Endings, Pt. 4: Delivering on the Theme

When people think about incorporating theme, it can conjure cringe-worthy images of characters preaching to each other about the author’s intentions and cornily weaving in a “moral” that leaves readers feeling condescended to. One of my favorite comedy duos, BriTANicK, put up a video called “Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer,” in which they parody overused tropes in movies. The last line of the video has the hero and love interest sitting by the fire, and the hero says pensively, “Explicitly stating the moral of the story, and awkwardly working in — ” (beat) ” — the movie title.”

But even when done artfully, theme always sounds like something that’s more important to high-brow literary novels than to us genre types. I’ve found, though, that the fictional endings that stick with me most, that leave me pondering them for hours, days, weeks, are the ones that deliver on the story’s thematic promise. Bookending, character arcs, and plot resolution via a final battle all help create an ending that delivers on the promises you’ve made your readers. When you can include a thematic element to it, which is often accomplished through each of those techniques and more, it will leave an indelible mark on the reading life of anyone who picks up your book. However, the flip side of that is that you can create an ending that incites homicidal rage if it undercuts the theme of the rest of the story. Continue reading

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Are Christians “Missing the Boat” on Donald Trump?

Wayne Allyn Root, a businessman and political commentator among other things, wrote a column in which he argues that Christians are “missing the boat” on Donald Trump and that they should not only vote for him, but that doing anything else is denying the messages that God is sending us. I had enough thoughts on this that I wanted to write my own point-by-point rebuttal of where I believe Root is missing the whole point.

Root begins with the famous joke about a devout man stuck on a roof during a massive flood. He refuses any and all help, claiming that he’s waiting for God. Now, the man dies and meets God, and he asks about God’s refusal to save him. God replies, “What did you want? I sent you three different people to help you.”

This man on the roof, the writer claims, is America, and Trump is our rowboat. “Maybe God,” Root says, “is trying to tell us something important — that now is not the time for a ‘nice Christian guy’ or a ‘gentleman’ or a typical Republican powder puff…. Because right about now we need a miracle, or America is finished.” Continue reading

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (a review)

On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to go see a screening of Minimalism, which is a documentary put together by The Minimalists, some of my favorite podcasters (much better known for their website and books). Unlike their other projects, though, this was mostly dedicated to yelling the stories of other minimalists, including Courtney Carver, Joshua Becker, Leo Babauta, and Tammy Strobel. What’s awesome about that is minimalism is often portrayed as something only single white guys do, so it was a lot of fun to see the ways in which these other individuals interacted with the idea of minimalism. Continue reading

A Better Alternative to a Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list? It’s usually a highly aspirational collection of accomplishments and adventures you want to complete before you, well, kick the bucket. The idea was popularized in the 2007 movie “The Bucket List” and has since spawned many websites, books, blogs, and artistically filtered pictures on Pinterest. That’s how you live life to the fullest, right? Set audacious goals?

The Problem with Bucket Lists

The truth is, though, bucket lists aren’t really lists of “goals,” or at least, not in any helpful sense. They tend to be vague, at least in a plan of execution, and don’t have a deadline. In my experience, deadlines are one of the most helpful motivators in the world. Without a deadline, your bucket list ends up being a “someday” list — full of things that would be nice to do, but that you probably won’t fight too hard to accomplish. At least not until, well, someday. Continue reading

Habit RPG: Your New Best Friend

Okay, it’s official. I’ve found the most fun productivity program ever. It’s called “HabitRPG,” and if you’re obsessed with gamifying things  like me, it’s pretty awesome. It’s like a to-do app, but the functionality is a lot wider. You can add habits, which are things you want to encourage or discourage yourself doing; dailies, which are thing you want to complete on a regular basis (daily, weekly, etc); and to-dos, exactly as they sound.

The program is, as its name suggests, RPG, and completing these things gives you health and XP. As you go, you can level up, find pets, raise them into steeds, buy armor and weapons, pick a class, etc. It’s super addicting, and for me it’s been a really good way to stay on track with habits, particularly ones that don’t take that much time but that I don’t think to do.

Anyway, it’s super fun, especially if you’re nerdy. Check it out!

A Review of “Yellow Face” at Theater J

I had no idea what to expect with Yellow Face–all I knew was that it was about the experience of being Asian-American, and what that really entails. I was not expecting it to be so funny, and, frankly, I wasn’t expecting it to be so honest.

Yellow Face is still in previews, and it was a little rough around the edges, but I was amazed with the way the actors left everything they had on the stage. Despite the initially rocky start, it was obvious that the entire cast committed themselves fully to the difficult racial and cultural issues the shows deal with, and managed to do so with humor and obvious honesty, even where that honesty was uncomfortable and less than flattering. Continue reading

A Review of “Our Suburb,” written by Darrah Cloud

Hearing that a local theater is producing an homage to “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder is not a promising beginning. An attempt to write an homage to the quintessential American classic is a daunting task for any playwright, and the somewhat clunky title did little assuage my doubts. I was honestly prepared to be thoroughly underwhelmed by the reworking of the classic, especially considering that “Our Town” was, in a way, my first introduction to theater, and holds a very special place in my heart.

To put it bluntly, I stand corrected. “Our Suburb” not only far outshone its somewhat awkward title, it actually may have been even more emotionally impactful for me personally than “Our Town” was. That may have been because of the age of the protagonist throughout the show: Cloud’s Emily equivalent (though quite her own person), Thornton, was in the last stages of high school and about to possibly enter college before her untimely (or very timely) demise at the end of the second act. Continue reading

Targeting Millennials

I read a pretty interesting article in the New York Times today about narcissism in the Millennial generation called “Seeing Narcissists Everywhere.” Interesting, but not particularly shocking. The article centered on a psychologist named Jean M. Twenge who, in 2006, wrote a book called Generation Me that seemed to sort of jumpstart this national conversation. She wrote another book in 2009 entitled, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.

As I stay, the story is a familiar one. Supposedly, my generation is the generation of self-obsession, laziness, materialism, and a lack of any sense of communal obligation or identification, as exemplified by the rise of social media and, per the NYT article’s paraphrase of Dr. Twenge, “America’s culture of self-esteem, in which parents praise every child as “special,” and feelings of self-worth are considered a prerequisite to success, rather than a result of it.” Now, first of all, I have a problem with self-worth being equated to narcissism, but that’s neither here nor there. Continue reading