About Writers, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Uncategorized, world-building

Should writers care?

While complaining to my lady about the quality of successful TV shows – one of my common complaints she commonly ignores – it ocurred to me what I was really complaining about. The protagonists are complex; they have depth of character and they become easy to identify with. But the antagonists are cartoons.

The easy formulas grow stale. I’m bored by antagonists still damaged from childhood trauma. Antagonists fighting others because they want something only one can have are maddeningly repetitive. Antagonists who can’t get along with others who are different from them annoy me. And don’t get me started on stupid conflicts arising because the antagonist simply misunderstands reality. It’s time for better antagonists.

Obviously, real world conflicts arise from all of the above situations. But conflicts also arise when good people in opposition to one another are both right. The new antagonist should have all of the depth and the likeability of the protagonist. That lends the story a background of realism right out of today’s world. The reader is presented with three choices: Choose a side, toss the book for not being escapist, or learn from the ambivalence.

According to thinkers, philosophers, and mathematicians like Marshall McLuhan, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, the greatest invention of the 20th century is the art of suspended judgement. We don’t seem to have much of that these days. Important issues are divisive and everybody is urged to takes sides, to become an automaton.

So, the question is, should we give our readers whatever side we think they want, avoid real world conflicts altogether, or encourage them to get along with those with whom they disagree?

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, world-building

Writers, Escaping

Readers have long escaped into fictional worlds to avoid thinking about events in their real world. Writers do the same.
The difference is that as writers, escapism is our vocation. Instead of dealing with the here and now, we regularly choose to immerse ourselves in alternate worlds, fictional events and imaginary conflicts.
– Rachel O’Regan

But that’s OK.
It’s more than OK: it’s necessary. I mean… have you been following the news lately? We need books that ground us in the unvarnished reality of our present, and books that explore the more horrific moments of our past. We need dystopias to warn us and poetry to challenge us. And we need escapist fiction to give us a freaking break.
– Charlotte Ahlin

And writing is a therapeutic form of escape.
According to Gustave Flaubert: “It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself, to move in an entire universe of your own creating”.
– Zoë Miller

Personally, I acknowledge elements of escapism in my writing. No world of mine comes to mind where a character traps young children in a school room and shoots them with an assault rifle. In my world, police would immediately risk their own lives and save the children.
That’s escapism.

SOURCES
Rachel O’Regan https://www.lifeinfiction.co.uk/writing-as-escapism/

Charlotte Ahlin https://www.bustle.com/p/escapist-fiction-is-exactly-what-you-need-sometimes-you-shouldnt-feel-bad-for-reading-it-8092788

Zoë Miller https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/reading-is-a-therapeutic-form-of-escape-but-what-about-for-writers-1.3644528

The Uvalde Police Chose Dishonor
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/06/uvalde-police-robb-elementary-shooting-dishonor/661184/

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VR Writing, world-building, writing technique

Writing for the METAverse

PHOTO: Buzz Aldrin walking on Mars. Virtually, of course.
https://www.space.com/32563-how-buzz-aldrin-took-a-virtual-walk-on-mars.html

The METAverse is coming. You know, totally immersive virtual worlds; computer-simulated environments populated by people who simultaneously communicate with others and participate in shared activities. They are working and shopping and vacationing, all without leaving home.

The METAverse is the world as you wish it to be. Pour yourself a real drink and you can drink it while sitting on a beach, or in a bar with friends or, hell, on Mars if you wish. Instantly. That’s how long it takes to go anywhere in VR.

I can imagine sitting at a table outside the Café de Flore, at the corner of boulevard Saint Germain and rue Saint Benoit, Paris, with people from the Writers Co-op. We talk about writing virtual reality stories for this new ‘verse. The problem is we have to write stories where we do not control all of the characters because every “reader” enters our story as a character. (Wrap your head around that!)

It’s simple, really. The story just has to move forward only when a user (aka reader) does or says the right thing. We are creating the story, but not all of the characters. (And we’re not doing the programming. Programmers do that, based on the story created by the writer.)

Here’s some tips from those currently writing for VR.

“In VR, the space is the story. Spaces are pregnant with sensory detail, ideas, behaviors, and narrative possibility—your job is to put that all to use. We encourage you to think less about generalized “realism” and more about specificity of vision, manifested in space. We can’t express this enough: the space is as (if not more) important than your plot and characters. While composing your story, think about the ways you can build environments capable of making the viewer imagine stories of their own—even without any other human beings in the picture.”
Writing for VR: The Definitive Guide to VR Storytelling
https://vrscout.com/news/writing-vr-definitive-guide-vr-storytelling/

“In VR, you can’t just talk at your user. Well, you could, but that’s not especially exciting and they can probably get that level of experience from a bog-standard YouTube video.
So, you need to think more carefully about the different ways you can tell your story – and how to guide them around it. In a 360-degree experience, you can’t guarantee that your user is going to be looking in the right direction. In fact, you can almost guarantee they won’t be, unless you point them to it.”
How are you communicating with the user?
https://radix-communications.com/virtual-reality-script-writing/

Example:
The following story changes as you read it. It’s interactive. Try it to see how environment and choice are used in VR stories.
“Trapped & Transformed in Virtual Reality”
https://www.writing.com/main/interactive-story/item_id/1930286-Trapped–Transformed-in-Virtual-Reality

The METAverse will not replace books any more than did the movies. But now may be the time to make a name for yourself by being one of the early writers in a new medium. Me? I’ll just settle into a seat at the Café de Flore and read a good book.

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book promotion, inspiration, wise-guy animals in pants, world-building, writing technique

You settle for the book you get – James Baldwin

Sly’s path across Europe. Hardly any stretch of this journey was planned. One thing led to another. Clockwise from Virgin Mary: Pedro, a runaway duke. An abused bear in a circus. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Sha-Sha, Queen Elizabeth’s pet monkey. Queen Elizabeth. John Dee, her royal astrologer. A rat, in the Prussian town of Hameln. A crackpot frog who believes he’s an enchanted prince.

__________________________

From a piece on Joan Didion by David L. Ulin:

“. . .  even the most apparently intentional career is a matter of serendipity. We get ideas and they stick, or they do not. “You never get the book you wanted,” James Baldwin once observed, “you settle for the book you get.” We set out to write something and end up with something else.”

I know that’s true for me. I’m haphazard in my goals for my characters, in the way I tell their stories, in the way I present the material. I meander through my plots. My telling is full of ‘by the way’ and, ‘that reminds me’. I elaborate on points extraneous to the action, but so much fun I want to get them, in comical footnotes.

My writing style is a reflection of the way I’ve lived my life. I could call it ‘Half-assed’. Many of my relatives would agree with that. I could call it ‘Anything Goes’. That puts it in a better light. I’ll stick with Anything Goes.

Plotting a way forward is not for me. I know from experience, a few pages down the road I’m going to change my mind about something major, so why bother trying to outline? I add a new character to fill a short-term need, then fall in love with him and have to give him more to do so I can keep him around.

Gato, who I wrote about recently for Showcase, is a fine example. I needed him on my ship for a specific reason. Then I found it useful to imply he’s in the employ of Francis Walsingham, the head of Elizabeth’s spy network. He’s a career criminal, a Spaniard pulled out of an English prison to keep an eye on the Spanish captain of the Santa Clara, a merchant trader sailing a regular route from Spain to the low countries. He gathers intelligence on Spanish build-up in the south and sells it up north, and on English intentions and sells it to Madrid.

At the end of book two, Gato, as a result of an incident on a beach outside La Rochelle, heads back to England. What I’m going to do with him up there, I haven’t a clue. I don’t have to deal with that for a good while. I have time for ideas to fester in my brain. I’m going to pull some yuks out of him one way or another.

I smile to think a reader, having finished The Rogue Decamps, well along in book two, having a feel for the way I operate, learning there are seven books in the series, will share my glee: How many loopy malcontents does she have in store for me?

I’ve made bunches of disastrous decisions in my life. You can bet Gato’s going to do the same. Everybody in my story makes poor decisions. Entertainingly poor, that’s my one and only goal.

Nobody in my tale is satisfied with what they have. They all want something else.

Gato wants to be seen as a gentleman. His aristocratic captain wants to have the lifestyle of his affluent cousins in Madrid; he’s the poor relation. My runaway ten-year-old duke wants to join a circus, where he feels safe for the first time in his life. My archbishop, slated for the church from an early age (he’s the late king’s illegitimate son), wants to be a playwright in Paris. So it goes.

I would have preferred to have lived life without the crisis after crisis I’ve been through. I wasn’t capable of it, due to some mental instability I freely admit to. Calm and collected I’ve never been. I’ve lurched through life as I lurch through my plots: sad circumstances strung together that I eventually manage to sculpt into a semi-presentable narrative.

Plots are overrated. I want atmosphere. I want style. I want to sink into the world I’m reading about, make myself at home in it. I want to care about the characters. Bring them to life for me or you’ve lost me.

Plot is way down on my list. I’m glad to find folks on Youtube who agree with me. Chris Via, this guy Sherd, of Sherds Tube, and, I’m sure, many others. I’m going to track them down, pick their brains, be amused, and be inspired. Better Than Food, this guy is fabulous also.

There’s a community on Youtube I knew nothing about until Rick Harsch posted his piece on social media. Thank you, Rick. I’m watching your channel as well.

I love the this-and-that of life. That’s what interests me. Hell, that’s what fascinates me.

Maybe it’s a coping strategy, a way to live with the horrible choices I’ve made. Some of that was the result of being a loner and an introvert. Until I met my husband twenty years ago, I’d lived life without a safety net. It’s warped me.

I’m a warped human being. I’ve long been aware of it. I’ve finally made it work for me, with Sly. And Maisie. And Miss Spider. And a host of other lovely loony-tunes.

Screw normal. Me and my kooks and creeps are fine without it.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

JK Rowling Loves Minecraft

Novelist, screenwriter and film director Alex Garland is a big fan of BioShock, loosely based on Ayn Rand’ self-interest-championing philosophy of objectivism as outlined in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with Cyberdreams and game writer David Sears to create “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, “a PC horror game based on his short story of the same name.

Tom Clancy is well-known in the gaming industry, especially for his Rainbow Six military and espionage games.

Authors play video games for the same fun & relaxation reasons others do and they sometimes pick up tips on world building, scene progression, and character differentation.

I play video games to push thoughts of what I’m writing aside, to someplace in my mind where they’re free to evolve without me consciously picking at them. For me, much of life is like swinging through trees. You have to regularly let go to make any progress.

Do you play video games? Which ones do you prefer? And, do they in any way contribute to your writing?

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Uncategorized, world-building

Some Notes On the Art of Description

Primary Sources 

The world is not   

a clever sequence of words 

or transfixing series

of images. 

__________

It is not a poem  

or painting, 

music 

film, literature

sculpture made of bone 

bronze, iron 

or clay. 

__________

Then what is the world  

I asked. 

__________

Taste, sound, odors  

sights, textures

she said.

__________

That is not the world 

I said 

those are perceptions of the world. 

__________

Exactly

she said.

__________

Ah! 

I have my poem. 

—Carl E. Reed

………………………………………………….

One of the most difficult skills to master in the craft of fiction writing is the manufacturing of presence: the ability of the writer to put their readers thereright there, in the middle of the action—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching—what the viewpoint character is experiencing. The evocation of sensory stimuli via text is one of the most effective, yet spooky tools (to use Norman Mailer’s term for this knock-on effect of vivid prose) that the fictioneer has in his or her bag of tricks. When done well, the reader is all but unaware that these sensory details are being fed to them in the course of the narrative’s unfolding. They enter fully into the fictional dream without being consciously aware that tiny black tick marks on a page are the software code stimulating the machinery of the brain into producing transfixing hypnagogic visions.  

Ah, but the writer must be consciously aware! He or she, in the role of spell-binding enchanter, selects and highlights the telling details that bring a story to life. And it is exactly here that many novice writers fail—with descriptions that are muddled, confusing or imprecise; primarily visual; or otherwise lacking in vividness and color. Art conceals art, and it is not until a writer deconstructs a particularly vivid or arresting passage in a favorite work of fiction that they begin to work out the mechanics of how the trick is done.  

Stephen King notes: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” He advises that writers describe things “in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.” 

In On Writing, his primer of the craft, Mr. King further elaborates: “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to . . . Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story. . . . ” 

Master prose stylist Vladimir Nabokov wonderingly reminds us:

“We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing . . . I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable.” (Pale Fire)


V. N. ends his short story The Fight this way: 

Or perhaps what matters is not the human pain or joy at all but, rather, the play of shadow and light on a live body, the harmony of trifles assembled on this particular day, at this particular moment, in a unique and inimitable way. 

True, the above example is all visualbut what a visual! A painterly evocation of the fall of light and shadow whilst the author dismisses transient human emotions as the raison d’être of meaning in favor of foregrounding the quotidian specificity of “a harmony of trifles” that sum to epiphany via the appreciation of beauty: that body; right here, right now.

Or this bit of exquisite, pitch-perfect verbiage (visuals + sound + metaphor) from Nabokov’s short story The Aurelian:

. . . out of the black generous night, a whitish moth had dashed in and, in an audible bob dance, was kissing its shadow all over the ceiling.

To draw upon my own writing for an illustrative sample of this technique (“Sure, sure hide behind Stephen King and Nabokov all day; let’s see some of your own stuff, bucko!” I can hear the critics snarling, knives a-sharpening) here is the opening scene in full of Samhain Eve: A Celtic Tale:

……………………………………………………………….

Owen Kerrigan awaited the return of a dead man. He stood outside his stone-slabbed hut, gazing across the meadow at the edge of the boggy woods, breath a chill mist in the air. A peaty tang carried to his nostrils, mixed with the fragrant wood smoke of the bon fires that had burned in the village since dawn. One hand shaded his eyes against the westering light.

Dusk of October 31st. Samhain Eve: the end the end of summer and the beginning of the new year. A time of bon fires and celebratory feasting, sacred observance and human sacrifice, daylight revels followed by night-haunted terrors and warding rituals. A portentous, carnivalesque, liminal time when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead thinned to nothing. It was this latter fact that was the source of Owen Kerrigan’s growing unease, as he waited for the return of the young man he’d murdered three years ago in a raid on a rival clan.

 A wooden door creaked open behind him. Owen dropped his hand from his eyes and turned to behold the perspiring face of his wife.

“Come inside, Owen. Our meal grows cold.” Tara glanced down at the candlelit, hollowed-out turnips flanking the doorway, transformed by artful carving into monstrous faces: an ancient custom meant to ward off the haints, nightgaunts and other supernatural beasties that prowled about on New Year’s Eve. “The candles will burn most of the night; let the flame guardians greet our friend.” She stepped back and closed the door.

 Mayhap Tara was satisfied that the candlelit grotesqueries would prove sufficient barrier to ward off the things of the netherworld that came a-knockin’ after dark on October 31st, but Owen was not. After all, it’d never stopped him from returning before.

 Bran. The young man’s name was Bran. A fact he’d found out only later, after a delegation of tribal elders from his village met with the murdered victim’s family and his betrothed, Deirdre, to offer iron and gold and silver-tongued apologies to avert an all-out retaliatory war.

A faint tinkling of childish laughter sounded from a hut a stone’s throw away behind him, near the edge of a stand of alder and birch bordering the southern side of the village. This was followed by the yowl of a cat and the basso-profundo cursing of his neighbor Kendrick, a roar almost immediately counter-pointed by the scolding alto of his wife.

Owen smiled a small, sad smile. He and Tara had not, as yet, produced any children.

Glancing once more at the edge of the boggy wood to the west―the direction the dead man had approached in years past―Owen said, “Come then, Bran. Return to this world if you must. But Cernunnos hear me, there’s nothing more I can do for you; no way to undo what’s been done. If I could grant you life again . . .” He trailed off, fists balled at his sides. His mouth was dry; a bitter taste of bile on the tongue.

No answer from the mire. Tendrils of fog twined amongst an acidic fenestration of scraggly shrub, withered black spruce and waxy leatherleaf.

Owen unclenched his fists. The sting in his hands abated; blood rushed back into the crescent moons dug into the flesh of his palms. He turned and went inside.

……………………………………………………………….

In this opening scene all of our human senses are evoked: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

Now look at your own writing. How many senses are evoked during the course of your narrative? I will state it bluntly and brace for blow-back: If all or most of your scenes contain only visual (or primarily visual) evocations, you are failing at the art of fiction. Your writing is sputtering along at 1/5th the power and intensity it could have. (Which is not to say that every scene must evoke all five senses; so regimented and crude an application of technique would be ham-fisted and ultimately self-defeating: the reader would tumble to what you are doing almost at once and grow annoyed.)

What is your approach to writing descriptive passages in your fiction? (Please cite some pertinent passages for example.) Are there writers you think handle descriptive passages particularly well? Particularly poorly? Would you care to cite some of those examples here? Is there anything else you’d like to say on the subject?  

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About Writers, world-building, writing technique

How much world?

Alex’s Sci-Fi World by Matt Schaefer

I don’t write, or even read, much sci-fi, but I do have a trilogy planned that takes place on another planet. I don’t know if it qualifies as sci-fi since the inhabitants are as human-like as hobbits and face very human problems. Really it’s just an excuse for me to give free rein to my imagination by writing a story about humans without the constraint of respecting earthly reality.

But of course they inhabit a world which has other constraints, so I’ll have to decide how much of that world to describe. In other words, the world-building issue. We always have it, but a story set on earth can rely on shared assumptions about how the world operates. Not so on another planet, where we can make the world as we want, but then we have to replace those unwritten assumptions with explicit information. What will my inhabitants eat? How will they dress? Travel? Communicate? What are their towns and cities like? The list is almost endless.

Here are a few thoughts on the matter from some proper sci-fi writers:

Alastair Reynolds. My approach to world-building is a bit smoke and mirrors – there’s only as much as you need to carry the story. I think of it as one of those sets they used to have for cowboy films: the facades look good, but if you walk around the back, it’s all props and plywood. I don’t want to sound lazy, but I want to do as little as possible. I don’t need to know how the sewage system works to tell a story about someone on another planet.

Nnedi Okorafor. My stories tend to start with the characters. Then I look through their eyes (or however they “see”), minds, perspectives to observe the world. Typically this happens the moment the character exists. So I know the world not long after I know the characters. I walk through it, I smell the air, listen to the gossip, observe its insect world, hear its history through various perspectives, and so on … I experience it.

AnnLeckie. I try to choose details that are real – the whole of human history and culture is fantastically varied – and that seem to fit together. In real life, cultures and histories are full of things that contradict each other. There will be one common narrative of how things happen, how people live and eat and so on, but people won’t actually always do things that way. I try to include such moments, because it makes my world more three-dimensional. I also leave some things unexplained or just referred to, as though the world is much bigger than just this one story and won’t all fit in the pages.

Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t like the term world-building. I’d say there’s no such thing – it’s a term out of a vocabulary that grew in writing workshops to help writers talk about the craft of fiction. But the writer should remember that these diagnostic terms are not what the reader feels while reading: the reader reads in a kind of dreamlike state in which the events of a story really happen. So the writer should focus on somehow forwarding the story. That’s the only imperative: make that “willing suspension of disbelief” go into action, and take the reader away.

These are just excerpts – the full article is here. It’s given me some useful pointers on how to set about it. But I’m sure you have others – whether you write sci-fi or not, how do you build your worlds?

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About Writers, book reviews, inspiration, Poetry, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Probing Dhalgren

“Be glad you’re not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook: you’d be deadly dull.”

The first time I read Samuel R. Delaney’s masterpiece, I didn’t know a couple of things. In 1975, I was neither privy to writing techniques nor did I know that Dhalgren would become recognized as one of the most profound science fiction novels of all time. I was simply riveted by the setting and the characters. When my Lady gave me an unusual edition this Christmas, I re-read that story I remembered so well from 44 years ago. (It never occurred to me at the time that I would see the year 2020 either, but, that’s another blog.)

If you write sci-fi, then you must attempt to read, or re-read, Dhalgren. If the first scene grabs you, you will be reluctant to put it down 800 pages later. Disclaimer: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, you can’t understand Dhalgren until you’ve read it and once you’ve read it, you can’t explain it. But here are three clues.

Dhalgren presents reality on the edge of perception, before we process it. “Even if the quotidian surface sits on it a bit askew.”

+++Finally Dragon Lady called down: “You still okay…?”
+++“Yeah.” Kidd took a breath. “I’ll tie the rope around him. You can haul him up.” He slipped the rope from under his arms, pulled it over his head, but left it around one shoulder; he stepped forward on the oozy filth, stooped, and tugged a leg from where it had wedged between two blackened bumper plates.
+++“… is he alive?” Thirteen called.
+++Kidd took another breath. “Naw.” He pulled at the arm, got a grip around the chest, which was all soft against him. His own shirt front soaked immediately. Blood dribbled along his forearm. Standing, he dragged the body back a step. A foot caught, pulled free; the leg fell back against his thigh — his thigh wet, warm, to the knee. Dragging it, limp, reaching for the rope, he thought: Is this what turns on blood and blade freaks? He thought of Tak, he thought of George, hunted in himself for any idle sexuality: he found it, disconcertingly, a small warmth above the loins that, as he bared his teeth and the rope slid through his sticky hand, went out. “Let me have another couple of feet!” Well, he had found it before in auto wrecks, in blue plush, in roots, in wet wood with the bark just stripped.

In that moment before we process reality, censorship is not possible.

Often, the real world occurs on the edge of a dream.

Ahead, he could see the taller buildings. Smoke had gnawed away the upper stories. Stealthily, he descended into the injured city.
It does not offer me any protection, this mist; rather a refracting grid through which to view the violent machine, explore the technocracy of the eye itself, spelunk the semi-circular canal. I am traveling my own optic nerve.

Note the slip from third person into first person.

The story is show-no-tell to the point where the reader knows no more than is seen through the eyes of the main character, who struggles to understand what he is experiencing.

The smoke was so thick he wondered if the glass were opaque and he only misremembered it as clear–
Well–” Madam Brown pushed open the cracked door– “what do you think of the Richards after your first day on the job?”
“I don’t think anything.” Kidd stretched in the over-thick night. “I’m just an observer.”

In the end, each reader is left with their own thoughts about Dhalgren. “I would never presume to say what they meant,” Ernest Newboy, the poet, says when asked what poems mean. To me, Dhalgren is epic poetry in prose.

And that’s all I got; three clues and an ongoing fascination. What did you take away from this novel?

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Satire, Uncategorized, world-building

Coming clean

4) coming clean

It has to be said that I have always enjoyed immersing myself in the great bath at the Goldclaw baths. The water is heated by the next door Goldclaw Foundry and Metal Works so there’s plenty of it. Now one reason I specifically like this establishment is that they have a ‘washing baths’ that everybody goes through before they enter the great bath. Thus the water of the great bath is remarkably clean.

To explain the layout, gentlemen enter at one end of the baths, ladies at the other. (Actually there’s a central door as well but you then turn left or right to get to the appropriate changing rooms.)
From the changing rooms you go straight into a ‘washing bath.’ Here one washes away the grime of the day. Some venture no further, but if you wish, when you’re clean you can proceed through into the great bath. Whilst there are separate washing baths for ladies and gentlemen, the great bath is for everybody.

Things worked, the management was polite if casual and everybody tried to keep to the rules, written and unwritten. But then, as inevitably happens, the old manager of the baths finally retired and his replacement was determined to make her mark. To be fair to her, somebody may have commented that people were entering the great bath without washing properly in the washing bath. So she decided to stamp down hard on this behaviour. Again, I rather sympathise with her.

At the men’s washing baths a fellow called Ebbit was hired. He was quiet and tactful. He would merely approach the guilty party as they walked, stark naked, from one baths to the other, and comment quietly that, “I think you may have missed a bit sir.”

Unfortunately at the ladies’ washing baths a woman called Haggine was employed. She was a large muscular lady. Shena described her to me as a harridan. Others were less generous. Apparently as the ladies processed elegantly, dressed as nature intended, from their baths to the great baths, Haggine would make offensive comments about an individual’s figure, would stop a victim and check her in invasive detail, and would even flick them with a wet towel.

One day she was particularly bellicose, and Shena, who was present, was the target of her ‘wit’ and the wet towel. Finally Shena turned to face her and said, “You have now irritated me.”
This brought more mockery, but Shena had had enough. She went back to the changing rooms, dressed and came home. I was busy at the time, editing some work. As she came into the cabin I could tell by her expression she had passed through anger and was calmly encamped on that featureless icy plain beyond.
“Tallis, what’s the name of that big watchman, looks like somebody has shaved one of the greater apes?”

There could only be one who matched that description. “Makan?”

“That’s him. You know him?”
“Oh yes, he might look like some sort of man-beast but he’s a poetry lover and has quite a nice way with romantic verse.”
“Good, I want him here this evening if possible. I want a private word with him.”

What can a husband do? I found Makan, explained that Shena wanted a word with him, and left them to get on with whatever Shena was planning. After all I knew that if I had a part to play in whatever was going to happen, Shena would inform me. Admittedly she’d inform me at the last minute when it was too late to improvise, but still, I would be given my role.

As it was, I didn’t have a part in this drama. Next day Shena had a word with her fellow ladies. Now up until this point Shena had not really been part of any clique. She had a few friends who did attend, but as they were rarely there when she was. She had what one might call, ‘A large circle of vague acquaintanceship.’ The fact she had stood up to Haggine meant that quite a few ladies now recognised her, and they seem to have been happy to fall in with her suggested plan. So that evening, Makan finished his shift and went to the Ladies’ changing room. There Shena introduced him to all the other ladies, and he joined them in stripping and washing in the wash bath. Then he joined them in the walk to the great bath.

Now it should be mentioned that because he is large, muscular, and hirsute, people make the mistake of assuming that Makan is stupid. The fact he speaks slowly and carefully, weighing his words, encourages them in this fallacy. When Haggine saw him she was initially speechless. Finally she found her tongue.

“Hey you, what in the forty-seven hells are you doing!”

Makan said, reasonably, “Going to the great bath with the rest of the girls.”

“You’re a bluidy man!”
To be fair, this was blatantly obvious. But Makan looked down at himself and said, slowly, “Are you sure? My mother cannot have lied to me.”

This outraged Haggine, indeed she was so angry she slapped Makan with the wet towel. Makan said not a word. He merely picked her up, ignoring totally her wild punching and kicking, and carried her to the edge of the great bath. Here he did not merely drop her in, he hurled her. So when she finally did hit the water, it was some distance from the edge, where the water was deep enough for swimming. Immediately the women converged upon her, complaining that somebody wearing clothes shouldn’t be in the bath. Thus as she struggled to get to the edge, they stripped her. Finally they chased her out of the baths and into the street slapping her with wet towels.

As a result of her part in the overthrow of the tyrant, Shena became generally popular with the women bathers. (So was Makan but that is another story. Apparently there is a shortage of competent, quietly spoken men who can produce romantic verse at the drop of a hat.) Still as the ladies got to know Shena better, they came to regard her as universally competent. Again this is something I can sympathise with. But still it was quite common for them to come to her quietly and ask her advice on all sorts of issues.

One evening she brought one of her new acquaintances home with her. This lady, Madam Vear, explained her problem. She’d purchased one of the two maps Illus Wheelburn had drawn of Port Naain. Apparently she’d been in Prae Ducis at the time, dealing with family matters, had seen the map, had been amused by it and had bought it.

To be fair, she had, at the time, been in funds. Apparently she had followed her husband to Avitas because she’d heard rumours that he had another wife and family there. When she arrived, unexpectedly, he fled abandoning his second family. She followed him to Prae Ducis where she discovered he had a third family. He fled again and she got reports that he’d died in a bar room brawl in Chatterfield. She then acted swiftly. She forged his signature, sold everything he owned in Prae Ducis for cash, and then rode hard for Avitas where she repeated the process. All this before news of his death reached the city.

Since then her circumstances had changed, she had remarried. She had put her funds into a new family partnership with her new husband and matters were proceeding well. But suddenly she discovered that she urgently needed money. She didn’t want to bother her new husband with details, so she intended to sell the map.

But she’d had the foresight to pace around the areas marked on the map with annotated comments. There was one which hinted that a considerable treasure was to be found buried at number sixteen, Grettan Walk. This was pleasant enough street on the edge of the Merchant Quarter. Unfortunately number sixteen had been recently demolished. Not only that but according to Madam Vear the area was boarded off and the whole area had been dug out. She assumed that the purchaser of the site had dug out ready to put in new foundations and a cellar, and had then called a halt to the process. Why? She’d asked round and had heard rumours of a death in the family and a shortage of money. But as she admitted, from a purely selfish point of view, her discovery somewhat devalued her map. After all everybody could look and see nothing could be buried there. She wondered if I could re-annotate the map, adding a couple of extra details which would enable her to get a good price for it.

I confess that I was a little torn. Obviously there were the ethical implications, but frankly the more I looked at the map, the more I was taken by the challenge. Also it seemed that Shena was building for herself a wider circle of acquaintance who valued her omnicompetence. I felt I ought to help, not hinder. Also I sensed I had an obvious solution. Due to the style Illus had adopted with his numerals, one stroke of the pen would turn sixteen into eighteen. I sat and practiced the handwriting, mixed an ink that matched that used by Illus, and set to work. Not only did I change the sixteen to eighteen, I felt that I had to explain away the fact that the site of number sixteen was given more prominence on the map. So I added a brief note. “Start tunnel here, dig to next door.”

I sat back, surveyed what I had done, and felt it was an excellent piece of work. Shena was pleased with my efforts and Madam Vear was delighted. A week later Shena mentioned in passing that Madam Vear sent her thanks, she’d sold the map for rather more than she hoped. Another week went by and Madam confided to Shena that the reason she had needed money was that her first husband had reappeared in Port Naain. Reports of his death had obviously been exaggerated. Now it appears he was trying to get his money back and was attempting to do so by pointing out that she was a bigamist and threatening to bring this to the attention of the authorities. Fortunately the sale of the map had nicely covered the hire of a very competent professional person. This person quietly approached the first husband and pointed out that when he had been dead, there had been no problems with bigamy. Thus this dark clad and limber individual suggested that the surplus husband return once more to being dead. Indeed he more than hinted that the time for contemplation was limited, and that if he remained alive and bothersome, his return to his previous deceased state could indeed be organised for him.

It appears the first husband fled Port Naain that very evening and Madam Vear has heard no more from him.

♥♥♥♥

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. Not one book but three.

The first is another of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection. These stories are a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can read them in any order.

 

On the Mud. The Port Naain Intelligencer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mud-Port-Naain-Intelligencer-ebook/dp/B07ZKYD7TR

When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as reassuring as you might hope.

 

Then we have a Tallis Steelyard novella.

Tallis Steelyard and the Rustic Idyll

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZKYMG1G/

When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of his generation.

Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.

 

And finally, for the first time in print we proudly present

Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZKVXP24/

 

In his own well-chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

 

All a mere 99p each

 

 

 

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About Writers, book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

Live in the present. Write there too.

–  by Barry K. Rosen (aka Mellow Curmudgeon)

The ancient advice is still good. Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes. Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank. Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way? Not consciously. I just set out to write a short story. I’ll write some fiction. I’ll use the customary past tense. Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite. I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post. Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs. I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense. Why? I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does. Indeed. Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be? Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present
Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished. Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first. Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camouflage for weak content. Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases. We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns. That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff. As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken. Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past
Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English. As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense. People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense. Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary. How can he say prendre in English? No problem. Just say take. But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense. Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat. Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted? Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
The picture was hung in a prominent place.
Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.
This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect
Pierre is back. The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time. Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take. He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky. What to do? Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past. That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort. Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense
John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks. Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks. He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback. There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots. He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks. If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history. Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener. She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said. The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous. The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early. But Jane is game to try. If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit
Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors. Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually. Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least one story told in the present tense. No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing. As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me. Editor Curtis Bausse suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked. There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense. That is as it should be.

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