Adaptations and retellings of stories have been around for probably almost as long as storytelling itself. Sometimes we think it’s a relatively new phenomenon, given how much of Hollywood’s output these consists of reboots, remakes, and sequels these days, and how little of it is comprised of original ideas. But really, with ancient epics and legends being passed down orally from one generation to the next, with classics from the Greek myths to Shakespeare’s plays drawing large influences from stories that were already well-known in their cultures, the practice has been a major tradition for a long time.
Sure, all the retelling and rebooting can certainly be overdone, and not every new story that comes out of it is a winner. But still, there’s a reason why retellings and adaptations hold a certain appeal, both for audiences and for writers. It allows the opportunity to take something that people already like and look at it in a new way, or for a new writer to put his or her own personal spin on it. The oral storyteller can elaborate or expand on the story the previous generation told him by using his own unique storytelling style. A new director can take a superhero or cultural icon who’s been around for decades and try to make the character fresh and original for a new audience. While we sometimes praise original ideas more simply because of their originality, there’s still a certain appeal to taking something that already exists and making it new, or making it our own.
Of course, there are countless examples in our culture, but the one that got me thinking about this concept recently was Exodus: Gods and Kings. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I want to, despite whatever surrounding controversy there may be from various groups. But in the wake of recent films such as Exodus and Noah, I wrote a post on my blog about the next biblical adaptations I’d like to see if this trend continues. And that got me thinking of how, sometimes, a well-developed adaptation with very complex and human characters can be fleshed out based on very little. While the Exodus is a fairly significant portion of the Old Testament’s narrative, Noah’s story is confined to only a few chapters in Genesis, and yet a full-length movie was made about him. The same can be said of Jonah, one of the other suggestions I made in my post. A whole full-length film could potentially be made out of the Bible’s short account and relatively sparse descriptions of character development.
Based on this trend in books, movies, and more, your challenge is to take a pre-existing character–from literature, film, history, religion, or whatever you want–and flesh them out more or add on to their story. You may want to choose a minor or more obscure character so you’ll have more liberty to be creative and more ground to cover that hasn’t already been taken by the main character. If you don’t know much about your character yet, then figure it out or make it up based on what little you do know. Ask yourself questions like these:
- What is this characters’ motivation? What are his or her goals or desires?
- Why does the character want this goal? Is there anything that happened in their life to set them on this path? (Remember, drawn-out origin stories are all the rage these days.)
- What will your character do to meet his or her or goals? What lengths will they go to?
- Are there any conflicting desires or interal struggles? If so, why, and how will your character deal with them?
- How does this character see others? What are their relationships like with other people? (You can use characters from the work you’ve already chosen, or, if not many are available, then make up some significant relationships of your own.)
- Are there any other quirks or interesting personality traits that your character might reasonably have?
Of course, there are plenty of other aspects of character you can flesh out and explore, but these are a few that might be especially helpful in elaborating on a lesser-known character who someone else has already created.
Once you feel like you know your character fairly well, write a short scene (or, if you’re up for it, maybe the beginnings of a longer project) focusing on this character. Are they going about their normal daily life, or maybe beginning a grand adventure that will define them in the long term? You decide! Use what you know about the character and follow their activities with your writing. Make sure to be creative along the way!
I hope that all of you are ready for Christmas. I am, and I’m looking forward to it. Honestly, it’s a little bit unusual for me. I’m not usually a big fan of Christmas. It’s all too commercialized. However, Alayna is a huge fan of Christmas, and we have some fairly sizable plans that involve seeing her family, seeing my family, seeing movies, seeing friends, a little sightseeing in a big city, and a hockey game. I have to admit that it’s going to be a lot of fun. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you. So, if you don’t already know the rules: I give you a prompt and you write a scene off of it. Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction. If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.
Your prompt: “I stared down at the knife in my hands. I knew what I had to do with it…”
One thing that really brings a story to life are the details. These can be pub songs, pipe smoking habits, religious factions, and other small tidbits that aren’t required, are certainly not center stage, but most certainly allow readers to live in the world. It is that touch you put on something where you wrote more than required, show less than you created, but the reader respects that, whether or not they realize it. Why do you want details? Because otherwise everything is a two dimensional way to display ideas, instead of an immersive portrayal of a world in your head.
Before we delve into this, however, a reminder. Despite the fact you’re creating all these neat details, info dumps are evil. Seriously. If there is a villain in your story, it’s three pages of detail delivered with all the grace of a two by four upside the head. Have characters notice little things, or simply state there was a statue for some guy who did something long ago. You don’t need to tell us more, as your characters would find it natural. Now on with the show.
For any world building, history is the foundation of all that is and was. It’s why an empire was created, why ruins exist, why a planet is now an asteroid field, and so on. It’s really easy to start at the point in history where your story begins, and leave everything else out. Your readers won’t even notice. They will notice, however, if you include history.
When I create history, I have a story concept. I let it ferment in my head for months to years. There is daydreaming, I may write a scene or character sketch here or there, but most of this will end up in the garbage. Orson Scott Card backs up the idea that any good idea should be allowed to sit in your head, with a few physical manifestations, for six months or more. It allows the ideas to form more fully, and you can ensure a higher chance you even have a story to write.
So the brew of imagination is ready to boil over and you need to sample the goods. Sometimes I will jot down random ideas, but it all eventually comes around to the history. I sit down for an hour or two in order to complete the task. Any more time than that and I’m wasting time.
I come up with dates and why the calendar system exists. Why is this important? There are countless calendars in our world, and each one is based on major events, the edicts of emperors and kings, or other reasons. The reason for how your people tell time is very showing of who they are. I’ve never created full week calendars, only seasons or years. From there I start to insert major events.
In the past six months, I’ve already figured out most of the events even if I haven’t assigned them years. Now and then I’ll throw in something random, especially if I go a thousand years without something note worthy. Most are blanket and very general, but give enough information it makes sense and creates a sense of setting.
Viola, you have a brief history. It can lead to short stories when you want to pop out something quick as a distraction. It’s also great for hooks. It can create festivals when you need a celebration. Perhaps a fallen tower destroyed a century ago becomes the perfect place for your MacGuffin plot line where the protagonist needs to find an ancient spell or artifact.
Before you get too carried away, there are three major points to keep in mind when creating history. First, your original vision of the culture for your story needs to be malleable. Creating the history may enrich what you already created, and don’t fear that.
Next, your history is malleable. If you find you need to revise it for the plot to function, whether adding or removing, do it. Your timeline is in the background and no one actually knows how it flows.
Finally, do not over share your history. It took you an hour or two. Use one or two tidbits and it’s time well spent. Do not, for all that is benevolent, share your entire history. The only exception is if your history is of the utmost importance, you become ridiculously famous, or you share your short stories about those moments on your blog for publicity. Otherwise, in the novel, do not share.
With that, go forth and make history.
There are several more of these detail oriented posts to come! Do you make histories? If so how do you incorporate them? If you write science fiction, do you make them for each planet? That would be maddening, but aren’t we all a little mad? Have a fantastic holiday season!
Thomas Aquinas and Jean Porter are swimming around in my brain at the moment. It makes for an interesting combination… overall, I like Aquinas better. He’s rather brilliant, even though I’m not completely sold on some of his ideas. I’ve also found that he presents some ideas that I’ve already settled on, and it’s always nice to have that kind of verification of your thoughts. Thus far, my favorite is the idea that the body is contained within the soul. Aquinas argues that a body is present in anything upon which it has an effect (think Einstein’s field theory… which was essentially first postulated in the twelfth century by a monk… pretty cool, huh?). This, the soul is in the body in that the body in contained entirely within the ‘field’ of effect that the soul creates. Essentially, this is an argument that the body is a manifestation of the soul, the soul is not simply one part of the physical body (see Decartes, who posited that the soul might be contained in the Pineal gland). Anyway, I have a story challenge for you. So, you know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).
Your Challenge: Write me a story about plague and pestilence. This could be a historical fiction piece about the black plague, a modern piece that deals with the aids epidemic, or you could actually personify plague or pestilence and write the story from their perspective. I’d actually like to suggest to some intrepid individual to read Steven Erikson’s Korbal Broach and Bauchelain and write a story with personifications of Plague and Pestilence as the central characters in a similar style.
So, tomorrow (hopefully) should be our first post on gender relations… …if my girlfriend and I can get on the same page long enough to hash out a blog post anyway :P. We’re making some progress at least… …well, when she isn’t laughing hysterically at random bible verses that aren’t even remotely funny! Admittedly, she’s had a very long day, but as I write this she is more than a little bit loopy. She just laughed her way through John 5 (actually had to stop reading a few times), and it’s just not a chapter that I find particularly funny. What can I say, I’ve got myself a special lady. It’s actually kind of fun to watch her try to read and laugh her head off at the same time, and then she tried to convince me that we’d already prayed together… …we hadn’t. Not even remotely. Yeah, she’s exhausted. So, you know the drill here: I’m going to give you a question, and you’re going to write me a one thousand word story that answers that question and defends your answer.
So, here’s your question today: What does it mean to have authority? Is authority absolute? Does it mean that you can demand whatever you want? Is all authority limited? Is some authority limited? If so, what are the limits of that authority?
It never ends. I’m finished with all my work for this semester, and now I’ve started into Summa of the Summa, Peter Kreeft’s summary of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica along with Jean Porter’s Natural and Divine Law. I’ll admit that the Summa is kicking my tail. For anyone left who still thinks that the high middle ages were a time of ignorance and superstition, try reading some twelfth century metaphysics (Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Peter Abelard, etc). You might disagree with their conclusions, but if you read some of these people, you can’t doubt their brilliance. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:
So, like a month ago, I started this series about ethics and why it helps in your writing. It’s been a little while since I wrote something in this series, and I thought it was about time that I got back to it. So, lets deal with Naturalism first. If you don’t remember the categories that we’re using to outline these theories they are: metaphysic, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, teleology, exemplar, and method. If you don’t remember what these mean, it’s all explained in this post. So, by naturalism I am referring to a set of philosophical ethical theories that all hold to a particular metaphysic. This metaphysic is the assumption (and it is an assumption) that only the material world exists, and anything that does not exist is automatically false. So, this includes pretty much all consequentialist theories, along with various forms of hedonism, nihilism, positivism, emotivism, etc, etc, etc. Pretty much anyone who rejects the supernatural fits into this category.
So, different types of naturalistic theories have different epistemilogical outlooks. For instance, emotivism rejects the reality of moral values. Instead, it argues that when I say ‘this cheesecake is good’ or ‘this waterfall is beautiful’, what I actually mean is ‘I like this cheesecake’ or ‘this waterfall gives me warm butterflies’. On the other hand, realist utilitarianism argues that there is a real good, that good is whatever is best for the majority, and that it can be know with mathematical precision. Many naturalistic theories do believe in an objective moral standard that is based in some clearly or even mathematically discernible good (i.e. physical pleasure, the good of society, demonstrable personal goods, etc, etc, etc).
The philosophical anthropology of naturalistic theories also has a fairly wide variety, but in a somewhat more interesting. The vast majority of ancient naturalistic theories failed because they realized that men weren’t particularly good by nature and thus had to descend into nihilism. If the world is an uncaring place, people are generally crap, and physical pleasure or emotional happiness are the only things worth living for, then really what’s the point of trying? However, many modern versions of these theories, such as Ayn Rand’s Ethical Egoism, Utilitarianism, Moral and Cultural relativism, and a variety of others generally manage to maintain a more positive outlook on life. The world might be all there is, but they live under the assumption (many would call it an illusion) that the world is a generally good and happy place, and that people are generally warm and fuzzy. Needless to say, I disagree with this.
The vast majority of naturalistic moral theories have no actual teleology. Consider here that there is an important difference between a teleology and the kind of goals that consequentialism aims for. Consequentialistic theories look for specific results (i.e. this particular decision made X% of the population happier), and then assume that the means by which those results are achieved is immaterial (seriously, Mill’s theory can easily be used to defend limited slavery). However, a teleology is directed at the final end of man. What is it that we are attempting to become (i.e. a good example of a teleology might be Christlikeness in Christianity or Eudaimonia in Platonic ethics). So, in teleological thinking the ends (not the consequences), and the means both play a part in deciding whether a potential action will be good.
Similarly, the majority of naturalistic models have no real exemplar. Hedonism points to the child as an exemplar of ethics: the child simply does what makes him happy in the moment. …True hedonists don’t tend to live long lives. Utilitarianism has no clear exemplar apart from it’s mathematical formulas (though some nerds will point to Spock as an example of rationalistic utilitarianism). Relativism and emotivism actually can’t have examples. When I should do whatever feels right to me then no one else can be my example.
Lastly, naturalistic theories, by and large, tend to be unconcerned with methods. Utilitarian thought can justify slavery or genocide as easily as it can compassion or mercy. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is actually an excellent example of this. Further, moral relativism and various forms of emotivism argue that anything that feels right to me actually is right, and thus absolutely any action can be right. Hedonism and Egoism both argue that I should act in my own interests (either physical or intellectual, immediate or long-term depending on the circumstance), and thus justify whatever I need to do to achieve those interests. So, one of the most significant problems with naturalistic moral philosophies is that they often give us little or no practical guidance about what is actually right or wrong.
So, how is any of this of use in your writing: I’ll be willing to bet that you have a few characters who just do whatever they want. We’ve all know people like this. Spock is a great example of strong utilitarianism in fiction, and a great character to boot. Similarly, Brave New World is a masterpiece of fiction that stands as a direct refutation of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory. On the other hand, you might want to move a character from some natuarlistic viewpoint to an idealistic or existential viewpoint. Perhaps one of your characters has given up on actually understanding the world, and is slowly coming to the conclusion that we can’t actually know anything. Or perhaps one of your characters is moving in the opposite direction. Perhaps the incredible science of a futuristic world is actively convincing him that truth is real and can be known. There’s a lot of potential uses here if you let them work for you. So, have fun, and get writing.
Welcome to life, everyone. If you haven’t figured it out yet, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it sucks, and sometimes it just makes you want to die. When it does, don’t give up. I know you want to, and I know it seems easier. Heck, it probably is easier, right now. Of course, in ten years you might feel differently, but for right now, you’re right, its probably easier. I get that. Now get up, brush your teeth, and do what needs doing. Then figure out what you have to be thankful for, and thank God for it, even if you don’t feel like it. Heck, thank God for it even if you don’t believe in him. It’s not like its going to hurt you. Anyway, you all should know the rules, but just in case: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene. Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction. If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.
Your challenge: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.
Well, everyone, I’m sorry that we missed another post. We’re in the middle of finals week, so a lot of people are ridiculously busy at the moment. That being said, I hope that all of you are having fun, and that you’re all enjoying your week thus far. I hope that Selanya get something up later today, but its entirely possible that she won’t. So, until then, enjoy: