon the foundation of Jesus Christ? In the book of Hebrews we find the instructions:

"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." (Heb. 6:1-2)

That list of the foundational principles of the doctrine of Christ is what is known as the milk of the Word, and every Christian should understand those principles. If they are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ in our hearts, we may go on unto perfection.

The Foundation: Jesus Christ explores each principle in order, clearly presenting the milk of the Word.

Volume one in the Friends of the Living God series, Great Signs and Wonders: What is Wrong with Christianity?, is also available, by the way, as an ebook and a paperback.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stories with Choices

I remember picking up a "Choose your own Adventure" book as a kid, and really liking it. I got to choose where the adventure went. :)

I've been thinking of how I might write a story like that. It's technically easy to do links in an ebook, but how do you write a story where the reader has interesting choices to make? If every choice has only two decisions, but each decision launches a different branch of the story, I'll quickly have an enormous story tree. :) I might as well write a whole library!

Contrarily, I've seen choices that are irrelevant: each choice gets you to the same place as the other, via a slightly different path. That's a pseudo-choice, at best. The reader (or player, if it's a game), hasn't done anything significant.

Between those two techniques is a story in which the reader/player can choose between a few major storylines that go through the same places, but significantly change what happens in them. I'm tempted to try that, perhaps with some pseudo-choices along the way, and one of those story trees near the end, so there can be a lot of different endings.

The story I have in mind is tentatively called The Adventure Company and the Book of Mirrors, and it features young people on a nature trip with their parents. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they are so far from civilization their cell phones and tablets can't get connectivity to the outside world, and the young folks are terribly bored until they find a magic book that whisks them away to a strange world, called Dimotzo.

Things, of course, are not quite right in that world, as the young people soon find out, and they'll have choices to make, among a Poisonous people who call themselves Civilized, and a Violent people who call themselves Strong, while animals like leopards and serpents tamely wander the streets of the cities as pets, and no one there thinks anything of it.

Does this sound like something interesting? I'm curious to try it, just to see what's it like to write a story with choices.