Today for Feature Friday, I’ll be posting articles about language and linguistics. (The book I raved about earlier definitely relates to this.) Here’s an article by Sarah Hoyt about the Sci-Fi Trope of “Universal Translation.” I have a story somewhere in my stack where there is a Universal Translator that offers real time synthetic speech between all of the Earth people and the aliens they deal with… it works about as well as BabelFish did in the late 90s. She makes better points than I do, though. Definitely check her article out.
Category Archives: Fiction
Indiana Jones and the Call of Cthulhu
Linked from my fellow writer Davide’s blog. Roughly, it’s about an Italian forum for Cthulhu roleplayers, but I’m posting it because of the AWESOME picture. I think someone needs to make this happen.
Writing for Anthologies
Here is an article from Bare Knuckle Writer about how to write for anthologies. Check it out. I know from my (limited) experience editing that more often than not, amateur writers will only read the guidelines so they can explain in their cover letter why they don’t apply to the piece that they’ve written.
Notes From the Front: the 96 Hour Novel
Yes, yes, I took an extra day on it. Still, I think writing a full short novel… 25,000ish words, a hundred pages… in a four-day weekend is something that I can be happy about.
Trust me, I wasn’t happy about it Saturday afternoon, and I can’t discuss how I felt Sunday without adding some sort of plug-in to WordPress that will randomly cuss every sentence. But by Monday, I was forging on ahead and writing at a 20 page per day rate. That’s about two and a half times my normal rate, and the effect it had on my creative brain (wringing it dry, breaking it down, and leaving nothing but the story intact) is something that has to be seen to be believed. Though, I think my next project will be a 100-hour short novel… perhaps I’ll try that back to back during NaNoWriMo since my hero, Agata, claims she has more stories to tell me.
Tuesday evening I had an interesting bit of exhilaration. I’d not opened my copy on my desktop since Sunday morning, and when I looked at it I realised I’d written 50 pages in a little over two days. It made me feel dizzy for a moment.
Anyway, my report is that everyone should try this once, and I myself am going to try it again in a few weeks. I wouldn’t write a literary novel this way, and perhaps not even one of my beloved surreal horror stories, but for something that proceeds at a frenetic pace (the action in this story, tentatively called “Agata and the Broken Train,” takes place over the course of four days) it’s a perfect method. I’m also curious to see what happens to this in rewrite… will I trim it to an under-90-pages length and streamline it, or will one of the characters/ plotlines jump out and demand equal treatment, adding on another ten, or twenty, or fifty pages, even as I tighten and refine what I’ve written?
If anyone’s interested in reading, well, probably not my rough, but my first clean copy, let me know… it will be prepared in a week or two. As for my other stories, I’m still more or less on track for my story-a-week project, and I’ll be putting the first refined story, up here next week for your edification and enjoyment.
The 72 Hour Novel: Day One
Well, by 14 or 15.00 today I had given up, freaked out, gone to take a nap with a horrible headache, and convinced myself that all was lost. Then I got up from the nap, made black-bean chilli since I realised I hadn’t eaten in well over a day (probably the source of my headache), and went from feeling like a failure at 5000 agonizing words to hitting 7K and saying “That’s enough.” Then I pushed ahead to hit 8K/ 30 pages in less than 24 hours. So even if I don’t hit my goal of writing a short novel (23-25K/ 80-100 pages) in three days, I think I figured out how I’ll be able to do it the next time I try. (And honestly, I’m worried that even if I do hit my word/ page goal by Monday Midnight, I’ll not be done with the story. One of my slippery good/ villain characters is more deep than I thought, and my main character is really having a lot of fun telling me her story. So, I’ll check in tomorrow night, and I’ll still be posting on Twitter with the #72hournovel hashtag.
Writing is physically draining enough when you don’t dash around the dining room, your patio, and your kitchen re-enacting an epic fight from your Sword and Sorcery novel. Today, I also learned that it’s a good thing I don’t write erotica.
When you try to force a character into a box she doesn’t want to fit into, she will rebel. Much like fitting a person into a category she doesn’t want to fit into. The difference is: I can erase the character. I think that actually makes it harder to deal with.
Magic in most fantasy novels is glowing, mystical, and beneficent, or dark, chilling, and malignant. It has crisp edges and direct lines of attack. When a man is hit with a spell, he dies or is turned into a toad or whatever curse is laid upon him. But I’m a veteran. I’ve seen Fireballs, and Magic Missiles, and Called Lightning. I’ve seen especially what they leave behind. There are no crisp lines and magical effects in combat.
The 72 Hour Novel
So, I’ve been on track so far with my goal to write 50 stories in 52 weeks. (2 for 2… that’s a start, I think…) However, this next story is a little longer. A teenage girl from the same world as my current serial at Way Too Fantasy stopped by my head and convinced me to tell a story about what happened to her and her family while she was travelling with her Uncle’s wagon train to a busy port in the north. Seemed like a simple story so I agreed… and then I realised it was going to take me 80-100 pages to tell the damn thing.
No worries… I have Friday to Monday off this week, and I’ve always wanted to see if I could write a novel in a weekend. Well, a short novel. Michael Moorcock, and some of the other great prolific pulp writers did it. And since this is Sword and Sorcery, I think it may lend itself to this type of frenzied composition. We’ll see. It could just wind up a flaming heap of triceratops dung.
Today I spent outlining (I never outline, but it seemed necessary for this) and sketching and procrastinating, but it’s midnight. The witching hour. I have my snacks (apples and Doritos and caramels) and the first of what I suspect will be many pots of espresso (I have a 6-cup stovetop Moka pot, the kind they use in Italy… also, I don’t drink coffee much). I’ll be tweeting irregular updates @bovisrex and, if I remember, using the hashtag #72hournovel. I might also use #DiversityinSFF since my heroine is overweight, a minority, young, and not the typical swordsmaiden from these types of stories… i.e., no chainmail pushup bra and plate mail cameltoe. She wasn’t taught how to fight by an Uncle, or a boyfriend, or a brother whom she must now avenge… she grew up in a rough-and-tumble farming community and learned to fight with what she had. If she survives, she’ll get better.
On that last note, if anyone reading this can think of ways a 16-year old scrapper can ‘MacGuyver’ weapons and armour that she can use on her quest, hit me up here or on Twitter. By tomorrow, I might need a hand.
Alright, it’s five after midnight and I’ve procrastinated enough.
Laugh While You Can
Reblogged from Way Too Fantasy:
For those of you that haven’t read the book, you probably think I’ve just described the plot of an interesting bit of contemporary fiction, something that may not win awards, but will be a night’s or a week’s entertainment. For those of you who have, you know. Describing this book this way is like if I reviewed that famous Hitchcock film by saying “It begins when a woman wants to run off with her boyfriend and embezzled money from her work. On the road, she gets second thoughts, and after a pleasant meal and a conversation with the nice, mild-mannered motel proprietor, decides she’s going to go back home and return the money. But first, she’s had a hard day, so a shower seems like a good idea…”
Rest of the post here:
What Comes to the Surface, Part 1
All of these blurbs and bits are things that come to mind while I work on other stories. Some are quotes from other people; some are my own.
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill. And suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own – for the children… and the children yet unborn.” — Rod Serling, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”
All you know of a person’s identity is what he or she tells you. That goes for yourself, too.
“I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it.” — Jack Handey
No matter what you write, someone will get offended by it. And if you go out of your way to not offend anyone, I’ll probably get offended.
The terrible things we get up to while trying to prove something to someone could fill a book. Wait… they already do.
The Best Haunted House Novel?
Reblogged from Way Too Fantasy:
Here, nothing jumps out from a dark corner baring fangs and claws crusted with the blood and souls of your friends and takes you by surprise; by the time you’re this far into the story, it doesn’t need to. It can quietly sit next to you on your bed and wait for you to finish, because it already knows you’re lost.
Here, I talk about The Haunting of Hill House, which I still think is the top candidate for best haunted house novel.
The Detective with a Funny Hat
There’s a trope, a meme almost, found among editors and publishers. A writer has a story featuring a brand-new detective, in a mystery that he claims is unlike anything ever written. He sits down in front of his fellow writers and relates the plot of what is otherwise a standard, cliché-ridden mystery story. Finally, the editor cuts him off.
“What’s different about this story?”
“Everything,” he says, breathlessly.
“Are you sure? You have a family locked in a mansion for the weekend. They can’t go anywhere. The crime is a murder by poison a third of the way through, and everyone hates the victim. The red herring claims he didn’t do it but wished he had, and he becomes a red herring halfway through, right on schedule. And the real killer was actually ‘helping’ the detective solve the crime. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad story, mind you, but what’s different about it?”
“What, are you blind? The detective is wearing a funny hat.”
This has become shorthand in some writing circles for character traits that are just pasted on like they were cut out of construction paper and glued to the guy at the last moment. These traits don’t actually affect anything in the story, but the author, and some readers, are convinced that everything is all that much more different because of the funny hat. Or suspenders. Or whatever is added in an attempt to make the protagonist stand out from the crowd.
This shows up in fantasy fiction as well. You can almost see the gears turning in the author’s mind…
I’m tired of reading about farmboy protagonists who save the world. My character is a farmgirl.
There are too many stories about magic swords. Mine is about a magic morningstar.
Elves are always magical. I’m going to make the Dwarfs magical instead.
All of these could of course make an entertaining story, but only if the story is driven by these traits. If your character is an ambidextrous transexual Finnish stamp collector with a propensity for eating Fluffernutter sandwiches whilst riding a neon-plaid Vespa, that’s fine… but only if the ambidextrousness or transexualness or stamp collecting or other traits somehow affect his character and/ or the story. Otherwise, you’ve done nothing but take a stock character, make a beard out of cotton balls and construction paper, strung it on his face, and called him a brand-new creation. This is great for a grade-school play, but not so much for professional writing. Rather than make your story stand out, it showcases lazy character development and plotting.
Why am I bringing this up? Besides having it brought to my attention in a post by Lisa Richardson at Way Too Fantasy, this idea of using superficial changes to substitute for characterization has been on my mind ever since I first started fleshing out my stories and reading books as a writer and not only a reader. In today’s world of inclusiveness and diversity, it is easy to decide you need to flip a coin and randomly make one of your characters white, or Chinese-American, or gay, or black, or on the Autism Spectrum, or anything else that you feel will make your story appeal to a wide audience. This is even worse than giving your protagonist a weird hat. This is nothing more than pandering to a perceived notion that, say, readers of a certain group will more readily read something featuring a protagonist like them, without bothering to see if your character truly conforms to that particular group. It’s easy to take a sheet of stereotypes, cut out a mask in such a way that it doesn’t look stereotypical at first, and paste it on a character that is exactly like you or your friends.
As brought up in an excellent post on the Karavansara blog, there is a lot of diversity in the world already, if you look past the surface. The idea of a lily-white medieval Europe is either the product of a racist and/ or social Darwinist mind, or is something written by a politically correct diversity crusader who is convinced that Europe = White = Evil. But from the Caliphate in Spain to the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean colonies in southern Italy to the Asiatic and Turkic tribes in Hungary and Ukraine and the Baltic countries, Europe was anything but homogenous. Hell, Germany alone was made up of about seventeen thousand different kingdoms, each with its own culture and legends and folklore.
There are many ways to make your world diverse. Start by having at least the setting conform to the real world, and not just a surface impression of it. At some level, every character is a minority of one. Find out what drives that minority and you’ll have the seeds of a great story.