Worldbuilding Consistently

I reread Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall, (published in 1941) last night for the first time in years and was impressed – and reminded of something that occasionally happens with authors in worldbuilding. Especially when dealing with a different belief system than the author really wants to give credence to. I encourage you to go back and read that short story. Asimov does not intrude with his own commentary anywhere in the story. All differing viewpoints are held and expressed by the various characters in the story. He keeps all those viewpoints consistent with what the society both knew and believed. He kept his own opinions out of it.

There is another author, that I won’t name here, who is not quite so honest in her writing. The stories contain a certain belief system and a certain degree of actual spiritual power and influence. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, when you build a world that way, you need to stay honestly in the world that you’ve built. Just because you’ve written about a world where magic is real, does not mean you believe in magic as you write it. If you, as the author, happen to want to question the validity of the magic, or any belief, then it should be done by the characters in the story. Not ever, not even once, should the author inject narrative commentary to throw doubts on the belief system. If you feel the need, write a disclaimer as an afterword.

This is critical for Science Fiction and Fantasy worlds, where we are dealing with societies that don’t exist and their belief systems (and abilities) are limited only by our imaginations. I don’t go into depth on the religious beliefs of Sorth because it isn’t necessary. Their psychic abilities give them perceptions beyond ours. What is a matter of belief for us is closer to established fact for them. Within the story, I accept that.

Tolkien built a world where magic existed, mostly as a more subtle force, and he stayed consistent with it. He established the background of how that world came to be and what the rules were there. He stuck to it. Any questioning of how that world worked could only come from characters within that world.

The same thing is true of StarWars. Lucas allows scoffing at the Force from the very beginning by characters within the story, but he doesn’t let that change the way he designed that universe. He also does not intrude any thoughts, opinions or beliefs from outside the world he has built. They either are already there, or simply don’t exist within that context.

I have also done some role-playing over the years. This is similar in that whatever you have determined the rules of your world to be, the story has to stay within those bounds and you’re own, real world view points must not intrude. If you are not comfortable with the rules of your world, change them. It is your world, after all.

Mountains Of Thyme

Thyme. Thyme. Thyme. I really do have mountains of thyme, or at least a mountain of thyme. I love growing my own herbs. They are so superior to anything in the store that they aren’t even the same critter. The work to dry and store most of them is small compared to the return. Both flavor and nutrients are more potent. This year, the herbs have exploded while the rest of the garden has struggled.

Sage is extremely easy. Oregano, mint and lemon balm only require removal of any bad leaves. Basil can be a little more difficult, mainly in cleaning any soil off without bruising the leaves. Parsley is quick to snip. All these I harvest several times during the summer.

Thyme is the most tedious, though it also dries the quickest. I grow the old fashioned thyme, which has the best flavor, but also the smallest leaves. Separating the leaves from the stems is taking hours. The stems break easier than the leaves come off and can be too small to see easily. It’s driving me slightly nuts. I can feel my eyes crossing.

When I’m done though, there will be enough for a year with some left to share. It helps if I keep reminding myself I only have to do a serious thyme harvest once a year.

 

Laughter Is The Best Medicine!

“A merry heart doeth good like medicine,,,” The ability to see humor in an otherwise stressful situation lightens our heart. It’s crucial to reducing that stress. Find the humor in making a mistake and you’ve taken the negative away so you can focus on the solution. We do this every day.

But how about our writing? Do your characters find the humor in the little things they encounter? Do you spice things up with humorous description of something common place? One of my favorite humorous tidbits is in Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor in describing a low-level insertion flight as “like being in the womb of a woman addicted to disco dancing”. He accomplished two things. I had absolutely no trouble getting his point and I laughed. Laughing breaks the tension a tiny bit to keep the story from getting too grim. The serious things are still there, but the characters face them with a good heart.

Ah, but you are writing a serious book, maybe even non-fiction. Humor is a great way to identify with characters and get a point across. No matter what you write, a bit of humor now and then will make your reader come back for more.  Nearly all of the books that I consider favorites are books that have a touch of humor to them. The humor is not the object of these books and the stories often deal with serious situations.That does not keep these wise writers from realizing that humor, just like love, is a part of life and we should allow our characters to express it – or cause it. That touch makes them human (even when they’re alien).

In one of Barbara Hamby’s books, The Witches of Wenshar, she opens the book with Starhawk thinking it was her misfortune to travel with a man capable of putting his foot in his mouth to the knee and still able to speak intelligibly. * If I had never read the author at all, that line would have sold me. It conveyed both conflict and a character with a sense of the ridiculous.

In Warrior Song, there is a serious scene discussing the activities of a probable traitor. Serious stuff. Shazir makes a comment about reality eventually biting his (the traitor’s) tail off. Now, the traitor doesn’t have a tail – but Shazir does. It would be a perfectly natural way for him to describe his thought and all the more amusing since the subject is human.

If you find your writing getting bland, tensely serious, or even depressing try finding a bit of humor, either in what’s happening, or how the character perceives the things around them. Let them do the human thing of laughing at what is troubling them. Your readers will love you for it.

Laugh in the best of times and in the worst of times.

 

* This is not an exact quote as this is one of the many books I lost in a fire.

Writer’s Groups and Crit Teams

I find myself in a slightly terrifying position. I’ve worked with the same writer’s group that was also a cooperative crit team for years. The numbers dwindled  over time, as some had dry spells and drifted away, or fell by the wayside, for whatever reason. One of my most important writing partners seems to have dropped off the face of the earth these last few months. This is not good. These folks, several of whom became good friends, have been a part of the development of the Talmanor trilogy from the early days. Who am I going to find to argue the plot points that may need changing in the third book? Help me to see what I have over looked? Anyone else is going to have to play catch up, at the very least. Of course, they’d get the books already published in the deal, but still….

No book ever comes to market by the writer alone. Somewhere, there are others who support, encourage, call you out on errors and generally help you stay on track. You do the same things for them. It is – and must be – mutual. I see now that I should have made more of an effort a long time ago to get new blood in the group.

It looks like I am going to have to start a new one. I hardly know where to begin. Our original group came out of a much larger group where we met often in chat over a decade ago. This has been on my mind for a while now. I believe it’s time to get it done.

This looks like a good place to start. :) Anyone out there interested in starting a new writer’s group with a slight SciFi/Fantasy bias, but open to other genres?

Here are a couple older posts that will give you an idea of what I have in mind.

http://bit.ly/1aLrzRR

http://bit.ly/1hnYCSn

You don’t have to be a published author, just serious about your writing and willing to have a little fun in the process.

The Ones Who Matter Are The Ones Who Care

The ones who matter are the ones who care – and the ones who don’t care, don’t matter.

I guess we all have people we love who don’t really seem to love us back. Friends, even family, for whom our caring is of no consequence. They can’t be bothered to keep us in the loop about things happening in their lives. It’s sad and sometimes deeply disturbing to see casual disregard by someone you should have close ties with. I have reached a point in my life where I can no longer let them matter to me either.

There comes a time when you have to take stock and clear out the clutter in your heart. You still care, but you have to shield your own feelings against the callousness of others. You can’t expend much of your energy on one-sided relationships.

The ones who matter are the ones who care. Those who share their thoughts, their lives with you. They stay connected. They are there when you need them – and when you don’t. If something important happens in their life, they take the time to share it with you. They not only expect you to share with them, they welcome it. They stay in touch.

I will focus my energy on those who are in my life, who stick with me whatever happens to be going on in our lives. Maybe we don’t get to see each other very often. Maybe life keeps us going in different directions most of the time, but the connection remains.The caring remains.

There are a very few who I feel would be there- no matter what. You know, I’d be there for them – no matter what, too. Most of those are not even related to us. That does not keep them from being brothers and sisters of the heart.

 

A Panther In The Yard!

A few years ago, we had four Fainting goats. I happened to look out the kitchen window one Friday morning just as all four of them fell over, as they do when threatened. My instant reaction was to yell for my husband to bring his gun, something was after the goats. I was right – and wrong. Soon, he was in the yard, scanning the edge of the woods and saw a rather large black panther (yes, they do live in the Southeast).  We were somewhat alarmed that his shot missed and changed our plans for the weekend.

Instead of going with the rest of the family on a trip that weekend, he stayed behind to make sure it didn’t come back. Before the rest of us left, he’d already called the local game warden to report it. The game warden said he’d get back to him.

The facts surprised us all. The panther turned out to be a pregnant female that had gone missing from her cage at a nearby truck stop while she was on her way to Florida. Her cubs were to be raised for release into the Everglades. She had managed to get out of her cage, looking for a secure place to give birth. She found what she wanted in a small cave near our house. When she terrified our goats, she wasn’t after them. She had been raised on cat food and had never eaten fresh meat. She had smelled our cats and was looking for a handout!

After they tracked her down and collected her and her new cubs, they stopped by our house to let us know what had happened. Roland even got to pet her and said she was just a very large hearth kitty. Boy, was he ever glad that his scope was off that day!

Our own black cat took one look at the panther Roland was petting and gave him her worst stink eye, as if to say, “You are NOT bringing THAT into the house!”

Our beagle had long since done the prudent thing and hid under the computer desk.

I Can Be Consistently Inconsistent

I hit the walking track this morning for the first time in several days. Walking is good. It’s healthy for your body and gives you uninterrupted thinking time. One thought led to another. Yes, I really do need to make the effort to walk every day, or at least more often. When the word consistent popped into my head, I remembered a statement I heard years ago at a seminar, “You may not be consistent, but you can be consistently inconsistent“. Okay, I can do that.

I may not walk every day, but I do walk. I may not write daily like I should, but I still write. Sometimes, I even get a touch of consistency with my writing, for a week, or a month, or a year before life intervenes and disrupts the pattern. I am consistently inconsistent. Sometimes I’m slow. Sometimes I stall altogether, but words do get written. I haven’t quit.

I even have times where the words flow so effortlessly that I have to depend on my family to make sure I come out for meals. I wish those times were far more often, and I’ll bet you do too. That’s what the Blog Challenge is all about. It helps build habits of daily writing, or restores lost ones.

It’s encouraging, I think, that even when we can’t be consistent, we can be consistently inconsistent and still move forward.

Happy Writing :)

Some Days the Humor Just Isn’t There

I admit it, I am still not on my game here. I was sick yesterday and didn’t write a thing. This afternoon, I had in mind a topic on humor in writing as in life. You know, to keep it from being bland or grim? The post has been saved for later. The topic is a worthy one, the writing was – well, too serious. I’m not kidding. I was trying to write about adding humor and had none myself!

Some days it just isn’t there. Now, yesterday, I would have had a hard time writing two coherent sentences. At least I am past that point.

So, at least I can find humor in having lost it? Sigh. Some days you just have to put the cat back over your head and go to sleep.

Dialect and Dialogue

My son is currently reading Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for school and immediately began to comment on how hard it was to read because of Twain’s rendering of the local dialect. I took another look at it then and, much as I hate to say it, he’s right. More than any of the other works by Twain, this book is made more challenging by excessive use of dialect and incredibly bad grammar. Granted, it’s written in Huck’s POV, but Twain was a little too dedicated to the idea that Huck was uneducated and, shall we say, rough around the edges. The style get’s in the way of the story.

I am sure some of the examples from classical literature use dialects, including coy, phonetic spellings, to convey the sound of regional speech to those who hadn’t heard it before. This style of writing is more difficult to follow than trying to understand a thick, unfamiliar accent when spoken. Trying to read that kind of thing is like decoding a foreign language. It takes away from the story you are trying to tell. These days it should be avoided, since most people have at least some exposure to different kinds of speech. There are better approaches to the problem.

You can convey regional (or uneducated) flavor by word choices and syntax without resorting to an attempt to write words the way they are spoken.

“Lordy, child! Get in here and get out of those muddy things before your mother gets home or she’ll skin you alive.”  - Now just try to read that in anything other than a Deep Southern drawl and get automatically sounded like git.

“John Micheal, I’m thinking it’s to the pub we’re going.” This one is equally obvious as Irish brogue and I’ll bet you rolled the ‘r’.

Syntax and word choice. While some of the grammar may be unorthodox, it’s not actually incorrect. The word choices and syntax alone carry the dialect without being unreadable.

We also need to be careful how we render dialects or the sense of someone who’s first language is different. I say different, as opposed to not-English, because, if you want to get technical, none of the characters in the Talmanor series would actually be speaking English. Selarial speaks Common quite fluently, but you will see a shift in syntax if she gets angry. It signifies the natural tendency to make that kind of linguistic slip under stress. If you have a character with incomplete command of the language, syntax and word choices can go further than any other technique to convey that circumstance. Real people do it everyday.

Should you ever write coy, phonetic spellings and horrid grammar? Of course you should! Just keep it limited to small doses in strategic places.

Please note, I happen to love Mark Twain’s writing. That particular book is just difficult for anyone over the age of eight to read. :)