Saturday, April 28, 2018
Earlier this month I had a rad dream about Silence that got my creative juices flowing and really lifted my spirits. I wrote about it in my journal the next day and figured that would be the end of it. However, the creative upwelling and overarching sense of goodwill persisted, and I subsequently thought of a different spin on the subject, and some additional things to say.
To Capture Lightning
The very earliest version of Silence Terlais was a collage of many different inspirations: fantasy stories and characters, fantasy art, anime, and a healthy dose of mine own self. She was a fighter, a loyal Guard of Galavar, and stupendously aggressive even for the Josh of those days. She was, to borrow a description of one of the characters she was based on, an "attack bitch."
Yet she possessed something Galavar didn't: a vulnerable and often contradictory inner landscape. Whereas Galavar was the coolest of the cool cucumbers, Silence had inner frustrations, inner worries, and inner reproach for failing to live up to her own high standards. And most of all, though I didn't ever write it this way, because I hadn't figured it out myself, yet, she struggled with an unfulfillable desire to belong. You might think of it, if imprecisely, as a fear of rejection. If Galavar was an author surrogate spared of this deep inner fault line, then Silence was an author surrogate who had managed to succeed in life despite possessing the full measure of it.
And she possessed something else Galavar didn't: She was delightful. The earliest form of her was very similar to the Silence who would much later appear in Empire on Ice: ridiculous, fun-loving, and able to laugh at herself and the world. The only difference is that the Empire on Ice Silence lives a peaceful and relaxing life in the seasonable climes of glorious Joshalonia, while the Silence of Relance lives a very dark and taxing life oriented around war and existential threats. And so the one is fat and sassy while the other is vicious and ruthless. But they are the same person. Only the environment differs. For all my growth over the years, and all the evolution in my conception of the character, there was only ever one Silence. That's because the lodestar that sets her course is me, and I too have always been the same person.
She was special right from the beginning, and I knew it. And even though it took her a few months to become dearer to me to than Galavar, I knew from her very first moments that I had captured lightning in a bottle, like with no other character I ever created. Or, perhaps a slightly truer way of putting it: That character has a piece of my own spark in her.
And that's why Silence barely appeared at all in the entire first half of ATH the RPG.
Fleeting Glimpses of the Original Silence
It maddens me, and more so it tantalizes me, that Silence makes so few appearances in the first half of the RPG. So few, in fact, that I counted them: They add up to just under 3,200 words. In fact here are most of them:
"Damn you all, what are you looking at?!" she yelled angrily. "Quick reflexes are better to have than to not have, and I could have easily just saved all our lives by drawing instinctively."
They all continued to give her a blank stare. Of course! She blinked heavily in self-disgust as she realized that no one else would know that a drop of water had hit her.
"It was just a noise I heard," she explained deceitfully. "It must have been Galavar, I guess."
[Galavar said] "...I'll be able to tell you great things later. But for now, only basic orders."
"Orders, aye sir! Something we can make use of!" Silence looked relieved.
But his gift forcced itself upon him. He screamed in pain as he suddenly gained awareness of everything--everything! Collapsing to the floor in his half-donned armor, Silence rushed in a few moments later.
"You, damn you!" she complained. "You know I sleep lightly. But I don't think I've ever hit the ceiling when jolted awake before." Galavar looked up and saw she had a knife in each hand.
"Certainly no one is in the Depths for that long?" Silence said. "Sourros would drive him mad."
Silence laughed. "Don't be so formal, Vierge. We'll fix you of that before too long."
"What are we going to do about that intruder?" Silence demanded angrily. "Surely we won't let him get away with such tricks!"
"Allow us to go after these two right now, that we might set an example for others who choose to ally with them." Silence waved her arms for emphasis. "Let Gregor and I handle that floating dead man ourselves!"
"It amazes me how Galavar just lets those fiends get away with such disrespect..."
Or how about this one! This was her very first Silence-centric scene ever:
Silence had just arrived the night before, so packing wasn't really necessary. She traveled with what she could comfortably carry--thus avoiding the nuisance of a traveling attendant.
She typically clad herself in a multi-green cloak and hood, tight at the midriff and loosening both above and below it, with mid-length sleeves. The pants were similar, but entirely function, well suiting her agile needs. Her sword, a long, thin rapier with a reinforced bonsai wood hilt and pommel, hung below her dormant left hand waist-sash; the hand currently away stroking and manipulating her long red hair to a secure ponytail. Once her hair was set well, she pulled over the hood, a dark green that obscured as much of her face as she wished.
"I look like the 'ery model of steadfast blasÃ©," she told the mirror in her quarters before strapping on the backpack and exiting.
The castle was quiet in these moments before the dawn. Galavar had given her permission to go; she wouldn't bother seeing him again, lest he change his mind. She merely need confirm her departure. She wandered in Gregor's general direction looking for someone in authority, but could find no one.
The smell of jams and hotcakes wafted her way, and she was forced to divert her course to investigate this blatant disregard toward the food code.
"And I do hereby decree," she said aloud, "that all in the mighty Guard of Galavar shall consume naught but inedible bread, made of naught but the standard gravel and flour mÃ©lange, and shall drink naught but unpalatable port, fermented in the unholiest fashion of the accursed magic winery, made by wizards who abstain from the drink all their lives, and now we know why."
"Talking to yourself could be considered abnormal by some," came a voice from behind.
"Luckily I don't have that problem, Diva, is it? You see, I heard you coming--deemed you worthy to hear my wisdom."
They entered the dining hall together and beheld a veritable early morning feast.
"What's this for?" Silence asked, moving toward the buffet. "Surely Galavar wouldn't be this pompous as to have an arrival feast in his honor?"
"It's not for Galavar," Diva admitted. "I had the chefs prepare throughout the night. It's...diplomatic in nature."
"You were supposed to kill or brainwash all the diplomats," Silence reminded her, seating herself at the head of the empty table, across from the food laden one. She shoved a piece of bread into her mouth and continued. "Are you going to try and recruit new diplomats from the converted legions of Davoranj? Can you do that? Would they be willing to voice opinions against Galavar?"
"I'm not aware of the extent of the loyalty in the spell Galavar used. His Guards, if anyone, should be."
"I make it a point not to mettle in magic." She drew her sword, left-handed, and lunged at Diva in an instant. The Commander didn't even see her stand, but was, nonetheless, armed the next moment as well. "This serves me sufficiently, Diva. Very few could respond like you did in a seemingly peaceful situation like this."
She drew back, happened to glance upon three large candelabrums. She smiled and nodded toward them, drawing back to a pace seemingly out of reach from the candlesticks. Diva didn't say a word.
Silence lunged and swept across them--and stumbled backward as all three candelabrums tumbled to the floor in an awful bout of noise. Diva took the initiative and placed her own sword at the Guard's neck.
"They're concrete," Diva explained amidst insulting laughter. "It was an old Davoranjian king's idea, so saith Lilit DeLatia. Apparently it finally worked."
Silence grumbled, took the Commander's hand and pulled herself up, and drew back to her seat, hiding her humiliation with a smile.
Gregor walked in at that.
"I should have waited for you here the first pass I made through this hall," he harrumphed. "You're late, and you're eating again."
Silence gave him a look of sarcastic hurt.
"I am entirely on schedule, a full hour ahead of our agreed departure time. And I weigh far less than half of your imposing bulk. I'm thin, and pretty, and punctual, and you're obscene, slow, and uncouth." She laughed at him. "Sit down, heatho-dwarf. Your variety didn't get to be three times larger than your main race by watching others eat."
"We're going...now." He stood still, arms crossed, catching Silence as she downed a muffin. She gave him a look that assured all he must be kidding, lest he forfeit his life so needlessly. Gregor did not waver. "I am going now, and you will be hard pressed to catch up to me."
Diva dared to interfere in her two superiors' business.
"Maybe you should get going," she suggested. "It's a long way to wherever it is you're going, and starting a trip late in the day is unhealthy." She looked very matter-of-fact, but it was something beneath her expression that convinced them.
"Very well, traitor wench." Silence stood and strode toward Gregor. "Let's be on with it!"
After they left, Diva sighed in relief, cleaned what mess had been made, and went to awaken DeLatia.
What a different Silence!
So high-strung, so high-energy, so emotive...like a certain female anime archetype. Not surprising, since several of my original inspirations for Silence came from such sources. The Silence in these excerpts was actively coming into existence as her own character; you can still see the original influences hanging right there in big glomps!
The first half of the old RPG is just over 300,000 words long! (Meaning Silence's 3,200-word share in it is roughly 1 percent.) The scene you just read, with Silence and Commander Diva and Gregor, occurs roughly halfway through the word count—so, at approximately the 150,000-word mark.
That scene—which also includes a brief conversation, not quoted here, between Silence and Gregor as they're setting out on horseback for Junction City—is Silence's last appearance in the first half of the RPG. She completely disappears for another 150,000 words. It isn't until Part 2 that we see her again, and by then the original form of Silence is long gone, her surface having reacted with the truth of her exposure, oxidizing into something far less apprehensible. So would she remain, for the rest of the RPG and for many, many years during the novelization thereafter.
There are many problems with the above excerpts, many valid criticisms to offer. But the biggest one is that there aren't enough of them. We get so fleeting, so brief a glimpse into this earliest version of her!
I love how much of a good-natured shit she is, in these early scenes. That's the truest Silence. Always hoisting herself up by her own petard, never refraining from repeating her mistake even though she certainly could, but instead just gleefully soaring forward into the next splendorous flight to the sun upon her wings of wax.
It's so interesting to reread these excerpts and see myself painting with my own brush on these other archetypical canvases, a blend of the young Josh's inner expressions of the character with the external tropes he was drawing upon.
And so tantalizing, like I said, for I can only wonder at what else we might have seen this original Silence do, had she been granted more appearances. Just as I don't preordain or control the storyline of her appearances in my dreams, I couldn't tell you what adventures I would have written for her, had I written them.
We will never know.
What Happened to That Silence?
Like I said, it's not to say that she isn't like this anymore. She still very much is! In my journal entry I wrote "It's just that my conception of the character has come so far over the years (as has my view on matters like sexism and fat acceptance), and so when I think about her it's from a very different place."
And that's true. But, after thinking on it, I don't think it's pertinent. I don't think it's the actual explanation.
Following her early appearances, I laid a lot of gravity and sobriety upon her. Silence became the far more inwardly-focused, outwardly aloof and reserved and even arguably morose person that we still typically think of her as today.
This wasn't, as I originally speculated in my journal entry, simply the result of an evolution in her character. It was the result of an evolution in her presentation.
The original Silence's depiction was nakedly, obliviously honest; very soon thereafter she became far more inscrutable, her true self hidden in a shroud of contextual seriousness and temperamental withdrawnness, as I compensated for my over-divulgence. She has remained this way ever since.
Like a reactive metal, the original Silence was too personal and therefore wasn't stable, and so her outward appearance—her presentation in the story—changed enormously. Those few appearances of the original Silence were like that fleeting, shiny sheen of fresh metal in the moments after it is cut. In this metaphor, the "cut" here is her very creation: When I created her, I unwittingly showed off something very, very deep inside myself. Something very private. And something I am quite vulnerable about.
I certainly never acknowledged it explicitly. I don't even think I fully understood on a conscious level what I had done. But, subconsciously, I began to mask Silence immediately.
That is why her appearances were so few. I felt vulnerable writing them, so I didn't do it. Because passion is vulnerability. When a kid really cares about something, do they go and tell everyone at school how awesome it is and how much they're into it? No, not usually. They shove it aside, say it's no big deal, and pretend to ignore it. Or they never mention it to begin with. So it is for adults, if not often quite so poetically obvious. And so it is for adolescents for that matter, as I was in those days.
I didn't write scenes for Silence nearly as much as I wanted to. But I was definitely thinking about her. You can see this in the RPG text itself, obliquely, in that the Galan capital is renamed "Silence" during her extended absence in the first half of the RPG.
There's also the fact that Silence is the only character to date who has a completed Interlude, which I wrote during the era of the RPG. In fact, though Silence was more developed by this time, her Interlude is the closest we can get to seeing more of Silence in her original form.
The Scary and Awesome Powers of a Living Horcrux
In that Interlude, called The March of Silence, there is a scene that I'm not going to talk about, because it's fairly spoiler-rich even for the modern novel. But in that scene, Silence has a breakdown when she is reminded of her parents. It caused such a profound mental illness in her that Galavar eventually resorts to sealing away the illness using magic, into an inaccessible part of her mind.
When I wrote that, my star in life was rising at mach speeds. I was in the process of escaping from my own toxic mother and dysfunctional family home, and escaping the Desert altogether. And I knew (or so I thought at the time) that that part of my life was about to be forever behind me, and knowing this was an inextinguishable power source. I was about to leave for Washington and step into the future of my self-made destiny. In those days I lived on three hours' sleep many nights and I didn't eat enough, yet I was getting summa cum laude grades in my AP classes at school, and I was teaching Sunday school, and doing the Purim spiel, and hanging out with friends, and most of all I was writing After The Hero. It wasn't glamorous, but it was my own "One Moment in Time," and I will always cherish it fondly.
Today, with the benefit of my own experiences, I can look back on that mind rift plotline with Silence and see deep subconscious powers at work—far beyond my awareness at the time. I have always been fascinated with mental illness, and I was aware of this (and channeling it) when I wrote Silence's plotline...but I didn't understand how perfect some of these symmetries really were.
Ever since her creation, Silence has befriended and protected and enriched me. She has provided an exemplar to aspire to, and an outlet for creative and emotional impulses that don't have a natural outlet in my own personality. And she has provided one thing the real world seldom has: a worthy equal.
At every stage of my recovery from the Joshalonian Troubles of 2015 through 2017, she has been the first sapling to sprout in the frozen lava fields of psychological ash, and she was there for me in past troubles, too. I could even go so far as to say that she is my very own Horcrux: Because even though my head had little room for Silence when I was at my worst during various parts of the Troubles, she was always instrumental to my recovery thereafter. And today...well...it's hard to imagine life without her. She is of me, with me, and for me. I know "The Spark of Life" isn't a literally real thing, any more than the soul is, or the spirit, but as a metaphor it captures a strange truth: There is this imaginary entity, Silence Terlais, who possesses a sliver of my own essence. And that is incredibly powerful.
I mean, it really is. It's empowering. Humans are always building psychological structures for coping with the world, for getting ahead in it, for making the most of it. Silence is the best of mine. She's not simply a gratifying conviction, like the satisfaction I draw from ideas. She takes the form of an agent, an entity, a life. Others, of a religious persuasion, would call her a personal deity. And by now she is as much a part of me as my arm or my sense of sight.
Having Silence in my inner world spurs creativity, comfort, perspective, and quite a lot else besides. Were it not for her independent conceptual existence—her status as a One Ring or a Horcrux, a part of its creator but separate from it and therefore holistically empowering—my adult life would have been so much emptier and less encouraging. And because I never lost track of the fact that she is a fictitious being, existing in my mind but not in the real world, there is literally no downside. The storytellers who conceived of the One Ring and Horcruxes thought poorly of these things. I do not.
It's kind of amazing that Silence exists, even if only in my mind. And she is a part of what makes me as interesting and cool as I am.
When To Hold Back, and When Not To
When Silence finally reappeared in the second half of ATH the RPG, she had fully coalesced into very much my own creation. The source inspirations were no more to be seen. And she was a different person: more somber, more grave, and contending with deep inner turmoil. This was the beginning of Silence's true storyline in the RPG: the tale of the rift in her mind and her relationship to the ancient destroyed deity, Dsa.
What's curious is that that Silence, the Silence from the second half of the RPG, was also very personal for me to write, even though her new inscrutability ostensibly protected her private core from being revealed, for she was still Silence, and still extremely personal for me. I felt quite brave and proud for writing her!
Yet, despite being arguably the most central character in the second half of the RPG, she still didn't appear in the flesh very often.
And in the years since then, in the many iterations of the novelization, finally culminating in the Draft 10 Era, she has often remained elusive: always on the periphery, always in mind, but never there for long. Like a ghost, she's there, but she's not.
For example, in The Great Galavar she is the apparent antagonist of the prologue, yet she promptly disappears when the story shifts back in time to Galavar's adolescence (at about which time Silence is getting born). We'll see her again—lots of her—later in the Interlude, but to start off with her in the prologue and then disappear her...well, it's a classic literary device. She is looming.
She is great at looming. In the current draft of Chapter 1 of ATH, she doesn't appear in the first several scenes, yet she looms heavily in all of them.
To some extent, this is credible: There are zillions of characters in The Curious Tale, and even though I don't talk about any of them as much as I do Silence, they're still rather compelling to me! Silence isn't actually always at the center of my creative attention. There are other characters, other plots.
So it makes sense for me to hold her back when I'm trying to increase her rarity so as to make her impact more powerful when she does show up. And it makes sense to hold her back when I am focusing on subplots she doesn't intersect with.
But the rest of the time?
I think the right thing to do is keep her front and center way more than I have ever done before. I think the right thing to do is for the Silence of The Curious Tale to be as prominent in that story as my discussions of Silence are here in the world outside the story.
I specifically included Silence in the Prelude, heavily, for exactly this reason. That's why the scenes in which she appears are so extensive. I want readers to know, right from the beginning, that this is a character they're going to be seeing a lot of, so if they don't like reading her parts they'll know right away that this is not the series for them.
There's an irony here. On some level, I am struggling with that old desire to belong, and the associated fear of rejection. The same consideration that can lead me to hold her back can also rationalize my focusing on her heavily. Go figure!
Brought Back to Life
All of these thoughts were spurred by that dream I had. I love when she shows up in my dreams. Golly, it is always nice to see her! It's like getting a visit from one of your oldest, dearest friends, who nowadays lives far away and so doesn't come round too often. I mean, here I am—Capital-L "Loser," going to bed each night, often feeling horrible and depressed, as if everything good—past, present, and future—is impossibly far away, and that my life is just this numb limbo where I get to go out to eat a couple times a week and sleep in a comfy bed—and then who shows up in my dreams but Silence herself, completely without pomp or allusion or anything to do with my current plight, just showing up on her own accord like a cool dude does, and by her mere presence giving me (if only in my dreams) a feeling of how good life used to feel?
And it's even better than that, because, thanks to how the brain (or at least my brain) works, the handling of dreams isn't necessarily plugged into any sense of nostalgia or the passage of time. This was the old Silence, the one from the early days. It was so nice to see her.
That's all for this week. Join me next week when I begin an exciting miniseries exploring the Perse Hollows—the underground part of the Galan city of Sele!
Until then, may you know the wonder of catching lightning in a bottle.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!