Back to Basics: compelling short stories and character motivations

I have gone into back to basics mode: what does it mean to tell a story? I have been reading a lot of short stories since giving up on A Game of Thrones for what must be the eightieth time. Not just fantasy or science fiction, but authors of all nationalities, genres, and styles. I have been reading Chekhov, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Flannery O’Connor, and others who I used to read before I got the idea that I had to give myself assignments and read stuff that was current. I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things: Continue reading “Back to Basics: compelling short stories and character motivations”

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Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey

People all have their own reasons for loving or hating Jacqueline Carey’s books, but they all agree she is a great writer.

It’s no secret that Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite writers, and if you’ve read any of her work it should be clear why. The skill with which she crafts her work is evident from the very first word, and even when she’s writing stuff that I can’t stand to read (like her Agents of Hel series), I still acknowledge she’s doing it better than almost anyone else. She’s most well-known for her Kushiel books, set in Europe with an alternate history where Christianity never really took off, but an early offshoot of it took off like crazy. Continue reading “Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey”

In Defense of Villains

What does Sauron really mean for Middle Earth? What does Voldemort want?

I was browsing the Youtube Channel Write About Dragons the other day, and came across Brandon Sanderson discussing villains.  At the beginning of the discussion he mentions a problem that has plagued me since I was a child, and more as I’ve read  fantasy as an adult: what do villains want?  It’s easy to understand villains with short-term motivation, like robbing a bank and flying to Venezuela, or getting revenge, but what’s hard to understand are creatures like Sauron, Robert Jordan’s Dark One, and Emperor Palpatine.  Jordan actually deals with this question in the later Wheel of Time books, and especially (in collaboration with Sanderson) in the final showdown between Rand and The Dark One.  Palpatine is easy to understand as a dictator, who uses political power as a cover for making himself a kind of living god.  The problem does remain: what does a wrinkled old man want?  Food?  Sex?  Yuck.  What could Sauron possibly be going for when he doesn’t even have a body other than the power to gloat and watch Hobbits suffer? Continue reading “In Defense of Villains”

Elsa’s Ambivalence

Last night I watched Frozen and then started a chapter on Freud in Harold Bloom’s The ElsaPose.pngWestern Canon.  Bloom’s thesis is that Freud was dead wrong on most of his interpretations of Shakespeare, but that if we analyze Freud using Shakespearean psychology, we find some very interesting things.  The most important thing I get from Bloom’s ideas is that the quality of ambivalence is incredibly important to understanding what makes a character compelling.  Elsa, Queen of Arendelle, is a character that rivals MacBeth, King Lear, and Hamlet in her ambivalence and psychological torment, so I finally have an analytical tool to express my profound enjoyment of this great movie.

Continue reading “Elsa’s Ambivalence”