Professor’s Prerogative

I’m exercising a professor’s prerogative and not giving you any meaningful Wednesday Words this week, because classes just started on Monday and I’m CRAZY with the start of the semester! I’ll be back next week, I promise (I already know what I’ll write, but just haven’t had time to do it justice.) So I beg for patience, and thank you for your attention.

Oh, and the update on the 10-minutes-a day promise: That I DID do this week. Not much more than 10 minutes in any given day, and I’ve only re-written about 1/3 of a chapter this week, but it’s something. I feel like I’m moving ahead, at least a little.




In the depths of January, it’s nice to look back at this image from last May of a proud iris posing against a brick wall. I love the juxtaposition of the graceful, sensuous curves of the flower and the bold diagonals of the bricks.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Graceful

Vanilla Villains: The Antagonist’s Arc

This week’s installment of Wednesday Words has to do with the antagonist, the person or situation that blocks the protagonist’s progress toward his or her goals. One of the accepted truths is that antagonists must be as fully-drawn as the protagonists, and must have their own goals and motivations besides simply being evil. (See blog posts by Mary Jaksch and Janice Hardy that make this point.) This had me worried. In my WIP, there is a hierarchy of antagonists the heroes have to face and defeat:

  • A human who has sold out to work toward evil goals. His motivation is made pretty clear. He sees this as his best chance to survive under the rule of the evil forces.
  • A nonhuman creature that manifests in fairly human guise (though with a slippery, shape-shifting appearance). She is scary and dangerous, but seems to have no goals of her own except to serve the whims of her evil master. The closest she comes to independence is when she points out that some of her master’s actions have made it more difficult to reach some of its other goals.
  • The ultimate evil, which is a magical power that rules without self-restraint, focused only on its own pleasure. This being is faceless and shadowy. The protagonists know of it through rumor and glancing contacts, and don’t actually confront it until the climax of the story.

So here’s my problem. Only one of these antagonists has a real, comprehensible motivation, and he’s the most minor of them. The others are, really, just … evil. They are explicitly incomprehensible, because they are entities from a separate, magical dimension where nothing matters but the wishes of those ultimate beings. We don’t know what they actually are or where they get their power. They don’t care about us except that they use humans to fulfill their basest urges. For instance, they may enslave armies of humans and make them fight against each other in wars or gladiatorial contests just because they like to watch.

Is that enough to make a fully-rounded antagonist? Is that really something I need?

Here’s something that helps give me my confidence back. Lots of very successful stories have antagonists that don’t have goals beyond power for its own sake. For example, there’s Sauron from the Lord of the Rings. He lost his corporeal form when he lost the One Ring, and was finally destroyed entirely when the One Ring was unmade. During the Lord of the Rings story sequence Sauron is a noncorporeal manifestation of power and evil, kind of like my magical enemies. J.R.R. Tolkein was able to pull this off. I don’t have a tenth of his experience, imagination, or talent, but just possibly it’s within my reach to do the same.

Here’s something else. Lots of very successful stories have antagonists that aren’t sentient entities at all. The most famous example of this is Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire, where the unnamed protagonist battles against the unforgiving cold of the Yukon Territory and eventually is overcome by it. A more recent example is Andy Weir’s book that became a Matt Damon film: The Martian. Here the antagonist is the planet Mars. In both these stories the antagonist doesn’t care about the protagonists at all and can’t be said to have a “motivation” in any real sense. Still, they are wonderful stories with strong protagonists we root for. Can I achieve the same thing?

So I’m back to my story with renewed conviction. Yes, an antagonist can be something impartial and implacable, like a planet or the weather. Yes, an antagonist can be focused solely on accumulating power, like a magical demon lord. So with these examples before me, I can focus on why my protagonists are doing to overcome the obstacles before them.

What are your favorite antagonists? Are any of them faceless powers of evil, or impersonal forces to be overcome? Can this kind of antagonist work for you?

Daily Writing Update: As I promised, here’s a report on my pledge to write 10 minutes each day. In the last week I only missed one day. Six out of seven is okay, but I’m determined to get every day this week!

Binnacle Island


This is tiny, lovely Binnacle island in the St. Lawrence river between the US and Canada. I wrote about it before, but this is a better view of what the place is like. It is maintained entirely by volunteer members of the US Power Squadron, and as you can see they do a wonderful job. When we were there they were rebuilding the deck on the house up at the top of the rock, but we were tied up to a dock down at the river level, where the group barbecued some pork and shared food. If you look closely you can see the sign with the island’s name on it, which is of no practical use since it’s entirely invisible until you’ve actually docked. The sign sets the mood for the whole place: quirky, offbeat, and charming.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Ambiance

Me and the 1%

This is not a political or economic post – it’s this week’s Wednesday Words. I’m reblogging something I read today on the 10 Minute Novelist that really resonated with me, about how you can dream big in just 10 minutes a day. I did some math and found that 10 minutes is 1% of a nominal 16-hour waking day. Can’t I manage to devote just 1% of my time to this writing thing I claim to be committed to? You would think so, wouldn’t you?

I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions. Why commit to an important change just because we managed to get through another solstice? But this is something that I really should be able to do, even in the midst of a very busy life. Just 10 minutes a day. That’s not much; but it will be enough.

So here’s my pledge to myself: I’ll schedule at least 10 minutes of my day, every day, to working on my novel, starting today. I pledge to do this for at least three months, after which I’ll review what happened to see whether I want to renew the promise. I’ll post my success or failure to live up to this plan each week as a footnote on the Wednesday Words message. You’ll be my witnesses, which is important because knowing I have witnesses may help me stick with my promise.

Here’s to becoming part of the 1%. What do you think – want to join me there?

Ed’s Angry Cardinal


Ed is someone I know from church, who used to sing in the choir before his eyesight got so bad he couldn’t see the music. Back when he could see, he used to paint Christmas ornaments for everyone in the choir every year. We have a glass ornament with a frozen lake and pine trees, a wooden one with Santa, and so on. This one is our family’s favorite. My daughter calls it he Pissed-Off Cardinal, and searches eagerly for it every year as we decorate the tree. If you look closely, you can see where it says Ed just under the main branch. We all love the whimsical nature of this cheery, cranky image. Ed is still around, and we’d thank him every year for the beautiful gifts he’s given us, except that it makes him sad that he can’t do it any more. So I post this photo in honor of Ed, who painted it with love and signed his name with pride. Thank you, Ed.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Names

Visit the Shark – Do You Know Janet Reid?

For my first Wednesday Words post of the new year, I’m going to point you toward someone else’s  fantastic words. This isn’t really a reblog because I’m not highlighting a specific post, but if you’re interested in writing or publishing you really should be following Janet Reid’s blog. Janet is an agent with New Leaf Literary and Media, and she also takes the time to post daily messages aimed at helping writers navigate the tricky waters of the publishing world. Janet describes calls herself a shark and her many followers (who call themselves Reiders) refer to the welcoming, supportive atmosphere at her blog as the Reef. This is one of the few places on the Web where I encourage you to read the comments! As a literary agent, what Janet knows best is the process of querying agents and securing representation, so that’s what her blog mostly focuses on. She also runs the extremely helpful Query Shark, where she reads and comments extensively on queries. Before you submit your first query to any agent whatsoever, you should read ALL the entries on the Query Shark (285 as of today) to learn what works and why.

So, writers who hope for publication, go visit the Shark. She doesn’t really bite. Well, not TOO hard.