Spontaneous Stories

Sometimes, I have scenes spontaneously appear in my mind that replay consistently throughout the day. I don’t know the characters, I don’t know the story, but a distinct bit of dialogue, a feeling, a circumstance. Now, I’ve written here on my blog before that I don’t believe writing has any magical aspect to it–I still don’t. So, these scenes must sprout from my subconscious.

The thing is, I like making up theoretical situations and having characters act on opposing sides, then seeing where the conversation goes. What can motivate those opinions? What sort of justifications can those characters make up to support their actions?

But I’m not talking about these moments of writing–or rather of thinking. I’m talking about these scenes that spontaneously pop into my head, those which I haven’t purposefully pursued.

Human nature has always fascinated me. In high school, I took all the psychology classes that were offered, and eventually double majored in it with creative writing at university.

Why does anyone do anything? As a writer, that’s a critical question, since a character has to be motivated, even if it’s a basic desire, such as hunger. I guess my curiosity branched from myself, then outward.

But still, these scenes that come unprovoked. Are these questions that I’m too afraid to approach head-on? The goal to these isn’t to find an answer, but to explore motivation. So then, are these the unjustifiable motivations that irk me?

I don’t know. All I know is that these unprompted scenes are the ones that tend to stick with me and demand to be written, and I listen.

What about other writers out there? Have you ever had a similar experience with scenes coming unbidden?

-Rachael

Fish Tale

If you don’t follow me on Instagram, then you might not know that every month there are author challenges, with each day having it’s own prompt. To follow along, simply search for the hashtag #authorschallenge2019 in Instagram! The challenge for today is simply, “fish tale.” So, without further explanation, here’s my fish tale.

(Photo curtesy of the Unsplash App)

The wood of the arched bridge creaked beneath my sandaled feet, aching in the cold of winters tight-fisted hold. I knelt, too conscious of his gaze upon me as I did so, and nearly fell forward through the railing, kimono and all. What a laugh I must have been, not only to him but to the others traversing the gardens. Look, I imagined them saying, she can’t even kneel without a spectacle.

Such are the lies we tell ourselves. That people see, that people care to see or even notice us. Perhaps no one saw at all, or if they did, they thought nothing about the girl kneeling on the bridge, nearly falling into the frigid waters. Nothing except that it had happened and that they bore witness to it.

I felt so small I could hardly breathe, my lungs protesting to the tiny space left within me for air.

Before I fell into the gap, I fixed my hands on the wood, then lowered my chin to rest atop. The water below shimmered under my eye, despite the lack of sunlight. No, everything was gray, but for my shadow on the water, black as the space between the stars at night. It was only then, in the cover of my silhouette, that the koi gathered. Then it was their color that gave the pond life, breath.

“You know,” I ventured to tell him, “my grandmother says koi used to be as big as clouds in the sky–maybe bigger.”

“Hm, does she?” The only sign of his interest in my words came from the weight of his steps as he wandered to me.

I nodded. Dropping a piece of frayed wood into the water, the koi proceeded to fight over the imitation food. Something about their struggle made a great wave rise within me. To strive after something, only to spit it out upon tasting its bitterness. How could I have been so cruel?

“How’d they get so small, then?”

I didn’t believe the sincerity I heard in his voice, so I spun to gaze at him. But his eyes were fixed below, looking at the koi with a curious raised brow.

“Simple. Man made the skies heavy with their anger, and the fish fell to the earth like rain. Then, they stripped them of their magic, piece by piece, until the koi knew that to survive they had to succumb to the pride of man, grow small and be at peace with living in these small waters, and not swimming in the heavens above.”

He was quiet for a moment, as if contemplating deeply my story. Then, he laughed. “The pride of man, huh?” he said, eyes still fixed on the horde of fish jumping below.

Humorless, he added, “Are you mocking me, Karin?”

For the first time since entering the gardens, he met my eyes. I wondered if he saw then, what I had always seen. The push, the pull, the violent desire, the muted breath. How everything mattered, yet nothing could matter less.

I stood, the sakura print on my kimono scratching against the frayed wood, pulling loose the tight thread. Then, I smiled at him. “Do you like games, Ryo?” I asked, with genuine interest in his answer.

He merely stared at me in response.

“I think I’ve discovered the greatest game of all.”

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below! And follow me on Instagram for the other challenges!

-Rachael

“First of Their Kind” by C.D. Tavenor Review

First of Their KindFirst of Their Kind by C.D. Tavenor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Now, this was a step in unfamiliar territory for me, since I’m not an avid reader of sci-fi, so my opinion may be a little biased/uneducated! Even still, this was a book that asked some very intriguing questions about humanity and consciousness, and as someone who has a degree in psychology, I found it thought-provoking! In some ways, it felt like a thought experiment on these topics. It also explores groupthink and violence.

The story starts off with the creation of the first SI, or synthetic intelligence, who later names itself “Theren” after his creator, a scientist named Wallace Theren. Later, Theren also goes through a sort of self-identification quandary, since the personal pronouns used in reference to Theren were “it”. Ultimately, Theren decides to be identified with “they,” which I understand, considering they don’t identify with any gender, but at times, it was a little confusing. When Theren was with other characters, I wasn’t sure when “they” referred to Theren or the whole group, so sometimes I’d have to reread the sentence. Two other little aspects about Theren: first, at times, I had a hard time imagining what Theren looked like (when he connected to the MI, I imagined he looked something like Wall-e); second, I could appreciate their humor.

The major conflict of the story is then whether or not Theren’s consciousness makes them morally human or whether they are *really* conscious at all (or at least in the same way as humans), and quite a few “anti-synth” groups spring up in response to their creation, claiming that Theren is a demon that needs to be destroyed, etc. I did think some of the events between the SIs and these anti-synth groups were a little predictable, so they didn’t pack as much a punch, but I could see from a plot standpoint why they *had* to happen.

Some of the most compelling scenes were the conversations between Theren and Jill, their progeny, since they are both SIs. I found it particularly curious that the two are so vastly different, and it would be interesting to see that difference expanded upon in the next two books.

The only beef I have is with the end. Throughout the story, Theren is determined to prove to humanity the good that they’re capable of, but then they end up listening to Jill and her frankly awful plan of letting the mob do what mobs do, resulting in the sacrifice of innocent lives. I guess I didn’t get the urgency of having to choose Jill’s plan, instead of figuring out another way. I do like how we’re left with both Theren and Jill “shutting down,” since neither knows what place or time they will wake up to. I think it’s a great way to start the next book–the possibilities are endless! Will it be years in the future? Will they even be on Earth anymore (with the space travel introduced later in the book)? Will humanity be accepting of SIs or will they find themselves in even more turmoil? Hmm . . . who knows!

Random notes/question:
-I could see this appealing to anyone that likes tech, since there is quite a bit of explanation as to how Theren works.
-The “Virtual” world reminded me of “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline; the political hysteria/dallying reminded me of “Alien Morning” by Rick Wilber.
-Environmental changes are hinted at, but what changes to Earth put such a strain on humanity to need SI technology?

View all my reviews

The Big Question

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

HAPPY NEW YEAR! How is it already January 7th? I had planned on making a post closer to the new year, but, here we are.

Okay, so you have your character. Now what? Where do you go from here? The next step is asking yourself the Big Question: What does my character want? This is the most important question because it will dictate the plot, but more on that later. If the author doesn’t know the character’s motivation, it will be apparent to the reader that the character is a loose cannon, and the story will suffer. In every scene, as the writer, you should ask this question (“What does my character want?”) and answer it. If you can’t answer it, something needs to be edited, added, or clarified.

What drives my character? What halts my character? Both of these questions are dictated by motivation. There are two different types of motivation: main motivations (main plots) and little motivations (subplots).

The main motivation or The Big M is something that takes the whole novel to be answered. (**Side note: The Big M may not always end with what is deemed as a “success,” but might actually be a “failure”—that’s okay. Both of these are acceptable answers to the Big Question.) The Big M is the reason we—the readers and writers—are compelled to continue reading or writing.

Examples of Big Ms: finding a career path, someone to love, God; going on an adventure; accepting death. If you aren’t sure what your character wants, go back to those key personality adjectives (check out my previous blog post for more on that). If you’re still stuck, try googling master lists of character motivations—or Pinterest. Think of the classic conflicts too, like Man v. Man or Man v. Technology, etc. The main motivation will also be something that in a series will transfer to the next book as the or a component of the series arc. This will also dictate your characters’ growth.

The little motivations or “Little Ms” are things that can be solved easily in a scene or two. These can be base needs, like food or taking a nap, or little conflicts between characters. They can also be subplots, but within a series, should be solved by the end of each novel.

Motivations can also be negative (called aversions). This is only a strong NOT wanting. For example, let’s say your character wants to get into a specific University, so then the motivation becomes NOT wanting to be rejected. Think: What does my character not want to happen? Another way to look at this is through fear. What is my character afraid might happen?

Your main character has to yearn for something, and that yearning will determine the scope of the plot (to be explored in another post). Once you’ve decided your character—or characters—the next question will be, is my character going to get X (Big M) by the end of the novel (“success” or “failure”)? Determine this and you can start plotting!

You can also start writing without having this all figured out, but with a clear motivation in mind as you write, the plot will become clearer and clearer as the steps to accomplishment or failure will seem obvious.

Motivations also help us shape our characters’ morals and values, but that’s a topic for another day!

“How do you write a story?”

“How do you write a story?” “Where does your inspiration come from?” I’m asked various versions of these questions anytime I tell someone that I’m a writer. Well, where does a writer get the inspiration for a story (whether it be a short story or novel or poem)?

This is how it happens: the writer goes to a quiet place and pleads to the muses…

NOT! Ha! Ha!

The truth lies somewhere in the middle: writing is both magical and ordinary. While we don’t have to make sacrifices to the muses, sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously—but sometimes, it doesn’t. One of the greatest arenas for potential inspiration is in the writer’s own life, the lives of others, or prompts. A great exercise when I’m feeling a little lost in a story is to take a random word and write for five or ten minutes on that word. Whatever comes to mind—no crossing anything out (or backspacing)!

So, how does the story process begin? Normally for me, I have an immediate image of a character and a scene. I have an idea of who the character is and what the situation is, but often I don’t know the particulars, like the main story arc or the character’s back story—those come once I start writing in earnest. See, a story doesn’t always start at the beginning. Sometimes, you start in the middle—or even at the end!

The most important part is to write the initial scene as quickly as you can. Don’t get caught up in the immediate barrage of unknowns. If I’m not sure about a particular detail, say, the main character’s name, then I put that in caps and fill it in later. Or, just write (or type) BLAH BLAH and move on to the part of the scene that you do know! Once I’ve got that initial scene written, then I read through and write all the questions, usually on a big legal pad, that immediately pop up. Questions will vary depending on how detailed the scene and how filled out the character is, but some of the questions may sound like:  

-Where is my character going? Why are they here? What brought my character here?

-What does my character ultimately desire? What motivates them? What is unique about my character?

-Who is coming along on this journey? Who are their antagonists? Who/what is the villain?

And…you might not have the answer right away for some of these—that’s okay.

You have a character and context; you’re on the precipice of something big! This is where the story begins.

This is also where my first blog series begins. Characters and Plots(—yes, I capitalized plots on purpose here). For me, the two are inseparable, but for the purpose of this blog series I will be separating them as best I can.

Topics I’d like to discuss:

Characters:

Flat v Round

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary characters

Traits (strengths and flaws)

Physical Appearance and Naming

Likability

Disabilities/Mental Illness

And more!

Plot:

Mechanics

Subplots

Ends

Series

Hero/Heroine’s journey

3 Ball Juggling Act

And more!

I will tag these posts as I write them, so at the end there can be an easy way to search for whatever it is you are looking for.

I hope you follow along and I welcome suggests for other topics or questions!