Friday Fiction 500

Today our prompt comes from Writer’s Digest, who had a great one to follow on our discussion about worldbuilding:

Describe something ordinary in an unrelated genre style. For instance, you could describe your living room in the style of an epic fantasy, a pigeon in the style of a western, your breakfast in the style of a steamy romance, or an office building in the style of a sci-fi thriller.

Remember, be specific, and you can’t build more locally than your own living room. No more than 500 words, go!

Advertisements

Continue the Conversation: Worldbuilding

Tonight, we discussed:

  1. Begin with your central ideas.
  2. Talk to yourself about it.
  3. If it looks like a rabbit, call it a rabbit.
  4. Don’t make rules before you have to.
  5. To be unique, be specific.
    • Harry Potter doesn’t just have a wand, he has a 11” long wand made of a holly with a phoenix feather core. Also, Molly Weasley’s clock. (Entire family in mortal peril 24/7)
    • A memoir set in Virginia doesn’t just have street names, it has streets named after English kings, Confederate generals, and lots and lots of Civil War cemeteries.
    • Han Solo doesn’t just have a spaceship, he has the Millennium Falcon.
  6. Listen to your inner troll.
    • Question: If you have abolished all need, want, and poverty with replicator technology, who mines the dilithium crystals that powers it?
    • Answer: Obviously people who have dreamed all their lives of living on dark, forsaken asteroids at the ass end of nowhere.
  7. Follow your decisions to their logical conclusion.
  8. Be balanced. What you show of the world has to serve the story. You’re not showcasing your world. 90% of your world isn’t going to show up on the page, but you as the author have to know it.
  9. Know when to stop. Your readers don’t need to know everything, and your characters can’t know everything.
  10. Never make absolute statements.* If you make a hard rule early in the story, the odds are very high you’re going to have to break it.
  11. Be consistent. All rules apply to all characters and all situations, that’s why they’re rules. If they don’t apply, there should be a reason.

What did you agree with? What did you disagree with? What rule do you think most applies to your own writing? Continue the discussion in the comments!

*There are some exceptions.

What keeps you writing?

I was thinking last night, as my indulgence for critiques for this book is running out, about what keeps me writing. Books are long. Even books broken up episodically take a very, very, very long time write. They take endless chairbound hours that could be spent outside in the very nice weather, lonely and sometimes tedious hours banging your head against a scene that will not be written.

If I’m excited about a scene, of course, it’s easy. If I’m getting close to a scene I’ve been anticipating, it’s easier. But the thought of long-term rewards otherwise–especially given the vanishingly small likelihood of success for any book, no matter how well written–really doesn’t do it, most of the time.

So I admit one of the big things that keeps me writing is the feedback from others. That’s why I used to love writing fanfiction; you can post it chapter by chapter and get instant gratification from people saying, “I love it! Write more!” There’s nothing better to keep me writing and I’m probably a little spoiled by it. Once upon a time, I had a writing group where all of us did that for each other, posting chapters as we wrote them and commenting on each other’s work, which helped us push each other forward.

I’ve been using the group critiques the same way. I’ve considered posting episodes on Amazon as I write them, and I’m still waffling back and forth in my head about the pros and cons of using the fanfiction model on Amazon. But aside from the encouragement of outsiders, there are two things that keep me writing.

One is a ridiculous but still inescapable sense that I owe it to my characters, like they’re waiting in limbo waiting for me to get them where they need to go. I’ve had dreams of my characters sitting impatiently on a beach, silently condemning me for leaving them where they are.

The other is what I call the Mongolian casus belli. Under Genghis Khan, continued war even in the face of insane odds was often justified with, “we’ve lost too many men to give up now.” Which is obviously crazy, but throughout history many millions of people were killed because someone had gone too far to turn back now. Well, I’ve lost too many hours on the book to give up now.

What keeps you writing?

Friday Fiction 500 Challenge

To follow on from this week’s discussion, here’s our prompt!

Write a scene that includes a character speaking a different language, speaking in a thick accent, or otherwise speaking in a way that is unintelligible to the other characters. (Note: You don’t necessarily need to know the language the character is speaking—be creative with it!)

No more than 500 words, less is fine. Go!

Dialogue and Dialect

Following on our discussion of dialogue and dialect, it is of course my (subtly expressed) opinion that there’s no harm in dialogue tags and -ly words so long as you don’t go overboard with them. My basic rule of thumb is, if the reader notices they’re there, you’re doing it wrong, but they can add some clarity or additional depth of meaning to your dialogue if you use them carefully. I do understand the urge to minimize both, however, especially when you’ve read a writer afflicted with what one of my teachers called saiditis: a disease which causes the sufferer to use a thesaurus to discover all possible alternatives to the word said. Such writers never let their characters ask things; instead, they query. They state, intone, pronounce, disclose, divulge, express, and even utter. And God help us all when they start exclaiming, expostulating, remonstrating, and–oh, my giddy Aunt–ejaculating.

Unless you’re Watson and don’t mind the quasi-homoerotic undertones, never use that last one.

Every writer has heard the words, “death to all modifiers.” These are the -ly words, adverbs, that describe how a character does something, and in dialogue, usually how they’re speaking. Death is a little final for me. In my own head as I’m writing I do have a check, out of habit, when I feel like I might be overusing them, and there are probably a number of places where I could really afford to ditch it. In other places, though, I would have to turn myself inside out to find an alternative. As an example, in the next section of my book, one of my characters says:

Let him come and explain himself, she said sleepily, her voice quavering and weak. It dismayed Iolië to think how old she was.

I am sure there is an alternative somewhere in this universe to indicate this was said sleepily, but I don’t know that saying, “her voice sounded sleepy,” is an improvement over, “said sleepily.”

As to dialects, I came away from the discussion feeling like there were three rules to using dialects:

  • Keep it readable.
  • Avoid known triggers that have been used for deliberate mockery in the past (i.e. Japanese-speaking characters pronouncing all their l’s as r’s)
  • Avoid caricature.

That last one isn’t just for races or genders. I’ve seen any number of military characters in books and movies who speak (even out of uniform) in such ridiculous jargon that it is actually offensive. Military people are people too. We don’t speak in acronyms 24/7.

What do you think? Do you have any counter-examples, additional rules, or additional points from the discussion?

Best Lines

Great lines don’t make a book great, but they sure help. Whether it’s because they’re comic, pithy, or profound, there are some lines that stick in your head long after you finish the book, to either make you laugh or make you think. I always have a quiet moment of satisfaction when I write a good one, and imagine seeing it underlined in Kindle, with some number (usually large) to tell me how many readers highlighted it.

Stephen King is one author that springs to mind as a prolific generator of great lines.

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” The Shawshank Redemption.

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.” The Shawshank Redemption.

“We each owe a death – there are no exceptions – but, oh God, sometimes the Green Mile seems so long.” The Green Mile.

Or, to pick a few from other authors:

“That is the problem with ignorance. You can never know the extent of what you are ignorant about.” Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky.

“On a scale of Burning Man to North Korea, how free are you tonight?” After On, Rob Reid.

“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.” Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett.

“Veklevezhek,” Min Vechin said. “It is a goblin word, and it means to decide what to do about a prisoner by staking him below the tide line while you argue.” The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison.

“Everyone is happier if they have someone to look down on, as well as someone to look up to, especially if they resent both. This is not only the Beta Male strategy for survival, but the basis for capitalism, democracy, and most religions.” A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore.

And since we’re all aspiring to be writers here, I’ll end it with one of my own lines I’m happy with:

“Gave you a full cup and you pushed it away twice without so much as a sip. It’s no way to go through life.” The Red Book: Prince of Wolves.

So what’s your best line, or one of your favorites from another author?