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 stories are 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 the 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, it's 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 the 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 the creative personal essay. 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 provides 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 the 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 the reader wants characters whose situations and reactions they can empathize with but not recognize as having read before--at least not too often. Yet acceptable stereotypes exist, usually defined by their business like cowboys, spies, Regency noblemen, working women, etc. Generally speaking, every person has 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. This 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.

Cliché in contemporary "romances," include billionaire bosses who fall in love with ordinary women who are extraordinary in some way. Cowboy or soldier romances are other tropes frequently used, but there are many more. Almost every Regency romance includes a noble aristocrat whose behavior is often borderline moral, but he 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 and enjoyed them before. 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