Short Stories and Other Narratives

To Make No Lie

While I, unfortunately, do not have a writing tip to post this Monday, I do have a short story that I recently wrote for a class. And I have the good new that my last final is Thursday! So I will soon be back to posting normally and editing my story, Out of the Curse!

About this story: Over the past year, two authors have dramatically influenced my writing. The first is George MacDonald who wrote high fairy story for adults. His book Phantastes reminded me how much I love the wonder and childlike nature of fairy stories. The second is Flannery O’Conner who wrote challenging Christian fiction with brutal and honest twists. She believed that the modern Christian writer has a similar role to Old Testament prophets– that both were supposed to reveal sin as sin and grace as grace.

This short story is my first attempt to combine aspects of both authors in my writing. O’Connor did not come through quite as much in this story, but after all, this is my first attempt. In any case, I hope you enjoy the story!

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

To Make No Lie

By Gabrielle Massman

Deep in that wonderful wood—the Forest of the Fae whose borders blossom suddenly in a desert yet whose center stretches forever onwards and inwards—deep in that forest, a child sat in a field of flowers. The flower people bustled around her. Tiny faeries of purples and blues and whites frolicked around her small, hunched form. It was the first day of Spring, and no mortal was going to spoil their fun, even one who sat so heavily on their newly budded periwinkles and columbines.

When the child first arrived in the field at dawn, the flower faeries twisted up their beautiful faces in a dozen expressions at her back before bursting into high peals of laughter. But soon they tired of the visitor—for, though the child came every morning at dawn to sit and stack the sticks and leaves, she was separate from the fae—and so the flower people began to flit among their flowers again. Each carefully picked a single petal, but then, in vigorous fits of jealousy, the faeries bickered, shoved, and stole petals until they finally seemed happy. Then one by one, the little people plucked a single golden hair from the child’s head to tie to their petals, but the girl did not seem to mind or even notice. Suddenly, there arose, at the height of her elbows, a hundred fluttering kites in all the shades of blue and purple that look most like the sheen of sapphires and amethysts, but she remained focus, stacking the twigs and trying in vain to tie leaves to the sticks.

As the day passed by, the faeries grew tired of their kites and took up many other games, climbing up the tallest flowers and leaping off to catch the breeze with leaves held above their heads or engaging in laughing duels with sharp blades of grass. Though they were never still, they never worked, and though the child sat quite still, except her small hands and bright, darting eyes, she worked. Yet, the day passed with neither the flowers faeries nor the child seeming to make much of what is known as progress.

The sun began to set upon the forest; shadows lengthened and the amber rays poured down in beams between the shadows. The faeries gradually retreated into their blossoms as the flowers melted into the shadows. New faerie shapes began to form, indistinct in the dusk and not yet dangerous. Though not everything that walks in the night is malicious, every fae creature of the night is dangerous. Perhaps the child knew this for she finally looked up from her pile of sticks and leaves and blink. To her surprise, she found herself looking at a figure only a few feet away. Sticking her small fists into her eyes and rubbing away the strain to refocus on the world around her, she stared until she decided that there was indeed a tall man standing near the oak where the shadows had not yet reached.

The child never learned how long he had been standing there, but as soon as her attentive blue eyes met his soft brown ones, he smiled and drew near her. Kneeling to look at her pile of sticks and leaves, he held out a stringy leaf much like a long, thick blade of grass. “These grow near the river down the hill. They work very well for tying leaves to sticks.”

The child blinked and took the leaf. Her small, clumsy hands tried several times before finally succeeding to tie two of her sticks together. Suddenly her face ignited with joy, and she looked up at the man as if for the first time. “Thank you, sir! How did you know?”

“I, too, like tying leaves to sticks, and I made this leaf for that purpose.” He smiled and held out an open palm.

Grinning wider and displaying two missing teeth, the girl carefully set her sticks and leaves in his wide, calloused hands and then clapped her own soft, white hands. “You like making things, too! None of the faeries ever wanted to join me. They couldn’t understand why I tried to tie the sticks and leaves together. They don’t want to make with me.”

“Maybe you can make with me someday. But it is growing dark.” He gently set down the two sticks and stood. “Would you like to come home with me, and then tomorrow, you can tie up those leaves?”

The girl, her gold hair aflame in the sunset, looked wistfully back at her piles of leaves and sticks. He winked and added, “I promise nothing will happen to your creation—I’ll make sure the faeries stay away.”

“You can do that? You promise?”

“I promise, after all—I’ll tell you a secret—I made the faeries, and they always obey me.”

“You made the faeries?” Her blue eyes grew wide. “I could never make a faerie.”

“No.” He laughed and held out his hand. “But I can teach you how to make many other wonderful things.”

Taking the Maker’s hand, the little girl bounced up, leaving the faerie field and her sticks and leaves behind for the night. The two figures, one tall and one small, walked into the trees and talked of many more things until they finally reached his home and the child fell asleep in his arms.

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

The next days and the next years found the young girl in the same field. Every dawn, she would sit down and build, and every dusk, the Great Work-Master would come and they would walk home together.

In the soft field of periwinkles and columbines, the child arrived, every morning, before the faeries tumbled out of their flowers and the dawn rose, and while the faeries never grew or changed (though their faces were never the same from day to day), the child grew. Her dress shortened, and her legs lengthened. Soon she began wearing cotton shorts underneath the old tunic. Yet, she always sat and made with her twigs and leaves and stones as the faeries twisted up their little faces at her and frolicked all around.

On one particular day, the girl had been tearing apart and rebuilding her small creation with an unusual amount of vigor. That day the faeries thought her particularly funny, especially when she released particularly loud sighs or hurled a stick or stone hard at a tree. It became a game for them to race and be the first to find the stick which she had so angrily cast, but the faeries were liable to cheat, and a half dozen sticks were found for every one that the girl threw. But the girl took no notice of the faeries and continued to work with her sticks and leaves and stones.

At dusk, the Maker came and stood once again under the oak and waited. But the girl did not look up until the shadows had merged together into a blanket of night and the first stars peeked out from behind black clouds.

“Sir, I can’t make!” The girl exclaimed, hitting the misbehaving project, now hidden in the dark. “The sticks just are not right, and the leaves break! And it will all break if I hit it hard enough or simply wait while time tears it down.”

He knelt and placed a hand on her shoulder. Though his eyes shone with pity, an amused smile perked at a corner of his lips. “For now, you simply will have to be content with not hitting it, My dear. But I will teach you how to make it true someday.”

“That’s it! It isn’t true; something—lots of things are still false. It still lies. It’s hardly real at all and definitely nothing new. It’s just a bunch of sticks and leaves and stones.”

“But you love it,” He reminded, squeezing her shoulder. “I made you to make, and–don’t worry—you will make something that is true someday. I promise. Now, let’s go home, and we can come back to the forest tomorrow.”

The girl rose and brushed the grass and leaves off her legs. “You’ll come to the forest with me, Sir?”

“I will be at the river like always.” He smiled, threw his arm over her shoulder, and drew her close as they started walking.

“At the river? That’s where You go during the day?” The girl returned His embrace, clasping His side with one arm and grasping a fistful of His shirt in her hand. “If the faeries are quiet and I listen closely, I can hear it sometimes. But I don’t like thinking about the river—it is very fast and cold, isn’t it?”

“A bit, but it is also beautiful. Maybe someday you’ll join me there.”

“Maybe, but I think I’d rather work with my sticks and leaves and stones.”

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

Time hardly seems to pass in the Forest of the Fae, and the woods do not change. Yet, the girl grew into a woman in that field of periwinkles and columbines. And to her creation of leaves and sticks and stones, she added the flowers of the field. The hodgepodge handiwork was now quite complex and beautiful; even the wild faeries now acknowledged its existence and cast curious glances when the woman was not looking.

While the woman seemed to grow more and more excited about her work, she also looked up and around much more often. In fact, it seemed that when the woman was most enthralled with her making, she would sigh and look at the sky and land. Now the Maker hardly had to wait beneath the old oak before she looked up, ready to go home with her Father. To tell the truth, her mind often wandered to think of him standing at the river as she made.

One day, at the height of the sun’s ascent, the woman picked one pale periwinkle off her creation and added a indigo columbine. She shifted around a couple leaves, took out a twisted stick, and rubbed some dirt off a stone. As she leaned back and sighed, the faeries jumped and hurried back to playing with their petal parachutes and grass swords.

“It’s not right. There is still so much that isn’t true and perfect.” She cast a quick glance at the old rugged oak, fully knowing that the Maker was not there, before looking back at her curious collection, tied with flimsy leaves and flower stalks. “And something is still missing.”

Sighing again, the woman looked down at the faeries at her feet. One, with light purple hair and a patchy green skirt hemmed with white, tipped a leaf and dropped a single pearl of dew upon another’s head. The victim shrieked, shook her wet yellow hair, and rung the water out of her pretty blue and white dress before tromping off to find her own dew for retaliation. Soon enough, a petty war had begun, and hundreds of dew drops sparkled in the sunlight as they flew around the woman’s feet.

Shimmering like the dew, the woman’s blue eyes brightened with amusement. She reached down and plucked her own dew-holding leaf and poked at one of the faeries. “Water is one of his most beautiful creations, don’t you think?”

But the faeries paid her no mind, too absorbed with the water play to speak about the water’s beauty. For them it was quite simple: if the water was not beautiful, they simply would not play with it or pay it mind. Yet, for the woman, the truth seemed so clear now, and she smiled.

Turning back to focus on her creation, she remembered the Maker’s many words about the river. He often talked about the river, and now she wondered why she never realized that he was calling her there. She carefully slid the dew drop onto one of her sticks. Her creation needed water to be true; though how to get the water and trap the flow with her leaves and sticks, she did not know. And somewhere, deep in her thoughts and almost unnoticed, she realized that she, too, needed the water—not for her creation but for herself.

Taking all her sticks and leaves and stones and flowers, which she had work on for so many years, in her arms, she leapt up. The faeries scattered in surprise, and–no wonder—the faeries could never remember a time when the woman and her creation were not immovable parts of the field.

Though the woman had never visited the river, somehow she knew where to go—whether by following the land downwards or by the faint sound of rushing water or something else. Her steps were careful, careful not to trip and crush her small creation, and yet she hurried, taking great leaps from mossy rock to old logs and around the fair aspen trees. Bouncing behind her, the faeries followed, intrigued by the spectacle and expecting great fun, but if the woman noticed them, she did not look back at her procession.

When the woman leapt out of the aspens, she slowed to a stop at the edge of the roaring river. At first, she did not see her Maker but stared at the rushing water, pale blue and freezing cold. Then a strong hand fell on her shoulder, and the woman turned around. Joy lit up her face and washed away the fear, and yet, the Maker’s face shone with even greater joy as he looked upon her and her creation.

“Sir, you’ve been waiting for me.”

“Yes, dear.”

The woman smiled wider and glanced down at her pile of sticks, leaves, stone, and flowers. “Why didn’t you tell me that I needed the river’s water?”

“I was always calling you, and I knew you would come in time.” He held out his hand and stepped towards the river’s mossy bank. “Why don’t you put down your creation?”

“Of course.” She gently set her handiwork down at the base of one of the pale aspens before hurrying past the Maker to kneel next to the cold, rushing water.

As she plunged her hand into the flow, a shiver raced up her arm. The water seemed alive as it raced around her fingers, embracing them in a ephemeral grasp and pulled her hand deeper. With cupped hands, the woman stood and brought the water over to her creation, but the elusive water had slipped through her fingers and the drops that remained slid off the leaves and fell into the moss.

Still with his hand out held, the Maker watched in silence as the girl ran back and forth from the river, trying to capture the water. Long after the faeries lost interest, the woman stooped before him, placing her hands on her knees and panted.

“Sir, what must I do to get the water? My creation needs it.”

“You need it as well, my dear. Come with me, and we will enter into the river together.” The Maker reached out his hand again.

The woman hesitated and glanced back at the wide and deep river with the fast and swift flow that spun twisting waves. “Will we come back?”

“No, we are going deeper and farther, and you will not want to come back.”

“But what about my sticks and leaves and stones and flowers?” Her eyes widened, and she fixed her solemn eyes on her precious work that rested on the bank and on the faeries playfully poking it with their blades of grass.

The Maker joined her in looking at the creation. “It is beautiful, but leave it here. You will make something new—and perfect.”

“But the river is swift.”

“I will be with you.”

“And the river is cold.”

“But will you join me, Creature Dearest, so that you may be made beautiful and that you may make beauty with me?”

Pulling her gaze away from her creation, she took a deep breath and placed her hand in his. He drew her tightly into his side as he had done when she was a little child, and she relaxed in his embrace even as they drew near the water. Together, they entered the river.

The chilling spirit of the water swept through her. The violent currents danced around her waist, but the Maker held her firm. The river rose to her elbows, sending waves of shivers up her arms. The crystalline water was quite beautiful if she could forget its pull to sweep her off her feet and bring her into its depths. In the middle of the river, a light sparkled so deep and far away. The light flickered and waned among the waves as if she was looking at a sliver of the moon or the glow of a castle far away.

Yet, as the cold water rose to her neck, she turned away from the light to stare into her Maker’s face. A wave rushed over her head, and her breath was imprisoned in her chest. Her golden strands whipped around her face, but still her bright, darting eyes sought his steady, joyful ones. Still holding her tight, he gestured towards the light and, to her surprise, took a full breath of water. Her own breath began to burn, and the water’s stinging cold felt more and more welcoming. Blackness crept in from the corners of her vision, and she almost lost sight of the light and her Maker’s eyes, but then she opened her mouth and let the water in.

In that moment, she was not sure if she took her last breath, a painful breath of water, or if she took her first breath—a real, relieving breath that rushed through her, captivating her and drawing her onwards.

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

“In Paradise they look no more awry;

And though they make anew, they make no lie.”

“Mythopoeia” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Writing Tips

3 Tips for Plotting an Action Packed Journey

The plots of most modern novels, especially Young Adult, are centered around action. But the action-centered, fast-paced plot that readers want and publishers demand can be difficult to achieve when the primary goal of your characters is simply to get from point A to point B.

Alas, this is the problem I am dealing with in my current work-in-progress, and for a Tolkien lover, this is especially difficult to accept. But we have to remember that many Tolkien readers never pick back up The Fellowship of the Ring after reading half way through the visit to Tom Bombadil or end up putting down The Return of the King as Sam and Frodo walk and climb and then walk some more towards Mount Doom. Tight plots demand a specific type of action and peril around every turn, and if Tolkien can barely get away with a lagging plot in today’s readership, then you and I definitely cannot.

3 Tips for Plotting an Action Packed Journey

  1. Remember that journeys are highly dangerous without technology

In a time when we travel a couple hundred miles in a day just for a weekend vacation, it is hard to remember that travel used to be highly dangerous. So research travel conditions for the time period you are writing about. But here are a few, general considerations for a fantasy or an ancient journey:

  • No paved roads: Horses and travelers tire quickly. Wagons and carts struggle over the terrain.
  • No government paid protection (Policemen): There will probably be robbers and other lawless men. Your characters will have to protect themselves. Bigger groups are best.
  • No communication: There is no way to call for help (unless you have a magic owl or something). Situations may have changed—including wars starting or ending! Your characters may walk right into a war zone or show up at their destination and find out that there is a new king and anyone who supports the old king are now considered traitors.
  • No refrigeration: Some food can be dried, but you can only pack so much. So for a long journey, enjoy several hours of hunting and gathering a day.
  • No or few reliable maps: Good luck finding your destination if your paper map isn’t even right.
  1. All the action should point towards the climax, and most conflict should come directly or indirectly from the antagonist

For a tight, unified plot, the rising action should point towards a confrontation with the antagonist. Just because you are writing about a dangerous journey does not mean you can throw this away. If your antagonist is not a person and is an idea or force of nature, you may have an easier time making the journey’s trials come from the antagonist. But you must make sure that most of the action is leading to the climax and related to whoever or whatever your antagonist is.

So maybe your protagonists run out of food, but it need to be paired with a threat from the antagonists. Do not let your reader forget who the real enemy is in the midst of the struggles of surviving the journey because if you do, they will get bored and wonder why they even started reading your book.

  1. Keep your antagonist actively pursuing; don’t give your protagonists a break.

If you find that your antagonist is hanging back and plotting for a great trap at the end of the journey, you probably have a boring plot. It does not matter if he has planted a traitor or if he is following their every step. If your antagonist does not show up until the end of the journey, your plot will either be flat or the conflict will be random and unrelated to the real plot. So don’t rein in your antagonist and don’t worry about your heroes being able to fend him off until the end. You will figure it out, so take your antagonist off his leash.

Are any of you writing a story that centers around a journey? As many of you know, I am, and I just received some beta reader feedback that my plot is pretty flat for most of the story. These were the three solutions that I found. Do you have any other tips?

God bless,

Gabrielle

Writing Tips

Fantasy Cliche: Prophecy

Many fantasy books have some type of prophecy. The Lord of the Rings boasts a prophecy about how the King of Gondor will return with healing in his hands. Harry Potter speaks of the “chosen one.” Star Wars has the one who will balance the Force. Most fantasy (and some science fiction) includes a vague prophecy about a future hero who will help good or evil triumph in the world. But why is this? And are prophecies now clichéd and too old-fashion for modern fantasy?

Fantasy Cliche Prophecy: Its purpose and 6 practical tips

Some History of Fantasy Prophecies

Historically fantasy was wrought with prophecies, and this tradition of prophecies probably translated into the modern cliché. Before Tolkien published The Hobbit and launched the genre into modern times and popular view, he drew from Old Norse and other ancient cultures’ myths. From Anglo-Saxon and Norse myths, such as Beowulf and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, to Greek epics like the Odyssey, prophecies have helped drive the plot. Notably, all of these prophecies were directly tied into religion and dealt with the relationship between gods and humans. Later myths such as the Legends of King Arthur drew inspiration from the prophecies of the Judeo-Christian Bible in addition to Anglo-Saxon myths. J. R. R. Tolkien, who truly popularized fantasy in the modern world, also included a many prophecies and the tradition continued as he led the way for modern fantasy.

But are prophecies now cliché?

Most bloggers, authors, agents, and publishing companies certainly think so, and in most cases, I have to agree. There are countless fantasy novels that contain mediocre to bad poetry that tells some vague and useless prophecy which either we see right through or it makes no sense and is completely useless. When a bland and boring prophecy is used to move the plot along, many readers don’t even notice the lazy writing. But now, readers and publishers are getting more picky. Do we really need a doomsday prophecy to motivate our hero?

But are we just misunderstanding of the purpose of prophecies?

Historically in fantasy and religiously, prophecy has a very specific purpose. In the Bible, the prophets were neither primarily focused on the future nor sent to perform miraculous signs. The prophets were sent to reveal sin and encourage repentance at the present time. Threats of judgement (prophecy) and demonstrations of divine authority (miracles) were the methods to bring about repentance. The biblical purpose of prophecy is to call the people to repentance or to make the way for the Savior.

Interestingly enough, most fantasy throughout history has the same purpose for prophecy. The prophecies in Homer’s Odyssey warn of dire consequences to Odysseus’ actions and set the path for Odysseus to take back his home. The prophecies in the legends of King Arthur make the path for Arthur to become king and warn of the consequences of sin. Lewis’ prophecy in The Silver Chair deals with warning against disobedience, and his prophecy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells of the coming of Aslan. Tolkien’s prophecies in The Silmarillion are simple: don’t do that or you will die/suffer something much worse. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses prophecies to encourage the people of Middle Earth to support Aragorn and Frodo.

So Here are Six Rules for Writing Proper Prophecy:

1. Your prophecy must primarily serve as a call to repentance or as a way of preparing the people for a savior

As covered before, this is the purpose of prophecy. If you want to write a “prophecy” that does neither of these two things, then you have the wrong narrative technique. You may be looking for foreshadowing instead….

2. Don’t use prophecy as foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a fantastic literary technique, but it does not belong in prophecies. Prophecies are supposed to serve a purpose. If your prophecy does not clearly call the people to repentance and clearly warn of the consequences, then it is useless. If the prophecy does not clearly identify and pave the way for the savior, then it is also useless (Note: Not all may recognize the savior, but it must be clear to at least some of the characters and your rational readers.) Prophecy is just too obvious and crude for foreshadowing– try symbols or dialogue if you want to foreshadow.

3. The initial prophecy should not be vague and hard to understand

Note how I used the word “initial.” If a prophecy has be distorted over thousands of years, then it might be hard to understand (especially if a god has not intervened to preserve the prophecy.) But since prophecy is given for a reason to communicate something to your characters, then rational, educated characters need to understand the message. And above all, the reader should understand the message. Characters may be blinded by emotions, but you don’t want to insult your readers by tricking them with something impossible to understand until afterward.

4. Prophecies can have hidden meaning but should have immediate value for the characters

Again, prophecies are communication. It is great to have prophecies with hidden meanings that are discovered afterwards, in fact, many of the best do, but have there be a practical and understandable message as well.

5. Prophecies should involve the divine

Biblical prophecy and prophecy in historical fantasy has always come from God or gods as communication to man. If you don’t make this explicit, then the prophecy will feel like a cheap plot motivator. Now, this doesn’t mean that only religious fantasy can have prophecies. A lot of fantasy deals with gods without messing (much) with religion: think The Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings. You can even just barely mention the god that inspired the prophecy and leave it there. Though, I mean, why not address some fun questions about divine and human relationships? But that is up to you.

6. If you are not a master of poetry, then write your prophecy in a different format

Not much is worse than a having bad poetry shoved down your throat. It doesn’t matter the purpose of your prophecy if you put it in a terrible poem. There is no shame in having a prophecy written without meter and rhyme. If it seems to dull, then carve it in stone or put it in a sealed scroll. But if you can’t write poetry, then please don’t. Spare us all.

So what do you think about fictional prophecies? What did I get wrong? Any revisions that you are thinking about for your fictional prophecy? I know that I will be rewriting mine in the next few months. Also do you have any other cliches you would like me to tackle?

God bless,

Gabrielle