Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How To Get Unstruck When Writing a Story: Michael Swanwick on Character Triangles:

Just in case you weren't aware, Michael Swanwick is a genius and writes science fiction. These are his words:

"A story requires at least three characters. So the triangle a useful tool when analyzing why a story-in-progress doesn’t work. Make a diagram of all the characters and who they interact with. Look for triangles. If there are none, then you’ve identified the problem:

"A protagonist needs to be pulled in two different directions, so there can be a resolution that is a synthesis of interpersonal forces. A protagonist and an antagonist (who would be represented by two dots connected by a line) don’t enact a story – they’re just playing tug-of-war. Which is no more a story than is a football game.

"So a man falls in love with a woman. Either it takes or it doesn’t. No story. A woman has to choose between two men. This might be a story. Draw the triangle.

"There’s a line from her to Man A and another to Man B. But is there a line between the two men? What is their relationship to each other? Usually when such a story isn’t working – when it doesn’t feel like a story – it’s because the two men have no direct relationship with each other, but only interact through the woman. Ask yourself how you can make their relationship interesting. Are they best friends? Father and son? Astronauts competing for a place on the first rocket to Mars?

"The insight can be extended to ask related questions. Is the relationship on one side of the triangle significantly weaker than the other two? Are there more than one triangle in the story, and if not should there be?

"As you can see, the utility of this is extremely dependent on the specifics of the story in question. The one universal that I insist upon is that the triangle is descriptive rather than prescriptive. We can all think of perfectly valid stories that don’t have character triangles in them.

"And it does no good to start with a triangle. Let your story find its natural shape. If you get stuck, diagram it out and look for the triangles. If the story doesn’t get stuck, don’t give it a second thought."

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, January 08, 2010

Reading the Aeneid of Virgil, Blow by Blow

I read books 3, 4, 5 and half of book 6 of the Aeneid tonight (so far). Publius Virgilius packs a lot of story in his text. I can best appreciate this work in the light of Homer, the tragedians and Plato; the summation of all story up til his time is simply remarkable. It is is as if Virgil in his epic has set out not simply to tell a story, but to give all Story, the archetype of story-ness, the All-Story. But he is not summing up like Homer; characteristically Roman, Virgil seeks to engulf the memories of stories past. Virgil's Aeneid is a colony poem in more ways than one.

And what about the person, the consciousness of Virgil? I must admit I read Virgil through the more accessibly humane Dante. So much of Dante is clearly enriched by Virgil, that if the character Dante had not kept him at his side the strength of Virgil's poem would have overcome Dante the poet. Keep your literary influences close - this seems to be Dante's approach to Virgil.

Virgil sometimes comes across as a bit of a patchwork man. The story leaps from reference to reference of other men's work - and it works, it flows, but we do not clearly get a sense of the cohent consciousness of a work. At least, not yet. Maybe I ought to read on before I judge the man!

The poetry is fine. I have fiddled with many translations, and chanced on the Fagles-like one by Kline, which is superbly lucid compared to the Dryden (best of the olde translations). Tony Kline's Aeneid is free online, and has the benefit of having the books subdivided into the more precise episodic structure. This means the reader gets to rest without losing the thread, and gets reminders of what the thread was, and the sense of the story stands more clearly out than if we just have books one to twelve. It really helps the read. Also, Kline's version renders words that past generations might have called the 'moral sentiments' into plain emotions, which is a bit more real.

Kline's translation of Aeneid is not fancy, but neither is it pedestrian - the poetry reads simply and roughly into Virgil's luminous verse. Compared with ye olde Englishe translations, with which one needs to stop and mentally retranslate into modern English every dozen lines, Tony Kline's translation is a pleasure to read.

Update: I'm now at book 8, and the patchwork is becoming clearer. It makes better sense how Virgil's exercise in epic poetry is not an end in itself but a means to justify the Roman empire. But I can also see how, by making the poem a means to a political end, Virgil undercuts his personal source of inspiration. One cannot turn such sophisticated and urbane critical and aesthetic faculties onto the legends of the founding of Rome without also uncovering something of a critique of the beautiful lies of armed force. Virgil's falterings really illuminate why the Romans were relatively scarce in creative genius: it is hard work being a good Roman!

Update: Finished. I can see why Virgil didn't finish the poem. love the first half of Aeneid, but the second is like reading Rupert Brooke's war poems for a few thousand lines. Pathos becomes bathos. Lyrical emotion become prim patriotism. By the time Turnus dies it is just dreary, and the rage of Achilles has become the duty of Aeneas. Meh.

Part two Aeneid sucks more than Scylla's whirlpool. I suggest prospective readers read up until the Trojans land in Italy and stop there. For reading pleasure, the first half is superb. Trust me on this one: the Trojans settled Italy just fine.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

follow me on Twitter