Someone asks in a recent blog post:
If you write, where do your ideas come from? Do you start with a scene? A character? A premise? Or do you have some ridiculous trigger that demands you spin a story out of it?
That is a good question. A novel thrusts itself into my poor overloaded mind based on two things: a character, and a theme.
This is the heart of my creative process. I need both a main character with a distinctive voice, and I need a unifying idea. When the two meet, it’s magic. My brain will refuse to let go of the two, and, at some point, they merge and I will have the resulting plot and setting. I am now compelled to write the story.
But where do these characters and themes come from?
Mainly, I observe. I am not a shy man, but I am a quiet fixture. Why does that smartly dressed woman at the airport waiting for the same flight as me have a perpetual frown? Why are the neighbors across the street so reclusive? Is the wife sick? If so, will she ever get better? The Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop–if she were in trouble, big trouble, would she have the will and fortitude, beyond her training, to survive? If she did have this internal strength, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time, would anybody come to help?
Observation can give me characters, and it can give me themes.
For example, why does our society have a culture of blame-the-victim, bordering on the tolerance for the criminal? Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? Why do some cultures today feed off each other, becoming stronger, while others clash, causing conflict? Is a society that devalues the lives of children for the sake of control and equality doomed to failure? If so, how will it fail?
Sometimes, I will be thinking these questions and suddenly they will merge into a story. Like this proto-outline:
The Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop is in trouble. She is a strong person but in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is a righteous woman, but righteousness is not going to save her now (this is the character, maybe the main character, or an important minor one).
Career criminals, released by our society to prey upon the weak once more without mercy, decided they were going to kill a copy one day. Our society tolerates evil men such as this. It has happened before (in the real world), and it will happen again (sadly, this is also a reality). Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? (this is a theme).
The righteous and the evil go at it in the coffee shop parking lot. Outgunned and outmaneuvered, the death of the female deputy is a forgone conclusion. How would she get out of this?
She gets help. A woman caught in the crossfire draws her sidearm and joins the gun battle (this is the glimmering of a plot and also a very strong character).
Why did this woman have gun? Well, she has the typical ex-husband who has threatened to kill her. She decided she wasn’t going to use a paper shield and actually defend herself (this is related to the theme, but also further characterization).
Only, she isn’t defending herself. She is defending someone sworn to defend her! She is shot. Several times. Nevertheless, everyone lives, except the evil men.
And this heroic action caused the next American Civil War (this is now the plot).
That’s my writing process. For me, only when I have a firm character, or characters, and a unified idea to generate conflict as a theme, can I get a plot that works for me. At this point, I have a novel. All that is left is my outlining process (which I do in my head) and typing.
You may think a gun battle in a coffee shop parking lot and the next American Civil War is a gigantic, random leap–but it’s not. The theme, as you recall, is “Where did this corruption (tolerance for evil) come from, and where will it lead?” With these characters and this theme, the plot burst out of me like the alien from the chest of poor Kane on the Nostromo.
This is my creative process, how I obtain ideas and turn them into novels. And it works very well for me.
Writer folks, check out this post:
I get the feeling many people are so saturated with media (books, TV, movies) that they are writing not from life but from their perception of life as shown in media. They’re writing stories I’ve seen and heard a hundred times before.
I love this post. I love it very much.
Rachelle is talking about stories with a heart.
Stories that speak to your soul.
Stories that bypass the surface and talk about things the way they are.
Stories that are honest.
That is exactly what I read.
And that’s exactly what I want to write, and I do write.
What an inspirational post!
From my world-building notebook for Your Little Sister. I’ve gotten in a habit of creating back-story for people who don’t make an appearance, but live, in the world.
When world-building, I start with a general idea and just start expounding. As I progress, I shift from exposition to direct storytelling. This type of world building works well for me. In no way is this a short story. More of a definition of a theme than anything else.
The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room sits surrounded by boys vying for her attention, at a table by the window. She wears a gun. She has been contemplating getting rid of it all day.
High school in Year 3. Only, no one calls it high school anymore. It’s finishing school. Let’s get it done, school. You need to become an adult school. Pre-vocational training school. It would be a decade before a new cultural name would emerge: prevoc. Very swanky sounding, prevoc. Prevoc is what you did before moving up to advanced training, or research. General education, well, they just called it “General”.
Half the seats in the lunchroom are empty. The prior government built the school in an earlier age, where every child could get a public education. Now school cost money, no taxes are collected to fund education,a child’s family had to fund it 100%. Some parents could not afford it, but the gist of it all was, smaller schools were more attractive. Schools like this one were going out of style in a slow, gradual death spiral of market corrections.
This one catered to military families, so it was still seeped with macro sized learning techniques. It was, after all, only three years since the war ended. Both the mother and father of the most beautiful girl in the room both served. By all accounts, they were outstanding soldiers.
They were, by the same accounts, lousy parents.
The next table over, going clockwise, is the Math Squad. This group keeps their numbers even, three boys, three girls, not in some mathematical formula of balance, but simply because they were all in relationships. Only couples obtain admittance to the Math Squad.
Two of the couples are actually doing it. The first, the founders of the club, engage in desperate sex, as if each night could be their last. As far as they know, it could. Both are war orphans. They are happy they had relatives to take them in and pay for school. These two, well, these two are broken. Perhaps being together will make one productive adult out of them.
The other two, the youngest of the group, actually, are simply fucking like mad weasels because it feels good. In twenty minutes, they will sneak to an unused classroom, and have sex right on the old teacher’s desk. Their hedonistic streak does not end there. After the last period, they go to the girls home for dinner, bringing home stacks of impressive books, pilfered from the empty class room. After dinner, they go to the girl’s room and close the door.
Her parents think she is studying. In actuality, she is engaged in more enthusiastic sex. They do it for hours.
The Math Squad only has a mild social interest in the most beautiful girl in the room. Most of it is either a small attraction, or envy. Sometimes, she has the highest senior math score.
Continuing our clockwise stroll around the immediate tables surrounding the most beautiful girl in the room, we come to another couple, sitting alone. She is very pregnant, this young woman. In three weeks, she will give birth to a baby boy, at a whopping nine pounds, three ounces. The young man sitting at the table is both her husband and the baby’s father. Legally adults, they have pre-paid for all four years of finishing school with the money they inherited from their parents’ estates.
They are the last of their line. Their parents, of course, are dead from the war. This baby matters more than most. He is a new beginning to a bad end. They will have six children in total, and eventually adopt three more.
The pregnant woman thinks the most beautiful girl in the room is quite beautiful, and she is also envious. The most beautiful girl in the room thinks the same of her. The husband carries no thoughts of the most beautiful girl in the room, other than a base attraction when they were swimming together one year.
The next table over is a teacher and three of her students. She teaches pre-war history, and these three students are very fascinated by both her age (old), and her willingness to speak frankly about many subjects, subjects now taboo to their parents. She is a good orator, and likes to talk. It is a good combination, these four. She only eats half her lunch, but by the end of the break, one student will volunteer to mow her lawn, the other to fetch groceries and the third to have the accumulator serviced on her small e-car.
None of these four have any interest in the most beautiful girl in the room. She is, quite simply, a person of no historical interest, nor one interested in history. She might as well be invisible.
Our circle of tables is almost complete. At the last table surrounding the most beautiful girl in the room, sit two boys. Rumor has it they are gay. They are not gay, they are collaborating on a software project, and it is all consuming. This project will turn into one of the very first civilian released overlays for a quantum computer, and finds classification as an AI Level 3. In only three years, they will have accumulated nearly a million Nuevo Credits. They refuse all VC money tossed in their direction, and start a computing empire stretching for hundreds of years.
These two are watching the most beautiful girl in the room. When they go home, they share fantasies about her. Sometimes silly, sometimes nasty. Right now, they are contemplating how they can get her to go to the Spring Formal with one of them.
They are too late, unfortunately. It is a lesson each will remember well. All they had to do was ask, they found out later. The most beautiful girl in the room always said yes, because hardly anyone ever asked her to dance. You could even kiss the most beautiful girl in the room, all one had to do was make a play for her rosy lips. Each would remember this lesson, and socially, they sprouted wings and flew. They never were shy again.
Back to the most beautiful girl in the room’s table. The boys at it are of no consequence. Each is flirtatious, in his own way; most are charming and even mature. But they are competing with her thoughts. She can’t help but think of her gun, and what it would mean to give it up.
Lunch is over. The most beautiful girl in the room leaves, but does not go to class. Today she has been excused post lunch. She sighs, knowing she is the faculty’s disappointment, and heads to the Principal’s Office.
Principal Vernon is expecting her. Inside the small office with him is a short woman dressed in a distinctive, but unrecognizable, uniform. The most beautiful girl in the room sighs again, and sits without asking.
“Sandra, I want you to meet Major Hackett of O&S.”
Sandy raises an eyebrow, and shakes the woman’s hand to be polite. Whatever Vernon is doing, however, she does not want to be a part of, no sir. She frowns, unfastens her holster, and slides it across the desk.
“No,” she says simply.
His eyes flash with anger, actual anger. He pushes the holster back.
“Don’t give me this bullshit, Sandra. It’s your pistol now. You’ve worn it for a month now, it’s yours.”
“Mr. Vernon! Don’t you cuss at me!”
“Ha! See Sandra, you’re an adult. You have been for an entire year. You haven’t Declared because you’re saddled with the apathy from your fucking parents and you’ve been wearing it like some kind of mantle. Hell, I’ve been more of a parent to you for the last four years then either one of those two sloths, and I am here to tell you to knock this shit off. We’re all tired of it.”
Sandy could not believe what she had heard. Vernon never cussed. Until now, she had never even heard him say “darn”. She slumped in her chair. She contemplated crying, but couldn’t muster the tears. Maybe he was right; maybe she wasn’t a girl anymore if being cussed at by the Principal did not make her cry.
“But what would I do?” The words are out of her mouth before she realizes perhaps this is why Major Hackett is here. She looks at the woman.
“If you Declare, I have a job for you. Briefly: you fit a profile for our advanced piloting program; you’ll start right after a month of space acclamation, followed by on the job training and formal instruction, which will last two years. It will be a very intense two years, but Day One you will be an officer with a commission. “
“Piloting?” Sandra was confused. She did not even have a car. She narrowed her eyes. “Profile? Who gave you a profile of me?” She put her jumbled thoughts together and turned to face Vernon. “You had no right to violate my privacy!”
“Right? Right? Adults have rights. You, Sandra, are merely a child.”
Oh well played, sir, well played. She felt as if the Principal had just slapped her across the face. She slumped further in her chair. By rights, she should call her father and have him give the Principal what for.
If he wasn’t drunk.
And fucking the neighbor girl.
Her mother of course, was more useless. Sandy should have been the daughter. Instead, to her mother, she was simply sister to the brother who died when she was merely one month old. Slain by the enemy. In a bad way.
“And what does my profile say?” she asked the Major. It came out bitter.
“It says many things. But the gist is: institutions to you are familiar, you have above average marks, you test well under stress, you are attractive and your nervous system is well suited to implants for the neural interfaces.”
Sandra’s mind whirled. She wanted to ask what being attractive had to do with anything, but this is not what came to the front of her mind. “Would I be anywhere near my parents’ chain of command?”
“Absolutely not. If you say yes, in twenty minutes you will actually outrank your parents.”
A chill went down Sandra’s spine. Oh they had her. They had her now.
She looked at Vernon. He started smiling. She contemplated punching him in the nose. She stood up, and put her pistol back on.
“Do I get a starting bonus?”
The Major actually paused. “Yes. Yes, you do.”
She looked at Vernon again. “I want it to be the same as his finding fee.”
Now the Major flinched. It was small, but noticeable.
“Ah, yes. Yes, I can authorize that.”
The grin threatened to split Vernon’s face.
It took ten minutes to walk to County Safety. They were expecting her (damn them all), and in three more minutes, she was an Adult. Her very first contract was accepting an Officer’s Commission for Orbital and Space. It took eight minutes to receive verification and for the major to swear her in.
The Major was driving her to her parents’ house, no longer her house, in a rental e-car.
“Major, what does being attractive have to do with anything?”
“Good question, Leftenant. You’ve been matched to an AI. Level 1. She was very specific. She said, and I quote, ‘If I’m going to Uplink with a stinky human, make it a woman with some brains and nice, perky boobs’.”
Sandra burst out laughing. The Major gave her a side-glance.
“You are not offended?”
“Are you kidding? That’s funny as hell.” Sandy was still getting used her ‘Uplink to an AI’ future, but it was funny. Everything seemed almost like a dream, and she would wake up only to find her same apathetic life with her same apathetic family.
Major Hackett grinned. “Damn it all if the profile matchup actually worked.”
They pulled up to Sandra’s house. Suddenly she was nervous. But something again was nagging at her brain.
“Ma’am, is this a ship left over from the war?”
“Negative, Leftenant. This is not an orbiter. It is an armed corvette, with a landing shuttle and everything. It can go planet side, but it is built for space duties.”
“Space? Why do we need armed space ships?”
“Well now, you’re smarter than you look, Leftenant,” said Hackett as she got out of the car.
Whoa. All thoughts about a stressful meeting with her parents were now gone.
What’s going on, and what did I get myself into? thought the most beautiful girl in the room.
Previously on Hack Writer TV: Conflict
They were standing in the gray nothingness, the four of them, holding hands.
Zeke realized this was an errant thought. They were not really standing, nor were they floating. They simply were.
“This is the Void,” said Father, still sounding ghostly. “It is merely a perception of a reality we can only see. There is nothing ‘here’ but us. It is the literal Void. We could, if we so desire, stay here for all eternity. Time marches on based on our understanding of the passage of moments, but the longer we stay here the slower it gets, and after a while, it will merely stop, and that is a dangerous state of being. Your body you see before you is just a reflection of how you used to see it—for you are the Void, not just in it.”
His father took a deep breath, uncharacteristically steeling himself.
“Never tarry longer than necessary.” He looked at Zeke. “Sometimes the sheer nothingness will call to you. Beckon you to stay, because ‘stay’ is a very accurate for what you feel. At this moment, you are everywhere and nowhere. Come here without a destination and after awhile, everyone you know, everything you have seen, is gone, lost to you in the relentless march of time.”
“Where can we go?” asked Josh.
“Good question,” said his mother. “You can go to places that you have been and can recall merely by wishing it so, once you are in the Void. And one other place.” To Zeke, her eyes were sad.
“Where,” asked Zeke, “is this other place?”
“Here,” said his father.
Suddenly their feet were on solid ground, and the transition was sudden, jarring, and Zeke almost fell to the ground even though he transitioned standing up.
He looked around him. No sun was visible, but the incredibly bright stars overhead lit the landscape, as if the atmosphere served as some magnifier. And the night sky here was filled by a gigantic moon—no, that is a planet, thought Zeke, staring at the extraordinary sight of the blue and green cloud filled planet with a ring.
And the smell—there was a slight breeze, and it carried with a dusty, metallic smell of summer, of earth baking in the sun only to cool off at night. It was an overpowering scent, and he suddenly realized, wrong.
Through sheer willpower he forced himself to look at the nearby, not the dream of the beautiful night sky. This is when the horror of the place washed over him. They were standing in the middle of a gigantic battlefield, with bones, armor and broken weapons stretching as far as he could see—and somehow in the place he knew he could see for miles. On all sides of him, off in the great distance, were hills and mountains, as if designed to collect the battlefield and steer the combatants to a titanic struggle for—Zeke looked around again.
For nothing. There were no buildings. No fortifications. It was as if armies clashed here for the sole purpose of killing each other.
For the first, time Zeke felt raw fear. This place was wrong. It was wrong. It was—
“W-w-what is this place?” whispered Josh. To Zeke he looked pale, probably how he himself looked.
“We’re not sure,” said his mother, “but we are fairly certain this is where Great-grandpa and his friends came from. Escaped from. Fled.”
“When?” asked Zeke.
“We don’t know that either,” said his father, “we do know they spent time in the Void, longer than they should have. What your mother and I do know, this place came unbidden to us in our memory. Like a racial memory. No one showed us the way.”
His mother nodded. “We are sorry to show you boys this, but Great-grandfather was, well to put it simply, insane. When your father and I got here it was not hard to figure out why. If he fought in this battle, he saw things, did things, that must have been unspeakable. He and his friends never showed their children anything of the Void.”
“But we figured it out,” said his father, “and here we are. Our parents didn’t show us the Void, but they taught us all of the necessary things about how to access it ourselves. Your mother and I have theories that it takes several generations to remove-whatever the taint was that prevented them from traveling back to their home.” He looked around. “That is, if they had a home to go back to, it could be…”
Suddenly a gigantic sound filled Zeke’s ears—a massive trumpeting, low and malevolent, coming from the mountains on his left. It went on and on and on and ended in a low wail that made his teeth ache.
He did not even know his sword out, but it was in front of him in the low-ready position while Josh, who stood facing the other direction, had his in the high ready. Slowly they circled, looking for the threat. His parents did the same.
“What was that?” asked Zeke.
“We’ve never heard of anything like that here,” his father said simply.
The ground shook with a low boom. Zeke peered to his left but could not see anything at all other than the stars and battlefield, so he started slowly looking around hoping to—
The ground shook again.
“Are those earthquakes or something?” asked Zeke.
THUD. Zeke noticed the bones and battle remnants rattled with each thud.
“Impact tremors,” said Josh, matter-of-factly.
Zeke caught his breath involuntarily. He really did not want to know that. He felt the grip of icy fear anew.
The bones—THUD—moved again.
The low, load moan of the trumpet call went out again, this time slightly louder.
Zeke stared at the bones while slowly circling with Josh at his back. That wasn’t—
Suddenly they moved again.
“Combat is imminent!” Zeke yelled.
“Where?” asked his father, “I don’t see anything!”
“The bones! They are moving by themselves, not just with the impact! With the next call I believe…”
“BARRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” goes the call again, this time sounding otherworldly, alien and very very evil.
Zeke did not hesitate. As the bones around him stood up, he was striking, his sword already moving in a fast arch, obliterating the thing that was forming right before him. Off to his right, another thing has formed—a skeleton of bones, dust and insubstantial, boiling black and purple mist, with eyes of burning red. It grabbed a broken spear stuck in the ground and looked directly at Zeke, a warbling hiss escaping from its bony jaw.
Zeke reversed his grip and continued his swing, this time arching up with the sword tip as he stretches forward and—
“Annette! Get us out of here!”
While it was still hissing obvious hatred, Zeke’s sword impacted the thing’s head in his upward swing. Behind him, he sensed Josh taking down something that rushed him while—
—the things are all around him now, dozens and then a wall of bone and mist and red eyes, Zeke grabbed his brother’s arm, locked his own with it and they whirled against each other, lashing out in a huge, sword filled double-arc. Bones flew everywhere, wherever his sword swung; he connected with a bony, red-eyed monster. They fall from the sheer force of their blades and they do not get up, but there are so many. So many!
“Boys, protect your mother! Form a triangle!”
Instantly they shifted positions and in an eye blink, they surrounded their mother, but in doing so, the things press in at the opportunity their movement created. One bashed at Zeke with a battered shield, and Zeke parried with his sword. The shield and sword impact and make a mighty crash, stinging his hands. Zeke lashed out with his foot, kicking the shield with a mighty blow. It sent the creature flying backwards just in time for Zeke to parry a particularly large thing with an intact sword.
Zeke realized they were now on the defensive. Concentrating, he evened out his movements. Shifting into a rhythm let him press the attack.
Behind him, he heard his mother strike her sword with a tuning fork. It sounds different from his father’s, a rich tone that sets her sword singing in reply—
The chord off the sword and fork stopped, as if never struck.
A part of Zeke’s mind wanted to be more frightened, but he dropped into a rhythm, a deadly cadence that flowed with his father and his brother. The three parried and thrust, go on the offense and just as suddenly, dropped back to protect Mother. Zeke realized they can only keep this up for so long. To tire means death.
“I see it! I see it! Off of my two-o-clock!” screams Josh. “It’s invisible, but the stars shimmer differently behind it! It’s huge!”
Josh is not panicked, but Zeke noted that clearly whatever he saw had shaken him. Zeke picked up his pace by decapitating a rushing skeleton, realizing now he can expend as much energy as he wants. This battle will not be long.
Suddenly his mother sang a clear bright note, her soprano voice loud and unwavering. His father instantly answers, a third below his mother’s note. Zeke sings out with his mother, an octave lower, and Josh answers on the same note as his father.
This time the trumpeting is loud, so very loud, and it rattles Zeke’s head. But he does not stop singing, and neither does anyone else. He delivered a vicious chop to a rushing skeleton, his sword impacting the top of its head. As Zeke continued with his stroke, his sword traveled down its bony, misty body, and it literally exploded outwards in all directions.
Zeke heard a new note, this one from his mother’s sword. It was sweet and metallic, and it blended into their singing, creating a wondrous harmony.
This time the impact almost caused him to lose his footing. It certainly did with the skeleton things around him—most of them fall and he heard crunching sounds off Josh’s two.
Suddenly Zeke felt a pull, a primal tug coming from behind him. There is wind at his face. He did not see it but he knew it is there; surely as if he had eyes behind his head. Slowly he backed towards it in step with his brother and father, as if he had rehearsed the maneuver. As one, the three of them entered the rent that his mother opened right at her feet.
In a blink, they were gone.
The Wife Unit has a sneaky literary influence on me. She has a penchant for historical mystery novels, or the character-driven historical novel. She introduced me to a type of book I use to by-pass, what I now call the “Über-researched” novel. A story full of show, but you can feel the undercurrents of the setting because the author made it come alive. The details are not in your face, but oozing from the page, taking you back to the time of the setting.
I started to appreciate this type of mystery, and as a researcher, cracking open one of these gems is a special treat.
I have one word for this type of book: NOM!
When I joined Twitter, I followed a few people I exchanged email with prior, and suddenly I had several followers who in turn were following the people I was following who followed me back. Did you follow all of that?
One of these people was Gary Corby. Gary is not a heavy Tweeter, but sometimes he would say something about his work in progress or the novel he wrote previously that would peak my interest. Gary seemed like a researching, fun writer, and his blog was a hoot. I will admit, after awhile, I just wanted to read the damn book. Like now, a clear case of book lust.
Now he has an agent, and his novel I was so interested in makes its way to bookstores in 2010 as the THE EPHIALTES AFFAIR. How exciting! I plan to immediately preorder it and hand it to The Wife Unit to read. Then I can harass her proper, with “Are you DONE WITH THAT YET?” and passive-aggressive husband behavior such as walking into the room when she is reading and delivering a big sigh.
In any event, at the very least, I shall enjoy finding a genre specific book in the Wife Unit Category before she does. These little one-ups keep me slightly ahead of the curve.
Lastly, if you like historical mysteries, bank on Mr. Corby. Five minutes in his blog will leave you drooling for more.
Dawson vs. Fernando came to the Portland office as a Whole of Body case.
Mr. Dawson of Hazel Dell, Washington, owns a Boston terrier named “Skootie” (see Attachment A). Mr. Fernando, also of Hazel Dell, claimed that Skootie was “driving him absolutely mad with her incessant barking” (see Attachment B).
The Portland Office of Constitutional Enforcement received this complain earlier, and we referred Mr. Fernando to several local mediators operating in the Portland-Vancouver area. Mr. Dawson agreed to mediation. Mr. Fernando, however, claimed the mediators he talked to were too expensive to employ (see Attachment B). Mr. Fernando then repeatedly called the Portland Office for assistance.
In the Portland Office, a robust and unnecessary game of rock-paper-scissors ensued, in which I lost. Thus, the next morning I drove to Hazel Dell and waited in the neighborhood for the sun to come up, after a call to County Safety so they would not harass me in my morning barking stakeout.
I observed several interesting things on this fine spring morning (see Attachment C):
- Mr. Fernando lives in a well-kept house in a nice suburban neighborhood, driving a modern Toyota
- His wife, Ms. Lashmir, wore expensive clothing and drove away in a year-old Ford Mustang convertible (top down, hair in a scrunchy)
- Her car had a Starport of Portland parking barcode on it. Doing a quick goog search, Ms. Lashmir is the Second in Command of Accounting at SoP
At 07:15, the front door to Mr. Dawson’s residence opened and Skootie immediately ran out. The door closed, and I observed (see Attachment D):
- Skooite barks at many things. Birds, a jogger, a squirrel, the lamppost, a cat and an evil chew toy which refused to play with her
- Skootie ran, unhindered, to a neighbor’s yard (not Mr. Fernando), and took an enthusiastic morning poop in a flowerbed
- She then, with her back legs, tossed flowers and dirt willy-nilly, doing nothing to cover said poop but looking enormously pleased with herself
- After running around the neighborhood for fifteen minutes, Skootie then sat by the front door of the Dawson residence
- She whined repeatedly, looking forlorn and finally barked for five minutes until the door opened
Simialar activity occurred both in the afternoon and at night.
I repeated the Great Skootie Stakeout of Year 2 for an additional three days. I observed familiar behavior from Skootie on all the days, and did not observe at any time Mr. Dawson or Ms. Lashmir walking the Boston on a leash.
It is my judgment that Mr. Dawson is indeed in violation of the Whole of Body clause. His neglect of Skootie the dog causes inappropriate behavior that is disruptive to the neighborhood. On day three the barking was actually getting on my nerves.
I have seized Skootie to have her put down as menace animal. I handed my autopistol to Mr. Fernando, and told him he was in the right to do so and that was my Judgment. He refused.
Skootie is now orphaned through no fault of her own. For his failure to render Judgment as directed, I seized 10,000 credits from Mr. Fernando to pay for the upkeep of Skootie throughout her Boston life.
This is my Judgment, rendered with one Question. The Question is as follows:
Officer Gina: Oh my God, is that the dog? She is soooo cute! Look at that little face. I could just kiss that little face! What are you going to do with her?
Officer Scott: She’s my dog now. I’ve signed us both up for doggie training.
G: Give me the dog.
S: What? No. This is my dog.
G: You live in a high-rise apartment.
S: There is a very nice park by my building.
G: I live on five acres.
S: Gina, she’s not a big dog. Are you, Skootie? Who’s the little dog? Who is?
G: Scott, you are not a dog person.
S: I am too! Well, I could become one.
G: I Question your ability to properly give Skootie the squirrel chasing she deserves. Look at her. She is sad.
S: She’s a Boston! She looks sad even when she is happy! And are you Questioning my Judgment in this case?
G: Yes, I am.
S: Well, I will call a jury.
G: You wouldn’t dare.
S: Look, I have my PDA, I’m calling it right now.
G: I’ll give you visiting privileges.
S: Not good… um, like what?
G: Occasional weekends, no less than 1, no more than 3, a month. I will also let you walk Skootie when I have her here in the Office.
S: I want it in writing. And I want dinner when I come over. I also want the Judgment monetary seizure to go into a separate account, not your personal account.
S: How about the occasional breakfast?
G: Do I need to put that in the agreement too?
S: Only if you say yes.
Office of Constitution Enforcement
May 17, 2
(from Landmark OCE Judgements of Mr. Scott, Tokyo University Press, 29)
This book review is for writers, specifically novelists. For general book reviews on Courtney Summers’ debut novel Cracked Up to Be, seek ye to Google. This review is spoiler free; the actual book jacket says Parker, the main character, made a bad mistake. And yes she did.
Let me warn you right now, this review starts with a tangent.
Here we go!
There is an old maxim in advanced situational training; specifically training for self-defense, firearms, law enforcement training and what have you. This is training that deals with the totality of a situation, where the dynamic flow of multiple inputs meets the processor, your brain:
“If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not learning anything.”
Sounds simple, does it not? Simplicity aside, this is an advanced training concept. Those who push the envelope and place themselves in situations where failure is not only likely but also expected, learn a great deal. This training sharpens the mind and teaches a person how to apply one lesson learned to other things, not just their particular area of study.
It is effective because it works. If you are not making any mistakes, you are not learning anything.
Summers’ book is a keen study in this area. The plot of her book is this: Parker was a perfectionist. She carefully built a world of her choosing. You know the type—wound so tight that they snap under their own drive or reality intrudes on these people and breaks them.
And Parker is so very broken. As the book relentlessly marches along, one comes to realize, even before the revelation of what caused Parker to snap, that the real world did not just come and bite her on the ass, but ripped out chunks of her heart.
I have a minor quibble with Cracked Up to Be, but nothing that deters my glowing recommendation of this book for any teen, adults, writers and certainly novelists going after the young adult audience. As I have stated before, if you want Fair and Balanced, go watch mainstream news. Here, I am going to gush. If I do not feel like gushing, I leave the book off my review list (which, by the way, has ten books in the queue).
I hate to say it, but I would not have picked up this novel at the bookstore. Why? Because it falls into the section of the bookstore that houses a lot of crap written for girls—novels specifically tailored to entice girls to buy them because girls are a great source of book buying dollars. What makes those books crap?
They are so dishonest. They are preachy, pretentious and filled with fake angst that makes me want to puke. Teens who have sex die, get an STD, pregnant or are cast out from society (or all four!). Boys written to be either shining examples of people who do not exist, or are passive-aggressive abusers. Stereotypes and stilted dialog. Someone dies just so the main character can feel what it is like to experience grief. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. All the consequences of every single action are there for the author to preach.
I certainly stopped buying those books, and now secretly wonder where the writers who grew up with Judy Blume went. There are exceptions, but I will assert these exceptions are not exceptional.
Until now. For Cracked Up to Be is awesomesauce.
The fact that Summers’ book is going to be smooshed in that prior mentioned section just pisses me off, but I have been on a Young Adult pissy rant for like ten years now, so that is just part of who I am. Cracked Up to Be is a book so honest its hurts. That is a primary reason I recommend this book for anyone writing for the young adult market. I felt vaguely uncomfortable reading it. Parker’s hidden pain was on the same level with her mistake, and with the first-person point-of-view narration you are sharing that understated pain. Despite the fact that Parker was a total bitch, who either needed to be slapped or fucked silly (I could not decide which), I held a deep sympathy for her because Summers wrote her so raw and honest—it was heartbreaking.
“If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not learning anything.” Does Parker learn from her mistake? Ah such a good question, not to be address here! Go read the book.
More unapologetic gushing follows.
Oh oh, oh, the voicing! Summers writing voice through her minimalist prose is relentlessly good, relentless because that is what Cracked Up to Be is. The unrelenting pacing and tension built bit-by-bit was awesome. The voicing and the pacing alone is worthy of study.
The voicing played well in other areas. Summers took me back to high school. There were no over-done descriptions. She assumed the reader remembered (or, actually was in) high school and just went from there. The lack of over-done and forced setting descriptions was a breath of fresh air. You could say I am in love with her voicing.
Novelists should also take a meta look at Cracked Up to Be. I first heard about the novel via Janet Reid’s blog, which pointed to Courtney’s blog. Her whimsical, playful entries, sometimes even silly, cracked me up. Give me silly over pretentiousness any day! I became a regular reader. When she posted the first two chapters of Cracked Up to Be, man I was hooked. Doomed. I had to have the book. Thus, I arrived at Cracked Up to Be via word of mouth through the great and mighty Interwebs. Fascinating stuff.
That Cracked Up to Be is a debut novel is awe inspiring. Her agent should be doing a little dance right about now. I await her next novel with joyful anticipation. More please!
Finally, Cracked Up to Be is a morality tale, accomplished without preaching, forced circumstances, one-dimensional characters or through a false reality. How did Summers do that? Why, she simply told an entertaining tale with believable circumstances through the eyes of an all-too-real main character. She wrote the world as it is, not what she wished it to be. She told the truth.
Stick that in your Young Adult novel writing pipe and smoke it. Please.
Some of the best science fiction stories lately do not come from books. While it seems that some authors are trying to grasp a straw from the playbook of the golden years of science fiction Grandmasters, there are visionary people working outside of traditional story-telling to deliver the goods. Interactively.
Take for instance, Portal. Portal is a three-dimensional puzzle computer/console game that requires spacial thinking. But it also tells a story, and is vaguely connected, in a creepy way, to another great science fiction story from a computer game, Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Set in the grand and so very bleak Half-Life universe, Portal is, at its heart, a complex tale filled with tension, foreshadowing and base malevolence hidden behind sarcastic humor. Over the course of the game, you are slowly fed this story and if you do not pay attention you can even miss it! And when you escape from the clutches of the antagonist, your are not really too sure escaping was a good idea.
My point is thus: If you want to write science fiction (and the Bunny Trouble story is science fiction which is why this subject is dear to my heart), then you have to play and understand the appeal of these games. For they are very good, and very compelling. They tell a story in such a way as to draw you in and keep you thinking about it long after it is done, much like a good science fiction book does. That is caused not just by the game itself, but in large part from the pure science fiction goodness presented to the player. If you do not understand the appeal of the great stories, in their complex universes, such as Half-Life 2, Portal, Mass Effect, etc., your future audience is limited, your readers left wanting for more.
Evolve or die.
Bunny Trouble is near-future science fiction book set on the northern Washington Coast. It takes little description on my part to describe the scenery. In fact, if I told you this novel takes place in a small town on the wild and rocky Washington Coast, a town with a lighthouse and a river harbor, bordering the Olympic National Rainforest—I bet in your mind you have a really good idea of what it looks like. It might not match my idea, but when all is said and done, the picture in your mind is going to be better than anything I can describe to you.
Imagine that! I assume you’re a smart person!
The Baby Dancers is neither a contemporary nor a near-future science fiction book. It is Young Adult Fantasy that moves around to different environments, some of them quite different than the world we live in today.
This transition was not easy for me; it was a struggle, actually.
Yesterday I wrote 2,500 words in one of these environments. It felt good, as if I fell into a rhythm. I added a bit of tension, and a whole lot of action. I felt like the scenery description added a nice flare to the atmosphere and resultant action, neither understated nor overdone.
This bodes well. It was really fun, and a joy to write.
My book reviews are targeted towards novelists (my prior book review can be found here).
Neal Shusterman’s Unwind is a near-future science fiction horror tale that can be summed up in one word: delicious. Quite simply, Shusterman goes where few dare to tread. If you have a love of edgy Young Adult fiction, then look no further. This book belongs on your shelf for several reasons, one of which is the intense questions that get asked, each one more thought-provoking then the last.
The plot goes like this: abortion is illegal… on unborn children. During their teen years, parents can decide to send their child away to be “unwound” where 99.44% of their body is harvested.
The book centers on three teens that are now “unwinds”:
- Connor, chosen to be unwound because he is a rebellious teen
- Lev, who was born to be unwound based on his parents religious beliefs of tithing
- Risa, chosen by the state to be unwound simply because they decided that they could not afford to keep her alive
These three escape their fates in a fortuitous freeway pile-up. Now all they need to do is survive until they are eighteen, when they no longer can be unwound. Capture means not death (so they say), because all the parts are reused, the unwind is divided into parts for a cheerfully waiting populous where the art of doctoring is rare but surgeons rule the health scene.
Sound positively hellish? Well it is. The undercurrent of unstated horror is relentless in Unwind and then BAM! It goes from the unstated to the all too real like a punch in the gut. Literally, I felt vaguely ill at the end of the novel. The subtleness of the cruelties with smiles suffered on these children builds to an epic crescendo that cumulates in one of the most terrible bits of sheer creep that I have ever read.
If you care to write edgy fiction, then look to this horror novel because that is what it is. There is little gore in Unwind worth mentioning, oh no. Like a Japanese horror movie, there is a sense of malevolence running through this sick and twisted society that looks so much like our own—yet is so different.
Or is it?
Consider if you will, the teens that were dumped at Nebraska’s hospitals. The mirrored reflection is not a dark twin of our light. Far from it, the parallels in this dystopia are sometimes all too familiar, and all too normal. And that is what makes it a chilling read for teens and adults.
For the Young Adult novelist, this study of unrelenting intensity warrants your attention. There is more here to scrutinize, than just pacing, atmosphere and plotting.
Unwind asks tough questions rarely found in a book targeted for teens. What is the beginning of life? When exactly does life end? What is the nature of consciousness? What are the consequences of anarchy when the law is so very flawed? In a world of villains, who is the true villain?
What are the ethics of compromise?
This, my friends, is a book that never talks down to the audience it was designed for, as the questions posed above compose a heady literary wine. You will be hard-pressed to find an action-packed book filled with such teen reflective goodness.
Another important part of this book is the voicing. Written in the third-person present tense, the word-smiting lends a flare not often encountered. The way the book is crafted lends itself to a sense of urgency; I was dubious going into it, but Shusterman pulls it off with his screenwriting experience shinning through.
If it seems like I am gushing, I guess I am. I do have some minor faults and quibbles with the novel, none really I feel necessary to drag out for the sake of being fair and balanced. If you write Young Adult fiction, it’s a must read simply because it does something rare: For the reluctant teen reader, it is a novel that will draw him in and leave him wanting to read more—because the type of entertainment given by Unwind can be found nowhere else. For the already fan of outstanding Young Adult fiction, it is euphoric lifeblood for the mind. There is not a bit of fluff betwixt its pages.
That’s a win-win combination of awesomeness that deserves your purchase and study. For what better result could there be for an author of Young Adult speculative fiction?