Category Archives: Books and Literature

Old School Sundays: Carl Sandburg’s “Fog”

Back during my undergrad years, I took a class called ‘Survey of American Literature II.’ We covered everyone from Whitman to Ginsberg and beyond. The professor was a lively, animated guy and his literary analysis was all but awe-inspiring, holding us all rapt with attention, our books opened, our pencils poised.

By semester’s end I had only one complaint with the course. We ‘d completely grazed over the poetry of Carl Sandburg.

This afternoon in fact, having dusted off the front cover of my old Norton Anthology, I saw that only one of Sandburg’s poems, “Grass,” had been covered in the American lit class. I know this because I circled it—in the shape of the poem’s format, no less—in the book.

photo(14)

I don’t recall our class discussion on “Grass.” Reading it now, however, I’m seeing that it’s quite compelling. The first three lines read, “Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo./Shovel them under and let me work—/I am the grass; I cover all.”

It goes on to mention Gettysburg, Ypres, and Verdun—all names of famous battlefields in various wars. What a telling—if not morbid—way to describe the function of grass.

But today I’m focusing another tiny, but pensive poem in the Sandburg section of my former college text. The poem was untouched that semester, but I can remember wishing we’d discussed it at length.

 

Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

 Boats Free Photo

Sandburg was known to be a plain-spoken poet, who in his own words wrote, “Simple poems for simple people.” Some call him an early forefather to the Beat poetry movement. His words don’t contain hidden allusions or tricky metaphors. Sandburg was a straight shooter. No rigmarole found here.

I wonder then, if we’re meant to take “Fog” as it is—a fleeting image of a common weather pattern. Truthfully, I find that difficult to accept. I’ve been wired to make literary analyses; it’s what I do. So after picking the thing apart, I’ve come up with my own interpretation.

First I pulled out the key words and did a sort of free association technique on each one, in other words, what comes to mind when you hear the word…

Fog: confusion, danger, mystification, fleetingness, quietness, peace

Cat: transitory, feminine, solitary, often symbolized or associated with sorcery, magic, etc.

Harbor: stationary, temporary holding place, shelter, safe haven

Haunches: crouching, sitting, resting

Thom Parkin → in Cats and dogs

Pulling it all together…

Another thing about fog is that it is temporary. It comes, stays a while, and then dissipates. Cats too, often appear and disappear in an almost uncanny way. The use of the word “haunches,” which clearly parallels to the way that cats actually sit is suggestive of the stooping way in which the fog hangs. And of course here, the fog is hanging over a harbor—a place for rest, a place for peace.

To me fog will forever symbolize a lack of clarity. I see this harbor as human consciousness that has been temporarily befuddled by the haziness of the fog. We all face periods of confusion and indecision in life, and in those moments our visions and hopes can seem cloudy, indecipherable, and unclear. But these situations often have a way of lifting themselves, of dispersing at the source.

We work out our problems. We seek advice. We pray. We move in different directions. We make decisions. Little by little, our concerns take care of themselves. They have to after all, because just like the fog, if they don’t eventually fade away, we’d never make it through.

Do you have a different interpretation?

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Old School Sundays: Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”

The first time I came across the poetry of Langston Hughes, I was an undergrad in an African-American Lit class. I immediately took to his style. To me, Hughes’ work seemed morphed—broken up and haphazardly put back together again, yet the final result was pure…well, poetry.

Hughes’ words seem to almost mimic the meandering beats of jazz music, and it’s not just the formatting, or the ways the words are displayed on the page…the content has roots as deep as the American experience.

Hughes was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance—a black arts movement that exploded in a Manhattan neighborhood (Harlem) during the 1920s. At the time thousands of African Americans from the south were migrating up north in search of a better life. Those who landed in Harlem took this notion and ran with it.

This poem speaks to me on a variety of levels:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Dried Fruits” Merelize → in Food & Drink

I think most, if not all writers—or anyone with a dream for that matter—can relate to this notion. What does happen when we put our dreams on hold? Do they die this horrible death? Do they “fester” inside of us?

I’ve often wondered if Hughes is suggesting that our unanswered dreams completely disappear or if they stay with us, weighing us down, razing our passion and desire.

The other question that troubles me concerns personal choice. Do we choose our own dreams? I’ve often considered leaving my dreams of writing behind. What kind of person would I be if I no longer wanted to write? Would my life be easier? But if I turn away from it…as Hughes seem to be suggesting…am I destined to “…dry up/like a raisin in the sun?”? Is something I can or can’t help?

The last line, “Or does it explode?” appears to have an even darker connotation. Does what explode? Our lives? Does neglecting our true fervor lead to destruction?

It’s interesting to note that despite Harlem’s rich history, it’s more or less a slum today. West Harlem, actually, was the home of the Renaissance. Anyone from the greater NYC area knows to be wary of treading above 96th street. It’s sad, but I can’t help but wonder if Harlem itself feels victim to this idea of “deferring dreams.”

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Old School Sundays: Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

I had a professor in college who once referred to Frost’s poetry as “simply complex.” It’s not a bad description, actually; Frost’s writing is clearly stated, accessible, and identifiable, yet there’s more beneath lurking beneath the surface. In that sense, Frost is often misunderstood . His plain spoken, nature-loving words often come across as adages in stanza-form, all bound up in a perfect poetic package. Surely though, such a prolific man of literature goes beyond Dr. Seuss for adults.

There are dark undertones to Frost’s poetry. In the poem entitled, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the familiar last line (repeated twice), “Miles to go before I sleep,” doesn’t necessary mean that one must keep going in order to pursue her dreams.

Let’s look at the rest of that stanza:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

The scenario in the poem is a man riding his horse through the woods in sub-zero temperatures; hence, if he “stops” he will likely perish. “Sleep” then becomes synonymous with death. A much darker premise for a poem than simply not giving up on dreams. Of course, there’s a more specific life metaphor in there somewhere. My point is that not all Frost poems are what they seem.

2happy → in Nature

The poem I’d like to speak about in more depth today is “The Road Not Taken.” Common words used at graduations, or inscribed in yearbooks. Of course, this one too, may not be so cut and dry:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had word them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

March to the beat of different drummer. Follow your own path. Make your own way. This is what a surface reading of the poem demands. And while most seem to grasp that a the “road” metaphor is meant to suggest life in general, the poem, taken into consideration,  is rather vague, ambiguous.

2happy → in Landscape

Certain symbolism must be taken into account. In the first stanza, the woods are described as “yellow.” In poetry, yellow is a color that often carries negative connotations. Does this have significance? Maybe, maybe not.

And these two lines suggest ambivalence:

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same

Is this to suggest that the two roads weren’t all that different in the first place?

And what about this?

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

When faced with a life decision, we truly can only go one way, isn’t that true? We’ll never know what might have been. We can promise ourselves to try both ways, to come back and test out our alternative options, but the truth is, how many paths can we really follow? What do we lose each time we make a choice to go one way and not the other?

Then, in the first line of the last stanza, the word “sigh” suggests regret. “I shall be telling with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence.”Don’t we worry about that old notion of waking up one day and realizing what a waste our lives have been? All the missed opportunities, fallen chances, and failures?

In the final line, Frost writes: “I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”

Does this “difference” he speaks of necessarily mean better? Of course it made a difference. No matter what choice we make, it made all the difference. “The Road Not Taken” then, as it says right in the title, could be a lamentation or at most, a mystery. Something we’ll never know, never grasp, because life will only allow us to follow one path at a time.

What’s your interpretation?

Got to love poetry with all its layers! This by the way, is my first in a short series of “Old School Poetry.” Hope you liked it!

Recommended: A Close Look at Robert Frost

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Old School Sundays: John Knowles’s “A Separate Peace”

I fell in love with this book my freshman year in high school. As far as I’m concerned, this novel is as close to perfect as any piece of literature will ever be. Why? Many reasons. Plot-wise, it’s flawlessly structured. The setting lives and breaths. The dialogue is precise and engaging. The narration, in a word, is superb. As a reader, you’ll go so deep inside the main character, Gene Forrester’s, mind that you’ll likely feel trapped. You’ll try to claw and scratch your way out, but you won’t be able to. At least not until the novel ends. And even then…well, good luck.

Merelize → in Plants & trees The “tree” is a very important symbol in “A Separate Peace”

I’ve used A Separate Peace on this blog many times over as an exemplary literary example of the topic I was discussing. This proves how far in-grained this story is in my mind.

The basic premise centers on two boys, Gene and Finny. They are complete opposites (Gene is studious, introverted, paranoid, and insecure while Finny is free-spirited, extroverted, dynamic, and charismatic), yet they are best friends. They balance each other out. They attend the Devon School–a prep school in New England during the early forties. All the Devon boys know that their time to serve in World War II is looming, and they are aching to live out their last days of freedom–or “peace”–accordingly.

Then Gene does something to his friend Finny that sets them both  back twofold, and thus begins Gene’s inner odyssey where he questions, mistrusts, and doubts his own motives for years to come.

As in most of my worn copies of literature, A Separate Peace is perpetually marked up. I’ll share this one line in particular that has always confused, yet intrigued me, because in essence, I was never sure whether or not I agreed with it.

During the early part of the novel, Gene has a “smart-ass” comeback to nearly everything the optimistic Finny has to say. Gene writes of himself:

“As I said, this was my sarcastic summer. It was only long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak” (Knowles, 17).

It’s an interesting notion isn’t it? Personally, I’m rather sarcastic myself, which is why this line always stood out to me. Am I weak? I’d ask myself nearly every time I re-read the story.

My favorite television characters were always the sarcastic ones. I get a huge kick out of Eric Forman from That 70s Show and Chandler Bing from Friends. And I’m probably the only person ever to say that Jerry himself was my favorite character on Seinfeld.

What is it then, that suggests sarcasm is equivalent to weakness? Is it because sarcasm is essentially derision? Can sarcasm be used as a defense mechanism by someone who is say, pessimistic and cynical? Do the “weak” hide behind irony? Is sarcasm a disguise for anxiety, inferiority, and apprehension?

Throughout the novel, Gene proves himself to be suspicious and easily offended. His jealousy towards the exuberant Finny runs rampant. Is this what Knowles means? Was Gene simply covering his own insecurities by feigning humorous superiority? Is that the fundamental concept behind sarcasm?

See, I still don’t know! Gets me every time. Got to love literature.

From MemeCreator.org

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Points for the Protagonist: Our Unyielding Devotion to Character # 1

Ed Davad → in Toys “Gotta love Harry”

A devout fan of the television series Breaking Bad, I became disgusted with myself one evening while viewing an episode with my husband. At a commercial break I began ranting about ‘what a bitch’ Skyler White, main character Walter White’s wife, was for wishing her husband dead. How dare she deliberately smoke cigarettes in his presence in hopes of his cancer returning? How could cause her lifelong partner such intense bodily harm?

Then it hit me: Why wouldn’t she want him dead?

He became a crystal meth proprietor behind her back. He murdered people. He poisoned a child. Truth be told, Skyler’s husband inadvertently dragged her into serious and potential legal problems. He endangered the lives of their children…and yet, I’m calling her the bitch?

More like Walt himself is the son of one.

It’s an interesting notion to ponder, because I’m definitely not the first, nor will I be the last viewer to deem Skylar the enemy. The thing is though, the story is not centered on Skyler’s point-of-view, if it was, then we’d certainly be ragging on old “Heisenberg” a bit more. But since this tale belongs to Walter, and we as an audience are following his journey from lowly high school teacher to number one drug lord of the American Southwest, we’re simply always going to be on his side. End of story.

*Some other examples from the networks:

1. Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire

2. Don Draper from Mad Men

3. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos

*Notice all these protagonists are of the male variety?

Ed Davad → in Toys

Why We Always Root for the Main Character

Outside of television and inside of literature, this is nothing new. We can argue to the death that Odysseus of Homer’s The Odyssey fits the ancient Greek profile of a hero, but in reality, he was a cocky, philandering, manipulative, and war mongering individual. Yet, we love him. For centuries now, we’ve been giving him importance. We discuss his adventures at length. We analyze his motives. Why? Because The Odyssey is a great story. And whose story is it? That’s right. It’s Odysseus’s story.

Have you ever truly hated a protagonist’s guts? I don’t think it’s possible. Yes, I have encountered some disappointing protagonists (see examples below), but otherwise it seems most character-loathing is saved for villains, antagonists, or other secondary characters.

The protagonist though, despite her many shortcomings is basically the person we’re hanging with as we read the story. She may do some wicked and selfish things, but as readers we’re so appreciative of the story she’s telling us that we’re willing to forgive and forget. Besides, if someone (whether it’s told from first or third person) is essentially spilling her guts, we’re likely to find at least some redeeming qualities.

Examples of characters we hate to love:

Rachel: Protagonist in Emily Giffin’s novel Something Borrowed. Rachel has slept with her best friend’s fiancé. Yet as readers we find ourselves rooting for Rachel to get the guy. She does a great job telling us how she’s always been second-rate next to her alluring friend, Darcy. Plus, we come to discover that Darcy’s done some evil deeds on her own. Rachel basically becomes your buddy. Wouldn’t you take your buddy’s side?

Edna Pontellier: Protagonist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. She simply up and left her family behind (anyone can be forgiven for leaving an unsatisfying marriage, but to nix your parenting responsibilities?) simply because she was having inner-yearnings of something better out there. Yet she was bold, honest, and fearless. And since we’re hearing about her grief on such a deep level, we’re supportive of her decisions.

Ed Davad → in Toys

Examples of disappointing, but not hated protagonists:

Amir: Protagonist in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir watches Hassan, the son of his father’s longtime servant, go through a horrendous experience. Amir, however, does nothing to intervene and then proceeds to feel guilty about it the rest of his life. An underlying motive may be jealously as Amir’s powerful father, Baba, takes an unusual liking to Hassan. Amir is not to be despised, but he proves himself to be a weak character throughout most of the story. It is arguable at the end whether or not the amends he makes does proper justice.

Gene Forrester: Protagonist in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Gene is studious and introverted—which is fine in and of itself, but he’s also insecure. Very, very, insecure. So insecure in fact, that he sabotages the athletic abilities of his sprightly friend, Finny by basically pushing him off a tree limb. Gene spends the remainder of the novel contemplating in an obsessive, incessant way whether or not he intended to do his friend harm.

Both Amir and Gene act on jealous instincts, which are essentially, human. They aren’t evil-minded guys, just vulnerable to life’s natural hierarchy. Despite their actions or lack thereof, they are both phenomenal storytellers, and without their keen perspectives, the books would not be nearly as enjoyable to read.

The truth is we let our protagonists get away with quite a bit, but if we want to hear the story, if want to be entertained, enlightened, mystified and moved, well then, we’re just going to have to put up them.

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Old School Sundays: Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”

Jungle River Ian L → in Plants & trees

I’ve always enjoyed the thematic elements of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness more than the story itself. I studied the book twice, once in high school and then again in college, and I have to admit, both times the story left me cold.

Of course why wouldn’t it? The characters are either evil or uncompassionate at best. The setting—The African Congo during the Age of Imperialism—is grim. And the plot—Marlow, a sailor working for a Belgian trade company, trekking through the jungle, witnessing horror after horror of “trade practices” on the native peoples, to find some lunatic named Kurtz—doesn’t exactly make for a good rainy day read.

Then again, the book did inspire the sensational film Apocalypse Now.

Either way, once the reading was through and I was able to step back and see the broader notions of Heart of Darkness my purpose for reading became clearer.

Thematically, the book explores the absurdity of evil and the greed of imperialism. This line, which I underlined in my copy of the book, says it all:

“Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose” (Conrad, 87).

Aren’t most violent acts in this world essentially pointless? In the case of Heart of Darkness, a forced mutiny of an entire culture was all in the name of ivory.

Is life only as valuable as the worth of certain things? Oil. Diamonds. Money. Drugs. Alcohol.

Or concepts? Religion. Power. Influence. Fame.

For a relatively short novel Heart of Darkness encapsulates the whole of human nature’s ugly side. The attainment of evil often has no ulterior motives. What do we really get in exchange for wickedness? How far do we go before evilness becomes a goal in and of itself? And at what point does it all become pointless? Or as Marlow puts it “for a futile purpose?”

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It’s the Time of the Season: How Weather Affects Our Stories

I can remember a lazy afternoon a few years back in my old apartment; I had just finished watching The Sex and the City movie (part I) when I did something I don’t normally do—clicked on the DVD’s bonus features. For whatever reason, I decided to watch the entire movie again while listening to the director’s, Michael Patrick King, commentary. What really struck me was his use of the changing seasons to move the plot along. I’ll paraphrase here, and you don’t have to be a regular SATC viewer to understand the point.

In the beginning, when Mr. Big leaves Carrie on the proverbial altar it is autumn. I remember the characters discussing a September wedding. Simultaneously, we discover that Steve committed adultery, and while it’s obvious that he is deeply sorry, Miranda stubbornly refuses to make amends and begins to plan her new life as a single woman.

Throughout the cold, blistery winter that follows it is clear that Carrie has fallen into a deep depression. The director even shows how she dyes her black—as if to reflect her emotional state. Miranda too, seems to be barely pulling by, and the tensions lead to a big blow out between the two women on Valentine’s Day.

Then spring comes. Carrie has pulled herself up from her own fiery depths and changes her hair back to its normal, lighter color. Miranda and Steve make plans to meet on the Brooklyn Bridge to attempt reconciliation. I can remember the scene where Carrie and Miranda are walking through Central Park—spring has exploded. The trees are full of plump blossoms, petals float through air, and the grass is green with the vitality. Carrie and Miranda have a new way about them—the fog has lifted. The hard times are over.

When I look back at my life, I see that my wildest, craziest memories were during summer. My darkest periods were during winter. My sense of hope was strongest during spring, and my most prevalent transitioning periods were during autumn.

So I got to thinking…how does the use of the four seasons enhance or reflect plot, setting, and characterization in fiction? As a literature major in college I learned that the seasons often stand as metaphors for the following concepts:

The Four Seasons. From questgarden.com

Spring: Conception

Summer: Life

Autumn: Old Age

Winter: Death

That being said, how can we utilize this in our writing?

Spring: This is classically a season of new beginnings, of hope. Perhaps, for one of your characters it is the end of a depressing period (like old Carrie Bradshaw’s). It is a good time for decision making—a good time to fall in love. The mood of spring is renewed energy. What kinds of situations might your characters go through in the springtime? Spring may also be the perfect season for a happy ending—sort of like a restored sense of faith that all is well.

Then again, it might be fun to try and contrast the growing beauty of a spring setting with a struggling character, or an overblown conflict.

Summer: The season of heated romances, vacations, and an overall sense of freedom. While we’re all adults now and often work through summers, but the notion of June through August being a carefree period will never completely fade—it’s morphed into our psyches and it will certainly come across in literature. This is a great season to use if your main characters are teenagers or college students. Summer is an archetypal time for experimenting, doing crazy things, falling in love, and finding ourselves.

On the other hand, summer can come with a good dose of dread. I always think of The Secret Life of Bees where Lily Owens fears what will come with summer’s end, as she may be forced to leave the home of the Boatwright sisters. The truth is, we all wonder how things will change when summer is over Hey, even Don Henley wonders. “Boys of Summer” anyone?

Autumn: This is a beautiful, but often melancholy season. It’s a time where we cling to the past, (again, shut up Don Henley!) or a more favorable time. Vacation is over; reality has returned. In that way, it is a very practical season. Perhaps in a work of a fiction autumn is where certain events unfold that will lead to a period of mourning. A character grows ill, and his deteriorating body juxtaposes the changing, falling leaves.

On brighter, happier note, autumn is a great time to “turn over a new leaf,” and in some cases, it takes on characteristics of spring in the sense that something new is beginning such as, school, college, etc. Plus, you could always milk that whole concept of the harvest.

Winter: For anyone suffering from SAD, this one is obvious. Winter is a phase of harder times. It’s more difficult for the weak, weary, hungry, and war torn. It is fitting to portray a character going through a depressive state in winter (after all, he can always rise up come spring). Perhaps a character who has been jilted, become unemployed, lost a family member, or finalized a divorce could suffer a tormenting winter. He could be on a post-holiday crisis, a period of uncertainly, stagnancy, and hopelessness. Having a winter season in the background for something like this will always be fitting.

Winter is also a hibernation period. Maybe  a mad-scientist type character works on his experiment like crazy during the winter, all holed up in his study only to reveal his masterpiece when the weather begins to turn. Which by the way I believe was the exact scenario in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I do remember a lot of vivid winter imagery in that novel.

This is not to say that a writer MUST make use of the seasons to accurately reflect plot, setting, and characterization. Sometimes it will happen naturally—I’ve noticed that a lot of what I described above indirectly occurs in my own novel. However, I do think seasonal consideration should be applied. As writers we can certainly mindful of this technique. What’s happening in the background at any given time is important. And hey, so is weather. Otherwise we wouldn’t talk about it so much!

Do the four seasons play a role in your writing?

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Filed under Books and Literature, Characters, Description, Plot & Structure, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Setting, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

From the Psyche: How Archetypal Roles Shape Both Us and Our Characters

Something I find interesting (other than writing of course) is the notion of self-discovery.  Anyone who follows my blog knows that I analyze dreams in great detail. My iPhone is littered with apps for personality tests, color quizzes, handwriting analysis, and mood trackers (my husband once lovingly described my phone as a ‘cry for help’).  But the way I see it, if I want to make the most of my life then I need to know who I am, what I want, and what I was born to do (OK, maybe I have been reading too many Oprah.com articles).

I’m also very interested in the inner-worlds of my characters. Even those without their own narrative voices are important. I want to get to know them as much as I know myself—their creator.

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s I read a book—recommended by Oprah—entitled Archetypes. It was written by Caroline Myss, and let me say, this book greatly enhanced my perspective on inner-exploration. It also opened my eyes to new and exciting ways to better characterization in my fiction projects.

Great Question!

Great Question!

According to Dictionary.com an archetype is as follows:

*2. (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of though, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.

*I used this definition (there was another) because it strongly relates to Myss’s theory on archetypes.

In one of my dream anthologies, there is a section on archetypes (i.e. The Hero, The Evil Mother, The Loving Mother, The Warrior, etc.) appearing in an individual’s dream; analysis can then be based on the qualities each archetype displays.

In her book, Myss surveys ten different archetypal roles that she believes (and I agree) all human beings (and fictional characters) portray. Of course we’re  all mixtures of particular types, but clearly some take precedence over others.

I will list Myss’s archetypes and paraphrase an explanation of each. To get the full effect, you have to read the book!

There it is amidst all my other "self-searching" titles!

There it is amidst all my other “self-searching” titles!

The Advocate: Those who devote their lives to fighting a cause; Myss gives many examples such as human rights activists, animal rights activists, environmentalists, etc. And you don’t have to be Cesar Chavez to fit into this role. You can simply be the neighborhood watch looking to improve safety after a home on your block was robbed.

Myss’s Examples: Rosa Parks, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

My Examples:Blogger & Writing Group Companion, Sylver Blaque

The Artist/Creative: Anyone who is compelled to create art falls into this archetypal role. It may be in the form of visual art, written art, or performance art. But Myss says we aren’t complete unless we can create.

Myss’s Examples: Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, Edgar Allan Poe

My Examples: Thomas Kinkade, The Intrinsic Writer, aka me; all of you reading this!

The Athlete: This could be the marathon runner or the avid sports fan. It’s those who need to be in constant motion. The fitness hounds, the yogis, the skydiver, and the water-skier; the athlete’s focus is on health and nutrition. He or she uses the body as a form of expression.

Myss’s Examples: Michael Jordan, Maria Sharpanova, The Ancient Greeks

My Examples: My Aunt Eileen, star of the YMCA.

The Caregiver: Those who give their lives to serving and protecting others. Myss mentions that often these are the types that need to be told to stop and relax! Do something for yourself! Parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, healers, coaches, and more—these are the ones, according to Myss, who can tolerate to see pain in another human being. They are self-sacrificing, and at time, martyrs.

Myss’s Examples: The Mother, The Teacher, The Sister

My Examples: My mother, father, & grandparents; my Uncle Bob, who cares for my elderly grandfather; myself, as a teacher; many, many of my friends, colleagues, etc.

The Fashionista: If the athlete expresses herself through movement, then the fashionista expresses herself through…you got it…fashion! But this is more than just a professional shopper. This is someone who exudes confidence, prioritizes looking good, and perhaps most importantly, is exploring a sense of identity.

Myss’s Examples: Carrie Bradshaw, Coco Chanel

My Examples: My sister, Victoria.

The Intellectual: These folks tend to go by that old notion of using their heads over their hearts. Intellectuals love learning. They are well-read, researching types. As Myss explains it, the requirement of knowledge is their main life purpose. I imagine they can be rather argumentative as well. Intellectuals take a deep interest in unlocking all the mysteries of the world.

Myss’s Examples: The Sage, The Wise Elders, The Buddha

My Example: Just about every professor I had in college

The Queen/Executive: For all you Oprah fans out there, this one’s for you! The Queen is on top of her game (by the way, for each archetype, Myss has a whole section on the “male counterpart”), and doesn’t take any you-know-what from anyone. She is often in a high-powered position, but a Queen could also simply rule her own household—it has more to do with identity personal ruling style. I think you know the type—Myss says Queens create their own “empires,” and that often comes with a band of followers.

Myss’s Examples: Oprah Winfrey, Queen Elizabeth I, Barbara Walters, and Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.

My Examples: Laura, a former employer

The Rebel: I can’t help but think of a Punk Rocker (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols), but anyway, the Rebel is a reactor, a revolutionary—different from the advocate in the sense that he or she responds (often drastically) to all that is wrong with the world. The truth is, the rebel doesn’t have to be someone who elicits political upsurge—it could just be that kid in high school that skipped the last-day-before-vacation holiday concert—brought to you by the school’s jazz band and choral choir—to go smoke pot. OK, maybe I just went to Starbucks. But it was badass.

Myss’s Examples: Henry David Thoreau, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., The Feminist

My Examples: Elvis Presley. My friend Sara, who back in high school, managed to cut study for entire three-quarters of a year before getting caught.

The Spiritual Seeker: Oh, I love this one. Here we have people who want to know things by the end of their lives. They strive to find that sense of Nirvana inside and out. Myss explains that the true spiritual seeker isn’t someone who vows to buy a ten million dollar home; instead, he or she looks inward to find that true sense of knowing. He is a master of forgiveness, and is willing to turn his life into an odyssey of gratitude in the pursuit of helping others.

Myss’s Examples: The Mystic, The Buddha

My Examples: Deepak Chopra

The Visionary:  Myss says the visionary is the person who can stand back, look at the world, and see clearly, what it needs. Then, he or she sets about putting those changes in motion. Visionaries are idea-makers. They are creators. They have a deep understanding of the human race.

Myss’s Examples: Rachel Carson, Gloria Steinem, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs

My Examples: John Lennon

By the way, you can find out your archetype by taking the quiz @ www.ArchetypeMe.com

Such a great book!

Such a great book!

My results were a mixed percentage of the following four archetypes: 1) Artist/Creative 2) Caregiver 3) Intellectual 4) Spiritual Seeker.

Also, while Myss goes into A LOT of detail about the types mentioned above, she also includes a glossary with other common archetypes such as: The Victim, The Warrior, The Storyteller, The Slave, and more.

By reading this book, I have a better sense of my life’s purpose; furthermore, through the process, I was able to discover my characters’ archetypes as well. It has turned into a great characterization tool. I even went in and took the above mentioned quiz as some of characters. Trust me, it will give both you and the tiny people who live inside your head much needed clarity.

What Archetype are you? What Archetypes are your characters?

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What’s the right point-of-view for your story?

New York Binoculars. Brian → in Objects

Like characters, plot, and setting, a story’s point-of-view can go a long way. Points-of-view in literature have always fascinated me, and I’ve found that most writers tend to cling to certain perspectives. I, myself, tend to gravitate towards first person and third person limited. In fact, I’ve never attempted a multiple point-of-view story! Now I’m suddenly feeling like a novice 😦

Either way, I think certain stories lend themselves to certain points-of-view. I can’t possibly imagine a grandiose bildungsroman such as Great Expectations being told in any perspective outside first person.

I’ve written up a brief overview of each type below. This knowledge is mostly a culmination of courses I’ve attended, books I’ve read, and writing I’ve done. I’m presenting this information to you based on my own…wait for it…point-of-view! I certainly don’t claim to be an expert:

The Major Types of Point-of-View

First Person: These are stories told in the “I” voice. Many budding novelists use this perspective because it feels natural. Generally speaking, first person stories have that unmistakable ‘flow.’ This point-of-view is never to be confused with the author; in fact, the narrator is an actual character in the story.

However, there are two different kinds of first person narrators. (1) A character who is actively involved in the story. Think Jane, from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. (2) A character who is a casual observer. Think Nick Carroway from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Nick may be dictating the course of events, but the story actually focuses on Jay Gatsby (arguably, anyway). Think about how the story would change if Gatsby himself were the sole voice.

Pros:  the reader has the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with one of main characters. Plus, generally speaking, despite bad behavior and less than stellar moral conduct, a reader will root for the protagonist, because it is impossible to see the situations through anyone else’s eyes.
Cons: the reader may miss out on secondary characters’ points of view, thus, misinterpreting their true motives; moreover, the notion of the ‘unreliable narrator’ is most palpable here.

Best used for: Coming of age stories, or other stories where the protagonist undergoes a transformation, has an epiphany, etc.

Second Person: In some cases it is basically a first person narration talking to himself. It could also be the narrator addressing another character (perhaps a lost love?) Finally, the “You” the narrator can speak directly to the reader.

Pros: involves the reader, as if he or she is part of the action taking place in the story
Cons: hard to get involved with the characters’ thoughts, emotions, etc.

Best used: (I’ve heard) Detective or ‘crime solving’ novels, or perhaps a series of letters to another character.

Third Person: Here we have an unknown narrator who is not part of the story. This narrator can shift points-of-view from one character to another.

Pros: generally not unreliable, has multiple perspectives, and can refer to situations and instances outside one sole character’s mind.
Cons: shift from different perspectives can blur, be jarring for the reader

Best used for: Family sagas, any story with more than one main character

Third Person Limited: In some ways, this is very close to first person, because the point of view focuses solely on one character’s perspective. It is an outside force, narrator, that “knows all” without being an actual character, but really only is able to get inside the mindset of one character—nine times out of ten, the main character

Pros: reliable, slightly more open than first person, can be aware of character thoughts that character him-or herself is not aware of—more difficult to do this with first person.
Cons: limited perspective, can’t hear the one character’s voice as clearly as first person

Best used for: coming-of-age stories, short stories (which doesn’t always have time to switch character points of view)

Omniscient: This is a big, grandiose perspective. In other words, “God-like;” sees all, every encompassing move surrounding a band of characters. Does not focus on any characters’ too closely.

Pros: wide, can refer or remark on things characters can’t see, such as someone creeping up behind them in the woods, etc.
Cons: distance from characters. Can watch movements, hear things they say, speculate on them, etc, but can’t get inside any of them.

Best used for: poems, certain short stories, can be disconcerting in novel form

Please tell me…which point-of-view do you tend to write in? Which point-of-view do you enjoy to read most? Waiting for your thoughts.

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Finding the right name for your character

Janaka Dharmasena → in Toys

I believe that it is human nature to want to ‘name’ things: our children, our pets, our homes, our cars, and for some enthusiasts—our body parts. But as writers we have that extra responsibility of naming of our characters, or in other words, the living, breathing, souls that infiltrate our stories. Believe it or not, it’s a tricky concept. It’s more than just picking a name off the top of our heads; in fact, the right name, in many ways, is fifty percent good characterization. Nondescript names (unless they are intentionally so) often do not fly. That’s not to say that common, everyday names don’t work in fiction, but they MUST suit the characters on many different levels.

See this link from Writer’s Digest before reading on.

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-7-rules-of-picking-names-for-fictional-characters?et_mid=576922&rid=3058805

Here are some famous examples from literature:

Guess the bookworm…Eugene (Gene) or Phineas (Finny)?
Guess the cunning tramp…Oliver or (Artful) Dodger?
Scout: A tomboy or a Miss Priss?

That being said, would Atticus Finch be as memorable if his name were Joe Jones? What if Holden Caufield’s name was Bob Green? Think of your favorite book. What do you remember most? The plot? The descriptive language? Or the characters? Now take that one step further…the character’s names, perhaps? I guarantee the characters you remember most were not just given the ‘best’ names, but were given the names that best suited the character.

I’ll give an example of my own. Some years back, I wrote a short story called “Prom Night.” Since the story was rejected many times over  and is basically going nowhere, I feel comfortable using it as my character-naming tutorial guinea pig. But first a brief summary to better understand the nature of the characters:

On the night of prom, two dateless high school juniors go to a local pool hall in hopes of finding some adventure. Girl # 1 is on a mission to make up for the fact that wasn’t invited to prom. She is abrasive, bossy, and insecure. Girl #2 is more subdued, level-headed, and actually was asked to the prom, but didn’t accept. It can be surmised by a discerning reader that Girl # 2 turned down her invitation to keep her best friend, Girl # 1, from being alone that night.

At the pool hall, the girls run into a young man (approximately aged 28) who they’ve clearly met a few times in the past. Girl # 1 and this guy have a mild flirtation going on. Girl # 2 disapproves, but generally keeps quiet, being that Girl # 1 will snap at her if she shares too many precautionary opinions.

Later in the night, the young man takes the two girls to a park. He and Girl # 1 go around a bend, and they begin to fool around. At first, Girl # 1 is a willing participant, but when she shows hesitation to go further, the young man becomes enraged at her deception of experience. He takes off, leaving both girls behind.

Girl # 1, humiliated and distraught, seeks solace in Girl #2 who has overheard part of the incident. Girl # 2 pretends like nothing happened, and miraculously Girl # 1 softens as they discuss plans for having a sleepover.

Oh chill out, I told you it got rejected about a zillion times. The plot is not the point…it’s the names. Despite the story’s flaws, I still say I picked good monikers for the characters. Here is my reasoning:

“Tina.” Otherwise known as Girl # 1. The name has sharp angles. It’s the name of a someone with extremes. The “T” sound conjures up words such as “tough,” “terrible,” and “touchy.” At the same time, it ends in an “a” giving it that eternal feminine ring. Not classically feminine per se, but certainly in spit-fire girly-girl kind of way. This attitude reflects the character to a (no pun intended) capital “Tee.”

“Carey.” Or, better yet, Girl # 2. This is an endearing, yet less remarkable name. It’s a name that’s easy to say and easy to like. It “carries” one along in a sense. It’s smooth sailing; it’s easygoing. Just like the character. It’s a good, solid name that can be easily overlooked for its wonderful simplicity. Hence, Tina doesn’t often appreciate her friend Carey’s efforts. The spelling is significant too. It says that this character is special, different…but you might have look a bit closer.

“Scott.” The young(ish) man. This is a name that’s easy for an infatuated young girl to repeat over and over again, to write in her notebooks inside giant red hearts. It’s a rather unassuming name, and in that sense, it’s essentially a clean slate. A writer could probably turn a “Scott” into any kind character she wants him to be. Here’s my thing though…it’s not exactly a little boy’s name (such as Tommy or Timmy, or in this case, Scotty) but it’s not really…a man’s name either. This is precisely this character’s agenda. He’s no kid. Twenty-eight years old with mature needs messing with a sixteen year old girl? And that being said, well, he’s no man either.

“Chompers.” He was not mentioned in the summary; mostly because he does not play a huge role in the story. In fact, I’d considered plucking him from the page, but I just couldn’t do it. He adds of touch of humor to the otherwise sad thematic premises. He is the owner of the pool hall. An older man who speaks in sentence fragments, is un-amused , yet undeterred by Tina’s nastiness that chews on toothpicks and absently reads magazines up at the counter. The girls name him for his giant, yellow veneers. It is the perfect “inside joke” for two teenage girls. They have no clue as to his actual name, so instead they name him for an unfortunate physical characteristic. FYI, it’s later revealed that his name is “Herb,” which of course Tina finds hilarious enough to make a marijuana reference  as in  ‘I bet he smokes a lot of Herb too’

Whatever method you use to name your characters, please note that it holds a lot more importance than you might think. In many ways, just like your children, you’re naming them for life. I’d love to hear your methods for choosing character names! Feel free to comment below.

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