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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Surfacing

When you've just finished a literary work, Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, and all you can think to say about it, is "It was good," you know your brain is tired and you have too much to do. It wouldn't earn you an "A" on a book report, and it doesn't make for a valuable blog post. I'm getting e-mails from people in "real" life, and I need to answer them. Next week is filled with visits with friends and family. Until after the Holidays, I need to take a break from posting for a while. Perhaps it's time to Surface.

In the meantime, here's a link to a New York Time's article by Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood's Tale, with an overview of Surfacing and other major works.

And here's a link to a post at a favorite site, Art of Narrative, with amazing and gorgeous illustrations by Maurice Lalau, The Romance of Tristram and Iseult.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Image as Effective Cliff Hanger in A Game of Thrones: Includes Spoilers

After reading chapter after chapter of convoluted, complex, and largely compelling story telling, trading off point of view characters throughout the volumes, it is image that creates the most effective cliff hangers in A Storm of Swords, the third volume in the series starting with A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire), by George R. R. Martin. Toward the end of Volume 3, here’s a spoiler or two, if you’ve been reading the series: Jon Snow, voted Commander of the Night’s Watch, his direwolf, Ghost, by his side, and Mormont’s black raven on his shoulder, dressed in his blacks with his brown hair flowing. Lady Catelyn with the specter of her ravaged face and her long finger pointing.

There is so much happening in this series, from multiple, multiple points of view, usually major characters, but sometimes tertiary, the reader could get lost, if it were not for memorable image keeping the central characters and themes alive. Name after name is dropped and largely forgotten, but characters remain. You find yourself looking forward to certain ones and the continuation of their plights. One character for me I find particularly boring, and I like to skip past her, Daenerys, mother of dragons- but if I do, I always force myself to go back, and re-read any parts that I’ve missed. If I’m going to bother with this heavy tome, I’m in for the duration, no matter how tedious or exalting.

George R. R. Martin is a master story teller and world builder, but the series, so far, would benefit from judicious editing and a lighter hand when it comes to depravity. Sometimes, it seems to me as the reader, the author is enjoying too much his depiction of rape, incest, and torture, sensationalizing rather than chronicling what is necessary to the story he is telling. On the other hand, characters such as Jaime Lannister, or Sandor Clegane (Joffrey’s dog), who at first appear to be monsters, become fully dimensional and worthy of deliberation.

I’m getting tired, however, of the “chess effect,” though I suppose that’s the design from the beginning. I haven’t read any reviews that discuss the entire series, so not to be influenced, so I cannot be sure, whether my final assessment will be favorable or whether I will be disappointed. I don’t like it when favorite characters get killed off, or good characters go bad!

It is the children I hope for the most, and Martins’s children are both complex and vulnerable, as individual in their personalities, strengths and desires, as any adult character. With its extreme violence and graphic sexual situations, it cannot be said this series would be age appropriate for any teen; but the children and teens in this fantasy civilization are the hope of its survival.

Who do I like the most? Arya, of course, though I fear she has lost herself, and may never recover true strength. Sansa, if only she can find herself. Jon, always Jon. And Bran. And Rickon. And the girl and boy, Meera and Jojen, who travel with Bran. Davos Seaworthy is my favorite adult character. There are plenty of adult characters to hate, and a few young ones, too. I liked Tyrion, for a time, and Bronn has his appeal as a character, but not as a human being.

If you’ve read any part of the series, what are your thoughts?

If you read fantasy fiction, what are your reasons?

Who are your favorite fantasy authors?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sounds Like A Poem

In response to a post titled, Autumnal Winds, from Thom Buchanan, and a series of art and poetry pages he published at The Pictorial Arts, I wrote this sort of a poem, and since I've had a dearth of poetry lately, I will post it here, as a sort of reminder, that I can at least attempt to write a poem.

Contributing, also, was a recent walk on the ridge near where I live, where falls of vines skirted the oak trees, and huge webs with dangling spiders, strung between branches from tree to tree.

Here it is, not totally awful, but not good, starting from first draft as a post comment, to the "final" version (there were several quick drafts between point a and point b):

I love Fall, too, though it's hard to "see" it, where I live. Mostly tropical foliage, but the oak trees do shed leaves. Mostly, we experience it as a drop in temperature of about ten degrees, and a bit more breeze. Pumpkins, scarecrows, and costumes come out at Halloween.


Sounds Like a Poem

Amidst tropical
foliage, and broad
leafed green, a
temperature drop
of about ten degrees,

I love Fall, though
it’s hard to see-

Oak trees lace
with spider weaves,
reluctant to shed
their leaves.

Pumpkins, scarecrows,
and costumes come out
to play at Halloween.

© 2011 Annie King

Monday, August 15, 2011

Is A Blog Post a Primary Source Document?

I recently read a quote by a social scientist, which I cannot locate today, no matter how many ways I search for it. Essentially, the quote said that when we create a blog post, we are creating a primary source document; and that when we change the layout for that post, we are altering the meaning of it.

The quote made me think. I have made major changes to my layout twice over the past several years. I have seen many blog friends create major changes for their blogs; though most have stayed the same. The short quote indicated that changing a layout alters the experience of reading the post.

I think it is true. There is something about the design and layout of a blog, and the colors the creator has chosen, that expresses a personality and a mode of being, that affects the reading. This is different from the pages in a book, where the words do most of the work; but even there, the typography, and the heading and the quality of the paper including the page color from white to shades of beige, and the amount of white space between lines, and whether the book will lay flat upon opening, and whether the binding is sewn or layered, affects the experience of reading the book.

My first blog layout was similar to Flowering Dream. My first layout change was to a plain and dark one, which based on immediate feedback was quite a shock, before I created my current and subsequent layouts

Do you think there is a difference in the reading of a post, and its inherent meaning, if you've first read it in one layout, and then the layout has been changed?

If I locate the quote, I'll add it to this post!

Monday, March 7, 2011

First Person Narrative: My Aversion, and An Exploration of Technique

When I am reading a work of fiction, I want to be transported to another place and another time and into the mind of a main character. A story told in first person may be the obvious choice to immerse the reader; but I have an aversion to first person.

It struck me, thinking about it a while back, there is an obvious reason for this: When I am reading an expertly written narrative told in third person (preferably close limited third, as close to first person as you can get), I become the character I am reading. I don’t just identify with their thoughts- I become their thoughts, I experience their sensations and their emotions. I see what they see, and I hear what they hear. At the most magic of moments, I forget I am reading a story, and I become the story. If a narrative is told in first person, there is a “remove” from the experience, because, I can never be that person telling the story.

Another factor: if they are telling the story, the story has already happened; it cannot be happening now. In a third person narrative, even though the story is told in past tense, there is a sense of the story happening in the now, that circumstances are unfolding, and not only does the narrator not know what will happen next; the reader does not know what will happen next. In first person, the narrator knows exactly what will happen, and the charm is in the telling.

There are exceptions to my aversion. The “charm in the telling” is the key. Sometimes it is the strength of a character, their idiosyncratic view of events, and the author’s clever use of syntax, creating a unique voice for that character, that makes me forget I am reading a first person account, and I am swept away by the story. Sometimes it is the lyrical quality of the author’s own style, lulling me into compliant duplicity, and the necessary “I” becomes irrelevant, as I am enthralled by the integrity of the story and the narrative weave.

First person, done well, is a challenge. When writing in first person, the author is limited to what the first person narrator can hear and see, including the character’s own interior thoughts. Close limited third carries this same responsibility, as the author sticks to one point-of-view for each chapter or scene.

If a first person character is not a witness to an event, they can only provide hear say, or perhaps, they may speak to someone in a scene who can relay a piece of critical information, or, in the worst of devices, overhear a conversation through a vent, or hide behind a screen. Mostly, it’s their interpretation of an event they have personally witnessed, or experienced, and their own thoughts about that event or experience that allows them to tell a tale.

For the reader, there is the issue of narrator reliability. Do we trust this first person narrator, and their interpretation of events, or, is part of the intrigue for the reader, deciphering their own sense of the truth out of the narrator’s delusions?

Another critical factor in first person narrative is the age of the character telling the tale, and their distance from the events. Are they a child telling the tale? Are they a twenty-something adult or an older teen? Are they middle aged, telling an event from their youth? Are they relaying their own story, or the story of someone else? An expert telling requires the writer to stay consistent to that age, and to that tone.

There is the added layer of capturing the voice of an earlier “me,” possibly a child, while relaying the current “me” telling the tale, a person presumably transformed in some way by the experiences and events they are relaying, so that they are not the same person, emotionally, intellectually, physically, or spiritually (in the larger, humanistic sense of the word), as they were when those experiences and events took place.

There are guides to writing that propose that first person narrative gives the reader immediate identification with the main character telling the story. In most first person, I do not find this to be personally true. Unless the first person narrator engages me from their first few lines, there will definitely be a “getting to know you” period, and what I may find out is that this person and their story situation is boring, or I just don’t like this person, and I stop reading.

For me, these two factors must be in place, for me to take the time to read a first person narrative, more important than the circumstances of the story they are telling: A three dimensional character with an intriguing point of view and a personal way of speaking, and the strength of the writer’s own style propelling me forward.

I’m trying again, the idea of throwing out a number of questions, and asking the reader to respond in any way they choose.

When you select a story told in first person, what factors do you look for?

If you are a writer, do you enjoy writing in first person?

Have you ever begun a story, where it “told itself” from the point of view of a single character, and a first person narrative was the obvious and only choice? (This has happened to me.)

If you’ve written in first person, have you encountered any difficulties, and how have you overcome them?

I admire quality first person writing. I have read short stories and novels told in first person that satisfy my need to be transported into another world, in terms of place, time, and point of view. How about you?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trusting Your Voice

When we find our voice and trust it, we have that special thing that both differentiates our work and makes it solid. It will be like no other; it will be honest, and it will be among the best. ~ Annie King


Terresa, at the Chocolate Chip Waffle, has a great discussion going on at her site about the benefits of hard work, and the need to not give up, when your creative efforts do not meet your expectations, in a post titled, I Wish Someone Told Me, based on this quote by Ira Glass:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."

-Ira Glass


As Terresa's posts always do, the quote got me thinking, and this is part of my response:

"Sometimes, just saying to ourselves, I am good enough, is what makes it happen. At some point, we need to judge our own work by no other standard but our own: Does this say what I want it to say, and is this the way I want to say it?

The best poems, performances, and works of art arrive from that confident place when we are in harmony with our own inner voice; they come from the heart, and not necessarily through any prompt or synthesis. So my best advice to anyone, along with learning your craft, is to learn to trust yourself, and your voice will be your own.

Ira Glass says, 'We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.' I think that special thing is the writer's or artist's own voice, and when we find our voice and trust it, we have that special thing that both differentiates our work and makes it solid. It will be like no other; it will be honest, and it will be among the best."

- Annie King

Another thing that I said in the comments is that I agree, the only way to get there is hard work. Those of us who are creative people have a certain mind set that makes us sensitive to the world and what it has to offer- the subtleties of color, shades of emotion, multiple points of view. Our sensitivities manifest themselves in works of art, expressed through everything from poetry to prose to paintings to songs to performances.

Are there times when you feel you are "in tune" with your inner self, and the resulting work, in that moment, is the best you can achieve, and you are satisfied? I have had such moments of satisfaction, where I have stopped saying, is it good enough, and I have said, it is good.

Is the entire body of my work good? No, but my novels are far from finished. I've written some successful poems and stories. Other poems and stories have their moments of success; it may only be a sentence, or a paragraph. I think if we can recognize those moments, we can keep on, and that all of our efforts are worth it.

Everyone here that I visit, I see that special authenticity in your writing, most of you consistently, and all of you much of the time. I'm trying something that Terresa often does with her posts. I am asking a question of the reader:

Do you find it to be true that there are times when your inner voice matches your achievement, and you are satisfied?

Do you find trusting your "own voice" gets you to that place where you want to be, with your work?

Do you have any advice for the rest of us, besides the hard work, of writing, writing, writing (or painting, or composing) - that gets you to that place where your "taste" matches your creation?

Feel free to respond to the quote, the questions, or the concepts in any way you choose. I have some great quotes from Carson McCullers about her creative process here, and repeated at Flowering Dream.