Why this Were here, now?

[This post oriignally appeared on Timothy Bateson’s blog, mid Oct 2019]

Let’s say someone wants to write about werewolves but nothing they’re coming up with fits “werewolf.” Probably they’re putting the hearse before the horse. Their interest is on the were, not the were’s purpose in the story.

Let the “were” serve the story’s purpose. Don’t make it the story’s purpose.

 
Werecreatures are nothing new. Cave drawings frequently depict humanimals. Study any culture’s mythology and one wonders who wasn’t a werecreature. The concept of versipellics as evil is relatively new compared to human recorded history (about 800 years v 35,000 years).

A significant aspect of versipellic history is that skin-changing was a spiritual exercise, not a magical exercise. This spiritual aspect remains today in the concept of shapeshifting as evil. The Malleus Maleficarum provided details about all such “magickal” practices but the reason to hunt down practitioners was political; practitioners threatened the power and authority of Mother Church. What do you do when you’re a religious authority and you want to get rid of the opposition? You label it evil, demonic, satanic. You’ll find much the same propagandic reasoning in today’s political speeches. The US was The Great Satan to Ruhollah (Ayatollah) Khomeini. Reagan called Soviet Russia “The Evil Empire,” and Trump’s rhetoric…well, let’s not go there.

Culture makes a difference. Judeo-Christian teaching is that versipellics are evil; God and the Angels never change shape. Satan and the Fallen Angels do (they don’t want you to know who they are). Read religious dogma from other cultures and versipellism is good or evil depending on why it’s being done. It’s the individual’s reason for shapeshifting, not the fact that they can shapeshift, that determines the morality of the transmutation.

Modern scifi/fantasy may have versipellism caused by any number of reasons. Hank McCoy (Marvel’s Beast, genetic) owes much of existence to versipellism, as does Bruce Banner (The Hulk, radiation). Superheroes as a group owe a nod to versipellism; they have two identities, two personalities, one wears the skin of everyday clothing, the other the skin of their superhero costume, and like any good werewolf, the needs of each identity are at odds with the other. Only recently have superheroes walked among non-supers openly (The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark procliaming from the podium “I am IronMan,” Amazon’s “The Boys”).
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Is your work product or art?

Bit of a trick question, that.

Art is also a product. The question has more to do with production values. There’s a difference in the care put into producing a Velvet Elvis and the Mona Lisa. It has nothing to do with Da Vinci thinking, “Yeah, some day, hot dang, I’ll be remembered for this.” I doubt he did. It was commissioned work. But he definitely put more time into it than he made on the commission. He wanted to do a good job.

Not sure anybody on the Velvet Elvis production line has such thoughts. Ever heard anybody at a burgerjoint call from out back, “Wow, Charlie! That’s one damn good fry you made!”?

The “work versus product” question has been with me since January of this year (2020). I took a class with a recognized, award winning author.
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Character is… (Part 2.4) – Shading is…

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of StoryCrafting/StoryTelling posts I’m publishing for my own benefit; explaining something helps me determine if I’ve truly learned it or am simply parroting what others have offered. I learn my weak spots, what I need to study, et cetera.

Previous offerings include:

  • Atmosphere is…
  • Character is… (Part 1)
  • Character is… (Part 2.1) – Exposition is…
  • Character is… (Part 2.2) – Description is…
  • Character is… (Part 2.3) – Action is…

     
    And note that I’ll update/upgrade/edit these posts as I learn more.


    Shading – building a character by revealing contradictions about them.

     
    A favorite quote of mine is “If you want to know someone’s mind, listen to their words. If you want to know someone’s heart, watch their actions.” It’s a favorite because it demonstrates one way to understand someone. Their heart and mind aren’t coordinated, aren’t in sync.

    Specifically, it’s how their heart and mind aren’t in sync that matters. You may have heard the expressions “X says one thing and does another” and a personal favorite from childhood, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    A rich social example of this is pedophilia in the roman catholic church. Are these men holy or horrible? Or both? And do we need to recognize both aspects of their nature?

    Well, yes. Especially if we want to use them as a rich, complex character rather than a stereotype. It’s the shading – specifically how these dual natures are revealed – that determines if a character is a genre-trope or main, primary or central character. Does the main character have a side-kick he has to explain things to, such as Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson? Have you noticed that every detective novel since (and probably before) has had a sidekick to whom the main character explains things? Side-kicks regardless of genre are tropes. Sherlock Holmes was a genre trope until he developed weaknesses. Now a main character with a weakness is a genre trope.
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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Mar 2020’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“Arterial blood has sprayed onto the walls; the tannoy is breaking into a staccato and the student nurse, Linda, recalls a childhood wish for invisibility” – Terry Melia’s Tales from the Greenhills

“…has sprayed…”, “…is breaking…”, and “…recalls…” – I’ve written elsewhere that I need to know Melia sweated every word choice. If the word choice above was automatic and obvious, I’m giving up writing. The first sentence of Tales from the Greenhills is present tense, direct address, and action. You are there in the center of it and the action is intense. You see the arterial blood dripping down the walls. The tannoy (British for “loudspeaker”) is making terse, abrupt statements – probably operational rather than informative based on the “arterial blood” line – and we’re given a point-of-view character who is 1) a student – she’s young, 2) a nurse – she should know what she’s doing but from (1) we know she’s in over her head, 3) recalling a childhood – she’s looking for peace, comfort, refuge, safety, 4) invisibility – she wants to get away, hide, be free of what’s happening.

And in twenty-five words.

And it keeps getting better.

Tales from the Greenhills is a must read for authors and writer-wannabes. It is a textbook of style, voice, language, dialogue, setting, …

Sorry, if I’m gushing. It’s that good.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.

Steve Searls “A Little Chit-Chat”

If you haven’t read A Little Chit-Chat then stop reading this, click the link, and take the time to have a slow, luxurious read.

It deserves such attention and you deserve such fine writing in your life.

I don’t know if Searls worked on this or it just came out, fully formed, a rush of words and then done. I’m going with “it just came out…rush of words…” because there’s some awkward moments and I doubt most readers would catch them or care. It reads, to me, like an experiment.
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