Saturday, June 22, 2019

Reality into Fiction

The topic for this month is: has an event in your life, or that of someone you know, or one covered in the news ever worked its way into one of your stories?

This depends on the genre of writing I am using. I've written several personal essays, which of course, are based on events or people in my life. In my fiction writing, things differ. I don't want family or friends to recognize themselves as a character, and I don't want to make anyone think a mean or evil character is based on my acquaintanceship with them.

In thinking about this topic, I decided it would be very difficult not to have my life events play in some way in my writing. We all learn how to communicate and get along with members of our family and community and also how to disagree, and that learning can differ significantly. What I have learned and experienced must show in my writing. It is probably why I've heard writing exposes the author as a person.

I doubt specific events of my life have appeared in my stories, except maybe in very changed and convoluted forms. I've written mostly science fiction or fantasy romance, so most of my challenges and defeats would probably not work. However, my knowledge of art and history and experience with horses, riding, pets of all types, gardening, nature and environment, have played into many of my stories, including my limited knowledge of sailing and other incidental knowledge. Through history I have learned about certain types of events and how people reacted in the past, plus all the horrific things people have done to others they think of as invaders or miscreants, and I think the crime seldom deserved the punishment. I also think real-life situations portrayed in the news such as youngsters disappearing from home to other local catastrophes might enter my writing, but of course in a different way from the news presentations.

While the news describes many disastrous situations happening worldwide, from weather such as flooding, wildfires, droughts and various types of storms, to people instigated tragedies like uprisings and government reactions, I have not experienced them. I might use something like them in the future, but I know I would have to do extensive research to make the situations feel real to the reader. Politics as exposed both in history and current media have entered my stories, but in strange worlds and places, politics is often important.

Please visit the following authors' blogs and read their takes on this topic:
Skye Taylor
Judith Copek
Dr. Bob Rich
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse 
A.J. Maguire 
Diane Bator 
Connie Vines
Fiona McGier 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

How Far Can Fantasy Go?

Fantasy may be one of our oldest genres in storytelling. After all, isn’t it astounding that stories of ancient gods in mythology and all the strange happenings that take place in folktales and fairy tales remain favorites? Fantasy stories have been with humanity for a very long time, and it seems their existence has affected the believably limits of all other genres of storytelling.

Folklorist scholar Vladimir Propp studied Russian folklore and found similar plot characteristics and characters existed in the stories, as he explained in his 1928 book Morphology of the Folktale. He discovered certain actions and events common in all the Russian fairy tales, and many of these same elements are found in contemporary stories no matter the genre. Before Propp wrote his book, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung had already started exploring the concept of archetypes and the collective unconscious, all of which helped to explain aspects of storytelling.

However, it is the reader’s relationship with the characters that might count the most in reading any story despite its bizarre setting or action as related in the previous post "Purpose in Writing."

Even contemporary stories whether in print or film can stretch inevitability. I watch Midsomer Murders, an English TV murder mystery. While it is in England, Midsomer county with its extraordinarily numerous villages is fictional. Another fantasy factor is every murder in each village leads to at least two more murders. Yet the lead characters are believable, and the stories entertains. Plus, of course, the English scenery is a strong attraction. Anthony Horowitz, the first writer for the programs explains the bizarreness of the show and what makes it appealing to viewers.

I believe these factors are also very true in written stories. If readers can relate to a character whether human or not (to sometimes even becoming the character), they can relate to very unusual plots and settings. Do certain things cross unacceptable lines? Yes. I think the promotion of hate unacceptable along with persistent and extreme cruelty of any type. I know hate and cruelty are part of many of my works, but it is there not to promote but to overcome. These lines between acceptance or rejection of reality and fantasy concepts differs with every reader or viewer no matter the medium.

Can there be other affects?

Yes! Interestingly, these trips of fantasy in writing can affect the future. In the PBS show "How Sherlock Changed the World," it describes how this fictional character first published in 1887 helped changed police investigative and forensic procedures starting in the next decade from an era where eyewitness accounts and smoking-gun evidence was prevalent and far less accurate than the methods used today. Fiction fantasy literally changed the world! I find this fascinating.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Purpose in Writing

Purpose exists in every writing whether it is a reminder note, a letter, a grocery list, an essay or a fiction story.  

Non-fiction’s purpose is usually evident. Sometimes a fiction story's purpose is not recognized by the reader, but often the story's genre indicates the purpose. In any type of romance, it is about finding love and a life partner. Mystery is about finding the crime's perpetrator. Science fiction is often a warning about today’s problems and how they might affect the future. Fantasy is often about a utopia that isn’t one. Are these the only themes? No, not by a long shot, but most stories must have a purpose. That purpose is often unwritten but one the reader relates to. This usually begins when a main character is introduced and goes on to show his or her encounters and personal growth which extends into a satisfying or deserved conclusion.

When my daughter-in-law arrived from Russia, everyone, including me, asked “What is it like there?” She answered, “It’s just like here.” Her answer affected my perception. I write science fiction and fantasy and have just completed a historical coming out in August, and I always keep that premise in mind. Wherever the story takes place, people are just like here and now. Humans haven’t changed that much over the eons. Anthropologists are now even proving how Neanderthals possessed many of the characteristics we have today. Why is this important to purpose? Because readers must empathize with characters to engage with the story.

In a Psychology Today article author Thalia R. Goldstein, Ph.D., stated about actors' characters: "
What’s interesting is we don’t think space cowboys are real, or that there are fairy tale characters come to life and living in present day Maine.
But, the actors may still be confused with their characters, because in the end, it’s the interpersonal story that we care about—the relationship among the characters’ personalities and objectives." I think Goldenstein's view is true with a novel's characters, too.
I think most of my stories evolve around this. I write about characters in other dimensions and time and about the problems they face and how they solve them as well as exploring possibilities of human capabilities in the future. And my historical? It is in a time and place few are familiar with, the beginning of the Carolingian era in Europe. Again, its about what the surroundings were like, but the characters remain very similar to today's perception.

Please visit these authors' blog and read their viewpoints on this topic:

Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Fiona McGier
Dr. Bob Rich

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ten Year Work Anniversary

As my winter classes closed last Monday, I have completed ten years of writing instruction as an adjunct professor at West Shore Community College. I feel privileged to have worked here and hope to continue.

Education has changed since I was in college, and I'm glad to have been re-introduced to the process. I must also admit I learned through the process, too. Even terminology for classes has changed. I started by teaching in the classroom now known as face-to-face. With the introduction of online classroom programs, as long as a working computer is nearby, I or my students can see the day's lesson. (However, when electricity or technology is down, it creates a teaching disaster.) With this ability, I have transitioned to teaching both online and hybrid classes. Hybrid is one face-to-face class and one online class each week. Some experts in education say online will be the most important means of education in the near future. Others say hybrid. I like both methods.

I have taken online classes. I found them interesting and participated in a rather obsessive-compulsive manner. They were master's level classes in writing, so I signed up to learn about personal essays and to participate in a novel workshop. This experience showed me how to construct meaningful online classes and also introduced me to creative personal essays. I've since recognized I've written them before but now have a continuing interest. The advantages of online classes are that I don't have to travel to class. To West Shore that is a round trip of eighty-six miles, so teaching online saves time and gasoline.The classes I took were more than 500 miles away at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. Never could have made that drive once or twice a week. More importantly, as a student in an online class, I learned I could not sit at the back of the classroom and never answer any instructor's questions. Online forces students to participate. One drawback of online classes is never meeting the person in real time, hearing their voice or seeing their expression in order to make a more personal connection. Other drawbacks as the instructor include extensive work to establish the education material, and not knowing if the person making responses is actually the named student.

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been hired, even only part time. It is a wonderful job.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


Fiction writing is about wording and its effects on plot, characters, and setting. The words and ideas behind the words can be either innovative or mind-numbing repetitions of previous words or overused cliché not only of phrases, but also plots, settings, and characters. If writers want readers, they don’t want to use banal writing, yet readers do want to feel some type of relation to the characters and their world. This means sometimes cliché situations work.

One of the first cliché readers encounter are book covers and blurbs, which show genre type, and allow readers to recognize whether a book has a plot type they like to read before they buy it. So in this instance they are very useful.

So cliché happens, and as in speech, it gives listeners instant understanding as do analogies. Cliché can be useful in writing, but more often it can be the inclusion of thoughtless, worn out phrases, or the overuse of theme and device tropes and typecast characters on the writer's part that provide no other purpose in the story.

Cliché in Wording

Because of its prevalence, cliché can creep into writing unnoticed. When used too often it can grab the reader’s attention, and when that happens, it often becomes a turnoff for the reader. Anything that distracts the reader and pulls them from the story is dangerous. Often they won't return, so it is important to recognize and control use of clichés. Cliché List has an extensive list of common clichés.

But are these commonplace usages always bad? Not always. They can be used in creative ways such as to define a character through their dialogue. When a character speaks using a cliché, it shows part of their character. While I don’t think readers want to read one cliché after another in the basic story information, when a character speaks or thinks using clichés, it tells the reader something about that character’s personality without the writer having to describe it.

The key to using cliché phrasing is selecting when and where to use it to keep the reader engaged.
Clichéd Characters
Typecast characters can include stereotypes that are repeated without variation, which is not a good idea. Writers want their characters to be fresh and different to the reader, and reader want character’s whose situations and reactions are something they can empathize with but not recognize as having read before. At least not too often. Yet there are acceptable stereotypes which are usually defined by their business, like cowboys, spies, Regency noblemen, working women, etc. Generally speaking, every real-life individual is a recognizable personality type, so typecasting characters can’t be all bad. This can be used to create characters. When a story starts with a cliché character but morphs into something very different, it changes the reader's view of the character. As long as characters remain relatable to the readers, even if they fall off the abyss of sanity, they remain interesting characters.
Settings in most instances are familiar places or places the reader would like to visit. Only so many ways exist to explain New York, Paris, or London, or any city, the same with any region of the world. Seasons, time of day, as well as location are important in stories. Here is one area where strong descriptive wording helps make a difference, especially when used to create a mood.
Some plot device tropes are well understood by readers as they have encountered them in previous books, so it speeds up understanding and moves the story forward faster. Every genre has its tropes, or common, even overused, plot lines and devices. It starts with genres and then into tropes. Often readers chose a book because of the trope.

In contemporary romances billionaire bosses falling in love with ordinary women who are extraordinary in some way, or cowboy or soldier romances are some tropes most often used, but there are many more. Almost every Regency romance includes a noble aristocrat whose behavior is often borderline moral but remains an honest man with a good heart, and one who may or may not be looking for a wife. The woman under consideration for a wife is either the rich debutante or a governess. Here character tropes are in full play, too.  Fantasy and Science Fiction have their trope story lines, as do mystery and adventure stories. It is almost a given in writing. Readers enjoy these tropes because they’ve read them before and enjoy them. So whenever the reader has experienced the problems the characters encounter, the reader often creates a mental link based on understanding and sympathy. 

To make these ‘clichés’ relevant to the story, the writer needs to be aware of what they are doing and create new avenues through old landscapes.

Writing Maniac:
Tropes in Literature 

TV Tropes The Grand List Of Over Used Science Fiction Cliches

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Seasons in Stories

The season of a story's setting can affect the story not only emotionally but also metaphorically. Characters drenched by a rainstorm or trapped somewhere during a snow storm can create dramatic situations both emotionally and physically.

While most of my scifi stories do not have seasons, I have a couple of shorts that do, and I know seasons can play powerful elements in the setting and in the plot. Of course, it all depends on where the setting takes place and the type of season portrayed.

Another aspect of seasons is the metaphorical or symbolic meanings tied to seasons. People often take the seasons as symbols of living: spring is the child and summer morphs into the young, adventurous adult. Fall becomes the measure of one’s success in life, while winter represents old age and facing life's end.

Spring of course is the season when the daylight lengthens and seems to brighten. It is a season of renewal, a time when many wild animals give birth and when trees and plants emerge from hibernation to sprout leaves and flowers. So, it can represent childhood, growth, regeneration, or being given a new start. It is a time when many darkened souls find hope.

Summer is when things warm up and turn hot and wild. People love to vacation and have outdoor parties and events during summer. It makes summer represents freedom.

Autumn is the seasons of reflection, the ripening of life, or a warning of the approach of winter’s difficulties.

Winter is when many animals go into hibernation, and in the U.S. a time when many people in northern states become snowbirds and take extended stays in southern states. Daylight is less time than darkness. Depending where you live, travel can become difficult and the weather can turn into deadly storms. Yet it is also the time when many skiing or snowmobile enthusiasts show how they can conquer both the snow and cold. Winter can often represent a season of introspection and endings but it can also be one of rebirth as represented in the Christmas story. So it is also a season of hope. Most often, though, it symbolizes hardships, hopelessness, despair and of death.

While all of these are obvious, they can be effective in stories because the reader has their own experience of the season. If they live in a location that does not have the hard winters of some places, they are aware they happen. Many meanings in stories are subliminal or symbolic and writers can take advantage of the seasons to the story’s benefit.

Please visit the following authors for their viewpoints on seasons in writing:

Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Diane Bator
Judith Copek
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax
Dr. Bob Rich 

Dr. Bob Rich 2