Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in review

My first post here is dated February 8th and this is my 129th post since then.

According to my sidebar count, I wrote 245,250 words this year, though I know that doesn't include the erotica, some other scraps of things and there may be a bit of overlap with last year. I wasn't keeping track of this stuff last January. All I knew then was that my writing was back and I had to make up for lost time.

Of my blog posts, the three most popular were all blogfests: Power of Tension,  the First Campaigner Challenge, and the Made of Awesome!, in that order.

I suppose I should do more blogfests. Then again, drawing an audience isn't what this blog is for right now -- I want people to read my fiction, and I can't post my fiction on my blog if I ever want to make money on it. Maybe someday I'll be using this to promote a book release and fans will come looking for sooper-seekrit background info on their favorite characters.


I'm going to get it
someday
 I can dream, right? Till then, I keep writing.

Some people can draw hundreds of followers by blogging about the same old writing advice that gets re-hashed over and over (because it's all true) and talking about their everyday lives. I know, that's how they tell you to build a blog following. "Connect with people" by sharing personal stuff.

Well, if I was good at connecting with people I wouldn't be writing. To everyone who stops by here and read and comment: thank you so much.

245k: damn, that sounds like a lot. Felt good, though. This year was better than last year and that's the first time I've been able to say that in a while.

I don't do New Year's resolutions -- I just decide to do things. But I'll declare my intentions: I meanto have Course Corrections ready for querying by spring. I think I have a good chance of finishing the fantasy monstrosity. And we'll see what else comes up.

See you in 2012, everybody.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reference photos: soldiers

I've been following the Tumbler feed  #Soldierporn for several months now. Go ahead and click, it's SFW.

Why? Because I'm going to be writing about war. But you're writing about knights. Yes, but there are things that never change about war. Photos of guns and helicopters are all well and good, but the ones that I pull for reference are more about the experience. I'm never going to fully understand what soldiers go through, but I'll take what points of reference I can find.


And this one is just cool:


Where do you find reference photos for abstract things like war?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Music addictions

Translation: filler post, L's misplaced her brain again but she can always find something to say about music. Wishing everybody happy holidays, safe travels, no power outages and securely backed up music libraries.

Things made clear to me by my loss of my entire iTunes library... I sorely missed the following bands' music:

VAST. Recovered Music for People, Visual Audio Sensory Theater, and the double album Turquoise & Crimson. Re-ripped Nude from the disc. That covers most of his best stuff,  but I still want April and Me and You back.

Live. I cannot function without some Live in my playlist. Recovered Secret Samadhi and Throwing Copper, and can re-rip V. I keep Birds of Pray and Distance to Here on the CD jukebox, just for variety.

Linkin Park. Got my Hybrid Theory and Meteora back and Reanimation was the very first CD I re-ripped. Note to self: need more Linkin Park albums.

The XX. These kids only have one album, but damn I missed it. Bought it off Amazon and fortunately I had put it on their cloud storage system.

Sigur Ros. They're a recent discovery for me, but I had put the entire album Takk... onto my Saints of War soundtrack -- I love the epic scale that some of the songs achieve.  The handful of tracks I scavenged pirated collected to decide if I liked them probably won't be coming back though. Note to self: need more Sigur Ros.

Boards of Canada. This cornerstone of my ambient collection has been gutted by the crash. I saved a few tracks that happened to be on my iPod at the time. Depressed about this.

"Moonlight Shadow" remixes. It may sound silly, but I had a kick-ass collection of all the remixes of "Moonlight Shadow" (originally created by Mike Oldfield) I could find. I had twenty of them. All gone. Depressing. So I went to SoundCloud looking for new ones. Found a few worth having.

Then I got distracted looking for remixes of specific songs, like the Pet Shop Boys' "Love, Etc." and "Home and Dry." The Church's "Under the Milky Way." Ooo, they must have Depeche Mode remixes too, somewhere...

Life goes on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Risky but not reckless

I recently went looking around YA Confidential for some thoughts on how teenagers think about romance and relationships and I believe that's where I saw a comment about how difficult it can be to let your teenaged characters make teenager mistakes. How difficult it is to keep the experience and that longer-range view you earned to yourself.

But for the life of me, I can't find the post to link to. I still recommend the blog, though. I don't write YA, but my fantasy characters are mostly teenagers and it's been a long time since I was a teenager.

I'm one of about three writers (it seems like, sometimes) who does not write YA, does not read YA, and to be honest doesn't see why such a thing needs to be separated out onto its own shelf because teenagers are perfectly capable of reading and enjoying "grown-up" books. Teens want to read about teens? Sure, but there's no need to make the story any less complex or compelling than if you were talking to a 40-year-old. Heck, look around the YA-writing blogosphere -- a lot of people say the same thing.

I remember reading an article in which Madeline L'Engle explained she wasn't sure why so many of her stories were classified as children's books -- they were about children, true, but the stories weren't aimed at children. I'd still hand a 10-year-old (or a 40-year-old) A Wrinkle In Time in a heartbeat, though. It's a good story.

Anyhow.

National Geographic had an article about the current research on teenaged brain structure (now that you can study that without cutting said brain open) and how the current thinking is that the non-conformity and risk-taking of the maturing mind is an evolutionarily advantageous stage to go through. It has its risks, of course, but few risks generally bring few rewards.

I particularly found the anecdote the article begins with interesting -- the author's son was pulled over for speeding on the highway and freely admitted that he'd been breaking the law, was willing to take the consequences, etc. But the son took exception at his speeding being labelled "recklessness." He explained that he'd been very careful about it, in fact.

I think the author is right about that encapsulating a lot of things about teenagers. That little anecdote's been on my mind a lot recently as I've been writing.

As the writer, I need to think about all the long-range consequences that my teenagers aren't thinking about -- but I need to let them do something that looks reasonable to someone who isn't thinking about five or ten years down the line. Someone in the grip of hormones and curiosity and who is starting to realize just what s/he can do.

It makes for some headlong action... until they smack into a brick wall of reality, at least. That's what drama is all about, right?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Kicking characters to the curb

When I got under the hood and started rebuilding this fantasy monstrosity that I'm re-writing, I figured that in the process of tightening up the storyline (desperately needed) and changing the underlying structure of the world (so things make more sense) I would eliminate some characters and their secondary storylines.

I knew I'd be murdering some darlings. Well, cutting them loose to be more accurate. They could always turn up someplace else.

One wasn't so hard to let go. His name was Linker.

One of my MCs, Anders, originally had two friends and together they were the high-profile troublemakers on the local party circuit. (It's a fantasy story, but I figure some aspects of teenage life only change in the execution, not their essential nature...) The two friends were Theo and Linker.

Linker's side of the story became irrelevant due to the worldbuilding changes. And he was something of a jerk as well, so it was easy to give him the boot. To be fair, he did have some interesting moments and he put my heroine in some uncomfortable situations which I may need to recreate depending on how things work out down the line.

The remaining friend, Theo, will probably be put in that role. On the downside of eliminating Linker, it seems Theo has picked up a bit more jerkiness to compensate. We'll see how that plays out.

The more difficult character to drop was my heroine's younger brother, Klaus.

I liked Klaus. He was unfocused and kinda flighty and didn't fit in where he ought to. He got into a fair amount of trouble, needless to say. There was a nice, sharp moment where his actual relationship with Anders crashed up against their formal relationship -- in that Anders had to mete out some discipline as a master when they'd been acting more like friends. They both slunk away from that scene angry and hurt.

That won't be happening, now. I'm sorry to see it go (and some other fun stuff that Klaus was involved in) but there will be other good moments to take its place. His role can be filled by other characters and the point where he became an awkward problem will be eliminated.

To some degree, killing darlings does require confidence that you can write something else that's just as dramatically tasty as what you're cutting. Maybe the fact that I've got dozens of novels trunked away helps me with that -- while they're all essentially crap, they've all also got good moments in there.  I've written tasty dramatic stuff before and I'll do it again. It's getting all the other parts up to par that's tricky...

You can cut good stuff. It will sting. But there will be more good stuff. What have you had to cut recently?

Friday, December 9, 2011

On romance in fantasy

The writer's gut: Semper vigilo
I had a partial post for Thursday the 8th, but I looked at it that morning and my gut shot it down for being disorganized and not particularly interesting.

Which left me with the question: what is pressing on my brain, as I plow through part 2 of this fantasy monstrosity, that I could blog about?

And unfortunately, the answer is: romance.

I don't read the genre. I have nothing against romantic relationships in stories, of course, but the genre has always faced an uphill battle with me. There are many tropes that I could rail against, but it boils down to the same problem that The King of Elfland's Second Cousin pointed out (see point #3 here) (and then read his whole series on reader trust) about the old Prophesied Savior tradition in fantasy: lack of tension.

We all know what the goal is and we all know that failure is not part of the genre. The market is so well delineated that you can find your favorite styles and heat levels by brand name.  It's not unusual for historic, scientific and logical accuracy to be sacrificed to get that Happily Ever After. Yes, I have read a few romances and I lived to tell the tale, but I haven't yet enjoyed one.

Somebody out there is thinking you just haven't read the good stuff by Favorite Author -- and that may be true. I reserve the right to revise my opinion.

I am thinking about romance because despite my exasperation with the genre, my fantasy monstrosity has a strong dose of romance in it. One ignores tropes at one's own peril. Even if they're in a genre you don't intend to emulate? Yes. Maybe even especially if. I know I have already stomped all over some romance tropes and Part II isn't even done yet. 

Romance is an enormous genre and well beloved by its fans. Ignore them at your peril. Stomp around in their favorite garden at your peril, too.

My nerdish compulsion to acquire information kicks in at this point and fills me with the vague dread that I'm going to need to read some more romance (fantasy or science fiction flavored, preferably) and read up on the structuring thereof.

Why? Because a writer shouldn't do anything accidentally. That's something that Uncle Jim encapsulated very well at the Viable Paradise workshop -- it's an underlying theme of a lot of writing advice, but I haven't often heard it made into a point on its own.

I have resolved not to do anything accidentally, which includes falling into the hackneyed tropes of a genre I'm not familiar with. Have you?

(Feel free to recommend fantasy romance books -- and I mean solidly alternate-world fantasy -- if you have any favorites. I'm familiar with Mercedes Lackey and a fan of Lynn Flewelling, but I'd consider them the romantic side of fantasy rather than the fantasy side of romance IYKWIM.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Worldbuilding: Blunt trauma

Well, no, I'm not inventing new ways to inflict blunt trauma. I can't top the millions of years of research that has already gone into that.

Rather, this is a realism issue. I'm writing about a physician's apprentice during a medieval-tech-level war, so there is going to be plenty of blunt trauma. Penetrating trauma too, but we can get into that later if we want to.

Actually, I haven't even gotten to the war yet; my little kingdom hosts a yearly jousting tournament in the late autumn. The national championships, as it were. Excellent chance to inflict blunt trauma on each other.

Here are some of the things I found myself needing to invent ways to treat in my fantasy world:

Hemothorax: Hemo = blood, thorax = chest area. When ribs break, they can tear the surrounding tissues and cause bleeding. This can happen without breaking the skin, so the blood has nowhere to go and builds up between the layers of tissue. (Your organs have been individually wrapped for your protection. And also bundled in groups. These wrapping layers have a bunch of names and lie directly on top of each other, but are not necessarily connected to each other... so blood and sometimes air (that would be pneumothorax) can get in between.)

Your lungs are fragile things, and a growing lump of blood in your chest cavity cramps their style. You breathe faster to try to get more air, your heart speeds up, you show signs of suffocation (turning blue, cool skin, etc.) This can be fatal.

Treatment: Cut the flesh to let the blood drain out and stop the bleeding. You can find the place to cut by tapping and listening to the hollowness of the chest IIRC. Careful of clots, they will clog the incision.

Ruptured spleen: Nowadays this is caused by car accidents or getting tackled by a linebacker. I'm willing to bet that falling off your horse at full tilt would be similar to a car accident -- this would not be as common an injury as broken bones, but it could happen.

Your spleen filters your blood supply, and thus a lot of blood moves through it. If it's smashed, it's going to bleed a lot and that blood will build up inside the abdominal cavity. This can be fatal due to blood loss. If the bleeding stops, you're still going to be swollen and in a lot of pain while your body clears the mess and tries to repair the damage.

Nowadays, surgeons go in and remove the spleen. You can manage without it. But in primitive conditions, that's not an option unless you have magic on hand. Herbal painkillers might take the edge off, but I'm thinking that for pain management you'd need something opium-based.

Flail chest: This is another unusual injury, but it looks dramatic. Flail chest happens when three or more of the ribs have been completely broken in two places so that there's an area that is not anchored to the rib cage at all. Just the skin and muscle holding it together.

This looks scary because the act of breathing is going to cause this area to move in the "wrong" direction with respect to the ribcage -- it moves outward when you exhale and inward when you inhale.

This really is scary because if you got hit that badly there is probably all kinds of internal damage to your lungs as well. The flail chest itself is not the life-threatening part of the problem -- it can be stabilized with bandages and will heal itself as any broken ribs will. Meanwhile, the healer needs to address any hemothorax, pneumothorax, bruising and bleeding in the lungs themselves, and so forth. The first two can be treated without magical intervention. The second two... maybe one could stitch a wounded lung even in primitive conditions. Infection is kinda guaranteed. It's a tough call.

What sorts of injuries do you inflict on your characters?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Character Conversation: Prince Kiefan Weissberg

It's been a while since I've written up a chat with one of my characters, and for some reason Kiefan didn't get his turn in the spotlight. You can find conversations with Kate and Anders under the "character development" tag.

Kiefan von Weissberg is the sole heir to the throne of Wodenberg, my little fantasy kingdom. As such, he's been saddled with a great deal of responsibility and pressure to succeed, but at the same time he's been sheltered because his father is a bit obsessed with not having to bury a third son. Now that he's eighteen and there's a war on the way, the sheltering is starting to chafe.

Found this pretty thing somewhere and
adjusted his coloration in Photoshop. 
Wanted to use Chris Hemstreet as a ref 
for Kiefan, but he's really too old for it.
This captures the pensive side of
the prince well.
Last night, you mostly talked me into letting you secretly enter the jousting tournament. What's your reason for this?

When Father squired me to Dame Aleksandra (knight and captain of the King's Guard), I was angry at first. Insulted. What could a woman teach me of the sword?

I'm sure a few ass-beatings from her fixed that.

She proved herself. Father's approval was not enough -- I needed to see Dame Aleks' worth for myself. It's the same for all the knights of Wodenberg. Father's taught me to lead, pushed me to, marked me as worthy, but the men need to see it for themselves.

You could ruin the whole tournament, if the king finds out that's you under the helmet. He'd call it all off. 

I'd best not be caught, then. Dame Aleks is with me on this, and a few other conspirators. Perhaps even the saints.

You're such a boy scout, though, even in trying to rebel you're... predictable. The readers are going to spot you a mile off.

How would the world be improved if we were all dissolute as Anders? And if I'm spotted a mile off, it's a good distraction for some other twist, isn't it?

Speaking of Anders, there are a host of problems with you two facing off in the tournament. 

And yet that's the crux of it, isn't it? How do I measure up to the best in the kingdom? I must cross swords with him if I'm to have the answer. He'd best be ready for me -- too quick a fight would disappoint the crowd.

The touch of cavalier attitude and letting Kiefan's stubborn streak show a bit were what talked me into this change in plans. Plus, it will raise the tension of the tournament scene more than having Anders face some nameless opponent -- there's no life on the line, but this first face-off will lay the groundwork for all the future conflicts between Anders and Kiefan. 

It's going to be a tricky scene. And I'm not sure what the twist is, yet. 

Also, I re-read my earlier Character Conversations with Kate and Anders and noticed how the style of the dialogue kept shifting. I think this one is closer to the style I've settled on... mildly antiquated, some less-common word choices. Interesting how that "settling in" happens over time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Worldbuilding: knights, part 3

In Knights, part 1, I talked a little about body armor and in Knights, part 2, I talked a little about swords.  Back to the armor -- let's talk about helmets.

Sensible things, helmets. They come in about a million shapes and sizes and have specific names, but they aren't well known so one shouldn't assume readers know them. But using the correct name for a helmet style could save you wordage and avoid info-dumping in a moment of action. A little strategic reader education could come in handy -- can you show your readers the helmet and give it a solid description before the big fight scene?

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. It's just to get your brain burbling.

Armet: these are the hinged-visor helmets that you probably think of when picturing a full-plate-armor knight. AKA "close helm." These date from the 15th century -- it took time to figure out how to engineer the lifting visor. So be careful fitting them into your technology level.

Bascinet: the "beaky" one, which took the pointy front design (very sensible -- you want incoming hits to be shunted off the side of your head) to an extreme. These generally came into use in late-14th century Europe. These often have hinged visors too, so tech level could be an issue.

Barbute: these are one-piece helms with a T-shaped opening for your eyes and nose/mouth. They look something like ancient Greek helmets, but they are a 14th and 15th century design. No moving parts, though, so tech level is less of an issue. 

Great Helm: ye olde bucket with air holes. These were used from the 12th century onwards, but because they're heavy and limiting they were always being replaced by lighter helmets. These are the ones you can get fancy with -- add horns, dragons, crowns -- if you want to look scary on the battlefield. (Hint: you want to look scary on the battlefield)

Sallet: a nice, smooth, aerodynamic look. The slit is to see through. Mid-15th century Europe.

Helmets with mail coifs: You see versions of these in movies because you can still see the actor's face. In reality, the less armor around your head, the more likely your head will get hurt, so bear that in mind. This seems to be an old, low-tech design, though -- tenth century, maybe? At a glance, the style seems to be associated with the Vikings and the Slavic kingdoms. In looking around, I found this nice photo attached to an SCA armorer's sales site. Design based on 13th-century Slavic armor, they say.

Don't let your characters go outside without their helmets. Yes, it gets in the way of their sexy Fabio haircuts and probably looks odd with that strategically torn shirt that's falling off their god-like pecs. But it will keep them alive so they can kiss the girl. No, kiss her later. We've got work to do.

My characters are butt-headed, hormonal teenage knights -- can you tell?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving thanks, 2011 edition

It's time to remember what we are thankful for, and even though it's been (another) tough year, I have plenty.

Viable Paradise -- I am thankful for the opportunity I had to become part of the VP community, which is full of wonderful writers who inspire and intimidate me with their abilities.

Beta Readers -- you know who you are. Thank you so much. I hope I've been able to help you too.

Fellow Bloggers -- a 24-7 writers' chat room that has given me lots to think about and caused my to-read pile to mushroom.

www.paperbackswap.com -- for helping me with the above problem. I know e-readers are the wave of the future... but this is one un-arguable advantage of dead tree copies.

Apologies to these folks, but I wanted an approximation of
the melodramatic foolishness going on in my head.
My characters -- that crowd of semi-independent personalities knocking around in my head, thank you for your suffering and your triumphs, for surprising me by turning into action heroes when needed (still LOLing about that, Tanner) and for telling me things I needed to hear even when I didn't want to.

And in my real-life existence, I am grateful to still have a roof over my head and food on the table in these difficult times. I will not go into much detail about that, though -- my real life is not exactly welcome here.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Worldbuilding: Pre-industrial medicine

This has long been a topic of interest to me, and since my main character, Kate, is a physician's apprentice I get to play with lots of ideas. I have a magic system in my hard fantasy, but it's limited by both the magical fuel on hand and the skill of the user. When the physicians run out of magic, which is fairly quickly, they fall back on herbs and surgery.

18th-century trepanning kit
I wanted my fantasy to adhere to real-world science as much as possible underneath the magic and I wanted to avoid some of the counter-productive medical practices that plagued our real world in the past.

It seems to me that if you want a low-tech but still basically effective medical system in your fantasy world, the single most important concept to give your characters is cleanliness. Basic personal hygiene and keeping wounds as clean as possible raises the survivability of life by a substantial margin. Antibiotics and such are great too, but this more basic hurdle tends to get forgotten -- even today. See all the talk about controlling pandemics with simple soap and water.

The importance of cleanliness isn't immediately obvious if you don't know about bacteria and viruses. Add to that the fact that for centuries bathing meant getting wet, getting wet meant getting cold and getting cold meant getting sick... and you can see why people didn't bathe much in northern Europe until recently. The most obvious connection for them was bathing = getting sick.


What about the smell? That's why we invented perfume. Plus, people smell. Nowadays, we've been programmed to believe human beings are supposed to smell like flowers/mint/soap/etc. at all times, not human beings, but that's a rant for another day.

Without a scientific basis, an emphasis on cleanliness (despite the risk mentioned above -- or can you eliminate the risk somehow?) will need to come from either religion or culture. An emphasis on purity in the society's religion, maybe? If you want a more general cultural reason to keep clean, think about practical incentives to be clean. Maybe there's a nasty bacteria in the local mud? The local blood-sucking bugs pester unwashed people more?

Low-tech medicine that is free of some of the long-running misconceptions (such as medicinal bloodletting) that plagued real-world medicine raises survivability too. On the other hand, such things can themselves be world-building elements.

Pardon me while I shoot down an example of this which has been bugging me for a long time.

"Cleansing" a wound with boiling-hot wine
I was a fan of Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series, but this point always rankled me. It's a prime example of counter-productive medicine and as such it makes a good world-building element. But let's review this concept, shall we?

The alcohol in wine is primarily ethanol, which boils at a temperature of 172(F)/78(C). However, the water in the wine boils at 212(F)/100(C). So if you heat it until the water in the wine is boiling -- because wine is maybe 12% alcohol, 88% water and that's modern wines, mind you -- your alcohol has been boiling off for some time already. If anything was going to kill bacteria in your wound, it was the alcohol.

So pouring hot wine on your wound adds a second-degree burn to your problems and kills the flesh around the wound -- making it more hospitable for bacteria and giving your body extra healing to do.

I blogged about more effective options over at Science In My Fiction: Part 1, Part 2 (discussing medical-grade alcohol)

 How do the doctors in your world treat their patients?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mourning

I didn't post on Tuesday -- I apologize. Now that I'm finished revising my hard sci-fi, I will be getting back to the hard fantasy and posting about world-building (and trying to define hard fantasy, too).

In the meantime, I have finished mourning the computer disaster that I suffered back on September 17th. I have come to grips with the fact that the external hard drive which contained thousands of ranked, sorted, and playlisted mp3s is dead. Maybe I can afford data recovery on it someday.

I've heard it said that you should not use crutches to help yourself write because someday the crutches may not be there. It's a valid point. I think I can now say that my assortment of crutches (music -- via online radio -- alcohol, mindless games) has helped get me through this lack of music, but it has still been rather miserable.

The good news is, I recovered the iTunes library itself -- which includes all of the star ratings and playlists. It was on the main drive, not the external. You can find yours by searching for the extension ".itl". Back up that puppy, if nothing else. 

I am slowly rebuilding my cache of mp3s from various scattered (and ancient) sources. I'm kinda sore about the music I bought from Amazon and can't re-download -- I bought it before their cloud storage system came online. This would seem to be, to me, a good argument for still buying stuff on CD. It's kind of a hassle to re-rip it all, but at least it won't cost me more money.

My habit of scrounging for music online is both a blessing and a problem in situations like this. I can track down a number of albums that I lost and re-download them from the sites I found them on. Looking for free music?




I prowl these sites mainly for ambient and other flavors of electronica. Clinical Archives also carries some extremely-alternative-rock-type stuff.

However, a pile of ancient mp3s that I randomly found on Napster (remember them?) or CNET (now last.fm and more of a slog to find free tracks) long ago will be unreplaceable.

Life goes on. At least I got my Saints of War playlist (52 tracks and still growing) back, because I am starting to work on Part II.

Anybody else suffering from computer-related drama?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hooks

This was originally guest posted at the dojo

At Viable Paradise, the conversation came around several times to the relationship between the writer and the reader. It's a strange relationship, when you think about it, especially since it's between two people who may never meet. One of them can be dead, even.

But I want to put down a thought or two about hooks, here. We have all seen the advice to hook your readers with action, or character, or at least drama. Some of the advice makes it sound like writers need to lurk in the shrubbery and tackle passing readers, wrestle them to the ground and take them hostage.

Which one would you bite?
Having tried to write a lot of hooks and having read many hooks as a beta, I suspect that there are as many hooks as there are readers.

Not as many as there are writers. Not as many as there are stories.

What hooks me at the beginning of your story may not be what hooks Ali. Or the agent you sent your first chaper to. In fact, I can guarantee you will get different answers from different readers if you ask, "What kept you reading?"

You are not presenting your reader with one hook. You are presenting many hooks. Action, character, drama, world-building: all hooks. Questions. Riddles. Beguiling images. Promises of what's to come.

And most readers are willing to bite. I've been willing to bite every time I read a first page sample and watched cookie-stamp characters noodle around aimlessly on a blank canvas. Or I've seen one hook laid out front and center... but not a hook that I like.

Be aware of how many hooks you are offering your readers. Offer several. Show the reader that you know what you're doing, that there's going to be a payoff in action or drama down the road, paint a fabulous landscape that they want to see more of.

Those are all perfectly valid hooks. Happy fishing!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Cave of Solitude

I am still revising Orbital Shifts and I've withdrawn into my cave. I'm not as sure what this story needs, since I have far less feedback on it -- my betas had busy summers. I will need to think. Brood in my cave. Brooding is not so good for blogging, though, so this post is just a place-holder.

I will be guest blogging at the dojo on Thursday, though. Ali wanted something about Viable Paradise. The one-month anniversary of the workshop is tomorrow and it has been on my mind a lot recently. Mostly that bit of wisdom we received: do not stab yourself in the face. I think I've got some bloodstains on my shirt already. My VPeeps will understand...

I'll finish this revision pass on OS so I can clean up what I can, and then get to work on Part II of Piglet. Bits and pieces of that have been turning up, particularly the big, dramatic crux.

For all the NaNo-ers, I wanted to write a cheerleading post for you but a cave is no place for cheerleaders. Low ceilings, slippery moss... someone could break their neck. Plus, trying to Google photos of sexy female and male cheerleaders is an exercise in frustration. The internet has failed me.

But I did find this, which I like because it's true:



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Worldbuilding: zero gravity, part 2

My previous post on zero gravity has racked up an impressive number of hits in just one week, so I guess there is some interest in the topic.

In my science fiction universe, a few generations (haven't nailed down how many) of kids have grown up in little or no gravity. Logically speaking, for people who grew up in zero gravity, these ideas would sound odd:

Things will fall when you let go -- well, duh, right? But more importantly than that, gravity will not be there to override the small amounts of angular momentum that we tend to put on things when we "just let go." We actually count on gravity (and friction) to take care of these things quite a bit. We also expect a ball, when thrown, to follow a curve down to the ground. In zero gravity, it would only move in straight lines. No matter how slowly. 

Things will stop moving on their own -- this ties into the previous point, specifically the role of friction in affecting movement. How often do you rely on something sliding to a stop? In zero gravity, objects will bounce off each other and friction won't have a chance to come into play (much).

Things will be where you left them -- not unless they were tied to something immobile. That little bit of momentum you gave your shoes when you took them off? They still have it as they drift around the room. Also, good air circulation is important in spaceships, of course, so there will be air currents everywhere. Over time, even a tiny force like that can push an object around.

Nothing unusual going on here.
In my scifi universe, generations of children have grown up without these basic assumptions. They expect things to float free, bounce a lot and wander on air currents. Something's missing? Check the air vents. When I started out, I carried over lots of ways to immobilize things -- velcro, sticky pads, magnets -- that do currently get used by astronauts, but after spending some time in the zero gee universe I started to question that. How badly will people want to impose immobility if they didn't grow up in a gravity field? Floating will be normal to them in a way I can't understand.

I expect these kids would have an innate understanding of inertia and leverage that is very different from mine. They would think in three dimensions more fully than I do. You know what I found helpful in expanding my brain that way? There's a documentary series called Dogfights. The episodes feature re-creations and in-depth analysis of airborne combat from World War I through... I think the most recent one was the Gulf War. They interview the pilots whenever possible and explain/illustrate the maneuvers wonderfully. There are a bunch of clips at the link there, but it's out on DVD too.

Even then, if you really watch those fights closely you'll see that the pilots aren't spreading out into three dimensions as much as they theoretically could. But it will get your brain burbling.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cutting room floor

I'm nearly finished with the second draft of Course Corrections and moving on to Orbital Shifts.

My cutting room floor is splattered with red ink to fix:
  • "s/he nodded" and other twitches involving sitting, standing, and turning around.
  • added smells, sounds and other senses where I could. I forget to do an "establishing shot" sometimes, though my betas like the ones I do remember. 
  • a good handful of "agreed," "replied", "wondered" and such dialogue tags. Also, "answered" though I left some of those where the connection might be unclear. I've gotten better about tags, but still need to keep an eye on them.
  • "was (verb)ing" turned into "(verb)ed."
  • changed a minor character's name to avoid confusion with a major character.
  • rebroke paragraphs to separate action from dialogue it wasn't directly related to.
  • fixed some terms and details that evolved over the course of two books.
  • tried to separate out dialogue styles into three main groups: booters, planet-siders and the Russians (who were all booters.)
  • cut a short, awkward scene that could be turned into one sentence of summary.

I added one scene at the front and completely re-wrote one at the end. But overall, this was neither traumatic nor horrible. When I finish I'm going to do a few manuscript-wide searches for some of my knee-jerk words: perked, grimaced, poker face, "..." (think cut those down to size, but just to check) and phrases like "set her mouth in a line."

Course Corrections may need an epilogue, technically, but... not feeling one right now. Orbital Shifts starts fairly soon after the end of this, so there isn't a lot to cover between the two.

Huge shout out to all my VP feedbackers for their help -- and even more to the two betas who read this before I workshopped it. Brian and Kristen, rock on.  

I'm not NaNo-ing, though I really thought about it this year. I'm rolling with revisions and I don't want to interrupt the energy. But I will be cheering you all from the sidelines!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Worldbuilding: zero gravity

I workshopped Course Corrections at Viable Paradise and since I got back I've been working on a serious revision of the first draft. Insert all the usual advice about putting a manuscript aside for months before revising here -- it's all true. Do it.

As a departure from my fantasy world-building posts, here's a science fiction world-building post.

Zero gravity. Science fiction tends to avoid it. It's counter-intuitive and awkward. But if you're willing to try to tackle it, I recommend Packing for Mars by Mary Roach as a fascinating place to start your research. I've enjoyed all her books, in fact. For fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I should've read more of those, but that goes without saying. Head over to YouTube and look for footage of astronauts in zero gee.

Here are some things that came up in the course of writing 140k or so in low-to-zero gravity...

Real zero gravity toilet
Toilets
They're a massive engineering challenge, in real life. But as far as stories go, unless the toilet is a problem you don't have to explain it to the reader.

Showers
In current reality, showering does not work in zero gee. Personally, I have great faith in human ingenuity and trust that we will figure something out. My characters do a fair amount of personal cleaning with wet wipes, though.

Cooking
Holy crap, cooking. This was the single most challenging thing, for me. Because if people are going to live their whole lives in space, they're going to need to grow food and cook it out there. Currently, all astronaut food is prepared on Earth and shipped up as packaged meals, so no help there. I started thinking about centrifugal boiling. Centrifugal frying? Radiative ovens verses convection? At several points I just wanted to throw up my hands and microwave everything. But who would want to live on nothing but frozen dinners? (and who's making the frozen dinners?)

Skip it, like the toilets? Maybe, maybe not -- see the next entry.

Eating
Sharing meals is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and very important for a sense of community. People wonder why families who don't eat together feel alienated from each other? Different rant, sorry. But since the characters are going to be eating together, it's inevitable that there's going to be a scene set during a meal or while preparing for a meal.

On a practical level, it seems to me that food needs to either self-adhere to something easy to eat it from (whether a bowl or a skewer) or it needs to be sufficiently self-contained (such as a burrito) or just plain bite-sized (see all those videos of astronauts throwing food at each other). Alternately, food that's fluid enough to drink -- broth, yogurt, milkshakes -- from a squeeze container should work too.

Also consider: forks or chopsticks? Chopsticks won that argument, in my head at least.  

Sex
Turned out to be the least of my worries, actually. I figure you just need good leverage and stamina... :D Hint: search on free porn video sites for underwater sex. It's someplace to start.

Feeling brave enough to write in zero gravity?

Zero gravity, part two

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

10 Rules of Writing Meme

This meme is going around my fellow Viable Paradise grads' pages. This is a light-hearted take on it. If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged.


If this isn't a happy photo, you may be in the wrong line of work
1. Do your homework
The best homework is the stuff you assign yourself. 

2. Curiosity killed the cat
Admit it, everything is interesting for at least ten minutes. Curiosity is a writer's main weapon.
 
3. Satisfaction brought him back
Humans are amazingly complex. The universe is expanding. There will always be more to learn and more to imagine.

4. Embrace your inner freak
Trying to hide it is a lot of work. Your people are out there -- out here, I should say. Come find us.

5. - 7. Edit, edit, edit
Only God gets it right the first time, as Stephen King said. This is both a warning and a comfort.

8. Cannibalize
Mine your own slush pile and make it work this time.

9. Hide Easter eggs
If anyone ever catches the reference to one of my favorite fantasy series in my science fiction, it'll be fantastic.

10. Face down the darkness
When you look at the void, the void looks back. This is true. I send my characters to face my inner demons for me, so maybe I'm a coward... but it does keep reminding me that demons can be vanquished.

All right, maybe I got a little serious toward the end. Writing can be serious business. It can also be a hell of a rush. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons from Viable Paradise


Less is more. Until, of course, the point where your reader does not have enough to go on.

I tend to be heavy on the choreography in my writing -- every look, every tilt of the head, everything my characters pick up, put down, every nervous twitch, I tend to write it all down. And I'll admit that no, I probably don't need it all.

At VP, I got feedback from a real editor -- sat there and watched her cross out a phrase here and a sentence there, condensing actions into more succinct images. I could hear the screws creaking as the narrative tightened up. She didn't cut it all, because it's not all superfluous. My science fiction tends to come out in an objective voice and I do need enough body language -- in tandem with the dialogue -- to give the reader a hint of what the characters are thinking.

But I don't need to bog the reader down with every little pinky gesture and twitch of the mouth. I need to figure out what the giveaway is, in someone's mental state. The averted eyes? Picking at their nails? That's what the reader needs to see. Use the words you save on choreography for interesting descriptions or world-building.

When is less too little? How much is too much? There aren't any hard and fast answers, of course, only opinions. I wish there were solid answers, sometimes. But in general, I suspect that writers can get by on a bit less than they think they can.

What do you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Post-VP

Viable Paradise is an overwhelming workshop for many reasons.

A writer's toolbox is complicated and intimidating. VP is a chance to learn about some of the subtler tools and practice with them. So you come home with something like this:


(whereas it all still fit in the box before VP) and you sit down at your writing desk and try to figure out what to do now.

Other attendees are already posting more lyrical (than I'm capable of) thoughts on what VP taught them -- I will just reiterate the power of being told You are not wasting your time by someone wearing the trappings of authority. My writing needs work. I know that and more importantly, I know that with some effort I can fix the problems. Good stories can be created by mere mortals like you and me. You don't have to be born a Mozart-sized genius.  

I'm excited to start playing with my tools, honestly.

I may be off schedule for a while, but it's not like anyone will notice, right? I'm still debating whether to try writing Part II of Piglet for NaNoWriMo... let's see what happens as I get these revisions to Course Corrections rolling and what happens at the ninja dojo chat on Thursday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Paradise-bound

Looks heavenly to me...
I will be taking  a working vacation next week -- I am off to the Viable Paradise writing workshop to have my brain melted down and re-forged.

At least that's what the past attendees make it sound like. It also sounds something like going back to college just for Finals Week.

VP is an invitation-only workshop and the vindication of receiving that invitation has been echoing through me since July. 2011 has been a year of big changes, so far, bigger than anything since... urf, never mind. It's been far too long since my world's been shaken up.

So, no posts next week and I hope to be home on or about the 16th of October. See you then!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hard Fantasy

If you'd like to read some snippets of For Want of a Piglet, I have two up on Unicorn Bell: first page here and the first meeting with the antagonists here.

One of the critters at Unicorn Bell asked what Hard Fantasy is. Fair enough -- it's not a well defined genre. Once could argue it hasn't been defined at all. I'm going to refer you to this article at Tor again because I think it's a good place to start.

We all agree on what Hard Science Fiction is, yes? Hard SF adheres to known laws of physics (and solid theories) as much as possible. It accepts those limitations and works with them -- no convenient "artificial gravity" and no "inertia dampeners" to let people accelerate at bone-crushing speeds. The genre has a history of spending more time on the gadgets than the characters (which is unfortunate.) Exceptions are sometimes made for alien technology or harnessing wormholes. The line between Hard SF and other science fiction genres is blurry -- all genre lines are.

Realism doesn't have to be a liability.
Courtesy of the SCA. Photo by Ron Lutz.
Hard Fantasy is the equivalent. I would argue that Hard Fantasy adheres to the known laws of physics and whatever exceptions are allowed for magic have their own rigorous laws, limitations and (importantly) consequences. I would also argue that magic will probably keep a low profile in the story. There may be magical animals, but they will obey the rules too.

Hard Fantasy is also aware of economics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology, and is built accordingly. These are, admittedly, far more flexible than the laws of physics. Geology, climatology, and ecology should come into play too.

When I was thinking about this post, I went and looked up Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" (which everyone should read.) It was written a long time ago and I think that in general writers have gotten better about doing their homework -- with the internet at everyone's fingers there is little excuse anymore. But it's still an excellent evisceration of tropes and an argument in favor of Hard Fantasy, I think.

Examples of Hard Fantasy: like all genres, it's going to blend into other genres around the edges and there's nothing wrong with that. A fantasy novel could be "fairly hard" except for those fire-breathing dragons or whatever major exception the writer made. (A hard-science fire-breathing dragon is tough to build. I've only seen a few attempts.)

George R.R. Martin' Song of Fire and Ice comes to mind, of course -- dragon exception and all. Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series comes to mind. L.E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluse has been mentioned, but I don't think I've read that.

Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy is on the hard side, though magic does come into play.

What comes to mind for you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book report: Broken Slate

I haven't done one of these in a while, but I recently joined Goodreads and they give you the option of copy-pasting your review into your blog, so here goes:
 
Broken Slate Broken Slate by Kelly Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First rating on Goodreads... I feel obligated to say something.

I debated how many stars to give this. The characterization is intense, the world-building is solid and the dialogue flows smoothly. And the text is clean, so far as grammar and typos -- something I've come to value a lot since I started reading free e-samples.

But the plot. It moves at a rather glacial pace. At the end, it feels like this has all been set-up for the next part of the story. Which I would not mind seeing, by the way, dear author...

I read the free sample, which was a generous first half of the book, and at the end of the sample I could not have told you what Martin's goal was, aside from physical survival (which should not be under-rated, admittedly.) Yet I bought the second half, and I don't have much of a book budget these days.

No regrets. As I said, the characterization is intense. So I'm giving this four stars and hoping to see more from Ms. Jennings.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Worldbuilding: Castles

Since I've finished Part I and I have some time before the Viable Paradise workshop, I am working on the outlines for Parts II and III and the world-building needed to fill out the space.

Anime: not known for its realism, but it looks great.
Namely, the castle. A fantasy needs a good castle. There are some famous, beautiful ones in the classics -- and generally the prettier they are, the less realistic or historically accurate. I've been brushing up on my readings about the real thing.

A History of Private Life has been around for a long time and you ought to be able to find it in your public library. It's on the dry, academic side, but if you only read one volume of it, read Volume II. And if you can only stand to read one chapter in Volume II, read "Civilizing the Fortress: Eleventh to Thirteenth Century." (Though it would be a good idea to read the next chapter after concerning the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries too)

Langley Castle, the finest in 1350's
defensive architecture
In summary: castles were for defense first and foremost, and gradually acquired niceties (such as windows and bedrooms) as they became places to live full-time -- until the nobility realized that they still weren't all that comfortable or convenient and moved back out into palaces and manors. Castles then returned to being military installations until they were rendered mostly obsolete by modern warfare. That's a huge generalization of almost a thousand years' worth of history, though.

The books aren't about castles per se, it's about how (European) people thought of their privacy and by extension their homes, how they organized them... well, as much as we can piece together in hindsight, at least. Castles were one of many stages in that progression.  

So the main question about a fantasy castle is: what is its primary function? Fighting off enemy armies? Hosting huge parties? Protecting the town below from the magical laboratory inside it? (That would be interesting, wouldn't it? If you build one, I'd love to hear about it.)

If your castle is primarily for military use, it's a good idea to do some research on lines of fire, controlling access to the gates, and traps like murder holes. If your castle is primarily for parties and social functions, you'll want to think about how to manage lots of people moving around inside it -- both guests and the servants bringing them refreshments.

If it's somewhere in between, as it often is, how does this impact the people living there? I know I read about how castle stairwells were tight and spiraled in a particular direction to give defenders the advantage -- but then I tried to move a mattress up my straight, simple, poorly defensible staircase. How would you do that on a tight, twisty stair?

If the tea's hot when you leave the kitchen but you have to carry it up three staircases and down two hundred feet of hallways, will the king ever have a hot cup of tea?

Here are some other real-world questions that castles need to worry about: where does their drinking water come from? How do they deal with sewage? How many ways in and out are there? (Note that the more doors there are, the less secure the place is.) What would happen if a fire broke out inside?

What are some of your favorite fantasy castles? What purpose do they serve in your story?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Versatile blogger award!


I've been tagged with the Versatile Blogger Award -- twice! -- by Writing the Other and by Chris at The Kelworth Files

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Pass this Award along to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know about it!

OK, seven (new) things about me...

1. I don't understand why zombies are so popular. I just don't find them interesting.
2. I love music, but rarely go to concerts. My first concert experience was going to the Boston Pops with my parents. The Pops performed part of the score to Raiders of the Lost Ark and it was AWESOME.
3. I'd love to see some of my favorite trance DJs perform, but I'd probably look strange sitting in the back of the rave trying to write. Drunks/druggies tripping over me. No thanks. Guess I'll have to wait until I can afford to hire Armin van Buuren myself...
4.The most recent concert I went to was Tan Dun conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. They performed music from three of his movie soundtracks: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and The Banquet.
5. Because I'm a fan of wuxia movies -- those lush, kung-fu period pieces from China.
6. I was also manga and anime fan for a long time, but the last series I really enjoyed was Samurai Champloo.
7. Haven't read any manga or watched any anime for a while, though. Got too burned out on the tropes. But if you want to recommend a title, please do.

Passing the ball to 15 fellow bloggers:

1. The Bluestocking Blog - #1 because I knew right off what she's referring to.
2. Claudie A.
3. Still Writing
4. Paradoxy
5. Lucy V. Morgan
6. In the Shade of the Cherry Tree
7. Krista Lynne Jensen
8. Libby Heily
9. Die Laughing
10. M.K. Hutchins
11. Polished Bones
12. Really? I'm blogging?
13. The Hat Rack
14. The Adventures of a Stale Mind
15. See Jess Write

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Page at Unicorn Bell

I sent the first 230-something words of Piglet over to Unicorn Bell for a crit -- while you're there, check out the other first page submissions and post your feedback in the comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Worldbuilding: mountains and weather

One of the advantages of building a fantasy world from scratch is that you can tailor the geography to fit your aesthetics. Want a dramatic coastline with natural sea arches like the Oregon coast? No problem. Amazing river valleys like the Three Gorges region of China? Drop it right in.

I want my carefully designed landscape to make some sort of real-world sense, though.

In the fantasy world I've been overhauling, geography underwent major changes. I had some definite requirements: relatively secluded but large enough to sustain a small kingdom, and a New England-ish climate. Why New England? Because I grew up there and I still love it. After sketching a lot of maps, I settled on a wide valley flanked by high mountain ranges. At the southern end, the mountains funnel it down to a relatively narrow and steep outlet, through which the major river flows.

Champlain Valley as seen from New York (looking eastward.)
Imagine those mountains rugged and snow-capped year round,
that's what I want for this story
The best way to start, IMO, is to look at similar areas in the real world. In my case, the closest thing overall is the northern end of the Great Appalachian Valley -- the area around Lake Champlain in Vermont. But I want the valley to be much wider than that and the mountains much higher than the Appalachians.

Consequences of higher mountains

Setting aside how the mountains formed in the first place -- though it's important and I'll get to it later -- one of the immediate effects of high mountains is the rain shadow on their leeward side. Simply put, when clouds run into mountains, they have to rise to go over them. That pushes them into colder air and their moisture will fall as rain or snow as they rise. When they get to the other side, there's nothing left. Some of the most intense deserts in the world are in rain shadows.

Big question: which side of my mountains is "leeward?"

Weather

In New England, weather generally moves from west to east and sometimes big storms roll up along the coast from the south. So my valley will be leeward of its western mountains, and could be creating a rain shadow on the neighbors with its eastern mountains.

I don't want my mountain valley to be a cold desert, so I need to get some weather in from another direction. So I installed a coastline to the south, outside the valley, like what's south of New England. My little kingdom will still get nor'easters and the occasional tropical storm in the summer.

I also added a northern coastline for more wet air, though that's going to be some cold, wet air. I don't know if my characters will ever get up to that northern coast, but I would guess it will be something like the Hudson Bay coast.

Thumbnail sketch of the weather in my valley: generally dry air comes over the mountains from the west and runs into cold, wet air from the northern coast, carrying it into the eastern mountains and forcing it to drop its precipitation on the way east. Major storms bull their way up from the south -- blizzards about once a winter, the remnants of a tropical storm every other year or so. Hurricane maybe once a decade, and would be a real disaster.

Rivers

The rain on the eastern mountains will result in most of the rivers being on the eastern side of the valley. They'll drain down to the lowest point and then flow either south (toward the mouth of the valley) or north (toward the coast.) I bet there's a lake at that turning point where the water decides to go either north or south.

For reference on the southbound river, I'll use the river that actually does drain most of New England -- the Connecticut. I'll be adding a series of rapids at the mouth of the valley to reduce upriver traffic (seclusion was a prime criteria in building this) and gauging from the size of the Connecticut where I used to drive over it from New Hampshire to Vermont (near Brattleboro), those could be some spectacular rapids.

What kind of geography did you add to your world because you think it's gorgeous? What did you add in order to shape the story? And how did you explain it, if at all? 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Moving target: fantasy genres

I drafted a short pitch for my WIP for the crit blog Unicorn Bell and got to the end where you put the title and the genre and I had to stop and wonder... what subgenre of fantasy am I writing? There are so many. And so many lists, it turns out.

Pick a shelf, any shelf...
I am definitely NOT writing: 

Bangsian Fantasy: fantasies based primarily in the afterlife. Some lists cited The Lovely Bones, which I know nothing about. I thought of What Dreams May Come.

Comic Fantasy: Xanth and spoof fantasies.

Arthurian Fantasy: based on the traditions of King Arthur. Many worthy titles in this subgenre. 

Urban/Contemporary Fantasy: hardly needs an introduction anymore.

Fairytale Fantasy: I've enjoyed a lot of short-form re-tellings and re-imaginings of traditional fairytales, but not the novels.

Prehistoric Fantasy: Clan of the Cave Bear with magic, I suppose. This is a genre I don't know much about. 

Steampunk: Fantasy? or science fiction? Either way, my WIP is not steampunk.

Alternate History/Historical Fantasy: I often see it shelved as science fiction, though I've always thought of it more as fantasy. Maybe the confusion stems from high-tech elements that often turn up in the stories.

Sword & Sorcery: a venerable subgenre, home of Conan the Barbarian and my beloved Fafhrd and Grey Mouser -- but no, I'm not writing an S&S.

Low Fantasy: Definitions disagree over whether this involves the real world with magic (wouldn't it be Urban Fantasy?) or a secondary world with little in the way of the supernatural. I've got too much magic in my WIP to qualify, I think.

Near misses:
Heroic Fantasy: Quest-based fantasies. There is a short quest in my WIP, actually, but it was just to get the ball rolling.

Dark Fantasy: the horror/fantasy hybrid. While I do get graphic with the blood and gore, it's not my intention to frighten the reader.

My possibilities include:

High Fantasy: many definitions cite a "good vs. evil" theme, as seen in The Master's work, Lord of the Rings. Some only mention an alternate world where magic and mythical beasts are standard issue. I do have magic and some mythical beasts, but it's not a good vs. evil, have-to-save-the-whole-world-from-darkness situation.

Medieval Fantasy: Wikipedia's definition puts this on a level than encompasses other fantasy subgenres, which makes it more of a flavor than a sub-genre. Other definitions make it sound more like a type of alternate history. My WIP is heavily based on medieval research because I wanted realism, but it's definitely Not Earth.

Romantic Fantasy: Emphasis on Romantic, and generally sold as such. I'd have to be an idiot to overlook the romance element of my WIP, but I'm not a fan of the Romance Genre (not to be confused with romance in general) and I'm not writing for it.

Magic Realism: Listed as a sub-genre in some places and defined as a style in others. I'm inclined to go with the latter. Realism is a hangup of mine, you may have noticed, and it carries over to magic too.

Epic Fantasy: the definitions I've found sound a lot like a combination of the definitions of High Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy. Personally, "epic" refers to length. LOTR is epic. Winston Churchill's five-book account of WWII is epic.My WIP may be epic in length when the dust settles, but it's not Heroic Fantasy and not entirely High Fantasy.

Hard Fantasy: YES (I thought at first) and read this. OMG YES. But then I looked at the titles Wikipedia cites and they're all either SF/F hybrids or alternate histories. Blah, not what I wanted. Some other places cited George R.R. Martin and Jacqueline Carey. Now we're talking.

That is the kind of attention to detail I'm striving for in all my writing, whether science fiction or fantasy.  Spaceships must observe the laws of inertia. Shapeshifters must obey the law of conservation of mass. Magic with scientific rigor. Why haven't I heard more about this? (Because I need to read more, yes, I know. Bad writer.)

Hard Fantasy. I'm declaring my allegiance. It's not a contradiction in terms.

Later, maybe I'll add Hard Erotica -- which is not a contradiction, it's merely redundant. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm a narley ninja :D

I usually post on Thursdays but today I am a narley ninja at the dojo!

Tune in tomorrow for either a worldbuilding post or to see me figure out what flavor of fantasy I'm writing. I haven't decided which to post. Cast a vote in the comments, if you've got a preference.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Character Conversation: Dame Kate Carpenter

If you read my First Campaign Challenge flash fiction, you've met Kate a little bit. She provides the first-person narration in For Want of a Piglet. I created Kate a long time ago and as part of her overhaul I needed to make her a more standard heroine, in some ways.

Because a main character who suffers from your own depression isn't sympathetic. When I reread the original monstrosity, even I lost sympathy at certain points. And in general, depression is not a problem that people sympathize with -- paralyzing fear and doubt do not lead to things getting done. As anyone with depression knows.

But still, Kate needs an edge. I'm trying to make her more proactive, more "spunky heroine" (eyeroll) material, but I can't have her turning into a Mary Sue. Nobody wants a cookie-cutter "spunk."

Kate's reference, so far as appearance goes.
You were glad when that piglet died and the betrothal was called off. You wanted to get back to the Order and become the master physician's apprentice. Things are starting to happen, now, that you didn't expect. What didn't you want, out of all of this?

I didn't want anyone looking to me for rescue when I've little experience or enough strength in kir (kir is the magical essence of this world) for the task.

The first thing Master Parselev showed me was that healing's far more dangerous than it seems. Others believe that when the physician takes out needle and thread and cleansing charms, it's falling back for lack of kir. In truth, it's the safer route. For a reason, my master hasn't let me far from his side until now. Thus I haven't killed anyone in trying to heal them.

And you've been kicked out of the nest early, so to speak. You're afraid of failing. 

Forgive me for not wishing to watch a man die under my hands. And yet, my master said it must be me on this mission.

What happens if you fail? If you kill a patient?

I read my apprenticeship papers, as Father could not. They may dismiss me, if my potential proves to be lacking. Send me home.

What's wrong with home? (She looks away, pressing her mouth shut) Originally, your father had died by now, but if he hasn't -- are you afraid of him? I knew he was strict, but I didn't think he was violent.

Father would be angry, that's true. But more than that... I spent two years learning to read and write at the Order, and now two years apprenticed. There's hot food every night, I can read in the library whenever I like and when it's cold I can share a bed with Rika. They've given me new wool socks every winter.

For a peasant girl, it's luxurious.

(She looks miserable, though) Is it so wrong to want to stay? There's those who think I've no place drawing my master's attention, but most have been kind to me.

You haven't tried to deny you're a peasant girl, though. 

It was hard to hide, at first. And it still turns up at times. I'd never been on a horse, before the mission.

At least Sir Anders got you untangled when you fell off. What are you thinking of him, at this point? 

He's been honorable enough since he left off flirting. Sir Anders has his work, I have mine and there's little else to it.

And the prince? Are you worried that he'll tell your master about your failures?

(She swallows hard) I've done the best I could, and I hope he sees that.

I don't want Kate's fears to control her too much, but it will influence how she reacts to things that happen in the course of the story. This interview's brought up some new ideas for me, and I'm not sure how far she would go to protect her position for fear of being dismissed. Would she lie? Try to cover up mistakes? Balk rather than take a risk? Or, worse, take risks and then try to bury her failures? 

It's not something a cookie-cutter spunky heroine would do. Heck, I'm already trying to talk her out of it, but maybe I shouldn't. 

What do you think about "spunky" heroines?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Character Conversation: Sir Anders Bockmann

If you're a recent follower, Character Conversations are little interviews with characters from my WIPs. When it comes to character development, those questionnaire-style character creation forms don't help me much. When I look at them, my brain just spits out run-of-the-mill answers. I get better results, especially for abstract questions like "What parts of you don't fit the hunky hero mold?" by chatting with my characters.

Now, I know this character well enough that I instantly got a smirky, X-rated response to the above question. And that response is, in itself, part of his less-heroic makeover-in-progress. My WIP is a massive re-write of a previous work, you see, and one of the problems tagged for fixing was that my hero boys (both of them) were too nice. To idealized. A little too tame.

In this character conversation with Sir Anders Bockmann, I wanted to address how the makeover is going now that we're halfway through part one (of three parts) of For Want of a Piglet (volume one of... I'm hoping three, not five? why am I doing this, again?) Like all conversations, it wanders off topic a bit. My side of the conversation is in italics.

Some character reference photos are for attitude, some for appearance.
This manages to be both. This is the delicious Alex Skarsgard.

I noticed you've picked up a bit of Jason Stackhouse (from True Blood, I haven't read the books) in the makeover. I could've lived without that. That boy is dumb as a sack of hammers and I won't have that in my heroes.

Did you not cast me as a 'horndog' without considering the why, when we last told this story? And then expected the leopard to change his spots overnight?

I'd be more the fool if it wasn't willful. Rather than a fool, I'm one who choose a dangerous game.

How willful? 

They've gone to such lengths to brand me the bad boy, should I not oblige them?

Your prey didn't do the branding, it seems to me. 

No. They put their wives and daughters in my sights, and me in theirs. If anyone wishes to call for a duel on it, they're welcome to. I didn't win the jousting tournament twice on my looks.

But what happens after five or ten years of being a bad boy? Do you think a thirty-year-old knight will still be winning jousts and sleeping in a friend's hayloft? (Anders is barely twenty, at this point in the story.)

Thirty? He shrugs. The cavalry will work knights till they drop, they won't turn me away. There's always the Order and training squires, if I'm not fit for duty.

Think those who branded you will trust you with their sons? Not make bad boys of them? 

Even I couldn't teach pigs to dance. The one who will dance aren't likely to be stopped.

So why can't you just be, as Kate said, the kind knight who untangled her from the stirrup when she fell off her horse?

He takes a minute to come up with an answer. Kate has no part in any of this. I've no quarrel with any outside the city walls, and she was peasant-born.

She knocked herself right out of your sights when she said that to you. 

The flirting was force of habit, no more. Ladies have their maids, and maids are a sure way to get close to the lady.

You thought she was easy meat. 

He shrugs again. And was mistaken. She's a disciple of Saint Qadeem and they're known to be odd ducks.

Denying interest, yes, that always works. How does Anders not fit the hunky hero mold? He's made a "game" of seducing girls and young wives (and maybe branching out into cougars) as a way to get back at those who have dismissed him as a bad seed. He's not thinking about his future or what consequences there might be for the women (unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence, STDs?) I think it's safe to say there's a self-destructive streak buried in him, as well as deep insecurities.

I think that's a good place to end on for now. How does your hero not fit the mold?
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