Category Archives: Process
First off, please don’t run away. I promise that this will be a serious post on the effectiveness of grief in stories. The other night I was reading a fanfic story that my friend had sent me about One Direction (she’s obsessed). She had promised me that I would be overwhelmed by the depth and emotion that this story contained. To say the least, I was skeptical. Regardless, being the good friend that I am, I read the story. Less than 24 hours later, I was sobbing in bed as I finished the story. Now a bit of backstory, as I mentioned before, my friend is obsessed with One Direction. I am not. In fact, I sort of despised them at first. As, ahem, a classically trained musician, I look down upon most pop music, and One Direction was never exempt from this judgement.
Regardless, being the good friend that I am, I decided to give it a try. As a former fanfic writer (a dark point in my life, I assure you) and a fanfic reader (let’s not talk about that particular guilty pleasure), I knew that fanfics are prone to grammatical mistakes galore and contrived plot lines. With that in mind I began the story. As I mentioned above, by the end of the story, I was sobbing. I wasn’t sobbing becauthe of the death of a character, I was crying because I could empathize with the grief that the survivors felt.
Empathy is one of those emotions that everyone can feel (I so hope that none of you are sociopaths) and as such, it is a particularly effective storytelling device. Because it is so subtle, the walls that many have erected around their hearts are shattered by the overwhelming sensation of empathy that then morphs into grief. Despite one’s best intentions, grief worms itself past that barrier and opens you up to so many other emotions. It may seem counter intuitive, but it all gets easier from there.
“I’m sorry, Julsie, but I can’t put you in that sort of danger!”
“Are you kidding me right now, Cy? You and I both know that I’m in danger no matter whom I’m with.” Juliana’s indignant glare captured Cyrus’ gaze and forced him to maintain eye contact. “There is something else, isn’t there.”
“No, I just don’t think that you’d be safe with me!” He tried to defend his decision.
“What is it? Is it because I’m never here? Is it because we’re just never together? I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry!” Juliana ripped her eyes from Cyrus’. She turned towards the corner of the room and wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Julsie. It wasn’t anything you did. This was doomed from the start.” Cyrus tried to comfort her.
“No it wasn’t, and you know it.” She sucked in a breath. “I refuse to let you deny everything that happened as fiction.” She spun on her heel and turned to exit. “Come and find me when you’ve come to your senses. I will be with James.”
Other Phoenix Excerpts:
“Light cue one, standby”
A hush falls over the audience. The indiscernible chatter backstage fades out until the entire cast is prepped and ready to go, silent in their excitement. The headset is silent, everyone waiting for the inevitable cue.
“Cue Spot one. Go”
A single light lands.
“Standby.” The chord swells and “go.”
The light surrounds a man. In unison with the orchestra, he opens his mouth and begins to sing. Behind him, the cast echoes his emotion and his words.
“Standby.” Breath in as the chorus arrives. “Go.”
The explosion of light heralds the explosion of sound.
“Fly, standby.” The cast clears to the wings.
“Spot two, standby.” They leave just one person on the stage.
“GO!” Behind the single remaining character arrives a scene, a setting. Light falls, colouring the scene in an iridescent shade of blue.
“Light cue four, standby.” He tells a story. He invites the audience in. Behind him, and behind the flown in set, the ensemble moves, just as integral to the story as he is. “Standby lights. Standby fly.”
Everyone is set. He prepares to land his note. “Go.”
Lights up. Scenery up. Everyone is framed. Faces are joyous, emotion is strong. The audience is sucked in. The actors pour out their hearts.
“Go.” The lights follow the actors.
“Go.” The emotion evoked by the singers is echoed by the inanimate objects controlled by the crew.
“Go.” Again, a shift in lighting paints an action packed sequence with emotion. The gels paint the scene in a certain light.
“Standby sound.” A whirl and a twist. Spinning, enchanting, the cast moves to entrance. “Standby sound for fade.”
The music climaxes. The sound designer adjusts for the outpouring of music. “Standby lights.” The song finishes. “Go.” The audience is blinded. “Go.” The stage is swathed in black.
“Prepare to catch, Stage Right.” Objects come hurtling off stage.
The actors hurry off following the set that had transformed a bare stage and preparing for the change in place and pace. “Standby fly.”
“Fly loft, go.” Avoiding the incoming set, the actors rush back on stage, so aware of their surroundings that they no longer need lights.
“Standby stage right. And go.” A desk zooms onto stage, timed precisely to avoid any misplaced actors.
“Standby lights.” Everyone takes his or her place. The scene is set. “And go.”
A good short story must contain an element of suspense that leaves the readers on the brink of their seats.
In all of the stories we read, the element of suspense prevails across the board. Suspense drives a short story, allowing the story not to fall flat. In the case where a story does not contain suspense, many readers find that the story has no point and the story quickly looses the readers’ interest.
In the case of “Desiree’s Baby,” the suspense lies in the fate of Desiree and the reception of the race issue by her husband and society at large. Not only that, but the suspense of the fire at the end builds to the point that the reader seems astounded, more emotionally vulnerable and feels as if he or she has been left shocked when the author reveals the true origin of the baby’s race.
Concerning “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the niggling sense that something does not fit allows for suspense throughout the narrative. Because the reader knows that the protagonist should have died, the reader feels blindsided by the narration that follows of the protagonist’s journey towards escape. Because the reader feels unsettled by the fact that something seems off, the reader finds him or herself eagerly awaiting the resolution that surely follows such a wacky climax.
In all of the stories that we read, the punch line, if you will, came very close to the end of the story. This allows for doubts to percolate as we read and for each reader to try and predict what will soon come to pass, only to find that their predictions have no basis in fact and appear to refute any actual events in the narration. Because short stories, as the title implies, have a much more condensed plot, they need to have some sort of driving to keep readers engaged.
Now that you’ve heard my perspective, what do you think is the most effective element?
A large animal swept past overhead, its colours illuminated by the dying sun and its roar shaking the bones of all who heard it. In response to the terror instilled in him by the infinitely larger animal, Cyrus moved closer to his father. His father, James, swept his son’s hair of his brow, soothing the boy.
“It’s alright, Cyrus.” He smiled down at Cyrus. “They won’t hurt you. You are, and you always will be, protected.”
“But Papa, how?” The curiosity intrinsic to any young human was rampant in Cyrus.
“Well, my dear boy, one day, many years from now, you will no longer see these magnificent beasts.” James explained to his son. “At least if I have anything to do with it.”
“So you’ll keep me safe?” Cyrus questioned his father even further.
“Yes, Cyrus, I will. Now let us watch the beauty soaring above us.” James admonished Cyrus.
“Yes, Papa.” Cyrus replied before returning his gaze to the skies. The dragon slid through the air effortlessly, its leathery wings moving infinitesimally in response to the wind currents washing over the animal. Each individual scale was a different shade of purple, each shone unique in the light of the sunset. Here was lavender, there plum and there the purest of periwinkles.
The dragon released another growl, this one accompanied by a fire that blanketed the hillside in an acrid smoke. The minute the fire was released, guards immediately surrounded their King and Prince, but James waved them off, confident in the domestication of the dragon. Again, in response to his fear, Cyrus drew closer to his father.
“Shhhhh,” The father comforted the son. “All is well, Cyrus.” James gently turned his son’s face away from where it rested on his chest and oriented it towards the dragon that paid its tribute to the dying sun above. “Did you know, my dear boy, that dragons, when they used to be in the wild, or what we would call the wild, did this every night?”
“No. Tell me, Papa!” The child insisted.
So, the father began a story to distract his timorous son. “Once upon a time, there was a place where dragons roamed free with no chains or obligations. They flew where and when they wanted to and surveyed the world we find ourselves in. They were the great mages of that time. They were also the great teachers and students, writers and readers and explorers and conquerors. They were the men of their time, so to speak.
“They had their own cities, governmental structure and religion. Their religion consisted of worship of the sun goddess, called Jindri in their tongue. She was the mother of dragons. Out of her fire they were given life and knowledge and the other tools to survive. With her blessing they prospered.
“Each morning in their cities, as well as in the wild, would begin with a salutation to her in thanks for all those gifts bestowed on them. At night, the dragons performed an archaic dance, nearly as archaic as the dragons themselves, that mourned the passing of the sun.” Here, the father paused in order to track the movements of the mournful dragon above. “See, she flies with her head bowed. She looks not at the sun, or Jindri as she calls it. Her’s is a flight of sorrow and respect. She believes.”
“What do you mean, Papa?” Inquisitive Cyrus could not even be contained by a tale of dragon lore.
“Many years after,” James began again, “As men came into being and began to fight and enslave the dragons, a false believer emerged. He presented the idea that Jindri had abandoned the dragons and that she no longer deserved to be worshiped. He had a following. Dragons doubted. They were easily swayed and so Jindri lost influence. Only those dragons who’s parents’ parents were believers still know the sun dances. They are the only ones that still protect her legacy and present her with the appeasements necessary to keep this world safe, for though she is a mother, she is fiercely protective of her offspring and we would surely be annihilated if she chose to make it so.”
“Why do they protect us, Papa?” Cyrus tugged on his father’s pants, drawing James’ mind and imagination back to the land and time that they inhabited. “We hurt them!” Cyrus insisted. “They have no reason to help us.”
“Many times it those we expect least to help us or care about us that do.” One last seemingly tortured shriek rebounded off and across the hills, echoing as their thoughts shifted and father and son turned to watch the dragon.
With one forceful thrust of her wings, she propelled herself higher. Then, in tandem with one dying howl, she plummeted to the earth in unison with the fading sun. Once both had left the horizon, father and son rose.
“Are you ready to continue back, Your Majesty, Your Highness?” One of the many guards enquired of the king and prince.
“I believe so.” With that, James lifted his son to his shoulders, denying the guards their offer to carry the prince, and the group headed towards the inner circle of the castle. As the walked down the hill, remnants of the shriek met them, accompanied by the sulfurous smell of dragon smoke. Each man in the group scrunched a nose up in an effort to minimize the effects of the smell, yet all failed. The smell, like all other attributes of the dragon, was designed to instill fear within the beholders. As the group left the scene of the sun’s worship and worshiper, the event faded from their mind, replaced by those mundane concerns that fill daily life. The dragon and her goddess remained a mystery. Only the taste of smoke lingered on the humans’ tongues.
“In many cases it is the weak that fall by the side of the road. This is the natural order of things. If one cannot survive then he must die. You must not fall. You must prevail.
“War. It invades. It destroys. Death, dark, dank death, rules all. The creative conscripted, the devoted drafted and the enterprising enlisted. War kills. In every culture it is the same. And yet, I trust you all not to fall prey to these evils.” A reedy man of advanced age strode across the room, intent on sharing his message. “War is coming and we must not give in. We are the future. You must continue on.” With that he silently picked up his briefcase and left the room, pausing not even a second to gauge the reaction of his rapt audience.
Slowly, the listeners began to stir, emerging from the trance that the man’s impassioned speech had placed them in. A whisper floated through the room, no one claiming ownership of it. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want my art to die.”
The poignancy of the remark touched each and every person in the room, regardless of age, race, or artistic affiliation. For a moment, it appeared that someone would respond but before anything could happen, the room lapsed into silence again.
Suddenly, the youngest member of the assembled group, a child of only eight years, stood, her young voice piercing straight through to the souls of her listeners. “We might die, but it will be worth it. We must protect that which is important. We must not lose ourselves in the fight that follows. Our art will never die. We will protect it with our lives. We are the future. We must continue on.” With that, she too left the room, belatedly following the man. After her came the middle-aged singer and then the elderly artist and then the young poet and then more followed and even more, ‘till the room was empty with only echoing thoughts indicating the presence of so many active minds in one place.
The group marched. They marched forward towards the fight, each arming themselves with their chosen weapon, one with a baton, another with an oboe, the next with a pen. Like war, they invaded. They brought ideas, innovation, invention. Their invasion was one that was welcomed. It was celebrated and through invasion, they brought peace, stability, and calm to a war-torn area. Through their invasion, they picked up those who had fallen by the side of the road, denying nature the right to the fallen’s lives.
Through inspiration, they defeated greed. Their invasion harmed none and elevated all, a sentiment that all should emulate. Let one’s presence help, not harm. Be not that which destroys but that which creates.
A simple red drop reaches to leap off a waterfall of green. Finally, it is held back no longer. It falls. It falls into a small hand conveniently placed there by a larger, guiding hand. The red orb slowly rolls till it rests in the exact center of the palm. The small fingers curl around the object ever so carefully, mindful of the ease with which the skin of the globe could be shattered.
Little does the child know that they have just ended the life of a tomato. The child has no concept of the sustenance that the plant provides the produce, much like how the guiding hand’s owner provides sustenance for the child.
The child sees the perfectly ripe tomato as an object of delight. Something to revel in, but not to contemplate further. Why should this one tomato be afforded as much thought as one would give to a book or movie? The tomato is transient, here one day, gone the next. Stories, however, last forever.
The child has yet to realize that stories start with something transient, something sometimes as simple as a tomato. Something that need only inspire and nothing more.
This child only sees what is and isn’t, not what might, will or may be. No adult knows what a child sees in that tomato. To a child, the tomato could be a ruby, a ball to play catch with or the first hints of a delicious dinner. Because adults no longer understand the simple pleasure that children find in the little things, they no longer find delight as easily.
Thus, the child’s mother finds humor in the simple joy brought to her son as he ever so carefully examines the tomato. She does not find joy in the tomato, but rather how the tomato inspires. She struggles not to laugh as his mouth drops open and his eyes start to glimmer with excitement. A dimpled cheek emerges as the little boy begins to laugh, a light sound that resounds throughout the nearly empty vegetable garden. His mouth struggles just a bit to produce the necessary shapes and sounds for the word tomato. His mother smiles her encouragement and he presses on, intent on winning her approval and love, unaware of the fact that the latter, if not the former as well, is unconditional.
The boy’s mother gently corrects him before they move onto the next vegetable in the garden. This one promises to invite even more excitement in the boy. The prospect of leafy green giving way to smooth orange is sure to please him.
I’m back! I know that it’s been a while since my last post, but it’s taken a bit of time to get used to the US again. Here we go, a small piece inspired by a visit to the farm this morning. I really tried to work on my descriptions, something that I’ve had issues with in the past. Thoughts?
I travel a LOT, which I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve been floating around on my blog for a bit. I use it as a way to discover alternate lifestyles, something very helpful for a fantasy writer.
As I prepare for the various trips that await me this year, I wonder what new and exciting things I’ll discover and consequently what new and exciting things will be making an appearance in RotP.
How many of you consider your experiences as a traveller an integral part of your identity as a writer? Also, do you have any travel horror stories to share?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been of the opinion that characters carry some facet of the author’s personality within them. Often, authors refer to their characters as a part of them and they refer to their novels as a window into their souls. I’ve always been fine with this, and in pre-NaNo days, I simply accepted it to be true.
Now, however, I have a problem. After finishing NaNoWriMo ’11, I was of the opinion that a completely unedited (and incomplete) RotP would make a fantastic Christmas present. I sent it to my parents and my two best friends and waited for the praise to come flooding in (I was a bit naive back then).
Once he had completed RotP, my absolutely wonderful father sat me down for a little chat. He looked at me with a very concerned expression across his face and asked, “Why are all the fathers bad?”
Now, I ask all of you, my lovely readers, does the fact that almost all of the fathers in RotP are bad/evil mean something about my own views of my parents? Or am I simply reading too much into this? Also, have any of you had a moment of realization when became quite clear that your novel revealed something personal that wasn’t quite ready to be revealed?
Also, Daddy (yes, I still call him Daddy, stop snickering), if you’re reading this, please know that you have been and always will be a fantastic father. The actions of all the evil guys in RotP have no effect on, and are, by no means, a reflection of my view of you, no matter what the commenters say :)