Instability

What’s that trumpet fanfare I’m hearing? Oh, that’s right. My story “Instability” will appear in the anthology Dark Luminous Wings. It’s another Pole to Pole Publishing anthology, edited by the incomparable Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist.

Kelly and Vonnie wanted stories involving wings, so I did some research and brainstorming. As usual, I generated plenty of ideas and had to down-select to one that would result in a compelling story of the right length.

From Wikipedia.org

In my research I’d come across the account of Brother Eilmer of Malmesbury Abbey. A Benedictine monk who lived around 1000 AD, Eilmer is supposed to have flown from the abbey’s tower using a set of wings he made. These were Daedalus-and-Icarus style wings that he flapped with his arms. He didn’t really “fly,” but more likely glided in an uncontrolled manner. The account says he crash-landed, broke both legs, and was lame the rest of his life.

Medieval monks weren’t generally known for their technological creativity and spirit of adventure. Imagine Brother Eilmer engaged in a life of worship, hard work, singing, praying, and copying. He reads the Greek account of Daedalus and Icarus, and decides he could construct wings and fly as they did. Imagine him standing atop the tower, trying to overcome his fear so he can leap off. Think how he must have felt at first, actually flying, before losing control.

In my fictionalized account, throw in a fellow monk of the lying, scheming and snitching variety as well as an Abbott who can’t decide if Eilmer is insane or possessed, and you’ve got my story, “Instability.”

When Dark Luminous Wings comes out in print, I’ll tell you how to get your copy so you can read my story, along with all the others. I found Eilmer such a fascinating character, I may write more tales about him. Maybe he’ll get his own series. A book of stories about a medieval scribe, scribbled by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

An Analysis of Effortless Story Writing

“That story wrote itself,” I’ve sometimes said. But I exaggerated; it didn’t really happen that way. Still, it got me thinking. What if a story could write itself?

I decided to find out. Being rather sciency, I reckoned I’d conduct a careful and thorough experiment. I would give a story every conceivable chance, every possible opportunity, to write itself. Not because I’m lazy, you understand. This was for Science.

It’s time to shift the tone of this blog post to scientificalic language, lest you start to suspect I’m some kind of…not scientist.

Laboratory Setup – laptop still not writing

Ahem…the laptop was positioned in a roo—I mean—laboratory accustomed to having stories written in it, at a temperature of 24° C at normal atmospheric pressure. The laptop was turned on, plugged into a 120-volt alternating current power source, and word processing software was accessed.

The experimenter then left the laboratory and engaged in other, non-writing activities. These included cleaning other rooms, mowing the lawn, reading books, making and consuming lunch, and driving around town on various errands.

After a period of 8 hours and 24 minutes, the experimenter quietly re-entered the laboratory and discovered that a story had not been written. Even a part of a story had not been written, not a paragraph, sentence, word, letter, or punctuation mark. Neither had any new computer files been stored.

To gather more data, further opportunities were presented to the laptop on subsequent days. Longer time periods were tried, durations up to 73 hours and 53 minutes, with the same result. The experimenter engaged in a wider variety of non-writing activities, at greater distances from the laptop. Some trials were conducted with the laboratory door open, and some with it shut. Actual writing occurred in 0% of these cases.

Similar experiments were conducted with ink-filled pens and reams of blank paper. This served to eliminate the laptop and its software as the causal factor. Despite every opportunity and considerable time provided, the pens created no marks on the paper.

The experimenter tried to “spur” or “seed” the process by writing a first sentence, and allowing both laptop and pen to merely complete the story. These attempts likewise resulted in failure.

Numerous graphs were developed to document the results of these trials. They are not included here because the independent variable refused to depart from the axis; that is, the results were 0 in every case. 0 writing produced no matter what other quantity was being tested.

One common factor in all these trials was the experimenter himself. He therefore consulted several other writers and 100% of them reported the same outcomes in their “experiments,” though their trials were far less scientifical, with no white laboratory coats anywhere in evidence, and they had utterly failed to note the temperature. Mention of them here is included as anecdotal evidence only.

The experimenter is therefore forced to a surprising, though tentative, conclusion—it may be possible that stories do not, in fact, write themselves. The creation of stories appears to require the active participation of a writer. Significant participation actually, in every written story so far. At least this seems true for stories involving this single experimenter.

Further research is clearly indicated to validate or (hopefully) disprove this conclusion. Perhaps some necessary initial condition was overlooked, some nuance of temperature, pressure, time duration, or distance. Maybe positive results might occur under certain lunar phases or planetary alignments. A breakthrough may well await some future experimenter in this exciting research field.

For the advancement of Scientificness, this experimenter encourages others to conduct similar trials, particularly those authors writing in the same competitive genres as this experimenter. Feel free to send your own scientilic trial results as comments to this blog post by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Giftwrapping an Idea

Most gifts are tangible things, items that occupy space and have weight. But writers tread the realm of visions and dreams, thoughts and imaginings. You can’t give those things as gifts, can you? Well…

Author Andrew Gudgel and I were exchanging gifts at holiday time a few years ago. He’d been talking (for well over a year) about a story idea he had. I thought it was wonderful and kept urging him to write the story. Instead, as a gift to me, he said, “You write it.”

There were some tangible things he also gave me, the notes he’d compiled while preparing to write the story. But the real gift was the idea, and he’d given it to me.

I know, I’ve blogged before that ideas are the easy part, the trivial part, the dime-a-dozen part, and I’ve said the hard part is actually scribbling down the story and polishing it until you can sell it.

Let me caveat that now. Some ideas are more valuable than others are. Some are gold. Some are more valuable to a writer other than the one who thought of them. Such was the case with Andrew’s idea; he sensed I loved it more than he did, and that I would not hesitate to run with it. For him, it was in the ‘I’ll get to it someday’ bin.

From Andrew’s idea came my story “After the Martians.” In partial payment to him, I named a character in the story after him. If you add the value of that to the value of whatever silly gift I gave him that year, you’d still fall far short of what he gave me. I was out-gifted, plain and simple.

As Andrew so eloquently put it in his blog: “’Ideas rot if you don’t do something with them,’ said the writer Edd Dumbill. I agree. By keeping a creative idea locked away in your head/on your hard-drive/in your notebooks, it’s not free to enrich the world. Think about it this way: you may be fated to conceive of the idea and to give birth to it, but not to be the one who raises it to maturity. That may be someone else’s task. So, if after a period of sober reflection, you come to the conclusion that you’re not going to make use of an idea, give it away—throw it to a creative friend, put it on your blog, launch it out into the public sphere—and give someone else the opportunity to enrich the world with it.”

For completeness, I should mention another, earlier example of giving an idea as a gift, though this still causes me anguish and shame.

Many years and several critique groups ago, I was in a group with Raymond (not his real name). Each month, Raymond contributed a new chapter of the novel he was writing. One day, we found out Raymond had died. I don’t recall the circumstances, whether illness or accident, but he was far too young.

I got a letter from his widow saying that in his final days, Raymond had told her he wanted me to finish his novel, and she was asking if I’d do that.

Wow. Tough dilemma. On one hand, I couldn’t refuse a request from the widow of a friend and fellow writer, could I? She wasn’t asking for that much—just complete the story he’d almost finished and send it out for publication. She wasn’t asking for a portion of the payments, if the novel made money.

On the other hand, I didn’t have the passion for the story that Raymond did. I didn’t think I could do it justice. The novel involved a plot and genre type that had already saturated the market. It didn’t seem to me that readers were begging for another such novel.

In the end, I turned down the offer, with regrets. Perhaps I should have taken it, but I didn’t. Raymond’s idea deserved a champion who cared about it as deeply as he had. I was not that writer.

As you can see, it is possible to get wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows around something as insubstantial as an idea, a whim. If you’re struggling to do it, and can’t quite figure out how to cut and enclose, fold and tape the darn thing, if you need an expert guide, call—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Near Misses in Technology

For six years I’ve used this blog to aid beginning writers, but starting today I’ll occasionally take on other topics. Technology is fascinating to me, and today’s topic is those near misses in history when someone developed a technology before the world was ready.

What do I mean by ‘near misses?’ I’m talking about when an inventor came up with a new idea but it didn’t catch on, either because no one saw the possible applications or because there was no current need.

When you compare the date of the invention to the much later date when the idea finally took off, it’s intriguing to imagine how history might have been different, and how much further ahead we’d be today.

You’ll get a better idea of what I mean as we go through several examples.

Computers

The Antikythera Mechanism was likely the first computer, used for calculating the positions of celestial bodies. Invented in Greece in the 2nd Century BC, it contained over 30 intricate gears, and may have been a one-off. It is interesting to speculate how history might have been different if they’d envisioned other uses for this technology, such as mathematical calculations. Imagine Charles Babbage’s geared computer being invented two millennia earlier!

I was fascinated by the Antikythera Mechanism and the mystery surrounding its discovery in a shipwreck, so I wrote my story, “Wheels of Heaven,” with my version of those events.

Lasers

It’s puzzling to me that inventors came up with radios (1896) before lasers (1960). After all, radio involves invisible electromagnetic waves, but lasers are visible light. Sure, the mathematics behind lasers (stimulated emissions) wasn’t around until Einstein, but with people monkeying around with mirrors and prisms, it’s strange that no one happened upon the laser phenomenon ahead of its mathematical underpinning.

Charles Fabry and Alfred Perot came close in1899 when they developed their Fabry-Perot etalon, or interferometer. Again, imagine how history might have been different if lasers had appeared sixty years earlier, before radio.

My story “Within Victorian Mists” is a steampunk romance featuring the development of lasers and holograms in the 19th Century.

Manned Rocketry

The first manned rocket flight may have been that of German test pilot Lothar Sieber on March 1, 1945. It was unsuccessful and resulted in Sieber’s death. The first successful manned flight was that of Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union on April 12, 1961.

But did Sieber and Gagarin have a predecessor, beating them by three centuries?

There is an account of a manned rocked flight in 1633, the trip made successfully in Istanbul by Lagâri Hasan Çelebi. It’s fun to imagine if the sultan of that time had recognized the possibilities. My story “To Be First” is an alternate history tale showing where the Ottoman Empire might have gotten to by the year 1933 if they’d capitalized on Çelebi’s achievement.

Submarines

The earliest attempts at underwater travel come to us in legends and myths. Highly dubious accounts tell of Alexander the Great making a descent in a diving bell apparatus in 332 BC. There are vague references to the invention of a submarine in China around 200 BC. True submarine development really got its start in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s.

Still, think about how much more we’d know today about the oceans if the ancient accounts were true and people of the time had make the most of them. My story “Alexander’s Odyssey” is a re-telling of the Alexander the Great episode, and “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai” is my version of the ancient Chinese submarine.

Steam Engines

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen developed the first commercially successful steam engine. Later, James Watt and Richard Trevithick improved on Newcomen’s design.

However, these inventions were preceded by Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria in the 1st Century AD. He developed a small steam engine called an aeolipile, though he considered it an amusing toy.

What if Heron had visualized the practical possibilities of this engine? Since the steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution, could humanity have skipped ahead 1700 years technologically? My story, “The Wind-Sphere Ship,” imagines a practical use for Heron’s engine along with a reason it didn’t catch on.

Other Near Misses?

You get the idea. I am intrigued by the number of times inventors hit on an idea, but society failed to recognize it and take advantage of it, so it had to wait until much later. Are there other examples you can think of? Leave a comment for me. Your thoughts might well be featured in a post by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

What’s the Price for That Nice Plot Device?

You’ve heard of plot devices, but do you know what they are? Are they good or bad? Can you name any? For answers to these questions, you’ve come to the right blog post.

No, wrong kind of ‘device.’
From www.snappygoat.com.

Before we can define the term ‘plot device,’ let’s review what a plot is, and how a writer develops one. A plot is a sequence of events in a story, events connected by cause and effect. The writer aims to construct this sequence such that it accomplishes at least the following goals:

  1. illustrates the human condition,
  2. introduces a conflict and depicts the protagonist striving to resolve it,
  3. grabs and sustains the reader’s attention,
  4. leaves the reader with a powerful emotion at the end, and
  5. reflects believable cause-and-effect connections.

If you’re a writer crafting your story, it can be difficult to achieve all these purposes successfully. Often a complication develops. Unlike the reader, you know the story’s end and you’re aiming for that point. You might hit a snag where the next logical event in a cause-effect chain will not result in your desired story ending. To put it another way, to get to the end you want, something illogical has to happen. Your options at this point include:

  • re-writing earlier sections to make the strange cause-effect chain believable
  • re-thinking the ending of the story
  • introducing a plot device to get past the difficulty

Often the first two options are undesirable, so that drives writers to the third—the plot device.

The ‘device’ in the term ‘plot device’ refers to its original definition of a plan, scheme, or technique, not its modern connotation of a mechanical or electronic gadget.

Here are some examples of plot devices:

  • Bogus alternatives. This one comes from the Turkey City Lexicon. Sometimes, to make the plot work, the author needs a character to take an uncharacteristic action. An inexperienced author will walk the reader through the character’s mental list of options, rationalizing why the character chooses one action and not the others. This interrupts the story’s pace, pulls the reader out of the story, and is unnecessary.
  • Deus ex machina. A surprise entity comes out of nowhere to save the protagonist from a plot problem. Let’s see, Jules Verne thinks, I’ve got the title, The Mysterious Island, and I’ve got my heroic castaways who survive mostly by their wits, except sometimes they need outside help. I know! I’ll let them be aided by an unknown benefactor, later revealed to be Captain Nemo!”
  • Idiot plot. This is another one from the Turkey City Lexicon. If the writers plot problem is serious, one solution would be to set the story in the land of idiots, which would explain any unusual action taken by any character. They can all act to further the author’s plot, no matter how irrational any character’s actions seem.
  • MacGuffin. The protagonist pursues an object, believing it to be important, though (to the reader) another object could work as well. “Listen, Dashiell, I like novel, but can we change this Sicilian Vulture statuette to something else…say, a Maltese Falcon?” “Okay, sure.”
  • Plot voucher. Someone gives the protagonist an object that turns out to be the one thing needed later to get the hero out of a bad situation. “Holy plot device, Batman, why are you loading bear repellent in your utility belt?” “Better safe than sorry, Robin.” <later> “Holy Ursa Major, Batman! We’re surrounded by hungry grizzlies!” “Yes, lucky thing I happened to bring…”
  • Red herring. Anything used by the author to distract the reader’s attention away toward the unimportant and away from the important. Most frequently used in mysteries to lead the reader toward an incorrect conclusion. The term dates from the use of strong-smelling fish to divert hounds from chasing the hare. I haven’t read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but I understand it contains a character with an Italian name that translates as “red herring.”
  • Shoulder angel. A plot device used in visual media such as comic books, animated cartoons, or screenplays to illustrate a protagonist debating with her conscience, sometimes accompanied by a devil (temptation) on the other shoulder.

 From the tone of my post, you’re probably concluding that plot devices are bad, and it’s best not to use them. I’m not going to take that stance. Most writers try not to need them, but end up using them from time to time. The trick is to write well enough that readers get so swept up by your story that they don’t notice you’ve used a plot device.

To sum up, what is the price of that nice plot device, as I so poetically asked in the post’s title? The answer is, it’s free to use, but if you don’t use it well, readers won’t enjoy your story. Take it from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Do Yer Worst, Ye Scurvy, Book-Piratin’ Dogs!

You’re an inexperienced writer; you finally get a book accepted and published. Now some pirate website is giving your book away free, and paying you nothing. What do you do about it?

A modern book pirate’s treasure chest

Before I answer that, what exactly is a book pirate, and how do their sites work? A book pirate takes your ebook (or scans your print book and converts it to .pdf) and gives it away to anyone who wants to download it. They don’t pay you or your publisher. This is illegal.

Giving away the product doesn’t sound like a successful business plan, does it? They do sell advertising on those sites; that’s how they make their money. Some may not care about earning money at all; they may believe information should be free in this Age of the Internet.

When my first story was published, I set up a search engine alert to inform me when that story title was mentioned anywhere on the web, and I’ve done this for every subsequent published story. Much to my surprise, about half of these mentions turned out to be on pirate websites.

The first time, I got angry and wondered what I could do about it. There are steps you can take, but emailing notifications followed by legal warnings can get time-consuming, and may not cause the pirate to quit giving away your book.

The funniest case was when the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!, in which my story “A Clouded Affair” appeared, was pirated. Yes, a book about pirates fell victim to piracy. I wonder if the web pirates even noticed the irony themselves.

Again, how do you respond to this villainy? I know the pirates deserve to be keelhauled, whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails, and forced to walk the plank. But how do you find the low-life, hook-handed, parrot-toting rapscallions? And where do you get a fully equipped sailing ship?

In the real world, your response depends on your level of anger about piracy, your available time to send repeated e-mail warnings, your level of tolerance for frustration, and your willingness to take on a cause that (while moral and right) has only a tiny chance of succeeding.

If you’re a first-time author, the pirates may be doing you a favor. Hard to believe, I know, but follow my reasoning. At this early point in your writing adventure, exposure is more important to you than earnings. That pirate represents one more website mentioning you and your book, one more website popping up in internet searches of topics related to your book, one more website’s worth of evidence you’re an established author.

You’re still not buying that, I can tell. How about this; try the Genie Test. (I know, genies and pirates—mixing genres. Just go with it.) Author Robert Kroese introduced the Genie Test in a guest-post on Joanna Penn’s website. Suppose you rub a magic lamp and a Genie materializes. (I’m visualizing Barbara Eden.) She offers to download your ebook on one million e-readers, but you won’t earn a cent. She’s ready to cross her arms and nod, making the magic happen. Do you stop her, or let her do it?

Think of it—a million Kindles, Nooks, etc., all containing your book. If a small fraction of those people read your book, and a small fraction of them enjoy it enough to read more, that’s still a sizable following, a readership. Isn’t that what you really wanted? Thanks, Jeannie!

I’m not defending book piracy. It’s theft. It’s illegal. It ought to end. (Hey, Jeannie, are you still there? Why not magically end all book piracy while you’re at it?) I’m just suggesting, on your prioritized list of things to fret about, book piracy ought to move down a few places, maybe just above your fears about planet-ending meteor strikes, sharknadoes, and the zombie apocalypse.

That’s why I say, do yer darndest, ye snivellin’ pack o’ book-stealin,’ grog-swillin’ pirates. Ye ain’t gonna stir one hair on the head o’—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Are Your Stories Antifragile?

That’s no typo in this post’s title. Antifragility is a thing, and today I’m discussing the concept as it applies to fictional stories.

In his book Antifragile, Things That Gain From Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb asks if there is an antonym of the word “fragile.” If there were such an adjective, he’d say it describes things that become stronger when stressed.

He doesn’t mean words like ‘robust,’ ‘tough,’ or ‘resilient.’ Those words describe things that sustain shocks without damage. He wants to describe things that improve their resistance to stress by being stressed. Lacking a ready word, he coined the term ‘antifragile.’

Can a story be antifragile? To answer that, we should consider the things that impose stresses on stories. These include criticism in negative reviews and mocking satire.

What would it mean for a story to become stronger? If it meant that the story became more widely read, more popular, with increased sales, then an antifragile story would be one that suffers negative reviews or even satire and yet its sales increase.

Are there any such stories? If I recall correctly, Nassim Taleb offered the more popular plays of William Shakespeare as examples. For four centuries, those plays have endured bad reviews and been mocked, but they are performed far more often and in more languages and formats than they were in Shakespeare’s time.

From an author’s point of view, antifragility seems like a wonderful property for a story to have, especially the increasing sales part, right? If you wanted to write an antifragile story, and perhaps lacked the skill of Shakespeare, how would you go about it? Are there tangible attributes of such stories? Is there a checklist to follow?

I hate to disappoint you, but there’s no checklist. Further, the only authors who really understand what it takes to make a story antifragile…well, they’re dead. That’s because stories don’t really demonstrate that property to the greatest extent while the author is alive.

Still, being me, I’ll take a crack at it, because I like a challenge. Here is my proposed checklist for making your stories antifragile:

  1. Create complex and compelling characters. They need to seem real, with strong emotions and motivations, with goals to attain, with difficult inner problems to surmount, and with bedeviling decisions to make.
  2. Appeal to every reader. That may be impossible to achieve in a single story, but in your body of work you should include characters of many types, in diverse settings. Include rich and poor, young and old, introvert and extrovert, city and country, etc.
  3. Explore the eternal truths about the human condition. You know many of these eternal truths—we’re born, we grow up, we have parents, we learn to relate to others and even fall in love, we have disagreements and conflicts with others, we become curious about the nature of our world, we deteriorate with age, and we die. When I say to ‘explore’ these truths, I don’t mean to write a philosophy book. Write a fictional story that entertains, but causes readers to ponder those deeper truths after reading it.
  4. Execute your story with style, flair, and creativity. Yeah, right. Simply do that. This one is hard to implement, but I’ll suggest some thoughts. Look for ways to turn a phrase well. Create a new word that English lacks but needs. Write in a manner that stands out, such that readers could identify your unique voice from a couple of paragraphs chosen randomly from your stories.

Okay, it’s not really a checklist where you mark off each item in turn: done, done, done. It’s more of a guideline with concepts to aim for. Who knows if it’s even accurate? After all, I’m not dead yet (as I write this), so I can’t possibly know.

Still, it’s intriguing to think that one day, readers may consider your stories to be antifragile, and when scholars trace it back, they’ll discover you learned how to do it from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Steps Toward Becoming a Writer

Are there discrete steps or stages between non-writer and writer? Do all writers tread the same path?

I got thinking about that after reading Ani Chibukhchyan’s guest post on thewritepractice.com. She claimed to have passed through seven stages in becoming a writer, and guessed all writers climbed the same set of stairs.

Her stages were: Keeping your writing to yourself, Wanting to share your writing, Hiding behind a pen name, Waiting for permission, Coming out, Insecure introductions, and I am a writer.

With due respect to Ms. Chibukhchyan, the steps I went through don’t entirely match hers, though there is some overlap. Moreover, I suspect there are considerable differences in the stages among all writers. Here are the steps I took:

Step 1. My novel will be a best-seller.

I had the world’s best idea for a novel. Sure, I’d never written anything for publication before, but how hard could it be? After all, getting a killer idea was the most important and difficult part, right?

Step 2. Writing is harder than I thought.

It turned out, having a “killer” idea was not the most difficult part. Not even close. My prose was so bad, even I couldn’t stand the stench. I needed help. I went to writer’s conferences, read how-to books about writing, joined critique groups, and took writing classes. Good! Now I was on my way.

Step 3. When will this %&@!^# novel ever be done?

Novels, it seemed increasingly clear, are long. Reading a novel took some time, but nowhere close to the time it took to write one. Who knew? I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more. Before I knew it, twenty years had passed. That’s no typo; I meant twenty (20) years.

Step 4. Should I try short stories instead?

At some point in those two decades, I wondered if I should try something else. Short stories might not be any easier, but they were…well, shorter. Perhaps I could get a few shorts published, establish a vast readership that way, and they’d be clamoring for me to write a novel.

Step 5. Do I dare submit this?

I was done with my first short story, and my finger hovered over the Enter key, the button that would submit the story to a market. Was it ready? Was it my best work? Should I spend a little more time editing? Had I caught all the errors?

Step 6. Drowning in rejections.

After overcoming the fear of submitting, and after embracing Robert Heinlein’s Rules, I submitted story after story to market after market. At one point, I had fourteen stories out there. Problem is, I was getting nothing but rejections. All nicely worded, but still. Dejection set in, along with the feeling that I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Until…

Step 7. Wow! I got accepted!

There’s nothing like that first acceptance. If only someone could bottle and sell that feeling. First comes the acceptance e-mail, then the contract, then some edits to fix, and then seeing the book come out, with your name in it! I’ve had over thirty more acceptances since then, but still get excited with each one.

Step 8. I’m a writer.

Well, I’m a short story writer, anyway. No novel yet. No movie deals. No legions of adoring fans (that I know of). Still, I’m several steps above where I started. It feels good up here.

More steps remain for me, I’m sure. I’ll update my stair-stepping journey in a future blog post. What have your steps been like? I can almost guarantee the steps for you will be different than they were for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

23 Ways to Celebrate World Book Day

Time once again to celebrate World Book Day. What’s with the blank look? Did the holiday sneak up on you this year? Wait—you say you’ve never even heard of World Book Day? Well, this is the right blog post for you.

According to Wikipedia, World Book Day (WBD) was “organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to promote reading, publishing and copyright.”

Now that you know that, let the celebrations begin!

Um…you don’t know how to celebrate WBD? Okay, let us count the ways:

  1. Buy a book. Ever the helpful blogger, I’ve included a suggested list in the right column of my website.
  2. Give a book as a gift to someone else. New of course, unless you make it clear the book is used.
  3. Peruse a bookstore. Best to carve out the whole day.
  4. Visit a library. Again, you can get lost there, so allow time.
  5. Get a library card. Mine gets more use than my credit cards.
  6. Help a child get a library card. Open up endless new worlds for the kiddo.
  7. Buy an ebook reader. A lot lighter to carry than hundreds of hardbacks.
  8. Bake a book-shaped cake. You’ve heard of devouring books. Do it literally!
  9. Sing a traditional WBD song. What? There are no songs for this holiday? Then…
  10. Compose a song for WBD. There’s definitely a need there.
  11. Create a dance for the WBD song. Start the tradition of dancing around a bookshelf.
  12. Dress up as a book character. Pick your favorite. Spend the day talking and acting like that character.
  13. Tour a book printing factory. It there’s a book printer near you, it would be fascinating to learn how they make the darn things.
  14. Buy or build a bookshelf. Fill it with books.
  15. Write a book review. Post it on Goodreads, Amazon, BN.com, etc.
  16. Email an author. They all love to hear from fans. Hint: pick a living author.
  17. Set a reading goal. How many books do you think you can read between now and the next WBD?
  18. Attend a WBD Festival. There’s one in Kensington, Maryland. If that’s too far away, then…
  19. Plan a WBD Festival in your town. It will breathe life into the place.
  20. Commit to reading the classics. Hate it when your friends quote some classic, and you don’t get the reference? You either admit ignorance or pretend you know it.
  21. Write a book. You’ve been wanting to. I’ve seen your bucket list. You can’t finish what you don’t start.
  22. Answer David Filby’s three-book question. See below. *
  23. Read a book. Escape all TV, radio, and video games. Make it just you, your favorite drink, and your book.

* Near the end of the 1960 movie, “The Time Machine,” David Filby finds that George has left in the time machine.
David Filby: “He’s gone back to the future, to begin a new world. But it’s not like George to go off without a plan. He must have taken something with him. Is anything missing?”
Mrs. Watchett (George’s housekeeper): “Nothing…[sees blank space on bookshelf]…except three books.”
Filby: “Which three?”
Mrs. Watchett: “I don’t know… is it important?”
Filby: “Oh, I suppose not. Only, which three books would you have taken?”

 

I hope World Book Day will be as enjoyable for you as it will be for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writer, Know Thyself

How well do you know yourself? I came across a wonderful post on this topic by Joanna Penn, guest-posting on WritetoDone. I’d like to take her basic idea in a different direction.

As Joanna said, the phrase “Know Thyself” has an ancient lineage, going back at least to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece, but possibly further back to ancient Egypt. It has various interpretations, but for today, I’ll take it to mean that wisdom begins by looking inside.

If you aim to be a writer, able to write convincing tales about characters who are unlike yourself, you must first understand the person from whom these characters will spring.

Why? It’s the filters.

Let me explain. So far in life, you’ve observed the real world and many people for several years. In your mind, you have a model of that world and those people, but it’s not a perfect model. It doesn’t match the real world exactly.

Every sensation of the world has to pass through a filter in your mind, a filter you built over time based on your experiences. It consists of your stereotypes, biases, personality, political views, gender, education, occupation, etc. The filter through which you see the world is your unique perspective based on who you really are, and it is distorting the view you see.

If you write a book, you’re writing through that filter about a world you see and characters you see. Once published, the book is out there, part of the real world for readers to enjoy. When a reader reads your book, she understands and interprets it through her own mental filter.

It’s possible that, despite all this filtering, many readers will enjoy your book and you’ll earn lots of money. If so, it will be in part because your words reached through the filters and entertained readers.

It’s wise, therefore, to take an introspective look at your own filter, to study it with as much objectivity as you can. Who is this person who wants to be a writer, who would write words describing people and who would comment on the human condition? In short, who are you?

Joanna Penn’s blog post makes some great observations about attributes that most writers have in common. But I think it’s just as important for you to understand the specific attributes unique to you.

How do you do that? You could take a few days off, get away from the world as best you can, and write down what you know about yourself. You could take a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Five Factor Model, or some other measure.

If you do this, I’m certain you’ll find many of the attributes Joanna Penn listed will be true for you (a loner seeking recognition; one who’s scared, doubtful, and creative; one who believes in finishing projects and striving to improve; one who knows the dark side of life).

You’ll find out much more than that, things that make you feel proud to be you and things you wish weren’t true. You will see facets of yourself that are average and facets that are far from the norm.

This project of learning about yourself can benefit you and your writing in several ways:

  • You may find things about yourself you’d like to improve;
  • You’ll know about those parts of you that are unusual, and realize that connecting with readers may take an extra effort;
  • You’ll understand that your characters have personality filters too, and by writing about the world of your story as well as the thoughts of a character, you are revealing something about that character’s filters.

Good luck! And now, excuse me, it’s time for me to get to know—

Poseidon’s Scribe