In literature what is the “point of no return?” Scott Driscoll, on his blog, says, “This event or act represents the point of maximum risk and exposure for the main character (and precedes the crisis moment and climax).”
Crises, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs. Most disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return; places where the protagonist could have made a different choice and trouble could have been avoided.
Our task as authors is to identify this plot point and make it subtly clear to the reader, even if only in hindsight.
In life we often find ourselves boxed into a corner, frantically dealing with things we could have avoided if only we had paid attention and not ignored the metaphoric “turn back now” signs.
I’ve used this prompt before, but it’s a good one, so here it is again:
Imagine a road trip where you are sent off on a detour in a city you’re unfamiliar with. What would happen if some of the signs were missing, detour signs telling you the correct way to go? Also missing is a one-way street warning sign.
At some point, before you realized the signs had been removed, there was a place you could have turned back. Unaware of the danger, you passed that stopping point and turned left when you should have turned right. Now you find yourself driving into oncoming traffic on a one-way street.
That place where you could have turned around before you entered the danger zone was the point of no return for your adventure. Fortunately, in our hypothetical road-trip, no one was harmed, although you were honked at and verbally abused by the people who were endangered by your wrong turn. You made it safely out of danger, but you’ll never take a detour again without fearing the worst.
In contemporary fiction, literary fiction, romance--no matter what genre you are writing in, “arcs of action” drive the plot. A point of no return comes into play in every novel to some degree. The protagonists are in danger of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation whether they are ready for it or not.
Speculative fiction generally features a plot driven by a chain of events, small points of no return, each one progressively forcing the protagonist and his/her companions to their meeting with destiny.
Contemporary and literary fiction is also driven by a chain of small events. In some novels, this takes the protagonist to a confrontation with himself, or a family is forced to deal with long-simmering problems. Many times in literary fiction the point of no return looks like a non-event on the surface. But nevertheless, these events are the impetus of change.
In most literature, these scenes of action form arcs that rise to the Third Plot Point: the event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death. This event forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be, OR it breaks them down to their component parts. Either way, the protagonist is changed by this crisis.
The struggle may have been fraught with hardship, but the final point of no return is the ultimate event that forces the showdown and face-to-face confrontation with the enemy—the climactic event.
No matter the genre, the story arc has certain commonalities—in literary fiction, they will be more subtle and internal than in an action adventure or space opera, but in all novels the characters experience growth/change forced on them by events.
During the build-up to the final point of no return, you must develop your characters’ strengths. You must identify the protagonist’s goals early on and clarify why he/she must struggle to achieve them.
Misfortune and struggle create opportunities for your character to grow as a person or to change for the worse. We must place obstacles in our protagonists’ path that will stretch their abilities, and which are believable, so that by the end of the book they are strong enough to face the final event and denouement.
Remember, each time the characters in a book overcome an obstruction, the reader is rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction. That reward keeps the reader turning pages.
It doesn’t matter what genre you are writing in: you could be writing romances, thrillers, paranormal fantasy, or contemporary chick lit—obstacles in the protagonist’s path to happiness make for satisfying conclusions.
The books I love to read are crafted in such a way that we get to know the characters, see them in their environment, and then an incident happens, thrusting the hero down the road to divorce court, or trying to head off a nuclear melt-down.
After all, sometimes a dinner party happens, and the next day our Hobbit finds himself walking to the Misty Mountains with a group of Dwarves he only just met, leaving home with nothing but the clothes on his back. In chasing after them, Bilbo has passed the first point of no return. I say this because after having heard the stories and listened to their song, and after having seen the map, even if he were to turn back and stay home, Bilbo would have been forever changed by regret for what he didn’t have the courage to do.
Crisis and the Point of No Return, © 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson was first published June 18, 2018 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy. Reprinted by permission.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
We all know opposites attract—it seems to be a fundamental law of physics. It is as if the one end of the magnetic spectrum supplies a needed missing element for the other, something they can’t resist.
In literature, polarity gives your theme dimension. Remember, the theme is the backbone of your story, the thread that runs through it and connects the disparate parts. Themes are often polarized: One obvious polarity in literature is good vs. evil. Another is love vs. hate.
The circle of life explores birth, growth, degeneration, and death. Young vs. old is a common polarity—many times we find opportunities for conflict within the family. Both sides of this age-old conflict tend to be arrogant and sure of their position in each skirmish.
Wealth vs. poverty offers the opportunity to delve into social issues and inequities.
But looking beyond the obvious are the subtle polarities we can instill into our work, the small subliminal conflicts that support the theme and add texture to the narrative.
Consider justice. Without injustice, there is no need for justice. Justice only exists because of injustice.
Or pain–the absence of pain, emotional or physical, is only understood when someone has suffered pain. Until we have felt severe pain, we don’t even think about the lack of it. In literature, emotional pain can be a thread adding dimension to an otherwise stale relationship.
Truth and falsehood (reality/unreality) go a long way toward adding drama to a plot and provide a logical way to underscore the larger theme.
Ease should be framed with difficulty.
The contrast of order and chaos can really power a story-line, and the way you perceive them will not be the way another author sees them.
Many commonly used words have opposites, such as the word attractive, the opposite of which is repulsive. When you really want to add texture to your narrative, look at how you could apply the ideas generated by your list of antonyms, words with the opposite meanings.
Think about how some of the concepts of the more common “D” words with opposites could be used to good effect:
I love and regularly use the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms to spur my creativity. It can be purchased in paperback, so it’s not too spendy. Often you can find these sorts of reference books second hand.
The internet is also your friend. A large, comprehensive list of common antonyms can be found at Enchanted Learning. If you don’t have the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms and are feeling the financial pinch most authors feel, this is a free resource.
Applied with a deft hand, opposites add dimension and rhythm to our work. Polarity is an essential tool of world building, as small polarities in the interactions your characters have with each other add to the atmosphere and serve to show their world in subtle ways.
What polarities can you use to your advantage in your current work in progress? When inserted unobtrusively they become invisible, an organic part of the larger picture. Yet, each small polarity will create a little conflict, push your characters a bit further, and underscore your larger theme.
These are just a few ideas and thoughts to help you jump start your work, if you’re a little stranded. Happy writing!
Using Polarity in Literature, © 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson, was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy June 25, 2016. Reprinted by permission.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
March is NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month. When I was laying down the first draft of my current work in progress, somehow I managed to give every walk-on a name, right down to the dog. I generally write to an outline, but sometimes my stream-of-consciousness takes over, and the outline goes out the window.
So, now I’m on a mission to whittle down my cast of thousands.
But who should go and who should stay? What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen. I say introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story, but use common sense.
When you introduce a named character, ask yourself if it is someone the reader should remember. Even if he or she offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to named. Some throw-away characters will give us clues to help our protagonist complete his/her quest, or show us something about the protagonist, give us a clue into their personality or past.
Does the person return later in the story or does he or she act as part of the setting, showing the scenery of, say, a coffee shop, or a store? If they are just part of the scenery, they don’t need a name.
Only give names to characters who advance the plot.
In an excellent article on screenwriting, Christina Hamlett of the Writer’s Store writes:
In a screenplay, the rhythm you're attempting to establish--along with the emotional investment you're asking a reader to make--is disrupted whenever you devote more than two lines of introduction to a character who is simply there to take up space. In order to justify their existence, each player in your script should perform a unique function or deliver a specific line that:
While she is speaking of screenplays, this is true of a novel or short story. A name implies a character is an important part of the story. Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.” Does this character serve a purpose the reader must know? If not, don’t give them a name.
My current work in progress has this passage, which takes place in an inn and involves a conversation overheard from a table adjacent to my two protagonists and their sidekicks:
The older merchant’s face darkened at the mention of the prince and his henchman. Quickly looking over his shoulder at the other guests in the common room, he hushed his son. “We’ll have no more mention of them at this table. If the wrong person overhears such talk, we’ll all end our days in our own beds with our throats slit!”
Culyn’s eyebrow rose, and he looked at Jack, who nodded.
Despite the fact the merchant and his sons give my protagonists information they needed, they are in this scene for only one purpose: to be overheard and don't appear again. For this reason, only Jack and Culyn, and the three others of their party are named in the full transcript of this scene.
Novelists can learn a great deal about how to write a good, concise scene from screenwriters. An excellent book I have gained a lot of knowledge from is Story by Robert McKee. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.
We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. The second draft is where we make every effort to find the distractions we may have inadvertently introduced in our rough draft, and extraneous named characters is an easy one to fix. Simply remove their name, and identify them in general terms. The reader will move on and forget about them.
The tendency to make every character a memorable person is one we can’t indulge. The reader will become confused if too many characters are named.
Also, I learned a difficult lesson the hard way about naming characters. In the Tower of Bones Series, I have a main character named Marya. She is central to the series. Also, in the first book, a side character was important enough to have a name, but my mind must have been in a rut when I thought that one up: for some stupid reason I named her Marta.
You can probably see where this is going—the two names are nearly identical.
What is even worse, halfway through the first draft of the second book in the series, Marta suddenly was a protagonist with a major storyline. She actually becomes Marya’s mother-in-law in the third book. Fortunately, I was in the final stage of editing book one, Tower of Bones, for publication, and immediately realized I had to make a major correction: Marta was renamed Halee.
My rule now is to NEVER name two characters in such a way that the first and last letters of their names are the same. To avoid that circumstance, I try to never have two that even begin with the same letter.
One last thing to consider: how will that name be pronounced when it is read out loud? You may not want to get too fancy with the spelling, so that the narrator can easily read that name aloud. You may not think this matters, but it does. I only have one book that is an Audio book, but during the recording of that book, my narrator had trouble pronouncing the names of two characters, because I had written the names so they would look good on paper, not realizing they were unpronounceable as they were written. We ironed that out, but the experience taught me to spell names simply.
In conclusion, don’t confuse your readers by giving unimportant walk-on characters names, never name two characters names that are nearly identical, and consider making your spellings of names and places pronounceable just in case you decide to have your book made into an audio book.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
Credit: Minor Characters Don't Need Major Introductions, Christina Hamlett, Copyright © 1982 - 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated, accessed Mar. 11, 2017.
Charles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let's take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:
"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail."
I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st-century genre fiction is nothing but sixty-second sound bites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose. I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries--and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the really popular tales leaped straight to the action.
In that first paragraph, Dickens tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story--the visitation by Marley's ghost. We want to know why Marley's definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.
He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker: "Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including -- which is a bold word -- the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years' dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change -- not a knocker, but Marley's face.
"Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.
"As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again."
You have to admit, it's a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him. This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.
At this point, we've followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as 'the clerk' in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we've met Scrooge's nephew, Fred. These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge's redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories--he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit's family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well enough off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.
All the characters are in place. We've seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We've observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point--Marley's visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.
Dickens raises the tension, the bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and "The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.
Scrooge, of course, is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality." It's humbug still!" said Scrooge. "I won't believe it."
However, he can't deny this phenomena forever, and refusing to recognize it won't make it go away. "Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
"How now!" said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. "What do you want with me?"
This is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail and what will happen to him, the reader can't guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this miserly old man--what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?
In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point--these are the things that make up the first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don't want to set the book down.
A Christmas Carol--what I've learned from Charles Dickens was first published on the writer’s blog, “Life in the Realm of Fantasy” December 15, 2014, by Connie J. Jasperson.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
by Connie J. Jasperson
It is a fact that sometimes books that were outlined to a certain storyline sometimes go off in their own directions, and the story is better for it. I haven’t experienced the sudden influx of magic into story, but I have had other random events throw a curve ball at me.
The fact is, when I sit down to write a fantasy story, there will be magic, and I will have planned carefully for it. I have three worlds with three radically different systems of magic.
2. In Huw the Bard people can purchase magic (majik) amulets and potions.
3. In the Tower of Bones series, magic and religion are intertwined. Aeos, the goddess, has decreed that all children who begin to show healing-empathy, or the ability to use the magic of the elements must be brought to the Temple and trained, for the protection of society in general. There are rules, certain things which can and can’t be done. As in real life, there are certain exceptions, but they too have limitations. No one is all-powerful.
Once magic enters your story, you must do some foot work, or your premise won’t be believable. It’s critical that you have finite rules for limiting how magic works. If your magic rules are too elastic, or you imbue too many amazing abilities into your main character, you will make them too good to be true. Readers won’t be able to relate to their story.
Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world. Remember, in fantasy, conflict drives the plot.
Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for the hero to struggle, and no story to tell.
First you must consider who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:
In creating both social and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within your magic system, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there has to be a good reason for it, and it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.
Another important point to take note of is this: the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is when they affect the characters and their actions. Dole this information out in conversations or in other subtle ways and it will become a natural part of the environment rather than an info dump.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
Employing Allegory to Underscore Theme
by Connie J Jasperson
Great novels are built of many layers. Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than what is seen on the surface. It’s the big meaning, and often it’s a moral. Love, honor, family, redemption, and revenge are all common, underlying themes.
Allegory is an essential tool of the author who wants to convey important ideas with the least amount of words. With symbolism in mind, I try to approach writing a scene as it would be portrayed in a movie. Each conversation is an event and must advance the story.
Consider this scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Matrix. The films of The Matrix trilogy pit man against machine in a clearly drawn battle, but they also reveal that the humans are more machinelike than they think, and that the machines possess human qualities as well. These are the obvious themes, but there are several underlying concepts going at the same time.
The movies in this series are famous for the action, and rightfully so. But great choreographed martial arts sequences can’t convey the concepts the authors needed to express. The advancement of the plot hinges on dialogue. Dialogue drives the action and connects the fundamental ideas of the story through the intentional use of allegory. The authors never lost the way, because every aspect of that script is steeped in symbolism that directly points to the overall theme(s).
The conversation concerns a drug deal, but the overarching idea of the blurred line between humans and machines is never lost.
The key words are in the first line, written on Neo’s computer:
The obvious plot of The Matrix series of films details a questioning of what reality is and portrays Neo as the potential savior of the world, which has been enslaved by a virtual reality program. Dig slightly deeper, and you see that it is about escaping that program, at which point the audience sees that a larger theme is in play: fate vs. free will.
Even before that larger concept is made clear, the conversations that happen in the course of the film all advance that theme, even the minor interactions, from the first conversation to the last.
The storytelling in The Matrix movies is a brilliant example of employing heavy allegory in both the setting and conversations to drive home the motifs of man, machine, fate, and free will.
The themes are represented with heavy symbolism in the names of the characters, the words used in conversations, and even the androgynous clothes they wear. Everything on the set or mentioned in conversation underscores those themes, including the lighting. Inside The Matrix the world is bathed in a green light, as if through a green-tinted lens.
In the real world, the lighting is harsher, unfiltered.
In the movie, everything that appears or is said onscreen is symbolic and supports one of the underlying concepts.
When Morpheus later asks Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill, he essentially offers the choice between fate and free will.
Neo chooses the red pill—real life—and learns that free will can be unpleasant. Cypher regrets choosing the red pill and ultimately chooses to return to the Matrix.
The creators of the movie used lighting as an allegory showing that Neo’s world is filtered through something else: The Matrix.
The arc of the story is driven by
As in real life, some of the characters will know more than others, and to advance the plot and the theme, small clues must come out over the course of the tale, each scene building to the finale. Conversations advance the underlying themes of the story without the reader realizing it.
We build the overall arc of the story from scenes, each of which is a small arc, in the same way a gothic cathedral is constructed of many arches that all build toward the top. The underlying arches strengthen the overall construction. Without arches, the cathedral wouldn’t remain standing for very long.
Theme is a thread that winds through the story and supports the plot. Using allegory and symbolism in the environment to subtly underscore your themes allows you to show more without resorting to info dumps.
Picture conversations, clothing, settings, and wider environments as if they were scenes in a movie, and consider how you can use allegory to support your story arc. When we are immersed in reading it, we don’t notice the heavy symbolism on a conscious level, but on closer examination it is all there, making the imaginary real, solid and concrete.
By using allegory and conversations to create many layers, we can build memorable stories that will stand out in the reader’s mind.
Beta Reading and Editing – two parts of publishing process
by Connie J Jasperson
Indies rely heavily on what we refer to as beta readers to help shape their work and make it ready for editing. But in many forums, I've seen authors use the term interchangeably with editing, and the two are completely different.
As a reader/reviewer, I see many indie-published works that are difficult to read. They are often published by authors who don't realize the importance of working with an editor, although it is apparent that they have had assistance from beta-readers.
What is quite disappointing to me, is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category, and I am at a loss as to why this is so.
So what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?
Well, there is a HUGE difference.
Beta Reading is done by a reader and usually happens at the end of an early draft. Beta reading is meant to give the author a general view of the overall strengths and weaknesses of his story. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys the genre that the book represents.
The beta reader must ask himself:
This phase of the process should be done before you submit the manuscript to an editor, so that those areas of concern will be straightened out first.
Editors and other authors usually make terrible beta readers, because it is their nature to dismantle the manuscript and tell you how to fix it. That is not what you want at that early point. What you need is an idea of whether you are on the right track or not with your plot structure and your characters, and whether or not your story resonates with the reader.
Editing is a process, one where the editor goes over the manuscript line-by line, pointing out areas that need attention: awkward phrasings, grammatical errors, missing quote-marks or a myriad of things that make the manuscript unreadable. Sometimes, major structural issues will need to be addressed. It may take more than one trip through to straighten out all the kinks.
In scholastic writing, editing involves looking at each sentence carefully, and making sure that it's well designed and serves its purpose. In editing for scholastic purposes, every instance of grammatical dysfunction must be resolved as both grammar and rigid adherence to the program’s style guidelines supersede personal style for the purposes of getting your thesis accepted and obtaining that degree.
Editing for fiction involves structure, grammar, acceptance of a writer’s style, and corrects instances of lazy writing habits. The writer and editor work together to improve a draft by correcting errors and by making words and sentences clearer, more precise, and more effective. Weak sentences are made stronger, nonessential information is weeded out, and important points are clarified, while strict attention is paid to the overall story arc.
Do your self a favor and try to find a reader who is not an author to be a first reader for you. Then hire a local, well-recommended editor that you can work with to guide you in making your manuscript readable, and enjoyable.
If you notice a few flaws in your ms but think no one else will notice, you're wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.
In my own work I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed but I can't identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there.
That tendency to see our own work as it should be and not how it is, is why we need editors.
by Connie J. Jasperson
Something about the wind-driven rain-bullets here in our part of the world can be death on umbrellas, even expensive ones. Even the cutest umbrellas frequently end up in street-corner trash-bins, ending their days as the tattered and broken relics of impulse purchases.
Despite the carnage, I feel compelled to keep buying umbrellas, feeling sure the next purchase will be the one--the true umbrella for all seasons, able to withstand 40 mph winds and sideways rain. So far, the decidedly unromantic golf umbrella is the bumbershoot I carry.
And this brings me to my point: You may not realize it, but the weather is a huge factor in your characters’ ability to go from point A to point B. For those of us who are writing fantasy, our characters are likely to be traveling through strange terrain in other-worldly weather conditions. If they are on foot or riding horses or other beasts of burden, the weather will be a large part of what impedes them, or enables them to travel faster than they had planned.
Weather can cause complications in a sci-fi tale too, as it could have a negative effect on equipment and morale.
Traveling on foot in the dark during a heavy storm is extremely difficult. Before the advent of the automobile, people didn't travel during storms unless some terrible reason forced them to.
Weather is something I understand. In the 1980s, newly divorced and unqualified for any well-paying job, I worked for a Christmas tree grower as a field hand. In the summer, we started work at 5:30 am so we could be finished and out of the field by 2:30, during the hottest part of the day.
I’ve never been a fan of using too much sunscreen—it’s greasy and full of things I can’t pronounce. It gets in your food, and I’m not sure eating it is good for you. So, in those days I wore light, long-sleeved shirts to keep the sun off me, and wide-brimmed hats that kept the sun off my face. That is old-school, low-tech farm garb, and is how I still roll when it comes to dealing with the sun.
But when November arrived, we field hands were still working outside. With the advent of a Northwest Winter, we wore layers, 2 pairs of wool socks, barn boots, and raingear. Good old Helly Hansen—his fine product kept me dry and warm while I worked to bring Christmas trees into every home. But, working outside in the cold and rain requires a certain amount of preparation, or you can become hypothermic, and unable to function.
Every year, when the cutting-and-baling season started, we would have a new crop of people who had never worked out of doors, and who didn’t understand the sense of investing in long-johns and raingear. The company offered decent gear (boots, gloves, and raingear) at reasonable prices, but many would not spend the money, refusing to believe that it was a war the weather would win.
So I discovered that if you were going to work outdoors year-round, you needed better quality gear than the company offered. In 1982, the best gear available was: LL Bean thermal underwear, and Helly Hansen foul-weather gear, and the mail-order catalog was the place to get it.
My point with this is that if your novel's setting is a low-tech society, weather affects what your characters can do. It affects the speed with which they can travel great distances, and it affects how they dress. It affects their horses, and that is a serious point to consider.
Medieval society had ways of dealing with the weather when they had to be out in it, and the internet is your friend. In medieval times, people of England, Wales, and Ireland didn’t have to deal with extreme temperatures the people of Northern Europe experienced in the 17th and 18th centuries, as it was a warmer time. However, they did get some occasional snow and cold in the winter, and at times they suffered heat waves during the summer.
How did they protect themselves against the weather? Here are several good websites for research:
In a lower-tech society fur-trapping is a common way of earning money, but only the wealthier classes, the merchants and nobility, can afford to buy those furs.
The average medieval agrarian society will have access to fleeces, though, especially if they are a Northern European type of society. Also, in the more urban centers of a low-tech society, the average person’s winter garments, hooded cloaks and gloves, and even bedding would be made of thick wool, layered and felted.
Wool has been a winter mainstay since humans first began making cloth. Some garments will be made of heavy canvas, or oil-cloth. Oilcloth, close-woven cotton canvas or linen cloth with a coating of boiled linseed oil, was a product available from the late middle ages on.
Clothing and cold weather gear will make their appearance in relatively few sentences in your novel. Most likely it will only be mentioned in passing, but it is important as part of what builds the world you are creating. A little research on your part regarding what technology might be plausible in your society will lend a sense of realism to your work.
by Connie Jasperson
We all want to create intense moods and evoke strong atmosphere in our work. This can range from subtle hints to Sturm und Drang, but either way, the intention is to captivate the reader.
What is Sturm und Drang? The English translation is literally, Storm and Stress.
Google defines it as: a literary and artistic movement in Germany in the late 18th century, influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and characterized by the expression of emotional unrest and a rejection of neoclassical literary norms.
What does this mean in simpler terms?
Sturm und Drang as a literary form evolved during the time of the American Revolutionary War, which a period of global unrest and great hardship, especially in Europe. The main feature is the expression of high emotions, strong reactions to events, and often, rebellion against rationalism. It is characterized by violent individualism and complex reactions. Literature and music written in this style were aimed at shocking the audience and infusing them with extremes of emotion.
Classical literature in this style began in 1772 with "Prometheus," a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which the character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in misotheistic accusation and defiance. Misotheism is the hatred of God or the Gods. In literature, it’s described as stemming from a moment in a person’s life where one feels the gods have abused and abandoned him. One can’t hate what one doesn’t believe in, so misotheism requires a firm belief in a God or Gods.
Again, Wikipedia tells us this: Prometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition.
A parallel movement in the visual arts occurred as artists began producing paintings of storms and shipwrecks, showing the terror and irrational destruction wrought by nature. These pre-romantic works were fashionable in Germany from the 1760s on through the 1780s. Additionally, disturbing visions and portrayals of nightmares were gaining an audience in Germany as evidenced by Goethe's possession and admiration of paintings by Fuseli capable of 'giving the viewer a good fright.'
The image for this post is by Philip James de Loutherbourg. It is called Coalbrookdale by Night and was painted 1801. It depicts a burning slag heap and shows the true conditions impoverished laborers and their families were forced to live with, in English coal and steel towns at the time of the Revolutionary War.
You may wonder why I’m discussing something as off topic as classical art.
The difference between classical Sturm und Drang and modern Cyberpunk is that technology and industry are the Gods whose knowledge the mortals desire, and whom they seek to replace. All aspects of classic Sturm und Drang can be found in Cyberpunk.
Wikipedia defines cyberpunk as: a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial "high tech low life" featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.
It features post-industrial dystopias that have wide divisions in the social order, with the largest class in extreme poverty, a small middle class, and at the top, a minority holds incredible wealth. These societies have fallen into extreme chaos.
The MacGyver effect is in sway here: Protagonists acquire and make use of technology in ways never anticipated by its original inventors. One common trope of this genre is "the street finds its own uses for things."
Much of the genre's atmosphere is heavily film noir and employs techniques and style reminiscent of detective fiction. It is fast-paced, atmospheric, and where alcohol is heavily abused in classic detective fiction, drugs are the recreational mood elevators of choice in many cyberpunk novels.
Cyberpunk began as a niche rebellion by authors like Phillip K. Dick, and is now mainstreamed and growing in popularity. Authors writing in the early days of speculative fiction were Indies who were finding success getting short stories published in popular sci-fi magazines, and who were fortunate enough to have some farsighted editors take chances with publishing their longer work. They formed publishing companies and became giants. That opportunity will always be out there.
We indie authors have a great deal of latitude in our choice of what to write, as we can write and publish edgy work that would be deemed too chancy by traditional publishers.
Authors always engage in artistic rebellion, and society always appreciates it—usually, years afterward.
by Connie Jasperson
When I read a book, I connect to the sense of wonder that each event or plot twist in a story evokes for the protagonists. I am extremely partial to those books in which the protagonist faces his/her own demons and finds a hero within themselves, a person who faces the unknown and finds the courage to do what he/she believes is morally right.
This is a literary theme, and is called the heroic journey.
Consider J.R.R. Tolkien's LOTR series. Personal growth and the many forms heroism can take are central themes of his stories, and while there are many side-quests taking the different characters away from the physical journey of the One Ring, Tolkien never strayed from the concept of the hero's journey.
What is the "hero's journey"? The concept of the heroic journey was first introduced by the American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949). In this ground-breaking work, he discusses the monomyth or the hero's journey. He describes how this motif is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve
In my own work, personal growth and the hero's journey are often the central themes. This is because those are the stories that intrigued me most as a young reader, and they intrigue me now as an adult.
These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing. Ask yourself what is important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? I am not talking genre here, I am speaking of the deeper story. When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?
Political thrillers: Set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes.
Romance Novel: Two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel are directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters' romantic love.
Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative, creating introspective, in-depth character studies of interesting, complex and developed characters. Action and setting are not the points here, although they must also be carefully developed in such a way they frame the character, and provide a visual perspective.
Science Fiction: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. Science and technology are a dominant theme but based on current reality. Characters are still subject to sub-themes such as morality and love, but setting and science are the main themes.
Fantasy: Often set in an alternate, medieval, or ancient world, common themes are good vs. evil, the hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Can also be set in urban settings with paranormal tropes.
On the surface, these types of books look widely different, but all have one thing in common--they have protagonists and side characters. These people will all have to deal with and react to the underlying theme of the book. Morality, love, coming of age--these ideas can be found in nearly every book on my shelves or on my Kindle.
In my mind, the genre and the setting in which these characters react to the wider concepts are just a backdrop. The world they are set in is the picture-frame, a backdrop against which the themes of the story play out, and characters are shaped by a force beyond their control--the author.
Keeping in mind the underlying theme of your story while you are laying down the first draft is important. If your inspiration seems to faint somewhere in the middle, it may be that you have lost track of what you originally imagined your story was about and your characters no longer know what they are fighting for. Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it the death of hope?
When we are constantly prodded to make our work focus on action instead of introspection, it becomes easy to wander way off track. Ask yourself if the action has been inserted for the sake of the shock value, or if this scene is necessary to force change and growth on the protagonist. How will her fundamental ethics and ideals be challenged by this event? If there is no personal cost, there is no need for that scene.
Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time. You never know when you will need those ideas, so don’t throw them away—always keep the things you cut in a separate file. Remember, just because that idea doesn't work for this book, doesn't mean it won't work in another book.
I label that file "outtakes," and believe me, it has come in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.
Sometimes we are so busy setting traps and roadblocks for our protagonist and his nemesis that the action takes over and becomes the theme. The action should be there to force the character to grow, not simply for the sake of action. If you absolutely must have that action, find a way for it to change or otherwise affect the characters involved in it. When we are deep in the creative process, it's easy to forget that characters must evolve.
Remember, there was a fundamental theme in your mind when you first imagined you had a story to write, and once you identify that core concept, you may find you are no longer stuck.