I teased last week about the workshop that I did as part of the Flights of Foundry. The experience was an interesting one that I can heartily recommend to anyone. Apparently, Philip K. Dick wrote The Man in the High Castle using a very similar method. In case you’ve never heard of it before, the I Ching is an ancient Chinese text. Wikipedia has it originating all the way back to 1000-750 BC. I understand that originally it was consulted with three hexagonal coins, but times do move on and I consulted mine through an app (The I Ching or Book of Changes, available at least in the iPhone AppStore). The workshop itself was directed by Henry Lien who also gives the workshop through Cat Rambo.
Consultation round 1
The first thing Henry asked us to do was to let go of a crucial element in the genre of our stories and then take a moment to mourn the loss. Since I’m planning a gothic horror novel, I decided to let go of the supernatural as an element. And mourn it I did. Then we were directed to ask the I Ching “How do I reimagine my story without what I thought was the most important foundation?” Henry also gave us a list of alternate questions in case that did not work for us.
Upon consulting my I Ching app, I got two hexagrams; 10, and 47. Here’s what I wrote for 10: “Hexagram 10 – Treading (Conduct) – Lasting progress is won through quiet self-discipline – Image: tail of a tiger – remain steadfastly innocent and conscientious in our thoughts and actions”. And for 47: “Hexagram 47 – Oppression (Exhaustion) – An unavoidable time of adversity. Quiet strength insures a later success”. Oh dear. What I took out of this is that the I Ching did most emphatically not want me to write this story that way. So I asked one of the other questions.
“What is my story really about that I didn’t see?”
This time I got a bit better result. Hexagram 48: The Well – “Return to the well of goodness”. Also, hexagram 2 – The Receptive – “Bear with things as the earth bears with us: by yielding, by accepting, by nourishing”. I didn’t have time to interpret this too far beyond “delve into the things that made you want to write this story to begin with”, which in my case is family trauma and history. Henry agreed with that and then went on a bit further, talking at length about Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey. Basically, looking for ways to keep the supernatural element but not making that be part of the eventual solution of the novel. It was really helpful, and I think that it helped me solve a problem I’d been having with the very Finnish nature of this novel and the usual solution of just banishing the supernatural. They don’t really mesh well together. Finns like to keep their dead around.
Consultation round 2
In the second round, Henry gave us a list of possible questions to ask our main character. We could either consult our main characters directly, or through the I Ching, on which question they would answer. I went through the I Ching and wound asking:
What are you willing to sacrifice to attain your greatest want or need?
Another two hexagrams. Hexagram 54: The Marrying Maiden – “In relationships, desires lead to misfortune. Behave with discipline and balance.” – Image: thunder roiling on the surface of the lake. Hexagram 51: The Arousing (Shock) – “The shock of unsettling events brings fear and trembling. Move toward a higher truth and all will be well.” – Image: thunder over thunder. I wound up running out of time to actually write down my interpretation to this one. But if I remember correctly, I wound up deciding that she was willing to sacrifice the circumstances of her life to temporary turmoil, as long as it then leads to an eventual calm after the chaos, the thunder has gone. As in, she’s willing to put up with a lot of shit to get to the sunshine on the other side, which she trusts is there.
There was a good deal more of the workshop that we didn’t get to, but Henry kindly sent us the materials. I will definitely take some time during the next month or so to go through the rest of the materials. I’m going to do my best to try to write this next book using this method. Who knows, it might really work for me. I doubt that it will ultimately end up being the way I write all of my books. It’s a very chaotic system and I am, in a very real sense, chaos averse. But I can see how it would work for a lot less of a type A personality. I do recommend the class to anyone who’s even a bit curious. It’s an interesting way of inserting yourself into a story through inherently chaotic means. There’s also a lot more to the syllabus of the course that I didn’t go through here, largely because of the copyrighted nature of the materials. Henry warned us ahead of time that it would be “trippy” and it really was. My only regret was that it was such a short time and I had to run on to my reading. I’m really looking forward to being able to finish it taking my own sweet time.