Reset your defaults…

Yes, gibberish for a title. It’s one skill I can excel at.

Listening to Writing Excuses the other day and MRK used the expression, defaults. The context is that we all have defaults if direct clues about people aren’t given.

Example: White Male protagonist in a story, by many including me, will be assumed to be straight. White Female protagonist ditto. These are my defaults.

The majority of characters in most novels/movies will be male.

All of these examples are also stereotypes and there are of course, exceptions to the rule. But in general these defaults hold true. When they don’t we treat the situation as odd, or unique. When is the last time a brothel scene in a book or movie was populated with an equal number of males and females?

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None of this is new to the discussion of gender in writing. The point I am trying to learn or teach myself don’t use defaults. If a characters sexual orientation or gender or species is not relevant, and doesn’t come up naturally, DON’T MENTION IT. Does the reader need to know that the engineer on my spaceship is a Slargbo from planet Xenius X? Maybe the fact Slargbo’s have two brains that function in parallel will be important at some point, but until then, the answer is no, the reader doesn’t need to know. Or yes because you want to foreshadow it. But I am only going to foreshadow it because it’s necessary. I don’t need to define my characters gender or sexuality because of my personal defaults. Nor their brain capacity.

“I better tell them this character is gay.” “I better tell them this one is bi-sexual.”

I mean really, in life do people come up to you and say, “Hi I’m Ryan and I’m bi-sexual.” No, it’s ridiculous. I don’t go around saying, “Hi, I’m Doug and I’m straight.”

Other examples of “defaults”: dwarfs in fantasies always speak with a Scottish accent, drink ale,  and have beards. (even the female dwarfs)

Or the engineer on a Star Ship always lies about long it takes to repair the ship. “Oh I canna do it in less than 4 weeks in space dock.” And then has it repaired in 4 hours using spare parts made out of lasagna.

As I am working through the Cheesy space opera novel I am making a conscious effort to populate the world with women, but treat it as the norm. I am wondering what the effect will be on the reader. For example, any side characters or “spear carriers” are women. Why? I haven’t clue, it felt right.

It will take real time to repair the ship, and the engineer will underestimate the time. There will be characters and spear carriers of various genders and orientations. Will you know who is what – only if it furthers the story.

Be Well

dcd

 

 

 

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

One of the many skills I am working on is letting readers do the work. Let them make assumptions right or wrong.

Jacqueline watched as a man walked down the stairs of the lecture theatre in a worn leather jacket and felt hat. 

 The reader will and should start making all sorts of assumptions. Is the man the professor? A student? Why a leather jacket? Who wears a felt hats these days? Is this an Indiana Jones knock off?

The answer to the description can take us many directions.

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“Many of you are wondering why anyone in this day and age would wear a felt hat. Some of you are thinking, ,”Oh great another wacko prof”. The man paused and then continued. ,”It’s the only item I have from my father who died when I was five.”

The answer should trigger a whole bunch of questions in the reader’s mind. The underlying one, the one they are trying to answer is: Why is it important for the professor to tell the class such an intimate personal detail.

As a reader who is trying to become a writer and then an author, my process is to reverse engineer from the reaction that I want.

In the above example I want the reader to feel sorry, to have pity on the professor. I use the hat for that. Later on in the story you can use the same hat for a different effect. Let’s say the student and Professor start to date. In a moment of intimacy he confesses that his hat is just one he bought years ago. Not his father’s and his father didn’t die when the professor was five. He admits that it is just a story to gain the trust and pity of the students. The student dating the professor who’s relationship started with the story the hat now has to call in to question everything she knows about the professor. Just as the reader has to doubt what they have been told.

A second outcome could be that the story of the hat is real, but the professor still uses it to gain and inside edge teaching and having romantic affairs with young students.

A third outcome could be the professor gives the student that hat as he is dying and she becomes a professor, etc.

The real reason of course is so that no-one looks too closely at the leather jacket which is in fact a pilots jacket from the Second World War and the professor hasn’t aged a day since he donned the jacket and the professor is part of a secret study on increasing the longevity of humans.

Here are the current rules I have around this concept:

  1. The readers are always smarter than me.
  2. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Tell the truth but make it sound like a lie.
  3. There will always be people who can figure out what clever bit of trickery you are trying to hide from them. Don’t worry about it. You’ll waste countless hours trying to outsmart yourself with no success.
  4. The only way you are going to get better is to practice.
  5. Don’t force the reader down a path. Describe items in simple direct terms. Only give away the least amount of information.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get my hat and get back to writing.

As always be well…

dcd

[Interlude] WEM, Apple, Microsoft and Victoria’s secret…

Like most people in this age, I work overtime. In exchange for the overtime I take time off. I try to arrange my time off for Fridays. This Friday I had some errands to run for work.

I made it to WEM, the largest mall in the world. At least I think it still is. If not, it is one of them. Once in the mall, I needed to negotiate the sprawling temple to consumerize to one of the King’s or should I say “Princesses” of today’s modern age, the Apple Store. Let me be clear, I am not anti-Apple. In fact I have recommended people to use Apples. They aren’t for me. The reason why, shouldn’t allow us to be distracted from the title of our mini-blog.

I arrived at the shrine to Steve Jobs early. Inside the troops were gathered in their muted blue and gray shirts listening to the evangelist, strengthening them for the incoming horde of heathens, who for some reason had been not been properly vetted, and therefore had purchased an apple product and now needed the help of genius priests to solve their spiritual needs of staying connected to this world. With the glass freshly cleaned, and yes, I mean the glass front to the store was professionally window washed directly before opening, the doors to the house of worship were opened. I waited for the all the other believers to enter before I dared enter. I had said my goodbyes to my family, carefully hid my Chinese knock-off android device and cross the threshold.

And was not struck down by lighting…

With a deep breath, carefully stood to the side looking overwhelmed, not sure what to do. In less time then it took Ben Johnson to run the 100 meters an acolyte arrived at my side.

I explained I was here to pick up an iPad, it was in the back and correctly gave him the name of my dial a prayer partner. He mystically disappeared. And now that I think about it, I don’t remember actually seeing him walk to the back. He just silently apparated and reapparted.

When he apparated I made a mistake. I took out my phone. A simple Redmi phone. Popular the world over.  Security started working towards me, carefully positioning themselves so I couldn’t penetrate deeper into the sanctum and taint the holy of holies without clearance. How do I know they were security? They smiled at everyone, but me.

With care I turned to the wall and pretended to look at the pictures on the stained class of the church. Ok, not stained glass, but they are truly amazing, crystal sharp images. Stunningly beautiful. Seriously, go into an Apple store and look closely at the pictures, not the TV displays, the pictures. They are amazing and detailed. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to Victoria’s secret)

The re-apparition of my personal acolyte mildly startled me from the revere I was experiencing. Thankfully, my credentials and spiritual ranking was affirmed through my offering and I received the iPAD. I left the store dazed and proceeded to get out of the mall as fast as I could. This took me past other stores, of course.

One of them was the Microsoft store.

Why ,Oh why, couldn’t I have remembered to walk on the other side of the mall? They smelt me, and as their visual acuity for the Dark Prince Jobs avatar is unrivalled, their heads turned and then their bodies turned as perfect and precise as a mia michaels modern dance piece to me. With laser focus they locked on the bag I carried and their eyes travelled with slow purpose up my body to look me in the eyes. They knew I had betrayed King Gates by entering the apocalypse of apple. I darted with a speed I hadn’t known since my youth into the nearest store.

“Are you looking for something for yourself, or someone else?” A voice said from somewhere behind me. I was still making sure I wasn’t being followed. Fortunately it was a windowless store.

Idiotically, I replied with a plea for help, “I just needs some support right now.” The exhaustion taking me.

“Certainly sir, just this way to the fitting rooms.” The voice continued.

$125.65 with GST later I had secured my Apple bag inside a Victoria secrets bag. On the upside, my moobs have never felt better.

Be Well…dcd

 

What does a Thesaurus have for breakfast?

A synonym roll.

Currently I’m pexels-photo-267308.jpeghaving an affair with an online Thesaurus.

Why? Much to my surprise, most of the characters that I write hate the way I speak and doubly hate the way I make them speak.  Their demand, insistence, supplication, clamor to be unique requires me to change.

Generally, I abhor change. It’s too much work. It hurts. Change is hard. As an amateur people watcher, I thought writing other characters would be easy. It’s not. At least for me it’s not.

A fundamental difference exists between mimicking someone’s speech pattern and understanding why a character uses a specific word. Let me give you an example from real life.

As a younger man I learned to swear in a large number of languages. I would whip these expressions out a various times. It was fun, amusing. I suppose I thought I was cool. The rhythm and resonance of swear words can be lyrical, therapeutic. There is a music to swearing, an innate satisfaction in using the correct word at the perfect time. It’s pleasing. It made me happy.

Unfortunately, making comments about someone’s grandmother in a crowded bar, where native speakers decide to educate you on cultural differences can be painful and more importantly, inappropriate.

Imagine if Rick says, “It’d be nice if you remembered, that time, in like Paris?” instead of “We’ll always have Paris.”

Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation use of, or rather the lack of contractions has a profound impact on his character. (Yes, I know he used them, however…)

Or “My pretty ring” instead of “My Precious”

These are all pretty obvious, let’s try this:

“I’ll be back”

Or

“I shall return”

I think you understand. I suspect that most of you know this better than I do.  The best way for me to understand this is to read dialog out loud. Record and listen is even better. As I am still learning about this whole writing thingy, I am going to start using lists. Lists for specific items, like swearing. Since I am doing a space opera I can use expressions like, “The moons of Uranus!” or how about “For Craters and Freeze dried food, shut up.” But I digress.

One last example, Darth Vader, breathing. He’s not as menacing without the breathing, is he?

And on that breath, I am off to work on dialog and characters…

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Be Well…dcd

 

 

 

 

Easter Eggs and Hedy Lamarr

A joy for me in writing is planting Easter Eggs. Why? because I love finding them in books I am reading. They can be as simple as recognizing a fictitious character name as someone I know. Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night has a number of them, including a reference to a Randy McCharles. Randy helps run and organize the greatest writing conference you never heard of, When Words Collide. This conference, more than anything else has encouraged me to write.

But I digress..

When looking for supporting character names or locations I’ve started looking for historical references I am interested in. This is where Hedy Lamarr comes in. More than a great actress. An actress who’s beauty made audiences gasp when the first saw her with Charle800px-Hedy_lamarr_-_1940s Boyer in Algiers(1938).

She also tinkered with Howard Hughes and his wing designs for planes. Patented a frequency hopping system with George Antheil in 1940. And no, frequency  hoping is not code for her private life escapades. It’s actually frequency hopping. You of course can find this all on her wiki page

And so in the Space Opera Novel I am working I have a pair of characters named Hedy and Erwin. I’ll leave it to  you to figure out Erwin. Let’s just say he’s not a dog person. All of this circles back to reading and my youth where I discovered in Science Fiction and Fantasy much more than an escape.

I discovered a lens to see the world I lived in. A lens that taught me tolerance. A place where equality was the norm. Dystopian fiction didn’t exist yet. Writers were pushing the boundaries of how great humanity could become, not pursuing the depths of despair and destruction. A place where every one was along for the ride, not just the one person who survived to try and rebuild the world. There were plenty of grim stories. But there were also stories of hope, of discovery. A world where people changed. And so the Easter Eggs I will leave will be about people and places that helped make the world better.
As always be well… dcd

 

Waiting for…

Writing is similar to  other jobs, and other times, bears no relationship to regular jobs.

Waiting has been fundamentally different in every job I have had.

  • Busing tables meant waiting for people to finish eating.
  • Lighting tv sets meant waiting for staging to finish setting up.
  • IT means waiting for something to break.
  • Writing means waiting for rejection or acceptance.

The fundamental difference in waiting as a writer is that you can still write.

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I quibble with myself about how all jobs have overlapping roles and responsibilities, but for writing, it’s different and longer. I’m not used to such long turnaround times.

In the restaurant business, at least at the one I worked at, turnover time on tables was about 45 minutes. This was lunch rush. Which was chaos most days. The initial part of the shift was preparing for the day, the calm before the storm. Then non-stop for about 2 hours. I knew when the people would arrive. It was regular as clockwork.

In TV, you’d look at a set, discuss the treatment with the director, and know how long it would take. When all the sets were lit, you went home. Again, no waiting.

Working support in IT, I wait for a call or an email, fix the problem  and then wait for the next one. When your shift is over, you’re done.

When you finish writing, you submit the story or novel or flash fiction and wait.

There is no clock to watch, or set to light or table to cleanup. You wait. There is no feedback, the piece of fiction goes out and then you wait. This varies from 30 days, to a year or more. During this time, I am learning to work on other pieces and the get them submitted. It’s not making you money on your computer.

Most authors, that talk about their process have multiple novels underway. This novel is out for submission, that novel is in revisions, here’s one being released. These processes are going on at the same time.

What this produces is fragmentation.  The outlining process differs from the writing , which differs from editing. And submission and query letters are an art form to themselves. I joyfully wait for the time when I get to work with an editor because a piece of work is accepted. (Please feel free to quote me when I complain about an editor I am working with…)

I need to learn to write while waiting for whether a piece is accepted or rejected. If I end up selling one of the series first books, the second book better be ready to go PDQ. There is a grind to writing. A methodical repetitive cycle I seek to discover to let me perform as a writer. It’s a struggle for me. No doubt about it. But when I find it, whatever it is,  I suspect that is when I will get an acceptance. Until then, I am looking for groove.

ETA to first rejection is one week if the submission guidelines are accurate.

Be Well…dcd

I live in a world of kind baristas

I didn’t grow up with barista‘s or Pho or smart phones.

Wish I did.

Music was highly limited, tightly controlled by the labels and the cost of producing music. I’m listening to a cover of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love done simply on an acoustic guitar and solo voice. Achingly painful and beautiful. A sweet melancholy to go with my medium roast pour over.

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It’s a mid-February and mid cold for my town. I am at one of the cafe’s that makes me happy and oddly makes me feel that I have accomplished something by getting out of the house on a holiday at 730 AM.

But back to the Barista’s, briefly.

At this location the smiles are kind and warm. There is no dress code, except there is a dress code that the staff unconsciously adhere to – the code of cool – because that’s who they are. Similar but different.

The job application probably states kind but efficient.

It wouldn’t use the word “cool”. Cool is from an age past. When life and self expression was limited.  When conformity was mandatory and if you rebelled you all wore the same rebel uniform. The word rebellion doesn’t exist here. They have moved on. Grown beyond simple confrontation, ignoring the war against the rules and just be who they are as they find out.

Don’t mis-understand, they still struggle with the being human part. “Does he like me?” “Should I go out with them?” Their struggle is with finding out about life with fewer constraints and more dangers.  In the midst of their struggle, they work and are kind to aging want-to-be writers.

The Barista calls out, “Medium Roast pour-over“. I get up and look to the counter where a kind smile meets me, genuine, not a produced effect. They could have left to get back to work, the barista waited until I acknowledged the call, because it was the kind thing to do, the human thing to do.

Time to get back writing.

Be Well…dcd