Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaNoWriMo Update (in a sense)

Sometimes I feel like a kid playing "Marco Polo." Don't know how many of you ever played that as a kid. One child is blindfolded and wanders around trying to catch the others. The child calls out "Marco" and the others respond "Polo" so s/he can locate them. It was rather fun.

So at the moment I'm running around blindfolded shouting "NaNo!" "Wri-mo!" "NaNo!"

I have so much fun with this it's indecent.

I hit 33,000 words last night and I'm beginning to suspect that the story (called "Infanta") will be longer than the 50k. Last year I topped out at 41k and had to start editing (i.e., writing new scenes) in order to reach the goal. I did reach it, though. That book is currently over 70k and will be coming out in December.

The main character in Infanta is Iat (the name will probably change). She is technically human, or at least she's descended from humans. I won't go into the history (the story doesn't) but her ancestors were deliberately changed as opposed to being changed by the mutagenic power of the Demons Bay. She has eight limbs (two legs, two hands, and two sets that can be either) and big blue white-less eyes. If you know about my primary world, you know that means she's descended from the Blod, the aristocrats of the world. She is also descended from the Soldier Clan, which causes some interesting tensions. Her skin is true black, iridescent. Others of her family have skin that ranges from white (for infants) to blue or green or black and in all shades of those colors.

She is the Infanta (or princess) of their race, and believes that this is only a matter of descent--she is the oldest child of the oldest child all the way back to the First-parents. Actually it's a great deal more. As she will soon learn.

For more information about the world this book is based in, go to the top tabs on my reader's blog.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Six

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling

Those six one-word questions are the basis of any story. What is happening, where and when is it happening, to whom is it happening, why is it happening, and how are we going to solve the problem?

Certain things are going to be hidden based on the genre. A romance might have all those aspects right up front, except for the last. Because it's HEA or HEAFN (Happily ever after or Happily ever after for now) all of the other information can be right out in plain sight. For a mystery of any kind, the why and who (as in who is doing this) are likely to be hidden.

Where and when are generally pretty obvious, and in science fiction or fantasy they may be extremely important to the story as a whole. In other genres the why may be hidden while everything else is clear. In almost every case, though, the how remains out of sight.

Humans are wondering creatures. We want secrets and unknowns, even in our entertainment. If there are no secrets, we're likely to put the book down or go to sleep during the movie. So while you need all six questions in your story, it's possible to minimize or hide some to keep your readers reading.

Think about a story with no setting. Boooooring. Think about a story with no characters--even stories about a mountain or a city personify those things and turn them into characters.

If you're missing any of those aspects, your story is likely to fall flat with your readers.

That doesn't mean you can't mix it up. Your where can be spread out over six different timezones, or take place in twenty different solar systems. Your when can skip back and forth between times, or not have a set "time." That's OK, if it's done well. But you must have each of those six items.

On the other hand, writing without one can be an interesting exercise. Try it. Try writing a short story without any characters, or without a "how" and see if you can do it. "Why" is probably the easiest to dispense with, followed by "how." Can you make the story make sense without at least suggesting that there is a why to the plot?

Try it. If you manage it, let me know.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Foreshadowing

A few months ago I was in a discussion with one of my beta readers and we got into a discussion about foreshadowing. I tried to explain a number of different ways, only to learn that she was apparently confusing foreshadowing with flashback.

The two are entirely different. Flashback is when a character thinks about something that happened in the past, some event or series of events that aren't (usually) in the main story-line but still need to be told. Foreshadowing is a device used to make the reader think that the implausible is likely and the impossible perfectly normal.

In fiction we create worlds that are often completely different than the world we live in. Whether you're writing urban fantasy or historical fiction, you're writing about things that you've never experienced. Likely it's just as strange to your readers. Even if you're writing a biography, some things are going to need additional explanation and support in order to help your readers step into the world you're creating for them.

In order to keep the reader engaged, an author needs to convince them that these things are normal. The reader needs to be able to suspend disbelief; to set aside what they know of the world and accept what they're being told.

One way to create this level of trust is foreshadowing.

In the post a few weeks ago I talked about deus ex machine, and I used the following example.

A character ends up surrounded in an alley. The reader knows the character has no fighting ability and no weapons, but he cuts them all down with a laser that shoots from his eye.

That post focused on the implausibility of it, but for the sake of argument let's say that this is part of your story. The character is an extra-terrestrial raised as a human and is just learning about his alien skills. Readers need to know this is possible in this world, or they might just put the book down and walk away. In order to prevent that, an author needs to set the stage, so to speak.

There are literally hundreds of different ways that this could be done. The character could be a comic-geek who wonders earlier in the book if people who shoot lasers from their eyes might exist. There may be a news article earlier in the book that talks about the aliens who just landed in Tonga and wonders what they might be there for. Other skills may have come up earlier so the possibility is brought to the reader's attention that the character might be capable of more. If you have this kind of event, read through your book with an eye toward situations that might fit the bill.

Often it doesn't take much. A word here or there. A few hints before the actual event may be enough to introduce the possibility to the readers.

Think about the last book you really enjoyed. Chances are good that some event in that book took you by surprise. Likely, certain pieces had been set up well in advance so that when you got to the event itself you didn't throw up your hands in disgust and say "That would never happen." You accepted it. You took it in stride, at least in part because the author had skillfully foreshadowed the event.

But it's not just major events. If there is any aspect of the book that might make your reader pause and question, it's probably a good idea to foreshadow it in some way.

Foreshadowing will save you.

Monday, August 4, 2014

You need a break

The other day I was rolling, in the groove, whatever your generation prefers to call it. I did close to 4000 words on two different stories and worked on editing two more. I didn't even notice the heat.

Then at about 3 my mother walks into my office and says "You need a break."

I know exactly what this means, and I think the rest of you have an idea as well.

Translation: "My computer is acting up."

I walked into her office, clicked undo and went back to my office. At another point it was a misplaced tabstop. Last week she decided she wanted to be able to look at two versions of a document side by side, so she adjusted the margins on both...and when she tried to print she couldn't figure out why it was so narrow. I guess it's just a good thing that she doesn't read blogs. :)

Sooooo... "You need a break."

As writers we put up with the people who think we're available as full time babysitters, we put up with people who think we're just playing solitaire all day, etc.

I guess it's part of being an "artist." What I would like is a break from being an "available for computer repairs" artist so that I can write. Because at the moment, writing is my job.

Although I did need a break.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Deus ex machine

The phrase deus ex machine literally means "god from the machine," and it refers to an ancient habit of having a god pop up at the end of a play to solve everyone's problems after they've gotten themselves hopelessly confused. It's called that because the "god" usually popped up from the stage or was brought down from above with some kind of machine.

In an ancient Greek play it might be acceptable, but not generally in modern fiction.

A character ends up surrounded in an alley. The reader knows the character has no fighting ability and no weapons, but he comes up with a laser that shoots from his eye.

Likely any reader is going to say "What?" and either put the book down or start to lose faith in the author. It may take a couple such incidents before a determined reader puts the book down, but after that first point the reader's mind will be watching for those things and pointing them out--if there's even a hint of implausibility from that point on, the brain will high-light it and blow it all out of proportion.

Of course, it is possible that this character is an extra-terrestrial raised as a human and is just learning about his or her alien skills, but if that's the case it had better be extremely well developed.

This is an example of deus ex machine as it is used in modern writing. It has come to mean any situation that the character can't get out of by himself and he has to be rescued in an implausible way. Unless gods are an actual and integral part of the story, I'd suggest you avoid it.

On the other hand, if you choose to have your hypothetical alien make this fantastic discovery, there had better be some obvious and immediate reactions. Wow, how did that happen? Let's try that again! After which he blows a hole in the building next door and has to run from police sirens.

Deus ex machine is a plot device, and as such it is not entirely out of the writer's toolbox. But don't go using a ban-saw before you learn how to use a screwdriver, and please PLEASE don't use the powered ban-saw as a toothpick.

Like all other similar tools, deus ex machine should be used deliberately and with an understanding of what it will do to your readers. To every action there are consequences, and sticking in an unbelievable coincidence will just convince readers that you don't know what you're doing. Once they decide that, the book goes down and they won't read any more of your work.

Worse, they'll probably tell their friends. Then you'll need your own deus ex machine to rescue your writing career.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG--Writing is an addiction

Many, many years ago I accepted a challenge. Call it a dare, call it a bribe, whatever.

I had this thing for paper and notebooks. No, actually I think this was the accordion situation.

I wanted my Dad's accordion, and he said I could have it if I stopped writing for one month.

Simple enough. I put down the pens and paper and walked away.

For about four hours. I started getting antsy after one day, and by two I was reaching for my addiction every time I had a spare moment. But I wanted the accordion! So I endured. I put away the pens and paper, didn't even cheat at school (which was a real uphill battle) and I made it.

One month without writing!

It was literally hell. Writing is an addiction. By the end of the month I was miserable and angry and taking it out on everyone around me. I had the shakes, I couldn't eat or sleep with all these characters running through my head screaming at me to tell their stories.

At the end of the month (to the hour) I sat down and started writing again. I've never again agreed to give it up, no matter what the incentive. I'm an addict. I admit that. But there are worse things to be addicted to.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Writers Garden

I haven't been very consistent around here. I wander in, notice that nothing's happening, clear out the spam and wander out again--most likely into my garden.

Beans are producing, peas are entirely gone except for one plant that's for next year's seed. Zucchini and winter squash have blossoms, the garlic was pulled last week. The corn is up and growing beautifully.

I'll be gone later this week, due to a family reunion.

The difference between a blog and a garden (aside from the sun, watering, weeding, mulching, thinning, etc) is that I don't have to do anything to get to my garden. Get up off my chair, walk ten feet and I can sit and watch the onions grow.

A blog takes effort. Go to the internet (I don't leave it up because otherwise I don't get anything else done), type in the address, possibly a password, but first I have to remember that the blog is there. Then sit down and actually make my brain work.

Same with other things, like facebook, twitter and smashwords. Oh, where was that I was going again? The zucchini needs to be weeded? But I was on the internet. Why am I on the internet when I could be outside watching the grass grow? *Wanders off*

Summer's like that, for me. Gardening and writing are my two obsessions at the moment--I get bored with the writing I wander outside, and usually when I get back inside I'm ready to go. When I get bored with the garden (or just need to come inside so I won't burn to a crisp--I think my ancestors were designed as forest people, or maybe underground people) I can come inside and write, write, write.

I guess actually, life is like that for me. I wander in, do something weird, wander somewhere else and wonder why I'm wandering. Or where, or whatever. But not who. I never have to wonder who.