What I’ve Been Reading // The Non-Fiction Edition

It’s often a good idea to, every once in a while, take a step back from the writing – be it blogging or working on your manuscript – and read. I could throw in a few of those overused, oh-so-cliche quotes about reading and how it affects one’s writing, but I shall refrain.

Last year I hit a reading rut. I just didn’t want to. Anytime someone mentioned books or curling up in a cozy chair with hot chocolate (or wine, whichever you prefer), I had this strange inner reaction. Throughout my life I’ve made it a point to go against the grain and not do what was deemed popular at the time.

Clothes one to two seasons out of style = check.
Star Trek and X-Files watcher instead of Dawson’s Creek or FRIENDS = check.
Got the NERDS Blizzard from Dairy Queen instead of Oreos or normal chocolate = check.

I didn’t come out of my “no reading” funk until I did an experiment earlier this year where I didn’t turn on my television for an entire month. As a direct result, my reading time skyrocketed. Surprised? No? I wasn’t either. According to my Kindle statistics, I’ve read for sixteen weeks in a row – from mid March to now. I’ve also smashed my original reading goal of twenty books (low goal, I know) and upped it to forty.

Those numbers don’t include the paper/hardback copies I’ve read. And those books have mostly been of the non-fiction variety. So here are four non-fiction books I’ve been reading (or have already read…or need to read) this year. Some are on this list, others are brand new and I’ve yet to update the page to include them. As I always say, I hope you enjoy this post and perhaps you’ll find something new to read!

1,000 CHARACTER REACTIONS FROM HEAD TO TOE by Valerie Howard

This book, the newest addition to my self-help collection, is part of a series designed to help spark creativity and get out of one’s rut of using the same words over and over again. One of this series’ other books, 1,000 STRONG VERBS, arrived on my doorstep earlier this week.

While it’s not a complete list of every reaction a character can have, Howard does include spaces after each specific section where you can put your own spin on what’s provided. In reality, it’s a two-in-one book and workbook.

What drew me to this book was her blurb: “As an author, are your characters always sighing and nodding? Did you just sigh and nod? If so, this handy little booklet is for you!” I can handle dialogue just fine, and I adore world building. Character interactions and movements are my biggest problems.

Not only that, when I now pick up a book to read for pleasure, these nuances are forever front and center because I’m paying attention to an author’s style. Flow and odd interactions never stood out to me as a teen. Now they can make or break a book.

I refuse to stay in my rut, so I’ll be keeping these little booklets on my desk for future reference.

True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen
edited by Sarah A. Chrisman

Apparently I missed the memo when I began my writing journey that there’s an arsenal of books from the Victorian era that many historical fiction writers use. TRUE LADIES AND PROPER GENTLEMEN is one of those books.

I also didn’t know this book existed until a research stint a few weeks later when I stumbled upon this title and immediately drooled over the cover. Okay, I didn’t actually drool. I metaphorically drooled.

Modern nuances in historical novels has always annoyed me, and that applies to character mannerisms as well. Historical novelists are always faced with this conundrum: do we write a book filled with historical references but modernize its characters to fit the current state of things, or do we write according to the time period we choose and try to be as historically accurate as possible?

No matter what’s chosen, I’m afraid that choice is always met with criticism from readers who prefer the former or latter of the aforementioned situations. Then, do we explain and defend ourselves in a preface or epilogue note at the end of the story?

TRUE LADIES AND PROPER GENTLEMEN is a reference I’m glad still exists. It gives insight into the unique and complex social proprieties of the day. I’m still unsure if it was originally published in 2015 or if it’s an edited version from an earlier publication.

Whichever the case, more research and reading is most definitely required!

Images of America: Pittsburgh’s Bridges by Todd Wilson and Helen Wilson

Images of America, in case you’re unawares, is a vast collection of historical imagery archives compiled into books by subject. Of course, for me, the Pittsburgh series have become an invaluable resource and catalyst for furthering my interest in what “the ‘burgh” looked like before my parents were even born.

My last surviving grandmother is 84 years old (born in 1936), so some of these books have been like walking down memory lane for her. As such, she’s also conducting her own deep dive into Hartman history and connections within Southwestern Pennsylvania.

It’s because of my grandmother’s interest in my great great great grandfather’s bakery in Allegheny City that I picked this up.

I *may* have to interview her one of these days about him.

Hmm…

I digress, as usual!

PITTSBURGH’S BRIDGES proved itself to be an accurate resource, and let’s just say that one of my book’s pivotal scenes was inspired by a fact found within its pages.

Creating Character Arcs by KM Weiland

I know, I know. Not this book again. But I saved it for last because I didn’t want you guys to feel like I’m beating you over the head with this series.

However, Weiland’s books are just that good.

While I’ve read each one at least thrice over, I still refer to them (them being CREATING CHARACTER ARCS, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL and STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL) time and again when I need a refresher.

I highly, highly doubt that any one person can know absolutely everything about writing. Sometimes I’ll freeze in the middle of a scene and will need a reminder right then and there.

Thank goodness my home is only 625 sq. ft., and my non-fiction bookshelf is but twenty paces from my writing desk. Correction: fifteen paces. I got up and checked.

Here’s my point. You don’t need a reference from me to find what resources work best for you and your stories. Let’s face it – I’m still a “noob” when it comes to this thing called writing. However, Ms. Weiland was one of the first authors I connected with when I first began looking for community online. She’s always been willing to answer small questions here and there, and her experience is both highly valuable and unproblematic. And that’s really refreshing.

Did you find anything worth diving into?

I love making these short book lists as they force me to go back to my stacks and rediscover old favorites or books I’d forgotten about. In all honesty, I’d completely forgotten about the Improve Your Writing book (my apologies to Ms. Hahn!)

What are some books you own but recently rediscovered? You’re in a judge-free zone, so don’t be shy and share those titles in the comments below! Let us all discover something new today. Happy reading and have a great writing week!


The Character Arcs in Star Trek Voyager

Why is there all this focus on Star Trek on my website? The answer is simple – it’s my absolute favorite franchise. Every time it’s on, it’s like I’ve come home to a friend, or rediscovered a favorite comfort food from ages past. Not only that, but if you can look past the sometimes-hokey story lines and bad episodes (there isn’t a single franchise that can claim immunity from a badly written episode), you’ll grow to love the characters themselves.

Star Trek Voyager‘s original run began in January 1995 with “Caretaker,” and wrapped in 2001 with “Endgame.” Throughout its seven seasons the writers introduced and said goodbye to many secondary characters, and some primary ones too.

In writing, a character’s arc, or their development, is an important piece to the story’s overall puzzle. When written well, a character can incite excitement or take a viewer or reader into the depths of despair. The downside to any Star Trek series is there will always be a character(s) who’ll get more screen time than others.

As with any story, each character has a purpose. Some are clearly main characters, others decidedly supporting, and still others make but a brief appearance. As I learn more about these character arcs, I started comparing them to the crew of the USS Voyager. We’ll observe them by rank, and figure out which arc they fall under. But first, let’s take a quick look at the types of character arcs.

These examples all come from KM Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors,” because her resources are awesome.

Please be sure to stop by her blog, because she goes more in depth with each of these. This is just quick reference for this post. Also, each arc is linked to Weiland’s website so you can dive even more deeply.

Positive Change Arc
To paraphrase: Also known as one of the heroic arcs, characters with this arc uses a known or newly learned truth to try implementing positive change.

The Disillusionment Arc
Characters with the disillusionment arc will either join with the positive resolutions of the story or return to their original world, even while knowing the new “truths.” This is a.k.a a “negative change arc.”

The Corruption Arc
Characters with the corruption arc rarely want to positively change. Instead, they use their original lies to continue on in the “new world”

The Flat Arc
[Also a heroic arc] “These characters experience little to no change over the course of the story. […] Sometimes these characters are catalysts for change in the story world around them.”

The Fall Arc
Another negative change arc. The simplest definition of a Fall Arc is the character must face the consequences + aftermath of their choices. No matter what they try to positively change, if they try, it’s met with resistance and futility.

Now let’s see which senior officer exemplifies which arc.
Do any turn to Corruption?

Note: Spoilers and episode recommendations to follow

Captain Kathryn Janeway
Kate Mulgrew
Arc: The Flat Arc

Hear me out here. As the first female captain portrayed by the Star Trek franchise (we can only assume that other female captains preceded her within this universe), Captain Janeway had a lot to live up to. Let’s face it. She followed the likes of James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard. A scientist a heart, Janeway often took it upon herself to study the mysteries of the Delta Quadrant along with her underlings. Episodes like “Year of Hell,” “Scorpion” and “Macrocosm” successfully exhibit her tactical resilience. However, she does have a stubborn streak. One where both Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok oft have to act as checks and balances, and remind her she isn’t alone in her command-making decisions. Throughout all seven seasons, Captain Janeway remains one of the most constant characters of them all, and clearly the most developed even before the show begins. For this reason, I’ve labeled her as a Flat Arc character. While she wrestles with her truths throughout the entire series, she rarely falters. What influenced my choice –> How to Write a Flat Character by KM Weiland.

Commander Chakotay
Robert Beltran
Arc: The Positive Change Arc

Commander Chakotay, ex-terrorist under the Maquis (if you followed the Deep Space Nine series you’ll know more on what this means), and once a cadet at Starfleet Academy, Commander Chakotay is a perfect example example of the positive change arc. We see a LOT of change within Chakotay’s character (and many fans today wished he’d “hooked up” with Janeway, especially after “Resolutions“). Even after Chakotay’s own fall from Starfleet, and even after his commanding position as a Maquis, I think Chakotay became a father figure to the ship’s crew. Both Starfleet and Maquis alike. While his arc eventually flattened out in later seasons, he was uniquely (purposefully) placed to step in as commander in “Caretaker, Parts 1&2.” From his initial introduction to “Endgame,” you know you’d want Commander Chakotay defending your honor. (ie “Basics 1&2“).

Lieutenant Tuvok
Tim Russ
Arc: The Flat Arc

Commander Tuvok, the steadfast Vulcan of Voyager’s bridge staff, as well as proficient tactical officer, rarely had episodes dedicated just to his character development. Out of VOY’s entire run, only “The Raven,” “Author, Author,” “Gravity,” “Repression” and “Innocence” showcase Tuvok’s loyalty and tenacity as he works to solve problems or even a murder. His keen investigation skills are sharpened by his interactions with the rest of Voyager’s crew, whether he’s willing to admit that or not. Tuvok’s arc was hard to place, but his is the same as Janeways: The Flat Arc. Before you “poo poo” my conclusion, think of this way. Before VOY aired, you can tell Tuvok’s character already had purpose. He’s placed as Janeway’s confidant and valued friend. And, as the oldest member (being a Vulcan), he’s already had a long-standing Starfleet career (“Flashback“). As such, it only makes sense Tuvok would have a somewhat flat arc.

Lieutenant Tom Paris
Robert Duncan McNeil
Arc(s): Positive Change with a lot of Fall

In the series’ opening, we already know Tom Paris, son of a Starfleet Admiral, fell from grace due to bad decision making and then lying about his mistakes. In Starfleet, rank and relations won’t protect anyone from their own undoing. But Janeway gave him an opportunity to redeem himself (“Caretaker”) and his flyboy nature couldn’t keep him from negotiating a deal. We see his arc grow until season five’s episode “Thirty Days.” Up until that time, he’d worked to earn the field commission he’d been given in an emergency situation. From there he had to work again to regain his crew’s – no – his family’s confidence in him. Notable Tom Paris episodes include “Alice,” “Vis a Vis,” “Lineage,” and “Investigations.”

Lieutenant B’Ellana Torres
Roxann Dawson
Arc: The Positive Growth Arc

B’Ellana Torres was especially hard to nail down, but she’s definitely got a positive growth arc. When we first meet her in “Caretaker,” her Klingon half rules over her human one, and she often gave into it during Voyager’s early seasons. One of her major turning points took place in season four’s episode, “Day of Honor,” when she finally (spoiler) admits her true feelings to Tom Paris. Her development does taper off a bit as with any show, but we get to the core of who she is by season four’s end. Notable episodes: “Extreme Risk,” “Lineage,” “Faces” and “Dreadnought.”

Ensign Harry Kim
Garrett Wang
Arc: The Positive Growth Arc

Garrett Wang himself has portrayed Harry as “Voyager’s whipping boy.” With everything the writers threw at him – multiple near death experiences, actual death experiences, individual time travel – Harry could’ve easily gone by way of the Corruption Arc. However, Wang’s character managed to keep his optimism, curious mind and scientific know-how. Ensign Harry Kim, I think, drew a lot of his strength from others around him, most profoundly Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tom Paris (even though Paris disappoints him from time to time). Even though Kim was, in my opinion, under-developed, he still had some positive growth, if not a little flatter than most. Notable Harry Kim episodes include “Caretaker,” “Favorite Son,” “Demon,” “The Disease,” “Course: Oblivion,” and “Ashes to Ashes.”

The Doctor
Robert Picardo
Arc: The Positive Change Arc

My original feelings about The Doctor aside (I found him quite annoying, along with the rest of the crew), The Doctor does possess a positive change arc. This emergency medical hologram (or EMH), probably had the most lines on the show. One such example of his arc is that it took him years – literally years – to choose a name for himself. From his first scenes to very last. There’s also the added logistical nightmare behind his technological “genes,” somewhat solved with the addition of his mobile emitter in “Future’s End.” After season three he calms down, but has a tendency to throw himself into each new hobby he picks up (opera, a holo-family, social lessons with Seven of Nine, just to name a few). Notable episodes include “Darkling,” “Revulsion,” “Flesh and Blood,” and “Projections.”

I’m a doctor, not a battery.

“Gravity”

Neelix
Ethan Phillips
Arc(s): Disillusionment to Growth to Flat

As you can see, Neelix is a complex fellow, and that complexion is perfectly portrayed by Ethan Phillips. Phillips had previously played several characters in the franchise, including a Ferengi on Next Generation and a different Ferengi on Enterprise. Neelix begins his Voyager journey in disillusionment. While his girlfriend, Kes, settled into life on Voyager quite easily, Neelix was tempted to run on several occasions (as in “The Cloud“). At some point in season two, he and Kes are no longer a couple, and he begins to finally grow as an individual, spreading his own wings and expressing a willingness to try new things (“Fair Trade“). By Season Five, with his character established, his arc flattens. Notable episodes include “Jetrel,” “Once Upon A Time,” “Rise,” and “Investigations.”

Kes
Jennifer Lien
Arc(s): Positive Change –> The Corruption Arc

Wait? Seriously? The original ying to Neelix’s yang? Unfortunately, Kes is one of those characters viewers either loved, or loved to hate. Kes, a Delta Quadrant native, willingly joined Voyager‘s crew because of her intense desire to explore the galaxy and leave her Ocampan homeworld behind. Due to her species’ strong telepathic and mental capabilities, Kes eventually had to leave the ship in season four’s “The Gift.” This is where her corruption arc comes into play. Spoiler ahead! Kes returns briefly in season six’s “Fury,” as an incredibly angry individual, believing the crew abandoned her. Something corrupted her in the new years since “The Gift.” But does she stay corrupted? You’ll just have to watch to find out! Notable Kes episodes include “Caretaker,” “Before and After,” “Cold Fire,” and “Persistence of Vision.”

Seven of Nine
Jeri Ryan
Arc: The Positive Growth Arc

Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine joined the cast at the end of season two, effectively replacing Kes. The Voyager writing room ramped up her arc, using Janeway as her guide as they did with Kes. (Do you see now why Janeway needed to be the most established character in the beginning?) However, Seven grew so much that she was able to call out Janeway as they disagreed on procedure and life in general. Her story continues with Star Trek’s newest addition to its lineup, Star Trek Picard. Notable Seven of Nine episodes include “Imperfection,” “Scorpion,” “The Raven,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and “Bliss.”


If you’re a Star Trek fan, did I get this wrong? Or did I correctly analyze these ten characters from a writer’s viewpoint? Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below.

Conclusion: the more you learn the art of writing, the more you’ll analyze your favorite forms of entertainment.

For I dipt into the future, far as the human eye could see; Saw the Vision of the World, and all the wonder that it would be…

Alfred Tennyson, from the bridge plaque on the USS Voyager

Writing Prompt:
Pick one of your favorite television and try figuring out their character arcs. Perhaps you’ll discover why you love them or love to hate them.


My Multiple MC Problem

Even though I’ve done a lot of writing since childhood, this is the first time I’ve attempted something as big as Project Firedamp. Not only are there a lot of moving parts, historical facts to keep straight, and cultural differences to look out for, things are in their early stages and I’ve got time to make changes.

When my idea for #ProjectFiredamp first came to fruition, I tossed around several sub genres of historical fiction before settling on historical adventure. The time period I chose (late Victorian) and the characters created (some real, some not) really give me wiggle room in the adventure realm.

However, since a few NPCs (if you do online gaming you’ll know this stands for non-player character) and my antagonist were, in fact, real people, I still have to play the “How far can I go into their historical facts without bogging down the reader?” game. (Thank you, Paulette, for getting “NPC” stuck in my head! I love our writerly DMs). Not only that, but since I decided to have two point of views instead of just one, the fear of under developing one of them is real.

Dare I add a third POV? I’m not sure I’m capable of juggling that many subplots just yet!

I asked a question similar to this on Twitter a few weeks ago and KM Weiland shared her method for developing characters. Not only does she have a full book called Creating Character Arcs and its corresponding workbook, she also has a list of interview questions I’ve started using myself. While my fear of under developing a main character is still ever present in the back of my mind, these resources have really helped keep some of that anxiety under control. Let’s face it – I’m a list lover. And you’ve surely deduced by now that I’m an outliner as well.

Method is something I never looked at as a kid. Heck, I grew up in the 90s. We didn’t have as many easily-accessible resources then as we do now. I promise this isn’t a sponsored post. Ms. Weiland will have no idea I’m writing this until I share it on Twitter. Everyone has their own way of helping them keep track of their characters. So far, keeping a running dialogue with them via a list of “interview” questions is helping my process. Maybe those lists will help keep that seed of multiple MC doubt from growing!