Tag Archives: #amwriting

Cyberpunk and Sturm und Drang #amwriting

We all want to create intense moods and evoke a strong atmosphere in our work. This can range from subtle hints to full-on Sturm und Drang, but the intention is to captivate the reader either way.

What is Sturm und Drang? The English translation is literally Storm and Stress.

sturmUndDrang05152021LIRFSturm und Drang, as a literary form, evolved during the time of the American Revolutionary War. This was an era of global unrest and great hardship, especially in Europe. The main feature of Sturm und Drang is the expression of high emotions, strong reactions to events, and rebellion against rationalism. It is characterized by intense individualism and complex reactions.

Classical literature in this style began in 1772 with “Prometheus,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in hatred and defiance. Misotheism is the hatred of God or the Gods, stemming from a moment in a person’s life where one feels the gods have abused and abandoned him.

One can’t hate what one doesn’t believe in, so misotheism requires a firm belief in a God or Gods.

Wikipedia tells usPrometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition. [1]

Literature and music written in the style of Sturm und Drang were meant to shock the audience, inundating them with extremes of emotion.

A parallel movement occurred in the visual arts. Artists began producing paintings of storms and shipwrecks, showing the terror and irrational destruction wrought by nature. These pre-romantic works were fashionable in Germany from the 1760s on through the 1780s.

Alongside these frightening landscapes, disturbing depictions of nightmarish visions were gaining an audience in Europe. Goethe and many of his contemporaries admired and purchased paintings by artists like Henry Fuseli, horror-scapes intended to frighten the viewer.

the machine stops em forsterSo, this brings me to the subgenre of cyberpunk. One of the earliest science fiction short stories to feature a dystopian society was The Machine Stops, written by E. M. Forster. It was published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909).

In cyberpunk, we see many of the features of classic Sturm und Drang but set in a dystopian society. The deities are technology and industry. Corporate uber-giants are the gods whose knowledge mere mortals desire and whom they seek to replace.

And, just like all demi-gods, when an exceptionally strong and clever protagonist does manage that feat, it’s business as usual. They are no better than the gods whose thrones they have usurped.

Wikipedia defines cyberpunk as a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial “high tech low life  featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order. [2]

Cyberpunk began as a niche rebellion by authors like Phillip K. Dick. It is now considered mainstream speculative fiction and has a large audience.

Works in this genre are always set in a post-industrial dystopian world with deep divisions in the strata of society. Some have a specified caste system of sorts, but most people live in extreme poverty in all cyberpunk tales. There will be a small middle class, and at the top, a few of the strongest, most powerful people hold incredible wealth. These societies have fallen into extreme chaos, which is the driver of the story.

The MacGyver Effect is utilized to the fullest in these stories: protagonists acquire and use technology in ways never anticipated by the original inventors. A central trope of this genre is “the street finds its own uses for things.”  

In cyberpunk, the atmosphere is dark, heavily film noir. It is fast-paced, atmospheric, and alcohol is heavily abused. It is often sexist, although strong feminine cyberpunk is emerging. The prose usually has a pared-down style reminiscent of 1950s detective fiction. Street drugs are cheap and are the relaxation of choice in many cyberpunk novels.

Macbeth_consulting_the_Vision_of_the_Armed_HeadMany authors whose works appeared in the early days of cyberpunk were indies hoping to go mainstream. Their short stories appeared in popular sci-fi magazines because visionary editors risked their jobs and reputations by accepting and publishing work that their readers could have rejected.

The success of those short works piqued the interest of agents and larger publishers, enabling them to sell their longer work.

We indie authors are fortunate. We have a lot of latitude in what we choose to write. We can write and publish edgy work that would be turned away by traditional publishers, who would pass on it because it might not be a commercial success.

Authors who engage in artistic rebellion will often find great success — but usually, this comes after they are dead.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Prometheus (Goethe),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Prometheus_(Goethe)&oldid=994790116 (accessed May 15, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Cyberpunk,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cyberpunk&oldid=1020463998 (accessed May 15, 2021).

Images:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Macbeth consulting the Vision of the Armed Head.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Macbeth_consulting_the_Vision_of_the_Armed_Head.jpg&oldid=526733277 (accessed May 15, 2021).

The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster, published in the Oxford and Cambridge Review by Archibald Constable, 1909. Amazon LLC cover, published 05-15-2021, fair use.

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To schedule writing time or not? #amwriting

In a writers’ forum, I was recently asked how a person can go full-time as a writer. I don’t have a good answer for that as you must be able to pay your bills, or no books will ever be written.

MyWritingLife2021Most writers are hobbyists. This is because if one intends to be a full-time writer, one must have an income.

I am a full-time writer. I have regular office hours for writing, and I’m retired from my career in Corporate America.

For many years I was a hobbyist, writing when I had a chance and devoting my life to my job and raising a family.

Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work while on break or at lunch. Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing by either rising two hours before they must depart for work or by skipping TV in the evening.

When I was working, I fell into both categories. A happy life is all about balance. My family always came first, so I arranged my writing time around their schedules.

When I am in the planning stage of a novel or story, I find myself stopping whatever I’m doing and making notes, quickly getting down any thoughts that occur. This is a habit I developed when I was employed outside my home.

Until 2012, I was like everyone else, with a job and commitments that took precedence over any writing I might have wanted to do.

I saw very little television in those days. Evenings and weekends were my only time for writing, making art, or reading.

Now that I’m retired from working outside my home, six in the morning until noon is my best time to write. However, being retired means you are always available when a crisis occurs.

blogging memeEvents occur, disturbing my writing schedule, but I usually forgive the perpetrators and allow them to live. At that point, I revert to writing whenever I have a free moment.

I’m a less than enthusiastic housekeeper even when not writing, but I keep things sort of under control. These are the tasks everyone does, chores that keep our homes livable.

I squeeze housekeeping chores into my writing time the way I used to fit writing into my working life.

Dinner at the table was the one meeting place for my family during the blender years of child-rearing.

I tend to do the cooking, and dinner hits the table at 5:00 pm. If you aren’t there on time, I will give you the evil eye for the rest of your life or the evening, whichever ends first.

Balance is the key to a happy life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we want to share our lives and interests with others.

Creativity applies to everything from making a meal, to painting, to generating a business plan—your spouse or child’s creative bent may be wildly different from yours, but you must be supportive.

Therefore, we who write must make time to write. This allows us to be creative and still support our families, who all have activities and interests of their own.

ICountMyself-FriendsAs I have said many times before, being a writer is to be supremely selfish about every aspect of life, including family time.

It also requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or so just for that pursuit, a little time where no one is allowed to disturb you.

A good way to make sure you have that time is to encourage your family members to use that time to indulge in their interests and artistic endeavors.

That way, everyone has the chance to be creative in their own way, and they will understand why you value your writing time so much.

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Character Creation: The Ally #amwriting

An archetype is an ancient pattern describing a type of character that exists across different cultures and eras of human history. In ancient times, we had no communication with other cultures. Yet, our myths and legends share these familiar, recognizable characters we call archetypes.

WritersjourneysmallThe Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, details the various traditional archetypes that form the basis of most characters in our modern mythology (or literary canon). I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about archetypes and how they fit into the story.

The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:

  1. Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
  2. Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts.
  3. Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome.
  4. Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero.
  5. Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view.
  6. Shadow: a character who represents the energy of the dark side
  7. Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving a variety of functions.
  8. Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change.

Last week we discussed the Mentor. We also looked at one of the many aspects of a hero-character, the Sacrificial Lamb.

Now let’s look at Allies, friends and supporters, side characters who enable the protagonist to achieve their goal. Side characters are essential, especially characters with secrets, because they are a mystery. Readers love to work out puzzles.

f scott fitzgerald quoteOne thing I do recommend is that you keep the number of allies limited. Too many named characters can lead to confusion in the reader.

It’s sometimes challenging to decide who should go and who should stay. What is the optimal number of primary characters for a book? Be kind to the reader. Introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense.

When you give a character a name, you imply they are a memorable part of the story instead of a walk-on. Even if a walk-on character offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be named.

Does the character return later in the story? When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Also, never name two characters in the same narrative so that the first and last letters of their names are the same.

For instance, having a Darnell and a Darrell with prominent roles in the same book could be confusing.

Make their names unique and give them a name only if they have a memorable role later. Also, as audiobooks come more and more into the publishing rainbow, spelling and ease of pronounceability are critical.

callMeGeorgeLIRF04252021How easy is it to read, and how will that name be pronounced when it is read aloud?

Certain tricks of plotting function well across all genres, from sci-fi to romance, no matter the setting. In most novels, one or more characters is a “fish out of water,” in that they are immediately thrust into an unknown and possibly dangerous environment.

Every core character that the protagonists are surrounded by should project an unmistakable surface persona, characteristics that are identifiably “them” from the outset.

From the moment they enter the story, we should see glimpses of weaknesses and fears. We should see hints of the sorrows and guilts that lie beneath their exterior personas. Remember, they aren’t the protagonist, so their story must emerge as a side note, a justification for their inclusion in the core group.

Old friends have long histories, and the protagonist knows most of their secrets at the outset. We don’t engage in info-dumping. Their backstory should emerge only at critical points, if and when it provides the reader with information they must know.

If these friends are new to the protagonist, their stories should emerge in the form of information the protagonist must have to complete their quest. However, it should come out only when the reader must know it too.

Twilight_Confidences_by_Cecilia_BeauxIn real life, everyone has emotions and thoughts they conceal from others. Perhaps they are angry and afraid, or jealous, or any number of emotions we are embarrassed to acknowledge. Maybe they hope to gain something on a personal level—if so, what? Small hints revealing those unspoken motives are crucial to raising the tension in the narrative.

As writers, our task is to ensure that each character’s individual story intersects smoothly and doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.

To do that, the motivations of the side characters must be clearly defined. You must know how the person thinks and reacts as an individual.

Ask yourself what desires push this character? What lengths will they go to in the effort to achieve their goal? Conversely, what will they NOT do?

Just as you have done with the hero of your story, ask yourself what the side characters’ moral boundaries are and what actions would be out of character for them?

Mood is a large word serving several purposes. It is created by the setting (atmosphere), by the exchanges of dialogue (conversation), and the tone of the narrative (word choices, descriptions). It is also affected by (and refers to) the emotional state of all the characters—their personal mood.

ICountMyself-FriendsDialogue gives shape to the story, turning what could be a wall of words into something personal. We meet and get to know our protagonists and the people they will travel with through the conversations they engage in.

Write nothing that seems out of character unless there is a good, justified reason for that behavior or comment.

We want to create empathy in the reader for the group as a whole, but the pacing of the story remains central.

For all characters, whether they are the protagonist or their allies, personal revelations should only come out when they are necessary to propel the plot to its conclusion.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

Twilight Confidences, Cecilia Beaux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Writing the Short Story part 5: The Narrative Essay #amwriting

We’re working our way through a series on writing short fiction. However, we’re not done—yet another short form of writing to explore is the essay. For Indy authors who wish to earn actual money from their writing, the narrative essay is often easier to sell to reputable magazines. This is because they appeal to a broader audience than genre fiction does.

narrative essayNarrative essays are drawn directly from real life, but they aren’t necessarily factual or accurate representations of events. They often detail a fictionalized experience or event that affected the author on a personal level.

One of my favorite narrative essays is 1994’s Ticket to the Fair (now titled “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All“) by David Foster Wallace and published in Harpers. Told in the first person, it is a humorous, eye-opening story of a “foreign” (east coast) journalist’s assignment to cover the 1993 Iowa State Fair.

At the outset, Wallace states he was born several hours drive from the fair but had never attended it. A city boy, he has no knowledge of farms, farm culture, or animals. After high school and college, he had left the Midwest for the East Coast and never looked back. When the essay opens, Wallace hasn’t really thought about the fair beyond the fact that he is getting his first official press pass for covering the fair for Harpers.

Wikipedia summarizes Ticket to the Fair this way: Wallace’s experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.

The primary purpose of an essay is thought-provoking content. The narrative essay conveys our ideas in a palatable form, so writing this sort of piece requires authors to think. You must consider both content and structure.

Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • an ending

oxford_synonym_antonymChoose your words for impact! Writing with intentional prose is critical. A good essay has been put into an entertaining form that expresses far more than mere opinion. Narrative essays sometimes present deep, uncomfortable concepts but offer them in a way that the reader feels connected to the story.

Good essays offer a personal view of the world, the places we go, and the people we meet along the way. Names should be changed, of course.

Literary magazines want well-written essays with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics. Some will pay well for first publication rights.

If you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing. Never send out anything that is not your best work. After you have finished the piece, set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are actual words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you, the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Digits/Numbers: Mis-keyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.
  • Dropped and missing words.

Don’t be afraid to write with a wide vocabulary. With that said, never use jargon or technical terms only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be a little bold. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace and George Saunders because they are adventurous in their work. Saunders’ style is always approachable, but others may find Wallace wordy and difficult to wade through. He was often accused of being too “literary” in the arrogant sense of the word.

real-writers-writeAnd on that note, we must be realistic. Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most exciting thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions. They probably won’t agree with you.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

And when you receive that email of acceptance—crack open the fancy cider and celebrate! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Supposedly_Fun_Thing_I%27ll_Never_Do_Again&oldid=815132504 (accessed January 9, 2018).

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Writing the short story part 4: making it submission-ready #amwriting

You have written a short story and edited it. You have decided what publication you want to submit it to. Now you must format the manuscript to make it submission-ready. Your next steps will show the prospective publisher your level of professionalism.

WritingCraft_short-story-formattingEditors at magazines, contests, and publishing houses have no time to deal with poorly formatted manuscripts. Their inboxes are full of properly formatted work, so they will reject the amateurs without further consideration.

You must learn to use your word-processing program. I use Microsoft Word, but Google Docs and Open Office are very similar.

FIRST: Read the submission guidelines your prospective publisher has posted on their website and follow them.

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part, this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

Running across the top of the page in your word-processing program is the ribbon (toolbar). Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. Sometimes you can’t see it, and this is because it is hidden.

On the far right-hand side in Word is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon. We are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need. If you are using a different program than mine, don’t be afraid to google how to unhide the toolbar/ribbon for your program.

Formatting_final_Fonts_2_LIRF03292020First, we must select the font. Every word-processing program has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

Use the industry-standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and click on the tab marked ‘Home.’ In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the Editing group, click: select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the manuscript still highlighted, go to the font group on the ribbon’s left-hand end. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body),’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by clicking on the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Courier (depending on the publisher’s guidelines). Click on that, and the font for the entire ms will be that font. If you have clicked on the wrong font, it can be undone by clicking the back-arrow. Once you are satisfied with your changes, click Save.

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read.

Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents might fail when the manuscript is electronically uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends and another begins.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (Caret + lowercase t) (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t). This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard: ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever. This will temporarily make your manuscript look like a wall of words, but you will resolve that the proper way.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

FIRST: SELECT ALL. This will highlight your entire manuscript.

select-all-printscreenStep 1: On the Home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it. A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the dropdown menu, select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers will specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

  • margins of 1 inch all the way around
  • indented paragraphs with no extra space between
  • double-spaced text
  • Align Left. This is critical.

formatting_paragraphs_in_MSWord_Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text gives you straight margins on both sides. However, this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is published. At that point, the publisher will handle the formatting.

Now we need to make the “Header.” This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, consisting of page numbers, title, and author name. If an editor likes your work, they might print it out to look at it more closely. If the printout of the manuscript falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled because the pages are numbered.

We insert the header by opening the “insert” tab and clicking on “page number.” This opens a new menu. We add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:

Headers and Page numbers prnt sc 2Now your manuscript is submission-ready. It is in Times New Roman or Courier .12 font, is aligned left, has1 in. margins, is double-spaced, has formatted indented paragraphs.

The header contains the title and your pen name. The first page contains your legal name, mailing address, contact information in the upper left-hand corner, and the word count on the right.

First_page_topThis may seem like overkill to you. If you are serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be as professionally formatted as is possible.

I hope these general instructions will help you find success, but be sure to check the publisher’s website as each publisher may have different requirements. If you don’t follow your prospective publisher’s submission guidelines, you have wasted your time submitting it.

 

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WordPress Block Editor work-around part 2: Using Images the Easy Way with the Classic Editor Toolbar #amblogging #wordpressfail

‘Life in the Realm of Fantasy’ is a WordPress blog. I originally went with WordPress for this website because it is a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.  I also have several other blogs on Blogger (Blogspot/Google), also a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.

Free-Range Pansies photo credit cjjap copyI prefer Blogger for ease of use, but I love the way WordPress looks when you get to the finished product stage. I do pay an annual fee to both WordPress and Blogger so that my readers aren’t subjected to random and sometimes obscene-looking advertisements.

We discussed how to find and use the classic editor tool bar in the Block Editor menu in my last post: WordPress Block Editor work-around part 1: how to find and use the classic editor toolbar. Today we’re going to source and use images to make our posts more eye-catching.

Open the Classic Editor Toolbar. Once you have your text the way you want it, it’s time to add images.

Place your cursor in the body of the blog post and click once at the spot where you will want the image. Then go to the right side of the ribbon/toolbar and click on the little camera/music notes.(When you hover your mouse over it, it will say ‘add media shift/alt/M).

When the image loads, click on it and a small toolbar will appear.

insert images classic editor toolbar

  1. Position your photo via the small toolbar. Do this first!
  2. To change the size of the image, click on the little white square in the upper right of the image. Hold it and drag the image to the size you want.

freerange daisies and image toolbar

If this is your first blog post, you won’t have anything in your media library yet, so click on “Upload Files.” Practice uploading images and inserting them, playing with it until you feel comfortable and know how to ensure the image will appear where you want it, and will be the size you want it to be. Then, once the image is in the body of the post, you click on the picture, and a new toolbox opens up. That is where you make your adjustments for positioning and size. You can even add captions.

But how do we find our images?

When we first begin blogging, sourcing images seems like no big deal. You google what you want, see what images pop up, right click, copy, and use them, right?

Wrong! Photographers and artists are just like writers—they are proud of their work and want to be credited for it. Protect yourself and your work by responsibly sourcing your images, giving credit to the authors and artists whose work you use.

You can get into terrible financial trouble and lose your credibility if you use images you don’t have the right to use.

A very good friend recently pointed out that even if you reblog a post where the images weren’t sourced properly, you might get into trouble, even though you reposted it in good faith.

I’ve mentioned this post before: The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!

blogging memeSo, now that we are clear as to our legal responsibility, what does the cash-strapped author do? I go to Wikimedia and use images that are in the public domain, and I also create my own graphics.

An excellent article on using Creative Commons Images can be found here:

Wikimedia makes it easy for you to get the attributions and licensing for each image.

Another good source I have used is Allthefreestock.com, where you can find hundreds of free stock photos, music, and many other things for your blog and other projects.

Sometimes I need images I can only get by purchasing the rights to them. I’m not rich, so for those, I go to Dreamstime or Canstock, and several other reputable sources. For a few dollars, usually only two or three, I then have the right to use the image of my choice, and it’s properly licensed.

The proper legal attribution is also there on the seller’s website, clearly written out with the copyright and artist name, so all you need to do is copy and paste it into your footnotes.

credits and attributionsI keep a log of where my images are sourced, who created them, and what I used them in. One thing WordPress has either removed or hidden is the ability to insert the attribution into the image details so that when a mouse hovered over the image, curious readers could go to the source. But that doesn’t seem to be an option any more.

Since we’re talking about citing our sources, what about quoting an article or other literary work? Sometimes we want to quote another blogger or use the information we have learned from them.

Plagiarism is a bad word, and you never want to be accused of it. To that end, we cite our sources—but there is a caveat here:

  1. If we are quoting from a book and we intend to publish that passage in our book, we go to the publisher and get legal written permission to do so.
  2. If we can’t get legal written permission to quote them in our book, we do not use that quote.

Composing the body of my post in a document rather than WordPress’s content window allows me to spell check and edit my work first, and I feel more comfortable writing in a document.

I keep a log at the bottom of my page of what website, who the author was, the date of publication, and the date I accessed it. I have found the simplest method is to list them in this order:

  1. Author/contributors (for Wikipedia quotes, use “Wikipedia Contributors” rather than author names)
  2. Title of article/book
  3. Publication or website title
  4. Link to the article
  5. Date you accessed it.

Simple attributions/citations will look like this in the footnotes:

Wikipedia contributors, “Gallows humor,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gallows_humor&oldid=759474185 (accessed  January 30, 2017).

When you quote from Wikipedia, citation is simple. ‘Cite this page’ is listed in the left-hand menu under ‘tools.’

Clicking on this link takes you to a page offering citations for that page in CMoS, APA, or MLA style, whichever suits your need. Just copy and paste the one you prefer into your footnotes, and your due diligence has been done.

Clementines_Astoria_Dahlia_Garden2019All this information for your images and any quotes from other sources should be listed at the BOTTOM of your current document as you find it, so everything you need for your blog post is all in one place.

When my blog article is complete and ready to post, I will insert a line to separate the body of the post from the credits and attribution notes.

Authors should talk to the reading world about who they are and what they do. There is no better way to connect with potential readers than by talking to them. Using pictures and quoting good sources makes your website more interesting and informative.

Hopefully, this has helped you be more comfortable in finding and using the classic editor to position your images within the body of your posts.


Credits and Attributions:

All images, screenshots, and graphics in this post are the author’s own work.

Free-range Pansies, © 2021 by Connie J, Jasperson

Sentinel, © 2019 by Connie J. Jasperson

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Dramatic Irony and the Trickster – Part 1 #amwriting

Creating depth in our writing is an involved process, one we get better at as time goes on. “Depth” consists of a multitude of layers we add to a scene, usually as part of the revision process.

Good writers take a one-dimensional idea and create a real, three-dimensional world. They do this magic layer by layer. Some layers are more abstract than others, but they add life to a story.

Two important layers of depth are dramatic irony and wry humor. They are fraternal twins who play well together. When done well, both add an element of the unexpected into the mix.

One of my favorite characters to write is the archetype known as “the trickster.” This wise friend can sometimes work against you, but their presence can add an essential layer of sardonic humor to the narrative.

Tricksters cross boundaries. They break rules and disrupt everyday life, but we love them for their wit and charisma. They are the wise-cracking rogue who lends a touch of fallible humanity to the cast that can be otherwise too perfect. Their interactions with the hero provide moments of both hilarity and grief.

The trickster often employs a literary device called dramatic irony. Their sarcasm adds a moment of “ah-hah!” to a scene. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

One of my favorite examples of where an author made good use of both dramatic irony and ironic wit is the play, Romeo and Juliet. The way William Shakespeare wrote the play, we see layer after layer of both irony and wit applied heavily.

First, the prologue announces that the  Capulets are at war with the Montagues and tells us that what happens to the star-crossed lovers at the end will bring about peace between the warring families.

That the audience is aware of the situation from the outset, but the characters aren’t, is one layer of irony. That “we know, but you don’t” factor might not fly today with modern audiences, but Elizabethans loved it. Their daily lives were fraught with danger, so knowing what lay around the corner was good.  

The next layer resonates with modern audiences. The second layer of irony is applied when Romeo falls in love with his nemesis—the daughter of his family’s arch-enemy.

Again, the audience sees the irony there, but (third layer) Romeo pushes onward, trying to convince Juliet that her family won’t harm him, that her love will protect him.

Alas, the ironic blindness of teenaged infatuation.

Nevertheless, at this point, despite the blatant warning that the prologue gives us at the outset, we are all hoping for a happy ending, even though we’ve had 400 years of “we know this will end badly.”

Mercutio and Benvolio discuss Romeo’s love-stricken behavior, as friends usually do. They assume he is still pining for Rosalind (fourth layer of irony). The audience says, “We know something you don’t.”

Alas poor Romeo! he is already dead;

stabbed with a white wench’s black eye;

shot through the ear with a love-song; [1]

“Shot through the ear with a love-song” is brilliant, ironic humor in any era and is one of my all-time favorite turns of phrase.

All through the play, from Tybalt’s murder to the suicides, the audience knows what is going on, but the characters don’t. That is dramatic irony taken to an extreme and contributed to the play’s success back in 1594-1595 when it first opened.

I know that tastes have changed over the 400-plus years since that play was written. We don’t want to be as blatant as William Shakespeare, but readers still like us to inject dramatic irony into our work as foreshadowing.

Imagine a movie involving a neighborhood planning committee’s meeting about what to do with a plot of land. Should they let it be developed commercially or make it a playground? In itself, the topic would make a dull movie.

Dramatic irony is introduced in the opening scene when an ordinary-looking woman enters the empty conference room ahead of the meeting, wearing gloves. She kneels and places a backpack under the table, makes an adjustment to its contents, sets the timer to 14:25 (2:25 pm), and then exits the room.

With just that one scene taking less than two minutes, the audience’s nerves are on edge. Every second that the mindless bickering over technicalities and political correctness drags on ratchets up the tension.

A committee member gets up to get a glass of water. Another member steps out to make a phone call. Someone else gets agitated, pacing back and forth as they press their opinions.

With each of the committee members’ mundane movements, one leaving the table and another returning, the clock on the wall ticks toward 2:25.

You wonder, “Will this person be the one to escape the massacre?”

Dramatic irony as foreshadowing is the backpack lurking under the table.

Modern science fiction made good use of both dramatic irony and the trickster. In the 20th century science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury used irony to convey information.

Bradbury introduced “firemen,” not as those brave people who put out house fires. Instead, they are charged with starting fires and burning all books.

The naming of that job title was subtle, as Bradbury never resorted to explaining the irony. Even today, it packs a punch when you first read it.

Ray Bradbury employed “situational irony” to give his readers the information they needed. This was handled in a way that impacted the reader and promised more to come.

We can also use ironic humor to convey information the reader needs. Both the trickster as an archetypal character and the inclusion of dramatic irony adds depth to a story. The reader understands what is being conveyed but hasn’t been told what to think.

Readers like to think for themselves.

The Machine that Won the War, a short story by Isaac Asimov, is one long scene filled with dramatic irony that becomes humorous as the story progresses.

That story might be hard to find, but it first appeared in the October 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It was reprinted in the collections Nightfall and Other Stories (1969) and Robot Dreams (1986).

We will take a closer look at the role of the trickster in our next post.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1594 – 1595 PD|100.

Romeo and Juliet, by Ford Madox Brown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Romeo and juliet brown.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg&oldid=531347482 (accessed March 8, 2021).

Cover of Nightfall and other Stories by Isaac Asimov, © 1969 Doubleday, cover art by Amelia S. Edwards. Fair Use. Wikipedia contributors, “Nightfall and Other Stories,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nightfall_and_Other_Stories&oldid=885885790 (accessed March 8, 2021).

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What I #amreading, and #amwriting

Hello from a dark and rainy town somewhere near Olympia, Washington, USA. The time of year that I like to think of as “baking weather” has arrived. It’s cold and rainy, with the promise of snow in the next few days.

Let’s face it: when the house feels cold, Grandma gets cooking.

Bread, cookies, lentil loaf—in my family, food is love. My house is full of good smells and tasty treats, and my clothes are shrinking.

Hunkering down with a cup of hot tea and a good book is another enjoyable activity for this time of year.

I’m currently reading a book by Dr. Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.  This book was published by Random House in February of 2018. The way I learn requires a more in-depth approach to reading it, as I need to read slowly and take notes, so it’s been several weeks and I’m only halfway through it. This book is a journey, not a speed-read.

I’m drawn to a wide variety of books on philosophy and natural history and have them on my reading list because they offer new ways of looking at the world. I love learning but don’t have the patience to take college courses anymore.

I just finished reading “Murder in an Irish Village,” a cozy mystery by American author Carlene O’Connor. Published by Kensington Books in 2016, it’s the first book in a series of seven so far. It was a fun little mystery, well-plotted. Siobhán O’Sullivan is an enjoyable protagonist, and the cast of characters and suspects were believable. It kept me guessing to the end. I had one dislike, which is the abundance of relatively obscure Irishisms—at some points it’s rough going. I suspect even native Irish speakers have to look some words up. I understood all the dialogue only because I was reading on a Kindle and could easily search for the meanings of words I didn’t know. Despite that minor flaw I give the book four stars, because it’s a good novel.

So, what am I writing? I finished the first draft of Gates of Eternity, my accidental novel. That’s the working title, but I have no idea what the final title will be. I have a lot of work ahead of me before it’s ready for my editor, but I’m satisfied with how the storyline has fallen into place.

I am setting that book aside now to finish working on Bleakbourne on Heath. This Alternate Arthurian novel grew out of a serial I began writing in 2016. The ending has been written, but a certain amount of work remains, as the plot is a little thin in some places.

Committing to write that serial back then was how I discovered that writing and publishing a chapter a week is NOT my strong suit!

This last week, I entertained myself by creating a digital map for a friend’s next novel, a mystery set in the general area my husband grew up in. She gave me a hand-drawn basic layout, and I took it from there. I love drawing maps for my own work and have often thought I missed my calling as a cartographer.

Jasperson Back Yard, May 2020

On the homefront, we’ve been getting the yard tidied, small preparations for spring whenever the weather allows. The tree man was here to prune the apple tree and cut back the maple that loves to block my front window. He also trimmed up the cedar hedge which had gotten out of control, suffocating our rhododendrons, so we’re good to go for another year.

As always, writing for this blog requires a small commitment of time and creativity, but it is one of my great joys, a diversion when things get a little hectic.

All in all, it has been a busy month, with plenty of books to read, lots to write, and new recipes to try out. I hope you’re enjoying life as much as is possible during this pandemic and the lockdown, and staying safe.

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Genre and Tropes #amwriting

When we first begin writing, we know what genre of book we usually like to read, and our work will probably fall into that category.

So, what exactly are genres? Author Lee French puts it this way, “Literary genres are each a collection of tropes that create expectations about the media you consume.”

Genres are categories the publishing industry developed so that shoppers in bookstores can easily find what they are looking for. They’re like a display of apples at the grocery store – many baskets, each filled with a different variety of apple. I always head straight to the Cosmic Crisps.

On the display of each overarching genre, such as sci-fi, romance, mystery, etc., are baskets. Each contains a subgenre. Each subgenre is a different variety of that particular genre and features tropes that readers expect to see as fundamental aspects of the story.

But what are tropes?

Wikipedia defines literary tropes this way: The word trope has come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices motifs or clichés in creative works. [1]

Let’s look at the big display of sci-fi. On those shelves are many subgenres, so many that I don’t have the time or patience to list them all here.

Each subgenre includes tropes that are not usually found in other sci-fi subgenres. However, some features are common to the overarching genre, which is why they fall in the sci-fi category.

For instance, ScifiIdeas.com describes the subgenre of CyberPunk this way: Fiction relating to the science of cybernetics, which views nature as a series of interconnecting mechanical systems. Specifically, cyberpunk deals with the link between biology and computer technology, and explores humanity’s changing relationship with computer systems. Virtual reality, prosthetics, cyborgs and internet fraud are all part of the cyberpunk niche, and usually go hand-in-hand with social decline. [2]

For more of their article on the many different subgenres of sci-fi and the expected tropes therein, go to A Guide to Science Fiction Subgenres (scifiideas.com)

What about other genres? Fantasy is another set of shelves full of subgenres. Just as in sci-fi, each has a particular set of tropes their readers expect to see.

Let’s look at the subgenre of Portal Fantasy.

Nicola Alter at Thoughts on Fantasy has this to say about Portal Fantasy: A fantasy where characters travel from the real world into a fictional fantasy world, often through a portal or gateway. They are usually swept up in the problems and politics of the fantasy world and become important to the course of history there, then return to the real world greatly changed by their experience.

Typical Elements: Magical portals, magical objects, evil kings or queens, problematic family relationships in the real world, time discrepancy between the two worlds. [3]

For more of what Nicola has to say about the tropes unique to the many subgenres of fantasy, go to 17 Common Fantasy Sub-Genres | Thoughts on Fantasy.

Sometimes, we hear the comment that “certain tropes are overused.” This blanket statement is incorrect because a literary trope is a fundamental aspect of subgenre.

Therefore, one can’t say a trope is overused.

However, readers can and do eventually become bored with the books available in their favorite genres and no longer find those tropes attractive. Maybe you’re tired of Epic Fantasy’s central trope, tired of the Hero’s Journey.

In that case, it’s time to widen your reading horizons and move on to a different subgenre. Maybe you’d like a space opera.

I hear a wailing on the wind, the pathetic cries of the ghosts of bad books past. “But what if I don’t like it?”

No one says you have to finish a book you hate just because a friend said they loved it. If you’re tired of the commonalities in the books you are reading, be bold.

If you don’t try reading outside your favorite genre, you’ll never know what you are missing.

It’s like trying to get a child to eat guacamole for the first time. It’s a green paste and different looking. They don’t want to try it. But once they do taste it, they may love it. Then, keeping them out of the guacamole bowl will be a challenge.

Go out and research the many different tropes that make up the subgenres of each of the main literary genres. I have written several portal fantasies, but I also write medieval fantasy and Arthurian fantasy (two different subgenres).

If you want to know what reader to market your novel to, you need to know what the tropes are that you have written into your work. Each subgenre has a niche of avid readers, so make sure you understand what you have written.

Readers of vampire romances won’t like a story with no happy ending, so if that is what you write, you’d better have both vampires AND a traditional Romance ending.

The genre of Romance always ends with a happily ever after.

For me as a reader, if a novel is character-driven and the plot is believable, I don’t really notice the tropes. If I like a book, the labels don’t matter.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Trope (literature),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trope_(literature)&oldid=1003372690 (accessed 02 February, 2021).

[2] Quote from A Guide to Science Fiction Subgenres (scifiideas.com), ©2021 ScifiIdeas contributors, https://www.scifiideas.com/posts/a-guide-to-science-fiction-subgenres/, accessed 02 February 2021.

[3] Quote from  17 Common Fantasy Sub-Genres | Thoughts on Fantasy, © 2015/2021Nicola Alter, https://thoughtsonfantasy.com/2015/12/07/17-common-fantasy-sub-genres/, accessed 02 February 2021.

“File:Cosmic Crisp.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 24 Oct 2020, 15:25 UTC. 3 Feb 2021, 13:08 <https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Cosmic_Crisp.jpg&oldid=499534971>.

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Conferring Power: logic and limitations #amwriting

We are now in the final six days of NaNoWriMo. My region is small, only 174 active writers, but we’re moving along well. As a whole, we just crested the four million word mark. That’s not as much as some regions, but wow!

In our forums on Discord and Facebook, the conversation sometimes turns to the use of magic or science in a narrative. Many of these authors are new at this and need a place to safely discuss their work, so I make it my business to not impose my opinions in either forum.

Besides, I have this platform for ranting about writing. So, how do I feel about science and magic?

In the words of Egon in Ghostbusters, “Don’t cross the streams.”

I have said this before, but I feel the need to repeat it. Science is not magic, and it should not feel to a reader as if it were.

Science is logical, rooted in the realm of real and theoretical physics. The scientific method objectively explains nature and the world around us in a reproducible way. Skepticism and peer review are fundamental parts of the process.

Those who read and write hard science fiction are often employed in the field of science in some capacity. They know the difference between reality and fantasy. The same goes for those who read fantasy—they are often employed in fields that require critical thinking.

Often, readers of both genres are avid gamers. Gamers learn to develop skillsets within strict parameters to advance in the game. Thus, logic and limitations define how much enjoyment they get from a gaming or reading experience.

I read a great many books in all genres. If I have one complaint, it is that many authors indulge in mushy science or magic. They make it up as they go, which is what we all do.

But when they get to the editing stage, they don’t go back and look for the contradictions in their magic or science, the places where a reader can no longer suspend their disbelief.

Having magic conveys power in the same way that having superior technology does. It should be held to the same standards.

If magic is a tool that your characters rely on, it should be believable. The science of magic is an underlying, invisible layer that is part of my world-building process.

The following is my list of places where magic and technology converge in genre fiction:

  1. The number of people who can use either magic or technology should be limited.
  2. The ways that magic or technology can be used should be limited.
  3. The majority of people are limited to one or two kinds of magic/technology. Only specific mages/technicians have the ability to make use of all forms of magic/technology.
  4. There must be strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic/technology can do.
  5. The conditions under which this magic/technology will work must be clearly defined.
  6. There must be some conditions under which the magic/technology will not work.
  7. There must be limits to the damage magic/technology can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform.
  8. Does the wielder of this magic/technology pay a physical/emotional price for the use?
  9. Does the wielder of this magic/technology pay a physical/emotional price for abusing it?
  10. Is the learning curve steep and sometimes lethal?

Personal power and how we confer it is the layer of world-building where writers of science and writers of magic come together.

  • Magic and the ability to wield it confers power.
  • Science and superior technology do the same.

For the narrative to have any real conflict, the enemy must have access to equal or better Science/Magic.

Often in the case of magic, the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school.” This means that the author has two systems and sets of rules to design for that story.

The same goes for technology. One group may have found a way to exploit physics that places the other group at a disadvantage. This is where the tension comes into the story.

WE authors must create the rules of magic or the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist. We must do it in the first stages of the writing process.

It will only require a small bit of time and maybe fifteen minutes of writing to create a system that satisfies the above ten requirements. This way, you will be sure the logic of your magic/technology has no hidden flaws.

When you take the time to research science technologies or create magic systems, you create a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Limits force us to be creative, to find alternative ways to resolve problems.

Within either science or magic, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

There must be an obvious, rational explanation for that exception.

This is an underpinning of the plot and is a foundational component of the backstory. The only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is at the moment it affects the characters and their actions.

The best background information comes out at the moment that knowledge affects the story. It emerges naturally in conversations or in other subtle ways.

By not baldly dropping it on the reader in paragraph form, the knowledge becomes a normal part of the environment rather than an info dump.

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