Tag Archives: writing

From a Certain Point of View

A while back, I was riding in a pickup truck.  This is notable only for the fact that the girl driving it was consistently using about three feet of the right lane while driving in the left.  As a passenger, I found that pretty terrifying and said something to the effect of “Jesus, what the hell are you doing?”

She insisted she was fine, she hadn’t had any issues and seemed to think I was making fun of her driving or calling her crazy.  This went on for a bit, her insisting everything was perfectly fine and me growing more and more concerned, particularly as we narrowly missed side-swiping other vehicles and pedestrians.

I finally demanded just why she thought she was centered in her lane.  She told me that her driving instructor had taught her to center the white lines on the hood of her vehicle and she’d always be in the center of the road.  When I quite testily replied that she’d probably learned to drive in a car, rather than a pickup truck, she went silent.  It was a thoughtful silence.  After she considered the fact that a truck was several feet higher than the car she’d previously driven and the geometry was therefore different, she shifted over to something rather more like the middle of the lane.

The world and circumstances had changed.  Her point of view had shifted, but she’d been operating under the same assumptions as before, not taking into account the changing conditions.  It wasn’t that she was stupid, or that she was crazy, or even that she was reckless, it just hadn’t occurred to her that some of her basic assumptions were no longer valid.  The paradigm had shifted and that had endangered her and fellow drivers around her.

The Star Wars quote, “From a certain point of view,” applies pretty strongly.  Obi Wan spun the truth for Luke when he told him that Vader betrayed and murdered his father.  He told Luke what he needed to hear, a simpler “truth” that set him on his journey of change, hoping that Luke would have the resilience and wisdom to understand the full truth as he gained experience.  That’s what many teachers do, they give us the basic “rules” and hope that as time goes on, we fill in the blanks, we learn the “why” as well as the deeper complicated details.

It’s something to consider both in writing and in our lives in the real world.  Be willing to re-examine some of the facts.  Be willing to question those basic rules that you’ve lived by.  Be willing to adapt and change.  Your characters in the stories you write should learn from their mistakes, but they should also change and grow.  Their beliefs and concepts of the world should adapt and grow with them.  And perhaps we should hold ourselves to as high a standard.

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What Is Success?

Many writers and would-be writers aspire to be successful authors, with on-track careers, big publishing gigs, and the much-discussed “NYT Bestseller” attached to their names.  But when you come down to it,  how do you measure that?

The obvious one, the one that most people can wrap their heads around, is fame.  Most people can name famous authors in the genre of choice, reeling off names like George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy.  These are people who have sold millions of books… they have movie (or TV) franchises.  They’re famous, that means success, right?

But then again, Phillip K. Dick has a ton of movies based upon his books and short stories (even several remakes).  His life, if you look him up, isn’t what most would consider “successful.”

As for the vaunted NYT Bestseller, there’s been multiple times that people have scammed it, with the latest example being just last year (link).  When you dig into what it involves, too, you see that the stamp represents sales in a very specific, very small part of the US.

Amazon bestsellers, you say?  Amazon’s algorithms have been fooled before (link).  I’ve earned the status the hard way, selling actual books in the genre they’re meant for, but there’s plenty who haven’t and lots of them are eager to sell new authors books, lectures, and videos on how to be a bestseller.

So these two metrics, fame/notoriety and the Bestselling category may not be the best method of determining success.  What is?  Total sales?  Depending on your genre, a few dozen sales a day may be very good, whereas for some others, upwards of two hundred purchases a day is normal.  The advent of Kindle Unlimited has changed things a bit, too, where power-readers treat Amazon like their library.  Some authors see practically no sales at all in their genres but they see thousands (or tens of thousands) of page reads a day.

The answer there seems to be money.  In fact, American society often judges success by money.  That guy has a nice car, he must be successful.  That person has a big house, they must be successful.  But I have to ask, is money why you’re writing?  I mean, there’s lots of easier ways to go about making money.  You can avoid the crippling self-doubt and the long hours of forcing words out and go into something far more lucrative and more likely to actually make you rich.  Larry Correia’s has a fantastic post on the different levels of authors based upon their “success.”  His is focused mostly on money and fame, too, which I can’t fault.  But the number of authors who make enough from writing to support their families, much less buy a McMansion is relatively low.

I know a lot of authors.  By a lot, I mean I personally know a couple hundred and I’ve met and interacted with thousands.  I’ve seen quite a few who get into indie publishing very excited and enthusiastic about this one book they wrote… and one year later, I don’t see them at conventions anymore or when I do, they’re sitting in the crowd, not up on a panel (which is fine, mind you, I sit in the crowd, sometimes, because I like listening in on what some people have to say).   But a lot of people massively underestimate the sheer work involved in self-publishing.  They underestimate the grind of getting out the next book, and the next.  And they fall behind.

There’s a saying that when it comes to jumping out of perfectly good planes, the second jump is the hardest.  The first time, you have no idea what’s going to happen, no frame of reference.  The second time, standing in the doorway, you know exactly what it’s like, the rush and exhilaration… but also the understanding of what you’re doing and the lizard brain kicks in.  Lots of people freeze in the doorway, unable to move.

The same thing happens to aspiring authors.  They may have hit publish that first time, or even the second and third, in a rush of “this one will be great!”  Writing that first book is hard.  Writing the second or third one is just as hard, but a lot of aspiring authors have gone that distance.  Writing that fourth book after the first one or two didn’t land a movie deal or pay the mortgage… or sometimes it didn’t even buy the bottle of wine to drink while you hit refresh on your Amazon page while you wait for reviews/sales.  It’s hard.  It’s brutally hard to get back to writing when it feels like all your dreams have shriveled and everyone has rejected you.

How authors feel after a book launch sinks…

Success is the person who keeps on writing after that.  Success is the author who gets on the never-ending treadmill and churns out a novel regardless.  That person is a successful author, because that writer puts words on page, day in and day out.  It’s part of being a professional author.  There’s lots of “good” writers, some of them are best-sellers with tv-shows and movies, who can’t do that.  And sometimes, getting up the strength to put even a single word on the page is a herculean fight.

Success is never giving up.  If you’re still writing, if you haven’t stopped, you’re successful.  Now go out there and write your next book.

Worldbuilding in SF Part 3: Those Little Details

Wordbuilding is an important tool for any writer, particularly for science fiction.  It adds depth to a book, it helps to develop character backgrounds, and it provides a pallate on which to paint your story.  In Part 1 (link), I talked about the foundations of building your universe.  In Part 2 (link) I talked about building worlds and star systems.  Here in Part 3, I’m going to talk about those little details that really contribute to the story.

Where Does It Come From?

One of the questions I find myself asking as I read a book is where things come from.  Who made the flying car, was it a fully automated factory or the hand-crafted work of a mad-genius inventor?  All the “stuff” that your characters use and interact with has to come from somewhere, whether it’s the weapons they use to mow down the bad guys, the starship they use to travel from one world to another, or the hand-distilled gasoline they use to roam the wastelands.  As an author, knowing who made it and how the character acquired it can be important.  Maybe that ship was made by a renegade faction and they want it back, or the fuel is a rare and precious resource that people will kill over.  These are world-building elements that can tie directly into plot points for your story.  Knowing where it was made, who made it, and how it got to the characters hands can give you a lot of material to work with in your story.

Who Are The Big Players?

Knowing who the big players are in the universe is a key part of worldbuilding and crosses over into plotting out your novel.  Knowing that the antagonist for the main character in your first novel is the henchman of a greater villain that your characters will have to fight further on down the line is a perfect example.  Knowing that the ally of a player is the child of a world leader sets up some potential help or conflicts of interest down the road.  Putting names in your book isn’t necessary, but it does add some depth.  Knowing how those people interact and whether or not they get along also adds some depth and can help you to write your story.  The main characters getting caught up in familial disputes is part of the driving element of my Children of Valor series, and its something that most people can easily relate to, in that family can often be as much a hindrance as help.

Putting It All Together

At this point, you’ve gone from the big questions all the way down to the characters that fill your universe.  Hopefully you have a good grasp on how it all ties together.  That’s all great news, but right now you don’t have a novel, you have a setting.  Putting it all together, making things happen, requires characters.

Creating interesting and dynamic characters is much easier when you draw them from the backgrounds of the worlds they live in.  A renegade heir to a corporate empire who has forsaken his family’s ill-gotten gains can be all the more real when you know that his parent’s company utilizes the equivalent of slave labor in their factories.  The never-do-well mercenary with a heart of gold makes for a more dynamic and realistic character when you know that he once served in the military and was a decorated war-hero, before everything went south.

Your setting, the world you built, comes to life with characters.  They bring with them all their experiences, all their background, and they are the paintbrushes with which you tell your story.   Remember, also, that you’re here to tell a story, not to show every detail of the world you created.  Sprinkle in those details throughout, but treat them like spices when you cook, a little bit can go a long way.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other posts on world-building.  I’ve got one on Steampunk and one on Fantasy.

 

Worldbuilding in Science Fiction: Part 2 Worlds Upon Worlds

Worldbuilding Part 2: Worlds Upon Worlds

It may seem a little backwards, but my second post on world-building is actually going to talk about worlds.  (See the first post here)  While geography / celestial cartography is important, I don’t think it’s the foundation of building your universe in SF.  Why is that?  Well, you need to know how easy or hard it is to get there through technology, know how people will react when they do get there through culture, and who the players are by knowing the people.

The rest, as to what’s actually there?  That’s going to influence those things in return, but it’s still not quite as central.  The earlier post was about preparing the conditions to tell the story you want.  This one is more focused on developing the actual setting.

Worlds

Writing science fiction gives an author an amazing set of possibilities.  As writers, we can explore distant worlds that can be whatever we think up.  Those can be desolate waste-lands like Tatooine or thriving paradise planets and everything in between.

This is all about determining the setting and this is where a lot of the Science Fiction greats did things really, really right.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is a book where the planet itself is a character, which at various times tries to kill or save the people in the story.  On Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Moonis every bit as central to the story as anyone else.

Whether your worlds are arid, airless rocks or a lush tropical planets, you need to determine what your story needs.  A survival story set on a paradise planet might not be nearly so interesting as one on a world where literally everything is trying to kill you.  The Martian is a great example of a science fiction survival story where the writer makes the planet’s conditions central to his story.

If course, the conditions of the planet may tie into other things…

Star Systems

The system’s star or stars can be a huge element of a planet’s habitability.  The movie Pitch Black explored this in a pretty interesting fashion, creating a star system where a planet existed in continued light… right up until it got dark for a very long time.

Asteroids, comets, moons, other planets, all these can be important to your story.  Maybe the system has not just one but two or three inhabitable planets, maybe they’re claimed by different nations, maybe one of those worlds is undergoing a cataclysm of some kind.  The Dragonriders of Pern series had a rogue planet that brought terror with it’s return every few hundred years.   David Weber’s Honor Harrington series has a set of wormholes that made Manticore an economic powerhouse due to their central positioning for trade.

The physical world and setting is going to directly impact your characters.  Society, technology, and people will indirectly shape them, but the physical world is what they’ll see, taste, touch, hear, and feel.  If a planet is a garbage world, does it smell?  Do people from there lack a sense of smell because it has been burned out?

Beliefs and Themes

Lastly, we come to one of the non-physical elements of setting: beliefs.  This is a product of the physical and societal elements and it in turn shapes both.  What do the various cultures and sub-cultures believe in?

Has humanity spread out with a manifest destiny?  Do they shove aside non-Earth life, terraforming worlds in their own image?  Or is there a fundamentalist religion that has taken over a culture, instilling them with a reverence of all life, prohibiting violence for any reason?  Has faith in science driven a group to pursue all manner of otherwise unethical experiments, delving into human modification and genetic engineering upon their prisoners?  You decide, you shape it based upon the history and setting you’ve built, and then decide what you need to tell the story you want to tell.

Conclusion

While developing the technology level, cultures, and people of your setting was the foundation, this is like the basement.  This is the structure that supports your book. It’s there, its visible and the characters will interact with it all the time.  Building stuff here gives you the tangibles that readers will notice and that will ground them in the worlds.  Fill out these details for the story you want to tell.  Next week, we’ll tie it all together in Part 3!

Worldbuilding in Science Fiction: Part 1 Foundations

Worldbuilding Part 1: Foundation

When building your planet, be certain to select a good solid base to begin your construction…  Oh, wait.   Too literal, huh?

Jokes aside, this is going to be the first of three posts about world-building / universe-building in science fiction.  This isn’t a be-all-end-all guide, this is a process I follow while I develop the world in which I’m writing.

And yes, I’m starting with the foundations of the universe you plan to write in: technology, cultures, and people.

Technology

The tech of your setting is a determining factor for what’s available in your writing kit.  One of the first questions I ask is how advanced is this setting?  Is it near-future, far-future, post-apocalyptic, tech-retro… what is it?  Science Fiction draws a lot of its inspiration from possibilities.  What is possible in your universe?  Most of my SF universes have the possibility of Faster Than Light travel being not only a possibility, but being relatively “easy” given readily available technology.  But look at a lot of science fiction and that’s not the case.  FTL Travel opens up a broader canvas: more worlds, more star systems, more potential species and cultures to encounter.   On the other hand, if you want to limit your canvas to a smaller scale to focus on the characters or story in one location, then FTL may not add much to your story.  Or maybe the discovery of FTL, those first intrepid explorers going out is what you want to use for your story.  Whichever it is, establish the rules so you know what they are.  Hard, Easy, or Impossible, and try to determine how long it’s been that way.

The mode and method of FTL travel can be important, too.  In my Shadow Space Chronicles series, FTL travel is possible by entering a non-euclidean parallel dimension, one with multiple layers of which only certain talented people can even perceive.  In my Star Portal universe, FTL travel is achieved through development of advanced warp-drives as closely based off current physics models as I can manage.  Both of these methods have their own rules and using those rules in the stories and future ‘histories’ of those universes helps me to build a richer universe, one where characters can use their technology to solve problems.

There’s a variety of other technologies that can be important to the story you want to tell.  Artificial intelligence, Genetic Engineering and Cloning, Cybernetics, Faster than Light communications, and even psionic abilities, these are just a few of the things you may want to consider.  A lot of this, too, comes to genre.  Dystopian Cyberpunk stories may be focused on Earth where humanity never made it out to the stars, whereas military science fiction novel may involve vast fleets clashing in interstellar space.  You should already know what kind of story you’re wanting to write, this is about establishing what’s possible and why.

Cultures

What cultures are dominant and which ones are important to your story?  In my Shadow Space Chronicles series, the Chinese and Russians got out and colonized the first extra-solar planets and therefore reaped the benefit in cultural and technological advancement.  A second wave of colonists to thousands of other worlds had to travel further at greater expense or to colonies marginally inhabitable planets, which meant they were often more poorly equipped and often were economically exploited by wealthy corporations or powerful individuals.  They were also easily dominated by a coalition of the core worlds, what became known as Amalgamated Worlds.  This led to a lot of hate between the outer colonies and the inner ones, not only did they have different cultural backgrounds, but the disparity of wealth and technology made for flash-points of revolution.

See how technology and culture fed together to give me some story fodder?  Conflict between haves and have-nots is a pretty easy idea that most people can easily relate to, it also can provide conflict for characters within a story or a good background to set a story against.  Developing cultures isn’t just for humanity.  If your story is going to involve alien races, then this is also where you can plot cultures.  Try to avoid making them too monolythic.  Every society has its outliers, every nation has its internal divisions.  Developing those internal cultures can give you ideas for your actual story and can help ground that story for a reader.

People

People are where you’re working toward with this foundation, they’re what your story will rest upon, they’re the meat and potatoes of your story.  Not in a Soylent Green way, either.  (Well, maybe, you write it how you want)

Societies and cultures are made up of people.  Individuals stand out as the representatives of your worlds.  Developing a cast of people, past, present, and even future, can help you to build out your world.  These aren’t necessarily characters that your POV characters will meet, see, or interact with.  These are important people that shape the worlds and that you may mention.  People like the inventor of the FTL drive, or the person who built Skynet, or the traitor to humanity who gave away our defense codes, or the first genetically engineered person.   They’re names that you can drop into the story as you’re writing and just knowing a little about who they were and why they were important lets you keep writing and develops the world that much more.

Knowing what cultures they came from, what shaped them, and what pressures they were under to make those decisions can be a tremendous benefit.  Maybe the guy who gave away Earth’s defense codes was in it for the money or maybe Earth’s dictatorial rulers had just had his family purged.  You decide, and then you can use that to build your story.

Conclusion

Knocking out these three things will let you focus on the next steps, building out your universe so that you can then write that great SF story you want to tell.  Remember, though, this isn’t the final product, you world-build so that you can write a story.  Don’t get too caught up in world-building that you don’t actually do the part of putting words on page for your story!  Next week I’ll dive in with Part 2.

For other posts on worldbuilding, check out my steampunk and fantasy worldbuilding posts.

Enabling Others (In Good Ways)

I see a recurring theme on social media of late.  If someone doesn’t like what an author/creator is doing or the direction they took, the first response seems to be “I hate you and everything about you.”  Some of this seems to be politics and identity based, because God knows, we’ve become a fractured society of late, where every comment and complaint has political overtones whether meant or not.  Some of it is that there’s just a whole lot of negative attitudes about everything.

So what’s the point I’m getting at?  Enable other people to succeed.  If you aren’t happy with the status quo, make the world a bit better, a bit brighter.  A little bit at a time.  Don’t like a book or movie?  Send them personal feedback (I get some almost every day, I really appreciate it).  If you *do* like something, tell them that you like it.  Write a review.  If you have your own ideas of how to do it better, write the story or create the art yourself.  If you know someone who’s got great ideas, enable them!  Tell them they should write that story.  Put them in contact with writers (or artists, or movie makers, or whoever).  I found my current narrator for Valor’s Child that way.  I’ve helped friends to get books finished and to get published.  You know what?  It feels really fucking good to do that.

When you constantly bash things, this is what people think of you.

Bashing something that someone likes (be it books, movies, games, whatever) is not going to win you friends.  It’s not going to make anyone feel better, except in the miserable sort of hey, “we-hate-everything-too,” sort of way.  Embrace the positive in life, because the world is plenty full of suck as it is.

There’s a whole world of wonder out there people.  We launched a God-damned Tesla into space.  How freaking cool is that?  We live in a day and age where more information and entertainment is at our fingertips than we know what to do with.  The world isn’t ending.  The vast majority of my readers have a roof over their heads and don’t live in terror of warlords and bandits.

Being positive is hard.  Helping others is hard.  Building stuff instead of tearing it down is also hard.  But that’s how we all get better.  I’m not saying you have to like everything (Trust me, there’s plenty I hate), but it’s generally good for your mental well-being to focus on the positive.  Be like Deadpool.  You don’t have to get it all right.  You don’t even have to get it mostly right.  Just trying a little bit, every day goes a lot further than you may realize.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?  Do you want to be the person that everyone secretly came to loathe… or do you want to be the person that everyone has a good story about?  Helping other people is a way to help yourself.

Some people want to burn it all down. They’re called the bad guys for a reason.

Kal’s (Slightly Overdue) March Forecast

Hey everyone!  March is… well, mostly here and gone, actually.  The good news is that I think I’ll have two books finished up this month.  Jormungandr’s Venom (Fenris Unchained Book 3) and Valor’s Duty (Children of Valor #3) are both nearly done and I feel confident that I’ll have them out soon.

Next on my schedule is finishing off the seventh book of the Shadow Space Chronicles.   I’ve got three more books queued up to work on after that, so the rest of spring and all through summer, you should see a number of my books getting ready to come out or coming out.

As you may have seen, I’ve redone the covers of my Shadow Space Chronicles books.  Thanks to the hard work of David C. Simon as the cover artist and to Robert Brockman for the layout/formatting expert, The Fallen Race, The Shattered Empire, The Prodigal Emperor, and The Sacred Stars all have new covers.

Stay tuned and I hope to have some more posts, (including some book reviews, snippets of new books, and cover art peeks) coming out in the next few weeks.  Thanks for reading!