Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Happy Christmas! - Art and Music Feature

It’s only 10 days till Christmas so it’s time for a seasonal art feature! I hope you enjoy having a look at some of these delightful artworks. Below are artworks by me, my friends, and around the internet. (Click image icons to see full size and artist credits.) 
Impatience by DestinyBlue Light Of Christmas by PepperJDarcy Fairy Tinsel by EmmieBee Merry Christmas by sharkie19 Royal Family Holiday by NightLiight Winter in Helsinki by Pajunen Snow and December Sun by Peterix Let it Go by SAkURA-JOkER Colorful winter by EliseEnchanted Do you want to build a snowman? by PascalCampion Winter beauty by KariLiimatainen Winter wonderland  .. by KariLiimatainen 126/365 Winter hike by snatti89 Ice Age by porbital The Winter Dream by nnIKOO Fields of Ice by erezmarom Fire and Ice by Jeremyti Waiting for Santa by Innali Winter by markotapio First Snow by Selenada Narnia Christmas Card by nokeek Hobbit Christmas Card by nokeek Snowblast by LauraMartinArt Frozen Bubble by LauraMartinArt Labrador in Snow by LauraMartinArt Frosted Berry by LauraMartinArt Morning by LauraMartinArt  White Christmas by JeanFan Frosted Branches by LauraMartinArt Snowy Vista by LauraMartinArt All Lit Up by LauraMartinArt Streaks by LauraMartinArt Cold Sun by EmmieBee 
:xmas: revamp 2 While you’re at it, don’t forget to have a look at these wonderful Christmas songs—some of my favorites this year!

Snowflake I don’t know where you’re all going to be during the holiday season but I hope you each find someone to share it with. Be sure to treat yourselves to some hot chocolate, cookies, and Christmas movies! Oh, and before you go, feel free to share your own favorite art and music with me! 
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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Should Christians Approach Secular Literature?

Originally published on YoungWritersTreehouse.blogspot.com

Recently, one of the discussion prompts in my English Literature course asked how Christians should approach secular literature. I find this to be a particularly relevant question. My mom is a high school English teacher, and has enlisted my help in cataloging books she has in her classroom and recommending books for a reading list across all high school grades. I have found that much of classic and modern classic literature contains messages and content that is highly questionable from a Christian worldview standpoint. Thus, the issue of how such literature should be approached—if at all—is a pertinent issue in my life and the lives of others.

For example, the Great Gatsby is considered to be superb literature (rightly so) but presents a problem for Christians as it seems to reflect a somewhat Deist, hopeless worldview. On the other hand, the book also shows hollowness of materialism and glam and the consequences of bad choices—both messages that are in line with Biblical ideas. However, it is dangerous to read literature without being able to recognize whether its messages align with truth. This can be an especially difficult issue when literature explores and questions ideas rather than taking a clear stance. In the case of The Great Gatsby there is no one specific statement of worldview, rather a conglomeration of events, dialogue, and narration poised to cause the reader to make a certain conclusion: that God is distant and irrelevant to daily life. The most powerful weapon against this widespread untruth is not to hide from it or ignore it but rather to observe, understand, and counter it.

Literature from different viewpoints than our own is nothing to shy away from, and a combative approach is not always necessary. After all, it is sometimes said that the mark of an intelligent mind is the ability to entertain an idea or belief without actually adopting it. Moreover, being challenged in our faith can cause us to grow in our understanding of the world and people around us and can even strengthen our worldview when we analyze whether opposing viewpoints make sense. We may even discover weak points in our beliefs that can give us the opportunity to either learn more and sufficiently support the beliefs or modify them to be more accurate.

It is important to study secular literature not only to understand the world, but also to find the sacred amid the profane. As Augustine expressed, all truth is God’s truth. All people have access to God through natural revelation, whether they know it or not. Therefore, it would not surprise me in the least if “secular” literature occasionally happened upon eternal truths. In The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde wrote, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” As amoral as this quote may sound I believe it is true—as long as expressing a logical and balanced viewpoint criteria for good writing. Any book written from such a viewpoint will be true, and thus good because truth is good. To look at this from a different perspective, nothing can be good apart from God, so in one sense a book cannot be well written if it is not in some way of God. Meanwhile, a book labeled “Christian” that is poorly written or contains untruths is not actually of God.

In case you haven’t caught my drift, I don’t really believe in the word “secular.” Secular implies neutrality—a concept that does not exist in real life. For example, even things often considered “neutral” or “secular” such as a tree or an instruction manual are either of God or not of God. Consider this: a tree is of God because it is a beautiful piece of nature that displays His glory and an instruction manual that is helpful is a good thing, while an instruction manual that is confusing is a bad thing.

I once knew a family who trashed their Beethoven CDs when they learned he was an alcoholic. While perhaps this was a sincere attempt to “purify” their lives, surely this is madness. Though on some level I can relate: I’ve had a long time grudge against Frank Lloyd Wright for walking out on his wife and children for an affair. Yet, I have a photo of his Fallingwater house hanging on my wall, and detect no evil in it. I do not propose that we can entirely separate the work of art from the artist, but rather that we do not need to. Even a highly flawed person can use whatever piece of goodness that still exists to create Godly art. Moreover, art can transcend and become greater than its artist. A piece of truth professed by an atheist or a beautiful book written by a flawed person is not something to be seen as a threat but rather as a testament to God’s goodness revealed even in the most unlikely people and places and His ability to use anyone and everything for His glory.

On a related matter, one may argue that authorial intent should be the primary criteria in deciding if something is good or not—that a book is of God or of the world based on what the author intends. Yet consider: someone with a bad intent may manage to make a good piece of art despite themselves while someone with good intentions may by accident or a degree of carelessness create and evil final product. Moreover, non-Christian people can create things that result in glorifying God and even have the intent of glorifying God—even if those people are not aware of that fact. In example, C.S. Lewis’ touches on this idea in The Last Battle when Aslan (representing Jesus) speaks to pagan man: “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash [a false god]... if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me [Christ] that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

Admittedly the word “secular” can have some degree of usefulness in casual conversation but I maintain that it has no true definition. Literature is either glorifies God in some way or is evil—neutrality is not an option. As Jesus says in Matthew 12:30, “Anyone who isn't with me opposes me, and anyone who isn't working with me is actually working against me” (NLT).

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Naming Characters

Choose a Name that Fits

People often make judgments based solely on an individual’s name—it’s a natural thing to do. You can use these stereotypes to your advantage—names can be an easy way to give a lot of information about a character without having to say very much. We assume Brutus is muscular, Aiko is a sweet Japanese girl, Chad is a jerk always on the lookout for a hot date, and Agatha is an old lady (or else a mystery writer). If you choose a name with even a moderate stereotype, this is bound to reflect on the character in your readers’ minds. Everyone has different associations with names based on their own experiences and culture, but there are some more universal typecastings. For example, the names Hillary and Britney are often considered excessively girly or even bratty and would likely be considered incongruent for a shy conservative girl. Of course, you could use this incongruence to make your story more interesting.

Google It

Be sure to do a quick Google search to make sure your name choice doesn’t have a strong prior association you don’t want, but also keep in mind that virtually any name you choose—unless you make it up yourself (and sometimes even then)—will have some celebrity or politician associated with it. So don’t let connotations weigh too heavily on your decision. For example, just because you name a character Justin doesn’t mean your readers will instantly think of Justin Beiber, whereas a name like Oprah or Elvis will undoubtedly cause the celebrities’ faces to pop up in readers’ heads. This is where it is important to keep audience in mind; for example, when I think of the name “Barney” the first thing I think of is a purple dinosaur, but an older audience might think of Barney Fife of Mayberry. Of course, you can also use names with heavy connotations to your advantage. Think how amusing it would be to have a character named Elvis who is constantly irritated with people commenting on his name and he wonders what on earth his parents were thinking when they named him that.

Keep it Realistic

If you name your character something unusual for his social class, time period, race, nationality, or storyverse, you better have a good reason. Keep time period in mind—a 17th century character isn’t going to be named Max and 21st century 90 year old lady is more likely to be named Mary than Mackenzie. Keep your story’s culture in mind as well. For example, an Elvish queen isn’t going to be named Taylor and average suburbanite isn’t going to be named “Morning Mist Alianette,” unless her parents are more than a little pretentious. A little creativity goes a long way. If you don’t want your character automatically pegged as a Mary Sue don’t use overly unique or creative names like “Krystoff” and “Jesikka”—leave that to suburbanite moms who think their kids are special. I guess what I’m trying to say here is only choose names that are super unique if you give an explanation—like your character’s parents wanted their children to stand out, named them after a significant event or person, or are obsessed with some fandom.

Consider Nicknames

Nicknames for your characters can be fun and help make them unique and even more realistic. Maybe your character is always babbling and picked up the nickname Babs, or if your character is named Bartholomew Zane Smith, realistically his buddies would use a nickname like Barty, or just call him by his middle name. If you want to use a long fancy name it can become cumbersome and takes up a lot of space on the page and break up the reading flow, however you can still keep the fancy name if you refer to your character by a nickname most of the time.

Use Different Initials

You’re very familiar with your characters, some of whom you’ve known for years, but this is not so with your readers. Even the most attentive readers can get confused if you’ve got 15 characters whose named start with the same initial, like Alfo, Ada, Adrian, Armando, Alice, etc.
Sure, sometimes authors will use similar names for twins or siblings, like Tolkein’s Fili and Kili.
But let’s be honest, you still have a hard time telling all the dwarves apart, right? I can’t be the only one. So try to use different initials, and if you must repeat initials make sure you use the initials for characters of the opposite gender or very different personalities. Names that start with the same initial but are very different should be alright. For example, instead of using Ann and Annabelle use Ann and Adelpha.

A Word on Name Meanings

Let’s be honest. While it’s truly awesome to use a name that has a special meaning, the majority of your readers will have no idea what the root Latin word of the name is. If it’s a choice between a good name and a good name meaning, go with the better name. Formerly, I spent a lot of time looking up name meanings, but I’ve shifted to focusing on how the name itself sounds and what it will represent to the reader regardless of little-known root meanings. Go ahead and choose names that have great metaphorical significance and such, but remember that that might be something that only you and your hardcore fans know about (unless you mention the name’s meaning in the actual text of your story).

A Word on Fictional Universe Names

It can be hard to get in the mindset of an entirely different world and apply that to every detail, but that is one of the things that makes great world-building! It ads to interest and realism when names within your fictional races, cultures, and species have commonalities. Tolkien was a master at this by creating naming styles for each race in his story: Hobbit names were short and sounded almost like nicknames (Frodo, Bilbo, Sam), Elf names were elegant with emphasis on vowels (Galadriel, Arwen, Haldir), and Dwarf names are often short and similar to their family member’s names (Fili and Kili, Dori, Nori and Ori). By using naming conventions for each culture his story was far more realistic because in the real world different cultures favor certain name elements (example: Japanese names are often easy to pronounce and frequently use Ks Os and Is). It is also important to use names consistent with the world you are trying to portray. For example, names for a medieval fantasy storyverse should not sound too modern (choose William instead of Zack) while names from a futuristic story shouldn’t be too old fashioned (choose Zenia instead of Abigail). One last note: avoid names that are hard to pronounce and remember. As a test, have a friend try reading your names aloud and see if they struggle or pronounce the names the way you intended.

For Further Study:

Great for research and has a good name generator: behindthename.com
Simple but useful name generator: random-name-generator.info


First, please don’t hate me if I insulted your name, I do not encourage name stereotyping in the real world. Second, ultimately, it’s your story. Maybe you find it amusing to name all your characters with the same initial, or you want to name your suburbanite girl Morning Mist just because you like it. Do what you want. But do try keep your readers in mind if you plan to have a wider audience than family and friends and make sure that while you’re being creative you’re taking into account possible problems with your naming techniques.