Archive for June, 2006

The 13 Lines — a Request

June 30th, 2006

To all who want to post the first 13 of their short story in our critique feature, PLEASE read the guidelines first!   They are there for a reason.   You can reach them by clicking on the highlighed word “guidelines” on the main 13 Line Critique Page.

(4) Virgin’s Diary: Mina the Authentic Virgin

June 30th, 2006

Deep Genre; Introduction; Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 5; Part 6;

Part 4

In Stoker’s era a woman who had sexually sinned was infectious, a contagious miasma. She who violated the sexual rule that she never submit but to her husband’s sexual appetite needed to be quarantined from all other respectable persons, especially other women, for they too might catch her evil taint. Therefore, as in Stoker’s novel, Mina (danced by CindyMarie Small) is not present during Dracula’s seduction of Lucy. In the film Mina’s at the nebulously located convent where her financé, Jonathan Harker, has taken refuge, ill from the erotic fog Dracula’s vampire harem cast over him.

The ballet enacts this via Mina’s reading of his journal.

In Stoker’s novel Mina’s letters, journals, her cutup of information out of newspapers and other sources (very modern structural technique here, as critics have noticed with joy), her skills with typewriter and stenography and knowledge of train schedules and all the other technical tools of Victorian capital administration are utilized by her. She tries to defeat Dracula by exercising the powers of her formidible mind – the mind that Van Helsing so admires that he elevates it to the status of her soul. Mina is active in her work to save Jonathan and herself, to track the monster, Dracula. Lucy merely submits. Writhing in voluptuous acquiescence, Lucy invites him in.

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Craft: POV and Style

June 29th, 2006

Dani asked about an article on POV I mentioned. I backtracked through a couple of links, and found the original source, which did not forbid copying. My assumption on public boards is that it’s okay to repost, with full attributions.

This article is quite long, so here’s just the first segment, on third person limited, and when it’s okay to break the rules:

AWP: The Writer’s Chronicle — Essays, Interviews, Articles, Inspiration

 

 

 

The Writer’s Chronicle

From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance & Point of View in Fiction

Writing

David Jauss

September 2000

In his story “Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway places us at a table outside a train station in Spain. Sitting at the table beside us are a man and a woman who are waiting for the train to arrive, and for the bulk of the story, we eavesdrop on their conversation, just as we might in real life. And also just as in real life, we cannot enter into their minds; we can only hear what they say and see what they do. This objective point of view is called “dramatic,” for it imitates the conventions of drama, which does not report thoughts, only words and deeds.

Like a play, Hemingway’s story consists largely of dialogue. At first, the dialogue is the smallest of small talk—the man and the woman discuss what they should drink, etc.—but there is some tension between them, something unmentioned that lurks beneath their trivial conversation, and our interest is piqued. Two pages into this five-page story, the man finally broaches, however indirectly, the subject that is causing their tension: the woman is pregnant, and she wants to have the baby and he doesn’t. Though the man says repeatedly that he is “perfectly willing” to go through with the pregnancy, he is doing his best to pressure her into having an abortion. Eventually, his protestations of selfless concern for her wear out her patience, and she asks him to “please please please please please please please stop talking.” The conversation over, he picks up their suitcases and carries them to the other side of the station, and we follow him there.

At this point in the story, Hemingway momentarily abandons the dramatic point of view and tells us the man “looked up the tracks but could not see the train.” In this sentence, Hemingway reveals something that cannot be externally observed—what the man was unable to see—and so moves us a little way into his mind, reducing the distance between us and him ever so slightly. And two sentences later, Hemingway completes the segue that sentence begins, taking us even farther inside the character and reducing the distance significantly. He writes that the man “drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train.” Notice that word reasonably. This word violates the objective, dramatic point of view even more than the statement that the man did not see the train, for it tells us not just what the man sees—or, in this case, fails to see—but the man’s opinion about what he sees. Just as Hemingway could have written “He looked up the tracks” without going on to tell us whether or not the man saw the train, he could have written simply “They were all waiting for the train” without conveying the man’s opinion that they were all waiting “reasonably.”

If Hemingway had done this, he would have maintained consistency of point of view, and according to virtually every discussion of the subject I have ever read or heard, consistency of point of view is an essential element of good fiction writing. But for my money, the word reasonably is the most important word in the story and Hemingway’s shift in point of view is the single smartest move in a story full of smart moves. In the context of their argument over the abortion, this word implies that the man considers the woman unreasonable, unlike the people in the bar—and, of course, unlike him. This implication complicates the story considerably and thereby rescues it from potential melodrama. How does the word reasonably complicate the story? Although it’s clear that the man is trying to manipulate the woman into doing what he wants—all the while absolving himself of any responsibility for the decision—it isn’t clear whether he is consciously doing so. If he is, he would be a relatively simple villain, and the woman, who agrees to have the abortion, a relatively simple victim. The story would veer therefore in the direction of melodrama, which thrives on the simple, knee-jerk emotions that result from the mistreatment of victims by villains. But if the man believes what he is saying, then he is a relatively complex character, someone whose behavior stems from self-delusion, not one-dimensional villainy, and the story immediately becomes too complex to evoke the simple responses of melodrama. It is essential, then, that the reader knows what the man thinks about himself and the woman. If Hemingway had maintained the dramatic point of view throughout, as most commentators on point of view would recommend, we would never know whether the man was a conscious, Machiavellian villain or a self-deluded person. But Hemingway wisely shifts his point of view, twice moving into the character to reveal, with increasing depth, the man’s thoughts. In my opinion, this is a brilliant example of how a writer can use the technical resources of point of view to manipulate distance between narrator and character, and therefore between character and reader, in order to achieve the effect he desires.

If anyone finds this helpful, I will post more. (Next is a piece by Chekhov, and then it goes into various levels of omni)

If anyone finds this helpful, I will post more. (Next is a piece by Chekhov, and then it goes into various levels of omni)

If anyone finds this helpful, I will post more. (Next is a piece by Chekhov, and then it goes into various levels of omni)

If anyone finds this helpful, I will post more. (Next is a piece by Chekhov, and then it goes into various levels of omni)

(3) Virgin’s Diary: Lucy

June 29th, 2006

Deep Genre; Introduction; Part 1; Part 2; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6;

Part 3

[Sidebar – Last night Vaquero did a solo concert of his songs and music at the Bowery Poetry Club.  When friends ask what I was doing this summer, my stock answer was, “I’m writing about vampires.”  Every single one of them responded, “Real ones?”  This left me puzzled until a political journalist from one of the weekly’s responded, “Good for you.  Everybody should be writing about them.”  Lightbulb.  Everyone thought I was writing about the inhabitants of that crypt called Washington, D.C.  The ruling class characterized as vampires is a long tradition.  See the political cartoons, for instance, of Stoker’s era, depicting the Anglo-Irish landowners as vampires sucking the blood of the Irish people.  There will be more about this later.]

Virgin’s Diary skips Harken’s journey and begins within what would be Stoker’s Chapter 5.  Lucy Westenra (danced by Tara Birtwhistle) narrates that she’s received three proposals from three different men, all on the same day.  Lucy wonders why things are such that she cannot have all three of her suitors.  The title board says, “Why need I settle for one?”

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Carol’s Interview

June 28th, 2006

This must be the day for posting interviews. The Rocky Mountain
Fiction Writers have just posted an interview with me on their site. Just click on the [Read the Interview] link. RMFW is a regional organization of published and unpublished writers. We have a diverse membership which leans heavily to mystery writers like CJ Box, Margaret Cole, and Diane Mott Davidson, as well as romance, and mainstream/literary writers, so it’s pretty cool for a fantasy writer to cop an honor!

And now, back to your scheduled vampire essays…
Carol

(2) Virgin’s Diary: Form as Gender Destiny Correlative

June 28th, 2006

Deep Genre; Introduction; Part 1; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6;

Part 2 

The silent and expressionist film and ballet techniques of exaggeration allow Virgin’s Diary to particularize, to emphasize, the mirror-aspects of  Stoker’s tale, in which each era sees its own varieties of sexual and gender conflicts reflected.  Thus it is interesting to note that Virgin’s Diary lacks one of the primary conventions of Stoker’s vampires, the absence of a mirror’s reflection.  Perhaps that is because movies and ballets are conventionally played to a multi-member audience. The players are the audience’s mirror of whatever self the members project upon them.

The art of ballet, like Stoker’s classic vampire tale, stands as a correlative for the use of women until they are used up whether within or without the marriage bond.  The rigors of the ballet art break down a ballerina’s body.  Sex, which leads to the rigors of childbirth break women down, as is Lucy Westenra’s mother is broken down, who dies in both Stoker and Diary, because she’s of no use now, not even to the plot.  It has been considered a puzzle, this inclusion of frail, sick Mrs. Westenra and her death, whether in Stoker or the Diary.  It is considered an irrelevancy that distorts the tale.  However, her inclusion and her death underlines (exaggeration and distortion) that this is the life trajectory of women: from freshness (once she was as Lucy is now), to injury-illness-invalidism, monsterhood, death – to be immediately replaced with fresh, untainted virginal blood, like the new, 17-year-old prima replaces the injured prima ballerina assoluta, like the pure Mina Murphy-Harker replaces Lucy Westenra the Monster. Continue Reading »

David Louis Edelman Interviewed by John Scalzi

June 28th, 2006

Not to detract from Constance’s five- or six-part discussion of vampires, ballet, film, genre, sex, and Buffy… but I thought I’d mention that John Scalzi (author of Hugo and Campbell Award nominee Old Man’s War, as well as The Ghost Brigades) has posted a great interview with me about my just-released novel Infoquake.

Go open the interview up in another browser tab for later perusal (you’re surfing with Firefox, right?) and then go on and read Constance’s posts. That’s an order. :-)

(1) Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary (2003):

June 27th, 2006

Deep Genre; Introduction Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6;

Part 1

This is an admirable addition to the canon of vampire films.

 

 

Virgin’s Diary is particularly intriquing because it combines 3 creative forms: novel, film and ballet. Additionally, Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and German director Murneau’s Nosferatu (1922), on which this film-ballet is based, are both progenitor works of vampire genre, making Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary a derivative work, that is also an original work. (The ballet was choreographed by Mark Godden for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet company in the late 1990′s.)

In this film Canadian director Guy Maddin employed the silent cinema conventions of superimposed images, irises, odd angles and title cards. From director Murnau he borrowed the signatures of expressionist cinema – distortion, exaggeration, and extreme metaphor, with an emphasis on composition and shadow play – perfect for filming a vampiric story ballet.  Murnau’s was the first way we saw vampires on film (there were stage productions of vampiric works even before Stoker’s novel was published).

 

 

Maddin added gouts of color here and there throughout the film: scarlet blood, glowing green and gold money, the dark, sticky crawl of the vampire’s trajectory out of the primitive east to civilized England. The soundtrack is Gustav Mahler, thickened with occasional source sound additions such as the penetration of fangs and stakes, the ugly whack of a beheading.

Maddin mated the film techniques of Murnau’s plague infestation theme with Bram Stoker’s delirious sexual confusions. The title card texts are direct quotes from the Stoker novel.  The characters are Stoker’s, played by dancers in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company.  Though there’s a veneer of  irony, it’s very thin, for this is a ballet based on a work from the era of melodrama theater, where Stoker spent much of his working life. Dracula was adapted to the stage almost immediately upon publication.  (An interesting aside: the same year Dracula was published,  Kipling wrote his poem, “The Vampire,” to accompany an exhibition of painting by Philip Burne-Jones.)

Many of the actors in the movies from the silent era received their training in the theater, a theater before microphones.  Their exaggerated gestures and expressions were meant to project from down stage to the back row of the house; they evolved out of pantomime and earlier public entertainment forms.  With certain refinements these are still used by ballet dancers, the best of whom are actors as well as dancers.  Their technique is a rigorously trained combination of controlled exaggeration and perceived delicacy.

This rhetoric of ballet technique is an informative mirror in which to reflect the Dracula text, while unpacking the erotic contradictions and cautions embedded in the text.  Stoker’s vampire novel is about the ever-shifting values of sex and gender.  What is womanhood? What is manhood? Is sex evil?  These questions are asked on nearly every page. Since these confusions and conflicts are present in any era, in any person’s life, it is unsurprising that Dracula has never been out of print since its publication.

The ballets in the film delineate in clear actions of the body these conflicts and confusions are.  The Blood Brotherhood of True Men, led by Van Helsing, are mirrored by the Vampiric Harem Trinity, submissive to Dracula. The medical examination of Lucy by Van Helsing is as invasive as Dracula’s fangs, equally lascivious but without the seductive glamor and pleasure of the Dark Kiss.  It is comic, but it is ugly, not fun.  Nor does Lucy respond to Van Helsing’s clumsy gropings – she lies unconscious, inert, whereas touched by the Dark Lover’s delicacy, she responded with every part of her body.   All actions are mirrored by their opposites, but their state is fluid.  It is ‘good’ for Van Helsing to examine Lucy, but it is demeaning.  It is bad for Dracula to bite Lucy, but it is breathtaking, and the bite lifts her out of herself.  What is good today tomorrow will be evil. We are lost in a hall of mirrors.  There are no final answers.
 

Intro: Deep Genre In Action – Bloody Ballet – Dracula

June 26th, 2006

(This is the first of about 6 installments that will be coming daily, reflecting the thoughts I’ve had around genre, using as a launching platform this film, vampires and Dracula.)

Introduction:

TO START WITH:  Confession. Vampires per se haven’t much interested me, as creatures or as a genre.  I have friends who have remained fascinated by vampires their whole lives, from childhood until now, way up in adulthood.  My first encounter with vampires was the movie Black Sunday, when I was a little girl, at a slumber party, on our local television station’s weekend Horror Theater.  All around the living room girls screamed, squealed and shrieked and hid their faces in quilts and sleeping bags and pillows.  I did not understand why.  The exotic setting with grand ruins, brooding skies, horse drawn coaches did appeal to me, but that was about it.

I did read Bram Stoker’s Dracula the first time I found a copy in my university library, and have re-read it 3 times since.  I did read Interview With a Vampire, and liked it enormously.  But it did not hold up to a second reading, and the subsequent volumes were of even less interest (to me, let me stress – obviously a lot of readers feel quite different about that!).

On occasion, at a friend’s home, I tried to watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer, since so many people I like and respect were mad about the show.  Couldn’t get anywhere with it, I’m so television-challenged (have lived without a television since I left high school).

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Stupid Writer Tricks: Cast Your Characters

June 26th, 2006

Here’s a writing trick that’s so simple and so effective that I’m surprised I haven’t read it elsewhere. (And if it has been discussed elsewhere, someone post the link so I can give proper credit. I’m too lazy to Google for it.)

The trick is: cast all of the characters in your story with recognizable Hollywood actors as you write.

Why? The reason is very simple. It’s the easiest way to keep track of the details about your characters from eye and hair color to voice inflection and mannerism. After you’ve spent a month or two following an alternate plotline, by the time you return to the main story you may not remember what color the main character’s hair is, or whether the viscount’s sister’s brother-in-law was supposed to be skinny or fat.

But chances are you do remember what Sean Connery looks like with your eyes closed. You could describe Kevin Bacon circa Footloose or James Doohan circa The Wrath of Khan without any mental strain whatsoever. You know exactly how sassy Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was in The Abyss, and how her voice sounded, and you probably have a good idea of how she’d react when confronted with a robot rebellion on the fourth moon of Xigg. (Mary Elizabeth, incidentally, was the model I used for a character in Infoquake. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know who.)

My first reaction when I thought up this technique was that it would inhibit the writer’s creativity. On the contrary, it sets you free to focus that creative brain of yours on more important matters. It’s just a mnemonic device to help you remember details. And with the wide range of recognizable Hollywood actors out there, you’re certain to find someone that you can cast for every character in your book.

Is this going to spoil your readers’ imaginations? Not at all. Obviously you’re not going to tell them who you’ve cast. And I defy you to write a description of any Hollywood actor that your readers will be able to recognize, without being given the name. (Okay, I’m sure there are a few. Danny DeVito. Gilbert Gottfried. John Candy.)

So go write a casting sheet for every character in your novel or short story. Yes, every single damn one, major or minor. And don’t worry, through the magic of the imagination, you won’t even have to pay any royalties.

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