You will know, or most of you will know, I am an author.
It is not a secret.
What many of you may not know is how I get the ideas, not only for storylines but situations, characters, actions, sub-plots and such.
The answer is the stimulus comes from the everyday.
There is no magic.
A short while ago I posted a heartfelt outpouring written by someone going through a low patch in their life. You can read it here.
That post, or rather the content, the spirit in which the content was written will, no doubt, lend itself to a character, or reveal the personality of a character going through a situation, in one of my stories.
Along with the above I often hear or read a certain line which is so special it deserves, nay, demands to be included verbatim. Referring to the same post, one such line is…
“My worth was stolen by minuscule measures, so slender the slices, I failed to feel the knife…”
Okay, it may not be the most beautiful line ever written, but pretty is not what good writing is all about. What it is about is touching another’s mind, sharing feelings, understanding and stimulating thought, which these words do perfectly.
It is the normal, the every-day, the simple events, basic routines, the regular, the nondescript which gives rise to great storytelling. (Not the artificial sensationalism favoured by the modern media).
Yet, it is only those with certain minds, with a sight which sees far more than what is visible, who understand the depths of these moments. Often these are people like me, writers, authors, artists, creatives, but sometimes they are greater minds, scientists, engineers, inventors and geniuses.
Yesterday, I read of such a man, a chap called Abraham Wald. (No, I had not heard of him either.)
Abraham was a person who had the type of mind I refer to.
Allow me to elucidate…
During WWII, the Navy looked at where they needed to armour their aircraft to ensure more returned home.
The Naval intelligence collected data and ran analysis of where their planes sustained the most damage.
The resultant conclusion was the planes needed to be armoured on the wingtips, the central body, and the elevators flaps because this was where they were being hit by enemy fire.
See diagram 1.
However, the chap I mentioned earlier, Abraham Wald, (Who, by the way, was a statistician), disagreed with the top brass.
Abraham Wald suggested the planes would be better with armoured noses, engines and mid-body sections.
Wald was called crazy by those undertaking and running the study because, as they told Wald, those areas were not where the planes were getting shot.
Which brings me back to the point I made above, about it taking a special mind to see beyond that which is right in front of you.
What Abraham realised, which the others did not, was the aircraft were getting shot in the locations he suggested to armour.
But those planes were not making it home.
Without realising it, the Navy had analysed where the aircraft could be hit the most without the planes suffering catastrophic failure.
The planes the Navy studied had not been hit in the areas which caused their loss, the ones which had been hit where Wald highlighted were the ones which had crashed and burned.
Therefore, Wald saw the Navy was not looking at the whole sample, but only those planes which survived battle.
Now, I don’t claim to be an Abraham Wald or that any of my insights may change the world or save countless lives, but I do claim to see deeper into the simple things than many.
However, I would like to share some of my insights into life with you. On that basis, may I suggest reading ‘Within the Invisible Pentacle’, it’s a good place to begin. You can find it on Amazon UK hereor on Amazon anywhere else in the worldhere
Before I finish I would like to give you the ‘Heads-up’ about a new literary magazine due out this May, called the Electric Press – literary insights. Click on this link and head over to the Electric Press website for more information. It will be well worth your while.
A good writer has no need to look for inspiration and ideas, they will come flooding unto them.
The fact is, each moment of every day we are surrounded by a million and one stimuli which only need us to recognise their being. We must feel, hear, sense what is around us, what is happening in front of our eyes.
We must allow our perception to absorb, to let our mind create fiction and fantasy from implied interpretation. We must permit our creative seed to run wild.
I have written on this subject before, albeit from another perspective, in a post calledThe Curse of the Muse
This post is a little different.
A short while ago, possibly a good few months past, I read a post on a social media site from one of my connections. I think ‘friends’ is the general term used.
I was touched by the raw honesty of the post; so much I saved their words so I might use them as a basis for my own writing, either in situation or character creation.
I feel a little guilty for ‘stealing’ these heartfelt outpourings, yet, I am acceptive to the reasoning of creativity and the understanding of where, how and by what means we writers find our inspiration.
You see, most of my works, regardless of genre or setting, focus on our humanity, on social and personal interactions and on life itself.
The following is an edited version of the social media post mentioned. I am sure you will understand the reason it resounded with me, especially if you are a reader of my books and other works.
This is it…
“This isn’t poetry.
It’s not placed on a pretty post.
There are no pictures to pull you in.
This is just me needing to vent and I suppose those who want to know will read it through; there are a few thousand of you, maybe more and I’m just this sickly, tiny, thing who is easy to overlook.
My life isn’t an open a book, but should the play ever be released it will read like a tragedy of comedic design, one that tears the heart and rips the mind.
Irony, you’ll find, is the underlying theme.
I was everything I was told I would be; yet with time viewed through a rear-view mirror, I am nothing which holds value beyond the front door and those therein are on their way out.
I’d leave too, but domestic skills, they don’t count and writing words has yet to pay the bills; besides, without a degree to back up the lines, there are those who say I’ve spent the last three years wasting my time.
It’s pride, I know, but I’m pushing four decades old and I’m not sure I’m equipped to go back to the shit I did before I became a mom and wife.
I mean no offence, but I’m better than a burger to flip, or the next bag of groceries to sack, my mind knows too much to do that any longer.
I could go back to school, try and educate, but what do I do with the stack of debt that’s all late?
I have no resume. That’s the cost, the loss, of being nothing more than a stay at home mom.
Who am I without the domestic, the wife, the parental role to play, day to day?
So much needs to change and I’m scared to death I’ve waited too late.
Surely this cannot be my fate?
Even this, the sound of my self-pity makes me sick; but this decline of mine, it didn’t happen overnight.
It wasn’t quick.
My worth was stolen by minuscule measures, so slender the slices, I failed to feel the knife and yet looking at my life there’s nothing left but a bloodied mess.
I should find my way out of this.
I’m not as weak as I seem, but at this moment, I am on my knees.
This is not who I am, but damn, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be.
I’m a little lost and there’s no one looking for me.”
I titled this blog post, ‘Inspiration does not have to be Pretty’.
It does not.
Neither do the resultant writings. But I genuinely believe our words should be honest, open and emotional. After all, these are the driving factors of life, our lives. It is what we all have in common, it is what we all respond to… even in fictional stories.
Thank you for reading another of my Ramblings.
Please subscribe/follow this blog if you have not already done so. The button is on the top right of this page. I appreciate your support, Thank You.
Visit my website (HERE) to see my books, works in progress and other projects currently underway.
How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot find a topic for your next piece?
I know many writers frequently struggle with finding subject matter. It is something I hear often via author groups and writing associations.
I am a prolific writer, yet have never suffered from either of the above.
Most often, I can be found tapping away on my keyboard as I continue my ‘works in progress’.
I usually have a few of these on the go at once; non-fiction, a novel, some short stories, a compilation, it is pretty much par for the course.
I have files called ‘stuff & stories to read’; ‘story Ideas & notes’; ‘more writing notes’; ‘other stuff’, and so forth. Each file has sub-files, documents, snipped pages, images, sticky notes and a plethora of summaries, transcripts, annotations, memoranda, footnotes and odd bits I am unsure what to call.
The overriding connection is, they are all my Aide-mémoires to moments.
Some of these notes were transferred from my notebooks. I tend to carry at least one notebook with me at any time, generally, a small flip-type book. If I am leaving the house for any length of time. On long journeys and holidays, I take several, so I always have one to hand.
The jottings in these books can be about a place, a view, something said to me, part of an overheard conversation, or an observation. I even have notes about signposts I find amusing or incoherent.
Other items have been stored from browsing the net, finding ‘stuff’ while researching something entirely different. Some are from messages, spam, sales emails and so forth.
Occasionally reading another’s story sets my mind racing along parallel paths, so I need to scribble down my thoughts of the moment. The result of the stories which develop from these are a far cry to the original stimulus, but sometimes one needs the initial jolt to send the imaginings down a certain pathway.
These files also include part stories of various lengths. They are from a single sentence or paragraph through to several thousands of words… unfinished works if you wish.
Some are my deletions and edits of other work. The bits I cut out. The parts which did not make the final manuscript or published book. Waste not, want not. They can all be used again in one form or another.
But, the point of this post, each and every one of the notes in those files have come from a ‘moment’, a single moment I have experienced during my life.
After all, life is simply a matter of moments, one after another, after another, like the single frames of a cinematic film they whirr past us in a seemingly continues unbroken stream.
I believe great writing is having the ability to capture any one, or more, of those given moments and revealing its secrets, sharing them with all who will read your words.
Even the longest of novels is created by producing a string of ‘scenes’. Each scene depicting a moment.
Personally, I have a fondness for creating shorter stories, anywhere from about 250 words to, say, twenty or thirty thousand. My favourite though is around 2,500 to 6,000.
This proposes the challenge of making a captivating tale, one with a ‘proper’ beginning, middle and end, with so few words.
I feel the main test of writing such a short story is to examine the writer’s skill, in not only having a complete story but one which burns its presence, its being, into the mind of those reading it. A great story should ask questions, probe the beliefs, principles and convictions of the reader.
Which leads me back to the start of this post where I asked,
“How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot settle on a topic for your next story?”
My belief is you may be overthinking the issue.
Do not try and think of an entire story, of a whole scenario, before you put pen to paper. Just take one moment, one seemingly insignificant moment of your life and write about that.
Think about today. What has happened to you, with you, so far today?
It does not have to be anything exciting.
Not all stories need to have a romantic outcome or bloodshed, murder and mayhem splattered across their pages. The characters do not have to be heroes or superhuman, to have suffered or survived.
Ordinary people, people like you and I have stories to tell too. Try telling one or two of those. Stories and tales regular, normal people can relate to and understand.
What did you think of the moment you awoke today… write about that?
Expand on that.
Why were you thinking it, what does it relate to, who was involved, what will be the outcome, can you change it? Do you want to change it? Can you stop it changing? and so forth.
Become your character. Believe you are they. Wholly, totally convince your muse you are.
Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.
Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.
Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.
I’ll leave you with an instant.
A while ago, I read a social status in which a young lady was distressed regarding her writing.
It seems her family, particularly her father, not taking her wish to write seriously, held little interest in what she was writing about, suggesting it would be better if she wrote about him.
Of course, this is not what this young lady wanted to write about. She did not want to write about her father. She wanted to write about something she knew, something she understood.
But everything she had written so far was slighted by her own father. Not very supportive, encouraging or helpful.
This made it extremely problematic for her to choose a topic or subject which would not amplify the situation further.
I shall not repeat the derogatory remarks made or the well-meaning, but pathetic and ultimately unhelpful, words of comfort offered on social. But all the responses took this young ladies post on its surface merits.
The deeper conflict was her relationship with her family, particularly her father and the anxiety it created within her.
This stress was heightened by her desire to write something meaningful while not adding to the household turmoil. Yes, she could have written in secret, but it was obvious she wanted, even desperately needed the encouragement and backing of her family.
All this young girl was looking for was some reassurance. She needed positive reinforcement from her family.
I suggested she write exactly what she posted about. The conflict with her father, why she wished to write and why she wanted to write the things she did. How hurtful her fathers’ remarks were and how the lack of support was so dispiriting.
I proposed she then gave her family the manuscript to read and await a response.
She now has a new laptop her father bought for her writing and a small desk in the corner of the room where she can work uninterrupted.
This is a true story.
As I said above, my advice is;
Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.
Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.
Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.
If you want to see my books, find out what I am working on or contact me, then visit my website, HERE
Before you ask, yes, this is about sci-fi and Robots… but it also about crime fiction, fantasy, steampunk and many other genres. It’s about understanding, imagination and the muse… so read on…
Like all fiction genres, Sci-fi and its many sub-genres must evolve with the times, writers must look to the future. (pun intended)
Czech writer Karel Čapek introduced the word “robot”. It is said his brother suggested using a derivative of the word robata, which means literally “serf labour” and figuratively “drudgery” or “hard work.”
No wonder the robots usually want to revolt, to take over our world. To turn the tables on us!
But, long before the word “robot” was invented, the ideas of mechanical or artificial men was in our ancestors’ consciousness. Early ideas of robots or automata drew inspirations from early writings and figures in mythology, who were described as anthropomorphic and crafted from stone or metal.
Described in the Argonautica as a giant man of bronze forged by the smith Hephaestus, Talos is tasked with patrolling the island of Crete and fending off pirates.
However, he is still partially organic, as is shown in the description of a single blood vessel that runs from his neck down to his ankle. Much like with Achilles and his heel, the vein of Talos is his weakness, and he dies in the story from exsanguination.
This developed into ‘other’ forms of automata,
In ETA Hoffman’s short story, The Sandman, the main character Nathaniel falls in love with the daughter of one of his university professors.
While she is beautiful and elegant, Olympia speaks very little, only responding to conversations with “Ah”.
She is also often motionless for long periods of time.
The people around her find this disconcerting, and it is eventually revealed that she is a lifelike doll.
Enter the early days of Sci-fi as we recognise it now,
Edward Ellis’s Steam Man is an early example of the Edisonade genre of science fiction.
Derived from Thomas Edison’s name, the genre describes stories that feature an ingenious young American inventor, who uses his inventions to go on adventures, solve problems, and defend himself against his enemies. The invention often has many purposes, such as weaponry and transportation.
In this case, the teenage hero is Johnny Brainerd, who creates the steam man and uses it to pull wagons that can carry passengers. Despite its large size, the steam man can run quite fast, and Johnny uses this to his advantage (such as, for hunting buffalo).
An imitation of this story was written by Harry Enton in 1876, called Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, which also features a young inventor and his robots. Frank Reade’s steam man improves upon the first, with a much more efficient engine due to improvements in hydraulics and use of lighter-weight alloys. Thus, it is faster and stronger. Frank Reade’s son, Frank Jr., would eventually go on to create Steam Man Mark III, and replaced the use of steam with the use of electricity.
This and Steam Man of the Prairies were dime novels, popular fiction that is much like the comic books of today.
Dorothy finds the mechanical man, Tik-Tok, with a printed card suspended from the back of its neck.
The card provides directions for ‘using’ Tik-Tok, such as how to make him speak, think, and move by winding the clockwork in his body. Tik-Tok needs to be periodically wound like a toy to function, as he cannot wind himself up.
Tik-Tok has been referenced in other fiction, and his benign nature subverted into something more sinister, such as in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and John Sladek’s Tik-Tok.
As I spoke of in the opening paragraphs of this post, the term Robot arose thus…
This famous play, which was successful in its time, describes a factory that makes artificial people or roboti, from synthetic organic matter.
Less like robots and more like androids or cyborgs because of their biological nature, these synthetic people work for humans but eventually organize an uprising, causing the extinction of humans.
Karel Capek’s play is influential for being the first to use the word “robot”, replacing “automaton” or “android”. It is also worth noting that “robota“in Czech means forced labour, of which the robots in the play were made to do.
“Robot:We wanted to be like people. We wanted to become people.
Radius:We wanted to live. We are more capable. We have learned everything. We can do everything.
Robot:You gave us weapons. We had to become the masters.
Robot:We have seen the mistakes made by the people, sir.”
Which basically, and with a giant leap of literary faith, brings us to the time when robots were simply robots, like Robby from ‘Lost in Space’. A time when Isaac Asimov penned ‘I Robot’ and hope for humankind lingered.
We all knew where we stood.
Then along came James Camron who introduced us to Skynet, and all hell broke loose.
So, where does that leave us, how can we tell new, inventive and genuinely futuristic tales of machines, androids and automaton now?
Maybe, a little closer inspection of where we stand now will help us, if we stand on tiptoes and look far over the rising horizon…
Robots are all around us, toiling away in factories and warehouses, busting a gut in landfills and working in hospitals. The NAO model introduces school kids and students to programming and robotics and it also teaches children with autism. Another model, Pepper, was created to work in the service sector; its tasks include attracting potential customers and consulting with buyers.
As the IOActive team discovered, to seize control of NAO you only need to be on the same network as the robot. Experts found vulnerabilities allowing commands to be remotely executed, effectively giving over full control of its actions.
To demonstrate how these vulnerabilities can be exploited, the team forced NAO to demand bitcoins from its human interlocutor.
But real criminals would be limited only by their imagination and programming skills. What’s more, it’s not just NAO that can be infected with ransomware; the more business-oriented Pepper is just as vulnerable, and other models probably are as well.
Just imagine if one fine day a robot teacher or store clerk, in full view of John Q. Public, started swearing and insulting people before going on strike or picking a fight.
You never know.
But why would anyone hack a robot?
What do criminals have to gain here? Won’t it just spoil someone’s day or their life? That might be enough incentive for some hackers, who often do such things just for fun.
But there’s another reason: money.
The profit motive is simple. Buying a robot costs about $10,000; and if it breaks, it must be repaired or replaced.
Both of those require a fair bit of cash, but factor in the downtime cost and reputational loss of having a robot threaten customers and the sum rises considerably.
If an industrial robot is hacked, it can pose an immediate threat to employee safety or production quality.
An attacker compromising a robot in one of those ways might offer a quick solution to the problem, (which they caused), pay a ransom and everything will be just fine.
But, as you might guess, cybercriminals don’t always keep their word. Of course, the vulnerable robot might be hacked again, requiring another payout.
And then, another,and another…
What can be done?
Robots are here to stay (and multiply), so avoiding contact with them is not the way to go. For that, you’d need to invent a time-machine and go back a long, long way as mentioned above.
Instead, users and manufacturers need to be sensitive to robots’ weaknesses to ensure these devices do not go from cutting-edge to catastrophic in the blink of an eye.
Robot creators need to think through security issues in advance before production starts. Today. Better still, yesterday.
Then, after product release, all ears must be kept firmly to the ground to respond promptly to reported vulnerabilities and get them fixed.
…Or some sort of mayhem, a type of life-shattering, civilisation ending apocalypse may just leap from the pages of a book and into reality…
Or maybe that is just my way of stimulating your muse… think on, but carefully and you could join the ranks of Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Isaac Asimov.
You see not all sci-fi which includes rouge robots must be apocalyptic, that idea has been done, and done, and done to death. Now it is time for a differing approach.
Take your favourite crime-based books or film, or a combination of both media. Choose a story without any robots and select a character or two.
Now, think of your chosen characters as automaton, combine those two or three films/books plots. (If they are Hollywood or from mainstream publishing, it will not be a difficult task because they use a five, or seven-point, plotline… its what makes mainstream boring and predictable.) and start writing. Don’t copy… No plagiarism allowed; simply let your muse write the story guided by the basic (combination) of the plot(s) outlines.
You will have a brand-new crime story, but one which includes robots. It does not even have to be set in the future or on another planet, it can be urban fiction, steampunk, fantasy… you decide.
What you will have is a cross-genre fictional work which can be promoted to a wider, but targeted audience. That means greater sales opportunities and a much larger readership potential.
Why not make your robot a stooge, a fall guy? Have the reader fall in love with it, empathize with it.
Alternatively, have your robot(s) as the victim, the missing link to solving a situation… not all robots are bad, not all are good, some simply have frailties, others damaged personalities, why, some are even human… aren’t they?
Whatever you do, have fun and visit my website HEREI have a load of crime fiction and other ‘stuff’ you will just love. But don’t just take my word, go and have a look now.
Like many writers, I have a store of part written works. Literary orphans, many of whom deserve better parenting than I have given.
Some, are first drafts of short stories, ones which need attention before I could possibly allow others to set eyes upon them.
Some, are beginnings of new books and novels. Many are several chapters – or more – in length. A few far longer, yet abandoned and gathering dust in the archives of‘I’ll take another look at it, soon, one day, when I have time, sometime.‘
Some, are mere scribblings, outlines of thought, rough drafts of similar concept, or of unjointed notes, sort-of-bullet-points, fleeting notions.
Occasionally, I have pulled the odd page from the depths of neglect. In a few instances, I have reworked such a piece, even developed it into a viable story.
But those times are seldom.
Generally, when I unearth an old unfinished, partly written, abandoned tale, I quickly scan it, faintly recall its birth and return it, with a promise of coming back and spending some time with it ‘when I can give it the attention it deserves.’
Which is probably, almost certainly, a long way off from this current day, like… never.
We make the excuse of having more pressing and urgent tasks as current commitments. We enjoy the conception of creation, of having new babies in the making and we look forward to the birth of our next.
That is if they reach as far as the publicatory birth. If our current focus is not waylaid or distracted by another fancy, another attractive proposition of literary lust which causes us to forsake the unborn penned pages, formed only weeks ago, during our crazed desire to conceive another narrative fable.
We, as writers, are not good role models for caring and nurturing our creativities.
This is, as you can tell, one of the ‘things‘ which I have been silently musing over during the past however-long it has been.
I wanted to understand why I could not simply open a file, drag out the unborn foetus of past indulgence and continue writing where I had left off. Even a re-read and re-write, rather like a genetic splicing of characteristics, to take each past, abandoned child of mine, from infantile scrawling to full-blown manuscripted beauty and let them loose in the world.
So, I tasked myself to do precisely that. To wrench open the doorway of dusty archives and let the light flood in.
I was astounded by the mass of unloved writings huddled in the dank corners of my RAM. However, I was determined to make amends for the neglect suffered by these poor, unassuming, word documents. After all, they never asked to be created.
One by one I read the works.
By the time I reached mid-way point of the fifth part-work, I had my answer.
It is all to do with mood, muse and moment. At least it is for me.
Allow me to explain…
As I said earlier, literary lust and crazed desire set us on a special relationship in the attempt to conceive a beautiful outcome, a desired work of the bestselling nature.
While our mindset is concentrated, focused on a single relationship we flourish, some of us are capable of holding two, maybe three such affairs on a steady and productive track.
But each and all of these are balancing on a knife-edge of frustration, distraction and boredom. Unable to help ourselves, our minds are constantly on the look-out for other attractive propositions and exciting ventures.
Therefore, once our muse is diverted, the love for what is under our fingers wanes. Rarely is it lost, just lessened. It diminishes, at least for the present.
Then, one day we find these lost loves or that which we once begat from such a relationship; they reach out, arms feebly grabbing for our attention.
But are we ready to take them to our bosom once more?
Most time, the shame is, we are not. We are not ready or willing. So, we slam the door in their faces, committing them to the darkness of closed files one again.
Why are we so cruel in our neglect?
The answer I have found is that mindset I mentioned earlier. To pick-up and move forward from our past indulgences, we must rekindle the fondness we felt before, relight the old flame of particular creation.
Without us being ‘in the zone’ with regards to each individual story, we shall never see them grow into the works they surely deserve to be.
Maybe, to assuage your guilt, the shame and self-reproach I have now raised in your heart and mind, because of your own wicked neglect over your part works, maybe you should unlock the archive doors and take some time with your unborn literary children.
Bring them out of the shadows, let them dance in the sunlight of new development and re-writing nirvana. You never know what wonderful orphans you may have forgotten.
If you are looking for somewhere to home your orphans, then Electric Eclectic could be exactly the place you need?
Show your love; release your orphaned, lonely, short story(s) as an Electric Eclectic book(s) and let them help you gain readership and royalties.