Saturday, November 23, 2013

One Drop of Inspiration: Eeks and Greeks

Thanks to Storydam for this prompt, about  stories that start with "one drop" of inspiration or perspiration, whichever of the two came first. Probably could write about the short stories I'm typing up for Nanowrimo, but they are still in the virgin stage and not ready to talk about.

I'm going to be honest; rewriting fairytales and folklore offers easier prose for this writer than crafting a personal mythology. For the example, I'm going to use my story "Ferry" as  the story that started with a drop. "Ferry" is a modern take on the Greek ferryman Charon, who takes undead souls to the Underworld by boat, so that they don't have to go for a freezing swim to reach the judges who determine their afterlife. The dead have to be buried with two coins, one for each eye, so that they can pay Charon for their passage. If not, they either swim or stay on the docks, waiting for their turn.

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This fact is all fun and dandy, but then I discovered a fairy tale where the ferryman was a side character. He hates his job, hates rowing people to and from places, and wants to know how to quit. When he learns that he just has to hand his oar to the next would-be passenger to resign, he heads off and sees the world. The next passenger happens to be a greedy king, whom no one would miss, so everyone is happy that he gets such a fitting punishment.

"Consequences" is a theme I like to write about, people reaping the consequences of their actions. Charon was good at his job, under a boss like Hades, and he had experience. A newbie ferryman would fail the job miserably, perhaps on purpose. Hades would not like the slacker, or the foolish Charon who hired the slacker in the first place. He's make sure that Charon would stay and enforce serious punishments.

My story, "Ferry," shows the title character after several thousand years of this forced labor, albeit with some variation. He's gotten used to taking people to where they die, and he wonders if he would ever hand them his truck keys, for he's upgraded his boat to a truck to fit modern times. "Ferry" answers his question with an unforgettable passenger.

"Ferry" is one of the few stories I've only had to revise twice. The rough draft had no real ending, just a resignation to the status quo, while the published version has the ferryman making a conscious decision to give up his job, for a good reason. I believe that because the idea was simple and intact, it required few changes, in contrast to some of the stories I'm rewriting for Nano.

A simple idea goes a long way. I am using complicated ideas to challenge myself, but sometimes take a breather to revise a fairy tale. At least one of my characters deserves a proper happy ending.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Thanks to StoryDam for suggesting this prompt. Ten minutes on the topic of gratitude, and what the idea means to us.

I find the word "gratitude" a pet peeve in real life, because parents have always used it in a context to "be grateful" in a tone that immediately makes one's hair prickle. "Gratitude" implies that we have to appreciate what we have, not that we have a choice in the matter. Complaints become the vermin of the household, the cockroaches that must be stamped out during stressful times. If it were up to me, I'd rather count my blessings on my own rather than have a parent remind me to count them. I have a planner for a reason, so I can write down my reasons to be grateful in there. 

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Fiction offers a different take on the idea of being grateful. If not for luck, and perhaps a bit of help, most protagonists would not survive past the first page. Some authors even have fun playing with the idea, like Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Although the Baudelaire orphans in the books have their fair share of bad luck, from the fire that kills their parents to the different circumstances that lead each of their guardians to die or abandon them, they also have enough luck and time to foil Count Olaf's latest scheme to obtain them, or they'd have disappeared in The Bad Beginning. The siblings also stay together, and while their allies and enemies meet untimely, creative ends in each book, they somehow manage to resolve their conflict with Olaf and grow up into normal people.

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People also don't like complaining, self-degrading heroes. One has to look at the frustration with Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix or the dislike for Bella Swan from Twilight to see this self-degradation in action. Heroes suffer, and protagonists have issues, but one peep of discontent and the readers pounce on it, even if the complaints are legitimate. Harry spends most of the book suffering PTSD, for example, and thus lashes out at the people around him for not understanding why fighting Voldemort traumatized him. The next book featured him overcoming the trauma, accepting his fate to take Voldemort and knowing that he will probably get killed.

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Heroes need to feel grateful in fiction because they receive chances that they wouldn't receive in real life. Had Harry not received his Hogwarts letter, for example, as well as the dangerous adventures that Hogwarts provided, the Dursleys would have confined to an abusive, dreary existence in the Muggle world as a neglected orphan.  Rowling cannot help but poke fun at this situation; when Harry's Aunt Marge says she would have sent him to an orphanage if it were up to her, Harry thinks that he would have preferred an orphanage. Even so, he manages a polite goodbye in book seven, considering the circumstances, and stays in touch with his cousin after the series concludes. Living with the Dursleys saved his life, even if they didn't treat him like a surrogate son, and he lets go of his animosity towards the wizards and Muggles who have made him suffer. 

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So there are my ten minutes and more on gratitude, on my preference for heroes who acknowledge that their lives suck but deal with the villains and monsters, knowing no one else will.  Now I'm off to prepare for Thanksgiving, by getting my end of the semester work out of the way.