Stay Tuned

When I was a kid, I spent hours in front of the TV. There were certain days I especially loved for various blocks of shows (like Thursday, Friday, or Saturday). I knew every popular show and avidly quoted from them. So when I broke a rule, a method my parents used to nudge me back toward obedience was to ground me from watching TV. Two weeks—no TV. I was practically climbing the walls at the end of those two weeks, determined never to disobey again. Ha ha. You know I eventually failed that vow.

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In my undergraduate years, I met people who grew up without a voracious TV habit. I thought they were from Mars! How could you not watch TV???

Flash forward 150 years. I have a TV. But I turn it on maybe a couple of times a week—if that much. Scandal? Haven’t seen a minute of it. Game of Thrones? Nope. My increasingly limited viewing time goes to (drumroll please)

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YouTube, Netflix, and other online sites.

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Thanks to the internet, I see shows that either are being tested on the audience—like the Vixen animated series at CW Seed (love it)—or programs like the ones produced by Pemberley Digital, Epic Robot TV, and others. Shows I can watch whenever I get ready. I’m particularly partial to modern adaptations of classic books. Like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Project Dashwood, The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy, Frankenstein, MD, and Emma Approved. Episodes range from three to seven minutes in length—great for days when I’m pressed for time, but still need a quick break now and then.

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Vixen at CW Seed

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

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Project Dashwood

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Emma Approved

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The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy

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Frankenstein, MD

This is not an attempt at proselytizing. These quirky shows might not be your cup of tea. And believe it or not I have nothing against the shows I mentioned in the first paragraph. But my commitments away from home usually mean that I miss regularly broadcast shows and either have to catch up online or binge through Netflix. I could DVR, sure. Or I could keeping doing what I’ve done in the past: forget to DVR. You see now why I usually skip the show altogether and instead go off to meet a friend at a nearby tea shop. Another alternate activity, one I choose more often, is reading a book. I love fertilizing my imagination through the written word.

That reminds me, Fauquetmichel, you just won yourself a copy of The Merchant of Nevra Coil by Charles Yallowitz. (Click here for last week’s book release announcement if you need more context.) Please comment below to confirm. Thanks for commenting!

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What about you? How have your entertainment choices changed over the years?

In case you’re wondering, a couple of shows tempt me toward TV this fall: Agents of Shield (one of two shows I watched last season) and Heroes Reborn. I also am very tempted to binge on The Flash through Netflix. We’ll see if I wind up doing that.

Vixen image from blastr.com. Pemberley Digital image, The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy, and cast of Emma Approved from pinterest. YouTube logo from handy-tests.net. Netflix logo from businessinsider.com. Daniel Vincent Gordh as Darcy and Ashley Clements as Lizzie of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries from literarytraveler.com. Anna Lore of Frankenstein, MD from Facebook.com. Television from clker.com.

Constructive or Destructive?

Charles Yallowitz kindly tagged me for the first post challenge. (You can read his first post by clicking on the preceding words.) But since I was too lazy to think about who to tag or even to search through the files for my post, I’m going with this post instead. Thanks anyway, Charles.

A few days ago, my sister-in-law and I watched one of those reality shows—Four Weddings (which always makes me think of the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral). On this show, four brides-to-be agree to attend the wedding of each of her fellow brides and critique it based on a point system. The highest scoring bride gains a dream honeymoon.

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Well, you can see the conflict already. Since each bride vies for the honeymoon package, of course she’ll sabotage the others by voting down perfectly reasonable choices. And though you’ll hear comments like, “Oh, I LOVED that she had a bacon bar at her reception! LOVED her gown—soooooo beautiful,” when asked to vote on the overall experience (with 10 as the maximum), the critiquing bride-to-be will say, “I gave her a 5 out of 10, because she had an outdoor wedding, and I hate the outdoors.”

I got angry while watching the episode, because the person who scored everyone else the lowest and was generally the most caustic won the honeymoon. Guess her tactical maneuvering paid off.

Ugh. This show gave me flashbacks to some of my undergraduate writing workshops where we were supposed to critique each other’s work. The professor was the editor-in-chief of the campus literary magazine. Some students inclined toward toadyism were blistering in their critiques. “Insipid,” “dull,” “terrible dialogue”—you name it, I’ve heard it. Thanks to that experience, when I graduated, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to write again. Amazingly, I continued, but not right away.

So you can imagine my trepidation upon entering a graduate school writing program. I don’t claim to be a masochist. But I can understand someone thinking I have that tendency, since workshops are par for the course in the program.

Recently, three people called my attention to this Buzzfeed article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/shannonreed/jane-austen-receives-feedback-from-tim-a-guy-in-her-mfa-work#.ae0XKlORe

Though humorous, this post encapsulates my belief about workshops when I signed up for the program. I dreaded getting this kind of feedback when I attended my first workshop. To my relief, however, rules were given about the constructive criticism expected. One of the rules made a huge impression on me (and I’m paraphrasing it here): “The goal is to help the person to be excited about diving back into the piece after it is critiqued.”

To foster this, everyone had to comment on what was good about the piece before any comments of a constructively critical nature could be made. This was a nice way to build up an author. Perhaps that’s why many of the published debut books I’ve seen from graduates of the program were books started during the program. Now, that says something about the power of words to build someone up instead of words to tear someone down.

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Yes, there’s value to constructive criticism. Posting caustic comments, however, has become a sport on Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, and other places. Many people are angry for various reasons, and seem to delight in tearing someone else down with their words. Words that blister say more about the speaker than they do about the person targeted. If we have to rip someone apart to get ahead or gain attention, what do we really gain in the long run?

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Bridal bouquet from home.adelphi.edu. Thin skin meme from memecenter.com. Mother Teresa quote from sawdustcityllc.com.

Every Dad Has His Day: Fiction’s Father Figures

016Here in the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday. (Happy Father’s Day again, Dad! And I hope all of you other dads had a good one too.) Though the day has passed, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s a list of cool dads or surrogate dads in fiction. This list is by no means exhaustive. I don’t have enough room to list every great dad in the history of fiction books, shows, or movies. Most of these are characters of recent vintage. So please do not yell at me for leaving out an era. I wanted to include dads from various media and eras. While they aren’t perfect by any means, they are beloved. To avoid too many spoilers, I listed their names, rather than elaborate on why most of them made this list. Got a favorite? Who would you add to the list?

Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (played by Gary Oldman in the movies)
Arthur Weasley, father of Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Percy, Bill, and Charlie in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Mark Williams in the movies)
Atticus Finch, father of Jem (not seen below) and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (played by Gregory Peck in the film)

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Hans Hubermann, surrogate father of Liesel, in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (played by Geoffrey Rush in the film)
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes in Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). Even a supervillain can grow to love a child.
Eduardo Perez (El Macho) (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), father of Antonio in Despicable Me 2 (2013). He may be a villain, but he loves his son. And have you seen this dude dance? Me gusta mucho.
Tenzin (voiced by J. K. Simmons), father of Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, and Rohan (not seen below) in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014).

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King Théoden, father of Théodred; uncle and surrogate father of Éomer and Éowyn in The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (played by Bernard Hill in the 2002 and 2003 films)
Lawrence Fletcher (voiced by Richard O’Brien), father of Ferb, stepfather of in Candace and Phineas in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015).
Tonraq (voiced by James Remar), father of Korra in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014). He certainly wins a prize for being a hot dad. 🙂

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Korra with her parents, Tonraq and Senna

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Dan Povenmire), father of Vanessa in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015). Though a villain, he too is a caring dad.
Elrond, father of Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series by Tolkien
The Great Prince of the Forest (voiced by Fred Shields), surrogate dad of Bambi in Bambi (1942)

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The Abhorsen, father of Sabriel in Sabriel by Garth Nix
Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong), adoptive father of Po in Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Philip Banks (played by James Avery), father of Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley; uncle to Will in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990—1996)

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George Banks (played by Steve Martin), father of Annie in the Father of the Bride (1991)
Iroh (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu and Greg Baldwin), father of Prince Lu Ten, uncle to Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)
The Samurai Lord (voiced by Keone Young and Sab Shimono), father of Samurai Jack in Samurai Jack (2001—2004)
Ward Cleaver (played by Hugh Beaumont) father of Theodore/the Beaver and Wally in Leave It to Beaver (1957—1963)
Dr. Eli Vance (voiced by Robert Guillaume), father of Alyx, in the Half-Life games (Valve)
George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), father of Zuzu, Tommy, Pete, and Janie in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Honorable mention goes to Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), father of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, and Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer), father of Rod and Todd, in the long-running animated series, The Simpsons (1989— ).

Dads Who Seriously Need Parenting Lessons from the Dads Above
Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke and Leia in the Star Wars movies. An otter can teach this dude a thing or two.
Firelord Ozai, father of Prince Zuko and Princess Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)

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See that burn mark on Zuko (left)? Guess who gave it to him.

King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Leck, father of Bitterblue in Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms series. As creepy a dad as ever breathed.
Denethor, father of Boromir (not shown below) and Faramir in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (books and movies; in the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, Denethor was played by John Noble)

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Someone is not getting a Father’s Day card. . . .

Mac Dara, father of Cathal, in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series
Unalaq (voiced by Adrian LaTourelle), father of Desna and Eska in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014)
Lucius Malfoy, father of Draco in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Jason Isaacs in the films). Though he was a decent enough father to Draco, his unpleasantness and Death Eater status earned him a spot on this list.

If you have a minute, please enjoy this video of an otter who was voted Best Dad.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch found at searchingformymrdarcy.blogspot. Tenzin found on pinterest.com. The Great Prince of the Forest and Bambi found at fanpop.com. Denethor (John Noble) with Faramir (David Wenham) found at councilofelrond.com. Firelord Ozai and Zuko found at avatar.wikia.com. Gru and his daughters from bonclass.blogspot.com. Korra and her parents from w3rkshop.com. James Avery and Will Smith from tuneblaze.co.uk.

Viewer Fatigue

During fall quarter of my freshman year in college, I watched the soap opera, All My Children, with my friends at my dorm. Yeah, I really did. In a later quarter, I grew to resent the intrusion of an econ class that kept me from watching TV at noon. How dare the school schedule classes that cut into my soap opera viewing!

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Many years later, I find myself resenting TV for cutting into my life. How ironic for a person who usually spent her downtime in front of the tube.

Though I watched and enjoyed the two-hour season finale of Agents of Shield last week, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to watch it this week. I had spent the season having to play catch-up when a friend and I got together other every Tuesday—the night Agents appeared on TV. With that relief came another realization: I’m a bit weary of the continuing storylines of many TV dramas.

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Remember the days when TV episodes were more self-contained—a different problem or villain each week? You could elect to skip a show one week and not feel that you had to catch up on the episode you missed. Nowadays, with continuing storylines or multiple-episode arcs featuring a slow reveal of key information, if you miss a show, you’re lost the next week. You have to keep watching to get the whole picture. I watched shows like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 with strong arcs that meant you had to watch the episodes in order.

For those in charge of television programming, this is a good strategy for keeping viewers engaged. Obviously, this strategy of linking episodes worked for soap operas for so many decades.

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Over the years and even recently, friends and family highly recommended shows like Daredevil, Game of Thrones, Arrow, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Downton Abbey, Scandal, and many other critically acclaimed, entertaining shows that I have yet to watch though they have huge fan bases. Believe me, I’m not doubting the quality of these shows or anyone’s right to watch them. It’s just that now I’m tired of tuning in.

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I need a viewer vacation this summer. If I watch anything, it has to be a one-shot deal—something that begins, then ends with no messy arcs to follow.

I might binge on Downton Abbey, Flash, and Arrow at some point in life. (Thank you, Netflix!) But for now, I’m reluctant to invest more weekly time in someone else’s televised world, especially if I neglect my own fictional world.

In the coming days, I’ll work on my book. When I take a break from that, I’ll seek inspiration from reading or hanging out with people or walking in nature. I desperately need to fill my senses with the sights of the great outdoors.

Today (Monday), I’m having lunch with a friend and dinner with another group of friends. On Tuesday, I’ll probably hang out with another friend. I’m not sure what the rest of the week will look like. But I plan to take this advice.

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What about you? How do you feel about shows with continuing storylines? Love them? Deplore them? Feel comforted by them?

Television from sewarental.wordpress.com. All My Children logo from blog.chron.com. The Flash logo from lyricis.fr. Scandal logo from abcallaccess.com. Agents of Shield logo hihimag.com. Daredevil logo flickeringmyth.com. Think logo from irregulartimes.com.

Suspending a Character’s Disbelief and Ours

I’ve got book winners to announce, but that will be at the end of this post. Mwahahahaha! So grab a donut and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea while I talk at you for a minute.

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Ever read a book where a character is handed a truth that would require a major paradigm shift for him or her to accept? For example, the character suddenly learns that magic or monsters really exist.

We’ve all read stories of characters who stubbornly cling to disbelief in the face of tons of evidence to the contrary. They insist that they’re dreaming or “this isn’t really happening” until they reach a plot point (at least halfway through the book) that pushes them toward belief. Or we’ve read stories where a character instantly accepts a completely world-changing viewpoint without a struggle. There are also stories where the character seems to ignore what would be totally obvious to a seven-year-old. I think of that as the Lois-Lane-can’t-see-Superman-behind-Clark-Kent’s-glasses perspective. That’s why we don’t necessarily suspend our disbelief as we read. (Or sometimes we go along for the ride because the characters are so beloved or iconic.)

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Lois, have you noticed anything unusual about Clark? No? Some reporter you are.

Here is where foreshadowing can be an author’s BFF. An author can hint at the possibility that something major is going to happen at a future point. Foreshadowing also is a reminder that things are not always what they appear to be. It provides a solid base to make a character’s suspension of disbelief seem inevitable.

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Prince Zuko of the Avatar animated series and Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Sometimes though, a rip-off-the-bandage approach works to move a story along. I can’t help thinking of two episodes of Doctor Who, series 4 (2008), starring David Tennant as the Doctor (BBC/BBC America).

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In Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, an extremely chilling 2009 Hugo award-nominated two-episode arc written by Steven Moffat, we see a little girl talking to a psychiatrist, while her anxious dad hovers in the background. Such an innocuous scene. The little girl has told the doctor—Dr. Moon—about her dreams.

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Doctor Moon (played by Colin Salmon) and the little girl (played by Eve Newton)

In her dreams, she goes to a library—a place where she feels safe. But as we watch the episodes, we realize that all is not what it seems. Later in the first episode, because of a dangerous development, Doctor Moon has to share a shocking truth with the little girl, a truth that would require a paradigm shift for her to accept. (Quote below from IMDb. **SLIGHT SPOILER.**)

Dr. Moon: What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there. People who need to be saved. The shadows are moving again. Those people are depending on you. Only you can save them. Only you.

**END SPOILER.** You can read this Wikipedia article if you want to know the plot. Or, I would suggest watching the episodes. They are extremely good.

Another example of a character having to shift from disbelief to belief comes from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone (the title depends on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on), Hagrid tells Harry the truth about Harry’s extraordinary life in this scene from the first Harry Potter movie, directed by Christopher Columbus (2001).

Rowling set the stage earlier by having weird things happen that Harry witnessed, but couldn’t explain. So when the big reveal comes, his struggle for acceptance doesn’t feel contrived.

I’m facing a similar issue in my middle grade book—a character struggling to believe something extraordinary about herself. I’ll ask you the same questions I had to answer for the character: If you were told that magic really exists, what’s the first thing you would do? What would you say or ask?

While you think about those questions, I’ll move on to the book giveaway. Thanks for you patience. If you recall, last week I had mentioned two great books: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio and Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue by Charles Yallowitz. You can find those posts here and here. Jordie and Hello Kitty wanted to be in on the reveal. You might have to enlarge the photos below if you have trouble reading the names.

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The winner of None of the Above is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

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The winner of Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue is . . .

Is . . .

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Is . . .

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Congratulations Jill! Congrats, Professor! Please comment below to confirm.

Now I will leave you with a photo I am calling, “The Five Geese of the Apocalypse.” For some reason, they were just standing there on the ledge looking out. Surveying their domain perhaps?

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Doctor Moon and the little girl from stevegoble.blogspot.com. Doctor Who, series 4, DVD cover from Wikipedia. Lois Lane and Clark Kent from goodgirlsinc.wordpress.com. Coffee and donut from wisdomwoman.com. Zuko from glogster.com. Anakin/Darth Vader from tvtropes.org.

Am I Desensitized?

Recently, I watched a bunch of movies where many people were shot or killed in some other way or beaten severely. I also finished reading an urban fantasy novel in which a reluctant werewolf was tasked with hunting and dispatching several vampires who slaughtered multiple people. Very gritty. But when I sat down to watch an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma (1996), the other night, I couldn’t get into at first. Now, I love this movie. But switching gears mentally to watch it took time. After a few tries, I was able to watch the whole movie without twitching.

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Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse with Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley

doctor_who___2005_teaser_by_mrtardis-d34dd4oWondering why? I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me preface by explaining that I once went five years without watching much television at all—only special news broadcasts (like the 9/11 coverage) and Doctor Who, a BBC show geared toward families. So its violence quotient was low. And I watched Doctor Who on DVD after the whole season was released, rather than each week. This was prior to the start of the first season of Heroes on NBC in 2006. Actually, Heroes was the first network show I watched when I decided to return to network TV watching. I binged on the first season online, having missed the shows when they first aired.

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Though I really enjoyed the show, I was shocked at the violence and gore. If you’ve seen the first season of Heroes, maybe it seems a bit tame compared to shows on HBO or Netflix. But having given up TV for years, I hadn’t realized how programming had evolved.

The fact that I was shocked may seem ironic to you when I clue you in on my history. I grew up in an area of Chicago that many deem unsafe due to gang violence. I heard gunshots many times, sometimes on holidays when people would fire guns as part of their celebration. My family wound up moving due to drive-by shootings that happened on our block.

During a visit to an aunt’s house one evening in a south suburb when I was a kid, the sound of gunfire shattered the night. My father ordered us to stay inside while he and my uncle went to investigate. Turns out a man down the street had made a serious attempt to kill his entire family. One child miraculously escaped. The police arrived along with ambulances. My family went to the hospital with the surviving child who had been grazed by a bullet.

The horror of that experience stayed with me for a long time. I couldn’t help thinking about it two months ago. While visiting my family in the Houston area, the breaking news story was the extradition of a young man accused of murdering his entire family, one of which was a five-year-old. You can find that story here. Interestingly enough, several years ago, I had heard this young man’s father, an Episcopal priest, preach at a church. Now he’d been murdered.

Psychology-Today-logoI was horrified, but the horror faded quicker than it did when I was a kid. And with my recent diet of violent movies, I have to wonder if I’ve become desensitized. The answer, according to psychological studies quoted here, here, and in an article at the Psychology Today website, is yes. You can find that 2013 article here. The study discusses the effects of violent media on the brain. The article describes this finding:

There was a significant decrease in the activation of prefrontal portions of the brain and a greater activation of the amygdala.

The amygdala is where emotions come from while the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps us concentrate. This is why I had trouble adjusting to the slower pace of Emma at first. Want to see another study on the subject? Click here for one at the Mount Sinai Hospital website.

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Please keep in mind that I am pointing the finger at myself and no one else. I know when my attitude shifts after a steady diet of one form of media. Maybe you can handle it, but I can’t after awhile. And yes, I know the difference between real-life violence and the Hollywood version of it.

Giving up TV in the early part of the century helped me get a lot of writing done. You know what? I didn’t really miss watching TV during those years. It’s funny what you get used to when you break a habit.

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Though I’m looking forward to seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I think I’ll cut back on the violent media until then. I need a dip in calmer waters.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley from Pinterest.com. Heroes cast from insidetv.ew.com. Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor from mrtardis.deviantart.com. Television clip art from clker.com. Psychology Today logo from eileenkennedymoore.com. Brain image from ladyatheist.blogspot.com.

The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk

Just to give you a head’s up: I’m postponing my third giveaway until next week. (Sorry. I won’t tell you ahead of time what this giveaway involves. Mwwwhahaha!) Since this post is already long, I’ll post again this weekend to let you know who won the gift card and a preorder of Kate Sparkes’s book, Torn. Now, on with our regularly scheduled broadcast. . . .

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The other day, my friend Sharon told me about a TED Talk by writer/director Andrew Stanton. Since I was familiar with his Pixar movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3; A Bug’s Life; Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and others), I was eager to hear what tips he had for telling great stories. (I didn’t see John Carter, the sci-fi film he co-wrote and directed [2012], though I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

The TED Talk in question is below. There is, however, a small amount of graphic language early on. Just want to warn anyone who might be offended.

Because of its rich tapestry of information, this is one of my favorite talks. Here are some of the storytelling tips Stanton mentioned that really resonated with me:

• Make me care.
• Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.
• Invoke wonder.
• Capture a truth from your experience.

There were many other points. Because of that inspiring talk, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the points Stanton discussed. I’m calling this series the Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. I’m excited to have such a stellar line up of bloggers and authors coming to the blog in the next few weeks to share their thoughts. From time to time, however, I will break away from the series with a post or two about a giveaway. But don’t worry. I’ll get right back to the series.

Today, I’m leading off with Stanton’s first point—make me care. It captured my attention, because it is the number one reason why I usually stop reading a book or watching a film—I simply didn’t care enough.

Make me care. In grad school, my advisors told me the same thing over and over and over again: “You have to make me care about this story.” Yet forging a heart connection with a reader is tricky to do. Tricky, but not impossible. Think of the last story you really connected with. We connect when we can relate to a character’s struggles or hopes.

If you watched Stanton’s TED Talk, you saw a scene from Finding Nemo that absolutely tugs at the heartstrings. The scene below is the beginning of that scene.

We connect as we think about the losses in our own lives. Though Stanton made a different point when showing the scene, I can’t help thinking of how the filmmakers caused me to care without making me feel manipulated.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverI also think of a book I’ve read twice now: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. In the opener, Black describes a glass coffin that is pivotal to the main character’s story. (You learn that fact on the book jacket.)

It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up. (1)

Black made me care, because the unusual image of a boy in a glass coffin stirred my curiosity and reminded me of fairy tales I love. But most of all, I cared because Black showed me what Hazel was interested in right off the bat. I cared, because Hazel cared.

Another way Black made me care is through her obvious concern for her characters—good, bad, or in between. She cared enough to show them at their strongest or most vulnerable without making a judgment call either way. I can’t help contrasting her efforts to the number of times I’ve heard an author admit to disliking a certain character in his/her own book—usually the antagonist. An author’s dislike of his/her character is always a red flag for me. I need to care even about the most morally repugnant individual in a story. If I don’t, I’ll head for the exit quickly.

If you saw the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon, you’re familiar with this dude:

zuko

Prince Zuko

Avatar-Episodes-Book-1-Water-300x300Slight spoilers in this paragraph to follow. (Be warned.) Throughout the first book of the series—Water—Zuko is clearly working against the heroes. Though he has his own agenda, I couldn’t help caring about him, because the writers (including series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) made him a well-rounded character. They showed the physical and emotional wounds motivating his actions. They also gave him an antagonist. I cared, because they cared.

If we want to make readers care about our work, we need to love our characters. We don’t have to approve of their actions, particularly the bone-headed ones. But we definitely need to understand why they do what they do. Caring about them is what makes a story great.

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Andrew Stanton from zimbio. Zuko from earnthis.net. Avatar book 1 DVD cover from avatarthelastairbenderonline.com.