Disagreement, Dispute, and Combat #amwriting

In many books, the characters are forced to do a certain amount of fighting, whether it is a marital dispute, neighborhood quarrel, war, or a kickboxing tournament. Unfortunately, some authors don’t understand how important it is to choreograph the scenes of disagreement and disputes.

These scenes are crucial to the advancement of the story. They should be carefully planned and inserted into the novel as if one were staging a pivotal scene in a film.

Scenes involving physical action can be a morass of mindless mayhem, if  not well-choreographed to begin with. It takes time, but over the course of several hours, you can put the skeleton of your fight scene on paper. What is physically possible and what is not? The next step, after the action is laid down, is fine tuning it, so the reactions and responses of your characters are natural and real.

But there is a larger consideration for your battle: Scenes involving fighting are controlled chaos—controlled on the part of the author. The battle must advance the story.  Why did it happen? What is the purpose of injecting that conflict into the narrative?

I mentioned this in my last post on literary violence: In Billy Ninefingers, besides the obvious fact that he is seriously injured in the fight, which is the core plot point of the book, I had two other goals with that fight scene:

  1. I needed to show how the Bastard is jealous and acts on any thought that passes through his alcohol-soaked mind.
  2. In the resolution of that scene, I demonstrated that Billy, even with his life in ruins, has a sense of fair-play.

There are two sorts of fights, verbal and physical. Both have commonalities, although words are the weapons  in the verbal dispute.

Many authors get hung up on the technical side of the fight—how they were dressed, who hit who with what words or weapons, and so on.

Just as if the physical dispute were a verbal dispute, we map the violence out as we would a journey, with every slap, curse word, and gunshot occurring at its proper point in the melee. If physical violence is involved and you are not a martial arts aficionado or a weapons specialist, these are necessary elements of the combat scene that good, responsible research and an author’s diligence can resolve.

What we have to consider in each quarrel is that each character in the fight is, and must remain, a unique individual. There should be no blurring of personalities, which can happen when an author focuses too intently on the action of the fight scene, writing it as if they lived it. For the author, acting out the action ensures that the moves are reasonable and make sense, but you aren’t done writing that scene just because the hacking, slashing, and gunshots are on paper. It’s far too easy for the author’s voice to intrude in these scenes, as the author is so wrapped up in the emotion of the event they don’t see that the characters have fallen silent, and he is the one doing all the shouting.

If the dispute is verbal, the words hurled back and forth must be the words that character would use. Each character has habitual mannerisms. In real life, they wouldn’t all react the same way, so they can’t all be superheroes in your fight scene. You must go back to the first part of that section, and make sure you haven’t lost the individuality of the characters in the chaos. Each character’s reactions must be portrayed in the action sequence in such a way the reader doesn’t say, “He wouldn’t do that.”

I try to show this in small, unobtrusive ways by sitting back and visualizing the scene after the choreography is laid on paper. I replay it in my mind as if I were a witness to the events and look for the facial expressions and reactions of each combatant.

The most important reactions get briefly mentioned in the story, the reactions that push the plot forward. The others are witnessed but given less prominence, becoming part of the scenery.

When I choreograph a fight, I think of it as choreographing a conversation. In real life, people miss a few beats when they are speaking. They gather their thoughts and speak in short bursts. They shift in their chair, or stand up, or wave a hand to emphasize a point. They turn and sometimes mumble. In our literary conversations, we want to paint the impression of their individuality without boring the reader with minute details.

We must approach the fight scene the same way. When it comes to fighting, I keep it concise and linear, as drawn-out fight scenes bore me to tears. Just the facts, the immediate emotional impact, and we move on to the recovery scene.

In so many novels, battle scenes are long, drawn out, convoluted passages detailing blood and guts, but which make no sense. I don’t like books where the fights are senseless and too chaotic to follow, because I know that isn’t true to life. Violence is orderly and happens in a sequence of actions, within a fundamental framework of order.

I have been married four times, so trust me, I understand disputes and how they can escalate out of control. But I also have personal experience with physical violence. I played hockey for four years as a young woman, and I also took martial arts as a young adult. From my personal experience, I know that each fight is comprised of a specific sequence of events, despite the fact it appears to be chaotic. 

  1. the inciting incident – what triggers it
  2. the response – what each combatant does and how the opponent responds
  3. the resolution – how does it end?
  4. the aftermath

It is the swiftness of the event and the emotional impact of the violence that conveys the overwhelming sense of chaos.

Once you have the order of events, who did what and what the result of that action was, you must add the emotion, the sense of fear, the feeling that things are happening too swiftly that is the true chaos of the battle.

Every character’s emotions and reactions are individual, uniquely theirs. You, as the author, visualize them this way, but the difference between success and failure as an author is the ability to commit their uniqueness to paper. Many authors don’t succeed at this—they either fail to give enough subtle clues to the reader, or they are too specific. The fine line between enough and too much is where the author’s artistry comes in.

This has also been said before, but it bears mentioning again. Through physical actions and conversational interactions, we make our characters knowable and likable (or not, as the case may be).

Their actions as they interact with their environment and each other illustrate the world they exist in. Each scene, especially a fight scene, is your opportunity to convey the setting and the mood of your characters without resorting to an info dump.

We are painters with words. We give the impression of detail, offering the reader a framework to hang his imagination on. We use our words sparingly and with intention, giving the reader the idea and the atmosphere of the conflict as if painting the scene in the style of the impressionists.


Credits and Attributions:

Dutch: De dood is fel en snel: Ruzie in een pub, English: Death is Violent and Fast: Quarrel in a Pub, painting by Joos van Craesbeeck, ca. 1630 – 1635 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Information and Misinformation #amwriting

This week, I am involved in editing for clients, hosting a writing meetup, and working hard on a first draft.

Over the weekend I made good headway with new material, and now I am putting much of what we have previously discussed into action as I expand on those chapters.

I’m ensuring that within the larger story, I have a structure of smaller arcs,  scenes that will come together to create this all-encompassing two-volume drama. If I do this right, I will keep my readers’ hearts invested in the narrative until the end of the second book.

I’ve talked before about the arc of the scene vs. the overall arc of the novel.

The end of the scene is the platform from which your next scene launches. This means each scene begins at a slightly higher point on the novel’s narrative arc than the previous scene did, driving the narrative. That pulse is critical to creating the necessary tension.

At this point, I’m still fine-tuning the plot, deciding who has the critical knowledge. The fact that some characters are working with limited information is what creates the tension, a concept known as asymmetric information. This a situation in which one party has more or superior information compared to another. In business, this can prevent other companies from effectively entering and competing in an industry or market. The company with the information has a monopoly.

In real life, a monopoly of information creates a crisis. In the novel, it creates tension. A conversation scene should be driven by the fact that one person has knowledge the others need to know at that moment. Whether or not they receive the information in time is up to you in the plotting stage.

So, this is what I am doing now, making sure the information is divided up disproportionately. No one ever has all the knowledge, and what my protagonist doesn’t know at the beginning is central to the plot and the final confrontation at the end of the second half.

The reader must get answers at the same time as the other characters, gradually over the first 3/4 of each novel. Book one has the first half of the story line and a satisfying conclusion, and book two is the protagonists’ ultimate destination and final meeting with the enemy. Dispersing small but necessary bits of info at just the right moment so there are no info dumps is tricky but by the final draft of both books, all will have been smoothed out.

As I said, I am creating small arcs, scenes that pose questions, but also provide answers to previously posed questions. Large and small events occur but are linked by conversations because events don’t happen randomly. Sometimes an incident is self-explanatory, but action alone wouldn’t be enlightening.

My characters are charismatic, as they exist in my head. My task in this first draft is to show them in such a way that the reader sees the magic in them that I see. I have to create a pulse of each character’s desires and objectives, laced with information and misinformation. I am creating a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the first conclusion at the end of book one.

Book one’s final confrontation has to be good and resolve the first conflict. I hate cliff-hanger endings so there will be none of that in my work.

I will finish both books before I publish book one, with book two in the final editing stage when book one goes to press. By planning out my production schedule like this, I hope I can achieve what I envision, an epic fantasy that hooks the reader with small rewards of emotional satisfaction along the way to the big event.

My trusty beta readers will “politely” inform me (with a brick to my head) if I don’t somehow accomplish just that.

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De-junking #amwriting

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I bought a house and gradually filled it with furniture. We weren’t rich, but we got the most durable pieces we could afford.

Alas, the recliners were the first to fall victim to old age, with my husband’s obnoxiously big (but incredibly comfy) chair failing first. Not sure what to do with it as it was the size of a dinosaur, the broken corpse sat in a corner for four years serving as an “overflow coat-rack” when we had a lot of company.

The nice recliner with the fabric I liked so much, and which was purchased for me, became “the captain’s chair.” I had written Huw the Bard, Tower of Bones, and Forbidden Road in that chair, but it was still in perfect condition.

I didn’t mind sitting on the sofa, but I never was able to get too comfy with my laptop there. For the most part, I found myself hanging out my office, playing RPGs and writing rather than watching TV.

However, that chair too went the way of all things, falling apart and looking worse than Martin Crane’s hideous recliner on the old TV show, “Frasier.”

In the process of shopping for new chairs, we decided to go with a smaller dining room table, as the two of us don’t need a nine foot long dining room table. When we have large family gatherings, we have the Costco folding table that I use for book signing events and several card tables.

When we got rid of the broken chairs, we also trashed several other large pieces that had begun to show their age, not unlike their owners:

  • The wobbly sofa table on which we proudly displayed our dead houseplants.
  • The backless cabinet that held my dried-up art supplies.
  • The broken bar stool that we dropped our empty shopping bags on instead of putting them away.

After all the broken furniture was gone, I looked around in shock, faced with the glaring evidence of my crummy housekeeping habits.

Grandma went on a cleaning rampage.

So, the house is a bit empty today, but cleaner. It looks rather like it did the day we moved in. I had forgotten how big the place is but seeing it half empty reminded us of why we loved this house in the first place.

New furniture is coming to my house on Tuesday. This time we have modern Scandinavian-style lounge-chairs, with separate footstools. These won’t fail the way the recliners did. The new round dining table will seat four comfortably, and six if they like each other.

And that brings me to the strangest side note to all of this: In the midst of getting rid of the unwanted debris collected over fifteen years, I wrote two full chapters in my first draft, totaling around 6,000 new words. These are good chapters that broke through one of the worst sticking points in plotting that book. What I wrote yesterday advances the story and take it to the midpoint crisis.

Cleaning house seems to have cleared my mind.

Maybe I should clean my house more often.

Nah, probably not gonna happen.

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#FineArtFriday: Young Peasant with Sickle, Vincent Van Gogh

This week, for some reason I have been quite interested in Vincent van Gogh’s earlier work.  This painting is the earliest from his art-book, which is dated 1881. The mediums he used in this study were black chalk, charcoal, grey wash, and opaque watercolor on laid paper, a type of paper having a ribbed texture, that is especially good for watercolors.

I have been contrasting the preciseness of this early work with his later expressionism and imagery. I’m fascinated with the evolution of his choice of colors, from muted, yet somehow intense, in his early work, to brilliant and vibrant in his later pieces. In a way, it’s like reading the early works of a favorite author. You see everything you love about their work in that book written in their youth, but greatly admire the way their voice and style evolves in their later, more mature work.

Fortunately, Van Gogh was a prolific writer of letters, many of which have survived. Through his correspondence with his brother Theo Van Gogh, and to Anton van Rappard, a Dutch painter and draughtsman, we have a window into Vincent’s life.

Quote from Wikipedia: Theo kept all of Vincent’s letters to him;[10] Vincent kept few of the letters he received. After both had died, Theo’s widow Johanna arranged for the publication of some of their letters. A few appeared in 1906 and 1913; the majority were published in 1914.[11][12] Vincent’s letters are eloquent and expressive and have been described as having a “diary-like intimacy”,[9] and read in parts like autobiography.[9] The translator Arnold Pomerans wrote that their publication adds a “fresh dimension to the understanding of Van Gogh’s artistic achievement, an understanding granted us by virtually no other painter”.[13]

There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo and around 40 from Theo to Vincent. There are 22 to his sister Wil, 58 to the painter Anthon van Rappard, 22 to Émile Bernard as well as individual letters to Paul SignacPaul Gauguin and the critic Albert Aurier. Some are illustrated with sketches.[9] Many are undated, but art historians have been able to place most in chronological order. Problems in transcription and dating remain, mainly with those posted from Arles. While there Vincent wrote around 200 letters in Dutch, French and English.[14] There is a gap in the record when he lived in Paris as the brothers lived together and had no need to correspond.[15]

Vincent’s comments regarding this picture, as quoted on Wikmedia Commons:

Letter 172 to Theo van Gogh. Etten, mid-September 1881. Vincent van Gogh: The LettersVan Gogh Museum. “Prompted as well by a thing or two that Mauve said to me, I’ve started working again from a live model. I’ve been able to get various people here to do it, fortunately, one being Piet Kaufmann the labourer… Diggers, sowers, ploughers, men and women I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that’s part of a peasant’s life. Just as many others have done and are doing. I’m no longer so powerless in the face of nature as I used to be.”

Letter 178 to Anthon van Rappard. Etten, Wednesday, 2 November 1881. Vincent van Gogh: The LettersVan Gogh Museum. “Today I again drew a digger, and since your visit a boy cutting grass with a sickle as well.”


Credits and Attributions:

Young Peasant with Sickle, Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Vincent van Gogh,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vincent_van_Gogh&oldid=845634731 (accessed July 6, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Van Gogh – Kauernder Junge mit Sichel.jpeg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Van_Gogh_-_Kauernder_Junge_mit_Sichel.jpeg&oldid=286066347 (accessed July 6, 2018).

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Freedom of Thought #CelebrateDiversity

When you look back far enough, every person in this country is an immigrant. The Native American tribes and First Nations peoples came first, across the waters and across the land bridges. This was their land for thousands of years.

But we who claim European, African, and Asian ancestry are all recent immigrants. We are only here because our parents and grandparents found a place where they could raise their family in relative safety, and forced their way in. Some were brought here against their will, but stayed, hoping to find a better life. It wasn’t easy, and those times were difficult.

In some ways, Independence Day celebrates the possibilities, the promise that lives in every human being, and which our founders also saw and hoped to preserve. Yes, these men were flawed, as are all human beings, but they were freethinkers.

When you read historical accounts written at the time by the men and women who lived the American Revolution, you discover it was about so much more than simply breaking away from England. It was a time of revolution all over the western world, also happening in Great Britain, and in France, and across Europe. It was a tidal wave of freedom of thought.

These freethinkers discussed their ideas. They wrote books on philosophy and natural history and writing some of the greatest works of fiction, works that still figure largely in our literary canon.

History shows us that when dictators come to power, they begin cleansing society of the unwanted, usually starting with the immigrants. Then they move on to those whose faith is the “wrong” religion, and then to the freethinkers, burning books that espouse ideas contrary to the new regime. Clergy, artists, writers, entertainers, and philosophers become enemies of the state and risk imprisonment for “perilous thinking.”

We live in a time where narrow minds are poised to snatch freedoms we take for granted from us.

We run the risk of losing 242 years of the right to bear thoughts, dangerous, incendiary things if left lying around where just anyone can find them.

Today we are still allowed to argue politics and discuss religion freely. We still have access to the internet and can discuss books and the impact they make on us as readers. Those of us fortunate enough to be protected by proof of citizenship will celebrate the 4th of July with our children, in the safety of our home. We will celebrate in our small ways, protected by the freedoms firmly espoused in 1776 document that begins with the words “We the People,” and signed by the founding fathers.

We are decent people, trying to live good lives. Individually, we don’t see ourselves as exclusionary or cruel. We believe in the greater good, and because we do, change will come. The face of America will evolve.

Immigrants have always come to America and always will, and they will be a part of what makes this nation a good place to live. We will find common ground because this is a small planet in a large universe, and right now, we have nowhere else to go. Change and growth are never easy.


Credits and Attributions

US Flag, Backlit By Jnn13 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons (accessed 04 July 2018)

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The Paragraph #amwriting

This post pertains to the paragraphs in a literary narrative, whether the genre is contemporary, sci fi, fantasy, mystery, romance—or any kind of writing that is fiction.

Paragraphs are not just short blocks of randomly assembled sentences. A paragraph is a group of sentences that fleshes out a single idea. That means that only one thought or speaker is featured in each paragraph.

This rule is cast in stone and is especially critical if you are writing a technical piece. I have edited work for people who are pursuing literary degrees. That is a different kind of writing and requires strict adherence to style policies as set down by the professor at the beginning of the semester.

In scholastic and technical writing, a good paragraph begins with a topic sentence and is comprised of sentences that support the main idea. In writing for literature, we don’t begin with a topic sentence as such, but we do explore and expand on only one idea in each paragraph.

The rules are simple:

  • Present a single idea per paragraph.
  • Present the dialogue and reactions of only one person per paragraph.
  • Present the viewpoint of one character per paragraph.

I have used this example of a paragraph gone wrong before, but it is a good one:

Jamie said, “You cheated on me.” Kerry cringed and wept. “I don’t want to lose you.” He spat, “You disgust me.”

That is a confusing passage, but it doesn’t have to be. Three ideas are explored there: Jamie’s accusation, Kerry’s guilt and fear of losing him, and finally his disgust.

Jamie said, “You cheated on me.”

Kerry cringed and wept. “I don’t want to lose you.”

He spat, “You disgust me.”

While it makes for short paragraphs, you must break out Kerry’s reaction. One thought, one point of view per paragraph, no matter how short that makes it.

A good paragraph agrees with itself, is logical, and the central idea it contains is developed. Sometimes, this creates long paragraphs.

With that said, some considerations must be given to manuscripts intended for publication as an eBook. If you are self-publishing, I highly recommend you format at least two manuscripts for your book, three if you are planning an epub as well as a Kindle version.

One manuscript will be for the print version, which will be the version you send to Ingram Sparks, KDP, or CreateSpace. The other manuscripts will be the mobi (kindle) and epub (other ebook sellers) manuscripts. I use Draft2Digital to create both types of eBook manuscripts—it is free, and the simple instructions make it incredibly easy. You can also format your paper book there, also for free.

In a paper book, paragraph length isn’t as much of a problem as in an eBook. I’ve noticed that versions of eBook novels containing long paragraphs tend to appear as page after page of an unbroken wall of words. That can be confusing, and the reader may decide to move on to a different book.

Thus, for a manuscript that you intend to publish as an eBook, you will want to divide long passages at logical places, using two paragraphs to explore the idea. This is especially a problem when the paragraph contains a long section of internal dialogue, which is frequently written in italics.

In any type of writing, emails, literature, or scholastic, when a new idea comes into your writing, or a different character speaks, you must begin a new paragraph.

No matter what, you must have an amazing opening paragraph. One of the greatest hooks in literature is the following one by French author, Albert Camus, which opens the 1942 novel, The Stranger.

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home: ‘Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday.

One idea is explored here in ten short sentences, which combine to offer up a wealth of information. Put bluntly, Meursault received a telegram, possibly from an old-folks home, informing him his mother was dead and when the funeral was.

These first paragraphs are where Camus shows his skill. He takes a simple idea and presents it in deliberately crafted prose that feels loose, almost indifferent. Rather than a plain statement of fact, the few sentences exploring that one thought makes us curious about the protagonist and his state of mind.

Authors, please present only one central idea per paragraph. However, you are free to offer up that idea with your own flair and style.


Credits and Attributions

Quote from The Stranger, by Albert Camus, Original title L’Étranger © 1942 (Gallimard, French) © 1946 (Hamish Hamilton, English)

Wikipedia contributors, “The Stranger (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Stranger_(novel)&oldid=796803119 (accessed August 30, 2017).

The Paragraph by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on Aug 30, 2017, and has been edited and updated with new material for this post.

 

 

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#FineArtFriday: Worn Out by H. A. Brendekilde

H.A. Brendekilde was a forerunner of the social realist style, embraced by Diego Rivera. His early work often depicted the daily lives of the rural working class. One of his most famous paintings, “Worn Out” (1889) shows an elderly man lying fallen on his back in the plowed field. I included this piece in a post on March 30, 2018, but I wanted to look more closely at it today.

Brendekilde’s genius shows in the way he depicts the central subject. The rocky, barren field is immense, nearly blending with the sky. Dirt and rocks dominate this painting–Dirt on their clothes, small rocks embedded in the soil, larger rocks gathered into piles to be carted from the field–this man’s life was the soil, hard and rocky though it was. Yet he clung to it, working to clear the rocks until he could go no further.

I love the detail in this painting. It’s easy to see how their day began: the man and woman spent the morning picking rocks from a field and making small piles of them, preparatory to plowing the field. Then, something happened. A heart attack? A stroke? One of the man’s clogs has fallen off his foot, lost when he stumbled and fell. The stones he was picking up and carrying in his apron have tumbled to the ground beside him.

Farming is working in the dirt, and dirt clings to his clothes. The woman wears a dress that has been patched many times, the loose, dry soil on her garments show she too has been picking rocks all morning. Is she his daughter? Or perhaps his wife? Even if only a friend, she is terribly concerned for him.

They are nearing the end of their winter stores and the first new vegetables have yet to be planted. Has he worked himself to death? Will he recover?

This old man’s entire world is this rocky barren field.  As I said in my earlier piece, a story is told in this stark painting.


Credits and Attributions:

Worn Out by H. A. Brendekilde [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Gormenghast and Lyonesse #amwriting

Alas—the annual tradition of the “summer cold” has laid me low, so I am napping a lot and not doing much writing today. Because I’m not thinking too clearly, I thought I should reprise my article on two famous and highly literary fantasy series, Gormenghast (Book 1 – Titus Groan, 1946) by Mervyn Peake, and The Lyonesse Trilogy (Book 1 – Lyonesse, Suldrun’s Garden, 1983) by Jack Vance.

It has been said of the Gormenghast series that it is the first true fantasy of manners. I suspect Jack Vance was a fan of Mervyn Peake’s brilliant work.

A “comedy of manners” satirizes the manners and affectations of certain social classes and is a literary trope that is often represented by highly stereotypical stock characters.

A “fantasy of manners” is fantasy literature that owes as much to the comedy of manners as it does to the traditional heroic fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien and other authors of high fantasy.

Both Gormenghast and Lyonesse more than meet that challenge. Now, my post from 05 June 2017, Literature and Language: Gormenghast and Lyonesse. Enjoy!


Two series of fantasy novels that had a profound effect on me as a reader are the Gormenghast series of novels, written by Mervyn Peake, and The Lyonesse Trilogy by Jack Vance. Both series are literary, yet still fantastic,

They are both considered a fantasy of manners, yet they are wildly different from each other. Both combine the comedy of manners with the hero’s journey of traditional high fantasy. Gormenghast is dark and gothic, while Lyonesse is set in an alternate Arthurian world.

The Washington Post Book World had this to say about the Gormenghast series:  “This extravagant epic about a labyrinthine castle populated with conniving Dickensian grotesques is the true fantasy classic of our time.”

The Gormenghast series opens with the book, Titus Groan. Although the book takes its name from Titus, and he is technically the main character, the book only covers the first two years of his life. At the age of one, he becomes the Earl of Groan. Titus-the-baby appears irregularly throughout the narrative, but he is central to the plot, inciting change in the routine of the immense castle.

The vast, labyrinthine Hayholt, featured in Tad Williams’ epic masterpiece, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, seemed reminiscent of castle Gormenghast to a certain extent when I first read that series. I don’t know if Williams is a Gormenghast fan. I do know he is not afraid to write great literary fantasy.

Vance’s vision of Lyonesse has influenced fantasy literature in the subtlest of ways, creating a canon for those who write alternate Arthurian history that is nearly set in stone.

Wikipedia says, Vance builds the history of his world using layers of facts, names and religions taken from various European cultures — Greeks, Romans, Celts, pre-Carolingian French and Spanish “kingdoms” etc., and adding in places and peoples imagined by those same cultures — Atlantis, Ys, Avalon, Formor and so on. This fantastical/factual mix is used to ground his tale in “history.” It also seems to give some of the same depth that a longer series of books might develop where place, relationships, and plot are built up over time (as in Thomas Hardy’s “Wessex” or Trollope’s “Barsetshire”). It seems to provide the believability that develops where a story is set in a well-known, well-defined historical setting as if the reader holds merely a hitherto untold story.

These complicated, convoluted books are not for everyone. They are beautifully written, but the less perceptive, more impatient type of reader will find Gormenghast confusing and plot-less. Despite being a dark, Gothic fantasy, the prose is literary.

For some casual readers, both Gormenghast and Lyonesse will be considered too heavy on the descriptions.

But for those readers like me, readers who adore beautiful prose, deep, involving books, and darkly baroque settings peopled with unforgettable characters, these two watershed works strike a chord deep within the soul.

These books must be savored, experienced in the fullest sense of the word. The focus is on the breathtaking visual descriptions, and while I am thrilled by it, the verbal beauty of Mervyn Peake and Jack Vance’s prose is what will leave many impatient modern readers cold.

When you are reading these novels, the journey itself is more important than the destination. While Gormenghast is often compared to Tolkien’s work, there is little similarity between the two, other than they are both extremely well written fantasy, written by authors with a good command of the English language and all its nuances.

Literature drives changes in language and is in turn driven by changes in language.

For me, Gormenghast is a surreal, visual painting, created of beautifully crafted words.

The prose of Jack Vance’s Lyonesse is equally beautiful, describing a time and place that never was but could have been.


Sources and Attributions:

Literature and Language: Gormenghast and Lyonesse, © 2017 by Connie J. Jasperson, was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on 05 June 2017

Wikipedia contributors, “Lyonesse Trilogy,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lyonesse_Trilogy&oldid=782651719 (accessed June 4, 2017).

Wikipedia contributors, “Titus Groan,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Titus_Groan&oldid=769262142 (accessedJune 4, 2017).

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake, cover art also by Mervyn Peake, published by Eyre & Spottiswoode 1946 https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Titus_Groan&oldid=769262142 (accessed June 4, 2017).

 

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Using polarity in literature #amwriting

We all know opposites attract—it seems to be a fundamental law of physics. It is as if the one end of the magnetic spectrum supplies a needed missing element for the other, something they can’t resist.

In literature, polarity gives your theme dimension. Remember, the theme is the backbone of your story, the thread that runs though it and connects the disparate parts. Themes are often polarized: One obvious polarity in literature is good vs. evil. Another is love vs. hate.

The circle of life explores birth, growth, degeneration, and death. Young vs. old is a common polarity—many times we find opportunities for conflict within the family. Both sides of this age-old conflict tend to be arrogant and sure of their position in each skirmish.

Wealth vs. poverty offers the opportunity to delve into social issues and inequities.

But looking beyond the obvious are the subtle polarities we can instill into our work, the small subliminal conflicts that support the theme and add texture to the narrative.

Consider justice. Without injustice, there is no need for justice. Justice only exists because of injustice.

Or pain–the absence of pain, emotional or physical, is only understood when someone has suffered pain. Until we have felt severe pain, we don’t even think about the lack of it. In literature, emotional pain can be a thread adding dimension to an otherwise stale relationship.

Truth and falsehood (reality/unreality) go a long way toward adding drama to a plot and provide a logical way to underscore the larger theme.

Ease should be framed with difficulty.

Many commonly used words have opposites, such as the word attractive, the opposite of which is repulsive. When you really want to add texture to your narrative, look at how you could apply the ideas generated by your list of antonyms, words with the opposite meanings.

Think about how some of the concepts of the more common “D” words with opposites could be used to good effect:

  • dangerous – safe
  • dark – light
  • decline – accept
  • deep – shallow
  • definite – indefinite
  • demand – supply
  • despair – hope
  • discourage – encourage
  • dreary – cheerful
  • dull – bright, shiny
  • dusk – dawn

I love and regularly use the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms to spur my creativity. It can be purchased in paperback, so it’s not too spendy. Often you can find these sorts of reference books second hand.

The internet is also your friend. A large, comprehensive list of common antonyms can be found at Enchanted Learning. If you don’t have the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms and are feeling the financial pinch most authors feel, this is a free resource.

Applied with a deft hand, opposites add dimension and rhythm to our work. Polarity is an essential tool of world building, as small polarities in the interactions your characters have with each other add to the atmosphere and serve to show their world in subtle ways.

  • courage – cowardice
  • create – destroy
  • crooked – straight/honorable
  • cruel – kind

What polarities can you use to your advantage in your current work in progress? When inserted unobtrusively they become invisible, an organic part of the larger picture. Yet, each small polarity will create a little conflict, push your characters a bit further, and underscore your larger theme.

These are just a few ideas and thoughts to help you jump start your work, if you’re a little stranded. Happy writing!

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