3, 2, 1, impact…

I found that I’d grown fond of asking the question, “Are there any films that take place entirely within one room?” It wasn’t entirely clear why. In preparing for this  post I found a list of over 100 movies the compiler claims satisfy this query. Of these, I’ve seen barely 10% but none of them precisely tell me the answer is “Yes.”

Most of the movies on the list fall into the jump-scare horror and/or torture-porn buckets. However, the best example of almost one-room stories among those films I have scene would be Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954). Even in this some of the action does take place elsewhere.

Why ask the question?

The central reason is one of motion – as it turns out. Movement is essential to drama. If nothing moves, we have a painting. They can, in a sense, tell a story. They can certain move us – emotionally. But that’s not really the same thing.

Movies can be art in and of themselves. A few spring to mind pointing that out. Segment 5 – Crows – in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Warner Bros., 1990) and Episode 10 of Season 5 – Vincent and the Doctor – in new NuWho (BBC, 2010). Oddly enough both of these examples involve van Gogh.

The quintessential presentation of it, in my opinion, is Cameron at the Art Institute of Chicago.

moved


“This I thought was very relevant to Cameron—the tenderness of a mother and a child which he didn’t have.”

“I used it in this context to see – he’s looking at that little girl – which again is, a mother and a child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. But the more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him (Cameron), the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.”

John Hughes


Seurat’s work was begun in 1884 but took two years to complete – placing it a century before the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Migration-Tree-plan

The chart here is part of various “visual outlines” for Astral. This doesn’t only show each of the 62 interstellar colonies of Earth but the factions

As an outline, to me it shows the despair and paranoia of one of the villains. The chart demonstrates some of the incredible obstacles faced by a large portion of the society Astral examines. In making this image more than one scene coalesced for me that I hope will illustrate – in the writing – the suffering of one particular faction stemming from the policies of the powers that be.

Every journey will have obstacles; sometimes it starts with misplaced keys. Any trip might begin in a mix of fear and hope.

Toward the end of May I wrote about woe and joy in travel and quoted Dr. Henri Poincaré with regard to hope having somewhat more weight. He also once said, “The mind uses its faculty for creativity only when experience forces it to do so.”

This is true both of writers and their characters.


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sic itur ad astra…

Note: There’s been a longer than normal interval between posts as there was more than usual work involved with this one.

Science fiction is very probably my first genre love. As readers of this blog already know, this affinity began with Star Trek. Given that, it won’t be surprising that my taste in scifi is generally best served when the setting is against the backdrop of a human interstellar presence. My story set in ancient Greece has been replaced as a priority with a novel-in-progress that takes place almost 50 light-years from Earth and roughly 550 years in the future.

Part of my outline process usually involves a map of some sort. This scifi effort (working title, Astral) is no different. By making a chart of most of the stars within 50 ly of our solar system, details about the future politics of humanity came into sharper focus. This is as much a part of the world building for the tale as FTL travel, terraforming, and human genetic engineering.

Stars

The volume around Earth at the given radius includes at least 583 star systems. There are red and white dwarf stars not shown in the first chart. Similarly, the stars shown do not double up with regard to arity (binary, trinary, and so on). If habitable worlds may be assumed to orbit stars like the Sun, about 10% ±x of these systems could support life. It should be noted, since extrasolar discoveries are being made “all the time”, no real effort was made to match exoplanet reality.

Settlements

A presumption was made that faster-than-light travel would have limitations based on mass and material composition of any ships involved. Relatively instantaneous hops of 20 light-years or fewer are the standard.

This decision puts ten systems with potential for colonization within direct reach of Earth. Each colony would then become a waypoint for the next tier of expansion. The result would be a web of worlds, each having a neighborhood of 10 other colonized systems on average including 2 colonies of their own.

The first question after making these determinations was, “How far from Mother Earth would humanity spread before thinking of their new home world as more important than the origin point of the species?” The answer lay as much with history, sociology, and psychology as with astrophysics. The critical star turned out to be Xi Boötis (ξ Boo, “zai boh-oh-tis”). Two hops from Earth, with 70 Ophiuchus in between as the staging point, Xi could have almost as many imperial opportunities as the initial starting point of the human race.

The expanding network of worlds colonized from Xi (and the colonies growing from those, etc.) would reach to between 20 and 30 more systems by the time humanity began to push outside the 50-ly radius sphere. If such a significant branch of colonial propagation were to stage a revolution, Earth society could be thrown into a panic. What’s more, other factions might seize the event as an opportunity for their own independence – to one degree or another.

All of this is the backdrop of Astral, with Xi and its extended family as the new hub of human destiny in space (for the time being) and two other, though smaller, federations as political entities separate from Mother Earth. Apart from ME, the factions are Federalist Arcadia* (sharing in etymology with Arcturus, one of two “named” stars among those claimed from Xi), the Hamarchy of Keid*, and the Ophiuchid Cantons*.

So, what’s the story? To that I’ll cryptically reply, “Imagine Plato meets Poe.”

* © 2016 Thom Truelove



on your marks…

The ouroboros can represent the cyclical or even the infinite. I wonder though – does the snake ever think to itself, “It seemed like a good idea when I got started.”

There is a mythical account of punishment imposed upon the immortal soul of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra. His torment in Hades was to perpetually move a large stone to a hilltop only to have it roll back down after each attempt. When I was first taught this story I remember asking, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” I was told that such things were part of the nature of Hell. I thought, “Well, that’s stupid.”

The tale may serves as a lesson on the dangers of obstinacy or in how to discern a no-win situation before too many resources have been lost. The moral of this particular story is also warning about hubris and other character flaws.

During the research for and early writing of A Song Heard in the Future there have been three problems for which I’ve been seeking solutions: 1) In ancient Greece, the practice of slavery was not only ubiquitous – none of the city-states could imagine a world without slaves. They were considered a necessary part of society, 2) the more loathsome custom of infanticide of the unwanted also seems to have been prevalent, and 3) the treatment of women had them treated as all but indistinguishable from cattle.

In Song, I have been attempting to make the characters more real and accessible. One mechanism has been the removal of monsters where possible. For example, it seems very likely that the fabled Chimera was not a beast with three heads but a pirate ship. Another part of the process has been to build a synthesis of the often contradictory plot threads in the shared universe (or common agora) of the mythological canon. Could a certain graceful spinner have been married Chiron before being present when Teiresias gained the gift of prophecy?

Any true hero would make the three significant injustices his or her cause to end and right. Heroes have to be more than marginally better than the society that produced them. In a purely fantasy setting (such as Clash of the Titans or Hercules) writers may ignore these issues.

As an author, I cannot in good conscience write a story in a setting that has these and other problems without said story being about proper address. With due respect to the tail-devouring snake, I won’t be giving up on Teiresias; there’s too much potential, too strong a message in the telling. I’m determined. The collective journey of heroes is, as it turns out, a staggered start. As my definition of a hero is somewhat strict, and perhaps superhuman, the song will have to be heard in the future.

Luck and inspiration has saved months of research and the purchase of several reference books from being in vain. I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend about sociology and human nature. We’d concluded that very few notions (construed as race cars) ever leave the track. What resulted was an epiphany about a how I might craft an unexpected new tack on a cult sci-fi setting that’s long been a favorite of mine. Even more pleasing – the value of my work on Song can be included without much revision at all.

Many novelists and editors alike will tell you that crafting a story is about the choices made. Prioritization of one novel over another is not giving up. Simmering one while another’s on the boil is part of the process. An illustrator I am privileged to know once gave me good advice: the best outline for a story leaves the audience with no plot-holes to point to and no questions unresolved.

me-ta

I’m very confident that the new idea will be enjoyable to write and to read. I’m equally certain I will solve the problems mentioned above and be able to return to the novel set in ancient Greece. One has and will inspire the other.


 

💡

On the clock…

The most frequent description of the character arc for a protagonist is called the Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey. This isn’t really an outline for the story. It presents an invitation to a date with destiny and is a road map for the main character. The story is about the destiny itself.

In an article I read recently, the claim was made that all the decision-makers in Hollywood are aware of this formula. That’s probably true but impossible to confirm. The article in question went on to imply that adherence to the monomyth is expected. If so, the audience is reacquainted with the Hero’s Journey with each and every story – even if they’re unaware of the structure. Does this mean members of the audience are indoctrinated to expect the monomyth? Are they evaluating stories based on this – even unconsciously? Is there value in exploring alternatives to this structure (made famous by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler)?

Clock

Imagine the Hero’s Journey as a clock. Let’s say our Hero starts at Noon and ends at Midnight. It’s going to be a long day. She or he begins and ends at a metaphoric home. The first hour of the story shows us the world the Hero lives in, what daily life is like, and what responsibilities he or she has.

1

By 2:00ᴘᴍ, however, comes the introduction of a crucial shift in those responsibilities. The Hero spends the following hour presenting reasons that this change (and the new work it represents) can be done by someone else or avoided entirely. All the while, particularly between 2:00ᴘᴍ and 3:00ᴘᴍ, the Hero learns more about the situation and perhaps just why things were not ideal earlier that morning. All of the lessons during this hour are meant to illustrate not only that the Hero has a date with destiny – said date is an undeniable obligation.

2

People fear change. Our Hero is no exception. Until about 4:00ᴘᴍ, the Hero has been experiencing the stages of grief, in a sense. The day has provided shocking news. The Hero has attempted to deny the news and to bargain a way out of dealing with it. As the duty to respond grows inevitable, our Hero finally gives it serious thought and begins, at least mentally, to prepare to deal with it.

3

Perhaps for the sake of emphasis or as an actual intervention, someone arrives to kick the Hero into the real world. It is 4:00ᴘᴍ. This is the mentor, who may have arrived with a useful tool to present as a gift. From 5:00ᴘᴍ to 8:00ᴘᴍ, everything the Hero experiences is new. This is a total immersion and each skill the Hero learns is applied immediately of necessity. There are failures during this stage, of course. The Hero may even experience doubt and seek to quit.

4

At about dinnertime, some stories introduce a specific woman. She may seek to lead the Hero off the new road. Alternatively she may serve as a second mentor. This means the presentation by point or counter-point of the same theme. Depending on the manner of the character, the same line of dialog can be encouragement to quit or to continue. Note: If such a character is included here the author should be careful not to present this woman as a stereotype and cypher. If this sort of message must be delivered to the Hero and the audience, the messenger doesn’t have to be a woman. There’s a risk – as the monomyth is traditionally presented – of an approach to misogyny here.

5

By 7:00ᴘᴍ the Hero finally knows what’s really going on and what must be done. The date with destiny is set at 8:00ᴘᴍ and the Hero’s determination is now a true commitment. Of course the Hero wins. That is, very probably, why she or he is the Hero of the story. At 9:00ᴘᴍ, there’s a reward for all the trouble and injury along the way.

6

But it isn’t Midnight yet. The defeat of the villain is only partial and the payment for service may be intended as a another distraction. The Hero is unaware of this and it’s been a hard day at work – including overtime. There’s been an unexpected bonus. Ten o’clock. Time to go home. The way home is filled with obstacles. There may even be a race. The victory back at 8:00ᴘᴍ left loose ends. The road home proves the lessons have been learned and the skills are now an intrinsic part of the Hero. The transformation is genuine.

big ben

This final triumph comes at the Eleventh Hour and there’s an epiphany following. The Hero’s reward is reinforced by this event and the last steps home complete the transformation. As the clock strikes Twelve, the check is cashed, and it can finally – actually be time to celebrate.

8

All this to say, the author is not bound to this structure any more than the hero should be considered a slave to the story. If there is no choice, there is no story. If it is true that all good stories following the monomyth it is important to remember that all bad stories do as well. What matters more than compliance, then, is how the tale told departs from the formula. Going off the clock is part of what makes the story worth telling and memorable.


🕛

cogito ergo hmm…

Is it safe to assume most authors of fiction hold J. R. R. Tolkien in high esteem? I must admit that, to an extent, he’s something of a guiding star. I admire the thoroughness of his work and its success and apparent timelessness.

During the research process there are, of course, moments of discovery. Some data is deliberately sought. Then there are unanticipated details that, once turned up, seem essential to the story. I do not intend to take a decade to develop any of the worlds for which I’ve novels in progress; in that respect, Mr. Tolkien couldn’t be more remote were he a constellation. Aiming for comprehensive seems sufficient. Trying for exhaustive can interfere with the actual writing.

Within the past fortnight I’ve made some discoveries that may, in fact, prove vital in A Song Heard in the Future. The first concerns what seems to be everyone’s favorite constellation: Orion. In Greek mythology he was a giant, mentioned in both of Homer‘s most famous works.

While most of Song plays out over three or four generations, I felt it was important to thread as much of mythology through it as served the story. Some of the characters are able trace their ancestry back to survivors of The Flood (≈1440 BC, by my estimation, with Deucalion in the place of Noah); this becomes an important vantage point they have on themselves and their roles. Others sprang up from the earth in the aftermath of that cataclysm. For their descendants, having an autochthonous claim as a birthright, is equally momentous. According to the family trees I’ve developed in conjunction with the chronology, all of the featured characters would have known Orion only as a constellation. He’d have died before they were born.

Orion-constellationOrion being mentioned this way seemed right. It helps me feel that the characters live in the world about which I’ve been writing. This unexpected realization also seemed to build similarity between those characters and the readers. They’d be looking at the same stars, calling many by the same names. For Teiresias, the constellation now holds a special significance.

It isn’t a surprise to me that I would find a way to include astronomy in some capacity. The subject has fascinated me – since before my love of Star Trek – and only enhanced by it. What was unforeseen was finding a pair of characters that served to buttress the narrative and share a name. In the timeline, I have them separated by about 180 years – one before The Flood and the other at about the time of the Trojan War (≈1260–1180 BC, according to Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann). Genealogically, the younger character could claim the Antediluvian as tritavia†. This seemed designed as part of the story as if penned – almost literally – at the time Song ends (perhaps by Homer, Sappho, or Aesop).

The past two weeks provided a coming full circle sense with Song. I’m certain that more writing will create more unexpected moments of epiphany. These two gave me a smile. I welcome more.


great great great great grandmother


ἐπιφάνεια…

Sometimes it is difficult to hear a particular Muse clearly. More often than not, it isn’t just one speaking to me. Ideas for sculpture, writing, and other art are coming all the time – simultaneously. From time to time, I will have to pause one project in favor of another. Even in an ideal world, in which I could devote every second of the day to the arts, I’m certain this would be the case. It’s just the way it goes.

During any pause on a specific writing project, there is not a complete silencing of the voices of the characters involved. They are, in the back of my mind, still seeking deeper subtext and greater clarity about their motives and missions. There’s probably no way to stop this and I wouldn’t want to. When research and writing resumes there are new epiphanies that, I feel, improve the richness of the work in question.

Recently, my thinking returned to the story of Teiresias, which I am calling A Song Heard in the Future (based on a quote from Tennyson’s poem treating the same character). Before the pause I knew there were two major holes in the novel. Two characters – both of whom are women – were going to disappear into them.

Being a seer, Teiresias is frequently a giver of advice. As a person, though, he lives through some truly fantastic upheavals. It stands to reason that he might – from time to time – seek some advice. Part of Song deals with this but for a while I wasn’t sure how.

The advice in this case becomes the foundation of the third act. The two characters who provide it were apparently very active during my break from this tale. They were in danger of vanishing from the story after merely being messengers. It is perhaps a platitude that an author’s characters speak to their creator. In this instance, these two were defending their importance. It really is like they knew.

One of them “reminded” me that she also had to be involved in some of the first scenes of the book. I can’t argue with the logic. And how could I have missed it‽

In trying to stay as close to the source material of Greek mythology (the origin of so many tales of heroism), it seemed a little cowardly to let important characters fade from the story and follow other paths to the end of the saga.

The song may be heard in the future but I have to listen to it, and the Muses, now.

muses light


🜀🝠

kau tipping…

For more than 100 years discussion of fiction has been improperly saddled with the term canon. When considering what’s thought canon is primarily a mechanism to preserve the suspension of disbelief, the use of the term becomes almost ironic.

We owe this word’s improper use to the original Sherlock Holmes drooling fanboy, Ronald Knox, who wanted to draw as thick a line as possible between the oeuvre of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  and other authors who subsequently undertook the Detective’s chronicle.

Canon both designates the authoritative elements and helps in establishing continuity. For writers it can serve as a tool (sometimes called a bible; also not exactly appropriate). For fans it is the timeline and the answer book for geek-cred quizzes. Keeping track of who’s who and what’s what is important for both but “continuity” should be a completely effective term for both author and audience.

The need to have the story straight is likely as old as storytelling. We may imagine arguments at pub between Knox and other followers of Holmes’ adventures but such conflicts are probably as old as storytelling.

If Pylaimenes was killed by Menelaos, how could he be there to see his son Harpalion die?”

As I research the novel concerning the life and times of the famous seer Teiresias (A Song Heard in the Future) – I discover quite a few problems with the body of Greek mythology. There are many chronologies and each is based on different assumptions and starting dates. The dramatis personæ don’t always align or include the all of the same people.

When it comes to the Star Trek book I’ve more recently begun writing (All We Now Hold True), the complications are actually greater. The number of voices in the oral tradition of Greek myth can never be known but the record comes from only a few. A listing of writers of Star Trek episodes, films, and novels now includes hundreds.

An Uncertain Enterprise
Even before the first episode of Enterprise the cry about the continuity minefield Rick Berman and Brannon Braga seemed to be rushing into went up from many fans, myself included. In the premiere of that series, we were shown they were going to play a bit fast and loose with “canon” as we knew it.

In the second season they began contradicting what I feel most fans of the Vulcans held true. For example, it had been presumed for nearly 40 years that each member of that (yes, fictional) race had the ability to mind meld. Forty episodes into Enterprise we were asked to accept not only that it was a rare talent but also those who engaged in it were subject to social stigma. There is no word for scoff in Vuhlkansu (the Vulcan language).

And Deeper into Darkness
But since 2009, who cares — right? The new director of Star Trek, J. J. Abrams, made no secret of the fact that he couldn’t get into the original shows. I think he meant they bored him. So nevermind Spock’s efforts at unification of Vulcans and Romulans. In fact, forget the planet Vulcan entirely when all is said and done. If those in charge reject canon, aren’t we free to?

kau-lirpaThe above image is my take on a lirpa, an ancient and traditional Vulcan weapon. It does not precisely replicate those seen in the original series (TOS) or in Enterprise (ENT). That’s by design. The calligraphy built into the blade is the Vuhlkansu word kau – or wisdom. Since continuity is the issue and as “All We Now Hold True” is my effort to splice back the fractured Vulcan narrative let it be a symbolic scalpel rather than an axe.

I do intend to have True published in a capacity where it can stand its best chance of being considered “canon”. Will it be fanfic? All Star Trek should be written by fans of Star Trek.

Note: Due to working to place Pandora’s Pets in more brick-and-mortar locations, this week’s post was delayed. Thank you for your patience.