Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Craft analysis: Guy Gavriel Kay's "Lord of Emperors" (CA3)

Welcome to another entry in my ongoing craft analysis series (more about it here). This week, I read Michelle Davidson Argyle's "Cinders" novelette and reached a point where I felt a sense of shivers running down my spine. This is probably one of the most important parts of a story for me. Can it create this sense of shivers. I haven't finished cinders and therefore am not willing to analyze it yet -- I may return to this in a future craft analysis. Instead, I'm going to look at the chariot scene from Guy Gavriel Kay's "Lord of Emperors". I first read this novel more than five years ago, but I still remember this scene and the way it left chills. I walked in shorts and flip-flops through the hills of Wonder Valley on a Christmas morning as the rain fell. The book had left a fever, the rain couldn't quench it.

My analysis may contain spoilers. If you plan on reading this book, I recommend you read the book first (it's the second of a two part series) and then come back to this blog entry.

This scene (or scenes, since we see parts of the scene from several different people's point of view) shows a chariot race and the complex maneuverings used by the charioteers to win the race. There are many little things that add up together to make this scene work for me. (1) The level of danger has been raised in this scene. I'll describe this a little more below. (2) The scene is told from many different character's point of view. This is used both to move characters through their character arcs, reaching an inner revelation of change, and (3) also used to show the artistic ballet of the charioteers. The latter is shown through a retired charioteer who is an expert and one of the most renowned charioteers of his time and when he observes this superlative race, it adds to that feeling by the reader. (4) This scene includes echoes of previous scenes, in particular there is an echo of an older race where two of the charioteers who are now teammates were on opposing teams and now instead of using a tactic to defeat the other each other, they turn it so that works in their favor this time. (5) This scene uses inner monologues to emphasize the unbelievability of everything that is happening in the scene.

The characters in the story emphasize how dangerous driving these chariots can become. However, the physical danger is not just the act that they perform, but also that one of the charioteers has been injured with broken ribs, and a knife wound. As if the prevoius wounds and risk of driving chariots isn't enough, there is a confrontation before the chariot race begins that almost leads to a stabbing, a death. The charioteer's enemy comes to his rescue. However, he takes the opportunity to elbow the charioteer in his wounds, to ensure that he won't be a factor in the race. Also, adding to the stakes, the charioteer's doctor absolves all responsibilities for his patient. He states that he can't accept a patient who won't do what's best for himself (reinforcing that this man is risking his death). Several times in the scene, the injured character wonders if he will stay conscious through the entire race. The stakes are part of what makes this scene a powerful.

The other part is the way that several of the characters, some of these in the audience watching the race, develop further in their character arcs. One of the best examples of this is a character who is best described as a town bully. He is watching the race and moves from being a town bully to someone who sees the art of the chariot races. Previously, he had only rooted for the team of chariots on his side. However, in this race he sees the art and through that art, he changes. A lot of the way this is achieved is through his inner monologue.

In the end, this scene is a culmination of lots of little things that have been set up earlier to allow this scene to work. Additionally, the way the stakes are raised and the way that characters not even directly involved in the action change help to make the scene as well.

Are scenes that make you shiver important to you? What are some scenes that have given you shivers?

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