Disasters Happen

I volunteer with my local emergency services organization. For several weeks I have been preparing full time for a huge, multi-state disaster exercise. This work has taken time away from my writing, but I feel I am contributing to the community by doing it. The volunteer activity also contributes to my writing by enhancing my ability to tell stories containing disasters.

I recommend you also volunteer to help your community. Not only will your community benefit, you too will benefit.

“I believe doing good deeds is the purpose of life.”
— Kameekim in Flurfy’s Secret by Lester D. Crawford

The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of North America spans from southern British Columbia to northern California and can produce earthquakes as large as magnitude 9 with accompanying tsunamis.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of North America spans from southern British Columbia to northern California and can produce earthquakes as large as magnitude 9 with accompanying tsunamis.

The Fairyland Series was a Wonderful Reading Experience

The Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente is a collection of five books, plus a prequel. For me, the whimsical imagery and narrative of the stories created a delightful adventure and was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I have had.

Valente’s writing style in these stories is amazing. While I have no plans to ever try duplicating the style, I wish I had the skill and talent to do so. I am inspired to use what skill and talent I do have to create my own wondrous worlds even if they are not as magical as Valente’s.

Those of you who are just like me* will also enjoy these stories.

(* I am one in a million. That means there are more than 7,300 people just like me. Are you one of them?)

a_through_l
This is A-Through-L. He is a "Wyverary." His mother was a wyvern and his father was a library.
A-Through-L may not be a Dragon, but I love him just the same.

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While
(This is the short prequel published by Tor.com. You can read it at the link.)

fairyland_book_covers


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making — Book Trailer

Inspiration Is Exhilarating

Often I speak about inspiration. That’s because moments of inspiration provide me the thrill that keeps me hooked on writing. Few experiences are more exhilarating than being inspired.

I needed inspiration. For a few days, I had struggled with a scene whose conflict was failing. My idea for the scene was wrong, which kept it from achieving its purpose. I could not find the actions and emotions to make it work. The characters’ motivations did not fit the situation and their behaviors did not lead to the desired revelation. Then I went to see Zootopia.

I enjoyed Zootopia. I recommend you see it.

Image of Zootopia's Nick and Judy

Zootopia’s Nick and Judy

In one scene, the two main characters exchanged two lines of dialogue that caused my mind minions to explode. An entire, fully detailed, exquisitely tuned scene came to me that was exactly what I needed for this precise moment in my story. I was ecstatic. I have yet to quit bubbling. After the movie was over, I rushed home and wrote, creating a scene that not only hits the proper action beats, but it hits the emotional beats perfectly to strengthen the relationship between my two main characters. All I had needed was the flash of insight those two lines of dialogue provided me.

I look forward to the next great moment of inspiration.

Character Change Arcs

Character change arcs are important. The character begins with a set of personality attributes and beliefs. As the story progresses, the character faces conflicts, internal and/or external, that challenge how he or she behaves and/or what he or she believes. Ultimately, those challenges cause the character to change. A character change arc might be as simple as a coward who becomes a hero.

I’m not going to delve into the subtle details of how to manage character change arcs. I only want to mention a concept I find useful.

Thirty years ago, in what was back then a fad, my employer strived to improve teamwork and productivity by providing training in interpersonal relations and working with others as a team. One training opportunity was the viewing of a video by Morris Massey.

Massey’s idea was that a person’s core beliefs and values form in childhood. To change those core beliefs and values in adulthood requires a “Significant Emotional Event,” an event that exceeds the person’s capacity to cope.

Ever since watching the video, the concepts presented have given me a tool for understanding people. Now that I write science fiction/fantasy, those concepts apply to my character change arcs.

A character change arc may follow the story from beginning to end as an integral part of the plot, or it could act as if it were a sub-story within the greater story. Either way, the concepts of story structure apply to the change arc. The point in the character change arc’s story structure where I invoke a Significant Emotional Event is at the plot point that begins the third act.

For example, in my current work-in-progress, over the course of five books, one character has been struggling with his core beliefs. He has dealt with his guilt by justifying the violations as necessary, or finding excuses for committing the violations, or simply ignoring that he is violating his core beliefs. The guilt weighs heavily upon him, but he keeps his core beliefs intact until an additional incident causes him to exceed his capacity to cope, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. He then admits that his life has been a lie, accepts that his core beliefs are wrong, and he changes.

The next time you work on a character change arc, consider the Significant Emotional Event that triggers the final change in your character.

The attached chart was inspired by what I have learned over the years about character change arcs. I use this chart to remind myself what to consider when working on character change arcs.

Graphic showing Character Dimensions and Character Change Arcs

Character Dimensions and Character Change Arcs

Fulfilling Promises to the Reader

A writer creates reader expectations by what events, characters, or aspects of the story he or she chooses to describe. When those promises are made, the writer is obligated to fulfill them. Not fulfilling promises will leave the reader dissatisfied, which is not the way to build a fan base.

The How to Train Your Dragon book series by Cressida Cowell begins with “There were dragons when I was a boy.” That is a promise. What could it mean and will I be grief-stricken when I learn the answer?

For twelve books, I followed the story and worried about how the series would end. When the end came, the promise was fulfilled. Without giving spoilers, let me say that I cried, but I was satisfied with the answer.
How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

Christmas Magic

Christmas Magic
by Lester D. Crawford

Red and green and silver and gold he was, unlike normal dragons who were red or green or silver or gold. He was a Christmas Dragon. Moreover, unlike normal dragons who had only dragon magic, he also had Christmas Magic.

Santa imprisoned the Christmas Dragon in an icy dungeon beneath his North Pole palace. Once a year, he used the dragon’s magic to make reindeer fly.

Then, global climate change melted the dungeon and the dragon escaped Santa’s claws. Without the Christmas Dragon’s magic, Santa could not fly, could not deliver gifts.

That was the end of receiving Christmas presents.

I wrote this story for the Advent Ghosts 2015 Flash Fiction challenge organized by Loren Eaton of the I Saw Lightning Fall blog.

Every story in Advent Ghosts must be exactly 100 words in length.

To see the stories others entered in the challenge, visit Advent Ghosts 2015: The Stories.

Improving My Story Structure Skills

I believe strongly in the concept of continuous improvement. I constantly ask myself if how I do something is the most effective way to do it, and I pursue and practice new methods to discover if they will make my work better. My current compulsion is to improve my skill at story structure. While I have studied story structure before, and learned much, I am reviewing my notes and reading more articles and books about the subject. Each time I study the topic, my understanding deepens and my skills sharpen.

I instinctively follow the rules (yes, the rules I often hear people claim they do not have to follow). I don’t want to write instinctively. Those instinctive, automatic writing skills are not well tuned. The two stories I am currently developing are at a perfect point for practicing story structure.

One story is book five of my work-in-progress series. This story has already been told a few times (drafts), therefore I know a lot about it. Those previous drafts were not well structured.

I set up a framework of acts divided by plot points at the 25% and 75% marks, a midpoint at the 50% mark, and punctuated with pinch points in the middle of the second and third quarters. With a little imagineering, I could see what parts of the story fell on each of the structural elements.

I saw flaws. For example, the darkest moment, when the protagonist "goes Rambo" did not occur in the correct spot as measured by story percentage. This moment needs to be at the plot point that begins the third act. I also realized the plot point that begins the second act is the biting scene (the protagonist’s Dragon bites him). This is when we go from the normal world to the action at the core of the story. Moreover, I now understand the first and second halves of the second act and how the protagonist’s passive response changes into action.

The second story is a novella about the origin of the aliens in the book series. The full story is in my head (it is part of the back story for the book series) and I created an outline for it last summer. By using the same framework as described above, I am re-imagining and re-outlining the story to improve its structure.

This activity has enhanced my stories, and more importantly, I am having fun. What are you doing to advance your skills while having fun?
Simplified Story Structure Diagram

Learning by Reading Books Written for Young People

Recently I read these 12 books by Tamora Pierce.

  • The Song of the Lioness quartet
    • Alanna: The First Adventure
    • In the Hand of the Goddess
    • Woman Who Rides Like a Man
    • Lioness Rampant
  • The Immortals quartet
    • Wild Magic
    • Wolf-Speaker
    • Emperor Mage
    • The Realms of the Gods
  • Protector of the Small quartet
    • First Test
    • Page
    • Squire
    • Lady Knight
Tamora Pierce Book Series Covers

tortall_and_other_lands_coverThese books, along with many others Pierce has written, are juvenile fiction with strong female protagonists. I enjoyed the stories and Pierce’s writing voice. I still ponder the world building, character development, and plots, which is a good indicator of how the stories influenced me. My writing style does not compare with Pierce’s, but I learned much from her. While I do not aim for the juvenile market with my stories, I hope what I write is accessible to the precocious readers in that age group.

An additional book related to these is Tamora Pierce’s Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales. This compilation of short stories contains The Dragon’s Tale in which Skysong, a young dragon we met in The Immortals quartet, is the protagonist. Skysong, called Kitten by her human caregiver Daine, is one of the most lovable dragons I have ever met. This story is one of my all-time favorites.

 

Another collection of juvenile fiction I enjoyed is by Patricia C. Wrede.

  • Enchanted Forest Chronicles
    • Dealing with Dragons
    • Searching for Dragons
    • Calling on Dragons
    • Talking to Dragons
Enchanted Forest Chronicles Covers

These stories take traditional fairytale tropes and twist them with great effect and Wrede’s writing style is great fun to read. Again, I improved my own writing skills by reading Wrede’s books.

I also enjoyed these books by Lloyd Alexander.

  • The Chronicles of Prydain
    • The Book of Three
    • The Black Cauldron
    • The Castle of Llyr
    • Taran Wanderer
    • The High King
The Chronicles of Prydain Covers

These five high-fantasy novels about Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his companions were a fun read and left me with many indelible mental images.

Books written for young people have taught me much about writing.

A Story’s Theme is a Powerful Thing

Theme is an idea that is central to a story and often is summarized in a single word. When a writer begins writing a story, he or she might not know the theme. Even later, the theme may not be obvious.

When I began developing The Dragon Universe, I gave no thought to theme. The concept of theme was confusing, so I did not worry about it. Then, one night, as I talked to myself about the story, working through details, an epiphany occurred.

The following describes the story.

Backpacking had been a leisure pursuit until Les came upon a prefab, forest manager’s cabin that turned out not to be a cabin. He now struggles to survive on an alien world using only his wits and his backpack’s contents. Encounters with strange creatures, animal-like people, and a terrifying Dragon challenge his sense of reality as he finds himself in the midst of a struggle that will determine the fate of many worlds and will send him on a journey to his destiny.

My epiphany was that the story’s theme is love. I realized most of my stories were at their core about love. I have a soft heart and my stories bring that out. Stories that involve loving characters who work together as caring partners toward a common goal triggers an emotional response that I think was always there, but until now had been unnamed.

This brings me to why this comes to mind. The movie trailers for The Good Dinosaur (2015) trigger that emotional response. The tag line “A single kindness can change everything” touches me. Knowing Arlo’s situation makes me feel for him. Having Spot help Arlo and join forces with him makes me rejoice. I have high expectations the story will affect me deeply. I hope it does not disappoint.

The Good Dinosaur will be in theaters on November 25, 2015. I look forward to a significant emotional response. I strive for my stories to do the same for my readers.

The Good Dinosaur Theatrical Poster

The Good Dinosaur (2015) Theatrical Poster

Arlo Lost, Alone, and Frightened image

Arlo lost, alone, and frightened. I feel for him.

Spot Comforting Arlo image

Spot comforting Arlo brings tears to my eyes.

The Dragonet Prophecy

I quickly needed an audio book. I found one. I logged onto my local library’s catalog and searched through the audio books I could borrow via download. I came across one with dragons. Since I am writing a story that has a dragon, my interest was piqued. After a little research, I decided to try the book. I am glad I did.

The book is The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, Book #1) by Tui T. Sutherland, read by Shannon McManus, who reads wonderfully. This is a middle-grade book. So far, there are seven books in the series with three more yet to come.

The publisher’s web site describes the book as: The dragon tribes have been at war for generations, locked in an endless battle over an ancient, lost treasure. A secret movement called the Talons of Peace is determined to bring an end to the fighting, with the help of a prophecy, a foretelling that calls for great sacrifice.

I enjoyed the book.

I do not often re-read books because, while I like some books enough to read them again, my to-read list is long. Re-reading a book means not reading a new book on that list. However, The Dragonet Prophecy urges me to re-read it more than any other book I have ever read. This urge was triggered by the big reveal near the end regarding the protagonist. After learning the truth and gaining an understanding, I must read the book again with that knowledge so I can see the story from a new perspective.

The Dragonet Prophecy Audio Book Cover

The Dragonet Prophecy Audio Book Cover