The Yuri Retreat

Describing Characters Through Environmental Details

Describing Characters Through Environmental Details

This is possibly a bit ‘too’ much…

There are nearly as many ways to describe a scene or character as there are stars in the night sky. Sometimes a quick description with additional hints sprinkled through the following action and dialogue works well. Other times a more thorough description, with metaphor and simile, might work better. And for some things, a description is barely even necessary, it might be enough to simply hint through clever placement of objects in a scene.

It’s the last option I’ll be talking about here. Indirectly describing a scene, location, or character is a great way to give your reader a good idea of what’s what without needing to overtly tell them. In other words, this is a form of the old ‘show, don’t tell’ technique. First, let’s take a quick example from one of my own works, Starlight Blues:

Meg moved across to the kitchenette and stared at the cooker. Then at the sink. A variety of pots and pans, plus several plates and a number of pieces of cutlery lounged there, awaiting her attention. She turned to the centre of the room where her sofa and TV stood. T-shirts, random pairs of pants, and various jeans and trousers lay strewn across her sofa.

This simple paragraph of description gives the reader some hints as to the sort of girl Meg is. Potentially a little lazy; not necessarily true, but a reasonable assumption for now. Untidy and disorganised; plainly accurate based on observation, but could also indicate she simply hasn’t had time to tidy. Not hugely interested in cleaning when she has other things to be doing; it’s previously been shown that she’s an art student at a university, and artists are often portrayed as untidy, so this is again an okay assumption. (more…)

Writing Large Groups

Writing Large Groups

Feeling sheepish about writing large groups?

Excuse me a moment while I scream. YAAAAAAAARRGGHHH!11!!!!ONEone. Okay, that’s better. With that out of the way, let’s talk about writing large groups of characters, a topic of much hair pulling and flustered frustration.

There are a few basic ways to handle more than, say, four characters in a scene. The easiest is to simply not do it. This is normally my preferred solution because I like to keep things focused on specific characters, pairings, or small events.

But there are always exceptions, and I do occasionally bite the bullet and write anything up to eight characters. Or even ten to twelve in very rare situations. So let’s go over some of the ways I handle this when necessary.

Split the Group for the Whole Chapter/Scene:

Potentially the easiest option for a large group, simply split it into two or three smaller, more manageable groups. For example, I have a group of eight characters and a part of my story demands that all eight characters be taken on a special trip/event together. So I split them into two groups: Group A, the important group, and Group B, the less important group.

Group A has the four characters this part (chapter, scene, whatever) mostly focuses on. Group B has the more incidental, background characters. By determining which were most important to this part of the work, I can easily focus on them while still keeping the others around for cross-group dialogue and events, without confusing matters by trying to have eight characters talking in one scene. (more…)

Revelation Isn’t Always Desirable

Revelation Isn't Always Desirable

Revealing the mysteries of the universe.

Mysteries can be tricksy things to handle. Reveal too much and you’ll leave nothing for later. Reveal too little and you could frustrate your audience. Similarly, some mysteries work better when left mysterious, because speculation and hype are great marketing tools. So let’s chat briefly about why revelation isn’t always desirable.

I’ll be talking about Prometheus here, in relation to the Alien franchise. First, a disclaimer: I’ve not seen Prometheus, nor am I likely to. I’m the type of person who loves lore, who enjoys reading all the history and back story and world building behind any franchise I like. Babylon 5, Stargate, Fallout (excluding Bethesda’s), Lord of the Rings, and so on. Anything like this that has a wealth of background to be immersed in beyond the immediate story is my jam.

Why am I bringing this up? Because Alien and its associated spin-off material is exactly the sort of franchise that tends to have this sort of lore. Yet in reality… it kind of doesn’t. Not canonically, at least until fairly recently thanks to Prometheus. The Alien creature is scary for a variety of reasons, but the sheer unknown is, for me, one of the major draws.

It’s a terrifying, implacable, relentless killing machine. It can’t be talked to or reasoned with. It has no remorse, will never, ever show mercy, and is damn near indestructible. Unless you happen to have some serious ordnance on your person, anyway. And even then, these things are so emotionally and physically overpowering that they reduce goddamn space marines to gibbering wrecks. (more…)

The Importance of Word Choice

The Importance of Word Choice

So let’s discuss the importance of word choice. Today on Twitter I noticed a brief excerpt a writer had tweeted out from their in-progress work:

So why am I mentioning this? Well, the title of this post should give a clue, because choosing the right words for your scenes is important. Before I say anything further, I’ll just point out that this tweet clearly indicates a first draft, the #AmWriting tag is used by writers to share things they’re working on right now, so I’m not actually critiquing this author’s work, merely using it as an example.

With that said, let’s take a quick look at the one word I feel drags the sentence down as it currently stands: scent. Scent is more normally associated with positive smells; the scent of a lady, scented clothing, scented oils, etc. From etymology online:

late 14c., “scent, smell, what can be smelled” (as a means of pursuit by a hound), from scent (v.). Almost always applied to agreeable odors.

In the current example, the writer is using a positively associated word with a negatively associated scene such as torture. There are instances where this can work well, as it produces an unsettling dissonance that can make the reader uncomfortable, a good thing when writing horror or thriller type works.

However, in this instance I’d argue that use of a positive word like scent actually produces a less impactful scene. It’s not a strong description precisely because the word evokes a positive image in normal use, and the lingering stench of urine and copper in a dark and dank location where torture was perpetrated really requires different word choices.

I just used the word stench as one good example. Odour also works as it often has a similarly negative connotation (body odour, an odour of decay, etc.). For a first draft, a word like scent is perfectly adequate, first drafts are meant to be crap, they’re the potter’s clay being slapped onto the wheel and shaped into something basic before refining and perfecting.

But once that first draft is complete and you can start looking more carefully at word choice? That’s where the real fun begins, at least for me. Picking the right words is incredibly important for setting the scene in the reader’s mind, and a single well-chosen word can elevate a good scene to something truly great.

The Horrors of Marketing

 

The Horrors of Marketing

Patreon is an excellent service that lets creators earn from their work, and—with any luck—I hope to one day be earning a living from it, alongside other income streams (because having only one is never a good plan).

Still, while Patreon is indeed excellent… boy oh boy is it also hard to figure out good marketing strategies. I’ve been there a while and, admittedly, I’ve not done a brilliant job so far. I hate marketing. Hell, I think most creatives hate it, it’s a hard thing to figure out and it takes time from doing what we actually love; creating.

There’s a reason the likes of Hollywood spend millions of dollars on marketing, because they know it’s key to getting butts in seats at the cinemas. But small-time creators like me don’t have the luxury of massive budgets for marketing our works.

But market we must, if we want to get anyone to read our books, listen to our music, or play our games, so that’s why I’m writing this brief post. To talk a bit about this most vexatious of topics, to try and give you some idea of the horrors creatives go through attempting to figure this stuff out. (more…)

Getting Started As A Writer

Getting Started as a Writer

How do you get started as a writer? Simple question with a simple answer: just do it. I realise this isn’t particularly helpful advice, however, so let’s expand the simple answer into something a bit more useful. I’ll link a few good resources, both free and paid, at the end of this post as well.

First, the most important thing; to be a good writer, you should be a good reader. This is an absolute truth of the writer’s craft, simply because without having read a lot of other authors’ works, how can you expect to write anything worth a damn yourself? So step one would simply be to read as much as you can.

Some people posit that you should also read garbage, stories and books that are utterly terrible trash piles of epic proportions. And sure, reading that sort of thing might give you ideas of what not to do. But frankly, I’m of the opinion that you only get one life and a limited number of minutes and hours on this Earth, so maybe just read stuff you like and learn from writers who don’t suck.

Not only does reading the work of others—whether that be fiction, blog, non-fiction, or anything else—give you ideas, hints, and tips on how to write in the mechanical sense, the story and plot and structure side of things, it’s also a great way to learn new vocabulary and ways to form sentences that you may never have thought of.

But beyond this, it’s also important to learn how to be effective in your writing. Readers know fluff when they see it and padding your work with unnecessary cruft will frustrate and annoy more than entertain. Trimming the fat and tidying your prose happens during editing, but you can save yourself time and effort in the long run by writing effectively from the very first word of your first draft. (more…)

Character Variety

Character Variety

A veritable cavalcade of variety.

Let’s say I want to write a political thriller set, in part or in whole, in Hong Kong. It’s an interesting location because, while it is technically a part of China, it’s also an independent state with its own laws and cultural and societal pressures.

As such, one of the first questions I’d ask would be: what race should my main character be? Chinese? If so, are they natural-born? From mainland China? Grew up in Hong Kong but travelled the world? Or could they be an American or British or French or German person who simply lives there and ends up being involved in something rather more than they bargained for?

The story will largely dictate at least part of the answer to this question. If there is some overriding reason for the character to be a particular race, then I will make them a particular race and build everything else up from there. But let’s say, for sake of argument, that this is just some random, regular guy who gets caught up in a dangerous spy game. Does their race matter then?

The easiest test for whether a character’s race is important to the story is to simply change it. Make your white British newspaper reporter African-American instead. Does it change anything in the story? Or in your plans for the story? No? Then mix things up a little! (more…)

Youthful Problems

Youthful Problems

Have you ever played Rise of the Tomb Raider? If not, no worries, there are plenty of examples of what I’m about to talk about in other media. Anyway, in this specific game the main character of Lara Croft talks about a MacGuffin that can unlock the secrets of immortality for humankind, talking about how it would change everything, stop sickness and disease, and all the usual nonsense people think up in these situations.

So let’s think for a moment about why this line of thinking is naïve and catastrophically flawed. First, yes, the basic premise Lara is discussing here is correct; a fountain of youth or other immortality device would have the potential to change the world and, more appropriately, humankind. But for the better?

Hardly. It’s true that a variety of human maladies could feasibly be either eradicated or heavily improved by something like this, but given humanity’s bloody and unpleasant history, do you honestly believe this is the outcome we could expect?

The very second people got wind of a panacea of this nature, there’d be instant riots and civil unrest as people claw and beat and kill their way to the top of the pile, hoping to be the one to capitalise on such a wonder treatment for the human condition. Those with power would suppress those without, and they’d fight anyone else with power in order to fully restrict who had access to this miracle medicine (i.e. no one but them).

But let’s say for sake of argument that the governments of the world came together in a spirit of cooperation and refined a new drug to grant immortality and immunity to all disease. How would that go? (more…)

The Trouble With Time Travel

Have you ever noticed in science fiction stories involving time machines, that the machines in question seem to defy all logical explanation? And I don’t just mean the physics of time travel, though that’s an interesting topic by itself. No, what I mean is how the machine seems to ignore physical location when travelling through time.

In any story, a degree of narrative convenience is necessary simply for the sake of having the story happen. But one convenience—or more accurately, contrivance—time travel stories too often suffer from is failing to take into account the fact that Earth is a celestial body travelling at some 67,000 MPH. It wouldn’t be in the same place when travelling through time!

Let’s say you build a time machine in your London flat’s basement. You climb in, start the machine up, and decide that as a simple test you’ll go back in time by precisely 24 hours. So where was the Earth 24 hours ago? If it travels 67,000 miles every single hour, then multiplying that by 24 gives us a rough figure of 1,608,000 miles travelled.

Our scientist, who probably isn’t very bright if he’s not thought about this issue, sits in his machine, prods the buttons, sets the Flux Capacitor just so, and hits the big red GO! button. He travels back 24 hours to the exact same spot he’s in right now. Unfortunately, the spot he’s in right now is based on the position of Earth right now as well, not the Earth of 24 hours ago.

As a result, he appears in space and immediate dies from being exposed to hard vacuum. This is something I’ve never actually seen mentioned or explored in any show, book, or movie that deals with time travel, and it’s a fairly major issue that I feel should be explored. (If you do know of any fiction works where this is addressed, I’d love to hear about it!) (more…)

Goodbye, Skype, You Won’t Be Missed

Not long ago, Microsoft finally discontinued Skype 6.21 and other earlier versions. I’ve been using this for the last year or two because the kiddie version of the UI they introduced in version 7 onwards disgusts me on a whole bunch of levels. So Microsoft have, once again, lost customers because of their own pig-headed idiocy in not listening to the thousands of complaints about the awful new UI they introduced.

Not only is the new UI horrible on the eyes, it wastes space like nothing else (a big issue if you’re trying to have any sort of serious text conversation), and most importantly is incredibly hard for people with colour blindness to use. Even dumbass corporations normally make concessions for people who have disabilities of one form or another, but Microsoft have made it abundantly clear that they do not care if you’re colour blind. Nice, huh?

Here’s a little tip, Microsoft: if people aren’t willing to update to your new version and you have to force them to, maybe you’re doing something wrong. Instead of forcing the issue and making it so people have to update to your bug-ridden, awful UI, bloated mess of a new release, you could always try, I don’t know… not making shit software?

They can’t seem to wrap their collective heads around this really quite simple concept. Like that whole Games for Windows Live thing. Example, Fallout 3: GFWL caused all manner of problems with that game and it took someone actually making a mod to disable GFWL to get the damn game to run properly.

And you know what? Upon disabling it, I—and many others—clawed back 10-15FPS as a result of that bloated junk no longer running. And in a first-person shooter back in 2008, that’s a HUGE deal when framerates were often hovering around the 20-30 mark under normal circumstances. Losing 10-15 from that hurts bad. (more…)