Thursday, August 25, 2011

SAMPLE IT: 15 ways to reveal flirtation

1. Jack stared at her until he was sure he'd caught her eye, then he looked away, glancing back a few short seconds later.
2. Jane leaned forward in her chair, her legs crossed with her hands clasped on her knees so that her arms squeezed her bosom a little.
3. He grinned and raised his eyebrows at her, raising his drink in the same movement.
4. Her lips parted slightly as she slowly returned the smile.
5. That was as good an invitation as any. Jack sauntered over, sitting down on a nearby chair and leaning forward a little in his chair (mimicking). "Hello."
6. Jane tossed her head back, running her fingers through her dark blonde hair (preening) as she rose to her feet. "Hi there."
7. Jack rose as well. "Going somewhere?" Her hooked in his thumbs in his pant pockets, fingers splayed. (A cocky framing device for his, um...)
8. She flicked her gaze from his shoes on upward. "Maybe. Depends."
9. His grin broadened and he cocked his head to one side, waiting. The silence stretched on, so he asked, "On what?"
10. She bit her lip lightly, holding it there for a moment. "You."
11. He chuckled and glanced away from a moment, then turned his attention back on her. Boy, she was making him nervous. "Oh?" His throat was a little dry, so he cleared it, and tried again. "Oh yeah?"
12. "Yeah. Maybe." She shrugged and flicked her hair back over one shoulder.
13. He took a short step closer to partially close the gap. Now they were in touching range and he sure wanted to touch her. Still, this girl wasn't exactly subtle but that didn't mean he was home free yet. (proximity helps)
14. She held his gaze for a few additional minutes then dropped her gaze, almost coyly, to the floor, moistening her lips as she did so.
15. He resisted the urge to touch her, to gently lift that chin and lean forward to kiss her. Instead, he scratched at his chin. "So, uh, can I buy you a drink?"

Okay, this isn't the subtlest of flirtations but I tried to show a range from the arsenal. Remember, though, that flirtation is very particular to the character. Some may flirt simply by talking to you. Others might draw on a wide range of coy behaviors.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SAMPLE IT: 15 ways to show sadness / melancholy

This is a tricky one as melancholy often involves a sort of visible weariness that manifests in limited, often jerky, gestures and short, stilted speech. Still, I'm nothing if not keen on a challenge.

Of course, since I'll be throwing out examples of sadness, let's get the obvious one out of the way:

1. Jane cried / wailed / keened over her tiara.

Now onto the less obvious methods of showing sadness.

2. Jane slouched into the room and headed into the living room.
3. She slumped into the couch.
4. "Sure. Sounds great." Her flat tone and drooping shoulders showed she thought it would be anything but.
5. Her eyes welled up in tears as she stared down at her feet.
6. She didn't bother to look at him. What was the point?
7. She plastered on a tight smile. "No, really, I feel better now," she said a little too loudly. "You can stop, really."
8. Her lower lip trembled as she struggled to blink back the tears before they dripped down her cheeks.
9. She lowered her head into her hands, shoulders shaking as she fought back the grief.
10. Jane leaned her head against the window glass, staring outside but seeing nothing.
11. She tried to clear her throat, but the twisted lump remained, drawing her voice tight over every syllable.
12. She clenched her fists, quickly drawing in breath, hoping the feeling would pass.
13. She rubbed at her chest, trying to ease the ache in her heart, and gulped for air. It was so hard to breathe.
14. "Where were you?" Her voice broke over the last syllable.
15. Her breath caught in her throat. "Simon?"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

SAMPLE IT: 15 ways to show confidence / pride / arrogance

Pride and arrogance aren't the same thing but, for simplicity's sake, I'm combining them both here.

1. Jane jutted out her chin (suggesting obstinance)
2. She tilted her head back and stared down her nose at him.
3. She hooked her thumbs into her armpits, splaying her fingers.
4. Jane rocked back on her heels, staring down at him.
5. She leaned back in her chair and folded her hands behind her head.
6. "Do you really think that?" Jane asked, closing her eyes and arching her eyebrows at her friend.
7. Jane blew on her fingernails, then polished them on her lapel. "Chalk another one up to me!"
8. Jane stared at the teacher, clicking her fingers in the air to get her attention. "Excuse me? Excuse me!"
9. "Who? Her?" Jane indicated the girl with a dismissive flap of one hand. "Well I suppose you could talk to her."
10. Jane smirked. "What a good idea..."
11. She puffed out her chest and put her hands on her hips as her commanding officer heaped praise on her.
12. Gestures that involve taking up space show confidence (sometimes arrogance depending on the situation) such as: Jane flopped on her friend's couch and threw her legs over the arm rest.
13. Jane kept glancing past her date, looking for someone else to talk to.
14. Jane strutted into the store.
15. Jane swaggered out of the store.

If you want some more details on how you showcase arrogance, take a look here:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SAMPLE IT: 15 ways to show Jane's anxiety

1. As the political advisor told them all to prepare for the stage, Jane leaned forward in her chair, gripping the chair seat with both hands (literally holding herself back from leaving the chair). She just wanted to leave.
2. Jane rubbed her ear lobe, desperately wishing she could tell the political advisor to stop lecturing her (an adult variation of the child clapping their hands over their ears so they don't have to hear it).
3. Instead, she scrunched up the edge of her skirt, staring at the ground, as the political advisor ranted (apprehension leads to fiddly fingers).
4. The bright lights and sudden silence made Jane tug at her collar. Did he want her to say something? What had he been accusing her of this time? She'd stopped listening. (Anxiety, especially after an accusation, can cause people to feel hot under the collar or cause sweat to make fabric cling).
5. Jane's eyebrows knitted together as she struggled to remember. "Umm?" (acute anxiety).
6. Jane stared at the ground, open-mouthed, as the political advisor began his rant again.
7. Jane bit her lip, hard, to distract herself from her fear. He'd stop ranting soon.
8. Jane folded her arms across her chest as she hurried over to wait beside the stage (forming a barrier between her and other people).
9. Jane paced back and forth beside the stage.
10. Jane fiddled with her shirt cuff as she stepped up onto the stage (apprehension leads to fiddly fingers).
11. Jane rubbed her cold, clammy hands against her skirt before holding it out for the Mayor to shake.
12. Beads of sweat ran down Jane's face as she tried to remember her prepared speech.
13. Her mouth ran dry at the thought of going up on that stage. She licked her lips nervously, then went to pour herself a glass of water, sipping at it slowly.
14. The glass rattled slightly in her hand as she brought it up to sip.
15. Giving up on the speech entirely, Jane moved jerkily off the stage, desperate to sit down before her legs gave out beneath her.

Of course, if Jane has given her speech it would probably have been full of speech errors, voice tremors, and with a tone that varied its pitch. Poor Jane!

What other ways could we have shown Jane's anxiety?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

SAMPLE IT: 15 ways to greet someone

It's interesting. Take a look at these real world examples of cultural greeting and see what the first ten have in common

1. Shaking hands.
2. Raising a hand as you approach.
3. Kowtow - kneel down and lower your forehead to the ground.
4. Prostrate yourself - lie down on the floor before your superior.
5. Grasping each other's forearms.
6. Bowing to each other - whether low or high, or with a flourish.
7. Saluting your superior.
8. Removing, or simply doffing, your hat.
9. Cursey.
10. Kneeling before your superior on either one knee or both.
11. Cheek kiss.
12. Cheek pinch.
13. Beating one fish against your chest.
14. Punching your fist in the air.
15. A smile, verbal greeting, and maintained eye contact.

Many of these greetings have one or more of these aspects in common.

1) They involve lowering yourself so that your height is beneath that of your superiors.
2) They involve showing that you're unarmed.
3) They involve putting yourself in a vulnerable position - particularly the kowtow and prostrating oneself.

Each one of these different greeting gestures has their own meanings. A society that prostrates itself before the magistrates will be very different to one that simply doffs its cap or even thumps a fist against its chest. Prostrating oneself is about as humbling a greeting gesture as one can comfortably get whereas doffing your cap (simply tipping the cap back and then settling it back down) is fairly casual and friendly as its a quick and easy gesture. Thumping your fist against your chest is an aggressive act but since it's a greeting and not an insulting gesture it may indicate a remembrance of the power of the law or an indicator of a previous oath sworn to defend the law.

So if you're looking at which sort of greeting your protagonists should use, particularly if they come from an invented society, take a look at that list and see which one they would likely use and why.

If you know of any other greetings that don't fit any of those categories, let me know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

SAMPLE IT: 15 ways to write Angry Dave

I've been reading up on body language as I often get tired of using the same old social cues to let the readers know how the character is feeling. So I can use pronouns as well as nouns, I called him Dave. Why? I like the name. So I figured I'd list a bundle of ways to clue the reader into the fact that Dave is angry. Some of them are cliches, some are (hopefully) unique. All should hopefully be worthwhile. I'll throw in a bit of dialogue to make it more interesting.

1. "Oh yeah?" He pounded his fist into the palm of his hand.
2. Dave smacked the table. "You!"
3. Dave ground his teeth together. "Come here."
4. "Sir!" He gritted his teeth and squared off his shoulders.
5. He glared at her. "What do you want?"
6. He grabbed her chin and squeezed.
7. "Thanks for that!" he spat.
8. He flicked a thumbnail against his teeth. "Screw you!"
9. He flipped her the middle finger.
10. He jerked a thumb against his throat with a grin. "See you later..."
11. His nostrils flared with each breath. "You..."
12. Dave's hands balled into fists.
13. "How dare you!" His forefinger stabbed out in time with the words.
14. Dave stomped his foot. "Not fair!"
15. Dave's face turned brick red as he stood trembling with rage before her.

Yeah, I know, No. 7 could count as a saidism. I think it's okay if you quite literally mean that there was a spray of spittle.

Does anyone else know any behavioral cues to add to the list? Or any particularly well-worded line you've read anywhere? Let's add to the list.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: To Glory We Steer by Alexander Kent

Well, those who have been following me for awhile would know by now that I do love a nautical novel. The mixture of daring, history, and well-drawn characters that typify this group of books never ceases to satisfy and Alexander Kent is a prime example of this.

Alexander Kent is an interesting author because he certainly writes his novels with a mixture of brutality and compassion that makes it more similar to World War novels than other Napoleanic War novels. People die. They die gruesomely. They die slowly. They die glad they didn't go to the surgeon. They die under the surgeon's knife. They die when we expect that they might just be important enough to life. And they die suddenly. And Kent manages to make this really work for him. He never cuts down a character before we've gained enough satisfaction from the arc, but he certainly doesn't let them linger just because they were important beforehand.

What this means is that the reader can never pooh-pooh his threats. Each battlefield holds risk. Each threat holds a promise of pain to come. There are no guarantees. I was just lucky this time that my favourite characters (Allday, Ferguson, and, of course, Captain Richard Bolitho) all survived. Since they're being dragged along into the next book, I'll be sitting with bated breath, flicking pages, hope they make it through again this time.

And that's the beauty of it. If he didn't let the canonballs fall where they may, if he didn't let people drop like flies then his beautifully described scenes of utter devastation would become mere scenery. The Jeopardy (anticipated pain or loss) would cease to be effective. Now this doesn't mean that other genres need to treat all characters as expendable to be effective but in this sort of War Story, it certainly helps to build the stakes.

Hmm, what novel shoul I pull apart next? Or what technique should I examine?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Apologies and a New Plan

Well, I've gone and done it again. I've disappeared off the radar. However, this time I have a purpose. I've been looking into social media and trying to figure out what I can do with this blog to make it more generally useful and, dare I say it, interesting.

I'll be signposting each blog post so that if you've subscribed and are scrolling through your list of recent articles, you can instantly tell if it's something you might be interested in. I'll still be going with a general Tuesday and Thursday spread.

The list of signposts I've thought up thus far are:

Diagnostic: For articles involving analysing what makes a particular book good or bad in terms of a particular story technique. Sometimes I will examine videogames, movies, and other forms of media.

Psychology: For articles that focus on analysing a particular character, set of characters, or articles on actual psychology.

Worthy Links: Short collections of really good web-site links that are worth visiting.

Snapshot People: When I do a write up on actual strangers glimpsed and the wacky plots they could spawn.

World Builder: Articles on questions to ask, theories to ponder, and other such details in world construction.

Fantasise it: turning elements of the real world into my fantasy world's version.

Myth Maker: Taking real myths and turning them on their heads to make new myths.

Tips: Any advice, ideas, techniques, and other such details.

Rant: Pretty self-explanatory.

Daily Life: Historical details, research, and the like about how people lived their lives.

Research: Any other general research I do a write up on.

(Novel Name): Used to signify when an post talks about one of my novels.

Sample It: Generally used for lists, for example, lists of place descriptions, people descriptions, body language descriptions, and other sort of bite-sized pieces that might be useful.

I'll also be re-tagging all of my old blog posts along those lines.

Feel free to suggest some of your own categories!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: Dragon Age 2 (videogame)'s alluring character Fenris

Well, I haven't done a writer brain exercise in awhile - haven't found good fodder - but I've finally come up with one. Alluring Characters. What makes them. What we like about them. What we can learn from examples in the various forms of media that surround us. I will be looking at characters that resonate with a lot of people, often in the form of fanfiction, fan art, and fangirling, and which I have personally connected with. Feel free to offer suggestions, however, and I'll try to read the book / watch the movie and do an analysis of what makes that person tick and why I think they tapped into the general psyche of viewers / readers / players today.

I'm going to begin with a videogame, largely because I found myself, for the first time in a long time, ensnared by the characters. In this case, I got a major crush on Fenris (this never happens to me, I swear) and started fixating on the in-character scenes involving him. Now, for those who don't play videogames, yes, I understand it's silly to crush on a set of polygons, but it's really not different than crushing on any other fictional character. Many people have done it. Okay, excuses aside, here we are:

He's a runaway slave / experiment of a Magocratic Empire that makes a point of enslaving his kind (elves). So, why does he work?

* Sense of Humor: He has a very dry wit and is seemingly straightforward even while poking fun at things, allowing him to both have a sense of humor and still maintain that brooding demeanor. The sultry voice of the voice actor doesn't hurt, either.

* The Dark Past: He's given complexity through an interesting past that makes his conversations more intriguing. Most people have relatively boring histories. His is one that makes you sit up and take notice. He championed to be the candidate for an experiment that would have this magical compound tattooed into his skin so that he could purchase his family's freedom (adds sympathy). The agony of the experiment wiped out all of his previous memories and left him an enslaved husk that obeyed his Master without question and without thought of freedom (adds sympathy for the bad things he has done in his Master's name / adds complexity and contrast with his current defiant nature). He didn't choose to escape his Master. His Master was forced to leave him behind due to a riot. Fenris was then adopted by free-willed Forrest Warriors for a few months of peace before his Master came back and ordered him to kill them. He obeyed - then, realizing what he had done, fled his Master (adds sympathy / horror by showing how much control his Master had over him but reveals that his conscience was able to break that hold ... but only when it was too late, thus justifying all the broodiness).

* Appearance: He actually looks quite young and sweet with big green eyes, a lean body, mid-length hair (looks boyish without being feminine) and an expressive face. He maintains the brooding appearance by attempting to seem intense and focused, but when the facade cracks, you can really see it. His appearance is also contrasted with spiky black armor (setting up complexity through a clash of nature and worn demeanor imagery). Such an appearance can be drawn in words, though it's obviously easier when you can literally show your viewers.

* Balanced Brooding: Yeah, brooding is in this year so this counts as a positive. Normally it irritates me but he manages to balance it with his dry wit and his lack of respect for pity. He is trapped in the past but he doesn't revel in it. While he doesn't emotionally move on (well, he does but at a glaciar pace), he tries to verbally move on as quickly as possible and that prevents angsting. What complains he does make feel justified and due to his interesting past, even the complaints themselves hold interest.

* Moral Complexity: In many ways he's an anti-hero with the possibility of redemption. He's fairly callous toward Mages, thinking them all scum, and prefers his new country's practice of what are essentially concentration camps for Mages. Since a bad or weak-willed Mage leads to cruelty / possession by demons / temptation toward blood magic, it's easier to sympathise with him. In that way, he actually feeds in to one of the underlying themes of the game: Is free will worth more than the safety of others?

* Danger Level: Only cool in fantasy for most people but the idea of being the exception to someone who is dangerous is often quite appealing. You can play a Mage and still be his friend and even his boy/girlfriend (depending on the gender you pick). The novel equivalent would be if the Main Character was a Mage and thus the exception to his values.

Does anyone have anything to add? Did I write it in a way that conveyed meaningful points that may be useful to you? Did you play Dragon Age 2?

Strangeness with Responses

Hello all,

I can't respond to any posts at the moment because I can't stay logged in unless I go straight to New Posts from my Dashboard. Just letting you know that I'm not ignoring your Comments.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

TIPS: Plot = Meandering Paths or Superhighways

Well, I've been editing Curse of the Rose / The Butterfly Lady only to find something really annoying. The last third of the book meandered. I mean, no one wants to read a novel superhighway that just goes Directly to Jail and doesn't pass Go (makes for a short, predictable read) but the last third of my book just didn't know where it was going or what it needed to do to get there. So I'm going to have to do a whole bunch of editing / re-writing to make it fit.

I found that doing up a synopsis chapter-by-chapter really helped to show me which chapters were dull, which didn't explain themselves well, and which chapters really had to change. I only wish that I'd done a synopsis at the start of the editing process, if not at the actual first draft process.

Next time, I reckon I'll do up a synopsis from the word go. I can always go off course if I want to but at least this way I'll know what I'm veering away from and why. It should save costly last-minute major revisions.

So, anyone else write by synopsis / novel outlines?

Friday, May 27, 2011

WORTHY LINKS: Good World Building Web-Sites

Well, it's that time again when I dive into researching geology and ecosystems and how they might relate to my fantasy land. If anyone has any good research links, please let me know. For now, though, here is my own awesome world building link:


Thursday, May 19, 2011

TIPS: Unanticipate

The best advice from Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell is that since readers are more aware of potential plot developments and build up expectations based on the many repetitions of plot 'twists' they've seen before, you should fool them by refusing to do the expected. Basically, conceive of your plot, scene, twist, etc. and then put down the first thing that comes to your mind. The first thing is likely to be something done before. After all, you're also a reader and thus you anticipate of your own plot lines the same hackneyed tales that others do. So make a list of alternatives to your original idea. Brainstorm.

So, let's give this a go:

In the Medieval Era, a young woman who has always been an eccentric dreamer is told that she must marry a man twice her age. How does she react?

She secretly plots her way out of it through a mixture of cunning and wit.
She rails against it and stamps her pretty little feet.
She accepts it with a whimsical smile. Older men are less likely to be demanding of her time.
She has an affair to prove her independence and to cause him to break off the wedding date.
She joins a nunnery.
She pretends to be a boy and joins the army.

True, none of these are necessarily bad. They're all good reactions. However, you've got to admit that you saw 1. and 2. coming. 3. would be a surprise though it does mean there's no conflict in this piece of the plot. 4. is certainly unexpected but it'd be hard to respect such an act unless it was truly born of desperation as it would probably cause more trouble than it was worth. 5. is also unexpected and rarely used, fits the character concept (dreamy and quiet could make for a devoutly religious figure) and flouts societal expectations in what is still a socially acceptable manner. 6. would need a lot of build up and character development for that particular character but could be worked into the concept if her daydreams had a decidedly military bent.

And that's just what I get when I brainstorm 6 ideas. Imagine if I brainstormed 20. What do you guys think? Try the exercise yourself and tell me what you find.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TIPS: Plots ... now with Bees!

First, let me remind you all that one of the best ways to improve your writing is to leave the house (preferably by public transport so you can spend the trip learning through reading). This Sunday I went to the Torrens Island Quarantine Station tour with my fiance (yes, I'm missing the ` but I don't know how to add it so it'll sit right). Basically, the entire island is a secure facility because the ETSA power station sits on the single bridge to the island, and the now closed Quarantine Station facility is both heritage-listed and has problems with asbestos.

My visit really opened my eyes to all kinds of descriptive nuances, not to mention it gave me several new experiences in my memory banks that can be plumbed for later scenes. I saw how buildings left for decades without care could still withstand the test of time. I saw evidence of the youth camps that used to go there after it closed but before the big fears of asbestos. I saw how part of the old quarantine station had been bull dozed for a small sub-section of the power station. I saw how the wildlife was trying to take over.

In particular, I noticed that bees had taken up residence in two of the buildings (one of which was the morgue). It made me think that here was the perfect metaphor for re-using plots. It's pretty much been said that there's no new plots anymore. They all contain a structure from an earlier story - normally, the good ones also contain traces of dozens of stories in a rich cake of complexity. In a way, the novels we write are sort of like that quarantine station. They start off with a rather generic story structure (a semi-interesting tale of an abandoned quarantine station) but we add nuances and layers until they become something fresh and unexpected.

Until the bees move in, basically.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

THE BUTTERFLY LADY: Painful Honesty & Maps

Oh dear, I spent ages trying to develop a map for a continent in my fantasy land and I finally think to myself, "You know what, I think you're close. I think you've got it." Then a friend of mine takes one look at it and tells me: "Is that Tasmania?"

Wow. I am not nearly as unique as I thought I was.

Oh well, back to the drawing board!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

TIPS: Issues with Sparseness

In one of the published novels I've been reading, the plot zips along at a fairly rapid pace. I've only read the first 30 pages and in one scene there was a whole page and a half dedicated to a history lesson about this one minor character. Now, the history lesson was really cool. It delved into how he got this particular artefact, how a friend of his died, and why he was so desperate to get across town to give the artefact to someone else. The problem was that it read like a timeline and really would've been more interesting if the author had dramatised it. As it was, it got a bit dull.

Other sections of the book suffer from a similar problem although in those instances, it wasn't exposition to blame. It was a desperate desire to skip along to the next bit that led to whole paragraphs feeling like an exercise in ... and then ... and then ... and then....

Unpublished authors can also have trouble with this one, especially since they're encouraged to cut out every unnecessary word in the sentence. It doesn't help that most of the advice involves the Delete key. Throw out all of the POV slips, the adjectives, the 'was' and 'were', remove this, reduce that, and combine the other. It's rare to find an article that says: 'put more words in'.

Yet if you hear critters complaining about a 'lack of protagonist perspective', 'where are they, anyway?' or even that there's little sense of tension, it might be that you've written too sparsely. Perhaps you need to add words. Add a few choice adjectives, some internal dialogue, or some description. Perhaps you need to slow it down, pad it out, and keep it from sounding like a laundry list of activity interspersed with dialogue.

I know this used to be one of my problems. 'More POV' and 'More Description' they would clamor and I would be confused. Weren't my favorite authors known for their sparse writing and their snappy dialogue?

I went back to those authors and re-read them and I found that their pages weren't full of lines of dialogue and ultra-brief narrative elements. To make matters worse, I found that they could increase tension and add a sense of speed to a novel by adding block after block of well-written and meaty paragraphs. Counter-intuitive, I know, but they managed it.

So, as a writing exercise, I suggest you all go over to those legendary so-called 'sparse' and 'tight' writers you read and take a look to see how sparse they really are. If you're told about pacing difficulties, flat tension, confusion about locations, or a lack of character depth, consider whether you should add more words rather than take them all away.

Sometimes less isn't more. Sometimes, less is just less.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

RANT: The Love Bug Bugs Me

I've read several stories where the protagonist seems to have been attacked by a love bug that weakens them to the pheromones of aggressive, egostical men whose various saving graces are buried so deep it'll take several chapters to find them. The protagonist then deals with the poison by mentally slapping themselves for their own racing heart and giddy thoughts. This particular love bug can be found in all genres, not just Romance, though it seems to only ever bite women.

While there is a redemptive turning point for the man, either through his decisions or through a revelation of his past, the crush doesn't bloom at this point. In fact, this turning point seems to be mostly for the reader's benefit as it often doesn't affect the protagonist at all.

I think there must be a love bug involved because there are often other male candidates who are sweet, funny, and/or kind. They may even be strong without being overbearing. Someone who might tease the woman, but all in good fun. If they don't like the protagonist very much, they'll still be decent about it. These men are ignored, even when they show romantic interest, because the love bug's poison has the protagonist's heart ensnared by someone who is borderline abusive.

Now I'm not saying that an antihero-style man or a gruff, misunderstood fellow can't be a romantic lead. But perhaps lay off the love at first sight stuff and wait until they do something loveable first? Perhaps at the redemptive turning point?

What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 9, 2011


Hey all, I've been tossing up between titles and no titles. The trouble is that a lot of them have the same family name and I hate the ungodly issues that crop up when Mr. Rosentia, Mr. Rosentia, Mr. Rosentia and their wives Mr. Rosentia, Mrs. Rosentia, and Mrs. Rosentia are coming to tea. Of course, having no titles and referring to people by their first name is kinda weird too. I mean, there's a sort of egalitarian value going about in the magocracy (yes, you won't see it on Rosentia Island - they're a backwater village literally weeks by sea to anywhere of value), but when you have some people with 'Sir' or 'Lady', you expect to see a title for the others.

Originally I thought of making all of the commoners Mr. and Mrs. under the pretext that they're not considered important enough to be known by their first names - which is an awesome twist on our traditional views of rendering folk child-like by using their first name. But while that's certainly unique (as far as I know), it's also painful to get across in a book. Then I thought of how this is a series and I'd have to get it across every. single. time. and decided not to.

So now I'm thinking of having all the nobility being referred to as Master / Mistress FirstName LastName of House Blah (as not all family names match the House name). I think it's cool, it works for me, and it removes that whole married / unmarried division of women that the Queen would have thrown aside during the revolution. I mean, yes, there is an important married / unmarried division where all the unmarried are considered to be a bit childish but a) who would signpost that and b) do I really want to invent a masculine form of Miss?

I guess I could use Master / Mistress and Mister / Mrs. but would the reader readily understand why people are called Mr. Carrius, instead of Mr. Rosentia?

Also, Master and Mistress have a fairly dominant and somewhat magic vibe to them in my mind anyway so it should work. What do you think?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

TIPS: 5 Methods To Build Emotional Realism

We've all been there. We're writing up our characters who we've said are enraged by a terrible injustice and yet (aside from a statement saying they're angry) their thoughts are all about how cute the secretary is, how much they liked the latte, and whenever they talk to someone, their word choices and sentence styles are the same as always. Or we've written a character who, despite signs around them that would make me crawl under the bed and hide, are just kind of chilling out and worrying about the hum drum issues that really wouldn't register in a fit of anxiety. I know I've done it. My first draft of Curse of the Rose / The Butterfly Lady involved a lot of critters telling me to give them 'more POV'.

What they meant when they said that was that they didn't know what the character was thinking / feeling. They were distant from the character. It also indicated that I hadn't fully set their emotional states on the page in any of the main forms. So, here are a few ways to realistically portray emotion.

1. Memory. Cast your mind back to the last time you were in pain, heartbroken, angry, scared, or what have you. What did you think about? What did you notice? I know, for example, that when I'm angry, my best friend's stroll can set my teeth on edge because an Angry Me is an Impatient Me. I know I'm not going to be thrilled about any queues, line ups, or anything else like that. Most people I know are the same way though they might express it differently (glares, passive aggressive increased walking speed, pushing in, snapping at someone, turning their anger directly at the victim).

2. Descriptions. Note how a queue can look differently depending on how you're feeling. If you're madly in love and have bumped into a friend in a queue, you might be happy to stand there and gush about your romance. If you've won the lottery (i.e. ecstatic), very little will wipe the smile off your face. If you're sad, you might not care where you are. What do you think those feelings will do to your perspective? How might you interpret the stimuli around you? Who would you notice? How would you describe it? Mood very much affects perspective so let your Point of View Character's mood affect what you describe and how you describe it.

3. Dialogue. The next time you're emotional (or someone else is) try to also pay attention to what you're saying and how you're saying it (a difficult feat in certain situations). Anger often makes sentences shorter and more abrupt. Excitement can create longer, flowing, muddled sentences. Happy people generally pay more attention to social niceties and are more interested in other people than sad people. These are all generalties, and there are other ways people express emotion through word choice and tone, so pay attention to them and then see how you might relay that through your dialogue.

4. Personality. Pay attention to how other people behave, on television and in real life, to certain stimuli. Television isn't always a good example as it's pre-packaged and fake, but if you pick scenes that resonated with you, odds are it had a believable element. I loved the fear responses in the movie REC. It felt very real to me. So, even though I have no way of watching terror in other people in real life, I can sit down and analyse the different personalities in that movie and how they displayed their fear. Some converted it into anger and targeted other people. Some panted and looked like they were going to throw up. Some just became very weak and helpless.

5. Brainstorm. Brainstorm reactions to those emotional events. This can really help you move away from stereotype. If you brainstorm 10 possible reactions per major event per character, you can then pick the most likely reaction rather than falling back on the old standbys such as Military Man converts fear to anger and wants to fight out his differences; Housewife falls down in a puddle of helplessness. It might be that this time, with this stimuli, Bob the Military Man falters as he expects to know what to do in a situation but this one is totally beyond his skills while Josie the Housewife is too busy keeping it together for her loved ones to fall apart and that focus helps keep her strong.


So there you have it, 5 methods of getting across the emotional reality of your story. Hope this helped! If you have any more, or have examples you want to put across (especially movies / television shows / books that demonstrated an emotion really well), feel free to mention them in the comments.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Getting It Wrong Is Getting It Right

In South Australia, we have this thing called History Week every year where different organisations put on exhibits / plays / scenic walks, etc. around the state. This year, we're doing a History Month so we have all the more stuff to do spread out across an entire month. On Sunday, the first day, I had a few things planned to do. I was going to go on the Semaphore Historical Walk, see the Port Misery re-enactment landings in Port Adelaide, and finally nip on down to the St. John's Ambulance exhibit.

So my fiance and I wake up with 35 minutes to spare and get at the bus stop a minute too late (I got to see the bus leave without me). We get into the city and it's all rainy but we sit under the stop and wait for the next bus feeling sad that we won't make it to Semaphore in time for the walk. We get a phone call saying that it's cancelled because of the weather.

We head on down to Port Adelaide for the Port Misery landings (finally) after a toilet break led us to miss yet another bus (we got to see that bus leaving too). We're walking down the street, figuring that somehow we'll find Fisherman's Wharf where the re-enactments are meant to be. I mean, it'd be somewhere along the Port River, easy, right? Being a bit unsure about how easy it'd be, we drop by the Port Adelaide Information Center (which is pretty cool, actually) and ask the lady behind the counter where the Port Misery landings are and whether they'd still be on despite the weather.

We get directed into a nearby covered courtyard ... where the May Day rally is taking place. We watch and listen to the speeches (very rousing) and watch them put flowers by the memorial in the rain and then decide to just follow Commercial Road and see what we find.

I'm not sure if we found Fisherman's Wharf but we did find a huge warehouse full of stalls selling 2nd hand and cut-price goods. We met up with friends and spent about 4 hours spending $200 there on all kinds of things from books to clothes (I tease my fiance about looking very Chav in his new hoody) to antique pennies. By the time we leave, I look at my watch and ... oh dear, there's no way we'll get to the St. John's exhibit before closing.

So instead we go home with our friends and watch Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Even though we never got to see any of what we meant to see, even though we missed our bus, even though things were cancelled, we perservered, stayed optimistic, made a point of leaving our house, went where the wind took us and had a wonderful time doing it!

While this is a wonderful philosophy for life in general, it also works with our novels. Sometimes when everything goes wrong, our characters die when they shouldn't, fall in love with those that weren't meant to be, skip into conflicts we never planned, and otherwise behave in messy and naturally interesting ways, if you persevere with a smile and take a look at where the winds are pushing you, you might get to an even better place in the end.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

RESEARCH: Best How To Write Book I've Found!

I'm one of those writers who loves finding a new how to write book. They're often fairly inspirational and there's usually at least a few lines in them that make you look at everything differently. I own a few good ones at home, I've read even more at the local library, but the absolute best novelist's companion I've found is Plot Vs. Character.

Don't let the name fool you. It's more about plot through character and character through plot. You can find the structure of your novel through your character's psychology and drives; you also find hints of your character's psychology through the novel structure.

It's really difficult to do this book justice. If you don't believe me, track it down at your local library and READ it! It's simply fantastic.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Apologies and a Link

Well, I'm sorry I've been gone for so long but I've been pretty sick recently with a flu AND snowed under at work. I'll be back to my regular posting soon enough. Until then, tide yourself over with this one. Yes, it's a gamer's blog (and a D&D one no less) but it actually has a lot of interesting things to say about Fantasy World Building:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

RESEARCH: Responding to a Fire

Well, let's take a look at arson and arson investigation as I'm on a real crime scene roll. It's funny but some of the information I've found, such as how bright red the blood and organs can look when someone dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, could be useful even in my fantasy world. After all, if I mention the red flames and black smoke of a cooking oil fire, I'd have gotten it wrong. It just goes to show that all research is good research!

An arson investigation begins with an exterior examination where the people involved will talk to the first responders, witnesses, and whomever called the alarm. They pay attention to the people present at the scene or even those who have risked themselves to save a life as vanity fires from wannabe heroes are surprisingly common. They try to learn what sort of smoke and flames were released in the early stages of the fire as that can give a lot of information. Red flames are cooler and white fires are the hottest at around 2500 degrees celsius. Since arsonists generally start fires with accelerant, oddly hot fires can suggest foul play.

Other than temperature, what can flames / smoke reveal?

Well, I'm glad you asked! Here's an example: White smoke with a white or light yellow flame indicates gasoline, while brown smoke with a deep yellow flame suggests a cooking oil fire.

The investigators then do an internal investigation where they try to determine the point of origin which is the place the fire started and how it spread. A V-shaped burn pattern on a wallcan hint at the starting point because as heat rises it spreads out from that point. Wooden beams and heavy wood furniture can be used to identify the fire path as damage can occur more on one side than the other. Charred wood looks like scales and one can measure the amount of char to see how long the wood was exposed to high heat. The closer this bit of wood was to the point of the origin, the deeper the char and the smaller / closer together the scales. Window glass tends to discolor from soot but the hotter the fire, the less soot. Incadescent light bulbs normally shatter in heat but, if it has somehow remained intact, it will melt and curve toward the head source. The same effect can be found sometimes with glass salt shakes and even plastic milk jugs.

The examiners will try to rule out possible accidental causes, such as exposed wiring of the stub of an unattended candle. They also look for obvious signs of foul play such as suspicious stains that might be tested for accelerant or long lines of ash that may indicate "trailers" (lines of paper, gasoline-soaked towels or ropes, etc. that are designed to spread the fire). The debris is also carefully sifted for any signs of an igniting device.

Hydrocarbon Indicators can be used to detect accelerants. They are about the size of a flashlight and will report any traces of an accelerant. Sniffer dogs can also locate accelerants though a dog's nose won't stand up in court so the investigator needs to get a sample from the location and get it tested in a laboratory. These samples must be kept in clean paint cans-style equipment since plastic bags can react chemically with the accelerant.

So there you go, a quick look at arson investigations. Hmm, what should I research next? Advanced states of decomposition? Stages of child development? Hmm.... Any ideas?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

TIPS: Diversify Your Dialogue

Well, since I'm facing this issue myself, I thought I'd do up a post about it so that we can muse together and I can share my thoughts.

What is manner of speech?

It is their tone of voice, the volume, how quickly they speak, their inflection, emphasis and pitch. Where film can actually let you hear all of these play out, books need to show you through clever use of punctuation and phrasing. Look at the difference between this:

“When I sit here and look at you there is nothing I would like better than to punch you in the throat.”

“When I sit here and look at you ... there is nothing I would like better than to punch you in the throat.”

“When I sit here and look at you, there is nothing I would like better … than to punch you in the throat.”

“Wh-when I s-sit here and look at you, there is n-nothing I would like b-better than to p-punch you in the throat!”

Read them out. How do they sound to you? Do you naturally change your pitch, the speed of the sentence? Emphasis and tone? And that's without going anywhere near the italics and how an italicised word changes the sentence. If you want to see how italics can play havoc with meaning by stressing certain words, just take one of those lines and repeat it over and over but with the stress on a different word each time. Different people would stress different words.

Then you've got sentence structure. This also requires punctuation changes but it's more than that. It's how wordy they are. How many frills, bells, and whistles they use. How many similes, metaphors, and how simple or convoluted they speak. Some might speak in overly long paragraphs that indicate breathlessness (though don't overuse these or you might strain the reader's mind) while others might be terribly succinct.

“I sit here. I look at you. I want to punch you in the throat.”

“I sit here, right, and I'm looking at you, and all I'm thinking about is punching you in the throat.”

“I can't stand sitting here and looking at you. All it does is make me want to punch you in the throat.”

Last but not least, you have the actual spelling changes to indicate accents. This is the last one I'm mentioning because, unfortunately, it's quite easy to just mess with the spelling and keep everything the same. While this tactic will still make the lines of dialogue recognizably different, there is, of course, further you can go.

“I can't stand sittin' 'ere and lookin' at ya. All it does is make me wanna punch ya in the throat.”

“I cannot stand sitting here and looking at you. All it does is make me want to punch you in the throat."

Finally, you've got the actual metaphors, slang, and similes they might use. In South Australia, people disparagingly talk about those with low IQ as being 'Mindas' as there is an organization called Minda that assists people with very low IQ. Even people who don't know about the institution will probably know the word. People in the Northern Territory, probably wouldn't use that term.

In Curse of the Rose / The Butterfly Lady (really must settle on a title), a lot of the slang used are either nautical terms, mystical terms, or terms related to the ghastly salt plains that raise the dead. “Salt it!” becomes a terrible swear word and polite people therefore avoid asking for anyone to pass the salt and instead ask for seasoning. It's not a taboo word like our F word or even the C word but it's still stronger than 'damn it' as it conjures up images of rotting flesh. Other phrases include 'barrel fever', 'loose canon' and 'having a cold soul'.

So, do you have any advice about how to make characters sound different and diversifying your dialogue?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: Blood Relatives - Ed McBain

So, here's another time where we sit down an analyse just what made a particular book work for me. Well, Ed McBain is an interesting author because he does so many things that should be wrong and that we've all been told not to do and somehow does it in a way that is not only forgivable but actually add to the character of the novels. He writes procedural crime fiction, generally from the Point of View (POV) of the detectives who work out of the 87th precinct (he has other series of novels but Blood Relatives is an 87th precinct novel so that's where we'll focus).

So what does he do wrong/right?

He breaks the POV rules: He writes with multiple POVs (generally only one per scene, though) though sometimes he drifts into an omniscient POV with a distinct author voice. Somehow, it works for him. I think part of the charm is that the omniscient POV is really interesting. I mean, really interesting. He'll use it to describe people and places in a way that is generally humorous in a sometimes dark / sometimes light way and it just really adds to the setting. The characters are rich and full creatures and he'll frame the entire scene through some of the omniscient drift.

Like this:

The average garbage can on any city street got battered and bruised within the space of a week because these men loved their work so much. (Some people insisted these men also loved the smell of garbage, but that was pure conjecture).

This is part of a few paragraphs that introduce a few garbage men, their conversation, and their daily rounds. The garbage men have a very small part to play in this novel. In truth, their entire job is, well, their job. They move trash from the kerb to a garbage dump and, in so doing, allow another minor character to find the diary. The omniscient tone keeps the scene lively and interesting and makes it seem somewhat important. It also satisfies the voyeur in me as it describes things more interestingly than the obvious options for the POVs.

Part of how it works for him is because of its structure. He a) doesn't head hop; b) generally only does it much with the minor POVs or criminals; and c) tends to do it at the start of the scene and then start narrowing it down to a particular character's viewpoint.

List-like Descriptions: This works because the POV characters are generally cops and therefore actually think in a more orderly fashion, because he varies the sentence length / structure, and because he generally slips in unexpected information. For example, he might slip in a bit of evidence that stands out more because of the orderly description:

The man was wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, no tie. His hair was brown. There appeared to be bloodstains on the front of his white shirt.

Or because they give some interesting and additional information that tells you a lot about the person:

The fifth man who approached Kling's desk had black wavy hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a navy-blue jacket over a pale-blue sports suit. His trousers were a dark blue too, but they did not quite match the jacket. Jacket and trousers alike were crumpled, and there was a beard stubble on the man's face.

Where a less interesting author might write:

He had black wavy hair and blue eyes. He wore a navy-blue jacket over a pale-blue suit. His clothes were crumpled.

See the difference?


Well, hope you found that interesting. There's much more that Ed McBain does right but I'll leave it until I analyse another one of his books (which I will do). Does anyone have any suggestions for another book I should analyse?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

RESEARCH: Bullet Wounds

Again with the pathology! Hmm, I wish I could find out what a sword cut or arrow shot looks like. Anyone know any markers of medieval-style wounds? As a disclaimer, this research is helpful for you when writing up your draft but always make sure to always double check your facts with your professional. After all, different types of guns, different places shot, and different types of ammunition may all lead to very different wounds. The only way to know for sure is to ask a pathologist or other specialist.

Anywho, to bullets:

The entrance wound for a bullet is often circular with a darker abrasion rim that shows where the bullet had scraped against the skin while the exit wound is more uneven and ragged due to all the bunched up flesh that's being knocked out. The range of the gun from the victim also affects the wound. If the area where the bullet exits was pressed against the floor, or otherwise supported by something solid, you'll have a "shored" wound.

Tight-contact wound: A gunman standing behind a woman with the gun pressed against her back would leave a tight-contact wound. Gas and residue from the gun would be blown into the wound and the wound itself would be more ragged. Tight contact wounds, especially against the scalp, are more star-shaped.

Near-contact wound: If that same gunman was standing pretty close but the gun wasn't quite pressed up against her, say, it's 1 inch away, there would be 'fouling' (residue) around the wound but not so much blown into the wound.

Close-range wound: Have the gunman take a step back so the gun is fired about 6 - 10 inches away. You can still see fouling but now you can also see stippling, or tattoing, which is caused by the various powder grains burning around the wound in dots.

Intermediate-range wound: Have the gunman take yet another step back so the gun is between 10 to 36 inches away and you'll see stippling but no fouling around the wound.

Distance-ranged wound: Have the gunman anywhere beyond three feet away and the wound will be clean. No stippling. no fouling. Distance wounds are more round and small.

Anyone know of any other wound markings? Especially from bows, crossbows, maces, or other more fantasy-style weapons?

Friday, March 4, 2011

RANT: Why I Love Post-Apocalyptic Horror

I'm desperate to crack open a post-apocaylptic novel or two as I've watched quite a few films lately. I think it's partly voyeurism. With all the rules gone, you can't help but traipse through other people's living rooms and see what's inside their fridge. True, you won't be thinking 'ohmigod, the Davidson's buy jam chutney' when you're busy hoarding food from the Legions of Hell, but it's still kind of cool getting to take a look. In a post-apocalyptic world, you're basically mandated to root around in other people's houses! (Am I a bad person?)

This is why I love video games. In video games, such as Fall Out but also including non-apocalyptic fantasy games like Zelda, you can wander around and sneak into people's homes and see what kind of furniture they have. I'm pretty weird because I really do love exploring the map and seeing what lays around the corner. What does a factory look like? I know! I'll go inside and take a look. Hmm, what about the back rooms of a museum? No security in this wasteland! Time to scope it out.

It's funny because I rarely get a chance to read, watch, or play post-apocalyptic games and yet they get me all the time. There's other reasons (easily comprehensible horror, having to get along in a group of disparate people, us vs. the world, an interest in natural disasters) but one of the big ones would have to be the fact that I'd just love to poke around in other people's things but would never do it in real life.

What about you? Also, does anyone here have a post-apocalyptic tale to suggest I read?

WORTHY LINKS: Editing Tricks

Here is a really neat article from Terry Odell on how to edit your work with a fresh set of eyes. Who would've thought a change of formatting and some post-it notes could be so useful? I'm certainly going to try this.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Themes, Moods, and Examples

So as another exercise of the mind, I've generated a list of possible themes and moods (obviously not a complete list - that would be impossible) and I figured it might be worth doing an exercise which looks at bringing a theme and a mood to life. I'm going to use the Urban Fantasy sub-genre with a focus on Vampires as they're rather popular these days. I rolled some dice to figure out which theme and mood from the list I would be using.

The theme will be A Choice Between Two Evils and the mood will be Bittersweet. Yeah, yeah, I know. Not exactly a hard theme / mood for the subject matter but, in my defence, I settled on the subject well before I rolled the dice. The dice decided the rest. Go blame the dice.

Let's imagine the vampires are gathering, as they do, in typical vampire fashion to be all cold and callously political. I could run with some sort of kill 5 people to save 100 dilemma or perhaps have someone choose between two other creatures - perhaps a werewolf and a demon - but neither of them seem very bittersweet and moral dilemmas tend to fall a bit flat with blood-sucking creatures of the night. So, let's go with a trial.

The trial involves two vampire brothers murdering another vampire but claiming they are both innocent of the act. The vampires wish them both dead but for the prince, after weeks of deliberation, is prepared to make a settlement: If one of the brothers points the finger and tells the court who truly killed the vampire, the murderer will die and the other one be spared. After all, the prince can't have such a display of solidarity between vampires go unpunished.

The prince and all the other vampires expect the two to fall upon each other and claim the other did it. Instead, one simply stands shocked. The other brother steps forward and claims that he felled the final blow and that his colleague is innocent. That vampire is summarily executed and the other allowed to go free and continue his immortal existence. A bittersweet ending as the survivor gained what he wished for (freedom) but at a terrible price (his own loyal compatriot).

So that's the theme fully engaged through the plot itself. The choice between two evils is a choice between suicide and mutual destruction. Neither are good choices. So how about the mood?

The bittersweet mood can be reinforced through recollections of better nights, conversation between the two accused, and signs of nostalgia in the area such as grandfather clocks. The court room should be elegant and opulent, the vampires dressed in finery, with most vampires looking both beautiful and young to emphasise the benefits of the vampire race. Richness, opulent surrounds, power, and ever-lasting youth are so often wished for. Also underscore the subtle disconnects between alleged allies, discreet blood stains around the lips, deathly lack of movement in the older and more powerful vampires, glimpses of fangs and inhumanity, a layer of dust over parts of the court room that hasn't been updated since 1800 - each showing the unforseen consequences of being forever dead monsters. Thus the bittersweet mood of gaining something one wished for but with a terrible consequence is highlighted through the location alone.

Hmm, this exercise was a bit of fun. Is there any interest in me doing future ones of these or should I look to another writing exercise?

WORTHY LINKS: Lust, attachment, & committment

Lianna Brooks does an excellent and funny article on lust, its effects, its hormones and what influences us in mate selection. Read it here. She also does an article on the attachment phase of a relationship here. For a look at how commitment develops in a relationship look here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PSYCHOLOGY: Contagious Emotions, Oh My!

One element that is often lacking from conversations between characters is emotional contagion. Panic breeds panic. Self-doubt can infect others. Laughter is contagious! Think about it when writing your novels. While each character will react differently, it's easy to be absorbed in someone else's anger and to start responding in kind. Even burn out and engagement can spread throughout work places ... why not between team mates?

Have you ever used emotional contagions in your novels?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

RESEARCH: The Mortis Family: Livor, Algor, and Rigor

Well, this is the real meat of the research I've been doing into crime scene research as my fantasy novels aren't set in a world advanced enough for Medical Examiners. It is advanced enough to have microbes devouring corpses and since murder, wars, famines, plagues, and other really messy stuff are common enough in fantasy worlds, it's certainly worth taking a look at what happens to bodies after we die. Forgive me because I'm ill and tired so I'm going to write this using metaphors and silliness. I lack the brain power for seriousness.

Firstly, the Mortis Family. Livor Mortis is the eldest son, steadfast and noticeable but nobody really talks about him all that much because they're focused on the youngest child, Rigor Mortis, and like to throw his name around. Livor Mortis involves the blood collecting in the lower parts of the body. After about 6 - 8 hours (again dependent on variables such as ambient temperature), it is fixed in place and if the body is moved the Algor Mortis will still be visible in the original spots.

Algor Mortis is the middle son, easily noticed but he rarely gets any attention. He represents the cooling of the body (about 1.5 degrees per hour until reaching ambient temperature in an adult body) and he allows the dramatic moment when the protagonist discovers someone seemingly asleep in a chair and grasps their cold hand. Of course, extremities cool before the core of the body, it depends on how hot / cold the surrounding area is, and the size of the body so you have a bit of leeway as an author with Algor Mortis.

Rigor Mortis is the youngest son and the one everyone pays attention to and he's the gradual stiffening of the muscles that is first noticed in the small muscles of the face and then spreads out to the larger muscles. Generally, after 12 hours the muscles are so rigid the joints won't bend. When Rigor Mortis goes away, it starts disappearing from the bottom of the body and starts moving upwards. After about 36 hours, the body is flexible once more. Rigor Mortis works quicker in the heat and in smaller bodies.

And there's a brief summary of the Mortis family. Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, February 28, 2011

TIPS: The Story Behind a Place

In 2010, I started looking around me. I'd never done it before, not really, not in my entire life. I'd gone to university and kept my mind on daydreams and chores and reading books. I've bussed to many locations and not really seen them. For some reason, perhaps because I catch the bus at the same time twice daily now that I work, or perhaps for some intangible reason of personal development, I actually opened my eyes and started looking.

I noticed so many things. How the cockatoos toss their heads in flight at dusk, screeching and squawking. How a car alarm sounds when surrounded (or perhaps causing) bird song and how in Australia it's sometimes hard to pick out the alarm at all. How beautiful the birds look and how insane they sound. The stages of bark on the trees. First they're all barked up, then it starts sloughing off leaving green beneath, then it starts toughening up again over summer - leaving me lots of crunchy bark pieces to jump on. How some bits of pavement are concrete, others as asphalt (often covered in loose gravel) and others are beaten dirt. How often you can see glass from old smashed windows, perhaps from decades ago, glittering like gems in the dirt by the side of the road.

Then there's the buildings. Chipped paint, gleaming paint, patterns of fresh and older paint. Corrugated iron roof tops - new or freshly painted, faded or rusted. Sagging verandahs. Shiny iron lace. Trees, plants, a dozen types of fencing.

I look around me and I see, hear, and smell all the places around me and I wish, truly wish, I could capture this experience and put it onto paper. The trouble is, of course, a plethora of details won't help me capture that experience so I guess it's all in the telling details. Each description of a place should be an anecdote. A story. A tale. It should imply much even if it says little.

Have you told any anecdotes in your descriptions lately?

Friday, February 25, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: Hell's Fire - Chris Simms Book Analysis

Just so you know, this isn't a traditional book review. This won't discuss the good and bad aspects of the book and then weigh them both up for an assigned score. This is more an analysis of what Chris Simms did right and a few details about techniques that might assist us to pull off what he accomplished. I will do negative review / analysis in future when I next read a bad book but I won't be naming names.

So, without further ado, Hell's Fire by Chris Simms. First of all, the title. I love all things demonic or demon-inspired so the red inked Hell's Fire really caught my eye. When I realised it was a crime novel, my thoughts immediately turned to arson even before I read the blurb which mentioned the torching of churches and links to satanism. It also has a sub-title 'There will be no forgiveness' which actually conjured up a few themes and can be taken several ways that are all relevant to the book. The first theme conjured up in my mind was 'vengeance for crimes both real or perceived' and its a theme held dear in a few of the character's hearts. Another theme it suggests now that I've read the book are thematic questions such as: 'What would it do to a person to know their crimes, or the crimes of a loved one, will never be forgiven?' 'Is there such a thing as an unforgivable crime?' and 'Sometimes, it is better to forgive'. Without giving too much away, forgiveness is as much a driving theme as the more obvious vengeance plot with attempts to reconcile family members over past arguments and a man struggling to deal with the idea of an unforgiving God.

The novel also explores a contentious issue in society today about freedom of religion. This adds richness to the story because the author ensures that this issue is explored by a number of characters in different ways and they each have their own perspective on the matter. A rift in a family between a staunch Catholic and her burgeoning Wiccan daughter. The protagonist's issues with religion in general - whether its pagans, satanism, or organised religion - and how sometimes religious beliefs can lead to murder (or the establishment of refuges for the homeless) all weave together to challenge preconceptions without the author ever intruding by saying that any one of these religions is outright wrong. There are examples of people doing immoral things in the name of religion, whether its due to their fanaticism or simply a calloud desire to exploit the spiritual needs of others, but it's very much a sense of individuals doing this. It's not about any one religion being *evil*. It's about people. That helps keep it from getting preachy.

I also like the specificity in descriptions. This book oozes authenticity because he always nails the little details about arson investigation. I couldn't say whether it's true or false, whether his research is wrong or right, but it feels right because he's confident enough to be unambiguous in his descriptions. I really like that.

There are other good things about it, but I think I'll leave it there. Until we meet again, bloggers and bloggettes....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

RANT: Inspiration from Raquel Byrne's M&Ms

So, I'm reading Raquel Byrne's neat blog and apparently she separates her M&Ms into piles of colour and then eats the smaller pile first. This may be a lie. On that post, she has a number of facts about herself and apparently one is false. That doesn't matter. What matters is that it's an interesting trait and it led me to realise what's missing in a lot of fictional characters - especially Fantasy characters. Kooky mannerisms.

I don't mean kooky mannerisms like a need to sniff every tree because you're an elf and tree pheromones tell you what they're feeling. I mean the kind of weird things that individuals happen to say or do. We all have them. It often makes it easier to identify with a character if they happen to have one as well and, sure, you don't want to put too much words towards something not strictly plot-relevant but these sorts of mannerisms don't need many words to detail them.

Some of them are gross: peeing in the shower, scratching one's crack, cupping our farts and shoving them under people's noses, wiping snot on our sleeves if we're crying and can't find a tissue, or making it rain dandruff by scratching our heads, letting a dog lick your face, always kissing with tongue no matter who's present, ripping off the edges of your finger/toe nails when they get too long and leaving them on the table, shaving your face and leaving the hairs behind.

Some of them are silly: crawling up the stairs to the first floor, throwing a pseudo-tantrum at bed time so your partner has to drag you across the tiled floor by your feet to get you to the stairs, getting really hyper when you're over-tired and talking a hundred miles an hour, or sudden giggle bursts where you just can't stop laughing, snorting when you laugh (I do all these things).

Some are just odd: separating M&Ms according to colour and eating the smaller pile first (sorry Raquel), ironing your socks, snuffing out candles with finger tips rather than blowing them out, changing your sheets every morning, using eating utensils like you're left-handed when you're actually right-handed, constantly fidgeting, jigging your foot constantly, flicking your fingers when you get bored, attempting 'puppy dog eyes' to convince people to do stuff for you when you really can't pull it off, never being able to get the tone right to pull off a joke.

These are all mannerisms I've seen in real life. I'm sure that even in a fantasy world some of these would transfer over with few, or even no, differences. Why does your character have to be squeaky clean and normal? Why can't they pop zits or threaten people with snotty rags or spend 20 minutes trying to make sure that painting is perfectly level? Making the characters feel that extra bit more real should be a priority.

So, give it a go, and please, tell me ... what are some of the strange mannerisms you've either used in a book or seen in real life?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: Why I Love The Procedural Crime Genre

This may come as a surprise to some of you, since I read fantasy novels and am even writing a few, but I have a lot of love for the crime genre. Ed McBain of the 87th Precinct series is my favourite author and I read his novels over and over without feeling bored - even though a lot of them are quite short.

So what is it about the style of writing in the Crime Genre that makes it awesome?

Sparkling dialogue: Perhaps it's because of how important dialogue is so important in revealing clues, but generally, the dialogue in crime novels are often very individualised to the speaker. The sense of rhythm differs, the slang differs, the sense of perspective differs, and the core of the characters differs which means you can get some very interesting twists and turns in the dialogue that hold the reader's attention. There are often several minor characters that have a few pages of dialogue to explain certain situations and these minor characters are often as well-drawn as the primary protagonists. This means that I pay a lot more attention when they're speaking because by anaylsing the words a) I sate my voyeuristic need to understand where other people are coming from, and b) you never quite know what will happen next.

Quirky characters: I find this especially in procedural crime novels, perhaps to provide contrast against the rather sensible detectives, but it's also true of other sub-genres as well. The characters are often quirky in new and amusing ways. Personally, I think this is because really good procedural crime novelists do a lot of research and listen to a lot of anecdotes. They notice the strange reactions people have sometimes and they port some of that into their books. It's harder in speculative fiction because the only 'anecdotes' you have for people's behavior in other worlds is other people's works and importing them only makes your work more derivative. The exception to this are fantasy and science fiction novels set in the modern world with a few twists. Perhaps it would help if speculative fiction authors spent more time asking people about random anecdotes about other people and then seeing if those reactions could work in lands dramatically different from our own.

Precision in description: Perhaps again related to the copious amount of research a crime novelist has to do but they often are very precise with their details. They use the correct titles of rooms, the right names for equipment, and at every step try to pack the most information into the fewest words. This may be more of a personal preference as I'm sure a lot of readers enjoy the more leisurely and diffuse descriptions that can often be found in other genres but I certainly enjoy a certain crispness to my descriptions.

What do you like about the crime genre?

Disclaimer: Writers in other genres have achieved all of the above and more. These are simply positive points that I have more often found in the crime genre.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RESEARCH: Crime Scene Investigations

I’m thinking this week should have a theme so, in line with the brief book review from yesterday, I’m going to do all of my posts today based around crime scenes and the crime genre. Today is, of course, the research day, so let’s take a look at some of the research I’ve done for a roleplaying game I’ve run for the World of Darkness (any excuse for research is a good excuse). A note to authors: this information could be comprehensive enough for your first draft but due to regional differences, try to double check these sorts of facts with a local pathologist or crime scene investigator. They’re generally happy to help.

Crime Scene

When a Medical Examiner comes across a crime scene, they are hoping to establish the cause of death (the injury or disease that led to the death); mechanism of death (how they actually died – blood loss, cardiac arrest, etc.); and manner of death (whether the death is a homicide, suicide, accident, natural death, or unknown).

First, they examine the crime scene in a systematic manner to gather additional information or evidence before moving over to the corpse, if any. The corpse is photographed extensively and then the Medical Examiner declares the person deceased and looks for any obvious injuries. The body may be rolled over, examined for obvious injuries of the back, photographed again if any are found, and then plastic bags are placed on the hands and feet as a lot of trace evidence can be found on these body parts (especially under the nails. The corpse is wrapped in a white sheet brought to the location by the crime scene investigators. They don’t use sheets found at the home because that would contaminate the corpse with trace evidence from the person’s home, for instance loose hairs, fibers, etc. could fall on the corpse. Once wrapped in the white sheet, the corpse is then put into a body bag and a tag on the body keeps track of where the body goes and to whom it goes so that the Chain of Evidence can be established.

Autopsy Room
The corpses are stored in refrigerated units that might be found in drawers along a wall of an autopsy room (open the cupboard door, pull out the tray) or adjacent to the autopsy room in a room that looks like a collection of steel tray pigeon holes. These units are often kept at around 3.3 degrees Celsius which is cool enough to delay decomposition without being cold enough to freeze and damage the tissues.

The autopsy room itself is well-lit, generally windowless, and air conditioned. The autopsy table is generally two-tiered with a perforated and curved top tier to allow body fluids to drip down into the collection tray during the autopsy. A metal stand beside the table contains a range of implements from scalpels to serrated knives, clippers to scissors to magnifying glasses. The room is also often equipped with U.V. lighting, X-Ray machines, hanging scales to weigh organs, and vibrating bone saws. A microphone is suspended from the ceiling for the Medical Examiner to record their findings. Sinks and cupboards stand against the walls. Tissue samples are placed within collection bottles and envelopes. A Sharps contained can normally be found in this room.

The Autopsy
The body bag is examined before being discarded for any trace evidence that might have fallen out of the white sheet. Then the white sheet is unwrapped and discarded. Photographs are often again taken at this point with special care taken to photograph any newly revealed evidence. The clothes are then inspected for any tears, holes, or trace evidence before being carefully removed and stored for later examination. The bags around the hands and feet are then removed and inspection.

Finally, attention is paid to the body itself. Nails are examined and then scraped beneath the nail for any trace evidence. A detailed examination of the naked body is made, first with the naked eye, and then with a magnifying glass. All wounds, scrapes, bruises, etc. are noted, photographed, and measured.

X-Rays may be taken to look for any metal objects (bullets, fragments, knife tips) or abnormal structures or breakages in the bone. The Medical Examiner then views the body under Ultra Violet light which reveals body fluids (semen, blood, etc.) and even very faint bruising.

The internal investigation is begun with a Y-shaped incision whereupon all the internal organs are removed and examined from trauma and disease (these will later be replaced inside the body cavity). Samples of blood will be taken from the heart and peripheral veins, urine samples taken from the bladder, and sometimes even thin slices of organ tissue are taken. In cases of suspected rape, vaginal, oral, and rectal samples will be taken. Special attention is paid to the stomach contents as within 2 hours of eating, 95% of all food has moved out of the stomach and into the small intestine. The contents themselves can also confirm or deny witness statements such as if someone said the deceased had a home-cooked lasagne with them when evidence of a Big Mac and chips were found.

The neck may then be dissected to look for damage to the cartilage, larynx, or the small hyoid bone which would suggest strangulation. The brain is then dissected to see if injuries to the brain match injuries to the skull. As the brain floats relatively freely in brain fluid, it moves a little when the head is moving. To determine if an unmoving head was hit by a moving object, the Medical Examiner would check to see if the injury to the brain was directly behind the bruise (called a “coup” injury). If the victim’s head was moving at the time of the impact, the bump on the head should oppose brain injury (called a “contra-coup”).

Bone marrow samples may also be taken in some cases of drowning to search for minute single-celled organisms called diatoms that should have been breathed in unless the victim was already dead when they were pushed / dropped / fell into the water. A gas chromatograph can also be used to check the blood and tissue samples for toxins but the investigators need some idea of what to test for and it can’t be used to do a comprehensive check of every possible toxin.

Next week, Wounds, Decomposition and Much, Much More!

Monday, February 21, 2011

REVIEW: Great Resource for Crime Scene Writers

The Medical Examiner, by Toney Allman, from the Crime Scene Investigations series.

Yes, it's often filed under Juvenile literature but it gives such a good grounding in the work of a Forensic Pathologist, or Medical Examiner, at a crime scene and in the autopsy room. It also gives information on livor mortis, rigor mortis, and algor mortis and the stages of decomposition of the body. True, you should probably double check your facts (if only because of regional differences) but this should give you enough information to get the first draft out there without making any dramatic story-based mistakes that will need a lot of ironing to get out of the novel. I whole-heartedly recommend this book. I'm even hoping to get a chance to read other books in this Crime Scene Investigations series.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LISTS: Brainstorming Horror Themes

Since my fantasy world has a very strong emphasis, in one regard, on sin with a certain class of people being the embodiments of sin, I figured it might be worth-while to brainstorm a list of horror themes that could be used in the construction of such monsters. I'll begin by creating a list of villainous traits, horrific terms, and terrible possibilities that I'll later blend into the monster ideas.

First, the List:

Psychotic breaks with reality.
Forced pregnancy.
Physical Decay.
Moral Decay.
Pain beyond death.
Loss of control.
Ever-lasting grief.
Subverted innocence.
Multiple personalities.
Forced to commit a heinous act.
Ignored prophecy.
Forced invisibility.
Abandoned buildings.
Grisly medical experiments.
Loss of innocence.
Pain of growing up.
Evil children.
Alien geometries.
Pretense at being human.
Identity theft.
Regression to childish cruelty.
Blood lust.
Injured by light.
Injured by shadow.
Buried alive.

Now the Monster Ideas:
Breathdrinker that leaves its victims paralysed. Nightmarish monster that can injure people through their own dreams. Oneiromancer who can drive people mad through their dreams. A madman whose insanity is contagious. A man who slowly dismembers and devours his victims. A monster who is perpetually burning alive. A creature who bruises the floor / ceiling it walks upon. A husband who is obsessed with the smell of his wife's blood. A creature that spits out paralytic webbing to capture its prey. A monster that buries its prey alive before returning to feed. A prophet who is doomed to never be believed and takes out her frustrations by foretelling fates that *must* be heeded.

A shapeshifter steals the identity of those whose lives it desires. A body swapper takes over your body and life and leaves you in an inferior form. A creature so desperate for love that mere skin contact ensorcels you. Contagious paranoia like a disease vector. Rage as a virus. Lust as a poison that is sold by a sorceror as a love potion and that forces nymphomania on the drinker. A creature whose body is composed entirely of angles that just don't add up. An ancient being injured by light / darkness that enslaves its victims by making them thirst for its bile / blood / urine.


Hmm, and those are just a few off the top of my head. Anyone got any other words to add to the list? Any other thoughts on the process?