Monthly Archives: January 2015

Time Travails

So I’m sort of shin-deep in meta for Station, and besides the ending (it’s… incorrect and I need a new one), I’ve also been wrestling with the time travel aspect. Time travel is very tricky in novels, because it’s very easy to do it wrong. Not wrong in that the theory is wrong (though it often is), but that it’s used wrong. Often, there will be a fatal flaw or a plot hole regarding it, a reason why it the time travel element didn’t work. I think it ends up that often, any piece of media that grapples with time travel starts to come with not just the suspension of disbelief that the method of time travel actually works, but also that the theory of the time travel is also solid.

And, friends, there are a lot of theories. Just take a look at the Time Travel page on TVTropes, for starters.

Side note: I’m linking TVTropes for the simple reason that, while scifi is rooted in scientific advances, time travel is one of the topics where writing fiction about it is more about perception of time and interrogating the meta-narratives and tropes permeate our media than, uh, science. A lot of writing about time travel deals with the concept of an immutable history, or how cause-and-effect can be unpredictable (ala the butterfly effect), etc. It talks about what would happen if we had time travel and handwaves the how.

I’m, personally, very interested in the conceptual underpinnings of how to represent time travel. Not necessarily delving into strictly how, because prevalent scientific theory involves a lot of quantum theory and is very hard to actually explain to people reading your adventure scifi novel, but into how time is viewed by the characters. Again, the ‘how it’s viewed’ throws back to fate, and just how static is time, really, and how do we as people finally learning to manipulate the 4th dimension even deal with that ability.

What struck me as interesting, is that very many time travel stories treat time as a static series of cause and effect. If you’ll look at the tropes, you’ve got ‘Stable Time Loop’ and ‘Can’t Change The Past’ as two very prominent ones. That, and there is also this idea posited in the more scientific areas of time travel study that if you change time, then it will have always been that way and all memories will be modified to match.

Fun sidenote: this memory modification is a little like the whole Berenstein Bears vs. Berenstain Bears thing. I distinctly remember BerenstEin bears growing up, but it’s always been BerenstAin. It’s a neat little phenomena that happens more than in just this sort of thing, but it’s a useful idea to steal if you want to play with this idea of ‘change one thing, change all things’ of time. I am certain I simply read it wrong when I was kid (I did that a lot, like I have a hard time spelling binary and partition because I very much read them wrong.), but the possible beliefs of how and why this phenomena occurs is absolutely something you can play with as a writer. Why do some of us remember these sorts of things objectively wrong? You can play the what-if game all day with that kind of question. What if it’s a simple memory fallacy, but it’s indicative of a broader human stubbornness against being wrong and to what lengths can that be taken? What if some of us are some of us more immune to timeline changes than others? What if the ones who remember it ‘wrong’ were part of a different AU that was spliced with ours somehow? What if this Mandela Effect is part of the Many Interacting Worlds (MIW) theory? The possibilities are endless.

Right! Ahem! Back on track. We were at static time and the idea that any ‘change’ to spacetime will propagate, and that those living within the spacetime frame will have no idea there was a change. I would like to further explore the idea that spacetime is a static ‘object’, which means research. A lot of prior media treats history and future as static. See TV Tropes above.

But most (not all, but most) media stops there.

To that end, I’ve been investigating the mapping of four-dimensional objects upon three-dimensional space, like I’ve found here. I’ve also taken a peek at the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which is remembered (thanks to Einstein) more for describing how 3d objects look to those living within 2d space than for it’s social satire, but both sources describe how a more-dimensional object can be viewed in a less-dimensioned space by utilizing time.

I’m only at the start of my investigations, but the idea is that to static 2d space, time is the 3rd dimension, and to static 3d space, time is the fourth dimension. Which leads me to ask: if 4d space is ‘static’ and time is the 5th dimension, what does that look like and how can I use it? And if I decide that static 4d space is actually spacetime like I mentioned above (in a way that uses an entirely different set of assumptions) then what does that look like and how can I use it?

In ‘how do I use it’, I am basically exploring how I represent a narrative sense of “five dimensions” (very much quote-unquote here, this is an adventure novel at heart) while only have the words to project four of them to the reader. I don’t even get pictures to help.

And – as a crucial follow-up question: can I get away with using ‘time’ twice?

Sharing with the Class 2

I’m in a pretty brilliant writer’s group, I must say. I might be in a different state than most of the group, but they skype me in and it seems to work alright. 🙂 We’ve known each other for years and have sort of gotten better at that mixture of critique and encouragement that actually keeps us moving forward.

I have discovered one thing, though, that makes it so that I very often having nothing to share with everyone: getting critique mid-writing absolutely doesn’t work for me.

When I first started with the group, I was ridiculously shy about actually sharing the crap I was writing. It wasn’t going to be good enough, it wasn’t going to be enjoyable, it wasn’t going to be… I don’t actually know what it wasn’t going to be. Mostly it was fear, even though all of the people in the writing group were my friends. That’s how we found each other, actually, we were all already friends and trying to meet regularly to encourage each other in our artistic endeavors.

Regardless of our friendship, though, sharing anything I’d written was like exposing my carefully cultivated fungus to the open air: a horrifying prospect.

I started with short stories of varying quality and when the world didn’t end, I graduated up to my longer works in progress. It’s been years since the group started, and at least a year or two since I finally gave up on being shy around them. I shared a novella I’d finished and got the feedback that: ‘wow, you need to rewrite this ending entirely’ and I figure that if I can survive that without any true negative reactions on my part, I can survive showing them just about anything.

Part of becoming more comfortable in sharing my work has been realizing that I’m really, seriously, immensely hard on my own work. Anything they can say, I’ve probably said worse. I need to rewrite the ending? I’ve probably considered redrafting the whole thing twice-over. So I’ve sort of tricked my brain into seeing critique that’s not as drastic as my own as, well, pretty much a relief. It’s very nice to share with my writing group because they’re not going to be nearly as mean to my writing as I’ve already been.

So, now, it’s not a matter of if I can share my writing with my crit group, it’s if I should I share my writing with my crit group.

A lot of my ‘most productive’ spates of writing depend a great deal on momentum. I need to somehow shove myself into the world of the story and let it build, cumulatively, until I’m done. The few times I’ve shared my in-progress stuff with my crit group, those stories have become less ‘in progress’ and more ‘hopelessly mired in edits’. The more my momentum bleeds away, the less likely it is that whatever story I’m working on will ever be finished.

And, just like I’ve come to realize I have nothing to say about in-progress stories besides: ‘great job! I want to read it when you’re done!’, I don’t find middle-of-the-story critique to be particularly helpful. Sharing something mid-work is fun, but that’s not when I really need feedback. I like being able to look at the big picture – in my work or in someone else’s – because that’s when you can really tell whether or not there are plot threads that go nowhere, or whether or not your foreshadowing or firearm-and-mantlepiece moments actually function as intended. You get developed themes all the way to their conclusion, and you can figure out if that oddly dangling big of description or world-building from the beginning actually matters by the time you get to the end or if you can sacrifice it on the alter of pacing.

What I end up sharing with my crit group are little thousand-word (or less) stories that I’ve whomped out in the week before group, if I actually get something done for it. I don’t feel too badly when I don’t get a nibble of writing out, though, because the group is actually rather large, and in a week I’ll usually have chunks of at least three novels/serials/screenplays to catch up on.

Even though my feedback is increasingly: I love it! Please finish it! (My crit group is very talented. :))

Everyone’s process is different, and some of the others in my group are the sort who want the encouragement that comes with someone reading, appreciating, and wanting more as they’re writing. I haven’t quite sorted out if it’s a function of being a ‘love having written’ type of writer, or just because positive feedback is very inspiring, but I do know that it’s very different from how I prefer to operate.

So – from the looks of it, I won’t have anything to share with my group (barring short stories) for at least another month. If not more. Work on Station is continuing apace, though at the moment I’m struggling with a sticky bit right near the end and I’m a little uncertain about whether I like the solution I’ve come up with or not. The modifications are looking quite good, though, and I’m pleased overall.

Next writer’s group is in less than a month! I hope to have something for everyone to read this time, even if only something short.

Just add cheese…

I’ve been watching the Librarians, though I’m a couple episodes behind at the moment, and I can’t deny that it is one of those deeply silly shows where enjoying it is not so much a suspension of disbelief but an acceptance that you are watching something deliberately over-the-top, into the realm of farce. It’s intensely cheesy, and it’s only redemption is that – for all it’s faults – it has a great deal of heart.

The cheese, though, the over-the-topness and silliness, is one step shy of epic. Or one step beyond epic. In my own writing, attempting scifi and fantasy (especially) has been for me an exercise in learning to hear cheese. How far can you go before it’s just too ridiculous. Where is the line between awesome + funny and that blank stare where the reader/audience/whatever is trying to decide if this was serious or they’re supposed to laugh. And then – as if that wasn’t precise enough – where to take our humor so that they’re laughing with you and not at you.

I often err on the side of safety, so my forays into epic are few and far between and it becomes all the more important that I be able to hear the cheese. A lot of my old writing is a little cheesier than that I really like now, and going back to read it is a little bit like going back and looking at pictures of me as a kid. I didn’t even know how silly I was being, and it’s a little bit charming now, but also something I’m glad to have left behind.

Cheesy dialogue is the worst offender, but then dialogue is always a rough one to deal with.

But, yes – I’m still not sure where exactly the line is, at least not for me. How much can I attempt intensity, attempt ‘epic’ before it all falls apart as ‘trying too hard’?

Decisions Decisions 1

There is something to be said for pulling as far back from your project as you can and taking a good, hard look at the metanarratives and themes incorporated into the most stripped down version of the story.

The original version of the story that I’m deconstructing was written in 2012, and despite the fact it was only now just barely 3 years ago, the change in my writing style and baseline assumptions is marked. Some of the decisions I made subconsciously I have needed to re-examine, to tease apart and consider their guts. I’ve discarded some major elements already and my conceptualization of just who the main character actually is has radically shifted.

However, some stuff that I’ve examined I’ve decided to keep, and I think the why is just as interesting as how it’s going to be used in my novel. For example, here are a couple of the questions that my examination of Station has brought to light:


Q: What commentary does it have that chose a very Cold War version of an negative future, of a blasted and razed planet, rather than the modern negative futures which are predominantly dystopian?

A: My central idea is that this is a society frozen in time, literally and figuratively.

Important because:

The type of apocalypse chosen for a work of science fiction is influenced by all sorts of things, and mine is by far an away affected by the 80s. lot of the written scifi I cut my teeth on was 70s and 80s stuff, plus scifi television operating on vanishingly small budgets. Other planets, even ones with life on them, look like dusty, soundstages full of foam rocks, or like quarries in Wales, or like the uncomplicated interiors of spaceships where the walls are all sheet metal or painted flats. My mental image of the future is theatrical, and where it’s not, I am predisposed to view far off planets as devoid of life, looking far more like the images sent back by Curiosity from Mars. So, from the outset, this other planet I’m creating began life as a barren, radioactive world.

So that’s where I started, mostly subconsciously, in building a world where the last remnants of the population have been forced underground to scrabble for vanishing resources.

I’m choosing to keep this construction, though, because it IS a Cold War fear.

In contrast: There’s a trend right now in apocalyptic science fiction that it’s going to be a massive natural disaster that kills us, or we will be deliberately murdered by our creations spun wildly out of our control by our own abuses (okay, that one’s not new). It’s indicative of how much more we’re connected and how much faster we can communicate globally, that fears that our failures will cause widespread destruction in the form of the inexorable power of the elements. It’s the sea levels rising, and cities sinking. It’s about earthquakes and pandemics and the inability to out-science crop blight or nuclear winter or just straight-up meteors falling from the heavens. The predominant theme to a lot of the more modern apocalyptic scenarios is ‘this is us, we screwed up, it’s our fault and now things are irreparable and wildly beyond our control and it might have actually snuck up on us while we weren’t paying close enough attention.’

For the sense of Cold War destruction, on the other hand, in this idea of an irradiated planet wracked by war, it’s tied up into fear of the other guy, of annihilation at the push of the button the moment that the factions become unbalanced and the whole game board tilts and everyone’s dumped off. It’s helpless fear that somewhere, someone might nudge something out of place and all you’ll be able to do is put on your sunglasses and sit on the porch to watch the fireworks as your planet flares into ashes one metropolis at a time. It’s the idea that action (stepping forward OR stepping back) is the doom of the human race, and that we’re two minutes to midnight.

While this concept of aggressive tension is, absolutely, relevant to today (the doomsday clock is at 5 minutes to midnight, updated 2014 if you believe wikipedia), the global narrative has changed. Stories attempting to avert apocalypse or even (on a smaller scale) citywide disaster, are not about stealing the codes for nuclear missiles so that Enemy Nation can bomb Some Capitol, but about averting terrorist plots of mass murder. And the plots are not about winning any sort of war, it’s about destroying people because ideological reasons, or about much more personal greed or power. Even nuclear threats and international power dynamics are couched in terms of terrorism rather than superpowers at odds.

Of course there are exceptions, there are always exceptions, and what I’m describing is very much Western-centric. The narrative has had to change, especially for the US, for various reasons. What I’m driving at, however, is that I want to use the idea that mutually assured destruction is deeply reactionary. It arguably freezes escalation and – at the same time – it also freezes deescalation.

So, in my choice to use this type of apocalypse, I become most interested in one primary question: what happens when deescalation (the usual better choice) also assures destruction?


And moving on…


Q: What sort of idea am I exploring by placing emphasis on toxic responsibility?

A: Even if someone is doing what they feel is right, is honorable, or is the responsible thing, they can become a worse version of themselves if the environment (or any other factor) is toxic.

Important because:

Even though you’re the person who should have the resources, the skills, and the experience to accomplish something, you could still be exactly the wrong person for the job. Responsibility, depending on what it is, hits different people in many different ways, and not just responsibility. Toxic factors – relationships, environments, expectations – can also warp the efforts and emotions of someone who is trying the best they can.

The choice of what to do with those efforts and emotions, in a toxic environment, is very much indicative of what sort of person the character is. It’s an offshoot of a trope, actually, the one where pain or fear will reveal the true nature of a person. A toxic environment, however, isn’t quite pain – at least not physical. It’s also not quite fear – at least not in a direct sense.

Taking someone out of a toxic environment (or leaving them in because of circumstance) can have a profound effect, and not even the nature vs. nurture sort of way. I’m talking about how adults, with all of their unique scars, can respond to these environments when introduced to them late in life.

This is a fascinating subject to me and to be honest I don’t have a lot of answers yet. This is a newer question and I’m still exploring it. (That’s also why this elaboration is much shorter.)


Moving on once more, what I’m saying is that there a lot of things I added to the original version of the book that have further-reaching implications that I’d previously understood. I’m rather glad that I’m doing this now as opposed to after I’d finished this draft.

So I’m Writing a Synopsis 2

I mentioned previously that I’m writing a loose synopsis for Station. This is, in part, because Genevieve has been writing a great many for her drive to become a writer for visual media (ie Comic Books). I have been helping her edit and stream line them for submission, and there is a lot of really good stuff that happens when you do a synopsis.

Because of the nature of writer-blogging, I’m going to cite my sources and over-explain everything, so buckle in.

The definition for synopsis I’m using is this:

An often beat-by-beat description of the plot of a novel or other creative work, describing the major arcs, themes, and events in a way where the short version is both enough to give you the gist of the whole story (including the ending) as well as make you want to hear the long version, properly told.

Which is sort of where my investigations into the whole synopsis thing have taken me, a bit rephrased. To that, I’m going to add that a synopsis follows the primary arcs and themes tailored to a specific genre. So, for example, a romance synopsis will follow the character arcs of the two leads and how they interact. Their motivations drive the events of the plot, and so their motivations are one of the most important things to put into a synopsis of ‘type: romance’.

By contrast, the story that I’m writing (Station), is part of the science fiction adventure genre. Its roots are very firmly in the soft sci-fi of the 80s and the pulp science fiction from before the 1950s. It’s is distinct from epics, space operas, and hard sci-fi in that it’s a much more contained, and deliberately episodic, story. Plus, my inclusion of time travel pops it up into more of the science-fantasy realm, which means I have to set up the world-consistence myself without depending on outside scientific knowledge. My story in particular is also very character driven (rather than political, disaster, or concept-driven), and has horror influences that will crop up whatever I do.

So, to sum up, my synopsis needs to emphasize the adventure elements as well as the character bits. The horror elements need to be mentioned, but should not take over the synopsis. If I can leave them as ‘Fridge Horror, all the better.

Great, good. Okay.

In practice, I’m finding out several things a synopsis is good for.

Thing 1: Plotholes! I’m finding them! I can spackle them over before I get there.

Thing 2: Structure! I can figure out where bits feel too slow and where they feel too fast, and can apportion more and less time to things based on importance. And, and this is sort of extra and doesn’t really apply to my synopsis in particular,  a synopsis will sort of give you an inkling what media your story would fit best in. Like, say, you have an idea for a sort of episodic/series book, or you have a trilogy, or you have a standalone, or you really have a story that need more pictures than words.

Thing 3: Themes! I really like to explore particular themes, and often I don’t know what those ARE until I’m several chapters in. This synopsis is helping me figure out what I need to explore specifically before I get there, which is always helpful.

Thing 4: Characterization! Knowing what my characters will and will not do will help prevent me from having to rewrite big chunks of the beginning once my characterization has solidified later in the book. (Since I write chronologically by choice.)

Thing 5: Actually, a lot of these things are about continuity, so the last one for today is Continuity! I always have to do a continuity pass or two, aligning everything with my concept of what’s actually happening once I reach the end of the book. It’s sort of like how a tv pilot always has weird things happen when looked at in context of the rest of the episodes, because the characterization isn’t set and the themes are still in fledgling form, and the starting point is still a little bit nebulous. A synopsis is helping me eliminate a lot of the heavy-lifting of my continuity pass before I get too much further, which is all to the good, imho.

and other Things, but those are the most important at the moment.

The bottom line is that I’m really glad I’ve been doing this, though it means a full rewrite for the whole thing, including a pretty dramatic restructure. Needs must, I suppose, but I recommend writing at least one synopsis to see if it might be useful for your writing style. If you’re traditionally publishing, you might have to learn how to write one anyways. 🙂

Not a New Year’s Resolution 1

In a not-quite New Year’s Resolution, I and Elly (Eidolonkami) have agreed to encourage each other to blog. This is my attempt.

It is very interesting to me that, for most of my life, I have been blogging in a pseudo-anonymous fashion. I had a blog in high school, back on livejournal. While it was transparently obvious that I was the author, there was a level of remove about it. Same with my other blogs down through the years. I was blogging under a different name, and while that name was connected to other spheres, it was never something that, oh, that people I grew up with or people who know my mom could find without a bit of digging. (Hi, mom and mom’s friends!) This blog, however, is under my professional name. I’m blogging – but professionally.

Or, well, more or less. It’s still a blog.

The lack of even the veneer of anonymity is a little hard to wrap my head around, however. What do I say? How professional do I need to be? Is it better to ramble on as my awkward self as part of forming a rapport with possible readers, or clam up and attempt not to show my ass in public? These are concerns.

I think I’ve settled on being slightly awkward, because it was going to happen eventually, as well as a little bit earnest.

In other news, today I’ve discovered that the Trader Joe’s Vanilla and Cinnamon Black Tea with the Christmas Lemur on it has one of the best blends I’ve had in a while. A++, definitely recommend. I’m also attempting to write a synopsis for my current story project. I know I mentioned the project, but I’m not sure if I mentioned the synopsis. I don’t usually write synopses so much as very amorphous outlines, so it’ll be interesting to see how this project changes if I tighten down on it a little.

I hope everyone is having a lovely day!