"Interesting is easy; beautiful is difficult."

- Gustav Mahler
A Meditative Video of Ceramic Masters at Work

Video: Ceramic Masters at work. This is beautiful. What marvelous work.

TV Storytelling Tropes In a Periodic Table

A trope is a convention, sometimes a cliché, that may be used as a formula for a specific purpose in a story. The quest, foreshadowing, or the faithful sidekick could be considered tropes for their implementation within a story. James R. Harris has given us a periodic table of the information found on TVtroupes.org, weighting each item in kilowicks (thousands of links to the relevant page on the site). To give you a taste of this potential guard against clichés in your own stories, here are items organized under "Setting, laws, plots" with their popularity rating:

  • An Aesop 3.0
  • Serious Business 4.0
  • The Masquerade 1.7
  • Recycled IN SPACE 3.2
  • X Meets Y 2.3
  • Magic A Is Magic A 0.75
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism 1.6
  • Status Quo Is God 2.0
  • Call To Adventure 0.43
  • Redemption Quest 0.20
  • The Hero's Journey 0.28
  • Saving the World 0.38
  • They Fight Crime .58

Of course, I picked the tame category. The plot device category has fun things like "Applied Phlebotinum", an object or substance used to advance the plot. Here's a good bit of dialogue as an example:

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all-oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: (beat) Probably. But, you know, it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue: 'Thank God we created the, you know, whatever device.'
Thank You For Smoking

(via Fast CoDesign)

Just Stop It, Writers

Barnabas Piper tells us to stop writing about writing, because we don't really have anything to say.

"When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it’s uppity."

Yeah. Sorry about that.

Swedish Book Review

"Hype is an overrated and overused tool, but the power of compelling narrative endures, hence the sprouting of new Swedish literary agencies with names like Partners in Stories and Storytellers. They have an eye to lucrative film rights, of course, but few would deny the seductiveness of a good plot."

The Swedish Book Review is out with several takes on books you may want to watch for. (via The Literary Saloon, the place to go for translated fiction.)

Friday Fight: She's Mine!

Do you remember the good ol' days when we posted a video of live steel combat every Friday? I'm pretty sure we shared this first one back then. It's two years old from the Høstfest. Lars quickly dispatches Philip Patton, who looks as if he can't fight in this video:

Philip shows he can fight here:

The woman over whom they are fighting (not really) is Kelsey, who has a Høstfest video of her own from this year's festival. Have you browsed her store? She has some great clothing there among other good things.

Perspectives on Chattanooga Communities

Since all of our regular readers live outside Chattanooga, I haven't pointed out some articles I've written over the past few months for a Chattanooga news site. Now, you have the opportunity to ignore them directly.

I have approached several Chattanooga pastors to ask them for a perspective on our community and their congregations. We have many churches in this area. Each of them reach different and overlapping circles within the whole community, so I wanted to give them an opportunity to say what they think. Thanks to John Wilson of Chattanoogan.com for accepting my interviews.

I haven't talked to any Lutherans yet. No doubt the Lord has withheld his blessing from me because of that. I did talk to a couple musicians I know. Both are excellent craftsmen from very different musical fields.I hope at least one of these will be interesting to you.

Noah and God's Great Compaint

"Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9).

Dr. Hunter Baker reviews Aronofsky's Noah, making many good points:

God’s great complaint with men is that “the earth is filled with violence because of them.” Aronofsky presents the men outside the line of Seth as being brutal takers of what they want. Many have argued that the director twisted the Noah narrative to make some kind of ecological point related to climate change or something along those lines. I don’t think that is the case. When Noah goes out among men and witnesses their darkness, he sees things such as men selling girls and crowds tearing animals to pieces. What I see there is not so much a statement about ecology designed to awaken modern sensibilities, but a larger judgment about men failing to govern their own appetites and treating everything in creation, including each other, as means to their own poorly chosen ends.
This doesn't mean you should go see it, of course. See what you want to see.

Clive Staples Award Finalists

The Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction has three titles for this year's award: A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, Truth Runner by Jerel Law, and Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

Are you familiar with any of these? Learn more through the link. (via Speculative Faith)

Most Overrated Battle in the American Revolution?

The American Revolution by lordaquaticus on deviantART

When you think of battles or perhaps major events from our War for Independence, what would you say is the most overrated, most hyped-without-substance one that occurred? The Journal of the American Revolution asks this question and gives several answers. By nature of the votes cast, the most overrated battle from the American Revolution is Saratoga. "The war continued on for five more years, making it hardly the major turning point it is often portrayed," says Jeff Dacus. "And the general who theoretically won it, Horatio Gates, was a coward and a fake," notes Thomas Fleming.

Yorktown is the runner-up, because it alone did not break the British. Many concurring events went with it to provoke a British retreat.

I find another point interesting because of an old folk tune I vaguely remember. John L. Smith Jr. states: "The most overrated battle would have to be the 1779 Battle of the British Isles – specifically between Captain John Paul Jones’ warship Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate Serapis in the North Sea between England and the Netherlands. Celebrated as a huge American victory, it gave us the dubious quote for our annals of American history by John Paul Jones: “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!” But this much-publicized naval battle had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the Revolutionary War. The most it did was to interfere with British shipping and, while also proving to be an embarrassment for the Lord North ministry, it just tied up some British naval resources from getting to the American seaboard. I liken it to Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s early World War II bombing mission. Both attacks provided an American morale boost, but little else in affecting the war."

NoiseTrade Music and Books

Are you familiar with NoiseTrade? It's a site where you can download a large variety of new music for free and leave a tip for the artists at your discretion. I recently downloaded an album from Christian rapper Propaganda. It's strong stuff, not my thing really but I'm stretching myself. I also listened to a little Indie trio named Joseph. If you're up for a great sound in worship music, listen to the sampler by As Isaac, a Chattanooga-based band.

Musicians say NoiseTrade is a great promotional platform. When you download music, you are invited to share your activity on your social networks. You also fork over an email address to get your download code, which allows the band to thank you or tell you about new music later on.

This year, NoiseTrade has launched a book service on the same model. Some of the title look like free ebooks you would get anywhere, but many of them look great. Random House is offering these titles at the moment. In Mysteries and Thrillers, you can see Ted Dekker has a promotional chapter available. Author Cliff Graham is racking up in the top download today. Are you a voracious enough reader to dip into this service? Let us know.

Thornbury: Radical Depravity Make Sense of Mercy

In my last post, I shared a featurette on the movie Noah, coming out this Friday. I was impressed that leaders like Greg Thornbury praised it for deep thinking. Dr. Thornbury is the president of The King’s College in New York City and the author of Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry. He has shared many more thoughts with us in this post on The Gospel Coalition:

Only with the juxtaposition against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense. Failing this understanding, you cannot sustain Christian theism. Otherwise, mercy becomes weak, expected, and even demanded. Seeing Russell Crowe-as-Noah grit his teeth and war against real flesh-and-blood evil makes sin, a notion seemingly incredible to Hollywood, to be real. As a viewer, locked into the gaze of the film, you're thinking, I'm with God, and this Noah guy. It makes the redemption and mercy theme of the film compelling, even if Aronofsky takes a slightly perverse (and admittedly extra-biblical) route to make the point. We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. Noah is not nice.
The writers, he says, approach their film as expansive commentary, not biblical illustration. (via Hunter Baker)

Aronofsky’s Noah Could Be Awesome

Phil Cooke has rounded up some serious Christian leaders and teachers to praise the movie based on the story of Noah in Genesis. Watch this video and tell me what you think.

Recommended Reading

Hugh Howey recommends two books for overcoming the odds against you: Outliers: The Story of Success and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In part, he says, "What can you do with the knowledge found in Outliers? You can learn the potential reward of putting in 10,000 hours of hard work. Even the story of Mozart is debunked, who didn’t hit his stride until he had his 10,000 hours invested. He just got them in earlier than most."

Are Movie Titles Getting More Bland?

An upcoming animated film, based on the book The True Meaning Of Smekday, will be released as Home. Which of these titles is more interesting to you? Studios may have a habit of preferring bland titles over interesting ones.

Mark Driscoll Drops Bestseller Status

Within the last couple weeks, we've talked about what it means for a book to be labeled a New York Times bestseller and how marketing services can game the system to buy that status for your book. Now, Pastor Mark Driscoll admits "manipulating a book sales reporting system," which he did for his book Real Marriage, is "wrong." More than this, he says:

In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father. Those closest to me have said they recognize a deep change, which has been encouraging because I hope to continually be sanctified by God's grace.
Update: Kevin DeYoung gives us "9 Thoughts on Celebrity Pastors, Controversy, the New Calvinism, Etc."

An ongoing apology

A quick post in passing, to apologize for only doing quick posts in passing -- and few of them. I wish I could promise improvement, but it doesn't look likely soon. My online graduate studies are kicking my tush, eating my lunch, drinking my milkshake... whatever metaphor you want to apply to a process that is sucking all the energy and time from my life.

I've even got a review I've been wanting to write.

But it won't happen tonight.

On a cheerier note, I've been cleared to drive again, and am mostly healed up.

Is Christian Art a Narrowly Defined Thing?

Alex Medina writes:

When we only recognize art as being distinctly Christian when it is preaching the gospel, a Christian who is not looking for selfish-gain and desires to make music that is less explicit is seen as shrinking back from their faith. A Christian who desires to make an entire album about nature, beauty, and social justice is not being unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ. They need no justification to create art. They are free to create art about anything and everything that belongs to their God, which is everything.

Norway's "Memory Wound"

In 2011, 77 Norwegians were killed on July 22nd. Norway's prime minister said, "A paradise island has been transformed into a hell."

Now, the country plans to develop a memorial on Utoeya island by cutting through it and sealing it with the victims' names. They are calling it "Memory Wound." "Visitors to the memorial, which is titled Memory Wound, will by guided down a pathway through the island's forest into a tunnel that leads to the wound. The tunnel ends abruptly at the cut, where visitors will be able to see to the other side," reports The Verge.

See large mock-ups of the memorial.

Gaming the Bestseller List

When I read this article about a prolific pastor-author hiring a marketing firm to put his book on the bestselling "Advice, How-to" list, I wondered how it could possibly work. I roughly understand how a company could coordinate purchasing 3,000 books, both in bulk and individual sales, but what would they do with all of those books?

Apparently, they return them. This WSJ article on authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, says some marketers believe hitting that list once is the doorway to invitations and future success. Once you're on the list for a week, you can claim to be a bestselling author.

Last August, a book titled "Leapfrogging" hit The Wall Street Journal's list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the book, written by first-time author Soren Kaplan, plunged 99% and it fell off the list.

Something similar happened when the hardcover edition of "Networking is Dead," was published in mid-December. A week after selling enough copies to make it onto the Journal's business best-seller list, more hardcover copies of the book were returned than sold, says book-sales tracker Nielsen BookScan.
Isn't this equivalent to creating an award to give to yourself so you can claim to be an award winner?

The marketing idea hamster Seth Godin recommends ignoring the NY Times lists altogether. "The curious know that there are in fact two lists for non-fiction hardcover books. The first list, the regular list, is the list of ‘real’ books of the sort the Times would like people to read. The second list is a ghetto, a place for How To, Advice, and the always coveted ‘Miscellaneous’ books to reside. This list was invented by the editors at the Times because these books were crowding out the other, better, books from the list."

He says questions about serving your readers become overwhelmed by concerns about placement on the Times list. Is your goal as an author to serve your readers or your message, or is it to serve the eccentricities of this list?

Jared Wilson, who has a new book out, lists five reasons buying placement on any bestseller list is dishonest, egocentric, and poor steward, among other things. Speaking particularly to pastors who write:

"If you’re simply trying to expand the audience of the gospel — or your gospel-teaching material — wouldn’t it be more effective to simply purchase thousands of copies of your book and give them away to lost people? Or, alternatively, not to sell your book at all and just give it away for free? (Did Keith Green make any bestseller lists? Has John Piper?)"

I Am Pursuing Freelancing Writing, Editing

Let me write about myself for a minute. For the past several months, I've been pursuing a new line of work and I spent part of that time wondering what that line should be. I'm still looking for work in various ways, but my main thrust this year will be freelance writing and editing.

I am bidding on projects through Elance.com and Writer.ly (some interesting stuff on these site). I haven't gotten to other freelance venues yet, and I like the testing options available through Elance. They verify your skills to a degree. If you have work that could be hired out, you can post a job with Elance and invite me to bid on it. Naturally, I would do my best writing ever, and the project would be more profitable than your wildest dreams, and we would sing each other's praises for months. The regulars at the pub would love us for at least a day. Maybe two! Feel free to look at my Writer.ly profile too. It's still in beta mode, but some people are finding work there.

I am happy to have made new connections with a couple editing services. There are two other organizations who have me on their writing roster also. Of course, there's LinkedIn for general networking. With all of these connections, I am not at all busy. I'd like to try being busy, for a change of pace.

I started this blog in 2004. Lars joined me several months later. Since we're an established lit-blog, we are asked to review various independent books. Every time I agree to receive a book for review, I hope to love it. I usually don't, and I wish I could reply with an offer to edit this already published book. It would be rude to make such an offer, but the need bleeds upon the page. Through these new services, perhaps I can field editing requests from authors who have a good story and need help making it great.

Shakespeare's Tragedies: Everybody Dies.

Shakespeare's Tragedies, Everybody Dies

Kudos to Cam Magee and Caitlin Griffin for this infographic.

I Thought I Knew Where This Was Going

Loren Eaton wanted to like the movie Monsters (2010), but the opening scene killed it for him. "I'd have an easier time liking it if it didn't lie to me in its opening scene," he says. Spoilers.

Also in movie news, Vic Armstrong appears to be remaking Left Behind. I can't tell if this is a straight-forward remake or a comic one. Look at some of the promo images. They're silly.

Is Disney's 'Frozen' Gay or Christian or Something Else?

A strong Christian movie reviewers, critic, take-down artist (however you want to think of it) Steven D. Greydanus has written about homosexual themes in Disney's latest fantasy, Frozen. He didn't like the movie much without this part, but he makes several points on what he thinks is subversive in this movie. He is probably right on a few points, but overall I disagree. I don't think the Oaken is a gay man with his husband and family in the sauna, and I wish Disney people would step up to settle the issue (though I doubt they will).

Steven writes, "And yet, in this case the filmmakers have walked that line really well: so well that the pro-gay themes have gone right over the heads of countless adult Christian viewers, many of whom have embraced Frozen as resonating powerfully with Christian themes."

Frozen by superstarwordgirl on deviantART

He has since published his response to suggestions Frozen is a marvelous Christian parable of sorts. "The common crux of most of these religious readings of Frozen," he says, "is the climactic, self-sacrificial act by which Anna saves Elsa before being restored to life — an act that, according to Frozen’s theologically minded enthusiasts, recalls the saving death and resurrection of Jesus."

But this is common in fairy tales, where people are often saved from death or near-death curses.

Steven asks, "Who is really saved in that climactic sacrificial act, Elsa or Anna?

Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa from a fleeting, mundane threat: a treacherous enemy lurks behind Elsa with drawn sword to cut her down. In principle, this is a trivial threat to Elsa — one that, with her powers, she could easily ward off if she were alerted to it.

By contrast, Anna is in far more serious, profound and thematically important physical peril. Anna’s heart has turned to ice, and the ice is insidiously spreading through her whole body, swallowing and devouring her humanity.

It’s worth noting that the original Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," the nominal inspiration for Frozen, climaxes in a scene strikingly similar to the one at the end of Frozen: a heroine weeping over the frozen body of a victim whose heart has turned to ice. In Anderson, however, the frozen victim’s icy heart is thawed by the hot tears of the other person’s love.
For a bit about the motivations behind the popular song, "Let It Go," the writers talk about it here. "... she was exalted at her coronation as being so perfect and wonderful. But the moment that Elsa revealed that she was a little bit odd, everyone turned on her and then chased her out of the kingdom."

10 Fantasy Clichés

Eric Christensen lists 10 things he rather not see in new fantasy, such as The Chosen One (The Special), dark lords, limitless magic, and uniformity among races. I would add blind seers to this list. What do you think of these things? Would you add or subtract anything?

The Gospel of Loki, as told by Himself

Joanne Harris has released a fantasy novel, or is it a memoir, telling the story of Loki's rise and fall in his own voice. Harris says she stayed close the source material, even though Loki has a modern voice. "Because he’s the ultimate unreliable narrator – and because I knew I’d enjoy writing his voice. I’ve made it very modern because Loki seems to me to be a very modern anti-hero – flawed, morally ambivalent, yet charismatic."

I'll bet he never made on SatNiLiv either.

Your hipster report

Just a quick update on my condition. I remain at my remote location in Iowa, healing up and seeing a physical therapist a couple times a week. Every day, in certain ways, I am getting better and better. Off pain meds, walking on my own a little (in carefully selected locations), feeling like a person again.

My time is dominated by trying to catch up on my graduate school work, an effort that is driving me nearly mad -- mad, I tell you! But I carry on.

I was trying to think of my memories of surgery. I remember being in the pre-op waiting room, and the nurse beginning to move me out... then nothing. I have a vague recollection of being somewhere and being told it was all over and they'd be taking me to my room, but I don't recall what that place was like at all. After that, a few days in the hospital, during which I was incredibly blessed by numerous visits by friends. My brothers sort of tag-teamed it to keep me company almost all the time.

My major fear going in was that, because they were doing a spinal block for anesthesia, I'd be conscious and aware during surgery. But if I was, I've forgotten. Amnesia is good. I could use more of it.

Writing Rules and Mistakes

Aaron Armstrong talks about the word heresy and how a popular author is probably misusing it. Heresy is a serious matter. To use the word to mean rebel, outsider, or maverick doesn't help when we have to talk about actual heresy.

Several days ago, Nick Harrison listed five points of writing advice he labeled heresy. Ok, he didn't, but he did not like them. Now he offers five things he likes. For example, he says, "If you write fiction, please remember that you’re not just telling a story or passing along information. Your goal is to emotionally move your reader."

For more writing fun, Chip Macgregor describes several things editors love (by which I mean hate) when they read a manuscript. Multiple fonts? Excess commas? Great stuff. Also this: 'For some reason, Number-Impaired People will make an outline that reads, “First,” followed by “Two,” then “C,” and then “4.” (Or, occasionally, “13.”)'

America, Land of Language

Because you, gentle reader, are the salt of the earth, the voice of reason, the splash of confidence upon the shaven face, I offer you this video for your comment:

I didn't see this video until after some commentators complained about it, and I'm disappointed in them. This is beautiful. How does this undermine the country? I think some people have political worldviews that taint everything they see in negative colors.

Had they watched this ad instead, perhaps they would be less outraged. I take that back. I think these people live on the Isle of Outrage.

UPDATE: Bell's Whisky South Africa Ad is beautiful. Read the rest of this entry . . .

I, Hipster

Just an update on my condition. Theoretically I have lots of time to post right now, but in fact everything takes so long, and I have to rest so often, and the pressures of my grad school studies are so large, that it'll be hit and miss.

Anyway, I had my right hip replaced at a Minneapolis-area hospital on Thursday. In general my recovery has been on schedule, my condition good under the circumstances. Right now I'm spending a couple weeks at my brothers' and his wife's place in Iowa, where the environment is a little safer than in my house.

Thanks for your prayers.

Is Christian Spec-Fic Too Restricted?

Last month, we talked about the place or lack thereof for language, violence, and sex in Christian fiction. Mike Duran was our source for that post, and now Mike says he has "learned of another fictional archetype that is, apparently, off-limits for mainstream Christian fiction — zombies."

The reason is that a Christian worldview doesn't allow for the undead. Since zombies can't exist, then fictional zombies shouldn't be in our stories.

Mike says, "Forcing fiction to neatly fit your theology is a losing proposition… at least, if creative storytelling is your aim."

I agree with Mike. I wonder what imaginative cliches Christian fiction readers/publishers accept as normal but are just as unChristian (in worldview terms) as zombies and other creatures of the dead?

  1. God's plan of prosperity for us?
  2. No one ever goes to Hell?
  3. Homosexuals as demon possessed?
  4. Hateful people repenting on the turn of a dime?

What do you think?

Other reading: Loren Eaton's post on this question, "Is it legitimate to discover joy in works primarily intended to arouse fear?"

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