Why Orphans Are So Important in Stories

Oliver TwistFrom Charles Dickens to countless modern works, including some of my own stories, orphans are among the most common characters in fiction. I find this especially true in fantasy – so much so that The Orphan might have its own place among the pantheon of other iconic fantasy figures such as The Soldier, The Peasant, The King. But at what point do these figures become bland labels that define the character more than his or her actual traits?

Fantasy, a genre that so often pulls characters from the grab bag of tropes on display in either The Lord of the Rings or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, has received countless literary complaints over its apparent lack of variety. When a book’s first act describes a backwoods young farmer – unwise to the ways of the world (and obviously having some convenient prior experience with weapons via hunting) – I automatically assume that said farmer will be sitting on a throne before the end. Continue reading

Nothing New Under the Sun

Shadow of doubtThe more I read the more I realize that every idea – every idea at all – has already been taken. “There is nothing new under the sun”, the famous quote from King Solomon goes. And while I suspect this is a woefully misquoted verse, it seems to have veracity under most interpretations. And, gosh darn-it, he was saying that long before Christ!

As authors (or artists looking to bring something unique into the world), where does that leave us? Perhaps some of the greatest writers in history felt this inner demon attack on creativity, so maybe we’re not in bad company, but that doesn’t change the nagging suspicion.

A writer’s doubts cling to him or her like a shadow. Glance over your shoulder or into a mirror and you’ll find it. If you don’t, you haven’t done anything risky or creative or vulnerable enough to earn doubt. But perhaps this particular doubt should be cut down a little to a more manageable and realistic scale.  Continue reading

“Throw Rocks at Them”

Having to read my work aloud, even to someone close, makes me self-concious. It’s here — as the words are read to ears other than our own — that most of us question our writing’s adequacy.

I’ve been reading my manuscript (which I still refer to simply as Brisha) to someone at their request, and since we only have pieces of time here and there, I wonder about things like connectivity and plot complications, which lead to remarks on story arc and the strength of character development.

I ask openly if my audience of one is keeping track of everything and understanding characters, which only displays my self-concious attitude, because if she didn’t get what was happening, I would know that the shortcoming was mine and not hers. Continue reading

The Malazan Series

1st book of the series.

1st book of the series.

It has taken me three years–three full years in which I also read plenty in between each book–to finish all ten books in Steven Erikson’s gargantuan fantasy series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen. 

Being the longest series I’ve ever read, and possibly the longest series of epic fantasy (Jordan’s is thirteen books, but at least 6 out of Erikson’s 10 are well over 1000 pages), I feel that this is a momentous occasion. It’s an accomplishment that leaves me stunned when I think about actually writing that much. But to quote from Erikson’s forward in the tenth book: “What’s three and half million words between friends?”

Well–a lot of time, I suppose. And, as volumes this size go, quite a lot of those words were absolutely worth it. On occasion a book would drag on–get wrapped up in itself and set out on unnecessary detours. But mostly I just couldn’t get enough. And now that it’s all over I’m feeling…nostalgic. Continue reading

Stranger than Fiction

Sometimes our world offers up images that really are stranger than fiction.

Photo taken by Andrew Biraj.

Photo taken by Andrew Biraj.

This is a photo I found on Time Magazine’s website. Here’s the URL if you want to see more: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/01/25/pictures-of-the-week-january-18-january-25/#23. The caption reads simply: ” boy plays with balloons by Buriganga river as smoke emits from a dump yard during sunset in Dhaka.”

I don’t know why, out of all the other photos I looked at, this one stuck with me. When I first saw it I didn’t think, “Now, that’s a pic I can blog about. The title will read ‘Stranger than Fiction.'” I looked at the rest then left my computer for a while before coming back and finding it again.

It’s like a dream. That one image. An odd, hazy sort of dream half remembered. A boy grips a cluster of balloons and stands in the middle of a world of smoke and waste. (That would have been my caption).

It’s one of those dreams from which you wake somehow still emotionally invested in a story you can’t recall. Who was that boy? His features are indistinct. You can’t remember his smile or the color of his eyes. But you have the color of his dazzling balloons. You have the smoldering ground he stands on. You can almost smell it — the sick and sulfur smell of that world.

I don’t know why this image affected me the way it did, but sometimes we look at things like this and we think, “Wow, that photographer captured the lighting and color so well. I wish I could do that.”

Sure. he did. But I caught myself thinking about that kid. Nothing distinct. Just thoughts about who he was and where he was headed.

From the picture it looks like his reality is stranger than my fiction.

Maybe that’s all we need to understand.