The Dynamic Of Events

There is a certain, somewhat predictable, dynamic to events, in stories and in life. Even if your story starts off in the middle of some action, that action is usually no more than a jumping off place for the story to start. Small or large, apparently unrelated events come together to create tension that builds as these elements draw inexorably closer to the climax and resolution.

History shows us the truth of this as a benign rule gradually (or not so gradually) shifts to an oppressive one. Small incursions on the rule of Law increase in scope and frequency until either the people rebel or tyranny reigns. It is as true in any other endeavor, if more subtle. Change at first is gradual, otherwise the people would never accept it. As it reaches a certain point, it cannot but continue on its course. On an individual level, we do not change overnight except in extreme conditions and we would not accept abrupt change in someone else, or in outside events without some questions – or a fight.

The old story of how to cook a frog comes to mind. If you plop a live frog into boiling water, it will (quite sensibly) jump out. If you put the frog into tepid water it will swim around and enjoy the pool. Then you gradually increase the heat. By the time the frog realizes he’s in trouble, the heat has him too befuddled to act. Frog is cooked.

In developing a story arc, this dynamic is present, by accident or design, in everything from romances to thrillers. How often are our characters caught up in a sequence of events that narrow the choices they can make and build to an outcome that those characters may never have chosen otherwise? The heroine may not have anything but contempt for your hero in the beginning, then an escalating series of events turn that completely around to where they, not only must rely on each other, but learn to trust and respect each other. Change happens in increments, usually small ones to start, like baby steps that allow you to run later.

That gradual change is necessary. A reader will not accept a sudden shift in attitude without good reason, anymore than a population will. As events draw the elements together the shift may increase in pace along with those events. The story heats up as the pace quickens. Twists and turns in plot may obscure the end for a time, while building tension. We are using the same dynamic that exists in real events to create that tension.

Each event in a story will escalate the tension slightly. Alone, they may even be insignificant, but together, in proper sequence they cause surges, like waves as the tide comes in. Each one coming a little farther up the beach and closer together as the story approaches its climax. Significant events in life are like that, both on a personal level and a global one. Something to remember is that each event will alter the perspective of the characters and the reader. This is what makes the change believable.

Real life is the same way. Each experience we have causes a change in perspective and perception that can alter the way we see both past and future events. That experience can be things that affect populations or individuals. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire comes to mind, as well as the series of events that led me to start writing in the first place.

Shooting At Ducks That Aren’t On the Pond

Okay, maybe it’s just a little bit inflammatory, but I have to wonder, occasionally, what am I doing this for? I know all the marketing reasons. They have little to do with the real reason for this blog. My intent has always been to provide a little help and encouragement to other writers, with a little entertainment along the way.

If the feedback is any judge, ducks are scarce on this pond. Maybe I should just pack up my laptop and go hunt something else.

Then I recall one post that seemed to be exactly what at least one reader needed to find. If I helped that one reader perfect her craft, then it’s worth it.

In thinking about the apparent futility of blogging, I also discovered that I find new energy and encouragement myself in putting these ideas in writing. Going over some of my past offerings is helping me recapture my voice and affirm this vocation of writing. Perhaps I am just enamored of my own words, most writers are. Or, just maybe, I am writing as much for my benefit as for others. Everytime I have taught a class I have learned something, either from my students directly, or by discovery.

Maybe this modern extension of a writer’s world is yet another tool to help us grow in our craft even as we reach out to help others to join us.

So, maybe there aren’t very many ducks on this pond, but the pond is a pleasant interlude whether we find any new ducks or not.

Finding A Lost Voice

Yep, I seem to have lost my writing voice over the past few months. Life happens. After a year and a half of caring for my mom, we have moved her and I handed off those responsibilities, for which I am grateful. Now that I can write without serious distractions, I’ve discovered my writing voice is missing! Even though I know what I need to do next on my various projects, the voice sounds tinny and out of tune.

I suppose I should have expected it. You don’t go through a lengthy time that’s so completely disconnected with your usual life without getting out of sync. Writing is just one area that has suffered. I figured the best way to get back on track is to reread everything I’ve written to this point, particularly for Warrior Song, including the two books already published. It’s the best way I can find to realign myself with the characters and their story.

In picking up the threads of their lives, I’ll also pick up my own.

“Where do we go from here?” is the obvious question. At least I know the answer to that for my characters. But then, in fiction, the author is in control of outcomes :D

Happy Writing!

Spring Energy Surrounds Us!

Everywhere I look, Spring is awakening the land and all creatures great and small. Sap is rising in the trees, making them bloom and leaf again. Birds are busy choosing mates and building nests. Bees are out harvesting fresh nectar. Some farmers here have started plowing. Any street you go down, you will see signs of the season’s influence, an almost urgent need to get outdoors and Do Something! Painting, yard work, cleaning the garage, anything to get out in the fresh air after a long Winter.

I’m not immune to this Spring orgy of activity. I went so far as to help a friend with some yard work this week. Even the ache in winter soft muscles felt good. This week has been full of Spring cleaning, inside and out. My thoughts are turning to things like prepping my herb beds for the seeds I have started, the new plan for a vegetable garden and camping trips. Definitely camping trips.

The Winter is over and the warming sun is a siren song. Do you hear the call?

What Do Your Characters Complain About?

Maybe I’m stretching a bit today, but listening to my mother complaining yet again about the weather made me stop at think about the characters we write. Even the most positive of us does a bit of complaining now and then. We all know people who complain constantly, some about everything, some about one thing. Complaints range from light, joking comments to outright whining.

Employees complain about bosses, soldiers complain about officers (and the reverse), spouses complain about each other, the list goes on ad infinitum. So, just what does an alien non-human mercenary complain about? What would your cat complain about? Or your apple tree?

I think having that annoying, overly fussy, supporting character that whines constantly can actually help your story’s realism as long as you don’t overdo it. It doesn’t hurt anything to have someone the reader would like to stuff headfirst into a hole, particularly if that character does get stuffed headfirst in a hole before it’s over :D It affords the reader a chance to really connect and sympathize with a main character when they have to deal with a complainer. We feel a sense of satisfaction when we see the complainer either learn a better attitude – or get stuffed in a hole. I have seen it used so naturally, I identified with the situation without ever thinking it might be deliberate. God, that author was good!

That said, exactly what an alien character would complain about is something that will require some thought. It means getting deeper into the motivations of your characters and how they relate to the world you’ve built. The joking variety may be the most important in creating a natural, energetic bond between main characters. For me, it’s also the easiest to write.  I hadn’t thought about writing a whiny character before, but I will add that to my list of possibilities.

I can’t tell you how to decide what your characters complain about; that would be like trying to tell you how to think. Hopefully, this has stirred your mind and will possibly point you to a new direction to be explored.

Until next time, Happy Writing -one word at a time!

Revision Or Rewrite?

You have finished your novel. YAY! Celebrate! Then you take another look at it. Now, even though you’ve tried revising bits and pieces, reworking scenes and paragraphs, something just isn’t right. Perhaps you should consider a rewrite.

Some of the signs are awkward story flow where some characters are concerned. Or plot elements that don’t seem to fit together. Maybe something just bothers you about the story line and you can’t really pin it down. I struggled to make my first book work the way I had originally planned, but I was never satisfied until I was willing to let go of some really bad parts of the story line and do a major rewrite. Once I was willing to do that, it came together the way it was meant to be. Oddly enough, it still followed the original loose outline I had laid out, but this time it worked.

I was trying to take the story where the story wasn’t supposed to go. You know the old adage about fitting a square peg into a round hole? I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to fit my story into a frame it was not suited for. As a result, the characters lacked the crisp, distinctive personalities they deserved and the plot was impossibly convoluted to the point it really defied logic. Yes, I can see all that now, but back then? Are you kidding, I was sure there had to be some way to make it work as it was. I just needed to fix the dialogue, or maybe beef up the descriptions and it would all come together.

Nope, never happened.

Another thing I discovered in the rewrite/revise idea had to do with POV. If your book, or even a single scene, isn’t working the way you want it to try rewriting it from a different character’s POV. You may have to leave off parts of the scene the character didn’t see, but that’s often good. A scene can change dramatically by changing who’s eyes you are looking through. Sometimes even the lack of information through a different character can draw the reader in with thoughts of “oh, but they don’t know about…” and if you have engaged your reader to think such thoughts, you have succeeded. Occasionally, you may discover you need to shift to a new main character completely in order to tell the story the way it wants to be told.

To those writers out there just getting started (and a reminder to the old veterans), this is probably the most difficult thing you will ever do with your writing. Suck it up and be willing to see the flaws for what they are. Understand that just because a scene is powerfully and beautifully written, doesn’t mean it belongs in the story. If you can face your own work with a ruthless delete button and cut it to ribbons to remove the parts that don’t belong, you can then put it back together and polish it till it shines. When you are through, you will have something you are truly ready to send out into the world on it’s own.

Happy Writing – and keep the bandaids handy!

What Are Publishers Good For?

The market is inundated with poorly crafted books these days. I have posted several times about indie published books and how important editing/revision is, with passing reference to some equally poor books being published by the big publishing houses. I think it’s time to focus a little on those publishing houses. They are falling far short in doing their jobs. I fail to understand how they can let books, that in all honesty could have been really good, go to print without first being credibly edited and revised. They key word there is credibly.

My husband picked up a book at the library last week that was a fairly recent offering from Tor, a publisher I once trusted. I never made it through the third chapter. It’s fantasy, a genre I usually enjoy, but it didn’t develop anything resembling a coherent story until into the third chapter. Now, I am all for leaning out ones writing and avoiding details that bog the story down, but jumping years at a single bound, and switching characters besides, is nothing short of a mess. There are important scenes, introducing what appear to be main characters with absolutely nothing to tie them together and give them a place in the overall framework of the story. Those scenes are abruptly short.  Maybe they thought it would build suspense. They were wrong. All it builds is confusion about just who is doing what to whom and – why in the heck should we care?

In all fairness, I have come across an indie or two with the same problem, though they usually go in the opposite direction.

Getting signed by a major publisher used to be the mark of success, the prime goal of any writer, something that would give you the stamp of credibility in your craft and open doors. Now, I would not want to be signed by one of them at all. It surely would not be a stamp of credibility anymore. Though, I might accept an editorial position, since they obviously need some. That would be in the nature of a public service. :)

My biggest question is what the heck are the publishing houses there for anyway? They used to take the raw material of a writer and polish both the writing and the writer. What are they doing now? I have no idea, but they certainly aren’t applying any editing polish to the books they publish. Have they gotten so caught up in churning out volume after volume from successful writers to the point that the writing itself is now irrelevant? Are they just looking for books they can turn a fast profit on with a catchy title and fancy cover? The book that sparked this was a breakout novel, the first in a series, not an established author. Well, I can assure you (and them) that I will not even pick up any of this person’s work in the library, unless they go indie and learn their craft. I think I can say the same for Tor’s offerings in general from now on, unless I have a really good reason believe the author is worth my time. Now, don’t get the idea it’s just Tor that’s being negligent. I think most of the big publishers have fired their editorial staff – and hired fifth graders.

Maybe this is why the big publishing houses are in such trouble and indie/small pubs are booming. If the big publishers want to reestablish some credibility, they should first of all look for talent. It’s out there, find it. Then nurture it. Yes, nurture it. Help it mature and grow instead of tossing it in the book store to sink or swim as it walked through your door. What good are you to anyone if you do nothing other than get the submitted manuscript in a book store?

Guys, I hate to break it to you, but I can do that for myself.

 

A Fool’s Errand

A figure slipped closer to my vantage point, keeping to the shadows. Uncle Tarlich looked up, his sharp, rugged features confirming his identity, as if the shapeless woods garments would not have already done so. An invader in their garish uniforms and body armor could never be mistaken for one of our own. I kept searching as Tarlich came closer, but a second figure did not appear.

“What happened? Where is Dame Bortha?” I kept my voice low, though panic gripped my belly. I searched the lower slope for sight of her stooped form.

“She refused to budge, kept ranting on about revenge. Come, Gesthie. They are almost to the village.” He gripped my arm, urging me into the dense brush that was our rally point.

“No.” I wrenched away and shrugged off my pack. I’d carry her out if I had to, I thought, slipping back down the hill.

“Gesthie, don’t be a fool, she won’t come.” I ignored Tarlich’s urgent whisper. She had to come with us. I had not finished my apprenticeship with her yet! I kept to the swift ,steady pace that was not quite a run, as she had taught me long ago. There was time, her house was outside the village proper. There would be time… The phrase kept running through my mind as a prayer.

Ahead, I could see the neat beds of the plants she used to treat all kinds of illness and injury. They had been my study since I was old enough to see over her work table. There was no sign of the invaders yet. The profusion of growth gave good cover to reach the kitchen door unnoticed. I paused for a moment to listen.

“Rain and sun the seed requires; to sprout, grow strong and bloom…” The soft notes of Dame Bortha’s favorite planting song drifted to my incredulous ears. I rushed in. She was sitting in her chair, her browned hands resting under the shawl covering her lap. Bortha’s sharp gaze pinned me where I stood.

“You are a fool, but no more than I have been.” She smiled at me then, banishing the fear that had possessed me. “My da was a warrior, like Tarlich, and he taught me what he knew. I turned my back on his teaching and devoted my life to healing instead, but I never forgot. Now, I understand his choice.” She looked down as she drew an ancient weapon from under the shawl. “I promised him I would keep this against need. The aliens will come, but they will not leave.”

“But Dame, you are throwing your life away, that old boomer will not even pierce what they wear.”

Her golden eyes were scornful – and impatient. “Everything is prepared for their welcome. Child, I would only slow you down, you know this. I have lived my life. Yours is before you. Leave me to do this one last thing to help.”

Her eyes caught mine again. “Gesthirian, do not forget what I have taught you, but also, learn what Tarlich can teach. By the door is a pack with all I have to give you. Go now, quickly.”

It was as if her will pushed me to the door. I reached for the pack and noticed the sacks along the wall. What?

“GO!”

Startled, I ran. I could hear shouts now, coming from the other side of the village. I slowed enough to watch my step in the wood. A small brown body bounded across my path and I heard crashing in the brush behind me.

“Cinta!” a young voice cried. A child stumbled out of the bush, his face streaked with tears of frustration.  “She keeps running away!” his voice broke in a sob.

I hugged him to me when I heard a sharp CRACK echo through the woods. Instinct caused me to turn my back to the valley and hold the child in what protection I could give.  I thought of the sacks as a sound like a landslide deafened me and wind tore through the treetops.

My breath caught in a sob. “Dame Bortha!” I looked back to see smoke rising in black billows. Uncle Tarlich was right. It was a fool’s errand – or was it?

The child squirmed in my too tight grasp, reaching for the cat. I set him down and took a firm grip on his little hand. It was her last and most important lesson, I thought. I looked down at the child and smiled. No, it wasn’t a fool’s errand.

“Come, Mylt. Cinta was not running away, she was leading you to safety.” I lifted him to my arms again and the cat bounded ahead, to join the others who had survived.

 

Trouble Is Good For Us

Really, it is! What does not kill us, makes us stronger. Trouble and struggle teaches us every single thing we learn in life. Not a single person has ever started to walk without first falling down – repeatedly – while learning the process of balance in motion. If anyone tries to interfere with this process by preventing a fall, any decent parent will stop them. We seem to know on a deeply instinctive level that falling is good, it is how a child learns to walk. The only exceptions we make are for actual hazards they are not yet equipped to deal with.

Somewhere along the way, we lose that critical understanding, both for ourselves and others. Trouble is good; failing is good. We learn by getting back up and doing it again. No one ever succeeded in business without first failing in business. No one ever succeeded as a writer without first failing as a writer, often as in – want to sink into the ground and never see another keyboard for the rest of my life- fail. That failure isn’t bad – it’s important and magnificent.

Failure tests our resolve, it forces us to gain skill. In short, it makes us stronger. Each challenge we face in life make us grow. Whether it’s outside trouble, like accident or illness, or something we directly caused ourselves by our actions, we need to learn from it and grow stronger. We should not ever, not even once, make excuses for failure (though I know we all do, myself included). As soon as we make an excuse, we absolve ourselves of any responsibility to learn and grow from an event. That excuse will either cause it to hang out in our thoughts forever or, in the case of our mistakes, be repeated till we finally figure it out. Sometimes it will do both. The same holds true for making excuses for the failures of others, particularly our children. We need to be supportive when someone fails, not make excuses that will weaken them.

Should we then glory in failure? No, not for it’s own sake, but we do need to appreciate it as part of the process of success. Success isn’t the end result of achieving a specific goal, but the entire journey to get there. Trouble, challenges and failure are with us every step of the way. In part, they are the guides that get us where we want to go, course corrections to keep us on track.

The next time you fail at something, remember the toddler learning to walk. Sometimes they fall and skin their knee or bump their nose, but they get right back up and keep at it till they’re running across the yard. If you keep getting back up, you too will learn and be running after a while.

Character Interview – Undun Rhy

Today I have character interview by a fellow SF writer, T. L. Ryder. She has interviewed my character, Undun Rhy, from the Songs of Talmanor series. First, here’s a little bit about the Songs of Talmanor and Undun Rhy’s part in the series.

 

As the threat of war from the Thess’n Empire grows, Sorth and Zhyre are prominent in the Coalition’s defense efforts. Both worlds have populations with strong psychic gifts that they don’t hesitate to use for the protection of the Coalition and their allies.

Zhyrean eyesight is limited, though the ability to sense electric and magnetic emissions more than compensates for the lack. This saurian race partners well with their near-human Sorthian allies. Their psychic talents complement each other to open new methods for both races.

Undun Rhy is Zhyre’s most prominent scholar/adept. Though his scales are nearly black with age, he lends his vast knowledge to assist in training a most unusual special ops force.

 

And now we’ll talk with Undun Rhy!

Q. What is your home planet like?

A. Warm and humid. Much of Zhyre’s landmasses are tropical jungle. There is a closeness in the landscape that you seldom find on other planets. Everywhere you turn there is an abundance of rich textures, scents, even sounds. Most places seem barren by comparison.

Q. What do you miss the most from your home?

A. Probably the textures. Much of the Coalition is human or near human. Their art and architecture seldom focus on the sense of touch.

Q. What do you think makes the Thess’ns the way they are? Is  there any hope for them?

A. From history, we know Tarkus took a relatively primitive species and corrupted them. He twisted their tribal culture into a dangerous prejudice against all other sentient species. As for hope, there is always hope, hatchling.

Q. If you failed to do what you needed to do, who would step in and finish it for you?

A. It’s difficult to say. My part in this consists of showing some of our most gifted sensitives the path to discover what they know, along with integrating our talents with those of our Sorthian allies. I expect there are several of my more advanced students who could step in.

Q. What are the greatest challenges in working with Sorthians and humans?

A. That’s easy. It is difficult to adjust to their fondness for visual expression and complete lack of sensitivity to electrical and magnetic emissions. They could also use a more active sense of humor. (He grins, showing many of his very sharp teeth, but his eyes are bright with laughter.)

 

Thank you, T. L. Ryder for the interview and a chance to highlight one of the interesting supporting characters in the Songs of Talmanor. To my readers, please visit TLRyder and take a look at some of the work of one of my long time writing buddies.

Undun Rhy first appears in book two – Dream Song.