Telling stories around the campfire. Plays and puppet shows. Scrolls. Books. Movies . . .
The only thing that changes is the technology. A the bottom is still an enjoyable story. Or not. Some things do fizzle, after all.
You fill it up with books, of course!
Here are a few “First of a Series” and “Stand Alone” books from the Mad Geniuses.
Darkship Thieves by Sarah Hoyt
Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. Read more
We write our books in certain settings, worlds, cultures. They all impose restraints on our characters, which they have to live within, or break, and deal with the consequences.
Last winter, in a moment of frustrated “I don’t have any ideas!” I set out to write something, anything—something I could throw away later without caring.
I wrote a “Mirror Image” story, where my usual Good Guys were bad, and the Bad Guys were good. Yeah, I went Full On “Spock with a goatee.”
It was _really_ fun. My Hero, totally unrestrained. No brakes.
Mind you, being me, I wound up with explanations, and redefined “Bad Guy” in this context.
But I also learned—via my long suffering Beta Readers—that it was a great story.
At eight months remove, I can see that the reason they liked it was that my character threw off all restraints and went full bore to get what he wanted. What _he_ thought was right. _No_ Cultural restraints. To &^%$ with the law. _No_ diplomacy. Totally over the top, full on blood bath, and torture when nothing else worked.
Unpleasant in real life.
Essential in fiction.
Don’t let your characters be hemmed in by convention. Remove their shackles. Let ‘er rip and deal with the consequences later. Take it over the top. Just make sure that what your Character wants, most readers will agree with. And your readers should be positive that the “Other Guys” deserve what they’re about to receive.
And then show the absolute best/worst/bloodiest your Character can be. Throw his heart, his soul, and his body into it. Go to the max . . . then find even more, and get him over the top!
That’s what your readers want.
What character went full Evil Twin? Ra’d, of course! Let’s face it, he’s got the potential. Here’s how it happened in _one_ universe . . .
No Mo NaNo–A blast from the past since this is the second day of nothing new . . .
It’s the twenty fourth of November and my novel is [pick one]
(A) Finished. And it’s only X words!
(B) Boring. I just can’t make myself do more.
(C) Chaotic. It doesn’t make any sense.
(E) I haven’t a clue!
Welcome to the last week of NaNoWriMo, where we all despair! Let me throw out some ideas that might help you get going again.
Finished? Ha! Go back a make a searchable mark (I use ///) everyplace where you told us about something instead of showing us, instead of pulling us into the situation.
Then go back to the start and search those out. Rewrite them. Use lots of dialog. Don’t be stiff and terse. Have some fun. Have your hero call something pink. Have your heroine disagree. “Don’t be silly! It’s obviously a soft dusty salmon.” “It’s a fish?” Or flip the genders on it. He’s an artist, he sees these colors. Make the reader laugh. Or cry. Or get mad.
Then go to the next mark and rewrite that bit. Do them all.
Boring? Tell me, what is the story problem and why does it really, really matter to the main character(s)?
Oh, it doesn’t really matter? Make it matter. Or pick a different MC to whom it does. No, you don’t have to start over. _Add_ the POV of the formerly secondary character. Go to the start and see if you can insert chapters from the new POV. Give us a new angle on the problem.
How many try/fail sequences have you written? What do you mean the MC never failed? No wonder it’s boring. Make the solution harder, have him or her try and fail at least two times. Or three or four. Then have a black introspective moment. Have the MC realize he’s using the wrong technique and going about it all wrong/afraid to get hurt/afraid of the consequences of success/too damned stubborn to admit he’s part of the problem. Or whatever is appropriate to your story. Then grit his or her teeth and commit to the fight.
Chaotic? Hey it’s a first draft, coherency is not a requirement. You might think about where you want this story to wind up at. If the story has grown beyond—or sideways to—your first goal, think up a new one. It may change again, but for now it’ll give you something to aim at. If you never had a goal, now’s the time.
They say, don’t data dump, but do you have enough world building? For a first draft, large chucks of background aren’t all bad. In December, when you start editing, you can spread the info out and present it in more tasteful morsels, where needed. Sometimes in different forms, several times if the information is crucial. Then it becomes clever foreshadowing. _Don’t_ dwell on it if it isn’t majorly important. A book I just read by one of my favorite authors mentioned the city being built on the side of an active volcano over and over. Darn thing never erupted! I felt cheated by a lack of volcanic violence.
Other techniques that could help?
Add a romantic interest? Already got one? How about a rival? Maybe an old flame shows up at an awkward time?
Mess up your character’s time table with weather problems? Traffic accident? Sick child?
Speaking of accidents, if your hero is just too formidable, a leg in a cast or a summer cold with a horrible hack-up-a-lung cough dragging on . . .
Add a minor annoyance who causes just enough of a complication to mess up something.
Add a dog or cat. A parrot with a foul mouth.
Add a second (or third or forth) POV character. _If_ that would help. Is the villain of the story a POV character? If not, think about adding him or her, or perhaps his or her evil step daughter.
Add more internal thoughts, to pull the reader into the POV character’s head, it could explain a few things that would be awkward in dialog. You can give your POV character’s opinion of a person or place, or orders, while they smile on the outside and take it.
Did you give your MC some interesting quirks or hobbies? Make sure he think about them, gets interrupted while doing them and so forth.
Speaking of interruptions, what was you character doing just before the scene started? Does she hastily abandon something? Does he carefully put away all his tools, save perhaps the crowbar before he heads for the latest fight? Make them human with exasperating delays and irritations. Bad habits and good. A nagging spouse or parent.
If all you need is a relatively minor number of words, try more scene description. Do you have sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch cues in every scene? Try adding some over-done descriptions just for the practice. But don’t go back and do this until the whole story is written.
So. If you’re stuck, tell us about it. You have a ready made resource, right here, of people who can throw you twice as many suggestions as you could possibly want.
Oh, and no mater how badly the story is going, don’t kill your main character. No matter how much he or she deserves it. Humiliate him, and make him realize what a jerk he’s been to not follow your plot. Then put him back to work solving the problem. Think tough love.
And get your butt in the chair, the fingers on the keyboard, and the internet OFF!
“Hi. My name is Pam. I am a disorganized writer.”
I rarely plan books at all, let alone in detail. A character springs, fully formed, from the black depths of my creative self, and next thing you know, it’s fingers on the keys writing all about where he is and what he’s doing. A Classic Pantser. But at some point, if your gateway writing isn’t producing a coherent narrative, you need to consciously analyze your story and organize the chaos. Your readers will thank you.
Now, in my current NaNoWriMo story that I’m working on, I at least know from what seed the Main Character sprouted. Cue Audioslave “Like a Stone.” Add in less than accute hearing, a silly sense of humor, and you can pick out lines . . .
“By a freeway, I confess I was lost . . . ”
Ah Ha! A poor lost dog!
” . . . you led me on . . . ”
Rescued by a young lady!
“In your house I long to be
Room by room patiently
I’ll wait for you there
Like a stone
I’ll wait for you there
But you know? I can’t blame Audioslave for him turning out to be a werewolf.
So anyway, with no planning whatsoever I’m tapping away at this story. Or whatever you call it at this stage. And I hit the first problem. Which is a serious lack of a problem. There’s got to be something that matters to Stone, that goes horribly wrong. This is the first point at which I have to grit my teeth and, ugh! ORGANIZE!
At this point I become a plotter. But just for a little while.
Well, okay, for once the story problem is pretty obvious. He was limping down the road after a fight with other werewolves. So they just need to show up again and threaten the (yes, yes, of course she’s a beautiful young blonde) woman who picked him up and took him home with her.
Umm, we may need some extra character development here. Is Stone a Bad Boy who’s changed his ways? And that’s why the pack tossed him? Or was he . . . orphaned and raised by a sweet elderly couple? And he has foolishly sought out his blood relatives to find out what he is? And discovered that werewolves aren’t very nice people.
Okay, we’ll go with that. And kick the plotter mind out the door.
And we write and write and . . . come to the end of the story.
And realized it’s pretty much a disorganized mush.
Now, darn it all, it really is time to get organized. Get back to being a Plotter. This is where I drag out “The Hero’s Journey” and checking to see how many points I’ve hit or missed.
The Classical Hero’s Journey
(1) Start in the ordinary world. This establishes what your hero’s life is like, before the adventure. Often, these days, stories open with an action sequence to hook the reader, then show the more normal life. Think about the opening of most James Bond films. Most of them are not _just_ a fantastic action scene, but help set up the main story problem.
(2) The call to adventure comes. “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope.”
(3) Refusal of call. The character refuses the call or hesitates to go. This is sometimes short or even implied. “I can’t go to Mos Eisley!”
(4) Meeting with the guide. This is not necessarily a guide. Some processes call him a mentor. Think Merlin to Arthur. Gandalf, Obi Wan . . . they tend toward short lifespans, as the Hero needs to take over and be the leader.
(5) Crossing the Threshold. “Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?” There’s no going back now.
(6) Tests, Allies, Enemies . This varies with the novel, but think of the classic fairy tales. The character meets with three people. Each of them gives him or her something that can be used on the journey, or teaches him a skill he will need. You get the point. Send your character to school, hand him a magic sword or BFG 3000, have him find companions, vehicles, whatever your story requires for the MC to win.
(7) Try-fail sequences. At least three for a novel, some of the low points being caused by the previous attempts. Interleaving these with the acquiring of allies, skills, knowledge and equipment is useful.
(8) Approach to the inner-most cave—the black moment—the nadir—the “mirror moment”—the realization—the reimagining—the commitment. Call it what you will. Your character needs to emotionally crash, then come out of it energized and determined.
(9) The TEST. This is the greatest battle. The biggest love trial. Whatever. This is where your character is put through the white hot furnace and melts or not. What the trial is has been set since the beginning – the meeting with the villain, the crossing of the perilous chasm. The hero wins, story over . . . except if you do end it immediately the reader will be upset. A gradual let down is needed.
(10) Reward. Show what the hero gets out of it, immediately. Freedom, money, kiss, whatever. The awkward version is the end of the first Star Wars movie. Try for something more emotionally satisfying than an awards ceremony.
(11) Return to the new normal.
This can be going home—or not.
Or a marriage proposal. Or goodbyes.
It needs to show the development the characters have gone through, how they adjust. Give the reader a glimpse of the future.
(12) And sometimes, the refusal of the return. The character isn’t ready to go back to the ordinary world. This can inspire your readers to reach for something beyond the ordinary. Or it may be a sign that you have a series on your hands.
This is, if you want to analyze a story, a very useful framework.
It doesn’t have to fit well. But if it fits badly, look especially at (6) and (7).
If your MC is not meeting people, learning things, or gaining useful tools—that’s something you really need to look into. While it sounds like a Fantasy Trope, it’s also extremely important in Mysteries. Interview people, find clues. Get emotionally attached to the Women-who-everyone-thinks-dun-it, pick up an amusing sidekick . . . whatever.
And the try-fail sequences. (Ouch! Think I’ve just found a problem!) In a short story, even one failure, followed by a deep dark emotional dip and finding determination before winning gives a story some emotional impact. In a mystery, you’ve found proof someone else did it, only to find out contradicting evidence (three bloody times!) Black moment. “She’s going to be convicted and executed!” Then you put the clues together differently, and Voila! You arrest the amusing sidekick! (Sorry about the sense of humor, there’s a reason I’m not a big time mystery writer)
Well, going back to my werewolf, how do you actually fit a story into the HJ?
I’ve found that I have to physically manipulate the scenes.
I print out the first paragraph or so of each scene, just enough to bump my memory. A separate page for each scene. Lay them out in order and write on them, where they match one of the steps.
What’s missing? (What? Zero try/fails? C’mon, Pam you know better!)
Would it work better in a different order? (Should the blonde find out earlier that he’s a werewolf? When should her brother-in-law the FBI agent find out?)
So I shuffle pages around, make notes. Figure out where to put in the try fails . . .
Another thing to look at, somewhere in my—and possibly your—disorganized flailings, is a look at the genre, and the genre expectations. For instance, since this is showing signs of at least a strong romance thread, there needs to be a lot more togetherness. And if, as I fear, we’ve fallen into a Sweet Werewolf Romance I’m going to need a lot more togetherness. And probably a pen name.
I fear it may wind up as silly as this one:
Show Don’t Tell
We’ve had requests for a blog along the lines of “But how do we do it?” So I’ll take first whack at it.
Short version? You take a short boring bit that gets you past the messy details and into the part you want to write—and you go back and put in the messy details, especially those emotions you didn’t want to slather all over your beautiful clean manuscript.
I’m not good at explaining, but I can try to demonstrate, first draft to final publication.
So here’s wizard, doing some experimental magical genetic engineering.
Telling—he’s passing it off like practically nothing happened:
“No kidding. Now stop trying to divert me from these longevity genes. You aren’t going to experiment on your own dogs, are you?” Q looked at him suspiciously.
“Yep. I did Lion already. Four hours and he’s fine.” He winced at her glare. “I’m standing by, in case he needs to be switched back, and I have wine.”
Showing—make it hurt:
Xen studied the old dog carefully, found the same gene complexes, and very gently started changing them, one at a time. With pauses in between to check the dog for signs that he had done something Really Bad to his cellular metabolism. When he was done, the old dog didn’t seem any different. Lion heaved himself to his feet and walked stiffly out to circle the sheep. Walked partway back, staggering a bit.
Xen sat up in alarm and trotted out to meet him. The old dog laid down, his head drooped.
“Lion?” Xen sank his awareness into the dog. Wish I could see like a witch . . . He’s very low on energy.
He looked into the bubble he called his backpack. A change of clothes, food, water and the Wine of the Gods.
He pulled out the food, coaxed Lion to eat . . . with minimal success.
He scooped the dog up and traveled to Lady Gisele’s garden. Tried to keep his voice steady. “My first patient seems to be dying. He’s low on energy.”
“Humph. Let’s see.” The old crone reached out to stroke the dog. “Indeed.” She reached over to her shelves and plucked off a bottle.
“That’s maple syrup.”
“Yes, dear, and good source of sugar, to get his gylcogen levels up. Let’s see if he can swallow it . . . Hmm, well, a bit of tubing . . . ”
She plucked plastic tubing from nowhere, and wormed it down Lion’s throat.
“There’s a funnel behind you, third shelf, the small one . . . thank you.”
He go the funnel into the tube and poured a teaspoon of maple syrup into it.
“Now, let’s see what’s happening on the cellular level . . . Oh dear.”
Xen was following her vision as far as he could. Chromosomes writhing about, under attack by his ribozymes, ripping into the right genes and then building up the new ones, grabbing the chemicals needed . . . whether the rest of the cell could spare them or not. Whether the cell needed that gene—old or new version, right then.
Cells were dying, fast. Lots of them.
Everything they tried made it worse.
They couldn’t save him.
Xen spent the rest of the day out on the hills with the sheep and the horses.
Cradling his old dog.
Blackie and Silky crawled up to him, crying.
Quicksilver showed up in the mid-afternoon. Just sat down silently.
“So . . . I was over confident.”
“What were you trying to do?”
He hauled out his spells and let her look them over. “The longevity genes.”
“An essential transformation? Xen . . . that is brilliant work.”
Xen shook his head. “It just tore into the genes and started changing them. It was too fast, too much all at once . . . or maybe those genes are multipurposed to something in basal cell metabolism, that can’t be interrupted.”
She sighed. “I’m better at physics. This stuff . . . I can do it, using other peoples spells. I don’t grasp the significance of possible genetic changes, of how to invent them.”
“I wasn’t really inventing new genes. I was changing the genes at eight specific sites to slightly different genes. Known genes, ones that will work fine.”
“In humans. Maybe not in dogs?”
“The Hell Hounds have some of them. Lion had one copy each of three of them. I just tried to give him the other five, and double pairs. He . . . ran out of glycogen, and the changes were messing up the cell chemistry. Even getting sugar into him didn’t help, and when I tried to stop the process . . . well, the chromosomes started falling apart.” He pet the cold stiff form in his lap. “I killed him.”
Or how about some cross-dimensional scientific cooperation?
A perfectly adequate mention:
“So, your first scientific expedition from another polity – and it had to be them.” Xen grinned across the table at his sister.
She grinned cheerfully back. “And an interesting trio the Arbolians are. Both the men are natural wizards, with enough training to shield their natures from me, if they hadn’t gone and shook hands. The girl has no power genes but a fair collection of the rest. They all seem very smart, and very much what they claim to be, otherwise. One astronomer, one photographic specialist, one guy to keep everything working. In any case, they’re parked up on that hill busy all night and sleeping all day.”
And then showing:
I am an ambassador. They dare not kill me.
Hadley Greene forced himself to walk calmly and steadily across the plaza. Why must they make everything so large? So far away? We should acquire one of those vehicles. One of those limos. A large black one, worthy of my status. Or white for my purity.
They had always said the power had been too weak in him—they had not allowed him to go on to the more advanced training of the priesthood. Thirty years later, the rejection still burned. Especially now, in his maturity, when he understood that his only lack had been money for bribes or political influence on his maternal family’s side.
And now, so poorly trained, I must walk alone into that vipers’ nest of feral gods. I dare not even bring an aide, who could be influenced, ordered to murder me in my sleep some night in the future.
It wasn’t the sun overhead that was making him sweat.
He didn’t allow himself to stop at the road, nor the base of the steps. By the time he reached the top, the double doors were open, and two men . . . no. Two gods. Unchained, uncontrolled, unmastered . . .
I could take one, for my own. The priests would bow before me. Weak? Ha!
He eyed the two gods. The young one. I want him. He swallowed saliva. But not now. No, I’ll have to find him alone, off his guard. Asleep would be best.
He stopped a cautious distance away, stood straight and tall, and raised his chin. “I am Hadley Greene, Ambassador for Arbolia. I require your assistance for a scientific expedition.”
The young one nodded. “I’m sure that we will be delighted to assist you. May I introduce Dr. Quail Quicksilver? She is in charge of Science and Exploration.” He stepped back and gestured invitingly as a young woman stepped forward.
Abomination! A female with power! But that glow is unmistakable. Except, there is no sexual attraction. Of course, abnormal genes. That would explain it. It’s not a True Female. I could take it, transform it into the God of Women. No. The God of Sex.
He was so deep into plots that he nearly forgot to be afraid as he stepped into the den of the deadly wild gods.
“. . . proper scientific study of these dimensions. So we expect your cooperation.” The Arbolian ambassador was watching her with a hungry expression. Sweating.
Q kept her expression politely neutral.
Lust or terror? How can one tell with a hideous perv like this?
And why did the first request for scientific project have to come from them?
The man is a mage of some sort, possibly one of their priests.
I should get a genetic sample for Mother. She talked about these people . . . I thought she was exaggerating.
“I appreciate your interest in science, Ambassador. This looks like a very interesting project. We will support it, and assist as necessary. Have your project people contact me about what they will need.” She stood and extended a hand.
He recoiled . . . stared at her hungrily. “They will contact you.” He turned and walked out.
She glanced suddenly at the corner of the office. A light warp unraveled.
“So, your first scientific expedition from another polity—and it had to be them.” Xen grinned.
She shook her head. “Being over protective, Big Bro?”
“Yeah. I didn’t like the way he salivated when he looked at me and Inso.” He walked to the doorway and grinned back at her. “But he did seem to find you sexy.”
He ducked away from a threatened fireball, and she grabbed a tissue and swabbed the edge of her desk. Maybe Mother can sort out his DNA. She dropped the tissue in a bag and sealed it. I do like plastic. It’s going to be a bigger import category than electronics.
“We need to do a first survey from several wildly different worlds, and analyze the results.” Lord Marius Menchuro of Arbolia was an astronomer. A serious young man, with none of the ambassador’s hunger. He’d shaken her hand without hesitation, as had his assistants.
Trace and Trill Breesdon were brother and sister. Trill was a photographic expert, Trace an expert at keeping everything working.
“Everything” being a twenty-four inch reflecting telescope mounted on a horse drawn wagon, and a huge camera for taking long exposure photographs, and the photographic lab, in addition to a great deal of camping equipment.
Damn. Now this is interesting. Studying the planets, moons and asteroids for changes from world to world.
“Indeed. Let me introduce you to the maze. I think we have everything—every place—you’ll need for this first survey already easily available.”
Another example This time from my eccentric time traveler:
When we landed, I started laying out the plans for two space fighters. Then I had to break for a bit to calm down the accountant and sign some late tax papers and so forth. Good grief. I hired him to not bother me. He calmed down eventually. Until I told him it was going to happen regularly.
Then I had to calm down Natalie and Aura and sign some late tax papers and so forth. Good grief. I’d hired them to not bother me. They calmed down eventually. Until I told them it was going to happen regularly.
“We’ll be away regularly, and come back every September, probably, to recuperate. Just file the taxes.”
“What kind of bloody resort are you?”
“A private one.”
“Your income is from selling rare metals?”
“We like to mine, but it is a bit dangerous. So we needed a nice tranquil spa to come home to.”
Aura crossed her arms, looking a great deal less like a fluffy-head than usual. “We looked all over for you. What is that weird machine in the practically hidden warehouse?”
“A very large three dee printer. Very advanced. Don’t touch it.”
“And the practically hidden airplane hanger?”
“It’s for the airplane. Vertical takeoff and landing, so don’t ask me why I don’t have an airstrip.”
They glowered at me.
I tried again. “Umm, couldn’t find a good batcave?”
So much for popular entertainment . . . But they’d never believe the truth.
Natalie growled. “Sign here and here. Write a check for this amount. Mail it, dammit. Today.”
“And here’s my bill.”
“How about I give you signature authority . . . ”
“No! Doing your paperwork is scary enough! God forbid anyone would think I was a part of your amazingly weird . . . group.”
Go through your manuscript, and hunt down those quick little unemotional spots . . . and tell the whole thing. Bleed on the paper. Or laugh. Just don’t let it lay there, neutral and boring.