Tuesday, 22 December 2009

And the Pope knew then the Church was doomed...

The Vicky era (as I've decided to affectionately term 1800 - 1900, in every country in the world) was a time of great worry for the Christian clergy.  Everyone knows of Darwin now, but he wasn't the only threat.  Men like geologist Charles Lyell, the strongest opponent of the Diluvial position, argued strongly against the Church's statement of facts. 

Charles Lyell was born in Scotland, and moved to London to become a barrister.  He couldn't because of poor eyesight.  There is more information on him at Wikipedia: Charles Lyell.  Then there was the guy who published the Theory of Natural Selection.  No, it's not Charles Darwin. It was Alfred Russel Wallace, whose publication prompted Darwin to publish his own paper.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck believed in evolution.  He thought men came from orang-outangs.  William Buckland proved that Kirkdale Cave was a prehistoric Hyena den and found elephant and hippopotamus bones.  In Yorkshire. Buckland was also a member of the clergy.

So, with all this science abounding, its no wonder the clergy began to shake in its foundations, shakes which reverberated right up through the church.  And that's when the Pope knew the Church was doomed...

Or at least, that's modern theory.  In fact, 47% of Americans believe the world is no more than 10,000 years old and that sometime in those 10, 000 years, Man was created looking as he does now.  The Church wasn't that worried.  Indeed it had its own internal problems with Young Creationists and the Old Earth Theorists. 

Next History Post (Next Tuesday, I'm sticking to post planning) will look at Church attitudes to these theories at the time, with more information on Buckland - he's fascinating.

 And I'll use the desktop so I can include pictures, yay!

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, 150th Anniversary Edition is available at Amazon, for $6.95, if you're interested.  If not, I doubt the world will end.

The Origin Of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition

Who's your favourite Victorian scientist?
  1. Darwin
  2. Lyell
  3. Buckland
  4. John Snow
  5. Professor Challenger
  6. Dr Moreau
  7. Dr Jekyll
  8. Dr Frankenstein
  9. Lamarck
  10. Huxley
Let me know...

Sunday, 20 December 2009

What is steampunk?

Steampunk is a vast, wide-ranging sub-culture.  People might just dip their toes in, such as playing a tabletop steampunk RPG; or they might wade in, playing steampunk LARP games once a month.  They could doggie paddle in, dressing up for certain events, or they could scuba dive - wearing steampunk clothing throughout their daily lives. 

And I have no idea where all those weird watery metaphors came from, but never mind. 

When it comes to fiction we bring problem upon problem on ourselves.  If steampunk is aesthetic then its all about appearance.  So what is the genre?  Well, actually, steampunk could be horror or it could be romance or retro science fiction (the way things could have been) or even fantasy. 

And the themes are even wider. 

Then what keeps steampunk together - what labels it as steampunk?  Well, for the steam part of it, there must be a society placed some time after the start of the Industrial Revolution, but before the use of electricity became widespread.  This can be on an alternate Earth or in a completely imaginary world.

And there must be punk - that hint of rebellion.  I like to apply the same dystopian elements to steampunk as you are likely to find in a cyberpunk novel.  A lot of people see the past as some sort of golden age (especially Victorian Britain).  Forget about your Jules Verne and read some Dickens.  It really sucked to be poor in those days.

The really cool thing about steampunk is that it is so open to personal interpretation.  So, what's your interpretation?

A Post Plan

I have been posting sporadically, so in time for the New Year I have decided to set a blog timetable up.
If I post on

Monday it will always be writing advice
Tuesday shall be the day for historical articles re: the Victorians and Edwardians
Wednesday will see me review a steampunk website, of some kind or other
Thursdays will be when I dedicate some time to a new feature - either the finding of (and discussing of) an RPG or adopting an existing RPG to be steampunk. 
Fridays will bring reviews of books, films, and so on (though they won't all be steampunk)

Weekends are free for anything. 

I'm not saying I'm going to post every day, but the days I do post I will aim to keep to my posting plan.

Writing Blogs You Should Read

beckys writing blog

writer unboxed

Where Backstory was...

Where Backstory is now

incurable disease of writing

Emerging Writers Network

Seriously, becoming a writer

Friday, 18 December 2009

Winning


IF.....



IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!



That was If by Rudyard Kipling, and rather apt it is, too.
As I approach the end of this year, another year of nothing, I can see and feel great changes in the next one. It's almost like a disturbance in the force!


But I can be the things in this poem. I can keep my head whilst the world screams "Recession!"
I trust myself, but even randomly generated adverts seem to be advising me to another course of action. I know why so many doubt me, too - what makes what I have so different, so special?

I am impatient, but by taking my time and doing things right I will reap the rewards.
I have a dream, but I am realistic. Same with my thoughts... I know the nature of reality.


This year I'm going to risk it all on a throw of the dice, and if I lose, then so be it.

I won't lose.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Friday, 28 August 2009

The End is Nigh


Or so the scare mongerers would have you believe. Are the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse really riding down the Winds of Change towards their distant goal of Paper Eradication? I'm all for saving the Trees. I'm very Environmental (and not just because its "cool"). Yes, I quoted cool, thusly proving how gloriously uncool I am.

Is the death of the Printing Press on the horizon? Will the future of books be electronic data exchange.
Em, no.

I could be completely wrong, but I don't think I am. The Kindle could be the best thing since monkeys invented the wheel, but I doubt it.

Books are lovely. Gadgetry is not.

The Publishing World fears the Publication of Dan Brown's next multi-million pound making wad of toilet paper will change the publishing world forever, because it is being published in paper and electronic formats on the same day.

So, the Pros and Cons of both formats. Well, you don't need to leave the house to download an electronic book. Or to collect your parcel from Amazon. So, that's 1-1.

Well, you can take your book in the train. Your kindle, too. 2-2. You can take your book on the aeroplane... does anyone know if kindle's are allowed. I'm being serious, here. I haven't heard, but you're not allowed mobiles, right? Or is that just during take off and landing? I'm not sure.

Anyway... you can take your book to the seaside. Your kindle, too, if you don't mind getting sand inside it.
You can take your book in the bath. I wouldn't recommend it with a kindle.

You only need to pay for the book. You need to pay for the kindle and the e-book.
A shelf of books in your home can be a lovely thing. A kindle isn't.

You can loan a book out, and still read a different book. If you loan your kindle out, you loan all your e-books out.

The bookshop staff won't come to your house and rip pages out of your book.

Books are kicking the kindle's ass here.

Right then, so much for the pro's and con's. Next we can look at the AUDIENCE FACTOR.

The people who make up most of the Dan Brown reading group are the sometimes. They might read on Holiday. They might read in the Sun. But they don't really read often enough to consider buying a kindle. These are the people who buy books because everyone else says they're fantastic.


Finally, we should probably consider Piracy.


Piracy is difficult when you hold a book in your hands. Someone would need to steal a pre-print copy and then PRINT IT on a printing press. Because we all have them in our spare rooms. Yeah, right.

Pirating a computer file is easy enough.

Finally, we (the book buying public) have a choice and in the end it comes down to this. Books are comfortable, stylish, simple to use, don't hurt your eyes and, in most other ways, are just BETTER.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

That was harsh

I have just deleted a post saying I'm not posting anymore. How fickle am I? My novel was getting hard. Every word was being slowly bled out of my fingertips. I hated writing. It was killing me.

It still is, but the blog isn't. I have things I want to post, things I want to say.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Excellent Unrelatable Villains

I've been thinking a lot lately about villains. I'm trying to decide what makes a great villain. So often the advice is the same.
  • Make him relatable
  • Give him strengths we can admire
  • Don't have him send his minions to certain death
  • Make him seem more human (even if he isn't human)

Is a nicey-nicey villain really the best we can come up with?

I have in mind a movie villain. I'm not going to say which one yet. Feel free to try and work it out.

This villain received almost no criticism at all. Rave reviews were given by everyone. He was loved.

  • He wasn't in anyway relatable. I'm not even sure if he was sane.
  • Despite loving this character (and before the movie I wasn't a fan of him in the other mediums he has been presented in) I admired little about him.
  • Some of his plans actually hinged on all of his minions dying.
  • He did things to make him seem less human, if that was possible. In fact, he told a story about an abusive father that immediately made me feel sympathetic towards him. Not long after that, he told a completely different story about his wife, showing that he was a liar and any sympathy gained was false sympathy.

Do you know who it was? B Mac, you at least had better know.

It was TDK's Joker, played by Heath Ledger. The best movie villain ever. Better evan Darth Vader.

To break up the text here's a picture.

Yes, I know it's an onion. Like onions, villains should have layers.

What makes the Joker so amazing?

  • He has ALL the best lines in the movie (as opposed to BB, where Batman had the best lines)
  • His face paint is not just a clown, it's a seriously screwed up clown
  • He's just having so much fun
  • Again, because it's important, he's just having so much fun
  • His plans are pure genius
  • You really get the impression that he's unstoppable

I think the fact that he has the best lines is part of it. His dialogue is the wittiest, his speech the most quotable. A big factor is also his appearance; purple suit, skanky hair, the make-up.

He looks awesome.

Some of that is just wardrobe, and some is body language. His head is often bowed forward, as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

This can be hard to convey in a novel.

But dialogue is easy. I'll do a post soon on snappy dialogue and how to write one-liners, but in the meantime, let's concentrate on the Joker.

He's the most intelligent character in the movie. He thinks rings around the rest of them. When Batman gets a fingerprint and traces it to an address, he discovers not only has he been sent on a wild goose chase, he has become the decoy... the police start shooting at him leaving the Joker's men to shoot at the mayor.

This leads, eventually, to the Joker being arrested... which was what he had been planning for all along. The entire story moves where the Joker wants it to move. Everyone he goes against has rules and plans... he quips at one point "Do I look like a man with a plan?"

He is able to anticipate every action Batman and the police force will take. The Joker can then outthink them. He's a logical creature, an enemy of logic, but still able to understand it. He wants to disrupt life by spreading chaos.

But he doesn't understand emotion, and in the end that's why his final plan (with the 2 boats) fails... it depends on people making emotional decisions, not logical ones.

So why, then, is the Joker so awesome?

Ultimately I think it comes down to four things, three of which can be conveyed in a novel.

  • Dialogue
  • Intelligence
  • Fun

I've covered dialogue and intelligence. Fun, then.

In everything we see the Joker do, he seems to be having fun. The fun is contagious. We're seen having fun just by watching him.

There should be more villains like him in fiction. Villains who are witty, intelligent, and fun. Villains that, despite being completely evil, we can't help but love.

What do you think?

Cleaning

Removed dead links.
.
Took out the adverts.

Gave the place a lick of paint.

Woo hoo hoo, looking good

Friday, 10 July 2009

Trams

I recently visited Summerlee Heritage Park in Coatbridge. Here's the website: http://www.monklands.co.uk/leisure/summerlee.htm

It was free to get into, and the day was just fantastic.

Now I can write about trams having traveled on one myself.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Ill

I have the cold. It is the worst thing ever. Aargh. I phoned work yesterday to say I was ill. They phoned me today. Twice. Is it just me or is that creepy as hell. Better be careful, my work monitors all blogs all the time and will sack me if I say it is the worst job I've ever had. I love it really. Oh god I'm gonna spew... lol.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Game Plot Ideas (Victorian London)

I love RPGs. I used to play at Uni. I miss it, but I know no one out here who plays...

So, here are a few ideas for steampunk RPGs set in London.


1) Joseph Bazalgette needs the heroes help. It is 1860 and he is building the sewers, but something dark and dangerous is using the new sewer tunnels as a lair. The heroes must hunt it out.

2) There were 4 assassination attempts on Queen Victoria in her lifetime. It is not hard to make up a fifth attempt, and have the heroes pursue the would-be assassin through Victorian London.

3) It is 1851, the Great Exhibition is in full swing, but suddenly one of the main attractions begins killing people. It is a one hundred feet tall steam-powered man and was last seen leaving a trail of destruction heading towards the river.

4) It is 1888, and Jack the Ripper is on the prowl. But he is not a man; he is a demon from the deepest pits of Hell, and only the heroes can send him back where he came from.

5) A man with a strange tale in the pub sparks adventure. His name is Jonathan Harker, and he spins a tale of a blood-sucking fiend from a distant land praying on the women of our fine city.

6) A mad scientist hires the heroes to bring him dead bodies. Dig them up or kill them yourself, he doesn't care. But when the heroes learn he plans to reanimate the pieces, sewn together as one monstrous man, they must stop him before it is too late...

7) A mad scientist needs a test subject and one of the heroes, strapped for cash and facing debtors jail, volunteers. But when the scientist accidentally makes him permanently invisible, and very slowly becoming permantly intangible, it is up to the heroes to find a cure.

8) The famous Egyptologist Dr Albert Napier returns to London with the results of his recent looting, including a mummy that comes to life each night... think Brendan Fraser's The Mummy in Victorian steampunk London

9) A werewolf in Hyde Park

10) Chinese Triads have a weapon of mass destruction. They plan to test it on Paris, firing from London. This could lead to a massive war between the two empires...

11) Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde

12) Florence Cook, the famous medium, is haunted by ghosts... indeed, the spirits of the departed are rising all over the city. The heroes must help the restless dead to rest in peace.

13) A sorceror plans to summon Cthulhu to earth... (I love Lovecraft, too).

A nice mix of techie and fantasy ideas, there.

See also http://www.io.com/~sjohn/plots.htm. With the ideas above and this link I'm sure you'll have great games. I'm so jealous...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

RPG Carnival

There is a blog carnival on steampunk rpg's this month, courtesy of Mad Brew Labs. I thought I'd get involved. http://www.madbrewlabs.com/index.php/2009/06/01/steampunk-klokwerks/

There is some idea that steampunk isn't punky enough, unlike cyberpunk. I think they just aren't thinking things through.

According to wikipedia, steampunk often lacks dystopian elements. Again according to Wikipedia, these elements include... poverty, war, violence, disease, pollution, and oppression. Because the Victorian era was so nice that this nonsense could be ignored... eh, no.

There was a lot of poverty in Victorian London. Work houses, debtor's prison, etc. Violence, Jack the Ripper. The Crimean and Boer Wars and the Taiping Rebellion. Cholera, tuberculosis, etc.

I think the problem is the name itself. Victorian gives rise to images of Victoria, who is usually pictured in a sombre all-black outfit (the clothing she wore after Albert's death). This gives rise to thoughts of upper class or middle class houses where the men ruled. Dinner jackets, cigarettes and tea in the lounge, and strict rules of etiquette were the order of the day.

Victorian Poverty

The Victorian era showed a vast increase in population. This seems to be a combination of larger families, of more children surviving infancy, of better understanding of disease and better medical care, and immigrants fleeing the Irish potato famine. By the end of the century, the population had tripled.

Because of the large number of people looking for work (skilled and unskilled) wages were low. People worked long hours, and so wanted to live near their work. Because of this there was a housing shortage. This led to extremely overcrowded situations, and unsanitary living conditions. There were no state benefits.

In 1848 Cecil Frances Alexander published a hymn:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high and lowly,
And order’d their estate.
(All things Bright and Beautiful). This hymn sums up Victorian attitudes to the poor. God made them poor, so they'll stay poor, the next life is more important than this one, anyway.

Children

Children had to also support the family. There were very few schools, and most kids worked; climbing boys employed by chimney sweeps, or to crawl under machines, or in coal mines, or as errand boys... Crime was rife in the city, with pickpocket gangs mostly made of children. In 1848, Lord Ashley made reference to these "naked, filthy, roaming, lawless and deserted children" claiming that there were more than 30,000 "in and around the metropolis." (Victorian Town Child, Pamela Horn).

Women

In a time when a hard working man might earn £3'6 a week, and a prostitute could earn as much as £1000 a week, it is no wonder London was heaving with prostitutes.

Pollution

This is often seen as something new, but pollution was widespread in Victorian London, a city famous for its unnatural fog. This was the heart of the Industrial Revolution, a city where the queen ordered sewers to be built because the stink became so overpowering that something had to be done, a city so polluted that when Cholera came from Germany it spread like wildfire.

The rich took the attitude "out of sight, out of mind," which is why there were so many prisons (Australia being the biggest ;) ). If a starving man stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, he was locked up...

Violence

In our child-centred society today, it is hard to comprehend a time when there were dead babies by the thousands, droves of missing Madeleines, scores of Myra Hindleys, and hardly anyone batted an eyelid. The "Angel Maker" was the worst of these, and there's a chilling article here... http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-484575/The-baby-butcher-One-Victorian-Britains-evil-murderers-exposed.html

So murder, pollution, poverty, and crime were rife in the Victorian era, and this is where we'll find the punk. It was very much a time of "behind closed doors" with the Victorians fascinated by sex and death. This even extended to the royals, (look at Edward, who had numerous affairs. Infact, husbands encouraged their wives to sleep with the king because it would further the husbands position in society). Edward was involved in divorce proceedings and was in court twice, and was also embroiled in a cheating lawsuit about a game of cards at a gentleman's club.

You'll find it all in the Victorian/Edwardian era, from obsessive lesbian love affairs, to murder, from gangs of feral, lawless children, to high society, from the slums and rookeries to the mansions and palaces, from baby farming to drug taking, there is more than enough room and inspiration for punk. Be inspired.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Bet my block

I haven't written anything really since my last post that's why theres no gramma.

Hold on; screw the writing head back on.

I beat my block. Or maybe I sat it out. Personally, I think it was a combination of both. Either way, now I'm writing. I have a plan, a goal, and I hope only a quick editing draft after my current draft. An end is in sight (although more research will be needed).

Monday, 4 May 2009

The "Oh My God, I Don't Want to Write This" point

I've reached that point. Everything I write is rotten, crap, etc, etc, etc.

I should through the story away.

I should start something else.

An amateur would.

And that's what stops me.

Writing is hard.

Writing is work.

But ultimately, writing is worth it.

I just have to keep reminding myself that I'm actually closer to the end than I am to the beginning.

If I keep that in mind...

...Then I won't be an amateur.

I'll be a writer.

A real writer. Goddammit.

I am a real writer.

Hell, yeah.

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Poll and Other Things

The Poll results are in.

15 people voted for pocket watches.
11 people voted for brass goggles.
2 people for a ray-gun.
2 people for a baseball cap.

I guess some people don't come here for the steampunk. They must just like me.

I'm taking the poll down, putting another up.

Also, I've started a new blog - it's more of a private life journal et al, so I won't be linking to it from here. At some point in the next week I'll do housekeeping on the blog and make sure all the links are up to date. A few blogs will be edited off the blog roll.

I have a fan-fiction steampunk piece. It's a little like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in that it uses fictional characters from long ago; these characters include Peter Pan who will be copyrighted forever under British Law.

I might do something with that.

Finally, I won't be blogging unless I've wrote 1000 words on my novel. It's been ages since I did anything on it.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Henry Dunant


Haven't done a historical piece for a while.
Henry Dunant was given the first Nobel prize for peace in 1901. His ideas led to the funding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention.
Wanting to meet with Napoleon III, Dunant travelled to Solferino in Italy. On the day he arrived there, a battle had taken place. The former banker was shocked to see thousands of injured, dead and dying soldiers left lying on the battlefield.
He quickly organized the local women and children to tend to the soldiers. He used the phrase "Tutti Fratelli," to convince them to tend to all soldiers regardless of the side they had been fighting for.
He later wrote a book, paying for 1600 copies to be printed and sent them to many leading political and military people in Europe. The book included the idea that a neutral organization should exist to mop up the blood after battles.
The ideas in his book eventually led to the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Again with the Internet Problems

Yes, again, that makes two times.

Damn you, virgin - never had these problems when it was cable.

I've had no net since Friday.

I'll post something new tomorrow - it's late here.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Steampunk Writing Opportunity

Seeking Steampunk Writers
Semaphore Magazine is currently seeking submissions for its June issue - and, indeed, for all following issues. We publish short fiction of up to 7,500 words, poetry of up to 60 lines, and creative non-fiction of up to 5,000 words.

Trust me, this one won't make you rich. But it's nice to be read.

If you're going to submit, good luck.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Suspension of Disbelief vs Research and Realism

Suspension of Disbelief

When a reader picks up a work of fiction, he or she will suspend his disbelief. He will happily believe whatever the story require he believe, whether this is faster than light space travel, alternative histories, the existence of dinosaurs in the modern age, etc.

But this suspension of disbelief comes at a price.

Breaking the Suspension of Disbelief

A reader can only suspend his or her disbelief so far. Eventually this suspension will lead to the disbelief breaking. Break the disbelief too hard, or too often, and it will shatter. A reader whose disbelief has been shattered will put your book or story down, and will not pick it back up. They often won't read anything else you write, either.

Keeping the Disbelief

So, obviously, you have to suspend the disbelief, but not break it. Right, great, fair enough. What we need to be aware of when writing is what breaks a reader's SofD.
  1. Badly researched facts
  2. Laws of physics/nature etc broken
  3. Rules of storytelling broken

Number One

Badly researched facts (or unresearched facts) will pull a reader out of the story. The only way to combat this is to research, research, research. The old adage to "write what you know" should really be "know what you write." You can bet your backside that at least one of your readers knows.

I know a lot of people on the net who have read my work. One knows a lot about horses and has rode cross-country. One knows a lot about space, and works with satellites. I believe she has a degree in astrophysics. One knows a lot about computers and the internet. If I'm going to write in any of those subjects I had better have my facts right.

But then there are people on the internet, probably reading this right now, and I have no idea who they are, what they do, or what they know. Everything I write (everything you write) has to be researched.

This is the Rule of Research.

Number Two

Laws of physics and nature are the laws of the world you write about. If these laws include magic, that's fine. If they include life after death in the form of ghosts or whatever, cool. But stay consistent.

Consistency is the essence of number two. This is the Rule of Realism.

Number Three

The Rules of storytelling involve staying in character, staying in POV, not using deus ex machina or plot devices, and various add-ons.

This is a tricky one. Some of these rules can be broken, but the key to breaking these is knowing that you are doing it. If you know the rules, then you can learn how to break them.

In Summary

Readers will suspend their disbelief whilst you write about magic talking yoyos, if that's what turns your fancy, but get your facts right, be consistent in your world's logic, and in the story's logic, and your readers will keep reading.

NB: This is assuming you have a grasp of grammar, can spell, and can write a good story.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Gunfights - Part Five: The Smell of Cordite

Thought I'd set a few things straight re: cordite.


1) Cordite is no longer used in ammunition. When a modern gun is fired, you will not smell the cordite. Apparently, this is a common mistake; the only time I've seen it is in a Dresden Files novel by Jim Butcher. I may have read about it in the past. If so, it didn't stand out. I only recently learned it was a common novelist error.


2) Cordite was produced in the the UK from 1889, to replace gunpowder.


3) Cordite is smoke-less.


4) Shortages of cordite during WWI led to American smoke-less powder propellants being introduced.


The cordite is in long strings. Box of Truth took some shells apart, find the results here: http://www.theboxotruth.com/docs/edu30.htm.
And remember, if your novels set in the present, you won't smell the cordite.

Friday, 17 April 2009

You're Not Bloody Dancing!

Ugh! I'm getting sick of people referring to fighting as dancing. "Want to dance?" sounded cool in the 80s. Come on, people, that was nearly thirty years ago.

Just to be ORIGINAL and INTERESTING, how about having a character describe a fight as something other than a dance. Like maybe, uh, a fight?

"Want to fight?" could sound cool (or, at least, cooller).

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Steampunk World's Guide to Badassery: writing bad-ass characters

What is a bad-ass?

Those characters so dedicated to their goal that nothing and no-one will stand in their way. Those characters who will not be stopped. They are larger than life, able to withstand the most dire of physical punishments and still keep cracking one-liners.


Famous Badasses

Bad-ass characters are becoming so popular they seem to fall over themselves in fiction. I have a few personal favourites;
  • John McClane, Die Hard. Focused, unstoppable, takes bucketloads of punishment, cracks one-liners (even one with a Permanent Marker; Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.) and has a catch-phrase.
  • Ellen Ripley, Alien etc. Focused, unstoppable, takes bucketloads of punishment, but a bit short on the one-liners.
  • Porter, Payback. One of my all-time favourite films.
  • Riddick, Pitch Black and Chronicles.
  • Chev Chelios, Crank and Crank 2.
  • Harry Dresden, of the Dresden Files series of novels.

Writing your own bad-ass

You can see from watching the above badasses in action what you need when writing them.

  • Make them hurt. In Die Hard John McClane gets pretty busted up, even getting his bare feet cut up by broken glass. The more pain they can take without going under, the more bad ass they are.
  • Make them focused. All these bad-ass characters have a goal they want that they focus on to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Make them witty. Don't underestimate the power of the one-liner.
  • Give them style. Long, flairing coats, manga poses and so on are all popular in movies. Similar things can be achieved in fiction. Obviously not exactly the same.
  • Make them witty. One-liners are essential.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Steampunk World's Guide to Viewpoints: Omniscient

Newbie writers are often warned not to use the omniscient viewpoint. Reasons are often not given. The reasons are simple.
  • It is hard to use right

  • It's often used wrong

Because of the sheer volume of newbie writers getting it wrong, a lot of places give this advice. I think giving advice on how to do it right would be much more beneficial, so that's what I'm going to do.

What is the omniscient viewpoint?

It is a 3rd person viewpoint. It is different from the 3rd person limited POV that is currently the most common in fiction because the limited viewpoint is restricted to one character per scene. A lot of people think the omniscient viewpoint is invested in several characters, but this is a common misconception.


This viewpoint is, instead, in the head of a God-like being. This being floats over the scene. It can enter the heads of any character in the scene. It has vast benefits over all the other viewpoints, but it has weaknesses, too.

The key to the successful use of this God-view is knowing it's strengths and weaknesses.


If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it fall, does it make a sound?

Who knows?

If you want to write about a tree falling when no one is around, or if you want to write about the formation of a wormhole leading to another universe, or the inner workings of a vast steampunk machine, or indeed anywhere that there is no character (and thus, no possible POV to be your camera) you can use omniscient.

This is one of the strengths of the omniscient viewpoint; use it when there is no one else around.

The Mystery Prologue

I'm calling this one the Mystery Prologue. That's where it's used most commonly. If you've read a mystery, you'll know what I'm talking about. The murder scene that the detective later has to solve. You have the killer, and the victim. You can't tell the scene from the victim's point-of-view, unless you're happy with him becoming a ghost halfway through. You can't tell the story from the murderer's point-of-view, either. You need him to remain anonymous (otherwise it isn't much of a mystery).

Omniscient viewpoint is the only answer. Of course, not all mysteries have a prologue. Dresden Files spring to mind as one (series) that doesn't.

Old Style

When writing about steampunk, some writers like to write in a Victorian manner. Personally, I don't (my readers aren't Victorians, after all) but if you do, remember that they primarily wrote in omniscient. See Jane Austen for examples of the Old Style.

Little Did he Know...

...he'd be dead by morning. This is a type of writing where the narrator reveals things the character can't possibly know. This is done to great effect in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, where he reveals things that are to come. When they actually come to pass, however, they are revealed to be totally different than expected.

Pratchetterian

Okay, so I don't know what else to call this. Terry Pratchett has his own omniscient style where jokes are a large (and awesome) part of the narration. I don't advise you to try and copy it, but if you can, go for it. There are any number of horror writers, epic fantasy writers, etc. There's only one Terry Pratchett.

So, how do we use omniscient?

There are tricks to using omniscient properly.

  • Don't go into someone's head unless you have to. Action scenes and descriptive passages are better told from the God POV.
  • When you do go into someone's head, don't go in too deep. A light brushing of surface thoughts should suffice. If you go in deep, it is harder to come back out.
  • If you reveal the future (a la Lemony Snicket) be aware that constantly revealing what is coming will leach away tension.
  • If you change characters too quickly, it is head-hopping. Head-hopping is baaad!
  • Omniscient tells more than it shows, and telling is baaad, too.
  • It is the most impersonal viewpoint, and can make it harder for the readers to care about the characters.

And that's omniscient viewpoint for you.

I fancy doing bad-ass characters next. We'll see...

Monday, 13 April 2009

Friday, 10 April 2009

Airships - helium or hydrogen?

Helium

Helium was first discovered in the sun in 1868 by French astronomer Pierre Janssen. He thought it was Sodium. Later that same year, Norman Lockyer observed it and realised this was a completely new element unknown on earth. It was almost 27 years when it was finally discovered on Earth.

Helium is colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic gas. It is found in vast quantities beneath the Great Plains (in America).


Until the 1990s America produced 90% of the world's helium, with the rest coming from Canada, Poland, Russia and a tiny amount from a few other nations.

Hydrogen is more bouyant than helium, but helium has the benefit of being both non-flammable and flame-retardant. This is why it is commonly used in airships.

Breathing pure helium continuously causes death within minutes by asphyxiation.

Hydrogen

75% of the universe is hydrogen. There is very little of it in its elemental form on earth. Most of it is extracted from hydrocarbons. It is highly flammable. It will spontaneously combust at 560 °C. Pure hydrogen-oxygen (between 4 and 75% hydrogen) flames emit ultraviolet light and are almost invisible to the naked eye.

When the Hindenberg famously exploded, the flames that were seen were from the combustible materials that made the ship.

Jacques Charles invented the first hydrogen filled balloon in 1783.

It is 7% more bouyant than helium.

As a rule of thumb, 1 cubic meter of hydrogen lifts 1.1 kilogram, 1 m3 of helium lifts 1 kg and 1 m3 of hot air lifts 300 grams. (In Anglo-American measures: 1000 cu. ft. of hot air lift a maximum of 20 lbs. and 1000 cu ft. of helium lift about 60 lb.) These figures are on the safe side and allow for variations in altitude, temperature, humidity and also purity of the helium.

This quote comes from a handy little site, here http://www.myairship.com/faq/index.html. Steampunk World recommends it, and that's all the recommendations you need, right?

Anyway, hope this helps...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

How to Make Gunfights Exciting - Part Four: The Lone Draw

Steampunk World presents Clint Eastwood in the Lone Draw....

A Spaghetti Western by Scribblar!

Okay, not quite. But if you have ever seen a western, chances are you've seen a lone draw. And they're not just restricted to Western's... the pivotal part of the Lone Draw is the face-off, and this is a pivotal part of many types of fight scenes. If you read fantasy, and the hero and villain face each, trade insults, then draw swords - you've just read a face-off.

If it's Martial Arts you're into, the hero walks along, stops suddenly. A man in black (seriously, black = evil[?] wtf?) steps out and they have a face-off. Hell, the innocent, inexperienced yet survives-to-the-end heroine of any horror movie usually has a face-off with the monster. It even happens to Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Aliens, Alien blah...

So, what is the face-off, how do you write one, how do you make it exciting, and etcetera.




The Face-Off

The face-off is the intrinsic part of the Lone Draw. It is the money scene. In the Lone Draw there is very little exchange of bullets, there is very little action. The action is not that important, it's what we learn about the character (the introspection) that is important.



In the example on the left, we can clearly see Ripley's fear. This will raise the stakes by reminding us she is human. She is such a bad-ass in the movie, it is easy to forget she is not a super-human. Or even a bad-ass normal (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BadassNormal). She's just normal, just you or me, doing what she needs to do to survive.

The Introspection

Watch a Western. The good guy and the bad guy (if he isn't the one in black, he's the one with the black moustache) line up. Cue the close-ups.

Movies can't show us what each character thinks. They focus on expressions. See the eyes, that's the introspection. The line of the mouth. The angle of the shot. These are things the movies have to use, because they lack the narrative element of novels.




The gun points down the way, the camera "looks" up at Dirty Harry. This gives him an impression of power; the grim line of his mouth and serious set of his eyes show his character. Here is a man who is pissed-off, and has a job to do.

You can show that through narration. You can enter your character's head, and tell us what he thinks. Is he scared? Is he doing what he has to do because it must be done, whilst being terrified that he is going to die? Is he having fun? Is he the 1880's version of a modern adrenaline junkie, getting into gunfights because he loves the high? If he was alive today (and wasn't 150 years old) would he be bungie jumping?

You have to tell us, and now is the best time. Get us inside his head, let us know what he thinks when the going gets tough. This is when your character is his truest self; it's when we will love him or loathe him the most.

The Audience

If you write omniscient (which most people who give writing advice say don't do, but I don't agree with that) you can show us the thoughts and feelings of the people who are watching. What does the banker think of the gunfight? What does the prostitute think? The sheriff? The bartender?

If you don't write omniscient, don't forget that your POV character needn't be the one fighting. For instance, if he sees his father/brother/wife in a gunfight, this could be a life-altering moment for him. It would be a great time to see inside his head.

The Gun

For goodness sake, don't get the technical details wrong. You cannot underestimate the importance of getting it right. If you get it wrong, you will lose all credibility with your readers. You might think that a piece of information is so far out of the normal and everyday that not a single one of your readers will know of it. More than likely, you'd be wrong.

For more information on guns in the Steampunk Era, follow this link. http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/space1889/1920.html This is from Space 1889, which seems to be a role-playing steampunk system (one I'm not familiar with), but the details on the guns all seem to be chronologically accurate.

The Bullet

It all ends with the bullet. The introspection, the emphasis of the scene, everything. Bang! It's all gone.

This post has inspired me to write one's about bad-ass characters, about the onmiscient viewpoint, and about suspension of disbelief versus research and realism.

They're coming soon...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I've decided not to do a post on airships

Mostly, because I found this awesome site.




This picture is taken from it. As are these random facts...

  • Weight was of crucial importance in operating an airship so only lightweight materials were used, even the grand piano in the salon was made of aluminium rather than wood.
  • Airships such as the Graf Zeppelin with a top speed of 129 km/h (80 mph) could easily compete with transatlantic liners.

It's a fantastic site, with lots of information. I might go into more depth on airships in a couple of days, or failing that I might move onto how they fly.

Back to writing advice soon. Coming next on writing advice is part 4 of Making Gunfights Exciting.

Click on the post title to go to the site, as always.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Steampunkopedia

Click on the title to go to what is possibly the vastest steampunk site on the net. It has been running for seven years, and would have certainly made it into my recent top 5 except, 1) that was for blogs and 2) this site was in Polish. They have recently finished updating it to make it English, too.

Great site, great content, great links.

My idea of the top 5 steampunk blogs is found here. http://steampunkworld.blogspot.com/2009/03/top-five-steampunk-blogs.html

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Airships Through History

Since the beginning of time, man has looked to the stars and dreamt of flying. The Greek legend of Icarus may be a fable warning against arrogance, but the legend of Daedalus was a story of human ingenuity and flight.

But these are only legends - who invented flight, and how, and why?
The Invention of the Kite
Kites are important because they were the forerunners of gliders and balloons. No one knows for sure when or how the first kite was invented; they could be as much as 3000 years old. There are many legends as to how they came to be.

The first recorded use of a kite was in 200 BC, when the Chinese general Han Hsin flew a kite over the walls of the city he was attacking, and used it to measure how far his men would have to tunnel to reach passed the defences.

Marco Polo wrote of kites so large they could carry men - in essence, the first gliders. Technically, a kite has a string going down to the earth, whilst a glider is free from the earth. It was the Italiens who first brought kites to Europe.

From gliders to... helicopters?

The next great flight invention is known as the first helicopter, although it was never built. The ornithopter is Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous invention, even though it was never built. In actual fact, Da Vinci wasn't the first to consider mechanical means of flight.

Here we see an ornithopter design:

The First Manned Flight

How long ago do you think the first manned flight was? The Wright brothers in 1903? Langley in 1891? George Cayley, in the early 1800s? 1783, when the Montgolfier beothers built their balloon? The first manned flight was... one thousand one hundred and thirty eight years ago. Yes, 1138.

Abbas Ibn Firnas covered himself in feathers, strapped on his mechanical wings and, by the accounts of all the witnesses he flew for a long time before returning to land from where he had taken off. But at that point there was a fault in his design; he hadn't realised the importance of a birds tail. Abbas Ibn Firnas fell from the sky, and hurt his back. He was 66 years old when he flew.



In 1870 Gustav Trouve built and flew and landed an ornithopter. The wings were flapped by gunpowder charges activated in a bourdon tube.


You can learn more about ornithopters at the ornithopter society, here. http://www.ornithopter.org/index.shtml. They also have a store online, here http://www.flyabird.com/.

All a Lot of Hot Air

In the 1780s the Montgolfier brothers built the first hot air balloons. The first passengers were a sheep, a rooster, and a duck. It almost sounds like a joke...

The Montgolfier brothers maybe the most well known of the airship or balloon pioneers, but they were not the only ones. Liutenant Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier in 1783 proposed a design of an airship 260 feet in length, with internal ballonnets that were to be used to control the lift. The envelope would be attached to a long carriage that could double as a boat if the airship was forced to land in the water. It could even be propelled and steered.

Propulsion Technology

Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English channel in a balloon that had a bird like tail for steerage and flapping wings for propulsion, in 1785.
A year earlier he had taken a hand-powered propeller onto a balloon; the first recorded means of propulsion in flight.

Henry Giffard
It was Henry Giffard who finally invented the first dirigible. This passenger carrying airship had a 3 horse-power steam engine weighing over 400lbs, and was filled with hydrogen. It was 144 feet long, and had an average speed of just 3mph. This design wasn't improved upon until 1872.
The end of the Passenger Airships
Lots of things are said to end with a bang, but on the 6th of May, 1937, the passenger airships really did. This was the day that the Hindenberg exploded; the how is still controversial, but the fact is the airship burned completely in under a minute.
Airships Today
Finally, airships are still in use today, in the areas of advertising, sightseeing and surveillance.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Making gunfights more exciting - Part Three - Gun Battles

The staple of so many action movies, the lone hero against a crowd of bad guys. Here we can see the archetypical one, Bruce Willis' John McClane in Die Hard.
But can such massive gunfights work on paper as well as on screen? Yes, and no.
Here are some tips to help make the most of your pitched battle.




1) A Book is Not a Movie

In a movie, you can see everything that is on the set. If there is no couch in the office, and then halfway through the scene there is a couch, it wrecks the whole film. http://www.moviemistakes.com/best_continuity.php Well, maybe not the whole film, but it certainly doesn't go unnoticed.

In a book you have a similar effect. Essentially, you can't add anything into the background during a fight scene. You can't have a gun battle in a warehouse and, halfway through the scene, suddenly announce the baddies are hiding behind barrels, and then at the end make the barrels explosive.
The audience can't see the location - they know only what you tell them. You need to tell them before (or, if that isn't possible, as soon as) the fight begins.



2) Give the Baddies More Firepower
Ever noticed how, in movies and computer games, the hero usually has a handgun, and the baddies have surface-to-air rocket launchers and so on. You can build tension by having the hero outgunned as well as outnumbered.




In computer games, when the hero does finally start getting to the big weapons, like surface-to-air missiles and so on, his enemies usually start getting bigger and scarier, too, like in Metal Gear...



3) Let the Hero Get Injured/ Allies killed

Okay, no one expects the Hero to die, not really, and that is fair enough.

But you can raise the tension in a scene by letting him get injured, or killing off his allies.

Right now, that's all on gunfights.
Still to come: the Quick Draw.

No internet

I had no internet at all last night, or for most of today. Curse that Virgin media...

Airships will be tomorrow or Monday.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Airships are coming

I'm going to start a series of posts on airships this weekend. I'll start with a general history of flight, then look at several types of airship, then go into more details into the hows of how they flew.

In the meantime, here is a link to a series of Steampunk Icarus drawings. http://mixedbagmythography.blogspot.com/2009/01/been-while-since-i-updated.html

Enjoy

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Changes

Changed the template. I prefer this one.

Also, the colours.

I'm having fun learning how blogs work...

Top Five Steampunk Blogs

1) Brass Goggles. http://brassgoggles.co.uk/brassgoggles/

The best steampunk blog, and a great community forum, too. You really need to check it out.

2) The Steampunk Home http://thesteampunkhome.blogspot.com/

Described thusly "Join me as I search for items for my house that combine the scientific romanticism of the Victorians with our real present and imagined future."

If you're looking to steampunk your home, this is the site you need.

3) The Traveler's Steampunk http://steampunk-blog.dailysteampunk.com/

That's their mis-spelling of traveller, not mine. Good site, though, if you want to learn more about the steampunk lifestyle.

4) The Steampunk Librarian http://steampunklib.vox.com/

An informative site, which seems to have a lot of interesting links in each post.

5) Adventures in Steampunk http://steampunkadventures.blogspot.com/

Bringing to you inventions and interesting news of the steampunk variation.

Not Wanting to blow my own trumpet, but as an added extra...

Steampunk World - I won't include a link as you are here

Writing Advice with a steamy twist
News of the steampunk kind
Historical articles

Monday, 30 March 2009

Squidoo Lense

Steampunk World now has a squidoo lense. To see it click on the post title.

Making gunfights more exciting - Part Two - Snipers

The Sniper Scenario


For this example I will be using the idea of a man lying prone on a hill watching the baddies loading a train with stuff. The head bad guy has our hero's girlfriend, and is pointing a gun at her head.

How do we build the tension here?


The Art of Crafting Sentences

Okay, there are ways to make sentences read slow or fast, and fast sentences are better for action scenes. But in a sniper scene I recommend going slow – the period before the shot should be a time of calm, of concentration, of reflection. Supposedly, the best sniper's shoot between heartbeats – certainly, I learned to shoot halfway through a breath. The character must be calm, and so should the reader.


The Calm Sentence

The calm sentence is a soft sentence. It has words of medium length, maybe a few long words. These sentences are between seven and fifteen words in length, usually. Yes, the length can be measured that exactly. Exceptions happen, so don't force the length. The most important thing is that the sentences be organic.

The sentences above are 7-11-11-8-7-10 words long. See, it can be done.

Some of the above sentences aren't soft – for instance “Exceptions happen, so don't force the length” is a hard sentence, mainly because “Don't” is a hard word.

One more thing, go easy on the punctuation. Very simple sentences.

So, medium length soft sentences are calming, are they?

The rifle in his hands was heavy, heavier than a weapon should be. It wasn't just the weight of the metal. There was another weight upon him, one he couldn't see or hear or touch or feel. The gun was heavy with guilt.

13-8-16-6.

Yes, the second last sentence is a word two long, the last one a word too short. Remember, the most important thing is that they flow organically. The last sentence isn't a soft sentence at all – both gun and guilt are hard words, and I deliberately didn't refer to the rifle as a gun until this point. Using a hard sentence at the end of a soft paragraph can be an effective counter point. I think of it like casting an anchor.

So, in our sniper scenario we are using soft words, medium length sentences, lightly punctuated. In other words, calming sentences.

Until he pulls the trigger – then we have our action sentences. The pace speeds up, everything happens at the same time. Sentences are short, snappy. If you can get them down to just a noun and verb, do it.

He spat.

She died.

These are good sentences. Cut out all extraneous words. Cut out all punctuation except fullstops. Please, please do not use exclamation marks! Keep them for dialogue! And only if you must!
I recommend going light even on the description, though some may be required.

He took a deep breath, blew half of it all and held the rest. His heartbeat was slow, steady. He was as calm as he was going to be. Donald was in his sights. Bryan found his inner peace, and pulled the trigger.

He saw blood spray from Donald's head. He heard the thunder-loud gunshot right inside his ear. It nearly drove him deaf. All he could hear was ringing. He focused through the sights. The enemy were in a panic, running for cover. He could have picked them off, one by one. He didn't. Let them panic for now. Let them feel the fear his family and friends had felt, before they were butchered. First would come the fear. Then the relief, the belief they were safe. Then he would strike again.

The pace of the sentences in the second paragraph is much faster than the ones in the first. The most notable way to test this is to read it out loud. Reading it out loud is a skill with more in common with acting than reading – a lot of people aren't very good at it. Provided you follow the natural rhythm of the piece, pausing where there's punctuation, it isn't too hard. I might do a post on reading out loud at some point.

But back to sniping.

Okay, the old adage about writing what you know holds true here. Don't take that as licence to shoot someone, though, would you not? I see it as meaning “if you don't know, don't make it up,” because you can guarantee your readers will know. And then you'll look like an ass.

So, what are important factors to consider when sniping?
  • Wind
  • crowd
  • angle
  • number of obstacles between yourself and the target
  • noise levels
  • the temperaure of the surroudings (target may appear further up or down than it actually is if temperature is not considered)
  • gravity (the bullet will fall the further it travels)
  • your current position. High or low? Prone, crouched, or standing (not recommended)?
  • Elevation in mean sea level
  • Range
  • day or night
  • weather
  • the condition of your gun

Work some of these into your piece (too many and it will be over-crowded, like saying “Look at me! I did research. See my research.”

I recommend three.

Next we'll do gun battles.

Making gunfights more exciting - Part One

This post might got long. I've had to split it.

Have you ever read a fantasy novel with a five or ten page sword fight? Or a superhero novel with a chapter long punch up. These things can be exciting (sure, not when they are a list of blows, but when done right).

Guns are fast weapons. Gunfights tend to be over quite quickly. You can lose a lot of the excitement you are trying to build because the scene ends early. Don't worry, there are ways to keep the story exciting.


1) Variety

Vary the types of gun battles you have. In one scene you might have a character trying to take a sniper shot with a rifle, knowing he'll only get time to fire one shot or the villain will kill someone important to him. In another, your character might be hiding behind cover, fighting several opponents at once. In a third scene, there might be no cover, just one of those Old West style Draws. Each of these scenes have their own way of building tensions, their own style of writing.


2) Get inside your character's head

The best tension comes from being inside your character's head. Let his tensions become the readers. Give them insight into his fears, worries, hopes and dreams. Okay, your MC is the fastest draw in the West. That's boring, though. Where is the excitement when no one can defeat him?

Of course, you don't want him to be defeated, so how can you build the tension? Mentally. Perhaps the character has given up on violence, but is drawn into it again. Now here he stands, in a Draw, about to kill someone. He knows he can, he has before, and he knows he is fast enough... but will he be able to live with himself afterwards? Maybe it would be better just to die.


3) Go omniscient

In 3rd person omniscient POV you can drift from one spectator to the next. What does the whore, the banker, the sheriff, the barman think of the upcoming Draw? That is best done in a Draw situation.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Goggles




Found these in Steampunk Lab. The link is in the post title. They look like the ones Abe wears in Hellboy. Not entirely the same, but then his eyes are further apart than a human's, and he doesn't have a nose.
Pretty cool goggles all the same.

1st or 3rd?

I'm considering rewriting my novel in the 1st person. This, I think, would strengthen the end.

Benefits of a 3rd person narrator include
  • can switch between characters
  • can reveal information to readers before it is revealed to protagonist
  • the piece is already written (okay, that's not normally an advantage)

Benefits of a 1st person narrator include

  • gets deep inside characters head
  • allows personality to permeate every aspect of story
  • I like it

It's a difficult choice.

I'm interested to know what everyone else prefers to write in.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Why Ly Must Die

Edited: some kind and helpful soul pointed out I made a mistake. As we all should know, words ending in LY are adverbs, not adjectives. This kind and caring samaritan was in such a rush to do his good deed (or, without the implied sexism, her) good deed, that this person never logged in and so remains anonymous. Such a shame for I truly would like to have thanked this person. Personally. With a baseball bat, the cheeky little arse.

Seriously, I made a mistake, I typed the wrong word. I do know the difference, I simply was tired. Hzaving 3 kids under 5, being employed full-time, studying a degree through distance learning and trying to finish a novel tends to have that effect.

The internet may be anonymous but that doesn't give you carte blanche to be as rude as you like. So, please, people, don't be tossers. And remember it is supposed to say adjectives in this post.

Just kidding. LOLS and more LOLS, etc. ;)
--------- -------------- ------------ ---------- ------
Stop panicking. I am not planning to assassinate a Chinese person. (That would be Li, not Ly).

But I am feeling a grammar attack coming on. I hate ly words (adjectives). They spoil stories. They get in the way of writing. They make me want to be sick.

Here are words to avoid at all cost:

vehemently exhaustively frugally fantastically superbly dangerously suddenly nightmareishly

And words to avoid when you can

slowly quickly loudly quietly.

They don't have the gracefulness of other words.

I'll post more on adjectives later.

Coming soon... all you wanted to know about airships.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Trackback test

Over on Superhero Nation they've recently been giving advice on writing sequels. It's a great website over all, and if you haven't had a look yet, you can check them out here .

Nothing

The World of the Steampunk Hero

A lot of people think of Victorian London when they think of steampunk. It is a fascinating city, with a fascinating history... particularly between 1850 and 1920. From the gruesome murders of http://www.casebook.org/ Jack the Ripper, to Dr John Snow's investigations into Cholera http://www.johnsnowsociety.org/johnsnow/facts.html, it was a twilight time of darkness and light. Darkness in that children as young as 8 were sent naked up chimneys to clean them, although a law aiming to stop this was passed in 1841. (For all the worst jobs of the day, see this Channel 4 link, http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/W/worstjobs/victorian.html). Light, in that it was a time of great scientific advancement, from trains to electric lights, from ships to jeans (first made in California in 1850). The Great Exhibition was set up to showcase these scientific advancements http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/speel/otherart/grtexhib.htm.

But there was far more to the world than just London...

The American civil war began in 1861 http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/, whilst China had the Taiping Revolution from 1850 - 1864 http://members.tripod.com/~enyi/index-4.html. Australia was still taking in criminals until 1868. That was 162,000 men and women on 806 ships in just eighty years http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/convicts/. There were also several goldrushes which tripled the countries polulation in twenty years http://www.patricktaylor.com/australian-gold-rush.

The world was a fascinating place in those days... infinitely smaller than it had been (although a work of fiction, Around the World in Eighty Days was very much based upon fact) and yet large enough to be filled with mystery. The wild west wasn't tamed, and although the slave trade had been outlawed by Britain (the world's superpower of the time) it was still happening. The British Navy fought against the slavers for over fifty years.

Africa's interior was still largely unknown and, although Dr Livingstone was investigating it, legends of monsters, like the mokele mbembe, persisted http://spookysdaddy.com/CongoDinosaur.html, whilst in South America the rubber barons were a law unto themselves http://www.mongabay.com/10rubber.htm.

There was body snatching in the earliest part of the century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body-snatching, which led to murder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke_and_Hare in Edinburgh.

With so many extremes, from extreme levels of civilisation (compare the civilised debauchery of Paris to the simple savagery of Amazonia) to extreme levels of behaviour (from the scientists who would save the world to the governments and madmen and money-seeking criminals who would seek to destroy it) there is no shortage of situations to inspire the modern novelist.

I will be going into each of these, and much more, in greater detail. Something for you to look forward to, then...

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Writing Relatable Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I recently read one of the STORM novels, The Infinity Code. It’s a bit like Young Bond but I found the characters hard to relate to.

There’s the 14 year old MC, genius level IQ and at special school of geniuses but not as stuck up as they are. He invents things as a hobby and is adventurous and daring and speaks Russian and has no parents (dad dead, mum ran off) and is a natural leader and is a bit of a Mary Sue. (What are male Mary Sue’s called?). Oh, and he’s the top of every class except one in his school of geniuses. And his dad was in MI-6.

The 14 year old FMC is a genius who beats the MC in Chemistry class but is behind him at everything else. Despite him being SECOND top of the class, she has to regularly explain chemistry things to him as if he’s a four year old. Oh, and she fluently speaks six languages, four of which she learned from books (you can’t fluently learn languages from books) and she has a photographic memory. She liks to blow up schools, her mum is dead and her dads an alcoholic.
The other MC is a multi-millionaire who made his first million by the age of ten. The fourth 14 year old is a physics genius who outshines even his dad (who’s another physics genius).

Obviously the WTF level in these books is high.

These characters aren’t well-written, and they are hard to relate to. So I’ve been wondering, what makes a character easy to relate to, and I don’t just mean heroes.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have faults, some less than others (I, personally, only have one) and we accept that. It’s life. So why in fiction are characters so often faultless. They are never mean or spiteful or sarcastic or wake up in the morning and just can’t be bothered. They are never fat, and never worry about what their eating. So if you want your character to be relatable, giving them faults is a great place to start.

Everybody wants something and if you make your characters motivation obvious, your character will be stronger for it. We all have desires and goals, and if we know your characters goals early on then we can watch how they try to achieve those goals. With those goals in mind the reader can weigh your characters every decision and, although they may not agree with the actions your character takes, they can certainly relate to the decisions.

Add personality. Create your characters personality, complete with faults, and then think how they would react in a certain situation. Don’t think about the plot, about how you need them to react, think about how they would react.

There is actually two ways to practice this. The first is to put your character in a situation outside of your novel, for instance “What would my MC do if a plane crashed? His dog had cancer? A guy he hated proposed to his sister and she said yes?” etc. Or, think of someone you know well, like your best friend, and do the same. How would my BF react if a plane crashed…

That was best friend, not boyfriend, by the way.

And an example of how a personality can affect your novel. The story is about a cop who discovers his brother is the serial killer he has been hunting. But have you spent the last three hundred pages describing a man who i) didn’t turn up for his wife’s scan when she was expecting their kid because he put his job first, and is hungry for promotion or ii) puts his family first before his job?

One of those is going to help his brother hide, and the other will turn him in.

Personality, motivation, faults. We all have them, and if you’re characters have them, too, then we can relate to them. Think of the greatest fictional characters you know, or the most famous.
Darth Vader, who turned to evil when he believed his family died, returned to good for the sake of saving his son. Faults are obvious, emotional instability, unable to process grief, and so on. Motivation, he wants to forget, or to perhaps punish those he feels were responsible. Later, he betrays his evil master to save his son. The personality is evident throughout… a character who made that first choice couldn’t have made anyother decision the second time around.

And can you relate to him? How will you react if you lost your partner and your kids. If they were murdered, can you honestly say you wouldn’t become evil and kill their murderer? Would you even think of it as evil?

Think of a more plot based story, like James Bond. He goes on missions because its his job, but why does he work in such a dangerous world? Does he crave the glamour, money or excitement? We are never told and, although guesses can be made (he never stays with one woman long ergo he is easily bored ergo he is in the job for the excitement) it isn’t that important. The James Bond stories aren’t that deep, they are plot driven, and the excitement is the storyline, not Bond’s personality or faults (does he have any?). At the end of the day, we can’t easily relate to Bond.

Well, nine hundred words on how to make characters relatable. Hope that helps.

Oh, and my fault? I spend too much time writing and not enough blogging. Not really a fault, though, is it? Guess I’m perfect after all…

Putting the Steam into Steampunk

Okay. You’ve thought of a great idea, and you’ve plotted it out. Your characters kick ass, too, but…

How to make it steamy when you don’t understand steam engines and so on.
Well, here’s a few tips.


1)Research, research, research.A simple google search for how steam engines work returned 3,460,000 results. You don’t need to read them all, thank God, but wikipedia, and How Stuff Works are great starting points, of course.

2)Ground it in realityObviously, 100 feet tall steam powered robots didn’t terrorise London in the 1880s, but if you want them to in your novel, you have to ground everything else in reality. That means paying attention to how characters speak, interact, dress, etc. Don’t forget the place religion and etiquette had in society.

3)Don’t make your POV character a steam engine expertIf you came across the steam engine in real life, and the police later asked you for a description, would you say… it was a Trevithick engine, but not like any I had ever seen… this one clearly had two vacuum pumps and two hotwells and several other multiplied areas, and, clearly, a ramming stoker, which was a surprise. Or would you say… it was a great big, moving metal machine, parts rising and falling, clunking and clanging, whilst other parts spinned with a whirring noise, and a constant fountain of steam rose from it. Make the POV character an expert, and you have to know what you’re talking about.

Well, that’s enough to get you started.

Steampunk Superheroes?

There are sites out there who will tell you all about how to write steampunk. I was in one the other day. It had a checklist. Do you have a mad scientist? Do you have an airship? And so on…
That’s like saying in horror “Do you have a rape?” Do you have a monster?”

The problem is steampunk is mostly aesthetic. Dirigibles and mad scientists do not make a story. One way to get round this is to add another genre in. Mixing other genres to steampunk is not often done but can lead to interesting results.

For instance, consider crossing steampunk with epic fantasy. You have your quest, you have your races, you have the evil that must be vanquished, and you have it in a steampunk world. Okay, so admittedly you probably don’t want the list I just gave you as it is generic epic fantasy, but it can still lead to interesting results.

Comic fantasy has already been proved very successful. Discworld is clearly steampunk.

Dark fantasy, sword and sorcery fantasy, or perhaps even steampunk super-heroes.

It is worth considering

Finding Steampunk Stuff

It is ridiculously hard to find steampunk info on the net, or at least information of the kind I want just now. Information on writing for steampunk is not easy to come by. The reason for this, or at least one of the reasons behind this, is that steamounk is a catch-all term for a lot more than a literary genre, and as a literary genre itsef it’s a tiny corner, sort of a sub-genre which itself is split into a tonne of sub-genres. The whole thing is a mess.

For a start, there’s steampunk furniture. The Steampunk Home has a lot of lovely things featured in the blog, if you’re into steampunk furniture.

Then there’s steampunk clothing, like this outfit here from Kat Brett photography.
People wear these outfits to conventions, and they cosplay in them. But on the other hand, there is a whole subculture of people who dress like this all the time, like goths.
So if you google steampunk, you will more than likely get something like this.

So, in literary terms, what is steampunk?

Well, that’s not easily answered. Steampunk is not that easily defined. In one sense, it’s fantasy, in another science fiction, and in a third it is horror. There is horror in that Frankenstein can be considered steampunk, and science fiction in that you can call 20,000 leagues under the sea steampunk, and fantasy because what else would you call Journey to the Centre of the Earth?

But it’s not all old stories, oh no; there’s Kenneth Oppal’s Airborne, and the sequel Skybreaker are steampunk. These feature huge zeppelins, a made up element to allow the zeplins to fly, and several weird creatures like sky cats and sky jelly fish. So, sort of fantasy, then?

But this just shows that steampunk has a bit of everything in it, so its not much use in sorting out what steampunk is. A lot of websites out there will tell you that steampunk has to have zeppelins, or steam technology or (if in our world) be set in the Victorian/Edwardian era, but that’s like saying horror has to have monsters, fantasy needs magic, and science fiction is about spaceships. These broad generalities are true in only 90% of cases (for instance, James Herberts Rats is a horror about, um, rats actually. His fog is about… fog. He’s a good writer but I have to say his titles suck.)

To truly understand steampunk, you have to look through the steam, and more into the punk. Steampunk is a rejection of modern life, of the type of culture we live in, where everything is convenience. Fast food and who gives a toss if you get fat later, you’re hungry now! Cars to go to the shop two minutes walk from your house, and who cares if every journey pollutes a little bit more? I’m writing this on a laptop, I know about 30% of how to use it, and less than 2% of how it works, and that sums up most of the technology I interact with and, let’s face it, we interact with millions of pieces of technolgy every year.

Steampunk is about rejecting this culture, and going back to a time when horse drawn carts were the most popular form of transport but CARS EXISTED. It is about the time when gas lamps lit houses, but electric lightbulbs were also in use. It is about a time when the lack of technology was mundane and every new invention was mysterious and wonderful, and shiny and new. It’s about getting back what we’ve lost and what, otherwise, we can never get back. It’s nostalgia harking back to a time before we were alive and, often, a time that never actually existed anyway.

Steampunk shows us that technology, like the oft-quoted magic, is neither good nor evil, but can be used for either. It shows us those uses, shows us the people who invented it, and why. It puts the magic back into science, the only place where we have magic left, and we all need magic in our lives.

Full Steam Ahead

If you don’t understand how I classify genres, you’ll never understand my subgenre divisions.

Take fantasy for example; lots of lists on what fantasy include such nonsensical ideas as “Fantasy contains magic, except when it doesn’t,” or “fantasy is set in other worlds, except when it isn’t,” or my favourite phrase that says nothing but convincingly gives the idea it says something… “Fantasy is what couldn’t be, science fiction is what could be.” Really? Time travel, FTL, hyperspace, Star Wars? These are things that could exist?

For what it’s worth, I’ve always considered Star Wars to be fantasy, sort of set in space.
Horror is the only genre which comes close to being defined in the way I define all genres. Horror is the genre of books that the reader feels and is horrified by. They evoke terror. They scare us.
And that, there, is the key to defining genre. It is the readers expectations and emotions that shape a novel. A novel is what the person who reads it classes it as being. Horror novels are scary, and include books by Shaun Hutson and James Herbert, my two favourite horror novelists. Books like the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher or Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld are not horrors. I’e heard them called paranormal romances, and don’t personally like the term, but there doesn’t seem to be a better one. Perhaps the Dresden Files, which deals with a Wizard living in Chicago, should be fantasy.

Mystery novels have mysteries in them, but so do many other types of books. But what puts a book in this genre is, once more, the feeling it evokes in the reader. Whether reading about Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Glen Cook’s Garret, or the ever-popular Sherlock Holmes, the reader races the detective (and the author) to the finish line, desperate to solve the mystery before the answer is revealed.

Historicals bring up nostalgia, romance makes us believe in the power of love, etc.
And fantasy, and science fiction?

These genres invoke a sense of wonder, they command the utmost suspension of disbelief, and they give the most back in return. In science fiction we go in not knowing what will come, but whatever it is it will amaze us, astound us, and will show us what man is capable of. Whether he is travelling to distant stars, travelling in time, building robots, terraforming other planets, battling alien invaders, cloning himself or (in the superhero subgenre) merely saving the world… again.

In fantasy we go in with high expectations and an open mind, prepared to be astonished and not knowing how… will there be Gods maskerading as men? Will we meet fairies, elves and centaurs? Is there magic, dark lords, and sword fights? Fantasy is the opposite of science fiction in that the wonder isn’t always human made. Magic always existed, we didn’t create it, same with elves and so on.

Science fiction looks forward, to a future where anything can happen because we can make it happen. Fantasy harkens back to a past where anything that did happen had no explanation, and so we believed in magic, and elves, and Gods. Fantasy lets us see what we’ve lost, science fiction what we stand to gain in return.

I’ll go into sub-genres next.

Okay is NOT okay

I’ll put my hand up. I go to writer’s forums. I particularly like Mystical Adventures . There are some others, too.
I started going there a few years ago. I wanted to discover the secret of getting published. Now I know there’s no secret, just hard work. But I hang around anyway.
But there is one discussion on these forums that always bugs me. Here’s how it goes: someone shows a piece of writing, set in a FANTASY WORLD. ie not Earth. Someone else comments on it, some good, some bad, and then they say “in a world like this people would not say okay.”
I mean, WTF?
I mean, really, WTF?
This is a fantasy world. No one here is speaking English. Everything is translated. So why would you translate it into English that hasn’t been used in 300 years?
You wouldn’t, right?
Ah, but you want the language to be authentic. Of course you do. Try this for authenticity:
The earliest use of the word Okay in print is 1839, March 23rd in the Boston Morning Post. In the first eight instances of the use of the word in print, 5 didn’t have explanations beside them. This points to the word being in use for speech for a while before this.
The etymology could be from Oll Korrect, which Americans used to misspell because they thought it was funny, or from the Chocteh word Okeh, or from the Wolof waw-kay.
“Oh ki, massa, doctor no need be fright, we no want to hurt him.” (David Dalby (Reader in West African Languages, SOAS, U of London). (1971) “The Etymology of O.K.”, The Times, 14 January 1971)
Okay, now the word boredom.
The phrase “to be a bore” had been in use since the 1700s, but the word boredom was first used in the novel Bleak House by Charles Darwin. In 1852.
Yes, that is 13 years after the first use of the word OK. So, can we now not use the word boredom?
Of course not. We can use any words we want.
The important things in a story go: character. plot. That is it.