Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Points of View

I’ve been thinking on points of view in fiction lately. Not the standard 1st vs. 3rd person POV debate, but the even older ‘brand spanking view on the world’, where one clueless individual, usually the protagonist, gets clued in on the magical wonderment he/she’s been missing out. 

I’m pretty much writing a novel with that sort of POV; the POV of the unbiased, of the first impressions. It’s one of the mechanisms to acclimatize readers, which irks me. It’s so popular that stories using it seem clichéd, but at the same how else do you rely the background and the world building, minus the info-dumps. The clueless runt, in need of constant pointers, is such a convenient decision. It simply works. 

Harry Potter was clueless. Sorry for the seemingly outdated example. To give more examples, I would list The Vampire’s Apprentice series, House of Night series [okay, maybe too many vampires], Tolkien [because of Frodo], 28 Days Later [not a book, but it’s that or more vamps on the list], Servant of a Dark God [yes, fantasy] and well Eragon. You get the idea. The point is, I bet you have been wondering, that stories where a novice evolves into savior/champion/ survivor are easy on the reader, because the reader gets to experience everything with the said character and learn along the way. Each situation brings something new to the table and the reader has time to assimilate, before moving on something else. 

This is not the same, when the reader meets a protagonist that is in the know with everything in the world and about the plot. At best, it can lead to boring inner-monologues, where heroes infodump what they know too well to need internalization. UF here is the biggest offender. It seems like a tough-hick thing. I have read plenty of those, but the one name worth mentioning is Rachel Vincent, who handles this with grace. At worst, there is mass confusion in the cases, where world building is killer-complex. Here I can list Blake Charlton, who has developed the most complex magic system and tells his story through the eyes of a scholar [geeky person in the know]. I loved the novel, but sometimes I was ‘huh’, ‘say what’, ‘not getting it’. 

Having written a novel with a character, who is in the know, I see where the difficulties lie, because a writer has to justify why a character is thinking things. I used a cheap trick, making my heroine do a ritual, wherein she repeats the info she needs to gain inner peace. Cheap, but the reason exists and she can freely feed the readers whatever information is required. 

But it is way easier to have some noob learn the ropes along with the reader. I have heard that some readers prefer fantasy, because of the sense of wonder and discovery of the magic that’s been invisible before. Even so, making it fresh seems a challenge to me. Understanding this new environment requires more often than not a mentor and that alone is tricky to make work. So yeah, the POV of the first impressions won’t be getting out of fashion. 

BUT I want to hear your opinions. Are you sick of it or do you worship it? 

Friday, August 20, 2010

[Friday Flash] Wordless

"Wordless” by Harry Markov

Today the bus brimmed with passengers, which wasn’t unlike any other week day. Passenger after passenger stepped in and elbowed their way forward to claim a spot for themselves. This continued until each silhouette nested into another and the space around me blurred into one colorful collage of fabric and faces. I managed to scuttle in a sun bathed corner and stood still, swaying with the bus’ rhythmic stops and starts. Soon he’d board as well and our morning game could begin.

I couldn’t get a good visual, so I resorted to second best. Among distilled human fragrances, cheap fruit deo, aftershave and I searched for his perfume. I caught an accidental whiff one day, when I brushed off him on my way out and now could find it anywhere in enclosed spaces. This was all much to my surprise since my sense of smell was dull, misguided at best, but all around him all my senses spiked. No, I couldn’t hear him breathe a mile away, though he had a deep breath, strong lungs. At least his chest cavity deceived me into thinking so. Once I even had the luck of hearing him talk, the inconsistent small chat over the mobile phone that really showed an individual’s personality and his voice was something else and special.

Rather cliché, but how could you not go there, when what this man makes me feel is beyond the reach of words. I have read a lot of books on the matter, bound to happen since I work at a library and after that in a late night coffee shop – bookstore and how could you not pay attention to the glossy cover art on some of these novels. And all the big volumes come slightly skewed around infatuation, attraction and the mystery of relationship. And I think we had a relationship with him. A silent relationship.

Mornings we greeted each other with a smile and a knowing look, anticipating the hour long traffic for me and the longer ride for him. Late at night we encountered each other in the subway separated by the plastic white seats, where we swayed to the tracks staccato passing and told our day’s passing with head nods. Of course there were questions in my mind. A constant, chattering cacophony of questions. It was a wordless courtship and resembled bathroom conversations with the mirror and your imagination. Why was a man in a decent quality black suit doing with public transportation? Was he single? Had to be, otherwise why bother with me. How old was he and did he like his stubble? In my mind he was a philanthropic lawyer or big shot manager in a company, who liked being cramped in a bus. Rich people had their eccentrics. But how many sculpture worthy people matched their beauty on the inside, especially when fat checks were in play. Sigh, whatever he was, my man, silent in the chaos, gave that all around good guy vibe.

It didn’t matter how far away we were in the bus, he would always give me a sign, slip a message or wave with the umbrella on a rainy day. I had mastered all the skills of observation or so it felt like, a private hunting game of hide and seek. On a sunny day I would spy his face in the window’s reflection and caress his features with my fingertips or catch a glimpse of his blue shirt’s collar, business case or top of wavy cinnamon hair. At the same time I could also feel, when he watched me, his stare clinging on me like elastic binds.

Today though was different. Today all of the small pieces towered above me. I didn’t even notice, couldn’t even move, when his perfume expanded and took all air around me hostage. His arm reached in front of me and anchored on the aluminum grip, the bright blue sleeve waving like a strip of the sky in front of me and that was when reality became dysfunctional. Five months I’ve nibbled from the edge of this feeling and now an overdose exposed me to an emotional livewire. It injected chaos within me, but on the outside I was no different from an exhibit at Madam T. museum, petrified but slowly melting. And so the ride continued, fearful and wanted and me torn in the middle. Should I speak or should I stay silent. Words, spoken and hidden, thwarted and played with always ruined what started with a glance full of wanton. My lips quivered, indecisive; cracked in a thin line with a ‘hi’ in the hatching.

Yet the moment passed and the ‘hi’ remained stationary on my lips, unmouthed and unheard. The bus parted doors on my stop and I stepped down, feet heavy with gravity. I turned and saw his face was blank and in his eyes I saw farewell.

Perhaps he lost himself in the sea of numbers that was the abundance of bus lines or had a new routine. I could only pluck questions and fantasies from thin air in the bus, the same air which held our relationship with no words.


I am posting an oldie. Explanation as to why will come, when I can type and link properly. :D

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Library at Home Expands

I had ideas for informative posts [I'm contemplating on a very interesting POV model I've spotted in anime recently], but I'm severely underslept at the moment, so today is devoted to my pretties, which I love, love, love. I am talking about books and the latest debutantes to arrive at the househould.

It's a bittersweet moment for me, because on one hand I go 'BOOKS!' and on the other hand I go 'OMG! No time to read them!'

#1 "Unseen Academicals" by Terry Pratchett

The wizards at Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University are renowned for many things—wisdom, magic, and their love of teatime—but athletics is most assuredly not on the list. And so when Lord Ventinari, the city's benevolent tyrant, strongly suggests to Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully that the university revive an erstwhile tradition and once again put forth a football team composed of faculty, students, and staff, the wizards of UU find themselves in a quandary. To begin with, they have to figure out just what it is that makes this sport—soccer with a bit of rugby thrown in—so popular with Ankh-Morporkians of all ages and social strata. Then they have to learn how to play it. Oh, and on top of that, they must win a football match without using magic.

Meanwhile, Trev (a handsome street urchin and a right good kicker) falls hard for kitchen maid Juliet (beautiful, dim, and perhaps the greatest fashion model there ever was), and Juliet's best pal, UU night cook Glenda (homely, sensible, and a baker of jolly good pies) befriends the mysterious Mr. Nutt (about whom no one knows very much, including Mr. Nutt, which is worrisome . . .). As the big match approaches, these four lives are entangled and changed forever. Because the thing about football—the most important thing about football­—is that it is never just about football.

#2 "New Ceres Nights" edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Tehani Wessely

New Ceres, a planet in the outer colonies, embraced the Age of Enlightenment nearly two hundred years ago and refused to let go. Refugees and opportunists come to New Ceres in search of new lives, escaping the conflicts of the interstellar war that has already destroyed Earth.

New Ceres Nights presents thirteen exciting stories of rebellion, debauchery, decadence, subterfuge and murder set against the backdrop of powdered wigs, coffee houses, duels and balls that is the shared world of New Ceres.

#3 "Letters to Claudia" by Jorge Bucay

This book compiles the writings that Jorge Bucay dedicated to his patients for over three years of therapeutic work. With time, the patients themselves began to share and to distribute these letters, until, one day, due to the success that they were having, they suggested that Bucay publish them. In this imaginary correspondence, Claudia, the author's very loved friend, is the recipient of a revealing letter that will clear many of her doubts about self-knowledge, love, the beauty of life and the secrets of psychology. The book has already become a self-help classic.

#4 "Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill

'Buy my stepfather’s ghost, read the email.’ So Jude did.

When Jude Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question what he was going to do. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre and the grotesque: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an aging death-metal-rock-god, buying a ghost almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years… by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the girl he abandoned, who killed herself. But this ghost is different. Delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, the latest edition to Jude’s collection makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life…

#5 "Unpleasant Tales" by Brendan Connell

From the comic to the shocking, from the refined to the visceral, and blurring the boundaries between all four – Unpleasant Tales is a remarkable new collection of some of Brendan Connell’s darkest stories. Drenched in gluttony and decadence and with a scope stretching from the depravity of rulers in ancient Greece and Renaissance Spain, to phantasmagorical body alteration in Zürich and New York, these are supremely refined and elegant, creepily intelligent and, of course, exquisitely unpleasant stories that pack a tremendous punch, both individually and collectively. Stories that will not easily be forgotten.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Explaining The Curse

I promised people to explain the curse from my last Friday Flash, which had turned the warrior woman into a 'princess' aka the proverbial damsel in distress. Since "Maiden's Resolve" had to be a flash, a lot of what I wanted to say had to be cut and I had to assume that readers would trust me and accept the curse as it is. But Stephen asked so many questions in the comments that couldn't resist and show you some of the behind the scenes.

"Maiden's Resolve" does not have a long creative history. When I read the challenge was to go and make an overused trope fresh, my mind instantly flew to the princesses, who could never ever save themselves. How they relied on the princes to come and rescue them, because they would have no other alternative. I decided to work with the antithesis, a warrior woman, who has chosen to be saved, chosen to be captive.

The 'how' and the 'why' were tricky, so I went for the obvious.

[Side-track Alert]

The warrior would take on a job, whose objective is to kill a witch in the woods, but the warrior is not told that the term ‘witch’ is mildly put [demonic demigod here serves better]. The enemy proves to be immensely powerful, but even outmatched the heroine is a formidable match. As punishment, after the witch seizes control over the warrior's body, she erects the prison disguised as a castle and fills it with all the monsters the heroine has slain.

The actual curse is powerful magic. It digs through the heroine's memories and identifies all the people the warrior has ever helped [villages, towns, etc.] Think of her as Sword and Sorcery diva by way of Red Sonja. When the heroine holds a weapon and strikes with it with an intention to kill, the curse is triggered. It targets 100 people from her memory and when the blow lands, the 100 people fall down dead on the ground. The curse also projects the last seconds of the slain one hundred in her mind and body, so that the warrior knows the witch means business.

And that's it. The curse also has side functions as in puppeteering the warrior to clad for battle and taunting her to go berserk and start killing.

I've also featured the artwork 'Evil Curse' by Kaohu, which I simply adore.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cows, cows, cows

A lot has been accomplished today, which is a post for a different time. For now, be mesmerized by the cows.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Little Asian Girl... enough said

Sometimes this is all you need. 

[Friday Flash] Maiden's Resolve

I have finally found some time to write a Friday Flash on time. Okay, so technically I am one hour late, judging by my time zone, but that is why I love the time zones. I am allowed to not make it. Hah. So, this week I took the prompt from Tessa's Author Aerobics, which was giving cliches a new spin. My choice: damsel in distress. Enjoy. 
Maiden's Resolve
by Harry markov 

The owl hooted three times. It was the third night with a full moon. It was how the witch let the princess know, when a new prince would come to rescue her. 

Every month for a hundred months, a warrior would come and stand against monsters and trickery. It was the princess’ punishment for aiming her sword at the witch. It was how the princess had become a princess and slept in the finest linen, in the finest bed, perched on the highest floor in the highest tower. 

That night the princess didn’t sleep, like she always didn’t on the night the owl hooted. She remembered, when she slept under the skies, on the ground, in her armor and watched the sky lose the silver-lined darkness and blush in morning colors. 

When the songbirds started singing, she heard the neighing. It was faint, but right as the witch had announced. The princess rose from her bed and stared from her window, sleeves in emerald silk billowing from the wind. There was no mistake, a lone figure rode from the forest and possessed the empty castle’s grounds like the ghost he’d soon be. 

The princess sighed as the spell began its work. Her feet walked on their own from the window to her chest. Her hands undid buttons and straps, letting silk and linen pool at her feet. Her hands opened the chest and pulled out her armor. Her hands polished it until it shone like a star, then donned the armor. Then her feet took her to the room with the mirror and the weapons. She sat down and her mouth ate, even though her mouth tasted like rot. 

“Another prince for your fair hand.” The mirror spoke with the witch’s voice. 

The princess looked at her hand and it was fair. Long gone were the battle calluses and scars. Washed away with the witch’s balms and salves. 

“Let us see what this warrior has. Will he live or will he die?” The mirror spoke and fell in silence as the surface blurred. 

Instead of her face the princess saw the warrior as he entered through the gates. His face was hardened from previous battles. His sword cut the air, clearly dangerous in his hands. But it did not matter how many foes he had fought, how many wizards defeated. Each brick in the castle was magic and he would die, whenever the castle thought it was entertaining.

“Not trying to help?” The mirror asked and hummed. “You know ever secret. Every monster and you have every weapon.”

The princess kept silent as her body stood up and headed to the weapons lined on the walls. Her hand stopped on a battle axe, took it, swung for practice and headed to the staircase entry. It was true. She knew every spell. How to evade it, how to slay all the demons and ghouls and apparitions. She knew where the magic ran weakest, but she also knew what the price was for her rescue. For each blow she landed, a hundred lives would expire, slain by her hand. Such was the witch’s curse. 

“No.” She said. “Be silent. Leave me mourn.” 

The screams started. The castle had hungered since the last warrior to die at the orchards and had starved for torture. The warrior’s voice rung loud, carried by metal tubes, crawling on the walls of the castle. It was broken and thinned with pain. Through small grids on the steps the scent of blood wafted. The princess’ nostrils filled only with that and her muscles tensed. Her feet begged to leap down, swallowing three four steps at a time. The magic worked in her own veins, breeding memories of her past battles in her limbs, resurrecting that feeling in her heart and in her mind. 

Weather through it. Her foot moved on the first step. She gritted her teeth and stopped. She was in control now. Had her limbs, her muscles. When she twitched, it was because she had willed it so. Do not walk down. She strained, body taught, at the verge of ligaments snapping. She pushed back at the bloodlust, blocked the berserk in her head. 

“Oh, how good he is. He still lives and has climbed to the sixth flight of stairs. What strength and what fortitude. How noble.” The mirror cooed and marveled. Its voice felt like a finger rubbed in salt prodding a wound inside the princess’ chest.

The princess hissed. The prince was a fine warrior, climbing as fast as he did. His screams echoed with pain, but also singed with rage. They were a challenge, a dare and the princess shivered, imagining herself alongside him. Her sword trailing arcs, carving enemies. Indeed, the man was a noble warrior, who did not deserve to die for a fraud. For the witch’s glee and need for fresh hearts. 

But each blow cost a hundred’s lives. It was a toll she could not pay. She refused to pay, even if these moments, when she stood bloodied and with raw from screaming throat, were what she was born to do. Even if it meant leaving death’s hands drag another warrior in the lands below. It hurt to breathe in these moments, when the battle reached its climax, when she knew that she could save the poor soul and the berserk voice grunted her to do so. 

One breath. Two breaths. The screams stopped. The warrior had died. The axe dropped by her side and she climbed the stairs to her chamber, where she undid the armor and placed it back in the chest. She pulled on her clothes, lacing the linen and silk. Then she sat in front of the mirror, a comb in her hand. In her reflection tears ran down her cheeks as she combed her locks. Ninety months more, she counted and continued to comb, in her mind a hope that next month a prince would come, who needn’t help to slay the monsters. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Overcoming the Nausea of the First [Vomit] Draft

I have been sporadic with my writing as many can testify, but where procrastination ends the I-don’t-wanna syndrome takes place. However, this is not the fear of starting a new project. It is the more annoying nuance to why I am not writing as fast as I know I can. It has to do with the vomit draft and the writerly squeamishness that is attached to it.

As artsy people, writers’ minds are the habitat for dignified, breath-stopping concepts, tightly wrapped in integrity and emotions to keep the readers glued to the page. But we’re human; we err. Somewhere along the trip brain-to-fingertips our emotionally multi-hued heroine becomes a whiny, self-righteous mess [or Kesha, depending on just how inebriated the creative mind is before a session]. Our witty ‘oh snap’-inducing repartees degrade to an argument shared by pissed off six-graders and the narrator sounds as if we have enabled the Voice Recognition on MS Word and dictated everything, only to go ‘huh’ afterwards.

You have been through this and this is where I am currently am, trying to not edit everything I write cause my protagonist sounds like a melodramatic cardboard cut-out. This is the limbo called The Vomit Draft. You know what the story looks and feels like, but the result on the page/screen can be described as a distant relative at best. It poses the really deep question as to why aren’t we hooked to get it right the first time. I’m not even going to try and answer. It is the way it is and writers get screwed with drafting and editing, until we’re clinically insane.

BUT I am sidetracking again and using crass, inappropriate language. The deal is that if I let the vomit draft win, I will most certainly never complete my manuscript [by the way, this is a déjà vu, so don’t assume I was deflowered], because I would be caught in a circle. Write and then rewrite, while at the same time the vibe I shared with the story would sly away. It’s to try and redecorate, while the foundations are still being laid and the skillets all over the place.

So I started thinking what to do, which morphed into this blog post. Here are my strategies to get this vomit draft over with.

#1 It’s All About Getting It Done: This is a classic psychological trick guaranteed to work, if you possess the needed determination and mental fortitude. I do not, so I whisper this in the dark after a meltdown and a tub of ice cream [I need to be stereotypical]. After all, it is about getting it done and the looks do not matter. This is sage advice, handed over from author to author since time immemorial. With enough constant repetition it actually makes you blind to the suckiness and lets you concentrate on the story, which like all trophy wives needs constant attention. I pulled this one successfully, when I hit the middle of my last novel.

#2 Be Anal With What You Feel Is Wrong: While I write, I either pause for fifteen minutes on each sentence or I just write and go ‘oh’, ‘ah’, ‘this one’s a doozy’. It’s akin to driving over things and giving yourself advice in retrospect. This is definitely a new for me technique and involve rereading the written material, noting what needs to be changed and how during the re-writes. This is a good approach, because you gain the momentum and crank that draft at an accelerated speed. I also get the satisfaction of having a quick and clever mind that spots the mistakes from the get-go and these notes are definitely a lifeline during the edits. I’m sure that the Track Changes options in MS Word allow this to be a smooth sailing, but I am a dead tree defiler so I write the notes down.

# 3 Plan Before Battle I am not a great pantser. I feel confused right before starting and then I have issues with happens next, which coupled with the stalling nature of the Vomit Draft is a big obstacle for me personally, because after all we are individuals and problems vary. I’m quite fond of the chapter outlines. I write the opening, the dialogue schematics and the ending. These are the three needed components and the rest can be fleshed out. It makes the process a lot faster and the faster you conclude each writing session or the more you produce per one session gets you marginally closer to the ending.

# 4 Mhm, don’t look at the screen? Apart from the annoying MS Word grammar and spelling checkers that distract and cut up the writing flow into continuous trips to fix what sometimes the grammar checker gets wrong. Also not looking at the screen prevents you from seeing the ultimate carnage you are inflicting on your characters, the world and the stories. With that out of the immediate focus and you write and write and write and post-pone the horror for a lot later. Fun, no?

These are my few coping mechanisms with the great void between what’s inside my head and what my head actually gets done. Currently I am just doing a lot of # 4…

I am open to suggestions to get over this phase. Share how you wade through the early incarnations of your novels.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

[Twitter Talks] People about titles

I talked about the secret mission of titles back in July [and no, they are not FBI sanctioned hit men; titles are geeky] and that got me thinking how other people valued titles. Did they glaze over titles as an announcement? Did they pay attention to the title? Did they track back to see whether it fits the story being told? So, I turned to Twitter. Here is the question I posted:

#Question: What role does the title of a work play for you? [important or not]

Somehow I also managed to lose some replies, which I though I copied, but in fact had not, simply because my mind has decided to create false memories. This is why I am running a shorter version this time around. Here is the breakdown by groups. 

GROUP 1: Fans

@rachaelnfox Sometimes the title is everything. Its what catches my attention.If the title is bad the cover better be good. Otherwise, no go.

@RebeccaEmin Surely it's one of the most important things? In a book shop, the cover sells the book. The title being part of that.

GROUP 2: Lukewarm sympathizers [badly used, I know]

@Hagelrat I'd like to say not, but browsing on spec I'm guided by cover & title. A bad or misleading title can mean I pass over a book.

@Susi_Sunshine I hate silly titles or the misleading kind. I hate to be disappointed by a book. For me a good cover counts more. #coverwhore

@belovedsnail A title won't make me buy a book, but can put me right off.

GROUP 3: The Indifferent 

@Squirrelpunkd Not really. Sometimes, titles are just more of a placeholder than anything else.

@Squirrelpunkd Don't pay much attention to titles until I've read much of the story, to be honest 

The few responses here can be placed in three categories: those who value titles as important elements of the novel; those who don’t use titles as reason to buy, but are a guide to an extent and Larry, who just doesn’t care. Even with so few replies and however amateurish this statistic is, it sketches a realistic image of the titles’ importance. 

People are generally divided as far as titles go and at first glance it seems like a minor detail to fuss about. After all, having no foreknowledge of the title doesn’t hinder the story, the plot or the themes. Yes, it may hint at what the story is about and yes, along with the cover it makes a mean marketing too, but it is also very subjective whether a title fits a book /movie /whatever. The conclusion I have drawn is that titles are one of the elements that allows the reader /consumer to show their individuality, when approaching the book as a product. 

To back up what possibly sounds ridiculous, to reads a well structured plot, fast paced story, well written prose and endearing characters are of utmost importance. For different people, these elements would mean different things and would be of different importance [one trumping the other], but to an extent everybody hunts for quality. Titles represent the bait leading to the bits readers want. It’s up to the individual whether they would gobble it up, use it as a guide to a limited extent or simply disregard it.

More importantly. What do *you* make of it all?