Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Still two days left in the year, I know, but it seemed appropriate to do this now. I have better things planned for next week. And speaking of upcoming thrills, either the second or third week of January (still in the development stages, so I'm not sure), we will be dedicating a full week to the "Unheard Voices in Spec Fic", meaning, I'm doing interviews with three unpublished authors that I personally feel are excellent enough to make it big in the future. Fun stuff.
Okay, now for my 2009 picks. As you can see from the image above, I did select a "Best Read of the Year." First, I'll break it down by the three genres I focus on (these are books I read this year, not necessarily published this year, though they are all fairly new):
Best Sci-fi: Matter by Iain M. Banks (Orbit, 2008)
Best Fantasy: A Darkness Forged In Fire: Book One of the Iron Elves, by Chris Evans (Pocket, 2008)
Best Women's Fiction: The Last Will of Moira Leahy, by Therese Walsh (Shaye Areheart, 2009)
Of those three, I chose a "Best Read" and that is the third one listed, the one that coincides with the beautiful cover above. Before you jump all over me, I know I didn't set aside a special post for the review of this fantastic novel, but that's because I just wrote the review yesterday, and the timing coincided too close to my top picks for the year, so I just put it all together. To read my review, visit The Book Book.
Next is movies. (Okay, I had to edit this part because I forgot that my favorite movie came out in January '09 and not December '08, as I'd originally thought.) Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Yes, it was better than Avatar. For specifics on why, read this post, then read this one (but only if you've seen both movies). It all boils down to characterization and dialogue.
And finally, music. The best new album release (no surprise here for those of you who have come to know and love me) is Breaking Benjamin's Dear Agony. Here are links to three of my faves from that album. Although it really is difficult to choose only three. I honestly love every song.
Give Me a Sign
What Lies Beneath
Oops, I said three, didn't I? Oh well. You got a bonus.
I'm sure Joe will have an entire differently selection of bests in all these categories. Perhaps that will be a future post, or maybe you'll see it in the comments. *shrugs*
What were your top picks for the year? Please share.
Monday, December 28, 2009
A WORD OF WARNING: There are spoilers in this. Stop reading now if you are planning on seeing the movie and you think this will ruin it for you.
There is already much conflict and debate going on over this movie. I suppose that is to be expected when something gets over-hyped. But one thing everyone seems to agree on (because I don't think you can rightly argue this at all) is that the movie is visually stunning. Spectacular. Dare I say, mind-blowing? Yes, I think I will.
The concepts involved go hand-in-hand with the visuals. You can't have one without the other. So I agree that the sci-fi concepts in the movie are spectacular as well. Everything on this alien planet-moon, Pandora, is inter-connected biologically. Even the plant life. One of my favorite scenes in the movie was near the beginning, when Jake is following Neytiri through the forest at night, and everything they touch luminesces.
The most interesting part of this particular concept is the braid that each of the Na'vi are sporting is not there just to be pretty. At the end of it is a bundle of fibers. Through these, they can attach themselves to other life-forms (and also, later, a tree that supposedly holds the souls of everyone that ever lived, and ... yada yada yada, that part was stupid). Jake learns how to ride a horse-like creature first, then he must master the flying Banshee.
I could go on forever about the visual aspects and (the few) unique concepts that thrilled me, but I won't. That is better seen for yourself. Let me use this opportunity to make myself very clear: I RECOMMEND THIS MOVIE. I enjoyed it, for the most part, and I feel it is worth seeing for the above-mentioned reasons alone.
The movie is not without its humorous moments. For instance, when Jake is trying to smooth-talk the tribal leaders, he says he is from the Jarhead Clan (for those of you not familiar with military slang, Jarhead = Marine). If there were more comments like that sprinkled throughout, perhaps the downfalls wouldn't have seemed so bad.
And there are many, many, downfalls ... where shall I begin?
Structurally, this is a Milieu story. The main character visits a new world of some type and it changes him in some way. Because the movie stuck so strictly to this structure (say THAT ten times fast), the ending was regrettably predictable. In fact, looking back, I think I guessed the general outcome within the first twenty minutes. By mid-point, both Joe and I had predicted the entire second half, sans a few minor details.
Here is one example of how predictable it was (major spoiler here): At the first mention of Toruk, Joe leaned over to me and says, "He's gonna fly him during the final battle, and the rest of them are going to have to follow him as leader because of it." And that's exactly what happened. Jake comes flying in on Toruk in a dramatic display of Na'vi-avatar-esque manhood, everyone bows to him (literally), and then he leads them all into the final fight. *YAWN*
They could have done without the love story. It sucked. There was nothing unique about it whatsoever, and you knew from the moment they met that they would end up together. No tension = boring.
The characters, mostly on the antagonistic side of things, were terribly cliche'. As Joe said when we were discussing it afterwards, "Here's a sledgehammer labeled 'Military Cliche', and we're going to beat the audience over the head with it." Seriously. As writers of military sci-fi, we were both somewhat angered by that.
Characters are EVERYTHING. Without good characters (good meaning complex), nothing else matters, in my opinion. What made the characters so horrible? In a word, DIALOGUE. I think you can get away with dialogue flaws more in a written story than you can in a movie, but I still don't recommend it.
What bothered me the most about the dialogue, especially in the first half of the movie, is that it was used, uneffectively, to explain why they were there and what they were after. Parker outright tells Grace, this is why we're here, and this is what you're supposed to do. Um ... like she doesn't know that already? And it didn't fit her bad-ass character to just stand there and let him say that. Character portrayal and dialogue are all inter-connected. Cliche' characters are born from silly dialogue. Unrealistic. They really could have done better.
And speaking of silly things ... here is something that Joe and I totally LOL'd at, and yes, we got some dirty looks from the other viewers because of it. The Colonel goes after them with a mech at the end. All his firearms get dismantled or removed at some point, so what does he do? Crush Jake with this giant machine? No. He whips out a knife. IN A MECH. Um ... okay, so that knife is probably about the size of your average human person. Mechs may be strong, but they are clunky. Anyone who has weilded a blade in combat (or just watched someone do it ... seriously, it doesn't take much to figure this out) knows that you have to use fluid movements, not just ... whack 'em, hack 'em with a tree-sized chunk o' metal.
On the more scientific side, I had major issue with the face masks. If the air is so caustic to your being that you have to wear a rebreather or you will instantly start gagging, YOU CANNOT EXPOSE YOUR SKIN EITHER. Air (or rather, stuff IN the air) is absorbed through your skin, not just breathed through your nose and mouth. Once absorbed, it enters the bloodstream, as does everything else that enters your body in one way or another. This is why in accurate sci-fi tales, the writer either makes the air breathable for humans, or puts them in a complete suit.
So while I'm watching this movie, every time I see someone with a rebreather, I cringe. Why aren't they slowly (or quickly *shrugs* I don't know the specifics of the air on Pandora) getting poisoned? We're not simply talking about an area of Earth that has tainted air. This is an alien atmosphere. But maybe I'm being too picky. Whatever.
I'm sure there is more, but I'm out of time. If anyone else has more to add, discuss, question, argue, etc., the comments section is now OPEN. Have at it.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
I've worked in retail for the past eight years, and this was my ninth Christmas season at the same store. Every year, I say the same thing: AFTER Christmas is worse than BEFORE.
Why? In a word, RETURNS.
Returning unwanted or duplicate gifts, or clothing that didn't quite fit, etc. Our particular store (a department store part of a national chain ... no, not Wal-Mart) does tens of thousands of dollars in returns EVERY DAY for the first couple weeks after Christmas. That is a lot of merchandise. That is a lot of people waiting in line. That is enough aggravation to drive both customer and employee to insanity.
And it does.
I'd like to offer a few thoughts that might give those that have never worked in retail just a wee bit of insight that will help both you and the employees you encounter have a more pleasant experience.
1) Go to the store when you have plenty of time to spare. Don't expect to get through a line on your lunch break. Not going to happen. If you thought the lines were bad before the holiday, they're even worse after. Processing returns, by nature, is much slower than a simple check-out. And if you're purchasing something, you'll still have to wait in line because the check-out lanes are not going to be as fully staffed as they were before. Why? To put it simply, there is less payroll available because of ALL THE RETURNS. Make sense? Money lost means less to dish out. BE PATIENT.
2) If you came to the store with the intent to exchange an item (wrong size, color, damaged, etc.) and they do not have the item available, DON'T BLOW A GASKET. Seriously. I don't know about other retailers, but by the end of December, we are already receiving spring merchandise, and whatever merchandise we had before (unless it is a basic item that we carry all year long) is either GONE or has been put on CLEARANCE or DISCONTINUED, meaning, even if it is there, it will be difficult to find. You may be looking for an item that the store sold out of the first week of December. That is not the employee's fault. HAVE SOME UNDERSTANDING, and don't make a scene. Take a store credit and find something else to buy. Move on to better things in your life.
3) If the store computer says that the item is not owned by that particular store, DON'T ARGUE with the machine, or rather, the person using it. People buy things from many different stores. Many stores carry the same brands, and sometimes, the same exact merchandise. Unless you have a receipt of some sort, DON'T ASSUME that your memory of the holiday shopping chaos is completely accurate. The motto may be, "The customer is always right," but in my experience, they are usually wrong. (AND WHY THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO RETURN SOMETHING WITHOUT A RECEIPT ANYWAY? If you don't keep track of your receipts, or you don't provide a gift receipt for someone, whatever consequences that result are your fault, not the employee's.)
4) Try something new this year: Instead of trying to get all your money's worth (or in most cases, someone else's money's worth) by returning things, why not donate the unwanted/ duplicate/ ill-fitted item to a second-hand store? Hmm? Here's a thought: STOP BEING SO GREEDY. No waiting in line for returns, and someone less fortunate than you will have more/ nicer selections that they can afford.
5) If you received a gift card, USE IT PROMPTLY. Something that most people don't realize is that gift cards do not count toward a store's sales until they are REDEEMED. As an example, if someone bought $500 worth of gift cards, the day they gave the cashier the payment for those cards does not count. That's a lot of money to NOT count, especially in today's economy. Again, I don't know about other retailers, but our fourth quarter continues until the end of January, and the fourth quarter is the last chance to make up for any bad sales reports. Use your gift cards by then, and the money that was actually SPENT in that sales year, will COUNT for that sales year. May not seem like a big deal, but it is.
That last one is a good idea regardless of the sale it brings for the store, and regardless of whether or not you use a gift card to make the purchase. Most merchandise in January has been greatly reduced. You will get the most for your dollar if you shop that month. I know it's difficult to think about shopping after doing it for two straight months, but it is beneficial on both ends, for you, as the customer, and for the business you support.
So there you have it. Be sensible. Be smart. Be patient. Smile for once ... you might like it.
Wishing you all the best in the coming year. Let's start 2010 with a common goal toward kindness and understanding. New year, new decade, new outlook. Sounds good to me.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I grew up in the era of Star Wars (the original trilogy ... yes, I'm old) and later, Star Trek TNG. One of three girls and four children total, for some reason, I was the only one who showed any interest in my father's love of science fiction and fantasy. Aside from other things that I can relay only to my therapist, this is how I remember my father: If he wasn't watching a sci-fi something or other on TV, he had a fantasy book in his hand.
He introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia when I was ... hmm ... 8 or 9, I think. We went to some convention thing that honestly bored me, but afterward, we perused the vendors. While I was aimlessly flipping through artwork of trolls and fairies, he'd bought me the boxed set of Narnia, and gave it to me when we got home. I was psyched! I loved to read as a kid. In fact, I've been reading on my own since the age of 4.
So I had this set of books to read, and my dad decides he's going to read it AT THE SAME TIME. He reads way faster than I do (at least, at that age he did), and it ticked me off a little that he was ahead of me in the series within a week or two. Ergh. Especially when he was reading other books at the same time.
My dad was a huge SHANNARRA fan. (I also remember him reading many a King Arthur tale, to the point where I heard him talking in his sleep one night about how Merlin needed to get Excalibur back to the King and everything would be JUST FINE) His excitement over the Shannarra books rubbed off on me, and when I was ... about 12 now I think, he finally deemed me old enough to give one of them a try.
"This isn't like the Narnia books," he warned. "This is an adult book. I'm letting you read it because you're mature for your age, and you like to read."
I don't remember which book he gave me first, but yeah, it was ADULT. Tiny print. Big words. Questionable innuendos. I didn't even get half-way through before I gave up. *shrugs*
The older I got, and the more Star Trek I watched, the more I tipped the scales in favor of sci-fi. The film industry had a lot to with that (Aliens ... 'nuff said), and still does. I LIKE EXPLOSIONS. And weapons. And aliens. And anyone who knows me, knows I've been a science nerd since ... 4th grade. (We shall conveniently forget my Sweet Valley High years in between all that. I was obviously going through a period of confusion and/or self-discovery.)
Here's the issue, though. There are plenty of good sci-fi films and TV shows and so forth, but I'm having a hard time finding science fiction novels that enthrall me like those early days of fantasy reading did. Why? Is it the style? The setting? The characters? Does the author get too wrapped up in facts instead of storytelling? I honestly don't know. The only sci-fi I've read recently that was an exception to this is Matter by Iain M. Banks. Good book. I wish there were more like it somewhere by a different author so I can expand my "favorites" list. (A link to my review of Matter is in the side bar under "The Book Book" )
So that's my round about way of saying that one of my personal goals for 2010 is to find GOOD SCI-FI and give it exposure.
Any thoughts? Any recommended reads? Enlighten me. Please.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I'm chillin' at Eric's corner of the web today. Check it out HERE, and let me know what you think (I'd prefer any comments be made at PMN rather than here).
We will return to our regular programming tomorrow ... and then things will pretty much be hit or miss until after the new year (hard for me to keep my mouth shut, so I'm not declaring utter silence as some others have).
Monday, December 21, 2009
As is the hype over Twilight. But unfortunately, it's not going away anytime soon.
I'm bombarded by it everywhere I go ... Borders (New Moon display right by the front door!), Wal-Mart (posters, books, magazines, t-shirts!), my Yahoo! home page (Edward and Bella were seen together, oh my!) and now, MY DREAMS. Or is that more appropriately referred to as a nightmare?
I had a dream about Twilight last night. Well, not really so much about Twilight as it was about the actors in the movies. Specifically, Edward, Bella, and Jacob. That I even know their (fake) names without ever reading/viewing anything is proof enough of our inesapable culture. That, and the fact that I had a dream/nightmare about it. *shudders*
It went something like this: I was in high school again (so right away, I knew this was a bad dream), innocently meandering down the crowded halls and Bella shows up, all out of breath and frantic. I'm like, "What's wrong?" because for some reason, I think I have to help her.
She says, "I have to hide." And of course, I accept that as an answer without any type of explanation because this is a dream, and dreams make no sense.
I take her hand and we run out of the school, and within a few paces (because again, it's a dream) we arrive at a huge scary-looking mansion typical of a vampire tale. At least, in my mind it is. We're running up and down the endless stairs and bump into Jacob. All of the sudden, Bella disappears. Why? Because my defunct sleeping brain transferred me into her persona. I AM NOW BELLA. ARGH! Even in my dream, I groaned at this realization, but I didn't have much time for self-loathing because Jacob took my hand, insisting that I had to hide from Edward.
Yes, now I have to hide because I'm Bella. Why are we running/hiding from Edward? Still have no clue, but I bet it had something to do with his foo-foo hair and skeletal appearance.
We ran for a few more minutes, getting absolutely nowhere, passing all manner of nooks and crannies that I reasonably could have hidden in, but didn't, and then we find Edward. I stopped dead in my tracks (this story is not worth coming up with something more original than the cliche), and then JACOB DISAPPEARED. So now it's just me (Bella) against a half-naked Edward. Which half? He was shirtless, and all his ribs were showing and his hip bones were sticking out above his low-rise jeans.
So what did I do? I ran toward him, hooked my hand on a hip bone as I passed, and flung his spindly body out the nearest window. He screamed like a girl (no surprise), and then I woke up.
I am still singing praises that the whole experience was merely a dream/nightmare. What's the point of this story? You can't escape your culture ... the good, the bad, and (especially!) the ugly ... and Twilight has officially ventured where it had no business going, my vulnerable subconscious. Get out of my head!
If anyone has any suggestions on how to forget this recent trauma (I thought writing about it would help, but no), please let me know in the comments. I will try anything.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
This lovely tip idea came to me last night while perusing the WD SF/F Critique Forum. One of the members there ventured to another crit forum on the same site, but of a different genre. (To save face of the faulted party, I shall refrain from any specifics) She came to a realization: Although she doesn't write sci-fi or fantasy, she posts her writing for critique in the SF/F forum because the regular members there are exceptionally good at giving helpful crits.
How did she realize this? By comparison. Apparently, someone in the other crit forum thought it would be helpful to give suggestions on how to COMPLETELY CHANGE THE PLOT after reading a single scene of something and simply not liking one aspect of the story line.
No. Please, just ... NO.
If you are a part of a critique group, it's generally a good rule of thumb to NOT spout off the first words that pop into your head. If you haven't read the complete work from start to finish, you have NO BUSINESS GIVING ADVICE ON THE PLOT. None. And even if you did read the whole thing, I still feel that sort of advice is best left up to someone with a successful track record of story development and structure, aka A PROFESSIONAL.
And unless you've been following a story for some time, you also have NO BUSINESS GIVING ADVICE ON CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT either. You simply cannot see the full scope of a character in one 2000-word snippet.
So what CAN you do?
Grammar. Punctuation. Spelling. Flow. Style. Voice. General comments on intrigue (or lack of), interesting concept (or lack of), conflict and tension (or lack of), etc. Anything more is taking the reins of a horse from the wrong saddle.
And that's my tip of the week: Don't be an idiot critiquer. Be sensible, think about what you're saying and how you would feel if it was being said to you, and if you still feel it's necessary to give suggestions on the story line, that suggestion better be stellar. (Suggesting the MC have a terminal illness instead of getting shot? Same outcome--death--but not necessarily a better idea, and the entire course of the story would have to change. That's a lot of work to suggest someone undertake when it's really just your AMATEUR opinion)
Have a great weekend. And play nice, kids.
Friday, December 18, 2009
If I feel like it later, I will. It is slightly humorous, and involves a bathtub and vomit, but not at the same time.
As a THANK YOU to Eric for 1) Having such a great blog to follow, and 2) Deeming little old me worthy of quoting on said blog, here is my favorite PMN quote from 2009 (and this was a difficult choice because there are so, SO many good ones ... and by the way, if you're not following that blog yet, sign up today, you won't regret it):
"Long story short (Eric said, removing his grandpa glasses): writing is hard. It takes time, talent, time, knowledge, luck, time, and luck (as well as a thousand other factors, like time and luck). It's not all going to magically come together overnight, but if you work hard at it and you've got the skill, chances are you'll see results. Maybe not when you're 20, 30, 40, or even 50, but you won't see anything if you give up now."
Motivating and slightly discouraging at the same time, but all of it is truth. You can't argue with truth.
Eric is publishing three guest posts next week, M-W, then going on a mini vacation until next year. My post will be on Tuesday, December 22, but I encourage everyone to tune in for all three, and again, follow the blog regularly. It is both informative and fun.
(I am so late for work now it's not even funny)
At the urgings of my favorite waffle gal, here is what happened yesterday morning. I am uber-tired while writing this and I most likely will not proofread it at all, so if it is shoddy/ rambly/ boring, you can blame Laura. But complain on her blog, please, not mine. (Hee hee)
I was up and out of bed WAY TOO EARLY on Thursday. Already a bad start. I like my sleep. But it is sometimes beneficial to get "writing stuff" out of the way before my son wakes up and takes over ... pretty much every part of my life. I checked my email. Nothing. Which, in this instance, was a good thing. I'd already received a rejection from an editor earlier this week, and the day before this, I'd gotten the brush-off in Moonrat's recent contest. So I praised my empty inbox and signed out. It was too early for any of my fellow bloggers to have updated yet, so I moved on to better things. I'm writing another novel (my third, if anyone's wondering). That's more fun than email.
Just when I felt I'd gotten into a good writing groove and the words were flowing beautifully, my son stumbles out of bed. His hair is sticking out in every natural direction (and some, not so natural), and it dawns on me the kid hasn't had a bath in like ... four days. What? Where is this child's mother? I think we need to get the authorities involved. No, sir. No need. I have a bathtub, hot water, and soap available. Everything is under control. HONEST.
By the time I got him in the tub (I don't understand why children are like this, but I do remember being the same way ... it is as much a fight to get them IN the tub as it is to get them OUT), my "novel mojo" had long since left me. But it was okay. I refreshed my blog roll and voila! I now had at least thirty minutes of blog reading to do.
The new PMN title made me slightly nervous, as I remembered, "Oh yeah, I entered that thing his title is referring to ... wonder if ... no, I shouldn't even look at it." So of course I opened it up right away, but I was still afraid to look at the screen. Blessed be high speed internet, the site loaded before I could look away, and there was my name in the middle of the post.
I. FLIPPED. OUT.
Words came out of my mouth (not quietly) that I'm certain were of a foreign language. I couldn't tell you what I said, aside from the sprinkling of "Oh my God" in between. My son, still in the bath, yells for me, "What's wrong, Mama!" I attempted to wash his still-sticky hair with hands trembling way more than they should be for this news and I must have still been loud and dancing a jig because he was laughing the whole time.
So that was the bathtub part. Thrilling, I know. But my son enjoyed it.
As soon as that was out of the way, I checked my email, and low and behold! I had a new message from Eric-the Awesome (which, in my email account, comes up as Eric Blank because he is one of many people in this business who choose to blog anonymously so I don't have a surname to fill in the little box ... I shall take this opportunity to refer you here, here, here, and here to prove my point). His message was so stoic and professional that I had to restrain myself from groveling at his feet with literary madness, and simply said a quick word of thanks.
Then I called Joe at work. He usually calls me on his lunch break, but I, obviously, couldn't wait a whole two hours to tell him about the BIGGEST NEWS (in my life) OF THE DECADE. (Okay, there were a few other bigger things ... wedding, my son's birth, my first publishing contract ... it was definitely the biggest/best news this week, though)
So I tell him this great news and wait for his response, then start GAGGING AND I CAN'T STOP.
"Hold on ..."
*drops phone and runs to the toilet*
*pukes, coughs, picks up the phone again*
"What was that all about?"
"I think I'm pregnant."
I hung up the phone and puked again, and yes, we're trying for a baby and I really do think I'm pregnant, but that's not the point. Although, wouldn't it be funny if this guest post on PMN becomes the story I tell my possible future child of how I became aware of its existence? *shrugs* Life is weird like that sometimes.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Yes, it is possible. And no, you don't always have to draw the curtain.
However, sex scenes must have a purpose. Your characters are not all expected to be celibate (that stretches the boundaries of reality a little too far), but simply because one or more of them are sexually active during the course of your story doesn't mean it has to be brought to attention at all, let alone detailed in an actual scene. A comment here or there that makes it clear is all that is necessary if you feel it is important to that character's overall portrayal.
For instance, you can show that a man is a "player" simply by having a different girl on his arm every time you see him. And if he makes lewd comments as a part of his everyday speech, the reader will assume he is banging every one of them. I would, anyway. That is an extreme and dummified example, but hopefully, you get the point. It could also be as simple as a man showing through his habits that he prefers to be home with his wife every night.
You wouldn't be human if the act of sex didn't affect you in some way. Even if your character is a prostitute, these things are still affecting her ... her view of herself, her view of others, her outlook on life, etc. No matter who your character is, this will have an effect. So the important question is, What kind of effect, and is that effect dramatic enough that the act itself needs to be given the reader's attention?
Once you have decided that, yes, you have to write a sex scene, you still need to keep the first part of that question in mind. Whatever effect this is going to have on your character should be known beforehand. Why? Because you're not going to focus solely on the physical. You must focus on the emotional or else you will be writing porn. The purpose of porn is to create a physical response, nothing more. As fiction writers, that is not our intent. We want our readers to have an emotional response, because those are the kind that linger and get the reader talking about this story to others long after they've finished reading.
That being said, it is impossible to write a sex scene without showing physical acts. The emotional/physical ratio is proportionately unbalanced toward the physical at the beginning. Preferably, this act should be part of what would be considered foreplay: a kiss, a specific touch, or some other gesture. Dialogue can work in lieu of this physical act, just be careful what is said and how it is said. Even simple speech can border on pornography. But usually, there is an action involved combined with dialogue, and the total package makes it clear what is about to happen.
Once your reader is clear on the inevitable course of action, you can tip the scales more toward the emotional. Thoughts given in your POV character's unique perspective are crucial to making this work. Don't focus on the obvious, the generalizations that can be seen from any person having sex. Physical acts still take place, but the detailed mention of them is proportionately less than at the outset.
One of my favorite authors, Joe Haldeman, has at least one sex scene in every story of his that I've read. None of them seemed unnecessary to the character development or the story as a whole. And all of them were different because each is portrayed through the eyes of a different person. In The Forever War, a randy soldier. In Camoflauge, an alien in human form. In Marsbound, a virgin with dwindling options. Without going into detail, you can see how all of those would be a different emotional experience, and those differences are made clear in the writing.
Unless you're writing Romance which, by nature, demands more attention on such things, the sex act does not need to take up more than a paragraph or two (at most, half a page), and most of that, again, is thought and emotion rather than physical actions. So how do you know what to focus on? Ask yourself a few questions:
* Is this the character's first time?
* Is the act forced or consensual?
* What is the setting?
* What is the current situation both in that moment and in the story as a whole?
* Is this considered a forbidden act by one character or the other, or by someone in the characters' lives?
* What will be the known consequences, physical, emotional, or otherwise?
* What unknown consequences might the character wonder about? (Even if only for a fleeting moment, this kind of thought process can happen believably, especially if the act is not something new for the character or particularly mind-blowing, and there are more important things distracting his/her thoughts)
These are simply the basics. Only you, as the author, know the more intimate details of your characters that you feel would be important enough to give attention to during a sex scene. If you have none, then it is better to not include the scene at all.
Notice I didn't say that you don't have to write it. Go ahead and write it. Doing so can be helpful in understanding the emotions of your characters in later scenes. Just make extra sure that it is necessary to the story before deciding to include it in your manuscript. Nothing gets more reaction from readers, either positively or negatively, than violence, foul language, death, and sex. Be smart about it. Write with your head, not with your (drawing the curtain on that one).
Monday, December 14, 2009
A co-worker/friend of mine recently told me that I am a romantic at heart. That no matter what sci-fi or fantasy elements I put into a story, there is always some type of male/female relationship at its core. Although I'd never really thought about it before, I realized she is absolutely right. However, let me be clear, I am not a romance writer. The romantic relationship of my characters is not the main point of any of my stories, it is simply an element.
My son is a huge fan of Spiderman and other superhero types, so after dinner at the in-laws last night, we noticed Spiderman 3 was on one of the movie channels and decided to watch it. Joe and I went to see all three of those movies in the theater, and we had not seen this particular one since viewing it at the theater ... can't remember how long ago, but it's been at least a few years.
What does this have to do with realistic relationships? If you look back on all three of the Spiderman movies and focus solely on Peter Parker's relationship with Mary Jane Watson, you'll understand.
Or perhaps, NOT understand.
I have no clue why Peter is so head over heels for that girl. Sure, she was his high school crush, or whatever, but once he grew up and matured a little and found his new calling as a superhero, wouldn't he have more sense than that? She is so clearly not right for him. Joe and I both agree that Peter would have been better off with his landlord's daughter. The girl is sweet, and bakes for him, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, doesn't treat him like he is merely a second thought ... maybe you fit into my plans, maybe you don't type thing ... and if you make me even the slightest bit angry or jealous, I'll go find someone else.
Grrr. Double-grrr. That relationship has no foundation to stand on, which is why it always crumbles at the first loose stone. It is as unbelievable as Peter's Spiderman traits. But at least we can stretch our imaginations on that one and have fun with it.
There is nothing wrong with a mismatched pair (in fact, those are the most interesting), but if they are going to have a relationship, it needs a realistic basis. The reason it works may only be clear to the characters involved, but they have to believe in it so strongly that their view makes the reader believe in it, too. It is up to you, as the author, to portray that viewpoint clearly.
As The Rejectionist stated, you need to have a plausible grounds for romantic activity. That includes everything ... sex, spending the rest of my life with you, willing to die for you, etc. Otherwise, your characters are not believable, and you will soon have readers rolling their eyes in distaste. Or worse, putting the book down.
Even in one of my favorite reads of this year, the biggest gripe I had in the story was that the MC is having romantic feelings for a certain woman from the moment they meet, and vice versa. Yes, I understand that can happen in real life, and yes, most of those "feelings" were purely physical in nature. But once you have allowed some time to pass, some events to take place, some rational thoughts to occur, it just doesn't jive with me that you can be head over heels for someone without just cause. There was no clear reason given in this particular case.
The "just cause" can be as simple as one or both parties involved in the relationship making a statement, or a gesture, that provides a clear understanding to the reader (or in the case of movies, the viewer) why their relationship is so important to them. In Spiderman, I just didn't see it.
Character development seems to be where spec fic writers, especially, are lacking. Just because you have fantastical elements does not mean you can have characters with no substance. I have read many unpublished stories on the Writer's Digest SF/F Critique Forum that are doing a better job of portraying believable relationships than bestsellers.
Kudos to Brandi Guthrie in her Fantasy, Dragon Queen; Jenn Lidster in her Superhero Romance, Topaz Skies; Kaycee Looney in her Historical Fiction, Calliope; Liz Penn in her Fantasy, Crystal Fire; and Joe Sharp in his Military Sci-Fi, Honored. You all are examples worthy of following.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
When was the last time you heard a sarcastic comment? Last week? Yesterday? If you lived in my house, the answer would be five minutes ago, or less at any given time. That's just how we roll.
Sarcasm in my stories gets by far some of the biggest reactions from readers. No, we cannot put sarcasm onto every page--even a good thing can be overdone--but sometimes a trouble scene does not need a complete rewrite, a man with a gun, or the like. All it needs is the spice of wit.
In my science fiction novel, Web of Deceit, there is a scene in chapter 13 where the crew is discussing major events that took place in the previous section, and what they think their next course of action should be. This is important to the forward movement of the plot, but a "conference" scene can be quite dull if it is just a lot of fact-slinging and decision-making.
So I chose to write this particular scene through the point of view of the sixteen year old guy, the newbie to the crew and to life in general. This allowed for some humor in the narrative that I couldn't have achieved otherwise. In addition to that, one other character in particular has already been shown to have a dry wit, and even in this scene, he shines.
One-liners are crucial to effective portrayal of sarcasm. Here is a short exchange from the scene I mentioned above. Hutch is the shy sixteen year-old genius. Jarus is the bad-ass wise-cracking ex-soldier. There are others in the room with them as well.
"Does it matter how it’s spelled?" [Jarus said.]
"Actually, yes," Hutch replied, getting more comfortable as he was able to focus on facts now instead of his nervous stomach. "Ptero is a prefix from the ancient Greek language that means wing. It’s a fitting description of the planet because the majority of animal life there has the ability to fly."
"That would explain why we were attacked by giant flying scorpions," Jarus said. "As if regular giant scorpions aren’t bad enough."
A simple statement of observation just became more than just a way of getting facts to the reader. Their discussion would have been the same without Jarus' latter comment. It changed nothing of their investigation--everyone already knew that the scorpions could fly--but it changed the reader's view of the scene in general, reminding them that there are people in this story and the events are affecting them. This becomes a reason for them to keep reading, and that is ultimately the goal of any fiction writer.
Take a scene from one of your WIPs that is devoid of any humor (did you think the subject matter was too serious?), and make one of the characters over-the-top sarcastic. Everything that comes out of this person's mouth, keeping it related to the action and dialogue of the scene, must be ridiculous. How does this affect the other characters? How does it affect actions? How does it affect the outcome of the struggle involved in that particular scene? Does it affect anything else in the story as a whole?
Only use the changes that improve the work. Get rid of the rest. And even if you choose not to keep any of it, you still had a little fun in the process. I guarantee it. My guess, though, is that you will at least keep one line of dialogue that you suddenly can't live without. Why? Because sarcasm is a human characterisitc that we can all relate to, and even at the most seemingly inopportune moments, it gets a reaction.
Friday, December 11, 2009
So I'm begging off that task this morning.
A question for the comments: What is the best writing advice you ever received, and how did it help you improve?
Check out Moonrat's Mentors, Muses, and Monsters Contest if you haven't already. Entries are due December 15.
And for more Friday fun, here are two of my all-time favorite YouTube links, thanks to my friend Brad.
A Capella Star Wars
Chimpanzee Riding on a Segway
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Throughout this post, I will be throwing in Kid Updates. Currently, my 5 year old son is clutching the arm of a rocking chair, claiming he is stuck. So I tried to help him get down. "No," he says. "I need Daddy to help." To which I say, "Daddy's at work. I can help you." He refused, so I left him there, like a good mother would (in case you're wondering, he is not truly stuck, it's just a game he likes to play). Not two minutes later, he says he wants to get down, but he can't because he's afraid of the mess ... uh ... that would be the mess that HE CREATED on the floor surrounding this rocking chair. "I am not cleaning up YOUR mess so you can get down off a chair that you CHOOSE to sit in, Joseph. End of discussion."
It is (in my part of the world) just after 9 a.m. and I just got out of bed. This is odd because I am usually up and raring to go at 4 a.m. Quick aside on that: It is only normal for me to be up at 4 a.m., raring to go, when I am writing a first draft of something, in this case, a novel. I'm thinking that my horrible writing experience yesterday, coupled with the fact that my husband did not get home from work until after 11 p.m., completely exhausted me.
After more than a week of letting my latest novel project basically just take me along for the writing-ride, I felt stuck yesterday. Not stuck in the usual sense of the word, though. Let me explain. I know how to "write out of my ass" if I need to. For me, it is never a problem of getting the words onto a blank screen. It is about getting the RIGHT words out. The scene I wrote yesterday started out well, and I had a general idea of where I wanted to go with it. But I kept getting hung up on word choice.
This is not good when you are a perfectionist. Yes, I understand it is a first draft that has many changes ahead of it, but when I am writing something, I have to believe that it is, at the very least, getting the point across that I intended. It should also be engaging, even in rough draft form, and it should convey at least a portion of the emotion I'm trying to emphasize.
Kid Update: Joseph found one of his dad's GameInformer magazines and is sprawled out on the couch "reading" it. No, he doesn't know how to really read yet, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him now. And he has vocally pointed out every picture of every robot in the whole magazine. He has a thing for robots.
Quick break. I'm being summoned to look at the robots now. Also, my coffee has gone cold. Must reheat. And I just realized I haven't played a single Breaking Benjamin song yet. I require my daily dose of BB. If you're curious about what exactly I'm listening to, go to YouTube and look up any of the songs on the DEAR AGONY album. I love all of them. This exact moment? I just started "Fade Away."
Okay, back to my writing troubles.
Some of my concerns with this scene were quite valid. I've written about 50 pages of this story and suddenly, I feel like I'm losing my MC's unique voice. This is my first attempt at writing a novel-length piece in first person. (I've completed two shorter works in first person, but mostly, I write in third.) Not sure if that has anything to do with it, or if, perhaps, I'm simply getting too familiar with her and losing sight of her true personality, in a way, melding it with my own. I also had to rewrite a paragraph or two because it read too similarly to a different MC of mine. More clipped and sarcastic, whereas this one has a flowy, more regal tone. This is odd because I'm not currently working on that project. Perhaps the other MC is trying to tell me that I need to give her attention again. Haha.
Desperate for help, I posted this scene for critique on the Writer's Digest SF/F critique forum. Usually, I'll give my threads a nice title. For example, with this particular piece (my novel, tentatively titled, MIRRA), I will post a scene and title it: MIRRA, Thwarted Destinies; or MIRRA, Baby Blues. Something like that. A title that somewhat fits the content of that particular scene.
The one I wrote yesterday was given this title: MIRRA, No name here because it is frustrating me and does not, as of yet, deserve a proper title.
Yes. That is how pissed I was at this scene.
Problem is, it's an uber-important scene for the story. I was thinking of burning it-- er ... cutting it, but soon realized that I can't. It is too crucial to the plot.
Kid Update: Joseph thought it would be a good idea to hide my coffee while I was typing. He's laughing. I'm not. Whatever. But one of my absolute faves just started playing, "Give Me a Sign." All is well.
Scratch that. All is NOT well. Joseph just brought back my mug. Empty. Which means my 5 year old just downed half a cup of coffee. Does that make me a bad parent?
Back to the trouble scene...
After slaving over it the entire day, I fell asleep in what Joseph calls the Thinking Chair. If you've ever watched Blue's Clues, he calls it that because it looks a lot like Steve's Thinking Chair. But black leather. And it reclines. He fell asleep on my lap (by now it was around 6 p.m.) and then I fell asleep. Then Joe calls, still at work, and tells me he's not getting off anytime soon. Hurrah. It's just me and my crappy story for the rest of the evening.
So I posted it on the forum. For some reason, seeing it in a different format suddenly makes things jump out. This is why I will print final drafts on paper to do a final-final edit. Can't explain it. I just know it works. I started changing words and sentences. Added a word to a few. Cut from others. One sentence in particular was rearranged, which then made the middle of the sentence unnecessary. That was actually a relief. I am all about efficient yet effective wording. The more I can say in less words, the better. It also made the sentence much smoother.
Even after all of that, I'm still not happy with the scene. I just checked its status on the forum, and a long-time fan/reader/critiquer of my work has pointed out that it does feel "off" from my usual writing, but it is not as bad as I think it is. She highlighted that some of the dialogue needs tweaked, and already, ideas are popping into my head on how exactly I can fix it. Another pair of eyes can work miracles sometimes.
Kid Update: He's back to the robots in the magazine, but not before he did a few gymnastics on the couch. That was entertaining, as usual.
I have another scene to write today, and I am slightly worried that it will also be crap. But that is how creative writing goes. And no one said it better than Stephen King, in one of my favorite quotes:
"Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position."
Precisely. I am having a "shit-shoveling" week. But hopefully, it's all in my head.
Monday, December 7, 2009
I think every novel I own is printed in a different font. You don't really pay much attention to these things until you start thinking of getting your own novel published. At least I hadn't, anyway.
Font and other little details are just as important to a book as its cover. If everything was printed in Times New Roman and used asterisks for scene breaks, would you feel the same about some of your favorites? I think not. No, actually, I know for sure you wouldn't. It's part of the whole package. It's what makes a novel an experience, not just a story.
The novel I'm currently reading, The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh, is a perfect example. The typeface gives it an antique feel which, even though the story takes place in modern times, it still fits the mood of the piece. And it also enhances certain aspects of the story. The book, including the cover (which you can view on my bookshelf in the sidebar) is nothing less than a work of art. If you're curious about the actual font, it is called Bell, and there is an interesting paragraph about its history on the final page of the novel. Whoever decided to use that font AND add the page of information about it, is a downright genius, and truly understands the relationship between the reader and her book.
Why There Are Pages And Why They Must Turn (thanks to Le R for linking this a while back) further points out why things such as font are so important to books. It is worth the few minutes it takes to read, in my opinion.
Do you have any font favorites, either for reading OR writing? What's your type?
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Today's tip involves one of my favorite things about writing fiction: character development. It actually saddens me that some of the characters I make up aren't real people. But that's a chat best left for a rainy day over a cup of (spiked) tea.
Tip of the Week:
Write a scene between two characters that takes place during a time lapse between scenes or chapters in one of your WIPs. The scene doesn't have to have any purpose; you're not going to add it to the WIP.
We can't detail everything that happens to every character at every moment, so we inevitably have to jump ahead in the story by a week, a month, even a year or more sometimes. And it's easy to forget that our characters were living and doing things, interacting, during that time. All these little things still affect their view of themselves and their situation, and especially, their relationships with the other characters.
So write a scene that you know you won't use in the story. See what develops. Did your characters surprise you with something? Reveal a bit of their history or motivations that you weren't aware of? Did your view of them change? Is this new perspective something you can use to tweak a later scene in the story (one that matters)?
Has anyone ever tried something like this before? Share your results. Playing with your characters is quite fun, in my opinion.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
(Aww ... aren't we too cute?)
Writers are some of the most emotionally up-and-down people I know, myself included. One minute you think you're ready to win a Nebula, and the next minute you want to burn everything you've ever written and beat your laptop with a sledgehammer.
If you think I'm going to lean toward the negative with this post, in connection to being married to a writer, you're wrong. Joe and I have our share of writing-related arguments, especially when it involves something we are co-writing, but more often than not, we are a support to each other.
As an example, this happened just last night.
Joe walks in the door after working another 12-hour day. First words out of his mouth (after saying hello and giving me a hug and a kiss of either the I'm-too-tired-to-put-forth-any-effort variety OR the I'm-exhausted-but-I-still-want-to-****-you variety) are something about how I need to shut down whatever I'm working on because he has a story to write.
To which I said, "What story?"
"My new short story," Joe said.
"Tell me about it."
Already, if you're a writer, you can see how wonderful this is. We talk about our stories with each other as if it's the most important thing we could discuss at the end of the day.
Now, you'll also notice that I asked him to tell me about HIS story. So when I then proceeded to yammer on about the scene I wrote for Mirra yesterday (I'm guessing I went for about fifteen minutes before I even took a breath), you would expect that to irritate him, right? Especially after he'd been stressing at work all day, and all the poor man wanted to do was write his story.
No. He listened. He even laughed at a few things. And (this is noteworthy), the scene I happened to write yesterday (partially) involved sex. This is usually a topic we disagree on -- how much detail is too much detail, and things of that nature -- but Joe, even without reading the actual writing, seemed okay with it all. Perhaps he was too tired to argue.
So he finally starts telling me about his story on the way to his mother's house. We went there for dinner and, of course, to do laundry. He talked the whole way there. I listened, even though he thought at one point that I wasn't. (I was driving, dear. I can't look at you constantly.)
Hearing him talk about his ideas AMAZES me. One thing we've gotten good at is pinpointing each other's strengths and weaknesses. Being honest about it. And doing what we can to help each other improve. Joe's biggest strength? The man comes up with some crazy-ass ideas that will blow you away. Perhaps it's because his brain doesn't work like a normal person's (for details on that, click HERE), but whatever the reason, it makes me feel incredibly inadequate in that area.
All my ideas are stale. Old hat. Been done a million times in a million ways. But he tells me that's okay. Why? Now it's HIS turn to point out MY strength: little details.
That may not seem like much (little, even...hehe), but when you think about it, it really is important. After a fabulous dinner of left-over turkey, stuffing, smashed taters, etc, and after all the laundry was clean and folded neatly, we headed home again ... and started talking about our stories again.
I mentioned something else I remembered about one of the scenes I wrote yesterday that I thought was slightly humorous. (Yes, I laugh at my own stuff. Someone has to.) It was a small thing, I thought. But then Joe looks at me and says, "I just can't write like that."
"What do you mean?"
"You have this ability," he said, "to suck people into your story without them even knowing why. You throw in these little details -- little motions, little thoughts, something in the background, etc -- that keeps people reading. You make your characters so real, that the readers just have to turn the page to see what happens next."
"It's called micro-tension," I said, trying to be all technical and sound smart.
"No, it isn't."
"Yes it is. Whatever. So basically you're telling me that it doesn't matter what my plot is, people will read it because of these little things that make them fall in love with the characters."
"I'm okay with that."
But I still try to come up with unique ideas, and oftentimes, the best thing about being married to a writer is that you have someone to bounce your ideas off of, whenever the mood strikes you. It's also nice to print off fifty pages of something and have a beta reader and an editor all rolled into one, whenever you need it. We have stock in red pens.
Sometimes I wonder what our son is thinking as he sits quietly in the back seat of the car, or in the other room pretending to play Xbox, and listens to our conversations. Every kid thinks their parents are weird, sure, but we actually ARE. No denying it. When aliens and weaponry and ooh! what about THIS plot twist are considered normal conversation between a husband and wife ... we better start saving up now for the kid's future therapy.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Having the flu just plain sucks. I have attempted to write a real review for this novel, which it wholeheartedly deserves because it is quite possibly the best book I've read all year, but my mind will not focus. I've started and scrapped three attempts. Three strikes...you know the saying.
So my official review for The Book Book will have to wait until later this month. But I didn't want to wait any longer to let the world of blogdom know how awesome this book is. The best way I can describe A Darkness Forged In Fire: Book One of the Iron Elves by Chris Evans, is that it's a military sci-fi set in a world of epic fantasy. *shivers in a good way*
Elves, dwarves, humans, and creatures thought to be extinct suddenly appearing, raring to fight. Along with your typical weapons of fantasy (saber, halberd, etc) you'll also see muskets, cannons, and something called a shatterbow that's basically a crossbow that shoots explosive shells. And yes, there are powers used for both good and evil. A burning frost that threatens to overtake the forest. But don't trust the trees, they're alive in more ways than one.
And there is a drunk pelican. Hehe. How can you NOT read it now that you know about the drunk pelican?
Mere words of awe cannot even begin to give this story justice. Just read it. Now. Go!
Book Two has been bumped to the top of my 2-B-Read List, and Book Three is scheduled to release next year. Can't wait!