Monday, September 29, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Three -- "What's My Type?"

"I know there's all this talk about my charisma deficit and I have to admit that I'm not a wild, in-your-face actor. It's not my nature to be flashy or extroverted, and that's why I see it a great challenge to me as an actor to be able to play against type and shake up people's perceptions of me." -- Tobey Maguire

One of the most common ways that writers move the plot forward in their books is to have a character do something that would generally be considered "out of character" for that character. What this usually means is they have an otherwise "smart" character do something stupid. The understood reasoning is that, hey, everyone does something stupid now and then, right? Those things never ring true to me. Do you know why? They're not.

Stupidity is not the same as personality. That is to say, even a stupid action has to fit within the character's personality. That's not always an easy thing to do, especially when we need a character to act in a way that the audience won't expect.

This is where the Enneagram can be very useful as a typing system for your characters.

As I was discussing last time, personality typing systems tend to be very static, meaning you are this or you are that, and there is no room for any variation. I'm going to bet, though, that we've all had one of those situations where you've run into someone you know in an environment you're not used to seeing that person in and had the thought, "Who was that guy? That's not the person I know." The Enneagram is the only typing system I've encountered that explains those variations beyond that it was just an "aberration."

The Enneagram divides personality into nine types and, as you can see from the diagram, the types are related to each other. So let's have a brief overview, shall we?

The types:
1. Perfectionist
2. Giver
3. Performer
4. Romantic
5. Observer
6. Loyalist or the Skeptic
7. Epicure
8. Boss
9. Mediator
[I do want to point out that depending upon your source, the names of the nine types may differ, especially since many of them have been given new names to give them a more positive spin. For instance, the 8 is sometimes, now, called "the Protector" and the 1 is called "the Reformer." The basic definitions of each type are still the same no matter what label they've attached. A rose is, after all, still a rose.]

These are the nine fundamental types, but it's a little more complex than just that, because each type has a wing that influences it. For instance, type 9 can have either an 8-wing or a 1-wing which will influence the 9s outlook on the world, but we'll get more into that later.

The types are also grouped into three centers that deal with how those types relate to the world. Types 2, 3, and 4 are the emotional center. Those types respond to events on an emotional level. Decisions are based on their emotional response without allowing time for thought or checking facts. Types 5, 6, and 7 are the intellectual center. They require data before responding or making a decision; however, they will often react on that data without regard to how it will affect other people. They ignore the emotional impact because the "facts" are on their side. 8, 9, and 1 are the instinctual center. They are somewhat of a blend of the other two centers. They want the facts but, in the end, they respond from their "gut" reaction. What "feels" right. [This is not to be confused with "feeling" as an emotion. The emotional group does not respond from what "feels right;" they respond from a specific emotion.]

Now, here's the thing that makes the Enneagram stand out for me:
You've probably noticed that the diagram has lines connecting some of the types. Those lines are important, not just a funky design. Remember how I said that the Enneagram explained how people can seem like aliens sometimes? The lines show which types are connected.

So let's take 9 as an example (it's right there at the top, after all):
Each type has a stress point and a security point. Typically, the 9 is going along in its Mediator kind of way (the 9 is also often known as the Peacekeeper) but, when its at its security point, the place where the 9 feels relaxed and comfortable, it slides into the role of the 3, the Performer. However, when the 9 is at its stress point (this does not necessarily mean "stressed out," though it can mean that;  it just means in a place where the 9 is not comfortable), it becomes the Skeptic and feels like everyone is out to get it. Persecuted, so to speak.

So that's what the lines are for and, briefly, tell us how specific Personalities can act in ways we don't recognize. I'll get more into all of that as I discuss each of the types.

If you're curious as to your own type, there are tests available online. The "best" ones cost money (meaning, basically, the ones that take the most time to take), but there are various free ones available. Here's a link to one that is at least above average and probably the best free one I've seen. If you're an author, I'd say to go take it to give you some context into all of this personality stuff and see how you relate to it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Some Zombie Stories, to inspire you to finish that 200-word short story for our contest!

Here's an older story I wrote; it's 250 words long but it'll show you the kind of thing that can be done in a flash horror piece:

Some Zombie Stories: 1

It was four days, maybe, before he realized he was dead. Or maybe four weeks. It might have been weeks, for all he knew; the dead aren’t good with time (he’d learned.)

Nobody at work noticed, and if his wife knew, she wasn’t letting on: she hadn’t stopped nagging him about his socks and they still had sex every day, or nearly, so things were normal, there. 

Once, one of the kids – his daughter? his son? He wasn’t sure, that was another thing about being dead, it was harder to tell people apart all the time – had looked at him funny, which he attributed not just to knowing he was dead but to the fact that his skin was starting to peel off.

He worried he smelt bad but had no way to find out for sure, no way he was willing to try, anyway.

Another time, he hailed a cab, but the driver’d slammed on his brakes as soon as he’d said “59th and 1st, please.”

“I don’t give no rides to no damned dead,” the cabbie’d growled. “Think I’m freakin’ Charon or somethin’?

But for the most part, things remained dully, mutedly, the same as they’d always been, or mostly, for each day was a little less vibrant than the one before it.  He wondered if he would rot away entirely, and at what point he would stop thinking. Then he wondered what was for lunch, even though he was never very hungry anymore.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Two -- "What's My Motivation?"

Without a doubt, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most well know personality typing system in existence. And why not? It's been around a long time. The first of its kind. It's been used by the government (heck, it may still be being used by the government), especially the military, and corporations of all sizes. It's a good indicator of patterns of behavior.

As such, it can be a useful tool for writers when trying to develop Personalities for their books. And, yes, let's call them Personalities, because not all characters have personalities. Don't get me wrong, that's not always a bad thing; two-dimensional (even one-dimensional!) characters have their place, but they are hardly Personalities.

But there's a problem... Okay, actually, there are a lot of problems. Myers-Briggs falls short of being useful in any kind of practical sense. It's the same kind of useful as deciding things like hair color: brown or blond, as in "What attitude does this Personality have: extroversion or introversion?" It will tell you behaviors, but it won't tell you motivations. At least not motivations that are more than surface motivations like:
"I want to go to a party" because the character is an extrovert. Or
"I want to stay home" because the character is an introvert.
It may as well be, "I need to put on sunscreen because I have fair skin."

Besides, Myers-Briggs is kind of clunky. I mean that in the "overly complicated" sense. It's like trying to do Calculus with a slide rule
Image by Dicklyon and used under the linked license.
instead of the calculator sitting next to you (and I had a friend in high school who used to do that just for "fun."). Having a degree in psychology, I don't say this lightly. In general, Myers-Briggs is overly complex but, then, it wasn't designed by or for lay people. It was designed by and for psychologists.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which is what I'll call an elaboration of the Myers-Briggs, is somewhat better seeing as how it actually provides the information in a format that most anyone can understand. It's actually the most used personality assessment system in the world. However, the Keirsey system relies even more on behaviors, observable data, than Myers-Briggs, making it, by its very nature, more rigid. You are this or you are that. It has no room for aberrations in behavior, no room for you to act outside of type.

Which doesn't mean that it can't be useful for writers in a very general sense. Again, if you need to know how your character will act in a given situation, and you have put that character in a Keirsey box, the Keirsey system will tell you how your character should behave.

But, still, we're missing Motivation. Without Motivation, we don't really have Personality. Especially without the allowance for characters to act outside of, well, character.

Generally speaking, personality typing systems don't actually have anything to do with underlying personalities, only behaviors caused by those personalities. "When you go to a party, do you like to retreat into a corner with a small group or do you want to be the center of attention?" See, that's behavior focused. But why are you at the party to begin with? There can be all kinds of motivations for that, and that's where things begin to get interesting.

I'll admit that of all the systems I looked at during college, the Keirsey is the one I liked best. But that's because all of the other systems were just some sort of variation on the Keirsey and/or the Myers-Briggs. Based on behaviors that could be observed and measured, not any kind of internal drives.

Then, well out of school, I found the Enneagram of Personality.
The Enneagram, at its heart, is based on personal motivations and drives. Rather than express how one reacts to the world, it expresses how one acts, or attempts to act, upon the world. It also accounts for what can be seen as out of character shifts by people. For instance, have you ever run into someone you know in a place you don't normally encounter them and it seems that he's someone other person entirely? You come away thinking, "Who was that person?" The Enneagram accounts for that. The Keirsey system doesn't even attempt to.

One of the great failings in many stories, whether they be books or movies or TV shows, is a lack of understanding by the author about their own characters' motivational factors. Or, rather, the lack of any internal motivational schemes. The author needs certain things to happen for the benefit of the plot and just has some character do the necessary actions. [I don't know if the books are this way, but I know the TV show Game of Thrones is full of characters doing things that don't make any sense for them to do. There's only so much of saying "why did he do that?" that I can take.] Now, I understand moving the plot along as well as the next guy, but you need to give your characters a reason for doing the things they do; that's what makes them Personalities and not just characters.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the Enneagram, but I have read a couple of books on it, and I think it's a great system to help authors in designing Personalities for their stories. Hopefully, this series will help give insight into why different types of people act the way they do which will, in turn, give you insight into designing realistic Personalities who do things because of internal motivations and not because of the arbitrary needs of the plot.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: The Easy Way to Write Fantasy That Sells

Last week, I picked up a copy of Rob Parnell's The Easy Way to Write Fantasy That Sells. This is aimed more at the beginning writer than someone with more experience, but it's always helpful to review the basics. For me, this book raised a lot of questions about genre.

The introduction summarizes the formula for fantasy as "Hero, artifact, quest." While there is some truth to that, in my opinion, all stories need a protagonist with a goal. In pursuit of this goal, the protagonist will often find something (not necessarily physical) to help her achieve her goal. Therefore, this formula may not be unique to epic fantasy. Of course, as Parnell points out, you could consider all fiction to be fantasy since it's based on imagination. Also, when you look at subgenres of fantasy such as paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, or steampunk, other elements become more important. Parnell does have a chapter defining the different types of fantasy, but epic fantasy is the focus of this book. Perhaps that's why he thinks a typical book length is 200,000 words. (They don't have to be that long, honest!)

The rest of the book covers worldbuilding, characters, plotting, point of view, and resolutions and sequels. Any of these topics can be the focus of its own book, so Parnell just covers the basics here. There is enough information to get a beginning writer started; more experienced writers may find it more of a review than something new. I still found myself highlighting more than I expected to.

As for the part about selling your fantasy, Parnell seems to think that if you formulate your book to meet readers' desires, that's sufficient to sell it. Of course, writing style, cover, blurb, and other factors make a difference too, but there's nothing about marketing in this book. He includes a list of traditional markets if you want to take that route, and he has links to other online writing resources. It might be worth adding this book to your writing library for the links alone.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The 200 Word Writing Challenge from Indie Writers Monthly!

Hey, writers! Want to challenge yourself and win a free book? Indie Writers Monthly is holding a flash fiction contest!

We're going to put out a special issue of horror stories and horror writing just in time for Halloween, and we need YOU to help us, because we do not have enough horror stories to fill out a whole special issue.

So we want your 200-word-or-less horror stories submitted to us by September 30, 2014.  You can submit them via attachment or in the body of the email to litaplaceforstories[at]  Any subject, so long as it's scary -- try to avoid excessive gore or sex, if you can.

The top five stories will each get a free ebook from one of the Indie Writer Monthly authors!  That's a $3.99 value, which is like... how much is that per word?  Where is my calculator?  Somebody get Stephen Hawking on the phone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This Amazing Story Contest Will Make You Rethink Everything You Know About Writing!

This is NOT the picture.
This is just A picture.
It doesn't even have anything to do with the contest.
Or so the headline promised.  I thought I'd try some upworthy-style headlines.  Did it work, or do you just want to punch me in the face?

Anyway, there is a story contest, and it's a neat idea.  The story contest is the "Give Me Your Story" Contest, and it works like this: a blogger posts a picture and you have to write a story about that picture in the comments of that blog; the blogger then picks the winner and that person gets a prize.

The current contest is on Tamela J. Ritter's blog, and you can go to it by clicking this link.  The prize is as yet unspecified, but, hey, it's a prize, right? A prize is a prize.  Unless it isn't... No, wait, it always is.  I'm a little overtired.  Don't mind me.

I've already posted my entry (which as of this writing is awaiting moderation).  It's called "Frozen Charlotte Joins The Gang" and is superawesome. It's one of the Top 10 Stories You Should Be Reading Right Now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part One -- "Who Am I?"

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
Oscar Wilde

The search for self is central to the human condition. Selfhood is our first great struggle in life. Differentiation. "Who am I?" "Why am I?" I am not just an extension of my mother and/or my father. Okay, well, after potty training, the struggle to establish an independent identity, to become "me," is our first great obstacle in life. Some people, perhaps most people, as Oscar Wilde says, never become "I;" they remain, in some form or another, "we" and "us."

Actually, that's a true thing that most people never really become themselves, but we'll get to that and the research around it later in this series. However, it is that thing, that thing where people are mostly other people that has always struck me about the Bible's use of the term "sheep" in its description of humanity. But I digress...

The issue for writers in all of this is not that most people are other people, it's that most characters are other people, namely the writers. Mostly, the characters that writers write are just... themselves. This becomes especially true of first person. No matter what you say or how much you protest, it just lends itself to it. This is why most first person narratives sound so much the same, they are characters that are extensions of the authors who are like most other people.

But it's not exactly fair to pick on first person exclusively as there are plenty of third person stories with completely bland and same characters. For instance, all of the characters in Madeleine L'Engle's Time books act identically virtually all of the time. The only real difference is Meg's insecurity about how she looks, etc, and that is only in A Wrinkle in Time. After that book, she falls into pattern with everyone else and their completely rational way of speaking. If you remove the speech tags from their dialogue, there would be almost no way to tell the characters apart. [Yes, I'm picking on L'Engle because I'm waist deep in her series, right now, but I could give plenty of other examples.]

The thing that makes books great is great characters. Characters that are completely themselves. Characters about whom you cannot say, "Well, this character is just like this other character." Great characters can make a weak plot shine. In fact, David Eddings, in The Belgariad, purposefully uses the most cliche fantasy plot arc possible, but his characters are extraordinary, which makes the series one of the best fantasy yarns I've ever read. Each character was an individual with its own quirks. However, in his later writing, all of his characters merged into just one character with different names, so much so that it didn't matter what name you attached to any given piece of dialogue. All of the characters were busy being the "clever one."

When I think of books I've really enjoyed, it very often focuses on having enjoyed specific characters. Like Tom Sawyer. The book is nothing without the character of Tom, possibly the greatest conman character ever created. Tom gets himself into trouble. A lot. And so does Huck, but Huck and Tom get into different kinds of trouble, because they are not the same at all. It is that they are different that makes them stand out as great characters in American literature.

It's also the draw in the Harry Potter books. You don't just have Harry and different shades of Harry. If you take out the dialogue tags, you can still tell when Hermione is speaking as opposed to Harry or Ron. Or, even, Luna or Neville. Each of Rowling's characters is its own person.

Having written a book with multiple first person perspectives, I do have some experience with this. As I've mentioned on my own blog (StrangePegs), the book The Pigman by Paul Zindel was a big part of the inspiration for the format I chose. At the time, it was the only multiple first person book I knew of (who knew it would become a "thing"?), and I wanted to experiment with that. In Zindel's book, each chapter starts with the writer of that chapter saying something like, "Hey, this is Lorraine," or, "It's John, now." It was necessary, too, because, mostly, if you take out those introductions, the chapters feel pretty much the same. I knew I didn't want that. I didn't want to have to "greet" the reader at the beginning of each chapter.

Not using any kind of intro meant that I was going to have to make sure the tone of each chapter was significantly different from the others so that the reader would be able to tell who was talking fairly quickly. And I think I did that. I mean, readers have reported distinct favorites in regards to the characters, and I don't think that would be the case unless there was significant differences between the ways each characters "talks." Adults, especially adult males, tend to favor Tom; kids tend to favor Ruth. Only a few people have told me they favor Sam (unless it's to say they like Tom and Sam, or Ruth and Sam). No one has told me they didn't like Sam, though, and I've had more than a few people tell me they found Ruth to be completely annoying. So I think I did my job.

Of course, I cheated. I used my kids as the templates for each of the characters, so I was using a real personality to start from. Of course, that's not really cheating, because some of the greatest characters in literature have been based on people the authors knew. It's a normal thing to do.

But what if you don't want to be so direct? After all, some people get upset when they read your book and find that they're in there. Where do characters, where do personalities, come from? How do you write them so that they are not just extensions of yourself? And how do you write them so that they stay true to themselves so that you don't lose your audience by having a character do something to which the audience reacts, "Oh, she would never have done that!" That can be a killer.

For the next... while, we'll be talking about personality, the different types, and how to design your characters and have them behave in manners consistent with those personalities. I hope you'll come along.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Paying Markets: Daily Science Fiction

I'm going to be starting a list on a page here to help writers find paying markets for their short stories and books.

The reasons I'm doing this boil down to this: last year, around this time, I decided that rather than publish all my stories myself on my blog, I was going to start sending them around to other magazines and other publishers.  The reason for that, frankly, was that I was no longer making that much money off my blogs (see this post back in May for how my writing career "pays").

So every short story, long story, novel, novella, etc., that I have written since last August has been sent to someone else to publish before I publish it myself, and the results have started to become encouraging, as more and more of my stuff has gotten published, and lately, that publication has paid.

This has been part of other ongoing projects of mine that I've been working on, and so I'll post from time to time the places I've found that are particularly friendly (or not) to indie writers, as well as those that pay well (or don't).

The first two would be Golden Fleece Press, which will be publishing my novel Find Out Who You Are; you'll have to read about that on my blog, Thinking The Lions , where eventually I will discuss why that novel is being published by a third party instead of by me; the second of the first two is "Daily Science Fiction."

For the past three-plus months I have been doing two things every day: First, I have been writing a short story every single day, with each day's story having one less word than the one before it.  I started at 365 words and have been counting down; yesterday's story was 248 words (I haven't written today's yet, it's still early.) Several of those stories have been published already.

The other thing I've been doing is getting a short science fiction story emailed to me every day, courtesy of the appropriately-named Daily Science Fiction.

Daily Science Fiction publishes very short stories in almost any category of science fiction you can imagine.  You can sign up to have the stories emailed directly to you; I did that and I've enjoyed getting them each day.  The short length means they can easily be read on your phone, if you're sitting waiting for a doctor's appointment or a meeting to start, for example.  Or during the meeting? Look, that's up to you.

They also keep their stories archived on the site, which is fun to browse through when you're taking a break or eating lunch; the most recent stories are on the front page, as well.

The flash stories they publish are a cut above the usual flash I see on a lot of sites, not relying so heavily on twist endings or surprises midway through.  They publish some fantasy and twisted fairy tales, too.

Submission requires creating an account; they have specific formats that are required, but  nothing too annoying (some sites are ridiculous in their formatting requirements.)  They'll publish only stories between 100-1,500 words in length and they pay $0.08 per word, so your 100-word flash story might net you $8.  That's more than I made selling books on Amazon all this month, which is one reason why I started writing short stories and sending them to other markets.

Check out their site here,  They also publish monthly digests that you can buy on your Kindle for just $2.99, and they have a hard-bound anthology for the Luddites, with 260 stories that you'll find inconvenient to carry around or read but on the other hand, which also help destroy the environment.


My short story writing project has already led to stories being published at The Devilfish Review, among other places.  Click here to read An Alphabet of Science I Wasn't Sure Existed, and don't forget to stop by my blog, Thinking The Lions now and then.  You might just learn something about toasters.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy 48th Birthday, Star Trek!

Monday was the anniversary of the original Star Trek's premiere on TV in 1966. At the time, reviewers liked the gadgets but not the plot. By the time I was born, the show was off the air, but fandom kept it alive in other ways.

I didn't encounter a lot of Star Trek in my childhood and early teens. My first significant experience with it was reading a high school friend's books. Later on, in college, I watched the movies with friends; I can't remember if I saw V in the movie theater, but I definitely remember VI. Somewhere along the way I caught up with the other movies as well. I was in college when The Next Generation came out, and I watched episodes with my friends. Later on, when I was in grad school, I found ways to watch the original episodes. I also followed Deep Space 9 and Voyager for a while.

I'm not sure why I stopped watching Star Trek in any incarnation, but it probably had something to do with dedicating myself to writing. There just doesn't seem to be enough time to keep up with the demands of daily life, read, write, and watch TV or movies too. None the less, I still like the world of Star Trek and its thoughtful approach to science fiction--though there are a few episodes that have more fiction than science. In particular, some of the biology-based episodes, like the NG show when everyone de-evolved, make me cringe. But I always like watching Spock and Data show us what it means to be human even when they're not.

How do you feel about Star Trek? Do you have favorite versions or characters? How do you think the Original Series compares with today's science fiction?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the Tracks Don't Meet (or Travelling At the Speed of Plot)

Have you seen that cartoon of the train tracks being laid? They're coming from two different directions, but there's a problem: The tracks don't meet up in the middle the way they are supposed to. I think there are a bunch of guys standing there scratching their heads. Or something.
Yeah, I would have liked to have posted the image here, but I couldn't find it. You'll just have to pretend.

Usually, where books are concerned, those kinds of things are called "plot holes," but, really, they're not the kinds of things I would call "holes." They're just pieces of... let's call them "discontinuity." I hate them more than the plot holes, I think. Oh, you need me to differentiate?

Okay, let's say your protagonist loses the keys to his car in chapter two but, in chapter five when he's running from the bad guys, he fumbles them out of his pocket: That's a plot hole. And that's not what I'm talking about in this post.

This is what I'm talking about in this post:

When I was in high school, I had an after school baby-sitting job, and one of the things I "got" to do virtually every day was sit with the younger of the two boys and watch He-Man. I hated He-Man. I good example of why is related to the picture above. One day on He-Man, he would lift a mountain. He would struggle with the mountain but, eventually, he would pick it up and throw it. The next day, he would pick up a boulder, and would struggle just as much with the boulder as he did with the mountain. Why? Was the boulder made of dwarf star matter? I kind of doubt that. It just served the "story" by making the moment more tense if it was difficult for He-Man to do the job, no matter how easy it should have been for him.

It drove me crazy.

For those of you who follow my own blog, StrangePegs, you'll know that I've been reading and re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's Time series. She does this stuff all the time, stuff where things don't quite connect.

For instance, in A Wind in the Door, there's a section where Meg and her companions go into one of Charles Wallace's mitochondria. L'Engle goes to great lengths to tell us how much faster time moves inside the mitochondria than it does in the outside world. It's a huge difference, something like 10 years in the mitochondria is only one second of real time. After going to all of that explanation, she proceeds to move back and forth between what's going on with Meg in the mitochondria and what's going on with Charles Wallace and his mother in real time. Meg and everyone with her would have been dead of old age based on the real time passage.

Another example is from Many Waters (review forthcoming). At one point, one of the characters is having a baby. At the same time, there's an interaction happening with Sandy and Dennys that happens in one evening. The birth, which happens within the time frame of this one evening, somehow lasts for three or four days. And don't even start me on the fact that Dennys and Sandy, older teenagers (maybe 17?), act like they are about nine when it comes to girls: "Sandy got a funny feeling inside when he looked at her." Her being the naked girl talking to him. A "funny feeling." Or something like that.

However, the thing that inspired this post came from one of today's fantasy giants. Now, I haven't read A Game of Thrones -- and I don't really intend to -- but I do watch the show, mostly because my wife likes it. There's a point (during season two, I think?) when the castle is being attacked by Stannis and there's absolutely no hope that they can defend it. There's no hope because no one is close enough to come to the rescue. However, Tywin shows up anyway and saves the day, even though he was much too far away to get there over night. Then, I read an interview with Martin in which  he said something along the lines of, "I don't bother with distances in my books. If I need someone to be somewhere, I just pick them up and move them there." You know, like a game of chess in which you can move any piece to any location on the board any time you want to.

I call it "traveling at the speed of plot."

And, you know, on the one hand, I get it. It's your thing; you do with it what you want to. However, when you set up rules for your thing, you need to follow your own rules, and Martin does have rules in his world which are pretty much (except for the dragons and zombies) the same as the rules in our world. That means people can't teleport. They can't travel by magical means. And the don't have horses that travel at the speed of sound. It's bad enough that they use birds to deliver messages which are pretty much as fast as telegrams.

Honestly, I don't have patience for this kind of stuff. It's sloppy writing; I don't care how successful it is. Most people either don't care or don't notice, I suppose, but it doesn't make it not so. The thing is, it doesn't have to be that way. All of these things, with a little more effort to bring them into alignment with the rules of the worlds the authors have created could be that much better and not alienate people like me.

Actually, it's one of my biggest rules of writing: Follow your own rules.

And when I say it's "one of my biggest rules," I mean it's one of my biggest rules. One of my rules because, other than just doing the writing, every writer has to figure out his/her own rules. I suppose that makes it one of my biggest rules of reading, too. So be warned! If your book doesn't follow the rules you have set up for it, I'm not going to view it favorably.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Six: The Draw

I suppose the real question is, "Why does all of this matter?" Of course, that's the real question for so many things, but let's just look at it in relation to fantasy for the moment. Why does it matter? Why should we care about fantasy or where it comes from?

And that could go in all kinds of directions and get all kinds of philosophical, but I want to look at it in relation to the fantasy model itself. You can find the list here.

So... Let's start with kids.

At some point in all but the rarest of childhoods, we all wish we would find out that we were orphans. Our parents suck, and we want to find out that our real parents died when we were babies and these... things... that are raising us are doing it out of some obligation. Basically, we all wish we were Harry Potter. Or Harriet Potter. Or some variation of that. For me, it was Luke Skywalker. For hundreds of years, it was Arthur. Actually, when I was a kid, sometimes, it was still Arthur.

The point is that kids, pretty much all kids, especially when things happen that they don't like, will wish for something that makes them... special. Something that sets them apart. We want some old guy to come along and tell us we're secretly a wizard or a warrior princess to tell us we're the heir to a mighty kingdom that we have to save. Or, you know, we want to get bitten by a magic squirrel and get mutant powers. Or something like that.

The thing is, an awful lot of childhood feels like a descent. Like being trapped in darkness. Some more than others. And we... Well, we don't feel like we know how to get out of it. Often, it's our parents who are the "dark lords." Or some teacher or other. Or the bully that takes our lunch money every day. And fantasy... It helps us get through.

It does, you know. Help us to get through. Many studies have shown that the associations that we form with characters that we admire help us to make our own ways through difficult situations.
-- If Harry could stay true to himself despite what Umbridge did to him, then I can, too.
-- Even though his father tried to kill him, Luke came out of it even stronger. I can, too.
-- Peter Parker didn't let failure defeat him. He learned from it. So can I.
So, yeah, I think it's important to know where fantasy came from. It's the stuff that childhood is made of.

Some of us carry that with us all of our lives, though others outgrow it. Some never discover it.
-- I just want to point out, here, sort of as an aside, some other studies show that reading is one of the main places that we develop empathy. So, although some parents have an attitude of fantasy as being "all that nonsense," it's important to discover the realms of fantasy as a child. It's how learn that even though Edmund betrayed us that we can still forgive him and take him back. --
Tolkien knew the importance of fantasy, even for adults. It's why he created his mythology of Middle Earth. From that standpoint, we owe a lot to Tolkien for making fantasy something more than just fairy tales. Even though he didn't create the fantasy model that authors now use, he really is the Father of Modern Fantasy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Retaining Science Fiction/Fantasy Fans as They Grow Up

Sometime this spring, my seven-year-old son became an ardent Star Wars fan. He's watched all six movies and moved on to the cartoons The Yoda Chronicles and The Clone Wars. He collects Lego Star Wars sets and has a Chewbacca lunch box and a R2-D2 backpack. We spent a lot of time this summer reading Star Wars books (which is great because they have a good collection of books at his reading level.) Think now like Yoda I do. Move like him, I do not.

As a parent, I feel it's part of my job to let him explore his interests as fully as possible. That said, I know his interests can change. In the past, he's been into trains, Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, the Wild West, and even gun history. He still likes most of those subjects, but not as passionately as he used to. It's natural for his interests to change as he gets older. However, science fiction and fantasy require a certain sense of wonder and an open mind, a sense of playfulness and creativity, that functions better in children and young people than in older ones. (Obviously one can be older and still enjoy science fiction and fantasy, but it takes more work the older and more world-weary one becomes.) Will his interest in Star Wars last until the release of Episode VII next year? How about when he's seventeen, twenty-seven, or forty-seven? Science fiction and fantasy are important genres in movies, TV, games, and comics. Will this love for the genre spill over into books as well?

Childhood is the time to make SF/fantasy fans; how do we assure they stay that way as they grow up? Acceptance by their peers will probably play an important role. I think being able to find people online who share your interests may help you hold on them even when local friends may not get Star Wars or Doctor Who. Alex comes with me every year to WisCon, and if I start attending more local cons, I'm sure I'll bring him too, if only because I can't leave him at home. He will get to experience more of fandom than I did at his age. Hopefully he won't rebel against it later because his mom is crazy enough to belong.

Does anyone else have experiences with children growing up in fandom and keeping them in fandom? Please share your thoughts in the comments.