Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Putting the "Main" in Main Character

In theory, it doesn’t seem hard to establish who your main character is. After all, your main character is the main character because the reader spends the most time with him. If the story is in first person, he’s even the narrator, but at the very least, you probably get his thoughts and perspective, something you wouldn’t from other characters.

Or maybe your main character is the main character because all the stuff happens to her. She’s not just some random waitress who shows up once in the middle scene and has a few witty lines. She is the key to the whole entire plot!

Sorry, but that’s just not enough. I’ve read stories where the main character is not the main character. Sometimes, there’s a gaping hole where the main character should be. Other times, there’s a sidekick who’s practically demanding to be put in the spotlight. Either way, the story won’t work like it’s supposed to without a strong protagonist, the right protagonist. Here’s a checklist to make sure you have one—we’ll call him/her the “MC.”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Five Things I Learned in College

Recently, I found an old journal from the summer before my freshman year of college. (And by “found,” I mean that I’ve been doing actual archeological digs to get rid of mounds of papers, ticket stubs, old folders, and other office supply debris that have accumulated on, in, and under my desk.)

As this journal was found in one of the lower strata, it’s pretty obvious that I hadn’t read it since the day I wrote it, August of 2009. Only a few pages are filled out, and one is a list of qualities that I wanted to develop during four years at college. It is, as I put it, “a reflection of all my weaknesses and failures,” the person I wanted to be as an eighteen-year-old but knew I wasn’t yet.

Guess what? I’m still not there yet. But it’s interesting, looking back at this list, that many of the ways that God specifically intervened in my life to change me were in these areas. Here are a few of them:

I want to be someone who…

Doesn’t need the approval of others.
            Okay, fine, this one is always going to be a struggle, because I love people and want people to love me. However, during these past four years I’ve learned how to distinguish between rejecting rejection and rejecting constructive criticism. The first one is good (not investing my identity in what people think of me and letting it control my actions). The second is terrible (ignoring ways I can improve pointed out by people I respect). What people think of me still matters…but the circle of whose opinions matter is getting smaller, and most of those people love me anyway.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bacon in World Religions

So, fun fact: of the major world religions, Christianity is the only one that doesn’t officially prohibit bacon.

That’s right. If someone is a devout Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jew, they’re not supposed to eat bacon. Pigs of the world, rejoice!

To me, this isn’t just a bit of trivia, or a suggestion for a new kind of evangelism. I wrote my final research paper of my college career on bacon in different world religions. (Always an excellent way to end an academic career—ten pages of research wrapped in greasy pigskin.)

"For where your bacon is, there will your heart be also." (Really New Living Translation)

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of the reasons other religions don’t allow bacon. (I am not even doing justice to this here, but I figured you didn’t want to read a ten-page paper about it.)

Bacon in Judaism

  • The Mosaic Law includes pork as an unclean food

  • Important for being set apart

  • Emphasizes the fact that having specific rules even around food makes them aware of God’s lordship in everyday life

  • Only Orthodox, not Reformed

Bacon in Islam

  • Pork is forbidden in the Qur’an (unless you’re starving)

  • Pigs are seen as dirty and brazen

  • General obedience to a command of Allah

Bacon in Hinduism and Buddhism

  • Vegetarianism preached (eating animals leads to bad karma), but not practiced by all devotees

  • Ethics of harming animals—belief that god is in/through everything

  • Could lead to violence in other areas

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Five Best Ways to Say Goodbye to Me

Understatement of the year: I strongly dislike saying goodbyes. But, since I'm graduating, I’ve been doing a lot of that recently, with more to go. I’ve noticed that, for some people, it’s hard to know what to do or say when saying goodbye to a college graduate. In the name of helping people out of unnecessarily awkward situations, I have compiled a list of five ways to say goodbye to me.

A hundred million bonus points to you if you somehow manage to do all five at once.

One: Give me a hug.

I like hugs. And this week, I might need them.

Two: Find a “See you in heaven if not sooner” card instead of a graduation card.

I’m really just kidding. Graduation cards are great (although whoever invented those dumb hats probably thinks it’s hilarious that their practical joke has stuck for this long).

Seriously, though, the prospect of an infinite amount of time with these great people who I might not see again around here is very encouraging. Especially because in heaven, we won’t have stupid misunderstandings or bad tempers or frustratingly vague relationships or any of that nonsense. It’s going to be a party.

Three: Tell me you’re praying for me.

Graduation is scary, and I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing yet. I appreciate people saying they’ll miss me and they’ll pray for me.

Four: Vandalize something I own.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but throwing a rock through my window, slashing my tires, or painting a frowny-face on my laptop screen allows me to be angry at you instead of sad that you’re leaving. I can channel all of my negative emotions into yelling at/suing you instead of just being miserable that you’re cool and I’m going away.

(I’m totally kidding, by the way. Put that can of spraypaint down, sir.)

Five: Fill out an application to be my pen pal.

I am not actually kidding about this one. I love writing letters. I’m also really bad at keeping track of addresses. So this was my solution. Also, the questions were just really fun to write.

Here’s the application. Copy it, fill it out and either print it and give it to me, or send it to me via email. I can’t promise more than a letter or two a year, depending on how many people do this, but I would love to stay in touch with you the snail mail way.

So, thanks to everyone reading this blog who’s been a part of my four years of college. I love you, I’ll miss you, I’m looking forward to seeing you and hearing from you again in whatever form that takes.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Three Brave Prayers

Sometimes, I don’t know what to pray for. James 1:5 tells us wisdom is always a good idea. But what does that mean, exactly, in practical, everyday life?

Probably a lot of things, but here are three prayers I prayed during college and what happened because of them. They’re kind of terrifying, but I highly recommend them.

1. Pray that God will reveal your sin to you.

This took me until sophomore year to get up the courage to try. Because, you see, I like to think I’m perfect sometimes. So really, there’s nothing in my life I need to work on, right?

Wrong. So wrong. Once I prayed this prayer, I started noticing my hidden attitude problems, from my desire to always be right to the fact that I didn’t really listen to others—I just waited to talk. Suddenly, I had a very long list of things to work on.

But I also have a God who specializes in helping out with those long lists, and shows grace when I mess up. That’s a pretty important thing to note when praying this particular prayer to avoid either despairing because of your pathetic, miserable status, or of shifting into legalism overdrive to fix all the problems yourself.

It’s not fun to realize there are parts of you that are disgusting and terrible, kind of like cleaning out the back corners of the fridge and discovering a year’s worth of mold growing in a cottage cheese container. But to get rid of the messes, you have to be aware of them first.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Challenge of Ethos

Of the three points of Aristotle's triangle of rhetoric, I tend to be an ethos-heavy writer. That doesn’t mean that I don’t make logical sense or never appeal to emotion, just that my subject matter and “punchlines” (the sentences in a blog post, essay, or story that I spend extra time crafting and drive a point home) are often character/ethics centered.

When I learned about Aristotle’s triangle of rhetoric in high school, my teacher had us write a personal essay that emphasized one of the three points. He ended with a brief warning: “Most students stay away from ethos. That one’s really hard to do gracefully.”

You are seventeen-year-old Amy. What do you do?

Yep. Take that as a challenge and focus on ethos. I had no idea how to do that, really, but I thought I'd give it a try. My essay was about how I thought the select choir group at our school was made up of arrogant divas…until I became a part of it and experienced what it was like to be treated like an arrogant diva.

When my teacher graded it, this is what he said at the end. “At first, I was skeptical and felt like you were being a bit judgmental…and then you turned it around on yourself. And suddenly, everything worked.”

I had unknowingly stumbled onto one of the keys to using ethos gracefully: be a relatable character.