Alliances and Ambiguity

In crafting characters and plots within which to fling them or to carefully place them (depending if you’re a pantser or plotter),  figuring out where they (and with whom) stand in the story is critical. The character’s perspective, influenced both by nature (surroundings) and nurture (upbringing), affects how they (re)act (or not) to the events and environments around them. Knowing who the characters are and with whom they choose to associate helps with the overall telling of the story, regardless if they are the protagonists or antagonists (though it’s often been said that the villain is the hero of their own story).

Then again, if everything is divided in absolutes, the characters and the narrative could fall into the Pit of Predictability and / or Sphere or Stereotypes, rendering the story and its characters unbelievable and unremarkable. On the other hand, there is a need for the reader to know (or at least ascertain) which characters are on the “good” side and which are on the “bad” side – “good” and “bad” being subjective, depending on the character’s perspective, and the readers’ interpretation of the story. Grouping characters in this way is convenient in drawing a (figurative) line between the two sides, though each side need not have member(s) who adhere to the ideals adopted by the group as a whole.

That’s where / when the (shocking?) plot twist drops.

The somewhat quasi-random inspiration for this entry is how the current (seventh) season of Game of Thrones is unfolding; the final episode of the season will air tomorrow, and considering what has happen thus far, the alliances that have been forged thus far may break, only to be refashioned out of expediency to battle against a common enemy. Loyalty and trust dwell on a slippery slope in Westeros, and the elaborate schemes within schemes, coupled with personal agendas could doom the characters who are still alive (or in some cases characters who died and subsequently brought back to life).

The moral ambiguity that lies within the world of Game of Thrones (and in the A Song of Ice and Fire series that inspired the TV series) and the complexity of its characters is among the inspirations for my journey in attempting to (and eventually succeeding in) creating an epic series saga. Not everything is simply “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”, though there are instances where it’s clear whether something or someone is right or wrong – there may be those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the label, but they’ll learn (hopefully) they’re on the “wrong” side of history. Then again, without the presence of an opposition, how could anyone know when they’re on the right side?

But I digress.

Plotting and pondering all the angles (or as many as can plausibly exist) in the MASC(D) Chronicles is an ongoing process as the plots within plots grow exponentially with the seemingly infinite possibilities brought about by establishing alternate history, thus creating an alternate universe where (just about) anything can happen.

(I do hope that last sentence makes sense, and is somewhat grammatically correct.)

Anyway.

Having the power (as it were) to devise an alternate universe (with its alternative history) is overwhelming and loads of fun, though it can’t all be rainbows and unicorns traipsing about the landscape. I’m sure there’s a well-known quotation (by someone) that light cannot exist without darkness – the laws of Time and Space (relative as they may be in any dimension) dictate that there are Fixed Points in history, events that need to happen in order for the universe to remain intact. So certain Dark moments in history will still happen in the Alternate Universe of the MASC(D) Chronicles, though perhaps not in the same time and place or under the same conditions due to the Left Turn taken from One Key Moment in World History.

Seems the quasi-rambling musings within this entry have meandered a bit – the original title was “Allies and Enemies”, and was to ponder the fragility of grouping certain characters – a quasi-direct reflection on last week’s episode of Game of Thrones “Beyond the Wall” and the alliance between Houses Targaryen / Martell / Tyrell / Greyjoy against House Lannister (spoiler alert – it does not bode well for either side, as military strategy and dragons play a significant role).

Ambiguity quickly became the emerging theme, and a degree of uncertainty is sometimes necessary.

Next week’s entry will no doubt contain reactions and insight into the season finale airing tomorrow night.

Valar Morghulis.

Valar Dohaeris.

 

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Researching History

Amid the plotting and pondering (and mental writing), a great deal of research goes into crafting a fictional universe – deciding on how much (if any) of it will be based on the Real World, what themes and perspectives to undertake, and the pacing of the overall story. If the tale is set in a wholly alien world (literally on another planet in a galaxy far, far away) or in another dimension, the writer is in full control in deciding on every aspect of that world – its climate(s), the beings who inhabit it, and the (practical) rules that govern the ways things are (or at least supposed to be). If the tale is set in the Real World, whether it be in the near (or distant) past or present, the writer is bound (to a certain degree) to ensure a level of historical and geographical accuracy, lest the reader nitpick on the credibility of the story and its characters. If the tale is set somewhere in between fact and fiction, the writer needs to decide the realty / fantasy ratio and follow through accordingly. In this context, fantasy need not refer to Fantasy, where wizards, dragons, elves, and such exist along side humanity (though it could, depending on the needs of the narrative).

For any of these scenarios, a whole lot of research is required, whether in creating the absolutes in that wholly fictional world, fact checking historical documents (seeking as objective sources as possible) and finding the happy balance between the first two options, when melding reality and fantasy.

Thus far, the MASC(D) Chronicles finds itself quasi-rooted in the third option – a world where history takes a left turn and travels down a path where reality as we know it is quite different. How different remains to be seen (or in this case, plotted and pondered); there is a very specific (historical) time (and place) this will occur, though the alternate history / universe that will unfold due to this disruption in the time/space continuum is (still) a work in progress. There are a few possible paths this divergence can travel, and figuring out which one is the most plausible and would entice a reader to become invested in it (and the characters within) is the (fun) challenging part.

With all this plotting and pondering comes actual research, via (gasp!) actual books, credible, objective tomes that impart the social and political history of the world, as well as online sources, i.e. Wikipedia (though more for quick / reduced version of a specific topic) and watching episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, the genealogy series that explores the family history of Well Known People – actors, writers, singers and entertainers. The series was among the inspirations for the inter-connectivity of the three series that make up the MASC(D) Chronicles, albeit plotted and pondered in chronological order.

As the song goes, starting at the beginning is a very good place to start, though where and when to start is the question to answer.

I have a fair inkling on where and when to start, though sometimes I wonder if working backwards, travelling through time in that manner will solve some of the aforementioned questions.

After all, time doesn’t strictly need to be linear – it’s a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ball of stuff, bouncing about quasi-aimlessly in search for a place to land.

The plotting and pondering (and researching) continues.

The Power of Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”

Lies.

Words can hurt.

Depending on what those words are, who is speaking / writing / tweeting them, and to whom they are addressed, words have the power to induce fear, anger, hate, and (ultimately) suffering. For some, words are the difference between life and death, freedom or incarceration.

On the other hand, words also have the power to inspire and to educate, bringing hope and imparting knowledge to everyone and anyone willing to hear / read them. Choosing the right words to write or say for and about the characters the writer creates helps shape the personality of those characters – their beliefs, quirks and perspective on the world in which they inhabit. The same goes for the universe in which the story is set, the historical events that may or may not have taken place, and the overall atmosphere of the narrative.

How those words are interpreted by the reader is (mostly) subjective – some will be delighted, while others will be disgusted by the content and context of the words released into the (fictional) world. And that’s a good thing – there need not be consensus about everything (though there should be some universal concepts that are acceptable and unacceptable regardless of one’s personal beliefs).

But I digress.

The topic of this week’s entry stems partly from my recent (non-Sunset) experience at the theatre – last night I went to see Indecent, a play by Paula Vogel about the controversy surrounding the 1907 Yiddish play God of Vengeance, which included a love scene between two women. The power of words and the context in which the words are used have an effect – both positive and negative. Words have meaning, and when they (often) are taken out of context, the meaning of those words change, sometimes to suit the agenda of the opposition. The addition or deletion of certain (key) words make all the difference, which is all the reason to choose those words carefully.

Think before you speak / write / tweet, and always check spelling and grammar (unless the words are misspelled for a reason) – everyone is a critic these days, and will remember the mistakes more than the nuggets of wisdom.

Why is that?

I have no idea – human nature, I suppose.

Anyway.

Plotting and pondering, as well as world / alternate universe building is (still) a massive work in progress. Research and creating flow charts on where / when history diverges consumes a lot of time and energy (requiring copious amounts of coffee and energy-laden foodstuffs). How divergent to travel down the alternate history / universe is a valid question, and whether or not to “fix” the timeline in order to return to “real” history is equally questionable. When the fictional world begins in alignment with the Real World, then diverges at some Key Moment in history, the impulse is to continue down that path and speculate how events might unfold if that Key Moment did (or didn’t) happen:

What would change?

Would there be any change?

Would the universe find a way to return to its true path?

Actually, it seems a bit like time travelling into the past, with the hopes of creating a better present / future, but as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits has demonstrated, the Universe seems to have a way to ensure that any interference in that Key Moment is remedied if only to ensure that the time / space continuum remains intact.

But I digress (again).

I think.

On the other hand, a fictional world is just that – fictional, borne out of a imagination fueled by coffee, sugar and binge watching Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. 

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Stormborn” was fantastic, with unexpected reunions, a great sea battle and the buildup to an epic meeting of two characters to whom (I believe) the novel series refers, i.e. “The Song of Ice and Fire”.

The notion of alternate history leading to a parallel universe remains the central concept of the MASC(D) Chronicles – details of which will be revealed once it’s been properly mapped out.

If all goes according to plan, it should be epic.

Whether or not it’ll make sense is relative.

The Importance of Role Models

The definition of a role model is “a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated” (definition provided via Google search). It does not specify gender, race or age, nor does it clarify whether the person is good or evil (and depending on one’s point of view, “good” and “evil” are subjective terms). A role model’s job (as it were) is to inspire those around them to be more than they could be (hopefully for the better and not for the worse). A role model can be anyone – a relative, friend, historical figure and / or a celebrity, whether as themselves or as a fictional character, and the expectations that come with the job are monumental and perhaps overwhelming (especially to those who did not expect or intend to be role models).

So this is a quasi-continuation of last week’s entry, written before the revelation of the 13th Doctor and the Season Premiere of Game of Thrones, so there’ll be some quasi-rambling ranting (though always PG-rated) about the former and mild fangirling (Is that a verb? Well, it is now) about the latter, with a dash of how all of this fits into the writing process.

So let’s dive in.

Spoiler alert – if you don’t know who the 13th Doctor will be, watched any of the 12th Doctor’s adventures, or if you haven’t seen the season premiere of Game of Thrones yet

Though at this point, if you care about either or both of these series, you should know by now.

Really.

Where have you been?

Another warning: possible ranting / venting ahead, based on presumptions and inferences drawn from things that have been posted in seriousness (and not satire).

Anyway.

So the 13th Doctor will be a woman – Jodie Whittaker to be precise – the first time the titular character changed genders (though not the first time a Time Lord has changed genders – and when that happened, there wasn’t a massive uproar of disapproval or spiteful comments across social media or in the press). I’m not really familiar with the actress or the roles she’s played prior to the announcement, but I’m sure she’ll do well, or as well as possible, given the backlash from a certain section of the fandom (though their Tweets and comments have made me question their fandom credibility), both male and female. It seems to me (and I know I’m probably making some huge presumptions about these so-called “fans”) that the men are upset that their role model is no longer a White Male, and the women are not happy that their role model is no longer a potential love interest. This presumption is geared more to those who have seen the show since its revival in 2005 and only know the Doctor through David Tennant’s and Matt Smith’s versions of the Time Lord (with further stereotypical presumptions that they “skipped” Christopher Eccleston and thought Peter Capaldi was “too old”).

It’s amusing and a tiny bit frightening to read the  negative, hateful Tweets and comments that have flooded social media since the announcement when the actress has yet to do anything in the role aside from the minute video introducing her as the next Doctor. It’s also quite ironic since the concept of change is central to the show and its titular character – after all, the Doctor is an alien and can regenerate – change the outward appearance, while keeping the core aspects of personality and memory. There have been female Time Lords throughout the series, so it’s not as if it’s an entirely foreign concept.

Doctor Who fans are passionate about the show and have “their Doctor” (for various reasons), and my final thoughts (for the moment) about this is to see what she does with the role before judging and / or condemning her.

The key is in the writing and the direction new showrunner Chris Chibnall takes the journey of the Idiot With a Box.

I wish Jodie Whittaker all the luck in the universe in taking on such an iconic character.

Steps off soapbox… for the time being.

Onward to Game of Thrones and its season premiere, which opened with a startling (and awesome) scene, and mostly served as exposition for the events to follow. Now that the TV adaptation has caught up with the existing novels, everyone is on an even playing field – no one (aside from the writers) knows what will happen next.  Another journey into unexplored territory, as almost anything can happen.

OK, so not as much fangirling as expected, but the season’s just started – there will most likely be more in the coming weeks.

The North Remembers.

Back to how all this ties into the Writing Process and to the Works In Progress. It is the responsibility of the writer to create fictional characters (of any gender, age, race, creed, etc.) to whom reader can relate and with whom they can empathize, and maybe in the process of doing so create role models. It’s not an absolute requirement, but it would be a wonder if a fictional character can inspire kindness in real people.

What a world that would be.

Not quite sure if any of this makes any sense, but it is what it is. Hopefully there’ll be more coherent updates on the aforementioned works in progress.

Questions of Gender and Age

Among the necessary aspects of the character building portion of crafting a story is to assess and decide upon the basics, gender and age to start. The rest usually follow quickly afterward – ethnicity / race (especially when writing science fiction or fantasy), along with the physical features. The genre in which the story is set and the target audience play a factor in that if the story is YA (young adult) or is intended for children (of varying ages), then there’s a set boundary on the age of characters (or at least the protagonist / antagonist) is pretty much set, though the gender can go either which way, depending on the message the story carries and/or the whimsy of the writer. The supporting characters can be of any age or gender, depending on the needs of the narrative arc.

For (most) other genres, determining the characters’ age and gender (and the rest of the internal and external traits) is a bit more flexible, though the audience for which the story is aiming plays its part. Conforming with or challenging established stereotypes also plays its role in the plotting, pondering and (eventual) writing process. Flipping gender roles and / or having the characters be of a non-traditional or non-typical age has its merits: it has the potential to bring a new (or at least creative) angle of on a narrative that has existed for eons (i.e. coming of age, boy meets girl, fish out of water, etc.). Representation matters, as the world is a far more diverse place than it has ever been. This only addresses human characters – inserting non-human (alien or mythical) beings gives the story another layer or nuance, and can bring about a different perspective on things.

The impetus for this topic has more to do with the upcoming announcement of the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who than the political and social debate / discussion of gender identity and omnipresent issue of ageism. I do my best not to delve into political matters here, as it’s not my intention to use this platform as a way of expressing opinions about the Real World and all its issues. This blog is about fictional world(s) – ones I have created / am creating / will create, and those of which I’m a fangirl (of varying degrees). The seventh series of Game of Thrones starts tomorrow too (so next week’s entry will no doubt have more fangirl-ish musings).

The FanGirl Meter (patent pending) might need another upgrade after tomorrow – I’m not ready to say goodbye to Twelve just yet (and whoever follows Peter Capaldi will have enormous shoes to fill). It matters not to me whether the new Doctor will be old or young, male or female – so long as the next Doctor is British (or Irish), then I’m all right with that.

Anyway.

Deciding on the gender and age of the protagonist(s) / antagonist(s) shapes the story and the perspective on the characters’ relationships and their overall journey. These days it probably shouldn’t matter whether the hero / villain is a young, old (or somewhere in between); nor should it matter whether they are male or female (or, again somewhere in between – as stated earlier – representation matters). The dynamic between the characters and how they react to the situations in which they find themselves should not hinge upon accepted stereotypes, unless it’s being used to commentate on it.

Different is not (always or necessarily) dangerous.

It’s just another way of looking at the world and those who reside within.

If we can accept that, then the world can be a better place for everyone.

The Purpose of Blogging

So this week’s entry is another (?) quasi-meta jumble of words which may or may not contain insight into the writing process and its (lack of?) progress thus far. Amid the plotting and pondering with regards to the narrative structure, character development and overarching themes, not too much actual!writing has taken place (though a fair amount of editing of the little that had been written has happened, so that’s progress, right?)

While the narrative for Book One of Series One of the MASC(D) Chronicles has been written (mostly in my head) for a while, quasi-plotted out, albeit with some changes here and there to accommodate the constant (and quasi-consistent) epiphanies related to the aforementioned series saga, the writing around it has continued, as has these weekly blog entries. Granted, there might not be too much (useful?) substance within the weekly entries, and may come across as quasi-rambling musings as a way of fulfilling a weekly quota, but this type of writing remains ongoing (often written a few hours almost nonstop). As mentioned before (and will most likely be mentioned in future entries), a high percentage of the content in these entries are spontaneous and unedited (not that they would need any editing as there is no questionable content that could potentially offend anyone – or at least I don’t think so).

The inspiration behind this week’s blog title is the notification (via Facebook and here on WordPress) that I first embarked on this blogging journey five years ago, with Close Encounters of the Theatrical Kind, with the initial entry about my experience seeing One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway. I’m an ardent supporter of live theater and have been most of my life, and I should have started that blog sooner (as I’ve attended many fantastic musicals, plays and other theatre-related events) but writing for that blog is different than writing for this one. I think I may have mentioned this before, in entries where dual blogging occurred (which in and of itself is a rare occasion). This blog is more free form and spontaneous, written entirely within the WordPress site; for the theatre blog, there is more structure and a bit more forethought, written without WordPress site. Other differences between the two blogs are that there is not set specific timeline / deadline in writing the theatre blog, its frequency fluctuates, and  the fact that it’s quasi-factual writing (with some rambling personal opinions thrown in for good measure).

Very different from the goings on in this realm with its imaginary cast of characters residing in a mythical land. Both kinds of writing help in the overall craft (and art) of writing  – the fictional and the factual, and the distinction between them, and the potential to blur the lines.

Even though fictional writing isn’t happening as frequently as possible, and factual writing comes in waves (i.e. whenever I attend a theatrical show or event – though there is a vast backlog of shows I’ve seen prior to starting the blog which I could and should jot down for posterity), at least some kind of writing is happening on a weekly basis.

So that’s some kind of progress in the process.

 

Crafting Alternate History

The beauty of fiction is that the writer can imagine just about any kind of scenario for his/her story. It can be populated by mythical creatures, aliens or normal humans, where anything goes, and it’s (for the most part) believable to the reader, so long as there’s enough exposition to explain the difference(s) from the Real World. Time is relative, and history can be whatever the writer deems to be true in the world he/she has created.

The possibilities are endless, which is also the challenge when travelling down the path of the alternate universe. The degree to which to skew fact is among the factors to take into account, along with determining at what point in time to diverge from actual history and distinguishing the Fixed Points that cannot be changed. As a way to help with the process of determining these salient issues, I’ve binged watched select episodes of Doctor Who. The current series is amazing thus far, and it’s a shame that it’s Peter Capaldi’s final run as The Doctor – he’s by far the finest modern incarnation. I’m liking the new companion, Bill, who is a refreshing change from the recent companions.

But I digress.

The ripples from changing a (perceived) Fixed Point can cause a multitude of alternate universes where the status quo could be better, worse or just different from reality (though these days with all that talk of “alternative facts”, it can be difficult to know what is real and what isn’t). Then there’s the option of creating a secondary alternate universe within the primary one, where things get really complicated.

Of course, among the requirements in creating an alternate universe with its alternate history is to have a firm (or as firm as possible) grasp of Actual History (or at least the history that’s been recorded and taught in school) and choosing a key moment (or several) to diverge from and creating a plausible divergence from that point. After all, it’d be too complicated and complex (not to mention frustrating) for the reader to have to research actual history to be able to understand the difference from the alternate history from the actual one.

The use of alternate history remains a component for the foundation upon which the MASC Chronicles sits, along with a bunch of other other-worldly elements. The point at which history diverges is one that (at least to my knowledge) hasn’t been employed before, and whether or not history is “restored” to its original state remains to be seen.

Onward to research, plot and ponder.