Tag Archives: #amwriting

Identifying Genre #amwriting

If you have taken my advice and written several short stories, you now have something to enter in contests and submit to various publications. However, it can be hard to know what publication to send your work to.

This is where you must learn to identify the genre of what you have written.

When I sit down and begin writing a short story, sometimes I don’t have a particular theme or plot in mind. I key the first lines with an open mind, and random ideas begin to flow. Because I am working within the limits of 3000 to 7000 words, these are the stories that stretch my writing skills.

These “orphan” short stories are widely different from my normal work and aren’t always written in a genre that is easily identified.

Mainstream (general) fiction–Mainstream fiction is a general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that will appeal to a broad range of readers and will have some chance of commercial success. Mainstream authors often blend genre fiction practices with techniques considered unique to literary fiction.

It will be both plot- and character-driven and may have a style of narrative that is not as lean as modern genre fiction but is not too stylistic either. The prose of the novel will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction, but the story will be driven by the events and action that force the characters to grow.

Literary Fiction–Literary fiction tends to be more adventurous with the narrative, with the style of the prose taking a prominent place. Stylistic writing and the exploration of themes and ideas form the substance of the piece.

Writer’s Relief Author’s Submission Service defines literary fiction as “…fiction of ideas. While the story must be good, emphasis on action is not often as important as emphasis on the ideas, themes, and concerns of the book. Literary fiction tackles “big” issues that are often controversial, difficult, and complex.”  (end quoted text)

Literary fiction is frequently challenging to read, which is why certain readers search it out. They want to savor every word and turn of phrase. Sometimes literary fiction is experimental, wordy, and goes off topic, but the journey is the important thing to those of us who enjoy the works of David Foster Wallace, John McPhee, and George Saunders.

Science fiction–Science Fiction features futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.

If you use magic for any reason you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi, so don’t bother submitting it to a publisher who only wants science fiction.

Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in the physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. Emphasis is placed on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible. Soft Sci-fi is characterized by works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology.

Other main sub-genres of Sci-fi include Space-operasCyberpunk, Time Travel, Steampunk, Alternate history, Military, Superhuman, Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic.

The main thing to remember is that Science and Magic cannot coexist in the Genre of Science Fiction.

The minute you add magic to the story, you have Fantasy.

Fantasy: Fantasy commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works are set within imaginary worlds, environments where magic and magical creatures are common. Epic and high fantasy generally avoid scientific and macabre themes, although in some fantasy subgenres there can be a great deal of overlap between fantasy and horror, and fantasy mixed with science.

I’ve said it before, but every genre has its share of snobs and idiot purists, people who will argue your choice of sub-genre no matter what you choose.

High fantasy–High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real world. It commonly features elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narrative. Often the prose is more literary, and the primary plot is slowed by many side quests. Think Mervyn Peake, William Morris, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Epic Fantasy–These stories are often serious in tone and epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil forces. Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy and can include elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes. These also come in multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s series, Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.

Paranormal Fantasy–Paranormal fantasy often focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from all the speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and supernatural.

Urban Fantasy– can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Horror–Horror fiction, horror literature, and also horror fantasy are narratives written specifically to frighten, scare, or startle their readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Sometime these stories detail the experience of purely mental terror, other times they are rife with sudden graphic violence.

Romance– Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on developing a relationship despite many roadblocks, and in the end, the characters find true romantic love. These stories must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending, or they are not romance.

Choose carefully what publications, anthologies, and contests you submit your work to. Read and follow their submission guidelines. Read one or two back issues so that you only submit the kind of work they publish.

Never submit anything that is not your best work, and do not assume they will edit it, because they won’t. No publisher will buy work that is poorly written, sloppily formatted, and generally unreadable.


Credits and Attributions:

How Do You Know If Your Novel Is Literary Or Mainstream Fiction? How Long Is A General Fiction Book? By Writer’s Relief Staff, Writer’s Relief Author Submission Services Blog, posted July 22, 2009. (Accessed August 14, 2018.)

Cover of The New Yorker (first issue) in 1925 with illustration depicting iconic character Eustace Tilley,  drawn by Rea Irvin. Fair Use.

First Cover of Astounding Stories of Super Science (Analog Science Fiction and Fact) art by H. W. Wesso,  January 1930, Fair Use. Via Wikipedia.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under writer, writing

English, origins and style #amwriting

One of my favorite subjects is how English is and will always be an ever-evolving and ever-disintegrating language. The history of the evolution of English is intriguing.

In recent years scholars have determined that if you want to make Shakespearean poetry  and prose rhyme, it must be read with what is now a Scottish/Appalachian accent, as that was the accent of Renaissance England, and pronounce words the way they are spelled. To hear for yourself, go out to NPR’s Shakespeare’s Accent: How Did The Bard Really Sound? I found it to be a treat.

Jonathan Swift, writer and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, complained to the Earl of Oxford in 1712: “Our Language is extremely imperfect. Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities.” He went so far as to say, “In many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar.”

It was the linguistic wild-west, undisciplined and out of control. Slang words willfully forced their way into drawing rooms, newspapers, and books, and in the process they became part of our common usage. So, in an effort to tame our wildly evolving language, a group of clerks and clerics in the eighteenth century who wanted a more orderly language developed the rules for the “Queen’s English.”

Unfortunately, they used the rules with which they were most familiar. Being men of the church, they borrowed them from Latin. This poor choice on their part is the source of much of our grammatical dysfunction.  These men applied the rules of a dead language, Latin, to an evolving language with completely different roots, Frisian, added a bunch of mish-mash words and usages invented by William Shakespeare, and called it “Grammar.”

Despite their origin, the rules have been consecrated, hallowed, and immortalized in hundreds of books on style, and repeated by scholars who ignore the scabrous history of our English language. Frisian evolved into Modern Dutch, and Latin evolved into Modern Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian—and several other modern languages. Yet, despite the wide linguistic differences in the two root languages, these hard-and-fast rules have been passed down by generations of schoolteachers in a vain effort to teach students how to write and speak our common language.

These rules of grammar are what we also refer to as style.

When we leave school and first begin to write seriously, we soon discover that we don’t really know how to construct a narrative that people would want to read. So, we need to further educate ourselves.

Despite the pox-ridden history of the English language, it helps to have a framework to go by when writing. I use a book of rules, the Chicago Manual of Style.  This book is used in the big publishing houses here in the US and is the manual of choice for most American editors of fiction and literary works. Referring to it when I have a question helps me to remain consistent in my punctuation, and ensures my personal style is comfortable for the reader.

You can use any style guide you choose, but you must remain consistent. Refer to your guide of choice whenever you are confused about punctuation or grammar. This isn’t a cure-all for bad writing. Many times, confusion can only be eliminated by rephrasing, deleting excessive descriptors, and by cutting long, compound sentences in half.

Knowledge of grammar is no substitute for talent, but it can help make talent readable.

If you are in the UK, you might want to invest in the New Oxford Style Manual.

If you are writing technical manuals, the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications would be a good investment for you.

If you are a journalism major, you may think Associated Press Style is the only style guide you’ll ever need, but you would be wrong. AP Style evolved for the printer setters in the newspaper industry and is intended to make the most efficient use of space in a column. It is not favored by the large traditional publishers and editors as the style guide for novels or short stories, which have different requirements.

For a good post on the major differences in these two very different American English styles, see this blog post written in 2016 by Acadia Otlowski for Hip B2B:

AP vs Chicago Manual of Style: Which Stylebook is Right for You?

I’ve seen AP and Chicago Manual users in hair-pulling matches over the Oxford comma, on-line disputes that were both embarrassing and needlessly troll-ish.

Regardless of your personal writing style, it’s a good idea to learn how to write and speak in your native language, as readers will be able to accept your personal style choices more easily if the larger elements flow as expected.

And that is the key word: expected.

We all habitually write in such a way that we consistently break certain rules. This is our voice and is our fingerprint. This does not mean you should throw grammar out the window—readers have expectations that authors will respect them enough to spell words properly, will understand the words they are using and use them correctly, and will insert pauses between certain clauses.

They don’t demand perfection, but they do want consistency.

A rudimentary knowledge of how your native language works is essential, so my advice is for you to invest in a few reference books and use them. Listed below are my go-to books.

If you are writing novels or fiction in the US, a handy book for you would be The Chicago Guide to Usage and Grammar by Bryan A. Garner. It is a more concise and to the point compilation of the important things than the big blue book that is the Chicago Manual of Style.

If you are in the UK, you should invest in The Oxford A – Z of Grammar and Punctuation by John Seely. I use this little guide when I am editing for my British clients.

A handy book for all who write in the many multi-national English dialects is The Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms – I find this book invaluable when I am stuck trying to think up an alternative word that won’t be awkward or pretentious.

I secretly love awkward and pretentious words, especially ones that rhyme. It embarrasses my children when I forget my manners and use them in public.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote from: A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue by Jonathan Swift, 1712, 2nd ed. Edited by Jack Lynch, Professor and chair of the English Department in the Newark College of Arts & Sciences at Rutgers University – Newark. (accessed Aug. 12, 2018).

7 Comments

Filed under writing

How I became an author #amwriting

I have always been a writer, and a lover of music and art. Music was important in our house, as my parents had a large collection of vinyl records and the stereo was always cranking. Whether it was classical, jazz, or rock and roll, music was played loud enough to hear outside.

In an afternoon, you might hear the Beatles, followed by Vivaldi, Dean Martin, Herman’s Hermits, Loretta Lynn, the Monkees, and capping the evening—Mozart. Simon and Garfunkle, The Who, The Rolling Stones, 101 Strings, Electric Light Orchestra, Eddy Arnold, Count Basie, Stevie Wonder—you name it, the music was always played at a high volume in our home.

The books in our home were just as eclectic. My parents were prolific readers and were members of both Doubleday Book Club and Science Fiction Book Club. They also purchased two to four paperbacks a week at the drugstore and subscribed to Analog and several other magazines.

There was always something new and wonderful to read around our house, and most of it was literary fiction or speculative fiction, although we had the entire 54 volume leather-bound set of the Great Books of the Western World, and our father insisted we attempt to read and discuss what we could.

Some of those books were mostly understandable, such as William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys.

Plato, not so much, and yet his work did influence me.

At the age of fourteen, I didn’t understand Pepys, but I read him, and while we were bass fishing on a Saturday morning, Dad would talk about the differences and commonalities between life and morality in Pepys’ London and our life in suburban America in 1968. His thought was that I should learn about the 17th century and the Great Fire in London from an eyewitness, just as I had learned about the war in the Pacific from John F. Kennedy‘s autobiographical novel, PT 109.

But Pepys’ London of 1666 was so different from the ‘Mod’ subculture of the London of 1968 (and the Beatles) that I was familiar with thanks to Life magazine. To me, it was almost like speculative fiction. In many ways, it was more difficult for me to believe in historical London than Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Everything I knew about sex, I learned from the books I stole from my mother’s nightstand.

When I married and left home, I still read every sci-fi or fantasy novel that came out in paperback, budgeting for books the way others of my acquaintance budgeted for beer. I read the classics for my irregular college classes and learned to love Chaucer and James Joyce. For a variety of reasons I never earned a college degree, but I’ve never stopped reading and researching great literature.

But reading for entertainment was still my “drug.” I jonesed for new books by the great ones, Anne McCaffreyJack Chalker, and Roger Zelazny, reading and rereading them until they were shreds held together with duct tape.

As a married student attending college in Bellingham Washington, purchasing books for pleasure became a luxury. I found a secondhand bookstore where I could get a brown paper shopping bag full of novels in too poor a condition to sell on their shelves for $2.00 a bag if you had a bag of better books to trade in.

As a college drop-out I went through a full shopping bag of books every week, and within a year, I had read every book they had.

Thus, out of desperation, I discovered a whole new (to me) genre: regency romances written by Georgette Heyer, and other romance writers of that generation. Those books, along with beat up copies of bestsellers by Jack KerouacJames Michener, and Jacqueline Susann began to show up in the pile beside my bed.

So at least some of my literary influences can be traced back to dragons, booze, morality, and England’s romantic Regency—lived vicariously through these authors’ eyes.

Always when the budget permitted, I returned to Tolkien, Zelazny, McCaffrey, AsimovBradbury, and as time passed, Piers AnthonyDavid EddingsTad WilliamsL.E. Modesitt Jr., and Robert Jordan to name only a few.

And there were so many, many others whose works I enjoyed. By the 1990s, the genres of fantasy and sci-fi were growing authors like a field grows weeds, and I loved it.

All of the books I read as a child and young adult have influenced my writing. They still inspire me.

Nowadays I rarely am able to read more than a chapter or two before falling asleep. My Kindle is full of books, and I haven’t got the time to read them because I have to write my own stories. Having the luxury to spend a day wallowing in a book is a treat to be treasured.

But it is because of the uncountable authors whose works I have been privileged to read that I was inspired to think that my own scribbles might be worth pursuing.

Writing has always been necessary for me, as natural as breathing. In the beginning, my writing was unformed, a reflection of whatever I was reading at the moment. As I matured and gained confidence, I found my own ideas and stories, and they took over my life.

Once that happened, I became a keyboard-wielding writing junkie.

Some days I write well, and others not so much, but every day I write something.

And every day I find myself looking for the new book that will rock my universe, a new “drug” to satisfy my craving, even if I know I won’t have time to read it.

I’m addicted to dreams and the people who write about them. Reading is my form of mind expanding inspiration. Without the authors whose books formed my world, I would never have dared to write.


Credits and Attributions

Potions of this article have appeared previously here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy in the post, The Genesis of an Author, © Connie J. Jasperson 2016, posted Jan 27, 2016

4 Comments

Filed under writing

logic, objective, and circumstance #amwriting

We begin any writing project with an idea, a flash of “What if….” Sometimes, that “what if” is inspired by an idea for a character, or perhaps a setting. Maybe it was the idea for the plot that had your wheels turning. Whatever the inspiration, a little pre-planning and a bit of an outline are beneficial in getting the manuscript started.

If you work at a day job and using the note-taking app on your cellphone to take down notes during work hours is frowned on, do as I still do. Carry a pocket-sized notebook and pen and write those ideas down. This is old-school but will enable you to discreetly make notes whenever you have an idea that would work well in your story, and you don’t appear to be distracted or off-task.

Once you have assembled your random ideas, and maybe even written a chapter or two, it’s time to think about where you are going with your story.

At the outset of the story, we find our protagonist and see him/her in their normal surroundings. Once we have met them and seen them in their comfort zone, an event occurs which is the inciting incident. This is the first point of no return.

Pretend we are writing a mystery/thriller: On page one, Dave, an unmarried accountant, sees a woman from across a cafe, and through a series of innocuous actions on his part, he is caught up in thwarting a spy ring.

  • What could possibly entice him out of his comfort zone? What would he spontaneously do that is out of character for him? Perhaps he buys a stranger lunch. You must show him as a shy person not given to buying lunch for strange women. This act must change his life.

Because he suddenly decided to “pay it forward” and paid for her lunch on his way out, he draws the attention of people who were following her. They suddenly think he is more than a simple accountant, that the act of buying her lunch was a secret code, making him a suspect.

Now, he is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the situation which is the core idea of your plot.

  • On his way back to his office, a white limousine pulls up alongside him, and four men in black suits hustle him into the backseat. He is forced at gunpoint onto a plane bound for Oslo, Norway, handcuffed to a suitcase. The only other key that can remove the handcuffs is at the American Embassy in the custody of a mysterious woman, Jeanne Delamont.

This is the circumstance in which your protagonist finds himself at the beginning of the story.

  • How will the next phase of the story start? Who is Ms. Delamont?
  • What is the hero’s personal condition (strength, health) at the beginning?
  • How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force?

Now we come to the next part of the core of your plot: objective.

In every class I’ve taken on plotting, the instructors have said that if your main character doesn’t want something badly enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages, then he/she doesn’t deserve to have a story told about them.

  • At this point, our hero just wants to get rid of the suitcase and go back to his job. He wants that desperately.
  • What does the woman at the café for whom he bought lunch have to do with the whole mess?

Everything you will write from the point of the inciting incident to the last page will detail that quest and answer that question. Your protagonist must desire nothing more than to achieve that objective. Every scene and conversation will push the protagonist closer to either achieving that goal or failing, so if you make it a deeply personal quest, the reader will become as invested in it as you are.

I find it helps to have a broad outline of my intended story arc. Speaking as a reader, at some point near the outset of their manuscript authors need to have an idea of how it will end, so the story flows smoothly to the best conclusion.

It’s okay to have several possible endings in mind, as long as each fits logically to the events that led up to them.

Try them all and choose the one that you like best.

If you try to wing it through the whole book, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.

  • What will be your inciting incident?
  • What is the goal/objective?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?

I write fantasy novels, but I also write literary fiction. Writing fantasy does require a certain amount of planning because so much goes into world building and creating magic systems. Literary fiction must also have a logical arc or the characters won’t evolve.

In any novel, when you are winging it through a story that encompasses 75,000 to 100,000 words, it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere. A loose outline will tell you what must happen next to arrive at the end of the book with a logical story set in a solidly designed world.

You don’t have to go into detail in that little framework, but if you give yourself a rough outline, you will know what you must do to accomplish each task within the storyline.

I always feel it’s necessary to have an outline of the story arc even if my novel has multiple possibilities for endings, as was the case in The Wayward Son. Winging it in short bursts can be exhilarating, but my years of experience with NaNoWriMo has taught me that when we are winging it for extended lengths of time, we sometimes run out of fresh ideas of what to do next.

With a simple outline, you won’t become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up once the real work of writing starts.

Readers become frustrated with authors who randomly kill off characters they have grown to like.

Besides, you might need that character later.


Credits and Attributions

Cover of the original novel “The Maltese Falcon” 1930, by Dashiel Hammett, published by Alfred A Knopf, Fair Use. Wikipedia contributors, “The Maltese Falcon (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Maltese_Falcon_(novel)&oldid=851535327 (accessed July 25, 2018).

6 Comments

Filed under writing

Life is a river #amwriting

Most people have struggled in their personal life at one time or another. During the years I was raising my children, I had three failed marriages, worked three part-time jobs, and it was hard to find time to write.

We came through the lean times as a tight-knit family. But I think of life as being like a river, because you never know what is around the bend. By the time my last chick left the nest, I had gained financial security, but a new difficulty arose.

Two of my children developed adult onset epilepsy, a complication which has made our comfortable life… interesting.

When you look at the statistics detailing the age of all patients at the time of their first seizure, the number of those whose first documented seizure occurs after reaching adulthood is far higher than those who experience it as children.

Yet little research has been done to document the experience of living with a seizure disorder as an adult.

They once lived their lives the way normal adults do. They used to be able to legally drive a car without endangering other people, to say nothing of themselves. They didn’t have to worry that a short flight of stairs could kill them or that cooking their breakfast could send them to a long stay in the burn unit.

There is anger, confusion. Why me? What did I do wrong? What can I change? There is even denial–it can’t be epilepsy; it’s never going to happen again.

The truth is, no one knows what causes most forms of epilepsy, and each patient responds to the medications differently. And every well-meaning auntie in the universe has sage advice to offer, despite not having any experience with it. “Try marijuana.” “Go on a Keto diet.” These are effective treatments for some people, but not for everyone, and not my son or daughter.

There is no miracle drug or diet out there at this time.

Epilepsy is not a poster-child kind of disease, so funding for research is limited. At this point, because the cause is rarely knowable, all the medical community can do is offer drugs to control the symptoms. Most times, seizure disorders are not operable, unless it is a tumor or some other obvious thing. When you look at the wide spectrum of patients with adult onset, you see those “easy-to-find with an MRI” causes are quite rare.

Many, like my son, are never quite able to get it under control, and it affects their jobs, their relationships, and their ability to live a fully independent life.

Others, like my daughter, go many years between seizures, and their lives are mostly unaffected by it. She has her own business, volunteers at her son’s school and is also the co-chairwoman of the PTA there.

Both of my children have suffered terrible injuries during seizure episodes. Both have spent time in the hospital, had to have surgeries to repair wounds incurred, and no one has ever been able to find the cause of their seizures.

Writing has been an escape that kept me sane when nothing was certain except my daughter and son were in terrible trouble, and the doctors didn’t know why and couldn’t cure it. The medical community wants to cure it, but the way this condition affects each sufferer is different, which frustrates the doctors as much as the patients.

For many people, after they have a large seizure event, there is a post-seizure stage where they suffer an altered state of consciousness. This can be dangerous if they are alone. They’re locked in a dream and make no sense when they speak. As they begin to come out of that stage, they’re unable to think clearly, can’t focus their attention or follow a conversation. This altered state is like sleepwalking and sleep-talking, which is why it’s dangerous. As they move out of this stage, they will also have problems with short term memory, and may have decreased verbal and interactive skills.

Fortunately, that is a temporary thing, lasting only one or two hour for some, but it can go one or two days for my son. After recovering from that stage, it still takes about two weeks for my son to get back to where he can think clearly enough to work on whatever project he is doing. He can’t be alone then, but  between his wonderful girlfriend and I, we care for him until he can be on his own again.

This post-seizure state cost my son his long-time job (ten years) as a software developer at Amazon and made it difficult for him to find work elsewhere. Most employers can’t accommodate an employee who is randomly unable to work for two weeks, two or three times a year.

After a time of intense depression and searching for answers that don’t exist, my son decided to be proactive. He started his own company, doing what he loves. He is now writing his own software and apps and is his own boss so he can work around his situation.

We could allow this epilepsy thing to overshadow our every waking moment, but that would change nothing. Research, they say, is ongoing, but nothing has changed treatment-wise since my daughter’s first seizure at the age of twenty-eight—sixteen years ago. My children still sometimes have seizures, and we have learned to laugh and enjoy our life despite the occasional setback.

The hours spent in hospitals as my son or daughter recovered from injuries incurred during a seizure helped forge my writing. Life is what happens when we aren’t on that merry-go-round, and other than that, our lives are good.

Life is a journey, and you never know what lies around the corner, but a sense of humor can be a solace when nothing else is. Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, says: Gallows humor has the social effect of strengthening the morale of the oppressed and undermines the morale of the oppressors. According to Wylie Sypher, “to be able to laugh at evil and error means we have surmounted them.”

Laughing and making crude jokes about the situation is how we survive the chaos and fear—it is what gets us through to the better days that wait just beyond the battle. Life can deal us a hand full of the worst cards, and epilepsy is not the end of the world.

My father’s career in the military ended when he lost his left leg as a result of a bone infection–he was forced into retirement after 15 years of service. While he was in the hospital, his family lost everything when their farm burned to the ground. He had survived WWII, but lost his brother in Korea. Yet despite what he had been through in France and the losses on the home front, he had a wicked sense of humor and an enormous passion for life.

Other people inspire me to avoid self-pity. I have two writing companions, one here in Washington state and one in California. Both are paralyzed, life changing events that would be devastating to any family. Yet they made it through the dark days and live every day to the fullest. Both have wonderful laughs, both make me feel weak in the face of their power and self-determination.

Loss of limbs, loss of physical independence, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of dignity, loss of face—we all deal with loss and hard times in one way or another.

But in between those rough times, we have times of happiness and joy, forgetting the pain and anger for a moment. Those are the precious hours we have earned, and they are the real life we are given.

Life is a river. What the river has taken is gone, and we can’t get it back, but the currents are carrying us in a different direction, to new shores. Yes, we must adapt to these changes, but that is what humans do.

My life is good today, and easy as compared to last summer. “Easy” won’t always be the case, so I am enjoying it while I have it. Life is always in a state of change, and when I next find myself in the midst of chaos and pain, I will try to think of the good things I still have, and I will find a way to be grateful.

We none of us know what the future holds—all we can ever really be sure of is this moment, this minute, and this beautiful day.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Gallows humor,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gallows_humor&oldid=759474185     (accessed  July 22, 2018).

8 Comments

Filed under Epilepsy, writing

Carving time for #writing

Time management is crucial for me. I don’t claim to be a great housekeeper, but I do need some order in my home, so it gets one hour of my attention. Laundry, dishes, dusting, picking up—one hour is all housekeeping gets. Period.

I have developed mad skills at carving out time for writing because every November, I participate in NaNoWriMo. As a municipal liaison for the Olympia area, I must get a minimum of 1,667 new words written each day. I usually average 3,000 to 5,000 words per day during that month. The rest of the year? 500 to 1,100.

I do this by having my daily prompts all set out in advance, and then I lock myself into my office and just wing it for at least two hours. Some of what emerges is good, and some, not so much. But it is an exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing at its most extreme, and it’s a good challenge for my elderly brain. Some of my better work was produced in its raw form during NaNoWriMo.

During the 1990’s, when I was working two jobs, I wrote every evening while my kids did their homework. Some nights I didn’t get a lot of words written, but many nights I did. Some days I wrote during my lunch half-hour. Countless afternoons were spent sitting in the car waiting for one of the kids to finish their after school activities, and I wrote then.

Every half-hour I spent writing was a gift in those days.

After the kids were out of the nest, I still wrote every night. I missed a lot of TV that way, but I had to choose what was important, and writing won.

Now I’m retired and write full-time. One of the most difficult parts of being a full-time author is the fact that we “work from home.” This means we’re on call at all times for any family emergency. It’s difficult for people to believe you are working if there is no tangible, visible reward such as a paycheck for your efforts.

However, once people can see that, yes, books have been published, they know that you really do write. But often, people still don’t understand how much time it takes to do this sort of work properly, or how difficult it is to get back into the writing mind after an interruption.

Time management comes into play for me because authors, both traditional and Indie, must be their own public relations team. I am very bad at this, but I use every automated assist available to me for that—Hootsuite has been a great help to me in scheduling tweets on my non-blogging days so that I don’t fade completely out of the Twitterverse. I care about that because much of my traffic here to this blog comes from Twitter.

WordPress’s “Publicize” tool is a real help. Thanks to that tool, this blog posts automatically to Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and my author Facebook page. I also went out to Amazon’s author central and linked it to my Amazon author page. I keep forgetting to post it to my Goodreads page because I don’t like the climate there and rarely visit that strange place. One of my other blogs posts there—a book review blog.

Of course, time management occasionally flies out the window. I drop everything to go sit with my grandkids, who all live a two- to three-hour drive away, or to help when a family member is dealing with difficult times. I have two kids with epilepsy, so difficult times happen with no warning.

But we handle those episodes and I keep writing because my laptop travels with me. Writing is my refuge, at times. But when life is uncomplicated and going well, writing is still my great joy, and the time I have to write is really important to me on a personal level.

Life in all its random glory is why good time management is so important for me. I schedule my writing time now that I am retired just as I did when I was working in Corporate America. If I didn’t, life’s little demands would eat away at my ability to just sit down and write.

After I finish editing on Sunday morning, I open Hootsuite and preschedule a week’s worth of random tweets on vegan food, favorite books, life observations, etc., which takes about ten minutes. Then I write at least one blog post, but usually, I write all the posts for the week. Being able to preschedule everything takes much of the work out of this gig.

I do any editing I may have for clients first thing in the morning. After editing, I get that one hour of housekeeping in. If you go fast enough, you actually get a good workout—dusting and vacuuming can be quite invigorating when done at top speed. Laundry looks a little haphazard when folded that quickly, but hey—once it’s shoved in the closet, who’s gonna notice?

Once I have put in my one hour of housekeeping, I put on my writing music, and that is my time to get some writing done. This time is inviolable—God help the neighbor who interrupts me to borrow an ax—they might get it, but not the way they hoped.

(Bad author! Bad! Bad!)

(No neighbors were harmed in the writing of this blogpost.)

7 Comments

Filed under writing

Disagreement, Dispute, and Combat #amwriting

In many books, the characters are forced to do a certain amount of fighting, whether it is a marital dispute, neighborhood quarrel, war, or a kickboxing tournament. Unfortunately, some authors don’t understand how important it is to choreograph the scenes of disagreement and disputes.

These scenes are crucial to the advancement of the story. They should be carefully planned and inserted into the novel as if one were staging a pivotal scene in a film.

Scenes involving physical action can be a morass of mindless mayhem, if  not well-choreographed to begin with. It takes time, but over the course of several hours, you can put the skeleton of your fight scene on paper. What is physically possible and what is not? The next step, after the action is laid down, is fine tuning it, so the reactions and responses of your characters are natural and real.

But there is a larger consideration for your battle: Scenes involving fighting are controlled chaos—controlled on the part of the author. The battle must advance the story.  Why did it happen? What is the purpose of injecting that conflict into the narrative?

I mentioned this in my last post on literary violence: In Billy Ninefingers, besides the obvious fact that he is seriously injured in the fight, which is the core plot point of the book, I had two other goals with that fight scene:

  1. I needed to show how the Bastard is jealous and acts on any thought that passes through his alcohol-soaked mind.
  2. In the resolution of that scene, I demonstrated that Billy, even with his life in ruins, has a sense of fair-play.

There are two sorts of fights, verbal and physical. Both have commonalities, although words are the weapons  in the verbal dispute.

Many authors get hung up on the technical side of the fight—how they were dressed, who hit who with what words or weapons, and so on.

Just as if the physical dispute were a verbal dispute, we map the violence out as we would a journey, with every slap, curse word, and gunshot occurring at its proper point in the melee. If physical violence is involved and you are not a martial arts aficionado or a weapons specialist, these are necessary elements of the combat scene that good, responsible research and an author’s diligence can resolve.

What we have to consider in each quarrel is that each character in the fight is, and must remain, a unique individual. There should be no blurring of personalities, which can happen when an author focuses too intently on the action of the fight scene, writing it as if they lived it. For the author, acting out the action ensures that the moves are reasonable and make sense, but you aren’t done writing that scene just because the hacking, slashing, and gunshots are on paper. It’s far too easy for the author’s voice to intrude in these scenes, as the author is so wrapped up in the emotion of the event they don’t see that the characters have fallen silent, and he is the one doing all the shouting.

If the dispute is verbal, the words hurled back and forth must be the words that character would use. Each character has habitual mannerisms. In real life, they wouldn’t all react the same way, so they can’t all be superheroes in your fight scene. You must go back to the first part of that section, and make sure you haven’t lost the individuality of the characters in the chaos. Each character’s reactions must be portrayed in the action sequence in such a way the reader doesn’t say, “He wouldn’t do that.”

I try to show this in small, unobtrusive ways by sitting back and visualizing the scene after the choreography is laid on paper. I replay it in my mind as if I were a witness to the events and look for the facial expressions and reactions of each combatant.

The most important reactions get briefly mentioned in the story, the reactions that push the plot forward. The others are witnessed but given less prominence, becoming part of the scenery.

When I choreograph a fight, I think of it as choreographing a conversation. In real life, people miss a few beats when they are speaking. They gather their thoughts and speak in short bursts. They shift in their chair, or stand up, or wave a hand to emphasize a point. They turn and sometimes mumble. In our literary conversations, we want to paint the impression of their individuality without boring the reader with minute details.

We must approach the fight scene the same way. When it comes to fighting, I keep it concise and linear, as drawn-out fight scenes bore me to tears. Just the facts, the immediate emotional impact, and we move on to the recovery scene.

In so many novels, battle scenes are long, drawn out, convoluted passages detailing blood and guts, but which make no sense. I don’t like books where the fights are senseless and too chaotic to follow, because I know that isn’t true to life. Violence is orderly and happens in a sequence of actions, within a fundamental framework of order.

I have been married four times, so trust me, I understand disputes and how they can escalate out of control. But I also have personal experience with physical violence. I played hockey for four years as a young woman, and I also took martial arts as a young adult. From my personal experience, I know that each fight is comprised of a specific sequence of events, despite the fact it appears to be chaotic. 

  1. the inciting incident – what triggers it
  2. the response – what each combatant does and how the opponent responds
  3. the resolution – how does it end?
  4. the aftermath

It is the swiftness of the event and the emotional impact of the violence that conveys the overwhelming sense of chaos.

Once you have the order of events, who did what and what the result of that action was, you must add the emotion, the sense of fear, the feeling that things are happening too swiftly that is the true chaos of the battle.

Every character’s emotions and reactions are individual, uniquely theirs. You, as the author, visualize them this way, but the difference between success and failure as an author is the ability to commit their uniqueness to paper. Many authors don’t succeed at this—they either fail to give enough subtle clues to the reader, or they are too specific. The fine line between enough and too much is where the author’s artistry comes in.

This has also been said before, but it bears mentioning again. Through physical actions and conversational interactions, we make our characters knowable and likable (or not, as the case may be).

Their actions as they interact with their environment and each other illustrate the world they exist in. Each scene, especially a fight scene, is your opportunity to convey the setting and the mood of your characters without resorting to an info dump.

We are painters with words. We give the impression of detail, offering the reader a framework to hang his imagination on. We use our words sparingly and with intention, giving the reader the idea and the atmosphere of the conflict as if painting the scene in the style of the impressionists.


Credits and Attributions:

Dutch: De dood is fel en snel: Ruzie in een pub, English: Death is Violent and Fast: Quarrel in a Pub, painting by Joos van Craesbeeck, ca. 1630 – 1635 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

4 Comments

Filed under writing

Information and Misinformation #amwriting

This week, I am involved in editing for clients, hosting a writing meetup, and working hard on a first draft.

Over the weekend I made good headway with new material, and now I am putting much of what we have previously discussed into action as I expand on those chapters.

I’m ensuring that within the larger story, I have a structure of smaller arcs,  scenes that will come together to create this all-encompassing two-volume drama. If I do this right, I will keep my readers’ hearts invested in the narrative until the end of the second book.

I’ve talked before about the arc of the scene vs. the overall arc of the novel.

The end of the scene is the platform from which your next scene launches. This means each scene begins at a slightly higher point on the novel’s narrative arc than the previous scene did, driving the narrative. That pulse is critical to creating the necessary tension.

At this point, I’m still fine-tuning the plot, deciding who has the critical knowledge. The fact that some characters are working with limited information is what creates the tension, a concept known as asymmetric information. This a situation in which one party has more or superior information compared to another. In business, this can prevent other companies from effectively entering and competing in an industry or market. The company with the information has a monopoly.

In real life, a monopoly of information creates a crisis. In the novel, it creates tension. A conversation scene should be driven by the fact that one person has knowledge the others need to know at that moment. Whether or not they receive the information in time is up to you in the plotting stage.

So, this is what I am doing now, making sure the information is divided up disproportionately. No one ever has all the knowledge, and what my protagonist doesn’t know at the beginning is central to the plot and the final confrontation at the end of the second half.

The reader must get answers at the same time as the other characters, gradually over the first 3/4 of each novel. Book one has the first half of the story line and a satisfying conclusion, and book two is the protagonists’ ultimate destination and final meeting with the enemy. Dispersing small but necessary bits of info at just the right moment so there are no info dumps is tricky but by the final draft of both books, all will have been smoothed out.

As I said, I am creating small arcs, scenes that pose questions, but also provide answers to previously posed questions. Large and small events occur but are linked by conversations because events don’t happen randomly. Sometimes an incident is self-explanatory, but action alone wouldn’t be enlightening.

My characters are charismatic, as they exist in my head. My task in this first draft is to show them in such a way that the reader sees the magic in them that I see. I have to create a pulse of each character’s desires and objectives, laced with information and misinformation. I am creating a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the first conclusion at the end of book one.

Book one’s final confrontation has to be good and resolve the first conflict. I hate cliff-hanger endings so there will be none of that in my work.

I will finish both books before I publish book one, with book two in the final editing stage when book one goes to press. By planning out my production schedule like this, I hope I can achieve what I envision, an epic fantasy that hooks the reader with small rewards of emotional satisfaction along the way to the big event.

My trusty beta readers will “politely” inform me (with a brick to my head) if I don’t somehow accomplish just that.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

Crisis and the point of no return #amwriting

In literature what is the “point of no return?” Scott Driscoll, on his blog, says, “This event or act represents the point of maximum risk and exposure for the main character (and precedes the crisis moment and climax).”

Crises, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs. Most disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return; places where the protagonist could have made a different choice and trouble could have been avoided.

Our task as authors is to identify this plot point and make it subtly clear to the reader, even if only in hindsight.

In life we often find ourselves boxed into a corner, frantically dealing with things we could have avoided if only we had paid attention and not ignored the metaphoric “turn back now” signs.

I’ve used this prompt before, but it’s a good one, so here it is again:

Imagine a road trip where you are sent off on a detour in a city you’re unfamiliar with. What would happen if some of the signs were missing, detour signs telling you the correct way to go? Also missing is a one-way street warning sign.

At some point, before you realized the signs had been removed, there was a place you could have turned back. Unaware of the danger, you passed that stopping point and turned left when you should have turned right. Now you find yourself driving into oncoming traffic on a one-way street.

That place where you could have turned around before you entered the danger zone was the point of no return for your adventure. Fortunately, in our hypothetical road-trip, no one was harmed, although you were honked at and verbally abused by the people who were endangered by your wrong turn. You made it safely out of danger, but you’ll never take a detour again without fearing the worst.

In contemporary fiction, literary fiction, romance—no matter what genre you are writing in, “arcs of action” drive the plot. A point of no return comes into play in every novel to some degree. The protagonists are in danger of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation whether they are ready for it or not.

Speculative fiction generally features a plot driven by a chain of events, small points of no return, each one progressively forcing the protagonist and his/her companions to their meeting with destiny.

Contemporary and literary fiction is also driven by a chain of small events. In some novels, this takes the protagonist to a confrontation with himself, or a family is forced to deal with long-simmering problems. Many times in literary fiction the point of no return looks like a non-event on the surface. But nevertheless, these events are the impetus of change.

In most literature, these scenes of action form arcs that rise to the Third Plot Point: the event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death. This event forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be, OR it breaks them down to their component parts. Either way, the protagonist is changed by this crisis.

The struggle may have been fraught with hardship, but the final point of no return is the ultimate event that forces the showdown and face-to-face confrontation with the enemy—the climactic event.

No matter the genre, the story arc has certain commonalities—in literary fiction, they will be more subtle and internal than in an action adventure or space opera, but in all novels the characters experience growth/change forced on them by events.

During the build-up to the final point of no return, you must develop your characters’ strengths. You must identify the protagonist’s goals early on and clarify why he/she must struggle to achieve them.

  1. How does the protagonist react to being thwarted in his efforts?
  2. How does the antagonist currently control the situation?
  3. How does the protagonist react to pressure from the antagonist?
  4. How does the struggle deepen the relationships between the protagonist and his cohorts/romantic interest?
  5. What complications arise from a lack of information regarding the conflict?
  6. How will the characters acquire that necessary information?

Misfortune and struggle create opportunities for your character to grow as a person or to change for the worse. We must place obstacles in our protagonists’ path that will stretch their abilities, and which are believable, so that by the end of the book they are strong enough to face the final event and denouement.

Remember, each time the characters in a book overcome an obstruction, the reader is rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction. That reward keeps the reader turning pages.

It doesn’t matter what genre you are writing in: you could be writing romances, thrillers, paranormal fantasy, or contemporary chick lit—obstacles in the protagonist’s path to happiness make for satisfying conclusions.

The books I love to read are crafted in such a way that we get to know the characters, see them in their environment, and then an incident happens, thrusting the hero down the road to divorce court, or trying to head off a nuclear melt-down.

After all, sometimes a dinner party happens, and the next day our Hobbit finds himself walking to the Misty Mountains with a group of Dwarves he only just met, leaving home with nothing but the clothes on his back. In chasing after them, Bilbo has passed the first point of no return. I say this because after having heard the stories and listened to their song, and after having seen the map, even if he were to turn back and stay home, Bilbo would have been forever changed by regret for what he didn’t have the courage to do.

9 Comments

Filed under writing

Conflict, the core of the story #amwriting

cuckoo_definition_thefreedictionary_lirfI began my current project with an idea for a character, and I knew what the ultimate end of the story is because it is already canon in the Tower of Bones series. The difficulty I have had was devising a completely different culture, the pre-culture if you will.

In the time of the Tower of Bones series, the Temple of Aeos is a finely-tuned machine that serves to distribute food and medical care to the poorer communities, provides education to everyone, provides military protection when needed, and maintains the roads that connect the communities. Mages are sworn to serve the goddess Aeos, and the people of Neveyah, even at the cost of their lives. Although it’s not bandied about, the Temple’s primary function is to find mage-gifted children before their untrained gift wreaks havoc in their communities. Untrained mages have a high chance of becoming the tool of the Bull God, Tauron.

In the current work-in-progress the Temple doesn’t exist. It is born into existence because of the struggles of two larger-than-life characters and the events of these two books.

When I decided to write this story, I had to ask myself three questions. The answers to these questions are what shapes the story arc.

1: The Problem: What is the core conflict?

My protagonist and antagonist are each chosen as champions of their deities. The one who wins decides which deity rules Neveyah, the usurper or the rightful goddess. There is more than simply a world at stake here—the balance of the worlds is threatened as there must be one world for each living god, and even though he is imprisoned, Ariend still lives.

One deity, the mad god Tauron, is the cuckoo in their nest. He was not born a child of the Mother of All as were the others, but simply appeared one day and was taken in, which upset the balance of the universe.  When no new goddess appeared to be his mate, Tauron’s loneliness caused his descent into madness.

Angry at being denied a wife, Tauron desires to rule the universe and began his quest by assaulting his brother Ariend to claim Aeos as his wife. This was the apocalyptic “Sundering of the Worlds” and nearly destroyed the societies of three worlds.

He has claimed half of Ariend’s world and intends to have the rest. He will take Aeos and her world, believing it is his due.

However, with the imprisonment of Ariend, the gods can no longer interact directly with each other, but must instead act through their champions, who have free will. Religion features strongly in this series, and the concepts of good and evil, moral right and wrong.

2: What do they want? What does each character desire?

Each man desires to unite Neveyah under the banner of his deity. Alf follows Aeos, Goddess of Hearth and Home, who created the world of Neveyah.

Daryk follows Tauron, the Bull God, who created the world of Serende and who imprisoned Aeos’s husband, Ariend the Mountain God, in his effort to force Aeos to become his wife.

Map of the North and the Barbarian Towns, in the time of AelfridAlf’s best friend has triggered a mage trap and fallen to the Dark God. His wife has left him and dumped their sick child on him, and he has been chosen for a task he doesn’t want—that of Shaman. He believes that the Barbarian Tribes are the key to defeating Tauron because their culture is strongly rooted in the concept of community. Each member of the community can defend themselves against raiders, something the people living in the citadels of the south have forgotten.

With the triggering of the trap, Daryk has shed the weakness that was his life as a follower of Aeos. He now understands that only the strong deserve to survive and rule Neveyah, and he believes the Barbarian Tribes are the key to defeating Aeos, as they are trained in war craft.

 

3: What will they do to get it? How far will each go to achieve their desire?

At times, the line between what is moral and immoral is blurred, as both societies are fundamentally flawed. Both men will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, although of the two, only Alf is burdened with regrets for the choices he makes.

This is the core conflict. How my characters deal with it is the story.


Credits and Attributions:

Cuckoo in the nest definition, The Free Dictionary,

https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+cuckoo+in+the+nest, accessed June 12, 2018.

5 Comments

Filed under writing