Monday, August 29, 2016

The Mutinous Crew: Chapter 5

Chapter Five was a very short chapter in Steering The Craft, however, it's a very important chapter. So important, in fact, I completely missed writing a blog post about the chapter.  I really am a terrible  blogger. 

 Adverbs are probably one of the most talked about topics on Scribophile (besides the evils of Social Justice Warriors, whatever those are). But when Scrib talks about writing (a blessed but rare event) the evils of adverbs are invariably a topic of discussion.

I, for one, am glad that adverbs are added to the mix. Because the real topic isn't about the use of a part of speech but in what it means to use adverbs and adjectives in your writing. For the most part, adjectives and adverbs are an indicator of a weak vocabulary. Please note that it's not always so, but I do believe that one has to work from that perspective, and I think this goes for both adverbs and adjectives.

I received a critique that said "I don't know what basalt is. Can't you say 'black rock'?" I think it was a fair question, but I didn't ask Kim Stanley Robinson in his Mars series to call piste a 'road of compacted snow'. As the phrase goes, "Words mean things" and especially now in the age of e-readers, a dictionary is just a few clicks away.

So, even though the idea has a bit of a bad-hair taint to it, I believe the writer is obligated to pick the best word. That means watching out for weak adverbs: quickly, suddenly, great, low. It doesn't mean that picking the obscure word from the thesaurus is the best bet either. There have been instances where I thought one word would be best, and then when I looked up its definition, there was some nuance to it that made it inappropriate. I guess my advice there is not to use the thesaurus without the dictionary. Again, with the online options available, there's faint excuse not to do so.

Sometimes, the adverb is all that's available or using less precise words they may fit the voice of the character as narrator or in dialogue. But even then, your voice should have a vernacular that your reader might have to work for, just a little bit. It's your job as a writer to make that work worth it.

So the exercise with this very short chapter was enlightening, though I found myself wanting to ask more questions -- what about adverb phrases?

We walked very carefully across the floor.
This one is almost the poster child for re-write unless it's part of dialog. "Very" is weak. How carefully? Oh very carefully. Very very, or just very? 

Here is where I was born. That’s it. Right there.
Hmm, this one is different. The wording here seems to generate a confidence between reader and writer, and I would probably skim right by this without worrying about adverbs or adverb phrases.

So is there a rule here? Probably not. Just that using adverbs and adverb phrases probably deserve a second look, with the case needing to be made for keeping rather than getting rid of.

So what about Adjective Phrases? Let's play with some examples:
That’s a lovely cake.
I would personally rework this if it wasn't in dialog, or it fit the narrative voice. For a narrative voice, I'd want to understand what made it lovely? Was it the pink rosettes along the edge? The ziggurat design in the tiers? Insert more cake terms here. I'm not a baker. Then again, if your narrator or speaker isn't either, they might just call it 'lovely' or 'colorful' or 'a mountain of sugar and lard'. In short, that can't be all that's said about the cake.
That soup is pretty cold.
'Pretty' in this sense is like 'almost' or 'very'. Kind of nothing words. How about tepid, or lukewarm, or chilled? In dialog, this is fine, but as narration, it seems weak.

Some people weren’t willing to pay extra to book a seat on the plane
Now this one is a completely different kettle of fish. This adjective phrase is needed, and shouldn't invoke the same sense of outrage that 'pretty cold' does, because it qualifies the people. So its not cut and dried, and I think while there are some adverb phrases that are necessary, for purposes of the exercise, where one is to write 'chastely' it seems we have to use some adverb and adjective phrases, or else we're doing some interesting gymnastics to avoid them. I tried to come up with an example here for the above sentence, but I wasn't able to.

So, at the end of the chapter, not much changes. There are no rules, but guidelines, which probably won't change. The examples of what to look out for are very helpful, and the exercise is enlightening. I'd recommend it for anyone.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Stone That Sings: Chapter 22

Chapter 22 is A Sehlat and her Girl

If that makes you think of "A Horse and His Boy" well, good. I certainly thought of it when I wrote the title, and that's where any Narnia similarity ends. The sehlat does not talk, nor is The Stone That Sings any kind of Christian allegory.

And I don't write nearly as well as CS Lewis, who was able to hide all sorts of allegory in his books and still make them a great read. His fans really are the most heavy-handed part of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Technically, this ending is falling action and an epilogue to tie up loose ends. My initial draft of this was almost entirely exposition, along with a form of reunion with Danek. T'Mar faded into the woodwork, and things were kind of explained along until the family arrives.

I did't like that. First, T'Mar is probably the most important Vulcan in Juliette's life. She's from a matriarchal society, one that is bonding goes, a lot more 'free flowing' than the clearly more binary Vulcans. This doesn't mean there's a sweet utopia of sisterhood -- at least no more of a utopia than any other Federation Planet, where the advent of warp travel all of a sudden makes us better sentient beings -- but it does mean that Juliette will be driven by female role-models.

So leaving T'Mar out didn't make sense, and I didn't like a long exposition. I am pleased at how that was resolved, and I think it establishes a far more interesting read. I suppose you can tell me if it does.

So what next? Well, at some point, fix up the beginning chapters to put them more in line with what I learned in later chapters. Flesh out some of the descriptions of Vulcan -- and toss the mirror out of that beginning paragraph. I might migrate the finished story over to Scrib, to get that final bit of polish. Scrib can be hit and miss when it comes to critiquing fan fiction, but I have gotten some very helpful critiques there.

This is the second novel I've completed. The first, A Perfect Join is probably still a perfect mess. But there are elements there I like and things I want to use. It was a backstory that very much needed to be written. And, with each novel, I learn a little bit more.

I hear good and bad about WattPad. But I think it might be a better home than FanFiction, if only because the reading interface for seems a bit clunky. But even with a clunky interface, I'm pretty it'll have a home there.

The Mutinous Crew: Chapter 4

Our crew has picked up two more! Which is good, since of the original six, there are two posters. But this week was a challenge for me, wanting to complete The Stone that Sings and getting ready for a convention which is related to writing only in the fact there are copious amounts of alcohol involved.

Chapter 4 was about repetition, which, when used correctly, gives a section or a piece extra gravity, and even a mythic quality. Of course, most of us use it incorrectly because we do so accidentally. I am one of those writers who stops, thinks, forgets the previous sentence, and writes it all over again. So I am happy the grammar checking program I use helps me find those repetitions.

But I enjoy thematic repetition. It's the reader's reward for paying attention -- a universe that does not repeat itself, but rhymes.  I have the large repetitions outlines, but the smaller ones tend to happen organically. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Stone That Sings: Chapter 21

Chapter 21 is called Hunted

I wasn't pleased with the first draft of this chapter.

Well, that's not entirely true; I was pleased to reach a moment when Juliette's conflict with the Romulans was resolved. I was pleased that she makes use of the desert to defend herself and yet, the desert does not come to her aid. I was pleased with the image of the storm as a third participant in a very deadly three-way race. I was pleased with the echoes from previous chapters: The Loresinger, the Passion Operas, the Kli'Mari and of course, the sehlat.

But in my first draft, I didn't get far into Juliette's head, and without doing so, the chapter would run the risk of being like Home Alone. Oh, that quirky Juliette and her clever plans! And those bumbling Romulans!

By going deeper into Juliette's PoV, I was able to bring out her thoughts on things -- on death and what she would leave behind, and her manner of death. It was around the third draft that I found the right cadence, and I'm sure that I'll pick at it more.

Out of that deeper PoV came an opportunity to reveal that as the sehlat got closer, Juliette's thoughts became more predatory and bestial. I jumped on that because it gave me a chance to double-underline the idea there are insurmountable gaps between alien species, but those gaps enhance relationships when one is not trying to force the other to behave 'their' way. The sehlat has a strong influence on Juliette; Juliette's influence on the sehlat is more subtle, and I might bring that more forward in another draft.

In canon, Troi made some reference to 'getting lost in the beast', I found that a bit contrived just to establish some plot point. More on that another time, but I write it all off with the idea that while the Fifth House of Betazed deserves respect as any of the Decadet (my term for the top 10 houses), they are not the experts on everything. Besides, Juliette is a stronger telepath.

As a result of those changes, I think this chapter became the climax that it needed to be. In revising the chapter before, I'd find myself reading ahead to this one because it tied everything together pretty nicely and gave a sense of closure.

I'm not done yet posting the draft of The Stone That Sings. There's still at least one more chapter to go. Then it's off to edit the first chapters!


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Steering The Craft: Three

I find myself thinking a lot about sentence length as I approach an intense chapter of The Stone that Sings. The timing of the exercises couldn't have been better for me. I've always been cognizant that sentence length mattered and could help pace a scene, but only when forced to write an entire paragraph of short sentences  did I realize that I gravitate toward longer sentences.
That's not bad. It just means that I might be missing an opportunity to better pace my quick events. At the same time, I'm still reading Song of Solomon where there is a change of this deeply reflective moment to the main character nearly getting garrotted.  What made it interesting is that sentence length didn't seem to change much, but the intensity remained, though there was a moment where I thought 'wait, what just happened'? It was really interesting.

There were two exercises in the chapter. One to make sentences ultra short, the other to write a very long sentence. Unlike the paragraph with no punctuation, I found this a lot easier to edit, and went off the beaten path some to write a nonfiction bit for it.

I thought I'd add it here:

The action begins with an infrared sensor, a semiconductor, a relay, a solenoid, and a cylinder, who are helpless to do anything without that a curious hybrid of wave and particle, moving through the infrared spectrum, better known as photons, who never do anything with just a few and when in action number in a collection of more than millions, billions, trillions, or quadrillions, or any number that even has an ‘illion’ but a population that is best represented powers of ten, also called scientific notation, who as that almost uncountable mob, rain down in a pattern that deviates from what, once settled, a passive infrared (PIR) sensor decides is “normal”, whereupon the sensor’s circuitry changes the charge of a pin from neutral to positive which is detected by a microcontroller working through the workings of an electrical loop of its own, called a ‘program’, alters the charge of yet another pin, for the arduino has many, allowing an attached relay to energize a coil, a repeated loop of copper wire around a metallic core, until that coil gives changes the electric to the magnetic, and that magnet attracts a small metal lever away from one set of contacts and on to another, changing its position from open to closed, much like a light switch, an action akin to opening the floodgates to a much larger, and distinctly separate flow of electrons -- it is the role of the relay, to separate tiny flows of current from much higher voltages and currents that would make short work of delicate semiconductors -- which in energize a larger coil, creating an even larger, more powerful magnet for a larger job, easing back a large pin -- not far, but just enough, so that the seventy or so pounds of pressurized air, previously held back by the valve and confined to a compressor tank, can work its way like an unruly mob jammed in a doorway, and force the pin open even wider, and send the air down a hose to the bottom of a cylinder, allowing it to extend.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Stone That Sings: Chapter 20

Chapter 20 is Captive

This was a difficult chapter to write because the events bother me. I don't like writing about cruelty and abuse. But, if the events didn't bother me, I don't think they'd have much of an impact on the reader, and this chapter is designed, hopefully, to take the reader on a bit of a roller coaster ride. Its also very much where Juliette realized she's way out of her depth; and plotwise, things reach as low as they go. In my first draft, I what drove me through other chapters, enjoyable as they were, was getting to this one for many reasons.
I was excited to write the chapter because explains a lot about P'Nem and what's been going on at the monastery. Like a kid with a secret, it's been hard keeping it all this time. I hope the reveal is worth it. This chapter is also a springboard for the action that occurs after, and also lays out something I thought should have been more obvious in the Trek universe, that I bring forward in mine -- an unsettled past between the Vulcans and the Romulans.

Minor Spoilers below the fold.