Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lessons from Jackaroo

Recently, I read this fantastic book:

Jackaroo, by Cynthia Voigt

To quote Goodreads:
"There is much want in the kingdom and the tales of Jackaroo, the masked outlaw who helps the poor in times of trouble, are on everyone's lips. Gwyn, the innkeeper's lively daughter, pays little attention to the tales.

"But when she is stranded during a snowstorm in a cabin with the lordling Gaderian, and finds a strange garment that resembles the costume Jackaroo is said to wear, she begins to wonder..."

Good old-fashioned adventure and bravery, with commendable characters. No magic, but the texture and atmosphere of the book are pure fantasy.

-

Since I am a writer, this book was a learning experience. It is good to think about the books you enjoy and identify the things that made them good, and try to emulate them in your own writing.

So what did I learn?

First of all: Everyday life in an unfamiliar setting is fascinating. I'm glad that Voigt sprinkled in descriptions of the chores at the Inn. The hard work they do makes the world seem more real, as well.

Customs. The book starts with Doling Day, on which women go to get food from the Lord. As above, the quotidian things are what make for a tangible world.

War can be in the background, with character-driven action in the foreground. There was a war going on, but far enough away that only rumors reached the action of the story. It was great: tension, limited-third POV maintained, and the effects of the war could act on the story without need for battle scenes.

Rumors are useful: have some that seem important for one reason and then become important for another.

The past coming back.

Special costumes and props. Using items as motifs/symbols. Methinks motifs works better in that context: have certain objects mean something. If done subtly, from the beginning, the reader will feel very smart when they figure out the connection eventually.

Fairs and festivals. Good opportunity to bring characters together and for characters to show their personalities in a different situation from usual. Can also be a good vehicle for special happenings.

Sensible and diligent heroines who do not lack for fire and spine. Too often you get a fiery heroine who blunders into danger. Gwyn had a temper, but she was refreshingly practical.

Annoying characters who become more mature, with realistic setbacks. Character development need not be linear. Occasional dips back into childishness or selfishness make the characters seem more like real people, in their infuriating and wonderful inconsistencies.

Strong, stalwart characters who occasionally show the fissures in their stony exteriors. When Gwyn's dad, the Innkeeper, got angry at being compared to his older brother, he instantly became 10 times more empathetic. (Then again, being compared to older siblings is something in which I already have a big stake.)

Legends. What stories do people tell? It can communicate a lot about the world.

Seasons changing. Makes it more real.

Letting people save face. Gwyn has a couple of instances when she very skillfully avoids humiliating someone else. How do you reject someone? Tell him he deserves a good woman, and then tell him who you have in mind to be a good match for him.

Archaic, lyrical syntax. Gives the sense of Story - when characters say "Osh aye, child" and the narrative lilts slightly, it makes the reading into an adventure.

Let's talk romance, because the romance in this book was secondary to the main plot, Jackaroo produced one of my favorite book couples ever.

Romantic false leads should be told, not shown. That way, it's not serious enough for the reader to consider the false lead a viable candidate and perhaps prefer that person. Gwyn's initial love interest makes very brief appearances that show 1. why she likes him, and 2. hints as to why she shouldn't like him.

What about the real romance? Two worthy people who have known one another a long time, are proven to work together well, trust/understand/respect one another, and have similar depth. In truth the book was light on "romance" - giddy crush-behavior was not to be seen. Rather, there was all the good stuff I described above.

(Not to say that they didn't have romantic lines. "When I thought you were lost in the blizzard...it seemed a long time left that I must live. A long time, and the season would always be winter.")

-

I encourage you to read this book. The Goodreads synopsis barely scratches the surface.

I encourage you also to consider what your favorite books can teach you. You never know what you may discover in the considering.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Biennial

I have now had this blog for two years.

Whoa.

Apple cider, anyone?

-

In two years, you'd think that I'd have learned a lot, but in truth I still feel like a novice at blogging. That's all right. It's important to be aware of your own ignorance.

It's also important to know that you want to improve, and to do so.

When I started this blog it was intended to show my creative work, but that focus is far too narrow. If I wanted to do that, I might as well have kept the name ApatheticInsanity. But I'd rather show not only my own work, but also anything that can be useful to others who create.

My goal? To live up, fully, to the name Assembling Imaginations.

Also to emulate the blogs that keep me inspired. Here are some of them:
I've been meaning to put up a proper blogroll somewhere on this site, but haven't gotten around to it yet. This will have to do for now. Go check these sites out, I encourage you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gleanings

Gemma Augustea. Source: Wikipedia

Some posts from Patricia C. Wrede: one about fantastic history, what I call historical fantasy. If you have any fantasy works with a historical setting, you might like to see which of the four categories your story falls under.

Another warning against overcomplicated stories. I don't regret writing Utopia Project the way i did, but the next book I write is definitely going to have a more manageable number of characters.

And another, on story endings. And a fourth, about making decisions in writing. Know thine characters.

Justine Musk has 6 Rules for Badass Creative Women, though from my view they apply to both genders.

Some articles from Endicott Studio that I found interesting: snake symbolism, gemstones, and Italian fairies.

Take a walk.

Awesome art from Yoann Lossel.

Monika Viktoria has drawn a witch's daughter, a character about whom I could - and shall - write stories. Perhaps you will as well.

On Being a Writer: "You must learn to pare away everything, until all you have left is that core of what's most important, and then build your life outward from that." The whole post resonates, but that line especially.


Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.
Found through Terri Windling's blog.

A resource: All Empires.

Theodora Goss writes on the difference betweenwriter and author. I'd rather be a writer.

A note of encouragement. I will tell you that it amounts to being unafraid of letting your writing change you, but I suggest you read the post in its entirety.

The author of Imaginary Girls (which I haven't read yet, but want to) talks about inspiration.

Knights and PTSD. If you're writing a story with knights, which I am on and off, you'll want to read this to consider the psychology of your characters.

More about knights; in specific, their training.

Evolution of Monsters. I like scientific reasons for fantasy-related things - particularly that there is fantasy embedded into our genes.

Claire Massey with confessions: "I could find not escape, but resilience in imagination."


ten things i have learned about the sea from lorenzo fonda on Vimeo.
More for the music and video than the words, since if there is something I have learned about the ocean it is that it is older than words and cannot be ruled.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who Are All These People?

Being a cheat sheet for the series of stories collectively known as GW.

Teleport to:
Gunter | Kornelia | Jared | Demyan | Andreas | Melusine | Konrad | Nikodim | Amedea | Vincent | Thaddeus | Orsolya | Adelaide | Renee | Chelsea | Gerardo

Gemeinhardt, Gunter

Age: 16

Family: Kornelia Gemeinhardt (mother), Franko Datger (father), Wolfgang Gemeinhardt (younger brother)

Instrument: Clarinet

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Chess champion

Quote: "After you kill two birds with one stone, the rest of the flock will be so distracted that you can net them all!"

Weapon of Choice: Elemental magic (wind and metal), Strategy

Gemeinhardt, Kornelia

Age: 45

Family: Franko Datger (husband), Gunter and Wolfgang Gemeinhardt (sons)

Occupation: Chief Peacekeeper of the Metallic Citadel

Quote: "Be reasonable, and no one gets hurt."

Weapon of Choice: Authority, Police baton

Gui, Jared

Age: 15

Family: Parents he never sees

Instrument: Bassoon

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Guard for Castle Lancaster

Quote: "I'm just doing my job, all right?"

Weapon of Choice: Sword

Holston, Demyan

Age: 15

Family: Parents he never sees

Instrument: Alto sax

Occupation: Guard for Castle Lancaster, Traitor

Quote: "You're as pretty - and weak - as ever, darling."

Weapon of Choice: Sneering, Broadsword

Kale, Andreas

Age: 15

Family: Phaedra Kale (mother), Adrian Hjortskov (father), Dandelion/Dani (cat)

Instrument: Flute, Oboe

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Healer

Quote: "Let's see what we have to work with."

Weapon of Choice: Tier magic, Staff

Kramer, Melusine

Age: 15

Family: Parents she doesn't get along with

Instrument: Alto sax

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Victim, Healer

Quote: "I'm sorry."

Weapon of Choice: Crying, Elemental Magic (earth and water)

Lancaster, Konrad

Age: 15

Family: King Lancaster (father), Helene Lancaster (older sister)

Instrument: Snail horn (AKA French horn, but there is no France in fantasyland)

Occupation: Prince, Instigator

Quote: "I'm happy that I've got an enemy like you. It makes things so much more interesting."

Weapon of Choice: Knives, Wand magic

Lantos, Nikodim

Age: 24

Family: Lord Dimitar Lantos (uncle)

Instrument: Flute

Occupation: Noble, Flautist, Victim

Quote: "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Weapon of Choice: Sword

Lejano, Amedea

Age: 16

Family: Teofilo Lejano (father), Eliana Wallace (mother, estranged), Jensen (dog)

Instrument: Trombone

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Voice of reason

Quote: "Everyone, shut up and let's figure out a plan."

Weapon of Choice: Crossbow, Tier magic

Linden, Vincent

Age: 19

Family: Matilda Ostberg (mother), Timotheus Linden (father), Petra (cat)

Instrument: Bari sax, Bass clarinet

Occupation: Fighting champion, Student at Mengabur College of Engineering

Quote: "What can I do?"

Weapon of Choice: Blunt weapons, Brass knuckles, Mind magic

MacGregor, Thaddeus

Age: 16

Family: Lauraine MacGregor (mother), Frederik Roris (father, hasn't lived with family in ten years), Orsolya Markov (half-sister)

Instrument: Clarinet, Drums

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Petty criminal

Quote: "So what if I did it? No one got seriously hurt."

Weapon of Choice: Elemental Magic (double fire)

Markov, Orsolya

Age: 24

Family: Lauraine MacGregor (mother), Georg Markov (father, deceased), Thaddeus MacGregor (half-brother)

Occupation: Rescuer, Wanderer

Quote: "Don't panic."

Weapon of Choice: Halberd, Elemental magic (earth and metal)

Merle, Adelaide

Age: 15

Family: Parents who don't care what she does

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Exploiter

Quote: "You know, you'd really be doing me a huge favor if you..."

Weapon of Choice: Ritual magic, Manipulation

Montero, Renee

Age: 15

Family: Parents who work as messengers

Instrument: Trumpet

Occupation: Student at Besen Institute, Messenger

Quote: "Is that the best you can do?"

Weapon of Choice: Flight, Longbow

Musil, Chelsea

Age: 14

Family: Former Noble Family of the Southmarsh (deceased)

Instrument: Flute

Occupation: Fugitive, Waitress at the Blue Butterfly Inn

Quote: "Keep it simple."

Weapon of Choice: Strategy, Knives

Pars, Gerardo

Age: 46

Family: Maria Resah (wife), Eli Pars (son, deceased), Soldiers under his command (de facto sons)

Instrument: Tuba

Occupation: Captain of the Northern Division

Quote: "You've done well, son."

Weapon of Choice: the Law, Standard-issue Sword

--

Requests for other information will be honored, within reason.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stories Like Ghosts Fill the Air

Open your mouth and you will breathe them in.

-

I have an affinity for buildings. When we drive back home in the quiet hours of night, through suburban areas and downtowns, from a party at which too many people asked my what I want to major in and the rice was never as sweet as the kind my mom makes, ordinary places take on a glow of mystery. The details jump out - an arched window, a twisting iron vine, a flight of stairs.

With sleepy eyes I look out the car window at the places speeding by, filled with hunger for these edifices. What stories could take place there?

And every day I walk home from school, pondering if I dislike that person or not, wishing I had less homework so I could practice more euphonium, my eyes fixed in front of me, closed off - not just in my mind, but in my whole being - from the stories that are crowding for my attention all around me.

That is not the way.

-

Stories are everywhere.

Your classes: not chemistry, but alchemy. In PE you are not doing exercises for a grade, you are training because someone has kidnapped your friends and you must break into a fortress to rescue them. You do not take tests, you sit exams.

Sometimes it takes new eyes. You invite someone over and their praise - "Wow, this is like checking into a hotel! Your room is so cool - it's like an underwater theme." - makes you think, hm, now that I think about it, I do live in a hotel-esque place.

Pretend you are.

Every morning, you are waking to your first day in a new town to attend a prestigious university. Don't you want to make a good impression on your hosts? Wouldn't it be a shame if you didn't check out the famous library just two doors down? You really should get to know your neighborhood.

And that cat sitting so sedately in the middle of your floor? She is not just a beloved pet, she is your familiar. In either case, pay more attention to her; I dare you to dote on her more than you already do.

At night, tell yourself different stories. You are in a train compartment - an unusually spacious one, to be sure - and you are moving fast through the countryside to you know not where. It's an adventure. Or your bed is a boat and you are swaddling yourself against the cold. Look at the stars. Or you are hibernating. Or...

-

There is no shortage of ghosts.

There is no shortage of stories.

Close your eyes.

Breathe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ocean

I've been quite dour lately. Let's have something cheerful for a change. Let's go to my favorite place: the ocean.


(Join me in French horn envy.)

"Sea Fever"
by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

"What a Freedom!" - Ilya Repin, 1903

Viewing something with reverence does not mean you can't view it with joy as well.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Expunge the Bitterness

Or, writing as catharsis and the need to let go.

I've written about this a lot, at various times, but it seems each time I fall into a mental ditch I need to rediscover how to dig my way out. You'd think it gets easier. Here I go.

I try to keep the details of my personal issues off this blog, so suffice it to say that I'm fifteen and I have the usual cadre of things that make me upset. Friends, family, school, family, my own expectations, family, and so on.

So what to do?

I'm not going to talk here about the steps you should take in real life to resolve these problems, since I don't know myself (though I sorely wish I did). But since life is 90% how you react, etc., perhaps I can share what I do, or try to do, to deal with the mental end of reaction.

1. Write.

As Natalie Goldberg said in Wild Mind, "If you let go in your writing, you naturally go for the jugular over and over until you clean out unfinished business."

So write to get your feelings on paper. Or screen. It doesn't matter which, just that you get them out. You might get something good out of it. I wrote Monstrosity when I was angry and in the process learned exactly how one of my characters' mind works.

But don't write hoping for some end. When you are upset, you must think of your writing only as a way to deal with your present conflict. If you start considering it from the perspective of an artist/craftsman, you remove a layer of truth: do not filter what you're writing when you're upset.

Let it out. You know you can stop when you feel bored, spent, or no longer bitter. Water has to boil before your turn off the stove - but once it does boil, you turn off the stove.

2. Leave it be.

Leave your rant/whatever you came up with alone. Drink tea, breathe, listen to neutral music, allow yourself to calm down.

When I'm angry, trying to be happy feels like a lie. This step is for when it doesn't. When you're feeling stable and level-headed, go on to step three.

3. Revisit.

You may decide that what you've written is worth keeping. If so, keep it. On the other hand, you might be embarrassed by the extent of your vituperation. As you read, you may feel your anger begin to rise, old wounds festering. (My kettle metaphor fell apart pretty quickly.)

If so, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you are a writer whose depths of talent are endless. Nothing you've written is irreplaceable, and besides your mental state is more important than your portfolio. Yes, it is.

So if your writing whose purpose was to ease your heart is now inflaming it again, move on to the next step.

4. Expunge the bitterness.

Delete it. If on paper, tear it out, shred it, recycle it. If in a notebook or journal that you can't bear to deface, just remember not to read that page again. If on the computer, delete the file. If in a file with stuff you want to keep, email your ragefest to yourself and then delete the email. I don't recommend the highlight-and-backspace method since it doesn't offer as much satisfaction.

What you are doing is symbolically purging your bitterness and ill feeling from your mind. Let's pull in another metaphor.

The things that have been upsetting you are a red mantle of unutterably heavy cloth. You have removed the mantle, and now you are burning it. With it go the paper goblins that have plagued you.

Good riddance.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Abeyance

“Any sign of Palomar’s people?”

Andreas looked up from the bowl of ink he was using to scry. “No,” he said. “I can’t say I’m surprised. After you guys beat him so thoroughly and exposed his cheating, he’s not going to be in a hurry to challenge you again.”

Gunter took a seat. “I suppose not.” He glanced around the reading room. “Say, Andreas, is it allowed for you to be scrying in here?”

With a grin that was only half-guilty, Andreas said, “It isn’t. But I don’t have any books out to spill the ink on, not real books at least.”

“Real books, you say? As opposed to what, fake books? Pirated copies?”

“Illusions. You can’t live next door to a mind magic adept without picking up a few things. But,” Andreas continued, “that librarian is glaring at us. I think I’ll get rid of the evidence before she decides to investigate.”

He conscientiously poured the ink back into its container; not a drop rolled out to stain the old wooden tables of the Besen reading room. Decanting potentially dangerous solutions is the sort of problem healers and apothecaries run into often, and Andreas had years of practice doing that.

Gunter thought, if he looked out of the corner of his eye, that the illusion was making it seem as though he was stacking heavy reference books. The librarian Andreas had pointed out was looking at them again.

“Here, Andreas, let me help you with those books,” he said, standing with his back to the librarian so his smirk wouldn’t give them away.

“Oh, thanks. I believe they go over there.”

They hurriedly shelved the illusory books, and then headed for the door. But before Gunter could touch the handle, the door burst open to reveal a girl with hair long and disheveled, a face round and full of panic.

Behind her was Amy, looking fractionally less distraught. “Good, it’s you two,” she said, but before they could ask her what was going on the other girl told them.

“It’s Melusine!” she said, her eyes wild. “She’s been kidnapped!”

Andreas and Gunter looked at one another, then at Amy. “Who did it?” Andreas asked.

Amy replied, “Someone with resources outside of Besen, someone with an issue with Melusine or with us, someone” she held up a short dagger with a garnet rose set in the hilt “careless enough, or arrogant enough, to leave behind a calling card.”

The boys’ eyes widened. “Lancaster.”

--

Short GW piece, since I haven't finished a scene there for a while. Unfinished scenes, however, abound...

It's a prequel of sorts to this storyline. I am dissatisfied with the title - in fact, it's only the title because I'm going through an SAT word book and want to write short fictions using the words I don't know as the prompts. Let's see how long I last doing that.

Someone suggested a character cheat sheet would be helpful. I shall work on it. What kind of information should I include?

Friday, January 6, 2012

On Writing and Story

I'm going to borrow some words today.

"Borges once claimed that the basic devices of all fantastic literature are only four in number: the work within the work, the contamination of reality by dream, the voyage in time, and the double."
-James E. Irby, introduction of Labyrinths
I take issue with the "only four in number" part, but those structures seem good foundations from which to create a story.

"For in the beginning of literature is the myth, and in the end as well."
-Jorge Luis Borges, "Parable of Cervantes and the Quixote", Labyrinths
Try to reduce a story of yours into terms of myth - reduce not in the sense of diminish, but of boiling away into essentials. I'll go first: "Once upon a time, a powerful sorceress created a land of eternal summer, which you could never leave once you had entered..."

"No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence - that which makes its truth, it's meaning - its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream - alone..."
-character of Marlow, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Reflect on your own sapience one night when you're alone and it seems possible that the rest of the world does not exist.

"Be certain of this: when honest love speaks, when true admiration begins, when excitement rises, when hate curls like smoke, you need never doubt that creativity will stay with you for a lifetime."
-Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
Creativity is born of passions. I keep forgetting this.

"You don’t have to believe you will be a success in order to write. You don’t even have to believe that you could be. You just have to believe that you, or someone like you, can sit down with a notebook or at a computer and make up stuff that somebody else might want to read...The so-called “writer’s imagination” starts by imagining oneself as a writer."
-Patricia C. Wrede, Imagination
You, you who are reading this post. You are a writer, and you are capable of great things. Go forth!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Needing an Adventure

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
-Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
This post will be nine parts catharsis to one part something else. Hopefully that "something else" is of value to someone other than me.

It's been, I'm sad to say, a useless day. I spent much of it reading a book that, while interesting, causes feelings of intense dissatisfaction. I tend to live vicariously through main characters, and when one is whiny and arrogant and weak-willed...not good.

Add to that a dream full of bad feeling and you get the kind of restlessness that makes me wish I was in the habit of getting into fights.

So what do you do?

You close the book that is draining you and you say, "I will finish reading you later and then I'll banish you from my thoughts forever."

You listen to music without words, since you are the one who needs to speak and you don't want anyone else doing it for you.

You write a whiny blog post because maybe someone else can find something useful in what's messing with your head right now.

(You make plans:

Plans to write right now so the day isn't wasted.

Plans to be particularly considerate toward the person with whom you quarreled in the dream.

Plans to go for a run tomorrow morning and hope you slip into fairyland the way you did yesterday. *

Plans to spend time in the library, reading books you know will not leave you feeling disappointed in yourself.)

You wonder whether you mind being lonely.

You decide you don't mind, and that the people who assume that you should, well-meaning though they are, don't know you half as well as they think.

You reread the notes you took while reading Meditations (not because you usually do that, but because you want to hold on to a book that made you feel as though your mind was expanding).

You think that maybe the day wasn't wasted.
"Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it was not outside, but within."
-Marcus Aurelius
So it goes.

* Remind me to tell you about that.