You know that perfect line. That line you can’t forget. The line that even if you wanted to you couldn’t scrub out of your memory with the scratchiest brillo-pad. If you still haven’t grasped the concept here’s two examples, one with no background (because I assume you all have watched Disney’s movie ‘Tangled’. If not, SPOILER WARNING) and one with a lot of background.
“You were my new dream”
So first, Tangled. The line Flynn says at the end (when we all think he’s dying) “You were my new dream”.
And just in case that wasn’t a good enough example of a perfect line. In the manga series ‘With The Light’(which you might be sick of me talking about with two posts in the last few weeks on it, here and here) the mother of the autistic child Hikaru needs to fill out a questionnaire on behalf of her son in which one of the questions is ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. She eventually decides Hikaru would want to be (here’s the perfect line) “A happy working adult”. Even now, years after reading it for the first time, I remember that line. When I heard the manga-ka (Keiko Tobe) had passed away before completing the series I became frantic with worry that she may not have ended the series so I would never discover if Hikaru grew up into ‘a happy working adult’.
As a writer you can’t help but strive for that level of impact. Problem is sometimes it comes out cheesey. Other times the paranoid editor who hides within every writer thinks it’s too cheesey when in actuality it’s dead on and everyone but you can see it. Also it can be exhausting trying that hard on nearly every line of dialogue.
I’m currently revising ‘Storybook Perfect’, my first novel (which clearly this blog is titled after) in preparation for the Harper Voyager open submissions and every few pages (I’m lying, paragraphs!) I stop and agonise over a line, trying to make it perfect. This manuscript is being seen by the publisher, it hasn’t had an agents loving hand run over it to smooth out any creases, and a stay-at-home mum doesn’t easily have the money to hire an editor. I’m panicking that just about any imperfection could be the difference between acceptance and rejection – which of course it is. There will be thousands of authors competing and there is an undefined (at least not on the page I read) number of vacancies. If I’m rejected I know it won’t be the end of the world, I’m made of far tougher grit than that, but it would be awful to miss an opportunity like this simply because the work wasn’t perfect.
Of course perfection is all about perception.
What’s your favourite perfect line? It can be either your own creation (in which case please give us some context) or something you’ve seen/read.
Tangled image full rights belong to Disney.
***While trying to hunt down a picture of Flynn’s ‘death scene’ I came across a picture of a cosplayer ‘bringing the smoulder’ and couldn’t stop laughing. I got permission to link to it so please go here and enjoy! If you have a DA account comment too please 😀 ***
Long post ahead. Spoilers for ‘With The Light’ too. You’ve been warned.
Remember how crazy the internet went when Harry Potter finished, then again when the movies wrapped up too? End of Series-itis. I’ve got it again for the amazing ‘With The Light’ by Keiko Tobe. I’ve already posted about the series ending and how I felt about that, but I wanted a more positive post to follow up, so I’m going to tell you about what it was that made ‘With The Light’ so magical to me.
1: Main characters to admire and aspire to
Sachiko, an inspiring mother
The point of view character is Sachiko, newly married to her dream guy. She has given birth to a beautiful baby boy at sunrise and she holds him in her arms as the sun’s light fills the world. She calls her son, Hikaru, because he came to her with the light. She learns early on that Hikaru is autistic, but denies reality at first. This causes such angst for her and her husband (Masato). When Sachiko chooses to accept the truth and do her best is when she begins to shine as a character.
Sachiko is an inspiring mother and a strong woman. Some people may have trouble seeing a stay-at-home mum as a ‘strong female character’, but Sachiko proves a quiet determination is just as impressive as a sword wielding woman in men’s clothing is in a fantasy setting. Sachiko hangs in there, trying new things and when that doesn’t work, coming at the problem from a different angle and never giving up. How is that not inspiring? Personally I wish I was half the mum Sachiko is – and I don’t think I’m a bad mum at all, so that’s how great I think she is. She even pulls off being a wife well during this too.
The Azuma family
The only time Sachiko doesn’t rise to the occasion is in the case of facing down her mother-in-law. Considering the series was never brought to its originally intended conclusion, however, this may have been something she was planned to overcome, but never had a chance to do. (If you’re curious what I mean here, read my previous post, to find out why the author had to finish her books at a different point to her original plan.)
The Azuma’s family dynamic is something to goal for, an understanding and helpful husband who works hard, an affectionate and determined mother, a little sister with the pluck to stand up to her friends despite the consequences when they tease her autistic brother. They are close knit and talk about their problems (usually) working together to achieve their goals and always facing the future with a united front. It’s hard not to see them as a good example of a family.
2: Secondary characters with amazing plots
Sachiko and Hikaru walking to school
Another wonderful thing Tobe-sensei does with her writing is to bring back ‘bit characters’ for wonderful minor story arcs and she’ll bring them back regularly. Children Hikaru attends day care with go through elementary school with him and lament when they won’t be attending junior high together. There are characters like Tanaka, a handsome young man who ends up becoming an entertainer with Johnnys (a huge entertainment company in Japan with all the hottest singers and actors); Oota-san his(Tanaka’s) next door neighbour, good friend and possibly even first love(?); Nobuaki, an energetic and wild boy who is inseparable friends with Hikaru after a rocky start in day-care; Moe-chan, a sweet girl who plans on being a nurse when she grows up (and who I always secretly wished would one day be Hikaru’s girlfriend, but that’s just me being a giggly romance lover); Miyu-chan, Hikaru’s classmate in special education whose mother initially didn’t even know what autism was; Eri-chan, the girl whose silence caused Hikaru’s first major injury but who proves you can rise above abuse with enough strength. The list goes on, including other classmates, teachers who can be antagonistic (or at the very least difficult) but have good reasons underlying, neighbours, shop keepers and more.
Sometimes the ‘bit character’ will disappear for a few chapters (or longer) but they’ll reappear with more of their story to tell if you give them enough time. These stories are interesting and challenging and more than once I’ve felt the content would have been compelling enough to feature as its own story separate entirely from this if the author had wanted to do it that way.
It’s hard not to admire character creation of this calibre when you’re a writer but I’m sure even as a reader it is still a treasure to enjoy.
3: Learning about the world of autism
Hikaru making some crayon art
It is amazing to learn about autism so organically. To learn by watching the Azuma’s teaches you in an interesting way. I knew basically nothing about autism before picking up volume one, and while I’m not claiming to be an expert now, I find myself understanding much more easily when a parent with an autistic child comes into the store needing assistance.
The teaching methods the Azuma’s employ for Hikaru are such great ideas, and many of them can be applied to neurotypical children too (as the birth of Kanon demonstrates within the Azuma family). I’m looking forward to using a few of these ideas as Xander grows up.
4: An insight into Japanese culture and how it deals with autism (and disabled individuals)
A mother and her beloved children
In some ways Japan seems to be dramatically behind the western world in its treatment of those who are autistic or disabled. Tobe-sensei points this out herself in her last chapters when relatives from America visit them and talk of how the Americans behave in regards to an autistic child in an airport. There are great systems, like the government’s policy that public companies must have a certain percentage of disabled employees or be fined (and the fine works out more expensive than the extra wages would be), but general knowledge is extremely limited and many family members feel ashamed and try to hide the disabled individual so others will not comment. Sachiko is always up front about Hikaru’s autism, but her mother in law is ashamed of it, trying to avoid interaction with Hikaru then later, after learning to love him, hides him away so a nosy neighbour doesn’t tell the rest of the neighbourhood.
Also, the word autism in Japanese translates as ‘closed personality disorder’, leading many people to believe it is like depression. This gives people the wrong idea from the get go, so Sachiko often needs to describe things more deeply.
I’m always intrigued by Japanese culture, so learning these things is a treat for me, even if some of these facts are ‘negatives’ it’s all interesting to learn.
5: Beautiful art.
Hikaru and Kanon
Now for the shallow reason, the gorgeous artwork. I’m sad that the translation publisher never printed a single colour page, despite the fact it’s obvious Tobe-sensei did plenty of colour pages and they’ve done colour pages for other publications. Hey Yen Press! Make a With the Light artbook. I swear I’ll buy two!
So there is lots to love about the series. The plot is a roller coaster, where you want to cry first from sadness, then frustration, then happiness. It’s also interesting to watch Sachiko as she keeps on slogging forward and see how she faces each obstacle.
This is a series I wish could reach more people, but I know many people don’t like ‘sequential art’ (fancy word for comics) so may ignore this series purely because of that. I hope that if anything I’ve said over the last two posts has interested you in the series that you don’t hesitate to try it out.
If you want to read my reviews of each volume please check out my Goodreads account. Volume 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
And no, no one is paying me for this promotion.
All pictures were scanned from my copies of ‘With The Light’ and are being used only as examples of the beautiful art within.
Today I finished the manga series ‘With The Light’.
With the Light is the touching tale of Sachiko Azuma, a new mother who names her infant son ‘Hikaru’ because he came to her with the morning light. (Hikaru translates as ‘light’ or ‘to be bright’ in Japanese for those unfamiliar with the language) Sachiko starts to notice differences between her son and other babies his age. She talks to her doctor and soon comes to learn her son is autistic.
With The Light, complete set
Sachiko faces many trials and tribulations while raising Hikaru, but as often as the story is sad it is also moving and beautiful and filled with triumph. If you want to read my reviews of each volume please check out my Goodreads account. Volume 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Finishing a series is always a strange feeling. Once it’s done you can’t imagine what you’ll read next. You wonder what happened to the characters after ‘the end’. It’s like you’re lost and not quite sure where to go.
This series end was particularly daunting for me since I learned before reaching the final volume that the manga-ka(the author and artist of the manga), Keiko Tobe, passed away before completing the series.
In the first volume Tobe-sensei created a moment where Sachiko is asked what does Hikaru want to be when he grows up. Due to his developmental level he is unable to express this himself so Sachiko wonders and eventually decides she wants Hikaru to be a ‘happy working adult’ when he grows up. Those words stick with you and one of the first things I thought when I learned of Tobe-sensei’s demise was that I may never get to see Hikaru become a happy working adult.
As it is, Tobe-sensei did her best to try and finish the story, roughing up some storyboard pages on her sick bed. She managed two full chapters, bringing us to what appears to be the conclusion of junior high. She does it with beautiful resonance with the beginning but we still never reach adulthood. While it breaks my heart to not see him as a happy working adult, the ending is still beautiful and all of this does nothing to diminish the marvellous tale.
With the Light is a story that touches hearts and moves you. Even though Tobe-sensei never had the chance to write it to its true conclusion it is a story I really wish everyone could read.
Are there any stories/series that have moved you like this? Also, look out, because my next post is going to be talking more about the series.
Kirstie Olley is an award-winning speculative fiction author and the full-time wrangler of her children Xander and Harlequin.
Newsletter Sign Up
Sign up for my newsletter to be notified when I publish new stories and when discounts and freebies happen. You'll also score an exclusive freebie: an ecopy of my Redlitzer winning short story 'Stolen Hearts'.
Read The Troll's Toll: A Retailored Fairy Tales Novella now.
Read 'Charming' (Honorable Mention in the Writers of The Future contest Q4 2014) in Leading Edge Magazine issue 68.
Read 'Short Circuit' (finalist in the 2013 Aurealis Awards Best Fantasy Short Fiction category) in Oomph: A Little Super Goes A Long Way from Crossed Genres.
Read ‘Hanabi to Kitsune'(Fireworks and Foxes) now in Tales of the Sunrise Lands from Guardbridge Books.
Read ‘Glass Bones’ now in WARRIOR an anthology choc-full of LGBTQIA warriors all across space, time, and imagination.
Read 'Gaps' in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #63. Click the cover to buy.
Read The Beauty of the Dance(Honorable Mention in the Writers of The Future contest Q41 2015) in Myriad Lands vol 1: Around the World.
Read 'Nightfall' for free now in 18. Click the picture to decide where to download it from.
Read ‘God’s Chosen’ for free now in Darkest Depths – the Vision Writers 20th Anniversary anthology. Click the picture to decide where to download it from.
Free Story Sign-Up
Want to grab a free copy of the out-of-print, Redlitzer Writing Competition winning 'Stolen Hearts' AND get emails whenever I release new fiction and offer discounts and new freebies? Click the book to sign up for my newsletter and have it all!