This is topic RIDDLES OF HEIAN (fantasy) in forum Fragments and Feedback for Books at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Ben Brooks (Member # 9727) on :
Now that the draft of A PETAL OF CHRYSANTHEMUM is done and marinating, I've started working on an idea for a fantasy novel/series steeped in ancient Japanese mythology. Here's the first 13 I wrote today, with a bit of cleanup done. Looking for any and all feedback--do your best(worst)!

“You solved the unsolvable riddle.” Riddle Master Yamato gazed down at Ryoji from the front of the training hall. His voice rumbled like an earthquake. His long beard rippled like a stone tossed into a koi pond as he spoke. “This is unprecedented. I wonder what it all means.” The riddle master tucked his hands into his long sleeves. The embroidered cuffs of his grey robe crinkled as he moved. All worthy acolytes had taken their trials today, and each in solitude. Master Yamato had asked him one of the unsolvable riddles, and Ryoji was upset that nobody had been around to hear him answer it.
“Does this mean I pass?” Ryoji asked.
“Most certainly,” Yamato said. “And so much more.”
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
my only thought is that for ancient japan, the tone of the piece is very modern western. i can't help but wonder if the master and student would speak to each other in this loose manner.
Posted by Jess (Member # 9742) on :
interesting. I like the idea of the unsolvable riddle. It catches the readers attention which is good.
Perhaps the lines about his voice rumbling and his beard rippling are too much. maybe choose one or the other?
Also, possibly you could show Ryoji being upset instead of telling it.
I do love how all of the details reflects the culture and reminds the reader where we are.
Posted by pdblake (Member # 9218) on :
My very first thought was; if the MC has solved the unsolveable riddle, then how does anyone know he's right, unless someone already knows the answer?

There's not much of a hook there to be honest. I'm already sceptical about the whole riddle thing and I doubt I'd read on to see if it gets resolved.

I like the idea of a riddle master though and your description of him.
Posted by TempestDash (Member # 9026) on :
I spent a little while digesting this because I couldn't articulate my concerns. But I think it's partly what pdblake said -- it can't be _unsolvable_ if there was in fact a solution -- and partly it *feels* like an attempt to say: Look how cool this guy is!1!11

The opening line sets up what is ostensibly a major challenge then defuses it immediately in an unsatisfactory manner. It leads me to feel like this protagonist is going to be thrown challenges and easily solving them throughout the novel. That that doesn't seem very interesting to me.

People like Riddles because they like the feeling of having discovered the solution. They don't necessarily have to figure it out before the protagonist does (often times, you don't want them to) but they DO have to understand how the solution was arrived to and how the answer was always there, they just didn't know how to look for it.

Here, we're told of someone having defeated a riddle, but not what the riddle was or how they solved it. So I'm not convinced of the protagonist's intellectual strength, and I'm
actually more inclined to believe he cheated. Or that the Riddle Master is, in fact, no such thing.

Other, more mundane, notes:
* The Riddle Master says that solving the riddle is 'unprecedented' and that he doesn't know what it *means*, but then Ryoji immediately asks "does this mean I pass?" and the Master doesn't express any confusion. It seems contradictory.

* "His long beard rippled like a stone tossed into a koi pond as he spoke" -- This simile seems to relate the beard to a stone. You want to relate it to ripples of a pond. Something like "This beard rippled like a koi pond during a spring rain."

Posted by Ben Brooks (Member # 9727) on :
I'm glad people pointed out the unsolvable riddle thing. The term got applied after they went unsolved for hundreds of years. There's nothing fundamental about the riddle itself that makes it unsolvable.

This is something I can tweak to get across in the first 13 lines, but it feels like something I can safely leave for further down in the chapter (where it currently resides).

The "does it mean I pass?" line can be reworded to remove the contradiction that arises.

I'm concerned that some think this means there'll be a bunch of easily-conquered challenges. The point of this kid's journey is learning just how difficult it is to function in the outside world after he's been convinced that he's some sort of wonder kid.

I thought that could wait until further down in the story, but if it's turning people off in the first 13 lines, that's a problem.
Posted by wise (Member # 9779) on :
I'm concerned that if he has indeed solved the unsolvable riddle, then isn't he really a wonder kid for real? Perhaps you need to reflect his arrogance at a great achievement, then later he will receive his "comeuppance" as he meets the real world challenges that he finds he is really unprepared for. This arrogance shows a little in that he is upset that no one was around to see his accomplishment. Perhaps he's a show-off? It doesn't make him appealing, but it might work better if your second sentence focused directly on his arrogance, then you can tell more about the Riddle Master.

I want to get into the kid's head right away so I know who he is. Waiting until the end of the paragraph is too long, especially if I'm reading about the Master's voice, beard, and sleeves first. You might even start with "You mean I pass?" first, then have the kid regret no one is there to see his shining moment. Then you can get to the Master's comments and his voice, etc.
Posted by henriksen.laura (Member # 9783) on :
Originally posted by Ben Brooks:
The embroidered cuffs of his grey robe crinkled as he moved. All worthy acolytes had taken their trials today, and each in solitude. Master Yamato had asked him one of the unsolvable riddles, and Ryoji was upset that nobody had been around to hear him answer it.

The part before and after this section were very interesting, but my attention wandered during this s=part. Condensing this section would do a lot to hook me.
Posted by Hop Henry (Member # 9786) on :
I agree with Denevius: the dialog doesn't sound "Japanese" to my ear--modern or ancient. Granted, we don't want the stereotypical pidgin, but maybe you could capture the graceful respect the student must show his master?

I love many things Japanese, so the idea catches my attention.

It might be good to consciously visualize your similes (and metaphors). As TempestDash points out, the beard doesn't ripple like the stone; it ripples like the water. I personally try to avoid separating concurrent actions:

"His long beard rippled like a stone tossed into a koi pond as he spoke."

works better for me as:

"His long beard rippled as he spoke, like water fleeing a stone tossed into a koi pond."
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
How does something "sound Japanese" if it's written in English?

I ask because I think there is a way, though you have to ask yourself if you really want to go there.

For one thing, Japanese does not have much in the way of articles in sentences (which is why when native Japanese speakers leave them out at first, as they are learning to speak English).

(Example: "His long beard rippled like stone tossed into koi pond as he spoke.")

The thing is, do you want to go through your whole book having your characters leave out most of the articles in their sentences when they speak? Or even worse, have that kind of article-lack all through your narration? Something to consider, anyway.

The understanding, when telling a story in a foreign setting, is that the way the characters talk is how what they say would be translated into English. Otherwise, their dialogue would have to be in the language of the setting, right?

A book full of article-less dialogue could be pretty challenging to read--or the readers could get used to it.

Another way to make your characters "sound Japanese" is to learn how Japanese speakers use metaphors when they speak, and what kind of metaphors they use. You could also have them speak in haiku a lot, as indication that they would be doing that on purpose.

Just some thoughts I decided to share, in hopes they may be of help.
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
i would think through tone.

i took a literature class in tokyo a couple of years back, and when studying japanese characterization, we went over the Sarin gas attack that happened on the subway there in 1995. here's a wikipedia link to it for those who haven't heard of it:

so one thing that was discussed is that japanese people on the train actually noticed something wrong, but because in japan it's more common to not cause a public display, or to show too much emotional display publicly (except generally late nights drunk drinking beer and sake), people on the train didn't actually say something even as they got ill to eventually die.

if someone had simply reacted, it's guessed that fewer lives would have been lost.

so when i read a story that's supposed to be taking place in ancient japan, and i see master and student not only talking to each other in these loose, familiar tones, and i see them displaying emotions that implied through dialog like, "This is unprecedented.", i can't help but think that the narrative doesn't sound very japanese, or very ancient, or as hop henry pointed out, very modern japanese.

it's not so much the diction used in how the master would speak to the student, but the cultural norm in which master speaks to student, and in which student responds to master. or how praise is shown in a culture that's much more reserved than us americans in the west.
Posted by Ben Brooks (Member # 9727) on :
There's an interesting balance to hit here. On the one hand I want it to "feel Japanese". I've lived in Japan long enough (technically my kids are Japanese too [Smile] ) that I can make that work if I push it. On the other I'm targeting a Middle Grade English-speaking audience and don't want to slog the dialogue down with word-perfect "how they'd speak in Japan."

That being said, it's simply "steeped in ancient Japanese mythology" and not set in ancient Japan. So there's some degree of freedom. If the tone of the dialogue actually turns people off, that's another issue entirely [Smile]
Posted by Floatingtiger (Member # 9773) on :
Ben, I think the whole idea sounds very intriguing. As for the "Tone" of the language being too modern, I have a few ideas, being a linguist I think it isn't necessarily the words (Since you are targeting a middle grade audience), but the tone those words convey. I think if you were to have the student interact with the master, not as equals, or friends, but as master and student with clearly dilineated levels within society it would convey the feeling of Japanese culture, without having to resort to pidgin English which would be off-putting.

Stress the cultural (Which is sounds like you do in the rest of the story) while backing away from the actual language, or transliteration from Japanese. If that makes sense.

As a side note if you are interested in having someone read more about this I would love to help. I am a longtime student of everything Asian.

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