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I thought that I would not be doing TCWT again. I’m almost too old to do it. But I decided to come back at least one last time. So, here you go.
The prompt was “What do you think is commonly done well in literature? Done poorly?” I think it depends on the author and genre as much as anything else. Some things are well-done in one genre and horrific in another, or okay in one and marvelous in another.
Religious themes. A character’s religion, how they practice it, if they really live their faith, if they even practice what they preach at all, is a marvelous tool in character development whether you are religious or not. I have never been able to understand why some people neglect it. A character’s beliefs, including their religious persuasion, tells us quite a bit about that character. (This is why, if someone leaves the religion space on their character sheet blank, I often have headcanons about their beliefs.) Some books where this is done well: Dee Henderson’s “Uncommon Heroes” and “O’Malley” series (among the only romance I actually read). Living what you preach is a sign of sincerity, honesty, and sometimes even of courage. Often, it takes courage to say more than “non-denominational” on your forms, and the thing is, these characters don’t overtly try to convert others. It is the way they live that makes others think, “Wow. I wish I had what they have.” A book where this is done poorly: Many books (sadly) in the Christian fiction genre. (Oftentimes, Christian fiction is like romance; you have to be extremely choosy to find the good stuff.)
Religious themes in general: If a character actually lives what they preach, then religious themes in the plot itself are generally a given. Normally, you won’t run into actual angels or demons “on-set”, but the forces of evil vs. the good guys will probably happen. I very much prefer the sort of stories with a fallible main character, who falls and fails and then gets up again and apologizes for it (or, sometimes, doesn’t apologize and then sees the error of his ways.) Everything else just feels like another Christian fiction forgettable Mary Sue.
I also like to see slightly-different versions of real-world religions in stories (such as the world where Christianity developed slightly different, though all the teachings are still the same, the practices are different; some practices never evolved, while some that don’t exist in the real world did.)
Magic Realism. Now and again, I love a good story with spiritual/supernatural themes in the magical realism style, where it’s all strongly realist and then seamlessly in comes a bit of the supernatural. I love it when the plot twist throws me off, but when I look back into the rest of the book, I can see how it was subtly setting it up the whole time. Sadly, many “paranormal” stories tend to be “paranormal” throughout, without any magic realism. For me, it’s not urban fantasy if they don’t have the urban before they have the fantasy. Otherwise, it’s just fantasy.
A few notes on urban fantasy: I have read a couple of very good dystopian/urban fantasy novels where the story was very well-written. One of the biggest shockers, in my opinion, is when something that’s out of our normal experience happens and the characters treat it like a normal occurrence, because in their world, it is normal.
Items with character and/or significance. Now and again, there will be a MacGuffin that really ties everything together; it doesn’t even matter what the MacGuffin is, it is the significance that goes along with it. For instance, in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it was Padme’s charm that Anakin gave her when they were both very young. (I swear, Attack of the Clones would have been so much better if at some point, Padme had slipped the japor snippet out of the collar of her dress and said quietly, “I still have the amulet you gave me.” I would be shipping Anidala so much harder than I do now, trust me.) In my novel Loyalties, it is the multi-generational hand-me-down amulet, the symbol of a master’s care for his apprentice, which is worn hidden in the French braid across the back of an apprentice’s head (or, alternatively, depending on the circumstances, hung on its ribbon around their neck,) that ties the generations together, as it is passed down from Rynnar to Winter (who tries, upon his leaving active service as a Ranger, to return it, but Rynnar refuses to accept it), and later from Winter to his apprentice Elían, and is constantly there to remind Winter of Rynnar, even in Rynnar’s absence, during the first book. (I’m certainly praying to the Muse that I end up doing it right.)
Martin the Warrior’s sword, in the Redwall series, is a recurring object that serves to both tie the series together, and to remind everyone of Redwall’s first Champion. Another example would be Sir Percy Blakeney’s “pimpernel” signet ring in the Scarlet Pimpernel books (which, though not recurring, was key to the first book–was that a spoiler? I hope not…)
Items that get left behind. In my opinion, many authors these days tend to forget about this. Things get broken and left behind. Things are not overly important, and things should not be overly important to the characters. For instance, someone can and will lose their arrows or throwing knives (which, believe it or not, is a loss that was, in the past, a very hard one, since both were very valuable, especially arrows, which were hard and time-consuming to make by hand and thereby expensive. There will be times when someone rips their shirt or goes swimming and loses it. For some reason, authors these days seem too often to ignore these instances.
On the other hand, a character losing something with sentimental value can be a very emotional moment. It can be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or it can illustrate that at this point, the character doesn’t even care any more, or is just grateful that they got out of there alive. Martin the Warrior loses his father’s sword, which Tsarmina snaps in half, pushing him into vowing vengeance on the wildcat, as it was the only thing he had left to remember Luke by. Someone’s horse dies, and it’s a very emotional moment. Beaumont the hound in The Sword in the Stone (book, not the movie.)
Or, someone escapes a burning building to find that they left their old notebook behind. When the other character offers sympathy, the first just says, “It’s all right. It was only a notebook. I’m just glad we both got out alive.” Or even, “I don’t need it any more,” illustrating a dynamic moment in a character’s journey. Moments like these are a tool that is sometimes sadly neglected. People tend to forget that in a prior era, people would attach value to things using a different methodology than we do today. They would keep things because they were valuable or hard to replace, not because of sentiment, quite so much. In realistic historical fantasy, this is sometimes a stumbling block, though not always. (Kristoff losing his sleigh in Frozen could have been done so much better. At least they weren’t afraid to have people lose their gear in the movie.)
Use of small cues. This is a big one. Some people nowadays seem to want everything to be blatantly obvious and to avoid the search for small meanings and symbolism. This is the reason why some people hate character movies and characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi; they don’t see anything past the not-really-action of the movies or the character’s quiet, unassuming exterior. Forsaking dynamic characters for the sake of flash, some people end up creating Mary Sues.
However, I believe there are authors out there who do this really well (Brian Sanderson, Liam? I think I got that impression,) using small character cues, such as a slight movement, a nervous habit (such as fiddling with one’s sleeves) that recurs throughout the book, and tiny facial expressions that are left open for the readers to interpret to subtly build well-rounded, fleshed-out, dynamic characters. After a while, the reader becomes familiar with a repeated movement (“oh, Halt’s up to something; there’s the eyebrow!” “He’s reaching for his cuffs, even though he’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Poor kid.”) and learns to associate it with certain moods or actions. After a while, if you’ve seen The First Avenger, you get to recognize Steve Rogers’ nervous half-smile and distinguish it from his awkward smile, his stage smile, and the genuine article in Avengers. (Did anyone else notice how eerily similar Coulson’s non-offensive “I’m not a threat or even important to the plot at all; take no notice of me” half-smile is to Steve’s awkward smile? Since we know Steve better than we know Coulson, this tiny little fact, whether intentional brilliance on the part of Joss Whedon and whatsisname who plays Coulson or happy serendipity, tells us loads about Coulson as a character.)
Excessive stage drama queens. Basically, some characters just draw attention to themselves when they shouldn’t, detracting from the plot and being blatantly obvious (“don’t be obvious!”–>Moriarty’s best advice ever!), so much so that it’s sickening. This is just annoying. If it fits into the plot and the character, all well and good; it works! (This is why we actually can like Tony Stark.) But if not, then… then what’s the point? Seriously. All you have is an over-made-up actor who can’t even recite his lines properly. BORING. *shoots the wall* Sickening.
For me, most of what annoys me is blatantly obvious or lacking when it should be there. Of course, my pet peeves will be different from other people’s, but I think that all authors should try to improve their work based around these issues.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this listing of things I think are well-done but could be improved in fiction, thanks for reading and God bless you, as always, and don’t forget to drop by the other blogs on the chain through the rest of January! 😉
7th – https://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/ (you are here) and http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/ (this would be Rosalie; I still need to read her post so now I’m done with mine I’m heading over to do that.)
11th – http://kirabudge.weebly.com/
29th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)
(Hey, look! Rosalie and I share a day! Awesome. ^_^)