Glimmer: Part Two

gray and black marble slab
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Reylim’s feet made loud echoes as they pattered across the stony plains. Now that Glimmer soared alongside of her, illuminating the way, she was able to move along far more quickly. She had settled into a well-practiced pace, one that she could maintain for a few hours if needed. Glimmer had explained to her that it was necessary for them to reach something called “the Nexus” which held a direct stream to all of the life on the planet. If Glimmer could imbue itself into that Nexus then it would be able to provide a spark to all peoples and creatures, awaking them from their current slumber.

As she ran Reylim kept turning different parts of her conversation with Glimmer in her mind. Suddenly a thought occurred to her that was so fundamental she couldn’t believe she hadn’t conceived of it sooner.

“Glimmer,” she queried, “you say that when your light enters the Nexus this whole world will become illuminated and people will be able to act and choose as they see fit. Similar to how things are on my world, Celsar?”

Essentially yes. The people here will be far behind in development and understanding, but their fundamental existence will be the same.

“Right…” she affirmed, coming now to her main point. “So does that mean that Celsar itself was once like this? And that someone helped you to ignite it as well?”

I assume so. I know of many things generally, but of specifics my understanding is limited to this world. And if things did occur in a similar way on Celsar it was done by another reflection of the Glimmer.

“Oh right…because you are not the core Glimmer?”

I am a reflection of Glimmer. Think of it as an individual spark from a fire, just as there is an individual spark of Glimmer in you as well. All of the sparks are merely extensions of the original flame, and yet they are their own fire as well And as you know many things naturally by intuition, such as the importance of goodness and virtue, yet there are many specifics that are known to the Glimmer but which remain hidden to you.

“And so you are specifically the spark of this world?”

I am meant to be, if we successfully ignite this world.

“Does a hero ever fail to ignite a world?”

The original Glimmer cannot fail, it cannot be destroyed, but we individual sparks can. I am keenly aware of my own fallibility and mortality. Therefore it is possible for a world’s intended intended spark to be killed, and then that world would be consumed into the void, torn apart into nothingness.

There was a pause.

And certainly a hero has failed before. Reylim, I must be honest with you. You are not the first to come here. Indeed, Nocterra has existed since long before your own world, Celsar. I remember watching Celsar burn into life many eons ago. And still no hero has been able to save this world. I think you will be the last, as the nether regions are already disintegrating into the void.

Reylim shivered. Her heart thumped, protesting the next question that dangled on the end of her lips, but she had to ask it. “And what is the void?”

Exactly as it sounds, a void. The more you try to define it, the further you stray from comprehending its pure nothingness. It is not right to call it living, as that would require the existence of some intelligent entity in it. It just absence, and that is all.

“If I fail, I will be consumed by it?” Reylim’s feet had slowed drastically, barely moving above a slow walk now.

I will not lie to you. Yes.

Suddenly Reylim wondered what she had gotten herself into. Of course she had been aware that her great quest would involve danger, but she had always been thrilled at the excitement of such things. It had all sounded so romantic, now the stark reality of it terrified her. She should not be here in such a place. How could the sentinels have sent her? What was one young girl and a dim spark against an eternal–

Please don’t think such things! Glimmer chided. You’ve already summoned it!

A cold thrill tore through Reylim’s as her eyes lighted on dark forms approaching ahead of her. They were tall and thin, and barely humanoid in form. Their edges were too sharp to be organic, though, forming sharp geometric edges. All the area around them appeared warped and stretched, as though the very matter and light around them was tearing apart at their presence. At their cores there was pure nothingness. They did not appear as three dimensional entities with a front, sides, and a back, but rather they seemed more like holes that had been punched clear through the eternities of space, reaching out to swallow Reylim.

“What do I do?” she begged, her voice shrill and panicked as she fumbled with the ceremonial dagger at her side.

Your weapons are of no use here. Get away from this place and calm yourself, I will try to slow the advance.

Reylim still wasn’t ready to put her dagger away, and she didn’t want to turn her back on these apparitions. Instead she awkwardly fumbled backwards, until her heel caught a rise in the rock and she fell onto her back. Then her panic fully set in and she scrambled back up to her feet and sprinted away.

As she went she shot glances over her shoulder, and she saw Glimmer rush up to the dark forms and begin encircling them with long streaks of light. Those streaks hung in the air as barriers which seemed to restrain the advance for a moment, before the light was dissolved back away into nothingness.

With her eyes turned backwards she failed to notice that she was running straight for one of the small ditches in the rock. For a brief moment she felt the shock of nothing beneath her feet, and then the thud of impact as she hit the ground beneath. She instinctively converted her momentum into a roll, tearing her robes and gashing her knees in the process.

She stumbled up to her feet, noticing that her breath was coming rapidly, almost hyperventilating. Glimmer had told her to get calm, and now she felt even further panicked as she tried to do just that and found that she could not. As fresh waves of despair began to wash over her she noticed new void forms materializing on either side of her. They began as small pinpricks of emptiness, only noticeable by how the world around them warped inwards as if towards little black holes. Then the voids widened outward, stretching out to her.

She wanted to run away but her legs were trembling so badly that she dropped back to her knees instead. Her mouth moved in the shape of the word “no” but no sound came out.

Please, Reylim, I need your help to diminish them!

A streak of light shone over her head and Glimmer spun around each of the void figures, binding them in light.

“I don’t understand,” she croaked.

Your fear and your despair cripple you. They take away your will to act and draw the void toward you. You need to leave here, but you need to do it calmly.

“I don’t know how.” Already the dark forms were breaking past Glimmer’s restraints.

Just stop focusing on them. Focus on yourself instead. What do you feel?

Reylim tried to stand once more, but her legs continued to waver uncontrollably. “Unstable” she flustered, unsure of what Glimmer’s point was..

What is unstable like? Glimmer continued dashing back and forth between the two dark forms, putting additional light barriers before them, each fell more quickly than the last.

“Like having no power,” she answered, but then realized that that wasn’t quite right. “Or maybe having too much power, but it isn’t going the right way.” As her mind shifted inwards her legs began to quake less, just enough that she could hobble to the end of the ditch. She put her hands over the edge, but when she tried to lift herself over found she still lacked the finesse to do so.

That’s good Glimmer encouraged. What else?

She tried to push the sense of danger from her mind, and instead closed her eyes, centering herself. “And I’m hurt,” she winced. “My leg is throbbing.”

Yes, there’s blood on it, can you feel that?

She paused. “Yes–I missed that somehow.” The warm liquid pooling down her skin, sticking to her robes. It was unpleasant. Reylim felt a rush of clarity and she easily swung herself up to the higher ground. Once above she opened her eyes again and saw the void forms following her out from the ditch.

Her heartbeat quickened and she tried to calm herself again. Her inhale came sharp and rapid, but the exhale was slower and more controlled. The void forms wavered.

Very good, now we need to do this next part carefully. Glimmer came bounding up from the chasm, resuming its perch above Reylim’s shoulder. Take in your surroundings. But keep calm.

Reylim slowly turned about and summed up her situation. The two void forms in front were being joined by the original three, and were fanning out to come at her from different angles. She looked to the left and the right and on each side there were another three forms approaching as well. Behind her, the way she had intended to depart, there came another six. They were all closing in.

Reylim’s heart began escalating again and she noticed the periphery of her vision starting to warp and darken.

Accept them for what they are. Let them exist, but apart from you. You are in danger. Say it, but say it calmly.

“I–” Reylim’s voice wavered and she cleared her throat. “I am in danger,” she forced out in a monotone. As she did it seemed more factual than emotional. Her heart returned to normal. She noticed that the calmer she was the slower and smaller the void forms seemed to become.

Good. Now if you recall, the widest angle of retreat was between the ones on your left and the ones directly behind. Move that way. You may run, but only if you can do so calmly.

Reylim exhaled slowly then turned in that direction. She walked forward, purposefully. Each step brought her closer to both danger and escape, but she tried to focus on the latter of those two. Behind her she could hear Glimmer leaving more streaks of light to guard her back. Then Glimmer moved forward and worked to restrain the ones ahead, slowing them enough that she would clear their gap.

At least, she thought she would clear it. It was going to be close. She quickened her pace to a light run. Her heartbeat quickened, but not from fear. She noticed that the throbbing in her leg had increased by the faster motion and she focused on that sensation, burying her consciousness into self-awareness. She glanced down at the ground in front of her, memorizing its features. Then she inhaled deeply and closed her eyes, shutting out the sight of the nearing forms.

“Three steps,” she muttered to herself, “then a slight rise.” She leapt up onto the shelf. “And down the other side….Just another dozen paces and I’m clear.”

Rather than ignore the sound of Glimmer whizzing about her she noted it, projected from it where the voids must be, and so became aware when she had passed their perimeter.

She opened her eyes, listening to the sounds of Glimmer fading into the background. She did not stop, following Glimmer’s instructions to get away from that place. The further she ran the less light she had, and so she stumbled across the dark landforms. In time she slowed back to a walk, cautiously feeling her way forward and trusting that Glimmer would come and find her whenever it was safe to do so.

As if on cue, the area around her began getting brighter every moment. She spun around and saw Glimmer drifting to her. She was surprised to realize that Glimmer had lost a great amount of its luminescence and Reylim realized that its defenses of her had not been without cost.

“You’ve been hurt,” she said, her voice mixed with equal parts concern and guilt.

So have you. But we are safe.

“I’m sorry,” she looked down in shame.

Why?

“I shouldn’t have lost my head like that.”

Why not? You had just been given some very frightful news. Perhaps you needed to calm down, but there is no shame in that you needed to calm down.

Now that the immediate danger was past her, the deeper more abiding one took the forefront of her mind again.

“Glimmer, I don’t think I should have come!” she exclaimed, hot tears spilling down her cheeks. “I am not the hero that this world needs. I didn’t know what it was going to be like here. I’m just one small girl and the void is ageless and eternal. I can’t even fight it!”

And so you would rather curl up and hide from it all?

There was no judgment in Glimmer’s message, the question was sincere. Reylim nodded.

What would you curl up into?

“Somewhere safe. Somewhere quiet.”

Like a void?

Reylim paused, a moment of clarity washing over her. “That’s what you meant by saying I was summoning them? When I get panicky I feel paralyzed…and I just want to let go and hide…into nothingness.”

That is how the void works. Its only power is derived from what we give to it. You can fight it by your battles within.

“But how can I want it and be afraid of it at the same time?”

It sounds strange, I suppose, but you’ll find many people tend to be afraid of the very things they want. But another part of you wants to be a hero as well, and you are afraid of that also, aren’t you? The best part of you is afraid of the void, and the worst part of you is afraid of…

“Sacrifice,” Reylim said softly, staring downwards. “My whole life I’ve been trained to give my all for a noble cause, but it’s a very hard thing now that I’ve come to it.” Her vision was becoming blurry and she pressed her eyes shut to squeeze out the water. “I’m sorry, Glimmer. I really don’t want to let this world down and I think the lives that could be here deserve to have their chance…. But I’m just not the stuff that heroes are made of.”

No one is.

“What?”

No one is born with heroism already in their blood, no one becomes a hero first and then afterwards performs their great heroic act. Every hero only became one while feeling just as small and miserable as you.

“How?”

By not worrying about the ‘how.’ All you ever need to worry about is just taking the very next step.

Reylim paused, biting her lip and feeling the streams of tears continue to flow down her cheeks. “Can you please just promise me that I’m not the last chance for this world? Please…tell me that if even if I fail everything can still be alright. Tell me that the mission can extend past me.”

Child, Glimmer lowered itself to shine warmly on her face. You still do not understand. This world is not the mission, our igniting it is only a byproduct of our true mission.

“What is our mission then?”

You are the mission.

***

Click here for part one of Glimmer.

On Monday I promised that I would introduce new characters in this section of Glimmer, specifically the enemy of the story and the people that populate this world. Unfortunately I only got the first of those done this week, and it is possible that this story might end up being split into four parts instead of three. That’s alright, though, I don’t want to rush it faster than it should be.

In any case hopefully you were able to see how the competing themes and arc were expanded in this entry, with a few more threads yet to be introduced. Then, finally, all will taper together for a single climatic finish.

Having introduced the “villain” of the story I’d like some time to examine it in greater detail. This enemy is not a a traditional character, it is more of an eternal force. Sometimes these tides of power show up in stories, in fact they have been present in each of the short stories in this latest series. Come back on Monday when we’ll examine how they have been used, and what makes them useful when crafting a tale.

Finding Your Focus

selective focus photography of grey wire
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Over the last month I’ve rather enjoyed my foray into the surreal and the imaginative. My theme for this series was to embrace the dreams, the nightmares, the meditations, and the free-associative thinking that manifest our subconscious to us. We began with Sculpting Light, took a darker turn with Free Cleaning Service, had a sleepy stroll through a Deep Forest, and most recently meditated on childhood with Tico the Jester. As I suggested at the end of that last story, however, there has been another purpose in this series apart from exploring the workings of the subconscious mind. My other reason for conducting this series has been to craft stories where each had a different central focus. I briefly mentioned the need for these in my Cliché vs Story post, where I suggested that a timeless narrative often turns out better when focusing on the character’s experience, and then trusting the audience to empathize with that journey. Now that’s not always the case for a narrative, and certainly not the case for other types of story. Today we’ll break down a few of the most common focuses a story can have, the strengths inherent in each of their designs, and the examples I gave for each of these in my most recent stories.

The Reader

To start off we’ll look at the opposite of what I recommended for narrative-driven stories. There are times where your singular and primary focus as a writer should indeed be the mind of the person reading your work. I don’t just mean that you write to elicit specific emotions from the reader, most every type of story will aim to accomplish that, but rather that you seek to incorporate your reader’s individual life experience as an actual element of your tale. Your work, as it lays on the page, is left unfinished and can only be completed by what your audience puts into it.

The story of The Lady, or the Tiger presents a jilted lover who holds the power to give the man who has spurned her either death at the paws of a tiger or else a life happy with the woman he prefers. What she chooses is not ever revealed, though, rather the audience is asked to answer the question of how it concludes. Why? Because the story isn’t really about the woman and what she would or would not do, it is about inviting every reader to look inside of themselves and answer what they would do in such a situation.

My first story of this series, Sculpting Light, was designed with the readers as its focus. It does not feature a specific question that I want the readers to ask themselves, but it was an invitation to them to take a journey into their own free-associative thinking. Throughout its body I try to awaken the reader’s subconscious by transitioning from one topic to another on a whim, striving for that familiar game of associations where the most tenuous of connections are enough to weave all manner of categories together. Then, at the end, I conclude with a single beam of light racing off into infinite space, but that was never meant to be a conclusion. It was meant to be an invitation, an opportunity for the readers to now ask themselves where they think that beam of light goes, or what it reminds them of, what it is like, or even what it is not like. I’ve shown you how my mind works, now how does yours?

The Character

Obviously the most common focus for a story is that of the character. The author spends time trying to really get to know the story’s protagonist and then ensures that every outcome is consistent with that protagonist’s principles and behavior. If the protagonist is to evolve in the story he or she must do so in a way that is believable, a way that feels warranted. The conclusion that the protagonist secures must be the one that is true to all that has followed before. If this is done well and the character’s arcs feel honest, then the anticipation is that the audience will be able to enter the hero’s shoes and feel every plight as if it was their own.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth the morbid end that finds our main characters are only the ones that they have brought upon themselves. As Lady Macbeth pressed her husband to take life, so to she then feels pressed by guilt to take her own. As Macbeth was willing to attain a throne by the shedding of others’ blood, so to he was doomed to lose that throne by the spilling of his own blood. It simply was not in their nature to have the story resolve itself in any other way.

My short story Free Cleaning Service was a story that focused primarily on character above all else. Jim Morgan is so haunted by memories of what he’s done and seen that eventually he conjures up a manifestation of the very evil he has always feared would be led back to his home. Bit by bit he’s felt his soul being smothered by association with all that is dark in the world, and in the conclusion he awakens to a literal darkness and the entering of its agent of destruction.

The Environment

Some stories set aside both character and audience, and instead try to capture the truths of an entire portion of the world. The focus here might be on a specific time, or a place, or an event. While it isn’t required, often these sorts of stories are written when an author is trying to capture the spirit of an era, intending for the audience to not lose sight of the lessons that were inherent to that environment. This could also be a story that challenges our concept of reality by presenting another far-flung world to which the reader comes as a guest.

At its core, Of Mice and Men is not really a story about its characters, it is about a time and a place, an experience in history. George Milton and Lennie Small are only provided as representations of the greater story that many people were living through during the Great Depression in America. The tale captures the atmosphere that pervaded that chapter of humanity, and the overwhelming frustration it brought that a man no longer seemed entitled to the sweat of his brow, that he may toil and try and do his best, but still be guaranteed nothing. The story is about an environment where everyone has a dream, a hope, or a plan, but the machinations of an uncaring world will crush them all alike.

In my story Deep Forest it was my intention to capture a mood more than anything else. I thought of a place that was rich and heavy and full of mysteries and ancient whispers, then I set about writing a story that captured it. Yes, there was a main protagonist, but she wasn’t present for the reader to get caught up in her as an individual, but just to serve as eyes and ears that let the reader feel that they were in that forest themselves. What thoughts and feelings might have been invoked in the reader by the piece wasn’t my main concern, either, really I just wanted them to be able to appreciate the Forest for what it was and that was it.

The Concept

Another common type of story is all about examining a principle, a lesson, a concept, or an abstract idea. These could be allegories, fables, parables or moral lessons which seek to instruct, or they may simply be trying to capture one of the common human experiences, such as love, loss, hope, or dismay. In either case the form of the story is trying to give embodiment to a naturally disembodied concept, and their quality will be determined by how well they capture the true nature of that idea.

The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, is not really about either of its titular characters. Its sole focus is to communicate its underlying moral, slow and steady wins the race. Now once this principle is understood it will be up to the readers to identify which ambitions they have approached too vigorously and then burned out on, and how they might approach them with a more measured cadence. But this isn’t the same as writing with the Reader as the main concern, as this sort of inner dialogue comes about only by having the expression of the principle, not the Reader, as the measure of its success.

My most recent short piece, Tico the Jester, is my personal example of a story that had a concept as its central focus. In that tale the little girl and her toy jester are ancillary to the root examination of childhood innocence, its dependence upon ignorance, and the pattern of how it is lost in times of grief. I chose my characters for how well I felt they served these themes, but had I thought of a more fitting representation for childhood innocence I would have changed the entire setting and cast without a second thought.

The Community

The final focus for a story is that of the community. This is the ensemble piece where no single character carries the full meaning of the tale, but rather their united ripples merge into a single wave of significance. The purpose of this narrative may be to communicate an optimistic message of how an entire society unites to bring about some good greater than any one individual could accomplish, or it might be more somber in how it shows characters’ individual flaws accentuating one another to bring about some horrible tragedy that ought not to have ever been.

The Lord of the Rings is a story of an undertaking that is so massive that no one person could accomplish it alone. Certainly there is a sole ring-bearer, but from the start to the finish he is only able to succeed by being supported-and even literally carried-by an entire community of souls around him. More than that, his one quest is only a shadow of the greater struggle that is raging in all the world around, one in which every man’s soul is being put to the test for good to triumph over evil. The message of the story is that great things can be accomplished, but only by the concerted efforts of thousands of individuals contributing as one.

My example for a community-focused story will come in the form of my next post on Thursday. It will be a pretty unusual looking community, and it will remain consistent with the dream-like meditative series we are about to conclude, but it will nonetheless have at its core an examination of how disparate characters combine for the benefit and destruction of one another.

 

In the end, it all really comes down to a question of who or what is your story being true to? Should your characters have this conversation, or should the plot take this turn, or should you detail the finer points of this setting? Yes, if it will be helpful to your subject, whether that be audience, character, environment, concept, or community. Indeed many of the decisions you have to face as an author will only be resolved when you have identified what it is your story must be true to.