Father Earth’s been missing it

“The path that the Moon naturally follows. Instead of letting it pass again, lost and wandering, bring it home. Father Earth’s been missing it. Bring it straight here and let them have a reunion.” (390)

In the previous book, The Fifth Season, I learned about orogenes—people who can manipulate the kinetic energy around them, usually in relation to dirt and rock. This means that they can fix the energy released during an earthquake, or can manipulate the rock around them. In the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, I learned something new. Besides there being a new kind of beings called Stone Eaters, called such since their skin and hair resemble stone, I find out that Father Earth is alive. And he’s fighting a war.

This book makes me excited because of the layers that Jemisin has again woven into its plot. While still focusing on Essun and her search for her daughter Jija, the book begins to weave the story of a war going on between Father Earth and the residents living on his surface. It tells the story of a two-sided war, those who would like to stabilize the Moon to bring it back into orbit, to end the seasons, and those would like to bring the Moon home and end all humanity. This plot line gets me excited mainly because it is similar to a book I want to write, one that contemplates how the Earth feels about people living on its surface, because surely if it was alive, it wouldn’t be happy with us.

One thing I didn’t like, which was more something I had to get used to was the unusual second-person perspective. I have seen authors use “you” before in order to insert the reader into a specific viewpoint, but this book is written using this POV for Essun’s perspective, and it’s very jarring starting out. Mainly because I think it breaks the norm. Once you get used to reading it, I think it’s very interesting. And it really separates the reader from Jija’s perspective since it flips back and forth, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. I might have to think about it a little more.

Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. New York, NY: Orbit, 2016. Print.

Nugget: Metaphors are golden

You know when you spend more than a few pages on a metaphor that you really like it.

Like, I’m wondering at this point if Neal Stephenson was an old miner, or if he had been one of those tourists at some point, where he decided to try gold mining with a little metal pan and a bucket of dirt, only succeeding in getting those tiny flakes of gold dust. (You know what I mean if you’ve tried it.)

But Stephenson loves gold. Almost as much as he likes metaphors, and he’s really good at it. He spends a good portion of this chapter-set in the Newtowne, Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 12, 1713-talking about his gold metaphor. Exactly four pages of it. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it gets hilarious when every flashback to a memory begins with

Nugget:

But, here’s how his series of memories starts. Or, at least part of it. 

In years since he has rarely gone back to those old memories. As he does now, in the tavern near Harvard College, he’s startled to find that the muddy whirl has been swept away. The mental pan has been churning for fifty years, sorting the dirt and sand to the periphery and throwing it off. Most of the memories are simply gone. All that remain are a few wee nuggets. It’s not plain to Daniel why these impressions have stayed, while others, which seemed as or more important to him at the time they happened, have gone away. But if the gold-panning similitude is faithful, it means that these memories matter more than the ones that have flown. For gold stays in the pan’s center because of its density; it has more matter (whatever that means) in a given extent than anything else. (47-48)

I know that was a rather long block quote, but I really love it because of the metaphor he aligns with his memory. A person is prone to forget, and it is similar to gold, where only the worthy pieces (the ones with more weight) are left behind, where everything else is thrown away, back into the sand and water.

It makes me wonder how much time he spent on this metaphor. Whether he knew he wanted one here; if he initially wrote this in; or if he went back and changed this after he had come up with the idea of gold.

Either way, he was happy with it, because he used his “Nuggets” to begin each memory in order to literally create a quick history for Daniel for information we might need to understand him. Literally a sentence or two to create a brief image that can help us understand his beginnings.

And before I go, there’s one more metaphor I want to show you that I really liked. Again, also related to memories.

The conversation might not have gone precisely this way. Enoch had the same way with his memories as a ship’s master with his rigging-a compulsion to tighten what was slack, mend what was frayed, caulk what leaked, and stow, or throw overboard, what was to no purpose. So the conversation with Clarke might have wandered into quite a few more blind alleys than he remembered. (33)

So for my last question to you, how do you come up with metaphors like these? Or, what are your favorites?

Happy reading!

Stephenson, Neal. Quicksilver. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2003.

Love, Hate Relationship

Imagine 4 people in a room. Let’s name them: Jim, Neil, Tom, and Flarbb—because I can. Normally, if you’re trying to write a dialogue between these four people, it would either be narrowed between two for a standard back and forth. Like…

Neil and Tom walked to the other side of the room to gaze admiringly at a tall vase that didn’t house any flowers but should, because, what was the purpose of a vase if it didn’t house any flowers?

Meanwhile, Jim complained about Flarbb’s wife. “Betty cooked me dinner, again. Can you believe her?”

“She was just being nice,” said Flarbb. “She loves your company.”

Or, you add two more people by adding names.

“Quit ragging on Flarbb, Jim.” Neil gazed hotly at him. 

Tom had to pull Neil back, worried about his friend and his history of violence. “Come on buddy. Let’s go back and look at that vase.” 

Now, I imagine that’s everyone’s normal dialogue. Dropping names when the reader can pick up it’s only two people going back and forth. But, have you ever dropped everyone’s names? Read this by Neal Stephenson:

“Dr. Waterhouse, you must be warned, has fallen quite under the spell of Herr Leibniz—”

“—him that stole the calculus from Sir Issac—” someone footnotes.

“—yes, and, like Leibniz, is infected with Metaphysickal thinking—”

“—a throwback to the Scholastics, sir—notwithstanding Sir Isaac’s having exploded the old ways through very clear demonstrations—” (17)

What I like about this is that it quickly fills a room with voices without creating the people to go with them, effectively creating a noisy crowd, the kind that has to interrupt itself like fifteen times. I love it. I find it really difficult to juggle multiple characters since it’s hard to carry that many voices on a page without it sounding repetitious with all the names, like Jim told Neil who yelled at Flarbb, etc.

What I don’t love but hate—not really hate, but for the purpose of the title, let’s call it hate—is that none of these voices have faces. And I know you’re thinking isn’t that what you just said you loved, but dang nabbit, I’m not finished. None of these voices have faces, and this isn’t a one-time use thing that he does for the purpose of this ‘crowd.’ Stephenson actually does this a lot with all his characters, even the important ones.

“I defer to you, sir.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“But without seeming to be a Cavilling Jesuit, I should like to know whether Wilkins’s urine is a product of Art or Nature.”

“You saw the jar.”

“Yes.”

“If you take the Rev.’ urine and pour off the fluid and examine what remains under the Microscope, you will see…” (123)

Now, this is just a random example, where Stephenson goes for 6 lines without naming people, and I don’t know what is the magic number for a maximum number of lines without naming anyone, but I have seen him go longer than this.

The reason this bothers me is because of the talking head syndrome. I like to see how characters are interacting, what their hands are messing with, how their faciial expressions are changing. I don’t like to read just voices going back and forth – for most of the time. There are exceptions like this one. But for the rest of the time, I get bored or distracted, especially since there are always names I don’t recognize, in which I’m too lazy to go back and figure out who this is and why we’re talking about them.

In summary, I’d say the love/hate thing accurately describes my relationship with this book. I’m on page 224 out of 335, which is only book one of volume one. (There’s three books in this volume.) And at times, it does go faster, but then I hit ruts like the one I’m in right now, in which it just drags and drags, and I don’t know why I’m reading about the things I do, but hopefully it gets better from here.

Oh well…Happy reading!

Stephenson, Neal. Quicksilver. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2003.

Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Unexpected Resolution

This book is not what I expected! Not in a particularly good or bad way, but in a random-thoughts-translated-as-random-interwoven-plots kinda way, with each different conflict finishing in a subtle and unexpected fashion.

I guess I should explain. There’s a few conflicts within Ishiguro’s book, which I’ll list below:

  1. The married couple, Axl and Beatrice, were supposed to visit their son.
  2. There was a vicious dragon that warrior Winstan was supposed to kill.
  3. There was a vicious dragon that knight Gawain was also supposed to kill—no idea why the two men couldn’t help each other.
  4. Everyone kept recognizing husband Axl, no idea why—I secretly thought he was King Arthur lost among the people after the forgetful fog.
  5. There was the boy Edwin, whom was bit by some secret animal—I kept wondering if he was going to turn into a werewolf.

Any of those align with your expectations? No?

What do you expect to happen?

Now compare that to what actually happens:

  1. The married couple remember by the end of the book that their son had died earlier, and now they could only visit his grave, meaning all their travel was for nothing.
  2. Winstan killed the “vicious” dragon, who was actually really old and was going to die soon anyways, and he didn’t kill out out of the goodness of his heart (being that the dragon’s breath created a mist that made people forget) but because he wanted people to remember their vengeance in order to create disorder and chaos before the Saxons invade.
  3. Knight Gawain never wanted to kill the dragon; he was the dragon’s protector, protecting the beast so that Master Merlin’s spell of forgetfulness would make people heal and forget the past—the mass murder that King Arthur had commit.
  4. Axl turned out to be just some small peace-maker, one of the knights of Arthur’s round table.
  5. Edwin was bit by a dragon, whose pull could actually pull you toward it. No idea how this works considering the Dragon was so big it Should’ve just swallowed him, and was so old that it never left it’s nest. Feel like this plot was concluded since the Dragon died but was ultimately left unexplained.

Overall, even though this was a slow read, I thought this was a very interesting book. Because of its numerous conflicts, the way it interwove these numerous stories, it was very complex and it tied itself up at the end. I feel like it was so subtle that it was very thought provoking, and I like the fact it had no big reveal. I’ll have to think on this book some more.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Stringing your reader along

I don’t know where it is in this book, but I swear I remember it saying that King Arthur had disappeared. You see, in Ishiguro’s book The Buried Giant, there is a man and his wife traveling to their son’s village. And in the midst of their journey, they encounter a warrior.

“That warrior’s an admirable fellow, didn’t you think so, princess?”

“No doubt,” [Beatrice] replied quietly. “But that was a strange way he had of staring at you, Axl.” (73)

At first, this made me think that this warrior was their long lost son. What irony that would be! But, without the author revealing more, I had to continue, at least until this came up again. This time the warrior, Wistan, was asking another knight to gaze upon Axl’s face.

“I beg you, sir, look at this man beside you and say if you’ve ever seen him in days past.”

Sir Gawain gave a chuckle…But as he gazed into Axl’s face, his expression changed to one of surprise—even shock. Instinctively, Axl turned away, just as the old knight appeared almost to push himself backwards into the tree trunk. (108)

Again! There’s something in Axl’s face that everyone recognizes, which leads me to believe, what would two knights have in common? A king perchance? I don’t even remember if it  King Arthur was missing, or what was his role in the plot, but with this ‘fog’ causing all the people within the land to forget, I have to wonder that if Axl plays a bigger role than we thought, especially with the way he keeps remembering more and more of his warrior-like past.

Then, finally, I get more of a reveal on page 180! Tell me if this isn’t irksome.

“Sir Gawain, were we not comrades once long ago?” [Axl asks.]

“The mist hangs heavily across my past,” Axl said. “Yet lately I find myself reminded of some task, and one of gravity, with which I was once entrusted. Was it a law, a great law to bring all men closer to God? Your presence, and your talk of Arthur stirs long-faded thoughts, Sir Gawain.” (180)

Right now I’m on page 204, trying to find out more but really struggling, not because I don’t like the book, but because I think the constant jumping back and forth between memories has thrown me for a loop. With my skim reading and how subtle Ishiguro’s style is, I miss a lot of the transitions taking me into a character’s memory, and it really pushes me away when I get confused in the layers of action. I’ll have to focus on this later, and discover why it messes with me so much.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Revealing your background

They followed him, just a short distance behind, the monk continually glancing back at them over his shoulder.

The monastery buildings were now dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace. (147)

This is an interesting paragraph, not because of the lack of dialogue and constant motion, but because of the method of how it draws your eyes. And thus reveals one of my weaknesses.

I love to focus on the movement of a character, so if we cut everything down to just the character, the me-version would read as follows:

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

It’s like it paints half a picture, just like the old television shows where Scooby Doo and Shaggy were painted in these bright pastels, always moving since they were in the foreground, while the background was dark and shadowy, never changing.

And, if I wanted to add the background, I would use the movement of the character to draw the reader’s attention to it.

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, which prompted them to turn back and stare at the monastery buildings behind them, dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

Of course, it gets very repetitious when I have to keep saying stared, looked, watched, peeked, glanced, gazed…their eyes followed… It’s much easier to do it just as the way Ishiguro did. When you expect a character to turn and look at something, don’t start with the character, immediately jump into the imagery instead. Just like Ishiguro.

There is an alternative, and I almost prefer this one…

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, watching in case anyone left the monastery buildings behind them, in case anyone was following. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

I like this one better for 2 reasons: 1) the character is interacting with his environment and 2) there is some reflection on the action itself. Right when I mention”in case anyone was following,” you can see the characters are worried and careful. I think this draws a reader more into the story, although Ishiguro’s way can be described as a more artful way, since it really shines on the imagery.

But I guess it really depends on which effect you like the best.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Snyder’s Strengths

Maris Snyder is who I would describe as a new adult author with a quick-writing style. I’ve always been a fan of her because of how quick her books move, always fast-paced action, her writing always direct and to the point. And this book is no different.

Shadow Study is meant to continue Yelena’s and Valek’s plot line—the Poison Study series, and while I wonder if it’s one of the last, it definitely leaves the series open enough to continue. (I won’t spoil the ending.)

But in the manner of reflection, there’s a few high points I want to focus on.

1. Using nicknames to denote character familiarity

Onoro had disappeared into the forest. probably climbing a tree. And then he wondered when he’d stopped thinking of her as Little Miss Assassin. (238)

I love how her characters can be humorous and annoying. She does annoying so well, which makes me wonder about her personality, ha. But what I particularly like about this section, is how she shows Janco calling Onoro nicknames, slowly fading it out until you realize, when did he stop? It forces you to go back and look.

2. Using cliffhangers to keep you reading

I hesitated. A dagger slammed into the ground near me.

“Let go or my next knife will not miss.”

<end of chapter> (249)

This is how almost every one of her chapters end—with a huge cliffhanger. It definitely pushes you to keep reading, always advancing the tension with what happens next? It definitely gets old after a while, especially if you make it to obvious. I know there was cringe-worthy cliffhanger, ending with, ‘when he took off his mask, she gasped. She never could’ve guessed it was end.’ Or, something along those lines. Either way, withholding his name, kinda mean for the reader.

3. Using flashbacks to elaborate the relationships between characters

“…Get me the name of the patron and I won’t go after the assassin.”

“And why would I do that?”

Time for the ace. “because you owe me a favor and I’m collecting.” (256)

What I really liked this is that throughout the book, I was questioning why Valek kept having flashbacks. It was a smooth blending in and out, to the point where I had to go back and reread the transition, but I kept wondering is, why now? It’s interesting and all, but what’s the point? Until…I got to scenes like these, where she would reference the past. And here is where I was grateful for the flashbacks. I felt like such a insider after I witnessed them.

4. Using multiple perspectives to show where readers hoard knowledge

Kiki slowed as a wagon appeared, traveling toward them. Odd. (374)

In the previous chapter, we saw Yelena strapped to the wagon, after she had been kidnapped, so seeing her boyfriend riding her horse, her horse figuring out Yelena was there, it was quite mind-blowing as a reader. It makes you want to stand in your seat, waving your arms, pointing the wagon and saying, Go save her you nincompoop! Too bad he never figured it out…Either way! It was a fun scene. Made you feel like you had insider’s knowledge.

Synder, M. V. Shadow Study. Don Mills, Canada: MIRA Books, 2015. Print.

Reactions

As I wrote earlier on my blog, when writing, there are three things that are most important: actions, reactions, and reflections, meaning that after you show an action, your character should be reacting. This could include a flinch, a jolt, a motion of some sort, but if you’re like me, you like to focus on the face (although there’s plenty of other places to look). And I’ve noticed, when writing from first-perspective, it’s really important that you focus on your character’s internal reactions. It can jump start your readers’ reactions. Here are a few to start you off:

VISIBLE REACTIONS 

Happy Sad Angry
  • His eyes lit up…
  • His eyes twinkled…
  • His eyes crinkled…
  • He smiled…
  • He grinned…
  • His mouth twitched…
  • He brightened…
  • Her eyes swam with tears…
  • His eyes glistened…
  • He shut his eyes…
  • He sniffled…
  • His lower lip trembled…
  • He glared…
  • His nostrils flared…
  • He ground his jaw…
  • He gritted his teeth…
  • His cheeks turned pink…
  • He scowled…
  • His eyes flashed…
  • He stormed his way…
  • He barged ahead…
  • He jutted his chin…
Surprised Fear Disgust
  • His eyes widened…
  • He gaped…
  • His eyes went bug-eyed…
  • He inhaled a sharp breath…
  • He paled…
  • He blanched…
  • His skin went white…
  • He shrank…
  • He skulked…
  • He forked his fingers through his hair…
  • He stuffed his hands in his pockets…
  • He leered…
  • He sneered…
  • He stuck his nose in the air…
  • His brows knitted together…
  • He curled his lip…
Contempt Remorse Anticipation
  • His eyes narrowed…
  • His forehead puckered (or furrowed)…
  • He pursed his lips…
  • His eyes rolled skyward…
  • His eyes drooped…
  • He grimaced…
  • He winced…
  • He hunched over…
  • He curled into a ball…
  • He slumped his shoulders…
  • His eyes darted…
  • He scrutinized…
  • He nibbled on his lips…
  • He edged closer…
  • He paced…
  • He rocked on his heels…
  • He drummed his fingers…
  • He fiddled with his…
  • He squirmed in his chair…

A few trick phrases include, “His eyes burned with…” in which you can pretty much substitute any emotion, which is kind of hilarious. I guess you can burn with any sort of passion. Or, there’s “He screwed up his face…” Also a freebie.

INTERNAL REACTIONS

Happy Sad Angry
  • A flutter of joy
  • May feel tearful or moody or irritated
  • May feel tired or lethargic
  • May feel a tightness in your chest or throat
  • May feel empty inside
  • May grind teeth
  • May feel flushed or pale
  • May clench fists
  • May feel a temperature change, i.e. blood boiling
  • May feel a prickly sensation
Surprised Fear Disgust
  • Quick breath
  • Heart skips a beat
  • Sudden sweating or heart palpitations (fluttering)
  • Easily startled
  • Heart’s beating faster
  • Taking quick, shallow breaths
  • Inability to focus except on worry
  • Sweating
  • Freezing in place
  • Feeling to fight
  • Cold hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling or tightening of the muscles
  • Frowning
  • Gagging, or pursing the lips
  • Turning stomach
  • Averting your gaze
Contempt Remorse Anticipation
  • Maybe a tightness in the chest?
  • Maybe a burning, like embarrasment?
  • Butterflies in the stomach

Note: Most internal changes register as a change in heart rate, temperature, or muscle tension, though most people only register a heart rate and palm sweating (Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, Hietanen; 2013; p. 649).

Finally, I’m not recommending this book—mainly because I haven’t read it, and hence, have no opinion—but it seems like it’d be a good read for studies such as this, and I’d love to hear what people think of it.

Thanks to Bryn Donovan and Sharla Rae for the help with Visible Reactions!

And refer to this poster for even more help!

 

Organizing your story

I want to donate a technique I’ve been using that helps me write and focus on the story. (Mainly because I have a tendency to slow down and focus on the realism of the characters.)

Meet my standard format for outlines!

 Chapter #  Purpose  Conflict
 Here, I write the chapter number. And will outline each chapter in my book – this helps if you think of each chapter like a mini-story, each with its own purpose.  Write the purpose of each chapter here. What do you want to show your readers? How does the plot advance in this chapter?  I’m always worried about a slow story. If you’re reluctant to read, it’s not engaging your interest. What conflict is there to up the tension in the story?

I will do this for every book, every chapter. Lately, I’ve been using this to go back and edit my stories, but lately, I’ve also been using it while I’m writing (for longer stories). It helps me focus on the big picture.