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Thoughts on Writing – Using Foreign Languages In Your Stories

Recently, I’ve been making edits to The Multiverse Chronicles. It’s a pseudo-steampunk fantasy story, and it’s very much not historically accurate. We’ve got dragons, dinosaurs (all right, all right, I know pterosaurs technically aren’t dinosaurs, but still), dirigibles, magic powers, a dragon queen who rules over Britannia, an Industrial Union of Prussia that makes automatons… The list goes on.

Still, we want to have occasional nods to reality, and it’s nice to know which parts of history we’re butchering before we actually butcher it. Since the world is supposed to (vaguely) resemble our own world, we’ve been trying to add flavor through various means, and our latest method has been to insert little snippets of other languages where appropriate.

For example, one of the end scenes of the Multiverse episodes involves a group of airship pirates. The name of their dirigible is mentioned, and the name is supposed to be in German.

Of course, neither Isaac nor I know much of anything about the German language, which is a recipe for potential issues.

In this particular scene, Isaac wants the name of the ship to roughly translate to, “The Spirit of the Iron Vulture.” The first step to renaming this in German was to use Google Translate.

However, from our experiences with Spanish classes in college, we know that online translators aren’t necessarily that reliable. So, whenever I try to name something or use a word that isn’t English, I may use an online translator to start with, but I will usually run it through multiple translators, and then take that translation back from the target language to English to make sure it translates correctly both ways. (I’ve had a few interesting translations when I tried that particular method, as the translator might have had the right word, but not the right meaning). I also try to look up whether words should go before or after one another, if there might be any changes to how the word looks based on what it’s modifying, and anything else that might be different in that language.

For Spanish, this isn’t quite so difficult because I’ve had a few classes, which helps me know what to look for. Even then, I’ve had a beta reader correct my Spanish grammar, and that was helpful to getting the sentence right (I had the wrong verb form).

For German… well… I don’t know German.

I’ve picked up a couple words here and there from Hogan’s Heroes. (Not exactly conducive to knowing how a language works).

I really wasn’t sure what we were looking for in naming conventions, especially since the name we wanted had the “of the” portion. Then I remembered that a friend from college had studied German, so I figured he might be a someone to ask. I sent him a Facebook message, and he was able to offer quite a bit of help.

When in doubt, ask someone with more experience than you.

When Isaac first chose the name, he ended up with “Der Geist Eisengeier.” (Note: If your ship’s name has “the” in the beginning of it, don’t forget to translate that as well). With a bit more checking, I ended up with “Der Geist des Eisernen Geier,” but it seemed a bit of a tongue twister (which I probably pronounce wrong, anyway, since I don’t know German pronunciation rules). Anyway, we asked if it would be feasible to shorten the latter to the former, but our friend pointed out that without “des” (of the), we would end up with a really long, run-on noun. He suggested “Der Geist Des Eisengeier” as a compromise, though he pointed out that German ships would often have longer names.

Isaac and I chose the compromise (Der Geist Des Eisengeier), though knowing about the longer names factor definitely makes using the full name a more feasible option.

As a writer, half of the process of story research is knowing what to look for. In this case, I suspected the language rules might be different from English, but I didn’t have enough knowledge on the subject to know where to begin. At this point, asking someone who does know (or at least has more knowledge than you) is a good way to find a decent starting point. This can be used for language, culture, special procedures, technology… anything. Of course, the more you read, the more you know when you should conduct research, and the more likely you’ll catch where you might have problems before a reader does.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. 🙂 Have you ever had issues with adding words from another language into your manuscript?

(Another good example of doing writerly research can be found at Thrill Writing, a blog where the author interviews various experts about specific topics which are helpful to fiction writers.)

 

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Thoughts on Writing – Sweating the Small Stuff

At the latest writer’s club meeting that my husband and I attended, I read a scene from The Multiverse Chronicles to see if I had cleared up a few problem spots we’d found when I read the scene at the previous meeting.

Overall, the description seemed to be taken care of, which opened up the ability to notice other little details that were out of place.

For example, in this particular scene, the main character, Trish is meeting with various members of the Britannian army. The story doesn’t revolve to heavily around the military operations, but there are some present… and Isaac and I aren’t exactly familiar with military procedures (About the closest reference I have is from Stargate SG-1… which doesn’t exactly count, and I really didn’t pay attention to the military side of things. I was much more fascinated with Daniel Jackson and his archeological endeavors. There’s also M.A.S.H., but it’s been a while since either of us have watched that show. Of course, these are TV shows, so those might not be the most helpful references).

Anyway, one of the other writers questioned whether or not Trish (a private) would salute the corporal.

This is the section:

Trish had arrived at Corporal Smith’s tent, stepped over the sabertooth cub who slept at the foot of the door, then stood at attention in front of the quartermaster’s desk.

 

Of all the offices in camp, this was by far the tidiest. Every paper was neatly tucked in its proper manila folder, and each folder was labeled and placed in a metal divider with further library codes etched into their spines. Several bookshelves lined the walls of the canvas tent with books tucked alphabetically by author and several notable gaps between the books, most likely where Cornwell hadn’t returned them.

 

This time the lower shelves were empty. A few books were stacked haphazardly on the top shelf. The tell-tale teeth marks on their spines suggested that the sabertooth had thought them a chew toy, and Smith had disagreed.

 

“Can I help you?” he asked, eyeing her cautiously.

 

Trish saluted the corporal. “Yes, sir. Colonel Pearson wanted me to read The Honour of Tactical Flying, fifth edition.”

 

“Author?”

 

“Sir James Cuvier, sir.”

 

The quartermaster selected a stack of papers from its proper folder, skimmed through the names on his list, then winced. “Sorry, Private. I’m afraid Sergeant Cornwell has that book.” He gave her a pitying look.

 

Trish sighed. At this rate, she’d never get everything done. “Thank you, sir.”

After the meeting, one of the writers asked someone who had been part of the (US) army, and they said that a private would not salute anyone who is not an officer, and since a corporal is not an officer, Trish would not salute Corporal Smith, nor would she refer to him as “sir.”

Now, I’m not sure how this compares to the British army (especially of the given time period), so Isaac and I may need to do some quick research to compare the two, but this does give us a good reference point to start from.

On the bright side, The Multiverse Chronicles are supposed to be more on the fantasy side than the alternate history side, so we’ve got a  little bit of leeway than if we were trying to write military fiction with a lot of historically accurate details.

Either way, I’ll be making a few adjustments.

A different example of small stuff to consider is period anachronisms.

Another writer at the meeting had their story set in 1995, but the policeman in the story was pulling a cellphone out from his pocket and there were computers being used to check where a patient was being held in a hospital.

I wasn’t sure that this fit the time period (mostly because I was thinking that’s the problem horror films have nowadays… they have to explain what happened to their protagonist’s cellphone), so I questioned that.

As such, another member said that they thought the police might have had cellphones at the time, but they would have been worn on the hip (not small enough to fit into a pocket), and that the hospital probably wouldn’t have been using computers at the front desk.

By having someone other than ourselves take a look at our manuscripts, we authors can catch anachronisms or potential problems that we would have missed before they get too ingrained into our plots.

In some cases, these problems aren’t too big of a deal. They’re “the small stuff.”

On the other hand, these problems have the potential to throw a reader out of their reading, and so it can be good to remove as many problems as possible… or make sure there’s an explanation in place (or you could just lampshade it… though make sure you have a good reason to do so).

There’s a lot more I could cover here, so I may make another post about a similar topic later.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. 🙂 Have you had beta readers point out things like this in your manuscripts?

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Thoughts on Writing – Creating a Fantasy Map

I recently received my final beta-reader comments for Magic’s Stealing, and I’ve been making edits (I’ll be doing a cover reveal soon!), but today I’m going to focus on one of the ideas that the beta-reader suggested, which was to include a map of the region.

A lot of fantasy stories include a map of some sort as a way to help readers envision the layout of the land, or the city where the story is taking place. Maps can be used to enhance the feeling of the story (seriously, take a look at the map of Middle Earth) and one article I read suggested that a well-drawn map, which includes elements of the story, can make the world feel more real. It’s sort of like having an artifact from the world itself.

I’ve debated before on including a map, but I originally put the idea aside because I wasn’t sure if I could make it look professional, and also because I didn’t want to lock down the distances before I finished the series.

Then my husband pointed out, having a map would be a good tool for future reference. Not only that, but I wouldn’t have to include it in the first edition of the ebook. I could wait until I release the print edition, then update the ebook at that time.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the steps I’m taking to create the map. I have a rough guide. When I wrote the first draft of this story twelve years ago, I also drew a map in Paint. It’s horribly inaccurate

The estate where Toranih lives probably shouldn’t be as large as the capital city of Cirena. The Cantingen Islands probably shouldn’t be quite so tiny. And there are plenty of other problems.

SBibb - Old Cirena Map

Original map… made many years ago

My husband suggested that I start by writing down the places referenced in the story, then taking note of their directions and the amount of time it takes to travel from one place to get to another, as mentioned in the story.

So I went through Magic’s Stealing and searched for key phrases related to traveling. Minute, hour, road, travel, east, west… etc. I didn’t include directions within buildings, such as going downstairs. Just the kingdom and the cities.

This is what I found in Magic’s Stealing through a basic search.

Fifteen minutes later, Toranih reached the place of the healers. (From the seer’s cottage, jogging)

 

In minutes they had left the square behind and pounded into the lower city. (Riding hard on horseback)

 

“We’re two hours from Viyna. A guard could stop here, and we’d be reasonably undercover…” (At the mountain forge, riding on horseback, not rushing)

 

They fled into the heavy rain, mud spattering them on the road to Viyna. (From the Covonilayno estate)

 

…and then stormed through yet another portal into the temple in the northern district of Ashan. (Directions within a large city)

 

The girl was cold and shadowy, colder than the northern village of Reveratch. (Region layout)

 

“Go to the northern tunnel. Tell Cafrash to send more of his shadows into the city…” (Directions of a tunnel)

 

“This is it. Sid-Dreh.”//“What’s Sid-Dreh?”//Siklana pushed Toranih out of the way and squinted at the plaque. “South and west, respectively…” (Cardinal directions in Old Cirenan)

 

…but many of them used the communal oven in the marketplace that had developed in the eastern side of the city. (Layout of Viyna)

 

The marketplace brimmed with travelers from Ashan, the eastern port. (Region directions)

 

The ribbons streamed into the sky, a dazzling array of colors, then fled East, away from the city in a glaring river. (Direction the magic is stolen, from Viyna to the mountain forge)

 

“…If the Trickster branches into the Islands or crosses the sea to the eastern lands, there is no telling how quickly he could rise.” (Region layout)

 

Ferta was several days out, even by carriage. (Regional layout)

 

“…When I’m at the academy, I practice in the forest outside of the city walls.” (Reference to Cirena City)

While I may not want to draw out the tunnels on the main map, having a map may make the tunnels be a little more understandable. At this point, though, I’m seeing potential for some interesting back story. How far out do these tunnels actually extend? As you’ll see in a bit, the distances between cities and towns is much greater than the original map suggests. Do the tunnels extend to other cities? Are there towns or dwellings I haven’t mentioned before? Or do they open in the middle of nowhere?

Anyway, instead of trying to mark out the full range of a city or estate, I’m considering following the lead of a few other maps I looked at, which use a basic symbol to designate the location of a city or important landmark. In order to figure out the rough scale, I’ll need to look up the average travel times of riding horseback or walking, and then place my locations based on that scale.

According to this site: http://www.lrgaf.org/guide/writers-guide.htm horses can walk 3-5 miles per hour, trot 8-10 miles per hour, canter at 15 miles per hour, or gallop at 25-30 miles per hour. Now, keeping in mind that weather, type of horse, and condition of horse will effect speed, let’s go with the idea that we’re talking about a horse with decent stamina and who hasn’t been tired from a lot of riding. And let’s go with the idea that the roads in Cirena are of decent quality, and the map is counting on non-rainy days. A general internet search suggests that a fit person can walk 4 miles in an hour (or 1 mile every fifteen minutes), on relatively flat terrain.

So… now that we’ve got some numbers, let’s look back at the descriptions pulled from the story.

Fifteen minutes later, Toranih reached the place of the healers.

In this scene, Toranih is jogging/quickly walking to the temple. She is in reasonably good physical condition, as she’s trying to train to be a guardsman. I had a hard time finding a single average for jogging, so let’s just say that she’s walking. In this case, she walked a mile to reach the temple from the seer’s cottage. If the temple is supposed to be relatively central in the city, then Viyna may be a couple miles wide.

In minutes they had left the square behind and pounded into the lower city.

The characters are riding hard in this scene, but they are likely cantering instead of galloping due to street layout and rain. At the quoted 15 miles per hour, a quarter of a mile per minute, and let’s say 4 minutes, then they have traveled 1 mile from the courthouse to the lower city.

“We’re two hours from Viyna. A guard could stop here, and we’d be reasonably undercover…”

Here, the characters reached the mountain forge by riding on horseback. They took it easy, probably walking or trotting, which puts us at 3-10 miles per hour. Let’s say they traveled at an average of 5 miles per hour. The mountain forge would be roughly 10 miles from Viyna, or if they had cars and a 60 mph speed limit, ten minutes to drive. Picture someplace that takes you ten minutes to drive to on the highway, and now you have the rough distance. (And the kingdom suddenly feels much smaller).

It was going to be a long week (of traveling through the wood).//Scene break//After a full day of assuring her sister that not only were bandits rare in this forest, but she was protected by two mages and– ahem– a well-aimed knife thrower, Toranih finally led Starlight to the forest edge. The dusty road from Viyna to Ashan wound its way in the distance around the edge of the forest. Though the road was smoother, the route jogged several miles north and was usually filled with travelers, adding almost a week to the trip when a couple days of hard riding through the forest would do.

They’re in a hurry to get through the woods, but it’s been raining and they’re somewhat tired. Let’s say their pace averages a fast walk, at five miles per hour, for seven hours of the day. That’s 35 miles a day, or 175 miles after five days of traveling. According to the narration, the road between Viyna and Ashan that avoids the forest adds a day to the trip, whereas hard riding (when possible), gets them quickly through the forest. Say ‘hard riding’ is 7 hours a day (based on 7.5 hours I read somewhere on the internet…which I don’t remember where now and may not be all that accurate) at 10 miles per hour due to rough terrain, so that would be 70 miles per day, or 140 miles in two days.

If they took the road directly from Viyna to Ashan, instead, then they would be walking 7 hours a day, 4 miles per hour, and let’s go with a full seven days, approximately 196 miles. Granted, if they stop to rest one or two of those days, and that’s been taken into account, then the distance isn’t quite as great.

But I went ahead and plugged 196 miles into Google Maps to get a comparative distance with a road I’m used to traveling, and eeps.

Ranging from 140 to 200 miles wide, that forest is much larger than what I was picturing.

This is why having a scaled map is a useful tool for world building. Even if you don’t give the readers the actual scale, you can figure out relative distances without having them wobbling all over the place.

So, for my test run, let’s say that this forest is 140 miles. I picture the edge of the forest not being too far from Viyna, maybe a quarter mile, and maybe a couple miles from Ashan. For the Cantingen Islands (which are mentioned in the second book as being ‘near’ to Ashan but without a more concrete detail), I went to look at the distances from other islands to a mainland. Miami, Florida, to Bailey Town, Bahamas, is about 55 miles out, according to Google Maps and a trusty ruler.

Let’s say the Cantingen Islands are 60 miles from Ashan.

Now, let’s look at another city…

Ferta was several days out, even by carriage.

Horses trot at 8-10 miles per hour, and I read that a pair of horses pulling a carriage would move faster than the average horse alone, so let’s go with 10 miles per hour. Then 8 hours of riding for 4-5 days, we’re looking at around 320 to 400 miles away.

It doesn’t even fit on my initial map attempt.

SBibb - Cirena Map Test Run

Then my husband reminded me that people rarely travel in straight lines. There’s hills, glades, rivers, lakes, avoiding certain unfriendly estates, resting the horses… a number of things that could increase the time, but not the distance.

So I took my current references, redrew a map that actually includes geography, replaced the cities with the scale as a general guide, not rule, and now I plan to check the narration to revise for the updated travel times (or have them be a little more accurate, anyway). I don’t plan for this to be the final version (since it’s missing a few cities and roads), and I probably won’t put this in the ebook.

But it should make a lot more sense than the original version–other than the fact that this map has the mountain forge at 90 miles away from Viyna, which doesn’t exactly work for the story.

Oh, well. It’s a starting point.

SBibb - Cirena Map Updated

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever tried making a fantasy map? What difficulties have you run into?

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Thoughts On Writing – Using Subplots To Tie Everything Together

Last time I blogged, I talked about figuring out what happens next in a scene. That process helped me out considerably with the scene I was working on, along with a few scenes before that. However, I’ve been running into a new problem–figuring out how to get the ending to fit together.

The story I’m currently working on is supposed to be a romance with science fiction elements. One of the scenes I visualized for the ending was… well… not romantic. The characters stay together, but there’s this looming shadow of oppression hanging over them both.

Not exactly a happy ending.

I tried day-dreaming alternative ways the scene could play out. I originally had Special Forces tapping Cole’s phone, and so they overhear when Amy says that Mr. Rivera is a member of Challenge, a supposed terrorist organization. But then my husband pointed out that, as Cole’s supervisor, Mr. Rivera would be the one to hear the message first.

No Special Forces agents descending on the group, leading to a major fight scene that doesn’t end well for anybody. Not unless Tamara called the police earlier, but that didn’t make sense with her motives.

So I started plotting what might be said if Tamara and Cole sat down confront Mr. Rivera directly. One of the things I pictured Mr. Rivera saying was that not all members of Challenge were the bad guys. Then I realized that I already had the elements in place to include an actual bad guy who was working for Challenge.

All in the form of a separate subplot that I’d largely forgotten.

This is a scene from earlier in the story, one which made me realize I had an undeveloped subplot waiting to be used.

“What took you so long?” Amy looked up from her phone and raised an eyebrow. She was probably playing an EYEnet game, or something like that. “Get lost in the cafeteria? Or did you meet somebody cute downstairs?” She eyed my empty laundry basket suspiciously.

 

“Unless you count the police officer, not really.” I dropped onto the bed and yawned.

 

Admittedly, the guy had been cute. Light brown hair, closely cropped to his head. Square jaw, and a smattering of super-light freckles across his cheeks. Didn’t look badly built, either. But I’d been too worried about the ‘painting’ to dwell on his looks.

 

“Police officer?” She frowned and lowered her phone to her lap. “What happened?”

 

“Someone drew a picture on the wall.” I sighed, already removing my phone from my pocket to show her.

 

“A policeman came for a picture?”

 

“Not just any picture.” I passed her the phone. Her green eyes widened as she stared at the picture I’d taken. “You okay?”

 

I wrestled the phone back from her fingers. Her knuckles had gone white from how tight she was gripping that thing.

 

“Yeah,” she whispered. “Wish I’d thought of that.”

 

I blinked. “What?”

 

She laughed dismissively. “Using laundry detergent to paint a picture. It’s imaginative. Even if it is… well… you know.” Her voice dropped off, and her lips twisted into a frown. She was still eyeing my phone.

 

“Should I delete the picture?” I asked.

 

“What?”

 

“You know… so it doesn’t look like I’m supporting them?”

 

She scoffed. “You? Supporting them? Please. You’re like… the community ideal. Or you will be, if the whole EYEnet Match thing works out. You already reported this to the police, didn’t you? That’s how they found it?”

 

I nodded.

 

“Then you’re fine. Long as you weren’t the one who painted it.” She swiveled around to her computer.

 

“I’m fine? Someone around here is painting terrorist symbols on campus. In our dorm.”

 

Amy shrugged. Her blond ponytail bobbed inconspicuously. “I’m not worried. It’s probably just a student wanting to cause a ruckus. And even if it is someone from Challenge, I still wouldn’t worry too much. Didn’t you read those articles I gave you? Most those people probably aren’t going to do an outright attack. They need allies, not enemies, and attacking innocent people isn’t going to win them brownie points.”

Originally, I had planned for Amy to be the one doing the painting, since she has ties to Challenge. But as I wrote this scene, I got the distinct impression that Amy wasn’t the culprit. While I want readers to wonder if she is the culprit, this scene is also foreshadowing. If I weave in other incidents similar to this one, I can hint that there’s someone else on campus who is leaving behind these symbols.

Someone being reckless.

When I get to the scene where Tamara and Cole must choose between reporting to the police that Mr. Rivera is part of Challenge, or working with him, it helps if they have someone to rally against. In this case, a rogue member of Challenge who might actually be a threat.

The stakes are high for both sides. If this rogue is discovered, they draw attention to the ‘good’ Challenge members–Mr. Rivera and Amy. In addition, if this rogue makes an attack, innocent people are at risk. Since Tamara is interested in finding out the truth behind Challenge, she’s likely to get involved. Cole may get involved to protect Tamara and learn more about his supervisor’s (Mr. Rivera’s) secrets, while Amy would get involved because she wants to dispel the notion that all members of Challenge are terrorists.

Thus, by following a subplot that got planted earlier in the story, I may have a way to bring both sides together, raise the stakes, and still have the potential for a happy-ever-after.

But that’s still to be determined.

Now that I know someone other than Amy is leaving the symbol in public places, I’ve got to decide who they are, what they want, and how far they’ll go to get that.

Lesson learned? Subplots can be a helpful tool to move your story along and flesh out the world.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever found a piece of foreshadowing or minor subplot to be useful later when writing a story?

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Thoughts on Writing – Figuring Out ‘What Happens Next?’

As you may have read in my last blog post, I’ve been working on a new adult, science fiction romance set in the Distant Horizon universe. Which has been… interesting, to say the least. Romances in that particular universe have a habit of not ending well.

However, since I challenged myself to write a romance, and not a science fiction story with romantic elements, that means I’ve got to figure out how to give my hero and heroine a happily ever after with each other. Or at least a happy-for now ending.

*Head-desk.*

Right now I’m working on the climax. I’m in a lovely spot where I’ve figured out what triggers the ending… but not where to go from there.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Quick back story: Tamara is the main character. She doesn’t have powers and she craves stability (and a stable relationship), but secrets bug her to no end. Meanwhile, Cole (the hero), is a telepath working under Mr. Rivera, who has ordered Cole to date Tamara so that he can get close to her best friend, Amy (who has successfully concealed her powers), to see if Amy has ties to a so-called “terrorist” group, Challenge. There’s plenty of secrets surrounding them, which Tamara is trying to unravel.

Got all that?

So here’s the precursor to the scene I’m on.

Tamara figures out that Cole has telepathy, thanks to her long-running interest in super powers. She calls him out on it, and though he physically can’t tell her everything, he gives her enough information that she finally realizes that he has some kind of telepathic block holding him back. While he’s trying to work around that block, Amy bursts into the room. (She’s Tamara’s roommate and doesn’t expect to find them nuzzling). Cole instantly notices that his powers have been shielded. Since Amy was already scanned a while back… and she didn’t show as having powers, Cole attributes this as proof that she has a rare set of powers and that she may be working for Challenge. He runs off to report to Mr. Rivera because he’s worried for Tamara’s safety if Amy is involved with Challenge.

Shortly after their talk, Mr. Rivera reports to his superiors (his actual superiors, he’s a double-agent for Challenge) so that he can try to recruit Amy. But Cole doesn’t know this, so he’s moping around thinking that he’s just sent away the best friend of the woman he likes.

Meanwhile, Tamara goes to Mr. Rivera’s office in hopes of getting information from him about Cole’s strange behaviors. Instead, she finds an empty office with a folder of incriminating evidence on Mr. Rivera’s desk that suggests the counselor is a member of Challenge… along with a note that has Amy’s name on it. Worried that he’s going after Amy, she tries to contact her best friend. After no response, Tamara then contacts Cole to confront him and see if he had any idea that Mr. Rivera was a double-agent. Cole is perplexed, since Mr. Rivera has been his supervisor for the last several years. But he begins to question himself when Tamara shows him her evidence.

This is where I run into problems.

Tamara has just enough information to be suspicious of the government’s motives, but she has no absolute proof. Cole, on the other hand, has long believed that his powers were a result of the plague he survived, and Amy has been rather vocal in her distrust of the government’s recent actions. So when Cole explains that Amy might have blocked his powers, Tamara is not entirely surprised. But she has evidence that, prior to the plague, Challenge was typically a criminal group (and they had super powers), so she’ not ready to trust them immediately, despite evidence suggesting that Challenge might no longer be criminal. If the government has been corrupted, Challenge is not be the bad guy everyone thinks they are. However, if the government hasn’t been corrupted, then Challenge is most definitely the bad guys.

Back to Tamara and Cole.

They could sit around and hope for the best, (but that would be boring and they have enough evidence to be worried for their friend’s safety), they can call the police, or they can investigate on their own.

In order to figure out what should happen next, I needed to look at the whole picture, even that which isn’t going to be shown to the readers.

Let’s figure out what’s going on with Amy and Mr. Rivera, even though we may not see this particular exchange in the story.

First of all, I needed to know what Amy could do to get out of a tough situation. If you recall, she’s a shielder, which means she can block powers. More importantly, shielding is a combination of three powers: life-spirit, radiation, and power steal. That’s a pretty nice combo to have, especially if she has any training. Given that she’s been meeting with her cousin, a member of Challenge who would want her to protect herself, it’s certainly not impossible. In addition, her power blocking skill is coveted by pretty much every group involved.

People want her alive.

Mr. Rivera, on the other hand, does not have powers, but he does know of a ‘key’ that has been telepathically embedded in Cole’s brain that would allow Mr. Rivera to issue commands to Cole… which Cole would have to follow. The particular process could be experimental, though, and may not always work properly (especially if anyone else knows they key).

The question, then, is the order of events after which Mr. Rivera learns that Amy has powers and might be sympathetic to his cause. He might inform someone in his group that he’s going to approach a potential recruit in case he needs backup. Or he might approach her directly. If Amy has a night class, he might wait until she’s done with class and try to talk to her afterwards, if he’s not afraid of scaring her off. (Granted, I’m not sure about taking this route, since a similar scene happens in Distant Horizon).

Or Mr. Rivera might contact Amy shortly after he learns what she can do, and not bother talking with other members of Challenge. He tries to approach her directly, and thus meets with her in a semi-public place to ease her concerns.

As for Amy, she would be skeptical. She knows that the government is trying to weed out people with powers. But she’s also been trying to get involved with Challenge, so she might take risks that she wouldn’t otherwise take.

Let’s say that Amy skips her night class and goes to meet Mr. Rivera at the coffee shop in the student union. She’s in public, so she’s not meeting a stranger in a high-risk situation. But she’ll have to be careful about demonstrating any of her powers. If innocent people notice and she causes a scare, the security involved may just wipe out the whole area and claim the campus was devastated by the plague.

Wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Now that we know where Amy and Mr. Rivera are (not in a secret facility, like I initially day-dreamed, though that may happen later, depending on the outcome of this scene), let’s jump back to Tamara and Cole.

If Tamara and Cole call security because they’re worried for Amy’s safety, they’ll be questioned and a search will go out for Amy and Mr. Rivera. If Cole mentions Amy’s powers, Special Forces will get involved and everyone’s chances of surviving gets really slim.

This makes for a difficult happily-ever-after, though it has nice stakes if I can figure out how to get them out of trouble. Amy can fend for herself, while Tamara and Cole could potentially help them escape (not quite sure how yet), unless they go the ‘bad guy’ route and go pro-government, entirely believing Challenge is the bad guys. (This could happen if Amy and Mr. Rivera aren’t careful of what they say).

But if Mr. Rivera has a chance to explain himself first, he may be able to prove that the government has been killing off people with powers, and doing a few other nasty experiments on them, too. Cole, with his telepathy and persuasion powers, would be a perfect test subject for their major experiments, and Cole can’t be certain they would let him go after Mr. Rivera gets captured, even if he complies with their orders (and does he even want to? His life hasn’t exactly been his for the past few years).

If Cole agrees to help Mr. Rivera, they could get Amy to safety, and then Cole has to find some way to stay in the country without drawing attention to himself. Or he could flee altogether.

In the meantime, we have Tamara. She would want to protect Amy and get answers, and she would get a lot more transparency if she leaves with Mr. Rivera. But then she wouldn’t be able to see what’s going on from the inside the way that Amy has. By playing the part of the ‘good citizen,’ Tamara might be able to help other people with powers escape.

But then she wouldn’t have the stability she longs for.

Here we have a sacrifice on either end of the spectrum. Does Tamara flee the country, in which she gets the stability she longs for and a more definite idea of what’s going on? Or does she stay behind to pass along inside information to Challenge and help others escape? How does Cole figure into this equation?

This story is supposed to be a romance, after all, with the two of them discovering that they want to be together.

Maybe Tamara remembers that Amy has a night class, and decides it would be best not to jump to conclusions. Cole asks if she’s had dinner yet, and she hasn’t, so they decide to head to the cafeteria while they wait. But once they get there, they see Mr. Rivera sitting at a secluded table chatting with Amy.

But this feels like it has lower stakes, unless they make a pre-emptive call, only to discover the Amy and Mr. Rivera in the cafeteria, and security quickly descending on them…

I haven’t quite decided how this scene plays out, but I’m another step closer. By looking at the whole equation, the potential actions of each character makes a lot more sense, and gives me more room to play while narrowing the options to a logical path.

So… will they call security? Or will they set out to find Amy themselves?

To be determined.

I hope you found this post helpful. 🙂

What do you do when you get stuck with a scene?

Further Reading:

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/08/dont-know-how-to-end-your-scene-heres.html

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Thoughts on Writing – Humor in Dark Places

After recently watching the full series of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and getting started watching season two of Agents of SHIELD, my husband and I noticed the stark contrast in the style of storytelling. The Last Airbender has a lot of lighthearted humor, with a few dark moments interspersed throughout the series. The first episode in season two of SHIELD is mostly dark with very, very little humor. As such, my husband and I began thinking about the roll that humor can play in the dark moments of  a story.

Let’s examine the two shows closer.

Agents of SHIELD: While the first episode didn’t have quite so many cheesy dramatic pauses that the first season did (one of our qualms with the show), it seemed very gritty and dark. There’s a lot of bad things going on for the characters, so the dark events make sense. Character with brain trauma? Okay. Taking away the one happy point about his character and the entire episode in a big reveal at the end of the episode? Not so okay. The plot twist was actually pretty nice– I didn’t see it coming and it was foreshadowed without being obvious. Good.

But here’s the kicker. During the entire episode, there were a few lines of witty banter, but not much in the way of humor. And without that humor, we didn’t really feel like we had any breathing room. My husband pointed that part out, which reminded me of a blog post by Chuck Wendig about Game of Thrones. Anyway, there was all sorts of awesome stuff happening on screen, all sorts of juicy tidbits that I want to see play out in SHIELD, but if the rest of the season lacks points for breathing, I’m not sure if I’ll really be interested in returning to watch further episodes.

When we watched the next episode, that episode played out much better for us. Despite the heavy matter linked to that previous episode, we had breathing room. Moments of humor, things going right for the good guys, if not completely right, and the character with brain trauma found someone who may be able to help them. The problems are still there, but there were little moments of humor that kept the episode floating, even with the dark moments.

By episode three, I was hooked again. Though I don’t remember many particularly humorous moments (there was one involving a twist on what the viewer expects, due to the information withheld), there were a few, and the action and information was paced well enough to allow for breathing room while still thoroughly holding my attention.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: My husband suggested that part of the problem with the first episode of SHIELD seeming so dark is that we could have used a transition series. We just finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s an absolutely amazing series, in which I could easily gush about the characters… (Uncle Iroh is my favorite character, and Toph is so cool…). *Ahem.* (WARNING: There are a few spoilers for The Last Airbender in the rest of this paragraph.) The Last Airbender an anime that, while it has it’s dark, sucker-punch moments (the crazy sister, Azula and when she has her breakdown; Uncle Iroh when he’s in the prison cell and pretending to be a desperate old man (this guy is anything but desperate, so when you first see him groveling, it hurts), also uses a lot of light-hearted humor to break the tension and offer breathing room. Sokka is pretty good at this. He’s the humor guy with some really bad humor, but he helps ground the other characters.

Which brings me to my next point. Stories which are dark can (and probably should) have moments of humor. The main character might not be laughing, but as the reader, we can. There’s many ways to do this. There might be witty banter, a miscommunication, a character reaction that is just too classic that we have to laugh. Or an unexpected reaction. These scenes shouldn’t take a reader out of the story, but they should allow a reader time to breathe.

Continuing with The Last Airbender theme, whenever there was a goofy, over-the-top humorous episode, I automatically assumed that the next episode would probably be dark. There was a case where they had a set of short episodes in one, in which I was trying not to get teary-eyed on the one about Uncle Iroh because he was going about his day all happy and perky, and then it reveals what the day means to him and it was so sad… But in the previous short ‘episode,’ we saw Sokka having a Haiku rhyme competition in which he was trying to impress a bunch of girls. The mix of light and dark moments made for a stronger show, and those moments tied into all of a viewer’s emotions, allowing us to ride a wave without pounding us needlessly against a bunch of really blunt rocks.

Part of this is pacing, knowing when a reader might need time to sit back and take everything in. A story doesn’t have to be entirely pulse-pounding action. Carefully placed moments of humor, or moments of sadness in a comedy (it works both ways, a comedy can have some really heart-rending moments), don’t have to distract from the story. These alternate emotions enhance the story by giving meaning to the other emotion. You can’t have the high without the low, and you can’t have the low without the high. I can’t remember what book series it was (Maybe Pendragon, by D.J. MacHale?), but one of the characters (the villain, I think) said that the most terrible defeat comes after what you think is your greatest victory.

Having both light and dark moments makes the moment when a character succeeds or fails against all odds that much more meaningful.

There was a one-on-one role-play campaign my husband ran in which the team my character was on had suffered some major losses, and one of the characters I cared about had just been captured. Of course we were going to try and rescue the guy. I went into that campaign thinking that at least one of the main team members was going to die, especially since it was the last episode of the story. We’d already had some near misses, and we had recently lost another character who wasn’t the main character, but still very likable. Yet, against all odds, we took the rescue mission by storm, and not only achieved our goal, but far exceeded it… we won. Were we still in hiding? Yeah. But none of the main characters died, and we dealt a major blow to the baddies (at least for the guy who had been a pain-in-the-rear the entire time). It felt like we had saved the world. I actually went and played The World is Saved song afterward.) The feeling was amazing.

But that feeling wouldn’t have been quite so amazing without all the dark moments and the near misses that came before. There were serious moments, but there were also some very humorous moments as well. I look forward to writing those episodes once my current projects are complete. It’s going to be a while, but I have notes! *If I can read the notes. My handwriting while trying to play a character in a campaign is atrocious. There’s scribbles and arrows and half-written sentences everywhere.*

While working on The Little One, a prequel novel to the Distant Horizon series, I had a lot of fun playing with the dark and light moments. The story revolves around a very powerful but childlike spirit who possessed the body of girl who recently died. It’s in a world with powers, but Little One’s powers are beyond normal, and no one is quite sure what to make of her. The scene below is an excerpt from when Knight first encounters Little One, right after she takes the host body for her own and still isn’t quite all there.

The scream had come from the hole, but it didn’t belong to the girl. It was the man’s… a primitive, terrified scream that sent a flock of birds fleeing into the clouded sky. Then everything was silent. Deathly silent, save for the distant cries of the police force who was trying to catch up.

Knight swallowed hard, preparing himself for anything, then raced through the portal.

He was immediately blind. The cave was darker than the night above, and his flashlight and the portal’s glow did little to illuminate the place. He scuttled behind the portal and dropped to a crouch, willing his eyes to adjust quickly.

To his surprise, the sliver of light coming from the hole above him was brighter than he expected. It cast a soft line across the body of a man stretched across the ground. Just beyond him was a little girl, no more than five. She sat on a mound of rocks, swinging her legs.

She looked at Knight.

He looked back.

She didn’t blink.

He did.

He jumped, half expecting her to reappear right next to him, then chided himself when he realized she hadn’t moved from her perch. Late night television getting on his nerves, no doubt. He was wide-awake, on the last vestige of a caffeine high, and he’d been overextending his powers beyond any reasonable hope of a decent morning.

He had every excuse to be jumpy.

But still… shouldn’t a child blink? They couldn’t all be expert stare artists.

Knight shook his head of the notion, determined to keep his wits until he could crash in a hotel room, then slowly stood. “I’m here to help. What happened?”

If this sequence reads the way I intended, there should be a lot of tension. Knight, who’s been running on very minimal sleep and just had a run in with ‘ghosts’ in a previous sequence isn’t sure what’s going on, and there’s a dead body of the man who murdered the girl’s family nearby. Then there’s this little girl sitting on a pile of rocks who isn’t acting quite… normal. But there’s also humor, based on his interaction with the girl and based on his expectations.

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. 🙂

Another good post I found on humor: 7 Tips for Adding Humor by Rhoda Baxter

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NaNoWriMo 2013

Hello everybody! We interrupt this week’s usual cover reveal (Next week I’ll be revealing the details behind a new cover, don’t worry), to remind all you writerly-inclined folks out there that NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. A couple days away. As in, I really should finish reading through my current manuscript (Distant Horizon, book 3, part 1) so I can be ready to start writing part 2 of book 3. Anyways.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s National Novel Writing Month, which just so happens to be set in the busy month of November. You set out to write 50,000 words in one month, racing against yourself to crank out the rough draft of a short novel. (Or, if your like me and some of the other rebels out there, starting your word count as of November 1st to finish a current manuscript). The goal isn’t to have a complete, polished manuscript, it’s more to motivate yourself to keep writing, not get hung up on going back and re-editing, and simply get that idea that’s in your head down on paper… or in computer hard drive space.  The computer works a lot easier for that word count check in the end.

There’s no punishment for failure, it’s all in good fun. I’ve participated in one year previously (2008, that nice, reasonably quiet freshman year of college). Though I ended up trunking that particular novel, a few of its characters have snuck their personas into my other works. As have a few ideas. Even if you don’t use your story later (I didn’t even try editing that one), you may still find some good from it. Plus, it’s fun to watch your word count slowly heading for the 50,000 mark, and if you want a writerly community there to cheer you on, they’ve got the forums, too.

So, what are you waiting for? Got a novel in mind? Always wanted to write but never had the excuse? Want to get that pesky first draft done? Then check out NaNoWriMo’s website to get started. 🙂

http://nanowrimo.org

So, anyone else out there participating this year? 🙂

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