End of July Update

Hello, Internet!

Haven’t written anything on here for a few weeks. Largely, I haven’t felt like I have something interesting to say. I’m still in that state to some degree. But, it’s been a while so I figured I ought to at least pop on and talk a little bit on what I’ve been up to.

It really all boils down to trying to figure out what’s not quite working with Jiharel. I’ve made some headway, but not necessarily in the constructive sense. I’ve spent a good deal more time in the last several weeks reading, rather than writing, and trying to puzzle out what feels wrong.

One of the big challenges to the piece is that the place I’ve chosen to begin isn’t necessary. I chose a battle because of the old saw to start with something big and dramatic and exciting. But there’s not really something necessary to this battle, this place. The plot (or at least the story I care about and want to tell) doesn’t really start until several pages down my large outline. I’ve threaded elements of those major events into this part, but that’s more an insertion than a required piece of this opening battle. A Game of Thrones is a good example of the dilemma I’m trying to avoid: it opens with a prologue that says “Ice zombies are coming!” and then almost immediately devolves into three novels about Westerosi politics.

On my outline, about my first third is this “Westerosi politics” territory. Lords and nations interacting on the large stage. In part, this does set up the events of the main plot, but I’ve been using this section more specifically to describe the different characters, locations, and so on; and to build a sense of what the broader world is like. Now I’m wondering if that’s a mistake. This portion of the story I intend(ed?) to write is the final motions of a larger war. About the last year in a five to ten-year struggle. Right now, I’m wondering if it would make more sense to try telling the story of the whole warrather than just the ending. I re-read The Lord of the Rings recently, and as my guesstimated plotline stands, it’s a little bit like starting right after the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and the Ents overthrow Saruman.

But I feel like this story should be one novel. Fantasy has enough large, sprawling series and (much as I love them) I don’t think I want to write one. An account of the whole war would either be extremely condensed in the style of Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War (and so lose most track of the specific story I want to tell), or be many, many books long, like A Song of Ice and Fire, or The Wheel of Time, or even the Inheritance Cycle.

The paradigm I have closer in mind is that found in L.E. Modesitt’s Saga of Recluse, where each volume focuses on a different part of the history; they support one another, but are fairly readable separately, too. I like that image, but I just don’t know if I can make that work, or if I can alter the scope of this particular story to fit into that model.

So yeah. Processing all that.

Oh, and did I mention that this whole pile of story-start that I may leave by the wayside is due in a revised version in about two weeks, for the end of my current class? That’s a thing.

And so, as I said before, I’ve been reading a lot and trying to find some answers, or at least ideas. I started from Lord of the Rings, and I’ve wandered a bit from there. One of the key problems I’ve found with my approach is that I don’t have an ignorant stand-in character, one who knows little about the setting and so helps to ease the reader into how the world works. (Plus I don’t quite have those loose “rules” worked out myself…) This is your Frodo, your Harry Potter, the Farmboy Becomes King trope. I’ve been trying to think of a major fantasy saga that doesn’t use one, and haven’t come up with anything yet.

It’s almost as though this is a really useful trick, that’s been successful all over. Funny how that happens.

My re-read of LotR also brushed up on a subject which, I suppose, is a matter of style. I’ve been thinking of Jiharel as being loosely historical in style, but the written pages are much more in the vein of myth, and epic or saga poetry. (It’s written in prose. I find I have little talent for writing in verse, although I have considered that the most accurate way to tell Jiharel might be as a Classical Greek tragedy with three characters and a chorus. They tend to jump right in as everything starts collapsing, too.) I think one of the reasons the story has come out this way is that I imagine the world it’s set in, Akhelas, to be deeply magical, heavily influenced by the dragon-gods and many living spirits which created and sustain the world. This is literally the stuff of Homeric myth, but it becomes more difficult to think about within the historical style.

And so, I think one of the biggest unanswered questions that I need to ask myself is if these magical elements persist historically through the story of Jiharel. Does the culture telling and retelling this story interact with the same world of spirits and gods? Is it a culture with frequent magics and wonders, still? Do they consider this story a history, a myth, or somewhere in between? (Like how modern America halfway-mythologizes the Founding Fathers; George Washington and the cherry tree, and so on.)

My mind enters the mythic mode when dealing with magic and whatnot, very much on impulse. I think about the story as a fictional history, but I frequently write about it as a mythology. So a big part of improving the story, I think, is going to come down to how I solidify and combine these ideas into some sort of artifice which puts me into the right mental position and correct mode of prose.

A great example of this, again from Tolkien, is that the whole of LotR is ostensibly drawn from the “Red Book of the Periannath,” or hobbits. The fictional “historical tradition” Tolkien claims to draw from puts his story into a particular mode and style (in addition to his linguistic work, the detailed appendices, and the whole Silmarillion background material).

One of the other books I’ve been browsing in this is Greg Stafford’s King of Sartar. It’s the primary fiction source for the myths of Glorantha, the setting of a tabletop game I enjoy called RuneQuest. (I’ve mentioned it in passing on here before.) While the book itself has some issues as literature, I really like the approach it takes. King of Sartar claims to be a collection of texts surrounding the mythology which grew up around a historical figure, Argrath. It also delves into the general mythology of Argrath’s fictional culture, the Orlanthi. Taking this as a stepping-stone (or perhaps launchpad) I’ve been experimenting with this method, in writing a “Life of Efraim Faltain” (the central character of my Jiharel story). It’s got a whole scholarly architecture and tradition and background starting to be built up. Very much a work in progress, but hopefully it will count as a “revision” for my class.

I’m kind of writing in the vein of Plutarch’s Lives, or Herodotus’s History, where the piece is an ancient author’s collection of various oral stories with minimal regard for the true account. A sort of hodge-podge, where the most dramatic stories are the ones which survive. I like reading real-world histories of this species, so hopefully that will creep forth when writing my own. I don’t know if this will result in publishable material, but at the least it hopefully will help me begin to nail down more details of my character’s life, and the culture he’s within.

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