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Welcome to my blog!


This blog was my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.  Some of the advice therein may still be of interest to new writers so I have left it here but due to technical difficulties, I no longer post here regularly.  You can look me up on Dreamwidth, although I do not post frequently. 

Feel free to share a link to this site. If you opt to download it or share content, please give due credit to this website and the author: Emmalyn N. Edwards. Thank you--Emmalyn

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Yes, its more than twice this week
I remembered that I hadn't posted to Homeworld in a while, and came across some poems I wrote awhile back as I was typing notes from yet another hand written story into the computer, so I typed up the poems and have posted them to the Homeworld page. Space Explorations wasn't touched this time, since I just posted it yesterday.

We had trick-or-treaters to the house. With the sudden improvement in the weather, we got more than we expected (but we always have candy to spare. An even gross of kids tonight! and not as much candy and pencils left over as we expected, which is a good thing!

Friday Fiction had a holloween theme, too, this week, but like many of the upcoming challenge topics, a bit specific and contemporary for my fantasy and science fiction genres. If you care to check them out (the page is a little tricky to navigate and going to the comments posted by the participants is usually the easiest way to find their stories), they are at: http://writeanything.wordpress.com/fiction-friday/
31 oct 09 @ 9:37 pm

Friday, October 30, 2009

on editing and giving feedback
I've been to many workshops over the years, as some readers mmight guess from my conference notes this past summer. Workshopping is a valuable tool, but I highly recommend writers take every opportunity to learn to give good feedback as well as build the tolerance to receive bad.

The latter is hard to give advice about. Well, there are words of advice but following them is hard:
--pretend the author being critiqued isn't you,
--take deep breaths,
--remind yourself that it isn't an attack even if it sounds like one (Iíve met many more bad editors than good ones, you might guess), and
--remember that the lack of feedback, while frustrating, doesn't mean they loved what they read, and the presence of vast amounts of red stuff means that they think the idea is good enough to deserve more work.

The former is easier to both to give advice about and to do but does require some effort, perhaps more with a piece that you like than something you don't, though also if you don't like something.


Keep it mind that just because you don't like it and wouldn't have written it that way doesn't mean it's bad; it only means you aren't the intended audience.

So see if you can figure out what the author intended and try to help them get there.

If you notice a problem, don't point it out: suggest how to fix it.

When you come to a place with a problem, notice that the sentence or paragraph or section before had no problem that jarred you out of the story and go back a step and say that it was well written.

More specifically

If you have questions because something isn't clear, a question makes a great form of feedback.

If you notice an absence (such as insufficient description), look for places that a description (or whatever is missing) could be added without disruption of the flow of the action and point those places out (mention of a basket is often an appropriate place to say what is in it unless the contents are specifically intended as a surprise, for example).

If you notice some section going on too long, look for words, phrases, or whole sentences that could be deleted or relocates to where they won't slow down the story as much, and tell the author. If you aren't sure, make a marginal note until you get a little further along: if you don't come to a use for the information soon, the information can probably be eliminated or moved.

If something jars you out of the story but you aren't sure what, note the spot and come back to it after a paragraph or two, or just leave it as a note of "something odd or awkward here".

Unless you do a LOT of editing (and sometimes even then, especially if a piece needs some substantial work), go through the piece at least twice, once for content and once for presentation. it is sometimes helpful to use two different color pens: not for the author but for the editor, to help keep track of which they are editing. Do content first as there is no point in editing a lot of details for a section you are recommending that the author delete; however, do look at the section for presentation, as well, and offer praise if it is well written but not a contribution to the progress of the story or if it contains presentation problems that are repeated elsewhere.
30 oct 09 @ 6:39 pm

Monday, October 26, 2009

follow up
As promised, I'm leaving the scene for Qiri from Saturday up, since I expect some of my regular readers won't have had a chance to see it because of my own irratic schedule, but I'm adding some more.

I see that i derailed myself in my comment on the comic strip last time. I meant to say more about the comic contents and instead went off on a tangeant about other issues of teaching and learning creative writing, so I thought I would try again...

Though it didn't actually say so, I saw the class discussion topics as sources of ideas, especially the references to dreaming and day dreaming. A large number of my story ideas have started out as dreams and day dreams, more the latter, as the bits of dreams I tend to remember are bizarre or minimalist and don't translate to paper well. But day dreams, especially on long drives, boring meetings when I'm trying to stay awake more than trying to listen to the speakers, or before I go to sleep tend to be more focused and capturable.

Those just before I go so sleep can be tricky; it becomes a juggling act between efforts to sleep, desire to remember my thoughts, and capturing ideas without waking myself up ot the point of insomnia. I journal and write at night, usually with pen and paper, and often go to sleep pen in hand unless Iím doing a lot of typing notes into the computer, which is not a mode of operating that helps me develop story ideas.

I also read idea sources into the discussion of memory and imagination that were referenced in the comic strip. Iíve been involved in many discussions, or observed many tv dicsussions on the topic, the problem of biographies, for example, and how fictionalized they can get, intentionally or not. People's memories are fallible to an extreme, the longer ago an event the more so. Ideas, day dreams, desires tend to get mixed up in the memories that triggered or followed them, and the memories get twisted or shifted. Not so good for eyewitness reports and biographies, great for fiction writers.

Life is a great source of story ideas, even SF and Fantasy. Using personal experience constitutes writing about something we know, in the form of attitudes, events, characters. The experiences of contemporary life are of course just a starting point in fiction, especially for SF and F, where they have to be morphed to different worlds, times, places, species and their reactions, etc., but the act of considering possibilities--and sensible likelihoods--of how a similar incident would be handled under different circumstances by different people is some of the most fun part of creative writing.

26 oct 09 @ 5:19 pm

Saturday, October 24, 2009

changes and comics and teaching
Tuesday isn't going to work, I suspect. Wednesday worked better but Friday was too soon after so I'm doing this one Saturday. I might try Monday night but if I do, I'll leave the current bit of Qiri's tale up until next Friday to give as many readers as possible a chance to see it before moving on. Please bear with me as I try to establish a more regular schedule. Of course, with the holidays coming up and some travel between, it will probably be somewhat irregular no matter what I decide on, so no promises beyond a good-faith effort to keep posting a couple of times a week.

Today's For Better or Worse (the comic by Lynn Johnston) got my attention. The mother has started attending a writing class and the list of discussion topics was intriguing. For one, I've encountered the topics of discussion in many places, but never in a creative writing course. They sound like topics that would have been well to discuss in my high school creative writing course--sources of ideas in dreams, memory, the interaction of memory with imagination. I'm less certain how 6th sense, premonitions, and superstitions fit in, but they'd be great topics for SF and Fantasy writing, anyway. Of course, my high school creative writing course was pretty pitiful all around. Most of my stories came back with "too many words" written on them, and nothing else, not even a hint on whether the teacher meant the story was too long and complex or whether it was wordy, or even what "wordy" meant. I learned eventually, years later from experience and from readers and work-place editors, but what's the point of a class if the teacher isn't going to provide any guidance? When my sister took the course, he mostly corrected her spelling, also not particularly useful, especially as half of them were just typos from doing it on a manual typewriter.

A creative writing course should be about style and content, creativity and presentation, and about teaching, not obscure comments that don't even provide an example. (For those of you who might not know, wordiness is using many words to say what could be said in fewer, sometimes mistaken for a lack of concrete words, which is related but not quite the same.

I eventually discovered that I used the "there is", "there were" construction far too often, as in "There were twenty ships in the port" when I could/should say "Twenty ships were in port." It's very common and one of many forms of wordiness. Another is the use of the word "activity". Beside not being very specific, many people use it as a companion to the activity, making it a redundant word, too. All I would have needed was one or two examples (I think he tried by underlining a few places where a convoluted 20-word sentence could have been turned into a five word sentence, but he didn't suggest the five words, so I still didn't realize what he was driving at. Maybe I'm just a slow learner.

Since then, I've learned many ways to shorten: eliminate details that add nothing to the story and don't clarify the scene; more direct phrasing; remove verbose wording through sentence restructureing, and remove redundancies. Readers don't need to be told the same thing in two (much less more) different ways (I tend to pound important ideas into the reader in my first draft, out of an uncertainty of clarity, but in the second draft, the extras have to go) and if you've shown it, you don't have to also tell it. I like expansive descriptions and they can sometimes make the read more pleasant, but they can be overdone, too, especially if the setting is one readers will be familiar with. Eliminate all but those elements that will trigger a reader's own memories. For example, reference to wall paper, love seat or divan, and tea cosies might be enough to evoke the image of a Victorian parlor. It is not always necessary to discuss all of the china patterns, curtains, carpets, etc, or they can be thrown in during the course of later scenes in the same room.

Challenge: write two pages of story and see if you can boil it down to one without losing the core substance or key scene details. What techniques did you use to shorten it?
24 oct 09 @ 12:52 pm

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

sorry I'm late
I did intend to post yesterday but just didn't get that far. My idea of dealing with paperwork involves mounds of catalogs, charity fliers, account statements, as well as story notes, note pads, stationary, unanswered letters... and trying to get all of them dealt with, filled in, sent out, filed, typed into the computer if appropriate...and I was still doing it until rather too late to be getting on line. So here it is today, a blog, and another couple of scenes for Qiri.

A while back I and my sister ended up at the Science Fiction museum in Seattle, by the Needle, VERY nice. In the course of wandering around there I overheard a snip of a comment to the effect that "Star Wars" isn't really science fiction because it wasn't social commentary and didn't explain the science. Really, it could have meant anything, might have been serious or sarcasm, a reference to someone else's definition of science fiction or their own, and it might have meant that one or both elements were required but not that that was enough to define science fiction. Still, the comment intrigued me enough to mostly remember and note it down shortly after and stirred several thoughts that continue to circle, largely unanswered.

For one, the statement wasn't even true, for starters that Star Wars included no social commentary--it wasn't deep, but it certainly addressed not only good and evil but family relationships and forgiveness, wealth and the pursuit of it, and other issues in at least a shallow, one character per element kind of way. Similarly, it's not true that the science is not explained. Certainly not ALL of it, true, nor in great detail, but I've rarely encountered any science fiction that really explained even some few elements of the science part of the fiction, and half of the explanation in many books are in the form of semi made-up words that merely give the reader a general concept for the element that makes it different than other books of the same subgenre. Yoda's descriptions of the nature of the Force in book V did more than many, and references to motivators, restraining bolts, and other fidbits rather effectively suggested if not directly explained how the droids could function with a degree of autonomy or not as the case might be. Assumptions in themselves can explain a lot when used effectively. A book that was about how lasers, ships engines, hyperspace, robotics, etc., etc., all worked (developed in consultation with the appropriate scientists to get even close to ballpark) in more depth would be as boring as a text book on radio operations. It wasn't a story about those things, those were just part of the setting. The unique part was the Force and to some degeee the wide range of robotics (although those might be considered more character elements than science).

The sentence, admittedly out of context as a standalone, came across to me as if the speaker was saying that those two things defined science fiction. Well hardly. While they are a natural part of any science fiction, they also apply to contemporary shows, detective shows such as the CSIs, spy novels, and other sorts of books. I can't imagine anyone saying that CSI was science fiction while Star Wars was not (even if the science is sometimes on a par for having explanations that are more fiction than science). Yes, I would say some measure of explanation is called for, but most stories that assume certain basic sciency elements (telepathy, aliens, space travel, time travel... well that last is becoming a more common trope in non science fiction shows, too, complicating matters) are accepted as science fiction even if those things are not explained in any kind of detail. They exist in the world, they matter to the story, and they impact the nature of the universe, often by effecting how people interact with each other but not necessarily exactly that. Social commentary... not so much, unless by that they mean the general impact of the unique, focused science on the fictional world, in which case, yes, that too is a necessary feature for real science fiction, light or hard core.

In general the phrase "social commentary" tends more to mean very specifically the people element of a story, lessons in ethics, morals, particular contemporary social issues which might or might not be related to the unique (or classic) science, and I don't see that as a necessary element so much. The presence of social commentary, including the richness of character interactions with each other, their environment, and their world) all say something about the quality of the work but science fiction can be trashy, too, just like any genre, and the presence of meaningful social commentary hardly defines the genre.

I considered whether the speaker didn't mean the element that has been discussed regarding the difference between fantasy and science fiction, or between speculative fiction and science fiction, the degree to which the science fiction elements impact the world, the degree to which the world, the setting and its rules matter to the story and all, but I fear that is too much putting my own recent questions and thoughts into the words of another, so different can that be from "social commentary."

So the rest was questions: if not those two things, or not just those two things, then what really defines science fiction (and what defines good science fiction: I liked Star Wars Books 456, but the later series, 123, not a fan. if it had been a bit more about the development of Darth Vader, maybe, but there was so much nonsense and special effects and... well lets not go there. It's not just a generational thing but maybe parts... Science Fiction, still, good or bad. Space Fiction just IS Science Fiction because it is, and you get those space westerns and such that are fun though they are vastly better (and come across as belong to the science fiction genre, if the setting and its associated technology actually changes the course of the story, if you can't do a global replace to call the lasers "guns" and have the story still make perfect sense: lasers have different properties than guns and the course of events should have to be a little different to accommodate the difference.

But is that what makes James Bond not science fiction? I loved the one that slammed the press as controlled by the bad guys, and the world events as controlled and influenced by the press coverage thereof. Some interesting social commentary there, and definitely fictional science which, if you ignored the logic flaws and willingly suspended disbelief, did use the fictional science to change the course of events as well as offering explanations of the new sciences to varying degrees. But it's generally accepted to be contemporary fiction, spy fiction, not science fiction and they just come across... different. I've read stories about aliens that were more classically contemporary (trade the place names, make their faces a human color or three, global replace space ship for jeep and no one would notice it had once been SF and not Central American drug runners and dictators)--decent literature-style writing, poor science fiction rather than the out of date assumption of the reverse.

It's sort of like the problem some older SF shows on tv had - a push to make it a different kind of SF, as if distorting the subgenre was in any way desireable: Time Tunnel didnít need aliens, really guys! Aliens and any other sort of SF don't necessarily make a food fit! Why did anyone think it would be? Where was the misunderstanding? (And does it still exist? I've heard the occasional disparaging comment about Star Wars and other space movies in general, as if they were somehow bad, even in the sense of being evil so far as their impact on the genre was concerned, but I'm not sure what they thought the problem was.) Could you send James Bond back in time to catch a mad scientist playing with time and have it still be a spy movie/novel? It seems to work with that 70's-set show with Mars in the title; social commentary galore, time travel, a bit, but hardly anything I would call a science fiction show! What do you think?
21 oct 09 @ 7:50 pm

Friday, October 16, 2009

Conferences, old blog and blog-like sites I've come across, they tend to imply that realism is important even in science fiction and fantasy, which may account for some of the almost-contemporary stuff I keep coming across, but I think realism is missing the point o fiction in many respects. For example, the reason reality shows are mostly shown only on hour per week of action are that it takes distilling a weekís worth of reality down into an hour to have perceptible differences between participants, as characters, and to have enough solid material to keep peopleís interest, and that's despite the reality show producers choosing wanna-be-actors and others who are about as far from normal real people as we are likely to find. No one is really a Truman.

Writing stories, to me, is the same way. To be "real", believable, and still interesting, the personality characteristics have to be magnified, real conversations need to be distilled to remove all their wishy washy, repetitive, and unnn ahhh, thinking-aloud noises, and several peopleís life stories have to be included in the life of an individual character. Or else a life time has to be poured into a few minutes or hours, or at most days. Anything less wonít be interesting, and to a population bred on video games and action shows, wonít even be recognised as real.

Characters playing themselves (such as politicians or actors) have perhaps the hardest roles, because they have to exxaggerate what they would do, distill and condense it just enough but not too much for it to come across as real. if Reality show participants arenít good at that, or aren't naturally extroverted and neorotic enough to be naturally more flamboyant than most normal people, they come across as flatter and duller than they would in real real life.

For my own characters, I have to remind myself of that repeatedly, and still sometimes i get feedback that a character has come across as flat, dull, unlife-like. Passive characters make good background scenery and provide some ballance, but that's not the same as central characters having to be extroverts. One of my all-time favorite characters is the introvert Horatio Hornblower. What made him stand out as a full character even in writing was that his introvert characteristics were strong and showed up repeatedly in his actions and choices. Shy, reluctant to speak up (but doing it anyway: action is a necessary part of a lead role), non-violent but passively accepting of some of the common and normal violence of his life in His Majesties navy, always and unquestionably an introvert when most people tend toward borderline or else are so introverted that they wouldn't be interacting with the rest of the characters and the 'real' story would go nowhere fast.

Qiri is one of my few natural extroverts (or is supposed to be; I think I have to make her more outgoingly interactive, still) but , thus the last comment, probably not strongly enough so, yet. Being an extrovert, either, isn't enough for a character. the interaction that helps the story along comes a little easier, but that is a danger in itself: it's not enough. its so normal for lead characters , that of itself it is a weak characteristic. The active social life has to be part of every decision and action, too, or other characteristics have to be there guiding the course, thoughts, and actions. The presence of the characteristic in each scene is probably the best way to "exxagerate" the characteristics that define the character: most of us have many character traits that play different roles in different activities in our day-to-day lives, but in the fiction character (and reality shows), fewer, stronger traits make a better, more "believable" and 'realitistic" story.

Challenge: take a character and put them in three very different scenes and make their primary characteristic play a role in each.
16 oct 09 @ 8:23 pm

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another scene, well, a continuation of the first scene on New Haven is posted with this entry. A slow start, I think, but as I mentioned last time, I'm still working the beginning out. Feedback always welcome.

A site I came across a long time back said that you are either a story teller (good at plot and characters, building climax and sequencing events) or a writer/composer (enjoying the art of the word, regardless of the subject matter). I definately lean toward the latter though no writer can be solely one or the other.

We have to do both unless we find the right joint author to provide the other side of the pair (anyone out there good at structuring story lines but not so good at the prose, and likes mine?) Eventually I get there with the story line, I think, but it usually takes me a while to figure out the events and the proper sequence to build the emotions and all, and I am likely to try many options before i find what I think works. Even then, if anything but bad luck and misaimed effort keeps me from being published, it will be that.

I prefer playing with the individual scenes, building the setting, the emotions, the tension, playing with the prose to find the words that subtly crate the mood without stating it direction (though I say it directly, too, at least in the early drafts, to remind myself whay I'm waiting for.) I aim always for lovely prose that is pleasant to hear aloud and eventually fit it into a story line that makes sense and achieves the desired interest and effect. The story often builds intself to a degree--I let the characters define their own stories to the degree possible, but when I pause and go back, I end up resequencing a few times, cutting out whole scenes--most often the eariest ones, though occasionally interim ones as well.

I always keep the chopped out pieces. I might eventually try to publish them as short stories, about the same character or a different one, depending on why I cut it. Sometimes they are quite complete in themselves, cut becasue they are so independent that they add nothing to the overall course of the story. I also build new scenes, always, to address gaps, explain bits I know are incomplete, and flesh out the story or expose some important aspect of the characters. I expect I will cut out much of this introduction, but some of it needs to there in some form, maybe piecemeal comments in the scenes to come. Not a backflash. Too much narrative, just like it is too much narrative for a first scene. But we'll see. Unfortunately, for us that like the composition, it's sometimes more fun to write than to read.
13 oct 09 @ 7:45 pm

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I've mentioned some of what I've done to get to this point with Qiri and her friends in past posts: the usual stack of draft scenes, many taking place before the story currently begins, taking two sequences (now and later) and putting them in parallel. for a time, I thought that might work as a story format, and it did help me find gaps and weaknesses in the story line, but it didn't quite work as a single novel. Now it is back to being its own novel (with a sequel) and the usual problem: Where should the story begin. I decided awhile back that it must begin on New Haven, but there are several possible points for that, too: the flight down, her trek to the meeting, an adventure on the way to the meeting, the meeting itself... the adventure is still a possibility, but it doesn't offer as much opportunity to introduce characters and places and pushes back the opportunities for appropriate backflashes to give the extensive background. someone seeing an early early draft suggested that it start much later, when there is a significant change in Qiri's status, but I prefer to put that mid book unless the book gets so long that it really needs to be divided into two (and make it a trilogy, not for the first time in my writing experience...). so far, though, this one has stayed more compact than my fantasy novels so I am not expecting length to be an issue despite the complexities of the story.

So, beginnings. Never begin at the beginning. One must begin with the problem, and in my experience, that is never really at the beginning except perhaps in a short story (I've done a couple of short stories with Qiri, and even they didn't really begin at the beginning, so maybe they don't start at the beginning, either). More often it seems we, as writers, need to begin in the middle of things with the rare exception of when someone or something new appears in a characters life and that mere arrival changes the status quo in a way that makes a story. I've considered whether I should shift this forward, with Qiri's First meeting of Tavven on that grounds, but while it adds a new element to her life, it doesn't really become a story until about now, unless perhaps something of a romantic psycho-drama full of debates and efforts to communicate across cultural barriers. I have some stories like that, but it's better for science fiction if there is also something of adventure, to show off the physical and other characteristics of characters and the worlds they live in as well as the psychological and philosophical elements.

I suppose in that regard, you could say that a good SF story, at least, should begin when not only change but action begins to overtake talk and thought. i might make the current background into a prequel if I could find action for them to participate in along the way... hmm. At least some more short stories around their meetings on other worlds?... This is why I like to think and write throught the process of writing as well as just trying to do it. Like classes, it provides a great source of inspiration...
10 oct 09 @ 12:45 pm

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Say hello to New Haven
Say goodby to Mattias and hello to New Haven, the first of several planets that will receive a visit from my favorite alien, Qiri Canavu (she'll be arriving on the scene the next posting but today's is the Prelude, an introduction to New Haven.

If there are any artists out there reading my story in the newxt few months, I invite them to render their idea of people and places that appear in the story. Please send copies and whether or not you would permit me to post them. My own drawings and paintings are limited primarily to dragons, trees, and inanimate designs and I have not yet managed a good picture of Qiri or her friends, despite the images in my head.

I learned world creation by reading about Flinx and his friends by Alan Dean Foster, the worlds of the Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey, a scattering of works by Azimov, and others all through college. Apologies to them if I didn't learn all their lessons, but I've tried. I'd love feedback on my attempts at making alien geography, meteorology, etc., and whether I have made them believable (even if not scientifically perfect or complete). Anyone have suggestions for more recent planet-building authors?

Happy Reading!
6 oct 09 @ 7:59 pm

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Final scene for From Beyond the Wall and other stuff
The final scene has been posted for From Beyond the Wall. No one noted a preference regarding science fiction or continueing fantasy so I'm going for a change of pace so the next series of posts will be science fiction. If you joined in late but liked what you read of Mattias, let me know and I'll send the whole story.

Observation on economics: I've noticed that several stores have changed hands recently and alas it sounds like my Saturn dealer won't be around much longer to keep my car in good shape (we laughed at the news: oh, sure, Saturn owners will go other GM dealers; as if. Other GM dealers don't have set, reasonable prices for their cars and other GM manufactures don't have the same degree of quality control in their plants, so no, GM won't get my business just because Saturn was attached to GM.) On the up side, every store seems to have gone quickly into new hands, always a good sign, and my car is currently in excellent shape albeit overdue for its next oil change and maintenance check.

Writing Advice

One of the "smoking gun" elements that I rarely gave thought to was peopele characteristics, until I saw it done "wrong". I put it in quotes becasue i don't suppose it really is wrong, that a writer may chose to give a character certain characteristics just to provide a readar with a visual description, something to visualize, to convey the authors own mental image of the character to the reader, an image to work with as they read. Still, I find basic, initial descriptions easy to forget and hard to imagine without, at minimum, reminders (e.g., "the blond and the brunette put their heads together in a quick, private conference", or "'look at old long-nose giving June another lecture,' he said.") and, ideally, a role in the story (e.g., a long-legged character jumps a fence and then can help fellow escapees).

In SF and Fantasy, the characteristics can be very unique and memorable, but, like the smoking gun, the more memorable and unusual they are, the more important that they matter to the story. Otherwise, they don't really need to be that unusual. If the characters are going to behave in every way like humans, then they can be humans or human like with token differences, better yet, really human so that they can go on the mainstream fiction shelves and reach a broader audience. The non-standard characteristics should be meaningful, part of the alien culture and settings and story.

Yes, alines and fantasy beings can and should have characteristics that we as human readers can relate to. They can and should, in the end, tell us something about ourselves. But characters in these genres, like animal characters, need also to be true to themselves, too, and different from contemporary humans if they are going to be what makes a tale fantasy or SF. Or, the character can be less uniquely different from human, and the focus of the desriptions should be on what makes them unique and different from other, also mostly human, characters in the story, whether those are human characteristic or not. As with the setting and other features, the writer should describe what the reader needs to know for the story, and not describe what they donít need to know.

As a favorite example, take Hobbits. Hobbits have a lot of human character traits, some idealized, and a few traits that are different, and all of them matter. They arenít just small: they hide and go places the bigger characters can't. They aren't just happy people: they are friendly and persuade allies with their natural cheer and pleasantness. Likewise elves aren't just described as old and wise, they give sage advice and predict the future and share their knowledge judiciously because of that wisdom. I can't think of a trait that is described in any depth that doesn't impact the characters' roles throughout the story, and that is as it should be.

As an example of how I use that concept, I have a character who is pre-wings but of a winged kind. She is small to make flight conceptually posssible, likes wide open spaces, high spaces good for flying, and reacts very badly to small places and captivity, which impacts attempts to arrest her and her behavior in confined spaces. She also has fairy-like elements (Hers is an SF story so I touch lightly on that) so some people react to her as a magical, lucky presence while others are more inclined to squash her like a bug. Even my choice of color for her is given significance through gems she is given as gifts and the reaction of her own people and others because she is generally monotone among a species known for being garish and colorful. I don't think I have done anything with her having a small nose, but lots of people have small noses, so it doesn't constitute a smoking gun, as a stand-out that should have an impact.

Challenge: review one of your characters characteristic-by- characteristic and identify how they matter to the story. If you really like the characteristic but it doesnít currently matter, consider how a change in plot could allow them to use the characteristic (for good or ill).

My potential October and early November travel has been pushed back so unless I get called for on short notice, I should be back on my more regular twice-a-week postings for the next while. I'm planning on continuing posting on Tuesdays and either Friday or Saturday, but may adjust that depending on the new tv line-up. Always easier to type when my favorite show is not presenting a new episode!
3 oct 09 @ 6:33 pm

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Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there! See contacts page or e-mail wyverns(at)earthlink(dot)net.

Every word should be an experience