Saturday, February 22, 2014

What to Say to Who

Ever have trouble knowing what and when to say to who in your stories? A lot of it is a matter of rhythm. One big no-no is to say something to someone they already know. Saying something like -> "As you know, Philips cannot possibly have climbed that hill since he broke his legs."

Of course, if the guy doesn't know what you're telling him, that's a different story, and in that case, there would be no 'as you know' part. That's a pretty well-known no-no, and it's been a long time since I've seen it.

Another one is the information dump. You might be writing along and suddenly you need to get something across to your reader, so you insert another character and tell him everything you think your reader needs to know. Take my word for it, your reader doesn't need to know all that information any sooner than anyone else, and if they do, it's time to back up and put it in the story where it belongs, even if that means adding in a new first chapter. Or you can simply allow your character to stumble upon the desired information as your story evolves.

And then there are some people who simply can't seem to find their tongue at all, falling back on the 'he told her' strategy. While this is a viable strategy to use occasionally, really, most of the time, we want to actually hear the words. Conversation is a unique opportunity for you to allow your reader to get to know your character. With each sentence, you can show your reader a little something about who is speaking.

Let's say one of your characters pulls her braid every time she gets nervous. It could be some little tell like this that would clue your reader into the fact that she's lying through her teeth. Or let's say you have a guy who polishes the toe of his shoe on the back of his pant-leg. This guy is always worried about how he looks to others. There's also the person who talks more with their hands than they do with words, gesturing when he can't come up with the right word.

There's other things you can put in there too. Walking, sitting, standing, groaning, sighing and the list goes on. It is important to keep your character in motion in one way or another, for a character that doesn't move = a story that doesn't progress.

One small thing that should be mentioned; variety in the tags - said, asked, and so on - do try to resist the urge. The purpose of tags is not to add flowers to the tabletop. The purpose is to forestall confusion, and if you pair action with dialog, very few tags are necessary.

Happy Writing


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Who Has It Right

I'm sure you've all heard the saying, 'The victor writes the history', and I'm sure it's 100% true. No victor wants to be seen as a bully, so such actions will be expunged from the records in favor of much more glorious stories.

However, even after the histories have been written, after those who might remember the truth have been long dead, who is to say which side was right?

While books dealing with the undead or zombies (whatever you want to call them) is not my general cup of tea, I happen to be about half way through this book which takes place many years after The Great Zombie wars. The victors did indeed write the histories totally in their favor. The unusual part about this book is that the victors are what you and I would call the zombies.

In this book, other than being dead, they are just like the living. They work. They eat. They make decisions based upon their teachings and beliefs. They even fall in love, marry, and reproduce. In this world, like in our world, after a fashion, the police force hunts down the criminals; the criminals in this world are of course the living, called zombies, those who have 'turned', or found life.

So in the backdrop of this world the 'existance-span' of the average citizen has gone from around seventy years to little more than fifty years, if they were careful. The much abused Earth has started producing crystals that entice the most vulnerable of their children, the ten-year-olds, those who are most impressionable. If these children find these crystals and manage to actually touch them, they turn living, and if discovered, they must be put to death right away.

So herein lies my question. Who decided which side is right? In this case, is there a right side? The living can argue they are right because they are living. The dead can argue they are right because they exist. To each side, the words might be different but the meaning is the same. What are other differences? Imagination is a big one. For the dead, they've all been taught that it was imagination that brought about the living's loss of the war, therefore it has been outlawed. Even something as simple as writing a poem is cause for the death sentence.

So this is the question that goes through my mind as I read this book. And that is, I suppose, a good thing. Not many of us can incite such an all-encompassing question. Do you have races opposed to each other in your book? Which one is right - really, bare bones, right? Not which one do you plan to win. Not which one will be best. Which one is right; which one has the right to exist over and above the other? I haven't found that answer yet.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

He vs She

Do you have a favorite type of character? Is your main character always either a man or a woman? Myself, it seems I always chose the male character for my books, but then one day a friend of mine challenged me to have a female main in my next book.

Thus was born The Trials of the Youngest Princess, and a couple short stories. The story is of a princess, the oddball in the family. As a daughter, she was lacking in some knowledge a son would long since been fully versed in, but I simply had to make her a tomboy, and a tomboy before there ever was such a thing was rather fun to play with. Allowing her to do something I've always wished I could do, I allowed her to learn how to handle a sword, but as a daughter, this could never be known. As a tomboy, she was constantly searching for some way to feed this passion. One day, when she discovers her father and brothers had been murdered, and who knows what had happened to her mother or her brothers' wives and children, she has to run; she has to preserve her life as possibly the last living member of her family. And she has to find some way to exact revenge.

The story could have hosted either gender, but many key points would have been very different if a boy had been the main character. At the very least, expectations, both by and of, the main character would have been very different. Since my young woman began her desperate journey at the age of seventeen, she very much needed the protection and experience of the swordmaster, the only person who knew of her skill with the sword. A boy, however, in this environment would have been learning the sword since he was about six and not in secret. Excursions into town might have been with his brothers at first, but not necessarily - maybe at first, say up to the age of twelve. A boy would not have needed to develop a disguise in order to participate in any of the events he wanted to, in fact, he may well have been encouraged to do so.

There are other key differences that would have affected elements of the story. One might have been attitude. Require a kid to do or learn something, and more than likely they will resent it, therefore, the boy in my story might not have been as good with a sword, and so he might have had to find another way to reach the end. Then again, a boy would have been able to move a little more freely, AND then again, that very freedom might have brought him a different range of trouble.

Differences in men and women are many and varied, but mostly if comes down to the logical choices they make, and the logical expectations of those around them. Other differences I probably don't need to mention but I'll list a few, as they are important to consider.

Emotions is one - most women are emotional to some degree. Tears will flow, and sometimes at inconvenient moments. Most men will try, usually successfully, not to cry. That's not to say it doesn't happen, but the event has to be rather intense, and possibly solitary, as in he's alone.

Body-language is another one - hands are a big key to communication, but men and women use them differently. Women are very open with their hands, waving them openly as if to brush their ideas into the mind of whoever they're talking to. Men use them as if to reinforce their stance with clenched fists or crossed arms, or even shoving them in their pockets.  Head, shoulders, and hips is another drastic difference in body-language. Women will flip hair back - men will shove it back or rake it back. Women will, consciously or not, angle her shoulders in direct proportion to how she wants men to perceive her sexuality. Men will do much the same thing, but for a different reason. Yes, he's trying to impress her or trying to shoulder the responsibility of the world. Hips, well most men just don't have a lot of flexibility there whereas women habitually sway as they walk. Now, this last thing is dictated by environment. Sway your hips while walking through rough terrain and you'll throw your back out, so the swaying of the hips is a learned move - keep that in mind.

Words and topics of conversation are another huge difference. Think about it. What do women talk about? Guys, love, romance, the latest gossip. What do guys talk about? Cars, work, politics, possible trouble. I'm sure you can think of other things.

In Huckleberry Finn (I think) it was body language that gave Huck away. He was dressed as a girl, but he wasn't getting it quite right so a woman tossed something to him and he clapped his knees together to help catch it. She pointed out that a girl would have done the opposite allowing her to make use of her skirt to help with the catching. I never quite saw it as true, but then at that time, with girls wearing only dresses, I suppose it would be a logical development. Boys, better at catching with their hands, would not have relied on a wider field to catch a tossed object.

So it's these small details that make all the difference. Make your guys be guys or make your gals be gals, whatever their age.

Like my friend did for me, I now pass it along. If you only write with women as your main character, I challenge you to write your next story around a guy, and if you only write guys as your main character, switch it up and put a woman in there. You can do it. It's not as hard as it sounds, and you don't really have to change your story elements all that much.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Languages Within

So what kinds of languages do you make use of in your stories? I read one a while back that had a lot of French phrases in it. It was logical, the character was French, and his command of English, while good, just wasn't what came to mind first.

An option is an accent. I frequently use varying degrees of slang in my stories; it's my way of indicating someone who might have had less education or comes from 'the other side of the tracks', so to speak.

But there's always the fictional option to languages. The elven language in Lord of the Rings has evolved into a full-fledged spoken language, as I understand it, as has the Klingon language from Star Trek.

You don't need to create an entire language in order to use it. Throw a bunch of sounds together and tag it with a meaning. Of course it's important that you remember how to spell that word and exactly what that meaning is. It's also important to give a thought to how languages are used. In some cultures the family name is said first followed by the given name. In some languages verbs are come first.

I'm no English major, and I was terrible at English in high school, but that's no reason not to listen. If you're going to create a language, make what you want to say roll off your tongue. If you can't say it, your reader won't be able to sound it out either, and if your reader can't sound it, he will skip over it. Skipped, it's meaning might be missed or confused with some other word you've created. That book with the French phrases; in my opinion there were too few translations and the usage wasn't clear enough. Most of us would probably recognize some of the more common phrases, so if you're going to use made-up words, translate them in some way. If you're going to use entire phrases, all the words can't be long, flowery, collections of letters. In many languages, a long word might just be an entire phrase after translation - look up some German words someday, they're interesting.

Another thing to consider is the sound you create. Say something out loud. Yell at the kids for a second. What does the sounds you just made sound like? Make believe you know have any idea what the words mean; what kind of feeling did you just generate? To make your words or phrases have a feeling, you need to feel them, even if they only last for a single phrase. Who knows, maybe your few words will someday become a new language.

So how do you use language? Do you make something up? Do you think you could? Try it.