Analysis of My Opening Paragraph: Part 3

Today I am continuing my narcissistic and self-indulgent analysis of my opening paragraph. In Part 1 of this analysis I established the pattern of focusing upon the symmetrical relationship between the opening and closing lines. I continued this pattern in Part 2 where I focused upon the second line and its relationship to the next to last sentence. Today I will continue first by looking at the third sentence and the matching second-to-last sentence. Assuming I don’t bloviate too much, I will conclude by looking at the fourth, and middle, sentence in the paragraph.

For ease of reference, here again is the paragraph in question:

Damon Roth built a grand house. An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. Wide windows were the manor’s great eyes, searching in all directions from behind a gothic countenance. Color-stained eyes framed the world in a kaleidoscope of possibilities. Clear eyes actualized only one: a well-maintained garden of flowers and shrubs, a manicured lawn sloping gently away, and a resplendent thicket of trees that concealed the mansion from the world. Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees. From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.

And the sentences I will be focusing on first are:

Wide windows were the manor’s great eyes, searching in all directions from behind a gothic countenance. … Clear eyes actualized only one: a well-maintained garden of flowers and shrubs, a manicured lawn sloping gently away, and a
resplendent thicket of trees that concealed the mansion from the world.

In Part 1 of this analysis I established that the paragraph, and by implication the entire story, is about my protagonist, Damon Roth. I inform the reader that Gods Among Men is an epic fantasy whose central character is willing and capable of challenging the established order to achieve a personal goal.

In Part 2 I explained my use of personification to link to older literary genres, most notably Medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian. I established that everything said about the house as if it were a person is in fact a comment on Damon Roth.

With that thought in mind, consider the phrase, “Wide windows were the manor’s great eyes”. The image of the manor’s windows as eyes links to Damon’s eyes. By implication this links to his vision of the world, both as he sees it now and how he thinks it should be.

This leads to “searching in all directions”. On the surface it says the windows face in every direction from the house. Underneath, by personification, it implies Damon is searching for something. Saying he is searching in all directions carries hints of uncertainty. Does Damon really know what he is looking for? Would he recognize it if he found it? Does he have an idea where it might be, or is he flailing about hoping to stumble across what he wants?

In the sentence “from behind a gothic countenance” we again are given a visual image of the house as a European Gothic manor. This style of architecture begins in 12th-century and lasts into the 16th century, again pushing a Medieval and Renaissance image of the novel’s culture. The sentence also continues the theme of linking to literary genres such as Victorian era Gothic novels.

Given that I am writing a fantasy novel, it is fair to assume that the Gothic reference links to Gothic horror. To be honest, I have always loved the imagery contained in well-written Gothic horror, so I will admit it does strongly influence the direction I am taking my story.

Gothic horror does not focus upon what I refer to as “horror porn”, i.e. an excess of gore and violence. Rather it focuses upon psychological and physical terror, mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles, darkness, death, decay, madness, secrets, and hereditary curses. The characters of Gothic fiction tend toward being tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, femme fatales, madwomen, magicians, monsters, demons, angels, fallen angels, the beauty and the beast, revenants, ghosts, perambulating skeletons, the Wandering Jew, and the Devil himself.

All of these elements are ones I try, with varying degrees of success, to include in Gods Among Men. With the phrase “a gothic countenance” I am informing the reader of the types of characters and storylines that they may reasonably expect to see throughout the epic.

Moreover, and more specifically, this phrase is a comment upon Damon Roth. He is a Gothic character. In point of fact, he has many of the characteristics of a Byronic hero, though that will only become obvious as the story develops.

Moving on, the second to last sentence begins with “Clear eyes actualized only one”. The eyes are the manor’s windows, so clear eyes are the clear windows; i.e. those that are clear panes of glass. Symbolically they are Damon’s eyes, his vision of the world as it is and should be.

With the word “actualized” a new dimension is added to the story. The word “actualize” literally means make something real and give it substance. Therefore “Clear eyes actualized only one” symbolically means “Damon’s vision of how the world should be is clear and he will make that vision reality”.

The first two parts of the remainder of the sentence are “a well-maintained garden of flowers and shrubs, a manicured lawn sloping gently away”. This is an image of controlled beauty, of life, of an ordered world. Damon’s plans are not to destroy, but to promote life. He is not seeking chaos, but to establish a new order.

The final portion of the sentence is “a resplendent thicket of trees that concealed the mansion from the world.” As I said in Part 2 of this analysis:

Forests, particularly in Medieval and Renaissance literature, were often used as a metaphor for the world or mankind as a whole. Therefore this sentence establishes Damon’s relationship to the world and the rest of humanity.

Ergo, since the mansion is concealed from the world so is Damon. He is alone, isolated, outside. He is separate from the world that surrounds him. He is unseen, and therefore unexpected.

I conclude now with the central sentence in the paragraph. The one with no symmetrical partner and which therefore stands alone. The sentence:

Color-stained eyes framed the world in a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

Once again I return to the image of the manor’s windows as eyes. “Color stained eyes” literally means “windows stained with color” which in turn implies stained-glass windows. This is foreshadowing for later when Damon goes to his casting chamber and begins to cast as powerful spell. All the windows he passes before he gets to the casting chamber are clear glass, clear eyes. The casting chamber has stained-glass windows, eyes stained with color. This sentence becomes a comment upon Damon’s use of magic to examine all the possibilities of what could be, of how the world might be. The word kaleidoscope carries special significance because it translates to mean “looking at beautiful forms”. The sentence as a whole therefore means Damon uses his spells to examine all the possibilities for the way the world could be beautiful to him. From all these possibilities he chooses one, and forces the world to conform to that vision.

This brings us to the end of my analysis. There is more that I see in the paragraph, but I have already written far more about it that I originally intended to. Perhaps no one else will read this in its entirety, but this has been a useful exercise for me. Writing this analysis forced me to put into words the ideas I have never articulated well before. In any event, now when someone asks why I am reluctant to change this one paragraph I can point to this analysis and say, “Here are my reasons.”

Analysis of My Opening Paragraph: Part 2

This is a continuation of my personal analysis of my opening paragraph. The idea being to put into words what I see when I read it and explain why I am so reluctant to modify this one paragraph, despite advice to the contrary.

For ease of reference, here again is the paragraph in question:

Damon Roth built a grand house. An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. Wide windows were the manor’s great eyes, searching in all directions from behind a gothic countenance. Color-stained eyes framed the world in a kaleidoscope of possibilities. Clear eyes actualized only one: a well-maintained garden of flowers and shrubs, a manicured lawn sloping gently away, and a resplendent thicket of trees that concealed the mansion from the world. Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees. From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.

In Part 1 of this analysis, I focused upon the symmetrical relationship between the opening and closing lines. i.e.

Damon Roth built a grand house. … From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.

I summarized this relationship as follows:

With just the opening and closing sentences, the reader has been told this is an epic fantasy whose central character is willing and capable of challenging the established order to achieve a personal goal.

The opening and closing lines of this paragraph are symmetrical in that they focus upon a central theme. Who is Damon Roth? What is he planning? When is he going to act? Where is he at? Why is he doing the things he does? How far will he go to achieve his goals? The rest of a story is to answer these questions.

I will now focus on the second line and the next to last line. Here they are together.

An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. … Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees.

In the paragraph’s first sentence I introduced Damon Roth and his house and established the house as a statement about Damon’s nature. In the second line I begin to flesh out the metaphor. I also start to establish a relationship to older literary genres. This connection to the other genres culminates in the next to last sentence.

In the paragraph’s first sentence, I establish that Damon built the house. With the first words of the second sentence, “An extensive foundation”, I establish, subtly I hope, that Damon works on a large scale. That his plans are “extensive” and have a strong “foundation”.

The relationship to older literary genres begins with “supported mighty oak limbs”. It was quite common in older genres to indulge in personification, i.e. an ontological metaphor where an inanimate object is presented as if it were a person. The object in the metaphor becomes a statement about the person.

“Mighty oak limbs” directly refers to the timbers Damon used to build his house, but indirectly indicate that Damon is a person of great strength, vitality, and power. “oak”, in particular, is a symbol of strength, durability, protection, longevity, and re-birth. All characteristics I will associate with Damon throughout the story.

With “reach skyward” I imply several things, again with subtle intent, about Damon. Directly I and still talking about the beams and timbers used to build the house. Indirectly I am saying Damon is reaching for something, that he is looking up to some lofty goal. The word “skyward’ itself carries several implications. His plans reach beyond the earth to encompass the whole of creation. Damon is reaching toward heaven, thus implying either a desire to be good, or to be God, or both. It carries the hint of his intent to become (partially) divine by becoming the God Among Men.

The phrase “unwavering in their duty” is simple. The house is still standing, and Damon will not falter in his quest, no matter the cost or burden he must bear.

The phrase “holding soaring gables” gives a physical image of the house. It implies a style of architecture that began in European countries and establishes cultural image of a Medieval/Renaissance/Victorian type of society. This is quite common in modern fantasy and gives the reader a touchstone of what to expect as more details of the society and culture are presented.

With “aloft through the centuries” I establish, for the first time, that this is not a new house. That it is very old and has withstood the test of time. It has successfully survived storms and resisted decay. Since the house is a metaphor for Damon, he too is centuries old and has survived adversity and resisted decay.

Skipping down to the next to last sentence, we begin by concluding the description of the house started in the second sentence. “Only the central tower,” again underscores the image of a European style manor or castle, one with at least two wings, and a tall tower in the center. Since the metaphor, and the entire paragraph, is about Damon, the “central tower” must be “central” to Damon’s personality and plans. The tower is a reflection of him in a fundamental way.

With that thought in mind, consider the phrase “covered in a spider-web of vines,”. A spider-web symbolizes so much it is hard to list them all. Damon is the spider, at the center of the web, sensing the slightest tremor that effects his plans. He ensnares the unwary. In much of literature the spider carries an evil connotation, but it is the spider that traps and kills many of the insects that plague mankind and carry deadly diseases. The spider is cunning, patient, hardworking, skillful, and a lethal foe that poses no harm to those that it cannot consume and do not threaten it. All characteristics I want the reader to see in Damon.

I connect again to older genres with the phrase “was tall enough to break the barricade of trees.” The “barricade of trees” refers to the forest surrounding Damon’s house that was established in a previous sentence. Forests, particularly in Medieval and Renaissance literature, were often used as a metaphor for the world or mankind as a whole. Therefore this sentence establishes Damon’s relationship to the world and the rest of humanity. This image is joined with the tower which is a reflection of Damon.

The tower is taller than everything around it, just as Damon is a larger character than all those who will surround him throughout the story. The image of the tower breaking the barricade of trees expresses his desire to be larger than humanity as a whole. To transcend his own humanity and become the God Among Men.

I spent a long time thinking about each word in this paragraph. I struggled with how it fit into literary traditions, and what it said about my world and my protagonist. Perhaps it is foppish arrogance to see all this in my own work, but I am trying to write something I hope touches on greatness. I do not claim to have achieved greatness, but it is the goal I set for myself. If I fall short it is because of a lack of talent, not a lack of desire or effort.

In my next post I will continue dissecting my personal views of the remainder of the paragraph. I will try to be briefer next time, but my own verbosity will no doubt assert itself as it did this time. Until next time, have fun.

Form and Formulation

As I write this, I am struggling to write as a pantzer. I started the story, tentatively titled Moonlit while listening to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode around 1 am. Because that started out well, I decided to write at least the first five chapters by the seat of my pants. I am not sure how well this is working out for me. I keep trying to formulate the plot in my head, figuring that as long as I don’t write it down, it doesn’t count as plotting.

Then, last week we had two published authors sit in on one of our writer’s group meetings. Jeremy is a pantzer. He writes his story and doesn’t look back. I know instinctively that that could never be my style. The other, Bill Drinkard, is more of a mixed breed. He had a solid concept in mind when he started his book, but wrote as it came to him, without a hard and fast outline. That is when I came to the conclusion that there is a difference between the form and formulation of a book.

The form of a book is necessary to most writers, be they pantzers or plotters. They need some sort of idea, a character or two, maybe even a reason for the story to be. For instance: the idea of a girl’s fear of growing up, how she deals with it, a blonde girl, and a white bunny. These could be the basis of Alice in Wonderland, or any number of other stories. This group of notions gives form to thoughts, but doesn’t require a plot before hand. All of the incidental things that occur – falling down a hole, meeting the weirdest menagerie of people, and ultimately walking through glass – are not within the form until after it is written.

The formulation of a book is quite different, and would probably be better suited to a plotter. To formulate, take those stated items from the previous paragraph and put them in a specific order. Rearrange them accordingly until they fit. A blonde girl is afraid of growing up… she meets a white bunny… she falls down a hole… she meets a catapillar and a mad hare… she finds a way to deal with her fears.

Formulations require a little more structure, because it needs a starting place and a stopping place. There is still wiggle room for those unexpected scenes stories seem to take, but the writer still ends up with a structure. The difference between a formulation and a plot is that the formulation does not force the writer to conform as much. It gives ideas more structure, which is what a plotter craves, but still leaves room for the pen to take control of the story, which is the pantzer’s delight.

I might not be a complete pantzer, but I am still keeping up with my promise to write five chapters in pantzer style. But, I might try formulation after that, instead of writing in complete blindness. Perhaps introducing a modicum of structure will soothe my competitive brain…

Chapter Malfunction

Many writers tell you that you should write every day. I firmly believe it to be true. But I have trouble focusing on what I ‘should’ be writing on. I should write a little something everyday towards the story, whether it is in chronological order or not.

What I shouldn’t be doing is competing against the other writers in our group. And I shouldn’t be writing just to have something to turn in. This isn’t high school. It is supposed to be something I want to do, but lately it is more like something I have to do. I have a competitive streak in me that doesn’t like knowing that I am far behind someone else in the group. Yes, I know that Brant has been working on his story for decades. I have a story like that too. But it became so hard for me to focus on putting that story on paper that I shelved it in favor of a new idea.

I became so charged with this idea that the first chapter came out easily. After writing it, I became so worried on whether it would need a major structural change that I became unable to write the second chapter. Now I have had a partial critique of the chapter, and they said it was okay to move on to the next. But I can’t seem to put the next chapter on paper as easily as the first. I know how I want it to start, but all I can focus on is how they will hate the turn of phrase here… change that passive voice… they don’t like what the character is doing… the list goes on and on.

For me, writing is one of the only emotional outlets I was ever trained to use. My mother had me in creative writing summer classes since I was in elementary school. I used to write sarcastic poems like “Radio Advertisement for Death,” plays mocking tent revivals, and humorous histories in the span of a single day. That was when I was able to turn off both outside and inside critics and just run with a great idea. I need to stop being so competitive for no reason that I suck all the fun out of reading other people’s creativity on paper and letting them read mine. I need to write my next chapter already, so I can finally find out what is happening in the third.

The Bad Guy

I was Stumbling through the internet today out of sheer boredom when I came across this awesome site.

http://www.darksites.com/evilplan.php

It really is gold for a good laugh, but I realized as I was filling out the form for my evil master plan that I was using the mind set of the bad guys in my Time plot line. This site is a great tool for writing an evil character!!!
I find I have problems sometimes pinpointing who the bad guy is in my stories, so this could help me organize my thoughts about WHO the bad guys are and WHAT their motivations are, as well as the ultimate GOAL. Cool huh?