Writing Journal: Fairy Tale Clichés

15d36b45535aae5f4059390444a98b26I have recently found myself returning to some fairy tale clichés such as the Seventh Son of the Seventh Son, the white stag, and such. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if I found a hidden King, Prince, or Princess in my wanderings through my new world. This return to childhood has brought to mind some of the more cliché things in the Christian world. There are some passages of the Bible and some hymns that everyone uses. Not just Christians memorize these passages, but nominal Christians, and just everyday Americans. Sometimes this devalues them in our eyes. We hear them applied incorrectly, or taken out of context, or just used over and over and over until we become dulled to their beauty. The two that come to mind most often are the 23 Psalm and Amazing Grace. How often do we hear these two beautiful and wonderful things used by people who don’t understand them at all? And yet, does that mean we should stop using them just because they are overused?

Let me tell you about why I’m in love with these two clichés:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;

-Psalm 23:4

I love the imagery of this verse. I love the idea of walking through the valley. Not flying over the mountain tops, kissed by the sun. No, the image is of walking, which is slow, through a valley of shadows. This is a deep dark valley with high mountain walls on either side. Mountains so high the valley is always dark. And notice the name of the valley. It’s not the valley of the shadow of lack of comfort, or the valley of frustration, or the valley of the shadow of poverty, but the valley of the shadow of Death.

Death, dear beloved, is the darkest water we must pass through and very little in this world makes death light. We fear it and, as believers, we understand it is the ultimate price for our sin. But, we also know Christ paid that ultimate price. One of the speakers at the ARBCA-GA conference I recently attended, Pastor Michael Kelly, pointed out that death is proof that God keeps His promises. Have you ever considered that? Death was the promised curse for sin and we die. Death is proof that God keeps His promises.

36e454014f10fe9978e95ded4f546d47So, I walk—not run, not fly—walk through—not over or around—but through. I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death. We all must walk this valley at one time or another. I will fear no evil for you are with me. I won’t be afraid because Christ is with me. This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It is rich in truth, reminds us of God’s promise keeping and is a great encouragement because life is often dark and fearful. Don’t let over use and misuse steal the beauty of this verse from you.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Many people get tired of this song. It’s applied to the worst of sinners who have no sign of grace in their lives. It’s used sentimentally to garner particular emotions. But, if it’s one of the hymns you love, you can use these situations to feed on truth. You can enjoy its doctrine no matter how poorly the user might intend it.

Ponder the words. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

Have more beautiful words ever been penned by man? The older I get the more obvious and multi-layered my sin becomes. I was unaware as a young child, saved at an early age, of just how indoctrinated, insidious, and putrid sin is. I was unaware of how sinful I could be. I had no idea. But, amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. I love this song for all its lack of luster. I love it despite the abuse it suffers at the hands of emotionalism.

My plan is to work both of these clichés into my new Fairy Tale. I have a character who is a good man fighting on the wrong side of the war. Meaning he’s on the side of evil. He loves to read and quote old and forgotten phrases. He will quote both these at some point before his death. Yes, I already know he’s going to die. They won’t be worked in just as quotes by this character I love so much, they will  be themes throughout the story. One of the biggest influences for this particular character is a song that I treasure called the Soldier and the Oak by Elliot Park. The line that is driving me is:

But one day a rebel with a bullet in his chest
Hung his rifle on my limbs and laid to rest
And there beside me as the blood soaked to my roots
The soldier sang
A song of grace

I love the line: The soldier sang a song of grace. The beauty of this song is that the very familiar tune of Amazing Grace is worked into the main tune of the song. It is perfectly done. And my poor soldier will sing a song of grace at the end of his time.

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Sometimes the clichés are clichés because they are so beautiful, and so rich, we have to keep going over them. And because I’m a fairy tale writer, I get to indulge my love of them a little more.

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Writing Journal: Timeline

I’m a pantser, as most of you other writers know.  I’ve done a fair amount of writing about being a pantser over the years.  You can read the article I wrote featured on the Magill Review here.

Because I’m a pantser who abhors all things outline related, my stories come out a bit on the messy side in the first rough draft.  I’m aiming for a particular goal when a great idea or plot point derails me, and I’m off chancing that rabbit until I sort out how it connects with the rest of the story.

dugsquirrel

Squirrel!

Case in point, my WIP(work in progress): Icicle Rain started out as a revenge story.  Two friends commit a crime.  Deke goes to prison.  Jonah accepts the mercy offered to him.  Deke languishes in prison feeling betrayed by Jonah.  He breaks out determined to get revenge.  Now that I’ve grown more comfortable in my new world, gotten to know my characters better, and fleshed out the political lines, the story has turned into an epic war story.  (Surprised?)  The kernel of the revenge story is still there, it’s just no longer the main driving force.

Let’s look under the hood of novel-writing.  Behind every well-written story is a complex timeline of events.  One the reader may never ever see.  It lists out everything from hair and eye color to seasons and day-by-day actions.  It tracks where and when each major player is at all times regardless of whether it’s a scene in the book or not.  It tracks weather.  It makes sure everyone ends up at the right place at the right time.  It even tracks chapter breakdown and has character portraits.  (A writer has to remember who has a big nose and who doesn’t.)

So, each morning as I add a new scene, or edit an old one, or both, I make little adjustments to my Timeline page.  When I first started writing, I wouldn’t start the timeline until I finished the first rough draft.  But as I developed stronger writing muscles and my stories became more complex, I began my Timelines whenever my brain became confused and muddled by facts.

With Icicle Rain, I started the Timeline at the same time I started the book.  I had three or four characters in my head, one or two magical abilities, a couple of scenes, and an undeveloped setting.  Over the next few weeks, that grew into a handful of chapters, ten or so characters, and four days of plot points.

For the first time, I’m recording events on my Timeline as they happen in the book.  I’m adding and adjusting the Timeline as I add and adjust the story.  I always make sure the Timeline file is open alongside the story file.

What has this done for me?

  • First, it’s let me see my progress as a writer.  I believe having the Timeline open from the beginning shows a level of commitment and professionalism.  It shows my growing confidence in my storytelling and writing abilities.  Before I would have just written, let the chips fall where they may, and sorted it out later.  Now I know what editing is like and I’m trying to save myself some work up front in the initial rough draft.  I think, and hope, that this is growth in my ability to write.  I know what’s coming when the books done, so I plan for it now.
  • Second, it’s let me watch the world grow.  This is a new world, a new writing style, a new voice for me.  No matter what genre or age group I write, I have signature elements: darkness, damage to the hero, healing heroines, grace, mercy, hope, friendship, and ultimately light overcoming the darkness in the end after a long hard road.  But this brave new world is not modern, it’s futuristic, it pulls from my other world, for sure, but it’s very different.  It’s a fairy tale.  This has allowed me to be more poetic in my descriptions, mythical in my creations, and mysterious with my magic.  Those of you who have read any of my other stories will recognize some echoes from those worlds, but seen in a new light.  The Timeline allows me to see the world grow in a more truncated format than the chapter-by-chapter story.
  • Third, it’s helped me be aware of timeframe conflicts earlier on.  Instead of writing, writing, writing, reaching plot point 24 and realizing nothing is coming together correctly, I’m on plot point 4 making sure everything’s moving forward at the right pace.  When I see they aren’t, I adjust either the story or the Timeline.  This gives me a greater sense of control and helps me see where I need to go.

How is this not outlining the story?  It is in a way.  It’s outlining in hindsight.

Gamers are familiar with the Fog of War.

Gamers are familiar with the Fog of War.

Any story I’ve ever written has a goal.  I’m either working towards a scene or exploring two characters.  But, I still don’t know what twist and turns the story is going to take.  Icicle Rain still has big dark patches.  I know how I think I’d like it to end at this point, but I’m not sure of the exact path to get there.  I know what I want to happen in the next few days to each of the main characters, but I’m not sure how that’s all going to play out.  Keeping a Timeline as I go let’s me see where I’ve been but leaves the future dim.

And, I like it that way.

I like the not knowing because it lets me hear the story for the first time.  I get to be sad, happy, touched, and angry as I’m writing.  I don’t know yet how all the threads weave together.  It’s exciting and motivating just like when I read a book I’ve never read before.  I can’t wait to pick it up and find out what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to come together.  It keeps me turning the pages.  It keeps me typing and dreaming.  That’s why I’m a pantser, a reverse outliner, a Timeliner.