The meaning of it all (via die booth)

I’ve been grappling with this myself for a while now. Well said by Die Booth.

The main thing that I have learned over the past few months is that, in regards to writing and art, once you remove the constraints of trying to create things that will make money or get noticed by people, then you have absolutely nothing holding you back. And that is rather exciting. … Read More

via die booth

The hard questions

Well, after all that, here is, ultimately, the hardest question I need to ask myself:

Why aliens?

If the core story is just an adventure, the secondary story about forging trust between peoples, the third story about diaspora…

Why not just different kinds of people? Or like in my childhood story, heavily modified people?

Is it to bring perspective/distance/detachment the way Star Trek, X-Men, etc address various human issues using aliens (or mutants, or whatever)? Is it because “aliens are cool” and is that enough? Is it because it’s just what I expect from SF?

And since I’ve chosen aliens, how do I make it worthwhile that there are non-humans in this story?

Also, why the heck am I asking these questions past midpoint in the draft?

If you’re writing about aliens, why did you choose aliens?

Miles to go

Whew, that was an amazing discussion thread yesterday. So much to think about. I’m not sure my tiny head can handle it. *grins*

I think what it’s made me see very clearly is that:
-Despite my best intentions, I have ended up doing a Star Trek style take on aliens, where they are basically humans in slightly different shapes
-I will have to decide (and soon) how much I am going to change, how much I need to change for the story’s sake, and how much I can’t really change for the story’s sake.
-I have to decide the “rules” I’m working with — how much variation, etc — asap

Ultimately it’s an adventure story in space with a dash of conspiracy theory. How much do I want to grow the story beyond that? I’m not afraid or against doing so, if I decide to, but at the same time, sometimes it is fine to be simple. So I just need to make up my mind: am I sticking with “fun jaunt in space with some sorta-aliens” or am I really challenging/examining the difficulty inherent in a possible alliance/trade/interaction between radically different beings? How far do I push this story? Is it just fun fluff, or should it be more?

I’m not afraid of confronting hard questions, and I don’t want to feel like I’m “chickening out” if I go the easy way. I think it’s okay to tell stories that are just fluff. But if it’s just fluff, then I have to be clear on that, now, in my mind, and not confuse it so it’s some sort of in between mishmash. If I want to risk a fusion, or even push it to a fully thoughtful, serious consideration of the topic, then I also have to face that I’ll have to junk/rewrite much that’s been written.

Decisions, decisions.

Even if I do keep it fluff, there’s plenty I’ll now alter, in light of the discussion yesterday, and plenty that might even bring more interest/tension to certain points that were fuzzy or weak. Either way, very eye opening and mind-opening. Thanks, everyone!!

Alien Natures

Aliens from "The Motley Star"

Aliens from "The Motley Star" - l to r: Szan, a jikreh; Bellesirip, a dipamovdian; Kleehu, a pyskie.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the whole tendency in SF/fantasy to have really narrow races, eg the warrior race (Klingons), the merchant race (Ferengi), the pacifist race. The all-wise elves or the absolute evil orcs.

But at the same time, I suppose there are broad generalizations that can be made about a group of people. Even across cultural groups (where there are further generalizations to be made, and of course, blown apart), there are things that seem to be “human nature.” Tendencies to be social (but within limits, with empathy only for a limited number), tribal, territorial, curious, inventive, some limited foreplanning skills, aggressive, preferring to “engineer” their environment (water in the way? build a bridge or a boat). (Any other “human nature” traits you can think of?)

So with it always in the forefront of my mind that there’s going to be broad diversity even within these generalizations and always those who break the rule, I do hesitantly want to make some decisions about my alien races’ natures. I’m still really leery of doing that whole “these are the cunning merchant race” thing, but surely there are aspects of their environments that would affect them almost as a whole, and approaches that would be dominant across that race. I want to make sure these are not moral/judgement things, as that’s not the issue here.

I’m also inclined to believe that there are going to be commonalities across all the races in this universe because we might have a lot of difficulty relating to races outside of certain parameters, and I’m not sure (perhaps I’m being too narrow?) how they might become space-faring, trading parters/allies/enemies or otherwise peoples we might relate to if they don’t share certain traits.

For instance:

Being social animals– would advanced tech require social behaviors? Would language? It seems like all the races would have to have at least some degree of shared/social tendencies to a) develop the level of technology required for space travel; b) have a language we could learn, if not speak, and translate. On the other hand–what about a race that came across technology and was smart enough to use it? Does advanced tool creation require social behavior? Does advanced tool USE, the smarts to use a tool, require that?

Being tool users–races that have spaceships, weapons, things we might want to trade– that seems like that’s going to incline them to be tool users themselves.

What other traits might there be that would help two alien races actually interact, understand each other, and eventually, possibly, get along?

In the world of The Motley Star, I’ve already got a group of beings that share some of these traits and a few additional ones (bipedal, dextrous forelimbs, bilaterally symmetrical, have a general upright, head-body-limbs configuration). Dubbed the “Sister Races” by one of the member races, there are even some theories/scientific studies that imply they share more than parallel development. There are also some races in the universe not of the Sister Races that they do get along with–both of them are more “client races”–they do not necessarily create/innovate themselves, but given the tech, they understand and adapt to it or adapt it to themselves.

What about you? What do you think about as you create races? Have you had to explore some of these issues yourself? Have you ever run into problematic things, or found yourself uneasily categorizing some species as “The Super Smart Scientific Race?”

(Truthfully, I’d be curious to read more on this subject, if anyone has suggestions for books. I’m sure there are interesting views.)

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edit: Don’t miss Justine Graykin’s further thoughts on this topic!

Motley Dreams

I think if I could manage a chapter a sitting, that might work. I find if I stop in the middle of a chapter–or worse, a scene, that I have the hardest time coming back to it. At least if it’s the end of a scene, things aren’t so bad.

Even though I tried to outline The Motley Star and have continued to go back to that outline, adjusting and reworking it as I go, I’m not sure I’m yet thinking as a novelist should. Should there be more subplots? More side quests? I’m a short story writer by nature, I think. I have a point I want to make. I make it. The end.

But with something like The Red Box and even more so, The Motley Star, I have to let myself meander a bit more. I have to learn how to allow there to be more than one thing going on. Is it my obsession with sticking to one character’s POV that makes this extra troublesome? I don’t know. I can’t say.

Right now I would say the bulk of The Motley Star‘s plot is an adventure story, in space. The subplot I’m trying to tell, but I’m not sure whether I’m doing it well, is Lin’s personal struggle with her demons–the diaspora of growing up human in an alien dominated space; the years she’s been out of service, basically in self-exile; the loss of faith in her command skills. There’s also the vague romantic subplot which I haven’t decided how prominent a role to give. It’s possible that subplot just won’t really ever become realized. I don’t know. It’s important only that it affects the tension between two characters who get along very well, and are otherwise quite trusting and open with each other. In a weird way, it’s even a love triangle, though to explain that would probably require spoilery details.

There’s also the conspiracy subplot, but that ties directly into the adventure subplot, so I don’t know if that really counts.

Unrelated, have any of you ever done a blog tour? What’s involved? I saw someone looking for “venues” for their blog tour, but I had no idea what that really meant, so I didn’t reply. But it would be nice to make some new connections and meet new people.

Rush

A fimo model of a jikreh.

All right, I will stop abusing you with the silly childhood art I found while cleaning out my old room. Instead, here’s a model of one of the aliens in The Motley Star.

I have been having great luck lately with banging out the first draft of my short stories in one sitting. They just come out cleaner, more coherent. It’s not a rule–I have had some nice ones written over several sessions–but just sitting down, if I have the time, and putting down a few thousand words seems to be the new thing that’s working for me.

I think that’s why I have become so obsessed with trying to finish the first draft of The Motley Star in one go–and so frustrated every time I get stuck. I’m stuck again, and it makes me feel like I’m totally useless, even though–as mentioned–I just wrote a short story today!

But short stories are short. And even though I write them down in one sitting, I have usually been thinking about them for weeks. The one I wrote today was that way. I’d been turning the idea over and over, trying to find the right entry point, the right voice. It was just luck that time and inspiration and ability all came together this morning and I was finally able to put it down.

I figure I perfected this process in college. I was a terrible procrastinator. The person in the Fishbowl hammering out a paper one hour before it was due–that was me. But I was always thinking about that paper, from the time it was assigned to the time I finally wrote it down.

I need to remember that a novel is long. It will take much more consideration. The times I got stalled on my other novels–they were usually times when I really needed to figure something out. And to figure something out, I had to walk away for a while.

So, maybe there’s a compromise to be found here. Working on it. The least I can do, I suppose, is stop getting mad at myself, because that helps nothing.

Jump start

Ancient doodle of the FLEET logo

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, the not-so-benevolent FLEET ruled my ridiculous childhood sf story....

My biggest fear lately: getting stalled.

I’ve had such good inertia on the Motley Star even knowing it’s not really quality writing. But last night, I got extremely frustrated with a scene that needs to be very powerful, because it’s the start of the major crap-hit-the-fan times. I couldn’t get this argument right. I felt like everything the characters said was flawed and artificial. I felt like I needed to go back and rewrite a whole bunch of things that I knew were wrong. I got stressed and got so angry and frustrated if this had been on paper, I probably would’ve torn the pages out of the book. Instead I just punched my chair and swore and saved the file and worked out even though it was eleven pm.

I refuse to give up on this story. It’s a hot mess right now and I need to just know it’s a hot mess. It’s not good science fiction and it’s lousy adventure and it’s really not very coherent.

It’s a first draft.

I need to get over that. Trust that I’ll polish it. Trust that I’ll make it better.

It’s not easy, not even remotely. I can’t really believe that it’s any good. The voice that tells me I’m a terrible writer has been getting louder and louder lately. I’ve been holding it at bay, but it’s starting to win.

Nobody likes your stories, the voice says. Nobody cares about your characters. You write people that readers hate. You can’t even tell a good mystery. You knew that “solution” at the end of D____ was crappy and you let it slide because you’re a terrible writer. You make no sense. Any reader with any sense can see right through you. You’re awful. What a hack. You can sneer all you like at writers you keep saying are “worse” but the truth is, at least they tell stories, not just extended shitty character sketches. You will never sell because you don’t know how to connect with people. You suck. You suck. You suck.

You have no skills, the voice says, echoing something someone inadvertently told me.

I have no skills, my brain repeats, and it starts to believe.

I’m trying to fight, but half the time I think the battle’s already lost.

Blast from the Past: The Motley Star

zilbara - childhood story "advertisement"

A hilarious "ad" I created as a kid for a science fiction story I was writing.

So while digging through boxes of childhood junk this weekend, I discovered at least three versions of the story that’s become “The Motley Star.” This version, “Zilbara,” actually came with a several page partly completed manuscript, which as I’ve mentioned before, was highly highly hilarious. I also made this ad–or perhaps it’s supposed to be the back of the book.

I’d always remembered Zilbara and Aimee Ming being the primary partnership, but she actually gets killed pretty early on. I’m not sure if that’s a red herring–the death is reported by another character–but most of the story is Zilbara’s. Created to be a supersoldier by a rebel faction, the ETRA, Zilbara was a “failure,” misshapen, huge, clumsy and supposedly stupid, though he wasn’t really. He’s originally on a team sent to stop an ETRA conspiracy, but for some random reason he’s suddenly stripped of rank and fired from FLEET. (That scene was so badly written and so hilarious I couldn’t stop giggling while I read it.)

It’s later revealed that this was a trick to lure out the real traitors on the team, but those traitors end up killing Aimee, several high placed Admirals, and the team that was meant to stop them. The only escapee is a cat-like alien who never seems to have a name.

The ideas aren’t too bad–not for a teenager, I guess. But the execution is often pretty funny. And you can kind of tell I was heavily influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s “Planet Pirate” series at the time, especially in the names.

I actually played with the idea of the “aliens” in my current story, The Motley Star, as being modified humans, adapted for the worlds they lived on. In the end I discarded that idea, but there is room left that there is some kind of relationship between the “humanoid” races–called the “sister races”–that might be more than just parallel evolution. There are definitely aliens in this world that are so alien that they have no interaction with the starring races of The Motley Star, though they really aren’t much involved in this story.

Hopefully Szan is nowhere as emo as his predecessor–Zilbara spends a ton of his time moping about how outcast and awkward he is. There’s still a bit of conspiracy theory, a possible betrayal, and a messy past, but most of the inheritance here is more… it’s like The Motley Star is the creative/mental grandchild of Zilbara.

So here’s to you, grandpa, and may this new novel be slightly less hilarious to me in another twenty years.

Making faces

A diagram of Jikreh expressions.

A silly doodle diagram of jikreh expressions (click to enlarge)

I’ve been having fun with how this alien species in my story express different emotions. They have a hard, beak-like mouth (with teeth), so no smiling, and they have–something I’m calling a frill for now, two fan-like “crests” of cartilaginous, er, horns? fringed with feathers– that they swivel, fan, and shut.

My friend M. suggested I make a little chart of their expressions so here is a really bad doodle of the expressions listed in the story so far. As you can see, their “smiling” may have led to some misunderstandings…

In progress

How much is “safe” to post about your in-progress ideas? Snippets? Character descriptions?

I discovered some very hilarious old items related to my current novel-in-progress from when I was a highschool and younger girl… This idea is older than even I realized, and I seem to have attempted to write it at least three times, in various permutations. The stars have ranged from the big, gentle-giant beast-type character that is now Szan, to the small-but-spitfire authority that’s now Ames Lin, to a spunky southern girl (not yet seen in this version) who was called Rascal-of-Earth and her weird lizard partner, Ularr (also a forerunner of Szan?). There are some ship designs (better than I have now) and some concepts that turned up in other stories (the military junta “good guys” government FLEET, which re-emerged in The Red Box as the Leos).

Funny to think I was working with these themes as early as grade ten!!!