The Writer and the Spade:
A Picture Is Worth
Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015
Once upon a time, I was asked how I create plots in my fiction. Next weekend I'll begin a miniseries here on Curious Tale Saturdays to answer that question at long last.
First, however, an appetizer. Last week I posted the first part of a two-part case study, something I'll be able to refer back to once I start talking about plot development. Today I'm posting the rest.
In February of 2012 I created the character Spade, a street urchin in Soda Fountain. As a part of that process I created another character to go with her, a character named Celithemis. This week's portion of the entry focuses heavily on the relationship between the two of them, building on the article's main theme of me delighting in being able to put whatever I want in my own stories.
I'm reposting this article essentially verbatim, so bear in mind that it's a few years old by now and that the details are subject to change. Also bear in mind that it has its own, internal themes. It doesn't deliberately connect to the theme of plot development, which is its context here.
The entry's title is "The Writer and the spade: A Picture Is Worth 4,168 Words." That's because the original journal entry is 4,168 words. The version you'll see here is slightly edited for clarity, length, and relevance.
If you missed last week's article, you should definitely check it out first. Not only does it set up what you're about to read here, but it's much more important to the theme of plot development that I'll be discussing in the upcoming miniseries.
Spade and Celithemis Together
[Originally published February 29, 2012]
This is the concept art that inspired Spade. Note also the building in the background:
© Michael Hayes for Wizards of the Coast
Because of her immediate situation, Spade quickly explores the proverbial dark house behind her. Inside she meets someone who is friendly and very hospitable. This other person is also a young female, just a little older than Spade (Spade doesn't know her own age, but I do). I named her Celithemis. Celithemis is the genus name of pennant dragonflies, but if you chase the etymology of the two parts of the name you get celi meaning "abdomen" and Themis being the name of the Greek Titan of justice and order. So, in other words, "the one whose belly is just."
And Celithemis is very fat. The "pitiably thin" Spade is quickly overwrought:
"Please, be seated." Celithemis gestured to more cushions.
Spade's small life suddenly filled with a happiness not for herself, and almost at once she began to cry.
"What happened? Have I offended you?"
"Not at all!" cried Spade. "You look so healthy!" She clasped her own hands on her emaciated waist. Celithemis easily weighed four times what Spade did…maybe five. Her cheeks were pink, her belly was full…this was somebody who had never wanted for food in her life. She was happy, and relaxed, and at peace in the middle of a sandstorm like this, and her body glowed in a healthy sweat. She obviously didn't work, probably didn't set foot outside, and was pampered in every way. The two of them were just about the same age. What different fates!
I'm an adipophile. I like fat partners, and I like being fat. (Not that I'm any good at it.) Of course, the general view of being fat is that it's somewhere between suicidal and psychopathic. My thoughts on this subject arise in my work, fiction and nonfiction, from time to time. But in my fiction I try not to be preachy, and part of "not being preachy" in ATH means giving different points of view, told honestly in each character's own voice. I think you can appreciate Spade's viewpoint:
The ofwa had come from the soil beneath her pitch black boots. Most Sodans kept personal gardens and protected them from the prevailing winds with these sails. Spade had been lucky to find this little garden and its excellent, large sail before total darkness had set in. Here she could wait out the storm safely, and eat her fill in the meanwhile. She didn't like ofwas, but she would eat as many of them as she could without being sick, and she would carry more with her when she left. Food was mostly what she thought about anymore.
Her torn brown trousers told the tale. They had all kinds of pockets and packs sewn onto them, by Spade herself. She wore three belts—one at the waist and one on each thigh to keep the loose material from flapping around. Always thin, these trousers had nonetheless fit her comfortably at one time.
In my inspired rush of writing I didn't get much farther than Spade crying at the sight of the abundant Celithemis and her abundant food, but I went to bed with the subject on my mind and when I woke up tonight some things were immediately clear.
First, these two are going to fall in love. They're going to have a child together. Spade will become a member of Silence's band of hearts and minds, and Celithemis will live in Soda Fountain as a mathematician for Galavar.
Second, Celithemis is the character who used to be called Lisa.
One of the themes in ATH is the divergent destinies of siblings. In the earliest novelization, there is a character named Tayden who is still very important in the novel today. He has a sister, named Lisa, who is fat and pampered and is her parents' favorite. When Gala invades the city, Tayden flees and ends up with the Resistance. Lisa ends up on Gala's side, slimming down and becoming a soldier, destined one day to go into battle against her brother. But while Tayden has gotten a lot of attention in Draft 10, I haven't really done much with Lisa yet.
Also in the current novel, one of the societies that Silence and her band of hearts and minds attempt to win over is a society where the male nobles display their status by grossly overfeeding their female trophy wives. Silence, herself an adipophile who occasionally confesses that if the world had no need of her brilliance she would go off to the forest and get fat, is confronted with the specter of a society which perverts this beautiful and rare aspect of the human condition—the love of fat—into something despicable.
This nomadic society of wife-fatteners, located elsewhere in the Sodaplains far from Soda Fountain, is an example of the rare instances when that kind of framing is representative of the truth. It draws a line for what I personally consider to be a healthy versus an abusive relationship, in terms of the fat dynamics in that relationship. But because I designed this society from such a top-down, single-issue point of view, it never meshed well into the overall flow of ATH.
Thus, while writing yesterday I decided immediately that Celithemis, her brother, and her father, come from this society. The father brought his children to Soda Fountain for politicoeconomic reasons (i.e., to make money), and hopes to marry off the suitably obese Celithemis to some rich Sodish noble in pursuit of that ambition.
When I realized that Celithemis is Lisa, I whooped. Perfect! I love it when things like this fit together. There is no friction at all to make the necessary background changes to Tayden's character, and Lisa and her father were both underdeveloped enough that it didn't matter. Celithemis herself, and her social background, will provide a perfectly natural stage for me to lay out this fascinating issue in the book.
It's not looking like Celithemis and Tayden will ever face off on the battlefield, now. As far as soldiering goes, Spade is going to become much of what I had originally intended for Lisa. But Celithemis and Tayden will still illustrate a divergent destiny between siblings, even if they don't ironically meet in battle. Tayden, before the invasion, meets another character, a runner for the city guard (previously named Kayaju; definitely subject to change). He falls in love with, among other things, her vitality and her "healthy sweat." When he thinks these words, he is specifically contrasting this young athlete to his corpulent and unfit sister, who sweats pretty much all the time. When the narrative is in a Tayden point-of-view, that very term will appear, "healthy sweat," in contrast to Celithemis, just as it appears in Spade's point of view in regard to Celithemis herself.
This is an example of the contrast of divergent destinies. Many readers won't notice or care. But this is what I mean when I talk about (not) being preachy by letting the characters speak for themselves. Rather than Me forcing You to hold My point of view, I create characters with different points of view, and You, Gentle Reader, may interpret them howsoever you like. If you want to think Tayden is right and Spade is wrong…why, you are so entitled.
I love being able to do this. I spend so much energy—seriously, you have no idea—trying to be progressive and not unintentionally put bigotry into my fiction, trying to make sure that I am not discriminating against classes of people by leaving them out or misrepresenting them. But, ultimately, I don't set any quotas for myself. I rely on my excellence and just go on and write whatever I want.
And I have had such fun imagining what to do with Celithemis' traditionalist and restrictive father. How will he adapt to the new order, and to the knowledge of his daughter's sexuality and choices, and to her exercise of her newfound freedoms under Gala? It isn't a given that he must be some enemy who has to be put out of the picture somehow. Maybe, if the sky is white, his mind will open and his heart will soften. Maybe not…but the point is that it could go either way!
Alternative sexuality—fat lovers, gay relationships—these are niche issues that don't appear nearly often enough in epic fantasy. When they do appear, the treatment tends to be poor and often some mixture of obnoxious or neglected. I don't want to rub issues that matter to me in my readers' faces. Well, not too much, anyway! My goal as the author is to incorporate these progressive convictions into the story without drawing any special attention to them, beyond what the reader's own bias compels—and even that can be minimized under a worthy pen.
I love being able to put these kinds of things in my story purely on the basis of my passion for them, without sounding like a preacher about it and without forcing the reader to conform to my worldview.
That's what I wanted to say.
And all of this…was brought together by seeing a single picture!
Tune in Next Week!
I hope you enjoyed this journal entry from the vault. Next Saturday I'll begin my miniseries on plot development.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!