Jul 20

Eddings Reread! The Ruby Knight

EDDINGS RE-READ: The Ruby Knight, BOOK TWO OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Joanne and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Alex’s post over here and Tehani’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

The Diamond Throne reread is here.

 

Japanese Eddings covers

Japanese Eddings covers make me happy!

ALEX:
Sparhawk starts this book a) immediately after the end of the first one, and b) wanting someone to jump him, so that he can get all violent on some unsuspecting footpad. I don’t think I was really paying attention to that sort of thing when I was a teen. He’s actually not a very nice man a lot of the time, and that makes me sad.

JO:
It is a bit sad isn’t it :( Sparhawk’s most common reaction seems to be violence, and the narrative and tone celebrates that part of him.

TEHANI:
Alex, you say “not a very nice man” but I never read it that way (and still don’t, I guess!) – he’s a product of his culture and his time. They seem to quite happily wreak havoc on people at the drop of a hat, and he IS a knight, trained to battle!

ALEX:
OK, maybe I don’t have to be quite so sad about him – that he’s a product of his time – but still his active desire for violence does act, for me now, against my lionising of him as a teenager. He is flawed, and I’m troubled because Jo is exactly right – the narrative celebrates him and his anger/violent tendencies.

TEHANI:
You’re both completely right. I still choose to read it in the context of the book, AND STICK MY HEAD IN THE SAND. Damn. That’s the problem with rereading with a few more brains behind us, isn’t it?!

ALEX:
Something we didn’t note in our review of The Diamond Throne is that the book is prefaced by a short excerpt from a ‘history’. This is a really neat way of building up back story and developing the world without having to info-dump – although of course the Eddings pair don’t really have an issue with info-dumps; after all, why else assign a novice knight to teach a young thief history? Anyway, I still like it, and it does show that there has been a fair bit of thought put into the world, even if much of it simplistic.

JO:
Yeah I enjoy these histories too. Good way to set the scene, highlight anything that’s going to be important for the book (like Lake Randera) and do a quick recap. They definitely like an info-dump, but at least the Eddings do it with style and humour!

TEHANI:
I reckon there’s reams of world-building behind these books, especially if the work that we see in The Rivan Codex (for the Belgariad/Mallorean world) is any context!

JO:
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. I remembered The Ruby Knight as a very ‘middle book’, just basically a long build up to finding Bhelliom and saving Ehlana. But on the reread it was a lot more engaging than that. Maybe it’s because Eddings has the space here to really get into the characters, and I love these characters so much that I enjoyed that to no end.

TEHANI:
It really does boggle me that even though I’ve read this several times, I still don’t get bored of this long questy-ride-alonging. It really IS a middle book, and nothing terribly much happens, but it’s still a really enjoyable read! Bizarre. Is it nostalgia that makes it so, or some quality about the book that means I don’t chuck it across the room like I would most other “middle books” that really just march in place?

ALEX:
I found this one a bit more boring than I remembered – it really is just them wandering around. I totally still enjoyed the character development, and it is banter-ific, but on this re-read I got a bit impatient with the lack of actual plot movement.

JO:
They’re also very good at throwing everything in Sparhawk’s way. I mean, this is basically a quest book. We even have a ‘fellowship’ don’t we – Sephrenia mentions how important it is to have a certain number of people on the quest, it’s all about symmetry. But from the outset, everything that can go wrong does, and all of this does a great job of increasing the tension. Not only that, but characters we meet in the beginning and/or middle come back towards the end, which makes these side-quests feel a little less side-questy. By the time Sparhawk and Co. get roped into Wargun’s army I just wanted to scream because they were so close and it is so not fair! But I do love it when characters get put through the wringer like that. Nothing’s easy.

TEHANI:
Masochist! But I’m right there with you – wouldn’t be any fun if things just went to plan, right?

ALEX:
omg when I got to that and remembered that they were being co-opted I think I might actually have groaned out loud. GET ON WITH IT.

TEHANI:
I like that there’s a few points in this book that smack back at the classism – Wat and his fellows teach Sparhawk a thing or two: “Not meanin’ no offence, yer worship, but you gentle-folk think that us commoners don’ know nothin’, but when y’ stack us all together, there’s not very much in this world we don’t know.”

Ulath backs this up some chapters later: “Sometimes I think this whole nobility business is a farce anyway. Men are men – titled or not. I don’t think God cares, so why should we?”

“You’re going to stir up a revolution talking like that, Ulath.”

“Maybe it’s time for one.”

ALEX:
Tehani, you beat me to it – I LOVE that bit; I metaphorically punched the air.

JO:
Go Ulath! :)

TEHANI:
Unfortunately, there is also some nasty gender stuff – it doesn’t stem from our heroes, but isn’t challenged by them, and is somewhat supported by them to an extent (Kurik emphasises the nasty noble’s words by drawing his sword in this exchange):

“Mother will punish you.”

The noble’s laugh was chilling. “Your mother has begun to tire me, Jaken,” he said. “She’s self-indulgent, shrewish and more than a little stupid. She’s turned you into something I’d rather not look at. Besides, she’s not very attractive any more. I think I’ll send her to a nunnery for the rest of her life. The prayer and fasting may bring her closer to heaven, and the amendment of her spirit is my duty as a loving husband, wouldn’t you say?”

(more follows on p. 217 – of my copy…)

ALEX:
urgh. Hate that.

JO:
And it’s ok that he feels this way because it was an ‘arranged marriage’. Poor bloke, getting stuck in an arranged marriage like that. *flat stare* There are a lot of comments in these books about women being obsessed with marriage and men ‘escaping’.

ALEX:
And there’s other uncomfortable gender moments, too, like the serving girls in the tavern often being blonde, busty, and none too bright… *sigh* And then there’s Kring, who asks whether it’s ok to loot, commit arson, and/or rape when they partake in war with the Church Knights.

TEHANI:
Oh, so many uncomfortable moments…

JO:
Yeah I’d totally forgotten that about Kring. I was so excited to see him, because I always liked him, but that took the wind out of my sails a bit.

TEHANI:
But Kring kind of changes, I think (though later on) and that element is quite lost later. However, it does NOT do well to realise which culture the Peloi are intended to represent. Oh, the casual racism…

ALEX:
On the topic of racism – every time Sephrenia rolls her eyes and says “Elenes,” I can’t help but think of the bit in The Mummy where Jonathan says “Americans” in that insulting tone of voice (which I can’t find on YouTube, darn it).

TEHANI:
I think Sephrenia is quite within her rights saying it in that EXACT tone of voice!

ALEX:
Also, Ghwerig being ‘misshapen’ isn’t quite suggested as the reason for his being evil, but it’s pretty close – and keeps cropping up throughout the series. I can’t imagine how that makes a non-able-bodied reader feel, given it makes even me gnash my teeth.

TEHANI:
You know, I never actually read it that way – it mustn’t be quite as overt as some of the other uncomfortable things. But of course, now you’ve pointed it out, yes, I completely see it.

JO:
Oh hey I never really noticed that either! But now that you mention it, I can’t unsee it. Which says a lot. Why do I see all the gender stuff immediately, but this passed me by? Of course there’s a long literary tradition of physical deformities = spiritual ones. That’s no excuse. I must be more aware in my reading.

TEHANI:
Kurik’s acknowledgment of Talen (p. 392) made me cry as much as it did Talen!

ALEX:
You softy. I didn’t cry in THAT bit…

JO:
Oh no, the bit that always made me cry is still to come…

ALEX:
Mine too.

Apropos of nothing, did either of you find it a bit odd that Kurik checks on Sparhawk in the middle of the night?? I bet there’s fanfic out there…

TEHANI:
There’s fanfic out there for EVERYTHING! I didn’t think it odd, though I did love the naked man-hug in the early pages of the first book! (go on, go check, I’ll wait…) :)

JO:
I am NOT going to go looking for fan fic. I am NOT…

ALEX:
Oh, I don’t need to check, Tehani, I remember  :D

Also, do you remember whether you suspected Flute of being actually divine before the great revelation at the end of this story? I’m not sure! I hope I did…

TEHANI:
Well, I read these completely backwards (Tamuli before Elenium), so I was spoiled for that already I’m afraid!

JO:
Tehani that breaks my brain.

I had suspicions about Flute from very early on. I remember being very impressed with myself at the time. I reread it now and think how could you not? They do kinda hit you over the head with it :p

TEHANI:
I think by now we’ve read WAY too much in the field to be surprised by something like that – but a newish reader to the genre? Maybe they wouldn’t pick it!

Well, being the middle book of the trilogy, there isn’t really much by way of plot to chat about, I guess, so shall we move along? Perhaps faster than the plot of the book itself… :)

JO:
We should talk about plot shouldn’t we :)

Sooo… As usual the book opens up with Sparhawk travelling through Cimmura at night in the fog. Notice how often that happens in these books?

TEHANI:
Yes, you’re right! It’s a trend in the books, for sure.

See! Such a cool cover!

See! Such a cool cover!

JO:
I quite like the repetition. He’s got both rings, and now he knows he needs Bhelliom to cure Ehlana and it’s time for the sapphire rose to be found again anyway. The fellowship head off on their quest for the magic jewel and have adventures along the way, including being stuck in the middle of a siege, dealing with Count Ghasek’s possessed sister, raising the dead and finally fighting the Seeker who has been chasing them all this time.

Eventually they make it to Ghwerig’s cave – after the introduction of Milord Stragen, another favourite character – fight and defeat the troll. Flute is revealed as the child-Goddess Aphrael, and gives Bhelliom over to Sparhawk.

Was that the kind of thing you had in mind? ;)

TEHANI:
This is why YOU’RE the writer…! Nicely summed up indeed. The Count Ghasek storyline was a bit of a tough one. On one hand, Ghasek seemed like a nice enough chap. On the other, the motives behind his sister’s madness, well, not great to examine that too closely, I think.

JO:
Although I did appreciate the throwback to book one – Eddings could have introduced any old character here, but Bellina is the woman Sparhawk and Sephrenia witnessed going into that evil Zemoch house.

TEHANI:
Well seeded indeed…

ALEX:
GET ON WITH THE STORY, EDDINGS PEOPLE!

 

 

Jul 12

Eddings Reread! The Diamond Throne

EDDINGS RE-READ: The Diamond Throne, BOOK ONE OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Tehani and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Alex’s post over here and Tehani’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

TEHANI:
I was feeling a little book-weary yesterday so thought I might as well start my reading for this conversational review series, given it’s usually a soothing experience. Within a single PAGE, I was reaching for Twitter, because SO MUCH of the book cried out to be tweeted! Great one-liners, the introduction of favourite characters, and, sadly, some of the not so awesome bits as well. I was having a grand time pulling out 140 character lines (#EddingsReread if you’re interested), but the response from the ether was amazing! So many people hold these books firmly in their reading history, and it was just lovely to hear their instant nostalgia.

ALEX:

And I read those tweets and everything was SO FAMILIAR that I immediately started reading as well. And finished a day later.

JO:
Ok. A) You people read too quickly! B) Tehani those tweets were enough to start me feeling all nostalgic. I was in the middle of cooking dinner and had to put everything down, run upstairs and dig the books out of their box hidden in the back of the wardrobe.

TEHANI:
I am not at all repentant! :) Also, did you both find this a super easy read? Is it the style, or just that I’ve read it several times before? It really was like sinking into a warm fluffy hug, hitting the pages of this book again. I actually can’t remember the last time I read it, but it’s got to be over a decade, yet I felt instantly at home again. Eddings was one of the authors who caused my addiction to the genre, and even in the very first chapters, it’s easy to see why. The light and breezy writing style is instantly accessible, and the way we’re thrown straight into the action, with our hero Sparhawk leading us through, makes the book start with a bang.

ALEX:
Reading that first page was a little bit like going back to my high school, many years after graduating. It just felt so familiar, and comfortable. And like high school, I know it’s not without problems – but it’s still somewhere that has a lot of ME wrapped up in it. I also don’t remember when I last read these, but it’s not for aaaaages… And yes, super easy to read. TOO easy!  ;D

JO:
Oh yes, absolutely. As soon as I started reading it all came back to me. I remembered the moment I found The Diamond Throne in the library, and the first chapter and intro of Sparhawk hooked me instantly. While I think as a teenager I identified the most with Polgara from the Belgariad (I wanted to BE her) I have always loved Sparhawk.

ALEX:
Polgara is still one of my absolute favourite characters! Sparhawk is too, though – one of the great characters for me in my early teen years. I adored that he was older, and cynical, and world-weary. When I was 14 I thought I was all of those things…now that I am 34 I still absolutely empathise! This story also shows that his cynicism is cut with a very large streak of sappiness, which I think serves to make him just a bit more relatable. His love for Sephrenia, his respect for Vanion and Dolmant and Kurik – he’s actually a fairly well-rounded character, as these things go. His habit of calling people ‘friend’ and ‘neighbour’ is why I call everyone ‘mate’ to this day. True story. I also adore the relationship he has with Faran, that ugly roan brute; I love Faran unconditionally.

TEHANI:
He is so pragmatic, completely prepared for violence at all times, and yet from the very early pages where he gives the street girl some coins and calls her “little sister”, we see he’s an absolute marshmallow inside. I’m with you Alex, I adore him.

JO:
I have an admission to make. I still love him, but Sparhawk’s making me a little uncomfortable in this reread. For all his neighbours and his giving money to the scrawny whore, I’m starting to feel like he’s a bit of a bully. He gets what he wants because he can and does threaten violence if he doesn’t get it…and it feels like Eddings thinks this is ok because he’s Sparhawk. He’s a Pandion (not only a Pandion but the best of them, as we are repeatedly reminded) and the people he threatens are ‘evil’ anyway so no harm done… I dunno, it’s just made me feel a bit squeamish this time round.

TEHANI:
That’s a really good point. I’ve had a similar discussion with my Doctor Who reviewing buddies Tansy and David about David Tennant’s Doctor – he does and says some pretty awful things, but we accept it generally without question a) because he’s the Doctor, but more importantly b) because David Tennant plays him so charismatically. Sparhawk has the same sort of issues – we know (or are given by the narrative to believe) that he’s on the side of right, and that he is the Champion, therefore we accept his behaviour because it’s presented as being for the right reasons.

ALEX:
*sigh* you are of course both correct – Sparhawk’s use of “might is right” is totally accepted by the novel because he is so awesome. And if that’s not an abuse of power, right there, then nothing is.

On a more positive note, I think I like all of the other characters, too. Sephrenia is delightful although definitely not rounded out enough here…and I do have a problem with her “we Styrics are so simple and you Elenes are so complex” thing. I want to believe that she’s just serving back to the Elenes what they believe about themselves, so that she can manipulate them, but I’m not sure if that’s knowledge of the rest of the series or wishful thinking (more on that below). Talen is already totally amusing and reminds me a lot of Silk, from the Belgariad, which is unsurprising. The Merry Men really are dreamy; Ulath and his blonde plaits will always be my favourite, because who doesn’t love the quiet cryptic type?

TEHANI:
And I adore Kalten, because he’s always needling Sparhawk yet they clearly love each other. Talen was a definite favourite from early on too, and Kurik is marvellous – a definite father figure, or maybe more an uncle…

ALEX:
The classism and the racism…ouch. The Rendors are meant to be Arab analogues, right? Because everyone knows that living in the heat makes your brain go soft. OUCH. Also, why have I always thought the Styrics were analogues for Jews? Is it just that the Elenes burning their villages is frighteningly similar to pogroms in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages? (But of course there’s no religious similarity at all, and the only ‘real’ similarity is the refusal of pork.)

JO:
I always thought that about the Styrics too.

TEHANI:
Oh yes, that was the first thing I picked up on in terms of the negative stereotypes – completely over my head when I read these in my late teens, front and centre now. I actually wrote a uni paper on representations of reality in Eddings and Feist, but I’ve sure learned a lot since then! I could easily IDENTIFY the real world correlations, but did I notice the negative aspects of this? No I did NOT. *sigh* Bad past me, bad!

This time around, the classism was just as interesting too – I think I was so indoctrinated into the usual process of high fantasy in my 20s that this would never have even occurred to me to see. This time though, Sephrenia’s derision about the intelligence “common” Elenes and Styrics is, ugh, just awful. And when it’s other races as WELL as commoners, well, that’s terrible.

ALEX:
The class aspect is ugly as all get out. When they’re in the council chamber confronting Vanion, Dolmant – the lovely, gentle Dolmant – says why believe an untitled merchant (his words!) and a runaway serf over and above the honorable Preceptor (code: titled)? Now we know that those are both lying, but that’s beside the point. I dunno, Dolmant, maybe because truth and honesty aren’t actually the privileges of the wealthy and titled?

JO:
Oh goodness yes. I have to admit this is something that passed me by the first time I read these. Maybe because in the world Eddings writes it does feel so natural. Which is disturbing.

TEHANI:
It really is, isn’t it! And once you see, you can’t unsee…

ALEX:
This is one of the first real instances I remember of the Crystal Dragon Jesus trope – taking what can be broadly recognised as a version of the medieval Catholic Church and transporting it to a secondary fantasy world.

TEHANI:
I’ve not heard of the “Crystal Dragon Jesus trope” – please elaborate?

JO:
Neither have I!

ALEX:
Instead of creating your own religious system for your magical fantasy world, you take the broad brush strokes of (usually) the medieval Catholic Church – because hey, everyone knows that medieval stuff is bad, plus Catholics are easy to laugh at, right? It generally involves a monotheistic religion with a convoluted hierarchy, seemingly-pious churchmen (and only men) who are meant to be celibate but often aren’t, because that also makes them easier to turn into evil characters. The only thing that the Eddings missed is the saviour/messiah/ someone who sacrificed themselves bit, of the religion. It irks me because it is so lazy.

JO:
I did not know there was a term for that :)

ALEX:
Tehani, you said there was a Lord of the Rings reference early on – did you mean Ghwerig the Troll-Dwarf being like both Sauron and Gollum, with the whole rings thing? (Also, how did Ghwerig ‘casually’ smash a diamond?) There’s also a Hamlet reference, at the end, when Sparhawk comes across Annias praying in the chapel and chooses not to kill him.

TEHANI:
Yes, exactly! I missed the Hamlet reference, and I think there were a couple of others in there!

I could hand-wave the diamond smashing – I figured if he was working under the influence of the gods, he could pretty much do anything!

JO:
You know, there’s a lot of repetition in this book. It almost feels like any time anything happens, it has to be reported back to the group in the next scene, and discussed. Same goes for any time they meet a new character, we have a recap of events up until this point. All done with amusing dialogue, of course. But still!

TEHANI:
You’re right, but it’s so breezily written I hardly notice it! I do quite like the way travelling actually takes a significant amount of time, even when that slows down the action.

ALEX:
Thanks to your tweets, Tehani, I noticed every single time the word ‘peculiar’ was used.

JO:
By the end there I was getting a little sick of “I’m (terribly) disappointed in you, ___.” Or something similar. I noticed it a couple of times then couldn’t unsee it!

TEHANI:
Yes, Eddings has several “tics” of writing that once you notice them, you ALWAYS see them! “Flat stares” are my favourite :)

JO:
Particularly when they come from Faran. I love that horse and his flat stares.

TEHANI:
That horse is practically human.

ALEX:
That horse and his prancing make me happy.

JO:
I’m having a strange and conflicted reaction to the female characters in these books. On the one hand, they are such wonderful strong people. Sephrenia is powerful, but that’s almost not what makes her strong – rather her pacifism compared to the bloodthirsty knights around her, and her determination to do her duty to her goddess. And her relationship with Vanion. Ehlana’s still encased in diamond at this point, but the effect she had on Sparhawk pretty much says it all! Even Arissa has her own desires and knows her own mind. But…but… I dunno, something feels off to me. Maybe because there are few of them? Maybe Lillias’ rather large hissy fit soured it all for me. I just don’t know. Would love your reactions.

TEHANI:
I actually thought the Lillias thing was reasonably well handled – it was made pretty clear it was a cultural “norm” rather than her personal feelings, which made it okay for me, I guess. The female characters are interesting though; I wonder if it’s because they are constantly stamping their feet at the men and pretending to be less powerful than they are to get their own way that’s the problem? Possibly I’m getting ahead of myself though – this is only the first book!

ALEX:
I loved Lillias’ melodramatic turn – and that Sparhawk played to it for her sake. I am conflicted about Sephrenia: are the knights looking after her because they love her, or because they see her as weak? Or is that an “and” situation? I don’t like Arissa but I admire her strength. For me, I think it’s that this is such a boys world the women feel a bit out of place. The other female character of course is Flute, and she’s quite funny, but one thing I wanted to point out: she ‘somehow’ escapes the convent where they leave her, and meets the crew further on…and no one goes back to tell the convent she’s ok?! Seriously??

TEHANI:
Don’t look too hard Alex, there’s all SORTS of little nitpicks like that! I think we’re almost ready to move on to the next book. I don’t suppose it really matters that we’ve not talked about the plot, right? It’s your basic high fantasy quest, with lashings of barriers thrown into our hero’s journey, a cast of thousands (seriously, it gets quite large in the end…) and lots fun dialogue that means you completely don’t notice that sometimes nothing really happens for several pages *cough chapters cough*.

ALEX:
Things happen! Characters develop! Banter is committed!  :D

JO:
Yeah, what more could you possibly want? Lots of riding horses to get to places. Things go wrong for our heroes all the time. I do think Eddings is good at that in particular. Just when you think they might finally achieve something, *bam* something goes wrong. Usually involving Martel. And yes, lots of banter. Banter is awesome.

TEHANI:
Hey, have you two seen this? http://42geekstreet.com/fantasy-casting-agency-the-diamond-throne-the-elenium/

ALEX:
omg. How awesome. One big nitpick: they CANNOT make David Wenham Martel! Nononononono. No. Kalten maybe?

JO:
LOL ‘who could play Sparhawk in a movie’ is my husband’s favourite pastime. It drives me nuts.

Also, Gerard Butler? Gerard Butler? That’s it, I quit the internet. *walks away from the internet*

TEHANI:
What’s WRONG with Gerard Butler! *wanders off whistling* See you both back here for the next exciting instalment of our reread!

 

Jun 23

Zombies: More Recent Dead

12052683095_15f0a838bf_b

This is very cool!

“Trail of Dead” originally published in the Altair Australia Zombies anthology, then reprinted in The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories will be included in Zombies: More Recent Dead from Prime Books!

It’s due out in September, it’s full of amazing names (!!!) and you can order it here!

“Our most imaginative literary minds have been devoured by these incredible creatures and produced exciting, insightful, and unflinching new works of zombie fiction. We’ve again dug up the best stories—even some poetry—published in the last few years and compiled them into an anthology to feed your insatiable hunger…”

Isn’t that such a cool cover?

See the NAMES on that cover??

I’m supposed to be proof-reading “Trail of Dead” right at the moment, but I keep getting distracted by the other stories. This book is awesome.

Think I might need to watch a zombie movie tonight. Shaun? Resident Evil? Any other suggestions? :)

 

Jun 16

Guardian launch and Shadows Award

Right, so the last time I tried to post this it totally killed my website O.o Fingers crossed peeps!

Guardian is out! It’s real! And launched a couple of weeks ago now (damn you website issues) at the national sff convention, ContinuumX!

Many thanks to the wonderful Tansy Rayner Roberts who did such a lovely job with the launching. And to Tehani from FableCroft publishing, for believing enough to help me see this trilogy finished. (And thanks to Cat Sparks for the photos below!)

IMG_5421

IMG_5427

 

While we’re discussing good news, I’m also pretty damned excited to announce that The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories has won the Australian Shadows award for best collected work!

The Australian Shadows are the annual literary awards presented by the AHWA and judged on the overall effect – the skill, delivery, and lasting resonance – of horror fiction written or edited by an Australian.

So that’s pretty cool, isn’t it. An Aurealis and a Shadows. The little collection that could!

 

May 30

Building Working Worlds from Weird Ideas (3 of 3)

Continued from part 1 – So where DO you get your ideas from?

and part 2 – Turning ideas into worlds

 

Turning Worlds into Stories

You know what’s annoying about thinking in worlds? Worlds are fun and all, but worlds aren’t story.

Don’t look at me like that, it’s taken me years to work that one out.

Worlds aren’t story, and story is everything.

 

All that hard work in the background

A bunch of people wandering around in a world, no matter how cool that world might be, isn’t even plot, let alone story. A bunch of people who do something just so the coolness of your interesting and well-developed world can be revealed, isn’t story either.

The fact is that all that hard work we’ve been talking about — the exciting ideas, the new friends, the deep and intricate links between spark and world — they will inevitably end up in the background. Because story is key.

I didn’t say just in the background. The world and the idea might not be the story, but they are bound to the story. They are an integral part of the story.

The world and the story don’t work independently of each other. They interact, and intersect. And the same goes for plot and character. What’s the point of dumping a bunch of characters onto a very particular world and having them act out a plot that could happen anywhere? Only these characters could live here! This story could only happen here!

 

So what is this story thing then?

As a developing writer I was usually in the “A bunch of people do something so the coolness of my interesting and well-developed world can be revealed” group. It’s still my default setting, but that’s what happens when you think in worlds.

I had to learn that wasn’t what stories are.

This is an explanation of what story is that speaks to me, and helps keep me grounded when I’m at this stage in my planning process:

wired-for-story“A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.

“What happens” is the plot

“Someone” is the protagonist

The “goal” is what’s known as the story question

And “how he or she changes” is what the story itself is actually about”

– Lisa Cron, Wired for Story (Ten Speed Press, p11)

(quiet aside, I’ve never been the type of person to read ‘how to write’ books. I always rolled my eyes at them, and thought things like “real writing isn’t learned, it comes from the soul” or some such wankery. That’s changed. The more I write and the more I learn about writing, the more I want to learn. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed this book and found it useful. Thanks to Cat Sparks for the recommendation)

My interpretation of story is

I’ve got this cool idea, but the story is why anyone else should give a damn.

 

Tools for developing story

Three guesses what I use? Notebooks!

For me, developing the key elements of the story happens almost the same way and almost at the same time as developing a world. Characters sprout in the middle of all those scribbles and drawings just like magic systems do. Same for the goal and the conflict that drive the plot forward.

The mcMansion being built in loud and irritating fashion two doors up led to self-aware high density housing running amok through suburban streets, consuming all the single story red-brick 1950s houses with a backyard and a garage. But that’s not the story. High Density is about the people who live in those single story red-brick 1950s houses struggling against a change they cannot stop. From a loathing of mcMansions sprung the kind of people who would fight against them. Usually older, usually poorer, but armed with the magic of the every day, fighting the spread with their bleach, dusters, and photos of the kids who have long fled the nest. The conflict between old and new, a mistrust of change, all coming from a resentment of being woken up so blood early on a Saturday morning.

I have begun to find Scrivener extremely useful at this stage, and that’s because of the 0 draft.

Remember what I said about worlds being my default setting? Well, the 0 draft gives me permission to write to that default setting, because along the way is where I will find my story.

Using the notebooks, the pens and the highlighters, I can wrangle my idea into a world. I can squeeze out a few characters and get to know them. But I still don’t know what my story is about.

I won’t find that out until I’m writing it.

That doesn’t mean I’m a pantser! I have a light outline to work from: always a beginning, and an end, and a few points in between. And anyway, this is a 0 draft, not a first draft! It’s still part of my notes. It’s rough and unwieldy. I may not finish it, not properly anyway, because when I realise what the whole damn thing is actually about, it all might change.

This is why Scrivener is so useful. I can divide up my zero draft into POVs or chapters or plot points and physically rearrange any or everything as I see fit. And I can see it all in a glance while I’m at it.

Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 9.45.25 PM Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 9.45.40 PM

 

Of course you can do that in another word processor, or by hand, or with your cue cards of whatever you’ve chosen to use, I’ve just been finding Scrivener is good for that.

Oh, and by the way, I’m not advocating this method! There are folks who do all their planning in advance, who know what their story will be and produce a near-perfect first draft as a result. And the more power to them! This is just something that I have learned, through trial and error, works for me.

Which is the point — I’ve found a series of tools that allow me the creative freedom to develop on my initial *spark* of an idea until it becomes a fully-fledged story. And that’s what we all need to find.

 

The STORY is the point of everything, but everything starts from the IDEA

I’ve been saying throughout this that even though idea doesn’t equal story, they are connected. One does not exist without the other, and throughout the planning process, and into the resulting book or short story or graphic novel, they should be in constant contact.

Well — going around in a bit of a circle here — I think that’s because good ideas already had stories inside them. We just have to develop the tools and learn the techniques to find them, and let them out.

***

And that’s it! I hoped you enjoyed these blog posts, thanks for reading :) Coffee and cake will now be served in the foyer (I wish!)

 

 

Older posts «