There is Nothing New Under the Sun Remember that old saying? Years ago, when TVs had rabbit ears and PBS was the only way to watch without commercial interruptions, I saw Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. It was 1988 and this professorial man … Continue reading The Quest as Genre: A Plot Outline
We call main characters protagonists. We like to call them heroes. Then there are those pesky anti-heroes, when the main character we root for is really a bad guy. But what if main characters aren’t particularly heroic? Is it enough that they just survive? How … Continue reading Is Survival Enough for a Dystopian Hero?
What does it take to become a generation worthy of respect? Is there really something special about some generations? Is there something wrong with others? At a recent book club meeting, we were discussing The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. (This novel depicts the lives of … Continue reading Tempered Steel Makes the Character
In my pursuit of advice about crafting villains, one idea comes up again and again: the villain doesn’t know he is a villain; the villain mistakenly thinks he is the hero. Now that I’ve found my villain and made him into a cruel and selfish … Continue reading A Villain’s Fatal Flaw
When I wrote my first real piece of prose, way back in 5th grade, I never completed it. The plot, a cross somewhere between Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, centered around missing pencils, a kid detective, and an unknown classroom thief. I remember many of the … Continue reading Writing Villains
The worlds we create as writers are unlimited. Some settings are close and claustrophobic, limited to the character’s head, a room, or the loneliness of a planet. The world of fiction can be our own world embellished with magic so we go out in the world imagining there are unseen layers. Dystopian fiction magnifies or projects our current ills and gives us the ultimate conflict: protagonist vs. society. Science fiction and fantasy can be a window into entirely new worlds, often painted with a very detailed brush.
- Writers can limit their worlds on purpose, in order to portray the claustrophobia of their protagonists’ real psychological, internal, and personal struggles.
- in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis to an unexpected change in his condition.
- The claustrophobic and tiered setting of Hugh Howey’s Silo Series, is an entire society set in a silo. Protagonists must face their psychological limitations before overthrowing the world order..
- The school and limited experience of the protagonists in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a life with no future.
- Writers can create a magical world hiding behind or within our own, just beyond our purview. Things in our world may seem ordinary to most people, but the extraordinary is there for those in the know.
- Harry Potter’s magical reality created by K. Rowling that runs parallel with our own.
- The otherwise familiar world of Cassandra Clare’s shadow hunters allows us to see our world in extra layers with protagonists who use the Mortal Instruments to fight demons.
- The steampunk world of Charlie N. Holmberg’s Paper Magician gives us a nineteenth century world ruled by magic and magicians.
- Writers can frighten us into looking more closely at our own society, establishing a not too distant dystopian future to serve as a cautionary tale.
- George Orwell’s 1949 novel, 1984 which looks at government control of history and news as well as the manipulation of thought in general.
- The complete loss of rights as seen through the female antagonist of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
- Sabrina Vourvoulias’ depiction of a Southern town where your Ink determines your lot in life.
- Suzanne Collins’ 13 districts and Katniss’ rebellion against the Capitol in The Hunger Games.
- The Republic in Marie Lu’s future Los Angeles, as the protagonists in Legend try to survive and overthrow.
- Writers can do world building from scratch. These architect build planets and universes that seem familiar but crafted into something completely new.
- The sweeping world of Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, where power, politics, religion, and a little bit of magic trace a Machiavellian path to, well, the throne.
- Frank Herbert’s Dune, a desert planet thousands of years in the future, complete with emperors, drug guilds, contrasting religions, and the rise of a messiah.
- Dragonflight and Anne Mcaffrey’s Dragonriders, about the dragons and the people who communicate and ride them on a planet called Pern in some distant future.
- Writers can use time travel to put protagonists from our time into futuristic worlds or to visit history. Historical fiction takes on new meaning with the use of magical or technological intervention, and science fiction is easier to understand with a protagonist with our perspective.
- The Outlander series is an intersection of historical fiction, romance, magic, and time travel. Diana Gabaldon’s protagonist circles the globe in space and time.
- The Island of Eternal Love, by Daina Chaviano, a piece of epic fantastic fiction which traces the entwining history of three families over continents as well as time.
- Timebound (from The Chronos Files) by Rysa Walker traces the protagonist’s repeated journeys into an ever-changing past.
We can focus our description of a setting down to one room or open it up to distant planets of the unknown universe. We can look at the past, present, or future. What elements of the human experience each writer chooses to focus on is up to us.
Happy Writing! Happy Travels!