New Book! (not by me, but really good!)

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I was fortunate enough, as a perk for having backed her Kickstarter campaign, to get a preview copy of The Island by S. Usher Evans a few months ago, and I loved it! (Here’s my Goodreads review.) It’s a terrific book about two warring nations, a prince from one of them, and a pilot from the other. When they crash on the same deserted island, these two enemies are forced into an unwelcome alliance…which grows into something else, as each begins learning uncomfortable truths about the war they’re fighting.

The book launches the Madion War Trilogy, whose second volume will be available for pre-order…soon. For now, check this one out — it’s really good! (And Evans herself is awesome.)

 

 

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Updates and What Some Other Folk Are Up To

Greetings, programs!

It’s been a while since I updated my progress and/or linked some other stuff around the Writersphere, so…I’m now going to update my progress and link some stuff around the Writersphere. Wow-za!

:: I think I have a title for Lighthouse Boy. I’m not sure yet; I like to live with titles a bit before I decide if they’re right for the books. Kind of like breaking in new shoes, I guess.

As for actually writing the book, I’m closing in on the end. I think I’m two or three chapters away — more likely three, but you never know with these things. I’ve been promising a long book, and this one is certainly that. The manuscript currently stands at just under 200,000 words, and this is only Book One! (Never fear; this is going to be a duology, not an extended series of doorstops. Just two doorstops.)

::  Editing Forgotten Stars III has been a real task. A lot of heavy lifting, with some wholesale rewriting of entire chapters. Part of the problem was that I had to literally insert an entire subplot from the get-go (which has to be there, because it solves a lot of the book’s original problems), and there are other things I did in the first draft that were problematic and had to be either reworked or jettisoned entirely. I’m well behind where I wanted to be on this book by now, but it simply couldn’t be helped.

::  I don’t know what was in my coffee this week, but I found myself entertaining a lot of new story ideas. Weird.

But enough about me! What are other folks up to?

::  Dawn Kurtagich went to Spain.

::  Briana Mae Morgan updated her editing services. Check her out!

::  Amanda Fairchild posted a short story. I wonder what’s in that freezer….

::  Friend and beta-reader Jason Bennion eulogizes Prince. Jason is a terrific writer.

::  How Jen Fulmer got her agent.

That’s about it for now. Cheerio, chaps, and we’ll see you around the Galaxy!

 

 

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On Character: Groot and Lying Cat

One of the most important traits in any character is their voice: how they speak, what kinds of things they say, what phrases they like to repeat, and so on. In my Forgotten Stars books, Lieutenant Rasharri has a number of sayings she is fond of saying all the time: “Think on what you know” being a main one. A lot of the best writers are good at giving characters specific voices. This is one of the better aspects of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series: think of Tyrion’s sardonic wit, or — my favorite — Dolorous Edd’s eternal conviction that he and he alone will suffer all of the worst possible fates.

But sometimes you’ll have a character whose voice is extremely limited, for one reason or another. How do you allow them to show emotion, then? How you do make a three-dimensional character when they can’t speak, or can only speak in very limited ways? Let’s look at two such characters: Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Lying Cat from Saga.

Groot is a walking, talking tree with enormous strength and a number of other interesting skills. He is also incapable of saying anything other than “I am Groot.”

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Groot has complex thoughts, but in terms of linguistic expression, he is completely stunted. No matter what thought he wishes to express, it comes out as “I am Groot.”

In the Guardians movie, it’s not really spelled out until later on in the film that Groot is capable of deeper, complex thoughts. He just goes along, saying “I am Groot”, and shouting it in rage when a bunch of prison guards start shooting at him. The first half of the film suggests that Groot is little more than a brainless tree-creature, but then we get some real insight into him. Half the heroes are captured by Yondu (long story), leaving Groot and Rocket Raccoon behind. Rocket wants to flee to the farthest corner of the Galaxy, but Groot has other thoughts, and begins saying “I am Groot”, over and over, but in a different tone of voice. “I am Groot!” he says, and Rocket Raccoon responds incredulously: “Save them? How are we gonna do that?”

An even more determined “I am Groot!” follows, to which Rocket responds again. This scene does more than just establish that Groot has feelings; it establishes that despite Groot’s vocabulary of three words, Rocket actually understands him.

Groot’s biggest moment comes in a moment of self-sacrifice, when he uses his own body to protect all of his companions from certain death. Rocket asks him why he is doing this, and for the first time, Groot says something else: “We are Groot.” Somehow…that is perfect. We know exactly what he means, even though his words don’t mean that at all.

So by using tone of voice, context, and a perfectly-placed change, this character with a vocabulary of three (or is it five?) words becomes one of the most expressive in the story.

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So, what about Lying Cat? She comes from a comics series called Saga, which is an adult-themed space opera. (How adult? The opening scene is an alien woman giving birth, and her first line is, “It feels like I’m shitting!”) The comic has an immense cast, but mainly it follows two young people from different species who have fallen in love and had a baby together, despite their respective species having been at war for a long time. Saga is violent and full of sex and has as much shocking death as any George RR Martin novel, but it is also loaded with humor and heart.

The important character for my purposes here is Lying Cat, the traveling partner of a bounty hunter known as The Will. Lying Cat is just a big, nasty-looking cat who lurks about, but she can detect when anyone speaking is saying something untrue, at which point she says a single word: ”LYING.” This natural lie-detector is quite convenient for anyone in the bounty-hunting line of work.

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So how do the writers make Lying Cat more than a plot device? There’s one scene where The Will lands on a “pleasure planet” (basically a giant brothel), but he is informed that Lying Cat is not allowed away from the ship. That results in this:

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While there, The Will rescues a young girl who has been forced to prostitution. A few issues later, this happens:

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Even a lie-detecting cat with one-word vocabulary has a moral compass, and she finds good ways to use it.

What does this illustrate, along with Groot? Even if you have characters whose expression is extremely limited, there are still ways to give them good character moments that stretch their expressive boundaries and allow them to be seen as characters. It’s a challenge, but worth it! These respective stories would suffer greatly without Groot and Lying Cat.

I kind of wonder if George RR Martin has some kind of moment like these in store for Hodor….

UPDATE: I originally identified Lying Cat as a male cat, when she is actually female. I have fixed this. I don’t know how I managed to get through thirty-plus issues of Saga without correctly identifying Lying Cat’s gender, but in truth, it simply isn’t a plot point in any way, and I can’t recall at all when this would have been established. I’m sure it was, though, and I missed it, so the error is mine — and it probably says something that my default assumption was male. That’s a post for another time, though.

 

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March Productivity!

I saw that writer A B Keuser writes a monthly post highlighting the previous month’s productivity, and that struck me as a good idea, so here’s how my month of March went! Some of this has been covered by my update post from the other day, but here are some actual numbers:

Final March tallies: over 27000 new words on LIGHTHOUSE BOY, and I'm up to Act III of FORGOTTEN STARS III. Unfortunately there are some structural issues ahead...the rough draft was pretty bloated. Still, here we go! Big things planned in April and May! T
This spreadsheet is where I track my daily writing output on whatever it is that I’m drafting at the time, and then I leave notes in the next field on editing progress on other projects. So in March I wrote just over 27,000 words in Lighthouse Boy, whilst getting to the start of Act III in editing Forgotten Stars III. I averaged 876 words a day on Lighthouse, which is above my quota of 500 words a day. (I bump that quota up to 1000 words on weekends and when I’m not doing any editing, which moving forward is not likely to be terribly often, as my projects start to pile up.) Since making 500 words while also editing is obviously no problem, I’ll likely bump that up to 750 a day.

Note that when I forget to enter a day’s total, those words get added up anyway the next time I remember to update the spreadsheet, so the average is always accurate. None of those zeroes indicates a day in which I wrote nothing. Aside from wrapping February up with the flu, I haven’t failed to write at all in quite a few months. Yay, me!

On the editing front: Forgotten Stars III has been harder to edit than the previous two, because I’m finding some glaring character issues and some structural problems with the third act that all require some heavy lifting. The bad character stuff (basically, I had a character act very “not himself” in the original draft, trying to create a “Has he switched sides for real?” suspense, but when re-reading the draft, I realized that not only did it not work, it was conceptually awful, so out it came) is gone, but now I’m face-to-face with the troublesome stuff in Act III. I want to have this book to beta readers this month, so I’ve got some real work to do.

Also, I spent the first two months of this year being very sporadic on the blogging front, and I’m trying to get back in the habit of blogging regularly. I want to post something here at least once a week, and I’ve been posting a lot of stuff to Byzantium’s Shores and to Driftwood Upon the Bosporus, so I’m getting better there.

It’s also looking increasingly like I will attempt vlogging soon, so I’ve been writing notes for that and doing some tech testing. And I even wrote a little comedy sketch about the dangers of procrastination for writers that a friend and I will be filming when the weather here in Buffalo Niagara actually improves (we’ll be shooting outside and the sketch involves me getting a pie in the face), so there’s that. Busy month!

Let’s see what April brings!

Good morning, world! It's April Fools Day, so celebrate laughter! #aprilfools #overalls #pieintheface

(I posted that photo in various social media on April Fools Day, and it makes me happy, so it’s here, too.)

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