Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Christmas Story

I shall be taking this holiday off from this eFile. In place of enriching our players, let me share a short story approprate to this holiday season. With this goes my hope that you have a very Merry Christmas and the start of a prosperous and rewarding New Year.

The Innkeeper
Sean Patrick O'Mordha

The man used his broad, stocky frame to good advantage as he stomped up the dusty street plowing through congestion. People knocked aside turned to complain, but one look told them to think better of confronting the innkeeper.

“I should have known!” Azriel roared upon entering his home, “The Romans are levying yet another tax.”

“So, that's what the summons was all about?” his wife, Malka, said, removing bread from the oven.

“You were expecting them to declare a holiday maybe?” he said with dripping sarcasm while sitting at the table, his round face pink with anger and frustration.

“Here father, have a cool drink. I just fetched it.”

Azriel looked at his daughter as she handed him a clay bowl. He softened. It was impossible to look upon the eleven-year-old with long, curly locks and dancing brown eyes, and remain angry.

“Thank you, Hedva.”

“So what is this new tax?” Malka asked, now stirring a pot.

“The whole country is to be taxed. Oh, these Romans are clever. They know full well it's against our law to count us, except this way. They get it done and make money doing it.” Azriel’s anger began to build again. “Every male member must return to the city of his forefathers to pay the tax, so all the House of David will be coming here to Bethlehem.”

“Well, that won't be so bad. We don't have to leave, and think of all the people coming here. They are going to need a place to sleep and food to eat.” Malka tasted the broth bubbling over the fire and added more herbs.

Azriel began to visualize the sudden income his family was about to receive. “Praise the creator of all things!” He shouted, slamming an open palm on the rough, wood table.

“Before you start counting our sudden wealth, you had better start getting things ready.”

“You're right! Ehud! Gilead!” he called out to his eldest sons who were in the next room.

“Mend the corrals and lay in more hay and grain. Micha'el, you will help me prepare space for extra beds, many extra beds,” he continued to his youngest son. Azriel's cheeks glowed as he smiled. “We will be having guests soon. Lots of guests. Lots of guests with money.” Then lowering his voice so to speak to himself said, “And then when they leave we shall be rich.”

The next days became a whirlwind of activity as the descendants of King David began arriving according to the edict. There were many people and Bethlehem small so that it soon became crowded, very crowded. The Inn of Azriel swelled at the seems as he tried to accommodate as many as possible, not unlike a man who has eaten far more at a feast than he should until there was no room, even for Azriel's family. Fortunately, the April weather was pleasant as they slept on the roof.

If it weren't for the money, Azriel would have thrown the lot bodily into the streets. They were boisterous, demanding, and rude. He was hard pressed to meet their demands as Ehud and Gilead constantly fetched this or fetched that. Malka’s face was constantly covered with perspiration while fixing endless meals. Hedva who was born between Gilead and Micha'el, was equally busy helping her.

At the height of the confusion, while the family tried to serve the evening meal, a tall, slender man stepped into the main room. Azriel glanced toward him. Another traveller looking for a room. There just wasn't any more space. Besides, he was obviously not a man of means. His cloak was of coarse material coated with dust, as was his thick salt and pepper beard.

“I seek a place,” he said to the innkeeper, trying to be heard over the tumultuous noise from Azriel's guests.

“We are full,” Azriel shouted back.

“We have come from Galilee.”

“I said there is no more room here,” Azriel yelled, tired and irritated, waiving him off.

“Is . . . a place . . . we . . ..”

“What?” Azriel couldn't understand.

The traveler said something again, but it was impossible to know what it was. Frustrated, Azriel took the man's arm and escorted him back onto the street to get rid of him.

When the door closed behind them it became possible to hear and the traveller repeated his question. “We have travelled far. My wife is exhausted. Is there no place to find shelter?”

“Are you joking? Do you realize how many people have come here because of this ridiculous Roman order? My family sleeps on the roof to provide room for these, these . . ..” Azriel was tired, frustrated, and grumpy, and stumbled for a word to describe his insufferable guests that wouldn't offend God, but gave up with a heaving sigh. “All the residents of Bethlehem sleep on their roofs while others take over our homes. You won't . . .,” Azriel stopped mid-sentence as his eyes fell upon a young woman seated upon a small donkey. “Is that, that . . .?”

“My wife. She is with child.”

“How soon?” Azriel asked, lowering his voice.

“Very soon. The journey has been difficult on her.”

The innkeeper's tone became softer and more conciliatory. “Look. There really is no room in my house, and you'll not find a place to lay your head in this city except under the stars, and that's not safe. With so many honest come the dishonest. She needs a quiet place. Something private.” Azriel struggled to think where this man and his wife could possibly lodge, then said with great hesitancy, “There may be one place. I'm sorry, but it is the only thing I can think of. There is a small stable, a cave actually, behind the house. I truly wish I could think of something better.”

“That will be fine.”

“Micha'el,” Azriel called to the boy who was removing garbage from the cooking area. “I want you to clear a place in the stable for this man and his wife.” Then to the new guest, “Have your wife rest there on the bench by the door. Inside is no place for a woman.”

As the man helped his wife from the donkey, Azriel returned to the cooking area. “Gilead. Help your little brother clean the stable. We will have guests staying there.”

“Stable? Are you so greedy that now even the animals must give up their place of rest?” Malka chided.

“It's the man's woman, Malka. She is with child. There is no place left in the town. She is near to giving birth. I could not allow that under some tree or among these . . .,” he waived a hand toward the main room, “these men.”

“Give birth? Absolutely not. Ehud, help your father finish serving the food. Hedva, take over the kitchen. Oh, Azriel, a stable? To give birth in a stable? The poor child,” Malka said as she dried her hands and hurried out the door.

As Gilead rapidly swept the last of the dung from a section of the shelter, Micha'el scattered a generous portion of new straw. When all was ready, Malka approached the couple seated on the bench next to the house.

“Come, child. It's not much, but it is clean,” she said, helping the girl to rise.

The young woman took one step and faltered, clutching her stomach, and exhaling a small gasp.

“Oh, dear,” Malka said, putting an arm around the girl's waist. “It's not far and we will go slowly. Micha'el, tell your sister I need her help.”

The boy ran to the house, returning with Hedva before the visitors covered half the distance to the cave. The woman stumbled again and cried out softly. The contractions were coming more frequently. The man handed the bed mats he carried to Hedva, and easily swept his wife into his arms, to carry her into the stable. Hedva rushed ahead to spread the mats on the straw where the he laid his wife, and then stood back, watching closely as Malka knelt at her side to pat perspiration from the girl's pained brow. Concern for his wife etched deeper lines across the man's brow. He knelt at her side, taking one delicate hand in his to comfort her. He silently offered a prayer of thanks for finding someone like Malka who knew what to do.

Meanwhile, Micha'el went to the donkey patiently waiting where it had been left. Scratching the creature between its long ears, he looked toward the cave, and worried, too.

“Come, little one. Let me find you some food and water, and a place to rest your weary hooves,” he said, taking the lead rope and going to the cave.

As the others proceeded to the cleaned area, he placed the donkey in a nearby stall with a little grain and a bucket of water, all the while staring as the woman was lovingly laid onto the covered straw bed, again crying out in pain. He had added more straw than his mother said, yet worried there wouldn't be enough, that the bed wouldn't be soft enough. The man seemed to sense Micha'el's concern, glanced up at boy, smiled, and nodded appreciation.
Malka took charge and began issuing orders. “Micha'el, fetch clean cloth from the kitchen. Gilead, bring a bucket of water, then all you men wait outside.”

Azriel and his older sons worked feverishly until their inside guests began settling down for the night. At last he could drop exhausted onto a three-legged stool in the kitchen as the older boys cleaned the dishes. After a time he rose stiffly and went outside to check on the new arrivals. That Malka and Hedva had not returned to the house indicated the woman was close to giving birth, if she hadn't already.

Stepping into the pleasantly cool night he took up an oil lamp and made for the stable. Approaching the entrance he saw another lamp with two people huddled in its golden glow. Drawing closer, he could see Micha'el seated on the ground next to the new guest. Stopping a few meters away, he gazed in awe. In the boy's lap was a scroll. The man had one hand on his son's shoulder while holding a lamp in the other so Micha'el could see. Azriel listened as the man uttered a prayer then encouraged the boy to read from the Prophet Isaiah.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.”

Azriel gasped, the realization blindingly clear. Without knowing, he had put a holy man and his family in a stable. Before he could seek forgiveness, there came a newborn's cry from inside the cave. The man stood and stared at the entrance.

“From that sound you have become a father,” Azriel said. “And judging by the strength, it is a healthy child. Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” the man said, his attention focused on the stable entrance.

Presently, Malka appeared, looking tired, but smiling. “It's a boy, praise be to the giver of life, and as you must have heard, he is healthy. Go to your wife,” she said.

Azriel moved next to his wife, put an arm around her shoulders, and drew her near. She rest a weary head on his arm.

“Do you remember when Ehud arrived?” she asked.

“How could I forget. I didn't sleep for days before he came, nor for weeks after until he figured out the difference between night and day.”

“Well, how could he? Every time he so much as whimpered, you picked him up to play with him.”

“Isn't that what a father is to do?”

“Father,” Micha'el interrupted the light banter between husband and wife, “I've never noticed that star before,” he said, pointing into the night sky.

Azriel looked up with wonder and said, “I don't recall seeing it before, either. It must be new.”

“It seems to be directly over us,” Malka said. “It's beautiful. It must be an omen of a great event.”

Presently, their guest invited Azriel and Micha'el in to see his new son. Micha'el looked down at the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. He was asleep. Looking up with an infectious smile Micha'el asked, “What will you name him?”

“I have been instructed by the Lord, praise be His Holy name, that he should be known by the Greek form of Joshua. He will be called Jesus,” the father answered.

Azriel was about to make a comment about the overt influence of their previous overlords when a soft commotion came from outside. Moving to the entrance he was taken back as a group of shepherds walked directly toward the stable.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“An angel of God, praise be His Holy name, appeared to us as we tend our sheep on the hillside and said unto us, “Fear not, for behold I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Then there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace be on earth, and good will toward men.””

Azriel stood with mouth open as he listened to the shepherds, and then turned to look back into the cave. The promised Messiah had come at last, not on a white horse, but as a babe. Slowly dropping to his knees the innkeeper began to praise God, tears coursing down brown cheeks as a voice whispered in his ear, “Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me, and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.”


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Toward More Realistic Players

These posts have focused a great deal on the players in a story, not that they are the most important element, but it's hard for a plot to carry on without them. It's also a challenge to promote a plot with flat, un-dimensional players. (Recall that a player can be human, animal, machine, or whatever)  Real characters are inspired by motivations and purposes and employ different methods to achieve those ends. This is where a writer can imbue players with interesting characteristics, make them feel “real.”  The techniques have been with us like forever, but Phillips and Huntley* mapped it out in Dialectics way back when. It may seem a little confusing on the surface, so bear with me for taking this development in baby steps.

The last post listed eight players that help the Protagonist to shine and win the day. They come as pairs, each player in the pair being opposite the other. That’s easy to understand. The Protagonist and Antagonist are certainly opposite in what they want, but to fill them out they need certain reasons for behaving the way they do. The first to consider is MOTIVATION which addresses how the player makes decisions and how he acts on those decisions. Therefore, if our hero takes after pursuit, then the villain will want to employ ways to stop him. A sidekick would use faith and support, while the sidekick's challenge would be a skeptic who uses disbelief and keeps getting in the way of what is going on. This will become clearer below.


                                     DECISION                   ACTION
1. to think carefully about, especially in order to make a decision; contemplate; reflect on.
1. reason or sound judgment, as in utterances or actions.
1. to secure or attain; 2. to quest; seek.
1. exercise restraint or direction; dominate; command.
1. a consciousness or vague awareness
2. sensitive. readily affected by emotion; sympathetic: a feeling heart. indicating or characterized by emotion.

1. view to change a decision or action.
1. exercise restraint or direction; dominate; command.
1. to keep away from; keep clear of; shun: to avoid a person; to avoid danger.
2. to prevent from happening.
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof.
1. the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action.
2. ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the
   actions or thoughts.
1. to sustain.
2. to undergo or endure, especially with patience or submission; tolerate
1. to make easier or less difficult; contribute to; facilitate.
1. to entice or allure to do something often regarded as unwise, wrong, or immoral.

1. the inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true.
1. prevent from doing, acting, or happening; stop.
2. hinder, impede.
1. act against or provide resistance to; combat.
2. to stand in the way of; obstruct.

Before diving into this much further let me make this observation. The two sides of the chart are complimentary. That means that if the hero uses Consider as a the prime decision technique, then the action to achieve that is Pursuit. Conversely, if the decision technique is Pursuit, then he uses Consider to validate that his actions are correct.

Characters are more complicated than that, you say? Right. However, this is only one of several layers shaping the player and not all of them fit into neat packaging as you will see, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

 In the work in progress, A Pirate's Legacy: Order of the Brethren, Francois Evreux (A.K.A. the pirate, Dolphin) is a former pirate who is now a plantation owner with a prosperous, legal business, and family. His former occupation has been relegated to the shadows of history until that past comes to visit in the form of his pirate mentor, Aloysius “Hogshead” Shaver. He too retired until an old nemesis kidnapped his wife and son for ransom so to draw him into a trap and eliminate any threat he might pose as the East India Trading Company expands into the Caribbean. Hogshead wants our hero to help recover his family without loosing his head in the transaction.

While the Dolphin was the Hero in the last novel, not so here. That role falls to his first-born son, Jean-Paul, who is now fifteen. Remembering when his father left (albeit not willingly) the last time for two years, the young man has no intention of letting his father go off and have all the fun. Jean-Paul's motivation is PURSUIT – a quest, not just for adventure, but to find a way to stand out and establish his own modicum of respect or fall in the shadow of his father for a lifetime.

The Antagonist is the person who wants to prevent the Hero from succeeding. Initially, that might appear to be his father, however that role falls to Lord Bartholomew Chudleigh, son of Commodore Chudleigh who the Dolphin had a hand in destroying in the last book. His Lordship is the kidnapper and seeks to clear away the Caribbean pirates so to increase the East India Company's expansion plans and profits. Eliminating Hogshead and the others goes a long way to success.

Eliminating the Dolphin does this too, but also provides revenge for what happened to his father. Unbeknownst to him, by preventing the rescue of Mrs. Shaver and son, and killing these two pirates, he will also nip young Jean-Paul's quest in the bud. The Antagonists may not always be known to the Protagonists, or is not perceived as the Antagonists even at the end.

To better see this, let's superimpose these two characters on a chart to show how they relate and their course of action.

                                                      Motivation – Action

A quest to attain respect

To prevent from happening
(Lord Chudleigh)
Now, how will Jean-Paul and Lord Chudleigh know they are on the right course? By evaluating their choices. That is a problem in this story. Jean-Paul is a teenager, and as such operates on impulse more than judgment. (A constant throughout history) Thinking carefully on a matter in order to make a decision isn't exactly a teenager’s forte. Therefore, instead of using the category “Consider” let’s use “Impulse.”

                                                      Motivation – Decision

The influence of particular feeling(s) prompting action.


View to change a decision or action.
(Lord Chudleigh)

This is going to call on supportive players to become more influential. Who are they, and how will they react to a loose cannon ball in the form of a teenager? Using the overall chart at the beginning of this eFile we can determine this.


Dolphin (his father/Captain)
(Lord Chudleigh)

In this story, Rabbit is a teenager in a young adult body. (Just the kind of support another teenager needs, right?). The son of Hogshead, he doesn’t want his father to know who he is (has never seen the boy). A cabin boy, his ship puts in at San Borondón, a mystical island, where he and the crew are drugged and sleep away much of the next eight years. Twelve at the time, his body continues to grow to adult size, but his brain hasn’t had that opportunity. He still think as a child.

Who will be the next set of four characters?

(Maggie DuBri)
Hinder/Temptation Contagionist


For the Sidekick I have selected one of the Dolphin's crewmen, the Irishman Cochran. He takes both Jean-Paul and Jeremiah under his wing to teach them the skills needed to stay alive. Mentally closer to their age he subconsciously understands what’s going on (if much) in their heads.

Guardian is Maggie DuBri, Hogshead's adopted daughter and a pretty good pirate in her own right, who takes all the young boys in the pirate fleet aboard her ship. She is especially fond of Jean-Paul and wants to both help keep him safe and see him succeed in his quest. While the others believe the move will keep them from harm's way when the battle comes, she in fact provides a way to effectively contribute to the success of the rescue.

The Skeptic is Jeremiah, the son of the Dolphin’s manservant back home, a close friend to Jean-Paul, loyal. Mentally and emotionally he is more grounded, but perhaps too cautious.

The Contagionist is played by a shipmate, Pasquel who unknowingly places obstacles in Jean-Paul’s path to hinder progress, and lure him from the path of success.

While some will decry this as formula writing, so be it. Look at every successful story/movie produced and you will see these combinations over and over. The flops don’t. That’s not to say a writer can not deviate. I just did with the Protagonist, but there is one very important rule (if you will). One player can not successfully follow two masters. Yes, there have been exceptions such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, but even then, when they are in character there is a supporting cast to bring out the “best” of their play.

Using the Main Character (Mr. Omnipresent) to tell the story, and using these six supporting players, the writer can provide the audience a different view of the hero and villain that otherwise would leave them one-dimensional and flat. However, that’s not all we can do for these players.

In reality, players are not driven by motivation alone. As mentioned in the introduction, they aspire to differing purposes, employ different methods to achieve that purpose, and employ a means to determine how effective their efforts are to achieving their end. This I wish to explore over the next months, adding more complexity to each of our major players to create “real” characters, characters with substance to be remembered.

I hope you will refer to the two texts below as they go into much more detail with all-important examples.

+ + + + + + + + + +

Phillips, Melanie Anne and Chris Huntley, Dramatica; A New Theory of Story, 4th ed.

Schechter, Jeffrey, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story: Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay from Opening Hook to Knockout Punch, Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Characters Practically Write Themselves

Last month this eFile addressed two components of writing. The first centered on the Protagonist and Antagonist, and their supporting cast. A thumbnail review shows that:

1.  The Protagonist  has a goal and traditionally drives the story in pursuit of that goal.
2. The Antagonist tries to prevent the Protagonist’s successful achievement of the goal.

Each can have a cast of characters supporting their actions. These are:

3. The Thinker who bases decisions and action on reason or a rational course.
4. The Feeler disregards the practical and responds with emotion.
5. The Doubter or Skeptic questions everything and opposes everything.
6. The Sidekick is unfailing in loyalty and support, who believes in whomever it is aligned with.
7. The Guardian acts a teacher or helper aiding the Protagonist’s efforts in the quest to achieve the story goal. The Antagonist could have one, too.
8. The Deflector tempts whomever they are aligned with to take the wrong course or approach thus hindering achievement of their goal, but especially the story goal.

While these cast members can greatly enrich the Protagonist’s journey, a set or partial set can be generated for the Antagonist as well. But these are basically empty shells. To form them into something “real,” each should aspire to a purpose driven by motivation, using different methods to achieve that purpose, and a way to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts. Failing to take these things into consideration robs the writer, and subsequently the reader, of spending time with unique and memorable characters.

Previously I presented this chart showing the connection between these cast members. A good example of characters in these roles can be seen in any successful move. I’ve used Star Wars-Episode 4.

You will notice a relationship exits among these pairings, what Schechter calls “Unity of Pairs.” Each character in a pair (Sidekick/Believer vs. Skeptic/Doubter for instance) plays off their opposite while feeding their part to the Hero and story.

Once assigned to one of these – think of them as attitudes – they are allowed to stand out, and what they do and say practically writes itself. However, hold on a bit, because it is possible to provide them with even clearer direction on how to perform their part. That’s next.

The information provided here is based on the works of:

1. Jeffrey Schechter, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story: Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay from Opening Hook to Knockout Punch (Kindle Edition).

2.  Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley, Dramatica, A New Theory of Story found at