You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Writing’ category.
Seed to Harvest consists of four novels (Wild Seed, Mind of my Mind, Clay’s Ark, and The Patternmaster) which all take place in the same universe. Each novel is set in a different time period, so the main focal characters change from novel to novel. It’s hard to talk about any of the books after Wild Seed without revealing spoilers, but there are some great concepts and dilemmas presented in them that I want to discuss a little. I’ll mainly focus on the first two novels and keep spoilers to a minimum, for those who hadn’t read this book yet, which I highly recommend you do.
What’s really wonderful about these stories is that each one portrays a different thought – provoking dilemma. The first of the novels “Wild Seed” focuses on Doro and Anyanwu, two very different immortals learning how to co-exist together. While these two immortals are man and female (theoretically) and they go through an erratic on and off relationship, I hesitant to call this a love story. I find it more about kinship and acceptance of each other’s beliefs and personalities. You see, Doro and Anyanwu are about as polar opposites as they come as regards of traditions and morality. They also differ in how they maintain their immortality; Anyanwu is an ageless shape shifter, while Doro is a spirit that travels from body to body, destroying the original host’s mind. It’s funny how these two beings contrast with each other. Anyanwu embraces her humanity and strong ethics but is detached from her offsprings, while Doro, who had become indifferent to the value of human life is closely attached to his descendants, but only because they’re his value breeding stock. And when he meets Anyanwu, he only sees someone who would be a great breeder for his children, but she considers the whole thing sickening and immoral. However, Doro isn’t a person you can simply turn down and still live. Anyanwu and Doro are easily the most interesting characters in the whole series and reading how these strong wills collide against each other is engrossing.
“Mind of my Mind”, comes closest to being a sequel in this collection. This book focuses on Doro’s offspring, who are psychic “Actives” and the story’s themes examine morality and the extent of human control. In fact those two ideas are prevalent throughout all the novels within “Seed to Harvest”. In this instance, these “Actives” use their mental powers in order to survive their isolation and sometimes self-exile from the rest of the human race. Some of them need to isolate themselves because they can’t control the endless waves of thoughts from the populace penetrating through their brains. For others, their psychic outburst of emotions could kill normal human beings. But ethics really become comprised when Mary, an emerging powerful Active summoned and created a community of Actives together. Each one of these Actives posses the vast mental powers, but lacks the discipline and ethics to use those powers. Now imagine these people by the thousands. If you want to learn how the rest of humanity fares against these people, you’ll have to read “Seed to Harvest” to find out.
I do have one complaint about this compilation. “Seed to Harvest”‘s story kind of just stops, having no clear conclusion to the conflict that escalated throughout the novels. I walked away feeling that there should have been at least one more novel to tie off the loose ends. However, Octavia Butler’s tragic premature death forever brought this great series to a standstill and robbed the world of a creative mind.
In the end, that did little to change my pure enjoyment reading Butler’s compilation. If you’re a fan of science fiction and good drama, I strongly recommend the book.
In a science-fiction related mailing list, a friend of mine posted a link to a news story about the possibility of hacking into insulin pumps that have wireless capabilities. In her email, she lamented “It’s going to get harder & harder to write science FICTION when things like this are real!”
So the question is then: how can science fiction authors predict this kind of thing so that their fiction can be more realistic? And the answer of course is that they can’t. Nor should they try. There’s a reason for the saying “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Furthermore, however much personal satisfaction an author might get out of successfully predicting some future advancement, that’s not what science fiction is about.
Sure, there are SF stories that focus on a particular idea or invention – how it was discovered, developed or explored and its eventual fate. Most stories, though, focus on the consequences of the idea, either for some select group or for society at large. Science fiction can thus present hope that an idea will help make life better or a warning as to how things could go horribly awry – or both.
I contend that the job of authors who deal with technology (science fiction or otherwise) is not to try to predict what technologies will be invented, but rather to create convincing pictures of what could happen in a society with a given set of technologies. It is considered polite, among science fiction readers to accept the scientific and technological assumptions that the author makes but the author must then make a convincing case for the effects of those assumptions on society in general and the story’s characters in particular. Before he can make his case convincing, he must carefully consider what those effects will be and fans tend to be righteously annoyed with authors who overlook details they believe to be obvious.
Sometimes I think writers are their own worst obstacle when writing. We’re either too busy, too tired, or too preoccupied to write. These can be valid reasons, but I learned that if you resort to them enough times, they turn into excuses and fallbacks to a pattern of non-writing. If left unchecked, these excuses have potential to become writer’s block.
This post shares my different methods in being proactive with writing. Feel free to share your own suggestions as well.
- Keep the ball moving.
At times when I come home from a day’s work, my energy just drains away. Being in the comfort of my home makes feel safe and at ease…but it also makes me lazy if I let the feeling dominate my mental state. It’s worse when you have a bad day; you are more prone to relax and make excuses as to why not to bother writing that day.
What I do to help combat this is to first be aware of the work adrenaline that’s running through me. Once I’m mindful of the energy, I try to keep it alive when I arrive home. I imagine having a ball of moving energy that reflects my adrenaline and to keep it running as long as possible. I even utilize mind tricks, thinking that I’m still working and can’t afford to stop. Resist the urge to sit down even for a second (stay away from that TV!), until you’re ready to write. Hopefully this technique should push you into the writing seat, though this technique can also help with other areas of procrastination.
- Just jump in… just write it… just do it.
Another method that helps me to my keyboard is to develop the habit to simply “jump in” without thinking and just write. Clear your mind of any second guessing, doubts and fears and just write. It sounds cliché, but there’s a reason why this works. At times, a writer’s inner critic and a desire for perfection makes you hesitant to write a scene you are unsure about. My method of beating this is plowing through my doubt and gagging the critic. Write whatever comes into your head, even if you think the sentence you’re writing bothers you, or that you’re writing nonsense. The trick is to jump start your brain into thinking ideas. You might be surprised by what you produce and besides, you can always edit your work later. If you have problems, think of past accomplishments you once considered impossible; your current dilemma is no different.
- Rewards system
This method I utilize the most. Sometimes, I gravitate to other activities, like browsing the internet, watching TV, or playing my 360, when I could be writing. To balance this out, whenever I write, I use my stopwatch. It stays on as long as I write, only stopping whenever I’m taking a break. The time I accumulate by writing goes toward my free time, which I use a timer to rundown. One twist I do is that the free time I gain from a day’s writing doesn’t transfer over to free time until the next day. That way, I find myself less tempted in going back and forth within the day. Check your cell phones, iPods, and other handheld devices to see if they have both a stopwatch and a timer.
- Positive Energy & Atmosphere music
Probably the most important element in keeping yourself writing (and all aspects in life) is having the right attitude. Depression, frustration, and stress that lingers can quickly deplete anyone’s writing energy. You can combat this by keeping positive and having positive people around you. For example, writer groups (the right ones) are a great source of inspiration and positive encouragement for writing. Always keep reminding yourself of why you wanted to write and what inspires you to continue. Try to retain the wonder and excitement of it. Reading over some of your previous works might also help.
Lastly, I love listening to atmosphere and relaxing music while I write. It might prove useful when writing in an area with distracting noises. I personally prefer listening to music without lyrics when I write (other words usually distract me), but everyone has different preferences.
I’m aware that sometimes just having the motivation to write isn’t enough to get people to write. There are writers struggling with time restraints, families, schools, and other obligations or even all of the above, which make it near impossible to write. Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution for those situations. Perhaps someone can comment on that, but the only thing I suggest is that if you find some time and the will to do it, the way will open. I hope my suggestions help you on your writing endeavors.
I decided on an unorthodox choice and medium in picking a story that helped inspire me as a writer. Final Fantasy 4 is a story that I enjoyed since I was 14 and have come back to on numerous occasions. A tale of good versus evil, the plot is filled with fantasy lore, magic, love, redemption, and revenge. Oh yeah, it’s also a video game.
I’ll refrain from talking about the gameplay and only discuss the game’s story and characters. However, I should briefly mention that all Final Fantasy games are self-contained stories, with storylines that barely connect (in fact all of the games take place in different universes).
Final Fantasy 4’s story follows Cecil, a knight from the kingdom of Baron, who, after committing atrocious crimes under his liege’s orders, starts to question his King. Aware of Cecil’s wavering loyalty, the king strips him of his rank as captain and sends him on a seemingly meager task of delivering a simple package to the village of Mist. However, after unwittingly causing massive destruction and death to the inhabitants of Mist because of the package, Cecil decides to oppose Baron and its mighty military.
While the adventure itself is a fun and intriguing tale, it’s the characters themselves that make the story memorable. On the surface their motives may appear simple or single-minded, but there’s depth, charm and character development underneath their actions. For example, the protagonist Cecil initially looks more like a villain and has in fact killed innocents for Baron’s gain. But we can see that guilt wracks at him for performing those deeds. Cecil’s conscience gets in the way of his loyalty, making him unsure of himself. This inner conflict and shame prevents the knight from achieving his full potential.
Rydia, a young girl and the sole survivor of Mist, is forced to overcome her fear and grief in order to become a powerful sorcerer. Palom and Porom, twins who are also wizard apprentices, complement each other’s personalities and skills and prove to be a good example that kids can work side by side with adults and not be aggravating. Edward the Bard and his unique singing have inspired me in weaving some interesting concepts for one of my novels. Goblez, a dark warlock, plays the villain role well, with his mischievous machinations and his eerily organ theme song that plays whenever he crosses our hero’s path. But my favorite character is Kain, a warrior from Baron and Cecil’s best friend and rival. What makes Kain stand out (besides his awesome ability to jump great heights) is that he was hypnotized into turning against Cecil because Goblez twisted his hidden desire for Cecil’s love Rosa. I sympathized with Kain and how sad it was for him to harbor those feelings, but refuse to express them until they were released by Goblez.
Another reason why these characters are so memorable is because the plot is very connected to the gameplay. Different people with varying skills come and go throughout Cecil’s quest. These events are usually heightened by exciting plot points. Suffering a betrayal by Kain, coming to the aid of a besieged warrior, or finding help in my darkest hour from an unlikely person; these events drew me deeper into the game’s story.
While Final Fantasy 4 isn’t my favorite video game story, it’s one of the most influential one as for being the writer I am today. The story has it flaws, but also possesses a certain kind of charm. It’s a fun adventure, but still covers serious issues and doesn’t come away being too goofy or morbid. A game made for the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy 4 is an old game by today’s standards, but is still considered fondly as a classic by many gamers and myself included. It really shouldn’t matter what medium of stories one enjoys; if they tell great tales, then that method of storytelling should be encouraged. I suppose that’s the point of this post, that a video game can tell an engrossing tale and help inspire your imagination just as much as any novel or movie.
Here I am, in the middle of editing chapters on my latest book, when I begin to get these ideas in my head. At first it’s simply a setting, a fictional city and the surrounding towns. But the more I think about it, the more details I fill in, the more real the place becomes to me. I begin to imagine the society that would live there, what kind of culture and laws and economy they would have, and what their interactions with their neighbors would be like.
Soon I’m going great guns, developing this world in my mind, and I know there must be a story in there somewhere. And sure enough, the outlines begin to emerge from the fog. A story told in the first person, but whose main character is not the actual narrator – a la Sherlock Holmes.
So what do I do? Do I ignore this strange new world I am creating, and go back to work on my nearly finished novel? No, I can’t do that. As if compelled, I carve out some time and sit down and write a first chapter. This is new territory for me. I’ve never worked on two things at once before. It could end in disaster, with nothing getting finished, but somehow this feels right. I will divide my writing time, and work on both stories simultaneously. It seems these things happen when you’ve been bitten by the writing bug.
Alan’s post about torture and mention of Osama bin Laden got me thinking about how real world events affect our writing. My book, Thief of Hope, takes place in a medieval-like society where executions occur frequently, punishments can be brutal, and torture is somewhat commonplace. It’s a pretty bleak setting. I had someone once tell me the title of the book was off putting; why would she want to read a book about stealing hope when our own world is facing crisis situations the likes of which we’ve never seen before? The fact is, my book is more about finding hope and fighting for it. I can honestly say that in some ways the events of the past 10 years, starting with 9/11, have profoundly affected me and had an impact on the book that I never expected (and yes, I started writing it even before that). The importance of fighting for what you believe in became a key piece of the story.
The real world continued to intrude on my writing as I was working on a scene in the book where one of the characters is hanged (lots of people are hanged in the book so hopefully I’m not giving anything away) around the same time that Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging. It was an eerie coincidence. Of course that got me thinking about my own views of capital punishment and how differently my characters think. Some of my characters, and this includes the good guys, would employ torture to achieve their goals without batting an eye. I disagree, but I have to let them be true to themselves. That’s the beauty of fiction. Our characters can do things we’d never do, giving us the opportunity to explore other viewpoints.
Fantasy and science fiction in particular allow us to use other worlds to examine elements of our own. They can help us find meaning and even give us hope. There is a memorable line in the movie version of Fellowship of the Ring, which was released in December 2001, when 9/11 was still very raw, where Frodo says to Gandalf, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” And Gandalf responds, “ So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Wise words indeed from a wizard in a pointy hat.
So, you’re a writer. Maybe you’ve finished the novel, and maybe you’ve only finished a couple of chapters. Either way, the best work of your life is sitting on your hard drive.
The thing about computers is, they are not perfect. A system crash or virus could wipe it all out. Your computer could also be physically damaged in any number of ways, like fire, flood, tornado, or even a power surge from a nearby lightning strike.
Any sanely managed business will have a disaster recovery plan that includes multiple, redundant, off-site backups. Anything less is folly. As a writer, you don’t have an IT department, you are the IT department. It is your responsibility to ensure that your work is backed up – unless you don’t mind if it all goes poof.
There are a number of good, simple solutions for backing up small numbers of modest sized documents. You should have at least one on-site and at least two off-site backups.
1. Get an external USB drive. It might cost you $100 or so, but the data you’re backing up is worth much more than that.
2. If you have more than one computer, copy your files around to at least one other.
1. Many ISPs offer a backup service.
2. Email the file to yourself as an attachment.
3. Put it on a thumb drive that you keep somewhere else – the house of a friend or relative or a safe-deposit box.
4. Use an internet-based backup service (my personal favorite). These services are available with a variety of features and pricing structures. I use CrashPlan (http://www.crashplan.com/), but there are at least half a dozen competitors, and I’ve seen several magazine reviews comparing the various offerings. This is a fairly new industry and still very much in flux, so if you choose to go this route you will want to research the current offerings.
Regardless of which solution you pick, the important thing is to put a back up plan into place. You can also use it to back up other important files and photos.