Mark Terry

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I Resolve...

January 5, 2010
Back prior to 2010 on Facebook, my brother put "I resolve to..." and waited to see what people said. Because our posts to each other are usually of the brotherly smartass type, I wrote: "I resolve to evolve. I like long-term goals."

Yeah, I know, too clever.

Anyway, I was reading The Divine Ms. O's blog this morning where she discusses knowing when things are just right, rather like baby bear and the porridge, I thought, "Yeah, but..."

Because I think as writers we need to evolve. We need to try new things. To stretch. It helps to be aware of what your own strengths are and work on filling in your weaknesses.

For instance, I don't deal much with setting. I use enough so everyone knows what's what and where's where and unless my characters are interacting with their environment, I move on, concentrating on action and other senses. Otherwise I give just enough detail so the reader knows what's surrounding the characters.

Except, Dear Readers, I'm about 40,000 words into a science fiction novel that takes place way in the future on a different planet. So while writing my usual thrillers I can safely say if Derek jumps into an SUV or is running down a hallway with an MP-5 I don't have to spend a lot of time describing the vehicle, the hallway, or the weapon; if I'm doing something similar in an SF novel of the sort I'm writing, I'd better spend a bit more time on description. The question always comes down to, how much?

Here, for instance, is a section from the first chapter:

Torres ignored the command and sprinted for the ship’s bridge. The bridge door slid open. Rushing in, he was met by a vertiginous view of the blue-green sphere of Vatkan. Also in view were a half dozen Delwan destroyers, mammoth starships bristling with energy blasters.

Captain Levin was strapped into the command chair, dozens of cables plugged into his skull, a holographic schematic floating in front of him, showing the planet and every ship and satellite in orbit around it. Mathematical figures and constantly rotating gridlines calculated potential routes for The Pasteur.

“Strap in, Doc. This is gonna get ugly.”

From one of the Delwan destoyers pulsed a red starburst.

Levin, using his cortical interface, jockeyed The Pasteur into an evasive spiral.

Torres lost his balance, flailing out for a nearby chair. He missed it and hit the deck, rolling from the centrifugal forces of the ship’s movements. He grabbed onto the base of the navigator’s chair.

Through the viewing screen he saw additional starbursts.

He shouted, “Did you tell them we’re on a medical mission? Did you tell them?”

Captain Levin ignored him.

The Navigator, a tentacled Angaelian, reached down with one of her appendages, which wrapped around Torres’s waist. Without apparent effort, the Angaelian lifted Torres off the deck and dropped him into a nearby chair.

“Thanks.” Torres slapped the button that activated the safety mesh. A fine silver net enveloped his body, allowing freedom of movement, but automatically buffering him from sudden motion.

The Angaelian’s name was Valeya. She resembled a cross between a giant squid and an upright polar bear. Like most female Angaelians, her fur was white; the males’ fur were a gold color until old age, when they both turned a butterscotch color. Angaelians had six tentacles, two which were as thick as a Terran’s leg and generally used for locomotion, although Torres had seen Angaelians move on four tentacles when they wanted speed. Four of the tentacles were slender and graceful.

There's a level of description here, especially when I describe Valeya, that I wouldn't generally bother with in one of my thrillers. In this novel, as a matter of fact, I don't necessarily describe all aliens in that much detail, but Val is a major character, so I spend some time on it--yeah, a whole paragraph--even if it slightly slows down the narrative.

Anyway, the point here is, we never master anything without stretching and trying new things. Ya gotta resolve to evolve.

What are you doing to evolve your writing?

Mark Terry


Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

I work pretty hard at settings, in giving the most information in as few strokes as possible. I strive to find "loaded" words, or words and images that already carry context with them. In my current book, the character lives on salt flats. I could easily have described this as a "swamp," and it would have been accurate. But "salt flats" conjure a particular environment, and "swamp" carries another. I think good description isn't about length, but about precision. Find the perfect word and you can dispense with pages of description.

Since you didn't ask ... ha ha ... you know what really struck me in the sample you posted? The idea that the alien lifted the human "without apparent effort." My immediate question was, "What does alien effort look like anyway?" Do they cross their single eye? Do their tentacles subdivide? Do they scream? I think there might be an opportunity there to expand on that thought, that interaction, and give me loads of information about these creatures and avoid exposition.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I am writing something spanning 600 years, more straight fiction and less genre than anything I've done, with the bulk of it set 10 years in the future. Stretching.

As an aside . . . can you say it looks like a squid/polar bear? Do sci fi writers run into issues like . . . they don't HAVE squid and polar bears there so you can't describe it that way??? One reason sci fi is not a genre I'd try, I don't think. But never say never!

7:55 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Right now, I'm trying something with loads of storylines. I love intricate plots, but this is freaking me out, lol.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Actually that's a good point in that she's lifting him out of the way in essentially zero G, so how much effort would it take?

I will say that we get to know Val very, very well. I made it 180 pages or so and I kept debating with myself because the three main characters are Torres, Levin, and Val and Torres is the POV character. But somewhere around 130 pp or so Val gets separated from Torres and Levin and I kept going with Torres as the POV character, but realized I HAD to go back and write about what was going on with Val from her POV, which led me to some other POVs, although I'm trying to limit them.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

As I mentioned to Lurker, the POV was primarily from Con Torres' POV, so if he thinks Angaelians look like a cross between a squid and a polar bear, and he's from Earth, sure, why not?

But when I write from Val's POV or some other aliens, no.

On the other hand, I just wrote this the other day:

“But if we head in the direction we headed, we’re going to end up in the middle of a city. We’ll stand out like a Davlok at a nudist colony.”
Torres grinned at the image of a twelve-feet-tall, purple-skinned Davlok among nude humans. “We can’t just wander around in the jungle hoping to get off this planet. And Val’s at Ragnorak, I think.”

10:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Hard to keep all the tangles straight, isn't it?

10:11 AM  

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