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Write Now! 3 – Grimm Art of Fairy Tales

  • Posted on June 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Kate Bernheimer’s article on The Grimm Art of Fairy Tales  intrigues me in ways I can’t describe. Since I was a little girl, fairy tales have always been a big part of my life. I found comfort in the idea that, like Vassilissa the Fair, my mother would never leave me wanting, and like Snow White, my kindness and general likability would gain me safety. These small morals were the cornerstone to my personality. So of course, I’m obsessed with them now! However, after getting in touch with my love of horror and suspense, I find that the sweet, normal fairy tales of my childhood don’t quite… do it for me anymore.

And after reading Miss Bernheimer’s article, I figured out why. All of them lack something. They lack the original source. They lack the social commentary, the deep, terrifying moral of all fairy tales. Baba Yaga was a warning against disobeying your elders’ wisdom and, at the same time, a celebration of how that wisdom can, at times, be dangerous. Sleeping Beauty was a warning about how sometimes, not inviting the right people can ruin your entire life. The little mermaid did what Romeo and Juliet could not, and warned me away from stupid, single-minded love.

Intuitive logic, Flatness, and Happy endings, the article describes, are the three fundamentals of a fairy tale. to quote:

Intuitive Logic. The fairy tale world does not conform to the rules of this world, outside of a book, but it does have rules. They will not be explained with insistence. A teapot will sing. A path will appear just when children need to escape terrible danger. A girl will outsmart a witch. Your chopped off hands will turn into silver and save your life later. In my early fiction, my characters often argued with those around them that they were misunderstood; when I removed all efforts to justify logic (try removing transitions like “Therefore” and “Because”), my readers stopped arguing the stories were illogical.

Flatness. In many old fairy tales, characters are not very deep, psychologically speaking. Snow White, the target of murderous impulses by relatives (sisters or mother) does not suffer depression as a result. She does have responses however: fear, sadness, etc. They are logical and not lingered on deeply. There is nothing wrong with stories that explore ideas about psychological depth; I like many of these stories. Yet flat characters leave room for the reader. In the space left behind, one can think in new ways – Imagine new planes of existence. By flattening characters out, fairy tales exceed limitations of individuality, uniqueness, and self.

Happy Endings. Happy endings are underrated and misunderstood. In lots of old fairy tales, terrible things precede the beautiful images that begin and end most fairy tales; besides what’s wrong with a little consolation in a world teeming with senseless violence, poverty, grief? J.R.R Tolkien once defended happy endings as a vital technique in literature – reflecting, “Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” If I want to end a story about death with an image of a white horse running down a beach, as men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns wander drunkenly into the sea, leaving a pretty girl on the beach, counting pennies in the moonlight – if I can create poetic joy in the words – this is okay. […]

Fairy tales are storybook worlds. You can cast the spell.

The Grimm Art of Fairy Tales,  Kate Bernheimer

Her exercise then is to find a very short, very old fairytale, and break it down into these three instances. I chose Vassilissa the Fair, as it’s my favorite tale. It’s the story of a girl who’s mother, on her deathbed, gives her a doll and tells her if she runs into any trouble, to feed the doll and ask it’s advice. Since this is a fairy tale, Vassilissa of course runs into trouble.

Now, the intuitive logic here, is that the doll will in fact come alive. No one asks how. Or why. Just that the doll, when fed, comes alive and helps the one that fed it. And this help, invariably, always, helps her. When Baba Yaga tells her to clean her house, the doll has it done by the time Vassilissa wakes from a short nap. When Vassilissa runs from the witch, the doll tells her not to speak to the three riders on the white, red and black horses (morning, noon and night respectively.). And when Vassilissa at the first is sent out of her home to get a flower in the middle of winter, the doll is the one that tells her about the clearing in which she finds the 12 men (the months in order.).

Flatness is easy to find, since all we know about Vassilissa is that she is ‘fair’, meaning most likely blonde and pale.  We know she loved her mother very much. But we don’t hear Vassilissa’s thoughts. We don’t find out if she feels responsible for her mother’s death, or if she hates her stepmother and sister for sending her out into the forest each day. We never find out her feelings on Baba Yaga at all. And she’s wholly unaffected by the world around her. Vassilissa is little but a vessel for us to pour our own thoughts and feelings into.

The Happy Ending changes, based on who’s telling the story, of course, but my favorite is the one where the wicked sister goes out to get a blessing from Baba Yaga the way Vassilissa did, and never comes back, and the mother goes out to demand the men in the clearing give her flowers too, and never comes back. Vassilissa is left alone in her family home, to live her life. It’s not as surreal, perhaps as Miss Bernheimer would ask for, but it suited the story.

You can use this technique on any story really, and every story can benefit from these three instances of fairy tale progression. Remove attempts to describe the logic of your world. Let the readers just accept the premise of your story, and if they have questions? Well, that’s what Tumblr is for. Simplify or eliminate Character depth. It can always be added back in later. But for now, see how you can make room for the reader too. Don’t erase the tragedy, but afterwards, give the reader some odd bit of hope, like a pearl found lodged between an old man’s gums, which can then be used to buy passage onto a boat headed for a better life.

Now Write! Exercise Two – Genre Breakdown

  • Posted on June 16, 2016 at 4:03 pm

In Jule Selbo’s article “Choosing your Speculative Genre”, We learn how to pick apart and use genre and subgenre in order to build up and expand our plot-points and characters. She gives a few examples of how an overarching genre is good to have as a standing foundation, but that keeping in mind subgenres as well is  important for the overall structure of the story and the narratives contained within. One such example that she gives is Pixar’s Toy Story.

TOY STORY lives in a fantastical world where toys have full lives outside of humans’ interaction with them as objects of play. TOY STORY employs:

  • comedy (based in incongruity);
  • buddy (the ar of Woody and Buzz Lightyear as they go from adversaries to friends);
  • adventure (Woody’s goal of geting Buzz back into the fold before moving day is over); and
  • action.

Jule Selbo, “Choosing Your Speculative Genre”, Now Write

Her chosen exercise, after that, has four parts.

1)Decide your overarching narrative genre. Is it based in science or solely the author’s imagination? Is there a truly EVIL component to it, or is it a “scary” story that builds anxiety? These questions will help decide your main genre.

2) Construct a scene or situation set in the overarching genre so that the audience realizes they’re ‘getting what they paid for’. At the same time, weave in one or two of the main characters. People like to get to know characters.

3) List possible supporting genres. Consider how each genre would affect the story and characters. Which ones would ramp the plot up and which would make it fall flat on it’s face?

4)Frame the story in the overarchng genre. Build that scene at the beginning, and then Book End  it with a scene at the end, closing out that overarching theme. Do the same for each scene in the story. Make sure the audience feels connected with the genre they chose to experience.

For example, the build of my first novel, A Knight of Kuryle would go something like this:

  • Overarching genre: Fantasy (Magic is possible, creatures exist that don’t in our world, and the Moon God grants all wishes his followers pray for.)
  • Side Genres:
    • Coming of Age (Dirk’s journey from farmer’s son/child of immigrants to respected knight)
    • Adventure (Dirk has to find the murderer who burnt his village, and avenge the people of his village)
    • Buddy (Dirk has to win the trust of Jorgan, an orphan from his village, while the boy works through the emotions the destruction caused.)
    • Action (Dirk must confront and fight the enemy when they come for his new home as well.)

The first chapter of the novel introduces magic in an evil sorcerer who slays all the adults of his village, and then burns the village to the ground. Likewise, it is bookended by that sorcerer attacking Dirk’s new home, the capital of his country, and Dirk’s desperate fight against the powerful magic this sorcerer wields. Fantasy is woven throughout the rest of the story as well. From the always-prosperous city of Theon’s “Starlight Road”, to the matriarchal royalty of Kuryle’s religion-saturated nobility, fantasy lays in every part of the novel, and it’s subsequent sequels.

It’s easily applied to stories as-yet unwritten, too. My most recent labor of love, which has been tentatively named A Deeper Love, is a historical era regency  novel that I’m basing (loosely) after my own life. If I were to break it down, it would go like this:

  • Overarching Genre: Historical Fantasy (Regency Era specifically)
  • Side Genres:
    • Coming of Age (The main character, Dinah, leaves her small family, and the influence of her off-putting mother, for the bustling high life of london, and in so-doing, learns more about herself, and settles into a woman.)
    • Romance (I haven’t quite figured this particular subplot out, but it’s important, as I want to write the first asexual regency romance novel)
    • Slice of Life (Showing the lifestyles in Regency London)

Sadly, there aren’t many more genres in there. I might add in a comedy subgenre, but I’m not sure how yet. So there’s that. However, playing with the subgenres definitely helps define how the story is meant to go, and with what sort of inclination. I really do enjoy this particular assignment, so it’s definitely something I’m going to be doing more and more often.

Now Write! Excersise One

  • Posted on June 13, 2016 at 5:42 pm

I’ll be starting a new series, for however long I can keep this bookNow write! Science fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, edited by Laurie Lamson is a collection of short essays by quite a number of fellow writers, including Piers Anthony, Ramsey Campbell and writers for The Twilight Zone and Star Trek: the Next Generation. These essays are then followed by exercises, in which one stretches their writing muscles and learns from the best!

Today’s excersise was derived from Steven Saus, and we’ll be following it to the letter here. Feel free to read along.

Genre Shift – IWSG 06/01/16

  • Posted on June 1, 2016 at 4:51 pm

We're here for you. It’s that time again, the time when we put ourselves out there, all our worries, fears and anxieties so that others may comfort us, and we, in turn, can comfort them. Theres nothing wrong with seeking comfort. In fact, it can be exceedingly useful, especially when one needs it.

In this case, however, the cause of my anxieties and fears come from within my own mind, and as my therapist continues to tell me, what FEELS true, often isn’t. Speaking words outloud, or in this case typing them down, often helps to change that mental and emotional lock.

So here goes.

I’m going to change genres. That’s it. That’s the source of my issue. You see, there’s quite a bit built up behind it, but that decision alone is what is causing a lot of my anxieties as a writer right now. It, of course, comes with a lot of caveats and changes and reprisals on all thoughts and functions of my mind, but in the most basic of senses, that’s it.

I’ll attempt to break it down for you, and for myself, so that I can work through the various issues I’m having. You see, I’ve always been a fantasy writer. My best works have always been fantasy. I’ve tried my hand at writing short horror stories, and found myself wanting. I’ve tried my hand at writing teen fiction, which kind of fell flat. The only thing other than straight, epic fantasy that I’ve written is fanfiction. And even that, well… Let’s just put it this way, I’m never going to give those accounts up. Over my dead body!

So when I say that I want to break out into Regency Era romance of the Asexual variety… Well, it’s a bit like saying, “Oh, I’m a fish and now I want to fly.” Technically it can be done. However, can it be done well?

Lookit this little guy. He tries so hard…

First of all, there’s the issue of the fact that I’m leaving a huge project, my nearly finished Kurylian Knight novel in the lurch by devoting time and energy to this other work instead. Then, on top of that, there’s the energy that will be taken away from managing this blog as well, and making sure it’s up and running. With my recent bouts of anxiety and depression, I’ve been having trouble with getting the basic energy just to apply to cleaning the house and caring for the children in my care. How am I ever supposed to split my energy even further to give this idea the time and care it needs to flourish?

Secondly, all of MY romances have fallen flat on their face and died, usually due to a disconnect over sex. So what am I supposed to do when writing it? What kind of romance author has literally NO successful relationships? Surely there’s someone more qualified out there to write these stories, right? But then again, this particular project has a tinge to it that’s entirely self serving that I can’t just leave to someone else. I plan on basing the first one off of myself, specifically, my life story. I can hear you now, “Really? You’re going to write self-insert fiction? Ugh. Those are the worst.” Yeah, I know. But… honestly, there’s just something about the idea that makes me want to do it. That and I watched Vanity Fair one too many times.

My third issue stems from the research required in order to try and even come close to tackling this particular genre with any sort of class or joy. Recently, it has come to my attention that I might have undiagnosed Adult ADHD. I came to this conclusion due to a sudden, and quite annoying, inability to focus on a book long enough to actually READ it. It’s part of why I’ve been having so much trouble in the first place. But the only way I’ve found to actually be able to WRITE a genre, is to READ said genre. It’s painful, but necessary. Which means reading a lot of really torrid romance novels for me. Again, where am I supposed to get the energy and time to devote to this?

The fourth problem stems from my inability to find a narrative link throughout this new project. All I really want to do is tell my biography, except set in the 1800s england that stood out so much when I watched Vanity Fair and Downton Abbey. Is that so much to ask? To set my ill-fated story in somewhere beautiful and tawdry? Possibly. But worse still, how do I break down 27 years of experiences into a novel, and have a point to it, a conclusion, when there ISN’T a conclusion to my life yet? There isn’t a narrative focus in my life, really, except perhaps finding balance where there is none, but even that’s speculation brought on by fortune telling. I could risk taking it aside, and just using bits and peices of my personal story, and not having it based entirely in my life, but then, I feel, it would lose it’s meaning to me. However, I fear that if I don’t, it won’t hold any meaning to anyone else, either. What to do, what to do…?

As you can see, genre switches, and starting new projects in general, are not fun, nor do they come lightly. It’s something I still have to muddle over and make a decision on. It’s something that will probably haunt me for the entirety of the time I write the book. I know that worries like this still plague me for my kurylian saga too. But what are we supposed to do with these worries?

Write through them. Push them to the side and tell the story that needs telling. Of course, that’s easier said than done, most often. Some writers I know have six or seven projects all open at once, and I find that if I so much as consider it, I become paralyzed with indecision. Which should I work on, which should I wait on, what should I be doing? But at the same time, the ideas come like a waterfall, no matter what. My therapist says that often times, what we can handle is more than we think it is, and then, even a little more than that. He’s encouraging me to take on more, emotionally and mentally, so that maybe, just maybe, I can grow stronger under the weight. So I think that’s what I’ll do here as well.

After all, if I don’t write the asexual regency era romance novel, who will?

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