Archive for sci-fi

When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

Posted in About the Author with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Sometimes life gets in the way and sometimes one just need to take a step back. In this case, it’s a little of both.

In regards to life getting in the way, be assured that it’s nothing bad. As some of you may know, my husband and I foster kids. Generally, we only foster one at a time and one between the age of 6 and 12. A few months ago, though, we were talked into taking two teenagers, a brother and sister. We were told they were well-adjusted, well-mannered kids and this has turned out to be totally true. Still, parenting can be a busy job.

We are also in the process of adopting a two-year-old boy from China. The paperwork for this process has been a terrible headache. It’s not just a matter of filling out forms, but also a matter of gathering specific documents and making sure they are from the right sources, in the right format, with the correct information, with the right signatures, and with the right dates.

Eddie

I can’t show you pics of our foster kids, but here’s the boy we’re in the process of adopting. We’re naming him Edward, or Eddie for short.

I had to take a step back from my writing and from blogging for other reasons as well. To put it simply, I just needed a break so that my mind could recharge. Not too long ago, I told you how I received feedback from a content editor. She pointed out several core story problems that I needed to work on. Although it was hard to swallow the criticism, I knew she was right. But I wasn’t entirely sure how to fix the problems.

That was back in March, 2017. Rather than ponder the problems right off, I took a few weeks off and completely stepped back from my novel. I binged on Netflix and read a few fantasy and sci-fi novels.

When I felt I had wasted enough time, I dived back in. And when I dived back in, I devoted almost all of my free time to the novel itself. I didn’t blog.

So where do things stand now? We still have our two teenagers so I still devote time to them. The adoption process is pretty much done and now we’re just waiting for the government organizations to get organized. I’ve found the time to ponder the story problems and have come up with some great ways to fix them. And now I’m in the process of rewriting parts of the novel. In fact, I believe I’m almost done.

Now that I’m back to writing and nearly finished with the rewrite, I figure it’s time to get back to blogging. This post is a rather boring and personal post, but hopefully next week I’ll be able to post something more useful for you. Any topic in particular that you’d like me to cover? Writing tips? Publishing tips? Editing tips? Or perhaps you just want to read a part of the rewrite? Feel free to comment below.

How to Come Up With Sci-Fi Story Ideas

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by Dawn Ross

My sci-fi story is more of a space opera than a hard-core sci-fi. For those who don’t know what those terms mean, a space opera is more about the characters and their lives in space than about any technical sciency. Hard-core sci-fi is quite the opposite. I’d like for my science fiction novels to be a little more sciency, but I’m having a tough time coming up with ideas. So I thought I’d do some research for idea generation and have come up with some ways I hope will help.

Firefly Cast of Characters

TV, Movies, & Books

What are your favorite movies, TV’s, and books? What were their plots? You shouldn’t steal someone else’s ideas, but ideas can generate from them. Actively think about the plot when you watch or read something. Then mediate on it later to see if it inspires your own ideas. I admit I got the idea of Jori from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Suddenly Human”. Jori isn’t exactly like the boy in this episode. Nor is his situation the same. But some aspects follow along the same lines.

World-Building

Documentaries & Non-Fiction

You can get a lot of great ideas from reading a science magazine or non-fiction book. One book I’ve read, “World-Building” by Stephen L. Gillett has given me a few ideas. This book educates you on how things work in space and provides potential planet-scapes and such based on today’s knowledge. Documentaries, such as “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” can also give some great ideas.

Take Ten for Writers

Writing Exercises

Writing exercises are a great way to stimulate the imagination. In fact, this is something I need to do more often and something I plan on making a part of my regular writing routine. One book I’m planning on going through is called “Take Ten for Writers” by Bonnie Neubauer. Books like this give you a basis to start. For example, the first exercise in this book gives you a list of phrases that you can use to write a short story. The first phrase is “blindingly bright”. Next week, perhaps I will share the short story I wrote that contains this phrase.

Seems simple enough, but this book contains a variety of different exercises. One asks you to write a short story around a particular object, such as a Styrofoam cup. Another gives you a scenario, such as being abandoned by your date or being lost in the woods. Another wants you to write about an attribute without ever actually using the word or similar words. Even if none of these writing exercises mentioned here sound fun, there are many different exercises in this book. And there are lots of other books that help prompt writing exercises.

Brainstorm

I most often use brainstorming as a way to come up with book titles. But it’s great for coming up with story ideas as well. Simply write words related to your topic. For example, if you’re writing about a space ship, write down words like interstellar travel, speed of light, vessel, sub-space, warp drive, and so on. One or more of these words just might trigger an idea.

Write Randomly

This is the most common method I used to generate a story idea. I know my setting and I know my characters, so I simply start writing what I want to achieve and randomly write things I think might work. I don’t’ stop and think. I just write. And so when one idea comes while in the middle of writing another, I go with it and keep writing. This is the method I used to come up with the idea of the Chekrosians in book one of my sci-fi novel.

Computer-Generated

There are a number of apps that help writers generate story ideas. One of my favorites, and one I learned about through a fellow writer, is called Brainstormer. Brainstormer lets you spin three wheels, which line up to form one idea. I just now spun the wheel and here’s what it came up with – healing journey, Nazi, mansion. Did this trigger a short story idea for you? It certainly did for me.

There are websites you can visit as well. One I recently visited called SciFiIdeas.com randomly pulled up this story idea – “When a man is abducted by aliens, a clone is created to replace him. The story is told from the perspective of both the original and the clone.” Sounds fun!

Study People & Surroundings

The world might seem boring most of the time. But if you look carefully, you will probably see some quirky people or odd out-of-place things. Yesterday, I saw a short couple with a really large white dog and I began thinking about how those small people could possibly control such a large dog. I bet that dog eats more than those people! Maybe it’s an alien. I also saw a Star Wars kids baseball cap laying on the ground by a pond. Of course, the child could have just left it there after feeding the ducks. But what if he was pulled into the pond by a pond monster? (We have no alligators in our area, so pond monster would be much more realistic.) I started thinking about this kid and all the circumstances that led to him leaving this cap behind. It could make for a great mystery story.

Conclusion

There are many ways to generate ideas. It’s just a matter of actually implementing them. Tv’s, movies, and books are great, but don’t let yourself get too absorbed in them. And don’t just mediate on ideas. Write. To quote Yoda, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Do you have another way that helps you generate sci-fi story ideas?

StarFire Dragons Chapter 5 Rewrite #3

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by Dawn Ross

StarFire Dragons

Book One of The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera Saga by Dawn Ross

Chapter 5

The gentle heat of the healing bed eased the tension in Jori’s body. His pains ebbed away slowly as his body mended. It was a relief, being healed. But at the same time, an invisible weight pressed down on him. This can’t be happening. It just can’t.

His senses were still focused on his brother. Terk’s life force was weak—so weak, it might just disappear altogether. The weight threatened to crush him.

He redirected his ability once again on those surrounding his brother. A sensation of concentration and persistence emanated from them. Their lack of malice hopefully meant they were truly trying to save Terk’s life.

Suddenly, their determination pulled away. Jori’s chest tightened. Are they just going to let him die?

His heart raced. He moved to get up, but couldn’t. The healing bed’s operations couldn’t be interrupted.

If he let his heart rate increase enough, a doctor might come and stop the machine. But he breathed heavily and steadily, trying to calm his racing thoughts instead.

The sensations from Terk hadn’t changed. Yet the doctors and medics felt reluctant and defeated. But why? If only he could actually read thoughts or pull out information and not just sense emotions.

He reflected on what their emotions could mean and a memory popped into his head. Master Jetser had been hurt so badly once that he was in a coma for three days. The doctor had said he was in critical condition, which meant there was nothing else to be done except wait. Perhaps it was the same situation here. It’s all up to you now, Terk. Come on, you can fight this.

Damn those koshinuke-tachi/cowards. This was the Grapnes’ fault. They were the reason his brother lay at the edge of death. And those damned bastards were the reason for the deaths of the other men on his ship.

An ache in his chest swelled. His men were all dead. No one had to tell him. The memory of Bok’s impaled body and Veda’s crushed skull flashed into his mind. It wasn’t just what he’d seen, though. He’d felt the voids of their missing life force. They died protecting him, protecting Terk mostly. But still. They were all gone. All of them. It was just him… and maybe Terk.

The pain in his chest spiked. His eyes watered. Without them, and without his brother, he was left to face the enemy alone. His heart fluttered, but he pushed his panic down. I’m a warrior, dammit. I won’t be afraid. He’d fight these Alliance weaklings if he had to. Even if they did outnumber him. Even if they were much stronger than him.

There was nothing to be done now, though, but wait. He shut out all his thoughts and let his body relax. After some time, a shallow beep indicated the healing bed was done.

The lid slowly opened. Medic Shera smiled down at him with her sparkling yellow eyes. He barely glanced at her and flicked his gaze at the Alliance officer standing behind her instead. It was the same man as on the planet, a commander by the insignia on his brownish-grey uniform.

The man stood alert, in a readiness similar to that of a soldier’s but perhaps a little more at ease. His hair was the color of the Vandoran sand dunes. He was tall and fairly well-built as compared to the other Alliance men he’d seen, but not as muscular as a Tredon warrior.

And the man had a smirk on his face. Jori clenched his jaw and scowled. Baka/Fool. The man thinks he’s triumphed over me?

He sat up quickly. The insult on his tongue died away as the room spun. He gripped the edge of the bed waiting for the whirling in his head to subside.

“You alright?” the man said.

His vision came back into focus. The man was standing right beside him now. Jori clenched his jaw. The man was close, close enough for him to send a strike straight up into his nose. He was strong enough to draw blood. But no. Hitting a man just because he was irritating was Terk’s way, not his.

The insult came back into his head, but so did a sense of the man’s emotions. The commander didn’t feel cocky. He felt concerned. Jori focused on the sensation. Not a hint of arrogance.

So it wasn’t a smirk after all. He could see it now. One side of the commander’s mouth was naturally turned up more than the other.

Medic Shera put her hand on Jori’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?”

He turned back to her. “Well.”

“Good.” She smiled, but he could sense her unease as she did a brief medical inspection. He ignored her again. She wasn’t his concern. This place was. They were helping to heal him, but they could have something else planned. He needed a way out for just in case.

He glanced subtly around the room and mapped out all of his surroundings, the way Master Jetser had taught him. Two armed guards stood just inside the divider that sectioned off the area he was in. He could sense two more on other side of the opening. He delved with his senses further. Two others who felt like guards were near the main exit.

Then there was the commander himself. At least five medical personnel were also nearby. In Tredon, doctors were also warriors. He doubted it was so here, especially since half of them were women, but it was best not to make assumptions. Besides, they were probably all stronger than him. Maybe not as fast, though. Maybe.

There was nothing nearby he could use as a weapon. Not even any medical tools. The security must have had them cleared away. Smart. It’s what he would have done. Well, except his prisoners would be in a cell. Or if they were injured he might let them be healed but they’d be strapped down. These Alliance people were a little more trusting, but perhaps not so foolish.

The medic handed him some clothes. He unfolded the jumpsuit. It was black in color and long sleeved like his uniform. But there the similarity ended. The material was not the same, nor was it the same style. It didn’t even have built-in armor to protect him. He frowned but said nothing. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice. At least it was black.

Despite feeling nervous, medic Shera met his eyes. “I bet you’re hungry. Would you like something to eat?”

The hollowness of his stomach became apparent. “Yes.”

She smiled. “Anything in particular? I believe our processor has some Tredon recipes.”

His mouth watered at the thought of an almost rare guniku steak seasoned with yakume. But his body needed replenishing. Instead of food, He gave her a list of nutritional requirements. For some people, food was a vice. He might not be physically strong yet, but he was mentally strong enough not to be weakened by temptation. “I do not care what form it comes in or how it tastes.”

Both the medic and the commander raised an eyebrow, but neither commented. Of course the Alliance was wrought with temptations. Why else would they keep so many women about?

“Very well.” She inclined her head.

As soon as she turned her back to leave, Jori stepped down off the healing bed and faced the commander. He chastised himself for automatically going into a militaristic at-ease stance. This was the same way he faced his instructors and his father as a sign of respect. He defiantly unclasped his hands.

“Hello.” When the commander smiled, the crookedness of his mouth was even more pronounced. “I’m J.D.” He held out his hand in greeting.

Jori glanced at his hand with a frown. A trick? No. Oddly, the commander felt genuine.

He considered not taking it. After all, this man was the enemy. But then he remembered Terk.

He tentatively put out his own hand and performed the customary hand shake of the Alliance. “Jori.” It was his informal name and the safest one to give. He wasn’t well-known. Terk, on the other hand—they couldn’t find out who he was. Or what he’d been up to. Whatever niceness these people were presenting wouldn’t last if they knew.

*****
J.D. widened his smile. Shaking hands had to be a good sign. “Nice to meet you, Jori.”

His smile faltered when the boy did not smile back. Jori’s eyes were naturally narrow, but not in a way that conveyed suspiciousness or slyness. They were hard and piercing. And they were fixed on him like a predator on the hunt, making his neck prickle.

The rounded look of youth was almost unnoticeable with the way Jori carried himself. His posture was rigid, but at the same time he looked ready to spring into action.  It wasn’t a nervous wariness, but an alert guardedness of a soldier.

A strained silence settled.

J.D. cleared his throat. “I know our people aren’t on the best terms, but you don’t need to be concerned. We’re going to help you.”

The boy’s nostrils flared and his jaw twitched. “And what of my brother? Are you helping him as well?”

Brother? He was only a little surprised. Even though the faces of both boys had been battered from the crash, there was a strong resemblance between them. “Yes. Our doctors are doing everything they can. He’s stable at the moment, but he’s in really bad shape. He’s in a status we call critical cond—.”

“I’m familiar with the term,” Jori said.

“So you understand it’s not as simple as putting him in a healing bed.”

The boy scowled. “I just said I understood.”

J.D. resisted the urge to clear his throat again. “Good,” he said, ignoring the boy’s attitude. “I promise we’ll do whatever we can to help him pull through, though.”

The boy’s frown disappeared. Without thinking, J.D. put his hand on his shoulder to assure him. The boy glanced at the hand with an unreadable expression and J.D. pulled it away awkwardly.

The severity of the boy’s demeanor returned quickly. “And what of me? I’m assuming I am to be held as your prisoner.”

“Actually, you will be staying with me.”

The boy’s brow furrowed, hooding his dark narrow eyes. “Are you to be my interrogator?”

J.D.’s stomach soured. Even ancient Earthen barbarians couldn’t match the brutality and horrors of what he’d heard about Tredon interrogators. “No! Goodness no. We will certainly ask you questions, but we do not torture people.” My God. What sort of world does this boy live in?

“You say you will do everything you can for my brother. Is this contingent upon my cooperation?”

J.D. raised his eyebrows. Big words for a boy. “No, of course not,” he replied as assuredly as he could. “We’d be grateful for your cooperation, though. And it would certainly help if we knew what was going on, what happened between you and the Grapnes. But we’re not going to hold you or your brother’s life over your head in order to get that information.”

“You swear it?”

“Yes, I swear it.” At least he had no intention of doing such a thing. Hopefully, Captain Arden wouldn’t either.

Jori bored into him with a studious stare. “Good.” His expression was stone-faced.

J.D. sighed inwardly. No boy should be this hard. He certainly had some rough terrain ahead of him with this one.

 

There will only be one more rewrite after this, so please give me as much feedback on this sci-fi novel as you can!

(This science fiction novella is protected by copyright) Copyright December, 2016 by Dawn Ross

This story is free to share so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.

So Confused – Best Way to Start a Story?

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2017 by Dawn Ross

I just finished tweaking my first sci-fi novel, StarFire Dragons. I tweaked the first chapter based on some good advice from someone I consider a professional writer. She said that rather than  just jump right into the action, I need to ground my character in a normal world first. So if you look at my original and my revised 3 versions, you can see the difference. My original started out with the communications officer reporting a distress signal. My recent final version, previously reviewed by said professional, starts out with J.D. sitting on the bridge and wondering what the heck he was doing here. In a way, it establishes ‘his’ problem as a character and I feel that it helps people get to know him a little as well as get a feel for the setting. Then at about the 7th paragraph, we get into the action with the distress signal.

I recently presented this same finalized first chapter to others and several are saying I should jump straight into the action in order to grab the reader’s attention. So which is it? Do I ground the reader first or do I jump straight into the action where no one knows the characters, or even cares? Both sides make valid points.

Getting a story reviewed and getting feedback is a great way for writers to grow. But sometimes these mixed messages can be quite confusing.

What do you think? When you begin reading a book, what do you like best about the beginning? Do you prefer a stage setting first or do you like to dive right into the action?

 

StarFire Dragons Chapter 4 Rewrite #3

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2017 by Dawn Ross

StarFire Dragons

Book One of The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera Saga by Dawn Ross

Chapter 4

J.D. caught himself twiddling his thumbs and stopped. The silence of the conference room set his nerves on edge.

Captain Arden sat at the head of the rectangular table. His brows hooded his eyes as he scanned the reports on his deskview. Lt. Jenna Stein frowned as she browsed her digiview. Both Lt. Commander Bracht and Lt. Hanna Sharkey sat erect and looked at nothing in particular. Bracht held a sour look while Lt. Sharkey’s face was placid.

The captain looked up and sat back. His eyes locked with J.D.’s. J.D. braced himself for a torrent of disapproval for saving the lives of their enemies.

But the captain met the faces of each of the officers with the same stoic look. “It seems we have a potential security risk on our ship. Suggestions?”

J.D. let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. There was no hint of criticism in the man’s voice. Perhaps he was off the hook.

“He must be kept in the brig.” Lt. Commander Bracht’s deep voice reverberated through the small conference room.

J.D. winced at the chief of security’s direct and overly bold tone. It sounded as though he was making a demand, but neither Captain Arden nor Lt. Stein or Lt. Sharkey appeared to be bothered by it.

Lt. Hanna Sharkey tilted her head. “The brig? For a single child of no more than ten cycles, Sir?”

Thank you, Lt. Sharkey. She was an impressive security officer. And it wasn’t just because she was undaunted by Bracht’s overbearing attitude. She had a good head on her shoulders when it came to all things security related. Suggesting she be a part of the captain’s advisory team in this unusual security situation was a good call.

“He killed four Grapnes!” the Rabnoshk warrior said a little too harshly. Captain Arden’s eyebrow raised ever so slightly. “Single handedly,” Bracht said more calmly. “Besides, he’s a Tredon. Our enemy. He can’t be trusted.”

J.D. clenched his teeth at the man’s bullish attitude. Yes, the boy was a Tredon warrior. And yes, his phaser had been a kill-weapon. But his actions seemed to have been done out of desperation.

He opened his mouth to say as much but Captain Arden spoke first. “Enemies or not, we are not currently at war with the Tredons. Nor do we wish to be. This situation must be handled carefully. I won’t treat the child as a criminal without just cause.”

The tension in J.D.’s shoulders lightened slightly. The captain’s view was more than he’d hoped for.

Bracht’s nostrils flared. “Killing four men isn’t just cause?”

“It was self-defense,” J.D. snapped.

“We don’t know that,” Bracht shot back. “The Grapnes said the Tredons attacked them and stole their cargo.”

J.D.’s muscles twitched at Bracht’s singlemindedness. “There is no evidence of stolen cargo.” Bracht harrumphed. “Besides,” he continued, “I don’t think he should be held responsible for it if they did. He’s just a boy.”

Bracht’s bushy brows folded inward. “You saw what that so-called boy did with your own eyes. He’s dangerous.”

“But he didn’t shoot at us.” The rising heat in J.D.’s body manifested itself in his tone. Men like Bracht gave all military men a bad name. Whether he called himself a warrior, soldier, or security officer, his job should be to defend people, not treat everyone like an enemy and stomp on them with those gigantic boots of his.

One would think mankind should have evolved by now. But no. Men today were very much like the men of Earthen history. Some enlightened. Some innovative. Some ambitious. And some who still used force as their primary means to an end.

The Rabnoshk and the Tredons had a lot in common. Perhaps this was why Bracht was so against the boy.

“He threatened you,” the warrior insisted.

“He was just trying to determine if we were a threat.” The black look in the boy’s eyes popped back into his head. No child should have such a hard look.

Bracht’s lips curled into a sneer. “Obviously you were no threat at all since I heard you surrendered to him.”

J.D. bristled. “That is enough, Lieutenant Commander.” He eyed Bracht sternly. He wanted to say more, to defend his decision, but he had already given a full report of his actions. There was no reason to defend them against this man. He was from a generation of Protectors, not a generation of barbarians.

Bracht clamped his mouth shut. His frown deepened, but he didn’t argue further.

The captain glanced back and forth between the two of them. His demeanor gave no indication of what he thought of this outburst. J.D. resisted the urge to fidget. Captain Arden’s apparent indifference always made him feel like a fish in a bowl.

The captain set his elbows on the conference table and intertwined his fingers. “Lieutenant Stein?” he said, addressing Jenna, the ship’s chief anthropologist.

Lt. Stein squared up her shoulders. Her high cheekbones and thin arched eyebrows gave her a snobbish look. She certainly had pride in her job, but her mannerisms never came across as arrogant. “I would not underestimate these Tredon fighters at any age.” Her native language of the desert world Kochuru was rhythmic and flowing, but her accent in this universal language was harsh and halting. “There be no telling when this boy began training…or what sort of training he had.”

“So you’re recommending the brig as well?” Captain Arden said.

Lt. Stein’s black wavy hair swished as she shook her head. “I’m not sure that be called for, Sir. We all be officers here. No civilians for him to be a threat to. Besides, though the Tredons do be our enemies, we can never make peace if we treat even their children as criminals. I recommend a full armed security detail, no less.”

J.D. frowned. “Armed? If this boy has training, we risk him being able to disarm someone.”

Bracht grunted. “Which is why he should be in the brig.”

J.D,’s jaw tightened again. “That’s not what I meant. I say unarmed. And if he causes trouble, then we can restrain him. Whatever fighting skills he has, he’s not that strong yet.” And certainly your security team can handle a small child.

“And what of the other one?” Bracht asked of the older and probably much stronger Tredon boy.

He suppressed a sigh. “We’re not even sure he’ll live.”

The captain rest his chin on his steepled fingers. His face was unreadable. After a moment of silence, he lay his hands flat on the table. “I’m not going to put a child in the brig unless he gives us a reason. That is my final decision. We’ll worry about the other one if he makes it. I will, however, proscribe stun weapons only and a four-man detail of security on each of them at all times.”

J.D. almost slumped from the deflation of tension. The expected rebuke for bringing the enemy onto the ship never came. And that the captain seemed to side with him on this other issue was almost enough to set him completely at ease. Almost. If the boy turned out to be nothing but trouble, all the blame would lie with him.

“I have six in sickbay now, Sir,” Bracht replied. “Should I call two of them off?” Bracht’s tone sounded almost insubordinate—almost.

“No,” the captain replied. Only a small lift of his eyebrow indicated he heard the tone as well. But he didn’t acknowledge it in any other way. “Let’s keep the security on him until we have had a chance to speak to him. Commander,” he said to J.D., “I want you to go down and talk to him.”

J.D. nodded. “Yes, Sir.”

The captain turned to Bracht. “Lieutenant Commander, organize a security detail shift of six to stay on him for now and add security to engineering and other off-limit areas of the ship.”

Bracht seemed somewhat mollified by the captain’s acknowledgement that the boy could be a security risk. “Yes, Sir.”

Lt. Sharkey’s brow furrowed. “If the boy isn’t going to be in a cell, where is he going to stay?”

The captain looked at J.D. “Commander?”

He was about to suggest an officer, but something about the look the captain was giving him told him he was asking something else. “Me?”

The captain’s stoic features didn’t change. “He’s of a warrior class, which means he’s used to a ranking hierarchy. I need someone of high rank and with martial skills to instill authority. Besides, I hear you’re good with children.”

“That’s no mere child,” Bracht muttered.

J.D.’s mouth fell open and he snapped it shut again. His martial ability was decent enough, but his specialty was in strategic warfare not hand-to-hand combat.

This was another test… or perhaps a punishment for bringing the boys onto the ship in the first place. But then again, he couldn’t argue with the captain’s logic. Although he wanted to give the boy the benefit of the doubt regarding security, now that he was faced with being directly responsible for him he wondered if he’d taken the wrong stance.

What have I gotten myself into?

 

There will only be one more rewrite after this, so please give me as much feedback on this sci-fi novel as you can!

(This science fiction novella is protected by copyright) Copyright December, 2016 by Dawn Ross

This story is free to share so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.

Tips for Writing Dialogue

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Dialogue

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. Me? I’m tend to be a little skimpy on describing the scenes and the characters. But I think I’m pretty darned good at dialogue. Other writers may not be so good at it. Perhaps the conversations between their characters seem too contrived. Or perhaps the characters come across as too stiff and formal. Or every character sounds the same. So here are some tips to help improve dialogue.

Get in the Characters’ Heads

-Motives

Each of your characters has a different motive. So what they say is generally going to be motivated by what they want. For example, say Jack really likes this girl, but his friend Kevin happens to know the girl isn’t really into him. So while Jack is busy talking about how great this girl is, Kevin will try to find a way to hint about the girl without hurting Jack’s feelings. Perhaps he will start out by pointing out all her flaws.

-History/Background

Another way to get into the characters’ heads is to remember they all have different backgrounds, different beliefs, different occupations, and so on. This is going to affect how they speak. Someone from the country may be more inclined to use slang. A doctor will be most likely to use correct medical terminology and medical jargon. Someone who is religious might go around blessing and praying for everyone or by often attributing things to God’s will.

-Personality

The different personalities of each character will also need to be considered. If Steve is self-absorbed, he might not care about why Sally is crying and so he’s either going to ask half-heartedly or not at all, depending on their relationship. If Joe tends to keep to himself, he’s not going to say too much in a conversation and to have him suddenly spill his heart out will not make any sense.

Grammatically Incorrect

People don’t always speak in a grammatically correct way. They might use slang or improper words like ain’t, y’all or irregardless. They might use a lot of filler words like um, yeah, well. They might use gone instead of went like, “She’s gone to the store” instead of “She went to the store.” They might use me when they should use I or I when they should use me like, “him and I” or “him and me”. They might end the sentence with a preposition, such as, “Where you at?” instead of “Where are you?” they might say should of instead of should have. The list goes on and on. And for the sake of readers, it will help if each of your characters has a different quirk. One way to get an idea for all the different ways people speak is to listen.

Be Clear About Who is Speaking

Be clear about who is speaking, but not by overusing names or by overusing tags. By overusing names, I mean by one character saying the name of the other character over and over. For example:

     “Hello, John. Good to see you.”
     “Hello, Fred. Good to see you too.”
     “So, John. How’s your family?”
     “Great, Fred. Blah, blah, blah.”
     “That’s great to hear, John.”

You see what I’m getting at. By overusing creative tags, I mean by always adding John said or Fred said. Some people get around this by using creative tags like John coaxed or Fred persuaded. This can get a little annoying for some readers. That John coaxed or Fred persuaded should be obvious by what they said and the way they said it, not by the use of a creative tag. Don’t get me wrong. Creative tags have their place. There will be times when you will want to say John whispered or Fred mumbled. But use these creative tags very sparingly and not just as a way to use something other than said or replied.

A great way to give an idea of who is speaking without the use of tags is with action. For example, consider the above conversation modified with actions:

     Fred eagerly put out his hand and grinned widely. “Hey, John. So good to see you.”
     John’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Great to see you too.” He grasped Fred’s hand and shook firmly.
     Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “Gosh. It’s been forever. So how’s the fam?”
     “Great.” John’s brows went up. “Can you believe Ashley got into Berkley?”
     “Wow! That’s great to hear.”

Action is a great way to add more feeling into the conversation. But one can overdo it on the action as well, so mix it up. Use said or replied when needed since readers find these tags less annoying. Use an occasional creative tag only where appropriate. Use action. Or, as you may have noticed in the last sentence of the conversation, use nothing. There are only two people speaking so there is no need always specify who said what. Another way you can get away with not indicating who is speaking is if your character has a unique voice. As stated in another article I wrote, there is no need to say Yoda said because everyone knows Yoda by the way he speaks.

The Conversation Has a Purpose

I can’t tell you how many times I planned for a conversation to go one way, but ended up having it go another. If you force the conversation, it sounds contrived. But if you let it flow naturally, you might end up going off on a tangent. What you need is to find a way to get the conversation to flow naturally so it goes where you want it to go. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Even though people in real life conversations have a tendency to veer off topic or quickly change the subject, try not to do this in your dialogue. Every conversation should have a purpose, whether it’s to convey information, to get an idea of the characters’ points of view, or to establish tension between two characters. For example, my sci-fi story is about the relationship between two enemies. So there is no reason to have a chapter where one of these two characters has a conversation with a third character about knitting. This is an extreme example, but you see what I’m getting at.

If you feel two characters need to have a long conversation before they get to the primary purpose of the conversation, see if you can find a way to slim it down or skim over to the good part. Although it is better to show than tell, sometimes it is acceptable to simply tell by stating they talked about this and that for a good hour while having tea or something.

Pauses, Hesitations, Interruptions

I have a bad habit of interrupting people and I’m not the only one. People interrupt other people all the time. Then there are those people who like to take the time and think about what they’re going to say before they say it. And there are people who hem and haw with filler words before they finally get to the point. Some people talk a lot with almost no pause for breath while the other party simply shrugs their shoulders and interjects a few uh-huhs and such.

Change of Subject is Purposeful and Explainable

Don’t let your characters simply change the subject without a good reason. Changing the subject without some sort of explanation can be very jarring for the reader and can make the conversation seem contrived.

Characters Lie

Have you ever asked someone of they’re feeling okay and they say yes even though it’s obvious they’re not? Have you ever spoken to someone who told you one thing but did another? Or a person who is nice to your face but gossips about you behind your back? People are not always truthful when they speak. You can make the lie obvious or not-so obvious, depending on your purpose. Just keep your purpose in mind. Let’s use the dialogue above and change it to show what I mean.

     Fred eagerly put out his hand and grinned widely. “Hey, John. So good to see you.”
     John’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Great to see you too.” He grasped Fred’s hand and shook firmly.
     Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “Gosh. It’s been forever. So how’s the fam?”
     John’s face fell. “Great.”
     “Yeah?”
     John shrugged. “Yeah. Just fine.”

John’s body language indicates things are not so fine but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Fred can be oblivious or he can pick up on it, depending on his personality, and you can reflect this in the continuing dialogue.

Conclusion

Remember, all things in moderation. Don’t have characters interrupt people all the time. If your character has a tendency to speak incorrectly, don’t force it so that every single sentence is wrong. If your character uses filler words like um, don’t interject the filler words every single time they speak. The overuse of anything can easily turn into an annoyance. Balance is the key. Balance your actions and tags as well.

These are just a few tips to help with dialogue. If you can think of some more, please feel free to comment below.

Tips to Improve Your Story by Writing Better Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Toy Story on Writing Characters

I don’t care whether you have a sci-fi, fantasy, western, action/adventure, mystery, drama, or other genre. The characters in your story are just as important as the story’s plot. Without characters, you have nothing. With mediocre characters, you have a mediocre story. You could almost get away with a mediocre story if you have excellent characters. So how do you build great characters? Here are some great tips:

Write Their Backstory

When I began writing The Guardian of Destiny, I had a very difficult time writing the main character. I just couldn’t get into him. It wasn’t until I really got to know him by writing his backstory from his childhood to the present that made me really understand who he was. When you tell your actual story, you don’t have to provide your character’s entire backstory. Just include the parts relevant to the story and/or a few of the interesting parts that reveal why your character is the way he is.

Physical Characteristics

I’ve noticed some writers include very little character description and let the reader fill in the blanks. As a reader, I kinda prefer this myself. But I’ve come to realize that most readers want at least a little bit of a description. So make the descriptions unique or interesting. This is especially important when you have multiple characters. The more characters you have, the more difficult it will be for your reader to keep up with them all. So give them a unique feature or two. Perhaps one character has thick eyebrows or one has a unique color of eyes. Go beyond facial features. Perhaps one character has a limp or one is overly tall.

Ben Affleck

J.D., the character in my new sci-fi series, has a crooked smile. I like to think the smile looks a little like Ben Affleck’s. Jori has a Japanese look, though I never state this because of the genre. I try to hint at it with the color of his skin and hair, with the shape of his eyes, and with the fact that he occasionally uses Japanese words.

Gestures, Habits, and other Noticeable Characteristics

Speaking of the words a character uses, this is another way to help individualize your characters. People watching is something writers do all the time. It’s a great way to pick up on the little things people do that make them individuals. Perhaps you notice someone who taps their foot all the time or someone who plays with their hair. Habits can include someone who smokes or someone who is always drinking coffee. J.D. strokes his chin a lot. Jori and Terk curse a lot, Terk more so.

Strengths and Weaknesses

List your character’s most prominent strengths and even a few of his weaknesses. If a character has nothing but strengths, never does any wrong, it makes for a very boring character. No one is perfect, so even the best characters will have a few things they’re not good at. Jori has a lot of things going for him. He’s highly intelligent, has a lot of common sense, and is greatly athletic. He even has a tendency to be modest and considerate, though you wouldn’t know this in the beginning of the story. So it seems he’s practically perfect. But he’s not. He has a bit of a temper, which sometimes gets him into trouble. He also has a tendency to keep his feelings to himself, which makes other people think he’s an emotionless jerk.

I admit I’ve read (and liked) books where the hero seems to have no character flaws. It’s true some people like a story with a perfect white knight hero. So if this is your character, make sure your story makes up for the lack of character conflict in other ways, such as with a great plot and interesting twists.

Stand by Me Movie

Relationships

How the character relates to others says a lot about them. What are their relationships like with their parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, and others? Do they have a lot of friends, or few? Are they loyal to one spouse or do they like to sleep around? Depending on your story, you may even want to consider your character’s relationships with animals. One character I particularly like in my story is Mik Calloway. He’s a complete ass. And one way you can tell this is by how he is with his coworkers. Even though he’s hanging out with them, he only thinks negative thoughts about them. And he only admits that he’s hanging out with them because he doesn’t want to drink alone.

Occupation

Be sure to consider the character’s occupation when writing their character. Stereotypes exist for a reason, so think about the stereotypical dentist, racecar driver, jock, lawyer, cop, and so on. But be careful about making your character cliché. Even though people tend to fall into certain stereotypes, they are still individuals. Jori, for example, is immediately viewed as a stereotypical warrior with a bad attitude and hot temper. But as you will see later in the story, there is so much more to him than that. Use stereotypes to your advantage by perhaps making your characters see other characters in a stereotypical way, but then have them learn a lesson by learning otherwise later on.

Cardinal Richelieu of the Three Mustketeers

Beliefs

Your character’s beliefs go beyond just what their religious preferences are. Think about the core values of your character? Does he believe each man for himself or does he believe in helping others? Is he open-minded or stuck in his ways? Does he tend to see the best in others or the worst? Is he a strictly by-the-book kind of guy or will he break the rules to right a wrong or to get ahead?

A Character’s Journey

Whatever happens in your story, whether your hero is out to save the galaxy, meets the love of his life, destroys the evil warlord, or catches a serial killer, these events are going to change your character forever. Hopefully, they are going to help your character grow. Even the bad guy could learn something new. When you develop your story, think about what your character is going through and what lessons they can learn from it. Think about how their lives are changing and will change as the action progresses.

Create a Character Journal

I forgot where I learned this from, but it has been the most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to writing characters. The character’s journal consists of everything listed above, plus a few extra if you’d like. If your character journal is a physical one, cut out pictures of what your character might look like or what he might wear. If you can draw, draw the pictures. Draw his home and/or his favorite things. If your character journal is a digital one, like mine, attach images. One person I know uses Pinterest to collect pictures that fit their characters.

Conclusion

The more you think about all the aspects of your character, the better chance you have of creating a deep and memorable character. And the more memorable your character, the better chance you have of creating a memorable story. If you have any additional tips for creating great characters, please feel free to comment below.