Why Bother?

I pass a billboard every morning on the way to work advertising a tv show called The Resident.  It has the tag line “Can one doctor save a broken system?”.  In the picture, we have:

1)  Latin male

2)  white female

3)  black female

4)  older white guy

5)  young handsome white guy

So, let’s guess which of them is the doctor that is trying to save the broken system!  Well, when they don’t have enough room, some of the ad pictures omit the black female, so I guess we can rule her out.  But the others…oooooo, who could it be?????

Give up?

It’s…ta da, the young handsome white guy!

Wow, didn’t see that coming, did you!  (Yes, dear hearts, that is sarcasm.  Lots and lots of sarcasm.)

And this is why we need more writers who are creative and diverse.  I look at that and have no reason to think I should watch, as there is unlikely to be anything said or done that I haven’t seen (frequently) before.  Why would I bother?  What reason have you given me to think you have brought anything new to the table when you are so clearly writing cliché?

I have nothing against young, handsome, white guys – I rather like them.  Even so, they aren’t the only ‘heroes’ in the world.  Others can just as seamlessly carry a story.  Witness recent movies like Rogue One (female, latino, muslim, asian all in one package), The Last Jedi gives us Finn (black, among others – haven’t seen it yet) and in a very nice touch, a movie of several years ago that I’ve mentioned before called Penelope (which had Peter Dinklage as a reporter and his size was completely irrelevant to the story).

If everyone in your story is all one color, you must live in a very colorless world.  People will go to great lengths to create aliens that look and sound different, but will not write people like that.

Let’s get more creative!

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What’s the Difference?

As I’ve mentioned, I write fan fiction.  That means I’m working in an established world with established characters and an established history.  While some fan fiction writers go AU (alternate universe/reality) with their stories, changing whatever they want as they play in someone else’s world, for the most part, I try to be true to the story the original author told.

Because of that, it limits some possibilities.  Even so, the challenge is always to bring something new to the table.  There are a million love stories, battle stories, fantasy stories, etc. and many have similar details.  A guy and a girl falling in love is standard in a romance, but how they get there isn’t.  Unfortunately, some writers keep using the same scenarios over and over.  If I tell you a story wherein John and Mary meet, fall in love and live happily ever after, you are not going to want to read a second story that I write wherein I merely change the characters’ names to Bob and Sue, but pretty much tell you exactly the same story with exactly the same details.  Each time I tell a story, I need to bring something new to it, and so do you.

In my case, I have to think of scenarios for meeting that are ‘possible’ within the already existing timeline/scenario set by the author.  Anything the author didn’t originally tell his readers then becomes the fodder for finding new stories.  Tolkien told us how Faramir and Eowyn met in Lord of the Rings.  But he did not tell us how Eomer and Lothiriel met.  He tells us they married and had a son named Elfwine, but he never explored their history/story or told us much of them.  (Some even say Lothiriel and Elfwine are not canon characters since they did not appear in the main story line, but in additional writings of Tolkien.)

So, if I want to write about Faramir/Eowyn, I either have to flesh out the details of how Tolkien said it happened, filling in gaps that he didn’t bother to mention as to their meeting and falling in love, or I have to pick up my story after they’ve met and continue on from there into the unknown.  But if I write Eomer/Lothiriel, so long as I follow the details of history and the timeline, I have a lot more leeway in the story I tell.

But that’s just part of it.  I’ve written many Eomer/Lothiriel stories.  Others have also.  So why write another one?  There isn’t any point (not even I would want to read it), if a new story didn’t bring something new and creative to the tale.

The same is true for anything we write, even completely original works.  Find something new to say or explore about love at first sight.  Find a creative way to storm the castle and defeat the evil king.  Find/create new and different characters, with different personalities.  Not all dwarves should sound and act like Gimli.  Not every medieval fantasy requires elves that look and act like Legolas.  Love at first sight doesn’t happen exactly the same way for everyone.

It’s easy to copy details that another writer has already dreamed up and written, but we are writers, not transcribers.  We should be creating our own details, or looking at them in new ways, or exploring things they didn’t touch on.

Be the daisy growing in the bed of roses.  Find something different to say.  Then you might not be lost in the crowd.

Writers Looking to be Published

Blogger Bryn Donovan recently did a post about Fantasy and Sci Fi Publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts.  You might want to have a look if that’s the sort of thing you write (though the list mentions some other genres to a smaller extent):  http://www.bryndonovan.com/2018/01/08/fantasy-and-science-fiction-publishers-who-accept-unsolicited-manuscripts-2018/

Fantasy and Science Fiction Publishers Who Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts – 2018

by Bryn Donovan

Hey there! I know many of my readers aspire to publishing a novel, and many of them write fantasy and science fiction, so I put this post together to help them. I did a post like this a couple of years back, but it needed updating!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could You Repeat That Three Times, Really Fast?

“English is weird.  It can be understood through tough, thorough, thought though.”

                               – unknown (teeshirt saying found in Signals.com catalog)

I found the above in a catalog, and though merely intended as humor, it has a ring of truth to it.  I’ve heard that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, because unlike most other languages, we have a fairly blatant disregard for common rules.  “Here’s the rule, except when it’s not…” seems to be the standard.  Even so, as writers, it is our task to make those words all come together in a way that makes sense to the reader, and hopefully has meaning beyond the correctness of the wording.

Best of luck in your writing endeavors this new year.  I’ve rather been languishing myself, but a recent burst of inspiration has spawned two short fan fiction stories (in a new universe than the one I usually write), with a third in progress.  Hey, I’ll take what I can get if it motivates me writing again.  I’ll work on going back to my WIP in due course.

Actual History or Misremembrance?

I’ve mentioned a time or two that I do genealogy research.  One of the interesting things you find is that most families have various “family stories” that get passed along through the years.  Usually, there is at least some element of truth in them, but often they have veered from fact.  Sometimes that is due to someone purposely giving misleading information, but more often it seems to be the result of faulty memory.  Someone told me a story ten years ago.  I tell you about it, but some of the details are hazy so I just fill them in as best as I can remember them.  Then you do the same to someone else, and on and on it goes.

This can be useful in writing.  Perhaps the intent was never to mislead or lie, but maybe someone is acting based on misinformation that is imperfectly remembered.  Haven’t most of us recalled a shared event with someone else (friend or family) only to have them remember the details differently than you do?

In genealogy, while the stories are interesting, they can also be a hindrance to finding out the truth that you seek.  Sometimes, you never do find out all the true details, and the best you can manage is a “guess” as to how the story got started.

Just a thought, when you want to add an element of surprise to a story line.

Don’t Leave Them Hanging

It’s become popular today that authors write a book series rather than single, stand-alone novels.  Whether this is due to what publishers want, or the writer feels they’ve created a world that will take several books to tell the story, I don’t know, but the fact remains that they are common.

In and of themselves, that isn’t a bad thing.  If readers are enjoying a story and its characters, they usually aren’t eager to reach The End.  They like knowing there is more to come.  BUT, it has to be done correctly.

I’ve read reviews on Amazon where maybe the first book in a series is on sale or free (probably to get readers started and encourage them to buy the remaining books).  But too many times the reviews howl with people annoyed that the book never reaches a resolution by itself – you are forced to buy the next book to find out what happens.

An author shouldn’t try to FORCE their reader into buying the second and subsequent books.  The writer’s job is to make them want to buy the rest of the books in the series, because they want ‘more’.  Take for example the Harry Potter books.  Each book was self-contained.  It began, something happened and there was a resolution of some sort.  No, the resolution didn’t solve every single problem of every single character in the book, but it resolved the immediate conflict.  The reader then thought, “Wow!  I can’t wait for the next book to see what else happens!”  And they willingly waited the year to get the next one (albeit not always patiently). 

But if the writer tries to force that, by not resolving the conflict in any way and leaving it til the next book to see if the hero loses their tenuous grip on the cliff face, the reader gets so angry they just toss the book and swear never to read anything by that author again.  I am not aware of any author who has successfully managed to leave one book in a series unresolved without angering readers. 

Yes, there can be cliffhangers.  Rick Riordan writes the well-known middle-school books about Percy Jackson.  In one book of the series, at the end of it two characters are falling into a very bad place.  The thing is, that wasn’t the story resolution needed – there had been a quest to obtain an object, and that quest succeeded or failed.  The cliffhanger was incidental to that quest.  Consequently, the reader wanted to go to the next book to see if they survived the fall (given the premise of the series there was reason to believe they could survive), and if they did, what happened to them next?  It set up the next book, but THIS book still resolved its main story.

Don’t try to play games with your readers and give them incomplete books.  If you do, they won’t be your readers for long.  Do your job – finish the story, then move on to the next story.  It may continue and add to the previous story, but it should be possible to rewrite each individual book as a stand-alone story if necessary.  Beginning, middle, end.  The rest is cream – extra, more, new situations and conflicts.  Separate books are not separate acts or chapters in a story so that the beginning is Book 1 and the ending is Book 4, with Books 2 and 3 being the middle.  They are connected stories in a connected world, but they should work all on their own.

Happy writing!

Timelines

NOTE:  This post applies to genealogy and to writing.

On one of the genealogy blogs I follow, they mentioned timelines.  While this blog isn’t solely genealogy oriented, it does pretty much cover any subject that strikes my fancy.  Also, many of the skills/lessons learned in doing genealogy can be implemented when writing.

In my case, I use a desktop genealogy program called Personal Ancestral File (PAF).  It was discontinued some time ago, so there is no longer any tech support for it (other than a community of users sharing information), but as it still works well for my needs, I continue to use it.  There are many other genealogy programs out there, some for the desktop, some for mobile and some in the cloud; this was simply my preference.

I’ve been using PAF for a lot of years, and over time I’ve revised my recording methods.  At first, I put some information I found in the Notes section and some in the Source section.  The info in the Notes section was pretty much in the order that I found it, but I began to see that wasn’t ideal, so I started arranging it in rough chronological order (some things don’t fit neatly into order).  That allowed me to see the progression as I went along, and also I could readily see what I was missing.  Below, I’ve pasted a sample from the Notes of one person in my file.  (The *** replaces personal information, concealed for privacy sake.)

The first line is simply a note.  It gives me some idea of what I don’t acutally know and need to try to find out.

Putting entries as summaries of information, I know where I got information:  a death certificate, a census record, a city directory, etc.

Where I have put “[see image:  _____] it indicates that I have an image of the document on my computer, and tells me the name of the document if I need/want to go look at it again for some reason.

Near the beginning, you see “1850-1870”.  Sometimes you get differing information from different records, but I believe the family immigrated in the 1860s.  The census for 1850 through 1870 are available.  It is doubtful that they are on the 1850, and maybe not even the 1860, but I have noted that those are possible sources to check (if I find info to make me think they came to the US earlier than the 1860s). 

These notes walk through the life of Amelia/Emilie Wirth.  Any further information I find will be inserted in the proper location.

NOTES:

per *** Amelia Matthews was born 5 Nov 1835 in Posen, Poland or Germany, or Bromberg County, W. Prussia  (source is the knowledge of ***). 

*****

parents names/bplaces for Clara Bertha Wirth were obtained from her death certificate

     1850-1870

1880 United States Federal Census

Name:    Clara Wirth            [304 W. Division St]           [see image:  1880 C_IL Chicago Cook_ED 150.jpg]]

Household Members:          Name     Age

Carl Wirth              head, 55, b abt 1825 in Prussia, par b Prussia, Carriage Maker, sore throat

Emilie Wirth           wife, 45, b abt 1835 in Prussia, par b Prussia, Keeping House

Carl Wirth              son, 23, b abt 1857 in IL, par b Prussia, single, Tinsmith

Emilie Wirth           dau, 21, b abt 1859 in IL, par b Prussia, single, Domestic Servant

Louis Wirth            son, 15, b abt 1865 in IL, par b Prussia, Apprenticed to Painter

Anna Wirth            dau, 13, b abt 1867 in IL, par b Prussia, At School

Clara Wirth            dau, 11, b abt 1869 in IL, par b Prussia

Auguste Wirth       dau, 9, b abt 1871 in IL, par b Prussia

Louise Wirth          dau, 6, b abt 1874 in IL, par b Prussia

Source Citation: Year: 1880; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 196; Family History Film: 1254196; Page: 437C; ED: 150; Image: 0514.

1900 United States Federal Census

Name:    Fritz A Matthews                  [893 West North Ave]

Household Members:          Name     Age

Fritz A Matthews              head, 52, b Jan 1848 in Germany, par b Germany, Wd, immig-1862, Hardware Dealer

Emilie Worth                     sister, 63, b Nov 1836 in Germany, par b Germany, Wd, 5 kids/5 living, immig-1860, House Keeper

Henry Hoop                      roomer, 48

Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 15, Cook, Illinois; Roll: T623_264; Page: 16A; ED: 470.

1910 United States Federal Census

Name:    Louise Fryar

Household Members:          Name     Age

Augusta Fryar       head, 39, b abt 1871 in IL, par b Germany, Wd, 2 kids/2 living, Dressmaker, At home, Rents home

Emily Worth          mother, 75, b abt 1835 in Germany, par b Germany, immig-1860, Wd, 6 kids/5 living

Louise Fryar          dau, 18, b abt 1892 in IL, f b Germany, m b IL, Single

Source Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Algonquin, McHenry, Illinois; Roll: T624_304; Page: 13B; ED: 0123; Image: 420; FHL Number: 1374317.

1920 United States Federal Census

Name:    Clara Gordon        [6013 Dorchester Ave]

Household Members:          Name     Age          [enum. 9 Jan 1920]

Clara Gordon                           head, 51, b abt 1869 in IL, par b Germany, Wd, Designer, Millinery, can read/write, rents home

Thomas Simons Gordon         son, 31, b abt 1889 in IL, f b PA, m b IL, Di, Accountant, Steel Pipe Manufactory

Amelia Wirth                            mother, 75, b abt 1845 in IL, par b Saxony (Ger), Wd, no occupation

Anna Matthews                        sister, 52, b abt 1868 in IL, par b Saxony (Ger), Wd, Trained Nurse, Hospital

Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Chicago Ward 7, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_315; Page: 6B/53B; ED: 384; Image: 111

     on 1930 Census entry for her daughter Augusta, it indicates she was born in Posen

from newspaper clipping in *******’s Bible:   [paper and date unknown, clipping not labelled]

               Mrs. Emelia Matthews Wirth, for sixty years a resident of Chicago, died while visiting a daughter in Wichita, Kas.  Although 87 years old, almost totally blind, and a native of Germany, she did her bit towards helping America win the war by knitting for the soldiers.

Emelie E Wirth                      [see image of stone from FAG:  Ancestry_12.21.13.doc]

Birth:  1834

Death:  1921

Burial:  Old Mission Cemetery                           Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas, USA

Find A Grave Memorial# 34933982                  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=34933982

*** supplied full ddate and dplace, mdate and mplace; provided names of her parents

Now, this may be useful to anyone who is a genealogist who is wondering how to organize their information.  Know that it doesn’t have to be done in a genealogy program.  If I wanted, I could set up Word documents for each person and create a timeline for them there.  Indeed, on a couple of my direct line ancestors I have made more barebones timelines in a chart form.  Here is a portion of one of those:

 

DATE EVENT (Wright_Charles A_time)   PLACE   
15 Nov 1840

 

birth of wife Mary Elizabeth Van Wyck (adopted, was a Skinkle) in  Columbia Co., New York

dau of Henry H. Skinkle & _________

15 Apr 1841

 

birth Charles A. Wright in Newtown, Queens, New York

son of Julius C. Wright & Elizabeth Powell

1850

 

census Mary E. Van Wyck or Skinkle poss with Van Wyck family still as a Skinkle in Columbia Co., NY

 

1850

 

census Charles – age 9 w/parents:  Newtown, Queens, NY, pg 111

 

1860

 

census Mary E. Van Wyck or Skinkle poss with Van Wyck family now as a Van Wyck in Columbia Co., NY
1860

 

census Charles – age 18 w/parents:  Newtown, Queens, NY, pg 236

 

1865

 

KS state census not found, but didn’t marry until 1866 so poss not in KS yet  

 

In this case, the red text indicates info for someone else (or something I haven’t found), but that has bearing on the individual.  It helps me track where people were at any given time so that I know where to look for records about them.

So, if you aren’t a genealogist, how can this help you?  The same principle applies for writing.  You can create an outline, or maybe a timeline, of your story.  It can help you see where the gaps are – where something is missing.  You can insert notes of where you have information saved (an image, a web address of site with useful info or details, etc.), so that you can readily refer back to that while filling in the gaps.  Sometimes, in my stories, I even insert some of the information I find in researching a subject, at approximately the point where I will need to use it.  (Usually, I save that information as a whole by itself, but then copy parts of it into my outline/timeline.  When I no longer need it in the story outline/timeline, I can delete it knowing that it is still readily available if I find I removed it too soon and need to check something else.)

In my own case, I sometimes create a story timeline so that I know what else is happening concurrently.  It helps me track the seasons, the weather, the locations, etc.  I can’t put someone outside enjoying a sunny swimming hole in the dead of winter.  If a woman is 8 months pregnant, it will have an effect on what activities she can pursue.  (Can you see Natasha Romanov/Black Widow doing the things she does while 8 months pregnant?  Not likely.)

No, I don’t always do timelines.  Sometimes I don’t need to, but they can be useful.  One more tool in our toolkit, whether for genealogy or writing or however else you can find to apply it.

Creatively Speaking

Uninspired Writer today posted a new blog entry about using creative hobbies to inspire our writing.

(see:  https://uninspiredwriters.com/2017/11/12/finding-inspiration-in-creative-hobbies/ )

Reading, the first thing on her list, is a big one for me. A well told story often will fill me with the urge to write something, anything. And even watching tv or a movie can do it.

But, oddly enough, so does working on genealogy. It teaches you to notice details, and how to research about places and things that are outside your experience. Those ancestors we seek each had their own story, and sometimes the details you pick up (names/dates/places) make you wonder what was going on – why did they go there and do that? What’s the story here?

I’ve also written stories based on something I saw at church or work or elsewhere in public, and many times a single picture will inspire something.

Her point is well made, though I would argue that inspiration can come from even the non-creative pursuits as well.  Travel isn’t particularly ‘creative’ as such, but seeing new places and exploring them (or finding new things in a familiar place) can also provide a spark.

Even just everyday habits, like washing dishes or cleaning the house, can be used.  Sometimes characters do those things, too.  How many times have you seen a movie, tv show or book with a scene in a restaurant?  In a store of some kind?  In a parking lot?  At a Christmas tree lot or in a pumpkin patch?

If your story is set in the here and now of wherever you live, the details you picked up while doing those things can be worked into a character doing them in a story.  And if your story is set on a distant planet or a non-existent world, the question becomes how do they do the everyday things that a person needs simply to exist?  We know what airport security is like in 2017 in Detroit, but what might it be like in 1763 Old Standard on Aldebaran?  (Okay, Aldebaran is a star and probably not inhabitable, but you get the idea.)

Uninspired Writer’s blog post is a good reminder that writing and “other stuff” don’t have to be entirely separate in our lives.  With the end-of-year holidays coming up (at least for the U.S. and to some degree in other countries), each of us may be in different places and situations than we encounter on a regular, daily basis.

Don’t let that inspiration and fodder for detail go to waste.

Let’s Get Real

Regardless of what you write, there must be an element of truth to it.  Even in fantasy or science fiction, you can’t simply write anything you want that involves humans without any regard to the facts of life.  For example, humans need oxygen to breathe.  They just do.  So plunking them down on a planet with an atmosphere devoid of oxygen and having them walk around on it without any sort of breathing apparatus providing oxygen simply is ridiculous.

And it is things like this that often trip up writers.  Stories that might otherwise be exceptional are undermined by the reader sitting back and skeptically considering the details.  “Sorry, I’m not buying it” they think, and when that happens, you’ve lost them.

In the Harry Potter stories, J. K. Rowling didn’t simply have a lot of humans underwater doing stuff without taking this into account.  Since hers is a world of magic, she provided several reasons for how they could function underwater without scuba gear.  Granted, all her ‘reasons’ were based in magic, but she did have a reason.  The reader could not honestly dispute what was or was not possible with the magic of her world, so few questioned that.

But in stories with worlds that are, or are very similar to, Earth, you have to acknowledge the rules – gravity, oxygen, and so forth.

In one story I read, set in Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth (which is essentially our world but in Medieval times), the writer had a couple kissing passionately.  Then she wanted the man to lift the woman (during the kiss) and the woman wrapped her legs around his waist.  So far, so good.  That could happen in our world, right?  But, wait – this ISN’T precisely our world.  What sort of clothes did women wear in Medieval times (and Tolkien’s world)?  Long dresses, to the floor.  Few wore pants of any sort.  Which means what?  That woman would have a devil of a time wrapping her legs around the guy without a whole lot of shifting of fabric in some way to free her legs.  Oops!  As a reader, you’re going along, wrapped up in the romantic scene and then you slam into that wall of reality.  “Wait, how is she managing that?”  The reader is yanked out of the moment trying to work out the inconsistency and the romance is spoiled.

Now, that isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, but it does need to slightly be addressed in some way.  Though not common, find a reason to put the woman in pants.  Build into the story the premise that many (or at least some) women ride astride their horses (not sidesaddle) and so have split skirts for riding; therefore this woman happens to be wearing such when she has the romantic encounter with the man.  Problem solved.

Other issues are a little trickier.  A recent romantic comedy was essentially a Jane Austen/While You Were Sleeping hybrid.  An amusing premise, but it entailed a man injured and unconscious for weeks.  He was put in a bed, completely unconscious, and all that seems to have happened in the way of care for him during that time was his being read to and having his brow wiped with a cool cloth.  Ummm, yeah, but what about food and water?  What about the potential for bedsores if his position never changes in all that time?  What about the expelling of bodily wastes?  Even if you don’t want to go into great detail about such things, you can’t simply ignore them.  Further, after not eating, drinking or moving, the man fully recovered his health and strength in a very short period once he became conscious, without any ill effect.  Not likely.  The biggest problem alluded to was that his injury/recovery might have impaired his returning to being a soldier, though it is never clear why that would be since he seems to make a full and complete physical recovery.  A few vague memory problems were all that resulted, and they were not so appreciable that they should have compromised his being a soldier.

Details like this are sometimes tedious to consider.  You just want to “get to the good stuff” in your writing, but you have to keep it somewhat grounded in reality.  In a completely fantasy world or on other planets, you have a little more leeway for creating animals and people who look and function differently than humans.  In fact, you might not include any humans at all, which allows far more rewriting of the rules.  But if humans show up, then human considerations must be made.  You can fudge some stuff, maybe allude to a solution without being specific, and the reader will give you a pass, but they won’t be so forgiving if you simply ignore anything you don’t want to bother with considering, researching or resolving.

Don’t let reality overcome your story.  Keep it real.