Been to Utopia and Dystopia, and I prefer…

Judging from recent literature, the future looks bleak. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Delirium, Matched, Legend, and others paint visions of worlds much worse than our own.

Without question, these books sell well. Some have become movies. We readers have a fascination with dismal futures, possibly because:

  • They make our own present seem better by comparison;
  • We like to imagine the end result of current downward trends;
  • The character’s stakes are high, the conflicts larger than life;
  • We identify with being a victim of society;
  • It’s inspiring to read about characters making the best of things in the worst of places; or
  • Millennials, raised in the shadow of 9-11, actually believe their future will be worse than their present.

city-654849_960_720From the writer’s point of view, dystopias have this advantage—at least one of the book’s conflicts is baked in from the start. There will be some sort of man vs. society conflict going on. Whatever other conflicts are present, you’ll find a struggle between the individual and the state. By contrast, in utopias, conflict is harder to come by.

For this post, I’ll define utopian literature to refer to fiction set in a future world that’s better and more technologically advanced than our own, but is not necessarily a perfect world. Dystopian literature is fiction set in a future world worse than our own (with either more advanced or less advanced technology), it’s but not necessarily a completely hellish world.

spaceship-499131_960_720Utopian literature doesn’t seem to be selling as well as its dystopian opposite. Such books once rocketed off shelves. Almost all science fiction written in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s assumed society and technology would advance and life in general would improve.

Such utopian books didn’t portray perfect futures. The characters suffered from problems and challenges as dire as those in any novel. After all, if someone traveled to our present from almost any period in the past, they’d view our modern era as utopian, thanks to our long life spans, medical advancements, reasonably plentiful food, and readily available technology. We look around us and see no end of problems, but in the eyes of our ancestors, we all inhabit Utopia.

Does the prevailing literary mood reflect society’s predominant attitude toward technology? In the 1940-1970 period, could it be that the Space Race, combined with the baby boom (which produced a huge number of youthful readers), result in a yearning for optimistic literature?

Might it be that today’s readers no longer hold a positive view of technology? Has the rise of terrorism, increasing surveillance, climate change, cybercrime, and a fear of artificial intelligence biased the current book-buying public against science?

Possibly, but Baby Boomers had “bad” technology, too—namely, the Bomb. And Millennials have plenty to be optimistic about, such as driverless cars, household robots, 3D printing, hyperloops, missions to Mars, etc.

If each generation knew both good and bad technology, then why would they hold such different attitudes toward it? Or is it something besides a prevailing view of science?

Could it be all due to the Boomers alone? Maybe that “pig in a python” generation is, all by itself, influencing literature as its population ages. That is, when Boomers were young and optimistic, they preferred Utopia, but as they became older, sadder, and wiser, they pulled up stakes and moved to Dystopia.

Hieroglyph coverWhatever the reason for the current literary preference, some evidence indicates the reaction against dystopia and back toward utopia has begun. In 2011, author Neal Stephenson helped found Project Hieroglyph which seeks fiction and nonfiction depicting a positive future. The published anthology, Hieroglyph, is on my list of books to read.

I prefer utopian fiction. Being a techno-optimist, I prefer to think the future will be better than the present, and reading such books keeps me in that mindset. However, I’m not Pollyannaish; I know society could well backslide, much as the thousand year Dark Ages followed the Roman Empire. Further, I know readers of dystopian books don’t necessarily believe the future of the real world will be dismal.

Let me know your position on this spectrum. Do you read solely utopian, or solely dystopian books? Or perhaps you don’t care, so long as the book is good. Your comment may influence the type of fiction to be written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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8 Rules for Writing The End

Writing the ending of your story can be as difficult as coming up with its opening lines. After all, the ending is the part that will (or should) linger in your readers’ minds. It’s important to craft an ending that satisfies, intrigues, and leaves readers hungry for your next book.

The EndWhat should you do to create a memorable and striking ending? Here are 8 rules to follow, distilled from great posts you should also read by Dee White, James V. Smith, Jr., Brian Klems, Crista Rucker, Joanna Penn, and the folks at Creative Writing Now and WikiHow:

 

  1. Resolve the story’s main conflict(s). Even if the external conflict isn’t fully resolved, the protagonist’s internal conflict should demonstrate growth in that character.
  2. Ensure the final events result from the protagonist’s actions and decisions. For better or worse, the hero must bring about the ending, not stand by and watch it happen. Do not allow a Deus Ex Machina.
  3. Strive for an ending that’s inevitable, yet unexpected. I’ve always found Beethoven’s music to be like that. “Yeah,” you’re asking, “but how do I do that?” Take the expected ending and give it a twist; that’s how to give readers something they don’t expect. The way to make that ending inevitable is to go back and drop foreshadowing hints into the story. If these hints are subtle, then your ending can be both inevitable and unexpected.
  4. Allow only a brief resolution after the story’s climax. The end should be a rapid relaxation of tension as I depicted here.
  5. The end should refer to story’s theme, but not be preachy like a morality play.
  6. If you’re unsure how to end your tale, write several draft endings and either choose the best one, or combine elements from two or more of the best. You may end up with as many drafts of the ending as you wrote for the beginning hook.
  7. You needn’t fully wrap up all the story’s loose ends (except those pertaining to the protagonist and the main internal conflict), but they should be addressed or hinted at.
  8. The end should reflect back to beginning, but in a spiral manner, not a circular one. By that I mean that things can never be as they were in the beginning of the story; too much has changed. By referring back to the beginning, that will emphasize this change to the reader.

Adherence to these rules should help you end your stories in a manner satisfying to your readers. At last, riding off into the sunset on his amazing rocket-powered pen, goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Modernizing the Muses

What is the source of creativity? Why are some people creative, and others not as much? To those who aren’t, creative people can seem imbued with magical power, able to see beyond, and to make something out of nothing.

The ancient Greeks judged many such abilities to be god-given, and attributed creativity to the Muses. Later Greek mythology settled on their being nine of them, all goddesses, and all daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Each was an expert in some field or group of related fields. Though a muse might inspire a certain level of skill in a mortal, woe be unto the mortal who dared to challenge a muse herself.

I’ve blogged several times (notably here, here, and here) about muses, since I’m interested in creativity and enjoy the idea of somehow making that mysterious attribute more tangible and understandable. In my own uncreative moments, when stumped for a story idea, I wonder if I’d be more creative if I had a muse figurine. If I stared at such a figurine, would the muse herself inspire me?

Xanadu MusesGuilty pleasure confession: I liked the 1980 movie Xanadu, especially the scene where the nine muses emerge from a wall mural, to the tune of the wonderfully exuberant song “I’m Alive,” by the Electric Light Orchestra.

For today, I thought I’d ponder the various fields mastered by the ancient muses, and see how we would update that and assign modern creative fields to 21st Century muses.

Here are the classical muse job assignments:

Muse Name Domain
Calliope Epic poetry
Clio History
Euterpe Music, Song, and Elegiac Poetry
Erato Lyric poetry
Melpomene Tragedy
Polyhymnia Hymns
Terpsichore Dance
Thalia Comedy
Urania Astronomy

Today, I’m not sure we’d count History or Astronomy as being such creative endeavors as to be each worth having their own muse. Also, I doubt we’d split poetry three ways. Note that prose fiction (my preferred field) is nowhere on the list.

Here’s my initial attempt to modernize the muses, taking into account the different and newer creative endeavors available today:

Muse Name

Domain

Alpha Literary arts (fiction, poetry)
Euphemia Performing arts (music, dance, choreography, theater, movies, singing, comedy)
Idola Visual arts (painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, interior design)
Mágeira Gastronomy / chef
Polycassandra Multimedia artistic works (comics, video games)

My list has only five, not nine. But even ancient accounts weren’t clear about the number of muses.

I stuck with the idea of giving them Grecian names (or feminized versions of Greek words). Alpha is, of course, the first letter. Euphemia means to speak or declare. Idola means vision. Mágeira is intended to refer to chefs and cooking. Polycassandra is intended to mean manifold helper.

Perhaps in a future blog post I’ll re-examine this list. I might be able to split up their duties in a way to better even out their workload. After all, Idola and Euphemia would be very busy, compared to Mágeira.

What do you think? Have I left out any creative fields of endeavor worthy of inclusion? Is there a better way to organize the assignments? In the task of modernizing the muses, it’s time for you to get creative and to out-do—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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The 7 S’s of Your Writing Cave

You’ve heard of man-caves. Do you write in a cave? A nook? A special room dedicated to your craft? A place where all you do is write?

I’m curious about the percentage of writers who have such a place. Also, what’s the percentage of writers who don’t have a cave but wish they did?

Let’s explore the concept of writer’s caves and their characteristics. I believe there are seven features you might seek in setting up such a place. You could be looking for one, two, or any number of these aspects. Conveniently, they all begin with ‘s.’

  • Stimulation. You chose your cave because its window scenery inspires. Or you brought motivational aids into the space, such as pictures, incense, or music. You laid out the room so that it stirs your creative fluids and launches your mind in flight.
  • Silence. The cave is the one room in your dwelling that’s quiet. No conversation noise, no traffic noise, no TV or radio. You need peace to write and can only find it here.
  • Separation / Solitude. Okay, that’s two s-words, but they are related. To write, you need to isolate yourself from others, to be alone. The presence of spouse, children, or roommates requires you to attend to their needs, to engage with them, and you can’t write under those conditions.
  • Single-mindedness. You dedicated this chamber to writing, and that is all that occurs within. No distractions permitted. Here you focus only on creating masterpieces of fiction. You’ve banned all mental wandering, research, games, daydreaming, and navel-gazing from this room. It’s nose to grindstone here.
  • Supplies. You need certain stuff to write. Perhaps this stuff includes your computer, printer, ink, reams of paper, favorite pens, reference books, etc. You’ve gathered all these things in one space, convenient and ready at hand.
  • Security. Your cave didn’t start out as anything special, and perhaps it isn’t special now. But you’re just comfortable here. It’s become a habit. Since it’s working, why change a thing?
  • Setup. In your cave you’ve achieved ergonomic perfection. You’ve chosen a chair shaped for optimum comfort and proper spine support. The computer screen is at the right height. You’ve positioned the keyboard and mouse such that you could work here all day without fear of repetitive strain injury.

I’ll make two guesses about writer’s caves. First, I’ll bet they used to be more common than they are now. I say that because pens once required frequent dipping in an inkwell, and you didn’t want to be toting one of those around. After the advent of typewriters, those machines weren’t exactly portable either. These technologies chained writers to specific desks.

Only the invention of pens with internal ink reservoirs freed writers to write anywhere. Today’s laptop and tablet computers also provide portability that allows you to write wherever you choose, and to bring your digitized reference materials with you.

My second guess is that most successful authors have caves. Those who churn out best-sellers might cite any of my 7 s-reasons for their own caves, but after awhile, it amounts to Security. They’ve found something that works and see no need to change.

That’s not to say that caves are essential to writing success, or that all the best authors have their own caves.

What does Poseidon’s Scribe’s writing cave look like, you ask? I used to have one, but don’t any more. I had a den that I set up with everything I then needed—spacious desk, shelves of books, inspirational framed pictures, internet connection, printer, supplies, etc.

Subway writing caveI don’t write there very much anymore. Now I write first drafts while commuting on the subway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At home, I take my laptop wherever I’m close to an outlet, and it could be in any room, any seat, like Couch writing cave on the couch in the living room. In good weather, I sometimes write out on the deck.

 

 

 

 

 

In short, the world is my cave.

How about you? Do you write in a special place? What do you call it? What is it about that space that makes you want to write there?

Leaving a comment about that is your homework, assigned by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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