Thursday, October 29, 2009

Get over yourself, English major! But not completely

An interesting discussion is going on over at Nathan Bransford's blog. Bransford's an agent, and he wrote a post on Tuesday reminding all of us English major types that when we write query letters, we need to Knock Off the Analysis Already. Agents don't want to read queries that talk about all the high falutin themes (love, loss, evil, capitalism) you "explore." They want to know what happens in your story. The plot. Even if your book is literary. So, I knew that, but I do need to be whacked with that reminder now and then.

But then a bunch of commenters wrote in to say that they *only* wanted to be storytellers, entertainers, light fun fluff-makers, and anyone who deals in themes at all is a pompous ass (I paraphrase). So Bransford has written another post re: no, literature is not really that democratic, and trying new, difficult stuff is good. Only, sometimes, really tough stuff doesn't sell. It's the usual problem. You are most lucky if you are good at writing gripping plots that just naturally throw off sparks of meaning as they barrel forward. If your gifts and / or ambitions are more complicated, then you have some choices to make.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Borrowed Fire: Moby Dick: The Castaway

So after several more gruesome whale slaughters, gruesome diggings around in dead whale's bodies, gruesome (although bizarrely, darkly funny) accidents in which a harpooneer falls into the head of a whale carcass that he's emptying out, and lots of whale anatomy lessons, I have arrived at what is probably my favorite passage in the whole book. People, Moby Dick is not a walk in the park! It challenges the head, heart, and stomach all at once! But I forge ahead because literature is ennobling, and because just as I'm about to give up, another stunning passage comes along.

"The Castaway" is another small story about a literally small character, which focuses the novel's cruelty and beauty to an unforgettable point. I am talking about the story of Pip, the African American child who's found himself on board the Pequod and has lately been pressed into service on the whale boats. Lowering for whales being, as we've seen, an alarming experience, Pip develops a tendency to jump out of the boat at the wrong moment. Stubb tells him that the next time he does that, they will leave him behind.

But we are all in the hands of the Gods; and Pip jumped again. It was under very similar circumstances to the first performance; but this time he did not breast out the line; and hence, when the whale started to run, Pip was left behind on the sea, like a hurried traveller's trunk. Alas! Stubb was but too true to his word. It was a beautiful, bounteous, blue day! the spangled sea calm and cool, and flatly stretching away, all round, to the horizon, like gold-beater's skin hammered out to the extremest. Bobbing up and down in that sea, Pip's ebon head showed like a head of cloves. No boat-knife was lifted when he fell so rapidly astern. Stubb's inexorable back was turned upon him; and the whale was winged. In three minutes, a whole mile of shoreless ocean was between Pip and Stubb. Out from the centre of the sea, poor Pip turned his crisp, curling, black head to the sun, another lonely castaway, though the loftiest and the brightest.

Now, in calm weather, to swim in the open ocean is as easy to the practised swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore. But the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! who can tell it? Mark, how when sailors in a dead calm bathe in the open sea-- mark how closely they hug their ship and only coast along her sides.

I will leave it to others to work through the multiple layers of Melville's lyrical racism--though that racism is part of this chapter's poignance. Pip, here, is Everyman and Other at the same time; I suspect a white child in the sea would not have generated the same creative dissonance for Melville. But just picture this: "the intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity"! Who indeed can tell it? Then comes this:

But it so happened, that those boats, without seeing Pip, suddenly spying whales close to them on one side, turned, and gave chase; and Stubb's boat was now so far away, and he and all his crew so intent upon his fish, that Pip's ringed horizon began to expand around him miserably. By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

Like the slaughtered whales, Pip is both ruined and deified. I can't decide whether to mourn or celebrate Pip's apparent insanity; in Melville's increasingly carnivalesque world, we're often doing both at once. Maybe his ascension by descension is supposed to be recompense for Stubb's (and Melville's?) cruelty to him--though Melville tells us that Stubb never meant to leave him out in the water for so long. In any case, this vision of Pip's sea change is visually and aurally beautiful. The road to hell may be paved with adverbs, as Stephen King has said, but has there ever been a better-chosen adverb than "jeeringly" here? Also, there's an amazing rhythm and alliteration to the whole passage. Just for instance: "He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it..."

So (as we land with a thud back in our practical world, in which we must extract a useful lesson from our reading), what can other writers learn from this passage? Well, the matter of "compensation" can be an interesting one to explore--a character who experiences terror or alienation or loss receives (courtesy of the author) some kind of surprising compensatory gift. (This gift may be better for the narrative than for the character himself.) Also, the excellent adverb is a ticket to heaven. Also, Pip saw God, or at least part of him, when his soul traveled to the depths.* So, writers, where do you think God resides (at the bottom of the ocean)? What's around him (coral insects)? What is God doing (weaving)? You don't have to worry about what God actually looks like if you build a convincing and amazing world around him.

*Again, Melville gets great mileage out of letting the soul leave the body and roam about--as Ahab's does at night on the deck of the Pequod.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Literature and the compassion deficit

I've been thinking a lot lately about the need to show compassion, or "mercy" as Steve Almond puts it,* to the fictional characters one creates. I've been trying to do more of that, after receiving critiques from readers that they could not relate to some of my characters. As students from my class, "Imitation of Life," know, this whole issue is an obsession of mine. The class itself grew out of the frequent comment one hears in fiction workshops, to wit, "I didn't like this character." Meaning the story needs fixing.

But it's not just writing students who say such things. Michiko Kakutani recently eviscerated Jonathan Lethem's new novel, Chronic City. Among her objections was that the main character "expects his friends to stay up all night listening to his stream-of-consciousness rants." Kakutani does not want Perkus Tooth as a friend! What a burden he would be! Whereas Gregory Cowles's review in the weekend NYT Book Review takes these "dorm-room" style rants as satire, which, I suspect, is how they were intended. This is not to say Kakutani is wrong to dislike the book. I'm I am saying that tastes differ, and expectations about what readers can and should seek from literature differ. So Lethem did not awaken mercy in Kakutani. Cowles either did not expect that awakening, or he found it in recognizing Tooth's foolishness. He did not disengage because Tooth was annoying.

Still, in consciously trying to be merciful to characters I'm satirizing in my own work, I am finding that the work becomes more complex and subtle. So this has been a good experiment thus far, and I'm learning lots. In fact, I expect this is ultimately the way to go. So why am I still resistant to the relatively simple, and it would seem moral, guideline of showing mercy? Because I still don't believe characters are equivalent to people. And if readers are seeking to find mercy in themselves, or in the world, as they are reading, what does that say about the real world? In other words, are readers turning to literature to experience the compassion that they do not experience in life? Why can we not turn to each other for compassion, and seek different experiences in literature?

But it's not for me to judge people for what they seek when they read. And perhaps what many really want from literature is something more complicated than "liking" characters or having good feelings about them. Perhaps they seek emotional challenge--to have mercy awakened for characters who are not so easy to like, and to see how that feels. It may be too risky to feel compassion for chronic complainers, freeloaders, abusers, and worse in real life. Then those people attach themselves to us, wear us down, and do considerable damage which we are well advised to avoid. So we seek guidance or practice in dealing with such people in literature, a way to go through the complex emotions and reassure ourselves that we can be merciful--even if we aren't as merciful as we'd like to be in our everyday lives.

Also this concept works better if we think of "character" in very broad outlines. It's not just representations of recognizably human beings, fitted with bodies and stamped with first names and surnames. Character could include tone and voice, so even if one's work is more abstract, it could still awaken mercy for conditions or experiences.

*H/t Kim Wyatt. Actually Almond is saying writers should awaken mercy in their readers, which implies the author is feeling it when she is writing. Here's one place Almond made the statement, a 2003 interview with Bookslut. The rest of the interview is well worth reading.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Borrowed Fire: Moby Dick: The world upside down

Well, it's happened. I've been dreading this. In Moby Dick this past week, I had to read the harrowing chapters in which a whale is graphically killed. I was much less of a softie, apparently, the last time I read this; I don't remember being particularly bothered by the cruelty on display. I guess I had my own problems back then, and / or I was just too taken with all the collapsing metaphors and writing (on) the body jazz that I just thought, "hmmm, interesting." This time I told myself I would skim the whole business and then look for something beyond it to write about. What made me most afraid, I think, was my memory (which must have really been of the workings of my own detached mind) that Melville was terribly clinical about the event. That he saw whales as inscrutable monsters, metaphors for the impenetrable cruelty of the universe--so he was only worried about what happened to the men on the hunt, so vulnerable, out in their little boats, to these forces.

Not so. If anything, "Stubb kills a whale" displays the cruelty of the hunt for all to see. The whale's torment goes on for pages, and ends thus:

And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into view! surging from side to side; spasmodically dilating and contracting his spout-hole, with sharp, cracking, agonized respirations. At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frightened air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!

"He's dead, Mr. Stubb," said Daggoo.

"Yes; both pipes smoked out!" and withdrawing his own from his mouth, Stubb scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment, stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made.

"His heart had burst!" is right out of a sentimental novel. And even the enthusiastic hunter, Stubb, is struck into (brief) contemplation of what he's done. When we first see this whale, his spout is compared to "a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon." "But," Melville adds, "that pipe, poor whale, was thy last." It is telling that by the end of the hunt, Stubb sees the same connection himself.

Before this chapter, much is made of cannibalism as a metaphor for the human--and animal--condition. In the chapter "Brit," Melville says:

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

We then get a discourse on the tangled harpoon line, leading to the conclusion that "All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks..." In retrospect, having read the murder scene, this all seems like rationalization. Are men really no different from the whales they murder? Is the sea really just as cruel, and the whales cruel (at least in the case of Moby Dick)--so that there is no individual motive or responsibility when humans kill whales? I realize I am reading with my PETA glasses on here. But still, the way Melville plays up this whale's humanity, and the fact that even experienced whale-men never quite get used to this act, seem to mean something. This scene is a horror.

It's also clear that Melville thinks it's a horror because of what happens next in the narrative. Immediately after the whale dies, Melville takes two brief chapters to describe some technical aspects of the hunt: "The Dart" and "The Crotch." He introduces "The Dart" with dry pedantry: "A word concerning an incident in the last chapter"; "The Crotch" begins similarly: "The crotch alluded to on a previous page deserves independent mention." It is as if he, like Stubb, like the readers, all need to step back and contemplate what we've made (because we've made this corpse too, if only in our imaginations). It's too much to keep going forward right now.

But then things get really weird. Stubb, as per his ritual, wants to feast on a stake cut from the carcass. As he's munching away, sharks come to take their share of the dead whale lashed to the ship's side.

Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a sea-fight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though, while the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally carving each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded and tasselled, the sharks, also, with their jewel-hilted mouths, are quarrelsomely carving away under the table at the dead meat; and though, were you to turn the whole affair upside down, it would still be pretty much the same thing, that is to say, a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties; and though sharks also are the invariable outriders of all slave ships crossing the Atlantic, systematically trotting alongside, to be handy in case a parcel is to be carried anywhere, or a dead slave to be decently buried; and though one or two other like instances might be set down, touching the set terms, places, and occasions, when sharks do most socially congregate, and most hilariously feast; yet is there no conceivable time or occasion when you will find them in such countless numbers, and in gayer or more jovial spirits, than around a dead sperm whale, moored by night to a whaleship at sea. If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.

Sharks as devils following sea battles become dogs at the dinner table; at almost the same time we're talking about slave ships--and why sharks follow them; then back to hilarious feasting, jovial spirits; then the devil once again. "If you were to turn the whole affair upside down..." Melville says, and that's exactly what he's doing here. Turning the world over, and over again, till we're all thoroughly disoriented. This is not the sort of mystical mirroring of mind and nature one finds, say, in Thoreau. All this inversion takes place on the same plane, the plane of the real world. This world is upside down, because of this killing. Things get stranger still, as Stubb calls out the old black cook, Fleece, and demands that he preach to the sharks--not to stop them from eating, but to get them to do it quietly. This Fleece does, not happily. Why preach to sharks? Who knows? It seems to be a whim of a discombobulated Stubb, or some kind of oddball punishment. Stubb complains to Fleece that the steak was too tender and suggests he won't make it to heaven for denying it. Fleece, goofy old black sage that he is, sums up the upside-downness:

"Wish, by gor! whale eat him, 'stead of him eat whale. I'm bressed if he ain't more of shark dan Massa Shark hisself," muttered the old man, limping away; with which sage ejaculation he went to his hammock.

In The Secret Agent, Conrad created horror with mundane sounds. Here, we get horror through the flipping and rolling of the world. Everything's simply crazy; so is everyone, including the narrator, who suddenly starts studying gizmos on the boat as a way of gathering himself. These seem like good ways to portray a truly awful event, its prelude and its aftermath.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Borrowed Fire: Moby Dick: There is no earthly way of finding out

This week in Moby Dick, Melville grumbles about the lousy state of whale-painting in the mid-nineteenth century. Basically, as far as he can tell, there are no good representations of whales in the world. From seventeenth-century engravings to Chinese cups to oil-dealers' street signs, artists have spectacularly failed to "catch" the whale. Even scientific drawings get it wrong: "Consider! Most of the scientific drawings have been taken from the stranded fish; and those are about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken back, would correctly represent the noble animal itself in all its undashed pride of hulls and spars."

For Melville, the whale presents a special problem for the author: it's a real animal; yet almost none of his readers have actually seen one or even an accurate picture of one. The author cannot count on a few telling details to conjure up an image in the reader's mind. The problem is also an opportunity (as are all problems, if you read management-training books, which I have; which is to say I read one a long time ago)--the whale's body is where fiction meets science, god meets flesh. The whale pushes earthly powers of representation to its limits.

At these limits, Melville (or Ishmael? Who can tell?) seems to throw up his hands once again:

For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness. So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like. And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him. Wherefore, it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your curiosity touching this Leviathan.

Melville was an imaginative guy, but he did not foresee Jacques Cousteau. Today, I'd expect few among us to say that we have no "tolerable idea" of what a whale looks like. Even though all I've ever seen with my own eyes amounts to this--

--I have no trouble picturing "whale" in my mind's eye. In today's imagination, thanks to film and TV and super-duper underwater photography, the whale has been normalized. It has also, fortunately, been (mostly) saved from extinction.

Because of these technologies, we have now become "fastidious in our curiosity" about pretty much everything in fiction. We demand to know exactly what every object, person, animal, and setting in a story looks like. Authors must create credible imagery, because today's readers are much more familiar with the flora and fauna and activities of the world, even in those parts that are very distant from us. And if we're not familiar, we can pretty easily look these things up. This pressure sometimes leads to episodes such as the one in Ian McEwan's Saturday, when we get umpteen pages of full-on brain surgery that feel, to me, more like "proof of research" than a contribution to the story.

"Show don't tell" means visual showing above all. Precise visual detail is required in fiction (as I read in some how-to-write-a-novel book, whose name or author I cannot remember now) because of film and TV have become our dominant modes of storytelling. Readers' imaginations have been so shaped by moving images that fiction that deviates from this structure now seems "wrong." I also remember Zadie Smith remarking in an interview that she had discovered, to her chagrin, that her novels contained "commercial breaks." It's the same for a lot of us who grew up watching television; I have no doubt that my sense of narrative rhythm, and my desire to put *** between paragraphs at certain points, is driven by a subconscious voice intoning, "and now a word from our sponsor."

But what would it be like, as authors, to reject--just as an exercise--this tyranny of the visual? I'm not saying don't do your research (although I am saying: don't go whaling). Is it even possible to disentangle ourselves from the movie / television / YouTube complex and structure stories on some other principle? What is different about books that were written before these things colonized our collective gray matter? Are we even capable of understanding, let alone writing stories without that filter?

I'm not at all sure, which is a little scary. But I am going to be more conscious of where film or TV or the Internet is shaping the way my stories unfold--or my expectations for others' stories. I'm a little too used to thinking I should see a story, when maybe I could experience it in some other way.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Looking for Shane McGowan

Via Jerry Stahl's "Junky List" at The Rumpus, I guess I'm glad I found this. A further pursuit of links gives one to understand that the Pogues will be at the Warfield on October 13. One is tempted...but will Shane be there? It is not entirely clear. The last time I saw the Pogues at the Warfield--which I'm horrified to realize was in 1991--he was not. His replacement was an interestingly self-effacing Joe Strummer (I suppose one would have to expect self-effacement after being parachuted in at the last minute to sing songs he probably didn't know as well as, say, "London Calling"--which they also did). Anyway that was all fine, and I'm especially glad I got to see Joe because that was the only time I ever saw him perform live; but I didn't also expect him to *die* eleven years later whereas Shane MacGowan would still be alive and kicking. I am glad to report, however, that this is the case, though I cannot confirm with absolute certainty. At Hardly Strictly on Sunday, when Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains announced they had a "surprise" in store for us, I sort of hoped they were pumping Shane with whatever fluids he required in a tent in the back, and that he would soon leap up on stage, as several other amazing people did during that concert. However, the surprise was actually either 1) Tim O'Brien (the mandolin player, not the novelist) or 2) that Sting was almost going to show up but didn't. Anyway that was all fine also. The Chieftains were fantastic.

So what is this post about? I suppose it's the incredible resilience of certain constitutions, the fact that dental hygiene is not correlated with musical genius...and *holy shit that was 18 years ago.*

Monday, October 05, 2009

Borrowed Fire: Moby Dick: Stubb's Exordium

This week in our slow progress through Moby Dick, I'd like to take another look at Melville's methods of characterization. In "The First Lowering," he uses dialog in a fascinating way to portray the minor character of Stubb. But Melville is doing more than telling us about this one guy--the characterization is really of the man in relation to his crew, what happens between them. Partly because Stubb is a minor character, this portrayal serves to tell us something about humankind generally. These revelations themselves are rather unexpected, especially in the context of the full-on pursuit of a whale:

"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little ones," drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew, some of whom still showed signs of uneasiness. "Why don't you break your backbones, my boys? What is it you stare at? Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They are only five more hands come to help us never mind from where the more the merrier. Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone devils are good fellows enough. So, so; there you are now; that's the stroke for a thousand pounds; that's the stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes! Three cheers, men--all hearts alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry-- don't be in a hurry. Why don't you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so, then:--softly, softly! That's it--that's it! long and strong. Give way there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull, can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes don't ye pull?--pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out! Here," whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; "every mother's son of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That's it--that's it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits. Start her-- start her, my silverspoons! Start her, marling-spikes!"

Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large, because he had rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially in inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions with his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief peculiarity. He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing. Besides he all the time looked so easy and indolent himself, so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly gaped-- open-mouthed at times--that the mere sight of such a yawning commander, by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew. Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them.

It's a remarkable achievement, in the middle of an action sequence (the maritime equivalent of a car chase), to bring out the subtle interplay of "fun and fury" in Stubb's tone. Almost any other author would have all the boat captains simply yelling "Go! Pull! Faster!" at their crews, and we readers would likely think that was fine. This is not the time for individuation. But the more I think about Stubb's use of "curiously ambiguous" humor to motivate his crew, the more realistic it seems.

This is one of those times when I'm reading a novel and feel certain that some actual experience of the author's is breaking through the fictional veil. Occasionally that is a bad feeling--as if the author has failed to sufficiently distance himself from that experience, so it sticks out in the narrative as a kind of unpolished lump. But here, I'm just sensing Melville's extremely close attention to real human behavior. He's not just observing Stubb's tone, but the practiced skill with which he deploys it; we understand how Stubb has, over many years, honed the fun / fury contrast to the precise razor's edge that will get the results he wants. The tone is as precariously balanced as the whale boats, and its goal is to keep the men off balance. Stubb knows that off-balance men are obedient men. They get and appreciate his humor (in what, after all, is a life-threatening situation), but they, like the reader, sense its oddness in this context. They obey him not out of fear of punishment, but of the unknown. Perhaps he is not quite in his right mind; but they have no way of knowing, and they are in no position to try to find out.

In a sense we have here the Pequod in miniature, but instead of Ahab at the helm (he is commanding his own whale boat at the same time as Stubb), we have someone else. Stubb is strange in a different way from Ahab: less threatening, perhaps, and more cunning...but when one's in the middle of a roiling sea, harpoons flying, do those distinctions really matter? Everyone, Melville seems to suggest, is under the sway of these odd, complex, funny and furious forces whose motives we can never quite discern. We obey these forces because we can't make sense of them.

This whole scene also just seems like a slightly more watery version of the typical workplace. The boss in Office Space, for instance, is also a manipulator. Of course he's portrayed as the devil, whereas Stubb's more ambiguous; and the boss is passive-aggressive where Stubb is over-the-top aggressive. Still, both have crafted a distinctive style of verbal manipulation ("Um...yeah...I'm gonna need you to come in on the weekend...") that makes their characters indelible.

So the take-away for this week is to think about how people in real life manipulate others, and how complex those strategies of manipulation can be. We can translate those interactions into our fiction, showing both sides of the equation: how one character deploys verbal power, and how and why others react to it.