Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Culture Clashing - World Building for Writers

Here’s what writers face every day. It’s simple really. If they’re creating a world that is known, that is, some version of the earth or the country you live in or the town, or whatever, research is necessary to fill in the background of your story. Experience, webcrawling, visiting libraries, whatever it takes. It’s still pretty straight-forward. 

The hitch comes in when a writer sits down to create any kind of what is referred to as ‘speculative’ fiction. That’s when it gets to be great fun. Or at least it better be fun or I advise you not to do it.  Here’s where the writer has the opportunity – even the necessity to create fictional worlds, cultures, languages, the whole shebang. Think about writers like J.R.R. Tolkien  Orson Scott Card  Edgar Rice Burroughs and others.

So, how does a writer go about creating a whole culture? Well, the industrious writer can simply steal one. By that I mean he or she can use an event in history, say the fall of the Roman empire the characters can be ‘renamed’ and recycled; just keep the core values and what’s at the base of the culture still there and plunge in. Only problem is, if your skeleton is too visible lots of history buffs are going to say, hey, this isn’t original – it’s a remake!  And another thing to think about is if you want to add something to the mix, like the paranormal or magic or some such and don’t think it thorough as to how it would affect the underlying skeletal culture things get complicated. 

On the other hand you can construct a whole new world by borrowing bits and pieces of various cultures that appeal to your storytelling instincts and add dollops of your own unique elements.  But beware, you’re now on your way, on that slippery slope to creating your own worlds and cultures – gasp, building fictional cultures from scratch just like JRR Tolkein did. 

Admittedly this is the toughest route to take, but it’s very cool. Problem is (isn’t there always one or two or …. Well, you get it) the writer has to keep everything straight as the story is created. This creates a literal minefield of problems that can explode in the writer’s face.  You think you can mess up a story with plot holes? Just try holes in story background when you’re creating your own whole culture. Think about it. If no one is allowed to harm a bird, why are they sitting at the table eating turkey? Why do your characters fear the terrible dragon if each village has its own ‘hero dragonslayer’? If they live in verdant, lush farm country why are they starving and not farming?
The examples are a bit extreme, but you get the drift. The writer must be aware at all times of these little things, keeping track of them, finding ways to work them into the story or work a way around them.

So the writer, in beginning to create a culture from scratch, such as the rich and varied world of Lord of The Rings really should plan things out in broad strokes from the beginning. Ask himself questions like where do the people live? Mountains, desert, forest? Is it hot, cold, mild? Scorching heat or blizzards or both? Are they near lakes, rivers, creeks, the ocean?  It needs to be taken into consideration what types of resources they have. Is the soil fertile? Farming? Do they have the wheel and/or metalworking? Do they have a buried asset like gold, diamonds or something with the worth of oil even if it’s black and yucky?

Where do they live? In caves? Houses? What kind of dwellings? Straw, clay, brick, wood? 

And what kind of food do they eat? Deer and rabbits? Fish? Do they have rare and exotic spices? Do they raise livestock like cattle, chickens, etc.? Or maybe they fish farm. Or perhaps they eat some fruit/veggie/meat the writer has created from scratch as well. 

It isn’t easy this culture/world-building. The writer has to consider things like if using the paranormal or magic or SciFi elements, how does that work in and does it make sense throughout the story? If the main character can ‘see dead people’, i.e. paranormal, is that character feared? Courted for his abilities? Messed up because this is driving him crazy?

And that would lead into what the people of that culture believe in. If very superstitious they might well shun the Seer of Dead People as being some kind of threat. If that’s the case is there an organized religious leadership that would come out against the character? 

If advanced, curious and intelligent, they might seek his guidance. Or, they might not believe in anything, so then where does the culture/story go?

And what do they have at their disposal? There’s quite the debate about vaccination right now. What if the society had no access to anything like it, no vaccines, no way to fight infections?  What kind of a society would that be? 

And who’s in charge? In the Harry Potter books it certainly seemed the magically inclined were actually in charge despite what the ‘muggles’ might think, yet of course the magically inclined did not rule in that series of books. 

On the other hand, governing might be left to that guy who Sees Dead People as he the small population like him are privy to information the ‘normal’ person of that culture is not. And if they are the ‘governors’ then what kind of governing? Tyranny? Monarchy? Representative Government? 

Take into account things like who their friends and enemies are, do they have trade, is there a war (if so what are the weapons and how are they procured?) or are they in the wake of a previously fought war? 

When building a new culture there is a lot of extrapolation involved and a lot of follow-through.

Truly it is a very difficult task, yet a very rewarding one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writers And Readers Websites Wednesday - Free Ebooks

Yep, you read that right, one of many sites where you can download Ebooks - free. Try Get Free Ebooks.

 Now, don't get me wrong, I'm always a big advocate of "writers should be paid" - and by the way, paid what they're worth, but there are also lots of opportunities for readers out there who have little more than lint in their pockets or would like to try an author out.  Lots of free books that are on promotion or the writer has simply put them out there for consumption. 

This site offers everything from cookbooks, to engineering, to self-help, to fiction to a smattering of audio books. 

Hey, NASA offers free Ebooks as well. I downloaded a couple from there myself. 

There are others if you care to explore, and I won't say don't, but remember the hard-working author and lay down a few bucks for that favorite writer as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fiction Writers, Readers, Students - Consider The Sentence

Fiction Writers – Go Forth And Fiction
The joy of the sentence.

Fiction writing is a tricky business. Really.

And, there are times when things get so darn tangled up that we need to go back to the basics so our readers aren’t lost in that tangle wondering what the heck is going on.

So today I’m going to talk about some real basic stuff. Let’s start with the sentence. You can go a couple of different directions when writing a sentence. You can go positive or negative.  You want to be clear and concise so it’s usually best to go with the positive.

For example:

He did not remember where he put the damn car keys.
He forgot where he put the damn keys!

Which is plainer and which is more engaging?  Read your work carefully and try not to go down the path in which you use so many negatives that you twist things up good and the reader loses track of where you’re going.

Think about the rhythm of your sentences and what you’re trying to convey.  You can write in short, staccato bursts, flowery and lengthy or flowing and succinct. There’s a lot of variety in how sentences can be put together, their length. Short, staccato sentences could relate to tense drama, or the boredom of a character or other artistic purpose. Ponder this,  Hemingway who was known for his plain, simple sentences won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.  But there’s another side of the scale. William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1954 and his sentences were pretty much opposite of Hemingway. Read a few passages of both and see what I mean.

And since we’re still talking about the basic sentence let’s think about  pacing and sentence length. What does a long sentence do to you as a reader?  Yep, it impacts the pace of the story. When the writer is producing longer sentences it slows the story down, gives the reader a breather. That’s needed in any kind of story.

However, it is possible to go to far and bore the reader to the point of giving up and putting the book aside. So, shorter sentences suggest a faster pace.  They’re also great when you want to snap a point across and keep those eyeballs glued to your page. Think about the characters you create as well. Some characters might speak in longer, flowing sentences, others utter grunts and single syllables.

Then there’s the active and passive voice. Which to use? Generally the active is better and more forceful.  Here, take a look.

The car was hit by a truck running the red light.
The truck ran a red light and hit the car.

Okay, both sentences need more ‘color’ but at the bare bones, in the second sentence  delivers more power and puts the emphasis on the truck.  Personally I go with more of the active voice.

It may seem odd before you really give it some thought, but even the order of the words in the sentence can have an impact on the writing.  You might say something like “Sam wasn’t really thinking of taking a walk.” Or you could turn things around a bit and let Sam do the talking. Something like “A walk? I wasn’t really thinking of taking a walk just now.” Or you could just turn the sentence around without Sam doing any talking to say something like, “Taking a walk just then wasn’t high on Sam’s To-Do list.”

Of course writing is much more than just sentences. The writer must think in terms of paragraphs, chapters and the story. But, if you get the hang of sentences you’re half way home. 

How's your writing/reading/composition coming along? Drop a comment below now. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Writers And Readers Websites Wednesday - PubSlush

 PUBSLUSH - For Everyone

Head on over to PubSlush "A Community Connecting the Writing World to Readers". 

Something for everyone here - Readers. Writers, Publishers. And they support the fight against illiteracy, support industry professionals and Literary Projects and more. 

A great community to get involved with for anybody who reads, writes, or is involved with the industry. 

Go ahead - surf on over and visit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Writers And The Hurdles of Publishing

Writing and publishing in the modern, digital world is changing and changing very quickly. off–the-cuff response may be well, duh!

But here’s the thing, duh or not, all that changing is offering a whole lot more opportunities and choices but also some conundrums the writer hasn’t faced before

There’s the traditional method which is still a strong one, but it also still has the amazing hurdles the writer must negotiate before publication.  Sadly the chances of running the marathon and getting all the way from query letter to holding that book in your hand is truly scary.  Writers submit every day to agents and statistically about 95% of those manuscripts never get represented. Furthermore the odds don’t improve much even if you do get representation since less than half that get represented actually get a book deal.


I’m not finished. Even with that failure rate, it potentially gets worse. Advances are pathetic and not dependable. Most books published don’t do very well (despite the hoo-haw you hear about ‘best-sellers’), get returned after a very short window of exposure on a bookstore shelf and cost the author even more as advances must be ‘earned out’ before more income can be seen from a book and returns come back against that balance. 

On top of all that, when a book is accepted for publication it can easily take up to two years (or even more) for that book to become a real,  hold-in-the-hand object. Still, for many, it’s the way to go. Book prep and design, cover design, editing, all that’s taken care of for you. It is a big plus

So how goes the alternative, the shiny and new self-publishing? There are some rumblings that the ‘gold-rush’ is past, that self-publishing has hit the ceiling and is now on the decline.

Um, don’t think so myself. I think it’s just changing, hitting its stride, becoming the evolving and maturing alternative to traditional publishing.

In a number of ways self-publishing can be better and in some ways worse. It’s much better in that the whole process is shortened and in the hands of the writer. This is good if the writer makes sure the editing is professional and the formatting perfect before publishing in digital or Print On Demand or Audio books or all three. It means more work and learning for that writer, but it also means ultimately more time to write that next book since it eliminates lots of time spent writing query letters, contacting agents, possibly dealing with a bad agent and doing constant rewrites at the request of a seemingly interested agent who doesn't come through, and pitching new works.

But it can be a lot worse if that writer gets the book looking great, professional and polished and then it doesn’t sell. Why not? Despite writing and rewriting blurbs, doing another edit, playing with the cover and price point and creating promotions, very little happens. Since it all falls on the writer it can be a very heavy burden. Frustrating and demoralizing. For the writer who expects to earn a living that way it’s very difficult.

But again, realize making it as a writer is damn hard and it doesn’t matter which way you choose to approach it. Many writers, whether following the traditional or self-publishing route get discouraged and quit. Not surprising and not a bad thing really. If it’s not for you, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Because through it all we have to remember that careers in entertainment, any career there, probably won’t be steady. Screenwriters come and go. Novelists have their day, then fade from the scene. You’re part of the public, think about what authors you’ve read in the past but no longer read, what movie stars you loved, but now no longer care about, what producer got you to his every movie, what TV show you wouldn’t miss but now don’t bother with. That’s the way we are.

So back to publication.  Quite simply it provides better chances but that doesn’t give any guarantee. In my experience self-publishing is less frustrating than dealing with crazy agents, delays in publication, very small advances and long dry periods. However, I’m not married to it and think a writer keeping his or her options open is definitely the way to go.

Look, self-publishing started from scratch a very short time ago. It has changed and will continue to change. And traditional publishing will also be forced to change.

So keep your options open and keep your excitement up for whatever way you choose to pursue your writing career.  Do your homework, make informed decisions and keep writing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Writers And Readers Websites Wednesday - iphone Wiki ap

 For readers, writers or anyone who wants to do a bit of research on the run on their iPhone.

Today's a quickie - have an iPhone? Need an app to make accessing Wikipedia faster and easier so you can research on the run?

Here's the Wikipanion link and it's free to download.

Here's their Description:

Accessing Wikipedia has never been faster and easier than with Wikipanion, designed for easy, search, navigation and display of Wikipedia entries. Streamline your browsing with history grouped by visit date, and bookmarking that not only bookmarks individual entries, but individual sections within an entry. Featuring intelligent features such as:
- Table of contents browser that knows where you are in the page
- Multiple search methods including Smart completion with entry preview, Google searching and a full text Wikipedia search
- Dual language searching and language switching (hiding languages you don't care about)
- Bookmark, including bookmarking individual sections of pages
- History, grouped by last visit date
- Full in-page searching
- Wiktionary dictionary term looking without leaving the current page
- Table based category browsing
- iCloud syncing
- Image saving to the Photo library
- Ogg vorbis audio playback for dictionary pronunciations and other audio content available on Wikipedia
- Contextual knowledge for sending links to specific sections in a Wikipedia entry
- Easily turn on automatic focusing of the search field on launch

Tip: To scroll to the top of a Wikipedia entry, hit the title bar at the top of the iPhone's screen (this works in Safari too).
Second tip: Click into the search bar to cancel a page load request.

See the Wikipanion web site for more details about all of the available features.

Wikipanion is advertisement free.

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