Category Archives: Method

Obscure French Folklore in Out-of-Print Collections (Review)

Well, this post is going to be a bit different, since I’ll essentially be presenting and reviewing two out-of-print French books, but stick with me.

Two Christmases ago I received several collections of Alsatian/Lorraine and Breton/Gallo folklore to feed my obsession.  Among them were Alsatian-centric Dragons, fantômes, et trésors cachés : légendes, traditions et contes d’Alsace,  with text by Guy Trendel and illustrations by Thierry Christmann (1988) and Contes populaires et légendes d’Alsace.  Translating to: Dragons, ghosts, and hidden treasures: legends, traditions, and folktales of Alsace, and Folktales and legends of Alsace.

 

I’d gone into the request for more books of folklore hoping that, since folktales belong to the people, that the folklorists would be presenting their tales as-told-by the people, maybe with some light editing for readability.  I know of collections that are essentially dictations of oral recordings, with names and ages stated of the individuals telling the tales.  Adolphe Orain, for example, is a 19th century Breton-Gallo folklorist who did just that.

However, while researching a few of the tales in Contes populaires, I looked into the resources quoted in the bibliography, tracked down and compared the present telling to the original recording and discovered that it had been significantly pared down and adapted.  I was then presented with the conundrum–does the folktale still count as belonging to the people in the past, does it still count as being “public domain” and open to translation, if the tale has been adapted and altered so much? If the folklorist has added so much of their own touch?  What is the nature of folklore, as it’s being passed down?

If you’ve been following my folktale and fairy tale translations on little translator, you know I’ve been sticking to–or trying my best to stick to–tales that are freely available.  But I didn’t realize when I started how many grey areas there would be to try and avoid.

Last year I translated the tale “Le chasseur vert” or “The Green Hunter” from the collection Contes populaires and offered it to my Patreon supporters while I was in the midst of trying to figure all this out.  Since I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be better to stick to only translating folklore from their original publications in the 19th century and earlier and, unfortunately, avoid any modern folklore collections, I’m going to make a change.

There is something I can do with these more modern-day folktale collections, however, and that is to show you how awesome they are, present you with their bibliographies in case any of you encountering this post also wish to read original French folklore or do similar research as me, aaaaand give you a token translation as part of this review.  I won’t make a habit of it, but I do still want to do all this cultural heritage justice.  It’s really hard to do research across borders, and I want to make it easier.

So, without further ado, “The Green Hunter” from page 182.

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“The Green Hunter”

The Green Hunter hunts men.

A poor woman from Saint-Amarin valley went on pilgrimage to Thierenbach. Once arrived at the foot of the Freundstein castle ruins, she considered for a moment the vulture nests perched atop the rocks and, at the thought of every lord past, present, and future, she began to murmur inwardly against God who would not give her even enough to buy a new pair of shoes.

All at once, she saw a small pile of écu blanc coins shining at her feet. As she bent to collect the treasure she cast a furtive glance around her; consequently, she perceived at some distance away a hunter clothed in green who was watching her beneath furrowed brows. Seized with fright, she left the coins behind and continued on her way through the forest, quickening her pace and regretting the loss of such a great fortune. On the other side of the castle ruins, she met a man walking alone, though he had a certain air of charm and grace and a smile on his lips. This affable gentleman condescended to address her and inquired after the reason for her sadness, sympathized with her, approved her complaints, took part in her grousing, and even encouraged her: together they broke the valley’s silence with their ranting.

Suddenly, the stranger’s eyes gleamed darkly. A terrible smile split open his mouth, revealing pointed teeth. It was the Green Hunter.

He took a cord from his pocket, strangled the old woman, and hung her from a branch.

One of the great things about taking a survey of folklore collections’ table of contents is that you can start to see a pattern.

For example, there are many familiar themes:  Catholic saints and miracles are as important as tales of ghosts in the cities and faeries in the woods.  “Une nuit dans les bois” features a man who gets lost in the woods and what he discovers.  “La chasse maudite” is yet another tale of a sort of Wild Hunt.  “Le guerrier dormant” is about a mysterious sleeping warrior–a historical figure who  might awake when needed to save them?

But there are also repeating, specific tales: “Le pont des fées” or “The Faeries’ Bridge” has been told in so many different versions for this region that I included it in my growing collection of translations.  “La légende de l’horloge” or “The Legend of the Clock” also is a local favorite.  Likewise, “The Silver Rose” which features in “Petit légendaire alsacien,” and “The Legend of Hans-Trapp,” a sort of bogeyman to scare children into being good.  Not to mention, a whole slew of legends about the Strasbourg cathedral.

The repeating themes and tales are what I look for when trying to find something representative to translate.

Another use for surveying tables of content is you can see a pattern of everyone’s favorite go-to folklorists for the region, which you can then use in your own research.  Names such as Auguste Stoeber (who wrote in German), Prosper Baur, and Abbé Charles Braun figure repeatedly.

As for the book’s collection itself, I think it’s really well curated.  Especially in the “Petit légendaire alsacien” chapter which has a whole slew of bite-sized tales that paint a fantastic magical realism picture, from the countryside to the city streets.  I think it has something for everyone and something for everywhere.

So, here is the table of contents and the bibliography. Go ahead and skip over them if you don’t speak French or German. 😉

Table of Contents.

  • Une nuit dans les bois, conte-préface de Erckmann-Chatrian. (“A Night in the Woods,” a folktale preface from author-duo Erckmann-Chatrian.)
  • La légende de Saint Materne qui a évangélisé l’Alsace, Auguste Stoeber.
  • Sainte Attala, Auguste Stoeber
  • Sainte Richarde qui a ressuscité un petit ours, Auguste Stoeber
  • Comment le château de Scharrachbergheim est tombé en ruine, Jean Variot
  • La chasse maudite, Charles Grad
  • Le guerrier dormant, Abbé Charles Braun
  • La légende du Vergiss-Mein-Nicht, Prosper Baur
  • Thibaut le jongleur, Charles Grandmougin
  • Traditions sur la fondation et la construction de la Cathédrale de Strasbourg (récits rapportés par Auguste Stoeber), Louis Schneegans 1850
  • La légende de l’horloge, Prosper Baur
  • L’invention de l’imprimerie, Livret de colportage, 1838
  • La comète, Erckmann-Chatrian
  • Le miracle des flagellants, Auguste Stoeber
  • Petit légendaire alsacien, Auguste Stoeber
  • Le garçon meunier changé en âne, Jean Variot
  • Le pont des fées, Marie Strahl
  • Les elfs, Abbé Charles Braun
  • Les nains de la gorge-aux-loups, Auguste Stoeber
  • Les spectres, Abbé Charles Braun
  • Le schaefferthal et Saint-Gangolf, Abbé Charles Braun
  • Les tziganes, Auguste Stoeber
  • Le tisserand de la Steinbach, Erckmann-Chatrian
  • La légende du bailli, Prosper Baur
  • La légende de Hans-Trapp, Prosper Baur
  • La légende de Till, Prosper Baur
  • La légende de la noble dame de Zornberg, Prosper Baur
  • Sorcellerie d’autrefois, Claude Seignonlle
  • Un beau chapelet de malédictions, Auguste Stoeber

Bibliography

  • Prosper Baur : Légendes et Souvenirs d’Alsace, Paris, Dentu. 1881.
  • Abbé Charles Braun : Légendes du Florival ou la Mythologie allemande dans une vallée d’Alsace, Guebwiller, J. B. Yung 1866.
  • Erckmann-Chatrian : Contes des bords du Rhin.
  • Abbé Hunckler : Histoire des Saints d’Alsace, Strasbourg, Levrault, 1832.
  • Auguste Stoeber : Die Sagen des Elsasses nach Volksuberlieferung, gedruckten und handschriftlichen Quellen gesammelt und erlautert, mit einer Sagenkarte. Saint Gallen, 1852.
  • Jean Variot: Légendes et Traditions orales de l’Alsace, Paris, Georges Crès, éditeur, 1920.
  • Claude Seignolle: Les Evangiles du Diable. Maisonneuve, Paris, 1963.
  • Revue Alsacienne (1877-1890).
  • Revue d’Alsace (Colmar), 1ere année : 1830 ; 2e année : 1851.
  • Revue des Traditions populaires (Paris), 1902.

 

The second book I’m discussing today has pictures!  Some in color, some in ink.  I really like it because the folklorist not only tells the tale, provides illustrations, but as you can see on the right next to the key icon, there’s even commentary on the tale’s themes, cultural trends, etc.

“The Haunted Coach of Rosheim”:

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This is one of the folktales that inspired my retelling short story “What She Saw by Lantern Light.”  In the original tale, it’s a young, newly-married woman who makes the overnight trek from Rosheim to Strasbourg to be there for the early morning market and encounters the flying diligence coach, as you can see in the illustration.

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In my retelling “What She Saw by Lantern Light,” I changed the protagonist to be a younger girl trying to support her family and I also added a few other inspirations into the mix to make it my own, which I’ve discussed previously.

The retelling appeared in Kate Wolford’s Frozen Fairy Tales, and I suppose it’s been out long enough I can spoil it, haha.

“What She Saw by Lantern Light”is available at various retailers.

 

In any case, I mentioned earlier that I look for repeating themes when I translate.  Location is another.  Certain locations in Alsace tend to collect stories.  One of these is Nideck–the Nideck castle, Nideck waterfall.  There are many tales of the giants who lived at Nideck, and about the nymph who lives at the falls.  Wangenbourg castle, which isn’t far from Nideck, is another with several tales to its name.  Hohenstein castle is another.

To demonstrate, I translated “La dame blanche du Hohenstein” from this collection.  Not only does it take place at a folktale hot-spot, but it also features a White Lady, a common creature in French folklore.  In the tales I’ve encountered, she often bears a key, and…well, you’ll see.  This is from page 35.

“The White Lady of Hohenstein”
Numerous people out walking at the approach of evening have seen a lady, dressed all in white, haunting the Hohenstein castle ruins.  She sits at the top of a boulder, so close to the sheer drop that she seems to want to cast herself from its height.  She extends her hands beseechingly to every passerby and utters little moans and cries of despair.

One day, a very long time ago, a reckless–albeit dependable–man who lived in the area was passing nearby when he saw the white lady.  Believing it was only a tourist who had lost her way and could not manage to climb down from her difficult position, he scaled the rock to help her.  He was just about to take hold of her when the lady handed him a key, begging him to find in the ruins of the old fortress a strongbox:

“You will see a monster crouched atop the coffer, but do not be afraid; it will flee as soon as you insert the key into the lock.  You will open the coffer and find a treasure.  Take as many gold pieces as you can carry, for they will be yours; but above all, do not forget to return to me the key I have just given you.”

Somewhat surprised, our exuberant fellow set out on his search for the coffer which he did indeed discover.  On the lid sat a horrible monster, just as she had said. But, courageous, the traveler inserted the key and the beast vanished into thin air as soon as the lid opened, revealing marvels, gold, and precious stones within.  Eager, he stuffed as much as he could into his pockets, even clutching so much in his hands that he could no longer retrieve the key for fear of dropping a single coin.  Carrying his treasure, he returned to the white lady who, at his approach, uttered a cry of despair.  The key, her salvation, was missing!  In an instant the riches taken from the coffer transformed into a fistful of dust that the wind swept from his hands.  Desire had once again triumphed over vows.

And so, the white lady still awaits a being of exceptional quality who will not forget their promise or sell it for a little gold!

I really enjoyed this collection.  There are shape-shifting rabbits, men with wolfish eyes and wolves with human eyes, scarab beetles that might be gold, a wicked black stallion who keeps a lady captive, a man on fire, a pet dragon, cow-ammunition à la Monty Python, and last but not least, two white cat mages:

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Hold onto these two.  You might see them again later 😉

Table of Contents. (Note, not all accents included, for speed of my typing).

  • Un voyage à travers un pays mystérieux
  • La diligence hantée de Rosheim
  • Le <<Kindelbronne>> de Rosheim
  • La Vierge miraculeuse de Rosenwiller
  • La nuit du jugement au Guirbaden
  • La trahison du seigneur de Hohenstein
  • Le blé et la vache
  • Le diable et saint Valentin
  • Le roi des nains
  • La tombe du géant d’Altorf
  • Le pont des fées
  • Comment se protéger des mauvais sorts
  • Sorcières et esprits frappeurs à Oberhaslach
  • Le premier miracle de saint Florent
  • Les scarabées d’or de la ruine du Hohenstein
  • Clauss, le chercheur de trésors
  • La fille du géant au château du Nideck
  • La naissance de la cascade du Nideck
  • L’ondine de la cascade
  • Le crime du chevalier Rodolphe
  • La dame blanche du <<Urstein>>
  • Comment reconnaitre une sorcière ?
  • Deux sources miraculeuses : Soultz et Avolsheim
  • Le Christ et saint Pierre à Wolxheim
  • Le dragon terrassé par saint Denis
  • L’origine du nom d’Irmstett
  • Les couvents engloutis
  • Le fantome de Dangolsheim
  • L’homme de feu de Balbronn
  • Le fantôme du Ochsenlaeger
  • Le squelette de Charles le Téméraire
  • Les animaux fabuleux de la Mossig
  • Le monstre puni
  • Le dragon du << Scharrach >>
  • La horde sauvage
  • Le puits de sainte Anne
  • Les chasseurs de lune à Wangen
  • Les souris et les chats blancs de Wangen
  • Noel et quelques coutumes oubliées
  • Le voleur de la Vierge du << Marlenberg >>
  • Le loup du << Kronthal >>
  • Le spectre de Wasselonne
  • Le fantôme du  << Schneeberg >>
  • Le << Goldbrunnen >>
  • La fileuse Berchta
  • Le fantôme du << Brotsch >>

Bibliography.

  • Anderhalt Joseph : << Die Nixe vom Nidecker-Wasserfall >>, in Neuer Elsasser Kalender, 1938, p. 52.
  • Bergmann : << Elsasser Sagen >>, in Jahrbuch fur Geschichte, Sprache und Litteratur in Elsass-Lothringen (Vogesen-Club), 1980.
  • Dorny André : << Légendes d’Alsace >>.
  • Enderlin Hans : <<Burg Nideck und die Sage >>, in Neuer Elsasser Kalender, 1921, p. 51.
  • Fuchs Albert : << War Wotan ein obergermanischer Gott und im Elsass bekannt ?>>, in Elsassische Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Volkskunde, 1921, p. 423 et 547. Du même : << Die Nidecksage >> (das Riesenspielzeug), dans même titre que précédemment, année 1912, p. 34 à 48.
  • Klingelé Otto Heinrich : << S’Wuedis-Herr >>, Die Sage vom Wilden Heer, 1985.
  • Lefftz Joseph : <<Die wilden Leute im Elsass  >> dans la même publication, année 1935, p. 7 à 12.
  • Menges Heinrich : << 100 Sagen und Geschichten aus Elsass-Lothringen >>, 1911.
  • Mentz F. : << War Wotan im Elsass bekannt ? >>, in Elsassische Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Volkskunde, 1911, p. 546.
  • Muhl Gustav : << … ein Hinblick auf die Scharrachbergheimer Johanneskirche >>, in Alsatia 1852, p. 180.
  • Muntzer Désiré : << Elsassisches >>, Le même pour << Die Geisterkutsche >>, même titre, année 1854/55, Sagenbuch, 1910, p. 213.
  • Otte Friedrich : << Elsassisches Samtagblatt >>, 1856-1858.
  • Schaeffer F. A.: <<Der Feengarten auf dem Langenberg >>, in Elsassland, 1923, p. 83-85. Du même : <<Die Riesensagen im Elsass >>, même titre, année 1924, p. 92-93.
  • Specklin R. : << Une carte des légendes d’Alsace >>, in Revue d’Alsace 1954, p. 141.
  • Stintzi Paul : <<Die Sagen des Elsasses >>, Colmar 1930, 3 volumes.
  • Stoeber Auguste: << Die Sagen des Elsasses >>, Sankt-Gallen, 1852. Du même, dans la revue Alsatia, Jahrbuch fur elsassische Geschichte, Sage, Altertumskunde, Sitte, Sprache und Kunst, 1851-1876. Egalement : << Die Hexenprozesse im Elsass >>, 1857 et << Zur Geschichte des Volkes Aberglaubens im Anfange des 16. Jahrhunderts am Geiler von Kayserberg Emeis >>, 1856.
  • Tuefferd E. et Ganier H. : << Récits et légendes d’Alsace >>, 1884.
  • Variot Jean : << Légendes et traditions orales d’Alsace >>, Paris, 1919.

Just skimming through that, even for the non-initiate it should be farely obvious that this region–situated right on the border of France and Germany and contested between the two throughout all of time–has resources in both French and German.  It would be really cool to pair up with a German literary translator sometime and do a collection of folklore and fairy tales from this region.

Maybe someday….

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Behind the scenes: What She Saw By Lantern Light

I’ve been a fan of both Enchanted Conversation and World Weaver Press for years.  So when I saw the announcement that Kate Wolford would be heading up a joint anthology of original or lesser-known fairy tales set in winter, I decided I would write towards her prompt.  I never actually expected that she would like it, though I did try to hit both her theme and word count goals as a sort of experiment for myself.

What follows is a spoiler-free behind-the-scenes glimpse into the story, why it turned out the way it did, for those who like to read such things.

~~

When I sat down to write the story in April (2015), my grandmother, for whom I’d been the primary caretaker the first six months or so of her brain cancer, had just recently passed away.  My own health, since I had my own chronic illness to contend with, had been thoroughly shot to pieces, but as part of my recovery I’d decided to return to writing again little by little.

I also had no workable computer at the time and so the idea was that I’d trial out writing a couple short stories on my 7″ tablet paired with a new bluetooth keyboard before delving into anything longer.  This set-up created the interesting effect of only being able to see a few lines of story at a time.

If the tale is packed full of details, it’s because if I didn’t write them, they would not exist.  Whatever ended up “on paper” became the story in my head, not the other way around.

In the bleak midwinter…

The opening line of the Frozen Fairy Tales prompt also happened to be the title of one of my favorite carols.  I’ve included the version that has meant the most to me over the years, trekking with me through the snowfalls and dark nights of my time living in Armenia, and soothing my grandmother’s anxiety as we sat together in her living room in our last month together.  I tried to capture the essence of the song in my story, both consciously and unconsciously.

“And a woman as had her wits about her.”

The Secret of Roan Inish is perhaps my favorite folktale movie of all time.  I watched it religiously when I was younger, to my sister’s bemusement.  If I was going to write a own folktale retelling, I had to pay homage to it in some way, if only in a turn of phrase.  Everyone with Netflix should check it out.

‘Not old like me. I mean old. Old like darkness and stars,’ she said to the flames.

Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time has been my “bedtime story” audiobook of choice in recent years.  It never fails to sooth my own anxiety and help me conquer my insomnia (a frequent, pesky demon since my chronic illness struck).  One of my favorite scenes is when Nanny Ogg tells Susan, granddaughter of Death, her own hearth-tale about the lady Time giving birth to a mostly-mortal boy.  In honor of Terry Pratchett’s passing and in thanks for all the comfort and relief, I paid tribute to this scene by giving my favorite line a cameo.

Christkindelsmärik

(Photographer Claude TRUONG-NGOC, Wikimedia Commons)

(Photographer Claude TRUONG-NGOC, Wikimedia Commons)

The original Alsatian folktale I based my retelling on starts off with a newly-wed young woman setting off on her first, midnight trip from Rosheim to sell goods at the market in Strasbourg.  Making the switch to Strasbourg’s world-famous, centuries-old Christmas Market seemed like a perfect change to make, given the winter theme.

Sunday’s child…

The concept of a child born on Sunday being able to see into and participate in the world of spirits and faeries I borrowed from a different Alsatian folktale, which I translated from an oral telling under the title “The Faerie’s Gift of Tears.”

My own family lore…

I grew up with stories about my ancestors, including how one Swedish ancestor of mine (a young woman) would regularly walk for long hours of the night to “commute” between where she worked and where her family lived.  And there was this one time where she thought she saw something frightening in the dark…. I won’t tell you what it was or what it turned out to be, but the imagery has stayed with me.  My grandmother also told me a couple tales of her family members encountering friendly ghosts.  So, there’s that.

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Website Update

I just finished “updating” my translation website to reflect the current state of affairs.   Knowing me, I will probably only get a full website working when I have something to show for it, aka when Persinette is ready to sell.  But never fear, I am making good progress there.  I’m on task to finish my second translation pass by the end of the month, which makes me very happy.

The “little translator” image was made for me by Myriam Bloom.  The cover art for Andromeda was designed by Niki Smith.


Need Readers for Queen

So, I’m officially asking for readers willing to alpha/beta-read my novella Queen of the Eight Banners.   (I have an alpha-reader who reads along as I write, but she didn’t see the whole thing from start to finish, so you can probably call yourself either an alpha-reader or a beta-reader and get away with it. 😉 )

If you’ve never done this before, basically I’m not asking for an editor’s feedback, I’m asking for your reader reactions, so you don’t need any special training to do this.  I’m looking to know what interested you, where you were bored, if anything confused you, if you liked/disliked parts, if it makes sense, if the characters were believable.  I don’t care about grandiose, high school English-class stuff of theme or tone or whether or not a secret authorial message has come across.

Check out my post on Alpha-reading if you want more ideas of what I’m looking for.

As for whether or not you should volunteer – Queen of the Eight Banners

  • clocks in at about 44,000 words, which is roughly half the size of a typical novel
  • is historical fantasy inspired by 17th Century China’s situation, involving political relations between the Chinese, Mongolians, and the Manchu/Jurchens.   (The Gui, the Gols, and the Hu in my version.)  Half of the events in this novella are historical and half are my invention.   Also, well, there’s magic and a few action-sequences. Mwahaha?
  • has a literary bent

So if you don’t like literary historical fantasy with political maneuvering, magic, and some battle sequences that isn’t fully novel-length, this story is not for you.   If it’s not for you, don’t waste your time and mine by volunteering.   Don’t worry, even if we’re friends or I’ve done you favors in the past, you’re not compelled to read it. 😉  But if you’re interested? Great! I’d be ever so grateful if you took the time to help me out with this.

I need it back by December 1.  So you have September, October, and November in which to read it and give feedback.   Sound good?  (If you’re in school, you probably want to start and finish it in September before midterms and projects get crazy. Just sayin’. )

Simply send me an e-mail if you’re interested.  Or if you don’t have my e-mail, leave a comment below using the e-mail where you want me to send you the file.  I’ll be sending out the story as a Microsoft word .doc file sometime later this week.  You’re free to leave comments via track-changes and/or comment bubbles along the way or at the end of scenes or chapters, whatever floats your boat.

-Questions? I am happy to answer them!


Finished part 4!

So, for 2013 I’m doing an experiment with how I keep track of my writing.  In 2011-12, my writing process was to simply open TimeStamp and clock an hour’s time and then to mark my monthly calendar each day I wrote with a letter corresponding to the project I was working on–so “Q” for Queen of the Eight Banners, and so on.  I’d also jot down monthly word count and hours of writing achieved, (but I’ll admit on the monthly level, those always looked so pathetic).

But this year I’m taking inspiration from Holly Black’s writing accountability process and Mary Robinette Kowal’s use of spreadsheets and seeing what happens if I do something similar.

I still open TimeStamp and use it as my tool to both “get in the writing zone” and keep myself focused without any interruptions.  But this year, due to the amount of various projects on my plate that I want to clear (oops, how did I get so many?), I’m only writing for a half hour each day.  And now I’m also jotting down word counts.  It’s quite fun, actually! I didn’t expect something so clerk-y to feel so rewarding.

My mindset is simply to record what happens.   The only thing I feel responsibility towards is achieving that half hour.  Everything and anything else is happy happenstance, and I like how Holly Black’s system records life circumstances and takes those into account. So…want a peek?

Guess what? I FINISHED PART 4.  I MADE MY GOAL. IT FEELS SO GOOD. WHO CARES IF THOSE LAST 300 WORDS AREN’T THE GREATEST. I DID IT ANYWAY. HAH!

Finished part 4!


Whimsy

Despite the fact that there seems to be only one rule about how to learn to write well (just write, buddy!), there seem to be a bajillion rules about what makes a good story.  For example – Everything needs to be plausible , all the characters need to have a purpose, every scene must streamline to fulfill plot purposes, if it doesn’t, it needs to be cut, and so on.

I’ve noticed that all the rules about what makes a “good story” these days are grounded in logic, pragmatism, and economy. (You’d think we’d got a certificate of graduation for the “Age of Reason” or something.) So I was tickled pink to read this in Rothfuss’ January Reddit Q&A:

Reddit’s I AMA Fantasy Author w/Pat Rothfuss

galaxyrocker:

Hey, Pat. I’m not sure if this has been answered, but I remember reading somewhere that Auri wasn’t originally part of the story. In a sentence, why did you decide to include her?

PRothfuss – AMA Author:

There is no rational reason I could give you that would be satisfying. I could explain to you some of the functions she serves in the story. The role she fills.

But that wouldn’t be the real truth. Not the true truth.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason. Merely that it is not a quantifiable, rational thing.

Some questions are not in the realm of raw logic. Art is one of these things. And so is Auri. You might as well ask, “Why a butterfly?”

There are so many gems, so much potential gold in stories that don’t necessarily tick off every rule in the rulebook.  I tend to feel defensive about this, though, (and have to justify my inclusions under the “subplot” heading). Like a dragon guarding her jeweled horde.  There’s no imperative, logical reason for that horde to be there. Is the dragon “using” it? No. Could that gold and those jewels be better spent? Probably. But if every story were crafted entirely by logic, then where would whimsy be? Life would be so colorless without it, in our lives and in the lives of our characters both.

So, cue me immensely relieved to discover I am not the only one who feels this way, and that it is perfectly acceptable to do this.  Thus I thought I would share, (as I combat my overdeveloped sense of responsibility in all aspects of my life).  For now, though, it seems like only epic fantasy authors are allowed to be whimsical with their nuts and bolts, and add in more for the sake of life rather than stripped-down, pragmatic story.

Thoughts?  Though I will say, I’m not advocating dumping every idea into a story willy-nilly, just…giving us more room to breathe.


Anti-Discouragement Pill

Last year I got really discouraged with my rough-draft writing.  I wanted whatever I was writing to come out exactly the way I wanted it to go on the first try.  In other words, I didn’t want writing to be a process, I wanted it to be the equivalent of spilling a perfect story out onto the page.   Granted, some of my frustration was illness-based.  I have a lot less control over my process now than I used to.

However, one day as I was musing over my frustrations, I realized something that has become quite a useful observation for me.  I realized that any form of art never spills perfectly onto the page on the first go. In fact, the process of drawing, painting, or other art forms is just that–a process.  Why should I expect my writing to be any different?  When I draw, first I do a thumbnail sketch, then a preliminary pencil sketch with various amounts of erasing and redrawing. Then I wait a few days or draw something different so I can have a fresh view.  Then I ink, then I apply markers, and so on.  Nothing skips magically from my head onto the sketchbook page.

Writing is the same.  Whether you’re an “outliner” or a “discovery writer”, no rough draft is ever the final draft. Ever.  There is always something to tweak or make better. Sometimes you have to completely erase and “redraw” a section so that it comes closer to how you want it to go, and so on.

As soon as I realized that writing is a cousin to drawing, I instantly felt better. However, I’ve found some difficulty trying to explain my epiphany to others. So, in April when I was working on a watercolor experiment with the help of a friend, I took progress shots, and now I’m sharing them with you.

Here we go!

Step Zero- Initial Idea.

This is all in your mind. Some of it is vague, some of it is crystal clear and longing to be captured “just so”.   You hope, just like every other time, that what you’re able to put on paper will match what’s in your head.

Step One – Thumbnail sketch.

Thumbnails, because they’re vague in parts, detailed in others, tend to capture your Initial Idea better than the steps following it. This can be a subject of frustration.

Step Two – Pencil sketch.

I didn’t take a photo of just the pencils, but you can see them here, lightly drawn, getting the basic shapes of what I want.  Even just this first step took some erasing and redrawing to get the shapes closer to how I wanted them. Already there was some disappointment in how the sketch differed from thumbnail and my Initial Idea, but I kept going.

Thumbnail + Pencil Sketch

Step Three – Basic background.

Sketching with paint, is more like it. Trying to get a feel for how the background should function behind the foreground.

Basic Background

Step Four – More depth.

More Depth

Hesitating, Considering

Step Five – Going All Out & Taking Risks.

I really didn’t know how to go from Step 4 to Step 5. How do you fill in a background with color and shapes so that it will function as a sort of hazy background and not detract from the foreground when it’s a finished piece? Yeah, I didn’t know. I badgered a friend (who knows a lot more than I do) with questions. I hesitated and considered for a long time. Then, gathering all my newly-acquired instructions, I made the plunge with crossed fingers and bated breath. Sometimes, we really don’t know what we’re doing or how to achieve the effects we want. But we try anyway and tell ourselves that if we break it, we can still fix it. The point is not to give up but to keep moving forward–and ask for help.

Fleshed-out Background

Step Six – Color correction.

The background turned out too blue for my liking. I have a huge dislike for blue and pink wildflower fields that certain impressionists have done. So I sought help again and tried a wash of yellow over it. Lines blurred more than I liked, but at least the grass is green again. I also tried my hand at some underpainting on the fairy. I didn’t do it quite right, but there was no harm to my attempt, and now I know better.

A Greener Spring

Step Seven – The Faerie & The Poppy.

More painting, and then I brought out my watercolor pencils  for the foreground, which I enjoy working with.   I ended up spilling orange paint on the wing, however, and was unsuccessful at blotting it all up, so it became an accidental feature of the piece. I freaked out at the time, but besides drifting further away from my Initial Idea, there was no lasting harm or foul, and I adapted the mistake to make it work with the rest of the picture.  (Remember how this can apply to writing?)

The Faerie & The Poppy

Step Eight – Flattening, Inks, Details.

Next, my watercolor paper was curling, so I learned the technique to straighten the paper and did that overnight.  Then I inked the foreground to make it pop more from the background, and added the finer details.  I inked with a migraine at the time, so since I could barely see, my hand strayed many times from where I wanted it to go. Each time I made a mistake, I tried to adapt it so it appeared like something I did on purpose.

Flattening, Inks, Details

Here’s a  close-up:

Close-up

Summary: The whole process took me about a month from start to finish. I worked on it off and on, weighing each step, trying to figure out how to get the piece closer to how I wanted it to go since most of the time I just didn’t know, and seeking help when I needed it.  The process would have gone much faster if I knew more of what I was doing, but the process itself: the thumbnail sketch, sketching and erasing till I had what I wanted, the layering and tweaking of colors, waiting for things to dry before I moved to the next portion, asking for help and a more professional opinion, the final detail work, and adapting to my many mistakes–this doesn’t change.


Bilingual edits, begin!

Bilingual edits for Andromeda

Original text – Finished August 2008 for a class, got me a job translating for a textbook.

Red- Monolingual notes, flags, and edits, started July 2011 and finished in February 2012.

Green- Bilingual edits, started May 2012.  A lot more mistakes in the rough draft than I’d thought, oops.

I’m so glad I’m making all my notes and changes on one document rather than fixing the electronic copy as I go. It’s going to save me a lot of time….

Let’s see, if I shoot for a page a day, I can finish sometime in August. Here goes nothing!


Likes n Dislikes

The other day I saw this Pixar Story Rules list on Twitter. A few of the items stuck out to me, such as

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

and

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

I’ve heard this advice many times but I haven’t actually sat down and done it.   So, what do I like to read? What sorts of things do I dislike? Am I guilty of writing the very thing I dislike reading? (Scary thought).  Well, here goes. In no particular order,

Likes.

  • Well-written, beautiful prose. It doesn’t have to be a “literary” style for me to like it, but if it’s so sparsely written that there’s almost nothing on the page, it grates on me. If it’s not on the page, then it’s not in the story.
  • Long novels with fleshed-out subplots. Ambulatory paces are just fine with me.
  • Humor, or light mixed in with all the darkness.
  • Stories that end well or with an open door of hope and everything working out.  Also a sense that their story continues, not all threads tied together in a neat package, etc, but still a sense of closure.
  • Trilogies or multiple-book series that follow the same protagonists.  I prefer taking a long trip with a character than a bunch of shorter trips with more characters.
  • Character-driven novels, idea-driven short fiction. (I don’t really believe character-driven short fiction exists, since it’s not enough time to really get to know the characters. And there’s not enough time for the characters to run away from the writer’s tidy plot and idea? I don’t know. Prove me wrong.)
  • Depth enough that there’s more to discover on a reread. Not just the second reread but the third and fourth.
  • Creative and unique ideas and worldbuilding. And I mean more than just tweaking old tropes by two or three degrees. I want at least a 45 degree angle change in what’s already out there. (Stone vampires that sparkle like granite in the sun? You’re totally jealous of not being able to make your vampires moving statues, aren’t you. That’s why your vampires are cliché and boring, right? Your snobbery isn’t giving you any brownie points if you can’t be creative, yourself. Just fyi.)
  • Great dialogue.
  • Genre benders, particularly science fantasy.
  • Husband-and-wife or other couples or duo teams. But I should add–with no contrived conflicts. Everything they do deal with stems from their personalities and circumstances, rather than be invented on-the-spot for some quick conflict.

Dislikes.

  • “Trilogies” where the first book takes one set of protagonists and books 2&3 have a completely different set, such as Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy or Books 2&3 after Howl’s Moving Castle.  However, if I have the expectation going in that it’s not really a “trilogy” but simply books connected by the same world, that’s fine.  Still, if I invest time with characters, I want to see the trilogy belong to them.
  • Too many Point-of-View characters.  It’s an investment thing; I only have so much to give at a time. I even have difficulty reading multiple books at the same time.
  • Everything going wrong all the time.  As in, if something can go wrong or break, it breaks, no question. So I guess I don’t like catastrophe plots. An example would be Falling Free by Bujold, Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin (book2), or Timepiece by Heather Albano. I like each of those books, but this is something I dislike in each: everything goes wrong with every attempt to get things right. It just grinds you down, and real life doesn’t operate that way. So why should I escape to a world that’s more pessimistic than my own?
  • Rape within the story’s plot framework. But I’ve already discussed that.
  • Kisses without passion or poetry.  (When I say ‘passion’, I don’t mean erotica, I just mean they need emotion, detail, attention.)  I dislike it when a romance subplot is building and then the author writes, “He kissed her.”  Um, what a climax?  There are a million and one ways to kiss someone. Was it tender, sloppy, tentative or confident? What did it taste or feel like? Was it quick or lingering? More details are needed!  And if you’re not going to give concrete details but rather stay in the abstract, then give it poetry. A Kiss is magical, so give it magic.  Don’t run from the climax or skip over it.  The equivalent would be like saying “And then he died.”  Yeah, don’t do that.
  • Fiction whose sole purpose is a shock or edgy factor:  disturbing, gruesome, lots of purposeless swearing, carnal sex (rather than romantic).  Fiction that makes me feel disgusting and disgusted as I come out of it, I guess.
  • Mistaking “being in a relationship” or lust for love.  Also, relationship montages or handwaviums rather than taking the time to develop real relationships between characters, whether friendship or romantic.
  • Token mascot female characters, and the reverse, “strong” female characters who lack confidence but are always on the defensive with their status to prove. (Also, giving a woman a sword does not make her strong, just fyi.)
  • Love triangles.  They seem to happen more often in fiction than in real life, has anyone else noticed that?  I mean, there’s a certain percentage of the population and personality types that seem universally loved and admired by all. Geeks and underdogs and the types of personalities that seem to be the heroes and heroines in fiction aren’t generally from that percentile.  In fact, underdogs and geeks are rarely noticed by ONE person, let alone two.  There needs to be a stinking good, plausible reason to convince me I should accept the love triangle as anything other than wish-fulfillment or conflict-creator.

What about you? What do you like or dislike reading?


Revision Plan B

Alright, deep breath, here goes.

The Problem with Revision.

I’ve been thinking about revision and how to handle it ever since I sent a short story to Critters.org and got 20+ critiques.  The results were very confusing–and actually quite overwhelming.  Each piece of advice contradicted the next. What one person loved another person hated. How could I sort through all these different editing opinions (unfortunately most of the comments fell into the “editing” rather than “alpha-reading” category) and find the solution to what I should do to make my story better?  I asked for help in how to sort through the pile of contradictions, and I got some good advice, but still what I should do remained unclear.

So, as I am wont to do, I kept my question in the back of my mind as I browsed authors’ websites the following months.  For example, Beth Revis wrote a fascinating series of posts on her revision process. I recommend the read, if you’re like me and curious about what others do.

The Question.

Gradually, my general, murky confusion about revision refined itself into a particular question:

I have met writers who are too arrogant and self-assured to take criticism, and their writing and their stories suffer for it. I don’t want to be so confident that I can’t listen to much-needed advice. I have also met writers who are tossed about by every wave, applying every passing comment until their story is barely cohesive or coherent and hardly unique. I don’t want to be like that, either.

How can I make my stories better? How do I decide which advice to follow and when? What in the world do I use as a yardstick to measure advice against?

Revision Plan B.

After much thought and consideration, I have come up with a plan–or a rule of thumb.

Assuming that I have a vision of how I want the story to go, then,

  • Any advice that resonates with and adds to my vision of the story, I will take. In other words, I’m only going to make changes that add to my vision of how I want the story to go.
  • Any advice that diminishes my vision, comes into conflict with it or detracts from it, I will ignore.

This plan still necessitates change and taking advice. I refuse to be stuck in my own ways, alone in my ruts.  However, it also means that I am free to say no, and now I have a reason for doing so that makes sense, rather than on the basis of an  arbitrary “I don’t think I should” feeling or simple stubbornness.

As M Williams said when I proposed this plan, “Some people’s advice is going to be motivated by a desire to help, but it’s going to be advice that wants to make the story into the kind of story they would want to tell, instead of the kind of story you want to tell! . . . [This plan] lets you look at advice and figure out which advice is useful and which advice takes your story away from where it’s supposed to go! It’s humble and learning-ready, but it still protects the integrity of the story you’re trying to tell.”

It also means I will carefully consider all advice before I dismiss it, and if there’s anything I’m unsure about, I can hold onto it for later reconsideration.  I’ve actually done this a lot.  Advice that at the time I dismissed because I was too close to the story, I have still held onto and have later adopted as time has gone on.  (There is hope for me yet?)  For example, in my current novel WIP, one of the character’s names was originally different, but I received some really strong advice that her name needed to be changed, and for good reason. There were too many other connotations associated with it. I hesitated, but decided not to change it at that time because I didn’t feel right about the decision. However, I held onto that piece of advice, and just last month I found a solution that would continue my vision of the story and also address the legitimate concern about her name.

A Caveat on Reactions.

During Lettermo last month, I ran my revision plan by Mary Robinette Kowal to see what she thought. She approved the plan then brought up an excellent point.  She wrote,

Generally, I react one of four ways.

  1. Doh! I can’t believe I did that. You are totally right.
  2. I see why you had that reaction. That isn’t how I’d fix it, but I know how to.
  3. I don’t understand. Can you clarify?
  4. Hell, no.

#4 is actually a variant on #3. In that, if a reader’s idea is so wildly different from mine, I might be communicating the wrong thing. It’s worth looking at that one again in case they are pointing at an actual problem but misidentifying it.

I mulled over this off and on for about a month, and here’s what I’ve come up with in how it relates to my revision plan.

When looking at writing advice, it’s important to try to piece together why the reader had the reaction they did.  If they’re a good alpha-reader, they should be articulating their reading experiences and giving just their reactions to the text without any advice. But the majority of the time, people tend to act as an editor when they give feedback, so it’s useful to try to dissect why they are saying what they are.  Perhaps what they are really communicating is that what you tried to get across was actually unclear, they didn’t understand a passage, or one or two sentences at the beginning of the chapter wasn’t enough to anchor an important idea they will need to understand xyz, and so on and so forth.

Application.

I’m about to do a revision stint on a few stories, so here goes nothing! I also wish everyone best of luck in their revisions.


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