The Writing Process ~ Creating One-Dimensional Characters



“Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.”
Mary Wollstonecraft ~ A Vindication of the Rights of Women

One of my ten “persons” is currently reading the manuscript for the second Book of Rhino. He recently wrote me that (1) he is enjoying this book more than the first one and (2) Father Caril, the obvious villain, seems too one-dimensional. I was pleased by both comments. I am glad he is enjoying the book; I mean, that’s the point—he is one of the ten people for whom I write.

I was also pleased that he sees Father Caril as one-dimensional because that is how I wrote his character. In order to ensure that Father Caril walks in his own darkness, I could not make him complex. He is cunning, conniving, even complicated, but he is not complex. If he were, if he had any true knowledge of self, then he would not be a villain. In order for his character to behave the way he needs to, I had to keep Father Caril at the Mythic-Literal stage of faith.

(Note to self: I feel badly about this; no one should have to languish in the prison of their own fear and ignorance. But what can I do? Father Caril must come to enlightenment in his own time and on his own terms. I can’t force it on him.)

The funny thing about villains is the common perception that they are deepyboo. They’re not. They are one-dimensional creatures focused on one goal, usually involving their getting more power, money, sex, etc. than they need or deserve. They are not that difficult to create; all one needs to do is (a) decide what it is they want and (b) have them go for it. The great thing about their single-mindedness is that there are no ethical barriers to inhibit their behavior. If they make a stab at morality at all, it is always in their own self-interest.

I am reminded of what C. S. Lewis wrote about The Screwtape Letters. A reader once asked him why he did not write a sequel or a series of Screwtape books. He answered that it was too easy for him to think diabolically, and that disturbed him.

Another funny thing about villains is the common opinion among actors that they are more interesting to portray. I am going to have to think about that. Hmm…are there any interesting villains I have seen on stage, screen, or television? I can’t recall any right now. Perhaps they do exist, but I can think of any at the moment.

At any rate, I will be on the lookout for multi-dimensional, complex villains. My curiosity is aroused.


The Revelation ~ Chapter Five


Then the great old, young, beautiful princess turned to Curdie.
“Now, Curdie, are you ready?” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” answered Curdie.

“You do not know what for.”
“You do ma’am. That is enough.”
George MacDonald ~ The Princess and Curdie

“I am not going to tell a lie. I am just looking for a way to tell the truth.”
The Book of Rhino

Quote Challenge ~ “Mellifluous”


A new WOTD from a new source: Mellifluous from Cyranny’s Cove.  I have just moved into a new home so all my books are in boxes. It took me a while to find the book that would provide a quote on the WOTD, but I got it. After much huntering and gathering, I found the word in my old reliable friend, Anthony Trollope. In the scene below, a rich widow has been accused of absconding with the family jewels.

It must be owned that poor Lizzie did receive from Mr. Benjamin’s hands some of that punishment which she certainly deserved. This acute and learned gentleman seemed to possess for the occasion the blandest and most dulcet voice that was ever bestowed upon an English barrister. He addressed Lady Eustace with the softest words, as though he hardly dared to speak to a woman so eminent for wealth, rank, and beauty; but nevertheless he asked her some very disagreeable questions.

“Was he to understand that she went of her own will before the bench of the magistrates at Carlisle, with the view of enabling the police to capture certain persons for stealing certain jewels, when she knew that the jewels were in her own possession?”

Lizzie, confounded by the softness of his voice joined to the harshness of the question, could hardly understand him, and he repeated it thrice, becoming more and more mellifluous.

“Yes, said Lizzie at last.

Anthony Trollope ~ Can You Forgive Her?

It’s popular in movies and television to show lawyers going after people on the witness stand, busting their chops in all manner of righteous indignation. It’s become so formulaic (“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”) that a little mellow cross-examining is practically unheard-of. But wouldn’t that be refreshing for once?


Quote Challenge ~ “Retrospective”


The Daily Post WOTD is Retrospective. The word retrospective got me thinking about authors who reminisce. I floated around Freeman Dyson, G. K. Chesterton, H. L. Mencken, and eventually landed at Kurt Vonnegut. So here is my quote on the WOTD from his writings.

“It may be that the most striking thing about members of my literary generation in retrospect will be that we were allowed to say absolutely anything without fear of punishment. Our American heirs may find it incredible, as most foreigners do right now, that a nation would want to enforce a law something which sounds more like a dream, which reads as follows:

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

“How could a nation with such a law raise its children in an atmosphere of decency? It couldn’t—it can’t. So the law will surely be repealed soon for the sake of the children.”
Kurt Vonnegut ~ Palm Sunday

Oh, the wonderful Mr. Vonnegut nails it as usual; I smell his feet (which means I really get him.)

Book Review ~ “The Lord of the Rings”


“The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal.”
G. K. Chesterton ~ Orthodoxy

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien is on my list of five-star books. It was the first book I read in which the setting was as much of a character as the characters were. Before then, I had never read a book in which the setting was so meticulously crafted. The Lord of the Rings taught me two important lessons about writing: (1) Attend to details. (2) Keep the characters real.

In my opinion, the genius of Tolkien’s fantasy world is that it is peopled by recognizable characters—Chesterton’s “normal humans” who are startled by the extraordinary adventures in which they find themselves. Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, and the others all behave like regular Joes; people who think, feel, and act pretty much how I would in the same circumstances. (Although, I must confess to a strong temptation to having a “come-to-Jesus” talk with Sauron; he must be a lonely guy to act like such a jerk.)

For me, the dominant character trait of the book is volitional integrity. In all their adventures and mishaps, the main characters in LOTR try to do what is right; they all make an effort to behave themselves. Since I am a character-driven reader, I especially appreciate it when the main characters are decent sorts; it is my personal fantasy that this is how normal humans should be.

Of the three stories of character, the back stories stands out in LOTR, as evidenced not only in the appendix but in Tolkien’s companion book The Silmarillion. Even though little of the back stories make their way into the book, it helps keep the characters real.

W. Somerset Maugham wrote that a certain character in his book The Razor’s Edge was someone whom he would gladly travel with for six months, but with whom he would hesitate to spend a winter evening. I ask myself that when it comes to characters. Are they six-month people or winter-evening people? The characters in The Lord of the Rings are six-month people. If I ever have those kind of adventures, I would like to share it with them. On the other hand, I would not relish the idea of spending an evening with any of them; I mean, what would you talk about?

(Note to self: The exception would be Sauron—that boy needs someone to bust his chops, but in a nice way.)

What do you like or dislike about Tolkien’s fantasy? How do you rate it? Is it a six-month or a winter-evening book? I am curious to know.

Quote Challenge ~ “Archaic”


The Daily Post WOTD is Archaic. What an appropriate word! I am baking bread today, an activity that could be considered archaic. Even among bread-makers, my methods might be considered old-fashioned because I do all my mixing and kneading by hand. A mixer with a dough hook may be easier on the muscles, but it cannot feel the texture of the dough. For me, the way the dough feels is important because (1) dough has feelings that should be respected, and (2) it tells me how much flour to incorporate. It’s a little-discussed fact that too much flour forced into a “sponge” by a machine makes the bread tough and cranky.

(Note to self: When a machine forces too much of anything into me, it makes me tough and cranky, too.)

I considered all this while I was thinking of a book from which to quote. I decided on a passage from That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. The setting is a room in a cottage where a young woman named Jane is helping Mother Dimble prepare a bedroom for a newly married couple.

“In Mrs. Dimble’s hands the task of airing the little house and making a bed for Ivy Maggs and her jailbird husband became something between an game and a ritual. It suggested to her literary memory all sorts of things out of sixteenth-century epithalamiums: age-old superstitions, jokes, and sentimentalities about bridal beds and marriage bowers, with omens at the threshold and fairies upon the hearth. It was an atmosphere extraordinarily alien to that in which she had grown up. A few weeks ago she would have disliked it. Was there not something absurd about that stiff, twinkling archaic world—the mixture of prudery and sensuality, the stylised ardours of the groom and the conventional bashfulness of the bride, the religious sanction, the salacities of the Fescennine song, and the suggestion that everyone except the principals might be expected to be rather tipsy? How had the human race ever come to imprison in such a ceremony the most unceremonious thing in the world?”

One of the things I find interesting about this passage is the rather archaic view that Mr. Lewis has of marriage and the marriage bed. That Hideous Strength was published in 1945 when C. S. Lewis was still a bachelor. He writes about marriage from a position of research and observation, not personal experience.

I compare his view of marriage with that of H. L. Mencken who also tackled the subject in the state of bachelorhood. His book In Defense of Women was published in 1918, twelve years before he married. Both men rely rather heavily on archaic generalizations and stereotypes in presenting their theses.

Anyway, my bread sponge has risen beautifully and is demanding my attention. Have a very lovely day.

(Note to self: The word archaic reminded me of the movie “The Stepford Wives”, but since that is a movie and not a book, I won’t quote from it. My bread reflections gave rise—pun intended—to an Essential Question that I will have to pose in the future.)