Marcy Kennedy

Is the World Becoming More Evil All the Time?

Loki The Avengers

This is Loki making the crowd bow before him.

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

It feels like the world is getting worse by the day. Like each day, a new level of evil is revealed. Until we wonder if we’re even safe to leave our homes.

But I was reminded of something this weekend as my husband and I watched The Avengers.

Loki, basically a super-villain with super-powers comes to earth to take it over. He kills without remorse.

Early in the movie, Loki forces a crowd in Germany to kneel before him. He wants humanity to fear him. He wants to rule over them. “You were made to be ruled,” he tells them. “In the end, you will always kneel.”

One old man struggles to his feet. “Not to men like you.”

“There are no men like me,” Loki says in a tone dripping with condescension.

“There are always men like you.”

Like Loki, every new “villain” in our world thinks they’re something new and special.

To weeks ago, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed three people and injured 176 more by setting off homemade bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, I’ve heard people talking about how dangerous and evil our world has become. I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t say it myself. How it feels like you can’t send your children to school, or go to the movies, or attend a major event without wondering if you’ll come home alive.

But the truth is there always have been and always will be men like the brothers who bombed the marathon. The methods might have changed over the years, but they’re the same type of men doing the same type of thing. Spreading fear because it makes them feel more powerful. They’re nothing new.

In the 1940s, men like them sent millions of Jews to gas chambers. During the French Revolution, men like them sent thousands to the guillotine. And in 1200 B.C., parents like them sacrificed their children to the false god Molech by burning them alive.

Evil isn’t anything new.

And in the face of the fact that there always have been and always will be men like them, it can sometimes feel like fighting it is hopeless and we should just hide away where we’ll be safe. It’s a natural human reaction to a threat.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

I think instead of hiding away, we need to do the opposite. When the worst happens, instead of running away, we need to run towards it.

Like Carlos Arredondo who leaped a fence and used his own clothes to help staunch the bleeding of the victims at the Boston Marathon. Like the first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center.

When we cower in fear, evil wins because we let it control how we live our lives. When we continue to fight for what’s still good in the world, continue to find a way to enjoy life and help those less fortunate than ourselves, good wins.

We can’t turn this world into a utopia, but we can keep fighting to make it a place worth living in.

What do you think is the best thing we can do in response to tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing?

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How Close Are We to Having Star Trek Holodecks?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If there’s one thing every science fiction fan wants, it’s a Star Trek holodeck.

For those of you who don’t know, a holodeck is a simulated 3-D environment filled with holograms. In other words, it’s like being inside a movie while watching it. You can also be a character in the story if you’d rather. The holodeck is completely immersive, allowing you to touch, smell, see, taste, and hear the holodeck environment as if it were real.

And we might not be that far away from getting it.

In December 2012, the University of Illinois created CAVE2, a hybrid reality environment that was basically 3-D glasses and a circular wall of high definition television screens. They touted it as the closest we’ve come to the technology seen in Star Trek. You can see the trailer they created for it below.

And while I’ll admit that it looks pretty cool, it’s not the closest we’ve come. That honor goes to a simulator created by The Gadget Show a year earlier.

The hosts built their “holodeck” environment around a first person shooter video game. (In a first person shooter game, the screen already works so that what you see on the screen is supposedly what your “character” in the game sees. You are the character rather than watching a character move from an outside perspective.)

They installed a multi-directional treadmill to allow the player to run, and motion sensors so that when you jump or crouch, the game moves forward in kind. Paintball guns shoot the player when their character in the game is shot. LCD lights, surround-sound speakers, and a wrap-around screen make them feel like they’re right inside the game. It’s not exactly a holodeck, but it’s pretty close. 

The Gadget Show doesn’t allow their videos to be embedded so I can’t share it here. If you’d like to watch the whole thing, you can see it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg8Bh5iI2WY&feature=player_embedded. It’s well worth the time.

If you could play a character from one of your favorite books, who would you want to be?

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When Should We Follow the Rules and When Should We Change Them?

Battlestar GalacticaBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The biggest fight my husband and I ever had was over Battlestar Galactica.

I know. We’ve now jumped to the very top of the nerd list because most couples argue over the really important things like money or children or whether the in-laws should be allowed to dictate what color they paint their guest room.

But the truth is, we weren’t really arguing about Battlestar Galactica. We were arguing about a theme in it.

When things go wrong, do you stick to the traditional way of doing things, the traditional rules, or do you innovate and rewrite the rules?

The premise of Battlestar Galactica is that humans created Cylons to serve them, but the Cylons rebelled. Years later, the Cylons returned to the human planets and destroyed all 12 colonies. Less than 50,000 human beings survived. Now they’re running from the Cylons, living on a convoy of ships, protected entirely by one battlestar—Galactica.

In other words, life as they know it will never be the same.

Which raised an understandable dilemma for the leaders of the survivors about what was the best way to preserve the species. And that’s where things in my house went sideways.

An episode came on where an officer and an enlisted man whose relationship had been overlooked previously were ordered to stop seeing each other. I thought it was stupid to maintain rules and regulations against fraternization because, as President Roslin said, the only way the human race was going to survive was if people started having babies. My husband thought it was more important than ever in that situation to maintain rules and regulations against fraternization.

And while the issue of fraternization was what kicked the argument off, what we were really arguing about was if rules should ever be changed, and if so, when.

My husband is a former Marine. He’s also a traditionalist. So when he received an order to jump, he didn’t ask how high. He just jumped. And if things are going wrong, he believes that’s the moment when you should stick even more closely to the ways that have worked in the past.

And I could see his point. In a combat situation, you can’t hesitate to follow an order or you and everyone with you might die.

But I didn’t agree that the old rules and old ways of doing things are necessarily the best way. Someone has to earn my respect before I follow them, and I need to understand the logic behind a rule before I obey it. When something stops working, I look for a new way.

You can see how this fundamentally put us at odds. We’ve had to agree to disagree and can even joke about it now, but the question remains.

Is there ever a time when we need to change the rules? If so, when?

(And if you disagree with me that sometimes the rules should be changed, don’t be afraid to say so. I welcome disagreement here as long as it’s respectful.)

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Will Video Game Music Be the Next Classics?

Video games are inspiring some beautiful music. For those of you who don’t regularly play video or computer games, allow me to introduce you to Malukah.

She’s a singer and composer who gained a bit of fame on YouTube by recording game soundtrack covers.

I’ve picked three of my favorites to share today in this fantasy music feature.

This first song is called “Frozen Sleep,” and it’s from Halo 4.

The second song is “The Dragonborn Comes” from Skyrim.

This one is called “Reignite,” and it’s from Mass Effect 3.

Do you think video game and computer game music could become the classical music of our generation? Or will it be forgotten as soon as better games come along?

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The Adjustment Bureau: Would You Rather Achieve Your Dreams or Find True Love?

The Adjustment BureauBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If you had to choose between achieving your dreams or finding true love, what would you choose?

That’s the dilemma faced by Brooklyn Congressman David Norris in the movie The Adjustment Bureau (based on the Philip K. Dick short story “Adjustment Team”).

The Adjustment Bureau is a secret supernatural agency who makes small “adjustments” so people stay on track with the plan. For example, they’ll spill coffee on someone’s shirt to make sure they miss a certain bus and are late for a meeting, changing the outcome of what’s decided there.

At the start of the movie, David briefly meets Elise, who inspires him to give a very candid speech. This speech changes the course of his career and sets him on track to one day become president. That was the purpose of him meeting Elise. He was never supposed to run into her again.

But the agent who trails David falls asleep and misses his scheduled adjustment so that David meets Elise for a second time.

And they fall in love.

The problem is they aren’t supposed to be together. Apart, David goes on to become a great president, and Elise goes on to be a renowned ballerina and choreographer. Together, his political career never takes off, and she ends up teaching dance to six-year-olds. Neither of them achieves their dreams.

An agent explains this to David, and asks him if he really wants to be the cause of the death of not only his own dreams but hers as well.

Love. Or your dreams.

That’s the choice.

It’s not an easy one. After all, chasing our dreams and having something important to strive for can make us better, more fulfilled people.

But if we reach the end of our lives and don’t have anyone to share it with, was it worth it? (This can mean more than just a romantic partner. Many people are so involved with their ambitions and chasing their dreams that they alienate their friends and family.)

In the end, David and Elise choose love.

If you had to choose, if you could only have one, what would you do?

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Is This Magnetic Putty Alive?

Welcome back to my unbelievable real life feature! In the past we’ve looked at sleeping in an ice hotel, sleeping under water, and a bat that looks like Jedi Master Yoda.

This week, it’s some unbelievable science. Watch as the magnetic putty “eats” the cube.

Think it was hungry?

I hope this isn’t too much like revealing a magician’s tricks, but I just had to find out what made this work. (If you don’t want to know, this is your last chance to leave.)

It turns out the putty is composed of ferromagnetic particles (permanently magnetic bits of metal) that are so small we can’t see them with our naked eye. In fact, this putty apparently feels just like Silly Putty, soft and stretchy. You can even tear it apart. But unlike Silly Putty, if you roll it into a ball and hit it with a hammer, you can also shatter it.

The cube in the video is a powerful neodymium iron boron magnet. (In other words, don’t put it near your electronics or your credit card if you want them to keep working.) The ferromagnetic particles are so attracted to the neodymium magnet that they cover it and will eventually spread out evenly so that cube is in the exact center.

This video is time lapse. It actually took an hour and a half for the putty to eat the cube. Still cool and spooky if you ask me.

What do you think? Creepy or really cool?

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Inner Dialogue in Your Fiction: What It Is and How to Tell Good from Bad

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Inner Dialogue in Fiction

Image by Rafael Marchesini

I’ve received a lot of questions via email lately on inner dialogue (also known as internal monologue), which usually means it’s time for me to write a post on something 🙂

So welcome to the first in a three-part series on how to handle the voices inside your characters’ heads.

First we need to make sure we’re clear on what we mean by “inner dialogue” and how to tell good inner dialogue from bad.

What Is Inner Dialogue?

The simplest definition is that inner dialogue is what your character is thinking.

However, because the definition is so simple, a lot of writers get confused about the difference between the character thinking naturally to themselves and a character narrating for the benefit of the reader. Inner dialogue is not narration.

The movie While You Were Sleeping uses both, so it’s a great way to point out how they’re different. (If you don’t own the movie, search for it on You Tube and watch until the Christmas tree goes through the window.)

The movie starts with a voice over as we see a little girl and her father on a bridge with the sun setting in the background.

Okay, there are two things I remember about my childhood. I just don’t remember it being this orange…First, I remember being with my dad. He’d get this far away look in his eyes and say, “Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned.” I just wish at the time I’d realized he meant my life. 

Lucy, the main character, is talking directly to us. It’s narration. This is what we want to avoid. (Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s another post about good narrative vs. bad narrative.) We don’t want it to feel like the main character is talking at us. It tends to come across like a lecture, and lectures are boring. And, more importantly for the issue at hand, it’s not inner dialogue.

Instead, inner dialogue should feel like we’re eavesdropping on our character’s thoughts to herself.

A little later in the movie we see Lucy trying to haul a Christmas tree through her window into her upper-floor apartment. She rants to herself…

Forty-five dollars for a Christmas tree and they don’t deliver? You order $10 worth of chow mein from Mr. Wong’s, they bring it to your door. Oh, I should have got the blue spruce – they’re lighter.

In a novel, this would have been given to the reader as Lucy’s thoughts. That is internal monologue, and it’s amazing when done well.

The Two Unbreakable Rules of Inner Dialogue

Rule #1 – Only use inner dialogue for the point of view character (unless you’re writing in omniscient POV). If you introduce inner dialogue for a non-POV character, it’s head hopping, one of the worst point of view sins.

Rule #2 – Only share thoughts that advance the plot. We don’t need to hear every passing thought that flits through your character’s head. We do need to hear the important ones. (I’ll explain what those are in the next post.)

But If It Follows These Rules, Does That Mean It’s Good?

If your inner dialogue follows these two rules, it still needs to pass the three question test in order to be deemed good. If it fails, you need to either rewrite it or delete it.

Would my character think this?

Do you normally mull over the color of your carpet? I don’t. I also don’t think about the color of my best friend’s hair (because I’ve seen it so many times). I don’t think about the sound my truck makes or even what route to take to get home.

If your character doesn’t care about it, they won’t think about it. If your character wouldn’t think about it, it’s a point of view error. You can’t try to sneak in information through inner dialogue, no matter how important you think it is.

Is this the way they’d think it?

If your inner dialogue passes the first test, you still need to ask if they’d think about it in the way you’ve written it.

Let’s say I would be thinking about my truck because it starts to make a strange noise while I’m driving home. I’m likely to worry about whether I’m going to get stranded on the side of the road in the dark. Or about where we’ll get the money for repairs if something is wrong.

If my dad is driving my truck and hears a strange noise, he’s going to describe it in words I’d never think of (a rattle, a grind, a whine, a screech), and he’s going to think about what the causes could be. He knows the parts of an engine or the breaking system.

But it goes further than this. What tone would they use in this situation? And remember all those questions we asked when talking about making dialogue unique to your characters? They apply to inner dialogue as well.

Would they be thinking this now?

Context is everything. On a normal day, I might hear that noise and think about it. If there’s a man with a gun in the seat next to me, I’m not going to think about that noise unless there’s a way I think I can leverage it to get away.

If you have questions about internal dialogue, now is the time to ask them. I can always extend the series. Do you struggle with inner dialogue?

Want to learn more? Check out my book Internal Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide!

(You might also be interested in checking out Deep Point of View, Description, or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Would You Sleep 40 Feet Underwater?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Tropical Coral ReefEvery girl who watched The Little Mermaid growing up was enchanted by Ariel’s undersea home. So imagine my delight when I discovered someone had built an underwater resort for adults.

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy. Last time we explored an ice hotel (figuratively speaking) and met a bat that looks just like Jedi Master Yoda. Today we’re going under the sea since some of you mentioned you’d prefer a warmer adventure.

Is the Resort Actually Under the Water?

The Poseidon Underwater Resort is the world’s first fully-underwater resort. It’s so new I don’t think they’ve even had their first guests yet.

You walk down a pier and take an elevator 40 feet down under the water. The pressure within the resort is the same as the pressure on the surface (just like in a submarine), so there’s no uncomfortable pressure in your ears and you don’t have to pass health criteria to stay as a guest.

Each of the 24 available rooms is 70% clear acrylic (4-inches thick, which is longer than my index finger) so you can see the coral and aquatic wildlife around you. You can even press a button and feed the fish.

Along with the rooms, the underwater resort includes a fine dining restaurant where you’ll eat your meals (included in the price of your stay), a spa, library, chapel, and fitness center. The restaurant rotates 100 degrees every hour so there’s no bad seat.   

Stepping Into a Jules Verne Novel…

 

Snuba Diving

This is SNUBA. See how they’re still attached to the surface and no heavy gear?

If you have your PADI certification (my husband does) or are willing to earn your certification while there, you can SCUBA dive. For those who find SCUBA diving too intimidating, you can SNUBA instead. Your airline is supplied from the surface and you can walk along the lagoon floor. All you need to remember is to breathe through your mouth. Clear waters allow you to see for 200 feet (about half a city block in distance).

Apparently the water is a beautiful 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius).

You can also learn to pilot a three-person Triton submarine, or if you want someone else at the controls, you can ride the 16-passenger submarine and sip drinks along the way.

You can see the lagoon from the air via parasailing.   

Protection of the Ecology

Because they knew a project like this would bring objections about the negative impact it could have on the environment, they formed the Poseidon Coral Reef Sanctuary Project. This non-profit focuses on conservation, research, and education. Visitors will also be able to visit the Poseidon Coral Farm, one of dozens of international organizations working to propagate coral and restore damaged reefs.

You can find out more about the Poseidon Underwater Resort at their website.

What do you think? Would you spend a night in an underwater hotel?

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Images: SNUBA divers (c) Jim Mayfield, president of Snuba International, Inc., via Creative Commons License; Coral Reef (c) Nick Hobgood via Creative Commons License.

Three Things Writers Need to Understand About Designing Ebooks

I like to think my blog is a safe place where we can meet as writers regardless of the publishing path we choose. For that reason, I try to bring you posts that will apply equally well to traditional, hybrid, and indie authors. While those of you heading down a traditional path might not think you need to know about designing ebooks, I disagree. Your name is on the product, and people will give you poor reviews if your traditionally published book is badly formatted. You might be able to avoid that fate if you can talk intelligently to your editor and agent about ebook formatting. And for indies, well, the importance is obvious.

I’m not an ebook designer, so I wanted to bring you a post by someone who was. I first learned about Paul Salvette at Lindsay Buroker’s excellent website and spent more hours that I want to admit to reading the resources he provides at BB eBooks. He knows his stuff. He’s going to talk to you about three important things to understand about designing ebooks, so that we can raise the standard–reflowability of content, HTML and CSS, and what tools to use to make our own ebooks.

So without further ado, take it away Paul…

*******************************************************************************************************************************

Designing EBooks Needs to Get Better

By Paul Salvette

Recently, I shelled out a whopping $12.99 for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In at Amazon so I could learn more about the career options for my little girl. She’s only 20 months old, but you can never start thinking about this sort of thing too early. When I cracked open the eBook on my Kindle for iPad this is what I saw:

Improperly Formatted Ebook Title PageFor some reason the publisher decided to use an image as a page for the title rather than proper text. Not only does this look tacky and hideous, but it does not scale well on smaller devices like smartphones. Also, on the right side you will notice there is a gigantic wad of whitespace in between each paragraph of front matter. For $12.99, you’d think the publisher would have spent a bit more time making everything look nice, especially the first two pages the reader sees after the purchase.

The Problem with eBooks

Most big publishers with a few notable exceptions still think of eBooks as lame replicas of print books. They spend very little time learning the varying technical requirements of each platform and just try to slap something on the market with very little quality control. A “Save As” button click from an InDesign or Word file intended for the print version always makes for a terrible eBook—but they try to get away with it. Time and time again, eBooks from major publishers have been pulled by major vendors like Amazon due to excessive reader complaints about the formatting.

Additionally, major publishers are much more concerned with Digital Rights Management (DRM) to lock down your eBook and other inconveniences rather than actually creating a nice-looking interior. Luckily, authors and small presses are much more attuned to the wishes of their readers, so they can adapt to the technology challenges that accompany the eBook format.

Reflowability of Content

To understand the difference between an eBook and a print book, we need to understand that eBooks are intended for all sorts of devices—from big PC monitors to tiny smartphones. Therefore, trying to typeset all the text into a fixed page size (like publishers have been doing for centuries) is a fool’s errand on eBooks. Have you ever tried to read a PDF with a tiny font on a smartphone? Not a pleasant reading experience.

Since eBooks need to be read on all sized devices and users need to have the ability to adjust the font, font-size, and orientation, it is important that eBooks are reflowable. This means that the content should properly break into as many lines as needed for any-sized viewport. Try adjusting the width of your browser on Marcy’s excellent blog to see what I’m talking about. So, an eBook that is 400 “pages” on an iPhone might be only 200 pages on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

Because word processing and desktop publishing software was designed for fixed-layout type documents that would be printed on a specified page size, it was necessary for eBooks to take a different approach. Luckily, there was a bunch of nerds already working on this technology since the internet was young and this was called…

What’s Inside an eBook?

HTML or HyperText Markup Language is what comprises the content of all your eBooks believe it or not. Don’t be scared if you haven’t heard the term, because you probably look at it every single day. HTML is also the standard that makes up the content on all websites. Without geeking out too much on the details, it is basically a series of rules to indicate how content should be “marked up.” When these rules are followed, web browsers (like Google Chrome) and eReading systems (like iBooks) know how to understand or “parse” the content to ensure that it renders as a good reading experience for the user.

For example, a paragraph of content in HTML gets special tags at the beginning and end of it, while a heading gets a different set of tags wrapped around it. You can also use HTML to display more complex content like tables, lists, and embedded images. What is also nice about HTML is it allows you to provide clickable links to other parts of the eBook or website. This is particularly useful for eBooks when constructing a functional Table of Contents or making your eBook more interactive. Below is an example of the classic poem Ozymandias marked up in HTML:

HTML Mark-Up for Ebook

It will end up looking like this in the Kindle Fire:

How HTML Looks on an EReader

CSS or Cascading Style Sheets compliments HTML and is a series of rules that provide presentational styling to your content. This is an important part of web design and an even more important part of eBooks. A typical novel will have around 1–2,000 lines of HTML code, and if you wanted to change something like the size of the indent on your paragraphs, it would be a heinous task to have to go through and change each line. Rather, you can use your style sheet to make one change that will apply to all the HTML. Below is an example of some CSS code telling any paragraphs with a class of “poemtop” to have a small indent and some whitespace above it, but none on the left, right, and bottom:

CSS for EBookseBooks also contain additional files that dictate the linear order of the eBook, the metadata, and all the images, fonts, and multimedia contained in the eBook. This is all part of what is called the EPUB specification—an open-source eBook format that is used by all the major eBook platforms except Amazon. The MOBI/KF8 format is what is sold at Amazon, but it is very similar to EPUB with the exception that Amazon has proprietary control over the format rather than it being open source. If you have your eBook designed in the EPUB and MOBI/KF8 formats, you will be able to professionally publish at all eBook markets including Smashwords, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and, of course, the biggest of them all: Amazon.

So How Do I Make my eBook?

Since eBooks are composed of HTML rather than a fixed-layout type program like Word, it is necessary to first get your eBook’s content into proper code. Calibre is an excellent eBook management system for readers, but it is not intended for publishers. Using Calibre for professional publishing purposes is discouraged, and Amazon will actually reject eBooks made in Calibre. Some indies try uploading a Word .docx to Amazon or the dreaded Smashwords Meatgrinder to automatically create an eBook—big mistake and readers will notice the ugly interior. Much like Word’s spell checker is a bad substitute for editing, automated HTML conversion is a bad substitute for eBook design.

If you do not wish to learn the technical mumbo jumbo behind eBooks, Sigil or Jutoh may be the best option to create your eBook. However, it is a good idea to at least have some knowledge of HTML, CSS, and the EPUB format as technology progresses and readers begin demanding more features in your eBooks.

If you would like to get your hands dirty and learn about creating the source files for your eBook, you’ll be glad to know that the software to do this is free. Notepad++ is an excellent text editor that can be used to create your HTML (Text Wrangler is a free option for Mac users). As HTML and CSS have been around for ages, there are excellent learning resources for these topics available for free at places like the Mozilla Foundation to help get you started.

I don’t want to turn this into a buy my book-type guest post, but I’ve got a book that can teach you from start to finish the ins and outs of eBooks called The eBook Design and Development Guide (available at Amazon), and we also have some eBook production tutorials on our website. Another alternative is contracting out the eBook conversion to a shop. 52 Novels and Rob Siders are excellent, and our own shop, BB eBooks, can get you a novel turned into an eBook for all major platforms for as low as $60. Whatever you do, don’t settle for a poorly designed eBook!

Have you run into ebooks that are poorly formatted? Does a poorly formatted ebook influence your decision about whether or not to buy a book?

Paul Salvette of BB EbooksAbout Paul:

Paul Salvette is the Managing Director of BB eBooks, a small business dedicated to eBook design and development in Bangkok, Thailand, founded in June 2012. His technical knowledge of eBooks somewhat surpasses his mediocre writing capabilities, so he decided to dabble in that aspect of the publishing process. He is the proud owner of a pair of sunglasses.

 

Important Note From Marcy: My 90-minute webinar on how to create loglines, taglines, and pitches that get results is this Saturday, March 23, so time is running out to register. Cost is $35. Click here to sign up.

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Is It Better to Be a Good Person or a Great One?

Oz: The Great and PowerfulBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If you told me I had to choose between being a good person or a great one, I’d choose to be good.

Oz at the beginning of Oz: The Great and Powerful wanted the opposite. He wanted greatness.

Oz is a magician and a conman in 1905. He lies to women and breaks their hearts. He doesn’t know the meaning of friendship or fairness.

At the beginning of the movie, a woman who cares about him (and who he clearly has feelings for) shows up and tells him another man has proposed to her. She wants Oz to tell her what she should do.

Oz tells her that the man who proposed is a good man.

“You could be a good man,” she says. The pleading in her voice is clear.

Oz turns away. “I don’t want to be a good man. Kansas is full of good men who go to church and raise their families. My father was a good man who plowed the earth and died face down in it. I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one.”

He wants to be rich and famous like Thomas Edison or Harry Houdini.

While running away from a man whose wife he defiled, Oz hops into a hot air balloon, gets sucked up by a tornado, and ends up deposited in the land of Oz. (Yes, the land and the man share a name.)

And when he lands, everyone believes he’s the prophesied wizard who will save them from the wicked witch. Oz knows he doesn’t have any actual magical powers, but he lets them believe it because he sees it as his ticket to greatness—to gold, hero worship, and women.

To save the land of Oz, he has to learn that what matters most isn’t greatness at all. It’s goodness.

We can’t control greatness any more than Oz could control the tornado that sucked him up and dumped him in the land of Oz. We can make it more likely to happen, in the same way that Oz made it more likely the tornado would suck him up by being in a hot air balloon than if he’d been on the ground, but we can’t guarantee it. He could have been sucked up off the ground or left untouched in the air.  

We can’t change the genetic code that decides if we’re born with a great singing voice, or an eye for color and proportion, the creativity it takes to be a writer, or the steady hands of a world-class brain surgeon, the ability to catch a ball or to sprint like an Olympian. Wishing and working for it can’t guarantee greatness.

But goodness? Goodness is a choice. We decide whether or not we live a life of character.

At the end of the movie, when Oz and Glinda the good witch have chased the wicked witch sisters from the Emerald City, Glinda tells Oz, “I knew you had it in you all along.”

Oz smiles his cheeky smile. “Greatness?”

“Better,” she replies. “Goodness.”

Goodness will always be better, always be more important than greatness.

And sometimes, when we work hard on goodness instead, greatness follows.

If you could only have one, would you rather be a good person or a great one?

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” button. You can also join me on my Facebook page.

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 And don’t forget that you can receive a copy of my suspense short story “Purple” by signing up for my newsletter.