Education and Knowledge

Knowledge is power.

It’s a phrase that has been used for as long as anyone can remember, and implies a correlation between knowledge and success – knowledgeable people are successful, and successful people are knowledgeable…. Usually.  Sometimes, it’s not so much what one knows, but who one knows – networking and interpersonal relationships can compensate for a lack of knowledge in a given situation or profession. The level of education is not always a guarantee of success – the aforementioned interpersonal / social aspect has its merits – thought a certain level of fundamental information is critical. Timing is also a critical factor – when one knows someone / something can be as important (or more) than the other two factors, and can be the difference between success and failure, life or death.

I had thought to write about something else for this week’s entry, but as I plotted and pondered that other topic, I noticed that today (May 20th) is the anniversary of graduating from college. Hence the quasi-rambling about knowledge and education, and it’s relevance to the writing process (though these days it’s more plotting and pondering process than actual!writing).

Anyway.

In relation to the previous blog entry, which dealt with the practical aspects of world and character building, along with deciding upon the professions the characters hold (and what types of professions are viable, respectable and obtainable in the fictional world in which the character reside), the question of what type and level of education would be available for the characters arises, along with the importance of gaining certain levels of education (and the knowledge that goes along with it).

(I think that’s the longest non run-on (?) sentence I’ve written in a long while. I hope it makes sense. But if it didn’t, a short(er) translation)

In crafting the fictional world in which the narrative takes place, the presence (or absence) of educational systems and access to them is another practical aspect to take into account. Also, from a storytelling standpoint, there would a need for exposition to educate the reader, especially if the world in which the story is set is not readily familiar to the average reader. Then again, what the reader knows and is told may or may not be different than what certain characters know, which can heighten the suspense / drama in the narrative.

This imbalance of knowledge between the reader and character(s) happens more in stories told in third person perspective, as the (usually) omniscient narrator is relating the story objectively, while a first person perspective narrator chooses to tell the story at their own pace, and tells as much as he/she can or wants to. Of course, the writer holds all the cards (so to speak) and is the final decision maker as to the pacing and access of knowledge; then again, in the pantsing world, plot twists have a sneaky way of showing up and creating its own brand of chaos of which the writer needs to stage manage.

All the time.

Which is the fun part of creating a fictional world and the characters within.

Roles and Responsibilities

One of the more practical aspects in the writing process is the development of the roles and responsibilities as well as the “rules” that govern the fictional world in which the characters reside and interact. This is a necessary evil (?) when writing within the fantasy and science fiction genres (and its sub-genres), where anything is possible (elves, vampires. wizards, etc.). As that fictional world is not like any other that actually exists (at least as far as anyone is aware – I firmly believe that there has to be some other life out in the universe, or maybe a parallel / alternate universe), there’s a need for some kind of structure so the reader can follow along. Even if the setting is a variant of the real world (whether it’s set in the near or distant past or in present day). there a need for exposition (liberally sprinkled throughout the narrative) so there’s a level of familiarity so the reader can relate to the narrative arc:

  • Power – who or what is in charge? Who / what makes the rules to maintain law and order?  This can range from a dictatorship to a democracy, and anything in between. The pursuit for power (and the retention of that power) drives the characters and moves the narrative along its path.
  • Professions – what do the characters do for a living? Characters should have some sort of job that he / she does to maintain their lifestyle. The profession the characters can play a significant role in the situations they find themselves in, and the relationships they have with one another.

There are probably many more practical elements to address but I can’t think of them at the moment (so there might be a follow-up entry).

Anyway.

This topic popped into my head as I continue the (internal) plotting and pondering for my work in progress (which admittedly hasn’t progress as far as I thought it would at this point). Along with (re)defining the characters and designing the quasi-alternate / parallel universe of the MASC Chronicles (one day I’ll devote a series of entries about the series, but this is not that day), figuring out all the details (or at least as much as I can at this point) is exhaustive. This is in conjunction with the world building and its alternative history (of which I’m still making an effort to adhere) – the decision to set the MASC Chronicles in an alternate (possibly parallel) universe where there’s a divergence at a key point in World History. Figuring out how this alternate history plays out has its own challenges, as causality can create unexpected ripples in the time / space continuum.

And time travel hasn’t entirely been ruled out either (though that presents with additional headaches and countless flow charts). It’s quite an overwhelming and ambitious task to undertake, given the complexity of the entire series, though I do believe if I can pull it off convincingly. it’ll be epic and different (I hope) from anything that has been written already.

So the roles and responsibilities for me to make sense of all the quasi-rambling musings and plot bunnies bouncing about, waiting to be developed into Something Extraordinary.

Onward and upward!

Collaboration and Feedback

Writing is a collaborative effort.

While the elements within the story – characters, setting, narrative arc, etc. – are created by a (usually) solitary author, there are other collaborators behind the scenes who have had a hand in the final product. Those are the names listed in the acknowledgments, and sometimes those mentioned in the dedication. Then there are various forms of collaborative writing, from two (or more) writers creating a structured story to a group of writers creating an improvised story. The former has a defined plotted out narrative, characters and resolution, while the latter has infinite possibilities with regards to the narrative, characters and resolution. Another form of collaboration is writing on a common theme or topic (often published as a collection of short stories or essays).

In all of the aforementioned variations on the writing process, the element of feedback from beta readers, editors and critics (oh my!) is vital. Writing groups (in-person or online) can be helpful or harmful to the writing process, depending on the members in those groups. Some may genuinely want to help, giving constructive criticism, while others just nitpick and argue. While I have not joined any in-person writing groups (I’m too introverted to do so), I have joined a few online (via Facebook) writing groups, to which I’m a passive participant (mostly because of the aforementioned introvert nature, so I don’t really have the confidence to post anything for critique). One needs to have thick (lizard) skin to post musings online and deal with the inevitable feedback from the general public…

Oh wait.

This is a form of public writing, I suppose, but then again, there isn’t that much feedback and collaboration in this forum, as it’s quasi-one sided, and it’s not strictly fictional (though it’s not quite factual either, as the majority of these entries are essentially improvised essays).

Anyway.

After the first draft of the story is completed, the editing process begins, which can include recruiting beta readers (or friends / family) to read, with the hope of receiving constructive criticism and not just blanket praise (as many friends and family member are apt to do). Several drafts may result from this, along with a new round of beta readers. Once the final version is set (for the most part) then the task of deciding the publishing method begins, along with the cover design. These days self-publishing is a viable (and probably cost effective) option, and with the rise of e-readers (while convenient and lighter in terms of portability, I still like the feel of a real book in my hand, not to mention the new / old book smell) getting the completed book out and into the public is easier. With the presence of online sites such as Amazon and Goodreads (to name but two of many out there in cyberspace…. does anyone use “cyberspace” anymore?), submitting feedback is instantaneous and (for better and for worse) public.

While there may be one name on the book cover (real or otherwise), there are many people who have a hand in getting the story from the writer’s imagination into a reader’s hands.

 

Discovering Characters

In setting off on a journey to creating a compelling story with complex characters, aspects of the plot change over time, with varying degrees of coherency. Elements are added, changed and / or removed (only to be replaced or reinstated at some later point in time) in efforts to make the story better (albeit that’s a subjective term). Change is inevitable during the plotting, pondering and writing process, and it’s almost mandatory when editing. The finished product may (or may not) be exactly what was outlined at the beginning, and that’s a good thing (I think).

The shape of the primary (epic) work in progress and the characters within has changed over the years, both in size and complexity. Characters are created, with their unique set of baggage and archetypes – their role in the overall story varies, from major to minor; they disappear for a while, or get relegated to another story arc (or series altogether). Knowing who these characters are and what motivates them to do the things they do influences the direction down which the story travels. The focus on the narrative structure and the atmosphere of the world in which the story takes place should be concurrent with the development of its characters.

The topic of character development has been discussed here before (and no doubt I’ll be repeating things I’ve written before). It’s been a process of discovering everything about the characters I’ve created, though at first that might sound odd, as the writer should know every aspect of those characters. After all, the writer is responsible for their very existence (tenuous as it might be at times) – their appearance, their personality and their perspective of their world. Then again, drafting exposition and creating a list of statistics is the starting point – once the characters are placed into a room together and dealing with whatever situation is unfolding, the predetermined aspects of the characters will change depending on what happens.

Outlines are fine when plotting out the basic structure of the story, and its place in the series (if it’s part of a larger saga), but things change when there’s a deep(er) dive into the details. The twists and turns come out of nowhere and can (sometimes) lead to greater things, or at least more fantastical things (hopefully). There’s no guarantee that the original story line will remain intact, or if the characters created for that story will remain the same (or remain at all).

Uncertainty is the only certainty when creating a story.

One day, perhaps in the future, I’ll be confident enough to share some of the details of the MASC Chronicles and its main characters.

But for now, it’s back (again) to the plotting and pondering..

Setting the Environment

Along with creating complex characters and compelling plot lines, developing the world in which the stories take place is critical. The historical exposition, whether it’s strictly based on Real world events, a completely fictional time / place, or something in between is one component of world / universe building. The science behind the environment(s) in which the characters interact is important to develop and / or create, whether (again) it’s based on pure facts or entirely made up (this is different from “alternative facts”) as it can shape every aspect of the story.

The world of the MASC Chronicles, that elusive enigma that is my epic work in progress, and began as a short story about 24 years (!!) ago, spans several centuries across (probably) similar terrain. The setting will most definitely be Earth bound, as the series (as it’s quasi-structured thus far) will not veer too far into the science fiction arena, though a brief sojourn into the realm of fantasy is possible.

Well, (almost) anything is possible when creating a fictional world. Then again, the Real World these days is (slightly) stranger than fiction.

Anyway.

The topic of environment and its impact on the writing process arose mainly because it’s Earth Day today; it’s a facet in the process of world / universe building that seems to not have as much focus as the historical elements of the story. (Not quite sure if that last sentence makes any sense, but I hope it does). The physical environment in which the story is set influences the characters’ behavior toward one another and to the circumstances in which the characters find themselves. Extreme conditions (drought, flood, nuclear radiation, etc.) are often the catalyst from which the narrative can spring forth – how the characters deal with the issue and / or the consequences of the Event is fodder for the Story.

The physical environment also sets the tone of the overall story; the landscape and weather conditions are like another character in the story – figuratively or literally. Doom and gloom seem to be a popular setting into which to fling characters and see how they deal with the cards they have been dealt. Even ideal, “perfect” worlds have some imperfections, depending on the characters’ perspectives. After all, if everything is “perfect” then problems / conflict would not arise, and there would not be as many stories to tell; conflict (of various sorts) is vital to a story, regardless of genre.

Whether or not there’s a happy ending is questionable, though there has to be some sort of resolution at the end, else the story doesn’t really end – it just stops.

Brief update (of sorts) of the state of the Land of Exposition (which hasn’t been mentioned too much in recent entries): the weather has stabilized a bit, after the surprise bout of snow. Spring has sprung with intermittent pockets of bracing wind and rain; the Real Life Brigade has undergone a turnover in leadership, leading to uncertainty among its ranks. Change is in the air, amid the pollen and fleeting aroma of bacon (its source still unknown) – attempts at anticipating those unexpected curve balls have been fairly successful, though the variables remain as such.

Plotting and pondering, as well as editing and actual!writing has progressed slowly amid the distractions and digressions.

It’s been a little over four years since I started this blog, and the forward momentum has not been as monumental as I had hoped. Then again, more than 120,000 words have been written (random musings and such) so that’s an achievement right?

Back to plotting, pondering and world building.

Happy Earth Day – it’s important to take care of this planet, as it’s the only one that can sustain life (as far as we know).

The Role of Social Media

Back to blogging at my (quasi) usual time, when I ponder about what to write and how much to share, though admittedly, I really haven’t shared that much about the various works in progress aside from quasi-cryptic musings and semi-frequent updates on the state of the Land of Exposition. There are times I wish it was a real place I can visit (or stay for a while), if only to retreat from the craziness that is the Real World – where the weather is temperate (most of the time), the accommodations calm (usually) and where anything goes (sorta). Where like-minded people mingle with ethereal muses and potentially have time to plot, ponder and actually!write, without interruptions, distractions or drama.

Real Life has a way of consuming time and energy – worrying about things that are (mostly) out of one’s control and what the future might be (and considering the state of world affairs these days, it’s a valid concern). Despite all this, the writing process should continue; though in my case it comes in irregular cycles, much of which gets edited within an inch of its life. Sharing details about the works in progress has been intermittent and (probably) inconsistent, yet I post a blog entry every week and share it on social media, albeit the only social media platform on which I share these posts is on Facebook (both on my personal page and an author page I started shortly after creating this blog.). Granted, I haven’t been as active in sharing much writing-related on social media aside from the weekly entries, though I should. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are useful tools used to share ideas and to promote products to the general public (or at least to those who use these social media outlets).

It’s quasi-ironic that I use Facebook, as I’m quite introverted by nature and rarely share anything insightful about myself or my works in progress on my personal page, author page or in the various groups of which I’m a member (though as an avid photographer, I regularly use Instagram and post photos on a semi-frequent basis).  Sharing such details is a dual edge (light)saber, with a Light side and Dark side – sometimes you can receive constructive criticism and other times you get insidious insults.

Alliteration is alive and all right!

Anyway.

Sorting through the chatter is time consuming – then again so is scrolling through social media. Inspiration and collaboration can occur while reading other people’s posts and comments (careful not to fall for click bait links), though most of the time going through the news feed (and attempting to scroll past the knee-jerk, reactive, and often insulting comments) is distracting to begin with. On the other hand, social media is one avenue aspiring writers can advertise their works, with the hopes of building a fan base at the grassroots level. Going the traditional route of mainstream publishing houses is a difficult and lengthy process. There’s a liberating sense of accomplishment in self / independent publishing, though there’s more work involved – editing the manuscript, creating the cover art and distributing the final product (physical and / or digital copies) to the public.

While costly (time and money wise), it’s possible.

I’m nowhere near that point in the process, but at least I know it’s an option. After all, the journey to the destination is just as important as the destination itself. (I think I paraphrased that correctly).

Back to work (though I’ll be fixated on the new teaser trailer for The Last Jedi for a while, and will watch the series premiere of Doctor Who later).

Time Management

Another week, another entry, though earlier than usual this week due to the rare occurrence of having evening plans during the time I normally write these entries. That I started this blog on a Saturday and kept up with posting every Saturday night since then is a remarkable feat – the anniversary of when this blog started is approaching (though the date itself does not fall on a Saturday). The intent of writing these entries was to share the process (if not the progress) of writing, with the hopes of sharing details and such about the plot, the characters and the meaning behind the tales to be told.

Well, that didn’t quite happen.

Many of these entries are quasi-rambling musings of ideas floating about the brain space and vague hints at the primary works in progress, namely the MASC Chronicles and the (somewhat lesser primary work in progress) meta series Tales from the Land of Exposition. As mentioned frequently, the bulk of these entries are written “live” and directly into WordPress with minimal editing (aside from grammar and spelling). Whatever pops into my head at any given moment is recorded, so odds are I’ve repeated myself several times over the years (I’m pretty sure I mentioned this very idea before, though probably not in the same way; then again, odds are the words are probably the same if not similar).

Anyway.

The theme / topic of this entry is time management, which has multiple meanings depending on the perspective the phrase is used, whether within or without the context of the narrative(s). Granted, I know I should schedule (or at least attempt to schedule) time to focus and actually plot, ponder and actually!write, but (per usual) real life interrupts and / or distracts from that notion. There’s only so many hours in a day, and fitting in time to have the clarity of mind to organize the ideas and figure out the nuances of character, plot and setting is not always possible. Ideas bounce about like fluffy bunnies wanting attention – whether or not they turn out to be useful is subjective. Most of the time, ideas flutter around only to be filed away for possible use in the future, though probably not in the same way, shape or form as originally intended. Managing time within the context of the story is a challenge, as playing with the notion of time travel keeps popping up every now and then, with alternate / parallel universes and other science fiction-esque devices.

Telling a simple story is not (always) enough – readers expect more and usually something different than what is already been written yet at the same time something familiar so they can have a vested (emotional / intellectual) interest in the lives of the characters and the journey / plight they take during the story.

Another facet in the whole time management with respect to the actual writing process is the ebbs and flows of when inspiration hits, which is something that can’t really be anticipated or controlled (at least not for me). There are times when I can sit down and focus on the works in progress and actually!write some of the narrative (then spend almost double the amount of time editing what I had just written), and there are times I stare at the screen and ponder what should happen next. There are countless memes about how sparks of brilliant ideas emerge just as you’re falling asleep and you’re too tired to get up and jot it down, hoping it’ll still be around in the morning. (Spoiler: it rarely ever sticks around for that long).

Plotting general outlines and such is a good way to find structure and build a foundation upon which the story can unfold, but finding the nuances and layers and figuring out where the details fit in the larger context is difficult. I’m pretty sure this is an issue across all genres, but especially for mystery and suspense – sprinkling enough clues for the detective / reader to follow but not giving away too much too soon (and adding red herrings along the way, which may or may not be red herrings.)

It’s a lot to ponder and plot and process.

If only there were enough time to manage all of this and live a “normal” life…

If only the TARDIS was a real thing (thankfully, Doctor Who will be returning soon, though it’ll be bittersweet as it’s Peter Capaldi’s final season / series as the Doctor)

TTFN!