Friday, December 29, 2017

Excerpt - StarCraft Roleplay: "Incident at the Museum"


Here's another roleplay excerpt from Kaze and I. This one comes from the world of StarCraft, the work of game giant Blizzard.

This time I played psychic-power-wielding Mercer, a spec op troop with one heck of a chip on his shoulder. Kaze played everyone else.

Hope you enjoy, and remember to have a safe and Happy New Year!

Warning: This one has swears and references to fictional narcotics.

---
[As one of the Dominion’s elite Spectre units, Flanaghan Mercer has done his share of dirty work for the emperor. But shooting Hierarch Artanis and blaming another country for it, all to start a war, isn’t going to be one of them.

Disgusted with the emperor’s lies, Mercer defects and contacts a rebel group known as the Liberty Corps. Surprised and understandably cautious, the Liberty Corps has Mercer meet their recruiter, Andrew York, at the Jim Raynor Museum.

Mercer checks out, and York tells him the new rendezvous point so they can get Mercer off-planet. But just as York leaves the museum, disaster strikes...]

Suddenly, the lights went out. There was a loud bang, as if a door was being forced open, followed by the telltale signs of footsteps caused by powered suits. Dominion Marines were here.

"Squad, fan out! Target is extremely dangerous! Shoot on sight! I repeat, shoot on sight!" a Marine said.

It was pitch black. They had shut off the emergency lights as well. The only lights Mercer could see were from the headlights of the Marines. There were five of them in total, roughly thirty meters away, blocking the exit.

Mercer crouched behind a bench, concealed for now. But the lights were coming closer.

It wasn't as if he hadn't been in this close call dozens of time already, but his mind felt sluggish. He hadn't expected them to get here so soon.

He reached out and tried to tap into one of the Marines' minds with his psionic abilities.

"What the hell was that?!" a Marine yelled. "My head... The target's definitely in here! Keep searching!"

Huh. It hadn't worked. Maybe they were a new type of Marine. Mentally-fortified.

Well, time for the less-fun Plan B... Mercer tried to activate his stealth--his very first ability besides the psychic-powered wrist-blade he'd been given at the academy.

Only... stealth wasn't quick in coming either. Had he hit his head this morning and forgotten about it?

Mercer remained crouched behind the bench, still remaining calm as he breathed slowly and deeply. Time in the field made calm second-nature. But he was running out of time.

Meanwhile, the Marines kept searching. Their lights were getting much closer.

Mercer focused. Concentrated. But he wasn't turning invisible any more than the bench was. A'right, so it's an off day. Time for the very un-fun Plan C.

Mercer vaulted over the bench like a swimmer going for a graceful dive. He hit the ground running, barreling toward the exit.

"There he is! Open fire! Do not take the target alive!"

Mercer's plasma blade ignited to life from his wristguard. At least something was working for him today.

"Fire! Fire!" the squad leader yelled.

But all the shots missed. "Not single fire, you idiots! Full Auto!"

"Sir, the musue-"

"Who gives a damn!?"

Mercer slowed his pace, strutting another three meters toward them. His face broke into a psychotic grin. "Ohhhh, hope you said goodbye to the girls back home. I'm sending you back to 'em in pieces." He stretched his mind, trying to touch the intricacies of the universe.

But apparently the universe was having a headache today.

The Marines all opened fire, full auto, but missed their shots.

So Mercer came charging at them like a whirlwind. He hated Plan C. It was actually reserved for--well, never, because it was never necessary. Except for today, of all days.

His Marine target sidestepped, and Mercer's swing went wide.

Another Marine went in for a rifle strike but also missed the deft Spectre. The other four scattered, trying to get out of the melee. Only Mercer's original target remained within stabbing distance.

That was when something finally kicked into gear. Mercer could feel it as if someone had physically clocked the back of his head with a brick.

Flashes of his opponents' movements flickered in his mind, little after-images that gave him just enough time to angle a strike at the one Marine frozen with fear--or maybe he just had enough balls to stand still and take it like a man. Mercer sliced the Marine in half, as if the man's armor was made of paper.

"Holy crap!" one Marine shrieked.

"Shut up and kill the freak!"

They peppered the air with bullets, but every shot still missed.

Home free. Mercer spun around and shot off a salute. "Thanks for the warm-up, boys." Then he leapt over the body and sprinted out the door.

But he didn't get far before he felt the telltale tug of an outside psionic force on his body. With a suddenly pull, someone flung Mercer back into the Museum with such force that he sailed past the Marines, slamming right through a glass display case and tumbling into the suit of power armor within. The armor buried Mercer in an avalanche of metal.

"Agent X89115F," a voice said. Suddenly, a Ghost materialized in front of Mercer. "Hold your fire, Marines," the Ghost commanded. Then, he turned to Mercer, still trapped beneath the power armor. "Sloppy work, X89115F. Your dependence on Terrazine has obviously affected your combat skills. Suffering from withdrawal effects?"

"Maybe. Don't suppose you've got some handy?" Mercer quipped.

Terrazine. Maybe that was why his psionics were suffering. He'd noticed the shakes, the cravings... but so far it hadn't affected his powers. Not this much. Apparently seven days without was the threshold.

Mercer struggled to get out from under the heavy metal armor plates. These things have got to be hydraulic-powered. Nobody could stand in this stuff.

The Ghost scoffed, then tossed something on the ground. It sparked to life, revealing itself to be a holographic projector. Emperor Octavius appeared before you.

"Mercer. I'm really disappointed in you," scolded Octavius. "I had such high hopes. You could have been the next star, you know. Like Agent Nova. Hell, you had the potential to become as strong as Agent Kerrigan. All you had to do was continue to fight for your fellow Man."

"Wow. I get the personal line of the emperor himself," Mercer replied. "To what do I owe the honor? I didn't know paying homage to the James-the-Legend-Raynor was a criminal offense now. What, jealous? You just want a museum of your own. I hear peace treaties are great for getting your name in the history books."

"You Spectres are all so volatile. The unfortunate side effect of Terrazine is that no matter how many mind-wipes or reconditionings I put you through, you'll remember it all again sooner or later." Octavius said. "I'm trying to make you see reason, Mercer. I don't want to have to kill you.

"I value the Daelaam's strengths, but they are stuck in their backwards ways. If they want to act like arrogant dogs, then I will use them as such, for the Dominion! That is what will get my name in the history books! Maybe then people will realize that Raynor was no hero. The Dominion was built by the Mengsk Dynasty, not Raynor!"

Mercer was barely paying attention to Octavius anymore. Now he was trying to worm his way into the Ghost's mind. Plant a little horror here, play off a childhood nightmare there...

But still nothing.

Man, I need a hit.

Mercer rolled his eyes. "You're not exactly glittering with heroes’ laurels yourself, your Imperial High-Horse. Sorry, Highness. Slip of the tongue. I hope you didn't interrupt your regular propaganda broadcast for lil' ol' me."

The Ghost shook his head. "With due respect, your Majesty, Agent X89115F will not see reason. And, it is quite obvious that he is willing to kill anyone that gets in his way." The Ghost pointed to the now-dead Marine.

"I see that now," Octavius said. "Men: kill him and be done with it. Then, dismantle this wretched Museum. I can already see the headlines: 'Liberty Corps strikes out against the legacy of famed Dominion hero Jim Raynor." The Hologram shut off.

"Nothing personal, X89115F. If it's any consolation, I thought you were an excellent operative. I plan on trying to get into the Spectre Program too," the Ghost said.

Mercer sighed. "Nothing personal, but you wouldn't make it a day and a half in the program, Agent... whoever you are."

His comebacks were off-point today too.

If I could just lift this armor... Now was the time. He was going to use his psychic ability to pump his muscles full of extra oxygen, come crashing out from under the mountain of armor like a Zerg bursting from the ground, roaring to the sky--over-the-top, sure, but shut up; it was his fantasy--

And it was just a fantasy, because the armor wasn't budging.

This... No, this can't be the way it ends. Come on. I didn't just slog through that many days to get riddled with lead while trapped under Jim Raynor's platemail...

Mercer stared down the barrel of the Ghost's gun.

At least let them stop Mengsk.

"Marines, execute the rogue Spectre." The Ghost commanded. Suddenly, the Ghost was impaled by a red psy-blade and was torn apart in an instant. The Marines were set upon by a lone assailant, two red blades now slashing and dismembering, cutting through the powered suits as if they were not there. And just like that, they were all dead.

"Pathetic," said a female voice. Her red blade illuminated the room enough to reveal Mercer's rescuer as she uncloaked: an alien, a Protoss dressed in the latest Terran attire. "Absolutely pathetic. And here I came, hoping to see the skills of the famed Terran Spectres, and this is what I see?" She psychically lifted the armor off of Mercer and pushed it against the wall. "I think York's faith in you has been misplaced."

It took a second for Mercer's mind to switch from embracing the grave, but his legs remembered how to work just fine. He was immediately hopping up onto the balls of his feet and checking his wrist-blade for damage before he could stop and realize that someone had come out of literally nowhere to save his life.

"You unfortunately are seeing a famed Terran Spectre after seven very long days and only sixteen collective hours of sleep," Mercer said. "But we can saunter and slander." He, again, made his way for the museum door.

Hopefully this time there weren't four Ghosts ready to pounce on him.

---
Museum Way, Stanford, United States by Caitlyn Chau on Unsplash.

Adapted from writing by Kaze and me (Jeannette Jonic). Used with permission.

StarCraft and all related names and terms property of Blizzard Entertainment. And I am not affiliated with them in any way.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 22, 2017

Excerpt - Star Wars Roleplay: "A New Master"


I've been on a Star Wars kick thanks to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and I figure I'm not the only one. So I dug out this snippet of roleplay I did with a friend of mine based on the Old Republic timeline.

In this particular roleplay, I played Cailen Ukiir, a sarcastic and self-conscious Jedi-in-Training (But you've already heard of him, haven't you?). My friend Kaze created and wrote the rest of the cast, including Cailen's master, Teek, a Force-sensitive Jawa--yes, a Jawa, those little beady-eyed traders in the brown cloaks!

As you're about to see, Cailen and Teek make quite the interesting pair...

---

"Hello," comes a voice from behind as you gaze over the edge of a landing platform. Looking away from the lush landscapes of the planet Tython, you turn to the voice.

There's a smiling face there to greet you. "It is a pleasure to meet you, young one. I know you are still confused. The confusion will fade with time. I am Master Edrasi. From this day forth, I will be your friend, your teacher, your ally, and your partner. We Jedi live with the Force, nurturing it and keeping it in balance."

Suddenly, half of the sky above the Jedi Temple darkens. Bolts of lightning and claps of thunder boom, and this half of the Temple crumbles as if it had been subjected to heavy bombardment and age.


A dark figure appears next to Master Edrasi. "I feel your hatred, young one. The raw emotion... the fear... the anger... A future of freedom and power await you. I am Darth Nox. From this day forth, I will be your master and, most importantly, your enemy. Such is the way of the Sith. The Sith are the true rulers of the galaxy, Calien; and one day, you will join our ranks as a fully-fledged Lord."

"I expect great things from you, Calien," say both Masters in unison. "I will observe your growth and guide it and you will see that you have chosen the right path."


The dream ends.

#


Cailen heard a hoarse, pathetic shriek of panic as he floated back into the conscious world--

Oh. That was himself.

His body covered in cold sweat. He was breathing heavily, and he felt a large weight on his chest. But perhaps that was due to the Jawa sitting criss-crossed on his chest.

The Jawa stared down at Cailen with beady yellow eyes.

With a grunt, Cailen tried to shove himself up onto his elbows. "M-Master Edrasi..." he whispered, his voice still hoarse. He sniffled. Then he scolded himself. "There is no Emotion... There is no Emotion..." Cailen mumbled to himself.

As if remembering him for the first time, Cailen turned his attention back to the Jawa sitting on his chest. "...Oh. Master Teek." It felt like he'd been asleep for... years. "H-how long was I...?" Cailen trailed off.

It was starting to all come back to him, but slowly. Hazily. Like it had all been a bad dream.

Like his nightmare. Cailen began to shiver violently.

"I sense you had a bad dream. Or a good one, if sweating is a good sign for your species," the little Jawa said in his native language.

Cailen curled into the fetal position--at least, as well as he could, given the tiny Jedi master still perched on his sternum. "N-n-no. It's n-not," Cailen replied in Basic. He glanced around, trying to reach out with his natural Force Sight, but he was still a little disoriented. "W-where are w-w-we?"

"We're on a ship towards Tatooine, remember?" Teek said, getting off of Cailen and hopping down onto the metal floor. "It's been about a week since we escaped the Sith. Master Edrasi trained you very well. We're going to complete your final task and make you a Jedi Knight! Whoo!"

Cailen coughed as Teek trotted off his gut. He rubbed his hand through his black hair; it was soaked with sweat. "R-r-right. Tat-t-t--"

Cailen clamped his jaw tight to still his chattering teeth. Then he pulled his legs up, hugging his knees to his chest. At least Tatooine will be warm... he thought ruefully.

At the mention of Master Edrasi's name, however, Cailen felt warm tears slip down his face. He was grateful for his simple cloth blindfold, which he pulled tighter against his face to mop up the tears, hopefully before Master Teek or anyone else who might be nearby could see.

Master Teek! That was right. Master Teek would be his new master now. They were going to complete Cailen's training. He'd finally get a lightsaber. And he'd be a Knight, and...

Everything was happening so fast. Cailen flipped the hood of his robes up to hide his head and face. He began to softly mutter the Code to himself. His mantra. "There is no Emotion, there is Peace..."

He felt small hands pat his head, like he was some kind of small household pet. "Take a deep breath," Master Teek urged. "Muttering the Jedi Code means nothing if your mind and body are not in harmony."

Cailen's face wrinkled with a mix of displeasure and confusion. "Wh-what?" He sullenly rubbed his own head, not taking kindly to being petted.

"Take a deep breath! Like this!" Master Teek said, taking a massive, obviously over-exaggerated breath.

"N-no, I know how to breathe. How is breathing deeply going to keep my mind and body in harmony?"

How could anything keep his mind and body in harmony right now? Darth Nox--w-well, my vision--was right. I do feel angry. And afraid. And sad. And about a billion other emotions he couldn't describe. Definitely not peaceful. How was he supposed to suppress all of this?

"Do not ask how, simply do," the Jawa said, abandoning his childlike behavior for the moment and adopting his Master persona. It was something Cailen had seen a few times during his week-long training with Master Teek. On the surface, Teek was childish, whimsical, and often prone to pranking or being annoying. Yet he was a Jedi Master for a reason. In times of seriousness, Teek was a true paragon among Jedi.

Teek sat crisscrossed in front of Cailen. "Assume a meditative posture. And breathe."

Cailen sighed, frustrated--at the situation and himself. Of course he was supposed to be obeying his Master, not questioning.

So he mirrored Master Teek's posture, resting his hands on his knees. Inhaaaaled... and exhaled. He focused on keeping his breaths as slow, even, and deep as he could manage with his current lung capacity. It wasn't long until he was lost in the breathing--measuring; feeling the rhythm; sensing the movement, humidity, and temperature of the air.

"There is no Chaos, there is Harmony. You are stressed, Cailen. Will you let me see what is troubling you?" He said.

It was still hard to take that sound of the Jawa speaking his language seriously. Cailen had to struggle to resist cracking a smile.

It was definitely going to take more than a few weeks to get used to this. "Yes, Master," Cailen replied meekly, bowing his head.

Then he felt the Force enter his mind, like a dam that opened slightly to allow a stream of water into. It was nothing compared to the forced, brutal mind-probing Cailen had experienced at Darth Nox's hand.

"You dreamt of meeting Master Edrasi for the first time," Master Teek said. "The beautiful planet of Tython, with its single sun and green, crunchy, awful-tasting sand. The Jedi Temple in all of its glory. You remember hearing what he said to you during that time. The purpose of the Jedi. The Light Side of the Force. The Jedi Code. And then you dreamt of Nox... I see."

Then Cailen felt Teek exit his mind; the master didn't dare go further to see what Nox had said in the dream.

"You experienced something that few Jedi should ever face. You should not dwell on the past. There is no Chaos, there is Harmony. If this event is causing you stress, it is throwing your mind into chaos. Your thoughts will be clouded. Your emotions will not be kept in check. You may act recklessly. These are the first steps to the Dark Side." Master Teek nodded, like he was proud of himself for remembering all of that and speaking like a good master should.

Cailen nodded too, but he clutched his knees a little tighter. He felt something wrench within him. Another emotion? Cailen took another deep breath.

Yes. It was another emotion. Guilt.

But I did act recklessly. I gave into my anger. I... I did fall to the Dark Side, didn't I?

A flash of Nox's face, goading him into action. An image of Master Edrasi, impaled on Nox's lightsaber.

Cailen gripped his knees tightly.

But he... the Master says to let go of the past. So... So I should just...?

Cailen took another deep breath, but the image of Nox wasn't so quickly fleeting. He shuddered again. "Master, what should I focus my mind on instead?" Cailen asked quickly, his words spurting out before he could think to check them. "All I can think about is the past! Master Edrasi and... and our mission and being captured and Darth Nox and..."

"For now, focus on maintaining peace in your mind. The past is important, but it should not dominate your life. You learn from it, but do not dwell on it. You remember, but do not obsess. What has happened cannot be undone. You must accept that. Did you do something that you cannot accept you had done?

"Do not blame yourself for the death of Master Edrasi. There is no Death, there is the Force. He is in a better place. He is with you. He is with me. He is the Force. The Force surrounds us; penetrates us; binds us." Teek nodded to himself again. He really liked congratulating himself.

"B-but he's... Master Edrasi, he's..." Tears again pooled in Cailen's eyelids. "He's not with me any more. Darth Nox... He swallowed Master Edrasi whole! And I... I couldn't help him. I couldn't do anything!" Cailen shouted. "I attacked Darth Nox in anger. He tried to take me as his apprentice. And... and I..."

Cailen dropped his head into his hands. Good job letting go of that past.

Again Master Teek patted Cailen's head. "You gave into your anger," the Jawa said, though it didn't sound accusatory or belittling. It pretty much sounded like Jawa talk all the same. "That is nothing to be ashamed of. You are young. You are in training. You haven't had the time to practice. Even then, sometimes it isn't enough. Even Masters have done something like this... Along the way to our destination, we will take a detour. There is a place I must show you," Teek said, removing his hand. "But, for now, take a deep breath.

It was somewhat hard to take a breath now that his nose was congested and dribbling, but Cailen tried. A long, shaky breath.

But... he did feel a little better.

He supposed.

For now.

---
Hope you enjoyed. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas this year! May the love of God be more present, near, and dear to you this holiday as we remember his Son's birth in a small stable in Bethlehem.


---

Photos (in order of appearance):
Adapted from writing by Kaze and me (Jeannette Jonic). Used with permission.

Star Wars and all related names and terms property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios. And, unfortunately, I am not affiliated with them in any way, shape, or form.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 15, 2017

In Defense of “Evil for Evil’s Sake” Villains


Writer's Note (2-11-18): Some of you may be like "Whooooa, I was wondering where this post disappeared to!" while some of you might be wondering where the heck this brand-new but not-new post came from.

This was one of a series of posts I had to pull from the blog temporarily so I could update it to my current standards. So to old readers and new ones alike, hope you enjoy! And rejoice to all you out there who were sad to see this one vanish abruptly. Sorry about that!


---
“Don’t make any ‘Mwahaha I’m so evil’ bad guys,” any so-called writing expert will tell you.

Okay, rule #1: don’t tell me “never” do something.


But I get it. I understand what people are trying to say when they claim relatable villains are “more complex” and “memorable,” how it’s more interesting to watch a very human character clashing with the protagonist than it is seeing a top hat-wearing megalomaniac tying a damsel to railroad tracks.

But I think a lot of people are confused about this issue. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with an evil for evil’s sake villain.

Think I’m wrong? Let’s hash this out.

Because I’m out to defend the honor of the really, really bad baddies out there. This one’s for you. MWAHAHAHAHA!

“The Villain Problem”

In his video “RWBY: The Villain Problem,” critic and video essayist Blizzic criticizes the villains in Rooster Teeth’s original animated series RWBY, arguing that the villains’ penchant for evil deeds, wicked laughter, and snatching hope from the hearts of the main characters makes them inferior to villains with a more soft, squishy, human side.

“There’s no denying that some of the villains are actually pretty great as long as we’re looking at sheer entertainment value… But, specifically, some of the villains that you’re supposed to be impressed by are really lacking in the narrative department,” Blizzic begins.1

So what makes RWBY’s villains so harshly “lacking”? Well, according to Blizzic…
RWBY, Rooster Teeth 2015
[I]t’s very uncommon for a sane human being to view their own actions as evil. Meanwhile, Cinderella’s evil twin is over here calmly and methodically laying out her evil plan and then grinning menacingly… At this point in the narrative, the writers have completely failed at establishing her as a real human being. She’s incredibly one-dimensional; she’s evil for the sake of being evil…2
Blizzic goes on to assert that, by contrast, truly great villains “[aren’t] interesting because they’re villainous; they’re interesting because they’re human.”3

And I agree—to an extent. Humanizing a villain certainly does make them more complex; and I can enjoy a complex villain. But I take issue with people when they insist that humanizing villains is the only way to make, in Blizzic’s words, “truly great” villains.

Is that the only way to make good villains? Let’s take a look.

A Villain’s Purpose

As award-winning screenplay writer Robert McKee reminds us in his book Story, “the protagonist creates the rest of the cast.”4 The protagonist is the center of the story; the villain is just another character built around who the protagonist is and what the protagonist wants.

Good, memorable, effective villains are ones who cause direct problems for the hero. They’re antagonists, standing directly opposed to whatever the hero is trying to accomplish. As Vanessa Martinez Wilson puts it: “The hero must have problems [and] then… overcome them. That’s where the villain comes in.”5

That’s a villain’s purpose. If they’re not opposing the hero’s goals, they’re not doing their job. This is the number one aspect to analyze when determining whether a villain is “good” or not.

The Right Villain Type for the Right Story

To that end, sometimes relatable villains just ain’t gonna work for the story you’re trying to tell.

Take the Joker, for instance. No matter how many times he clashes with his beloved Bats, the Clown Prince doesn’t really care whether he’s the hero or the villain. In fact, I don’t think he gives it a second thought. He does what he does because he believes the world is a living nightmare of despondence, and he’s here to have fun with it. “It’d be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. Oh, what the heck, I’ll laugh anyway!”6 In fact, according to Eric Radomski, producer and director for Batman: The Animated Series, Joker knows he’s the villain.7 Which makes sense. What else could inspire those cackles of wicked glee?8


Now imagine how boring the Joker would be if he were a preachy villain who just wanted everyone to believe he was the real good guy. How boring is a pitiable soul trying to reason with Batman compared to a madman laugh-gassing anybody within ten feet who wasn’t already his lackey or shuffleboard buddy?

Admittedly, The Killing Joke toys with humanizing the Joker, but only to highlight how far he’s fallen—how psychotic and delightedly evil he’s become.

So if the Joker relishes his evil actions, does that make him any less of a great villain? No, of course not! Part of the Joker’s charm is his glee while carrying out horrific atrocities; the story wouldn’t be the same without him.

And what about The Lord of the Rings? It has its share of relatable villains with Smeagol and (arguably) Wormtongue, but what if Sauron were a humanized villain? Can you imagine how much longer the Council of Elrond would have dragged on for? “Well, what if Sauron’s actually right? What if we’re dooming the world by not using the Ring’s power?” Reluctance and uncertainty would get in the way of the plot!

No, we WANT Sauron to be really, really evil. We WANT him to be a very, very obvious bad guy.

Sauron is evil for evil’s sake; he wants to rule the world. And it works. Why? Because fantasy often goes hand-in-hand with moral clarity. Many fantasy stories make it very clear what is evil, what is good, and who’s on which side. That’s because morality isn’t the kind of story most of the fantasy genre tales (with exceptions like Game of Thrones) are trying to tell.

The irony is that Blizzic knows there’s a place for evil for evil’s sake villains. In his video, he confesses that some villains really do just enjoy watching the world burn (mentioning the Joker specifically).9

And this is where the argument for all villains being human and relatable begins to fall apart. These critics don’t realize that it doesn’t matter whether a villain thinks what they’re doing is right; it doesn’t matter if they enjoy rubbing their palms together, laughing wickedly over their evil schemes. What really matters is how the villain opposes the hero’s desires.

So Why the Hate?

I think people believe this villain type is inherently “bad” for a few common reasons:

#1: Oversaturation

People got tired of an over-used villain type. Let’s face it: we saw a lot of evil for evil’s sake baddies in the 80’s and 90’s. And 60’s. And maybe even the 70’s.

#2: Culture Shift

The evil for evil sake villain was a fad that outlived its lifespan. Just like how shining paragon superheroes went out the window in favor of angst-riddled antiheroes, people felt like they’d “outgrown” evil for evil’s sake villains and decided they needed new ones to be relevant—new ones that were “relatable” and “human.”

The storytelling community powerfully relies on these kinds of fads. Which is stupid! We need to be careful not to label something as “bad” just because it’s not currently considered culturally relevant, like Matt Colville highlights in his video Explaining vs. Engaging.”10

Types of villains are tools. As Colville says, use the proper tool for the proper job. Be wary of saying there is only one way to do something; that’s how we get into media ruts.11

#3: “Unrealistic”

People often argue against evil for evil’s sake villains by saying they’re inherently unrealistic (as if realism is the end-all, be-all goal for all stories). They say that “real people” only see themselves as the hero; thus, all villains should too.

But in real life, there’s plenty of people who know what they’re doing wrong and still choose to act that way.

Or heck, maybe they go a step further: maybe they enjoy doing terrible things.

#4: Misdirected Hate

Most people think they hate evil for evil’s sake villains, but I don’t it’s the “evil for evil’s sake” aspect that’s really got most people’s undies in a bunch. After all, some people adored Wander over Yonder's Lord Dominator,12 and she THRIVED on being evil for evil's sake!13

Mustache twirlers, we can all agree, are annoying. But the issue isn’t that mustache-twirlers are evil for evil’s sake; it’s that they lack any real motivation or personality. Why is Lord Dominator so popular as a villain? She’s got personality oozing out of every curvy line: she’s bad, she knows it, and she revels in it because to her, it’s fun. She has personality and a motivation, even if that motivation seems as simple as “doing evil things because I get a kick out of kicking puppies.”


Evil for evil’s sake villains might have a motivation or they might not. But the ones who enjoy watching the world burn for laughs because they’re insane (like the Joker) or who want to take over the world (like Sauron) or who harm others to further their own desires (like any number of Disney villains) aren’t inherently bad villains just because they enjoy doing bad things.

No, the truly lousy evil for evil’s sake villains are the ones who don’t have any motivation. They’re the ones who have no personality besides “Really, really evil; trust us.”

RWBY, Rooster Teeth 2017
And I think this is how Blizzic and other critics can complain about RWBY’s villains… and then proceed to acknowledge that some of their villains are entertaining, or that villains without relatable traits (like the Joker) are still perfectly acceptable. RWBY’s sadistic Cinder Fall doesn’t seem to have enough personality to keep Blizzic interested. And because we still don't know why Cinder’s doing what she’s doing, she seems to lack motivation, as well.

Still, I think it’s unfair to condemn an entire villain group as a narrative “failure” just because Rooster Teeth hadn’t gotten around to revealing a character’s backstory yet.

Ergo…

So the next time you find yourself hating a villain, don’t just throw your hands up in the air and proclaim, “This is what happens when you have a villain who’s evil for evil’s sake!” Look a little deeper and find out what’s really bothering you about that character.

You may be surprised what you’ll find.

---
Notes and References:
  1. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem,” YouTube video, 9:16, June 3, 2017.
  2. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem.” (1:05)
  3. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem.” (1:50)
  4. Robert McKee, Story (New York, NY: Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 1997), 179.
  5. Vanessa Martinez Wilson, “The Top 10 Worst Disney Villains,” ReelRundown (blog), October 25, 2016, accessed December 12, 2017.
  6. “Batman Beyond: Return of The [sic] Joker - Part 6,” YouTube video, 14:55, posted by “Beyond the Lot,” April 22, 2013. Originally from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, directed by Curt Geda, (2000; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video), DVD.
  7. “The Joker: Mark Hamill,” YouTube video, 5:26, posted by “thejokerlady,” August 31, 2008. Originally from Batman: The Animated Series - Volume 4, directed by Kevin Altieri, Kent Butterworth, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Eric Radomski, Dan Riba, Dick Sebast, and Bruce Timm, (1992; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2009), DVD.
  8. “The Joker: Mark Hamill,” posted by “thejokerlady.”
  9. Blizzic, “RWBY: The Villain Problem.” (2:05)
  10. Matt Colville, “Explaining vs. Engaging,” YouTube video, 11:18, January 30, 2017.
  11. Matt Colville, “Explaining vs. Engaging.” (7:19)
  12. Saberspark, “Top 10 BEST [sic] Cartoon Villains,” YouTube video, 16:57, November 3, 2017.
  13. “I'm the Bad Guy | Wander Over Yonder | Disney XD,” YouTube video, 2:18, posted by “Disney XD,” April 8, 2016. Originally from Wander Over Yonder, episode 66, “My Fair Hatey,” directed by Dave Thomas, Eddie Trigueros, and Justin Nichols, (2016; Burbank, CA: Disney-ABC Domestic Television), Television.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

If anybody knows the exact creator who made any of the .gifs (especially the Benedict Cumberbatch one), please let me know!

Cinder Fall, RWBY, and all related terms are the property of Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC; The Joker, Batman, and all related terms property of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; The Lord of the Rings and all related names and terms property of Middle Earth Enterprises. Wander Over Yonder, Lord Dominator, and all related names and terms property of Walt Disney Studios. And, unfortunately, I am not affiliated with any of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, December 1, 2017

How I Name Characters, Part 2: Word Associations Are My Friend


YOUR CHARACTER NAME NEEDS TO BE PERFECT—

—claims the internet, and I can already feel my heart rate rising.

“[The name] has to suit the character’s personality, makes [sic] sense for the era and, most important, be super awesome...” Oh, and by the way, “[y]ou need a name that ‘fits’ your character too” (Klems).

I’m already feeling overwhelmed. Anything else I need to consider? Oh, I know. How about rising anxiety, crippling uncertainty, and heck—throw in the kitchen sink. Or maybe the towel.

You’d think names make or break a narrative with this kind of advice.

Sure, finding the right name for a character can be hard, even without the crippling insecurity and perfectionism. I used to get stuck writing stories because I was too busy agonizing over how hard it was to come up with good names.

But I don’t suck at it as much as I used to. That’s because I’ve learned more than just one trick on how to generate cool and clever names. Yes, methods besides over-analyzing the character’s first initial.

Trick #1: Check for Meaning

Sometimes I’ll be lazy and search by name meaning on my trusted companion, Behind the Name, to find a meaning that relates to the character. This is bread-and-butter advice for writers; it’s a quick and easy way to express who the character is.

For instance, I once named a character Cailen—an embarrassing misspelling of what was supposed to be Cailean (Memory problems. What ya gonna do?). Cailean is a Celtic name that means “whelp” (Campbell, “Cailean”), another word for a young puppy. Since “whelp” is often used as an insult (implying an inexperienced child), it fit the young, naive, inexperienced Cailen perfectly.

He’s also the kind of character who makes you go, “Awww”

I like this trick because it works whether a reader knows the meaning of a name or not (Writer’s Relief Staff). Consider the following names, which sound as strong as they mean: Berk (“solid, firm, strong”), Jarek (from yaru: “fierce, strong”), or Magni (from magn: “mighty, strong”) (Campbell, “Names with ‘Strong’ in Meaning”).

And for those few times readers do know the meaning or even take the time to look it up, it’s pretty satisfying for them. I always feel like the author just shared a little secret with me. And who doesn’t like that?

Best part about this trick? Using it ironically. Remember my antihero criminal Cassius? His full name is Cassius Naevius Flavius: a fancy-sounding name that roughly translates to “vain man with a mole on his body” (Campbell, “Cassius”; Campbell, “Nevio”). Obvious jokes aside, the name highlights Cassius's tragic irony: he vainly struggles to rise above society’s labels and laws, while that same society keeps him in his place by refusing to see who he truly is or could become. In other words, they take him at “face” value.

*Cough* Moving on…

Trick #2: Play with Words

If I want to imply a name’s meaning rather than stating it, I might modify a preexisting word and use that as a name.

Long before I had exposed myself to Harry Potter and good old Remus, I had a character with a wolfish disposition whose name was also Lupin—the word lupine (“pertaining to or resembling the wolf”) without that pesky final e (“Lupine,” Dictionary.com).

I’ve also had fun with portmanteaus, combining two or more real words to form a name. For instance, if I wanted a character to evoke the image of both a bear and a wolf, I might make the character’s name Beolf.

Maybe that’s why I always imagined Beowulf as a huge, muscly, shaggy-haired guy…

Huh.

Trick #3: Get Inspired

Sometimes I’ll straight-up steal from people.

...For inspiration, of course. What did you think I meant?

I’ll start with a preexisting base word (or name) that captures the essence of what I’d like the new name to sound like. This method is pretty similar to the previous one, only this time, I pay more attention to how the base word sounds and less on what it means. This usually gives the name an even more subtle flavor.

I used this trick while coming up with a villain name recently. I started by assembling a pallet of words I liked: requiem, nocturne, and nocturnal. I wasn’t planning to directly reference these words’ definitions; I just liked how they sounded, so I used them as a base to begin my brainstorming...

...And my imagination took it from there.


Put It All Together

Regardless of the method I’m using, I’ll start by opening a new document and type out any inspiring words. As you can see with Nocture's brainstorming session up there, I’ll experiment by taking out syllables and adding new ones in. Sometimes I’ll toy with alternate spellings too. If I like the direction a certain name is going, I may tinker with it a bit longer, exchanging some syllables for more new ones.

In the end, I’ll have a long string of names and one winner, which I’ll use for the character I’m currently working on.

What about the other dozen or so names I’ve just created? I’ll save them for the future, either to use as-is or to serve as inspiration for a new brainstorm.

For instance, after I’d finished Nocture, I needed a second name. I liked the mystique Nocture’s name evoked, and I particularly liked one of the names I’d made during the Nocture brainstorm, “Nocten.” That name also brought to mind Prince Noctis from Final Fantasy XV, which was an appropriate connection, since my character was also a noble.

So I had “Nocten” and “Noctis,” but I knew it needed a little more. The final piece came in the form of a friend’s character, Nicht. I loved the sound of that hard “-cht” and knew it’d be the perfect addition to my new character’s name. In the end, I added the “-cht” to Nocten, making his name Nochten; “Nocht” for short. (After all, “Noct” is already taken. :P)

Regardless of what trick I use, creating names can be a long and arduous process. Still… I kind of have fun coming up with new names.

Which is a good thing, ‘cause I’ve got at least seven characters in TVB who need new names right now. And that’s not counting all the characters who remain nameless.

Hoo boy. Best of luck to all us namers out there.

---
Works Cited:

Photos (in order of appearance):

From Him, To Him

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why I Love Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona) – And You Might Too


All Yona wanted was to marry the man she loved. But with one sword strike, she loses her love, her family, her throne, and her home.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

Yona's sixteenth birthday bliss turns into a life-or-death flight in the wake of a deadly coup. Her only companion is her sole surviving loyal retainer, General Hak. As she's hunted in her own kingdom, Yona struggles to make sense of the chaos her world has become.

But as the fog of her trauma begins to clear, Yona discovers the resilience and love of her people. And it's these people that turn her disaster into determination: she's going to take back her to make it a safe place for these people.

I love Yona of the Dawn. And if you like medieval fantasy, exotic cultures, political intrigue, charming characters, and gorgeous scenery, you might too.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Romance, Shojo
Year Released: 2014
Studio: Pierrot
Licensed By: Funimation
Director: Kazuhiro Yoneda
Episodes: 24 episodes, 3 OVA's

What You Might Like About... the Visuals

This show is gorgeous, and the character designs are lovely. Each of the main cast is designed with complementary jewel colors, telling you exactly who belongs in the main party at a glance.


The backgrounds are colorful and vibrant while remaining realistic for the largely untamed landscape of a medieval-era kingdom. There's also plenty of variations between the looks of each locale that Yona visits, keeping things feeling fresh and new.

  

  
Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation


What You Might Like About... the Writing

If you're someone who likes...
  • Quirky characters and goofy moments
  • Slapstick comedy
  • Teasing your friends
...This show might be for you.

If you're someone who likes political drama, this show's for you too.

If you're someone who likes mythic fantasy, this show is also for you.

Yona manages to get all these incohesive genres to not only play nice but work well together. This is a show that sets your expectations only to thwart them for hilariously entertaining or surprising effects. And I have no idea how it pulls this off so effortlessly. Though I know that its excellent worldbuilding, lush backgrounds, and exotic soundtrack certainly help make this kingdom feel as plausible and realistic as it is fantastic, you want to know where this show really shines?

The Characters

This show's colorful character designs don't just help set up the world; they're a delicate balance between something that feels historically-inspired and still adorably anime. You don't feel pulled out of the moment whether the characters are in an intense fight...

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

...or if they're just ribbing each other in chibi form.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

And the characters play off each other well regardless of the situation, which only enhances their “d'aww” factor. There's so much variety among the main cast that there's bound to be a character you'll end up falling for.

Are you into the protective, earnest type who seems stiff before some coaxing reveals their true cinnamon roll nature? This guy's your man.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

He's serious, earnest, and traditional... and he's also absolutely terrified of bugs. Like, freak-out level terrified.

More interested in the quiet, intense, and painfully socially-awkward ones? Check out this one.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

He's nearly silent, he's a total enigma, he's agonizingly shy, and he's as pure as the fresh-driven snow.

More into the boisterous, flirty ones who could stand toe-to-toe with the Jack Sparrows of the world? Meet this guy.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

Or maybe you just need some more adorable, bubbly, wise-beyond-their-years people in your life. This one's for you.

Yona of the Dawn, 2014 Hakusensha / Funimation

Granted, these guys don't have as much time to change and grow over the course of the series. But if you're like me and really want to see some character depth and growth, all you have to do is look to this show's two stars: Yona and Hak.

Now, I've already told you a good deal about Yona's story, and for fear of spoilers, I'll just leave it at this: Yona's transformation from spoiled princess to powerful woman is perfectly paced and intensely satisfying. If that's your bag, give this show a go.

Hak doesn't change so much over the course of the series, but he's one of those delicious characters who is so much more than what he initially seems. If you're into characters who seem aloof and goofy while still being able to skin you as quickly as look at you, Hak's your man.

And that's not even getting into the romance in this series... But I think I've said enough for now. ;)

The Conclusion

There's so much here to enjoy during the ride, plus the promise of things ahead: such as the mysteries surrounding Yona's family, the legend of the dragons and its implications for later in the series, and--of course--adorable rom-com moments.

Best of all, it's currently available to view for free on Youtube. Buyer be warned though: this is the first and only season of the anime, so the ending is a little jarring. Hopefully we'll see more of this anime adaptation in the future.

---
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from Funimation's official YouTube.

Yona of the Dawn and all related names and terms are the property of HAKUSENSHA.

Review format adapted from Curtis Bell's Iridium Eye. If you're bored of the usual flicks on Redbox or Netflix, check out Iridium Eye for a medley of movies and shows I can guarantee you've never heard of.

Interested in reading more about anime? Check out Drunken Anime Blog for some fun analyses. Of course, as you can probably tell from the title, this may have content not suitable for little eyes. Or your eyes, if you're sensitive to alcohol, sexual content, etc.

From Him, To Him

Friday, November 17, 2017

How I Name Characters: What First Initials Say to Me


I used to suck at creating names. That's kind of a problem when you want to write fantasy and don't want to rip off Tolkien or have names as scintillating as “John,” “Bob,” or “Henry.” (No joke, I actually used “Henry” for a big bad once. Ouch.)

Making up names seems easy. Slap some letters together and throw in a few extra vowels if necessary. Bam. New name. Right?

Ohhh, it's so much more difficult than that.

Your new name has to look and sound like it fits in your world. I wouldn't name a purple satyr “Bob” (unless I'm being cheeky). I wouldn't name a modern-day teenager “Thoracius Femblecrumb” either, unless I really wanted his life to be a living nightmare.

Making up names for fantasy can be particularly hard, but I often start with something as simple as one letter: the first letter, actually.

To me, a first initial says a lot about the character: it can elicit anything from their personality to their morals to how prominent a place they have in the story. I have some pretty strange and specific associations with certain initials. Note that this is only for fictional characters, not real people! I'm not going to judge you based on what letter your first name starts with. ;)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002 New Line Cinema
A – This character is an all-around good guy and a person of noble character; probably a main character. See Aragorn, Arathorn, Aulë, and about a million other LotR characters.
B – This is a down-to-earth, probably burly, no-nonsense kind of character.
D – This character is probably a dude. I dunno why, I just associate the letter D with masculinity.
E – There's something unusual about this character. They aren't cut from the same cloth as the rest.
F – Probably a bad guy.
G – A rough or tough character of some kind. Probably masculine. Think Gilgamesh.
I – This character is refined, with more of a thin build. Can be downright feminine or is straight-up a female.
J – Generally the same as A; just a little less commonly used and a little less common of a person.
K – Probably a bad guy.
Q – How many names actually start with Q? This character's an unusual one for sure. Might be an all-out oddball.
R – A letter of strength. A strong-willed character for sure. Probably a good guy.
S – Much like R, a letter of strength and probably a person of noble character.
T – Even more powerful than R or S. May even have legendary stories written about them.
U – Not normally used. This initial gives me a sense that this character is large—either a large personality or a large body.
V – Almost absolutely a bad guy. If not a bad guy, then someone who tends to shake up the status quo.
W – Much like B, a very down-to-earth letter. Think your Wills and Williams.
X – Probably someone very mysterious, as in Xander or Professor Xavier from X-Men. Could be a cover name or code name.
Y – Someone unusual and mysterious. A smooth operator to reflect how the soft “y” sound flows off the tongue.
Z – Someone worthy of notice who may or may not be connected to fairies.

Any that tickled your funny bone? Do you have “first initial impressions” and if so, what are they? Are there certain characters you know of that fit my impressions or your own? Let me know in the comments below!

---
Aragorn, Arathorn, Aulë, The Lord of the Rings, and all related terms are the property of Middle Earth Enterprises. Professor X and related terms property of Marvel Entertainment, LLC (The Walt Disney Company). And I am not affiliated with any of them.
From Him, To Him

Friday, November 10, 2017

Discussion: Reflections on "The Exodus"


Now that The Exodus is over, I gotta ask:

What'd you guys think of it? Did you like it? Hate it? How did you feel about the beginning? The ending? Anything you wished would have featured more (or less) in the story? Let me know in the comments below!

And cut. That's a wrap. That's the post for this week.

Kidding, kidding!

Finishing The Exodus was a little surreal. It's been almost a three-month journey for us, and I don't think any completed project has given me this much pause for reflection. But it's definitely confession time again, because writing The Exodus taught me something very important--and humbling: it's way easier to criticize than it is to create.

I suppose I should have known that already! Critiquing is easy. The worst consequence of writing a review is you may get backlash from fans (or haters).

Fan backlash can be a pretty big deal. But it's not usually as bad as getting your story ripped apart by people who forgot you're a human being.

So I kind of braced for impact as I sent The Exodus off, knowing it had plenty of mistakes.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a perfectionist. I want my stories to be as good as the great ones I've seen. So leaving mistakes because I don't know how to fix them kiiiind of leaves me feeling dead inside.

Part of this was a conscious choice to try and combat my incessant perfectionism. No story is ever going to be perfect, and I hear that most writers never feel like their story is "done"; there just comes a time when you have to send it off, ready or not. So I wanted to make sure to hit my deadlines and do the best I could rather than delay the story just because it wasn't as polished as I would have liked.

Perfectionism is, at its core, a fear. For me, it's the fear of being criticized--especially for something I knew was wrong all along. Maybe part of it is the fear of being "outed" as a bad writer. Sometimes I wonder if I suffer from imposter syndrome or if I really do just suck.

I knew it!

But that's enough moping from me! Mistakes are something to be embraced and learned from, not to be ashamed of.

So, why don't we examine The Exodus together? Now, fair warning: spoilers from this point on, so if you haven't read The Exodus yet, here's your chance to click off screen...






The remainder of this post will contain spoilers for The Exodus.



If you haven't read it yet, check it out here.

You have been warned.






Okay, you all caught up? Alright, let's go.

Character Development

 

The Good:

So you know Saundra? I'd made her on the fly, setting her up as a foil to the other characters' viewpoints, especially Alan's and Hannah's (who was initially going to serve an actual role in the story... Oops. Sorry, Hannah). I wasn't expecting her to be anything more than that person in the group who everybody hates.

However, during my revision process, Saundra practically started writing her own backstory. Instead of just being a coward who was terrified at staying at the safehouse any longer than the group needed to, she suddenly developed a reason for why she was so afraid of sticking around: her family.

Some of you may remember that Saundra is the one who mentions how her family was executed by the Vaerin. Having seen that brutality firsthand, Saundra is not only scarred and terrified for her own life--she's determined to make sure that their deaths weren't for nothing. To her, her survival (and that of any other remaining Caders) is a way to honor those she lost AND a slap in the face to the Vaerin who killed her family.

That extra depth actually transformed my opinion of Saundra; she went from from someone I hated to one of my favorites among the group.

The Bad:

The Exodus was originally going to be a 3-5 part serial. It ended up being a 10-part beast. Despite the added length, however, I never really slowed down to allow the characters to be, well, people.

When I eventually revise The Exodus, I will definitely put in more quiet moments so the Caders can interact and readers can learn who each character is. As it was, I kind of skipped over those moments thinking it would drag out the already long story.

But due to this lack of character development, much of the cast felt faceless.


Take Hannah for instance, who I mentioned earlier. In my early, amorphous concepts, I'd planned on Hannah bonding with Mara over their similar viewpoints and their mutual distrust and dislike for Saundra. But I didn't give myself time to develop that bond. I think it would have been interesting to draw out a side of Mara we didn't get to see (how she deals with friendships); in addition, it would have allowed me to build up Saundra's complexity a little more as the three women tried to figure out how to deal with each other.

I think the character that suffered the most from lack of development, however, was Ian. I'm so disappointed I never really let him serve as anything besides the spur for Mara. It worked, but I wanted the little guy to really shine as his own person.

I also would have loved to spend more time with The Magus, but I willingly made the decision not to. I knew he was one of those characters who could overshadow the story. Due to him staying behind, he would have only been able to feature in flashbacks anyway, and I didn't want to give the story an unbalanced feel by constantly looking backwards. I also wanted to keep The Magus at some distance from the reader so you'd feel a similar sense of loss as Mara--only instead of having that intimacy with him, readers would feel that just as they were getting to know The Magus, they lose him.

And You?

Was there a particular character you would have loved to see more? Who and how come? Would you be interested in me writing more short stories or scenes in the future that feature these characters?

 

Character Deaths

 

The Good:

I liked having Alan buy them time in the end. I knew I wanted at least one of the named characters to die, and it seemed fitting to have them die trying to help the rest of the group escape.

For a while I wrestled with the sacrificial character being Monroe, what with him being the brave leader, but the leader sacrificing themselves is also pretty predictable. I wanted to subvert expectations with Monroe. Plus, let's face it, the leader throwing himself in harm's way is not a great strategy, since that leaves the group leaderless.

(Or maybe I'm just making excuses because I really just didn't want to kill Monroe off. Sue me.)

The Bad:

Buuuut character deaths really didn't have the impact I felt they should have. Honestly, this is one of the flaws I feel the worst about, since I feel like I totally violated some of my own No-No's on killing off characters. Alan's death was the only one that felt like it had purpose, and Hare's was the only one I felt held any sense of tragedy (If we all took our own advice...). When unnamed characters died, it just felt like a bloodbath of nameless peons. And only three named characters died at all, leaving the impression that all the survivors wore plot armor.

Ouch. Not the impact I wanted character deaths to have.

What Do You Think?

Was there anything about the character deaths that you didn't care for? If so, what would you have changed?

Setup and Payoff

 

Setup and Payoff is when a story sets something up in the story that is later answered, explained, revisited, or satisfied. For example, a character asks a question that gets answered at a dramatic turn of events. Or someone casually mentions that so-and-so is really good at something, a skill that saves their butts later. It's a highly satisfying concept, and one I've only recently started thinking about as I write.

The Good:

I liked toying with the various flashbacks and only showing bits of each before revisiting them to "complete" the flashback. It was my first time experimenting with that kind of a flashback, and I'm pretty happy with the results. I felt like it added to the mystery, answering some questions only to leave others unanswered until later--and all without resorting to the "third character walks in to interrupt them" trope.

The Bad:

Still, I don't think I performed as much setup and payoff in The Exodus as I could have. I get this nagging feeling that there were things I unintentionally set up only to never have them answered or explained. Am I crazy?

The correct answer is "Yes."

What About You?

What parts of the story did you encounter that you felt were never resolved? How would you have liked to see them resolved or answered?

And hey, if there's anything else you want to comment on with regard to The Exodus (or heck, even my own ruminations on it), please, let me know!

Hope you enjoyed the journey through The Exodus, and looking forward to seeing you again next week!

---
Photos (in order of appearance):

From Him, To Him

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Unique Blogger Award


On October 20, Fiction and Fantasy was nominated for the Unique Blogger Award by my friend, Curtis! Thanks so much, Curtis, and thanks to all of my lovely readers! You inspire me every day to keep writing.

Ah, but there is a catch! In order to qualify for this award, nominees must:

-Mention and link to the person who nominated your blog
-Answer 3 questions from the person who nominated your blog
-Nominate 8-13 other people
-Give three new questions to those you have nominated

Without further ado, I hereby nominate the following blogs/bloggers (in no particular order):

1. Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread
2. Kate Wolford's Enchanted Conversation: A Fantasy Magazine
3. Satchell Drake's Satchbag's Goods (Yes, they're video essays, but that's basically a blog, right? He's too good to keep off my list. Check him out if you're interested in video games.)
4. Digibro's My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull (Buyer be warned, there is some language here not appropriate for little ears)
5. Out of Context DnD (Buyer be warned, there is some content here not appropriate for little eyes)
6. Ferisae's Art Blog
7. Matt Colville's Squaremans (Limited language not appropriate for little eyes)
8. CT Chrysler's Annie Mei Project

And a bonus mention/nomination to Curtis for his spectacular work at all of his blogs, including Iridium Eye, C. M. B. Bell Fiction, Ospreyshire's Realm, and Autumn Peal Media! He may have already gotten a nomination, but he certainly deserves it for his hard work and his dedication to the arts, whether it be prose, poetry, songwriting, instrumentation, photography, film, and more. If you're interested in foreign film, microfiction, indie/experimental music, or photography, check out one of his blogs!

Curtis asked me the following questions:

1. What was the bravest article you’ve posted on your blog(s)?

2. Which creative hobby would you most like to try? (keep the answers civil, please)

3. If your blog was a meal or dish, what would it taste like?

I'll admit, every article takes a little bit of courage for me to post. I'm naturally a pretty shy person, so even just gathering the courage to start this blog took a while (if you couldn't tell by my first post). But I think the "bravest" article I've ever posted was the first post in which I mentioned my faith and talked about God: my post on insecurity. Faith and self esteem are both incredibly sensitive and important topics, and for a while, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to write the post at all; it felt like I was opening up an incredibly controversial topic. However, I know that as a writer, I have to speak the words on my heart--words that I believe God has placed there. I know there are so many people out there that, like me, need to hear how precious--how vital--they are, even at moments they feel at their lowest.

There are so many creative hobbies I'd love to try, but the top one on my list so far has been beaded embroidery. I've learned a ton about hand-stitch embroidery from Needle n' Thread, and it makes me excited to branch out from simple hand embroidery with only thread to beads. I've loved beads since I was a kid; there's something about them that makes them feel like tiny glittering jewels to me. And what girl doesn't like bling?

If my blog were a dish, it'd be a taco: comfort food with lots of flavors, textures, and ingredients. You never quite know what you're going to bite into when you open up the new Fiction and Fantasy post, but I hope it's always fresh and delicious.

For my nominees, I'd love to know:

1. What got you started blogging? Was it a desire to share a newly-discovered hobby, out of frustration at the lack of content on the internet, or something else?

2. What was the most memorable experience you've ever had with your blog (a notable article you wrote, an interesting piece of research you came across, etc.)?

3. What's the best piece of blogging advice you've ever received or learned?

Thanks again, Curtis, and thank you to all the nominees for producing such quality content!

And not to worry, beloved readers. There will still be a new post this Friday! :)

From Him, To Him

Friday, November 3, 2017

Blog-Exclusive Fiction - The Exodus, Finale (TVB Universe)


To Beginning (Part 1)

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“Took me long enough to find you. Hello, Mara.”

Somehow, some way, she could hear The Magus, and it made her heart soar a thousand miles. She couldn't see him; she couldn't see anything but a brilliant white light enveloping her. But this was his audible voice, clear like crystal, just like all their voices had been here in the aether current.

Hello, my Magus.

“Mara? Can you hear me? Mara!”

Yes! Yes I can hear you! Suddenly desperate, she lashed at the brilliant white emptiness around her. “I'm here! I'm right here!” she shouted, spinning around.

“Ow!” She heard him hiss. “All right! I hear you now. No need to shout.”

It was him. Her chest felt like it'd burst, flooded with a thousand emotions she never thought she'd feel again. Love, ecstasy, a soaring hope.

“I miss you so much, Mara,” The Magus whispered, his own voice thick with emotion. “Feels like an eternity since I sent you away.”

Tears of joy filled her eyes. “I thought I'd never hear your voice again.” After all, the portal was a one-way trip. “I thought I'd never get to see you again!” But... if she could hear him in here, did that mean...? Mara spun, whirling around in the brilliant white light, searching for any sign of him. “Where are you?”

The Magus was quiet this time. Long enough to turn Mara's elation into icy fear.

Had... had he disappeared like the others had? Was she being pulled away from him? Could he no longer hear her?

Mara opened her mouth to repeat herself, to scream if need be, but suddenly The Magus’s voice returned: “Mara, I don't think we'll see each other yet. Not for a long time.”

All the joy and hope sank into her stomach.

“What do you mean?” Mara asked, still searching the brilliant white light for any sign of him… or anyone. But all she could see was her own body, floating in a sea of white light.

It appeared she was alone.

Her desperation returned with a vengeance. “You said I wasn't dying... Does that mean that you...?” No. He couldn’t be… Mara bit her lip. “We're not already dead, are we?”

This time, The Magus chuckled. “By all rights, I should be. We're both very much alive.” He paused. “I heard Him, Mara.”

His voice grew quiet, pondering, dreamy. “Nothing does Him justice. Maybe you'll hear from Him soon, too.”

Goosebumps ran up and down her limbs. No need to ask who “He” was. She knew. And the tears came back with a vengeance. Adonai…

“He let me come back.”

She brushed some of her tears away. “Come back?”

“I told Him I had to talk to you one more time; He asked me why. And, well, all I said was, ‘I’ve got something to tell her, and no, it can’t wait.’”

Mara feigned alarm. “Please tell me you weren't sarcastic to the creator of the universe...”

“I kept it civil! Mostly.” He cleared his throat. “You know, I didn’t have to come all this way to deliver a message in person. Are you going to listen or not? And this from the Academy’s most promising student.”

Mara giggled.

She could hear his smile even in his voice. “I love you, Mara. I always will.”

The words spread through her soul like warmth, like life. And I love you! She wanted to scream it, but all that came out was a whisper: “I love you, my Magus.”

“He did promise we'd see each other again. So take care of it, Mara.”

Take care of it? What was he talking about? “What do you m—”

“You’ll se—” he interrupted her question, but even as he spoke, his voice began to rapidly fade.

Panic. She lurched toward the receding voice. One moment he was there, the next he was so quiet his words were incomprehensible. “Wait! Magus, wait!” Mara yelled into the blinding white. “Don't leave yet!”

Don't disappear on me forever!

She swam as hard as she could, but it was no use. She couldn't keep up with the speed at which his voice pulled away from her. As quickly as his voice had come... he was gone.

All around her, there was only the white void.

Mara clapped her hands to her mouth, stifling a sob. Sorrow engulfed her.

Don't leave me alone...

The void sat in silence. Her heart was screaming.

But what did it matter? What did this empty light care? She’d been through blood and dark and fire and death. And now, one last persecution: to be lost, abandoned in this brilliant white void, alone.

No... not alone.

“Hello, Mara.”

It wasn’t an audible voice. It wasn’t The Magus.

But those two words blossomed like color in her mind. They blew through her like an explosion, whispered like a gentle breeze. The warmth she'd felt from before was no longer around her... it swept into her. It embraced her, inside and out.

It was love; love and acceptance and a peace she'd never felt before.

God. Adonai.

“You figured out the portal. And you saved them all. I'm so proud of you, Mara.”

Her heart quickened at His delight, but guilt hammered her chest in a follow-up swing. “Not all.” Sorrow mingled with the guilt. “I didn’t save them all.” Fresh tears slid down her face. He was here. But… “Where have you been?”

“I’ve always been right there, Mara. In the darkness and the smoke and the fires. Even in the pain.”

“But why couldn't I feel you?” As with The Magus, she couldn't see Adonai—couldn't see anything but brilliant white light—but she could feel Him all around her, embracing her.

“I'm sorry. Sometimes it's hard to feel me. But I'm always there, Mara.”

“Are you always there for everyone?” Her hot, angry tears stung. “You let the others die.”

“It was time to take them, yes.”

“But why me and not them?” she demanded. “Why not… him?”

“They have their own stories to complete. Yours is different.”

She felt pressure in her chest, felt the warmth of her tears coursing down her face. Mara wanted to bawl; she released a quiet sob.

“Mara, do you trust me?”

Did she? She'd asked that question a thousand times now. After every senseless death. After every overwhelming violence.

Mara looked around at the light, the warmth, the love swallowing her senses. The love that surrounded her, the gentle voice whispering in her ear, the peace that pressed on her heart. He said He'd always been there, whether she'd felt all this or not.

But what does that matter? What good is it if He's there and yet can feel so distant?

And yet…

This stunning, overflowing goodness—this love and gentleness and peace—this was who He was. He wasn't in the horrors of the world she knew.

He was this. And He was strong enough to overcome all the darkness.

Yet He'd allowed it. How could You possibly have allowed it?

He didn't give her an answer.

And that's Your prerogative. Mara felt her warm tears slide down her cheeks. And I understand that. I know I'll never be able to understand why. I may not like it, but you don't owe me an answer. And I can live with that!

I want to be able to live with that.

“I will never force you to do something. Never.”

I know.

“Even if that causes pain.”

I know that.

“But…”

But You'll still be there as it falls apart. And You'll be there to pick up the pieces.

“And I will never fail.

And that pain is never what I would have chosen.”

“You want light and love to reign.”

She knew all this, didn't she? That despite all the hatred, the violence, the flames, the death she'd seen... none of that was who He was.

And He was greater than all of it.

“You use the darkness to spark an even brighter light. Even if it comes in at the very end of all things.”

Again, there was silence. But then, she hadn't posed Him a question.

And she still hadn't answered His.

“Yes.” She paused, surprised at her response; but knowing that even now, even after everything she'd been through… it was true. “I trust you.”

“I wish they would have all chosen me, Mara… It hurts to be without them.”

Sorrow crushed her body as an image of The Magus floated through her mind. “I know what that's like.”

“You’ll see him again. I promise. Just not yet.”

Warmth seeped down her fingers to her toes.

“I've been working on something special, just for you. It’s ready now.” He sounded like a child, like Ian; eager to show her his latest creation he’d slaved over for weeks. “Do you want to see it, Mara?”

She looked around at the glory that engulfed her—at the light and the warmth, astounding and stimulating and leaving her with a quiet peace even after all the darkness she’d gone through. Had He made this, too? Did glory and love just drip off Him like condensation?

“Yes. Yes, please, I want to see it.”

The warm white light extinguished like a candle blown out. But Mara couldn't feel or hear any more aether; only the sensation that she was lying on solid ground again. There was something soft beneath her now, but what…?

Then it came to her. Grass. She lay on a patch of soft grass; it brushed against her cheek.

As Mara rose and stretched, she felt like she were waking from a dream... but she woke in the middle of the night. Wisps of purple cloud floated across a midnight-black sky above. A few twinkling stars were fading from view.

The stars... She'd never seen these constellations before. She couldn't place a single one. They were all sparkling and brand-new. Mara gasped in surprise and awe.

And although it felt a little more distant now, she could still feel the warm glow and the sweet love holding her gently. And she could see a light, like the brilliant white light from before, glowing from behind her.

Adonai? She wondered, but she was too afraid to turn and look—afraid it was Him and it would overwhelm her. Or afraid it wasn't Him and it would devastate her.

“You will be the first-born, then,” came Adonai's voice, as clear as day, melodic as music, but not from behind her—from all around her.

At the sound of his voice, a golden glow rippled on the horizon before her. The sky swelled with warm reds and oranges and crisp yellows.

The sunrise.

“I will make your brethren soon,” Adonai continued softly as the sunlight crawled over tall trees growing on grassy hills that stretched as far as she could see.

Seven other figures lay on the seven hills surrounding her; one by one, they stretched and woke. Although they were some distance apart, Mara could see at a glance that all seven of her fellow Caders were here.

Awe, joy, and relief filled Mara’s veins. She saw Ian's tiny form stand and stretch. He yawned as he turned to face the rising sun.

“Serve them,” Adonai whispered. “Use what you have endured, and ensure that no such harm comes to them.

“No more will you wander; I will give you a land to call your own. You will have wisdom and long life. And should you choose, the fires of prejudice will no longer burn you; for all people will look on you with wonder and fear. And I will always be here, hoping you will choose me.

“You will be a people of beauty and grace.” And, like a kiss, Adonai whispered: “And you will be called… Fárí.”

By now, the morning sun had grown strong enough to illuminate the new world: It was green and lush, flowering with plants Mara didn't know and blooms of rainbow colors. A little creek bubbled around the hills where Mara and the others stood.

“A land to call our own...” murmured Kale, as he spun slowly, taking it all in with wide eyes. He turned to the others. “Did you... you heard the voice too, right?” He couldn't stop staring at the scenery, in awe. In shock. He ran his hand through his hair. “It couldn't be...”

The others were equally lost basking in the beauty of the new world and had no reply.

Chortling like a bird, Ian came charging up the hill where Mara stood, fast as a bolt of living lightning. “Mara, Mara, Mara!” he shouted, beaming as bright as the sun and leaping into her arms.

She laughed and caught him, swinging him around midair.

Ian’s eyes suddenly went wide with wonder. “Mara...” he whispered, staring over her shoulder, gape-mouthed. “They're so pretty!”

And that was when she noticed them. As she twirled with Ian, she could just see the ends of what looked like brilliantly-glowing butterfly wings that could only be coming from her own back. They sparkled with white and argent light, pulsing with life.

But her attention was stolen from her wings as similar glittering wings, these ones shaped like a dragonfly’s, sprouted from Ian’s back. He giggled and wriggled in her arms. “It tickles!”

The others began to gasp as their wings fluttered to life, as well. Some were greens and golds and reds, and some were feathery, some thin, some tall—and some that looked less like wings and more like giant ribbons of light. But every pair of wings glowed with Adonai’s life and warmth and light.

“We're here,” said Monroe, his soft voice wafting across the grassy hills, down the flowering valley, and into the forests on the horizon. “Adonai’s given us a gift—another chance. But we can never forget the sacrifices of those we’ve lost. We could never have come here without the valor of Alan, who sacrificed himself to give us time to escape.”

Many bowed their heads. Mara felt more tears slip down her face.

“Mara,” came Ian's small voice as he tapped her on the shoulder. “That was really brave of Alan, wasn't it?”

She kissed Ian's forehead. “Yes, it was, Ian.”

“The others were really brave too.”

“Yes, Ian.”

“We'll never forget their names,” Monroe continued. “We will memorialize them here and now, and as long as Adonai allows us to live. So don't forget the courage of Jessica and David. Don't forget the sacrifice of Hare, Giorgine, and Chris. Never forget Albrecht. Remember the choices that were made.

“We choose to honor those who went before. And while time may steal away the memory of their faces, we will never forget their names, their suffering, and their story. We'll never forget the place we came from, so that we can eliminate suffering from this new world. We will never forget, so that no one in this world will ever experience the things we endured...”

“Just like what He said,” Kale murmured. He stared up at the sky, his brow furrowed in sorrow, confusion... wonder.

Just like You said, Mara whispered in her heart as she kissed Ian's brow again.

“Let us cherish this world that Adonai made,” Monroe finished.

You're real.

Monroe pumped his fist in the air. “Let us celebrate what He's given.”

You heard me all along, didn't you?

“And let's honor the Cader—no, the Fárí—who brought us here.” Monroe thrust his arm toward Mara, grinning from ear to ear.

Mara bowed her head as the others cheered, whistled, clapped, shouted her name. And some shouted praises to Adonai, collapsing to their knees and lifting their hands to the sky.

We're safe. Mara pressed her tear-stained face against Ian's as she laughed.

We're finally home.

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Can't believe it's over? Want more? Check out the story from Ian's perspective on the TaleHunt app @Rynfyre

Photos (in order of appearance):
All originally posted on Unsplash.com.

From Him, To Him