Oh Hi!

It’s been a week and some change and speaking of change….

I have some news and plans.

Firstly, the next installment of On Winter is posting at the end of the week. I plan on sharing more poetry and fiction in the coming year. 

Next, grad school applications are going slowly but I’m nearly done gathering materials for the two schools I’m most excited about. 

And finally, I’m going to trunk my current WIP because I’m just not experienced enough at this point in my writing journey to do that story justice. I’ll come back to it. This is only a brief farewell, not a goodbye forever. There will be no updates on it during 2018. 

Advertisements

On Story as a Reflection of Character Action

I have a note card posted by my desk listing the problem/need of each of my three major viewpoint characters. The problem and the need each character has are unique to him or her, but they play off one another. I have this card in a prominent place so that I see it every day. I (literally and figuratively) don’t want to lose sight of my characters’ greatest desires and motivations. 

These are the main desires, and knowing them is crucial to the story I’m writing. I realize they aren’t the only desires that need to be acknowledged and addressed. Recently I purchased Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig, and in reading it, saw that my characters need depth and breadth in their desires and motivations. Which I already knew. Still, it’s helpful to have it spelled out via examples, and by a professional author. And with Damn Fine Story, the focus is on story and not mechanics or plot or beat sheets. I’ve read a fair few books on writing and the writing life. This one is–so far–unique, helpful, and fun. It has a monocle-wearing elk on the cover! This post is not intended as a book plug, however, it did prompt a critical thinking process for me so I thought  it worth mentioning. 

So here I am, looking into the deepest parts of my characters’ souls and asking, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?”

Wait, hold on…

Wrong script. 

Here we go: “What would you do with all that power?” And to follow up, “Why?”

Some of my characters have standard issue fantasy trope magical abilities. [I discussed my struggle to hit on some credible yet original magic system in a previous post.] Some have political power, wealth, or armies backing them up. A few have the strength of personality. Several have nothing but friendships propping them up. 

All of them want things. Peace, security, personal gain, political power. One wants to be rid of his power for personal peace. Others will use their power for personal and political gain, no matter the cost. My job as the author is to tease out the nuances based on the interactions and conflicts that shape them. 

 Now I want to focus on a specific example of how I’m incorporating this idea into my rewrites. 

There’s some popular writing advice that says something like, “Start as late in the story as possible,” and I agree. In trying to follow that advice, I started too late. I left out the entire status quo period for my protagonist, which left out an important episode in his life. That episode turned him onto the path he follows in my story. I stuck it in later as a flashback. Now, I’m not leaning heavily on flashbacks in my story, but this one comes at a pivotal moment for the protagonist–a confession (as recalled by flashback) leads to a change in his attitude toward the events around him– and I’d like to keep it where it is. 
How do I reconcile two scenes related to the same event–the opening chapter and a later flashback–without being repetitive? Point-of-view! and a little narrative sleight of hand. I can show him approaching that moment then cut to his reaction after the moment has passed. Later, the moment itself will be revealed during a vulnerable moment for the protagonist. 

This is only one small tweak with big impact that I’m making as I go through revisions. Rearranging is easy work, the hard part is building or restructuring scenes to bridge the gaps and accommodate changes. My characters are necessitating a lot of changes. It seems that once I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with my characters, they become alive, almost. They push on the narrative. The weaknesses in the plot are obvious as places where the characters are acting, well, out of character. 

I never had a good handle on my plot. Now that I know my characters better, I have a clear grasp of the story I can tell through them. The plot will grow alongside that.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

The regular post this week is pushed back to Saturday. I’m taking my GRE today. This test is not everything, but doing well will certainly help when the admissions offices of schools get a glimpse at my transcripts. Don’t goof off in undergrad, kids.

That’s my PSA for the day!

Next is the school search process. I plan on applying to three. Have you seen graduate admissions fees lately? Sheesh.

See you on Saturday for fresh* writing ramblings.

 

*totally subjective opinion, likely just regurgitated and reconfigured rehashing of the advice of others

Prepping for the Sprint

Full disclosure: I’m not a sprinter.

My first sport, first competitive, team building, organized sport, was cross country. It’s not glamorous, it’s frequently muddy, and it’s often lonely. I know, I just said above that it was a team building sport. Here’s the thing, it is a team sport built on individual accomplishments. I’m built for the long haul races, and I used to be in shape for them too. Same goes for writing.

Yes, running is an apt metaphor for the work that goes into producing a book. I can mull over and tinker with a book idea, characters, plot, etc. for years, writing scene after scene, outlining and reworking, never quite satisfied with the results, but always learning and always getting better at the craft. That’s the cross country race of writing. Sometimes I’m  slogging up a steep hill, once in a while I hit a boggy patch and nearly lose a shoe, often I feel like I’m the only one on the course as it winds through the woods. I wonder what I’m doing there, but I go on. I bet this sounds familiar. But this November, I’m settling into the blocks for the quick sprint of NaNoWriMo. It’s the 100 meter dash of writing challenges. 

I’m no sprinter, as I said, and I’m a slow writer too. Come November 1, however, I’m going to lace up my running shoes and go for it. I’ll put away the *mountains* of research material, the distractions, the Pinterest boards of inspiration, and get down to the pen and the blank page. I’ll bring my outlines too; those are my course maps. It may be a sprint, but it’s a twisty one. Outlines help keep me on track.

I’ll also lock my inner editor away for the month. Here I’ll end the running metaphor and move on to a literary reference. Remember the chokey from Matilda? Put your inner editor in there for a month. It’ll be good for her. So, next month I aim to write every day, I aim to finish a crappy first draft of a new book, and I aim to have fun and learn some things along the way. 

I’m also going to try and work in some exercise. It’s good for your brain as well as your body. 

If you’re interested in running, I recommend checking out my sister’s blog: Sarah Runs Again. She’s a good writer and her posts are inspiring and often funny. 

Go forth, Wrimos! Run that race and kick some butt on the way. I wish you all luck reaching your personal best.

Goodbye Fantasy, Hello SciFi

Two genres, fantasy and science fiction, dominate my bookshelves. They are the binary stars of my reading life. The mismatched twins, each with something different to bring to the table, different strengths, different weaknesses. Jacob and Esau, Jekyll and Hyde. Ok, not really that last one. One is not evil while the other good, although what the hell was Dr. J thinking, opening that Pandora’s box with his experimentation. He’s not that innocent.
But I digress. For NaNoWriMo 2014, I wrote a (mostly) complete fantasy novel. For Camp NaNoWriMo July 2015, I wrote the second fantasy novel in what seems to be at least a duo, if not trio, of books in that particular world. This November, I’m abandoning that world for a while in favor of my other love: science fiction. Specifically, I love hard science, near future nail biters. The Martian is my jam, currently. I love reading about the advances in biomedical research. I am cautious about praising advances in artificial intelligence. I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey one too many times.
So, my plan is to tap that interest to craft a story worthy of any hard core SF fan’s bookshelf. Or e-reader. Or holo-book implanted behind the eyeball itself! I jest, but only a little. I haven’t decided whether to go more towards A.I. or an organic creation, but I’m certainly giving myself a few research options.
NaNo Prep starts in September. I can’t wait!

MARC

I am Peter, a survivor, one of only a handful that I’m aware of. I was Peter Grossman, accountant, employed by National Utility Testing Services. My company was a watchdog group, with an unfortunate acronym, and it was assigned to keep tabs on various laboratories, power plants, and other privately-run, high risk facilities. I was one of many numbers guys, certainly not head of my department either, and a committee of various role players (of which I was part) was recently assigned to examine a nuclear power plant in Utah. This was a financial audit, hence my presence, because their books were showing discrepancies in funding.  The supply examiners were coming anyways, since this type of shortfall often indicated political pocket-lining at the very least, or terrorist backing at the very worst. Anyways, after my portion of the audit information gathering was complete, one of the service androids gave me a grand tour of the whole facility, since the cubicle bound number-crunchers rarely get to see this side of the game.

Yeah, I said service androids. And this particular one survived along with me. More’s the pity.

So here’s how we got into this mess:

I heard it coming toward me before I saw it. The little puffs of their joint pistons firing always gave them away. I turned in time to receive its introduction.

“Hi! You look like you could use a tour! I am MARC, a Male-type Andro-Robotic Computer. What is your name, sir?” the service android became absolutely still, looking like a statue but for the faint whirr-click of its internal processor.

“Uh—hi, I’m Peter Grossman, accountant with N- U- T- S,” I spelled out the company acronym, and went to shake the MARC’s hand. I felt a little foolish doing so and nearly pulled away, when it grasped my hand and gave one concise pump. I was relieved to see my hand still attached. I had heard that the developers had to fix a handshake-and-high-five bug in androids through the latest round of updates. It appeared this one’s handlers kept up with the software.

“It is very good to meet you, Mr. Grossman. Please, follow me and keep your arms, legs, and mechanical components in the walkways. Haha, that is android humor,” it laughed eerily, an effect enhanced by its frozen facial features. The typical service android is unable to smile or show any other emotion.

The MARC showed me the cooling towers, the reactors, and the control panel rooms from a Safe-T-Glass distance. The nuclear scientists and plant employees were allowed to work at a much closer distance. That was fine by me. Those nuclear safety suits looked unwieldy and left no room to pick a wedgie, if need be. The control panel operators obviously didn’t need them; they had Safe-T-Glass too. Lucky bastards. Next was the meltdown bunker, and after that, the blessed break room, with hot coffee and candy bars. I’ll tell you what: I was looking forward to that hot cuppa Joe.

We had just reached the “panic room” when panic ensued. There was a huge rumble and the room shook, then the spinning red warning light and siren started going.

“Oh no, that is not good,” the MARC stated.

“Wh- what does that mean?”

“It means that this is not a drill,” it stated, again.

…Shit, this was not good.

It was apparently a mind-reading censor-bot.

“This is not good.”

“Of course it’s not good! What’s happening?”

“My server says that the reactor was directly hit by a foreign object—it appears to be a missile.”

I was ready to shake the nuts from this bag of bolts. Fortunately, I maintained my cool and asked, “So what now?”

“So you have the proof I was about to give you. You are here to audit a monetary discrepancy. This attack explains that shortage. I brought you here to tell you this, but I did not calculate that it would happen so soon. Terrorists received funding and supplies from this plant. I am not supposed to know this, but my programming requires me to monitor activity that pertains to tours. That activity qualifies. It was anomalous.”

I was shitting bricks at this point, so I screamed, “How is that important! What do we do now?!”

“We wait for more information. We stay here while we wait,” it said to the employee pawing at the security lock, “because there is nothing else we can do.”

Well, let’s just say I was pissed. I might be overreacting, but this seemed to be the end of the world. Then, the MARC confirmed this.

“My servers indicate that five of the major reactors in the United States were attacked. We must stay here for a while.”

I joined the desperate plant employee at the door. It was so unfair. I couldn’t die! I was just given hope of a promotion and that included a pay raise, and improved benefits, with a corner office, oh God, what was I doing? I slumped by the wall and started to cry. I’m being honest, I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t going to resort to gerbil antics. Even though I was a corporate gerbil. After a few minutes, once the siren subsided, I stood and asked, “So what now?”

“We are stocked for six months at full capacity. That equals,” a lot of whirring and clicking, “two years of supplies for those of us here.”

I was doing my own numbers. Something didn’t compute. “That doesn’t account for the entire staff, I mean, the original calculation.”

“Of course it does not. The survival supplies were only calculated for the plausibility of the number of employees who could make it here in time. I did the calculations myself.”

“You’re a cold bastard.”

“As an accountant, you know the probabilities.”

I was already crunching more numbers, and realized, “Damn, you’re right. Well, we have more than enough supplies to stay down here for a couple years. I am personally in favor of staying put until we have to leave, rather than getting fried by radiation.” I looked over at the guy who was banging on the door. He had stopped, and was curled in a ball, sobbing quietly. “I suppose he’s in, too,” I added, “not that we have a choice.”

The MARC gave the despairing employee a closer look and said, “That is Frank Watson. He works in cooling tower one. What were you doing down here?”

Frank Watson sniffled and gazed at us suspiciously. Finally, he answered, “the boss gave me a break and told me to see what you were doin’ with this examiner. The boss doesn’t trust androids, but they’re required in all the plants,” he directed the last sentence at me, by way of explanation.

“I was aware that Mr. Dubois was watching me. Did you know he was involved in the illegal sale of supplies to foreign entities?”

I don’t know if I was imagining it, but I thought there was a tone of reproach in the MARC’s voice. Then I realized this plant was his baby, more or less, due to the requirements of his programming.

The employee was still talking. “I was gettin’ a cut from some deal the boss made, ‘cuz I had to cover up some activity, but I didn’t know where it was goin’. I didn’t care neither. I was gettin’ paid,” he finished defiantly. He was standing by now and puffing his chest out like he was expecting a confrontation.

“Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself. We’re stuck down here, while the end of the world is going on out there, and you had a hand in that!” I spat at him, even before MARC could respond. When I looked at him to back me up, he was standing with his feet squared and arms crossed. It was a disconcertingly human gesture.  Then a thought struck me, and I asked, “Why didn’t you report what you knew?”

“Mr. Dubois was monitoring my outside communications and reports. He bought a lot of people’s loyalties,” he responded. “I had to wait for you to be here so I could report in person. I only found out everything yesterday.”

Frank spoke again. “Lot of good it did. I wish I was up there and dead, than down here with you morons.”

“Who’s the moron? You’re the one who sold out for a couple extra bucks! You’re selfish and idiotic,” I shouted at him. His reasoning was unbelievably frustrating.

I guess I hit a nerve because he took a swing at me. It wasn’t a great hit, but it startled me enough to make me step back. When I did, MARC came forward and landed one straight to Frank’s temple. I didn’t think androids were permitted to do that. As it turns out, all sorts of things are possible when their connection to the server is cut. In fact, they are allowed to use force in a security capacity, such as when a person poses a threat to the plant or to another person on the premises. It seems that Frank was guilty on both counts.

I learned a lot more about androids than I ever wanted to while stuck in the bunker with the murderous MARC and Frank Watson’s corpse.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/17/flash-fiction-challenge-the-who-the-where-the-uh-oh/