Literature Notes #004

My notes as a reader on:

Schumann(ed.) – „Grundlagen und Techniken der Schreibkunst“ – chapter on poetry

I am by far not done digesting, practising and reading up more on the previous chapters of this fantastic book. Yet I must keep reading, as the act of getting to know the craft of writing alone has opened so many new doors for me already.

I was a bit hesitant about the chapter on poetry. It seems so alien to anything that’s in my typical media diet. I have read and admired poetry before, school made me and in latest years I just came to appreciate the beauty of it just for itself, but that was it. Enjoying it from a distance. When I read about how to make, not just analyze, poetry from Schumann’s perspective today, the result was different than anything I had expected. Everything laid out reminded me of a programming language. Everything makes sense, but you will need some time and quite some practise to really memorize and understand the language ruleset you are given and the effects it will cause. I did not expect language to have such a mathematical level. Your recipient is a human being, not a machine, so you have more room for willful ambiguity and vagueness. But if you want to go to the extreme, you can break language down to the very noises you make and what you can say within a breath, utilizing language to it’s fullest like probably no other form of literature can.

I can see why it is absolutely worth it practising poetry, even if you have no aspirations to ever become a poet. I want to get to know both German and English that intimate, and possibly other languages later if I get to get to know them to a sensible level. We are using language every day utilizing only a fraction of what language can do. Imagine all the fun to be had just by knowing more about it!

Literature Notes #002

My notes as a reader on:

Failing to read a text

In order to learn a lot, I need to read a lot. And now that I have the keys on how to read and enjoy fiction, I am doing just that. I have picked up an exquisite collection of „50 great short stories“ edited by Milton Crane. If you start with no clue, you can start anywhere with any author really.

What I quickly found out is that there’s more to the much dreaded „language barrier“ that readers like me with English as a second language face. In fact, usually it is not the language itself; I find myself lacking the cultural and historical knowledge to follow and appreciate everything that I’m presented. I combat this by reading up on the authors and the times they lived in as well as the times they wrote about. Also, I should probably do that for German texts as well. I might think I know my own culture, but what if I don’t? After all, what I was taught in school does not reflect everything there is and everything there has been and it is up to me to learn more about it.

But research cannot fix everything. There are some works that I still fail to enjoy. And if I don’t enjoy them, my willingness to finish reading them suffers, too. I find myself refusing just like a child would refuse to finish eating a meal it does not like. Schumann from my writing craft handbook would probably say it is my duty to still push through as I am reading to learn, not to enjoy. But is this really the way? The least I can do is trying to understand what makes a work not palatable to me and avoid doing the same in my own works if I can.

SPREY Log #0028 – Notes on Worldbuilding #001

Notes like these hopefully help me to flesh SPREY out more and get it to a story structure that works – to arrive at a comic that works. SPREY had a huge problem in it’s structure from the start, but only now do I have the toolkit as a storyteller to actually see it and find remedies.

General

SPREY takes place in a dark, dirty, urban dog eat dog world. The technology level is high and deeply informed and inspired by the 70ies and 80ies of the 20th century, but the technology is not equally accessible to everyone. We are also not in a full-out cyberpunk dystopia. First, I do not wish to compete with or copy the many great works that exist in the core of this genre already. Second, I do not wish to feast on the stereotypes and clichées that come with the popularity of cyberpunk. It seems bad enough that one of my protagonists is a hacker. Third, I am writing a romance that just takes on a fancy coat and has some fleshy bits on chains dangling from it, with a chilling grace hidden deep under that garment. My romance does not deal with all the questions cyberpunk is asking, nor has it sci-fi at it’s core. I rather need modernity to contrast the primal „evil“ that we are going to encounter. I need the uncaring mass society, the logistics of a failing metropolis, the promised future that never was and another generation waking up to the promise being empty…to let my characters realize that was not the worst thing that could happen to them, not at all. But they are not condemned to just sit and suffer from what they got either.

My lovers find meaning in each other in a meaningless world. Do I say, love conquers all? I don’t think so. Striving and fighting for a love relationship just seems equally primal to hunting, gathering and coping with death, enthropy and the shadow every human has. So everything has it’s place under the coat of SPREY for a mythical story.

But my work is not done here. To truly get the core of SPREY right we must dive deeper into what „evil“ actually is. So far, on the outer layers of the world, ignorance and apathy seem to rule, which is not the same as evil.

Corvus Returns

…and so did a lot of older works. I’m tackling things differently this year. As many other creators do, I have a universe in my head. I do not feel the need to shine a light on any and every single pebble, any and every interesting thing that ever happened there or once might happen. Still, if I want any painting, any short story, any comic out of the source of my stories AND the quality shall be more than a lucky hit or miss, there is a lot of work ahead of me.

I’m taking the time to make one or a couple of lists with older works of mine. Many are what I would consider „dead“ but some I can practise storytelling with, everything in the service of SPREY. The goal is the same as last year, write down a functioning, complete version of SPREY, from start to finish, then draw it out as a comic. The middle part is still a bit too nebulous. But I think my chances of finishing are good this year. I still have a lot of writing and some resulting growing to do though to get there.

Corvus seems like good material to practise structure.

The old story went like this:

Corvus is on the verge of being expelled from the mage academy for bad grades. He is tricked into stealing a secret book on necromancy for one of the professors, then has to stop said professor. A lot of people get hurt or killed before the professor’s rampage is over and Corvus has to live with that guilt, although he was able to stop the professor in the end. A superficial love interest for Corvus exists, their story just isn’t that terribly important for the plot except for a magic McGuffin given to him by the love interest that helps Corvus survive a deadly blow by the professor, when the professor betrays everyone after receiving the book.

The new story that emerged after some exposure to the Schumann writing craft book is this:

Due to a mixture of personal shortcomings, bad luck and academy politics Corvus has just been expelled from the mage academy for bad grades. His magic powers are taken from him permanently. Before he even has time to cope with it, he learns that a group of fellow student mages manipulated him and other people for their own entertainment and is now setting their eyes to new targets of harassment. Corvus takes a job as a gardener to be allowed to stay on the premise and starts working in the shadows to protect the new targets and bring the group down. While Corvus has a positive impact on the lives of many, despite having less tools to do so as a gardener, he is a nuisance to few but powerful political actors at the academy and is pushed out as a troublemaker in the end. He is not winning against the group or the academy. And Corvus is definitely not winning against life, as health problems caused by him forcefully losing his magic powers are increasingly catching up with him. His life after his time at the academy might be very short.

The side arc love story exists, but has quite changed, too: This time around Corvus has a love affair with a freshly arrived foreign lecturer. The lecturer is target of the boldest bet of the student group yet. They want to know whether they can drive even a lecturer into suicide through a buerocratic loop of death and social isolation. While Corvus helps the man to get over the very rocky start at the academy, he must watch how his beloved lecturer slowly transforms into a member of the academy establishment that wants him gone.

The lecturer wakes up to what has happened in the end, immediately quits his position and rushes to make amends to Corvus. Other people are waking up and leaving, too, which forces the academy to change.

I don’t know about you, but as a reader I’d be more interested in the second iteration than in the first one. Now that I’m rereading the text I am still worried that the scope is too big still. How many good deeds to how many people can Corvus really do before he’s out? The middle part does hold some uncertainty here, but not as much as my current version of SPREY. I am at least convinced my structure will dictate enough so that I don’t swim in endless possibilities.

2022 Blog introduction (SPREY Log #0027)

Happy new year, everyone!

I would like to try something new, actually a couple of new things. I am tackling the difficult task of improving my writing. I am doing it for SPREY (which I have on my mind daily) and everything I am doing and will do ever. And for everyone who has ever took a shot at writing, it seems to take a painful amount of time, energy and patience to arrive at any worthwhile destination. Although some days are indeed not great, I am happy with my overall trajectory. I have picked up a fantastic book on the „rules“ and practise of writing, „Grundlagen und Techniken der Schreibkunst“ by Otto Schumann, which serves as my guide through this mysterious world. I am reading with a new appreciation for old and contemporary literature now that I understand the invisible rules guiding it. I am also doing the homework of actively working through literature that encounters me and doing my own writing. And I will be an okay writer in a bit. I will be home soon, at last, with my set of skills and SPREY and my other works will then have the working invisible structures they need.