Hey everyone, sorry for the lateness of this post. Anyway, it’s Saturday again which means I’m here to bring you another Philosophical Story Challenge. For this week’s challenge I want to look a philosophical theme instead of a specific philosophy, and for the theme this week I’ve chosen the idea of redemption. Most everyone should be familiar with the concept of redemption and how it works, but in case anyone isn’t I’ll give a brief explanation. To redeem means gain or regain possession of something in exchange for a payment. So when you buy something at the grocery store you are redeeming that item in exchange for some money. However, this definition is not complete; redemption can also mean to make up for the faults of something. When it comes to redemption of people this can be difficult because people are all flawed; one flawed thing cannot redeem another which is why it is commonly accepted that, as a general rule, something contained within a system cannot redeem that which it is contained in. So a normal human cannot redeem humanity, someone from earth cannot redeem the earth. You need someone or something that is outside of the system to come in and choose to redeem it. That’s why the Doctor is only part human and why V from V For Vendetta has to let Evee set off the explosion at the end. The Doctor is redeeming the world from space and time and V is redeeming a world that turned him into a monster, but the world he is making is not something that he can be a part of. Only someone who belongs to the redeemed world is qualified to make the choice to create it. Your challenge this week is to write a story that centers around a redemption story. As always, please keep them under 1,000 words if you want to post them on here, otherwise feel free to write more!
Well guys, Saturday is here again so I’m here to bring you all another philosophical story challenge. This week’s challenge revolves around the idea of redemption. It’s pretty much common knowledge that people feel a need for redemption. We know that we are flawed and we seek someone or something to redeem us from these imperfections. What is interesting is the nearly universal acceptance of the implicit idea that we cannot redeem ourselves, at least not from our character flaws. We can redeem ourselves for specific actions, but most people seem to agree that we cannot redeem ourselves from the parts of us that we dislike. For your challenge this week I want you to write a story about this search for redemption. I leave it up to you to determine everything else. As usual, keep the story under 1,000 words if you want to post it on here, but feel free to write more!
The latest from Neal Gibson:
In sticking with my earlier post I will be putting a lot of emphasis on Tolkien’s works during this series on the importance of philosophy in writing. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) I’m taking an entire course on the Philosophy of Tolkien this semester, and 2) Tolkien’s works provide a great source for examining the diverse nature of philosophy within writing and how we, the readers, interact with it.
I have titled this installment in my series ‘Recognizing the Author’s Intent’ because in my school career I have found this to be a particularly lost art. So much of what I learned in my Literature classes during high school focused almost exclusively on how I interpreted the author’s work as opposed to what the author intended to convey with his work, and while this is an important thing to consider, It seems that the author’s intent ought to reveal more about the philosophy of writing in a work than my interpretation would. The author’s intent reveals the author himself, in story format, to the reader, and to apply our own interpretation to their writing is like looking through a pair of polarized sunglasses with another pair of polarized sunglasses. If you turn the glasses just right you can still see roughly what the author saw, but if you aren’t careful you’ll miss the image completely.
So just how can we go about discovering the author’s intent? Well, in some cases it just is not possible because we do not know enough about the author. To follow the previous metaphor, we do not have access to their pair of sunglasses and so we are left entirely with our own interpretation. However, in the case of Tolkien, we have such vast amounts of his works in the writing that have been published by his son that we really can understand much of the intention behind his writings. We can see that behind everything he wrote about Middle Earth lies the central belief that implicit truth is more easily received and believed than explicit truth. To quote my professor, “Middle Earth is Christian in content, but not in chronology.”* That is, there is not a one to one correlation to anything within Christian doctrine in the world of Middle Earth; there is however, an overtly Christian message in its implied truths of the Fall and of Redemption, to name only two that come to mind.
Of course, in everything we read we are going to bring some level of interpretation with us; this is simply inevitable. In most cases our interpretations will match closely with what the author intended; or at least that should be the goal of writing. There is a fine line between implicitly including an idea and masking it beyond recognition. Tolkien was a master of staying close to the line, but even he sometimes crossed it. Before the posthumous publication of the Silmarillion much of what the scholarly world thought of his philosophy was seen to be at least partially wrong and in need of revision in light of the vast amounts of information released within the pages of the Silmarillion. We can see from this example that the key to finding an author’s intent lies in knowing about the author. If you are reading a book by a Hindu you are probably not going to find any implicit Christian or Muslim themes within it. That does not mean that there is nothing that a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew can take from it, but if you stumbled across something that sounds like it could be Christian you should understand that you are interpreting what you are reading to match what you believe. You are twisting your sunglasses until you can see something that you are used to, even if it means also recognizing the differences between yourself and the author.
Interpretation is not a bad thing; do not misunderstand me on this. It is good to critically think and find applications of diverse ideas into your own ideology. I apologize for the nerdiness of the following statement, but to quote Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender, “It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place it becomes rigid and stale.”** However it must be done respectfully. To ignore the author’s intent is to place an unrealistic amount of important on our own interpretive powers. As best as possible I would strive to find the line between author’s intent and our own interpretation and to walk that line with intellectual humility.
*Thomas Provenzola, PhD.
**Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 2, Episode 9: “Bitter Work”
I love character driven fiction, and good character development is, therefore, a must. However, there are a lot of books on the market that have poor, or no character development. For instance, The Dresden Files provides less character development over the course of five novels as I can find in one novel by Lars Walker (The Year of the Warrior) or Glen Cook (Shadows Linger). One of the greatest costs of the current focus on serial novels is the strong development of character. When a single character has to last a writer for ten or twelve novels, then he just can’t develop much in any particular novel. On the other hand, when a character is only needed for a few novels (one to three perhaps), then much more focused character development is possible. The same is true when a writer has a large number of character. Stephen Erikson is a good example of this. His Malazan Book of the Fallen series has thousands of characters, and hundreds of major characters. Now some of these characters are obviously not the focus of a great deal of character growth and development. However, when there are hundreds of major characters over the course of ten novels, the author is not relying so much on one character to carry the series. He can develop each of these characters well consistently, and show their growth, knowing that he doesn’t need them later on. Some of my favorite characters in the series only appear in one or two books, are strongly developed, and then die or move on.*
The most basic aspect of developing your character is to have a goal. We’ve given you a number of good posts on how to create a character, but you should also have a goal in mind for every major character you create. You can start with something as simple as a theme for the character:
At the beginning of the story John is childish and naive, but by the end of the story he is capable of making his way in the world (Coming of Age story)
At the beginning of the story Sathra is a selfish, evil person, but by the end of the story he is a noble character (Redemption story)
At the beginning of the story Melchior is single and hopeless, but by the end of the story he has found his true love (Romance story)
There are any number of themes that you can choose for your character, but the key is to know where you want the character to start, and where you want the character to end. Ideally, you will develop a character profile for what your character is like at the beginning of your book (who he is) and what you want the character to look like at the end of your book (where he is going), but you can probably get away with general themes.
Overall, the first goal of character development has to be know where each character is going, and who each character is going to be by the end of the novel. For instance, over the last couple of weeks I posted a two part introduction to a new book I’m working on (here and here). Right now I know who Alanoc is, and I have a fairly good idea of who Drevor is. I also know who Alanoc is going to be by the end of the novel, but I’m not completely sure who Drevor is going to be (I have an idea, but it’s something I’m still working on). Knowing who Alanoc is and where he is going as a character is important (he is the main character), but if I don’t figure out where Drevor is going, then I could easily leave him as a flat character who doesn’t develop over the course of the book. Obviously, this would be bad. We’ve all ready flat characters, and they aren’t fun. The best authors are those who provide depth and development even in their minor characters. J.K. Rowling is a good example of this. While I don’t like how some of her characters develop in the Harry Potter series, she provides strong character development in each of her characters, even the relatively unimportant ones.
So, here is your task: choose one of your stories and make a list of the major characters in that story. Then write out basic tropes for who the character is now, and who you want the character to be by the end of the story. This could be as simple as ‘An SOB’ to ‘The White Knight’. If you want to go the extra mile then take two or three of your main characters and write out full character profiles for who they are at the beginning of the story, and who you want them to be by the end of the story.
*Erikson writes Russian novels, and so it is not uncommon for major characters to die and be replaced by other characters.
Alright, its time for another scene challenge! One of the things I’d like to do is get other people’s ideas for themes. After all, there are plenty of things that I just can’t think of. So in addition to your story for this challenge, please post themes that you’d like to see in future challenges. I might take them straight, I might mix and match, or your idea might spark some ideas of my own. Anyway, if you don’t know the rules: You must write a story of at least a hundred words, and not more than five hundred (if you want to post it as a comment – if it’s just for yourself, then it can be as long as you want). The story must be about the theme given in this post. So, if the theme I give you is Life, don’t write a story about the lord of the underworld. If the theme is War, don’t write a story about a farmer planting his crops. Themes are very broad, so it really shouldn’t be hard to stay within a given theme, but I teach, so I know that some people have trouble with this.
Your theme: Redemption
This theme is pretty straight forward, and it’s one of my favorite literary themes (hence, you’ll probably see it again in other forms). However, it can be hard to write. Remember that real redemption takes real evil, the greater the evil, the greater the redemption, and the more difficult it is. So, fun with this theme and have fun with it!
Finally, Sam thought as he leaned forward and laid one hand over hers as he said, “I have searched far and long for you, my lady. I have taken many guises, poor, beggared, lame, sick, and now scarred, and you are one of the few who have looked past that which lives on the surface. Tell me your name.”
The woman sat back into her chair, confusion clearly written across her face, but she did not remove her hand from under his. “My name is Tilde. May I have yours?”
“I have been calling myself Sam, but that is not my name.” As he spoke Sam’s scars began to fade. “In fact I have no name. At least, none that is true and whole. I was never named, for it was I that did the naming.”
Tilde’s confusion was even more obvious now, and she squirmed slightly, but she spoke all the same. “Of what?” She asked, although Sam could see that she already knew the answer.
He played along with the question anyway. Sometimes, the question is important. His scars were now completely gone, and there was a soft echo of light, barely noticeable, shining form his eyes and mouth. “Of everything, Tilde.” Tilde jerked her hand back and shook her head. “No!” She whispered, “No, no, no! You can’t be. I can’t meet you.” Her hands went to her scant dress, and there were tears in her eyes. “Not like this.”
Sam held his open hands on the table, inviting. “Give me your hands, Tilde.” His voice had an air of command to it, something soft, but firm that could not be denied. Tilde reached her hands onto the table, and placed them into his. Sam smiled. “In all of my searching, you are one of the only people to see me.” His gaze flicked to her dress and back. “Do you imagine that I cannot see all that you have done? Do you imagine that, looking at you now, all your life is not laid out before me?”
Tilde tried to pull her hands back, but his grip was firm. Not painful, not the arrogant grasping of her customers, but firm and inescapable. She tried to scream, to yell for the men by the fire to come and help her, but she had no voice. And Sam continued to speak, “Do you think that I have not seen your every thought? But Tilde, I tell you this: You are forgiven.” A soft, warm glow flowed down from Sam’s arms into Tilde’s hands, and she could feel her entire body falling into that glow. “You are made pure, and new, and whole. Tell me Tilde, what is your greatest desire?”
Tilde opened her mouth to scream again, but instead she whispered, “George. I want George back.”
Sam smiled at her, and then shook his head. “Better to ask that you had never lost him, because you never did.”
Tilde frowned at him for a moment, but then memories of her life with her husband filled her mind. Like two sides of a coin, she could remember walking the streets, trying to scrape together enough money to feed herself, and she could remember her home with George, a mere two blocks away, and their three lovely children. Tears rolled across her cheeks as she looked down at her no longer scant clothing. She looked back up at Sam and asked, “Why?”
Sam smiled his half smile, one hand rubbing at the scars that covered half of his face. “Because you believed. You should be getting home now, Tilde. George gets worried when I keep you out too late.”
Tilde smiled shyly, “George doesn’t worry. He knows you too. But it is almost time to put the children to bed.” She leaned across the table to give Sam a delicate peck on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Leaving the coffee house Tilde looked back to see Sam resume his slow trudge down the street, and she wondered how long it would be before he found another who would see him.