August 14, 2014

August Snippets

original
Today I passed two mile markers in Wordcrafter, one in the plot, one in size: it is now 50,000 and some odd words.  (Perhaps more than mathematically so; I leave that to you to judge.)  At this point, with a new stage of the story beginning, it is probably time for me to step back and take stock of where I am and where I'm going.  And for snippets.


The car door slammed. For a moment the headlights blazed against the alarming bulwark of the Fairbairns’ shrubbery, undecided as to whether or not they wanted to switch off, and we lingered, Ethan and I, in their backwash and squinted up through the chilly middle darkness at the house.

- wordcrafter

“You struck me as a coffee person,” she announced, flinging coffee-freckles against the porcelain rim of her cup with a jerk of the spoon. “I suppose you take it black.”

“Ethan takes anything,” I interjected with a sideways grimace, “as long as it’s strong as murder.”

//

“...Lizzy can cover for Lady Macduff and Banquo. She’s very good at dying.”

“A great many people die in this play,” observed Ethan out of the hum of the harp-strings.

// 

There seems little point in commenting overmuch on the girls; they were your typical college students, eminently forgettable in company with their two older sisters. The one was ginger, the other, shockingly, brunette—only I cannot for the life of me remember now whether it was Mabel who was the brunette or whether it was Brianna.

//

The door beat against the frame and a figure joined me with the silent assurance of a witch’s familiar, come to top off my coffee out of a white carafe...

//

“I hope,” I went on, fitting the kettle spout around the rim of the faucet and turning on the tap, “I hope we didn’t do too much damage.”

“To Philip’s face, you mean? Oh, I don’t think so. Lizzy took care of all of that; I’m not much for the sight of blood. Anyhow, he deserved it.”

We were agreed on that, at least, but I did not comment.

//

I stared after her rudely, and it occurred to me with mingled admiration and bitterness that she had got the whip-hand of me once more.

“Devil,” Ethan commented, pouring himself his coffee.

 //

The smell of fresh wood burst free like the scent of an orange when the skin is peeled back: sharp and sudden in your nostrils. 

//

“Up the hill,” Ethan said, “and around behind the house. Steady…”

“Don’t criticize my driving,” I snapped, getting us out of the rut with a jolt and a surging of the engine.

August 11, 2014

A Complex Simplicity

specifically miscellaneous
Back in May, I mentioned being in the middle of a three- (or was it four? Hazy on that already) week course on Elizabeth I, Philip II, and the Spanish Armada.  I suppose that might sound rather dull; I was uncertain going into it, as Tudor England is not my favorite period (haven't forgiven them for Bosworth), but I charged in anyway on the strength of the professor.  Since the time span was so limited, we had to fit a lot into the days: three-and-a-half hour mornings of discussion, reading, presentations, research, the occasional lecture, and a great many movies.

Somehow movies never formed a large portion of my home school experience.  I remember watching PBS as a young kid, and I have particularly fond memories of "Theodore Tugboat" and some show featuring lion puppets, and less fond memories of "Teletubbies."  But after a certain period (maybe when we no longer had cable), TV-watching was limited to after five o'clock in the evening.  It always felt slightly wicked to begin watching something at four-thirty.  At any rate, watching movies for a class is a new thing for me; but since the main thrust of the Maymester was not so much the historical facts as it was the media portrayals of events like the defeat of the Armada, films played a key role.

In particular, we watched parts of the two recent movies starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I.  They were very inaccurate.  They were very over-the-top.  They had beautiful cinematography, beautiful lighting.

They made me writhe.

It was not so much what Rachel calls the OSSs (obligatory sex scenes), or even the gross liberties taken with historical events and historical people.  It was certainly not the acting, since the films starred actors and actresses like Cate Blanchett ("...you shall have a QUEEN!"), Geoffrey Rush ("It's a pity the law doesn't allow me to be merciful."), and even my favorite Watson.  It was the fact that all those OSSs were filmed and liberties taken in order to water down history into a simplistic storyline: a pretty, naive girl is thrust into the role of queen and must overcome her insecurities (and all personal feelings) in order to rule her kingdom.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a simple plot: there are only a few to pick from, after all.  What frustrated me was the complete lack of any nuance, any intricacy, any subtlety.  All Catholics are traitors.  Elizabeth is either completely incompetent or talking back like a skilled politician.  Robert Dudley is either Elizabeth's lover or plotting with the Spanish.  The story itself rode as much on the music and the relative scale of lighting as it did on the characters and their interrelationships. 

Folks.  Folks, this is not good storytelling.

People enjoyed the films.  Though my classmates and I mocked them, I think in the end everyone but myself was willing to shrug and excuse its faults because it was "entertaining."  Entertaining, however, isn't the same as good.  It isn't the same as worthwhile.  It isn't the same as saying that the director and screenwriter and all the many people involved in the production did their job with skill.

A skilfully-wrought story, whether historical or fantastic or literary or whatever, must have intricacy.  If what you see on the surface is all there is to find - if a girl becoming a queen is all there is to it - then the writer has failed.  Life is nuanced.  Life has grey areas.  Art should reflect this subtlety and depth, rather than loudly drawing attention to itself (as films do with exaggerated cinematography, or books do with meaningless but gorgeous prose) and lacking substance in the end.

The leopard in the picture above has very little to do with the substance of my post, but I chose it for a reason.  It's a very simple picture: the profile of a big cat against a washed grey backdrop is all you get at first glance.  But look closer and you see the fur blurring in the foreground, becoming clearer, more detailed, soft enough to touch along the neck.  You notice the tufts from the cat's ears and can count the whiskers.  You see the rim of light along the nose and the bristles along the milk mustache, and the contemplative, possibly malevolent look about the eyes.  Storytelling should be like this, from the Winnie-the-Poohs to the Bleak Houses of the literary world: making its point (leopard!), but also drawing in the attentive reader to notice the details.

 
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I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings






The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings






Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing






Wordcrafter: Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 51,000 words

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