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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Connect With Maps

“Of course the first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through. ‘It’s something very like learning geography,’ thought Alice,…” Lewis Carroll

According to The Oxford Universal Dictionary, the sense of getting one’s bearings is a term that has been in use since 1635, with the meaning “in relative positions of surrounding object.”  The need to establish where we are in relationship to other objects is a key concept in our everyday lives both in external geographic space and internal emotional space.

When someone walks into an office for a job interview they immediately want a sense of orientation physically and personally in order to assess the situation and lean into their strengths. A hiker needs to be prepared to protect themselves in unfamiliar outdoor terrain. How deep is the water? What kind of bug is flying around?

Or how safe is it to run in this part of town? A few years ago, prior to a convention she was about to attend, a friend came to visit me. She was also in training for a marathon and needed to run at least four to six miles for each training day. The day before she first ran I drove her along some routes near my place so she wouldn’t get lost. After our visit I dropped her off at her hotel, approximately fifteen miles away, and she showed the concierge a map and asked him to point out a safe route now that she was in the heart of downtown. He explained that all the streets were safe to run except not before 8:00 am and not after 6:00 pm—basically she could run safely only during business hours among crowds of people.

How to find our bearings will have a direct impact on the main reason we need to become oriented.  As your characters arrive in a situation give them a moment to survey the lay of the land and orient us along with them so we can feel their curiosity or apprehension too.

Journal Prompt:

1.     What kind of survey orientation does your character prefer—to be as prepared as possible, or taken by surprise, or somewhere in between?

2.     How does he cope with his least favorite method of landing somewhere new?

Share: What is the first thing you want to do or to know when you travel anywhere new? Why?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Build A Story World

Coinage--Economic Roots--Example

Knowing the coinage and economic roots can move your plot along in interesting ways. For example, in the movie The Count of Monte Cristo conflict is tied into the system from the very beginning. Alongside the financial and social system is a barter system that seeks to gain influence in various means.

Edmond Dantes is duped by Napoleon into passing on a letter. The magistrate, Villefort, acknowledges Edmond’s innocence until he discovers that the letter was meant for his father. Villefort then uses the barter to put Dantes away for life in prison; both for his own political safety and as a favor to Fernand Mondego, a childhood friend of Dantes, who despite his own wealth and status is eaten up by jealousy for anything Dantes achieves.

Although the viewer does not see the full results until the end of the movies, both men extend their pact and use the barter in increasing ways to solidify their greed as they grasp for influence and power. Fueled by his own revenge Dantes uses their very system to force them into accountability. He squeezes them financially to ruin and public display.

The moral compass and reasoning differs between all three men, but all are able to use the coinage system of their era to achieve their desired ends. And all are in conflict with each other adding critical tension to reach the crisis and climax points.


         Use either this movie or another of your choice, plot out the turning moral turning points/decisions for one of these characters that had a direct effect financially or socially for them.

Share: What is another well known novel or movie that you consider a good example of weaving conflict through coinage roots?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Connect With Maps

“All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera-glass.”  Lewis Carroll

Alice does not change being Alice despite the various ways in which she is being observed, but the perception of her is altered by the method by which the Guard chooses to see her.

Just as images and word pictures feed our imagination through metaphors, so can a study of map-making enlarge and enrich our connections with the places we inhabit. In his book, the Geographer’s Art, Peter Haggett says that, “If the historian uses mirrors to look back and the physicist uses mirrors to look forward, then the geographer’s use of the mirror analogy lies in a different dimension—that of space.” What exactly do we see in that space regionally and historically? Are places mapped by linear distance as in a conventional map or by spatial configuration?

Haggett gives an example from a vacation he once took at a lakeside village nestled in the Austrian mountains. As he traveled back and forth across the lake by boat he realized that the lakeside did not quite measure up to the conventional map. Some routes he took were fast routes and others slow. Which speed was taken would influence the map form or scale of the lake. He put together four different sketches to try to determine how nine locations reflected or related to the lake itself based on: distance, time of journey, cost of journey and frequency of service. He concluded that each map showed a “different aspect of the spatial structure of this settlement.” His experiment on vacation opened up a whole new outlook on how maps can measure location and identity of place.

Today we can click our computers for directions and are given a choice to find a destination by conventional map, or street view or aerial. Why do we choose which version we do? How does your character approach space in his world? Why does it matter what she sees?

Journal Prompt:

1.     Visit a favorite place of your own where you like to sit and watch the view. Take a pair of binoculars and a magnifying glass. Pick one focused spot and look at it intently for a few minutes each time using first your own natural sight and then each of these lenses.

2.     Write down the differences you see with each one.

Share: Did you see something you’ve never noticed before? Can you adapt the experience for your character?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Build a Story World

Coinage—Economic Roots

Who controls the economy? Is there a hierarchy that matches the political rule, or one that is counter to it? Does it run its economy as a free trade society, a company store system, and/or a black-market?

Is it a system that has roots into your world’s ancient culture and history, or has it been commandeered by outsiders that have imposed their system? And does their system actually work better or worse—again according to whose set of values.

The economy may not play an important role in your world, but you’ll need to know the basics. It can provide several conflict moments just in routine situations. Think of a time you planned to eat out and then realized your forgot your wallet. What options did you have? What emotional stress did you undergo?


1.    Outline a company store system that the whole community has agreed upon as the best solution. Begin with a Robin Hood type leader.

2.    What are the potential strengths? What are the potential weaknesses?

3.    Now jump ahead a century or two and have the system run as a way to enslave the community financially by greed driven leader.

4.    Somewhere in an old ledger the community finds the original documents and provisions. What does it give them courage to do?

Share: Do they return to the original moral compass, become the next tycoon, or change the whole system?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Compose Through Metaphor

“I never make work that is careless.” Tezuka Osamu

Cont’d Part Three

Animator Tezuka Osamu’s images, themes and stories that he worked with came from the heart. It showed through his choice of topics and the manner in which he developed his films. Some techniques he had to let go of because he couldn’t find enough people skilled in the process, but he kept as close to the passion of creating film by hand because “I really wanted to keep the preciousness of the hand animation in the work,” he said. At the time his industry was undergoing a metamorphosis of its own and Osamu felt that the original work of Japanese animation was becoming imitative instead of original.

The story was fueled by the techniques and the techniques enriched his storytelling. For example in his short film, The Legend of the Forest with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony Op.36, he divided the story into four parts. And then each movement he animated in a different style beginning with a basic form and adding more details and complications with each transition. So alongside the legend he also visually showed a development of animation without speaking about it at all. He embedded the metaphors naturally.

“Perhaps the animation can be supported by the passion of the creators.”

It’s that passion that creates timelessness as well as creativeness. Viewers today may find some of the imagery he uses odd or old-fashioned; especially since now computer graphics have emerged in leaps and bounds since his day. Which he also recognized as a growing field of development. Yet we still can identify and relate to his metaphoric images because he has grounded them in familiar circumstances.

Often we ourselves don’t recognize the metaphors in our work during the early drafts but by nurturing the quality and technical craft of our novels we will begin to recognize them. Then our use of image and metaphor, allusion, theme, symbols, echoes will all have the naturalness of originality instead of imitation too.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Make a list of the words you’d like readers to say about your novels?

2.     Write down the themes you’d like your readers to identify with in your novels.

Share: Which one would make your heart sing?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Build a Story World

Elidor Cont’d

So the children arrive at the street, now demolished. Only an old church remains. In this odd place a fiddler appears in the distance playing strange music. A plastic football snaps lead in the church window. One by one the children disappear until only Roland is left in the empty church where the fiddler finds him. Roland runs out the door back towards the street. “But he never reached the sidewalk for the cobbles were moving under him. He turned. The outline of the church rippled in the air, and vanished. He was standing among boulders on a seashore, and the music died into the crash of breakers, and the long fall of the surf.

With each major transition in the story the disbelief, the impossible, is emphasized.  They find the treasures in the Mound, when danger forces them back into their own time with the treasures: the jeweled sword, golden stone, and pearled cauldron, which all change. 

“In his hand Roland held a length of iron railing; Nicholas a keystone from the church. David had two splintered laths nailed together for a sword; and Helen an old, cracked cup, with a beaded pattern molded on the rim.”

The tone of dealing with the impossible heightens the action as well as the mystery.  When the electric appliances start operating on their own, even the unplugged ones, they consider telling their parents; but even they don’t believe the treasures are causing it. Over and over the children try to ignore, forget, disbelieve the strange circumstances surrounding them, but with each impossible occurrence they are forced back into their relationship with Elidor.

They finally accept that their reality and Elidor’s world have intermingled, even in its impossibility, and now begin to seek a solution that mingles the two. “But if the Treasures are in Elidor, we’ll be left in peace.” They go back to the demolished church dragging the treasures. They figure out the clue and at the end, “The children were alone with the broken window of a slum.”

They started in the broken demolished street and they ended in the demolished street. Everything about the magic stayed contained within the limits of their comprehension and ability to process and act. And yet the possibility of failure also faced each decision.

So regardless of the age of your characters the magic must remain true to itself in all its characteristics. It too must cost. Take time to plan out the repercussions.

“Drifter's gold is for me to spend --
For I am a vagabond.”
Don Blanding (A Vagabond’s House)

1.    Write your own version of these two lines.

2.    What does it cost the drifter lose or gain in your version?

Share: your two lines. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Compose Through Metaphor

“I never make work that is careless.” Tezuka Osamu

Cont’d Part Two

Last week we looked at how one word in a title, or as a character summary, can be strengthened into a metaphor for a broader understanding. But before you can even do that it’s important to know what are your themes and your goals for your story. For example, one of Osamu’s goals for his work was to include a touch of humor or irony, especially when dealing with difficult topics. He felt that especially when he tried to show culture out of control or present the idea that technology had the potential to become unstoppable he would lean into irony.

In the Tales of a Street Corner all the characters were developed with humor and pathos as war came to their corner crashing into their lives. And showed those who remained self-centered and those who grew into selfless actions, like the naughty little mouse who tried to save the bear.

Another key word image for Osamu in creativity was joy and fun. “The fun of experimental animation is the different perspectives people saw.” He appreciated the unique insights his audience had and in turn their comments often sparked new ideas for him to pursue. He worked diligently to create quality work, but did not expect everyone to see only his vision. Once his work released it went free. That is the gift of metaphor in any work.

 In his short film Mermaid he explored potentially closed thinking through “the story of a boy from faraway lands that likes fantasies.” The boy saw a mermaid. Everyone else only saw a fish and went to great lengths to blast his idea of out him. He too eventually saw the fish, but with Osamu’s tilt of angle the last line went, “But the boy did not forget the mermaid.”

Like a firecracker a familiar image might start off in plain wrapping paper and then explode into showers of light.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Read through a picture book the next time you’re at the library or a bookstore but don’t read the words. Look only at the visual background first. Then go back and read the story. How do they complement each other? Does each page have a one-word tag? Funny, scary, curious?

2.     Now do a reverse action. Take one of your chapter scenes and mark it off as if it were a picture book. Can you identify a main image on each ‘page’?

Share: Did you find an image that surprised you? Can you develop it further as a thread without it being forced?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Build a Story World

Cost of Magic

All use of magic costs.

Whether you use man-made or magic-made, the actions and choices need to be believable, and they must follow the rules you set up for them. No last minute, “oh look what else this can do too.” Decide early on what are the levels of safety and what are the levels of danger. How many times can a person cross dimensions before needing a re-boot, or cannot go back at all?

Begin simply and then build on it as needed so as not to have it become so complicated that you lose yourself and your reader in the technical aspects. Is it a ticking clock like Cinderella’s midnight, or a magic potion that requires a fallen star?

For example, in his MG story Elidor, Alan Gardner uses disbelief to first bridge the children’s entrance into the land of Elidor and, then later, Elidor’s entrance into their world. The characters repeatedly insist these things can’t be happening, that there must be an explanation, like a dream. Roland alone continues to insist on examining the odd occurrences in their landscape, and trying to find a solution.

 David says,“And he’s been reading books. He says it could all have been what he calls ‘mass hallucination,’ perhaps something to do with shock after the church nearly fell on us. He says it does happen.”

“And I suppose the mud we scraped off was a mass hallucination,” said Roland.

The atmosphere is set even before the strange events begin to occur.  The four children are trying to keep busy so they won’t get bossed around at home packing for their move the next day.  The youngest, Roland, finds a postal map, turns a dial and they decide to find the street.  When the streets become more and more deserted and Roland voices concern, he is reminded that he’s always imagining things.

Exercise: Set up a situation where a main character experiences evidence of magic for the first time and explains it away using concrete logical thinking.

Share: What happens when she realizes that what is happening cannot be explained away.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Compose Through Metaphor

“I never make work that is careless.” Tezuka Osamu

While discussing experimental animation during an interview he gave during the 1960’s, Tezuka Osama explained that he desired to introduce the good parts of Japanese animation to the world. He wanted it to be understood internationally or globally. “I would like to convey big messages to the world,” he said. So he began to make pieces for an international audience so that others would understand and care.

To convey his messages of animation and life, culture, humor and irony he worked with familiar images drawn from universal theme and experience. He built upon common ground to engage his viewers, and then angled the image or the expectation of the story in a way that it became a fresh insight and a means of communication. He thoroughly enjoyed the different perspectives that people saw after viewing his style of experimentation.

Next week we’ll look at some of the techniques Osamu used but for now here’s a glimpse into one of his pieces.

The titles he chose also provided an introduction to his images and concepts: Jump, A Memory, Mermaid, and Legend of the Forest, showing a wide range of topics and idea grist. Often we forget that our titles are as valuable as the metaphor images themselves. Titles, characters, music and images all intertwined as metaphor in his animation.

Here is Osamu’s list of characters (images) for his short film, Tales of a Street Corner.

According to the caption these are the people who live at this corner. Note their variety.
            : a friendly girl and a teddy bear
            : a naughty mouse
            : a plant with seeds
            :an old street light
            : a street Punk “Moth”
            : a woman on a poster
            : a young violinist on a poster

Journal Prompt:

1.     Choose two of these characters and make up a sketch of them even if you are a stick figure artist.  (Like me)

2.     Then from your interpretation choose a word image or metaphor as their main personality characteristic.

Share:  Whom did you choose? Why? What is your word metaphor for them?
"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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