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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Build a Story World

Thresholds of Ambiguity

Wynne-Jones refers to this as a pulse outside of oneself. “There is about Thresholds this ambiguity of which way is in and which way is out.”
Hansel and Gretel are left to find their way in the woods. Red Riding Hood travels a familiar path but comes back from one visit completely different, or is she? The wolf comes calling through the doors of the Three Little Pigs.

“At the door of the house who will come knocking?
An open door, we enter
A closed door, a den
The world pulse beats outside my door.”
                                                            Pierre Albert Birot

(As shared by Tim Wynne-Jones as another quote from Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space.)

The long running series Stargate enfolds this aspect of ambiguity each time the characters step through the pulsing gate to enter a wormhole. Even when they return to a familiar world, life may have dramatically changed. Or at least the possibility always exists making each entrance ambiguous.

1.     Wynne-Jones refers to this as an ongoing process using the image of a life waiting to be born over and over again trying to get it right.

What other images would fit into the concept of a repeated pulse as an ongoing climb towards completion.

Share: What image did you choose?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Connect With Maps

“Theme in literature is the idea that holds the story together, such as a comment about society, human nature, or the human condition. It is the main idea or central meaning of a piece of writing.” Rebecca J. Lukens

Although theme is an integral element, it is not always visible, or at least not on the surface. Yet without its natural thread weaving throughout, the story will remain unfinished and unfocused, regardless of the expertise of the writer. Something will emotionally remain undone.  

Think of the maps we follow faithfully down city routes, turn a corner and discover where a road should be is a very tall brick building. The road was there but has been cut off, perhaps decades earlier, and only after much trial and error do we find a way around and back to the squiggly lines the map says will get us to our destination. Only now we are completely frustrated and no longer trust the ink directions.

On the other hand the theme that quietly draws us through shadows and back alleys and into hidden compartments feels more like a treasure hunt and when we see theses lines shape into their pattern, our response is an ah-ha moment.

In the mystery series Midsomer Murders, it is not unusual for the investigators to have maps up on their boards to help mark out routes suspects may have taken within a time frame to commit the murder. Since Midsomer is a fictional county there are many rural hamlets, villages with paths and alleys, busy towns, and sometimes hidden underground tunnels. The guilty knew their lay of the land well and used it to their advantage. Often though the physical map and the psychological map were intertwined in the theme.

So also for the character Calli, in The Crystal Scepter, who after a shattering experience flees up a deserted coastline, but through the journey is restored to her true nature. Then when disaster comes again she is able to stand firm to her heart’s truth.

Journal Prompt:

            Look at possible physical maps in your story line. Which characters walk them? For each person, link the external map to their internal emotional arc and the overall theme.

Share: Did your choice add a deeper context to your story?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Build a Story World

Thresholds as Commitment

“But is he who opens a door and he who closes it the same being” 
                                                                                      Gaston Bachelard

This takes a step through a barrier as in a dream.  Alice follows the rabbit hole down the hole. It is not as deliberate a choice as a crossing, but nevertheless, it makes a commitment to see through the opportunities or perhaps, as in Alice’s case, the curiosities that the opening represents.

When Sleeping Beauty discovered a spindle for the first time she was immediately drawn to it and then crossed the threshold into her destiny forged by the curse, but not with the dire ends of its intent.

Cinderella’s passage from scullery maid into a guest at the ball opened the door to her royal future.

“That is what Thresholds are all about in literature,” says Tim Wynne-Jones. “A Threshold is the physical manifestation of change.”


1.     Make another list of similar barrier thresholds either from fairy tales or novels you remember.

2.     Then make another list of all the changes in the characters between their opening and closing their doors.

3.     Which were subtle and which were startling?

Share: How could you take one of your examples and redress it into another genre?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Compose Through Metaphor

“To be a true symbol, the object must be emphasized or repeated, and supported throughout the entire story; it represents something quite different from its literal meaning.” Rebecca J. Lukens

To the royal house of Elysiel, the scepter was a sacred trust under a vow to protect. The long list of heirs stood as the Keepers of the Promise with their hearts merged into the heart of the scepter. To outsiders like King Pythius it was power awarded to the victor, and he intended to claim the magic for himself.

In the recently released fantasy The Crystal Scepter, (The Gates of Heaven Series) by C.S. Lakin, this symbol weaves its way through the entire story, whether characters are even aware of the actual scepter’s existence, influence and potential or not. Heart decisions must be made by minor and major characters alike. Their choices become mirrors and reflectors of the battle between truth and lies. Personal actions move towards life or death from the inside out.

King Cakrin warns Pythius of his consequences, “You have come in treachery and out of a lust for power, but you have gotten a taste of the price of your action.”

But the obsessed king dismisses the warning as subterfuge to keep him from his victory. He cannot imagine or believe that the scepter can mean anything else that literal power, or be wielded for any other purpose. Despite repeated honesty spoken to him, his heart rejects anything but his own interpretation despite the grueling and frightening evidence he experiences.

How will the prophecy end?

Journal Prompt:

            What symbols/metaphors have had the most impact on you from novels and movies? I have never forgotten the image of the birds waiting on the telephone wires in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, from my first viewing as a tween. In fact when I once tried to watch it again as a ‘mature’ adult, I had to turn it off.

            Make a list and then divide them into categories of fear or hope or humor etc. Can you adapt one of categories to your own wip and parallel a symbol metaphor likewise?

Share: Which is your favorite and why?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Build a Story World

Thresholds as Crossings

Here we deliberately make a choice to step into new stages, probably never to return: a passage of some moment. It can include walking away from a place, or a relationship, or choosing to no longer be who we were a few minutes earlier.

In the novel, The Hero and the Crown, protagonist Aerin made that crossing when she arrived at her first dragon slaying.  “Talat halted, and they stood, Aerin gazing into the black hole in the hill. A minute or two went by and she wondered, suddenly, how one got the dragon to pay attention to one in the first place. Did she have to wake it up? Yell? Throw water into the cave at it? Just as her spearpoint sagged with doubt, the dragon hurtled out of its den and straight at them:”

In Phantom of the Opera, this moment comes for Raoul, when he stands before the Phantom, prepared to die if he must, in order to rescue Christine. His love is proven true and his courage stands up regardless of the consequence.


1.     Review the most recent fiction you have read. From memory only, can you pick out one or two threshold crossings in the story?

2.     What impact on the overall story did they make? Was it a quiet decision or a major plot point?

Share: Can you adapt the emotional cost to a character in your novel? Why or why not?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Create With Mystery

Even if we don’t write mystery novels, all novels have a sense of mystery or the lure of what will happen next. And like a mystery novel, if a situation, a question or a particular detail is brought to the reader’s attention it needs to be addressed with a sense of closure. Or we risk losing credibility with a reader. Especially if it has been given a build-up.

In a recent discussion with a sci-fi and fantasy reader over the movie John Carter, I was really surprised at how much he disliked it. But as we talked though what worked and what didn’t it all came down one main criterion: a mystery thread that didn’t get answered. Now perhaps in the book series it was an ongoing thread to carry from one book to another, but in the movie for this one viewer the ball got dropped.

I remembered the scene and yes, I wondered too, but decided perhaps the main purpose was characterization as it showed the determination of the heroine to save her planet and a villain out to sabotage. It annoyed me too, but I was drawn more to the actual overall world building so it didn’t ruin the movie for me. But my reader friend waited the whole movie expecting an answer to why it was so important and instead the closure to that situation was never explained.  

There’s a saying know as Chekhov’s gun that is a reference to a note he wrote in a letter, which is now used as an example of foreshadowing.

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." Anton Chekhov (From S. Shchukin, Memoirs. 1911.)

Just so, the movie never explained why Dejah, Princess of Helium, expected the large machine to save her people and city from the Zodanga.

Journal Prompt:

Take a look at your first few chapters and see if there is a prop that could become a foreshadow for a main plot point, or a sub-plot point.

How far could you stretch the highlight before it becomes interference rather than a positive thread?

Share: What is a movie you feel never gave a satisfying closure to mystery threads it began with?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Build a Story World


 “Thresholds are necessary in the creative process in giving an idea somewhere to go.” Tim Wynne-Jones

Change, no matter how small, can create mental and emotional chaos as you turn into a different direction, physically or emotionally. To cross a threshold though requires a choice, even if it has been forced upon you like a refugee fleeing his war torn land. All sensory memory is heightened and sharpened. It is not just the moment that is at stake, but the journey that follows it. Thresholds become part of our soul shadows as much as our physical bodies cast their shadow. And the question can linger. “Did I choose the right fork in the road?”

“An Eye for Thresholds,” is an excellent essay written by Tim Wynne-Jones in the book Only Connect. His focus is under the category of Books and Children, so I’m taking extreme liberties by borrowing some of his threshold categories, and then adapting them and paraphrasing some for my own purposes.

As you look at each category make notes as to where a challenge of beliefs or values could become a tension point, either personally for your main character, or in relationship to family or society.

Thresholds as Connectors

 Do we open the locked door at the end of the spider-coated hallway? Are we ready to hear the words written in the old manuscripts found buried under the house?

Look at these familiar solid connections and think of ways they can become a life-changing threshold doors, windows, railroads, books.


1.     Choose one of these categories and brainstorm ten to twenty ways they can become a threshold connector either literally or metaphorically or even better—both.

2.     Which one is the strongest? Which the weakest?

Share: What makes the difference?

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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