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Monday, 26 August 2013

Gateways to our Imaginations



They call St. Louis, Missouri the Gateway to the West. It was the city settlers used to cross the Mississippi River and make their way into the western states to make names for themselves. St. Louis was a gateway to a new world, a different world than those people had been used to.




Anyone remember this movie? I have it on VHS, and would love to find it on DVD. The film is all about journeys, transitions, traversing; discovering. The manor in which the main character, Mary, lives in (which belongs to an uncle she’s never met) through the bulk of the film has several hidden doors. Mary finds a few of these doors and discovers her aunt’s old bedroom and finds her ill cousin, Colin. On the grounds of the manor, is, as the title states, a secret garden accessed by a hidden door. That door doesn’t remain hidden for long as Mary quickly finds it. As Mary journeys through each found door, she experiences, she learns something new. By the end of the film, her uncle learns how to laugh and she learns that she is loved, she learns how to love in return, she learns how to cry… But most importantly, she learns.

Doors and gateways are more than just openings between rooms or separate us from the outside world. They take us from one place to another. In the real world, they take us from the street into a warm coffeehouse in the winter time, or simply from the hallways of our houses into our bedrooms where we sleep off the events of the day. But in the world that is a writer’s imagination, doorways are so much more. When a character walks through a door, they can leave the chaos that is a busy downtown street and enter the calm that is a homely coffeehouse, and that change in atmosphere can change the mood of that character and change the way they think, change the way they feel about what is going on in their life. Perhaps that coffeehouse is one of the few places where they feel at ease and free to just relax and enjoy a cup of their favourite flavoured coffee. Maybe it’s the place where everybody knows your character’s name, where they’re not just one of a thousand employees, but they are Jim, Bob, Evelyn or Tracy. Maybe it is the one place Bob can just be himself, the place where Tracy doesn’t have to conform to everyone’s standards, the sanctuary where Jim doesn’t have to follow the rules and the place where Evelyn can unwind and do whatever the heck she wants to do. Maybe this is the place where Jim, Bob, Evelyn and Tracy meet and relax. Perhaps they met each other here and they meet at the same table in the same corner every weekend to catch up on each other’s lives. And all of that happened because they walked through that coffeehouse door.

Behind every door is a world different from the one outside it. Your bedroom has a different feel than your kitchen or living room. It is probably painted your favourite colour, or maybe there’s a theme going on. Either way, your bedroom is your sanctuary, your private place where you can sleep and perchance to dream. You cook in your kitchen, dine in your dining room, watch TV in your living room and you sleep in your bedroom. Each room is its own little world with its own purpose in your daily life. In writing, these rooms have their own atmosphere, and can depict the tone of a scene.

In the realm of fantasy, gateways take us to far off places and even distant times. The Sci-fi show, Stargate SG-1 used a star gate to traverse from Earth to the planet of the week in each episode. That gateway took the Stargate team to another world. Sometimes that world was really not so different from their own. Doorways are special tools in writing because so much can be done with them. All it takes is some unsuspecting character to stumble upon a hidden door and for that character to let curiosity take over, and boom; you’ve taken that character, and your audience, into another world. Perhaps, that world is hundreds of thousands of miles away. Maybe that world is their own world but 100 years in the past or 50 years in the future.



Gateways allow us to travel between this world and other, and because of that, they are pretty special things. Without the rabbit hole and this little bitty door, Alice would never have made it into Wonderland. Without the wardrobe, the Pevenseys wouldn’t have fulfilled the prophecy in Narnia. Those doorways were important to those stories because they led us into the world of imagination. Imagination will take us anywhere and everywhere if we let it. My imagination is pretty expansive and I wouldn’t want it any other way. My imagination is my gateway into the places my stories are set in and it is how I escape the chaos that is real life. I believe imagination allows us to think about things differently; it gives us a new perspective on things. 

I wonder what's behind this door...


Imagination is both a place and our passage to that place. Allow yourself a trip on the ship Imagination and let it take you to Imagination Isle. It will be a wonderful trip, maybe the best you’ve ever been on. It is a place that will always be there and, when you leave, will be awaiting your return.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Do You Plot Your Characters or Character Your Plot?



Yesterday, I stumbled upon an article I found interesting. It raised a question I believe plagues many writers (I know it plagues me from time to time). Should you start with plot or character(s)? That question got me thinking, which, with my mind, can be an interesting undertaking. I started thinking about my history as a writer and how my stories have come about.

I like to think that my stories, in the long run, are character driven. After all, a good story needs, at the very least, a realistic main character, or main characters. A realistic main character has strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures, moments of heroism and moments of cowardice. However, all stories involve the main character being thrown into a situation they were never expecting to be thrown into; a situation where they suddenly feel small, unsure, strange… somewhere they feel uncomfortable. This situation is your plot. But what do you come up with first? The character(s) or the plot?

For me, it depends on what I’m writing. I have a Twilight fanfic that, as silly and bad as it sounds, started out with me wanting to write my all-time guilty writing pleasure: a self-insert story. I wanted to insert myself into the world of Twilight. (I have a soft spot for the story of it, regardless of how badly it is written.) Soon after, I figured out a plot and the story gained some credentials. I’m actually very proud of myself for un-Mary Sueing myself. But what can I say? I love putting myself into my fanfiction; it’s just downright fun. Plus, one (debated) rule of writing is: write what you know. But, my stories have also been born from plot ideas. Especially my original fiction. My Pangaea Trilogy is the biggest one that came from a simple plot idea. That idea? “I should write a story involving Unicorns”. I am not kidding. As I started thinking about how to get said Unicorns into said story, it began to snowball until it became what it has become. A Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Arthurian Legend inspired epic about four friends who are summoned to another world called Pangaea, where they, ultimately, have to stop a war from breaking out in order to save not only Pangaea, but the imaginations of Earth’s children. Pangaea is a world inhabited by Faeries, Elves, Pixies, Trolls, Mer-People, and Men. The fauna includes Unicorns, Dragons, Gryphons as well as very familiar Earth creatures such as falcons, deer, foxes and wolves. As you can guess, the Unicorn idea went from being the plot, to just a small part of it.

While the plot planning was still in its infancy, I created my characters… myself and two of my close friends. Not long after Pangaea’s beginning, I changed my name, and as I started writing, and got further and further into the story, I realized I needed a fourth character. So, the one male character got split into two; his personality went to one guy and his story went to the other. When I created the fourth character, I spent a week renaming my characters and named them based on meaning. Once that happened, everything seemed to move a bit more smoothly, the character based upon me didn’t seem as based on me as it she was.

On occasion, I’ve even been known to build a character around a name or name meaning that I really like. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love names in general. But, back to the plot versus character(s) question.

I guess for me, a plot, or at least a plot idea, comes before my characters do. That’s not to say I haven’t created a character and then thought of a situation to thrust them into, but I have found that to be a much harder avenue to traverse. For me, strong characters are just as important as a good story. I love getting to know the characters I read and write. It is for this reason, that once I have established my plot and my characters, I hand the reins over to my characters and let them tell the story. They are the ones who know more about what is going on than I do.

Now, I’m going to throw this question out to my fellow writers. What do you start your stories out with; plot or your character(s)?

(The Should You Start With Plot or Character(s)? article can be read here: Should You Start With Plot or Character(s)? )