Jargon of the People

“You’re firemountain-glass, Dama.” He says this very softly. “You’re a gift of the earth-but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe. If we pick you up, hone you to sharpness, treat you with the care and respect you deserve, then you become valuable. But if we just leave you lying about, you’ll cut to the bone the first person who blunders across you. Or worse-you’ll shatter, and hurt many.” (Jemisin 38)

I wanted to start with this quote because how evocative it is.

Firemountain-glass – this may be because I’ve had geology classes, but already I can picture volcanoes spewing lava, where the molten rock cools into the shiny black rock that breaks so neatly, each piece resembling a sharp piece of glass – and cuts like one too. It’s so easy to compare Dama to this, aligning her with this image so quickly.

“Father Earth hates us” – with this piece, we crystallize the religion of the people, and although I’ve never been a fan of religion, I’m a huge supporter of beliefs. If someone has an opinion, I’m interested. Even if I care squat about religion, I care that they care. I love strong opinions.

You’re “valuable” and dangerous – I love how this single quote immortalizes the love/hate relationship people have with Dama’s species. It didn’t take but a single sentence to show me, but it shows how Dama can conjure fear and respect. All it took was opposites to illustrate Jemisin’s point.

These are just a few of the reasons I really love this quote. But, I think the most important piece of the quote is how it summarizes the jargon of the people. This shows me their voice, how they speak. It’s casual; it’s stressful. I can feel the weight this guy places on this little girl’s shoulders.

It’s hard to solidify voice, but by reading enough pieces with it, you can develop an idea.

The questions you should be asking, is how do I know he’s male?

Why does he sound like a judge? A teacher?

Why do I feel like he’s judging me?

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.

“The Galaxy Game” by Karen Lord

This book was one of the most complex reads I’ve had to endure in a long, long time. Not because the language was dense – although there were certainly times I could’ve used more explanations – but because there were a multitude of characters, where at points I had trouble following all the names of people or places. In the end, I had to construct charts all throughout the inside covers of the book in order to keep track of everyone.

It was impressive. I liked how much of the world had been built. Lord did a good job with that. There was a whole family tree with grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, and family friends. Rafi’s entire world had been flushed out, and that I truly appreciated. It’s not often authors pay this much attention to detail, not to mention she gave everyone their own characterizing personalities or features. And the perspective shifts… there’s more than a few in the story, though there’s definitely three central characters here. Read the following excerpts and listen to their voices.

Example of different perspectives:

Chapter 1 – POV 1: “They balanced each other, moments bound by a shared pivot point – blood, ability, and a common prison. The more information they received, the more certain she became; the greater the potential for success, the more his terror grew that they would fail.” (26)

1-2: “He left me gaping and flapping in the corridor as if I were the moujin, and not him. He’s three years younger and acts superior. I should hate him, but he took me elephant riding last break, so I owe him, even if he doesn’t want to be owed.” (32)

Here, it changes not only in character perspective but in writing as well. Each character has a strong voice that comes through the writing, where readers can identify with characters’ individual personalities. The first was a sister and brother, talking about their hope for escape from a “prison.” And, the second was a student talking about a classmate.

The main way to identify characters by this book was through their personalities, not their looks or features. Other characters, such as Rafi, had multiple nicknames which made it difficult to follow. But, it did get better. Characters got backgrounds and histories, which led to more in depth characterization.

Example:

“You see, Baranngaithe used to be a nexus, in every sense of the word. He began as a Wallrunner, naturally, but then he got into the managing aspect of the game and used his flair for binding to build and lead one of the most efficient corporations…” (171)

Because of the complexity of this novel, there are characters who have been introduced that are used only for a few pages or chapters and then are finished. Never to be seen again. From my relative count, there are over 50 named characters in this book with about 320 pages. That would put a new character around every 6 pages or so.

Normally, I try not to be negative about a book, and I’m not looking down on this one. But, I would like to use this as a talking point to let writers know to be careful with your number of characters. I love complexity, and this novel was challenging to the point that I enjoyed having to map the world and its characters relationships. But there can be a point where it goes too far, and other readers can become confused or discouraged from reading.

Take a moment while you’re writing and examine all your characters. Make sure they add something to the story or are used multiple times. If they’re mentioned once, instead of naming them, try a colloquial phrase instead. Instead of Margaret, try the aunt-with-the-purple-hat. Instead of neighbor John, try man-with-the-hanging-gut. Be creative with your name calling instead. Not everyone can appreciate complexity or numerous character development.

Lord, Karen. The Galaxy Game. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2015. Print.