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Reviews writing

Why Maleficent Never Needed To Be Good

Over the last decade there has been a fascination with how villains become villainous. Megamind (2010), Despicable Me (2010), Maleficent (2014), Joker (2019), and others have taken to humanizing their “bad guys.” I personally enjoyed some of these titles for their genius. However, I have some qualms with the depreciation of evil in mainstream media. So today, I’m going to talk about why Maleficent never need to be “good” to be good.

I still remember reading a series of unfortunate events as a child. Even then one quote in particular stood out to me:

“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”

– Lemony Snicket

I thought this was pure genius. And it is so true that people are a mix of many things. Writing a well-rounded villain takes a skill and thoughtfulness that comes from recognizing that they are people too. In fact, John August does and excellent job of explaining this in his article “Every Villain Is A Hero.” For a villain to feel real, they do need to have both aspects of good and evil. They need to have hero-like motivations which put them at odds with your main character.

However.

In Maleficent (2014), I found myself startled and disappointed at the defanging of Maleficent in what could have been a truly spectacular remake. While there could have been a deep dive into the culture of politeness among fairies, we instead got an uncomfortable rape analogy which “justified” Maleficent’s actions. In the end (SPOILER ALERT), it was instead her love that set Sleeping Beauty free from her slumber. This was, overall, an interesting take and a well-executed twist.

But, was it the Maleficent from the original Sleeping Beauty?

This villain was a far cry from the well-spoken, noble-reminiscent, castle-dwelling woman who was both petty and vengeful. Disney had already reinvented Maleficent in their retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story back in 1959. The woman in the original tale didn’t play such a large role. However, it seems they were unable or unwilling to keep that character’s spirit alive in 2014.

Maleficent did not need to be a misunderstood person in order for her to be a character that was both compelling and complex. Whatever drove her original character to sit alone in the dark castle, away from other fairies, would have been an interesting story indeed. Just look at her rage in the original movie.

[the video got taken down… but you can look it up]

I don’t know about you, but I want to know more about the character I see in that clip. I want to know more about how she amassed all that power. About how she remains unchallenged on that mountain for 16 years even when the people know she’s going to kill their princess.

No one dared challenge that Maleficent.

We’ve entirely lost the spirit of fairies, now. Sylvia Spruck Wrigley explains this perfectly in their article “Five Reasons Not To *** Off the Fair Folk.” Fairies are not nice, but they are extremely complex, extremely tricky, and very compelling characters. Why wasn’t this explored? The character we saw in Maleficent was not one of the “fair folk” but was the romanticized fairy that means humanity no harm.

Give me the no-apologies-given noble fairy who lusted after power and didn’t care who she stepped on to get it. After all, what’s more relatable and more human than something we see so frequently in our everyday lives? Show us how regular people rise to power, how their desires can lead them down dark paths, and what conflict did Maleficent face within herself as she walked that path, if any?

Do you agree? Or do you think this change was for the better? Share and comment below.

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Reviews

Indie Video Game Review: Gris

Des and I take another turn at reviews with our latest video. Watch it here or check it out on YouTube on our channel.

After playing the delightful and picturesque game, Gris, by Nomada studios, I was delighted. It was the best combination of movies meets video game media I’ve encountered so far. I would recommend it both to children as well as adults for its excellent handling of complicated emotions.

The Cover Art for Gris

One of my favorite things about the game is the fact that it really allows you to work “with” the enemies you face to overcome challenges. Even those things that try to bring you down are actually the things that, at the end of the day, bring you up. The emotionscape presented in Gris is something to strive for in writing as well.

Mechanically speaking, the controls are easy to handle. The keystrokes are simple and it doesn’t take a high level of skill to navigate the world. The game implements puzzles but nothing too complicated or stressful. Overall, Gris tries to tone back the complexity to more fully immerse you in the landscape and the emotion.

So, don’t miss out. Purchase your copy of the game as Gris for Switch console or get the Gris art book. Have you already played? Well then, go ahead and share your insights below. What fell short for you? Or, what did you love?

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Reviews

3 Stunning YA Fantasy Covers

Covers are what draw me to books, for better or for worse. Despite the saying, people really do judge a book by its cover. So why are so many covers bleh? Well, in this article we’re going to look at 3 YA covers that most certainly aren’t bleh.

1. Apolar’s Harry Potter Covers

COVER ART BY APOLAR

This book cover from the Thai artist, Apolar, is nothing short of stunning. And all the covers they’ve done for the Harry Potter series are equally as stunning. The face shapes, the story elements, and the use of cover space are all excellently done. If a teen picks up this book they know exactly what type of story they’re in for. And, because this cover is so well designed, if someone picks it up and doesn’t buy it, it’s because either 1. they’ve already heard about the books and didn’t think it was for them or 2. they genuinely aren’t interested in the genre that is presented to them.

With cover there’s no doubt about the content and that’s what a good cover does. A book cover accurately represents the genre it contains.

2. Simon Prades’ Tess of the Road Cover

COVER ART BY SIMON PRADES

After poking around his website, it seems that Simon Prades has an excellent understanding of positive and negative space. This German illustrator certainly implemented his talents on Tess of the Road‘s cover as well. The concepts of the book are gently explored without over-cluttering the space given him. This is more of a personal preference but I prefer when a book cover is concise.

3. Jeff Langevin’s Anya and the Dragon Cover

COVER ART BY JEFF LANGEVIN

Again, an excellent use of positive and negative space from artist Jeff Langevin for the book Anya and the Dragon. The setting, and glimpses of the plot are visible through the frame of the main character. Similar to the last one, this cover presents information without overwhelming the viewer and there’s no mistaking the genre the reader’s getting. This cover feels clean and makes great use of color.

What’s your favorite book cover and why?

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Friends Reviews

Review: Ruin of Kings

Check out this video by Deseretgear that reviews her qualms with Ruin of Kings. Review: Ruin of Kings is now active on Youtube. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to ring the bell and subscribe.

Des highlights the great amount of anticipation with which she began reading this book. Only to have that same expectation splattered against the rocks. Will you agree with Des’ observations? Only time will tell.

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Reviews writing

Character Descriptions: Please Don’t Do This

While it’s true that clothing, facial features, and other physical qualities can help your character stand out from the crowd. Some of the most memorable characters stand out, not for their features, but for their quirky personalities. Obviously I’m not the quintessential writer, I’ve still got a long road ahead of me. However, as an avid reader, here are some things that novice writers do that kill their characters.

The Whole Face

The writer tells us everything. The hair, the eyes, the ears, oh don’t forget the earrings… it’s too much. In real life people don’t notice everything about a person’s face or figure. The average person will notice a couple to a handful of things. As such, if a writer wants their character to stand out, they’ve gotta stick to the most interesting stuff.
So, focus. What is most important or most unique about this character’s face? The scar on their chin? Their lack of eyebrows? Their earrings that drag their ears to their shoulders? The reader will not remember the character as well if they’re given everything all at once. Not only that, but the truly important details get lost in lengthy descriptions.

Exact Height

He’s five foot three, but she’s five foot two… they’re made for each other. Okay, unless it’s going to play a huge role in the plot. Please. Don’t. It’s awkward because most people don’t consider how tall a person is when they first meet them on the street. Well, if you’re a person like that, please comment below because this is a thought I’ve literally never had in my life. Generally when I look at people I think, very smol, small, about my height, tall, whoa tall. Never once have I been “huh, I bet that random guy is exactly six foot three” in my whole life.
Sure, saying they’re over seven foot or under three foot is fine. Why is this okay? Because at that point it’s a distinctive trait. If a person meets a fantasy creature that only comes up to their kneecaps, they’re going to notice that. But again, notice how I said “comes up to their kneecaps” because that is an adequate unit of measure in this scenario. Anyhow… just stop. We don’t need their exact height.

Descriptions Well Done

Obviously it’s not hard to find examples of well done descriptions. Here are some authors that I think do an excellent job of this.

Brandon Sanderson does an amazing job in Mistborn. The descriptions are gradual, as they become relevant, and remain enough to give us key features of the individuals. Also, some characters don’t get a description so much as a title that makes apparent their appearance. In the prologue, Lord Tresting isn’t described right away, but the title Lord already gives the reader some idea as to what he looks like. An image pops into their head. An image which is only clarified as it’s relevant to world building.

Another author who is sparse on upfront descriptions is Patrick Ness (at least in the book A Monster Calls). At first we know very little about Conor except he’s thirteen just a few months ago. This calls forth the image of a child. It isn’t until later on in the book that we get further descriptions.

If you can avoid clunky descriptions, that alone will do wonders for your writing. If you’ve read this far, don’t forget to follow the website for updates and until next time.