Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics”

A Series of Open Book Exams on Writing, Regardless of Genre

This is another book I picked up years ago during my first round at writing. Longyear signed it and I’d highlighted parts of it so obviously read it before and didn’t remember doing so.

The power of this book is that it’s written from a student’s perspective. Longyear (I’m thrilled to see he’s still active. I lost track of him for several years) puts in the effort to remember his mistakes and the mistakes of others, and show the reader how to correct them. Another strength is the book’s examples – mostly from Longyear himself – with detailed explanations of what’s wrong with them and how to fix them.

 
Each chapter comes complete with an extensive Q&A/Study guide at the end, every answer to which can be found in that chapter or by combining knowledge gained from previous chapters with the current chapter. Anybody remember “Open book exams”? This is one and it’s a wonderful training program.
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The Augmented Man – Opening Quotes, Surface, In

The horrors of war never stay on the battlefield. They always come home.

The ideal experimental animal is man. Whenever it is possible, man should be selected as the test animal. The clinical researcher must bear in mind the fact that, if he wishes to understand human ills, he must study man. No researches are more interesting, more satisfying and more lucrative than those performed on man. Hence, it is up to us to forge ahead in our research on the most developed of animals: man.
— Mèdecine et Hygiéne, #637, April 1964

In all events, a healthy man does not have the right to be a volunteer for an operation which will certainly lead to a mutilation of the human body, or a serious and lasting deterioration of health. The patient cannot abandon to the doctor all rights to his body, over which he himself has only the right of usufruct.
— Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, Pope Pius XII

This experimentation can only be applied to informed volunteers who are completely free to accept or to refuse it, and can only be performed by a highly qualified person capable of reducing the risks incurred to a minimum.
— Acadèmie de Mèdecine

It is known that free consent is relatively rare. An atmosphere of suggestion, of persuasion, can easily be created, which will succeed in influencing the personality. Naturally, more effective means of pressure can be applied to subjects who are prisoners…This mentality appears to us to be rooted in a regression and a return to the mentality of human sacrifice characteristic of ancient paganism, of those human sacrifices made for a new idol…
— Psychopathologie expèrimentale, Professor Henri Paruk, P.U.F.

Senator Martha Astin (R.MA): “It sounds like you’re making nightmare monsters.”
Captain James Donaldson, ONI COS: “Yes, Senator. I am.”
Senator Martha Astin (R.MA): “And where do you get these monsters, Captain?”
Captain James Donaldson, ONI COS: “Well, ma’am, you start with those who are afraid of monsters.”
— transcript, Gang of Eight Advisory Committee, 310815-1437FF, ONI 17901

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Character Development

You can’t tell the assholes from the bitches from the idiots from the arrogancia without a scorecard

The image below is of a sign at my gym a few days back. My gym routinely posts “Questions of the Day.” I wish they’d keep a list of the responses because some of them are priceless.

And it occurred to me that such a device would be a good tool for character description purposes, much like how the calendar was used to set a scene in Setting Scenes with Props.

click for larger image

 
Let’s say you want to demonstrate a character who wants to portray themselves as an intellectual, someone knowledgeable:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells?”
Lori shook her head. “I don’t know. I just pick the question from a file. I wouldn’t know the difference between…what did you call it? Shells?”
“It makes a difference.”

We can also show that Emerson doesn’t know what they’re talking about:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.

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O’ Happy Day!

Old men and their Suburu Foresters. You gotta love ’em

O’ Happy Day!

Cenelli pulled his aging Forester into the driveway and waited. He kept his hands on the wheel, his fingers tapping, keeping time to the rapid beating of his heart.

O’ Wondrous Happy Day!

He’d worked in secret for so long and today was the day!

Many times good neighbor Andy came over and asked how Cenelli was doing since Effie passed.

“Doing fine. Working on something special in the basement.”

Each time Andy asked about the special project Cenelli winked. “It’s a secret.”

Andy smiled and nodded. He’d invite Cenelli over for a game of cards or some ice tea. Andy’s wife Betty made her ice tea just sweet enough to give you a good, shivering chill on these hot summer days.

“Betty’s asking for you, Ed. You should come over for dinner sometime.”

“Can’t. Working on something special. It’s a secret.”

It took a bit of doing.

 
Andy and Betty were frequent guests when Effie was alive. Cenelli gave Andy a tour of his basement workshop once.

Andy looked around like a kid in a candy store, his eyes almost as wide as his smile as he pointed to each of Cenelli’s tools. “What’s the name of that? What’s that one do?”

Cenelli made a weathervane out of scrap metal while Andy watched.

“I never knew what a tool and die maker did. This is amazing. Betty,” he called up the stairs, “you’ve got to see what Ed can do.”

All those years talking to Effie, asking her advice, taking her suggestions, talking to her picture after she passed — Effie explained that Andy wouldn’t understand what Ed had done, that he should take his project on the road, do something special to get someone interested.

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Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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