Stonecoast: Wizard of Earthsea

*This post was originally published on Theodora’s website.

By Theodora Goss

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the workshop I led at Stonecoast last winter, on fantasy writing. I mentioned that I had given the students a series of quotations, and we had discussed them as examples of various writing issues and techniques. This is one of the quotations I used to talk about character: the beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. But there’s so much more going on here than the establishment of character! I have a list of writers that I learned from myself, as a writer. Le Guin is one of the most important of them. She’s one of the reasons I try to write clearly, fluidly. I think lyricism is based on clarity of expression. She’s also one of the reasons I try to write about ideas, as much as I try to write about characters. She’s one of my models for what a courageous writer looks like.

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Infatuation: An Exercise to Build Character

By Aaron Hamburger

“I’ll Give You All I Can” by Brandon Christopher Warren via Flickr

“I’ll Give You All I Can” by Brandon Christopher Warren via Flickr

When I was in high school, I had a deep, all-consuming crush on a young man we’ll call Austin.  Bear in mind, this was high school.  In suburban Detroit.  In the late 1980’s.  I had no hope of his returning—let alone recognizing—my affection.

So I learned to satisfy (and perhaps stoke) my longings by studying him from afar.  I became especially knowledgeable about Austin’s scuffed shoes and socks, the hairs on the back of his neck, the door of his locker after he’d closed it and walked away…  basically, anything I could learn about the guy without his noticing.

I savored each new tiny detail about his life that I believed or maybe hoped might illuminate larger truths about his existence, like the fact that he commuted to our school from Detroit’s “East Side,” or that he liked Smarties candies, or that he wished that instead of AP World History, we could just watch Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part I.

Little did I know that through my Austin-worship, I was building skills that would serve me well, later on, as a fiction writer.  Novel readers encountering characters for the first time go through much the same process as a lovestruck teenager gazing from a distance at his love object.  As we read, we’re constantly picking up on the tiniest of details about each character we meet, whether consciously or unconsciously.  The difference is that while Austin never noticed or cared that I was studying him, readers are under the delusion that the author has chosen to sprinkle the narrative with purposefully chosen details as clues to suggest some larger and more significant patterns of personality.

Why do writers and readers go to all this elaborate bother?

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Masks

By James Patrick Kelly

Happy Halloween!

For some reason I never got the Halloween memo.  Oh sure, as a kid I put on the plastic mask and flammable superhero/pirate/spaceman costume and collected my share of sugary swag.  But, as an alleged grown-up, I have dressed for Halloween maybe a handful of times, and certainly not in the last twenty-some years.

Why should this be?

Maybe it has something to do with my aversion to candy corn, or perhaps it’s that I dress up and put on a mask pretty much every time I write. Continue reading