November 28, 2011

In Thunder, Lightning, or in Rain

We are having a November day. Everything outside is grey and dreary, with a lazy rain pitterpattering on the gutters and the stark, silver branches dripping - though the Christmas pig our neighbours erected in their yard kind of ruins the effect. (Seriously? A pig? In a Santa hat? You have to be kidding me.) But all in all, it's a day that represents November and makes you want to curl up with tea and a blanket and a good book. Preferably not a Geometry book.

Weather is a poignant thing, and a few good words concerning it can create atmosphere in a scene like magic. It could be rain, or it could be fog, or it could be full sunshine, or it could be a peek-a-boo pattern of light and clouds, but whatever it is, it is important to the life of a scene and should be treated as such. You can't just arbitrarily decide that the day is sunny or the night is dark and stormy; you've got to know that the day is sunny, and it has to be sunny with a purpose. Otherwise the descriptions will turn out bland, unimportant, and perhaps even invasive.

There are two main things to consider about blending atmosphere and purpose. The first is correspondence. To go back to the example of a dark and stormy night, what is the cliche supposed to signify? Drama, of course. You know - "It was a dark and stormy night. A door banged. The maid shrieked. A ship appeared on the horizon." To be more literary, when A Wrinkle in Time starts out with that sentence, you see Meg Murry in her attic room, scared out of her wits as she thinks about the wind and the rain and the tramp who has been stealing things around town. The weather mirrors her emotions; this is correspondence.

I went for correspondence in the title of my story Sunshine and Gossamer. (Actually, the title came before the plot, but still...) The mood of the novel is light; it's a children's story, of sorts, and I wanted it to be in the style of Daddy-Long-Legs or Dew on the Grass. Therefore, I wanted some whimsy in the title. Other forms of correspondence might be rain at a funeral; sun at a wedding; or fog around a haunted house. Put bluntly they sound cliche, but with the right touches they can be pulled off - just like the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time.

The other option is contrast. This is where you take the cliche and turn it inside out and on its head, making the sadness of a funeral clash with a sunny day, or turning a wedding whimsical or ominous by placing it in the rain. The death of a character can be made even more terrible by contrasting it with a gorgeous summer day and by making the protagonist feel the grossness of that contrast. I wanted this in the scene in The Soldier's Cross when Fiona is informed of her brother's death; I wanted two worlds to clash there - the sunlit world she had always known before and the dark chaos of the life in front of her. A rainy day wouldn't have conveyed the message with the same pathos.

Both methods are useful in any story. It is possible to try too hard to use the principle of contrast when having weather correspond with emotion would do just as well; it is also possible to err on the side of the cliche. As with all things, balance is important. Take time to consider the atmosphere as you write each scene; you may not end up using the weather, but it is good to know things outside the immediate sphere of the written word. After all, what you don't write is quite as important as what you do write.

November 21, 2011

A Dash of the Literary

Katie, over on her blog at Whisperings of the Pen, did a fun little post with recently-scribbled snippets from her stories. Then my sister Jenny picked it up and posted clips from her novels Adamantine (completed/being edited) and Plenilune (in progress). So, being unoriginal as I am, I decided to make off with the idea and give you readers a glimpse into what I have written and what I have been writing recently. (By the way, the first draft of The White Sail's Shaking bids fair to pass Wordcrafter in length by the end of the year!)

a sprinkling of words

The sky was cloudless and two large moons were already high in it, so that the garden was turned a faded grey and speckled by darker hollows. It was quiet except for the hum of the breeze running through the slats in the fence, and Justin sighed in relief as the door creaked shut at his back and he was separated from the warmth and turmoil within. But as he skirted the overgrown vines and bushes and drooping, frosty flowers to the rough hewn bench, his eye was caught by a motion on his right and he stiffened.

“Hallo,” said a female voice. She sat on the white fence post with her hands clasped between her knees, balancing precariously as she kicked her heels against the wood. She had no head-covering, so her hair, amber in the moonlight, was tousled and chaotic—part of her charm, Justin thought wryly. He moved nearer and she regarded him serenely.

“You’re getting bolder,” he remarked.

Wordcrafter

Ethan’s fist met the table with a crash that shuddered down its entire length and knocked over several goblets, sending wine and mead flooding across the wood and over the edge in waterfalls. There could not have been a man in the room who did not start, and the Gypsy-lord’s arms unfolded in a moment and he drew himself up; but the Hound had calmed himself with an effort and drew his hand off the table, exhaling slowly. “The Lord of the Cliffs will forgive me,” he said coldly, “if I find it difficult to be amused at what I am sure was not meant to be in earnest.”

Wordcrafter

I was very tired last night - tireder than I think I've ever been - but I was determined to get up early just to show Aiden that I'm not a shallow city girl. I had Miss Gwen get me up in the dark, and though my courage almost failed me as I peeked over the coverlet, I did not back down! I got up in the cold dark and I wrapped myself up in a sweater and wellies, and then I tramped down, had a bit of porridge for breakfast (yuck!), and went out to report for duty.

Sunshine and Gossamer


The glittering of the man’s eyes in his strange face, like the blinking of gems half buried in earth, unnerved Tip, and he took the words and that warning look to heart as he went inside. Unwanted, they said. Unwanted! A sensation of overwhelming friendlessness closed in on him when he shut the door of his own room and stood in the solitude, and he drew in a shuddering breath and brushed the heel of his hand across a cut on his forehead. “Never mind,” he murmured. “It doesn’t matter what they think. You’ll get by, Tip Brighton—you always do.”

The White Sail's Shaking

“Give them a shot across the bow, if you please,” Decatur said to the first lieutenant, with a touch of morbid humor. The order was relayed and a gun run out in Lewis’ division; spark touched vent and a white cloud burst upward as a cannon ball went singing smartly across the ketch’s bowsprit. A breathless silence ensued, and as the air cleared Tip could see the foreigners
heaving to.

The White Sail's Shaking

and a dash of words not my own

You do not make the truth. You reside in the truth. A suitable image for truth would be that of a lighthouse lashed by the elemental fury of undisciplined error. Those who have come to reside in the truth must stay there. It is not their business to go back into error for the purpose of joining their drowning fellows with the pretence that, inside or outside, the conditions are pretty much the same.

The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires


art by wagsomedog on flickr

November 17, 2011

The Once and Future Queen

I don't normally write short stories, and short stories of 600 words are things I particularly avoid. However, there was a contest and at the same time a kernel of an idea, so I scribbled down that kernel of an idea and submitted it to that contest. The result was Regina Quondam Reginaque Futura, the Once and Future Queen, a story I hope at some point to turn into a prequel of Tempus Regina.

enjoy.

Merlin was very old the first time Gwenhwyfar laid eyes on him.

She was sitting in the red glow of evening that poured through the windows of the great hall, looking, as she had often looked, at the carvings etched into the rough stone of the table before her. The places around her were empty, seats in shadow, and it was quiet now that her lord and his companions had ridden out; the sound of her hand as she traced the figures was loud.

Then he was there, a man as ancient and blasted as an oak and yet as large and strong as one, too, and Gwenhwyfar found that she was not surprised to see him. “You are Merlin,” she said without rising. “Did I summon you?”

“No one summons me,” said Merlin. “I come when the time is right.” He approached through the slanting light until he stood across from her, and it seemed to Gwenhwyfar that he cast no shadow as he walked. “You are looking at the Table,” he continued. “Tell me, Gwenhwyfar, queen: can you read me the runes?”

Gwenhwyfar cast her gaze downward; her hand still rested on a blood-dark symbol. “I do not understand them.”

“Can you tell me from whence the Table comes?”

Like a child giving the right answer, she said, “It was part of the dowry my father paid my lord. It stood in his halls for as long as I can remember.”

“And before?” This time Merlin did not extract an answer. “The Table has a history older than you or your house. It stood in great halls when Albion herself was not yet born. But it was meant for you, Gwenhwyfar, queen, though it is but a partial gift. Tonight I bring you that which completes it.” He drew his other hand from the shrouds of his robe and held it out, the thing in his palm gleaming fiercely gold and ruby in a shaft of dying sun. Gwenhwyfar could see only those flashes between Merlin’s fingers; she reached for it, then paused and answered his gaze.

“How do you know,” she said, “that it was meant for me?”

“Take it.”

Gwenhwyfar took it, and as its weight tumbled from his palm to hers she shut her eyes, testing it with touch alone. Then she reopened them. Nestled in her palm was the head of a dragon worked in the brightest gold she had ever seen, with eyes like the spark in Artos’ garnet brooch. The dragon mouth opened like a lid; within lay a clear pane, figures etched about the rim, and several long, thin black things in motion across them. It seemed to pulse in her hand, and it gave forth the sound of a heartbeat as the smallest black finger moved.

“Now, Gwenhwyfar, queen,” said Merlin, “can you read me the runes?”

Slowly Gwenhwyfar raised her eyes from the dragon head to the circle of dark stone.

tempus regina

holds the years

tempus regina

dwells in the future

tempus regina

come back to the past

tempus regina

beware

A portion was blurred and she could not discern it. She touched it, almost unaware that Merlin still spoke. “In your hand you hold the ability to move in time. It is a powerful thing; it comes to you as you stand by Artos’ side at the rise of Albion. Gwenhwyfar!”

Gwenhwyfar looked up.

“Heed the warning. Power corrupts; you must remember.”

Her eyes turned again to the table while he was yet speaking, and she saw the rune that was clearest: Beware!

November 13, 2011

Things That Inspire

On You Haven't Got an Appointment! Yaasha asked about the things that inspire me most. I've done posts before on the things that have particularly inspired my novels Wordcrafter and The White Sail's Shaking, but I thought I would do a post just on the little things that inspire me in general. So, in no particular order, here goes!

1. books

How could I write without books to inspire me? There's so much beauty and power in the written word - so many emotions they invoke, pictures they paint. I just love books.

2. teaching

The teaching of the elders at my church frequently convicts me and doesn't always give me a warm and fuzzy feeling - I should be alarmed if it did - but it does inspire me as much as anything else. It is such a wonderful thing to see some of God's Word come alive and to understand something a little better, even if only a very little bit better. After all, Christ is the supreme Word through Whom the world was made and by whom all things are held together. It would be rather silly not to be inspired by the revelation of the Word of God.

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father's Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.
- The Final Word, Michael Card

3. music

Especially dramatic, thrilling music. I don't always write while listening to songs, but I do find them invigorating and sometimes I'll find one particular style that seems to fit a story. For instance, the music from Escala always turns my thoughts to Tempus Regina.

4. autumn

I do believe I write best and most in the fall, whether or not I do NaNo. The cool weather just gets my blood flowing and inspires me to actually sit down and write after the heat and lethargy of summer. It's my favorite month, hands down.

5. history

Sometimes crazy and funny, sometimes not so much. Certain periods I find especially thrilling: the Age of Sail (in case you couldn't tell) but also eras like Roman Britain and the Plantagenet dynasty, to choose two random ones. Currently I have a couple ideas of stories that have almost nothing but a setting, but which will hopefully percolate into worthwhile novels.

6. the random

Or you might say "miscellaneous." Sometimes I can't pinpoint any particular inspiration; I might suddenly have an image in my head of a girl with a cross (The Soldier's Cross), or a man injured in a wolf-hunt (Wordcrafter), and a story may or may not build from there. I'm sure there must have been something to bring about those ideas, but I couldn't tell you what it was and so I take the easy way out and label all such thoughts "random."

7. family

I love my family. I love the Saturday evenings we spend together, the joking and the serious conversations. I love just being with them all. We're not the sort of family that novels are made of, I suppose, and yet I find inspiration and encouragement in our kinship.

and that, dear readers, is a peek into the things that inspire me.

art from flickr

November 3, 2011

Help Wanted

Question Number I-Haven't-Been-Counting on You Haven't Got an Appointment! was asked by Carrie. She wrote

Do you have any good how-to books on writing that you could recommend? On how to write well, or create characters, or anything like that?

On this question I fear I will disappoint, because I am one of those rare people who doesn't use how-to books. Probably more than ninety percent of the writers whose blogs I follow use and advocate the use of books on writing, so I recognize that I am in the minority when I say that I do not like the practice. Since being in the minority is a risky business, I will attempt to explain my position and you can decide for yourself what you think of it.

First of all, writing is an art and must be treated as such. Grammar and syntax may be taught and learning how to use the English language is essential; but being able to trap light in your ink, to capture beauty with words, is not something that can be conveyed through rules. I believe that practice is the best way to excel. Filling your brain with what to do and what not to do can be damaging to the life and voice of your writing because it teaches you to concentrate on the mechanics rather than the spirit. I find this with myself: the more worried I am about "getting it right," the more stilted my writing becomes.

Secondly, many people seem to forget that the idea of self-help books is a very modern and American concept. The literary greats like Shakespeare, Dickens, James Fenimore Cooper, and C.S. Lewis did not read how-to books on the craft, nor is that because they were superhuman and didn't need to learn how to hone their words. They progressed through love of good literature and practice. While it is true that we in the 21st Century can't write in the same style as a Dickens or a Cooper because times have changed, it is not true that we as writers and readers cannot learn from them or follow in their footsteps. If you want to have your words withstand the test of time, it is perfectly reasonable to take lessons from those whose words already have.

Thirdly, there is a quote by Neil Gaiman that I have read in various places and think is quite applicable: "You never learn how to write a novel. You merely learn how to write the novel you're on." Every writer is different, every story is different, and to attempt to write a book that will give The Answer on how to properly write a novel is, in my mind, a little arrogant. Ideas and suggestions can be quite helpful, and I would not say that I have the same antipathy for books that give ideas on, say, how to edit as I do for books that attempt to tell people how to write good fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter). After all, most writing blogs, including this one, are full of suggestions for going about various tasks in the novel-crafting business. But there is a fine line - a very fine line - between saying, "Well, this worked for me and it may help you," and pronouncing, "This is the Way to Write."

My final word is not that all how-to books are the spawn of the Devil and should be burned immediately and their ashes spread upon the wind. I simply say that the best teachers are the ones who have come before, and that the best way to learn is to apply oneself and write. Reading and writing cannot be separated. The more you write, the more your voice will develop, the deeper your plots will be, the more your characters will live and breathe from the page; the more you read, the more you will find that others still stand above you. We'll never attain perfection in this life - and it's a sorry place to be in when you think you have - but in striving for it we get a little better...and a little better...and a little better...

art by shutterhacks on flickr

November 1, 2011

A Different Point of View

Here I am, returning at last to the questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment! The next one I was going to answer is Yaasha Moriah's first:

As a female, how do you craft your male characters in a way that is true to the male perspective? How do you know if you have their viewpoints right and are not carrying feminine elements into their characters?

Yet another question that I am very excited to answer - you gals have done a grand job coming up with applications for the Circumlocution Office. Yaasha's is particularly applicable, as the protagonists of my last novel and my current one have been men; and in The White Sail's Shaking I have to write from Tip's perspective in some scenes and Marta's perspective in others. And it can be awfully hard.

So, how do I write from a male perspective. First off, I have to say that I find it easier than writing from a female perspective. That may seem odd, and frankly I haven't quite figured it out myself. The best way I can explain it is that men are much more concrete, logical, A-B-C thinkers and so their point-of-view is easier to demonstrate, whereas women tend to be more visceral and (let's face it) illogical. Balancing a woman's emotions with her thought processes is a much more delicate business than threading a man's feelings through his actions, at least for me. Because I do less in the way of character sketches and character "crafting" than some writers, I have difficulty explaining the ins and outs of how I manage a man's perspective, but here is what I have to offer.

Observe. As a female writer, observe the men in your life - brothers, fathers, husbands - and how they interact with the world. Also, observe the male characters in good, solid literature. An excellent example, albeit somewhat hackneyed, is Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame: he is a strong, silent type, but he is also shy and uncertain when it comes to his relationship with Elizabeth Bennet. Men do have emotions. In some ways, the very fact that those emotions tend to be steadier than a woman's make them more powerful; if you've ever seen a grown man cry, you know what I mean. Characteristics of men and women are not cut and dry; both are made in the Image of God, and they share elements.

Just write. Write your character as he is, and then sit back and analyze it. Critiquing him before you even write two scenes with him in them will probably not help; writing a character, I find, is the best way to work out their kinks and quirks. Also, the more male characters you write the better you are likely to become at discovering how to do it without either making their point of views too feminine or making them stereotypically masculine. Practice makes almost-but-not-really perfect, after all.

Get others to help. My dad is my best critic. Some people won't show others their novel until they are finished; I like to give my dad chapters as I write. He'll tell you (or maybe he wouldn't, but he tells me) that I tend to make my male characters too pacifistic in the first draft*, and he helps me iron that out in the second. Having him read my stories is extremely helpful and fun, and gives me, well, a different perspective. So if at all possible, I advise getting a father or brother or husband to critique your writing for you. It's extremely embarrassing at first, I will grant, but it pays off in the end and becomes enjoyable as you get used to it.

I don't know how well that answers your question, Yaasha, but I hope it does! I had fun scribbling up some semblance of a reply, and I hope to answer your other one soon.

*but just wait until you get to the duel, Dad.

art by Chris Rawlins, deviantART
 
meet the authoress
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: "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: 124,000 words

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