Conferences: Connections and Correlations

books-magazines-building-schoolI have no history with writing conferences. My world of presuppositions going into it were mostly derived from the rumors I had heard from friends who had visited various writing conferences. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit a writing conference. I wanted to share a little bit about that and some of the strengths and weaknesses I see in conferences.

The Indiana Faith and Writing Conference was a small conference that took place at Anderson University. While it was a small conference it didn’t lack in quality speakers and writers. The university was accommodating and the venues worked well for the presentations.

Each workshop had its own location and time which were almost always back to back. On one hand this kept the pace going but it didn’t leave a lot of time to digest lectures between speakers. It also hurried people from one place to the next without allowing a lot of mingling and interaction.

The speakers were overall quite excellent. I think that if anyone is considering visiting a conference though that they should spend the time and energy to research as many of the speakers as possible. While some of the talks I went to were well put together not all of them truly spoke to me or my focus in writing. Knowing who the speakers were all in advance would have fixed that problem and given me a clearer sense of expectation.

I think that the most important thing that can be gained at a writing conference is connections. You will exist in a high concentration of writers for several days. The only topic of discussion will be writing during an event about writing. There will never be a better time to talk to other writers about writing.

Finding people who have similar interests can suddenly become much easier at a writing conference. Making the effort to go outside of your comfort zone to find these people will almost always be worth it. Also it is a good chance to find people who may have push or pull in your field and might be a valuable asset in the future.

While I just said that writing conferences are the best time to make connections, I think that there should be a direct correlations between how we act at writing conferences and how we should be acting in our daily lives. We live in a technology dominated world where you can connect and talk to anyone in the world almost instantly. This opportunity should not be passed over.

Everyday gives you the chance to make those same connections through social networking. Most people and especially writers spend a lot of time on the internet. The internet even seeks to organize people of similar interests into the forums and websites. If we pursued our internet conversations and interactions with the same voracity as we pursue connections at writing conferences I don’t think there would be any writers who felt alone in their field.

As a final note I think that writing conferences are a wonderful opportunity to concentrate writers together and let them interact in the real world. But I don’t think the energy and hype should stop when the conference ends. Each day should be an invigorating step forward in our journey as writers. I dearly hope that each day can be so for me.

Advertisements

Terrarium Review

Terrarium_small

Scott Russell Sanders’ book, Terrarium, is a unique, stand-alone novel. It is primarily science fiction with a strong subplot of romance. Its primary audience is young-adult and up as it tackles more mature themes like the place of sexuality and suicide.

Science fiction is a broad scope of many books which have been written in the past two hundred years. They have covered almost every topic and inspected almost every possible social issue. Some are wonderful conglomeration of ideas and bizarre concepts. This book is an interesting synthesis of several catching concepts and moral conundrums.

Terrarium follows the story of a man living in a futuristic world where people seek to become enlightened but refuse to acknowledge themselves. They fear the natural world but are slowly dying without it. The story tackles issues of environmental abuse, personal identity, and relationships.

Phoenix, the protagonist, is an average citizen of a future world where humanity has retreated into domed cities that float on the ocean to escape the world that they poisoned. He lives a boring, sedentary life full of self-indulgence and emptiness. Until he meets Teeg, a free-spirited woman who refuses to follow the system. Together they must discover the truth behind the dome cities and themselves.

Terrarium create a unique world of floating cities in a barren world that humanity is desperately trying to leave nature behind. Sanders crafts a society that is both believable and different from our own. It is full of unique customs and intriguing technology that makes sense with his world.

The plot displays strong development. It provides an intriguing platform to view the cultural and personal problems that are examined. While I would not consider it extremely original or deep, I believe that it does a good job of weaving the characters together and presenting the theme.

Character driven stories are always my favorites. These novel works to present its main character as the focus. It centers around his internal struggle and journey as his world is drastically and forever changed. He could have been a stronger character than he was. His character was not bad but I felt that he needed more depth to be the primary protagonist.

I would recommend this book to any lover of science fiction. If a reader has any interest in environmental issues then it is also a great book. It is not perfect but its high points outweigh its problems.

My Star Wars Childhood

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016

In honor of the last Force Awakens trailer, I decided that it was time to do my first Star Wars post. This will be an introduction story to what Star Wars is to me and its importance to me. Star Wars is very important to me, anyone who meets me will see that very quickly.

My family loved Star Wars. I have never been able to figure out where this love started. The old VHS’s of the original trilogy were on our movie shelf long before I was born. They were family favorite movies to watch.

I can never remember a time in my life when I hadn’t seen Star Wars. I would watch “The Empire Strikes Back” two or three times in a day. Quoting the movies is still a favorite pastime when I hang out with my family. We even worked together to collect all of the Star Wars Pepsi cans that were released  in 1999.

That is why I probably loved Star Wars. But that is not why Star Wars is my favorite story franchise in the world. Star Wars gave me a fantastic new world I couldn’t even begin to explore as child. It showed me characters from all walks of life being thrown together and forced to build trust to survive.

Luke was my favorite character growing up. He was just a guy living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, who had a spectacular gift, and managed to turn into the most powerful warrior in the galaxy. I loved seeing that progression. I think it gave me a lot of hope in my own life.

Something I have found interesting about this is that I still love Luke’s character arc in the movies but it isn’t the one that speaks to me the most anymore. I am attracted to whatever character has the most dynamic character in almost any story I encounter.

Luke had a dramatic character change but morally he remains mostly the same. Sure, he has trials he overcomes but at the start of the story Luke is kind-hearted, friendly, and is willing to sacrifice for others. At the end of the story, Luke is mostly the same with some growth but nothing dramatic.

The character that stands out now is Han Solo (I could talk about Darth Vader but that requires me to bring up the prequel trilogy and I don’t have time for that.). Han begins the story as a rogue who is incapable of putting his own life at risk for someone else without vast sums of money. He literally leaves all of his friends to die on a suicide mission.

Han Solo at the end of the series is a much different man. In stark contrast, he leads what is probably going to be a suicide mission. He volunteers for it. That change is what captures me. It takes three movies for that full turn. It’s a well developed character arc and has a beautiful payout.

That is what is more critical than anything else in Star Wars. I see characters that shaped my life. It’s a world that I love and has more written about it than anything else but I always come back because of the characters. Even the less than stellar writing of the prequel serves as just a mask for some of the best character arcs in fiction.

Well, that is the core of my Star Wars love. I can talk for hours about those characters. I could also talk for hours about the masterfully created world, incredibly unique character design, and astounding technical skills but maybe some other day.

Character should always be center of the story. If a story has a character then I want to know who they are and what they will become. This is harder than it seems some days and is rarely original anymore but those times it succeeds are the stories I remember.

I would love comments about Star Wars, character, or how you feel about this in general. I can’t wait to see if The Force Awakens manages to keep up with the originals. May the Force be with you all.

Staying Ahead of the Future

photo-1427501482951-3da9b725be23My childhood was filled with Star Wars and Star Trek. Later I discovered Stargate. Some of my favorite authors are Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Science fiction is my favorite genre to read, watch, and write. It has been an important part of my childhood and one my favorites parts of my life now.

The future is always an interesting prospect. Whether we are living in fear of where our technology will take us or we are excited for humanity’s next great steps. Writers are constantly trying to create their own versions of the future. They make up advanced technology that seems light-years beyond anything we have now. Unfortunately, we often catch up to science fiction or prove parts of it completely wrong.

Star Trek is a great example of this. We have the computer technology that their starships have. Our phones are actually better than their communicators. Their science is now our science. Now I watch Star Trek and I always laugh a little bit at their technology and how advanced they thought it was. So as science fiction writers how do we deal with creating technology that is believable but still futuristic enough to stay ahead of the real world?

I think that the most important factor in developing science fiction technology is staying current with the technology our world is developing now. You can do this by just keeping up with the news to see what major breakthroughs are happening. I like to get updates from major science research organizations like MIT, NASA, and DARPA. These organizations are creating things I didn’t even know was possible.

The second most important factor for creating science fiction technology is staying caught up with what other science fiction writers are developing. Science fiction stories are often defined by having a unique element that sets it apart. Usually this manifests itself into something iconic. Star Wars has lightsabers. Stargate has, well, stargates. iRobot has artificial intelligence. These are all concepts which appear in various forms in many stories but each of them takes a unique spin on the concept and that is what is important. Making it unique.

If I was going to start wrapping this up I would also state that science fiction is never going to be perfect. It is human nature to advance. I should hope that the science fiction writers who got to live long enough to see their creations become a reality should be proud.

Science fiction can be a lot of fun. You can theorize about a different future than we are look at. You can try to create a realistic future and predict humanity’s path. But whatever the purpose of your story it will always be critical to set it apart. There may be nothing new under the sun; but I think there may be a lot of new ways to look at our future. I would love to hear about your favorite science fiction elements.

What is a Hero?

Hero and Protagonist: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Hero of Old
Hero of Old

Storytelling is my craft. I study stories. I discuss stories. I create stories. Universal themes are always found in storytelling. One of those things that every story must have is a protagonist. Every story has to be about something and generally that works best if that something is a person. But not every story has to be about a hero.

A story must always have a protagonist in my mind. Before anyone gets confused by my ramblings I will give my definition of a protagonist: “A protagonist is the character or subject in a story which experiences the most change from the beginning to end of the story.”

Stories do not have to center around the one who saves the day. Those stories are dime a dozen, some are good and others are bad. I want to see stories about people who change or grow. I like it when this is the hero but sometimes the stronger story happens when it isn’t. Often because of the use of a strong redemptive story but that is a topic for another day.

Examples of stories that have protagonists which are definitely not heroes include, The Prestige and The Godfather. The Prestige follows two opposing magicians who go to greater and greater lengths to beat the other. Both of them spiral almost to the point of madness in this pursuit. They experience great change but neither of them have any shred of heroism left at the end. The Godfather is truly at its heart an analysis of how a good man becomes a hardened criminal. Both are phenomenal stories but neither of them have any room for heroes as their protagonists.

So if primary focus and change are what makes someone the protagonist then what makes them a hero? Is it them doing what they believe is right? No, most villains believe that they are doing what is right. I believe there are three elements which give a face to the hero side of the protagonist coin.

The first and most important element needed for a hero is for there to be an absolute sense of morality. The entire world could be insane and a Nietzche-esc paradise of nihilism but if there is to be a hero then he must recognize an absolute sense of right and wrong that is supported by the events that take place.

The second element is that the hero must partake in a redemptive story. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t have to be his redemptive story. Elements of redemption are the among the strongest factors that can be used in a story. Whether it is a broken sidekick becoming whole or the villain coming to a point of realization and regret or it might be the hero finding redemption for some aspect of his life.

The last element which defines a hero is self-sacrifice. It is a very physical act that sets a character apart from others. Self preservation is a key attribute of most living creatures. Pushing against this calls out to the existence of a cause greater than one life. But it becomes terribly cliche if the hero always sacrifices himself. Instead it is more important for the hero to come into contact with self-sacrifice and is changed because of it.

There is a small summary of my thoughts on the heroic protagonist. Not every story will have a heroic protagonist and I don’t think every story should. Many people may disagree with my defining elements of a heroic protagonist. I would love to hear any thoughts regarding it. Understanding story is an ever-changing process and I would love to have someone help my understanding evolve. Thanks for reading.

A New World

Hideous things lurk in dark corners. Terrifying phantasms wait in our shadows. Wisps of our darkest memories always will haunt the darkness in our closets. Or so my thoughts wandered this morning in the first rays of a clouded sun.

Welcome to my world. This is my blog and I thank you for coming and hope you will return. It will be home to my thoughts in the future. Maybe I will even be able to track down wiser men than I to provide content but we shall see.

May the universe always be open to your path.