Friday, January 29, 2010

Focus on Character, Not Accoutrements

The phrase "steampunk" evokes a sense of the world of a novel described as such for people who know what the term means, and also has connotations of a certain worldview associated with it. These are traditionally dystopian societies that possess steam technology taken to a high level, sometimes in abundance throughout all cross-sections of life, and sometimes only allotted to the very highest sectors of life.

To be "steampunk" is to incorporate some or all of these elements into your tale. High-level steam-powered technology on its own does not a steampunk tale make, nor does slavish devotion to SCIENCE (yes, the capital letters were needed :P) above all else.

What does make a steampunk tale then?

Several factors might be included, truth be told. High-level steam technology, a dystopian government, and some sort of war making life a cruddy existence are all possible factors to include. Read pretty much any steampunk work and you can get an idea of what should be included. Many of them do a fairly good job of including the needed elements to have the label make sense.

With the technology in particular, I try to make it a part of everyday life without making it overly fantastic. By that, I mean no rocket-packs, personal propeller hats, or armaments that turn you inside out. Sure, some of those advances would be cool -- but do they really serve any purpose? Not so much.

Better to make the technology common but not over-the-top. That's one of my complaints about sci-fi stories in a lot of respects. The technology takes center stage over the plot and the characters, the very things that make us actually care about a story. If all we have are flashy gadgets (particularly in movies) then you don't get the same powerful story that resonates throughout generations.

I know, I know ... I'm starting to sound literary. There's something to be said for focusing on character though, seeing as enduring characters are what make fiction great.

Just saying.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Busy busy

Busy day today. I couldn't get a chance to even log onto the blogosphere until right now.

So, sadly, you don't get a content-rich post today.

But you do get a post!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Steampunk Recomendations

A lot of people have asked me for recommendations of steampunk works that they can read and enjoy, in order to get a better feel for the genre. I'm always happy to compose individual lists for each person, but I figured that perhaps a better and more efficient (my boss's watchword) idea is to compose a list on here that I can point further requests to.

So, without further ado, I give you the Not-All-That-Comprehensive List of Steampunk Recommendations!

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is, according to many, THE definitive steampunk work. For my money, I prefer to recognize it as the first book that pushed steampunk from minor obscurity inside speculative fiction up on the path to where the genre is today.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is one of the proto-steampunk works. Pretty much any of Wells' science fiction falls into the category of proto-steampunk. You might be asking yourself what "proto-steampunk" means. Well that particular term means that the fiction of Wells, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley (yes, Frankenstein counts) help to influence the attitude of  most modern steampunk works.

Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters is alternate history steampunk, where the Whitechapel district of London was taken over by crazy steam-fueled gods and clockwork men that battle against the "plucky human resistance." It sounds like every other resistance fights the power story, but it's kind of cool nonetheless. Read it for the worldbuilding if nothing else.

Soulless by Gail Carriger is what's called a "steampunk romance." It's a very interesting concept, based on what I've read so far, and I'm looking forward to reading the story once I get a chance (yes I bought a romance novel -- this will make two that I've willingly read).

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman are both good-quality examples of YA steampunk. Westerfield's work is alternate history, whereas Pullman composes fantasy steampunk. Both do masterful jobs at building their steam-powered worlds. And Westerfield includes an appendix explaining history as it actually happened!

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is a prototypical tale of fantasy steampunk. Some of my readers might recognize Mieville's name from his book Un Lun Dun, a young-adult fantasy, and probably already know more about his style than I do.

My plan is to add to this list of recommendations as time goes on and I find more examples of quality steampunk literature.

Your thoughts on my suggestions are appreciated, as always.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Standard Brain-Frying

Well folks, it's earnings time from now until the end of February, and you all know what that means ...

You get the occasional "my brain is fried" post, wherein I tell you that earnings has taken all my wit away for the day.

And that's what today is.

Hope everyone's well, and I promise I'll post something intelligent/witty/steampunkish tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Steampunk Star Wars

I did have something witty and insightful that I planned to post today, but between toying with the pacing of CALLARION AT NIGHT and general busyness, I kind of forgot. So instead I will today regale you with photos of Steampunk Star Wars action figures.

The view of all the characters -- Obi-Wan is on the far left and a stormtrooper is on the far right.

C-3PO and R2-D2

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker

Chewbacca and Han Solo

Stormtrooper and Darth Vader

Am I too much of a nerd if I say that I really really want to buy the entire set?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Steampunk Takes Over Edittorrent

Edittorrent has been focusing on steampunk the past few days -- go here, here, and here -- and I wanted to bring it to everyone's attention.

As a side note, if you don't already follow edittorrent, then you really need to rectify that. Alicia and Theresa, the two editors who run that blog, spend their time outside of their publishing-industry jobs to help educate writers in good characterization, enhancing the stakes of your novel, and generally making sure you put your best written foot forward.

They remind me a lot of the editing professor I had in college. You might remember that I posted about said mentor a long while back (or not, seeing as many of you weren't reading the blog then), but suffice to say that the advice Alicia and Theresa dole out is tre useful. Go read.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Callarion at Night Update -- Part I don't know anymore

CALLARION AT NIGHT has now ballooned from 231 pages, 23 chapters, and 62,000 words to 270 pages, 28 chapters, and 72,000 words. Yes, folks, I have added about 10,000 words since I said I "finished" the book. And there's a chapter I finished today that hasn't even been flowed into the main text yet -- add another 4,000 words and 13 pages.

Of course, I made half a dozen decisions to alter the storyline since I "finished" that draft too. Now, I still want my betas to read the versions they have, because about 75% of the events in the story are going to stay the same. Everything that I've sent to you fine folks will be incorporated in some fashion into this version (and might be preserved entirely depending on what it is).

Ay yi yi revisions are effing hard aren't they?

Learning From All Mediums

In order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader.

We've all heard that advice repeated ad naseum, from dozens of sources. And it is true, but I feel you can't really focus solely on reading lots of books to become a good writer. What you can definitely learn from reading a lot is grammar, plot, pacing, and characterization. However, when it comes to storytelling, the whole wide world is your proverbial oyster.

Watching movies can show you how to grab your readers from the start; watching weekly television shows can teach you what elements keep people coming back to a series time again; watching live theater can educate you on bombastic statements that thrill the audience and push them to the edge of their seat; video games provide examples of stories that keep people interested for upwards of 40 hours in some cases.

All of these mediums tell stories in different ways. And while the rules for how to do so are different in each one, you can still learn elements from all that can be applied to writing a novel. For me, CALLARION AT NIGHT and SON OF MAGIC play out like movies in my head. I see the characters moving through the frame, fast during action scenes and slow during emotional ones, and the flow of the writing changes to communicate the scene that I visualize. Now deeper, slower, more involved. Now faster, shorter, skimming along like an out-of-control motor boat.

I think of Shakespeare when writing long monologues. The rhythms in his plays speed along at a high clip, always interesting, always bombastic and engaging. I want to emulate the power of that language to inspire and excite. And fantasy games like the Final Fantasy series and Dragon Age:Origins show me the tales people will care about enough to spend upwards of 30 hours playing, and return to them time and again.

You can learn good storytelling from everywhere. All you have to is open your eyes, listen hard, and pay attention.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Typical Male Obliviousness -- Romance from a Guy's Perspective Part II

Enough with the chuckling folks. Typical Male Obliviousness -- TMO -- is a very real thing that we writers need to concerned about when writing a male romantic character (it can also be rendered as Typical Main Character Obliviousness, but we're talking about male characters right now).

Now, I wasn't going to do a second post on romance from the male perspective, but the first one garnered such a good response that I figured it would be silly to not compose a follow up.

The primary symptom of TMO is that the man does not notice the woman who's at his side through thick and thin, be she his coworker, best friend, secretary, best friend's younger sister (Harry Potter anyone?), etc. And they definitely won't notice that said woman is helplessly hopelessly deeply madly in love with them (brownie points to whoever guesses which movie I stole that last bit from).

TMO (or TMCO) can be played for dramatic (or comedic) effect in pretty much every genre. Whether it's the fantasy story that has the best female friend coming along on the quest, the sci-fi tale where the brilliant female anthropologist discovers the aliens' secrets and helps the male diplomat initiate first contact, or even the western where the schoolteacher helps the sheriff save the town.

The only qualification you need for a case of TMO is that the guy doesn't realize the girl has feelings for him. You can also use this for dramatic effect when the TMO falls away and the guy realizes how much the girl really does mean to him. This seems to happen a lot where the girl's about to leave forever and the guy stops her at the airport/train station/bus stop where he confesses the feelings he didn't realize he had. Then they kiss and everyone lives happily ever after.

How can you reliably imitate TMO in your fiction? It's relatively easy, believe it or not. Step one is to consider how observant your male character is (if the answer is "not much at all," then you're in the clear). Step two is to think how subtle your female character is, and make your male character's observation skills inversely related to that (i.e. the more subtle she is, the less observant he is). The funniest examples of TMO are, in my opinion, the ones that have the male character be a genuinely caring person but still oblivious to how much the female character wants him.

An important book to read if you want to get the full psychological reasoning behind TMO is You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Communication by Deborah Tannen. The existence of TMO, you'll find, is because of these differing communication styles, which are important to render accurately in fiction. Well, not so much accurately as believably (there are some people in our lives who no one would believe could exist if they were a fictional character).

Are there any examples of TMO (or TMCO) in your own work? Do you think I'm stereotyping men too much? I welcome your thoughts, loyal readers.

NOTE: An answer to Julie's question on the original Romance post -- the thing that annoys me the most is the bad boy with a heart of gold. It's unfortunate that so many women now believe they can change the bad boys in their lives to become good men, when more often than not that ends up not happening.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Inspiration and Decisions

One of the things I love/hate about writing is the flashes of inspiration that come when you're trying to figure out a particular portion of your story that's been pestering you for over a month (unless you can write novel in four weeks, of course).

As you all know, I finished the first draft of CALLARION AT NIGHT nearly three weeks ago. Since that time, two critiquers of two different versions have already gotten back to me (thank you both, by the way), and have presented some very interesting commentary on it. One of the big things that I'm already dealing with is the characterization of Moriah. Some additional backstory will assuage most, if not all, of those concerns, so my only concerns there are how to weave the backstory in without changing too much of the story that's already there.

That said, I've been toying with the frenetic pacing of the book as it is now. While I love fast-paced novels, and video games, and movies, there's something to be said for taking the time to build dramatic tension.

The long and short of it, folks, is that I think I'm going to drop the pacing a few notches. There's a lot of backstory and worldbuilding I have as background that, if I were to include even a touch, would make the story that much more vibrant -- and have you the reader rooting for Moriah more.

I've also been reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, so blame that book for making me think about all this. Well, that book, you fine folks, and the various mind-expanding posts I keep reading from all corners of the blogosphere. There's a lot of people blogging that are easily ten times smarter/wiser than me, and it would be silly to not take their advice to heed.

CaN might take a little longer to be declared done that I'd like ... but who am I to complain if the final product results in a home run clear over the bleachers instead of a line drive to right field?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Technical Manuals Can Teach Novelists

Technical manuals are an interesting style of writing. Not so much in the material, but in the way that they need to be composed. Every step must be enumerated to the nth degree, even one so small as "replace the screw you took out in step 5." During the course of my master's degree, a fellow student told a story about someone messing up an expensive piece of machinery because that particular step wasn't included in the order of operations.

Many of the best technical manuals, in fact, enumerate every action you have to take in the order the writers believe you should take them. Full disclosure: I don't always follow the steps in the order they're given. Bad Matthew, yes I know.

My point, as it relates to fiction, is that there are times where detail is good and times where detail is bad. One of the places detail is good is in the creation of the new world your characters populate. One that's bad is when you describe the specific actions characters take in a given setting.

Let me give you an example: "Moriah climbed up the ladder and pushed the trapdoor open."

Now, that sentence isn't bad per se, but it is a little more detailed than it needs to be.

A possible rewrite is "Moriah opened the trapdoor at the top of the ladder."

See how four words were cut without sacrificing any of the needed detail in the sentence? That's roughly the level of detail we should probably have in our writing -- just enough so you understand what happened, but not so much that you're overwhelmed with things you really don't need to know.

The technical writing background is beneficial because I tend to overwrite description in a lot of cases (as I was reminded in a recent critique), and thus I can better see where things need to be cut because of that. Or at least I think I can. That all remains to be seen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not Going Steampunk Crazy

You'll remember that on Friday I blogged about my theories for creating a realistic steampunk world. Part of that theorizing included knowing that how your world developed would determine what innovations you include as part of the steampunk aspect.

The reason for this is twofold: knowing how your world developed is good when you're playing with the political situation, and it means you won't include steampunk innovations where they don't belong.

What do I mean by putting the innovations where they don't belong? Let me give you an example. A landlocked desert nation would be at a disadvantage when it comes to steam power. They might not have the fuel resources to power the machinery, i.e. water and coal, but they might have the other raw materials -- metal and such -- in abundance. In this regard, they would probably work with their coastal neighboring nation to advance both countries in steam mechanics.

Similarly, our landlocked desert nation would see no need to build transoceanic steamers or any naval innovation at all. But they might assist their coastal neighbor, who does need steam-powered ships, in pushing the mechanics to a higher level.

Considering your world's development also has the added benefit of including just enough steam machinery to make sense, but not so much that readers question why the inventions are needed. Steam-powered rocket packs (and rocket packs in general, really) are an example. Rocket packs are cool, no doubt about it, but tend to be included simply to show the reader/viewer "hey look at we can do!"

My point, long though it took me to get there, is that a steampunk setting doesn't give you free reign to throw random cool things at the reader.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Steampunk World

Thus far in my series of steampunkery, I've talked about weaponry, vehicles, aeronautics, clothing and various other considerations you have to take in account when crafting the story. But how, you might ask, can you draw all this together into a world that has the verisimilitude needed to be an authentic steampunk setting?

Well, there's two major ways you can go about this. The first, of course, is pick all the facets of steampunk you think are cool, throw in a big ol' blender and hit puree. The second, and probably more logical method, is to consider how you want your world to have developed.

Since the first method is comparatively easy, I'm not going to expound on it here. The second method (the one I attempt to do) is much more difficult, but results in your world having a much more authentic feel than the first. There's also nothing that's stopping you from writing the first draft using the first method and then performing the second method in subsequent revisions. Moving on ...

The old saying "necessity is the mother of invention" applies to a fictional setting the same way it applies to history. If you look through the historical record, you can probably find examples of inventions that came about because the inventor saw a need for it and realized there was nothing to fill the gap. Archimedes developed his water screw to improve the method of getting water uphill; Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone to help people communicate; Galen developed the traction table as a better way to set broken bones.

For your steampunk setting, you want to consider (briefly) how your world developed and what innovations would show the greatest benefit to the populace. Airships allow people to avoid rough terrain that would've otherwise slowed them down; steamships allow quicker transoceanic crossings; steam-powered vehicles transport materials in greater quantities at speed than horse- or ox-drawn carts, etc.

Mechanized looms developed to speed the production of cloth thus speeds the production of clothing, which also might result in cheapening the quality of the clothing (not necessarily, but work with me here). Each invention has reasons for coming into being and consequences that result from it becoming popularized.

You don't have to do this for everything, mind you. Just the major innovations that have the most effect on your fictional society as a whole. War machines are easy -- humanity has always looked for more efficient ways of killing each other (and that's not hyperbole, though some days I wish it was).

As with much of the background research we authors do, this whole process will probably not show up at all in your text. Except for those steampunk machines that are needed for the plot. Which is yet another item you need to think about in crafting an effective steampunk world.

If you want any clarification on these rambles, feel free to ask in the comments or send me an email. I'm more than happy to explain myself further.

NOTE: The map of an alternate North America was taken from the website The Adventures of HMA Badger, who is part of a group called Steam Century that runs steampunk mystery games throughout the Upper Midwest of the United States.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Passing the Happiness Along

The latest award making the rounds appears to be the Happy 101, which I have to thank my Michiganer compadre Stephanie Damore for gifting me with.

If you folks give me any more awards I might have to make a standard post somewhere just to list all them. That said, I do appreciate each and every one of these fun little confabulations that I get.

The rules, as I understand them, are that I have to list ten things that make me happy. Well, here goes.

1. My wife. She's witty, loves video games as much as I do, and takes seriously her job of keeping me on my toes day in and day out. Oh yeah, and I managed to brainwash her into loving the show Doctor Who. Mwahahaha!

2. Reading. I love what little time I have to spend curled up in bed or on the couch with one of my favorite novels, or a new book by a well-loved author. It's generally either a book by Terry Pratchett, Jim Butcher, or Simon R. Green if you must know.

3. Writing. If I don't write for a really long time I start getting itchy. Of course, a really long time could be six months. Could be a year. Depends on how busy my life is.

4. The blogosphere. Y'all are a great community to be a part of. I enjoy every minute I get reading your blogs and seeing your comments on my posts. I also get a slight thrill when I find out I got another follower. And yes, the fake Academy Award acceptance speech you see pop up every so often does in fact play in my head when I see that number jump.

5. Video games. I mean c'mon, it's in the header of these miscellaneous musings. How could video games not be on this list?

6. Chinese food. My wife and I finally found a new favorite Chinese take-out place since the move. We order from there enough that the lady at the counter just hands me my order when I walk in to pick it up.

7. Baseball. My two teams are the Red Sox and the Phillies. Which would make things very interesting if there was ever a Sox/Phillies World Series.

8. Science fiction television. I don't watch much TV, but I gravitate towards speculative fiction when I do. The new Doctor Who series is a particular favorite.

9. Obscure facts and research. Everyone knows how much research I do, so it should come as no surprise that I love finding out new things. The more obscure the better.

10. Being lazy. I don't get much opportunity to just do nothing (two jobs will do that), but I relish every chance I get to just sit somewhere and not have any commitments. Speaking of which, I need to get some cleaning done tonight.

Now, for the ten blogs that make me happy. Let's see if I can actually hit this.

1.Bane of Anubis runs Bane's Blogging Blues, a collection of fixations that the self-described realists loves to tackle in a most amusing manner. I've referenced Bane multiple times on this blog, and in these awards, but his material is always good for a spit-take.

2. KatieGrrr is my favorite newcomer to the blogging scene. She doesn't have a regular update schedule, but her posts are nicely thought-provoking.

2. There are two words that describe the awesome of Rick Daley's My Daley Rant: pee shivers. Yes, pee shivers. Besides being a bastion of sarcasm himself, Mr. Daley faithfully catalogs the true adventures of his two sons for all the world to see. And boy are they hysterical.

3. Jenna from One Mystake at a Tyme has two stories out there in the e-world for people to read, including Kindle editions, and also blogs about the entertaining life of a mother. So far one of my favorite mom-stories of hers is this post.

4. K.M. Weiland over at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors recently released an e-book titled How To Create Unforgettable Characters. And she should know, seeing as her characters are engaging to a tee. She's also a prolific tutor to every follower of her blog.

5. Adam Heine at Author's Echo is a fellow steampunk aficionado and lover of all things science fiction. He draws really good too.

6. Anita Saxena at Anita's Edge is a figure skater, writer, and all-around cool person. Despite her love of the Steelers (my family's historically Eagles fans -- my second favorite football team). She also tells entertaining stories about Alabama.

7. L.T. Host at Quest: Published grants us with Mad Libs Friday every week (or most weeks, at least). She also has the good fortune to share the adventures of her three evil cats. Which she maintains are SO CUTE that she just can't stay mad at them even when they break into her dresser to steal hair ties.

So that's ten things and seven blogs. I guess I couldn't make it to ten blogs. Either way, thanks to all the above for taking the time to share their thoughts and lessons with us. I'm much appreciative of you all. And all my loyal followers of course.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lampshading of Tropery

It's been awhile since I talked about tropes, and if I recall my last post was more about the website than anything. For simplicity's sake, I'll redefine the concept here.

A trope is a character type, setting, plot device, dialogue convention, etc that you can reasonably expect readers of a certain genre to already know about by the time they get to your story. I.e. the Anti-Hero, the Hard-Boiled Private Eye, Applied Phlebotinum, Angrish, etc.

The point of today's post, however, is not to discuss the actual tropes themselves. What I want to talk about today is a concept called lampshading.

You lampshade a trope when you call attention to the trope in the context of the story. Let me give you an example from Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!:

In one scene, Captain Sam Vimes is confronting the villain of the story with the fact that Vimes knows about his nefarious deed. Now, Vimes himself is played as the hard-boiled copper, but the lampshade happens because the scene continues with the palace guards walking in very slowly because they know that a single man who's smiling at them is generally a secretly powerful ninja/warrior/hero who can wipe the floor with ten men without breaking a sweat. Pratchett continues with the lampshade by having the guards actually ask Vimes if he has any secret weapons, knows any moves that will allow him to beat them all up with simply a glare. Vimes says he wouldn't know where to start.

I hope that was a good enough example. If you need ones from television -- try Joss Whedon's body of work. He tends to love lampshading tropes left right and center.

Why am I talking about lampshading tropes? Well, I love tropes (as Stephanie and L.T. will tell you), and a good lampshade tends to make playing with a trope more entertaining, I feel, than playing the trope straight. That said, an unskilled lampshade can smack of an author winking at the audience -- but a skilled one makes the reader trust you the writer even more because you acknowledge the homage of the concept in your story. has a lot of examples of lampshading floating around. I want to hear some from you though ... what are your favorite examples of a writer/television show/movie that lampshades its tropes?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More Callarion at Night Goodness

Today's post was going to be a discussion of Steampunk as Allegory, but I realized it was going too much into the preachy arena -- and I try to not go down that route, seeing as I hate browbeating people with my opinions. Instead, I'm going to share with you one of the more entertaining scenes from Chapter One of CALLARION AT NIGHT. Enjoy!

CHAPTER ONE (page 5-7)

The half dozen men in mustard-yellow hooded trench coats were arrayed before an elderly man on one of the side streets. The afternoon sun glinted off the men’s ebony masks and the steel repeating rifles in their hands. The man they surrounded wore third-hand clothes and had a pair of goat horns on his head. An older dhalim. He held out a tray of something and one of the soldiers slapped it to the ground. The contents and the tray clattered on the dirt road.

“Malory, stop driving.” Moriah leapt from the carriage before it stopped and ran down the side street. “Hey!” One of the other soldiers grabbed the old dhalim by the arms. “Let him go!”

“Who in the Nine Hells does this one think she is?” one of the men said. Another man turned to her and removed his ebony mask. He trained piggy brown eyes on her and sneered, making his pockmarked face even uglier.

“Official business, citizen,” Pig Eyes said. “Move along.”

“I will not,” Moriah replied. “I told you to let go of him and you will do it.”

“I think not, lovely,” the soldier retorted. “Working on the orders of the Lord Premier we are.”

“Help me, my lady,” the old dhalim said. “I was trying to get back ho –” One of the other soldiers knocked him to the ground with the butt of his rifle.

“Shut up you slime!” Pig Eyes spat, and then turned back to Moriah. “My Lady, is it? Which house are you a breedsow for then?” Moriah drew the pistol at her waist and shoved it in the soldier’s face in one smooth motion. The safeties of five repeating rifles clicked off as the others pointed their weapons at her.

“My name is Moriah Esther Rowani, daughter of Archduke Alexei Brandon Rowani. I have recently spent two years in the Itzcalian jungles, which are hot, sticky, and very, very messy. Add in my fellow passengers deciding to question me, and I am in an extremely bad mood, sergeant. So you will retract your improper statement or I will put a bullet clear through your brain and that of every one of your thugs.” Moriah spoke very slowly into the soldier’s pale face. “You will then release this man, return to the Lord Premier, and tell him that he is thieving scum not worth the muck on my boots. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes, ma’am.” The soldier gulped; his eyes focused on the pistol against his forehead. “W-weapons down, boys.”

“You sure, Vril?” another man said, “There’s six of us and one of her.”

“But you men are not Senro-trained bounty hunters, are you?” Malory said.

“Malory.” Moriah looked at the butler. “I can handle this.”

“I do not doubt it, my lady. It is, however, unbecoming of a young woman of your status to bruise such ruffians.”

“Be that as it may.” Moriah turned back to the one called Vril, who was going cross-eyed staring at her gun. “Do we have an accord, gentlemen?”

“I beg your forgiveness for my insult, my Lady Moriah,” Vril’s voice got stronger, “and I entreat the good nature of the House Rowani to forgive my slight.”

“The House Rowani forgives you. Do as you are told. Now.”

“Weapons down!” The other soldiers grumbled, but they all uncocked their rifles and swung them back into place over their shoulders. Moriah holstered her gun. Vril exhaled.

“Run along,” Moriah said, “Before I decide to show you what I learned.” Vril barked at them to move, and she watched them quick-march down the street. Once they turned the corner, Moriah helped the old dhalim to his feet. “There you are, august father. Right as a spring rain.”

Vril pops up several times throughout the course of the story. I liken him to a little chihuahua who bullies people until those he bullies bite back, as Moriah does each time he appears. This particular scene also helps to establish Moriah as a heroic character, seeing as she could have let the yellow-jackets continue harassing the dhalim. Except she didn't.

So what do you all think? Good? Bad? Blah? I wait upon the edge of my seat (well, slightly near the edge ... which isn't really a healthy way to sit when you think about it).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Character Profile: Nicolai Ilyich Drovgor

One of the things I like to do on occasion is create detailed histories for each of my primary or supporting characters. Now, I could wax lyrical about this for oh say 500 words, or I could simply show you a basic format of what I do. What's that old writing advice? Oh yeah ... "Show, don't tell."

Name: Nicolai Ilyich Drovgor
Age: 31
Weight: 210 lbs.
Eyes: Jade
Hair: Sandy blonde
Build: Athletic
Rank: Commandant-Major of the King's Army
Armaments: Twin long-barreled Budurian pistols with six-round cylinders
Biography:  Nicolai Ilyich Drovgor was born in the Marketplace district of the city of Callarion, the capital of the country of the same name. He is the only child of James Drovgor and Ilsa Barianova, the explorer/ambassadors who helped negotiate new trade agreements with Anguo and Budur for access to the Deep Territories.

It was on one of these journeys to the Deep Territories that James and Ilsa's airship crashed near the top of Mount Raskali, the highest peak in the Kirvan Mountain range. Rescue efforts were stymied by blizzard conditions near the crash site. By the time emergency crews reached the Drovgors' last known location, all they discovered were the frozen corpses of both explorers and their entire party.

Nicolai, who was only ten at the time, was sent to live with his aunt and uncle -- Cynthia Bluecallow and Malory Drovgor -- at the ancestral home of the Rowani family, where Malory and Cynthia were employed as servants.

Nicolai befriended the youngest member of House Rowani -- four-year-old Moriah -- and the two remained close friends through their formative years. At age fourteen, Nicolai received a commission in the King's Army from Archduke Alexei Rowani. Nicolai rose quickly through the ranks, and achieved the grade of Captain before his 20th birthday.

It was two years later that he rekindled his friendship with Moriah when they ran into each other on the streets of the Anguo capital city, Kuan-yin. He wouldn't have recognized the sixteen-year-old firebrand as his childhood friend except for her distinctive platinum eyes meeting his across a crowded teahouse.
Love at first sight was too strong of a word.

He proposed to her two years after they first met, and she accepted his offer gladly. They planned to wed after she finished her course of study at the Senro in two years time.

Then Yuan-cho happened, and everything fell apart.

Nicolai spent a year and a half wandering the Ten Nations, finding work wherever he could, and managing to run into Moriah quite a bit more than he expected. He returned to Callarion five years ago, and his original plan was to merely join the rebellion against Lucian Rombard. Instead, as the senior surviving King's Military officer, Nicolai ended up leading it.

Through everything he's done, Nicolai has loved Moriah. He'd do anything to get her back ... including help her topple a government.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Villain's Viewpoint

I've spent most of the past two days writing (woohoo for days off!) and one of the things that I've been toying with since finishing Major Edit One of CALLARION AT NIGHT is writing some chapters from the villain's perspective.

Now, let me tell you a bit about Lord Premier Lucian Rombard -- the antagonist of CaN. His wife, Josephine, was murdered about two decades ago by half-satyr brigands who attacked her while she was on the road to the nearby kingdom of Fantova (my country that's based on Russia). He went a little cuckoo after her death, became addicted to painkillers, and fell in with the Brotherhood of Purity. The Brotherhood's message of eradicating the half-nymphs and half-satyrs appealed to him, seeing as he thought King Johannes should've been more brutal in his sentencing of the brigands responsible for Josephine's death.

The benefit to writing some chapters in Lucian's perspective is get to communicate some information earlier than I would if I stayed in Moriah's head throughout the entire story. It also, I think, gives me a chance to include more steampunk in a different setting and include additional interaction that shows Rombard's insanities quite clearly.

Now, I find villains fascinating -- sometimes more than the hero -- and I relish the chance to get to play around in their viewpoint on occasion. But I wonder if it's something that would add to or detract from the story if I included two to five chapters written with Rombard as the viewpoint character and not Moriah. I think the story flows fine without said chapters, but I'm interested in your opinion loyal blog readers.

Do you like reading things from the villain's perspective now and again? Or do you prefer to stick with the hero all the way through?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Romance from the Guy's Perspective

In the comments for my open post a few days ago, Julie mentioned wanting my opinion on writing romance from a male perspective. She also requested a post on writing "Dad" characters, which I might talk about later.

But anyway, one of the things you first have to understand when writing a romance from a male perspective is that most guys are not nearly as observant as romance novels make them out to be. I speak from experience when I say that, nine times out of ten, it's better for the women in our lives to tell us -- in a direct and clear manner -- what they want for their birthdays/Christmas rather than leave it up to our discretion. (Ask my wife about the first necklace I gave her if you want an entertaining story about my lack of observation skills.)

In SON OF MAGIC, the main female character (Astrid) is in love with the main male character (Swain) and has been for years. They're best friends and spend practically every moment they can together. Does Swain realize that Astrid's got a crush on him? Of course not.

Now, barring the fact this makes for more entertaining reading, this is a common occurrence with men and women who are friends first and romantically involved second. At least one of them (typically the guy) is clueless as to the other side's attraction. He knows he likes spending time with said girl, but beyond that he's entirely oblivious to how madly in love with him she is.

How to write this?

Well it depends on your male character's attitude. Is he the calm, courteous type or the angry, jealous breed? Does he talk a lot or is he mostly terse and uncommunicative? Is he brilliant and driven by a desire to succeed or does he lounge about and let events act on him instead of the other way around? All of these character traits determine how he reacts to the woman in the story.

One of the things to remember as well is that most guys won't put up with a woman who doesn't know her own mind for long. If she's hot one minute and then cold the next, he's more likely to give up (unless the point of your story is to unravel that aspect of her personality).

This is why romance novels are so skewed -- the men in those novels are conceived of from a woman's perspective with how she feels a man should act in a given situation. A man reading those novels (of which I've read precisely one) looks at this and goes "Wait a minute. No guy would ever say/do that."

TWILIGHT is a particular offender in this category. No guy in their right mind (even a vampire) would climb into his crush's room and watch her sleep. He'd know that's creepier than anything except maybe Hannibal Lecter in a tutu.

Anyway, I hope that answered your question Julie. Feel free to ask any followups if you want.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

And the Winner is ...

I was planning to announce this earlier in the day, but one of my judges took until now to get back to me. Also, as there previously weren't any agreements on a single entry, I ended up having to wait for her to choose before I could write this post.

That said, I have to report that the judges loved the concept and enjoyed reading all your entries. I'll start with the honorable mentions first (because I'm evil like that). These are the entries that were chosen by at least one judge.

Honorable Mentions

Bane of Anubis for "Euthanized monkey for sale. Won't bit. Doesn't like children."

Adam Heine for "Our satellites crippled, invasion was only a matter of time."

Christine H for "Shots, surgery and six months later, Snoopy gleefully strays again."

robert l'oiseau for "Even in his great agony, he mustered up a laugh." and "They came, they saw, they conquered. They had cool horns."

The award for funniest contest entry not chosen as a winner goes to Susan R. Mills for "Matt had a contest I couldn't win. I killed him." Three of the judges were amused by it, but didn't pick it to win because they felt it didn't fulfill the contest requirements adequately. I thought it was funny though.

And the winners of the First Free the Princess Ten-Word Novel Contest are ....


Adam Heine for "The aliens took our chickens. Afterward, nothing tasted the same."


fairyhedgehog for "They came in peace. If only we'd known."

Winners: Please email me via the address in my Blogger profile with your mailing address and the title of the book you'd like as your prize.

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone for participating. I loved reading all your extremely creative entries, and appreciate the contest pimpery that people undertook to do for me.

Let's do this again next year!

P.S. This marks the 100th post on Free the Princess. Tomorrow we will resume our regularly scheduled programming. (Wait a minute, this thing has scheduled programming? Why didn't I know this before?)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On Applying Video Games to Writing

Fantasy video games, like fantasy novels, are fairly substantial sellers in the marketplace. Final Fantasy, StarOcean, and Baldur's Gate are just a few of the bigger titles that immediately come to mind.

An interesting point is that many of the same things fantasy role-playing gamers enjoy are also inherent in fantasy novels -- expansive world-building, stellar characterization, and an engaging storyline are among the characteristics required to make a fantasy video game popular. Unless you're talking about the Final Fantasy series. The spectacularly bad writing/cheesy storylines are part of the appeal for those games. Personally I think it's a case of translation decay -- the games are written in Japanese and then translated to English without (it appears) any sort of rewording of the dialogue.

Games like Dragon Age: Origins, a beautiful dark fantasy from BioWare, are possessed of all the above qualities and become wildly popular as a result. Of course, Dragon Age is also billed as a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, one of the biggest selling RPGs in recent history.

What can we writers learn from these video games?

One fact stands out. In non-sports games, story trumps everything. People will tolerate mediocre/cliched writing if the story is spit-shined to a high gleam; heck they'll even spend hours of their time if some of the mechanics are wonky (my wife's complaint about the Dragon Age combat system) so long as the story is fascinating enough.

Don't misunderstand me -- a book written in green crayon on 2-ply toilet paper won't sell even if it's the next Twilight -- and you need to have a basic understanding of good grammar, depth of characterization, and how to evoke emotion, but all those concepts are secondary to having an interesting story.

You can fix practically everything in your writing. Except the lack of an interesting story. Focus on developing that first, and you're well on your way to a big seller.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crazy Days and Open Post

Between reading over critiques of CALLARION AT NIGHT, work, and ... well ... work. I neglected to think up a pithy blog post about writing, steampunk, or any of the various other insanities this blog devolves into on occasion.

So I figured I'd open this post up to my loyal readers. What do you want me to talk about in the coming days?

And no, the suggestions don't have to be serious (I heard that sigh of relief, Bane).

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Silver Lining Award

It seems the longer I do this blogging thing the more awards I receive. Which is a good thing, of course, even though it seems like my sidebar is soon going to be filled with awards various people have given me over the course of this blog's life.

That being said, I'd like to thank Stephanie of Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel for gifting me with The Silver Lining Award.

Apparently, the "rules" of being given the award are that we have to share things that make us happy/help us to relax and potentially pass the congratulations on to our fellow bloggers.

Well, I can do the first part, but the problem with the second part is many of the people I'd give this to already have the award. I think I'm going to continue saying if you don't already have the award then consider yourself honored. It's kind of a cop-out, but it's also the only truly fair way to pass this along.

Things that make me happy/help me to de-stress:

1. Video games. There's something quite freeing about playing a good old-fashioned RPG like Dragon Age: Origins or one of the Final Fantasy titles. I've become a devotee of the Xbox 360 ever since my wife bought one for herself a few years back.
2. Reading. Sadly I don't get to do this all that much. Between working 65 hours a week, household chores, and various other demands on my time I tend to not have a lot of quality reading periods thrown in there. I still loves me a good book when I get the chance though.
3. Meditation. Again, something that I don't do too often anymore, but it's very helpful to just concentrate on your breathing and nothing else.
4. Movies. Much like reading, it's relaxing to lose oneself in a good story.

And that's pretty much it for the window into what helps me to de-stress and see the "silver lining" in life.

NOTE: The Ten-Word Novel Contest winner(s) will be announced this Thursday, January 7, 2010. Thanks to everyone for their entries!