Friday, December 7, 2012

The Historical Novel

I recently read a review on an historical novel in which I was interested. The critic was very positive: in fact, the only thing she had to say detrimental to the novel was that there was no reason why the author should have written it in an historical instead of a contemporary setting. I confess that at first I took the author’s part because almost every story I write is set at least forty years in the past and I have a strong aversion to contemporary setting. But after reading the first chapter or so of the book in question, I understood what it was the critic was getting at. The story was set in the 1940s, but for all practical purposes it might as easily have been set in 2012. The characters, their daily lives, their manner of speaking, but most especially the style of the book conveyed the feel of a modern, contemporary novel.

The purposes of historical fiction are many, but the most significant is that of transporting the reader to a different time and a different world. While many things stay the same throughout history (for people will be and have always been simply people with basically the same faults and virtues), many things have changed over time. Each era has its own mood and atmosphere—even its own moral, for history is constantly teaching lessons. But the aim of historical fiction is not to capture one aspect of an era, but all of them as they make up a cohesive, interrelated whole.

The most common misconception when it comes to historical fiction is the idea that the date of the setting is what makes a story historical. Authors generally write historical fiction either because they want to write about particular historical events or because they like the periods they choose to set their books in. Consequently, the only thing that makes the resultant book historical is the event or the date. While these are both the most obvious components of historical fiction, the genre relies on far more factors for its success.

There are, in fact, thirteen main areas an author must take into account when writing historical fiction:

World Views/Value Systems
Writing Style

For each of these areas, we have provided a set of questions for an author to ask himself as he writes an historical novel. Asking questions helps you to evaluate your work and may draw your attention to overlooked areas.
Events are the most emphasised part of historical fiction. However, they usually make up only a small part of the story as a whole, generally only guiding the plot and providing tertiary characters. When writing historical fiction, whether you intend to use major historical events as a backdrop or not, be sure to ask yourself the following questions: What was happening on a global level at this time? What minor, more short-term events were going on?—i.e. who was president? Were there severe weather events (drought, hurricanes, blizzards) during this time?

Certain aspects of setting are often overlooked in historical fiction, but this type of error can easily spoil the historical context of the work and set your story in a fictional world.
Who was living here at the time of the story? What kinds of people? What did the area look like? Were there any important buildings or communities nearby?

Convincing dialogue is one of the most difficult elements to effect in any kind of fiction. It is also one of the most easily overlooked.
How did people talk in this area at this time? What words/expressions were not used yet? What words/expressions were? (i.e. sixty years ago TV was called television and movies were often ‘motion pictures.’) What types of slang or colloquialisms might people have used? What kind of things would have been thought not proper to be discussed? Was people’s conversation typically grammatically correct?

People are hugely affected by their culture. A great mistake and one commonly perpetrated is to set historical characters in modern culture. It destroys not only the authenticity, but the over-all mood of the work.
Who was famous? Whose names were household words? What books, plays, movies, etc. were familiar? What did people do for fun? What kinds of homes did people live in? How important were social class distinctions? How would these distinctions have affected your characters (would they be allowed to marry outside their social status? Would they be debarred from certain occupations?)? How did people view those poorer than themselves? How did they view those richer?

Many inventions changed people’s way of life. Consider the wheel, refrigeration, or the alarm clock. Scientific views and advances influenced the way people viewed the world.
What were some inventions created at this time (Carpet sweepers? Helium balloons? Saxophones?)? How did people do things? How much time did it take to do simple, everyday projects, such as washing clothing or getting to church? What scientific advances were being made? Would your characters have been familiar with these? How would these have influenced the way your characters viewed themselves, the world, and God?

People have always communicated, but they have used many different methods. Beware of anachronisms in this area, such as making news arrive far more quickly than would be common at the time.
What was the primary medium for the spread of ideas (i.e. television, movies, books, scrolls, mystery plays)? How did people communicate (i.e. radar, telegraph, heliograph, speaking drums, hieroglyphs, shoe phone)?

Dystopian fiction is not the only genre that utilises the political aspect. Politics influence people everywhere and in every era.
What place did people have in government? What were some of their duties? How did they feel about these? What did most people think about government? Did it play an important role in their lives?
Health has always held a prominent place in literature, but particularly more so in the past when the death rate was considerably higher. It is easy to forget what things people once thought were unhealthy or what they thought medicinal. Even if you do not agree with these ideas, your characters probably would.
What diseases did people suffer from? What factors did they believe caused diseases? How did they treat diseases? What did they call the diseases (many diseases in the past went by different names than they do now; for example, cancer was often called ‘a cancer’ a hundred years ago, and TB was usually called tuberculosis or consumption.)
Not only was food different in the past, meals were as well. Electric lighting allowed people to eat later in the evening after its invention, and electric stoves allowed for more hot meals in the summer.
What kinds of food did people eat (Black bread, candy bars, margarine?)? How many meals did they have? What did they call their meals? What food names were different? What importance did food have? How much did average people eat? Were they typically happy about the amount they got?
It can be easy to give your character far more money or free time than he would have had at a certain time in a certain social class. In many eras, money was always a primary consideration.
Were the majority of people poor or well-off? What did people do for a living? How much was money worth? How common was money? What did people spend most of their money on? What importance did money have for them?
A character’s clothing can influence the way he does things, or even the possibility of his doing them. Keep this in mind when writing action scenes.
What kinds of clothes did people wear? What colours? What names did clothes go by? What would have been thought improper or unacceptable in clothing? What was thought old-fashioned or unstylish? What did poor people wear? What did rich people wear? How much clothing did people typically have? What importance did clothes have?
World Views/Value Systems
Historical fiction is often used as a medium to propagate the author’s (generally very modern) views of the world. Or, the author may believe that because he has no moral principles, his characters don’t need them, either. While it is true that people are at heart the same in every time period, it is also true that one’s culture, training, and experience influences his world view. If he was not taught rather idiotic and irrational views of the world, he may possibly invent them for himself but unless he is of the imaginative sort it is not extremely likely that he would do so. Few things date a book so obviously as the world views and value systems of the characters.
How did people look at the world? What did they think was important? What place did religion take? Did people lean more towards superstition or science? What behaviours would not have been tolerated culturally?
Writing Style
We place this area last because it is the most easily overlooked. A historical novel correct in every other point may still feel as if it belonged in a different time period because of the style of the author. On the other hand, a novel written as novels were commonly written during the time it is set in better transports a reader into that time period. The best way to capture the style of the time is to read books written during the period you are interested in, and when writing a story, you ought to immerse yourself in literature. We have always found that our writing reflects the style of the author we have read most recently. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, for mimicry is important to developing your own writing style. The greatest problem with this approach is that if you start a new book while still writing the same story, you may end up with several different writing styles in one book. We have done this many times with mixed results.

History is a setting just as much as geographic location is. The only difference is that, while you may be vague about where your story is set, you typically must be rather definite about when. Research is important, so when setting a story in a particular era, study that era by reading (fiction and non-fiction), visiting museums, talking to people from that era (if possible), or even watching films—but only if they were actually made during the time you are writing about. Movies tend to change history even more than novels do.

But most importantly, read what was written at the time. Museums may misrepresent facts, people’s memories may be faulty, but extant writings are pieces of the past available for an author's perusal and instruction.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Literary Bloomers

We confess that of our articles so far, this has been one of the most enjoyable to write, as well as one of the easiest; for, in order to compile list of literary mistakes, all that was necessary was to mull over all the books we do not like and consider why we do not like them. When something in a book makes us dislike a book, chances are that it makes other people dislike the book as well, and, as we want people to like our own books, these things are best avoided.

As much as many of us dislike poorly-written stories, literary flops afford excellent learning opportunities to writers and innocent amusement to the rest of the public. Even in well-written books we have often found things that we think the authors should have done differently, and felt the story was slightly spoilt because of it. But we have often observed that a bad book is a better teacher than a good one because it demonstrates what not to do when writing a story and it demonstrates it more clearly because it is easier to say why you don’t like something than it is to say why you do.

We have taken the pleasure of compiling a list of our favourite authorial mistakes, first as to story, and second as to characters. If you find that you yourself are guilty of some of these blunders listed, don’t despair. Many of the following are mistakes that we the editors made in our past careers and include them, not only to warn other authors from rocky shoals, but to remind ourselves not to make the same mistakes again.

Boring Stretches
Boring parts of your story should frighten you—they’ll often frighten your readers clean away from your book. One of the greatest secrets of good story-writing is that boringness can almost always be done away with.
From Ghent to Aix
When you need to get your character from one point of the story to another (whether in time or place) how do you do it without slogging into a slough of tedium? It can be done, although to do so takes creativity and hard work. Still, hard work on your part makes easy work for your readers; be sure to cut out of your story long portions of wasted time.
Our rule of right thumb (as we are right handed) is: ‘Don’t tell the reader what he can figure out for himself.’ Stories with any kind of mystery need to explain the mystery at some point (usually), but this can be done through a variety of ways and not necessarily through a character explaining everything. Especially avoid making the villain explain. Villains, rather like Mary Poppins, never explain anything. If they do, they lose half of their villainous mystique. One under-used way of explaining things to the audience is through the main character’s perspective. Authors tend to make all the explaining done to the main character, but audiences like a smart protagonist who can figure things out for himself.
Avoid repeating things. Kipling’s Just So Stories and other children’s books utilise excessive repetition, but mature readers (e.g. over the age of six) will likely find such methods dull and juvenile.

Duncan Donuts
Overt and obvious suspense loses an audience. They know that the hero is not going to have a huge boulder dropped on top of him and that he is not going to fall a million feet to the canyon floor. Thus, ending the chapter (or episode) with this kind of obvious suspense will not really keep your readers on the edges of their seats. Over-use of suspense turns a story into a cheap thriller—a book whose sole purpose is to entertain the reader without regard to eloquence and culture.

Although we are very fond in general of old books, we do not believe that just because people lived in the nineteenth century they were good writers. Elitism is rampant in older books and American books are not exempt (they tend to be worse, on occasion). Elitism is the view that certain people are smarter than other people simply because they are well-born, more moral because they have received a better education, more beautiful because they are rich, more worthy because they are red Indians, and the list goes on.

To make a well-born man in your story intelligent is not necessarily elitism: elitism lies in thinking that because a man is well-born, therefore he must be intelligent—a sort of Calvinistic pre-damning of a person based on intrinsic and unchangeable qualities rather than on his own actions and choices.

Another common form of elitism is making the heroine marry a duke or other high-born person because a commoner is not good enough for her (implied but rarely stated by the author); or, alternatively, making the hero start out a pauper in order to prove that one does not have to be rich or well-born to be a hero, and then making him turn out to be an earl’s long lost son at the end because you do not believe your own premise.

Foregone Conclusion
Readers love to predict what is going to happen in a story, but they like even better to be surprised by the author, and the last thing you as the author want is for a reader to get tired of your book because he knows what will happen. One of the most common ways to make a story predictable is to use stock scenarios. If a princess is locked in a tower, the readers know that sooner or later a knight in shining armour will appear to rescue her.

This is an obvious scenario and really not used that often, but how about this example: a little boy brings home a lost dog. His parents don’t like the dog and only let it stay on trial. The average reader can guess from this set-up that the dog will save the boy’s life (probably by dragging him from a burning building), get his picture in the paper, and live with the adoring family for the rest of his life. Or take this story: the children’s parents warn them not to do something (i.e. skate on the pond); the children disobey and suffer disastrous results (either drown or are invalids for the rest of the winter).

Too many books and short stories have been written with these scenarios and they are now considered ‘stock.’

Non Sequiter
On the other hand, don’t surprise the reader by ruining the story. Leading your readers on to expect something in the story and then making something completely different happen can make your story an instant success or a hopeless failure, depending solely on how you do it. Making your heroine jilt her lifelong friend for a character who just popped into the story for two seconds, and then thumbing your nose at your readers and saying, ‘Ha, ha! Thought she was going to marry the other guy, didn’t you?’ will not win you fans.

Likewise, although you may not approve of resurrecting people at the end of a story, keep in mind that some characters just don’t die convincingly. Example: chap with a gammy leg appears in chapter one and seems to be someone important. Chap disappears and is later said to have been killed in war. Sanguine readers, however, sit patiently waiting for him to reappear and all characters with gammy legs fall under their immediate suspicion. At the end of the story when the chap from the first chapter (or prologue, as it may be) still has not shown up, the readers feel that somehow the story isn’t over—the author forgot something—when is the chap with the gammy leg going to show up? It is no use for the author to say, ‘But I told you—he was killed in the war!’ The author didn’t tell them that, one of the characters in the story told them that, and they didn’t believe him because the author told them something entirely different by making the chap appear to be someone important to the story in chapter one. Rule of index finger: Chappies with gammy legs don’t die.

Ha ha hmm…
Humour is a good tension reliever, but some authors (predominately contemporary ones) use excessive amounts of rather stale or imbecile humour in poorly-chosen locations, such as the denouement. Also note: repeating a good joke makes it a bad joke.

Jo’s Hat
A jo’s hat is generally intentionally perpetrated by the aspiring author and occurs when something in the story is there simply to be cool and does not really make logical sense. When the villain clutches Jo by the throat and Jo’s hat falls down the stairwell, clattering like a hard hat when it is a soft hat (this was done in a movie and not a book, but the principle applies to both), the director is only interested in the violent echoes caused by this alogism; he does not care that soft hats don’t make noise when they fall down stairwells.

Sometimes, however, jo’s hats are caused by the innocent inattention of the author. For instance, when a character refers to an old college buddy of his, and a second character later relates that said person never went to college, it is simply because the author was not paying attention.

An author generally justifies a character because he has the uncomfortable feeling that what the character is doing is wrong. If you feel the urge to justify a character, analyse his actions and make sure they do not deviate from sound biblical doctrine. If they do, change them or punish them; don’t justify them.

Sometimes an author justifies a character before other characters in the story because he cannot bear to have his character misjudged by others. Life is all about being misjudged; don’t justify.

Misplaced Climax
The climax typically comes near the end of the story because that is what the audience want most to read. After the climax they are more easily lost. The main mistake of a misplaced climax is making some other event in the story more climactic than the climax. This can be difficult to avoid, but if at all possible rework the story so your audience are not disappointed with an anti-climactic climax.

Necessary Evil
The necessary evil is something in a story which does not make logical sense, but which must happen in order for the story to work. For example, there is no particular reason for a bad guy to wear a mask when he is obviously the bad guy, but the author requires him to so that the hero will not recognise him until the end.

Romantic drivel is unpleasant to the practical sensibilities of many readers. Apparently many people are fond of it, but we believe it better avoided. For instance, don’t make your hero climb a tree to catch a glimpse of the object of his affections, then swoon and fall out of the tree to be rescued by the lady. This sort of thing does not happen in real life (although it really did happen in a sappy book) and nobody really wants it to.

The Dripping Voice
Dialogue should be original; unfortunately, some authors appear to think that saying how someone said the dialogue should be original too. The only quotative verbs really needed are the two words ‘said’ and ‘asked,’ but some authors seem to think these words are stale and repetitive and so make up their own alternatives. In one book an author went so far as to write, ‘My voice dripped with disappointment.’ This conveys the wrong picture to the reader. ‘Said’ may be used over and over, and the reader never notices because it is unobtrusive.

An author may vary ‘said’ with ‘exclaimed,’ ‘muttered,’ or ‘explained’ if he wishes, and ‘demanded,’ ‘repeated,’ ‘vociferated,’ and such may be used as long as they are not over-used. Words like ‘agreed’ and ‘questioned’ as quotative verbs are right out because they distract the reader and interrupt the flow of the dialogue. Words such as ‘bubbled,’ ‘gushed,’ and ‘enthused’ are not only ridiculous but also make your dialogue sound like attempted Tom Swifties.

Example: ‘I’ll never try this experiment again!’ the professor exploded.
Or, ‘See you later, Captain!’ beamed Scottie.

Vale of Tears
This is another Victorian-era gaffe caused by the illogical idea that the more people who die in a book, the better a book it is. We have read several of these and they were not all from the nineteenth century, either. Of particular note was one book which started out with the heroine’s father dying in the second or third chapter, went on to chronicle the death of several other family members, two or three of the heroine’s children (while preserving one or two as chronic invalids), and wrapping up by knocking off the heroine herself—a definite ending point, yet demonstrating a certain lack of preconceived purpose.

Character Goofs
Some of the most destructive mistakes are made with characters. Characters are living, breathing entities, but some authors treat them as paper dolls to merely fill roles in a story. Other authors forget that characters grow and change and, if an author is not careful, become something other than they were intended to be. And still other authors create wonderful characters and neglect them shamefully, never realising their full potential. Thus, we devote the second half of this article to blunders of character.

Author’s Pet
Authors get attached to their characters on occasion. There is nothing wrong with liking your characters, but sometimes you may be so overt about it that the character annoys your audience. Human nature is such that the audience will rejoice in the downfall of a character who is too perfect or too preferred.

Bad Hat
A bad hat is a hero who is supposed to be good but is actually quite bad, such as Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, or John Wayne in many of his movies.

Falling Star
Some heroes—and other characters—start out great and then let the audience down by gradually getting less great as the story progresses. Most often this happens when the character falls in love with someone; this usually makes him act rather silly and get on the audience’s nerves. Mysterious characters, too, can let the audience down when the mystery is lifted and they turn out to be only ordinary people. The best way to avoid this mistake is to wait until the end of the story to clear up all the mystery about the character. Even better is to retain one or two mysterious things about him that are never explained, even at the end.

The readers should not be too much smarter than the main character. There is no suspense when the main character discovers something that the audience has known for several chapters.

Fresh Fruit
Some authors make the love interest a jerk. This is not generally a good way to make your audience like him.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent
We are greatly adverse to unfairness of any kind; even if it be to a fictional character. A bad guy who is bad because the author needs him to be and not because he is intrinsically bad, claims our, and the audience’s, sympathy. There are always reasons for a bad guy to be bad—he enjoys it, he’ll get something out of it, he has borne a grudge against the hero since they were kids, etc. They may not be good reasons, but a bad guy (and an author) can always find them. Making a character bad just because you want someone to pick on your hero is a waste of a good opportunity: always make the most of your villain and make sure he has a reason for doing what he does.

This is a man or boy who does not act like a man or boy but rather more like a girl. This mistake is the result of the author being a woman. On the other hand, a Diverne is a woman or girl who acts too masculine. This can be a result of masculine authorship or simply a result of a woman author who believes girls are better behaving as boys. Avoid both mistakes.

Whoever coined the term stuffed shirt allotted to it the wrong meaning—that of a pedant or a prude. The term brings to our minds a character whose only function is to fill a role—usually that of the romantic interest—and fills it as a dummy—a flat, shapeless mass with no true personality or character. In real life certain people may certainly look as if they were stuffed shirts, but everyone has more deep down inside him than stuffing. Every character in a book should be real and alive.

Mr. Blueweather
Named for an actual character in a story, this is a person without fault who drops lofty judgements from Mount Parnassus down on the heads of refractory characters. He is tedious and universally disliked by the audience, and is only in the story so that the author can preach a sermon to his readers. There are better (and subtler) ways to preach sermons besides putting an annoying character in your books.

Mr. Nice Guy
This character is usually used in war stories and plays the part of an enemy soldier who is nice because the author wants his audience to know that he doesn’t think all Germans (British, red Indians, etc.) are bad. Characters should not be thrown into a story solely to prove a point. Therefore a bad guy whom the author makes nice so that the author can prove he is not biased is a waste of time and generally a shoddy addition to any story.

Nancy Drew
Mystery stories specialise in sleuths who read impossible meanings into cryptic clues. These amateur detectives usually are captured multiple times by the villain during the story and escape in easy and obvious ways.

Peter Pan
In a story that spans several years, the author must not forget to make his characters grow up. Some authors never make a character mature and he rapidly outgrows himself, becoming tiresome to the readers.

Show Stealer
This is a character who takes centre stage when he didn’t start out the main character. In a story with multiple main characters this is unfairness and favouritism on the part of the author. He has a right to do what he likes with his own story, but the audience may never forgive his character if he elbows out their respective favourites.

Stereotypes are a lot of fun, but only when they are used humorously or to prove a point. An author who makes all Americans cowboys or all Frenchmen chefs simply because he doesn’t know anything about Americans or Frenchmen is committing a sad blunder that the Americans and Frenchmen who read his stories may enjoy at his expense.

Super Hero
All heroes should be great, but people who want super heroes read Nietzsche or Marvel comics. Most people want a hero who has problems and weaknesses like everyone else and whom they can sympathise with.

Always a woman, she is a surpassingly lovely character who receives proposals of marriage from every man in the story. Like the super hero, she gets on the audience's nerves.

Villainous Villain of Villainy
A super villain is more forgivable than a super hero, but an audience usually likes a villain who is a real person and has real problems and weaknesses like the hero. He can be smarter than the hero and should certainly be more mysterious, but he should seem as if he could really exist.

Conclusion: While we have listed many things that we personally feel ought not to be done in a story, it is true that any one of them may be effected by an author with success. For instance, unrealistically evil villains are sometimes splendid additions to a story, jo’s hats and tom swifties may add subtle humour, and boring stretches could (and on occasion have) become the most fascinating parts of the book. Everything depends on how an author ‘pulls it off.’

The insidious nature of these bloomers lies in their ability to pass undetected by the author, because they are only errors when they are unintentional. Therefore, to point them out to other authors and to describe why we ourselves find them objectionable, we hope, has been a useful endeavour.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two Minutes of Silence

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

-Lawrence Binyon

Remembrance Day, also called Armistice Day or Poppy Day, is observed in various parts of the world with, among other activities, the reading of the 'Ode of Remembrance' (above) and the laying of wreaths on the graves of servicemen. These observances commemorate the end of the first World War, formerly known as the Great War, which claimed thousands of lives and was recognised all over the world as a defence of freedom and justice. The war ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and it is observed in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries by one to two minutes of silence at 11:00 a.m. on November 11.

In America we observe the date as Veteran's Day and honour those who have served their country in the armed forces. While this is commendable, would we not also do well to remember what honour is derived from serving one's country by bearing arms? There can be no honour in such a position were not the one holding it defending the rights and liberty of the defenceless and upholding the sanctity of justice and peace.

Ultimately, the responsibility of safeguarding the heritage bought and handed down at such a price by our forebears rests upon each one of us.

...Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead.
For this will stand in our Market-place—
    Who’ll sell, who’ll buy
    (Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace)?
While looking into every busy whore’s and huckster’s face
As they drive their bargains is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.

-‘The Cenotaph,’ Charlotte Mews

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Man Made God

By Jacklyn Remus

In the image of man created they him . . .

Upon being informed, as I am about to inform you, that this article is about abortion, there are probably plenty of readers whose immediate reaction would be, ‘Another article on abortion? Aren’t there enough of those already?’
My response is, as the astute reader who gives me any credit should see, No. There are not enough, and there never will be enough until abortion stops.

I think that, when we are quite honest with ourselves, we can no longer use the excuse that abortion is not taking the life of another person. Even the main proponents of it have mostly ceased trying to claim so. Science and logic point to the fact that life must start inside the mother’s womb, and at conception. Within a few days, the child inside the mother is universally regarded — by doctors and parents alike — as a child. You cannot have an inanimate child. The very designation is an acknowledgement of the life inside the womb.
Besides, if the child were not alive at this point, there would be no point in killing it, would there? Unless it is going to grow (a sign of life), mature (a sign of life), and eventually be born as a live human being in need of care (a definite sign of life), there would be very little point in removing it. We cannot compare it to a tumour, because though a tumour may grow, it will never be born as a live human. It will also never mature. It is not conceived by a mother and father, and it is never called a ‘baby.’
Therefore, if we can no longer deny that aborting a child is taking its life, we can hardly deny that abortion is murder. One definition of murder is ‘the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another.’ If killing is taking the life of something, and if we must admit that a child is a human being — there are very few who claim that it is a rock or a chimpanzee — the only thing that stands in the way of calling abortion murder is the fact that it is not ‘unlawful.’ And that brings us to the issue of morality.

Murder is generally, but not universally, regarded as wrong. It is illegal in the United States of America, and generally elsewhere, to kill any person without lawful authority from the government. In recent decades there has been a decline in morality, marked most sharply by the fact that the government has made taking the life of an unborn child lawful. In 36 years, from 1973 to 2009, four times as many innocent people were killed in hospitals in the United States than were killed in Nazi camps in twelve. There is a child killed for every 24 seconds in a day. We can hardly say these children committed crimes worthy of capital punishment. Their only crime, like that of the Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany, was that of existence. Now, despite the fact that so many people are claiming abortion to be murder, modern proponents of this custom wish to make the mother judge and jury. She who was once the symbol of life, home, family and love, is now to become the deliverer of the death sentence.
There is never any excuse for abortion. Some would claim that some babies should be aborted for the health of the mother. This is not morality. Morality was never a consideration of what was best for oneself, but what was good for humanity and ultimately, what was obedience God’s commandments. It says in the gospel of Matthew, ‘Whosoever shall save his life shall lose it . . .’ It says in the Ten Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’

This, then, is no longer a battle for the life of the million plus children who are destroyed every year, but a battle for morality. In the world there is no longer any real morality. It has become subjective. Men say there is no universal goodness, no absolute. Morality has become what the man in power decides to make it. If killing babies is what people want, we will make a law that says, it is all right. How can we do this? Because we no longer have any certain standard of goodness. Man decides what is good.

And that is the issue of God. Today around the world the idea of God has seemed to dwindle and dwindle until it is very small indeed. Men have not just made a god in their own image — they have decided that they do not even need a god. They have made themselves god. Morality will continue to crumble if the true goodness is not rediscovered. This is, as Vaclav Havel said, a contaminated moral environment. It is also an unsustainable one. Presently, we as a society shall return to the cannibalistic tribalism that marked the early ages of history on many continents. Civilisation survives only when it has a moral code. It flourishes only when that code is based on the goodness of God. There is no point in going green if we do not go good, there is no point in claiming a woman’s choice to commit murder if we do not claim God’s choice to punish us for it. We cannot sustain a civilisation where men are their own gods, because such a society is no longer civilised.

There is hope, because God is hope. Today, in what seems to be the opening of a new era, morality must be held to, not less strictly for the sake of those who will not conform, but more strictly for the sake of those whose lives depend upon our courage and bravery. If we are not willing to stand up against the murder and decline of morals going on around us, we are as deeply and tragically responsible as the millions of people in Russia under Stalin or in Germany under Hitler. Fifty million deaths — all of humans who hadn’t even a chance to see the world — is more than a statistic. It is a call for brave men and women, a call for those who believe in God to stand up not just for life, but for morality.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

At the Editor’s Desk

Scenario: a friend has just approached you, explained that he has heard that you are a writer, and asked you to review and critique his book. Your first reaction is probably a hasty fabrication of some general remark to make on the book, such as ‘your style is very original,’ or ‘the story was an easy read’—something definite enough to convince your friend that you actually read his book and sufficiently foggy to allow you to retain him as your friend.

The art of constructive criticism isn’t an easy one. Yet, take the personal element out of it, and you are still no nearer the goal of objectively determining whether a book is good or not. You probably have a whole list of favourite books, but can you say exactly what it is about the books that makes you love them? And we all know that there are two kinds of‘good’ books: those that are snapped up by the masses and are usually cranked out in series of seventy volumes or so and those that the elite critics (e.g. those who review books for a living) approve—usually dull, depressing, or difficult to make sense of, and almost never as popular among ordinary people as the first kind are.

This conundrum is easily explained by the fact that there are two ways of judging a book. In the editors' own opinion, there is only one way, but we will explain the two commonly-recognised methods first.

Popular books are judged by how much amusement they afford the reader. People like books that are fun to read and don’t take too many brain cells to digest. But critics judge a book by how well the author wrote it—his techniques, special effects, and over-all writing style. A very well-written book may not be terribly amusing.

But, in our opinion, there is one way to judge a book: by whether or not you like it. A book does not have to be popular or well-written for you to like it, and if you do not like it, it does not necessarily matter to you if it is on the New York Times best sellers list or the Princeton Review.

In the first place, a book must not be judged as an inanimate thing. You might judge its dust jacket, or its cover photograph, or its type of paper as in and of themselves inanimate components, but even in this you may misjudge a book. (We dislike to digress, but we would mention that we’ve judged paperback copies or hardcovers bound in gaudy colours, such as orange, or with silly-looking pictures on the fronts rather severely and later regretted it, for we’ve found wonderful friends in books with even these handicaps.)

You ought to judge a book as you would a person. A person can help some of his faults but not all of them, and the greater part of his faults are faults only in your own eyes: to another person they may be mere eccentricities. A book, too, has faults and eccentricities, but these do not necessarily prevent you from being friends with a book. We have never found a book that we could sincerely say was without fault, although we’re still looking for such a phenomenon. Likewise, although we say it with hesitation knowing this article will be read by several of our friends, we have never met a person without fault, either. we like people with their faults and in spite of them, because otherwise we should not be able to like anyone (and because we know that, unless they did the same by us, we should be very unpopular people).

And unless we liked books with faults, we would never be able to like any books at all. Most people understand this principle. What people do not understand so readily is a very subtle, and yet important, operation that nearly every thing performs in one way or another. This operation has not been scientifically analysed as yet, and has been named by the expression (in default of a better) that a thing ‘grows on you’.

The odd idea of a sort of cannibalistic process exerted on one creature by another is so bizarre that it would be repelling were it not quite accurate. When something ‘grows on you,’ it becomes a part of you. We have met many books (to say nothing of people) whom we did not take a particular liking to first off, but which after a while we came to love dearly. When this happens, it is usually not because the book (or person) has changed in any way, but because we ourselves changed in the way we saw things and interpreted them.

We must take a case in point. We once read a book which, when we started it, we did not expect to like at all because we knew from the first page on (or perhaps even sooner) exactly how it was going to end—the sort of story that one would call predictable. However, when we did get to the end (and it ended as we had expected), we found that we had enjoyed the story immensely and that the book had become one of our favourites. Our great mistake was focusing on one shortcoming of the book instead of taking the story as a whole.

The reason why we could predict the end of the story was because it treated commonly over-treated themes, such as war, forgiveness, and ethnic misunderstanding; and, because we’d read many books which treated the same themes in the same way, we had a fair idea of what would happen in the story.

And in this case we were right, but we weren’t upset by the fact. We might have been more upset if the author had not followed the basic formula. In the first place, the story worked well because it was a children’s story, and children are not so well versed in predicting endings as more experienced readers are. Because it was a children’s story the themes needed to be treated in a simple, easily-understood way—the way they are most often treated in stories (i.e. the little girl learns that not all Germans are bad). The story itself was a simple, straightforward tale (and in case you want to know, it is called The Little Riders, by Magaretha Shemin); the author did not intend to show off her superior skills in convoluted plot or modern style, she only intended to tell a good story.

Most importantly, the story had a happy ending. While we are in favour of surprise endings, we don’t like a surprise ending at the expense of a good story. Authors often attempt to surprise the reader by making things turn out differently than they usually do in books. The author may marry the heroine to someone other than the hero, or the author may kill off a character and really kill him off, thereby disappointing any readers who may fondly await his miraculous return at the end of the story. We enjoy these surprises occasionally, but sometimes they completely spoil the story and, what is more, the majority of readers would agree with us. For example, if we may take an example from an actual story, if the hero has been disinherited in favour of the villain, it is not likely that anyone will be particularly pleased to find out at the end of the story that the villain is not really the villain after all—it may surprise the reader, but the reader will be disappointed that the hero can’t get his ancestral estate (or title, or millions, etc.) back.

But even this sort of unsatisfactory surprise may be a success if it works well in the story. The main thing is that you must take a book as a whole; you cannot take it apart like a vivisectionist or you will lose the delicate vitality of the thing. Look at it in context; look at it as a living, dynamic entity; and don’t necessarily judge it by other books you’ve read.

But we our sure you are wanting a practical guide to critiquing a book, or what will you tell your friend? So far everything we’ve said applies to determining whether or not you like a book. But when asked to critique a book, your ultimate goal is to like it and all that is required is your advice as to how the author may arrive at that goal. Keep in mind that it is difficult to maintain a balance between trying to help an author make his book better and trying to make an author write the book the way you want it. It is helpful to have a list of things to look for so that you can adequately represent the author’s audience without taking over his job of writing the book.

Whenever we don’t like a book, it is usually because it lacks one (or more) of three things: a strong beginning, likeable characters, or a satisfactory end. But we do not mind boring-ness and extraneous material and many readers do, so we may as well add two other items to the tally and list five important requirements for a book.

A Compelling Introduction
The very first lines of a book should catch the reader’s attention and hold it tightly. A book does not have to start out suspenseful, but it should be interesting and make the reader want to read more. If your friend’s story does not catch your interest at the very outset, kindly suggest that he revise it.

A Strong Beginning
Most readers want to know where the story is going so that they know whether or not they really want to keep reading it. A good, obvious problem in the story helps them see where the story is headed, as well as a few plot direction indicators, such as either/or choices the main character must make, supplementary problems, and moments of discovery.

A Solid Plot
Though the story may amble about a bit, it should basically stick to what the story is about, or the reader may become bored or lost.

Likeable Characters
These are what make the editors personally like a book or dislike it. The author may make any mistake he chooses and we will still like the book if the characters are loveable. On the other hand, if we don’t like the characters, it doesn’t make much difference to us how wonderful the rest of the story may be.

A Happy Ending
Almost everybody loves a happy ending. It is not required in a story, but very preferable. The ending should make the reader feel that the problems are solved, the characters are happy, and the story’s potential is realised.

You will notice that many of these points have to do with the beginning of the story. The beginning is the crucial part, because that is what most people read first. If the reader doesn’t like the beginning, he is not likely to press on. The characters (at least some of them), the problem, and the over-all style of the story are introduced at the beginning, and those are three of the most important factors of a book.

The happy ending is probably the third most important part, after the characters and the beginning. One book came very close to receiving five stars from the author of this article, but its anti-climactic ending cost it the perfect rating. The ending must live up to the rest of the book because that is what most people read last and that is the impression of the book that they are left with.

Obviously, what you like in a book may not be what someone else likes, but criticism is rarely, if ever, objective. It is subject to the opinions of the odd, erratic, and very subjective people who produce it—that is, everybody. But criticism is a high and lofty art to which few have attained with credit. Let the noble aim of honourable criticism be yours as you pursue your editorial career.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Lost Idea

By Clinton Bean

This week I did a thing rather rare for me — I picked up a newspaper. Newspapers have always been rather depressing things in my opinion, and more so in the last few years. But I have always felt that anything one reads, be it fiction, non-fiction, media, or anything else, should change one’s opinion of the world. And this newspaper succeeded in doing this. The article I read was by a prominent journalist, a man of no poor talent and, I think, no small audacity, to propose the question which he did. The question thus propounded was this; ‘What happens when the government replaces God?’ Though, as I have admitted, I rarely touch newspapers, I have seen enough of them to know that I have never personally encountered the word ‘God’ in any of them — which fact is what made me read this article in the first place. The piece itself was, admittedly, lacking in literary merit, but there is little to expect in the modern journalistic age, and overall, it was fairly written. But it was the theme and content, more than the style, that changed the way I view the world. It made me more of an optimist. It supported a theory that I have had for a long time but have not had supported by very many of the great thinkers around me. The world is not as bad as all that. I can and, more increasingly of late, have believed this world and the people in it capable of many things. Among the philosophers, the theologians, the thinkers and the average good-hearted people with whom I have the privilege to associate myself, one thought have I encountered repeatedly and with crescent incidence; the pessimistic idea that the world grows daily worse and, outside of our own circles, there is ‘None that doeth good, no not one.’ This last is an unstated theory rather than a declared truth — or even a declared hypothesis. But one can see a grave thing growing in conservative and especially Christian conservative circles. It is not so much pessimism, for pessimism is not as grave as a pessimist should like to believe. This thing is not so much an idea as a lack of ideas, not so much a feeling as a lack of feeling, not so much a realisation as the total absence of it. It is a missing hope, a missing faith, a missing meaning and a missing ideal. The good people of this age have forgotten that there are good people. And sometimes I’m inclined to think they have forgotten there is a good God. I have never believed in the inherent goodness of man. It is a crazy thing to think when one looks at the real world. The idea of inherent goodness began with a flawed idea of goodness. When man ceased to believe that goodness was determined by God, then and only then did man commence to believe that man is good. But if man decides what goodness is, there is no possible way for him not to be good. That is just the point — man is bad before God, but immensely good before himself. A snake may make a very good snake, but it makes a very poor human. But I also eschew the inherent badness of man; and by this I mean, not that man has not sinned and fallen, nor that all men have sinned and fallen, but that man cannot be completely bad for one simple reason. He was made in the image of God. He has parts of God’s nature in him, as small as they may be. One knows it when he revels in the glory of a sunset. One feels it when he gloats in the smells of autumn. The fact that a man knows what is beautiful and what is good displays that man possesses a part of something it is not too unthinkable to call the soul of God. But in these modern days, men have forgotten this. My inspiration the journalist who proposed this great intellectual question has a good point near the end of his article, when he says; ‘Americans need to get right with God.’ The world needs to get right with God. But there is something in its way. The problem is not so much that we have lost the knowledge or even the respect of God, though I certainly believe we have. More than this, we have lost the idea of God. What is this idea? The idea of a justice and a truth that transcends all others, the idea that there is One who can determine goodness and is not held by any law of the world. In earlier human history, men who did not have the true God made up their own. But today this has fallen from the world. Children grow up without the idea in their heads. They can’t get their minds around it. It has become too big for all of us, and with this, or perhaps in consequence of this, our minds have grown smaller. In a way, people of this day have made their own gods. They are polytheists, worshipping the fashions and the ideas and the persons of the people we call ‘celebrities’ but might as well call ‘deities.’ The ancient Romans and Greeks had gods and goddesses who were exalted men and women with great powers. Our modern celebrities lack the powers but have the looks, the wealth — and the worshippers. But in one way these people cannot take the place of gods for us, for they are only people. The gods invented by the druids or the Romans had powers of some sort. All our gods today have is money. And they do nothing for the people that worship them except, once in a while, dole out money to charities that, most of the time, are not worth supporting. We have lost the idea of God because we have lost the idea that we need one. We are basically capable. I don’t even think that men believe they are basically good anymore. They have realised, as the rational conclusion of a sinful worldview would have inevitably made them realise, that they don’t have to be good. They see that there is no need to be good. All they have to be is basically capable. Like H.G. Wells’ aliens, the only point of life from here forward is continual growth towards greater efficiency. So that is the mind of man. As G. K. Chesterton said, we have ‘thought back to thought itself’ and we have been led into ‘thinking there is nothing but thought.’ But there is more than thought, and it is called the soul of man. A man can live in his mind, but such a life is a pointless existence with no real destination except for great intelligence. But intelligence is useless with nowhere to go. If, however, the soul of man is to go up, it must only go to God. And I believe that there is a soul in most people. All they must do is find it. I can only thank the audacious journalist for revealing at least one thing that I truly benefited from learning. There is a real person in the world. And I know, as a result, that there are more somewhere.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Genre: a Classification

‘Genre’ is the general term used in reference to the broad and interesting study of the classification of stories--'literary genre' more specifically, and 'fictional literary genre' to be quite correct.

Classification is an art form and--as the basic tool of the artist is a pencil, and that of the architect a compass--the basic tool of the taxonomist is a list. Thus we chose to employ the form of an alphabetical list to discuss the subject of genre in this article. It must be said, however, that, desirable as this approach may be, a problem is created by it, and before we commence we will take a moment to treat this problem.

A list, though wondrously helpful in many ways, still suffers from the disability of being one-dimensional. Even the Venn diagram cannot achieve complete accuracy when it comes to classifying multi-faceted ideas or objects. Perhaps no list-maker has such a difficult profession as the biological taxonomist, not because living plants and animals are so difficult to place in categories, but because they are so hard to place in only one. The platypus and the venus flytrap are two notable examples.

Stories are difficult to list for the same reason: they often cannot be placed in only one category because they are fluid entities, constantly changing and combining many characteristics of other different ‘kinds’ of stories. One single story may fit into many different genres. Moby Dick, for instance, may be considered a sea story, an historical novel, a philosophical treatise, a collection of essays, or all of the above. Genres, too, often fit into multiple categories. In order to be as exhaustive as possible, we chose to list some of these genres more than once.

But, you may ask, apart from the avid love of the born taxonomist to list any and every thing, is it really necessary to classify stories into genres? Are there any beneficial results?

To both questions we reply in the affirmative. For instance, suppose your friend tells you that he has just read an excellent book and suggests that you read it also. Naturally, you would like to know just a little about the book, so that you can determine whether it is worth your while to read it. Without telling you the whole story, your friend can give you a fair idea of the type of book it is by simply telling you what genre it falls under. If he tells you that the book is a detective story, you will know that it contains certain elements, such as suspense, crime, and an astute forensic brain, that all detective stories include. This is the reason for classification of any sort: to make information easier to convey by condensing it into a term.

Because there is no official list of literary genres, our own product is highly subjective. In our research we came across many and varied genres, from those that encompassed a broad range of story types to those that were so highly specialized as to include only one or two books. In the last hundred years especially, literary experimentation has added many new forms and techniques, some bordering on the bizarre and some going rather further than the expression implies. We chose to list only the genres which were represented by well-known works of literature and which we and our readers would be familiar with.

We also felt it in the interests of readers and writers to list as genres writing styles that are represented by large portions of literature: e.g. sea stories. One might as easily have a desert story as a sea story, but there are hundreds of well-known sea stories, while desert stories are more scarce.

In order to simplify the list as much as possible, we have chosen to list the many different genres under four main types that all other types in the list seemed to fall under. Under these are the major genres, which often contain many sub-genres, and these in turn sometimes contain their own mini-sub-genres. We were forced by necessity to invent some names for genres that existed but which had not been officially named. We also claimed the right of pioneers and expeditionists to discover and name a few genres of our own.

The reader may notice that we did not include any age-related genres, such as ‘children’s,’ ‘adult,’ or ‘young-adult.’ This is because for a large section of classic literature the distinction between an adult’s story and a children’s story is so fine as to be difficult to discern and in some books is non-existent. In other words, the best books are those that anyone, of any age or sex or nationality, can enjoy.

Adventure genres tell a story. They are not as concerned about the actual people and setting as they are with the plot--will the hero conquer? The people and settings do play a major role in some adventure genres, though--such as westerns or romance novels. By far the largest group of genres, adventure satisfies the desire of the majority of the public for a simple ‘good story.’
1. Action-Adventure
Action-packed genres appeal to males of all ages, but especially to boys between the ages of twelve and eighteen. This type of genre usually includes much shooting and explosions, high-speed chases, and hardened criminals. Action could also fall under the heading of ‘thriller’ because of the high-adrenaline factor, but unlike many thrillers, a good action story focuses on the plot and incorporates a sense of the adventurous and heroic.
a. Battleground
Set either during a war or in hostile territory, battle adventures provide plenty of opportunities for bomb blasts and other loud and exciting noises, not to mention gore and macho-ness. b. Graphic
Also known as ‘comic books,’ graphic novels are almost always action-adventures. Brightly-coloured pictures and speech bubbles with liberal exclamation points facilitate fast-paced reading.
c. Sea
Of all action genres, sea stories tend to make the most use of setting. The sea has its own mood and mystery that have fascinated people since the beginning of time. The ocean and the elements create excitement and danger enough even without the addition of sharks and buccaneers.
i. Pirate
Constitutes a large portion of sea stories. The author personally does not consider any nautical story complete without pirates.
ii. Submarine
Not so common, but a definite group by merit of Jules Vernes’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and copious world war spy and saboteur fiction.
d. Sports
An exception to the rule of shooting and criminals, the sports genre depends on team spirit and individual prowess to create suspense and excitement. A common feature is a moment of final suspense in which the protagonist has an opportunity to either win or lose the game. Sports stories are, however, handicapped by the lack of a life-and-death struggle and dearth of large and dangerous weapons, and the author personally finds them dull. But their place in literature is cemented by such illustrious representatives of the genre as the poem ‘Casey at the Bat,’ and Rudyard Kipling’s The Maltese Cat.
e. Western
Setting is important in westerns, but does not usually play such a dynamic role as it does in sea stories--westerns are always set in the American West, but they are more typically identified by gun slinging and red indians.
2. Ballad Typically both rhyme and melody are used to tell a story when it is written in ballad form, but in the resurgence of ballad-writing during the nineteenth century ballads were commonly written as poems without music.
3. Fantasy
Fantasy is probably among the oldest of literary genres and is characterised by liberal use of the imagination and a suspension of recognised rules of science.
a. Allegory
Uses a fictional setting and characters as mediums to convey spiritual truths.
b. Fairy Tales
Fairy tales tend to take an extremely simplistic view of the world. The people and rules in them are easily understood and stay fairly the same. Fairy tales deal with the real world, improving and populating it from the rich stock of the imagination.
c. Folk Tales
Markedly similar to fairy tales, folk tales often focus less on the actual story and more on a lesson to be derived from it.
d. Nonsense
Nonsense almost always takes place in a fictional setting. More on nonsense later.
e. Sword and Stone
We give this title to a genre of whose name we are uncertain. The genre is that most commonly meant when the term ‘fantasy’ is used: its distinguishing characteristics are alternate worlds, magic, and a quasi-mediaeval setting. The most obvious difference between fairy tales and ‘grown-up’ fantasy (the author’s term for this genre) is the preference of children for the former and of older youths and adults for the latter. Fairy tales are also usually set in an actual (though usually vague) location--they take place in the real world; while fantasy is almost always set in a fictional ‘world’ with its own set of rules. ‘Sword and stone’ fantasy tends to afford action, suspense, and an alternate reality as its primary attractions--often at the expense of strong plot and good writing style.
4. Historical Fiction
When writing historical fiction, an author can either take a certain historical period or event and write a story about it, or he can write the story first and set it against a historical backdrop. The former method is usually employed by educationalists who desire to instil a certain amount of knowledge into their readers; such stories tend to lack originality and to follow predictable patterns (e.g. Jews in Warsaw in WWII must escape being sent to a concentration camp; brothers meet in battle on opposing sides in the American Civil War; British soldier mistreats helpless patriot boy in American Revolution.)
a. Biography
When the author desires to write about a certain individual or event, and endeavours to make it interesting by creating a story about it centred around a fictional character, the results tend to be mediocre at best. (However, two notable exceptions are Scott’s Waverly and Stevenson’s Kidnapped.) If this approach is used, the author must take great care that his plot and characterisations are strong and that the story does not rely on its historical aspect to recommend it.
b. War
Most war stories are set against a historical background, whether or not the primary intent of the author was to educate his readers or not. Wars appeal to authors because they are times of great upheaval and change, providing excellent story material.
i. Home Front
Sometimes the purpose of home front stories is simply to tell what life was like for those living at home during the war--air raids excepted, somewhat tame matter. But with a little innovation this type of story can be very exciting, and the home front has excellent potential as a setting for spy stories.
ii. Nazi
Perhaps because of its immensity and far-reaching repercussions, the second world war has had a monopoly on popular media. Possibly this popularity is due to the aura of the Nazi regime: a force supreme, scientific, insensate, demented, morally degenerate--in short, wholly evil. Nazis figure predominately in World War II literature, to the extent that we felt justified in dedicating a sub-genre to them.
iii. Propaganda
War propaganda can work two ways: it can influence people to support armed struggle, or it can try to convert them to pacifism. Rarely does propaganda take its place among the classics, but Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is one instance of its success.
iv. Spy
Discussed below.
5. Suspense
Like thriller fiction, the main aim of suspense is to keep the reader turning pages, sometimes sacrificing plot or logical sense to this goal. The following three sub-genres could (and have been) successfully combined, but are distinct forms, nevertheless.
a. Detective
Detective fiction almost always involves crime--the most common forms are murder or theft (usually bank robbery or jewel theft), with kidnapping or political intrigue being an occasional variation.
b. Mystery
A very broad genre, mystery includes and can be combined with many other types. Its main characteristic is a secret that the protagonist is trying to discover the truth about.
c. Spy
Spy and saboteur fiction follows a less structured form than detective fiction--with varied results ranging from Ian Fleming’s James Bond to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
6. Romance
The traditional meaning of romance is a sense of the adventurous, unusual, and idealised. It does not always (but often does) include love-making.
a. Brigand
These are idealised tales of robbers like Robin Hood or Rob Roy. They are often less than moralistic as the thief is generally the hero.
b. Cloak and Dagger
A personal favourite of the author, the cloak and dagger genre capitalises on the exciting and heroic, often with the result of being unrealistic (but enjoyable anyway).
c. Lost World
Stories of strange and exotic places lost in time or tucked away in remote locations fall into this category.
d. Monarchy
Neither presidents nor dictators will ever usurp the role royalty plays in literature. Kings, princesses, and conspiring dukes are still as popular now as they ever were.
e. Quest
Many of the tales of King Arthur and his knights follow the form of the quest story. The hero is searching for something important to him and the story is about his adventures along the way and his eventual success.
f. Swash-Buckler
Swash-Bucklers take a variety of forms but their main common characteristic is the idealisation of courage, audacity, irresponsibility, and swank.
7. Saga
A saga is a lengthy (and often leisurely) account of the adventures of an individual or even a whole family.
8. Science Fiction
A classic example of a misnomer, science fiction consists of far more fiction than science. Being purely speculative, this genre might easily be classified under fantasy, but because of its breadth, we chose to list it separately.
a. Alien
The ‘little green men’ have figured prominently in horror/thriller/sci fi stories since extraterrestrials appeared in Woking, England in H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (although Wells’s Martians were not green).
b. Futurist
Many sub-genres fall under futurist fiction, including dystopian (discussed later). We’ve listed only two.
i. Apocalyptic
Relating to the end times, whether the story agrees with the biblical accounts or not.
ii. Nuclear Warfare
Stories in this genre typically end in universal destruction.
c. Machine/Invention
Generally include the added attraction of mad scientists.
d. Psycho
Could include elements such as hypnosis, mind-altering drugs, or even alter egos, as in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
e. Space Travel
f. Time Travel
These two are occasionally used in conjunction, but are typically either/or.
9. Survival
Survival stories have always been popular--one of the first English novels, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, falls into this genre.
10. Travel
Travel stories tend to focus either on exotic places or cultures, or on interesting modes of transportation. Jules Verne’s classic, Around the World in Eighty Days, incorporates both.
a. Air Ship
A definite sub-genre owing to the many stories (such as Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois and Tom Sawyer Abroad by Mark Twain) centring around this type of travel.
b. Explorer

Unlike adventure stories, life stories focus less on the actual story and more on the people or setting of the story.
1. Animal Story
Includes stories in which an animal is either the main character or integral to the plot.
2. Cultural
This genre contains stories set in a certain ethnic location, usually in order to introduce the readers to that culture. Sometimes this genre is combined with historical fiction.
3. Didactic
Includes stories expressly designed to teach a lesson or point a moral--generally for the benefit of children.
4. Drama
This would include stories that are intended to be acted out, with or without the accompaniment of music. (Not all forms are listed.)
a. Musical
b. Opera
c. Play
d. Pantomime
5. Historic
Historical fiction also falls under this heading, if the story is not intended to convey events so much as to create a broad idea of what life was like at a certain period.
6. Hollywood
Although Hollywood has utilised many genres in its film-making career, this specific genre is restricted to films or novels about the making of motion pictures or the people who make them. This genre is surprisingly popular and is represented by well-known authors, such as Francis Scott Fitzgerald in his novel, The Last Tycoon.
7. Life
The author was unable to find a more specific name for this genre, which includes an extremely broad range of story types. Some representatives are The Moffats (Eleanor Estes), Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), and How Green Was My Valley (Richard Llewellyn). These stories chronicle the life and daily experiences of an individual or group of individuals. Common themes are growing up, family and friend relationships, poverty versus riches, and a personal worldview.
a. Coming of Age
b. Family
c. School
8. Love Story
Love and marriage are such popular themes that they figure in almost every type of story, but so numerous are stories whose sole purpose is to tell about people falling in love that an entire genre is allocated to them.

Authors often take an idea or belief and embody it in a fictional story. The story can be enjoyed either for its own sake or for the ideas presented in it. Many of the most well-known (though not necessarily the most popular) novels are philosophical works.
1. Comedy/Tragedy These two types of fiction are surprisingly similar, both aimed mainly at the reader’s emotions, and often intended to influence his ideas through the medium of his feelings.
a. Comedy
Almost all stories contain some humour, but comedic stories capitalise on laughter and are almost always popular.
i. Black Comedy
Generally gives a sardonic twist to themes not particularly funny.
ii. Humour
The simple ‘make ‘em laugh’ stories: P. G. Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome are notable humorous authors.
iii. Nonsense
Though occasionally philosophical, nonsense more commonly falls into the category of pure mental experiment. Nonsense authors have few aims besides simply amusing themselves and their readers with the odd things they think up.
iv. Parody
A delicate art form, parody pokes fun at a recognised institution, individual, book, etc.; often through mimicry.
v. Satire
Jonathon Swift, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray are among the more famous writers of satire, making fun of the hypocrisies and social ills of their day in an effort to bring about reform.
vi. Slapstick
More commonly a film genre, slapstick is humour on the lowest level of human intelligence--but when done well, it can be quite funny.
b. Tragedy
Sometimes even more influential than comedy, tragedy is surprisingly enjoyable in familiar examples such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
2. Dystopian
Far more common than utopian literature (which is generally non-fictional, as there are few problems or conflicts involved), dystopian fiction presents a seemingly-perfect environment which, as the story progresses, is revealed to be less than ideal. Dystopian fiction, as in George Orwell’s 1984, is characterised by repressive government, anti-individuality, and a futuristic setting.
3. Epic
A traditional epic is a story written in heroic meter and which spans twelve books. Few traditional epics have been written, but the term has become descriptive of books such as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables or Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace--books which encompass broad and universal subjects.
4. Political
H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and many other authors used their books to promote their political views.
5. Social Commentary
Many of Dickens’s novels fall into this category, as he analyzed broad slices of social strata in his writing.

Thrillers differ from pure adventure novels in that thrillers have few objects other than that of providing an adrenaline rush. Plot, characters, and even setting are of secondary importance. Some adventure genres fall into the thriller category if their sensational aspect is emphasized more than their storylines.
1. Action
a. Gangster
Especially popular as radio serials in the 1930s and 40s, gangster stories are usually set in New York City or Chicago. b. Nazi
c. Spy
Both genres have been discussed already and, unfortunately, both tend to lean more towards the sensational than towards the solid story. 2. Ghost
Hamlet’s father’s ghost, Julius Caesar’s ghost, Banquo’s ghost, Marley’s ghost--all literary spooks who have achieved legendary status. Ghosts seem to haunt the pages of classic literature in uncanny fashion. They always provide a thrill, which is perhaps why they are not always unwelcome--at least to the reader.
3. Horror
Fiction that capitalises on the hair-raising factor certainly does create thrills and, though the author is not among their number, there are many avid readers of horror.
a. Apocalypse
b. Curse of the Pharaoh
Popular after the discovery of the Egyptian tombs, ‘curse’ literature soon incorporated imprecations of long-deceased monarchs of other ancient civilisations as well.
c. Dream
Dream fiction, being erratic, tends to be more unsettling than frightening.
d. Gothic
Popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, gothic fiction incorporates both fanciful and realistic elements. Some of its more notable elements are family curses, secret passages, and swooning heroines (and, on occasion, heroes!!).
e. Insane
One of Edgar Allen Poe’s favourite genres, insane or psycho horror plays on the public’s fear of maniacs. The Fall of the House of Usher and The Telltale Heart are two of Poe’s insanity stories.
f. Monster/Mummy
g. Murder/Suicide Mystery
h. Sci Fi Horror
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written as a horror story but is now considered one of the first science fictions. ‘Sci fi’ can fall into many different groups depending on the author’s main aim: whether it be, as in Mary Shelley’s case, to simply frighten the reader; out of a genuine love of science (Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth); mere mental experimentation (H. G. Wells, The Time Machine); or simply a desire for a good story (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World).

Much as the author dislikes to end an article on an unpleasant note, alphabetical order dictates thus. Here, then, we close our study of genre and story classification. While no story is likely to fall under one single genre or sub-genre, the elements that characterise certain types of stories are important to learn in order for the aspiring author to either incorporate or intentionally diverge from them in his own writing. -A.P ♔

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And the Moral of THAT Is. . .

Moral tone isn’t what the story comes out and says—Aesop’s fables end with morals, which are something rather different and which we will not go into here. Both fiction and non-fiction have moral tone, but how to recognise and analyse it is quite a study.

By analysing the moral tone of a book, a reader or critic comes closest to actually getting into the author’s head. This is because moral tone is what the author actually feels about his story—not necessarily what he is trying to get across to his readers, but what he actually thinks about the world and the things he makes happen in his story. So, moral tone is very personal. It is what we commonly call, in modern and post-modern times, a ‘worldview.’

No matter how well or poorly you write, you cannot keep your worldview out of your book. That is why a Christian author will always write Christian books. This sounds odd—we think perhaps that some Christian authors are hard to tell from the non-Christian ones. It is true that many of these authors write about the same things as the others. It is very true that sometimes these authors put un-Christian things in their books. That, too, is part of their worldview. Some Christians do not believe that these things are un-Christian, or some believe that it is all right to compromise in order to write a ‘good’ book. But there are always little things—little things that the hero believes are wrong, little things that the author has taken for granted—that come through the story. Sometimes they are well-hidden. Sometimes we can’t find them. But sometimes we can.

Take a common fictional example: Hero is in tight pinch. Villain (enemy soldier) is about to find out that Hero is enemy. Villain asks Hero what Hero’s name is. Hero lies.

This is a very stereo-typed example. It is never written quite as plainly as we have written it above. The author will use certain tools to make the hero get to this point, and the lie will often be in the dialogue. Generally, the author will not remind you that his hero just lied. Oftentimes, the reader will accept the lie of the hero, because he is used to this happening in books. The author will not usually tell you whether the lie was right or wrong. He leaves it to the reader, because, like most authors, he feels that this event is necessary, but he is not ready to say whether it was good or bad.

The reader is left to think worse of the hero if he chooses.

(Note: Although the nature of this article does not enable us to be entirely objective, we do not offer an opinion on this question.)

It would appear that we cannot know if the author thought the lie right, or if he thought it wrong. This is not so. We often can tell, if we look very carefully. We can assume that the author has not preached a sermon here or elsewhere about the sin of lying (authors of fiction should avoid preaching sermons). But we can analyse his own view of this lie by other elements in the story.

We might first summarise the hero. What kind of hero is he? Is he somebody who is intended to be Practically Perfect in Every Way? Is he an anti-hero who has already done quite a few objectionable things? Does the author bring any consequences upon the hero because of this lie? Does the author studiously avoid the subject of lying for the rest of the story?

By answering these questions, we can often come logically to an idea of the author’s own view of the matter.

Sometimes the author will make the hero justify his actions. Generally, the author is trying to justify his actions, too. But sometimes the hero is intended to be justifying his actions because he feels guilty. We can often identify this by whether the hero ends up being punished, or telling the truth later, or admitting in the end he was wrong.

It quite often happens that we, as readers, overlook wrong things because it seems they should happen or must happen to save the heroine, or because we grow accustomed to them. Hollywood, a genre we include in fiction, though which does not come anywhere near to literature, likes us to grow accustomed to things.

Say, for example, the hero cheats the villain in a duel. This is against all the rules of chivalry, but we accept it because the villain is stupid and the hero is smart; the villain is bad and the hero is good (or at least, was). We may even justify it with petty excuses, such as ‘It was a battle of wits, and the villain was stupid.’ But of course, good heroes are not supposed to value wits above honour—decidedly un-English.

(Note: We decline to state which Hollywood production in particular was used in the above example. )

We must watch out especially for the things we justify. It is often because we truly think them wrong—however, it is sometimes because someone else thinks they are. There are, sadly, many books—children’s, adult’s, fiction, non-fiction—that have faulty moral tone. Many children’s authors in the modern and post-modern era revolted against the preachy boredom of Elsie Dinsmore and What Katy Did and wrote books they believed were more enjoyable for children—and often were full of the author’s modernity. This is not to say that all of the books written in this time were bad. If we might be allowed to voice an opinion, we think a lot of them were very good—far better in style than Elsie Dinsmore. But there were always a few that one read and said, ‘My, that doesn’t sound right!’

I might mention Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl: not a badly written book, but based on the assumption that the fox can steal from the farmers because the farmers are trying to starve him in his hole. Mr. Dahl completely overlooks the fact that the farmers are trying to kill Fox because he stole from them first. –Only another example of basing our judgements on the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the characters. Since the farmers are a disagreeable lot, they are automatically the bad guys. Mr. Dahl does, however, come out and say part of what he thinks. He writes,

Suddenly Badger said,

‘Doesn’t this worry you just a tiny bit, Foxy?. . .All this. . . this stealing?’

‘My dear old furry frump,’ [Fox] said, ‘do you know any one in the whole world who wouldn’t swipe a few chickens if his children were starving to death?. . .You are far too respectable.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with being respectable,’ Badger said.

‘Look,’ said Mr. Fox, ‘[The farmers] are out to kill us. You realize that, I hope?’

‘I do, Foxy, I do indeed,’ said the gentle Badger.

‘But we’re not going to stoop to their level. We don’t want to kill them.’

(Note: Omissions made for sake of brevity.)

Now, we like Dahl immensely. He wrote some good books. He is an excellent author, but he has a few skewy notions on stealing from people who have more than you. He seems a little socialistic.

Then, of course, there are those books that seem to be simply wrong, for no apparent reason other than that the author thought he was right. There is The Space Trilogy by that fine Christian author, C. S. Lewis. Few Christians in the English-speaking world have not heard of C. S. Lewis. He is much noted for his non-fiction book Mere Christianity and for his fictional Chronicles of Narnia. However, we have objections to his over-use of classical Greek and Roman gods in his literature. And we do not mean that they simply alluded to those false gods. In the Chronicles, they are used as if they were centaurs or unicorns or some other type of mythical creature. His fictional works Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra seem to suggest that there were ‘little gods’ in the universe who rule over and in the planets—striking one as a sort of pantheism. These works, however, have their better attributes, and we only use them here for demonstration.

Yet, as we have said, sometimes the moral tone is not so obvious. It must be dug out of the story by rational thinking—and a concrete understanding of our own beliefs. There are little indicators here and there throughout. Sometimes it is the very physical themes (reappearing ideas, such as Nazis, gun fights, or spies, that are not necessarily symbolic or philosophically important to the story {although Nazis are always philosophically important}) that give the author’s worldview away. It is often, too, the light in which the author presents these physical themes.

(Note: The editors had to coin the phrase, ‘physical theme’ to distinguish these elements from the other Themes which we have written about previously.)

One could probably take a college course on Moral Tone, if there were one. Readers must realise that all literature is biased, and writers must realise that they cannot attempt to please everyone. Aesop himself reminds us that, if we make the attempt to please all, we will please no one.

We have said that we as analysing readers must have a concrete understanding of our own beliefs. This understanding is important because, if we do not possess it, the things we theoretically ought to disagree with make their way into our minds and affect the way we think—unconsciously, of course. There is also the danger that we will recognise the fallacy and know we disagree with it, and never quite understand why. In everything we read, we must be prepared to disagree with the author on one or two points. But we ought to know why we disagree. This is part of what makes a man.

In closing, there is but one thing we would like to mention. In any interpretation of an author’s book, the interpreter can easily stray from the author’s original meaning. Therefore, we must not be arrogant and presume that our judgements will always be right. Discernment must be used, but likewise, any author who allows himself to be published subjects himself to misunderstanding. A man must be careful of what he says. He must be more careful in what he suggests. But the greatest mistake, which can throw the best author into the gutter, is what he seems to suggest.

(In writing this article we too subject ourselves to the possibility of being misunderstood, and are willing to receive any objections our readers might have as to the things we have said here.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Glorious English Language ...And the Other English Language

The English language is notorious for its complexity. Unfortunately (quite possibly due to the fact that at one time English was spoken by nearly a quarter of the world’s population) the confusion is aggravated by the many forms of English in use around the globe. Probably you are familiar with one of the two principle forms spoken in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Even without pursuing the many divergences in vocabulary and syntax, the two styles vary greatly—in spelling, grammar, and even punctuation. Our readers may have noticed the preference evinced by the editors of this periodical for British style. This preference is not so much a slight to American style as it is simply a greater familiarity with (and appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of) British form. But whichever form you use, it is important to adhere to it consistently. Unfortunately, if your library consists of both books published in the States and books published in Great Britain, you may occasionally inculcate both styles in your writing. A good knowledge of the basic rules of both would preclude this possibility.

American style prints double quotation marks before and after quoted material. British style prints single marks. (“” versus ‘’.)
American style employs the confusing method of using the relative pronoun ‘that’ in a restrictive sense while ‘which,’ another relative pronoun, is used nonrestrictively and, unless in conjunction with a preposition, is always preceded by a comma. British style does not differentiate between ‘which’ and ‘that’.

In British style certain verbs take the irregular past tense and past participle form. For instance, verbs which in America would be spelled spoiled, learned, burned, or dreamed, in the UK are often spelt spoilt, learnt, burnt, and dreamt. Some verb forms that are often irregular in American are not irregular in British; e.g. fit (Am.)/ fitted (Br.) and lit (Am.)/ lighted (Br.).
The verb shall is rarely used in American style, save in a legal setting, while it is common in British style.

English spelling was first standardised by early dictionaries, such as Samuel Johnson’s. In 1828 Noah Webster published a dictionary in the United States with shortened, ‘American’ spellings for certain words. For instance, words ending in ‘or’ in American spelling, such as honor, vigor, or neighbor, end in ‘our’ in British spelling (colour, valour, etc.) Some American spellings simplify a word by dropping the ‘e’ at the end, as in ‘ax’ (properly spelt ‘axe’) and ‘program’ (programme). Directional words, though alternate spellings are accepted on either side of the Atlantic, generally take an ‘s’ at the end in British style (e.g. afterwards, forwards, backwards).
American spelling confuses the last two letters in words such as centre and theatre (Am. center, theater). American spelling also substitutes a ‘z’ for an ‘s’ in words such as organise (Am. organize). It occasionally shortens words (such as draught to draft and cheque to check).

British style optionally places the article ‘an’ before words beginning with the letter ‘h’ where the first syllable is unstressed, such as historical or horrific.

With its customary precipitation, the United States has ascribed the name one ‘billion’ to the number 1,000,000,000, while in the United Kingdom the same number is known as one ‘milliard’. One billion is properly one million millions, or 1,000,000,000,000.

In the United Kingdom and its commonwealth the reigning monarch’s title is always capitalised, as in ‘the Queen.’ Other members of the royal family also receive a capital letter at the beginning of their titles (e.g. ‘the Duke’). In the United States both forms are ignored.