Writing and Revisions
I’ve made a major change as I revise this current Beta. I’ve added a new character. Not new, per se, but new to this draft. She was drifting around in my subconscious awhile, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, my waking brain kept telling me there was no way she’d fit.
Because it’s such a major revision, I’m making a note here so you all don’t have to backtrack (unless you really, really want to). She’ll be visible in the first three and last three chapters for the most part. In time, I’ll go back again and smooth things in a bit more.
Diana Petrov (20s) has 3 roles and serves 3 purposes:
- As Martin’s girlfriend, she provides a foil to visualize his currently invisible character arc and confirm conflict despite his reticent nature.
- As Stacia’s granddaughter, she connects the royal family to Stacia, as only recently it was revealed Stacia was Morya and Koschei’s godmother.
- As Symon’s attending physician, Diana helps emphasize Symon’s poor health and the necessity for a successor.
My hesitation against adding Diana sooner was due to Martin not wanting to be tied down. In the end, I realized this was harmful to the overall message of cooperation and partnership in the rest of the story. The throne that would tie him down, not marriage, and Diana as a foil actually emphasizes this conflict. My waking mind just didn’t want to listen to the nagging unconscious that is right about these things.
Writing and Psychology
For those who have been following this blog for some time, you may have noticed I depend a lot on Dr. C.G. Jung. This began just before I came to Japan. I kept hearing his name dropped by other writers and started reading Man and His Symbols to get a feel for the work of him and his contemporaries. From there, I realized I wanted to use his work in my writing whenever possible, though he was not a writer of course, but a pioneering psychologist.
Much of the reason I get along with Jungian storytelling is due to the fact that I write fantasy. Fantasy technically has only one character, the human psyche. As Walt Whitman once put it, one person can “contain myriads.” The world that is being saved in epic fantasy or simple fairy tales is a single human being. I’m oversimplifying, but the basic idea is that the world is the body, the kingdom is the mind, and everything that happens is a dream and a revelation. No matter how fleshed out the characters, those that resonate the longest are the archetypal at their core.
It’s true that other genres borrow from archetypes—they resonate because archetypes are quite literally universal—but fantasy tends to look the same more than these because—at least according to Dr. Jung—humans have genetic wiring in our unconscious minds that has helped us survive. Dr. Jung theorized that the psychologist can help his patient by recognizing and using archetypes and common symbols relevant to the patient’s situation. Being aware of the story you’re telling yourself, he explained, is how you gain control over your existence rather than becoming a tool of Fate. For example, Lisa and Ivan defeat Koschei in the long run because they don’t “fit” the story he’s trapped in. They bring the light of kindness into the darkness of cruelty he’s trying to control.
It begs to say that, unfortunately, some crazy autocrats can also sway masses with a story of heroic grandeur and death. No surprise, my second favorite type of story—where people are unaware of a manipulative story and must become aware in order to win the day—plays with dystopian ideas. The narrative of the autocrat is the antithesis to the fantasy narrative. Fantasy frees the captive princess; tyranny feeds her to the dragon.
Perhaps because of this, my right brain and thus my imagination tends to world- and plot-build fantasy stories using what Jung sometimes called a mandala, though he didn’t always mean the microcosm related to Hinduism and Buddhism. Jung studied many religions and cultures. He found the mandala especially helpful for meditation in psychology, and cited its symbol’s recurrence in dreams. The mandala appears as a sign of balance, victory, or knowledge. The simplest version is a crossed circle, often in yellow and red, in place of the sun. Sometime the divisions are other than four, but four was rather common in his patients, perhaps due to sun symbolism in Christian iconography in the West. To some extent, the rota fortuna, or Wheel of Fortune, can correspond to this shape with compass points, elements, or other cyclic imagery, including Time, but its stability depends on one’s own philosophy.
Why is this important? Well, due to the relationship between psychology and fantasy, I found I could use the same idea to meditate on story.
For example, here are the mandalas composed about my writer’s block on Martin:
Building a mandala is not the same as dreaming it. I usually arrange the pattern with what I know, deliberately leaving gaps. The shape of the gap helps reveal what’s missing, like the shape of a missing puzzle piece. In this case, I thought of the knowledge and virtues of generational cycles in Russian myth (right), then added the characters that fit (left). When I noticed Martin was the only person not paired, I realized Diana would fit into the story after all.
Gero and Stacia felt almost interchangeable but for the elements they could be associated with (fire and water). I’m no psychologist, but since that places the raven and Loren (air and earth) at the bottom, I realized once I’d finished that not only had I been working counterclockwise, I’d inadvertently rotated the shape 90-degrees left, signs my thoughts were skewed toward my left brain.
Although a well-balanced mandala doesn’t guarantee a well-balanced story, a diagram can help hold the world of the story in the writer’s mind and find its gaps. If you find this idea helpful, feel free to try it for yourself. Or, if your method is a checklist, a different scaffold, or other unique tool, feel free to share it with me and fellow readers in the comments below!