Beyond The Nightingale Floor (§.03)

Continued from §.02


Haru and Ayumu left the unconscious Daichi to his pergola and Kumiko to the wood and made way to the south, down the lower mountain region which swiftly flattened and let out into a hilly expanse where the forest grew more thickly and mist was heavy in the air. Insects swarmed thick and loud and Haru grew increasingly vexed by their continual incursions.

“We shouldn’t have let that bastard be,” Haru snapped after some five miles in silence.

“Too much trouble. We’ve places to be.”

“Aye… but…”

Ayumu turned from his companion and examined the land before them. The southern trail widened and swerved off to the right. Ayumu swiftly stepped from the path and cut into the forest.

“Where are you going?”

“We should stay off the road. There could be other slavers.”

“You think Daichi and Kumiko have confederates?”

“Possibly. Even if they don’t, they certainly have clients.”

Ayumu furrowed his brows and folded his arms as a startling thought occurred to him. He withdrew the map he had purchased from the town on the other side of Sōzō-ryoku from his inner coat pocket and unfurled it, running his right bandaged finger across the intricately drawn mountain ridge from north to south until his digit rested upon the base of the southern-most tumulus, proximal to where they currently stood.

“The only major listed settlement hereabout is Uchū Castle and the hamlets surrounding it.”

Haru turned to his companion, his visage dark with concern.

“Fools we are—we’re headed to a slaver camp.”

Ayumu folded the map and returned it to his inner coat pocket.

“If Lord Tenchi did indeed send those two rogues to intercept travelers upon the road, then surely, proceeding to the castle is foolish. If, however, they were merely denizens of the keep, servants perhaps, seeking to transcend their status, or interlopers with no roots in the region, a reward might well await us.”

“That’s sensible. Still, I don’t like it. None of it.”

“You are too fretful, Haru.”

“Perhaps it is that you are not fretful enough.”

*

Plot Forcing: Two Variations

A plot point within a story may be said to be forced if a given development occurred because of a sudden change which had no precedent within the tale.

One common form of plot forcing is sporadic, selective stupidity, the condition whereby a normally competent (or brilliant) character suddenly losses all wit so that said character may be bested (this is especially common with villains as can be ascertained from a cursory review of the rogues gallery of the James Bond series) either for character or plot development (or both). For a specific example, consider the absurdist climax of the Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), whereat the film’s primary antagonist, a ruthless galactic warlord named Ronan, is bested because he is distracted for a unbelievably protracted period of time by the protagonist’s ridiculous dancing (this, I assume, was supposed to be funny). The scene made no sense as there was no precedent for such a intelligent and unhesitating character as Ronan to be utterly stunned by nothing more than exaggerated gesticulations, especially for such a long period of time, as such, the plot advancement (Ronan’s defeat) is ‘forced’ (for attempted comedic effect). This is a case where the intended effect of a given scene (comedy) stands in contrast to both the preceding plot development (impending genocide; high drama) and the propensity of the central character (Ronan; a heedless fanatic ill-inclined to distraction).

Another form of plot forcing (and to my knowledge the most common) is precedentless character enhancement, wherein a character encounters a situation where they are hopelessly outmatched but prevail due to no other reason than their own uniqueness, a uniqueness not previously demonstrated or even known to the character in question, which only manifests when a plotline needs to be advanced. This particular kind of plot forcing is characteristic of ‘chosen one’ narratives (such as: Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, The Wheel of Time, Supernatural and many others) wherein the ‘fate of the world’ (or some variant on the theme) rests solely upon the shoulders of the protagonist whose uniqueness and pivitol role in world events is generally explained via prophecy. Chosen one characters are typically young (I cannot recall any chosen one stories wherein the prophecized hero was elderly) and seemingly inadequate for the task, yet, despite the chosen one’s complete lack of skills they invariably triumph over the chaotic force or forces which threaten their world due to providential selection (selected by a diety or fate, etc). There are so many critiques of this particular trope that little needs to be said about why it should be avoided, so I shall name only one particular and perhaps seemingly counterintuitive problem it engenders: character limitation. In placing the providential/fated selection of a character as the primary driver of the plot (and most, if not all, the arcs within it) there is something of a hardcap which is placed upon character development; firstly, in that there is no reason at the outset for a chosen one protagonist to develop at all because they are already pre-equipped to deal with every challenge that besets them; a example of this can be observed in the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens wherein the protagonist, Rey, defeats the antagonist, Ren, in a duel, despite the fact she had never fought in such a fashion before and he had trained since his youth for martial conflict. She wins not because she is more talented, but because she’s ‘chosen,’ thus, she has to win, otherwise she’d have died and the story would be over and so again, the plot is ‘forced.’

A perceptive writer can see the problem immediately, there is no character building required, which will oft incline the author to ‘quick fixes’ in the advancement of their plot and thus also inclines towards the monotone, the predictable, the grey and unthoughtful; to boring characterization and lazy scene development.

Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer On Fiction Writing, Prt. 1

I like what I do. Some writers have said in print that they hated writing and it was just a chore and a burden. I certainly don’t feel that way about it. Sometimes it’s difficult. You know, you always have this image of the perfect thing which you can never achieve, but which you never stop trying to achieve. But I think … that’s your signpost and your guide. You’ll never get there, but without it you won’t get anywhere.

– Cormac McCarthy, Jun. 1, 2008

Fiction writing is often perceived, and subsequently spoken of, as if it were some magical art, some eldritch and impenetrable ability of numinous convocation which arrives and departs from the conscious mind like a furious blast of ball-lightening (which, interestingly enough, are theorized to be responsible for the numerous cases of real spontaneous combustion throughout history). Whilst reaching towards (and ultimately grasping) the numinous should be the end goal of all of the higher forms of fiction, it is a mistake to view the craft as solely the providence of arcane geniuses, as a venture which can only be undertook at the precise moment of inspiration.

Inspiration is all fine and dandy but it is wholly insufficient in and of itself to create a substantial work of art. A work of fiction which is nothing but inspirationally driven is one which is wholly impulsively driven; it is much the same as a grand and beautifully crafted ship without its rudder! It might well inspire a kind of awe but it won’t be able to move an inch and will invariably capsize in the coming storm, lost to all and every man beneath the thunderous swell of bio-hum. There is also the problem of time in relation to a work of fiction; whilst it is never wise to make haste when writing a novel or short story for the sake of speed itself there must also be reasonable timetables set forth for the writer if he or she is ever to finish the project upon which they are so arduously plying their talents. It is a highly romanticized conception of the writer as a powerfully minded yet tragically underappreciated soul which ultimately leads to nothing but stagnation. If you aren’t a genius or a consistent partaker in Ginsbergesque ritualism then it is highly unlikely that bold and evocative inspiration sufficient to carry the entirety of setting, plot, characters and theme will oft strike; this is, in no wise, a bad thing!

Contrary to the romanticized American conception of the fiction writer, he treats his work in much the same fashion as might a lumberjack or gas station clerk. He gets up early, takes notes, watches his time, writers consistently (preferably daily) and passionately and has a distinct objective in mind whilst he is doing so. That is, if he wishes to be a successful writer in the total sense of the term, meaning, successful both financially and, far more importantly, artistically. It is here I would offer some mild advice to those amongst you who aspire to write fiction in any wise (hopefully without being too boorish in so doing).

  • Purchase or borrow a note book or journal (I much prefer leather-bound journals for their superior aesthetic appeal and durability) and take notes whilst you are away from your computer (unless, that is, you still do the work on a typewriter!). This helps not only flesh out already established ideas, but also preserves new ideas that might otherwise perish in the bottomless marsh of forgetfulness
  • Don’t read whilst you write. Meaning: do not take up another work of fiction whilst you are engaging in your own work. The reason for this is simple; originality. Whilst one should most certainly shun originality for its own sake there is a tendency for the “voice” and style of more powerful and skilled writers to overtake the minds (and thus the page) of those, less versed in the craft. It is extremely important for the avid writer to read and read widely and deeply, but not at the same time he plies his trade as this threatens the authenticity of the piece.
  • Concentrate upon the theme of the story before everything else. A story, no matter how exciting the action, plot or characters will ultimately be nothing more than a mere confection of the intellect without philosophical grounding; without ideas which one wishes to build upon, expound, communicate and spread.
  • Don’t overly fret over grammar and instead focus on authenticity within the framework of the world which you are creating. That is to say, if you are writing a sentence and find it pleasing and perfectly suited to describing some situation crucial to the plot then do not there deviate to grammatical puritanism. After all, any true blunders you do make will be fixed by the editor upon the completion of the manuscript.
  • Most importantly, actually practice writing. Set a schedule and stick to it. The simplest, but hardest of “skills” for a writer to master (I include myself in this criticism!)

Now that we have that out of the way we shall turn our attention to the actual structure of a story and what it is that makes certain stories standout, that is, what makes them good. To speak not at all about any particular theme, a truly great work of art will always deal with three things: sex, violence and death. It is my opinion that any work of art which deals not at all with this omnipresent trio of human universals is not worthy of one’s time or, indeed, of really being called a work of art at all.

[to be continued in prt.2]