What Is “Nothing”?

Image the following conversation. Perhaps you’ve participated in one just like it.

Mom (or Dad): How was school?
Son (or Daughter): It was okay.
Mom (or Dad): Just “okay”? What happened?
Son (or Daughter): Nothing.

As an astute parent, you know “something” had to have happened. After all, your child went to school and participated in classes. But for that child, “nothing” probably meant, “Nothing I was interested in” or “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

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Having given manuscripts to beta readers to evaluate from time to time, I have had a similar conversation with them.

Me: How was it [the manuscript]?
Beta reader: It was okay for the most part.
Me: Just “okay”? What happened?
Beta reader: Nothing.

Okay, maybe the conversation was not that curt. But over the years I’ve had beta readers mark certain scenes or chapters with the assessment nothing is happening here. Clearly, I hadn’t presented a bunch of blank pages to the readers. “Something” happened on those pages. But for the readers, nothing is happening here meant, “nothing out of the ordinary” or “nothing that helped develop the plot.”

Now, I ask you, when you read a book or watch a show, what would make you think, Nothing is happening here? Perhaps the following factors might resonate with you.

Tension and Pacing
The issue of “nothing” sometimes crops up when tension dissipates. Now, some breaks in tension are necessary. A while ago, I wrote a post on Ma space (you can find it here) which included a quote by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki on this subject. Ma space is an interval between two movements or sections. Miyazaki’s movies provide great examples of respites coupled with action scenes. However, some breaks in tension are detrimental to the story.

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For example, I wrote a young adult novel in which the heroine was accused of being a liar and had to vindicate herself by proving that she did indeed see what she claimed to have seen. (I hope someday you’ll get to read it.) One of my beta readers wrote nothing is happening here in a couple of the chapters. The issue was pacing. In one chapter, after being ridiculed by a crowd of people, the heroine declared that she was going off to find proof to back up her story—a scene of high tension. But instead of sending her on her way, I included two chapters in which she took a nap and then woke up to have a meal and overhear a conversation taking place between two characters. This conversation had nothing to do with the heroine’s plight. Nothing to see here, folks.

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Nap taking and eavesdropping, while “something,” aren’t very interesting to a reader. I had to cut those chapters to ramp up the tension and make the reader want to continue reading.

Lack of Character Conflict or Development
This probably goes without saying, but if you’ve read this blog even once before, you know I usually state the obvious. Characters need to be more than interchangeable talking heads. They have to serve a purpose. Conflict is one way they serve a purpose. Having fully realized secondary characters in conflict with a main character is a great way to avoid the “nothing is happening” designation.

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In the young adult novel I mentioned above, my main character had a twin brother who was kind of goofy. I liked the dude. His antics made me smile. Well, an advisor of mine read the early chapters of the book and said, “He’s got to go. He serves no purpose.” I soon realized she was right. The twin brother was not in conflict with anyone. He was kind of like a chair in a room—useful for sitting on, sure, but just taking up space otherwise.

The advisor also mentioned that another character—one I had decided would not be mentioned beyond one chapter—had more potential. Like the main character, just about everyone in town had a conflict with him. Most importantly, he had a conflict with the main character. So I turned him into the sidekick of the heroine on her journey. The novel was all the better for it.

Have you ever said, or been told, that “nothing” is happening in a chapter or scene you’ve written or a book you’ve read? What did you have to do to change that dynamic?

Japanese character from Wikipedia. Nothing here sign from outwardfromnothingness.com. Sleeping person image from 1001freedownloads.com. Characters image from standoutbooks.com.

Do You Speak Geek?

Recently I had tea with some friends who live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but are in the States on a visit.

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As is usually the case with the people I know, the conversation turned to Marvel movies. Pretty soon we were off on a discussion of various subjects: Comic-Con; Joss Whedon; Firefly; Harry Potter (books and movies); Lord of the Rings (books and movies); The Hobbit (book/movies); Hunger Games (books and movies); X-Men movies; Doctor Who (and the various actors who have played the Doctor); Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series; anime in general; Wujiang (where one of the friends and I taught English years ago); Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki films—you name it. All in the space of 75 minutes.

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A guy sitting at a nearby table stared, then shook his head in an amused way as he listened to our conversation. Perhaps it sounded weird to him. Or, perhaps he could relate to it.

That same day, I had dinner with another group of friends. We talked about linear algebra (don’t worry—I didn’t have much to say on that subject), physics, Half-price Bookstore, videogames, the gathering and dissemination of information; middle grade and young adult books; graphic novels; writing science fiction and fantasy; grad school programs; indie publishing; and other subjects.

Geek Speak

By now, you might be thinking, So what. Why are you telling me this? Well, let me take you back to my high school years, where bullying took place inside and outside the school walls. Just the mention of any of the above subjects would have earned me the label of geek—not exactly a plus back then. You see, being called a geek was the first step to being bullied. So like other people who tried to fit in and avoid being bullied, I learned to downplay “geek speak” and bring up subjects that the cool people spoke about. Yet trying to blend in could not exempt me from being bullied.

In college, to fit in, my geek speak turned to Greek speak. The cool people pledged fraternities and sororities. Once again, to fit in—to gain those three Greek letters—I pledged a sorority. But I was miserable. I had yet to realize that the advice my parents gave me—“Be yourself”—was actually good advice.

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These days, I celebrate conversations like those mentioned above as the gifts they are. I can do that because I lived through that experience and was able to move on. But some who have been bullied in high school aren’t alive to celebrate their freedom to be who they are. It grieves me to think of the countless teens who dread each day thanks to those who make life miserable for them. They live under the weight of labels and other hurtful words. Some don’t see any way to escape the pain other than to end their lives. I wish they knew the truth the bullies would deny them: that they are precious.

So yeah. I speak geek. And I’m glad to do so.

Today, what, if anything, can you celebrate about yourself? What would you say to someone who is afraid to be who he/she is because of the harsh opinions of others?

Bee Content

I named this photo “Bee Content” to remind me of more good advice: be content to be myself.

Chiang Mai map from wildabouttravel.boardingarea.com. Sigma from prestochangodecor.com. Hello Kitty/Jordie photo and bee photo by L. Marie.

Ten Favorite Screen Characters

I have book winners to announce. But that will have to wait until the end of this post, since I was tagged by Celine Jeanjean at Down the Rabbit Hole to name my ten favorite screen characters. You can read her list by clicking here. Like Celine, I was supposed to tag others. But everyone I know is pretty busy. So you’re stuck with me unless you escape to Celine’s blog. Mwahahahaha!

This was a tough but fun assignment. There are many characters beyond those below who are favorites. I chose the following, because they inspire me in different ways. Since this list is in no particular order, I decided not to number it. Ha ha!!!

Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto)
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters in Tolkien’s trilogy and the film adaptations directed and co-written by Peter Jackson (2002—2003). I can relate to her sadness and frustration. Eowyn wanted a man she could not have. She also longed to do heroic deeds, though others tried to dissuade her. I love the fact that she refused to let the naysayers have the last word, thus proving a woman could be brave in battle.

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Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell)
He’s a supervillain with a big heart in the 2010 film written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons and directed by Tom McGrath. This film is a delightful twist on the superhero genre. I love the wonderful banter, the character design—basically, I love everything about Megamind’s journey in this film. He taught me that even supervillains can be heroic.

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The Incredibles/Parrs (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Spencer Fox)
I can’t pick one character. This family works as a team, and an awesome one at that. The Incredibles, a 2004 Disney/Pixar film written and directed by Brad Bird, was the “Fantastic Four” movie we really wanted. It’s one of my favorite movies period. I love the dialogue (which deftly showcased character), the action, and the pacing. It deserved the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Elizabeth Bennet (played by Keira Knightley)
Lizzie is my favorite in the book, so of course she is my favorite in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (directed by Joe Wright). She’s a young woman who speaks her mind, even when she’s totally wrong. Keira, who was the same age as the character when she played her, was an inspired choice.

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The Doctor (played by too many actors to name here)
Turning to the small screen here. I’ve been a Whovian for many years—no matter who plays the time-traveling Doctor in the BBC show, Doctor Who. (There are films also.) The Doctor usually takes it upon himself to save the world. He travels with a companion, who is usually an Earth dweller (though not always). I simply love this show, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013. By the way, I loved it when it was still just a cult favorite. Lately, famed author Neil Gaiman has penned episodes of this show.

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THE ELEVEN DOCTORS

Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto [Japanese version] and Alison Lohman [English language version])
Princess Nausicaä is a creation of Hayao Miyazaki who wrote a manga series about her and made an environmentally conscious animated movie on her exploits: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). I’ve probably seen this film 20 times. Nausicaä is the kind of character who makes me want to be a better person. She’s selfless in her defense of creatures others despise. And when she needs to wield a weapon, she’s good at that too.

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Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson)
Every character Samuel L. Jackson plays is vivid and memorable. My favorite is Nick Fury, the beleaguered leader of SHIELD—a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—because I love his leadership in the Marvel movies, especially the first Avengers (2012), written and directed by Joss Whedon. His question to Thor, “I’m asking, what are you prepared to do?” sears me every time I watch this movie.

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The cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series; voiced by too many people to name here)
Again, I can’t choose just one person, though Prince Zuko (below right) is dreamy. 🙂 This cast, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, made the Nickelodeon series (2005—2008) one of my all-time favorites. Go Team Avatar!

Avatar-Cast-Collage-avatar-the-last-airbender-20397292-1024-683 Prince Zuko

Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen)
Whenever I think of a wizard, I first think of Gandalf. Though I love you, Harry Potter, Gandalf first claimed my heart. Consequently, I’ve read The Hobbit and LOTR dozens of times and watched all of the film adaptations. Gandalf is old, wise, and wonderful. And Ian will always be Gandalf to me.

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Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr)
Okay. I can admit to having a major crush on a cartoon character. I’m not ashamed to admit that my heart beats for Samurai Jack, a brave, selfless Shaolin monk who hopes to defeat the ultimate evil—Aku. This creation of Genndy Tartakovsky (2001—2004 on Cartoon Network) has inspired many, many artists, including Tomm Moore, the director of Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

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Who are your favorite film or TV characters? While you think about that, I’m giving away a book by Charles E. Yallowitz featuring a character I hope will become a favorite of yours—Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts.

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There are two winners. And they are . . .

Phillip McCollum

and

Laura Bruno Lilly!!!

Congratulations, Phillip and Laura! If you’ll confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll have this eBook sent to you. I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon.

Eowyn from revolutionmyspace.com. The cast of Avatar from fanpop.com. Nick Fury from atlantablackstar.com. The Incredibles from thewallpapers.org. Nausicaä from nausicaa.net. Gandalf from nerdreactor.com and blockscreeningreviews.blogspot.com. Elizabeth Bennet from bookriot.com. The Doctor from cinemablend. Samurai Jack image from samuraijack.wikia.com.com. Megamind from worldsoforos.com.

Films with Rounded Edges

I’ll get to the birthday giveaway in just a minute. But first, this. . . .

In my quest to cut back on violent imagery (which I discussed in this post), I watched three movies with a softer touch. Two—The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) were directed by Irish filmmaker/illustrator Tomm Moore.

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Tomm Moore

Both were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Here’s the trailer for Song of the Sea.

The third was Lego Batman: The Movie—DC Super Heroes Unite (2013), directed by Jon Burton. This movie is based on a videogame. You can watch the trailer here.

(To avoid overcrowding this post with trailers, the Secret of Kells trailer can be found if you click here. But only if you want to.)

Lego Batman has fight scenes so innocuous a five-year-old can view them without twitching. That’s not a criticism. I loved it and Tomm Moore’s gorgeously animated films.

The Secret of Kells is based on a real book—the Book of Kells, a medieval illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels on display at Trinity College Library in Dublin. It features Brendan, a boy living the monastic life in a walled village, where his uncle, the abbot, fears an impending attack by the Vikings. A visit from a famed manuscript illuminator sets Brendan on a life-changing journey. In Song of the Sea, Ben—one of the main characters—grieves the disappearance of his mother while avoiding his six-year-old sister Saiorse, who has yet to speak a word. Being sent away to live with a stern grandmother sets Ben on a journey of discovery about his sister and why their mother left.

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Book of Kells Chi Rho page, which the film mentions

What I love about both films, besides the utter beauty of the art, is the exploration of Celtic mythology. Fairy stories are generally a way to gain my rapt attention. Brendan meets a fairy—one of the Tuatha De Danann. Ben thrives on stories of fairies and selkies.

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Brendan with Aisling, the fairy Brendan meets in the forest

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Ben (bottom right) with Saiorse (the little girl in the center surrounded by fairies)

In an interview at the GhibliWorld.com, Moore cited Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo; Spirited Away), Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack; Hotel Transylvania), and Michel Ocelot (The Princes’ Quest; Tales of the Night) as influencers. (If you know Miyazaki’s work, you know that Studio Ghibli was founded by Miyazaki and another filmmaker—Isao Takahata.) If you’ve seen the work of these filmmakers, you know the beauty and scope of their projects. I have certainly appreciated their work over the years.

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Hayao Miyazaki

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Genndy Tartakovsky

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Michel Ocelot

I know what you’re thinking. An attack by Vikings? Evil villains teaming up to destroy a city? (If you saw the Lego Batman trailer, you’ll know who the villains are.) Aren’t those violent acts? Yep. There are scenes of peril in all three movies. But the peril is definitely palatable for a young audience. The deliberately softened edges in some scenes help.

And that’s what I appreciated overall—the rounded edges. In his behind-the-scenes presentation, Tomm Moore talked about the deliberate choice to match the style of the Book of Kells by featuring circular imagery in many of the scenes. In his commentary, Moore described these images as “a little bit more friendly.” If you look back at the imagery on his films’ DVD cases and the other pictures above, you’ll see the rounded edges of the heroic characters. The antagonists, however, have sharp angles.

Moore is not the only one who has this opinion about rounded edges. I found this article on web design: “5 Colors, Shapes, and Techniques That Make Your Company Friendlier.” The writer, James George, states

[A]dding circular elements to your website can help to break the mold and make your website look friendly and more inviting.

Another article that talks about the inviting quality of rounded edges is this one.

I can’t say I know for sure what the thought process was behind Lego Batman. But Lego minifigs usually look inviting. In the film, many of the characters smiled a lot, which made them look, well, adorable.

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I never explored the idea of rounded edges being friendlier until I began writing this post and heard Moore’s discussion. Perhaps that’s why I love the rounded tops of some Tudor-style doors. I don’t know about you, but I want to walk through these doors.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I’m feeling much more relaxed—relaxed enough to announce the winner of the birthday giveaway. (If you’re not sure what I mean, go here.)

The winner, without further ado, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the Life in the Cutoff blog!!!

Penny, please confirm below, and provide an email address where you can be reached. Also, let me know your choice: coffee or tea.

Thanks to all who commented. Have a happy Avengers 2: Age of Ultron weekend!

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Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Lego Batman from flicks.co.nz. Ben and Aisling image from twitchfilm.com. Song of the Sea still from cinemarcado.com.br. Brendan from cinematheque.fr. DC heroes from watchcartoononline.com. Doors from homecurbappeal.com. Genndy Tartakovsky from cn-cartoonnetwork.wikia.com. Hayao Miyazaki from cinekatz.com. Michel Ocelot from lejdd.fr. Avengers 2 logo from comicvine.com. Book of Kells Chi Rho page from-ireland.net

Charmed by the Past

MV5BMjMzMzM2NTM2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTk4OTYwOQ@@__V1_SX214_I concede defeat. I have tried and tried, but I can’t quite figure out what makes Studio Ghibli’s films, particularly those in which Hayao Miyazaki has been involved, so emotionally satisfying. The phenomenal animation? Compelling stories? The touch of ma space? Case in point: I just finished watching From Up on Poppy Hill. If someone had told me the premise without telling me who was involved in the film, I’d be hitting the snooze button right about now.

Here is the premise: A girl (Umi), whose mom studies medicine in America and sea captain dad is presumed dead, works to help save a clubhouse slated for demolition at her school. All of this takes place before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Um, yeah. Sounds like a real nail biter, huh?

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Hayao Miyazaki. He can grin, because I’m hooked on his movies.

Yet it was! There’s much more to the story than that—namely a budding romance and an extremely surprising twist. I’m a fan of both. Miyazaki wrote the film (based on a graphic novel) along with Keiko Niwa, and his son Gorō directed it. It debuted in Japan in 2011 and in the United States in 2013. If you’re used to movies like Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, you might have to switch gears a bit, since From Up on Poppy Hill is as different from either film as day is from night. I mean, yeah, they all feature a strong female lead. But most of Miyazaki’s films go that route.

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Okay. I’ll give figuring out what makes these films so special another shot, instead of letting my ignorance win the day. Maybe it’s the work ethic inherent in the films. Everyone works really, really hard. Even minor tasks seem compelling and noble. Take From Up on Poppy Hill. Umi cooks for the people who live in her family’s boarding house. Throughout the movie, she works hard with others to help clean the dilapidated clubhouse. Why? Because the students who inhabit the clubhouse are charmed by the past too, and think it worth preserving.

When Umi’s not cleaning the clubhouse, she’s hoisting signal flags (um, there’s a good reason for this), studying, or helping her new friend Shun with the newspaper produced by Shun’s literary club. Maybe for you, these activities sound about as interesting as watching paint dry. But what I find most charming about this story, and other stories about the past is the lack of technological conveniences. Life has a gentle rhythm. Relationships are forged not by texts or email, but by people hanging out and talking, working together, or through the exchange of long letters. Change comes about not by innovative software or high speed Internet, but by people meeting face to face and hashing things out.

This is one reason why I’m a fan of the classics and all of the lovely effort involved in relating to others or simply getting from Point A to Point B. There’s nothing instant about anyone’s journey. The past isn’t perfect, however, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my car. I enjoy a plane ride. My iPhone is awesome. But for sheer entertainment value, I like to journey back to the past, back to a day when a couple falls in love not through Facebook but through a long bike ride or a walk down a street. Ah. Those were the days.

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Movie poster from imdb.com. Princess Mononoke image from fanpop.com. Miyazaki photo from Wikipedia. Umi and Shun from movit.net.

Ma—Space to Breathe

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Space Series

Today’s post is the first in a series on space. I’ve asked other writers to contribute guest posts, giving their thoughts on space—however they choose to interpret the word. I’m starting things off, so please fasten your seatbelt.

If you read Laini Taylor’s recent blog (which you can read here) as I did, you read about a subject I’ve also grappled with but could not articulate why until now. The post helped me understand why I felt exhausted at the end of some of the movies I’ve seen but always felt exhilarated whenever I watched a Miyazaki film. I know that probably makes no sense right now, especially if you haven’t read the post. I hope it will in a minute.

Laini quoted from a Tumblr post by Sara Ryan that discussed an interview the late film critic Roger Ebert had with Hayao Miyazaki. I won’t repeat the entirety of the conversation. You can read it in Laini’s post (and I totally recommend that great post) or the Ryan Tumblr post here. I’ll just repeat Miyazaki’s demonstration of the concept of ma, which sparked this post. I don’t want to come up with a poor explanation of what I think the term means, so here’s Miyazaki’s explanation:

He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.”

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Ma

I still wanted to know more, so I dug deeper and discovered posts mentioning a 1979 exhibit (MA: Space-Time in Japan) by an architect, Arata Isozaki, at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York. In the search for information on that exhibit, I found another quote on ma, this time at a site called Big in Japan:

The Japanese spatio-temporal concept of ma suggests a gap, opening, delay or silence. It can be understood as a demarcated in-betweenness in space or time. A room, being the space formed inside walls, is ma. A pause in music, as the gap delineated between audible notes, is also ma.

In Miyazaki’s films, moments of rest are built into the action. Those moments never felt gratuitous to me. Instead, they have a meaning beyond just scenes of people staring at the pretty scenery. I can’t help thinking of the interlude in Miyazki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (adapted from Diana Wynne Jones’s novel) where Sophie and a young wizard in training, Markl, gaze at Star Lake or the scene in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind where Nausicaä hears the prophecy of the warrior in blue—an interesting bit of foreshadowing in each movie. Some might roll their eyes at both scenes. But I love them, because though “rests,” they still advance the plot and help me understand the characters in a deeper way.

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Nausicaä and Sophie and Markl

In contrast, I can’t help recalling some of the drawings of M. C. Escher, the well-known Dutch graphic artist, particularly his symmetry drawings like the one below (click here for others) where all of the space is filled with images. These drawings are the visual equivalent of some of the movies I’ve seen and also some of the books I’ve read over the years (and no I will not name them, so please don’t ask)—a space filled with action from Fade in or page 1 until the end (or fade out); no rest for the weary.

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Reminds me of our fast-paced culture, where waiting is cut down to seconds. We fast-forward through commercials or skip them altogether to get to the program we want to see. Thanks to the constant influx of information, our brains rewire to the point where a slower paced scene in a book seems like a commercial—an unwanted interruption. We want to skip over it and get to the action.

Writers are told over and over: “You have to engage the reader at the first paragraph and hold on to that reader’s attention.” This accounts for the frenetic pace of many novels that aren’t even classified as thrillers. Stories about newborn kittens become The Bourne Identity: Feline Edition (the perilous account of the struggle for life among tabbies).

I find that I need space between the action, that moment of rest where I can breathe and interpret the action in the grand scheme of things. So I include those moments in my manuscripts even if there’s a danger that an impatient reader might simply skip over them.

How about you? Are you all about the action? Or do you, like me, need space to breathe? If so, how do you build those moments of rest into your narrative?

Escher bird painting from WikiPaintings.org. Nausicaä cover from rpgland.com. Scene from Howl’s Moving Castle from hilery.wordpress.com. Kanji character from wawaza.com. Space image from wallsave.com. White space from dessign.net.

How Do You Know You Have a Jewel?

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I’ve talked about diamonds; now I’m moving on to geodes. But I assure you, this is not part of a planned series on precious minerals. It just happened that way.

220px-Geode_inside_outsideEver see a geode? We talked about them in fifth grade science. But more recently I was reminded of them when I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s 1995 animated movie, Whisper of the Heart (directed by Yoshifumi Kondō). The main character, Shizuku, was handed a geode. Geodes contain fragments of different types of crystals—quartz, amethyst, jasper, agate, and others. But the thing is, you don’t know what’s inside until you crack it open.

220px-J__K__Rowling_2010I watched Whisper of the Heart a month ago. But today, after watching the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuarón—one of my favorites of the series; the book as well), and watching an interview with Jo Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe the other day, the subject of geodes returned to mind. (You can watch the interview at Ellar Out Loud.)

250px-Marauder'sMapObviously, I’m not the only one fascinated by the world Jo Rowling created, especially since Harry Potter is an international sensation now in its fifteenth year. But I still get giddy over elements of it. For example, one of my favorite aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban is the marauder’s map. So brilliant! I also love the time turner. There are so many great details embedded in the world. It’s like cracking open a geode and finding it chock full of diamonds. I love a series like that.

Based on the interviews I’ve seen, when the first book was released, Rowling had no idea of the impact her series would have on the world. Of course she was passionate about her world and excited to see it introduced to readers. But holding that geode in her hands, she didn’t really know what the fans would see inside of it—jewels or junk.

What are the characteristics of a world worth exploring? I can think of these:
1. Fullness of scope—The author embraces a 360-degree view of the world and doesn’t skimp on the details, even within multiple environments. Also, the magic system is well defined and compelling. There are real costs. In this whimsical world your sense of wonder goes on overload.
Buckbeak2. Characters—You know you have a great series when you can take any character—even a minor animal character like Buckbeak—and envision him and her as the star of a book.
3. Inventive challenges—All seven books had compelling obstacles that moved us deeper and deeper into the world. By the time the series was over, we were so ingrained, we had culture shock stepping out of the world.

And there are others of course. But I can’t help thinking about the above three as I craft my own world and series. What do I have in this geode? Are there priceless jewels inside (or at least semiprecious stones)? (I can only hope.)

In your own work, do you have a sense of how special it is? Is there anything within you telling you, “I’ve got amethysts in here”? What series have you read recently that made you think, This author has a winner here?

Shizuku looking into the geode image from Screened.com. Geode from Wikipedia. Marauder’s Map and Buckbeak from harrypotter.wikia.com.