Sunday, September 17, 2017

Song Styles

I made a new set of car CDs for myself yesterday, and part of the collection is my playlist for Surgeburnt.  It's incomplete, technically - some characters don't have songs, but beyond character specific themesongs, I have songs for specific relationships and several for the overall world and feel.  I've already mentioned Mary Lambert's fantastic "Sum Of Our Parts" (both versions) as the strongest inspiration, but those aren't the only tunes in my general theme list.

Here are a few others that I felt reflected the attitude, the outlook, the worldview, or perhaps even could be taken more literally than they were intended, in a fantastic setting.  The instrumentation and mood of the music itself applies as much as the lyrics:

Fairytale - Sara Bareilles (This version has a longish non-musical introduction, but it is infinitely superior to the faster, fuller version from Little Voice)
Stranger Than Earth - Purity Ring
Glory and Gore - Lorde

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Last week, I brought up the thorny topic (to me) of calendars.  To me, our month and day names stand out as products of our world, so they don't work well in a fantasy setting.  (Exceptions would be alternate earths or the stealth fantasy-setting-that-is-actually-scifi that used to be popular:  colonists settled the planet long ago, but the origins have long since been lost and it reads like a fantasy realm.)  One easy solution is to simply "reskin" our months and days with new names.

Otherwise, the challenge is to make a system that is 1) Logical and usefully divided.  People rely upon the pattern of weeks to order their lives.  A twenty day week would be unwieldy.  2)  Intuitive.  Throwing a foreign system at the reader, it needs to be easy to pick up.  3)  Roughly equivalent in the length of a year.  Extra days or decreased days can add up to characters who aren't quite as old as they say they are ...

The easiest layout is to shorten the months to 28 days.  Then you have thirteen of them, and exactly four weeks.  In Unnatural Causes, Pinnacle - a day of rest - is in the middle of a nine day week.  The week is counted down and up from Pinnacle.  It comes out easy to follow, once you wrap your brain around the fact that three-before is followed by two-before.

Again, intuitive is the key.  If the writer dumps a lexicon of month / week / day names on the reader, the story grinds to a halt ... and it probably doesn't serve the intended purpose, as information overload leads to skimming.

But if it all seems to make sense and the reader can track how much time has passed, then the calendar has served its purpose.  Like most of the iceberg in worldbuilding, the reader will (hopefully) feel the structure without needing to see it.

Word count this week:  2,995
Pages edited:  22 (yes, really)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Song Styles

So when I did my flash-and-poetry boot camp, I generated more ideas than I was going to need so I could pick and choose ... but not too many more, so I wasn't left dithering.

There was one idea that I put down and didn't end up using, but I think it's a good concept overall, so I bequeath to anyone who cares to borrow.

The idea is this:  take a metaphorical song lyric and interpret it literally.  For my boot camp, I decided to pick a specific lyric ahead of time ... and as soon as I did that, I couldn't find a lyric to suit me.  Before that, it seemed like every other song jumped out at me with, "If you take that literally, it's an interesting concept."  As soon as I started looking for one ... boom.  Nothing.

I finally ended up with a bit from Rihanna's S.O.S:  "I'm lost, you've got me looking for the rest of me."  Though glancing at the song, "I'm the question, and you're of course the answer," has possibilities, too ...

(This song also falls on my "misheard lyrics" list:  at first, I would have sworn she was saying, "This timepiece baby come and rescue me" even that makes no *sense*, but it sounds a lot more like "piece" than "peace."  And I suppose animate heroic clocks would make a good story ...)

So there's your story spark:  cherry pick a lyric from your usual listening fare that is intended to be a metaphor, figurative image, etc ... and interpret it in literal fashion.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Suspension of disbelief is a marvelous thing.  It makes possible our immersion into fantastic realms where wizards fly and griffins sling fireballs ... wait, reverse that.  It even operates in other genres, allowing us to believe in the amateur sleuth in the mystery, or that Carrie Bradshaw really can live in that apartment with *all those shoes* as a writer ... ahem.

But the tiniest little thing can break it.

Especially when discussing film and television versions of speculative fiction, people often give side eye to those questioning details.  Many of you will recognize this example:  "You have no trouble believing in the walking dead, dragons and decades-long winters, but you get hung up on the speed of a raven?"

Well ... yes, I do.

Don't worry, I'm not getting further into that specific debate here, just using it as an example:  the details matter.  In fact, the more fantastic, the more bizarre the assumptions of the setting, the more accurate and plausible the mundane details have to be.

It's a matter of trust:  the reader (or viewer) has to trust the writer and the story they are being told.  If the things the reader is familiar with are right, or at least seem right, that builds the writer some capital, which they can "spend" on the fantastic.  The tricky thing, of course, is that every person has a different tolerance level ... a different amount in their suspension-of-disbelief bank account, if you will.  Some people will buy anything you want to sell them.  Others are actively looking for flaws.  And, of course, people who already read and enjoy speculative fiction are far more likely to accept a fantastic premise without a solid trust framework.

As a writer, I happen to like playing with the details.  I like to make things consistent and cohesive behind the scenes, even if the rationale behind specific worldbuilding elements is never made explicit in the text.  I pay some attention to climate zones and the influence of geography on trade.


One particular small detail I admit I tend to be obsessed with:  calendars!  To me, using our world's calendar verbatim breaks my immersion; the names of the months, for instance, are so grounded in our mythos and culture.  But how else do you mark days, months and years without confusing the reader or forcing them to learn a slew of unnecessary details?

But that's off the point, and probably an entire blog post on its own.  In conclusion:  yes, I am hung up on the speed of a raven. The mundane details matter.

Word count this week:  2,924
Pages edited:  5.5
Poems edited:  1

(I'm starting to get adjusted to my new work schedule.  Hopefully productivity will continue to increase here.)

Sunday, September 03, 2017

GoodReads Review: Shelf Life ed. Greg Ketter

Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating BookstoresShelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores by Greg Ketter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How could I resist an anthology full of stories about bookstores? These are all solid, satisfying tales, but the narrow theme is made narrower by the fact they all feel very similar: set in our world with the fantastic creeping in slowly. I would have loved to see more variety in tone and content. One tale does depart dramatically from the overall vibe: Patrick Weekes' "I Am Looking For A Book ..." which is exactly and wonderfully what you would expect from the author of The Palace Job. This one and the story immediately following, "The Glutton" (Melanie Tem) were the standout tales in the anthology. "The Glutton" got to me on a deep level.

To recap: good quality, but not a lot of variety.

View all my reviews

Song Styles

I've been adding songs to my Surgeburnt playlist as I come across them, and noticing a pattern:  all of Maren's songs, except one, in some way reference death or dying.  There's a nihilistic attitude underlying the songs I've chosen, a sense of "don't hold back, because it's all about to end."  Case in point, my most recent addition:

Last Damn Night - Elle King

Maybe I could go on a deliberate search for a cheerful song, but it would probably just feel wrong.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I've been mulling over alternate history of late:  how does one historical turning point change the shape of the world?  Much fiction has been composed and spilled on the subject.  It's also a difficult thing to get right:  any one event can have consequences in several areas, including some that may not seem related.  This, admittedly, is a good part of the reason why I haven't written any alternate history myself, unless you count the wackiness of "The Fosterling Conspiracy," a short story that starts in Elizabethan-era Wales.

(I have played with time travel in some of my fantasy stories, a related topic.  In my Ishene and Kemel stories - the time mage and her bodyguard - the prevailing theory indicates that temporal paradox could, quite literally, destroy reality, so they take "make no changes to history" with deadly seriousness.

For those not familiar with temporal paradox, the idea is:  if you go back in time to make a change in history, then what happens in the "new" present, where history is different, so you don't need to travel back in time, but you *do* need to travel back in time, because otherwise, it will happen as it originally did?  If you entirely can't follow that (understandably), the classic scenario used to explain it is a time traveler who goes back and kills his mother.  Well, all right, now you were never born ... so who killed your mother?)

Back to alternate history, the further the world progresses from the inciting change, the harder it is to measure the consequences.  Another thing to consider is whether the evolution of technology, social measures, etc, is parallel or divergent.

For instance, consider a world where the Americas were never "discovered" by Europeans.  Think of all the technologies that were invented in America even before the 1900s.  In this alternate history, would those technologies simply not exist at all?  Would they have been developed in another fashion, by someone else, but with small differences?  That's parallel evolution.  Or ... would the technologies invented to solve life's problems been completely different?  That's divergent evolution.

Obviously, parallel evolution is way easier to deal with.  It's a cousin to another time travel concept, "plastic time," which is sometimes used as at least a partial resolution for paradox.  Plastic time is the idea that history has a natural tendency to go back to the shape it was; it corrects itself.  If you go back in time to murder Hitler (another classic scenario), one of his general steps up and takes over.

What I want to see in a time travel story is, instead of basing the alternate timeline on a big, pivotal moment, the alteration being a smaller event, even one that seems minor on the face of it.  I watched Genius recently, the television series following the life of Albert Einstein, and I wondered:  what if he had continued to collaborate with his first wife, instead of shutting her out?  How much further would they have advanced his field?  Would he have become politically involved?  Would he have spawned the atomic bomb?

Another thought:  what if Mary Shelley had never been born?  Frankenstein is often regarded as the first science fiction book.  The imagery in this book has pervaded our culture, and how many artists and even scientists has it inspired?

I can see two ways to approach such a story.  The first is to cue the reader into the change right away, so they can appreciate all the nuances as they arise.  The second is to treat it like a mystery, showing a world changed and only at the end revealing that point of divergence.

Obviously, this isn't done often (that I've seen) because such a change is more likely to be appropriate for a short story, and that's a lot of research / work for a brief payout.  Does anyone have any examples they might want to share?

Word count this week:  2,222
Pages edited:  4.5
Poems edits:  2

Clerical note:  I may move my weekly blog post back to Wednesday due to my work schedule.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Song Styles

For your amusement, sympathy, and perhaps to snare an unsuspecting soul into the same trap that has tortured me for the last few days ... for some reason, this song has been an earworm in the back of my brain:

The Red Shoes - Kate Bush

The song references a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a pair of enchanted shoes that force the wearer to dance endlessly.  This particular version seems to imply a cure that, while not part of the original fairy tale, is a very common trope:  to escape the red shoes, one must give them to someone else, passing the curse along.