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The Ailos and "Sunny" story - okay, now where?

 June, 28 2011

In 2009, I wrote "Beyond the Pale," about two teenaged recruits who abandoned Pelargir. One was from Harad, one from Lebennin. In 2011, for B2MEM, I tried expanding their sto


In 2009, I wrote "Beyond the Pale," about two teenaged recruits who abandoned Pelargir. One was from Harad, one from Lebennin. In 2011, for B2MEM, I tried expanding their story. Still trying to figure out how to do so successfully. Wanna help?

Hi Starlight!

Lots of things to think about here....

What was more difficult for me to follow were the nuances of haradric ritual, but I wonder if you did that on purpose to better convey Ailos' perplexity [...] I think the dual point of view really enhances the emotion and, bit by bit, reveals the full story to the reader

These two points go together in my mind. Because I'm committed to the two of them having no common language, each perspective is very much locked into itself. Jhanar will not make sense to Ailos or the reader who occupies Ailos's perspective. Ideally, Ailos seen through Jhanar's eyes would be as opaque, although I know that's probably not going to work as well, since Gondor is the default point of identification for readers because we share his background rather than Jhanar's.

That makes those nuances of Haradric ritual accessible only if I can switch to Jhanar's perspective; the difficulty there is that to him, those are precisely what are most transparent, most familiar, and least likely to be explicitly articulated in his mind, in the level of detail readers might like or even need.

So I need to find some way of balancing out the needs of Jhanar's perspective - he should not, and cannot in 100 words, be giving us data dumps all the time; he has to be "solid" in his own perspective, which means he has to see through it and act through it without the story being structured as an explanation - and the needs of readers who cannot be expected to operate strictly on inference to an imaginary culture. Using Ailos to show Jhanar from the outside lets me set up certain things - like praying facing the sun, or cutting off his hair and keeping a braided lock of it as a sign of bondage - and spreads out the data-dump, so that by the time a later drabble gets around to saying what those actions mean, the reader has been waiting for those explanations, but I'm not sure whether that will work every time. I'm not sure whether it's worth it to be that consistent about it, either.

So clarity is an issue - or rather, clarity, and the right amount of obscurity and indefiniteness, given the situation.

Another problem that the non-communicating perspectives leaves me with is that Jhanar's perspective is really, really internal. That fits thematically - he is trapped in himself in a strange land. However, it can kind of get old, and I need to figure out what the major waypoints are for his developmental arc. Obviously, they're both looking for some peace and a new life, and having a hard time of it. Jhanar's so much stuck in himself, however, and from Ailos's more active perspective, he's such a cipher, that he's at risk of being very, very passive and dependent.

I'd like him to have his own moment of strength - one that registers as such, and that won't leave him looking like the one needing to be rescued at every turn. I don't want his character to pose all the problems, while Ailos finds ways to work them out. Objectively, yes, he is more vulnerable because he's not on his home turf and doesn't know the lay of the land, geographical or cultural, but I still need him to be an agent at some point, to shake things up and let Ailos fall apart. I'm not sure what form that will take yet, though.

I'd also like for him to make Ailos seem strange to us every so often, so that readers are shaken out of the Gondor-identification. So far, I haven't figured out a way to do that...

I was a little confused by Sunny's not speaking. I assumed it must be a question of honor, i.e. he is a deserter and has no honor, should not speak...

I'd actually been thinking I might play it that way, that he's in mourning. It also works well enough with the idea that he feels he's threatened with becoming a stone, and the bid to avoid that fate comes when he gives himself over to Ailos - it's after that point that he starts speaking, even a little.

Ultimately, I wasn't sure which one I wanted, I think because I'm also not totally sure of Jhanar's status. Had he ever thought he would be a warrior? Is it a trade in his family? Or is he just one of the many who was old enough to be impressed into the village levy when Sauron sent his call to arms out?

Depending on the answer to that question, three days of self-imposed silence may be more or less appropriate.

As for deciding on that question... as much as I like the idea that he and Ailos are more or less equal in terms of where they fall in the hierarchies of their respective societies, the idea that Jhanar might be a young man from the warrior class who just couldn't cut it when the sh*t hit the fan might be more interesting.

I confess that I am geographically-challenged (in real life as well as virtually) so I cannot offer any useful commentary regarding that

Currently, I have them staggering south down the Anduin for a few days, and then turning west to pick up the road, because Ailos doesn't think he can handle dragging Jhanar over rough terrain and swimming him across the streams that feed into or emerge from Anduin.

However, I've been wondering whether there's some merit to them stumbling upon some kind of little farm-let by the Anduin and stealing a raft or something so they can drift down to Pelargir (which is otherwise a very long walk for someone with a leg injury, and even longer when there isn't much food).

What are your thoughts about the ending now?

Still too vague to be of use, despite pretty images of the sea... :-)

I mean, who goes back to help an enemy the way Ailos did? Who has the courage to follow the way he has been taught even though it brands him an outcast for all to see who can, like Sunny did? I

Mm. I can see how they would read that way. I'm trying, though, to tone the heroism down a bit. They're sort of at the mercy of raw sensibility. It's different for Ailos, when he stops himself from leaving Jhanar, or stops himself from beating him or killing him in Beyond the Pale, than it would be for, say, Aragorn or Boromir to do something like that. They're more in control, more able to respond to the situation from a position of strength. They're capable of acting intentionally against impulse and other forces. These two characters, not so much.

For that reason, I'd also like their relationship to be rockier, a little more brutal towards each other. They may be stuck with each other, and they may on some level be unable to abandon each other to die, but I think they should probably have their moments of total hatefulness toward each other, the full brunt of which is only spared because they can't understand the words coming out of each other's mouths. Over time, they can grow into supporting each other voluntarily, but for at least some time, I think they'd have some pretty awful growing pains in their relationship.

How far to go with that is another question I've been pondering. One thing that's hard for me with this pair is that yeah, it's a story about two young men who have been taught to view each other as enemies. And my impulse is to play this up, to push it to the point of getting at the sort of xenophobia that makes our own racial prejudices sit uncomfortably. However, if I go that far, Jhanar cannot just sit there and take it; at some point, he has to say no, but I'm not sure what his resources are for saying, "I'm not putting up with this!"

Also, I'm not sure whether we need another story where the Northwesterners kick the crap out of the Southeasterners. It's sort of like reading yet another 19th century male author's story in which a woman is victimized by one or more men. So I'm conflicted on this point, which is sadly not a small point! Don't know what your opinion is on that issue...

And, as the woman (is she really Jhanar's sister?) says at the end: men sometimes must be Men.

She's not his biological sister, she's speaking religiously, and trying to give him something to hold onto. If Jhanar has any biological sisters, they're all in Harad somewhere.

Good luck with all your projects and work!

Bleee.... Thanks! :-)

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