Book Review: The Giver

Let me start off by saying one thing.
I love Utopias/Dystopias. I think the ideas and themes are interesting. I enjoy figuring out the social structure. I bask in the glow of the twisted history they possess.

Actually reading Utopian Literature…….not so much.

Even starting with Thomas Moore’s Utopia, I have always found them to be incredibly dull. (As far as story and plot are concerned.) Utopia reads more like a history text book than anything. (I know that is what the author was going for.) The scenarios presented are indeed interesting, but not exciting.

There are only two Utopias/Dystopias that I have enjoyed reading about. Ironically, because they do the exact opposite of Moore’s original. While Moore’s work was long, expansive, and detailed. These are more general or only specific in the core aspects of the society.

The short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin will be our transition before getting into the meat of The Giver. “Omelas” is a very simple and basic concept. It describes the city in ideal detail (only taking up a few pages), but then in the last few paragraphs it describes the Dystopian side of Omelas and then concludes. This is a smack to the face with brevity. It is quick and to the point. There is no dialogue and only one character is really given any attention.

And it is one of the best short stories I have ever read. I compare all other Utopias to this one as my measuring stick. (Even the book Utopia.) It is quick and to the point, and that works very well. You can feel the importance of every word and letter. It is an excellently crafted piece of word-art.

The Giver by Lois Lowrystill gives less information than a tome like Utopia, but what it tells us captures us and leaves us wanting more. The way Lowry accomplishes this is by giving us a personal connection through a wonderful Main Character.

Main Character: Jonas.

Jonas is a twelve year-old boy living in a Utopia known simply as The Community. The story is told through his perspective and we see things as he goes through life. Like all Twelves in The Community, Jonas is assigned a position in the work force. Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver as the old one is…..old. The Receiver’s job is to pass on advice based on the memories of the world before The Community became a Utopia. This is where Jonas’s journey begins in force. For his previous years, Jonas was ignorant of the world around him, and we are ignorant of it too. As he receives memories from The Giver (The former Receiver), Jonas begins to piece together the faults in his society. (And so do we.) To this end, Jonas is more than just himself. He is us. We learn what he learns, experience what he experiences. It pulls us in and connects us to him, but still keeps him as his own character. Further, he is a very well grounded character as he is able to portray a realistic reaction to the world around him, as well as his new perception of it.

Supporting Characters: The Giver, Father, Mother, Lily, Classmates, Gabe.

This book could also be a story of relationships. Through Jonas’s eyes, we see the connections he has with others and how those connections change, or completely break, as the story goes on.

First is The Giver himself. The Giver himself starts off as an intimidating figure in Jonas’s new life as an “adult” in the Community. Eventually, The Giver fits into the typical Mentor role, but it works very well because of the relationship built between the two characters of Jonas and The Giver.

Next, we will talk about Jonas’s Family. They are incredibly……bland. I don’t mean boring, but more like the neighbors in “Leave it to Beaver,” or “The Brady Bunch.” There is no emotional depth to them. Which is actually what works for the book. It points out the shallowness of it all. And at first it just seems cheesy, but as you read you realize how twisted it really is for his family to be like that. Lily is probably the second most interesting member of his family, but only because she sort-of works as a foil for Jonas. Sort-of…..

Jonas’s classmates are also kind of bland and blank characters. They aren’t particularly interesting. Nor should they be. The focus should be, and is, on Jonas and how he relates to them. At first it is a good (albeit shallow) friendship. I do wish that they had explored the relationship with Fiona a bit more. Maybe have Jonas take her with him at the end, but I don’t know. That’s just the romantic in me talking.

Last is Gabe. He works as a symbol for innocence and future hope. He is untouched by the Community, but is in the most jeopardy. He is more of a device, but he’s a baby. He can’t really participate in dialogue.

Favorite parts:
I had several parts that I liked.
First, I liked the scene during the ceremony of Twelve. You can feel the anxiety of the crowd, but especially with Jonas.
Second, I like the Community’s level of manners. It is so nice, but so creepy.
Third, the father and the twin. That is all I will say. That was the perfect way to convince Jonas.

Conclusion:
This book is wonderful. I highly recommend this to anyone.
Third,

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Characters part 2

The Third step I do is to decide on character alignment. For those who have played Dungeons & Dragons this is a very common concept. It can be easily applied to characters of fiction as well. I’ll make another post on what each alignment means, but I use the 3.5 listing of alignments.

By using these alignments, you can determine what your characters will do in certain situations. This can be a very useful method of determining character decisions and ideals as well as motivations. It should be noted that these classifications are also organic for characters and can fluctuate between different situations and different characters in the same alignment. Darth Vader /= Charles Vi Britannia, although both are Lawful Evil.

After you’ve covered these three steps, repeat step 2 as many times as you need to. Your characters don’t just change in the story, they change in you head. Keep things flexible and be aware of how the character interacts with other characters.

These rules are general and not very specific to different kinds of characters. What determines a protagonist as opposed to an antagonist is the difference between the traits (obviously), but also between the alignments (also obvious). This works like you might think, but it is very vital to determining the actions of your characters.

Good Characters: These are typically your protagonists (For counter examples see Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along-Blog, Megamind, or any other story where the protagonist is a villain). It is important to make the traits for these characters as reasonably balanced as possible. No hero is perfect (Making them perfect is called “Mary Suing” and it is evil.) It is also important to however make them be more good in their traits than bad. (Duh), but don’t make them be angels (even angelic characters ūüėõ ) Make them imperfect, you can even have their faults be obstacles to overcome, thus making the character more like-able. Negative traits are a good thing (Who knew?)

Neutral Characters: These are your anti-heroes, mercenaries, and “Noble” Villains. You can keep them REALLY balanced in their traits which is a hard line to walk. Another method is to make them have one characteristic that stands out from the rest. A cop who kills sex offenders and writes it off as “self-defense.” A Black Knight for the Evil Emperor who gives the hero a sword to defend himself as his code demands it. So on and so forth.

Evil Characters: Typically your Antagonists. These Characters are typically selfish (More so than Neutral Characters). You can really work with them two ways. First, you can make them be entirely EVIL and I mean they step on puppies for fun, and burn down a village for breakfast. Kefka from Final Fantasy VI is a good example of this kind of villain. Second, make them tragic/sympathetic. Mr. Freeze from Batman Comics is a great example for these guys. In the end, Villains are the most flexible. You could even make them be really nice, but just want to rule the world and are willing to crush anyone in their way. Possibilities are varied.

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Book Review: Eragon

¬†I’m aware of the distinct lack of posts produced over the last month. ¬†I could blame work, sleep, and a myriad of other things, but it just comes down to laziness. ¬†For this post I’m going to give a critique over a book I’ve read,¬†Eragon¬†by Christopher Paolini. ¬†This is going to be mostly a list of what he did wrong and what he did right.

******SPOILERS******

Let us start with the Good:

1) The World of Alagaesia is well crafted.  It has good, solid structure and is a believable world (as far as fantasy is concerned).  It has a history that is well developed and plays a part in the current events of the story.  I did have issues with the timeline of some events, but it was mostly confusion as to when things happened in proximity to the present. Which is a problem to be expected when dealing with immortal characters.

2) There are a multitude of characters that are incredibly interesting, Angela, Brom, Azjihad, Murtag, and more. ¬†They have¬†back-story¬†and personalities that are easy to accept, though sometimes infuriating (Brom’s favorite line is “I’ll keep that information to myself.”)

3) The plot is entertaining. ¬†It isn’t too deep or complicated, and I easily predicted how several events were going to happen. ¬†It really doesn’t go anywhere original or spectacular, but it does a good job getting there.

4) Saphira is Awesome.  I now want a Dragon.

Now for the Bad a.k.a. The Three Big E’s:

1)Eragon

Eragon is one of the worst main characters ever, or rather he is presented horribly.  He is the biggest whiner I have ever seen.  This not to say that his life is easy, or that he accomplishes his goals with minimal effort, but he does WHINE ALL THE FREAKING TIME!  

Honestly, the kid is in a constant state of, “Woe is Me.” ¬†Do not let your characters be Angst ridden. ¬†They are not helping your story, they are only bogging it down. ¬†Eragon is almost constantly complaining about something or another. ¬†Now, some of these episodes into Angst can be expected, such as the death of his uncle. ¬†Even to an extent, the death of Brom, but he makes the exact same complaints and cries of turmoil. ¬†The scene that makes me want to throttle Eragon though is after the climactic battle, Eragon has received a nasty scar across his back. ¬†Now I am aware that this wound would hurt a lot, but first of all the wound isn’t visible if you have on a shirt. ¬†Second, it isn’t particularly life threatening or maiming. ¬†Third, he killed a shade (demon-possessed man) and that was all he got from it. ¬†The dude is a hero of legend now, and all he got from it was a B.A. scar. ¬†His response, “I’M DEFORMED!” ¬†(Apply palm directly to own face.) ¬†Over all Eragon isn’t that bad of an M.C. ¬†He does show his growth and his development into being a hero, but only physically and mentally. ¬†He completely bypasses the emotional aspect and stays stagnant since the¬†beginning. ¬†This could be acceptable if this lack of emotional development affected his abilities, but it seems to not do so in anyway.

Learn from this Future Writers: ¬†Develop your characters evenly, or make their weaknesses actually affect their entire being. ¬†And don’t make characters ¬†angsty, it doesn’t help. ¬†Find the fine line between angst and actual issues. ¬†

2) The Elves

Dear Lord, please give me the strength.
I used to like elves.  Really I did, I thought they were neat and an interesting race.  They are powerful in magic, wise, and lived forever.  I hate Elves now.   I wondered why a friend of mine hated elves so much (He has also read Eragon) and now I know why.  The Elves of Eragon are a Mary-Sue race.  There is no getting around it, they are.  Not only are they over-powered as crap, but they seem to have no flaws what so ever.  

I say they have no flaws and they are over powered, but really, that is all told. ¬†It is only shown during the training between Ariya and Eragon. ¬†We see how out matched he is, but other than that there’s no¬†indication¬†that she is more powerful than him or anyone else in anything. ¬†We are told many times that elves are vastly superior to men in¬†every way, but Ariya and her guards are taken down by a few Urgals at the¬†beginning¬†of the book (granted it was an ambush (Which they should have seen coming), but they still should have been able to retaliate). ¬†Later in the book, Eragon and Murtag handle not just Urgals, but the Super Urgals (Whose names escape me) with more success and after days of hard travel. ¬†It makes no sense! ¬†The power ratio between the characters is so out of whack that it is laughable. ¬†To quote Vegeta from DBZ Abridged, “Power Levels are Bull S***!”

And furthermore, IF the elves are so amazing, then why don’t they just attack the King and end it? ¬†If the weakest of elves is stronger than the mightiest of men, then why is there even a problem in the first place? ¬†This is A HUGE plot error that should have been corrected.

Learn from this Future Writers: If someone is asking these kinds of questions or could as these kinds of questions involving a plot hole. FIX IT IMMEDIATELY! Further, do not even attempt to make a perfect race. Even a perfect race has flaws. The elves could have been strong magically, but weak physically. Or even have them be all around superior to men, but lack creativity and out of the box thinking. Something to give them an Achilles Heel.

3) Errors

As stated above there is a massive plot error with the elves. ¬†There are a few others, but these are small and mostly have to do with pacing, and timeline. ¬†The biggest of these errors is the pointlessness of the first half of the book. ¬†All it does is give Eragon time to grow stronger and for us to wait for Brom to die. ¬†Other than that, there is not point of having him chase down the Ra’zac. Sure it gives us time to develop a connection with Brom, but that could have been better done during a time traveling towards the Vardin or having him trained in secret. ¬†It would be one thing to have seen Eragon actually kill one of the Ra’zac. ¬†If the idea of having a character grow is important to the story, then you need to give us bench marks of when that happens. ¬†Watch egoraptors megaman vs megaman x video for instructions on how to do this effectively. ¬†

Brom is an overused tool of convenience as far as keeping the plot under control. When ever there comes a point where the author wants to stop us from learning too much too soon, he has Brom say, ‚ÄúI will keep that information to myself for now.‚ÄĚ ¬†Murtag does a similar thing, but his story is less important to the plot and his excuses are more viable. ¬†

Lastly Paollini’s style needed work. I’m aware he was only 16 when he wrote Eragon, but he needed to mix up his word choice. I even do this sometimes with the word sprint. I’m a runner as well and I like the word sprint. That doesn’t mean I need to use it every time I don’t want to use run.

Learn from this future writers, get more creative with your suspense and mystery than having a mentor who doesn’t tell everything intentionally and for no real reason. ¬†Also have there be a reason for every action you write down. And vary your word choice. Thesaurus….get one!


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Characters, Protagonists, and Antagonists Part 1

Hello one and all. For my second posting, let us have a nice, little chat on my favorite part of stories: Characters.

In my opinion, Characters are the driving forces behind ANY story. If you have great characters, the rest of the elements (Theme, Plot, and Setting) for the story should fall into place with relative ease. I have a typical pattern for how I come up with characters. I’ll also speak on Protagonists and Antagonists, but later.

It should be noted that if you go through with this method of development, you may be in a state of flux with your characters until you finally are fed up with working on them that you just stop. (For example I’ve just recently given a major character a trait of being manipulative of emotions and taking advantage of opportunities to manipulate others. This character has been in the works for over a decade, I’m not kidding that is how much I obsess over my characters.)

First, I actually develop the physical appearance of the character. I go about this in one of two ways. I start off with either sitting down and drawing (poorly mind you) the actual character. This is what I usually do if I have time to get started with a character or cast of characters. My second method is to just write out a physical description of the character from the picture of them in my mind. This works a lot faster, but I have trouble staying consistent with appearances or remembering what characters specifically look like.

MARY SUE WARNING!!!!!

Do NOT have your character look the same as you. This goes for almost any character except MAYBE minor characters. I have done this once, and it was completely intentional. I just made a character who was minor enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty with doing it, but major enough that I could be satisfied with it. I also kill him off; so is it a form of suicide?

END OF WARNING!!!!!

After establishing physical appearance, I start working on personality. Nothing too detailed, just a listing of personality traits such as: optimistic, depressed, easily angered, jealous, flirtatious, lazy, arrogant, smart, witty, etc. This is where you really develop the strengths and weakness of the character. I would recommend developing an equal balance (more or less) of positive and negative traits. I’ll go into more detail on this with Protagonists and Antagonists.

MARY SUE WARNING!!!!!

Make sure your faults are ACTUAL FAULTS. Being too pretty, too happy, too trusting (sometimes) and too nice are not real faults. Take this with a grain of salt, but it is mostly true. Only make these be faults if they legitimately cause the character strife, not just inconvenience.

END OF WARNING!!!!!

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A very good place to start

I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller. I love writing out plots and events that spring from my head. Sometimes this works out pretty well, but other times… We won’t go into that. The most important step to getting started is coming up with an initial idea for a story. There are in truth, four basic ways to start out creating a story of any kind. Each writer will have their own definition of them, but there are really only four places to begin.

  1. Plot/conflict ‚Äď This is simply creating vs. and filling in the details later.
  2. Setting ‚Äď The location of a story is often the defining characteristic of that story.
  3. Characters ‚Äď This is my preferred method and I will go into more detail on it later.
  4. Theme ‚Äď More for writers who wish to be deep and philosophical in their writing, or wishing to convey a message of sorts.

Starting with Plot or Conflict.

The basic way to begin is with just setting up a scenario of X versus Y. It is a very simple and can often be effective at entertainment and being a nice quick way to get going. I’ve worked on this a few times in creating stories and didn’t really like where it would lead me. I found it to be great at getting off the starting line, but harder to keep it going with details about the people in the story.

There are seven main types of conflicts. (Note these plots can borrow from eachother or be mixtures of one another.)

  1. Character v. Character- This is basic protagonist vs antagonist. Examples of this are Superman vs Lex Luthor, Holmes and Watson vs Moriarty, and Rocky vs……you get the idea. This is great for intense conflict, but only if the characters are interesting and are able to carry the conflict.
  2. Character v. Nature- A situation where the protagonist is against some natural threat. These can range from animals to weather and are typically abnormally severe or collide in an unusual situation. Any disaster film is a great example, or even Castaway with Tom Hanks. Any situation where it is Man (or woman) vs Wild.
  3. Character v. Machine- Very prevalent in Sci-fi. This is a situation where the character is against a form of technology. This is easy to see in movies like I, Robot or Terminator.
  4. Character v. Self- Anytime when the character is pitted against themselves or their desires to be more specific. This can be an off branch of character vs. society, but not 100% all the time. A lot of these usually end in failure, but sometimes resolve in redemption. An example of this is Anakin Skywalker and his temptation to turn to the Dark Side in Star Wars series.
  5. Character v. Supernatural- Anytime a character is involved with a creature or force that is not in our normal, natural world. These include, but are not limited to: Werewolves, vampires (sparkly or otherwise), mummies, zombies, ghosts, goblins, witches, demons, gods, magic, etc
  6. Character v. Society- A situation where the character is aware of an evil in society that others are oblivious to, is oppressed by society for their beliefs, or is temepted in going against the accepted norms of society. Once again, Anakin is a good example, but so is Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451.
  7. Character v. Destiny- Any story where freewill is challenged, often ending in failure. Big examples of this are Oedipus Rex and Macbeth.

Starting with Setting

I’ve heard of a lot of people developing their locations and settings before delving into anything in particular. These often have very detailed and extensive histories for the main events. They also are connected to fantasy as you can create a plethora of new cultures, races, even worlds. The evils in this sometimes have to do with being ancient or at least older than the beginning of the story. The strength behind this kind of beginning is that you have a VERY strong base for your characters and plot to thrive in. The draw back is that if you wish to do it well, it will take a while.

Starting with Characters

This is my preferred method. It begins by creating a cast of characters. You develop their personalities, appearances, desires, hobbies, likes, dislikes, relationships, and anything else you can think of (And then keep thinking cause you probably missed something). Then you work on how they would all interact and what would happen. And thus you have your plot. I tend to fill in all the details as I go and develop characters more and more as the story progresses. These end with very relationally driven plots and sometimes have a Character v. Character plot. I try to avoid these or just make them a symbol for a deeper Relational plot.

The pros of this kind of beginning is that you have really strong ideas for your characters and you can make wonderful scenes where they interact with each other. You will need to work on plot a little bit more if you want it to be very complex. You also will have to work on setting and adjust it or your characters accordingly. The one main con for this is that you could potentially Mary Sue (I’ll go into more detail on this in a later article.)

Starting with Theme

This is my least preferred method. It gives well to conveying a message, but it can also be very didactic if you aren’t careful. I’ve seen many novice writers who have tried to do this and made me feel like I was reading a sermon. Don’t preach to your audience, you should convey. Think more like a parable, something that would make them sit and think, before saying, “Oh! Now I get it.”

Now, I’m not saying it isn’t possible, it can be done and very well in fact. Just ask C.S. Lewis, Jesus, Aesop.

I tried this once and hated it, but only because I felt like I had to stay in the mold of what I was theming. I believe if you are going to have a theme, extract it from the characters you have created, not force it on to characters that fit it.

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Wow, this is actually happening

Hello, for those of you out there who don’t actually know who I am, just call me Meandering, or M.E. for short. ¬†I feel it to be a little weird when people I don’t know call me by my first name after I haven’t met them. ¬†I’m not really that sure how many people will read this blog, but who knows. ¬†This is mostly going to be a blog on writing and methods for writing. ¬†I’ll be posting up the first article here in a few hours. ¬†Until then….

M.E.

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