Posted in Chronicles in Creation

Redemption Arcs: Why We’re Sailing Without Our Moral Compass

I don’t know if this happens to other bloggers, but sometimes it happens that I decide to write a bunch of posts on a theme, and I list out all the topics that I want to talk about, I collect up some good case-studies, and I start writing… and then I realise that I’ve started in the wrong place.

This is one of those times.

Because this series was intended to focus almost entirely on the structural aspects of a good redemption arc, to look at creating a sense of narrative balance, and the most effective ways to use the more common mechanics redemption arcs include, such as a Tragic Backstory, or a Turning Point. And as I re-read my notes I realised that there was a curious lack of any discussion about the moral issues that redemption arcs raise and struggle with and (hopefully) answer.

This wasn’t exactly a missing piece; I didn’t simply forget about morality or anything, but I realised that I did need to start the series off properly with some sort of discussion about why I’ve decided to leave morality out for the most part.

Sailing without our moral compass

Everyone Knows It’s Wrong…

One of the reasons why I feel like a writing series like mine has no business talking about morality is that, quite simply, everyone’s ideas about what’s morally right or wrong are different. I know we all think that we agree on the broader aspects of what’s acceptable and not, but everyone draws the line in a different place.

Like most people, I have a variety of friends with whom I like to discuss films, books and TV shows, and we’ll happily natter along about characters, scenes, and most importantly themes in various pieces of work. It’s all good fun, and it helps me to figure out what I really like about things and how I can incorporate elements into my own work and it also helps me, if for example I’ve seen a film that rubbed me up the wrong way in some form, work out what it was that I found objectionable.

The thing is, though, that the biggest and most long-running arguments I’ve ever had with my friends have been on those very same topics. It’s even reached a point where with every single friend there is at least one film, or book or franchise that we have mutually agreed to Never Speak Of Again. (The capital letters mean that it’s serious this time!)

Why do we get to this stage? You may be wondering.

Well, it’s essentially all down to one thing – we have different moral compasses and there are simply very different things we’ll all bend on or not. Things we’ll allow to slide for the sake of an interesting character or a really juicy plot, and other things which we feel simply cannot be walked back on later.

For example, sometimes you find yourself arguing that a character accidentally killing someone else through their bad decisions earlier in the story is simply a mistake and they should be allowed to amend their ways, learn from the experience and get on with their story. And another person may equally correctly argue that if this same character had used an ounce of common sense from the start, that entire episode would never have happened.

So no, there’s no point in assuming that all my readers will have the same moral code I have at all, and therefore judging a story on its morals is a little tricky.

After all, fiction isn’t real life, and the rules are what writers tells us they are.

And speaking of writers…

Why You Can Never Trust Writers

Apart from being highly personal, morality is also a completely relative concept.

It’s utterly dependent on the context of an idea or action, and that’s what’s always been its biggest strength and weakness combined. Is killing wrong? Yes. Except when you did it for a good reason. Is theft wrong? Yes. Except if it was for a good reason. And we make our minds up as outside observers based entirely on what information is presented to us in order to contextualise a character’s actions.

This will not be news to you as writers, even small children instinctively know this after all, and no one needed to tell them!

Ask any pair of six year olds about the fistfight you just broke up and you’ll promptly be given two totally different stories, in which the child speaking is clearly the innocent party and the other was utterly at fault. You know as you listen to them that they’ve edited out their poor behaviour and emphasised the other’s in an effort to justify themselves. They may not have all the fancy terms to describe this rhetorical device, but they certainly know how to do it!

What I’m building up to here is this: Never Trust a Writer.

No seriously, never ever trust writers! Even if you are also a writer!

Why?

Because writers can make anything seem like a reasonable action to take. Anything. You thought you would be against some action no matter what? Too bad! Writers can make you sympathise with it, at least for a little while. You thought some things were only done by monsters? Writers will give you some lovely, related protagonists and have you cheering them on as they perform exactly those acts!

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has you desperately hoping that a bunch of unrepentant murderers get away scot free. The Italian Job has you cheering on a crew of career-criminals stealing $4 million, not to mention utterly ruining a whole city of people’s day by causing a city-wide traffic jam for hours. How anyone manages to do that considering how much everyone despises getting stuck in traffic, is amazing to me!

Why are writers especially good at this? Well, as writers we are completely in control of the worlds our stories take place in. This isn’t history, wherein a narrative that’s been built up out of selectively picked bits of information can be overturned when someone looks up all the information that’s been carefully left out. Writers, especially in fantasy and sci-fi, must create all of the information that could ever exist.

You want the murderers in Murder on the Orient Express to get away with it because the man they killed murdered a child and caused the deaths of four more people, before escaping justice. Those people just want to get closure and justice and the law failed them so they did it themselves. You hate that man, and by the end you’re really glad that he’s dead.

But the only things we’re told about the murdered man is that he’s a kidnapper, a brutal child-killer, and an extortionist who’s now a bit sad that after a life of crime people want to kill him.

What we don’t see him do is feel remorse for what he’s done. We never see him trying to make amends by, I don’t know, funding several orphanages and schools to ease his conscience as to the origins of his wealth. Therefore we assume he doesn’t feel any, and he probably didn’t. But his death would immediately feel different if you knew that he was trying to make amends and that more unseen people are going to suffer now that he’s dead.

Nothing Is Real

You know how I mentioned in the first section that fiction is different from real life? (Yes, I know, I totally blew your mind with that insight!) Well, this is where that really comes into play.

Because we might all have different beliefs about morality, but we are all united in one thing with fiction: Nothing that happens in it is real and these characters do not matter.

I know, I’ve just broken the cardinal rule of writing, but it’s worth thinking about.

Because while fiction can reflect real life and shape real life, maybe even help us deal with real life, you know what it’s not? Real life.

So the actions that characters take in your work of fiction do not, on the most basic of levels, matter.

It’s one of the reasons why, where possible, storytellers like to tell you that their story is ‘Based on Real Events’. Because you care more about what happens when you think that you’re being given something real.

The Titanic movie wouldn’t be nearly so compelling if you didn’t know that all those people you watched die – by drowning, by freezing, by the engines blowing out – all those people really died. If they were just a bunch of made-up people who died in a totally made-up disaster, would you actually care all that much? Probably not.

Horror films like using this technique for the same reasons, although obviously that takes more of a suspension of disbelief, because I absolutely will buy that there’s a lot in this world we’re not aware of, but I feel like if vampires were readily available, I wouldn’t be hearing it first from a 2009 movie…

This is why fantasy writers are at a disadvantage. Yes, we have the freedom to get all creative with our worldbuilding and make up anything we want to, but all the events and actions and conflicts that we create to happen inside that world are effectively as tangible as Scotch Mist.

This isn’t the engine room of the Titanic burning men to death in 1912; it’s a dragon burning people for raiding its treasure hoard. That’s never going to fly if you tell people it really happened, and if it didn’t really happen then why should your audience care?

Of course, this challenge is by no means insurmountable. In fact you’ve probably scaled it in your writing already! Because while the events of a work of fiction are made-up, the emotions shouldn’t be. People’s thoughts, their feelings and logic should all feel real, it’s why people do things that matters in fiction, not what they do.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand this links us back up to the second point I made earlier. Don’t Trust Writers With Morality!

Because you’ll only care if the writer makes you care, or allows you to care. If you ever need a good example of someone being really aware of how much power a writer has over a reader’s empathy and moral investment in the events of a story, I can think of no better case than the dedication in one of Terry Pratchett’s books.

In 1989, Terry Pratchett wrote Guards! Guards!, the first book in a series about characters who would, in any other fantasy setting, be at best supporting characters, but usually only existed in the background of bigger stories; The Night Watch of Ankh Morpork.

They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, around about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film), to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they wanted to.

This book is dedicated to those fine men.

What interests me here isn’t the subversion of the fantasy trope, in which the side characters are the heroes and the young man with a sword called in by the city to save the day is so utterly meaningless that I’m not sure he ever got a name. (If he did, I didn’t catch it on my first thirty times of reading the book…)

What fascinates me is the way Terry Pratchett blatantly points out that we as an audience customarily watch or read about these, say, twelve men getting killed for just doing their jobs … and we don’t care. We don’t know their names. We don’t know if they had families to whom they are never going to return. The story will barely remark upon their whole existence, except to revel in the hero’s skill at killing people.

Terry Pratchett made some of his best characters in this series. And he made them by giving faces and names and lives to the people we normally are never told to care about.

I keep saying in this series that writers wield a huge amount of power over their characters and readers. Well this is another of those times.

Because writers literally have the power to make a rational, good person desperately want someone to get away with murder. To want people to successfully rob banks. To not bat a single eyelid in the face of a senseless loss of life.

 As writers, we are all totally free to use whatever moral hoops we need to make a story interesting, compelling and tangible. Have a good think about what you really want to paint as being ‘acceptable’ and not, because you literally do make the rules in your own world!

As an audience, it is always worth asking yourself, ‘Why am I okay with this action? Would I think it was okay if I knew more about these people?’ Hopefully it won’t spoil a story for you; that would be awful! I just think its good practice for looking at real life, where we often have to go looking for more information than is readily given to us.

Also, considering the vast army of reboots and remakes in the film industry at the moment that spring from the idea that the villain from the original was actually the Good Guy the whole time, maybe take it as a chance to remember why they were the villain all along?

If you enjoy talking about the nitty-gritty of putting stories together, be sure to check out the rest of the Chronicles in Creation series.

Also let me know in the comments if you end up having weirdly intense arguments with your friends about the actions of people who don’t exist and why they wouldn’t be invited to your equally non-existent dinner parties. I need to know it’s not just us…

Posted in Chronicles in Creation

Making Men of Myths – Part 1

Author’s Note: this post contains extracts from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series and some big spoilers, especially for the first book; Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, so read with caution if you are planning on trying these books out and don’t want to be spoiled.

If I had to sum up my original idea for starting to write this book, I would have gone for this: ‘What if British Folklore was based on real events?’ Folklore’s been a long-time fascination and is sadly under-explored in modern fiction.

Anyway, if I wanted this to work at all, there was something that I had to get right instantly: Gods. I suppose since this is fantasy, I should say The Old Gods?

If these characters didn’t feel both real and other-worldly at one and the same time, the whole idea would fall apart. Fortunately, there’s a really good example of the many ways you can go about achieving this out there: The Percy Jackson & The Olympians series.

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 1

If you haven’t read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series … just … treat yourself and go do that! Like, right now. It’s January, people, what else do you have to look forward to until The Thaw comes?

I myself found the series through what I have dubbed ‘reverse marketing’ in which the film is such a  bad adaptation that people’s complaints over how much better the books are actively caused me to seek the books out. I had a couple of friends get so upset and vocal about how good the books were and how badly the films had mishandled what was great about them that I just had to find out what the fuss was about.

And, oh boy! I was so glad I did. They are funny, they are exciting, they are full of little quirky nods to the original Greek mythology that’ll make you smile if you’re all nerdy and into that. (Who me?) But they don’t assume you know everything about everything and set everything up properly, so you won’t get lost if Greeks and their beliefs was, say, twenty years ago for you.

More importantly for this post, Rick Riordan does an excellent job of making the Greek gods feel both completely alien, and also strangely human. They are clearly powerful, immortal beings, but they also embody everything good and bad about humanity too.

Author’s Note: I did think about looking at Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but there the old gods are weakened and diminished from their old forms and strength and facing off against new ones, and that’s a very different topic!

OK, so you need to establish characters who are god; they need to feel real enough that the readers buy into their existence, but they also need to be consistent with their legends that you are drawing from. For anyone playing the home-game with this series, this ties into a previous post I wrote about Why Villains need Rules to be terrifying.

It’s all about combining the human and the alien, relatable and unknowable. And there are many ways to communicate this balance in your character;

How do they look? Like us or like something you could picture being painted on the Sistine Chapel surrounded by thunder bolts?

How do they behave? Like an animal? Like a human? Like a force of nature? (Whatever that may conjure in your imagination)

What is their history? Many gods are described as being immortal, or at least as being far, far older than any human could ever be. They’ve watched over humanity for hundreds or thousands of years, so what kind of history have they built up and how does that affect them?

Now, the Percy Jackson series has loads of gods and goddesses in it, far too many for me to talk about in this post, so we’re looking at what Riordan calls The Big Three, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, who helpfully illustrate three main approaches.

Appearance

In the series, Rick Riordan did something very interesting; he updated the appearance of the gods to modern fashions, but often had their clothes reflect their roles and thus personalities. For example Ares is dressed like a Hell’s Angels biker, reflecting his status as the God of War.

Hades is the first of The Big Three to appear in person however and he is immediately set apart from the other gods we’ve encountered already:

He was the third god I’d met, but the first who really struck me as godlike.

He was at least three metres tall, for one thing, and dressed in black silk robes and a crown of braided gold. His skin was albino white, his hair shoulder-length and jet black. He wasn’t bulked up like Ares, but he radiated power. He lounged on his throne of fused human bones, looking lithe, graceful and dangerous as a panther.

… When he sat forward in his throne, shadowy faces appeared in the folds of his black robes, faces of torment, as if the garment were stitched of trapped souls from the Fields of Punishment, trying to get out. The ADHD part of me wondered, off-task, whether the rest of his clothes were made the same way. What horrible things would you have to do in your life to get woven into Hades’s underwear?

So Hades is immediately more imposing than anything we’ve seen before, and we’ve seen beings who have empty eye-sockets that fill with fire so far in this book, so that’s really saying something! He’s not changed his appearance like everyone else, suggesting that either he’s had no need to change, probably because Death is consistent in the human existence? Certainly he stands out and there is absolutely no way to mistake him as anything other than the god he is.

He’s also shown as being a very menacing presence; there are souls of the damned woven into his clothing, his throne is made of human bone. Many people find death and the afterlife a frightening concept and Hades really reflects this too. Hades at this point has always been spoken of as a pretty evil figure, semi-Satan-like if you will, and his appearance really reinforces this.

We meet Poseidon and Zeus right at the end of the first book, The Lightning Thief, and they have followed the trend of changing with the times, appearance-wise. However, they both have very different takes on this. Zeus, as the Lord of the Gods, has really taken to power dressing:

Zeus, the Lord of the Gods, wore a dark blue, pinstriped suit. He sat on a simple throne of solid platinum. He had a well-trimmed beard, marbled grey and black like a storm cloud. His face was proud and handsome and grim, his eyes rainy grey.

As I got nearer to him, the air crackled and smelled of ozone.

So Zeus dresses like most world-leaders, successful business-men and crime-bosses; sharp suit and well-groomed. Everything about him reinforces his status as the God of Thunder, and as the God In Charge. It’s hard to show in short quotes, but Zeus as a character is incredibly touchy, even for a god in this series, and he flaunts and reinforces his power at every possible moment. Zeus is in charge and he doesn’t want anyone to forget it for even a moment. He is always listening out for people being disrespectful:

“But I’ve never even been to Olympus! Zeus is crazy!”

Chiron and Glover glanced nervously at the sky. The clouds didn’t seem to be partly around us, as Grover had promised. They were rolling straight over our valley, sealing us in like a coffin lid.

“Er, Percy…?” Grover said. “We don’t use the c-word to describe the Lord of the Sky.”

“Perhaps paranoid,” Chiron suggested.

 The interesting thing about Poseidon is how he sits at the opposite end to Hades on the ‘How Much Do I Look Like A God?’ range:

The god sitting next to him was his brother, without a doubt, but he was dressed very differently. He reminded me of a beachcomber from Key West. He wore leather sandals, khaki Bermuda shorts, and a Tommy Bahama shirt with coconuts and parrots all over it. His skin was deeply tanned, his hands scarred like an old-time fisherman’s. His hair was black, like mine. His face had that same brooding look that had always got me branded a rebel. But his eyes, sea-green like mine, were surrounded by sun-crinkles that told me he smiled a lot, too.

His throne was a deep-sea fisherman’s chair. It was the simple swivelling kind, with a black leather seat and a built-in holster for a fishing pole. Instead of a pole, the holster held a bronze trident, flickering with green light around the tips.

Poseidon couldn’t possibly look less like a god if he tried for a century, which he very possibly has. His throne’s a folding chair, he’s wearing Bermuda shorts, I mean in a later book he even comes with this:

He wore a battered cap decorated with fishing lures. It said, Neptune’s Lucky Fishing Hat.

I am not making this up. And the strange thing is that, at least to me, the effect is that Poseidon is actually the most intimidating of The Big Three. Zeus and Hades have had this huge rivalry for hundreds of years and flaunt their power as much as they can, albeit in very different ways. But Poseidon gives the impression of a god who is so powerful that he doesn’t need to remind everyone.

It makes sense in a way: Hades is the Lord of the Dead and Zeus rules the gods and thunder, but Poseidon is the god of storms, earth-quakes, the sea and horses. That’s all the seas in the world, and a portion of the land and air under his control. Poseidon effectively knows that he has ‘It’ in spades and can afford not to flaunt it, which considering the company he keeps is kind of terrifying.

And speaking of terrifying…

Interactions with Percy

(Percy is our point-of-view character throughout the books. How much he relates to the characters he encounters therefore shapes how much we, the readers, can relate to them too.)

So a lot of the gods Percy encounters for the first time need to identify themselves to him as gods. Usually this is because they are cloaking their powers to blend in and it works. Percy could easily mistake them for other magical beings or totally normal humans.

The Big Three, however, have no such first-impression reveal; they are immediately identifiable as gods, giving off a god-like aura of power and menace:

I immediately felt like [Hades] should be giving the orders. He knew more than I did. He should be my master. Then I told myself to snap out of it. … The Lord of the Dead resembled pictures I’d seen of Adolph Hitler, or Napoleon, or the terrorist leaders who direct suicide bombers. Hades had the same intense eyes, the same kind of mesmerizing, evil charisma.

And then the other two:

The gods were in giant human form, as Hades had been, but I could barely look at them without feeling a tingle, as if my body were starting to burn.

So the Big Three are united in the aura of power they emit, which links them together when they are distinguished by their appearances. Makes sense as they are very much presented as three brothers, and for all their differences they need something in common.

So that’s first impressions done, but then they start talking and once more the differences between them are stark.

Percy is talking to Hades in an effort to convince him not to start a war with his brothers. We’ve already had the price of failure presented to us at the start of the quest:

“And do you know what a full-fledged war would look like, Percy?”

“Bad?” I guessed.

“Imagine the world in chaos. Nature at war with itself. Olympians forced to choose sides between Zeus and Poseidon. Destruction. Carnage. Millions dead. Western civilisation turned into a battleground so big it will make the Trojan War look like a water-balloon fight.”

“Bad,” I repeated.

So there’s a lot on the line and everything in the book has been pointing to Hades starting this mess while framing his brother Poseidon for it, to anger his other brother Zeus. And we all need to appreciate that this feels exactly like to original Greek myths, right here. It’s all egos and pulling ridiculous stunts over absolute nonsense because Greek gods apparently cannot be trusted to talk to each other…

Anyway, Hades so far has been totally alien in appearance and presence and then Percy suggests that the war would benefit Hades because people will die and he’ll have more subjects to rule over and this happens:

“Have you any idea how much my kingdom has swollen in this past century alone, how many subdivisions I’ve had to open?”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Hades was on a roll now.

“More security ghouls,” he moaned. “Traffic problems at the judgement pavilion. Double overtime for all the staff. I used to be a rich god, Percy Jackson. I control all the precious metals under the earth. But my expenses!”

“Charon wants a pay raise,” I blurted, just remembering the fact. As soon as I said it, I wished I could sew up my mouth.

“Don’t get me started on Charon!” Hades yelled. “He’s been impossible ever since he discovered Italian suits! Problems everywhere, and I’ve got to handle all of them personally. The commute time alone from the palace to the gates is enough to drive me insane! And the dead just keep arriving. No, godling. I need no help getting subjects! I did not ask for this war.”

I have never related to a character so fast in my life! I mean, yes, Hades is talking about ruling the world of the dead, which I cannot say I have any experience in at all, but c’mon… We have all had commuting issues and trouble at work, right? Hades suddenly became so relatable, I totally forgot for a minute that he’s dressed in woven souls and sitting on bones!

Now contrast this with Zeus, who continues his desperate efforts to be the most commanding and intimidating thing ever and therefore can barely say ‘thank you’ properly:

[Zeus] rose and looked at me. His expression softened just a fraction of a degree. “You have done me a service, boy. Few heroes could have accomplished as much.”

“I had help, sir,” I said. “Grover Underwood and Annabeth Chase –“

“To show you my thanks, I shall spare your life. I do not trust you, Perseus Jackson. I do not like what your arrival means for the future of Olympus. But for the sake of peace in the family, I shall let you live.”

“Um … thank you, sir.”

“Do not presume to fly again. Do not let me find you here when I return. Otherwise you shall taste this bolt. And it shall be your last sensation.”

Thunder shook the palace. With a blinding flash of lightening, Zeus was gone.

Oh Zeus…

To be fair, I don’t think we’re ever meant to relate to Zeus especially, except insofar as we all know at least one person who’s just trying so hard. I always loved Poseidon’s take on the same moment:

“Your uncle,” Poseidon sighed, “has always had a flair for dramatic exits. I think he would’ve done well as the god of theatre.”

See, Poseidon totally knows what’s up…

Anyway, then again there’s Poseidon, who on first impression is the most relatable and normal-looking of the three, and as a character therefore compensates by being the most removed from human understanding of the three. And this is Percy’s own father here, so that’s really saying something:

“Perseus,” Poseidon said. “Look at me.”

I did, and I wasn’t sure what I saw in his face. There was no clear sign of love or approval. Nothing to encourage me. It was like looking at the ocean: some days, you could tell what mood it was in. Most days, though, it was unreadable, mysterious.

I got the feeling Poseidon really didn’t know what to think of me. He didn’t know whether he was happy to have me as a son or not. In a strange way, I was glad that Poseidon was so distant. If he’d tried to apologize, or told me he love me, or even smiled. It would’ve felt fake. Like human dad, making some lame excuse for not being around. I could live with that. After all, I wasn’t sure about him yet, either.

And there’s the way that Poseidon actually relates to his own child:

“Your mother is a queen among women,” Poseidon said wistfully. “I had not met such a woman in a thousand years. Still … I am sorry you were born, child. I have brought you a hero’s fate, and a hero’s fate is never happy. It is never anything but tragic.”

I tried not to feel hurt. Here was my own dad, telling me he was sorry I’d been born. “I don’t mind, Father.”

“Not yet, perhaps,” he said. “Not yet. But it was an unforgivable mistake on my part.”

“I’ll leave you then.” I bowed awkwardly. “I – I won’t bother you again.”

Although I do have to say that, in this series, Poseidon is actually one of the best parent-gods in the whole cast, which says terrible things about everyone else… And Poseidon actually does tend to make an effort with Percy, by which I mean that he does clearly care and he tries to show his son affection as best he can. The fact that he’s so weird and stilted about it, however, continues to highlight how very not-human he is too.

Like, this is Poseidon telling Percy he’s proud of him:

I was five steps away when he called, “Perseus.”
I turned.
There was a different light in his eyes, a fiery kind of pride. “You did well, Perseus. Do not misunderstand me. Whatever else you do, know that you are mine. You are a true son of the Sea God.”

And this is Poseidon relating to Percy having a birthday several books later:

“I couldn’t miss Percy’s fifteenth birthday,” Poseidon said. “Why, if this were Sparta, Percy would be a man today!”
“That’s true,” Paul said. “I used to teach ancient history.”
Poseidon’s eyes twinkled. “That’s me. Ancient history.”

And speaking of ancient history…

History with Fellow Gods

So, I would argue that the main difference character-structure-wise between gods and, say, super-heroes is their age. Superheroes grow old and die (Maybe. Technically. Theoretically. If the comic books will let them.) Gods go on and on and have been around essentially for forever. And the challenge for writers is in how to showcase that longevity without constantly having to outright say These characters are immortal and really old, guys!

Rick Riordan is very good at making use of the original Greek myths to give a sense of the gods having lived and interacted, both with each other and with heroes, for hundreds of years. They speak of ancient myths as if they happened recently, and that helps us as readers get a real sense of how long they’ve spent developing rivalries and grievances and grudges.

“Husband, we talked about this,” Persephone chided. “You can’t go around incinerating every hero. Besides, he’s brave. I like that.”
Hades rolled his eyes. “You liked that Orpheus fellow too. Look how well that turned out.”

And those long-past interactions also directly affect the plot as it is happening in the present too. Remember that war in the first book that we were worrying about? Well, it’s not just Zeus being all paranoid:

“Then again, Poseidon has tried to unseat Zeus before. I believe that was question thirty-eight on your final exam…” He looked at me as if he actually expected me to remember question thirty-eight…

“Something about a golden net?” I guessed. “Poseidon and Hera and a few other gods … they, like, trapped Zeus and wouldn’t let him out until he promised to be a better ruler, right?”

“Correct,” Chiron said. “And Zeus has never trusted Poseidon since. Of course, Poseidon denies stealing the master bolt. He took great offence at the accusation. The two have been arguing back and forth for months, threatening war.”

In fact throughout the whole series, the whole pantheon of gods are mostly at each other’s throats far more than they ever can manage to work together. They’ve all stood on each other’s toes and made life difficult for each other, and clearly relished doing so. Even in the face of a bigger threat they can’t work together for a long time. They’ve spent centuries falling out and hurting each other and it’s nearly impossible for them to put all that aside. As we saw in A Very Potter Case Study 2, in a well-written plot, the consequence of an argument is that the next argument is worse and the characters less likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

So by establishing a long history between ancient beings, we can relate as an audience to the many layers of challenge throughout the series, with enemies attacking from without and rivalries weakening the group from within. And because we can relate so well, we also feel more tension; in the same position, could we put our differences aside for someone else?

In Part 2, we’ll be looking at how I converted some figures of folklore into living, breathing characters; where I drew inspiration from for their appearances, their personalities and their powers.

If this was helpful, let me know and as always, if you’re new then check out the rest of the series here. See you next week!

Posted in Ghosts & Gowns, Short Stories

The Ghost in the Machine

It was said in the old days that evil spirits couldn’t walk the earth on Christmas Eve. I suppose that the coming of Jesus was such a holy time that no evil could stand it. Regardless, this gave rise to the tradition that Christmas Eve night was the time to tell your friends and family your very scariest ghost stories, and still go to bed safe in the knowledge that all the terrifying ghosts and ghouls you’d been talking about couldn’t get you this night.

Continue reading “The Ghost in the Machine”

Posted in Chronicles in Creation

Fantasy Idioms: A Shortcut to Writing a New Language!

If readers take nothing else away from this series, I really hope you take any this top tip: When reading anything, keep a stack of post-its and a pen next to you at all times. As I read, any phrases or turns of speech that I really like get jotted down and stuck to the bookshelf next to my chair. Later they get collected and stuck into a note book so I can’t lose them. Continue reading “Fantasy Idioms: A Shortcut to Writing a New Language!”

Posted in Chronicles in Creation

In Defence of Doing Nothing

Greetings Everyone! I’ve been noticeably absent from the Interweb World for a few weeks, and what have I been getting up to in all this time? Well, those of you with sharp eyes may notice I’ve been fiddling around with the layout of this blog but otherwise? Nothing. Shocking isn’t it? You feel like it’s not something you can admit to; it’s probably Not Allowed even!

The word ‘Nothing’ has all these negative connotations, not limited to being the name of the threat in The Neverending Story. But I’d like to talk about two ways in which I feel writers – and indeed everyone else – should view ‘Doing Nothing’ as a good thing. Continue reading “In Defence of Doing Nothing”