The Colored Glass Effect

Writing isn’t so much like drawing a line as it is cutting and then arranging shapes of colored glass into a mosaic. A surreal, abstract mosaic, probably, but there’s the beauty of it. Because the abstract pattern could even be considered a colored shape of glass itself, and and and . . . this excites me probably more than it should. But isn’t it breathtaking?

Every important anything in a story is a piece of colored glass. Each shape takes a single idea and reflects it in fiction form. The mosaic is the medium, the go-between of the surreal and the mind’s eye.

My favorite stories are those in which you can almost feel the crystalline shapes, can hear their song of prism light. Properly exectued fairytales tend to do this very well through their idealism. Dostoevsky created this effect beautifully with his characters. Frances Hodgson Burnett accomplished it with theme, and CLAMP, when they really put their all into it, show their mastery of stained glass symbolism. Have you ever watched The Fall? That movie breathes with the effect.

What if somebody could write a story where everything felt that way, but they still managed to ground the reader in reality?

I’m going to be honest now: that is my ultimate goal. Can you imagine how beautiful that would be? Fantasy world, characters, themes, symbols, atmosphere–just everything–all color and shape and light. Still realistic at the same time, too. Crazy. Can it be done? I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Still, if I’m going to grow in this direction, I’m going to need a lot of help. And so begins my study of stories that strike me with their colored glass. Now and again, I will share my findings. It’ll be like setting out to explore a mysterious, beautiful land, where all the examined colored glass reflects into the design of the world. Hey, that’s actually kind of neat. What would Alyosha Karamazov’s character resemble as fantasy terrain?

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Phoenix Light and Dragon Fire

Eilai Sabanya: that’s “light” in my phoenix language and “fire” in my dragon language.

I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until I was eight or nine that I decided I wanted to be an auhor. My sister and I had bought identical blank books. She was writing a story in hers, and so I decided that I should write a story in mine, about my favorite, made-up character to roleplay at that time. We had created an intricate fantasy world, my sister and I. We liked to think we had created something very clever, but it was really just a melding of The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Myst, laced with glimmers of originality and fragments of more obscure movies and books.

Anyway, something new found me when I penned the first paragraph in that blank book. Previous tales had been just a medium of bringing to life the world my sister and I had claimed as our own. Writing was no more special than drawing or making stories out of songs. ┬áBut this story was different. The picture, the feeling, had to translate exactly on its way from my mind to the page. Words became living, mysterious forms that shifted with synonyms and rhythm. I could hear the tone of the characters’ voices in my head, and I could feel their pleading, silent imploration: “You are the only one who can hear us. Show them. Show them how we think, and what we feel. Show them who we are.”

The first evidence of lunacy? Absolutely. They say that those who have lost their minds do not question their sanity, and I did not question my need to answer the plea that came not only from the characters, but from the very air and magic of the fantasy world itself. I had found my calling, and there could be no turning back.

After that, I wrote almost every day. I began and abandoned more stories than I can remember until finally I paused and said to myself, “What a waste. I need to focus on something. I’m eleven years old now, and I know how to write. The next book that I start, I am going to finish and publish.”

I worked on that rough draft for a year. I did finish it, but by that time I had realized that, in fact, I had no idea what I was doing. I did not know how to write. To try to publish the mutation I had compiled would be a slander against the name of fantasy. I started a revision, but new story inspirations kept whispering in my ear, and it wasn’t long before I abandoned my book to start another.

Things went on like this for two or three years. I began four serious projects, only to abandon each in turn for a new idea. Then, finally, a concept so beautiful that I could never dream of abandoning it came to me. I started at fourteen, and trimmed and hacked and sculpted the idea for five years. Staying up until three or four in the morning, ignoring notes to cultivate ideas during lectures in school, and keeping my room a jungle wreakage of paper all became normal practices. After three re-writes, more revisions than I care to remember, and thousands of cups of tea, it was done. I had turned handfuls of compost into elegant shapes of colored glass, and I was proud.

So I began the process of sending out agent queries. Fortunately, only eleven had passed my inbox before I realized something was wrong. My story was like a table with a short leg: wobbly, distracting, unstable. I resisted the urge to smash my computer against the wall and ruminated.

The first chapter hung from the story like a sad, deflated balloon–that was obvious enough. As I wrote out what I needed to fix, other cracks in my glass sculpture revealed their ugly discoloration until I had woven through the entire story with a Plan of Attack.

And that’s where I am now, re-writing the first chapter. Five years, and it still isn’t finished. I am so sick of revision and re-writing. I can see the finished product somewhere in my head and I WANT it. Now. The only way to get there is to re-vise, and re-write and so, as much as I want to strangle them, that’s just what I’m doing.

Eilai Sabanya: phoenix light and dragon fire. That’s the only way to write. Take no shortcuts (and no prisoners). Never give up, never stop Listening, and always always always find a way to love what you’re creating. This book is going to be beautiful.

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