WriteTip: The Importance Of Writing Rules As Boundaries For Learning Craft

WriteTips-flatSince December of 2010, I’ve been interviewing authors, editors and others almost weekly on craft every Wednesday for SFFWRTCHT, and one of our regular and favorite question is about Best and Worst Writing Advice. It’s always interesting the answers we get. And after hundreds of guests, only a few repeats, it always amazes me how many different answers we get.  In fact, sometimes a repeat guest will answer differently each visit.

But what surprises me sometimes are the harsh rejections of mainstays writing rules like “avoid passives,” etc. I think sometimes experienced writers reach a point where old rules seem more limiting than helpful, perhaps. But I still find and believe, as an editor and author both, that those rules have an important role to play in most writer’s development and growth with craft.

There’s another old adage in entertainment that applies as much to publishing as Hollywood. It goes like this:  “No one knows everything.”

And while it’s true no one knows everything, you do need to know the boundaries before you break them, and writing rules are a great way to learn those.

For example, passives are a weaker form that when employed exclusively or excessively weaken the storytelling and act as telling, not showing. Once you’ve learned how to construct strong sentences, yes, you can use passives effectively, but in the beginning especially, I think learning to write without them is absolutely important and even essential to success.

Another thing about writing rules is that they often outline pet peeves of various people, and some care about one rule more than others. But the value in knowing them is that they tend to help guide you to a stronger path and stronger prose. And they often identify common weaknesses and missteps writers have taken which have hurt their writing, their success, and the appeal of their work not just to publishers but to readers as well. There are differences between writing fiction and nonfiction, between journalism and fiction, and so on. And sometimes fiction rules are helpful if you’re experienced with another form of writing but inexperienced with fiction, as I was.

There’s another adage that gets trotted out too: “Rules are made to be broken.”

You hear people cite writers like Stephen King or Neil Gaiman who have broken rules. And yes, they have and get away with it. But usually they get away with it because the rules are so imbedded into their process that when they stray from them, they do it with such skill that it just works in ways a lesser writer couldn’t manage.  You see, knowing the boundaries so well that they become second nature has advantages, and one of those advantages is that you can later deviate outside them a bit without falling off a cliff.

Let me say it again, knowing the boundaries is necessary before you can risk going outside them. And teaching boundaries is what the writing rules so often taught are for.

As a professional editor of both anthologies and novels, I see people violating the rules all day long. Rarely is it on purpose. Most often it’s because they don’t know the rules or understand how to abide by them. And the result is always sloppier, weaker writer, and a less effectively told tale. ALWAYS. I can’t count how many times a day I have to correct over and over the same errors and explain the same rules. It gets tedious. Sometimes it gets annoying. But it’s the job, and it’s made up for by the pleasure and joy I get in seeing the final polished project overcome these weaknesses and really sparkle and shine.

You can’t be expected to just know everything when starting out. And you won’t learn unless someone takes the time to show you, to explain. So part of my role as editor is to do that for you, gently, but firmly. And I try and do it with a sense of humor, too, to hopefully lessen the sting. But I still have to do it, and you still need to learn the rules.

Just because they seem arbitrary doesn’t mean they are. Just because they can be annoying doesn’t mean you can ignore them.

These rules have developed over decades for good reason. And although they evolve as tastes and grammar and publishing house style guides change, most of them have remained relatively the same for a very long time.

So next time you hear or see your writing hero blow off the rules, don’t take it as an invitation to do so yourself. Your journey is not the same as theirs. In fact, your journey is not identical to anyone’s. Learn the rules, practice them until they become instinct and you can recite them by heart. Learn them until you don’t even remember them anymore, you just do it. Because you’ll be a better writer, that’s what their for. And you’ll be more successful and respected.

And once you have that respect, then you can throw caution to the wind and go crazy. But not before.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013) and coedited Shattered Shields (Bean, 2014) with Jennifer Brozek and is working on Monster Corp.A Red DayMission Tomorrow, andGaslamp Terrors, among others. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

 

WriteTip: On Writing What You Know As A Search For Truth

 

WriteTips-flat

First things first, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts. Apologies to anyone who follows the blog. I honestly ran dry in my well, because I was working on so many creative projects from writing to editing that finding energy, let alone time, for blogging was not happening. I think it was a worthwhile break for me, but I do need to reconnect with my audience I didn’t want to leave you all behind forever, and I certain value our relationship. Thanks for your patience. I am going to try and resume these once a week on Thursdays at least three times a month.

So for our first topic back, I wanted to reflect on an old mainstay, the advice to “Write What You Know.”

In a Twitter interview last night with New York Times Magazine culture editor Adam Sternbergh about his new science fiction noir novel, Shovel Ready, Sternbergh responded to my usual question about good and bad writing advice as follows: “Worst: Write what you know. Classic workshop trope. But what I know isn’t interesting enough for anyone to read.”

On the surface, I understand his sentiments, however, I’m going to disagree. Perhaps if we dug deeper into the statement with Sternbergh, he might agree with me but for now, we’ll just deal with the statement as is.

I believe the advice to write what you know is about a quest for truth. Writing what you know is easier for several reasons. The more familiar you are with them, the more realistic the characters and situations you write will be.  Assuming you only apply this advice to a few things, you might say, “Oh, I’m a journalist, it’s been done, boring,” or “Oh, I’m a housewife, who wants to read that.” However, I think the advice goes deeper.

Whether you’re writing speculative fiction or contemporary, historical or alternate history, readers will only connect with your story if they find elements they can relate with. From characters to situations, your story’s connectivity is going to come from the truths it contains. And so I think the advice to write what you know is very important because if you want people to connect, you must tell the truth, and you can’t write truth without knowing something about it.

In a far future tale on an  alien planet, what resonates with us are the emotions of characters, their relationships, how they see the world. Sometimes those are very different from our own, yes, but that very fact can be illuminating of our own experience. Other times, those emotions, relationships and views are like ours, and in such cases we can see ourselves in the situation reacting with the character.

Regardless of which way it goes, most readers ask themselves questions as they read, like: “What would I do in that situation?” “How would I react?” etc. And so the motives of the characters, their actions, and their emotions need to reflect believable truth for us to really find the story plausible. If they don’t, it doesn’t make sense and leaves us feeling unsatisfied.

So, as cliche as the advice “Write What You Know” may seem on the surface, I have to say it’s become so common because it speaks of a universal truth. In writing, one must write things that are true for his or her story to be true enough for readers to connect with it.  In a sense, writing what you know then becomes less about writing characters, settings, etc. that are based on your real world experiences and yourself, and more about creating ones that reflect reality in some familiar way that readers will relate with. And if that is the case, then writing what you know is indeed very good advice.

Giving writing advice is tough, because so much of it can vary from person to person, even conflict with that of others. You do have to use discernment in applying such advice, of course, and use what you can, ignore what you can’t. But to me, “Write What You Know” is advice we all can use to make our fiction stronger. That’s why I think it comes up so often, and why I think it’s stuck around so long.

Dig deep. Find the truth in your settings, characters, and situations. No matter how fantastical you dress it up, that truth is what will keep readers coming back and make your stories stay with them long after they’ve turned the last page. There’s truth in characters, relationships, settings, and all sorts of details no matter how smile. Find them, use them, and they will bring your fiction depth and make it pop off the page, make it come to life. That’s what good writing is all about. It’s what makes stories successful and memorable.

To me, that’s advice worth knowing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013) and coedited Shattered Shields (Bean, 2014) with Jennifer Brozek and is working on Monster Corp.A Red DayMission Tomorrow, andGaslamp Terrors, among others. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

Write Tip: Using Nuances and Subtext to Bring Characters and World To Life

WriteTips-flatOkay, this week’s write tip is going to be a bit different. I want you to watch this video first before you read the rest of this post. And you need to watch the whole thing to really get what I’m saying here. Watch it. It’s not cheesy. It’s surprisingly touching and funny. And you won’t know what I mean if you don’t make it through the first two minutes. So you have your assignment. Watch and then we’ll get to the tip.

In case you have trouble with the embedded video in your browser, find it on You Tube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcVXCeWk0PE

Now. Showing this to people I’ve gotten several varied reactions.

1) Oh, I would never make a fool out of myself like that.

2) Best dad ever!

3) That’s cute!

4) How creative and fun!

5) I couldn’t do that.

My own reaction: this is a man who loves his daughter enough to demonstrate it and celebrate it.

The typical father-daughter dance at weddings is symbolic. We all know why. It’s the passing of the torch of responsibility for the care of the daughter from father to husband. It signifies a letting go, a goodbye, an acknowledgement of leaving home and that everything has changed.

But not really.

What do I mean?

He could have just danced with his daughter. “Butterfly Kisses” is without a doubt one of the best songs written by a father for his daughter ever. It evokes memories for almost anyone who hears it. F0rget about the mention of Jesus and that it’s from a Christian singer. What makes this song work is that it paints pictures of experiences almost every father and daughter have shared and recognize instantly. And it does so over a moving melody with touching arrangement and score.

It’s the perfect tribute for a memorable moment. And in and of itself, I’m sure that it will be the song by which singer Bob Carlisle is forever remembered. So at any wedding, and it’s sung at thousands every year these days, it makes for the perfect accompaniment to this symbolic moment.

But something happens here. Something unexpected. Something that knocks us out of that moment and into another. It could have been cheesy. It could have been ridiculous. But it’s not. It’s done so well and with such good spirits that instead it is perfect. It absolutely makes for one of the most memorable and meaningful father-daughter dances I have ever seen. Because what I see here is a father who is remembering being silly with his baby girl and celebrating that by doing it one more time. He’s saying, “this dance is not for you or what you think, audience. This is for me and my girl. And it’s a moment we’ll never forget.”

It gives me chills. It’s a celebration of a father’s true love for his daughter, of the joy they find in each other. Of the magic that exists in a parent-child relationship. It’s one last chance to marvel and wonder at what they’ve found together in each other. And it’s a fearless example of self-sacrifice.

This father in no way looks like the type of guy who would just shake his booty like he does here. Now, I don’t know him. He could be a trained pro dancer for all I know. (I doubt it. He wasn’t slick enough, but it doesn’t matter.) The point is that instead of letting a moment be entirely melancholy just because it’s fitting, he decided to turn it into a celebration of the joy of fatherhood with his daughter.

Honestly, that’s love.

And to me, it’s a great example of nuances and subtext.

As an editor, I’ve seen a lot of beginning writers who write transparently. They don’t know how to impart subtext intentionally. Occasionally it happens, but it’s all an accident. It’s a lesson I admit to having to learn and continuing to learn myself.  Because for a story and a world and a character to be real, we as readers need to recognize them. And real people live lives full of subtext and nuances in everything they do.

The simple act of a father dancing with his daughter is just an example. You could assume the motive is transparent. It’s tradition. It’s something you’re expected to do. He doesn’t want to disappoint his daughter or family. It’s that simple.

And if all they had done was dance to “Butterfly Kisses,” that might be all we see here. But that’s not what happens.

Instead, they break it out into something quite different and unexpected and delightful. And from their expressions, their enthusiasm, we can see that it’s about so much more. Missed it? Watch the video again. Seriously.

These are not people who have rehearsed so much that they look like robots. They clearly rehearsed. They match their dance moves too closely for that not to have been the case. But it’s clear they are enjoying it. It’s not done rotely or robotically with no emotion. They look comfortable, relaxed and happy doing it. This is from the heart.

As a result, for me, it’s magic. And that’s the kind of magic we as writers need to earn to work into our stories to make them jump off the page and come alive.

You character hugs his wife goodbye before heading off to battle. It’s what husbands do. What soldiers do. But what else could be behind it? Maybe their marriage has grown cold and routine, and they have to work harder to recapture the passion they had when they first fell in love. Maybe they don’t touch like they used to, and the husband wants to remind the wife one more time that she matters to him, that she’s in his heart.

Or maybe the husband is remembering all the previous times they’ve said goodbye, not knowing if they’d see each other again. Maybe it reminds them of the friends, other married couples, who played out the same goodbye only the warrior never came home.

All kinds of things can be going on.

Our job as writers is to figure out what those things are for these characters and find ways to evoke it through their actions, their thoughts and their words, without necessarily spelling it out directly. It takes subtlety. And it takes good set up. Little hints and moments before and after that multiply together to tell us what’s going on in that moment. But it’s these nuances and the subtext that results which add a depth and poignancy, when done well, that brings both characters and world a level of realism that makes it pop. And sells it to your readers as s0mething they can imagine really happening.

So yes, it’s a wedding video. But I hope now you can see why I’m saying this is so much more. Because I think it is. And our stories need lots of moments with so much more, too. At least, if we want to elevate them beyond the ordinary to the memorable and special, that is. And I know that’s what I’m shooting for. What about you?

For what it’s worth…


Beyond Sun Cover.inddBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl.

Write Tip: 8 Tips For How To Approach Editing Your Work

WriteTips-flatThere’s nothing quite as enlightening for a writer as editing other’s works. I’ve learned a great deal about what to do and what not to do from my freelance editing which has helped me grow as a writer. So here are 10 key tips I’ve learned for Editing Your Novel:

1) Preserve The Fresh Eye — This can’t be overemphasized. I am not possessed of a great deal of patience. Never have been. But I’ve been editing for five years now, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned that has helped me improve my work. But none of that can be applied without having proper perspective. Putting aside your work until the rush of adrenaline and accomplishment at having finished such a monumental project fades (at least 4-6 weeks) is vital. Move on with other projects after a day or two of celebration. Get your mind on other things. You’ll come back much fresher and with better distance to be objective in reviewing your own work. After all, editing requires killing babies and nitpicking your favorite words and phrases, and you can’t be emotionally attached and do that well. This is an excellent time to send the work out for beta reading or notes. While you wait for that feedback, you can’t really begin editing in earnest, right? Or at least shouldn’t.

2) Watch Out For Intruder Words — This one is so vital I did a separate post on it here, but the basics are look for words like “saw, thought, wondered, felt, knew, heard,” etc. are all ‘intruder’ words. They intrude on the action, by stating extemporaneously what can be written more actively.  They pull us out of the intimate POV of the character and throw things into telling or passiveness.  There are times when one might deliberately choose to use intruder words. But these should be done with careful thought and sparingly.   Otherwise “She felt the wind blow across her face” is stronger as “The wind blew across her face”.  Or “She heard a bang” is better written as  ”A bang thundered behind her.”

3) Don’t Abuse The Tags — Speech tags are so common that people use them without much thought, but the industry has come to lean more and more toward minimal usage. When you have two characters going back and forth, you don’t always need to identify the speaker. If one of them makes a gesture or action, you can describe that action instead, and we’ll know the dialogue in the same paragraph is from that character. Also, be careful not to use words that are not descriptors of speech patterns. “I’m coming,” Bob waved, “as fast as I can.” Uh, no. Try: Bob waved in acknowledgement. “I’m coming as fast as I can.” Which makes more sense? I’ll do a post on this later on but it’s something that can and should be looked at in revision. Eliminate as many as you can.

4)  Read Aloud — This is one I struggle with. It can feel odd to read things aloud to yourself, but it also has great value. Especially in finding run-on sentences, awkwardly paced phrasing and even repetitive words. I often read aloud when I am comparing one wording with another to find which is more natural. Just because our internal voice reads as we write doesn’t mean our words will translate the same way for others. Remember that writing is a rhythm of stops and starts. You may pause to choose words and then continue without realizing you’ve just created an awkwardly paced or long sentence, or even missed punctuation that would make it clear. Reading it aloud, or even listening to someone else do so (if you can bear it), can teach you a lot about where you need to make changes.

5) Set Daily Goals — Don’t try and edit your entire novel in one sitting. You will start skimming and skipping without even realizing it. Editing requires a very focused reading and most of the time 2-5 chapters will be more than enough to accomplish in one sitting. Finish them and take a few hours away to refresh before starting on more. It’s okay to set goals for what you want to accomplish each day, but allow flexibility that enables you to step away when you get that glossy-eyed feeling so you can preserve the quality over quantity of your editing time.  Even when editing other people’s work, I set daily goals, because I know that at a certain point I become less effective and my work suffers for it. This happens all the more so when I am editing work I’m so overly familiar with, like my own.

6) Work From A Checklist — Either based on beta reader or editor notes or you own writing experience, having a checklist can be an excellent tool. Cat Rambo provides examples here. What are the areas of weakness and strength you’ve discovered in yourself as a writer? What are things you need to focus on? Is there a particular arc or character speech pattern to examine and refine? Are there themes which you discovered as you wrote you want to work in and layer throughout? What about repetitive words? Do you need to add or trim description? Maybe you need to cut excess words? Having a checklist to refer to with each chapter can keep you from getting sidetracked by one aspect and ignoring others. It can keep you on track and remind you to address all of the issues which were on your mind when you sat down to commence the edit.

7) Evaluate Necessity — One of the most important things to do is to evaluate the purpose of every scene and character. What does this scene or character do to further the plot? How do they relate to the key conflicts? Do they advance the story? World-building is a legitimate way to advance the story but don’t overdo it. 3 pages of double spaced manuscript can be 10 pages in the finished book. Will readers really sit through that much description and detail about every day items, clothing, food, etc.? Did you really need a new character for that moment or could an existing one have been recycled allowing you to develop them further? Does that little vignette about the character’s past or emotional life really contribute to what’s going on now? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you need to be willing to start cutting nonvital characters, scenes, words, etc.

8 ) Be Willing To Work In Stages — Sometimes, especially when an area is a particular weakness, focusing on just one issue while editing is appropriate. You can do separate passes for pacing, removing extra words, character arcs, etc. if necessary. Don’t be so rushed to get it done that you don’t allow yourself the time to get it right. It’s a natural part of the writing journey that we internalize various skills as we go along and develop, but we don’t start out with mastery of them all or an ability to use them all simultaneously. Even as a professional editor, I can’t do a serious copyedit and developmental edit at the same time. I have to do them separately. The two tasks require different types of focus and thinking and one can easily distract from the other. So be willing to break your edit into separate passes or stages when required. Your book will be much better for it.

I’m sure I could think of more tips but that’s enough for today. Those are tips I find are not often remembered because editing discussions so often focus on craft and storytelling details, but how you approach the process can be just as vital to the success of it as those technical details. So I hope these are helpful in stimulating your planning and approach. I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. By the way, these same tips can be applied on a smaller scale to editing short stories as well. And they work for both fiction and nonfiction. I edit all three. For what it’s worth…


BTS & Friend take 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Keeping Out The Intruder Words

WriteTips-flatOne of the things you learn on the writing journey is the importance of word choice. Certain types of words have certain types of impacts on your story, not just in evoking emotions or images, but in setting the tone, creating the voice, world building, and more. Some words create intimacy and a feeling of closeness in point of view, carrying readers inside the mind of your characters, inside the world of the story. Others create barriers, distancing them. Among these are Intruder Words.

‘Wondered, felt, thought, saw, knew, heard,’ etc. are all ‘intruder’ words.  They intrude on the action, by stating extemporaneously what can be written more actively.  They pull us out of the intimate POV of the character and throw things into telling or passiveness.  There are times when one might deliberately choose to use intruder words. But these should be done with careful thought and sparingly.   Otherwise “She felt the wind blow across her face” is stronger as “The wind blew across her face”.  Or “She heard a bang” is better written as  “A bang thundered behind her.”

Can you see the difference?

One form describes something flatly, the other creates an experience of it.

One form is rather drab and ordinary, the other visceral and alive. And thus, avoiding such words can help you create prose that pops off the page, bringing your story to life for readers.

Like anything in writing, retraining yourself to avoid using Intruder Words takes practice. At first, you’ll have to go back through and weed them out, like the common passives “began to, seemed to, going to, starting to,” etc. These words are used so naturally in speech and daily living that they’ll pour out of you like maple syrup from a tree. And it will take building your conscious awareness to start relearning when and when not to use them.

Once you’re aware of the problem, however, the process of identifying and eliminating these words can actually be good practice. If like me, you struggle with descriptive phrasing and writing viscerally, they provide an opportunity to learn craft through lots of practice, because you’ll undoubtedly find these words invading your prose on every page. But over time, with practice, you’ll find your mind filters them as you write. “Stop, need a new word,” that inner voice will say. And then, after a while more, you won’t even think of them. At least, not automatically. And using them intentionally is the only way you want to do it when it comes to your prose.

Don’t worry. We’re not talking about something that will make you talk funny. There’s a difference between how people talk and how we must write, after all. As my English teacher Barbara Sackrider once said: “If you say y’all in my classroom, you get an F, but if you talk to me on the street and say ‘you all,’ I’ll look at you like a freak.” Okay, she was joking.  But her point was well taken by my 15-year-old mind. After all, English dialects are complicated and the rules of grammar are tailor-made to be broken by them.

Let’s compare two passages: one with Intruder Words and one without.

 

With

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?  The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. He saw footsteps leading toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Then he saw limbs scattered along the path away from the torso—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off above the ankle—and he knew the answer.

Without

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?  The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. Footsteps led toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Scattered severed limbs—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off mid-calf—provided the answer.

 

Which works better for you? Which is more powerful and draws you? Can you see the difference?

Don’t let Intruder Words intrude in your stories and on your readers. Instead, replace them with words that help bring your stories to life and draw readers in. It’s a sure sign of a writer who’s professional rather than amateur. It’ll help take your prose to the next level.

For what it’s worth…


The Returning Cover front onlyBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 6 Advantages Of Scrivener For Pantsers

Okay, this post will make Patrick Hester very happy. Why? Patrick loves Scrivener. He might as well be a spokesperson, seriously! But for writers, this post should also make you happy, especially if you’re a pantser like me. In case anyone doesn’t know the terms, pantsers are those of us who, rather than outlining, prefer to discover the story as we write. We may make a few notes about plot twists, characters, scenes, etc., but mostly we write unstructured. It allows us to experience the story in the same way a reader or POV character might. For strict outliners, it sounds like craziness, living on the edge. Might as well jump off a cliff. But for pantsers, it’s liberating.

Regardless, Literature and Latte’s Scrivener is certainly a popular writing program. It’s also a lot more affordable than most these days.  Developed by writers, for writers, it used to be available only for MAC but now there’s a PC version as well. And priced at just $40 US for the full version, it’s a bargain. What is Scrivener?

Scrivener is a word processing program designed specifically for writing prose. You create folders and text pages within them, allowing each chapter and scene to be separate. Or, you can just create one big folder and write it all there. Since the program was designed to be used breaking things up, that’s the method I’d recommend, but I don’t want to scare off those who bristle at the idea. Why do  I recommend that? What are its advantages?

Well,  the advantages of it are some of the very things that make Scrivener advantageous for pantsers.

1) You can move scenes within and outside of chapters with just a mouse click and drag. Ever write something and realize it’s in the wrong place? Every write something and decide later it doesn’t quite work but feel loathe to throw it out? No more creating new holding documents or saving scenes to clog up your folders. Instead, you can move it around. Switch the order of scenes within a chapter. Move a scene to another chapter. Move a scene to a holding folder for use later when relevant. All can be done in a matter of seconds with Scrivener.  Use either the menu bar to the left edge of the screen and drag and drop or use the corkboard and just click and drag things around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Formatting is a snap. You just type your words and let Scrivener do the rest. It can even convert italics to underlining, emdashes to double dashes, and more. It adds headers, page numbers, chapter headings, all fairly seemlessly, saving you a lot of work. And with the templates included you can format it not just standard manuscript format but as paperbacks and other options, even save to PDF.

3) Exporting To Word is easy. .RTF or .DOC export is simple. I use it daily to back up my work, but, technically, you don’t have to export until you’re done and ready to send it off. Use those handy formatting features I just mentioned to format the document per guidelines of a specific editor, agent or market. Conversion is fast and you can then make any adjustments to the Word document that are necessary (usually only a few). Once you learn how to use it, the adjusting will not be very involved. You can also set up a title page including word count (which the program counts automatically), your contact info and agent, etc.

4) Notes Within The Project. You can keep notes within the project itself. Scrivener’s default projects include folders for character notes, place notes, and research in addition to your manuscript. And the trash saves anything you drag and drop there until you tell it to delete. All stored in a project folder that’s easy to back up. And none of the extra stuff converts to word unless you tell it to.

5) Synopsis & Outlining Ease. Using the synopsis and outline features, Scrivener can save a tone of time. Wait! We’re pantsers! Yeah, I know, but if you sell that manuscript or get an agent, you’re going to need a synopsis and probably an outline. Editors often ask for these, especially for second books. These resources allow you to more easily cull data from your project into outlines and synopses in a much more rapid fashion. I don’t know about you, but anything that makes those things easier for me is awesome in my book.

6) Finding scenes or chapters for review is a snap. Need to reference a previous scene? Just scan the corkboard or left side menu, click and you’re there, boom! And you can go back to the scene you’re working on just as fast. No need to use Find searches for a phrase or flip back and forth or print one so you can have it handy. No need even for two monitors so both can be open or a split screen. Scrivener makes that easy.

Here’s another advantage. Literature and Latte is so confident in their project, they let you download a full version for a one month trial FREE. Yep. Try it out first. If you don’t like it, convert the project into Word and you can continue working there. It’s really a great way to try out something new. And they know that if you take the time to learn and use it effectively, you’ll probably wind up just buying it and continuing to use it. I know I did.

Believe, I know how hard it can be to change, how set we writers get in our routines i.e. what works for us. I also know how little time we have or want to spend learning new software or changing all that, but what if it could save you time and frustration in the long run, leaving you more time to write?

Whatever the case, I find Scrivener to be incredible freeing in a  number of ways. All of the above have saved me time and stress. And as the program continues to improve and I continue to explore it, I’m sure it will only get better. Others of you who use Scrivener, what are advantages you’ve found? I’d love to hear them in comments. For what it’s worth…

For downloads, demos and more information, check out the Scrivener website here: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Intimate POV and Show v. Tell

I dislike the “show v. tell” term because it’s often bandied about with no further explanation. For the longest time, this flummoxed me. Where was I telling? How could I show? But as an editor, I’ve gotten a better understanding, coming across situations where just a few word changes would make a world of difference.

For example, which feels more immediate and in the moment:

I heard a bowstring twang just as Roger crashed into me.

A bowstring twanged as Roger crashed into me.

Any time you use “I saw,” “I thought,” “I felt” etc. you are taking us out of the intimacy of seeing the world through your characters eyes into the world where the character is standing back and examining it, not acting.  Let us see through her eyes. Active action happening right now is more powerful.”Felt” is on a list of passive verbs that should be avoided as much as possible. Phrases like “made me feel” or “a feeling came over me” may be wordier but they work better because they create the feeling in readers that the POV character is experiencing the emotion right now. It’s more intimate. We are inside their head, not hearing them narrate a story after the fact. Even better are descriptive phrases.I felt angry at the sight of him.At the sight of him, my breaths shortened and my body tensed. I clamped my lips together, fighting the urge to speak my mind.No mention of “anger” and yet the second makes it clear what emotions the POV character is feeling, right?”Was” and “Were” are burdensome as well. Although sometimes unavoidable in description and exposition, look for every opportunity to replace them with more colorful verbs. For example:His face was still calm.His face remained calm.Seeing her approach, I began to back away.Seeing her approaching, I backed away.

The same thing but one is more immediate. It may be subtle but over the course of the novel or story little bits add up. It sometimes helps to keep a list of passive verbs and vet your manuscript in a later draft, looking for places where they can be replaced easily with better wording.  This way you are not so caught up in trying to avoid them that it stymies getting words on the page. After all, it’s easier to fix what already exists than to create it in the first place. At least, most of the time that’s been my experience.

In a great post on her blog about this topic, agent Natalie Lakosil suggests: “My favorite way to think about it is to imagine that your book is the patient, and your reader is the doctor who needs to figure out what is wrong with them. When a patient walks in, they don’t say: ‘I have appendicitis.’ They’re going to say, ‘My side hurts and I keep throwing up!'”

To translate this into your fiction, she offers the following examples:

Don’t write: She was sad. 
Do write: She felt as if the sun would never shine again. It was a crushing, heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Oh no, she used “she felt,” but she recognizes this is sometimes a problem and offers this alternative to avoid it:A heavy, crushing feeling settled over her; tears welled in her eyes and she couldn’t breathe. Etc.etc.

The context of the story will make much clear. Is the character sad? Scared? Desperate? Angry? Nervous? Horny? All of the above? (Unlike, I know.) The reader will see by how the character acts in the scene as it plays out which is the right answer and that makes the story more powerful in many ways.Sometimes, telling is natural. As Lakosil points out with this example: “I advise to keep it real. Your patient isn’t going to walk in and say, ‘I believe I have an acute hyperactive diaphragm’; they’re going to say, ‘I have the hiccups!'”

Telling not only weakens the dramatic impact of the story and the intimacy with your narrator for readers, but it can also make a story feel predictable by foreshadowing too much, instead of keeping readers guessing if they were right.

Lakosil writes: “Readers like to feel smart; they like to be able to say, ‘I knew it!’ without feeling like they were told or led to that conclusion, but rather because they’re just that awesome at reading into clues.”

If you tell the reader something your character doesn’t know, the reader will feel disconnected. Frustration comes when the character fails to pick up on it and act.

Here’s Lakosil’s solution: “Think backwards. You’re the doctor; what do you need your patient to tell you in order to figure out what’s wrong with them? What logical order do you need to hear these symptoms in to figure it out?” She also warns: “Try to think through if what you’re leading with, or what you’re developing plot-wise, is answering or revealing things that don’t need to be answered or revealed yet. And also check if what you’re revealing is a why or a what.”

Motive and events are not always the same. If a person is dead that tells you little about how they died or why in many cases. Bullet holes to the brain are obvious, poison is not. And we know nothing yet of who killed them and why. Skilled mystery writers employ this powerfully. Revealing the why too early makes the reader ahead of the narrator and the story feel predictable and slow. The narrator becomes an idiot who is unsympathetic. Why can’t she see this already, the dolt?

So whys and whats should be paired so that they work together in a logical order that carries the plot forward to its denouement without ruining the anticipation and surprise.

So avoiding telling is really a matter of creating and  nurturing intimacy between story and reader. Finding ways to keep the reader and narrators close so that the reader experiences events unfolding like real time, immediately, right now. These are several examples of things you can pinpoint which detract from that. I hope it helps you unravel a bit of the mystery behind the “Show v. Tell” criticism that’s commonly thrown around. For another helpful posts on this topic: see The Six Degrees Of Show V. Tell http://victoriamixon.com/2010/12/01/the-6-degrees-of-show-vs-tell-rated-by-quality/.

Happy writing!

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress,  forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tips: Writing The Short Query Novel Pitch

Query letters and synopses are the bane of so many authors’ existence, aren’t they? I dread them and find them quite frustrating. They never seem to elicit the kind of enthusiastic response equal to that I get from my writing itself. It’s always disappointing when readers are loving a manuscript but you can’t agents or publishers to take a look. Yes, I know it’s all about numbers (i.e. percenatages) and finding the right match, but still, it’s so much easier when you can let the writing sell itself, but that’s not how the industry works.

Now, there’s good reason for that. By sheer quantity alone, agents and editors just can’t read all the millions of words that people try and put on their desks. A weeding out of wheat from chafe is necessary and there’s not a perfect way to do that. So query letters and synopses remain key elements of getting professionally published. I don’t see this changing for the foreseeable future either.

That leaves writers with one option: we must learn how to write queries and synopses. So I decided to do a series of Write Tips on related topics as I prepare for my latest round. This first one is going to deal with one of the most important but challenging: writing the short query synopsis for your book. You have to hook them in 100 words and get them to want more. It’s really tough to sum up a 130k novel in 100 words. 90k novels, too. But one of the first paragraphs and key paragraphs of any good query, research says, is the synopsis of the book. So, here’s the one I am working on for Duneman, book 1 of my epic fantasy trilogy The Dawning Age.

The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself. Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.

But before we talk about that, here’s where I started and some Facebook comments that helped me get where I am. (And I am still not done.)

In a world transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead. As he begins piecing back together his identity and his past, he sets out to rescue the kidnapped wife and child who hold the answers he needs. But soon he discovers things are not what they seem—discovering skills he hadn’t imagined he had and evidence that the wife and child are not who he thought. Others are hunting them with nefarious goals and the race is on to see who will get there first. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to uncover the truths about himself and his past and protect his future.

Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Here are comments from my Facebook page a couple of months back when I posted this.

    • Tim Ward I’m not really one to judge query letters, but it looks like a story I’d want to read.
    • Charles P. Zaglanis I would suggest using their names. Even as an introduction, I want to get a feel for the people in the story. Also, maybe excise the bit that sounds like Total Recall, the movie didn’t do well.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel Ooooh – I really like the sound of this! 🙂 Might I suggest: “In a world transitioning from a war-torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead and his wife and child kidnapped/missing/lost/gone/taken. Setting out to rescue them, he soon discovers things are not what they seem – his family may not be who he thought, others are on the hunt for them and he possesses skills previously unknown to him. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, the race is on for him to rescue his wife and child, protect their future and uncover truths about himself.”
    • Cindy Koepp Neato! That sounds like one I’d want to read.
    • Jay Werkheiser Here are a few tweaks I might recommend, but bear in mind that I’m no expert on writing query letters! I’d drop “back” from piecing back his identity. You use forms of the word “discover” twice in the same sentence; I would change one of them. Also in that sentence, I would drop “he had” after skills he hadn’t imagined. In the next sentence, I would drop “with nefarious goals” and “to see who gets there first;” I think both are already implied by the context. Like I said, take my suggestions with a large grain of salt; use what you like and ignore the rest! In any case, it sounds like a cool novel!
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt Jay, Chelvanya, helpful thanks. Thanks Tim and Cindy and even Joe. Charles, honestly, which part sounds like Total Recall? I am missing it…
      Also the problem with names is his identity changes over the course of the story. So it’s hard to know which name to use.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel I like the idea of using his name but I can see why it would be tricky. If you want to use a name, maybe you could use whatever name he starts out with? I feel like using a name works best when the name is unique (even if it is going to change). OR maybe to get that same connection to the story via a name, why not give us the name of the world?
    • Guy Anthony De Marco Any time I see “In a world”, the voice switches to the guy who does voice-overs for movie trailers and I get distracted 🙂
    • Ann Leckie Ditto on using names, at least your MC. I have the same problem with my MC, and I chose one for the query. Which was very successful. I’m in agreement with the “In a world where…” being maybe not the best approach. I also think that “transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason” is a bit awkward–I had to take a couple runs at it to separate it out. And I’d suggest that it’s information that doesn’t need to be in the first sentence. It should be there, just not right up front like that, IMO.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. <–there’s a contradiction here. You tell us his wife and child are missing, then he has questions about his relationship to the kidnapped woman and child…but you’ve already told us what that is. I’d recommend introducing the kidnapped woman and child as unknowns (and telling us why he cares about rescuing them), then raising the question of how they might be related to him. I think we need to know more specifically what the conflict is and how it relates to the peace of their world and Kaleb’s personal quest to find out who he is.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The challenge is he starts out believing one thing and so do we as readers, but it gets twisted and changes over the course of the story. How to convey that in a way that won’t have someone who accepted a query feeling deceived is difficult.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2b: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d say “apparent relationship with the kidnapped woman and child”, and make the things he discovers about his world and himself a little more apparent. Also, if he doesn’t remember who he is, how does he know his wife and child are missing? Is there evidence that’s been planted to make him think that? If he doesn’t remember and doesn’t feel anyhting for them because of that lack of memory, why does that draw him through the story? (these are just questions I’ve got, which an agent might also have. I’m still trying to figure out why his quest has anything to do with the conflict between magic and science, war and peace. Can you tie that more solidly together? At the moment, I can’t figure out why he cares about the woman and child or the transition of the government from magic to science, because what you’ve given is still a bit too vague.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d also just say that all your secrets don’t have to be saved until later. Sometimes you have to spoil the plot a bit in order to show off the main conflict.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I like that a lot better! I think it explains more. What’s still missing is what this has to do with the peace of their world. What role will Kaleb play?
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
      Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.
Okay, that gives you a sense of where I started and how it evolved. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear in comments. Next we’ll discuss the rest of the query before we move on to the big synopsis.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 7 Things You Should Never Do After Getting Revision Notes From An Editor

Getting a personal response on a story you’ve submitted from an editor is a big deal for most writers. At least those of us in the early years of our career. To have gotten a personal response at all puts you in the elite. After all, writers spend years getting form rejections and some never get over the hurdle to a personal response. It means your story was good enough to get past slush readers or first readers to the editor themselves. And it means that it impressed them enough–i.e. you impressed them enough–they felt you deserved the respect of a personal reply. When that reply is not a rejection but a request for revisions and invitation to resubmit that’s even better. It’s okay to be excited. It’s okay to be terrified. Such events rightly provoke both. But before you respond, you should think carefully about your next move. Here’s some things I’ve learned as both editor and in discussion with other editors and writers that you shouldn’t do:

1) Tell People You Have A Story Sale – You don’t have a sale until you get a contract, or, at the very least, a note from the editor saying he or she wants to buy the story. So don’t jump the gun. It can not only be embarrassing but it’s unprofessional. Do it more than once, not only will your friends not take you seriously when you tell them the next time, but fellow pros may not take you seriously in other contexts as well. It’s okay to be excited. It’s okay to tell people you got a personal note. But represent it for what it is and don’t jump the gun.

2 ) Send Back a Rant – This may seem obvious but writers often have a range of reactions to story notes. Sometimes, especially when the notes are simple, they’re pleased and relieved. Changes can be made quickly and easily, with no stress and hardly any effort, and the story sent back. But other times, and usually this is the case when an editor asks you to revise and resubmit, there may be substantial changes requested. Some may even seem to take your story in a different direction than you’d planned. Some may make you think the editor missed what you were trying to do. If the changes are unclear, contacting the editor is okay, but never in anger. Even if you think the editor’s stupid or wrong, that’s information best kept between yourself, your mother, your lover and your pets. Don’t discuss it on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t mention the editor by name if you don’t have to. Keep it to a small, close circle.  Sharing that with anyone else is bad news, especially the editor and other pros. It will never bring good results. It can only bring trouble. Save the Rant. Trust me.

3)Rewrite From Scratch – Sometimes the changes are overwhelming, either because they require a lot of work or restructuring, even a completely rewritten section, perhaps, or because you don’t know how to do them. Once you get past the “OMG, a professional editor liked my story enough to write back personally” phase and the “OMG I’m on the verg of a sale” phase, stop and think. By all means, reread the story carefully to see what’s asked for. Jot down notes if ideas come to you on some of the changes.  By all means make the changes that seem obvious and simple. If an idea comes to you for the more complicated ones that seems to get it where the editor wants you to go, make it. But the one thing you shouldn’t do is start over from scratch. Undoubtedly the notes will ask for changes. But along with that, they likely mention things the editor liked. If they didn’t see potential for a sale, you’d have just gotten a rejection, after all. So be sure you preserve what they liked about the story while fixing what they don’t. I had a writer almost rewrite himself out of an anthology I was editing because he took his story back with my notes and trashed half of what I loved about it in a complete rewrite.  This was a friend. And it was my first anthology as editor, so I called him and we discussed it. With a few more changes, I bought it anyway, but most editors would just pass. They don’t have the time or personal interest to put in that effort, so don’t over complicate it for yourself.

4) Bombard The Editor With Endless Questions – It’s okay to ask for clarifications if there’s something you don’t understand when an editor sends notes. It’s also okay if word changes are asked that you’re not comfortable with to explain the original choice and then ask if you can keep it. Editors send lots of changes. Not all of them are deal breakers. They know which ones they are but they might not spell it out. Wait until you’re reread the story and reviewed all the notes. Make the changes you’re comfortable with right away before contacting the editor. Then ask the rest in a clear manner, one at a time, noting page, etc. Don’t call the editor unless they invited you to do so. Do this by email or letter, depending on how they contacted you. Editors get lots of phone calls and have lots of obligations. Calling uninvited is a bit like demanding attention right now. Unless you’re a regular contributor or friend to the editor, you don’t want to send that message yet. And if you get to three emails with such questions all initiated by you, don’t hit send. Instead, stop and find someone else to bounce it off of. Trust me. Unless the editor shows clear interest and willingness to make time for ongoing discussion, you risk making yourself a pest or coming off as needy and difficult. Neither will endear you to the editor. They may pass on not only your story but you.

5) Rush Through The Tweaks Asked For Without Careful Reread And Consideration Of How They Affect The Rest – If an editor has taken the time to send notes and encourage you to resubmit, they’ve probably read your story more than once. They’ve given careful thought to what you’re trying to accomplish, how it fits with what they’re trying to accomplish and how best to get you there. But they’ve also likely read the story more recently than you have. Don’t send in revisions without a complete, careful reread of your story. Do not skim. Sit down when you can relax and consider every word. The last thing you want is a hasty rewrite that messes up other elements of the story. Make sure it’s right before you resubmit every time.

6 ) Send The Story To Another Market And Ignore The Editor – You should always respond to the editor with at least a short “thank you.” Even if you decide the changes requested are not something you’re comfortable with. It is your story, after all. It’s okay to thank them for their interest and the kind time they took to read the story and offer notes. You can tell them you’d prefer to send the story as is to other markets first. But be sure and let them know one way or the other whether they can expect it. Especially with anthologies, the editor may be holding other stories to wait and see yours. They have deadlines, too.  Trust, it’s very frustrating as an editor to be waiting for a resubmission that never comes. Be Professional. Communicate. If you don’t and they later see it somewhere else, you have made a bad impression it’ll be hard to shake.

7) Throw The Story In the Circular File – This one I always thought was obvious but I’ve learned it’s not. Just because the story was not perfect does not make it a failure. Throwing out stories in haste is a fool’s game. It’s wasting potential. Even if you don’t want to make the requested changes, maybe another editor will like it. After all, if your story made it past the slush and first readers to the editor him/herself, then that’s saying something. If they made time to personally respond, that’s saying something else: they respect your talent and like your story. Even if they don’t accept it, this is not the time to give up on it. Get what you can from their notes and get it back out there. The next editor may buy it on the spot.

Okay, there’s 7 Write Tips For What Not To Do After Getting Revision Notes From An Editor. Love to hear comments if you have any more. Meanwhile, hope this is helpful. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Collective Nouns And Impracticality For Writers (aka Word Choice Matters)

An “eloquence of lawyers?” Who comes up with these? Seriously. Have you ever run into collective nouns lists? Some of them are hard to believe. What were they thinking?

“A parliament of owls.”
“A covert of coots.”
“A murder of crows.” (You may have seen the meme on this one.)
“A pace of asses.”
“A pomp of pekingese.”
“A blessing of unicorns” doesn’t seem as bad, I mean, come on, unicorns are a blessing!
“A disguising of tailors” though is damned odd. And you already saw the lawyers one.

For more, Tiny Online has a great list divided by category here: http://users.tinyonline.co.uk/gswithenbank/collnoun.htm

Looking at the list made me ask a very simple but important question: Are these usable?

Some are known, so no issue. But others, like the examples, not only do you risk not being understood, but you risk taking people out of a story by either laughter or just the double take they do. What would you do in such a case? Use the correct term or stick with a generic like “a gathering of owls,” “a forest full of owls,” “a tree full of owls,” or even “a group of owls?” I mean, do you want to have to explain that the owls are not a) politically organized into structured bodies with a voting system and role in societal lawmaking? or b) explain they have no official capital and building where they hold chambers?  This comes, of course, from the images and questions the term “parliament” used in this way evokes.  But let’s look at a definition via my old friend: Dictionary.com.

par·lia·ment

[pahr-luh-muhnt or, sometimes, pahrl-yuh-] Show IPA

noun

1.

( usually initial capital letter ) the legislature of Great Britain,historically the assembly of the three estates, nowcomposed of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, formingtogether the House of Lords, and representatives of thecounties, cities, boroughs, and universities, forming theHouse of Commons.

2.

( usually initial capital letter ) the legislature of certain British colonies and possessions.

3.

a legislative body in any of various other countries.

4.

French History . any of several high courts of justice in France before 1789.

5.

a meeting or assembly for conference on public or national affairs.
Origin: 
1250–1300; Middle English:  discourse, consultation, Parliament <Anglo-Latin parliamentum,  alteration of Medieval Latin parlāmentum < Old French parlement  a speaking, conference ( see parle-ment); replacing Middle English parlement  < Old French

Related forms

an·ti·par·lia·ment, adjective
in·ter·par·lia·ment, adjective
sub·par·lia·ment, noun
Example Sentences
  • Nobody can expect a parliament to stablish what is good and what isevil.
  • The interim government will have to contend with the same cantankerousparliament that made life miserable for the old leadership.
World English Dictionary
parliament  (ˈpɑːləmənt)
— n
1. an assembly of the representatives of a political nation or people, often the supreme legislative authority
2. any legislative or deliberative assembly, conference, etc
3. Also: parlement  (in France before the Revolution) any of several high courts of justice in which royal decrees were registered
[C13: from Anglo-Latin parliamentum,  from Old French parlement,  from parler  to speak; see parley ]
Parliament  (ˈpɑːləmənt)
— n
1. the highest legislative authority in Britain, consisting of the ouse of Commons, which exercises effective power, the House of Lords, and the sovereign
2. a similar legislature in another country
3. the two chambers of a Parliament
4. the lower chamber of a Parliament
5. any of the assemblies of such a body created by a general election and royal summons and dissolved before the next election

Hmmm, no mention of owls in any of those. But plenty of mention of terms like “legislative authority, “assembly,” and “courts.” Do you see where readers might be confused?

I think word choices matter. They should fit the world, the time setting and the context without being showy or standing out.  Don’t show yourself in your work. You want readers to forget the writer and be immersed. I like learning new words, but novels aren’t the main place I go for it. If I can understand the word in context and continue reading, I’m fine with it, but if it pulls me out of the story by forcing me to seek a dictionary before continuing, I consider that bad writing. I know some will disagree, but one of my definitions of good writing is something seamless and flowing that challenges the reader without making them feel like they’re working hard. So words like these must be used with care. the argumeent “but it’s the correct term” does nothing to address the qualifications I just laid out nor the fact that if it’s obscure and rarely used, by using it, you are pointing out its oddity in a way and letting the more important goal of communicating with your readers fall by the wayside in the process.

I come from the school of readers which is more impressed with how immersed I get in your story and world than by your vocabulary. For me, the main value of diverse vocabulary is to have better words to paint pictures and vary the phrasing in descriptions as well as create dialogue unique to characters, not to show of your intelligence. But there have been many times I have read a book and wondered which goals the author had in mind. When fiction reading becomes work and not fun, I quickly lose interest, no matter whose name is on the cover. As usual, I know some writers will disagree with me, but I make this Write Tip anyway because it’s worth thinking about the choices you make, why you make them and how they affect readers.   Readers and critiques will overlook a lot of flaws if they enjoy your book. On the other hand, if you force them to work harder and look more deeply, or, even worse, annoy them, you may be in for more than you bargained for.

So I guess the moral of the story is: just because a word exists and is technically correct doesn’t make it the best word to use in your prose. Give thought to other factors before you finalize the choice. What are your goals? What are your motives? What are the possible results? Will the choice get you where you want to go with all of them?

That’s the bottom line for me. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sunforthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Broadening The Toolbox Through Cross Cultural Encounters: On Resnick, Africa & Opportunity

I’ve often called Mike Resnick a friend and mentor. And recently as he was honored at ChiCon as Guest Of Honor, I’ve gone back and revisited some of the works of his which have most inspired me. I was not a longstanding Resnick fan. In fact, I barely knew who he was when I read a review in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction comparing various speculative fiction stories which made use of other cultures. Discovering Mike’s passion for Africa and success with stories inspired by it, I looked him up and emailed him about my passion for Africa. The next thing I knew he’d sent me files of all of the stories and I began to read. Then we opened a dialogue that launched me into my Resnick discovery. What I admire so much about Mike’s use of African characters and culture is that unlike so many Westerners he seems to find value in their dedication to traditions and their passion for their traditional ways, while still recognizing some of the weaknesses and failings which have resulted. He’s done a remarkable job of writing characters who feel authentic without making them look silly or backward but leaving it up to us to decide who deserves admiration and who doesn’t. In his trilogy of Chronicles Of A Distant WorldParadise, Inferno and Purgatory–he used African history and political events as the inspiration for planetary colonization, getting inside the minds of alien races as well as human colonists and, in the process, wound up predicting some events which happened in real African history in the cultures he used for inspiration. I think, like me, Resnick has seen the value of observing a culture without making snap judgements based on our own presuppositions and he has sought to present those cultures in a respectful light despite any obvious failings.

[My brief reviews of several such Resnick books can be found as follows: Kirinyaga, Inferno, Purgatory, Ivory.]

Resnick is not the only author to dabble in African storytelling, of course, Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor has used her culture in her writings extensively and Alan Dean Fosters’s Into The Out Of makes great use of African cultures as well. Writers like Paolo Bacigalupi and Jason Sanford have used their own crosscultural experiences with Asian nations in their writing, and Lucius Shepard is well known for his stories of Latin American culture. I myself just had a short story published that employed US-Mexico border culture. And I think these kinds of explorations are rich fodder and rife with the opportunity to break away from traditional storylines and tropes. One of the great advantages for writers of world travels is the opportunity to get inside the heads of those who see the world very differently from how we see it ourselves, study their traditions, customs, ideas, etc. and find inspiration for writing more complex and interesting and nuanced tales. You don’t have to agree with a point of view to get inside the heads of those who hold it. You do have to respect their right to have their own beliefs though, I think. And perhaps that’s where the challenge lies today, particularly here in the United States where ideological political differences more often divide and destroy respect rather than encourage it. It’s hard to accept those with whom we strongly degree, it seems. And media and pundits work hard to keep it that way.

But for me, an upper middle class doctor’s kid, spending time in African cities and tribal villages and Brazilian cities and slums, etc. has made me see the world as a much bigger place than I ever could have imagined before those experiences. It’s widened my box and my lens and allowed me to ask questions I wasn’t accustomed to asking and even consider options which might not have occurred to me before 2000 when I started my world travels. I find some of the customs and attitudes I encounter in these places to be frustrating and misinformed, yes, but I also find some of them inspiring and worthwhile. There are many things of value we could learn from each other if we just took the time. For example, the unity of African community is something that would benefit us greatly in the West. I blog about it here and how much I think we could learn from their sense of oneness and unity. Their focus on conversation and hanging out represents another lost opportunity. Africans love to spend their evenings not in front of the TV, but gathering with neighbors and friends to discuss news, weather, life, work, the universe and everything in between. Even when they do watch television or movies, they invite people to join them. I rarely saw them sitting around alone doing such activity.  Life is a communal experience. Africans seem to find joy in the little things and lack of things which we take for granted as well. It was a stunning reminder to me that those who have often lose appreciation for their condition and that those who are accutely aware of their lack often have a freedom we lack.

This is why what Apex and Lavie Tidhar have done with their Book of World SF anthologies is so important. There are other ways to see the world through the specfic lens, and by taking the time to see them, we can learn a lot about ourselves which we’d never expected and might not see any other way. We can also discover possibilities for viewing the world which never occurred to us. People operating with different experiences, assumptions and histories tend to view the same situations through different eyes. And there are few things better for teaching us how to write diverse and real characters with truly different points of view than seeing the world through the eyes of real people with such varied points of view. Admittedly, what we see isn’t always going to be pleasant. But then the nihilistic trends of the media and much fiction have left behind the happy ending fairy tales of our youth anyway. Those open to the possibilities of positives will find them, while those focused primarily on negatives will not. It’s not even that one should want to or have to write characters of different cultures as much as getting inside the heads of people who push us outside our stereotypes and go-to ideas so that we can write something different than we might have before. Resnick, Okorafor, Foster, and others have done this quite well, which is why, looking back at their work now, I am reminded how much difference it can make for writers to take the time to experience such things for themselves.

When I spent time volunteering in prisons, I came away telling people that everyone should go and experience that for themselves because “the inmates are a lot more like us than you’d imagine.” For me, it was a scary and yet sobering reminder that human beings no matter their backgrounds, etc. have more in common than different. The same held true of my experiences in other cultures. I tell everyone to visit a developing world country at least once. See for yourselves what you’ve only imagined from the pages of National Geographic or TV specials about starvation, etc. Go there and experience it and be forever changed. If you’re not changed, you’re doing something wrong. I don’t see how you couldn’t be. Don’t fear this kind of change. It’s the good kind–the kind that makes you smarter, wiser, more aware and more appreciative. It’s the kind that makes you a better person and inspires you to write better stories and live better lives. That kind of change can’t be a bad thing, can it?

I’m grateful that writers I admire have taken the time to make use of those lessons and changes from their own lives. I only hope that I and others can do a better job of it in the future, for there are great stories that deserve to be told, waiting to be told, waiting to be discovered. And there’s a far richer tapestry than we often remember with which we can tell those stories. In a genre where it’s often said “there are no new ideas, only new ways of telling them,” it’s hard to pass up any chance to broaden one’s storytelling horizons and toolbox, isn’t it? I know it has been for Mike Resnick, Alan Dean Foster, Nnedi Okorafor and for me.

For what it’s worth…


Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Summer 2000 with Eyram Gbewonyo

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Things Pros Wish New Authors Knew About Publishing And Don’t

This started out to be a top 10 list. You know the saying: “Advice is like buttholes, everybody’s got one.” And when it comes to writing, advice is like sand on a beach: everywhere. But sifting the sand to separate the pure from the soiled can be tricky. Authors seeking publication approach pros all the time seeking help, opportunity, pitching their novels and stories. And often the difference between positive and negative response lies in the professionalism of the author who’s asking. The more informed you are about the business, the better position you’re in to approach people and sell yourself. But all too many still get it wrong.

Then I asked professional authors, editors and publishers I know what advice they wish new authors knew about publishing but don’t and got such diverse and great responses, I didn’t need to write a post, so here they are broken down by category and source. I hope you find them helpful. Although the people I asked are from the Science Fiction and Fantasy end of publishing because those are my circles, most of this advice applies to writers regardless of genre.

According to Publishers:

Jason Sizemore, Publisher of Apex says:

1) Asking me to sign a pledge or promise or contract stating I won’t steal their idea. You might be surprised to know this happens once in awhile.

2) Responding to edits in an unprofessional manner. I’m one of the easiest editors in the business to get along with, so I get doubly annoyed when an author gets snotty about suggested edits. Just tell me what you disagree with and let’s have a professional conversation about them. There is a good chance I will side with the author.

3) Being impatient. Publishing is the proto-typical “hurry up and wait” profession. If that is an aspect of the business you can’t deal with, then you’re probably in the wrong business.


Brian Hades, Publisher of Edge Books, says:

1)      Publishers are human.

2)      Publishers are dedicated.

3)      Publishers have deadlines.

4)      Publisherrs have a vision of the future.

5)      Publishers want to be your partner.

6)      Publisher’s are not on-demand printers.

7)      Publishers have submission guidelines for a reason.

8)      Publishers do not have spare time.

9)      Publishers want your success as much as they want their own.

10)   Publishers have a business plan, and think you have one too.

 

Grace Bridges, Editor and Publisher of Splashdown Books says:

Relationships are the single most important factor in getting published, once you have a good story. Be professional, be polite, don’t be a jerk, but don’t suck up either. Be real, and connect.

 

According to Editors:

Cat Rambo, freelance editor and author and the former editor of Fantasy Magazine, she’s dealt with a lot of authors selling stories. Here’s what she wishes more of them knew:

Rejections are never personal.

Editors do not say “send me something more” unless they mean it.
Read the guidelines. And then read the magazine so you have a feel for what they like.
Proofread. Read it aloud or get a good proofreader to do it for you.
Your first three paragraphs determine whether or not an editor will keep going.

 

Ellen Datlow, an award-winning editor of magazines an anthologies like Omni and Years Best Fantasy & Horror says:

In the internet age: never email an editor a manuscript before querying them first to make sure it’s all right to do so–neither as an attached file or in the body of an email.

 

Phil Athans is an author and editor who has worked with Forgotten Realms, Dungeons & Dragons and more. His book The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!  is filled with great tips for genre writers. He offered one tip:

Do it for anything but the money.

Everyone’s heard all the rags-to-riches stories behind franchise authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, but those stories are actually extremely rare. Most published authors continue to hold down a “day job” in order to afford luxury items like food, electricity, and health care. Publication is not a guarantee of riches, especially in the current Depression, which has hit the publishing business particularly hard. If you’re depending on selling your book in the next couple weeks to make your next mortgage payment you’re in serious trouble. It could take a year or more for your book to be accepted by a publisher, and another couple years after that before it actually hits the bookstore shelves. And by then, any trend you might be trying to surf has long-since passed, so don’t try to write a Hunger Games knock-off. By the time you’re done writing it, the Hunger Games thing will be over. Write because you love to tell stories and have a story of your own you’re dying to tell. That’s how you might become “the next J.K. Rowling.” In fact, that’s precisely how J.K. Rowling did it. Be patient, be prepared to work hard, and do not quit your day job!

 

According to Authors:

Grandmaster James Gunn is the author of numerous short stories and novels, including The Listeners and The Immortals. He’s also a Professor at University of Kansas where he leads the Center For The Study Of Science FictionAd Astra magazine, and the John W. Campbell Conference and Awards, amongst other things. He says:

I like Fred Pohl’s advice: Everything in a contract is negotiable except the name of the publisher, and even that can be negotiated if the book is wanted enough.

 

CJ Cherryh is a John W. Campbell, Nebula and Hugo winning author of books like Downbelow Station and Cyteen:

a) nowadays publishing houses want e-rights. They will hold their breath until they get them. If it is a big house able to do them well, this is ok.

b) never sell anybody rights that their company is not large enough or diverse enough to use. Sequester those rights from the contract. IE, you can have ‘first’ ‘North American’ ‘serial rights’ (for a story) or you can have’role-playing’ ‘gaming rights’ or you can have ‘board’ ‘gaming rights’ or you may have the ‘audio reproduction’ rights but not the ‘audio drama’ rights and not ‘audiovisual’ rights or ‘stage production rights’ or ‘motion picture’ rights. It should also say ‘all rights not assigned in this contract belong to the author’.

c) always include something like the following: ‘publication of the Work as an e-book shall not be considered publication as defined in’ [the paragraph where it specifies the kind of print publication and says what the Work is and defines the term ‘in print’.] if it is only for e-publication, be sure to include this: “When in any calendar year the proceeds from e-book sales do not exceed 300.00, all rights shall revert to the author.’ At least it’ll make them cough up enough to buy you a shopping trip.

d) be real damned careful about your shalls and wills when you are writing a contract term. Use of the wrong one can void the clause. Get a lawyer friend to glance over it.

e) terms in book contracts don’t mean the same that they do in any other kind of contract. I have had lawyers who have book contracts come to me, who am not a lawyer, to look over for stingers and problems. ‘Royalty’ is in an application unique to the publishing world, and does not mean royalties in any sense understood by the IRS. Remember this.

f) be real damned sure that in case you or your publisher should be hit by a bus, there is a provision for successors in the contract. A book is property. It can be passed to your heirs. A publishing house is a corporation: it can die, or be sold, and if it is sold, its contracts can be part of the sale. That’s why there’s an ‘heirs and successors’ clause in contracts. This prevents you having to hunt down the dogs to get performance and means they have to deal with your heirs.

g) there should be a performance clause, ie, they have x number of months to get this Work on the stands or published.

h) copyright should always be in the author’s name. Insist.

 

Bestselling urban fantasy author Kat Richardson (Greywalker) offered this advice:

For me the things that are most irritating are the electronic book clauses and the many forms they can take; in one of my contracts it’s under Electronic Rights and in another from the same publisher, it’s under Display Rights.

Also, be very careful of the agency clauses in the contracts as they define the writer’s relationship with the agency, even though that’s actually none of the publisher’s business, but they can effect the writer to the same or greater degree as the actual agency contract or agreement.

 

Faith Hunter is a bestselling author of the Jane Yellowrock and Rogue Mage novels, amongst others, and member of the blog team Magical Words and said:

Finish and polish the book *before* you try to find an agent or editor.

 

Dave Gross writes for computer games by day and fantasy novels by night. His next Pathfinder Tales novel, Queen of Thorns, arrives in mid-October. He offers this advice:

The only universally useful writing advice is: Write. Write often, and write in different ways. Don’t be afraid of imitation. Copy the writers you admire, then rewrite those pieces in a different style. Do that a lot, and then set it aside. Come back to it later and write it in your own voice. Write different genres of story. Write poems. Write plays. Try writing at different times. Write in the morning. Take a nap and when you get up start writing. Write after everyone else has gone to bed.  Write in different places and with different tools. Write on the bus or in the park. Write in the middle of a food court. If you use a computer, write in a notebook. Try using a pencil instead of a pen. Write the minute after you get out of a movie while your head is still filled with strange images. Write down your dreams. Imagine the dream someone is having in the house down the street, and write that. Write plenty, and rewrite even more. Maybe you won’t see the difference in a matter of weeks or months, but eventually you will see it. When you do, write about it.

 

International bestselling author Daniel Abraham has over a dozen books in print and has been short-listed for Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. He offers this advice:

Career implosions are normal. Almost everyone who’s been in the business for more than a few years has had their career founder under them at least once. The people who got discouraged are the ones that aren’t around anymore. The folks who stayed are the ones that shrugged off the failures and started trying to break in again. And again. And again

 

Maurice Broaddus, urban fantasy author (The Knights Of Breton Court) and anthology editor (Dark Faith, Dark Faith 2) suggests:

Guard as many of your rights as possible (the publisher doesn’t need all of them).

 Make sure there are reversion clauses (they don’t need ten+ years of your digital/future formats rights).

Bestselling author Jean Johnson who rights paranormal romance and military science fiction (An Officer’s Duty, A Soldier’s Duty, The Sword, The Cat, The Mage) says:

Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and formatting actually do still count.

Slush pile readers, agents, and editors will discard stories filled with errors, inconsistancies, and a blatant lack of care for the craft of the written word.  Even if your name is Stephen King, they will be looking at the manuscript for how good it is as a story, and how well crafted it is as a piece of writing.  It may seem unfair, but if they see a lot of technical errors in the way words are spelled, how sentences are structured and punctuated, so on and so forth, they’re not going to want to give you a publishing contract because they will not believe you are professional enough to handle the demands of a contract.

In fact, most literary agencies and publishing houses have a standard “X number of errors in Y number of pages = toss it in the rejection pile” policy.  Whether it’s a written, official policy or not, they have too many other manuscripts to wade through to waste time on something that makes their eyes cross and their brains hurt..  Yes, you may have written a story, and you can be proud of that.  Yes, you may believe that it’s a good story, good enough to be published, and there’s nothing wrong with believing in yourself and your work.  However, that does not entitle you to carelessness, arrogance, or anything else which would suggest an unprofessional attitude.  This includes an unprofessional presentation of your written works.

There are points where you can stand up for the formatting you want, or the spelling of a specific word, particularly in genre fiction, but understand that most editors and publishers will want your novel to look its best in the eyes of your future readers.  Cooperate beforehand by getting your manuscript beta-edited by someone with good literary skills.  Cooperate during the review and editing process by carefully considering the changes suggested.  Strive diligently to look for and eliminate errors during the copy-editing and draft-editing stages.

Cultivate and cherish a reputation for producing clean manuscripts as well as the good stories we know you have inside of you.  Editors, agents, and especially your future readers will love you for it.

————————————-
I doubt I could do much better than that. Others of you out there feel free to add advice in comments. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Exodus at Halfway (Progress Report)

Artist Mitch Bentley & I celebrate three Davi Rhii covers at ConQuest 43 in May
The Exodus (Saga Of Davi Rhii 3)
59,000/120,000

Almost halfway, as hard as that may be to believe for a novel I started July 3oth. So that’s my word count for 24 days. The best streak I’ve ever had since I started writing fiction, I believe.

As I’ve tweeted daily word count reports, I’ve gotten lots of questions about it, so I thought it might be good to analyze a bit about writing a final trilogy book and why sometimes that has advantages for speed.

One thing to note is that so much worldbuilding is done already. I’m working with elements that are well developed which really saves a bunch of time. I have to describe them again and try and flesh out details we haven’t seen before but I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Additionally, the character arcs and plotlines flow out of the cliffhanger in Book 2, so the basic starting points were fairly well defined. And as such, progressing from them to the wrap up is a narrower course than I worked with before on the prior books.

But another aspect of this is that I have written The Returning, Duneman, a half Belsuk novel, a half time travel novel, numerous short stories, and two children’s books in the interim between The Worker Prince and The Exodus, seen the release of two novels, a children’s book and some shorts and gotten lots of feedback and interviewed lots of writers. The lessons I learned from all those experiences have been internalized in large part, becoming part of my craft and writing process, so inevitably that will affect both my effectiveness as a writer and my speed. I certainly hope that shows. Watching other writers like Sam Sykes through the course of a trilogy and seeing how they developed and grew has been an interesting process and it’s one I hope my readers will take note of as well.

It’s important to admit that no book is perfect and looking back, as an author, one can always see many things one might change in retrospect. Sometimes the temptation to do it is overwhelming. If an omnibus of Saga Of Davi Rhii ever happens, I will fix some POV stuff and typos from the final book of Worker Prince but I don’t know how much else I’d touch. It is what it is and it represents who I was at a certain time as a writer. Paul Goat Allen’s recognition of the book for B&N also makes me think that while it’s flawed, it’s still something I can be proud of in spite of those flaws and there’s something about preserving that, flaws and all, that feels sacred to me. Maybe 20 years from now with many more books under my belt, I’ll laugh at this post. Who knows? But I’m in a place where that’s not happening right now.

But another factor in all of this is life. Although I’m still in a financial and employment crisis after two years of unemployment with benefits run out, my marriage is over and I am not dealing with the stress of that nor my ex’s health issues. I’m still grieving and healing, of course, but the stress of that period was such that it really impacted my focus and writing in ways that have only recently begun to be fully grasped. I am also in a quieter place with less distractions and family around to support. I’ve been to a lot of Cons and bonding with my SFF community at large (at least many of them–a few roughs spots of late). And I’ve had that success from the novel and anthology releases that has spurred me onward plus encouragement from the many people supporting SFFWRTCHT and this blog, especially Write Tips. So those are things which subconsciously and consciously both add to the mix and spur me onward.

Whatever the case, The Exodus is fast headed for 120000 words and I’m glad. I still have a month or so to finish but if I pull it off, despite a brief break for World Con next week, then it will be a new record for me. I’ll finish it, go back to rewrite Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter 1 and Duneman and Abe will be off to press while I look for an agent for the fantasy trilogy. I also have three anthologies in the works as editor and some exciting book editing developments as a freelance editor in the works as well.

Since October 2011, I’ve had two novels, an anthology, an ebook, a children’s book, and four short stories come out. That’s an incredible year by anyone’ s standards, I’d suspect. 2013 will have The Exodus and hopefully two or three Abe Lincoln kid’s books, possibly 2 more ebook joke books, and maybe even the epic fantasy. Some anthologies are also in the works. I’m very grateful for the support and interest and for the opportunities.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block

I did a Write Tip before on Fighting Off Writer’s Block in which a lot of published authors offered their advice. But the other day a friend told me she’s been stuck forever on her book, and I realized there are some tricks I can suggest as well, so here are my 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block.

1) Identify What Went Wrong. If you’re stuck, it’s usually because something went astray at some point. You’ve either tried to push the story where it doesn’t want to go or taken a wrong turn that your subconscious can see but your conscious can’t and thus are having trouble moving on. It may not be in the previous scene you wrote or even the previous chapter. It may be a little further back, but it’s in there somewhere and so the best way to get past it is to identify it.

2) Know Your Plot Points. Whether you write it intentionally or not, Western storytelling tends to be structured around three acts and key plot points. Your first act is your set up and then a major turning point happens that requires action from your characters and propels you into Act Two, the longer middle of your book. A second major turning point happens propelling you toward your conclusion and Act Three. In screenplays, the first turning point is around page 30, and the second page 90. But novels are a little different in page count. Between each major plot point (about every 15 pages in a script) are minor turning points. Also, each storyline will have this same structure, so turning points for subplots may occur in different places as well). The trick is to find these turning points and make sure they are paced correctly and that each propels your story on toward the next, keeping the momentum. If anything pulls it off track by slowing it down, taking it on a detour, etc., that may be why you’re blocked and you can fix it. Often times, writers have not formally studied this but do it on instinct, having learned it from their reading, etc. I don’t even think about it anymore but just write it. I studied it to death in college though. Yet if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you need to be aware and finding these plot points can help you get unstuck when you experience a block.

3) Rewrite From Page 1 To Where You Are. This may violate your “that’s not how I work” sense of craft, I realize, but truly, going back to reread and then polish from the first page through where you are stuck is a great way to not only identify plot points but find inconsistencies and issues you don’t even realize are there. It also gets the whole plotline and all of the arcs fresh in your mind, making it easier to figure out where the story wants/needs to go next. It really works. And often, along the way, whether conscious of it or not, you’ll fix that issue which caused the block. In the process, you’ll also rediscover your enthusiasm and momentum for writing the story.

4) Outline Your Plot and Character Arcs. I get it. You’re a pantser. But your story takes on stucture as you write it regardless. Taking a moment to go through and write out the outline as it now exists on what you’ve written so far doesn’t mean you have to outline the entire book, just what you’ve got on paper. In the process, you’ll find those pesky plot points or realize where they’re missing and probably figure out what works and what doesn’t to remove that block. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy outline. Just identify which scenes go with which plotline and character arc and write a one or two sentence description of events that move it forward.

5) Give Yourself Permission To Write Crap and Write Anyway. Even Robert Silverberg has told me he writes junk from time to time. It’s okay. Everybody does it. No one has to see it but you, but if you don’t give yourself permission to write, exercising your muscle, releasing your creativity, you might stay stuck. Write anyway. You might actually write past the junk and start producing good stuff again.

6) Skip To The Scene And Come Back Later. Paul S. Kemp doesn’t write linearly anyway, which amazes me. K.D. McEntire starts with the ending then goes back. There’s lots of ways to do it. I tend to write in chronological order or what I think it will be. But sometimes, a particular scene just isn’t coming along, and one way around that is to skip it for scene you can picture more clearly and write that first. In the process, sometimes things will come out that steer you in the right direction for the scene where you’re stuck and allow you to write it. It’s jogging the muscles a bit, perhaps, but it can definitely work.

7) Work On Something Else To Clear Your Head. Taking a walk, doing dishes, playing with the kids, watching TV, reading—all kinds of activities can be used for this. OR you can switch to another writing project and fiddle with that until your head clears. Often the worst thing you can do is to sit there and stress out, trying to force it. Release the tension, take a break, switch gears and see if the block resolves itself. Often by going off to something else, I find my mind working 0n the story anyway and, in the process, discover how to write the scene which had me stuck. Earlier today I did that and plotted out the scene, came back, and wrote 2000 words in a straight shot. Give it a try.

8 ) Don’t Be Dismissive. It happens to most writers from time to time. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t believe in writer’s block and I laugh. It’s a silly thing to say. Writer’s get blocked. We all deal with it differently, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s like someone who’s rarely been sick saying they don’t believe in disease. No, you’ve just been really lucky. Don’t insult everyone else. So don’t be dismissive. Admit you’re blocked. Admit it happens. It doesn’t mean your story is crap or that everything you wrote is worthless. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or won’t succeed. It has happened to many writers who are NY Times Bestsellers. They got over it and so will you.  But know this: the way to get through it is not to deny it and do nothing. Like anything else, it takes work. And you may have to try several things to find the right path through.

9) Deal With Life. Sometimes your creative blocks come from external sources rather than within your manuscript. When I wrote The Worker Prince, I wrote 2-6k words a day for four months straight. It was great. Then life fell apart and got stressful with work layoffs, my wife’s health issues, marital issues, money issues, etc. From January 2010 to July 2012, I struggled and felt lucky to get 1000 words a day. 12-1500 was a great day. Then July 30th, as I started The Exodus, my third Davi Rhii novel, I started having 2500 word days again regularly. I’ve had a few 1k days in there but I also had 3k. I’ve written 57000 words since then. The life issues which affected me were a big part of the problem. The unemployment issue is still a problem but the marital and health issues went away. I found my focus again and it’s made a huge difference. Sometimes living life takes priority and you have to surrender to that.

10) Journal It Out. I am not a journal writer myself. Instead, I blog a lot. But I know many writers who’ve told me that writing it out is a great way to work through these types of issues. Just sitting down and writing about their day, their thoughts, their struggles—anything that comes to mind—can be a huge release for writers. For one, it gets them writing which helps keep the writing muscles and creative muscles in shape but also allows them to clear their minds of pent up junk that might be inadvertently blocking them. For another, it provides a way to emotionally release stress and feelings that they’ve been carrying around, which might also be part of a mental block. You don’t have to start a formal journal to journal through troubles like this. You can throw it all away when you’re done but just get it out there.

So there you have it, 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block. Not all of them work for everyone because every writer and every block is different. But like any tools, having an arsenal at your disposal gives you options to find a way through that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Please let me know how they work for you. And, by all means, if you have other tips, share them in comments so we can all benefit. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Building A Larger World Using Bit Characters

All too often in worldbuilding, it’s easy to believe that the bigger you get, the more realistic your world will be, but, at the same time, the bigger the world, the more complicated it becomes for the writer. So I am always looking for ways to simplify that process by making the most of elements I create for multi-purposes. And one of those involves utilizing bit characters to add depth to my world.

Think about your day-to-day life. You have family. You have a circle of friends. You have coworkers and associates. You have workers at places you regularly patronize like the grocery store. This is your world, in a sense, at least the immediate part of it with which you regularly interact. And it’s like that for pretty much everyone I’ve met all over the world from the U.S. to Africa, Brazil, Mexico and beyond. So when writing a book and creating a world, it’s helpful to consider the immediate, day-to-day world of your characters and to think about who inhabits it.

I have very few throwaway characters. There are always some, most unnamed or referred to simply by their occupation “guard,” “paperboy,” “knight,” etc. They are created for various reasons: to add atmosphere, for a brief scene where the protagonist or antagonists seeks something for their larger quest, or for other reasons. They appear, say a few lines, then disappear, forgotten. And sometimes, particularly in epic fantasies where the stories frequently involve travel and long distance journeys, it makes sense. But other times, when characters are moving around within a particular world again and again, these characters can be utilized to add greater depth and reality to your world by becoming part of the day-to-day circles of characters, to add a sense of community and realness.

If you look at any group, there are people who show up again and again in particular locations. Those are the people who can add texture and richness to your story if you use them well. Usually they refer to the protagonist and each other by nicknames or first names. They are close contacts, see. People who are used to each other and know each other well, even if they don’t get along. They interact so often that it’s just naturally developed and, as such, they tend to have a level of intimacy in how they refer to each other. These types of characters can add great meaning to your story and be created for that purpose, but you can also find them in characters you’ve written as throwaways.

For example, when I am looking for a character for a new situation, I always think through whom I have already created that can be pulled in. In The Worker Prince, I created a Major to take Davi Rhii on a tour of his first planetary military assignment. Later, I decided to utilize this character to work with Davi’s rival Bordox in tracking him down. By the end of the book, the character also led forces against the attacking army Davi led. Because this character inhabited the same circles as my protagonist (Davi) and antagonist (Bordox), having him recur added a sense of the circles they inhabit and how they interconnect, which just makes the world seem more real.

In writing the sequel, The Returning, I found myself in need of characters to accomplish various things. A throwaway member of the Borali Council, Lord Qai, then was given a major role. And Major Zylo wound up coming back as an interrogator and conspirator to great advantage for readers. One advantage of using such characters over and over is that you don’t have to build them from scratch in their history and their personality. That adds emotional depth to their interactions with your main characters because of things we’ve already read elsewhere in the stories, and, again, emphasizes the circles our leads inhabit in this world, making the world feel much more like the world we ourselves inhabit.

Screenwriters and movie directors have learned this trick. For many years, while I was in film school I’d count the cast list at the end of films and find that invariably, 33 characters was a common number. Looking at the number of one shot characters, it usually numbered 10 or less out of the 33. The rest tended to appear in multiple scenes, even if they only spoke a line or two each time. Why? because filmmakers know that people interact with a common circle every day and by including that circle, their story becomes more real and pops off the screen, even when viewers don’t notice all the details. Subconsciously, they grasp it and that behind-the-scenes experience, informs their opinions of the story and their involvement with it and ability to accept it as “realistic.”

So every time I create a character, I think about the characters I’ve already created who are still available to return. Can one of them be used instead of a new character? How can I add depth to that one-off character in both scenes by combining the two? Automatically, if the character occurs in different situations, it’s not only creating a sense of every day circle, as mentioned, but building a deeper character despite the small part they play, because you are showing another aspect of who they are in a way that makes them not just the flower shop girl, but also a neighbor, or a fellow parent, etc. There are all sorts of possibilities.

How much thought do you put into these types of characters? Do you just create them when you need them and forget about them? Or do you find ways to utilize them well and make a more memorable, powerful story? Remember the throwaway art gallery employee Serge in Beverly Hills Cop? Bronson Pinchot turned a bit part into a series regular, and the filmmakers found other scenes to utilize him in, not just at the gallery, but elsewhere. He was so popular that he returned in the film’s sequels. This is the same kind of thing that you can do in your novel and readers will enjoy it just as much. Especially if a character is well drawn and memorable. They may start as the stereotypical smart mouthed butcher and evolve into so much more.  If your protagonist walks past the same market again and again, why not have that passerby character be the storekeeper he interacted with before? It saves you the need to introduce and describe a new character and also accomplishes so much more.

Consider your current project. Are there characters you could utilize in this way to make the world bigger and the story more interesting and real? How do you handle these bit-part characters? How has it enriched your worldbuilding and storytelling? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

#writetips: Public Vs. Private-Finding The Fine Line Dichotomy Of Your Passions

Okay, dichotomy, a big word. Yeah, yeah, I’m a writer and every once in while I have to prove it. So there. But seriously, passion and artists go hand in hand. Creative people are driven people and our passions drive us as much as any other force, often more. Passion is good. It provides energy, focus, and adrenaline. It gives you enthusiasm, drive and a compulsion to get what you have to say out there into the universe. But passion also has its downfalls, and in the increasingly digital age, which is also an increasingly public one, those downfalls can be pitfalls to successful writing careers. Readers love passion on the page. They love passion on your blog and in your attitude when they meet you or see you in interviews, etc. But readers come in all shapes and sizes, show your passion too much about the wrong subject, they can flee like leaves on a wind or seaweed on a wave. And they may not come back.

That’s why I think we all need a dichotomy of our passions, a divide between public and private that creates clear boundaries to help us channel our passions productively. It’s not censorship, it’s discretion and discernment. It’s knowing that in the public age of the World Wide Web, not everyone needs to know everything about your business, and conducting yourself appropriately in regards to expression your passions. There are a number of tricky subjects. Some are obvious: politics and religion, for example. Others are trickier: personal lives, kids, job talk, etc. Also important is the dichotomy of how you express yourself in public and in private. Some choose to just shoot off in whatever language they want. As smart as the advice those folks offer may be, some people will turn away from them for it. Maybe they don’t care. I personally do. It’s not that I think everyone will like me. But I don’t want to create barriers where none need to exist. And I think that chasing off potential readers is bad business. So I watch what I say and how I say it. Yes, sometimes I screw up, but it’s a journey and, like everyone, I’m learning as I go.

It’s a really good idea to sort out what you’re comfortable sharing and what you’re not. A lot may depending on audience and genre. For example, a writer of devotions or spiritual life books or even a Christian writer will likely share more about religion than someone whose work does not touch on those areas. There is a certain expectation from their work that takes them there. Still, how they express it, when and where is something to consider. A political writer, of course, will talk politics, and parenting writers about kids, etc. But for Average Jill and Average Joe, there’s a choice about these topics. Do you want to talk about things which may alienate or divide readers and lead to lots of heated discussion and potential conflict or do you prefer to focus on topic which will be more broadly acceptable and stimulate productive discourse? Do you want to share your private life, work life, family life, etc. with readers or do you prefer to keep it to yourself? How much is too much? And when do you start feeling you’ve said too much?

One challenge is that once you open the door, it can be hard to close it again. Readers who have read blog posts about your family or issues at work or health issues will want to know the latest and may not hesitate to ask. How do you then tell them: “Sorry. I said too much and realized I don’t want you to know all that so I’m not going to post it anymore” without hurting feelings or making people feel cut off or defriended? Because, like it or not, readers or fans who regularly read what you put out there are looking for a personal connection, some sort of bonding or feeling intimacy with the storyteller and voice which has touched their lives so much. Which is why you really need to know what you’re looking for, too, and what you’re offering and how far you’ll go in that pursuit. The lines of the dichotomy between public and personal are your decision and can be drawn any number of places, but once you draw them , they can be hard to change, so they must be drawn with care.

For me, I’ve learned the hard way that politics and religion must be handled with care. It’s hard because for much of my life my faith and politics have been so importantly intertwined with my work in foreign countries, in churches, etc. But as an artist they are not so deeply infused with my work. Do they influence them? Of course, absolutely. But I’m telling stories, not writing propaganda. While the themes and even morals I use in stories may speak to my worldview, that’s not the same as attempting to convert others to think the same way I do, and anything I post which expresses strong passion will likely be interpreted by many who read it as doing just that.

For example, one of my pet peeves are celebrities who talk down to the public as if they are more informed and smarter than we are. Yes, because I am a moviestar, my views should be yours. I strongly disagree. For one, having worked in Hollywood, those people don’t occupy the same every day world most of the rest of us do. They live with wealth, fame, power, and even entourages of people who take care of them, unlike that of any normal person. It’s not that they aren’t smart and talented. But that alone doesn’t give them the right to be political pundits and lobbyists who try and bend others to their will. So I tend to0 ignore what they say, knowing not only that their sense of normal and their values don’t match my own but that their sense of how Americans think is skewed. Plus, I’ve always been one to make up my mind for myself anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. Readers will invest themselves in caring about your opinions on all sorts of things. They will give incredible weight to your opinions, in fact, and the power of that can be intoxicating. But with such power comes responsibility. Don’t be like the American press, so stuck on its power that its ethics have disappeared as it twists stories and coverage to match its own politics, etc. If you value your readers and care about them, you should exercise your power responsibly and with great care. Allow them to be who they are and think for themselves. Be thankful that your books have affected them so and that your messages are being heard but don’t abuse the privilege.

In the end, finding the dichotomy of your passions is for you and the fans and readers both. You need to protect yourself and your privacy so you can feel safe. But you also want to maintain perspective about your level of influence and how you exercise it, too. At least, that’s what I believe makes for responsibly artistry and a more healthy writing life. How do you seek to balance personal and private in your interactions with the world outside? What goals and restrictions do you self-impose, if any and why? I’d love to hear about your dichotomy of personal and private as we each consider our own. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Writetips: 10 Most Creatively Inspiring Places In The World I’ve Visited So Far

I love to travel and I love to learn. So, to me, one of the greatest things about trips is getting to discover  things:  new places, new languages, new cultures, new people, new points of view. It energizes me. That’s one reason I’ve dedicated so much of my life to travel. From 2000 through 2010, I visited Africa, South America, Central America and Europe, some more than once the same year, donating time as a teacher and mentor in exchange for learning and discovering. I learned as much as any of my students did, and it’s forever changed my life and writing.

This may seem an odd subject for writetips, but hang on. When I was first starting out, I got accused of cliche and predictable writing and one agent said “live more so  you’ll have stuff to write about.” So, I quit Hollywood and went off to be  a singer and travelled the world. I got a Masters degree, founded a leadership development training non-profit, and spent the next decade travelling three times a year to learn  cultures and help them learn the arts, etc. in places where such training is either unaffordable or available only to the elite.  I and my world are so much broader because of that, and I have so much more to write about.

So here’s my Top 10 Most Inspiring Places I’ve Visited (so far–I’m not done by far):

Life in mud huts and people often seemed more content and happy than I’ve been a day of my life.

1) Ghana, West Africa — From the urban sprawl of Accra, its capital, to the slave castles of its Atlantic Coast, to the humble traditional village of Mesamegor where I spent a blissful New Year’s Day 2004 learning  about traditional dance and village life, my four trips to Ghana have been some of the most enriching of my life. I miss it daily and long to go back. For those of us fortunate enough to be born in the First World, a visit to the Third or Developing World is life changing, if you allow it to be. From the ways they view the world differently, to the joys they find amidst such poverty and want, you realize not only how lucky you are but how much you have and how little you appreciate it. It’s reminds you that there are things far more important than possessions, status, money, etc., and it teaches you how to slow down and live by relying on each other and making the most of every moment in ways that forever transform the way you see the world.

2) Dacchau and Bavaria, Germany — A line of bullet holes along a wall, an ashy oven with a distinct smell, barracks with bunks resembling those on slave ships of  Roots from TV at a famed WWII concentration camp built for killing, and  all of this because of a race/religion and one man’s call to hate.  I went there at 16 and images are indelibly burned into my brain. I don’t have scanned pictures but I can call them up whenever  I  want to in my mind. You can’t deny it when you’ve seen the evidence for yourself.  I also floated over the Alps on  glider, a plane shot up into the air by bungee with no engine. It was so quiet, peaceful and amazing. I felt like a bird.

3) The Favellas (slums) of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — In both Rio and Belo Horizonte, the third largest city to the north, I visited famed hillside slums, places where the murder count

Slums stretch across hillsides throughout Brazil’s cities. Believe it or not, they started as squatters with no infrastructure, stealing electric by cutting into lines, etc.

each month exceeds that of the whole U.S. in a year at times. These were the people who would rob tourists, ran the drug trade, and  acted as maids, servants, bus  drivers, etc. Their lives were hard and lacking, yet when you were  invited in as a guest, no one treated  you better. I never once felt any sense of danger or worry. And it was humbling to be so appreciated by people who have such hardships that I can’t even begin to understand. You can  read about poverty and violent lives, but only by seeing it for yourselves can you begin to try and understand.

4) Venice Beach, California — In many ways, the quintessential California beach, at least as far as Los Angeles goes. From surfers  to street performers (some of whom make 50k tax free or more  year) to  beach volleyball, rollerblading, and lots of hot, fleshy bodies, not to mention sunsets and even whales  and ships, Venice Beach has it all and it’s an experience to be remembered. I went several times during my time  in L.A. I’ll never forget the 300 lb woman in the thong (I wish I could) but I’ll also never forget the night I went there after a day spent skiing in  the nearby mountains and sat in shorts to watch the sunset over the mountains to the north. Whenever I think of California life, it comes back to me so clearly.

5) The Florida Keys — I wish I could afford to live there, because the Florida Keys remain one of my all time favorite vacation spots. From standing in Hemingway’s home to lighthouses, jetskiing, petting sharks and whales, collecting sea shells, waterskiing, and glass bottom boats, I just love what Southern Florida and especially the Keys have to offer. I move from relaxed to excited in waves and go home exhausted but yet the next day I’m ready to do it all again.

My parents on the streets of Ouro Preto, winding hills with amazing architecture–note one of the many churches up at the top

6) The Gold Cities of  Minas Gerais, Brazil — Brazil is huge and rich  and walking through these cities  with their hundreds of churches, often slave built, with elaborate interiors, exteriors, and gold embossed finishes, amazing Portuguese style Colonial buildings and streets, etc., felt like stepping back in time and into history. I’ve visited them three times  and still find myself in awe and discovery every time. From the old mine you can ride down into on an old fashioned car system, to panning for gold, to horseback rides, to mountain  scenery, to amazing cuisine, to the museums (including an amazing mineral museum with specimens from all over the world), Minas’ gold cities truly are wonders of the world.

7) Amish Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania — They may thrive on simplicity of life, but there’s something truly inspiring about people so devoted to their beliefs  that they’re willing to ignore the obvious benefits of so many technologies and possessions in  order to cling to a way of life. Some look at them as odd annoyances, but, to me, they’re fascinating and an example of the kind of  integrity and  discipline many of us can and should learn from. In a world of backstabbing, mind games, and soundbyte thinking, these people preserve a lifestyle they’ve cherished for hundreds of years undisturbed by our distractions, stresses, etc. Their Ohio and Pennsylvania neighbors have told me of their kindness and of admiration for  them. And from my few encounters, I can say, the admiration and respect is well deserved.

8 ) The Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights Museum — Sit on a bus and hear the white driver berate you and send you to the back; witness the church where two young girls died at the hands of bombers in the name of hate; this amazing, fantastic museum chronicles the history of Civil Rights in the U.S. powerfully and provocatively and my visit  there has remained one of the most powerful museum experiences of a lifetime  full of them. Between the hands on recreated experiences there and my own times standing in  slave dungeons on Africa’s Gold Coast, amongst others, my understandings and views of tolerance, commonality, and the dignity and value of humans and human lives are forever informed and reformed by such amazing experiences.

9) The New Mexico Museum of Space History and International Space Hall Of Fame, Alamogordo, New Mexico — This museum in this small New Mexico city was something I’d driven by several times and thought meh. But just before relocating, I  went there with my parents. Want to try and land a space shuttle? Try the simulator here. It’s incredibly hard (my dad and I each crashed, although I almost made it). Space suits, launch sounds, equipment, meals, and photos of key figures in space  exploration history plus real ships on display, including a simulated Gemini capsule so you can see if you’d fit. Truly amazing! And they’ve got an Imax theatre and planetarium as well. Well worth  a trip. The emergency shuttle landing zone which  was used once or twice is also here along with the amazing White Sands missle range and original ground zero from the first nuclear bomb test, and white sand dunes where  you  can sled in boiling summer heat. From SF writers like Asimov to scientists, the hall of fame alone inspired my imagination and encouraged my dreaming.

10) The Colorado  Rockies — Majestic, mighty, beautiful:  there’s nothing and no place quite like them. I loved the Alps, especially the Matterhorn, but from a young age, the Rockies captured my heart, reinforced my belief in a higher power, and reminded me that when God paints, it out shines anything man can do or imagine. The breeze off the mountains tingles my skin like the breath of heaven blowing down.  It’s a spiritual experience for me and my own love of and passion for the Rocky Mountains is part of what bonded me with John Denver and his music so much and still does.

Well, in no particular order,  those of 10 places which have inspired me greatly in  my life and creative work. As we all know, inspiration and experience are key to good writing. So what’s the writetip for this week? It’s to live a little, explore, discover, and learn whenever and wherever you can. Your readers will thank you  for it. Your editors, too. But no  one will be enriched by it more than yourself. Where have you gone or always wanted to that inspires you and why? I’d love to compare notes in comments. And Friday, I’ll be guest posting on my blog tour about how my world travels have informed my world view and influenced my writing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Resources & Thoughts On Character Naming

Recently I’ve been copyediting The Very Best Book Of Baby Names by Barbara Kay Turner, and it’s gotten me thinking a lot about naming characters.  Character naming is an important consideration for many reasons. One, you want memorable names which stick with readers for a long time. Two, you want names that are decipherable by readers’ minds i.e. names they can sound out mentally somehow. Three, you want names that make sense in the culture and world and follow some sort of decipherable pattern or at least seem to fit together as classes based on people groups, etc. Four, names can have symbolic meanings which play a role in defining characters. Sometimes the formality or informality of it is important. A character who calls another by a nickname is assume to have a closer relationship with that character than another person who uses the formal name. I’m sure I could list other considerations.

I’ve posted on naming considerations before in Write Tips here, but what a great resources this naming book has turned out to be. I highly recommend the purchase of it or one like it by all authors.  Delabarre Publishing is coming out with an ebook version of Turner’s book very soon, for example.

The beauty of books like this is that they examine names based on a number of helpful factors:  genetic appropriateness, tradition, popularity, cultural origins, spellings, usages, etc. They dig into how names are created and used and all sorts of considerations which many authors might not even consider in choosing names. Names can be a way to say a whole lot with very few letters: about your character, your world, etc. There’s so much to think about when writing a book. Some authors spend years considering every little detail, others make decisions quickly and move on to the work of prose. There’s no wrong or right if it works in the end, but internalizing some of this information can add depth to your choices and weapons to your arsenal which will improve your writing and the reading experience for readers of your work.

Here are some examples of charts which could be useful from Turner’s book:

Traditional Boys’ Names (Western world)

Aaron
Adam
Alan, Allen, Albert
Alexander
Andrew, Drew
Anthony
Arthur
Benjamin
Bradley
Brian, Bryan <—- For some reason, I’m really attached to this one
Bruce
Carl, Karl
Charles
Christopher
Colin
Craig, Greg, Gregory
Curtis
Daniel
David
Dennis
Derek
Donald
Douglas
Edgar, Edward, Edwin
Eric, Erik
Ethan
Eugene, Gene
Evan
Frank, Francis
Gabriel
Garrett
George
Gerald
Grant
Henry
Ivan
Jacob
James
Jared
Jason
Jeffrey
Jeremy
Joel
John, Jonathan
Jordan
Joseph
Joshua
Julian
Justin
Keith
Kenneth
Kevin
Lawrence
Louis
Luke
Mark
Martin
Matthew
Michael
Mitchell
Nathan
Nathaniel
Nicholas
Oscar
Patrick
Paul
Peter
Phillip, Philip
Preston
Randall
Raymond
Richard
Robert
Rodney
Roger
Ronald
Ross
Russell
Ryan
Samuel
Simon
Spencer
Steven, Stephen
Stuart
Theodore
Thomas
Timothy
Trent
Victor
Vincent
Walter
Wayne
William
Zachary

Traditional Girls’ Names (Western world)

Abigai
Adrienne
Alexandra, Alexis
Alice, Alison, Allison
Amanda
Andrea, Ann, Anna, Anne
Barbara
Brenda
Brooke
Candice, Candace
Carol, Carole
Carolyn, Caroline
Catherine
Christine, Christina
Claire
Claudia
Cynthia
Danielle
Deborah, Debra
Denise
Diana, Diane
Elizabeth
Emily
Erica, Erika
Evelyn
Gabrielle
Hannah
Helen
Irene
Jane, Janet
Jessica
Joanne, Joanna
Josephine
Judith
Julia
Justine
Karen
Katherine, Kathryn
Kristen, Kristin
Lara, Lora, Laura, Lauren
Linda
Lindsey, Lindsay
Margaret
Marie, Maria, Mary
Martha
Mercedes
Melinda
Miranda
Natalie
Nicole, Nichole
Olivia
Pamela
Patricia
Priscilla
Rachel, Rachael
Rebecca
Renee, Renae
Roberta
Ruth
Sarah, Sara
Sharon
Stephanie
Susan
Sylvia
Teresa, Therese, Theresa
Veronica
Victoria
Virginia

Okay, those are pretty standard for those of us in the Western World, but they are recognizable and probably frequently jump to mind. What if you want something more exotic or a better mix? How about international names with variant spellings? Some were included on the above list and some were not:

International Names for Girls

Alexandra, Alastar, Alexina (English, Gaelic); Alixandra (French); Alejandra, Allessandra (Spanish/Italian); Alexandra (Scandinavian/ German); Aleksandra(Slavic)

Alice, Ailis, Alison (English, Gaelic); Alice (French); Alicia (Spanish, Italian); Elka (Scandinavian/German); Alisia (Slavic)

Angel, Angelica, Aingeal (English, Gaelic); Angele, Angelique (French), Angelita, Angela (Spanish/Italian); Angelika (Scandinavian/German); Andelka (Slavic)

Ann, Aine (English/Gaelic); Anne (French); Ana/Anna (Spanish/Italian); Anni, Annika (Scandinavian/German); Anya (Slavic)

Barbara, Bairbre (English, Gaelic); Barbe (French); Barbara (Spanish/Italian); Birgit/Brigitta (Scandinavian/German); Brygida (Slavic)

Carol, Carrol (English, Gaelic); Carole (French); Carola/Carolina (Spanish/Italian); Karel/Karol (Scandinavian/German); Karola (Slavic)

Christine, Christina, Kirstie, Cristiona (English, Gaelic); Christine (French); Cristina (Spanish/Italian); Kristin/Kirsten (Scandinavian/German); Krystyna, Kristina (Slavic)

Eleanor, Elinor,  Elionora (English, Gaelic); Eleonore, Alinor (French); Leanor/Eleonora (Spanish/Italian); Leanora/Eleonora (Scandinavian/German); Eleni (Slavic)

Elizabeth, Elspeth (English, Gaelic); Elise (French); Isabel/Elisabetta (Spanish/Italian); Elisabet/Elsbeth (Scandinavian/German); Elzbieta (Slavic)

Frances, Proinseas (English, Gaelic); Francoise (French); Francisca/Francesca (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Franziska (Scandinavian/German); Franciszka (Slavic)

Helen, Aileen (English, Gaelic); Helene (French); Elenor/Lena/Elna/Helena (Scandinavian/German); Alena, Olena (Slavic)

Jane, Sinead, Janet (English, Gaelic); Jeanne (French); Juana/Giovanna, Gianna (Spanish/Italian); Johanna (Scandinavian/German); Jana, Ivana (Slavic)

Katherine, Caitrin, Catriona (English, Gaelic); Catherine, Cateline (French);  Catalina, Caterina (Spanish/Italian); Karin, Katerine (Scandinavian/German); Katrina, Ekaterina (Slavic)

Madeline, Madailein (English, Gaelic); Madeleine (French); Magdalena/Maddelena (Spanish/Italian); Magdalene (Scandinavian/German); Magdalina (Slavic)

Margaret, Mairead (English, Gaelic); Marguerite (French); Margarita/Margherita (Spanish/Italian); Margareta, Margit (Scandinavian/German); Marketa (Slavic)

Mary, Maire, Moira, Mairi (English, Gaelic); Marie, Maree (French); Maria (Spanish/Italian); Marieke/Marie (Scandinavian/German); Marinka, Marya (Slavic)

Susan, Siusan (English, Gaelic); Suzanne (French); Susana/Susanna (Spanish/Italian); Susanne, Sanna (Scandinavian/German); Zuzanna (Slavic)

 

International Names for Boys

Alexander,  Alasdair,  Alistair (English, Gaelic); Alexandre (French); Alejandro, Alessandro (Spanish/Italian); Alexander (Scandinavian/German); Alexsandr, Aleksander (Slavic)

Andrew, Aindreas, Andra (English, Gaelic); Andre (French); Andres/Andrea (Spanish/Italian); Anders/Andrea (Scandinavian/ German); Andrei (Slavic)

Anthony, Antaine (English, Gaelic); Antoine (French); Antonio (Spanish/Italian); Anton (Scandinavian/German); Antoni, Anton (Slavic)

Benedict, Benedict (English, Gaelic); Benoit (French); Benito/Benedetto (Spanish/Italian); Benedikt (Scandinavian/German); Benedek (Slavic)

Charles, Searlas, Cormac (English, Gaelic); Charles (French); Carlos/Carlo (Spanish/Italian); Karl (Scandinavian/German); Karol, Karel (Slavic)

Christopher, Criostoir, Kester (English, Gaelic); Christophe (French); Crisobal/Cristoforo (Spanish/Italian); Christoph, Kristoffer (Scandinavian/German); Krystof (Slavic)

Edmund, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edmond (French); Edmundo/Edmondo (Spanish/Italian); Edmund (Scandinavian/German); Edmon (Slavic)

Edward, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edouard (French); Eduardo/Edoardo (Spanish/Italian); Edvard/Eduard (Scandinavian/German); Edvard (Slavic)

Frank, Francis, Proinsias (English, Gaelic); Francois (French); Francisco/Francesco (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Frantz (Scandinavian/German); Franc, Franek (Slavic)

Frederick, Fardoragh (English, Gaelic); Frederic (French); Frederico (Spanish/Italian); Frederik/Friedrich (Scandinavian/German); Fryderyk, Fredek (Slavic)

Geoffrey, Jeffrey, Sieffre, Siofrai (English, Gaelic); Geoffroi (French); Godofredo/Geoffredo (Spanish/Italian); Gottfried (Scandinavian/German); Gotfrid (Slavic)

George, Geordi (English, Gaelic); Georges (French); Jorge/Giorgio (Spanish/Italian); Jorgen/Jeorg (Scandinavian/German); Georgi, Yuri (Slavic)

Gregory, Grigor (English, Gaelic); Gregoire (French); Gregorio (Spanish/Italian); Joris/Greger (Scandinavian/German); Grigor, Grigori (Slavic)

Henry, Einri (English, Gaelic); Henri (French); Enrique/Enrico (Spanish/Italian); Hendrik/Heinrich (Scandinavian/German); Henrik (Slavic)

James, Jacob, Seamus (English, Gaelic); Jacques (French); Jaime/Giacomo (Spanish/Italian); Jakob (Scandinavian/German); Yakov (Slavic)

John, Sean, Shaun, Shane, Ian (English, Gaelic); Jean (French); Juan/Giovanni, Gianni (Spanish/Italian); Jon, Johan (Scandinavian/German); Jan, Ivan (Slavic)

Joseph, Ioseph (English, Gaelic); Josephe (French); Jose/Giuseppe (Spanish/Italian); Josef (Scandinavian/German); Josef, Jozef (Slavic)

Laurence, Lorcan (English, Gaelic); Laurent (French); Lorencio/Lorenzo (Spanish/Italian); Lars, Lorenz (Scandinavian/German); Lavrenti (Slavic)

Lewis, Louis, Llewelyn (English, Gaelic); Louis (French); Luis/Luigi (Spanish/Italian); Ludvig/Ludwig (Scandinavian/German); Ludwik, Ludvik (Slavic)

Luke, Lucas (English, Gaelic); Luc, Lucien (French); Lucas/Lucca (Spanish/Italian); Lukas/Lucius (Scandinavian/German); Lukas, Luka (Slavic)

Mark, Marcas (English, Gaelic); Marc  (French); Marcos/Marco (Spanish/Italian); Markus (Scandinavian/German); Mark, Marko, Marek (Slavic)

Martin, Martainn, Mairtin (English, Gaelic); Martin (French); Martin/Martino (Spanish/Italian); Marten, Martel (Scandinavian/German); Martinas, Martyn (Slavic)

Matthew, Maitias (English, Gaelic); Mathieu (French); Mateo/Matteo (Spanish/Italian); Mattias/Mathias (Scandinavian/German); Matyas, Matei (Slavic)

Michael, Micheal (English, Gaelic); Michel (French); Miguel/Michele (Spanish/Italian); Mikael, Mikkel (Scandinavian/German); Michal, Mikhail (Slavic)

Nicholas, Nicol, Nicolas (English, Gaelic); Nicholas (French); Nicolas/Niccolo (Spanish/Italian); Niklas, Nikolaus (Scandinavian/German); Nikolai (Slavic)

Paul, Pol (English, Gaelic); Paul (French); Pablo/Paolo (Spanish/Italian); Poul, Pavel (Scandinavian/German); Pavlo, Pavlik (Slavic)

Peter, Peadar (English, Gaelic); Pierre (French); Pedro/Pietro (Spanish/Italian); Per, Piet (Scandinavian/German); Pyotr (Slavic)

Philip, Filip (English, Gaelic); Philippe (French); Felipe/Felippo (Spanish/Italian); Filip/Philipp (Scandinavian/German); Filip (Slavic)

Richard, Rickard (English, Gaelic); Richard (French); Ricardo/Riccardo (Spanish/Italian); Rikard/Richert (Scandinavian/German); Rikard, Rostik (Slavic)

Robert, Riobard (English, Gaelic); Robert (French); Roberto (Spanish/Italian); Robert/Ruprecht (Scandinavian/German); Rupert (Slavic)

Stephen, Steven, Steaphan (English, Gaelic); Etienne (French); Esteban/Stefano (Spanish/Italian); Stefan, Stephan (Scandinavian/German); Stefan (Slavic)

William, Liam (English, Gaelic); Guillaume (French); Gillermo/Guglielmo (Spanish/Italian); Vilhelm/Wilhelm (Scandinavian/German); Vilem, Vilmos (Slavic)

Okay, not exotic enough? How about some African names then:

African Names for Girls

Ada (Nigerian) “First daughter.”
Adanna (Nigerian) “Her father’s daughter.”
Aisha, Aysha, Ayeisha (Swahili/Arabic) “Life.”
Alika (Nigerian) “Most beautiful.”
Ama, Ami (Ghanese) “Saturday’s child.”
Amadi (Nigerian) “Rejoicing.”
Amina (Swahili/Arabic) “Trustworthy.”
Ashia (Somali) “Life.”
Aziza (Swahili/Arabic) “Precious.”
Chika (Nigerian) “God is supreme.”
Chinara (Nigerian) “God receives.”
Dalila (Swahili) “Gende.”
Deka (Somali) “Pleasing.”
Folasade (Yoruban) “Honor confers a crown.”
Jamila (Swahili) “Chaste, holy.”
Jina (Swahili) “Name.”
Kalifa, Kalifah (Somali) “Chaste, holy.”
Katifa (Arabic) “Flowering.”
Layla (Swahili) “Dark; born at night.”
Lulu (Tanzanian) “Pearl.”
Marjani (Swahili) “Coral.”
Nadja (Uganda) “Second born.”
Neema (Swahili) “Born in prosperity.”
Ola (Nigerian) “Precious.”
Rasheedah (Swahili/Arabic) “Righteous.”
Sade, Sharde (Yoruban) Short form of Folasade.
Safiya (Swahili) “Pure.”
Shani (Swahili) “A marvel; wondrous.”
Zahra (Swahili) “Flowering.”
Zalika (Swahili/Arabic) “Well-born.”

 

African Names For Boys

Abdalla (Swahili) “God’s servant.”
Ajani (Yoruban) “Struggles to win.”
Aren (Nigerian) “Eagle.”
Chike (Nigerian) “God’s power.”
Ekon (Nigerian) “Strong.”
Faraji (Swahili) “Consolation.”
Haji (Swahili) “Pilgrim to Mecca.”
Hasani (Swahili) “Handsome.”
Jabari (Swahili) “Valiant.”
Kato (Uganda) ‘Twin.”
Mongo (Yoruban) “Famous.”
Nuru (Swahili) “Born in daytime.”
Omari (Swahili) “God the highest.”
Rashidi (Swahili) “Counselor.”
Salim (Swahili) “Peace.”
Tau (African) “Lion.”

Still not enough? Oh man you people are demanding. Okay, how about creating your own names? Here’s some tools which can help you create names that sound common even if they aren’t:

Basic Name Endings

a, i, ee, ie, y, ye, ia, ea, ae, an, en, in, ian, ien

ann, anne, ana, ahna, anna, ani, anni, anee, ianne, ianna

een, ene, ena, enna, ienne, ine, ina, inda, ita

ele, ell, elle, ella, iel, iell, ielle, iela, iella

ess, esse, essa, eesa, eece, iesa, iessa, isha, icia

ette, etta, iette, iara, iera, ille, ila, ilia

iss, isse, issa, ise, isa, ice, ica, icka, ika oni, onie, ona, onna, iona, ionna, ionne

 

Name Endings Plus Consonants

bel, bell, belle, bella

chel, chelle, chele, chella

ceen, cine, cene, cina, cinda, coya, cacia

da, die, dee, del, dell, delle, della

dine, deen, dina, dene, dena, dean, deane, dona, donna

gine, gina, geen, geena, ginny, gini

keisha, kisha, kesha, keesha

kie, kee, kia, keta, kita, keeta, kiya, kira

lana, lani, lanna, londa, linda

lane, laine, laina, layne, layna

lee, lie, lia, lea, leah, lita, leila

lin, linn, linne, linna, lyn, lynn, lynne, lynna

line, lina, leen, leena, lene, lena

lisa, lise, leese, leesa, leeza, liza, licia, lisha

liss, lisse, lissa, lyssa, lesse, lessa

mika, mica, meka, meisha, mesha, misha

nae, naya, nea, nia, nel, nell, nelle, nella

neece, neese, nice, nicia, nesha, neisha, nisha, niesha

ness, nesse, nessa, neesa, nissa, nisa

net, nette, netta, nita, nica, nika, niqua, nique

nille, neille, neil, nora

quise, quita, quetta

rae, raia, ray, raya, raye, raine, raina, rayna

ree, reese, rice, rise, risa, rysa, ressa

rell, relle, risse, rissa, reesha, rona, ronna, ronda

rene, reen, rina, rena, rienna, rill, rille

sha, shah, shay, shae, shai, saundra, sondra

shan, shana, shanna, shonna, shawna, shaunda

te, tee, tae, tai, taye, tia, tiya, tel, telle

teen, teena, tine, tina, tana, tasha, tisha, tosha

tesse, tessa, tonia, tonya, tori, tory, toria

treece, trice, trise, trisa, tricia

vette, vetta, viette, vietta

von, vonne, vonna, vonda, vona

 

Name Endings Favored For Boys

an, en, in, on, ano, ino, ion, ian, ien, o, yo

andre, andro, aundre, ante, ondre, onte

del, dell, tel, trel, quel

jon, juan, Ion, lonn, leon

mar, mario, marco, marcus, mond, mont, monte

rik, rek, rak, rick, rel, ron, ray

sean, shawn, shaun, shane

van, von, vonn, vaughn, vonte, vel, vell

If those still aren’t enough, maybe you want something a bit more fantastical? Try these sites:  The Fantasy Name GeneratorDwarf Name GeneratorCharacter Name Generator,  Elven Name Generator and there are plenty more.

I hope this is helpful. Love to hear suggestions in the comments below. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tips: Editorial Pet Peeves – All Of A Sudden/Suddenly

Although I am an editor myself,  my publisher rightly and smartly assigns me editors for my books.  The Founding Fathers built checks and balances into our government for a reason and, for similar reasons, they are invaluable in the editorial process. Bet you had no idea editing is so patriotic? Recently the editor who edits my Davi Rhii novels, Randy Streu, and I were discussing some editorial pet peeves. And I decided to do a series of these dialogues here which some of you may find helpful. This is the first. Others will follow as they come up. In this case, we’re discussing the annoyance of two overused cheats. One a phrase, the other a single word, used interchangeably for similar affect: “Suddenly” and “all of a sudden” in fiction. Let’s explain by example:

BTS: All of a sudden, Randy’s here.

Randy: Don’t start.

BTS: Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Welcome to the blog.

Randy: Thanks.

BTS: So, we were talking about editorial pet peeves and one of them is the use of “all of a sudden” and “suddenly” for dramatic impact, when they usually and ironically have the exact opposite effect.

Randy: Exactly. If you want drama, make it so.

BTS: All of a sudden, I feel like Commander Riker.

Randy: See? That usage feels natural, in dialogue, at least, because people say that: “All of a sudden, there you were. Suddenly, she appeared.”

BTS: Okay, so when doesn’t it work?

Randy: Pretty much anywhere else, but especially in narration.

An explosion knocked us from our feet mid-conversation as a 747 hit the houses behind us and set Randy’s hair on fire. We hadn’t even known the plane was there. I was unscathed, not a hair out of place, which annoyed him. “Nice hairspray,” he commented. “Thanks. Got it at the dollar store,” I replied.

Randy: Okay, that’s silly and ridiculous, but it works.

BTS: Because it’s unexpected.

Randy: Exactly.

BTS: And thus, it really comes on suddenly in effect and captures the intended dramatic impact rather than being slowed down by the words “all of a sudden” or “suddenly.” Because by the time you get to “sudden” or “ly,” whatever you’re describing is expected. You’ve foreshadowed it with a bullhorn, in effect.

So how should you do it? If you want to surprise your readers in a way that feels sudden, then don’t announce it, just make it happen.

Here’s an example from my second published novel, The Returning, which comes out June 19th. It’s the scene depicted on the book’s cover, in fact:

     “All right, what’s the plan?” Farien turned and joined Yao, looking at Davi as they rang the bell at the tower where Lord Niger kept a ground floor apartment. Amidst an elite grouping of residential high rises near the city center, the twin suns glinted off its shiny exterior, lending it a glow. “Home to the rich and mighty,” it seemed to say. Today one of their number would fall.

      “He’s not gonna like this,” Yao said.

      “He should have considered that before he betrayed our people,” Davi said as the door slid open to reveal a dark-skinned woman with her hair up. Her eyebrows rose in a question mark as she stared at them with concern.

      “We’re here to see Lord Niger,” Yao said.

      “My Niger’s in his study and can’t be disturbed right now,” the woman replied, Davi searched his mind for her name—Abena, if he remembered right.

      “I’m afraid he’ll have to be,” Davi said, extending his datapad.

      Abena’s expression changed to confusion. “What’s this? A warrant?”

      “It’s from the Palace, ma’am,” Yao said. “I’m afraid we really need to speak with your husband right away.”

      She scowled, shaking her head and stepping back inside, ripping the datapad from Davi’s hand as she did. The door slid shut.

      “Great! That was perfect!” Farien rolled his eyes.

      “You would’ve done better?” Davi shot him a look.

      Farien guffawed. “I always do better, Rhii. I think you’ve forgotten some of your diplomatic skills since you got demoted from Princehood.”

            Yao chuckled as Davi made a face. Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust. All three ducked and reached for their blasters, spinning around as their eyes panned for the cause of the blast. 

Okay let’s break this down. Davi, Farien and Yao arrive at a wealthy neighborhood to bring a member of the ruling Council in for questioning and are confronted by his unfriendly wife, who slams the door. In context, probably not so surprising. But the wall exploding is. Why? Because, although there’s inherent drama in what came before, the drama there comes from the tension between the people, not from the threat of violence or physical danger. With one fell swoop, or really, one sentence: “Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust” they go from laughing together and mildly frustrated to fighting for their lives.

Notice how I don’t use “suddenly” or “all of a sudden.” It still works. In fact, it’s better. I don’t need them. Because the suddenness of the jolting change in tone to the scene conveys it for me with much more power. And that’s what we’re talking about here. If you craft your story well, you don’t need to show your cards and your craft with such cheating words and phrases. Instead, the drama inherent in the story itself and how the elements or ordered by the writer, does the work for you. It’s why you’ll find readers, critics and editors often complaining whenever these overused cheats appear.

And don’t get us started on “in an instant,” “instantly,” “in a flash,” “without warning,” “unexpectedly,” “all at once,” “moments later” or “out of nowhere…” You can dress a sheep in clothes and it’s still a sheep.

What are other such pet peeves you’ve noticed in fiction or that you try and avoid? I’d love to hear yours in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Randy Streu is a radio announcer, producer, father and husband who lives in Upper New York State. He’s also the co-founder and owner of Diminished Media Group, as well as its primary developmental editor. In addition, he’s a writer and edits Digital Dragon Magazine with Tim Ambrose, his cofounder/c0-owner of DMG. It’s rumored his picture inspired Bryan’s internal image of his antagonist in the Davi Rhii saga, Xalivar. But you know how rumors are.

Write Tip: Stepping Outside The Box –Thoughts on Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality In Worldbuilding

We all live in a box. You may not be aware of yours, but you should trust me, when I tell you: it exists. It’s hard to see it when you’re inside of it, too. It’s only by stepping outside of it where, in essence, the control and comfort it automatically provides are gone that one becomes aware of its existence. It’s vital to be aware of this when creating characters and building worlds, because it can be such a valuable tool in that process. So much of our own cultural identity, understandings of race, class, gender and sexuality result from that box. It’s the lens through which we view ourselves, our world, and everyone around us. We’re all biased, even though we often hate to admit it. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s very much the truth.

A person who grows up poor and black in a ghetto and only meets white people as authority figures (cops, teachers, government officials, etc.) who treat them as lower class and tell them how to act, who control their income or access to various opportunities and goods and services, will inevitably regard white people differently than a black person who grew up in a middle class neighborhood where people of all mixed races lived, intermarried, etc. To the poor, ghetto kid, white people may be either hate or envied or both. For the middle class kid, they more likely are neighbors, playmates, friends, at least until one comes along who treats them badly for racial reasons or they step outside their box and encounter attitudes about separation of race. Because those attitudes may not be as apparent in the middle class box. I am generalizing, so let’s not debate specifics. I am aware the real world gets far more chaotic in such divisions but these are just examples, after all.

Growing up in Midwest, I had only a few friends of color (i.e. non-white skin: black, yellow, etc.). I used this term for anyone non-white to keep it simple, so pardon any offense inherent in the term. My grandparents and great uncles and aunts had often grown up in generations where segregation existed. I was born in 1969, after all. The Civil Rights movement was fresh on everyone’s mind. Places still existed with old signs about separate sections in restaurants, separate sections on public transportation, etc. Black and white churches were still quite the normal, with only a few mixed congregations. We happened to attend one, actually. Racial jokes weren’t all that out of fashion in public yet. You didn’t tell them in front of anyone non-white usually, of course. Unless they were the one telling the joke, which happened. But the older generation, in particular, had a stockpile of the jokes. As a kid, you don’t really get what’s wrong with them, because jokes aren’t something you tend to think about with much depth. It’s only later in life, when you’ve unpacked the issues surrounding race, that the obvious issues with such humor become readily apparent and you start to wonder if grandpa’s racist or Uncle Joe has issues. I never saw any mistreatment of people of other races by anyone in my family. They were invited to events and gatherings whenever appropriate like anyone else. No one made them use separate facilities or eat at different tables. No one treated them like servants or separated them in other ways. But they did have these jokes, and growing up in that environment,  one’s attitudes about class, race, gender, etc. are affected, right or wrong. I never looked at anyone by race, class or gender as less than myself. Never have and never will. But what it did do is create a sense of numbness about the pain such jokes could cause. It created a sense of ignorance about how passionately some people felt about this issues and divisions and attitudes and how strong they had to fight daily against them in other places.

When I went to college, I met people who had grown up solely in urban areas. They interacted daily from birth with people of all races. Nothing stood out to them about anyone different. And it was so normal, they hardly noticed. They didn’t like the same kinds of jokes. It wasn’t just frowned upon, it was wrong and insulting and just not allowed. They didn’t understand why anyone would tell them, and to them, it’s just a sign of deep pure hatred. How could anyone see these normal people around them as anything but equal? Who cared about skin color? It was like hairstyle and clothing–a factor of diverse humanness, not an indication of worth, value, status, etc.

Then as a volunteer I went to Ghana, and I witnessed another attitude that’s also stayed with me forever since. There are African-Americans who come to Africa with a certain attitude. You may have heard it expressed on TV: “I’m going to the motherland. I’m retracing my roots. I’m going home.” It never really occurred to me that anyone in Africa, outside of South Africa (which for part of my life had major racial discrimination in Apartheid), would take issue with this. Certainly no one black. But then I saw my Ghanaian friends get irritated with a couple African-American tourists with this attitude. “You’re not African,” they mumbled. “My people bought and sold your people a long time ago.” Suffice it to say, I was pretty shocked. These were Ghanaians who had travelled widely. Some had Ph.Ds. They lived in European-style houses in nicer areas and neighborhoods. They were not tribal villagers or particularly poor by their cultural standards.

Ironically, I later saw a similar attitude amongst some poor. And it was not every Ghanaian, but it was not uncommon either. I later talked with them about this and they said: “You’re more African than those people. You’ve taken the time to study our clothing, our history, our language, our culture. You’ve eaten our food, been to our homes, learned our customs. Those people have no identification with our ways–our culture, our traditions, our history–what makes us Ghanaian. It’s offensive for them to suggest otherwise.” Now I asked Nigerian-born author Nnedi Okorafor about this and she took great offense. She feels it’s a very pedantic and insulting attitude. So not every African or African culture may reflect this. But I bring it up because in these stories, we have several different ways people look at their world and make determinations about who belongs and who doesn’t based on race, birth, gender, etc. The Ghanaian attitude frequently extended to things like foreign adoption. White or black, they didn’t want African babies adopted by foreigners because “they would not grow up African. They won’t know who they are.” It shocked me that if a child had a shot at a much better life, they’d object to that, but they were fairly adamant that “African children belong with African parents.”

In regards to sexuality, if you grew up in the church and never met anyone who had a civil marriage or dated the same-sex, your attitude upon encountering the issue of gay marriage or gay couples will be a lot different from someone who grew up with gay classmates and had people who were civilly married. Let me be clear, I am not equating gay relationships and civil marriage as exclusively related. I am pointing out that many times, if people see marriage as strictly a sacred church right between a man and a woman, it really pushes them outside their understandings to discover some get married on the courthouse steps and that some who want to marry are same-sex.  They have so long equated marriage as a sacred act that the possibility of it being non-religious is hard to fathom and may have never occurred to them.

Due to length, I won’t get into gender here, but I hope you can see how attitudes and experiences with gender roles can also be similarly impacted by environment, history and experience.

I don’t bring any of this up to debate its validity. And I would ask you to refrain from doing so in comments, because I don’t intend to engage in such dialogue. Instead, what I want to unpack is its value for us in building realistic worlds and characters. How your characters and their neighbors regard each other and others with whom they come into contact as belonging or not belonging to their group can say a great deal about the characters themselves and their culture. In cosmopolitan areas, you can create people with a variety of such attitudes, affected by their personal background and history. For example, India has the complicated class system which involves various levels, including ‘untouchables.’ And there is no sense of moving from one class to another. You can be a wealthy ‘untouchable’ and still be ‘untouchable’ just the same. Other societies allow much more fluidity based on wealth, education, jobs, etc. One can move into various levels of the socioeconomic spectrum based on where one stands in any one of more of those factors. Quality of life can be determined merely by the respectability of job class or ability to send children and yourselves to higher class schools, eat in high-class restaurants, own transportation, etc.

If you grew up knowing people of diverse race, gender, etc., you are far more likely to be accepting of that in adulthood than someone who was never exposed. Yes, there are people who are sometimes naturally accepting for various reasons. But that doesn’t make them colorblind. Those so used to diversity often don’t even notice consciously the differences anymore. Those less familiar with it will find it tends to be more often recognized and mentally noted when they encounter it. Thus, they may be more likely to make accommodations in obvious ways with obvious effort, whereas those who are colorblind just go about life as if no divisions exist and never have to make an effort to accommodate.

I hope you can see what I’m getting at here. These are all attitudes, conscious or unconscious, subtle or obvious, which can be employed to define your characters and their relationships with other characters and the world around them. Subtly interwoven into your world building, they can create rich tapestries with which readers will immediately connect and which make the world much more vivid and realistic in reading your words. They can be woven into the dynamics of world and character relationships in many ways. They can create subtleties to be exploited in building character and conflict in your storytelling which can be quite powerful and useful.

On the other hand, sometimes, they can be employed to create a world so foreign its hard to grasp. In some ways, Joe Haldeman did this by making heterosexuality forbidden in Forever War, for example. There have been alien races which had solely same-sex mating customs, etc. Mike Resnick, in his books Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno, and his Kiranyaga stories, posits futures involving aliens and even African colonists and looks at how relationships exist between them and their cultures, classes and other beings. It’s so powerful and yet subtle, and actually resulted in him oddly predicting real historical events in Africa before they happened.

In my own Davi Rhii novels, I have employed a lot of alien races and class divisions. Everything from religion to skin color to education plays a part, some more subtly than others, in societal attitudes and roles. The biggest divisions are ideological and species (i.e. aliens vs. human) but others are touched upon as well. For me, it creates a more interesting tapestry for building my world and characters and their relationships. It also affects the story itself, adding many dynamics which sometimes were unintentional or which I had to go back an exploit in later drafts for best affect.

How do you think about and employ these factors in your world building? How have you seen them handled both well and badly in books you’ve read? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on ways to explore these aspects of world and character creation. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Importance Of Reaching Beyond Female Stereotypes

My friend and fellow editor Kat Heckenbach asked an interesting question on Facebook today which really got me thinking about stereotypes: Are authors obligated to make characters fall into certain stereotypes because readers expect it? (For example, most people think of Goths as angry, snarly, dark, and Poe-obsessed. But when referring to a little kid, they can and do use the word cute–but if a Goth character in a book said that, would it just throw you right out?)

Stereotypes are common in literature, there’s no doubt, and in Science Fiction and Fantasy this can be particularly the case, especially with female characters. Damsels in distress are a mainstay of our genres, both inside the stories/books and on the covers. Most of us have seen Jim C. Hines’ posts about the silliness of the way women are posed versus men in such art. These images feed the stereotypes. Yes, they are an attempt by publishers to sell books using sex, which has worked forever as a means of moving product, not just books. But what message do they send culturally to women, young women and, almost more importantly, men, about the roles women have to play in our society? Are they just objects for lustful stares and wet dreams? Do these images leave open  the possibility for far more substance below the surface? How silly do male characters look when dressed and posed like female characters typically are? Take a look at this imagining or Avengers with such poses.

Think I’m kidding? Take a look at two cover examples below. One is an older example, the other more recent. Do artists and publishers actually think anyone could fight dressed this way or would? It kind of questions the character’s intelligence, doesn’t it? To make it worse, in the case of Ringo’s book, the publisher site describes the character as “soccer mom and demon fighter.” Wow. A soccer mom who walked around in that outfit would be accused of indecency, wouldn’t she? Not to mention being shunned by fellow soccer moms.

For me there’s no question that bucking stereotypes is far more interesting and adds nuances. If you start out with the typical housewife who raises kids while the hubby works but then turns out to be a zombie fighting badass, how much more interesting did she just get? I think, in particular, with women characters, fantasy struggles with this. The traditional epic fantasy has strong, sweaty fighting men protecting their helpless women, but is it really that interesting anymore? And can’t we change our views of women enough to include more possibilities? Even history would demonstrate that women have played far more diverse roles than the stereotypes a male-dominated society describes them with. There has been at least one female Pope, for example, whose gender was only discovered after she became pregnant. That was hundreds of years ago and she had to conceal her identity. But this is a different age. Why should women have to hide their true selves? I’d like to think we’re more enlightened than that, but I know not all of us are.

I grew up with strong women around me. From my Mom, who was the stay at home housewife, a woman who retired from nursing to raise her three kids, to my twin sister, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers, the women I grew up with were not stereotypical. They had common traits we might associate with women, of course. They were often more emotional than men and could talk about it more freely. Most of them were better at cooking and laundry, etc. than we men. But this was not because we were incapable of it, rather it was because that was the role they were expected to take on. They took it on gladly, too, but my Mom sat me down at fourteen with a stern warning. “You’re going to learn to cook, clean, do laundry, basic sewing, and anything else I think you need so your wife can’t send you back some day and tell me you’re not finished.” And so I did learn, and those skills have been invaluable to me. In fact, when I got married, my wife didn’t know how to sew, so I was the one who fixed buttons, dog toys, etc. in our house. I also helped with cleaning. In fact, there were some tasks I really don’t enjoy which are typically associated with menlawn work, for examplewhich my wife enjoyed and did while I helped with so-called “women’s work.”

There’s a ridiculous term if I’ve ever heard one: “women’s work.” The work typically grouped under that heading is the work necessary to daily living. If you’re a bachelor, unless you’re rich, you’re going to have to do laundry, find a way to cook and eat, etc. It doesn’t make you suddenly sprout breasts and start generating estrogen. “Women’s work” is an insulting term because its origins come from a sense of superiority by men that the “important work” is not for women. Because, of course, raising good, responsible citizens while the men are at the office working sixty hour weeks is unimportant. Keeping a nice home so the man can come home and actually relax during down time is menial. We’d all survive without those things, right? Yep, without “women’s work” we’d still be the greatest country on Earth.

Hardly. Some of the most meaningful character-building times in my life were working with my mother and grandmothers on the very tasks typically called “women’s work”learning to cook, fold clothes, sew, etc. I’m a creative after all, and cooking and sewing, in particular, very much stimulate my creative impulses. Add to that the fact that walking around naked outside of performance art has tended to be frowned upon, especially if your ribs are showing like a starving African kid, and, well, they really did me a service teaching me to care for clothes and feed myself. I’m just saying…

And look at this cover for Raven 3: The Frozen God. Seriously. A woman dressed like that fighting monsters on an ice field? Oh yeah, that’s realistic. Yeah, this warrior woman is so badass, she doesn’t even freeze. Yep. The only time women in my life ever dressed this way was to go swimming, at Halloween of costume parties, or in changing rooms at the store. In fact, other than my wife, none of the women mentioned from my life in this post ever dressed this skimpily. It’s not even appropriate for the task. Unless, as my editor suggested, the only way to kill this monster is to get it aroused. Doubtful.

You just can’t stereotype women any more than you can men these days. The fact is that we are all individuals and just when you meet a women whom you think embodies all the “typical female traits,” five minutes later she’ll surprise you with aspects you never would have imagined. It used to be “men’s work” to get an education and write, for example, and where would our genres be without Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, A.C. Crispin, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and numerous others? How much would be have missed out on if the Cat Valentes, Kij Johnsons, Nnedi Okorafors, and N.K. Jemisons had never put pen to paper? Seriously. What about Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, Beth Meacham and Liz Gorinsky, Anne Vandermeer and Sheila Williams? They buy stories from men as well as women and all are amongst the top editors in this business.

I get the whole male instinct to want to protect their women. But it’s not like those instincts don’t also exist in women. Think I’m wrong? Go to a playground and act weird around some woman’s kid. Be sure and take a picture of that black eye and get a copy of the mug shot, too, okay?

I think it’s incumbent upon all writers, male and female, to carefully consider the roles they give to characters. Yes, with minor roles, sometimes stereotypes can be expedient. And sometimes they get the job done, but push yourself to make sure that for every stereotype you employ ten characters who buck such narrow definitions. Not only will your plots and themes and work expand in scope and meaning as a necessary result, but it will resonate more profoundly with modern readers and even help erase stereotypes as functions of our culture. I can think of no greater goal and contribution Science Fiction and Fantasy writers could make, can you?

The world needs more ninjas posing as suburban housewives who save the world. It needs more mothers who don’t wait for their husbands to save the day but draw their sword or blaster and take on the kidnappers themselves, kicking ass to free their kids. Our modern world has plenty of room for men in the kitchen and sewing, too. After all, think of Top Chef and other cooking shows: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Curtis Stone,  Gordon Ramsey, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Guccio Guccishould these men be considered abnormal for the excellence they’ve worked hard to create? Hardly.

As much as I applaud them for having this panel, it’s 2012. Should we really still desperately need panels like this:

(PR) Kicking ass in high heels: These days women can kick ass, save the world, and still have time to fall in love.
But why are they still doing it in hot pants and high heels? Can heroines be a size 18 and still be beautiful?

Unfortunately, we do need them, and it’s because of the perpetuation of stereotypes. Think of the other issues we could be putting our time into if we just put aside these silly limitations and moved on?

One of the worst insults I got in a review was a review which said I had “shockingly outdated female roles.” This was for a story where I have female political leaders, female starfighter pilots, female warriors, female military leaders, and so on. I thought I was trying hard to break the molds, and yet here comes a reviewer to tell me I hadn’t done enough. I still think they’re wrong, but, at the same time, it pushes me to strive harder, to ask more questions, and to do everything I can to prove them wrong so I never hear such a disappointing criticism again. After all,  my Mom reads my books. I don’t want her thinking I didn’t learn a thing from all her efforts. But more than that, I don’t want my daughters and other girls who read my books to ever think I’m telling them they can’t be anything they want to be.

The world may set limits, but in the worlds of your fiction, possibilities are limitless. Don’t let yourself write within the familiar box of the world in which you live. Instead, tear down the walls and shoot for something no one’s seen but should be seeing. Push the boundaries and see where it takes you, your characters and your story. Let no one accuse us of writing the same old fantasy or space opera. Instead, let us together launch a new age and work to redefine what “same old” is. To my mind, we owe it to our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to open the world’s doors. After all, making the world a better place is a responsibility for all of us, not just a “chosen male few.” We live in an age when the distinction between what women can do for careers and what men can do is fading to almost nothing. How can our fiction represent our times and a bright future if it doesn’t reflect that?

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Outlining From A Finished Draft For Pantsers (How I Do It)

Okay, if you’re a pantser like me, you may reach a point where you feel like you need to actually get a better handle on organizing your manuscript. You’ve finished a draft or two but there’s character arcs to refine, plot line arcs to refine, motifs to identify & exploit, etc. You’re not an outliner. Organization is a crutch. It might even block your process. But there comes a time when one has to refine and examining the structure is usually key to success in doing that. Since people ask me for advice on this, I’d like to show you how I go about this process. It may not work for everyone, no method does with writing, but at the very least, it might stimulate your creativity and help you create your own approach to accomplish the same thing.

First, I like to do this on paper. One, because staring at things on screen gives you an incomplete image of each page/scene. Two, because I stare at the screen all day when writing and editing and need a break. Three, because I can do it anywhere without electricity needed and thus find energy by moving around or even have the manuscript with me on errands if I wind up having to wait, etc. (Although please don’t do it while driving. This has been a public service message from bryanthomasschmidt.net.) Four, because it helps you stay focused on the goal without getting distracted tweaking your manuscript and then never getting back to this task. (Don’t lie, you know it happens.)

 

Second, there are three phases to this:

 

Phase One, make a list of your plots and subplots and assign each a number or letter. For example:

A Assassins are killing Vertullians and Davi and friends must investigate

B Davi and Tela’s relationship hits some road blocks

C Aron has joined the Council and must adjust to life as a leader working amongst his former enemies

etc.

 

Phase Two, you reread the document which you should have not touched for at least 2-3 weeks, preferably a month, so you can be objective and fresh. As you go through, you make notes.  You will label each scene with the letters of the plotline it relates to: A, B or AB if it involves more than one plotline as some scenes can. If you want to focus on the outline, you should also make notes of anything such as character names switched or POV issues or pl0t holes. But keep it short so you can stay focused. You can go back later and wrestle with these. Make notes in margins or keep a separate sheet. You might even do a separate sheet for each plot line. It’s up to you.

 

Phase Three, this is where you go back and take your notes and write a brief description of each scene on a page for each plot line or a master sheet for the whole story with plotline indicators (A, B, C). You might even want to color code it in Excel or with highlighting in Word. This will allow you to read through each plot separately and examine the arc and tension and turning points, etc. to make sure it’s where it needs to be. All you need in scene descriptions is the key dramatic points and which characters and plots are involved. Keep it concise. No need for a whole synopsis of each scene unless you feel compelled. There are no rules. Writing is a journey and a constant process of growing and refining your craft, after all, and that’s what these Write Tips are designed to help with and stimulate. None are intended as end-all rules.

 

That’s it. Three easy phases to an outline AND the bonus is you’ve probably already made notes on some of the issues you need to address. Now it’s easy to go back and move scenes around if you need to, find flaws in plotting or character arcs, or expand motifs. You can also look at pacing, balance and other things.

Now lest any of you pantsers get said pants in a bunch with the “I CAN’T WORK FROM OUTLINES” attitudes, remember that all I am helping you do is make a chart of the outline that already exists in your work. You wrote it by the seat of your pants but you still created a structure in doing so. Now’s the time to fine tune and refine it and I’m merely suggesting a way to do that simply so you can be more effective. If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to take the concepts I suggest and make your own method. In fact, I’d love if, when you do, you’d comment on this post so we can all learn from it.

So there you have it, a simple method for Outling From a Finished Draft. At least, that’s how I do it. What’s your way? We’re waiting with baited breath. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: How Screenplay Structure Can Help Plotting & Pace In Your Novels

I am a film school grad of California State University, Fullerton. I spent several years working in TV and film and had a script in development at Disney. It never got made. I never got rich and famous. But the lessons I learned from film school and, particularly, the books of Syd Field about story structure have stayed with me. In Screenplay, field presents the standard for screenplay structure: 3 acts, the first and last of 30 pages (a page equalling approximately a minute on screen) and the middle being 60 pages. This is called the Three Act Structure.

On a basic level, it works like this:

The First Act sets up the setting, characters, etc. We are introduced to our protagonist, antagonist and their problems, i.e. the issues which will cause them to clash later on. Around page 30, a major plot point occurs, called a turning point, where something happens the compels the protagonist to react and takes the story in a new direction. He or she must respond and struggle to save the day, solve the problem, win over the girl, or otherwise deal with their life being turned upside down in a major way to get back to happy again. This act tends to move fairly tightly and concisely. And a good steady pace is helpful to get people into the story and make them want to stay for the rest.

The Second Act is the middle. The first major plot point has happened and the character must now respond, going on an adventure or quest to solve the problem. The antagonist, meanwhile, is working to get there first or keep the protagonist from succeeding. Act Two is full of complications. The first half propels us toward a middle plot point which in some way turns the story and compels them to action toward the second major plot point at the end of the act, around page 90. Although pace is important here, at times, in Act Two, one can slow down a bit and develop characters, etc., allowing the story to breathe.

The Third Act is the wrap up dealing with the results of major plot point two and all the loose ends from throughout the story. Like Act One, this act moves quickly, and more quickly than any of the others because it needs to feel driven to carry us to the climax.

Those are the basics of Three Act Screenplay structure, but further breaking it down is where it really becomes useful for us as novelists. In screenplays, stories consist of beats.

There are three types of beats:

1. Story Beat (Plotting) — these are action points upon which the story is framed. They build together like a puzzle. These include the major turning points at act breaks and usually the halfway beat for Act Two. But many smaller beats occur as well (we’ll get to that shortly). Major Story Beats typically include:

Opening (Normal World)
Inciting Incident (Act One midpoint)
Act 1 Break (Plot Point 1)
Midpoint (Mid-Point of the Act 2, takes us into the second half of Act 2)
Act 2 Break (Plot Point 2)
Climax (Resolution)

2. Emotional Beat (Character Arc)–We’re all familiar with “character arcs.” These are made up of emotional beats: events wherein the physical action of story creates an emotional reaction within your character. These show us what motivates the next action within the character. By connecting the emotional beats, you see the character arcs.

3. Reversal (Emotional Beat Within a Scene)–Unlike the others, this refers to specific moments within a scene where a character undergoes an emotional reversal. Example: Bob confronts Joe who killed his mother. Bob wants to kill Joe. But then Joe explains Bob’s mom viciously murdered his mom years before. Not only that but Joe is Bob’s half-brother from his father’s affair. Now Bob is reconsidering his initial emotional reaction.

Something major happens every 15 pages. While the major act turning points occur at page 30 and page 90, these in between breaks matter too. They are beats. And some are emotional, some story and some reversals. Reversals are powerful and must be used with care, but you can use more than one to provide some mystery and twists and turns to your story as long as you use them wisely.

How can this help novelists?

By thinking of your story with this framework, you can make sure you keep your plot moving at a steady pace. You can avoid long periods where “nothing happens” and, instead, focus in on beats and plot points which push things forward. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser or an outliner, this can work for you. I tend to be a pantser and that’s how I write. I ask myself: what could happen next that would surprise the characters and take things in unexpected directions? Sometimes, I surprise myself. The Returning, my second Davi Rhii novel, is full of moments like that. The Story Beats lead to Emotional Beats as characters affected by the events of the plot react emotionally. Examples: A friend’s life is threatened, the protagonist takes action to protect and/or save the friend. A secret past is revealed and the protagonist struggles to come to terms with it and redefine who he/she is. See how it works?

Novels don’t share the same paging as screenplays, so you have to set aside the specific 15,30,60,90 pages marks in this case. But screenplays consist of sparse description/action and lots of dialogue, so thinking through this structure should still make things come out fairly close to the same as you write. By incorporating these beats and plot points, something many of us do on instinct, you can be more deliberate about arranging your story so it moves at a good, even clip and avoids needless sidetracking or lags. The end result will be a tighter, better paced story which hooks the reader and keeps them interested to the end.

How do you structure your novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 5 Tricks To Adapting A Well Known Story For Fiction

It’s been done. All too many times, if you listen to some. The story is world famous, well known. Many know its details by heart. Yet it’s compelling and you have an idea you know is different—one no one’s done before. So how do you keep it fresh? Adapting a well-known story for fiction has many challenges, but above them all is the issue of freshness, avoiding predictability.

There are some techniques which work well to invigorate the retelling:

1)      Use the original story as character history/backstory so the parallels are interesting but you don’t have to follow it to the letter—In The Worker Prince, my debut novel, because my characters are colonists to space from Earth and Protestants, they share the religious history of Christianity so the Moses story, which inspired mine, is prehistory. Some parallels from that story occur, when a prince discovers he was born a slave and helps the slaves fight for freedom, for example. But having established that as prehistory, I was able to depart quite a bit from biblical elements like the plagues, miracles, and parting of the Red Sea to tell a different, although familiar story. The inspiration remains the same but the story takes new and interesting twists.

2)      Change the timeline (order)– What if the events are the same but they don’t happen in the same order? Sometimes the order of events is not vital to the story and you can make new twists and turns just be changing the order of events and, thus, how those various events affect each other. It can lead to new conflicts and new undercurrents which didn’t exist in the original story and make it more interesting for those familiar with the story on which yours is based.
3)      Identify the core elements and throw away less important ones—In The Worker Prince I did exactly this: keeping the idea of one people enslaving another under a ruthless dictator, a prince secretly adopted from slaves, ideological conflict, and injustice but dumping things like the Red Sea, years of exile in a desert, plagues, etc. It kept the story familiar and grounded in the tropes of the original while allowing me to take it in totally different and surprising directions. Some scenes and events are vital for the story to remain familiar. The same can be said of key characters. Others can be thrown away or reinvented to keep things original and unique in your telling.

4)      Reverse roles, species or genders of characters—What if your hero in the original story was male but in your story becomes female? What if a human character becomes alien or animal? What about a robot? What about other characters? Can your sidekick become the love interest? What if your antagonist becomes a relative instead of  a social acquaintance? What if the characters take on bigger roles and multiple functions they didn’t have in the original? The differences between genders, species, etc. can then be exploited for new aspects of your story and new twists and turns different from the original in fun ways.

5)      Change the setting—Setting your story in a culture and context far removed from the original can provide interesting opportunities. I set The Worker Prince in distant space far from Earth with different aliens and plant species, etc. It allowed me to have technology and related problems totally foreign to the original Moses story and made for a more fun and interesting telling for me as storyteller and for readers. The same can be true of resetting the story in a different decade or era from the one in which it originally occurred. Imagine, if you will, a steampunk Cinderella or Sherlock Holmes in the 24th Century. All kinds of possibilities present themselves.

All of these suggestions are about making the story your own. If you can find ways to do that, you can create a fresh experience and telling while utilizing powerful elements of the familiarity and themes of the original story. Grounding your story in a well-known tale, definitely has advantages.  But a little creative rethinking can make it even more powerful and draw in an audience of people it might not otherwise appeal to. It’s fun to work from a familiar foundation and structure. Especially if you love the story, it can stimulate the imagination. But if everyone knows the twists and turns and outcome of your story, why should they want to read it? I hope these suggestions give you ideas how the old can become  new and fresh in the retelling.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince—which received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011—and The Returning, both from the space opera series Saga Of Davi Rhii. He also wrote the collection The North Star Serial, and short stories published in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Of Fur And Fire and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation, amongst others. A freelance professional editor and proofreader, he’s edited books for authors like Leon C. Metz, David Brown and Ellen C. Maze. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Twitter (#sffwrtcht), where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Be Professional

One of the highest compliments anyone has paid me is to tell me “You’re a professional.” I’ve actually heard this several times the past few months. My first reaction is: “I wish I was. I don’t make any money.” But what they really mean is that I act like a professional in my timeliness and practices toward others. I am guilty of professionalism. When I say I’ll do it, I do it and I meet the deadline. If I have a contractual obligation, I try and meet it. The exception has been when I edited Space Battles and I pushed back the deadline due to lack of submissions, but I checked with the publisher first and he was fine. I also did that editing job for a profit share, not pay, which makes a difference. Even for SFFWRTCHT, I handle things like a professional–from my preparations, reading time for each book to how I deal with publicists and authors and how I moderate the hour show.

Why?

Because if you want to be a professional, you have to act like one. Period. If you don’t act like one, you won’t get treated like one. It doesn’t matter that unprofessional people will still be around acting unprofessionally toward you. Your professionalism has nothing to do with them. It’s on you. You want to be considered a professional? BE ONE.

Why does it matter?

For me, it’s about self-respect and the understanding that when you show professionalism, people who are professionals will respect you and want to work with you. If you like to be seen as serious and someone who’s worthy of people’s time, you must be someone they trust, admire and respect. And since I like to work with people who are reliable, trustworthy and admirable, I will show them I am  myself.

What does the dictionary say it means to be professional? “to show  respect, professionalism, adherence to policies and prompt payments.

Who likes to be paid late? Who likes to be disrespected? Who likes people who refuse to play by the same rules as everyone else?

NO ONE.

Yeah, I get it. Some people hate rules. They hate to follow orders. That’s why they’re not in the military. I’m not in the military myself, I get that. But we’re not referring to a set of laws or strict regulations as much as “rules of the game,” i.e. expected behaviors of professionals. If you hire someone, pay them promptly and on time (by contract date or before); if you sign a contract for a novel/story, deliver it on time, in the format requested, polished and professionally ready for publication; if an editor requests rewrites, ask your questions respectfully, then decide if the changes make sense, make them, and turn it back in on time, etc. These are just the thing it takes to get paid for your writing. (No, it doesn’t matter that even publishers are bad about paying on time, etc. Again, their unprofessionalism has nothing to do with yours.) Be reliable. Do what you say you will, when you say you will, with respect for others and a good attitude. That’s what it means to be professional.

Some of the most successful authors I know are very professional: Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Mary Robinette Kowal. Kevin keeps good lists and fills his orders promptly and well, with quick thank you notes hand written and includes some swag to remind you to visit again. I’ve seen Mike do a similar thing. Having dealt with all three of these fine people for SFFWRTCHT, they handled prep and questions professionally. They showed up when they said they would (except a brief car trouble for Resnick who stayed longer when required to finish the job right.) Editing Space Battles, which Resnick headlines, his story came in polished, with the right word count, right on time. All three are impeccably polite and kind. Anderson even has hecklers who are anything but kind and polite. I’m sure he gets frustrated. But I’ve never heard him say an unkind word or be nasty back. He’s a professional. Why do these people sell so many stories? They’re a pleasure to work with.

It doesn’t matter that our politics don’t agree or our religions. (Honestly, I’m not sure as they keep that to themselves mostly.) It doesn’t matter that I’m a newbie who hardly anyone had heard of three years ago and hardly anyone has heard of today. They treated me like they would any other fellow professional. And when I asked for edits, Mike Resnick sent them back without complaint. (It was intimidating to edit Mike Resnick. But man, he made it easy and I appreciate it. I don’t ask for story changes lightly and I didn’t ask for much.)

I’ve learned so much just by watching them. If you still don’t believe professionalism matters, I asked SFWA writer friends on my Facebook if they’d rather work with professionals and why, and here’s what Barb Galler-Smith, Fiction Editor for Canada’s On Spec magazine said:

“Working with people who don’t act professionally is easy. I can ignore everything they say and do with impunity and never have to deal with them again. I am grateful that of all the people I have met in the writing biz over the years, only one acted childishly, and that was a source of great amusement behind closed doors. No matter what your endeavour, behaving professionally is essential. It’s about respect for the art, craft, job, message, person, and yourself.”

So be professional. Even if you’re still broke and struggling to make it. Act professional even when you think the rejections will never end. Act professional even when you don’t feel like it. People will remember you as a professional and, take a chance on you one day, perhaps. They’ll forgive you when life happens and you do miss deadlines. They’ll want to work with you. And maybe then you’ll live that dream of making a living as a full time writing professional.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Origins: February 13

This post is part of the Origins Challenge Blog Series. Almost 200 blogs participating. Click here for the listSo the challenge is to blog about how we got started writing. This is an ironic date because writing about the origins of my writing on February 13th means I’m writing about origins on the day of my origin. Yes, February 13 is my birthday, so how’s that for interesting parallels?

I got started writing through play really. My mother says I never played with a toy the same way twice. I would get mad when the toys couldn’t do all the awesome things I imagined them doing in my mind. I’d get bored and move on.

On the playground at school, I organized elaborate make believe scenarios with my friends, from firefighters fighting fires to astronauts. I’d take charge and lay out the storyline and direct the actors. Amazingly they came back to bossy me for more.

In third grade, my friend Chris Marshall and I wrote our own stories for The Littles series of books about little mouse-like people living inside a human family’s house. We wrote book after book of them, so, as best I can remember, this was my official start to writing.

However, at the same time, I wrote my first song in kindergarten around the time I started piano lessons. So I’d been doing lyric writing and such for a while by the time Chris and I wrote those books. Which counts as the first? Chicken or egg, my friends.

Over time, my active imagination continued and I’d make up stories. My 3rd grade friend, Chris Marshall, and I got hooked on John Peterson and Roberta Carter Clark’s Littles children’s books and started writing our own sequels. That was my first dreams of being a professional writer and yes, despite my stand on fanfic, I did start there like so many.

As I watched TV shows, I’d make up stories and scripts for them: Emergency, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, L.A.Law, Life Goes On… This eventually led to spec scripts and film school, where I actually pursued a TV career. My most successful were scripts for L.A. Law and The Wonder Years.

The idea for my debut novel, The Worker Prince, came to me in high school while I wrote all those TV ideas. I even created my own TV show and wrote the first 13 scripts plus pilot for that and plotted out episodes for two whole seasons.

In college and grad school, I wrote three nonfiction books which never went anywhere, but then my devotionals started getting used a lot and I sold some of those. Eventually, I tried prose and The Worker Prince was the second novel I finished. So here I am. That’s the story of my origins as a writer.

I’m 43. This year will see publication of the second and third anthologies to feature short stories by me, one of which I edited, my second and third novels, and the first print magazine to feature one of my stories. So far the journey’s going well.

What’s yours?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

The Returning: How I Dealt With Middle Book Syndrome

Well, we’re four chapters from finalizing the editing of my novel, The Returning, sequel to my debut The Worker Prince. ARCS will go out next week, and then copyediting. As I look at this book, a book which I’m amazed even got written–written in the midst of my life completely falling apart (unemployment, mental health issues and hospitalization for the wife, then divorce and a cross country relocation), I also marvel at how well this second book actually works. I know, I know: “We’ll be the judge of that” you’re thinking. And yes, you will. But from beta readers to editors, responses have been encouraging. They comment that it starts out fast like a Bourne movie and never lets up. They talk of the stakes being upped on every level from character development to complexity of plot to emotional arcs and actual events of the story. The stakes were higher in every way. And although that was deliberate in part, I find myself pondering how important second books are for us as authors and in trilogies generally. And how hard they can be to write.

When I started The Returning, I had no idea what the book would be. I knew where the story would have to go for the ending in book 3. But unlike Book 1, which employed the biblical story of Moses as a framework, and book 3, which will also employ more elements of that, book 2 had to fill in gaps and required me to create more of my own storyline and structure with these characters. I knew there were mistakes I’d made in The Worker Prince which I didn’t want to repeat. I also knew there were things I wanted to do with the characters. But I wrote in total chaos. Outlining a chapter at a time is usual for me, so that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that my life was so chaotic in the background of writing that I often went a month or weeks between chapters or even scenes. Coming back to it, I found concentration hard, so I couldn’t review what I’d written as fully. And often I didn’t want to reread the previous six chapters just to write. Unlike The Worker Prince, this book took 9 months to write. And it went out a chapter at a time to three beta readers as I went. They urged me for more quite often. Their patience was greatly appreciated. I didn’t look at their feedback until after I’d finished.

I was amazed.

First of all, as I hinted at above, I’m a pantser. I let the story go where it takes me. I always have some key plot points in mind. And I always have a rough idea of the base storylines (plots and subplots). But in this case, I had no idea how I would end it until I was well over 2/3rds through. It’s a middle book. There was no real ending. Many events in this book carry over into Book 3. But at some point, I realized I could still create a satisfying denouement, even if it was a cliffhanger ending. And the book most certainly has that. At the same time, the events push toward the point where a chapter feels closed in spite of that.

Early on I realized Book 2 needed a sense of everything being turned upside down. The Worker Prince was a happy story overall. It almost feels like a standalone. Despite the survival of the antagonists and potential for more stories, everything gets wrapped up in a pretty happy ending. But for the characters to progress and the story with them, I needed to tear all the stability and happiness apart again. Their lives, relationships and future all needed to be in jeopardy, and readers needed to be surprised. So, as I wrote, I set that goal. In addition, I wanted a fast pace, action packed novel, both emotionally and physically. It required a more complicated plot. And wound up with seventeen point of view characters, a hell of a cast to manage. (Some only have a scene or two from their POV. There are major POV characters who have scenes throughout as well.)

As I reached each plot point I’d planned, I examined my options and looked for the unusual choice, the surprise twist. What could happen here that would make readers say: “Whoa! I cannot believe that just happened!” Where can I take things that makes it more complicated and pushes them further from their goals and happiness again? At every chance, I made such choices. Unlike The Worker Prince, I knew that meant important characters would have to die. In the end, four do.

It’s hard to kill characters. You spend so much time with them that you begin to feel a bit like they’re family. So killing them, unless you’re psychopathic I suppose, feels wrong and mean. Who wants to be mean? But in order for the heights of the emotional arcs and plots to be reached, the stakes had to get higher and higher in The Returning, and I found no way to do that without endangering characters. In choosing the characters to subject to this “cruelty,” I also tried to make surprising choices. I chose characters I liked but characters who, ultimately, have less interesting arcs left to them than the ones who remained. My readers may disagree, but I hope not. Because the deaths of these characters actually redefine and energize the arcs for other characters in Book 3. They serve to drive the rest of the story.

I also did more exploration of my solar system, using more alien species and worlds, and exploring more of how the Boralian Alliance got to be in control and treated the natives they encountered. This will be a big part of Book 3 as well, and I think it made for some very interesting worldbuilding along with some nice plot twists and turns.

Obviously, I can’t say too much. The book doesn’t release until June. But in any case, by the time I concluded writing The Returning, I knew I had the makings of a very satisfying chapter in my saga. In fact, editors and my beta readers all agreed it’s a better book on every level than The Worker Prince. [That’s a compliment writers. We need to grow with each book. So I took it that way. It was also my goal as mentioned above.]

And so now I can’t wait to share it with you. It goes out to reviewers and other authors for blurbs next week. I have some pretty cool people lined up, including a couple of Star Wars authors. I can’t wait to hear what they think. I hope you’ll take the time to read The Worker Prince and The Returning and love them as much as I loved the experience of bringing them to life for you.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Guest Post: Writer Confidence—Too Much or Too Little?

by Patty Jansen

Let’s presume for a moment, that there is a writer called Leon. Leon doesn’t exist, of course, and I picked the name because I don’t actually know anyone by that name. Leon, however, embodies a number of characteristics I’ve seen in workshops and on writer sites.

Leon has written a novel, has self-published it ‘because so much crap gets published by mainstream publishers’, and is now frequently, and loudly, complaining about the lack of reviews, about the idiocy of ‘legacy’ publishing and about how everybody else should be self-publishing, too. But, you know, it is the first novel he’s ever written and to be honest it’s–uhm–not very good.

Let’s presume there is another writer called Frederica. Same deal as Leon–I don’t know anyone by that name. Frederica has dwelled in writer workshops for yonks, and enjoys ‘helping absolute n00bs out’. She has had some minor short stories published, and has submitted to publishers and agents. She’s had a few requests for the manuscript, but she hasn’t submitted anything for a while now. Which is a pity, because she writes quite well and has some lovely ideas.

Now consider that horrible thing: writer confidence. It’s that little voice in your head that says ‘This is total rubbish’ when you’re writing something. It is the insidious feeling that makes you cringe when reading your own manuscript, and makes you think twice about submitting to anywhere that pays top rates because ‘it’s not good enough’ and will never be so.

Leon clearly has too much confidence, and Frederica too little. Both are crippling. Leon would benefit from spending more time learning his craft and listening to people who have read his work. Frederica would benefit if she didn’t consider any criticism as euphemism for ‘I’m no good’ and if she could be made to submit her stories. At the root of their problems, both are probably afraid of rejection. Leon takes rejection as an insult and becomes defensive. Frederica takes rejection as a rejection of her person and feels hurt.

It would of course be ridiculous to suggest that writers aren’t–and shouldn’t be–affected by rejection, but neither defensiveness or crawling in one’s shell are productive reactions. We need to learn to write to a standard that publishers will buy, and the only way we’ll know that is to submit to markets. It does not help a new writer to withdraw from this market-testing for whatever reason, even if you intend to self-publish.

Note that in the above paragraph, I never said ‘we need to learn to write well’. What constitutes publishable writing is a fluid concept. The parameters of what is good writing are ill-defined and subject to taste, namely, that of the editor where you send your submission. Contrary to popular belief, an editor is a human being, with preferences and likes and dislikes, and with the style of a magazine or publishing house to consider. An editor is not the same person as the next editor. Therefore, if an editor says no, that doesn’t mean that the next editor will also say no. Similarly, if an editor says no, it doesn’t mean that the editor is an idiot. It means that the editor had no need for the material, nothing else.

A writer with too much confidence gets hung up about rejection. A writer with too little confidence gets hung about rejection. A writer with the right amount of confidence may feel down for a bit, but will send the submission somewhere else. This writer will think ‘I’ll show ’em’. And you know what? Sooner or later, you will indeed.


Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She publishes in both traditional and indie venues. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. Her story Survival in Shades of Orange will be published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (military SF http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005OOFFPC ) and books 1 and 2 of the Icefire Trilogy Fire & Ice and Dust & Rain (post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy).

Patty is on Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, LinkedIn, goodreads, LibraryThing, google+ and blogs at: http://pattyjansen.com/

 

Write Tip: Thoughts On Choosing Point Of View

There are many decisions one makes when writing fiction. One of the most important is the choice of POV character and whether it’s first person or third. Often, when dealing with multiple POV characters, the choice is based on who has the most to lose or gain in a particular scene. But sometimes other factors can be useful.  

In The Returning, my forthcoming sequel to The Worker Prince, I found it advantageous to tell a scene from the POV of an antagonist despite the fact the focus of the scene was a subplot of the romance between the protagonist and another character. In doing so, I was able to up the tension beyond the drama of the moment. While Davi and Tela are having a fight and their relationship is jeopardized, the scene becomes more powerful because Davi’s rival, bent on killing him in revenge for past slights, is stalking them during the scene. Thus, not only is their relationship in danger, but their very lives. It wound up becoming one of my favorite scenes because of that.

A further advantage was that several subplots are advanced in the process–the Davi-Tela love story, the Bordox revenge plot, and the main story about attacks on Davi’s Vertullian people are all advanced in this scene. Having Davi’s rival, whose hatred for Davi seethes throughout the book, see Davi in a humiliating fight with his girlfriend also serves to make Davi’s situation more sympathetic. It’s bad enough he’s messing up his relationship, it’s bad enough some of that conflict is based on misunderstanding each other, but now his life’s in danger and he’s been humiliated in front of Bordox. It just adds layers of dynamics to the scene which up the pace, the tension, and the stakes all at the same time. When you add to that the fact that this encounter was coincidence–Bordox was there for other reasons and just stumbles upon them–it’s all the more dramatic.

Below is the scene from my third draft so you can see how it plays out. Remember: Bordox is working for a group trying to unseat the government and reenslave the Vertullians, ancient enemies. He’s Davi’s Academy rival and his family are the rivals of Davi’s for the leadership of the Borali Alliance. Tela is Davi’s former trainee, fiancee and a fellow Vertullian pilot. The romance that started in The Worker Prince is facing new pressures and their relationship is strained because of it. 

As you read, consider the POV choice. How does it work for you? Would you have chosen differently? What are the questions you ask when deciding which POV to use in scenes? Feel free to discuss it in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on choosing POV.

***

Bordox fought his every instinct as he stepped off the shuttle into the starport landing bay on Legon. His mission required stealth yet he stiffened at having to sneak around a place he’d once walked freely—admired and respected. Here he was, less than a year later, hiding in shadows like a wanted man. And there was only one person to blame: Davi Rhii!

He made his way through the pedestrian corridors and deliberately avoided areas frequented by pilots and maintenance crews with the hopes he’d be less likely to be recognized. The datacard in his pocket pressed against his leg with every step. He just needed to get to the flight data booths and insert it. The program it contained would do the rest, drawing out the desired intel from the systems, and he’d be on his way again.

“What’s keeping you so quiet?”

He knew that voice, stopping to listen as it came from around the corner ahead of him.

“Nothing. I’m fine.” A woman’s voice answered. One he didn’t recognize. He heard footsteps approaching and shrunk back into a shadowed doorway. “Just let me check the shuttle maintenance records for Aron and we’ll be on our way.”

“I know you, Tela. Something’s upsetting you.”

Rhii! Bordox gritted his teeth. His old enemy, the idiot who’d ruined his life, was coming toward him. What was he doing here this time of night? Last he’d heard Davi was a squadron commander. Military pilots didn’t casually walk around this side of the starport.

Davi and the woman appeared around the corner and stopped as Davi jumped into her path so they were face to face. The woman was medium height, shorter than Davi, with long brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. Her pleasing curves stiffened in anger as Davi blocked her way. Both wore Borali Alliance flight uniforms with rank insignia on their shoulders and blasters holstered at their sides. Seeing Davi in uniform just launched him into a rage. Rhii had the career Bordox deserved.

“I know you, Tela,” Davi said. “Why won’t you talk to me about it?”

“Because it won’t make any difference. We’ve tried before.”

She stepped around him and continued down the corridor as he hurried after her.

“So it’s about me then? What did I do?”

The woman, Tela, sighed. “I am not some delicate damsel in distress, Davi Rhii. I’m a fully qualified Borali officer, just like you.”

Davi looked confused. “Of course you are. What are you talking about?”

She stopped and whirled to face him, arms on her hips. Her eyes narrowed with annoyance. “You had me taken out of your squadron rotation. You got me in a lighter flight duty assignment. I keep finding myself not chosen for any risky missions—”

“There haven’t exactly been a lot of risky missions lately, and your reassignment was required by military rules. Couples can’t fly together.”

Tela growled. “A convenient excuse.”

“It’s true. I can show you the memo the commander sent asking me to sign the transfer paperwork.”

“You don’t get it! I am not going to be the girl who sits at home and pines after you. I want to do my duty like anyone else. I don’t want to be protected.”

“I’m not protecting you.”

“Yes you are!”

She whirled and started up the corridor toward Bordox again. He slipped further back into the shadows, sliding his hood up over his head as he enjoyed the show. They were so distracted with each other he doubted they’d even notice him. Bordox began to relax from his rage a bit as he watched Davi Rhii get put in his place by a woman. The only thing better would be the day he did it himself. Like instinct, his hand felt for the blaster at his hip, closing around the handle, he squeezed it. All he had to do was draw and shoot and Rhii would be dead. They would never see it coming, totally taken by surprise. His fist clenched and unclenched around the handle as he fought the urge. He’d blow his mission. But he might never get a chance like this. The feel of the cold steel of the blaster against his palm got his adrenaline pumping.

“Okay, maybe I didn’t argue.” Davi smiled as if that alone would charm her. Bordox wanted to step out and wipe that smarmy grin off his face with a fist but he swallowed, silent and hard, and stayed frozen in place. Or maybe I should blast it off. “Look, I love you, okay? Guilty! It’s my instinct to want to protect you.”

“We fought side by side in the Resistance. Why can’t we do that now?”

“Well, there’s not really any enemies at the moment for one. And we were just getting into things then. Now we’re together.”

“So I’m supposed to sit at home and worry about you while you get to relax and know I’m safe? That’s fair.”

Davi grinned and shrugged. “I’d feel good about it.”

Tela groaned and punched him hard in the arm. “Well, I don’t.” She turned and marched on down and through the door into the landing bay as Davi raced to catch her.

Bordox paused a moment, tempted to follow, but shook it off, remembering his mission and slid on down the corridor the way they’d come. There was more at stake. He had to remember that. Rhii’s day would come. Just not today. In less than two minutes, he’d stepped into the data center and selected a private booth. He slipped the datacard from his pocket and inserted it into the terminal then watched as the screen exploded in thousands of numbers moving and changing at a pace so fast his eyes could barely recognize them. After another minute, the terminal beeped and the datacard ejected. He returned it to his pocket then slipped out and headed back the way he’d come.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.