Character: The Danger of “Unique Voices”

Characters can be difficult to differentiate. No matter how hard you try, they’re always going to be a bit of an extension of you because you’re thinking for them. It’s not impossible, making them different people just requires changing your point of view for each of them. But sometimes, it can be a struggle to make them all feel like different people to you and your audience.

One of the most commonly passed around pieces of advice to resolve this easily is to give each of the characters a “unique voice”. The advice is a matter of making them all read as different people when they speak so that they end up feeling further differentiated from each other. This will generally let you know who is speaking and how they think without much more context, in theory.

But I’ve noticed when newer writers, and even some older ones, go about trying to make this happen they end up causing something they didn’t intend. While it’s true that many of the characters will stand out as individuals, they don’t always sound like who they were meant to be. The ways we transcribe linguistic ticks to the page are limited, what with only having three tools at our disposal to make it work. Letters, vocabulary, and punctuation can go a long way, but not nearly far enough to truly relate the human voice. Unfortunately, this means a lot of people, in trying to provide a “unique voice”, make the same mistake.

To put it bluntly: your characters sound stupid… Continue reading Character: The Danger of “Unique Voices”

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Mythology Monday: The Power of Salt

Some time ago I wrote about Holy Water and the origins of the belief that water itself could be sacred. But as I did, I left out a little something in the equation. You see, after saying a prayer over it for God’s blessing, priests  mix a newly blessed substance into the water to give it some extra holy kick – salt.

It’s not that unheard of, everyone knows that you’re not supposed to spill salt and, if you do, you toss it over your shoulder. You can also count on salt to drive out evil spirits and drive away demons. And, hell, anyone who’s watched Supernatural knows that the real story is how the Winchesters are funding salt mines around the world almost single-handedly.

winchesters

Seriously, they use it almost every episode – pouring it across doors, making big circles of it, or even loading it into their guns. Salt is, according to some, the catch-all for banishing evil forces. Salt has been used to drive out witches, ghosts, the undead, and even the devil himself. It has been used to bless infants during baptisms, as an allegory for the good people of the Earth, and even used in some funeral rites. Recognized around the world, salt is, by all religious accounts, one of the best things to exist on the Earth.

And here doctors are telling us to cut back… Continue reading Mythology Monday: The Power of Salt

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So You’ve Built A Time Machine

Time travel, it’s not exactly something we’re sure can even be done, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to write about it. One of the things that gives humans an edge on the rest of the world is recognizing the passage of time. And, of course, because we hate the thought of dying, we’re constantly trying to figure out ways to turn it back. Almost every day someone out there is thinking, “maybe we could accomplish this by building an elaborate machine, finding a wormhole, or sticking plutonium in the back of a 1980s POS sports car no one wanted.”

delorean-back-to-the-future
It’s so simple, I figured it out when I gave myself a concussion, Marty!

However you go about it though, it’s a good chance you’re basing a lot of what you know on time travel you’ve seen in the movies. After all, when you look for reference materials on the subject, most agree that it’s impossible. The only place where anyone would give any credence to your batshit project is the hallowed halls of sci-fi where they think you’re bound to happen. So you’re likely to crack out the sci-fi books and movies and get to working on it. There’s just one problem for you… it’s all bullshit.

A lot of sci-fi has no clue how time travel would work, and most of the time we’re just winging it. In fact, most uses of time travel eventually devolve into some lazy writing. So let’s go ahead and check out a couple hurdles in your way before you fire up the Delorean and do your best… Continue reading So You’ve Built A Time Machine

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A World Without [Blank]

As someone who writes speculative fiction, I usually find myself looking into things that would be a little out of the ordinary for most people. I like to read about different religions and mythologies, for instance, and I spend a great deal of time looking into the history of old superstitions that most wouldn’t much care for. I also happen to look through a lot of science articles and a great deal of people I follow on Twitter are involved in something to do with space. Hell, I liked Neil deGrasse Tyson before it was cool.

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Seriously, he’s doubled his twitter followers in a year. ‘Grats Neil!

But sometimes that means I run across people who are exceptionally close minded about things I love. It never ceases to amaze me how many religious people I know are closed off to learning more about other religions. Similarly, I’d think more people would want to know why superstitions they don’t believe in got to be where they are. Anyone who caught my last off the cuff post can know I have an issue with people who deny science. And anyone following the elections at the moment knows we have a neurosurgeon running for President who doesn’t believe in evolution – one of the foundations of modern medical science.

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We all have a bit of a problem of seeing beyond our own existence and into something else. It doesn’t just impact our political and cultural views, it also impacts how we think on a fundamental level. We, as a species, have a difficult time imagining worlds without some of the things we’re most familiar with. It’s why some of us have a hard time accepting the Earth existed before we did. It’s also why some of us have a hard time accepting the Earth could exist without us. Hell, it’s why so many aliens in our sci-fi look like humans with shit growing out of their faces.

klingon

The thing is, that last one shows we kind of have these boxes in all parts of our lives. We tend to become stubborn and caught up in things even as trivial as fictional elements. Frankly, as a geek, I know we can get severely caught up in things like continuity, but it doesn’t just end there.  We often have a hard time straying from the tried and true.

I know I can’t reach people who have this sort of thing impacting the way they look at the real world. A lot of that has been ingrained into them since early in life, and it’s a painful process to let that kind of thinking go. But I do think there’s a chance that I could reach some of the people that have this mental block interfering with their fictional worlds. Because I think, for us, the most important part of “speculative” fiction is the “speculation”… Continue reading A World Without [Blank]

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The Passive (Aggressive) Voice

One of the things you end up doing a lot of when you’re not feeling your absolute best is just taking in some media. Maybe there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, a movie you’ve never seen but always wanted to, or a wiki that you’ve decided to memorize. Whatever it is, you’re probably going to get way too invested in it because you can’t really do much else. Sitting as a puddle that used to be a person under the influence of medications, I’ve watched some lackluster movies in the last few weeks. One day I may, haunted by my flashbacks, tell people about the time Bedazzled’s ending made me tear up because I was too gone to know better.

sensitive-man
It was a rough night

But one of these lackluster movies actually made me think about a real problem that real people have. A lot of readers and writers encounter a problem with a situation called the passive voice. The passive voice is when your characters are less actors in their own life and decisions and more passengers along for the ride. A lot of advice columns will tell you to avoid it like the plague and, really, there’s not a whole lot to say on that subject anymore. The best piece of advice for this is already on the internet if you’re willing to look for it: If the sentence can be finished with “by zombies”, it’s a passive sentence.

This advice was brought to you by Zombies.

But during my lazy watching of lackluster movies I came across a unique case that needed to be pointed out: The Devil Wears Prada. In The Devil Wears Prada we see a rare (but not unique) situation… a passive-aggressive voice. Continue reading The Passive (Aggressive) Voice

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Public Enemy #1

As some of you may know, I live in the San Joaquin Valley area of California, the heart of the drought situation and, as of the last few months, potential new location for future depictions of Mordor. With growing drought concerns, our ground sinking two inches every month as the water table vanishes, and forest fires frequently dotting the nearby national parks – we are literally becoming a flaming pit. Having grown up in this region, I’m used to not liking the climate around here, but even I have my limits.

Mordor
Yeah, that’d be it

The recent air quality concerns have grown so severe that I can’t remember the last time I woke up feeling healthy by any measure. Currently I’m kept alive only by caffeine, generic Benadryl, and that spell they used in Weekend At Bernie’s 2. Should the music stop playing, I will go dead weight and collapse where I stand. It’s not a great life, but hey, at least I’m useful.

bernie

But the worsening conditions have made me think long and hard about what’s been happening to our world as of late and I’ve come to a conclusion. It may not be popular with everyone, I know a lot of people out there aren’t going to believe me when I say it. But I’m willing to make my case and hope that someone out there will listen. You see, I think it’s time we seriously start talking about… Continue reading Public Enemy #1

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Preparing for a Kappa Fight

Life is full of challenges, everyone can tell you that. One day you may be on top of the world only to find yourself waking up the next day with signs of a nosebleed and a complete inability to remember where you left your pants. This is normal, or at least as normal as some people can get, so all we can ever really do is learn to live with the random things that may befall us in our lives. But not all things that could happen to us are random acts of nature or stupidity. No, some things are coming to challenge you directly and aren’t going to just let you brush them of. When that happens, are you ready to face your inner demons? Or even your outer demons?

Case in point: swimming or even walking on the waterfront can be dangerous. Sure, you’re probably thinking about things like undertow, flash floods, and not being beach body ready. But there are bigger things to consider, worse things to deal with, you’re going to need to be ready for the real threat of the deep. And the question is: when that happens, are you ready for the ultimate challenge?

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It’s a three foot tall turtle man and it’s out to kick your ass. You’ve got mere seconds to react and it is coming after you with all the ferocity of a celebutante that thinks you’ve taken a picture of their bad side. What will you do? What will you do? Continue reading Preparing for a Kappa Fight

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Marvel’s “Creative Differences”

Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter – there’s a damn good chance you have no idea who that is. And you couldn’t be blamed for that. Despite being a major businessman since the late 80s and worth 3.8 billion dollars, no one really knows Ike. Even Steve Jobs gave more interviews and appearances. And, as far as we know, Ike could be a brain in a jar considering the last photo anyone seems to have of him is from 1985.

Ike Perlmutter

So you can be excused for having no idea who he is and assuming his business decisions are being relayed from a screen with his face on it like Arnim Zola in Winter Soldier. But, as they like to say it, “you will know him by his deeds”, and Ike’s been pretty active on that front. Even if you have no idea who he is, you’re familiar with his work and it looks something like this.

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So when news broke not long ago that Marvel Studios was going to cut Ike and the “Creative Committee” out of decisions from here on and report only to Disney, some people were surprised. After all, Ike is a pretty damn good business man. Having come to the US with practically nothing, including no formal education, Ike managed to rise through the business world to eventually own Toy Biz. Before long, he leveraged that to become the largest shareholder of Marvel and, now, the largest private shareholder of Disney. This is a man who literally had nothing and somehow ended up with everything. Yet they’re deciding he needs to be cut out of the equation. It’d be a mystery to most, but a very simple answer lies behind it all…

Ike’s an asshole. And, frankly, miserable to work with… Continue reading Marvel’s “Creative Differences”

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Mythology Monday: Lucky Horseshoes

Lucky charms, they’re magically delicious, but also a little confusing. Generally the damn things don’t make any sense and most of them are powered by belief in bullshit. But bullshit has a source, like a lake feeding a river… of bullshit. After all, there has to be some sort of origin to these things or it becomes fairly easy to poke holes in the “logic”. Rabbit feet aren’t too lucky to the rabbit that lost them. And if pennies you pick up really were going to give you good luck for the rest of the day, there are a lot of old people who should be millionaires.

penny-jar

But some charms aren’t just good luck, having entire rituals around them that don’t make a whole lot of sense either. The horseshoe is a great example of this, not only being considered good luck but having contradicting and specific methods of using it. If you turn it one direction it’s supposed to do one thing, the other direction and it does another, you can even use the horseshoe wrong in some cultures and have it work against you instead of for you. And that all leads to one very important question…

What the hell is up with the horseshoes? Continue reading Mythology Monday: Lucky Horseshoes

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Alterpedia: Kappa

In the Alters’ World (and the series of books found here), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover:

Kappa

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Small, turtle-like and mischievous, Kappa are said to roam the waters of Japan and remain hidden in the depths, awaiting those who would stray too close to the waterfront. Long used as a story to warn children of the dangers of going too near to the water, Kappa have long been blamed for drownings and mishaps on or near ponds, rivers, and the sea.  Ruling the waters, swimming naturally like a fish and holding a deep connection to it – to the point of needing those very waters to survive, they are incredibly territorial. Images of them have been created throughout the centuries, depicting them tormenting humans who stray too close to their territory.

But what are the Kappa? Why do people believe them to be so malicious and how is it they came to represent all the dangers lurking within the waters?

Are they really demons, or are they something else? Continue reading Alterpedia: Kappa

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