Thursday, May 29, 2008

My writing week.

Hi all,

I've just filled in a writing survey on writing advice at:

One of the questions it asks is: of the following, select which writing advice you have heard of
1 Write what you know
2 Stay away from all clich├ęs unless you’re writing parody
3 You must plan your story before writing
4 You must plot your story chapter by chapter before writing
5 You must have written at least *a certain amount* of words
6 You must read the genre you write in
7 If you read the genre you write in, you will unknowingly plagiarise. Stay away from it.
8 You must write every day, even if it’s bad
9 You should keep a journal
10 Write without caring
11 Write for the love of it, not for readers, not for publishers
12 You should write only for the market
13 Anyone can be a writer
14 Not everyone can be a writer. It’s a special gift.
15 Take advantage of every opportunity and query everyone (if your book is good enough, even a publisher who doesn’t deal in your genre will pass it on to someone who does, or even take it up)
16 All the stories have been told
17 Treat writing as a business – get dressed everyday, go into the office/study, and work your eight hours
18 Never submit work if you haven’t completed the novel
19 If you can’t convince an agent of your worth, you’ll never be published mainstream
20 You should start by writing short stories, and then when you develop better writing skills, move onto novel-length works

The only one I absolutely agree with is: 6 You must read the genre you write in, otherwise you could end up writing a story whose concepts have been done to death or is so wide of the mark for that genre that no publisher is going to touch your manuscript.

Some writing advice from George Orwell (courtesy of David Bofinger on Infinitas):

*Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
* Never use a long word where a short one will do.
* If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
* Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
* Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

I have agreed to critique the 117k word novel I mentioned in my last post. It will take a few weeks.

I am still writing every day, but not enough words and early bed times still interfere with the amount I am reading.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Science Fiction Terminology

Hi all,

While critiquing a story I noticed the author use both nanite and nanobot which to me are the same thing: a nano sized machine. I personally prefer nanobot. It got me thinking about other science-fiction terminology for the same thing, so which do you prefer:


And which do you prefer from the following list for an intelligent mechanical human like device:

Artificial Human
Artificial Person

Which do you prefer for the name of a futuristic weapon?

Ray Gun

What is your prefered term for the coming technological revolution?

Technological Singularity
Technological Spike
The Spike

What would you prefer a spacecraft's engine be called?

Infinite Improbability Drive
Anti-matter Drive

What would you prefer an interplanetary craft be called?

Interstellar Transport

Or you may have some other preferred term for some of the above.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

My writing week.

Hi all,

I was disappointed that I missed out on going to the emerging writer's festival in Melbourne two weekends ago. Silly me got behind in his newspaper reading so I didn't read about it until this week. Unlike normal writer's festivals, this one was all about the writing process, not about the finished product of books or their authors.

I have still written every day this year, yaaa me. Pity it's not a 1000 words each day as I would have finished the first draft, at least, of the novel I am writing.

I critiqued the first chapter of a novel on I will probably become, what they call, a dedicated reader and critique the whole thing. What really piqued my interest is that it was written in first person, which I tend to write in, so I will probably get some ideas on what works and perhaps what doesn't in first person. Oh, and the first chapter also had me wanting to find out what happened to the nicely developing characters.

Watched a pretty ordinary science-fiction movie the other day called No Blade of Grass.
It had perhaps the earliest mention of global warming I have seen in film, as it was made in 1970. The film was very much a propaganda piece about the environmental consequences of our overuse of the world's resources. As it was an apocalyptic tale, I just had to watch it to the end.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Books on writing

I mentioned “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogel in my last post so I thought I might mention a few books I have found useful for my writing.

The Writer’s Journey is the script writer’s version of Vogel’s The Heroes’ Journey. It details the structure many film scripts and novels follow. Most open in the ordinary world and then something happens to call the hero (main character) to adventure. The hero is usually reluctant and refuses the call, he’s quite happy with his unadventurous life, but he meets a mentor who helps persuade him to cross the threshold and accept the call to adventure. The hero has to complete a series of tests and is joined by allies and attacked by enemies. He then has to complete/confront the ordeal at the centre of the story. He receives a reward for overcoming the ordeal and returns to his ordinary world.

The first Star Wars movie is the classic example of the Heroes’ Journey. Of course not all stories have all the elements of the Heroes’ Journey, but most do. Interestingly, the novel I am currently writing should contain all the elements of the journey even though I did not write its outline with the Heroes’ Journey consciously in mind.

I found Stephen King’s “On Writing” inspirational and motivating. To think he nearly threw the manuscript for Carrie into the bin, his career might never have started. He mentioned how he creates “real people” who shop at Target and eat at McDonalds; characters his audience can identify with. I get sick and tired of the prevalence in books for style queens who listen to jazz music. Does anyone who is not drug affected really enjoy jazz? His editing advice is: second draft = first draft minus 10%. In my case it has been more like minus 50%.

Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers is a useful book for writers like myself who want to add a bit more colour to their writing. Through a series of writing exercises it goes through a whole range of writing techniques from Alliteration to Zeugma (a single word used both figuratively and literally at the same time, usually to create a double meaning).

The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier taught me to be careful when world building. For example, surfers won’t be travelling to a planet without any moons because it has no tide and therefore no waves. And the gravity tugs from too many moons could pull a planet apart. The plot of my current novel necessitated that the planet it is set on be very similar to Earth.

I am not a natural speller and my grammar is improving. At high school I used to leave a lot of lightly crossed out commas in sentences in the hope that the teacher thought at least one was in the right place. I found Lynne Truss’ Eats Shoots and Leaves a fun way to reinforce my post-high school punctuation adventures.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My writing week.

Hi all,

My characters took control of my writing again: this time a character added a new plot idea. I had been getting near the stage where the narration jumps in time to just before, what Christopher Vogler in his book "The Writer's Journey" calls, the "Ordeal". But my main character has devised another "test" for himself before he reaches his "innermost cave".

I have been writing a bit more this week, but no critiquing and little reading.

One thing I did read, in The AGE, is that publishing house Macmillian may be paying its authors 20% royalties on digital rights as compared to 10% for print editions. So electronic publishing might be better than expected for authors.

I watched a repeat of one of the ABC Tuesday Bookclub and it was great to see them whole heartedly disagree about the merits of the books they were reviewing. One was A Farewell to Arms, I can't remember what the other was, but Peter Corris gave up reading it halfway through. He's not like me, I keep reading until the bitter end.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Review of Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy

Hi all,

The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Third Annual Volume, Edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn’t help thinking at the end: so this is the best that Australia had to offer in 2006.

I must admit I have not been reading a lot of Australian publications lately after being disappointed with the dominance of fantasy that had no meaning for me in the first four editions of Andromeda Inflight Spaceways Magazine, the main outlet for Australian writers of speculative fiction. I have also failed to catch up with the last few editions of Orb and Aurealis. My short-story speculative fiction reading of late has been anthologies and a pile of Asimov and Analog magazines that I picked up at a garage sale.

Perhaps there weren’t any mind-blowing, ideas-laden, totally engrossing, contemporary-messaged stories published by Australians in 2006. Or perhaps the editors of the anthology have far different tastes to mine, in particular a fascination with death. The anthology certainly had enough stories dealing with dying and death and trying to cheat death, like the Dying Light by Deborah Biancotti, Father Muerte and the Flesh by Lee Battersby, andThe Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, not Little Boys by Ben Peek. Another story was set in hell. Interestingly, my favourite story in the previous volume of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy was Margo Lanagan’s Singing my Sister Down, whose plot revolved around an elaborately staged execution.

This collection started off slowly with Kaaron Warren’s Dead Sea Fruit about a dentist with killer breadth. I didn’t find the story particularly horrifying, unlike my usual trips to the dentist. The Cup of Nestor by Simon Brown hooked me in with its ideas and atmosphere and speculation on what would happen and had me expecting a big ending, but it didn’t quite get there. Margo Lanagon’s Hero Vale did not enthral me like Singing my Sister Down, which is one of the most original fantasy stories I have read.

I read the fantasy/horror Father Muerte and the Flesh twice, just in case I missed some hidden meaning, but I don’t think there was one. As a horror story it had the problem of having characters I didn’t care about. I needed to be given a reason to worry about their plight and feel sad when one character, who seemed to be too carefree for her own good, died.

Ben Peeks The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys intriguing me, I am still wondering whether it had some underlying meaning that I just failed to grasp. But, after the experience with the previous story, I was not going to re-read it and I was in a hurry to read some science-fiction. At this stage, eight stories into an eleven story collection, I was wondering where all the science-fiction was.

I immediately picked, like I think the author intended, where Chris Lawson’s Hieronymus Boche was set, but the fun was watching the characters figure out where they where. I enjoyed this story.

The best story in the collection was Karen Westwood’s Turning the Weel, a science-fiction story set in a post apocalyptic Canberra. This shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog because of my previously mentioned fascination with apocalyptic and post apocalyptic fiction. The story was written with many phonetic spellings, but very easy to understand.

I do hope the next collection has more science-fiction and a few more stories that resonate with meaning.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My writing week.

Hi all,

I had the perfect excuse over the last couple of weeks to stop writing every day, but I didn't. I've started a new job two weeks ago that has very early starts, so I have had to reschedule my exercise routine and my writing. I haven't critiqued a story for a couple of weeks and my reading has suffered. But I seem to be getting into a new routine.

I am going to have to put more emphasis on my writing or I will have no hope of achieving what I had hoped for this year. I had planned to finish the first draft of the novel I am writing, re-draft another novel, and then redraft the novel I am currently writing. At the moment I will be lucky to finish the first draft of the novel I am working on.

I need to spend less time on facebook, livejournal and myspace.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

apocalypse all the time

Hi all,

I have been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. It’s a non-fiction book which asks the question: what would happen to planet Earth if humanity suddenly disappeared? I am about halfway through and each chapter of the book begins by explaining how humans have affected some part of the natural environment and then how the environment might change/recover if humans were no longer around.

Recently the 100’s of square kms of plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre was highlighted in the media, this is examined in the chapter I am currently reading. The author continues with his examination of plastic by detailing how micro fragments of plastic are entering our food chain, swallowed by fish, birds and most importantly krill. It seems we are slowly poisoning the oceans and one of our main sources of food.

I ordered this book after reading a review in The Age. But why did it interest me? Firstly, I am currently writing a novel set on a newly terraformed world, a world where humans may have constructed the environment, but they have not yet began to populate it and degrade it. So I thought The World Without Us, might give me some ideas about what my terraformed world would be like, and it has. Secondly, like a lot of science-fiction fans, I have a fascination with apocalyptic and post apocalyptic worlds.

A quick search of my bookshelves and I find the following books set in an apocalyptic or post apocalyptic world: The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood, Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard, Earth Abides by George R Stewart, Graffiti by Peter Van Greenaway, Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen, Parkland by Victor Kelleher, Salt by Gabrielle Lord, The Sea and the Summer by George Turner and Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch.

I also have also enjoyed films like The Planet of The Apes (original), Mad Max, and Omega Man and I am Legend based on the same novel. I was enjoying both Jericho and Jeremiah (on Fox 8) until they were cancelled.

Why do I we enjoy such stories? Why do science-fiction writers, in particular, destroy worlds and then force their characters to live on them? Many of them are probably convinced that humanity will eventually destroy itself, and some of those want to warn us to stop global warming, genetic engineering, nuclear proliferation. But do some of them, like their readers/viewers, hate the world, and more importantly their place in it, so much they would prefer it destroyed?

I think my enjoyment of apocalyptic stories comes mainly from imagining what I would do to survive if I was in such a world. But I also appreciate the warnings about humanity’s future contained in these stories.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My writing week.

Hi all,

Up until this morning's writing session I was thinking what the hell has happened in my writing this week that would possible be of interest to the readers of this blog. The usual had happened: I had not reached my quota of words, but at least I could say I had written every day. But then it happened, I was writing a seemingly innocuous conversation between the two main characters of my novel when suddenly, like they had both taken acid and were on the same trip, they realised they had a point of reference, some reason for not hating each other. I had reached a crucial point in the novel where two very different characters realised they had something in common. Something they/I could build on to shape the rest of the novel.

I had not plotted this point, it just happened by accident, but it is crucial to the novel. Yaaaaa characters. Now I hope to build on this coming together of two very dysfunctional souls.

I may now start to believe those writers who say that their characters come to life and take over a story.

Unfortunately for my readers, or perhaps fortunately, I was going to blog on writing sex scenes, but that will have to wait until next week.