“Steps as Soft as Chimney Smoke” – The Generation of New Ideas

So the other day I was rereading Pat Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear. One of my favorite writers ever. Period. I could read this guy writing about a desk for seven hundred pages and I wouldn’t be bored in the slightest. His prose is that good. Please go check it out.

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Pictured: A really, really good book

Anyway, chapter one hundred and two (It’s doorstopper of a book and I enjoyed every second of it) has a sort-of poem-through-dialogue-thing between a creature named Felurian and our main character, Kvothe.  One line: “most fae are sly and subtle folk who step as soft as chimney smoke.” was so, so clever I couldn’t help but take the dialogue from that poem and…ahem…put it in my own words for lack of a better term. Just for fun.

And now I figured I could use this version of the poem as a springboard for a demonstration on generating new ideas. Many writers can and do suffer from writer’s block where the well just runs dry, and I have a few techniques I like to use to try to get past that. I’ll be sharing them in poem form below, but they work across genres.

(A quick disclaimer: if Mr. Rothfuss does in fact see this I would like to make it absolutely crystal clear make no mistake at all the fact that I have used his work as a springboard to demonstrate generating new ideas and overcoming writer’s block is in no way meant reflect on him as a writer. His books are doorstoppers that take time care and love that are very evident on the page. Seriously people. I cannot say it enough. Go buy his stuff.)

So here’s “my version” of Rothfuss’s poem:

 

Our moon is torn, half in your sky

She’s far away we Fae descry

We miss her so it comes to this:

The Fae will find out what’s amiss

 

For when the moon is bright and full

My kith in Faerie feel her pull

We have come to your world before

Through trees, stone, brambles and lakeshores

 

This skill belongs to any Fae

If they’ve the will and know the way

There are a thousand Faerie thrones

That lead from my world to your own.

 

To Fae they are not hard to miss

We need but only reminisce

Of times gone by with full bright skies.

And in your world we do arise

 

I wonder why you haven’t seen

A sign of those who walk between

Still Fae are sly and subtle folk

With steps as soft as chimney-smoke

 

But there are those of darker kith

That you nowadays think a myth

But ancients kept their kind at bay

With iron wills, weapons and ways.

 

They knew our games and so our rules

To keep out blacker Fae with tools

This is a greater thing we dread

Than the great power we unthread

 

So we stepped back from mortal earth

You were more trouble than you’re worth

We’ve secreted ourselves away

Now you’ve forgotten us: the Fae.

 

But you’ve forgotten something more

A warning we gave you before

For even though you may yet laugh

Know this: there’s still a darker half

 

A wise man knows to fear the night

When in the sky there is no light

 

They know not to be out, awake

For they know every step you take

 

Brings you unwitting to the Fae

Where you’ve no choice except to stay.

 

In such an unfamiliar place

Your kind welcomes a friendly face

 

Who may yet take you for their own

Old worlds and lives you will disown.

 

I warn you listen well and hear

Wise men see moonless nights with fear

____ ____ ____

For anyone who’s read the book, you’ll know it’s way to similar to Rothfuss’s own work to send anywhere, but it was fun to play around with. To see what I could do with the concept.

Now it’s time for a magic trick: I’m going to turn one poem into six. I’ll keep them short since they’re only here to prove a point. Will they be similar to what Mr. Rothfuss wrote? Sure. Will they be as blatant copies as the one above? No.

It is important to divorce what I am about to write from Mr. Rothfuss’ own dialogue/poem (That again–for emphasis–is not the one above, as I don’t want to include the original version without permission. Do not take my retread as his actual work. Please go read it yourself. Seriously. Read it.)

POEM #1: The Antithesis

Take the original poem and write the opposite.

 

Our moon is ever full and bright

But Fae see it as their birthright

To take the light that shines on us

Forever Fae we will mistrust

 

For when the moon stands high and halved

We ready for their tricksy crafts

They dance, alight, like candlesticks

Those smoking, burning, lunatics.

 

A man can burn yet any Fae

If he will protect the the causeway

There is but one way twixt our realms

We’ve men enough to overwhelm

 

Poems #2, 3, and 4 – Line by Line

Read over the first three lines of the original poem, and start over from that line

Our moon is torn, half in your sky

There’s many fears I can’t belie

When light ran roughshod through the sky

We’re somewhere else, I do descry.

 

The light has brought us somewhere new

Where many troubles do accrue

This place is a dangerous stew

Of festered flesh, bones, and mildew.

_ _ _ _

She’s far away we Fae descry

But we will find out where she lies

Beneath the dark and hidden earth.

Where she awaits her own rebirth.

 

We will keep searching for you still.

We watched you from your windowsill

Those many, many years ago.

When we still kept the status quo

_ _ _ _

We miss her so it comes to this:

We’ll venture forth to the abyss

To join her in the waking world

Let our immortal lives unfurl

 

I know we must see her again

But I will miss immortal ken

Love of this journey I have feigned

My feelings for her are bloodstained.

_ _ _ _

Poem #5 – The Prequel

What happened before the events in the original poem?

But yesterday our moon was full

Back when both world followed the rules

Though we’d no knowledge of your pains

This knowledge was still preordained.

 

Our days were once a merry thing

For joyous light our moon did bring

Our tools knew not the ways of war

It wasn’t a concern before

 

Poem #6 – The Sequel

What happened after the events of your first poem?

Have you managed to stay away

From moonless nights without delay?

Have you heeded my warnings dire

And spared yourself from their dark ire?

 

A piece of me still hopes you did

If here we are to be candid

Despite what our two worlds have done

I hope you’ve listened to reason.

 

I cannot help but smile at you

You clumsy, stumbling, stupid crew

Watching, I can’t help but be charmed

I cannot say I’m not alarmed.

 

This has been Connor M. Perry’s go-to techniques for dealing with a lack of ideas. I hope that this has been helpful and feel free to use them in the future.

 

 

Goddammit Jerry – A Compendium

 

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“Hey guys I have a little problem.”

“Goddammit, Jerry we talked about this.”

“But my neck was itchy.”

“This is the fourth time this week!”

“Listen, are you gonna help me with this or not?”

“Jerry you have a problem.”

 

 

 

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“Hey, I know we’re fighting and all

“But does anyone else feel like the statue over there 

“Is, like, really symbolic?”

“Jerry now is not the time to be all meta.”

icebound

“Jerry, you just stranded us. In ice. How did you even manage this?”

“Guys, you don’t understand. There was a dog–”

“We’re stranded, Jerry.”

“And now we have a dog, so you see…”

 

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“We come in peace, bringing smallpox as a sign or our good will.

“We’ll even share our diseases! Aren’t we friendly?”

“Jerry I don’t think they’re gonna buy it…”

“Nonsense. This is going swimmingly!”

“Goddammit Jerry you’re about to go swimmingly if you don’t shut your mouth.”

 

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“Hey, does anybody else smell rain?”

“Quiet, Jerry the show’s about to start.”

 

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“Thanks for your help, Jerry. I was off to see this

“Sweeney Todd guy a few blocks down when my foot got busted.

“He’s such a stand-up fellow.

“I’m sure nothing bad will ever come of that guy.”

 

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“Who started this fire??”

“4/20 blaze it.”

“Jerry not again.”

 

A Practical Guide to Monsters #13

In Sight of Ravens (2)

Previously

Months passed, and Baron Fitzwalter had been laid to rest. His granddaughter, Marian, became fostered in Nottingham Castle as a ward of the crown.

And for his bravery against the wolf of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborn was to be knighted.

“I shall never traffic with traitors,” said Sir Guy as he knelt over the altar, “I will never give ill counsel to a Lady, and whether married or not, treat her with respect and defend her against all.”

Prince John nodded, and then slapped the newly made-knight with the flat of the priest-blessed blade. Gisborn took the blow and breathed deep, shoulders heaving.

Prince John spoke, “Let that be the last harmful blow you take and do not return. Now, as repayment for your felling of the Werewolf of Nottingham, I bid you rise, Sir Guy of Gisborn, newly-made knight to King Richard the Lionheart.

The words tasted bitter on Prince John’s tongue. And somewhere, off in the crowd, an old maid scowled as if she had swallowed vinegar. Yet, as Sir Guy of Gisborn rose, his pride eclipsed the Prince’s anger, and the woman smiled like vinegar had turned to honey on her tongue. She drank in the newly-dubbed knight’s pride, and it was sweet upon her lips. She drank it in so quickly and heavily that soon she did not remember her life as an old lady. Her name, age and life passed through her, forgotten. She could only remember the pride of being a newly-made knight.

And the more she felt like a newly made knight, the more she began to look like one.

As the applause died down, the Visage of Sir Guy of Gisborn exited the Church and walked out into the light.

In Sight of Ravens #6

In Sight of RavensThe rain had stopped during a snatch of sleep the man managed to seize sometime in the night. The clouds had parted to reveal a sunny sky. His clothes were drying and dewy grass clung to them. The girl was asleep, her short sword by her side. The man considered testing her again. He could put his dagger next to her ear and unsheathe it. But as he crept closer he saw the girl pull her short sword closer to her chest. He decided not to try it. He could use some sleep himself, anyway.

He awoke a short time later to a scream.

The girl was howling, her short sword stuck through a bandaged head. Small red spiders scuttled down the length of her blade before dying. When the man stood, he saw two more Swarm straggling up the hill. They were burnt with claws of black reaching up their bodies, but they were very much alive.

“I didn’t want to!” the girl screamed into the face of the crumbling rags “I didn’t want to! Leave me alone!”

The other two raced for her, but the girl sprang to her feet, and as the two stragglers crested the hill she hewed one down and stabbed the other.

But she didn’t stop.

“Leave me alone!” she shouted. Her short sword came down hard and fast but cleft only mud and grass. It came again and again and again into the pile of limp cloth in the muck. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

The man walked up to her and caught her arm. She turned and punched him, uselessly, and then sank to her knees. “They wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said, “You did well.” He lifted her chin up. “It’s time to teach you how to use that properly.”

He found two sticks and tossed one of them to her. “Get ready.” He said.

* * *

By the time they were done the girl was spotted with purple bruises. She grew angry and blamed her stick. “Stupid, stupid!” she had muttered as she began to glow. By the end of it, she was so frustrated that she had clutched the stick in both hands and turned it into a smoking ruin.

He had left her with bruises, true enough. He told himself that it was nothing to be ashamed of. As the day wore on he would say as much to her.

The tears came anyway, on and on throughout the day, only to dry and steam on her face as they had before. She wanted to be better with her sword, but skill came with practice she had not the patience for.

They were on the trail again at dawn. The girl kept her head low, watching her own feet. “When will I be better?” she asked.

“Tomorrow,” the man said.

“But I need to be better now!” She stomped her foot.

“You get better every time you fall over.”

“I do not,” the girl said. “Falling over is getting worse. I want to stand up like you.”

“Like me?” The man echoed.

The girl nodded.

The man barked out an unmirthful laugh “You don’t want to be like me.”

* * *

He tossed her a stick twice more that day. “Right, left, right left, left,” he would call out as he pressed his attacks, pushing her back atop the hill, until she would trip over a rock or he’d smack his stick against her thigh. Sometimes when she was lasting too long or he thought he was becoming predictable, he’d call out left and go right. The bruises left by those lessons angered the girl more than any other.

“You cheated!” she would scream and shout and stamp her foot. “You said you were going left!” she’d cry.

“I said as much, yes,” the man would concede. “Which means you weren’t watching me.”

“I was so watching!”

“If you did, you’d be ignoring where I said I was going to hit you. You’re too reliant on what I say, girl.”

“I am not,” she screeched. “You cheated!” the girl snorted her derision.

The man left it at that.

She ended all of her lessons with more bruises. But by the end of it she’d managed to hold her own a little longer.

He’d bought her a few more seconds to live if she had to put steel before herself and an opponent. Tomorrow, he decided, he would buy her a few more.

In Sight of Ravens #5

In Sight of Ravens

It took two hours to walk around the holdfast. The man had made sure to give a wide berth to the fortress. This proved useful when part of the tower collapsed in on itself. The girl had not stopped crying. She kept sputtering about how she’d killed the spiders. She needed to learn that this wasn’t a storybook.

“I’m not going to be around to protect you forever,” the man said.

“I won’t let you die.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Are you dying now?”

“Not yet. But you have to be ready if anything happens to me.”

“But I don’t want to kill things.”

The man turned heel and knelt to look the girl in the eyes. “Then die, and the Old Gods will give the fire to someone else.”

“I don’t want to,” she said.

“Then learn. This is the real world. The Enemy wants to find where They put the fire. If it finds you, it will kill you. The only thing keeping you alive is the fact that the Enemy cannot conceive that the Old Gods would give the fire to an ordinary little girl.”

“What about you?” the girl asked, “Aren’t you keeping me alive?”

The man said nothing. And then: “We need to keep moving.”

The fire blazed behind them. The heat pulsed against the man’s back and he marveled that fire could undo stone.

* * *

As the sun climbed over the black tower far ahead of them, the man and the girl were moving north, downstream along a brown river river toward the open plains that were scorched and dry. At first, they travelled in silence. The girl was still remembering the destruction she had wrought. The man doubted she fully grasped what she had done.

The girl followed the man’s sternly forward track, only now and again scampering off to get berries or small bits of food she might find in the forest, gathering them in her pockets and then she’d trot to catch up with the man.

Something in the set of the girl’s countenance seemed to ask him not to speak. The man resigned himself to a long trek. Every now and again he would catch the girl trying to go scampering off, and call her back. And she would slink back with her head bowed.

He knew that eventually he would have to explain to her the peculiar danger in her actions. She couldn’t possibly understand yet.

The man could still see the holdfast in the distance, so he changed direction and began angling away from the river up into the northeastern foothills. This close to the mountains, the hills were steep and involuted, and he abandoned any path that some from these lands might take. Behind him, the man was vaguely aware of the girl staggering up and down the rocky, twisting slopes. He continued on, almost jerking the girl constantly westward. There were no more berries about but that didn’t stop the girl from trying to find some.

Toward midmorning, the man stopped to rest on the downward curve of a high hill. The girl remained standing, but the man’s muscles were trembling from the exertion and he could not keep his invulnerable façade up any longer.

“Are you okay?” the girl asked.

“I’m fine,” the man said.

“You look tired.”

“I’m fine,” the man repeated.

The girl left it at that, and the man sat to rest a while. But when he spied the girl trying to dart away downhill to get a drink of water from a river of brown water, the man sprang up and caught her arm. “Throw the berries into the dirt,” he said. “All of them.” The girl looked up at him, eyes brimming with tears.

“Why?”

“It’s poison. Everything in this land is poison.”

The girl did as she was told. She’d not stopped crying the whole way through. The man watched to make sure every last berry and morsel of food was thrown away. Then he spared the occasional glance over his shoulder. He could still see the holdfast, burning dimly in the distance.

He decided he could not let her continue on this way.

“You’re only trying to distract yourself,” he told her as they continued onward.

“From what?”

“You know what.”

“No I don’t.”

“Then what do you think I might be speaking about?”

The girl chewed on the thought and then answered, “What happened with the rag men?”

The man nodded.

“I mean—I’m a little guilty. But why would I distract myself?”

“Because you killed them,” the man said. “And because you don’t want to come to terms with that. You haven’t even come to terms with the fact that there’s an Enemy in a black tower you must kill when we get there.”

The little girl spat. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“If you can’t make your peace with what you’ve been ordered to do, you will fail. Do you understand me?”

The girl looked away and nodded.

The man crouched to be at eye level and pushed her chin up so that she could look nowhere but his eyes. “Do you understand me?” he asked again.

“Yes.”

Thunder boomed in the distance.

* * *

They tried to sleep that night amidst a heavy rain that came down in great sheets. The ground was half grass, half rock, and they made their camp on a patch of grass atop a hill, between two slabs of rock. The man had raised a lean-to that served to keep the rain off them.   The girl slept soundly, but rest eluded the man, who did not even bother to unpack his bedroll. Instead he kept watch, taking a whetstone to his blade. His hood was raised, and he watched for enemies in the dark.

“Have you ever met the Enemy?” the girl asked.

“No,” the man said.

“What do you think he looks like?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Can you guess?” The looked up at him, only just visible through the rain. Her eyes were wet, but from rain or tears he could not tell. “Please?”

The man laughed, shaking his head and spraying droplets of water from the ends of his hair. “I think he’s a spider,” the man said. “I think he’s some great spider, larger than large.”

“How big is that?”

“His body would blot out the sun, and he would birth a great many small spiders, and bandage them up into Swarm.”

“Only she’s can give birth,” the girl pointed out.

“Fine,” the man said. “Then the Enemy is a she.”