“Hangin’ round, downtown by myself
And I’ve had too much caffeine.”
-Marcy Playground, “Sex and Candy”
Tonight was a good writing night, at the coffee shop. Even as I tried to write down one thing, ideas for others popped in my head and I had to constantly stop to jot them down before they sank in the dead waters in the back of the brain. I discovered a few things. Writing isn’t making things up so much as discovering things. The main difference between it and investigation is that you get to pick where you follow the clues…but they do lead you. The clues might be in rhymes, song lyrics, folk tales, eavesdropped conversation fragments, or Twinkie wrappers.
Tonight I discovered the story of how Jesus learned to walk on water as a boy. I even discovered why the rest of the world hasn’t heard it (just me). Both those bits will be the subject of their very own chapter.
But the thing I was trying to write, was a little sketch and analysis of the would-be-hero of Souls Unsure, the lost angel Syth.
“This is the sorrowful state of souls unsure.
Whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame.
And they are mingled with angels of that base sort
Who neither rebellious to God nor faithful to Him,
Chose neither side, but kept themselves apart-
Now Heaven expels them, not to mar its splendor,
And Hell rejects them lest the wicked of heart
Take glory over them.”
-Dante, The Inferno
He’s gestated in my mind since that passage of Dante from high school and, a short story and long poem later, I need to flesh him out for the epic. I started with a visual image. Lots of stories can start with a disembodied image. So I jotted down, in my journal…(comments are welcome)
CHARACTER ANALYSIS: Syth “the ashen angel”
“I went mourning without the sun: I stood up, and I cried in the congregation. I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat. My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep.”
-Job 30: 28-31
Visually, my sad angel started as two distinct images:
1. Lamppost Perch: I see a sad figure dressed in dark, perched like a carrion bird, on a lamppost, overlooking a night clad hospital on the inner-city below. A murder of carrion birds perch with him, actually they perch like him, learned to perch and brood from him, all midnight plumes and bitter mirth. They keen and caw and gaze below. They know…
2. Girl and a Guardian Dark: I see a girl, all tears and prayers, praying in desperation. Outside, pounding on her door is a monster wearing the mask called father, preying in depravity. Desperate prayers go to desperate places and, above the girl, a darkly cloud manifests shroudly. It pulses and undulates to her breaths, flashing hands and a face in the ebon mist. Her little hand trails through the mist. Its wispy, ash fingers caress her cheek; the soot mingles with a tear, leaving a muddy dark trail down the eye.
And from here, I try and construct an image…
A WORD PORTRAIT
“I am ashes where I was once fire.”
-Lord Byron, To the Countess of Blessington
Syth is (or was) an angel. An angel is a good starting point to imagine him: see the great wings, wide as wonder; see the long hair, unearthly eyes, lithe body, alabaster sculpted skin like marble; see the halo of light around the head, blazing out the eyes and mouth, a nimbus of cosmic fire – the nimbus might be different from angel to angel, different colors and intensities and textures based on mood, personality, and function.
But Syth did not end here. He fell, but not to Hell; oh well, oh well, oh where did he end up pray tell? He went to Sheol, an ancient Limbo, the Gray Shroud, the Deadlands, the space between, past Pluto, out of God’s sight and bellow the Devil’s scorn.
If the balefires of Hell had such an effect on the fallen angels (twisting their frames into nightmare symmetry), how does the limbo of lost souls, sepulcher stone, and dark mist affect Syth?
Syth’s skin has gone gray/black ash, the white marble either covered by the sable soot, or eaten away by it. His halo is gone, the nimbus nearly burnt out. He does not rage with the heady fires of Hell, nor shine the righteous light of Heaven. He shows like a cooling ember of something long since gone out – a cigarette butt in a fetid puddle. His eyes fade in and out like dying stars. Can’t be much longer before they’re black holes…
Syth’s wings are raven black and frayed at the edges. They are broken. He can’t fly back. Flapping just produces an ashy miasma. Sometimes he sheds midnight plumes like tears.
Once upon a time, beneath his black wings of iridescent indigo and below his incandescent eyes, his body shown with a network of glowing tattoos spelling words in a language written before apes were given tongues to speak as men. It’s hard to read the angelic script, under the ash, now…
Jagged, black lines zigzag from the dead-star eyes, down the gray face, tiny canyons cut into the ashy landscape by eons of flowing, eroding water. They’re dry now.
Ancient barbed wire, Devil’s rope, entwines his body and limbs, the wicked chains of captivity and a badge of shame, forged by a particularly vengeful, spiteful seraph. They’re in disrepair, but still snag, still bite the bit with bitter bite, blackened, rusted thorns. Are they sentient? Maybe. They know when to squeeze, to pierce Syth’s stillborn heart whenever it dares to hope or dream or beat.
Sometimes, shame crawls out of Syth’s skin as maggots. He wishes that was a metaphor…
“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!”
Why did Syth fall? Was he booted out of Heaven?
Syth was booted because he was one of he angels that did not choose sides in the War in Heaven.
josh, i discovered this morning that you had called last night. i was not sleeping when you called, but my telephone did not ring. curious. i’m glad the coffee shop was inspiring, though. i think i’m starting to figure out what i might like to do for my thesis … muwhahaha …
Nice. Any hints?
Sweetness. I’m lovin it and keep it up.
Also, when reading this, two things came to mind. One is a picture I saw of The Crow once:
And another is the character of Constantine from the old Hellblazer comic books (same ones that the movie coming out soon are based on).
Crow and Constantine….
Yeah, The Crow definitely has some influence here. More the images and the setting (that dark, otherwordly city). Not so much personality. The character in The Crow (Eric Draven) is driven by a need for revenge, straight out of the grave. Syth, on the other hand, is not so proactive.
Constantine’s another good one. He never really inspired any of this…but now I’m seeing the parallels (I only ever read him in his indirect visits in The Sandman comics). I need to go back and read Hellblazer (there are probably reprints available at the bookstores with the movie coming out.
Ah…but notice the things this reminds you of come from the world of comics. I think there actually is an audience out there for epic tales…they just don’t know it under that name…they’ve been trained and they are waiting – but more on the market in a later post…
Just out of curiousity, wouldn’t “as maggots”, if it was, be a simile, and not a metaphor? Yeah. Technical issues are the only areas in which I feel qualified to comment. Especially after Wil’s lecture at Steak ‘n’ Shake last night. Have you been crawling around more in “Zen in the Art of Writing”? Some of your opening comments made it sound as though you had been.
English nerd to the rescue!
Similes are a type of metaphor.
Teach me more!
I always learned that a simile uses “like” or “as”, while a metaphor says that something is something else. Of course, I learned that in, oh, 4th grade or so. So my knowledge is undoubtedly deficient. Please tell me the real definitions! I like learning non-science-nerd stuff.
Ride the Love Boat
Well…I think there are a few ways to read it. For example. One would read, “crawled like maggots” as showing the similarity in the way that the item in question is crawling, to that of maggots (and that’s a simile…something does something like something).
“As” might be read as the same as “like,” but when I wrote the sentence, I was writing “crawled as maggots” as the same thing as “crawls in the form of maggots.” That is to say, that the item one is item two (a metaphor) – “in the form of” sounds a little too comic bookish and clunky.
But I think I’ve seen similes referred to with “as” (and not just “like”).
However, I’ve also seen it referenced the way Amanda said it: a simile is a type of metaphor. That is, every Love Boat is a boat…but not all boats are Love Boats…(replace “boat” with metaphor).
Re: Ride the Love Boat
Hmmm…I’m so curious now. What a geek I am. What other types of metaphors are there?
Yeah…I’ve been doing a little Zen every day.