The One Friendship Writers Must Not Forget

This month, we’ve read posts about how friends in a story can serve to illuminate plot and the protagonist. We’ve also heard about how critique groups can be inspiring and help us to become better writers. Our friendships, whether with writers or others can help us to overcome personal and health concerns which affect our writing life. But there is one other friendship we must salute – and that’s the reader’s friendship with a book.

Books entertain us, engross us in their characters and worlds. They teach us a little about ourselves, our world, and our relationship to and with each other. Every well-crafted book, as every author knows, requires research and thought not only about character, but about philosophy, technology, politics, clothing, food, and all things most dear and valued.

The first time I read an excellent book, it is to me just as if I had gained a new friend. When I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting with an old one. – Oliver Goldsmith
 

A characters’ hardships become our hardships, and their triumphs, disappointments, loves and hates also become ours. We cheer them, we jeer them. We bite our nails with worry and lose sleep over them. We want to visit their worlds, to chat with them, and often we don’t want our journey with them to end. How many people do we know who allow us to know them so intimately?

Through books, we can safely travel into the past without fear about being stomped on or eaten by dinosaurs. We can live on a space station without zero gravity affecting our bodies. We can visit the what-ifs of alternate history or live with hobbits and faeries. Or, we can visit the tender, the romantic, the grieving, the dying parts of our hearts, the very soul of human existence.

Books are our lovers, our mentors, our guides and philosophers. They are our heart break, our inspiration, our voyage into the fantastic, the scary, the parts of ourselves we both desire and dread. They are also the place where we can learn about ourselves, our world, hard science, speculative science, about religions, foods and customs of places we can never visit, or we can learn to cook or fix the plumbing.

Comfort, salvation, or escape from our daily realities can be found in books. Some books help us through our hardest moments when they help us face the hard truths. From this we go forward a little wiser, and a little humbler.

A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe. – Madeleine L’Engle

For all these reasons, every writer makes a pact with the reader when giving a gift of a new friend. That pact is a promise of a lasting friendship borne of captivating characters; a world wherein the reader is so immersed that friendship is undeniable.

And yet, books are odd friends. You can’t yell, at them, I mean, yes you can but they won’t respond or yell back. You can burn them or spill tea on them and they won’t complain or file a complaint of book abuse. They are a one-way friendship, of sorts, whose ideas and words can niggle and torment for days or even years even after the covers have been closed. These hauntings of sorts, can be either the most pleasant or the most tormenting, creating a duelling conversation of voices in our heads.

No matter what his rank or position may be, the lover of books is the richest and the happiest of the children of men. – J.A. Langford

The reason some books can haunt and invade our psyches is because they’ve struck cords of doubt, or love, or longing, or thought and reflection deeply within our own hearts. Thus, every book becomes a special friend to every person who reads it. Every reader brings their own unique world view to the story, their values, understanding of relationships and what is normal, even their own meaning for specific words. No matter the author’s intent, no matter what the author conceived, felt or saw in her imaginings, the reader’s unique perspective changes and twists the author’s world ever so slightly, thus making that book a unique friend.

The book has an unusual power, not only to become one’s best friend, but to also create friendships between people. These friendships occur when readers enjoy and embrace the same book. Irving Stone said it best when he wrote: “There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.”

For all these reasons, there are books we must forever keep on our shelves, despite yellowing pages or dust bunnies proliferating – these books are friends forever.

I have an odd collection of forever-friends-books: a dictionary I used to read when in grade school (that’s my nerdy friend), a biochemistry book from university (the science geek I love); Captain Underpants (need I say more?}, a translated series of books Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature (this is everyday history at it’s best); How to do Psychic Readings Through Touch; and the list goes on! The point is, is that these books not only inform, they each play their part in satisfying a need of the heart, a curiosity of the mind and spirit. To ask any one human to be this kind of friend would be an impossible achievement for anyone.

Books are the one freindship writers should never overlook. For many reasons, our words affect how people not only see and interact with their world, but also how they feel. We have a duty, a sacred trust, to be as engrossing, as engaging as we can be in creating spell binding worlds with characters who will stay with the reader long after the covers are closed.

Sometinmes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
 Dr. Seuss
 
 

With a little help… from my friends

(Guest post from Helen Savore)

Friendship, especially in the form of the companion is a key role in fiction. We’ve spent the whole month talking about the iconic greats, and discovering some new exemplars too. The companion does so much for our protagonist, providing support, knowledge, assistance, even generating sympathy for our readers.

In some stories, they help define the protagonist. Multiple perspectives in a story gives us different takes on a plot, but what about different views of our people? You don’t even need to do this through pov, the friend’s words and action, even filtered through our protagonist, can still provide a rich message to the reader. Sometimes we get so deep into the struggles of our leading person we need that reminder to come up for air and see there might be different takes on this situation.

Friendships are also a great way to introduce characters, either as the story starts, or coming in later. With friendships there’s an assumed history. When written right, it’s clear through every action, every word, every movement. In ensemble pieces you don’t have a lot of time to get to know your characters, so every scene has to do double duty. I’m not just meeting you, I’m learning about other folk too. Think how Danny and Rusty assemble the crew in Ocean’s Eleven. No one says hello. Each approach is unique, showing us their relationships, which teaches us about each of them. As Basher puts it “It’s good to be working with proper villains again.”

Then there’s the opposite. In a more lonely work, singleton stories, at least one form of companion gives us insight into our protagonist, gives them someone to share with. One of my favorite stories is The Hero and the Crown, but I admit McKinely writes a lonely story. As a classical introvert on the edges of my peer group, Aerin is an attractive character, but I’m not sure this beloved story would be bearable without her beloved Talat. (Don’t you dare tell me horses cannot be friends!) Even though he can’t strictly speak, that horse can communicate. Through his actions, and reactions to Aerin, we come to empathize with this DragonKiller from before the legends.

Another interesting case is the Legend of Zelda franchise. Though wonderfully puzzling and iconic the earliest incarnations didn’t have a lot of story, but this changed over time. With Breath of the Wild’s release my husband and I have been debating what are the best games. As a storyteller, that aspect obviously ranks high for me compared to others (don’t worry, I love my dungeons challenges too), but that lead us to question: what makes the best Zelda story?

Video game characters, are sometimes designed to be a blank slate sometimes to allow the player to become the character more easily. Link is one of our most classic silent protagonists, so without words how do we then empathize with a character? A premise might get us to start reading a story, or playing a game, but it’s the journey of our characters that keeps us going. Yeah Link returns constantly to the main settlement in some games, or passes through different villages and meets folk. However it’s only in the games where he consistently is meeting the same people that we really get a better feel for Link himself, and the struggles of the people Hyrule. We get a better feel of what we’re fighting for, not just to vanquish Ganon once again (because he always comes back!). Where is this stronger than in the stories where he has a companion? The companion serves a game mechanic of assisting the player, but provides us a voice, and an opinion on Link’s actions. It gives us someone to share the journey with.

In developing my own work, Tales of the Faerie Forge, I have races of beings that don’t age. As long as they aren’t broken they’ll continue to live. But I didn’t want them to exist in a perpetual stasis, and part of that was making sure they could continue to grow, and evolve. This meant establishing a culture with changing relationships, since people are so defined by who we are with. This is no pledge to a partner for life. Often it’s a deep friendship, so they form an alloy amidst each other for a time. But it can be reforged with others as they grow

I’ve shared some of mine, but who are your favorite companions in fiction? How do they compliment our protagonists?

***

Helen Savore writes fantastical worlds filled with a mixture of modern and medieval settings. She explores stories loosely based on Arthurian legends, secretly wishing that King Arthur would return to pull the world from the brink of darkness. An engineer by day, and a gamer when time allows, this paper ninja writes, reads, plays with pen-and-paper RPGs and folds origami. It’s not surprising that her stories are filled with unexpected folds and twists that blend seamlessly with reality.
Learn more about Helen’s stories over at Oberon’s Forge Press

Ungrateful God – Launch Day!

I’m really excited to share my latest book, Ungrateful God, with our Fictorians readers! AND I lucked out. March’s Fictorians theme is friendships in fiction, and the timing couldn’t have been better. When I set out to write a sequel to Unwilling Souls, one of my specific goals for the book was to have Ses Lucani, fresh from both stinging betrayal and soaring triumph at the end of the first book, assemble a ragtag band to help her stand against the entrenched cults of the imprisoned gods and their continued attempts to free their masters.

I felt this was an important step for Ses. Seemingly abandoned by her parents as an infant and mostly ignored by her guardian, she’s spent most of her youth a loner, never able to get close to others lest they discover either the truth about her parentage or the deformity of her mismatched eyes. Forced to flee her home and then to accept help wherever she can find it, she finds herself beginning to trust only to be utterly betrayed. As such, the start of Ungrateful God finds her understandably wary about ever trusting too much again.

After Ses finds herself alone in a city built into the husk of an immense crab where no one can remember what happens at night, she’ll discover that when the stakes are high enough, you can’t choose your friends any more than you can your family. Whether they be the secretive offspring of hellship pilots, a proven liar, or an actual demon-servant of one of the gods, fate (or me, rather) could not have handed her a group more perfectly attuned to her well-earned paranoia.

Fictional friendships that begin in conflict are often the most entertaining to read. I’ve only scratched the surface of this group’s potential. And much to Ses’s dismay, I will make no promises for their trustworthiness…

You can find Ungrateful God at the links below beginning TODAY, Friday the 24th of March.

ALSO, in celebration of the new book, Unwilling Souls will be on sale for just $0.99. How long will the sale last? Through launch day, certainly. After that, who knows? So don’t delay on the chance to get two great books for less than $6.00!

Amazon (Kindle) or Amazon (Paperback) separate links until Amazon links them up

Kobo

iBooks

Nook

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleheadshotRocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Crit Groups Suck I mean Rock

It was my turn. I passed out my thirty pages to the group to take home and love. I knew they would. They’d come back the next week and beg for more. The prose. The story. The insight. They’d share with their friends. The leader of the crit group (a group I paid $200 a month to be a part of) had been published—four times. She’d probably kick my submission over to her agent. I’d have publishers beating down my door, demanding I quit my day job and finish the book.

The next week I waited nervously as we went through the opening formalities. Then they pulled out their redlined thirty pages and looked at me. Not with eyes of amazement or envy, but…pity? Confusion?

“Well,” said the four-time published author, “where do I start?”

I learned a lot in the next twenty minutes. It was like prancing around the high school cafeteria, butt naked.

They wanted to know what happened to the peanuts. See, my character went on a road trip with his dad. He stopped in the gas station and bought peanuts. I never mentioned them again. They wanted to know what happened. The group leader suggested if I put it on the table, that I use it.

I sucked at POV. I hadn’t written a story but wrote about the scenes I would have watched on television, shifting camera angles back and forth. Good for television, bad for storytelling. This was the first time I learned about the concept known as Point of View.

“But beautiful imagery in the fire scene.” That coming from the four-time published author. I didn’t know what imagery was. But I had written something that I had experienced, building a campfire.

After the experience, my pride more than bruised, more like destroyed, and surprisingly with no agent deals, I about gave up writing.

Fast forward 10 years. Tonight, I just got off the phone with a phenomenal crit group. We submit1000 words each week and critique them. We probably overanalyze things, discuss word variations, plot structure, character development. The benefit of this group, hasn’t been the critiques, the multiple eyes and perceptions that catch inconsistencies or typos (like mine tonight where I wrote “her waste” instead of “her waist”).

No the greatest gift of this crit group has not been so apparent. In reading other writings as a fellow critiquer, I have to ask myself a number of questions: Why does this work or not work? Why did I misread this? What do they mean here? Why did they take it that direction? Why did they use that word? How might I have said that? Why do I love this character? Why do I enjoy this character? What made that piece great? And on and on and on.

Then, while asking the questions, developing a response that is constructive and then sharing that response with the author has helped me better understand my own writing weaknesses.

Robert Heinlein said, “When one teaches, two learn.” This my friends, is why you need a crit group. Because when all six of us teach, all six of us learn and we are getting better, I am getting better.

Here are some things crit groups have taught me.

  1. How you mention something in a story can add great significance to that something…like peanuts.
  2. If you put something on the table, use it.
  3. Good writers are not born. Everyone sucks as some stage in their writing career. If you want to be a good writer, persistence will help.
  4. DON’T PAY FOR CRIT GROUPS – even if they are a four-time published author.
  5. If you don’t like your crit group, find another. There are plenty. Maybe join two.
  6. If you’re the smartest guy in your crit group, maybe join a second (don’t necessarily quit your first because Robert Heinlein had a good point.
  7. Make the time to submit, attend, and offer feedback in your crit groups.
  8. Be consistent.
  9. Writing prompts, given by someone in the crit group is a waste of time. I’ve got plenty of ideas and too little time.
  10. Join a group that writes the same genre as you. It’s hard to get feedback on legal thrillers if everyone else is a fantasy guy.
  11. Be appreciative. They’re helping you and maybe you’re helping them.
  12. Take all feedback. If it helps, great. If not, throw it away quietly.