Friday, February 3, 2012

what works

When I was nine years old, I read Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville. That was it, for me. I fell hard and fast for fantasy.

After high school, I tried to distance myself from the genre. I thought that as a grown up, things like magic and fairy tales needed to be left behind. 

Alas, that never worked.

Because of this life-long love affair, I have very particular taste in books of the fantastical nature. If there’s way too much exposition, or way too many tropes, or, frankly, just boring magic systems, I get antsy.

This happened today. I have a bunch of unread books that I’m trying to get through, and none of them are striking a chord with me. I keep picking up a book, reading pages, then putting it down. After a few moments of twiddling my thumbs, checking twitter, getting a snack, I pick the book up again and read a few more pages. And then I put it down again.

Now that I’ve done this three times in one hour, I’ve decided to just forget trying to read. I'm going to write a blog post instead. And, what better topic than “the things that draw me into a story"?

So, here are my three biggies:

Magic Systems

They need to be unique, realistic, and utterly fantastical. I want my mind to be blown.


“Your father, on the other hand, favored a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say your father favored it – it’s really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course.” – Harry Pottery and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 82

“Mosrael.” The second bell, a harsh, rowdy bell. Mosrael was the waker, the bell Sabriel should never use, the bell whose sound was a seesaw, throwing the ringer further into Death, as it brought the listener into Life. – Sabriel, 80-81

Literary Style

I want to devour words, not clench my teeth and force myself through. I want words that are beautiful, rhythmic and compelling. Like these:

The wind on the moors is a tricky thing… Of every aspect of the moor, the earth and stone and rain and fire, the wind is the strongest one in Near. Here on the outskirts of the village, the wind is always pressing close, making windows groan. It whispers and howls and it sings. It can bend its voice and cast it into any shape, long and thin enough to slide beneath the door, stout enough to seem a thing of weight and breath and bone. – The Near Witch, 2

In fall, she knew it was Death who sweetened the apples. He made her see the sun in a blue sky and hear the trees in a spring wind. He made her see how much she loved her friends, for all their trouble, and how much her grandmother loved her, and oh, he made her love the breath in her lungs.” – Keturah and Lord Death, 191

You can run and run. You can run and grow fitter and faster. You can run so much and so fast, you turn back into wolfgirl, running endlessly, effortlessly, through the swamp…You can outrun your memories, but sometime, you will have to stop. And when you do, there will always be Stepmother, waiting to be remembered. – Chime, 120

Really Awesome Girls or RAGs (I just made that up)

I’ve talked before about reading in order to find ourselves reflected back to us, and to become better, braver versions of ourselves. As a girl, this is why girl heroes are important to me. I want to be reminded of who I am and what I’m capable of.

Here they are, for the win:

“You tricked Iofur Raknison?”
“Yes. I made him agree that he’d fight you instead of just killing you straight off like an outcast, and the winner would be king of the bears. I had to do that, because-"
“Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue,” he said. “To fight him is all I want. Come, little daemon.”
She looked at Iorek Byrnison in his battered armor, lean and ferocious, and felt as if her heart would burst with pride. – The Golden Compass, 305

Sybel’s face grew as still before him as the still full moon. “It is you who are ignorant,” she whispered. “I could have Ter rip you into seven pieces and drop your bloodless head on the Plain of Terbrec, but I am controlling my temper. Look!”
She unlocked the gates, her fingers shaking in an anger that roused through her like a clean mountain wind. She snapped private calls into the dream-drugged minds around her, and, like pieces of dreams themselves, the animals moved toward her. – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, 14

“I… I fell in love. I –" She shot him an abashed glance before revealing what she had so far told no one. “It started at the Battle of Bullfinch. The fighting was over. It was after, during the gleaning. I found him dying and I saved him. I didn’t know why; it felt like the only thing. Later… later I thought it was because we were meant for something.” Her voice dropped and her cheeks flamed as she whispered, “To bring peace.” –Daughter of Smoke and Bone, 401

And that’s it! Hard to do, but worth it, I think. Because all of these books I’ve read at least twice.

Now. Back to reading…