From The Narrator, Chapter 5

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By the time she reached the main courtyard, most of the court had turned out to greet their new king. All eyes were trained on where the road emerged from the forest two hundred yards away. Ladies were caught up in last minute primping for their bachelor king, while lords were placing bets on the exact moment he would appear. Arianna stifled a laugh. The multitude of frills and flounces reminded her of an exotic aviary.

With a few smiles and nods in the right direction, she was able to maneuver to the front of the flock. Unfortunately, she ended up at Brindon’s elbow.

At least, unfortunately for him.

Arianna pasted on her sweetest, sickliest smile — the one Father had said made her look like a feral horse. “Good morning, brother.”

He merely nodded in greeting. His lips were a thin, disapproving line, and his eyes seemed to have sunk into his skull. Not a morning person, then.

Good.

“Don’t tell me I missed the reception,” she cried, pitching her voice in an unattractive whine.

Brindon winced, and she nearly laughed in his face. Her game wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t useful, but it was oh-so-very satisfying.

“I was so looking forward to it,” she continued, digging in the vocal screws. “He promised to bring me all sorts of presents.”

“Is that so?” Brindon seemed to be trying his best to tune her out. Impatience rolled off his shoulders like rain. But his gaze never left the spot where the road left the forest.

He looked…nervous.

And why shouldn’t he be? He probably expected Endar and Quin to be rotting on the southern road, not trotting up it.

“Don’t worry,” she said gently.

The switch in her manner caught Brindon’s attention. He looked down at her and raised an eyebrow in silent question.

As dismissively as possible, Arianna turned back to her own vigil and said, “I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about you.”


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Nothing’s Where You Think It Is

The Mercator Projection

The Mercator Projection

If you read a lot of fantasy, you know how important the map can be. From Middle Earth to Westeros, maps do a great job of setting the scene. Of course, it helps that there’s no need to translate the map from a sphere to a rectangle.

(Yes, that was my flimsy attempt to segue from my interest in fantasy to my interest in this topic.)

One of my favorite West Wing episodes features the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality (OCSE), which wants the US to replace the Mercator projection (the map you’re used to seeing in textbooks and the news) with the Gall-Peters projection.

The Gall-Peters Projection

The Gall-Peters Projection

CJ: What the hell is that?
OCSE rep: It’s where you’ve been living this whole time.

As you can see, that’s a huge difference, especially in the northern hemisphere. In order to preserve straight longitudinal lines for navigation purposes, the Mercator projection distorts regions near the poles. Here’s a short article and video explaining the why and how of this distortion. For one example, see how Greenland seems to be the same size as Africa? It’s actually 14 times smaller.

But wait, you say. What does any of this have to do with social equality? Well, the OCSE also argues that the Mercator projection emphasizes the first world in the northern hemisphere over the third world in the southern. Their solution? Flip the map.

The OCSE's recommendation

The OCSE’s recommendation

CJ: But you can’t do that.
OCSE rep: Why not?
CJ: Because it’s freaking me out.

Yeah, it freaks me out too, CJ. I love that the OCSE thinks outside the box on this one, but it’d be so weird to implement after centuries of putting the northern hemisphere on the top. Let’s just switch to the Gall-Peters projection and call it a win!


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

This Post is About Subtlety

I’m a big fan of subtlety. I love paying attention to small details in a book (or movie or tv show), trying to piece together all of the breadcrumbs the author (or director) is leaving for the audience. It’s a great feeling to solve the mystery before the characters do — well, not if I solve it at the beginning of the book. Then I want to bang my head against the wall or chuck the book across the room because the characters are too stupid to figure it out. (I’m looking at you, Cassandra Clare.)

There are also hints that you don’t get until a second read through. A great example is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. His first night at Hogwarts, Harry has a dream where Quirrel’s turban is telling him that he has to switch to Slytherin. On your first read, it just reads like an anxiety dream echoing the Sorting Hat’s insistence that Harry would do well in that house. On your second read, you’re like “OMG Quirrel’s turban! It’s Voldemort!” And then once you learn about the mental bond between Harry and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix and horcruxes in Half Blood Prince, the dream takes on an entirely different tone.

Not bad for a short paragraph in the first book, eh?

Now, my writing group doesn’t seem to be as fond of subtlety as I am. For the whole first quarter of the book, every time Eustace holds something or touches something, I mention that he’s wearing gloves. It doesn’t matter if he’s riding, or eating, or reading a book — he always wears leather gloves. If this was a book I was reading instead of writing, I’d think “oh my god, he’s wearing gloves, I get it already. Stop mentioning them.”

But not a single person in my writing group noticed.

I’ve got another thread going that I doubt anyone’s picked up on. I’m using a certain phrase to note when Pennington’s just changed something. I got the idea from Princess Tutu, an anime that plays with some of the same elements that Narrator does. I’m sure my writing group would insist that it’s too subtle, but I know the phrase works because I picked up on it while watching the anime.

So do me a favor. Next time you’re reading a book, pay attention. Pay strict attention. If the author knows what she’s doing, she’s leaving breadcrumbs for you to follow — with the lightest touch or the smallest movement. If you read the end of Goblet of Fire and noticed Dumbledore’s smile of “triumph” when Harry told him what happened with Voldemort in the graveyard, you did just right.

If you didn’t…you weren’t reading carefully enough.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: Stranger Than Fiction

sflgI didn’t really like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Maybe because I’ve never been a fan of Will Ferrell. Or maybe because his character was, unlike my characters, deprived of free will.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the movie is about a (rather boring) man who discovers he’s the main character in a book being written by an author who always kills her main characters. He tries to have a less boring life and to convince her not to kill him. He only really succeeds at one of these.

He discovers that he’s in a book by being able to hear the omniscient narrator saying stuff like “little did he know” and describing his actions. (And thoughts, I think. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it.) By contrast, my characters can’t hear what the Narrator says unless he appears to them as a character. His running commentary is only visible to the reader.

But the main comparison I want to make is the relationship between the character and the author. In Stranger Than Fiction, the book takes place in the same world as the author. It’d be like me writing about you — and unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think I could pick up the book next to me and see you in it.

And her characters have no free will, they are completely at the mercy of the author. If she writes that they jump off a building, they have to comply. Unfortunately for Will Ferrell, his author is determined to finish her story and kill him — and in fact spends most of the movie trying to figure out the best way to do so. (And she’d have managed it if not for a really terrible example of deus ex machina.)

My main characters, on the other hand, are able to fight back. The author and narrator can manipulate the elements around them and control the minor characters, but they can’t dictate what Calder will say or do next.

Otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

From The Narrator, Chapter 9

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As soon as they entered the woods, the bright summer afternoon went out like a snuffed candle. The pleasant heat was replaced with a cool, damp breeze that surrounded them like a whisper. The trees pressed in on them, their trunks forcing the riders to shrink into their saddles. Low-hanging branches blocked the path, while tangled roots threatened to trip the horses.

But worse than all of that was the oppressive sense of someone watching them. Or rather, something, as if the trees watched their progress with disapproving stares. Calder wanted to confess everything he’d ever done in a vain attempt to make the judgement stop, or to curl up into a ball and close his eyes and wish all of it away.

Instead, he lifted the next branch out of his way and continued on.

After an hour of fighting the forest, Saydie grumbled, “I’m starting to think we’re not welcome.”


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.