A Quick Break from Steampunk.

I’ve devoted a lot of time on this blog to my interest in alternate histories and steampunk. But I have other genres that interest me.  I even have pieces of written in those other genres. They are terrible,  and will likely never see the light of day,  but I have written them.

My major interests trend toward science fiction and fantasy,  which is a reason why steampunk appealed to me in the first place. Melding historical and fantastical, and a dash of science… Yes, please. My true magnum opus (if I can ever get the courage to do something more ambitious) is a space opera style story. I’ve got the characters,  the basic storyline,  and a few fun ideas. 

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Science fiction grants a writer the opportunity to literally create new world’s on the page for their readers –  alien world’s filled with creatures and dangers beyond our wildest imaginations. Then, flip the story,  make it personal,  relatable, allowing the reader to see that it doesn’t matter how my heads you have,  whether you are solid or vapor,  or what color your skin is, we all have hopes,  dreams,  fears,  and a will to survive. Plus,  I really love writing and reading about epic space battles.  I can’t help it,  I am basically a 12 year old in a 35 year old body.

In the interest of giving equal time to science fiction,  I thought about some of the things that I have done in my science fiction projects, and the rules I set for myself as a writer.

I try to make any technology in the story relatable to the reader. It’s purpose and use should be plausible,  given the level of technology in the story.  You shouldn’t have a race of primitive cave dwellers that have the ability to travel through space –  or perhaps you can –  as long as you can justify it within the confines of the story in a plausible way. Although, I don’t feel that it is always necessary to go into extreme levels of detail in the story as to the inner workings of a transmat device,  for example.  As in the real world, I imagine the majority of people would use such devices without knowing a great deal about the technology –  just a basic knowledge of how to operate it,  and what the desired outcome of using the device should be. Too much technical detail can bore the reader.

I try to stay consistent with the physics in your story. Is FTL travel a possibility?  Have other means of interstellar travel been invented?  Perhaps travelling through wormholes,  or the implementation of warp drives in your characters’ ships allows the travel between two distant stars. I have opted for the latter technologies in my project,  as I find travelling faster than the speed of light to be too much of a stretch of the imagination.

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With alien species,  I try to keep it diverse.  Sure,  there are lizard-like species in my story, grays, and even a small squirrel-like species,  adept at crawling through ductwork and repairing ships.  But all of those species are fairly humanoid; two arms,  two legs,  a head,  eyes, nose,  and mouth.  I have tried to add some newer elements.  I have a race of living electrical current., which has no physical form,  but can interact with the rest of the universe. I also have several silicon-based life forms I’m toying with. Since these are written works,  I don’t have to worry about special effects.  So the more out there,  the better.

In all seriousness,  I try to make them relatable. Fear of death unites us all. Working against a common enemy is another great uniter. However,  at the end of the day I try to do what all authors do: show the readers that despite our differences,  we have much in common.

Progress, at Last

Moving my story-specific posts here.

Age of Brass and Steam

Spring is here, the weather is nice…r, and inside the vast desert that is my mind, a tiny stream of creativity has just broken the surface. I have been dealing with a case of writer’s block of late, and only within the last couple of days have I been able to get some words on paper in one of my WIP.

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Outlining seems to be the key for me. Over the last week I have spent a massive amount of time working on Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map, from reading through what I’ve already written, outlining the story from the beginning, and now writing my way through the rest of the story. I’ve added about 3,000 words to the story,as well as trimmed some of the fat, so to speak. All told, I am now at almost 18,000 words, and I think I’m just about at the…

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Sunday Musings: Outlining, Productivity

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Planning or pulling it out of my...

Scenario: I am sitting at my desk at work,  and the system has crashed. I am contemplating all of the things I could be doing. There are still taxes to be done (I know,  I am awful.  But it’s hard to get anything done when you work two jobs). I could be putting my hours and expenses together for my other job, but I left that information at home. Or I could be sitting at home,  staring at my computer monitor –  or as I like to call it,  writing.

So I am sitting here with my small notebook,  scribbling down ideas for my WIP.  I am not much of an outline,  but I am resigning myself to the reality of my situation.  I am dangerously close to writing myself into a corner. So now I am carefully going through the entire plot and actually outlining and plotting!  And I am finding that I don’t totally hate it.

I have been an improviser when it comes to writing. Most of the time my best laid plans get thrown to the curb the second I start writing.  My characters have this nasty habit of taking on a life of their own.  I want Character A to keep watch while Character B breaks into the villain’s office to hack into his Computer. Character A decides she doesn’t want to miss out on the action,  so now no one is keeping with,  and both protagonists are investigating.

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I am no outlining master

However,  there are merits to a basic outline.  Which is where I am now. Not specific actions,  but ideas for goals for each scene, and of course,  the end goal for the entire story.  It is allowing my characters the freedom to do as they please,  as long as they follow the bread crumbs to the final outcome that I want to occur. Because sometimes you have to show your characters who is the boss. Who knows, maybe they’ll do what I want this time.

I’m also revisiting ways to remain productive and motivated.  I was researching some apps to help me set,  and keep writing goals. There seem to be a lot out there,  and I am at a bit of a loss as to which ones are any good. I have downloaded a couple,  but none of them have really been too helpful.  For the writers out there,  do you use any software for keeping track of your Writing goals (writing time, word count goals,  etc.)? Which ones do you recommend?

My final thought of the day is, thank God I brought my Kindle today.  At least I can catch up on my backlog of reading. Maybe I can finish something and write up a review. That should make the day a little more interesting.

World Building – Rules Part 2: Characters You Love to Hate, or Hate to Love?

I’m glancing back and forth between this post, and my WIP. It is the long, long, LONG in process sequel to Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates. Just when I think I’m making progress, something inevitably gets in my way, and I set my writing down for far too long. Pfft. No more. Well, at least until the next crisis comes up.

I am reacquainting myself with the world I have created. The rules of how the technology works seems to be firm in my mind. The introduction of some paranormal, or magical elements seems to be developing nicely (although I think some more research on traditional magical beliefs of the time may still be in order. I want there to be at least a minimum amount of believability to exist. So now, I am examining my characters. Are they likeable? Are they horrible, easily hated? Are they even interesting?

There are some benefits as well as some drawbacks to stepping away from a writing project for a little while. It always makes me see what I have written in a slightly different way. I can sit here and say, “I really like that line,” or (which is more often the case) “Good lord, what were you thinking, Jason?” I seem to be saying that to myself quite a bit with this story.

The first story in this series was short. about 8,000 words or so. This story will be a tad longer. So far I am at a little over 16,000 words. There was not a lot of time to develop characters too much. So everyone in the story became a sort of archetype. Mercier was the wise older mentor; Bertrand was the naive young protegé; Drayton was the evil pirate; and Dette turned out to be a little more ‘Mary Sue’ than I would have liked.

I have a difficult time with characters. I either make them too good, and there is never any question as to whether they will succeed, or I make them too unlikable, so you actively want them to meet their maker. But, with the length of Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates, that didn’t seem like too big of a problem. The shorter the story is, it seems to make more sense to distill the characters into certain archetypal roles.

When I came up with the idea for Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map, I knew that it would be a longer story. Knowing this, I set out to flesh out the characters that I had written about in the first story, and to expand the cast, at least a little bit, so that there would be more going on in the story.

My rules for my characters in longer projects are simple, but help me stay away from creating characters that I cannot stand:

  1. No perfection is allowed – I bent that rule beyond recognition in the first story. Dette was a little too ‘good’ for my taste. So I am trying to rectify that within this story, without making her unrecognizable to those who might have read the first story.
  2. Make characters that are unlikable – Now, that doesn’t mean I want a story full of detestable jerks, but even the good guys should have unlikable qualities. Dette, for example, is developing a strong disregard for authority as I go in the new story. So, some of her less ‘ethical’ actions throughout make sense.
  3. Give everyone their moment to shine – I tried to do this in the first story. The third person story telling style gives an author opportunities to explore the world they have created. I do not stick with just one character. I enjoy telling different parts of my stories through different points of view. It feels less stagnant that way.
  4. Expand existing characters – This was both easy and insanely difficult to do. In the first story there were five characters that played a significant role in the story. Two died by the end. I knew immediately that there would be many new characters this time. There were a couple of background characters that get their chance to shine this time around. and one of them is definitely not the most likeable character in the story (See #2).
  5. Every character should serve some sort of purpose – As a reader, this one has always felt like a no-brainer. Why create a character, bring them to life for several pages, and then do nothing more with the character. I have read far too many stories recently where a character is introduced, described in detail, then wanders off the page, never to be seen again through the rest of the book.

So that is my list; the short version, at least. If I don’t follow these rules, then my characters end up being too obnoxious to write for. Aside for a few small factual changes, I think I have avoided creating truly obnoxious characters.

Writers – What are your rules for characters while you are working on your projects? Or do you let your characters develop themselves as you write? I’d love to hear about your processes