Monday, March 13, 2017

Creating Mythic Characters, Notes on Guardians of the Galaxy

Creating large than life characters in part means giving characters larger than life goals. Guardians of the Galaxy became hugely successful in part because of the spectacle and humor, but also because it's a well told story with clearly dramatically defined characters.

The film starts with a boy, Peter Quill, in a hospital waiting room nervously holding a cassette player playing some early 70's music. His grandfather comes out and wants him to see his dying mother; he is clearly reluctant. When she asks him to take her hand, he refuses, and she dies.

This will haunt Peter for the rest of the film. The audience is allowed to share and experience this moment.

The scene shifts to 26 years later and the now young man sets down on a mysterious moon with a scanner that shows him the inhabitants in the past. He plays some music from his 70's mix tape. He tracks down an orb and manages to escape with it while being chased and fired on.

He tells his pursuers his name is Star Lord.

It's a visually exciting scene, but it comes after introducing Peter and his central issue.

Peter gets a call from his criminal boss who kidnapped him from earth as a boy, who now wants the orb.

This raises a question that plays out through the film, will the boss get the orb? And another question, why did the boss kidnap a young Peter from earth and protect him?

Ronan, a brutal, crazed religious leader of a race called the Kree, wants the orb and sends out Gamora to retrieve it; she's a green-skinned young woman assassin.

The scene shifts to a planet called Xander, where a bounty-hunting raccoon named Rocket and an intelligent tree-like character named Groot have spotted Peter and want to collect on his bounty. Peter tries to cash in the orb, but when he mentions it's going to Ronan, he's turned away.

What follows is everyone trying to get their hands on the orb and everyone finally being arrested and sent to prison.

The question now, who will survive (the assassin Gamora is hated by many prisoners), and how will they escape?

These questions give shape to the next section of the story.

When a muscle-bound brute named the Destroyer tries to kill Gamora, Peter intervenes and saves her life.

Ronan, in turn, seeks the orb for another brutal leader, Thantos.

The wise-cracking Rocket plans and kinda executes a prison escape with Groot's help.

Peter realizes his mix-tape is not with his belongings, so he prolongs the escape to retrieve it.

It turns out Peter still has the unopened present from his mother on his space ship.

This helps the audience to stay in touch with Peter's wound.

Ronan and his followers are on their trail.

Gamora asks Peter why he would risk his life for his mix tape. It turns out his mother gave it to him, and it has her favorite songs.

The group meets with the Collector. He explains that the orb contains an infinity stone, which can be used to destroy an entire world.

A slave girl tries to hold the stone, setting off an explosion. The group now needs to get the orb to some aliens who can contain its power and not allow it to be used by Ronan to destroy the planet Xander.

Now the film has another simple question, can they get this orb to a place of safe keeping?

Possibly, until the Destroyer has called Ronan to the scene just as Peter's boss arrives. The Destroyer wants to kill Ronan to avenge the death of his wife and child

Mayhem ensure.

Ronan gets the orb, and Peter allows himself to be captured by his old boss to save Gamora.

Once in captivity, Peter appeals to his group as losers, those who have all lost family and normal lives, to "not run away" as Peter did as a child and help others.

Again, the audience knows what Peter is speaking about.

Rocket states the obvious, that Peter is asking them to die to help others.

The question of whether they can regain the stone now gives structure to this part of the film.

The group come up with a plan to attack Ronan and regain the infinity stone. They gain access to Ronan's ship.

Someone finally refers to Peter as Star Lord.

The audience knows what this means for Peter. It's another small point carefully fulfilled.

On the ship, mayhem ensues.

The group reaches Ronan, but their main weapon fails to defeat Ronan as long as he holds the infinity stone.

Rocket, the seemingly self-centered raccoon, appears to sacrifice himself to defeat Ronan.

As Ronan's ship is crashing, Groot envelopes the others in a protective ball of limbs, but this will kill Groot.

All the movie, Groot has had one line, "I am Groot." Now he says, "We are Groot."

We hear music play from Peter's mix tape.

And it turns out that Ronan survives and if he touches the planet with the infinity stone, it will destroy this world.

Now the question becomes, can Ronan be stopped?

Note that every section of the film has a simple plot question that allows the audience to assign meaning to the action.

Peter gets his hand on the stone and as he is being destroyed, Gamora asks that he take her hand. Peter sees his mother holding out her hand. As Peter takes Gamora's hand they are joined by the Destroyer and Rocket, and by joining together they are able to destroy Ronan.

Peter's boss then shows up and demands the orb, and Peter gives him a fake orb.

Peter mentions to Gamora that the boss was the only family he had left, but she answers that is not true. He has a new family now.

The Destroyer sits with Rocket, who mourns over a small twig of Groot.

It turns out Peter could hold the infinity stone because he's only half human, that his father was not.

This raises a major question that can be resolved in a sequel.

Peter returns to his shop and the unopened present and card from his mother. She wrote  that he is the 'light of her life' and "my little Star Lord."

Which, considering who Peter's father might be, has a new meaning.

Her final gift to him was another mix tape, Awesome Songs volume 2, which he immediately plugs in and listens to with Gamora.

With Peter piloting his ship and Rocket with a newly coming to life baby Groot, the ship lifts off into the sky for a  new adventure.

For all the action and spectacle and humor, this is a heart-felt story about family. It was hugely successful for a reason.


To learn about the craft of storytelling, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook. It includes a meditation technique that can be used to speak to story characters.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I Am Light

A young man drops out of college in a state of exhaustion and comes home to find his apartment burned to ashes. He adopts the mantra I am light to try and create a new life for himself. If he can avoid his old life rising from the ashes at his feet. 

Available on #Amazon #Kindle .99

Saturday, February 4, 2017

“Our Foremothers’ Voices”, A Celebration of International Women’s Day

You are invited to Soapstone’s third annual International Women’s Day celebration honoring generational legacies of women as we look toward the road ahead. Actors and writers will present dramatic and poetic readings from the work of early Suffragists and 1970s feminists. The program will last approximately 90 minutes.
Readers: Judith Arcana, Diane Olson Dieter, Michelle Fujii, Robin Amy Gordon, Michelle Mariana, Emma Oliver, Jamie Rea, Ithica Tell, Kathleen Worley
Writers: Susan B. Anthony, Lucille Clifton, Maria Irene Fornes, Judy Grahn, Susan Griffin, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Pat Parker, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others.
Free and open to all genders, races and persuasions.  

Co-sponsored by First Unitarian Church of Portland.   

March 4, 2017

2:00 p.m.
 Eliot Chapel of First Unitarian Church

1011 SW 12th Ave., Portland

Monday, January 30, 2017

Portland writer Stevan Allred joins Timberline Review editorial staff

The Timberline Review is excited to announce that Portland writer Stevan Allred has joined the editorial staff as Fiction Editor for the Summer/Fall 2017 issue (submissions now open through April 30th). Stevan’s masterful debut collection of linked short stories, “A Simplified Map of the Real World,” launched Portland publisher Laura Stanfill’s Forest Avenue Press, back in 2013.

Stevan's fiction has appeared in: Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, Clackamas Literary Review, Bewildering Stories, Real, Windfall, Second Writes, Soundings, Perceptions, The Text, Inkwell, Mississippi Review, Ilya’s Honey, The Iconoclast, Rosebud, I Wanna Be Sedated: Thirty Writers on Parenting Teenagers, Pindledyboz, Beloit Fiction Journal, The Organ, The Cereal Box Review, whatevermom, The Gobshite Quarterly, The Paumanok Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Contemporary Haibun Online, Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper, The Portland Mercury, Syzygy, Writers Northwest, Northwest Writers Handbook 1995, Stepfamily Advocate, Fireweed, and Portland Review.

Stevan co-teaches creative writing at the Pinewood Table with Joanna Rose.
The Timberline Review is a semi-annual literary journal publishing new works of short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and essays. More details at

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Judge: Nancy Zafris

Joyce Cherry Cresswell of Portland, A Great Length of Time (Mountain View Press)
Mo Daviau of Portland, Every Anxious Wave (St. Martin's Press)
Mary Emerick of Joseph, The Geography of Water (University of Alaska Press)
Scott Nadelson of Salem, Between You and Me (Engine Books)
Gina Ochsner of Keizer, The Hidden Letters of Velta B. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Judge: Major Jackson

Danielle Cadena Deulen of Salem, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us (Barrow Street Press)
Alicia Jo Rabins of Portland, Divinity School (The American Poetry Review)
Jennifer Richter of Corvallis, No Acute Distress (Crab Orchard Review & Southern Illinois University Press)
Floyd Skloot of Portland, Approaching Winter (Louisiana State University Press)
Joe Wilkins of McMinnville, When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press)

Judge: Charlotte Gordon

Sue Armitage of Portland, Shaping the Public Good: Women Making History in the Pacific Northwest (OSU Press)
Tracy Daugherty of Corvallis, The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion (St. Martin's Press)
Bill Lascher of Portland, Eve of a Hundred Midnights (William Morrow)
Kathleen Dean Moore of Corvallis, Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change (Counterpoint)
Andi Zeisler of Portland, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl©, The Buying and Selling of a Political Movement (PublicAffairs)

Judge: Maggie Nelson

Carrie Brownstein of Portland, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (Riverhead)
Martha Grover of Portland, The End of My Career (Perfect Day Publishing)
Walidah Imarisha of Portland, Angels With Dirty Faces (AK Press)

Judge: Mac Barnett

Kate Berube of Portland, Hannah and Sugar (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Cathy Camper of Portland, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (Chronicle Books)
Deborah Hopkinson of Corvallis, Steamboat School (Disney * Hyperion)
Kathleen Lane of Portland, The Best Worst Thing (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Cynthia Rylant of Portland, The Otter (Beach Lane Books)

Judge: Malinda Lo

Deborah Hopkinson of Corvallis, Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark (Scholastic)
Amber J. Keyser of Bend, The Way Back from Broken (Carolrhoda LAB)
David Levine of Portland, Arabella of Mars (Tor)
Eliot Treichel of Eugene, A Series of Small Maneuvers (Ooligan Press)

Judge: Judge: Edit Villarreal

Cindy Williams GutiƩrrez of Portland, Words That Burn
Sue Mach of Portland, The Yellow Wallpaper
Rich Rubin of Portland, Caesar's Blood
Nancy Moss of Portland, Deception
Andrea Stolowitz of Portland, Berlin Diary


In addition to recognizing the finest achievements of Oregon authors in several genres, Literary Arts recognizes individual contributions with the Charles Erskine Scott Wood Distinguished Writer Award, Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award, the Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award.

The Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award
Independent Publishing Resource Center of Portland

The Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award

S.M.A.R.T. of Portland

The Charles Erskine Scott Wood Distinguished Writer Award
Jarold Ramsey of Madrasstions or to request an accommodation.