Monthly Archives: June 2014

In a word – RESEARCH!

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I got my license driving a big articulated truck, called a semi-trailer in Australia, it had 16 gears and a thirty foot trailer on it, I’ve ridden my own motorbike across Australia – it was a Kawasaki – beautiful machine – I’ve learned to fly an ultralight plane, worked up through grades in martials arts (and taught it), have undertaken a survival course and even committed to doing the pioneering thing, but I have never been a police officer, a soldier or a doctor.

So I research, I read biographies of police officers, soldiers, doctors and others. I read technical manuals pertaining to their professions. I get right into the nuts and bolts of it, and you know what? It’s fun. I seriously love getting into the technical side of things, finding the gems that every profession has, the interesting snippets that a person doesn’t normally know about but which brings the character and the profession to life for my readers.

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The Convoluted Makings of a Journey.

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I know what it’s like – you do, too, if you’re a writer – you have an idea, a clear storyline, a character you really like and an itch to get it all beautifully presented.

Only the path of the tale is pretty straight and the ending is almost a foregone conclusion. You don’t want your readers to guess it, of course you don’t, and anyway there has to be a problem, a challenge for that character to meet and overcome. That puts a couple of kinks into the path, making it a more interesting stroll, only really you’d like some fascinating things to happen because, actually, what you really want is for this to be a journey.

So you pop in some more problems and a few twisty solutions, only some of them a tricky to pull off and you’ve got to work at getting them nailed down so they work without some inconvenient logic getting in the way and spoiling it, so maybe a few somersaults are needed, but that’s okay, it’s worth it.

Then you bring in someone new to deal with some of this extra stuff, only their very presence is causing more problems, problems you hadn’t realized you would encounter. It’s still worth it, right? Of course it is. You push on and suddenly space is tight and so is time and these problems are becoming seemingly insurmountable.

Soon you’re just looking at problems all around you which, by the way, probably means you’ve painted yourself into a corner. You know you have to work through this, and – surprise, surprise, your characters are looking at much the same set of issues.

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Building Worlds in Middle of the Night Comfort.

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I like to lie awake at night, working out details and plots, the ideas behind the words – Writing is all about ideas and words, of course, but there’s a difference between them and that difference either allows me to stay in bed or drives me out of it.

If it’s words that are flowing through my mind, actual dialogue or description, no doubt about it, I have to get at that keyboard and capture them because I’ve learned that when there is a handful of those wonderful things coming at me, there’s likely to be the entire flock about to swoop in, and I want every last one of them. If I don’t capture them, by morning they will be gone.

Ideas, on the other hand,  don’t float away. Ideas are both detailed and structural. Detailed ideas are more along the lines of how something happens, while the structural ideas form the backbone of the plot, the What and Why of the story.

The “Uh-oh! Wait a minute!” Syndrome

A fractal created by me and my laptop in 2008.

This is what it’s like sometimes when shuffling plot segments around – a post from the past – Oh dear, here we go again – Remember when I told you about the which-comes-first dilemma of two story-moving events, each important, each one happening to a different character (Va’el being one of them), each needing to be separate from the other with plenty of space around it so that each can stand and be appreciated alone?

Then I sorted it and didn’t have to go through a double working of the events to see which way would sit better?

Remember that?

Well, I forgot about a scene that has to come directly before one of those events and cannot, in itself, be put off – which of course cements that one in place and so dictates their order.

Sooooooo… Did I get it right when I made my decision and Yippeed for Joy all over this blog?

:D

:)

:|

:(

No. It has to go the other way, the other something first, then Va’el.

Ohh, it’s not so bad, it’s just a bit like knocking out a wall and moving the lounge room into the bedroom, but writers are good at fiddling with words and shuffling prose, and I did kind of expect it. I do still manage to avoid the whole write-up of both versions complete with all the side bits and plug-ins that are a part of it all, and I did still have to write all the parts anyway, so… I’m still ahead.

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Backdrops and Black Holes. Am I Doomed? Nah!

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One of the wonderful things about writing a series is that, once set, the same backdrop applies to the stories that follow – the Universe remains the same, the places, familiar characters, politics and wars are all there – that saves a lot of time and a lot of thought and is a real bonus because only the plots have to come from scratch.

That said, I have discovered the other side of the coin which, strangely, is added complexity. A series (if you’re lucky) grows, branching outwards in all directions. The backdrop might remain the same, but it won’t be long before you’re taking one set of characters and bringing them together with another set of characters, or playing one location against another.

I’m extra lucky, I have a whole galaxy at my disposal (lots of planets) and two warring empires, each much bigger in scope to the Terran new kids daring into space colonization. There are characters in there I have grown very fond of and don’t want to lose, so their stories will loop back into new ones as they unfold, bringing complexities I had not considered, each section and story intermeshed and spiraling around the others – much like the galaxy they are in.

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Evading the Police – the OTHER reason for writing Sci-fi.

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I’m a perfectionist, I really do want to get things right, particularly the supporting facts and figures of my novels for the simple reason that realism is THE most important foundation you can have – ever – and if it’s not there, unless you are writing a spoof, you’ve lost it as a writer – There has to be truth in there and not just big truths, but little truths as well.

Details count. If you’ve got a cop in your story, for instance, he or she has to speak and act like a cop, and behind that police officer, there have to be real (or at least realistic) laws. Same with soldiers, same with doctors, same with anybody. You cannot walk in their shoes in everything BUT their expertise – it’s their expertise that you need. That means you have to study to some extent and think and speak like they do.

Law enforcement was the issue for me. There are laws against roughing up someone. Laws against murder. Laws against kidnapping and selling people into slavery.

So, Stephen, the team leader sells his latest new recruit (Aleisha, 17) to the two Khekarians in his team because they want a psychic and she’s it. She’s not very good at it, but who cares? It will mean a life of slavery in a savage empire for her, but freedom for Stephen and the rest of his team when those same Khekarians finally go away, not to mention that the sale will put extra money in his pocket.

What a bastard! And what’s not to like? As it turns out, in any other format, there’s plenty not to like. The story is great, but it dies a death if all Aleisha has to do is get to the police station.

I needed to bypass the police. How? Where? I could go back in time, say into the pioneering era, but that rules Australia out. Heck, Australia was established as a penal colony – cops and soldiers all over the place! I’m not sure what would happen in the Wild West, possibly the local Sheriff would form a posse and run the villains out of town. Or string them up.

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“Them’s the Breaks.”

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There are different breaks for a writer, different causes, different outcomes and different ways of thinking about it all – each a blessing or a curse.

There’s an ordinary break, which is simply time off to do something else. This kind is good and healthy and fun. It is nice and it keeps you in the real world.

For a lot of writers, this kind of break is actually rare. In my case, I tend to bring my thoughts along, then I end up getting lost on streets I should know and following strangers believing them to be my husband. In other words, I’m still in the plot and on another planet.

The next up is what I call a “staring at the wall” kind of break, where issues get sorted out, stuff to do with plot, characterization, twists and turns, rationalization and logistics, especially after a writer has managed to paint themselves into a corner.

This counts as a break if it drags you away from the computer where you might otherwise get distracted with things not associated with writing. However, it also involves thinking exclusively on the plot problem and this will extend for as long as it must in order for the issue or issues to be resolved.

Of course, if you don’t leave your computer, it will end up a real break because you’ll find yourself surfing the net, playing games, etc., and not thinking on the plot problem at all.

This kind of break (focusing on the problem) might last as little as half a day or as long as some months. You cannot do anything else in this time period. You cannot “fill in the time” with anything that takes your mind from it – that means no reading, no blogging, no surfing the Net, nor playing games or watching movies. Those things might happen in the course of the day, but when you’re working on the issues, you find you have to get away from the computer and away from anything else that will distract you, which is why I call it “staring at the wall” or “staring at the sky”.

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Two Dimensional or Too Much? How about a Complex In Between?

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We’ve all seen it in books or in films – you get one main character who shines brightly while all those around him or her are two dimensional and not important – Trouble is, that can carry  over into the plot, as well, so you get one bright storyline lacking definition or depth.

Some of that is done for speed, I’m sure of it. Generally, as a reader, I like to feel that the fictional world I am exploring is populated with realistic people. Sometimes, though, a short single-threaded story is fine – we all have different moods and want different entertainment at different times. Sometimes a light book and a short uncomplicated story is exactly right.

Then you get a fat book and the only reason it’s fat is because EVERYBODY tells their whole dang life story – all of them right from childhood. Some people will like that, too – hey, it takes all sorts, but some of the stuff that comes along seems to have nothing to do with the plot.

Okay, I confess, I’m a person who, as a kid watching Coronation Street with my mom, would wish that a spaceship would land in the middle of it. There didn’t seem to be any point to Coronation Street, yet it ran for years and was hugely popular – so don’t go by my standards.

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Aleisha – a Catalyst.

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Aleisha is one of my main characters in my first book in the Khekarian series, an untrained psychic (although not in the supernatural look-I’ll-find-a-shortcut-to-the-answers sort of way – not even much of a seer, actually, she’s more a channel for bad experiences such as murder or suicide) – I wrote it this way for several reasons and one of them was in order to have advanced civilizations recognize and utilize an aspect of our nature that has been seen, used, worshipped, demonized and ignored in regular cycles ever since Mankind climbed down out of the trees – and I wanted this utilized in a no nonsense down-to-Earth manner because when you take all the bells and whistles off, psychic awareness is a natural phenomenon, it is not outside the norm.

Some have argued that this makes the series a fantasy rather than science fiction, but that only speaks of the belief system of the individuals who say so. No problem there, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Anyhow, so my science fiction has seers in it? So what? So does Star Wars.

I made Aleisha primarily clairsentient (psychic touch and feelings) and less clairvoyant (psychic seeing) because I wanted to bring in a new and interesting aspect of psychic experience not often covered in books and films.

The point I want to make today is that Aleisha is not the hero in this story. She’s the character whose story we are following, and she is psychic because that gives a reason for Sturn (lead Bad Guy) to want her by his side when he goes back to the Khekarian Core, the aggressive Empire he stems from.

Very simply I wanted these two characters cemented together without the cause being lust or love. Take away lust and love, the strongest inducement remaining is power. Food, sex and power are strong drives – clearly food isn’t an issue here (Sturn is quite well fed, is not a vampire and isn’t likely to draw nourishment from her). So, power it has to be – and just what power can a seventeen year-old have that an exiled Khekarian prince would want?

Right! You see what I mean.

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The Problem of Fast Editing

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Mistakes! Argh! – I hate them (don’t we all) – Fast editing can cause this example from the past, “an assortment of characters” is supposed to become “a range of characters” – only, of course, “assorted” changes to “range” but I forget to change the “an” to “a” – so out it popped, showing the world that here’s one “writer” who hasn’t got a handle on grammar – IT’S NOT TRUE, I TELL YOU, it’s the flaw of fast editing!

I do read what I post. Honestly. I read it several times as I write it up, again before I hit that publish button, and – fortunately – once more after it’s out there. Perhaps seeing it in a different format has things jump out that I otherwise miss, but I DO see the errors (and yes, fix them).

Meanwhile, of course, a bunch of people have already seen my fumbling result and the whole stands out like clear advertising that I really don’t have a handle on writing!!!

Heck yes, spelling and grammatical mistakes annoy the [insert expletive-of-your-choice] out of me, but only when those mistakes are mine.

On a scale of 1 to 10, it pans out like this:

Other people’s errors… 1
Other people’s errors in books… 3
My errors… 12
My errors in books… 375

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