Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

DNA!

For all my multi-tasking and jack-of-all-trades-ness, I can be very single-minded at times. Almost everything that I learn in the Real WorldTM is immediately translated into my ability to convey plausible fiction. New recipes spark ideas about how a species might season their food. Taking my motorcycle apart is incorporated into how an individual works on her magic-powered vehicle. The texture of my cat’s fur correlates to the texture of an alien animal’s soft, glossy pelt. The unspoken social hierarchy in a certain group of people brings up questions on how another culture might function in a similar situation. You get the idea.

I am greatly fascinated by natural sciences – zoology, anatomy/physiology, evolution, botany, geology, astrophysics, and more. I am passionate about these subjects because they’re incredibly interesting to me, because I like understanding this amazing world in which we live– and because I want to use that knowledge to enhance my geofiction and my writing. It’s good to have a seemingly unique, seemingly possible idea to incorporate into a piece of worldbuilding; it’s much, much better to have the education and knowledge to back up that theory.

As part of my current walk in life, I plan on self-educating myself on the sciences in much greater detail than I’ve so far learned them. Natural sciences come first, followed by social sciences (especially psychology, religion/mythology, and ancient history), and then whatever else I’m curious about and might put to use (such as mechanics). I’m not doing this solely for my writing, but it is one of the primary motivations to find some solid texts and teach myself some of the innumerable things that I don’t know yet. Plus, it’s awesome! These subjects, this world, this universe, are all bizarre and beautiful. Lessening my ignorance will only teach me how much more there is to appreciate in this life.

How far do you go in the name of your craft? Do you casually pick up shards of information as they become necessary, or do you eagerly dive in to study the pillars on which you stand?

Image Credit: Crestock Creative Photos.

I’ve been mindspewing creature-designing and worldbuilding ideas in preparation for writing Oh, The Inhumanity!, an e-book on creating truly non-humanoid species, and I think I feel the tiny little flicker of a would-be rant guttering in my chest.

See, I have a pet peeve. Non-humans should be non-humans. In science fiction and fantasy alike, most of your non-humans are what I would consider humanoids – symmetrical bipedal races with human-parallel physiology and psychology. Some different clothing, a bit taller or shorter (or skinnier or wider – hi, elves and dwarves), pointy ears, colorful skin, and an accented version of the common tongue, and voilĂ ! You have a humanoid. We, as human readers, can relate to the humanity of the race and its individuals, while (hopefully) appreciating the differences in body and culture.

That’s fine, that’s cool. That’s a distinct class of non-humans that are purposefully similar to humans for very understandable reasons. They’re the easiest to work with in fiction and most relatable for our audience.

When a book introduces a giant quadrupedal predator who still thinks like a civilized, social human, I get my hackles up. C’mon, guys. They aren’t human. Give them a difference. Let’s broaden our minds, shall we?

Imagine, if you will, a human being born with a set of animal behaviors and instincts. This is still a human in body and will be raised as a human, in human society, but its base instincts are some animal instead of evolved monkey. This person is inherently, innately, undeniably inhuman. If he’s a tiger, he’s going to have to balance social tendencies from his human rearing with completely antisocial tendencies from being a lone predator. There will be immutable qualities in the core of his psyche that are not human.

Imagine, if you will, a humanoid born into a human society. Even if she’s raised as a human, she’s going to have different base instincts and behavioral tendencies, as well as some moderately different physiological needs, depending on her specific race. Even though she will be effectively multicultural, she won’t lose her innate inhumanity that is her birthright as a non-human. She’ll likely experience internal (and possibly external) conflict over her adopted culture and her instinctual heritage.

Now, imagine a humanoid culture in its infancy. This species is now at the apex of their physical evolution and progressing into civilization and probably technology. For the sake of this example, say they have never met humans – they’re in a secluded land, or on a different planet. They don’t have our monkey instincts; they have their own. How differently would they develop, even if they have human-parallel bodies and neurological structures, when their core is unshakably inhuman?

Do I really need to ask you to imagine how different a non-humanoid race would be from us?

A Korat is not human. They do not have opposable thumbs; they do not stand on two legs. They have fur, claws, sharp teeth, and a predator’s set of movement-oriented senses. A human can gaze into a sunset and marvel at the incredible masterpiece of color and light; a Korat will look at a sunset and notice far less of the stationary detail. A human will see a blur of dull color in the underbrush and wonder if he imagined it; a Korat will watch a rabbit run and be able to count its strides out of the corner of his eye without even focusing. A human has different social needs than a Korat, different emotional and instinctual reactions to pain and fear and anger and sadness, and different ways of expressing himself. A human may react to danger with noisy aggression or cowering fear, while a Korat may react to the same situation by becoming completely still, alert, and poised to move – without any emotional investment.

Even when I find inhuman non-humans in fiction, I often find cases of human-envy. We are humans, so it’s natural that we’re human-centric. But Korats don’t pine for opposable thumbs or a bipedal gait. Korats don’t wish they were technologically advanced. In fact, Korats are Korat-centric – surprise! – and have a lot of racial pride. They like how their species is, and they don’t feel any inclination to become less like a Korat and more like anything else.

Humanoids certainly have a strong place in fiction, but I’d love to see more non-humanoids take a shining role with their differences and, yes, their incomprehensible alienness.

Have you ever created a non-human race that was truly inhuman? If not, why?

Of all the people in the world, a fiction writer seems to be one of the least qualified to tell you to live in your body. Especially one who works as a computer geek. I spend my work and play hours on a computer, sitting down and trying to avoid numb-butt syndrome by stretching every now and then. I type 119 words per minute without any particular effort. I can tell when a graphic-in-progress in Photoshop is a pixel or two off. I’m a certifiable dork.

Who am I to ask if you’re present in your physical flesh?

Since we’re asking questions, how about this one: If you’re writing any sort of physical motion, how will you describe how it feels if you haven’t lived as a spine-flexing, muscle-contracting, blood-pumping body?

Everyone knows that writers can and do write things they haven’t personally experienced. “Write what you know” is a common adage, seemingly in contradiction to our immense imaginations. Take them both in moderation and consider this: how different would a short story about drag-racing be if the author had never even gotten his driver’s license? How would you write about a long cross-country journey if you’ve never walked through the woods? Sure, research and second-hand stories are great, but do they really replace personal experience?

Stephen R. Boyett wrote a great article about The One True Thing. He writes fantasy, but he gathers as much real-life experience pertaining to that fantasy as possible, so that he can include genuine details that make the unbelievable a little more real. Tiny things like road signs, the oft-overlooked decorations on large buildings, and that one tree that juts up from that hill over there when you’re driving down the highway. As a result of these True Things, his readers can suspend disbelief all the more easily.

And, really, can you write a story without ever having a physical body moving?

Are you present enough in your own skin to make it believable?

Give me the one true thing. The sudden rush of heat following a sharp pain; the sensitivity of your fingertip when a long nail is suddenly chopped short; the itch of a necklace chain on your collarbone. Make me believe that your character is just as alive as me – even if he’s the farthest thing from human you can get.

Live it, and let your stories benefit from your life.

I have a veritable history with NaNoWriMo. I began participating in 2003 and, with one exception, have won every year since.

In 2003, I had written only one novel before; it was The Dark Wars, an unfinished Young Adult story about the most memorable and violent time in Lavana‘s history. It spanned five spiral-bound notebooks – yes, I had written the entire thing by hand. But, in 2003, I was a fast typist, and my NaNovel was done on computer. It was entitled Seeker, a story about two gay boys in college trying to find themselves and finding each other instead. (Shh. It wasn’t a real romance, I swear.) While I got 50,000 words on the story, the plot arc was far from complete. This would set the norm for all NaNovels to come.

In 2004, I wrote Outcast, my first Korat-only novel. I got 80% finished with the story arc by the time I crossed the 50k finish line, which was the closest I’d come to completing an entire novel in my life. I even skipped ahead and wrote the ending scene (which, sadly, I later lost). Outcast followed the story of a lone striped female as she never stopped running for her life, even when she encountered three people who actually didn’t want to kill her.

In 2005, I wrote The Panthera Walkers: Peace as part of a Panthera Walkers trilogy (the second book, might I add – the first and third unwritten). Set in Ykinde, TPW:P chronicled the story of the growing Walker tribe and their aid in trying to establish peace between Lupos and Avans – trying to end the Elderwar – and how nothing is ever as black-and-white as it seems. I had a lot of trouble that year and took a major plot detour, then had to write feverishly to catch up and cross the finish line – at something like seven minutes ’til midnight on the last day. It was nuts.

In 2006, I failed. I did participate, and scanning back over my personal journal for November, I wrote that I’d gotten 21k on something. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was, so I’m inclined to think it was a bunch of false starts and half-baked stories. My only excuse was that two great friends of mine were visiting for two weeks from Britain, and I was out and about with them almost every day they were here. (Sure, I was working full-time, too, but I’d been working every November except for 2003 – and in 2004, I was taking a few college classes as well as holding a job!)

In 2007, the miracle that was The Demon-God of Jubagh came to pass. By the time November rolled around, I’d already finished Book One; that year’s NaNoWriMo saw Book Two and half of Book Three completed before the 30th, and the rest of Book Three finished before the December holidays. I’ve already discussed TDGoJ previously on here (see the above link), but let me tell you – this was the first (and so far only) time I’d truly, totally, 100% finished a novel. I was gleeful.

In 2008, last year, I struggled to pick a direction for the first week or so. I first veered towards an anthology of myths and stories of Redwood, sidifir oerri, ageless mother of the Koratian race. I thought I could do two novels in one month, since I was on part-time at work and would never have that much free time ever again, so I tried to do a story about animetals on Ryarna in that world’s equivalent of the Wild West. Both petered out within days, and then – thanks in large part to some brainfodder and a great friend being a sounding board – I got inspired to do Into Fang Wood. I flew past the finish line, half-crazed and gibbering from the chaos of trying to wrangle that story in a month. (Later, of course, I found out how big it wanted to be, and I quailed, and then I began outlining…)

In 2009, this year, I have something very fun planned. The incredibly tentative working title is The Ghost In The Machine. (Asimov, I salute you, sir.) Set in the Gurhai universe, it will feature three corata, shapeshifting mammalian predators, who find themselves on Ryarna by chance or by fate. They encounter an impossible thing: a feral, instinct-smart herd of motorcycle-like wheeled vehicles that are, apparently, bound to and powered by animal ghosts. It’s illegal to fuse a ghost to anything but an animetal shell, however, and these wheelers are meant for personal transportation alone – not animation. Not only do the corata have to survive the largely-without-fleshy-animals desert, they have to figure out how to survive increasingly restless, doggedly stubborn aniwheelers.

It’s going to be so much fun.

Fellow WriMos, what are you planning for this lovely November?

If you’re not familiar with the National Novel-Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, please allow me to introduce you to one of the most awesome things to happen to writers since ballpoint pens.

NaNoWriMo is a caffeine-addled, plot-fevered, ever-growing group of people who bridge geographical distances to write a novel in each other’s company. It espouses “exuberant imperfection,” quantity over quality, speed over strength, and the end of the “one day” novelist. (“One day, I’d like to write a book…” Trust me, your ‘one day’ will expand into thirty, and they are fast approaching, my friend.) NaNoWriMo begins at 12:00 AM on November 1st and ends at 11:59 PM November 30th. In those sweet, mind-boggling, too-short thirty days, you are going to write an original work of fiction of at least 50,000 words – 175 pages in your average Word document.

Writing so much in such a short time is bound to produce a crazed heap of scribbling, and NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty, acknowledges this – and encourages it. You can’t write the story lurking in your head if you’re too afraid of churning out terrible fiction to even pick up the pen or turn on the computer. NaNoWriMo gives you the excuse and the freedom to write whatever comes to mind in whatever fashion you choose, so long as you hit your word count goal by the end of the month. There is no competition – everyone who crosses the 50,000 word finish line is a winner.

The prize? Being able to tell everyone who asks (or doesn’t): Yes, I wrote a novel.

In a month.

Signups have started, and there’s more information waiting just a click away. Come join the madness!

(If you doubt it’s possible to succeed in this epic quest, let me reassure you – it is. I’ve participated six years in a row and won five of them… while working full-time jobs, and once while attending school and still holding down a job. You’d be surprised how easy it is to make time for something crazy in an already-busy schedule.)

Last night, I asked my partner, J, to give me ideas for blog posts. He mentioned a few stories he wants me to write, which I pointed out were not quite what I wanted. (I mean, a herd of feral, ghost-powered, steampunk motorcycles in the desert? Yeeeah. I’m not letting that one go. But he likes reminding me himself – especially since it was his idea.)

He eventually proposed that I write about drawing inspiration from the people and situations in life. I joked that he just wanted me to write about him.

He has a valid point, though. I’ve always drawn a lot of inspiration from those around me and the experiences I live through. (The ones I don’t live through probably make better stories, but rigor mortis makes typing rather difficult…) And while I chase the story’s tail to find its face, talking plot points and characters out with someone helps me avoid tripping over my feet and catapulting into a steaming pile of drivel. More than once, I’ve not had a clue where the story was going, and discussing my friends’ reactions to what they’d read so far helped steer me onto the right trail.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure how The Demon-God of Jubagh would have ended if I hadn’t been chewing the fat with a certain British gentleman.

(You know, you don’t often see ‘chewing the fat’ in the same sentence with ‘British gentleman’. Mixing regional phrases is fun, kids.)

Life inspires me. People inspire me. Situations and circumstances inspire me. Media – other fiction – inspires me. Everything I think, see, hear, smell, touch, taste, say, and do inspires me. It’s not necessarily a constant stream of vivid and original ideas, but flashes and new angles can strike at any time with varying frequency. For me, storytelling is a form of communication, of taking what I’ve lived and presenting it in a new format so that other people can, in some way, live it too. I’m driven to write because the story needs told and shared.

What inspires you?

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