Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

After some lackluster reading recently, I am embarking on an epic quest: to reread The Lord of the Rings! I will not be reviewing these stories in a critical sense, because how could I? Instead, I will share some storytelling insights I pick up as I go along.

This will be primarily focused on the books, but I will also reference the films by Peter Jackson to compare the stories as they are told between these two media. See part 1 here.

I finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring over the weekend, and I was eager to jump right into The Two Towers. Instead, I decided to take a couple days and absorb The Fellowship in its own right. So this post is just a collection of thoughts through the rest of that novel.

Description

This one may seem kind of obvious to anyone who has read or heard anything about Tolkien’s world. If nothing else, he is known for world-building. His intricate description of the land through which his characters travel provides a vivid image in the reader’s mind and sets the scene for every interaction with the characters.

Has this imagery been informed in my mind by the stunning New Zealand landscapes used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings? Definitely. But Tolkien’s descriptions also serve the story.

In Book II, Chapters 3 and 6 — “The Ring Goes South” and “Lothlorien”, respectively — the Company first try to pass over the mountain of Caradhras, and then manage to pass under it. As they approach the mountain from the west, hope to traverse its high pass, the peak glares at them red-stained in the morning sunlight, a warning of the peril they are about to face. The mountain defeats them with a mighty snowstorm and rockslide that only seems to occur on the narrowest spot of the pass as they try to cross.

Three chapters later when the Company emerges from Moria on the east side of the mountain. As they continue southward towards Lothlorien, they give one last look to the mountain that caused them so much suffering, both at its height and in its very depths. Now, Caradhras glows with golden sunlight, as if mocking them with its serenity.

I don’t need an illustration to picture the foreboding peak of Caradhras in my mind, and the colors that evoke so much emotion to the characters in a single glance.

Story Lessons

  1. Description of the environment can evoke scale. Although only a matter of days passes between the two images of Caradhras, that book-end demonstrates how much the Company has been through in that time. It also shows how far the Company has to travel just to get to the other side of the mountain, thus scaling out the world and making the journey ahead seem all the more arduous.
  2. Description of the environment can reflect the characters’ emotions. As in the example above, the mirrored descriptions of Caradhras also mirror how the Company feels about it: first as a symbol of foreboding, and then as a symbol of mockery, even shame for what they lost by passing under the mountain, rather than over it.

Presence

I think it can be too easy sometimes to get caught up in the action or the drama of a story and keep the plot surging forward. This up-tempo pace can be enthralling for a reader, but sometimes it’s just as important to let the characters, and the reader, breathe.

One of the most effecting sections of The Fellowship for me came during such a moment, when Aragorn speaks to Frodo about Lothlorien:

‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring, Ballantine Books, 1965, pp. 456.

This quote does two things. First, it gives both Aragorn and Frodo a sense of presence within the story. After several chapters of danger and suspense, they come at last to place where they can rest. It’s thus natural that the characters would want to pause and marvel at their ethereal surroundings. Secondly, the end of this section implies a dark road for Aragorn and forces the reader to ask: why does he never return? Where does his journey take him that he can never see Cerin Amroth again?

Story Lesson

  1. Use a characters’ present moments to punctuate their arc. To put the above another way, I think it’s often in quiet moments that a character feels their sense of place within a story, within their world. It also allows the reader to step back, briefly, from the immediate plot and see their characters as more than just actors in a particular scene; here especially, Aragorn feels like a living soul whose present and future are wrapped into this singular moment of wonder and awe. He has a life to lead, and we are catching only a glimpse of his journey.

This post is (slightly) shorter than part 1, and this definitely does not represent everything I am taking from The Fellowship of the Ring. I just wanted to share some things that really jumped out to me.

Onto The Two Towers!

Steve D

Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

After some lackluster reading the last month or so, I am embarking on an epic quest: to reread The Lord of the Rings! I will not be reviewing these stories in a critical sense, because how could I? Instead, I will share some storytelling insights I pick up as I go along.

This will be primarily focused on the books, but I will also reference the films by Peter Jackson to compare the stories as they are told between these two media.

Spoilers ahoy.

Continue reading “Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1”

Seeing the Story Trees for the World-Building Forest

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I already don’t like that strained analogy of a title, but we’re going with it unless I can think of something better. The writing part of my brain pretty reliably ebbs and flows between two points. Sometimes, all I can think about is the story in front of me and how I can bring it to fruition. Other times, all I can think of is all the stories except the one immediately in front of me.

I’ve been pretty heads-down on part 2 of The Herb Witch Tales the last few weeks, but recently, my mindset and thought process has started to shift. This is a natural phase for me, but it’s helped me come to a bigger realization about my writing. I need to focus more on the stories themselves. Continue reading “Seeing the Story Trees for the World-Building Forest”

The Third Draft is Coming

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’ve decided recently that my first part of The Herb Witch Tales will definitely need a third draft. Not just revisions, mind you. I’ll likely rewrite the story in a new document from the start.

As I’ve progressed on part 2 of this duology, I’ve continued to think about some of the incredible suggestions my beta readers made. They will help me enrich the world and get the most out of my characters.

But it’s not to get distracted by one story while trying to draft another. I’m about halfway through the first draft of my as yet untitled part 2 of The Herb Witch Tales, but I write it knowing that certain things will be changing. Nothing major, but the relationships between certain characters will. I think some of the finer details about the setting will.

So why have I not given up on this first draft? Because I’m currently trying to solve the problem of what this specific story is really about. If I stop now, in the middle of that crucial process, I may not be able to recapture that same train of thought. As soon as I’m finished with my current draft, I’m going to return to part 1 and rewrite it. That means a full rewrite of part 2 as well, but I’m good with that.

Writing two stories of a series simultaneously, as I’m learning, means having the opportunity to make both stories as good as possible. I’ll probably be going back and forth between these until they’re both finished, no matter how many rounds of rewrites or revisions I have to do. I still intend for part 2 to stand on its own as a story, so striking that balance may be difficult.

I’m also learning that letting a draft simmer for a bit, especially with feedback waiting to be resolved, really helps the writing process. I feel fully confident now that I can return to part 1 and make it better, because I’ve given myself ample time to just ponder on it.

Really, I just came here to say that I’m buckling in for an extended drafting and revision process for these stories. I still want to publish this year, and I know I can do so, but I really won’t be able to publish part 1 until part 2 is also ready to go.

Short post today, mainly because I started two other completely different posts before deciding to write this one. At least I already have ideas for next week!

Steve D

Exercise 10: A terrible thing to do

I know it is already Thursday, but this week was just too stressful to post any sooner – and besides, a writing exercise seemed unimportant compared to the elections in the U.S. The continuing uncertainty is still stressful, but I have gotten a bit more used to it. So, to pass the time, here is the last of the writing exercises from Steering the Craft.

Chapter 10 is called “Crowding and Leaping” and deals with narrative flow and what details an author includes and what they leave out. One line from the chapter that I particularly like was: “Some say God is in the details; some say the Devil is in the details. Both are correct.” Page 118

Le Guin also says that there isn’t really an exercise she could come up with on this topic – it is such a fluid thing and unique to each story (and storyteller). So for a final exercise, she gives us “a terrible thing to do.”

“Exercise 10: A Terrible Thing To Do

Take one of the longer narrative exercises you wrote – any one that went over 400 words – and cut it by half.

If none of the exercises is suitable, take any piece of narrative prose you have ever written, 400-1000 words, and do this terrible thing to it.

This doesn’t mean just cutting a bit here and there, snipping and pruning – though that’s part of it…” Steering the Craft, Page 124

I chose the 1285 word short story I wrote for Exercise 4: Again and Again and Again. To see the original, full length story, go here to that post. I was able to edit it down to 628 words…so here is the shorter short story!

Continue reading “Exercise 10: A terrible thing to do”

The NaNoWriMo Plan, 2020 Edition

It’s kind of ridiculous to think that I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month each year since 2014. Only once have I achieved writing 50,000 words in one month, but I can’t not participate, even if it’s a last-second decision.

This year was another last-second decision, but I’m excited. Continue reading “The NaNoWriMo Plan, 2020 Edition”

3 Tips for Writing Snappy Dialogue

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

The more I write, the more I find I enjoy writing dialogue. The interplay of characters can be really engaging and tends to liven up the story — and the writing process — for me.

However, it can still be a challenge to write dialogue that is both meaningful and compelling. As a reader, dialogue that drones on is somehow worse than long stretches of exposition. So I just wanted to provide a few tips for writing snappy dialogue that moves the story forward and keeps the reader interested. Continue reading “3 Tips for Writing Snappy Dialogue”

Exercise 9, Part 2: Being the Stranger

We are down to the last 3 exercises in Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft writing book – home stretch! This one is the second exercise in Chapter 9, which is about indirect narration – and it was a bit daunting. Le Guin instructs us to write from the viewpoint of a character we disagree with or hate or is extremely different from ourselves.

First, the prompt:

“Exercise 9, Part 2: Being the Stranger

Write a narrative of 200-600 words, a scene involving at least two people and some kind of action or event.

Use a single viewpoint character, in either the first person or limited third person, who is involved in the the event. Give us the character’s thoughts and feeling their own words.

The viewpoint character (real or invented) is to be somebody you dislike, or disapprove of, or hate, or feel to be extremely different from yourself.”

Steering the Craft, Page 100-101.

Continue reading “Exercise 9, Part 2: Being the Stranger”

Exercise 9, Part 1: Telling it Slant

As an update to my last post about my friend Tiran, his battle with AML, and the livestream he and his partner were hosting to raise money for the San Diego Blood Bank and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: the livestream was a huge success and I am so proud to have been a part of it. All told, the DJs who participated in the livestream raised $2600.00 to be split evenly between the two charities! Almost 1000 people tuned in – the support, both monetary and attendance, was so heartening.

I’m picking back up with the exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft. I’ve gone full circle on these: from dreading what to do when I run out of exercises to being ready to be done with them so I can move on to different posts! I will talk about writing goals before November and the whole rigamarole of Nanowrimo kicks into high gear.

Continue reading “Exercise 9, Part 1: Telling it Slant”

Exercise 8, part 2: Thin Ice

This is the last POV exercise in Steering the Craft – this time, I swear! In the previous two chapters, Ursula Le Guin cautions repeatedly against changing POV – either doing so too often, or without warning, or without a solid plan. The Chapter 8 exercises seem to be a case of her teaching you to recognize such ill-advised POV changes by making you do them on purpose. In part 1 of this exercise, she instructed us to change POV several times in a short piece, but to indicate somehow you were doing it. I chose to use line breaks and I think it worked out okay. In part 2, she has you change POV frequently and without warning.

Continue reading “Exercise 8, part 2: Thin Ice”