I loathe conflict, which, for a novelist, is a terrible thing. This summer I tried to appreciate conflict by playing chess, after many years’ hiatus.
Here’s how Manly Hall describes chess (I’m paraphrasing – check out his book): “The chessboard consists of 64 squares alternately black and white and symbolizes the floor of the House of the Mysteries. Upon this field of existence or thought move a number of strangely carved figures, each according to fixed law. The white king is Ormuzd; the black king, Ahriman; and upon the plains of Cosmos the great war between Light and Darkness is fought through all the ages. Of the philosophical constitution of man, the kings represent the spirit; the queens the mind; the bishops the emotions; the knights the vitality; the castles, or rooks, the physical body. The pieces upon the kings’ side are positive; those upon the queens’ side, negative. The pawns are the sensory impulses and perceptive faculties – the eight parts of the soul. The game of chess sets forth the eternal struggle of each part of man’s compound nature against the shadow of itself. The nature of each of the chessmen is revealed by the way in which it moves; geometry is the key to their interpretation. The castle (the body) moves on the square; the bishop (the emotions) moves on the slant; the king, being the spirit, cannot be captured, but loses the battle when so surrounded that it cannot escape.”
My re-emergence into the world of chess inspired me to take up another old favorite: Sun Tzu’s Art of War. He has some excellent advice (replace ‘war’ with ‘story-telling’).
“In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not good. So, too, it is better to recapture an entire army than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.” In other words, if you’re trying to win your lady or get the job, you don’t do it by storming her apartment or surrounding that office. Getting to the heart of the matter from within works much better – and creates a much better novel.
And Sun Tzu describes six types of terrain, one of which he calls Precipitous Heights. “If you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots and from there wait for him to come up.” In other words…arrange a picnic.
Writing Practice – Make Luft, Not War
Did you know that “Romantic chess” was the style of chess prevalent in the 19th century, and characterized by bold attacks and sacrifices.
Here’s an idea for a title for your story: Alekhine’s Gun (this is a formation in which a queen backs up two rooks).
Caïssa (she’s the goddess of chess, invoked for good luck: “Caïssa was with me”).
A man (a piece or a pawn. Note that the queen is also a man). (This makes it interesting.)
TheBad bishop or, if you prefer, theWrong-colored bishop – well, hm.
A duffer, or fish, is a weak player. You could also call him a patzer or woodpusher.
Things that can happen:
Kick: This is when a pawn attacks a piece, forcing it to move.
Offer a gambit – a sacrifice.
Go for a normal fork.
Or enjoy a family fork, or a family check.
Passer is a pawn who’s passed. (Not necessarily passed on or passed over. Just passed.)
Hanging pawns are two friendly pawns without friendly pawns on either side. Pawns are amazing. You can write about poisoned pawn and pawn storms.
Trébuchet – I thought this was a font! But actually it’s a position of mutual zugzwang in which either player would lose if it is their turn to move.
You can always invoke the J’adoube – in which you adjust things without being subject to the touched piece rule. Like unbuttoning the top button, but not feeling around further…
I like this one best: make luft (by making space for a castled king to prevent a back rank mate.)
But make sure you use the prophylaxis, a move that frustrates an opponent’s plan or tactic.
And don’t leave out the “Mysterious rook move.” No one knows what this is.
Another option – if you don’t feel like writing today – is to play chess or re-read The Art of War. You’ll be inspired.
- browsing in second-hand bookstores
- a spider web covered with dew
- heavy velvet curtains
- knowing it’s time
- kissing the small of her back
- ripe blackberries