Tag Archives: fiction

The inexplicable dematerialization of dandelions

There is a sense in which you as a fiction writer–and maybe even as a human–live in every world you create.  Worldbuilding for a story ought to be about more than the creation of places, people, and things.  It ought to be about making those things real in some sense.  You have to make your world real before you can be completely comfortable writing in it, comfortable enough to invite readers along for a holiday there–a holiday, I am hoping, with lots of hideously awful stuff happening.  The world can be a great place, the story better have some bad stuff at its heart and a protag willing or forced to confront it.  Or no one’s going to read it.

I’ve written about worldbuilding before–about map making, characters who write notes, drawing and painting character and scene studies, but this time I’m going to focus on two things: what I’m calling “deep history” and, second, the creation of characters who have no intention of setting foot inside your story, but come on give them a chance to write press releases for you.

Deep history is what was going on in your world long before your characters showed up or did anything really fun.  The idea here is to pick a few historic things that might stand out–a war, plague, religious crusade, or maybe not so deep in the past, things like a book that changed a character’s life, a family member, friend who saved your character from something particularly horrible.  Use these to deepen the life of your character.  It doesn’t have to be a world-shattering event. It can be something fleeting or simple, the day your character saw a fox in the woods, the taste of a candy from that store on 2nd Avenue that your character has never been able to find again.  It can be something personal, the quiet death of a nation’s president your character met when she was eight years old on a capitol city tour, or something closer to home: termites and carpenter ants eating through your character’s house–a home that has been in the family for five generations, and your character has to pull it together because the rest of the family fell apart.  Think about how these things might affect your character later in life.  And you don’t have to spell it out too clearly for the reader.  You character has commitment problems?  Trust your reader to take the steps to connect the loss of the character’s family home while a child to not being able to hold onto anything or anyone when he’s an adult, and trust the reader to sympathize with your character.

Profundity works.  It’s in our nature to look for the profound in every day events.  It’s easy to see how complex the world is.  The difficulty is in trying to see how simple it is.  I think it has something to do with our love of patterns, our need of patterns to make things fit inside our own heads, and the more complex the pattern, the better we feel when we see it.  Again, though, simplicity is in seeing the patterns of patterns and the–no, no, I’m just throwing some crazy ass enigmatic fraud enlightenment at you to see if you’re actually reading this and paying attention.  So, anyway, we like complexity–that is true.  Your characters and your readers are the same way–especially if they’re human.   Give it to them.  Characters are driven by more than revenge, money, power, love.  Those are just the big labels, but there are hooks deep in your character’s mind that make those things desirable, and sometimes you have to reveal those things to make them make sense to the reader as well as your character.   This is where the deep history thing can play a significant role.  Bring out the points, the little dots of light, the quick shadows in your world’s or your character’s history, and your reader will do all the connecting for you.  Again, it can be big–your character’s brother was the assassin of the Archduke Ferdinand of your world and started an entire war.  Or significantly small, that one summer when no dandelions bloomed in the fields.  What caused that anyway?  Weird, man, remember that?  Your character does.  It totally freaked him out and it affects him to this day–that’s why he joined a cult , you know.  The inexplicable dematerialization of dandelions.

People are weird and your characters are no exceptions.  Exceptions to this rule are, frankly, boring.

Another thing I want to look at are characters who contribute to your world, provide advice–maybe through books, web sites, email chain letters, secret codes, but never actually enter the story in the flesh.  They can be co-workers, friends or family from a character’s past.  They can be your character’s boss, pushing things along from a distant office, bunker, command center in orbit.  It may not be anyone who interacts with your character at all, but sends along information for the world, and for the reader–plausibly delivered.  It may not even be someone who appears in anyway in the story.  A character who isn’t named, who’s contributions are there for the author only, characters who simply help the world get a better hold on the writer’s mind.  Your world can only be as real to your reader as it is to you, and you need these behind-the-scenes characters to show up and help you see it, to speak to you, to…

…write press releases.

Here’s a press release I just wrote for an SF story I’m working on, with the event in the release is something that happened in the not too distant past.  What’s cool about press releases–and I say this as if I know what the hell I’m talking about–is that they can be a great source for worldbuilding material.  Their structure–title, event description, some detail, quotes from important people, and a paragraph about the organizations mentioned–makes it easy to create opinions, show someone’s success, failure, or back peddling.  Write a few.  

Here’s one of mine:

Artist rendering of first phase of Winderrill Platform towed into the Atlantic in November:

November 12, 2019

OpenCityProject.org Launches Open Ocean Agri/Aquaculture Platform Winderrill

BOSTON, Mass. – Open City Project today announced that federal and state
agencies have completed their review of Open City Project’s permanent ocean habitat license to own, construct and operate an offshore agri/aquaculture export terminal, and
have deemed it complete. The project, known as Winderrill, is located 940 kilometers southeast off
the coast of Massachusetts. The determination by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Maritime Administration initiates preparation of the agencies’ joint Draft Open Jurisdiction Security Statement/Environmental Impact Report (DOJSS/EIR), a comprehensive, independent assessment of the project.

The Winderrill platform employs Open City’s hexmesh flexible pattern design, which allows the entire facility to adjust to wave motion, even in rough seas. The company plans to double the size of the Winderrill habitat every three months, beginning with fifteen of the joined hexagon-shaped platforms in November, fourteen of which are solar dedicated. The first phase of agriculture, aquaculture, and crew facilities will begin in March. Winderrill is deep moored 940 km off the coast of Massachusetts, and will have permanent berthing for two ABS +A1(E) class Offshore Support Vessels.

OpenCityProject.org CEO Alanna Delmoro said, “Open City Project is uniquely positioned to meet the world’s growing need for agricultural and aquacultural resources in a manner consistent with its energy and environmental priorities. We believe our innovative approach to building and operating large scale self-sustaining production-positive deepwater platforms will benefit the world.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with U.S. Naval operations, other agencies both US and international, and all stakeholders to demonstrate how the Winderrill platform will exceed all production, safety, and environmental standards,” said Ms. Delmoro.

About OpenCityProject.org
Open City Project is a Boston-based non-profit corporation specializing in the design, construction and operation of open ocean agriculture and aquaculture facilities. For more
information about Open City Project, please visit: http://www.OpenCityProject.org.

Finally, the best thing about worldbuilding: you don’t have to build much of your world to begin writing in it.  It builds on itself, you define one piece of the world and that leads to another piece.  Worldbuilding also works wonders when you’re stuck on a scene or character motivation.  Save and close the doc, and dig into your world a bit more.  Hey, write a press release.

Character Name Generator

I spent a couple hours last night loading US Census data and first and last names from a couple other sources, and then building a random name generator for writers.

Check it out:


Very shimmery

Shimmer, a quarterly print magazine of speculative fiction and art (shimmerzine.com) has reopened for story and art subs!  There's also a redesigned web site in the works.



Happy Holidays

A little late getting this post up, but here it is.  Hope everyone's having a happy and/or productive holiday.  We've had a couple good snowfalls in the last week, although it's high 30s today and raining. 

Alice took the kids to see Yes Man with Jim Carrey the night of the 26th, and I spent the time reading Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book–very cool story.  I've also done quite a bit of writing and drawing. 


  • I currently have two short stories submitted, as well as one novel–still no word on any of these.
  • I finished an SF short story, ended up just under 4k words.
  • Since Wednesday, I've put down another 2k words on an all new novel, new world (nothing from the sea), new characters, and all that.


  • I have a few details to work out and I'm done with a piece of art to be published on 09 sometime–more on that when I can tell about it.
  • I've sketched out the next six panels for Saltwater Witch, and I should have them up on Monday.


Hope everyone's doing well and being creative!


Piece of the World

I’ve been molding this in the back of my mind for a while, and today I ran a somewhat formed set of worldbuilding ideas by my son, Christopher–and with success.  Not sure where this will go, but for now I’ll post a quick crazy sketch/watercolor of a piece of a world.

Click for the large view:


Shifting gears

Do you write each story in sequential order?  For me it’s always been pretty clear which book to tackle next, but I’ve been writing the whole Seaborn thing for a while–the last five years, and I have put cool and interesting ideas on hold.  Now, they’re simmering, urging me to write them.

This is a weird place for me, three competing story ideas for the next novel length thing I’m going to write.  I’m at chapter 3 or 4 on each of them, I have very loose outlines, and a pretty good idea of the endings for two of them.  One is another Seaborn book, except the story takes place a couple hundred years before the events in Seaborn–and has very little connection to Seaborn or Sea Throne.

The other two are completely different.  One’s a contemporary YA fantasy.  The other’s stranger still–in two words: near-future fantasy.  I’m less inclined to continue the Seaborn stuff, partly because it’s become easy for me.   I want to branch out, try new things, so I’m probably not going to jump on that one.  The other two are a toss up.  I’m excited about both, they’re completely different kinds of story and storytelling.

I’m thinking of putting the question to my crit partners, let them read chapter one of each story and vote on which one they’d rather continue reading.

What do you think?  Crazy idea? 

Getting graphical

Here’s a page from one my many attempts to put some of my writing into something more visual.  The first scene of Saltwater Witch, with Kassandra falling into Red Bear Lake in Nebraska.  She was pushed.  I saw the whole thing.  Click for a larger view–or click over to my deviantArt page to get even more.  (http://the0phrastus.deviantart.com/art/Getting-graphical-89733965).


Is it about the hardware?

eBooks, that is.  If, according to Harlequin, the hardware doesn’t matter and readers are perfectly happy to read a book on phones, PDAs, any device with a screen and scrollbar, why aren’t more people outside of romance demanding their books in e?  Is it a romance reader thing?

I think the eInk is important.

I’m not much of a romance reader–mostly SF, fantasy, literary fiction, technology non-fic, and contemporary issues fiction like Jodi Picoult.  I frequently cross–or don’t even notice–boundaries like YA, teen, mainstream fiction.  I’ll read Holly Black’s Ironside, then Tim Powers’ Last Call, Stacia Kane’s Personal Demons, and Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book all in a row.

I find my reading of electronic versions of books rising instead of dropping.  Of the four books I just mentioned, I have one, Stacia’s Personal Demons in e.  I have it on my Sony Reader.  Alice gave me the PRS-500 a couple years ago–one of the drivers was a $100 rebate Sony was offering at the time, bringing the device into the top end of "gadget" expense, the range we’re willing to spend on some new piece of tech and not cry if it doesn’t work out.

It worked out.  My e-reading is 20-25% of everything I read.


First, the Sony Reader is that good–as are all the devices I’ve used built around eInk technology.  It’s as close to reading a paper-based book I’ve seen.  Its reflective surface is like paper, the words are clear, very readable–readable as any book.  You can use all the standard book lights with the eInk devices.  Cool cool stuff.

Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle, Irex, what else is out there?  What are you reading on?


A New Journal

I finished a journal while out at Wiscon, the last four pages in a Moleskine notebook.  Alice and I were out Saturday night and I picked up a new one at Barnes.  It’s interesting to go back and see what I was thinking a year and a half ago when I started the old one–and then what I’ve put into the pages since.

Here’s the new one and the old–all stickered up:


This last one has been with me through several cons:


…and trips around the world, India, Europe (Swiss railway ticket)


…and, of course, writing.  Here are the opening pages of Hammers and Snails.  Most of the journal’s stuffed with Seaborn scenes, character studies, sketches, story ideas, bits and pieces of stories:


Words have power

Here’s a trick I do when I write and it’s going a bit slow.  I know I need to open this scene with something bright, something heavy, bloody, claustrophobic, there’s a mood I need to drop the reader into.

One of the things that can get me going is to grab a dictionary, thumb through it, pull out a random word or four to see if they spark anything.  It doesn’t always work, but I’ll write them down, more words, trying to pick interesting ones, especially if they have some–even remote–connection to the idea I’m trying to capture.

Writers have a toolbox, a database of ideas, a vocabulary well to draw on, but like all things, these are limited, and a novel is a long work.  We’ve all read books in which an author has used a word too often, or it’s word that’s different enough to stand out, to catch our notice.  It doesn’t have to be in the same book.  (Alice uses the phrase "skirt pooling" to mean a sex scene in any romance book, and it comes right out of Nora Roberts, because Nora has used those words too often, you open a Nora Roberts book, you sort of expect to have one of the protag’s skirts "pooling around her ankles" before you reach the end).

I just picked these:

metallic  mouthwash  ratline  dribble

Go ahead.  Tell me words don’t have power.