Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Ring in Fantasy

One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them; One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Any fantasy geek that's read his or her share of lore knows where this quote originates. And he or she knows there's more to the story: there's not just One Ring. There are 20 total:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

And if you've read J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, not just watched Peter Jackson's masterful interpretation of the series, you know these rings pack a powerful punch. They also hint of powers we don't see in the books or on the screen.

My question is, though, why a ring? Why not a necklace? Or a brooch or a button or a earring? (Those do exist, but...) What is so mythical about a ring? You know Tolkien isn't the first to use this piece of jewelry as a foil for a metaphor for power don't you? Here are a few examples:

Classical Antiquity:
The Ring of Gyges was found by a shepherd and could supposedly turn the wearer invisible. He used it to overthrow the king and become ruler himself.

The Seal/Ring of Solomon or Ring of Aandaleeb was purportedly given to King Solomon by the Archangel Gabriel to control demons who were interfering with the construction of God's temple.

Norse Mythology:
The Kingmoor Ring detailed with Viking runes was supposed to ward off sickness.

The plot of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel The Rose and the Ring revolves around a ring that made the wearer beautiful to those who saw him or her.

Piers Anthony presents a ring of wishes in Castle Roogna (a popular theme reflected in modern role-playing games, but GMs tend to be picky on the wording and don't give out pure wishes anymore. The Wish of Bureaucracy may be the worst.)

Forgotten Realms and other d20 role playing games include a variety of magic rings.

Green Lantern's ring that harnesses willpower and the various other colored rings in his universe.

C.S. Lewis' book The Magician's Nephew has rings that allow transportation between universes.

So...why do writers choose rings?

Here are a few of my theories:

  1. It's easy for both friend and foe to see, therefore you can show your power without flaunting it. Or flaunt it if you wish.
  2. It's easy to hide with a glove unless your bling is large and gaudy.
  3. It's easy to access if it needs to be activated (twisted, touched, pressed, etc.)
  4. You can access it without anyone knowing (behind your back, as your arms are crossed, etc.).
  5. As most powerful objects are cursed, it's an easy location to either (a.) get stuck and not come off or (b.) accidentally come off at the wrong moment.
  6. Point and shoot if it's that kind of power.
  7. Rings signify eternity (an unending band of material) and if made of gold or platinum, nontarnishable material. That in itself is powerful.
  8. Depending on the finger where you place it, supposedly you access different power centers in the body (I won't discuss that here. Too much conflicting info out there. Cool stuff, though.)
  9. If you're a bad guy and the plot requires the good guy to get the ring, it's generally a matter of "hack off the finger/hand" and run. Gross, but highly effective as a plot device. Trying to hack off an ear for an earring or grabbing someone's chest for a necklace can get a little slapstick. Works if you're writing comedy, though.
  10. They're in general small. Easy to transport, hide, and steal. Another cool plot device.
But what does this metaphor mean?

Besides being a fashion statement, rings symbolize our tie to something. It may be a person, a memory, a place or whatever else. That tie, though, is powerful. Every time we see that ring, touch it, spin it, hold it in our hands, we think about that person, memory, place, or whatever. It's an eternal band of emotion wrapped around our hearts and minds that we can't shake off even if the physical ring itself is lost or if the ring is no longer worn.

Rings are powerful pieces of modern magic that when used by the right people in the right way can forge amazing bonds. I hate it when I see people blithely throwing rings at each other only to split up a few months later because they now "love" someone else. A ring is supposed to mean a commitment, not just a gushy feeling of, "Ooh, this person is HOT!" 

What does love really mean?

Where am I going with this? 

Next week is October, my birthaversary month. (You read that right. Husband and I married on my birthday.) I have a very special post for my very special person and I can't wait to share it with all of you, too.

Revision isn't just for writing. It's for life, too. And boy, have things changed in 17 years!

What does the ring metaphor mean to you (either in literature or in life)?


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
True Love = True Revision

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Writer vs. Author: What's in a Name?

I'm in marathon training. For those of you who don't know, a marathon is 26.2 miles. Always. So when someone says they're going to run a marathon, if they're serious, they don't mean some random amount of miles. They mean 26.2 miles.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the distance, 26.2 miles is a long way to run. If you're a professional runner, the world record for men is around 2:03, and for women is 2:15. That's two hours and three minutes (fifteen minutes) of body-breaking, sweat-pouring, lung-collapsing running. No rest, no walking, just one foot in front of the other at a screaming fast pace.

That's an average of 4:41 (5:08) minutes per mile. Seriously folks, running around five minute miles for two hours without stopping is god-like. I cannot imagine that feeling, although I do not envy the pain they feel the next day.

The average marathon times for "real" people are about double that: 4:26 for men and 4:52 for women. features/Articles/2011RecapOverview.cfm. This puts your pace into the more human range of 10:08/11:08 minutes per mile, but still, that's a long time and a long distance to run at that pace.

I have a few friends who have clocked marathon times in the three hour range. Awe. Some. They train crazy hard, watch everything they eat, and have very little body fat. They've even qualified to run Boston--which is super hard to do: have run in that marathon at least once.

Me? I'm faster than the average bear but not faster than the average human runner. I'll be lucky to hit 5:30, but each individual has his or her own obstacles to jump when it comes to facing a marathon. With bad knees, bad ankles, and exercise-induced asthma, if I can hit 5:30 or less, I'll feel accomplished. Honestly, I'm aiming for less, but a lot depends on race-day conditions, body conditions, and luck.

Why do I mention this in a writing/revising/metaphor blog titled "Writer vs. Author: What's in a Name?"?

Because the difference between a jogger and a runner is the same difference between a writer and an author. There are some stigmas--unnecessary ones, but life's rarely fair--to certain terms, but it's important to say what you mean with the right words.

For example, a jogger and a runner may have the same skills, the same abilities, but not the same goals. In GENERAL, a jogger is someone who runs for recreation. They usually don't sign up for races, they usually don't care to try to improve their time or distance after a certain point. They're out there mainly to improve or maintain their health, lose weight, be social, etc. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, there's a lot of good in that.

It's less stressful for one thing. Why put yourself in a race you know you can't win? Why punish your body with speed work and hill work and risk falling or injury? Why run long distances and risk being hurt out in the middle of nowhere with no one to help? Jogging for your health or jogging socially is a great way to improve your life.

But for those of us who are runners, we want MORE. We want the challenge of running in races we might or might not win. Losing fuels our desire to try harder, train harder for next time. We want to push ourselves to the limit of our heart rate with speed work, to shred our quads and hams with hill work, and at the end of the workout sigh with a smile of satisfaction that the next day we're going to hurt...but we'll be faster for it. We want to extend that distance further: 10k. Half-marathon. Marathon. 50k. Ultra. How far can we go? What are our limits? The possibilities of seeing what we can do excite the runner into pushing harder and running faster.

The same is true for the writer and the author.

The writer and the author may both be equal in writing talent. They may both have great ideas and great stories.

The difference is their goals and the pursuit of those goals.

A writer writes and...that's about it. A writer may share his or her work with a few people, may enter a few contests here or there, submit a few manuscripts here or there, but for whatever reason never publishes a lot and never makes that a goal. This may be a choice (fear of rejection, lack of opportunity, etc.) or maybe they cannot get published (wrong market, wrong presentation, myriad of other reasons). Sometimes writers choose self-publishing but then are hesitant or unsure how to market themselves because of their previous experiences (rejection, lack of knowledge, etc).

Again, there's nothing wrong with being a writer. You don't have to publish to be great. Sharing your stories with friends and family is wonderful if that's what you want to do. I have family members who have no desire to publish their stories publicly but want to format their works into a finished form for us and their friends only. If that's the goal, then great!

It's less stressful being a writer. The more I see about the truths about how difficult it is to succeed in publishing, the more I'm happy to have a day job! If you're a writer, you don't have to worry about platform, about marketing, about whether to use this service or that, about query letters or agents, etc. You write for the joy of writing, and isn't that why we write? Because it brings us joy? Because it brings others joy? Because we get to share our stories? So why not just stay a writer?

But some of us want MORE. Some writers want to become published authors. Some want the challenge. Some want it because they want the money. Some want the prestige. Some want the name of a big-house publisher on the jacket of their book. Some of us are willing to throw ourselves out there, take rejection after rejection, work daily on our platform, work daily on our marketing plan, work daily to build a readerships, and work every conference and convention to gather a network of agents and editors and writers who know our name and face.

Sound like work? It is. Sound like writing? It isn't. And it isn't fair that those of us who are or want to be authors have to work so hard at all this extra stuff just to BE authors and not get to do the one thing we WANT to do all the time: write. But that's life. It isn't fair.

But where is it written that life is fair? Pull up your big girl panties or your man pants and get over it.

So what are your goals? Do you want to be a writer or an author? Neither one is better than the other. Yes, there are stigmas associated to not being published, but so what? We're artists. Artists by definition are undefinable. Create your own definition. Don't let others pressure you into their idea of what you want. You decide and take your creativity where you want it to go.

Revise your definition: jogger, runner, writer, author. Have I changed it or do you disagree? I'd love to hear from you!

And yes, by the way, the 5k first place medal is mine. As a runner, I put my all into every race, even the ones I'm certain I won't win. Sometimes, when the conditions are right, I win some bling. You never know when persistence pays off, even when you're as slow as a turtle! (Yes, there were other women in my age group!)


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
The Metaphor of the Ring in Fantasy

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sci/Fi vs. Fantasy: YES, there IS a Difference!

(Author's Note: This was supposed to go out LAST week, but due to two newsletter deadlines, an emergency lesson plan scramble, technology fails at work I had to duct tape together, and a husband attacked by yellow jackets [yes, I'm serious about that last one] I had my hands a little full. Life interferes. So on with the show.)

I've had people say to me, "Hey, you write that science fiction fantasy stuff, right?" And you know what that means: they think "science fiction" and "fantasy" are the same thing.

I gently answer, "I write BOTH science fiction AND fantasy, yes." And then I smile and continue the conversation. If they continue. Usually they change the subject because either genre is either uninteresting or they don't understand why anyone would read it.

Yeah. Most of you know exactly the feeling.

This misunderstanding of differences bothers me. (The part about not accepting the genre as legit bothers me, too, but that's for another blog.) In chemistry, if you put sodium chloride in water, big deal. If you put potassium in water, it explodes. BIG DEAL! In a restaurant, if you order steak and get chicken, you're likely going to ask for a new plate or your money back. When you want a perm and the hairdresser gives you a buzz cut, well, you've got some growing to do (and perhaps a wig to buy!).

If other differences are so easy to see, why is it that science fiction and fantasy are so difficult?

1. They're both fiction. Most people when lumping unknowns into categories only get past one or two categories. It's too complicated after that.
2. Science fantasy, magical realism, science faction, transrealism, tech noir, weird west, new wave science fiction and crossover genres make the clear definition between the two gray at times. When you have a world with scientific elements that are based on magic or magic that is based on scientific principles, the line blurs.
3. People who don't read either genre don't pay attention. Period. ("Those freaks who read that crazy fantasy science fiction stuff...they're just weird in the head and that genre stuff serves no point!) Yeah. Hmmm... And where did you get that cell phone, that 3D printer, that iPad, your Google Glasses, etc. etc.?

However, if you look at SciFi (Skiffy?! Look that one up! HEHE!) and fantasy in their PUREST forms, you'll find this:

*1. SciFi - "...the label sf is explicitly or implicitly extrapolated from scientific or historical premises. In other words, whether or not an sf story is plausible it can at least be argued." (p. 844)
*2. Fantasy - "A fantasy text is a self-coherent narrative. When set in this world, it tells a story which is impossible in the world as we perceive it...when set in an otherworld, that otherworld will be impossible, though stories set there may be possible in its terms." (p. 338)

*Clute, John and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. St. Martin's Griffin. New York.1997.

Really, it's this simple: Science fiction is the possible based on current scientific knowledge and extrapolation of what we could do in the future. Fantasy is the impossible based on creative imagination, but those impossibilities have to abide by the rules of that world. Where the crossover genres meet, the "abide by the rules of the world" tenant kicks in.

Except...this redefines A LOT of what we thought of as science fiction. Star Wars? Hmmm. Really SciFi? Or science fantasy? Star Trek? (Space opera, definitely, specially TOS!) Stargate? Firefly? Ender's Game? War of the Worlds?

Tell me, does this revise how you see science fiction and fantasy? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Writer vs. Author: What's in a Name?

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s