What If

Riding off of a phrase E.F. Jace said last week, we are going to focus on ‘What if’

ImageOne question I see turn up in many different author interviews is. “How did you get your inspiration?”

Every story is written with two questions:

“What if…”

and

“What happens next?”

It’s the drive of every fiction writer, not just us Speculative Fiction.  The bonus of Speculative fiction is that our boundaries are so much wider. 

Such as:

Two people walk out of a building.  There’s your start. 

Then you ask the usual questions:

Who, What, Where, Why, When, How.

Next you work in the ‘what if?’ and the ‘what happens next?’  Adding the Spec. Fic twist:  It doesn’t have to be held down to humans, on a normal street.  It could be dragons walking out of a cathedral, headed for the spaceship to help some aliens with a wraith problem. Tehehe. And just like that, a literary fiction has been transformed into a Speculative fiction mesh.

Anytime you get stuck with an idea for a story, all you need is a what if. 

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Writer’s Troubles for the Holidays

Christmas is done for another year.  Was it a pleasant one? Was it horrible? 

I would hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season, but that isn’t possible for a lot of people.  With all the pain that is out there, there is also healing.  Writing can be a great tool for such things.  Sometimes we have no way to release the anguish we feel from actions of others, or ourselves.  My suggestion is use the pain, transform it into something that will help you grow or move on. 

Write. Write about what happened, how it made you feel.  What you were thinking and doing when things turned for the worst.  Then move farther than that.  Change what happened.  Add an alien or a zombie.  Twist it and turn it till all you see left is a speculative fiction shadow of what was.  Make the people or things that hurt you into something the imagination would be in awe of, and overcome them. 

Sometimes the hurt stalls all thoughts in the mind but what has occurred.  There will be one day when it doesn’t hurt as much, it may take years or decades, but when that time comes;  maybe, just maybe those writings will help heal you.  It may let you see how you felt then, and compare how you feel in the future.  Healing takes time and never is fully finished.

And don’t worry. Not all writing was made to be published.

So as the New Year comes our way, I send my greetings and hopes for all of those braving another day.   Things will get better, I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but they will.

The Mighty Intelligence of the Reader

1: The writer should try not to repeat themselves in the writing.
Most readers pick things up pretty fast. The reoccurrence of words, sentences and / or ideas will slow the writing and loose the interest of the reader. They will find it jarring and overall unsatisfying. Reminding the reader of something in one small phrase may work, but only if it is separated by chapters of the original thought.

2: Don’t use words that are only used in a thesaurus.
Picking out words that seem to have flare and sound more intelligent can be the opposite. If the writer doesn’t use those words in every day conversations, then they should avoid them in writing.

3: Show or Tell: pick one.
This goes along with repeating ideas; however, it drives more deeply into it. Let’s try an example.
The girl lifted the rose. A sharp pain lanced into her finger, blood pooled in the fresh open wound. She dropped the offending flower with a curse. She pricked herself with the rose.
You can see and feel what the girl had, no need to tell us what happened. This slows the pace and becomes jarring.

What do you find in books that upsets you as a reader? Do you find yourself ignoring or nitpicking books that have this? As a writer, what do you do to avoid doing such things? I’d love to hear from you.

Building Depth into your Protagonist

The protagonist is the end all – be all of the manuscript. This person will be followed by the reader all the way till the end. There doesn’t have to be just one. How many heroes have won the day alone? Since all the focus will be on these people/this person, they need to have depth.
No one wants to read about someone who can’t do anything for themselves. Unless it’s a self-help book and the person finds a way to break out of the funk at the end. On the other hand, a protagonist that can do whatever they like, kicking massive derriere and taking names right off the bat is particularly boring. Yes we all want to be that type of person, but we prefer finding out how it is they got there. They need to be balanced and have not only the attributes that make them strong, but also have things they need to work on.

IE: Cathy writes amazing reports and knows what she’s doing, but unless she can get over her shyness, the world will never know that she has created a renewable resource that is free and easy to use.

A protagonist needs to grow and the reader has to see it. No one wakes up one day to find they can do what they’ve always wanted (unless they find out someone cast a spell on them, in that case, they need to find out why.) There is a process and if done well, the reader will feel it.
Questions you should ask your protagonist:
What are your strengths? Can you use them to obtain your goal?
What are your weaknesses? Are they worthy enough in the plot for the reader to route for you?
What are your goals?
What’s keeping you from your goals?
There are ways to break this down even further.
Like: What type of archetype are you?

Are you the hero, the anti-hero, the fool, or something else entirely?

The more you know about your protagonist, the more depth you can show in his/her/its journey.

What are your thoughts? Do you flush out your protagonist before you write or do you let them come to life on the pages?

Donning the Dragon Scaled Armor

(No dragons were harmed in the making of this blog post)

We are in full swing at the AQC Speculative Fiction Critique Marathon, and though the critiques are helpful, they can also sting.  It takes a great deal of courage to have the first chapter or so looked at, and give it to chance that it may or not be torn apart.  The marathon is not for the faint of heart, but then, being a writer is not either.

Each of us, as writers, need to grow some sort of thick skin or, as I like to think of it, donning the armor.  As much as we love our creations, we need to expect the worst out of the reaction of others.  To expect the worst is put on the armor and prepare for the words that will hurt the pride the most.

Image

It’s not always easy.  Sometimes we’ve had a rough day, or simply just can’t find our armor. (Crap, did I bring it to the cleaners again?) The rage builds up from the harsh critique and thoughts like: ‘This person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.’ Or ‘How could they say that, don’t they ever read?’ to ‘I’m horrible, I should never have put down a word of this dribble.  I can’t do this! I can never write again.’

I know, I know, that’s a bit melodramatic, but you get the point, we either get angry and defensive, or we get depressed.  When a critique hits you the wrong way you need to step back, don’t keep reading the words that are hurting you.  Move on. Do other things. Come back to it when you’ve donned your armor, those words may be the key to your improvement.

In the form of the marathon, there are a lot of people who look at my work, and not all of them have good things to say.  When I first started showing my chapters during the theme months my first reaction was not a good one.  I forgot to don the armor and I regretted it.  I couldn’t show another round of my work for the rest of the month.  I missed out on a lot of helpful critiques that could have caused growth because of my pride.

I had to step back and realize that I still have a long way to go.  Now, when I look at each crit from my fellow speculative fiction buddies, (some of them have blogs! Check out the Contributors Blogs on the left.) I look at it in a different perspective. I ask myself, why did they say that? If I do as they suggest, will it help or hurt my plot line? Am I taking away from the reading? Am I giving enough information so that they understand what’s going on? 

These people are there to help, they take their own precious time to view each chapter that they crit.  I have to say, I feel pretty honored when they take the time to look at my chapter.  As I said, I still have a long way to go.

How about you? What do you do to prepare for a critique from a crit-parner? Do you don the armor, or do you let it hurt at first, then walk away, only to go back to it with a thicker skin? We would love to hear your ideas!