Saturday, May 21, 2016

Conflict in Stories

Writing conflict is hard for me, even reading it is sometimes hard. If involved in a novel where I know the  characters, it upsets me as if I were in the room where the conflict was taking place between friends: uncomfortable, worried. Since all stories involve conflict of some sort, I guess that is the reaction writers want.

Fiction characters have motives for what they do, and conflict brings out their purposes, which can range from outright hatred to a cross-purposes where one character has a convoluted sense of love  where he or she believes his or her actions protect the one they love. Many other situations also lead to conflict between characters providing the drama readers want. Sometimes the reader knows ahead of time what causes the conflict, sometimes they find out later when the problem is solved. These are the type of excerpts that I believe get readers entangled in a story line.

This is an excerpt from a contemporary romance that is no longer published but I may self-publish it. It starts out the story, so in this case, readers do not yet know the characters. I hope the situation is clear with reading.
Amanda pushed through the glass front door expecting to have to plow past secretaries and assorted office henchmen, but as luck would have it, Wade Preston stood in the reception area talking with his partner, Edward Van Haitsma. Wade’s height and dark hair made a strong contrast to his partner’s shorter frame and fair hair. Both were good looking by anyone’s standard. Wade held a stack of papers. The two men looked as if they had just finished a heated discussion.

“Whatever you want!” Van Haitsma said as he turned and walked away, his shoes pounding an upset rhythm on the refinished, highly polished oak flooring.

Preston’s fiancée, Melisa Rillema, stood nearby with her arms crossed. A pout marred the perfection of her face. Since only the woman’s mouth moved, without a hint of frown lines, Amanda snorted, suspecting cosmetic injections. Melisa would make a perfect wife for Wade. Two beautiful, congenial rich rats running in a social superiority maze. Melisa’s long blonde hair rippled about her shoulders as she turned her head to glance at Amanda, then back to Wade who had walked over to her.

As she strode forward to interrupt the couple’s private interlude, Wade looked over at her, anger etching his face. She checked her step, then charged ahead. Hell, he had to expect a storm from the letter he sent her. As Wade watched her approach, his face firmed into what Amanda privately called the bulldog behind the businessman’s mask. It infuriated her to have to spend her precious lunchtime taking care of this matter. This time, she would talk to Wade Preston face-to-face and make her position clear.

“Mrs. Carter, how can I help you?”

He recognized her? His voice and demeanor were politely bland, but remnants of anger lingered in lines around his handsome features. He called her by her married name, something she’d thrown away after her divorce. She held Preston’s gaze with determination. As a freshman teenager in high school with hormones and the idealism of innocence, Amanda’s dreamworld starred the senior quarterback, Wade Preston. Back then he had been oblivious of her.

“It’s Ms. Blanchard, now. You can help me, Mr. Preston, by accepting the fact that I do not want to sell my property. Not now, and not in the future. Furthermore, I will not let you steal it from me.” Heads turned toward the sound of her angry tones. Most looked like employees and quickly looked away when Amanda stared back at them. Wade’s face deepened in color, his mouth and jaw set, his eyes darkening.

She waved the envelope under his nose. He took it, looked at the address and pulled the sheets from inside. His brows scrunched lower as he read.

“You’ve received an offer at fair-market price,” Wade said, his voice firm, low and controlled. Her temper eased slightly seeing the wrinkle between his brows as he looked at her letter.

Melisa smiled pityingly at Amanda. “I would think in your dire circumstances, Wade’s offer was manna from Heaven.” Her tone pure condescension.

“Stay out of this,” Wade said with a fierce gaze at his fiancée. Amanda thought Melisa’s smile more smirk than
compliant and doubted the woman even heard Wade’s words.

“What could you possibly know about my situation?” Amanda said. “And how does any of this involve you?”

The smile never faltered. “I understand it is a very generous offer.”

Amanda’s rage fired anew. Melisa had no part in this, and her opinion was not only unneeded, but also unwanted. “Generous if I were willing to sell out what my family has worked generations to build. I’m not.” Amanda turned back to Wade Preston, grabbed the letter from his hand and clutched it in her fist.

His frowning gaze turned to Amanda, his brows lowering until they nearly touched. “I don’t know what you are
alleging. As I said, this is an offer at fair-market price for your property.”

“You missed the threat of an eminent domain seizure. I don’t care what dirty tricks you try with the bank, or the
county Planning Department, or the Commissioners, or the township board. I will fight you every step of the way.”

“Then you better hire a lawyer,” Melisa cut in with a practiced tinkling sound that substituted for a laugh.

“Melisa…” Wade’s tone held a warning and his scowl deepened.
I have blogged on conflict scenes before in an excerpt from  'Loser's Game' and in this example from 'Acceptance.'

Check out how the author's listed handle conflict in scenes from their stories.

Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich 
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax 
Fiona McGier
Rachael Kosinski
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
Judith Copek

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Book: Dragoon's Journey

Wings Publishing will release Dragoon's Journey for May pre-order with  publishing scheduled for June. The new website is Books-By-WingsPress. This story ends the story started in Home World ~ Aginfeld and continued in The Nanite Warrior. 

 Opening Line:
Fugitives do not readily enter any heavily policed community, especially ones with populations rabidly paranoid of strangers. Somewhere like the planet Aginfeld. Even if the planet currently held a magnetic draw to galactic tourists, the residents’ mistrust ran deep.

Dragoons, super-soldiers, won the battles but lost the war. Betrayed by their government and held in cryogenic storage for use in future wars, they seek their best-worst chance for finding a home -- Aginfeld, a planet in the last stages of bioformation. The Colonial Pact, a corporation even established governments fear, wants it. To claim their home the Dragoons must tame the most dangerous, traitorous habitat on Aginfeld.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Drama and Emotion of Weather

Weather: whatever is happening outside.
Weather is more than just an outdoors condition, it is the Earth telling us we live in it, and at its whim, no matter how we harm what it has developed over millions of millennia. Right now, Earth is our only home. Though we often try to disregard the weather, it affects us. Weather determines what type of shelter we need, how we dress, what we eat, often what we can or cannot do.

This is stating the obvious, everyone knows this, which is the reason it is so effective in stories. It is a story telling device, often used in movies. I’m sure you can think of film scenes where weather was used effectively to show danger or despair, triumph or joy.

It works because weather involves the reader’s memory and imagination, and helps to show rather than tell a situation. Weather adds drama by involving the reader’s familiarity with weather so that he or she can connect it to the situation without a lot of telling. A bright bolt of lightning warns readers of incipient trouble. They know what a prediction of tornado or hurricane means to the characters. A snowstorm can indicate dangerous travel and the possibility of being stranded. An extended drought means the possibility of fire storms, too much rain, or melting snow, means the chance of floods; and if the weather is too perfect? Surely something bad is coming soon.

Because weather can also affects our mood, when days of dark gloomy overcast skies pass, it can bring on a character’s sadness or depression. A heat wave means characters might be irritable, and a drought indicates worry. It is amazing the number of ways weather can evolve a story.

I have used weather with purpose in writing, and then not. In one of my stories, Home Word ~ Aginfeld, I deprived the characters of weather, put them on an inhospitable planet undergoing bioformation, the inhabitants living in closed habitats. After a thousand years the inhabitants are afraid of anything outside the habitat, enough to even close off all views of outside. How strange would that be?

Visit the blogs listed below and read other author's opinions on weather in writing
Skye Taylor
Rachael Kosinski
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax 
Judith Copek
Victoria Chatham 
Kay Sisk
Dr. Bob Rich 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Hiaku 2

Searing rays slowly sink,
Piercing the evening sky;
a stunning goodbye.



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Secondary to Main Character, Starting a Series

Continuing ideas presented in my post, “Surprise Secondary Characters,” what surprises me is the number of secondary characters who become leads in a following story set in the previous book’s world. In today’s market, many story series begin the next story with a secondary character from a previous story. That characteristics might have been developed a little more than most to pique the reader’s interest but didn’t take over the story. Although this method has been used for a long time, I don’t remember it ever being so much a characteristic of series as in today’s genre fiction. Whether it is a contemporary or a historical romance series set in a particular time or location, or a fantasy and science fiction novel set in a particular world, series make create popular fiction; however, I’ve encountered some that went on too long. When the characters lose their individuality, I leave the series.

The permutations of serialization in stories is amazing from numerous stand-alone romances located in a single named town setting to stories based on one unique aspect of the main characters (think series about werewolves, vampires, dragons, and other shape shifters). I’ve encountered several authors writing from their own unique view point in one prearranged world, and a more common standard of a very long, convoluted plot taking place in several volumes.

I find series I like easy to read and relate to because I know the background so well, and enjoyable because it is like visiting home. I’ve used this method in my own writing.

Somewhere I’ve read that there are only seven, or some other finite number, of plots. While I’m not so certain of that assertion, I don’t worry too much about it except as the situations and emotional reactions of the characters interest me. Readers read. It’s what I enjoy. I love to read, and as long as the characters and the action differs in the story, the rest is usually irrelevant. Types of human relationships seem to be similar but infinite in differences. As a reader I want to relate to a character whose morals I can identify with, even if they are not my own; a society whose ethical standards I understand, even if anathema to my own.

As I mentioned before, I’ve studied Vladimir Propp’s fairytale progression analysis and Carl Jung’s character archetypes, and found them described in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. A long time ago I wrote a paper on an episode of Air Wolf showing this same details in TV programming. Discovering the similarities in the ancient orally passed-on stories and the psychology involved in those stories initially surprised and interested me. Since, it has helped me determine my characters’ purposes and their action in the plot. Every writer tells a story in a different way, organizes the scenes in different order, gives a different take on a familiar plot, but the thought that our inner ancient story demands lives on in my readers helps guide my writing.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Secondary Character Surprises

In some stories I’ve read, the secondary characters are as interesting if not more so than the lead characters. It is not only the good ones but also the evil ones who attract my attention. Often it is their curious mannerisms, or funny vocal quips, that draw me. If they make me curious or furious as to why they are as they are, or make me laugh while making me wonder if they are really happy, they distract me from the lead character's dilemma. For me, they can help develop a world, or make a not-so-interesting main character’s story better. I’ve also noticed that not only I have promoted them to main characters in another story.

I hope this doesn’t happen in my own stories. Secondary characters should not overwhelm the main characters in their stories, and I try to keep the extras as story support. I’ve used psychologist’s Carl Jung’s archtypes as described in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to help format main and secondary characters in my stories, along with a Personality Self-Portrait by Dr. John M. Oldham and Lois B. Morris, The later is an interesting book on different types of personalities and personality disorders.
Oldham and Morris help me leave my preconceptions about a certain character and develop them in another way. Vogler, however, shows how an ancient method of delivering and a more modern deciphering characters in a story is still valid in today's media. These have helped me determine my characters’ purposes and how to define them as an individual, for if a character has no purpose or personality, it is a character to delete. Those who inhabit a world as no other function than background have names such as waiter, or dog walker, or simply man or woman.

To earn a name in a story, the character has to have a reason to be included. I have also discovered if I put any thought into a secondary character beyond their part in the story, that if I create personality and quirks, they become more personable to me. In turn, they often surprise me by telling me what they will do and how they will react. It’s disconcerting, and they can becoming demanding forces.

I ran into this in my first published book, the fantasy, Magic Aegis. Kissre is a stern but effective mercenary who becomes the heroine’s bodyguard. She was the wrong gender for a mercenary in the place and time of this fantasy. She faced bias in the country where she worked, but she also wouldn’t let me change her into a man. I became stuck writing several scenes with Kissre. It was as if she wouldn’t let me write what I wanted, as if she asked me ‘Would a man in this position do this? I think not. Let me do it my way. It’s how a soldier does it.” It was also how a woman damaged by personal history but secure in herself and her femininity would do it. She surprised me, but I must admit, I haven’t met many female mercenaries. Kissre didn’t kick me in the teeth and demand her story, but my curiosity about her background and future drove me to write her story, Acceptance. Then in her story, while she is arguing with her sister, Tyna demanded a chance to tell her side of the story, which became the story in Change. Secondary characters can become an opportunity and a challenge when writing.

This never happened in the Black Angel space opera series. The multiple-personality lead character Jesslynn Chambers had enough characters inside her to prevent any secondary character from making demands. Keeping each recognizable to the reader by their behavior was hard enough. Later, upon thinking that over, it also made me question if I had a lead character or multiple secondary characters pretending to be a lead character. The series was a surprising, interesting, but difficult writing experience.

Yet, in my third series, Home World, a secondary character who is only mentioned in passing in a second volume, The Nanite Dragoon, who had little impact on the story other than as a friend/ally, piqued my interest. Now the story of Brigit and the other Dragoons, soldiers too dangerous to let live and too valuable to kill, will find new purpose in taming their new home, a nearly complete bioformed planet.

Secondary characters can surprise readers and writers. What I try to do, however, is not have a previous story’s main characters invade the subsequent volume. They may have limited appearances, but their presence is limited to less than most secondary characters. Because, in reading many series, what I have noticed is that previous main characters tend to lose their distinctive personalities when dropping into a later story. I’d rather not have that happen.

Please visit the following blogs and see what these authors have to say on the topic of secondary characters.

Anne Stenhouse 
Skye Taylor 
Beverley Bateman 
Judith Copek
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham 
Helena Fairfax 
Marci Baun 
Rachael Kosinski 
Hollie Glover
Dr. Bob Rich 

Fiona McGie

Monday, February 29, 2016


Why do so many people love to read about dragons? Dragons are purely mythological, but have appeared as both European and Asian symbols for centuries, possibly in Asia as far back as 3000 BC. Most of the myths don't encompass a story but rather an image. St. George and the Dragon is a exception, a medieval tale about killing a dragon to save a princess. Today dragons still inspire stories. Many current novels feature dragons, notably Irish novelist Anne McCaffrey's stories of Pern, which is a science fiction series involving star travel and biology, and might have impelled current interest. Even more recently, dragon shape-shifters have been chronicled in Shanna Abe's series about drákon (Greek word for dragon, draco is the Latin word) beginning with The Smoke Thief which takes place in the 18th century. Another recent series on dragon shifters is Donna Grant’s Dragon King Series. I just finished reading another novel about dragon shape-shifters in the humorous beginning of an urban fantasy series, I Dream of Dragons by Ashlyn Chase. So whatever the pull of the dragon, it remains with us.

Today dragons are envisioned as Tyrannosaurus Rex sized winged lizards living in caves and often guarding a hoard of golden treasure. As mentioned above, they are often crossed with werewolf shape-shifting legends, the humans involved change into dragons. While dragons have often been portrayed as a lizard of some type, in ancient times they were portrayed as water creatures or snake-like creatures slithering across the land. Some claim the Leviathan of the Bible was a dragon. In Chinese lore they are symbols of good luck and power, often associated with the ruler. In Europe, they were seen as more malevolent creatures.

Throughout all the legends and stories, dragons represent a powerful advisory, and killing the dragon indicates courageously attempting a dangerous endeavor. If you felt fear in the movie Jurassic Park, you can understand how the legend of such a creature affected ancient audiences: dragons were formidable and terrifying.

Where did the ideas for these creatures come from? Certainly the legend creators didn't see them in reality. Yet, perhaps ancients came across dinosaur bones at some point in time and recognized the enormous bones as legs of some creature, perhaps even wings, spawning the rumors of such creatures. More likely they enlarged upon fearsome creatures they saw or heard about like pythons, alligators, crocodiles, or other large lizard or water species. In the Far East it might have been creatures like seahorses or lion fish that helped inaugurated the legend. You can see from these photos of lion fish on the National Geographic site how these beautiful but poisonous fish might have inspired such beliefs.

At the website Whats Your Sign dragons are seen as symbols of the need for strength and courage during times of trouble. They are magical creatures who are masters of all the primal elements of land, sea, air, and fire.

Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, in the section on Atonement with the Father, says, “Atonement (at-one-ment) [Campbell's implied emphasis presumably points out this mean the conclusion of the action 'at one'] consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated monster—the dragon Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult.” Certainly it has been proven by Campbell, Jung and others, that folklore and mythology often have psychological aspects, so perhaps the creatures of myth do to. Perhaps our fascination with dragons is because one exists within each of us. Something we must either learn to accept, or something we must destroy in order to become our true selves. Something to think about.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bad Boys, Wicked Women

“Bad bad, bad, bad boy, you make me feel so good” (Bad Boy lyrics, Gloria Estefan song).

Have you ever wondered why bad boys (and men) are so prevalent in romance novels, and conversely, why bad girls are so often reviled?

Well, presumably this theme developed because the predominately female audience buys these stories—lots of them. Matter of fact, woman often drive the market. They read more fiction than men in general. An NPR article on books states “Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.” This may well explain why romance has become so large a part of other genres since they began crossing and melding first in e-books. Now mixed-genres have become standard in major publishing house novels

One reason to read is to escape day-to-day life. Romance is a constant and reoccurring aspect of life driving the marriage industry, and romances let readers escape back into the anguish and doubt filled, heady, hormonal, crazy, first moments of love. This might also explain why bad girls are reviled. They are inevitably the seductive, experience, unethical competition the heroine, with whom the reader most closely identifies, must overcome. (We are all good girls at heart, aren’t we? Who roots for the competition? However, a caveat: even a 'bad' woman's story could be very interesting.)

But what is the allure of the bad boy? In most ‘bad boy’ narratives, the at-first wary female changes the roguish male into the love-match of her dreams, but much of the charm depends on how the ‘bad boy’ is defined. The more noxious the author makes the male, the harder it is for love to convincingly convert him. Promiscuity is most often serial monogamy and fairly easy to overcome. (But even that is changing with the expansion of erotic moments in basic romances.) Yet the male finds something so special in the female that he must have her, and only her. When she resists because of his reputation, his love forces him to change. This knowledge builds the heroine’s, and the reader’s, feeling of self-worth.

Maryanne Fisher, in a Psychology Today post, claims that romances let the woman reader experience the emotional roller-coaster of a love affair without the physical betrayal of whoever she is involved with or damage to that real-life relationship. I’ve also read (albeit, a long time ago) where claims have been made that all characters in a book reflect the mental merging of all aspects of a single personality. Hmm; could this mean we must all learn to love our bad sides? Maybe that was philosophical based novels; interesting, but too much psychobabble for me. Certainly all types of fiction can have profound effect on the reader from helping them learn about themselves or humanity, to learning how to ‘fit-in’ or deal with society. And if the reader does take on aspects of the character they identify with, I’m sure all women readers like to share the feeling that they are so ‘special.’

Certainly life experiences, and idioms like tigers can’t change their stripes, or leopard don't change their spots, give fair warning that these type of pairings often lead to future disaster. But that is real life and this is fiction—or make believe. Nonetheless, when audiences hear Danny and Sandy singing “You’re the One That I Want” in the movie Grease (another story form), they understand that both characters have substantially changed. Maybe that’s the message: hope makes all thing possible.

For more takes on the bad-boy phenomena, check out the following Round-Robin blog posts.
Skye Taylor
Helena Fairfax
Rachael Kosinski
Anne Stenhouse
Connie Vines
Fiona McGier