Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Could It Be?

The news and internet have both been abuzz with sightings of strange cloud formations. The one in the midwest has meteorologists thinking about a new cloud designation. The one seen at King's Dominion in Virginia has been brushed aside as smoke from a fire--which some folks aren't buying.

Looking at the pictures didn't present anything worth getting the proverbial panties in a twist. But the comments? Something else entirely.

Okay, some of them sounded like a four-year-old bleating a scary story, adding to it as more people listened. Some of them, however, made some interesting correlations.

The odd weather we're experiencing in much of the U.S. played a part and had speculation rife. Everything from global warming to alien visitors. Yeah, alien visitors, or to be more precise, those that put us here coming to check on us, hiding evidence of their presence in these dense and unusual cloud formations.

Stop rolling your eyes and think about it for a moment. Now, whether or not you believe in UFOs, think about the possibilities. Why would our "alien forefathers" put us here in the first place? Are we some huge, galactic science experiment? A planet of two-legged rodents unknowingly navigating a cicuitous maze? Have they taken bets on how long it will be before we destroy ourselves? Or are they counting on us to find a way to save ourselves, our planet, and in so doing, save them?

Mythology is filled with gods, goddesses, demi-gods, etc., playing with human beings like one plays a game of chess. Irritating, aggravating, or just ignoring these immortals resulted in dire consequences for the mere humans with whom they amused themselves.

Most Mythology stems from ancient religious beliefs--or even current ones, if you're in the agnostic camp. For all of our science, man's belief systems remain. Why? If we are nothing more than the highest animal in the food chain, why do we insist on believing in a higher power? And what would happen if we didn't?

The Star Gate series mixed myth and potential aliens with great results. Now, a few unusual atmospheric phenomena have resurrected some of those same elements, stirring imaginations to the point of, what would seem, the ridiculous. Yet, history tells us these, or similar, things have happened before, and man is responding now as he did then--searching for an explanation and, when none presents itself, inventing one that satisfies his need for understanding.

Cold logic declares fire the likely cause of the King's Dominion clouds. It also says rare atmospheric conditions resulted in the unique characteristics the midwestern formations displayed, and that meteorologists will examine the data and realize what circumstances united to foment the unique configurations.

Cold logic never wrote a good story.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh, my!

Dorothy and her friends are traipsing down the Yellow Brick Road when they hear a strange noise. Imagination takes over, and the next thing they know they are fleeing down the path they were enjoying but a few moments before chanting, "Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my!"

Fear is a strong motivator. It releases adreneline into the bloodstream prompting the fight or flight response. Heart rate increases, breathing escalates, muscles tense ready for action.

Fear is also a great deterrant. It keeps doors, and minds, closed and locked. It can be immobilizing, freezing a man in place while he watches the bus, train, horse, tank, dragon, or whatever will injure, maim, mutilate, kill, or devour him approach.

None of us are immune to fear--as evidenced by a list of phobias longer than a man's arm. It is what we do about it that either makes us or breaks us.

It does the same for your characters.

Nothing quite like a butt-kicking heroine, dripping slime after annailating a slavering monster that thought her his dinner, cowering, back against the wall, inching toward the door because an arachnid less than an inch long is dangling from the rafters.

Sounds silly, but it can help make her real, accessible, and just like a million other women--sans slime.

Indiana Jones. Intrepid. Heroic. Courageous. Except when it comes to snakes.

Indy finds himself in a pit filled with vipers. He's not a happy man. He wants out. But he doesn't desolve into a quivering, helpless wreck. The fear motivates him, sets his intellect humming, seeking an escape. Fear and all, the man is a worthy hero.

Dorothy, when confronted by a lion, shivers in her ruby slippers. She's frightened. The lion is large, growling, maybe hungry. Then it threatens Toto. Dorothy's love for her pet overcomes her fear. She slaps the lion--and discovers she's stronger than that which she feared.

What fears lurk in the hearts of your hero and heroine? Will it motivate or immobilize? Is it based on experience? Awareness? Or is it a 'monsters under the bed' fear? How can you use it to help your reader connect, empathize, cheer?

How about your antagonist? Because, for the story to work, the reader must connect there as well.

Every world, real or imagined, has its own lions and tigers and bears. Which ones stalk your characters?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Expanding Boundaries

Warning: I don't edit blogs. As I think it, you get it. Proceed at your own risk.

I belong to numerous loops including one specifically oriented to writing futuristic, fantasy, and paranormal romance. I write science-fiction which falls under the futuristic part, and I've read fantasy (picked up a book because the author had my maiden name. She got me. I'm hooked), but I'm not keen on paranormal--at least not the werewolf, vampire, demonic kind--so tend to avoid it. I even avoided loop discussions on these subjects because they made me uncomfortable.

Silly me. I built a wall, but it didn't protect me; it limited me.

Now, that's not to say these topics became any more comfortable--there are reasons I don't read them--but with tearing down that wall came a freedom to mold, fuse, assimilate, and utilize.

How many things make you uncomfortable? How many of those uncomfortable things do you avoid? How high is your wall?

Moving beyond our comfort zone is necessary lest we stagnate. Those who write, especially in genres created almost entirely within the realm of imagination, must have fuel for that imagination. Like camels, we can run on what we have for a while, but at some point, the reserves need to be replenished.

Why, you ask, must I venture forth from this safe place? This place of security?

The answer is sameness. How many writers have you read whose stories, over time, developed a sameness, a formulaic feel? You know, the SS/DD (Same Story, Different Dame) syndrome? Has that writer become, at least to your bookshelf, as obsolete as the Single Sided/Double Density floppy disk? Is this what you want for your career?

Reaching beyond comfort exposes us, makes us vulnerable, but it also sharpens our senses, makes us aware. Adrenaline flows, hair stands, we are very much alive and alert to the world around us with all its possibilities.

So, I opened those files on vamps and were-folk. Deleted lots of them, but learned from some, found idea 'seeds' in others because writers are writers regardless of genre. We all have strengths and weaknesses, we all work toward the same goals--and don't fall back on that old saw about someone writing different themes, morals--and the list goes on--than you because none of us write the same as any other even within genres.

Speaking of genres, who says you can't mix them? Don't people who write Edwardian Vamps do just that? What about futuristics on worlds rife with mages and gnomes or lost civilizations? Fantasy often loves swords and, whether by accident or design, uses many things pulled from the Dark & Middle ages.

Who is the ambiguous "they" who does all the saying? Why do we listen to "they?" Isn't each genre the result of someone stepping beyond his or her comfort zone into uncharted territory?

Not that many years ago there would have been little need to have futuristic included in any romance loop. Kirk was busily going where no man had gone before, kissing females of every humanoid species, but romance? Nah. Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Terry Brooks, and other like them had fantasy sewn up, but although romantic elements were often included, no fantasy romance existed. Paranormal found itself shelved with Horror whether it deserved that connotation or not. And paranormal romance? Forget it.

And then someone took a chance. Maybe read something uncomfortable? Who knows? But that feat opened so many more doors.

Come on. The door's open. Step outside. It's time to expand your boundaries. Are you ready?