May 31, 2012

Being Awesome

Yesterday I came across this article by Jeff Goins advising people to put aside their excuses and go out there and be awesome.

I loved the article. It puts a lot of my own feelings on the subject of self confidence and goal-setting into a powerful and direct format. It also got me thinking about the importance of being awesome instead of good, successful, or even great.

Now I'm not talking about simply not settling for certain levels of success. I'm talking about how we perceive ourselves.

For many people, at least in Ireland, the first time our efforts are labelled as "good" or "great" is when we are graded on spelling tests in school. They're definitions others apply to us based on how they judge us. And there's nothing really wrong with that. We're judged all through our lives, by people of varying degrees of importance to our goals.

Success, meanwhile, is usually a more personal acknowledgement. If we see the results of our efforts and are pleased with them, we are successful. But still, we often view success as something to be gained so we can compare ourselves to others. We want the flashier car. The bigger office. The nicer suit. The better-selling book.

Awesome, on the other hand, is something altogether different. You rarely, if ever, see someone saying "Yeah, that car is awesome, but that other car is so much more awesome!" It's just not a commonly comparitive term. Awesome is a singular state of being. Once something is awesome, that's all it needs. It stands alone. And once you are awesome, you too will stand alone, and no longer need to compare yourself to others for validation.

The thing is, awesome is so much more than a description. It's a feeling. Compare it to the difference between a woman being told she's attractive, and that same woman feeling sexy. All the clothes, make-up, hairdos, and compliments won't come close to making her feel as good as she feels when she feels sexy. Awesome is the same. It's not something that describes you. It's something you feel inside, something you are.

The best part is, all of us can feel this way. Get a tough chapter finished? That's awesome. Give up smoking? That's awesome. Help out a friend? That's awesome. Acknowledge every victory along the way to reaching your goals. Give yourself time to celebrate every achievement, then move on to the next challenge primed to take it in hand. If you get knocked down, get back up and keep going, and feel awesome for the fact you didn't give up.

Go out there and be awesome.

May 29, 2012

Values Dissonance

There are times when a writer has to portray a set of values that differ from their own. Whether writing in an historical setting, or another culture, authors must sometimes show the sides to people we would often like to forget. There are times that the worst of people has to come through on the pages. And worse, the characters have to believe it's the right way to behave.

It's a challenge for any author to stomach the things that make their blood boil. Even more to do it in a way that keeps the reader able to keep going. Racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism, class segregation.

It's also important that these things be shown and laid bare. The dark things must be exposed to the light.

But it's easy to make the bad guy a racist or a chauvinist pig. You know your hero will overcome them in the end, so you can make them as bad as you like, safe in the knowledge that your reader is meant to hate them and they'll get their comeuppance.

The really hard stuff is presenting a character with morals and ideals so counter to your own that you couldn't stand to be in the same room as them, and still make them into a likeable character who your reader will root for. If you'd ask me a few years ago whether it could be done, I'd have said no. I may have even said it shouldn't be done. The younger me would have insisted that such awful values should be kept to the villains.

These days I'm not so sure. I think showing a reader a character they're drawn to, someone they feel for and root for, but who is burdened with traits that don't just make them flawed, but downright horrible by our standards, can have a purpose. As a society, we're very quick to judge, and decide we're better than the people who don't agree with us. I think it's important to see things from the perspective of other cultures, whether contemporary or in other historical periods. It's through that understanding that we gain a broader understanding of who we are.

I've mentioned it before, but one of the greatest recent examples I've seen is HBO's series Rome. From the start, we are introduced to characters who own slaves, commit adultery, torture people, and kill without mercy. But as the series goes on, we're exposed to the kinder, more noble sides of these characters, as well as their harder, darker sides. We see honour on a more personal level than duty to a flag or a nation. And through that honour, that decency within certain circles, despite the brutality, we see kindness, a way to empathise. And before you know it, you're rooting for a man who'll bash in another man's head over a woman, or cheering when a woman who has ordered another woman's rape and torture stands her ground against someone with the potential to be worse than her.

I'm not saying this behaviour is immediately forgiveable, rather that it's important for an audience to be willing to take the dark and noble sides of a character together, and face those desires in themselves. Likewise, it's important for an author to have the strength to take such a risk. One day, I hope to be good enough to manage something like that.

May 28, 2012

New Blogging Schedule

I've been re-prioritising some things lately, and I've decided that I need to cut back a little on my blogging. Not majorly, it's just that I want to get the best use of my time and also make sure that I'm focusing on quality over quantity.

So I'm changing my blog days to Tuesday and Thursday. This gives me a little more freedom to find good topics to discuss and falls in line better with my other committments. However, I will also add extra posts from time to time, particularly as my first novel's release draws closer.

So stay tuned. I'm not going anywhere, just making sure I can still keep this up without getting over-worked or burned out.

May 25, 2012

Myths and Fairy Tales

When I was growing up, I was drawn to mythology. I would read everything I could get my hands on. I would lose myself in stories of heroes, magic and monsters, letting myself believe, just for a little while, that these stories were true.

Of all the tales of myth that I read as a child, my favourites were always those of Greek Mythology. From Heracles' Twelve Labours to the invincible Achilles or how Theseus slew the minotaur, these were some of the first truly larger than life heroes I read about. They were doing things you only saw in superhero movies or cartoons, and their stories were thousands of years old. From these I discovered film adaptations like Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts, two of my favourite classic movies. Even if Medusa gave me nightmares...

I guess, especially as I grew older and most people my age grew out of such simple stories, I felt somehow vindicated in my continuing love for epic heroism and adventure. After all, if one of the earliest civilisations in the world shared these stories and loved them, why shouldn't I still be able to indulge in cartoons and comic books if I wanted?

Now, as a writer, I feel blessed to have been exposed to these stories from such a young age. I'm certain they have influenced my writing in terms of the kinds of stories I tell, and had a major impact on the kinds of books and movies I enjoy today. Yes, the heroic values of ancient myth were quite different from the traits we consider noble today, but all myths are a product of their time, always changing to reflect shifting attitudes. I think that's my favourite thing about myth. It's always about the audience. The story has to adapt, to become this organic thing that changes and evolves to better be accepted by modern audiences. I mean, what is a story that never gets heard?

Have old myths and fairy takes had an influence on you? Would you care to share any of your favourite stories?

May 23, 2012

Hero's Journey Challenge: Bridget Jones' Diary

Here we are at the end of my Hero's Journey Challenge with by analysis of Bridget Jones' Diary. This probably isn't the kind of movie most people would think of when imagining Jospeh Campbell's Monomyth in action, but like the other examples I've dealt with, it has been remarkably easy to apply the model.

Naturally, spoilers follow. And there's some swearing in a quote from the movie.

May 18, 2012

Hero's Journey Challenge: Last of the Mohicans

We come to the second last of my titles for this challenge, Last of the Mohicans.

Spoilers follow.

May 16, 2012

The Hero's Journey: Brazil

We move on today to what I anticipated being the most difficult movie in my Hero's Journey Challenge, Terry Gilliam's 1985 black comedy, Brazil.

As always, spoilers follow.

May 14, 2012

Hero's Journey Schedule

Turns out finding a copy of Outsiders has been difficult. I'm still holding out hope someone has a copy they don't mind loaning me.

In any case, I'm able to carry on with at least the other three remaining titled on my list. Here's the schedule for the posts:

Wednesday: Brazil

Friday: Last of the Mohicans

Then the following week, if I can see it in time, I'll do Outsiders on the Monday, leaving Bridget Jones' Diary for the Wednesday.

It's been a fun challenge so far. I'm looking forward to seeing how I do with the rest of these movies.

May 11, 2012

A Day Off

I know I said I wanted to get my Hero's Journey blog posts done in two weeks, but I've been spending some time re-prioritising my time and figured I needed a day off.

So along those lines, let's talk about days off. How often do you give yourself a day to just relax? What's your favourite way to unwind? How do you deal with that niggling voice in your head going "You should be working?"

May 9, 2012

Hero's Journey Challenge: Soylent Green

For the second of my challenges, I've got the dystopian classic, Soylent Green. I'm ashamed to admit I haven't seen this until now.

Spoilers follow, but I'm pretty sure everyone in the world knows this movie's big reveal.

May 7, 2012

Hero's Journey Challenge: Run Fatboy Run

Day one of my Hero's Journey Challenge! I figured I'd start with what I consider the easiest title on my list. Run Fatboy Run might not be about larger than life heroes or epic battles, but I love it, and it's actually a pretty perfect example of the Hero's Journey.

Obviously spoilers follow for those who haven't seen the movie.

May 4, 2012

Hero's Journey Challenge List

The suggestions are in for my Hero's Journey Challenge. I got a few responses, but I've added a couple of my own to bring the number up to six titles. My goal is to spend the next two weeks trying to apply the Hero's Journey model to these movies. Hopefully I can get my hands on copies of the ones I haven't seen yet.

So here is the list:

  • Brazil 
  • Outsiders
  • Last of the Mohicans
  • Soylent Green
  • Run, Fatboy, Run
  • Bridget Jones' Diary
Wish me luck!

May 2, 2012


An aristeia is an element of storytelling which originates from classical works such as the Iliad. It is a scene in which a specific hero dominates the action, showing their prowess and typically defeating every enemy in their path.

I first learned the term while in school and as soon as I heard the description, the first thing that came to mind was Luke Skywalker in the Death Star trench. When he hears Obi Wan's voice, turns off his targetting computer, and the music changes to Luke's theme, that's the moment when the audience knows that Luke is going to win. Not when Han returns to stop Vader from killing him. Not when he fires. Luke's triumph is secure from the moment he pushes that button.

Likewise, once a hero starts their aristeia, the audience knows in their heart that the battle will be won, it's just a matter of finding out how.

Here are some examples of aristeia in recent movies:

  • Thor: The first battle with the frost giants, also later when Thor battles the Destroyer.
  • Batman Begins: Pretty much everything from the moment Bruce Wayne suits up as Batman to save Gotham at the end.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Po's fight with Tai Lung.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: The scene where Will and Elizabeth are married by Barbosa while all three fight off Davy Jones' men.
Of course, not all moments of aristeia result in final victory. Showing the hero at their finest moment, only to cut them down or have them fail in the end can have a powerful effect. The expectation of victory countered with inevitable defeat. Most tragedies feature a moment like this near their climax.

The aristeia has been my favourite moment of a story even since before I knew the term existed. It's the emotional payoff the audience gets for seeing the hero struggle. After everything that's been done to them, everything they've had to overcome, this is the moment when they get to shine. Not every story will necessarily feature one, and not every airsteia will happen during the story's climax. I don't think every story even benefits from having one, but for those that do, nothing quite matches the thrill of seeing the hero at their finest.

Do you have any other examples of airsteia? What are some of your favourites?

Speaking of heroes, don't forget you have until Friday to send me suggestions for my Hero's Journey Challenge!