Spartan Girl!


I'm a journalism freshman at MSU, and I hope to eventually publish my own novel one day.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Books Based on Greek Mythology

Lately, I've read a great deal of books inspired by famous Greek myths. I used to read Greek myths when I was a little kid. Of course, the versions that I read were written in context appropriate for kids, so it was a bit of a nasty surprise when I discovered the kinkier side of those myths (incest, marrying older men, deities transforming into animals to mate with humans--ew). Still, once you get past all that, they remain exciting to read.

Some of the following novels are very interesting retellings. Other ones aren't as good. So here is an overview of the ones I've read, rated on a scale of thunderbolts (since Zeus was the god of thunder).

Inside the Walls of Troy and Waiting for Odysseus by Clemence McLaren
Plot: Inside the Walls of Troy is basically the Trojan War told in the points of view of the all-seeing Princess Cassandra and the infamous Helen of Troy. The sequel, Waiting for Odysseus, is (obviously) The Odyssey, told in the perspective of Odysseus' wife Penelope, alone with the many other women in his life.
Thoughts: It was nice to hear Homer's work in the point of view of the women. Troy has a strong female protagonist in Cassandra, who for once isn't a psychotic loon. She has to deal with the fact that she knows that her family and city is doomed, yet no one will believe her. Helen, on the other hand, is basically protrayed as a passive, self-pitying sissy. Even after reading the novel, I still couldn't understand why she ran off with Paris, aside from the fact that he's handsome. Waiting for Odysseus has more admirable female characters; McLaren manages to make the reader feel sorry for Circe!
Rating: Inside the Walls of Troy gets 4 thunderbolts out of 5, while Waiting for Odysseus gets 5 out of 5.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney
Plot: Anaxandra, the sole survivor of the sack of the kingdom of Siphnos, is taken in by kindly King Menelaus. However, she has to fight to protect the king's baby son, Pleis, when his mother, Helen of Troy, takes him with her to Troy
Thoughts: WOW! This novel was so great! It was cool to see Helen of Troy portrayed as a villain for a change. And Anaxandra can be compared to Odysseus with her intelligence and courage.
Rating: 5 out of 5 thunderbolts. A wonderful epic story!

Troy by Adele Geras
Plot: Another retelling of the fall of Troy, this time surrounding the romantic agonies of the servants (and one soldier).
Thoughts: One big soap opera. Don't get me wrong, I liked it, but the main characters seemed to place their own romantic woes over the fact that everyone in their city was dying. And the guy that the two sisters fight over has zero personality.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 thunderbolts.

Ithaka by Adele Geras
Plot: Penelope tries to cope with the fact that her husband is AWOL while her maid, Klymene, tries to win the affections of Telemachus.
Thoughts: What's really interesting about this one is that Penelope actually sleeps with one of the suitors!!! True, the one in particular is decent, but still! Klymene is much more sympathetic than the characters in Troy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 thunderbolts. I still can't figure out why Penelope does what she does, but it's a good twist.

Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl
Plot: The events of Theseus' battle with the Minotaur in the point of view of Ariadne's (Theseus' lover) little sister, Xenodice.
Thoughts: I liked how the Minotaur was made into a misunderstood, deformed man and Theseus was the bad guy. It's a refresher from the many stories of the Trojan War.
Rating: 5 out of 5 thunderbolts.

The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot
Plot: The events of the Trojan War told in Helen's POV.
Thoughts: Elyot definitely did her homework on Greek traditions and the descriptions of clothing. However, if she was trying to make readers feel sorry for Helen, she failed. Even throughout the terrible things that happen, Helen refuses to take responsibility for any of her actions, instead blaming others. I also didn't buy the transformation of Paris from a coward to a pacifist. While this isn't smut, it is dangerously close.
Rating: 2 out of 5 thunderbolts.

Aphrodite's Blessings by Clemence McLaren
Plot: The famous love stories of Atlanta, Andromeda, and Psyche told in a feminist perspective.
Thoughts: I liked this book. Eros and Psyche is one of my favorite stories in Greek mythology, although McLaren could have made it a little longer. Actually, she could have made the whole novel the story of Eros and Psyche. Oh well, it's something left for another writer to tackle. On a further note, why does McLaren insist on naming all of the maids in her stories Clymene?
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 thunderbolts.

Anyone who loves Greek mythology should definitely look into these books. Maybe eventually, someone will write the stories in the perspectives of Andromache or Medea. Hey, if they can try to empathisize with Helen, we should at least give Medea a shot!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What Every Writer Should Know

I'm not exactly a professor writer--yet--but I am an avid reader. It's true that different readers have different opinions, so maybe the following list won't apply to everyone. However, I have read a lot of books: some that were excellent, some that were just good, some that didn't suck but I don't re-read that much, and some that were just plain bad. I have a pretty good idea what kind of things will hook a reader and what will bore them before the book is even halfway over. Having said that, here are ten tips that I've come up with for for writers in order to write a good story (or at least a halfway decent one):

1) Don't go into too much detail. The whole index crap Tolkien put at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings book is what pretty much turned me off from the series. Fortunately, the movies renewed my interest. Details are important, but an in-depth analysis of every action in the book is a guaranteed way to lose your readers.

2) Be consistent, especially with descriptions! For example, I read a book in which a certain character's eye color changed about three times. This is also a good reason to edit the manuscript before getting it published.

3) Nobody likes a Mary Sue (namely, a perfect, beautiful female character everyone falls in love with). This applies to male characters as well. Readers like characters that they can relate to and easily sympathisize with. The more flaws a character has, the better!

4) Beware of plot holes! (See also tip #2)

5) Although there's nothing wrong with action, not every chapter has to end in suspense. Try to even it out so that there's a place your readers can leave off on for a while. Cliffhangers can wear old very fast when used too much.

6) On the other hand, cliffhangers and plot twists are a guarantee that your reader will keep coming back for more, especially if you are writing a series. How do you think J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket are so successful? Still, try not to rip off the now infamous, "I am your father" plot twist.

7) Try to make your opening chapter interesting. It's best to get your readers hooked from the beginning.

8) Corny lines are a big turn-off. See the Star Wars prequels for specific examples of dialogue you shouldn't use.

9) If there's romance, don't make it too sappy. The Sleep of Stone by Louise Cooper was so sappy that I felt like I needed an insulin shot just after reading it.

10) Not all stories have happy endings, even if we may want them to. Bittersweet/slightly optimistic endings are often more realistic. However, the sad endings has been done so many times that you may want to avoid that. If not, try not to do it in a sappy way.

I hope this guide will help future authors to be if they have problems with plot.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I don't wanna be a...Disney girl?

For this blog, I was inspired by Pink's wonderful new hit single, "Stupid Girls." I like it because it rings true to how society seems to glorify the spoiled starlets of today. Come on, do we really want girls growing up idolizing Paris Hilton? So anyway, I got thinking about other "role models" for young girls, and then I started thinking about the animated female characters of Disney--some of which are considered the most unrealistic of women, and not just because they look thin.

I remember that one of the staff members of my high school newspaper wrote an editorial about how much the Disney girls disgusted her. While I must admit that she had some valid points concerning their appearance (i.e. they're all beautiful and thin), I don't think all of them deserve so much criticisim. In fact, when you compare more "modern" ones (I say "modern" because Disney hasn't made a decent animated film in years, aside from Pixar) to the ones of the past, they've actually evolved quite a bit.

Let's take a look at the more popular--or most advertised--Disney animated women:

Snow White- Yes, she was first and one of the sweetest Disney princesses, but when it comes to brains, she comes up short. As a runaway fleeing her evil stepmother, you'd think she'd be a bit more wary of trusting strangers, let alone a sinister-looking old woman! And believing that tripe about the "magic wishing apple"? Come ON!!! And on a related note, didn't anyone find it a bit creepy that the prince kissed her when she was supposedly dead? Maybe it was a sign of love and respect, but if you tried that at a funeral today, people would think you're a necrophile.

Cinderella- Okay, let's forget for a moment that she married the prince less than 24 hours after she had met him. Aside from all that, she did behave with dignity as she was made a slave in her own house. Any other girl in her place would have whined about how badly her stepmother and stepsisters treated her, but except for the part after they destroy that pink dress she was going to wear to the ball, she keeps a stiff upper lip throughout most of the movie, which is very admirable.

Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Briar Rose/Aurora)- I really don't have much to say about her, because the title speaks for itself. The only part of the movie when she wasn't comatose was when she was singing with the animals, dancing with the prince in the forest, and oh yeah, her melodramatic reaction to finding out that she's really royalty and she's engaged a guy she thinks that she has never met. There's not a lot of personality here, folks. Also, my previous comment regarding the whole necrophile thing in Snow White doesn't extend to the prince in this one because he actually knew about the spell.

The Little Mermaid- I know Ariel's gotten a lot of flack over the years; in one of Meg Cabot's books, she is regarded as "a feminist's worst nightmare because she abandoned her own species to secure a man." Like that makes her different than the previous characters? When you really think about it, Ariel is actually a step up from them. Even if it was only in the first part of the movie, she saved a guy's life. I think she was the first Disney heroine in history to save the prince instead of the other way around. Yes, she can come off as silly and immature, but so is almost every other sixteen year old girl in the United States. As for her being so skinny, most of the sea creatures in the movie both talk and help out in many situations, so merpeople couldn't eat them? Therefore, what do they eat? Maybe they eat plankton and seaweed, which would explain it.

Belle (from Beauty and the Beast)- Belle is the one Disney princess I could relate to most. She liked books, she didn't have the golden looks most Disney princess before her had, and she couldn't stand that ***hole Gaston. I knew two guys in high school that were just like him. Not only was she intelligent, she was also was the first Disney girl that didn't fall in love at first sight. She wasn't willing to put up with the Beast bossing her around, which is a good message to those that are in destructive relationships. Yes, she did stay with him, but only because he got hurt trying to save her life. What's most important is that she fell in love with the Beast before he changed into the handsome prince. So all in all, Belle is a good role model for girls. And her gold dress? Gorgeous.

Jasmine (from Aladdin)- Another step in the right direction. You know in the first version of the movie, Jasmine was kind of a spoiled brat, so thank goodness she changed into the defiant, indepedent character most of us admire. Even though she and Aladdin fell in love in a period of roughly three days, it took two other movies and a TV series for them to actually tie the knot. Which just goes to show you that there's nothing wrong with a long engagement.

Pocahontas- Again, it was a refreshing change of seeing the female save the male. Still--and it must be said--everything in that movie is a big fat lie. The real Pocahontas was twelve years old when she met John Smith, so unless he was a pedophile, there was no romance. And according to my sixth grade teacher, her tribe wouldn't have permitted her to have such long, lovely hair; it would have been cut real short since it was their custom, although I'm not really sure. More research may be in order.

Mulan- Belle and Jasmine might have set the stage for the independent woman, but Mulan kicked that "damsel in distress" sterotype all the way out of the film reel. The staff member I mentioned earlier stated in her article that no Chinese girl would have acted so "disrespectfully." Even though it was illegal to disguise as a soldier, what's not to respect? She kicks butt and saves the kingdom! It's a good message to girls that they achieve anything if they put their mind to it.

So in conclusion, while some Disney women aren't the best role models for girls, on the whole, they inspire a positive message. Think twice before mocking all of them.

And while I have the chance, I beg of you: STOP BUYING THE CRAPPY DISNEY SEQUELS!!!! Seriously, I have seen plans to make a third sequel to Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, and a Fox and the Hound 2. Do we really need this?! Go to a freaking bookstore and get some new ideas, Disney!