Tuesday, 31 March 2009
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
Monday, 30 March 2009
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.
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.
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?
- 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
- day or night
- 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.
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.
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
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
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. ;)
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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
Lovely, isn't it?
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
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
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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.