Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Other Side of the Page

Imagine, if you will, that the page you are filling with words has something else on the other side. On the other side of that page, your words are creating a movie. Of course if your words are unclear, your movie will be unclear as well. Not that it's bad, just slightly out of focus, and maybe only here and there. Maybe no one will notice, and maybe they will refine the blur with something from their own imagination, and this is just fine in most cases, but once in a while...it isn't.

Most of the time you can allow your reader/movie-goer to fill in the gaps and your movie will be everything you both are quite happy with, but where the reader's imagination might hit rather off in left field is when the lack of description leaves them to assume. I'm reading a book (yeah, most of these posts come because of a book I'm reading) where the 'people' aren't the normal kind of human you and I see every day. With Trolls as a part of this world, I can accept that things are going to be very different. The fact that much of society is dictated by a 'crest' grown at puberty, also tells me that the 'people' aren't quite normal.

The thing is, with this book, I don't really know what this crest - any version - looks like. I have no problem picturing the Trolls - they're various degrees of big. They have tusks. They have three fingers and a thumb. They have huge feet. They stink. But appearances can be deceiving - they are not stupid. One race - crystal clear.

The crested race was also perfectly clear - all except the crest. Bald until puberty. Five fingers and a thumb (assumed). Standard facial features (assumed). Two legs and two arms (assumed). A full range of body sizes and shapes (assumed). What lead all of my assumptions? All the pronouns - he - she - woman - man - you get the idea; we use them all, all of the time. They lead me to picture yo average Jo or Josephine of whatever position in life. The fact that growing hair was the height of bad luck, and that such a person would be utterly shunned was brought up early on, as was the waiting for the cresting. The main character is 14 and his cresting is late. He's VERY anxious about it. To remain a 'moon-head' for the rest of his life was only a little better than growing hair. What teenager doesn't worry about how they are perceived by those around them?

So what does this crest look like? It will decide his standing in his society. It will influence the standing of his family. Above all, it will dictate what class of magic, if any, he'll be able to access. At first I thought it might be something like a stiff mohawk only maybe stiffer. They come in all shapes and sizes, and there was some mention of temper engorging them will blood so I picture something like a rooster's crest. However, a comment of 'running fingers through it lead me to think of something more spiny. I mean, all the other details have to still apply.

Having found this book on Twitter, I asked the author about this. His vision was something primal to the Minbari from Babylon 5. Interesting. Now I have a new detail to add to my still-blurry view of these crests. Ah but this is really only a minor detail. The kid's crest is supposed to be something unique; I'm sure I'll get a proper focus eventually. So, stay in focus. Questions, distract your reader - remember that.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Appearance of Your Work

I've always been very picky about what my books looked like. That's inside; covers were a learning curve - I certainly made my mistakes with the first one. To date, the biggest issue I've had was keeping the fonts I like. I'll frequently use some sort of handwriting font in notes shown in the books.

My biggest hurdle in preserving my fonts is the Kindle edition, but I've come to accept that there's never going to be anything fancy there. That doesn't mean I don't try for the best appearance I can.

For my latest book - my ninth book - a number that still amazes me - I had an additional problem. I used star symbols to clue the gaps, and in a couple other spots. I really, really liked them. My story, after all, was a science fiction story. By the time kindle made the translation, they looked like some kind of Chinese writing. It was really quite bewildering.

My first effort was to try loading a pdf, though Kindle doesn't really like that. When that didn't work, my next option was to turn these symbols into small pictures. What a pain. Well, not really but still... I only have Paint, and Paint for MAC isn't as good as what I had on my PC, but it works well enough. It has a habit of quitting if I get to complicated with it, but with patience I can usually get it to do what I need it to do.

So - I was working my way through my manuscript, pasting in my little pictures, when I discovered another spot that needed like attention. Using Futhark font - font that looks like elven writing in Lord of the Rings - I used that font to identify the monsters in my book. It is a very angular, harsh, font - fitting, I thought, for how my monsters would see themselves. The point of needing to keep that font was that the subsequent name of my monsters evolved from how it looked translated into equivalent letters in our language. There was no way around it and keep that thread in tact. Of course, Kindle translated that font to Times which killed the whole thread entirely. I had to turn that into pictures too. Fortunately there was only three places where that was needed. The tricky part was cropping my image down tight enough to not cut off any part of a letter, and still not have the image take up too much space in the line of typing. That was a toughie. It's not perfect, but I don't think I can do any better.

My biggest problem with all this was that Word didn't always put my star symbols pictures where I wanted them. Most times they allowed a space under them (which I wanted), but sometimes they didn't - every time I tried to add that space, the picture would jump to the middle of the paragraph - I couldn't figure out why, and there was simply nothing I could do to change it. And of course Kindle picked up on that. So upon occasion, you'll see those stars sitting close to the next paragraph, whereas most of the time there's a space above and below them. Inconsistency annoys me no end, but not so much so when I can't fix it.

How much do you pay attention to the appearance of your books? Sometimes I wonder when I see all manner of formatting inconsistencies in the books I buy.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Guardians

My latest book - can you believe it? I mean, I had them all written already, years ago, but actually getting them published and out there is such a wondrous concept for me. I really can't explain it. I've devoured these kinds of books since I was a kid, but I never really thought I'd be writing any. And when my son gave me that old laptop way back when, I didn't really know what else to do with it. We didn't have any internet at the time, and what do you do with a glorified typewriter. Oh yeah, and it had Paint and I had an Encarta encyclopedia on it too. Couple that with the desire to read something I hadn't already read and this is what you get, I guess. Well now - I got four more to go and then I'm down to a large fistful of short stories. I guess we'll be talking about those somewhere along the line.

Anyway - I digress - my apologies

Guardians is my second (so far) science fiction story. Idea elements came from the video game, Final Fantasy VIII, which gave me my first soldier, Reed, the dark haired guy, and all his abilities. Like in the game, I needed an enemy, but the enemy in the game was too ambiguous, so I turned to my favorite movie for that idea. Starship Troopers had the perfect enemy for me, but I needed them to be just a little more believable so they aren't exact, and of course they had to be different in other ways too.

During the course of writing this book, the enemy evolved. Being space-faring, they had to be highly intelligent, but running up against humans proved to be more than they expected. I'm going to assume that somewhere in their distant past, roaches somewhere gave them fits so they took on the bug form and it served them quite well for a very long time, but against humans, it wasn't good enough; they were being pushed back, and they couldn't have that. The next logical step (I love logic) would be to create one of their own.

Enter my second character. Reed found him at the age of maybe two way down in the bug hive and named him Adam. He was human in every way except his DNA. Reed raised him like his own, right along with his family, and he was normal in every way right up until his magic developed.

Born with an ability that could not be genetically transmitted from parent to child in any way, he had to learn how to use it, and he had to keep it quiet - he wasn't entirely successful, but he never found himself under some dissection knife. He had too many friends in powerful places. He could, however, fly the pants off anything with wings, and was a well-known in all the simulator hangers. After he joined the Air Force, he became a force to be reckoned with in his own right.

I know that all sounds so peachy, but no journey through life is easy. It seems a family relative wanted him. She tried to get her claws on him when he was a kid, but that didn't succeed. By the time she found him again, he was essentially untouchable, but there were other ways. There's no knowing all of her reasoning, or if her reasoning was even rational, but they do eventually meet, much to her dismay.

Read it - leave a review.

I gotta go work on the document some before I can put it up as an eBook, because Kindle doesn't recognize the symbols I used to mark gaps - I need to turn them into pictures and see if that works. Sigh - Too bad pdf doesn't work for kindle publishing.

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