Thursday, January 29, 2009
The plant-monitoring concept was invented by three telecommunications students at NYU. One of them, Kate Hartman, suggests that Botanicalls illustrates "people's growing comfort level with technology" and offers "a way to think about technology and its role in our lives." The system can be programmed by the user to expand its vocabulary or make it speak in other languages. Dialogue with inanimate objects such as the refrigerator can't be far behind. Some cars talk to their drivers already. We're moving closer all the time to Ray Bradbury's self-maintaining house in "There Will Come Soft Rains" or even the intelligent house with a personality and emphatic opinions on the TV series EUREKA. In fact, I've read other articles in the past that imply the technology to build a dwelling like the one in the Bradbury story already exists, for anyone who could afford to expend the cost and wanted such a living environment.
Margaret L. Carter (www.margaretlcarter.com)
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
A comment on Linnea's post raises the question of how to avoid the abrupt and reader-losing Point of View Shift which I discussed in:
Here below in Verisimilitude Vs. Reality is one of the information feed techniques I referred to in my answer to that question on Linnea's entry. Clever concatenation of information feed techniques is how you get the reader to know something without telling them, and here is how you get them to believe it.
This below is one information feed technique used to avoid commiting the Expository Lump. So here are links to my discussions of Lumps.
Early in my writing career, I learned how dialogue differs from real speech.
Dialogue is the ILLUSION of speech, not the transcription of speech.
Before you grasp that distinction, you have no hope of creating dialogue that enchants the reader, moves the story forward, characterizes and informs the reader all in one single reposte, retort, dig, jibe, offhand comment.
The best one-liners that make it into common usage, (i.e. "Make my day.") capture common moments of life with an original sound-byte an actor can elevate to pure art. Other examples: Hannibal on the A-Team: "I love it when a plan comes together." Quantum Leap: "Oh, boy." Or the myriad Buffyisms we all loved so much -- smart-alec comments during a fight to the death.
A real person in a real situation just doesn't think that fast. So when Art supplies the right comment for the type of situation, it enters common usage.
Note we can quote the Television show's name, or the film, the actor and the line. In Television, for example, those lines are created by committee which can include the actor playing the character out based on a previous episode's line ("Logical, Mr. Spock.") ("He's dead, Jim.") ("Oh, one more thing.")
How many of you know the writer's name who came up with that marvelous line for that spot in the action? Think about that.
If you want fame and glory, find something to do other than be a writer. It's hard work, requires an enormous amount of education, and over a lifetime rarely amounts to more than minimum wage per hour invested.
So here's another long installment on that education in writing. It'll take a while to read this and apply it with practice.
Characters don't say what people would say -- because characters aren't people.
Characters are the illusion of people. So they say the illusion of what people say.
And the difference between fiction and reality is the same for most all elements in a story, not just dialogue. In worldbuilding, we build the illusion of a world, not an actual world; the illusion of a culture, not a real culture; the illusion of war or combat, not actual combat; the illusion of a government, not a real government; the illusion of mansions and hovels, not real mansions and hovels. So how do we make that illusion "work" for the reader?
How do we get readers to believe our illusions are real, so real they adopt our character's one-liners? (there are Sime~Gen fans who regularly conjugate the Simelan word SHEN when they experience the Ancient version.)
As story tellers, we are spinning illusions, not imparting information.
Yet the power and ultimate usefulness of our illusions depends on our crafting a foundation of correct information underneath our illusion.
Verisimilitude requires something to be truly similar to. And that's "information" that we build our illusions upon.
It may not be "correct" information that we need, but information matching that which readers already "know." Even if the readers "know" something that isn't actually true, the writer must start crafting the story based on what the reader believes to be so and gradually, step by step, work in the illusion of a new truth.
If that process is done well, it will end up making the reader so curious that he/she will go research the topic on their own, maybe dedicate their lives to it. Many Star Trek fans discovered Science Fiction via Star Trek when they were in college, and went on to change their majors to one or another science. Today, a new generation in college grew up on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
I have fan letters from readers of Molt Brother and it's sequel City of a Million Legends (both available in e-book on Fictionwise, and on amazon.com in paper) indicating that the books inspired people to choose Archeology as their major in college.
Fiction speaks. Fiction influences. Fiction is illusion. But Fiction is sometimes more real than reality. How can that be?
Because a particular work of Art can reach into the subconscious and activate something within a person that we have no name for other than Soul, fictioneers have real power. Awesome power.
That's why so many books on writing craft emphasize knowing your audience, choosing to write to a particular, defined sub-set of all humanity so that your book will be marketable. But not just marketable! Memorable.
You have to choose "who" you are writing to in order to make the illusion of reality work for those people. Even in America, various sub-cultures harbor different convictions about the nature of reality, so writing with "verisimilitude" for each one means starting with different assumptions about the facts you have in common.
Only about 35 million in the USA watched Obama's Inaugeration. In the 1970's you needed a TV audience of 20 million just to stay on the air and there were only 200 million people in the USA. Today there are well over 300 million in the USA. The percentage watching television is shrinking.
In fact, the percentage of us in the USA that do or know any particular thing -- have anything at all in common -- is vanishingly small and still shrinking. So it gets harder and harder for a writer to identify a cohesive "Market" large enough for a product that would have costly production and distribution.
The business of fiction is in massive flux as is the business of news distribution.
The more your fantasy world diverges from the reader's everyday reality, the more careful you must be to craft on a platform of reality based facts familiar to your reader/viewer.
For your characters to become real people to a readership, the characters must be presented via details from that readership's experience. That's not necessarily "real life" experience. What readers have read in other stories is just as "real" to them and something a readership has in common.
So how do you cast your illusion of people? How do you create a character that seems real? Do you tell the reader everything about this character's biography and behavior tendencies in a 2 paragraph "character sketch" when you first bring them on stage? Do you even need to write a "character sketch" for yourself, as almost all writing textbooks recommend?
No. You don't tell the reader -- in fact, the less you tell the reader (or let the reader know via other techniques) the more realistic the character will seem.
Why is that?
Because in a text based narrative, you SHOW NOT TELL who the characters are.
Why does SHOW DON'T TELL create the most powerful illusion of reality?
Show Don't Tell works because the reader becomes actively engaged in fleshing out the details of every scene, every room you walk the character into, and every thought in the character's head. In fact, the character's internal monologue is much more powerful when you don't let the reader hear everything the character is thinking or especially feeling.
How can that be?
An engaged reader is garbed in the character, becoming the character and looking at the surroundings through the character's eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
So you INDICATE a tiny (artistically chosen) detail derived from the THEME of the story -- like the strokes of a Japanese Brush Painting -- and the reader uses your details to make a fully dimensional 256 toned picture of their own. The reader becomes enveloped in your world because it is not your world -- but their own.
That's one reason children must be taught to "read" (beyond sounding out words) -- there is a mental technique of translating cold text into full-dimensional pictures in the mind that must be learned. The most common way of learning the technique is to read a lot of books -- until you find one that engages you fully -- then follow that author or that genre, building a set of experiences and facts "in common with" the writers of that genre.
The writer's function is to trigger the native imagination of the reader, not to inject the writer's own story into the reader's mind.
Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me an old adage, and I can never remember the originator of it. "The story the reader reads is not the story the writer wrote."
No two readers "read" the same story, even when reading the same text.
Better yet, when a story is well written (well crafted to energize the reader's imagination) then the same reader can re-read the text and discover a totally new and different story -- because the reader has changed.
The writer's function is to evoke emotion, energize imagination, arouse anticipation and deliver satisfaction. The writer is an artist whose medium is the reader's emotion.
When a reader gets all that emotional satisfaction from a text, they will remember that text as having TAUGHT THEM something.
There are two main ways that a human being learns. From instruction and from experience. Instruction is hypothetical, requiring cognitive activity. Experience is concrete and practical, requiring engagement.
The fiction writer teaches via vicarious experience, not instruction.
People remember what they learn when it comes wrapped in a vivid emotion. ("A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go doowwwnnn!")
Now let's take a concrete example of facts upon which to build Verisimilitude.
Here is an actual, real-life biographical fact that could become such a hard foundation for a fictional or fantasy scene or incident that would ring bells for the readers.
If presented wrapped in a powerful enough emotional context, this little episode could engrave these (actual) facts on readers' minds in such a way that, should this ever happen to them or someone with them, they would recognize the experience and respond in such a way as to save a life.
Though not all readers know it, it is an established fact that women often experience heart attacks with a totally different set of sensations than men do.
The challenge to you, as writers, is to use the facts below to create this scene within a story in such a way that a man reading it will recognize it happening to a woman he knows in reality. Convince husbands and brothers. Make the men understand what the woman feels.
This below came to me in one of those round-robin emails with "pass it to ten people" -- which is a real bad idea, because once it infects a circle of friends, you'll get 200 copies back.
> FEMALE HEART ATTACKS
> I was aware that female heart attacks are different, but this is the best description I've ever read.
> Women and heart attacks (Myocardial infarction). Did you know that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing heart attack you know, the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest & dropping to the floor that we see in the movies. Here is the story of one woman's experience with a heart attack.
> 'I had a heart attack at about 10 :30 PM with NO prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect might've brought it on.
> I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening, with my purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had sent me, and actually thinking, 'A-A-h, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.
> A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, when you've been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed it down with a d ash of water, and that hurried bite seems to feel like you've swallowed a golf ball going down the esophagus in slow motion and it is most uncomfortable. You realize you shouldn't have gulped it down so fast and needed to chew it more thoroughly and this time drink a glass of water to hasten its progress down to the stomach. This was my initial sensation---the only trouble was that I hadn't taken a bite of anything since about 5:00 p.m.
> After it seemed to subside, the next sensation was like little squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE (hind-sight, it was probably my aorta spasming), gaining speed as they continued racing up and under my sternum (breast bone, where one presses rhythmically when administering CPR).
This fascinating process continued on into my throat and branched out into both jaws. 'AHA!! NOW I stopped puzzling about what was happening -- we all have read and/or heard about pain in the jaws being one of the signals of an MI happening, haven't we? I said aloud to myself and the cat, Dear God, I think I'm having a heart attack!
> I lowered the footrest dumping the cat from my lap, started to take a step and fell on the floor instead. I thought to myself, If this is a heart attack, I shouldn't be walking into the next room where the phone is or anywhere else ... but, on the other hand, if I don't, nobody will know that I need help, and if I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in moment.
I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked slowly into the next room and dialed the Paramedics .. I told her I thought I was having a heart attack due to the pressure building under the sternum and radiating into my jaws. I didn't feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the facts. She said she was sending the Paramedics over immediately, asked if the front door was near to me, and if so, to unbolt the door and then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in.
I unlocked the door and then laid down on the floor as instructed and lost consciousness, as I don't remember the medics coming in, their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or getting me into their ambulance, or hearing the call they made to St. Jude ER on the way, but I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the Cardiologist was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics pull my stretcher out of the ambulance. He was bending over me asking questions (probably something like 'Have you taken any medications?') but I couldn't make my mind interpret what he was saying, or form an answer, and nodded off again, not waking up until the Cardiologist and partner had already threaded the teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the aorta and into my heart where they installed 2 side by side stents to hold open my right coronary artery.
> 'I know it sounds like all my thinking and actions at home must have taken at least 20-30 minutes before calling the Paramedics, but actually it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before the call, and both the fire station and St. Jude are only minutes away from my home, and my Cardiologist was already to go to the OR in his scrubs and get going on restarting my heart (which had stopped somewhere between my arrival and the procedure) and installing the stents.
> 'Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail? Because I want all of you who are so important in my life to know what I learned first hand.'
> 1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body not the usual men's symptoms but inexplicable things happening (until my sternum and jaws got into the act). It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) MI because they didn't know they were having one and commonly mistake it as indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they'll feel better in the morning when they wake up ... which doesn't happen. My female friends, your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I advise you to call the Paramedics if ANYTHING is unpleasantly happening that you've not felt before. It is better to have a 'false alarm' visitation than to risk your life guessing what it might be!
> 2. Note that I said 'Call the Paramedics.' And if you can take an asprin. Ladies, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER - you are a hazard to others on the road. Do NOT have your panicked husband who will be speeding and looking anxiously at what's happening with you instead of the road. Do NOT call your doctor -- he doesn't know where you live and if it's at night you won't reach him anyway, and if it's daytime, his assistants (or answering service) will tell you to call the Paramedics. He doesn't carry the equipment in his car that you need to be saved! The Paramedics do, principally OXYGEN that you need ASAP. Your Dr. will be notified later.
> 3. Don't assume it couldn't be a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol count. Research has discovered that a cholesterol elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI (unless it's unbelievably high and/or accompanied by high blood pressure). MIs are usually caused by long-term stress and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of deadly hormones into your system to sludge things up in there.
> Pain in the jaw can wake you from a sound sleep.
Now try to use that factual foundation, keeping in mind that many readers in America don't believe it or have never heard it, and weave something emotionally powerful around it so that none of your readers will ever mistake this experience for heartburn.
PS: Romance genre news in publishing -- romance and sports.
Monday, January 26, 2009
POV seems to be the proverbial sticky-wicket for a lot of writers. In fact, very often when I teach workshops, there’s more than a handful in the audience who appear surprised that there are rules, there are serious craft considerations relating to POV. The fact that a scene or a chapter—or the fact that even an entire book could be based on the wrong POV hasn’t occurred to a number of writers out there.
It’s not that writers aren’t aware of POV (though not all know the acronym). It’s that many writers don’t seem to be aware of the decisions that need to be made in crafting. Or why these decisions are important.
“But it’s my characters’ story. It’s Bill’s and Ted’s and Mary’s and Alice’s,” the writer explains. And then proceeds to write a scene about what Bill does, then one about Ted, one about Mary and one about Alice. (Or worse—a scene where all are prominent and we’ll get to why that’s problematic in a bit.)
But a novel—the story you’re writing—is not just a recounting of incidents in one or more characters’ lives. It’s not a dayplanner come to life or a diary entry unfolding. A novel, as Jacqueline has taught me, is fiction and fiction is entertainment.
And don’t you forget that for a minute.
Ever see the Rockettes? Or any large choreographed production? Looks easy, seamless, doesn’t it? It takes hours and hours and days of practice, of drilling, of planning, of rehearsing.
Novels are no different. You just have words—not feet—dancing in a deliberate rhythm on the stage.
Reading a commercial genre fiction novel is, for the reader, a vicarious experience. I don’t think that comes as a shock to anyone out there. Readers read to immerse themselves in another’s life, another’s quest, another’s strivings, another’s failures, another’s challenges. Safely. All the adventure, none of the risk.
Readers also read, Dwight V.Swain sagely noted in his Techniques of the Selling Writer, to experience tension. And it’s the author’s job, Swain further noted, to manipulate the emotions of the reader.
Which ostensibly doesn’t sound all that hard—given that readers are already poised and salivating for the vicarious experience. They expect it. They demand it. They’re waiting for the writer to give them that magic carpet ride…waiting so intently, in fact, they’re willing to accept and believe all sorts of nonsense just to get that magic carpet under their readerly patooties. (That willingness to accept is called, in literary terms, the suspension of disbelief. But that’s a topic for another blog.)
So if it’s so damned easy to bring readers in, why is it so damned hard to write the correct POV?
Because fiction is entertainment and because readers do read to experience tension. And the wrong POV choice—or worse, the mixing of too many POVs—makes the piece un-entertaining and without tension.
In her (excellent) World Crafter’s Guild on her Sime~Gen site, Jacqueline often pens, “Whose story is it?” This directly relates to something I learned as a private investigator: “Who’s the best witness?” I can tell you from working oodles of vehicular accident cases that what witness #1 recounts may not at all be what witness #2 saw, or witness #3. Physical presence does not always translate to knowledge, and rarely translates to agreement.
Further, physical presence at an accident scene doesn’t immediately ensure the correct recounting of facts. Distance from the accident as well as location (ie: blocked view) are two factors that affect what a witness can impart. But other factors that come into play can include cultural, educational, and emotional issues. Let’s consider Mrs. Magillicuddy who witnesses Junior Snerd, the driver, clip the curb in front of the Magillicuddy house and plow his car into Mr. Magillicuddy’s brand new Lincoln MKZ parked in the driveway. Mrs. M will have an emotional reaction because it’s her husband’s car. Her view—her point of view—will be different from the UPS delivery driver exiting his brown truck across the street, who doesn’t really know the Magillicuddy’s or Snerd. Like it or not, emotions color memory and there’s a not a private detective, cop, attorney or judge that doesn’t know that. To Mrs. M, the oncoming car will likely—in hindsight—be remembered as larger and faster. More threatening, more menacing.
What does this have to do with writing fiction and POV?
Bear with me. I’ll get to it.
Now, the group of teenagers hanging out at the corner will have a different recounting of what happened when Snerd’s car whizzed by, stereo blaring. They may—because of their age and their teen-culture—be able to identify the song pounding through Snerd’s speakers and as well, might recognize the object in Snerd’s left hand as a cell phone, because those are things important to their world. But if asked whether it appeared Snerd’s car exceeded the posted speed limit, they might not be able to answer because—again, based on their teen-culture—a car with music blaring whose driver is texting on his cell phone is a “cool thing” (or whatever the current jargon is.)
Junior might even be a friend. Conflict of interest, that.
And Snerd, I assure you, has a very different recounting of what happened. (Insurance company files are full of statements from drivers who swear “that tree just jumped out in the road and hit my car.”)
So it’s a detective’s job to gather not only the facts from the witnesses, but ascertain those items which affect the facts, like distance, lighting, obstructions, and subjective factors like education, culture, relationships and so on. A report is then created from all the information culled.
A novel is not a report. A novel, Swain says, is desire plus danger. A novel, Jacqueline Lichtenberg teaches, is entertainment; it is a story whose essence is conflict.
Danger, desire, tension, conflict.
What does this have to do with POV? It teaches you that when you choose POV, you must always work from the character in whose POV the reader will experience the most conflict. Tension. Desire. When you work from the POV of the character whose recounting, whose experience will permit the reader to experience the most conflict, you’re feeding the reader’s desire for vicarious experiences, and you’ll keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens next (“What can I experience next?”).
Now, problems arise when writers get hopped-up on this emotional thing and believe More Is Better. “So,” newbie writer says aloud, “if the emotional experiences of one character in the scene can be gripped, then the emotional experiences of four characters in the scene will be fantastic!” And she writes the next few pages allowing the reader into the heads and hearts of all four characters, so that the readers knows the thoughts and feelings of all four characters at the same time.
Uh, no. It doesn’t work that way.
POV is like being a sports fan. You like the Tampa Bay Bucs (though likely not this year). You like the Tampa Bay Lightning. You root for the Rays, another local team in the Tampa-St Pete area. So when the Lightning play the Philadelphia Flyers, your focus, your interest, your emotion, your dedication is to the Lightning players on the ice.
But what if the sports field contained the Bucs, the Lightning and the Rays? Your loyalties, attention and emotions would be divided.
That’s one of the reasons multiple points-of-view in the same scene or (heaven forefend) paragraph doesn’t work: it splits reader loyalties. Instead of a 100% vested interest in Character A, the reader has a 25% interest in Character A, 25% in Character B, 25% in Character C and 25% in Character D.
Which makes the scene weak and the reader will lose interest.
Remember: readers read to experience tension.
Remember: reading is a vicarious experience.
Let’s go back to tension, which is where head-hopping or multiple POVs in the same scene fails.
If the reader knows what every character is thinking and feeling, then there can be no surprises, no secrets. And if there are no surprises and no secrets, then there is a lot less tension. And if there’s a lot less tension, there are a lot less reasons for the reader (or editor or agent) to keep turning the pages.
If you have a novel in which the newly assigned captain of a military starship believes—no, fears that the admiral of the fleet—who is currently on board— doesn’t trust her, you can ramp up tension by having that fear be all the reader experiences during that chapter. Throw in a few secrets—the new captain has a bit of a shady past that, if the admiral found out, would certain land her in the brig—if she lives that long—and you have more tension. More danger. More desire (to live, to succeed, to not be unmasked and killed for past sins). You can show (because good writers show and don’t tell) the admiral watching her with suspicion (or so she believes). You will then keep the reader turning pages because all the reader know in this chapter is what the captain knows—fear, suspicion, trepidation.
If, in that chapter or scene or (heaven forefend) those very paragraphs, you include the admiral’s thoughts and the reader learns that the admiral is not watching the captain’s every move because he suspects her, but because he’s secretly been in love with her for years…you then weaken the captain’s fears. The reader knows then that the captain really has nothing to worry about. Her fears are invalid. Her suspicions are bogus. It’s all really just a big misunderstanding.
So why keep reading? Where’s the tension the reader wants to experience vicariously? It’s watered down now. Ineffective.
“But, but, Linnea!” you wail. “That’s Games of Command. And we did learn about Kel-Paten’s feelings for Tasha.”
Yes, you did. But not in the same paragraph or scene. I gave you time to get emotionally invested in Tasha’s paranoia before I let you in on Branden Kel-Paten’s little secret. And when in the chapter where you learned about Kel-Paten’s little secret, you also learned about the huge risks and threat to him because of it.
I manipulated your emotions and you loved it.
I also kept you solidly in one point of view until I’d wrung those emotions out of you. Then and only then could I switch you to another character’s point of view, emotions and problems.
Did I do it flawlessly? Hell no. As author Mary Jo Putney so wisely said in a recent radio interview, each novel has limited real estate. You have a finite landscape in which to create your book. There are times you must cut, you must fudge. You have deadlines. You have word count limits. But even given all that, character POV is one of the elements a writer must always keep as a top priority.
Point of View is the tool by which you manipulate the reader because point of view is what places the reader into the character’s heart and mind. It is the means of the vicarious experience. Therefore, the point of view you choose must be the one that is the most impactful, most fraught with emotions, laced with desire, infused with danger. And you stay in that point of view long enough to make sure the reader has become vested in that character. The reader must care deeply and the reader can’t do that in a setting of divided loyalties or a cacophony of thoughts and feelings.
Going back to the accident between Magillicuddy and Snerd, whose story on the witness stand would you think would be the most impactful? The teens on the corner? The UPS driver? Or Snerd’s behind the wheel of the car? Which would have more sensations that were immediate and grabbing? Which would hold your attention longer?
The story you want to listen to is the point of view of that character.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
However, the rules have just changed with effect for books released in 2009.
This passage in the new rules caught my attention: "The SFWA Board of Directors, at their discretion, may create additional awards in special categories, to be voted on by the Active members in good standing. These additional awards will not be Nebula Awards."
Wouldn't it be superb if the Active members in good standing decided that it was time for SFWA to create a category for sfr?
My default topic is how some authors are sidling up to a potential target audience without mentioning their books. Some authors report great success. I don't vouch for it.
On Facebook, you can play any of the games created by zynga. If I were to start PiratesRule again, I think I'd take the name of one of my characters. Instead of playing as "Bloody Nora!" which is an old English expletive and in the spirit of the game, I'd play as "god-Emperor Djohn-Kronos", for instance.
I still could do this if it seemed worth the time and effort to start another game. My fashionista Princess Martia-Djulia would be a natural player for "Fashion Wars" I assume.
On Facebook, you can set up "product" pages for your books, and "celebrity" pages for yourselves, and for about $15 a day, you can advertise your pages with an image and a factual statement such as: "Do you know about (your tba name) ?"
The above crafty comments would apply to any genre.
I'm thrilled to learn that Insufficient Material is a finalist in the Anne Bonney "Most Humorous" category.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
I learned that the term “race” as now used originated in the nineteenth century, that many ethnic groups (as we would now classify them) were considered separate races, and that racial characteristics were believed to include all sorts of mental and moral traits. Southerners believed themselves innately superior not only to the black race but to the mongrelized, barbarian hordes of the North. Oddly, the South’s admiration for Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE resulted in emulation of, not the Saxons, the heroes of the novel, but the Normans, the story’s villains. As for “all men are created equal,” that was a dangerous notion Jefferson had picked up from those radical Frenchmen.
My first reaction to this historical phenomenon was astonishment: I’ve always known my Virginia ancestors embraced beliefs that only white supremacist fringe groups would admit to nowadays. But I’d never suspected my forebears were actually NUTS. :) Further thoughts: NORMANS AND SAXONS helped me understand GONE WITH THE WIND on a new level, as well as the classic silent film BIRTH OF A NATION. (Catch it on Turner Classic Movies sometime and reflect on the boggling fact that many people literally viewed the KKK as noble knights defending their homeland and the purity of their ladies.) Most intriguing to me is the concept of polygenism, the theory that the various races of humanity had originated separately and had always been essentially different subspecies or even different species. This idea dominated anthropology in the middle of the nineteenth century, directly opposed to the previously accepted belief in monogenism, that all human races sprang from one origin, with racial differences caused by environment. Since the Bible portrays humanity as being descended from a single pair of ancestors, polygenism was the avant-garde, iconoclastic, progressive scientific theory of the day.
Now, I can understand how someone could credibly argue this hypothesis with reference to groups that look very different. An extraterrestrial anthropologist might at first glance, prior to DNA testing, mistake Scandinavians and Australian aborigines for different species. But Normans and Saxons, for heaven’s sake? The idea reminds me of the STAR TREK episode about the two implacable enemies trapped in a hereditary racial war because one is black on the left side and the other is black on the right side. The theory of polygenism sparks lots of potential SF premises, though. Suppose Neanderthals survived hidden among us. (Philip Jose Farmer wrote a short story on that topic.) What about the “hobbit” people whose remains were discovered on a Pacific island, apparently a previously unknown human group in which normal adults were no bigger than small children? If Yeti or Sasquatch exist, they might be another intelligent humanoid species. Some modern anthropologists, although in the minority, champion the multiregional hypothesis of human evolution. In this system, Homo sapiens developed independently in various locations after our pre-human ancestors migrated from their African point of origin. The currently dominant theory, on the other hand, holds that all surviving human groups descended from a single population in Africa. Wikipedia has a short article on “Polygenism” and a fairly comprehensive one on “Multiregional origin of modern humans.”
I wrote a paper exploring the version of polygenism represented by the lycanthropic, vampiric “witch folk” of Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK. You can find it archived here in issue 4 of the JOURNAL OF DRACULA STUDIES:
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I learned to spot POV in narrative when I was in High School and read in a Writer's Digest that the POV in a story is what you would see through a camera set on the shoulder of the POV character. The POV character might not be the main character, the hero, or the character whose story is being told. The POV character can be a "Watson" -- a chronicle writer, a journalist traveling with, a Bard dogging the footsteps of King-to-be Arthur.
But knowing the definition of P.O.V., seeing it done by others in narrative, is not the same thing as writing it yourself.
I struggled with POV as a beginning writer and still focus on it as a professional SF/F reviewer for an on-paper magazine.
Choosing the wrong POV for a story, or shifting POV during a story can kill reader (and reviewer) interest.
I've been teaching writing craft since I was writing my Kraith Series of Star Trek fanfic, a series which had 50 creators working their own notions in my sub-universe under my editing.
Kraith is now available online FREE
with other classic trek zines. (and we're open to posting more classics). Kraith won the Memory Alpha Award.
I went on to launch my professional SF novels, the Sime~Gen novels, then several other SF universes (one of which, DUSHAU, won the first Romantic Times Award for SF (so long ago the award isn't posted on their website!)) and now may be revived as webisodes in full color images.
Some writers who have studied the POV issue closely may have missed one key (very invisible) element in a good POV shift that I had to discover for myself.
The issue is not whether you shift POV or not.
The issue is when and why and how you shift POV.
Shifting POV is an art, but also a craft. And it is very difficult to pull it off correctly, or even to define what "correctly" is.
As you read this, please remember Art always trumps Craft in POV shifting. But without Craft there can be no artistic statement. Art requires discipline, and it is the discipline that makes the Art shine forth.
So there are a few craft rules, which if violated ruin both the fine-art aspect of the narrative and the commercial art aspect.
So when you violate a craft rule, (note, I said when not if -- as with all writing, POV rules are there to be violated) as an artist, you must telegraph that you know the rule, that you know why it became a rule, what your readership gets out of your obeying that rule, and that this violation intensifies or delineates an artistic point, and that it will be worth it to the reader by the final line of the story. (i.e. suspense).
For the most part, it is best to use such rule-violation technique with an audience you have established and wooed into trusting you. Your violation of the rule should come as a shock and a frisson of alertness to your reader. "She never writes like THIS! What's going on here?"
And it should come across as your promise to your jaded readers that you know what they generally get out of your stories, and that you will deliver that charge despite the rule violation -- or because of it.
Now, how in the world can a writer accomplish all that with a rule violation? And how can a writer know they have accomplished it, not just lost their base readership?
The answer lies in craftsmanship. Seasoned craftsmanship.
The reason single POV is absolutely, beyond question, the best choice for a beginning writer is that it takes years and millions of words to learn to manage a single POV.
You can't (really can't) manage the discipline for two POVs simultaneously if you can't manage just one by itself. It's a strength, like the strength of a muscle.
You can't lift 100 pounds if you've never lifted 50, or if you managed it only once then dropped the weight.
The reason many novels get published professionally where the POV shifts are not done correctly (blending Art and Craft smoothly = correctly) is that many editors don't have the education to know what they're buying -- and today, a lot of novels are bought by committee, not individual editors. The editor you submit to may be the only one who reads the whole book, then describes it to the committee -- who wouldn't know a POV shift if you put it before them.
Readers, however, still respond subconsciously to the Art and the Craft of the POV shift the same way they always have -- with some added sophistication because of the influence of TV shows.
A badly crafted POV shift will flip a reader right out of the story. They'll put it aside and not come back. Ask them why, and they say "Well, it got boring." or "I lost interest." or "I forgot what the story was about."
Readers don't know where their emotional responses to the character and story are coming from. And it's better for the writer if they don't. Better yet if the editor doesn't know where his/her emotional responses are coming from.
Writers must know -- at least subconsciously -- where their emotional power comes from in the story. It's structure. It's all structure.
A good novel, or movie, can be graphed for emotional pitch and volume. The name of the composition (novel, short story, movie, TV episode) tells you exactly where the peaks and valleys of emotional pitch and volume must fall throughout the work -- by percentage of the way through, by page number. Exactly.
Any writer can produce a work which has originally placed peaks and valleys of emotional pitch dictated by their personal sense of art -- but that work won't be a "novel" or a "feature film" or a "short story." Thus, it won't be "marketable" by the current marketing mechanism.
The name of the kind of work it is dictates the placement of peaks and valleys of emotional pitch -- and thus by derivation, of where the POV shifts may be, and how they can be structured.
Violate any of those unwritten (and un-taught in classes) rules, and your work will not become a marketing success even if you can get it mass market published.
Robert A. Heinlein, quoting an old adage of stagecraft wrote the motto of our WorldCrafters online school of professional writing (at http://www.simegen.com ) -- "Sounding spontaneous is a matter of careful preparation." And from Alma Hill, "Writing is a Performing Art."
And that's the secret behind POV shifting and not losing your readers attention. CAREFUL PREPARATION. It's all stagecraft, a performing art.
The seeds of the shift are planted 10's of pages before the event -- the upcoming shift is telegraphed clearly, but not blatantly.
1) Use single POV unless forced out of it by the THEME, the underlying art.
2) When you introduce a second POV, (or go to Omniscient Narrator) you blow your suspense line to smithereens, and totally change the reader's mood and engagement with the material. If that's the artistic effect you need -- to break the reader's concentration and building emotional involvement -- then you must shift POV because nothing is as effective at loosening a reader's hold on the material than a POV shift. But you must be "strong" enough, disciplined enough, in enough control of the material to redirect the reader's attention smoothly right at a peak of emotional tension where you have precisely foreshadowed what will happen next.
3) In preparation for a POV shift, plant the questions answered from the other POV, and make the reader pant to learn this information. Take two or three chapters if necessary to foreshadow the new POV. Plant the thematic and most especially the visual clues, the symbolism that works on the unconscious, way before the new POV.
CRAFT POV RULES:
1) Never shift POV because you don't know any other way to show the reader some information. Instead, learn the information feed techniques.
2) Never shift POV by accident.
3) Always know exactly what the entire story looks like from ALL the characters' POV's and what they're thinking, feeling, planning, hoping, dreaming.
4) Never shift POV to let the reader know what another character is thinking.
5) Craft the POV transition with the same care you use crafting a time-shift ("Let's go get pizza!" *** The pizzeria was hot and steamy.) or a flashback shift back and forward (another really complex set of operations).
6) At the outlining stage of your story, when you cast your vision of the beginning, middle and end plus the theme and conflict of the story, DIVIDE (or as they say in Mathematics, "factor") those monolithic elements into philosophical fragments that ADD UP TO the story you're telling, and assign each factor to a POV. (that's how Gene Roddenberry created the original Star Trek ensemble cast, factoring the underlying theme. Or so he told us.)
7) Never shift POV in a story under 30,000 words or so, preferably only in a story that's at least 50,000 words. It's too jarring to the reader and there isn't enough space to smooth the transitions. That's why romance novels tend to be longer than action novels.
That all sounds very cold, calculating and distant, maybe more work than fun, and fanfic writers write for FUN above all.
So not all writers do all these operations at the same stage of production.
Craft Step 6 above may be done on the 4th or 5th rewrite. For an example of me doing that, see my first Award Winner, Unto Zeor, Forever. It is in Hardcover & paperback. An early draft of it called SIME SURGEON is posted online for free reading, so students can see how that sort of rewriting process works, step by step.
http://www.simegen.com/sgfandom/rimonslibrary/surgeon/SURGEON1.html Compare with the published, award winning novel, and see how the POV is tightened and the theme sharpened.
So, the trick to POV shifts that don't leave the reader bored is the same as the trick that lets a writer include information in a flashback. As you move over the transition point between time or character, you must KEEP THE PLOT MOVING FORWARD.
That forward motion is accomplished by the foreshadowing and planting of thematic questions and symbolism long, LONG before the first POV shift -- by ensuring that the reader is anticipating what will happen to the character you're leaving as soon as you return to that character's POV -- and by ensuring that the reader is ready to leap into the new POV and the whole new STORY that comes with it, trusting you to take care of the character they already learned to love.
The more information you allow your reader to have, the harder you have to work planting the questions that produce suspense that will ultimate break explosively at the climactic moment where the conflict is resolved.
When you have two POV's, you have to craft the story's ultimate climax so that both POV-stories resolve in the same incident.
Marion Zimmer Bradley worked for over 20 years struggling to craft that moment for CATCHTRAP. One of the peak highs of my life was when I provided the comment that gave her the key to creating that moment. Publication of Catchtrap opened the door to publication of Mists of Avalon which became a TV Miniseries and a long series of long best selling novels. Crafting that final moment where two stories climax in one event is the secret of that kind of success. It's worth 20 years of hard work.
In a Romance it is customary to use 2 points of view, the two people who are falling for each other.
The first chapter opens in the POV of the person whose story the envelope plot is telling.
The second chapter opens in the POV of the secondary character who is the complication to the main plot. Or who might be a main plot of his/her own.
The questions that generate suspense in a Romance arise from the very POV shift itself, each understanding the other's behavior to be generated by different motives than the reader sees.
By introducing POV's in that order in that way, you telegraph to the reader that these two people are in conflict over a Romantic spark or involvement or misunderstanding. You also telegraph that you know what you're doing, that you understand the form of the Romance novel, that you will deliver what the reader wants.
Another way to work POV is to use Arthur Conan Doyle's motif of the objective narrator who watches events unfold, and is usually only peripherally involved.
I loved it on Sanctuary (the Sci-Fi Channel TV show) where they had Watson and Jack The Ripper faced off against each other in modern times. And Watson was the one who had actually been The Detective, not Holmes.
Writing a multi-POV story requires writing several single POV stories simultaneously, thus the rule 7 above, that it takes more space to construct a story with POV shifts. The single story has to be factored into 2 stories, each with plot, theme, and conflict, all derived from a single unifying theme .
For all those stories to be in the same volume, with events interwoven, the single stories must share a single thematic set. (Otherwise the reader gets confused, disinterested, or remains unsatisfied by the ending.)
I've discussed thematic structure in:
That post has a discussion of the lengths of novels by theme structure and how to achieve that.
A discussion of the Art of theme construction is at:
Our current plan at WorldCrafters Guild is to post PDF files edited from these long blog posts to put related subjects together for easier study. You will be able to download those volumes in PDF, and maybe HTML and .lit formats.
You can follow me on twitter as JLichtenberg -- or on LinkedIn or Facebook -- to get notice of when those books get posted.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
How different would history be --or would it?-- if kudos for some discovery or victory went to someone else?
It wasn't Gallileo but an Englishman, Herriott who first mapped the moon with the help of a telescope.
Suppose it was Admiral Lord De Saumarez who was responsible for the English fleet's great naval victories at Cadiz and on the Nile, rather than the high-profile maverick, Horatio Nelson?
What if the foresight and preparedness of Admiral Themistocles was more decisive in repelling Xerxes' invasion of Greece that were the delays and losses sustained at Thermopylae thanks to King Leonidas and his Spartans?
To pick up from Margaret's point, does it matter who built the railroad?
I suppose we've all been in situations where an upstart repeated someone else's idea but spoke more loudly, and got the credit for it. There was even a Fed-Ex advertisement on that theme!
Then, there's the tradition that it is usually the victor of any war who writes the history, prosecutes the perpetrators of war crimes, and makes the movies.
Does it matter in the long term?
How about the difference between historical injustice, and fiction?
Should a made-up character give one of the most famous political speeches in a nation's history, for instance?
Would this be acceptable if the made-up character was portrayed as the real historical character's double, standing in? Or a time traveler? Or a shape-shifting alien?
Suppose the alternate history's speech-giver was another real historical figure? (But not the person that history tells us gave the speech.)
Where does playing with history become offensive and irresponsible?
When should the facts get in the way of a good story?
Is it acceptable to "rip" alternative history from the headlines of one of the more colorful supermarket tabloids? (I assume that some of their news is made up!)
So many questions with which to wrestle!
By the way, Knight's Fork is a featured review at UpTheStairCase.org
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Alternate history scenarios inspire speculation as to whether history as we know it is so delicately balanced that the killing of a butterfly, as in the classic Ray Bradbury story, would tip events so far as to alter the long-term course of the world, or so resilient as to be self-correcting to the extent that any attempted change would result in merely reaching the same point by a different route. And then there’s the “great man” philosophy: Would the early death of Napoleon or Hitler have transformed the future of Europe, or does history conform more to the pattern Heinlein expressed as, “When it’s time to railroad, somebody will railroad”? Parallel universes come to mind, too; in Heinlein’s NUMBER OF THE BEAST, every possible sequence of events that could ever occur, including those laid out in works of fiction, HAS occurred in one of the unimaginably vast number of universes that exist. Any attempt to change history simply creates a new parallel timeline.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The phrase "collateral repair" has been used in other ways, but I want to propose a writer's jargon application of the term which dovetails with Blake Snyder's explanation of screenplay structure.
Collateral repairing would be some sort of healing, fixing, anti-damage side-effect that an action might have as an unexpected consequence or side-effect, not the goal of the action.
When you are focused on goal-directed behavior (like a hero in a story solving a problem), you move through the world on automatic pilot, doing everything else without thinking, by habit, by knee-jerk reflex.
That means that most of what you do when acting in a goal directed fashion reveals your essential character, who you really are rather than who you want the world to think you are.
Your actions reveal who you actually are because they aren't deliberate, well thought out, not intended to have specific long term consequences in your life or any one's.
Your actions in pursuit of a goal with long term consequences may head you into trouble, into a learning and growing experience, a "story." But your negligent, habitual actions show (without telling) what lessons of life you think you've already mastered.
Writers can use this widespread human trait in sketching a character in conjunction with the Window Character Linnea Sinclair told us about in her post at
where she reported on Writer's Boot Camp with Todd Stone.
The cleanest example of Collateral Repairs that I can think of is a scene in a Superman movie where Clark Kent is going to work at the Daily Planet, walks down the street amid a series of slapstick comedy mishaps and deals with them using his powers subtly while pretending to be the clueless clutzy reporter.
Now, true, in that scene, Clark knows he's helping people, and deliberately hiding his powers. He knows he's on Earth to help people. But his "goal" is to get to work, to remain in character as Clark. All his actions as he walks down the street are just aside from his progress toward his goal, and in some cases endanger achieving that goal. The people he helps are not part of the main plot.
So we see the Hero beneath the outward seeming. Clark Kent can't just waltz by humans, ignoring what's happening to them, and he can't just ignore the results of his own casual actions. My point is that Clark sees a problem that isn't his own and that isn't on his agenda today, and he reaches out to help. He doesn't ponder, deliberate, calculate, or negotiate a reward - he just DOES what comes naturally to him. And thus we get to know the real Clark Kent, maybe better than he knows himself.
Blake Snyder (http://www.blakesnyder.com ) calls the technique of characterizing by collateral repairs SAVE THE CAT! You can find links and explanations on Snyder's website.
The opening pages of a script set up the characters and the problem, the overall situation. Snyder calls that "laying pipe" -- laying the channel through which the reader will be drawn into the story.
The most essential element in sucking a reader into a story is the characters.
So Blake says the character you want sympathy for has to "save the cat" -- do an act which may be irrelevant (or even counter-productive) to the plot, but that displays the inner nature of the character. The particular trait displayed has to be relevant to the climax of the story and has some thematic link to the B story.
Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden character is a solid case in point.
I was sent a review copy of a RoC trade paperback which Amazon is promoting titled MEAN STREETS. It's an anthology of 4 novellas about currently famous action characters.
The lead story, "The Warrior" is by one of my favorite authors, Jim Butcher, and extends the story of his TV Series/ Novel private eye character Harry Dresden, Wizard.
In 2007, I reviewed Butcher's Dresden novels in my book review column, and did one column where I interviewed Butcher in person.
Butcher's Harry Dresden novels are long, complex, multi-threaded plots where Harry Dresden has three or more life-threatening cases or affairs in progress at once, and usually emerges beaten, bedraggled, bloody and alive. Harry doesn't exult over his vanquished enemies.
So it must have been a real writing challenge for Butcher to produce a novella sized Dresden story with one plot thread and one single point to make. After the discipline of working with the Harry Dresden TV series (on Sci Fi channel but now on DVD (I have the DVDs and have really enjoyed them)
Butcher probably had a better idea of how to write a complete Dresden story at novella length. "The Warrior" succeeds marvelously at this length and is very like a TV episode. I recommend you read that novella before reading my analysis. There are some spoilers in this discussion because the COLLATERAL REPAIRS part comes at the end of this Dresden story.
See my blog post on spoilers -- it is my stance that no really good story can be spoiled by knowing in advance what happens or what some other reader thought happened.
"The Warrior" is almost entirely and purely a characterization exercise. It's all about Dresden's sense of proportion and his personal values. No two readers will interpret it alike. And it's an instant classic that can't be spoiled. But if you like, page down to END SPOILER and continue reading.
The story opens as Dresden makes a mistake. He's been sent photos that seem to be a threat against Michael, the retired wielder of a Holy Sword. Currently, Dresden has custody of two of these Holy Swords, but not the authority to wield them. Dresden wants to protect his unarmed friend, Michael, and takes Michael's old sword to him, showing him the pictures someone sent him. A stalker is after Michael's family and friends.
Michael refuses the Sword.
Dresden moves through the city investigating who the stalker might be, trying to Private Eye the problem away, and as he does so, he does a few little things he barely notices doing -- he's just moving through the city concentrating on the real threat, the stalker.
Michael's daughter is kidnapped by the stalker and the ransom is both Swords.
Now these Swords are an Honor, a Holy Calling, each belonging to an Archangel (the real kind) and a fabulous amount of magical power is inside each Sword. They are unique. They are special. And they have the power to protect the innocent, maybe save the world. They must not fall into the "wrong" hands. Dresden is their guardian. He takes that seriously.
Dresden doesn't even think about it for two seconds. He'll give the kidnapper the swords to get the girl back. He has no ego-investment in being in possession of both of these Swords, but he respects and believes in their power.
At the exchange, a fight breaks out. Dresden and Michael win, but Dresden has to remind Michael not to hit the kidnapper too hard.
The last scene is where the meaning of this story, and its commentary on Dresden's character, come clear. Dresden has once again conquered a serious enemy tackling the enemy head-on, though this time a mere mortal human being who isn't even a Wizard. He's sitting in the balcony of a cathedral waiting for Michael and others to finish patching up the kidnapper when the Archangel Gabriel appears sitting next to him.
Dresden barely blinks at that. He lives in a world where such beings are natural. The Archangel Gabriel talks idiomatic English and points out to Dresden that even though he does not wield one of the Swords, he is nevertheless a Warrior fighting successfully for the Light. Then Gabriel enumerates the results of Dresden's easy, unthinking peripheral actions along the way through the story.
What Dresden thought he was doing, what he thought the problem was (stalker; kidnapper after the Swords) was not the most important thing Dresden did that day. The side-effects, the collateral repairs in the world that Dresden made by his apparently trivial knee-jerk responses to situations actually did far more to bring goodness into the world than his titanic conflicts with the magical Forces of Evil.
Dresden, no matter how he thinks of himself, is The Warrior.
And you and I learn a lesson from Dresden. Everything we do, but most especially the things we do without thinking about them, -- the negligent, the peripheral, the habitual, -- all those little deeds are the ones that count in Collateral Repair of the world.
I read "The Warrior" after I found a message on the EPIC List from Morgan Mandel who had posted a blog about 8 reasons to comment on blogs. And in Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! and Harry Dresden's Sword problem, I found a reason Morgan doesn't have on her list (though her list seems to be growing).
Her reasons to post comments on blogs pivot around the benefits that might accrue to the commenter.
Commenting on blogs for such reasons as she mentions would be the kind of "Goal Directed Behavior" you'd find in a Hero undergoing a story where he/she was about to learn something the hard way.
But commenting on blogs is usually (at least for me) a peripheral activity, a by-the-way done as a reflexive response on a subject I know something about -- sort of like Clark Kent blundering down the street or Harry Dresden acting from his heart, just because he can. And I think it's that way for a lot of people (political diatribes excepted).
Blogs are not central to most people's life goals, yet we who read blogs get something out of it, something intangible but worth the time. When a certain sort of person reads a blog entry and gets something out of it that's worth the reading time, he/she will drop a comment on that blog just to thank the blogger. Or a comment on a comment.
After reading Angel Gabriel's explanation to Dresden, I suspect that commenting on a blog comes into the category of being The Warrior.
Maybe only one person other than the blogger will read the comment, but the effect that comment might have on that one person could be enormously out of proportion to the effort it takes to write the comment. Your comment might save or redirect a life.
Often the comment becomes longer because in thinking how to say thank you, the commenter will put some effort into verbalizing a response that shows they read the blog entry and understood it. As a result, the commenter also gains a deeper understanding of himself and the issue -- as well as providing a "Scotty, you earned your pay for the month!" to the blogger.
I do think the main reason to comment on blogs (or to blog) is that somebody you've never met might read your comment, benefit from it without even knowing who you are. Thus you have a chance to repair the world in the most powerful way.
Monday, January 12, 2009
“If we can’t do the impossible, then we need to at least be able to do the unexpected.” —Admiral Philip Guthrie
Sunday, January 11, 2009
They are (or were) all thrill seekers, high level risk takers, extreme sportsmen, and no doubt were considered a menace to society by one or two of their more sedate contemporaries.
Margaret's Thursday blog changed my mind about what I'd say in my first blog of 2009. I've been in the UK for a month, exposing myself to BBC TV and also to "DAVE", and one of the very fascinating documentaries I saw was by a TOP GEAR frontman (who is a bit of a daredevil badass himself).
It was about fear and fearlessness. It was also about human evolution.
Some people don't feel fear the way most of us do. Some feel it more. Some a lot less.
Now, I wouldn't want to go on one of those extreme Disneyworld rides. I'm like the Top Gear guy's mother, who patently didn't enjoy some monster ride. It took a trip down a bobsled ride (where his head could have been ripped off by an unforgiving wall of ice at any moment) to scare the Top Gear guy.
Apparently, people who choose to do dangerous things for fun or for profit are genetically a bit different. It takes a lot to excite them. They aren't happy with normal, sociable thrills. They are the sort who will pick fights to make life a little more interesting.
I'm not sure they are covered in the Beatitudes. There's no "blessed are the troublemakers and the mavericks..." as far as I recall.
In peacetime, they are a bit of a nuisance. They tend not to be team players. They go off on dangerous adventures, get themselves into trouble and have to be rescued by the Coastguard.
However, their continued --persistent-- existence, and their inability to be like the rest of us, is a hint that mankind has not lost its capacity to evolve. The gene that brought "us" out of the sea, out of the trees, out of caves, out of Africa, across frozen land bridges and across vast oceans on papyrus rafts (if Thor Heyerdahl was correct) and on open longships and on galleons, and into space is still with us.
We will evolve in space. A visit to the Johnson Space Center tells us that. Our heads will get bigger, and the rest of our bones will lose mass. We'll suffer kidney stones until we adapt. Perhaps we'll evolve bigger plumbing. Something happens to spines, too, but I cannot recall if they elongate... I rather think they do, because I remember thinking that tricky surgery to correct stenosis of the spine could be done in a space station.
Which brings me to the great mystery of Romance literature: why we love "bad boy" heroes.
Possibly, we like to dream of the vampires, the werewolves, the mutants and cyborgs, the pirates, the rakes, the highwaymen, the bikers, the hit men, secret agents and licensed killers because something deep within us ( us ladies) is ready to be turned on by dangerous guys like this when our world changes, and breeding selectively with them becomes necessary for the survival of the species.
And now for something completely irrelevant....
While I was away, I was thrilled to discover that Knight's Fork won the amazonclicks.com Authors' Choice Book of the Month award. Thank you to all the authors who voted for Knight's Fork. Thanks also to all the readers who voted. I understand that for a while, it looked like Knight's Fork might take both awards!
Thursday, January 08, 2009
This article undercuts the assumption that Homo sapiens has reached a stable plateau in evolution. It mentions changes that have occurred in the time since modern human beings arrived on the scene (a mere instant in terms of geological eons)—for instance, the development of racial differences; varying disease resistance among ethnic groups; the capacity for some population groups to digest milk after childhood. (It’s easy for Americans of European descent to forget that “lactose intolerance” is the norm, not the exception.)
Will a new human species ever arise? The article points out that speciation depends mainly on isolation of some kind. Separated groups tend to drift apart genetically, so that if they eventually reunite, they find they have become too dissimilar to interbreed. Globalization has made us members of a single worldwide breeding population. Special circumstances might produce the isolation necessary to spawn new types of humanity, though, such as colonies on distant worlds unable to communicate easily with Earth or a global disaster that breaks up the survivors into small, widely separated groups.
And then there’s genetic engineering. If biological science develops the ability to design preferred traits into human embryos, parents with access to this technology will inevitably use it. A division might arise between the classes who can afford custom-designed offspring and those who can’t. Would the differences become wide enough to engender separate species, though? The article also poses the possibility of symbiosis with machines, leading to the development of a new kind of human race sufficiently different from us to be thought of as a distinct species.
I’m more intrigued by genetic engineering, however, which of course reminds me of the Sime-Gen universe. Although we’re never told how the change occurred, it seems likely that artificial tampering with genes was involved. The development over a mere thousand or so years of a whole new energy-producing system, not to mention visible features such as tentacles, is radically more extreme than developing immunity to a particular disease; it seems to require artificial intervention. Remember the short-lived TV series PREY? It had an exciting premise of a new human species living secretly among us. In execution I found it disappointing. For one thing, the new species didn’t literally prey on us in any way (wouldn’t it have been cool if they’d been energy vampires?), and their hostility toward us didn’t have any rational motive that I recall. I don’t think closely related species of birds or mammals kill each other on sight; unless they’re competing directly for the same resources, they’re more likely to ignore each other. More important, the cause of the new species’ evolution was ridiculously attributed to global warming since the late nineteenth century. That’s far too short a time for a separate species to evolve, and the planet has experienced much greater temperature variations since the advent of Homo sapiens, with no species differentiation as a result. Now, wouldn’t a TV series based on the Sime-Gen books be not only more logical but more fruitful of intriguing plotlines? Well, we can dream.
Margaret L. Carter (www.margaretlcarter.com)
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
All of Earth's cultures have noticed we have a "year" -- a solar year, or cycle, and picked a point of the circle for a "beginning" of the year -- and made that a celebration of some sort. Fiction worldbuilders writing for an Earth audience have to take this kind of celebration into account when creating alien cultures - and romances across that cultural gap.
Also this year the standards authorities have brought to our attention that the Earth's rotation is slowing, and this year the master timekeeping standard atomic clock was adjusted another second.
We've only been able to measure accurately for a little while, so presumably the slowing has been going on since Earth began rotating.
Still, the Day is part of the Year cycle. The slowing, the lengthening of the Day and year, indicates a kind of non-permanence about our situation on Earth and around this star. Time is elastic. What changes can begin -- and end. The slowing of the Earth's rotation puts a whole 'nother spin on things.
In the Torah, the Creator of the Universe assigns the proclamation of the New Moon, and the New Year to the human venue. We are responsible for choosing the marking and celebrating of TIME itself -- and as Margaret pointed out, all our cultures create and innovate on how to do this. But NONE of these cultures have chosen "wrong" -- they're all "right" -- all at least OK. Because it's the human prerogative to divide and mark the cycles of Time.
From the human perspective, we all know "time" is "relative." The 20 minute wait in the dentist's office is much longer than the 20 minutes spent watching your favorite movie, or bedding your lover.
If Time were to be absolutely regular and objective, the Creator could have just assigned the cycles and markers to suit Himself. But now, only NOW, we discover that Earth's spin is not precisely repeating. No two years are alike. And it's up to us to call the end and beginning of cycles.
More than that, we now understand how our Sun fits into a spinning Galaxy that's moving through space.
In truth, no two successive years (days or months or any other cycle) are THE SAME. There actually is no "repetition" -- yet we are given the responsibility to mark the anniversaries of a death of a close relative, and other Events that are featured in our personal and collective History. All our cultures and religions have a year's calendar of Holidays commemorating such Events.
Yet the Earth is never -- ever -- in the same place twice. Even in the billions of years it takes a Galaxy to rotate completely, the Galaxy has moved through space and the suns do not come back to the same "place" in space-time.
I used the galaxy's rotation and move through space in setting up the backstory of two novels (now available on fictionwise.com as e-books as well as used on Amazon) - Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends.
Each moment of life is unique. Imagine that.
Margaret brought up one of my favorite novels by Robert A. Heinlein, Time For The Stars, where twins are used to communicate telepathically from Earth to FTL ships.
That reminded me suddenly of a wonderful little book -- HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE by Paul Davies, from Penguin Books paperback 2001 -- reprinted through 2003.
I don't know if this book is still available. It might be woefully out of date with respect to the newest discoveries in astrophysics. But that wouldn't matter to worldbuilders writing fiction.
HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE is popular physics which explains clearly in layman's terms how it is that there can never be any such thing as simultaneity at interstellar distances.
Gravity distorts space-time in such a way that the galactic civilizations we write about really can't exist or function as we describe them -- as analogues of Earth at the time of sailing ships.
My mind is still absolutely dizzy about this concept. Even Robert E. Forward (an astrophysicist) in order to write a good novel had to kind of cheat his way around this concept.
And then a couple years ago I took a course which I've mentioned many times in blogs and my review column ( http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/2007/ ) and which led to a series of 6 review columns which I called the Soul Time Hypothesis. Those 6 review columns presenting this concept of the relationship between the Soul and Time became the basis of a course I gave in the Spring of 2008.
The mind-boggler is that the soul enters manifest reality through the dimension of Time.
Physicists obsess on measuring Time because it's a factor in almost all the key equations that describe the physical universe. So possibly they'll keep on studying and finally discover that the non-simultaneity concept has to be changed to something more amenable to SF writing. After all, physics said FTL travel is impossible, but we write about it. And physics said matter-transmission is impossible, but it's been done in the Lab (albeit on sub-microscopic particles). So maybe there's hope for writers.
Maybe, by writing such imaginings, getting others to imagine the universe CAN have simultaneous effects on events across galaxies. Maybe we can actually change the way the universe works? If Time is so plastic -- maybe other things are likewise responsive to human imagination? That was the theory behind Marion Zimmer Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON - a wonderful novel of Arthurian Legend's women.
Or alternatively, the power of the human imagination to change the functioning of the physical universe could become the reason that galactic aliens want to destroy Earth and all humans? What a threat - our novels alter THEIR reality! What a Helen of Troy lovestory!
Actually, I approached that idea sidewise in my novel DREAMSPY. But I fudged the physics with a little magic. Anyone know another novel that plays with that concept?
I don't really know how to "worldbuild" myself a universe strictly based on the non-simultaneity concept that includes the Soul-Time Hypothesis and that would work for a novel's background. Yet more than likely a blending of those two ideas would depict our objective reality (if there is such a thing) much better than any novelist has yet managed.
Well, then maybe the key for writers is to create some Aliens who do understand the universe in that blended way - non-Simultaneity plus Soul-Time, and just proceed from there?
Oh, wait -- actually, I think Edward E. ("Doc") Smith did that with the Lensman Series and his Arisians vs. Boskone war that stretched over millenia. I read all those books when I was in grammar school and High School, and they made a deep impression on me. They're still available in a recent reprint.
I haven't seen anything even remotely similar lately. If you have, please drop a note about them on the comments here. But don't forget that the Lensman Series had the first really HOT romance in the space-travel SF field. I've always wished I had auburn hair.
Monday, January 05, 2009
One of those phrases, for me, is Window Character.
Next weekend my local RWA chapter is hosting an all-day workshop with Todd Stone of Novelist’s Boot Camp fame. Stone’s workshop is great not only because he’s an ex-Airborne officer who teaches in a kilt. But because of his merger of military tactics and discipline with the often wiggly and elusive craft of writing.
Window Character is one of his terms, his concepts.
It’s not something I didn’t know about. Secondary or tertiary character is probably an equally as apt description. If you go by archetypes, this would be the “Friend,” the confidant. The character who can function as the sounding board for the main character.
Stone’s twist on this is not only to make the character the sounding board but to make the character a window to the past.
This nicely addresses the problem of info dumps and backstory. I’ll get to why in a moment.
Stone writes: “A window characters…provides multiple opportunities to give the reader glimpses into your protagonist’s true nature.” The key thing is that your window character knew your main character BEFORE the story began. And knew him very well. (And yes, the antagonist can also have a window character.)
Stone says: The window character is a subordinate who
1) Shares the protagonist’s experiences
2) Has a relationship based on friendship not romance
3) Has conflicting personality points with the main character
4) Has the same agenda or understands the main character’s agenda
5) Must let the main character have the foreground
Yes, the window character is a secondary character and we all feel we know all there is to know about secondary characters. But what makes the window character special or slightly different are the points above. Most succinctly, the window character has been on the main character’s journey for a while. Or knew her “when…” This is an almost guaranteed solution to the icky problem of backstory.
Backstory are all those things that happened to the main character BEFORE the novel actually starts. Backstory likely shaped the main character into who he is at the story’s start and very often provides the motivation and explanation for his actions. But backstory is boring, it’s mostly unnecessary and if amateur writers have one consistent failing, it’s the flailing around in backstory in the book.
“Fiction is forward moving,” says writing guru Jack Bickham.
“People pay more money for prize fights than reminiscences,” advises writing guru Dwight Swain.
Those are two reasons why backstory is so deadly and why a window character is the perfect solution. The writer doesn’t need several paragraphs explaining the disastrous ending of the protagonist’s previous marriage, which is backstory. The writer needs a window character to see, hear and feel the experience as the main character and the window character interact with each other (with reader as voyeur):
(from The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam Dell 2007)
“How are your holidays so far, Theo?” Liza was still squatting next to
“Fine,” he lied. “Yours?”
“Kids are up to their eyes in toys they don’t need, as usual. And they can’t even get to the ones under the tree until Christmas.” She nudged him with her elbow and grinned. “My husband’s cousin Bonnie is in town. She’s a couple years younger than you, thirty-four or thirty-five, single. Real cute. Like you.” She winked. “You’re clocking out for vacation, right?”
He nodded reluctantly. He’d wondered why she asked about his schedule when he ran into her at the courthouse yesterday. Now he had a feeling he knew.
“Why don’t you come by the house tomorrow night, say hi to Mark and the kids, meet Bonnie?”
He rose. She stood with him. Liza Walters was, as his aunt Tootie liked to say, good people. But ever since he’d divorced Camille last year, Liza had joined the ranks of friends and coworkers trying to make sure Theo Petrakos didn’t spend his nights alone.
“Thanks. I mean that. But I’ve got some things to do.”
“How about next week, then?
I’m sure you’ll like her. You could come with us to the New Year’s concert and fireworks at Pass Pointe Beach.” She raised her chin toward Zeke. “You too, Zeke. Unless Suzanne has other plans?”
“New Year’s Eve is always at her sister’s house.” Zeke splayed his hands outward in a gesture of helplessness. “Suzy doesn’t give me a choice.”
Liza briefly laid her hand on Theo’s arm. “Think about it. You need to have some fun. Forget about the bitch.”
He smiled grimly. Forgetting about the bitch wasn’t the problem. Trusting another woman was. “I’ll let you know, but I’m probably scheduled on call out.”
“That Bonnie sounds real nice,” Zeke intoned innocently as Liza went back to photographing a splintered bookcase. “Thirty-five’s not too young for you. I mean, you’re not even fifty.”
Theo shot a narrow-eyed glance at the shorter man. “Forty-three. And don’t you start on me too.”
Zeke grinned affably. “So what are your plans for tomorrow night, old man?”
“I’m restringing my guitar.”
Theo only glared at him.
Zeke shook his head. “Still singing The Down Home Divorced Guy Blues? Man, you gotta change your tune.”
“I like my life just the way it is.”
“When’s the last time you got laid?”
“If you focus that fine investigative mind of yours on our dead friend’s problems, not mine, we just might get out of here by midnight.”
“That long ago, eh?”
“I’m going to go see what I can find in the bedroom,” he said, ignoring Zeke’s leering grin at his choice of destination. “You take the kitchen.”
Zeke’s good-natured snort of laughter sounded behind him as he left.
Both Liza and Zeke function as window characters in my CSI:Miami meets Men In Black science fiction romance novel. Theo—the main character—is a homicide detective. Zeke is his long-time partner. Liza is a forensics technician. Rather than penning…
Theo Petrakos is a forty-three year old detective who went through a divorce that has left him emotionally scarred and leery of relationships…
I let you in to Theo’s life and let his friends—my window characters—show you what’s going on with him. Did I know I was creating a window character when I created Zeke? (Who, more than Liza, continues to function that way throughout the book.) Nope. I’m a pantser, pretty much an instinctual, organic writer. The character just felt right.
Now I know why.
The other important function of the window character is to act as a sounding board for the main character’s ideas…and to throw monkey wrenches into them. This is a wonderful source of conflict because it’s not from the expected source: the antagonist. It’s from the main character’s friend. Who not only makes the main character rethink his plans but makes him doubt himself as well.
In the above snippet from The Down Home Zombie Blues, Theo’s partner and best friend is punching holes in everything Theo wants to do, in the very things Theo believes are the only answers to the problem. It even escalates to the point where the two friends threaten to come to blows.
“And what do you think,” Theo asked quietly as his friend voiced the one downside he’d overlooked and now feared, “the news media will do to Jorie?”
Zeke’s mouth opened, then closed quickly.
“A freak show, Ezequiel. It’d be a fucking freak show.” Everyone would want a piece of Guardian Commander Jorie Mikkalah. The National Enquirer. The Jerry Springer show. And worse. Bile rose in Theo’s throat. How could he have been so stupid as not to realize what would happen? All this time he’d seen the Guardians’ reluctance to reveal their presence as a selfish act. And he’d ignored what Jorie told them the Guardians learned from experience: nil-tech worlds routinely acted illogically—sometimes even violently—when faced with someone from another galaxy.
“I’m not putting her through that.”
“The Feds will never let that happen. They’ll put her under lock and key.”
Another scenario he’d come up with and feared. “I’m not letting that happen, either.”
“Theophilus. I don’t think you have a choice.”
“Like hell I don’t.” Theo spun away from him and resumed pacing.
“What are you going to do, risk hundreds of people’s lives because you don’t want a bunch of scientists in some basement room of the Pentagon asking Jorie questions? I think she can handle that. She’s probably been trained to handle that.”
Theo could see the tight, pained expression on Jorie’s face as she told him about her captivity with the Tresh. He could feel her shivering against him. He could see her fingers trace the rough scar on her shoulder.
He could see her getting into a dark government sedan with darkened windows, knowing he’d never see her again.
His breath shuddered out. This was the only scenario he’d agree to. And that, too, had flaws. “I’ll give them the zombie, the weapons.” They had both Guardian and Tresh now. “I’m not giving them Jorie.”
“You can’t hide her in your spare room the rest of her life. She has no Social Security number, no ID. She can’t even get a job.” Zeke raised his arms in an exasperated motion. “Talk about illegal alien!”
“I’ll get her an ID. A whole identity.”
Zeke stared at him. “Be serious.”
“You know what that costs, a good fake identity?”
“I can take equity out of my house to pay for it.”
Zeke barked out a harsh laugh. “Brilliant, Einstein. Traceable funds. There goes your career.”
“I’m not going to write a fucking personal check.” Theo glared at him. “I’m not that stupid.”
“Then listen to yourself, damn it! You’re talking felony jail time. Your life down the shitter. You do know what they do to cops in the Graybar Hotel, don’t you?”
“You’re assuming I’d get caught.”
“No, she’d get caught, suddenly surfacing in all the databases.” Zeke ticked the items off on his fingers. “She’d have to get a job, buy a car, rent an apartment—”
“Not if she’s living with me, she won’t.”
“Living with—what’re you going to do, Theophilus? Marry her?”
Theo raised his chin and met Zeke’s question with a hard stare. This was one of the decisions he’d made driving through the bright Florida sunshine in the middle of Christmas Day with Jorie by his side. And a dead zombie behind them. “Yes.”
“You’re—Ay, Jesucristo.” Zeke dropped his head in his hands, then lifted his face slightly and peered up at Theo. “You got a thing for women with fake identities?”
The not-so-veiled reference to his disastrous marriage hit him like a sucker punch. Theo looked away, keeping his temper in check. But he couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice when he turned back. “I’m sorely tempted to kick the shit out of you for saying that.”
Zeke straightened slowly, eyes wide then narrowing. “You want to take it outside, Theo? We can take it outside.”
This isn’t the usual conflict from the opposition. It’s the more deadly conflict from within. It strips the safety net away from the main character. It leaves him totally alone—which is exactly where he needs to be in the last quarter of a fiction novel.
The window character—who knows the main character better than anyone—is the perfect person for the job of conflict. Their shared history—their backstory—becomes a workable ingredient in increasing the conflict rather than info slathered on, stopping the flow of action.
So here I am, seven books in with Bantam, and I’ve learned something. Yes, it was something I was already doing—I wrote Zombie long before I read Stone’s book. But now I know why I did it, I know why it works, I know what it can do and because I know all that, I can do it better in future books.
Writing is often an innate process but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to understand the craft of creation. Actually, because it’s so innate and often elusive, it’s vitally important we understand the craft of creation: why did that work? And more importantly, how can I do it again?
That is, if you want to sell your next book.
Thanks, General Stone. ::Linnea salutes::
RITA award winning Science Fiction Romance
Bantam 2007-2008: Games of Command, The Down Home Zombie Blues, Shades of Dark
2009: Hope's Folly