During one of the lectures I attended in creative arts, I told the other students in the room a little detail from my personal experience. That the more personal to oneself a story is, the easier it becomes to write. I have also shared tidbits such as that I decide the theme of what I write before I begin writing. But this opens up a tunnel of thought that I think is worth exploring.
You see, if what we write is a reflection of what we are, then some of us must be very disturbing characters indeed. I will go through some popular examples to show what I am getting at. Please note that I am only going on how I perceive the authors in question. If any of the living ones come across this and wish to correct what I am saying here, feel free.
The author known as J.K. Rowling is where I will start because her work and some adaptations thereof have left such a foul taste in my mouth that I really do describe her work as the literary equivalent of eating shit. The trailers for the first adaptation of one of her novels, which I like to derisively refer to as Harry Potty And The Philosophising Stoners brought about similar reactions to the children’s-music band that I derisively refer to as The Fuckles. Namely, I cannot believe what I am seeing/hearing, wondering if I am indeed stoned, and after the fact wondering exactly what the intended effect upon the audience is. Simply put, if you write at your audience like they have the imaginative capacity of a child even when they are old enough to have children themselves, you can expect an angry response from me.
Which brings me to the author known as Stephen King. I will go through his flaws (from my point of view) in due course, but if there is one thing King does exceptionally well, it is to write for grown-ups. In fact, the only thing he does better than writing for grown-ups is to conjure images within the reader’s mind that lets them know in no uncertain terms what is going on. During The Stand, when characters are sexually abusing one another, only a child with absolutely no concept of what sex is will have any trouble understanding what is going on. And the less I say about how vivid Lloyd Hendreid’s conferences with his public defender are, the better. King‘s only real flaw is that he is excessively verbose. Although his introduction to his preferred version of The Stand is right in that the little details make an ordinary story great, there gets to be times in all of his novels where the abundance of details is simply excessive.
When King praises or damns a fellow writer, however, it means something.
Clive Barker has a lot in common with Stephen King. He is able to conjure up images in the reader’s mind that are so vivid and powerful that even the film adaptations of his work have to go out of their way to compete. Hellraiser and The Midnight Meat Train are classic examples of a how-to in the creation of horrific imagery.
Another thing that Barker and King have in common is they like to have characters who are modelled upon them to a degree. In Barker‘s case, a gay character, a sexually adventurous character, or a character with a powerful and “respectable” facade, or combinations of the above, seem to occur in every novel. In King‘s case, authors, tall and heavyset men who should be taken seriously, recovering addicts, or combinations of the above, figure prominently.
One of my favourite authors who comes from a time before my birth is George Orwell. Whilst the main characters in Orwell‘s novels were often ordinary working-class individuals, more important was the “point” he was making with his story. In A Clergyman’s Daughter, the titular daughter finds her father trapping her into a life of servitude, briefly escapes, is given the choice to escape permanently, and goes right back to servitude. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, our hero and his girlfriend seek to rebel against a system that is bent on controlling their every thought. But the real lesson of the story is that the purposeful reshaping of the language and shared memory of the populace is the system’s most powerful tool in ensuring obedience.
It is not a coincidence that Orwell was a journalist and wrote many non-fiction essays that are just as subject to dissection in intellectual circles as his fiction.
Now that I have given a bit of an idea concerning how an author reflects themselves to a degree in their work, it is time to take a look at how this applies to my work. This essay will be divided into several segments, each of which are equally important.
In what I presently refer to as the Stoneworld canon, there is a society or collection of societies that are quite plainly cast as the good guys. The Allied Realms is that collection of societies. All but one of the societies in this collective is dominated by one Humanoid race or another. The societies that make up the Allied Realms (and the cities or in one case medium-sized town they are based in) are:
- Dwarvish (Arterclius, aka the Black Hills; the Western Mountains; the Crystal Mountains)
- Elvish (Ljusalfheim; Nagëlheim; Borgelund; Archon)
- Human (Akhasei; Gundali)
- Halfling (Bârikha)
There is also a village in which bears reside, simply referred to as the bear village or Ursine village. Obviously, there is some distinction in sizes between each of these home cities or towns. The Dwarvish cities each have an average population of about thirteen million when long-term visitors and migrants are accounted for. The Elvish cities average at eight to nine million a piece, with noticeable biases toward Ljusalfheim and Nagëlheim due to their more accessible geography. The Human cities average at seven million each, with a huge bias towards Akhasei due to the extreme remoteness of Gundali. Bârikha, being a city of Halflings and a relatively new, culturally antiquated society, has approximately one and a half million. Note that these are just estimates and can vary according to the needs of the story (although not wildly).
I am not going to sugar-coat this. The real-life me has a severe, virulent hatred of what people call “small towns”. I think I hear Stephen King having an attack of apoplexy over there. All kidding aside, there is a valid reason for this.
Much of my writing on this journal and, well, pretty much anywhere, is about advocating for diversity, especially of the neurological kind. And if you have already guessed that “small towns” are not the place to find diversity or support for it, then you understand my main point there.
It is not a coincidence that the Humanoid centre with the lowest population is also the most culturally backward and, as we learn sadly in one writing, the most tolerant of child abuse. If you think Linula will ever return to Bârikha before it has been razed to the ground and a city with eight cinema complexes, McDonald’ses, each of the like, built in its place, you are kidding yourself.
Guess which place in Australia has the highest number of musical acts that base their work around speaking up and saying “hey, no, for some people Australia is not the paragon of greatness that you want the rest of the world to believe it is”. Give up? Okay, points for the smart gentleman over there. It is Sydney. Not coincidentally, Sydney has the largest population, and the largest population centre within Sydney has a very good idea of what it is like to live on the fringe.
You will also hear more languages, see more skin colours, and share more varied experiences of life in Central Western Sydney than anywhere else in Australia.
It is therefore not a coincidence that Arterclius, Nagëlheim, and Akhasei have the most universities, schools where they actually teach, and places where people can direct their own learning. The Raven And The Ruby, the first novel in what I call the Linula arc, begins with two Halfling Magi fighting… in a secondary school within Nagëlheim. You see, not only does Linula have sponsors within the Magi contingent of Bârikha (such as it is) who want her to have a better secondary education, Ruby Amelda’s father makes his opinion of the secondary education system there pretty clear by paying considerable sums of money to send her to a school several days’ ride away.
Ruby’s father, Friado Thorn, may well be the richest man in Bârikha. He does not possess enough of the neurological mutations that make one a Mage, but he does possess an important one that is not part of the standard deal for Mages. Namely, where matters of business and survival are concerned, he is able to tell instantly when someone is trying to put one over on him.
Magi in my canon also have the ability to project their thoughts, and hear the thoughts of others when projected in such a fashion. Friado can do this, although not as clearly and powerfully as Ruby. In the film adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s masterpiece A Stir Of Echoes, a policeman who can hear and see the dead in a similar manner to the boy in the family that is central to the story uses flashlights as an analogy to describe the powers that the boy and man have. The man has acquired his powers through a hypnosis stunt gone wrong, and is like a broken flashlight. He sees things, but not for long enough or clearly enough to make sense. The boy, on the other hand, is able to converse fluidly with the dead, especially when they want him to hear them. That is a pretty good way to describe the difference between Friado and his daughter.
The first novel in this particular arc also has Ruby and Linula meeting males from the local populace and eventually learning some of the joys of association with them in an adult fashion. You see, The Raven And The Ruby is not just about two schoolgirls fighting with each other and then learning they are not really as different as the starts in life they have had would otherwise entail. It is about two women learning about love, their place in a very warlike world, and how to get along in that world.
I underlined that last point for a reason. You see, there are things that I believe normies expect little baby normies to learn automatically without any guidance or support. Things like how to talk to each other or such. But the reality is that where learning is concerned, nothing is automatic. And everyone has a different way of learning. There are even a subclass of normies that think that if a person is not responding to their teaching methodology, that person deserves abuse. I am working on a story arc that will demonstrate how unacceptable such a mentality is considered within my idealised world. So eat me, David Shuster.
That reminds me of something. I do not believe that it would be inaccurate to say that every story, regardless of its setting, reflects something in the author’s real world. The Shining, for example, was inspired by Stephen King‘s reflections upon how his drug and alcohol habits were turning him into the same kind of monster that he had made a career of writing about. Small wonder then that he has gone on record as not being at all impressed with the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation, which is little more than another slasher pic.
In every piece of fiction, characters can be broken down into three categories.
- The protagonists: people who undergo a journey towards a goal that the first part of the story is traditionally concerned with explaining the importance of. For example, in TRON: Legacy, Sam Flynn spends the first part of the film trying to get answers concerning the disappearance of his father, Kevin. This part of the story ends when Kevin explains his goals to Sam, and why Sam should concern himself with them.
- The antagonists: people who concern themselves with preventing the protagonists from reaching their goal. Using TRON: Legacy as an example again, Clu’s entire goal in his life is to destroy all that he sees as imperfection. He is aided in this quite heavily by Rinzler, whose goal is to destroy whatever Clu tells him. Rinzler is such a great influence in the story that he becomes a full-time antagonist in himself.
- People who aid either: On either side of the story are supporting characters who help the protagonist(s) or antagonist(s) towards their goal. In TRON: Legacy, Zuse is a supporting character that Sam Flynn solicits for help in pursuit of his own goal. Zuse is aided in his own agenda by a Siren program called Gem, who introduces Sam to Zuse.
The above breakdowns are, of course, very simplistic, but this brings up another point that is essential in telling a story. Every writer, be it for print or screen, has to ask themselves a deceptively simple question. Where is the conflict in this work? This can be broken down into two other questions. Who is the protagonist fighting, and why?
This question, known as the matter of conflict, can come in two main varieties. Either the protagonist has a conflict with another character, or they have a conflict with something within themselves. The classic tale A Christmas Carol is a good example of the latter. The main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, spends the entirely of the story owning up to the fact that he has spent his life breaking the hearts of everyone around him in pursuit of wealth. Although I am not that well-read in L. Frank Baum‘s Oz stories, the better film adaptations externalise internal conflicts. Dorothy and the Wizard, in their respective film versions, engage in confrontation with symbols of their real worlds.
I have not seen Return To Oz in a very long time. Possibly as many as twenty years or more. But I remember well how much the Wheelers featured in one sequence reminded me of how punk rock artists such as Sid Vicious and their fans were presented in the media. 366 Weird Movies has a good write-up of all the metaphors used in Return To Oz here. Oz The Great And Powerful only came into being rather recently, and unlike the other two straight Oz films thus far, is only based on Baum‘s work in the sense of being set in the same world.
The main plot of the film focuses on a carnival “wizard” named Oscar Diggs. At the start of the film, Oscar is shown to be so full of shit that he squelches when he changes direction. Not only does he lie his way into the hearts of women in the prologue, but he lies his way into the confidence of Oz’s people when he lands on that world. His lies backfire in the worst possible way where the character Theodora is concerned, turning her into the twisted parody of a witch that Christianised fiction prefers, and thus Oscar associated with witches at the film’s commencement.
Characters themselves become metaphors. In the Linula arc that I write, part of the conflict arises from Linula having difficulty discerning which laws are worth obeying. Although I only have a vague idea of the kind of educational programs Magi in their late teens would sit through, I can see many lectures in which the importance of ethics is emphasised. Mages obvious have a potential for great destructive power, the Stoneworld’s equivalent of what is colloquially called a mini-gun. (These, in turn, are so-named colloquially because they are a miniaturisation of guns that are normally mounted on tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and helicopters.) If someone is not there to remind them as they begin to enter an adult world with adult laws that they carry a great power that cannot be treated lightly, the resulting chaos would be unliveable.
Kronisk’s job in this world is two-fold. One, he must enforce the laws by which all Magi live. This means he also must remedy the results of breaches of those laws. Secondly, he must record every minutiae of the Stoneworld’s history.
The reason he has been appointed this job is not because he wants it or has ever aspired to it. The reason he has been appointed this job is because his misdeeds in a past life were so great that Odin, the bringer of thought and understanding to the Stoneworld, felt it fitting that Kronisk be made to tend to the Stoneworld for many, many years.
A point that is probably necessary to elaborate on when writing about Kronisk and his life is that Odin was not upset by his eradication of billions of living folk from Terra’s surface. As we are going to learn the hard way thanks to religious scum, Kronisk was doing much of the Human species a favour when he did that. It is just the manner in which he did so that is the problem. Turning a whole planet into a lifeless rock is a bit of a no-no in Odin’s eyes, largely because the conditions necessary for a planet to sustain Human-like life happen so rarely.
So in The Raven And The Ruby, Kronisk begins to take a greater interest in Ruby and Linula. In one, he sees a lady whose privileged upbringing should have immunised her from all of the prejudices against high intellects and Magi that linger in her home realm. In the other, he sees an example of something so awful and disgusting that its mere presence on the Stoneworld offends him. Linula is one of maybe a small handful of people who have been sexually abused during the twenty thousand years of recorded history in the Allied Realms. That, in itself, is a great cause for alarm to Kronisk that gets some exploration in later stories.
In fact, in the as-yet untitled third story that I am still working on, we find out that in spite of receiving no formal training whatsoever, Linula has a talent for singing. And it is no coincidence that one of the songs Linula performs in the story is modelled upon the Sigh classic named Shingontachikawa.
Music as a plot cue figures semi-prominently in my stories, in fact. The Cruciform classics Paradox and Gutter are woven into the plot of the second story in Linula’s arc. Essentially, when Gilmick goes on his little comatose trip into the netherworld, he eventually reveals to Ruby Amelda (who has been asked specially by Kronisk to bring Gilmick back) that he could see Kronisk performing these songs in the “thought-spirit” around Kronisk.
(You can find Cruciform‘s Fudgebook page here.)
But I do not specifically name any song or film in the stories. That would be plain vulgar, and not really good storytelling at all. What I do is describe what the performed songs, viewed films, or read stories are about, how most importantly how the individual the scene’s point of view is hosted by responds to them. Ruby Amelda’s solution to the above plot point in which Gilmick is overloaded by fear of what kind of world he is part of also uses this plot convention, just in a more “cheerful” way.
In case you have not figured out what all of that was about, it is just that I find myself constantly writing about internalised struggles on the part of certain characters. Ruby wants to be a healer, but finds that her hands are not suitably coordinated to the task. It is not until she is brought into Gilmick’s comatose dream through means that I still have to work on in storytelling terms that she discovers her calling is in psychology.
Even in Spirit And Stone, the first novel I ever wrote, the conflict is not so much between King Trór Gravewater and his enemies. It is more about Trór learning to look at himself in the mirror, tell himself that he is the King of the most powerful Dwarf realm in the known world, and treat his surroundings accordingly. Nor is it a coincidence that the ally who offers Trór the most pertinent advice about how to be a King is an Elvish King who is none too subtly modelled after Frank Zappa.
What they are fighting for
In every story, regardless of its point or parameters, the author has to define two things for the audience. One, what the protagonist hopes to have, be, or be in at the end of the story. Two, what is getting in the way of that.
And this does not necessarily apply to just one protagonist or main character. In fact, the protagonist’s journey can be made more meaningful by defining the antagonist as well as possible. I must admit, this is a trick I have yet to learn, leave alone master. But to use an example from film, the struggle in Die Hard is much more compelling because even though we learn to hate and despise Hans (Alan Rickman) and Karl (the late Alexander Gudonov), we recognise they are just people who have aspirations and dreams. We even relate to Karl’s aggression. To us, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is the hero. But we know that to Karl, John is just The Asshole Who Killed My Brother.
To some degree, I manage to touch upon such a dynamic in Spirit And Stone. To Trór, Grenthos The Flatulent (yes, I borrowed that from The (real) Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy) is just another glory-seeking Orc General who wants to use his head to gain that glory. To Grenthos, Trór is a token to take for the respect of his peers that annoys him by not going down quietly. To Trór, Grenthos is nothing more than a test of how effectively he can coordinate and lead his forces. It should surprise nobody that Grenthos so severely underestimates Trór and the forces Trór commands that he ends up little more than a footnote in the story of Trór’s reign.
It is no coincidence that the societies cast as protagonists in my stories are generally large and progressive in their economic and political structures. Yes, I know how it sounds to have the societies ruled by monarchies and yet frame them as progressive. But a society, regardless of its broad nature, deals with swinging from one extreme to another on a constant basis. Even the Scandinavian nations, which are held to have the highest standards of living in today’s increasingly ill world, struggle with balancing between attracting “investment” and taking care of their citizens.
It should also surprise nobody that a large number of the protagonists in my stories deal with serious emotional-psychological difficulties that form the parameters of the story. And even those who are in positions one would think to be fairly immunised from such difficulties have to face them in some fashion. Trór might be the heir apparent to the most powerful Kingdom in the Allied Realms, but having to deal with both the after-effects of a psychological weapon of war and how it almost completely destroys his father’s mind is a big thing for anyone. When the things that Linula has been struggling to both live with and keep to herself are revealed, both she and Ruby spend the rest of the story dealing with the aftermath.
If there is one thing I am not happy about with the structure of The Raven And The Ruby, it is the transition from the first two acts to the third. In the finale, the city of Nagëlheim is attacked by a group of men wielding swords and pistols who seem to have literally teleported in from somewhere distant. I have a few quibbles with this part of the story, but probably the biggest one is that there is really no lead-in to it whatsoever. One moment, we are dealing with the dramas of four young adults trying to determine what they will do with the next few years. Next, a raid alarm is heard and Ruby is helping in efforts to ensure that no children in the area are killed.
Truthfully, however, I just find it difficult to invest time and effort in the stories I write anymore. With a lot of things, I learn on my own to the extent that I can, and sometimes that is a big extent. But when I try to submit for learnings from others, everything goes awry. It would be a godsend, a blessing, to be able to sit down with someone who is interested in getting my work published in some form and having them explain to me what needs to be done in order for that to happen. But then, that would mean people other than myself being interested in me having any real kind of future. Fat chance of that, I find.
Maybe in future I will get something worth reading finished and plant it here for nobody to read. Who knows.