Saturday, February 16, 2019

Characters and Relationships

The topic for this month’s round robin is an opinion on love, sex, and relationships in books. What seems acceptable? Is it necessary in a story? And what goes too far?

For me, the relationships between characters is a huge component in both my reading and writing. Relationships come in many types of rapport, often nuanced between accord and discord. I think it is one of the keys to a good story. These relationships include family or friend, acquaintance or stranger, and involve a wide range of human emotions and reactions.

In most romance novels it is the developing relationship between a couple that makes the story, and this opens many paths to sexual encounters. In other genres it is the past and present relationships between friends and family and how they affect the main character's purpose and agenda that develops the story, although romance and sex show up in them, too. In all books the main characters' relationships, good or bad, helps develop a story. It is how these relationships move the story's ultimate purpose that counts. That is why I enjoy reading and writing, no matter what the genre is.

For thousands of years, going all the way back to Babylonia and probably longer than that, explicit sex or sexual innuendo has attracted readers, mostly in verse. It just wasn’t published as today's stories are, so the sexual act in writing has always been prevalent. Now the genre of erotica takes sex in all directions.

Another thing that has developed is a new awareness of human sexuality. Today sex isn’t just labeled heterosexual or homosexual, but can also include asexual, bisexual, or pansexual. Any of which can lead to a scene in a story although sexual encounters don't necessary mean love. A reader just needs to choose a favorite type and read.

This emerging attitude has had an influence on story telling in the last few decades. For many years most major publishers or romance like Harlequin avoided any sex scenes other than kissing in their novels. Now they seem to prefer publishing stories with very explicit sex scenes. But mainstream had other values. The Group by Mary McCarthy, published in 1933, was a best seller in America but banned in other countries for its objectionable content.

What goes too far? It doesn’t seem like anything goes too far. Readers can find almost any type of sex on the Internet through various publishers. Most are loving sexual scenes. Some are not. I often wonder about what the readers/viewers take away from some degrading or abusive scenes written for the seeming pleasure of the reader not their abhorrence.

I’ve read many types of sexual scenes, but surprisingly don’t seem too proficient at writing them, so usually leave implied encounters rather than explicit ones. In reading, my person preference is no graphic depictions of rape or vicious sexual encounters of any type, or those that degrade one partner or the other. Sometimes sex scenes just bore me, too, especially when a such a scene doesn’t do anything to move the plot forward. It often appears to me as nothing more than a gratuitous inclusion. On the other hand, I know this is my preference. I do not make judgments on what anyone else likes to write or read. 

Please read the following authors' posts on this topic:

Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham 
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Marci Baun 
Dr. Bob Rich

Diane Bator

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Symbols, Systems, and Meaning

Why are symbols so important? Because they encompass our entire communication system, and often certain symbols evolve into very personal meanings whether they are audible, visual, or gestural. As new scientific information shows, we have been developing these systems since the Neanderthal age.  I discussed this in We've Been Recording Information Longer Than We Thought. Some scholars even study symbols under the theme of Semiotics which explores the history and meaning of signs, symbols, and their significance for believers.  

Every human uses symbols every day. Every word anyone says is a symbolic sound with meaning. These sounds were put into letters to symbolize those sounds as numerals symbolize numbers. Other visual symbols include images such as %, $, #, @ and so forth including mathematics symbols. I have a whole collection of blogs on numerical symbols that have little to do with math. We also use gesture and expression symbols. When a person rolls their eyes and isn’t passing out, its often a gesture meaning “Do you believe that?” or “Whatever.”

In writing authors frequently use symbolism in the form of allegory, analogy, metaphor and simile to tie hard to understand ideas with easier to comprehend ideas such as: the brain acts as the home of memory.

Our belief systems have used symbols for equally long times, even during the Byzantine period of Eikonoklasmos or Iconoclasm, where all visual religious symbols were destroyed in the churches during the 8th century for profaning the Commandment 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.' The leaders of the Church in Rome's knew their believers needed those images to understand their God since so many were illiterate. Looking back on that practice, I guess the Emperors of Constantinople didn’t realize the language and decorative devices were also symbols.

Prophetical symbols are used in most religions. They embody the practice of prediction through astrology horoscopes, numerology, and the tarot. Astrology, based on observable movements of the solar system, began as far back as Mesopotamia, but aspects of it are still used today, as is tarot. Tarot began as a card game in the mid 1400’s and a few hundred years later became a means of divination. It is also the basis of modern design of decks of playing cards today, although the Chinese began card games much earlier.

Businesses use symbols today in the form of logos or the symbol of a company. These let customers know right away where a product comes from. Our country and most countries have symbols such as flags that represent their government and are often used on their money. A person's name is also their symbol.

Animals, both real and mythical, often have symbolic meaning not only for sports teams but also for nations and many other purposes.

With any symbol, it is the personal interpretation that counts. All the symbols found on any keyboard (letters, numbers, punctuation marks, etc.) are pretty straight forward in meaning for the translations of sound. It is the other symbols in every society that are often open to interpretation on an individual's understanding and psychology. Some individuals even select personal symbols to represent their psyche. This is why I find symbols fascinating.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Staying Current in a Digital Age

As I've aged, I've found it hard to keep up with current trends in music, art, new phenoms, and changes in human perspectives, usually of those younger than me. I don't listen to much of the new music, its musicians and singers, and often not to the newest actors or artists in any medium including the movies which I used to love. Their messages do not address me. My son informed me the older you get, the faster times passes, and it certainly seems true. I also think this might happen because we are in very different time frames, perhaps because I've already collected many memories while those younger than me are still in the collection process.

Matter of fact, I think I've become rather reclusive. At the same time, I think I have more cognitive outlooks and broader perspectives and understanding on everything over what I once had. I think, too, that I've become more open-minded and interested in different cultures, personalities, and their perspectives.

The digital age has greatly changed the way everyone lives and interacts with everyone else. Some of the changes are very positive, like how books and other media are available on digital devices, and some are the exact opposite, which is beginning to be proved harmful to its users. Keeping up with the changes in technology can be difficult and cause trouble, not only in the technology accomplishments, but also in the user's face-to-face relationships.

Knowing information is gathered on everyone worries me about the lack of privacy. Plus this information can be on crimes committed (so far I've committed no legal ones only social mishaps), sentences served, economic position, employment, relationships, etc., with no limit on the time frame on which this information can be kept online.

Now we face artificial intelligence and how it might control our lives. A recent 60 Minutes episode spoke to Chinese venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee on that country's developing AI. It showed the facial recognition of facial emotions. With the tracking of already in place with public cameras how soon will it be before people cannot move without digital knowledge? I find it rather scary and wonder how it will affect everyone in the future.

Isn't funny how technology has also changed how we describe relationships? They can be face-to-face in real time and reality, or online and digital which can stretch the time frame of the interchange. Yet, online meeting apps redefines face-to-face. I suppose those apps provide face-to-face in real time, even if everyone is hundreds of miles apart.

All the things people once gathered to appreciate can now be experienced online, but differences abound. The experience of being one of a massive crowd at an event and the different senses it engages and the expectations engendered is far different from experiencing such an event while sitting alone and plugged in. It also gives access to episodes some would like to forget, but hundreds of thousands of viewers find humorous. Immersion in social media can create a void in a person's life of what is really going on around not only them and their community, but also the rest of the world.

In some ways this advantage changes humanity. Constant use of technology makes users cogs in a network and might lead to a dehumanizing effect. Learning about its use in bullying and spreading hate and disinformation already seems to indicate this phenomenon. On the other hand, the ability to attend an online class from home and arrange your time around job and family commitments makes learning more accessible than being tied to attending a classroom at a certain location.

Another digital connection problem seems to be what many forget: a large portion of the human populations and cultures are not connected through technology. Those with better circumstances and easy availability to communication sometimes remain unaware of how those who live in very harsh or neglected environments survive. This ignorance also makes it difficult to gain awareness of these people.

Moreover, attending to all relationships on your iPhone dramatically changes those relationships. Being in the presence of another person, family, and friends, or even strangers, changes relationships more than just talking and hearing or seeing them. The sense of touch, missing from digital, adds a dimension to close relationships. Holding someone's hand whether in a handshake or just holding for friendship or comfort, feeling the heat of that body, hugging, sharing close moments of sadness or humor, strengthens relations far more than the most heartfelt digital message. It gives a foundation for accepting another as a distinct individual and as a necessity to your own life.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Developing Secondary Characters

Secondary characters are very important to the setting and plot, for very few novels are based on a single character. While secondary characters are not the focus of a story, they often play pivotal roles and certainly influence the main characters.  Depending on their role a character plays in a story, they can be anything from a label, like the doorman, to a well-established personality very involved in the plot. 

Unnamed characters like the nurse, the store owner, or the taxi driver, who only show up once in a story may be little more than descriptions of their appearance or the motions of their function. They are more part of the setting than the plot. 

Secondary characters more involved in the story must show their personality and motivation through their actions and dialogue. It is the interactions between these characters that makes the imaginary world seem real to the reader. Depending on the type of story being told, some come close to becoming main characters.

I most often find secondary characters easy to develop. They have to have a purpose, so my secondary characters depend on their function in the story, and often I am guided by Carl Jung's archetypes to help develop their purpose. From there I give them both good and bad attributes, and I use their actions within the text, or use a main character's viewpoint of them, to let the reader know how they appear, sound, and act. This lets the reader determine their personality. 

Some of my stories, especially those in series have multiple characters. Crewkin has the fewest characters I have used in a story, just 7 through most of the story. During the last three chapters two or three other named characters and a few unnamed characters show up to help end the story. 

Have any secondary characters become main characters in another story? Yes. The heroines of Acceptance, Change, and Dragoon's Journey all first appeared as secondary characters.

While I love all of my main characters, do I have favorite secondary characters? Yes, too many to mention since three went on to their own stories. When I put so much time into their creation and then spend even more time with them helping to complete a story, they become good friends. 

Please visit these authors' sites to read their opinion on developing secondary characters:

Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Helena Fairfax
Dr. Bob Rich

A.J. Maguire  
Fiona McGier
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines

Victoria Chatham   
Judith Copek

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Starting 2019 -- Time and Reality

While I am glad to see another year begin, it always makes me feel both happy and sad. Happy that I have existed long enough to see it happen again, happy for another new start although I know things from the past will follow me, and happy to see everyone's optimism. Sad to know little of the bad from last year has really changed and world threats still remain.

I didn't wait up to see the ball drop in New York. I didn't recognize the singers and the whole scene was just too noisy, plus I've seen it so many times in the past it has lost its thrill. However, this annual event occurring according to the human means of keeping time always leaves me contemplating time and reality. 

From Wikipedia
We think of reality as everything around us, our place in time and location, what is where, who is here and there, what we know and expect; and it is. Yet each of us has a different perception of what is taking place. If you consider we have @7.7 billion people on Earth, there are @7.7 different views of reality. So it is a very personal concept and a concept that is constantly changing even though we all exist on the same planet in the same time.

Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."  I have to admit I am pretty much unconscious about all my body's atoms and particles, but the reality existing in my mind gathered from my senses is very persistent. 

With every second of time reality changes somewhere, so many different 'realities' exist. And quantum physics, with a very different concept of time, place, and existence, has an entirely different concept of reality which is: nothing exists until it is measured. This goes for any particle since until it is observed, and depending on the method of observation, determines if it will be either energy or matter. My guess is that maybe an existence in a body made up of quantum particles makes it real, too.

So here each of us is living on the cusp of time. One second before is history, and one second ahead is the future. I suspect it is a good thing we can ignore this to get on with our day-to-day lives, and I'm glad to have my memories of the past and expectations for the future.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

An Excerpt from Crewkin--a holiday in unknown space

This round robin is about the spirit of the season, which everyone knows can be wonderful or painful or an odd combination of both.

This 'holiday' excerpt comes from Crewkin, a sci-fi story set in a space-time warp where a beleaguered ship, the Vagrant Spirit, meant only for short hauls, now travels. The crew knows little about what is happening or how it happened except for the engine they were hauling to reclamation, which has come online in an extraordinary way to take control of the Vagrant Spirit. The new crewman who came aboard at the start of this trip, Renna, is what the crew calls a podder or crewkin--bred, raised,and indoctrinated from birth into certain behaviors by the Markham Company to serve on long-haul spaceships that spend years in space. Renna knows she doesn't fit in with the short haul crew and leaves them to celebrate their New Years Eve celebration without her disturbing presence, but she is interrupted by Jake, someone the rogue engine has injured in some inexplicable way.

~ Excerpt from Crewkin ~

A subdued snick from the hatch announced someone entering. Renna quickly switched the file off where she learned of her creation for the first. She rose when Jake entered the flight deck, grabbed the container plate, allowing him to sink into the command seat. His hands grasped the wide armrest in support as he lowered himself.

“Thanks.” He spoke in breathless rasps. He looked aged, off-color with lines of exhaustion graphing his face. A week’s worth of stubble covered his face. It was strange to see him scruffy after he had been so neat. At least he is nothing like Dukan. [Her hated captain aboard her crew-kin ship.]

“Are you here to relieve me?” She regretted the disbelief in her voice.

“No, just brought you dinner.” He grinned, panting his answer. His crooked smile disappeared when he noticed her face. “Why are you crying?”

“I’m not. Emotion on duty is forbidden.” She placed the plate on the broad flat service arm of the co-pilot’s chair, wiped her face the best she could, and amended her answer. “I am crying over what is lost and unrecoverable. I told Lock I was not hungry.”

Jake’s smile appeared weak and askew as he caught his breath. “Not true—you’re always hungry.”

“Today is Kin Day.” They were all dead. An unexpected, painful gasp broke from her throat, and Renna sobbed in an uncontrolled manner. Calmness, professionalism, duty. The harder she tried to control herself, the louder the harsh sounds grew, and the more rampant her tears fell, both deafening and blinding her. Jake rose and wrapped his arms around her. She hid her face against his chest.

“Hush, it’s okay,” he said.

She knew it was not.

“I’ve tried so hard. Now I know Markham tried to kill you, because they wanted the engine destroyed. They want me dead. Today is a crewkin traditional celebration. I have no kin left, and I don’t belong here, so maybe I should be dead. I failed you, failed the Vagrant Spirit. Even Zak named me Markham when he renamed the CS9 [the engine].”

He gave her a gentle shake, saying in an uneven breath, “Hush...Ren. I’m sorry. I have to sit down.” He sank back into the roomy chair, sliding to one side, pulling her down with him, and letting her rest against his chest.

“I’m sorry for my unprofessional display,” she said when the spasms stopped, leaving her empty and ashamed.

“Not unprofessional. Cried a few times myself lately.”

The small tinks and whirs of the flightdeck somehow soothed her along with Jake’s breathing and warmth. She took a deep calming breath.

“You belong here whether by the manipulation of Markham Company or by pure chance. Tell me what Zak said.”

She explained about the priority change, Zak giving the CS9 Vagrant Spirit status. “I understand. I am Markham, although I don’t wish to be, and I will always be Markham. Your kin believe me capable of betraying the ship, of endangering you and the Vagrant Spirit. Crewkin would have the same doubts.”

“You’re wrong. You’re part of this crew.”

“Part of the crew, yes, only temporarily. Not like Ezry, Lock, and Ship Dog, never kin, but I swear to you, I wouldn’t cause harm to the Vagrant Spirit or to anyone on her.” 

“I know, Ren. Maybe stress affects norms more than Crewkin, makes us irrational.” He patted her arm. “Don't fret. You’ve helped us in ways you don’t even know.”

Please visit the following authors for their posts:  

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Writing's Outlay

You have to love writing to write, and this obsession probably started because you loved to read.
Writing means spending hours lost in concentration, immersed in your mind’s story, often frustrating or emotionally involved time. Time not spent with family or friends but with only mental ones. Time not spent doing household projects needing completion, but struggling with plot and characters. 

Of course, digital means you can write on work breaks or while vacationing, or even while traveling if you are not driving a vehicle--every cloud has it's silver lining! Yet again, you ignore the driver and the ever-changing views.

Writing mean you have to plan time to communicate with family and friends, time to keep the boat of your life stable and floating ahead. Yet, it is the frustration of not moving a story along in the time you have allotted that disappoints the most.

Other frustrations occur.

Frustrations over what to name a character. Have you used that name in a previous story? Is the name similar to already famous names in fiction or other media that might make readers think you are borrowing that fame? Is the name too close to someone you know, like a friend or family member? Is your new character too much like a previous character?

Frustration over dialogue. Does the talk between characters sound like what might actually occur in such a situation and in the reality being described in the story? Does it sound too obvious to the viewpoint being put forth, or is it more subtle, giving the reader hints of what is to come without revealing it? Both can be correct in the right situation, or it can sometimes hinder the reader's interest in continuing with the story.

Frustration with the plot. It’s stalled and you don’t have a clue on how to move it where you want it to go. Frustration when you realize that what you’ve written isn’t the least logical. Of course, logic doesn’t always play out in life, either, but will the reader believe and accept the irrational?

Frustration with the setting. Have you described it adequately or over describe it? 

Frustration with style. Is it consistent or is your style constantly changing? Is the wording lush and lyrical in description, or is it dramatic and straight forward?

Frustrations with editing. You could have sworn you corrected that misspelling, that sentence, that bit of dialogue, on your third or fourth or fifth go through. Where is that scene you know you wrote? Didn’t you save it? Why did you use three characters whose names start with the same letter and sound so much alike? What can you rename them now that they seem like real people to you?

This list goes on. If you want to write you persevere until you reach a point of ending where the story has what you think is a reader catching beginning with an interesting progression of incidents leading to a satisfying ending. You’ve edited it repeatedly, and now a publisher has accepted it. Satisfaction alleviates all you've spent in creating it.

Skye Taylor
Judith Copek
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Fiona McGier
Dr. Bob Rich  
Connie Vines 
Diane Bator
Victoria Chatham