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..

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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!

Shifting Realities

So it’s April Fool’s Day. A day of practical jokes and elaborate hoaxes, when the line between fact and fiction blur. Many of the jokes / hoaxes are reused and recycled over the years (which is always good for the environment), so “everyone” knows that they’re fake; then again, there are some that are unexpected that it’s difficult to discern its validity. The setup and delivery of the “news” article  / post / tweet needs to be crafted in a way that makes you second-guess whether or not it’s true. The one that comes to my mind on this day was the “news” article announcing that George Takei was going to run for public office. It seemed plausible (and possible), and almost too good to be true – and it turned out not to be true (which is a shame, really, given the political climate in America these days).

Needless to say, it’s wise to not trust anything or anyone on this day.

Oh, that rhymes (sort of) – and I’m not so much of a poet (and I know it).

Anyway.

The (shifting) line(s) between fact and fiction within a story is a tricky path to take, considering the fact that fiction is essentially not true to begin with – every aspect of the story is made up from the writer’s imagination. Truth within the fictional world is subjective and potentially questionable as well, depending on the perspective from which the narrative unfolds. The protagonist and antagonist often have opposing viewpoints as to their role in the story, and will believe their motives are “right”. With that said/written, the same story could (potentially) be told multiple times and still be different, depending on who is narrating the story (if it’s told first person perspective), or in the cast of third person perspective (omniscient or limited), which character is prominently featured.

Since I’ve committed myself to writing a series saga worth of stories (many of which have been loosely sketched out), the urge to consolidate and condensify the number of stories is tempting. To tell one long story from several (different) points of view so that each novel is a puzzle piece when put together creates an intricate work or art (or at least an interesting mosaic). Refining and moving about all those pieces will take time and a white board (at least) with different colored markers (because colors make everything make sense). The sequence of events (from every angle) will need to be analyzed for its plausibility, and the potential offshoot tangents created (which might create spin-off series or AU fan fiction).

I’m (probably) overthinking all of this, but that’s the planning, plotting and pondering part before the actual!writing part gets underway. The pantsing approach won’t help (as much) as the planning approach, though they could (should?) work concurrently. The reality in the fictional world can be whatever the writer wants it to be, whether it’s based on real world events (past or present), an imagined future, or a world not like any other.

What is real and what is not is for the writer to decide, though I wonder if there are stories out there based on an April Fool’s prank. It’d be interesting to write stories based around various holidays (though technically speaking April Fool’s Day isn’t an official holiday, though some might argue otherwise).

Then again, I should probably stick to the quasi-established works in progress first.

Spring has sprung in the Land of Exposition. Time to get writing. Again.