Tag Archives: literature

In which I get technical

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Bare with me for this one, my inner Lit student has been acting up lately. (It’s all those school-related advertisements.) I would also like to issue a warning to those of you reading my Twilight of the Spirit World story. This post is about Lia’s character so yes, there will be spoilers. I will try to keep them to a minimum but if you don’t like them you might want to stop when you reach about halfway down the post.

As with most characters I’ve written (at least the central ones) Lia started as pretty much a self-insert. Big shocker, I know. While I was working on her character, before I even started writing Spirit of Fire, she began deviating more and more from, well, me and became her own person so to speak. By the time I had finished the first few  chapters the only things we had in common was our tempers and love for all things fiery (just ask my mother; if I could climb inside the fireplace, you bet I would!). Initially I didn’t mean for her to become instrumental to the plot. She was more of a plot device for pushing Zuko towards the direction I wanted him, which is why her background remained very sketchy in the first chapters. That changed by the time Past of  a Spirit rolled around since I couldn’t really justify her attachment to Zuko without going into her past and actually giving a reason. In retrospect the reason was a little contrived but hey, at least it was less cliche than the “reincarnated lovers” trope, which, for the record, was NEVER an option in my mind.

Nevertheless, Lia remained a mentor-type character through the first two parts of Spirit of Fire, since I still wanted to focus on the human characters (I was still figuring out how to juggle multiple storylines). So what changed in the third part? For one I had taken a break from the story in real life due to  schoolwork. When I returned to it with fresh ideas I realised that if I wanted this to be an alternate version of  the canon show I needed to  devote equal attention to all characters (because let’s face it, Bryke developed all the recurring characters, not just the main group). Besides I had gone over my fear making the story about Lia and was confident I could include her more without disrupting the flow  of the plot. Hence Lia suddenly getting more “screentime” not just in the actual story but also in the background notes I was making at the time. You have no  idea how many versions the dual Fire Spirit subplot had before I wrote it… Inevitably, this led to  more and more of the past being hinted at. I toyed with the idea of exploring it within the canon timeline but couldn’t quite fit it in. So instead of doing a detour, I decided to leave it to hints that would eventually culminated to an original sequel (way before Korra was released).

The relationship  between Lia and Agni was actually the last piece of the mosaic to be added. It went from mortal enemies to enemies due to circumstances to the mentor-turns-evil trope and eventually resulted in their love-hate thing. These two take the “It’s complicated”  to a whole new level, partially because I wasn’t certain if I wanted Lia to become a love interest character in the sequel or leave the potential open. In Agni’s case (mostly because he only appears in the end) I could get away with leaving it open-ended. The I wrote Love Song Requiem and any chance for ambiguity on his part was blown away…

SPOILERS STARTING RIGHT ABOUT NOW!

I’ve often noticed that  in stories structured in three parts (see original Star Wars etc.) the first part is usually devoted to the plucky, star-eyed young protagonist going on his/her first quest, the second tends to be the dark, gritty, things-go-to-Hell part and the last is usually the resolution. In Lia’s case it sorta goes like this although (funnily enough) I  didn’t realise it at the time. In Spirit of Fire Lia is the eldest in the gaang both in actual age and apparent age, meaning that she not only acts as mentor to Zuko at first and the entire group later but also that she is held a little apart because she is more experienced than them. It’s usually not very highlighted, which is why when she actually uses her powers to their full extent it is met with shock from the group. Regardless, and because in part of the almost road-trip like story, she is essentially one of the kids. Had this been set in the real world, she’d probably be the cool older sister who’s at university and owns a car.

This  had to change at the sequel. The gaang is all grown up to begin with, with Aang and Toph (who are the youngest) being sixteena and the rest being in the early twenties. Lia is on a more equal ground to them and that is why when more of her past is revealed one way or another, it is not  in the form of private musings. It also meant that I  could have the freedom to move her from a mentor-character to someone who can make mistakes and that is why she perhaps appears younger. Spirit of Fire was in part written from the POV of Zuko and the others and their perception of Lia affected the tone of her scenes. Not anymore in Twilight of the Spirit World.

Lia is in part at war with herself in Twilight of the Spirit World. She is old and experienced enough to be able to compartmentalize her experiences but, due to her passionate nature she cannot “forgive and forget” both her own mistakes and those of others (namely Agni). Moreover, her ability to see visions of the future haunts her. What was a help before is now a hindrance as the recurring vision of the final battle makes her more and more paranoid. One might say that Twilight of the Spirit World is her self-discovery or at least self-healing story. And yes, there is romance involved but not at a central focus. After all I couldn’t leave unresolved feelings of any kind hanging again…

SPOILERS ENDING!

You could say Lia grew up with me… I first came up with her when I was fifteen and now that I am twenty-two I am still developing her, seeing her from different perspectives and learning how to put them to words. It’s a process I go through with every character I invent, which is why I have had stories in the back-burner for years and they will remain there until I am confident in my understanding of their characters and worlds to actually put on paper. It’s a long and arduous experience but let me tell you, I’ve learnt more about myself through them than through anything else. After all, they are reflections of me at different stages and for a person who cannot draw or has the patience to take pictures, this is invaluable.

Fictional Li(v)es

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Sometimes I miss those years long gone,

When one book’s word was Gospel.

When people were just good or bad,

When morals were no concept.

 

But, pity me! I loved my books,

Perhaps more than there was reason.

I read and read and through their eyes

I saw the golden lines

That tie one’s lies to another’s truth.

 

A story’s not alive unless told,

But never two tellings are the same.

The crinkle of paper, the smell of ink,

The only constants in a mad dream.

 

The knight in black armour that as a girl,

I was both frightened and allured by,

Now to a woman he returns, still same,

Now called an archetype.

 

Animus, Trickster, Shadow self,

Serpent and Traitor, Villain, Antihero,

What does it matter what he’s called?

He haunts my every step, my djinn familiar.

 

From midnight’s furtive reads

To bookstore chance encounters

To hidden corners in a library,

Reading lists, modules, projects.

 

Some have to search for what their calling is,

Mine has been ramming at my door.

In the end all stories need be told

And even the condemned do need a voice.

In which I contemplate literature degrees

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Sorry guys. Looks like picking up speed for my uni assignments has left my creativity rather low. So I really don’t know what to talk about today. I suppose I could speak about my “aha!” moment. What is an “aha!” moment? It’s when you find yourself in a situation that you feel is absolutely perfect. Like all the tiny little cogs of the universe are -for once- oiled and you are perfectly in sync with them. I had a moment like that during my Chaucer seminar today. We were talking about the Monk’s Tale (which is a collection of paragraph-long, super-depressing stories) and suddenly it was like somebody had flicked a switch. The conversation went from lukewarm to brilliantly blazing and were jumping from linguistics, to theory of tragedy to theology to philosophy to classics like there was not tomorrow. And in the midst of (loudly) arguing the difference between hamartia and hybris I found myself thinking: This is why I picked this course. This is what I love doing. Finding all the little nuances in a text and analysing them, trying to see behind to what the author was thinking, what his time was like, how people think. It was beautiful. I wish I had more moments like that more often, but sadly studying something is not synonymous with being passionate about something and I’ve had my fair share of awkward silences in seminar groups because most people picked the module to fulfill a credit requirement and went bumped down to their second choice or whatever. And I’m not exempt from that. There have been books I was entirely unwilling to talk about because I disliked them so much I could not be asked to even slam them (I’m looking at you, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). I don’t expect people to like everything. Frankly, I would not be able to take seriously a literature student that claims to have “just loved, becauseohmygoshitwassooooolush*” every reading they were given ever. Critical thinking people. It’s not just a mode of dreaded assignments. It’s also a very healthy approach to books. Use it!

So yeah, not much else to say. I’ll probably be going on a rant on the subject of literature degrees at some point in the future, but for now I’m gonna make some tea and start with my next Chaucer reading. See ya soon!

 

*honest-to-goodness reaction of a fellow student regarding compulsory reading. I made sure not to bump on them in the library. The gleam in their eyes was too scary even by my -admittedly skewed- standards.

In which I consider fanfiction

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Went to watch the Imitation Game last night with a few friends. While we were waiting for the movie to start we got talking about fanfiction and how there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground on it. You either love it or hate it. (Conversely, there is also only very good or very bad fanfiction.) I’m a fanfic writer myself, so I think it’s rather obvious with which side I’m marching but it got me thinking. Why is it that people hate fanfiction? A quick google search yielded this result.  Yes, I bookmarked it on my laptop. Yes, I will be printing it out and checking out at least some of the books mentioned if only for solidarity’s sake.

I suppose people look down at fanfiction because of its fantasy-fulfilment element. I mean, the concept at its most basic is: How do I get these characters I love and place them in a different scenario? What would happen? How would they react? Writing good fanfiction is hard. Sure you already have established characters and backstories and in-universe rules (unless you go down the AU rabbit hole). Looks like the only thing you need is an original plotline, right? WRONG! Trust me when I say there is nothing harder than twisting a pre-existing scenario to fit your own ideas. That is, assuming you have any respect for the source material. And I include AUs on this generalisation. The best AUs out there are the ones that manage to subtly reference the original. It doesn’t have to be a big, neon-bright sign. But it needs to be there.

Although it is probably incredibly narcissistic of me, I will use my own fanfic as an example. I started writing it when I was fifteen. Why? Because I had just finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and was raging about the end pairings. Not a noble motivation, I know. But it got me thinking. Was there a way to change that without completely disrupting the flow of the original storyline? I read a lot of fanfiction (some good, some bad, some atrocious), rewatched the episodes most of them seemed to focus on an insane amount of times and pulled the Literature card. What is the Literature card, you ask? I did what every Literature student has done at some point: took something that was not a piece of literature and analysed the living, breathing daylights out of it like it would be my main coursework assignment. you can read a revised version of the result every Monday.

I had never written anything that long before. There had been short stories and bad poetry (and a couple of attempts at novels). I didn’t know how to go about shifting character motivations without completely giving them a retcon. So I used a proxy, an OC character, someone who could interact with the canon characters from the point of view of an outsider (there’s a reason why she is older and not-mortal) but at the same time be bound by the same rules as them, thus being assimilated to the story. Did I succeed? I like to think, yes. It took a lot of work, a lot of scraped scenarios, dialog scenes, characters that might have been included but weren’t. I didn’t want a whole new Avatar story, that had nothing to do with the original. (That’s why we have this cinematic nightmare…) I just wanted a small change in the last couple of scenes. Why didn’t I write just those scenes differently? Because unless you want utter fluff or PWP (no judging, they’re good in their own right), then you need to provide backstory. Let’s be rational: the whole hero-gets-the-girl concept is not only tired, it’s also more often than not downright contrived.

Of course this doesn’t always work out quite the way you thought it would. For every good fanfic there will be three following a similar vein but being downright atrocious. And you know what? I’m okay with it. Yes, I will my eyes and skip them when I’m looking for something to read. But that’s the beauty of fanfiction: that anyone, anyone, who loves a story can make it their own, show their understanding of how that world works and what the characters motivations are. There always be flops, coughTwilightcough50ShadesofGreycough, but there will also be beautiful pieces of work like Wide Sargasso Sea, the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (yes, I went THERE), Mists of Avalon and Euripides’ Helen.

So love it or hate, write it or read it, it’s up to you. Just please, for the love of all that you believe in, stay away from the Mary-Sues.

 

P.S. And go see the Imitation Game! It was AWESOME!