Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Old Pattern

As a self-proclaimed lit geek, I have to confess... I never finished the French epic, Song of Roland.  Sure, that doesn't sound so bad.  Plenty of people never even start Song of Roland.  The thing is, from the half I read Song of Roland is a terrific story.  You have Roland and his best pal Olivier taking rear guard for King Charlemagne's army.  You have all sorts of fighting and sacrifice and sinister betrayels, everything that makes a great Midevil Romance.  The problem isn't the poem; the problem is that I'm too used to modern storytelling conventions.

Song of Roland follows the same pattern as Shakespeare's Julius Ceaser, and I hit the same snag when I tried to read it: the hero dies halfway through.  Okay, maybe it's more like two thirds into the story.  The point is, the hero's gasping his last and there's a whole bunch of book left.  I can't help going `what gives?'  Whithout a centeral character, who am I supposed to root for?  What holds this story together?

In both tales the hero's death comes through betrayel, and neither book is over until the wrongdoer is properly punished.  That means the focus changes from a single character (Roland or Julius Ceaser) to those left behind.  (Mark Anthony and his followers, Charlemagne and his courtiers).  The book feels like two stories sandwitched together; one story about the tragic loss of the title character, and one story about a vendetta against someone who betrayed a group. 

Maybe the poets thought the audience needed to `live' with the title character and get the full impact of his death in order to feel the need for justice.  After all, the stories were written before modern police work or easy travel.  Communities would have been closer. Matters of justice would also be personal matters -or someone else's problem.  Which makes me think of another point; both Julius Ceaser and Roland are politically important.  Roland is Charlemange's right hand guy, and Julius Ceaser is... well... Ceaser.  There is no `somebody else's problem here.  The death of these guys is a national matter. 

So that brings up the question, is this story structure obsolete- at least in Western culture?  Justice isn't carried out by the nearest relative anymore, or even the community.  And people don't need convinced that having a murderer running around is a bad thing.  Plenty of mysteries plop a body on stage in chapter one and that's enough to convince the audience that the murderer must be brought to justice before he or she can strike again. 

Or maybe it's just hard to sell a story where the hero dies halfway through.  (Though from what I've heard, Game of Thrones never had a problem...)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Some Thoughts on Falling Skies

Sorry I didn't get a post written last week.  Real life got in the way.

Less real-life related, my brother recently introduced me to a TV show called Falling Skies.  The setting is post-Apocalyptic (or rather, post alien invasion.)  Normally I steer clear of post Apocalypses, but I really enjoy Falling Skies.  The hero is likable.  He's a history teacher whose main goal is to protect his three sons.  Despite being surrounded by Hollywood style explosions he manages to stay optimistic.  The basic storyline is how people react to disasters, how it makes them draw together (or not).

Now, I've just admitted that I don't read a lot of post-Apocalyptic fiction.  Falling Skies has me wondering if that's something I should fix.  I've always had this sort of mental picture of the genre as being very Orson Wells in mood.  You know, `humanity is scum' and all that.  Lets face it, there's plenty of evidence out there that humanity is scum.  You just need to open a newspaper to get the idea.  I prefer books and movies that are a bit more hopeful; the ones that say `hey, not everyone is scum.' 

Even if most of the people in the story are scum, there should be at least one kind person to make a contrast.  It's like tenebrism -those pictures with extreme contrasts of light and dark.  If all you show is the dark, nobody can make out what the picture is of.  A genuine good guy in a world of dark can go a long way toward illuminating your story.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


A few weeks ago when I posted on violence in storytelling I mentioned how a character's death can shake your readers out of complacency.  I was just thinking how much dad's hospitalization earlier this year shook me out of mine.  My dad is doing great, but I'm realizing that he and mom won't be around forever.  (Yeah, I know.  Shocker.  People aren't immortal -not even if they're parents.)  It's made me realize how much I appreciate them. 

Mom has been one of my best friends for most of my life.  She's the one I always go to for advice.  I admire her drive.  Lately she's been working full time, keeping track of all dad's doctor appointments, doing a lot of the cooking, and trying to get the garden planted.  (Lately I've been helping with the garden in a fit of `Mom!  Don't give yourself a heart attack!')  She's taught me a lot -not just about cooking, but about persistence, and about buckling down and doing whatever you have to for your family.

My dad is, in a lot of ways, mom's opposite.  He has a great sense of humor.  Even while going through all the uncertainty before his surgery he's joked around to keep the rest of us from getting too stressed.  I think mom would go crazy without him to keep her steady and make her laugh.  Dad is really laid back and hates when people argue, so he tends to be a peacemaker.  He's a lot like his own dad; a very strong, steady person who it is too easy to take for granted because you know he'll always be there for you.

My parents have done a lot to shape who I am as a person.  While I'd prefer if they kept the near-death experiences to a minimum, I am glad to take a moment to celebrate how fortunate I am to have both my parents in my life.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

writing space

It's amazing how much having a place to write affects how much work you get done.  As I mentioned before, my room (which also happens to be my work-space) has undergone some major renovations lately.  This past year my `work space' has been the living room sofa.  That... turned out not to be the best plan.  Our living room gets a lot of traffic.  I tried writing on my bed, but that's also where I watch Hulu and read blogs.  (Besides, I was giving myself a crink in the neck like you wouldn't believe.) 

Now that my room is mostly back together, I've unearthed my favorite chair, and designated it my writing space.  I have decreed that if my laptop is open and I'm setting in that chair I am not allowed to be check Facebook, play Mahjong or watch Hulu.  If I want to do any of those things, I have to move.  It's amazing how much writing I get done now when I'm feeling too lazy to move. 

I don't think people have to have a special place in order to write, but if you're the sort of person who needs to give your self-discipline a nudge once in awhile, finding a special writing spot can be a great way to make yourself buckle down to business.