24.1.11 | By: Megan Langham

Typing What They Tell You

To my mind, characters are the most important aspect of a story. Everything else—plot, theme, setting, style—is undeniably necessary, but it is the characters that leave the lasting impression with the reader. Their actions form the plot, their conflicts establish the theme, their actions and conflict both stand in stark relief against the setting.

Of course, this belief of mine may have something to do with how much I love my characters. Working with them, hearing them speak, uncovering all their peculiar nuances—that, to me, embodies everything that is joyful and exuberant about writing. There’s nothing more satisfying than the defining moment when Main Character makes his own decision about a plot twist that I’ve been agonizing over for weeks and walks off, with a crooked smile, into a tantalizingly unexplored possibility. Such autonomy can be frustrating, I’ll grant you that, but it’s also fulfilling. Once again I have created a personality; once again I have made a life. This is no longer my story alone.

Naturally I’ve done a good deal with my characters. At the moment five of them from one book have, each:

~A character fractalling sheet (only part of one for the two who took me unawares).
~A Myers-Briggs personality type (with countless corresponding articles).
~An enneagram personality type (with only slightly fewer articles than the Myers-Briggs).
~A physical appearance worksheet (resembling, in most respects, a loving police report).
~A list of relatable tropes (tropes is a funny word—but it is a word, Google Blogger. Look it up!)
~An interview in script form (actually for just two of them, so far).

All of these have been intriguing to find and valuable to have, but my favorite by far has to be the interviews. Up until a few days ago I had never considered sitting down in front of my characters with a pencil poised and a fine-tuned ear, waiting to catch their responses to my questions so I could scribble them down with all the frenzied fury of Archibald Asparagus as a psychotherapist. The thing felt rather strange, even to me, and it didn’t help when my sister asked me later who on earth I was talking to out on the front porch and what in Middle-earth they said to make me gasp and go all nervous-giggly.

But strange—strange is good. And the results of this particular strangeness have turned out to be very good indeed. When I started the interview, I thought I knew these men so well that there would be little left to discover. I was wrong. There was a good deal still to know about them, and now I am sure that there always will be. Somewhere along the way they’ve become real people with lives of their own and personalities that you can’t easily label with an enneagram number. That sort of thing can’t be properly described; it must be experienced to be understood.

As to what questions to use: I don’t think it matters all that much. There are several lists of character questions out on the internet—these are the ones I used. http://www.writing4success.com/dl/character-interview.pdf Though they worked very well, in the future perhaps I’ll write my own. Just for the fun of the thing, and also because a few of these questions didn’t quite make sense given my setting. Come to think of it, most questions seem to be geared to Characters of Contemporary Fiction. I think historical fiction ought to be given a fair showing; it doesn’t seem to be nearly as popular among writers as it used to be, and that is a pitiful thing if it is true.

Before I finish this, I ought to say: I don’t talk to my characters unless I’m interviewing them. But this could change. Don’t believe my family if they say I have gone crazy. Don’t let them go on and on about the voices in my head. Even if I do go all giggly for no apparent reason, don’t be alarmed. Selwin is probably just getting yet another rise out of Evan…and if my ears do not mistake me, he’s doing it now.

I’ll be back.

13.1.11 | By: Megan Langham

The Undiscover'd Countries

They are infuriating. They are exhilarating. They are lowly. They are noble. Humbly they wait, meekly they wait, quietly they wait to be recognized; and in that moment of recognition, friendships are born. They are, in fact, our particular pet books that nobody else in the entirety of Christendom has ever heard of—except, of course, for one or two, who have accordingly advanced to that higher level of friendship known as Kindred Spirits.

I have a fair pickings of these. I am not sure how many, since I have never counted them. Perhaps one day when I have come into possession of a gently-used monastery hung about with cobwebs and a creaky wooden table liberally decorated with dust, then I shall. But until then my books must sit sweetly and demurely on plain white shelves in my bedroom, which is only somewhat dusty. All of them but five shall sit there, that is, as I am bringing out these five seldom-before-heard-of books to show you.


1. Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton. When most people hear the name “G. K. Chesterton” they think of either The Father Brown Mysteries or Orthodoxy; a growing minority may also mention The Man Who Was Thursday. I am quite fond of all three books, but the one I look on with the most affection (currently vying for first place with Father Brown) is Four Faultless Felons. It isn’t your typical mystery. It isn’t even your typical religious mystery. What does it mean to be the exact opposite of a hypocrite? Is it wrong to place yourself in the worst possible light for the defense of another? Is it possible, as a man, to atone for someone else’s sin? These are some of the thought-provoking questions it raises. Prevalence of paradoxes and abundance of alliteration make it obviously Chestertonian, but there is still something about it that sets it apart from the rest of his works. I have read this book five times at least, and every time I discover some new aspect, some charming thread of an idea which has somehow slipped my gaze before. That, I believe, is the mark of a classic.



2. Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery. This will not come as a surprise to many of you, since I’ve been dinning the title into the ears of my long-suffering friends for, oh, three years now. On the face of it the story is simple: during the Second World War a young English boy has grown up on the Nazi side, and it is up to his estranged older brother to rescue him from darkness. But the depth of the characters and the sheer quiet emotion make it so much more than that. Dym Ingleford, the young boy’s older brother and a pilot in the R.A.F, is among the best and purest—the most Christlike—of any characters I have met, and I have read few chapters more beautiful in simplicity than his explanation of the world’s wars that symbolize the deeper conflict between heaven and hell. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly adore this book, and I shan’t even try to count up the number of times I’ve read it.

3. Watch Fires To The North by George Finkel. Now here is a novel that another—Jenny, actually—introduced me to. Even apart from her recommendation I should have read it just for the cover (which you'll just have to imagine, as I couldn't find a picture of it), and this is one of the rare instances when I would have been right to make such a shallow surface judgement. It is the story of Arthur—or rather, Artyr—told from the perspective of his friend and fellow soldier, Bedwyr. There is no magic in this story, no dragons, no stone-built Camelot. Here is Arthur stripped of all the misty legend that has grown up about him; here are his knights in Roman armor, here is his Gwenyfer without a queenship or a Lancelot. As a person who thrives on all the mystery and magic of the gloriously fantastical Arthurian story, I should not like this book as much as I do. But it has managed somehow to capture a bit of that mysterious magic and encapsulate it in the purely sensible, very probable realm of 6th century Britain—and the result is a story that is ageless, that is all the more enchanting for being pragmatically historical.


4. The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter. I am not a romance person. That’s not to say I am against romance—I think it can be quite lovely in its place—but I am much more likely to enjoy a plot centered around friendship or sibling relationships than boy-meets-girl. This book, however, is an exception to that general rule. Perhaps that is because the love of the Harvester for his lady is based not on fleeting feelings, not on physical attraction, but on the heartfelt cry of one soul to another. The Harvester yearns for someone to save and protect; the Girl is in desperate need of protection and saving; and from the moment of their meeting it is the Harvester’s one desire to bring the young girl from helpless misery into the light of his love. It is a strong love set against a beautiful backdrop of healing herbs and fairy flowers…a quiet and tender battle for a shivering soul.

5. Heroes and History by Rosemary Sutcliff. Begone, dull history textbooks! Fail and fade away, ye dry and dusty distorters of true stories! This understated masterpiece of Rosemary Sutcliff’s is just what a real history book ought to be. It is small and selective, focusing on only a handful of legendary heroes from Caratacus to the Marquis of Montrose, and it is like a collection of tiny pearls on a string. I first met Llywelyn ap Gruffydd here. Robert the Bruce and Owain Glyndyr I knew already, but never so well. Sutcliff has lifted these men from the hidden places of history and dusted them off with gentle hands, revealing their true value and beauty—as well as a scratchy failing or two, which no man is without.

There they are, my five undiscover’d countries! Aren’t they glorious?

Books are such charmingly maddening things.
11.1.11 | By: Megan Langham

Volunteer Mission

In my last (first) post I introduced myself; now I should like to introduce the written work of mine that is currently closest to my heart.

Volunteer Mission.


It was my project for that most infamous event NaNoWriMo. Hence it became the thought ever in my mind, the image ever before my eyes, the sworn enemy of all things mathematical and geographical…even after November of ‘10 was quietly assigned to the archives of time. It wasn’t finished. That is why. I had reached the most traumatic event of the book, the climax-before-the-climax, and I didn’t have the emotional strength to finish then. (Besides, it was only four or five days before the month’s merciful end.) Several of my literary cohorts and I have decided to finish our NaNo novels in February, but until then the tales must languish. And I must grow pale and interesting while I wait with calloused fingers and scattered timelines.

Put simply, this is a story of friendship. It is about pain and longing and self-sacrifice. One man does not know how to receive a gift; what, then, if the gift is his life? For such a gift, what price must the giver pay? Is it really loving to die for a friend, or is protecting them from grief and bitterness the truer love? These are hard questions, and this is a hard book. It is perhaps the most personally devastating of all the stories I have ever written, but to my mind it rings the truest.

(Tidbit: The name of this blog is taken from one of the book’s chapter titles. I thought it seemed fitting enough, or at least rather lovely.)

Here is a part of the first chapter. (The prologue, which was originally a short story on its own, has been shared often enough that I decided to post something a little less familiar here.) I don’t believe I need to give a great deal of background…Evan se Dynge is the main character and Selwin ap Tuder is his friend, who has just volunteered for certain death in Evan’s place. Wales is the setting; it is not a time of open war but of undisguised hostility between both the English and the Welsh. (Which is just about the most infuriating political situation I can think of, especially as it dragged on in that way for several years.) Anyway, I shall stop babbling and silently point you to the excerpt.

_____________

“You look chilled,” said Gwilym.

They were sitting around a smoking bonfire of hastily-gathered tinder wood and half-green saplings. Some of the men had asked if they might fell a tree and split it for firewood; the leaders had heard this and promptly dismissed it for reasons they would not say. So the officers and men alike shivered beside kindling fires that smoked more than they heated and set the closest ones coughing.

“I’m all right,” said Evan.

He was chilled, but he would suffer frostbite before he would admit as much to Gwilym, who with his rosy cheeks and plump brown hands looked warm enough himself.

Gwilym shrugged and tossed another handful of twigs onto the fire. Flames leapt up where he had thrown it. “It’s a sad thing about Selwin,” he murmured, glancing sidelong at his companion. “Sad thing. Only a day since he left, and it feels like a fortnight. Dafydd’s borne it well, though, I think. Haven’t you, Dafydd?”

“Now, now,” protested Dafydd, laughing while he shook the hair out of his eyes. “It’s his mischief-loving nature I don’t miss, and that’s the truth. Too fond he was of a hearty laugh at someone else’s expense.”

“Is,” said Evan, with vigor. His companions glanced at him curiously. “Is fond of a hearty laugh at someone else’s expense. He’s not dead yet.”

An uncomfortable silence followed this correction, broken by Dafydd’s nervous laugh. “Of course I didn’t mean that. Good Lord, Evan—you needn’t sound so bitter.”

“Did I sound bitter? I’m sorry.” Evan forced a smile; his fingers moved, almost imperceptibly, to the hem of his cloak. “The events of this day and the day before have been trying. To all of us, I believe. You’ll understand, then, if you hear a hint of bitterness in my voice that wasn’t there before.”

Dafydd and Gwilym exchanged glances. “Aye, we can see you take it hard,” said Gwilym gently. “It might—it might ease your mind a bit to know that Selwin left you something before he went away.”

With considerable effort Evan fought back the impulse to gasp, jerk up his head, snatch the secret from Gwilym’s clenched hand. Instead he looked up, slow in his apparent unconcern, and met Gwilym’s dark eyes briefly. “Did he, then? I thought we’d said everything there was to say before he left.”

“It would seem not.” Gwilym found his worn brown bag which hung just inside his cloak, loosened the cord that bound it and after searching for a moment with his fingers, pulled out a folded square of paper. Evan took it in his hands and opened it.

“He seemed troubled in his mind when he gave it to me,” said Gwilym. “His hands were shaking, and he looked a mite pale about the lips. I don’t blame him. Well, man? Can its meaning be shared? It can’t have been much of a secret if he entrusted it to me and never said a word against my reading it.”

Evan looked up quickly. “Did you read it?”

“Would it kill you to know that I did?” Gwilym laughed and cuffed Evan lightly on the shoulder. “Na, man, you can set your heart at rest. Though I dallied with the temptation, I didn’t give in. So unless you wish to tell us, your secret is your own.”

“It isn’t much of a secret to tell or keep,” said Evan, blushing. He could feel that he was blushing, and it made him resentful. “I’ll read it to you, if you’ll be satisfied with nothing else. Here it is:

In the year of our Lord 1281.

I neglected to mention to you, Evan, that I’ve given you the Taliesin. Naturally I couldn’t take it with me and I suppose I was a fool to bring it on this campaign at all, but there, I’ve done it and now the book is yours. Unless I return, in which case I’ll want it back. And I—


He stopped in sudden confusion. Gwilym leaned forward with a little cry of concern; Evan had gone still as stone. In a heartbeat he mastered himself and looked up with a faint smile. “My eyes wandered,” he explained, his voice a husky whisper; then with a quick clearing of his throat he glanced down at the paper again.

“That’s nearly all. He tells me to be careful of—of the book, and he pledges me not to fall prey to its charms lest I be unfit to fight for Wales. Facetious. Typical.”

Dafydd laughed and after a moment Gwilym joined in, but the concern did not leave his eyes.

Evan lingered a little longer by the fire after his fellows had gone to bed, giving as his reason that he wanted to breathe God’s air for as long as he could before retiring to a crowded and stuffy tent. It was a poor excuse. Among the three, only Evan believed it.

When he was quite alone he unfolded the creased paper—in a daze, hardly knowing what he did—and read again the words that he had kept from Dafydd and Gwilym.

And I give you Glynnis, also, as much as she is mine to give. I believe in her heart she is already yours—it’s only her promise to me that keeps her from loving you. Cherish her, Evan, as I trust you will the Taliesin. She is far more precious.

Glynnis.

Oh, Selwin, I did not ask for this.

Glynnis…so lovely in soul and spirit, so alluring and winsome and impossibly pure. Could it be true that she loved him, preferred him—such a cold word—to Selwin? It did not seem possible.

It was like Selwin to swear to an impossible thing merely to encourage happiness. Evan had heard from Glynnis’s own lips stories of things he had done in his childhood, things that showed how bound up his happiness was with that of his friends.

Something of the sort had happened at their first meeting. They had been soldiers then as now, fighting for the freedom of Wales. Their prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, had not been a prince then but merely an uncrowned warlord, powerful in his own right without the addition of a title. Selwin and Evan had been thrown together by an odd chance. By virtue of his family’s high rank and his own promising qualities Evan had been given a position of leadership as soon as he was drafted. Selwin, less fortunate in his rank and bearing, had begun as one of “the men”—a common foot soldier.

One day not long into the war—a month perhaps, or rather two months—the officer in charge of Evan’s adjoining division had been killed by a sickness without a name. He had lain his head down a healthy man, closed his eyes in sleep, and never opened them again in this world. Only a week before that his preceding officer had died of a spear through the lung in a slight skirmish of which he was almost the only casualty.

After these two singular deaths it was not surprising that the division was beginning to make a bad name for itself. A new commander had to be chosen from among the men, which should have been easy enough—or would have been, if the system were stricter. As it was the leaders could not simply order: the man had to agree.

At last a man stepped forward. A man he must have been, but to Evan’s eyes he appeared no more than a boy. With some effort he explained that his brother had had a dream, a vision, and he had been reluctant to tell the leaders himself because the gist of it was that he, the speaker, was the one who must be chosen for command of this division…

“It sounds strangely, I know,” Selwin had said, spreading his hands as if to say What would you? “It is not that I’m seeking promotion, I assure you, sir. But this was troubling my brother’s mind, and I thought it best that you should know.”

The leaders, little caring what his motivations were, had taken him up immediately. That was how Evan had first seen Selwin, and how he remembered him for a long while after that—standing in front of Lord Iorweth with a grin that was one part shyness and two parts impishness, pushing his blond hair out of his eyes with one hand and leaning against a tree with the other.

Nearly from that first moment they had been friends. Evan, who had previously cared little for human companionship, was surprised to find how quickly his heart had warmed to this man so lately a boy. Selwin in his turn held nothing back from Evan, kept no selfish secrets. At first this lack of reserve had shamed Evan, set him to questioning his worth as a friend and even as a man, as he was all too often inclined to do; but Selwin had an easy, graceful way about him of dispelling shame. Before a fortnight had passed Evan’s life and dreams were inextricably bound up with Selwin’s.

Now with a few words those dreams had been shattered forever. Any glory gained from this mission would inevitably fall to Selwin; the more glory if he died, as he was sure to do. And such a death! Impatiently Evan pushed away the gruesome images that had persisted in entering his mind ever since he had heard of the mission. He would not think of that, not now. He would not even keep this letter written by a dead man.

With a bitter smile on his lips he tossed the inky paper into the flickering flames and watched as it slowly crumpled. There would be no chance of a too-curious soldier finding it now; the secret it carried would remain a secret.

_____________


So now when I mention Evan and Selwin in the course of casual conversation, you may laugh and shake your head knowledgeably. And come February (which is—goodness, it’s soon!) disjointed mentionings of Evan and Selwin are all you’re likely to get.

But I may yet surprise myself. In the meantime, I shall stock up on tissues and pepmints.

*raises mug of steaming tea* To friendship!
10.1.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beginnings

Moonlight streamed through the half-open window, bathing the wrinkled paper in a pale unearthly glow. No written word did the light reveal; not so much as a hesitant beginning. Beside the paper, just out of the moonlight’s reach, lay a pencil. It was an old pencil, marked with constant erasures and battle-scars that looked suspiciously like teeth-marks, and as it lay rolling a little on the wooden table, a small hand touched it. “You’ve been waiting long enough,” whispered a low voice as the hand took it up; the pencil knew that it was not to it the voice spoke, but it was glad enough of the words. For you see, words are life to this pencil.

It is difficult, often, to know just what to say at a beginning. Perhaps I ought to start this out properly by introducing myself. My name is Megan, as you can see from the sidebar in the little box mysteriously entitled "The Scribe". (Originally I thought my name was of Irish derivation, but I have since been proved wrong: this particular spelling is Welsh, as a matter of fact. And as a matter of more fact, I should be quite happy with Welsh or Irish either.) But it’s likely you know me better as Meriwen, which name would be sprung of Elvish etymology, spelt rather poorly for ease of—er—spelling.

I am a writer, which means this blog shall consist mostly of writing-speak. But even before a writer I am a loyal friend and subject of this world’s rightful King, which means I shall be talking of Him a good deal. It is only fair, as He is the source of any inspiration or idea in my mind; I am merely His pencil. (Not a pen, though. I should never ever like to be a pen.)

As far as what I write: it’s hard to say. My first love is historical fiction, as I greatly enjoy researching the world’s unfolding romance and telling bits of it in my own way; but I have written other-world stories from time to time, and a good deal of my historical fiction is touched with fantasy. It is fiction, after all. I am also an incurable bookworm—have been, quite literally, ever since I can remember—and I believe it must have been my love of books that sparked my love of writing. There has never been a time when the love of language has not filled me.

That seems to be a good enough introduction for the time being. As I post more you’ll learn more—I shouldn’t like to tell you too much about me at once and so deprive you of the chance to discover for yourself, should I now? (Mind, if you come to the end and the stone-cold realization that there was nearly nothing at all to discover, I shan’t be held responsible.)

This Celtic music is enchanting and my tea kettle is doing its best to sing along. I shall try to come up with something less inane for my next venture, but until then I leave you with this blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rain fall soft upon your field,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.