Inventing Vocabulary

The best part about being fluent in a language – you’re allowed to decimate it.

It’s terrible, though, isn’t it? You spend your whole life trying to get a firm grasp of the language you converse in, and then as soon as you’re judged fluent enough, you can break the language apart and ruin it. Which, I guess is okay because that’s how our language grows, right? We’ve gained a lot of words through invention.

But the child-buyer ignores Mother. His footsteps come closer, and they’re…strange. Damaya can sess footsteps. Most people can’t; they sess big things, shakes and whatnot, but not anything so delicate as a footfall. (She has known this about herself all her life but only recently realized it was a warning.) It’s harder to perceive when she’s out of direct contact with the ground… (Jemisin 27)

When I think about sess, I think about sense. And I’m sure it’s not a coincident that these two words are so close to each other. But, I think the idea with sense is that the sensation itself must be a physical experience, especially when you’re talking about the five senses.

And with sess, I think Jemisin was going for something more sensual, something more spiritual, less physical. Which is Damaya she did not have to be in direct contact with the ground to “sess” footsteps.

This is a good word for this book when the characters work with a skill/sense that is not available to the whole population, where it’s not a true physical sensation but another “muscle” you use when manipulating rock material. Which is why, looking back, it seems necessary that a word was invented for this purpose.

When you’re building a world, where the laws of physics aren’t always 1-to-1, there is almost a requirement for you to invent a language, or to redefine it. Which is why Jemisin invents so much. In fact, books that do this usually contain a glossary at the end, just like Jemisin does. I don’t think that’s necessary, but it’s nice for the readers who idolize perfect comprehension.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

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A Voice that Speaks

I think everyone wishes for when they speak, the stars stop their trek across the sky, pausing for a moment to listen, wondering what it was that was said. I think everyone wishes that for a moment, they are heard.

And for the voice in the book I just read – I listened.

Jemisin is talented, and from reading some of her earlier books, I can tell she has a strong voice in the making, that is only strengthening through practice. It’s hard for me to quantify voice, just as it’s hard to quantify volume and tremor through words. But her words hold a certain vibration upon the page. They seem to sing with life.

The streets are paved not with easy-to-replace cobbles, but with a smooth, unbroken, and miraculous substance the locals have dubbed asphalt. Even the shanties of Yumenes are daring because they’re just thin-walled shacks that would blow over in a bad windstorm, let alone a shake. Yet they stand, as they have stood for generations.

At the core of the city are many tall buildings, so it is perhaps unsurprising that one of them is larger and more daring than all the rest combined…Pyramids are the most stable architectural form, and this one is pyramids times five because why not?

None of these places or people matter, by the way. I simply point them out for context. (Jemisin 3).

I think the reason this section stood out to me was how natural, how easy-going and casual her voice appeared. There’s opinion when she speaks: miraculous asphalt, daring Yumenes. It bleeds into her writing, originating within her and then her characters. And while this is something I personally enjoy – I usually favor strongly opinionated people – I think others can agree this is something to support. It gives your characters more personality when they have a voice, an opinion, a stance.

All the sudden, perspective is not this 2D definition of ‘you’ or ‘I’ but 3D definition of where you stand, how you feel in that moment in time.

And I think for this story, this story in particular, it was necessary to establish so much opinion, so much perspective. For a character who develops over the course of the novel, who we see in snapshots over her lifetime, it was necessary to give her personality to show how she changes and grows.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

Personification

It is ordinary, as lands go. Mountains and plateaus and canyons and river deltas, the usual. Ordinary, except for its size and its dynamism. It moves a lot, this land. Like an old man lying restlessly abed it heaves and sighs, puckers and farts, yawns and swallows. Naturally this land’s people have named it the Stillness. It is a land of quiet and bitter irony. (Jemisin 2)

As I might have mentioned earlier, personification is the the giving of human qualities to inanimate objects, such is the case here with land. I really like how brutal and violent events like earth quakes/volcanoes are given an overly simplistic and comedic comparison, like to an old man in bed, especially with words like fart. With such a description, this paragraph gives a strong voice to the narrator, winding the reader in quickly on page 2.

It really helps make the land from something eternal, unchanging to something as grumpy, feeling as a human. I guess this wouldn’t be something everyone would use, but it does help add narration or depth to the setting.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

 

Character Descriptions

Tonight I promise will be short and sweet.

A while ago I finished Touch by Claire North. About a person whose soul can switch bodies with a touch; (s)he loves each body she inhabits. But when her current body dies a violent murder, she escapes and vows for revenge. This book asks the question of what would you do for love?

I liked it. Didn’t stand out too much in the way for books, but one feature that really stood out to me were the character descriptions.

“My hand connected with the leg of a bearded man, brown-trousered and grey-haired, who perhaps, in another place, bounced sploit grandchildren happily upon his knee. His face was distended with panic, and now he ran, knocking strangers aside with his elbows and fists, though he was doubtless a good man” (North 1).

Automatically I can create a general picture: a bearded man.

Then North creates specifics, lending enough details for our mind to fill in the rest of the image: brown-trousered and grey-haired. It’s these specifics that help our mind begin to craft an image. You need details for an image to stick. Generals aren’t enough.

And then she creates feeling – him spoiling grandchildren. Attaching a picture, a history to a character gives them emotion. Realism. 

By presenting him with conflicting actions, she creates depth: knocking aside strangers with elbows and fists.

The book continues with a lot of in depth images; people created within a few sentences. It’s a skill required for this book, for a body-jumper. And it’s a great skill for any author, which can be easily mimicked, using Touch as a guide.

North, Claire. Touch. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2015. Print.

Best last line in a book

Okay. So maybe I exaggerated a little bit. Maybe it isn’t the best last line in a book, but it was pretty amazing.

“A moment later, the cold ran up her arms, and caught her breath, and beneath her hands a heartbeat fluttered, as Victor vale opened his eyes, and smiled” (Schwab 364).

Oh! I forgot! You haven’t read it, so let me back up a step. SPOILER ALERT!

This is the book with the two different timelines, Vicious. And as you may (not) know, the main character, Victor, is plotting revenge against his college friend, Eli. Why? Because Eli turned Victor into the police and tried to kill him. (Note: there’s more back story here with tons of details and nuances but read the book for that.)

Anyways, Victor and Eli both have super powers, calling themselves EOs. Eli has regenerative healing, and Victor can manipulate people’s level of pain. And Victor finally tells his group, I have a plan to take down victor, never revealing what it is.

It leaves you wondering. Here’s a man who wants to take murderous revenge; you can’t kill the character; and the whole city is against you – thanks to Eli’s persuasive girlfriend.

So how does he win?

“Pain swept over the three like a current, like a breath, something held back and now returned. And then, one by one, the realized what that meant” (Schwab 358).

He died. And lost. But not before his team takes out the girlfriend, leaving the city to turn against Eli. Which they do. Realizing Eli killed Victor, that he had actually committed dozens of murders before this, they arrest him and take him to jail.

And Victor, with the help of a bring-back-to-life sidekick, wakes up in his grave smiling.

I liked this. This was one of the few times I think withholding information was well done. Why? Because it didn’t flaunt the withholding of information. Maybe because it continued the story under the assumption the plan works. I’m not ejected from the story, and while at first it seems as if he lost, I’m  pleasantly happy when I realize he actually won. It didn’t work out as bad as I thought. That this was the plan, and a brilliant one as a matter of fact.

This could be a technique for when you want to withhold information: Omit the details and then show the omission through scene and action with reflection at the end.

Ps. Anyone else realize the that the winner, or victor, in this book is Victor? Play on names, you think?

Schwab, V. Vicious. New York, NY:Tor, 2013. Print.

Subtlety within Stories

Fact: No one likes being slapped in the face.

Not that I’ve tried it, but it’s kind of one of those things you learn over time, mostly from hitting your brothers, and then your parents getting angry at you, eventually learning, yep, it’s bad to punch people. They don’t like it, and it hurts.

And you know what? Same rule applies to books – you shouldn’t punch your readers.

Take for instance this paragraph:

As an isolate polity, disconnected from the manifold while the research project runs, it should be about as safe as anywhere can be. Just as long as none of my stalkers are signed up for it… (Stross 37)

Here, the character is saying that while he hides in this private society, he’ll be safe from his enemies…as long as his stalkers aren’t signing up for it. And of course this is a hint. Why? Because if this is what he fears, then it makes sense for a story to make the character face and conquer his fears. So really, this is telling the reader, FYI – expect this to happen soon!

Not exactly the most subtle approach, but it is a warning for the things to come so that it’s not unexpected when it occurs – AKA foreshadowing. Plus, it makes the reader feel like they have insight, making sure every reader (not just the writerly ones) are on the same page in terms of expectations.

Here’s another example: 

“I had such a void that I-well, I made the mistake of falling in love again. Too soon, with somebody who was brilliant and fast and witty and probably completely crazy. And they asked me about the experiment while I was miserable, trying to figure out whether I really was in love or was just fooling myself. We discussed the experiment, but I don’t think they were too keen on the idea. And in the end it all got too much for me: I signed up, backed myself up, and woke up in here.” (Stross 94)

To readers, those who read the beginning of the story, this will sound familiar. That’s because in this scene, the author is hinting, drawing parallels between an old character and this new one. He is foreshadowing, hinting, that they are the same character.

I haven’t seen a lot of foreshadowing lately, and thinking back, I’m not sure it’s because books lately haven’t included a lot of foreshadowing, or if it’s because it’s too subtle for me to notice. I know this is my first instance, so it was probably more obvious than usual, or maybe I was more attuned to it.

But what I would like to point out is the face that these foreshadowing hints help readers align expectations, so that either the character’s and reader’s thoughts align, such as in the first example, or so that the author’s and reader’s thoughts align, such as in the second example. Either way, alignment helps everyone follow along, keeps people interested (who feel like they’ve succeeded in decoding the book), and keep readers from feeling put off by random events.

It’s a good technique, one I’m still trying to integrate.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.

Dual Timelines

I have so many posts that are backlogged right now from when I had time to start them, and I simply don’t have time to deviate from the list…and yet, I’m going to. Why? Because I’m passionate, and I’m too caught up in my current read to not deviate.

Which means, if you don’t have a copy of this book yet, so far (on page 103 out of 383 –> 27 percent completed) I’d totally recommend this book.

Right now the book is alternating between two main timelines (although it certainly deviates within those two main timelines as well): currently – now – and then, or ten years in the past.

Then: Ten years ago, Victor and Eli – two college roommates – were in their senior thesis class, in which each of them had to invent some argument to research. Vic decided upon boring adrenaline research (quite easy in his perspective), and Eli decided to research the factors of an EO (extraordinary) development phenomenon – when a person gains supernatural powers. This eventually evolves into each of them trying to helpfully kill each other (commit suicide) in order to prove the thesis. FYI: Right now they’re friends.

Now: Fast forward to the future, where in alternating perspectives (that are either two days ago, last night, or two weeks ago), we find out that Victor now hates Eli. After he has escaped from jail – no idea how he got there – we learn how desperate he is for revenge on his friend and that he now has EO powers.

It’s driving me crazy! All these why’s and how’s!

  • Why does Victor now hate Eli?
  • How did he develop his powers?

When I’m reading then, I’m desperate to see how they eventually developed their powers?

When I’m reading now, I’m desperate to see how their friendship turned into hate? How/when did Eli go evil, because in Victor’s perspective he is? Even though he thinks of himself as the villain, as Eli as the hero…

I have seen this book as having the most reasoning for two timelines. Each one adds a question, a piece of tension, to the story. Most books I read where there’s multiple working timelines, they usually only add background, maybe reasoning. But this book, it adds questions, each one reflecting questions for the other half of the story.

This would be a good study on how to integrate dual timelines.

Advice: Make dang sure they’re dependent on each other for a full story.

Schwab, V. Vicious. New York, NY: Tor, 2013. Print.

Theme

In my opinion, theme doesn’t have to be obvious.

It definitely can be, which is the case with books like 1984 or its twin, A Brave New World.

But it doesn’t have to be. It can meander and stroll, peppering small hints throughout a story, essentially touching upon the truth, until the reader gets enough hints that they eventually arrive to the answer. But you don’t even have to do that. It is my belief that every story has a purpose, and even though every author might not set out with a theme, it inadvertently makes one.

People begin singing the words there, and clapping in time, and they don’t make any sense either. The name “Christian” features in it repeatedly, but not in any context I understand. And the message of the sing-along is distinctly sinister, all about submission and conformity and reward feedback loops. (Stross 87)

It’s funny. Glasshouse is supposed to be about this poor main character who is stuck in a bubble society made to resemble the past, and all he can think about is how strange the past is, where the Bible focuses on submission, conformity, and weird loops. Because he’s commenting on his past but our present, I think it’s safe to say Stross thinks this of society, and I have to say, I agree completely. But that’s the essence of group think and popularity right? The essence of a extremely social species?

If I was me, if I was in my own self-selected body, I’d call him out on the spot-but I’m not. In the sick pit of my stomach I realize that they’re never going to forget that I’ve been singled out, and that this makes me a target. After all, that’s how peer pressure works, isn’t it? That’s what this is about. The experimenters can’t expect to generate a workable dark ages society in just three years by dumping a bunch of convalescents in orthohuman bodies into the polity and letting them wander around. They need a social mechanism to make us require conformity of one other, and the best way to do that is to provide a mechanism to make us punish our own deviants- (Stross 88)

Direct commentary on our life. How do we get everyone to conform? Through peer pressure. And through peer pressure, we lose the individuality that is so hard to attain in our society, which was so prevalent in the main character’s…until he was forced to live now/here.

I think that’s why I liked Glasshouse a lot. It’s because it was a relatively fun read – lots of adventure, action, confusion that forced you to think, while it was still mature enough to contemplate our society, why it exists. A book stands the test of time more readily when it lends an analysis to something…besides just what it means to have fun.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.

Variety

A good quote I found on variety of sentence length:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” – Gary Provost