Category Archives: curriculum

World Building

My oldest son has taken to writing, and he’s been quizzing me on world building. Most of what I learned about the process came from the late, great Dr. Douglass Parker. I feel so fortunate to have been mentored by him.

Anyway, taking a page from my parageography studies, I had told my son to first make a map and, if so inclined, a language. Then write some texts in that language. I think doing so—writing texts for the world your building, that is—requires you to have or create a sense of said world. When I was creating AElit with Dr. Parker, I wrote a book of proverbs in AElitian, as well as some play fragments, prayers, and the first couple chapters of their holy book. The AElitians, as it turned out, were very religious.

My son asked, “After you’ve drawn a map and made a language, what do you do?” Um . . . World building is no light thing. You basically have to create an existence as full as our reality. So I gave my son some things to consider:

  • What is the political structure of this world? Who runs things and by what authority? Are there elected officials? Is there a king? A noble class? Some combination of these things?
  • What are the natural resources? Is this a farming/pastoral society? If so, what’s the system for land ownership? Is there mining? If so, for what? Which leads me to
  • How does currency work? Is this a bartering society? Is power defined by wealth? Say there is a mining culture and various colored gemstones—are the different colors worth different amounts? How rare are any of them?
  • Are these people religious? If so, how religious? Do the priests hold power? Do they actually run the world? What is the belief system?
  • If there’s magic, how does it work? Is it learned or inherited? Is it considered good or evil? Do they burn witches, exile them, revere them? Is there a correlation between power and magic, religion and magic?
  • Basic things: animals, plants, modes of transportation. Clothes—where do they come from, how are they made? How technologically advanced is this world? Do they have, say, watches? A calendar? Two suns? Do they read? Do they have art? What do they eat? What is an average day for an inhabitant of this world—do this for each class, or at the very least each main character. After all, a story starts when someone’s average day is disrupted. So what’s an average day?
  • The terrain. It may form natural boundaries that make a difference in your world. In AElit, for example, a ridge of mountains separates the AElitians from the D’robeans. While the AElitians are very religious, the D’robeans are not. Being exiled to D’robe is considered the worst thing that can happen to an AElitian, as D’robe is godless. How does geography work in your world?

Obviously this is not a complete list, just some things to consider when world building. And when you write, you probably won’t put most of this in your book. But it’s important to know anyway, to be thorough, because it shows when you write, even if you aren’t being explicit. An author who knows his or her world—it shows. The confidence comes through in the writing. It’s the difference between telling someone about a place you’ve visited—maybe even lived—versus a place you only kind of know about or read about somewhere once. LIVE in your world for a while. Even if you’re eager to start writing, don’t until you know your world inside and out.

Show Don’t Tell

My daughter’s teacher asked me to come talk to the kids (third graders) about writing, specifically “show don’t tell.” As a writer, I know when I’m being told rather than shown something. But how do you teach that?

“Tell me a story.” Well, no. We don’t really want to be told stories, we want to be shown them. When I write a play or film script, I don’t have to worry so much about the showing versus telling because I know the end result will be a “show” of some kind. The actors and director will do the showing. But when writing a story or novel, I have no actors, directors, wardrobe people. I have to take a picture that is in my head and put it in someone else’s head using only words. (Well, and hopefully a great cover artist.)

Here is what I told the kids: “We have five senses. And we need to use them all in our writing. We need for the reader to not only know in his or her head, but in his or her heart too. They need to be connected to the main character and the story and feel like they are right there with them.”

Then I gave them this story that I’d written the night before:

Emilie lives on the planet Rigel with her mother, father, brother, and dog. One morning she woke up late and had to rush to get ready for school. She ate her breakfast on the way to school. When she got to school, she realized she had forgotten her science homework. Her teacher made her redo it during recess. Emilie didn’t get to play. After school she went to ballet class and realized she had also forgotten her shoes. She had to sit and watch the other students practice, and her teacher lectured her in front of everyone about being more responsible. By the time Emilie got home, she was ready for the day to be over. She ate dinner, did her homework, and went to bed early so she would not be late again.

It’s all tell. There’s probably a perfectly good story in there, but we don’t know anything about Emilie. How old is she? We only know she goes to school. For someone living on another planet, her world seems an awful lot like ours. We can feel sorry for Emilie in a way, but we don’t feel sorry for Emilie because we aren’t connected to her or her frustration or disappointment or any other emotion she might have due to all this happening to her.

The kids went to town. We talked about the sounds and smells that could be added as details. “Let’s hear the alarm clock and smell the breakfast,” I suggested. “Let’s hear the other kids playing and see the sunlight coming through the window of the classroom where Emilie is stuck working.” We talked about dialogue that might give us a better feeling of how Emilie is feeling. “The way a person talks tells us a lot about them. Instead of just knowing there was a lecture, what if we heard it as dialogue?” The kids mentioned wanting to see more action, use more verbs and adjectives. We diverted into world building for a bit and discussed how to show that Emilie lives on another planet (“Is she human or an alien?” one kid asked, a valid question)—or maybe the writer should just change the setting to Earth if it’s going to be so much like Earth anyway. The kids had lots of great ideas and comments, and I was glad they were so engaged in the activity.

“Show don’t tell” is something we hear a lot, and we all sort of know when a writer is telling rather than showing, but it’s helpful—even to someone like me who has been writing forever—to be reminded, and to boil it down a bit.

  • Remember that writing means taking a picture in your head and putting it in someone else’s
  • Use all five senses when writing
  • Use dialogue to help show character
  • Use active verbs
  • Use adjectives
  • Provide details so readers feel like they can see and be there

Sure, there’s such thing as too much detail, but it’s always easier to take stuff out than go add it back in.

What are your rules for showing rather than telling? And if you’re not a writer, have you ever run into a book that you felt was too tell-y? That talked at you rather than involving you in the story? On the other hand, what books have you read that pulled you in?

Book Club Discussion Questions for Peter

I’ve had some book club friends mention they might like to bring The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller to their groups. Great! That would be awesome! And I’m happy to participate in book club gatherings, via Skype or FaceTime or Google Hangouts if you’re not within driving distance. Just go click on that Contact button at the top of the page and send me a note.

And in the interest of clubs, classrooms, and other readers, I’ve also come up with some discussion questions to get the ball rolling. Feel free to come up with your own topics too, of course. Use that same Contact button to ask me questions if you have any. I like hearing from you!

Plus, keep an eye on the sidebar to the right. You’ll see I’m compiling links related to Peter, and I’ll be adding new ones as they come along. So check back!

Thanks again for being readers. I would be a writer even if there weren’t readers, but it’s a lot more fun and rewarding when there are.

TBT: Parageography Outline #6

Been awhile since I did any of these. And if you’re wondering what “these” are, I’ve been transcribing outlines from Dr. Douglass Parker’s Parageography course. He was a wonderful man and a fabulous mentor of mine, always encouraging my writing. It was in his class that I planted the seeds for what would become my Master’s thesis.

World of Order/World of Mess
Two Hellenistic Voyages,
One South, One North
Iambulus: The Islands of the Sun
Antonius Diogenes: The Wonders Beyond Thule

                        …For given Man, by birth, by education
                        Imago Dei who forgot his station,
                        The self-made creature who himself unmakes,
                        The only creature ever made who
                        With no more nature in his loving smile
                        Than in his theories of a natural style,
                        What but tall tales, the luck of verbal playing,
                        Can trick his lying nature into saying
                        That love, or truth in any serious sense,
                        Like orthodoxy, is a reticence?

—W. H. Auden,
“The Truest Poetry Is the Most Feigning”

I. Varying the ODYSSEY I: Iambulus, The Islands of the Sun
   A. Genre A: Geographical Fantasies
   B. Genre B: The verisimilitudinous voyage extraordinaire
   C. The Receding Periphery: Terra Australis Incognita
      1. ¿Sri Lanka? ¿the Seychelles?
   D. Hellenistic Utopianism: better, better, better. . . .
   E. Improving on Nature: Regular is Best
      1. Flora
      2. Fauna
      3. Mores
   F. Odyssean Motifs
      1. Skheria², or, Men Like Gods
      2. Ever the voyage
      3. The Excluded Hero
   G. Law, say the gardeners, is the sun. . . [Auden again]

II. Varying the ODYSSEY II: Antonius Diogenes, The Wonders Beyond Thule
   A. Genre: The Greek Novel, or, The Voyage ‘Round the Horny
      1. Boy, is this a sidzhuazhun!
      2. “Picaresque” is hardly the word
   B. The Receding Periphery: Terra Septentrionalis Incognita
      1. Known: The Achievement of Pytheas of Massilia
      2. But Not Well-Known: The Intransigeance of the Old Adam
   C. How to Set Chaos in Order
      1. “‘”‘What? he said,” she said,’ he said,” she said. . .
         [Variant: “‘”‘What?‘”‘” she said. . .
      2. Theme, theme, who’s got the theme? or, Life in Death
   D. The improbably missing kitchen sink
   E. Versimilitude Above All
      1. The Paradox of Removal: The more handled, the more believable
      2. MS found in a chest [if not a bottle]…
   G. Odyssean Motifs
      1. The Enemy
      2. Subcivilizations
      3. The Underworld on Uppers
      4. Westward Ho! and, Off the Map! to Wonders
   H. Routes: Roundabout and roundabout and roundabout I go. . . .
         —A. A. Milne
   I. Geographical Space)(Textual Space, or, Lettered Labyrinth, or,

The frame-structure of Antonius Diogenes’
Wonders Beyond Thule

 I’m writing a story for my sister, and have proof: this letter I’m sending her:
   Dear sister: I have discovered an ancient letter:   [XII]
     Dearest wife: While Alexander was in Tyre, some tablets were
     discovered in a curious graveyard. There were puzzling grave-markers,
     and also a set of tablets:
      [Tablets buried with DERKYLLIS…   [X]
       Covered with a version
       written by ERASINIDES.of a. . .]¹
        Tale told to KYMBAS (who kept a copy)   [X]
         in the city of TYRE by DEINIAS
           1. The Circumnavigation: Arcadia to Tyre   [II]
           1. Own: Tyre to Hell   [III]
           2. Own: Spain and Gaul   [IV]
           3. Own: Gaul, Sicily, Italy   [V]
            3a. Mantinias’ Story   [V]
           4. Own: Thrace   [VI]
           5. Own: Thule   [VII]
          C. AZOULIS’ STORY   [VIII]
           1. The Wonders Beyond Thule   [IX]
           2. To Tyre: Winding it up   [IX]
           3. And writing it down   [X]

III: Another Text:
   A. What is truth, said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer….
         —Francis Bacon, Of Truth
   B. On the other hand, what is fiction?

¹This is the logical place. As read—or, let us say, encountered—this parenthesis is the last item, D.3 infra

TBT: Parageography Outline #5

(In the course packet, this is actually #4. That’s because the first “outline” I posted was really just the syllabus. So now my numbers are off by one.)

P. Vergillius Maro: AEneid 3–8,
Onward to
Wherever it may be
[not to mention Whenever]

When our objectives become unclear,
we redouble our efforts.

[misquoted and misapplied
from George Santayana]

I. The Hand-Tooled, Leather-Embossed PATRIOTIC EPIC!

II. The Defamiliarization of the Known

III. The Voyage: Through Confusions to CERTAINTY
     A. Italian non sponte sequor. . .
     B. Landfalls of the Voyage: A Chart of Events/Places
          1. AEneadae/AEneia – Founding
          2. Delos – Prophecy
          3. Crete: Pergamum – Founding, Prophecy
          4. Strophades – Prophecy
          5. Leucata/Actium
          6. Buthrotum – surrogate Founding, Prophecy
          7. [Acro]Ceraunia
          8. Castrum Minervae
          9. Sicily: Etna
          10. Sicily: Drepanum – Prophecy
          11. Carthage – surrogate Founding
          12. Sicily: Segesta – Founding, Prophecy
          13. Italy: Cumae – Prophecy
          14. Sub-Italy: Underworld – Prophecy
          15. Italy: Laurentum
          16. Italy: Pallanteum – surrogate Founding
     C. A not too legible MAP of the Wanderings of AEneas
     D. Prophecies
          1. Creusa [Troy]
          2. Apollo [Delos]
          3. the Penates [Pergamum]
          4. Celaeno [Strophades]
          5. Helenus [Buthrotum]
          6. Anchises I [Drepanum]
          7. Sibyl [Cumae]
          8. Anchises II [Underworld]
          9. AEneas’ Shield [en route to Etruria]
     E. The Impelled Voyage: Heaven’s Workers
          1. Juno
          2. Venus
          3. Jupiter
          4. Neptune
          5. Apollo
          6. Mercury
          7. the Sibyl
     F. Names on the Land: Geographical AEtiology [a sampling]
          1. Palinurus
          2. Misenus/Misenum
          3. Caieta
     G. The Odyssey Revisited…or Not, As the Case May Be
          1. Ithaca & environs
          2. Scylla & Charybdis
          3. The Cyclopes
          4. Circe
     H. Patterns
          1. Troy destroyed = Carthage destroyed = Carthage destroyed2
          2/ Troy restored = Pergamum [Crete] = Buthrotum = Acesta/Segesta = [eventually] ROME [the original] = [inevitably] ROMA NOVA
          3. The Voyage as Labyrinth
               a. The Troy Game on Sicily [Acesta]
               b. The Doors as Cumae
               c. The Underworld
               d. Hercules & Cacus beneath the Aventine
IV. The Double Vision of Space in Time: Past = Present
     A. Thanks to Apollonius?
     B. The Catalogue of Italians in Book Seven
     C. Actium Previewed: Two Versions of a Watershed
          1. The Games in Three
          3. The Shield in Eight [see VI below]
     D. Pallanteum: AEneas at the Site of Rome in Book Eight
          1. A rather more legible MAP of Pallanteum/Rome
V. The Love of Venus and Vulcan1
     A. Where’s the Net?
     B. Gravitas and Decorum
VI. With the Future on His Arm…
     A. What’s a Shield For?
     B. Purpose and Prophecy
     C. Ways of Winning
     D. To Reiterate in Conclusion, THEN must = NOW

1 If not very ParaGeographical, this section does demonstrate certain of Vergil’s problems and solutions. There is an analogy to be made; all it takes is a wee bit of determination in the application. It also sets up the next, more important item.


A note re: my formatting for these outlines. I’m doing my best to keep Doc’s variations in typeface sizes and such, all his bolding and underlining, but one thing I am not doing is Æ and æ . . . There’s just so much of it . . . And I trust you all to be smart enough to know Doc would always use ligatured letters. He was a professional, after all.

TBT: Build-a-Sprach

The second assignment given to us by Dr. Parker was to design a language for our fictional world. Below is the text from the assignment sheet:

Design and Construct a
for Fun & Profit
in the Privacy of
Your Very Own

…which is to say, create a language of your very own, or of Your Land’s very own. Look on this as spadework for the Esemplastic Telos. You need all the preparation you can get….

Which goes to show, I have only your best interests at heart. Remember that.

Let me set up The Format, or at least A Suggested Format. Since what I want to see is [a] a description of the language and [b] some examples of it in use, let me propose the sort of orientation that hunts Phrase-Books. You know, the things for tourists. What you, O basic tourist, might well get is:

1. A brief statement—after all, your basic tourist is not much of a linguist—on the nature of the language which we shall call GLOT: how many speakers, relation to other languages, necessity for knowing at least a smidgin of the wretched thing in order to avoid being eviscerated on your first trip to the Old Quarter…that sort of thing.

2. Presentation of GLOT’s alphabet, or syllabary, or a cheery little not followed by, say, the 1000 most useful characters. Usually, pronunciation [or at least equivalence] guides accompany this.

3. The phrase book proper, with GLOT phrases confronted by their English equivalents. These are generally grouped under subject heads, for easy reference:

[Again, that sort of thing.]

Anyway, I would strongly suggest that some such format hold your invented language. The phrase-book is nice because it compels you, as it were, to do the necessary stuff, and doesn’t require any agony to be spent figuring out how to convey all the information.

[And here my handwritten notes include:

Eating: Why is it still moving?
A night at the theatre: Why is that woman screaming? Are those live sheep?]

At the same time, it allows you to engage in al sorts of fringe activities, from Defining Your Land’s Culture to—let me whisper this—satire…

Not that you have to do it this way. I mean, you could give me the text of a lyric poem, accompanied by an English translation and copious exegetical notes; I wouldn’t mind. But there would have to be an introductory statement about the language around somewhere.

Anyway, here’s some Bibliography for ParaLinguistics:
Barnes, Myra Edwards. Linguistics and Languages in Science Fiction-Fantasy.
Knowlson, James. Universal Language Schemes in England and France 1600-1800.
Meyers, Walter E. Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction.
Watson, Ian. “Towards an Alien Linguistics.” in The Book of Ian Watson.
Yaguello, Marina. Lunatic Lovers of Language: Imaginary Languages and Their Inventors.
Delany, Samuel. Babel-17.
Vance, Jack. The Languages of Pao.
Watson, Ian. The Embedding.
Allan, Jim, ed. & comp. An Introduction to Elvish/and to other tongues and proper names and writing systems of the third age of the western lands of middle earth as set forth in the published writings of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
Noel, Ruth S. The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.
Okrand, Marc. The Klingon Dictionary; English/Klingon, Klingon/English. “Based on the Klingon language in STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK.” repr. w/ addendum, “Including New Material from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and STAR TREK VI!”

Two Useful Klingon Phrases:

Where can I get my shoes cleaned?

nuqDaq waqwIj vllamHa’choHmoH

pronounced, roughly:
NOOK-dak WAK-wij vi-lam-KHA -chokh-mokh

Four thousand throats may be cut in one night by a running man.

qaStaHvIS wa’ram loS SaD Hugh SIjlakh getbogh loD

pronounced, roughly:
KASH-takh-vish wa ram losh shad khoogh SHIJ-lakh KEET bogh lod

Some Variant Englishes:
1] From Russel Hoban, Riddley Walker:

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly been the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he weernt all that big plus he lookit poorly.

2] from Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange:

Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need for the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swinm in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do th ultraviolent on some shivering starry grey-haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till’s guts.

3] from L. Sprague deCamp, The Wheels of If: [article from The Niu Belfast Sooth]

At a laet aur jestrdai nee toocan had be faund of yi mising Bisjap Ib Scoglund of yi Niu Belfast Bisjapric of yi Celtic Cristjan Tjörtj, hwuuz vanisjing a wiik agoo haz sterd yi börg. Cnicts sai yae aar leeving nee steen ontörnd in yair straif to faind yi hwarabauts of yi mising preetjr, hwuuz lösti swing on bihaaf of yi Screlings haz bimikst him in a fiirs yingle scofal…

Time to get hot on your GLOT.

Turce Murila,

As for my GLOT, you’ll find most of the samples and examples I turned in over on Arrows of Anteros. Here is a prayer to the beloved god Durandios. And here the first few verses from the holy book. There is much more: a list of the AElitian high priests and some common proverbs (part of this entry, as are some fragments from theatricals), along with a dictionary-like list of words, and then, too, the actual alphabet which Dr. Parker urged me to have made into a working computer font. I got an “A” on the project with the following note from dear Doc:

Impressive in variety and sheer amount of words. Quite impressive overall. Enough to give me the belief (as one believes for fiction) that the rest is there. I might carp about the absence of a quasi-official statement that would place AElitian and, incidentally, give more information about the place—but what you’ve given me is so substantial that I’ll wait for amazement. Fine. The examples read very well.

TBT: Parageography Outline #4

I know you’ve all been waiting for more of these, right?

Apollonius of Rhodes: The Voyage of Argo,
There are Nearly Back Again,
Hitting the Hinterlands with Half a Hundred Hunks,
Cruise to the Crimea for Fun and Profit!

I. A Pithy Restatment of the Course’s Aims and Procedures

He had bought a large map
      representing the sea,
   Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased
      when they found it to be
   A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s
      North Poles and Equators,
   Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry:
      and the crew would reply,
   “They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes
      with their islands and capes!
   But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank
(So the crew would protest)
      that he’s bought us the best—
   A perfect and absolute blank!”

–Lewis Carroll
The Hunting of the Snark, Fit II

I.* Apollonius of Rhodes and Parageographical Sophistication
     A. Tradition and Reality as Limits
          1. The Odyssey previsited
               a. Aeaea [Aiaia] = Aea2 [Rieu, p. 165]
               b. The Sirens at Anthemoessa [171]
               c. Scylla & Charybdis [Skylla & Kharybdis] [172]
               d. Thrinacia [Thrinakie] [173]
               e. Wedding at Drepane [=Skheria=Kerkyra=Corcyra=Corfu**] [178]
          2. Dealing with the Known: Phineus’ Exhaustive Prophecy [79–84]
          3. The Traveller’s Guide to the Black Sea
               a. The Thermodon River [99]
               b. Missing the Amazons [100]
               c. The Chalybes [100]
               d. The Tibareni [101]
               e. The Mossynoeci [102]
          4. Dealing with the Unknown Known1: Book 4
               a. Europe
               b. Africa
          5. And, as for the Really Unknown….
     B. AEtiology: TIME Gets Into Space
          1. A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far. . . .
          2. Ktiistic Legends, e.g.:
               a. The Apsyrtians [160]
               b. The Temple of Concord on the Island of Thynias [92–3]
               c. Calliste [104]
          3. Forerunning the Odyssey [as in III.A.1 above]
               a. Scheria once again. . . or, rather, once before
          4. Curious Result: The temple-studded landscape
     C. The Voyage Itself: Structure
          1. The Foci of the Ellipse: From Aea to Aea2
               a. Well, actually, it’s inaccurate to call them Foci
               b. And it’s rather as though there were Two Ellipses. . .
               c. . . . better make that Three
          2. Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Incidence of Marvels
          3. Unlikely Expansions
               a. Po and Portage
                    [1] Into Darkest Europe
                    [2] Hoist that Boat!
               b. Rechauffées
               c. Technology
               d. Mentalism
     D. Knowing the Territory: Two Examples
          1. The Syrtis Affair [pp. 180 ff.]
               a. Confusion of Realms
               b. Moral Space: The Effect of Landscape
          2. The Distressing Affair at Bear Mountain [pp. 62–4]
               a. The Other Side
               b. The Night Side
               c. Moral Space: The Effects of Landscape and Time
     E. Variations on the Themes
          1. Amechania and the anti-hero
          2. Amis de voyage
          3. Here there bee Dragons
          4. The Garden of Aeëtes
          5. Confusion compounded
          6. Sex rears its many heads: (R & R)n
          7. The landscape of Olympus
          8. And what about Apollo?
     F. Not-so-brave-new-world
          1. Altered Nature
          2. . . . and more than Nature, Art
          3. Witchcraft
          4. How beastly the bourgeois is. . . .
     G. Disturbing Limits: The World in a Bell Jar
          1. The crack in the dome [181]
          2. Happily Never After [195]
Time PerspectiveII. Looking Backward, 275 BC–1200 BC
     A. Fascinating Arcs, and all that, but what do they mean? [And why is the diagram openended, so to speak?]
          1. Treating the Mythic Past
               a. The Past as Present
               b. The Past as Future
               c. The Future as Past
               d. The Past as Non-Existent
               e. The Past as Spectacle
          2. The Role of NOW
          3. Intertextual Complexities
          4. And so, the not quite hermetically sealed Bell Jar:
               Happy, happy, happy pair,
               None but the brave,
               None but the brave,
               None but the brave deserve the fair….

III. Some other vresions of the ARGONAUTIKA for the curious
     A. Pindar, Pythian IV [5th BC]
     B. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica [late 1st AD]
     C. “Orpheus,” Argonautica [4th AD]
     D. William Caxton, The Historye of Iason [1470?]
     E. William Morris, The Life and Death of Jason [1867]
     F. Robert Graves, Hercules, My Shipmate [1945]
     G. John Gardner, Jason and Medeia [1973]
     H. Tim Severin, The Jason Voyage [1985]
IV. An Attempt at Getting the Argo’s Voyage on a Single Page:
Argo Voyage
* Yes, Doc Parker used I. twice, so I’ve left it true to the original.
** I went to Corfu the summer after taking this course and could only keep thinking it was the island from the myths . . .

1 To distinguish it from Asia Minor, the Known Unknown

TBT: Good Wife’s Guide

Having inundated you with parageography of late (look back a couple days for a parageographical writing prompt if you must), I’m going a little lighter this week for Throwback Thursday. This is an article from Housekeeping Monthly dated 13 May 1955. I used it with my Shakespeare students when we were studying Taming of the Shrew. The title of the article: “The good wife’s guide”

•Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.
•Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
•Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
•Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.
•Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper etc and then run a dustcloth over the tables.
•Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
•Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.
•Be happy to see him.
•Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
•Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
•Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.
•Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquillity where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.
•Don’t greet him with with complaints and problems.
•Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.
•Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
•Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
•Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
•A good wife always knows her place.

You can imagine how amusing my students (ages 10–14, roughly) found all this! But it opened up good conversations about why, exactly, Taming of the Shrew is considered a comedy when it largely consists of Petruchio abusing Kate. I’ve found Shakespeare to be a good starting point for a lot of serious discussions with teens: heartbreak, suicide, forms of abuse within relationships, relationship problems in general, family problems . . . Literature makes a lot of these topics “safe” because the kids can disguise their personal concerns within the context of “the story.” You just have to lead them into the work so that they connect and identify with that story and the characters. You have to bring it in close to them. Shakespeare—and a lot of literature—seems very far away to young readers. Sometimes it’s the language that creates the gulf, and sometimes it’s just preconceived prejudice, but that’s the big obstacle. Once you bridge it, the kids often really get into it. And that’s fabulous to witness.

Katabatick Ekphrasis

In tandem with the Throwback Thursday parageography posts, I’ve decided to also include a number of the assignments from the course. These are, I’ve found, particularly good creative writing assignments. The first was (as this post is titled) the “Katabatick Ekphrasis,” which means “underground description.” As Doc Parker put in a footnote on said assignment:

“Description-that-has-to-do-with-a-descent…” “Describing in detail an underground locale of surpassing strangeness, or eeriness, or unquotidianity that you have, well, experienced somewhere, somehow.”

The assignment was to be 1000 words.

Per the assignment handout:

Basic Specifications:

1. This the Course’s first and only RealWorld item. In conception—and, it is hope, in execution—it’s not basically a creative assignment: Don’t Make Something Up.

2. A quick duedate. But this is also diagnostic, and Your P & G needs info quickly.

3. You are to describe a place Underground—not, by any means, a usual place, or everyday place where normal life normally goes on in a normal fashion. No, not that. Treat an exceptional spot, one encountered only rarely in the usual business of living.

4. On the other hand, it should be A Place You Are Familiar With, Somehow. Somewhere that you have not read about, or not merely read about, but seen. The old English-teacher ukase—”Write about things you know, dear”—applies here.

5. Describe it in considerable Detail. Your first 750 words are to be spent in telling, with searching precision, What The Place Looks Like. [Diagrams and other visual aids are acceptable and even encouraged, but will not affect the Word Count.]

6. After the description comes what we shall call The Fourth Page—the last 250 words—where you may spread yourself and tell how and why this place is unusual—arcane, horrifying, comforting, challenging, eerie, or whatever, but unusual. Here association and attitude count for a great deal.

7. Some suggestions for places you might know and use: Basement; Mineshaft; Subway; Cave; Sewer; Heating Tunnel; Bankvault; Rootcellar; Hell—but only if you’ve been there.


“Please, Sir, why and how are we doing this?” A logical question. Okay; first the Whys:

1. Successful ParaGeography is not merely a pileup, a listing, an agglomeration of improbable sites. It depends for meaningful achievement on the thorough conception and realization of those sites, on MicroCreation as well as Macro-Creation. The Critical Effusion will treat of a Macro; this is to be your first Micro.

2. Not wholly Your Very Own, of course. It’s to be an RW place. Later on, especially in the minicreation, you will find yourself building a small site. But the technique of description—and especially description without narrative—is something that has to be developed and refined. Hence this assignment, which seems a rather large description of what may be a rather small place.

Which leads us, logically enough, to the Hows:

1. As specified, 750 words on description; then 250 on assessment. You may find the first part somewhat of a strain, especially if the Underground Locale is [a] very small or [b] very large. Well, [a] is probably the more intriguing option: it means you’ll have to dig down (so to speak), there. But [b] has its thorny bits, too: how to get it all in? Of course, Your Guide is elastic about upper limits—but he has his little foibles, and he has to read all of these, and you wouldn’t want to infuriate him right off the bat, now, would you? So, there’ll be picking and choosing and aiming for the significant details, &c., &c.

2. Witness a query from a member of the class of—?when? 1988?: “I once was lost in some caves, and I used to play in a sewer pipe. Which should I pick for this assignment?” My initial reaction was the Caves; the Pipe seemed quite challenging. As it turned out, this student, and one other, chose the sewer pipe…with lovely [if that’s the word] results.

3. TFP—the last quarter of the CatEc, The Fourth Page as might be [=250 words], where you set forth the outré nature of your spot—should be The Fun Part. Fear of the Dark? Lovecraftian Things in an unspeakable interior? Trolls that slaver Underneath? The buried antiquity of earlier ages? Dig down, deep, and see what you come up with. And enjoy doing it. That’s an order…

4. “But Sir!“—a polite member of the class, in whose mouth butter would not melt, might cry—”How, oh, How am I to describe this place without moving someone (myself, perhaps) through it? Certainly one of the most efficient ways to describe a locale it to tell what an observer sees in the order in which she/he sees it, no?” “Er, yes,” I would reply. “But wouldn’t that be, uh, narrative, Sir?” To which I can only say, “Damn your eyes, you’re right, but Don’t Make It a STORY, hear?” Curse the Younger Generation away.

5. Oh. He would like the paper typed, or wordprocessed, or…anyway, NOT handwritten, if this can possibly be avoided. He grows old; his eyesight dims; he is withal a pitiful figure who deserves your every indulgence in his sad and sore travail. [Sob.]

These instructions are followed by numerous examples that I will not reproduce here; they are too long to retype. I will, however, note that my description of my grandparents’ basement in their house in Alaska earned me an “A.” Along with these lovely remarks:

“I rather expected plainness before, then the exuberance. But the similes, the occasional pawky phrases, lift the first part out of that. You might stress the snowsuits just a tad more. Or are you flattering me by assuming I’d pick up on their non-existence in Texas? Very skillful. Keep it up.”

It was the start of a beautiful mentorship.

*Note that P & G was Doc’s way of referring to himself as “Proctor & Guide” as we traversed parageographical lands, both established and still forming.

Now, I direct my fellow writers to go forth and do their own Katabatick Ekphrasis exercise! Useful on days when you feel otherwise stuck or unmotivated.

TBT: Parageography Outline #3

So I’ve been doing a Throwback Thursday series in which I replicate all Dr. Parker’s parageography course outlines. Here is the third, which is quite long and is about the parageography of The Odyssey:

ODYSSEY: Hero On the Loose, or Myth and Landscape in the Odyssey

[and some Greek I cannot reproduce, nor read]

I. Over the Shoulder at the Creation: A Note on Hesiod’s Theogony
     A. Creating the Landscape = Peopling the Landscape
          1. From LARGE to small
     B. Fundamental Opposition: Earth:Sky::Female:Male
          1. The Residents
          2. The Invaders
     C. A Look at a Battle or Two
          1. Mountains and Titans
          2. Mountains and Giants
II. Further Notes on the Indiana Syndrome…
     A. You use what you got, or, Kirke in La Porte IN
     B. No, she isn’t there any more, but…
III. . . . Bringing Us to the Apologia of the Odyssey
     A. Not right around town
     B. A Note on the Periphery
     C. Island-Hopping, or, “The Archipelago Effect”
IV. Foci of Odysseus’ Voyage: “True” Maps
     A. Hecataeus I [Appendix One]: The Admission of Funk
     B. Hecataeus II [Appendix Two]: The Insistence of Certainty
     C. Joyce’s Homer: Victor Bérard, Les Phéniciens et l’Odyssée: The Grand Solution
V. Foci of Odysseus’ Voyage: Various Schematics of “Moral Space”
     A. Profit-and-Loss Flowchart: The Odyssey as a Board Game: [Appendix Three]
     B. Appetitive Voyaging
          1. East, West, Home’s Best: The Odyssey as Grid [Appendix Four]
               a. Of course, one fudges a bit
          2. The Squat Towers of Ithaka: The Odyssey as Graph [Appendix Five]
               a. Questions of Weighting: 50/50 is About Right
               b. What about Thrinakie? or Skylla/Kharybdis?
     C. Beings and Nothingness: Approaching the Strange
     D. Some other Organizing Elements
          1. Eating[Eaten]-Changes
               a. Lotophagoi: -ing lotos, to Craving/Lassitude
               b. Kyklopes: -en by Giant, to Food
               c. Laistrygones: -en by Giants, to Food
               d. Kirke: -ing food, to Pigs
               e. Land of Dead: -ing by Ghosts of blood, to substance
               f. Skylla: -en by Monster, to Food
               g. Thrinakie: -ing of Cattle, to Curse
          2. Caves
               a. Kyklopes: Cave of Polyphemos
               b. Skylla: Monster in Cave
               c. Kalypso: Goddess in Cave
               d. Ithaka: Cave of Nymphs by Shore
          3. Palaces
               a. Aiolos: Palace w/ brazen wall on floating island
               b. Kirke: House of wrought stone
               c. Phaiakia: Palace of Alkinoos
               d. Ithaka: Palace of Odysseus
          4. Pleasaunces
               a. [Lotophagoi: Pleasaunce? at least it has lotos]
               b. Kirke: Well-tended garden
               c. [Kharybdis: there’s an olive-tree in midsea]
               d. Kalypso: Pleasaunce wilder than Kirke’s, but birds, trees
               e. Phaiakia: One of the most famous gardens in antiquity
               f. Ithaka: Pleasaunce: Laertes’ orchard
          5. Women
               a. Laistrygones: Antiphates’ daughter
               b. Aiaia: Kirke
               c. Land of Dead: Antikleia, plus the Catalogue
               d. mid-sea: the Sirens
               e. mid-sea: Skylla [feminine; not the sea-bird]
               f. Thrinakie: the three daughters of the Sun
               g. Ogygia: Kalypso
               h. Skheria: Nausikaa
               i. Ithaka: Penelope
          6. Nothing-Places
               a. Lotophagoi [hardly anything]
               b. Kyklopes [defined negatively: a non-place, a nowhere]
               c. Aiaia [is this fair to Kirke?]
               d. Kharybdis [the perfect oubliette]
               e. Ogygia [that’s what Kalypso’s name indicates]
VI. Places to Stay: Approaches to Paradise
     A. Minimal Paradise: The Land of the Lotophagoi [p.147]
          1. One big fact, and nothing else
     B. Wee Paradise: Ogygia, Kalypso’s Island [p.83]
          1. Heremes goes into the garden [p.83]
          2. Minimal Goddess, or, What’s in a Name?
          3. The Drawback
     C. Slightly Larger and Grander Paradise: Aiaia, Kirke’s Island
          1. Through the Woods and into the PEACEABLE KINGDOM [p.171]
          2. Goddess, Witch, and Sole Proprietress: Kirke
          3. The Drawback
     D. The Five-Star Paradise, or Men Like Gods: Skherie & the Phaiakians
          1. Odysseus goes through the Palace and into the Garden [p.113–115]
          2. Inhabitants of this Delightful Spot: Alkinoos, Nausikaa, et al.
          3. The Drawbacks
               a. Inside/Outside
               b. Limited Limitlessness
     E. Impossible Paradises, but still, they’re the logical conclusions
          1. Olympos [p.100]
               a. Something about the Weather
               b. The Drawback
          2. Elysion [p.89]
               a. Something about the Weather
               b. The Drawback [curious, no?]
     F. Some Paradises Gone Wrong
          1. Pastoral Retreat: Thrinakie, the Island of the Sun’s Daughters [p.213]
          2. And, of course, the Land of the Cyclopes, that Pastoral Retreat, but…
     G. Place/Proprietor: The Implied Relation
VII. Places to Avoid: Approaches to Hell
     A. Monsters along the Way I: The Sirens [pp. 210, 214]
     B. Monsters along the Way II: Skylla & KKharybdis [pp.211, 217]
     C. Monsters along the Way III: Cannibals I: The Laistrygones of Lamos [p. 168]
     D. Monster of Monsters: Cannibals II: The Land of the Kyklopes [esp.pp.148–150]
          1. Negative Spaces
          2. Not Our Sort
          3. The Frustrated Developer
          4. Inward, Ever Inward…to the Cave, and Then…
          5. Giant = Mountain…Back to the Gigantomachy
VIII. Crossover Places: When Do Men And Gods Associate?
     A. The Floating Island of Aiolia, home of the Wind King [p.165]
          1. Unusual Architecture
     B. The Cave of the Nymphs on Ithaka [pp. 232–233]
          1. Unusual Structure
          2. Function in the Voyage, or, Getting Out Of It
IX. Interrelation of Place and Myth
     A. Place as a Projection of Person’s Origin
          1. e.g., Polyphemos the Kyklops
     B. Person as Development of Place’s Characteristics
          1. e.g., Kalypso the Concealer
X. The ODYSSEY as Archetypical QUEST
     A. The Archetypical Places
          1. Enclosed Space: The Cave
          2. Enclosed Space: The Palace
          3. Semi-enclosed Space: The Garden
          4. Semi-enclosed Space: The Grove
          5. Semi-enclosed Space: The Bay
          6. Open Space: The Sea
          7. Other Space: Hell
     B. The Archetypical Situations
          1. Subcivilization
          2. Supercivilization
          3. Hostile Nature
          4. Seductive Nature
          5. Apocalypse: The Unveiling
     C. Characteristics of the Voyage
          1. Ec-centricity
          2. Telos: the overriding goal
          3. Danger
          4. Battle
          5. Decimation
          6. Prolongation
          7. Prophecy and Information
          8. Divine Intervention
          9. Storm
          10. R & R
          11. THE MARVELOUS
          12. Confusion Resolved
XI. Last Remarks on the ODYSSEY, for a bit…
     A. Homer as Realizer, if not Adumbrator
     B. A Note from Lord Raglan on the Anatomy of Quests
     C. What’s a heisenberg? or, Look, Jane, Look!
     D. A note on originality

From this time on—which is to say, from the beginning as we know it—Western Quest-literature is a series of footnotes and glosses on, and developments and expansions of, the Odyssey.


Okay, so here is where I must add some pictures so that the Appendices mentioned in the outline above can be referenced. (You should be able to click on them to enlarge.)

photo 1
photo 2
photo 3
photo 4
photo 5

I’d say, as a writer, it’s part X. of the outline that impacts my thoughts most. I mean, I’ve read The Odyssey many times over (and btw, I believe we were using Fitzgerald if you’re wondering about the page references, but it’s been long enough and I’ve read enough different translations that I can’t be sure), and then also Campbell and Vogler, but when I looked at this outline as I typed it up . . . X. made me think about my own world of AElit and the ways in which I’ve applied all these archetypes to it. We’re all just drawing from the Odysseal well.