Tuesday, June 5, 2012

World Building and Swearing *gasp!*

The reason for my blogging hiatus can be found in the title of the post. That's right. World building and swearing. Who'd a thunk it could take months from your life? Maybe swearing really is evil.

I have been engaged in an all out revising war with my manuscript. I had a deadline to get a revised copy my editor (yes I made it, just under the wire) and so began the war. The trouble started while brainstorming 12th Dimension book 3 with my writers group. We had just read and discussed the first draft of book 2 and discovered how much set up was lacking in order to provide book 3 with a satisfying conclusion. This meant R.A.G.E. itself needed to be put under a major remodel if I was to ever be able to write book 3. This involved taking a major character with a bare bones back story and giving her her head.

Yes, I had to descend into the mind and the alternate-dimensional world of this character and build her world. It went well, honestly, as much as it scared me. I enjoyed the world building. I loved/hated writing the character (she's psychotic and I didn't like being in her head) and I sent off the new chapters to my writers group.

They read and mere weeks before my deadline, we discovered some holes. As I mentioned above, this character I've been fleshing out is psychotic. And she swears. A lot. The trouble was, my writers group didn't feel like it fit in her world. In my new world of science, logic and for the most part non-religious, the expletives we use in our society whether they be religious terminology, or biological terminology, simply didn't work. As one of my Alpha readers stated, "Swearing is cultural and you've created a different culture."

No, this is not about propriety or offending people's sensibilities. This is about being true to your world. So began weeks of research concerning this topic. My aforementioned brilliant-Alpha-reader suggested looking up one of the Writing Excuses podcasts (go and listen because it took me an eternity to find myself) about religion and world building.

What it came down to is this: Find something that your world's society cares a lot about . . . and take it in vain.

Electricity/power is of supreme importance, lack thereof would be worth swearing over. Science/facts are important, philosophy and possibly religion would be looked down on. (I'd love to add some of my made up cuss words in this post, but I won't. Mostly because I'm getting more protective of my novel the closer it creeps to publication.)

What this exercise really did for my novel, (aside from discovering and creating some cool words for my characters to yell at each other) was that it made me dig deep into my world and discover what matters most to the society I've created. I had to think of history, wars, leaders, conflicts, religions(or lack thereof) and build it from there. It gave depth to the surface story I already had on the page. It gave my characters deeper motivations and their opposition clear motivators as well. And it made the make believe world feel real and ancient. And after all, isn't that what a fantasy/sci-fi writer is going for?

All that from the need for my characters to swear authentically. Who'd'a thunk, eh?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Unreliable Narrator

So you’ve got this great story in the works. Excitement, tension, wonderful characters. But someone has to tell the story. Which of these characters should it be? Let’s pick one. The villain? The hero? The secondary character?

Ah, I have it. Let’s call our narrator Ezra. Now Ezra has been misunderstood and victimized his whole life. He’s ready to make a change, and not just for himself, but for poor, misunderstood victims the world over. So he gathers his courage. He plans. He collects resources. He sacrifices everything he has for the greater good. He is a hero, or will be when it’s all over.

The day arrives. Ezra kisses his cat farewell, grabs his bag of tools. He gets into his car, drives to the nearby police precinct and bravely blows the entire building sky high with everyone inside.

Ah hah! So not the hero then. But he sounded like the hero. Courage, sacrifice, greater good. Aren’t these words we usually use when speaking of a hero? Of course. To Ezra, he’s a hero. To the mass population he’s a monster.

Ezra speaks from his experience and his tainted view of the world. He sees the police as an evil entity, destroying his freedom and that of others. He sees himself as the champion, saving all those other misjudged victims(criminals)from having to answer for their unorthodox activities(crimes).

You can’t believe anything he says because chances are he’s not seeing the world as it actually is. He is completely unreliable.

This isn’t bad writing, or even bad characterization. Unreliable narrators are some of my all-time favorites. They lead you along. They make you believe in their world. They give you the gift of walking in another's shoes and understanding them no matter how misguided they may be.

Now this doesn’t only apply to villains. Your hero can also have a very tainted view of the world. They may see everything too rosy or too dark. Too black and white or too grey.

The trick is to allow the true world to be visible to the reader. You must allow the reader to be able to read between the lines or see past the narrator’s blinders. This takes the reactions of other characters to your narrator and using the world’s standard moral code to do your work for you among other things.

Sometimes you don’t even know the narrator is unreliable until you find yourself questioning their thoughts or actions. Hey, you totally thought Ezra was a good guy. Right? Right!!??

If done with skill and subtlety, the unreliable narrator makes a wonderful character filled with depth and interest. If used to your greatest advantage, the unreliable narrator can give you the greatest twists and surprise endings of all time.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Fine Art of Injuring Your Characters

Way back in the first draft of R.A.G.E. about a third of the way through the book, my characters had a moment between themselves where they thought they’d throw my tentative, new-writer outline out the window and have it out with each other. The result: a very fine, sweet-ish character was shot.

I had no intention of allowing this to happen but when it did, instead of reining the rebellious characters in, I went with it. It worked out fine. I managed to write my way out of it while the incident added depth and a whole lot of tension to the remaining book. It was, for all intents and purposes, a fantastic turn of events—for a first draft.

Since then I have spent hours and hours of time and energy either worrying if I got the details right, or researching and researching to make sure this incident is not only plausible, but realistic. It might have been all well and fine if I could have just sent her to a hospital and skimped on the details but since the characters had hijacked the story and added this piece of flavor, there was no way I could get my character to a doctor soon enough to be able slide over the specifics. Therefore: stress, rewriting and RESEARCH.

To put into perspective the kind of research necessary to make this work for my manuscript let me detail what was involved.

1. Where did the bullet enter her body?

Easy? I think not. My character has to deal with this injury for several hours after it happens and she has to be conscious for most of it. Not only conscious but able to function to a certain degree. So I looked at the obvious places i.e. any place but the torso and head. Then I had to narrow down the location even further by eliminating places with major arteries and nerve clusters. I didn’t want to cop out my using a hand or a foot. The characters wanted her to be shot then by darn it was going to be bad…only not too bad. I finally settled on a delightful little place that would cause a major problem but leave her able to function. You want to know where it is? Well you’re going to have to do what I did and plow through books on anatomy, muscle and bone structure, central nervous system and the circulatory system. Or you could just read the book when it comes out. *wink, wink*

2. What kind of gun and bullets were used?

Well the gun part was easy. My characters are military. Army Special Forces to be precise. The character wielding the weapon is of low rank and thus has only the most basic military weaponry. An M-16? No, too unwieldy for the location of the shooting. It had to be a military grade 9mm Berretta. This worked out well for several reasons. The 9 mil is fantastically accurate but doesn’t have the stopping power of other, heavier handguns. Therefore if you’re going to get shot by a shaky-handed private with poor aim, the Berretta is the way to go.

The bullet issue on the other hand has been a bit of a dilemma. Did he have standard full metal jacket rounds used for shooting on the range or, since they were on their way to a military operation, had they been issued armor-piercing or hollow-point rounds? For the sake of saving a very fine character from dying I settled on the full metal jackets.

3. What kind of reactions and symptoms should the character present in the face of such an injury.

This one has been a work in progress. This in the one that needs the most detail and constant updates until you can get the injury resolved. But careful now. Too many updates and your readers get fatigued, too few and they wonder if your character is really still injured.

I started with the basics: blood loss, shock and pain. It worked but was it entirely accurate? What tiny details was I missing? I finally cornered a good friend of mine at book club the other night. She has been a registered nurse for many years and currently teaches nursing at a UVU. I laid out my character’s injury and what she needed to accomplish before she could receive medical attention. Suppose she had access to some medication, what would help her the most in her situation? She would need first aid for shock and other characters would have to watch her constantly for reoccurrence. Would a basic field bandage work to slow blood loss? Etc. It was quite a long discussion.

4. Did the bullet remain in her body or did it exit?

Exit. It had to be. A bullet retained in the body would be too excruciating and cause her to fail before she could make it through the scene. This one question was the one I wrote and rewrote many times before I settled down and did serious research on her injury. It was really the question that completely encompassed the other three. The right kind of weapon, the right kind of bullet, the right place for entry and her resulting symptoms had everything to do if the bullet exited or not. Once I identified this as THE problem the rest came fairly easily—if you can call massive amounts of research easy.

I’ll admit that I have become a great fan of injuring my characters. It provides wonderful tension and realism to a scene that may be missed if you’re afraid of hurting your imaginary buddies. This works especially well for action/adventure novels or really anything where a weapon is involved. Often times it’s easier to make our characters Superman so we don’t have to deal with the above research, but even Superman had Kryptonite.

Be warned though, an injury done wrong it will annoy readers who know better. This actually goes for any research. Our last book club book was thrashed during our discussion because of some very inaccurate details concerning medication a character was taking. There are several nurses in our club and the sloppy research ruined the story for them. It made everything else the author said less believable

Do your research! And if your characters must injure each other make sure they do it right. Like they say, a bullet is easier to put in then take out. Or research out, as point in fact.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012 Will Birth a Trilogy

You heard that right. Er, if you've been following my blog at all you already know all this but I'm going to spout about it anyway.

Yes. 2012 will birth a trilogy. Actually it will probably birth a whole lot of them, some starting with the first book, others finishing with their third...but I ramble. There is only one I'm supremely interested in.

The first book in the 12th Dimension Trilogy, R.A.G.E., by yours truly, will be released late 2012.

I'd like to say I have an exact release date. Right now it's tentatively planned for 12/12/12.

I know cool right? The first in the 12th Dimension Trilogy released on such an awesome once in a life time date like that.

I'm only telling you this because it's time for you to start working on your Christmas lists for next Christmas. And saving. Perfect for all the people on your lists who like action, adventure, lightning, guns, crazy people and love. Come on. That's everyone. Right?

So my New Years Resolution this year involves: finishing the last book in the trilogy before the first one comes out. That's right. I have an entire manuscript to write before December. Now having already finished two it should be old hat. Right? Um. Actually I'm staring at the measly 5,079 I have finished of said manuscript and am wondering how in the !@#$ I did it the first two times.

Don't worry about me. Finishing is a New Years resolution and those are never broken. Right? Right . . .?!?!

What resolutions are you determined not to break?