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.”

Pantzer versus Plotter

There are two basic schools of writing: Pantzing and Plotting.

Most of the writers I’ve talked to have been pantzers, meaning they write from the seat of their pants. They have no idea where the story is going until they have written it. At best, they have a few general moments they know they want to work towards, often they know how they want begin and end the story, but little more than that.

Pantzer’s don’t know who is going to live or die in their story at the beginning, or even who the central characters are, until the words are on the page. They don’t know who will live and who will die. They often don’t know who the heroes or villains are, or what they are fighting over, or why they care. Pantzers write sentence after sentence to discover the story they want to tell, then edit what they wrote so it reads well.

This, to me, is a bizarre way to write.

I am a plotter. That is, I need an outline before I can write. I need to know who the central characters are, what their goals are, what they will do to achieve those goals, and what they won’t do. I need to know who lives and who dies, how they die, and who would be better off dead. I need to know what the conflict is over, how the characters break down into sides over the conflict, why it is important for each side to win, and what the result of any particular side’s victory means to them and others. I need all of this and much more information; not in a vaguely defined way, but hard specifics I can write towards.

Pantzers have the advantage of speed. A pantzer can crank out a good size story in a year or two. I spent decades fleshing out the story for my epic, Gods Among Men, before I felt like I could really write much of it. I wrote a lot in those decades, but whenever I ran into a question I didn’t already know the answer too I had to stop and spend days, weeks, and even months finding answers that satisfied me and worked with my central plot.

I think the result is worth the extra time it took. I can give detailed answers to almost any question about the world or the characters or the plot. More importantly; I like, really like, my plot, my characters, the story arc, the settings, and so on. I love the world I have created in my mind, with all of its flaws and including the parts of it that run against my personal ideology.

Currently, I am editing At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, the first book in Gods Among Men. I hope to have it up to submission quality by late this year, though I fear that is optimistic. Looking forward, I believe I can create first drafts for the remainder of the story as fast as any pantzer could, maybe faster. Editing each book to make them publishable will take longer, of course, but I know where I am going and I have an outline to get there. That’s a nice place for a plotter to be.

Recording The Writers Group Meetings

Last night I finished another edit of chapter two of Gods Among Men, …Awakens the Outer Circle…. During the editing process I used a recording of the Magic City Writers meeting where the chapter was reviewed and suggestions made. This is a practice I will continue to use.

I became aware of my need to make recordings some months after the OmegaCon convention in the spring of 2008 in Birmingham Alabama. It was the first time I ever attended writer panels and workshops. The experience was inspirational on many levels. It led me to recruit other aspiring writers into the group we now call the Magic City Writers. (Well, I call it that and no one so far has objected.)

Months went by and the OmegaCon convention retreated from my memories. The group’s reviews of my work accumulated. I began to see the limits of note taking. Moments that had major significance at the convention became vague recollections. Specific suggestions from the group were now cryptic notes even I couldn’t fully understand.

I began recording the group meetings, and at ImagiCon in 2009 I recorded all the panels I attended. I’m not sure I shall ever revisit the recordings of the panels, but the recordings of the meetings has proven invaluable.

My editing process has become this:

  1. Review the general comments each person wrote about my chapter and do an editing pass addressing those issues specifically.
  2. Go through the chapter line-by-line and check for any comments made about that specific line. Make changes as needed.
  3. Clean up any garbage I may have accidentally added in the first two steps.
  4. Listen closely to the recording of the meeting to see if I have missed anything major.

In each of times I’ve used these recordings I’ve discovered several major points not in any written notes or suggestions. Forgotten moments no longer than a minute or two, buried in several hours of recorded interplay. It is invariably a point when the conversation was flowing and ideas were being tossed about rapidly. Sometimes it is a point I made, an insight I had, which I failed to write down and have forgotten in the weeks after the meeting. Something that was impossible to pause and record on paper without dissipating the creative energy being produced.

When I find such a nugget I stop the playback and address the issue. Sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes hours. The end result is a block of writing that I can definitively state is better than it was before.

For me, recording group meeting and brainstorming sessions so I can replay them at least once is a crucial part of my writing process. It is the only way to be sure the final work is as strong as I can make it.

Naming in a Created World: Brant’s Version.

A little while back Kathryn posted Naming in a Created World, in which she discussed the ways she has for coming up with names in her world. I found this article interesting in and of itself, but also because of the differences between her approach and mine.

I developed my story in fits and starts over a very long time. Sometimes years would go by with no actual writing taking place, just random ruminations. I am a spotty note taker, and I realized after a few years I was in danger of forgetting key elements of my story. What role did certain characters play? How did they fit into the plot? Who were they in opposition to? What was their story arc? What is this place? Why is it important? What does this doo-dad actually do?

I decided to address these issues in two ways: 1) The language used when I wrote scenes for the first time, and 2) The names I choose.

With regards to the names of characters, I tried to choose names that crystallized the character for me personally. I named one central character after Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, forests and hills, child birth, virginity, fertility. A huntress carrying a bow and arrows. With the name Artemis I captured the image of my character and defined much of her personality.

Another character I named Morel Rihtwis. This is a joining of the medieval words for moral, right, and wise. Again, when I read the name I know this character instantly. There is no doubt about how I should write his scenes.

My biggest exception to this scheme for naming characters is my protagonist, Damon Roth. I named him because I like the sound of the name as it rolled off my tongue. It was only later that I discovered it derived from the Greek story of Damon and Pythias, a story symbolizing trust, loyalty, and true friendship. Damon as a name means constant one. I fell in love with the symbolism, at how well it dovetailed with my thoughts about the character. I began using the ideas to frame much of Damon’s character arc.

For me, names of people, places, and things became placeholders. Post-it notes within the story to remind me what I was thinking when I jotted down a quick thought. It is a technique which has served me well.

Grammar: The Bane of My Existence

Grammar and I have a hate-hate relationship.

I have long wanted to understand grammar, I know people who understand grammar, and I have had various grammar rules explained to me over and over and over again.

It sounds like gibberish. Not Lewis Carroll gibberish, which I understand. More like its a game someone with short-term memory problems is making up while they are playing.

I consider myself fairly clever. I did well in school and have two bachelor degrees and a masters degree to show for it. I almost minored in literature! I have excelled at hard, complicated, subjects. I work as a computer programmer and regularly deal with complicated issues that I alone seem able to untangle.

So why is grammar so freakin‘ hard to understand?

I write by the sound of the sentence, the rhythm of the words. There is a beat to language which I cannot express but do hear. That is enough for me to find the path to tell my stories. But eventually, inevitably, someone says something like, “I like your ideas, but you need to work on your grammar.”