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.

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Smooth Introduction

Then there’s Schwab. I liked his last book, and I like this one so far. So simple, so smooth. His story moves like a fine brandy or rum, moving with a building heat as you read more and more.

“Kell wore a very peculiar coat,” he started (1).

Fact.

Schwab starts A Darker Shade of Magic with this small fact, stating the coat is quite unusual, before developing more reasoning behind why its such a strange coat, and why it was so important for the character, Kell. Kell needed this coat for his traveling between realms, which not only gave some development to the character but also built the type of world it was for the reader.

This is a quick scene setting done well. All it required was simplicity.

And then he wraps up this section of the book in the same fashion:

“Kell stepped forward through the door and into darkness, shrugging off Grey London like a coat” (35).

Isn’t that superb? Opens and closes the same way.

Overall, Schwab’s style of writing is very simple, no foreshadowing, no hidden details, which I know is not for everyone, but the story itself is moved so smoothly that you find yourself devouring the book like  Thanksgiving meal – quickly. Rather than savoring the meal you slaved all day cooking.

Happy Reading!

Schwab, VE. A Darker Shade of Magic. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

PS. Did you guys know VE is short for Victoria?

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.

 

Huxley’s 1984

I submitted to peer pressure.

A lot of my friends had talked about the book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, including how much they liked it and how traumatic an ending it had. They pressured me to read it, telling me again and again, it’s a classic. You should know the story.

So, I read it. I submitted to peer pressure and committed the deed. And fortunately, I didn’t feel contaminated afterwards, which tends to happen after I read a book I didn’t like. But this book was so interesting, and there are so many things I want to talk about! This book had a weird style; it was similar to 1984; the ending was weird? Forced? Rushed?

I’ll divide up my thoughts and try to make them quicker than usual, since I did a no-no and left a whole book for a post.

PREFACE

Within the first chapter, you get the setting of the book: future time period, a society where humans are artificially grown in a lab, set to undergo the Bokanovsky’s Process (where fertilized eggs undergo duplication until there are ninety-six duplicates), which the Director calls “one of the major instruments of social stability” since, as Huxley says, it produces “standard men and women; in uniform batches” (Huxley 7). Because everyone is a twin of the other; humanity can be standardized and cast into formal castes, based on intelligence. As one of the characters mentioned, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely” (137). Meaning, the more standard they look, the more easily they can conform and socialize, equating popularity and happiness.

This is a big component on which the society is built, and even though their civilization has changed in more than one manner, I think this component, for being such a small deviation from the norm, still resulted with a largely different plot, in which is discussed the importance of the individual versus society. Hint: All it takes is one deviation from the norm to create a good framework for a novel.

 TRANSITIONS IN CH 3

“Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending.”

Green corduroy shorts and white viscose-woolen stockings turned down below the knee.

“Then came the famous British Museum Massacre. Two thousand culture fans gassed with dichlorethyl sulphide.”

A green-and-white jockey cap shaded Lenina’s eyes; her shoes were bright green and highly polished.

“In the end,” said Mustapha Mond, “the Controllers realized that force was no good. The slower but infinitely surer methods of ectogenesis, neo-Pavlovian conditioning and hypnopaedia…” (50)

Most of the chapter was this way, and it was crazy to read, because it was constantly changing scenes, switching back and forth between the repetitious nurses (who used hypnopaedia to sleep condition citizen’s ethics and morals), to the reflecting Controllers (who explained how society became this way), to the average Lenina, acting as the typical citizen in this society. Because it switched so often, my brain struggled to keep up. But one thing I liked was that it showed all that was going on at the moment, drawing direct comparisons between each of these situations.

While the Controller, Mustapha, explained why society acted this way, the nurses showed how we conditioned society to act in this manner, using Lenina to demonstrate the typical behavior. For example, the nurses repeated, “Ending is better than mending,” encouraging citizens to always buy new clothes while Huxley described all of Lenina’s clothes, showing how she conforms to these conditioning’s (50). Hint: These quick transitions draw direct comparisons between scenes or characters, making them relate to each other.

1984

Remember how 1984 was a direct contemplation of the politics and social criteria to make a totalitarian society? One of the criteria it required was a sex-less society, where sex became a chore, and the standard woman behavior (of the middle and high class) was abstinence. As a direct opposite, Brave New World is sex heavy. And although the two books share opposing views to create a submissive society, both of them encourage society members to never be alone, to always be in public, and to never ruminate in their thoughts. For example, while 1984 encourages doublethink to disable individual thinking, BNW encourages the use of soma, a drug that Lenina says to take “when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly” (92).

It’s interesting to compare the books side-by-side since they both study social behavior of their own fictional society, constantly examining what-if’s. Where 1984 took a ‘hate everything, be at war approach,’ Brave New World took a peaceful ‘everyone’s happy’ approach, which you can see is drilled into the mind of every citizen on page 75: “‘Yes, everybody’s happy now,’ echoed Lenina. They had heard the words repeated a hundred and fifty times every night for twelve years.” Overall, it’s funny how similar and different they are, considering they both had the purpose to have a stable society for forever. Note: Notice again how this book doesn’t have to be sneaky with its purpose, again having the characters reflect on the same theme throughout their thoughts and dialogue, just as obvious as 1984. This gives a good method on how to reveal your theme: Make the characters examine and reflect on your purpose.

SOMA

I really like the use of drugs in this book, the one named soma. In the case of this book, as previously mentioned, characters take these drugs whenever they’re feeling something other than happiness, using soma as an avoidance method for any strong negative emotions, in effect, never learning how to deal with them (examples seen on 171 and 176). This is a cool similarity with our society, even though drugs aren’t as heavily used as in BNW, where they’re used as currency. But I think the reason this drug made the book stronger is that it shows the degree of happiness that characters feel. They depend on this sort of artificial happiness, which is by no means a true substitute for real happiness. As the Controller says, “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand” (221). What the Controller means, is the kind of happiness their society achieves is tiny compared to the kind you earn in the face of sadness. You cannot achieve true happiness without its opposite, and by eliminating the negatives, they’ve diminished the positives, but it’s okay! It’s all in the name of stability, and wouldn’t everyone rather safety? Leading us back to 1984’s statement. Would you be willing to give up your freedom for safety? How much are you willing to give up for survival? Hint: Running symbolism, as is the case of soma and the society’s dependence on artificial happiness, is a great way to exaggerate the theme of your book.

ENDING

This one I won’t include any references, but I will include plenty of SPOILERS. With the end of the book, came a general conclusion, where a few of the characters were banished from society, being too creative and intelligent for the general society. And then one character decides to banish himself, not being able to accept this artificial happiness that they have created, through the avoidance of all negative emotion.

After a sort, society tracks him down and continues to make fun of his culture’s tradition, where he learned to welcome pain and suffering as a sort of cleansing process, making him feel better. But the society warped this, making him go crazy until he rebels against the crowds, whipping people and eventually killing – what I believe to be – his ‘love’. In the face of this, his hangs himself.

This felt overall, too quick, rushed. This happened in the last 10 pages, and the pacing seemed quite strange. It slowed down quite a bit after the argument between the main characters, delving into a sort of epilogue before it re-entered the action, with the unhappy character moving away from society, flashing through quick moments of his life until we arrived at the moment of him going crazy, and killing himself in the face of murder. And because this felt forced for me, I don’t think it had the same sort of impact as it did on other readers. What about you?

Edit: I still want to say I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but I want to change part of my answer. While I was discussing the book with a friend, someone said, I know you didn’t like it, but was it effective? Causing me to consider it for the first time. Was it an effective ending? And in short, I want to say yes. It was effective.

The character who killed himself thought he couldn’t deal with the guilt at killing his love, so he ended up committing suicide. I thought this was funny – yes, funny – because he was in opposition of this consistently happy society because it was artificial through the constant use of soma. And yet, when he was faced with the situation of unhappiness, he couldn’t handle it and killed himself, showing, maybe the fake-happy society has it the right way. Because the only thing this ending showed us was that, no, people can’t handle the truth, so continue to feed them soma.

I liked that. Continuing the trek of the story by reinforcing the incorrect notion.

Huxley, A. Brave New World. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1932. Print.

Write by example

You want the good news or bad news first?

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Bad News: 

I don’t like parts of this story, particularly…

As he watched the eyeless face with the jaw moving rapidly up and down, Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not a man’s brain that was speaking; it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck. (Orwell 56)

This is not the part I don’t like. It’s what follows immediately after this:

“There is a word in Newspeak,” said Syme. “I don’t know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck.” (Orwell 56)

I think it’s not the topic of discussion that bothers me so much, it’s the fact it repeats itself. It also hits me as a bit strange for the character to think that, and then the other to voice his exact thoughts – too much of a coincidence or stretch for it to go un-notice.

I don’t think it would’ve taken much to fix this, only a simple call out with the character recognizing that this was a strange coincidence as well – a neat fix-it-all technique for when something out of the ordinary or strange happens in your book.

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Good News: 

Page 52 to 54.

All about Newspeak – the revolutionary language of the totalitarian society in this novel – this part of the characters’ discussion talks about how language is being destroyed and minimized to the bear roots, meaning “every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller” (Orwell 54).

I loved how Orwell didn’t only invent a language, he invented a language with the sole purpose to limit the range of thought, to limit their expression, therefore destroying the people’s creativity and individuality, adding to the novel’s successful portrayal of his totalitarian society.

It just shows the amount of effort and thought he’s put into creating this world, showing he’s not only successful with realistic social behaviors but world building as well.

This book would be a good example of how to build your world: create a routine for your characters, a language, a setting and time period, a history, a future…etc.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Centennial ed. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.