I have thought recently about some of the principles that I believe in when it comes to fiction stories and genre. I am not speaking about genre in the more traditional sense. When I go to Amazon, I realize that if I go to the Fantasy section, then I will get results that reflect books having to do with magic, mythical creatures, swords, and the like. I am speaking in this post more to the general idea of a fantasy. A fantasy is something created in one’s imagination. Something that has not actually happened. See how that fits into fiction? Fiction is a story that never actually happened, created from someone’s imagination.
Of course the next question you have, after accepting that premise, is, “So what?” I hear you. I notice many writers and readers get caught up in the “reality ” of stories. In science fiction, I have seen some argue about whether or not space travel in X manner (notice I dodged the argument by using a variable instead of mentioning a specific method.) Some people only want to write or read those science fiction stories that reflect realistic technology. My take on it is that it is called science FICTION for a reason . If it was real, it would be called a science textbook.
What I see many authors gloss over these days, however, is what I call internal consistency. This applies to everything that is created within the story. It applies in many ways, and it requires the writer to be somewhat cerebral. Before he became delusional and arrogant, M. Night Shyamalan created the Sixth Sense. He created certain rules that he followed throughout the movie. For example, anything the dead interacted with in the physical world was red. After the surprising ending, one could go back and see all of these rules in place throughout the movie. I remember seeing an interview with him, where he described going through scenes and looking for discrepancies in the color scheme, sometimes finding a problem right as they were starting to shoot.
This, to me, is internal consistency, and is very important to me in the stories that I enjoy. I want stories to be consistent with the rules created in that world. If this is a story where the ghosts cannot speak to the living, then I do not want to catch a ghost talking to a living person, unless there is a development in the story that accounts for this. I don’t want to see a character that acts wildly outside of their established personality. Internal consistency, in my estimation, is critical in any fiction story. As far as whether or not certain elements are realistic? It is all fantasy, which is not real by definition.
The USA Today does not always publish the most reliable of polls, but this recent article on how eBooks are changing reading habits seems significant. It also just makes logical sense. More people are purchasing and using eReaders to read their books. Along with this comes a transformation in the way that people shop for books. When one relies on an eReader, then it is less desirable to go to a brick-and-mortar store to browse books. Particularly, when people stated in the poll that their biggest reason for not reading is because they do not have the time. With a time crunch, who wants to strap on galoshes and traipse to the bookstore?
This brings up an interesting problem though. When something transforms in this way, there becomes a new way. I have often struggled with how to find new books to read. I feel much like I am stabbing in the dark, rather than using a reliable method of finding new, quality books.
I love to support independent artists as well. So for me, that introduces another layer. How do I find indie authors that have amazing books that I have not heard of? I do really believe in quality as well though. That means I also want to weed out those poor quality works.
An example here is that I recently read a book that has been recommended on my Amazon page for numerous months. Probably years. I jumped into the first book of the series. There were typos, but not so bad that I could not enjoy the book. However, there were numerous, gaping plot holes, where the book did not follow its own logic (a big problem for greens such as me.) There were also numerous instances where characters acted outside of their given personality, with no explanation. One example: there was a king and a queen, where the king absolutely adores the queen. The queen is a horrid, evil, power-hungry person, while the king is compassionate and just person who is touted to be able to read and know people very well. If he knows people so well, and is so compassionate, why on earth would he adore this horrid person as his wife? The book offered no explanation. I loved the characters, and I loved the world-building, but the inconsistencies were a huge disappointment for me, such that I will not be reading any further books in the series.
So, how do I find books from indie authors that are high quality, that fall within what I like to read? Right now, I use the Amazon recommendations quite a bit, but I must admit that it is really hit-or-miss, and I end up buying many books that I do not finish reading. Yes, I do read the reviews for the books before purchasing. I also cannot help but to think there are some gems out there that I would love to read, but I have just never heard of the books.
If you would not mind responding please, I would love to hear from you.
Do you primarily read eBooks, or psychical books? What methods do you use to find new books to read? Do you ever read indie authors, and if so, how do you find indie books to read?
A free fiction short story about a young dad and his experience with the birth of his baby daughter. I wrote this a while ago as a writing exercise, just for the practice. Here are my self-imposed rules: 1) I cannot mention any emotions at all; 2) I cannot give specific descriptors, like ages and such. That is why I don’t come out and just tell you things in the story. I hope you enjoy. Let me know what you think!
by J. R. Lambert
It was hard sometimes to control his grin. He once more picked at one of the holes torn in the couches. There were nine of them in this couch alone. There were seventeen of them between all three of the couches. He didn’t know what the material covering the couches was called, but it was slick and plastic-like at first, but he could stick to it once he sat there for a while. The material somehow made a fart noise when he scooted across it, which made him laugh out loud each time he tried it. In addition to the couches, the waiting room contained a vending machine full of difficult choices, a soda machine, and a few dusty, plastic plants.
With his butt numb and his back stiff from sitting, he decided to get up and walk around the room. The chink of the change falling down the soda machine seemed loud when all it was competing with was the buzz from the fluorescent bulbs in order to be heard. He slammed the side of his fist against the large red Coke button. His second Coke since arriving. The can made a satisfying spitting noise as he opened it. The fizz tickling his throat, with the Coke quenching the dryness left in his mouth after consuming two bags of salty potato chips.
He unthinkingly ran his fingers across one of the waiting room’s nearby plastic plants once again. Using his shirt sleeve, he removed a last bit of dust he had missed from the plant leaves before.
He paced the room, walking heel-to-toe. He’d once heard that feet were about a foot long, and a quick way to estimate the size of a room was to walk across it in this way. Still seventeen paces. A little bigger than his bedroom, but not by much.
A careful count of his remaining coins revealed that he had just enough left to buy another bag of chips, with a nickel left to spare. Since he didn’t need it, he decided to try rolling the nickel across the coffee table, from one end to the other. He cleared off the table top, throwing the old parenting magazines with the recipes torn out on the floor. After a second thought, he gathered the magazines and stacked them neatly beside one of the couches. The first two rolls, the nickel veered off to the side of the table, but by the third attempt, he was able make it all the way across. It was after about twenty rolls that the nickel rolled off the table and slid under one of the couches. They were bolted down, low to the floor and he soon gave up the search-and-rescue mission to recover it.
He was having second thoughts. He shouldn’t leave the magazines on the floor, someone might complain. He figured that he probably should have put them on one of the couches instead. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of it before. He decided to stack them in order of their publication date. The most recent was a Today’s Parents magazine from a year-and-a-half ago. The oldest dating back three years.
He felt silly then. He didn’t really need the table any longer, so there was no point in leaving the magazines on the couch. He arranged them in a fan shape on the table, and let out a long sigh as he sat back on the couch to admire the display, ignoring his numb butt and stiff back.
He nearly jumped when his cell phone chirped, pulling him out of his magazine trance. “dude, WTF is taking so long?” He read on his small cell phone screen.
“i don’t know man, this is some crazy shit.” He texted back.
“u ready for this man?”
“o yeah man. this is gonna b so awesome.” He felt himself grinning again.
“is michael there 2?”
“yeah, he is in there with amy. she didn’t want me in there.” His grin faded.
“that sucks man, i’m sorry. but u know what dude, you are gonna b a great dad.”
“i know, this is going to be great.”
“good luck man! my mom wants u 2 tell us the weight.”
He tucked away his cell phone, and vaulted himself over the couch to the vending machine. His third bag of chips, but heck, when wasn’t he hungry? He plunked in the last of his money and was halfway through the bag when Michael trudged in. He stared intently into the chip bag, as though it held some solution to an awkward situation.
“Hey man, I just thought you should know that she is doing okay. It has been slow, you know,” Michael offered.
“Who is okay, Amy, or my daughter?” Danny said with more acid than he had intended.
“Look man, this is weird for me too. I mean, my girlfriend is in there giving birth to your baby. I mean, you were only with her for two weeks. I have been with her for eight months now. I mean it’s all pretty weird. For all of us.” Michael declared, with exaggerated control of his voice.
“I know dude. I’m sorry,” Danny allowed hesitantly.
“Amy, what?” Danny asked.
“Amy is doing fine. Your daughter is not here yet, but the doctor says Amy is almost fully dialed, whatever that means. I think it means she’s almost ready.”
Danny tried unsuccessfully to hide his grin from Michael.
“Anyway.” Michael turned and left the waiting room.
The longer he waited, the more slowly time seemed to go. He returned to his basketball game, using the trashcan with the lid removed, and a piece of his geometry homework crumpled into a ball. He had become bored with it forever ago, but couldn’t think of anything else to do that he hadn’t already done at least twice before. He started counting how many in a row he could make again. One, two, three…
He was at forty-three when the nurse came in. She had a stiff demeanor, and her uniform was crisp and faultless. He involuntarily looked down at his own cargo shorts, stained t-shirt, and tattered Vans.
“Time to meet your baby,” she managed to say with an almost perfect absence of enthusiasm.
As she followed the nurse out of the waiting room, and down the hall to the baby observation room, he saw Michael down the hall, crying. Sobbing like he was the baby, in fact. I hope Amy broke up with that bastard. About time, we should be together as a family now that we have a baby.
The nurse gestured toward one of the babies contained behind the glass. His grin broke out and split his face.
“Isn’t she the most beautiful thing you ever saw?” He gushed. He felt his whole body flush with some type energy, like that time when he was in third grade and drank all those Red Bulls and stayed up until 4am. The nurse had an unreadable blank stare and stood there stiffly.
“I hope she broke up with Michael, but you know, even if she didn’t.” His voice trailed off momentarily. “Well, you know, she is such a beautiful baby, we will make it work out somehow. One time my dad was here, and I was in there. Well, not here exactly, but you know, like this. I wonder if he felt like this. I just know she is such a great baby. I don’t know why, but I know.”
The nurse rattled off some statistics about the birth he knew he should probably be listening to, but he was so captivated with this little person he saw in the window. He put his hand up to the glass, as though he could somehow touch her through it.
“Danny.” The nurse said sharply, which caught his attention. He realized that the nurse had been standing there in silence for some time while he had stared at his new daughter.
“She didn’t’ make it,” she said after he looked up at her. “You know, sometimes these things happen.” She added, with a practiced cadence.
He turned his head back to his precious daughter at the same time that his mind searched for the meaning behind the words he had heard, but could not quite made sense of. She didn’t make it. Who? She didn’t make it where? Amy didn’t make it where?
The color drained from his face and he snapped his head back to the side and stared at the nurse. He felt his stomach knot up, as if someone was twisting it with a pair of pliers. The Cokes suddenly felt like acid in his stomach. He was unsure of what to do, what to say. He didn’t know if he should laugh or cry, or…what?
Amy didn’t make it? She’s gone? Just like that, he was a single parent.
Maslow’s Hierarchy Applied to Fictional Characters
Recently, both of my youngest two children have been dealing with croup, which has reminded me just how much sense Maslow’s Hierarchy makes in everyday lives. My youngest was in the hospital briefly, which also explains the lack of posts. Sorry. 🙂
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs makes sense in real life, and also makes sense when looking at characters in fiction stories. I recall the symphony director that worked with Metallica on their S & M album talking about how the orchestra sometimes worked harmoniously with the band, and other times worked in disharmony with the band, to create something amazing. I think the same is true in great stories. Humanity can be expressed accurately, through the careful adherence to what is known about humans, or it can be a character study of someone who falls well outside the expected norm. Either way, having an understanding of the norm is an important part of work that embodies the use of such knowledge.
The hierarchy is organized such that each level of the pyramid rests upon the other. So that lower level needs need to be met before higher level needs are able to be met. For example, food is at the bottom, with the idea that someone who is starving is not likely to have the time to spare to worry about whether or not he or she has friends. So physiological needs have to be met before safety and security needs are worried about. Safety and security needs have to be met before social needs are worried about. And so on and so forth.
These are basic, biological survival needs. This includes: Air, Shelter, Water, Food, Sleep, and Sex. Some argue that sex does not belong here, as it is not essential for survival. Maslow argued it is a biological imperative, the drive to procreate.
Safety and Security Needs
The need to feel secure and safe. This includes: Physical Safety, Psychological Safety, Economic Security, and Social Security. Note that this is both physical and psychological. If a tiger is attacking, one is not physically safe. If a tiger may attack at any moment, one does not feel psychologically safe.
This is the need to belong. This includes: Friendship and Family, and the need for Intimacy. As we learn more about the brain, it shows us more and more that we are physically designed within our brain structure to connect with others.
This is having self-respect and the respect of others. This includes: Self-esteem, Confidence, Respect of Others, and Achievement. Notice that we are moving definitely more into the realm of the psychological. The inner world of the person.
A person realizing their full and complete potential. This includes: Creativity, Problem Solving, Innovation, and Fulfillment. Maslow saw achievement of self-actualization this as relatively rare. Think of Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Buddha, and Martin Luther King Jr. Maslow saw most people in real life as being in that state of seeking self-actualization. Oftentimes, characters are in this state as well.
Application to Characters
One obvious application to fictional characters is their story as they strive to meet the needs of one of more levels. In dystopian novels, for example, characters are often trying to meet the basic physiological or safety and security needs. Food and a safe place to live can be compelling needs. Application need not be restricted to the lower levels, however, as there are great stories at all levels of the hierarchy. Think of a character that is striving to find a place where they belong, or people that they belong to. Think of a character trying to achieve something important, while also struggling with self-esteem or identity issues. And at the top of the pyramid we have someone finally able to solve a major problem in the story, or fulfilling some purpose or fulfilling a purpose. Perhaps they had to struggle up the pyramid as the story progresses in order to get to that fulfillment.
One thing about fiction is that characters are often larger than life, or unique. So the characters are often an exaggeration or a unique, uncommon, or even rare circumstance. While Maslow saw it being relatively rare for someone to achieve self-actualization, it happens for characters in fiction stories all the time.
Another way that stories can grab the attention of readers is being going against what is expected. Not everyone knows who Maslow is or what his hierarchy states, but it has really become a part of our culture. Let me give you an example: When we are announcing big news or having an important meeting, we often make sure there is food and refreshments. At work and at home, we strive to ensure our environment is safe and secure, and that comes before things like televisions. I did not research it, but I once read that Einstein wrote important papers while he was young, poor, and alone. So he was able to achieve and apply his creative genius, despite being in a circumstance where he had not met his lower level needs. Doesn’t that make a compelling story? In fact, the case can be made that many historical leaders, both malign and benevolent, cast off the traditional routes of meeting lower needs in order to reach for the upper level needs.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is a great example of the application of the hierarchy. This is set up right away as the lowest districts are concerned with basic survival, such as food, while those in the Capitol have such abundant food that they are able to focus on other things like politics and fashion. In fact, that is the very control that the government has over the people, that they hold the survival of the lower districts in their hands. The lower districts are stuck in the bottom of the pyramid, while the upper districts (and the President) are free to meet their esteem and creative needs.
Another facet of this in the Hunger Games is the fact that Katniss is asked to consider the top of the pyramid, while she is still trying to get he needs met at the bottom of the pyramid. She sees herself as just surviving the Hunger Games, while everyone else sees her as fighting for freedom. They ask her to join in the rebellion, forcing her to move to the top of the pyrmaid, when really she has been focused only on her survival needs up to that point.
So a good fictional story, driven by characters can work in concert with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, or work in direct conflict with the theory. Either way, it can make for compelling and interesting characters that are fun to read about.
About This Feature: A Pint with the Professor is a (somewhat) bi-weekly feature where I apply the things I know about psychology, sociology and other related disciplines to fiction. I love thoughtful fiction, and I love hearing from authors and writers of speculative fiction when they think deeply about their fictional worlds and the people and cultures in those worlds. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy putting them together.
One thing you may see from time to time is I am a big advocate for independent writers. I think there are so many great stories out there that not many people have heard of. What a shame, because connecting the stories with an appreciative audience would be a great match. One part of that is just that potential readers may just not have heard of the book.
That is where the Story Cartel comes in. I have actually been meaning to post this for a little while now, since I first heard of this website. It is a website where independent authors can offer their books for free to people, in exchange for the courtesy of a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Isn’t That Just “Buying” a Review?
No. For two reasons. One, in order for it to be buying, money or bribery needs to change hands, and none of that is going on here. Two, the reviews do not have to be favorable or geared in any certain way, there is no pressure to provide only favorable reviews.
Don’t Interdependent Novels Suck?
Yes, some of them do. Some of them are full of holes in the story, misspelled words, and grammar and punctuation errors. There are also some traditionally published works that I happen to think are horrid too. So there is no guarantee in any particular arena that a story is amazing just based on how it was produced. However, there are some amazing writers who have decided to forego that arduous traditional publishing route, and have a great story and product to share. So independent does not equal bad.
To get involved with the Story Cartel, just visit and sign up if you want to be available to review books. You will receive an email, and if a story interests you,you can opt in. You can also opt out by just not responding to that particular email, because not every story is for every person. I am not sure exactly what the process is for getting your work listed if you are a writer, but there is a process for that as well.
I wanted to take a moment and send a shout out for a series of books I had fun reading. Eliei’s Chronicles take place in a dystopian world where parasites are rampant and physically alter the people that they inhabit, in noth positive and negative ways. Elei himself may hold some keys to rebuilding the oppressive world.
Book One and Book Two of the trilogy are out, and Book Three is promised for the summer of 2012. So as of the writing of this, I have only read books One and Two.
Rex Rising is the first book in the main trilogy. The story starts out with action, is written in such a way that is is fairly easy to understand this world, the characters are fun and likable, and the story is interesting and creative. On the con side, the book was simplistic in its writing, but had sex and gore, so it seemed like it could not quite decide between being YA (with the simplistic writing) or adult (with the sexual and graphic elements). I also found myself wishing charters had not said certain things that seemed more akin to our own contemporary world, than to their dystopian world. Even with those weaknesses. I would definitely recommend the book, it was a creative world with colorful characters, and it was definitely a short, but fun read.
Rex Cresting is book two of the main trilogy. There is much character development in this book, and action that is fun and engaging. The final mission and the resolution of the final mission were pretty predictable, and not very climactic. In fact, with none of the developments in the book will you say, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t see THAT coming!” There really are no surprises. However the character development was important for the series, and the action sequences are engaging and fun, so I would still recommend it as a fun speculative fiction read and important to the series.
There is also another book called Hera, about the character named Hera. I have not yet read this book, I am not sure if I will. If I do, I will add a post on the blog.
In short, the series so far is creative and has compelling characters, it really is everything I love about Speculative Fiction. Give it a read!
The author, Chrystalla Thoma seems like a great lady, and has a blog at http://chrystallathoma.wordpress.com/.
3 June, 2012 update: Rex Rising won a reader’s choice award! Congratulations. Told you it was worth reading. 🙂