Sunday, August 18, 2013

Keep a record of what you're writing!
Years ago, a creative writing teacher told me about William Faulkner's method of keeping up with his characters.  Faulkner whitewashed a wall of his workroom and wrote the various characters' names and relationships on it as he worked.  When he'd finished the book, he whitewashed the wall again.  Given the density of his prose, I could certainly understand his using this method!
 Now, since I've created a whole universe, the lesson's come home in a big way.  I use the Excel expertise I built in the office to solve my problem.  The character list at the front of BEFRIENDING ALIENS is a spreadsheet converted to Word.  I wish I had done this for A TEST OF ALIEN ALLIANCE; the list makes it much easier for people to follow the story.
Now that I've helped my readers, I decided I'd better help myself.  I have a spreadsheet with a list of all the planets I've thought up, who lives on them, and a little bit about them.  In the same workbook I've set up a spreadsheet of all the space ships I've mentioned in both books, who controls them, and what they are used for.  This has proved to be a wonderful resource, and I'm going to have to add a character page for my current work.
If you write a series, as I'm attempting, it is horribly easy to forget people's names and the planets they live on.  Almost every series author has slipped up this way at one time or another.  Terry Pratchett has the best cover-up; he says they're just alternate realities!  Anyway, you can really get your fans confused.
Name mistakes like this are often subtle enough to pass unnoticed by proofreaders.  I discovered one in BEFRIENDING ALIENS that really bugs me and am hoping nobody notices it.  Tell me if you find it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

This Writing Life
Everybody needs to write - even if it's just a pocket diary.  For one thing, it's great to be able to look back and find when you last had your oil changed.  On a more personal level, it is good to log your daily experiences and feelings.  Sometimes it helps to write a rant and then tear it up.
Then there is the urge to write a story - any kind of story.  Personally, I have two self-published science fiction novels out through Xlibris.  This is a self-publishing company with a difference - they will sell your book on their own website and place it on the major book websites.  They have lots of other services - which cost money.  Apparently, either you charm an agent into taking your book on and selling it, or else you spend money.  One thing you do is blog about your writing and try to get tips from and share tips with others.  That's what I want to do now.
Book outlines:  I keep reading about those, but I can't seem to make it work.  Over the years, I dreamed up a group of science fiction characters and a giant plot arc.  From there, I go about writing a story in spurts of inspiration.  The characters have a life of their own and dictate part of the story; for the rest, I start with familiar concepts and situations.
The author who's been the most inspiration to me is one whose works I picked up fairly recently, Eric Flint.  He has done a lot of science fiction/fantasy types, but the one that sticks home with me is the 1632 series.  Flint is not only an excellent historian, he also has a Labor background that gives him workplace safety details at his fingertips.  The really amazing thing about the 1632 phenomenon is that he's invited and encouraged other authors - and even beginners - to play along.  Baen Publishing's online 'Grantville Gazette' has led to a series of novels and stories that touch every possible field of alternative history. I'm especially fond of his music specialist, who writes wonderful stories of 20th Century music happening to the 17th Century.
What I've built is a whole alternate universe.  Prudent people are now pointing out that we don't have a Planet B - a real problem that I try to help tackle in the real world.  In fiction, I've built a multi-planeted human universe with two groups of multi-planeted aliens around it.  Here I can play out passions and hint at practical solutions that would raise hackles if I tried to voice them in the real world.
If you write, why and how?