The Artifacts & Hilda Bewildered Now Available On Steam

The Artifacts man walking over the mountains

We are looking forward to offering our products to readers who don’t have access to the walled garden of Apple. The Artifacts is now available on Steam.

Steam is a digital distribution platform for purchasing and playing video games. But we are going to put interactive picture books on there. On Steam they are called visual novels.

We have now released Hilda Bewildered.

Next job, Midnight Feast.

Watch this space.

The Creepiest Body Parts

The human body is a grotesque, meaty thing. Storytellers can make use of our squeamishness by breaking the body into parts for horror or for comic effect.

In his autobiography Going Solo, Roald Dahl takes a voyage to Africa. Onboard the ship he meets all sorts of weird and wonderful characters, as Dahl was inclined to do.

One woman he met only ever ate her oranges with a knife and fork. When Dahl asked her why, she told him that she couldn’t stand fingers. Fingers disgusted her.

Finger Cookies

Sort of related: In Which We Consider The Macabre Unpleasantness of Roald Dahl, from This Recording.

Of all the phobias it’s possible to have, surely a visceral reaction to one’s own body would be one of the worst. There’s just no getting away from fingers. They’re there all the time, following you around. With fingers it pays to err on the grateful side, in fact.

Since reading We Need To Talk About Kevin I haven’t been altogether fond of eyeballs (nor lychees). This clip from the movie adaptation isn’t going to help none.

Despite being prone to suggestion, I have no such qualms about fingers. (I’m less fond of toes, especially toes with long, yellowing toenails.)

And now there’s a YouTube series which isn’t doing a hell of a lot for my appreciation of the mouth and throat region.

This is the first instalment, in case you happened to miss it.

More recently those Japanese scientists have got the damn thing to sing.

Any disembodied body part is freshly anointed as the creepiest body part. Horror stories make the most of this trope. Take the end of Child’s Play, in which Chucky’s disembodied parts just won’t quit. This makes use of the horror trope in which the villain is basically a robot who cannot be killed.

This trope also used in comedy. The Cloverfield Paradox also features a disembodied body part — an arm — but to great comic effect.

How To Write A Likeable Main Character

George Bernard O'Neill - Stolen Fruit is the Sweetest

Must characters in stories be likeable? No. Are unlikeable characters popular with audiences? Yes. But they’re harder to write. What if you want to create a genuinely likeable main character who appeals to the broadest base? Here are some tips and tricks.

Make your hero OR your main opponent a ‘rogue charmer’, ‘prankster’ or ‘trickster’

Trickster is one of the fundamental character archetypes. Other examples are the magician, the wise old man, the lover and so on. But of all the characters and character types, the trickster is the most popular with audiences worldwide. It goes back thousands of years:

  • Odysseus/Ulysses – Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus, a hero in ancient Greek literature. Odysseus is renowned for his brilliance, guile, and versatility, and is hence known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning (mētis, or “cunning intelligence”).
  • Hermes – the Greek god. According to prominent folklorist Yeleazar Meletinsky, Hermes is a deified trickster.
  • Merlin – from the Arthurian legend, perhaps based on 6th-century Druid living in southern Scotland. He causes trouble at his former wife’s wedding, for instance.

In Children’s Literature, instead of the ‘rogue charmers’ per se, we often see child protagonists who get into trouble despite their best intentions, and who always maintain a positive attitude against all odds.

  • Anne ShirleyAnne of Green Gables is a completely unrealistic character in that a child who’d been through such hardship would probably be suffering from PTSD and be irredeemably damaged by the time she reached Marilla and Matthew. This aspect is rendered more realistically in the recent re-visioning Anne With An E. Nut the fictional Anne is loveable because she tries her hardest to please, and we know why she does what she does.
  • Ramona Quimby — Likewise, Ramona is always getting into trouble despite her best intentions. Ramona is a granddaughter of Anne Shirley.
  • Amelia Bedelia — overcomes minor misunderstandings while maintaining her dignity and cheerful attitude
How TO execute the trickster technique
  • Create a character with extreme confidence.
  • This person also has a way with words.
  • Think con-man. (Con man is short for confidence man.)
  • The audience just wants to do whatever this character suggests.
  • Make them fun-loving. When they are the hero of the story, a big part of their function is to show other people how to enjoy life.
  • Whatever goal you give your trickster, have them involved in a plan that involves deception. This is crucial. The more deception the better the story.
  • This character is very likeable even when they’re being bad. They’re often a complete liar. Problematically, perhaps, an audience forgives this so long as the above criteria are fulfilled.

Or you can make the trickster the main opponent because of their ability to attack the hero. This is handy because it will give the hero a lot of trouble (and therefore a lot of story to work with).

Avoid ‘Whiny’

Editor Cheryl Klein urges children’s authors to avoid ‘whiny protagonists without charm or truth’. The worst thing you can do is have a main character sitting around contemplating things. She sees a lot of scripts start like this when the character is about to move to a new place, so watch out for that especially if you’re writing one of those kinds of stories.

Give Your Character Authority

Klein writes that in children’s stories voices must have ‘authority’ — ‘a sense that the writer knows where he is going and what she is doing; the feeling that the reader is in good hands.’ She says that authority comes from three things:

  • specificity of language
  • not wasting the reader’s time
  • recognisability (identification)

Bravery, confidence and self-motivation are important for child protagonists as they are for the ‘con-man’ archetype described by Truby:

  • Little Bear — illustrated by Maurice Sendak is sweet and plucky, friendly and adventurous
  • Nate Wright (a.k.a. Big Nate) — aspiring cartoonist and prankster, exhibits great confidence and creativity

Give Your Character Positive Energy

  • Billy in Where The Red Fern Grows, who really wants a dog and works tirelessly until he’s saved enough to get one
  • Hermione of Harry Potter loves her school work and helps the reader to become interested in magic, too.

Or Give Them Interesting Negative Energy

Likeable characters may be pessimistic and sardonic.

  • Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games doesn’t have much hope for the future at the beginning of the story but she is soon propelled into action.
  • Bella Swan is a bit of a Debbie Downer, and also a blank Every Girl, but that doesn’t stop her from being interesting. She still has drive (except when she falls into depression — which the reader quickly skips over because the pages are blank except that they have the words for months on them) by seeking out the company of certain boys in a love triangle.
  • The Wimpy Kid has a good, pessimistic handle on his situation in life, and this series is an example of a funny kid with interesting pessimistic energy. This makes him likeable.

 

Header painting: George Bernard O’Neill – Stolen Fruit is the Sweetest

Burlesque In Storytelling

Charles Green - Her First Bouquet

Burlesque is a type of entertainment that caricatures serious works. It is an extreme form of parody. Burlesque can be used as a verb i.e. to burlesque something.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BURLESQUE

The word derives from the Italian burlesco, in turn derived from burla – mockery. Starting in early 1700s Europe, ‘burlesque’ described musical works which juxtaposed and combined serious and comic elements. This achieved a grotesque effect.

‘Burlesque’ as a literary term became widespread in 17th century Italy and France, and later England. In literature, it was most popular during the Victorian era.

Today ‘burlesque’ is still used in music to indicate a bright or high-spirited mood, sometimes in contrast to seriousness.

Burlesque overlaps in meaning with caricature, parody and travesty and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza.

In modern usage, it can also mean a kind of striptease. What has this on-stage striptease got to do with the original meaning of the word? This form is more properly called ‘American Burlesque’, a genre of variety show popularised in the late 1800’s. The style was derived from the ideas of Victorian burlesque, but by the 1900s it had evolved into a combination of satire, comedy, striptease, and musical theatre. It seems the striptease was the most popular part of this ‘variety show’, and now it’s the main thing left.

In modern popular culture, the most commonly represented form of burlesque in film and television is the parody. In fact, parodies have a massive presence in the popular film industry, especially films which parody older films.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF BURLESQUE?

Burlesque has two distinct functions: to elevate or denigrate. 17th and 18th century burlesque was divided into two types: high and low. One elevates — the other denigrates.

High Burlesque

A literary, elevated manner is applied to a commonplace or comically inappropriate subject matter. A high burlesque ‘elevates’.

Low Burlesque

Low burlesque applies an irreverent, mocking style to a serious subject. It denigrates its subject. Also known as ‘Mocking satire’.

Burlesque literature is much more than entertainment. It has been a major literary and dramatic technique for social activism and commentary for thousands of years; using humour to attract attention to serious and unresolved issues in society. 

Burlesque can be used as a way to deliver opinions and messages to encourage change and awareness, all by presenting information through comedy that is often outrageous, unusual, and vulgar.

HOW DOES BURLESQUE HUMOUR WORK?

Burlesque makes audiences laugh because of the gap between the content and the form (the style and the substance).

Burlesque relies on the audience having prior knowledge about its subject—the writer assumes that the audience will understand the context and the theme.

EXAMPLES

Note that stories featuring cannibalism are often an indicator of burlesque sensibility.

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
  • A parody of gothic fiction
  • Heroine Catherine Morland is a young woman with a vivid imagination. The author suggests this is caused by her love of gothic novels.
  • Austen is mocking the popular Victorian view that literature could cause unrealistic ideas as a result of reading fiction (especially in young women).
  • Today, Jane Austen’s work itself is parodied e.g. Pride, Prejudice and Zombies  (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith. 
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  • A parody of the 1978 cult classic Dawn of the Dead
  • Makes fun of the zombie flick genre by mimicking its style in an exaggerated way.
Not Another Teen Movie
  • This movie takes teen movie tropes and plays them for laughs.
  • There’s an entire category of film spoofs, spoofing other movies: Epic Movie, Austin Powers, Tropic Thunder.
  • Scary Movie makes fun of serious but unrealistic teen horror films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

MYTHOLOGICAL BURLESQUE

This term refers to Greek and Roman 4th century comedy. These comedies burlesqued traditional Greek mythical stories. They did very well in the Athenian theatre, especially between 400 and 340 BCE.

FEATURES OF THE MYTHOLOGICAL BURLESQUE
  • Comedians refashioned well-known mythical tales according to the model of their contemporary Athenian society. This is now known as “Atticisation).
  • The marvellous motifs of myths were given the rational treatment
  • If marvellous motifs were kept, they were placed in a fully urbanised environment. This produced ludicrous incongruity.
  • Comedians applied standard genre story structures to mythical material, so now mythical beings were seen as stereotyped stage figures in comic love plots. They were given happy endings.

 

Header painting: Charles Green – Her First Bouquet