Monday, September 14, 2009

The Lottery: So Odd and Normal

“The Lottery: So Odd and Normal: On Jaya Lakshmi’s blog, a Faceless Author”

Citizens in a sleepy town stone a housewife as part of an annual ritual. How can these people accept something this brutal as standard routine?

The answer: It’s normal for them.

Most cartoonists who have read How to Make Webcomics would label this story as “The odd thing done normal.” In humorous comic strips, this method guarantees humor if done right.

How do we know that this story is not a joke on the readers? Shirley Jackson shows us. We get this rising dread according to the characters’ reactions, especially Tessie’s. If it weren’t for this rising action (the term for increasing suspense as the story proceeds), then we would have no idea where the story was going, but we have SOME idea of what’s going to happen, just not what exactly. Ms. Jackson never lets up on us, taking a slow pace with the story. Instead of telling us that they stone one person every year, she hints at it and shows us through her words. And then we reach the climax, where we create the image in our hands. A cartoonist would probably close in on Tessie’s eyes as she screams “It isn’t right.”

Of course it isn’t right, but for that town it’s certainly normal.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I commented on a blog that criticized Neil Gaiman's "The Problem of Susan" which is a critical look at the Chronicles of Narnia. Here is an excerpt of her argument:

"“The Problem of Susan”, to me, is a whole different question. It’s not an assault on God; it’s a specific, personal assault on one specific person’s affectionately rendered depiction of his beliefs. C.S. Lewis wrote Aslan to reflect his experience of God, and as I’ve said, that man loved God like nothing else. Whether you agree with him or not, he wrote Aslan with such absolute sincerity and love. I think it is unkind to take such an honest expression of someone’s religious devotion, and do this with it; no matter how much you disagree with him, or find his beliefs about women/God/whatever, to be damaging. It makes me feel all yucky to read this part of the story – a reaction I don’t think I’ve had to something I’ve read since this horrible book I got for my eleventh birthday, the contents of which I don’t remember at all, but which upset me so much I hid it under the couch and still couldn’t sleep knowing it was in the house so I got up and threw it in the trash and poured wet coffee grounds on top of it."

You have a legitimate argument, Jenny. I agree that the dream is disturbing, but I think that was Neil's point. (He admits that in the introduction after explaining his bout of meningitis.) The story was deliberately irreverent because Neil wants to remind everyone that Narnia is, at heart, just a story. At the same time, it shows the power of children stories, especially with the Mary Poppins dream. (I know what you mean about horrible books, though. The first Sandman volume made me feel the same way. Twilight made me feel that someone had taken what could've been a great book and chopped the ending into firewood and hamburger meat.)
"The Problem of Susan" is more about security, or the loss of it. Susan as an adult no longer feels secure concerning God; that's why she dreams of Mary Poppins, who is the ultimate form of security. She rescues the Banks children from constant mishaps and manages to keep the household running and stable, even when she leaves.
That said, I think the story could have been done better. It's like the Graveyard Book could have been done better with the plot. But I keep rereading both of them because Neil's style is freaking beautiful, sad, and addicting.
We should email each other. This was a fun article.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stop at Nothing

Right now I'm listening to a CD of wolf howls. It's pretty cool, like attending an animal choir. This venture is strictly research related, as the novel I'm rewriting involves wolves. Specifically, it involves wolves in California.
The howls have deep howlers, high-pitched "woos" and yips, and bits of whining. It sounds mournful, almost. Ravens caw intermittently, like the accompanying drum. There are grunts, whines, rolling sounds, and rumbles.
I learned an important lesson a long time ago: RESEARCH!! If you need to learn stuff for your story, look it up. Use Google. Do whatever it takes to get your book accurate.
You can't cheat on this. Readers will know if you cheated. (If you didn't, then they will find out thanks to your backstabbing college roommates.)
That's all I can say tonight.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Action => Reaction

Here's a lesson I've learned from writing: no one likes a passive protagonist. We could have observant narrators in ye olden classics, but in modern stories editors want heroes who do stuff.
Exceptions to the rule can occur, however; Countess de Winter from Rebecca remains pretty passive throughout the novel, but she does do stuff.
That leads us to the reluctant hero, who doesn't want to handle the responsibility handed out to them. I love reluctant heroes, especially the ones that fail to do the job right sometimes. (Case in point: Peter Parker as Spiderman.) We all say that something must be done, but only true heroes do stuff when confronted with it. And even those heroes may continue to make the same mistakes, as we do.
"Sugar and Spice," which will be submitted to a magazine this week, started out as a short story exercise with a passive narrator. Then I made the narrator more active, but he didn't do enough. (Also, the editors didn't relate to him or his best friend, since they were careless.)
I just rewrote the story from another perspective, from a character who does a lot more and is more human than his companions. This sixth draft needs more polishing, but when it's softened I am sure that it will find a magazine.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lesson Learned

I'm a happier and probably better writer, but I've learned an important lesson:
And here are the signs of a good critic:
1) They care enough about your work to go on a long rant about it.
2) They see potential in the story (see # 1)
3) They're willing to see the story evolve through drafts.

Enough said.