A Common Provenance in Pain

"All things of grace and beauty have a common provenance in pain: 
their birth in grief and ashes."

I am going to address a paradigm among the writers that I know, and because it is among writers that I know (those I don't know may benefit from this also) I feel I must proceed with delicacy.  Unfortunately I am not very good at delicacy, and when I address anything I feel I tend to lay about me rather hard...  It is not so much that I think the writers are wrong as I feel there needs to be a paradigm shift away from what is potentially a very wrong view to a view which more accurately reflects how our own Creator chooses to craft us.

The problem is pain.  To clarify still further, the subject is that of inflicting pain on characters, and the author's mental state, emotional drive, and rational motive for doing so.

First of all, writing books and nurturing characters is not mechanical.  If you are stuck, you cannot simply "throw a curve-ball at your character" to see what he does.  Don't simply knock his legs from under him for the sake of making something happen.  Tearing something down has no effect if you do not already have a plan to built it up again.  There are plenty of reasons for being stuck, most of them are self-inflicted, most of them are due to laziness or poor planning (the author is generally considered to be at fault when the writing goes bad), and there are lots of ways of getting through writer's block.  Random acts of violence is not one of them, and is as much a crime in literature as it is among live human beings.

Secondly, and this is the really difficult aspect of writers and pain that I have to address, people make their characters hurt because they think it's fun.  I have heard a lot of writers express pleasure about "the next big thing" they're going to put their characters through.  I've heard them begin cooking up new methods of torture because they like to invent new ways of hurting their "poor charries."  Now, outside of literature, here in the real world, we have names for people who find inflicting pain on other people to be enjoyable.  The most jarring, and the most all-encompassing, is sadist.  I think really amateur writers who enjoy hurting their characters are actually masochists, as they don't quite have the skill to detach themselves from their characters.  Whatever the relationship between the writer and the character, the uncomfortable truth remains: enjoying making people hurt is messed up.

We are all enjoined to be charitable and wise.  I'm not asking you to resist pushing your characters to the limit, tearing loved ones from them, and making them hurt emotionally and physically in many ways.  A good plot, a good story, will often take the salt out of a character before he gets to the end.  But we do that to our characters (if we are, not only good writers, but good thinkers about why we write) not to sit back like Zeus and watch the little human worms flail, but to see their mettle harden, to see their resolve become compounded.  We collapse them in the crucible of pain and suffering to make them into something better.  Pain is never its own end.  It is sometimes a means, as the smith's hammer is a means.  I may take a character and strip him of every comfort, every joy, every light, and I'll do it to see whether or not, when all else has gone dark and cold, he can still see enough to cling to his hope.

I think you can all see why this approach to handling character growth is a better one than just flogging your characters because, to them, you are their god and you can do it if you want to.  Our God does not simply flog us because he can.  He may push us to the limit (but never beyond what we are able to bear), he may take our loved ones from us (but the living will receive back their dead), and our bodies and our minds do suffer an almost constant battering by disease and depression.  We carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, not to be morbid, but so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in us.

I tell my four-year-old nephew: "Let's think about what we're about to do."  I usually have to say this after he has unthinkingly stumbled into trouble.  But he's four years old.  He has plenty of time to grow.  We are now adults, intelligent, thinking adults, and here is another aspect of our art that needs attention: what do we believe about pain, why do we inflict it, what is its purpose?  We have a great example to look to.  "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." 

Like the Voice of a Snake Charming

Million stars up in the sky
Formed a tiger's eye
That looked down on my face
Out of time and out of place
of monsters and men, "your bones"

Gingerune is now approximately a little larger than a NaNo novel and, if my divisions are correct and I keep them in the end, I am working on the eighth chapter of I do not know how many chapters in toto.  I at last feel as if I know the my core of characters and a rough outline of the plot has finally sketched itself in my head.  As I have said before, my approach to writing is very organic and I will start off a story with a vague idea of what I want to incorporate, but it is through the actual writing process that I discover how characters will react and how things will really unfold.  And so, a little over 50,000 words in, I finally feel as if I have a handle on the characters and can see far enough in front of me to know where to go.  An analogy can be drawn between this method and terrain exposition in a computer game, but that would be a lame analogy to draw...

I did say I would write up a snippets post eventually.  I kicked off Gingerune with one - more for my own comfort than for anyone else's education, probably, since there wasn't much of Gingerune to talk about at that point.  But now that Gingerune has enough weight to throw around, here is a bit more.  I hope you enjoy!


They had mighty sons and beautiful daughters, and they built a city for themselves. I have been to the place where, legend says, they raised their citadel. It is…only a desert now. But in the scripts the legends tell me of a glorious paradise, full of water and streets of shining metals. When the sun would rise up out of the Mountains at the End of the World it would strike the topmost tower and it would shine."

Ginger turned on the ball of one foot to glance back behind them through the open doorway into the garden. The gate was still ajar, framing in blue a shaded picture of the sloping lane and a far-off glimpse of the acacia tree.

His voice had gone suddenly like the voice of a snake charming its meal into its jaws.

He was caught and he knew it—Ginger could see it in his eyes—drawn inexorably into Mazelin’s orbit even as she was, curious and knowing better at the same time. Yet the big sun-tanned man with his staff in his left hand, imperious, angry and half-laughing in the eyes, was like a lodestone to them.

Thera is a great island, but not a very large one. Why should I lie to you, when I have nowhere to hide?”

The poor honey-coloured thing clutched the pet dog close and stared unblinkingly at a horror in the middle distance which would be a long time dissipating from her view.

Ginger found herself...bending a little in stiff deference—the gesture was unfamiliar to her—and feeling as though her life were little worth the energy it took to pluck a saffron flower bare and throw away the petals.

Are there armies?” asked the Queen exultantly. “Are there war-ships on the horizon? Is there an embargo or is trade diminished? The great kingdom of Crete looks favourably on us. The isles in the midst of the sea look to us with awe. Thera is great, and the House of the Red Cyclamen has ruled her fairly and smoothly—in all the years you were away!”

[He] drew in his chin like a horse about to wrench against the bit.

"You do not know the hand at your own rudder! Ask of me all you will. Cry, plead, threaten, strip me of food and clothing and skin and marrow: I will not give you the Rammerowt."

In a vague way she remembered Mazelin singing a song about Elohim in the dark—to her memory the song had seemed like a lamp. Perhaps he had been hard with Mazelin, but it seemed in his way he had been kind. She supposed that was enough to ask of a god. 

"I would get a horrible taste in my mouth at the sight of him—a big welling blackness, as though I were trying to swallow death.”

Some days I think I must needs only put out a saucer of cream for you,” Ginger remarked, “and, wherever you are, you will come and purr against my legs.” 

Illimitably Earth

I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth-
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth.
e.e. cummings

Same old, same old: still working away at Gingerune.  I am now 43,908 words in, but for all that I don't feel as if I quite have enough to give you a proper snippets post.  I probably do and I'll do it eventually, but for now I'm going to play it by feel and for now I feel as if the snippets ought to wait. But to tide you over, or to appease you, or whatever, here is this.  All of the usual warnings apply: it is probably subject to change and is part of the first draft, etc., but it is some thing for you, at any rate.  A whole several paragraphs of something!  I suppose I should add that it may be a little - not graphic, per se, but disturbing.  But then, it was meant to be. And so, without further ado, a very small piece of Gingerune.

* * * * *
Every moment the force of the wind was trying to rip her away and hurtle her into the shadow. It was cold—bitterly cold—where the wind struck her, and all over her washed continually, visibly, the tangible light into which she was plunging at breakneck speed. The light was very hot; beneath the singing of the wind in her ears she could hear it crackling and sizzling and at the back of her mind she wondered if she was going to survive it.

Where was the sun? She switched her eyes back and forth across the chasm of light. Everything was moving so quickly, and the light was so bright—her pupils shrank into slits, shutting off much of the blinding glare, and finally the disk of the sun sprang out from the featureless sky. There—to her left! She pivoted toward it, feeling the cold wind and the burning light sear along her flanks. She plummeted on against the sun-storm and wondered if Icarus had ever witnessed such madness of hope and terror at once.

She had just shifted toward the holy aurora when a pain gripped her, clawing her back into the abyss. Her knees cramped. If she screamed, the scream was lost in the roar of wind. Drops of sweat peeled away like rain. Another cramp—another scream. Another—she could hear the Earth-Master’s voice from somewhere close by; the pressure on her knee was his hand.

“Another one! Once more! Give it all you’ve got!”

She had no more left to give. What was she giving birth to—Thera itself? She gulped in the roaring airlessness to brace again, but despair filled the hollow place in her chest. She had no more left to give. Through her thinned eyes she could just barely make out a long, thick anchor-cable stretching out in front of her, up and up into the light to where the sun hung far away and motionless. It must have been attached to her. She felt intuitively that it was her only hope of keeping herself from being lost in the continual downward rush of light and the black pit that lay below.

The cramps began again.

A hand came out of nowhere and wrenched her head back. In a singing disk of light she caught sight of two beautiful blue eyes, mesmerizing eyes. They were laughing at her.

This is not a dream, darling.

She was losing her position. The constant pounding of the light was hammering at her side, driving her closer and closer toward the edge. She fought desperately to keep in line. She hung on the cable, gritted her teeth against the next clench of pain—water was coming brightly, softly, off the corners of her eyes: each drop shone a little as it flew away on the wind.

The other hand, long and beautiful and dressed in a glove, slid cleanly through the watershed of light. There was a blade on the edge of it sharp enough to cut through soul. It touched the hemp braid of her anchor-cable.

“No!” she screamed—the wind whipped her words out of her throat: “no, don’t! Don’t let me go!”

The screaming went on. The blade touched the hemp and it snapped, once—the hemp unravelled and the rope squealed in protest as all her weight and the power of the light and the wind strained against it. From behind her she felt the cold fingers of the shadow reach out and touch her skin. A horror of it gripped her brain: it had got the taste of her now.

“Stop! Stop! Don’t let me go!

The last strand broke.