Friday, April 6, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Today's Words: Fairy Tale,Fable, Folklore

Do you know the difference between a fairy tale, a fable, and folklore? They are definitely not the same. Everyone over the age of 3 has heard of Andersen's Fairy Stories and Grimm's Fairy Tales, but these stories were not originally for children.

Let's talk about where the term "fairy story" came from. Apparently, the term originated from the German word Mär, which means story or tale. The word
Märchen is a diminutive and means "little story." If that is put with the common beginning "once upon a time," it means a little story from long ago when the world was still magic.  Got that?

What we have come to know as a fairy tale is a short story with fantasy characters such as fairies, elves, goblins, brownies, trolls, dwarves, giants, and gnomes, and almost always have magic and many types of enchantments. Actually, only a small number of these stories feature fairies, while some feature an animal as the "bad guy", such as the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. But if you are writing a fairy tale, it must include elements of magic, and have one or more of the following: princesses and princes, ogres, giants, dragons, trolls, wicked stepmothers, fairy godmothers, humble heros, other kinds of magical "helpers," and you can even throw in a talking fox, or horse, wolf, or other animal, either hero or villain. Oh yes, AND you can even have a fairy or two!

A fable is a distinctly different genre. It is a fictional story, and can be either prose or verse, but it always features animals, mythical creatures such as dragons, plants, flowers, or trees, some kind of inanimate object, or a force of nature such as a storm, tornado, or hurricane. Each of those animals, plants, etc. have been anthropomorphized and each fable imparts a moral lesson. The best example of a fable is found in Aesop's Fables. In legend, Aesop was supposedly a slave in ancient Greece, around 550 B.C. No one knows for sure if he actually existed or not. Some of his better known fables are The Lion and the Mouse, The Crow and the Pitcher, and The Tortoise and the Hare.

Fables are among the most enduring of folk literature, being carried forward through the centuries as a form of oral story telling, until it finally became part of the written word. Fables exist in every country's literature in the world: we have the Buddist Jataka Tales, India's Ramayana, and of course, from the Middle East, the One Thousand and One Nights, better known in the Western world as the Arabian Nights.

There aren't many fables to be found in modern children's literature today. I think the main reason for that is because as authors, we've learned that children don't like to be preached to in their story books, and since fables all teach a "moral" lesson, we've learned to stay away from them. However, the concept has made its way into adult literature, although probably not in the form it was originally created for. The most well-known (to my knowledge) of a more "modern day" fable is the story by George Orwell, Animal Farm, written in the mid-1940s, which was a satire of the Communist Party under Stalin in the guise of an animal "fable."

Folklore differs from each of the above types of stories. Folklore is the accumulation of oral history, stories, music, legends, fairy tales, proverbs, popular beliefs, and customs that are traditional to a specific culture, subculture, or group of people. Folklore consists of the artifacts, oral traditions, and the ritualistic behaviors of that culture, and these things have been handed down from generation to generation over centuries.

Folklore can also contain religious or mythic elements, it can have both moral and psychological elements, it can include ghost stories, gossip, children's rhymes and riddles, and ethnic stereotypes. It validates a particular culture and transmits its morals, values, and political sturcture. One of the areas in which contemporary society is the most familiar with is music: country, blues, and bluegrass music all originate from American folklore. Some of the best known artists in music derived from folklore are: Country >> Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell; Blues >> Ray Charles, Eric Clampton, Fats Domino; Bluegrass >> Bill Monroe ( known as the grandfather of bluegrass), Earl Scruggs, and of course, Dolly Parton, whose music goes back to the folklore of her home ground in the Appalachian Mountains.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Today's Word: Edit

Today's word begins with E, and is a word most writers would rather do without...EDIT.

Most of us edit as we go along, or we do some editing on recent previous work when we've stopped writing for a while and before we begin again. We check back for SPAG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar), and for the most part, we let it go at that.  Some writers edit after each completed scene, others after each finished chapter, and I've heard of some who write a complete first draft before they edit a single thing. Then, we go back and look for things like dialogue that doesn't make sense, coming from a certain character. We check that the setting is correct, for the time and place we have the story in. We look for adverbs and adjectives we can do without, we look for excessive descriptive narration that we can shorten or delete completely, and so on. Most of the time, we think we know exactly what we should be looking for, to edit and revise. But... do we?

Recently, I had a manuscript sent back to me from a publisher who asked for certain revisions. There were four issues I had to deal with. I read through the comments she and two of her editors had made, and thought, How am I going to do this? There wasn't any kind of major revision asked for, but each issue was very different, and required a very focused edit. Most important, they were issues I had not thought of at all. In fact, one of them, "contemporary sensibilities," was something that I actually had no idea, at that moment, what it meant it terms of my MC.

I started with the first page, first chapter, and tried to confront each issue as I went along. That did not work! I realized that I had to take each issue and work only on that one. But first of all, I had to figure out what each issue meant in relation to my characters, particularly my MC.  That wasn't so easy, but in the final analysis, I think I did a fairly decent job.

I went back to the first page, and began working on the first issue, which was that the editors felt the father and two older brothers in the story were one-dimensional and needed to be rounded out. I had deliberately made them that way, with a specific reason in mind, but I understood what the editors were saying. These three characters only appear in the first three chapters, so rewriting them to make them more sympathetic for such a short time was not exactly easy. At this point, I can only hope I did a good enough job that it will show them to the editors in a different light.

When I finished that edit and revision, I saved it as "Draft One." Then I took that draft, and began working, again from page one, on the second issue. When I thought I had edited and revised that issue to the best of my ability, I saved it as "Draft Two."

I did the same thing with each succeeding issue, until I had worked with, edited, and revised each of the four issues, and I had Drafts Three and Four completed. My Fifth and final draft was the one I resubmitted, after I had once again gone over it, sentence by sentence, to make sure I had edited and polished it as well as I possibly could.

It was time-consuming. It was hard, concentrated, highly focused effort. It made my back hurt and my eyes twitch. In the end, it was worth it. Even if this publisher still doesn't want to publish it, I believe it is a much better and stronger story than the first "final draft" I originally sent in. The issues were very valid, and while not along the lines of a major revision, were absolutely things I needed to deal with and edit/revise in the manuscript. More than that, they were also things I now am looking for, editing and revising in my other two completed manuscripts.

What do you think about editing, and how do you go about it?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Today's Word: Dystopia

Today's word starts with D, and I had trouble deciding what word to talk about: drafts, dialogue, denouement? All the furor today is about The Hunger Games, both the book, or trilogy actually, and the movie, and since the story is about a dystopian society, that seemed the right word.

First, I wanted to define the word, but that is easier said than done. Every definition I found differed somewhat as to what "dystopia" really meant. So this is my definition, which undoubtedly will also differ from the more authoritative ones.

A dystopian society refers to a futuristic world where the society is totally controlled by the government, which is repressive, abusive, and has complete physical control, and often mental control, of the people. It is a society where people are not allowed to express thoughts, ideas, or emotions that are not endorsed by the government, and where technological advances far outweigh the humans' intellectual and spiritual evolution.

I had received The Hunger Games, only because it was a free book, and promised myself I would read it with an open mind, no matter what preconceived ideas I might have about it. The truth? I only read the first few chapters before I closed the book, and offered it to anyone who might want it. I simply could not get in to killing kids is just not my cup of tea. Okay, I know that's not all there is to the story, but it was enough to turn me off for good.

Every where I look, in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet, there are reviews after reviews about this book and the movie. So I'm going to talk about some of those things that I've learned, simply from reading the reviews. Just the reviews, not the personal opinions expressed at the end.

First, a question for those of you who have read the book: Do you see any similarities to anything going on in our society? Just something to think about.

The first thing that struck me about the book is that these "games" have been going on for what, 74 or 75 years? That's at least 3, if not 4, generations of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who have allowed the government to not only take over their lives, but willingly, intentionally, kill their children. Each of those 74 + years, 23 out of 24 of their children have been murdered, one by one, until only one child is left standing.

Come ON! As a parent and grandparent, I KNOW that my husband and I would do anything, including lay down our lives, for our children and grandchildren. I KNOW than any parent, who loves and values their children, would do the same thing. Yet for all these years, these parents have stood by and watched as their children were hunted down, as a "sport," and killed one by one. That stretches my suspension of disbelief  waaaaay too far to be comfortable with. This annual horrific "entertainment" is NOT a reason for these people to rise up and strike out, even if they ALL end up dead in the process? That just doesn't compute, in my mind.

I can see where teens love it: the sense of adventure, of thrills, of excitement, and of course, I do know that somewhere in the book it also addresses some of the rampant teen issues like friendship, the difference between friendship and love, trust in parents, divided loyalties, and so on. Teens haven't reached the level of maturity where they can see and appreciate the need for compassion, the need for deep-seated anger at the outrageous and stuplifying actions of the government, the need to strike out for their own independence and the God-given right to independent thought, etc. But adults have. And yet, from what I hear and read, adults are just as enthralled with this book, and the subsequent movie, as the teens are. Even though I haven't read the whole book, I'm obviously missing something!

The other thing that has bothered me about the book is...umm, well, it's too things. The first is just the way the young characters are written. It just seems too unrealistic for children from the ages of 12 to 18 to be so apparently unafraid of their impending deaths when it's time for their names to be drawn for participation in this horrendous "sporting event." I don't care that they have known about this ever since they were old enough to understand...they are STILL children.  Even though I didn't read far enough into the book to see all this for myself, it is something that was repeatedly brought out in the reviews I read, so that tells me the author missed something important in her characterizations.

The other thing is the comparison a lot of the reviews had between the "games" in the story, and the reality shows we have today on TV. The problem I see with this is that with "Survivor," "The Amazing Race," and others where an aspect of danger is always present, the contestants are adults, they have done their research into these shows and know what to expect, and they CHOOSE TO TAKE PART. The "contestants" in The Hunger Games are kids who are going to be fighting for their lives, they have not "chosen" to enter this contest, and they know in their 12 and 13 and 14 ++year old hearts they are probably going to die.

In case I haven't made myself clear, Dystopia is not my favorite word, and Dystopian societies will never make my A list for reading or movie going! However, for those of you who are laughing at me, and who really, really, LOVE this kind of story, here is a link for you. It will take you to a website loaded with the names of Dystopian novels and their authors. Enjoy!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The A-to-Z Challenge: Today's Word: Conflict

CONFLICT! From the minute we begin writing, particularly if we are in some kind of writing course, conflict becomes a main, and sometimes excruciating, concept. No story of any length can be considered publishable if it doesn't have conflict. For a moment, let's talk about the history of conflict.

Needless to say, it arose as a major concept in literature from the ancient Greeks. (Didn't most everything?) It was first described by Aristotle as the agon, or the central contest in a tragedy. Itwas always between the hero and the villian ( our protagonist and antagonist), the outcome could never be known in advance, and the hero's battle always had to be ennobling. The struggle between adversary and hero had to be long and drawn out, and the hero's triumph could never be easily accomplished.

Today, things are different. We always have conflict, because without it, there would be no plot and the storyline would be dull and boring. However, there does not always have to be a hero and a villian in those exact terms. The reason for this is because in more contemporary writing, we've learned that conflict can exist in more forms than between two humans struggling for some kind of victory over one another.

We have internal conflict, where the protagonist is struggling with some kind of disagreement within him- or herself, and this generally occurs when he has certain values that are in opposition with one another. If I can be so bold as to use one of my novels for an example, my MC Ben, in my pre-Civil War novel, lived the first 10 years of his life in New York, where he learned slavery was a sin. Then he moves with his family to Kentucky, where his grandmother's plantation is run by slaves. He doesn't know what to believe: in one part of the country, slavery is a sin, in another part of the same country, slavery is an every day part of life. When he decides to help his slave friends escape, he is torn between his own value...hating slavery...and that of his parents who condone it. A deep internal conflict that he must deal with throughout the novel.

We have relational conflicts that occur usually between two individuals who have close personal contact with one another: a father who wants his son to follow in his footsteps in terms of career choices, but the son wishes to do something the father feels is frivolous, such as becoming an artist or an actor; the mother who wants to control her daughter's life, even though the daughter is now an adult, but who is considering marrying a man the mother believes is undesirable; bosses who invade their employees' privacy... this has become a very realistic problem today with bosses demanding to know their employees' passwords on social networks such as FaceBook. These are conflicts that arise from incompatibilities  the individuals involved relate to one another.

Then we have the usual external conflicts that arise from character against character, the protagonist vs the antagonist; the character against nature, which can be stories about characters surviving disasters, such as the recent cruise ship disaster, or from being lost in the wild, etc; the character against a machine such as a robot or computer or an android... I guess the recent Terminator movies and The Wrath of The Titans ( I think that's the correct name) movies would be examples of this; the character against society, and the greatest example I can think of here is To Kill a Mockingbird, where the struggle is to find justice in the face of society's overwhelming prejudice.

No matter what you write, the concept of conflict has to be a pivotal part of your plot. And sometimes, that means a conflict of our own to figure out the answers to the questions of who, what, where, when, and how our literary conflict is going to work out!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Today's Word: Body Language

Dialogue is the spoken language we give our characters. It is verbal communication. There is another kind of communication, or language, that we humans also use, sometimes without realizing it. That kind is called "body language."

Some researchers into human communication claim that between 60% and 70% of our communication is non-verbal behavior, or body language. So what is body language? It is a form of mental and physical ability expressed in body posture, eye movements, facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. Most often, these expressions, postures, and so on are subconscious on our part. How do they translate into our writing?

We know practically from day one in a writing course that we must "show and not tell." We learn not to use "dialogue tags" other than "said" or "asked," unless it's absolutely necessary to get our point across. So we resort to using body language, perhaps without even realizing this is what we're doing. For example:

Chris was determined that Sara know he was sorry for not taking her to the dance. He stood in her kitchen and said, "Come on, Sara, I'm sorry, you know I would have taken you if I could. It was a family emergency."

"Fine. It's okay." Sara kept her back turned to him, and viciously attacked the carrot she was cutting . ( Doesn't sound like it's "fine" to me.)

He came up behind her and put his arms around her. "I'm sorry. Honest I am."
She tensed against him, and continued to chop vegetables, pulling her arms away from him. ( Uh oh, I don't think she's accepting his apology.) "I said it was okay. You don't have to keep saying you're sorry." She twisted away from him, threw the vegetables in the pot, and slammed the pot down on the stove.

Her dialogue says everything is okay between Sara and Chris, but her body language says exactly the opposite. We are showing that she is still angry and upset, rather than telling the reader she is, and we are doing that by her body language. What do you think about what happens next?

Chris moved away from Sara and thrust his hands in his pockets. "You could at least look at me."

She turned around and crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, I'm looking at you. Now what?"

"Well, you could at least accept my apology. I said I was sorry." Chris looked down at the floor, and rubbed the toe of one shoe against the grainy wood floor.

Sara looked at him intently for a moment. She sighed, uncrossed her arms and returned to the sink. "Just leave, Chris. It's over. Leave now."

When Chris thrust his hands in his pockets, we know he is anxious about what he is saying, and how Sara is receiving it. Why? Is he lying, after all?

Sara crosses her arms against her chest, which is a classic sign of defensiveness, or putting a barrier between oneself and the other person. She doesn't want Chris getting close to her, physically or emotionally.

Chris looks down at the floor, and rubs his shoe against the floor. Again, classic body language signs of anxiety, deceit, and/or guilt. When Sara sees this, she immediately knows he is lying, and she puts an end to the relationship.

When you give your character some kind of action in place of a dialogue tag, you are very often using body language. If you are not too familiar with all the classic signs of body language ( and often we are not, because most of the time we use it, it is unconsciously), do a Google search and you will find a wealth of information. Using body language aids your characters through non-verbal communication, and adds depth and realism to your story.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Today's Word: Anti-hero

Today is the first day of the April A to Z Challenge, wherein each day's post will be concerning a literary word beginning with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, e.g., today's word begins with A, Monday's word begins with B, and so on. Today is the only Sunday I will post, the other 4 Sundays of this month will be "rest" days, giving me a total of 26 days, 26 letters of the alphabet.

Today's word: ANTI-HERO. Do you ever have an anti-hero in your writing? I don't mean antagnosist, as that is a character far different from the anti-hero. The anti-hero is usually an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances, perhaps by his own volition, perhaps by society's inability to control certain situations, perhaps by the protagonist or the antagonist of the story.

The "hero" of the story, often the protagonist or main character but not always, is
usually portrayed as more attractive, stronger, braver, more intelligent, more charismatic, than anyone else. On the other hand, the anti-hero ( or anti-heroine) is simply "the boy/girl next door" type, no more handsome/prettier, braver, more intelligent, etc., than any other character in the story. Often this person is not someone whom the reader thinks will take a major role.  

As the story evolves, you find this person doing bad things...lying, stealing, perhaps even killing...until you realize that he/she is doing these things for a specific reason that is for the good of someone else, usually the protagonist.  The anti-hero can be corrupt but not evil or villainous. He does what he does for the good of someone else, or for what he perceives is the good of society... killing the murderer or rapist who, for lack of real evidence or because of a technicality, gets a "not guilty" verdict from the jury.

So how do you know if you have an anti-hero? Here are some of the qualities most anti-heroes have:
  • He's a flawed character
  • He is often disillusioned with society, and this can be society in general, or in school, in business, in a family situation, etc.
  • He thinks more about what is right for him than what is the moral thing to do
  • He often thinks of revenge in some form for the "good" of his best friend, or family, or even society in general
  • He could be thought of as a vigilante, but the qualities normally attributed to the villain who is also often thought of as a vigilante, such as violence and amorality, are tempered in the anti-hero with more human qualities such as idealism and a love of what he considers true justice.
Some of the examples of the anti-hero in literature, movies, and TV are: Robin Hood, Clint Eastwood in the movies "The Man With No Name" and "Dirty Harry," "Batman", who began as a comic book anti-hero and then became a movie about Bruce Wayne, the wealthy philanthropist by day who becomes a crime fighter by night, and more recently, the TV show "Dexter," where Dexter is a forensic specialist working for the Miami Police Department by day, and a seriel killer of murderers and other "bad guys" by night.

So if you have a character with noble motives, and who pursues those motives by breaking the law in some way...believing that the ends justify the means... you don't have an antagonist, you have an Anti-Hero!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.