Sunday, October 19, 2014

Covering All The Bases

"Recompense" is well over 70k words now, even after I went back and excised a fair chunk. Things are smoothing out, so I decided to relax and do some gaming. The idea was to unwind and let my brain rest. Get it off writing for a while and just kick back. Naturally, since I usually play either RPGs or shooters with strong RPG elements, I got involved in analyzing the story line of a quest that my character was given.

How does this relate-connect-apply to novel writing? Bear with me.

Nothing wrong with the game's quest on the face of it. A priest had lost something while exploring an old ruin, and wanted my character to go fetch it. About as standard and routine as a quest could possibly get. But...

There's a problem. This is one of those games with multiple dungeons, and you never know which dungeon is going to be randomly chosen for the mission. As soon as he got the assignment, the hole in this approach became clear. And there is no excuse for this kind of thing, given the abilities of modern hardware. Back in the days of 8 bit or 16 bit processors, it might have been understandable. But games are sophisticated enough now that it shouldn't happen. This was simple sloppiness and getting a product out the door before it was properly finished.

Not only was it far too high level for my little character, but there was no valid reason for a feeble old priest, who was doddering along on his last legs, to be down at the bottom of a hellhole like that in the first place. He never would have made it down there to lose his whatchamacallit to begin with. Plus, the priest didn't offer any advice, didn't offer any protective amulets, or anything else. Just instructions to, "Fetch it."

Now we get to where this ties in with novel writing. I have read more than one novel where the protagonist, or some other major character, was jammed into a position because the plot called for them to be in a certain place at a certain time, and the author plainly didn't bother to think it though. They just yanked some excuse out of their backside and stuck the character in the right location, then went back to the main plot line. This. I. Not. A. Good. Idea.

A storyteller has to think through ALL of the details. Small things matter, most definitely You might be astonished at how anal retentive some readers can get about even the most minute points. But in the process of polishing and straining at gnats, we can't let the camels wander through the tent unobstructed.

Everyone looks at a story through the lens of their own life experiences, and everyone notices the details that they have been trained to look for. An editor or a teacher focuses in on the typography, sometimes even to the point of glossing over serious plot holes. A free spirited artist reads a story and criticizes it for not being avant-garde. Someone who likes "literary" works will complain if a character is not introspective enough.

But *everybody* notices if your protagonist marches off to battle without his rifle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Behind Schedule

I am running behind my originally intended publication date for Recompense. People have been inquiring, so I wanted to let everyone know that one of the reasons I haven't been posting online much is because I have been writing my book.

Progress is still being made, but health issues are slowing me down. I wanted to have it out the door a couple of months ago. Good intentions, road to hell, etc.

I am plugging away. On the good side, I think and hope that it will be the best of the three. I am going to do my best to see that it is.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mark Twain Was Absolutely RIght

To a novelist, that man's advice is worth its  weight in diamonds. Over the years I have read a lot of things that Twain wrote about the art of telling a readable story. But nothing has ever been more useful to me than his advice about what to do when a story stalls out on you, and you just don't know where to go next with it.

He said to do nothing. Literally nothing. Put it away for awhile and forget it exists. Some of his books sat in pigeonholes for years while he waited for the writing to break loose again. I had recently hit that point with "Recompense" I know exactly how the final third of the book is going to go. I have the first third written. But the middle third refused to shape itself into a configuration that would join them up.

I was about to shove my head through the drywall. Then I remembered what Twain said and I quit cold turkey. Started doing anything and everything. Different stories, moving furniture, yard work, organizing my office. I started game modding (which I plan to continue, this is starting to get interesting). I did just about everything there is to do around here except write on my third book.

This morning I woke up and the movies were playing in my head. The plot inconsistency was fixed. The rough patches were smooth. Progress has resumed. Proves once more, if you need advice go to the voice of experience.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Modding A Game To Tell A Story

Lately I have started trying to teach myself how to mod Skyrim. I picked that game because I already own it, the toolkit has been out long enough to have most of the bugs either worked out or worked around, and there is an encyclopedia of information floating around about how to do things with it.

The reason why I am doing it is a bit more complicated. I used to do a little game modding back in the days when Doom and Heretic first came out for DOS. In those days it was a lot simpler, because you couldn't really do much besides make a small level and drop in a few items. Scripting was a non-starter back then. Modern game systems are a bit more complex and flexible.

For one thing, I want to continue learning for as long as I continue breathing. Just as a matter of principle. For another, I suspect that the next level of storytelling will eventually include the integration of text and visual art. Much like paper books routinely include illustrations, I anticipate that ebooks might someday start to incorporate video supplements. I have seen things like that attempted before, but in the past the available tech was simply too crude to make it look good. That is changing, rapidly. People are already posting YouTube trailers for their ebooks. How far is it to go from that to embedding video in the book itself?

For another thing, it stimulates my muse. Looking at a story in my mind is different than looking at it in 3D. Framing a series of "what if?" questions when developing a plot line in a book becomes a different order of business when the book has an AI and starts to answer you back, independently of your own subconscious. And modern scripting languages are not really that much more complicated that the Basic or DOS batch files that I first learned to use back in the dawn of electronic civilization.

I may never get good enough to let the public see any of it. But I really think it will be an excellent exercise for stretching my ability to think in four dimensions while tracking multiple plot lines simultaneously. At least I hope so. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Temporarily Pulling Songs of Chaos

I am unpublishing Songs Of Chaos temporarily for revision. One of the major advantages of self-publishing is the ability to control your own work. Sales have not been satisfactory, and I have several improvements in mind.

I fully intend to re-publish it, once I am satisfied. This is my first attempt at a commercial sci-fi novel, and I usually tend more toward the fantasy genre. I am still hitting my stride. I learned quite a bit, I think, while writing the sequel and I want to bring the entire series into a consistently flowing pattern.

I am not setting a release date. Songs of Chaos, Second Edition, will be released when it's done, and not a minute before. For those who already bought the first edition, hang onto it. It might be worth something to a collector someday:) You never know. Everyone started off as an unknown.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'd like to take an informal poll

Not even anything as formal as a poll, really. Just curious about something. I believe I am noticing a real difference in not only the type, but also the tone of reviews that are posted for independently published books as opposed to those works that are published by the larger publishing companies. I wonder if this is simply my impression, or is there something to this?

What I mean is that the general focus of reviews seem to zero in on some things more than others, depending on how the book was published. To give only one example, I hear a lot about how indie publishers need to pay close attention to quality. This is certainly true, and a fact that no one can reasonably dispute.

It is also true, and I have seven books in front of me to prove it, that 'mainstream' publishing houses put out work that is loaded down with typos like mis-spelled words, missing commas, misplaced punctuation marks, missing verbs and nouns, entire missing sentences sometimes, etc. Yet I cannot recall (I welcome anyone who can point me to one) a single review of a book published by a major publishing house where these flaws were dragged out and complained about.

The assumption seems to be, still, that anyone who publishes their own work is an amateur, and their work should and must be regarded by amateur standards. I spent over twenty years in the professional world, writing non-fiction technical documents dealing with contracts that amounted to tens of millions of dollars. I also assisted in writing some laws and regulations that were later put into effect. I can speak with some authority when I tell you that there has never been a document written that would pass the tweezer test.

The disturbing part of this, to me, is NOT that we indies are being held to a higher standard than the big publishing houses. Given the recent quality of what they are putting out, we can exceed their best efforts without breaking a sweat. The disturbing part, to me, is that so many of us are still doing this to ourselves and each other.

Is it just me? Am I being paranoid?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

This Scares Me. This Scares The Hell Out Of Me.

This particular piece of tech? Maybe, maybe not. It's the attitude that that freezes my blood. When I was a kid and watched horror movies about this, it comforted me to know that it was all fantasy, and no real human could bring themselves to do something so evil as to pervert the basic code of human life itself. That was before I studied history.

The link is HERE . At first glance, it reads as harmless enough. It's just coding, right? Everything is synthetic, right? Until you dig into the subject deeper and find out that they have already been making real chimeras. Viable embryos of mixed human/animal DNA. So far the embryos have all been killed.Except the useful ones, of course...

10 Ways Science is Using Hman-Animal Hybrids (Discovery.com

Human-animal hybrid embryos (BBC)

Scientist urge rules for human-animal hybrids (LA Times)

US Army: 'Super Soldier' Genetically Modified Humans Won't Need Food, Sleep

I wrote a short story on this subject a couple of years ago. It wasn't until I had actually written and published it that I learned I was behind the times. Way behind the times. England, I understand, is a world leader in this stuff. But everyone else is not far behind.