Open Floor

Come one, come all! Here’s your chance. Start a round-robin (keep it PG-13). Ask a question. The floor is yours.

74 thoughts on “Open Floor

  1. How do you know an idea is a story or maybe how do you groom ideas into stories? What do you do before you start actually writing your novels? I know this varies a great deal writer to writer, but specifics are very helpful here when your starting out like I am.

    1. A bunch of characters start yelling that this is a story and I better damn well get to writing it down.

      Its easier if I just play along, they won’t shut up otherwise. They yelled at me for 20 years about the first one.

      I wish I was kidding, but that’s my process. 0_o

      1. Hey Man, every has to find their own process, and frankly yours sounds kinda cool–just so long as you don’t let them take over your head and actually start speaking. I hear that can be a bad sign!

        1. Really, its probably the worst possible way to write a book. But I can’t do any of the other ways, the characters keep stealing the narrative and running off with it. That’s why the first one took 20 years.

          They don’t speak, in actual fact. Its more when I think up a scene, if it isn’t to their taste they roll their eyes and make “tsk” noises. ~:D

    2. You don’t perfectly intuit which ideas are useful or good, and which aren’t.

      Consider sorting ideas for the invention of devices. You start answering questions of whether something can exist, then answer questions of performance, then economic value, etc.

      There are checklists of things like plot, character, setting etc. As you develop story ideas, you will apply your own tests to the ideas. Many of them are specific to how you understand stories and how you make stories. Level of personal interest might be a universal test.

      I ask myself what I need to make something work, or why something can’t be done. If I know a reason I should find something very difficult, I may notice a contrivance for making it work. I ask questions, or study what my desires imply, and from there develop further ideas of what I desire from the story.

      Some story ideas can be realized, and some are ‘wouldn’t it be cool’ that have, practically speaking, fundamental contradictions or don’t come with critical elements like character and plot.

      With experience your intuition is better at judging ideas that would be difficult or which were fun to develop but are still too boring to make you write them. But things will surprise you.

    3. My process (note that I’m still an unpublished writer, so take this with an entire mine’s worth of salt):

      (1) Let the idea noodle around in my head for a while (this tends to be anywhere from three weeks to two years).

      (2) When I think it’s ready, see if I can write a one-page summary of the story.

      (3) If I get there, write a table of contents with chapter titles.

      (4) Write up a one-page summary of each chapter.

      (5) If I make it this far, it’s a story. Write the draft.

    4. It’s not so much whether an idea _is_ a story as whether you can make it into a story.

      Most of my starting ideas are characters doing something. So I have to figure out how doing things like this can lead to a problem.

      Occasionally I’ll think of a problem, then I’ve got to figure out how it could be solved, and find a character to volunteer to care enough about the problem to tackle it.

      Or a setting will pop into my head, with happy people going on about their lives. Nice little village you’ve got there, pity something is going to have to happen to it . . .

      So look at your idea, and see what else it needs to make it into a story.

      1. This is similar to the way I’ve been groping about, but considers things I haven’t tried, like a problem finding characters to volunteer. Thanks!

    5. You may just have a scenario, or you may have a story. Scenario: A guy goes into a bar and gets into a fight. Story: Guy goes into a bar to hunt down the man who killed his pa. Maybe the killer wanted Pa’s cattle ranch or something. Whatever.

      But even if you have a story, you then figure out what kind of characters and settings suit that story. For example, to hunt down and kill Pa’s killer, Pa’s Boy would need to be a man with certain skills….

      Do you want Pa’s killer to be shot in cold blood in front of witnesses, and have your character get away with it? Then it probably should be set in the 19th century, and not this year. Alternatively, Pa’s killer could be like the villain in “Road House,” where the whole town shows up to do him in, and “nobody saw nothin’.” Ahh, that was a funny twist on the typical 80’s movie ending…

      You basically think in terms of: What is the problem? Why does the problem matter? Who can solve this problem? The “who” is likely the protagonist, which brings us to, how will Protagonist solve this problem? And if it’s a thriller, then the “when” in “when will Protagonist solve this problem” will be super important.

    6. I outline them.

      First I poke at them and see if I can introduce them to other ideas. But I poke until I get an idea where the story starts and who the characters are, and I start to outline to see if it’s a full story.

      1. I wish that worked for me. Really I do. I tried outlining about six different ways. Ultimately, I found once I completed the outline, I didn’t care at all about writing the story–it was a dissected thing, a thing now arranged in little clumps of flesh pilled and pithed all l over my desk.

        1. I’ve always wondered how people who felt like that ever managed to revise their first drafts. . . .

          1. I guess it depends on what you mean by revision, and I can only say what I’ve been trying. I was surprised by how many very famous writers did not believe in rewriting fiction at all, despite it being the current mode of thought hammered into our heads from High School on. The advise I’ve been following is to revise as you go: write until you hit a natural stopping point, go back a chapter or so and revise up to your stopping point, then continue writing. In this way you actually revise the work several times, keep it fresh in your mind, and have some momentum going into writing the next scene. But when you leave a section, you don’t revise it again later–it’s done. Copy-editing and proofing are at the end, of course. And if a paid editor finds a problem, naturally you fix those. I will say that it keeps the writing alive and fun for me.

    7. If I have an idea, I write it out. Usually, it’s just one scene. Then, having the characters, and setting, I have to go back and figure out who the characters are, why this happened, the worldbuilding that led to this…

      Also, quite often they tend to be in the middle of the story, not the beginning. So Essentially I have to worldbuild and figure out the conflict that drives the plot, in order to get the story written up to that scene.

      Sometimes, it doesn’t go anywhere, at least not right then. Sometimes, a year later, I’ll find myself mixing, matching, and merging 7 or more of those little bits to build a story. None of them are word-for-word inside the final story – but I can see where they came from,

      1. I get a lot of scenes, too. Figuring out where it belongs, how the characters are different out of the scene, and all that stuff is like that.

        Of course, much depends on what idea you start with. “This would be a cool piece of magic” has worked for me in the past, and even “this setting is philosophically incoherent and should be torn apart.”

        1. Thanks Dorothy and Mary. I’ve been trying to free my thinking from writing scenes in order. I’ve been trying to apply the techniques in a book by Dean Wesley Smith, called “Writing Into the Dark” and that is one of them. It’s hard though, and I worry that the pacing or just “feel” of the book will end up disjointed.

    1. No, but by all means, go read it again. And leave a review, please. Even a short one adds to the number of reviews, and some people only bother looking at books with large numbers of reviews.

  2. Round Robin?

    A spear skewered the thing as it fell from the tree neatly enough, though Jeff was certain that he’d given Bette a haircut doing it. He held the beast up as she turned, unperturbed, to study it.

    “Drop Robin”, she explained. “They usually hunt alone.”

    “Supper?” Jeff asked.

    “Of course,” she answered. “Everything on this planet is edible and everything wants to eat you. It’s efficient if you think about it.”

    They’d reached the end of what Jeff was certain were endless forests. Before them stretched a vast savanna only dotted here and there by trees.

    “The designers who engineered the plants and animals here,”

    “And me,” she interrupted.

    “…and you,” he agreed, “sure didn’t have any inhibitions did they.”

    “No,” Bette agreed. “But a drop robin is no big deal, so what brought that up?”

    Jeff pointed out into the grass.

    “That’s a centaur.”

  3. I’m considering using the word “niggard” in a story set in early Edo-period Japan. To describe (obviously) someone who is a cheap skate, but using antique language.

    Question: in the opinion of Amanda and the assembled MGC sages, it this going to be worth doing or will the shirt-storm expand from amusing to serious?

    (And what does it say about life these days that a crusty, contrary old Boomer dude like myself is even asking the question?)

      1. “The Oni at the Crossroad.” Its a samurai/fantasy-ish SF-ish story. The dialog is like this:

        “When he came swimming back up to consciousness the old woman was right in his face. She had a foot pinning his good arm to the ground and his wakizashi was in her hand. Surprisingly, her form as she held the sword was perfect. Like a fencing instructor’s grip. Up close the true impact of her leathery face made itself felt. She looked like she bathed in gravel and slept on bamboo spikes.

        “With what shall you pay me for my help, noble one?” she rasped. “We peasants serve in happiness, but an old lady needs to eat.”

        “If I live, all that I have is yours,” whispered the young man faintly, for his strength was waning fast. “If I die, it’s all yours anyway. What you see is all my worldly possessions, and those of my family.” He grinned then, struck by the futility of his life. “Not much to show for a whole lineage, is it?”

        “More than some, my boy,” said the old lady, returning the grin. “There is one thing you have that I cannot take. It must be given.” At his puzzled look, the grin widened. “You hand in marriage. It has been long since I had a husband, and I like the look of you.”

        The young man looked at the horrible visage of the old woman, her bent form, her coarse hair. A bird sang in the silence and he wheezed a laugh. “Sure, grandma,” he whispered, eyes beginning to glaze. “What the hell, I’m yours. What’s your name?”

        “Fujiwara Sakiko” said the old woman, then giggled girlishly and put a finger to her cheek.

        “Wife of the Emperor? How fortuitous I should meet you like this, your majesty. Please pardon me if I don’t get up,” he whispered. “I am Nakayama Katahito, formerly of an old and proud family of samurai, presently nobody from nowhere thanks to the Shogun killing them all before I was born. My grandfather stepped in the shit down in Edo, as the story goes. Best hurry the priest along though, or the marriage will be short.” Then his eyes rolled back as he began seeing stars again.”

        [snippet ends]

        You can tell something’s up because gnarly old ladies did -not- know how to hold a sword in feudal Japan. The lord behind this unfortunate scene offered a really paltry reward for our young samurai’s head. “Even your own vassals name you niggard!” gets thrown in his face in a pre-fight shouting match.

        But I can already hear idiots screaming about the N word. Which would -totally- be used in samurai trash-talk in feudal Japan, but, you know, idiots.

        So I’m wondering if its worth it. A little shirt-storm would be fun. A big one, not so much.

        1. IIRC enough people are ignorant of the term (& it’s etymology) that Michael Z Williamson once ate an FB ban for “racism” when using the term “niggardly” in a post there…

          Might be a good way to get some noise about your work, or a bad one.

          1. Sarah got a Farcebook block today for something even stupider, saying that Jeffrey Epstein -totally- committed suicide. Uh huh, fer shur. Larry Correia got banned for a month for Krasnovia vs. Pineland trash talk. (Which are imaginary, for the Puppy Kickers I know are reading this. Go look up “niggard”, thou illiterate dung-hill rats.)

            Since I use not the Book of Farces, neither do I tweet, I think it will be okay on that front. Hard for them to ban me when I’m not on their damn platform.

        2. Ah. Not sure I’d worry about the fuss, I’d probably worry more that people had to stop and think of what the word means. Unless it’s super obvious from context that everyone considers the fellow cheap beyond reason it might cause some to hit a little speed bump in the narrative. The flow of the taunt itself seems good to me.

          1. The taunting has been pretty fun, I must say. I even got to finally call Ikari Shingi a little beeotch, which I’ve wanted to do since he moped and pouted his way through Neon Genesis Evangelion.

            I believe I will go for it, on the grounds that improving people’s vocabulary is a worthwhile thing in and of itself. My vocabulary is pretty good, mostly thanks to authors over the years using big words that I didn’t know and had to look up.

              1. Once, a long time ago, I thought about it and decided I didn’t care. If a reader is going to get to “vassal” or “suzerain” and stop because they’ve never seen it before, I lost them before that.

                If they’re involved in the story and want to find out what happens, they’ll roll over the funny word and not worry about it. If they’re not, it wasn’t the funny word that got them. It was my crappy story.

                Science fiction even uses made-up words, like runcible, ansible or blaster. (I love how Andre Norton used “blaster,” she never explained it. It was a weapon, it destroyed everything, and it didn’t matter how it worked.

                The one major thing I’ve consciously done is work to keep sentences shorter. I can keep a pretty long string in my head when I’m reading and make sense out of it, but not everybody can do that. This is an example of me being a mutant, not the reader being stupid. So I edit complex sentences down. Otherwise the work would be very annoying for most people to read.

                1. And now ‘Ansible’ is an IT automation tool from Red Hat! It’s funny how words are re-imaged in new ways as time goes by …

                2. It’s become a running joke with Sarah and me where I tease her about her use of burners and brooms, aka ray guns and antigravity sleds, in her Darkship universe. As the author all she needs do is say that they work, as an engineer I want some reasonable explanation of the physics involved.
                  As for niggardly, it’s a perfectly valid word, but using it is going to bring most readers out of the moment, in similar fashion to what’s become of the term gay which once only meant happy but now has other connotations.

                3. On a semi-related note: In the series I’m writing, the protagonists are one family of five. Each of them have their own character arc.In one of the arcs, the son meets and falls in love with a Colombiana. Her English is good, buy sometimes, like when she is pissed at him, she unconsciously reverts to Spanish. I’ve tried to compose this Spanish with enough obvious cognates and simple sentence structure to make it clear enough what the meaning is apparent. But I speak Spanish, so I Can’t see it as person unlearned in Spanish.
                  I don’t know if that’ll take people out of the book if they gotta C&P to Google translate. Opinion of my Betas is mixed.
                  I could add footnotes that offer Engrish translations on the bottom of the page, but a different mob thinks that is too complicated. (It’s hard to find a Texan w/o at least a smattering of Spanish.)

                  So, I am impaled on the horns of a dilemma.

                  1. I live in Plano; neither my wife nor I speak Spanish. And Kindle doesn’t let you C&P to Google translate that I can find. Put in the footnotes.

              2. I rarely look up words; context is usually good enough. Two exceptions lately, “indefeasible” and “entail” (the “no, you can’t sell your duchy” version). Actually, a third from here: The Greek hundred-armed things.

                I rarely care enough to bother. One inexplicable word is not going to throw me out of a story. On the other hand, use “less” when it should be “fewer” and I’m tossed out. Not wall-it worthy, but still annoying.

        3. The problem is that there simply aren’t that many words that mean “parsimonious” or “cheapskate” that don’t sound either too modern OR lack punch.

          Niggard hits the sweet spot: Thou churl! Thou niggard! Thou ha’ppeny sot!

          I fooled around on the OED a bit (any excuse) and my trusty Roget’s (get an older edition – much better than the online version) and found a few that might work:

          pinch-gut (vulgar)

        4. Don’t shy away from using Japanese terms here. Instead of calling her “grandma” he might call her “obaasan,” unless he knows this woman and is on affectionate terms with her, then it might be “obaachan.” Or he might call her obaachan just to be cheeky, and she might get cheeky right back by adding “-kun” to his name. She might call him “-kun” anyway just because she’s asking him to marry her, and it would emphasize her desire for more intimate terms.

          And if she’s [facetiously?] claiming to be the emperor’s wife, then he might respond by calling her “obaasama,” which is more respectful, and in keeping with the joke, if she’s making one. Those little touches would give more of a Japanese feel.

          I always understood “fencing” to refer to Western swordplay, whereas a reader would understand if you use “kenjutsu” or similar in that same context. And you’d probably be better off just using whatever slang term the Japanese use for stingy people. “Kechina” is probably what you’re going for here.

          I think readers are more forgiving of having to look up foreign words in foreign-analogue fantasies, or historical fiction. Especially if your target audience are those people who insist on only watching the subs and not the dubs of anime and the like. Japanese is one of those “rule of cool” languages which gives you a tremendous advantage right there. Your fan base would already knows most of the terms, and rules for the terms that I used above, so they wouldn’t give you any trouble.

          1. Those are good recommendations, Jamie. I know because I did that elsewhere in the story. ~:D Elsewhere he is Katahito-kun, when she’s winding him up.

            But I wanted to get some of our Western things in there, as a way of adding interest. He’s calling her “grandma” because that’s what “obaachan” means, and the average Western reader will grasp it instinctively. He’s a feudal nobleman, and he just surrendered to the weird old peasant lady because she’s being nice to him and he knows he’s going to die.

            This is why using “niggard” would be appropriate. The samurai are nobility, they’re not crappy men-at-arms with brains like oatmeal. They were the literate and educated class, their trash-talk would be flowery and cutting. IMHO, the use of an antique English word communicates that to a Western audience in a different way than an antique Japanese word.

            Also, if I’m an obvious Westerner writing a samurai story using lots of English words, it gives me some cover if I get a samurai history thing hilariously wrong. “Oh, he’s just a gaijin, they get things wrong all the time.” Like when anime gets our shit wrong, we don’t care. ~:D

  4. I won’t feel bad if someone tries to start a different Round Robin if mine didn’t inspire anyone. I’m afraid that someone will think they have to do mine if they want, and you don’t!

  5. 1) What specific actions do you take for marketing prior to release? How long do you continue these actions after release, or do you change your methods?
    2) How do you choose titles, pen names, chapter headings, etc?
    3) When do you give up on and stash a story for later?
    4) Thanks!

    1. If you really do need a pen name —

      The first rule of pen names is to pick one that sounds like an actual name of a 21st century person. (The bad ones I have heard of are mostly of people who pick names like the characters in a bad high fantasy novel.)

      After that, you want something easy to pronounce and distinctive.

    2. With Amazon’s insistence on table of contents at the front, I really like named chapters, but don’t go too crazy or the formatting gets weird. “Chapter One – An Unexpected Journey” is dandy. “Chapter One – An Unexpected Journey, in which our hero meets his traveling companions over a rowdy dinner” is a bit much.

  6. Question 1: Anyone know any good indy authors of mysteries for the YA audience that don’t involve serial killers? Seems like eight out of ten books the OldPub is pushing involve serial killers.

    Question 2: Any indy authors out there writing action packed thrillers for boys in the 10-15 year old range?

  7. So methane is denser than air…

    does this mean methane breathers will need larger lungs, larger… um… air holes… etc?

    1. How is methane denser than air? Okay, I had to look it up…

      Methane and water vapor are about the same, around 16 g/mol. CO2 is 44.01 g/mol. N2 is 28 g/mol and O2 is 32 g/mol.

      I have no idea why “methane worlds” would be extra large worlds in science fiction but methane molecules are small compared to N2, O2, or CO2

      1. ok, so i was wrong on the density- but methane worlds would be extra large worlds in S… i dunno, we have more examples of XL methane worlds?

            1. If you keeping taking about the gas and Uranaus people might start to look at you funny, and sniff the air worriedly.

      2. I have a couple of old articles on chemical planetology on the Freelance Traveller website. A lot depends on whether a planet is large and cool enough to hold onto its hydrogen. In our system, Mercury, the Moon, and Mars are too small, Venus is too hot, Earth is just large and cool enough to keep substantial amounts in the form of water and condensed out of the atmosphere. The asteroids are much too small. Almost everything from Jupiter out is cool enough to hold onto appreciable amounts of the hydrogen rich volatiles; water, ammonia, and methane as well, which helps account for why the gas giants are gas giants. (Io gets heated appreciably by Jupiter; Europa, Ganymede are each icier). Further out than Jupiter, water is strictly a mineral, and ammonia gets frozen out as well. Triton is just large and warm enough to have a predominantly methane atmosphere. Exoplanets, depending on the age, luminosity, and chemical composition of the primary star and the size and distribution of planets, can have an even greater variety than we get in our system.

      1. Not really a hard one since the current theory says that bacteria ate the methane in our atmosphere. Methane-eating bacteria have a protein that can break the methane bond.

    2. I seem to recall that I once figured, based on the thermodynamics of the probable reactions, that methane breathers of SF were actually plants. (CH4 + H2O = CH2O + 2H2)

          1. Bacteria can scale up to either plants or animals; depending on which elements are free and abundant. I would suppose that those that require energy to produce complex organic molecules get to be plants, while those that get energy from complex molecules get to be animals.

          2. Not that they are that essential to the story, they are just off in the background. But they consider Earth (and most oxygen worlds) to have had an ecological disaster, whereas we consider a methane-atmosphere world the opposite.

  8. Gamelit characters in a dungeon crawl are being harassed by low-level monsters that hit and run. What’s the best tactics for dealing with them? (Before they locate and wipe out the base.)

    1. Take the following with a grain of salt; I’ve never read game-lit books, because I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion I’d rather just play whatever game the characters are playing. But thinking back to Baldur’s Gate games, I always had Imoen (or my own thief-PC) wear the Boots of Speed while in stealth mode. Then Imoen would sneak up to wherever a group of the monsters were — kobolds usually had a hang-out area, I think — and then shoot an arrow at them. Even if she missed, it would aggro the kobolds to come chase her to where Minsc or another tank was waiting.

      But before that, I likely would have Imoen or a wizard put a trap in a chokepoint just before the spot where I parked Minsc; the trap would soften them up. A wizard might be standing just far enough past Minsc and the second tank to do an Area of Effect spell on the kobolds, before they’d even notice she was there.

      If you didn’t want to aggro the kobolds, then Imoen could just stealthily stroll up to the kobolds without them seeing her. The wizard would follow some distance behind her. Imoen’s placement allows the wizard to do an area of effect spell on the kobolds without the wizard having to get close enough for them to see her, and Imoen can peace out before the spell takes effect, so long as she has the Boots of Speed. I think Jack Vance originally called them the Living Boots; I don’t know what name you’d have to use to avoid getting sued.

      If the kobolds aren’t clustering themselves into a target-rich-environment, then the thieves and wizards need to trap and ward the heck out of choke points. I think Dragon Age: Origins gave the “Insidious” badge to any thief who successfully trapped a hundred enemies or so.

  9. In a superhero world, after something happens to you, you may have powers. No one ever manifests powers except in situations that provoke their use. So they do a lot of testing to draw out what you might have. Such as
    * trying to have you pick up weights
    * throwing you into the air and seeing if you fly
    * startling you with effigies (energy attacks, superspeed, invisibility)
    * pricking your skin in a painful manner (invulnerability, which always comes with a “danger sense” to sort out real dangers)
    * tours of large zoos to see if you can speak with animals
    * blood testing to see if you are immune to poisons that attack blood
    * trips to many ecosystems to see if the environment triggers something (shore, for instance, brings out that some can turn to mermaids — or mermen)

    More suggestions? I think testing is going to dominate a large part of their lives for some time after. (You can have any number of powers, which have no relationship to each other.)

      1. That’s done with effigies on account of the invulnerable people have other work to do. Also, you never know whether the attack might be against something other than what the character’s invulnerable to.

    1. There’s also pilot training. Even if the flying is automatic, they have to know VFR and IFR flight rules, how to talk to ATC, file flight plans, etc. Hitting a plane will ruin everyone’s day.

    2. That just screams “ripe for abuse.” It could very easily slipper-slope into something nasty as hazing often does. Waterboard or witch-dunk them to see if they grow gills. There’s really no safe way to toss people off buildings to see what happens (exception: The Matrix). One can limit damage trying to determine fire invulnerability, but “limit” is not “eliminate”; at least blistering would be involved, I’d think.
      If someone did not discover his ability until after the Nth test, I can see some REALLY pissed off supers.

      1. There are a lot of things they just don’t test for because they can’t do it safely enough. As one super tells our heroine, the only poisons they can do are those that affect blood.

        Besides the possibility of annoyed supers, there’s also the aspect that most of the testing is done by supers. (There are reasons why.) This means that you are going to have to live and work with the people you test. (There are reasons for that, too.)

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