Adding the Familiar

If it’s one thing Spec Fic writers know how to do, it’s research. Half the time I believe many could CLEP out of most of the courses in colleges throughout the country with the amount of science, history, mythology, and psychology we study, cross check references, and verify.

We find the tiny details to use in our storytelling, to twist, turn, reverse, and basically create something new out of the old.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen an issue becoming more than just a once in hundred manuscripts. The authors used unfamiliar foundations for their stories. And it can throw a reader completely out of the world they created.

Yes, there are always exceptions. And sometimes you have use them.

The myth red cars receive more tickets than any other color. I lost the link to the police officer, and mathematician, who stated that it would require every red car to receive twelve tickets per day for that to be true. He poured through statistics, used a program to compile every ticket given in the US for a five year period, color of the car, etc. His findings? White is the most ticketed color of any make, model or year. Statistically it makes sense – white is the most common color. But you can’t tell that to the world in general, they will argue that their cousin’s best friend’s sister owned a red BMW and was ticketed so often she lost her license. Never mind she drove 90 in a 65 every day to work.

What I’m driving at is the need to use the familiar. I used a unicorn in a recent MS. Granted it talked, was the size of a Great Dane, released flatulence in the form of rainbows and its horse apples turned out to be pure gold. Oh, he’s a carnivore. But I also kept to the familiar – white coat, cloven hooves, dainty, blue eyes, a sparse mane and tail.

Familiar landscapes, weapons, and creatures easily imagined. Then the author veers off the familiar and uses little known theories of science, and tosses the reader on their keister, wondering what happened.

Science is moving forward at a breakneck pace. At times it can be very hard to keep up. Now imagine how it is for the general population. Granted, most hard SF readers know as much about the latest scientific developments as the scientists who discover them. But in general, most know only what is published through various news sites, science shows, books, etc. They don’t know about the latest developments of the Higgs-Boson theory, the many different string theories, heavy gravity and how it relates to string theory, the new body parts recently discovered, the cures for cancer that are currently in testing, recent discoveries in the world of veterinary medicine, the DNA found in several fossilized animals and how they believe it can be cloned, or how dragons became so popular with various unrelated cultures throughout the world.

Now to circle back. I had three hard SF books cross my desk in the past month. The premises were great, the writing outstanding, and they weren’t rewrites of Star Trek/Wars. Of the three, two used unfamiliar foundation for their science. It required two hours of intensive research to check their facts. What? It’s part of my job. But the point is, what they used was so unfamiliar, not even published yet, and tossed me out of their work – because it was unbelievable. I had to call my cousin in Kuaui, an astrophysicist, and verify what I found. The author had the foundation information correct. Although it surprised my cousin the author found the ongoing research.

This isn’t the 60’s and Gene Roddenberry’s world any longer. Our readers are savvier, more up to date on scientific developments in general, less likely to believe, and harder to keep inside the worlds/realities we create. Our biggest hurdle is convincing them that yes, an intergalactic war will happen, or in an alternate universe, people still fight with swords, or that unicorns can show up during Mardi Gras and change your entire outlook on life.

Giving them a little bit of the familiar helps to suspend their belief and reading to the very last page.

Don’t Forget To Laugh

I deserve a great big smack. Yup, I forgot my 8th deadline. In my defense…wait, I’m not sure I have one. Can I just apologize?!

I don't know what happened...

I don’t know what happened…

I decided last month I would write about the thing we often forget when immersed in writing – our sense of humor. I can attest to the great amount of laughs we all imbibe in. Yet it isn’t talked about often enough, in my not so humble opinion. I want people to remember to smile – even as we get hit with “tough love” critiques, rejections and the inevitable “What on earth were you thinking in chapter X?”  Maybe that is just me.

Not completely, anyway.

Not completely, anyway.

So many thing about writing just plain hurts. But if you look, you’ll see plenty of laughs. Especially at yourself. For example, one writer talked about sending a query to an agent with “Dear Agent.”  *cough* Yeah, I did that too. Oops. Needless to day, I had a rejection email.

The query trenches, or preparing to self publish, is enough to test a writer’s dignity, skin thickness, and make them wonder if they truly have enough talent.

I'd say this hit the shark on the nose...

I’d say this hit the shark on the nose…

It’s during this time many show their humor. Whether passing around virtual cups of caffeine, wine, chunks of chocolate or rashers of bacon, humor is used to cheer on the writer-ly community. And it can be a sanity saver. I send emails of thank yous, talk to several writers who gently keep me off the ledge, and make jokes at my own expense to keep schlepping forward. We chose a hard road to travel. No matter how you publish, working towards the end imagined, getting smacked down is going to happen – and often. Getting back up can be an accomplishment in, and of, itself.

The smack down comes from everywhere...

The smack down comes from everywhere…

And now you know my secret. Laughing. Find a reason, no matter how hard I fell, to let others giggle, guffaw, chortle or snicker. Granted it might be because I did a carpet slide into the closet trying to get out of bed, klutzing my way into the dolphin pool at Sea World, forgetting my name when talking to someone I admire, the self – V8 smack for stupidity when sending out a query, or laughing at my rough drafts – it’s worth it.

hamster checkmate

Lesson? Don’t let the mistakes get you down, or the rejections, or the long days and longer nights. We are here to help you smile again.

live long

Those Infamous Lines

I love movies. Every now and again, a line from a movie is perfect for a scene in my writing. I can quote The Princess Bride like nobody’s business. And even in my darkest writings, I find the humor of Maverick, Wayne’s World or Robin Hood: Men in Tights to be useful at keeping the reader willing to continue with my ramblings.

Most of us are guilty, using lines to interest the reader, communicate something found universally within various media. Shoot, Laurell K. Hamilton uses The Princess Bride in almost every Anita Blake novel.

An issue came to light recently while editing another author’s work. Throughout the MS were several lines from still copyrighted movies, action scenes from recent blockbuster movies, and even love scenes.

I had to note each one, noting the movie and actors, remind the author copyright laws are still in effect.

The point? When talking to someone, quoting a movie line is fine. When working to be published? You’d best acknowledge the movie to prevent legal issues.

It is argued that all plotlines are the same, it is the creativity bring the plot to light which is unique to each author. The voice, a twist on the characters, a different world – all are unique. But when quoting from others’ work, whether book, movie or speech, keep in mind the copyright.

Most don’t mind if we quote every now and again. Shoot, several authors and actors have said they find it flattering if remembered.

But we all get upset if it’s stolen and passed off as someone else’s.

“If I must, I’ll take you a piece at a time,” he said, pointing the sword, a piece of cloth at the end.

Sound familiar? Yep, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the 1991 movie with Kevin Costner, spoken during the last sword fight with the Sheriff. Makes for a great action line, no denial there. Yet if you try to pass it as your own line during whatever action scene, and someone recognizes it, you could find yourself in hot water.

What about those fairy tale retellings currently so popular? Many of us understand those are not under copyright. The new retellings will be, but the originals aren’t. Not a problem.

Most copyrighted works are recent, but by no means the only ones. Gone With the Wind is still copyrighted by Mitchell’s estate, a book more than eighty years old.

If you are going to use lines and scenes from other works, err on the side of caution, make sure you tell where it came from. When revising and editing your own work, keep a thought in the back of your mind if a scene is straight from a recent movie/book. I admit to finding little things every now and again, but they were caught and revised. Our imagination can work things in without conscious thought.

It’s also a good reason why Critique Partners and Beta Readers are so important, they often catch them if you don’t. Always a good thing.

I’m not saying don’t use them, I’m saying use them carefully.