#SecondThoughts – Tricksters

The problem with having a slick schedule with four posts a month on specific subjects on specific days is that the calendar throws in some grit into the well-ordered machine…which is why Debs and I have been very thankful to recruit some brilliant guests to contribute posts for the occasional fifth sundays which would otherwise mess up our schedule. So, continuing with this tradition, and with only a very little sleight of hand, we’re dropping in a post by @nerdcactus, with some thoughts on the ‘Trickster’ – one only has to follow her Twitter-feed to know that there is is no-one better to write with both passionate knowledge and knowledgable passion about such characters and their role in a story.


 

Do any of you watch The Magicians? Or have you, perhaps, read the books by Lev Grossman? That is one of the worst examples of a Trickster I have ever seen. In fact, I’d venture to say it might be the worst.

Why?

It is an absolute nightmare of characterization. Reynard the Fox comes storming in, tearing the heart out of people, raping a main character, and just generally being evil in an almost cartoonish fashion. In one scene in the show (I’ll be the first to admit I refused to read the books), he even turns a woman’s cat inside out and keeps it alive. The only piece of characterization that actually fits? He poses as a peaceful goddess and tricks an unsuspecting group of magic users into releasing him.

It’s rage-inducing. Not the least because Reynard the Fox has never been evil. Does he murder? Yes. But only the people who’re going to kill him (or, rather, animals). Reynard is a Trickster, and in this case, a satirical creature lampooning the feudal system and corruption in the Church; those creatures he murders represent the Powers That Be. Reynard is wily; he is the wily fox, a trope so pervasive even Disney couldn’t escape it (twice, actually: Robin Hood and Zootopia both feature cunning foxes, though it’s a much larger part of Nick Wilde’s character). Reynard is, at his worst, an anti-hero and, at his best, the spokesperson for the masses.

And, no matter how bad his behavior, we are meant to root for him. Because he is charismatic, clever, and speaks truth to power. That is what a Trickster is.

But the Trickster is also so much more than that.

If we were to define a Trickster, we would say he (for Tricksters are invariably men) is a mischievous or roguish creature who defies the rules of gods and men, making use of cunning and intellect rather than physical prowess. Very often, the results of their actions are positive, though they can be malicious (Loki’s involvement in the death of Baldur comes to mind). Inevitably, they are caught, but they’ll probably just talk their way out of it again. And they are, down to a man, charming.

Note I didn’t say a Trickster must play pranks on people. Yes, characters like Bart Simpson and Fred and George Weasley are examples of Tricksters, but so too is The Doctor, and he does not spend most of his time playing harmless jokes on people. Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor; this is a prime example of a Trickster subverting the laws of man to do a greater good. He embarrasses the corrupt government officials, fights for the common man, and has undoubted panache. Yes, a true Trickster.

But it’s so easy to turn Trickster into a con-man, a thief, a prankster. It is also easy to turn him into a Madman with a Box, whose plans—if they are plans and not just a thing—are labyrinthine in nature. It is easy to define Trickster by what he stands against. To have him be an outsider to the system, looking in and merely subverting what is.

It is too easy. And, frankly, it doesn’t begin to encompass everything a Trickster can be.

Lewis Hyde, in his book Trickster Makes This World (which I so heartily recommend, I’m thinking of giving it to everyone I know for ALL the holidays), says that “trickster is a boundary-crosser”. Think of all that implies. Hermes is a psychopomp, guiding the souls of the dead to the Underworld. Loki can change shape. Raven can cross between realms. Who the hell knows what kind of animal Set is? Trickster challenges identities and the rules of everything we understand. And, in challenging everything, Trickster changes everything. He makes worlds.

Now. What does this mean for us as writers? What can we do to reimagine a trope that is also an archetype? Think of boundaries. Think of changes. Of new beginnings. Trickster can be storyteller (Anansi is a great version of this). He can be messenger (Hermes’ role as running a UPS-type company is the best thing about that second Percy Jackson movie I never saw). He can remind the gods of their hubris (Loki’s role in the death of Baldur) or get them into and out of trouble (look up the origins of Odin’s horse, Sleipnir). Trickster can be a master or a fool.

Or even a victim. Maybe Trickster is at the whim of his own nature, trapped in a whirl of chaos and at the mercy of himself? A seer like Cassandra, always ignored, or constantly changing form and never able to cease? Maybe he can’t help acting the way he does, and it sometimes causes him to hurt those he loves because of a grand plan he cannot begin to grasp.

What does a world created by a Trickster look like? In my world, chaos is at the heart of creation, and this is reflected in the near-constant natural disasters that racked the planet until divine intervention stabilized it. Order is an obsession with the people of Esmeihiri, and they have a very difficult relationship with their Creator. But she loves them and does her best to be the god they need.

Oh, yes. I said she. Because what is the easiest boundary to cross but the most arbitrary limitation I’ve mentioned so far? Trickster is so much more than a con-man. So much more than wit, charm, or pranks. They might be serious. They might be doolally. Man. Woman. Both and neither. Creator. Destroyer. At odds with the gods and the god themselves. In control or out of it. Perpetrator or victim.

But, whatever they are, they are not whatever the hell The Magicians decided to do. Because, at the end of the day, a Trickster is not a sociopath. They are an appetite that needs filling. And there is nothing more interesting than a character who always wants more from life.

 

© NerdCactus 2017

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Short …?

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“Short? Waddya mean I’m short? I’m as tall as you are, cheeky mare …”

The cashier, unable to interrupt Mick, flushed bright pink: “Sir, I’m sorry, I simply meant that your payments don’t add up. There isn’t sufficient coinage to add up to your total.” “Oh, I see. Sorry love. Waddya need?” It took a bit of rummaging round in pockets for Mick to find sufficient of the right coins to balance the paying-in book before he could race back to his car. As he hurried, he could see a traffic warden taking a picture, having just stuck a ticket on his car. “Naw mate, naw. I was only over the time by a minute. If that dopey mare at my office ‘ad cashed up proper, I’d have bin ‘n gawn by now.”

Unsurprisingly, the warden wasn’t listening and Mick ended up snatching the ticket from his windscreen before pulling away with tyres squealing. He punched a number into his phone and shouted “tell that stupid tart Mary she’s just cost me a parking ticket … ‘n she’ll be payin’ it from outta her wages.” Before the startled receptionist could respond, he hung up.

Arriving at his next call, Mick was more than a touch agitated, although he’d never have believed it if you’d suggested so. “Mornin’ love, ‘ere to take a butchers at this kitchen you want refurbed!” he announced in what was clearly an overly familiar tone to the lady of the house. Twenty minutes later, Mick was leaving the house, already on the phone giving hell to his salesman for sending him to someone who was “a right stuck up cow.” “Was she actually rude then?” asked Bob in a surprised tone. “Naw mate, just dead short.” Bob swallowed a snigger “must’ve been something she had for breakfast mate, she was really polite – charming even – with me.”

The day didn’t improve, and nor did Mick’s mood. Calling it a day at quarter to five, he jumped in the shower, changed and decided to pop into his local for a quick one before tonight’s date. He thought he had a really good chance with this one. She was just his type – blonde, bubbly and flirty – with no airs and graces. He chatted with a few of the lads at his local before leaving for the wine bar she’d chosen for the meet.

He was a little late and was about to phone, when he spotted her. There was some bloke chatting to her, which he was a bit narked about to be honest. Going over, he went straight in for a kiss: “looking gorgeous darlin’, what you drinkin’?” Mick saw her visibly recoil before saying to the other bloke: “can you give me a minute Chaz?” Puffing up his chest, Mick asked “’ho’s this Chaz bloke, a mate of yours?” “No” she replied, rather coolly “we was just chatting. In fact, he’d just asked me how come I’d been left waiting on a first date.” “Sorry Babe, I ‘ad to pull over and take a call from a client. It’s been a mare of a day and …” Mick spotted her not even attempting to stifle a yawn. “Whassup with you anyways?” She sighed: “Well, apart from being late, you lied. I mean, if you’re 5’ 10”, I’m ruddy Sofia Loren.” “Wot? Wot you sayin’?” “I’m saying that you’re short mate. Get it? Too … short.” and with that she stalked away to join Chaz.

Mick stormed back to his local and complained about all these women who would only consider dating 6 footers. “Hang on a minute Mick, how tall did you say you were?” one of the regulars chimed in.  “Only 5’ 10” … I weren’t pretending to be 6’ or nuffing.” Once the lads had stopped laughing, one of them managed to get out: “Mick, you barely make 5’7”! Maybe it wasn’t the lack of height so much as the fact that you were telling an outright lie.” “She said it, she said I was too short!” Mick was almost shouting now, so that same guy put a pint in front of him before saying: “Too short of the truth eh, maybe mate?”


© Debra Carey, 2017

#secondthoughts: The Big Bang Theory and Generating your Characters

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My mother loves nerdy TV and she it was who introduced me to the joy that is “The Big Bang Theory” (TBBT). I think we laugh at different bits, but it matters not, she deserves the credit for the intro. The show has played another big part in my life in that it inspired my now partner to contact me when he read of my preference for its nerdy humour in my online dating profile. And yes, we do share a lot of laughter, and giggles, and chortles. We also still watch it together and laugh … frequently out loud!

Growing up, no-one taught me about clever men (I’m looking at you again Mum), only about tall, dark and handsome men. Not that my Dad wasn’t clever, it’s just he wasn’t a geek or a nerd. And with the passing of years, I’ve discovered just how much tickling the brain cells matters to me in terms of attraction. Sapio-sexual I believe the term is, which sounds way more outré than it is, by the way.

I mean, look at the line-up on TBBT: Sheldon – completely neurotic, controlling, Mama’s boy; Leonard – short, speccy, massively lacking in self-confidence; Howard – skinny, sex-mad, spoilt Mama’s boy; and Rajesh – rich, hugely in touch with his feminine side, spoilt Mama’s boy. Hmmm … is there are another theme emerging there? But I digress. Let’s be honest, there’s not a looker among ’em …

And then we have the girls: Bernadette – hot but scary, domineering and downright clever; Amy – gawky and awkward, but patient, kind and also downright clever; lastly Penny – pretty, blonde and not (clever that is). Except that after dating Leonard, she realises that she can’t tolerate stupid men anymore. And all her friends are clever too. Clearly not that dumb, eh Penny …?  Again, I digress, my point is those guys are really lucky to have these girls.

One of the many things I found laughable was how these incredibly clever men with their serious academic jobs could get so caught up in gaming and role-play (and I realise I’m not just talking about TBBT). I’ve never tried it and I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge the potential for addiction … but I just don’t see the draw. It’s like gambling. I understand it’s addictive possibilities … I just cannot be bothered to try it. It’s too damn dull.

I think the first time anyone ever suggested games other than Scrabble (best game ever), Monopoly (dull, dull, dullest) and Trivial Pursuit (fun, if frustrating when played against those clever men) was Risk. I had no idea what the other players were doing, or talking about. It was all going right over my head and I mentally checked out as I was quickly bored. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a competitive bone in my body (other than with myself), so maybe that’s part of it. But people tell me I should be able to get involved in the world building and role playing aspects. So far, I’ve just given them “that” look …

But, having read David’s piece “Generating your Characters” this January – you know, properly read it rather than just skimmed, I can see how role play and gaming could help in the planning and developing process for fiction – especially in fantasy or science fiction with world building, but even for “straightforward” fiction with character development.

So, while I was busy being snotty and snooty about the gamers and role players, they were racing streets ahead of me in terms of planning and developing a novel. Do I ever feel dumb …

 


PS: As this is my #secondthoughts on a piece of David’s #secondthoughts, does that still make it #secondthoughts, or do I need to apply a multiplier?

© Debra Carey, 2017

The End of the Affair

I opened the door to my cold flat, unlived in for some months and breathed in the stale air, familiar from other extended trips away.  Mumbling to myself, I echoed the words of Sam Gamgee: “Well, I’m home”.

There was a pile of post which I knew I was going to have to sort through and that, together with the layer of dust, spoke of the chores that that faced me following the flat’s recent unoccupancy: suddenly I was overcome by a wave of tiredness.  Without bothering to undress and barely taking the time to kick my shoes off, I lay down on the sofa, pulled a convenient rug (tartan, of course) over me and promptly fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke far too early.  I made tea with leaves that were a little elderly but which still held the requisite doses of tannin and caffeine and started on all the prosaic tasks which never afflict the heroes, in the best books, who have just saved the world.  I stuffed clothes into the washing machine, listened to messages on the ansaphone – those which weren’t tele-sales were hopelessly out of date – and set about balancing the books.  Bank and credit card statements of the last few months told the story, at least in parts, of my adventures.  As I sorted out the accounts, I found myself remembering my journeys, a new memory sparking with every entry.

There were a few rather snotty letters from my bank manager – I had rather hammered my accounts whilst I was away and bank managers are always keen to talk to you if you have no money or seem to be spending the little you have more quickly than usual.  For that matter, they are keen to talk to you if you have lots of money.  Whilst I was never in danger of being in that position, a grateful Government had deposited a payment for generous expenses and a healthy (if not extravagant) bonus with gratifying speed, and so the officious tone of my bank manager became cringingly polite in the latest letter.  Even with my modest style of living I was not now wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, but of course it had never been about the money.  Still I had returned to my “independently poor” status and my “idiot fund” had been replenished and in fact extended.

I think that I’ve explained that “independently poor” is that state of grace whereby one won’t starve if you don’t have a job.  Apart from the almost inevitable pride that occurs from not having to take the first job that comes along so that one can improve one’s lot, it is a most excellent position to be in as one doesn’t have to take the first job that comes along.  On top of this is the “idiot fund”.  Anyone can acquire one, usually through hard graft and they come in a variety of forms and sizes.  Whilst careful investment of legacies and bonuses has left me independently poor, there is, of course, a difference between merely surviving and being comfortable.  By careful and judicious economies I could afford to call my boss an idiot and still live a comfortable 12 (now, thanks to the, ah… hazard pay, 18) months whilst I found a new job to interest me.

And so I sat and balanced my accounts, caught up with the stock market and made a mental note to call my broker (Consolidated Holdings looked like a good bet – luckily I had never invested in Universal Exports whose stock had bombed in a bad way; still, perhaps now might be a good time to invest…? Of course the company might just be allowed to slip away) and another mental note to call my bank manager.  Although some of the letters before the most recent were quite snippy, so I’d leave it a couple of days and allow some stewing to occur.

I did some ironing and renewed my acquaintance with Isaac at the little shop around the corner.  I dusted; I skim read the periodicals that had piled up before filing them on the ongoing assumption that one day I’d read them again or – even more implausible – that I’d use them for something.  A few of the more recent ones had job adverts some of which I was interested; I circled a few and thought about what job I wanted.  There was no real chance I was going back to my old job and I didn’t think that I could count on a reference either.  During the days of debriefing – not as ominous as it sounds in the thrillers – there had been some vague talk of a government position but I was, frankly, sceptical, although I didn’t think that a reference from this quarter was entirely out of the question, and a letter of introduction might not be pushing things too far, either.

A few days passed and then a few more.  All the chores to return my home to normalcy had been completed.  There was food in the fridge and freezer, my bank manager had been appeased and a few jobs had been circled in various papers.  I gave some thought to inviting a few old friends round for dinner some time soon – and wandered down, on occasion, to the “Tale of Two Cities” for a quite pint of something and a chinwag with Owd Jock, the landlord.  I frittered away a week in fairly meaningless pursuits, reacquainting myself with the environs by going for walks.  I sauntered to the shop or pub, ostensibly for a paper from the former or a pint of something from the latter but mainly for the conversation with the proprietors.  I read and listened to the radio.

Saturday night found me in a capricious and restless mood.  I perused the shelf for a DVD to watch and couldn’t find anything, went to the kitchen for a slice of toast, abandoned it and picked up a book and slumped in a chair, read a few pages before tossing it aside and it was then that my eyes lit upon the bottle of single malt stashed on the top shelf of the book case.  Nominally I was saving this for a special occasion but defeating a bunch of murderous thugs and staying alive seemed like a special occasion to me…But I knew that once started, with the mood I was in, the bottle would not last long: one drink is too many and two is not enough.  My mind whirled and gyred and I think I was within a hairsbreadth of deciding to open the bottle when the phone rang.

“Carstairs?”

“Jack!  Good to hear from you!  Why do you insist on calling me Carstairs?”

“Never mind that now, the game is afoot old boy, the game is afoot and I need your help.  There’ll be a car picking you up in 30 minutes.  Can you be ready?”

Typical Jack, no query as to my health and no cheerful reminiscence – and for that matter, no doubt that I would drop everything and come running, no fear that I wouldn’t be interested.

“Of course – what do I need?”

“To be ready for anything, old boy, ready for anything.”  And he hung up.

Life was good and worth living again.  I left the bottle where it was and went to throw some things in a bag…

© David Jesson, 2017

Careers Mash-Up!

Queen Architectural Services

“They’ve given the job to who?” the angry tones of Gus French rang round the draughtman’s office. Jim and Evelyn casually meandered towards the coffee machine which, entirely co-incidentally, was right outside the managing partner’s office. Not that they made any coffee, oh no, for that machine was downright noisy, they just faffed around with ingredients and had a jolly good listen. And that’s where Gus French found them when he stormed out of his office. “I despise sneaks” he yelled at them, “if you want to know something, knock on my door and ask!”

Jim and Evelyn slunk back to their drawing boards looking sheepish, eliciting looks of sympathy – and one or two of glee – from the varying factions in the office. French’s Ferrari roared into life in the car park, followed rapidly by a squeal of tires – he was clearly intending to burn some rubber before returning to work. The office settled down to its regular hum and that’s what Jeremy Johns – French’s business partner – saw upon his arrival. Raising his eyebrow at Matt in the front row and asking “Gus still out?” he shugged in acceptance at the brief nod he received in return, before helping himself to coffee from the machine and taking a seat in French’s office.

That unmistakable Ferrari engine roar signalled French’s return before he strode back into his office. Odd fragments of conversation floated out of the office “we’ve lost bids before, why are you so angry?” “ … total amateur …” “… going to look like some sort of grotto …” so when Jeremy got up and shut the door, the disappointment was palpable. This time, no-one dared go near the coffee machine, even if they actually wanted one. Gus French was infamous for his sharp tongue and elephant-like memory. Everyone knew that Jim and Evelyn would be getting the drudge work for a while, and they all had absolutely no intention of joining them.

But then Diana – Jeremy’s american wife and office manager of the practice – joined her husband, and the office started to buzz once more. Diana was known to be indiscreet when the gossip was good. And there were decided signs that it was going to be …

The next day, the news broke that the new big shopping mall contract had been awarded to QAS and the events of the day before slowly slipped out of office recall. Till the office christmas party that is. As usual, Jeremy and Gus only attended the earlier – more formal – part of the do. Their leaving was the signal for the booze to start flowing and for everyone to chill. Diana always stayed for this part and she flitted from table to table like a gracious hostess, leaving the huge long table which was traditionally provided for the draughtsman’s office. Diana always kept them till last, as they were “her guys”. She wandered over and suggested they fill up their glasses and go onto the balcony “to grab some fresh air”. There was much clanking of glasses and bottles, those who smoked grabbed their cigarette packets and lighters, before making a headlong dash to the balcony. This year, there was a feeling that the gossip would be really good, and everyone wanted to get close in to hear Diana’s whispered asides.

With “her guys” around her, Diana commenced. “Y’all remember QAS getting that shopping mall job?” she asked. “And y’all surely remember Gus being so pissed about it?” she asked again. To the chorus of “oh yeahs” she smiled and licked her lips. Everyone leaned in closer, this had the potential to be better than they’d imagined. “Welllll …” started Diana, “it’s like this. Seems Gus and Titania of QAS have history …” she paused to have her cigarette lit and to inhale “… a very hot and heavy history.” There was a fair degree of whopping and hollering, before the chorus of “shhhhs” came from the back.

Enjoying being the centre of attention, let alone having the dirt on Gus – her least favourite person – meant that Diana took her time as she recounted the details of Gus and Titania’s past romantic relationship, until she could avoid the questions from the audience no further. “So, what happened then?” “Why did he marry that Gillian girl?” “Wellll …” drawled Diana “it’s like this. Y’all know the story of Titania in Midsummer’s Night Dream, doncha?” Cue chorus of nods. Unable to stop chuckling Diana managed to get out “Titania persuaded Gus to dress up in costume for her – for Valentine’s. She had him wear long donkey ears and the top half of a pantomime donkey’s costume but … no bottom half.” Cue chuckles and chortles. “Better yet, she sent pictures to the local press!” Cue hysterical laughter. “They still have that front page with those pictures on file. Jeremy and I went down to their archives when we heard and got us a copy. I heartily recommend y’all do likewise.” Cue noisy agreement. “But, but, but … don’t any of y’all try to use them round wage negotiation time. I will not look favourably on anyone who does that.” Cue good natured muttering in the ranks …

“But y’all should feel free to pin a copy to your drawing boards …”

© Debra Carey, 2017

 

Best laid plans

The novice sucked the end of his stylus and looked out of the window.  Autumn was dispalying its full raiment of reds and golds, but surely it could not be long before leaf-drop and the icy storms of winter?  The Borders monastry was on the coast and prone to drafts, especially in the dark days of winter. 

Lost in thought, he did not hear the thump-thump-thump of the elderly brother’s staff on the stone floor.

“It is a beautiful scene, is it not?”

Despite the age of the speaker, the voice remained firm and there was genuine enjoyment evident in the tone.  The novice started, jolted from his reverie and looked up from his writing desk into the deeply lined face of the elderly monk.  Rumour, rife amongst novices (and some of the brothers too), had it that the man had once been a mendicant and had fallen into bad company when younger.  It was said that the Prior hated him, that the Armarius barely tolerated him, and that the Abbot only permitted him to remain because of pressure from one of the monastary’s powerful sponsors.

“I’m sorry Brother Tuck.”

“Why are you sorry, Matias?  For enjoying the picture that God has set before you?  You must be mindful of your work, it is true, for in this we give glory to God.  But if you do this at the expense of acknowledging his creation when it is before you, then I rather think that you are failing in your duties.”

“I do not think that Brother Prior or Brother Armarius see it that way.”

“Hm. They have a particular view of the world, it is true.  Their view is shaped by these grey stones, which for the most part they have not set foot outside since they were novices themselves.  Ah well.  And I suppose it is as well to return to our work.  How goes your design of the new daughter-house?”

“Oh! Brother, please don’t mock!  All know that it is your design. The novices are all amazed at how you have drawn the forest into your plans.  But it was this that caused me to become distracted by the autumnal scene outside.  I become confused as to the right course of action.  If we change your design, like so, then the Old Oak becomes integral and is the focal point of the new monastry, but does this then put us in danger of sin?  Will we in effect be worshipping the Oak?”

“A very proper concern to have.  But do you not think that if there is a danger that this might be the case, then those at risk are perhaps not very good at being monks?  No matter, no matter.  It will not be possible to change the plans in the way that you suggest.  There are other issues that must be considered.  Carry on with your completion of the notes to accompany the plans.  Building work is to commence in the spring.”

And with that, the old man hobbled away.

© David Jesson, 2017

#FF Writing Prompt – New Careers Mashup

Debs and I had a go at trying to put together a Chuck Wendig style mashup – and it turned out to be a lot harder than it looks.  Neither of us liked the result and so it got…edited out of the line up.  Inspiration comes in many forms and from many sources and I think that this mashup works a lot better.  So, the way this game works is that you take a d6 (six sided dice) or ask someone relatively helpful (but who hasn’t seen the list) to pick a number between 1 and 6.  You do this twice.  First you get a fictional character, then you get a career.  You put the two together and you have the protagonist for a story – easy, huh?

CHARACTER PROFESSION
1 Friar Tuck Detective
2 Queen Titania Politician
3 Lemuel Gulliver Stand-up Comedian
4 Moll Flanders Nanny
5 Frankenstein’s Monster Architect
6 Esther Summerson Lawyer

 

Deadline for submission : 2pm on Friday, 6th October 2017.
Word limit: 500 – 1,000

Go!

 


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