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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Create With Mystery

Create With Mystery

“On the contrary, the world where this Joy happens is as full of darkness as our own world, and that is why when it happens it is as poignant as grief and can bring tears to our eyes.” Frederick Buechner

Seeds of mystery by even minor characters can add an extra layer of atmosphere to the overall story world you are building. Sometimes the mini-sequences can pack a strong emotional jolt just because they are a brief close-up.

There is an excellent example in the novel The Crystal Scepter by C.S. Lakin. Every year, to a combination of disgust and fear by the inhabitants, the trolls visit the poor fishing village that Perth lives in. This year however, Perth finds he must face them and hopes to stave off their rage long enough to retrieve a stolen item.

Perth finds that everything horrid about them matches his information. Yet on the other hand they wore “shreds of clothing in a hodgepodge fashion,” and one wore dozens of necklaces. They spoke his language, much to his astonishment. And their conversation became stranger and stranger.

Perth stood listening in disbelief. Carrying on about tea and crumpets? These trolls were odder than he ever imagined. ‘I could get you some clotted cream,’ he offered without thinking.”

When the truth about the trolls comes to light, it brings tears as to what happened to them; admiration for their determination to hold on to their heart truths, and a recognition that light can exist even in the darkest moments. And touches of laughter as they wrestled with the good and evil battle they were forced to face.

For Perth, their brief encounter became another stepping-stone forward to decisions he needed to make and strength to face his own battle with darkness.

Journal Prompt:

Buechner also says that “Good and evil meet and do battle in the fairy tale world much as they meet and do battle in our world, but in fairy tales the good live happily ever after.”

How can this concept be applied to the genre you are working it. What have you read that would fit this description?

Share: The story where this works.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Build a Story World

Thresholds Bonus Exercise

The following are some quotes from the movie Green Dragon. Put your own character into a mini scene where he or she makes the statement for themselves, from the perspective of crossing a threshold literally or figuratively.

“Going to provide a taste of the dream.”     

“People like you are the reason we are here.”

“But maybe I can do something for you.”     

“What do we have to lose? We’ve lost everything already.”

“Fate has always been cruel to me but like our country I will endure”

Share: Did you see anything new in your character?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Construct With Memory

“Evil has within itself the seeds of its own destruction.”
Rolland Hein (in reference to the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Often when we have major decisions to make we take time to reflect and remember previous successes and failures to guide us. We use experience, seek counsel and estimate consequences as best as possible. However, sometimes what our heart most desires will tilt that process towards one side or another. Jesus reminds us that, “where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.”

The same possibilities apply to our characters. In the novel, The Crystal Scepter, Pythius wanted power and authority beyond all measure. While still a youth, he murdered his own father to obtain the crown rather than wait until he was older. Every time someone placed a warning or an admonition before him, they suffered deathly consequences. The only thing that caused him anxiety was the reality of death.

“What he needed was a magical amulet or something that would ensure a long life, some charm that would insulate him from attack and make him invincible. If only such an object existed! What he would pay for that!  Why, he’d sell his very soul if he could live without fear of death. Without always having to watch his back, suspicion hounding his every waking moment.”

And so he planted his own seeds of destruction. Every time he had an opportunity to hear the truth, or to change his direction he remembered his heart’s desire and chose it again and again. The warnings as well were given over and over. He resisted even as poison and decay coursed through him. He believed he had ultimate power and wealth and therefore no one could refuse him. Not even the prophecy.

“The created fantasy world must have its own immutable laws. Once those laws have been established, they cannot be set aside at the author’s whim for the demands of plot.” Jane Yolen

“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve:” Joshua 24:15

Journal Prompt:

            Choose one of the seven deadly sins, (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride), for your antagonist and plot out a series of opportunities before him to relinquish his choice for evil.


According to Wikipedia, Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.” List a series of incidents for one of your ‘good’ characters where they continually failed to act.

Share: Which consequence in your sequence do you think became the step of no return for him specifically? Why? What evil for that character resulted?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Build a Story World

Thresholds of Distance 

These include worlds apart in distance, such as East to West, or civilization to wilderness.  Then too, is the distance created by time barriers as found in time travel fantasy to move across historical eras, and science–fiction travel crossing space and time?

Each one of these thresholds often includes a mechanism. How will the crossing and re-crossing be accomplished? What new thresholds happen if stranded? Is there a limit before a character must choose to stay or leave permanently?

The movie Avatar includes multiple layers. First there is the threshold to be permitted to travel to Avatar. Then there is the different stratas of power and influence within the mining colony. Next comes the limited access to the Nav’i, the inhabitants of Pandora, with another hierarchy of status based on qualities almost completely counter cultural to the business based colony. And within each crossing and re-crossing is the threat of death from the poisonous atmosphere.

Take another look at the movie, or another time-space crossing genre, and make a list of all the distance barriers: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and morally.


1.       Choose one of the above categories and put your character into that moment of choice. Overwrite all the sensory details.

2.        Then write up the scene twice, once for each possible decision: to flee or fight, or to submit the accepted ‘dogma’ either socially or personally.

Share: Which one has the strongest emotional reaction? Why?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Build a Story World

Thresholds of Immigration

This includes two separate layers of thresholds. First is the sense of a new arrival. Will the journey chosen to find shelter bring death or freedom?  Then later begins the journey of “non-acceptance/ acceptance, understood/not understood” in social mores and customs.

As I’ve shared in a previous blog, an excellent example of a cross-cultural situation can be found in the movie Green Dragon. One poignant scene occurs with a young woman frantic to get some milk for her baby who cannot digest the American version. The baby needs sugar added. A leader in her community is refusing, in a misguided perception that they still need to ration, so in his mind he is being responsible. When one of the cooks gets a translation of the difficulty he makes it clear they can have as much as they need.  Both refugees are stunned. But their reactions are very different. The woman is grateful and relieved while the leader is miffed with a perception that the young cook has interfered with his authority.


1. Put your character in a situation where she either dreams, or actually experiences, a refugee relocation. It can be either by war, or natural disaster, or a long term camping trip for someone who has never camped before. 

2. What is the first thing she does to give her space a personal focus? Or how does she resist?

Share: Give an example of a serious misunderstanding and another that is humorous.
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