Last month the Writing Exercise touched on how fictional words can be used to inspire non-traditional people to enter the fields of science and engineering. This month’s challenge is in a similar vein.
I’ve often talked about the challenge of writing choreography (fighting and romantic scenes). To make them unique, instead of bogged down in “he punched him in the mouth” over and over again, it helps to make what is unique about a person and integrate the characteristic into the fight. Main character a chef, have a battle in the kitchen with knives and pans. Main character a sky diver, duke it out with winged creatures in the sky before hitting dirt. Main character has a different scarf every day of the month, tie someone up with them.
Many people look at disability as a limitation. Imagine a situation where the disability is an advantage instead of a limitation. Arm wrestle a one-armed man. Find a way through a dark dungeon with a blind woman. Deafness versus the thunder villain.
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a fight scene where a disabled person is the one fighting and rescuing everyone. Not the lone person staying behind because they have been shot in the leg, but where the hero survives and gets the girl/boy situation.
Image courtesy of nunawwoofy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Dark Night of the Soul
Today is March 1st and my first day off (other than a snow day) since tax season started. Tax season started on January 2nd and goes until April 17th due to the 15th being on the weekend. One hundred and six days. Today is day 59, a bit past the half-way point. Things are calmer. The introduction long past where we remind people of our locations, followed by the initial rush the weeks immediately before and after January 31st when the W-2s go out.
I’m in a lull. In a book, everything that went wrong in the first half has been sorted out. The character thinks they can accomplish everything. They got the tools, the relationships, and the skills. Things are beginning to look up.
Thing is, I know March 25th is coming fast. Why March 25? People start feeling the pressure of April – how did a quarter of the year go by already? – they ask. The final rush hits. More accurately builds. Every day more people show. Every single day. More and more and more.
My Dark Night of Soul for tax season begins on March 25, though despair doesn’t start taking huge bites until April 6. Bites from my sanity to which I will apply stitches the week following the end of tax season locked in my house with my to-be-read pile, my comfy chair, some blankets, and chocolate.
My tools? By April 8th overloaded, broken down. Printers and scanners giving their all for the final seven days with no hope of repair. My relationships? The procrastinators. People who owe heart-rending amounts; decisions on eating and heat have to be made. People who hate taxes. People who are looking over their tax documents for the first time. In all cases we will find essential stuff missing and have no time to get it. My skills? Overwhelmed, exhausted, I struggle – the final two days I start counting hours, eyeing the line which is only growing. No way am I going to satisfy everyone. No way am I going to be able to do what I consider the level of care required, a service level I offered with a smile just a few short weeks ago around March 1st. (Hint: If you get taxes done by professionals, or do them yourself but may need to call technical support, the next two weeks are the best time to complete the task.)
In Dark Night of Soul for writing, you take everything you had built up for your character and destroy it bit by bit, leap by leap. Flood them emotionally, physically; make the task – internal and external – impossible.
The consummate Carrie Ryan explained the situation far better than me in “The Dark Night of the Soul” back in 2013. Crushing your character’s hopes and dreams are explained in intense detail.
WRITING EXERCISE: Think about your life and a Dark Night of Soul point. The level should be the first book of a series, so leave room for things to be worse in future books. You don’t have to visit your darkest emotional moments; an external (outside focus) can work just as well. Stuff like raining on prom night in a rented outfit, a white shirt becoming see-through in the rain right before a job interview, or annual tax season exhaustion. List every step of the loss – friends, tools, skills.
If you were writing this scene for a comedy, what else would you take away? Spend no more than an hour on this, preferably during daylight, and then put away the paperwork, save the file, and go outside and enjoy the sun.
READING EXERCISE: For your present read-in-progress, record what the character has at the midpoint. What skills and relationships have they developed? What are they confident about. During the Dark Night of Soul times, how had each of the midpoint positives been undercut?
An example of a second book level, keeping up with the tax season theme, is when congress passes their tax bills right before going on Christmas break so corporate is still reprogramming things when the first people show up to get their taxes done, and then when Congress returns in the new year they pass a retro-active bill related to charity donations. Once congress completes their thing, the States finally pass their tax season bills in the middle of February so the tax professionals need to call people back into the office who thought their taxes were done to correct state issues. Those are bad years.
Book three level, the final book of the series, would be like the first three days of the year I opened an office I never been in. I didn’t know where anything was stored, the woman who I was told to contact with questions was in the hospital for the first two days of the season (hence me opening her office), overnight Microsoft had released a 90-part (I kid you not) update which took over 2 hours to load (and I couldn’t run our security procedures without it), and fifteen people waiting for the system to reboot including people with young children. I ate my packed LUNCH at 9 pm that night. I cried some when I got home – from relief, exhaustion, stress, need to sleep, need to get up early, I don’t know. And was back in the office at 6 am to take care of one couple who had to leave with their baby, but needed to go to work early the following day – now that day. The tools I had were broken, the relationships unavailable, and the knowledge not pertinent to the office I was in. Yes, I was successful enough I am still in the business. Yes, the next year the only office I opened was one I was intimately familiar with.
Give me the book one Dark Night of Soul level over the book three level any day.
The most valuable commodity in the world is human intellect. We can’t dig it up, refine it, and put it on the market in a quick just-in-time product stream. Intellect, in all its forms, requires discovery, shaping, honing, and continued usage. Whether a person excels in spacial, verbal, social, political, mathematical, educational, technological, or musical aspects of understanding the world, each individual must be given a safe, welcoming environment to sharpen the intellect to its fullest. Doing otherwise is burning scare resources and delaying advancement.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) has been throwing away millions of IQ points a year with their neglect, nay, their criminal abuse of women, especially women of color. In a field where “nerdy geeks” rule, women have been kicked out of the treehouse. Half of humanity actively discouraged from participation, and people wonder why we don’t have flying cars and we aren’t living on Mars?
July 2017 released study created from interviewing 474 astronomers and planetary scientist revealed Doctorate level women scared to attend conferences or participate in field research. Let me repeat that – women our society has trained to be the best, invested over 20 years of education, because of PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE cannot attend intellectual exchanges or go to isolated locations with their co-workers because they fear for their physical and mental health. Really, WTF? (See “Women of Color Face a Staggering Amount of Harassment in Astronomy“)
Last year #MeToo had a month of buzz on Facebook and social media as woman after woman spoke about her personal experiences. I include some of my experiences along that line in “Blog: Made Me Look“. Shortly after the month of #MeToo, the celebrity circle suffered a “witch hunt” (as some called it) of improper sexual behavior accusations. Most women I know just blinked and muttered “about time.” The long-standing joke of “sleeping on the casting bed” had its covers pulled back.
Sexual harassment costs society brains, women who choose not to go into fields where only men live. Women cautiously refusing life in the military, avoiding writing because of backlash, staying home from conferences instead of sharing papers.
Maybe a part of your brain is whispering “good”, maybe another part of you has cancer which a woman who could have discovered a life-saving cure in your lifetime never entered the field after threats were made in her pre-med classes.
Yes, someone is likely to figure it out. After all, science is just a study of the world and discovering how it works. Eventually a solution can be found. Depending on how many people are looking, “eventually” can be minutes or decades away.
Pushing half the people out of the STEM treehouse is beyond stupid.
A quick perspective of how making the scientific community hostile to women and people of color affect research: ORCID – A non-profit research organization with 1 million registered scientists is 33% women. The number of women in the organization would need to MORE THAN DOUBLE to achieve parity of gender.**
You can’t get those numbers overnight.
Not even in astronomy.
So how do we help those that can’t help themselves? Provide inspiration.
People emulate what they see in fiction. Having Uhura on the Enterprise bridge inspired hundreds, thousands of people – women and people of color.
Writers can provide a face for people to see in fields they never thought to try. Make people question how the world should work. Point them in a direction.
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a STEM flash with a woman of color as a positive protagonist. Be sure she has the strongest agency in the story and not a front for a different member of the cast.
READING EXERCISE: Find a biography or autobiography of a woman or person of color who had been in space and read it.
I’ve set up a lot of tents in my day. Nearly all in existence take more than one person for the poles. I’ll like to think I would have popped up quickly and helped, but in the video people had also been assigned a task and I always attempt to complete my personal tasks before helping others. I mean, they assigned me a task for a reason.
One of my science loves is sociology, how groups of people interact. Knowing about the bystander effect gives a person the ability to avoid it within themselves and work around it in other circumstances.
CPR classes teaches the participants to point to individual bystanders in an emergency and give them tasks; untrained people don’t know how they can help but when asked to do a simple task, will jump on it.
WRITING EXERCISE: Have something happen with a large group of people present, it doesn’t need to be an emergency. Choose one person from the group; how long does it take for the person to stop being a bystander and what is the tipping point?
Everyone was home for Thanksgiving. Grandma making deliciousness in the kitchen with mom, my two sisters, and a cousin who worked in a restaurant relegated to making the gravy. Dad and the rest of the gang snacked, watching the game after the quick touch football game in the backyard ended up being a leaf fight. Twenty-three people in all, fifteen staying overnight, made a very crowded house.
I love my family.
Even Zelda’s two rescue greyhounds which she refuses to board. To grandma pets are family too, so Oil Slick and Leaping Lance shared floor space with the crawler and the two toddlers while grandma’s Princess and Sir Claws-a-lot, Santa for short, laid across the back of the sofa to avoid the tail pullers. Frozen Kitty wasn’t a fan of large groups and hid back in the guest room with Evan, helping the boy read the most recent Lunar book.
I had stolen a chair from the two tables set up yesterday and stuck it between the sofa and recliner to watch the game. My boyfriend leaned on the back. I mean, not my boyfriend, we are roomies, not romantic. He is a friend, who is a boy, and had no one to eat thanksgiving dinner with since his family lives in Florida. When I told grandma, well, you can guess what she said. We both are on the biology track, working towards pre-med research, and the apartment is right next to the Nibset Lab. God, I don’t know how many times I repeated that explanation this weekend. It’s still better than him staying at the apartment staring at the empty walls for the four-day break. Yes, we have pictures, we just haven’t put in the nails between TA, lab work, and classes, so they lean on the walls at floor level where we plan to put them up. Maybe next year.
So Malik bent down a bit to whisper in my ear, “When dinner?” like six million dozen deviled eggs, a vegetable platter, and four types of chips weren’t on the coffee table in front of us.
“Okay.” He stood straight a moment and then leaned back down. “Anything I can do?” tickled my ear.
Not a fan of football I guess. Actually, I know. Basketball he could tolerate, but any other sport bored the crap out of him. For me I watch football one day a year, well, three – Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and the Superbowl – because of school. I played until high school, when the boys got too big for me to tackle. I still miss being a defensive end.
I turned my head to the side to whisper back at him, lips skimming across his shaved cheek. “Do you want to brave the kitchen?”
He snorted, pulling his head back a little to speak against my neck. “How about set the table?”
“Hm. Aunt Judith usually does that.”
“Which one is Aunt Judith?”
I really couldn’t say why we were whispering, between the game and the shenanigans the noise approached hazardous levels. But for this answer, my voice became even quieter. “She died of cancer in the spring.”
Two plays and one commercial break later, the heat from Malik’s body shifted when he leaned down again. “It’s three. Shouldn’t we … I mean, the table needs setting.”
I looked around the room. I saw Dad and Uncle Derek and a couple other adults glance toward the bare tables, quickly bringing their eyes back to the game. The children tumbled and crawled over everything, unknowing and uncaring.
Aunt Judith would normally be putting the finishing touches on the center pieces just about now.
“Yeah.” I stood up and inherited an annual Thanksgiving task.
A common recommendation to writers is to read outside their genre. Why? Exposure to other techniques which can enhance writing. Last year I shared a Horror blog revealing the secrets of monsters which easily has application in any genre forms with antagonists like Urban Fantasy or Thriller.
Writer Unboxed guest columnist Donald Maass (of the Donald Maass Literary Agency) wrote how to add A Touch of Romance to any genre. This is not a how-to write romance, but how to add a breath of love to a science-fiction or mystery. Whether the love is unrequited or triangle, young or old, new or mature, main character or secondary, romantic relationships add a level of realism to a story. Writers can exploit the emotional tool to raise the stakes or reduce the tension.
The list of question are perfect. Here are a few:
“Who in your story is single? Who wants love? Who can begin to love that character?”
WRITING EXERCISE: From your stable of characters (either your present work-in-progress or previous flashes and shorts), pick a character not in a relationship and not looking for one. Create a flash where s/he has an encounter where a romance could develop if they choose to pursue the matter. Keep the original genre’s feel unless it is romance then change it up to strongly be one of the story’s subgenres. The point of the exercise is adding a touch of romance to a non-romance.
If you normally write romance, add a touch of horror to your romance instead. For a character who has the world on a string, create a flash with an encounter which adds a bit of scare.