How To Create An Intriguing Character

By Mark Kamibaya

Note: I refer to characters and readers as masculine. However, these principles can also be applied to female characters and readers.

Creating a character is often the hardest part in writing. It should be. God created every human being with an intricate and complex personality or nature. Putting all of that complexity on a page is no easy task. Characters are also the main reason why readers will want to read your story. An amazing character can hook a reader even if Intruiging_Charactersthe plot is cliched or even boring. It rarely works the other way around.  A lot is riding on your main character. He can make or break your story. How can you ensure that your main character will hook your reader? One word: conflict.

Characters, especially main characters, must have conflict. There are many ways to add conflict to a character. The easiest way is conflict in surroundings. This is where you put an ordinary person into an extraordinary situation. Like a simple hobbit thrust into an unexpected journey or a young shepherd boy called by God to slay the giant champion of another nation.

Another almost cliched (but nonetheless effective) way is conflict of the past. The best example is the tortured hero: the protagonist that is tortured by his dark past and the personal demons that stem from it. As I said before, this method is overdone, but it can still be used to great effect when you put an original spin on it.  One way to put an original spin on this cliche is to not have him be the instigator or victim of whatever horrible incident, but to make him a bystander of the incident so that his inaction is what plagues him.

[Read more…]

KP Spotlight! Mary P. Johnston

We are very delighted to be presenting with you our third KP spotlight! In this latest installment we are featuring Mary P. Johnston. Enjoy!

 

Kingdom Pen: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What are three interesting facts?  KP Spotlight

Mary P. Johnston: Hello! Three interesting facts, let’s see…

  1. I am 6’2” tall.
  2. I am really passionate about the Myers-Briggs theory. (INFJ here!)
  3. I wrote my first novel in crayon. I was seven, I believe. It was called the Captain over the Seas, and, as the title suggests, it was about a pirate.

KP: If you could have any vocation, and money was no object, what would it be?

MPJ: I think I would work two jobs, if that’s allowed— I would be a writer by day and an astronomer by night. 

KP: Homeschooled? Public-schooled? Tell us the tale.

MPJ: Homeschooled! I went to pre-school and kindergarten as a child, but after that my mom and dad decided to homeschool me since I wasn’t learning in the classroom very well. I have dyslexia, you see. Or maybe you can’t see, because I was able to learn how to read and write proficiently under my mom’s teaching! Thank you, Mom!

KP: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment? (It’s okay to brag a little on this one!)

MPJ: The first accomplishment that comes to mind (and the one that I think I am most proud of) is that I have successfully completed six years of NaNoWriMo in a row! And I intend to keep up that streak, so bring on November! 

KP: What is the best part about writing for you?

MPJ: Dialogue! My scenes always flow better when the characters have something to say.

KP: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

MPJ:  My dad once gave me a piece of advice when I got horribly stuck in my writing: “Creativity is like a snowball. It starts out small, but once you begin rolling it down the hill, it gets bigger and goes faster all on it’s own. But you have to begin.”

KP: What is your favorite thing to write—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, blog posts, etc.?

MPJ: Fiction! Specifically fantasy, though I’ve dabbled in science fiction as well.

KP: What is your biggest struggle as a writer? Biggest fear?

MPJ: I struggle with world building disease, which basically means that I spend so much time shaping the culture, history, geography, etc. of my story world that I almost never get to writing the actual story. As for my biggest fear, well, honestly? My biggest fear is that I will never finish my series. It terrifies me more than anything else, as cliche as it sounds.

KP: What are your goals as a writer?

MPJ: To finish writing my story, which is a series of books. Finishing it is my goal; publishing it is my dream.

KP: If you could give one piece of encouragement to other writers your age, what would it be?

MPJ: To the boys and girls who are struggling to find time to write in the madness of growing up— Dont ever fall for the lie that your story doesn’t matter. Keep dreaming, keep writing, and keep seeking the Creator, whose creative Spirit is in you.

KP: What do you like the most about Kingdom Pen? If there was one thing you’d like to see added, expanded, or changed at Kingdom Pen, what would it be?

MPJ:  I like the Kingdom Pen. Period. Need I say more? You guys rock! You’ve been encouraging me for the past three years, and I couldn’t thank you enough. And I honestly can’t think of anything you could add or change… You have contests, do critiques, post articles, have an awesome website and forum— what more could I ask for? The only thing I can think of is the e-magazine. If you ever have the resources to begin doing that again, you can count on me to be a consistent reader! 

KP: How did you find out about Kingdom Pen? How long have you been a subscriber?

MPJ: I’ll be perfectly honest: I don’t remember how I found Kingdom Pen. I think it might’ve been Pinterest, but I’m not entirely sure. However, I saved the email that I sent to my dad three years ago next month, asking him if I could subscribe. Rereading its contents makes me smile because I was so enthusiastic about the Kingdom Pen! I still am, by the way. 🙂

KP: What was your favorite Kingdom Pen article, short story, or poem?

MPJ: I am a huge poetry enthusiast, because it is a beautiful, beautiful form of writing that I cannot do myself. I am also very passionate about music, so when Carolyn G. wrote a poem about music— there was absolutely no way I couldn’t love it. It’s kind of old now, I realize… but that’s part of the glory of writing. It doesn’t change with age.

KP: If you could say one thing to the Kingdom Pen community, what would it be?

MPJ: This is a wonderful and rare community we’re in. Writers are rare enough in the world, but Christian writers? The Kingdom Pen is something special. I hope you realize this and take advantage of the advice and encouragement available to you here.

Just ‘cause we really want to know:

KP: If you were a genre of literature, which genre would you be?

MPJ: I think I’d be science fiction, because I am future-oriented, unbelievably strange, and a lover of space.

 

unnamedMary P. Johnston is a seventeen-year-old storyteller who lives in the rainy state of Oregon. She is the second oldest of seven siblings, is obsessed with music, and wishes to travel the world someday. She graduated high school early and is going to Boise Bible College in the Fall to study Psychology.

My blog, the Dreamer’s Pen: https://thedreamerspen.wordpress.com/

Realities of War

Swords flash. Shields clash. Spears glint. Horses thunder across the plains. Grim lines of soldiers advance and retreat. Flags flutter and trumpets blast amid the glittering glory of battle.Realities_of_War

This is what may come to mind when the word ‘war’ appears in a fictional or fantasy setting, but it’s a far shout from the bitter, slogging endurance of a real campaign.

A war builds up long before the first battle lines clash.

How many details actually appear in the story depend on the writer’s choice and what time the book starts, but there are many things which should be known about the ‘pre-war’ weeks, months, or even years.

Are there tensions between the two nations (assuming, of course, this isn’t a civil war)? War is a grave matter, not to mention expensive, so what has led two or more nations to such a confrontation?

And are both sides at various levels of fault, or is there definite division of evil and good?

The most common story-line is for one nation to invade another. The invaders, of course, are bad while the outnumbered and battered resisters are on the side good. (But what if the stereotype was reversed? Hmm…it’s worth a thought. But back on topic).

Is the attack a complete surprise? The invading nation has had to gather troops and supplies, so have such signs been noticed? And if not, is it because of laziness, carelessness, or expert security on the invading side…any one of which could be yet another obstacle in the way of the ‘good’ army?

In either case, whether with months to prepare or mere hours, organizational networks need to be set in place.

How many men sign up or are drafted into the army? Depending on the size of your country, this could be a considerable percentage of men. At this point, many of the younger men may think of war in terms of glory and heroics, while their elders remain silent and serious. And, as the army’s numbers swell, the villages and towns change. A quarter of the men may be gone. Or half the men. The mothers, daughters, elderly, and young children must now tend to the fields to keep life going as before…and more.

Logistics

For there is bustle on the home front as well. Weapons must be supplied for all soldiers. Food, tents, clothes, medicines, boots, bandages…the list of supplies could go on and on. Someone has to make and transport these things. And that someone isn’t going to be the steel clad soldier now lining up to give his life, if need be, in defense of those he loves.

And, of course, the armies of both sides must meet before the first battle takes place. An army moves an average of 10-30 miles a day depending on many things, such as seasons, roads, weather, number and formation of troops, and their condition. The Roman army regularly traveled 15-18 miles a day, and then stopped in mid-afternoon and set up camp, complete with trenches, a solid wall surrounding orderly tents, and roads laid out regularly throughout the whole. The next morning they tore up the logs, burned what they didn’t carry with them, marched another day, and rebuilt the fortress that evening.

However quickly the army moves, they need to protect their baggage train. Supplies of all kinds must be carried along for the army’s well-being, but this baggage train can be quite troublesome for an invading army. And the further they move into an enemy land, the longer supply lines will stretch and the more vulnerable it will be…unless they can get all the supplies they need from their defeated enemy. Relying solely on the enemy’s land can be a risky proposition however…especially if the invaded decides to retreat, burning fields and stopping up springs as they go. This is known as a “scorched earth policy,” famously employed by the Russians on multiple occasions, much to the chagrin of Napoleon and Hitler.

Non-combat casualties

Just as preparations for war starts long before the first battle, so many lives may be lost without a blow being struck. Disease does not spare victors from vanquished, but strikes everywhere with a heavy hand. In many wars, the number of soldiers who succumb to sickness are several times greater than those who fall in battle. In the American Civil war, dysentery, typhoid, and pneumonia were among the top three killers, with two out of three deaths due to disease of some kind. The number was even greater among English troops in the Napoleonic era.

If your story takes place in the future or present, sickness might not be as great a problem. Even a fantasy-style medieval army could cut their losses by basic protocols which, obvious though they may seem, can be overlooked…such as camping on dry ground away from swamps and making sure latrines are downstream of wherever the army’s drinking water is drawn from. While all these details may not even be referenced in a book, it is something to keep in mind. And, if you need another challenge to throw at your characters, a deadly epidemic is in no way unrealistic.

Battles

Finally, one day, both armies ‘see each other in the face’. They may or may not attack the first day. Roman armies would sometimes march out and face each other for several days before the battle took place. Sometimes one general would draw up his soldiers, taunting the other in an effort to draw them into an attack. Positions may be shifted and secured. But, eventually, one or both sides will move and the battle will be joined.

Battles are not necessarily won by one glorious (or not so glorious) charge. Sometimes one army will charge the position of the other, while other times they meet at the center of the field. A running charge is for the practical purpose of closing the distance between armies and so escaping javelins and arrows as quickly possible. All too soon the flying projectiles are exchanged for the dubious security of hand to hand fighting as both sides meet and the battle proper begins. And the soldiers, now fighting for their lives amid the heat, screams, and blood of battle are quickly disillusioned to whatever thoughts of glorious combat they may have had.

A battle’s length varies. Some battles last two or three hours. Others are fought from dawn and into the night. In the Bible, some battles were fought all day with the victors pursuing the enemy all night. Others battles are fought for several days in a row before one side conquers the field.

As the battle progresses, there are many minor details that should be kept in mind to add to the feeling of reality. For example, what direction is your army facing? Is the sun behind them or in a position to blind them (or to the side where it could do either)? Keep in mind that if the sun rises behind your troops, it will eventually set before them and get in their eyes if the battle progresses into the afternoon. What is the weather like…sunny, overcast, windy, stormy? Weather is very important and can be used as a help or hindrance. And the geography…are there hills to retreat to, forests to ambush from, or a solid anchor for the flanks?

Most of all, what of the soldiers? Many of these men are probably killing for the first time. They are horrified and terrified. Men, comrades, friends are dying about them. Some are struck down. Others are wounded and, unless they can move, run the risk of being trampled underfoot. Yet the soldiers fighting must ignore the cries of their comrades and struggle on.

And, no matter what weapons your army is using, death is never pretty. Swords don’t just stab cleanly through the heart and neither do bullets. Blood. Severed limbs and bodies. Raging thirst. The stench of battle. Screams of the wounded. Vultures, perhaps, circling overhead. You get a portion of the picture. Choosing how graphically to portray the battle is another topic, but what the men are seeing is something that will affect them mentally and emotionally for months and years to come.

The end of a battle rarely ends in the complete destruction or capture of the vanquished army. And sometimes, if the battle ends in a rout, more men are killed as they flee than were cut down in the fight itself. The pursuit, either on horse or foot, can last the whole night and into the next day.

Aftermath

Many books and stories close with the victory of the hero and his army, but that is hardly the end. Hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dead from both sides cover the ground. And, mixed with those who gave their life for their cause, are the wounded. Depending on the situation, a truce might be arranged so the opposing side can carry away their casualties. Or it might be the task of the weary victors to clear the field, tending to the wounded and dying as best they are able and quickly disposing of the fallen. This gruesome task can drag on for several days. There’s also spoil to be gathered and perhaps riotous soldiery to control. On top of this, there are still normal mundane things to attend to, such as watches on the camp, care for prisoners, and the steady supply of food. Weather and animals, such as the aforementioned vultures or wild dogs, can also complicate matters.

And that’s just the first battle. Some wars are completed in the spring or summer of the campaign season. Others drag on for years. Armies march and counter march, taking passes, holding cities, and trying to starve each other by cutting off supplies. More men are drawn into the ranks from back home and eventually another battle is fought, and yet another, and another until one side surrenders, is defeated, or a treaty of some kind is worked out.

The length and ferocity of any war has long reaching effects. Quite often, famines are coupled to war due to the shortage of men to raise crops, as well as the destruction of fields by the armies on both sides. With many men being cut down, there will be numerous families living without the head protector of their home, and many children growing up without a father. A shortage of young men of marriageable age may also be a real possibility in some parts of the country.

Quite often, in books, a single crushing defeat repels or destroys the enemy. This is theoretically possible, but after a nation has braced itself for war, they normally won’t back down after a single battle. Even if the ‘good’ army, who is normally outnumbered, manages to completely defeat and conquer the invading army, the belligerent nation can probably raise another army to send against the now battered conquerors. So make sure the ensuing peace is realistically brought about, perhaps by a wiser leader who’s risen after the fall of the main villain, or by the combined outrage of the people of the opposing nation who never wanted the war in the first place.

But no matter who wins the war, the land has changed. Things will never be exactly as they were before. Hundreds and thousands of men are dead, their families shattered and mourning. Others come home, wounded or with sights they will never forget emblazoned in their mind. Young men are now old in the horrors they’ve seen. Treasuries are drained, villages are burned, fields lie fallow.

Though war is sometimes necessary, and in books is commonly part of the plot, it isn’t pretty, it isn’t glorious, and it isn’t to be desired. Heroics consist of normal men doing what needs to be done in the face of fear and death. In the place of the glorious feats the young soldiers once dreamed of, there is a comradeship and strong love among the troops. A love for those they defend, and a brotherly love among themselves. For no greater love has any man, than that he lay down his life for his friend.

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legends of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can claim one of her stories for free at: https://authorhopeann.com/rose-of-the-night/

The Day Santa Wore Carhartts

By Rosey Mucklestone

 

Hey Robby,

Mind being the Santa for a day?

I have family in town a day and can’t make it to work.

The costume is in my locker.Santa Carhartts Pinterest

Thanks buddy.

You’re the best,

Harry

 

 

Rob stared aghast at the note left for him.

Emma looked up from her desk and blinked at Rob with her dinner-plate eyes.

“Is anything wrong?” she asked, “I didn’t think you’d mind.” Rob mumbled under his breath and stalked over to Harry’s locker. His nimble fingers slid the lock in place and the door practically burst open, smacking him in the nose. He groaned and leaned his head against the wall for a second, then, taking a deep breath he picked up the main piece of the costume.

“I hope today doesn’t turn out to be busy,” he muttered, holding the enormous Santa suit up to his lean frame.

“Oh, no!” said Emma brightly, “This looks like it’ll be the busiest day this week!”

 

“Great, Em. Thanks.” I’ve prepared myself to substitute for a lot of jobs, but I never thought I’d have to be a Santa. [Read more…]

KP Critiques – 05

Here today we present to you, fine ladies and gentlemen, our fifth installment of KP Critiques!
We thank all of you for the flood of critiques we have received! It’s lovely to witness the rise of courageous writers who are willing to submit their work to be analyzed and critiqued. It’s never easy to put your work out there for all to see, but by doing so you are benefiting more writers as well as growing as a writer!KP Critiques Post 3

Today’s critique is brought to us by Mark, from his story, Project Apofeoz.

Project Apofeoz

“The sixth strike. Probably felt great then. I bet you don’t feel so good now, right?” Mason said.
Logan shook his head. “I feel fine.”
“No, you don’t,” Mason ran his fingers against Logan’s ribs. “I got three. Focus on the pain and tell me if I’m right.” He slapped Logan’s ribs.
Logan groaned. “Four.” He took a deep breath and focused the pain away. “The fourth one is probably just fractured.”
Mason finished setting the bone then stood up. He brushed his blood-stained hands off against his jeans. “You’re gonna be fine in an hour. Put on your shirt just don’t break the stitches. I’d worry more about your cheekbone. Wouldn’t want to mar your pretty little baby face would we?”
Logan ignored the tease. He slowly eased on his t-shirt. “I gotta go in an hour. The Fernandez’s are expecting me for dinner.” He walked out of the living room and into his room. He shut the door behind him. He heard his bedroom door open behind him.
“A little privacy please?” Logan said.
“We need to talk about the sixth strike.” Mason leaned against one of the many motorcycle posters that plastered Logan’s room.
“It was the same as the first. And the second. And the third. And fourth. And fifth.” Logan lay down on his bed.
“Once you get caught you’ll be put on record. Anybody will be able to find you. And that’s excluding the ethical issues.”
Logan checked his phone for new messages. “What ethical issues?” Three messages. One from Seth, one from Sparkles, and another one from Matt. He opened the one from Sparkles: I just found out the news. We need to talk.
Mason eyed the bloodstained hand towel draped over the side of the hamper. “It’s not right. You know this. And we know—knew him.”
“’ Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.’”
“That’s what I get for trying to convert the kid,” Mason mumbled under his breath, “You’re worse than those cults that visit me Saturday morning.”
Haha, amusing line. Nice job.
“I’m doing what the government failed to do.” Logan quickly replied to Sparkles’ message. I’ll explain. The other two messages could wait.
Mason took one of the throwing knives near Logan’s bedside table and tossed them in the air a couple times. He shook his head. “Well, you know my answer.”
Logan sat up. “You know mine.”
Mason knocked Logan’s motorcycle helmet off the table onto his bed. “Get to the Fernandez’s house early. I have work to do.”
“I’d be happy to,” Logan set the helmet back on the table. He began looking through the clothes in his closet for his red hoodie.
“I should’ve broken more of your bones,” Mason walked out of the room, “Maybe the one running down your back too.”
“Love you too, dad.”

I don’t have as many comments as I normally do on this selection, and that’s because I’m pretty confused about what’s going on here. What kind of genre is this story? It seems to be speculative fiction, given that after breaking four ribs, Logan somehow is strong enough to go to someone’s house for dinner, but there’s enough vagueness surrounding that and the “sixth strike” that I’m not sure about that. There are also parts of this story that feel vaguely dystopian (“you’ll be put on record. Anybody will be able to find you,” “I’m doing what the government failed to do”), but again, it’s pretty vague. I’m also confused about why Logan’s ribs are broken. Was it someone else who hurt him (“we know—knew him”?), or was it Mason (“I should’ve broken more of your bones”)? A lot of this confusion may be that you need more than four hundred words to be able to show the basic set-up for your story, so these comments may not be incredibly relevant to you if the next two pages of your story explain it all correctly. That being said, generally you want to strongly hint at the genre in the first one or two pages, and I’m currently really unsure what kind of genre this story is supposed to be. Apart from my confusion, the writing was pretty good—the dialogue was interesting, there was good humor, and you seem to do a good job of using subtlety. That being said, I’m still not completely sure what is going on. Depending on whether or not the next couple pages explain a lot of this confusion, my comments here may not be very helpful, but I hope that helps!

– Josiah DeGraaf

A Prisoner’s Escape

By Rosey Mucklestone

I’ve been betrayed. Turned over to the enemy by my own niece. It’s infuriating, but I’ve mostly gotten over my bitterness on that. I need to focus on getting out of this mess she’s got me into.

My plan has been working well since I’ve gotten here, though I’m not sure when to make my move. I sigh, looking out the window to the rest of the free world. A world that I’ll soon be a part of again if all goes well.

Prisoner's Escape Pinterest

I’d better check all my assets before they come back. Everything should be in place and I must be alert. The time for action could be soon and I can’t be caught off guard by these fiends surrounding me.

My first escape step is right below me. I fiddle with the window latch as inconspicuously as possible. I never know who might be watching. I’d worked the window latch loose the other day and it seems no one has noticed and fixed it. Perfect. My first step is a go.

Walking over to the closet, I glance in at the tied-sheet rope I’ve been making. I know it’s cliché, but there’s a reason a lot of people use it. It works, and a quick escape is more important to me than a creative one. The rope looks long enough, but I add another pillowcase to the end, just for good measure. [Read more…]

5 Ways Writing is Like War

      By Amy Bohannan

 

We all know the old adage, The pen is mightier than the sword.  As we ponder the events of history, literary works versus wars fought, which has the greater, lasting impact?

 

While the sword or bullet cuts deep into the flesh, the works of literature cut deeper, penetrating the very depths of the soul.  While one may be injured or even mortally wounded by the stab of a weapon, an entire life can be turned on its head by simple words.

Writing_is_Like_War_Pinterest

 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:12

 

The art of words is as the art of war.

 

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~Hebrews 4:12

 

 

The words of the Bible, the most famous work of literature, have cut deeply into the hearts and souls of the people of two millennium.  Providing a message of hope to a starving people, the writers of the Bible, like warriors, battled bravely for the words that they penned.  Many of them were killed for the very words they wrote in that sacred book, unwilling to recant the hope lighting their pens.  They went to their graves having fought valiantly for the truth.

 

Courageous writing.  The kind that changes lives.  The kind that does not apologize for the truth.

 

Here are five ways that writing is like warfare:

1. The Enemy is Real

 

God’s enemy is our enemy.  Satan does not want God’s messages to make it to the hearts of His people.  He will do everything he can to thwart the telling of stories that will cause a person to think about the things of God.  Writers block, distractions while writing, discouragement about your story—these things could very possibly be an enemy attack on your writing.  Your pen is a weapon: wouldn’t the first enemy tactic be to disable it?  To keep you from even starting?

2. It Takes Training

 

Nobody can send a soldier into battle and expect him to win unless they train him first.  Take time to learn your craft.  Be trained to be excellent in your writing.  You can’t expect to be perfect (win a battle) and get published right away unless you have been trained in the art in the first place.

   

3. It Takes Practice

 

So you know how to use the weapon.  Great!  Now put it to work.  Write.  And write.  And write.  And…yeah, you get the picture.  Keep practicing your craft.  The enemy particularly likes to thwart the trained but unpracticed.  He does this by pumping up their pride, telling them they know what they are doing, they don’t need to practice.  But that’s completely untrue.  Practice, as the other old adage goes, makes perfect.

 

In a battle, to win, you must be excellent.  If we are to be warriors for the Kingdom with our pens, we must stand out from the others.  We must be the very definition of excellence in our craft.

 

4. It Can Hurt You (Yes, Even Physically)

 

How many of the Christian forefathers actually died for their written works?  How many were persecuted?  Think of the disciples of Jesus, the early church leaders, revolutionaries, reformers.  Men like Martin Luther—imagine as he stood before the Diet of Wurms, as they tried to force him to recant his writings.

 

Writing the truth is dangerous.

 

But it’s worth it.  Which leads into the next point…

5. It Changes Lives, Even the World

 

The Bible has had the most sales out of any book in the history of the world, and yet many of the men that wrote it (under the inspiration of God) were killed precisely for what they had written.  Our perseverance in telling the stories God has given us in excellence is the weapon that we have been blessed with in the battle of the ages.

 

Jesus told parables to reach the hearts of the people.  Storytelling is a powerful tool.

 

Storytelling, unlike standard preaching, provides scenarios for the mind to mull over.  It gives us the opportunity to see into another perspective.  It helps us to learn to empathize with others as our hearts feel for the characters of these stories.

 

 

Stories have a unique way of reaching down into the human heart to stir.  We read, we write, we listen to know that we are not alone.  As humans, we are desperate for camaraderie.  We want to know that someone else understands.  Someone else knows.  Someone else has felt it too.

 

How many stories have you read that you thought to yourself, “Wow, yeah…that’s exactly how it feels”?

 

God has given us a gift.  He has given us the ability to take part in this incredible thing that He does every day.  As He tells the Story of Mankind, He gives us a stage and whispers Create!   As we were designed to do.  He calls us to do as He does.

 

Even though it’s hard.

 

Even though the enemy would stop us.

 

Even though it takes work to learn.

 

Even though it’s exhausting to practice.

 

Even when we can get hurt in the process.

 

He wants to use us to tell the stories that will prick the hearts of men and pave a way for His grace to come flooding in.

 

What a glorious mission!

 

Your Characters’ Limits Are the Most Interesting Thing About Them

OR: Why the Problem of Over-Powered, Perfect Characters Is Not That They are Too Powerful But That They Have Ill-Defined Limits

Character_Limits_Pinterest

We’ve all read that book or seen that movie that exhibits this negative trope: of the hero who just can’t be killed no matter what the odds.

A couple months ago, I was reading a book by an author whom I generally respect where this trope was exhibited.  From page one, the protagonist was introduced as a warrior whose prowess on the battlefield could scarcely be matched.  I didn’t mind how powerful he was for most of the story; but as the climax hit, and the protagonist kept beating enemies despite the impossible odds, I became more questioning of the hero’s extensive skill-set.  The author had done a good job in setting the protagonist’s skill-set up at the beginning of the story so that it was somewhat believable.  But by the end of the book, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the hero, in the end, was unrealistically strong.

Now, the common response to these sorts of problems in writing tends to be to fix them by making the over-powerful hero less powerful.  Now, don’t get me wrong—this is an effective solution to the problem, and oftentimes can be necessary.  However, what I’d like to propose in this article is that the root problem with over-powered characters is not that they’re too powerful, but that we never get to actually see their limits.

Every person has limits: your characters should too

The first thing that we need to recognize is that every character—no matter how powerful they are—is going to have limits.  Unless your main character is God, there’s going to be something more powerful than him.  Any character can be trounced—it just depends on how powerful the opponent is.  And so you can look at the problem of the over-powered protagonist in two different ways: he might be too powerful, yes—but his opponents may also just be too weak.

The power level of your villain must be determined by the power level of your hero.  This can be pretty clearly seen in Marvel movies.  There’s a reason that Thor isn’t fighting villains like the Iron Monger or the Winter Soldier, even though they’re all in the same universe.  It would be child’s play for him to go against them.  Instead, he’s given villains who actually do pose a threat to him, such as Loki and Malekith.  If Thor was put in a movie against the Winter Soldier, then yes, he could be branded as over-powered since all he would need to do to beat him is to just electrocute him with his hammer.  Five minutes into the movie, and we’d already be rolling credits.  But accusing Thor of being over-powered would be missing the point.  The actual problem is that he’s simply not given a fair match.

The solution to over-powered characters then is not necessarily to make them less powerful, but rather to give them clear limits and then set them against villains that gently—but firmly—push those limits.  To go back to the book I was reading, the protagonist didn’t necessarily need to be made less powerful.  I just needed to see what his weaknesses are and what he couldn’t do.  If, in the middle of the book he was set against the villain and was humiliatingly crushed, and then from there on to the conclusion he had to be rigorously training himself to be able to defeat the villain at the second matchup, by the time the conclusion rolled around, the climax would be legitimately tense because we’ve seen what his limits are and we know what they are.

Actually, now that I think about it, what I’ve actually just described here is the basic gist of The Dark Knight Rises. 

So if you’re writing about a protagonist who is potentially over-powered, figure out what his limits are.  Maybe he’s a good enough swordsman that he can defeat seven average soldiers at a time, but ten soldiers is pushing it, and fifteen would absolutely overwhelm him.  It doesn’t have to be that numerically precise, but figure out what his limits are.  And then rigorously stick to them.

In other words, don’t tell the reader that he can’t defeat fifteen soldiers, and then for the climax set him against twenty soldiers.  Yes, that builds up a lot of tension and suspense, but if he ends up winning then you’ve cheated as a writer and readers will recognize that.  (Granted, there are some ways to do this, such as if the protagonist finds some ultra-clever way to defeat them all, but even then you want to be careful.)

Once you give your protagonist limits, stick to them

 

Honestly, a lot of the time the problem with the protagonist that is “too powerful” is just this—limits are given, but they aren’t honest limits because the author has decided to fudge the protagonist’s power level instead.  It’s bad to refrain from giving a character limits.  But it’s worse to set limits only to break them.  So be honest as a writer, and don’t lie to your readers.

Once the reader knows what the character’s limits are, what pushes his limits, and what is solidly over his limits, then the story and stakes become a lot more interesting as the character is constantly pushed to his limit.  This is why you can have a character like Superman who can be extremely powerful but still used to tell a good story.  Now, granted: I’m not a big fan of Superman because I feel like he still tends to be overly-powerful.  But he does have clearly defined limits—the obvious weakness to Kryptonite for one, but also the less-obvious but still just-as-influential limit with regards to his moral code.  Superman won’t kill.  And he’ll always try to protect innocents.  And, combined with his physical weakness to Kryptonite, this gives him enough limits that you can actually write interesting and suspenseful stories about him.

In conclusion, showing the reader what your protagonists can’t do will make them more readily believe what they can do. 

Ultimately, I don’t think that the problem with a protagonist ever is that they’re too powerful: it’s that they’re being mismatched against villains, either by going against villains that are way too easy for them, or by going against villains that are way too hard for them (but are still defeated by the protagonist because the author cheated).  By setting heroes against villains that gently but firmly push against the heroes’ previously-defined limits, effective stories can be told that are both suspenseful and entertaining—no matter what the heroes’ power-level.  Readers won’t care about whether or not your hero can win until they know that he can lose.  So show them that he can lose.  And then the reader will care about how he will win.

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.

Tools for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Tools_PinterestAs a Christian writer, my writing is a gift to be used by the Lord, so when times of writer’s block come, I feel like my stories are useless and I’ve wasted my time on the parts I’ve already completed. But in these cases, I’m learning to use certain tools in order to overcome writer’s block and continue to press on, to write for His glory.

Tool Number One – Taking Action

When I think about taking action, I envision a knight wielding his sword and climbing atop his horse. Or a farmer hoeing his dry crops as he sees gray clouds in the distance; a baseball player gripping his bat and stepping up to the plate.

All of these men prepared for their task using their different tools, expecting that the tools they used will bring them success in the goal of their task. The knight wielded his sword for battle; the farmer hoed his field before the rain; the baseball player gripped his bat to wait for a good pitch. That’s taking action.

Taking action as writers means you‘re preparing to not let writer’s block get the best of you; instead you’re picking up a tool and working towards the success of your goal; overcoming writer’s block.

[Read more…]

Profile photo of Rolena Hatfield
Rolena is a country loving girl who wears cowgirl boots and has dreamed of being Cinderella since she was four. She has an explosive imagination that leads her on crazy adventures in other worlds, yet she somehow always ends up back at her desk with a pencil and cup of coffee in hand. Beside writing at late night hours and devouring books, she has a tremendous love of music and musical theater. She blames them both for not being able to stay off a stage since age eleven, becoming a vocal teacher and now directing dramas. Her favorite places to be are up in her library (yes, she has a special room in her house just for books), outside for a romp or any place with people. On her shelf of favorite books you’ll find The False Prince, Once on This Island, Princess Academy and Bella at Midnight. Her favorite thing to do is laugh. Though she has tried to stop writing, she’s never been able too and has no intentions of doing so in the near future. Or ever for that matter.

T-Shirt Quote Contest! Win A FREE T-Shirt!

Hello Kingdom Pen! We have another contest for you, although this one does not involve sending in a writing submission.

 

Win a FREE T-Shirt!

 

KP News Post Graphic

Kingdom Pen is in the process of developing KP Merchandise (T-shirts, Mugs, Pens, ect.) to be added to the Kingdom Pen Store. However, we need your help! We want you to give us your suggestions for what quote/slogan/phrase we should use on one of our T-shirt designs! Your suggestion can be funny, serious, or a mixture of both, but it must be writing related, and it must be original. What kind of writing T-shirt have you always wanted? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

 

Kingdom Pen will then select our top 10 or so suggestions, and then let YOU vote on them. The winner of this contest will receive a free T-shirt with their quote on it!

 

Example:

If God didn’t mean for books to be printed, He wouldn’t have invented trees.

 

We will be taking suggestions up until August 5th, so you have until then to submit your entry in the comments below!

 

Also, we would appreciate it if you would answer this ONE question survey letting us know what other types of merch you would like us to create. Depending on how many responses we receive, we may add other types of merchandise to go along with T-shirts. Thank you!

 

Create your own user feedback survey