Monday, May 28, 2012

Create a One-sentence Summary of your Novel

In the Snowflake method, your first task is to write a storyline--- a one-sentence summary of your novel. Other writing teachers call the storyline something else. I forget what the something else was. No matter.

This storyline--- which you may revise from time to time--- is useful to focus your story when you are writing, and when you are done, it's useful in marketing. Here is an example storyline of a novel by Randy Ingermanson, creator of the Snowflake method: "A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul."

Isn't that great? It sums the story up and makes me, at least, want to read the book. In Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, there are a number of example storylines.

Pride and Prejudice: "A young English woman from a peculiar family is pursued by an arrogant and wealthy young man."

The Lovely Bones: "A young girl watches the turmoil in her family from heaven after being raped and murdered by a neighbor."

Contact, by Carl Sagan: "A young female astronomer discovers radio signals from alien beings in a nearby star system."

Perhaps because I have Asperger Syndrome and have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees, I have a hard time writing storylines. And when snowflaking you not only have to write one for your novel, but one for each major character. Like this:

Harry Potter/Lord Voldemort: "A fallen Dark Lord's efforts to regain power are thwarted again and again by a boy wizard and his friends."

For one of my WIPs, which has the exciting title Kirinia Book One at present, I actually came up with three storylines, from the point of view of various characters:

1. A Waypeople cultist girl must choose between her faith and saving her family's life.
2. A noble Kirinian girl loves blood-sports until she falls for a girl condemned to the arena.
3. A Kirinian emperor discovers the demographic threat to his nation posed by the rapidly-growing Waypeople cult.

I picked 1. when I decided who the main protagonist of the story was. Although if I were to pitch the story to a secular publisher, I might go with one of the others.

I'm also working on a second WIP at the moment--- both are in the snowflaking stage. This one actually has a title: Esperanza: Zombie Dawn (or Zek Dawn, I'm not wholly sure I won't switch.) The storyline for this was easier to come up with even though I didn't have that much of a plot planned out, I just knew it was about a militia group fighting Mexican zombies at the border.

Here is the storyline: "A priest and a band of militia men fight against a zombie virus capable of infecting humans and certain drug plants."

If you are a writer or would-be writer, have you ever reduced your novel or short story idea to a storyline? If you haven't, try creating a storyline now. Post it in a comment here, if you like.

If you aren't a writer, one thing that the storyline concept is good for is when you are writing a book review, or perhaps just recommending a book to a friend. Think of the last good book you read. Can you write a storyline for it? Share in a comment, please.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Reading Challenge: The Nebula Winners

The Nebula awards are given out each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) for the best science fiction or fantasy fiction. In my own not-really-humble opinion, those who aspire to be science fiction or fantasy writers would do well to read award-winning fiction in their genre. And not just the old-time winners, but the more current ones.

It's especially important, I think, for Christian sci-fi and fantasy writers to be up with what is being awarded by the mainstream in our genre. It's not that we need to write ~just like~ the award-winning secular authors. It's that we need to know enough about it that our own fiction doesn't end up sounding like retro Buck Rogers stuff to secular sci-fi fans unless that's the effect we are going for....

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I'm challenging you with this list of Nebula winners. Copy-and-paste this book list and post it on your blog, with the ones you have read in bold-face, and perhaps a few words of comment about the book. Then come back here and make a comment that includes the link to that blog post. And if you haven't read any, now you have a list for when you pick out books the next time.

2012: Among Others by Jo Walton

2011: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

2010: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

2009: Powers by Ursula K. Leguin

2008: The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon

2007: Seeker by Jack MeDevitt

2006: Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

2005: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

2004: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

2003: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

2002: The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro

2001: Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear

2000: Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

1999: Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

1998: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre

So, how did YOU do?

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Facebook Group for Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy

On PromoDay I've been learning more about using Facebook to promote your blog or book. Participation in appropriate Facebook groups was recommended.

I haven't done Facebook groups much, though I'm in one and active in it. I thought it might be good to start one up for Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers and readers, and so I did: Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Readers.

Hope we can get some good folks to join up to talk about good books, writing and the like. If it gets to be a significant and active group, it could be a real help to writers in promoting their books and blogs, and help readers find books they might like to read and authors they might like to interact with.

So--- check out the new group, join it, share it with your Facebook friends, blog about it, and before long we'll have conquered the galaxy! But in a good way.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blog Followers and How to Get Them

A blog follower is someone who is using some service like Google Friend Connect or NetworkedBlogs to read YOUR blog on a regular basis.

Blog followers are better than the breeze-through blog reader because they may keep coming back for more. If they like your blog enough after repeated reading, they might add your blog to a sidebar on their own blog, recommend your blog or a post on it on their blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other services.

Blog followers are great to have. I have seen people begging on the forum at NetworkedBlogs that they will follow ANY blog if the blogger follows theirs. But that's NOT the way to get a blog follower that actually reads your blog.

A better way to get more blog followers is as follows:

  1. Add a followers widget to your blog sidebar. The most common followers widget I've seen on blogs is the Google Friend Connect one provided by Blogger. The next most common is the one from NetworkedBlogs. 
  2. When a new follower joins, click on their icon to find their blog and become a follower of it. 
  3. Add a blogroll JUST for your followers' blogs. Here at Blogger you can set up a blogroll so it only shows the five blogs with the most recent posts, which is nice.
  4. When looking for blog posts on which to comment, check the newest posts from followers first.
  5. Ask people to follow your blog on the message on your comment form. (Click 'comment' on this blog post to see how I did it.)  You might ask the same at the bottom of some blog posts.
  6. Comment regularly on other blogs in your category/categories. Become a follower of the blogs you like.
  7. Check out the profile of all new commenters, and look at their blog. Comment on their posts, and perhaps become a follower.
  8. Add another blogroll for all the blogs YOU follow--- see mine below on the left sidebar. Check this blogroll to help find posts to comment on.
  9. Some people offer prizes of some sort for new followers. I have not tried this, but if you have a book blog and have books to offer as prizes, it might be helpful.
I don't have all the answers on attracting blog followers yet. I have questions--- is it better to put up several follower widgets--- one for Google Friend Connect and one for NetworkedBlogs--- or to have just one? Should you indiscriminately follow new blogs or be more restrained? If you have any ideas, please share them!

Outlining Collective Characters/Fantasy-SF Races

Chantho, alien chick, Doctor Who
In NORMAL fiction, you usually only need to outline the individual characters. You don't need to write yourself an essay on what the human race is, or a reminder that black people tend to have dark skin.

In fantasy or science fiction, however, you may have to deal with creating collective characters--- groups with common characteristics. Like elves, Vulcans, Timelords, hobbits, Buggers/Formics, hertasi and other fantasy/SF races.

You might also have a collective character that is a faction within a race/species/culture. Like the Death Eaters in Harry Potter.

What you do is you work up the collective character as if it were a single character. In the place where you'd put physical appearance, you put down the distinctive characteristics--- an insectoid race with a hive mind, a humanoid race with pointed ears..... For things like values, ambitions, story goal, you answer for the collective character as a group--- any individually important members of the group you will outline as an individual character, anyway.

If you are using the Snowflake Method, the steps that deal with characters are Step 3: Define Your Characters, Step 5: Write Character Sketches, and Step 7: Create Your Character Bible.

What I did--- since I have Asperger Syndrome and my brain is weird--- I wrote a free-form sort of Step 5 (for both collective and individual characters) and then went back to do Step 3, which has 7 sub-steps and is so more formal/organized. In time I will do Step 7 to expand on the important characters/races.

On organizing the result: I have a big binder which has sections for the worldbuilding--- one tab for 'Erileth' (name of my planet) and one for each of the five regions--- and sections for the 8 initial snowflake steps for the individual novel. For the collective characters/races, I will have to make 2 copies of my print-outs, one for the worldbuilding section and one for the individual novel's section.

Today I worked on the race known as the Gray Seekers. They all have gray skin, black hair and silver eyes.They all wear nearly identical white coveralls, are engaged in scientific research, and have the highest level of technology--- or magic--- of any race on Erileth.

Tomorrow I'm probably going to move on to the Sahchiro, who have dark brown skin, green hair in various shades, and golden eyes. They wear very short, colorful tunics and no underpants. They are warriors who live in high mountains. Their name for themselves means Eaters-of-Men, and their name for other people can be translated 'meat-that-walks'.

So--- what do YOU do to create and outline your fantasy or sci-fi races/cultures?

Monday, May 14, 2012

What is 'Space Opera'?

Space opera is a subtype of science fiction, characterized by melodramatic, romantic or adventure plots, and commonly set in space. There is no universe agreement on which works of science fiction qualify as space opera.

It started out as a disparaging term, an analogy for 'soap opera' for romance-oriented radio and television programs, and 'horse opera' for westerns.

Critics of space opera said that if you take away the spaceships and blasters and substitute horses and six-shooters, you'd have a western. In other words, the science fiction setting wasn't necessary to the story.

Like many disparaging terms, space opera is now used by fans of the subgenre. Some works commonly claimed for the space opera subgenre:

Orson Scott Card's Ender series
Isaac Asimov's Foundation series
Perry Rhodan series
Star Trek
Star Wars
Battlestar Galactica
Babylon 5
Buck Rogers
Flash Gordon
Doctor Who
Space 1999

There is also a list of 'space opera media' at Wikipedia

I am a big fan of space opera. I think it has better characterization and more compelling plots than much hard science fiction, where the science comes first and if the characters turn out to be made of solid cardboard, so be it.

What do you think about space opera? Which space opera media do you enjoy? Enquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

5 Blog Comments a Day

Lately I've been having blogger's block--- or blogger's blecch--- and blogging has felt pointless, like screaming out in an empty echo chamber. And so for the past few days I've been biting the bullet and blogging twice daily. With limited results.

What I really need to do is comment more on the blogs of other people. And that's hard for me. I have Asperger Syndrome which makes social interactions difficult-to-impossible, and commenting is a social interaction.

Especially when I'm suffering from commenter's block--- you know, that writing disorder where, when you read a great blog post, you can't think of anything to say that isn't based around the words 'nice' or 'interesting'. Or maybe 'nice and interesting'.

In spite of this I set a new goal of commenting five times a day, in addition to my other blogging and writing goals.

To facilitate this, I've also revamped the blogrolls in my sidebar, so I can easily see blog posts on which to comment. I already had one big blogroll of all the 170 or so blogs I follow using Blogger. I also have a blogroll of all the people that are following my blog.

I added a blogroll which has on it the last list from the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour, a blogroll of some of my favorite published authors who blog, and 'more blogs' list, to which I intend to add other blogs I might like to comment on but don't necessarily intend to follow right at this moment.

In an irrelevant note, (I have Asperger Syndrome, remember) I'm also using Digg to promote my blog posts (and other folks' posts). In the past I used reddit instead, but it is so filled with aggressive hateful atheists I deleted my account there.

Another blog-improvement measure is I'm adding some sort of picture to each post which shows up nicely in my Facebook feed and also is useful for my Link-Within thingy (that shows three of my older blog posts at the end of each post).

Some random blog posts:
How to Get More Comments
Get More Blog Comments by Taking Sides
Latest Dem Idea On Mother’s Day: Donate To Pro-Abortion Groups

Friday, May 11, 2012

DEFINITIVELY Defining Christian Fiction

From time to time Christian fiction bloggers like to tackle the question: What is Christian Fiction? The debates goes on over whether there needs to be a salvation message, whether Mormon, Catholic, Lutheran and other non-Evangelical works can ever count as Christian.... But if the goal is defining Christian fiction rather than defining the sort of Christian fiction your local Evangelical book-and-gift shop might sell, I contend that the definition is not that difficult.

If you go to college and take a class on women's literature, you will read books written by women. If you take one on African-American literature, you will read books written by African-Americans. If you take a course on Gay and Lesbian literature, the books you will read have Gay and/or Lesbian authors. Latino literature, Latino authors, Jewish literature, Jewish authors, Asian literature, Asian authors, and so on down the line.

So: Christian fiction is fiction written by Christians. That's easy enough--- and it's something those outside the Christian community can figure out without a net.

Except for the bit 'what is a Christian?' My proposed definition is that a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. Specifically one that is following Jesus Christ right now, not one that went to Sunday School 13 times at age seven and hasn't been near a church, Bible or rosary since.

Since there are, sadly, atheist Marxists who claim to know about some Marxist revolutionary Jesus, we need to say a bit about the Jesus we Christians follow. He is the Jesus spoken of in the proto-creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-5: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures, and that he was see of Cephas, and of the twelve." (KJV translation)

So, yes, this broadens Christian fiction to include the majority of those who call themselves followers of Jesus, including Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, liberal Christians, and excluding only those who believe in some other Jesus, such as the Marxist atheist Jesus, and the non-resurrected mere-human Jesus who was just a good morals teacher.

This does not mean that all of this broadly-defined Christian fiction will be welcome at every Evangelical publishing house. By the same token, there are books by women which will never be found at a women's book store because of lack of feminist content. Publishers and booksellers are free to develop their own, narrower categories. Readers of Christian fiction will also have their own selection criteria.

Where the definition matters is for things like lists of Christian fiction in certain genres, or things like the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour. When we are using the broad definition of Christian fiction, we use the word 'Christian'. If what we really mean is Evangelical fiction or Catholic fiction or LDS (Mormon) fiction, we should indicate that plainly.

So that is my definitive definition of Christian fiction. What do you think about it?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Writers of the Future will Work for Free

Johanna Spyri, writer
In the past the neophyte writer served his apprenticeship by writing for genre magazines, sometimes called 'the pulps' after the low grade paper they printed on. There were mystery, sci-fi and fantasy, romance and western pulps. They paid pennies per word.

For about 50-70 years, they paid the same pennies-per-word rate as at the beginning, so by the end, it was the prestige and not the money which motivated. And the pulps have fallen out of favor as radio dramas and then television provided the major entertainment source for most people.

So, how does the neophyte writer serve an apprenticeship today? By writing for free. You are of course writing for free anyway on your initial short stories--- in the absolute beginning stage it's better to write many stories one after the other, rather than revising your first precious jewel endlessly in hopes of making it good enough to publish. But I'm talking about a different kind of 'writing for free'.

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