Monday, October 7, 2013

Good Guy/Bad Guy: What's the Difference?

"You learn eventually that, while there are no villains, there are no heroes either. And until you make the final discovery that there are only human beings, who are therefore all the more fascinating, you are liable to miss something."   - Paul Gallico

When I was little, I used to watch the villains like Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians or Ursula from The Little Mermaid. I would cringe as they bested the hero and then cheer when they were finally defeated and killed at the end. I was under the impression, as all children are, that villains are bad and the heroes are good. There was never any question; it was black and white. Right was right and wrong was wrong.

If you were to ask any writer what the fundamentals of storytelling are, they would most likely say that you have to have two things. You need someone who wants something and you need someone else standing in the way of that person's goals. Basically, you need a villain.

That's a simple enough concept. Without Ursula, The Little Mermaid would be nothing more than the everyday life of a mermaid. 101 Dalmatians without Cruella de Vil would be a family with a bunch of puppies. Pretty boring, right?

So yeah, stories need conflict. They need an antagonist. These are the basic principles of plot. However, something I find even more fascinating to ponder is this: who exactly said that Ursula was the bad guy? Who ever said that the tiger in The Jungle Book was evil?

By definition, an antagonist is a person that opposes the protagonist, the hero. This could mean that our protagonist, Jane, wants her father to drive her to the mall to get some shoes. Her father, however, refuses to take her. In this story, her father opposes Jane and her goal of going to the mall. Therefore he's the villain. But what if her father has a horrible migraine? What if he was recently in a tragic car accident and now fears driving?

If I were still under the same opinion as my five year old self, I would view the father as "evil."
He is, after all, the villain. But what makes the story interesting is that we have an understanding of the father's motives. We see where he's coming from.

Great writing, in my opinion, captures both sides of the story. We may not like the villian, we may not like like his or her actions, but we know the villain well enough to understand why he does what he does.

After all, a villain does not see himself as a villain. In the mind of Darth Vader, he has his own goals and objectives. If we were to tell the story in his point of view, Luke Skywalker would be his obstacle and, therefore, the villain.

As a writer, it's important to not be too quick to choose sides. You may be in love with your protagonist, but if you dismiss the view point of your antagonist, you lose the opportunity to fully explore the characters you are creating and your story misses out on the depth that it aspires to.

When you really start to think about it, we're all our own heroes, but we've also most likely played the villain in another person's story. And when you begin to slip into the shoes of your characters, or really anyone in life, you will be amazed at what you learn and the fascinating avenues you begin to uncover.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A girl with no salon

I must make a disclaimer that today's post has nothing to do with my writing whatsoever. However, if you'll allow me, I'd like to share an experience I had today that was not the first, and I hate to say, probably not the last I will have in the course of my life. But this post is more a plea to business owners. Let me start from the beginning.

Today, after a week or two or procrastination, I decided to set an appointment to get my hair done. In the past, I've had some sub-par experiences in the hair salon. It's possible I over think it, but I get the feeling that most stylists are disgruntled by how young I appear off the bat.

Come to think of it, I've been asked quite a few times if I've graduated yet. I'll reply yes. "When do you start college?" No, I explain, I've graduated from college several years ago.  In their mild embarrassment at the mistake, I can't help but notice the shift in the air as they realize I will, in fact, leave a "mature" tip.

Maybe I'm cynical from being a server for too many years. However, the age factor comes into play so bear with me.

I had read very good reviews about a salon in my town, so I decided to try it out. I called the number listed on the website, alongside a message that read "Schedule An Appointment Today!" A woman answered, sounding a bit frazzled, though it's hard to tell over the phone.

"I'd like to schedule an appointment, please."

"Who's your stylist?"

I hesitate. "Well I heard great reviews for (stylist's name) on the website."

"Oh." Awkward pause. "She's not accepting new clients."

I hesitated for a second. I wasn't aware some stylists accepted a maximum amount of clients. It was eerily similar to the recent experience I had trying to locate a doctor.

I expected her to recommend another stylist, preferably with similar reviews to the previous one. When she didn't, I prompted her. "Do you have any recommendations?"

She gave me the name of another salon in the city.

I hung up, feeling a bit mistreated. First of all, I couldn't understand why a business would turn away a paying customer, no matter how many clients they were currently servicing. Don't businesses make a living off of potential clients?

I couldn't help but wonder if my mother were to have made that phone call. Her voice is commanding and firm, yet friendly. I couldn't imagine the same conversation taking place, were she involved.

Whether or not this particular case was a matter of one employees age preference, or her overloaded schedule, I still can't get over the fact that this business has now lost my business. Not only that, they handed me over directly to a competitor as if to say "They need your money more than we do."

The point I'm trying to make here is that a business should never be bigger than their customer. Because where would that salon be without them? I've known a few companies and employees alike that tend to get swept up in their businesses's success and begin to feel that their customer should feel grateful to them for them offering the service!

At the end of the day, businesses offer a service which the customer needs. But without their customers, the business would not survive. Heck, maybe my pocketful of change wasn't worth it for that salon to squeeze in another appointment. I sure hope the clients they do currently service are treated with more gratitude.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Everyone has an opinion...

There's an issue that's been nagging me lately and I felt it was time to finally write about it. I should mention, however, that this particular subject has bothered me ever since I was in college, several years ago. I remember day after day of sitting in one of my writing classes, hearing fellow students rag on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. They were of the opinion that her books were not "real" writing.

Despite the fact that I am personally a fan of this series, my disagreement with them has nothing to do with personal taste. First of all, Meyer's books have been written, which sounds like a defining characteristic of a book to me. Secondly, they have been published: not something every writer can brag about. Third, they have been sold all over the world to million of adoring fans that purchase not only the books, but the various merchandise that has been produced for the series (a popular film franchise, anyone?).

Perhaps my frustration with the topic stems from the fact that I myself am a chick-lit writer. I say the term proudly, feeling that such literature should have no negative connotation associated with it simply because it is preferred by women. The very idea that such negativity surrounds a series because of its appeal to women in particular sounds to me like nothing more than discrimination and bullying.

Perhaps my opinion is a bit aggressive. I am no politician, but I believe that writing is meant to be enjoyed, whether it's by one person, an entire continent or the writers themselves. Readers have a variety of different tastes, and it's a good thing they do! This world thrives on diversity and literary diversity is a big part of that.

I recently read a line in Stephen King's novel, On Writing, in which he said "I have spent a good many years -- too many in fact -- being ashamed of what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent."

I suppose if even Stephen King was accused of terrible subject matter, then that leaves little hope of the world ever truly being rid of such criticism. It does, however, remind me that while people will continue to judge my writing, I am in the incredible company of writers both before and after me. But to set the record straight: I do and will continue to write about only what inspires and thrills me and I sincerely hope that my readers will get something out of it whether that be inspiration, comfort or pure enjoyment.

Thank you for reading (and letting me vent) and feel free to let me know how you feel about this particular topic.