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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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.

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).

Refining Dialogue

In the midst of plotting, pondering, and (alternate?) world building, actual!writing, albeit within the confines of the mind, marches forth on this March Fourth.

Pun quite intended.

Amid the scene setting and character building is crafting the dialogue between the characters (spoken or implied) from which the narrative unfolds. It’s still an aspect of the writing process with which I struggle, to ensure it sounds believable and true to the time frame in which it is spoken (though given the recent developments, the parallel / alternate universe angle might render the historical accuracy of the cadence a moot point. Then again, how characters speak and what they say (or what is implied) need not be entirely accurate – it’s how the characters (and the readers) interpret the words and the meaning behind the words (if applicable). These days, words (spoken or written) are important, and the implications behind them can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective of those receiving it.

Truth within and behind the words should be absolute and clear, but in some instances, the truth can be subjective and ambiguous in order to lead (or mislead) the protagonist (and perhaps the reader) into believing one interpretation to be true when the antithesis is the true truth (if that makes any sense). Misdirection and red herrings are the foundation of twisty plot twists, and the source of the information provided to the characters (and by extension) to the readers is key, especially with a story told in first person perspective. The narrator essentially controls the pace and tone of the narrative, supplying the lens from which the plot unfolds; with third person perspective (limited or omniscient), the control is more abstract and broad, as a more detached, objective vantage point established.

The content and context of dialogue is also paramount in the telling of the story and the shaping of its characters – words (and actions) tend to be taken out of context and its content skewed in a way that leads to consequences unforeseen, resulting in (hopefully) a dramatic climax or a startling resolution. Well-crafted dialogue has the potential to entice and captivate, with the intention of conveying a interesting and intriguing story. The meaning of the message and the rationale behind it can change depending on its speaker, to whom they are spoken and who hears it – bias and perspective can change the intent of the words spoken. Choosing what to say, how to say it, when and where to say it, to whom to say it to, and why to say it is as important to any story as the exposition and world building.

Words matter more than ever.

World Building Options

While last week’s entry focused on the quasi-meta update of the Land of Exposition, (which has developed into an inadvertent and mostly improvised meta series separate from the main works in progress) the updates on the state of the primary work in progress (namely the MASC Chronicles) have been scarce.

Or nearly almost nonexistent (though quasi-cryptic musings have surfaced every now and then).

Some actual!writing commenced for a short span of time, plots were plotted, and extensive character development… developed. All that remains is the construction of the world in which the stories reside – while the general framework has been established, the exact details have yet to be determined. World building is an elaborate process, with infinite possibilities and complex aspects that shape the characters and influence the narrative arc.

Perhaps the “easiest” option is to simply set the story in the Real World – the structure is already established into which fictional characters can be inserted, and the reader will (hopefully) be familiar with the setting and can relate to the characters and their journey through the narrative.

The more complex (and complicated) option would be to build a Created World into which anything goes and anything (within reason) can happen. This Created World can be a place / time that is completely fictional, where the social, cultural, and political structure can be whatever the writer dreams up (wizards, elves, vampires, etc.).

Another option would be to meld the aforementioned two options to create an alternate / parallel world where anything could still happen, but there could also be a semblance of familiarity for the reader (and the writer).

The time in which any of the options could be in the past, present or (near or distant) future, In the case of the MASC Chronicles, it would be all three, though not concurrently (at least not at this juncture – time travel is still a quasi-option, and Doctor Who will be starting its new series soon…)

Anyway.

There are positives and negatives to any of these options, and choosing which path to take (and sticking to that decision) is daunting in that it will determine how the story unfolds and how the characters will develop and interact.

Thus far, the MASC Chronicles will travel down the third option – the melding of the Real World and the Created World over the course of three centuries. That being said / written, the point at which the Real World diverges into the Created World remains to be seen – depending on when the road diverges, a whole lot of (alternate) history would need to be created. I have a pretty good idea where / when the timeline will diverge, but pondering which divergent path to take is the real challenge.

Of course then there are the two other Series to contemplate – will the divergent timeline continue or will the Universe reset itself? Or, with a new divergent timeline emerge as a result of the goings on in Divergent Timeline #1?

There is quite a lot to plot and ponder about with regards to the foundation upon which the story is set, aside from the Game of Genres. It’s concurrently fun and frustrating yet in the end (if there’ll ever be an end) it’ll be worth the journey.

I hope.

Sorting Out The Details

The plotting and pondering continues, as the world (real and fictional) changes from what it was into what it will be. How things will play out in the (near) future is yet to be determined; needless to say it’s going to be interesting (if not frustrating) from here on out. Making sense of the sequence of events and the character choices made through the narrative has become a challenge. Sorting through the myriad of character and narrative exposition and their possible connections, both overt and covert, almost requires flow charts and spreadsheets. Admittedly, the series saga has grown exponentially in a relative short amount of time, with interwoven, generational stories. Actions taken (or not taken) in the past / present have potential consequences in the future (after much internal deliberation, and mostly to save what little literary sanity I have left, time travel has been removed from the grand narrative scheme of things). Though that decision might change in the future (or in the past, however wibbly-wobbly things get).

Anyway.

While much of the big picture planning has been plotted – titles and general themes sketched out, the details remain quasi-fuzzy. Even though the series saga has a generational element, each book within each series will (mostly) be stand-alone stories. At least that is / was / is the intention when the expansion started – the initial structure was a trilogy (as most series are), with several decades elapsing between them. How it stands now (and for the foreseeable future) is a trilogy of multiple stories within each series, with several centuries elapsing between each series.

The depth of that exponential expansion might have been a slight understatement.

Little actual!writing has actually!happened (in the sense that the actual narrative has been typed into a Word document) – the internal narrative writing never stops (and often gets rewritten on a daily basis, often filed away to potentially be used at some later date and time). Pondering about the characters is an ongoing process, with attempts to understand their actions, motives and overall disposition to their surroundings, all the while attempting to keep them unique and real, and not become a caricature or a cliche.

The journey continues, even as the world landscape shifts and changes loom upon the horizon. What will happen going forward will questionable and unpredictable – the road may splinter, leading to imminent danger; or the path may be gilded with prosperity.

Either way, it will be a journey worth telling.

Someday.

New Year, (Quasi) New Challenge

One week into 2017 and the writing journey goes on, though the pace at which it moves remains questionable. Resolutions are quasi-made and usually forgotten / discarded as the days go by. While I’ve sworn off all versions of NaNoWriMo this year, as that brief time frame is not compatible with the pace at which I plot, ponder and write my stories (which basically comes and goes at random intervals at any given moment), I’ve undertaken another writing challenge, one that is a bit more flexible and takes into account my writing “schedule”.

This writing challenge, suggested by a fellow writer, is called “85K90” which spans an entire year, divided into four cycles (as stated on their site) – write, edit, prep, publish. The first cycle is to write 85,000 words in 90 days (which seems more manageable than the NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in 30 days). Psychologically (for me, at least) this timetable is more realistic, given the unexpected events that could pop up (especially from the Real Life Brigade) and dispels the “pressure” to meet daily word count quotas. Having signed up to undertake this challenge, I’ve made progress (albeit a tiny one) in actually!writing Book One of Series One of the MASC Chronicles. The overall narrative framework remains intact, though a minor character switch was made to accommodate an exposition change – one I hope will be for the better and add some dramatic undertones.

I’m fairly optimistic that I could complete this task, or at least potentially get more actually!written in the allotted time frame, though I’m already “behind”, according to the word count tracker, which is included in the 85K90 site. Then again, it’s only a week into the new year, and there are 83 days, a few hours and bunches of minutes left.

There’s a handy countdown clock too.

It’s snowing in the Land of Exposition. It started slow, snowflakes dancing about haphazardly with the chilling wind – some floated up and away while others landed on various structure and plotted with one another to build magnificent (fluffy) structures. As the day progressed, more of the flakes decided to rest from their choreography and join their landed brethren in their works of art. The Character Development Inn is stocked with enough foodstuffs and firewood to keep those within warm for days to come (the central heating system is also fully functional for the more practical). The Muses and plot bunnies have burrowed into their respective spaces, musing and plotting whilst partaking in warm drinks and comfort food. The FanGirl Meter (patent pending) is under maintenance, with new updates pending approval (and waiting for the fandoms that had been on hiatus in 2016 to return).

2016 was a year of drama and loss, though mostly in the Real World, as the Fictional Universe was in quasi-hiatus mode.

2017 is a year of change and uncertainty in the Real World as well as the Fictional Universe.

No one really knows what the future holds, and while it’s looking bleak thus far, maybe a sliver of hope can survive and thrive.