Category Archives: Literature

#amwriting: creating intimacy: Point of View

Narration is the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience. Wikipedia explains that a narrative consists of three components:

  • Narrative point of view: the perspective (or type of personal or non-personal “lens”) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative voice: the format (or type presentational form) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative time: the grammatical placement of the story’s time-frame in the past, the present, or the future.

We want to create a sense of intimacy, of being in the character’s head. One way to do that is to use stream of consciousness, a narrative mode that offers a first-person perspective by attempting to replicate the thought processes as well as the actions and spoken words of the narrative character.

This device incorporates interior monologues and inner desires or motivations, as well as pieces of incomplete thoughts that are expressed to the audience but not necessarily to other characters. Consider this passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

“A dwarf’s face, mauve and wrinkled like little Rudy’s was. Dwarf’s body, weak as putty, in a whitelined deal box. Burial friendly society pays. Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature. If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not from the man. Better luck next time.

—Poor little thing, Mr Dedalus said. It’s well out of it.

The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.”

In this narrative mode, we see the POV character’s rambling thoughts, as well as witness their conversations and actions. This is a tricky device to do well, and the only time I have employed it was in a writing class.

When they want to tell a story though the protagonist’s eyes, many authors employ the first-person point of view to convey intimacy. With the first-person point of view, a story is revealed through the thoughts and actions of the protagonist within his or her own story.  The waves carried me, and I fell upon the shore, a drowning man, clutching at the stones with a desperation I had never before known.

I have used first-person, and find it easy to write. I prefer to read a third-person narrative so that is what I write in most often.

If you prefer, as I do, to write in an omniscient voice, the story is told from an outside, overarching point of view. The narrator sees and knows everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. A way to convey intimacy when writing in third person omniscient is to use the third-person subjective.

Again, Wikipedia says, “The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If there is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited, in which the reader is “limited” to the thoughts of some particular character (often the protagonist) as in the first-person mode, except still giving personal descriptions using “he”, “she”, “it”, and “they”, but not “I”. This is almost always the main character (e.g., Gabriel in Joyce’s The Dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, or Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Certain third-person omniscient modes are also classifiable as “third person, subjective” modes that switch between the thoughts, feelings, etc. of all the characters.”

This mode is also referred to as close 3rd person. I like this mode and frequently use it. At its narrowest and most subjective, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it. This is comparable to the first person, in that it allows an in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, but differs as it always uses third-person grammar. Because it is always told in the third person, this is an omniscient mode. I like reading works written in this mode as it is easy for me as reader to form a deep attachment to the protagonist.

Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another, such as George R. R. Martin does. I admit I don’t care for that but occasionally find myself falling into it. I then have to stop and make hard scene breaks, because it’s easy to fall into head-hopping, which is a serious no-no.

Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

Experiment with POV. Write a scene from one of your works in progress using a different narrative mode. You might be surprised what insights you will gain in regard to your own work.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Narration,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narration&oldid=777375141 (accessed May 7, 2017).

Quote from Ulysses, by James Joyce, published 1922 by Sylvia Beach

Wikipedia contributors, “Ulysses (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ulysses_(novel)&oldid=777540958 (accessed May 7, 2017).

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#flashfictionfriday: The Iron Dragon

Because it’s November, and National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, I am reposting a story I posted in April of 2016. This story was actually written during NaNoWriMo 2015. If you’re curious as to my word count, feel free to click on the image to the upper right, the one that says NaNoWriMo Participant. In the meantime, enjoy  The Iron Dragon.

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Earl Aeddan ap Rhydderch turned his gaze from the mist to the strange iron road that emerged from it, and then to where the road entered the cave. “Tell me again what happened.”

The peasant who had guided the earl and his men said, “The mist, the iron road, and the cave appeared yesterday, sir. We saw the beast entering its lair, and a fearful thing it is, too. No one dares approach it, but the monster can be heard in there. It’s a most dreadful dragon — we found the carcass of a large wolf that had been torn to shreds, trampled until it was nigh unrecognizable.”

The man’s companion said, “Everyone knows wolves are Satan’s hounds. It must have angered its hellish master. We found it lying cast to one side of the Devil’s Road.”

Aeddan looked back to the iron road, seeing where it emerged from the mist. He walked to the low-hanging fog bank, seeing that the road vanished just after it entered the mist, leaving no marks upon the soil. He turned and strode back to the peasants. “I agree it’s the work of the Devil, but why does the Lord of Hell require an iron road that leads nowhere?”

A faint grumbling sounded beneath Aeddan’s feet. “A light! Look to the mist!” shouted one of his men.

Turning, Aeddan saw a white glow forming in the fog as if a large lamp approached from a great distance. “That’s no ordinary lantern. Mount up!” Moving quickly, he leaped into his saddle and turned his steed to face the demon. He freed his lance from its holster and settled it in the arret attached to his breastplate under his right arm. His fingers fumbled as he struggled to fasten the grapper, but at last it held firm. The peasants, knowing they were no match for whatever approached, had run for shelter up the hill.

The light deep within the fog grew and strengthened, as did the rumbling noise.  It waxed brilliant, and the earth shuddered as if beneath the pounding of a thousand hooves. Smoke filled the night air, reeking of the sulfurous Abyss, combined with a howling as cacophonous as the shrieks of all the damned in Hell.

Dragon-Linda_BlackWin24_JanssonWhat emerged from the mist was impossible — an Iron Dragon of immense height and girth.

“Courage men! For God and King Gruffydd!” His bowels had turned to water, but Aeddan and his men stood firm in the face of the demon, sure that death would be their reward.

The fiery light emanating from the burning maw lit the night, and the ground shook as the beast roared and raced ever closer. As the beast sped toward him, a burning wind blowing straight out of Hell knocked Aeddan and his horse to the side of the Devils Road and using that opportunity, the Iron Dragon thundered past him, heading into its lair.

Stunned, Aeddan scrambled to his feet, staring as the length of the beast passed him by, the body taller than a house and long, like an unimaginably giant, demonic centipede. The length of the beast was incomprehensible, lit by the fire within and glowing with row upon row of openings. The faces of the damned, souls who’d been consumed by the ravening beast peered out as they flashed by. Sparks flew from its many hooves.

Terrified his men would be crushed by the immense creature he shouted for them to back off, his voice drowned by the din.

Abruptly it was gone, vanished inside its lair. In the sudden, deafening silence, Aeddan wondered how such a thing could possibly have fit into the cave. Yet it had done so, and other than the stench of its passing, there was no sign of it.

He remounted and settled his lance in the holster beside his stirrup, then turned to his men. “Rouse the village. We must seal its lair with stone and mortar. We may not be able to kill it, but at least, we can stop it from marauding and decimating the countryside.”

>>><<<

Mist shrouded the small valley just outside of the village of Pencader. Engine Driver Owen Pendergrass looked at his pocket watch and opened the logbook, noting the time and that they had just departed Pencader Station. He said to the fireman, Colin Jones, “We should be approaching the tunnel, though it’s hard to tell in this mist. We’re making good time despite the fog. We’ll be in Carmarthen on schedule.”

“Sir! Look just ahead! What…?” Colin pointed ahead.

A group of mounted men dressed as medieval knights, complete with lances lowered as if prepared to joust, appeared out of the mist, attempting to block their path. “God in heaven — what next!” Blowing the whistle to scare them off the tracks, Owen pulled the brake cord, but there was no way the train could stop soon enough. In no time at all, the train was upon the knights, scattering them and blowing past. Owen looked out the window, to see if they’d survived, but they were gone as if they’d never been.

“Vanished,” said Colin. “Like the ghosts when we passed through here yesterday.”

Hiding his trembling hands, Owen shook his head. “It was a close call, but no harm was done. We’ll not be mentioning this to the authorities, eh? Not after the way our report was received yesterday. It’s a haunted valley, but it’ll do us no good to mention it to anyone important.”

Colin agreed and turned back to fueling his fire, shoveling coal as if he could work the fear out of his mind.

The connecting door opened and Harrison, the chief steward, entered. Pendergrass told him the same thing, and the old man agreed. “We got in enough trouble at the yard yesterday for mentioning the ghosts. I’ll go soothe the passengers.”

“Tell them it was just the mist and the dark playing tricks on their eyes.” Owen shook his head and glanced out the window, seeing they had emerged from the tunnel into a clear, cold evening and would soon be at the next stop, the village of Llanpumpsaint. “Playing tricks indeed.”


“The Iron Dragon” © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

(first published Apr. 1, 2016 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy)

Art: Dragon By Linda BlackWin24 Jansson [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#ClasicalPoetry & #FineArtFriday: Night, by William Blake

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Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul title page

Night

The sun descending in the west;

The evening star does shine;

The birds are silent in their nest,

And I must seek for mine.

The moon, like a flower

In heaven’s high bower,

With silent delight

Sits and smiles on the night.

 

Farewell, green fields and happy groves,

Where flocks have took delight,

Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves

The feet of angels bright;

Unseen, they pour blessing,

And joy without ceasing,

On each bud and blossom,

And each sleeping bosom.

 

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Death on a Pale Horse, painting by William Blake (medium pencil, pen, and water color)

They look in every thoughtless nest

Where birds are covered warm;

They visit caves of every beast,

To keep them all from harm:

If they see any weeping

That should have been sleeping,

They pour sleep on their head,

And sit down by their bed.

 

When wolves and tigers howl for prey,

They pitying stand and weep;

Seeking to drive their thirst away,

And keep them from the sheep.

But, if they rush dreadful,

The angels, most heedful,

Receive each mild spirit,

New worlds to inherit.

 

And there the lion’s ruddy eyes

Shall flow with tears of gold:

And pitying the tender cries,

And walking round the fold:

Saying: ‘Wrath by His meekness,

And, by His health, sickness,

Is driven away

From our immortal day.

 

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Blake’s title plate (No.29) for Songs of Experience

‘And now beside thee, bleating lamb,

I can lie down and sleep,

Or think on Him who bore thy name,

Graze after thee, and weep.

For, washed in life’s river,

My bright mane for ever

Shall shine like the gold,

As I guard o’er the fold.’


Night, by William Blake PD|100

[First published 1789 in Songs of Innocence and Experience, collected poems written and illustrated by William Blake.]

Title Page Illustrations by William Blake

Painting: Death on a Pale Horse, Commissioned from Blake and acquired by Thomas Butts c. 1800 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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#amwriting: circumstance, objective, and the story arc

Book- onstruction-sign copyIf you intend to write a novel, especially a fantasy novel, a little pre-planning and at least a smidge of an outline is really beneficial.

Consider the beginning: At the outset of any good story, we find our protagonist, and see him/her in their normal surroundings. An event occurs (the inciting incident) and the hero is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the Situation, which is the core idea of your plot.

This is the circumstance in which your protagonist finds himself at the beginning of the story. Some things for you consider before you you begin writing:

  • How will the story start?
  • What is the hero’s personal condition (strength, health) at the beginning?
  • How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force?
  • What could possibly entice him out of his comfort zone?

Now we come to the core of your story: Objective. Without this, there is no story.

In every class I’ve taken on plot development, the instructors have emphasized that a protagonist has no reason to exist unless he/she has a compelling objective. If your main character doesn’t want something badly enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages, then he doesn’t deserve to have a story told about him.

That harsh edict is true because everything you will write from the moment of the inciting incident to the last page will detail that quest. Your protagonist must desire nothing more than to achieve that objective. Every scene and conversation will push the protagonist closer to either achieving that goal or failing, so if you make it a deeply personal quest, the reader will become as invested in it as you are.

In the book, Tower of Bones, Edwin wants to free Marya from captivity in Mal Evol. It’s a mission that begins as a somewhat noble desire to help his friends free a healer he has never met, but along the way he realizes she is the girl he has been dreaming about for several years. Once he realizes that, it becomes personal, and he becomes driven. That is when it becomes a real story.

When writing fantasy, you need a broad outline of your intended story arc, and you really need to know how it will end. If you try to “pants” it, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.

  • What will be your inciting incident?
  • What is the goal/objective?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?

These are just a few things to think about when you are planning to write a fantasy novel, because so much goes into world building and creating magic systems that it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere.

Some people are able to visualize a story in its entirety and can write a coherent first draft without even a minimal outline.

I am not one of those people, nor are the majority of writers. An outline will tell you what you need to have happen next to arrive at the end of the book in a reasonable number of words: 100,000 to 125,000 for a first epic fantasy novel. You don’t have to go into detail, but if you give yourself a rough outline, you will know how many words you have to accomplish each task within the story line.

The Story Arc

You want to have a smoothly functioning story arc, so you don’t become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up.  That doesn’t really help, because you run out of characters, and people don’t like it when you kill off someone they liked.

Besides, you might need that character later.

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#amwriting: trust your readers

Stardust, Neil GaimanSome hard-core fantasy qualifies as literary fiction because of the way in which the story is delivered. Because of the style in which they’re written, these books appeal to a broader fan base than work pigeonholed into either the “genre fantasy category” or the “literary fiction category.”

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust qualifies as a novel that is a “literary fantasy.” This is because it is a fairy tale told with beautiful prose in an unhurried fashion.

Among the burgeoning population of authors who are just learning the craft, opinions regarding style and voice run high and loud.

According to those critique groups armed with a little dangerous knowledge, in the very first sentence of chapter one, Gaiman commits the most heinous crime an author can: he tells the story with leisurely, poetic prose.

Quote: There once was a young man who wished to gain his heart’s desire. 

OMG!  He did he really write “There once was” in a genre fantasy novel?  Passive Voice! Passive Voice!

Well, guess what? Neil Gaiman knows what he is doing when he sits down to tell a story, and his rabid fans and best-selling novels are a testament to that.

Those megalomaniacal gurus armed with tattered copies of Strunk and White, limited talent of their own, and who believe themselves the fount of writerly knowledge really lose their minds over what he does after that first sentence:

  1. He sets the scene: In a style reminiscent of traditional fairy-tales, he explains how our hero, Tristam, lives in the village of Wall. It’s a tiny town about a night’s drive from London. A giant wall stands next to the town, giving the place its name.
  2. He goes on to explain that there’s only one spot to pass through this huge grey rock wall, and it’s always guarded by two villagers at a time, and they are vigilant at their task.
  3. Gaiman comments that this guarding of the gap is peculiar because all one can see through the break in the wall is meadows and trees. It looks as if nothing frightening or strange could be happening there, and yet no one is allowed to go through the break in the wall.
  4. Only then does he bring us to the point: Once every nine years, always on May Day, a unique, traveling fair comes to the meadow. That is the only day the guards ever take a break from their posts on the gap in the wall.

I can hear the group’s de facto emperor pontificating now. What was Gaiman thinking, starting a fantasy novel with a TELLING, PASSIVE sentence followed by an info dump? Why, everyone knows real authors only use active prose and never, ever, offer information up front.

To that breathless expert, I say “not true, my less-than-widely-read friend.” Lean prose can be leisurely and poetic, and still pack a punch. That is what true writing is all about, conveying a story in a style that is crafted and has a voice that is uniquely that of the author.

In Stardust, each character is given a certain amount of importance, and even minor players are clearly drawn. The circumstances and events gradually pick up speed, and in the end, the reader is left pondering what might have happened after the final words on the last page.

stardust_promo_posterIf you saw the movie that is loosely based on the book, you might be surprised at how different the book is from the movie. There are no cross-dressing sky pirates in the book, although Robert De Niro was awesome in that role in the movie. The movie is excellent but bears little resemblance to the book, and, like The Hobbit movie, should be looked at as a different entity entirely.

Neil Gaiman trusts his readers. That is something we all need to do. Sometimes a story needs to emerge slowly and be told with beautiful, immersive prose, and we need to trust that our readers will enjoy it if we craft it well.

There is room in the bookstore for books with a less urgent story to tell as well as those that ambush the reader and beat them bloody with non-stop action.

When we write, we are writing because we have a story to tell. (Yes, I said tell.) To that end, every word must count, every idea must be conveyed with meaningful words, and sometimes you can just have a little fun with it.

In the opening lines of Gaiman’s Stardust, nothing unimportant is mentioned although the prose meanders in a literary way. Yes, he takes the long way, but the attitudes, mores, and personalities of Tristam’s village are conveyed with humor, and the journey is the best part of this fairy tale. He never devolves into florid, overblown purple prose, yet it has a poetic feel.

True authors are driven to learn the craft of writing, and it is a quest that can take a lifetime. It is a journey that involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Those are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study how they crafted the sentences that moved you.

Let their works show you how to use words to form the moods and emotions that drive the plot.

Learn from the masters how to show the true character of a protagonist, or the smell of an alley by the wharves, painting pictures with words.

Read widely, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

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#flashfictionfriday: Ode (to Writer’s Block)

Quill_pen smallOnce again, I am embarking on a new project, and struggling with getting the idea down on paper. Therefore, it’s time for me to face the demon that haunts all writers–that moment when you have the brilliant idea, and know what you have to say, but can’t find the words. I will defeat this demon by embracing it into submission, as I do all who oppose me. (Did I just say that? Oh, well. It’s out there now.) I will write, no matter how hokey and lame my prose is, because revisions are my friends, and I am not afraid to write garbage. I just need to get these ideas down and on paper before I forget them.

Several years ago, while suffering in similar circumstances over Valley of Sorrows, I wrote this woefully over-the-top, somewhat lame, free-verse ode to that sad condition, and I published it here on this blog then.

Ode  

What beauty is this, that lies sleeping near my heart?

‘Tis word—and word should tumble from my pen,

Not lie locked within the chamber dark and inky.

Where hides the key to free thee from thy prison?

Oh, lovely word, spring forth from the trap that is my mind,

Set thee down upon this paper, word.

Let me hold thee, and from thee let me form the dreams,

The hopes and fantasies that fill my eyes and blind me to all but thee,

Oh word! Fill my paper with thy bounteous delight,

As you fill my head with longing, and my wastebasket with scrap.


Ode © Connie J. Jasperson 2016

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#flashfictionFriday: Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare

Wm Shakespeare Amazon Author Central portraitWe haven’t waxed poetic over Shakespeare recently, and I think it’s time to consider the prose of the master, both its meaning and its construction. To that end, I give you

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments, love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

 

O no, it is an ever fixèd mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.

 

Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come,

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

 

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 116 is typical of what we think of as a classic English sonnet. The English sonnet has three quatrains (verses), followed by a final rhyming couplet. It follows the typical rhyme scheme of iambic pentameter, which is a type of poetic meter: one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.

The interpretation of this poem is open to many speculations, the most compelling of which I found in Cliffs Notes, and which I quote here:

Despite the confessional tone in this sonnet, there is no direct reference to the youth. The general context, however, makes it clear that the poet’s temporary alienation refers to the youth’s inconstancy and betrayal, not the poet’s, although coming as it does on the heels of the previous sonnet, the poet may be trying to convince himself again that “Now” he loves the youth “best.” Sonnet 116, then, seems a meditative attempt to define love, independent of reciprocity, fidelity, and eternal beauty: “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle’s compass come.” After all his uncertainties and apologies, Sonnet 116 leaves little doubt that the poet is in love with love.

The experts at Shakespeare Online say:

Sonnet 116 is about love in its most ideal form. The poet praises the glories of lovers who have come to each other freely, and enter into a relationship based on trust and understanding. The first four lines reveal the poet’s pleasure in love that is constant and strong, and will not “alter when it alteration finds.” The following lines proclaim that true love is indeed an “ever-fix’d mark” which will survive any crisis. In lines 7-8, the poet claims that we may be able to measure love to some degree, but this does not mean we fully understand it. Love’s actual worth cannot be known – it remains a mystery. The remaining lines of the third quatrain (9-12), reaffirm the perfect nature of love that is unshakeable throughout time and remains so “ev’n to the edge of doom”, or death.

In the final couplet, the poet declares that, if he is mistaken about the constant, unmovable nature of perfect love, then he must take back all his writings on love, truth, and faith. Moreover, he adds that, if he has in fact judged love inappropriately, no man has ever really loved, in the ideal sense that the poet professes.

Five hundred years after his time on this earth, the Bard of Avon’s crafting of ideals and emotions into words evokes powerful feelings in the reader. He is immortal, because we hear his words and feel their impact.

The secret poet within me hopes to one day develop more poetic skill, whether it is writing free-verse, or crafting a more traditional rhyming style of prose. To that end, I practice writing poetry when I am in the mood, and read the masters, and attend local poetry-slams. It’s amazing, the talent in your local poetry groups.


References:

Cliffs Notes, Sonnet 116 © 2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 116. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 8 Dec. 2012. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/116detail.html

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#ammwriting: Firing Chekhov’s gun

Motivation memeThis last weekend, I attended PNWA’s annual writing conference in Seattle, Washington. I garnered a great deal of advice from industry professionals and took seminars offered by well-known authors, agents, and editors.

I attend this conference every year. PNWA is where I come to learn both the craft of writing and business of publishing. Craft and business: two aspects of writing that every serious author must know whether they are going indie or taking the traditional route.

Today’s post is about identifying what motivates your characters. Well-known writing coach,  Lindsay Schopfer, gave a seminar on this, which unlocked ideas for my works in progress. That is how writers’ conferences work for me—they pry loose the ideas that have been stuck and help me verbalize them.

You have probably heard of the literary rule known as Chekhov’s Gun, which says nothing should appear in the scene that has no use. If a rifle is important enough to be shown hanging on the wall, someone had better fire it, or it should be removed from the setting.

Firing Chekhov’s gun brings us to motivation. When I was in elementary school, I was taught  “the 5 Ws” of journalism. I feel sure they still teach this, but just to remind you, they are:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

These five words form the core of every story. Who did what? When and where did it happen?

Why did they do it?

In some stories the author had made the what quite clear, but the why is murky. I hate it when the author is at a loss as to why their protagonist wants to do the task set before them.

If a character commits a murder, you’d better know why they were compelled to do it. Random events inserted to keep things interesting don’t advance the story.

When a character arrives at the inciting event, the things that motivate him/her should already be established. Identifying what makes your character do the things they do is the core of character development. Some characters are easy:

  • Edwin wants to save Marya.
  • Wynn wants to get back to his wife and his forge.
  • Huw wants to avoid being hanged for treason.

Some characters have motives that are more difficult to identify. Motives are driven by need, what a character desires, and what they are willing to do to attain it.

Suppose we have a protagonist who realizes her marriage is failing. We’ll call her Anna. Before we begin writing, we need to do a little brainstorming about Anna and find out who she is and what makes her tick.

She is a well-educated, professional woman, a writer of paranormal fantasy. She is married to another writer, David.

What motivates her? David is strong, charismatic and brilliant. There is nothing he doesn’t feel entitled to, and he will do anything to achieve his goals. Although she is a best-selling author of popular fiction and is the person paying the bills, Anna has made a habit of catering to his needs.

At first, she wants to keep her marriage together and presents herself as whatever she thinks David wants her to be. She feels as if she casts no shadow of her own. As the summer progresses and events unfold, she evolves, becoming an individual who no longer needs his validation. In the process, Anna finds that she is, and has always been, the strong one in the relationship.

With those paragraphs, we know the main protagonist’s desire—on the surface she has a deadline for her book and wants to save her marriage, but really she is seeking her sense of self-worth, trying to find who she is.

Now, let’s find out who the other characters are:

Anna and David rent a secluded house on the wild Washington coast for the summer. They invite 3 companions to join them for the summer, as a working retreat. All five characters have deadlines, and that is their official reason for accepting Anna’s invitation. However, the four other characters each have their own agendas. Other than Anna, they each have strong personalities, are charismatic, and are used to a certain amount of privilege. At first, although it is subtle, each of them uses and manipulates Anna for their own purposes.

Every member of the cast has a secret, including Anna. With the revelation of each secret to the reader, the motivations for subsequent actions become clear. Someone will attempt murder to ensure their secret is kept. In the end, three will die by accident, and two will be left to pick up the pieces.

With this information complete, we know the genre–this novel is a contemporary fiction, and is the story of Anna’s journey to self-knowledge. It will be slower paced than a thriller, and will be about the people and their relationships more than the events. However, the events will shape the people.

LOTR advance poster 2Unless each character’s wants and needs are clearly defined, the events won’t make any sense. Without clear motivations, it’s just a bunch of drama queens cooped up with a psychopath, in a house by the gloomy Washington North Pacific coast. Once we know their motivation, it becomes a story. And as a writer trying to flesh out characters, it becomes easy to picture these five people as individuals possessing depth and desires.

Motivation is the character’s quest to fulfill his/her deepest needs. Consider Frodo: he has seen what the ring did to Bilbo and Gollum, but more than that, he loves the Shire and does’t want it to fall to shadow. Without a real, personal motivation, there is no reason for Frodo to  agree to walk to Mordor and certain death just to toss a ring into an active volcano.

 

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#amwriting: Physician to The Vampire

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician. He was best known for his involvement in the Romantic movement, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. He is considered by many as the originator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the short story The Vampyre (1819), which was the first published, modern vampire story.

Perhaps because John Polidori was a physician, he was able to bring all the disparate elements of 19th-century vampirism mythology into a coherent, compelling short story.  With just that one short story, he spawned an entire literary genre.

How did this come about? The story had its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality.

Lord Byron and his young, twenty-year-old physician, John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

On the run from creditors and Shelley’s ailing, understandably jealous wife, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, visited them.

The group was kept indoors by the incessant rain of that cold, wet, unpleasant summer during a three-day stretch in June. Bored at being cooped up, the five turned to telling fantastic tales, and which inspired them to write their own.

Reportedly, they were fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford’s Vathek, and laudanum, to which Byron was addicted. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley, produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

Polidori was the outsider, the man who was only included as he was in the employ of Byron. Lord Byron made him the butt of many jokes at dinner parties, taking great pleasure in humiliating him. This cruel treatment of anyone in his power was well documented by his contemporaries.

the-vampyrePolidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), which is also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment.” Over the course of several mornings, he wrote “The Vampyre.” The manuscript was overlooked for three years when it was discovered by a disreputable publisher, Henry Colburn. He published it in his New Monthly Magazine under the title “The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron.” It was received with acclaim, much to Polidori’s surprise and chagrin.

Polidori struggled to assert his rights to the work, and Lord Byron did have the grace to declare promptly the work was Polidori’s and not his. Despite that assertion, proper credit for authorship of the story was muddy for many years.

Still, Byron was firm that he was not the author. Apparently, Byron felt that the destruction of a man’s soul was no great thing, but theft of his intellectual property was a crime.

Polidori’s work had an immense impact on his contemporary readers. Numerous editions and translations of the tale were published. The influence of The Vampyre as described by Polidori has continued into the twenty-first century, as until recently, his work was frequently considered the primary source of what is accepted as “canon” when writing about vampirism.

What are the traditional tropes of vampire fantasy? First of all, we must think Lord Byron. He was an arrogant, self-centered, charismatic, sociopath with a gift for writing brilliant poetry. From birth, Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot and by the time he hired Polidori, he was addicted to laudanum which had been prescribed for the pain. He treated the young Polidori atrociously, engendering deep antipathy for his patient in the young doctor.

John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._GainsfordWithin the pages of Polidori’s diary, I see “The Vampyre” as an allegory of Byron’s abuse of John Polidori himself. It is easy to visualize Byron as a man possessed of the power to drain one of their soul when seen through the eyes of the man he had in his power, and whom he treated abominably as an employer.

Byron was described as the devourer of souls in the book, Glenarvon, by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s former lovers.  “Ruthven” is the name Lady Caroline Lamb referred to Byron as in her novel. Polidori had read Glenarvon that summer, and blatantly used Lamb’s protagonist’s name for his vampire, and Byron proudly admitted he was the role model.

The Public Domain Review article, The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire, says this about the rocky relationship between Polidori and Byron:

“It was no great leap for Polidori to believe that Byron was sucking the life from him, just as others had accused Byron of possessing a charismatic power that eclipsed their own identities. Amelia Opie, one of the many women Byron had charmed, described him as having “such a voice as the devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it,” a mesmeric quality that critics also found in his verse, which had, according to the critic Thomas Jones de Powis, “the facility of…bringing the minds of his readers into a state of vassalage or subjection.”

So we know vampires are charismatic and seductive. Their bite would enslave their victims. Folktales from hundreds of years ago tell us they can take the form of bats and fly through the windows of even the tallest buildings. Historically, vampires are powerful, but unable to withstand the light of day, which would burn them, and destroy them forever.

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzHowever, that which was once canon regarding vampires is no longer set in stone.

Modern vampires are often able to stay outside during the day, and some even sparkle.  Many are model citizens who get their blood from robbing blood banks.

I love Stephen Swartz’s medical take on vampirism in his book, A Dry Patch of Skin.

But underneath it all, I still have a fondness for the mad, bad, dangerous to know Lord Byron style of vampire.

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#amwriting: Sturm und Drang

hp-touchsmart-320-1030-full-setMy main, desktop computer died on Saturday. It’s been limping along for a while. We had into the shop about six months ago, and should have known then it was terminal. The thing is, while I love Sturm und Drang in my literature, I prefer my electronic life to be stress-free.

Limping along on my ancient, half-functional laptop, I can get by well enough to write the odd blogpost or work on my own work. But the screen is too small for me to use to edit for a client. Also, I can’t do any work requiring Photoshop, as that program is on my dead dinosaur.

I have my headphones on and the laptop strategically positioned, so it blocks the 50-inch technological disaster that is our TV and which seems to take up an entire wall. It also needs replacing as a series of vertical lines obscures the view on part of the screen but I doubt that will happen this year–TV is not that important. Music is mostly my form of entertainment.

Greg’s laptop is older than this one, although he is keeping it alive. All our technology is older than dirt. So, after I finish writing this blogpost, we are going shopping and two new machines will come to our house.

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s talk about Sturm und Drang. The English translation is literally, Storm and stress.

Google defines it as: a literary and artistic movement in Germany in the late 18th century, influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and characterized by the expression of emotional unrest and a rejection of neoclassical literary norms.

What does this mean in simpler terms?

Sturm und Drang as a literary form evolved during the time of the American Revolutionary War, which a period of global unrest and great hardship, especially in Europe. The main feature is the expression of high emotions, strong reactions to events, and often, rebellion against rationalism. It is characterized by violent individualism and complex emotions. Literature and music written in this style were aimed at shocking the audience and infusing them with extremes of emotion.

Classical literature in this style began in 1772 with “Prometheus,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which the character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in misotheistic accusation and defiance. Misotheism is the hatred of God, or the Gods, in literature described as stemming from a moment in a person’s life where one feels the gods have abused and abandoned him. Misotheism requires a firm belief in a God or Gods.

Again, Wikipedia tells us this: Prometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition.

Modern genre and indie literature using this style can be found as an underlying trope in Cyberpunk.

Wikipedia defines Cyberpunk as: a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial “high tech low life[1][2] featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.[3]

DoAndroidsDreamIt is exemplified by post-industrial dystopias that tend to feature wide divisions in the social order and extreme chaos in society. Protagonists acquire and make use of technology in ways never anticipated by its original inventors (“the street finds its own uses for things”).  Much of the genre’s atmosphere is heavily film noir, and  employs techniques and style reminiscent of detective fiction.

The difference between classical Sturm und Drang and modern Cyberpunk is Technology and Industry are the Gods whose knowledge the mortals desire, and whom they seek to replace. All aspects of Sturm und Drang can be found in Cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk began as a niche rebellion by authors like Phillip K. Dick, and is now mainstreamed and growing in popularity.

Authors writing in the early days of speculative fiction were Indies who were finding success getting short stories published in popular sci-fi magazines, and who were fortunate enough to have some farsighted editors take chances with publishing their longer work. They formed publishing companies and became giants. That opportunity will always be out there.

Indie authors have a great deal of latitude in their choice of what to write, as we can write and publish edgy work that would be deemed too chancy by traditional publishers. Authors always engage in artistic rebellion, and society always appreciates it—years afterward.

And tonight, I will continue my artistic rebellion while getting my new computing thing, whatever it shall be, up and running.

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