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.

Tilting at the Windmills of My Mind…

As Pandora’s Pets are not made singly, except in the case of a commission, it isn’t so easy to say precisely how long each takes to make. They take as long as they need. Their creation is a collaborative process with Leanna Renee Hieber, who gives them their individual details and augments their personalities. We haven’t precisely timed that process either.

PetsWhen each is finished as a work of art, they’re not fully complete until a customer adopts them. There’s a procedure when each is sold that we consider vital. Every one of Pandora’s Pets needs a name. We keep a record of the name of each Pet.

To be honest, however, I didn’t want to have a list containing common or ridiculous appellations. This meant there needed to be a process. Within the lore of Pandora’s Pets they’re meant to be quite ancient, somewhat otherworldly creatures. What follows is a (mostly) complete account of how the naming chart was created (in January of this year); this isn’t entirely random facts:


circa 3800 BC
Ur was a Sumerian city-state and served the Mesopotamian culture as an important port. Since the end of that period, silting of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers have added almost 200 miles of land between the Great Ziggurat and the Persian Gulf. At its peak, however, Ur was immense in terms of both scale and splendor.


c. 832 BC
The First Temple in Jerusalem is begun. Myths about its construction probably began about this time, too.


c. 1100
The Scots adopted the word glomung from Old English. It became gloaming and still means twilight or dusk. In some parts of Scotland it may also mean dawn.


1583
By this time, the esoterica about King Solomon‘s included the recruitment of 72 spirits, each of whom had special talents. Johann Weyer and others attempted to list them all. The lists don’t match at every point.


1821
John Keats invented the word gloam for his revision of the ballad, La Belle Dame sans Merci.


Thinking about these things and along these lines produced the following chart:

d20: Name Tribe
1 Kut(h)- -as(h)/es(h)- -tis Chill
2 Tel- -par/pur- -lor Pitch
3 Ur- -kah- -tos Murky
4 Kis(h)- -el- -ax Shade
5 Der- -gaht- -far Ghast
6 Ad- -veh- -ur Wight
7 Jem- -ix- -as Ghoul
8 Eri- -ib- -for Brood
9 Ak- -daht- -par Gloom
10 Es(h)- -sal- -eth Frost
11 Gir- -o- -gos Gaunt
12 Lag- -bey- -las Weird
13 Lar- -mu- -mon Cloak
14 Shu -ru- -ius Bleak
15 Har- -neh- -ith Ghost
16 Din- -day- -son Dread
17 Bad- -ara- -thin Haunt
18 Is(h)- -tra- -ion Eerie
19 Kua- -euh- -eus Qualm
20 Bad- -has- -os Cloud

Column № 1 – represents the result on a 20-sided die. A different, color-coded die is used for each subsequent column at point-of-sale.
Column № 2 – The names of some of civilization’s most ancient settlements (or syllables thence) became the prefix for each Pet’s name – to suggest extreme age.
Column № 3 – The middle of each Pet’s first name is pure invention to serve as a bridge.
Column № 4 – The suffix of about thirty percent of Solomon’s helpers are also suffix for the Pets.
Column № 5 – The Tribes to which each Pet may belong are called by synonyms of gloam and other spooky 5-letter words.

The next batch of Pandora’s Pets will mean there are more than 100 of them in the world! As making them helps both Ms. Hieber and I smile – and then the people to whom they’re offered for sale – that’s an already uncountable number of smiles that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Note: While making this post ready my entire computer froze. I’m attributing the smile that resulted from not having to start over to the Pets as well.

The Fault — Is Not in Our Stars…

A component of being a purist may be thinking that the science in science fiction should be reasonably valid and the result of some research. If so, then I am at least partially a purist. If a starship can go anywhere in the galaxy in a few seconds, the accomplishment of space travel becomes quite meaningless. How do we preserve a sense of awe? How can new science fiction inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers?

In a less lofty capacity, if a writer won’t do a bit of research to make the science feel correct is it fair to assume they might stint on other details? Yes, it’s true that the emotions and growth of the characters is the vital core of fiction. How the main character feels may be the best way to capture a reader’s desire to identify with her or him. Comparing that character at the start of the tale and its conclusion provides the essential meaning of the journey.

We’re hard on our potential fictional heroes for a reason. They are more than reflections of our selves. They can – and when done best, should – mirror who we hope to be. The worlds in which they live illustrate where we hope to live. In rare cases, sci fi heroes can help us get there.

Science fiction can serve to criticize the aspects of our society that warrant correction. When the emphasis is on good science, the genre includes a different rationale than some others: that the meaning of our journeys can be understood. There are truly cosmic answers that can be had.

If the rocketship can reach the Moon in less than ten seconds, the landing pad can be green cheese. In “All We Now Hold True” it matters How Far and How Fast. Part of the story is a race against time.

rom-halan-draftDescriptions in prose and by equation need not be in conflict. It has recently been pointed out to me that some of my explanations of formulæ can wax poetic. Balance is part of my preferred aesthetic, whether in composition or equation. Science and math – like hue and light – underlie representations of beauty.

sic itur ad astrathus one goes to the stars

Paradox need not apply…

Ordinarily, this blog updates once a weekon Monday. I didn’t think it was fair to stretch The Three Laws of Magic over most of April. Next week’s post may be delayed by a day or two.

The supposition that the Earth might be spherical was being examined at least 2,500 years ago. It took 80% of that time for circumnavigation of the planet to become possible. It is now commonplace. If satellites in orbit are included, it’s a constant. Nevertheless, there are still people who believe the Earth is flat.

Despite some progress, some of which includes true high points in thought, our oblate spheroid planet still harbors a discouraging spectrum of prejudice. In 1941, some American leaders believed that the Japanese were too inferior to Caucasians to have successfully attacked Pearl Harbor. Clearly, they’d have required the help of the Germans. That was nearly 75 years ago – but embarrassingly recent.

Religious and gender-based prejudice is not new. Laws that attempt to control the behavior of “The Other” have existed since there have been laws. The timeline for one side being brutal to another side – of any stance or argument – is incredibly long. Do we have to share a world with luddites and bigots? Probably. And I will probably (and ironically) continue to look down on them. There is, however, no excuse for We as the Whole to give up trying. The weakest link in our enlightenment chain might always be our education system. Good enough is not good enough.

All this to introduce the Third Law of Magic. If you’ve recently been following this blog you know the First Law is that “Magic is a personal force”. At the most basic level, that means that magic begins with a single person’s energy. The Second Law is that “All magic is permanent.” Multiple layers of permanent magics may have a range of results.

Magic becomes a force unto itself.

Laws of MagicNone of this is supposed to be science and this musing of mine is background material for most of my fiction. That said, we do have it within our power – with care and consideration – to improve our thinking. It may be true that ill-conceived notions are cars that never leave the racetrack. Accepting it as a truth makes it a foregone conclusion.

There have been a few novels I’ve read and slowed my reading pace when there were just a few pages remaining. When a good story is about to present a hopefully good ending, I like to savor right up to “The End”.

I’d like that to be more readily possible in the non-fiction section of the Corpus Humanum. As I mentioned in this blog on Feb. 2, “…centuries without proof of a hypothesis is not proof of the antithesis.” The word “impossible” should be reserved for violations of the Laws of Physics.

Please consider yourself invited to Comment, Like, and/or Share.

The Laws of Magic…

got-magicIs it fair to suggest that we each have an innate desire for life to be worthwhile? The possibility that we might waste our finite time with something inconsequential is irritating. To find ourselves so considered is infuriating. Are we born to the search for meaning or do we learn to seek it?

Regardless of its source, that need may be the origin of the concept of fate. The idea of having a destiny (and presumably a good one) appeals to our sense of making some sort of difference. A fate simultaneously helps us feel more secure about our future and our mortality. Without specificity, however, it also can aggravate our fear of the unknown. We want to be optimistic and so we hunt for data.

Our collective sense that the Cosmos can be known – or, at least, better understood – leads us to communication and quests for experience. It’s a far better motivation than merely alleviating boredom. And whether the alchemy that transforms experience into wisdom results from quiet contemplation or by a more public affinity, it is that magic that matters. How we share with a community, and it with us, is less important than the sharing itself – the act and the content.

Some believe that anything described by the term magic is evil. To an extent this view can be understandable (but not justifiable). Magic can both hearten and unnerve us. Emphasis on the latter, particularly when combined with ideology, can lead to book- and witch-burnings. The burning of a book that is believed to “teach” magic is in and of itself a ritual practice.

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Hamlet: Act II, Scene II. William Shakespeare

Others dismiss magic as being a primitive or irrational belief. Science, in effect, sides with religion in wanting to drive away the magical.

But what magic is and does depends on what we think. If I were going to propose that there be Three Laws of Magic, the first would be “Magic is a personal force.”

In my fiction, fate and magic play key roles. I have been wondering why. Having been a scientist, the answer is suddenly obvious only as I write this post: it is part metaphor and part escapism. Magic in my fiction has nothing to do with what I really believe and practice day to day. Outside of writing, were I to actually define my magic, it would probably be closer to the following:

that which contributes to understanding and/or ameliorates negative emotions (including fear of the unknown) especially if sudden inspiration is a factor.

Hey Presto!

Do I believe in magic? I do in mine.

–––

Sifting through the Message…

If there are authors who have just one story in mind, in development, or in progress – I haven’t met them yet. I have also not met Harper Lee but, given “Go Set a Watchman”, she won’t stand as an exception either. Neither can I.

Although I’m chiefly working on “A Song Heard in the Future” when I’m not working on Pandora’s Pets sculpture, there are two other novels cooking gently in the background. There is also the pleasure and honour of serving as co-author to Leanna Renee Hieber for a fair number of other books. Ms. Hieber has several novels on her brilliant mind as well – some with me in a contributory role and some without.

When the Muse makes her visits with economy in mind and brings an idea for each disguised as part of only one novel it can be a puzzling experience. For example, British anti-aircraft gunners were known to pose with wreckage of Nazi planes they’d shot down (if the crash site could be found).

ieImagine such a scene with the oar of a trireme instead of part of an aircraft. That is in essence what the Muse did today – but in a much more vague manner.

It can take a while to discern the intent of the Muse when she’s sent a Tweet rather than a lengthy email. What part is the oar and goes in “Song” and which part belongs in a WWII story I have in mind took some while. It was sifting through wreckage, if you will.

There’s some difficulty, however, in reminding each story of the priority you’ve decided for them. Saying “No.” to inspiration is generally not the best approach for an artist, I would suppose.

Maybe “creative process” should be plural.

“Five feet out that door is the real world…”

Teiresias-JanusSince I remembered Teiresias from grade school lessons about Greek and Roman mythology, I rather assumed he was a famous seer. In some recent conversations, it turns out he’s not that famous. I find the character fascinating because he stands in so many thresholds at once – between mortal and divine, sighted and blinded, male and female, and the present and possible futures. If Odysseus’ visit to Hades is included, the liminality of this world and the Underworld is added.

And for a persona so involved with seeing the future and curses of the gods, it seems odd that none of the stories about him (or her – as “Teireseia” in the novel I’m writing, A Song Heard in the Future) directly involve the Fates. It seems a glaring omission, to be honest.

Chorus: Who then is the helmsman of Ananke (Necessity)?

Prometheus: The three-shaped Fates and mindful Erinyes (Furies).

Chorus: Can it be that Zeus has less power than they do?

Prometheus: Yes, in that even he cannot escape what is foretold.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Writing is not just telling a story. The act of crafting a novel is a process of making decisions. Two of the largest choices, particularly when it involves research, are “Do I include this and, if so, how?” along with “What does this mean in context of the book I want to present?”

In showing the journeys made by Teiresias, there’s a journey for me. I think that may be part of my renewed fascination for the seer and all of his thresholds. In a recent conversation I said, “Each person lives only one day at a time.”

Within the talk it was meant as a reference to how much one person can do in 24 hours and within reason. It isn’t fair to measure one person by one day’s work and another by that of a decade. But in this post it means that each day can be a journey – even when it is a slice of the experience of someone who can see the future.

Janus was the Roman god of Start and Change. He was also the deity of doorways. It does not seem that there was a Greek equivalent. I am beginning to wonder if it shouldn’t have been Teiresias.