"I Aim To Misbehave"

[Bjorn] shouldered in and out among them as though they had been so much undergrowth, until he found Erland in their midst. He went straight up to Erland, without fuss or stir of any sort, and hit him between the eyes as hard as ever he could.

fight!

Most of us are bound to have some kind of scrap or another turn up in our stories. For some perverse reason, writers like giving their characters a scar or two (it builds character!), and readers like holding their breath, waiting for the outcome of the action. "There need to be more battles!" my father exhorts.

I'm not going to go into the psychology (or psychosis) behind having fights in novels. Whether or not you do have fights is dictated by circumstances and the nature of the characters. On the one hand you might have, say, a Bjorn Bjornson from Rosemary Sutcliff's The Shield Ring, who slugs his opponent dead in the face for calling him a coward. In his culture, calling a fellow a coward had much more serious connotations than it necessarily does today, and the reader, picking up on that, feels a thrill as Erland goes down with a bloodied face. On the other hand, you might have a Beowulf, a man from the same kind of culture, politely passing Unferth's backhanded insult off as merely the effects of wine so that (though he knew he could beat Unferth in a heartbeat) he would not cause a stir in his father-friend's hall. The reader, picking up on that magnanimous gesture, cheers for Beowulf.

The insults, the culture, even the men (though very different in age) are very similar in both stories. So what decided that the one should fight, and the other not? What makes the one outcome as believable as the other? I'm going to sound like a broken record: know your characters. If you were to set two characters, very similar to each other, in similar situations, with similar provocation, could you be sure that they would not react perfectly alike?

The problem is, I have found, that the writer is too often caught up in the action with the character. This sort of catching up is all very well and good for a reader, because that's the purpose. But when you're trying to write a decent squabble, you can't let the blurry red of a fight get between you and the black ink on the page. Take a moment to find yourself before you plunge in, if you have to. On the other side of the coin (heads and ships, if it's Roman) if the writer is able to feel that wild buzz of excitement as the words spin off the pen, or the keys rattle beneath the fingers, chances are the reader will be able to feel it too. But the blurry red should probably take a back bench - that sort of mindset isn't conducive for clear, level-headed choreographing.

After that, put on the character's boots. Even if the whole fight is being narrated from a third party's view, getting into the place and mind of the person potentially throwing the punches helps dictate the outcome of the scene. Again, it all comes back to knowing your character. If I were writing Bjorn, I would be stalking along with a grey sick feeling in my stomach, and the annoying blurry scarlet of fury beginning to swallow up my vision until all I could see was Erland's face...but the whole section is told from Freya's view, a third person altogether. If I were writing Beowulf (that sounds horribly presumptuous), I might feel that giddy golden uprush of mead and mead-smell mingled with the firewood scent, and stand a little taller over the others than usual, smiling gently down at Unferth in a knowing sort of way, a laughing, knowing sort of way, and brush off the man's words as a man might brush off a bit of plover-down from his sleeve...though the whole scene is told as from a third person's view.

if they fight

There are scores of ways to fight, whether physically or verbally or covertly. Keep in mind that a man usually has a good idea of how to swing a fist, whereas a woman typically flings herself into the fray like a cat. A man can crush with his words, but a woman can nag and chip and wear and grind (or scream like the devil stepped on Tinker's tail). A man might stab you in the back, but they say poison is a woman's weapon. These are typical situations. Please, please, please don't have your characters use martial arts if they have never learned it. In the film "Serenity" good-guy Malcolm Reynolds goes up against the sinister Operative...and gets sorely beaten. A good story-teller won't suddenly give Malcolm fantastic skills with which to at least match the highly-trained Operative; no, Malcolm's bar-room knuckle-sandwiches, appropriate for the unsteady brawling of back-moon saloons, can't compete with the honed precision of the Operative's offensive moves. Keep it real - but also, if you don't intend to have your character die, give him a way of escape: it was the woman Inara who put black powder in the incense and effectively caused a diversion to get away.

if they don't fight

What tips the balance the other way? What smooths the hackles - if the hackles are smoothed at all? Two characters of mine, always at each other's throats, never actually come to blows. The one is far too small (and knows it) to stand a chance, and continues to not only prompt but diffuse the fury in his opponent. On a basic level, they don't use the same weapons and can't quite meet in a fight: the one is used to employing his physical attributes, the other has always relied on his wits. Though a fight is always pending, it can never quite break: it has no outlet. But people are not static: keep in mind that such a storm must break somehow: your characters as well as your plot will determine which way the two characters will fall out: either together or apart.

hurrah! for the good weapons that keep the war-god's land

If your characters fight, how do they fight? Each different character is bound to fight a little differently: if fighting is a key point of your story (a real to-the-death fight, not just a scrap of fists) you'll probably want to know the answer to this. What sort of weapon would your character's history and lifestyle have made familiar to him? In a story, you have the opportunity to choose which weapon best suits your character's personality. Keep in mind that bows take not only practice to fire accurately, but time to build up the appropriate muscles to draw. A sword is a mighty hunk of metal to be swinging around all day: even a hero's arm is bound to get tired. My fairy is unlikely to snatch up a shield and an axe and hope to have any luck with them; my big brute Catti is unlikely to pick up a bow (girlish weapons, his people call them, but perhaps only because they could never make a decent compact one) except perhaps to beat someone's brains out with it. My fairy, if inclined to fight, fights like a dance: light on his feet and quick; my Catti, when he is fighting, fights like thunder: with a bang and a boom that will knock you right over. People are of such varying temperaments and sizes, they will all come at a brawl a little differently. Keep this in mind.

the peacemaker

"They have never seen my anger, for I have never been angry before. But now I have come to the end of my patience, and now there must be justice. Now there must be justice; there may yet be mercy, but first there must be justice and a putting of all things to right."

The mark of an immature mind, and a cliche character, is that at the slightest provocation a person will fly off the handle-bars into rage. This is very childish and, unless this is a conscious point of the plot, this should probably be avoided as much as possible. Folk can go to the grocery store and listen to nap-less, short-tempered children crying if they want to experience this sort of thing.

The peacemaker is probably the most difficult character to write. By peacemaker, I don't mean "It's not going to help, having a row between you two." I mean someone with the guts and grit and wisdom and wherewithal to wrestle an explosive situation into tranquility. My mother used to tell us, "Do what makes for peace," and I have never forgotten that. It isn't a passive resistance to be irritated, it's an active and benevolent force. Sometimes it has to be a very strong force: the airforce didn't create the intercontinental missile "The Peacekeeper" for nothing. The peacemaker, whether by physical exertion, by rhetoric, or by simple presence, is the person who keeps the tapestry from snarling as it's woven together. These are such characters as Bilbo (The Hobbit), Muggles (The Gammage Cup), and Hwin (The Horse and His Boy): strong, gentle characters with surprisingly well-tempered backbone and courage. They are, I think, the most difficult character to write, but the most rewarding as well.

My father once told my brother (years ago, when we were all much younger than we are now, and the earth was young and the sun was hotter, and the light out of Elvenhome could be seen on the western horizon on Midsummer's Eve), "I don't care if you end a fight, but I don't ever want to hear that you started one." Know how to pick your fights, and how to fight them when you do - and, furthermore, learn how to diffuse them with dexterity.

"Don't much care for fancy parties. Too rough."

Beautiful People - Bunny

I know I already did my official Beautiful People post for Eikin Thrasirson, but on a whim I decided to bang out the answers to the past several months' questions for a new character of mine. I've been concentrating my energies on editing Adamantine, but just to keep my creative juices flowing I've been dabbling in some minor stories. In the spirit of that dabbling, I answered (most of) the Beautiful People questions for my fairy girl -

Bunny

She was a serious child, a serious, black-haired, dark-eyed child with flame-sparks of blue and orange in her black wings. She had her father's uncanny disposition and, uncannily, her mother's laugh. She had the gypsy-witch way about her, and her uncle said she would be a wise woman.

1. What is your character’s name?

Bunny.

2. Does her name have any special meaning?


Not in the least. Her father calls her "Bunny baby."

3. Does your character have a methodical or disorganized personality?

Bunny is very organized, though by no means minimalist. She enjoys having a lot of familiar, tidy things around her to make a sort of buffer between herself and the world. She likes feeling like a bird in its nest.

4. Does she think inside herself more than she talks out loud to her friends? (More importantly, does she have any friends?)

Bunny is extremely introspective. She rarely talks, to herself or to others. She only really began talking to other people around the age of five, though she knew perfectly well how to long before then.

5. Is there something she is afraid of?


She is afraid of the dark.

6. Does she write, dream, sing, or dance?

Bunny can do all of these things passably, but she isn’t particularly interested in any of them except singing.

7. What is her favourite book (or genre of book)?


The Lay of Colour and Glass,
an old epic poem. The author is unknown.

8. Who is her favourite author and who/what inspires her?

She has no favourite author. If pressed for an answer, she might offer the Holy Spirit. Who can argue with that, anyway?

9. What is her favourite flavour of ice cream?

There is no ice cream. Bunny has never had it. She probably wouldn’t like it if she was able to try.

10. Favourite season of the year?

Bunny enjoys autumn best. The richness of colour, the coolness, the feeling of the year lingered on the edge of twilight and all the living bustle of harvest resonate with her. She practically drinks the season in.

11. How old is she?

At the moment, Bunny is a very regal seventeen.

12. What does she do in her spare time?

Bunny has no spare time. She is always doing something, whether sewing or reading or writing, cooking or practicing the harp, or thinking. She is always busy in some way or another.

13. Does she see the big picture, or does she live only in the moment?


If you think of swallows flying to and from their holes under the eaves, that is how Bunny thinks. She is always going from the moment to the big picture and back again—like a weaver’s shuttle, she ties it all up together. She possesses a good touch of second sight, so this pattern of thought comes naturally to her.

14. Is she a perfectionist?

No, not really. She is very attentive to detail and painfully desirous of doing a good job (on occasion, when she was younger, she would get very angry when she was unable to grasp a subject) but perfection is impossible.

15. What does her handwriting look like? (Round, slanted, curly, skinny, sloppy, neat, decorative, etc.?)

Bunny has a very artistic eye and a good hand; her writing is considered some of the finest of the upper echelon.

16. What is her favourite animal?

Though something of a natural whisperer, and though almost any animal can find itself at ease around her, Bunny is most fond of horses.

17. Does she have any pets?

No, no pets.

18. Does she have any siblings, how many, and where does she fit in?


Bunny has two other siblings, both older: a sister first, and then a brother.

19. Does she have a “life verse,” and if so, what is it?

No, not really.

20. Favourite writing utensil?

An ink pen.

21. What type of laugh does she have?

Contrarily, when Bunny does laugh, it’s a very sharp laugh. She is so very soft-spoken, and so rarely-spoken, that her laugh is a little startling. She sounds exactly like her mother.

22. Who is her best friend?

Bunny is not naturally given to friendliness. Strangers often find her a little cold and reserved. But she is fiercely loyal to her family; her father and her fiancé are her dearest companions.

23. What is her family like?

Read the book of Ruth and conjure up in your mind what Boaz’s estate must have been like. Her immediate family, her “uncle” and “aunt” and “cousins,” and the people under and around them are all very close-knit and loyal to each other.

24. Does she believe in fairies?


This question is not applicable.

25. Does she like hedgehogs?

Bunny has never seen a hedgehog. I couldn’t say if she would like them or not; she would probably be ambivalent.

26. What is her favourite kind of weather?

A cool, golden autumn day with the wind up, either smelling of salt or cut hay, depending on where she is.

27. Does she have a good sense of humour? What kind is it (slapstick, wit, sarcasm, etc.)?

Bunny has a good sense of humour, but I don’t remember the last time she exercised it. She isn’t often a joking sort.

28. How did she do in school, or any kind of educations she might have had?


Bunny did very well in the theory aspects of her education; she has an extensive knowledge of history, biology, mathematics, economics, music theory, architecture, and astronomy.

29. Any strange hobbies?

As an aside, Bunny makes a study of the body’s ability to survive and manage pain. She can be unusually morbid in her queries and this, too, often puts strangers off.

30. Does she like to go outside?

Oh yes, Bunny dislikes very much being “cooped up,” as much as she likes being a bird in a comfortable nest. She is known to wander off for some time to take a walk alone.

31. Is she naturally curious?

Bunny’s mind is a honey-combed shelf of knowledge and she is constantly putting new facts and theories in it. She finds just about everything fascinating, though you might not know it to look at her. She does not often get “worked up” over her interests unless she has learned something that particularly disturbs her.

32. Right-handed, or left?

Bunny is right-handed.

33. Favourite colour?

Any rich hue of red, particularly scarlet and burgundy.

34. Where is she from?

Bunny’s time is divided between her family’s house in town and the farm.

35. Any enemies?

A serial killer whose token is a white chess knight.

36. What are her quirks?


As I mentioned before, Bunny has the second sight, or the sixth sense, or whatever you choose to call it. It manifests itself most often to strangers through an odd, eerie feeling that they cannot explain and don’t altogether like. She can usually tell if a person is any good or not merely by feeling their aura. Additionally, Bunny will occasionally dream of her parents’ past.

37. What kinds of things get on her nerves?


Injustice, bigotry, cruelty, discordant music, and her father having to be away from her for a long time.

38. Is she independent, or does she need others to help out?

On the surface Bunny comes across as very independent. She has a way of moving among people without really touching them, or seeming to need them. But without her family she would be destitute, and she depends strongly on both her father and her fiancé.

39. What is her biggest secret?


Her nightmares.

40. Has she ever been in love?

Bunny loves few, but those she loves, she loves without reserve. Her fiancé and her father hold the top rank in her affections.

41. What is her comfort food?

Bunny is not really one to derive comfort from eating, though she feels most like a bird comfortably in its feathers when she is drinking a cup of tea.

42. Does she play a musical instrument? If so, what?

Bunny can play the piano a little, but she is most at home with the harp. She is told she can conjure a beautiful tune with it.

43. What colour are her eyes? Hair?

Bunny is the image of a gypsy child. She has rich ruddy-black hair and dark eyes that will turn amber in the firelight.

44. Where is her favourite place to be?

Walking hand in hand through a country lane with her fiancé Linden, or perched on her father’s lap.

45. What are some of her dreams or goals?

Practically, Bunny wants to be a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, and the pride of the royal court. A little more fantastically, she dreams of holding everything that is beautiful in the world in her arms to soak up the light of it, and to nurture it.

46. Does she enjoy sports?


Bunny enjoys horseback riding and games of chess.

47. What is her favourite flower or plant?

The guelder rose, or “water elder.” It puts out great clouds of white flowers and its fruit are just the rich sort of redness that she loves.

The Truth About Jenny

This past Saturday evening my husband, my father, my brother, and my sister and I were all congregated in the paternal living room, chatting. The chat ranged mostly through various articles of work between my father and my brother, and at one point they touched upon the difficulty of getting the crew to habitually wear hearing protection. At this point, having a story, I felt the need to chime in.

A few weeks ago Mr Knightley had my husband, my brother, and my sister and I all out to his place to shoot. And not with cameras. Mr Knightley has a beautiful sheaf of firearms that most of us were eager to learn how to operate. (Hudson posted in more geeky terms about it here.) I was kind of leery about it at first. I'm not really a firearms sort of girl. I prefer swords and spears, bows and arrows, though personally, as far as self-defense is concerned, I'd rather go in for a River Tam or Edward Elric sort of thing.

Not like that's happening any time soon.

As an aside, I had barrel-loads of fun. But in the course of the day, as we paused to reload, I took my hearing protection off. They were hot and sweaty and giving me a headache, and I wanted a break. Even with the hearing protection on, the guns were loud, so there was no doubt in my mind about putting them back on. But I had forgot about them, and someone else stepped up to fire while I wasn't wearing the muffs.

The gun went off.

I thought lightning had exploded in my head.

I thought the heavens had been cracked in two like Moses' tablets.

I reached for my hearing protection.

I finished animatedly telling my story of audible torment, along with its pertinent moral, and I was ready to let the conversation lapse back into the subject of work. The conversation did begin again, sort of stragglingly, but within a minute in capered my five-year-old niece. She's a very sweet girl, extremely precocious, and very much her own person. She had been in the hallway listening to my story, and she ran in to take the floor, commanding our attention.

"Why did Aunt Jenny take her hearing protection off?" she asked us, getting into her joking stance.

There was a brief and reverential silence while we all waited for her to deliver the punchline of her joke.

"Because she's silly!"

Beautiful People - Eikin Thrasirson

Once a month Sky and [Georgie] will be posting a list of 10 questions for you to answer about your characters. You can use the same character every month, or choose a new one for each set of questions. Your call. You can answer all the questions, just one, or however many you have the time and energy to answer. Just go for it and have fun.

It's another session of (you guessed it) Beautiful People. I'm enjoying doing these oddment snap-shots of folk; they are entertaining, and they don't give too much away. This is the July/August installment and I'm sorry that July and August haven't been split into separate sessions. Oh well, too much of a good thing, and all that.

Ladies and gentlefolk (please leave your swords by the door, thanks) I regret to say that, much as he disliked it last month, Rhodri is a better sport at this sort of thing than -

Eikin Thrasirson

1. What is his biggest secret?
If he told, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.

2. Has he ever been in love?
Eikin is betrothed; and yes, he does love his girl.

3. What is his comfort food?
Mead. You can try disillusioning him and telling him it isn’t foodstuff.

4. Does he play a musical instrument? If so, what?

When the common harp comes around he puts his paws to it, but he’s not an exceptional player.

5. What colour are his eyes? Hair?
Eikin’s eyes are blue, his “hair” is blond, and his fur is tawny.

6. Does he have any pets?
The closest thing Eikin has to a pet is his mount Kielk, but though he cares for his dragon, he would not consider it a pet. If you asked him, he would probably be confused about the term. In general, his people do not have “pets.”

7. Where is his favourite place to be?
Again, Eikin might not understand you if you asked him this. Simple-minded, though by no means blunt, Eikin’s comfort usually comes from his mind. Wherever he is, whatever he is doing, if it seems good to him, that is his favourite place.

8. What are some of his dreams or goals?

Eikin has fairly typical goals. He has no ambition, at least. He is already foremost among his village’s warriors and he wants only to maintain a good name, marry a good girl, and raise a brood of good children.

9. Does he enjoy sports?
As a boy Eikin enjoyed the rough-housing sorts of games that strengthen youngsters, but having grown up such sports have been displaced by the real thing: hunting and war. He enjoys both.

10. What is his favourite flower or plant?
Eikin isn’t a sentimental type, but he likes the marsh marigold best (his people call them gullinblobs) for its hardiness and small prettiness, and its frequency to show up among the less hospitable places. Being of an oppressed people, Eikin sympathizes with the flower.

A grim, impersonal chap? Maybe. Just wait until you get to know him better. He's got a heart of gold and, like the ground beneath your feet, he will always be there to catch you.

Letters Within Letters

In the past year I have had the opportunity to revive a dying art, the art of letter-writing. With telephones and email, and chat rooms, the purpose of the hand-written, stamped letter appears to have faded away. But it hasn't. Unless you have experienced a good, thoughtful, loving letter, a letter from someone you can honestly call a friend, I don't think I can explain to you the joy of letters. It is not something that can be explained. You have to feel it for yourself.

You may remember that Anna is among my few contacts. If you did not know or did not remember, you know now. She far exceeds me in intellect and faith, and I'm enormously glad to be able to putter in her footsteps.

She recently borrowed a book by Dorothy Sayers called Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine and, coming across several beautiful passages, she filled her latest letter to me with them. I do not have Sayers' book (sad to say) but I have that letter, and as I fully believe sound Christian doctrine to be relevant, and as I believe the passages Anna copied down are potent, I would like to share them.

"We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine - dull dogma, as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man - and the dogma is the drama."

and again

"So that is the outline of the official story - the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull - this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.

"If this is dull, then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore - on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him "meek and mild," and recommended him for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand."

and still further

"That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

"Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that at least once in the world's history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection."

in conclusion

"Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore - and this in the Name of the One who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through this world like a flame."

This, as Abigail pointed out in The Truth of a Fairytale, is what story we hold to, what actions define our faith, what deeds of consummation God wrought on which we pin our hope of glory. It is not dull. Faint whispers, so faint they were hardly heard, and never understood, of such a thing were the preamble to this drama, but who would have believed it?

Well, we do.

Lounging In A Pink Armchair

You'll never guess, so I'll tell you. First of all, let it be known that Jenny isn't much good at all with the whole writing a book review thing. If you want that sort of thing, you'll have to go to Abigail, because Abigail is all analytical and thoughtful (if it doesn't involve The Last of the Mohicans) and she is good at reviewing books sensibly.

I am not.

So let it be known that the following passages are my thoughts about (probably incoherent) and reactions to (undoubtedly hysterical) the new self-published release The Mark of the Star. I will endeavour not to spoil anything for those of you who haven't read it.

Liz Patterson, supreme ruler and sovereign of the blog around the corner Awake, is a young woman about my age (probably exactly my age, but I'm daft about that sort of thing) and is the author of this fantasy novel. I'm afraid I made her acquaintance just at the tail-end of her grueling work with her novel The Mark of the Star, but nevertheless I was pleased to discover a sensible (unlike myself) young author (like myself) sporting a title to her name. She posted occasional snippets from The Mark of the Star on her blog, and I would read them patiently (reading on the computer is a dreadful nuisance to my eyeballs), and think to myself, "Mmhmm! I must get this tome in a more physical state. It deserves further investigation."

And, at length (I came in on the tail-end of all this drama, you remember), the manuscript was delivered to Lulu and Lulu dutifully delivered the physical tome to Liz. The book was real! It was for sale! I could sympathize with the author's ecstasy, having endured the thrills of holding one's own book too. I shuffled penguin-style into line and purchased my own copy. I'm fairly certain it came on a Friday afternoon to my sister's house (we purchased two copies together) for I had to wait until Saturday morning when we all met to do our weekly cleaning of our church before Abigail could give my copy to me.

The copy was beautiful. It was pristine, white, with a radiant star-design behind the bold title words. (Before any of you panic, it is still pristine and white with a radiant star-design behind its title. I haven't spilled tea on it, or anything.) The surest thing to throw me into giddiness is to hand me a beautiful new book. And I was in raptures. I had my own copy of a fellow writer's book, brand new, beautifully designed, with a whole new world full of strange new characters for me to meet. Pfft, forget cleaning. I was going to read.

All right, so I didn't forget cleaning. I did my cleaning like a good girl. Unfortunately, as well as cleaning, I had other things to do, like clear the decks of all the books I was already reading at the time. But in the due course of time, I got them done, and I was free to crack open The Mark of the Star. Take a deep breath. Hush the dumb angelic choir in the background. Open the book.

Well, that's how it all started. The next thing I knew, I was being hurled through I wasn't sure what, with I didn't fully know who, caught up in a blustery whirl of action and emotion. Maybe before reading The Legends of the Guardian-King books I would have been a bit more leery of reading political-based novels, but having realized that even politics can be written well, I was happy to plunge in after Arvis Talion as she attempts to drag something living out of the dead ashes of her country. Arvis stands out among her companions as a gem in its bezel. I found her to be strong, convincing, determined, tender-hearted: a princess worthy to take a throne. In many ways I could relate to her, in some ways I could look up to her. I could relate to her depth of feeling, her steadfast love for her home; I could look up to her courageous nature, her unswerving determination to do what is right. But one must take in the bezel too, of course. Alongside our stalwart heroine is a little cast of excellent players. The antagonist (despite the fact that I offered to have my cat poop in the antagonist's shoes for revenge) was fantastic. This character was believable, motivated, almost - almost - pitiable. Arvis' friends each brought a unique but necessary element to the story. Brooding, confused, loyal, cheerful: in his or her own way, each character brings a colourful dimension to the story that made me feel at home in it. I could chime in with each of them one way or another, I could sympathize with them all, feel their excitement and pain, anxieties and peace. As Liz herself said, I could sympathize with these characters because the answer to their problems is the same as the answer to my own: God.

As for the pink armchair, I'm sorry. You'll just have to read the book to figure out what that is all about. Read it and enjoy!

book summary

What can you do when an entire country hovers on the brink of collapse and your courage is all that can save it? What can you do when your dearest friend makes the wrong choices and your love is not enough to protect him? What can you do when your blessing turns out to be a curse? When Arvis is suddenly faced with these questions, her search for answers leads her on a journey across the world. Hunted by an elusive enemy and brought low by betrayal, Arvis is forced to rise to the challenge and accept that she was set apart by the mark of the star for a reason.


(My friends and I have classified an emotion called a "literary crush," which is very difficult to explain to Outsiders, but no doubt you understand. I would just like to say that Jadev meets the requirements for me.)

Really, I Couldn't Tell

If you're anything of an artist, and have made attempts at sketching the human face, you have probably run across numerous tutorials on human expression, and what the face does when someone undergoes any particular emotion. If you haven't drawn a human face (or anything, for that matter) perhaps you have seen pain charts at the doctor's office depicting something of the same idea. Either way, you know what I mean: the human face undergoes change in emotion, and each emotion, typically, has its own special expression. It's how we tell what someone is feeling at any given time.

I have tried drawing the human face in emotion, and it isn't easy. Faces, particularly eyes, will make or break a human picture. The person's psyche is neatly bound up in that one blot of anatomy, and the artist has to conquer the difficulty.

But I'm not here to talk about drawing. For the writing artist, depicting emotion is even more difficult. At least with a picture, you get to look at the person's face and say, "She doesn't look happy. He looks like he could kill. And doesn't she look like she is in raptures with that balloon?" With writing, we have no such leisure. We have to deliver the emotion to the reader without the use of a portrait - indeed, we have to deliver the emotion and the portrait through words instead of pictures. So how do we get it just right? How do we impress the reader with, not only the right emotion, but the emotion which fits the character as well as the situation? Do does one avoid the amateur depictions (the cliche villain temper-tantrum comes to mind)?

it's magic, mostly

No, seriously. Someone asked me once, "How do you write like that?" and my slightly-serious, tongue-in-cheek reply was, "It's magic." I'm usually a very atmospheric writer with often very introspective characters, and I depend heavily on a person's aura to deliver emotion. When I write, if the story is not fighting me, I am in the moment, there among the characters, and everything is knit together so that the situation and the characters are not two separate entities. They never are. It takes a very stalwart figure to remain even-keeled through life's tempests. So if anyone is suddenly worried about her character approaching a situation with the right emotion, rest easy. It isn't rocket science, though it does take thought. Often, it's just a matter of common sense.

know thyself

Or, rather, your character. Different people react to situations in different ways. In the face of danger or insult, one character might go cold afraid, while the character next to her might rise to biting wit. But while the characters are spiraling downwards or upwards into these patterns, what is everyone else (the reader included) seeing and hearing? The girl goes white - we think she must be afraid; the man goes rigid and withdrawn, and suddenly seems twice as tall again as before - he must be furious. Images, changes in the pressure of the atmosphere, even something as small as the sudden flicker of a hand as if to ward something off, can tell the reader just what a character is feeling and thinking. But a writer has to know her characters or the reactions won't be in keeping with their own personalities, or the plot. Time and acquaintance will help a writer get to know her characters, but take the time to make a more in-depth acquaintance. Notice the little things: they say volumes about a person's attitude.

don't always rely on the obvious

He smiled. She laughed. The dog growled. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these, and they certainly ought to be used. But, like "he said, she said," they oughtn't be over used. Brevity is to be admired, and please don't make a habit (it's embarrassingly easy to do so) of using yards and yards of description to escape the cliche or jaded terms, but on occasion imagination is required. A character is disapproving but playing along - he speaks his words purringly. The hackles lift on the dog like the spines of a boar's back, and everyone and his cousin feels the fury lurking in the animal, waiting to spring. A fellow has just flattered the girl kindly, and she knows it, so she laughs. But how does she laugh? Gaily, and with a touch of silver in her tone.

Stereotypically, women emote more than men do. There is always a reason for a stereotype, and in some cases this is true: women do emote more than men. Women get furious, women laugh, women break down in tears. Every which way you turn, your run-of-the-mill girl (pick me! pick me!) will be expressing her emotions in some typical way. For me, this makes women very hard to write. I can't have Adamant laughing and sobbing her way all over the place. She must be more than your average girl. But how do I depict that? Perhaps she is grateful for a compliment, and she colours at the cheeks while she drops a curtsy. Perhaps she is outraged or frightened: she blanches, and her stomach clenches up. Hopefully the reader can feel the pleased warm pinkness, or the curl of the belly at horror while at the same time seeing the curtsy, or seeing the white face. Images and atmosphere.

Now, how about men? We must do them justice. (K.M Weiland wrote an excellent post on the difficult of writing the opposite sex.) First of all, keep in mind your character's personality. Second, take into account the character's age. Is he just a little boy? Maybe he will answer pain with a stormy face, and a little cry afterward around the back of the woodshed, and the reader will appreciate both his frustration and his courage to hold off crying until everyone is out of sight. Is he full-grown? If he is full-grown, you will have an even harder time, for his reaction will absolutely depend on his personality. My husband, very amiable and easy-going, would probably take a difficult situation in stride. His face might be concentrated on his work, but he might just as well be chatting pleasantly with me while I attempt to divert his attention from the project to myself. My father will conjure up a magician's cloud of darkness in which to shroud himself, and everyone can feel it and will leave him alone. The gentleman whom I have adopted as my uncle (we'll call him Mr Knightley) sports the most amount of expression among the men I know: everything gathers in his face, either in a sudden burst of laughter (the way a kingfisher will dart) or in a slow brooding darkness (like a summer thunderstorm). Much is in the aura, and the aura often puts on a flesh-and-blood form through the facial features.

But once again, don't rely on the typical all the time. Don't always say that he frowned, don't always say that he grinned. Maybe he speakings with his teeth on edge, or cheekily.

in short

It boils down, largely, to knowing your character so well that even a mere gesture can depict emotion and convey the gist of the character's thoughts to your reader. This is one way to bring your character to life for the reader. We don't always rely on people voicing their thoughts so that we can know what they are thinking or feeling. They say actions speak louder than words. What are your character's "little things"? What expressions does he or she have, or what gestures?

atmospheric example

Druce bent his head and continued burnishing. The sound of the supper crowd went on above their close bent heads. He worked, with light flickering in and out across the blade as he moved, and she watched, holding the jar when and where he wanted it. For no reason she could think of, her heart was beating in her chest rather strongly, like the wings of a bird—she always thought her heart had a swan’s pair of wings—and she twisted her lip between her teeth.

“She is very like a lady,” Druce said presently. She noticed how light his fingers were on the sword, as Ambrose’s were on the sheep. Suddenly he pulled away from the sword, peering at it uncertainly through his unruly forelock. “I wonder that the best swords are like ladies. They say Aidan Roefax’s—his is like a lady.”

“Aye.” Her gaze dropped back to the sword. For a while neither of them moved, then Druce slowly returned to burnishing.

They did say Aidan Roefax’s sword was very like a lady, riding lightly at his side as she had seen the older girls lean on the arms of their loves. But she liked Aidan Roefax’s lady better, for she was grave as well as light. His sword was the only lady Tate had ever seen at his side, too. The man flickered among them without seeming to brush anyone, and she always felt a kind of ghostly thrill when she chanced to see him from afar off. And she was glad that Druce’s sword was a lady like that, grave and light, light and grave…

There was a blur of shadow between them, and Tate looked up quickly to find Aidan Roefax himself above them, looking down at the thing which Druce held in his hands. The firelight turned his hair into a wild-swept crown of copper-streaked darkness, the shadows plunging stark from his sharp nose. He had a strange face, angular and dark, and a scar divided a straight bar of brow from black to silver to black again. Tate had never seen the man so close, and she caught her breath. Druce, busy with the burnishing of the blithe bright thing in his hands, did not notice the warrior until the young man said, “If you can find it in your belly, cub, I would have you run with my pack.”

Druce, startled out of his work, flung up his head, the russet thatch about his forehead tossing backward as Idunna the red mare would do; flung back his head to look up into that grim, laughing face above them. She held her breath, listening to the sound of the blood in her ears and the surf-sound of the talk around them. But the two seemed apart from the world, Druce and Aidan Roefax, apart from even herself, looking in a silent communion at each other with the sword between them. Only the red gem in the warrior’s ring winked conspiratorially at Tate, as if to include her in a curious blood-coloured secret.

And Druce, who had seemed only a few moments before uncertain of himself and of the sword, suddenly gave back the same grim laugh and said, “I can find it in my belly, and well, sir.”

“Good,” said Aidan. “At the duck-flight, then.” And he swung away, his shield hitched up across one shoulder and the painted dragon on it big and bold with the firelight jinking off the iron rim all around it.

But it seemed the two had not been in their own world, shut out from the rest. For as Aidan strode among the others, Tate heard someone call out, laughingly and a little high as one will do who is very nearly drunk, “Aye! If we have the roly-polies running in the wolf pack, we’re sure of a victory over the Norman aetheling!”

Aidan checked, turning his hawk-nosed face over his shoulder, full in the firelight with a little sharing smile on his face, as if he thought the jest were funny too. But Tate was sure everyone in the hall knew that the jest was not funny to Aidan, and she felt the soft ripple of awkwardness run among them, as a little wind will run among the grasses of the downs. The young man stalked on, straight as an ash-shaft, the faint, shining mockery that he had like a mantle about him, which reminded Tate of the voice of Ambrose’s silver bells.
jennifer freitag

"Ponies," Said Conory

In theory my attention has been trained on editing Adamantine. And, for the most part, I have been chipping away at that mountain, but I thought I would share a little piece from my novel-in-progress Between Earth and Sky. I've already shared some of Adamantine and, you know, one must be fair. So, without further ado (or even much explanation) here is some inky haberdashery. Happy Christmas, and hold on tight!

“Other than yesterday,” Conory said above him, “have you ever been in a chariot before?”

Rede straightened. “No, sir,” he said, dropping his eyes to watch for the staff.

Conory grunted philosophically. “Then mind this, and mind it well. Chariots are like living things. No one chariot is like any other, and you’ve got to mind your chariot as much as you mind your team. She will tell you what earth is beneath your wheels, tell you when she is free and when the ground is giving her grief. She has moods, no mood the same from one day to the next. Some like sunny days, some like rain. Some like the hunt and some like war, and some like idle ramblings through the countryside. You’ve got to listen for your chariot’s voice and mind her well when she speaks to you, but mind that you don’t let her have her way. Never liked a girl who wore the breeches, and don’t let the chariot wheedle her whims into you. Hold her firm, but hold her like a living thing and she will not do you wrong.”

Rede ran his eyes over the odd thing, tipped on its front, upheld by the pole. It did, for just a moment, seem to have a living potency to it. Then he blinked and his heart beat and it was a chariot again.

“Ponies,” said Conory with gravelly cheer, and Rede jerked round to follow him to the long row of stables. The chariot, it had been just a chariot—yet as he walked he could not wholly push aside the notion that there were eyes on the back of his neck, or some sentient mind bent after him, almost tangibly pulling him back.

The two ponies which Conory picked out, a grey and a dun, had perhaps seen easier days, but Rede was grateful that the two game little brutes were so docile under his hand. Conory stood by and watched him as he moved into the familiar routine of leading the ponies out and looking them over. Conory said nothing, but Rede sensed the man was pleased, and that made him happy. He slipped the halters off and took down the lengths of harness, staggering under their tangled weight, and it was then that Conory moved in to help him.

“She takes the bit well,” Rede remarked of the dun, whose face was a muzzle lost in a heap of forelock.

From the other side of the grey, Conory said, “He. They’re geldings.”

Rede apologized to the dun, and then the task of hitching them to the chariot loomed before him. Both ponies knew Rede had no idea what he was doing, but they behaved well enough, with only the occasional nonchalant removal of a strap or a latch wherever their teeth could reach whenever he was not looking.

At last the chariot stood level, the ponies were champing at the bits, and the sun was breaking up around them beyond a ragged bank of clouds which the morning wind had blown up from the sea. Throwing his blue jay cloak back from his arms, Conory climbed in and took up the reins, gesturing for Rede to follow him. The bed wobbled and gave under their feet, the leather weaving lending it a delightfully springy feeling under their soles. The fitful sunlight flashed off the iron rims of the wheels.

“Ho-o-aih, ho—step up!” said Conory, and snapped the reins smartly on the rumps of the ponies. Up went the grey head, up went the dun, and with wiry manes spraying in the soft wind, the two trotted forward with the chariot rattling with Conory and Rede behind. The young man splayed his legs in the chariot-bed, feeling the familiar buckle of the leather, and wondered if he trusted Conory enough not to bolt once they were out of the gates so he could let go of the edge and not look like a child clinging to his mother’s skirts. He decided he did not trust Conory that much, and he clung on.

The bald head from last night waved to them from the guard-tower at the gate. Conory took them through to the path outside. The wind caught at them and blew in their faces, sending the blue cloak snapping out like a banner, and over the deep green of the fields and bristling new green of the woods the racing light and shadows played.

It dawned on Rede just then that Conory meant to have him drive the chariot.

The badger-striped warrior drove the team to the rolling pasture west of the Flint Mound and finally drew up along the woodshore. The untidy, spraying ranks of trees ran beside them, before and behind, curving with the hill. The wind was strongest here, and the late spring leaves and crimson buds were flying on the shivering branches. Patches of cloud-shadow ran up to them across the green and flew over, chased by bars and squares and misshapen footprints of sunlight.

Conory held the reins up, splayed between his fingers, held firmly but gently. “Hold the reins like so,” he said, “and stand like so or you’ll be thrown over and out on your backside.”

He was only shown once, and then Rede found himself where he would never in his wildest dreams have imagined: on a rolling Arregaithel green with a limed warrior on his left hand, feet firmly placed on the woven bed of a chariot, with the reins of two suddenly very feisty ponies in his fists. I am going to die ran swiftly through his mind several times before he could think of anything that even resembled reason. But after a few moments, though his heart still hammered at the back of his teeth, he felt the thing warm to quick under him. He was holding the reins. The ponies were for him to command. The chariot seemed to be yearning forward, begging to follow the swell of the woodshore, iron rims and horses’ hooves rumbling on the turf.

He did not trust himself to make any meaningful noise to the ponies, so he gently slapped them with the reins. Their heads went up again, and as one they began their stocky-legged trot. Rede discovered at once that he had been relying on the edge of the chariot to steady him, for he was nearly thrown. Conory did not move to help him, so he had to regain his own balance and position his legs as the ponies, feeling his hand slack, wheeled their heads around and snorted at the sky.

“Keep them well in hand,” said his trainer.

Rede kept them ‘well in hand’ as best he could, easing them at a trot down the woodshore while he got the feel of them. His heart continued to hammer mercilessly in his throat, but by the time he was halfway down the edge of the forest he began to be a little confident and, swallowing hard, he tapped the ponies again with the reins.

He had seen the ponies on the uplands move from the easy canter to the flying gallop in the time it takes to blink. He had seen them check in mid flying stride and whirl on a single hoof clear around. His miscoloured team, as if remembering the days when they, too, had run the wild uplands pastures, bounded off their near hooves and rolled into the canter. The chariot bounded beneath him, keeping pace, but somehow he kept his footing; the reins shivered in his hands, quick with the life of the ponies flowing back to him, and up from the leather flooring came the will of the chariot, swelling with life just as Conory had said it would.

Down the greensward they swept, the engine rumbling in his ears, the melodic thunder of the ponies’ hooves drumming over him in exhilarating waves. Once or twice the wheels banged and jarred and it was all he could do to keep his balance, and all the while he had the vague impression that their dance was not so fluid and beautiful as it could be. But his spirit could not be quenched. The wind flew in his face and made silver sparking banners of the ponies’ manes. Conory’s cloak flapped like a bird’s wings behind him. The living beauty of it all caught him up and he forgot that life held pain, that life held heartache, that he was a lone light among this insular people. For a few whirling moments on the back of racing gold thunder, he was free.

Dignity of Causality: Characters and Prayer

I don't read a lot of "Christian" fiction. Abigail wrote two very good pieces on Christian fiction some time ago (What is "Christian" Fiction? and Light in the Darkness) which more or less sum up my own view on the matter. I hope I'm not the only one discomforted by the general swell of thin, watered-down Christianity that oozes in fiction. I don't think this is necessarily limited to our time, though I think our time is remarkable for its Godlessness. A hundred years ago, it was uncouth to say you were an atheist, even if you were one. It was just socially unacceptable. People understood what was Proper. So I tend to steer clear of nominal Christian fiction for that purpose: I'm not going to trifle with my intelligence and respect of God by entertaining novels that don't try to scratch an inch below the surface of our faith. These are Laodicean novels: lukewarm, neither warm nor hot, and I have no recourse but to spit them out of my library. There is very little time to read all of the good works out there, and no time at all to spend on the works of Laodicea.

We don't want to be writing these sorts of novels, do we? We want upright, God-fearing literature, even if we're not specifically writing Christian literature. We want an exceptionally good understanding of godly morals, we want to be fluent in circumspect conversation, etc. We want, in short, to write the sort of literature that brings people "further up and further in" to God's nature, inasmuch as we are able. Any of you, having sat staring eye to eye with a half-written novel, will probably be familiar with the sudden overwhelming rush of despair that breaks over you when you wonder if your work is worth anything, if anyone will get anything out of it, if it is even True. The agony and the ecstasy of writing can be intense.

So today I want to deal with one aspect of Christian fiction that I have seen which needs a great deal of adjustment. This adjustment is probably necessary because, by and large, I don't think the topic is taught properly among Christian circles in general. I will address it on the literature front, but please understand that it applies to flesh-and-blood-clad spirits as well.

in this manner, therefore, pray...

The necessity to pray crops up just as frequently in stories as it does in our lives. Things go wrong, characters have close shaves, people fall on their knees in thanksgiving. But prayer is more than a means of saying, "God, aaaaahh...!" in a panic, and gasping even an honest, "Thank God!" in the wake of the aftermath. I say prayer is more than this - I do not say that prayer does not include the call for divine help, nor does it exclude gratitude for that help. These two aspects are essential to our relationship with our Father: the psalms of David are chock-full of these. But you can't stop there. I've seen too many characters cry out to God merely to say, "Halp!" (sometimes even the prayers of gratitude are forgot) and this is simply unacceptable.

Do the characters understand why they are praying? Say they are taking the moment to recognize their futility and finiteness to call upon the arm of the Lord. Do they recognize, too, the nature of their God who delights in mercy, who has said "I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by name, am the God of Israel."? There is a gravity as well as a confidence to be had in understanding the promises of God. Do your characters appreciate this? Can your characters cry, "Lord, help me," and expect to be answered in the hiding place of thunder?

for your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him

We are told to, and therefore there is nothing wrong with asking for our daily bread. But why? If our Father knows what we have need of, why ask? Especially in a story, wherein the character is at your mercy, and you mostly know your own mind, why is it necessary that a character should bother to ask the Almighty for safety and sustenance? Fledge the flying horse in The Magician's Nephew put it rather simply: God likes to be asked. But not only that (it comes off sounding a trifle petty, don't you think?), the very act of saying, "Lord, help me," or "Lord, give to me the bread of my sufficiency," recognizes the person's dependence upon the Father's hand. The act is deeper than a mere petition, it is a gesture of worship. It is, therefore, necessary. Prayer is a means of grace: we must not take it lightly, and we must take it all the time.

Prayer is not merely asking for our daily bread, we understand that. So what else is it? It is rude of our characters to yelp for aid whenever they find themselves in a tight place, and to make no other effort to communicate with the Godhead, but how can we make them understand what prayer ought to be? I found a passage from C.S. Lewis' essay "The Efficacy of Prayer" rather helpful.

"Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision of God its bread and wine. In it God shows himself to us. That he answers prayers is a corollary - not necessarily the most important one - from that revelation. What he does is learned from what he is."

Prayer is far deeper, and far more important, than merely asking for one's daily bread. By it we are drawn into union with the divine will: by it we learn what to ask for by learning who God is. My characters and I ask for our daily bread because we know God hears the cry of the needy, because he delights in mercy, because he has said, "In this manner, therefore, pray...give us this day our daily bread." But even more than that prayer is communion with the Godhead. It is a serious, grave, joyful thing to participate in. Do our characters appreciate this?

What is it that you say? she wondered, casting a baleful, wistful glance out the window. You have gone before me and behind me, and set your hand upon me. And yet still I am afraid. How do I know that you have not meant for me to fail? What do I really know of anything?

To avoid the thin, childish cry of "God, aaaaah...!" in our stories, we and our characters must have at least some understanding of God's nature (it goes without saying that this understanding is vital on entirely different levels). Elwin Ransom's order to "Say a child's prayer, if you cannot say a man's!" is not meant to be comforting. It's a reproach. We must start at a child's prayer, but for heaven's sake (and our own) we mustn't stay there. A lot of prayers that I have run across in Christian fiction have been petty complaints and, most often, the voicing of confusion and misunderstanding on the character's part. "God, I don't know why you are doing this to me. God, I don't know what to do. God, I'm lost. God, I'm scared. God, why this? God, why that? God, wouldn't you just do this?" Now, taken individually, there is nothing necessarily wrong with many of these petitions. The last three grow presumptuous, though even Christ cried

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!

The problem is the plethora of these prayers, and the seeming inability of authors and their characters to come to any sort of answer, or even to move deeper than them. "God, I don't know why you are doing this to me, nevertheless your rod and staff comfort me. God, I don't know what to do, nevertheless your word is a lamp to my feet. God, I'm lost, guide me beside still waters. God, I'm scared, be with me through the valley of the shadow of death. Your thoughts are far above my thoughts and your ways far above my ways. I know that my Redeemer lives: though he slay me, I will hope in him."

Do you mark the difference? From an attitude of petrified terror the character is moved into a stance of peaceful submission, from a railing child to patient communion. The character appreciates the word and promises of God, and understands that the will of God is omnipotent. We cannot too lightly regard the importance of God-fearing prayer. What your character thinks of God, and how he communicates with God, define who he is. Who we are is only determined by our relationship with our Creator: this must penetrate to our characters as well.

We've had enough of fear and uncertainty. We all know what it is like to wonder, "Will God answer me?" The truth is that, yes, God answers: but he does not always grant. A character who understands this and accepts it as the way of the all-knowing Father is a character who stands on solid ground: he is a character worth reading about.

"But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan."

A character who understands this can face anything, knowing he does his Father's will. He can come in frank and reverent communion before the Godhead: his prayers will be even more than "Help me," though "Help me" will be in all his petitions. It is high time our characters had a better understanding of prayer, and can speak better things before God than frantic babblings of terror. If we mean to write better characters, the sorts that readers can look up to and emulate, if we mean to write Christ-like people, here is one aspect that we can work on to improve them. Prayer in a story is more than the acknowledgement that a story is "Christian" - it is the acknowledgement of our dependence upon God and our privilege of communion with him.

awake to righteousness, be sober-minded

After the World's Last Night

…Life is a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency we are forced to lay our instruments down. There is simply not time enough to think, to become, to perform what the constitution of our nature indicates we are capable of.

I paused in my reading, my eyes fixed upon the words. The page was very bright in its patch of sun, and the ink characters began to blur a little as my eyes unfocused, giving way to the image the words produced. It was melancholy: the words tasted sad in my mouth and weighed heavy in my chest. The topic, God’s infinitude, suddenly swelled on me, and everything around me—the book, the chair, the glass door and the sunshine tumbling through it between the trees—seemed hollow in comparison, hollow and painfully definite to my senses. For a fleeting moment I understood what the Ghosts felt on the hard grasses of Lower Heaven.

“Oh,” I murmured disconsolately.

My companion glanced up from Francis Bacon. I felt him looking at me, but he took a moment before prompting: “Is something the matter?”

I squinted out into the dandelion-flecked yard. They were rather like fireflies, but shabbier. They needed to be cut. Fireflies, winking in and out, seemed suddenly like lights from another world breaking through the stained-glass chinks of time and space. Dandelions seemed a poor substitute.

“I had a thought,” I said.

Again he waited, and again, when I offered nothing else, he prompted, “It seems like a sombre thought. Did you want to share it?”

I looked back down at my book. How did I describe it? How did I describe the feeling of holding the whole world in my hands, and holding, as it were, a broken vase? The book closed listlessly on itself. “I was thinking…everything is going to end. We are all going to die, even the world is going to come to an end suddenly, when Christ comes again.” I looked round at him. “What if Donne is right?” I asked. “What if this present were the world’s last night? What is the point? Everything I do, everything I say and write—everything everyone else does and says and writes down—is going to be burned up and buried. We do all this for posterity, and one day there won’t be any more posterity. We do all this to vent some creativity in our spleens, but one day there won’t be anyone left to care. Even our spleens won’t be around to vent any more. It’s all going to be burned and buried, dead and gone.” I twisted my mouth shut, feeling very small and petty. “So what is the point?”

“Do you dream in chocolate?”

I snapped the book back open. “I’m serious!” I retorted. I shook the poor little paperback at him. “What is the point! What is the point of learning anything? Why do I drive myself to know anything when everything is just going to be burned up in the end?”

With a little shift and a rustle, very quiet after my outburst, he settled more comfortably in his chair—which is something to accomplish, in these chairs—draped one leg over the other, used his finger as a bookmark, and regarded me thoughtfully. As well as I know him, it is hard even for me to hold up under that gaze for very long. I dropped my eyes to the cover of my book.

“I see what you mean,” he said presently. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, and all that. We’re surrounded by futility: what is the point of working hard, or of working little? It will all come to nothing in the end… But will it?”

His cunning little smile touched his lips.

“What if this present were the world’s last night? What is that last scene which our time will play? What is the last stage we will stand on? The Judgment Scene. How well will Pilate like being in the dock then, and Jesus presiding over him? But if everything we do were to no purpose, what good would such a scene do? You and I both know—” he looked coaxingly at me “—that nothing God does is to no purpose.”

“I never thought that Go on.”

“A character in a favourite film of yours says rather gallantly that what we do in life echoes in eternity. I’ll own to him that we are called to give an account of everything we do in this life, certainly.”

I gestured with my free hand. “I know that. Don’t think that thought doesn’t haunt me each day. It does. But what I mean is that, all of us trying to give some kind of account of the truth—you mentioned Pilate—to posterity, even to ourselves, is everything we do done for nothing? Is it really all futility?”

“You are beginning to ask questions rather than blurt unfounded certainties.”

“Hmm,” I said.

He put his elbow on his knee, his chin in his hand, and let his book dangle over his thigh with his finger between the pages. “I know it will look depressing to you at first, seeing it that way. I imagine it was for the Preacher too, and for a great many people through the ages. Perhaps it will help to look at it this way. A friend of an acquaintance once said, ‘Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he is forsaken, and still obeys.’ The futility of our time and the limitations of our understanding aside, is it not a good thing to walk after God and strive to know the truth?”

“Yes, of course. Naturally. It’s the basic purpose of Man.”

He gave a little laugh, which made me feel as if I understood rather less than I supposed. He always gave me that laugh. There was a sudden flicker of shadows over us, and we looked up to see a flock of blackbirds rocketing through the air, sending the gold-spotted yard whirling with plum-coloured patches.

“We keep that in mind when the depression of futility comes: that even mortal things have immortal worth, that what we do does echo in eternity, and that all we say and do will be refined in fire. What we say and do last forever.” He leaned over and tapped the book in my hands. “Only, the dross will be gone. That is all.”

That is all. I stared at the title of my book and wondered how much of it would be left in Heaven’s library when it had gone through the fire itself. How much of my work would be left? I shuddered to think.

“Will we recognize it,” I asked, “without the dross?”

“Does that matter?”

I thought about it. A part of me, perhaps selfishly, wanted to meet my own work in its resurrected form. “If it is the truth,” I admitted, “I suppose not.”

“As iron sharpens iron,” he said, reopening his book and settling down into its pages.

“I’m sorry?” I queried, perplexed by this reference’s relevance.

But he was not to be moved. Ensconced once more in Bacon, he was not to be routed out with any more questions. I sighed lonesomely and returned to gazing out the window. The light was beginning to go, and it was harder to distinguish between plant and plant: only the dandelions, which so desperately needed shearing, stood out brightly in the long shadows. Strange, I thought on an impulse, that a weed, the offspring of our rebellion, should put me in mind of constancy and light. Here in the twilight the plant’s unwanted flower blazed on; in the night, when the light was gone, it would still be yellow as fierceness: and in the morning, the sun’s rays would peep over the rooftops and find the dandelions hard at work, being bright.

I turned the pages of my book open to the place where I had been, and picked up where I had left off.

How completely satisfying, I read, to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.

A Swan In Her Feathers

Having just spent over a week with quite a lot of out-going people in my home, I found it humorous to discover a post on Adam Young's official Owl City blog about introverted people. The ten points about introverts are written by an actual psychiatrist (for what that is worth) and should be fairly creditable. At the very least, I was able to sympathize and relate to them all; some more so, some less, but always each one hit the mark for me. A week with an unusually large amount of people would probably leave anyone fatigued (no offence, of course, on my guests!) but it was nice to read about how my personality reacts, and to realize that people out there really do understand how introverts work.

"You'd think we were all poor little pygmy people, who never travelled from our fire! Though in my case, of course, she's right."

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.

This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

I've seen this in action. My father-in-law, who is very introverted, won't stop once you get him going on a topic of interest. I'm not quite so talkative even when I'm allowed to go on about a subject I enjoy, but that's really only because I'm not often allowed to have the floor for long, and I don't want to bore people. If I could, I could go on and on.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.

Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

I'm naturally shy, but I'm also naturally friendly. Always happy to see a show of friendliness in others, I'll willingly open up if you do.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.

Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

I hate small talk. I've never got a handle on it, it doesn't mean anything, and it's trivial. I'm not usually blunt in conversation, but please don't make me dabble in small talk. I like to talk about things that matter.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.

On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

For me, this is perfectly true. I'm naturally friendly, if shy, but I don't want or have a lot of friends. There are only a few people to whom I have warmed, and I love them fiercely. They don't usually make friends with me - I claim them for myself. As Raksha the She-Wolf said, "He is mine to me!"

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.

Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

If your eyeballs are wide open all the time, they would get tired faster too. My imagination is like a vacuum running all the time, drawing in everything it can. I like being out, especially with my people, but I wear out easily. My sister especially, who is probably more of an introvert that I am, wears down quickly. We're like flashes of lightning rather than florescent bulbs, or cactus flowers rather than pansies: we take things in short bursts, but we do like to take them all the same.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.

Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

I don't know if I would say one person, though I have noticed that, even if I am talking in a crowd, I only remember talking to the person I was immediately addressing. Which gets awkward when I try to tell the same story afterward to others who had been standing by at the time. But the rest is true, I prefer sitting by and listening and thinking to myself. I'm not really a puzzler, but I am absolutely a daydreamer, and I get horribly moody and agitated when I can't share my ideas with anyone.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.

Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Oh, I'm definitely weird. But I'm not ashamed of it, and I'm not weird for the sake of being weird. I'm just myself, and so long as 'myself' is respectable, I let myself be what I am wherever I am. I don't like being put in a box or being told how to dress or what to say. So long as I am respectable, I like being me.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.

Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

This assessment is a trifle pretentious. I hope I'm not aloof (though I may be a nerd). The simple fact is that, referring upward to Myth #5, since I take in the world through agoggle-open eyes, I have to go away inside myself to think about it. And thinking about God, life, myself, reality in general, is very important to me.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.

Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Do people really think that about introverts? It's true, I'm much more stimulated by a scene of a Cumbrian fell, or a blast of sea-wind in my face, than I am by a crowd of people walking on Main Street. I don't need (or want) to do anything wild and crazy like get on a roller-coaster, or jet-ski, or anything of that sort. Sitting down with my copy of Francis Bacon (which Rhodri graciously gave back to me today) is much more my cup of tea.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.

A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

Yeah, what he said. Thankfully I've never been in a crowd that wanted me to "loosen up" or "get real," and all those other strange phrases which people have come up with. I'm not really sure what they mean by it. I'm not sure they do, either. At any rate, thank goodness the Church is made for unity, not uniformity. I can be myself and still be myself as I am made more like Christ. Though, of course, being like Christ is far more important than "being myself."

So I'm introverted! I don't wear it like a badge, it's just what sort of person I am, and I'm comfortable in my own feathers this way. I've noticed that a lot of my characters, though not necessarily introverted, at least appreciate the value of companionable silence, which is something introverts understand. They don't need to always be doing something, or going places, or filling their eyeballs with the crazy colours of a dizzy, confused world. Sitting down side by side in thoughtful quiet is a stronger bond to them than any activity could ever be. If you have a really good friend, you probably know what this is like. Rudyard Kipling understood: he wrote "The Thousandth Man" about it. It's not a bad thing to be introverted - it's not a bad thing to be extroverted. It's good to stop and think and mull over and consider the wondrous works of God and number our days, to be sober-minded and circumspect.


But his silence at last drew attention upon it, and one of them said:
'Come, young Curdie, what are you thinking of?'

'How do you know I'm thinking of anything?' asked Curdie.

'Because you're not saying anything.'

'Does it follow then that, as you're saying so much,
you're not thinking at all?'

The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald