Friday, February 27, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge #3

Here we go, people! It’s time for another circular flash fiction challenge! I hosted the last one in September 2014, and it created some awesome stories. You can check them out here.

For those of you who haven’t heard about my flash fiction challenges, every so often, I host a challenge that includes three elements:

  • A writing prompt someone gives to you
  • A writing prompt you give to someone else
  • Feedback for each of the participants by the various participants

“Flash fiction” is a genre of short fiction, generally around 500 words, but examples can be up to 1000 words. In our challenge, the maximum length will be 1000 words, but each person may assign a shorter length with their prompt. Prompts can be anything from a concept to a sentence starter to a picture, etc. If it can prompt a story, you can use it.

Tell me a story in under 1000 words

Feel free to use this image to promote the challenge. Just don’t change it in any way, please.

If you’d like to participate, comment on this post with the name of the blog you would be posting your story on. If you don’t have a blog, you can still take part! Email me at rachelleoneilwriter [at] gmail [dot] com, and I’ll put you on the list. On Friday, March 13th, two weeks from today, I will pair you each with your partners and give the official rule list. You may sign up anytime between now and then. For now, remember the following:

  1. Your prompt is dependent on someone I assign to you.
  2. No profanity, sexual scenes, or excessive violence.
  3. If you do sign up, do me a favor and spread the word about the challenge via Twitter, Pinterest, or some other method. You may use the above image to do so.

If you have any questions at all, please comment or email me. I’d love to have you take part!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wrapping Up The Hobbit, Part 3

Today, I present my final post in my Wrapping Up The Hobbit series. You can find Part I here and Part II here.

Wrapping Up The Hobbit Part 3

When the trilogy was first announced as a trilogy, a lot of people were upset. The accusations flew. How could Peter Jackson turn a short adventure story into a trilogy of films? Was he trying to match LotR? He’ll probably just ruin the story. He’s just after money. And on and on it went… I, personally, was quite excited at the prospect of three films. A bit, apprehensive, yes. Three movies did seem like a little more than the story could sustain, even with storyline material from the LotR appendices. Overall, though, I thought it would be neat to see The Hobbit placed in its broader context.

See, when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he was creating a children’s story. It’s a simple story written with little concept of the world it was set in. Sure, Tolkien had messed around with his elvish languages a bit, and he had written random stories that would later be incorporated into Middle-Earth history, but he didn’t know his world like he would later. The Hobbit was just a story. After it was published, though, Tolkien began delving deeper into this world he had created. By the time Lord of the Rings was published, the world of Middle-Earth was much broader and better understood. Tolkien only had a vague conception of what Gandalf was doing when he went off by himself in The Hobbit. Later, he created the White Council and the broader implications of the dwarves’ journey. Without their retaking of Erebor, LotR may have turned out very differently. But Tolkien didn’t know any of this when he wrote The Hobbit.

As Peter Jackson approached the story, however, he did know this broader context. Unlike Tolkien at the time of its writing, Jackson knew how the events of The Hobbit would play out in later history. And he thus chose to broaden the story. The last comment here words this very well, touching on the importance of Gandalf’s actions, and I encourage you to read it.

So, the trilogy sets the dwarves’ journey in its proper context, in my personal opinion, which better sets up LotR. I’d like to touch on Azog briefly, and then I’ll move on. It is true that, the way Tolkien wrote it, Azog, the Pale Orc, died long before the events of The Hobbit. However, his inclusion helped  the Battle of the Five Armies make more sense to me. In the book, everything climaxes in the Battle of the Five Armies before the doors of Erebor. And, though the book does mention the orcs following the dwarves from Moria, I never really understood why they were at the battle. With the added storyline of Azog and his personal grudge toward Thorin, the story gained tension, and the orcs’ presence at the battle made more sense. To me, anyway. The tension did get a little too ramped up at times, but, overall, it gave urgency to a journey, which can become boring without conflict of some kind.

Now, on to Fili. As I mentioned in my first post, I feel like Fili got passed over in favor of Kili. Though I liked both of them, Fili was definitely my favorite. He had such a kind heart and protective nature. His most highlighted moment in the movies is probably the dock scene, where he says, “No, I belong with my brother.” He has other gems, though. While Thorin is being all broody and unaccepting of Bilbo, Fili and Kili both take to the hobbit right away. They may tease him (and occasionally send him into the midst of trolls), but they’ll be there to protect him, too. Of course, Fili is fiercely protective of his brother, to the point that he stands up the uncle he’s probably idolized all his life. And during the attack on Bard’s house by orcs? He jumps in, without weapons, to defend Bard’s children. He tells Bard to flee with his children, even though that makes the dwarves more vulnerable. While Kili gets the spotlight in the films, Fili is the one who truly deserved it, in my mind.

Fili and Kili’s deaths have always confused me a bit. While Thorin’s death is thematic - his greed brought him to his downfall - his nephews’ deaths just seem pointless. If Tolkien wrote that just so Dain could take the throne of Erebor… What was wrong with Fili ruling? In the end, maybe its just a nod to the senselessness of war. People die who don’t deserve to. Dwarves die defending their uncle. And it’s sad. While the book’s climax made me sad, though, the movie’s climax broke me apart. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I knew it would hurt; I was tense from the very beginning of Battle of the Five Armies. The way Fili, Kili, and Thorin’s deaths were done, though… First of all, the writers completely departed from the book on this scene. Fili and Kili don’t even die together! Fili gets stabbed in the back like a sacrificial lamb, Kili dies defending Tauriel, and Thorin dies because of sheer stupidity. And it all runs together in an emotional wreck without closure. Fili’s death honestly just felt like a way to get him out of the way. I don’t know if it was intended that way, but he literally gets stabbed in the back by Azog, dropped over a cliff, and then ignored. Then the writers are free to focus on Kili and Thorin.

Kili’s death is pretty emotional, due in part to Tauriel’s reaction, but I’m still rather annoyed that he and Fili didn’t die together. And that scene kind of cheapened Tauriel’s character, in my opinion. It made her seem weak and ineffective, unlike the warrior she’s presented as. Though I believe female characters should both rescue and be rescued, as should male characters, this scene didn’t honor Tauriel’s character. It made her seem, as I said, weak, and that was unfair, in my mind. Kili ended up with the glory, though he died gaining it.

As for Thorin, oh boy. After finally snapping out of his selfish, gold-lusting state, Thorin joins the battle to save his kinsmen. It’s quite a heroic scene. Once Fili and Kili have been killed, though, all the focus shifts to Thorin’s fight with Azog. They fight to the death on a frozen lake, and, though Thorin defeats Azog, he stupidly follows after the “corpse.” And dies because of it. I mean, as I said, Thorin’s death is thematic. He should die. Having it come at the hands of his own stupidity, though, really annoys me. Thorin’s a better warrior than that.

The worst part of it all is the lack of closure. Though Kili is mourned by Tauriel, and Thorin gets time with Bilbo, no one mourns over Fili. It truly is like he just got ignored. Now, I believe there is a funeral scene in the extended edition, but, honestly, there should be closure of some kind in the theatrical version. Stories should feel realistic, but they’re also a means of escape for us. Each of these deaths was emotionally devastating for me, but there was no closure for Fili, in particular, and that feels entirely too much like reality.

Despite my problems with the climax, the very end of the movie brought everything back to the beginning, which made me happy. I liked the end. I’m just not keen on the rest of the movie. Overall, I’m not sure I’ll watch The Hobbit trilogy again. Maybe sometime in the future, but, for now, it honestly hurts too much.

For those of you who’ve seen Five Armies, what did you think of the climax? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Do You “Ship” Your Characters?

I recently read a blog post entitled Ship it like FedEx: What Writers Can Learn from the Fandoms. The premise got my brain turning, but the article didn’t come at it from the exact angle I was expecting. It wasn’t a bad article; it had some good points. Feel free to check it out. Anyway, as I said, the article got my mind going, so I thought I’d develop some of my thoughts for you.

“Ship” is a shortened, verb form of the word “relationship.” (And, supposedly, it’s now in the Oxford English Dictionary) If you’re part of any fandoms (or even if you occasionally check out the Geek sections of Pinterest or Tumblr), you’ve probably heard of shipping, which is basically matchmaking tendencies on steroids. Fandoms tend to go a little ship-crazy. They ship adorable things; they ship some super strange things. They ship it whether its actually canon or not. And the emotional investment involved in these ships? It can be intense.

Now, I’m not informing you about the craziness of fandoms so that you can wonder what the world is coming to (believe me, I wonder that myself some days). Instead, I mention “shipping” to point out something about our stories: Do your characters’ relationships excite you? Essentially, do you ship your characters? And do you set things up so your readers can as well?

Shipping Characters

There are a few elements to setting up a ship-worthy romance:

  • The Meet Cute – I first heard this term on The Writer’s Alley, courtesy of Pepper Basham, and, apparently, it’s a huge element of the romance novel. I realize many of my readers don’t write purely romance, but I’ll bet many of you do have romantic threads in your stories. How does your couple meet? Are there sparks? Do they instantly get the wrong impression about each other (Pride and Prejudice)? Where do they meet? Is it relevant to the story? If they’ve known each other a long time before sparks ever occur, what is that one scene where they become aware of each other? As a writer, you love these characters and should delight in showing their attraction to and love for each other. Think of Faramir and Eowyn in Lord of the Rings. I can’t remember their exact meeting in the book, but in the extended version of the films, it sets the mood immediately. Create a smile/squeal – worthy scene for your readers. They’ll appreciate it, I promise.
  • Interaction – Real relationships require interaction. Attraction is all well and good, but no relationship can stand only on the fluff of attraction. Make your characters talk to each other. This doesn’t always have to be serious. Banter is an awesome way to make a relationship fun. I love reading good banter between characters. Joking and lighthearted interaction adds a dimension that shouldn’t be ignored. There should also be some substance in that interaction, though. Do your characters know what each other’s values? What are their greatest dreams? Do they share them with one another? I love romance, but I would much prefer to ship a couple who learns to love each other through honest interaction than one who’s all fluff.
  • Tension – There are two sides to romantic tension, in my mind. There’s the good kind that can create excitement, and there’s the bad kind that just creates angst. In my personal opinion, angsty romances aren’t healthy, so I’d rather not create them in my stories. However, stories are driven by conflict, and that conflict can come in the form of subtle tension as easily as overt danger. Perhaps your characters aren’t sharing a part of themselves with each other. This drives a wedge that must be overcome. Instant conflict. And most relationships do go through a stage or two of uncertainty. Whether that’s because feelings haven’t been admitted or because change is occurring, uncertainty creates a great deal of tension in a relationship. We should be careful with this, though. Being true to reality is a good thing, and some tension will keep readers eager to find out what happens next. Making the relationship nothing but angst and drama, though, is neither pleasant to read nor healthy to experience.

I think what it all comes down to is being thoughtful about your characters’ relationships. Have you ever thought about shipping your characters? What makes you excited about a couple when you read/see them? Let me know in the comments!

Next time: Wrapping Up The Hobbit, Part 3