Saturday, October 20, 2018

Developing Tension in Stories

While make-believe stories are meant to entertain, I think they have more important purposes. I believe fiction helps readers grapple with their own dilemmas and grow as individuals even when they are not aware of it. I believe the tension of 'what if' helps give readers knowledge of themselves and others. I think overall, fiction helps readers relieve the stresses of their daily lives and understand them better. Even fairy tails, folktales, and mythology have strong doses of tension because it keeps the reader reading and wondering about what happens next.
Vladimir Propp and Dr. Carl Jung have already described how the psychological aspects of fiction holds true in folktales, and I think the process goes on in all fiction writing.

When I read it is the  tension within a story that keeps me reading, although I do not like a top-level constant dose of violence and endangerment. Sometimes it feels like I have, and have had, enough of that, thank you. (Not cliff hangers, just life's daily dose.)

Tension can also be of the contemplative type, of making an important choice and then having to live with the results. And it is not just about a character's goal and how they accomplish or fail to achieve their heart's desire, or the violence or danger they fall into. Tension can develop from a character's weaknesses and how they test themselves, or two or more characters head-butting one another until they come to agreement or part ways. Mostly it’s about emotion, plans that go amuck, and a character overcoming their failures and falls from grace. The joy is that there are millions of stories with more coming every day, and all with their own interesting tension.

From my own reading experiences I know that the more visceral the description of a character's emotions and their physical reactions, or their relationship interactions or integration with their environmental as shown in a story, the more my mind and body reacts to the reading. These tensions also help me identify with the character. 

I think readers nearly always identify with these and feel what the character feels. This does not necessarily mean trauma or extreme violence, although as previously discussed in Danger and Sometimes Violence in Writing, these can come into developing a story's tension. I think most readers identify the characters when these reactions are well described and this draws them into the story.

Please visit the following authors and see their opinions on tension in stories. 
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse  
Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire 
Dr. Bob Rich
Helena Fairfax
Diane Bator
Judith Copek

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Fourth Excerpt from Home World - Reax

Falcon House Leader on Reax isn't the only one facing turmoil.

Weeks later, back at Celeste, Maera’s superior requested she come to his office as some allegations had come to his desk concerning her last assignment. Maera clarified the issues, and told of the events that took place on the ground at Salvation Colony, information already available in her report.

Her superior nodded after viewing verification videos from Nemil’s suit vid. He remained unhappy but finally signed off on the file and sent it to legal.

She briefly wondered why his report remained uncompleted before he called her into the office.

“I wanted to see you, that’s why you’re here,” he said, almost as if he’d read her mind. He gave her what she called his ‘assessing’ gaze. “I have another unusual mission for you.”

“That’s a rather quick turn-around,” Maera responded as the new orders appeared on the wall screen.

“I know, but this shouldn’t be too hard. We have a request for help from Reax. They want our help in picking up some stranded citizens and delivering them back to Reax, a most unusual request from such a reclusive colony. They have their own fleet, don’t they?” He gazed at her with his assessing gaze in full force.  

From her records, he knew where she came from, so why the sly look? “They do.”

“Not now, it seems.”

Long practice let her control her own expression. “What happened?”

“Our intelligence says they’ve had an inter-colony civil war over the last four or five years that has decimated their fleet. The population also suffered from a devastating plague—of their own making.” He huffed a laugh, shaking his head in disbelief. “Enough of their fleet remains to protect the colony, but not to return those tourists. It doesn’t sound like too extensive or difficult a mission.”

“May I ask why I’m getting this assignment? Shouldn’t a carrier undertake the mission? My crew expected some leave time after this last mission.”
He gave her a calculating but dismissive look, not knowing how much experience she had in recognizing such contemptuous expressions.

“Leave’s not going to happen; it’s been cancelled. Since the war, our own fleet’s number of transport ships took a hit even while they remain in great demand. All the other ships currently work on extended missions. Those transports with you at Sovereign Colony won’t arrive for weeks and even then, need down time before embarking on another mission.”

He gave her a gruff look as if she should know this information. She did, but knew he played a game with her. Other UPA transport crews could have handled this, and she knew several of them currently docked at this station. If he noticed her skepticism, he ignored it, continuing with his orders.

“This assignment lists three colonies in that sector with approximately twelve Reaxans the colony’s government has requested need transport to Reax. Your ship can handle the number of citizens requested for pick up. However, higher level offices request you not go groundside on Reax, which they thought might create diplomatic problems.

“While we want to increase the Reaxan obligation and good will toward the United Planets Alliance, they have strange customs, and we don’t want to engender trouble. Matter of fact, many in power want the colony to align with the Alliance. We’re hoping this mission will create goodwill, which might lead to negotiations. The head office will send the mission parameters and pick-up locations to your ship. You’re dismissed.” He waved his hand toward the door. He dismissed her like a Ranger, except her superior officers never used such a disrespectful shooing-away manner.

Once outside the office, Maera took stiff, swift steps down the corridor before finally uttering her visceral reaction in a sotto voice. Knowing the interior hallways recorded, she kept control of her business demeanor. 

Once outside the headquarters office complex, she let the speed of her walk diminish her anger while she vented. She earned a few stares but continued moving. 

“Strange customs—no shit—don’t want trouble, ha! Reax means trouble.” Why assign me? Her files clearly stated where she came from. Did they plan to use her? Reax’s position made it both an Alliance and a Khajari problem, and both wanted to cement an Alliance and have free access to that sector of space. What did the Alliance want, or does my boss think he’s found a good way to get rid of me? Taking a deep breath, she smiled. I’ve faced worse assignments than this. On my previous returns to Reax no one except Sareen ever noticed me. If they have as much turmoil as mentioned, they have more problems than discovering escapees. No one will look for runaways. The problems her home planet faced somehow failed to surprise her.

Twenty-five government employees, thirty-two visitors, seven hatches, three hallways, awareness of her habit sank in as she started counting tiles. She forced herself to stop and take a deep breath. Once controlled, she headed back to the port side of the station and her shuttle, wanting back on her ship.

Once inside the Endurance, she calmed herself and her counting fixation in the usual manner, playing with numbers. Pulling up market reports, she adjusted her sells and buys, far easier and a more regular habit than when she was in the Rangers.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Children & Reading

If we want a society where people continue to read and then learn to write, it is important to start children on the road to reading as soon as possible.

Did you know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2014 that parents read to children from birth? From the New York Times article on this, Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the recommendations, thinks doctors should tell parents to read to their children every time they bring their children to the doctor's office.

Reading aloud does more than entertain. Even in adults, reading fires the brain's chemistry more than most activities, and research "showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language."

Children who are read to learn letters, numbers, shapes and colors early which gives them a head start when they start school. Evidence shows reading aloud helps children start talking sooner, creates smarter children, and helps children develop empathy (just as it does for adults). A parent or caretaker reading to a child also offers that child the comfort of sharing time, touch, and engagement. Hearing stories helps children to enjoy learning, leading them to completing high school, and often urges them into college. Most often this custom of early childhood reading creates life-long readers. The world needs this, because right now one in four children grows up illiterate.

My son's favorite book. I must
have read it to him 50 times.
I believe hearing stories while seeing the words and images should start very early, and I certainly tried to encourage my children in that way. Before my children started sitting up by themselves, both my husband and I began reading to them every night until it was a ritual: dinner, a short playtime, a bath, a story or two while sitting together, and then bed. (It also made bedtime easier to accomplish.) As they became toddlers and preschoolers, the day always ended with parent and child in bed reading a story together. It didn't even affect them that they heard the same story, for they chose the story to be read, and they had certain stories they loved hearing over and over. Surprisingly, I think it helped me to. Reading aloud and changing voices for different characters while reading is a talent to develop.

I do not remember my parents reading to me regularly, but do remember four of us crowding around Mom while she read, or we listened to Dad's tall tales at dinner; but once I learned at school, I was enchanted. I always had a book needing to be read, and frequently walked the two miles to the local library to get a different book, which provided exercise, too! It also allowed me to follow my passion at the time—horses. I couldn't own one but reading Smoky, the Cowhorse, and Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and other horse stories gave me the sense of knowing a horse.

I know preschool and elementary schools are working very hard to teach children to read, and I love hearing and seeing news clips of children learning to read by reading to dogs or cats. What a good idea! Who ever thought of that? Many kudos to them!

Please read these authors' opinions on the topic:

Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Anne de Gruchy
A.J. Maguire
Helena Fairfax
Fiona McGire

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Third Excerpt from Home World Reax

Just news of Maera's escape from Genome House dictates begins change. Shortly after Jencet left Falcon House Leader Duvan, he begins to worry about what has happen in the policing and security house of Reax, and he knows one person to investigate.
(First Excerpt)
(Second Excerpt) 

He gave more orders, saying at their completion, “I am going to visit Uslina.” He would no longer call her his aunt. Uslina lived in one of the best apartments in Falcon House. Tyb had died during the war, also, but while on duty. He doubted Tyb’s death planned, but his own ascendancy had displaced Uslina, who he knew as many Falcons disliked as liked. He fell in the former group. When his wife Feather had died during duty, Uslina had once again regained her position as Falcon Matron. No one investigated Feather’s death at the time, but now his new knowledge only ignited Duvan’s suspicion.

He stopped mid-stride. While on duty outside the house, he had left Rea and Quill with her, his own children, who died in an accident outside the house when an exterior walkway had collapsed. The inside of his chest felt like it had twisted into a knot. Had she…? What had he allowed to happen? Would any proof remain?

“Leader Duvan?” Shannon, a passing Falcon asked, concern lining her voice.

He gave a brief smile and waved a dismissive hand at her. “A stray thought halted me, Shannon.” He began to walk again, his thoughts running rampant. How had the law enforcement branch of the Dominion Conclave become so… treacherous? Has my own family member become a traitor to their house’s mission? His gut churned in reaction.

House Matron Uslina, since Feather’s death, held prominent posts on several important house committees, including placement and promotion. What he suspected, and now acknowledged to himself at least, he had suspected for a long time. Uslina embraced power over mission, over integrity, even over ethics. Would she cross unfathomable barriers to reach her goal? Why had
she treated Maera so hideously? Did she arrange my children’s deaths? Why kill my Rea and Quill? I have no proof, only her treatment of Maera, nothing about my children. He felt his eyes brim with tears but held them back. What about my uncle, Uslina’s husband and house leader before my father? What about all those deaths?

“I will investigate. I will find the truth. This I can do,” he promised himself. Once again, he thanked circumstances that he held no direct blood link to Uslina.

The door tender showed Uslina remained at home. Using his power, he laughed  considering his recent contemplations, and entered the premises unannounced. Uslina used her connex and seeing him, ended her conversation, and disengaged her device. She smiled at him, and said, “To what do I owe the honor of your visit, dear Duvan? Has this something to do with the Eagle now Raven who just visited?” She spoke as if she exposed her investigative skills.

Never considered beautiful by most Falcon males, he knew Uslina plain but not ugly. She held typical Falcon traits of medium brown hair, dark brown eyes with hints of gold, but her nose hooked more than curved. Her expression he considered calculating. He knew since her husband’s death, she preferred women mates. He had no problem with her sexual choices, only that she had betrayed her vows to his uncle.

He grasped his hands behind him in a tight clasp. “I am moving some assignments around to give more opportunities to Falcons who have received exemplary duty reports, so I must realign the committees and those in charge of them. To accomplish this I have removed you from the Novice Training and Placement Committee, and the House Security Committee.”

“You cannot do that; I chair those committees,” Uslina responded. “I am House Matron and my position gives me authority over them.”

“My father appointed you to those duties after his wife’s death, but now I make these decisions. I need someone in those positions who has experienced the rigors of the jobs.”

Her body stiffened and her chin rose while she glared at him in outrage. “Do not make such a bad blunder. I will not stand beside you to share the house shame when you need moral support.”

“Since you have seldom stood beside me for any reason, even when I mourned my wife and children, I can easily accept that.”

“You were lucky. Your unworthy wife lacked skills in jobs the upper echelons of Falcon House face anyway. Her death frees you to take a Falcon woman worthy of being the leader’s wife.”

“I will leave you as a member of the two committees you remain on, for now.”
“Oh, thank you, you underling and unworthy leader. I could have made a better Falcon Leader. Too bad I didn’t. This house would have much better control.”

“Too bad the Falcons themselves decided otherwise.” He turned and left. Her connex smashed against the door as he reached it. He looked over his shoulder at the angry hatred staring at him. “Falcon House will not provide a new one,” he said as he left. He would need to protect his back.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Are Digital Books Changing Reading?

I grew up on hard-covered books of printed paper and have a library of probably close to a thousand books today, but I'm also in the process of sorting them out and getting rid of some. Most of those are non-fiction books, although I do have some classic fiction books too. Most of my reading today is done on my Kindle. I'm on my second one.

I like Kindle. They came on the market in 2007 and I bought my first one in 2012. Since then, the majority of my fiction reading has been on that device. I had been reading e-books on my computer almost since they first became available. I love my Kindle for reading fiction because it is less bulky than a paper book. I read in bed at night, and it is lighter than most books and the pages are easier to turn with the touch of my thumb. I can stick my Kindle in my purse and take it with me, and it has thirty books on it right now. I can add more or remove them from the device. I also like that I can search a book to find a certain passage, and can hit the back arrow to get back to where I started. E-books also open to the last page read, another feature I enjoy.
How reading has changed! Yet I still like certain books in paper form, especially those with images.

It is a well-document fact that reading fiction changes readers, opens their minds to new ideas, helps them develop empathy, new knowledge, increases vocabulary, and in general accomplishes many mental feats. All good things; but has device reading degraded this?

Today anyone can read novels on computers, reading devices, or almost any mobile device. Some are wondering if these devices are changing how people read and what they read, and how this has affected writing fiction. During an Nation Public Radio Morning Edition interview with author Lev Grossman, back in 2009 shortly after many reading devices became available, he wondered about readers not having to handle the pages of a book, turning and savoring them. He said digital reading was “Very forward moving, very fast narrative ... and likewise you don't tend to linger on the language. When you are seeing a word or a sentence on the screen, you tend to go through it, you extract the data, and you move on."  That was nine years ago. Now an awareness is emerging of the short attention span those who constantly use digital devices have.

Since the invasion of mobile devices, others worry about user distraction, and the devices being more important than talking with the person they are with. I think the dangers of device addiction are known and people are beginning to at least wean their children off their devices, but maybe not themselves.

Does faster reading mean less comprehension or appreciation for what is written? Does it mean readers are not receiving the benefits of reading given from print copies? How must authors change their writing to adapt to this development?

I think it probably depends on the genre of fiction I am reading. When reading literary fiction, admittedly not one of my favorite genres, where what is stated and what is implied is so very important, I might like print form better. However, I have discovered digital hasn’t changed my enjoyment or anything else in reading and allows me to become deeper involved in the story even if I have to leave it frequently and pick up where I left off later.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

When I Began Writing

I've always been a voracious reader since age seven, but I never thought about writing until thirty years later. 

An employer asked my husband to move to Colorado Springs, but within a six months my husband had changed to a job in St. Louis. Our children were in the middle of a school year, and we had a rental agreement in place, so the kids and I stayed in Colorado for six months.

I spent many days alone while the children were at school and evenings while they were doing homework, or watching TV, or getting ready for bed, and I found the millionaires (now billionaires) falling in love stories I bought bored me. They all seemed to have the same plot and characters with different names. 

So I began thinking about what could be different and what might interest me, and since we had one of the early Trash 80 computers, I began writing to entertain myself. It was about two teenagers, Gina and Wade, who for some reason I can't remember drove to Las Vegas after their prom, which wasn't too far away. They woke up hungover and returned home and split up only to meet again several years later to discover they were married. I know: another father didn't know about his child story. They were not so common then. Whatever I wrote was lost with time, but with a new and better computer, I started writing again when we moved to Missouri. It was then I discovered I wasn't interested in contemporary romance but in fantasy. Before that story was finished, I started a science fiction novel. 

These remained only on my computer. I did send one out but got a rejection. After gong back and reading what I sent in, I found that was only a just judgment as the manuscript was full of mechanical mistakes and plot errors. I rewrote it several more times before sending it out again. Wings e-Press accepted it.

I have discovered I write for the pleasure of writing, of creating an alternate world, and I'm not concerned about mega-sales, just ones that please those who read them.

Please visit the following authors for their comments on how they began writing:

Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham 
Skye Taylor
Judith Copek
Dr. Bob Rich
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Fiona McGier

Margaret Fieland 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Second Excerpt from Home World Reax

Jencet, the assistant and body guard to the Primus of Reax's government, has been assigned the duty to track down the escapee-traitor of the genetically defined genomes of Reax's Houses. It is not a duty he relishes but he is determined to find the renegade Maera and bring her back to Reax where she owes obligated duty.
(First Excerpt)

“Eagle now Raven Jencet, it is a pleasure to have you visit our domicile.”

“Likewise, it is my privilege, Falcon Leader Duvan.”

“As I believe private government business brought you here, I will take you to my office.” Duvan did not lead him down the staircase, but along a front corridor to its very end where an elegant embossed copper door faced them. A sentry at a desk looked at Jencet with suspicion. Duvan ordered his officer to bring beverages and food to his office.

The spacious office contained a beautiful circular view that drew Jencet to the window. Downward and to the right, a river curled between two cliffs far below the office. Even from this height Jencet saw the white ripples of fast moving water and the native vegetation lining the cliff face. The first settlers labeled the native plants ferns. He knew these ferns something far different, poisonous, and dangerous, but Reax valued them for the products they made. Earth native species had escaped cultivation and now grew in Reax’s wilds.

He contemplated the fact that not only had humans changed Reax, but also other life forms. In turn, Reax changed them. A view of the Essence City stretched across the land further to the left. The Luminary Edifice towered at its center. Jencet enjoyed the rare combination of wild Reax and disciplined genome structure provided in the view.

He stood in front of the window several minutes with Duvan next to him. Finally, he said, “Magnificent.”

“Yes, it is, thank you. Take a seat and tell me your business.”

Once seated, Jencet began. “You had a tyro name Maera nine years ago.”

Duvan kept any surprise or affront from his expression, but Jencet noticed the leader’s brief hesitation.

“Yes. She failed her Engagement.”

“Can you tell me about her?”

“First, why?” Duvan asked.

“With your permission?” Jencet indicated the wall screen. Duvan nodded and pressed a
connection. From his connex, Jencet pulled up the image on the wall screen showing the United Planets envoy’s visit in the Genome Chamber from several years ago. “Do you recognize the woman behind the envoy?”

At first Duvan had no reaction, and then he could not disguise his shock. His eyes widened in an intense stare of utter astonishment at the image. He blinked several times before he resumed his calm Falcon bearing. “It is her. How is that possible?”

“For security reasons, you must not reveal the information I am giving you.”

Duvan gave the Air Realm’s sign of promise and trust. “Of course.”

“Information brought to Dominion Primus Dakeene predicted not all tyros gone missing from Engagement died.”

“They either died or the Incarnates stole and subverted them,” Duvan said in a very implacable constabulary tone.

Jencet, against Raven teaching, felt his lips twitch. “In most instances, usually the first, and in the more recent past, the second, yes, but in certain instances some thought a few tyros left before initial Engagement, choosing not to come back. Maera proved their theory.”

Duvan shook his head still staring at the screen. “I attended that day in the Genome Chamber. I remember seeing the envoy and her entourage. I ignored the officer as just another Alliance assistant to the envoy. Believing Maera dead, I never looked for her among the staff. I swear I did not know. How…?”

“From United Planets records, I have received this information. She changed her name to Maera Lacklan, supposedly one of their war displaced, and became an Alliance citizen.”

“I will find and kill her,” Duvan said, unexpected anger filling his face.

“No, you will not. I will find her and bring her back to Dakeene’s justice.”

The Falcon Leader head shook in disbelief, and then looked at Jencet in near apology. “She has brought embarrassment to her House. Again.” He studied the screen. “Is she wearing a  uniform? Something else I did not notice at the time.” His admission seemed to mortify the Falcon Leader. He gave Jencet a swift glance. “At that time, Tyb remained Falcon Leader, and I seldom approached her. I only saw her from my seat in the chamber, but hindsight shows I might need to hone my Falcon training.”

“She was an officer in the Alliance Rangers, but does not wear a dress uniform, probably a deliberate dress-down, perhaps at the envoy’s request. I’m sure they didn’t want to present a militaristic presence. Nor does she wear all her badges and honors. However, I also know she earned some of those later. According to the records I discovered, she became a highly decorated officer of numerous engagements in the recently ended Khajari War. She also received degrees from two prestigious universities on Earth with very high scores.” He brought up copies of the degrees to the screen.

Duvan leaned back into his seat, his visage never leaving the screen’s view. “One degree in military science and another in mathematics? Who would have thought…?” The anger left his frame, and Jencet recognized the man’s new introspective, almost cunning, resolve. With another fast glance his way, Jencet saw Duvan considered the situation’s possibilities. “She became very successful.” Settling comfortably back in his chair, he gave Jencet a cool look. “What do you need to know?”

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Danger and Somtimes Violence in Writing

I want to begin with definitions of danger and violence because I've noticed people often understand a word from different perspectives.

My definition of danger, based on Merriam Webster’s Online, is being within the jurisdiction, reach, or range of someone powerful, or deranged, or holding evil intent, and/or someone holding the control, desire, influence, and intent to harm someone else. Another aspect of the definition is being near or immersed in something liable to cause injury, pain, harm or loss. Danger implies fear, worry, and sudden change.

Danger can lead to violence, which is the use of physical force to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy someone or something, or to cause injury by verbal actions using distortion, interference, or opposition. It can also be the intense, turbulent, furious or destructive actions or forces such as accidents or storms. Intense feelings expressed in vicious display of physical or verbal behaviors can qualify as violent even if no one is physically injured. Violence implies a cost, perhaps in esteem, physical loss, or trauma.

In my writing these definitions show a wide range of situations able to become dangerous or violent, which sometimes comes from or leads to depravity on a character's part and often trauma for another character.

All stories need drama, and emotion and physical tension creates this between characters or the situations they will endure. These are often both psychological and physiological. Emotional reactions to any number of situations can add drama to a story. Tension also develops when the read knows a character's actions will lead to danger. The character attempting to avoid violence can also lead to intense suspense. 

Have I used danger and violence within my stories? Yes, and the scenarios are often based on the types of violence done by humans in different eras of history. Most of our most esteemed eras of history have had very gruesome practices in war and in punishment of criminals, opponents, and slaves. I’ve used these in some stories; some graphically described and some only implied. It all depends on the character, the situation, its time and the location.

The reader's reaction, often based on their personal emotions, morals and experiences, determines if the type of violence in the story hooks them into reading more or stops them reading all together.

Please check these author's view on this topic:

Dr. Bob Rich
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Anne Stenhouse  
A.J. Maguire 
Marci Baun 
Skye Taylor
Fiona McGier
Anne de Gruchy
Judith Copek