What Am I Looking for in a Story?

Recently, I tried to join a read-along group on Instagram. The idea was to all read the same book, discuss, and share pictures. It seemed like lots of fun and not too time consuming, plus I was in a spot where I had the time to read. The book was announced and we all dutifully got our copies. I started mine at the proper time and knew right away I was in trouble.

I’m not going to mention what book it was because my problem isn’t with the writing. I don’t want to discourage the writer or the reading group. The problem wasn’t the book, it was me. LOL. I think I just friend-zoned a book. But, it’s true. I couldn’t get into the story. I didn’t care one bit about the character. I dreaded having to read it. I knew in an instant, I didn’t care about this story.

 There have been times when I’ve had to wade through a book, really wade through it. When I was a kid, I refused to leave a book unfinished. If I started it, I would finish it. As I’ve gotten older I give myself the freedom to put a book aside that I’m not enjoying. Life is too short to plow through books I’m not loving. I weighed being in the group, but hating every minute in the book. I worked on it through to chapter 9 hoping against hope that something would grab me. That happens sometimes. I’m unsure if I like a book, then this magical line pops out and I’m hooked. Chapter 9 and I’m not only not hooked, I’m despising every line. Time to let it go.

I looked the book up on GoodReads wondering if anyone else had the same issue with the book. I watched the comments of the other readers. Everyone loved the book. Everyone praised the book. Everyone talked about how they were strongly impacted by the story. It had glowing reviews, a lovely cover, and was enjoyed by people who also love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Stormlight Archives and such.

So why not me?

Why didn’t I love it?

What am I looking for in a book? What matters to me?

I can’t say that the book was written poorly. I had no complaints about setting, magic, or description, though I tend to enjoy meatier and more unique description. There wasn’t anything wrong with the worldbuilding. I just didn’t care.

I sit in a corner and ponder. I flip through pictures of scenes I love in my favorite TV Shows and movies. I think about my favorite books. What am I looking for in a book, show, or movie? What am I looking for in a story?

The first element that may produce a lack of interest may be that I’m weary of the female protagonist who goes it alone against the world. I’m tired of stories with strong central female warriors. I’m tired of women against women stories, and this story was all about a mother and two sisters who didn’t get along. That turns me off right away. I love stories with strong male leads. I love stories with strong families, strong teams, and strong brotherhoods. I couldn’t get through the first few chapters of this book, but have binged through the first 9 Sharpe’s novels in a matter of weeks. Now, I don’t dislike women in stories. There are plenty of female characters I love. I’m just more intrigued by the women who aren’t at the forefront. I’m more intrigued by the HearthKeepers than I am by the female warrior. And, I’m more interested in stories of sisterhood, not female conflict.

You may see the theme of teamwork here. I love team stories: Band of Brothers, Firefly, Criminal Minds, Sharpe. All of these have big teams working together. I love it. I love stories of smaller teams, like Endeavour, Chuck, or even 24. Jack always has his team backing him up. I love stories of family like Blue Bloods and Fringe.

I grew up in a big family. We worked together, played together, moved across the country together, and still live within the same state, be it hours apart. We have ridiculous group texts, jokes that are so old we hardly remember where they started. Our family days are crazy, busy, and loud. We love nothing better than to be together. As a believer, I don’t hold with a me-myself-and-I mentality. We are part of a church, historically and locally. We aren’t going it alone. I rarely have any of my characters go it alone. I love teams and families.

 So, having a young female lead fighting with her family and going it alone, being different and isolated, just wasn’t appealing to me.

Hotch’s ear blown out.

Another problem for me was the lack of intensity. I don’t know how else to describe it, and it seems silly since the story was about being trained to kill people in their dreams, but it lacked some sort of intensity that I’m looking for. There was nothing offered up at the front to move things along. No impending doom. No murders. No war coming. The story was just a girl learning her powers. Harry Potter has Voldemort. He’s there, always in the background. Lord of the Rings may take many years to get going, but the threat of the ring is there from the beginning. It clouds everything in a growing darkness. In this story there was no lingering sense of horror coming. Nothing united reader and character in a fear that drove you to read, read, and read. It was just her training and learning her powers with the hope that a greater mystery would appear.

 If there is no impetus to move forward than there is no impetus to keep reading.

From this story, I learned that I really need some pretty big, frightening, and horrific drive to enjoy a story. And if it takes awhile for that to arrive, I need creative and intriguing writing that grabs my imagination, or I need a team.

Endeavour being helped by Thursday.

Lastly, back to the team idea. The story lacked the visceral-ness of a team in pain. When your friends are being hurt, or they’re watching you be hurt, the agony is ratcheted up. There is a pain in friendship and family so much deeper than when you’re alone. It’s the holding your best friend back as his girl is taken away because you know if he tries to save her now, he’ll die. It’s the pleading for the life of someone you love. It’s the tears in a warrior’s eyes as his team is slaughtered. A mother who doesn’t care that she’s causing you pain because you have to learn is way less moving than Molly Weasley watching her children die. Gandalf knowing what it will cost the hobbits to go to Mordor is so much richer than siblings competing and hating one another. Watching Endeavour get broken and put back together by Thursday is what I’m looking for. Watching Hotch scream in pain cause his eardrums are blown but still ordering his men to fire is what I’m looking for. Watching Harper keep Sharpe’s back time after time, loyally following him into hell is what I’m looking for. Watching the look on Winter’s face when he thinks Nix has been shot. Watching Walter willingly go to another world for his son, Peter. Watson being Sherlock’s best and only friend.

 

Winter when he thinks Nixon got shot.

 There is a friendship, a bond, a family that I’m looking for. It is a theme woven through so many of my favorite stories and books. It developed in me as I grew up in a loving family, as my Mom read Lord of the Rings to us, and the Fellowship became a central part of my life. It is my belief that as a Christian you are part of the Church, not just out on your own. I love brotherhood/sisterhood stories. I love the stories of weary cops holding each other up, of soldiers broken down but still there for each other. Of those who fight for good backed by a great team who would die for them. These are my stories.

There is a necessary driving force beyond the character themselves, be it a murderer, war, or the crashing of worlds. Sometimes it’s pushing out from the government but running into Reevers. Sometimes it’s terrorist in Burbank. Either way, the characters must have something to fight for, and fight against. I need to be able to bleed, die, and hope with them. These are my stories.

This is what I look for, this is what I love and yearn for. This was why a story about a young woman finding out she had this power but being isolated and at odds with her family didn’t hold my attention. This is why dream assassination without a reason for assassination didn’t hold my attention. Not for even three chapters. Sorry. It just wasn’t for me.

Sharpe and Harper.

Movie Influences

Facebook had one of those interactive, post every day, and tag someone things going around recently that I thought was very interesting.

“I’ve been nominated for the 10-day Movie Challenge. Every day I must select an image from a film that has impacted me in some way, present it without a single explanation, and nominate somebody to take the challenge.”

I found it interesting to see what my top 10 images were. After looking at them I thought it kind of explain the struggle I have finding books I enjoy. I’m always looking for a weird mixture of beautiful writing, intense story and struggle, pain, and ultimate victory. There are stories that I like that are more down to earth, slice of life, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. There are unexpected stories that have this visceral intensity, but you don’t see it at first, like Watership Down. But, lots of times I’ll start a book expecting it, even sorta of finding it, but it doesn’t hook me. It’s not the right kind of intensity. I found this with Dexter. I started the show, but only got half way through the second season before I was bored. So bored. Didn’t care. On the other hand, I’m watching Band of Brothers again, and I’m happily binging my way through Criminal Minds. There is this mixture of Comradery and intensity that I’m always looking for.

So, my movies:

Day 1: Rambo 4

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Day 2: Rambo, First Blood

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Day 3: Fury

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Day 4: Aliens

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Day 5: Lord of the Rings

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Day 6: Lone Survivor

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Day 7: Band of Brothers (yes, I cheated, it’s not a movie.)

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Day 8: Willow

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Day 9: The Never Ending Story

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Day 10: Predators

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It’s interesting to see what movies I chose as my top ten influencers. It has lead me to think about what it is that I like and don’t like, and ultimately, what I’m looking for in a story. More to come about that later. 🙂

What ten movies would you pick?

The Tolkien Blog Party

 

Tolkien Party Hobbit Hole 2018

I’m joining my writing Kindred Spirit over at The Edge of the Precipice Blog in celebrating all that is Tolkien. (Hope over there for instructions on how to join in.) Today is Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, and yesterday was the 81st Anniversary of the publication of the Hobbit. It seems a good time to celebrate. So pack that pipe, grab a beer, and put those furry feet up on a table as I talk about Tolkien.

Tolkien Tag 2018

1.  What’s your favorite Middle-earth story/book?

My favorite of all the Middle Earth books is Lord of the Rings. I probably love the Fellowship the best, but that’s a bit hard for me to say, since they’re all beautiful. The Silmarillion would have to be my second favorite, followed by the Hobbit.

2.  Do you have a favorite subplot?

Legolas and Gimli’s friendship is my favorite subplot. I love how it crosses cultures, ages, and even endures beyond the end of the world. I love the friendships in Lord of the Rings. Take Sam and Frodo. Their friendship carries them to the very end. Has there ever been a character as beautiful as Sam?

3.  What’s your favorite theme in Tolkien’s books?  (Can be in one specific story, or overall.)

My favorite theme is one stated by Sam near the beginning of the book: “…so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were.” Sam is talking about meeting the elves for the first time, but I believe it is an undercurrent to all of Lord of the Rings. It is the sense I walk away with: the story is happy and yet so sad, young, yet so very old.

My other most favorite theme is eucatastrophe. Tolkien loved eucatastrophe. The idea of the turning point of grace. Lord of the Rings has several moments like that, where things change just when they’re all about to go so bad.

I also love the theme of the powerless-ness of the ring. Now wait, hear me out. I love that there are a tiny handful of characters that never really give into it. Bilbo gives it up in the end. Sam gives it back to Frodo. Faramir isn’t drawn to it. I love these little people who are able to resist it’s power. That is hope, hope right there.

4.  Do you have a favorite weapon from Middle-earth?

I’m partial to Aragorn’s sword Anduril, what a history. I’m also rather fond of Gil-galad’s spear Aiglos, which means snow-point. Even as a child I was fond of the idea, the image, of Gil-Galad and his spear.

5.  Would you like to be a hobbit?

I am a hobbit.

6.  Do you have a favorite romance/couple?

I always loved Arwen…mostly because she loves Aragorn. But, I do love the beauty, the sadness, and the almost distance of their romance, like it doesn’t play a huge part in the story.

I love Sam and Rosie. (Sam is kinda my favorite.)

But my favorite romance is Beren and Tinuviel. Their story is rich, heart-breaking, filled with pain, and ultimately brings about one of the greatest family lines in all of Middle Earth. It doesn’t hurt that my husband started calling me Tinuviel Undomiel when he finally read Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillon.

Faramir and Eyown are another favorite because Faramir brings Eyown so much hope.


7.  What’s your favorite Middle-earth creature?  (Can be “real” or “imaginary.”)

I really do love elves. I love so much about elves that I feel like Sam most of the time, kind of in awe of them. But in my heart of heart, I love hobbits the best.

8.  What character do you look the most like?

Probably Rosie if she had brown hair.

9.  Are there any books about Middle-earth or Professor Tolkien (but not written by him) you recommend?

Right now I’m reading A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18. It’s amazing. The more I learn about WW1 the better I understand Tolkien. 

10.  List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotations from the Middle-earth books and/or movies.

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.”

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”

 

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”

 

I’m going to stop there, because there are more lines in the Lord of the Rings that I love than I can every ever quote. You should see the mark ups I have in some of my copies.

This is why it's important to read good books!

Why Brave?

 

This is why it's important to read good books!
Image from Pixabay. Edits by me.

 

This is one of my favorite lines.

I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation of this line from different sources. I first heard it from my Mom. It is the reason I write Children’s Stories, MG Stories, and YA Stories. It’s the reason books intended for a young audience are some of my favorites.

Life is hard. Life is often scary.

Children can’t be protected from everything. It’s impossible to keep evil influences and harm from your children. You are only one human being. You can’t be there when nightmares come. You can’t be there when they make stupid decisions that put them in dark places. You can’t be there every waking moment.  And, you shouldn’t be. Children don’t grow up by being protected.

But!!!!

Children can be armed.

Children can be trained. Children can be groomed for the fight that is this life.

Stories are a great way to prepare kids for the things they will face as they go out in the world.

 

Why Fairy Tales are important.
Image from Pixabay. Edits by me.

 

I’m not really into Issue Driven fiction. I wasn’t as a kid, and I don’t write it. I read and write Fantasy. Why? How does that help Children be Brave?

Fantasy gives kids and young adults something fun to read that they can hold onto while also escaping the hardships or humdrum around them. As a pre-teen, I had no interest in reading about kids struggling with drugs. I did want to read every Hardy Boys I could get my hands on. I didn’t want to read about someone’s sparkly boyfriend, but I did want to read about Sam and Frodo’s struggles through Mordor.

Then I grew up. I grew up and found out I wasn’t going to solve crimes, or be asked to go on some epic adventure. I was going to get married, co-own a business with my husband, struggle in my marriage, struggle with infertility, sell our business, learn to manage my home, have health issues, and then stand shoulder to shoulder with my husband as he took on a pastorate. None of that is as thrilling as journeying through Moria, or fighting the great and evil General Woundwort, or sailing with Fin Button.

But it is all hard.

What has encouraged me, outside of Scripture? What has the Lord used during dark days?

Stories.

 

Favorite Quotes
Image from Pixabay. Edits by me.

 

When things are dark and hard, I am reminded of all my heroes who carried on. I’m reminded of all the warriors I’ve read of, big and small, strong and weak. I’m reminded of Sam, my favorite hero, only a gardener far from home. I’m reminded of Bigwig who followed Hazel faithfully, even though he was stronger than Hazel. I’m reminded of Jane Eyre, who did what was right when it hurt.  I recall story after story after story that my Mom read to me, handed to me, recommend to me, where the heroes didn’t stop. They kept moving forward. They kept pushing. They endured to the end.

Darkness is a passing thing.
Image from Pixabay. Edits by me.

This is the gift I want to give to others. I want other children, pre-teens, and teens to be able to read Jonah’s story, and then look at their normal, ordinary struggles and carry on. I want my faerie stories to be encouraged them to keep fighting even when it hurts. I want them to have heroes who defeat the dragons…or in my case the clowns. 😉

I want to write stories that help kids be brave before they have to be, because they will have to be some day, probably sooner rather than later.

Why Warrior Stories? (Part 2)

Why Warrior Stories_
I’ve loved brotherhood stories my whole life. Most of my favorite books and movies, my favorite stories, have a central brotherhood core. This is the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings, Madmartigan and Willow, the rabbits in Watership Down, the four heroes of Final Fantasy XV, and many more. I love the bond between men who face the world together. I love the women who stand at their sides, or even care for their homes and children while they fight the world. I love HearthKeepers and Huntsman. (Which is actually one of the YA series I’m always working on.)
I believe that both men and women can be warriors, I just think that warrior-ness expresses itself differently. (The world thinks it’s the same, but it’s not. I’m not a man. I’m not going to be the same type of warrior my husband, brothers, and fathers are. I’m going to be a warrior the way my mothers are, my sisters, and my dear friends. I’m going to stand by my husband and guard his back, guard his home, keep things going. I want him free to face the dark world, and protect me. That kind of female warrior-ness takes great courage, sacrifice, and fortitude. And that’s a big rabbit trail.)
As I’ve gotten older, I realized this magical bond, this brotherhood, is most starkly seen in war stories. War exaggerates the bond between men. When I finally sat up and took note of that, I started working through every war movie I could find. My current ‘Top Five Favorite Movies’ are Rambo 4, Fury, Lone Survivor, Gladiator, and Lord of the Rings. I love 13 Hours. And yes, Band of Brothers is my second favorite TV Show right after Firefly. I am slowly but surely collecting all the books written by and about the Band of Brothers. I can’t get enough of brotherhood war movies.
I think that real spiritual warfare is our day-in-day-out, ordinary battle against our own sin, the corruption of the world, and false teaching. This is spiritual warfare. If you were able to look at an ordinary church with TrueSight goggles, you would see a gathering of dirty, broken, bleeding warriors filling the pews. I think images of battles—be it the Somme, or somewhere in the Middle East—are a more accurate representation of our daily lives as saints still in this world, than anything else. And I think our love of our local church members should be as strong as the bond between brothers in combat. We are in the trenches together and we should see it that way.
In Lone Survivor they say, “Never out of the fight.” If that’s not true about you and your battle against your own sin, I don’t know what is.
These are the two reasons I love, love, love warrior stories: brotherhood and spiritual warfare.
I also love the idea of standing up for what you believe and for who you love, with violence.
We live in a world that no longer respects the idea of defending your and yours with strength and a weapon. We have become so acclimated to a tame world, that men who willingly stand up against the darkness, or just stand up to a bully, are labelled a bully themselves. We think violence isn’t our right, but only something uneducated rednecks indulge in, or only the government can be trusted with. We believe violence doesn’t solve anything, but we forget we live in a fallen world.
This world will never be heaven.
This world is broken and God isn’t planning on fixing it. He isn’t here to save the physical world.
You can’t stop someone intent on hurting you or your family or your country with nice words or by calling the government.
All you can do is cock your gun and pull the trigger.
This is reality.
The anti-violence attitude puts all of us not only in a sad state, but a dangerous one. We aren’t teaching our boys to defend others with their strength, but to sit down and act like girls. We aren’t teaching girls to have their man’s back, but to take over. We’re teaching girls that they can be just like a man, that they don’t need him, and that his innate warrior-ness is dangerous. It is dangerous, but it isn’t necessarily evil. You need a man to be dangerous, but you need him to control his danger so it is his servant not his master. Men who are abusive should be taken out by the men who aren’t, immediately. But, you can’t just say all signs of strength are bad. That leaves our homes, and our streets, and our countries undefended and open to attack.
This is another reason I love Warrior Stories. This is why I write warrior stories. The power of brotherhoods, real spiritual warfare, and the need for violence enflame me.

Warrior Stories are myRight
Do I think it’s weird that I, a woman, love Warrior Stories? Nope. I don’t. I think women are the holders. I think we’re the rememberes. We are the ones who sacrifice sons and husbands to these horrors. We are the ones who have to defend our homes when they’re gone. We’re the raisers of the next generation of warriors. Warrior stories are my right as a women. I want to know what my man faces, be it in the true realities of war, or be it the less dramatic, every day, ordinary strength he has to show. I want to know. I want to hold. I want to remember. I want to raise.
I also think we’re the HearthKeepers. My husband is a pastor. He is a warrior, in my mind. He wages war against false doctrine and false teachers. He stands up to lies for the sake of his church. He also works full time to provide for us. So, he works a full time job, comes home and studies, and then preaches on Sunday. He works and studies, works and studies, and preaches. That means that just like a cop’s wife, or a soldier’s wife, I handle the running of the home. I’m the HearthKeeper. I do everything else so that he can be free to work and study. I get the tires changed (what I’m doing while I write this). I do the accounting, cleaning, cooking, and social planning. I take care of wardrobes and rest. I am the HearthKeeper to my warrior.
So no. I don’t think it’s strange that I love Warrior Stories. I just hope I can inspire you to love them too.
What are your top five favorite movies? Have any war movies had a big impact on you?