NANO’s here…

Well, dear reader… NANOWRIMO starts next Friday.

As usual, I’m putting aside other projects to push my way through a new manuscript. So… I’ll be giving the blogs a rest until December. I’ve got the manager stuff handled. I’ve made sure the other characters and stories on my plate are safely locked away until I finish. (Umm… Zeek, check that door again… Geez… Let’s rounded ‘em up, again… This time make sure they don’t have lock picks ok…)

This year I’m working on a mid-grade/YA story (Planning for mid-grade but could skew a little older) about Ruby, the younger sister of a character in my 2017 project. Hopefully, this one will be a little simpler to do and get into print faster (Not really the sister’s fault she and her fiancé ran into people who got a little Downton Abbey into my fantasy story…).

Since I’m running with some younger characters and heading for a younger audience, this time I’m aiming for 50-60 thousand words. Which is a step down from the 75-85 thousand word manuscripts of the last two years. But, I’m also hoping less unexpected themes and subplots pop out at me…

I’m confident in getting the NANO win (it’ll be the 5th running win…). And I’m hoping to learn a few things.

I’m also inviting you to join us in the fun and madness of NANOWRIMO (if you haven’t signed up already (in which case see you in the trenches)).

And, either way, I’ll see you next post (in December…).

“Pure science” the biggest lie in science fiction

On the one hand, there’s an upswing in reported health issues associated with vaping, and news reporters feigning shock.

On the other hand, my wife asked me to read and discuss a book: Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction by David Johnson.

Somewhere between the two I hit upon a realization: “pure science” is the greatest fiction in science fiction.

Just for clarity and understanding (you can argue in the comments if you want to…), I define science fiction as fiction that examines the effects of science and technology on people’s lives.

Enders Game is science fiction; it looks at the lives of people fighting a high-tech war against aliens, that doesn’t happen without the tech. It’s a significant factor in the story. The Empire Strikes Back isn’t science fiction; you could do the same thing with horses, boats and pre-gunpowder weapons and have the same story. (Face it… The AT-ATs are discount elephants…)

Wargames can’t happen without the computers. The Terminator (the original one) can, you could omit the ‘sci fi’ trappings and tell the same main story with a couple stoners from Newark.

Note: I still like The Empire Strikes Back and The Terminator… They just don’t depend on the science and tech the way the others do… (And, like I said… If I’m wrong, leave a constructive comment)

Within science fiction (the kind where science matters to the story) we occasionally find a huge flaw called “pure science”. Somewhere, someone (I blame Star Trek) came up with the idea that scientists will “do” science for the pure and sacred sake of science, without all those silly little human traits, factors, and motives. It’s a great Utopian idea. But, like the rest of Utopia is doesn’t exist.

How could “pure science” exist? In some ways it would be nice. We could have unbiased information to work from. But, science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There has to be some living being to “do” the science. And, since we don’t have super intelligent aliens to do it for us, that means humans are involved.

Coming from a psychology background and writing character driven fiction, in my world the characters have reasons for what they do. The “pure science” scientist is hiding from something. The scientist wanting to cure cancer “for the good of mankind” has seen a loved one die from cancer and never wants to see it again (so he/she sees it over and over while trying to cure cancer…)

Science takes time, effort, and money. People don’t invest any of those if there’s no return on investment. Companies (and companies pay for a lot of the research in real life…) don’t pay for science for science’ sake, they want something out of it.

People seek after scientific advances for a purpose.

If you argue they’re doing it for curiosity… I say, great but where’d they get the money and equipment?

If you say they’re doing it for a purpose (to win a war, cure a disease, rescue their beloved)… I’ll buy that.

If you suggest they’re doing it to see someone naked… Yeah… I’ve got to buy that one too (you’re reading this on the internet… click on enough links and you’ll find your way to porn whether you want to or not…)

The one argument I won’t buy is that scientist are conducting research and making discoveries for no benefit to themselves or someone they care about. The benefits may only be psychological/spiritual but the exist; that’s just basic human nature.

Humans and human desires are the driving forces behind human science and technology. Anyone claiming their science is ‘pure’ and untainted by human desires and motives is hiding his/her motives, or unaware of them (making her/him kind of clueless…). Understanding the human drives behind the science makes our science fiction better and more accurate (even if the underlying reasons never make it onto the finished page or into the final cut of our movie…)

It might be interesting to see ‘pure’ science, but I doubt I ever will. In reality the humans keep getting in the way.

Well, those are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think?

Think on it. Leave a comment if you’re so inclined. And, I’ll see you next post.

Things are not all right… And, that’s alright!

As I write, as I tell the story of characters dear to me, it is sometimes hard to put those characters in difficult situations. It’s hard to see our character’s struggle and make hard choices. But, we have to do it. The story won’t good, it won’t be compelling, if we don’t.

A writer who really loves a character, feels for him or her, might not want to see that character in a hard place. Readers that love a character might want to look away and not see that character a tough spot either. But, the thing is… that’s exactly what the reader comes to see, a great character overcoming hard challenges and making gut-wrenching decisions.

And, your reader doesn’t get to read that stuff unless you write that stuff.

In some ways being a writer is like being a parent. We know our characters will make bad decisions, make mistakes, and end up in places we don’t want them to go. We have to let them go there, and we have to be working on a plan to get them back out (if getting them out is the best choice…).

There’s an old maxim that you have to suffer to write. It’s true, you have to have lived, at least enough to imagine being in a rough place convincingly. And then, you have to ‘ride along’ with your hero or heroine as she/he goes through the pitfalls of the story you’re creating.

It’s hard. It really is. But, if you want compelling, if you want a story people will read, you have to gut it out and go there. It’s part of success and part of the job description.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Some of you might be asking “how do I do that?” It’s a worthy question. It’s also a question that depends on who you are and what you’re writing. If you want me to give my answer, or if you have suggestions of your own, leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.

Characters and space

Nope, we’re not actually going sci fi this week dear reader (maybe soon, but not this week). Actually, what I’m writing about has to do with your characters and the length of your story…

Between November’s NANOWRIMO adventure and now (where I’m engaging in editing and finishing Jamie’s Sacrifice) I’ve been thinking about the differences between long and short fiction. I’ve been thinking about how the length of story really does impact the things that you can, and should, do.

One area that really gets impacted is your characters. In longer fiction you have a lot more space to describe and develop characters. You have the opportunity to add more details (which might or might not be a good thing…). In shorter fiction you kind of need to get on with things and tell the story. You don’t have time to detail every detail of the heroine’s bedroom (unless that is the story…).

Need to know

Whether you’re doing a long or short story there is information about your character that the reader needs to know, and that’s the information to worry most about; both providing it and when to provide it.

In a long story you can take time to provide more information. And you can hide those key details that lead your reader to gasp “I should have seen that” among the other information you give them.  But you do need to play fair: give them the information and don’t just pump out filler.

In shorter fiction you may have to leave out those cool but extraneous details you’ve worked up. If you’re only doing a ten page story you don’t have the extra room to waste on the hero’s stamp collection, unless it’s actually relevant.

But what if I really want to give that detail (or, how do I control the information fire hose?)

Well… If you are going to do short stories and really want to use that bit of information which doesn’t quite fit into this story, why not write another story where the detail matters?

If you think about it the chapters of a long story are a sequence of short stories, just a sequence with one big plot running through it all. It is just as fair to do multiple short stories with a character that the reader can get to know over time. It worked for Conan the Barbarian and it can work for you.

While we’re at it, even in long fiction you might want to take some time in revealing information. Let your reader get to know the character through action and story not just “reading the character’s baseball card” somewhere on page three. In real life and real friendships our knowledge of our friends develops over time. You can do that in your fiction too.

Your secondary characters (and tertiary characters, and quaternary characters, and that guy over on the corner…)

Here’s another other big difference dear reader, in long fiction you have time to introduce more characters. But, you still need to think about how much information you’re giving. We really don’t need to know the life story of the ‘counter guy’ at the local fast food joint if he’s only going to be showing up in that one scene. Remember, your readers can only keep up with so many characters at one time. And having too much or too little information can impact your reader’s ability to keep track of who is who.

If you’re doing a short story stick to a couple of characters and write them well. In longer fiction you can add more, but remember it’s a story not a telephone directory! In any case you need to think about the descriptions and information you’re giving about your characters. We want to know who they are but we don’t need to be overwhelmed with extraneous drama.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’d tell you what we’re doing next week, but my characters haven’t told me yet…