Archive for May, 2017

Language Barriers in Speculative Fiction

Hey hey, so apparently I was going to write this post two years ago, got as far as “WOO” and never went back to it. Good job on focusing, me.

Language barriers are something common that you find in science fiction and fantasy stories. It makes sense, especially if you’ve got cultures that have never met before, and it can make for interesting conflict if characters can’t understand each other. Especially when dealing with alien races, you can even make up new ways of communication that may be impossible for other species to learn.

On the other hand, sometimes you need characters to be able to communicate, even if you’ve set things up so they shouldn’t be able to because of whatever reason.

Let’s go over some of the most common ways to get around language barriers. And feel free to let me know your favorite and least favorite examples of overcoming barriers and what worked (or didn’t) in the comments.

Common Language

The idea here is that there’s a common language that different species all learn so they can communicate with each other, even if they have their own language otherwise. This is your “Galactic Standard,” as it were. Of course, for this to work, your various species need to similar enough that it makes sense that they’d all be able to make the same linguistic sounds, etc.

One Person Understands

This is where you have a character that speaks its own language which is incomprehensible to the reader/viewer, but luckily there’s that one other character who knows that language and can translate or have one-sided conversations that essentially get the meaning across. Han Solo with Chewbacca, for example, or Rocket with Groot.

Universal Translator

These are magic devices that automatically translate any language it comes in contact with, as long as said language has been encountered before (to add some leeway for when you want a plot that hinges on miscommunication). A lot of the time, these can also pick up new languages after a few minutes of listening. A LOT of science fiction uses this idea, though you do occasionally come across the fantasy equivalent (such as a spell of understanding).

Telepathy

Maybe characters can’t understand each other, but hey, using telepathy can help even the most disparate of species communicate! (Assuming, of course, that their patterns of thought are at all similar.) This mode can often rely a lot on visuals and emotions rather than words.

Immersion/Building Understanding Over Time

For a more realistic approach, if your cultures aren’t meeting for the first time, you can assume they have had interactions for a while and might have started to pick up each other’s language. (Some people show this through some characters/species speaking with an odd grammar, though be aware this can get tedious to read.) Alternately, people can pick up languages through immersion, which is where you’re immersed in another language for a long period of time. This forces you to learn the language through everyday interactions, and also helps you learn how to convey ideas when you don’t have the vocabulary yet.

Of course, both of these methods require time, and if you need two characters to be able to interact to stop the universe from imploding in the next week, well.

Do you have a method I’ve left out, Squiders? Examples, good or bad? Thoughts on storytelling that relies on disparate characters being able to understand each other?

Introducing the Finnbranch Readalong

Howdy, Squiders! Let’s do a readalong, since it’s been a while. I’ve scoured my book shelves for series of the appropriate genres (which also aren’t massive) and have found Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch trilogy (Yearwood, Undersea, and Winterking) from the early ’80s. (I have a omnibus of all three from the later ’80s.)

I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure somebody bought this for me off my Amazon wishlist, so I must have had it recommended to me somewhere, or read something about it and thought it sounded like a good time.

Interestingly, it seems like while the trilogy was well-received back in the day, the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place. If nothing else, it should be an interesting look at how storytelling changes through generations, as I’ve previously noted somewhere in the archives that there’s a pretty obvious change in the fantasy genre in the ’80s. I wonder where this trilogy will fall on it?

Let’s do one book a month, since that seems to work the best for everyone who wants to read along being able to do so. So let’s read Yearwood by June 15th. And if you have any thoughts on this or potential future readalongs, please let me know, either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy reading, squiders!

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Final

Here’s the last PPWC wrap-up post, Squiders, so if you haven’t been digging them, you can rest assured that we will definitely talk about something else next week. Maybe we should a readalong. Haven’t done one of those in a while. I’ll poke around and see what we’ve got. Or we’ll start the next nonfic post series, which will be about finding story ideas.

Anyway! Sunday! Last day, which is always a bit sad. It’s really very nice to spend the weekend surrounded by other writers, especially if you are friends with some of them and you don’t get to see them very often otherwise.

Building a Successful Online Critique Group (panel-Travis Heermann, Megan Rutter, David R. Slayton)

I was hoping to learn about the “building” part, but the panel was more about the “successful” part. They did talk briefly about how to find people to form a group with, the most promising of which seems to be the idea of joining the local big writing group (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) which has a whole section just for forming critique groups. Of course, I’m not sure a critique group is what I’m looking for anyway.

How to Add Suspense to Your Writing (Fleur Bradley)

This was the least successful session I went to the entire weekend. It was very basic in level, focusing mostly on story structure (which, frankly, I have had better sessions/read better books on). There was also some focus on plotting, such as how quickly your main plot needs to show up, but very little on suspense aside from “if you do a good job with your structure it will show up automatically.” Ms. Bradley did say she normally teaches this information over a six week workshop, but it did not work well in this format.

Maximize Your Discoverability on Amazon (Jennie Marts)

Ah, my second and last marketing panel for the weekend. Ms. Marts went over the options offered in Amazon Central as well as in your books themselves in terms of metadata, author’s notes, reviews, etc. I picked up a couple of new things, which is impressive at this point. She also talked some about how many books you need to be selling to be at which ranks, and touched on ways to get more reviews. Pretty useful, all told.

And that’s it for the panels. The conference ends after lunch on Sunday. We did have our final keynote speaker, Donald Maass, who tried to counteract the apparently-common post-conference what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-ness by telling us that as long as we had hope we’d be okay.

WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT.

Donald Maass was also at the conference when I was last there five years ago. My sister and her friend think it’s funny how he picks up a “harem” that follows him around all weekend.

So, that’s PPWC for 2017. Will I be going back in 2018? Probably not. There are things I like about it, and I did a good job choosing panels that were helpful and at the right level for me for the most part (something I was bad at in 2012), but it’s a lot of money for a lot of sitting around, and I’d rather be out doing most of the time. It’s a lot to take in all at once. And it turns out that I am bad at one of the most useful things about conferences–the in-person pitch.

Still, I had a good time, met some neat people, reconnected with some others, and came out of it with some new things to try. I’ll probably go back some day–maybe in another five years, or maybe as a presenter. >_>

Hope this was useful, Squiders! I’ll see you Tuesday for something completely different.

Guest Post: Writing Process with Erin Zarro

Hey, squiders! Happy Tuesday! Let’s take a break from PPWC and hear how Erin Zarro wrote her latest book, Ever Touched. I love hearing about how other authors work, and I hope you do too!

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Writing Ever Touched was interesting because I didn’t use my usual method of pantsing as I did with Fey Touched and most of Grave Touched. Instead, I tried out the “writing from the middle” method by James Scott Bell. In it, you figure out your main “signposts” to write toward: Doorway of No Return, Opening Disturbance, Mirror Moment, Doorway of No Return #2 (Clue/Setback/Discovery), and Transformation.

Ever Touched coverThose seem kind of vague, but really, they are great. You see, I absolutely need some mystery in order to write a book. I’ve been pantsing for years, but that usually led to rewrites after rewrites because I was discovering things as I was going and had to make it all fit together at the end somehow. Grueling work. I’ve also went to the other side of the spectrum, and plotted stuff. And that worked… until I started adding in things because the muse told me to. Sure, overall it made the story richer, but that particular story also ended up in 12 separate pieces. I’m about to embark on a rewrite, and it’s already giving me fits.

So this method works better – and produces a cleaner draft – because I have some of it figured out, and I’ve left the rest as a mystery. And I really enjoyed the process, which is super important when you’re writing 120,000 words on a deadline.

I also added one additional point of view to the usual 3-POV structure of this series. I felt it was important to have a certain character’s viewpoint because she was completely different, with completely different origins as the others. And I wanted her story, too (I may, at some point, write a novella with her as a main character. She intrigues me that much). So I got to see her grow and evolve throughout the book as well.

As for the day-to-day writing, sometimes I didn’t know exactly where to go from where I was. Especially with the climax. I knew there’d be an epic confrontation with the villain and a fight, but the how of it eluded me. It took me several tries to get that right. And I ended up only doing quick written sketches of a few pivotal scenes toward the end because I literally ran out of time. One part was added in final edits because of something my editor said that I agreed with. That was probably the hardest – I wouldn’t have another shot at it before release, so I had to use my judgment as to whether or not it worked. I think it did, and I hope it does for the readers, too.

And then there was the theme song, which refused to show itself until 107,000 words in – that was interesting. It is “The Sound of Silence” as covered by the band Disturbed. It was playing during a very emotional scene between my two main characters and everything kind of clicked. Now, every time I hear that song, I will always think of that scene and those characters.

And finally, Brianna and Cobra’s romance. I knew sometime around Grave Touched that I wanted to put these two enigmatic characters together. They both had very big secrets, and lots to lose. And as I started writing them…they made sense. Every scene built on this beautiful, epic love story I was creating. It worked perfectly. I never had a single doubt about these two. They fit. And they loved each other deeply, and truly, and it was breathtaking to watch unfold.

But it’s tragic, too, due to some things I can’t reveal. Don’t worry, it ends happily. But they have to work hard for it (hell, all my characters have to work for their Happily Ever Afters. I’m a cruel mistress).

I also enjoyed creating the Ascended (no spoilers!) and exploring some of the aspects of who and what they were. That came to me literally in a flash as I was closing up at work. I’m glad I paid attention. It took a bit of writing to figure them out, but once I did…they were awesome. And they came from my brain!

All in all, I am very happy with how Ever Touched came out. It challenged me at times, made me cry at others, and excited me. I really loved writing using the writing from the middle method. My next novel will definitely be written this way, too.

Sometimes you have to break out of the routine, and do something completely different. With Ever Touched, I did that and more.

So I hope you enjoy Ever Touched, Brianna and Cobra, and the Ascended. There are others, but that would be a spoiler. I really loved writing it and think it fits very well within the Fey Touched world.

Stay tuned. There may be more coming. 😉

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Part 2

I always wonder if you can piecemeal PPWC. There’s always notes about what to do if you’re missing a meal (and if you’re at the conference for the whole weekend, why would you? It’s included in the price and the food is really good) which always makes me think maybe you could just come for, say, Saturday, but I don’t know if that’s an actual thing.

(I believe, if you’ve won the writing contest, you can come for just the banquet Saturday night, but I am also unsure about that.)

(I wonder about these things, but not enough to do any actual research.)

Let’s dive into the sessions from Saturday.

(I got up early and worked out before breakfast/conference, and later walked in on my sister talking to my mom on the phone. She was telling Mom about me working out like it was the strangest thing she’d ever seen.)

Eight Weeks to a Novel (Becky Clark)

Like Friday morning, Saturday morning ended up a bit themed, and in this case it was time/project management. This isn’t really an area where I am deficient, but it is a subject I like to talk about and see how other people do things. In this case, Becky spends a week making a massive outline/synopsis (which she sends out to betas to get feedback on plot and whatnot because it’s that complete) and then spends the next several weeks writing and editing. Some neat organizational ideas which I will probably try out.

Agile Project Management for Writers (David R. Slayton)

Ironically, the example he used was also an eight-week novel, which I found hilarious but probably no one else did, because normal people probably didn’t go to two time/project management sessions in a row. This method made my engineering side very happy, but from a basic standpoint was also very similar to other writing management processes I’ve seen before. I enjoyed it. I do need to get in touch with the presenter and ask some questions (mostly about throwaway things on the slides which caught my interest, or something he said, and not about the actual subject matter of the presentation).

Constructing the Great Action Scene (M.H. Boroson)

M.H. Boroson wrote the bestselling historical fantasy novel The Girl with Ghost Eyes, which I have not had the opportunity to read but understand is awesome. This panel was also pretty awesome. We talked about the basics of action scenes (which are not just fights), broke them down into their components, and went through examples so we could see the basics put together. My other favorite panel aside from Stant’s on Friday.

And then we had lunch, which was a massive roast beef sandwich. With a pickle. Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid series) was the keynote speaker.

Query 1-on-1

Sometime between the last time I went to PPWC (2012) and now, they’ve switched from your straight pitch session (where you would memorize a verbal pitch and get to pitch an agent/editor) to the query 1-on-1 format. You bring your query letter, agent/editor reads it and gives you feedback, and may ask for more materials if they’re interested. I met with Mike Braff, who is an acquisitions editor at Del Rey (at the very odd time of 2:24 PM). He asked some questions about the main character and said I should focus more on her character arc and the twist of the story in the query. He also said it wasn’t really his thing, alas, though I kind of suspected that there wouldn’t be enough explosions based on some of his recently edited books (The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, Sleeping Giants by Slyvain Neuvel) and my sister went to an editor panel earlier and later told me he’s pretty much only looking at scifi right now. So, in retrospect, I probably should have signed up for someone else.

Serious about Series (Kevin Hearne, Gregg Taylor, Carol Berg, Tess Gerritsen, Jennie Marts)

I’ve found that the panel sessions can sometimes be less helpful than the one or two presenter ones, and I think it’s because they’re not really planned out in advance. I mean, I assume, but I don’t know, but from what I understand the moderator has normally come up with questions in advance and then the panel answers them. I mostly learned about various authors’ planning processes, which is interesting, but not necessarily helpful.

Building Better Beginnings (Todd Fahnestock/Chris Mandeville)

This was a good panel! Chris and Todd focused a little bit on what your story needs at the beginning and how long you have to hook a reader/agent/editor, but we spent most of the time going over the beginnings of published books and looking at what worked and what didn’t, and also did an example where we took a bad beginning and made it better.

Dinner Saturday night is the awards banquet, which is supposed to be dressy but I had a wardrobe malfunction (speaking of which, has anyone had a piece of clothing that started smelling after you washed it for the first time?) and so was under-dressed. Tess Gerritsen was the keynote speaker (and I learned that Rizzoli and Iles is a book series, woo) and shared rather a lot of disturbing things, which is why, I guess, that I don’t write thrillers. I mean, she was awesome, but D:

Dessert was not as good as Friday night, alas.

My sister and I hit BarCon now that we’d done our Read & Critiques and Query 1-on-1s and no longer had anything to stress out about, but it turns out that we are actually terrible at networking aside from people we already know. And then I had a crisis of purpose (which, from talking to people since PPWC ended, seems to be common at writers’ conferences) and had to go to bed.

Sunday sometime next week! Also, I will have a guest post for you, probably on Tuesday. It is about ten degrees warmer than it is supposed to be, Squiders, and I think I shall go take a walk.

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Part 1

Good morning, Squiders. I’m back from PPWC, and now that I’ve gotten some sleep, I am vaguely functional again.

I’ve gone to PPWC before, and I’ve done conference write-ups after the fact for all of them, so I thought I’d do something different than just retread the same ground again and talk specifically about the sessions I attended throughout the weekend so those of you who haven’t been to a writers’ conference before can get an idea about the sort of things offered.

The sessions offered this year seemed to be mostly craft or marketing. There were less genre-specific sessions than I’ve seen in the past.

(Disclaimer: What’s offered will vary conference by conference, year by year, presenter by presenter. So you may find that your local conference works slightly differently.)

PPWC has 15 sessions over three days (6 on Friday, 6 on Saturday, 3 on Sunday), plus an optional add-on Thursday session that involves more in-depth workshops (I never get to go to Thursday because alas, responsibilities. Also it is an extra $90). There are also occasionally some extra add-ons within in the conference itself, such as this year’s Write Drunk, Edit Sober program.

So, let’s dive into Friday, shall we?

Unforgettable Characters (Carol Berg)

Friday morning, for some reason, I picked all character craft sessions. Carol Berg is a bestselling fantasy author, and this panel was well-presented and did an excellent job of breaking down what different level of characters need to do and what you, as an author, need to know about said characters. She also tied characterization into plot and talked some about how to actually introduce and use characters from a technical standpoint.

Using Setting to Reveal Character (Laura DiSilverio)

I also considered going to a panel called Finding Your Inner Extrovert about learning to communicate face to face about your book but my sister convinced me this one would be more beneficial. I’m not sure that’s true. Laura DiSilverio is a mystery writer whom I’ve taken mystery-specific classes with at previous PPWCs. Laura broke down the topic into two different subtopics–using setting to reveal things about characters based on their choices for their own environment and to reveal things about characters based on what they notice in an environment. Good information, little bogged down in audience participation (since some people didn’t seem to be following the topic so well).

Bringing Characters to Life on the Page (Stant Litore)

I know Stant from MileHiCon, so, hey, it was nice to see a familiar face. This session was excellent. Stant used a series of exercises to help explain how to add emotion into your story without being obvious about it and did a fantastic job of tying emotion to characterization. He had a lot of examples to show how this works. I was so impressed I went and bought his book, Write Characters. This was probably my favorite session of the whole conference.

And then we had lunch! I don’t remember what it was. Oh, salad.

Read and Critique with Carol Berg

So, after lunch, I had my first two pages read and critique, which they had in a room on the second floor. That was a bit harrowing because the elevators were slow and there were a lot of people going places at any point in time, and I hadn’t found the secret staircase yet. My sister and I were up til 2:30 the night before working on our first two pages (I cut out almost 1000 words from the very beginning of chapter one). So there were eight of us, Carol, and the moderator (who was timing how long each person had). In turn, everyone read their two pages out loud while Carol took notes, and then Carol would give us her feedback. She was very good about it–always started with what was good about the sample before going into the issues. (She told me later that the R&Cs make her nervous before it’s hard to think that fast.) I’m not sure, in the end, that it was that useful unless, of course, you’re on your final, polished pages and want to make sure they’re hook-y enough. The guy next to me had an awesome opening that I totally dug, though (and I told him so later, but that’s another time), and Carol was very nice.

(Oh, and she was actually very complimentary about my pages, and complimented my description, which if you guys have been around here for awhile, you know is a weak point of mine, so woot.)

Seducing the Reader: 4 Essential Elements of an Opening (Darynda Jones)

Darynda Jones was one of the keynote speakers, and she actually has 5 essential elements but never got around to changing the title of the class. Also, my Friday panels are very telling about what I’m feeling weak in craftwise lately. Darynda laid out the elements in a way that made sense, and she also provided examples, which I am always for. (I’m a kinetic learner.) She also recommended some writing books, most of which I have heard of before (and one of which I’ve read and own, but it’s probably been a decade since I read it, so maybe I should do so again).

Today’s Marketing for Yesterday’s Author (KL Cooper)

Marketing! I figured I should probably go to some marketing panels, but I think I only hit two all weekend. Ah, well, priorities and whatnot. I think my sister hit more and she doesn’t even have any books out, har har. I probably should have gone to the Putting Clever Twists on Common Tropes panel. A lot of basic marketing info, most of which I already knew, though she did offer specific services to use for some things, so that’s helpful, and she did mention a few things that I’d not heard before and will need to look into.

Friday night was dinner (excellent chicken for me, and chocolate pie for dessert) as well as the costumes, which we wore to dinner and then had a contest for afterwards. My Rainbow Brite costume was well received, though apparently people who were fans of Rainbow Brite still didn’t recognize my sister as the evil princess (her costume was really awesome in the end). Alas. We sat with Carol Berg, who, as I mentioned above, is a lovely person and I like her quite a bit. My table tried to nominate me for the contest but I threw one of my sister’s friends, dressed as Anne of Green Gables, under the bus instead and successfully lured most of the table with me. Oh, and the key note speaker for the meal (we’ll have one for every subsequent meal) was Darynda Jones.

After dinner, which went quite late–9:30 or something?–we went and worked on finalizing our query letters and then ran out to FedEx to print them around 10:30. PPWC has BarCon, which is essentially where everyone hangs out in the bar after dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and “networks,” but we were so tired by the time we got back to the hotel that we just hung out in our room and then crashed.

So, that’s Friday. I hope it’s of interest to you guys! Let me know what you think.