Archive | July 2010

do it your own way

So, I have recently been attempting to try something called the snowflake method of writing. (Forgive me absence of a link. I have very poor internet at the moment so finding it is difficult. If you are very curious, look at previous Friday posts.) Basically, you write small summaries of your story, and summaries of characters, and you continue to expand them until you have a good enough synopsis of everything that you can just write.

So, I tired it. I got as far as step three, where I write a synopsis of a character, and got stuck. First, I’ve never actually seen a synopsis of a character and second, although I have upward of ten characters, the story I think is mostly only told from Daria’s POV. Third, some of characters were stubborn and didn’t tell me what I wanted to know when I wanted to know.

So i resorted back to my old fall back. I went back to paper.

I don’t know what it is about paper or why I can operate better with paper, but ever since I started writing, I have almost always done my brainstorming on paper. Just scrap paper with my microbiology notes works well enough. And I fill these pages with tiny, tiny little letters and sentences and thoughts.

And it worked. Mostly.

I figured out some of the characters’ names. I figured out what kind of scenes I need. I figured out a lot of plot holes. I figured out almost everything that i couldn’t figure out on paper. The only thing, that I know of, that I haven’t figured out yet is what happens to one of the character’s sisters.

So the only other question I have is if I want to change the POV. Orginally I was going to write this much like I wrote Shad, with only there being the main character, Daria’s, POV. But now that I’m looking at it and I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I want to put in more POVs.  Particularly, if I can do it, the captain’s, because that would add a lot of tension if the reader knows why Daria suddenly got a promotion, but Daria doesn’t know why.  (If you have any thoughts about putting the antagonist’s POV in a story, I’d really like to hear them.)

My only problem is it might make things weird, but I think it might be worth it to have it weird.

Anyway, lesson learned: If you know that something works, sometimes that is your best bet when you’re stuck in a story. Sometimes something new works, but sometimes the way you’ve always done it works too, and we have just stopped it for whatever reason.

I’m going to start working on the outline, and maybe I’ll be writing it by next week. (This is a real time post, if you care, so next week is really next week.) No such luck with Shad though. These synopses  seem harder than I thought and I’m lacking the motivation to write it.

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Living in Space

Since I’m really a science fiction writer, even if I don’t often talk about it, I suppose posting this article today makes sense. It wasn’t as awesome as I was hoping for but it is pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, it’s audio, and I couldn’t find the transcript.

And, note this, Piers Sellers thinks we might make it to Mars by 2030. Obviously a lot later than Star Trek (TOS) thought we would, but nonetheless, interesting.

An Interview With an Astronaut

What to do with garbage?

Humans will always make garbage. Any species will make garbage technically. So why does this matter? Well, because sometimes what we do with the garbage may be worth note, especially in our end-times story.

Antarctica's cold wasteland--with little bacteria

Or an ice planet story. Here’s something interesting. The people at the research bases in Antarctica are having problems with garbage. Reason being is that bacteria decompose garbage and most bacteria can’t work at those low of temperatures. Some special bacteria can, but the general bacteria that break down garbage can’t.

A garbage dump where the bacteria aren't happy.

Sometimes, however, we can speed up garbage breakdown. A scientist in Georgia was doing research to encourage the breakdown of garbage by providing the bacteria with extra oxygen and water. He actually resulted in speeding up the decomposition of garbage in Georgia to the point that it didn’t smell, and it could barely be recognized, all because he gave the bacteria what they wanted.

So, I was  going t mention something about a methane generators for human waste, but I have nothing beyond that little line, so if you want more information, you need to look that up.

Concerning what NOT to write

Your life story would not make a good book. Don’t even try.

–Fran Lebowitz.

I suppose this is why I often find people who say, “I thought I’d make a story about myself,” so curious.

Rain, Rain, Go Away….

Somewhere, my mom read that rain in a book is important. And myself, being a writer, is thinking, “Seriously? I can stick rain any old place and who cares.” Now, I almost want to, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that for the writer to actually think about what the weather is like outside, it has to be important. And this is true. Rain we often associate with sadness, which makes it very strange that I like rainy days because, when at home, I feel like I’m wrapped in a nice warm blanket. Oftentimes, when I write in rain, that is because the scene is meant to be sad.

On another hand, it might not just be that I want the scene to be sad. In Hope, I needed a snow storm to keep the aliens from checking on  one of the characters to confirm he was dead. (Aliens were from a hot planet, and a snowstorm in November would be a perfect plan.) It served a purpose, but that purpose wasn’t sadness, it was to advance the plot.

But normally, us writers don’t give a second thought to the weather because in real life, we don’t give it.

Except in Shad. I’m thinking in Shad he made quite a few comments about the weather the first time he went onto the planet. That makese sense though. He’s hardly been on a decent planet in his whole life. So, when thinking about the weather, if you do, remember to put yourself in your character’s shoes too.

Here’s another thought about putting weather into your stories. Let’s say I was to write about a culture that typically has 0ºF days. The character shouldn’t mention anything about a typical sunny 0º day because it’s normal. If, say, I had a heat wave however, I could mention the characters is sweating on her morning run when it was 10ºF outside that day. (Yes, the difference between 0ºF and 10ºF is noticeable. By that time, 15ºF is hot.) I must remember that one.

Last thought. Why is it that rain is sad and depressing and snow is beautiful and romantic?

Slush Piles Stories

A universal guide to very problem ever found in a slush pile story can, on occasion, be a real treasure. This is actually a mixture of humor, advice and… other things, but it seems pretty good.

Warning: it is slightly crude, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, don’t read it.

bugs for medicine and other old practices

We all know that we didn’t start with all of our medical advances. Fact is that many of them had to be discovered. What we used now, however, might have actually been used hundreds of years ago.

A leech on a leg

We’ll start with leeches. Leeches are used now to encourage blood flow, most commonly in a reattached finger. The reason why they use leeches is the leech will inject an anticoagulant (something to keep your blood from clotting) into just that area of your finger, so you don’t get something so systematic. If they don’t use leeches, they’ll probably use a drug called heparin.

As a note, most biting bugs (on Earth) inject an anesthetic, so you can’t feel them, and an anticoagulant, so they can suck your blood better better.

Moving on, we’ll look at maggots. I actually heard of this one from House (the TV show)  but I think that it is more widespread than they made it seem.

Maggots Cleaning a Wound

Maggots like to eat dead tissue, so when they are placed on an area of dead skin, they’ll eat the dead skin and usually kept the healthy skin in tack. A negative side of using them is that I’ve heard you have to stay awake during it, in case they touch or eat a nerve. (Then again, it’d be the same as an angiocardiogram, where they inject dye into your heart to observe  if your vessels are clogged or blocked and they must keep you awake in case you have a heart attack.)

So, we’ll move away from bugs now and onto dysentery. Basically, dysentery is diarrhea caused by some kinda of infection, be it bacterial, protozoal or even viral. There was a lot of dysentery during the American Civil War. And what would they use to treat it?  Morphine actually.

A poppy plant, where morphine comes from.

See, morphine has one very common side effect and that is constipation.  Since the Civil War was in the early 1860s, they could do a lot of the things we would do today. (Antibiotics or  antiprotozoal as indicated, rehydration, ect.) But they gave morphine and supposedly, they had just as many people addicted to morphine because of dysentery as they had because of wounds.

This last one isn’t as interesting as the rest. But, just in case you need an anaerobic chamber, I’ll tell you. What scientists used to do, if they wanted to get a place without any oxygen, was light a candle and put it in an enclosed container. The candle would use up all the oxygen and so long as their specimen was inside the container before they lit the candle, they created a (mostly) anaerobic container. Pretty smart if you ask me.

So, like I always say, don’t know if you can use these or not for a story. Maybe you were trying to figure out how to get someone an anticoagulant after their ship crashed and ruined all of their medical supplies, although, honestly, I was thinking of these for more fantasy themes. Anyway, hope you learned something interesting today.

To Make Writing Both Interesting and Original

C. S. Lewis is perhaps one of my favorite authors. He wrote Chronicles of Naria (which I love. Don’t go after the recent movies.) and The Screwtape Letters are very good. So it makes sense that I would eventually quote him here.

C. S. Lewis

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

— C. S. Lewis

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

— C. S. Lewis

Concerning time, location and relationships, ie. prepositions

One of my most commonly searched posts is where I discuss grammatical elements such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and sentences.

Prepositions are probably one of the most common elements found in writing. One thing to understand about prepositions is that we don’t technically need them in writing. If we are grammatically analyzing a sentence, one of the first things we can do is cross out all of the prepositional phrases. But, I’m moving too fast I think. Let’s start with defining a preposition.

There are hundreds and hundreds of prepositions in the english language, What I didn’t know until I started writing this post is that prepositions can be more than one word long. Since there are so many prepositions, I can’t name them all off of the top of my head, but there are many lists of them online. Here are some examples:

  • aboard
  • about
  • above
  • absent
  • across
  • after
  • against
  • along
  • alongside
  • amid
  • amidst
  • among
  • amongst
  • around
  • as
  • aside
  • astride
  • at
  • athwart
  • atop
  • barring
  • before
  • behind
  • below
  • beneath
  • beside
  • besides
  • between
  • betwixt
  • beyond
  • but
  • by
  • circa

One quick thing to understand is that a preposition serves the function of informing the reader mainly of a location of an object, or of the relative time. For exmaple:

You should travel under (prep) the bridge and through (prep) the woods before (prep) the princess.

Under and through are related to in what direction the person should travel. Before is telling this person when they should do it.

Secondly, I want you to notice something else about my sample sentence. Every single preposition relates to a noun. YOu don’t go under the woods or through the bridge.  That is because once you place a preposition down, you must follow it with a noun. These nouns are called objects of the prepositions (OP for short.). BAck to the example:

You should travel under (prep) the bridge (OP) and through (prep) the woods (OP) before (prep) the princess (OP).

Pretty simple?

Not really. Although it looks like we have a pretty steady rhythm here of preposition, article, object of the preposition, it’s not always so simple. Take this next example:

After sunset, I walked to the park through the deserted streets.

If you analyze it we get:

After (prep) sunset (OP), I (sub) walked (verb) to (prep) the park (OP) through (prep) the deserted (adj) streets (OP).

Notice, the first prepositional phrase we don’t have an article. The second one we have a typical preposition, article, object of the preposition, and the third we have an adjective tossed in for good measure. Not only that, but “to” is sometimes a preposition, like in the example above, and sometimes an infinitive, like in, “To play”.

The beauty of prepositional phrases however, is that once you figure out where the preposition is, and where the object of the preposition is, you can usually cross everything in between out and this makes analyzing  sentences very easy.  We can take a sentence:

During rainstorms, I can jump over tall trees, from buildings, through raindrops without a scratch on me.

And if we cross out all prepositional phrases we get:

I can jump.

That sentence is much easier to analyze to make sure it is complete , am I right?

Annoying Talkers

By the vary nature of being writers, we need to be aware of grammar and how thing should be said properly. Once, when I was younger, I submitted a story into a writing contest that “would of” and “could of” instead of “would’ve” and “could’ve”. Or would have and could have as I would do it most of the time now. That error, in part,  gave me only honorable mention.

My reasoning with grammar is that if we speak as we should write, then our writing with be better the first time around and we can focus on more serious problems with our manuscripts instead of handling grammatical errors we should have fixed the first time through. With that in mind, I often try to speak, shall we say, properly, even though I do fail quite often.

So, my question for you this week is:

What grammatical mistake that people will use often drives you insane or do you find yourself correctly?

For myself, it’s good versus well. If someone uses good instead of well, I’ll correct them (if polite) including radio DJs. (No, I don’t call them, but I do make nasty comments at the radio.) I’ve been doing it for a little over a year now and most everyone in my family is getting much better.