Interrogating the Text #3: Michael Corradi Wields a “Ghiling Blade”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here

Michael Corradi’s “The Ghiling Blade”, which appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a story that stayed with me and haunted me for some time after I finished reading it.  It was a powerful story taking place in a world that was rich with wonder and amazement.  Unfortunately, as it appeared in a print mag, I can’t link you to it (but if you can track down back issues of the magazine for a reasonable price, I’d recommend it just for this story), so after reviewing the story I’ll try to provide a little context about the story before getting to the writing lessons.

So, the review:  I absolutely enjoyed this story.  Oftentimes, though, when I enjoy a story I can still find some little thing that wasn’t quite right, that didn’t set well with me.  That is not the case with “The Ghiling Blade”.  I can honestly say that this story was a nearly perfect execution of style, ideas, theme, character, and plot.  It surprised and delighted me, and its world has already wormed its way under my skin.  It has been quite some time now since I read this story, and I still think back to it, and have already been comparing my ideas and my stories against the sheer wonder this story induced in me.  My only caveat to this uncompromisingly positive review relates to the main character’s name, which falls into the trap of the fantasy-cliche-pointless-apostrophe.  The only other word of caution: this is a dense story filled to the brim with things fantastical and amazing.  The world it portrays is very far from the mundanities of our own reality.  If you’re familiar and comfortable with fantasy fiction in general, or with the unusual and the bizarre, this will be a comfortable and exciting read.  But if you’re not, there’s a lot to take in and process in this story.

So, that dispenses with that.  But what was this story about?  Well, for starters, it was a fantasy.  There was magic.  There were epic battles between the massive armies of powerful nations.  There were bizarre and alien gods inhabiting otherworldly temples. Continue reading

Approaching a Theme: Writing from your Character’s Moral Framework

Last week, in linking to an article about the running theme of Pixar’s movies, I mentioned that I wanted to return to the subject of Theme in writing

Now, I’m no expert.  By which I mean: I have not, as yet, published a novel. That’s a correctable shortcoming, and one that will eventually be corrected.  In the meantime, I’ve thought a lot about the idea of Theme in my writing.  But because I’m no expert, I want first to point you toward the thoughts of someone who might reasonably be called an expert; in that regard, get thee to this post on the Magical Words blog on the subject of Theme.  When finished, you may return here, where I will wax further on the topic.

Okay, done with Lucienne Diver‘s article, now?  Good.  Now, let’s talk about Theme.  Continue reading

Writing Quote: In the Air

I don’t often pick writing quotes that I disagree with (okay, I can’t say I’ve ever done it, to date), but this week I thought it was appropriate.  (10 Points and the House Cup to whoever can identify the thematic link between today’s Writing Quote and this week’s posts.  I don’t intentionally pick a theme each week, and many weeks I don’t have a consistent theme, I just blog about what comes up, but a lot of times I’m able to draw out some common threads from most of the week’s posts.  That’s one of my special powers.)  So, here’s today’s quote:

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air.  All I must do is find it, and copy it.

~Jules Renard

On one hand, I agree that in principle, the story I’m writing “exists” – but not in the way Renard here suggests.

The idea that the stories we are writing already exist and that the characters about whom we write are real people with their own wills is a popular conceit among writers.  And though I mean no offense to writers who subscribe to this way of thinking, I disagree with it pretty strongly.  The characters I creat are just that: my creations.  They exist only in my head.  They have no independent will.  When I create characters, I try to give them the traits and qualities of real people, but ultimately this is to serve the story. Continue reading

Personality Tests: “Birkman” for Writers (Part 2)

So, yesterday (link goes to Part 1, yesterday; there is also an addendum here) I began by talking about this personality test I learned about during my MBA called the “Birkman”.  I think from that post it’s pretty clear that I’m generally dubious of personality tests, in general, but I’ve discovered in the Birkman a tool with a lot of flexibility and a little more honesty about the complex creatures that we are.  And I said I’d go into more detail about how this tool can be used by a writer.

I’ve been excited to write this post for weeks now, but I knew it would be a big topic, and one that would require a lot of background and explanation.  With as busy as I’ve been these past few weeks, I just hadn’t had the opportunity to do this topic justice.  But here it is, at last!  Warning… this is a massive post… with a lot of detail.  Good luck reading it! Continue reading

Personality Tests: “Birkman” for Writers (Part 1)

Note: this is part one.  Read Part two here, and an additional addendum here.

Personality Tests

One of the interesting sidelights of the MBA experience, for me, has been my new exposure (and newfound appreciation for) Personality Tests.  Most of you have heard of the Myers-Briggs test, and the different types.  Most of us even use Myers-Briggs terminology when we describe ourselves: that being whether we are an extrovert or an introvert (though we typically use the terms differently from the way Myers-Briggs means it).  

I don’t know about  you, but I personally have a love-hate relationship with the Myers-Briggs.  I find the concepts intriguing, but the execution and classification to be dense and misleading.  Considering how popular it is, the somewhat misleading nature of the test can be dangerous if employed in the workplace, for instance.  It’s also been my experience that the Myers-Briggs is not, shall we say, as fixed as the creators would have you believe.  I’ve seen my MBTI-type change over time, depending on my mood at the time of the test.  There is just something left to be desired by this overly simplistic classification system.

Introducing the Birkman

So, I was initially skeptical when introduced to the “Birkman Method” in connection with the MBA program I’m in.  It’s just another way for someone to think they know me when they don’t know me, I reasoned.  But, I’ll be honest again, with my Birkman report in hand, I think I’m converted to the potential value of tests like this.  I can even see how this would be useful if deployed within a proper context within the workplace.  I can even see how I can use this tool as a writer. Continue reading

Writing Quote: Neurosis & Emotion

Touching on the theme of fellow blogger/writer-in-training T.S. Bazelli’s writing prompt for last week, I’ve been thinking on the importance of emotion in what we write.  Perhaps that’s why this quote jumped out at me.

The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.

~William Styron

Neurosis, itself, is a bit of a loaded term, implying mental disorder, irrational behavior, and bizarre phobias.  But I think there’s something to be learned from the deeper implications of Styron’s quote, here.  And that’s that a simple, happy, unchallenged life provides little by way of grist for the writer’s mill.

The raw materials of the writer’s craft are, first, words, and second, emotions.  Emotions are the stuff of human beings, and insofar as a writer can capture emotions with words, then a writer has the ability to create characters that are compelling and engaging.  And that’s not a feat easily done.

The point suggested here is simple: it’s easier to write about emotions when you’ve felt emotions.  And a good story – a story with compelling characters and a compelling plot – is a story in which the characters are not always happy.  Characters in such a state of that by implication have no challenge, no urgent need, no impetus with which to drive the story.  The fuel of the story is the character’s dissatisfaction, regret, pain, confusion, uncertainty, fear, love, obsession, passion, hunger.  Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.  Need is the mother of plot – a character has to have an unmet need, and a character with an unmet need is a character with a complex emotional response.

So chew on that for a while, as you contemplate the midbook lull… what need leaves your character unfulfilled?  How does she or he feel about that?

Happy writing.