May 20, 2011

Free e-Books of Adams’ Lectures Now Available

Filed under: JQA Lectures,Writing,Writing Sample — Tags: , , , — Brian Triber @ 4:39 pm

Image by Southworth & Hawes (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Newly edited e-books of John Quincy Adams’ Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory are now available.

I have recently added FREE ebooks of The John Quincy Adams Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory to the JQA Lectures page. They are available for download in both ePub and Kindle formats.

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May 17, 2011

Time for a Little Enlightenment

Filed under: Book Discussion — Tags: , , , , , — Brian Triber @ 7:20 am

Image ©2007 Eric Pouhier.
A new (to me) must read…

There are books that touch the reader on an emotional level. There are books that are focused on selling a particular brand of spiritual self-help. Then there are books that transcend the marketplace, and in doing so poetically echo their own meaning.

Even if you’ve read it before, the new translation of Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse (trans. by Susan Bernofsky) is worth the revisit. And if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?

The story, in a nutshell, is the transcendent journey of Siddhartha to Buddahood, and those trials he meets and overcomes. Along his path, the very meaning of spiritual seeking is illuminated, and an understanding of our relationship to family, society, and the divine are laid out in the elegant, and misleadingly simplistic, tale. There’s love, friendship, humor, irreverence, joy, sex and death — all the good things in life. But there’s also the message of how to balance spiritual life with living in the world, and an understanding of the necessary solitary work needed for transcendence.

In this version, Bernofsky provides an enchanting and melodic translation whose phrasal repetitions transport the reader into 400BCE India. Between the sentences, between the perfumed melody and the silken prose, one can hear the snapping of twigs underfoot, smell the forests and villages, feel the spray of the river speaking to Siddhartha, and form an understanding of what samadhi, the single-mindedness of meditative and contemplative being, is. And this is what makes the story work on a poetic level — each of the chapters, meditated on, reveals a new understanding of what it is to be human, and how each of us is also Buddha consciousness.

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. New Translation by Susan Bernofsky. Published by Random House, ISBN 978-0-8129-7478-2.

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May 13, 2011

Themes Aren’t Just For Blog Design

Filed under: A Writing Journal,Writing,Writing Tools — Tags: , , — Brian Triber @ 6:35 pm

Image ©2011 Brian Triber.
Central conflict, character traits, setting, theme: which comes first?

I recently got caught up in a rut. It was one of those ruts that seemed to double-back upon itself until I wasn’t just running in circles — I was corkscrewing myself into the abyss. The subject of this exercise in double-thinking self-annoyance was theme.

Before launching into an explanation, let me state that what I’m putting forth is my experience. All writers have varying approaches that work for them, but won’t work for others. So, milage on this road may vary. Having said that, allow me to explain how theme sent me down the rabbit hole.

This is the kind of thing that most everyone has learned about in English class, that theme is the backbone of story, that plot is written around it. But somewhere along the line I was misled. I had been taught that character came first (something I still don’t necessarily believe), and that plot came from the process of character discovery, and theme was a byproduct that was identified after the fact. After the first draft, identifying the theme was key for the rewrite to determine how to tweak the story to reinforce the theme.

Now, though, I’m not so sure. I’m finding that theme may be key to writing the first draft. My best ideas tend to come to me plot-first. Many writers will say that’s putting the cart before the horses, but having been weaned on science fiction, it’s nearly impossible to develop a compelling plot line from character when you’re trying to describe a vision of the future, or some unknown technology that suggests a particular conflict. That’s why much classic Sci-Fi tends to be societal and philosophical in nature with, it can be argued, fairly flat characterization.

My answer to that is what some might call “shoehorning” characters into a plot. I don’t consider it shoehorning, however. The key to how my characters work is that I don’t begin writing the story until I’ve had a chance to develop the characters into full emotional and motivational beings. The question is, what kind of character works in a given plot? Whatever character I develop has to have a main character trait that illuminates the central conflict of the plot. If I’m working on a plot about a long space journey, I’ll want to consider giving my main character claustrophobia. For a story that originates on a dairy farm, the main character should have lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy — assuming that the central conflict is about the farm.

It seems to me, however, that theme has to come first. In developing a story, a related theme should be found to encapsulate the central conflict. So, for instance, if my story had to do with time travel, and my protagonist’s main motivation was to prevent an event from occurring, a theme to match this well would be “we are amalgams of our past experience.” Now, the character can be further developed to focus on the theme: a man returns to the past to stop his childhood self from quitting the school band, because in the future he would be able to woo a desired spouse through music.

Now the theme is in place, the central conflict, the main personality trait of the protagonist has been discovered, and the plot begins to unfold. Setting is the missing piece, and that becomes effortless now that we know the story has to do with amalgams of past experience, so the central conflict, being internal, can occur in the instrument storage room among ancient dusty cases and shelves of sheet music for the characters to reflect upon.

So, I’ve managed to emerge from this rabbit-hole with a little more direction. I have the theme for my current project, the central conflict to reinforce it, and the plot to support it. The characters are sketched out, and can now be filled out a bit more, with motivation and internal conflict that mirror and echo the theme. Now, if I can figure out what font to use…

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