Attraction and Aversion in Fiction

Humans use the five senses to determine if something attracts or repels them. The sight of a beautiful sunset is inviting while the site of a rushing flood elicits horror. The smell of a rose delights our senses while the smell of a skunk disgusts us. The sound of a church bell ringing invites our attention while the raucous blaring car horns causes us to shudder. The taste of chocolate is alluring to most people while the taste of fried liver is repugnant to many. Touching a puppy’s or kitten’s soft coat is appealing to most people while touching the rough skin of an alligator would be repulsive to most.

This sensory aspect of attraction and aversion contributes to our use of the terms in both physical and emotional associations. Interpersonal attraction refers to relationships between friends, colleagues, and romantic relationships. Friends might be drawn together because they share a fondness for certain activities, items, or geographical areas. Colleagues are drawn together because they have a predilection for a particular career, subject matter, or way of working together. Sexual attraction seems to have a magnetic pull on both individuals involved. Friends, enemies, and things that attract or repel us make good topics for fiction.

What Is Attraction?

Attraction is a concept with both scientific and emotional aspects. On the scientific side, the word is used in physics to refer to magnetism which occurs in iron, nickel, steel, and cobalt. Because the Earth’s core is made of magnetic iron, magnetism is an essential aspect of life on Earth. A magnet has an invisible magnetic field defined as a north and south pole. North and south are poles attracted to each other and draw together until they meet. Thus, the common statement “opposites attract.” The north poles of different magnets repel each other as do two south poles.

Writing on this topic has made me wonder if we humans carry a magnetic charge. I am curious as to whether some people experience an actual magnetic pull toward each other or, on the other hand, experience being magnetically repelled one from the other. Personally, I have experienced both unexplainable situations. I looked online and discovered that some scientists have identified electromagnetic forces in our bodies and that others carry out research on the possibility that humans are able to perceive magnetic fields as birds and insects do.

What Is Aversion?

Aversion is a synonym for repulsion, disgust, revulsion, nausea, loathing, repugnance, dislike, or abhorrence. In relationships, it tends to reflect either dislike or disapproval. I suppose there is a continuum of aversion moving from mild to extreme. For example, the dislike continuum might extend from simple disinclination or displeasure to distaste and disgust, to outright animosity, antipathy, hatred, or loathing.

Aversion refers to being repelled by something either mechanically, physically, or emotionally. Aversion is not conducive to relationships between friends, colleagues, and romantic partners. A hint of disgust is certain to cause cracks in a relationship.

How do Attraction and Aversion Play Out in Fiction?

In fiction, the aspect of attraction can be used positively as a motivator or negatively as a lure. If protagonists are attracted to success, it can become the driving force that motivates them throughout the story. If they are attracted to each other, romance becomes the engine of the story. On the other hand, if the antagonist wants to cause trouble, the story may involve ensnaring the unsuspecting protagonist into a trap or various intrigues.

Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s translator, says that one aspect of aversion is that it creates a negative cycle. This negativity could be reproduced in the plot, in relationships between characters, and even in the setting of a scene.  In fiction, this can be used to create negative feedback cycles with characters who don’t like each other or perhaps with characters involved in a relationship that is beginning to break apart.

Attraction and Aversion in Current Fiction

Martin Amis’ novel Inside Story depicts a scene of sexual attraction between a young man and woman who do not know each other. The man is simply passing by on the street when he spies a woman talking in a phone booth. He starts to walk past but is so attracted to her that he returns. He stands on the sidewalk waiting to engage with her when she exits the booth. His attraction is described through internal dialog.

Rachel Howell Hall’s novel, These Toxic Things, uses attraction and aversion regarding sartorial style, choices of technology, individuals of different races, and relationships between characters.    

In Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart uses aversion in settings, the most gripping being a scene in an abandoned mine surrounded by black greasy muck. Shuggie’s older brother pulls him out and saves his life.                                                                                      

In The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett, attraction and aversion are themes that flow throughout the novel. Bennett illustrates who is attracted to whom and why. One identical twin is attracted to a white man which enables her to escape from her aversive poverty. The other is attracted to a dark black man who fathers a dark daughter. Her husband’s violence forces his wife to leave him, take their daughter, and return to her family home. One sister’s daughter is attracted to a white transexual; the other sister’s daughter has a love affair with a black man from Africa. Bennet forces readers to make decisions about their own understanding of race and socio-economic conditions.

Attraction and Aversion in My Fiction

In my first novel, a young man is attracted to a young woman who is completely oblivious to his approach. In another, parents force a daughter to marry someone she finds objectionable. In a third novel, a woman uses her own sexuality to attract and cause mayhem. As I have worked on this concept of creating attraction and aversion in fiction, I have realized that it also applies to attracting or distancing readers, as well as forcing them to think about what is happening in the novel as Bennett so successfully did.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month I worked on the use of attraction and aversion in a scene.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I edited a section to clarify elements of attraction and aversion.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I rewrote an important scene adding emotional aversion to the issue at hand. It worked. The rewritten scene gave me a stomach ache.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This month, I did not work on the Workbook. Instead, I worked on marketing my Moon Chimes poetry book in local book stores. It is already available on Amazon.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I attended a Steering Committee meeting, took over some membership tasks, and met with our webmaster.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I am in discussion with some members regarding a potential critique group.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: Even though I didn’t attend the conference, I followed what was happening on FaceBook and Twitter.

Women Writing the West: The conference was held online. The sessions with authors, editors, and agents were excellent. As a first-time attendee, I felt included and participated in the discussions. The authors’ research-based knowledge of the Western USA was impressive.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is November 7, 2021, I am posting my eleventh blog of 2021. This month, I have felt that I am barely hanging on as the roller coaster of life flies along. My writing helps to center me. It helps to shift my focus to practical questions of how to recreate reality in my fiction.

Peace and Violence in Fiction

Peace and violence are daily aspects of human life on this planet. Naturally, they both appear in fiction as themes, descriptions, and genres. Writers are challenged to figure out how to integrate opposite ends of the peace-violence continuum in a particular novel. Too much peace may bore the reader. Too much violence moves the story into the grossly absurd. Different approaches are particularly visible in films which the Motion Picture Association rates to communicate a film’s suitability for various audiences. “Peace” does not merit a rating, while even a G-rated film may have minimal violence. In PG-rated films, violence may occur if it is not intense. In PG-rated films some intense violence is admitted. In R-rated films the violence is allowed to be realistic and extreme throughout the film. Novels, on the other hand, are not rated according to such a system. It is up to the writer and the reader to decide how much peace and how much violence they can abide.

Peace in Fiction

How might “peace” be defined in fiction? Peace occurs during a time of tranquility, repose, or calm. It usually refers to an absence of overt action or movement, although mediation is action taken to assure peaceful transitions. It is a state that applies to individuals, groups, and the weather. A writer can use the concept of peace in different ways in fiction. Peace might describe a personal state of being, interpersonal relationships, or societal harmony. In fiction, peace might also be used to set a scene, a time, or a mood. I just read a quote by Ferdinand Denis that I liked: “Temperance is a tree whose roots are composed of contentment and whose fruits are calm and peace.” Thus, peace is a synonym of contentment.

A description of a peaceful character could apply to a state of being or to a state of action. A peaceful person might simply be enjoying a rocking chair on a warm, windless summer day. A character may prefer tranquility to going out to a bar. Another might embrace peace as a concept and a desirable social state of being. Such a character might be depicted as a participant in a peace march, as a pacifist, or politically as a peacenik.

Peaceful interpersonal relationships could refer to harmony or simply the absence of conflict within families, friends, or couples. Societal harmony could refer to periods that were historically peaceful, contemporary moments, or future utopias.

If a writer wants to set a scene that is peaceful, a description of a tranquil day uninterrupted by sounds or strife would suffice. The scene could be a calm morning with a gentle breeze or a still evening with lengthening shadows descending over the hillside. The purpose of the scene would be to create a tranquil mood.

Social harmony usually refers to a period without or between wars. It could also refer to a cease fire during a war. To write about a peaceful time, the story could be intimate or social. A couple could be enjoying a serene afternoon having tea. A family could be spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon gathered on the porch drinking lemonade. A historical scene might reflect the harmony that follows the end of a war or the celebration of an armistice.

Violence in Fiction

When related to human behaviors, violence is usually defined as a force used to injure, damage, destroy, or as extreme roughness of action. It also refers to unjust or callous use of power as in violating another’s rights or sensibilities. Violence is also used to mean a great force or strength of feeling, conduct, or expression, a twisting or wrenching of sense or form, as in “to do violence to a text.” Regarding nature, violence refers to an intense, explosive forces such as the wind, the rain, earthquakes, or floods.

My favorite French dictionary, Le Petit Robert, adds another interesting meaning to the word violence: to do violence to oneself is to constrain oneself to an opinion that is contrary to what one thinks spontaneously. It also adds examples of the violence of feelings, desires, and manners of expression. I love Le Petit Robert because it gives literary examples of the meanings of words. For example, Rolland wrote that “Violence is the law of brutes.”

Bernice King, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, recently tweeted: “Starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” In other words, Bernice King clarified that discrimination is violence, as is a failure to act in peaceful, helpful ways.

In fiction as in life, violence occurs in family relationships, interpersonal relationships, and relationships between parts of society. When violence occurs domestically, it occurs along a continuum, allowing the writer to create different levels of tension among family members. It might be in the form of reserve rather than intimacy. It might be coolness, coldness, or bitterness between spouses or siblings. It might develop into physical abuse.

In more public interpersonal relationships, violence might be expressed through rejection or unsociability, a frosty expression, verbal antagonism, rancor, or deliberate inhospitality. Extreme forms of violence might begin with vicious words, forceful behaviors, then progress through various forms of aggression. A violent interaction might be verbally pugnacious, then progress to physical cruelty, brutality, or even savagery.

When a writer is depicting large scale societal violence, the continuum tends to range from local conflict between groups to area divisions to confrontations or actual battle between states. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an example of local violence that has societal implications. The societal violence in the story of the Alamo in the area that split Texas from Mexico has generated many different historical novels. Myriad examples of novels treat the violence of World War I and World War II. Science fiction novels tend to treat interstellar violence.

Peace and Violence in Current Fiction

Maggie O’Harrell’s novel, Hamnet, has beautiful examples of peace and violence. In one scene, Agnes returns to a peaceful, moss-covered hideaway next to a river she has loved since she was a child to give birth alone and unattended. The novel also has a scene of familial violence. The father has warned his son to stay clear and safely far away from his grandfather. At a crucial point in the story, the grandson is desperate to ask his grandfather something and enters his study. The grandfather lures the child closer, grabs him, and hits him, injuring his forehead.

In The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, peace and violence are threaded throughout the novel. Two family relationships, one between a father and his daughter and the other between a father and his adopted son, form the basis of the plot. Both fathers’ relationships with their respective children are based on psychological and physical violence that carry the plot through to the end. A secondary character finds peace and quiet only when he climbs a giant tree which gives him a broad perspective on the world and the circus.

Another novel I read this past month, Finding the Bones by Avery Russell posits a return to home as a way to find personal peace, although this bliss is shattered by a violent psychological act on the part of the protagonist’s former lover.

Peace and Violence in My Fiction

One of my novels takes place after World War I, thus the violence and damage of the war has scarred the characters. Another of my novels takes place during the Great Depression in the USA, as a result, the violence tends to occur between individuals who lack what they need. And the third takes place during a period of American violence abroad which instigates daily expressions of violence at home, both of which affect the characters.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month, I have studied more about the philosophy of this novel.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I worked on a violent scene that occurs in the novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I made a minor addition to this novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This month, I did not work on this project.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: 

I attended the Steering Committee Meeting. I also attended part of the Writers Who Read discussion of Maggie O’Harrell’s Hamnet.

Denver Women’s Press Club:

The DWPC sessions are in person this year, so I won’t be able to attend. However, I gained important information from the DWPC e-newsletter about marketing books locally.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: 

To my great disappointment, RMFW canceled the virtual portion of their October conference. However, the BWA newsletter team collaborated with the co-chairs of the RMFW conference to feature it in the Boulder Writers Alliance e-newsletter.

Women Writing the West:

I am looking forward to the WWW virtual conference this week.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021

Today is October 7, 2021, I am posting my tenth blog of 2021. Fall has arrived. The air is clear and bright. Fortunately, my brain always seems clearer in the autumn than in the summer. I spent some time this month marketing my poetry book, Moon Chimes. With other non-writing projects finally completed, I anticipate having more time to devote to my own writing this month.

Anticipation and Surprise in Fiction

What is Anticipation in Fiction?

Anticipation is an element of style in which the author deliberately sets up the passage to lead the reader to think that something is likely to happen (or not to happen) or to be said (or not to be said). It is used to create interest in the story line and to draw the reader into the story. Anticipation also helps the reader follow the characters’ progression as the story unfolds. As I have thought about how to use anticipation in my fiction, I have tried to learn how to apply it to action, the characters’ arcs, and to the dialog to involve my readers emotionally as they read.

Anticipation and Action in Fiction

Which aspects of anticipation have to do with action? Anticipation is related to suspense, potential prospects, and the probability that something will occur or not in the story line. The means that the writer must understand how to create suspense, how to lay out potentialities for each character, and suggest through techniques, such as foreshadowing, that the action will or will not develop in a certain way.

Anticipation is also connected to characters’ beliefs and their ability to react to what happens. Do they move quickly to intervene, to attack, to fight back? Do they enter a room alertly? Do they respond immediately with sensitivity when another character is in emotional or physical pain?  Does an action move the story along, interrupt, or redirect what the reader anticipates? The use of anticipation in fiction writing involves the reader as an active problem solver in the unveiling of the action.

Anticipation and Character Arc

Character arcs must be developed for the protagonists and antagonist that illustrate each one’s acuity and perceptiveness (or lack thereof) regarding each one’s ability to anticipate what will happen in their own life stories. The writer must communicate to the reader the characters’ soft spots, what they hope for, what they are eager to do, what they are passionate about, or if they are fanatical about something.

Readers also want to know how keen characters are about pursuing something, the intensity of their passion, or if their desires are going to get them into trouble. Once readers know the depth of the characters’ courage and enthusiasm as well as their weaker areas, they can anticipate the likelihood or the improbability of characters’ successful course of action.

Anticipation and Dialog

Anticipation can be built into dialog by creating characters who are astute or clueless. They might be responsive or not. They might hang with bated breath on the words of others or ignore all nonverbal signals sent in a conversation. Characters’ ability to anticipate will depend on their alertness and sensitivity to what other say. Are the characters quick responders? Are they perceptive? Are they intelligent? If they are, they can anticipate what others are going to say or do. If they are contrary or negative, both the characters and the reader may be surprised and forced to figure how to respond to them.

What is Surprise in Fiction?

Generally, people are surprised when they encounter something unexpected. The experience might range from wonder to amazement to being scared out one’s wits. Personally, I don’t like surprises. They can have a negative or a positive valance. Of course, they occur, but even the happy ones can be unnerving.

Surprise is related to anticipation in the sense that if characters think something is going to happen and it doesn’t, they may be disappointed. If they think something is not going to happen and it does, they might be shocked. Thinking about the relationship of surprise to anticipation in fiction lead me to figure out how to apply it to action, character arc, and dialog as well.

Surprise in Action

Surprise in action can be the result of interruption, disruption, or intrusion. Whatever characters are doing, another character, something mechanical, or a sound could interrupt them. They might be simply bothered, annoyed, or distracted. If they are completely disrupted and caught unawares, they are likely to be scared or frightened. If someone or something intrudes on them unexpectedly, the action will take a new direction.

Surprise in Character Arc

Characters are likely to experience surprise as shock, astonishment, or as revelation. Each response could affect how their transit through the story occurs. A startling event such as an accident or death might occur. A disruption might ensue in the middle of a sober scene or at the end of a chapter.

When surprise manifests as astonishment, something completely unexpected might happen. For example, winning the lottery, a partner announcing an unexpected departure, or another character doing something completely out of character, such as throw a party.

Regarding revelation, the impact depends on a character’s relationship with another. A character might be shocked by an unexpected disclosure, behavior, or report from a friend. Or they might not be surprised at all, if they have already surmised what is going on.

Surprise in Dialog

Dialog can be written to show characters’ level of surprise. Are they simply flummoxed? Amazed, stunned, bowled over, or dazed? Of are they so shocked that they are rendered speechless? What can cause a character to be surprised? Another character might reveal something that was unknown. Something the character was unaware of may be exposed. A friend might leak information about a secret. A partner might be caught having an affair.

Characters’ reactions to the surprising event can be portrayed through their astonishment. A revelation might unnerve them. However, the surprise transpires, the other characters will be obliged to attempt to soothe or comfort or perhaps even abandon the interlocutor.

Anticipation and Surprise in Current Fiction

In Shuggie Bain (winner of the 2021 Booker Prize), Douglas Stuart uses both anticipation and surprise in his development of action, dialog, and character beginning on page one. Anticipation and surprise in the action is evident when the family moves to a new house that has its own door (as opposed to an apartment building). Each family member anticipates what might occur. The wife dresses up because she believes she is moving up in society. The children anticipate having new friends. The husband thinks he is moving them to an attractive place. Unfortunately, they are all surprised by the blackness, ugliness, lack of privacy, and abandonment they encounter.

Another excellent example is in the hospital scene when Shuggie questions a nurse about his grandfather going to heaven. He wonders what kind of vehicle his grandfather will ride in on his way to heaven. The nurse explains that only the soul goes to heaven. Surprise is used when Shuggie expresses relief that only the soul goes because he is worried about how his own body has been defiled by an older boy.

Another good example of surprise in character arc in the novel occurs when Shuggie, at the age of eight, is saved from bullies by a larger nine-year-old girl. He is grateful. Annie invites him to her place to play with her plastic ponies. Shuggie enjoys playing with the little girl and loves the pink and purple ponies. However, he is horrified to learn that his mother comes to interact with Annie’s disgusting drunk father. His horror turns to anger and when Annie leaves the room, he steals two of the toy ponies.

Anticipation and Surprise in My Fiction

As I look at my manuscripts, it is clear to me that anticipation and surprise are not my strong points in action, character development, or dialog. Because my awareness of the need for these aspects in writing a novel has been heightened, I need to do some rewriting. Anticipation and surprise keep the action, character arcs, and dialog moving along which keeps the reader guessing.  

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month, I rewrote several passages to introduce anticipation and surprise.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I spent some time developing a map of my fictional town.  

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I wrote another section of this novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I didn’t work on this project this month.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance:  Because I am stepping down as vice president, I offered to serve as membership chair in 2022. I line edited the newsletter for September 1, 2021. I attended the Writers Who Read group on Zoom where we had a lively discussion of Shuggie Bain.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I wrote a small piece about the DWPC to be published in the September 2021 issue of the Boulder Writers Alliance Newsletter. I communicated with the president of DWPC.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: 

I read Kelley J. P. Lindberg’s and Jason Evan’s blogs. In “Don’t Toss Those Writing Fragments” Kelley suggests that you save drafts so you can integrate them or repurpose them later. Interestingly, I just read a tweet by Stephen King who revealed that a story he wrote in college was repurposed as the prologue of Salem’s Lot.

Jason’s blog was about “Managing Your Author Platform.”

Women Writing the West:

I paid my registration fee for the online virtual conference on October 7-9, 2021. I also voted in the annual election. I read the WWW newsletter.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is September 7, 2021, I am posting my ninth blog of 2021. August has been another month of stressful news: fires, earthquakes, floods, evacuations, hurricanes, tornadoes, and needless deaths. I do my best to not anticipate disaster and am happily surprised when a day goes by without one. I also try (As Mr. Roger’s mother reputedly said) to “Look for the helpers.” There are always many. Additionally, I try to be a helper when I am able.

Contempt and Shame in Fiction

When I started studying up on contempt and shame as ways to portray characters’ interactions, I realized that their enactment encompasses a continuum of behaviors that I had never thought of as specifically contemptuous or shaming. The enactment of both contempt and shame requires both an actor and a receiver. Both run the gamut from a static level of behavior, through a deliberate action, to a deliberately aggressive form of conduct. If you had ever asked me if I treated individuals with contempt, I would have said “No, of course not.” However, I must admit to being guilty of the lowest level of my own continuum. I’ve been told that writers come to know themselves better through writing. I am finding that sometimes my writing holds up a mirror in which I see my own face reflected with a shocked expression.

What Is Contempt?

My own definition of what I am calling “indeterminant or static contempt” involves contempt that one feels for another silently without acting on that contempt. In other words, the other person may not be aware of the contemptuous person’s stance because it is more about mannerisms than about acting it out. This low level static contempt might be unobservable, though it involves a feeling of disapproval or discontentment. I have certainly felt disapproval of others. I have been discontented with a variety of individuals throughout my lifetime. However, when disapproval is not voiced or not directed at the receiver, it may go unnoticed.

Even stronger indeterminant contempt might be disdain, condescension, aloofness, haughtiness, snobbery, pomposity, or supercilious arrogance—all mannerisms visible to the observant. However, the receiver may just assume that the condescending person enacting contempt is simply an arrogant snob and not interpret the snootiness as a reaction to his or her own behavior.

An extreme level of static contempt on the other hand would create discomfort between two people. The receiver would notice that the deliverer seems to be repulsed by his or her presence. The receiver might sense the dislike the deliverer of contempt is expressing. The receiver might sense the realty that the deliverer of contempt would prefer not to be engaged.

The intermediate type of contempt—what I am calling “active contempt”—involves deliberate movement, word choice, and expression of contempt regarding another person. Perpetrators might directly ridicule, sneer at, or mock a person. They may choose to diss or belittle someone in person. They may put someone down. They may physically spurn or rebuff someone. With a parent, they may be insolent or impertinent. I have never thought of teenage behavior as contemptuous, but according to my definition here, it is. Active contempt might also be indirect. In this case, the perpetrator, may ridicule, belittle, or scorn one individual when talking to someone else. Gossip is an example of indirect active contempt.

Aggressive contempt is the most extreme enactment of contempt because it has such a negative effect on both the perpetrator and the receiver. The aggressive continuum begins with feelings of aversion, loathing, disapproval, displeasure, hatred, or disgust. It moves toward nonverbal expressions of repugnance, antipathy, animosity, disrespect, or revulsion. In its most deadly form, aggressive contempt involves real-time actions against another person, such as refusing to interact with them or turning them down for a position or a request. It could also involve censuring them verbally, as well as publicly.

Unfortunately, in the USA in the last four years, aggressive contempt has become more visible, particularly regarding issues of language, gender, and race. A particular racist version of contemporary aggressive contempt is a perpetrator feeling antipathy for a stranger who is just going about minding their own business. Perpetrators, sometimes now called “Karens,” might stick their nose into some else’s business. Such individuals might report an innocent person of color to the authorities for exhibiting normal daily actions—such as shopping for groceries with their child.

What is Shame? 

While contempt tends to be inappropriately directed at others, shame has a personal, internal aspect as well as a hostile public manifestation. Shame is a difficult concept to understand because it can be experienced personally at the emotional and physical level where it has a visible physical manifestation—blushing. This personal aspect of shame can be viewed as a sign of simple awkwardness, as a manifestation of extreme modesty or bashfulness, as embarrassment, or even as a sense of mortification in the presence of others. Most people blush, that is, their faces turn red when they are experiencing shame in this personal way. Because their discomfort is obvious to others, they experience their own shame as a loss of face.

My second category for shame involves one or more persons shaming one or more persons with the goal of tarnishing someone’s reputation. A low level of shaming may involve idle thoughtless talk about another person. A middle level might include serious chin wagging or gossip. A more serious type of shaming might consist of spreading tales about someone or rumormongering.  

My third category for shame involves the effect one suffers from being shamed by another person or group. When a person experiences this kind of shaming, the impact might be personal. If individuals suffer the low level of shaming, they might be simply uncomfortable, but it might also destroy their confidence in themselves or in others. If they are the subject of gossip or rumormongering, they may be confounded by the experience, offended, or mortified. At the worst level of shaming, they are likely to fear that their reputation has been destroyed. If they fear a negative impact on their family or community, they might feel dishonored by the public disgrace. If the shaming is a severe case of slander, which probably creates a scandal, victims might be forced to protect their reputations and defend their honor publicly or in the court system.

Contempt and Shame in Current Fiction

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor in The Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston, has studied the effect of shame in individuals’ lives. She states that, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Secrecy, silence, and judgment work well to create tension in a novel. These aspects are visible in Cho Nam-Joo’s novel, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982.

In fact, in Cho’s novel, contempt and shame are both subthemes to the main theme of feminism in a Korean setting. I had never considered sexism as a synonym for contempt until I started reading Cho’s novel while I was working on this blog. In one heart-wrenching scene in the novel, a mother chooses to abort a female fetus because only male children are valued. If only male children are valued, females are the objects of societal and even parental contempt. Likewise in the novel, shaming is used as a weapon to control young women. At school, in public, and even at home, teenage girls are shamed if their skirts are too short or if a strange man approaches them on the street. Jiyoung, the protagonist, struggles mightily with the mixed messages she receives from parents and teachers because some are silent while others are judgmental. Later as a young mother, she is shamed for having a daughter instead of a son. She is also shamed by family and strangers for working outside the home when she has a child.

Contempt and Shame in My Novels

In my first novel, the antagonist operates in a contemptuous manner. Shaming is used to try to control the protagonist. In my second novel, the antagonist shows her contempt for others’ relationships. She also shames the protagonist. In my third novel, an oil company demonstrates its contempt for its employees.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month, I have studied more about my topic but I have not written or edited anything.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I have worked on descriptions of place for this novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I have not worked on this novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I did no work on the workbook this month.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: This month I met with the officers. I also met with the BWA Newsletter team. I chose not to attend BWA’s in-person socials at local restaurants.

Denver Women’s Press Club: DWPC had an in-person book sale this month, but I did not attend.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I listened to a podcast in which Mark Stevens interviewed John DeDakis. They discussed John’s work as a journalist and his success as a novelist. I also read several excellent RMFW blog posts on writing.

Women Writing the West. This month I decided to join an organization that is made up of members who write a variety of types of novels about the western United States. This is of interest to me because my novels take place in Colorado. I am already acquainted with two of the members. The WWW conference will be virtual this fall, so I will be able to attend online. Hopefully, I will learn how to better integrate salient aspects of the West into my stories, while connecting with some kindred spirits.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is August 7, 2021, I am posting my eighth blog of 2021. This month I have been cataloguing stacks of my book collection with the goal of donating the books.

The month of July has been a stressful month around the world. Belgian friends of mine managed to survive the flooding in Europe although they will be housing friends of theirs for months to come. In Colorado, we are suffering from the smoke from forest fires in the mountains and the West Coast, while dealing with mudslides that have closed Interstate 70.

Fortunately, Colorado has a high COVID-19 vaccine rate. In line with today’s theme, I have been doing my best not to feel contempt for those who do not “believe” in vaccines and not to shame the ones I know personally. I do choose to stay away from them. On a daily basis, I am reminded that life itself is filled with drama and tension, yet punctuated with flashes of hope and compassion.

Pride and Humility in Fiction

Once I won a prize for innovative work at a national conference. An older man from a Minnesotan Scandinavian background later took me aside and chastised me for expressing happiness rather than humility when I accepted the award. It goes without saying that his rebuke shocked and saddened me. My response when someone wins something related to their performance is to simply congratulate them on their success. However, this experience forced me to reconsider different traditions and expectations regarding pride and humility. It is important for writers to think about how humility and pride interact when structuring characters’ motivations, conflicts, and personalities.

Pride in Fiction

As concerns pride, writers must take several aspects into consideration. My interaction with the older man taught me to view pride from both positive and negative viewpoints. A positive aspect of pride is related to self-satisfaction with one’s performance, enjoying one’s own performance, and expressing gratitude for recognition of a performance well done. Another positive aspect of pride involves one’s self-respect, one’s dignity under pressure, feelings of self-esteem, or attending to one’s honor in a situation. In this positive sense, pride can be posited as the root of a character’s motivation.

Negative aspects of pride fall on the side of vanity or egotism. In this sense, pride mirrors arrogance or conceit. A character might be smug or self-important in relationship to others. Or  characters might be egotistical, viewing themselves as superior to other characters, and behaving in a pretentious manner. Condescension, haughtiness, or conceit also indicate pridefulness. Such negative aspects of pride can be used to create conflict with other characters in the story.

Humility in Fiction

When I explored humility, I observed that it falls along a continuum from what could be considered as good manners or behaviors on the positive side, to a normal type of genuineness, unpretentiousness, ingenuousness, and modesty at the midpoint of the continuum, to a form of wariness, inhibition, fearfulness, or uncommunicativeness on the negative side. On the good manners side, characters might demonstrate politeness or tact. At the midpoint of the continuum, they might be shy, submissive, or simply quiet. On the fearful end of the continuum, they might be coy or cagey. Their inhibitions or introversion might lead them to inappropriately comply in a bad situation.

Humility and Pride in Contemporary Fiction

An examination of how to use humility and pride in fiction shows how they can be applied to character development and setting. In Finding the Bones by Avery Russell, humility is rare while pride is portrayed in both the positive and negative senses. The protagonists work in the press corps in Philadelphia, New York, and Europe over the course of the novel. As they move up to better prints, they are pleased with their progress, despite being competitive with each other. The female protagonist demonstrates her personal pride in her style of dress and considers the male protagonist a bit frumpy. Pride is also evidenced in the main character’s love for his southern home and upbringing. Negative aspects of pride appear in the characters’ competitive viewpoints but also in their competitive amorous relationships. Humility in the novel was expressed in the portrayal of the protagonist’s mother whose wisdom was precious to her son.

Humility and Pride in My Fiction

In the first novel I am working on, humility is a theme and pride is a weakness of character in the antagonist. In my second novel pride and humility interplay in the protagonist’s work. He is humble about his work and never brags but experiences personal pride in a job well done. In my third novel, a character must overcome humility that begins as submissiveness and embrace the pride that can come from a challenge well met.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

This month, I expanded the protagonist’s experiences based on research I have been doing.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

I went on a field trip and took some reference photos of an area featured in the novel. I had never thought of doing this before. The views and sites renewed my desire to work on this novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

I didn’t work on this novel this month. However, another novel I read this month gave me some good ideas about how to use memory, imagination, and characters’ internal thoughts to develop the characters in this specific novel.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I rewrote several parts of the Moon Chimes Workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: This month the BWA Newsletter Committee met to plan our next edition which will come out in September. I also worked on organizing BWA’s summer in-person social. After meeting our May meeting, Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read Group decided to take the summer off and regroup in September.

Denver Women’s Press Club: In June I watched a Zoom Fireside Chat, led by Marie Williams of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, that featured women who are in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Juana Bordas, a member of the DWPC, spoke about how important art is to maintain joy and love of one’s culture. She currently works on intergenerational leadership and encourages white allies to participate. Lauren Casteel, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, talked about how important love, humor, compassion, and kindness are to philanthropy. She guides the WFC to do the right thing for the greater good. Lily Nie spoke about bringing more than 12000 public school students through her Chinese cultural center to encourage collaboration and friendship with adoptees from China and from other countries.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I listened to a RMFW’s podcast facilitated by Mark Stevens. He interviewed the conference co-hosts, Kate Jonuska and Mira Landry. They discussed the new combination face-to-face/virtual RMFW Gold conference that is planned for October 2021. I plan to attend virtually. Also, I attended a Zoom workshop on “Navigating the Winding Road of Self-Publishing” by Karla M. Jay who writes and self-publishes historical fiction. Her guidance on marketing was invaluable. I also listened to Mark Stevens’ podcast with Rachel Howzell Hall who writes mysteries and novels about a Black woman detective in Los Angeles. I loved the discussion about her writing and plan to read one of her novels.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is July 7, 2021, I am posting my seventh blog of 2021. The cool weather we have experienced this month has been conducive to thinking and writing.

Appreciation and Envy in Fiction

Working with Appreciation

During the pandemic, I decided to devote time to appreciate the good people and experiences in my life. In May 2020, I started a gratitude journal. My goal was to write down a minimum of three things each day for which I was grateful. At first, it was difficult. My husband and I were staying home to be safe. He had broken his back in March. The pandemic raged around us. We had completely changed our shopping and entertainment habits. We hadn’t seen our friends or family for several months. Everyone was worried. Fortunately, no one close to us was sick. Thank goodness, little rays of sunshine floated in from Madagascar via videoconferencing on at least a tri-weekly basis as our daughter checked in on us to see how we were doing.

My efforts to express gratitude proved productive. I discovered that deliberately focusing on gratitude each day helped me to establish a positive mindset during a difficult period. This personal daily practice led me to ask myself, “What does appreciation have to do with fiction?”

Appreciation in Fiction

What exactly is appreciation? First it requires recognition, that is, identifying what one appreciates. For example, “I am glad you were willing to edit my book.” Second, it requires expression, “Thank you for your work on my project.” This expression may occur in face-to-face communication, in writing, or sometimes in solitude—as in prayer. While a person might feel appreciation, it is best to demonstrate it through action, express it orally, or through the written word. Sending flowers expresses appreciation. Words of respect, gratitude, or admiration communicate appreciation. For example, readers might articulate the pleasure they experienced upon reading a book by filling out an online review form. But how does a writer integrate appreciation when composing a novel? Does appreciation have a place in theme, character, or action in fiction?

Themes are often about what characters cherish or treasure, that is, what they appreciate. Even though I had never thought about it this way before, I realized that in books I have read recently, appreciation is often a central, if hidden, theme. In The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, the family values education. In The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, the main characters prize old manuscripts. In The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams, the lexicographers relish words and their etymologies.

Protagonists’ motivations might be based on what they appreciate. Their actions might derive from what they value. Antagonists on the other hand might be motivated by displeasure or disapproval. They might criticize or scorn the main character. Their contempt might be at the base of their damaging actions.

Plot and action might also be based on appreciation. Consider the enduring story of Raiders of the Lost Ark which is based on the value or appreciation of a historical treasure. The writers took readers’ interest in the lost ark and aligned it with their appreciation for an exciting competition. Thus, the race between competing good guys—Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood— and bad guys—the rival archeologist and the Nazis—created an action film that viewers watch again and again.

Envy in Fiction

Envy on the other hand involves desire for what someone else has. Remember the Tenth Commandment about not coveting anything thy neighbor has? On this point, I see a parallel between Christianity and Buddhism because one of the three poisons in Buddhism is defined as desire, greed, or attachment, that is, coveting. The person who covets is an envious person who resentfully wants what someone else has. This yearning creates painful behaviors, such as being suspicious or distrustful of others. The envious person is usually bitter about not being able to have what someone else has or to achieve what someone else has accomplished.

Does envy have a place in theme, character, or action in fiction? Clearly, envy can cause problems for self and others which makes it a workable theme in fiction, particularly for the antagonist. When writers think about motivating a character, the antagonist, for example, might be motivated by jealousy, possessiveness, or greed.

Appreciation and Envy in Current Fiction

In The Liar’s Dictionary, appreciation and envy are themes that interweave throughout the novel in professional and interpersonal relationships. Williams uses the word “appreciation” several times in the book. The appreciation theme is apparent in the lexicographers’ interest in meanings, forms, and uses of language. It also threads through her remarkable portrayals of amorous relationships when she describes individuals through the eyes of their lovers. I don’t recall reading the word “envy” in the novel, but it is the undercurrent that drives the creation of Swansby’s publishing house and its ultimate demise.

Envy surfaces in action when the antagonist takes steps to bring the protagonist down in some minor or major way. The inheritor of Swansby’s is envious of the success of other publishers of dictionaries in English. Even though he has inherited property and the publishing rights to the dictionary, he not only handles the situation poorly, but his yearning for fame leads to his own destruction.

In The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett, one twin envies the ease with which white people function in dominant white settings. She abandons her former life, her family, and her past to pass easily as a white woman with a wealthy white husband. Her identical twin instead marries a handsome dark man and produces a beautiful black child. Her child, who appreciates and values family relationships, serendipitously ends up participating in the same social setting as her long lost aunt and eventually brings the family back to the truth.

Appreciation and Envy in My Fiction

In my first novel, a loving relationship develops because partners appreciate the creative work the other one produces. Envy, on the other hand, leads the antagonist to malfeasance.

In my second novel, appreciation builds relationship between an old man and a group of young siblings. Envy creates friction when a drilling company wants to lease their parents’ land.

In my third novel, appreciation for each other’s talents leads two men to build a successful business. The antagonist’s envy leads to disaster.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the last month, I clarified my main character by studying more references to make sure she will be authentic as viewed by experts.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I wrote a new chapter for my second novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I reworked one character.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

The results of the contest I entered were announced. My poetry book, Moon Chimes, did not place.

I spent some time adding to and editing my Moon Chimes Workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I worked with the BWA Newsletter Committee on the first edition of our newsletter which was e-published on June 1, 2021. In Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read group, we analyzed The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.

Denver Women’s Press Club:  I attended a Zoom talk with Zaina Arafat, a Palestinian-American writer, who discussed her well received debut novel, You Exist Too Much. I appreciated one of her comments. She said, “Persistence means you keep going through resistance.” A good motto for all writers! I look forward to reading her novel.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I attended an extraordinarily helpful Zoom session titled: Between the Margins: A Critique Panel. Seven panelists, who have participated in critique groups over long periods, discussed the importance of sharing one’s writing with others. They emphasized the importance of listening to reviewers’ comments on what works or doesn’t work in a short piece of fiction. Although I have not yet participated in a critique group for fiction, I will join one when I am ready.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is June 7, 2021, I am posting my sixth blog of 2021.  Some of my regular monthly responsibilities are reduced over the summer months which has allowed me to devote more time to my writing. This month felt rewarding because I made some good progress.

Gentleness and Aggression in Fiction

As a writer, I have an innate tendency to reject the current trends in literature that highlight what I am going to call the ugly, violent side of humanity. As I look back on the literature that I have loved throughout my own lifetime, it is what I would call a literature of gentleness and caring. In this blog, I decided to try to parse out the different meanings of gentleness, and its opposite aggression, in fiction. If you have ever watched a baby snuggling, you know that gentleness is innate. This strong proclivity for gentle closeness creates continuity in our societies.

Gentleness in Fiction

Gentleness may be depicted in fiction regarding settings and characters. It is also often associated with animals. If a setting is described as gentle, the author may be depicting a sense of peacefulness or tranquility. When I use these terms, what comes to mind is a place I always envision in my meditations. The scene reflects the beautiful valley where I grew up. It is a peaceful valley, with gently sloping green hills, and the musical sound of crinkling aspen leaves. Creating a sense of gentle summer breezes tends to draw the reader into the sensations and visualizations of a relaxing comfortable scene.

Writers can use gentleness to describe characters with mild or calm personalities. For example, the author might use gentleness to depict the tenderness of a loving relationship, a caring situation with an invalid, or parents with a newborn baby. Kathryn Forbes’s novel, Mama’s Bank Account, tells the story of a gentle but enterprising mother. To give her fretting children a sense of financial security, she tells them not to worry because she has a bank account. As adults, the children learn that her bank account was fictional. Her calm demeanor and gentle lie created a safety net for her children.

Gentleness in fiction is also often used to depict tender relationships between characters and animals. A scene with birds chirping at the window in the morning is designed to calm and comfort the characters and the reader. Many novels that depict gentle animals live on through several generations of readers. Think about a restless, unhappy boy who finds his way with the aid of a dog in Lassie Come Home. Or the story of a lonely worn out woman servant who finds the gentleness and sociability of a parrot to be a saving grace, as in Flaubert’s beautiful story, Un Coeur Simple. Another example is the young adolescent girl who finds out who she is when she interacts with a horse in Black Beauty. These stories of gentleness and love have elicited an enduring readership.

Aggression in Fiction

Aggression in fiction also relates to settings, characters, and animals. To create a setting where aggression is a dominant force, the author could choose a site that is threatening in and of itself, perhaps with jagged cliffs, or high stone walls. The weather could be bleak. The wind ruthless. The setting could depict an invasion or an attack. Imagine, for example, the battle scenes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings.

The characters could be engaged in violent behavior against one another. A leader could be dealing with a belligerent underling. Brutal assaults could cause injury. A defensive line could be thrown back by the onslaught of a bellicose offensive. Cruel, callous raids, or sexual aggressions could be made against defenseless people despite their pleas for compassion.

In such a scene, aggression toward animals could involve the killing of steeds or the destruction of domestic animals. The aggressors could strike down guard dogs or even pets. Despite the fact that writing these paragraphs on aggression gives me a personal stomachache, many such novels have ardent followers.

Aggression in Recent Fiction

This month, I read Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, an ecophilosopher. The book is not fiction but rather a blend of natural history and memoir. However, it is an excellent example of gentleness contrasted with aggression in life and in writing. Haupt intertwines the story of Mozart’s pet starling with her own story of raising one. She literally steals the unfeathered hatchling to save its life before park rangers destroy all the starling nests and baby birds. Her goal is to raise and observe her starling whom she names Carmen, a synonym for “song.” She cares for it like a mother, feeding it every 20 minutes, keeping it at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, building it appropriate habitats, and gently loving it, as it appears to love her. She juxtaposes her own gentleness with the government’s and birders’ aggressions against starlings in the USA. For example, it is illegal to raise starlings as pets but legal to destroy them because they are an invasive species in North America.

In Camron Wright’s novel, The Rent Collector, the aggressive attack of the Khmer Rouge on Cambodians serves as the inciting incident that drives the rent collector’s life choices. A young husband realizes that he may need to be aggressive against attackers to protect his wife and child. Yet in the same novel gentleness is shown to be a trait of friends and animals. A gentle youth averts the attempted kidnapping and sale of a young girl into sexual slavery through the assistance of cooperative adults. An old woman lies down to die with a dying elephant that has been wounded by aggressive fire. When it dies, she gently covers the elephant’s corpse to protect it from scavengers. Her interaction with the elephant gives her the courage to continue living.

Gentleness and Aggression in My Own Fiction

My first novel deals with forms of gentleness and aggression in the realm of characterization. My second novel has an eccentric old codger who is surprisingly gentle. In my third novel, I think I will add a pet of some kind because two of the characters are adolescents who need some comfort.

After I had almost finished this blog, I decided to do an online search on my topic for this month. I was delighted to find Maxwell Sater’s piece, “What We Need Right Now is the Gentle Novel,” on his website https://electricliterature.com/. Thus, I will end with a quote from him, “I am, more than anything, a reader of novels, and I was inspired to think of gentleness as an aesthetic category by one particular novel: The Ambassadors, by Henry James.” I think Maxwell Sater and I agree that it is time for writers who prefer gentleness to move to the forefront of editors’ slush piles once again.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of April, I put my first novel on the shelf to rest—so I could rest as well.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

Recently, I followed the advice of friends on a Twitter feed. They recommended using the “Read Aloud” function in Word to listen to my own work. Even though the computer voice is a bit robot-like, it was fascinating to listen to the draft of my second novel. My characters’ personalities shone through the robotic voice which really pleased me.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

Since my original goal for this item was to write 25,000 words during RMFW’s NovelRama (which was canceled this spring), I have adjusted this goal to add 25,000 new words to this novel by the end of the year.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

Winners of the contest I entered will be announced by the end of May.

I did more research for the workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I worked with the BWA Newsletter Committee on our upcoming new newsletter. In Gary Alan McBride’s BWA group, Writers Who Read, we shared what we had learned from studying Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults. In Ferrante’s novel, the main character, an adolescent, becomes aware that what she thought was true about her family is not. She learns to prevaricate about her own behaviors.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I attended Zoom workshops with Juana Bordas on multicultural leadership; Dr. Dow Phumiruk on her second career as an author and illustrator of children’s books; and Andrea Moore who discussed her process and read her poetry.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I did not attend any meetings with RMFW in April. I did, however, attend the Pikes Peak Writers’ virtual conference on writing novels from April 23-25.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is May 7, 2021, I am posting my fifth blog of 2021. Writing this blog continues to intrigue me because putting my mental ruminations down in print helps me clarify to myself what I like or don’t like about what I have drafted. It also helps me perceive what is missing.

Real life and fiction have collided in my world this spring. Thus, I took solace in writing more poetry and in listening to other writers.

Truth and Deception in Fiction

My blogs this year focus on appositional aspects of personality. I am studying how well-known writers make use of these traits in their own texts. It is my hope that my examination will help me write characters that ring true. This month I discuss how the concepts of truthfulness and deception can be used to craft opposing characters.

What Is Truth in Fiction?

As I read different novels, it appears that the ways authors handle truth fall into three categories: truth as verifiable facts, truth as genuineness in a character’s personality, and truth as accuracy in how a character sees others and surrounding events.  

If the author is focusing on verifiable facts, the characters may be portrayed as being certain of what they say. They know that if they are questioned, they can attest to the veracity of their claim. If the character’s point of view is portrayed, the reader can believe what the character says.

The second quality of truth, genuineness, tends to describe a range of human behaviors and interactions. Truthful characters may be depicted with different shades of meaning. One character might be described as candid and straightforward. Other characters and the reader may align with this character. Another might be outspoken or too direct causing the other characters and the reader to back off or feel reserved in return.

The third quality of truth may be shown as exactness in one’s assessments of people or interactions. This layering of meanings allows the author to create different types of characters with subtle differences that the reader must decipher. If a character is good at assessing the truthfulness of other characters he may serve as a good witness to an event.

Each of these qualities of truthfulness call for an opposition in at least one other character. One opposite of truth is deception.

How Is Deception Portrayed in Fiction?

I found a similar triple layering in how deception is used in fiction. One category of deception might include deliberate tricks or ruses. Such a character could be depicted as a clever trickster whose ruses can fool the gullible or as one who deliberately projects a false impression.

A second type of deception could refer to duplicity or deceit. Such a character could be cunning or crafty. A character whose major quality is duplicity could be the engine of a story in which even the other characters are confused as to what is happening.

A third type of deceptive character, a con artist, could cheat others or commit fraud. The con artist engages in deliberate treachery. Such a cheat or fraudster could definitely play the role of the bad guy in the story.

How do Contemporary Writers View Truth and Deception?

In Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger, truth and deception occur as part of the plot and create a major question of the novel: is there life after death? In this novel, an honest, innocent character appears to be using a ruse.

In Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, truth and deception are screens through which the main character describes what he sees and thinks as the scenes of his life play out. Sadly, it is society at large that frames and sets the stage for the enduring duplicity that occurs. Continued deception forces all of the characters to play roles in a reality that is never authentic but always staged with winners and losers.

In The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante truth and deception are at play on practically every page of the novel. It is a novel about a teenage girl coming to grips with the reality of adolescence and adult life. What she has believed to be the truth of her existence gets turned on its head repetitively. Her reactions to her new reality reveal her own shifting relationship to truth and deception. She becomes a smooth con artist who manages to fool the adults around her.

Colum McCann, whose novel Apeirogon deals with a factual story, said in a Zoom interview with the Poetry and Prose Bookstore that he had to balance factual truth with what he called “illustrative truth.” He places a meeting scene in a monastery, for example, “to get to the true heart of the actually true” because the monastery was symbolic. He also mentioned that both fiction and nonfiction can be true. One of the striking aspects of this novel is how he positions natural reality and beauty against the deception and ugliness of human limitations.

Truth and Deceitfulness in My Fiction

In my first novel, I am dealing with factual truths and spiritual truths. My second novel addresses truth coming up against the deceitfulness of a corporation. My third, treats the topics of truthfulness and deception in personal relationships.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of March, I had to do more research on this topic which was a calming activity in face of the violence that occurred in our city.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This past month, I worked on more research for this novel. I learned about issues in Colorado about which I knew little that add interest to my story.

Add to the draft of my third novel by participating in the RMFW NovelRama in the spring, summer, and fall:

Unfortunately, there will be no NovelRama this spring so this goal is moot. I will delete it next month.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

A notice was sent that my book had been received for the contest. I am pleased that Moon Chimes is receiving good reviews on Amazon.

I have not worked on the workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I attended a workshop called “Why Creating an Ideal Client or Reader Profile Is Essential for Success” presented by Vala Vincent, a social media marketing business coach.

Boulder Writers Alliance, Writers Who Read: In Gary Alan McBride’s group, we analyzed Apeirogon by Colum McCann which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. McCann won the 2009 National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin. Apeirogon is a beautiful, if excruciatingly painful, read.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I worked with the Membership Committee this month.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: This month we voted for the Writer of the Year and Independent Writer of the Year awards.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is April 7, 2021, I am posting my fourth blog of 2021. March was a difficult month in Colorado because my city suffered its first mass killing. Everyone I know has been in mourning. I am personally grateful for the support of friends and the broader community. May the victims’ memories be a blessing. May the survivors find peace and healing.

Courage and Fear in Fiction

For Valentine’s Day, my husband gave me a heart-shaped Madagascar carnelian. I was pleased when I read that carnelian is associated with courage, motivation, love, and creativity. Having a stone from Madagascar also made me happy because my daughter and her family live there. Because I had already chosen courage and fear in fiction as my topic for this month’s blog, I have enjoyed having the stone sit next to my computer as I write.

Even though courage is often contrasted with cowardice, the basis of cowardice is fear, thus, in this blog, I place courage and fear in opposition.

What Is Courage?

In French, the word for heart is coeur from the Latin, cor, which is also the base of the word courage in French and in English. Courage comes from having a brave heart in the face of danger. A synonym derived from the English word heart is lionheartedness, which is used rarely today, but well-known in the appellation “Richard the Lionheart.”

How does having a brave heart manifest in more contemporary terms, particularly in fiction? Is a purely courageous protagonist attractive to readers? Is the story more interesting if the protagonist starts off timid and gains courage throughout the novel? Or is it more riveting to create a courageous character who loses heart at some point and has to recalibrate?

How Do Novelists Depict Courage?

Some readers prefer a courageous protagonist who achieves against all odds, be it a hero or anti-hero. But what exactly is courage and how can a writer portray a courageous character? As I have pondered this question, I have observed that fiction writers tend to focus on three kinds of courage.

A courageous character might be described as brave and able to survive in the face of incomprehensible danger. In Margaret Atwood’s, The Testaments, Aunt Lydia could be termed courageous. She survives for years when many others do not and succeeds in taking down an evil regime. Atwood describes Aunt Lydia’s courage as “The plotline of my resolve,” which leads me to think that one aspect of courage is choice.

Courage in stories is sometimes portrayed as heroic or valiant. A heroic or valiant character is more typical of historical novels, war novels, or romantic dramas. In Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea, Victor Dalmau (a doctor) is heroic in battles and in the prisoners’ camp where he treats the ill and injured. He is valiant when he marries the unwed mother of his dead brother’s son to create a family unit which allows them to escape from Europe on a ship sailing to Chile.

In the same novel, courage surfaces as determination, guts, and grit when Victor’s heretofore unknown daughter shows up on his doorstep at night and announces that she has spent her life looking for him. He and his adopted son (her cousin) embrace her.

What is Fear?

Fear on the other hand is not a choice, it is a reaction to harm, possible danger, or a sudden attack. In my personal analysis of fear in novels, I have observed that it emerges based on a character’s experiences in the past, present, or future. Phobias, that is, irrational fears that result from social anxieties (such as public speaking or flying) or fears of things (such as snakes or spiders), are grounded in personal experiences in one’s past or adopted from vicarious experiences one has. Apprehension, dread, and anxiety are often due to an over-active imagination that visualizes possible frightening outcomes in the future. Alarm, panic, being frightened, or being scared tend to be the result of sudden physical and emotional reactions to an unexpected incident in the moment. The startling occurrence triggers shock or surprise which may result in a freeze or flight reaction.

How Do Novelists Depict Fear?

Toni Morrison eloquently encouraged writers to, “Make up a story…Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” Three recent novels do exactly what Morrison suggested.

In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, the author depicts a historically based social anxiety. The main character was dramatically harmed as a child. The episode has been so deeply suppressed in her emotional memory that it governs her life without her having a clue as to what is really going on. The “stitch” that saves her is a loving relationship with a young man who believes in her.

In Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, an entire country is controlled by the fear of what might happen if anyone attempts to subvert a cruel regime. In the end, two young heroines, with the aid of an older planful mentor, have the courage to envision freedom and the ability to take down the regime.

In Kunzru’s Red Pill the unnamed narrator experiences a psychological descent based on shock and panic that lead him from a fairly sane existence into one overcome with fear’s dark caul. A loving family relationship saves him in the end.

Fear in My Novels

How do I handle courage in my novels? In one, the protagonist must overcome a deep-seated childhood fear to accomplish a difficult task. In another, the protagonist must find the courage to live after her worst fear is realized. Finally, in the third, a shocking development leads the protagonist to reconsider what really happened.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of February, I worked on research. The more I write, the more I have to learn.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This past month, I worked on research.

Add to the draft of my third novel by participating in the RMFW NovelRama in the spring, summer, and fall:

The first 2021 RMFW NovelRama session has not yet been announced.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I sent Moon Chimes off to a poetry contest this month. I also, for the first time, attended the Crestone Poetry Festival which was on Zoom this year. Art Goodtimes, the 2010 Western Slope Poet Laureate, facilitated a Gourd Circle. Art explained that the gourd is a symbol of male and female collaboration. Most of the attendees read a personal poem or one by another poet. I was truly swept away by the participants’ passion and mutual support.

I did not work on my Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences this month.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

My personal writing contacts continue to expand despite the COVID-19 lockdown—for Zoom, I am grateful.

BWA: I attended two Zoom workshops that Rick Killian led—one on writing a book proposal and the other on being a solopreneur. I also did some work for the organization.

Writers Who Read: In Gary Alan McBride’s Zoom group, we analyzed Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Structurally, it is an original novel. As to voice and point of view, it is exceptional. Because the group plans to discuss The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, I also attended a Boulder Bookstore Zoom talk with Ferrante’s English translator, Ann Goldstein, and Michael Reynolds, her publisher, who is the chief editor at Europa Editions.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I attended a Zoom workshop with Anne Randolph on “Kitchen Table Writing” and a talk on Colorado Women in World War II. Additionally, our membership committee held a Zoom meeting for new members. It was delightful to learn about each writer’s path.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I have been in conversation with the RMFW Newsletter editor about starting a BWA Newsletter.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is March 7, 2021, I am posting my third blog of 2021. As a fun aside, one of my calming pastimes is to study the Irish language. Today, I was pleased to read that the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, has a new Bernese Mountain Dog puppy that he named, Mishneach (pronounced “meeshnaak”) which means “courage.” With cruel variants of the virus beginning to circulate worldwide, it is good to consider courage in the face of fear. Mask up and stay well!

Innocence versus Experience, Corruption, and Guilt in Fiction

When I thought about writing about innocence the first literary allusion that came to mind was Blakes’ Songs of Innocence which were published in 1789. When I was a child, two of my most favorite poems were The Lamb and The Tygre. Blake viewed the lamb as innocent and the tiger as fearsome, but both as God’s creations. While Blake does not mention guilt in the poem, he must have questioned why God would make a fearsome tiger who, given the opportunity, would eat an innocent lamb for lunch. These poems were probably my first introduction to contradiction. The beauty of poetry is that it allows the poet to depict an image or thought in a few words. Novels, on the other hand, require more than 60,000 words to develop a premise while illustrating it for the reader.

Portraying Complex Aspects of Innocence

In fiction, to create an innocent character usually requires counterbalancing one character with another who is experienced, corrupt, or guilty. Parsing these multiple nuances requires understanding the terms from moral/social, spiritual, and legal perspectives.

On the moral or social side, innocence refers to be a state of being that Blake used in his contrasting poems. Moral innocence refers to childlike goodness as opposed to worldly experience. The lamb suggests the innocence of childhood. The tiger can be interpreted as a parallel to adult action in a ruthless world. In a social setting, the moral connotations are more complex. An innocent character might be an ingenue, that is, a person who is naïve, simply inexperienced, such as a green horn in a western setting, or an unsophisticated boor in a cultured or upper class setting. An innocent character could also be a person who is gullible or easy to fool—the opposite of streetwise. These social innocents could be shown in apposition to individuals who are shrewd, suspicious, or avant-garde depending upon the requirements of the plot.

On the spiritual side, innocence implies purity, chasteness, or virtue. Such a wholesome or decent person could be shown in opposition to an untrustworthy, depraved, or corrupt character.

In a judicial setting, innocence means not guilty. In American courtrooms, persons on trial are assumed to be innocent, resulting in the use of the term “legal innocence.” The defendant is not required to admit innocence or guilt, rather his or her status must be proved. A defendant who is proven not to be innocent in a legal setting may be described as responsible for the crime, culpable, at fault, or guilty. Creating a guilty character requires the writer to decide if the guilty one will show remorse, be contrite, or if the character will refuse the court’s judgment.

Portrayals of Innocence and Guilt

In a recent novel, Red Pill, by Hari Kunzru, the main character’s internal view of himself begins as that of a devoted husband and father. It devolves to that of a paranoid, compulsive participant in a strange game. The novel is a deft interplay between innocence and guilt in the intimate, interpersonal, and public realms.

Joanna Scott’s novel, Arrogance, is based on the life of Egon Schiele. The artist is accused of pornography. He is imprisoned for 24 days. Although the court views his work as vulgar, depraved, and illegal, Schiele justifies his innocence by protesting that as an artist he is simply doing his work of depiction.

My Efforts to Depict Innocence, Corruption, and Guilt

In my first novel, my main character is a blameless person. As goodness may be viewed as boring, I have been struggling with how to make her more worldly. In the same novel, I have been wrestling with how to portray a character who is subtly evil. On the surface he appears to be a friendly chap with lots of friends. Deciding how far to go in proving guilt in a novel is a complex question. In my second novel, an innocent woman attempts to prove the corruption and guilt of a corporation. In my third novel, innocence and guilt are both difficult to prove on several levels. One of the issues with fiction is to allow the reader to figure things out so how best to portray innocence, experience, corruption, and guilt is tricky issue for a writer.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of January, public events distracted me. Editing proved difficult. I decided to read some of the novels on my list for this year. I also attended two online conferences.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

After attending a superb Zoom workshop with Anita Mumm on how to and how not to present a pitch for one’s novel to an agent, I presented mine to an agent via a RMFW Zoom interview. She was not interested in my book.

Add to the draft of my third novel by participating in the RMFW NovelRama in the spring, summer, and fall:

I plan to tackle this story again during the 2021 RMFW NovelRama sessions.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

I investigated poetry contests online.

I explored copyright issues for my Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

BWA: I participated in a Steering Committee meeting. I also attended a workshop entitled How the Pale-Faced Lie Sold Over 125,000 Copies. Sandra Jonas and Jill Tappert from Sandra Jonas Publishing discussed their experiences helping David Crow market his novel.

Writers Who Read: In Gary Alan McBride’s group, we discussed Red Pill by Hari Kunzru.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I attended a workshop with Sylvia Cordy on her Opening Act Theatre which is a project to teach young Black girls self-assurance through acting lessons.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: This month, I attended a two-hour workshop on how to do a pitch, led by Anita Mumm, from Mumms the Word Editorial services. We practiced our pitches in small groups. Exchanging feedback was helpful. I practiced doing a pitch on my second novel.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is February 7, 2021, I am posting my second blog of 2021. January was an unsettling month for everyone. I managed to calm myself through reading, attending workshops, and learning more about writing and publishing.