Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fifteen Portraits of Despair

Brevity is a thing Neil Gaiman can juggle deftly with the other magic diabolos of effective writing. Less is more, they always say. Endless Nights, a sevenfold spin-off of The Sandman series featuring each of the Endless, contains a chapter that exhibits brevity at its finest. Despair's chapter is called "Fifteen Portraits of Despair," a mini-compendium of fifteen vignettes that depict the Endless herself or the exact and literal meaning of the emotion.


Coupled with the amazing art (courtesy of Dave McKean and Barron Storey), the micro-fic gives off an atmosphere of true depression. The page above contains one of the shortest vignette in the chapter, depicting an image of sadness and the spark of hope hissing into nothingness when "it begins to get dark." The words, to me, feel like a veil, and you have to flick it away with your mind in order to see a clearer image of what you've just formed.

Another portrait goes like this:
It wasn't the loving each other or the knowing they could never be together.
It wasn't the wind in the eaves of the empty house, or the bone-dry rattle of the pills in the brown-glass bottle. 
It wasn't the bitter taste, with only a stale box of red wine to wash it away.
It wasn't waking, with her dead and you all too alive. 
It was the way your fingers shook. It was a stammer, and the thickness of your tongue as you tried to speak. It was the sound of the sirens, coming closer.
It was knowing that you would never get another chance.

Do you see the genius in that? A seven-sentence story that can shake you once you understand it. Notice how the images paint the essence and emotion of this little portrait. A man wakes up to find her lover dead, apparently because of suicide (giveaways: pills, wine drank to wash away bitter taste, death). What exactly, in such a scene, would make a man's heart be a bait to Despair's snagging hook? Perhaps not everyone can appreciate it, but anyone who is hungry for fiction that shrouds itself with  mystery in the simplest way possible would say this is a precious piece of gem. I loved this to bits.

I'd like to follow this lead. When I saw this chapter from Endless Nights for the first time I was like, "Dang! This would be a rad layout for our Imaginaccion! I wish I read this before we made the book!" But after I calmed down a bit, I thought I found myself a new writing exercise....uh, not exactly new, because I've been doing a lot of prompt-microfics and flash fics not so long ago. I decided that when I'm going to do this again, I should put some spice and grit to it. Somewhere along the lines of David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary (with main entry words as prompts!) and Gaiman's signature gritty portrayal of most of his characters.

Reading does motivate me to write more. Now I found a muse and there's no stopping me. :)

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