Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sabbath Reflections: First Impressions and Board Games

Please read this whole post. Because if you don’t, you’ll never want to play board games with me again. And then I would just be sitting in my dorm room alone, playing against myself and losing every time. Which would just be pathetic.

I’m going to define what I’m talking about right away, kind of like those stupid warning labels on irons that say, “Do not iron clothes while on body,” just so that no one misunderstands me.

Whenever I talk about forming first impressions, I mean: To remember interesting or unique characteristics and personality traits of others, both positive and negative, while allowing those impressions to change over time. Not stereotyping. Not judging.

See? That isn’t so bad.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fatal Flaws and You: A Compact Psychoanalysis

There will probably never be a movie based on chess.

Just try to picture it for a second: training montages, inspirational locker room speeches, conflict between teammates, the buzzer-beating final score that wins the day…none of the typical sports movie gimmicks will work with chess.

Why do I bring this up? Why is this in a post that’s supposed to be about writing? Why do I ignore the magnificent Pixar short, “Gertie’s Game,” which is about chess, and therefore chess needs no epic movie to justify itself?

Because for all the differences between chess and sports, they have at least one thing in common: you have to pay attention to strengths and weaknesses, your own and your opponents.

Writing is the same way. As the writer, you are the coach. Your heroes are your players, your villains (and sometimes the random bystanders who get in the way) are the opposing teammates. In order to win – to make your story feel real and draw readers in – you have to know their strengths and weaknesses.

You also need to know your own.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sabbath Reflections: Coincidence? I Think Not!

You know those stories that span years and have two people's lives intersect in a strange, coincidental ways and sound like they should have an epic score behind them in their dramatic conclusions? This is one of those stories from my life that I wanted to share.

Dialogue is my favorite part of writing. This makes sense – I love talking, I love listening, I love eavesdropping on random strangers. And I love drama (inside the theatre, not anywhere else).

These are a few of the reasons that I wrote a lot of scripts in high school, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Back then, my reasoning went something like this: some of the skits we’re doing for youth group (taken from badly-designed freebie websites) are terrible. Even I could do better than that.

So I did. My sophomore year in high school, I wrote a flurry of scripts for our youth group to perform at different events. It was a lot of fun.

But then, just like I usually do when I start a new project, I got burnt out. I didn’t feel “in the mood” to write any more scripts. So, spring of my junior year, I just stopped.

A few months later, I went to the Kids’ Action Club talent show. (That’s what our church calls our children’s ministry. Although the name might lead you to think so, it is not, in fact, a league of young spies, which is a little disappointing.) The talent show was an annual event, crammed with plunked-out piano solos and badly off-key singing and proud parents who didn’t care.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Carol Parodies

It’s finals week, everyone! To perpetuate the illusion that I’m studying for hours upon end, I’m pulling today’s blog post out of the archives. Here are some Christmas carol parodies I wrote a few years ago. Enjoy!

Christmas Specials

To the tune of: “Jingle Bells.”

Flipping channels on,
My new flat-screen T.V.
Re-runs make me yawn,
Nothing new to see.
Rudolph and his show,
You’ve watched since you were five,
And, come on, don’t we always know,
That Frosty will survive?

Oh, Christmas Town, Charlie Brown,
Clarence gets his wings,
Home Alone takes robbers down,
And Irving Berlin sings,
Grinch relents, Scrooge repents,
Bad guys always lose.
While each viewer cries laments,
Like, “I’d rather watch the news.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sabbath Reflections: Stop Killing Isaac

Occasionally, I get this strange idea that I should write newspaper articles or promotional materials for a ministry or slasher horror screenplays.

You know why?

Because I don’t want to.

That’s right. There’s this weird complex I have: I feel guilty for enjoying writing fiction so much. I feel like studying professional writing is too much fun to be considered education. I wonder if God wants me to do something else, something that feels a little bit more like sacrifice, to serve Him.

Here’s the rule I’ve landed on: don’t kill Isaac if God hasn’t told you to kill Isaac.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Write Christmas Tree Characters

First snowmen, now Christmas trees. What is it with me and extended metaphors at this time of year?

Something in the eggnog, I guess. Oh well. Here it goes. Your fictional characters should be like the following kinds of Christmas tree:

A Living Christmas Tree
This has nothing to do with whether you cut your tree in a lot or pulled it out of a deteriorating cardboard box (because my tree at home is the latter). What I consider “alive” has a lot to do with the decorations on the tree. Some trees have nice strings of lights, bulbs carefully arranged and within a narrow color scheme, and empty boxes wrapped in coordinating paper. Others are a hodge-podge explosion of colorful holiday miscellany (always wanted to use that word). Each ornament, from the “Baby’s First Christmas” with adorable six-month-old Amy grinning out of it, to the tattered handprint Rudolph made in Sunday School, to the bookworm inside a gnawed-out apple, has a story.

In the same way, characters should be more than empty decorations, placed in the scene to look good. They represent a lifetime of stories. The readers should feel like they happened upon a chapter in the middle of the character’s life, but that it goes on before and after the novel or short story begins. This might mean including some details about your character that don’t quite fit a stereotype. There might be some odds and ends, some quirks, even some things that seem ugly. But that’s what makes the characters seem real and gives them meaning.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Always Winter, Never Christmas

One of the worst realities I can think of is the setting of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: always winter, but never Christmas.

When I first read the book as an eight-year-old, I thought immediately about the fact that Mr. Tumnus and the beavers never had presents or carols or a Christmas trees with those bulbs that make your nose look big when you hold them up to your face.

But the Narnians needed more than the outward trappings of the holidays. They were longing for things that they could hardly remember, but that they somehow knew were missing: hope, joy, and peace.

Like Narnia, our world was once frozen in always winter, never Christmas. But then, two things happened.