September 30, 2011
But as Christians, what should our approach to violence in fiction be? Readers, how much is too much? At what point should we put the book down? Writers, how should we handle violence when it comes up in our own stories?
The first real question is: When is violence biblically justified?
If you discuss this with enough people, it's only a matter of time until 'Thou shalt not kill' comes up. This is a relatively easy issue to handle with a quick explanation of the King James version's word choice. What they translated as 'kill' actually means 'murder' in the original Hebrew text.
If you haven't done it already, I would encourage you to study Old Testament law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and familiarize yourself with what it says about violence and killing.
Going into specific detail on the Bible's commands and accounts that revolve around violence would require a series of posts all its own, so for time's sake I'm going to base this post on the assumption that you all have at least a basic understanding of biblically justified killing and violence and are okay with the idea of violence in the real world as well as in fiction. (If this is not the case, leave a comment or email me with any questions you have.)
This brings us into the real issue I wanted to discuss in this post: What should a Christian writer's or reader's approach be to violence in fiction?
It is extremely important to understand that violence is very, very ugly. Over the last several decades books and movies have glamorized it into something exciting, dramatic, even artistic. You know the routine: the hero slays the dozen enemy warriors surrounding him while managing to sustain only superficial and cool-looking injuries himself, leaps onto his horse, swings the girl into the saddle behind him, rides to the arch-villain's stronghold, engages said villain in a deadly, several-minutes-long battle, slays arch-villain (sustaining another glamorous injury or two), kisses the girl, makes some profoundly witty remark, and the end credits roll. Hurrah.
Only that's not even close to what violence is really like. Real-life violence is unbelievably fast, bloody, terrifying, and horrific. A man doesn't just kill his attacker and carry on unscathed; even a perfectly justified killing has serious psychological effects on a person. A man who has been run through with a sword doesn't just cringe and crumple to the ground. Even a fight that doesn't end with a fatality often results in broken noses, missing teeth, black eyes, and more.
More recent titles in movies and literature have actually begun to show violence more realistically, but I don't see that trend as any better than the last one. Glamorized violence lulls people into a false perception of violence; realistic violence displayed as 'entertainment' inoculates people against the horror of what violence really is.
So as writers, we are faced with the task of finding a very delicate balance somewhere in the midst of all this. Where in the world do we start?
First of all, I want to make it clear that I don't have a problem with a fun, light-hearted work of fiction portraying violence in a somewhat goofy way (e.g. The dashing and witty hero makes an incredibly clever remark and all the oafish bad guys stand there dumbfounded while he renders them unconscious with a rolling pin.). With a book or movie of that nature, people understand that it's not supposed to be serious or realistic; it's fun and entertaining for the sole purpose of being fun and entertaining, and I have no problem at all with that as long as it's done in a clean and tasteful way.
But when you get into the heavier fiction, fiction intended to be taken seriously, violence becomes a much more complicated issue.
We don't want to commit the error of glamorizing violence. At the same time, though, we don't want to carry realism too far. A normal person does not enjoy seeing or reading about extremely realistic or gory violence, and we don't want to ruin their enjoyment of a story with our quest to achieve literary realism. (Besides which, a normal person probably isn't going to enjoy writing about excessively realistic violence, either.)
So where do we draw the line? How much realism is too much?
Honestly, I don't have a concrete answer or a step-by-step formula for dealing with violence in fiction. No two fights or battles are alike, and the scenarios surrounding them aren't alike either. Readers and writers have to use their own judgment in making decisions on what to read and what to write and where lines should be drawn.
In my own writing there are a lot of battles as well as fights on a smaller scale. My standard approach is to tell what happened ("He fell to the floor with a knife in his chest...", "blood poured from a cut on his face...", etc.) and leave it at that. If a character dies a violent death, I say enough to let the reader know what happens, but I do it in a relatively vague way that allows them to understand what's going on without having to read (and thereby 'see') all the gruesome and gory details. They can choose to fill in more detail (or not) with their own imagination. The way I see it, this allows me to tell the story without having to write bloody and unpleasant descriptions, as well as allowing the reader to read the story without having to read more detail than they want to.
One thing I make it a point to keep in mind when writing violent scenes is that violence is not something to be taken lightly. Ever. I'm not talking about a goofy bop on the head or a shove off the dock and into the pond; I'm talking about serious fiction. With fiction we do have some leeway to work with (simply because it is fiction and people don't read fiction expecting everything to be realistic), but as Christian writers it is still something we need to take seriously and consider carefully.
Society's persistently flippant view and portrayal of violence has greatly influenced individuals' perspectives of it--even Christians' perspectives. But maybe, if a generation of Christian writers would commit to portraying violence in a godly way--as something very serious that can't be taken lightly--we could begin to open their eyes and change those perspectives.
I think it's worth a try.
September 28, 2011
September 26, 2011
A lot of people have the idea that a knight wearing armor had to be lifted onto his horse with a crane, or some such notion, because the armor was so heavy he couldn't mount a horse by himself. I understand how that idea could come about--after all, armor is heavy, true enough.
But a.) if the knight's armor is so heavy that he can't get onto the horse, chances are even a warhorse isn't going to be able to carry him any significant distance at any significant speed, and b.) if his armor is so awkward that he can't mount a horse, how is he supposed to be any use fighting?
Armor was heavy--very heavy. A normal suit of war armor weighed between 70 an 90 pounds. Jousting armor, which was designed to take hard hits, was heavier--90 to 100 pounds or more. So knights trained long and hard for wearing it and carrying all that extra weight. Even before he could become a knight, a squire went through arduous physical training to learn to function and fight in armor. It's really no different than what our armed forces do today. An American soldier in the Middle East today is carrying roughly 100 pounds of body armor and equipment, and he can still run, jump, fight, and work.
Furthermore, armor was fitted to the individual knight and designed to allow the most flexibility and agility possible. The armor was jointed where the knight was jointed, and fitted to match his particular body shape. So it's not as if he was a hermit crab who just squeezed into some random shell and ran with it. His armor was made for him and fit accordingly.
This also speaks to the incorrect idea that, if a knight was unhorsed, he was as good as dead. Certainly he was much more vulnerable on the ground than on his horse, but if he is trained to fight in full armor, he still stands a chance.
By the way, if you don't know the parts of armor and need to find out, I would advise you do a Google search or stop by the library to learn more. As I said before, there is way too much information on the subject to put in a single blog post, but you can get some great ideas as well as info if you do some reading on the development, history, and different styles of armor.
You'll also want to keep in mind that armor is very expensive. Not only is it a lot of work to make, but it has to be made to-order every time. So, depending on his financial situation, your hero may or may not be able to afford a full set.
That about wraps it up for the Arming Your Hero series. I've had a ton of fun writing these posts, and I've even learned a lot myself in researching the weapons we've talked about. I hope all of you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Be sure to stick around the Lair; as always, I have a lot of big plans for upcoming posts!
September 23, 2011
It's important to note that siege weapons were most always manufactured on an as-needed basis. Kings and generals didn't keep a supply of the on hand in case they suddenly needed to besiege someone. Siege weapons were heavy and slow, making transport over long distances and/or rough terrain virtually impossible. So war machines were usually constructed for a specific situation.
Do you use siege weapons in your writing? Which war machines do you think would be most effective?
September 20, 2011
So, Sarah, how long have you been writing? What got you started?
As a child, I loved reading, and I loved inventing stories and story worlds. I can’t remember a time when fictional characters and situations weren’t floating through my mind. A few of these early tales made their way onto paper in some form, but they mostly existed in my imagination. In time, it became natural to consider actually recording them, and I sat down to write my first novel at sixteen. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.
Did you start off in the fantasy genre, or come to it later?
From the time I was a young child and my dad read me the Chronicles of Narnia, fantasy was the genre closest to my heart. However, the first two books I wrote were historical fiction—I was fascinated by certain eras of history, and the stories naturally fit with those time periods. I still enjoy historical fiction—like fantasy, it imparts a sense of exploring another world and immerses you in a different time and place. Yet when I wrote my first fantasy novel, I knew I had found my writing passion. At this time, I don’t see myself writing other genres. There’s so much variety in the world of speculative fiction, so much freedom for the imagination to roam, and so much room to explore the spiritual element (which is important to me).
What can you tell us about your current project?
Currently, I’m rewriting and editing the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy, tentatively titled Strong as Death. Giving any kind of short description is difficult because it necessitates leaving out so much of the story, but this is my working blurb:
For centuries, the Amroth desert has remained untouched by outsiders. But when a brutal enemy invades without warning, destroying villages and then vanishing into the rocky cliffs, terror sweeps the land.
In the wake of the devastation, Liana Aieul must lead the few survivors of her village to their one hope of safety: a mystical hidden refuge that may not even exist.
Pursued by an unstoppable foe and plagued by her own self-doubt, she must unravel the mystery of her past and her future in time to reach refuge. If she fails, they will join the dead.
Is there any kind of pattern to how you get your ideas, or is it different every time?
While there isn’t any one way I get ideas, I do have certain creative patterns. Old bits of myth and lore, ancient cultures, and unusual real-life accounts often spark ideas. I also find that music, times of prayer and worship, or quiet walks waken creativity. In addition, I tend to dream in story, and I’ve found a number of intriguing concepts that way—it’s amazing what the mind can invent in slumber. Then there are the ideas that come seemingly from nowhere, unfolding when I’m doing dishes, driving down the road, or taking care of some other mundane task. There’s a wealth of inspiration out there!
When you get a new story idea, do you immediately sit down and start brainstorming, or do you wait and let it grow for a while first?
When I get a story idea, I immediately write down everything that I know about the story in MacJournal. Often during that process, I wind up doing some informal brainstorming, and the general concept begins to take on form. It may be a few paragraphs, a few pages, or more. Regardless, after I’ve written it down, the concept simmers in my mind for an extended time, and I try to keep a record of everything that comes to me, even if I don’t end up using certain elements in the future. I usually only sit down and intentionally brainstorm when I’m fairly certain that I’m going to use the idea for a book.
Do you prefer brainstorming with a blank Word document, or with pen and paper?
As I mentioned, I start with the basic concept in MacJournal (which allows division into folders and individual files), but if I begin to suspect I will turn the concept into a book, I transition to Scrivener. I can type a great deal faster than I write, which is helpful to keep up with the flow of ideas in the brainstorming stage, plus the software helps me keep it organized for future reference, as opposed to stacks of paper that will later require sorting through. So for me, using the computer is a given. Especially with my most recent project, I’ve found organization of my brainstorming and notes to be vital and having everything digital from the beginning has helped that process.
A lot of 'experts' say that writers should keep a journal in order to stay in the habit of writing every day. Do you do this?
I do keep a journal, and write in it almost daily. I use it for reflection on life, working through thoughts and feelings, and as a way to dialogue with God, so it’s not something I do for the writing experience, but because it helps me process life.
What's the best piece of writing advice anyone has ever given you?
While this wasn’t advice given directly to me, I think William Wordsworth’s instruction to “fill your paper with the breathings of your heart” can benefit all writers.
Alright, time for the fun questions! What is your favorite fantasy creature?
There are so many fascinating creatures of lore, but if I had to choose one, I’d probably say Pegasus. A horse with the ability to fly would be quite a boon when it came to adventuring, not to mention an entertaining companion.
In your opinion, who is the best character you've ever written, and what do you love about him/her?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All my characters have a place in my heart, so I’ll just tell you a little about why I love my current protagonist. She perseveres in the midst of the worst circumstances, and despite her flaws and doubts, she’s committed to doing what she believes is right. Her inner strength is beautiful, and though she doesn’t see it yet, it’s ultimately what gives her people a chance for survival. Lest I sound like an overzealous author, I’ll leave it at that!
If one of your stories was made into a blockbuster movie (and you could be there to ensure they did it just right), which story would you want it to be and why?
Again, it’s hard to choose one. I’d probably say Strong as Death, in part because it’s the story freshest in my mind. Its epic scope would lend itself well to film, and I would love to see the story world—parts beautiful and parts grim—come to life.
Last question: it's pretty much an accepted fact that we writers are kind of... well, strange. I know I've been known to do some crazy things when I get a new idea. So what's the strangest 'writer thing' you've ever done?
Aside from the flow of laughter or tears while writing emotional scenes or the sudden leaps from bed in the middle of the night when struck by an idea or the housework completed while muttering character dialogue, I really don't do anything strange.Well said! : ) Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing with everyone here at the Lair, and for letting me barge into your world and ask so many questions! I had a great time talking with you.
If you're interested in keeping tabs on Sarah's thoughts and writing, visit her gorgeous website and/or her blog. She has some great thoughts on Christian speculative fiction and story elements, and a great store of intriguing thoughts, facts, and ideas about mythology, folklore, fairytales, fantastic creatures, and more. It's well worth checking out.
September 19, 2011
While it may be effective as a weapon for a skilled user, personally I just don't look at this weapon and think 'Wow, what a good idea'. It's a formidable offensive weapon, but you couldn't use it for defensive purposes, and frankly I foresee me hurting myself with this weapon more than I see me hurting the enemy. It would be great for the intimidation factor if used by a villain, though!
This is a war hammer. The one in this picture is somewhat stylized; most war hammers were very basic and straightforward in their design, and their spikes were curved, enabling the bearer to grab at the edges of armor or hook horses' reins and pull them away from the rider. And of course the hammer head itself could deliver a powerful blow and deadly injuries.
What are your thoughts on bludgeoning weapons and the more gritty, ruthless side of combat that seems to go with them?
September 16, 2011
The polearm category is a broad one with many styles and variations of weapons falling inside its brackets. I've featured the main ones, but someone willing to do a little research or use their imagination could easily turn up many more styles and applications. So have fun with them and don't be afraid to make them your own!
September 15, 2011
Libby, the kids, and the library have not escaped his notice.
Now he has to decide whether to turn them in to Sergei, the White Tiger's Commander in Chief, or to keep their existence a secret... and put his own plans for them into action.
Click Here to read Chapter Nine.
September 12, 2011
So here is a lineup of basic bow styles writers can choose from. Enjoy!
One erroneous idea that has been promoted through books and movies is the concept of carrying your bow across your back with the string across your chest. Whoever came up with that idea had never done it--it is outrageously uncomfortable, and hard on the bow string to boot. So don't go off half-cocked. Do your research and make sure you're not writing something that's totally inaccurate.
But after that, have fun! They may not be appropriate for every character and every circumstance, but bows and arrows still have a lot to offer your fictional characters' armory.
Do you use bows often in your fiction? What's your favorite bow style?
September 8, 2011
Obviously, he needs a backup or alternative plan, and a smaller knife may be just the thing. So here are some common kinds of smaller blades you just might want to slip into your hero's arsenal.
September 6, 2011
If you haven't read my other stories on Avenir Eclectia but you'd like to check them out, Click Here. Be sure to give me your feedback--I love hearing from my readers! And while you're there, browse around and check out all the stories on the site. There are a lot of very talented writers there, offering a lot of really great stories.
The next post in my "Arming Your Hero" series will be here soon, so be sure to stick around. Meanwhile, carry on and write well!
September 5, 2011
But of course, 'sword' is a very broad and rather vague word, and every great character needs a weapon that compliments their own personality and style. (Would Aragorn be half so Aragorn-ish if he carried a rapier rather than Narsil? What would Peter Pevensie be without the sword given to him by Father Christmas?)
There are many different kinds of swords out there, though. So with that in mind, I've put together a list--a showcase, if you will--of the basic styles of swords, to help you fantasy writers out there figure out just exactly what it is your hero (or any other armed character) is carrying. Enjoy!
In the meantime: What's your favorite type of sword? What kind do the characters in your fantasy stories use?
September 2, 2011
So where do you start? Is it enough to just hand your character a sword and send him on his merry, swashbuckling way?
Personally, I've found that a character's personality and mindset have a great deal of influence on the type and number of weapons he carries. For this reason, I include questions about weapons in every character sketch I write. Here are some of the things I like to take into consideration:
What is the character's motivation for carrying a weapon? Is he a 'professional warrior' type (such as a soldier, knight, or bodyguard) for whom carrying a weapon is just part of the job? Is he a business man who keeps a weapon on hand simply to protect the security of his establishment?
What is the character's mindset about using his weapon(s)? Is he a bodyguard who will use his sword at the first sign of a threat to his charge? Or is he more likely to draw his weapon and hope that the sight of it will have the desired effect so he doesn't actually have to use it? Is the use of weapons his first response or his last resort?
Is there a certain effect your character is trying to achieve with his weapon choice? Is he all about practicality, or does he go in for the look of the thing too? This question works particularly well for arming the villain of your story. Does he want a weapon with swift, silent deadliness, or does he want to make a show and work off of the intimidation factor?
How much training does the character have with his weapon? Is he a knight who trains for hours every day, or a farmer who is content just knowing he has a weapon on hand?
Does backstory play a part in the weapon(s) your character carries? Is his sword one that's been in his family for generations? Does the weapon have a story of its own? Is your character's mindset about weapons affected by his backstory? Is he intimidated by weapons because his family was killed when he was a child, or is he motivated to have a weapon at all times because his family was caught unarmed and murdered?
Learning the answers to these questions will help you figure out how many and what kind of weapons your character carries. For instance, a farmer who only carries a weapon in case he happens to come across a venomous snake or wild dog probably won't be carrying a sword belt or battle axe while plowing the field. A professional fighter like a soldier or knight will probably have more of a combat preparedness mindset and carry more than one weapon.
When it comes down to choosing the right weapon for your character, though, there are dozens of options, and it's an important decision. In the end you very well may decide to stick with a basic, nondescript sword. On the other hand, though, you just might want to go in for something a little different. So in the next few posts, I'm going to be showcasing and discussing different types of weapons you may be familiar with, or perhaps weapons you've never even heard of.
Feel free to join in the conversations--that's what the comment box is for!
Meanwhile: How do you choose a character's weapons?
September 1, 2011
After a frustrating argument with the Professor, Skylar heads off into the forgotten sector to blow off some steam. In the process he makes an astounding discovery that could change his entire life.
Don't miss one link in the exciting chain of events taking place in the shadowy world of Shandor Rei.
Click Here to read Chapter Eight, and of course be sure to stick around here at the Lair for everything coming up!