Friday, April 29, 2016

World-Building Efficiency: It Can Be Done

For me, when talking of the Science Fiction that I prefer, it builds upon the foundation set down by "Doc" E.E. Smith and his Lensman saga.

These novels, starting with Galactic Patrol, laid the groundwork and blazed the trail for what we now call "Space Opera". From these books we get Star Wars, Green Lantern (in the form of the Green Lantern Corps), Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross, and many other works in multiple media and many languages.

What, as a writer, I take away from his books is the efficiency of his world-building. He wrote in the waning days of the pulps and the rise of the cheap paperback. The publishing game was in a state similar to where those focused on e-publishing is now.

Novels were much shorter, less than half (and closer to a third) of a common genre fiction novel today. Plots moved at a brisk pace because readers could drop your book and get another easily. In short, you must to get to the point, and that requires efficiency.

Efficiency is something Smith is very good at achieving. At no time did I have to struggle to comprehend what he said, or what the ideas were, or how things (real or unreal) worked. He trusted the reader to keep up, so he let a lot of the world-building be done between the lines.

Another author who also did a fantastic job of efficiency in world-building was Robert E. Howard. While he's famous for inventing Conan, he has a few other notable heroes (Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, Bran Mac Morn) and worked in many adventure fiction genres.

He also wrote in the days of the pulps, with only one novel to his credit. Most of his stories are serialized shorts, and he wrote under the pressure of tight deadlines as well as stiff competition for reader eyeballs. He couldn't take 50 pages to go into world-building details, so he learned efficiency.

He did what Smith did, and trusted his readers to follow where he's going. A lot of this builds upon a shared sense of familiarity, pointing out only as necessary what the reader needs to see that this is an unreal thing or place. Reader attention, suspension of disbelief, etc. is never pushed to its limits or abused- unlike some who came in their wake.

And so, as I go about rewriting my own stuff, I have this efficiency in mind. As much as I respect Tolkien, his influence hasn't been entirely for the good, as he's one of the primary forces behind the growing obesity of genre fiction novels over my lifetime. Especially with all of the technological changes making a lot of the justifications for said obesity obsolete, a return to the slim and disciplined manuscripts of this past era is in order- especially with all of the other media competing for reader eyeballs.

And yes, of course I'm walking my talk.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Business: Blogging As Marketing

Late one night this past week, I lay in bed after watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The current season deals with the fallout that comes of uncontrolled transformation of potential Inhumans into powered Inhumans, and has by now started its adaptation of the "Secret Warriors" story arc from the comics.

While laying there, I wondered that if Inhuman transformation is both uncontrolled and unpredictable (the emerging seasonal villain is Hive, established as a parasite-based group-mind entity, taken form via Inhuman transformation back when this was a Kree bioweapon experiment), then it is inevitable that powered Inhumans will emerge that neither S.H.I.E.L.D. nor HYDRA can control. (Hive is the villainous example.)

Now, consider this: the Marvel Cinematic Universe posits that our real world and the MCU vary, on Earth, only slightly in terms of technological capacity (and those divergences are tightly controlled). That means that the Internet is a thing, and so is all that is within it. Therefore, the concept that not one new Inhuman arises that can't usefully (if ordinarily) use our technology is preposterous.

The MCU, therefore, has to have superpowered bloggers. Of that group, some of them blog as their persona and talk about their doings and beings.

In short, Marvel's being stupid by not having in-character blogs as part of their marketing strategy.

This is where DC has an avenue to eat Marvel's lunch, but they aren't doing it either. Hell, no one with such a potential in their properties is doing it. (This is really stupid, considering DC has fucking Oracle, Barbara Gordon's post-paralysis persona that is a Shadowrun Decker in all but name.)

It's not like this idea is really out there. Alternate-Reality/Augmented-Reality Games has been known to be part of the marketing team toolbag for years, and blogging is just a normie-friendly version of that. The web-only videos that new Battlestar Galactica did was a video-focused version of blogging, so even the normie-friendly ends are not new or radical.

Blogging is cheap. Blogging is easy. Blogging can be used to train or vet new writers into the house style before sending them on to more important writing work in-house. A marketing team working for something like the MCU or DC's TV/film properties and NOT using in-character blogging is doing it WRONG.


Because blogging is cheap and easy, in-character blogging is also something small-timers can do. It's an extension of the revelation that Wikis are superior than print/POD products for the publishing and dissemination of lore (the fictional information that's useful for world-building, and for in-character decision making, but superfluous for most actual story-telling craft decisions). Not all things a character has to say or do will be worth including into your novel, short-story, etc.; using that as marketing fodder via an in-character blog allows you to redeem the time spent writing that by using it to keep audiences engaged between publication releases.

And yes, I intend to follow my own advice.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Writer's Progress: The Burning of Hugo

I have a great appreciation for writers who are able to make things seem organic and emergent even to someone who has studied what Narrative is and how it works. It's one thing to know that Protagonist is meant to get his shit pushed in before he succeeds. It's another see it handled in a way that has even the most jaded reader go "No, that's completely reasonable and therefore plausible."

Don't tell me that we don't write using narrative formulae. We do. Folks put bread on the fucking table by mastering those formulae and then making it seem like they aren't there. It's a fucking craft for a reason, and that reason is--like in science--there is a body of knowable acumen to study and master that then has to be practiced until the principles within the knowledge get grokked. Until then, it's all one big Git Gud Scrub trip.

Well, I'm on that Git Gud step.

The Burning of Hugo underwent another significant revision. I cut out the previous opening with Hugo's ex-wife, opting to open with Ken's arrival at a book launch party for Hugo's third novel (formerly Scene 5 of Act 1, and yes I default to an Act/Scene paradigm; reading plenty of Shakespeare throughout my youth left its mark) and getting on with it.

The reason? The information that the previous opening gave to the reader (a) arrived too early and (b) proved redundant with a later scene, after Ken got into a fight with some minions of the cult that got sicced on him after making Hugo look bad at the party, where he meets The Dark Lord and gets briefed on what the hell is up with Hugo.

I also changed Ken and Hugo's relationship. Hugo's novel success comes from taking Ken's real adventures and fictionalizing them, something Ken allowed in return for acknowledgement and some of the proceeds. This means that the party appearance is justified on multiple grounds, meaning that the cultists can't just eject him when he triggers them.

This means that the fight scene that follows has a grounding; it's the measure that the cultists employ when their go-to de-platforming move fails for reasons that they can't touch (i.e. a legal obligation). The attackers are themselves useful, but expendable and fungible, dupes fortified by a toxic combination of illegal narcotics and a criminal (literally) sense of entitlement. Ken gets them, but not without getting badly hurt, and it's as he recovers that Act 1 shifts to Act 2.

So, there you have the first Act summarized: Ken gets thrown up a tree.

Friday, April 8, 2016

You're Still Not Allow To Suck If Your Protagonist Is Female

Is there anything different in writing a female protagonist?

No. The sex of the protagonist does not remove the obligation of the writer to competently execute his craft in writing a narrative where said protagonist must somehow make a sacrifice to get what she wants. That sacrifice must be what allows her to overcome both her own flaws as well as the obstacles between her and what she wants.

Failure to execute this competently and properly is how you get those Mary Sue accusations. Emoting at the proper points doesn't count. Saying the expected sentiments at the expected points does count. Ticking off the acquisition and expenditure of Plot Coupons doesn't count. Looking like you are the common RPG player, when this is not a RPG, is an exhibition of incompetent writing.

Yes, even if you get paid fat sacks of cash for doing it. Plenty of rich incompetents out there. That's reality.

But if you want your books to keep selling for generations, even centuries, after you're dead and gone then you have to deliver, and that means your woman or girl has to be a real one, save specifically for the fantastic changes required- just like male protagonists. If you don't get this, then you don't grok your craft and you need remedial training.

This is why Leia resonates, and so many shrill shrews written by axe-grinding cultists clunk and get forgotten. She's still a real woman, and not a caricature or unreal fleshbot for agenda advancement (as Rey, verified by Disney, is). Hell, even Padme--despite Lucas's incompetence otherwise--is a real woman (just badly executed). (As for Jyn of Rogue One, that remains to be seen, and until I do I reserve judgement.)

That's what the real concern here is: that a female protagonist is going to be used as cover for a shit product.

Is that what you want? To be the party that throws an entire sex under the bus to cover your ass when you fail to do your job as expected? If so, then I don't want to know you- and shrieking "MYSOGYNY!" in response is you signalling your willingness to do so.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Story Fragment: Hospital Bait-and-Switch

This post is a story fragment. It is not from anything in progress. It came to me while messing about late last night. I'm posting it here because I want to see what you folks think of it; put on your reader hats and hit the Comments section.

"He's coming around." the doctor said, "Stand ready."

Robert opened his eyes, slowly at first, as the light hit them as if he emerged into a bright Summer day at midday. As his vision adjusted, he saw the clear, bare walls about him and then a man and a pair of women in hospital garb. Then he saw something hooked to his hands.

"Where am I?"

"You're at St. Hennepin's Hospital, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Your Grace."

The response struck him wrong, but not fast enough to change his reaction: "Hospital? That figures. Last I recall, my car went out of control when I got on the Interstate and threw me off the bridge. I couldn't get out of the car, or the river, before I blacked out."

Robert looked up, and he noticed the uniforms being out of place. The man--the doctor--had the fancy filigree on the collars and cuffs that he'd only seen in fiction. The nurses were far younger, and far more fit, than he remembered and in uniforms reminiscent of his grandmother's era.

"Doctor, is His Grace awake?" a man said, beyond Robert's sight.

Robert saw the doctor waive the man over, and he wore a different uniform. Fancy, formal, and far more paramilitary. None of the symbols were any he recognized, but the general appearance seemed to be that of a high-ranking official. The man approached him, snapped to attention, and drew his fist across his chest as a salute. "Your Grace, Major Holm of the Imperial Guard, reporting. His Imperial Majesty requests that you contact him at your earliest opportunity." Robert looked at the man, incredulous. "Your father worries."

Robert's thoughts scrambled to make sense of what he heard. Father? What? Oh, and that makes me a prince- prince of an empire. What in the hell is going on? But, for now, play cool.

"Major, your duty is fulfilled. Go inform my father that I live, and shall make contact presently. Dismissed."

Major Holm saluted, turned on his heels and made to go, but first turned to the doctor: "A word, if I may?"

The two men left Robert's sight, and soon his hearing. Meanwhile, the nurses moved closer. Seeing the ruse for what it was, Robert went along with it. "Nurse, how long was I unconscious?"

"Four years, Your Grace." the nurse said, smiling as if a schoolgirl got noticed by her elder classmate, "We got you into a stabilization tank immediately, as we're the only hospital in the province permitted to treat members of the Imperial family, and once an Imperial doctor arrived he got to work treating you. In the last few weeks you progressed enough to be removed from the tank and placed in this secure wing instead."

"Four years? Forgive me, but what year is it?"

"It is the 11th day of Spring, in the year 2770 of the Imperial Calendar, Your Grace."

Well, either I am dreaming or something worse has happened. I'll go with "worse", knowing my luck.