Writing Lessons from Reading: “God’s Demon” by Wayne Barlowe

The author of God’s Demon, Wayne Barlowe, is an artist by trade; look him up on Amazon and books of his art are mostly what you’ll find. His novel was inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, which provided subject matter for many of Barlowe’s paintings before the novel came along.

The main story arc concerns Sargatanas, a fallen seraph, now a resident of Hell, who decides to rebel against Beelzebub, who’s running the show, and regain himself a place in Heaven. The final score: Beelzebub zero, Sargatanas one ticket to Paradise. It’s a beautifully written book, fully imagined with many a subplot, character and challenge to keep you turning pages until the end.

As always, when I read I’m hoping to learn something new or reinforce something I’ve learned already. Here are a few gems of that ilk from God’s Demon.

Use metaphor and simile in description.

Adjectives are fine, but in the company of metaphor and simile they can be great. Here’s a sample: “From their altitude the world looked as it always had. Vast olive-brown plains, like sheets of skin, rended and folded, were cut by flowing, incandescent rivers of lava and pocked by scattered outposts, pincushioned with fiery-tipped towers.” The adjectives here, like “incandescent” and “pocked” are vivid, but the simile “like sheets of skin” and the metaphorical “pincushioned” are what make the scene pop.

Use an approachable observer to bring an intimidating character down to earth.

Sargatanas the seraph is larger than life, to say the least, at least twice as tall as a human being, with facial and bodily features that shift at will or with mood and a vision for turning upside down the established order of one-third of creation. It would be all too easy to make such a character pompous, distant or even grotesque. Enter Eligor, captain of Sargatanas’ Flying Guards.

The Flying Guards are Sargatanas’s personal bodyguard, so Eligor has a close professional relationship with the demon. Sargatanas also acts as mentor to Eligor, so there is a personal relationship between them as well. Eligor’s admiration and fondness for his superior comes through in his viewpoint, drawing the reader closer to this imposing main character.

Here’s an example of Eligor observing Sargatanas: “Sargatanas went about his tasks with a preternatural intensity that bordered on the obsessive. He never tired of directing the large and small matters of state. It was, Eligor guessed, his way of not thinking about the reality of their situation.” Through Eligor’s view of Sargatanas, we see not only the big boss demon, but the troubled soul as well. Barlowe uses this device throughout the book and it works beautifully.

Use artful foreshadowing.

One of the characters in this book, Semjaza the Watcher, seems for most of the book to be just part of the scenery, a way of showing how awful Hell is. A titan imprisoned in Hell long before Sargatanas, Beelzebub and the gang ever got there, Semjaza lies beneath Beelzebub’s city of Dis, making a scary racket once in a while. You first hear about him 17% through the Kindle edition (“…this giant Watcher, whom few had ever seen…”) and he doesn’t come up again until the 72% mark (“The Watcher had been unusually restless these past few weeks…). Then at the 91% mark he plays a key role in the resolution of the story, which comes as a surprise but is completely plausible, thanks to the foreshadowing that went before.

Thanks for reading. See you next time around!

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