Monthly Archives: August 2014

Conflict

Conflict, angst, suffering, pain, and defeat, these are viewed as negatives by most people. But it is these very things, and their cousins that make literature worth reading.
If a character has a namby-pamby Disneyland life where everything is happiness and roses, readers quickly lose interest (even in Disney characters). On the other hand when characters face difficulty, reader’s interest is peaked. It is how the character deals with and survives the adversity that makes the reading interesting.
Interestingly, existential psychology suggests that suffering is a necessary part of human growth. Without suffering people cannot be authentic and they cannot reach their full potential. So in the field of writing, when we pose great difficulty for our characters, the more authentic they can seem to our readers, especially if we hit the mark for how they work through the suffering.
Think about Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. If Santiago had a pleasant day of fishing and brought home a boat load of fish, it wouldn’t have been a stirring story. Santiago has been unlucky for 84 days. He hasn’t caught a fish. He is suffering from the worst form of unluckiness – salao. Yet, he persevered. He finally catches a fish and struggles with him. He identifies with the fish, calling him ‘brother.’
He succeeds in catching a fish, only to be tormented by sharks. The sharks take his victory from him and he returns home where he dreams of his childhood.
So, it is easy to see that the struggle is the vehicle that carries the reader’s interest through the book.
This points out to me the importance of knowing your characters. If you have developed a character and understand their (imagined) background, you have a better chance of describing with they do with conflict in a sensible way. Remember, the more realistic, the more likely the reader is to identify with what you are saying and the more likely they will stay with your story to the end.

Time for a Change

Another school year begins tomorrow. For me, it will be the last. I have taught one thing or another since 1970.
My last class will be an economics for social sciences. This semester I’m teaching human behavior in the social environment. The first course is about as abstract as anything I’ve taught except for social theories. The HBSE is a broad survey course that has to do with the many ways of looking at human behavior. I like it more than the economics class.
Last year, my writing suffered because I was overwhelmed with preparations for classes. I did write a book, but I haven’t edited it yet. I have edited two books this year. One is finished and the other is two-thirds done. I have one more to edit before I have cleaned my desk of old, unedited books.
I don’t think I will take part in NaNoWriMo this year. Why? I have found that when I write a book in 30 days, it takes me months to edit it. I think it would be better to take longer to write it, then have less editing to do. Maybe that’s true, maybe not.
Writers have to balance the other things they have to do with their wish to write. For me, work (official, paid work) takes precedence over writing. Why? I’m meeting other’s expectations.
When writing on my own, I only have my expectations, which are pretty high. Having other’s demands takes time from what I want to do. So, I think it is now that I quit work and concentrate on writing.

Summer’s over musings

Fishing trips, vacations, and parties are all over, and it’s time to get back to business. I turned on my computer after days of absence and, what do you know? I had a pop-up virus. No matter what I did with my cursor, a new pop-up appeared. Click on a file – pop-ups. Hover over a clickable word on the page – pop-ups. Open a new page, another page pops up and takes me to it where I can read ads for other junk that will have hidden files in it to further screw up my computer.
Four hours later with multiple scans, downloads, and file removals, I’m no longer receiving pop-ups. Lovely!
My trips were not entirely without merit when it came to working on stories. One of my highlights was visiting the San José Mission in San Antonio, Texas. The first Spanish there were exploring a new world and establishing their culture among the natives. I love first contact science fiction, so it is a short jump for me to begin using what I learned there to imagine what it would be like to be in first contact with aliens.
On my deep-sea fishing trip, I had a companion among six of us, who was a total ass. I’ve known him for years, but I hadn’t been confined with him and a small group for five days before. Before the five days were over, I was thinking about ways I could throw him overboard. He’s been a friend for years, but I’ve always enjoyed him in short bursts. Twenty-four seven of his constant talking about himself was a bit wearing. I thought about what it would be like to be on a space mission with someone like him. He is someone who was so obnoxious that everyone would eventually conspire against him.
Finally, I watched a 10-year-old fisherman skunk all the adults around him. His name was Omar. Omar caught fish after fish and had learned how to work the crowd watching him so that he was using their bait, hooks, lures, and even their boats. He was a diminutive, angler, con artist.
Sometimes on my summer outings, I take along a moleskin notebook to record what I have seen and heard. This time I didn’t. It worked out okay, but I think the next time I’ll go back to carrying my notebook. It’s a useful way to remember details that come December will fade.
PS: After I wrote this and posted it, I saw it was filled with links to malware and viruses. I removed it so that you wouldn’t get your machine infected, then worked for the past several days to assure my computer was virus free.