Sunday, February 26, 2017

Character Types: The Pessimistic Mentor

I recently added a new type of post to my blog: character types! So far, it seems to be a success. Last month, I wrote about The Best-Friend-Turned-Evil-Villain (aka. BFTEV). Another one of my favorite character types is the Pessimistic Mentor. You know the one. They’re typically condescending and will point out every single way the heroes fail.

Some examples of the Pessimistic Mentor include Puddleglum (The Silver Chair), Hamish (The Hunger Games), Han Solo (The Force Awakens), and Hub (Secondhand Lions). But there’s more to the Pessimistic Mentors than just being down all the time. In fact, they tend to have some admirable qualities.

They’re straightforward.

They tell things the way they are. If they think the protagonist is going to die or at the very least be mortally wounded, they’ll tell the protagonist. After all, what else would they do? No sugarcoating involved here.

I really like the scene when Jill and Eustace first talk to Puddleglum, and they can’t tell if he wants to come on their adventure or not because he sounds so pessimistic about their prospects of success:

“Now a job like this—a journey up north just as winter’s beginning looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of ruined city no one has ever seen—will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.”

Pessimistic Mentors tend to be honest.

Because they tend to be so blunt about the truth, it means more. If they tell the protagonist there’s a 99% chance of death, the protagonist will take EXTRA caution (hopefully). If they praise the protagonist for something, it may come as a surprise, but it means so, so much.

Of course, there are exceptions. Hamish isn’t exactly honest. Not if you consider he lied to Katniss for basically the whole of Catching Fire.

They’re stubborn as a rock.

Chances are, if a character ever lives long enough to be a mentor, he or she is probably going to be set in his or her beliefs. This character is no exception. When it comes to cheering them up, forget it.

But they tend to teach the protagonist from lessons they learned themselves.

Walter helped teach his great-uncles that there’s more to life than just hording wealth. Sometimes you have to experience life. Not that it got rid of Hub’s crazy nature.

Walter: “Why not see what he’s selling? …what’s the good of having all that money if you’re never gonna spend it?”
Hub: “Well. “We’ll see what the man’s sellin’. Then we’ll shoot him.”

Okay, that… works?

Pessimistic Mentors tend to have interesting backstories.

Which may be why they’re so stubborn.

Throughout the film, Secondhand Lions, Garth tells Walter Hub’s story. But Hub also sums it up pretty well in a fight with some rowdy teenagers:

“I’m Hub McCann. I’ve fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I’ve seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I’ve won and lost a dozen fortunes, killed many men and loved only one woman with a passion a flea like you could never begin to understand. That’s who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!”

Although the Pessimistic Mentor may not develop much as a character in the current narrative, he or she might have already done so in the past. Yet even for the stubborn one’s, there’s room for growth. Sometimes the protagonist may surprise them.

They’re loyal to a point.

Even though they know the situation may be helpless, they will stand with the protagonist to the end. Hamish advised Katniss when he had to as her mentor, then stood up with her against the capital as her friend. Hub and his brother Garth took their great-nephew under their wing when his own mother didn’t want him. Han Solo still loved his son despite everything that happened.

They get some of the best lines.

Whether it’s a funny or serious, mentors tend to get some of the most memorable lines.
In The Force Awakens, Han Solo knows a lot more about the Force than he used to.

Finn: “Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force.”
Han: “That’s not how the Force works!”

Thank you, Han. I’m sure we’re going to be hearing that line a lot now…

Then you have Puddleglum who stands up to the Lady of the Green Kirtle, even though his own mind is convinced she’s telling the truth:

“I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

There are so many more lines I could reference, but I won’t here for the sake of conserving space.

Sure, the Pessimistic Mentor can be as annoying as an alarm clock, but at least they’re consistent. They may be as touchy-feely as a cactus, but at least you know where they stand.


Film references: The Force Awakens and Secondhand Lions

Literary references: C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair and Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy.

Who is your favorite Pessimistic Mentor? What’s your favorite quality or line by him or her? What type of fictional character do you want to read about next—That Guy Who Just Won’t Die, The Humble Heroes, or somebody else?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Coffee Drinker's Guide to Writing

If tea is a sophisticated drink for calm and practical people, then coffee is tea’s crazy second cousin for the passionate and the caffeine-driven. Okay, so anybody can drink coffee, but let’s face it, if you’re a writer and you enjoy coffee, then there’s a 79% chance you’re enthusiastic. Or you’re just not a morning person. Take your pick.

But how, might you ask, can a tea drinker like coffee just as much? On the contrary, my friend, I… I have no idea. I just do.

My evolution of liking coffee is a strange story. Back when I was a kid, I used to hang out with my writing club at Starbucks where we’d buy Frappuccinos, and for years, I wouldn’t drink anything other than sugar-slathered drinks. Then one year, my friend Sarah came to visit me in Europe, and we took a trip down to Italy where I tried my first sugar-infused cappuccino. It was marvelous. Then I started drinking cappuccinos on a regular basis, without sugar. Then I went straight for strong, black coffee.

Yes, I’m a bizarre creature. Whoever said writers were supposed to be normal? I still drink cappuccinos. In fact, they’re my caffeine drink of choice, though I haven’t been able to find a decent one since leaving in Italy. (Oh, the good old days!)

Whether you’re like me or not—if you’re a writer who likes coffee, this post is for you!

Coffee comes in many, many varieties.

From chocolate-covered coffee beans and espressos to cappuccinos and iced lattes, there are plenty of coffees to enjoy on the go or at a leisurely pace. Personally, I like chocolate covered coffee beans for road trips, and they’re great for those dull times when your imagination just needs a boost. Road trips can be great for reading if you’re not the driver, and they can be great for world-building or character development whoever you are! When it comes to sitting and having a writing-related discussion, I like a good cappuccino. If I need some serious motivation, I’ll switch to strong black coffee.

It’s all based off personal preferences, but there’s a coffee for nearly any occasional. There’s even decaf, but…

The caffeine in coffee is a great motivator.

It comes from a bean, so coffee has to be so much better for you than energy drinks.  Besides, it has so many uses!

Feeling groggy because it’s morning and you can’t quite wake up enough to think let alone write? Have a cup of coffee. Staying up late writing for NaNoWriMo or some other project and you need the energy? Drink coffee!

Just the smell of coffee is inspirational.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly brewed coffee, filling the room and promising to awaken your senses. Can we get a coffee-scented candle already? Or coffee-scented perfume? Or maybe I just need to make more coffee!

Need I say more?

Coffee stains make your stories look 1000x more awesome.

Let’s face it. If you’re like me, and printing out your story (or handwriting it) helps you out, then there’s a 75% chance it’s going to come in contact with your drink of choice. And coffee stains are almost a given. But come on. They’re not a hindrance. They’re a badge of dedication and hard work. They say, “Look! On this page, I needed caffeine, and I had caffeine, and oh, my goodness, it’s such a relief to see something other than red ink drowning my words.”

Besides, if you’re finished with your pristine, perfect new draft manuscript, you can douse it with coffee instead of burning it. After all, coffee smells good! But whatever you do, don’t douse it with coffee and then burn it. The smell of burnt coffee is not so inspirational.

Drinking coffee is a good excuse to collect a bunch of writerly or geeky mugs.

Okay, so you could do this with tea as well, but I’m not writing about tea, am I? My own collection of mugs, though quite small, makes drinking coffee twice as enjoyable. Not only am I having a caffeinated drink, but I’m also getting an inspirational snippet as well. Sounds like a win-win deal to me!

Coffee is just nice, plain and simple.

Or complicated and sugary if you prefer. So don’t let anybody tell you not to drink it if they don’t like it. Everybody’s entitled to his or her opinion. So, drink ten cups of coffee like Lorelai Gilmore. Or sip a cappuccino like me. Or just, you know, enjoy a cup of coffee, however you like it, just like you do.

Then get to writing and enjoy your craft!


Let’s chat! What’s your favorite type of coffee? What’s your favorite benefit to being a coffee drinker and a writer? Did I leave anything out?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Scholarly Fangirl

College is full of memorable experiences. I remember one particular day when I was sitting in senior seminar, a prep class for graduating students in the Humanities Department, when two of my friends got into a debate about literature. While it may not sound atypical, this particular topic got heated quite quickly. One of my friends argued for the importance of teaching classical literature, like Shakespeare, and the other argued that contemporary novels, like young adult fiction, would become the new classics.

Although the debate quickly became passionate, the two made it up to each other before the end of the semester. Another of my friends even wrote a play for creative writing based off the encounter. The main problem I had while listening to it all was that I agreed with both of them. I’m a classicist in that I like sitting down with a book that challenges me intellectually. But I’m also a fangirl who enjoys books that make me laugh, cry, and want to throw the book against the wall.

Once upon a time, I didn’t like Shakespeare. He’s seen as the patriarch of English literature and the standard for most writers to ascribe too. I wondered, how can anybody live up to such a title? And how could one person have so much influence over literature while other writers are considered lesser?

Eventually, over the course of my undergraduate, I came to appreciate and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, though I still don’t consider him the greatest writer known to mankind. I even came to have favorite plays, having written a paper on As You Like It. Throughout my college career, I came to learn a lot about my reading preferences.

The intellectual in me thoroughly enjoys studying literature, especially if it’s more difficult to read. I like discussions about literary tropes and trends in styles. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started this blog—to express my thoughts on books and encourage discussions. I like to learn, to expand my mind, to grow. Reading challenging literature does just that.

When I was studying for my M.A. in English Literature, I spent a lot of time studying Middle English (think Shakespeare). A. LOT. So much so that when I decided to watch The Hollow Crown: War of the Roses for FUN. Part of the way through Henry VI, Part 1, I found that I could understand nearly everything they were saying. When I first started reading Shakespeare’s plays, I had to look up everything on SparkNotes and really analyze the text. Now I have little problem with it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have difficulties. I still have to study the plot and characters to fully grasp them. Sure, sometimes I even have to look up some of the lesser-known phrases. But I find hearing language or reading the text presents few challenges. And understanding, whether historical or linguistic, makes literature far more enjoyable.

Perhaps that’s what it means to be a master at something: overcoming learning challenges to discover how to enjoy a text.

I mean, can a scholar really enjoy studying a Hamlet with the same relish as a teenager fangirls over The Hunger Games?


Why not?

While the response towards the text may be different, there’s no rule saying that scholars can’t enjoy their work. I never would have pursued a degree in English literature if I didn’t enjoy reading it. Of course, literature often makes me think, but there are some instances when it makes me feel too, and more than just boredom. Richard III, A Modest Proposal, and The Telltale Heart made me shudder.

On the other hand, there are times when I’m tired from a long day, or a long semester, and I want to be swept away by a story instead of being encouraged to think. It’s these moments when the fangirl in me will pick up a young adult novel and connect with the characters and the story.

But that isn’t to say that I don’t learn. Sometimes a story will have a particularly interesting writing style or character development that I’ll note for my own writing. Or a story’s theme may inspire or challenge me. Or maybe a novel just moved me with every single aspect—the plot, the characters, the voice, the research, the theme—that I want to rush out and by myself a copy if I don’t already have one.

These types of books tend to be commercial instead of literary. But that isn’t to say that they don’t have literary value. A book that brings me to tears—or close to it—while it may not have the heavy descriptions typical of “literary” books, can still impress value through theme or other details. 

The Book Thief (historical fiction) is classified as young adult, but it’s also poetically profound with the way it values life and friendships. 

Illuminae (sci-fi) is another YA novel but with a unique writing style, told through chats, video feeds, and AI data. But the dedication of the characters towards the pursuit and exposure of the truth is astounding.

Inkheart (fantasy), the start of a YA trilogy, explores the importance of place and the value of words.

Now that I’ve finished my schooling in English and literature, I’ve started picking up books like Moby-Dick because I can’t resist a good intellectual challenge. But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy YA books. I’ve read perhaps ten while I’m in the process of getting through this whale-obsessed narrative/study. Next time, I may pick up a less dense classic.

Until then, I will push through.

And just because I’m not technically a young adult (ages 13-18), doesn’t mean I will stop reading and writing YA.

As an intellectual, I will learn about cultures and histories, languages and sciences.

As a fangirl, I will laugh and stress with characters, turning pages late into the night.

Of course, the best books—whether classic or contemporary—encourage both.


Literary references: William Shakespeare’s As You Like It; Henry VI, Part 1; Hamlet; and Richard III; Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games; Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal; Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart; Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief; Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae; Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart; and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Do you consider yourself more of a scholar or a fangirl? What’s your favorite genre? Why? 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Poem: In Season

In the 21-century, most of us live in a world where we are privileged in one way or another. A couple weekends ago, I went on a ski trip with my dad and marveled at how much fruit there was for breakfast in the middle of the winter. I was also in the middle of reading Inkdeath, which takes place in the Inkworld during winter. So the book prompted me to compare my circumstances with those of the characters. The differences between our century and those of the middle ages is astounding.

Of course, I read medieval fiction and fantasy stories all the time, so you would think I would have thought of these things already. But there’s just so much to take in. I wondered, how much of our present technology is really necessary? And what is privilege really?

This poem is just an exploration of technology and privilege and how it differs from country to country.

In Season
Apples are always in season
in this, the first world,
where we know everything.
Crank up the thermostat,
and you can feel the heat soaking into your skin
like the summer sun, harnessed with a metal bit;
or turn up the AC, and relish the nip of winter,
like an albino housecat ready to sprint
at the crack of the door.

Raspberries are only always in season
if you’re willing to ship them across the globe,
like little red slaves to sate our appetite for fruit
in a world where we think we know everything.
But some slip on a sweater,
and northerners laugh at your shivers
while they stride about the snow in shorts;
and Europe—sweet Europe—laughs at the thought of AC,
for summer, like a fickle butterfly flirting with one flower then the next,
only sticks around for two weeks.


What are some of the privileges you take advantage of? If you've ever traveled to another country, what are some of the major differences you've noticed, aside from language?