EnE: Elemental Novel Experiences
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Welcome to my blog!

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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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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Still not a fan of wireless
We theoretically had wireless over the weekend, but it lasted about 2 seconds at a time, not terribly useful for blogging or anything else on the internet. Got some editing done, but just a little each night before I start dozing. fortunately I've dozed often enough with my lap top that I usually manage to avoid resting my hand on the keyboard, though once or twice I've filled pages with some letter I rested a finger on.

I'm still doing my end to end edit of my latest science fiction book. The most common problem in the current section seems to be run ons and repetitive sentence starts. I get into the active voice a bit too much once in awhile, and start to start every sentenced with the subject person, name, pronoun, or reference. Not needed. Sentences can also start with clauses and prepositional phrases without losing the active voice. Can't always do that, either but using it now and again adds variety and texture. The scenery is still wae - I'm much better at natural settings than artificial ones, but I've tried to consider some of the things an ideal colony ship would have to make it liveable for people (who are much healthier if they can find greenery and open places to relax in on a regular basis, among other things). Plants, greenery (which also freshens inevitably stale and odorous recycled air), city scapes and farm scapes behind seeming windows? Would moving scenery in lounge areas be appropriate or would generating them also generate unnecessary and hard to lose heat? (And would a colony ship away from a sun have the same cooling problems as one near Earth orbit? Machinery and people all generate heat, too, but couldn't heat be converted into other forms of energy if it's not strengthened by the cooking effect of sunshine?)

Anyway, the science matters less than that the scenery have interest value and preferably a role (In one book, I used the reactions of a lowly maintenance person, clipping the foliage first well then badly, to convey some of the emotions and tensions in the scene, giving the "normal person's" view to events that the main players were too close to to see, and to add a measure of lightness to a scene that could have become melodramatic.) I don't think I'm quite there, yet with this one, and have to give some thought to how to redesign the settings or relocate them to more interesting locations if I can't find a way to make interrogation rooms and offices interesting.

Writer's Challenge: take the dialog out of a scene, then any action that doesn't interact with the setting. What's left? Can anything be added to the setting or interaction with it that aides the scene, or would it only distract from the current events?
30 mar 11 @ 7:03 pm

Friday, March 25, 2011

forms of address
Since I'm rather bad at forms of address - my e-mails rarely use them and I almost never use the name of the people I talk to, a bad habit that aggravates a tendency to blank all names the moment I'm supposed to introduce someone--I have to be very conscious about using them in writing. In early drafts of individual scenes, I might go for pages referring to people as "he" or "she", even if I have a name for the character. On a mid level draft, I'll add a name wherever I have to pause to think about who is present, who is speaking, who is listening, but even that is usually not enough. In my near final edits, I spend a lot of time considering whether a character would use people's names or not in dialog (common among extroverts, less so among introverts; significant among elves and fairies, more casual among peasants, stiffly formal in complex hierarchies where status is everything...), and likewise for the narrative deciding how often I should use he and she, how often the name should be used (or references to their roles/titles, and other indirect identifications.

Which name--only rarely the full name--I use may vary with the POV character at the time, but I don't do super strong POV's like chain-of-thought pieces, nor is it ever in the I point of view, just a light over-the-shoulder most often, so that the text in the section reflects the POV character's thoughts and knowledge, but the tone is fairly objective and even throughout. I won't say I recommend it as the "best" POV. Strong POV characterization seems to be reasonably popular if you use the right characters, but can also distract from the story rather than aiding it if it isn't done very consistently and with clear added value. So, most characters have a typical, neutral name that I most often refer to them by, only partially dependent on the POV character (a subordinate might add the rank, a close friend might use a first name while everyone else goes with the family name, and a cool, distant reference like "the woman" might get used until an unfriendly or grumpy POV is ready to acknowledge the character as a person). I've considered being a bit more consistant for how I chose that most-common reference, for instant to always use last names (some characters I use a first, some a family, some a more formal version of the first name for themselves while other POV characters use a nickname).

A decade or two ago, I would have gone mostly with family names, especially among earthlings, but family names are falling out of use. No more do we address young women as Miss first name and young men by their bare last name. Instead, everyone is first names save total strangers, and sometimes even then, or especially then, as a mechanism for maintaining privacy and reduce trackability.

I haven't developed a real rule of thumb but I do avoid starting paragraphs with pronouns, and usually end up using names at least once in long paragraphs. I try to follow the old grammar rule that said something to the effect that pronouns refer to the last person (of that sex) who was the subject of a sentence, and treat it as if the rule also applied to objects of a sentence, if it doesn't cause too much repetition. For variety, I'll start throwing in other less personal references, "the pilot" "the colonel" "the youngling creature." Some it I just do as polish, but in the near final edit, I seriously consider why I chose any given option, and consider whether it was the best one, appropriate to the POV, and well placed.

Writer's Challenge: Take a scene, list all of the terms of reference used for one of the characters, and consider each usage: does it vary, vary too much, appropriate to the relationships between the character and the POV?
25 mar 11 @ 8:25 am

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Afghan design as story
I had other things I should be doing, but I started on my earth-tone afghan anyway. It's striped, and vaguely patterned, but as my quilting friends would say "scrappy" which is to say I don't have enough of most of the colors to perfectly follow or repeat the pattern except in number of rows. Each colored section is six rows, but sometimes its one color and sometimes its two shades or two related colors.

So, writing. One of the stories I'm having troubled with is a lot like the afghan: sections of different colors and textures, but a constant repeating framework. I've done the same thing with other stories, and like formal essays, structure, even a degree of repetition/pattern is useful, especially for short stories, in my observation.

Big however. This is where novels, especially, go astray. An afghan can be looked at as a single whole. In some ways a short story can be said to have the same quality, and the pattern can provide guidance to the reader, a pointer to the clues to the ending that is appreciated in retrospect while being too quick to be boring in the process. In novels, a repeating pattern can be seen, but as soon as it's seen, it becomes predictable, so must be changed in order to keep the changes, hence the story, going. By the end, the pattern will normally be entirely broken by the forces of change that form the story. If any elements remain, they should be themselves distorted and changed even if still recognizable as once having been part of the established norm.

For part of the way, changing the texture and color in the framework obscures the pattern/structure for awhile, and allows initial levsls of change while establishing a norm, a base from which the ultimate change emerges. And subtle, fractional bits of repeating pattern, mirror reflections, and other variations on the design can unify and have other desireable effects, obvious, fun, or subtle in stories as in afghans and quilts.

to take an obvious example: consider the amusement and tension breaking value of the repeated phrases (by several different people in different circumstances) in Star Wars. These repeats can be similar circumstances that one character after another finds themselves in: a great way to show the differences between characters that might otherwise not stand out from each other or to hint at unrevealed characteristics that will play into the climax. It can be a recurring appearance of some thing or description: a table, a vase, a color that mirrors the progress of the story: a good, sturdy table in one scene, a beaten up one in another, a table with a broken leg in a trash heap still later: that they are different tables doesn't matter as much as that they tie in with the progress of the story or one character, adding depth and texture and providing physical presence for elements that may be more psychological or mystical.

When it comes to writing, I don't actually consciously add any of that in the first several drafts, but when I sit down to mesh my disparate scenes, revise and polish, I start looking for opportunities to add the nice little bits, and make sure I'm not being repetitious. Every battle should be worse than the last (or obviously less bad as a misleader) Conflicts should grow in intensity even if they shrink in duration. Progress of character goals should go up and down even as the story tone and pace climbs toward climax, and most of that I worry about only in revision and rewrite.

Writer's challenge: Look at your first scene. Break it down to component parts - physical elements, phrases, ideas: write a scene that includes some of each that reflects the changes that have occurred in the first quarter of the book, the first half.
22 mar 11 @ 8:35 pm

Saturday, March 19, 2011

More on the future
Its a fun topic, and seems to be harder than I expected to get my words around. I guess the main thing is, I try to aim for a little future in my future Earthlings, but some will be "standards" as established by traditional space fiction - background trivia, upgraded to contemporary standards plus some, merely to convey the space fiction/ future fiction flavor of the piece. to give the piece it's own flavor and provide a framework for the characters, I develop a few other pieces of the future: military or civilian, social structure (naming practices, poor and rich if its on a world, maybe not so much on a ship, beyond what it needed to define the nature of a ship - luxury liner, working drew, military, etc), technology to the extent that it impacts the story, and other things to explain why characters are the way they are.

If I wrote a story about future humans as the main thing, I think I would be inclined to make them more different, at least in some cultural things, but ultimately, I figure humans are people and leave it at individual characteristics, regardless of how different I try to make the culture. But mostly as I think about it, I usually have a human in an alien culture, or the protagonist is an alien of some degree. I've considered very alien aliens, like Azimov, but I usually aim for less hardcore, easier to relate to characters that are human-like but somehow different, sometimes with abilities we don't have, sometimes visually different with a very different culture in some respect.

The thing with writing is to make it simple but strong rather than subtle and complex. we certainly can't capture a full world of culture in a single book with all its complexities - though maybe a good sampling in a series of books... Complex plot, yes, but clear and understandable setting and culture characteristics, and even if you think you are exaggerating excessively, there's a good chance the reader will find it so subtle as to miss it. But maybe that's okay, to a degree. So long as it impacts the story appropriately, the reader will get the aspect that they need to, even if it doesn't make it to conscious awareness.

Writer's challenge: Take a draft scene and add one future or other-cultural change: what does it do to the setting, the dialog, the character behavior?
19 mar 11 @ 8:09 pm

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Future culture
I kind of derailed one of the things I started to "talk" about with the names: the vision of the future. In a lot of contemporary science fiction, it doesn't take much looking: aliens coming to today's earth only requires some vision of the alien culture, not Earth's. Even if the science fiction is from today, a lot of the science that is appearing is hardly more than what we expect to be discovered tomorrow, or else today's existing technology made prevalent to an extreme. That's probably the closest to where I was going with future science: the impact, the shift in culture, the impacts on society, not just naming conventions but work, shopping, money, food, daily necessities and what constitutes luxuries. What happens if gas goes to not 3.50 but 35.50 a gallon, without inflation or an increase in incomes? One change can effect a lot of things.

Or what about texting, iPads and other small-screen technologies? What does that do to spelling in the long run? Do we want to read the fine print, phrase at a time because a large print sentence doesn't fit, or abbreviate everything so that the text more readily fits. Does abbreviation become the new spelling? Or do other tricks aide visual communication? (Going to discourage hyphenated double-barreled names, if you have to text them regularly! Will the written name become a text version? How about 3sa Har4d as a name to replace Theresa Harvard? How does it get said or interpreted by 3sa's great grandchildren? Which modes of recording will still be available/translatable a couple of generations from now?) It's easy to see how many changes are possible, even likely, and how easy it is to make Earthlings look like aliens if the story goes far enough into the future. Such futures don't require aliens or space: such futures are alien enough and the possible answers provide a framework for more stories than will ever be written, even in the imagination, much less put to text.

But will the reader relate to a seriously changed Earth in a future-based space fiction, or will they think, oh, another group of aliens? I've gone both ways - made them a different alien on the other end of the universe, but human-like, or else Earthlings of the future without too drastic of differences beyond surface future technology and characters very much like us with a culture not excessively different than ours now. It's possible to have only very different aliens as all the characters, if you can make at least one of them very human-like on the inside, at least, but that doesn't work so well when I need someone for the aliens to have "first contact" with. A first contact loses its meaning when its between two sets of aliens, neither human, and both having to be introduced to the reader. It then becomes a meeting of three-the two aliens and the reader in a room--which has a different dynamic than the reader and an alien in the room. At the least, it will lack the immediacy of having one of the two groups BE the reader's, and may make it impossible to provide someone that the reader can effectively sympathize with.

Writers Challenge: Pick a piece of technology that exists or you think should exist, and trace it through to a future twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from now. Design a character within that world (protagonist or antagonist).
16 mar 11 @ 7:07 pm

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Names again
In some ways, it's harder to come up with appropriate/effective names for Earthlings than aliens. For aliens I've done everything from distorted city names on a country map (different country for each planet) to randomly circling letter combinations in a word search puzzle, with a lot of variation in between. For fantasy much the same, plus more modifications on roles and foreign words for the essence of the character, psuedo latin, and other things that seemed appropriate at the time.

But what about Earth humans of the future? For awhile (when I was younger), just "normal" or phone-book names seeme reasonable, but lately... made-up names, hyphenated last names, new legal names reflective of hobbies and interests... what will come with the next generation is unclear, much less the next century or two. So I looked back a couple hundred years to see what had changed... almost as much! Some names we still see regularly: George Washington, some that seem strange and archaic, a lack of cultural mix, no hyphens but more middle names... We've been sloppy, shortening names, recently, at least in English. Elsewhere, lots of syllables.

And then there's the question of future history. Hyphenated names are a result of women's changing roles and attitudes toward them, changing family structures, families made from a multiplicity of marriages. What else might change? What might reverse? What about those made-up names and the mobile population, mixing naming practices, or getting back to traditions. I don't have to explain any of it in the story, but if I have some sense of it, of the new resulting attitudes and cultural elements, then side references, names, and other current--in the story--elements will tell the history for me, and the names will fit the characters.

I'm not there yet with my E-ships, but working on it a little at a time. Most of the Earth names will probably be changed by the end, except maybe Tony. It took a long time to decide what fit that character (most of my drafts just call him "the aide", but that's not his role in the story, nor a good title for his position in the setting, even). His role is complex, but in the end, decided he fit my limited experience with Tony's I've known over the years. And he is a present enough character than a more complex name would add unnecessary difficulty. The last name... still working on that.

Writer's Challenge: look at the names of people you know or people in the phone book. what do the names suggest about their history? the culture they or their families came from? Look at the names you've chosen for the characters of a story: what do the names say about the culture they are from?
15 mar 11 @ 8:36 pm

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Editing observations
It also took less time than I expected to type up my recent writings (though I've stacks more notes from earlier to type) so I thought I'd do a bit of editing to incorporate the typed portions as well as cattching up on letter writing and house cleaning. I edit in a straight line almost as little as write, and I found that I had used "right" far too much, so started removing it and a few other overused and useless words that I encountered along the way.

For example, "right" is appropriate as a direction, and occasionally as a substitute for correct for some speakers in dialog. It is also an appropriate word for something that is more than a privilege and less than a responsibility. It's rarely a good word to use in place of "appropriate", however, and almost never the better choice in place of "just" (as in "right here") and often neither "just" nor "right" nor "only" (as in "just doing this innocent thing..."). In many cases, the best--another alternative for "right"--answer is to find a better word such as "merely" or just to delete it. It maybe be useful to use a wasted word for one side character's speech style, but otherwise such words should usually (another word I probably use too much) be eliminated and certainly (eliminate as redundant) not used repeatedly throughout.

The words, constructs, or other writing style elements we use out of our own bad speaking or writing habits are the hardest to find and correct. A good grammar check will sometimes catch them, and I recommend trying it, but after you find a habitual word or phrase (I used "but" far too often in place of and or in place of a sentence break), go through and look for that one thing through an entire novel or two as a way to see what you are doing, find substitutes, and break yourself of the writing habit, rather than relying on the grammar checker.

Writer's challenge: Do a "find" for "right", "just", "almost", "about", "certainly", "surely", "really" on one of your drafts. How often do you use them? Under what circumstances? Can any of them be removed or replaced with a more meaningful word? (This is what they mean by choosing more concrete words).
13 mar 11 @ 2:47 pm

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Walking with my alien friends
Typing up scenes Iíve scribbled is like taking a walk with a friend. My scribbling was to capture an idea. If I have lots, I can type pretty quick without much thinking about it, but if I have a little less, I'll redraft as I type and then it's the best part of writing, where I don't have to worry yet about the presentation, already have a framework for a scene, and can just walk beside my characters through it to see how they handle it. Sometimes it's a quite dialog, discussing issues, looking at them from different points of view, see which characters hold onto which positions, which ones waffle, and where the topics shift to in the nature of conversations between friends.

Other times, its not so much a walk as a run, my breathlessly trying to keep up with my active characters and follow all that's going on in rapid-fire sequence or simultaneously, juggling all the bits to keep the timing right, chasing after fleeting descriptions (no one has time to even glance around beyond aiming for the next place to put a foot) and letting the fingers go almost as readily as the pen had in the first set, filling in the blanks and more than blanks. The challenge is to keep from stopping to edit as I type. It shouldn't be editing, yet, but redrafting. I'm much more tempted to edit with the keyboard than with a pen, but that needs to come later.

Writer's challenge: take a character you're having trouble with for a walk and interview them.
9 mar 11 @ 10:01 pm

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

time for typing
I'll have time for typing sooner than I hoped. I must have been further than half way because I am suddenly already done with the quilting and just need to sew the border. that shouldn't take more than one evening, then I'll be ahead of where I planned and spend some of the extra typing in my many notes I've been writing the past several nights.

I couldn't tell you what I wrote, just that last night I added several pages for one scene. I write all my ideas down as quickly as I can because I will forget them, and the notes remind me again of the vision I had when I wrote as well as providing some material to work with (can't crochet without yarn, or sew without thread, as it were). I might recall the vision another time, jogged by some thought or another, but often not the words so that if I write them down (and I often do), they will be different. They might become a related scene, or a different version of the same theme that I'll merge together into a better scene in the end.

My note taking gets problmatic when I drive, which is to say I have a strong urge to write notes and can't. Instead, I will focus much more strongly on the idea, crafting it in much greater detail to both help my memory and to keep it in mind long enough to get to somewhere (like a way side) where I can stop and write a few minutes, enough to jog the better-established memory later. Sometimes I laugh at what I wrote, realizing that I had developed so much detail for the scene (way more than I would ever include in the final writing) that I end up with much less of a scene than I thought I had, pages to write every detail, but a few minutes, a few bits of dialog worth keeping, a few details for the setting, and a fair amount of unneeded explanation that if I write it down at all, will be deleted right away on revision.

Writer's challenge: write in your journal about how you go about developing a story, a specific one or in general.
8 mar 11 @ 9:32 pm

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Making slow but steady progress
I finally finished as much of the Christmas yarn stack as I could, wrapping up with a scarf and hat pair. Inevitably, I have some yarn left over too small to do much with, but I'll add it to the small bits collection which will inevitably become the centers of small granny squares, all bordered in black or some other very dark color to make a colorful scrappy afghan. Bordering them all in the same color brings all the diverse hues together into a bright but coherent whole.

Next up is quilting, which I started this morning. Since it has been awhile and requires very different callouses and muscles than crochet, I have to start a little at a time so I'll be alternating it with blogging, laundry, and other things that need to be done. For starters, I'm working on "UFO's" (un-finished objects), the first being a half-quilted Quilt of Valor that I pieced last winter and half quilted before Christmas and yarn took over the season. I hope to have it and hopefully the next one (for which I have a top but no quilting started) before it gets too warm for such activities. I will need to find a smaller project for my next trip but so far that isn't likely to be for a couple of months unless things change, so I have time to make progress on the big things before I need to worry about more transportable ones.

Quilting, unlike crochet, gives me a little more thinking time because it doesn't require the concentration of counting necessitated by shell crochet. So far it was the source of one blog on quilting tips (I tend to recall my old lessons as I begin a project and start to encounter the various potential problems and issues, such as needle size and seam lines and such) and a delightful MardiGras celebration pulled my away from the stresses of my day job for the weekend, so I have been making a little better progress on my story writing, including various attempts at trying to explain the science behind my empathic ship flight. I avoid lengthy scenes of scientific explanation (I enjoy reading Clancy's technical details but not everyone does and even I skim over them on re-reads), but over the course of a multi-book set, I do try to fill in some of the details that have previously been skimmed over, skipped, or hinted at, especially the parts that impact characters and story line fairly directly (as opposed to "scenery" like automatic doors, scanners, sensor displays whose functions can remain black boxes with no loss of story line. In the case of E-ships, how the comms works and doesn't work is an important story element eventually so I've been working out a bit of the mechanics between fava crystals, telepathy, and empathy Telempathy is also mentioned in passing, as on the side I am working on a different book/character whom I have decided to put into this universe rather than trying to create a wholly separate one that has many similarities, anyway. That one didn't have E-ships initially, focusing on a Tem-comm rather than a pilot, but it has space flight as a background, and pilots as a side character or three, so why not E-ships? Readers and/or publishers do like worlds that continue, so I might as well be prepared to continue in a multiplicity of story lines rather than relying on finding stories for a character whose essential story might be done in a couple of books. (I have a couple more story lines in mind for Mxyra, the protagonist in E-ships, but suspect two of them will be merged into a single book by the time they are done, and only one little scenario for what might follow, that one lacking an essential theme or life question, so having a branch direction will ultimately give the world a stronger life, should I ever get the first one published).

Writer's challenge: Did you get that pen and notebook? Write something in it today.
6 mar 11 @ 12:43 pm

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where'd the week go?
I could have sworn I'd posted a couple of days ago and here's been nearly a week again. I haven't written much either, mostly crashing before I could get in more than half a page. Well, not much fiction writing. I wrote a letter and tons of meeting notes the last several days (hence the early crashing), and some long journal entries (did anyone guess I'm a writer?). I'd say that the total of writing should count, and I do tend to write less fiction when I write more nonfiction, but there've been days when I've done lots of both, so much that my hand ached (not so much when I use decent gel pens). I'll write less of everything if I'm physically busy, and often more if my mind is busy, but lately, I've kept my hands busy with other things to keep my mind from being too busy.

Does that make sense? Kind of like purposely having a writer's block, because if I'm free to write, I'm free to think (sometimes vice versa but not always) and I've been stressing about work lately. When I'm stressed, my mind tends to free-write and I start recalling every bad event, every time I was stressed at work, regardless of the cause, and imagined events that would have put me in the same mood were they to happen: useful if the imagination will focus on my fantasy and science fiction story worlds, not so much if I focus on the scenes of reality. Might be a way for contemporary fiction writers to get some useful ideas... To avoid ruining my own mood, I seem to do more crochet or something--lately crochet--the less I want to think, the more I seem to like complicated patterns, not that it's conscious at the time, but in retrospect (I'm nearly done with my stash of Christmas yarn, finished my small afghan, and discovered I had enough left for a couple of last scarves). One of the reason it's not conscious awareness and no more than a generalization is that if I'm just tired but not stressed, I'll also do artsy things to pass the evening, though more often things/formats that require less concentration.

I suspect I'm rambling. You can guess what my fiction writing is like - bits of useful scenes but only short bits, not complete scenes so much as concepts, bits of culture, facets of the story, or fractions of gaps that yet need to be filled (big gaps in the main story I've been working on, little gaps in E-ships, especially in the ending, where I know what needs to happen but don't yet have all the scenes that convey it.

Writer's challenge: Check your notebook: have you been writing? Put a scene you have notes for in the computer and flesh it out. did it take you where you expected or chaing in the typing?
3 mar 11 @ 9:37 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.

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