Elemental Writing: Air


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Across cultures, air has quite a mix of meanings. It’s the element that seems most free to move as it pleases, yet it is all-encompassing. We can’t live for more than a few minutes without it, but at the same time it doesn’t rely on anything else to exist. Air is simply air, the invisible thing. Is it any wonder that it’s the one that is toughest to pin a meaning to?

The two most common traits associated with air are agility–speed and the freedom to move quickly–and intellect. It’s hard to understand why air is so commonly tied to the mind, but it comes up again and again. Science says that our brains are made of billions of tiny little pathways, chaotically firing off electric signals in a way we can hardly understand, and we can never stop it, unless we die. The more alert and tense we are, the faster these signals move, just like a brewing storm.

An air-based character will always have a sharp wit in some form or another. Two archetypes that spring to mind are the smart-mouthed thief and the mind-reader. What do they have in common? They can slip into places where they’re not supposed to go, like a draft beneath a closed door. They always seem to know exactly how to put their skills to use.

Sounds useful, doesn’t it? To know exactly what you’re doing and how to do it? While you may not necessarily come out as unscathed as a breath of wind, you still need to delve into the ways of knowledge and come out with the clarity to see which things are useful to you. Ironically, this last bit is something that can’t be taught–but other skills certainly can. Learn tricks to write quickly and effectively. Research the subjects of your world. And never, ever think you’ve figured out everything you need to know. I don’t care how many books you’ve written and published before. There are other minds out there with secrets worth finding and using as your own.

It’s a little uncomfortable, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want everyone digging up the things you keep most hidden. Your characters don’t, either–but you have to. Dare to go where nobody wants you to go in your story. Doing that will allow you to ramp up tension and conflict faster than you can blink, and that’s how air works inside the story. In fact, in the Tarot, air is associated with Swords, and every one of its cards is tied to tension and restlessness.

I hope I managed to bring this element, easily the most confusing of the four, into something understandable. Air is intelligence and learning, the ability to find things that were never meant to be discovered. It moves quickly, and is the element that builds conflict and pace.

That’s all for this week. Next time: water.

Categories: Fiction Tips and Writing Tips.

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