In the past my poll-creation has been sporadic. No more! From now on you get a monthly poll with a post announcing its creation, and it’s addition to my polls page. Old polls will be moved down to the “Closed Polls” section. Without further ado:
This month’s question is, “About how many books do you buy in a year?” To clarify, this is referring to books you purchase for yourself, though receiving and giving books as gifts are great.
Thank you for your answer!
I’ll be gone for an unknown period of time, probably a few months. Stuff has come up within the family. No one is dying, nothing like that, 😉 but it’s still personal. I miss my wonderful readers already, and can’t wait to be back!
Evil forget-to-hit-the-final-button-itis. I wrote this yesterday.
A few days ago I heard about this writing challenge called Story A Day. It takes place throughout the month of May, and the goal is to write a complete short story (your definition) each day. The stories can be about anything, so long as you write one a day. “Neat,” I thought, “and during my birthday month too.” I then forgot about it until yesterday afternoon. For some reason I remember. For an odder reason I went to the site. For an odder still reason I joined.
I needed this. Lately I’ve been to to wrapped up in quality to truly write, and I’ve known I’ve needed practice writing concise and complete short stories for a while now. Maybe I’d be more comfortable if I’d actually planned to do Story a Day.
You can keep track of my progress here: http://storyaday.org/scribbling. I will be posting every day with my progress and other randomness. Feel free to take a peak. I won’t be posting the complete stories I write, just snippets, but maybe you’ll find something useful or entertaining anyway.
Last month I posted a book Review of Kerry Nietz’s A Star Curiously Singing, and mentioned The Superlative Stream was on my wishlist. If you looked closely at the photo in this post, you might notice I have checked off a book from that list.
I was nervous about The Superlative Stream. I desperately hoped it would live up to the high bar its sequel set and was afraid it wouldn’t. I needn’t have worried.
SandFly, with his female companion HardCandy, have traveled to Betelgeuse in search of the source to the Superlative Stream that changed the way they thought and challenged everything they ever knew. When they arrive, they discover something the original crew did not: a planet. Inhabited. After their ship mysteriously goes off-line, SandFly and HardCandy are welcomed by the highly-advanced people of the planet. HardCandy thinks this is a meeting the scriptures predicted. SandFly is not so sure, and is more concerned about their original reason for traveling to Betelgeuse. Are these people the source of the Superlative Stream? And even if they are, can they be trusted?
A Star Curiously Singing captured me through its unique style and world. In The Superlative Stream the style is there and the world..! The world triples. We are introduced to the Beetles (or Jinn, depending on who you ask). They have their own strange world, their own society, their own philosophy, their own surroundings. We are also shown HardCandy’s past. Her life may have been on Earth, but she had a completely different life from SandFly, whose world we saw in the previous book.
We learn of HardCandy’s history in ‘flashbacks’ scattered throughout the book, like a separate, parallel story. Normally I dislike so many ‘flashbacks,’ especially when they are not directly affecting the plot. To my surprise, I found myself looking forward to the next glimpse of HardCandy’s old life. Many questions left by A Star Curiously Singing about the characters are resolved (although I’m still waiting to learn more about the ‘sweet spot’ HardCandy found that contained a less-censored stream). I still feel like Nietz wrote or at least outlined HardCandy’s story independent of The Superlative Stream, and wonder what HardCandy’s story would have been like had it been given its own book.
I get edgy when the weirdness of sci-fi is mixed with theology, and I was worried when the reviews of The Superlative Stream seemed to show aliens. I can’t stand people trying to reconcile aliens with the Bible. Call it a pet peeve. Even in general it really takes a good story for me not to scoff at supernatural in sci-fi. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I wasn’t let down in this area either. It’s weird, but sci-fi is supposed to be weird.
In the end we are thrown ‘back’ into the conflict on Earth, which now encompasses both the physical and spiritual world. It’s hard to know how to classify The Superlative Stream as a sequel. Usually, you can easily say that either the books in a series are standalones with an over-reaching arc, or are one big story broken into parts. The DarkTrench Saga is feels like both (so far), which is interesting. And different. But fun.
The Superlative Stream is another must-not-put-down by Kerry Nietz. I’m usually a cheapskate when it comes to buying niceties such as books, but when the next in the DarkTrench Saga comes out, I won’t wait for it to go on sale to buy it. 5/5 stars.
I like prompts. I like picture prompts. I like science fiction and fantasy picture prompts. But I’m not a big fan of those static pages of prompts, never changing, becoming old. Over time I have discovered several excellent prompt blogs, however, and I’m sharing those with you today. In no particular order:
Photomanipping Blog: http://blog.diekisdreamings.com/
Main Site: http://dieki-noordhoek.appspot.com/
Dieki Noordhoek is a photo manipulating artist, graphics designer, and programmer. I have followed his photomanippulating blog for a while now, and have often gleaned inspiration from his works, many of which are fantasy or science fiction oriented.
Dragon Writing Prompts
Old Blog: http://dragonwritingprompts.blogsome.com/
Current Blog: http://dragonwritingprompts.blogspot.com/
Dragon Writing Prompts has all sorts of prompts, from picture to quotes to fun ideas, but her even the posts that are not specifically a picture from contain juicy images. This blog is updated daily with science fiction, fantasy, and occasionally horror prompts.
Holy World’s Word Art
Forum Thread: http://www.holyworlds.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=68&t=1830
So I cheated here. This is actually a thread, not a blog. The talented photomanipulators over on Holy Worlds have a challenge among themselves: create a composite picture out of one or two words. I think the resulting images just have stories bursting from them. Holy Worlds has a site dedicated to public domain images and photos created by Holy Worlds members at http://www.olorea.holyworlds.org.
I hope you enjoyed these! What are your favorite picture prompts or sites? Static pages allowed. 😉
Actors: Talented, all of them, and perfectly in their characters.
Special Effects: Thrilling, especially when wrapping a city on top of itself.
First half of the film: Extremely exciting.
Cobb is a thief, but not a thief of money or art or even identities. He is a thief of ideas. With technology originally developed my the military, he and his selected team enters the victim’s dreams. Inside his victim’s very head, he can find and steal their greatest secrets.
Cobb didn’t always lead this life. He had a family and a life before experiments with this technology left him suspect in a murder case. Ever since he has been on the run, his children, his life, everything left behind.
Saito, a victim, says he can bring that back, for a cost: Inception. Entering a dream and planting an idea. Saito wants his biggest competitor, Robert Fischer, to be convinced to split up his company, eliminating the threat it posses to Saito. Cobb is willing, despite the risks such a deep infiltration of the mind entails.
He gathers his team for the task: Arthur, the pointman, Cobb’s old friend who has always been with him. Nash, the forger, a man who can take on the forms of anyone in a dream. Ariadne, the architect, a highly intelligent woman just out of school. Yusaf, the chemist, who has the secrets to make entering a dream state deep enough for Inception possible. Together they will accomplish Inception. But Cobb has memories, and he can’t keep them out of the dreams.
By all accounts, Inception begins as a credit to its writer, Christopher Nolan. I was utterly immersed by the beginning half of Inception. The pace is non-stop. The plot is revetting, and unfolding smoothly. The characters all have clear personalities and goals. Another thing I really appreciate: the family drama is not hum-drum or forced or thrown in. It is perfectly relevant to the plot.
All this sets up for a fantastic movie.
Second half of the film: What happened?
Like dream worlds, the movie begins to break down. Multiple threats are introduced and given screen time, and then are not carried out. [Spoilers ahead; highlight to see] Mal runs a train through the first-level dream, but doesn’t cause trouble again until she’s just a person working against them in the third-level dream. The characters are desperate to stay out of “limbo” for stated, perfectly valid reasons, yet after they are thrown into limbo, the threats never happen, and the characters don’t even have to struggle against the effects of limbo. The real problem with these empty threats is that we invest emotion in them: we are right there with the characters, worried and scared and bright-eyed for them, waiting for their struggles, which then never happen.
Plot pinpricks start showing. I will accept “plot holes” if they are easily fixed – a line added there, or the character having done something slightly different here. I view these as mistakes (or “plot pinpricks”), not plot holes. I will let myself rewrite the script a tiny bit for the sake of making a great movie. But after four times it gets annoying! It’s a movie, don’t make me think until the credits, especially if the thinking is fixing your goofs. . .
Then there IS a plot hole. I’ve seen some very wild theories on the internet trying to explain it, but they all cause other plot problems. There’s no getting around it.
Each of the problems on their own wouldn’t be so bad. But they’re all in the same movie. By the ending, my minding is struggling to make sense of chaos. Maybe if I didn’t think so much and wasn’t so intent on analyzing everything I run across I wouldn’t have found myself so confused. But there are movies that can hold up under scrutiny, and Christopher Nolan has written some (I’m thinking of The Dark Knight right now).
In the end, despite the fact Inception passes a higher bar than most movies, I’m irritated. Irritated that they were able to come up with great everything else and let the plot fall. Irritated that the whole premise is ruined, since it’s now “Inception’s plot.” Also minorly irritated that I have no idea whether to recommend this to you or not.
Inception is thoroughly enjoyable until 75% of the way through. That’s when you start scratching your head unless you’re in a trance, which is entirely possible. Inception makes you think, and there are no pinpricks or holes in thinking. Inception is a heist thriller, but it could also be called a psychological thriller. If you like thrillers, I say see it. Walk in expecting to be wowed and you will be, but either purposefully don’t think too hard and let yourself be washed into each new scene, or be prepared to walk out confused.
My Rating: 4 stars 🙂
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and action throughout.
My note: Violence is all but bloodless. The movie is intense, and there is a bit of language.
Have you scene Inception? What did you think? (And, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I am thoroughly open to spoiler comments. You have been warned.)
You are walking down the bookstore isle for your favorite genre, just browsing for a new read. You see an interesting looking cover. You stop and pick it up. What do you do next? Read the back cover, of course, and see if the blurb (for anyone who doesn’t know, that’s the thingy on the back of a novel describing what’s inside) is as captivating as the cover. Then you open the book, probably randomly, to see if what’s inside is a captivating as both the cover and the blurb.
As just the author, you may not have much to do with designing the cover. But you will have something to do with creating the blurb. You’re going to have to write it. But not for the reason you think.
Realistically, someone in the marketing department writes the actual blurb that will be on the back of your printed novel, but you will have to write something essentially the same for querying. For the agent or editor, the hookline is the cover – the flashy front that gets attention. But instead of flipping the novel around, they read down the page to the next item on your query. Some call it a tiny synopsis, but I don’t like that term (I’ll tell why later). Just imagine you are writing the blurb for your novel.
Who is the protagonist?
What’s the problem and the inciting incident?
What does the protagonist want?
How are they going to achieve that goal?
What’s in the way?
Sound familiar? Kind of like what you wanted to portray in the hookline? Well, there’s a reason for that. The blurb is the expounding of the hookline. You have two to four paragraphs to do it, and these aren’t big blocks of text. How do you cut your novel down so far? The answer sounds easy, but is harder in practice: cut the unnecessary details. We don’t need to know how old the protagonist is. We don’t need to know their dog’s name. And we don’t need unnecessary plot explained; we need just enough plot to ground us in the direction of the novel. Concise is better.
One of the biggest killers of a blurb is confusion. This may be caused by lack of conciseness, or it could be something else. Are there too many characters named? Does the storyline progression make sense? Are any sentences confusing? Often something that is clear to the writer is not clear to the reader. Maybe even who the protagonist is is murky. Watch for continuity problems as well. Characters mentioned in the first paragraph must be with us in the last. A blurb also shouldn’t jump locations or time without a note.
For the actual crafting of a blurb, all that applies to regular story telling is applicable to your blurb. I mentioned I didn’t like the term “tiny summary.” That is because a summary is flat prose. We want popping prose, sentences that live and breath and above all show, just like your novel.
My modest attempt for my novel We Will Survive>:
The year is 2234. 100 years ago, Earth launched it’s first interstellar space colony, the Alliance. Now, that colony is outgrowing it’s alloted solar system and stretching further. For Taylor Road, this means being among the recruits for the Tythese-System exploration mission. It’s dangerous, mentally strenuous work out of contact with the rest of the Alliance, but her job assures her baby brother won’t be the next victim of insufficient resources. For the Veninians, this means confrontation ahead of schedule. For now, they’ll stay hidden. They know there is no need for the Alliance to know they exist until they’re the Alliance’s masters.
Within weeks the exploration teams know something is different in the Tythese System. Unaccountable communications interference. Moons that appear to be in the process terraformation. Rumors of Heelans – the terrorists who were driven from the Alliance decades ago – ripple the fleet. Finally, a disappearance, and it’s from Taylor’s team. The resulting search falls into the same trap their teammate did.
Their captors call themselves an empire, and do not hide their designs on Alliant space. All Alliants have dreamed of once again contacting the people of Earth, their cousins. But are these what Earth has turned into? Solemn, genetically modified people who believe their sole duty is to subjugate inferiors? Taylor doesn’t have the answers, and she doesn’t care. Right now she needs to find a way – any way – to warn her people.
To see a more professional blurb, try grabbing a book off the shelf and taking a look at the blurb on back or in the front flap. I also recommend Query Shark for blurb examples and critique. You see, most of a query is just like the blurb on the back of a novel. The Query Shark is an agent who runs this blog as a service to the writing community: people send their possible query letters to them not for acceptance, but for public critique on their blog. I have to warn you: this shark bites.
Have you ever written a blurb, either just for fun, to keep you on track while writing your novel, or for an actual query? Feel free to share and offer tips.
The hookline will be the first thing anyone ever hears about your novel. Even before the killer first sentence (and you did craft one of those, yes?), the hookline snags a reader. The reader either is reeled in or slips off back into the sea. Agents and editors are flooded with queries. This is your one chance to make an impression. If you fail, your query letter gets chucked in the trash. Scared yet?
A hookline (or logline, if you’re talking about a movie or play) is a one-sentence summary of your novel. It’s goal is to intrigue. A typical hookline set up is, “In [setting], [protagonist] [action – specific plot element] to [goal], but [protagonist] [counterforce or motive],” but there is no hard and fast setup. Still, most of those elements are included in every hookline.
The Protagonist and the Antagonist
First, forget your characters’ names. Andrew Fillmore or Martha Anderson say nothing about the character, but the “chipper, unemployed trapeze artist” or “retired Navy officer” does. Capture people with who your characters are, and they will want to know names.
Second – and you can keep this in mind for all nouns in your hookline – forget everything you’ve been told about cutting adjectives. At least while you’re writing a hookline. You only have one sentence, and while it must be tiny, it should not be skin and bones. Don’t be superfluous and give each noun an adjective – or two, but do say that the ranch your widow must restore is dilapidated.
You will not need to mention more than two or three characters or groups of characters. The main speaker and their team or close connection, and the antagonist and their team or close connection are all who need to be mentioned. For example, the logline for The Magnificent Seven could read:
A professional gunslinger (protagonist) organizes a unique posse (protagonist’s team or group) that struggles to save a Mexican town from a murderous group of banditos (antagonist group).
A genius orphan (protagonist) races to find a cure for his brain-damaged sister (protagonist’s close connection) before her makeshift life support system fails (antagonist – time).
Notice in the above hookline, the antagonist is not a person. While a thinking, calculating being is usually used as the bad guy, the antagonist can easily be a stressful job, time, or illness.
The Goal or End Result
Both the protagonist and the antagonist have these. The protagonist’s goal absolutely must be stated, but the antagonist’s goal may be implied. If the antagonist is not a person, then it can not have a goal, but it most certainly has an end result.
A professional gunslinger organizes a unique posse that struggles to save (protagonist goal) a Mexican town from a murderous group of banditos (implied antagonist goal – to keep the town).
A genius orphan races to find a cure (protagonist goal) for his brain-damaged sister before her makeshift life support system fails (antagonist end result).
The setting is both the time period and the place of the novel. If the novel takes place in a contemporary setting, there is no need to give a time. The contemporary setting is assumed. But if your novel is historical fiction or takes place in the future, you need to make that clear.
Do the same you did for names for places. Unless the place is Los Angeles or the Rockies or some other place that does not need an explanation, a “bustling suburb” is better than Georgetown, and “newly colonized planet” is better than “Ithos-3.” For a novel with a complex world (such as a fantasy or science fiction novel), the setting may need an entire clause.
A professional gunslinger (setting keyword – time) organizes a unique posse that struggles to save a Mexican town (setting – place) from a murderous group of banditos.
The setting may be implied by keywords associated with that time or place, as it is with “professional gunslinger.” By the time we get to “posse” we know this is a western and now have a time frame of the events.
In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs (setting – time), a despondent cop struggles on the lam (setting – place) to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed.
This logline for Minority Report illustrates how a science fiction novel carries its setting. It devotes the entire first clause to a) telling us this novel takes place in the future, and b) explaining the part of the world that has the biggest impact on the plot (criminals being arrested before the crime occurs).
No doubt your hookline will include one or more actions by the protagonist, and maybe even by the antagonist. These actions should be aggressive, not passive. No one wants to read about a passive hero (Or villain, for that matter. How exactly can one be a passive villain anyway?). Make the actions very specific, not general, preferably using actual plot points, and as always, use vibrant verbs and few adverbs.
A professional gunslinger organizes a unique posse (protagonist specific action) that struggles (protagonist evocative action) to save a Mexican town from a murderous group of banditos.
Notice that while “struggles” is not a specific plot point, it nevertheless evokes a strong sense of both physical and mental action, and is offset by the specific action (organizes a unique posse).
A genius orphan races to find a cure (protagonist actions) for his brain-damaged sister before her makeshift life support system fails.
“Races to find a cure” is actually a fairly general action, but if the novel is about the boy trying one thing after another, this more accurately reflects the plot line than just one of those attempts.
Consider the following two loglines from the same movie.
Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to do it again.
After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.
Try to echo your novel’s tone. If your novel is comedic, throw a bit of wit in your hookline. If it’s a lighthearted adventure, give it a childish fantastical feel. If it lays bare grim reality, portray the attitude in it. You shouldn’t worry over trying to include your novel’s tone too much, but never, ever, mix moods. (For those of you who are wondering, Wikipedia attributes the first, rather twisted logline of The Wizard of Oz to “Richard Polito of the Marin Independent Journal, who writes humorously sarcastic briefs for the paper’s daily TV listings.”)
I have a weakness for hooklines. It is hard to condense my novel into a single sentence, but it would be extremely useful, not only so I could write a decent query, but so I could have an answer when someone asks me what my novel is about. So far I either mumble, “it’s science fiction,” or I prattle on for three minutes.
Do you have any hooklines for your novel? Any other tips on how to write a hookline?
“I’m writing an alien invasion novel.” You’ll get a few odd smiles, a few confused looks, and maybe a few glazed “whatever” looks. The genre has been suffering under mediocre representations. But you, as a creative and adventuresome fellow who knows how to write, can bring the alien novel back to life! Right? Right?
As a writer, you’ll often hear that your characters are what draw a reader to your story and create the first link between observer and world. This means antagonists as well as protagonists. Whether a well-developed protagonist or antagonist is more important is subject to much debate. For an alien invasion novel, however, the answer is simple: the antagonists. The people who read alien novels look for an are attracted to the aliens. Don’t skimp on this. Even if all the humans see is ships, you would need to develop their thought process to make all their actions cohesive. Most important is the aspect that allows the aliens to be defeated or win.
Motives, Motives, Motives
This is number one, and a swimming pool of cliches. Slaves. Food. Planetary resources. Punishment for being a war-like race (And they aren’t? Who’s attacking who?). Or just some super evil galactic government that can’t stand the thought of sentients not under it’s control. One thing that will hook readers is a unique motive. As part of the premise, the motive must be strong and believable. Keep in mind that all the alien’s actions during the invasion are governed by the motive. If the aliens want the planet resources, they’ll take care not to damage the atmosphere and landscape too much. If the aliens want more subjects, they will be more mindful of the civilian lives. With that in mind, you don’t need English-speaking aliens to communicate a motive. Their actions will do just fine.
What is the alien weaponry? Defense? What type of ships do they possess? Are there any other technological advantages that they have? Your heroes will be fighting this. Just make sure the technology level is smooth: if they have motherships that can vaporize a city, they probably won’t need foot soldiers. If there is a weakness to their technology, it must be realistic. Any aliens attacking Earth have no doubt worked simulations of our attempts to resist.
Methods of Attack
Aliens without the power or numbers for an all-out attack can be content with pirating resources in raids. Raids, with presumably less-advanced ships and smaller numbers the enemy, are easier for smaller groups or citizens to defeat (or at least convince not to come back). On the other hand, raids may be preparation for an all out attack, doing reconnaissance of Earth’s population or military abilities or spreading terror.
Aliens take human form and live among us, slowly taking higher and higher levels within our society until they affectively rule the world, or can smother resistance to a true invasion. This is interesting because aliens could be running nations and no one would know. To bring the aliens down, the protagonist must first discover them, and take on sleuthing duties to route expose them. Easily a thriller in the mystery/spy department.
The aliens come. The aliens attack. Earth is crumbling. This is for the aliens who are to big and bad and don’t have to bother with infiltration or minor attacks. Also the favorite method of exterminators. Presumably, the aliens know what they’re doing, and the only hope of defeating them is in an odd weapon. Ala the common cold be deadly to Martians (or macs being compatible with alien motherships, but I had to give a good example first). The defeat must be different, reasonable, and unexpected. I find this version the most exciting, but that may just be me.
Reaction and Resistance
Since, most likely, your story will be from the humans’ point of view, their reaction are most of the story. Being a stubborn bunch, most will fight back (before or after peace negotiations fail). But there will be the few that see Earth as the losing side and throw their lot with the aliens.
Military Resistance is likely to be wiped out, but then, we could always come up with some clever incision the aliens were not prepared for. More common is an innovative defeat involving brains over brawn or natural aspects of Earth being deadly to the aliens.
Defeat or Triumph?
By far, most alien invasion novels end with Earth in triumph. But not all. There are three main endings for the alien invasion novel: a) Earth wins, b) peace is negotiated, or c) aliens win and Earth is left on bent knee. . . at least until next time.
If Earth wins, you must decide how. Usually any strict military action gets crushed (or vaporized, as the case may be) and innovative action is used for the actual defeat, if indeed human action is the alien downfall.
If peace is negotiated, the natural communication problem must be solved, preferably with a more interesting fix than “They watched our TV shows” (Wouldn’t they all be brain dead then?) or “Telepathy!” (Getting close to magic, even if it is acceptable soft sci-fi).
If the aliens win, you need to make sure readers don’t throw your own book at you. There must be a silver lining: plans for the future, the aliens aren’t any worse masters than any other government, or something else that saves the ending. We tend to want the guy most like ourselves to win, or at least be okay. If you defy this, it had better be so interesting readers are to busy thinking about it to aim properly at you.
~Beneficial Alien Invasion/Aliens are the Good Guys
What if the invasion was for the benefit of man kind? What if Earth had been provocative, and the aliens were more good guys than bad? Since our natural tendency is to route for the humans (after all, they are the ones we understand and can sympathize with best), this opens some interesting opportunities for dilemmas. What side does the protagonist take, and how does he justify it? What if both sides think they are in the right?
~Alternate HistoryHarry Turtledove’s Worldwar Series is an example of placing an alien invasion in the past.
Most aliens novels take place in the present – whenever the “present” was when the novel was written, for this simple reason that the readers get hit with the creepy feeling of possibility and “w. But this is hardly a hard-and-fast rule. Giving an aliens invasion a historical setting takes the usual work and research of a historical novel, but the possibilities are enticing. (Personally, I think aliens versus Napoleon could be cool.) Ancient cultures are fascinating, aliens are fascinating, and the combination of the two is at least interesting.
I like to think about the “what ifs” of an aliens invasion. I don’t know whether or not I’ll write an alien invasion novels someday, but all novels have their “what-if” stage. Hopefully this post will start a “what-if” chain in your mind as well! Have you ever written an alien invasion novel or story? Is there anything you like to add? What aspect of an alien invasion novel do you find most important?