Monday, April 29, 2013

Distilling Characters, Refining Emotions.

Today I was editing my book Spirit of Orn, and noticed something that I thought I'd share with you.

When writing a book, there is a distilling process that occurs through each revision, in which through refining a core message or emotion emerges from the text. If you read books penned by the classic authors like E.M. Forster or Joseph Conrad they possess a unique ability to draw out a complex bouquet of emotions using limited diction.

I think the key to doing this lies in what they assume the reader must feel about the character. If you think about it, after reading a 400+ page book, the main character is going to be extremely multifaceted. After all of his/her experiences the reader will discover that they are no longer paying attention to the actions of the character, but are implicitly reading into the character their expectations of how the character will act in certain situations given what they know now.

Going back to change or edit my book is no longer a question of deleting extra, superfluous details, but it's a matter of refining the experience the reader has with the character.

If a character is revealed to be a drunk, perhaps their drunkenness should be expressed not through drinking, but by their inability to come through with certain obligations.

Think about it.

Today was kind of short, but it dawned on me, this little tidbit.

See you Wednesday!



SW

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Mire of Postmodern Filth

My life seems to be on the crux of some monumental event that I can neither see or predict at this point. Things happen, and events coalesce into moods and circumstances that output favorable affectations towards the journey one calls life. If only I knew what to do about it!

That's been life after college thus far. I graduated in 2010, and three years later each subsequent year away from academia is frightening and dubious. I miss the collegiate scene, the reading, the free gym membership; it's like I am clawing away at a hole in the ground while my contemporaries are whisked away into the corporate Valhalla above, where Vodka tonics are squeezed and pressed from the udders of mystic goats and every night it's Kimchi from that Korean place downtown that nobody making under six figures has ever heard of. But I am hopeful.

More or less...

The day when Spirit of Orn is finished I will be filled with joy. There's a stack of books/comics waiting to be read on my book shelf that have been driving me crazy. Earlier, right after college I bought NT Wright's series on the historical Jesus, and I've finished the first one so far. It took me a year but I did. I'm about 80 pages into the second one right now, with about 1400 pages to go until the series is finished. It's very engrossing, and I consider them collectors items.

I am getting ready to announce the name of my new graphic novel that I will be releasing online with my friend Phil Kiner. It will be awesome. Awesomeness Guaranteed!

Also Spirit of Orn will feature illustrations. Get ready for that. between me and the artist that I am in the process of contracting we plan about 1-2 illustrations per chapter. It's a very exciting prospect  and we shall get that rolling in January of next year. Stay tuned for principal sketches and sneak peaks!


That's all I got for you today. My heart goes out to those who were injured in the Boston Marathon  as well. Jesus is still King, even in tragedy.



SW

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Jeg Vil Ikke Dø for Jeg Vil Spise på Valhall


Lately I've become enamored with Skaldic Poetry. Here is an attempt written in a fixed meter of lines alternating between 4 and 5 syllables with a finishing couplet of 4 syllable lines. Maybe next week I'll tray to add more alteration, but for now this is pretty great.

Enjoy!
A man wanders
through valley and snow
seeking his home.
Sun and moon beset
in Ymir's skull
guide him to his home
But wearily
wand'ring warrior
will not know the
hall that bore him.

His trek through sleet
and the mountain pass
holds great secrets
so sacred that Men
never told them.
The winter peak claims
many trav'lers.
He is not afraid.
Death will come soon,
die now he not.

“I see the hills
of my father's land,"
says he the man.
"An adversary
today I found.
The snow will bite me
as bear will try.
Rock and ice I meet.
Battle I thee
my Fatherland.

"My hand is lost
but my shield stands high
to block the wind
from my troubled face.
My leg grows tired
burning and broken.
Trouble me not,
I will die proudly.
I stand 'gainst fate.
With sword in hand.

"Greet me, my land.
You are closer now
I see your light
that shines in the night.
Where I will go
my betters will sing
praise to Odin,
who tells my brave tale.
Tonight I die
And Valhǫll go."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Writers Without Scruples

When I was in college I had to take one of those required writing mechanics courses that everybody hates doing. I actually enjoyed it, but I could tell my peers felt like they had been transported back into their advanced placement courses from secondary school. Heaven forbid one has to learn to write for college!

I've always looked at writing as an art. I never bought into the dogmatic discourses of my grammar school teachers who made me write in structured sentences and essays. Consequently I never did too well in school because of that. However when I got to college I was immersed into all the experimental writing exercises. The one I am about to run your through is actually one I learned in grammar school, but it wasn't until college that I discovered the benefits of practice and exercise.

Free writing is important, but many misunderstand what it's purpose is. The main idea of free writing is that it forces you to write something, to put anything down on paper to as a means of stimulating ideas. This is true, but there are purposes deeper than this and far more beneficial to the growing writer.

When writing, especially for long periods of time, generally the first hour is drudgery. It takes a while to acclimate to the material that the writer composes, and therefore I would often encourage younger writers to look over the sections that were composed during that window of time the most during the revision process. It's because in that text it's stilted and and the most contrived. Once that period is broken past, the writer passes into a mindset I would refer to as "Organic Composition," a point at which the writer is not really writing but is recording the drama of the stories action without really thinking about it. The details fade away into the static of the world, and the writer just writes, unhindered.

The goal then of free writing is to shorten the window of the acclimation period between the start time and the entrance into this writing coma. Free writing forces the writer to compose, getting them used to the idea that the story is telling itself, and not the writer. Think about that for a moment. Practice free writing everyday and watch as the text begins to flow more naturally from your pen or keyboard.

To illustrate my point I sat down at 11:10am to write this blog, and I plan on finishing it at 11:30. I had no idea what I was going to write about, beyond that I wanted it to be about free writing. So "meta," right? Trust me when I say it that I'm not bullshitting. I don't general plan what I want to write. It just comes out. Free writing does that. It forces you to see the written word from the perspective of the flow of the passage. Content is not important to focus on, it all develops through the flow of the page.

Practice makes perfect I guess. This week write for 20 minutes a day every day about anything. Watch. You will see your writing get better, your transition period reduce, and your diction slow smoother.

Let me know how it goes!

What do you know, it's 11:30.


SW

Friday, April 19, 2013

Born A Trekkie, Dead A Star Wars'y

I've seen all the promo material for the new Star Trek movie and I still don't know who the villain is. Since I was a child I've been submerged into the mythos of the series in an odd second hand sort of way via my dad's collection of Star Trek movies, dating from the mid to late 80s. I have a good idea of what the universe has to offer, and also know characters like Khan and Q and such, but still I have no idea who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing.

The Star Trek universe to me has always been a little boring. I say this because the philosophically heavy atmosphere kind of weighs down the credibility of the worlds that are explored. Is the universe only filled with bipedal, anthropomorphic creatures? Or is it more like Star Wars, where there is a diverse plethora of creatures waiting to be explored and discovered. I tend to think the latter. Star Wars is by no means a "brainy" microcosm inside science fiction's grander corpus, but I tend to believe that because it is more expansive, it is more immersing as well.

On the subject of film, I find that the trailer is becoming my latest, and also greatest, adversary in the enjoyment of franchises.  This summer will be a fantastic line up, but after seeing the third Man of Steel trailer a couple days ago I am a bit let down by my curiosity. Superman is, and has always been, a string of iconic moments tethered by epic dialogue and visual spectacle. Seeing, Jor-El holding Kal-El as an infant is an iconic moment, and seeing that in a trailer is tantalizing, but I feel robbed now of the ability to enjoy the principal visual experience offered by the theaters.

The Iron Man franchise has been smart about this. When you market something these days, the idea is to market an experience, not a product. The assumption is that everybody wants something, now the company just has to show the people that is will change their lives. That's why Apple has been successful. So with Iron Man, the marketing has been about the substance and thematic drama of the film, not necessarily the content. This is great because all it does is drive speculation in the product. Tony Stark is deposed? By who? His near death experience is creating a conflict in his character?

Intriguing.

You have my attention.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Forklaringen av Albans Hevne Seg


In days long past
when fighting raged
ruled Varg justly,
King of Tyskland.

Father of one
a raging wolf,
Alban, his son,
loved deeply by all.

One high moonrise,
Treachery brewed.
Ewald, proud brother,
friend to King Gerd,
Poisoned his kin.

Alban bitter, wept,
declared that justice
be sought for Gerd.
Tyskland's true king.

Ewald's guilt was true,
as he sought the throne,
and Alban knew
what he must do:
Challenge Ewald's might.

On eve of Sahwain
Alban asked a duel
Of Ewald and won.
As blood stained snow
crept Ewald's life
closer to Valhall.

But Alban's pact
made with the High,
sealed Ewald's fate
Forever more
in fire lands south:
Muspelheim, to death.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Better Writing Mechanics: Finding Your Rhythm

When writing anything, be it dialogue or descriptive prose, it's important to take into account that what you sit down to write naturally follows a particular rhythm. So when you read poetry, it's often hard for you to process in your head. Why is that? Well, most poetry is written according to a  strict beat. Unrhymed Iambic Pentameter, also known as free verse, does this. You've all heard of it in Shakespeare, where each "beat" so to speak is either stressed or unstressed. 

It's always written out as something like this:

da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM 

If you say that out loud, stressing the second beat, it has this certain flow to it. Bottom line is that every manner of speech has a sort of cadence and rhythm underlining the writing. Pentameter is very complete and perfect, which is why it sounds so full when you write a sentence in the meter. For Example:

"as ONE sees LIGHT the BLIND man WEEPS in PAIN"

Though this is poetic and nobly written, it is difficult to write a book like this. Yet just like poetry books contain the same kinds of pacing. I couldn't tell you what it was, because it is so varied, but I will say that when you approach writing mechanics, your job as a writer is to find these beats and patterns that make certain patches of dialogue sound the way they do. 

So let's look at word economy. That's the first place to start.

Consider this sentence:

"That's not what I mean," Charlie scoffed, shoving his hands into his pockets angrily, storming about like a petulant child.

Everyday I encounter this in my revision of Spirit of Orn, but one of the best things to do in dialogue is to assume that the reader is taking in limited sensory input from your story. Naturally, most people skim when they read. As they do, they are filling in the blanks in their heads and there are ways of taking advantage of this natural thought process. So take a look at the sentence. 

The initial statement is the most important, because that is the meat of the sentence. What about the rest though? The natural rhythm of the sentence is something like this:

"STATMENT," Noun verb, adverbial clause.  

Now you are probably thinking, "what can I trim?" The statement here is already set up for a complete thought if you just trim the last bit about the character storming about like a child, but think about the sentence a little harder. This can go both ways, but contextually what is more important to give detail about? The act of scoffing is generally something derisive or scornful, so in the context of the statement, shoving hands into pockets gets across the character's demeanor, but the latter bit reveals something about the nature of the character in general. 

Look at the sentence with the latter part intact versus the former:

"That's not what I mean," Charlie scoffed, storming about like a petulant child.

"That's not what I mean," Charlie scoffed, shoving his hands into his pockets angrily.

There's so much more power in the first statement than the second. This is all a matter of opinion, but in light of story telling being character driven, I've always found it more effective to express and character through revealing their inner substance rather than collecting this information from their action. 

What does this have to do with pacing then? Well there is a natural rhythm you can glean from this kind of editing. Writing mechanics helps to find the rhythm that works best with your story. The above example also helps because when readers scan they are more likely to pickup on dialogue than expository explanation or descriptive prose. Inserting the character's substance into the dialogue allows for a reader to still grasp the inner struggles or emotions of your characters even if they are skimming.   

Suffice to say, I could go on for hours. Today was a little more theory driven than normal, but that's the stuff I love the most when writing. Let me know your thoughts! I'm always happy to talk to you guys about the nitty-gritty when it comes to writing. 



SW


Friday, April 12, 2013

A Grant Morrison Holiday

So my wife, in working for the publishing company that we each intern at, collected a fistful of dollars for some books that she proofed a few days ago. So after allocating the money and setting aside what we needed for some auto maintenance and a wedding that she will be attending, I decided to buy Grant Morrison's The Invisibles Omnibus.

Courtesy Google Imgs
I don't often splurge on comics like this, but my boys over at Sequart Research penned a delightful book that expounds on the whole thing. I'm excited to read them side-by-side and see what all the hub-bub is about.

Grant Morrison to me has always been a close analogue to Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman seems to possess the uncanny ability to make seemingly ordinary things extraordinary. He does it all the time in Sandman. In Marvel's 1602 he does it again, taking Elizabethan England and weaving in all the Shakespearean ethos of the day. Easily the best part of the comic is the transformation of the monk into Thor and being thrown into the dilemma that the universe possess non-Christian Gods.

But Morrison is another beast. In the same way that Gaiman creates profound stories and concepts, Morrison expands the psychology of the comicbook heroes we are so familiar with and gives them these profound monologues. All-Star Superman is probably the best Superman comic ever written, though Kingdom Come is, and always will be, my favorite. I hear though that The Invisibles is equivalent to Joyce's Ulysses in profundity, which can be good or bad.

Amazon has been good to me in the comic game however. Very soon I shall add yet another amazing comic to my expanding collection!

On a side note, I just started courting an artist to do illustrations for my upcoming novel Spirit of Orn. I expect it to be fully illustrated in color with something like 30 illustrations. Stay tuned for the artist announcement!



SW

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Over Fjeller Denne Mann-barn Går


Over the mountains this man-child walks.

He is a dark one.

I have heard him walking in the night. He does not fear death, so he steps where he pleases. Some of us at the village have found him eating venison in the hill area, but he was silent. I myself do not believe him to be of any speaking tribe.

He is a lonely one.

Our village has many things, some elders say too many. When I was a boy the Kristne came and gave us our tools. They were kind, and spent many nights giving their medicines and tools to us in exchange for our attention. They told us tales of the Kvitekrist, a man sent by the All-Father to die on behalf of the race of men. Few believed them, but those who did were changed in their minds and ways. They healed my son, and though I do not understand their tales I understand their kindness. That is enough for me.

But this wandering one, he is not like the tools that came. Long ago the elders told me a tale about men like these. They fight the battle of blood, to drink the life of their enemies. They are creatures that descend silently on the hillside villages in the night, to slay in darkness. Long ago, one greater than all of them lived. She was a monster said to spawn foul demons long before man walked with shields and girded themselves with swords. One of her many sons was said to have matched wits with a lesser man in a dispute over Heorot's hall. When he was slain, in her grief she sired new demons. One of them was the first of the black men of the mountains.

Once Sigmundur told me that this creature was no man but a boy, yet he is ferocious, a warrior to be feared. Not even ten of my finest men could stop him given the chance. But all children are fragile things, and this one's mind had been nearly broken by the cruel men of the North.

I will tell you this though. It is a story that none know. It is my tale

When I was out fishing near the river on Sagi's land, I saw him for the first time.

He was just a child as Sigmundur said, a little thing no older than my own son. His hands were weary with toil, holding a black stone to kill a fish under his hand. Though he did not speak, his spirit cried out to me in pain. He was fraught with loneliness and despair and was an outcast. On his neck he wore a metal collar, girding him forever. The sharpened points inside it stuck into his neck, and every movement for him was horrible.

I cannot say now why I did what I did, but I am a father. What else could I have done? I cannot stand by and watch a child suffer alone.

So, I stepped out.

The boy did not immediately turn to look at me, but when his eyes trained onto me, they lowered. Like a wild animal, he ducked down, walking on his hands and feet. In his hands he held the rock, covered in fish scales, and kept it close to his side. But I was not afraid. I stood tall, and I did not reach for my knife.

When he neared me I got down on my knees. To the death I swore, and to all the Gods I cried out, that I would not harm him. I closed my eyes, awaiting certain death, a sacrifice of peace.

There the boy stood, sitting cross legged holding the rock in his palm. Eying me with curiosity, he leaned closer to me, and leaped back onto his hands and feet with a fierce growl. His hand still clung loosely to the rock, but I was not afraid.

Standing up slowly I held out my hand. There was food in it, something I had planned on bringing for myself. This boy hungered fiercely, so much so that he ate everything in my hand, everything including the sleeping pill that one of the travelers brought to us. As the boy ate satisfied, he smiled, but his eyes closed, and fell back immediately onto his back in a stupor.

That is the story of how that wild child Galdur came to us. So if you ever ask yourself, “how did this wild child come to us?” you will know the true story. Sigmundur has not yet told the story to the boy yet, even though he took him to be his son. He has never lied out of sloth or malice in my days knowing him. He will be good to the child.

Great things will come of him.

I know this to be true.

Monday, April 8, 2013

That Bastard!

So this last week I have been re-writing one of the pivotal villains in my book. It's really difficult. You'd think that writing a villain is simple, but I've found that finding his motivation is troubling.

Writing villains isn't an exact science, especially considering that I haven't found anything in literature or the figures that write it that have anything useful to say about it. I'm tempted to say that writing a good villain is an art form, but then the process just collapses into esoteric philosophizing. So rather than giving you a long winded understanding of how to write a good villain, I will just share some things that I've learned about writing this particular one, and hopefully that will sate your thirst.

He's too damn evil!

The caption above is the gist of some feedback that I got from a friend who read my completed second revision draft. You see this problem more in the trouble with genres and how they can confine and restrict certain stories to only a narrow field of tropes and devices, but when someone is pegged as evil, they stay evil in the mind of the reader. Now think about that. A good villain not only has good motivation to stay interesting and fresh to the reader, but they should also be formidable. He/she can be formidable in one of two ways. They could be physically threatening (like Batman's Solomon Grundy) or they could be intellectually threatening (Riddler/Joker). I think what made Bane such a successful villain was because he was a perfect mixture of both. Now if a villain is outright evil, it leaves little for the imagination. The reader read's and says to themselves, "Oh, this guy is evil," and that's it. That's the end of that character arc.

Watching a good person gestate into a villain is okay, but even then, you know from the start that they will eventually be evil, and it takes away the magic of the reveal moment. So it's finding a right balance between what kind of formidable force the agent of evil presents and their level of involvement in the plot that makes it all work. A good villain has to have a reason to be evil. Remember that if anything.

A Nice Villain?

I've experimented with this and thus far I have had good results. I think what makes villains so great to read is their moments of unpredictability. If you think about it, villains and their driving motivation is to manipulate society or work to sabotage the order of how it works. So then it's extremely humorous to watch a villain doing something you would hardly expect of them. The act of being genial, to me, is one of those things.

My villain is one of those guys like Mitt Romney. On the outside he's very nice, but on the inside he's an evil SOB trying to rule the world. (Believe it or not I'm actually a moderate leaning slightly towards the libertarian party.) Anyways, It's hard to hate someone who will smile at the camera while shaking a hand with that firm, dignified commitment. If you sat down with them and let them have their say to you and spill their guts you would go, "Wow, he's not so bad."

Milton's Satan was done like this on purpose. In Paradise Lost, John Milton's chief purpose was to show that Man's true inclination was towards evil and sinfulness. He wanted to make Satan's cause so tragic and so winsome that the reader would begin to sympathize with him. Milton would then go, "Ha! You fell for it!" and the purpose of the book would be complete. If a villain is nice and perpetrating horrendous acts of evil simultaneously, the moral quandary that follows would be something else.

Conclusion

That's more or less what is on my mind at the moment. But I will leave you with one final piece of advice: you can either lead the story with your villain or your protagonist. What I mean by this is  character actions will inevitably contextualize another character's purpose in the plot. So if a villain is bad and effects the life of the protagonist, that protagonist now lives in the shadow of the villain. In light of this, now the villain is the actual motivation for action in the entire work, and you were trying to write this cool story about this awesome protagonist the whole time. It can go the other way, which I think is more traditional, but Just keep that in mind when you write. As always, submit your questions below if you have any and I can clarify some of my points.

I'll see you guys on Wednesday!



SW

Friday, April 5, 2013

Farewell Roger Ebert, Hello Norway

I was shocked when I heard of Roger Ebert's passing yesterday. After reading his blog post on Tuesday he mentioned his taking "A Leave of Presence," I think the news, and it's sudden effects, compounded the significance of the post. One does not always get a final hurrah, so I consider him lucky.

I think what affected me was his craft. Critiquing is a difficult art. All too often we see on the internet those that critique television, video games, or movies, and realize that they are only enamored with the ability to put down and dish out negativity. While Ebert was recognized as one who shined best in his righteous cinema fury, his style has always ebbed and flowed between honest and unbiased. Were I to sit down with the man, I suspect we would disagree over a whole host of matters, but the world needs less people that we can simply agree with. It needs more honest good-natured people like Mr. Ebert, and for that he will be missed.

It's getting so close to the Norway Trip that my wife and I have been planning that it's almost surreal to think that soon I shall be standing before the Urnes Stave Church in Sogn og Fjordane county Norway. I have been to Europe twice before, but both times were tainted. I don't think children should be allowed to visit countries with things in them that are over a thousand years old. It's a waste. I only appreciated Europe on my return after college when I traveled the region with a tour group, which is saying a lot. I was miserable the whole time because out of the handful of people that went a group of ugly american assholes ruined nearly every city with their drunken escapades. I've never heard of someone maxing out a credit card on sundry purchases, yet somehow they managed to close a card with alcohol and mixed drinks soley on the tab.

Anyways, when we do go to Norway, we shall be flying into Oslo Lufthavn and taking a bus from there to Solvorn. The time table is looking like this:

Leave Monday at 8:10pm, arrive 8:20pm Tuesday in Norway, Take overnight bus from the airport to Solvorn.

Naturally I simplified the itinerary. Suffice to say, the trip was worth every penny. I found a great place called Eplet Bed and Apple to stay at. Imagine a country bead and breakfast, but a hostel, but with locked doors, and you have Eplet Bed and Apple. Great place! The region is so remote that there are no ATMs in the immediate area, which is horrifying and intriguing simultaneously. I plan to go mountain biking with my wife and read the entire time.

On another note, I have great news! Expect to see my web comic going up this summer. With details finalizing and Spirit of Orn nearly complete I am ready to commit to the next project. Expect great things to come! I can say with confidence that this has been a very productive week.



SW  


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Jern Bøyer og Pauser, Men Mannen Ikke.



Iron bends and breaks, but the man doesn't.

Chips of carbon fleck away from the metal. The father strikes, and the son watches. This is the first time he has been escorted inside the forge. It is hot in there. Like a swamp, it is sweltering and disgusting. Putrid fumes of sulfur and body sweat mingle in the air. But like this, it has always been, and will always be so in the ancient arts.

Long ago, when the ancients came to the land, they would take the earth and heat it in their kilns made of clay. Things were much simpler then, but the father is no longer simple.

But he remembers.

“A good sword must be firm in your hands,” the father says. “Keep your eyes up here now. Look there. It bends in at the base. That is a fine sword.”

The son watches as his father raises the pein hammer once more.

A loud crash and then splintering, the blade shatters!

“Damn it all!” The father exclaims, cursing. He throws the hammer into the wall of the forge and exhales. A days work, in one fell strike, wasted. But the father is humble. A good craftsman must learn from his mistakes.

“Look here, there,” the father says directing the boy's eyes to the end of the jagged edge, “the way it curves like that, you see? The metal burned too hot and grew brittle. Never heat your forge too hot, otherwise you will bring trouble on yourself.”

“How do I know that?” The son wonders how to measure the heat. It is an honest question, but the father knows his son can do better.

“That is for you to decide for yourself. I cannot show you, but you must learn. Remember how the metal bends? It is not for you to know immediately, but you must learn on your own.”

A large pot of ore glistens in the flickering mouth of the forge. The iron was collected this morning and is kept cold by the dew. With a shovel the father scoops a large pile and tosses it into the pot of molten iron. Fumes of sulfur rise up out of the pot, and the son covers his eyes.

“Go,” says the father, pointing towards the door, “Take this to Drustan. He has waited too long now for it. I must clean this up.”

Eager to help, the son takes the parcel and runs out the door and into the streets of Strom, the largest city in Main. A crowd of people block his way, but he knows his steps and moves around them deftly like a rabbit. The package is heavy in his arms, but Drustan's hovel is close by, and the son knows the fastest way there.

Drustan is a simple man, so says the father. He is an older, wiser figure in Strom. In his youth he was a famed traveler and swordsman, and no mercenary or foreigner could best him in single combat. He was the sword of the king then. Little remember now what it was like in those days. Conflicts ebb and flow like the sea, but go on and on. The father is keen to remind the son of this. When men were simple, they settled their differences well. But men are no longer simple, not any more.

Drustan has kind eyes when he sees the son. He rarely sees visitors these days, but when he does it is always a matter of celebration. Taking the parcel, he opens it and takes out a long dagger, its handle etched in stone. It is older than Strom, older than the world.

“Ah, Donwald's blade,” he says admiring it with fascination. “It has been a long time since this has come by. It is famous, you see.”

“Why is it famous?” the son asks. His heart pounds with excitement. Drustan's stories are always the best.

“Long ago, it was known for killing kings,” he said, setting it down on the mantle over his hearth. “You see, there was once a kingdom with three brothers, each set on the throne. When the father died, each of them conspired to take the crown for themselves.

“The first was cunning, but foolhardy. He ascended the throne before them all. But on the feasting night this blade slit his throat. And the whole realm mourned him, for he was also a man of peace.

“The second was villainous, for he killed his own brother to be king. And as the land fell into darkness, he fought and brought war to the land, until the third brother stole his dagger, and took vengeance for their beloved brother's murder.

“And so the third ascended the throne, and lived a long charitable life. That was until the day he married a jealous woman, whose eyes were set on ruling the kingdom for her own. One midsummer's eve, in the night, she took this very dagger and ended his life. Blaming the servant, she rose to the crown, but the kingdom mourned, for, like the first of them, this brother had been a fine king.

“But evil deeds do not go unpunished. In the festival season, whilst the queen was enjoying the splendor of her kingdom, the daughter of the servant she cruelly dealt with rose up and killed her in the streets, but ended her life before the guards could arrest her.

“Thus on the ground the blade of Donwald lay, and the people thought it cursed. So they buried it.”

“And that is all true?” the son asked, looking hard at the blade.

“Aye,” Drustan said, taking a seat in a large leather chair.

“But how do you know it's true?” the son asked, curiously.

“The servant whose daughter avenged her had other children. I was one of them, and the servant who took her life, was my sister.”

“So that very dagger really did kill a king,” the son said with wide eyes.

“Indeed, but it is not wise to admire things that court violence.”

“And why is that?” the son asked.

“Because daggers and swords are only remembered for what they have done, but not for those that wield them. It is an old saying, but many forget.”

“Here,” Drustan says, “Take this back to your father. Give him my thanks.”

Smiling, the son nods eagerly and runs out the door, leaving the old warrior behind to his own thoughts. Taking the blade, he stabbed his heart, letting the blood run out.

“Soon, good sister,” he said choking on his lifeblood, “soon we will meet again.”  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Walking Sticks and Flasks and Implementation

When I began Spirit of Orn, I was spending most of my time recovering lost talents and establishing bad habits. Writing stories has been apart of my life since I was in elementary school. I would get home and write, and create these sprawling stories with huge universes. Before that, when I didn't have a computer or a writing pad, it would be all in my mind. But in those days creating characters was a second nature feeling. It was easy. Like any talent or skill, it takes practice to get better, but I stopped writing stories for almost ten years before I started back up again.

One of the things that I noticed about my old stories was that when I created a character they were so tangible to me. I could feel them in my mind as these real people. I think what made them so real was giving them things to do that, while maybe being cliched, made them more cinematic in my head and on paper. For instance, a long time ago I saw a short film about a city full of howitzers stationed on rooftops, and I though that was pretty cool, but there were no characters in the film. I decided to write a story about it, but gave it a main protagonist that was an everyman. (Everman characters are generally easy to develop, because they serve only to observe, but I like giving them more personality.)

Now in Spirit of Orn, after rediscovering this character making process, I decided to take a new approach. As I said before giving a man a staff, to make him old, or a bawdy man a flask to make him a drunkard, are easy ways of enhancing how people see your characters. It's important to balance your level of detail though. A supporting character should have no more than three dimensions to his character. For example:

On a bright, clear weathered day in Sussex, Mus Tuppen when himself down to the Channel waters with his rod in hand. Taking care of the limp, he held his pants at the waist, striding across the rocks, sticking out of the country road. "Harumph!" He declared. His thick mustache tickled his nose. "Beautiful day for a lure. Ms. Winborn and her boats! Give me the rock any day. Nay sire, Sussex wun't be druv. Englishmen fish with rods, not boats."

Here Mr. Tuppen (Mus is colloquial for Mr.) has three characteristics: he carries a fishing rod, has a limp, and sports a thick mustache. In our heads this creates the image of a stock character. He's an ornery old man, using traditional speech, and has a pastime that keeps him busy. Keeping how he got the limp ambiguous is important. Sometimes abstaining from detail helps to develop a character. He could be a war veteran or a farmer gored by a bull. I like keeping things up for grabs in the reader like that.

Now a main character I think should have no more than ten characteristics. That's a substantial increase from the supporting character. The reason for this is because a good main protagonist should be multidimensional, and have lots of different elements that comprise who that character is. Also it's a pragmatic choice because the more details you have, the more you have to work with throughout the book. For example:

Master Norrell lived in Sussex conditionally. His father was a Sussex man from Aldwick, seated in the last house of their family -- Three fathers before him they were there, -- but their ancestral home lay in Brighton. He never considered himself a Lewes man, God no! He possessed the largest library in all of Chichester, a lover of books and poetry, and it was apparent to all that he spent far too much time reading his favorite volumes of Eliot, Doyle, and (his favorite) Henry James (which he always announced by his full name), for his face was never presentable to other respectable gentleman. He was a frugal man, buying his clothing second hand from the local parson in excess of their value, and perceived himself to be well to do and charitous for it. He was delightfully outspoken for a man of his statue, and a lover of all things concerning the history of the Romans. Once he walked up to the mayor and announced he had found an authentic Roman coin. Flustered and taken aback by the announcement, the Mayor scoffed, shaking his finger at him, "You Norrell lads should learn yourself proper manners, instead of running up to unsuspecting, sensible men and scaring the living daylights out of them!"

By now I've lost count, but as you can see we have a lot to use with Master Norrell's character.

That, more or less is an example of what I mean by developing characters using habits, objects, and environments to make them more tangible. I like doing it this way because I feel like when character details become more cerebral we lose the physical nature that makes the character real. In addition, I feel generally that a physical character can be filled in implicitly with our own biases and ideas as well. It gives the reader more agency in the read.

But I've rambled on long enough. That is all for now. See you on Wednesday!



SW